Monday, November 14, 2016

Most Of My Friends Are Two-Thirds Water


Public Domain illustration from Pixabay. Thanks werner22brigitte.


by Kelly Link

“Okay, Joe. As I was saying, our Martian women are gonna be blond, because, see, just because.” -RAY BRADBURY, “The Concrete Mixer”

A few years ago, Jack dropped the C from his name and became Jak. He called me up at breakfast one morning to tell me this. He said he was frying bacon for breakfast and that all his roommates were away. He said that he was walking around stark naked. He could have been telling the truth, I don’t know. I could hear something spitting and hissing in the background that could have been bacon, or maybe it was just static on the line.

Jak keeps a journal in which he records the dreams he has about making love to his ex-girlfriend Nikki, who looks like Sandy Duncan. Nikki is now married to someone else. In the most recent dream, Jak says, Nikki had a wooden leg. Sandy Duncan has a glass eye in real life. Jak calls me up to tell me this dream.

He calls to say that he is in love with the woman who does the Braun coffee-maker commercial, the one with the short blond hair, like Nikki, and eyes that are dreamy and a little too far apart. He can’t tell from the commercial if she has a wooden leg, but he watches TV every night, in the hopes of seeing her again.

If I were blond, I could fall in love with Jak.

Jak calls me with the first line of a story. Most of my friends are two-thirds water, he says, and I say that this doesn’t surprise me. He says, no, that this is the first line. There’s a Philip K. Dick novel, I tell him, that has a first line like that, but not exactly and I can’t remember the name of the novel. I am listening to him while I clean out my father’s refrigerator. The name of the Philip K. Dick novel is Confessions of a Crap Artist, I tell Jak. What novel, he says.

He says that he followed a woman home from the subway, accidentally. He says that he was sitting across from her on the Number 1 uptown and he smiled at her. This is a bad thing to do in New York when there isn’t anyone else in the subway car, traveling uptown past 116th Street, when it’s one o’clock in the morning, even when you’re Asian and not much taller than she is, even when she made eye contact first, which is what Jak says she did. Anyway he smiled and she looked away. She got off at the next stop, 125th, and so did he. 125th is his stop. She looked back and when she saw him, her face changed and she began to walk faster.

Was she blond, I ask, casually. I don’t remember, Jak says. They came up onto Broadway, Jak just a little behind her, and then she looked back at him and crossed over to the east side. He stayed on the west side so she wouldn’t think he was following her. She walked fast. He dawdled. She was about a block ahead when he saw her cross at La Salle, towards him, towards Claremont and Riverside, where Jak lives on the fifth floor of a rundown brownstone. I used to live in this building before I left school. Now I live in my father’s garage. The woman on Broadway looked back and saw that Jak was still following her. She walked faster. He says he walked even more slowly.

By the time he came to the corner market on Riverside, the one that stays open all night long, he couldn’t see her. So he bought a pint of ice cream and some toilet paper. She was in front of him at the counter, paying for a carton of skim milk and a box of dish detergent. When she saw him, he thought she was going to say something to the cashier but instead she picked up her change and hurried out of the store.

Jak says that the lights on Claremont are always a little dim and fizzy, and sounds are muffled, as if the street is under water. In the summer, the air is heavier and darker at night, like water on your skin. I say that I remember that. He says that up ahead of him, the woman was flickering under the street light like a light bulb. What do you mean, like a light bulb? I ask. I can hear him shrug over the phone. She flickered, he says. I mean like a light bulb. He says that she would turn back to look at him, and then look away again. Her face was pale. It flickered.

By this point, he says, he wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t worried anymore. He felt almost as if they knew each other. It might have been a game they were playing. He says that he wasn’t surprised when she stopped in front of his building and let herself in. She slammed the security door behind her and stood for a moment, glaring at him through the glass. She looked exactly the way Nikki looked, he says, when Nikki was still going out with him, when she was angry at him for being late or for misunderstanding something. The woman behind the glass pressed her lips together and glared at Jak.

He says when he took his key out of his pocket, she turned and ran up the stairs. She went up the first flight of stairs and then he couldn’t see her anymore. He went inside and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. On the fifth floor, when he was getting out, he says that the woman who looked like Nikki was slamming shut the door of the apartment directly across from his apartment. He heard the chain slide across the latch.

