Posts Tagged ‘Lavie Tidhar’

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Escape Pod 881: Wild Geese

Wild Geese

by Lavie Tidhar

With rustling wings the wild geese fly
Round fields long strange to hand of toil
Called by the officers in charge,
We labour on the desert soil.

—Trans. from the Shijing by James Legge (1871)


With the end of summer the wild geese appeared, heralding the changing of the seasons. In the bazaars on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar the usual crowds of Silk Roaders engaged in ever more heated commerce. Soon it will be winter: ice and dust storms, and the train crews grumbling and swearing on the tracks, and any sensible hobo would be long gone, to work out the winter as far south-west as possible. Now boots and fur coats made their grand appearance on the stalls of the Naran Tuul, and Silk Roaders from Tehran and Yekaterinbug, Gdańsk and Dushanbe argued bitterly with each other and haggled over wholesale prices, shipping berths and train routes.

Efrem knew they would soon be gone. Traders were like wild dandelion seeds, ubiquitous and easy to take flight. Efrem, who rode the rail to Ulaanbaatar from Yiwu the year before, considered themselves almost a local at this point. Now they chewed on a khuushuur and contemplated the chase.

The first wild goose of the season had been spotted, somewhere to the west of Dalanzadgad.

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Escape Pod 544: Only Human

Only Human

by Lavie Tidhar

There are four Three-times-Three Sisters in the House of Mirth, and five in the House of Heaven and Hell, and two in the House of Shelter. Four plus five plus two Three-by-Threes, and they represent one faction of the city.

You may have heard tales of the city of Polyphemus Port, on Titan, that moon of raging storms. First city on that lunar landscape, second oldest foothold of the Outer System, or so it is said, though who can tell, with the profusion of habitats in those faraway places of the solar system? A dome covers the city, but Polyport spreads underground – vertical development they called it, the old architects. And its tunnels reach far into the distance, linking to other settlements, small desolate towns on that wind-swept world, where majestic Saturn rises in the murky skies.

There are two Five-times-Six Sisters in the House of Forgetting, and five Eight-by-Eights in the House of Domicile. We who are a ones, and will one day be zeros, we cannot hope to understand the way of the Sisterhoods of Polyphemus Port, on Titan.

Understanding, as Ogko once said, is forgiveness.

Shereen was a cleaner in the House of Mirth in the day, and in the evening in the House of Domicile. It was a good, steady job. On Polyport all jobs connect to trade, to cargo. A thousand cults across space arise and fall around cargo. In the islands of the solar system cargo achieves mythical overtones, the ebb and flow of commerce across the inner and outer systems, of wild hagiratech from Jettisoned, best-grade hydroponics marijuana and raw materials from the belt, argumentative robots from the Galilean Republics, pop culture from Mars, weapons from Earth, anything and everything. Polyphemus Port services the cluster of habitats that circle Saturn, and links to the Galilean Republics on the four major moons of Jupiter. It links the inner system with the wild outposts of Pluto – with Dragon’s World on Hydra and Jettisoned on Charon, and the small but persistent human settlements beyond Saturn, in the dark echoey space that lies in between Uranus and Neptune.

People are strange in the Outer System, and the few Others, too, who make their homes there. Some say the Others, those digital intelligences bred long ago by St. Cohen in Earth’s first, primitive Breeding Grounds, have relocated en masse to the cold moons of the outer system, installing new Cores away from human habitation, but whether it is true or not, who can tell? Whatever the truth of all this is, it suffices to say that all jobs on Polyport, directly or indirectly, are linked with the business and worship of cargo, and that some jobs are always in demand.

Shereen apprenticed as a cleaner in the landing port beyond the city, a vast dust-bowl plane where RLVs like busy methane-breathing bees rise and fall from the surface to orbit, there to meet the incoming and outgoing space-going vessels to ferry people and cargo back and forth. She was seconded to Customs inspections slash Quarantine, scouring ships’ holds for unwanted passengers, the rodents and bacteria, fungus and von Neumann machines; from there she moved dome-side, abandoning her public sector job in favour of the private. She cleaned houses both above- and under-ground, until at last she settled on the dual work for the House of Mirth and the House of Domicile, a work associated, after all, with cargo and religion both.

