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science fiction

45 articles
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Guardians

A space cowboy, an alien girl, a a quest; A Housleyian spin on Guardians of the Galaxy.

"They nodded at one another and closed ranks, each of them wobbly but still standing. Their foe was reduced to a pile of smoking robes. The thing they were fighting for – the thing they now knew could either save or destroy the universe – was steaming off-center among the scorched remains of their foe. They held their breath, all of them, while the Space Cowboy picked up the thing they had been fighting for, tossed it in the air, caught it in his other hand, and passed it to the Queen."

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A Planet for Rent

Trials and dangers abound for an interplanetary social worker.

"The Planetary Tourism Agency always compensated the family members of the unlucky victims of dematerialization, giving the evergreen excuse that on Earth they didn’t have enough experience managing such advanced equipment, because extraterrestrial technicians were reluctant to train human crews to run teleport booths. Maybe there was a bit of truth in that. Surely newly trained human teletransport specialists would get off the planet as fast as they could: artists, scientists, athletes—they all ran from their birth world as soon as extraterrestrial credits made them understand where true happiness could be found."

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Spew

A Profile Auditor goes sniffing after anomalies in the consumption habits and personal data of an unsuspecting hotel clerk.

"Through the Demosphere we fly, we men of the Database Maintenance Division, and although the Demosphere belongs to General Communications Inc., it is the schmos of the world who make it - every time a schmo surfs to a different channel, the Demosphere notes that he is bored with program A and more interested, at the moment, in program B. When a schmo's paycheck is delivered over the I-way, the number on the bottom line is plotted in his Profile, and if that schmo got it by telecommuting we know about that too - the length of his coffee breaks and the size of his bladder are an open book to us. When a schmo buys something on the I-way it goes into his Profile, and if it happens to be something that he recently saw advertised there, we call that interesting, and when he uses the I-way to phone his friends and family, we Profile Auditors can navigate his social web out to a gazillion fractal iterations, the friends of his friends of his friends of his friends, what they buy and what they watch and if there's a correlation."

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Every Thought, Every Motion

An Antarctic data hack.

"Still inside the joy, he moved quickly and quietly through the cold, barren corridor, past a row of humming, refrigerated steel doors labeled 'BSL-4 Biohazard,' into the sterile, white labs. Four five-thousand-liter liquid nitrogen tanks were lined up against the wall, the tubes that fed them thick with insulation against the extreme chill of the coolant. The third vat was open and breathing ice crystals into the air. He was glad he had loaded out with a virus filter in the mask. The power was still on, so the tank might freeze again. He pushed the lid shut, holding his breath just in case."

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The Men Who Flew Away

Three ambassadors find themselves on a familiar yet alien planet.

"He sees a red and white building that looks just like the pharmacy where he once filled prescriptions. He recognizes a squat building with a black awning and patio that looks similar to a restaurant where he and his wife once dined on Sunday afternoons. He spots a building that looks exactly the same as a bar all three men visited after their final training session at the space station across the city, sharing the last pitchers of beer they drank together before rocketing from earth."

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Authority [Chapter One]

The director of a covert organization arrives for his first day at work.

"Control took his time staring at the women, although their appearance told him little. They had all been given the same generic uniforms, vaguely army- issue but also vaguely janitorial. Their heads had all been shaved, as if they had suffered from some infestation, like lice, rather than something more inexplicable. Their faces all retained the same expression, or could be said not to retain any expression. Don't think of them by their names, he'd told himself on the plane. Let them carry only the weight of their functions at first. Then fill in the rest. But Control had never been good at remaining aloof. He liked to burrow in, try to find a level where the details illuminated without overwhelming him."

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Annihilation [Chapter One]

Four scientists begin exploring a sinister wilderness.

"We were on a dirt trail strewn with pebbles, dead leaves, and pine needles damp to the touch. Velvet ants and tiny emerald beetles crawled over them. The tall pines, with their scaly ridges of bark, rose on both sides, and the shadows of flying birds conjured lines between them. The air was so fresh it buffeted the lungs and we strained to breathe for a few seconds, mostly from surprise. Then, after marking our location with a piece of red cloth tied to a tree, we began to walk forward, into the unknown. If the psychologist somehow became incapacitated and could not lead us across at the end of our mission, we had been told to return to await 'extraction.' No one ever explained what form 'extraction' might take, but the implication was that our superiors could observe the extraction point from afar, even though it was inside the border."