[Read More…]

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Valley of Giants

TREEBEARD by TTThom, licensed under three free culture licenses

The Valley of Giants by Benjamin Rosenbaum
from “The Ant King and Other Stories” CC BY-NC-SA

I had buried my parents in their gray marble mausoleum at the heart of the city. I had buried my husband in a lead box sunk into the mud of the bottom of the river, where all the riverboatmen lie. And after the war, I had buried my children, all four, in white linen shrouds in the new graveyards plowed into what used to be our farmland: all the land stretching from the river delta to the hills.

I had one granddaughter who survived the war. I saw her sometimes: in a bright pink dress, a sparkling drink in her hand, on the arm of some foreign officer with brocade on his shoulders, at the edge of a marble patio. She never looked back at me—poverty and failure and political disrepute being all, these days, contagious and synonymous.

The young were mostly dead, and the old men had been taken away, they told us, to learn important new things and to come back when they were ready to contribute fully. So it was a city of grandmothers. And it was in a grandmother bar by the waterfront—sipping hot tea with rum and watching over the shoulders of dockworkers playing mah-jongg—that I first heard of the valley of giants.

We all laughed at the idea, except for a chemist with a crooked nose and rouge caked in the creases of her face, who was incensed. “We live in the modern era!” she cried. “You should be ashamed of yourself!”

The traveler stood up from the table. She was bony and rough-skinned and bent like an old crow, with a blue silk scarf and hanks of hair as black as soot. Her eyes were veined with red.

“Nonetheless,” the traveler said, and she walked out.

[Read More…]

Thursday, September 1, 2016

I’ve Got The Music In Me

The EFF organized this anthology of sf short stories about the electronic frontier.
All stories are licensed with Creative Commons licenses.
“I’ve Got The Music In Me” is CC BY.
Download “Pwning Tomorrow” from the Internet Archive.

I’ve Got The Music In Me

by Charlie Jane Anders

“Have you ever gotten a song stuck in your head, and couldn’t get it out?” The woman asking the question wore one of those new frogskin one-pieces, with false eyelashes that looked fiberoptic. She leaned on the bar in my direction.

I shrugged and drank. “Maybe, I don’t know.” I was busy obsessing about my sick dog. Moxie was my best friend, but they’d said the tests alone would cost hundreds, with no guarantee.

The woman, Mia I think, kept talking about brains that wouldn’t let go of songs. “You know how a song loops around and drowns out everything else in your skull?” I nodded, and she smiled. “Sometimes it’s like a message from your subconscious. Your brain blasts sad lyrics to wake you to a submerged depression.”

“I guess.”

“Or you could be overworked. Or sexually frustrated. It’s like an early warning system.” She beckoned another drink. The mention of sex jumped out of her wordflow like a spawning salmon. I forgot all about my dog, turned to face her.

“I see what you mean,” I said.

“They’re funny, songs. They drill into your head and form associations.” She batted those shiny lashes. “They trigger memories, just the way smells do.”

“You’re absolutely right.” I was thinking, do I have condoms?

She asked me about my past loves, and whether there were pieces of music that came unbidden to mind when I thought of them. I struggled to dredge up a memory to please this woman, her taut body so close to mine I could feel the coolness of the tiny frogs whose hides she wore.

“Yeah, now that I think about it, there was this one song…”

From Section 1923, Mental copyright enforcement field manual.
Subsection 1, Probable Cause:

Do not bring in suspects without an ironclad case, and avoid any appearance of entrapment. Do not apprehend someone merely because he/she whistles under his/her breath or bobs his/her head to music nobody else can hear. To demonstrate that someone has stored copyrighted music in his/her brain in violation of the Cranial Millenium Copyright Act, you must obtain a definitive statement, such as:

• 1) “Whenever I see the object of my smothered desire I hear “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream in my head. This is the full album version, complete with trademark guitar solo and clearly articulated rhythm track.”
• 2) “I always tune out my boss when he talks to me, and instead conjure up a near-digital-quality playback of “Bring Tha Bling Bling” by Pimpstyle in my mind. The remix with that Madonna sample.”
• 3) “Following the death of my loved one, I listened to the Parade album by Prince so many times I know the whole thing by heart now.”

