Tactical Awareness: 100 100-word stories about the uneasy sense of living in the Uncanny Valley
TACTICAL AWARENESS is a collection of one hundred SF short stories, each of them one hundred words long.
I wrote it to get rid of a mood by condensing it and writing it down: the fascinated, uneasy sense of having relocated into the Uncanny Valley without quite meaning to, and the landscape does listen, and didn't we use to have winters? As catharsis it proved an utter failure, but I think it works as a (partial!) commonplace book of things we're doing we probably, by and large, should not.
I can't tell my son how every rich city first envied, and then bought, the ubiquitous automated gun networks the military developed to make occupations safe for the occupiers.
I could explain that the guns were taught, he has lived all of his life with machines that learn, but how could I explain that they were taught in a place where kids are seen as potential security threats?
All I can do is hold him tight when he mourns his classmates, and tell him his teachers are right, he should never run when there's a security alarm.
The Black Ships
They are painted white to help cool down the containers, but everybody calls them the Black Ships, just like everybody knows their flags are meaningless. The money for the retrofitted container ships is American and European, and the reason they anchor near the coast of every war and disaster is that they will take passengers for free, but not to either place.
Nobody knows where they take them. But they know what they are running from, and when the containers are nearly full they push their children aboard however they can, and remain on the rafts watching them leave.
The Lotus Clause
They didn't take my car; they made it forget my hand. For years it had opened to my touch, and only mine.
I sat on the curb and cried.
One day, months later, the bus ignored my face and demanded cash,. The people behind me looked away, embarrassed.
Now I'm standing at the front door of a house that's asking who I am.
Only the street cameras know me, but they couldn't care less. I take my gun and try to make them.
But the gun lies inert in the unrecognized palm of my hand.
The two of you are covering the door, guns steady. Only somebody desperate robs a store in an CrowdCop zone of Austin, but this situation is what you downloaded the app for: be close to a crime, respond quickly, protect lives, make a buck.
Somebody runs through the door, and you almost shoot before seeing it's a fleeing woman, but the other man has already fired. The woman falls. It takes five seconds for your phone to beep: you know what for, but the other man takes one second too long to realize.
This time you shoot first.
They say the last whale wasn't harpooned: when she knew herself the last, she sang one last song and let herself drown. The last whaler sold a single copy of that song.
Having lost them, we still had recordings, and eventually reconstructed their language. Not one of things but of flowing seas and growing fear. Understanding broke our hearts.
The last song was, appropriately, translated last. I had bought and kept it secret, so I would be the first to know its meaning. After I did I destroyed it and told no-one.
It was a command: Hide.
From an excerpt from last year's The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, the rules of "Freddish" -- as Mr Rogers' crewmembers jokingly referred to the rigorous rules that Rogers used to revise his scripts to make them appropriate and useful for the preschoolers in his audience.
Earlier this month, I reviewed Richard Kadrey's new novel "The Grand Dark" for the LA Times; as I wrote, "His latest is “The Grand Dark,” a noir, diesel punk book set in a Weimar world of war trauma, debauchery, cabaret and looming disaster — and it's superb."
The Clarion workshops (Clarion at UCSD, Clarion West in Seattle) are key elements of the pipeline for producing excellent new science fiction and fantasy writers; I am a graduate of Clarion 92, and have taught both workshops, and volunteer on the board for The Clarion Foundation, which oversees the Clarion workshop at UCSD.
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