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The Urashima Effect

In deep space, a physicist tries to cope with his isolation.

"He read several classic novels and philosophical texts to pass the next few days and exercised on the stringy, wiry contraption collapsed into one wall. The long hibernation had melted the muscle from him and congealed the quick currents of his mind, but he had to be alert, intelligent, and at his peak physical condition when he arrived. He was supposed to be disciplined. He was not supposed to replay his wife’s voice over and over, with longing and anxiousness. So he selected his parents’ recordings."

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The Skin Thing

Space colonists live in fear of a horrifying creature.

"The Skin Thing dragged itself along on two great stalks that looked like elbows. Imagine a person, out prone on the ground, that drags himself by fits and starts. The elbows strove to gouge the earth, as sharp and tall as circus poles, and they levered the body along by great drags. Its head stuck out eyeless, oblong as a horse’s. Behind the elbow-things it used to drag itself across the ground there stretched, like a laundry sheet strung out for drying, a tensile wall of thick pink skin."

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Grunt

A world in which an internal software turns anger and intense emotions into involuntary exercise.

"Then there are the monthly upgrades, downloaded automatically from GRUNT. A few months back the upgrade reprogrammed our sensors to monitor facial expressions and the tone of one’s voice, so you can’t fool it anymore by smiling or speaking softly. A quiet argument is still an argument to the executives at GRUNT. It certainly changed around Brad, my supervisor, who liked to hint at our utter worthlessness in this very quiet voice, a smile stretching across his face. There was something disturbing about watching him grin, and place his arm gently over your shoulder and lower his voice as his called your work garbage, your very existence a nuisance, all with this soft, earnest voice. Now he wears track shoes to work and does sprints in between insults, weaving in and out of the cubicles, stutter stepping like a hall of fame running back."

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The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling

Technologies of literacy, technologies of memory.

"Millions of people, some my age but most younger, have been keeping lifelogs for years, wearing personal cams that capture continuous video of their entire lives. People consult their lifelogs for a variety of reasons—everything from reliving favorite moments to tracking down the cause of allergic reactions—but only intermittently; no one wants to spend all their time formulating queries and sifting through the results. Lifelogs are the most complete photo album imaginable, but like most photo albums, they lie dormant except on special occasions. Now Whetstone aims to change all of that; they claim Remem’s algorithms can search the entire haystack by the time you’ve finished saying 'needle.'"

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The Art of Fiction No. 221: Ursula K. Le Guin

“The ‘hard’–science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that’s not science to them, that’s soft stuff. They’re not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that.”

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The Last Night of the World

A couple peacefully contemplates their imminent destruction.

"I dreamt that it was all going to be over and a voice said it was; not any kind of voice I can remember, but a voice anyway, and it said things would stop here on Earth. I didn't think too much about it when I awoke the next morning, but then I went to work and the feeling as with me all day. I caught Stan Willis looking out the window in the middle of the afternoon and I said, 'Penny for your thoughts, Stan,' and he said, 'I had a dream last night,' and before he even told me the dream, I knew what it was. I could have told him, but he told me and I listened to him."

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They All Looked Like Nails

A genetic engineer concocts a plan to transform a Galilean moon.

"Jonas is the conductor of a symphony, and must be familiar with each part, every section. He must keep them working in tandem, so he flits from group to group, giving encouragement. Visitors to the University wonder at the man skidding on the marble floors, running from A to E wing and back again. He reviews twenty sequences a day, though he is pleased to find few errors. His team works late. He works later. The key genes are reserved for his eyes alone, and when he sits back to watch the simulations play out he pictures the Watchmaker."

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The Daughters Of the Moon

Women are swayed by the moon's pull in a world dominated by consumerism.

"It was a depressing sight. We went out in the crowds, our arms laden with parcels, coming and going from the big department stores that were open day and night, and while we were scanning the neon signs that climbed higher and higher up the skyscrapers and notified us constantly of new products that had been launched, we’d suddenly see it advancing, pale amid those dazzling lights, slow and sick, and we could not get it out of our heads that every new thing, each product that we had just bought, could similarly wear out, deteriorate, fade away, and we would lose our enthusiasm for running around buying things and working like crazy—a loss that was not without consequences for industry and commerce."

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City of Human, City of Machine

An "architectural fiction" centered around a city built by machines, for machines.

