“Friday” Flash Science Fiction #3 – Dawn

Dawn

Sunrise. Earthrise. I guess it depends on your point of view.

Courtesy of NASA.

From space, the sunrise is spectacular. An arc of glowing light strikes the curve of the planet and rolls along, driving away the darkness in its path. Of course, that’s not how it works – the sun’s light is fixed and the Earth spins through it. But why let facts ruin a lovely image?

I stared out the porthole, dreading the day to come. My class had finally hit a point where we were deemed capable of handling A5 tasks with minimal supervision, and we’d receive our work assignments today.

Along with the other tenthers, I’d spent time working in nearly every section of the station – robotics, astromech, waste management, life support, maintenance, eco support, freight ops, lift ops, medical, and recycling. Contracted techs and their families were never allowed into the command center – WalCorp claimed it was a security problem, but I think it was to keep us from finding out that we’d never go home to Earth.

That’s a funny phrase: “home” to Earth. I was only 2 when my parents signed up for this. They lifted us within months, and I don’t remember anything about the surface. How can I call it home when I don’t remember anything about it?

No control room for us; no radar, no administration, no flight ops, no communication with the surface. We existed in a little bubble and serviced the great machine in which we lived – the hum from the constantly running lift seemed to vibrate through every metal surface. I even thought I could feel it when I curled up in my bunk, but my mother told me I was imagining it.

The grades below us, mostly sevenths and eighths, had to supervise the younger children and clean the living quarters. Sometimes they helped with other things, like harvesting in eco, but they mostly took care of the cleaning. I didn’t miss that; I preferred digging into the mechanics of the servo arms to fix them.

I loved the sight of Earth from my private window, but even that couldn’t soothe me while I waited to find out where I’d be assigned for the next two years. Our classes would continue until we were 20, but we’d have to work an increasing number of hours along with our studies. I don’t mind the studying, but I do mind having to give up any semblance of privacy and free time for something I didn’t agree to. I love my parents…but right now, I hate them for bringing me here.

Anything but recycling; anything but medical. I can’t stand it when they bring in people who got hurt loading or unloading the lift. It takes 22 hours for it to climb or descend, so there’s a two-hour window to unload and then load it with whatever’s going back to the surface. The lift is tethered in the center of the station where there’s no gravity – or maybe I should say the station rotates around the spot where the lift is linked. I guess it depends on your point of view.

I’ll know in five minutes. That was my thought then, and I remember it clearly even though it’s been nearly 10 years since my last few days on Proteus Station.

 

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Out and About, or Things I’ve Seen While Riding the TTC

Sorry to have missed my self-imposed deadline *cough* of Friday for my flash science fiction, but I was in Toronto for the day. It was a wonderful, sunny day, and it was 420 – a very popular date amongst a certain subset of the Canadian population.

There was a pot rally downtown at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, and I spotted someone dressed as a bong while riding the TTC.

"No. NO! No lighters!"

Considering how warm it got, I pity whoever was inside that costume.

Our streetcar stopped to let the costumed wonder off at the rally. Lots of live music, lots of signs waving, and a few enterprising people waving Canadian flags with pot leaves replacing the maple leaf. As we moved on, the streetcar driver – an older man with a glorious sense of humour –  announced, “Smells like someone’s smoking something out there.”

He had to take the streetcar off the route – the driver that is, not Bongman – due to mechanical difficulty. Almost all of us piled off without kicking up a fuss, but there was one older passenger who decided that he had no intention of leaving the streetcar. They yelled at each other for a few minutes, then the passenger informed the driver that the driver couldn’t call the cops on him because he was a federal marshal and would arrest him first.

I think he’s in the wrong country for that. I think he figured that out too, probably right after the driver told him to go ahead and try it – he finally stumbled off, alternately grumbling and yelling about what had happened.

The driver then used a lever to change the tracks so he could take the car directly to the maintenance yard, and an impatient truck driver tried to sail past him on the right. He held that stick up in front of the truck and yelled, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

The truck came to an immediate stop, and the streetcar driver let loose at the guy with a few more choice words.

Cheers to the coolest and most badass streetcar driver in Toronto.