Note: the above examples are illustrative and not all-encompassing. Other utterances also could prove the suspect is guilty of keeping protected music in Cranial Audio File format, as prohibited by law.
Subsection 2, Apprehending the suspect:

As soon as I admitted that yeah, that “Pimp Your Bubba” song wouldn’t stop infesting my mind no matter how much good music I fed my ears, the woman went violent. She pulled out a badge and twisted my arm behind me. Steel cinched my wrists, turned me into a perp. “You have the right,” she said.

In her car, she talked to me through a rusty mesh cordoning the back seat. “I’d put on the radio, but you might steal again.”

“What have I done?”

“Don’t pretend. Your mental piracy is blatantly illegal.”

“But everyone said that law was unenforceable—”

“I got your confession right here on tape. And we’ll get more out of you. The brain’s a computer, and yours is jam-packed with stolen goods.”

I was terrified. I could be held for days. What would happen to Moxie?

“Take my advice, kid.” We turned onto a driveway with a guard post and tilting arm. The woman showed a card and the arm rose. “Just relax and tell them everything. It’ll be fun, like a personal tour through your musical memories. Like getting stoned with a friend and digging some tunes. Then you just plea bargain and skip outta here.”

Subsection 3, Questioning the suspect:

Ask questions like:

• What sort of music did you listen to in high school?
• Here is a piece of your clothing which we confiscated. We’ll give it back if you tell us what song it brings to mind.
• I can see you’re angry. Is there an angry song in your thoughts?
• Complete this guitar riff for me. Na na na NAH na na…

I kept asking over and over, whom have I hurt? Who suffers if I have recall of maybe a hundred songs? They had answers—the record companies, the musicians, the media, all suffered from my self-reliance. I didn’t buy it.
“This whole thing is bullshit,” I said.

The two guys in shades looked at each other. “Guy’s got a right to face his accuser,” one said.

“You figure it’s time to bring in the injured party?” the other said.

They both nodded. They took their gray-suited selves out of the interrogation cube. I squirmed in my chair, arms manacled and head in a vice.

They were gone for hours. I tried to relax, but the restraints kinked my circulation.
I heard noises outside the door. A scrawny guy with a fuschia pompadour and sideburns wandered in. He wore a t-shirt with a picture of himself, which made him easier to recognize because I’d seen that picture a million times.

“You’re Dude Boy,” I said.

“Pizzeace,” said Dude Boy. “You been ripping me off.”

“No I haven’t.” I fidgeted in bondage. “I don’t even like you.” I remembered when Dude Boy was on the cover of every magazine from Teen Beat to Rolling Stone, and that fucking song was on the air every minute. “Your song sucked aardvark tit. They played it so often I started hearing it when I brushed my teeth, which really—” Oh. Shit.

“See? You admit it. Thief.”


“And you never bought a copy, ya?”

“Yeah, but—It sucked, man.”

“It was just so catchy and hooky, ya? You had to have it, Mr. Sticky Fingers.”

“Catchy’s one word for it. You could also try, ‘annoyingly repetitive.’ How many times can you say ‘You’re So Cute I Wanna Puke’ in one song?”

“That’s the hook, bo.”

“So I always wondered what happened to you after that one hit. You dropped out of sight.”

The agate eyes I remembered from VH1 came close. “You killed my career, bo. You and all the others who used my song for your skull soundtracks until you got sick of me. I didn’t ask to have my creation overexposed in your noggin. It’s all your fault.”

“So now you’re working for these creeps?”

“It’s a job until reality TV calls.”
He kept staring. He’d always looked goofy, but never before scary. “We’re like intimate, ya know. I seduced ya with my hookitude, and in return you copped a feel of the DB while I slept. It’s good to be close at last.” For a moment I feared he’d kiss me. I tried to turn away, but no dice.

Then at the last second he whipped around and kicked the wall. “You kidnapped my baby!” He turned back. Spit painted my cheeks. “So here’s the deal. We take this thang to court, I nail your colon to the wall. Or you cop a plea. Small fine, plus an implant. You get off lightly, bo.”


“Yes or no?

“What implant?

