About Fight Me

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

This story came about as a reaction to “person encounters a version of themself from a parallel dimension” storylines. Frequently one or the other of these multi-dimensional twins are some kind of highly-trained, highly-competent expert, like a soldier or spy, or is filthy rich. While the other is often a hapless, or sometimes worse–on-the-skids–individual that gets taken under their wing after working some things out to establish a relationship.

That’s all fine, but what if it’s just two ordinary people, who for some reason or another find themselves seriously at odds with each other, but neither has any particular set of skills that would give one the advantage?

How’s that accountant fight going to play out?

About Mr. Giz

My 100-word story for the Stupefying Stories “Breakdown” contest, “Mr. Giz,” has been posted.

This was just a fun little story to write and I’m happy it found a place on the contest podium.

Coming up with the name “Mr. Giz ” was the part of it I worried over the most, since it had to do double duty 😸

About Reenactment

My story, Reenactment, about a very tired, burnt out “superhero” possessing an extremely specific superpower with limited utility and a high cost is up now at Penumbric Speculative Fiction.

What led to my writing Reenactment was that I’m pretty ‘meh’ on superhero movies and franchises like the MCU. I was thinking about this while walking down the hall at work one day and realized that I ought then to write a superhero story that interested me. One where the cost of exercising their power took a serious toll on the one blessed/cursed with it. The power in question then could not be one that is indiscriminately deployed–the high cost to the wielder would preclude that. So how high a cost? And how would that power and that cost manifest itself?

SPOILERS more or less from this point forward…

What if exercising their power put their life at risk? And let’s say it didn’t just “risk” their life, but one hundred percent guaranteed their death without medical intervention? And could I somehow make the certainty of death intrinsic to the nature of the superpower?

Yes.

And that’s how the Reenactment superpower, if you even want to call it that, came to be. It’s not a “fun” superpower, it’s not invisibility, or tremendous speed or strength, or moving things with your mind. It’s not shooting lasers from your eyeballs, or defying gravity, or being bulletproof (especially not being bulletproof!). Chrys literally reenacts the last few moments of a dead person’s life–not just the kinetic movements of their body, but also the fatal physical injuries that killed them. Chrys will die from these injuries, just as the person who originally suffered from them did. The only chance for survival is that by knowing in advance what the injuries are going to be–for example being shot or stabbed–a medical team can be prepped and ready to intervene the instant those injuries occur.

“Where are the medics?” he gasped over the sudden roaring in my ears. “We have to wait! You’ll kill him!”

Imagine the toll this takes. Not just physically, where Chrys suffers all the pain of the injury and has to go through recovery and rehabilitation, but mentally as well. They are literally minutes (or seconds!) from death, and totally reliant on a significant medical intervention to save their life. And not all physical injuries, especially those that are normally fatal, can be completely healed. Pain builds up, it persists. Old “war wounds,” if you will, grind one down over the years. Until Chrys finally says, “No more.”

It’s sort of amazing that Chrys exercised their power at all–the circumstances where it can be exploited are extremely rare…and always traumatic. Two things have to happen in tandem: the “bad guy” has to be doing something critical that can be subsequently undone if only it’s known what they did (like entering a bomb’s arming code), and they have to die suddenly and quickly just after performing this mystery action.

Chrys primes reenactment by holding the dead person’s hand–and it’s a minute-per-minute priming. Want to reenact the last five minutes of that person’s life? Then Chrys has to hold onto them for five minutes. (One aspect of this “priming” I wanted to bring out was that there’s nothing special about it–as I mentioned above, Reenactment is not a “fun” superpower. When priming, there’s “[n]o power surge, no crackle of ‘life energy,’ no infusing warm flow nor breathtaking, bracing chill. Just me holding a dead man’s still warm, bloody hand.”)

Chrys lost three people in the neighborhood where they grew up to gunfire, and subsequently undergoes three near death experiences, before Edgar Marquez gets wind of these events and recognizes what Chrys is. He intervenes and saves the very confused Chrys’ from a premature death (by their own hand or another’s), and gives them a way out. But is it really a way out? Really?

How many times is one willing to reenact a (near) death out of patriotism, or loyalty, or gratitude?

Eventually even Edgar tells Chrys to get out. To get away from the monsters–if Chrys somehow gets that one last opportunity to do so…and sticks with it.


In my short stories I try to weave in resonant threads–bits of foreshadowing, or repeated dialog or imagery. It’s not necessarily noticeable at first read, but I think it helps to hold the story together, if perhaps only subconsciously. I just want to point out a couple of them in this story.

The first one literally opens it:

Incoming call–a hip hop ringtone, “Deja Vu”

Having read Reenactment by now, it’d be hard to be any more obvious! But the reader doesn’t know that when they pick up the story, so it’s there to quietly plant a seed they’re unlikely to notice at the time.

Also in the opening scene, when Chrys learns who was killed, there’s this:

A cold dead bullet passes through my heart.

