Tag Archives: science fiction

Sonnet: ‘Ultimate Control’ (from the series ‘Voices from the Future’)

If you’ve the aptitude and love the role,
the Army’s always been the place to be.
Rise in the ranks, absorbing strategy:
coordinate, consolidate, control.
And what a blessing when those new implants
gave mind-to-mind awareness… and command.
Like the unthinking fingers on your hand
you can maneuver thousands with a glance.
The battle then’s to see what you can wrest
from other leaders, fighting mind-to-mind;
you have to grow, or you get left behind:
can you control ten million, like the best?
Of would-be kings there’s never been a dearth…
will it be only one who rules all Earth?

*****

This sonnet has just been published in Pulsebeat Poetry Journal’s 3rd issue (thanks, David Stephenson!) It is one of a series written in response to a comment from Maryann Corbett (a brilliant formalist poet) about the bleakness of my vision of the future. Well, she’s a Christian, so she has a totally different take on humanity’s future from my irreligious SF-infused speculations. Another sonnet in the series, ‘Exiled Leader‘, was published by Star*Line.

I don’t find it bleak to think that there will be unprecedented individual and planetary disruptions. I’m not distressed at the thought of humans being supplanted some posthuman higher intelligence. Should the earliest rat-like mammals of 145 million years ago be upset to learn that their human descendants build cities and kill any rats they find in them? Should they identify only with the familiar rats and wish that evolution had stopped there, or instead be proud that they have also developed into humans (and dogs, and whales, etc)?

For myself, life is a wild ride, and I long to see where it will take humans in a hundred or in a thousand years. Because of the current revolutions in genomics, robotics, AI and nanotechnology, I doubt we can reasonably forecast even a hundred years into the future. We can speculate all we like but once we merge a human with AI, create a cyborg, all bets are off.

20120401 – Hand – IMG_2898” by Nicola since 1972 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘First Contact’

And when we leave this planet, even leave
corporeal necessity behind,
launch in new realms of space, new states of matter,
encapsuled and encoded, searching blind,
who will we find, as we have always found,
those others there before us, unconfined?
How will we meet them, how will we relate,
them settled formlessly, we coming late?

*****

Perhaps I owe an explanation to non-readers of science fiction. The premise of the poem is that we humans will continue to tinker with not just our bodies but our DNA, as we have always experimented with everything. We will produce ever more bizarre manifestations as posthumans, especially useful in off-planet environments (I recommend the short stories of John Varley), ultimately finding ways to exist with intelligence and control without being tied to physical bodies. (Try Vernor Vinge.) But as always, wherever and however we voyage in exploration, we will always find someone (some thing) is there before us. And then there will be all the usual situations that occur with first contact… confusion, lack of communication, miscommunication, trust and distrust, treachery, violence, accommodation, mutual benefit, all the things that social species engage in.

Appropriately this short poem was first published in Bewildering Stories (thanks, Don Webb!), an excellent weekly magazine of speculative stories both short and serialized, and speculative poetry and art. This eight-line poem is structurally pretty basic: it’s in iambic pentameter with the second, fourth and sixth lines rhyming and with a final couplet.

Jupiter – PJ16-13” by Kevin M. Gill is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Into the Cryonics Dewar’

We had no destination ever, from birth,
save into the ultimate ocean, or ultimate fire, or ultimate earth.
Now we have not quite so ultimate ice.
For now, it will have to suffice.

The chance of reanimation from cryonic suspension may be small, but still greater than the chance of reanimation after cremation or burial in land or at sea. And I guess we now have a fifth option – ending up off-planet, adrift in space. But in effect that will be a variant on “not-quite-so-ultimate ice”. In space you’d end up near Absolute Zero, as with cryonics – but whereas with cryonics there is the miniscule hope of eventual reanimation, in space your ultimate fate would be that of all space debris: drifting for millions of years until burning up into a star or planet, or getting sucked into a black hole.

Life, death, quite fascinating. Not many options for changing the outcome, though various billionaires are throwing some of their money at the search for immortality, as people have done since at least the time of the pharaohs and early Chinese emperors. And why not? think it’s “just science fiction”? For thousands of years we used to dream we could fly to the moon, and that happened eventually…

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin #274, July 2020. Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: cryonics.org

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Geoffrey A. Landis, ‘If Angels Ate Apples’

If angels ate apples, potatoes and pears
they’d soon be chubby and cheerful as bears
nibbling knishes and other such things,
tickling your face with the tips of their wings.

If seraphim shouted and whistled at girls,
drank drafts from thimbles, all friends with the world
drained the best ale and chased it with rye,
then fluttered in circles while trying to fly.

Angels on tables! (Watch out for your glass!)
Slipping on puddles, right plop on their ass!
Laughing at music that only they hear,
then tweaking the barmaids a pinch on the rear.

