Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Autonomy Directive

 

by Tendai Huchu

 

The Soviet mycologist Grigor Grigorovich Bogomolov was a rising star in the science fiction literary scene. His first novella, Glorious Red Mars of the Eternal Revolution, was met with lukewarm acclaim, selling several hundred copies, enough for his friends to compare him favourably to Grigorii Grebnev. By day, Bogomolov battled with hosts of dermatomycoses, his particular focus being (and he always blushed when asked) vulvovaginal candidiasis. His colleagues at the institute were proud to have a published author in their midst and understood when he came for work in the mornings, red-eyed and weary, that Bogomolov was burning the candle at both ends in the service of literature and science.

Bogomolov was stuck in a block, unable to follow up with a novel despite the heartfelt urging of his publisher who believed in his talent. It didn’t help when three years after the publication of Glorious Red Mars, the critic Stepanischeva wrote a scathing review in красный гигант, denouncing the novella as ‘a thinly disguised subversive work pandering to western capitalist ideology bent on the ruination of the glorious revolution’. In his review, Stepanischeva argued that Mars was famously depicted by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to be home to warmongering, marauding Martians who seek to destroy the earth. He wrote that Bogomolov surely could not have missed the irony that Mars is dead and desolate. The article ended with the chilling denouncement: ‘Bogomolov should know that the red of Mars can never be compared to the glorious red of the Hammer and Sickle, of the blood of patriots spilt during the Revolution of 1917 and more recently during the Great Patriotic War!’

The review sent chills down Bogomolov’s spine. Colleagues at work began to view him with suspicion, refusing to share the table with him in the canteen during lunch as though he carried an infectious contagion. His editor, Boris Kropotkin, telephoned him in blind panic, voice quivering down the line and insisted they had to do something. The красный гигант was an influential journal and if the author was compromised, so too was his publisher. Bogomolov pointed out the absurdity of the review’s central premise since the journal itself was named after a class of stars that have exhausted their core hydrogen and switched to thermonuclear fusion in the shell, i.e. Red Giant was emblematic of a dying star and therefore unconsciously carried a more subversive message than Glorious Red Mars.

‘Please, I beg you; put such thoughts out of your mind. красный гигант is very powerful, you can’t win,’ Kropotkin wailed down the telephone. ‘You must do something that will distance you from that damned novella!’

‘What can I do?’ said Bogomolov dejected.

‘Write a new story, a patriotic story denouncing the evils of western individualism,’ Kropotkin declared. ‘We will publish it in our own journal, New Horizons, next week.’

All week Bogomolov didn’t attend work. Instead he stayed in his cold garret feverishly writing his last masterpiece – nearly forgotten now, but a classic of the Soviet short story – The Autonomy Directive. The language was stilted and bland, but the story was ideologically sound. In The Autonomy Directive, an unnamed western nation (the reader is invited to see it as the United States of America) builds a great computer the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza with one objective, to solve the main contradiction of western society, that of the primacy of individual rights within a collective society. A pact was made that whatever solution the computer came up with would be enforced by law. For years the capital was tormented by the sound of the computer’s cranking gears, its churning magnetic tape and the whirr of hot air blasting out of its cooling vents. In the seventh year, the computer printed out its solution. The government was shocked, but bound to these instructions all the same. The story ends with the ominous view of whole cities built of skyscrapers of velvet lined titanium coffins in which the citizens were entombed, each forever separate from his fellow man.

Bogomolov collapsed when he finished the story, and had to be rescued by his landlady, the kindly Vera Pavlona. The Autonomy Directive was published in New Horizons the following week, and was well received by красный гигант and several other leading journals. Kropotkin ensured that any remaining copies of Glorious Red Mars of the Eternal Revolution were pulped now that crisis had been averted. He turned back to Bogomolov and asked if he would now write something else. This is what Bogomolov said to him:

‘I can never write again, for now I have laid myself in my own velvet lined coffin. You and Stepanischeva can nail it shut together.’

He died a bitter old man in 1992 without ever having written another word.

 

Tendai Huchu is the author of The Hairdresser of Harare. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report, The Zimbabwean, Kwani? and numerous other publications. In 2013 he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. His next novel will be The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician.