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Escape Pod 341: Aphrodisia


By Lavie Tidhar

It began, in a way, with the midget hunchback tuk-tuk driver.

It was a night in the cool season…

The stars shone like cold hard semi-precious stones overhead. Shadows moved across the face of the moon. The beer place was emptying –

Ban Watnak where fat mosquitoes buzzed, lazily, across neon-lit faces. Thai pop playing too loudly, cigarette smoke rising the remnants of ghosts, straining to escape Earth’s atmosphere.

In the sky flying lanterns looked like tracer bullets, like fireflies. The midget hunchback tuk-tuk driver said, ‘Where are you going -?’ mainlining street speed and ancient wisdom.

Tone: ‘Where are you going?’

The driver sat on the elevated throne of his vehicle and contemplated the question as if his life depended on it. ‘Over there,’ he said, gesturing. Then, grudgingly – ‘Not far.’

But it was far enough for us.

Tone and Bejesus and me made three: Tone with the hafmek body, all spray-painted metal chest and arms, Victorian-style goggles hiding his eyes, a scarf in the colours of a vanished football team around his neck – it was cold. It was Earth cold, not real – there was no dial you could turn to make it go away. Bejesus not speaking, a fragile low-gravity body writhing with nervous energy despite the unaccustomed weight – Bejesus in love with this planet Earth, a long way away from his rock home in space.
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Science Future: Insuring Intelligence

Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction has upon each other.

Insuring Intelligence

The human race is the smartest life form on the plant Earth. To some that statement is simple fact and to others it sounds incredibly arrogant. Yet no one can deny the progress we’ve made scientifically in the last few centuries and with breakthrough technologies emerging quicker and quicker, very few claim to know where we are going.

However I claim to know where we should go and that place is outer space. So much of our science fiction draws upon the possibilities of what we could find beyond our own atmosphere. For example in Escape Pod 309: The Insurance Agent a significant portion of humanity had come to believe that intelligence beings come from somewhere other than Earth to embody the influential members of the human race such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Jean D’arc, Elvis, and Madonna.

Whatever you might personally believe about this theory the possibility of extraterrestrial life is not completely unprovable. For example, astronomers have discovered a quasar which is producing water which as we known is one of the major requirements for life as we know it. The quasar has in fact produced 140 trillion times more water than all that could be collected from the Earth. Of course this quasar is an estimated 12 billion light years away (about 30 billion trillion miles, not that means anything to the average person) so it is unlikely we will ever reach it without inventing or discovering some kind of faster than light travel, which is impossible according to our current understanding of physics. Or is it?

Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research have released findings showing neutrinos, subatomic particles that make up an atom, that move faster than the speed of light. Their findings are now being rigorously studied for possible faults since it would begin a re-write of some of the fundamental theories of physics. Yet another example of how science slowly and methodically changes its view points in order to build a better understanding the universe. The human race, however, is not typically so methodic.

I can't speak to the paper's scientific merits, but it's really cool how on page 10 you can see that their reference GPS beacon is sensitive enough to pick up continential drift under the detector (interrupted halfway through by an earthquake).

In The Insurance Agent, it is explained that the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings, as it is called, is a concept that goes in and out of vogue. This is understandable when you compare this to the conclusions found by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Their studies show that if only ten percent of a population holds an unshakable belief, that said belief will end up being adopted by the majority of society. Even more interestingly, these beliefs, once they reach the critical ten percent threshold, tend to spread quickly. The best examples being the overthrowing of decade long dictatorships. Fundamentally most people don’t like to hold an unpopular opinion except, as a popular meme tells us, for haters, who have to hate.

Science fiction I think is an imperfect example of an unshakable belief. For years we have continued to write science fiction about space exploration and with each passing year, we understand and find more and more about the sky above us. The ideas put forth by our stories and their adoption by readers could be the ten percent needed to inspire the next young scientist to test if Lady Gaga is really an alien or not.