Let me just ask: How is Edgar killed? What is the last thing Chrys is going to reenact?

I’m going to level with you. These and other embedded threads and references aren’t all planned out ahead of time, and rarely written into the first draft. My process is to write the first draft and then edit, edit, edit. Then do more editing, and more, and more, and more and more and more. (It’s not everyone’s process, but it works for me.) Sometimes during the countless revisions I notice a connection between different parts of the story, or something sorta resonates with another part. I’ll see that, and tease out a thread, revising and strengthening that connection.

There are more, but that’s all I’ll highlight. I will say, though, that just as the first line of Reenactment includes a forward reference, the final line harks back to an earlier scene, which I’ll leave for the reader to uncover 🔍

About Fencepost and Tree

Julia Rios has published my paired drabbles, Fencepost and Tree–as bookends of the August 2022 issue of Worlds of Possibility. Worlds is initially distributed to their Patreon subscribers and the stories will appear in a subsequent Worlds of Possibility anthology.

I’d like to take a moment here to talk a bit about the development of each of the stories.

Fencepost

The region where I live in North Alabama has been a mix of farms, pasture, hills, and woods for decades. The portion of my property where my house lies was a cleared pasture eighty years ago, then overgrown, then cleared again about forty years ago for pasture and the house built by the previous owner, and now is partly regrown since I bought it twenty years ago (the pasture is now the front yard).

Raising cattle around here requires clearing pasture land, and then fencing it in. Fence posts are driven into the ground and barbed wire run. With the ebb and flow between pasture and woods here over the years though, sometimes when an area is cleared for pasture the cattle farmer saves themselves the effort of putting in a fence post by attaching the barbed wire strands directly to an adjacent tree. While the cattle may eventually go away, the wire fences often remain.

As the tree grows, it eventually grows over and envelopes the wire fence strands within itself. Once that’s happened, it’s going to stay there until the tree eventually dies. Trees can live for a long time like this–a constant reminder that it was once considered merely a convenient post for fencing in cattle.

Once it’s fully embedded, attempting to remove the wire will certainly do more harm than good. The best once can do is cut the strands to relieve a bit of the strain imposed on it by tautly drawn wire.

If only, I thought, something could burrow in and “feed” on that iron, breaking it down to rust. Carefully and professionally applied to just where it was needed so as not to get out of control. What a relief that would be for the trees that had to suffer this indignity! Keeping in mind that the crumbling of the strand would leave holes leading directly into the heartwood, leaving the tree vulnerable to insects or fungal infections. One should do more than just seal the holes, perhaps apply a healing salve to repair the damage? I think a tree would like that.

Shortly after submitting “Fencepost” to Julia Rios‘ call for submissions to their Worlds of Possibility project, it turned out that they liked this idea as well and accepted the story.

But that wasn’t all, as it turned out. Julia contacted me to ask if I’d consider writing a companion piece–from the tree’s point-of-view. Ohhhhh-kay. What is a tree’s POV? I thought about it for a couple days, kicked some ideas around, and then told them I’d take a crack at it.

Tree

The easy decision was that this story, another drabble, would mirror the narrative of Fencepost.

The less easy part is…how does one tell the story from a tree’s POV? How does a tree POV even manifest? One can go full–if very deliberate–sentience, like the Ents of Lord of the Rings. Or very detached, describing what’s happening to a tree from a wholly external perspective–but to me, that’s not really the POV of the tree. So I tried to find something in between. Deliberative and oblivious to the ‘fast-paced’ events happening beyond its bark; certainly not the least bit aware of technology, and also very likely unaware that something like people even exist.

One thing I wanted to try was have the visual structure, not just the narrative, of Tree also mirror that of Fencepost. So while the order of events is one-to-one, visual mirroring occurs when the oak experiences the cutting of the barbed wire strands:

Art by Andrew Turok

Snip, snap. Snip, snap.
Snip, snap. Snip, snap.
Again.
Again.

Four wire strands. Left side and right. The initial cut and the snap-off of each strand.

Then the oak undergoes experiencing the application of the FerroPhage™ nanobots and the bio-repair paste. An oak tree, as I envisioned its self-awareness, is not constituted to discern what is happening to it, it only knows what it feels within the context of…being a tree. While writing this I did some research about tree injuries, looking for additional opportunities for healing and restoration that the oak will experience, but which is not visible to us fast-paced individuals scurrying around it.

With only (and exactly) one hundred words to play with, every single word counts–typically meaning an inordinate amount of time is spent on getting exactly the right words in every sentence.

It took quite a while to get that final sentence right (all eight words of it), to be the internal complement of the externally manifested relief of the oak as it’s finally freed from sixty years of suffering.

I’m grateful to Julia Rios for their acceptance of the initially submitted drabble, Fencepost, into Worlds of Possibility and then for the suggestion to write a complementary, tree-centered, piece. It proved a nice pairing.

Also many thanks to Andrew Turok for the evocative illustrations.

Art by Andrew Turok

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 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 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 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 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!