“Last chance. Yes or no?”

Most of the time, the implant doesn’t bother me. If I get emotional, like when I buried Moxie, it kicks in just as a tune swells inside me. Then instead of the music, I hear Dude Boy screaming, “Thief!” for like thirty seconds. It really screwed me up this one time I was giving a presentation at work. I was one of the first to get implanted, but now they’re everywhere. It’s become such a cultural phenom that a new hit song samples the sound the implant makes. They had to pay Dude Boy royalties, of course.

Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All the Birds in the Sky, a novel coming in early 2016 from Tor Books. She is the editor in chief of and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette Six Months, Three Days won a Hugo award.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

Special Delivery On Bird Island By Zach Rudisin - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

by Kelly Link CC-BY-NC-SA

Dear Mary (if that is your name),
I bet you’ll be pretty surprised to hear from me. It really is me, by the way, although I have to confess at the moment that not only can I not seem to keep your name straight in my head, Laura? Susie? Odile? but I seem to have forgotten my own name. I plan to keep trying different combinations: Joe loves Lola, Willy loves Suki, Henry loves you, sweetie, Georgia?, honeypie, darling. Do any of these seem right to you?

All last week I felt like something was going to happen, a sort of bees and ants feeling. Something was going to happen. I taught my classes and came home and went to bed, all week waiting for the thing that was going to happen, and then on Friday I died.

One of the things I seem to have misplaced is how, or maybe I mean why. It’s like the names. I know that we lived together in a house on a hill in a small comfortable city for nine years, that we didn’t have kids-except once, almost-and that you’re a terrible cook, oh my darling, Coraline? Coralee? and so was I, and we ate out whenever we could afford to. I taught at a good university, Princeton? Berkeley? Notre Dame? I was a good teacher, and my students liked me. But I can’t remember the name of the street we lived on, or the author of the last book I read, or your last name which was also my name, or how I died. It’s funny, Sarah? but the only two names I know for sure are real are Looly Bellows, the girl who beat me up in fourth grade, and your cat’s name. I’m not going to put your cat’s name down on paper just yet.

We were going to name the baby Beatrice. I just remembered that. We were going to name her after your aunt, the one that doesn’t like me. Didn’t like me. Did she come to the funeral?

I’ve been here for three days, and I’m trying to pretend that it’s just a vacation, like when we went to that island in that country. Santorini? Great Britain? The one with all the cliffs. The one with the hotel with the bunkbeds, and little squares of pink toilet paper, like handkerchiefs. It had seashells in the window too, didn’t it, that were transparent like bottle glass? They smelled like bleach? It was a very nice island. No trees. You said that when you died, you hoped heaven would be an island like that. And now I’m dead, and here I am.

This is an island too, I think. There is a beach, and down on the beach is a mailbox where I am going to post this letter. Other than the beach, the mailbox, there is the building in which I sit and write this letter. It seems to be a perfectly pleasant resort hotel with no other guests, no receptionist, no host, no events coordinator, no bell-boy. Just me. There is a television set, very old-fashioned, in the hotel lobby. I fiddled the antenna for a long time, but never got a picture. Just static. I tried to make images, people out of the static. It looked like they were waving at me.

My room is on the second floor. It has a sea view. All the rooms here have views of the sea. There is a desk in my room, and a good supply of plain, waxy white paper and envelopes in one of the drawers. Laurel? Maria? Gertrude?

I haven’t gone out of sight of the hotel yet, Lucille? because I am afraid that it might not be there when I get back.

Yours truly,
You know who.

The dead man lies on his back on the hotel bed, his hands busy and curious, stroking his body up and down as if it didn’t really belong to him at all. One hand cups his testicles, the other tugs hard at his erect penis. His heels push against the mattress and his eyes are open, and his mouth. He is trying to say someone’s name.

Outside, the sky seems much too close, made out of some grey stuff that only grudgingly allows light through. The dead man has noticed that it never gets any lighter or darker, but sometimes the air begins to feel heavier, and then stuff falls out of the sky, fist-sized lumps of whitish-grey doughy matter. It falls until the beach is covered, and immediately begins to dissolve. The dead man was outside, the first time the sky fell. Now he waits inside until the beach is clear again. Sometimes he watches television, although the reception is poor.