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. – Muhammad Ali


Escape Pod 309: The Insurance Agent

The Insurance Agent

By Lavie Tidhar

The bar was packed and everyone was watching the Nixon-Reagan match. The fighters were reflected off the bar’s grainy wood countertop and the tables’ gleaming surfaces and seemed to melt as they flickered down the legs of the scattered chairs. The bar was called the Godhead, which had a lot to do with why I was there. It was a bit of an unfair fight as Reagan was young, pre-presidency, circa-World War Two, while Nixon was heavy-set, older: people were exchanging odds and betting with the bar’s internal gaming system and the general opinion seemed to be that though Reagan was in better shape Nixon was meaner.

I wasn’t there for the match.

The Godhead was on Pulau Sepanggar, one of the satellite islands off Borneo, hence nominally under Malaysian federal authority but in practice in a free zone that had stronger ties to the Brunei Sultanate. It was a convenient place to meet, providing easy access to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, Singapore, which resented the island’s role as a growing business centre yet found it useful at the same time.

She wore a smart business suit and a smart communication system that looked like what it was, which was a custom-made gold bracelet on her left arm. She wore smart shades and I was taking a bet that she wasn’t watching the fight. She was drinking a generic Cola but there was nothing generic about her. I slid into a chair beside her and waited for her shades to turn transparent and notice me.

‘Drink, Mr. Turner?’

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Book Review: “Osama” by Lavie Tidhar

It’s been about ten years since Al Qaeda operatives flew jets into three U.S. buildings (and were thwarted before they could hit a fourth). In that time we’ve all suffered the effects, which is to say: a couple of wars, a lot of political punditry, the unfortunate rise of Sean Hannity, and the end of flying for fun thanks to security theater (at least, in the U.S., where I live). I think it’s safe to say that most people wish the bombings had been nothing but a story, a book they could read and then put down again.

In Lavie Tidhar’s new novel Osama, that’s exactly the world the characters inhabit.

Osama is the story of Joe, a private detective residing in Vientaine (in Laos), who is commissioned by a mysterious woman to find a man named Mike Longshott. What makes Longshott special is this: he is the author of a series of pulp novels entitled Osama bin Laden: Vigilante. With a nearly unlimited line of credit, courtesy of his employer, Joe travels to Paris, London, and elsewhere in search of the mysterious author, only to find his way blocked by false leads and government agents who kick the crap out of him.

Despite being a short novel — under 300 pages — it took me a while to finish the book because it just didn’t draw me in. I’m usually a fan of alternate history — both in short and long form, from Pullman to Turtledove and beyond — but my issue with Osama was that, while a Turtledove novel (for example) will pick a single point in history to change, I was never really sure what was different about Osama — or, even, when it took place. If the book shows a world where Bin Laden didn’t commit or mastermind terrorist acts, then I clearly don’t know enough about the history and impact of the man, pre 9/11, to comprehend what might have changed because he didn’t exist. That was a major sticking point for me while reading the novel, and someone better versed in recent history might not have that problem*.

Osama did have a lot of rich scenery — Tidhar is a well-traveled writer who has lived in many locations worldwide, and as such he has a wealth of experience to draw on in creating an Osama-free world. He also changed enough about that world that, if it was supposed to be contemporary to our own, readers are forced to wonder just how much technological advancement was driven by terrorism (or violence in general). The big difference was that no one used computers. And, as for air travel, things were very different in Joe’s world: he is still allowed to smoke on airplanes, non-first-class passengers get meals, and if there is any airport security to speak of, I completely missed it.

I generally read books for enjoyment, not enrichment — although I don’t mind being required to think or project my knowledge to get the full benefit of a book. However, I think that, to enjoy (or even fully appreciate) Osama, readers have to engage far more critical thinking skills than I really felt was necessary. I had to fill in too many expository gaps and I’m not even sure I did that correctly. While well-written, the story, though straightforward, didn’t keep me as interested and engaged as I think it could have done.

You may enjoy this book, especially if you like alternate history or are a student of (or commentator upon) current events. But it wasn’t the book for me.


