I can create any scenario I want for Dante, any story, any setting—anything. I have total control over his universe. Today he inhabits a grand mansion. The design is mostly mid-century modern, with just a hint of gothic whimsy. Each room is crafted to maximize luxury and pleasure, pleasure that can exist beyond the laws governing the material universe. It is a miracle, a place of wonder and dreams, a place where anything may happen.
Lieutenant James Marlowe watched a room full of grown, distinguished men act like young ladies at their first ball. Flustered, fidgeting, adjusting each others’ cravats, going back and forth from one table to another inspecting equipment and displays that were already perfect, they were exhausting to watch, and so he tried not to. He had only ever been to three balls in his life, before he ran off to join the Navy, and this was a reminder of why he hated them.
The Death of Science Fiction had remained a perennial, if tiresome, subject for reviewers of SF novels for decades. In each case, the supposed flatline of the genre—whether in terms of quality, viability, or intrepidity—has leapt back to gloriously resolute life, producing enough notable books in each surge of the commercial ECG that one must finally consider another oneself amid a de facto deferral of the end.
My bathroom scale didn’t recognize me. I weigh in and weigh out every day when it’s possible—I have data going back about twenty years at this point—so when it registered me as “Guest” I snarled and snapped a pic with my phone so I would remember the number to log it manually. I’d lost half a pound according to the scale, and on a whim I picked up the shower caddy with the shampoo and so on in it.
Home. He recognizes the name of the street. But he doesn’t remember the landscape. He recognizes the address on the mailbox. But he doesn’t remember the house. His family is waiting for him on the porch. Everybody looks just as nervous as he is. He gets out. The police cruiser takes back off down the gravel drive, leaving him standing in a cloud of dust holding a baggie of possessions.
“Go away, Todd. We’re busy,” Larry said. “Besides, you’re wasting your time. You know she only likes to fuck imaginary people.” “That’s because she hasn’t tried the real deal,” Todd said. “And that would be you?” Larry asked. Col yawned ostentatiously at Todd, but he didn’t take the hint. He was thick that way. There was hardly room for two people in the cubicle Col shared with Larry.
It’s not unusual to hear music in a spaceport arrival lounge. After all, if aliens didn’t enjoy music, I’d never have been able to travel. But this sounded familiar. Disturbingly familiar. Standing in line, I felt a sinking sensation as the tune wound its way to its conclusion. It was The Beatles. Millions of light years from Earth and I was listening to The Beatles. How did I feel?
Let me tell you of a creature called the Bork. It was born in the heart of a dying sun. It was cast forth upon this day from the river of past/future as a piece of time pollution. It was fashioned of mud and aluminum, plastic, and some evolutionary distillate of seawater. It had spun dangling from the umbilical of circumstance until, severed by its will, it had fallen a lifetime or so later, coming to rest on the shoals of a world where things go to die.
Io Destiny is a rich planet, home to three billion lives, built as a faceted gem to honor the Seven Suns. All the gods are worshiped equally here in peace. Temples caress the lower atmosphere and ships dance in celestial orbit; the Seven Suns are honored in effigy in great statues and holograms that mortals adore. Io Destiny is the only neutral world. While the gods chafe and feud with each other, hovering on the cusp of war, this planet is sacrosanct.
We have traveled here, to this most innocuous of country landscapes, to make good on a promise made by my grandfather, Carlton Whitmore, to a girl he loved in his youth. How foolish that sounds, writ down so! But it is true. Grandfather met her on the banks of the Bolton Strid, where she stood naked and confused, water drying on her skin. His notes state that she knew no modesty, and that “she was pale as the belly of a deep-river fish.”