About Memento Amicum

My story, “Memento Amicum”, about the passing of family and friends and the fading of memories in a time of AIs and climate change was published in the September 2020 issue of Cossmass Infinities and subsequently appeared in Rich Horton’s Short Fiction Recommended Reading list in the April 2021 issue of Locus.

I want to talk for a moment a little about the story’s background, starting with some of what led up to choosing the setting (while avoiding spoilers) and then move in closer to the story, at which time SPOILER notices will be provided.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Photo credit: Merry Ann

My mother-in-law passed away in early 2018 (with her husband preceding her by a few years). Though the funerals were held for both at the time of their passing, for various reasons my wife and I were unable to lay their ashes to rest until the summer of 2018. We then traveled to upstate New York to perform this final task.

The town they’d lived in for around fifty years (before having to move in with my wife and myself due to their declining health) is an old, upstate New York “factory town” with a long working class history. While we were there for their memorial service we had cause to visit a couple cemeteries, and the reason for our presence obviously weighed heavy on us. All these monuments and names carved in stone, the quiet green lawns, flower arrangements, names and dates stretching well back into the 1800s.

There was a “graveshack”, a tiny wooden office out of which the middle-aged and senior caretakers kept track of plots, headstones, and cemetery upkeep. These individuals had likely been there for decades, watching over their silent charges and ensuring those few who came to visit and pay their respects to their loved ones were able to do so in a neat and well-maintained setting. We asked about a particular individual, and the caretaker went and retrieved an old ledger recording the burials for the year in which that person passed. By this time that paper ledger was at minimum sixty years old–and we don’t know when the first entry in it was recorded. The point is that the cemetery workers knew and cared about where they worked, kept things organized, and carried the responsibility to aid those who come to pay their respects, or just to…visit with those who passed before them.

This made quite the impression on us, and with the subsequent passing of my own father less than a year later became the setting for a story on loss, the fading of memories, and how technology waxes and wanes in this niche of our society.

serenity034
Closing scene of the Firefly movie Serenity

One more thing, though, before I get to the spoilers.

Okay, this is just a little spoiler, but it’s just part of the background setting.

dsc009862011
Jade Jumping Spider vs Ant (©www.NatureLoveYou.sg)

Over the years in which Memento Amicum takes place the world gets steadily warmer. Climate change is warming up the planet, and with it comes more extreme weather, more virulent pests; accompanied by mitigating technologies that attempt to keep a handle on the worst of it. Biological controls, genetically engineering plants and animals to withstand and/or combat an increasingly unbalanced ecosystem, moving away from fossil fuels. While these don’t play a central role in Memento Amicum, they are in the world in which it unfolds, and that reality at least needs to be acknowledged.

Okay, now…  SPOILERS AHEAD!!

So that picture with the grave markers up above? From the closing scene of the Serenity Firefly movie? Yeah, that’s basically the image I had in my head when I came up with mementas. Start there, add conversational abilities–via an AI–and there you go.

I know, an AI simulacrum of a passed loved (or not so loved) one has been done before, but the tack I wanted to take on this story is that they–the AIs–may end up suffering the same fate as the loved ones they’re filling in for. And then telling this story from the perspective of that old-time dying breed of cemetery groundskeepers. Ordinary people transposed into an AI, ordinary people working to maintain them for those who have begun to forget; or are themselves moving on one way or another.

Then as technology continues to evolve, the technological means by which those who’ve passed away are remembered changes as well. Customized mementas become persona templates powered by social currency algorithms that are stashed on Mementa Familiam servers. (How long before Facebook decides to start mining its memorialized accounts and reconstructing passable personalities of loved ones? Just to test the concept of course!) Protocols and technologies become obsolete, and then…uh…end-of-lifed.

People, events, practices, and cultural touchstones pass away and slip into the past, kept alive only within the memories of those still around, and only for as long as they care to and can remember. In the future, we may not be the ones doing the remembering, our creations may end up taking on that responsibility–intentionally or not, until they too power down.

About Entries From My Grandmother’s Diary Pertaining to my Father’s Early Inflammation

These are my most precious family heirlooms:

They are my grandmother’s diaries from the 1930s, given to me by my aunt at a family reunion sometime in the early 90s. My grandmother kept a diary from 1932 up through around 1939. While she wasn’t scrupulous about writing every day, for a few years she was fairly consistent. There is some great family history in here, including when my grandfather proposed to my grandmother, and a great deal about my father’s early years as an infant and toddler. It seems he was “cross” a lot–fortunately this did not carry through to his adulthood 🙂

While my grandmother was not a writer in the sense of writing stories or novels, she did concisely capture the events of her daily life in brief snippets, which made for a particular writing style.