"Social spaces for machines bear the fragments of their tasks, and nothing superfluous. Machines don't need places to eat or sleep, but they need places for their own sorts of socially evocative maintenance rituals. They need places where auto parts can be partially assembled and taken apart, time and time again, like a game. Machines hang out in cafes while working on mundane maintenance tasks, with their component addresses made public in unique ways, so that other machines can gather together and show off their range of operations. Machines that build other machines take their half-finished constructions out in the company of other machines, so that they can build them together and get input on possible alternatives. There are public machine exercise spaces, where machines go through their range of motions and data abilities, for the purpose of showing off their various tolerances."

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A Matter of Shapespace

In a digital world, two godlike corporations secretly plan to overtake another entity.

"They transmitted to cloudspace where there were no bodies. The nanocrystalline substrate was like gossamer wisps, visible only as glittering mica dust beneath the nourishing fusion showers of the sun. Billions of bodiless minds gathered, connected frail tendrils like excited jellyfish, and formed an optical array so they could watch from on high how the war was going. I can’t see the wave, Jacob transmitted to Jocelyn. She was an invisible presence beside him, little more than a compression of neuron–data, like him, and like two–thirds of the human race now."

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The Adventure Of the Space Traveler

After accidentally casting himself adrift in space, an astronaut's mind wanders over varied paths.

"According to his calculations, Barington had now been adrift in space for three months. This figure was based on his sleep schedule, which, although inexact, was his only possible point of reference. Whenever he determined that a day had passed, he reached up into his helmet and marked the inside of his visor with a tally, using a wax pencil he had found in his suit’s utility compartment. After the accumulation of seven tallies, he erased them with his thumb and drew a W for Week."

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The Semplica-Girl Diaries

A middle-class father, seeking to impress his daughter, purchases an unusual status symbol.

"After dinner, strolled grounds with Emmett, who is surgeon, does something two days a week with brain inserts, small electronic devices? Or possibly biotronic? They are very small. Hundreds can fit on head of pin? Or dime? Did not totally follow. He asked about my work, I told. He said, Well, huh, amazing the strange, arcane things our culture requires some of us to do, degrading things, things that offer no tangible benefit to anyone, how do they expect people to continue to even hold their heads up?"

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Welcome To Google Island

A cautionary satire about the potential excesses of an unchecked Google.

"'My Google Being anticipates everything I would think, everything I would want to say or do or feel,' Larry explained. 'Everywhere I would go. Years of research have gone into this. It is in every way the same as me. So much so that my physical form is no longer necessary. It was just getting in the way, so we removed it.'"

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Of Navigators

A writer and a spacefarer discuss time travel, the symmetry of the universe, and the conquest of America.

"Don't forget what I was in the middle of. I had to recount my adventures again, silently invoking Marco Polo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Italo Calvino, and the annals of geography. It turned out very well: they were all hanging on what I said, they were scared when they were supposed to be scared and they laughed when they were supposed to laugh."

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The Ghost of Berries

A boy roams a bleak dystopia, seeking fruit.

"The boy had never tasted fruit in his whole life. When his mother grew too sick to work, he tied a bandanna around his head and waited in the slog farm lines. He was underage but passed through the checkpoint with her ID and no one looked."

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The Outer Reaches Of Love

An astronaut, a superhero, a love story.

"Sometimes she feels like her marriage to a superhero was preordained; what other options did she have when her passion was split between flight and the stars? When she gets home, she’ll wrap her arms around his neck, twist her legs around his, lie down on his back and they’ll go carving through the night sky, ignoring gravity’s plaintive calls to come back down, the lights of industrial Houston like the stars reflected ten fold, the opaque water of the Gulf spotted with the miniature cities of oil rigs."

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Sexagesimal

Spending time and memories in the afterlife.

"1981, Teskia recalled, wasn't so bad. They had both been very young then, so the population would be sparse. They took a train (it was five days for the fare) and ended up in July. They traveled north until she found Zoya, living in October. Zoya wanted out of 1981; Teskia wanted in."

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Painwise

A man engineered to feel no pain travels the universe as an unwilling scout.

"Articulated motors were installed to move his limbs. Despite himself, a kind of zest grew. Two planets later he found industries and wrecked himself in a punch press. But on the next landing he tried to repeat it with a cliff and bounced on invisible force-lines. These precautions frustrated him for a time, until he managed by great cunning again to rip out an entire eye."

