About This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel

My story, “This Tattered, Marooned Sentinel,” is up on the Martian Magazine website, and also appears in Martian’s Fall 2022 quarterly issue (#6).

SPOILERS from this point on! So go read the story first, it’ll take you all of thirty seconds.

Several years ago I read an article (and I regretfully do not recall its title, author, or where I read it–probably just something I stumbled across on the internet) suggesting that if we wanted to find artifacts and traces of a pre-human technological society we should look on the Moon.

Apollo 14 on the Moon. Credit: NASA

Absent the eroding forces of wind and water, the artifacts of a society sufficiently advanced to reach the Moon might still be there, especially if any were placed in a location at least somewhat sheltered from the sun and meteor impacts. Now the constant solar wind, day/night temperature extremes (250/-200F), and rain of dust and meteors will certainly degrade anything left on the surface. But absent a direct meteor strike, the process proceeds far more slowly than what earthbound structures experience from endless wind, rain, freezing, thawing, and in the longer term, glaciation and plate tectonics.

This idea gave me the opportunity to write and publish my first dinosaurs in space story 🦖🌠

One could not expect a spacesuit and body to remain intact for sixty-five million years, but, perhaps it would still somewhat hold together after all that time. Particularly where this story is set…

That the view of the Earth is just above the horizon indicates this takes place near one of the Moon’s poles. Because the Moon is tidally locked to the Earth (it always shows the same face), the Earth doesn’t appreciably move from its position in the lunar sky. Though to be accurate, because the Moon’s tilt is slightly misaligned with regard to its orbit around the Earth, there is some movement, called the lunar libration, but the Earth essentially hovers at a fixed point in the sky. The lunar polar region makes sense for Moon exploration and settlement because the permanently shadowed craters–where the sun never shines–can became a collection point for water ice. If sunlight never reaches the base of the craters it won’t warm to those 250F temperatures. The ice that collects there, brought in from passing (or colliding!) comets over hundreds of millions of years can persist for eons.

An astronaut comes across an ancient, saurian predecessor resting against the base of a corroded lunar lander leg in one of these shadowed craters, where they’ve maintained a vigil for the last sixty-five million years. Presumably a marooned saurunaut would want the last thing they see to be their home world; yet in the astronaut’s present era it’s not visible through the gap in the crater wall.

The moon is slowly receding from the earth due to tidal friction at the rate of about 1.5″ (3.8 cm) per year. That’s not much, but it adds up over centuries, millennia, and millions of years. Earth and lunar day lengths have also shifted over time, which contributes to tiny misalignments between the Earth, a marooned saurunaut, and a gap in the wall of a lunar polar crater. Rewinding the clock to where the Earth would’ve appeared sixty-five million years ago from the bottom of a lunar crater is honestly perhaps a bit of a stretch–errors will add up in the estimations of how positions and velocities evolve over time.

But even if the estimate of the projected position of the Earth at the time of the Chicxulub asteroid strike that killed the dinosaurs is off by a bit, it’s no stretch to expect a lunar explorer to keep a final vigil over the home to which they could never return.

About Daffodil Ghosts

Every early Spring in rural north Alabama (and many other places), the daffodils bloom that were planted by long-gone homesteaders, vibrant splotches of yellow dotting the late winter landscape.

Daffodils in a roadside ditch.
Photo credit: Rachael Sarah Williams

My 100-word story, “Daffodil Ghosts,” now up at Sylvia Magazine, takes place where one of these abandoned, often now demolished by time, homes once stood.

People once lived and worked, likely farmed, at these locations. Probably a husband, wife, some children. Especially in many-decades-ago rural Alabama it’s pretty much a given that those homesteaders worked long and hard to eke out a living.

Children grow up, move on. As one ages, working the farm gets harder and harder, until eventually the residents have no choice but to move on. Or a life of hard work simply overwhelms them, and they leave by other means.

But the daffodils remain. Persistent, showing up again year after year, refusing to get choked out by weeds and brush. A brilliant yellow memorial that this place was once a home.

Dogtrot style house in North Alabama, shortly after the daffodils have faded. Photo credit: Marc A. Criley

About Robot Coal

Robot Coal, now published on the Martian Magazine website (and previously available in the Martian Issue 5 anthology), is partly an homage to a writing friend that I never got to meet.

The iron jaw grates as it fashions a broken grin.

I first encountered Paul R. Hardy when he critiqued my story, Glory Whales, on the Critters writing forum. His critique was smart and insightful, and I came to look forward to his comments whenever I put up another story for critique. Paul himself was an excellent writer, and I eagerly anticipated reading the early versions of his stories, returning the favor of a critique.