“Canned 10 qt. peaches, Joe cut bushel of grapes off vine in garden. D.J. cross today I’m awful tired.”

Reading through these years of entries my writer mind got to thinking: What if magic of some sort was just a normal part of life in those days? In middle America? Maybe I could cook up some kind of fantasy Americana? Maybe as a set of diary entries pertaining to a rather significant magical event in her son’s life? That has since been uncovered by the son of my grandmother’s son?

Well.

Abyss & Apex published “Entries From My Grandmother’s Diary Pertaining to my Father’s Early Inflammation” in Issue 78 (April 1, 2021), written by myself and co-authored by my grandmother, Hazel L. Criley. (I think my grandmother would be either tickled or aghast if she knew she would eventually have an entry in the Internet Science Fiction Database.)

SPOILERS AHEAD!

My grandmother, Hazel Criley, dousing my pyrokinetic father. Circa 1936.

The diaries provided a treasure trove of information about my grandmother’s daily life in that late 1930s era, and I found a number of entries that could be edited to some degree or another to document the story of my father’s early onset pyrokinesis.

The fiery pyrokinecoccus bacterial infections usually don’t take hold until adolescence (to those susceptible to them), so for it to happen to one so young was quite distressing to his parents. In the additional entries created for the story I attempted to mimic my grandmother’s diarist style. With the abundance of source material it was often possible to find close phrase and punctuation examples for the wholly original entries.


These diaries have been in my possession for quite some time and I would page through them now and then; but I found myself doing that much more frequently after my father passed away in 2019. Here was a window into the family that raised my father (and aunt and uncle, who came along later). While these grandparents lived into my early adulthood, as happens so often with the young I passed up the opportunities to better acquaint myself with these primary sources for my family history. The diaries, and other documents my aunt has preserved and passed on to me from time to time provide the next best account of my ancestry.

This historical raw material gives me, a writer, an honest look at life in that time and at that place upon which I can imagine fanciful stories of what could have been. To celebrate my ancestry and those who made me so much of what I am today.

An entry in the diary that references my father, from July 1938, is one I read during his eulogy:

“Washed. D.J. picked up leaves + grass, made a pile wanted fire.”

I noted that growing up and to this day I too am rather fond of making piles of leaves and grass and setting them on fire. The modified version of this entry is the final one of the story. It serves as both a finale and a connection between me, my father, and the stories that we tell. I like to think, and I try to live my life showing, that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree–other than my being unable to point at something to set it on fire.

About The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun

My short story, The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun, is now up in the 1st Quarter 2021 (January 1) issue of Abyss & Apex. Nice way to start off the new year, yes?

This post goes into how that story came to be, and as such, is pretty much chock full of spoilers. So, if you haven’t read it yet, I invite you to do so now.

<Spoilers Ahead!>

For me, a story idea usually starts out in my head as a picture, or an imagined experience, or a particular application of some science fictional or fantastical technology. In Golden Rays that initial image was of a group of rays–like manta rays or stingrays–floating over a hillside, rather than underwater. (Along the way I learned that a group of rays is called a fever.)

I’ve been a fan of Australian artist (and now novelist) Kathleen Jennings for several years, from back when I stumbled upon her Dalek Game illustrations. Way back in 2016 she tweeted (as @tanaudel) a sketch, to which I replied mentioning this particular image I’d had in mind, and then…she replied.

Needless to say I was over the moon that she sketched that up. (Oh, and I might add that a few years later Kathleen won the 2020 World Fantasy Artist Award, so there’s that.)

With this sketch in hand, or at least on-screen, all I had to do now was actually fashion a story around it. Which, for me, is a very time-consuming and strenuous effort. Some writers can just whip out stories left and right–I’m not one of those. It’s a lot of work for me to devise a plot, then get the characters all working to put that plot into motion. And…sometimes the story ends up going where you wouldn’t necessarily think it would.

For instance, as you now know by having read the story–you have, right?–those rays that Kathleen drew do eventually show up in The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun (get it? Rays? Get it?), along with private military contractors, cyborgs, and brain rehosting.

So, like, who knows where an initial story idea (or sketch) might take you?

The final version of Golden Rays doesn’t differ drastically from the first draft I eventually settled on to send out to readers for critiques. Though there was a LOT of meandering about while getting from the vague plotline I’d come up with to that first draft.

