Archive for 10 and Up

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Escape Pod 658: Beatrix Released

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Beatrix Released

By Shaenon K. Garrity

The lichen in the cupboard has at last begun to sing.  It sings in two-part harmony, bel canto, essaying a faultless duet with itself.  What a strange and lovely fairy!  I am convinced more and more that my earlier theory was correct, that the lichen is a bipartite organism comprising both fungus and an algae or bacterium.  A remarkable symbiosis, distinct I believe from any recognized taxonomy.  The love its halves sing to one another is profound enough to make one blush, and I soon retreated to the far end of the room to sketch my collection of English mice in the bone cabinet.  Papa and Mamma have allowed me to keep a few childhood specimens in my room again, to be used for art lessons only.

Dinner party tonight.  All the MPs got a clinical dissection, it was lively.  Papa and Grandpapa are appalled by Gladstone’s capitulation to the Irish Free Staters.  I agree entirely.  If it were me I’d turn them all out with a thrashing.  When the guests moved to the drawing room for dessert and coffee Mamma suggested I retire, as the conversation was likely to get too intellectual for a girl like myself.

(Speaking of conversation: I’ve decided to continue this diary in a new code.  The previous simple substitution code was v. solvable, and the thought of Mamma reading my less charitable observations was keeping me up at night.  She will go through my things!  Besides it is good mental exercise to practice a new writing system.)

A few new faces among the dinner guests.  One gentleman with an amusing gait, stiff and precise, like a spider.  He specifically resembles the Pholcus phalangioides or Daddy long-legs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of spiders is hydraulic pressure, which assists them in flexing their limbs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of the dinner guest is unknown. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 651: Impossible Dreams (Flashback Friday)


Impossible Dreams

By Tim Pratt

(Excerpt)

He went to the Sci-Fi shelf‚ and had another shock. I, Robot was there, but not the forgettable action movie with Will Smith‚ this was older, and the credits said “written by Harlan Ellison.” But Ellison’s adaptation of the Isaac Asimov book had never been produced, though it had been published in book form. “Must be some bootleg student production,” he muttered, and he didn’t recognize the name of the production company. But‚ but‚ it said “winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.” That had to be a student director’s little joke, straight-facedly absurd box copy, as if this were a film from some alternate reality. Worth watching, certainly, though again, he couldn’t imagine how he’d never heard of this. Maybe it had been done by someone local. He took it to the counter and offered his credit card.

She looked at the card dubiously. “Visa? Sorry, we only take Weber and FosterCard.”

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Escape Pod 650: Some Things I Probably Should Have Mentioned Earlier (LIVE)

Show Notes

This is a live reading from Worldcon 2018.


Some Things I Probably Should Have Mentioned Earlier

By Laura Pearlman

Dear Kevin,

I’m sorry I waited so long to tell you this, but I really hate your vacation cabin. Everything about it creeps me out. The sound of crickets at night makes my skin crawl. They sound like impending doom: like a critical piece of equipment being worn down by friction, or a thousand tiny voices, hoarse from screaming, reduced to a raspy warning chant in some ancient language.

The crickets aren’t the only problem. The smell of so much wood in one place makes my eyes burn. And is it really necessary to throw pine cones into the fireplace? Are the burnt-wood fumes not overpowering enough? I used to lie awake at night fantasizing about finding whoever came up with that idea, grinding them up, feeding them to the crickets, and then gathering up the crickets, stuffing them into the fireplace, burning the cabin down, and watching from a safe distance. Upwind, of course.

Do crickets even eat meat? You probably know. You grew up with all this. That’s why you’re comfortable with it. I’m not; to me, it’s alien and disturbing. I wish I’d told you this the first time you took me there, right after we started dating. But your friends were having such a good time. I wanted to be the fun girlfriend who liked what everyone else liked.

It must seem strange that I’m bringing this up now, when neither of us will ever go back there. I mention it because saying I loved your cabin set off the chain of events that led us to where we are today. It wasn’t the first lie I’d told you, of course, but the others were just my cover story.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 648: A Handful of Dal

Show Notes

Visit The Drabblecast Reborn on Kickstarter here.


A Handful of Dal

By Naru Sundar

200g Dal
300ml Water
Ghee
Turmeric
Coriander seeds
Whole black pepper
Cumin seeds

Start with the dal. Wash it like one washes the feet of ascetics entering a temple: with love, with care. Shake loose the dirt and twigs that inevitably stow away alongside it. Perhaps this note will stow away with you onto the Yatra, a tiny mote of the past to accompany you on your grand journey.