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Los

On a mission to the moon, a female astronaut reflects on her mission and her family life.

"John left and I had Jonah and I felt like I had a hole in me like rocket man, starting between my legs and going right up inside me. I asked Houston if I could stop the special events and training and trajectory and thrust for a little while so I could see my children's special events and training and trajectory and thrust. Houston copied that and so I did. For a little while. But after a little while it felt like a long while. John came back and my children were good and my status was good but I felt the moon calling."

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Florence

A man balances a lonely job and a lost love in a future universe where thousands of years can pass in the span of contemporary minutes.

"How will I get her to stay this time? I pull out the brochure for this place. It's yellowed and crumbling. The marketing slogan for the planet is at the top: It's Livable! The picture shows a human woman and a male Xorbite. The Xorbite is pointing at his main lung with a tentacle, as if to say, I am really enjoying this non-toxic nitrogen-based atmosphere! The previous version brochure had the woman holding a fish, until someone's mother sued the tourism bureau for false advertising claiming her son died because the picture misleadingly suggested that it was possible to catch fish here. The dead boy's mother won and the bureau had to change the brochure or stop printing it, but since the bureau has no funding, instead of retaking the picture, the bureau just touched up the image so that the woman now appears to be holding a football (or possibly a pizza) in one hand and giving the Xorbite a thumbs up with the other. The happily breathing Xorbite is giving her a tentacles-up sign as well."

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The Balcony Cliffs

Trying to maintain human relationships in a post-collapse underground city.

"Wick added special beetles and spiders and other precise infiltration mutations as he called them—so effective that even after the Company had cast him out and he had lost their protections, the strength of rumors alone protected him for a time. These creatures registered in my network of lines as pleasing nodes, unless I was angry with Wick, and then I thought of them as irritating, interfering knots in the system."

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Marooned In Andromeda

After a mutiny aboard a spaceship, three men are cast off on a mysterious planet with dangerous inhabitants.

"Now they were driven along a ravine in which ran a rapid stream. The ravine grew deeper; and sheer cliffs, increasing in height to a hundred feet or more, hemmed it in on each side. Rounding a sharp turn, the men saw before them a broad space of level shore, and above the shore a cliff that was lined with several rows of cavern-mouths and little steps cut in the stone. Dozens of pygmies, of the same type as their captors, were gathered before the entrances of the lower caves. An animated chattering arose among them at sight of the cavalcade and its prisoners."

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The Devil In Kansas [Excerpt]

Surreal samples from Ohle's latest novel, presented by Ben Marcus: a man's life in a world beset by aliens and their mysterious ways.

"Moe works in a grasshopper mill, a windowless hangar-like building on the outskirts of town. A cavernous, warm room, actually a huge incubator. Thousands of football-sized grasshopper/alien eggs lay row upon row under lights."

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The Women Men Don't See

A small plane crashes into the Yucatan wilderness at the outset of this classic of 1970s-era feminist science fiction.

"But something is irritating me. The damn women haven't complained once, you understand. Not a peep, not a quaver, no personal manifestations whatever. They're like something out of a manual."

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Game

An aging hunter pursues a fantastical tigress.

"And now, I'm in Kumaon, making my way up and into the forest toward Pali. Whatever haunts me, I intend to find it. A ghost, a tiger, a woman, a hallucination. Maybe these tracks are left by the wind, but I pursue my old enemy today¸ and if she finds me before I find her, I deserve what she plans for me."

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Six Months, Three Days

If you could see the future, how would it change your relationships? What if your partner could see the future too? Winner of a 2012 Hugo for Best Novelette.

"I just can't see a happy future where I don't date Doug. I mean, I like Doug, I may even be in love with him already, but... we're going to break each other's hearts, and more than that: We’re maybe going to break each other's spirits. There's got to be a detour, a way to avoid this, but I just can’t see it right now."

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The Veldt

A futuristic nursery room, controlled by their children's thoughts, wreaks havoc on a husband and wife.

"As for the nursery, thought George Hadley, it won't hurt for the children to be locked out of it awhile. Too much of anything isn't good for anyone. And it was clearly indicated that the children had been spending a little too much time on Africa. That sun. He could feel it on his neck, still, like a hot paw. And the lions. And the smell of blood. Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children's minds and created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—giraffes. Death and death."

