Small Thoughts: The Edges of The World by Grace Seybold

The Edges of The World by Grace Seybold, is a short story published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #289, Oct 10, 2019. You can read it here.

The Edges of The World plays off the premise of the man who dreamed he was a butterfly only to question whether he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

The piece is full of little details that make this piece real even though it takes place in a fictional empire where dissent isn’t tolerated. The details put me in mind of an eastern empire, though it could be something in the tradition of somewhere else.

The plot feels quite secondary in this piece, regardless of the fact that it’s a fantasy tale. However, the fantastical aspects are implied rather than deliberately shown or stated, rather in the tradition of magical realist world-view storytelling, rather than outright fantasy.

While it’s not an exciting piece, so to speak, it is certainly a thoughtful one. The different elements of this piece give it a lonely and–not forboding, but certainly, melancholy feeling. It is, in every way, atmospheric. Worth the short amount of time to read, though not as attention-grabbing as most “adventure fantasy,” the Beneath Ceaseless Skies is known for.

Small Thoughts: Short Story Review

Sparkle and Shine

By Tonia Laird
Speculative City, Volume Five: Occult

Speculative City is a small, but quality speculative fiction magazine, only published online. They run a Patreon here, but it’s mostly to supplement/offset the money the editors spend (out of pocket) in order to produce the mag.

Sparkle and Shine by Tonia Laird is a flash fiction piece that focuses on the occult dealings of humans with demons. Goes with the territory I suppose.

Flash fiction works in some pretty confined ways, and with this piece just under 700 words, you can see why. The premise is built quickly. A husband and wife have arrived home. Everything from the syntax to the word choice feels gloomy. Whatever the reason for their late arrival can’t be good.

Then the information of the plot, which is also backstory comes to life.

This is common in flash fic. The form often deals more with the consequences of what has already happened than the events themselves, simply because there aren’t enough words to go, step by step, through the whole plot. The plot is implied and the consequences of it are now becoming clear.

For me, Sparkle and Shine does this well. It establishes plot, mystery, setting, and then turns the circumstances back on those who created them.

A quick and satisfying read over a morning coffee.

Small Thoughts: The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi by E.Lily Yu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May/June 2019

E. Lily Yu is a special type of author. She commonly transcends genres, breaks contemporary fictional forms, and brings a fairytale-eskness to her fiction that creates a sense of wonderment. The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi is not different.

While this newest story by Yu is quite firmly based in a technologically advanced future, it addresses a common and relevant issue of today (which all serious science fiction should do): What would people do if they were simply given enough to live?

I read this story on the heels of reading an interview with U.S. presidential hopeful, Andrew Yang. Yang has been making waves (maybe more like ripples) in the crowded Democratic field with his main issue platform: the “Freedom Dividend.” It sounds farcical to my ears, but the Freedom Dividend is a UBI, universal basic income. $1000 per month for every American is Yang’s platform. Why? Because of the GDP (gross domestic product) is not, Yang thinks, a fair reflection of a countries prosperity due to the fact that more and more products are made not by workers, but by machines.

ASF_MayJune2019_400x570Back to Yu’s story. In The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi there are two types of people: Doers and Don’ts. Doers do something Don’ts. . . don’t. But it’s more complicated than that. Doers are educated at a college level. They are skilled at. . . something. They produce something (in the case of this story, virtual reality design, art, and games). Don’ts on the other hand only play games. They apply themselves to things that are ALREADY created, like playing video games, watching movies, reading, etc. Jacob E. Mwangi is a Don’t. He gets his UBI from the Nairobi government and he spends it on rent, food, and playing VR games with his guild.

Everyone says Jacob has amazing potential. He’s intelligent, he could go to college–his sister even offers to send him someplace like China for his education. But being a Don’t is a source of pride for Jacob, and he’s not the only one. His game friends feel the same way. Doers are desperate, lame, and worse, self-important. What could they create that other people should be so excited about?

But when Jacob discovers a new indie game made by three women, he becomes inspired. He sees what they do well in terms of UX, but also what he might be able to improve on in the game. He thinks he could be an artist–but for that, he needs to go to school, get a portfolio together. Learn something.

The whole point of this story, I think, isn’t about VR or video games. It’s about UBI. It’s about how some people will, for a time, want nothing more than to play games, sit around, do nothing except enjoying themselves. But given time, people will begin to think, have ideas, want to act, create, produce. What will they produce? Who knows. But it’s going to be something that wasn’t produced beforehand because beforehand they didn’t have the time for such a passion project.

While Yu’s story paints a seemingly futuristic picture, it is a much more hopeful one than common science fiction. Similarly, Yang’s vision of a “Freedom Dividend” is also a hopeful concept that would let people devote more time and energy to their big ideas. While Yang is unlikely to win any nominations, he is polling at a high enough rate to conceivably be included in the first round of debates.

With hopeful stories like The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi, it is likely the idea of a UBI will become more commonplace in the years to come.

(Not sold on the Freedom Dividend? Find out how Yang expects to pay for this, by clicking here.