One of the things I was uncertain about was simply the structure of the drafted story. There’s a lot of ways to tell a story, but the default is sorta that you introduce the characters, set up the problem, grow the tension, then have a boss fight at the end. Arguably Golden Rays does do that–if you squint at it and don’t expect any fist/sword/light sabre fights. But here’s how I characterized its structure:

  • ACTION! ACTION! ACTION!
  • Debate
  • Flight
  • Debate
  • Journey’s end

Not exactly a Marvel movie plotline, eh? I asked the opinion of those who provided critiques how well that structure worked for them, and they assured me it worked just fine. (And clearly, as it turned out, Wendy at Abyss & Apex thought so as well.)

The one place that did need work, and I’m very grateful to Paul H for pushing me on this, was the plausibility of Mika’s resistance to rehosting. I mean, there’s honestly a lot to recommend it, especially if your body hasn’t been very good to you over the years. Initially I went with “a human requires a body to be human.” But what about when you could do so much more if you were unconstrained by the biological limitations of flesh? The human body alone can’t survive in space, or in the deep seas, or without food or air, but what if you could rehost into another physical form that could? Would you? And if not, why not? Discuss. That’s exactly what Mika and Kibo did. They reached different conclusions, but each had very good reasons for the choices they made.

Win. Win.

Awards Eligibility 2020

I had two short stories published in 2020 that are eligible for upcoming fantasy and science fiction awards if one deems them worthwhile. Both are solidly in the science fiction domain, so nominate accordingly 🙂


Memento Amicum (3400 words) appeared in Issue #3 (September 1, 2020) of Cossmass Infinities.

People, events, practices, and cultural touchstones pass away and slip into the past, kept alive only within the memories of those still around, and only for as long as they care to and can remember. In the future, we may not be the ones doing the remembering, our creations may end up taking on that responsibility–intentionally or not, until they too power down.

“Memento Amicum” by Marc A. Criley is the poignant and touching story of a graveyard populated with AI versions of the deceased.
— Gwen C. Katz, in The Future Fire

(Right now Memento Amicum is only available by purchasing that issue, though the stories are incrementally released online over time. I will add a link here when it becomes available.)

Cossmass Infinities 09-01-20 Cover

He stepped around to the front of the headstone and waited. The mementa screen opaqued, masking the splendidly etched-in-granite rendition of Ellanora Hawks. A moment later her mementa’s well-worn but equally splendid visage resolved on the screen

Be grateful for friends that will remember you.


Glory Whales (4700 words) was published August 23, 2020 in Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores.

An unraveling comet! Doomed spaceship! Explosions! Alien artifacts! WHALES!!

Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores has a lovely story in August with “Glory Whales” by Marc A. Criley.  A happily married couple [are] diverted to check out an interstellar voyager. [W]ill they live to see what grows from the seeds dispersed by the visitor?
— Karen Burnham, Locus (Recommended Reading)
Glory Whales lead pic
Illustration Credit: Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores

I squinted past the reflected comet dazzle on her visor. Yep, a smile that outshone Mars, this blazing comet, and the incandescent golden jewel of the sun. A smile that’s taken me from one end of the solar system to the other.

Come for the whales, stay for true love.


Thanks for your time and any consideration for awards you may give to these stories!

About Glory Whales

Glory Whales lead pic
Illustration Credit: Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores

My story Glory Whales is now up at Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores. Here I want to talk for a minute about relationships between main characters, and what I found special about Dominic and Maya’s.

It’s quite common in stories having two or more primary characters that part of the drama in the story arises from friction between those characters. One character has hurt or betrayed another (or is about to in the story), and they’re then forced to find an accommodation so they can together overcome the primary obstacle facing them.

I see this so often–which isn’t surprising since it’s usually pretty effective–but I personally do tire of it. I like teamwork. I like seeing a group of individuals pulling together to achieve success. And not with the caveat that the group members first had to “set aside their egos” and come together. No, there’s no egos to set aside, because they’re good, mutually supportive individuals from the get-go.

This is a big factor in why I like Marko Kloos’ Frontline milSF series. His main character, Andrew Grayson, works well with the others in his unit, and is also quite fond of his wife. Interpersonal friction does happen from time to time, but never seriously amongst that core group closest to him.

THAR SHE BLOWS! SPOILERS AHEAD FOR GLORY WHALES!

The main characters of Glory Whales, Dominic and Maya, are a happily married couple that have been trucking around the solar system for a decade and a half. This idea appeals to me. They’re not crotchety with one another, they’re not sick of the long hauls, the tedium, of each other. They’re not on the verge of going their separate ways–embarking on this trip in a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship.

No. They’re a “happily married couple that have been trucking around the solar system for a decade and a half.” They chose this life, they enjoy it, because of what it is. They like each other. They respect one another, count on one another, look out for one another. They’re teammates, partners, and lovers. These are the kinds of story protagonists I like to see, at least now and then.