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What Happened To Rocketman

An armchair astronaut attempts to become the first black man to walk on the moon.

"The robot had this fold-down flap on its backside and Wesley sat there, buckled in, and told us he and the robot were going to outer space. There were fuses attached to the thing's feet and we stood back as he lit them like Wile E. Coyote. Well, that crazy robot went up all right—right up in flames! And we all about fell on our faces laughing, Wesley loudest of all."

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Covehithe

A father and his daughter observe the emergence of mysterious, animal-like oil rigs.

"Only the most violent post-return decommissioning could stop all this, only second deaths, from which the rigs did not come back again, kept them from where they wished to go, to drill. Once chosen, a place might be visited by any one of the wild rigs that walked out of the abyss. As if such locations had been decided collectively. UNPERU observed the nesting sites, more all the time, and kept track of the rigs themselves as best they could, of their behemoth grazing or wandering at the bottom of the world."

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Exhalations

A robot anatomist contemplates the mysteries of the mind.

"While we knew a little about the structure of the brain, its physiology is notoriously hard to study because of the brain's extreme delicacy. It is typically the case in fatal accidents that, when the skull is breached, the brain erupts in a cloud of gold, leaving little besides shredded filament and leaf from which nothing useful can be discerned."

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Notes From The Gutter

A woman tells the story of her odd alien abduction.

"I was talking very fast, so as not to lose my nerve, but as soon as I stopped, I didn’t feel so good. I was able to tell that it had gone over very poorly. The one alien furrowed his brow. Then he translated for the others, and they too furrowed their brows. He turned to me. Why would you write something like that?"

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I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream

For over one hundred years, a malicious supercomputer named AM has enslaved five tortured survivors who look for a way out.

"Oh, Jesus sweet Jesus, if there ever was a Jesus and if there is a God, please please please let us out of here, or kill us. Because at that moment I think I realized completely, so that I was able to verbalize it: AM was intent on keeping us in his belly forever, twisting and torturing us forever. The machine hated us as no sentient creature had ever hated before. And we were helpless. It also became hideously clear:If there was a sweet Jesus and if there was a God, the God was AM."

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Lim Bs

At a nursing home, a middle-aged woman deals with her scientifically modified body and memories of her past.

"For the past few months, nanobots have been rebuilding Elise’s degenerative neural structures, refortifying the cell production of her microglia in an experimental medical procedure. Now she sits in the Memory Lane Neurotherapy lounge, strapped into a magnetoencephalographic (MEG) scanner that looks like a 1950s beauty parlor hair-drying unit. As a young female therapist monitors a glowing map of Elise’s brain, a male spits streams of nonsense at her."

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The Beachcomber

A conversation with a future being reveals the sad timelessness of modern problems.

"What would an unspoiled South Sea Islander have made of the first atomic war? Maxwell wondered. Morals of one society didn't apply to another, he knew. Still—was it possible that the Beachcomber's people, Maxwell's own descendants, still had a taint of the old Adam? And was it accident that they were the only dominant life-form in the entire universe, or had they eliminated all other contenders?"

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The Machine Stops

The Machine supports all remaining life and is not to be questioned in this science fiction classic.

"Advanced thinkers, like Vashti, had always held it foolish to visit the surface of the earth. Air-ships might be necessary, but what was the good of going out for mere curiosity and crawling along for a mile or two in a terrestrial motor? The habit was vulgar and perhaps faintly improper: it was unproductive of ideas, and had no connection with the habits that really mattered."

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The Soft Moon

Reflections on the uneasy relationship between the Earth and the moon.

" The sequel is familiar. After hundreds of thousands of centuries we are trying to give the Earth its former natural appearance, we are reconstructing the primitive terrestrial crust of plastic and cement and metal and glass and enamel and imitation leather. But what a long way we have to go! For a still incalculable amount of time we will be condemned to sink into the lunar discharge, rotten with chlorophyll and gastric juices and dew and nitrogenous gases and cream and tears."

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Luminarium [Excerpt]

What if science could trigger an out-of-body experience? Alex Shakar probes the question in this excerpt from his new novel, Luminarium

"He’s afraid: fear comes in ripples, emanating from his center. He can feel nothing but these ripples, he realizes, neither the chair beneath him nor the helmet on his head, nor his head itself."

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The God In the Trash

The oracular works of Philip K. Dick.