Special thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

Note to parents: this book contains violence and adult subject matter. Plus, if younger readers don’t have more than just a passing familiarity with terrorist acts beyond 9/11, they may find themselves lost. Of course, you should use your own discretion when it comes to your children.


* The first time I was truly exposed to the name Osama Bin Laden was the morning of 9/11 — I was working on a morning radio show and we saw the video of the first tower just after the first plane hit it. The host, a Lebanese-American, took one look and (off-air) said “Osama Bin Laden”.

Escape Pod 294: The Night Train

The Night Train

By Lavie Tidhar

Her name wasn’t Molly and she didn’t wear shades, reflective or otherwise.

She was watching the length of the platform.

Hua Lamphong at dusk: a warm wind blowing through the open platforms where the giant beasts puffed smoke and steam into the humid air, the roof of the train station arching high overhead.

Her name wasn’t Noi, either, in case you asked, though it’s a common enough name. It wasn’t Porn, or Ping. It wasn’t even Friday.

She was watching the platform, scanning passengers climbing aboard, porters shifting wares, uniformed police patrolling at leisure. She was there to watch out for the Old Man.

She wasn’t even a girl. Not exactly. And as for why the Old Man was called the Old Man . . .

He was otherwise known as Boss Gui: head and bigfala bos of the Kunming Toads. She got the job when she’d killed Gui’s Toad bodyguards—by default, as it were. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 234: The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion

By Lavie Tidhar

It was afternoon, after school has ended for the day. Sash has been working in the hydroponics gardens, helping the adults with the delicate work of picking the buds. It was flowering time, and the ganja plants were at the end of their cycle.

It was then, with her hands sticky with resin and her skin tingling pleasantly from the work and the heat, with Mama Kingston’s deep, melodious voice saying ‘a good harvest, child, a good harvest’ with a throaty chuckle, when Sash felt about herself the presence of Jah in everything she did and was profoundly happy: it was then that Sash discovered, for the first time, the existence of the Secret.

Escape Pod 225: A Hard Rain at the Fortean Café

A Hard Rain at the Fortean Café

By Lavie Tidhar

The diner stood off the highway outside a small town optimistically called Hope. Hope was being stuck in the middle of the Northwest and wishing you were someplace, anyplace else. And Hope was also the name on the tag pinned to the dead woman in waitress uniforms that was currently lying against the wall inside the _Barbie-Q Roadhouse_. I had to stop myself from worrying at the connection: looking for patterns when sometimes there are none at all.

I wasn’t worried about Hope (the waitress, not the town). I didn’t get called down here for a murder: shit, murder is an honest-to-God American pastime. Just look at the statistics. No, I got called in because of the Marilyn.

The Marilyn was also dead. All in all, there were five dead people in the Barbie-Q: two waitresses; a balding man who – from his bag full of cheaply-printed catalogues – was some sort of a general salesman; the diner’s manageress; and Marilyn. They had been shot by a machine gun, probably an Uzi. Marilyn’s head left a red smear against the glass of the booth she sat in. She was there alone.

What the hell was a Marilyn doing out here?

Escape Pod 163: Revolution Time

Show Notes

Rated R. Contains some profanity, some violence, and communist propaganda. May be illegal in Louisiana.

Referenced Sites:

Special closing music: “Think For Yourself” by George Hrab.

Revolution Time

By Lavie Tidhar

“I don’t see why you necessarily think it leads to the Chrono area,” Monty said, playing devil’s advocate. It was a month earlier, at the usual place: The Trotsky, a damp, dark watering hole in a run-down part of town which, rumour had it, was once visited by the man himself, in his own dark, yet colourful, past.

“Where else would it lead, man?” Morgan sparked up a joint and stared at him across the table. The smoke framed her face like the shape of a heart. “I wouldn’t be here –” she waved her finger at him, “and you wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t something both of our respective organisations thought was worth pursuing.”

I smiled, admiring her strength and her energy. Monty scowled. “Take that puppy-dog-in-love look off your face. It’s embarrassing. And you,” he said, addressing Morgan, “should know better than to get your hopes up. After all, as the saying goes, they only ever bring back Shakespeare.”

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