We exchanged emails beyond just the critiques back and forth. When I needed a quick turnaround on a story I was readying for a submission window that was rapidly approaching, I reached out to him and another writer whose stories and critiques I’d also come to appreciate on Critters. They both stepped up for me, and The Consequential Effects of Practiced Penmanship eventually became my first story sale.

There was a lot of back and forth with him on a couple other stories, where he kept pushing me, asking hard questions and forcing me to make the story better. One of those, Shattered Hand, went on to become my first sale to a professional story market. (And the other, The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun, subsequently sold as well.)

I knew he had health problems, which sometimes played into his critiques. In Golden Rays the main character resists an extensive medical intervention. Paul kept at me to come up with a solidly believable reason for that reluctance, telling me that he’d have undergone the medical intervention of that character in a heartbeat.

Paul had left Critters and moved to the Codex writing forum once he got his first professional story sale. I followed a few months later. He continued posting his stories for critiques in that forum, and became a valued member of the community.

So it was with shock that I read in a Codex post that he had passed away in December 2020.

I retired in late 2019 and some international travel was on my agenda across the next few years. The UK was near the top of the list, where I looked forward to meeting Paul face-to-face (along with some other UK writers). Unfortunately COVID crashed down around us and all those plans were put (and still are, for me) on hold.

Paul was instrumental in making me a better writer, my journey to successfully writing and selling SF and fantasy short stories would have been much harder without him.

RIP Paul R. Hardy

About Human, Right?”

In “Human, Right?“, the March 14, 2022 drabble from Martian: The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles, one finds they can sometimes get what they need after a really bad day.

[SPOILERS from here on!]

When everything’s gone to pieces, who doesn’t need a little comfort food? “Chicken soup is good for the soul” and all that.

It’s good to know that when interstellar civilizations come together, compassion and care for all species will be a shared value, and that there will be those called to serve others.

In my stories I sometimes borrow from other stories I’ve written, some published, some as-yet-unpublished. It’s not that I’m building a coherent shared universe like the MCU or anything–the borrowed entities may be wholly different from one story to another. Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of sharing, but it’s not anything I’m going to go to great lengths to synchronize.

For instance, the “furry maratuses” are from a story I’ve got out on submission–with furry paws crossed that it finds a home; while the “chitin-clad arthropoids” are based on the Sen from Shattered Hand. The medic, along with some of the other patients, are hemsi, which is a shout-out to HEMSI, Huntsville Alabama’s ambulance service. Seemed appropriate for a medic, though I’ve not yet seen any green-tinged, three handed EMTs around here!

In these times especially, go treat yourself to a nice, hot bowl of soup!

About The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams

Dreams persist in the bones.

I’m proud that my story, The Paleoneirologist’s Dreams, was selected for publication in Tree and Stone’s inaugural issue. Tree and Stone is absolutely gorgeous and I hope it does well for its creator; as well as becoming a vibrant outlet for the fantasy and science fiction community.

I’ve been hooked on fossils ever since I was a child. That’s not particularly unusual, though I think most kids gravitate towards dinosaurs. And why not? Dinosaurs are awesome! The first fossil that I was enamored with, though? A trilobite! I can’t say for sure exactly how that happened, but I have some vague memory of a third grade teacher showing one to us in class.

Growing up in farmland Minnesota there wasn’t much to find in the way of fossils–we lived atop the detritus left after Ice Age glaciers retreated. I think the whole time I lived there I found one fossil. I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in Missouri, and just down the road from their house was a wide open rock cut. There I found a lot of fossils with my cousin, mostly crinoid rings, blastoids, and I think a snail. I still have a few of these stashed somewhere, I think–though I’ve lost track of the snail.

It wasn’t until I moved to North Alabama and bought property on the side of a Mississippian period limestone mountain (see the page header above!) that I finally found myself surrounded by fossils. All of them sea-dwelling creatures like horn corals, shells, and the ubiquitous crinoids. I also went on some field trips with friends and local organizations elsewhere in Alabama and collected leaf and bark prints, cephalopods, and more.

It was inevitable that a story would be written about fossils.

So how does one get from collecting fossils in my backyard to a story about an obsessed paleoneirologist?

Somewhere I learned that the study of dreams is called oneirology. And being very familiar with paleontology, it was a short step to slap paleo- onto oneirology and voilĂ ! Paleoneirology, the scientific study of the Old Dreams.


The idea of acquiring traits or experiences from consuming that which possess them is hardly new. In this story the paleoneirologist literally consumes fossils to dream the life of that creature whose fossil survived to the present day. Not merely participating as a passive observer–documentary style–but viscerally experiencing the life of the creature. Being utterly immersed, becoming it; forgetting their own humanity and living the alien experience of a prehistoric creature.