Ol Smoothie
© Root-Beer.org

And when a comet carrying tangible proof that life exists beyond our solar system blows up in their face, they’re dropped into a life-or-death struggle to survive. They have to pull together to do everything they can to keep themselves and what they’ve found alive. It’s not just the big, thrilling, desperate efforts they pursue to save themselves, but also the simple caring for one another, the encouragement and mutual support that is essential. There are critical tasks that require relentless, tireless effort; but quiet breaks to recharge and renew are just as important. Both Maya and Dominic have each other’s backs throughout this ordeal. Their love and joy and perseverance makes me happy.

I’m grateful that Glory Whales found a home at Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores and I hope those who read it find it adds a bit of joy to their life.

2019 Award Eligibility Post

As Fantasy and Science Fiction award nomination season nears, I offer for consideration the short story “The Crystal Zyst: A Eula Banks, State Certified Zeitle Engineer, Story“, published at Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores.

Crystal Zyst lead pic

The Crystal Zyst is the story of two working class sisters who own a business clearing out zeitles, i.e. exponentially slowed time bubbles.

On a run-of-the-mill remediation job they encounter a rare form of zeitle, leading to a life-and-death situation of CO² poisoning and trapped children. Mounting a rescue requires 450 HP semi-truck engines, silvery fuzzy suits, a team of zeitle engineers, and time–lots and lots of time.

Thanks for reading and for your consideration.

 

SFWA Membership Approved!

My membership application to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America was approved.

While I’ve been avidly reading fantasy and science fiction for forty-five or so years, I only decided to try my hand at writing it about four years ago. It took a couple years to get my first semi-pro sale, and then the first pro one came along a few months later.

I’m not a prolific writer–there’s a lot of other demands on my time–but I do keep plugging away at things and eventually a handful more pro sales came along, enough to qualify me for SFWA anyway. So that’s another milestone on my writing journey marked off.

The best part of it all is of course the people that I’ve come to know along the way. From Critters, to #WriterTwitter, to Codex, and now with the SFWA.

It’s the people and the stories we share that makes this all worth it. Here are mine.

“The Crystal Zyst…” Published!

My blue collar story of sisterhood, dealing with exponentially slowed time (and responsibly addressing the fact that air molecules are just as impenetrable as solids when time comes to a near standstill), flatbed mounted semi-truck engines and generators, and shiny diving suits was published this week at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.

Crystal Zyst lead pic
Illustration by Fran Eisenmann

Check out “The Crystal Zyst: A Eula Banks, State Certified Zeitle Engineer, Story“!

2018 Awards Eligibility Post

Tap-tap-tap… Is this thing on?

So…this is my FIRST(!) EVER(!) Awards Eligibility Post™ for the fantasy and science fiction short stories of mine that were published this year. (Or in any year, for that matter.) This is a whole, brand new world to me.

ohwow

Nomination season for fantasy and science fiction has opened up!

I hope you’ll take a look through these offerings and if, per chance, one catches your eye and your mind as award worthy, please slip it onto your nominating ballot. If not, I hope these stories at least give you a few minutes of reading pleasure.

(The story titles in the larger font I feel are especially worth a good, hard look.)

Time cracks and uhrbuchs rustle. I look up from a half-penciled illustration.

 

  • Shattered HandBeneath Ceaseless Skies Issue #258, 16 August 2018. Fantasy, 4600 words

Long shadows skittered before us, cast by a newly risen sun. Kayta and I loped across burnt desert; tracked the wind-eroded dusty treads of uncounted pilgrims, Covenant youth, warriors. Evaded what few sentries patrolled the perimeter. Empty sky, empty land, no one, nothing to see. A banned land. Minimally guarded—uncovenanted entry is death.

 

  • Requires ReplenishmentMartian, the Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles, 20 August 2018. Science Fiction | 100 words

Hot tires buzzing.

Backseat child whimpering.

Dead alien in trunk.

 

I crack time. Part the seam, step into gray-green gloom. I wait as eyes adjust, hear the seam flutter closed. Bookshelves line the corridor, extend into the past. Shelves crammed with books, spines to the wall, smelling of ozone and rose water. Hardcovers, paperbacks, trades, loose leaf. The past as hardcopy, minutes pressed against minutes, fossilizing through time.

 

Where are you? I trace ringing photons, syncopated cosmic ray beats, attenuated quaverings of taut space-time chords. Entangled atoms vibrating in quantum indecision sustain my faith. I range across light-years, plow gigaparsecs of quantum foam, dark matter tides, neutrino cacophonies. 

 

Keep reading! And if you’re a writer, keep writing!

IMG_20180107_125027

Tammy and I say Bless all y’all!