Then, a finger of coppery ghee in the pot, and seeds of coriander fattening in the heat. Let the dal swirl into the now fragrant fat. Watch it flush as red and bright as the stones in Fatehpur Sikri that we marveled at once. Let turmeric dust it in gold, as bright as suns. Drown the dal in water quickly, before it blackens to ash—like the protesters in Chandni Chowk. Who can blame them, our people carry the sin of division under our skin, and the selection process for the Yatra was not immune.

You were chosen, Rajiv. I can only hope that when you grind pepper and cumin, you will think of your children’s children, fated one day to smell the air of a distant world. When the dal is ready, soft and lush and swollen, let everything marry. A tapestry of flavors, a gift from your ancestors to your descendants. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 646: Subtle Ways Each Time


Subtle Ways Each Time

By Y.M. Pang

A man loses a woman.

It’s happened a thousand times before and it’s phrased like this nine hundred times. A man loses a woman. As if she were car keys, an umbrella, a scraggly doll in the arms of a child. A literal and grammatical object to be lost. Let’s find a truer cliché. It takes two to tango. Let’s try again:

A woman discards a man.

Raised voices in a summer-boiled attic. Old records, lovingly collected, smashed up like jagged pieces of skyscraper windows. They’re in his mother’s house, gazing down at the familiar yard, the scent of peach blossoms wafting through the window. They’d played there on wobbly toddler legs, cussed out teachers as teens wearing cut-off jeans and crooked baseball caps, shared their first kiss in the shadow of the peach tree and afterward neither could say who initiated it or who was more surprised. Little fights dogged them throughout those nineteen years, but children’s minds are better at forgiving and worse at carving scars.

Only during that fateful day in the attic did they say things that couldn’t be unsaid, voice words their adult brains forgot how to forgive. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 641: Flash Fiction Contest Winners


The Toastmaster

By Kurt Pankau

“Burnt the Pop Tarts again?”

“Yes,” Toaster responded over wifi. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Blender whirred with sympathy.

“Owner was upset,” said Toaster. “She picked me up and looked at my underside to make sure everything was okay.”

“That’s odd,” said Blender. “There’s nothing there but your crumb tray, though.”

“I know, and so does Owner. I don’t know why she did it. It was humiliating.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 640: Paradise Regained


Paradise Regained

By Edward Lerner

My head hurts. I expect it: this is winter. I want it to be spring.

Paradise does not ask what I want.

The winter is young, and I think the dogs are not yet so hungry as to attack me. Still, I hold tight to my spear. Dogs or no dogs, the spear helps me walk through the knee-deep snow.

Only trees show above the snow, and I do not know what is under. In winter, asleep, the plants cannot scream when I step on them.

Because they are asleep, Father told me. Long ago. Before Mother died. Before I left home. I did not understand what he meant. I do not now.

I think Father is gone, too. “Watch the flag,” Father told me, long ago, pointing at the tall pole that stood near Ship. “I will change the flag every day. Unless … I can’t. Then you must come. You must.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 636: Mother Tongues


Mother Tongues

By S. Qiouyi Lu

“Thank you very much,” you say, concluding the oral portion of the exam. You gather your things and exit back into the brightly lit hallway. Photos line the walls: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu. The sun shines on each destination, the images brimming with wonder. You pause before the Golden Gate Bridge.

“右拐就到了,” the attendant says. You look up. His blond hair is as standardized as his Mandarin, as impeccable as his crisp shirt and tie. You’ve just proven your aptitude in English, but hearing Mandarin still puts you at ease in the way only a mother tongue does. You smile at the attendant, murmuring a brief thanks as you make your way down the hall.

You turn right and enter a consultation room. The room is small but welcoming, potted plants adding a dash of green to the otherwise plain creams and browns of the furniture and walls. A literature rack stands to one side, brochures in all kinds of languages tucked into its pockets, creating a mosaic of sights and symbols. The section just on English boasts multiple flags, names of different varieties overlaid on the designs: U.S. English – Standard. U.K. English – Received Pronunciation. Singaporean English – Standard. Nigerian English – Standard… Emblazoned on every brochure is the logo of the Linguistic Grading Society of America, a round seal with a side-view of a head showing the vocal tract.

