Tag: "Will McIntosh"

EP305: Midnight Blue

By Will McIntosh
Read by Paul Haring
First appeared in Asimov’s
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Will McIntosh
All stories read by Paul Haring

Rated appropriate for everyone!

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.

“Imagine finding this in the wild?  Pushing over a dead tree and seeing it sitting there under the root?” Jeff said.

Book Review: “Soft Apocalypse” by Will McIntosh

Apocalypse fiction has been around for many years, usually in the form of a cataclysmic event — asteroid impact, nuclear bomb, giant space squid — that destroys a good chunk of the entire planet and leaves the survivors to fend for themselves in a world gone mad.

But after reading Will McIntosh’s new novel Soft Apocalypse, I can tell you that sitting in the belly of an intergalactic Sarlacc might actually be better than the road we’re on now.

Soft Apocalypse is the story of Jasper, a college graduate with a sociology degree, no job, and nowhere to live. While that does sound like the fate of many liberal arts majors these days*, where Soft Apocalypse differs is that it begins in 2023, ten years after an economic depression that has left 40 percent of Americans unemployed. The story begins in Metter, Georgia, about half a centimeter** east of the midpoint between Macon and Savannah, where Jasper and what he calls his tribe are harvesting wind energy from cars passing on I-16***. A policeman drives the tribe away, and after a short while they end up in Savannah, where Jasper grew up.

But this is not the Savannah you and I know, or the Savannah you saw in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. No, just like larger cities, Savannah is in the midst of its own troubles. Jasper gets a job at a convenience store and a house with his friends Colin and Jeannie, and he starts trying to eke out a life during this soft apocalypse.

As the novel progresses, Jasper does things that we might, in saner times, say that no human should be forced to do. He changes residences, lives as a nomad in east Georgia, falls in love with a woman who is extremely wrong for him — and everyone else — and is forced to watch a friend die in a scene that is both hideous and inventive.

To my mind, the main theme of the novel is “just how much of your civility are you willing to hold onto when no one else is civilized?” Most of us have said we’d be willing to kill to protect those we love, or if we were forced into a kill-or-be-killed situation, but for Jasper it’s harder than he expected. Still, he’s pretty lucky, compared to people who’ve succumbed to manufactured diseases, gangs, drugs, or even simple starvation. And he has friends, too — friends like Cortez, a fighting man and natural leader, and Ange, his off-again-on-again lover.

McIntosh projects the future of Soft Apocalypse in a thoroughly realistic fashion, and although world events occur relatively tangential to Jasper — they don’t really affect him as much as local ones like the Wal-Mart closing, but then, how many of us**** feel like the tragedies in Japan or New Zealand, or the regime change in Egypt and the unrest in Libya, really have an impact on our lives? Most Americans wouldn’t even know something was happening in Libya if it wasn’t making it more difficult to fill our gas tanks (or if their favorite Monday night shows hadn’t been pre-empted by the President on March 28). The future of Soft Apocalypse is much harder than anything we’re going through now*****, and McIntosh acknowledges that while also making some so-obvious-it’s-hard-to-see commentary on the present. (He has a great line about starving people, expensive cars, and oil.)

Overall I found Soft Apocalypse to be an engrossing read, as well as a fast one — I read 60 percent of it on a plane flight to Minnesota****** — and I attribute the latter to a combination of good pacing and the story’s ten-year timeline. Though it’s not a happy book, there are moments of win peppered throughout, and the ending is both satisfying and thought-provoking in exactly the same way the rest of the book is.

How far would you go to protect your tribe? Maybe after reading Soft Apocalypse, you’ll think a little harder before you answer that question.

Note to Parents: this novel contains explicit language and graphic violence, as well as sex, occasional torture, and mature themes. I don’t recommend it for anyone younger than 15, and only to highly mature teenagers between 15 and 18. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.

Special thanks to Night Shade Books for providing a review copy.

* I know, I know, low blow. But I’ve worked in academia and employment and let’s just say the prospects aren’t good.

** According to Google Maps on my phone.

*** I’m not really sure how much they’d be getting. I’ve been on 16, and there were very few cars. My guess is that people were commuting from Macon to Savannah.

**** By “us” I mean the average American citizen, not the average sci-fi consumer, who is generally more in-tune with world events.