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Soul 2

  

by Doug Hawley

 

All of the following news articles appeared in the Daily Northwest News.

March 15, 2044 Copenhagen, Denmark. A little over a year ago, S waves were discovered at the Denmark National Physics Laboratory by Magnus Albreck. Originally they were only detected in humans, leading some to claim that they were a physical manifestation of soul. We just received news that weak S waves have been discovered in chimps.

The same panel that discussed the original discovery has been reconvened to discuss this revelation.

Daytona Brown: As we indicated during the panel of March 5, 2043 which I led, we are now having the follow-up discussion of S waves. The timing is great because of the news that S waves have been found in chimps.

We have a panel with some of the original members and some new ones. Unfortunately, Chester Ogilvie, leader of Baptist USA, died recently, and abortion supporter Sue Feldman is unavailable, but we have Jason Evans of the Los Angeles Universalist Church and Mary Proctor from Planned Parenthood to replace them. Biologist and atheist Roger Sawkins, Magnus Albreck, the discoverer of the S Waves, and Jeremy Atkins from PETA are back from last year’s panel.

Brown – Opening statements?

Evans – I don’t know how Mr. Ogilvie would have felt about these results. Maybe that there are many mansions in the Lord’s heaven? Chimp mansions and human mansions? I don’t think that these waves necessarily represent soul, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Sawkins – No matter how many animals or objects give off S waves, I don’t believe in God or heaven. However, finding another source of S waves is intriguing.

Proctor – This has no effect on me. We don’t get much call for chimp abortions.

Atkins – I think that we have more evidence that higher apes are our brothers and sisters and should be treated with respect equal to humans. In fact, that respect should be accorded to all non-human animals.

Albreck – I was amazed at the discovery of S waves in humans. Now that they exist in at least some animals, I wonder what will find tomorrow.

Brown – In what way do these later results affect your thinking?

Sawkins – Before, when S waves were only found in humans, I believed that there was a qualitative difference between humans and animals. Now I have to question that. What will we find with more sensitive machines?

Evans – We Universalists are divided about a supreme being. If we can identify S waves as representing the soul, I believe that will tip the debate.

Proctor – Until S waves are confirmed to exist in fetuses, I think that the majority of the US will still favor allowing abortions as now permitted by the law. If S waves are found in the fetus, we have a whole new ballgame.

Atkins – It doesn’t change my thinking at all; it confirms what I thought all along.

Albreck – It makes we want to see if we can refine our EMW machinery to find any S waves anywhere else , perhaps with lower amplitude than those presently detectable.

Brown – Closing statements?

Proctor – Regardless of whom or what has S waves, let’s use science and education to keep abortions safe and rare.

Evans – Whether or not you believe in God, any person or animal with S waves is special.

Atkins – I concur with Mr. Evans.

Albreck – I’ll be back in the lab. I’m elated to be living in these times with the progress we are making.

Sawkins – I hope that Dr. Albreck will collaborate with my fellow biologists to see what the implication of S waves is in the animals that have them.

 

Doug Hawley is a former actuary (extuary) who writes, snowshoes, volunteers and hikes. Formerly was a volunteer wheel chair jockey (pusher, roll model, unpaid escort) at a hospital and now is a volunteer book seller in support of his local library and a killer of invasive species at his local park. He lives with editor and musician Sharon. He currently resides in Lake Oswego OR and has lived in Manhattan (KS that is), Atlanta, Louisville, Denver, LA and marvy Marin CA.

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Places to Nest

 

by Joy Clark

 

You’ve seen her somewhere before, this female officer with her bleached hair and tree stump snarl. Maybe at the dentist’s, bending over a crate of soda on aisle five, slipping into the back at an Easter church service? So many of your childhood memories are stories you told yourself under the covers: I ran away from the orphanage, I was rescued from the orphanage by pirates, I have the orphanage stored inside me somewhere between lungs and liver. Your parents never liked these stories.

Your parents: Why can’t you ever daydream about nice things?

The female officer sifts through the items in your trunk as if she is looking for shells on a beach. Handful after handful, slipping between her fingers back into the night sky that is your trunk. You look up. Above you is the damp concrete of a parking garage, a horse head graffiti alongside the red-painted words ‘fuck them.’ How long has that been there, you wonder, how long have those words slept above you warding the death angel away from your flaky-skinned Corolla?