US Politics, Nerd Style

This is the absolute best depiction I’ve seen of the presidential candidates, and it’s located at Funny or Die:

“Presidential Candidates Explained Through Dungeons and Dragons Character Sheets”

(Posted in November 2011, but still an awesome read today.)

The alignments sound spot on, but I think they could’ve been more creative with some of the races. Ron Paul as a gnome is pure genius, but I think Michele Bachmann should be a gully dwarf instead of half-dwarf – she’s beyond full of nonsense. I also think Rick Santorum should’ve been half-Troll instead of half-Orc. Let’s face it: he flat-out told everyone that he knew he wasn’t going to win, he was out to destroy the race for everyone else.

Newt Gingrich, though – what should he be? “Subhuman” just doesn’t sum him up. Bugbear? Ghoul? Ahhh, I know! Gibbering Mouther!

The descriptions and bonus items are worth checking out, get to it!

Friday Flash Science Fiction #2 – “Yuri’s World”

“Yuri’s World”

"Yuri's World", courtesy of NASA

I’m surprised this viewport doesn’t have a permanent imprint of my nose on it.

Every spare moment, what few I’m given, I’m here – staring down at lights on a world I don’t know. Our teachers won’t talk about it much, other than to say that the corporation our parents work for is down there. They know no one’s ever been sent Earthside, no matter what WalCom promises.

I know it too – I hacked the system to check. That’ll get me spaced if they find out and they’ll make up some story about me, just like they did for Eran. She’s the one who told me that no one’s ever been sent back to Earth; she told me to check it out for myself, and she was gone the next day. We got a message saying she’d been sent Earthside for further training in chemical and fluid dynamics, but they didn’t cover their tracks very well this time. The shuttles that left around her supposed departure window were strictly cargo or outbound to Luna, and the lift was on its way up.

I wish I could have said goodbye. I wish I didn’t know that I could be next.

My family contracted as technicians to help finish WalCom’s perma-link station, with an option to go Earthside once construction was finished. There’s always an excuse, though, for why we can’t go back. Not enough space in the lift, too many paying commercial customers, blah blah blah. But they aren’t going to let us go back – they’ve got us here, why should they pay to lift more techs into space?

The stars in my night sky are the lights of Earth.

I will never reach them.

 

 

©2012 Christine Clukey Reece

Gender, Sexuality, and SFF

[For a bit of background on what inspired this post, check out Queering SFF and Brit Mandelo at Tor Books. I’ve enjoyed reading her reviews of queer SFF fiction and poetry.]

Science fiction and fantasy give us the opportunity to create entirely new societies and new ways for beings (not just humans) to interact, so why is it that so many SFF authors fall back on using the same gender constructs and dynamics we see here on Earth? Most authors seem to fall into one of two groups:

1) authors who use the familiar to help readers connect to their work

or

2) authors who lack imagination or ambition

I grant you that I haven’t read/viewed every single SFF book on the planet, but it seems to break down that way. You can tell the difference, though, between the authors who gave some thought to the subject – and deliberately chose to use particular social or gender norms – and those who used norms because they either didn’t care about the subject or didn’t want to put the effort into envisioning something different. I find that attitude difficult to understand. Seriously, SFF allows the absolute greatest free reign in fiction creativity, so why not take that opportunity and push the boundaries as much as possible?

The way you can tell who put thought into societal norms and gender constructs is that these authors use the concepts to subtly (or not-so-subtly) illustrate something within their work. It could be commentary aimed at contemporary social mores or it could be poking fun at how messed up we can get over sex – it could be anything, really, but it must be something that provokes a reaction or question within the reader’s mind.

Those who don’t put effort into it use the same tropes we see in countless fiction books, like the Tough Guy who saves a Girl (always a woman who fails at being independent) from her own mess and she falls for him. Or the Tough Chick who meets a guy who can beat her at something and she falls for him. Or the Tough Guy who has random casual sex with a random character and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. Or the Tough Chick who winds up dying to save everyone while the incompetent woman gets the lead male character. Or the Tough Chick who started out as a Girl but got tough because she was raped.