You pick up a Standard U.S. English brochure and take a seat in one of the middle chairs opposite the mahogany desk that sits before the window. The brochure provides a brief overview of the grading system; your eyes linger on the A-grade description: Speaker engages on a wide variety of topics with ease. (Phonology?) is standard; speaker has a broad vocabulary… You take a quick peek at the dictionary on your phone. Phonology-linguistic sound systems. You file the word away to remember later.

The door opens. A woman wearing a blazer and pencil skirt walks in, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor, her curled hair bouncing with every step. You stand to greet her and catch a breath of her perfume.

“Diana Moss,” she says, shaking your hand. Her name tag also displays her job title: Language Broker. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 630: Midnight Blue (Flashback Friday)


Midnight Blue

By Will McIntosh

He’d never seen a burgundy before.  Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger.  She was probably tapping it to bring attention to it, and Jeff didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of asking to see it, but he really wanted to see it.  Burgundy (Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell) was a rare one.  Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking, but still rare.

A bus roared up, spitting black smoke.  It was the seven bus–the Linden Court bus, not his.  Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop.  A second-grader squealed, shoved a bigger kid with her Partridge Family lunch box because he’d stepped on her foot.  All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year.

“What did you say it did when you’ve got all three pieces of the charm together?”  Jeff asked Kim.  He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came.

“It relaxes time,” Kim said.  “When you’re bored you can make time pass quickly, and when you’re having fun you can make time stretch out.”

Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more.  What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by?  Or make the school day (except for lunch and recess) pass in an eyeblink?  Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along.  Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours?  That would be sparkling fine.

“Want to see it?” Kim asked.

“Okay,” Jeff said, holding out his hands too eagerly before he remembered himself.  Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper.

It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball.  It made Jeff’s heart hammer to hold it.  The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 628: The Endangered Camp


The Endangered Camp

By Ann Leckie

After the terrible push to be free of the Earth was past, we could stand again. In a while, the engineers had said, everything would float, but for now we were still accelerating. We were eight in the small, round room, though there were others on the sky-boat–engineers, and nest-guardians examining the eggs we had brought to see how many had been lost in the crushing, upward flight. But we eight stood watching the world recede.

The floor and walls of the room were of smooth, gold metal. Around the low ceiling was a pattern of cycad fronds and under this scenes from the histories. There was the first mother, ancestor of us all, who broke the shell of the original egg. The picture showed the egg, a single claw of the mother piercing that boundary between Inside and Outside. With her was the tiny figure of her mate. If you are from the mountains, you know that he ventured forth and fed on the carcass of the world-beast, slain by the mother, and in due time found the mother and mated with her. If you are a lowlander, he waited in the shell until she brought the liver to him, giving him the strength to come out into the open. Neither was pictured–the building of the sky-boat had taken the resources of both mountains and lowlands.

On another panel was Strong Claw, her sharp-toothed snout open in a triumphant call. She stood tall on powerful legs, each foot with its arced killing claw, sharp and deadly. Her arms stretched out before her, claws spread, and her long, stiff tail stretched behind. The artists had worked with such skill that every feather could be distinguished. Behind her was the great tree that had carried her across the sea, and in the water were pictured its inhabitants: coiled ammonites, hungry sharks, and a giant mososaur, huge-mouthed enough to swallow a person down at a gulp. Before Strong Claw was forested land, full of food for the hunting, new territory for her and her daughters yet unhatched.

A third panel showed the first sky-boat departing for the moon that had turned out to be farther away than our ancestors ever imagined. That voyage had been a triumph–the sky-boat (designed, all were ceaselessly told, by lowlander engineers) had achieved a seemingly impossible goal. But it had also been a disaster–as the mountain engineers had predicted, and the lowlanders refused to believe until the last, irrefutable moment, there had been no air on the moon. But as we had now set our sights on Mars, the artist had left off the end of the tale, to avoid ill-omen.

The engineers had used mirrors to cast an image of the Earth on the last, blank panel of the curved wall. It was this that held our attention.

As we watched, disaster struck. A sudden, brilliant flash whited out the image for an instant, and after that an expanding ring began to spread across the face of the world, as though a pebble had been dropped into a pond. Almost instantly a ball of fire rose up from the center of the ripple and expanded outward, obscuring it. I blinked, slowly, deliberately, sure that my vision was at fault. Still the fire grew until finally it dissipated, leaving a slowly-expanding veil of smoke.

There was silence in the sky-boat for some time. (Continue Reading…)