In this week's stories, the characters fall through space, get trapped in poems, and pilot zeppelins in six-hour shifts. If you're still feeling sluggish from yesterday's feasting, just relax and settle in for a read. The Black Friday sales are never that great, anyway.
The Long Haul From the ANNALS OF TRANSPORTATION, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009 by Ken Liu | Clarkesworld Magazine
It was easy to see the zeppelins moored half a mile away from the terminal. They were a motley collection of about forty Peterbilts, Aereons, Macks, Zeppelins (both the real thing and the ones from Goodyear-Zeppelin), and Dongfengs, arranged around and with their noses tied to ten mooring masts, like crouching cats having tête-à-tête tea parties.
I went through customs at Lanzhou's Yantan Airport, and found Barry Icke's long-hauler, a gleaming silver Dongfeng Feimaotui—the model usually known in America, among the less-than-politically-correct society of zeppeliners, as the "Flying Chinaman"—at the farthest mooring mast. As soon as I saw it, I understood why he called it the American Dragon.
Icke had been one of the few to respond to my Internet forum ad asking if any of the long-haulers would be willing to take a writer for the Pacific Monthly on a haul. "I've read some of your articles," he had said. "You didn't sound too stupid." And then he invited me to come to Lanzhou.
Zeppelins are a favorite feature of alternate history — who can blame SF writers for imagining how different transportation would be without the Hindenburg disaster — and not just for the Steampunk crowd. What I loved in Liu's story is that it's as much about marriage, relationships, and culture as it is about exploring how different our world would be with zeppelins and severe limitations on corporate carbon emissions.
What Glistens Back by Sunny Moraine | Clarkesworld Magazine
You hear the call as the lander breaks up around you. You're aware of the entirely arbitrary concepts of up and down before you realize what's happening, and then they're a lot less arbitrary. Down is not so much a direction as a function of possibility, of what might happen to you, of what is happening now. You finally get down as an idea.
Look up and there it is, floating over you in stable low orbit with its backdrop of stars, long and sleek and lovely, all its modules and portholes out of which you spent so much time looking, and that voice clutches at you like it could hold onto you, and you almost start to fucking cry, and you're panicking and taking huge gasping breaths and clawing at nothing, and you're falling. And you can't come back. So the universe goes away for a while, and when you blink again, that brownish pitted curve beneath you is just a little bit bigger.
This contemplative story about a person dealing with a hopeless situation — i.e., falling through space toward a planet below — is beautifully woven together and, even with the inevitable ending, manages to be more uplifting than sad.
Image By Elizabeth Jordan Leggett
Without Faith, Without Law, Without Joy By Saladin Ahmed | Medium (reprint)
"Which of all earthly things he most did craue; And euer as he rode, his hart did earne To proue his puissance in battell braue Vpon his foe, and his new force to learne"
Holiness has murdered my brave brother.
Holiness has mangled my mind and my name.
Holiness has stolen God's love from me.
I am walking a winding road of pale stone. Who am I? Where am I? I have answers, but they are forged falsehoods. For…days? Years? My brothers and I have been forced to live in this world that is not our world. And I have half-forgotten my own.
The one who abducted us — the mailed man-thing called Holiness — calls this place Albion. He calls it Faerie Lond. He calls it the Glorious Isle. The sunlight here is cold and lifeless, the trees are strange, and the birds have evil eyes.
He has brought us here to test himself. To prove himself a worthy knight.
To hunt us.
I've never read Spenser's The Faerie Queen, so the full force of this story is likely lost on me. That said, I love the idea of three brothers being trapped inside the world of a poem by an evil sorcerer, forcing them to play out the drama he's written for himself. I also dig the commentary on renaissance and, I dare say, modern conceptions of and biases against Muslims from the Middle East. This is a story that does so many things on so many levels that it's possible to enjoy, even if you're only there for the adventure and revenge — but it's worth going deeper into the layers, if you're so inclined.
Read any good stories this week? Call 'em out in the comments.