Now the officer has found your shells. The plaid underwear your sister bought you in secret when you were thirteen, the small tobacco pipe you stole from your cancerous uncle, a few bars of melted down crayon bits your mother poured into muffin tins when your dad said there was no money for stupid new crayons.

Female officer: You know it’s illegal to sleep here.

The exact same thing a manager at Kroger told you last week. You had your sunshades up in the windows, the metallic fabric protecting you against moonlight, streetlight, and prying eyes. Curled up in the backseat like a cat, nose pressed against your knees. You had just used a bit of your remaining $90 to buy microwavable ravioli with pull-off tabs that you would eat cold and gelatinous. It was piled along with instant coffee and a few jugs of water in your floor board. The manager at Kroger wrapped the roof of your car with his fist, a sound like hail. He said he’d call the police.

You drive deep into the wooded backcountry of Nacogdoches. County road after county road, each twisting farther back, a thread of them hopelessly tangled together. You find an abandoned trailer park, drive behind it, slip your way into the backseat and hug yourself close under a blanket.

When you wake, you think you can smell pine and wet earth. Somewhere through the trees you hear a man yelling at his dog or his wife or his child. The trees take the words, they protect you from the sharp obscenities, but the waves of his anger roll over you. You crank your car and leave.

You only ever sleep in your clothes now. You shower at the local college rec center, and you always take an extra shirt in the shower with you to scrub and scrub at the red dribble of ravioli down the front.

You know there has to be a way to make friends at school, a way to find someone to help you, protect you, or at least buy you a hot meal. They seem compassionate enough, these clean-faced girls in the hallway wearing gym shorts and t-shirts. Laughing, arms draped around one another. But they cannot know you; they cannot know you as you have known yourself.

What you want to say to the female officer: I’m sorry. I am going to get a job soon. Any day now. Somewhere that will hire me, do you know anywhere that will hire a girl with no high school diploma, no work experience, no connections? When I get a job I will find someone who needs a roommate. I will sleep on someone’s couch or air mattress. I will check craigslist every morning in the student center.

What you want the female officer to say back: I’m sorry too. For those scriptures you were taught at home, your so-called education. Sorry that your dad held a nail gun to your head when you wanted to leave, sorry that your mom said you should be discreet, chaste, a keeper at home, good, obedient to her own husband. You have a car, at least. You’re going places.

There are sirens in the distance as she closes the trunk. She doesn’t comment on the blankets, the emergency first aid kit, the cans of food. The drugs that she was hoping to find are blank shells: you have nothing more than a tube of Neosporin.

Female officer: It is legal to nap almost anywhere. Say, if you’re taking a long road trip. And you just need an hour or two of shut eye.

You: It’s been a long trip.

Female officer: I expect you to be out of here by dawn.

You watch her as she climbs back into her patrol car. She seems tired, drives out slowly, a longboat with no wind in the sails. You catch a glimpse of your own reflection in the glass. Greasy hair, grey eyes, an earthbound bird nesting. I think I’ve seen you somewhere before, you tell yourself. The lights of the parking garage beam like eyes: proud, supportive, distant.

 

Joy Clark is currently pursuing her B.F.A. in Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. She has been published in HUMID, the undergraduate literary magazine of her school, and she currently serves as a Fiction Editor on HUMID’s staff.

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Practical Solution

 

by Melissa Ostrom

 

Ernest painted in oils and either brushed as many details as he could fit into a diminutive space, like a village reflected in the curve of a cane handle, or exhausted over a large canvas one detail, like a blade of grass in all of its minutiae: the tear from a rabbit’s gnaw, dew’s glitter, the vein through the middle.

Eden supposed she liked his work. At least she didn’t dislike it. She’d seen his microscopic and telescopic approaches in the gallery owned by the university where he taught. He’d won some acclaim. She didn’t particularly care.

She was a potter, intent on creating objects intended for daily use in a home. Usually this imagined home included elements she missed or lacked, a parent who baked a favorite dessert, a child who trailed a favorite blanket on her way to the table. Her pot could find its way into these domestic scenes, and she liked to think it might become yet another favorite something for someone.