It’s addicting. It becomes an obsession.

Rapacious, meat-lust hunger. Frenzied slaughter, predator and prey, the snapping of bones and the flood of blood gorges full in the throat. Insatiable.

Credit: Kathleen Jennings

The final locale, the “paleontological cathedral of dreams,” was inspired by this photo Australian author and illustrator Kathleen Jennings posted from the Oxford Natural History Museum in the UK. (How else would you describe this place? It has definitely earned a spot on my bucket list!)

What better setting and opportunity for a paleoneirologist to make their most audacious attempt at experiencing the ultimate Old Dreams?

About Falling In Love At Verona Rupes

Falling In Love At Verona Rupes is now up as the January 10, 2022 drabble at Martian magazine. (Subscribe!)

When I previously wrote About Mercury’s Ice I mentioned that I became a space nerd at a very young age, and in the decades since have become quite fond of the lesser known–but no less awesome–wonders of the solar system.

Verona Rupes, from NASA’s Voyager 2

Verona Rupes is another one of those wonders. Spotted during Voyager 2’s 1986 flyby of Uranus’ moon Miranda, it’s a candidate for the tallest cliff in the solar system, possibly reaching twenty kilometers (twelve miles) high. With Miranda’s low gravity, less than 1% of Earth’s, that 20 km fall is going to provide ample time for sightseeing on the way down, about eleven minutes.

And we humans seems to have an unquenchable thirst for doing things while falling. (As it turns out, skydive weddings are quite popular among the engaged-to-be-married skydiver population!)

So you just know, how is anybody going to resist having their wedding ceremony performed during the 11-minute freefall off the highest cliff in the solar system?

Base jumping Verona Rupes artist’s concept. Credit: Erik Wernquist

A few things to keep in mind: Miranda is an airless moon, so you’ll need spacesuits. Though the sun is a long ways away, it’ll still be pretty bright, so coordinate suit colors. Rehearse the ceremony a few times at ground level–you do have eleven minutes, so you don’t have to rush too much, but still, be diligent and watch the altimeter.

Finally, parachutes are useless on Miranda, so make sure everyone’s retros are in good working order and fully fueled. You’ll want to ensure everyone in the wedding party has a good time and a soft landing.

2021 Award Eligibility Post

Four of my stories were published this year, and I’d be delighted if readers would consider whether any of them rose to a level worthy of a nomination for any of the annual fantasy and science fiction awards.

Thanks for your time. AND for any such consideration as you may give. If nothing else, I hope you found these stories simply to be an enjoyable read.

The new year started off fresh with the publication of my SF short story, “The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun” in the first quarter issue of Abyss & Apex (January 1, 2021). How much of your physical self can you surrender and still remain human? There may be more than one answer.

The creation of this story was helped along by an illustration dashed off by award winning artist and writer Kathleen Jennings during a Twitter conversation.

Click to read more About The Golden Rays of the Morning Sun.

The second quarter issue of Abyss & Apex (April 1, 2021) published my epistolary Americana fantasy story, “Entries From My Grandmother’s Diary Pertaining to My Father’s Early Inflammation.” Dealing with toddlers sometimes takes on a fiery dimension.

I credit my late grandmother as co-author, as a fair number of the diary entries in this story originated as actual entries from her Depression-Era diaries. Click here to read more About Entries From My Grandmother’s Diary Pertaining to my Father’s Early Inflammation.

Sam Tomaino in SFRevu called this “a perfect story”. Read it and see what you think!

My SF short story, “Crossed Paws,” about the impending loss of one’s dog and the efforts one makes to keep more than just its memory alive was first published the in the UK’s Shoreline of Infinity #22 (May 2021). It was then republished in digital and print in issue #23 (June 2021).

Charles Payseur in Quick Sips 6/25/2021 reviewed “Crossed Paws”: “…heavy with tired grief, and beautifully done!”

Listen to “Crossed Paws” for free on Shoreline of Infinity’s “Soundwave Podcast”.

Click here to read more About Crossed Paws and Tammy, the very good girl to whom it’s dedicated.

Now for some shorter fare! Got thirty seconds? Check out Martian: The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. Martian publishes stories of exactly one hundred words. It may sound easy (it’s only a hundred words after all!) but, oh, the trick is picking out the right one hundred words.

A brief SF tale of abrupt loss and perseverance, “Mercury’s Ice” was Martian’s September 27, 2021 story. Read more About Mercury’s Ice to see why I set this story in Mercury’s polar region (Also contains a gratuitous ‘cute kid’ pic :-).