In the hands of a master storyteller, these tropes can change into something that makes us take a hard look at how we react to or view these types of relationships. In the hands of others, these ‘plot points’ can knock me unconscious faster than five seconds of Jersey Shore. We get that most relationships here on Earth are male-female, and that the Tough Chick needs to get beaten down or needs a man. Thanks.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a trope and using it to illustrate a point. When someone uses the same tired concepts without regard to their usefulness (or overuse), however, it makes the entire work seem stale and boring. A writer is responsible for every word in a story – it’s up to us to keep it fresh and interesting, and it’s up to us to make sure we aren’t falling back on stereotypes because we’re lazy.

Doctor Who made serious waves with the open sexuality of Captain Jack, but how many other SFF works spend time on anything beyond a male/female relationship? Every so often, you’ll see a quick flash of some sort of relationship outside of the hetero domain, but if the lead characters are involved in anything, it will fit into a male-female dynamic. It saddens me that we need to qualify fiction with non-hetero lead characters as a special niche because these shouldn’t be separate within the SFF genre. We can reimagine sexuality in any way we choose – this is futuristic or fantasy-style fiction – so why do we need to impose the same constraints that currently limit sexual expression on something that’s supposed to push our minds to the limit?

My favorite example of something that shows a wide range of sexuality, genders, and social constructs? Babylon 5. I miss that show.

SFF provides us with a platform for challenging basically everything about the human race. Let’s do it. Let’s not set queer SFF as something apart from the norm, because it isn’t and it shouldn’t be. Let’s be inclusive somewhere, dammit.

Iapetus – Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut?

Found a lovely article on Iapetus as I was wandering through today’s news. Great picture, eh?

Iapetus, courtesy of NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

In case you’re wondering, Iapetus is one of Saturn’s moons. It also happens to be one of the coolest moons thanks to the fact that it has a geological feature that’s unique in our solar system. And yes, the article refers to the poor thing as “Saturn’s walnut moon”.

If you look closely at the photo, you’ll see it – it looks like a small ridge around the moon’s equator thanks to the photo resolution, but that ‘ridge’ stands higher than our Himalayan mountains. Imagine someone building an icy Great Wall of China on an airless moon, except that the ‘wall’ is around 12.4 miles tall and about 124 miles wide. And it extends more than 3/4 of the way around the equator.

There’s a few theories on why Iapetus has that ridge, and I’d like to take a moment to explain why this makes me so damn happy. There are a few competing theories on how that ridge developed, and none of those theories will be rejected unless someone investigates, performs research and experimentation, and determines whether those theories are possible.

I love science. I love the fact that there are so many curious and intelligent people out there trying to figure out how the world (and our universe) work. I am in awe of their curiosity and their desire to explore both macro and micro domains. I greatly appreciate their explanations of natural phenomenon and their ability to turn the unknown into the know. I love the fact that true scientists don’t shrug things off as miracles or magic – they can willingly admit they don’t know something. And then they’ll go see what they can do to figure out the answers.

You know why they’re able to do this? Because they’re honest. They are honest with what they know, how they know it, and what they can tell us. We should respect that honesty and not dismiss people who use their skills and smarts to show us how and why things work the way they do. They deserve better.

We have a long way to go before we’ll be able to say with certainty how that ridge developed. What we can say is this: that ridge is there, and we will eventually figure out how it got there. Thank you, Science.

 

 

Check Out Mercury!

We’ll be able to see the planet Mercury real soon now (depending on which hemisphere you live in):

Mercury, courtesy of NASA

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/see-elusive-planet-mercury-morning-sky-200803300.html

We don’t often get so many planets visible in the sky all at the same time. Currently, Venus, Mars, and Saturn are hanging in view, and we’re still getting a small glimpse of Jupiter as well. Thanks to its petite and dainty size, Mercury won’t be terribly big or bright, but the linked article tells you when and how you can spot it on the horizon.

I think it’s amazing that the ancient Greeks figured out it was a planet. I grant you that planets, stars, and moons have very different patterns, but the Greeks didn’t exactly have modern optics and telescopes to use when checking out our stellar neighborhood. I wonder how many people sat outside observing the skies at all hours of the day or night just so they’d have an excuse to avoid their families.

Anyway, enjoy your view of Mercury. I’d love to travel there some day, but I think it’d be a one-way trip. Imagine the engines you’d need in order to escape the sun’s gravity well – probably not something humanity will be capable of engineering anytime soon.