Mostly she sold on consignment. She taught, too, at the university, just twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, enough to augment her irregular earnings.

In the beginning of the fall semester, she greeted her new students. One was the artist professor. Ernest. While she reviewed the syllabus, he wandered from the worktable where the class had gathered. He smiled at the glass case that exhibited her pots. He smoothed his thin bangs across his forehead. The students’ eyes followed him. When she finished trying to recall their attention with her list of course expectations, she asked if anyone had questions. They didn’t know if they had questions. They hadn’t been listening.

However, Ernest, with a tap against the case, called across the studio, ‘Don’t you sculpt?’

No.’ Eden neatened the extra syllabi into a stack. ‘I work on the wheel.’

Ah.’ He returned to the stool he’d vacated earlier, gently kicked the floor and twirled a little so that he faced her directly. ‘Just functional pottery.’

Yes.’ She patted the syllabi against her thigh. ‘Dysfunctional pottery wouldn’t work so well for people.’

He sneered.

She was annoyed and confused. She hadn’t misrepresented her class in the course description. She hadn’t set out to trick students into thinking she taught the fundamentals of sculpting. Clearly, her class focused on wheelwork: wedging, centering, opening, raising walls, shaping, trimming, glazing and firing. Yet he made her feel fraudulent.

Throughout the semester, he deigned to watch her demos. But instead of taking his turn at the wheel, he spent the remainder of each class at a worktable, his tools carefully arranged around him, and attempted to teach himself what he could about sculpting. After she showed her students how to alter a lip for a pitcher, he experimented with impressing objects into a slab. The next class, after she demonstrated pulling a handle, he sidled back to his table to connect the slabs in an artful way.

Only once, during a workshop’s final minutes, when it was time to bag clay scraps and clean tools, did he try the wheel. Eden had the satisfaction of watching him struggle with a too-big lump of clay. It flayed in his stranglehold. It spewed red iron oxide droplets across his shirt. He looked like a cowboy wrangling a rabid steer. She turned to hide her grin.

He was never short on advice. He instructed her on how to use her own tools (for decorating purposes) and showed her photos from ceramists’ books that proved how pots – distorted, composited, employed as round canvases – could escape functionality. She smiled politely and got back to work.

Toward the semester’s end, he stood over her where she still sat, having just modeled a technique for handling an especially large portion of clay. Then he suggested, ‘You could cut right into that vase with a pointed slab and proclaim something violently poignant about the atrocities of modernity encroaching on the mundane rituals of everyday life.’ He went so far as to demonstrate what he meant. With a slapped-together sword of clay. Straight into her vase.

She gasped.

The students shuffled back.

See? Now that makes a statement.’

The Tuesday night they mixed glazes, he asked her out on a date.

Eden mutely stared at him. She thought about the violence with which a circumstance can encroach on her life’s peaceful rituals. But she didn’t tell him off. Rather, she invited him to meet her here on Friday, at eight o’clock, when she planned to start the glaze firing.

They met by the gas kiln. It was large, a room in itself, domed and bricked. Its interior held shelves of imperfect work. It would take years for the students to produce anything that didn’t possess the unevenness of a kindergarten project. Years. She told him this. She was defending the years she, herself, had committed to the learning, the practice. She was giving him a last chance.

He snorted a laugh then stepped into the kiln to better examine the peep hole where she kept the small cone that would bend in accordance to the heat.

The next semester, she taught her evening class. But one night in her own studio, she wedged an incredible amount of clay, a kind especially laden with grog. It was not a throwing body. Its substantial structure made it a sculpting medium. She threw it on the wheel anyway, ignoring how its grog of hard fired bits cut into her hands. She made this pot big, enormous actually, until she had to stand on her stool to finish the neck and flare its inch-thick lip with her piece of wet chamois. When it was done, her arms ached, and her palms felt crucified. But after she stepped off the stool, she took in her work.

It was the grandest pot she’d ever made, large enough to collect a year’s worth of rainwater, hold a bacchanalian feast, envelop, like a womb, a grown man.

 

 

Melissa Ostrom lives in rural Western New York with her husband and children. She teaches English at a community college, serves as a public school curriculum consultant and writes whenever and however much her four year old and six year old let her.

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