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Marc A. Criley

About Mercury’s Ice

Mercury’s Ice appears in the 27 September 2021 issue of Martian: The Magazine of Science Fiction Drabbles. (A drabble is a story told in exactly 100 words.)

I’m a space nerd. I got it from my dad, who worked for a major aerospace company in the 1960s writing test procedures for the Gemini spacecraft. I still have the memory of sitting on the armrest of a chair with him in July 1969 watching a fuzzy image of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon.

The chair from which my father and I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the Moon.

That interest never wavered, and I’ve followed pretty much every planetary exploration mission since then. There are amazing things in the solar system, many more than just the biggies–Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s Red Spot, Martian volcanoes–that get most of the attention. Often it’s some of the lesser known features that fascinate me more: Pluto’s Sputnik Planitia, the nitrogen volcanoes on Triton, and that Mercury, the planet closest to our sun, actually has ice deposits in its permanently shadowed polar craters.

Source: https://www.universetoday.com/96778/the-hobbit-author-gets-a-crater-on-mercury/
Mercury’s Polar Craters

It’s unsurprising then that I find these to be compelling settings for stories and novels in general, and thus they have worked their way into mine in particular.

In the one hundred words of Mercury’s Ice I hint at the agony of a love abruptly and violently ended, and of endurance in the face of that burning loss. The persistence of ice in Mercury’s hellish orbital realm seemed an apt metaphor. So close to the fire, so close to obliteration, with only ice cold, hard-as-rock endurance carrying one through each day, every day.

May none of us ever require the endurance of Mercury’s ice.

About Crossed Paws

Tammy at rest alongside her favorite tree

In my author bio for Crossed Paws, published in Shoreline of Infinity 22 (you can listen to it here for free), I dedicated the story to my dog Tammy. Tammy was let off the leash for the last time on March 3, 2020, and just a few days ago was the one year anniversary of when we laid her to rest alongside her favorite tree on Cedar Gap Mountain in north Alabama.

We live on the slopes of the mountain (or small hill, for all you with actual mountains in your backyard :-), and every Sunday morning Tammy and I hiked up the hill, sometimes on the trails, sometimes bushwhacking through the brush. There came a time, in mid-2019, when she was no longer able to safely hike the rough terrain, even when we stuck to the trails–her hind legs were weakening, and I was very much afraid that a slip or tumble could break a hip or leg, leaving her in serious pain until we could get her to a vet.

Tammy had already dodged one bullet, I wasn’t going to risk another.

The first draft of Crossed Paws was written a few years ago, when Tammy still ecstatically danced around as I pulled down her harness and leash to get ready for our Sunday morning hike. I wrote the story not long after the vet discovered a small black blister in her mouth during her annual checkup. The vet had it biopsied and it turned out to be canine oral melanoma, which is an often aggressive form of dog cancer; even after surgery it can recur and be fatal within a few months. (The one “fortunate” thing was that this instance of the melanoma belonged to one of its less aggressive forms.) The blister was lanced, and Tammy seemed none the worse for it. At her next check up however the melanoma had returned. This time the blister and a semicircle of surrounding tissue was removed from the upper lip on the right side of her snout. Again she responded as if nothing had happened. And the cancer never returned. She was one of the lucky ones who went on to live out the rest of her years cancer free–though the removed tissue did leave her with what my wife and I eventually came to refer to as the blowhole.

Tammy was already in her teens by the time this happened, and I knew that even under the best of circumstances there would only be a few more years with her.

Crossed Paws sorta I guess came out of the anticipation of those final days that I knew would someday come. To put it in an SF context I threw in high end robotic pets–I was remembering the discontinued Sony Aibo. Then added in artificial intelligence–or at least high-level simulacra; nanites and neural mirroring; bio-printing; and freelance programmers doing the best they could for themselves and their four-legged family members in a gig economy.

It’s won’t surprise the reader that a lot of Tammy made its way into Maisie. Whenever I visualized Maisie she, unsurprisingly, looked a lot like Tammy. I deemed Maisie a “Georgia Peach Pitbull”, akin to how we pedigreed Tammy as a “Belgian Wafflehound”.

The tone of most of the stories I write is what I describe as “melancholy optimism.” Which to me means that they end…well, but often at a terrible cost to the characters. For Crossed Paws I deviated a bit from that. In reality I knew that someday Tammy’s time would come to an end. But maybe, in a story, I could delay that for a little while longer, for someone at least, even if that someone is fictional.

Thank you Tammy for fifteen years of unconditional love, joy, and inspiration.

See you later girl…

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.

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.

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.

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.