***** Interestingly, many of the difficult lessons Jasper and his tribe learn are covered in Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, under the “things every man should be able to do” heading.

****** Don’t worry; I won’t make you do a word problem. It’s about three hours of air travel from Atlanta to Minneapolis, but since I read on my iPad I can only use it at safe cruising altitude, or on the ground. I read the 60 percent noted above in about two hours. For reference, you can figure out how fast I read when I say that I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 5.5 hours.

EP247: Bridesicle

By Will McIntosh
Read by: Amy H. Sturgis of StarShipSofa
Discuss on our forums.
Originally published in: Asimov’sDownload and read the text
Guest Host: Ben Phillips of Pseudopod
All stories by Will McIntosh
All stories read by Amy H. Sturgis

“Aw, I know you’re awake by now. Come on, sleeping beauty. Talk to me.” The last was a whisper, a lover’s words, and Mira felt that she had to come awake and open her eyes. She tried to sigh, but no breath came. Her eyes flew open in alarm.

An old man was leaning over her, smiling, but Mira barely saw him, because when she opened her mouth to inhale, her jaw squealed like a sea bird’s cry, and no breath came, and she wanted to press her hands to the sides of her face, but her hands wouldn’t come either. Nothing would move except her face.

Rated PG

Show Notes:

  • Starship Sofa is the first podcast ever to be nominated for a Hugo award, in the “Best Fanzine” category. If you’re eligible to vote in the Hugos, you have less than a month left to put in your vote! Please consider Starship Sofa – it’s a fantastic show on its own merit, and it’s a HUGE credibility booster for all podcasts if it wins!
  • The Escape Pod Flash Contest ends soon! It runs June 1- July 4, stories must be under 500 words. More information at the link.
  • Editor’s note: Thanks so much to Dave Thompson and Peter Wood for taking on this project of securing all five Hugo stories during the hiatus of Escape Pod. Most of the work was done before I joined, and this wouldn’t have happened without them stepping up.

Next week… Our final Hugo-nominated story!

EP178: Unlikely

By Will McIntosh.
Read by Stephen Eley.
Discuss on our forums.
Originally published in: Asimov’s, January 2008.

All stories by Will McIntosh.
All stories read by Steve Eley.
Special closing music: “Mandelbrot Set” by Jonathan Coulton.

“The mayor seems to believe there’s something to this,” Tuesday said.

“He’s desperate. Clutching at straws.”

“So why did you agree to meet?” Tuesday asked, her Keds back on the
black and white tile floor.

Samuel paused while the waitress plunked down two glasses, followed by
big metal milk shake tumblers. His strawberry milkshake looked as thick
as cement. Damn, did he love this place.

“Professor Berry said there was an easy way to prove him wrong: meet
with you on and off for a week. If the city’s accident rate didn’t go
down when we were together, and back up when we were apart, he’d return
his consulting fee to the city.” The shake made a satisfying plopping
sound as he poured it into the glass. “His ideas are wacked. ‘Data
mining for non-intuitive connections?’ You can smell the bullshit from
three pastures away.”

Rated PG. Contains profanity. Including in the closing song.

EP144: Friction

By Will McIntosh.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Albedo One #30.

Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Will McIntosh.
All stories read by Steve Eley.
Closing music: “Blue Genes” by George Hrab.

Gruen was on the sixty-first master, and while his wisdom had
grown steadily, he had worn very little. He was incredibly
well-preserved–the palms of his three-fingered hands still sported the
deep, swirling ridges that had worn to nothing in most people before
they’d lived thirty years. Indeed, all of the myriad folds and ridges
in his thick maroon skin were for the most part intact. His eyes were
still housed in tight sockets, surrounded by thickly-ridged cheeks.
Besides the feet, the eyes were the greatest point of weakness for those
who aspired to read the works of the masters. Ceaseless up-and-down eye
movement caused the sockets to wear out, and eventually the reader’s
eyes fell out. At that point they were forced to trace the carved words
with their fingers. Friction quickly took its toll on the hands;
readers rarely made it through one master’s teachings this way before
their hands were ground to the wrist, and they were finished.

Rated PG.

Referenced Sites:

Nawashi, a podcast novel by Graydancer