The sea goes up and back the beach, sucking and curling around the mailbox at high tide. There is something about it that the dead man doesn’t like much. It doesn’t smell like salt the way a sea should. Cara? Jasmine? It smells like wet upholstery, burnt fur.
[Read More…]

Friday, August 19, 2016


Cory Doctorow
photo by Paula Salischiker, CC-BY-NC,


Copyright (C) 2006 by Cory Doctorow.


(originally published in Nature Magazine, January 2006)

Cory Doctorow

The coppers smashed my father’s printer when I was eight. I remember
the hot, cling-film-in-a-microwave smell of it, and Da’s look of
ferocious concentration as he filled it with fresh goop, and the warm,
fresh-baked feel of the objects that came out of it.

The coppers came through the door with truncheons swinging, one of them
reciting the terms of the warrant through a bullhorn. One of Da’s
customers had shopped him. The ipolice paid in high-grade
pharmaceuticals — performance enhancers, memory supplements, metabolic
boosters. The kind of things that cost a fortune over the counter; the
kind of things you could print at home, if you didn’t mind the risk of
having your kitchen filled with a sudden crush of big, beefy bodies,
hard truncheons whistling through the air, smashing anyone and anything
that got in the way.

They destroyed grandma’s trunk, the one she’d brought from the old
country. They smashed our little refrigerator and the purifier unit
over the window. My tweetybird escaped death by hiding in a corner of
his cage as a big, booted foot crushed most of it into a sad tangle of

Da. What they did to him. When he was done, he looked like he’d been
brawling with an entire rugby side. They brought him out the door and
let the newsies get a good look at him as they tossed him in the car.
All the while a spokesman told the world that my Da’s organized-crime
bootlegging operation had been responsible for at least 20 million in
contraband, and that my Da, the desperate villain, had resisted arrest.

I saw it all from my phone, in the remains of the sitting room, watching
it on the screen and wondering how, just how anyone could look at our
little flat and our terrible, manky estate and mistake it for the home
of an organized crime kingpin. They took the printer away, of course,
and displayed it like a trophy for the newsies. Its little shrine in
the kitchenette seemed horribly empty. When I roused myself and picked
up the flat and rescued my poor peeping tweetybird, I put a blender
there. It was made out of printed parts, so it would only last a month
before I’d need to print new bearings and other moving parts. Back
then, I could take apart and reassemble anything that could be printed.

By the time I turned 18, they were ready to let Da out of prison. I’d
visited him three times — on my tenth birthday, on his fiftieth, and
when Ma died. It had been two years since I’d last seen him and he was
in bad shape. A prison fight had left him with a limp, and he looked
over his shoulder so often it was like he had a tic. I was embarrassed
when the minicab dropped us off in front of the estate, and tried to
keep my distance from this ruined, limping skeleton as we went inside
and up the stairs.

“Lanie,” he said, as he sat me down. “You’re a smart girl, I know that.
You wouldn’t know where your old Da could get a printer and some goop?”

I squeezed my hands into fists so tight my fingernails cut into my
palms. I closed my eyes. “You’ve been in prison for ten years, Da.
Ten. Years. You’re going to risk another ten years to print out more
blenders and pharma, more laptops and designer hats?”

He grinned. “I’m not stupid, Lanie. I’ve learned my lesson. There’s
no hat or laptop that’s worth going to jail for. I’m not going to print
none of that rubbish, never again.” He had a cup of tea, and he drank it
now like it was whisky, a sip and then a long, satisfied exhalation. He
closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.

“Come here, Lanie, let me whisper in your ear. Let me tell you the
thing that I decided while I spent ten years in lockup. Come here and
listen to your stupid Da.”

I felt a guilty pang about ticking him off. He was off his rocker, that
much was clear. God knew what he went through in prison. “What, Da?” I
said, leaning in close.

“Lanie, I’m going to print more printers. Lots more printers. One for
everyone. That’s worth going to jail for. That’s worth anything.”


Cory Doctorow has spent the past four years at the Electronic Frontier
Foundation (, fighting at the United Nations and in
tech-standards bodies to balance the rights of copyright and patent
holders with the public interest. His novels can be had free online at