Fuzzy fat angels, that’s something to see,
as they dance to the jukebox at quarter to three,
and ace out the pinball, a marvelous feat,
the lights and bells flashing (though sometimes they cheat).

If angels made merry, would that be so odd?
Must they always be solemn, to stay friends with God?
It’s a pity that Heaven is so far away
angels hardly ever come down and just play.

Geoffrey A. Landis writes: “It’s impossible to chose just one poem as a favorite, of course, and even if I could, which poem I’d pick would change from day to day, maybe even from minute to minute. Still, I’ve alway been fond about ‘If Angels Ate Apples’; it’s one that reads well out loud, and I had fun writing it. Mostly I was playing with meter and alliteration. I was happy that Gardner Dozois picked it up for Asimov’s Science Fiction, and since then it’s seen a couple of reprints.”

Geoffrey A. Landis is a rocket scientist who sometimes plays at being a science-fiction writer, and a science-fiction writer who sometimes plays at being a poet. In the process he’s picked up a handful of awards, ranging from science fiction’s Hugo and Nebula awards to the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling award, and had his stories and poems appear in twenty languages. He lives in Berea, Ohio, with his wife (who is also a science fiction writer and a poet) and four cats.

Website: http://www.geoffreylandis.com/poetry.html

Potcake Poet’s Choice: F.J. Bergmann, ‘Further’

The hyperspace viewer shows a flowing plane
of treebark, roots; a distorted approximation
of what we aren’t permitted to see. Clearing again
with each rugose transformation,
limited by the speed of post-quantum rendering,
the map of our passage grows:
an icebound dimensional lake thaws, remembering
the hot pulse of its creation, shows
palpable vestiges of times, energies and matters
through which our wake will trace.
The reflection of our ship shimmers, spatters
light back to streaming stars. We race
onward, out to where no atmospheres and skies
of planets can frustrate our vision;
the provocation of empty black where no suns rise
unbearable without acquisition.
Particular silence surrounds us like a felt of absence,
itself the sinuous, tentacular touch
of a void-god whose cult is abstinence,
who meditates on dark too much—
those distances between the stars and galaxies—
and has a singular affection
for black holes and cosmic fallacies.…
Sometimes we overreach. Each direction
(up? down? sideways?) seems different now;
our ship’s brain’s blocked—no ability
to calculate location. We tell it to go back: how—
why these results? We’ve lost mobility,
it says; the only options are charm and strange.
We clear its cache, then re-install the route.
On the viewscreen, no known space in range;
nothing but the false stars of snow. About
fifty-six hours in, the background gigahertz hiss
of relic radiation is finally broken:
our A.I. transmits a mad-dog growl. Something’s amiss.
What does it mean? Unspoken
fears flicker on our faces like shadows cast
by entities we feel but cannot see,
leaving invisible tracks across the vast
cosmic chasm, preceding one more tangibly
manifesting. A small silver embryo afloat
in amnion of atrament, our ship
is dwarfed by tentacles of terror. We’re but a mote
in the eye of a demonic god, a blip
cascading down through superimposed dimensions
to our doom, where something pines
beyond a threshold, longs to enter our attention—
and hungers for the taste of human minds.
Our Earth’s a pale blue memory, a ripe prize
to harvest; our civilization will revert
to a predawn whence no human can ever rise.
The God Void sits in judgment—but won’t convert
one soul. Its vastness grows, membranous and bloody,
slithers back into the open portal of a queer
dwelling where it withdraws to sleep and let the muddy
waters of vacuum clear.

F. J. Bergmann writes: ” ‘Further’ first appeared in the Lovecraft eZine. I selected ‘Further’ because I’m fond of cosmic horror, and I was pleased with being able to maintain the form and narrative at this length. The process I used for this poem is what I call ‘transmogrification’: starting with a text source, which can be anything, from another poem to spam, I write a different poem or story using most or all of the words from the source, generally in reverse order. The source for this poem was ‘Let Muddy Water Sit and It Grows Clear,’ a considerably shorter nature poem by Ted Mathys, whose title is reflected in the last two lines of my poem.”

F. J. Bergmann is the poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change (mobiusmagazine.com), past editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com), managing editor of MadHat Press (madhat-press.com), poetry editor for Weird House Press (weirdhousepress.com), and freelances as a copy editor and book designer. She lives in Wisconsin with a husband, intermittent daughters and a horse or two, and imagines tragedies on or near exoplanets. Her writing awards include SFPA Rhysling Awards for both long and short poems and SFPA Elgin Awards for two recent chapbooks: Out of the Black Forest (Centennial Press, 2012), a collection of conflated fairy tales, and A Catalogue of the Further Suns, first-contact reports from interstellar expeditions, winner of the 2017 Gold Line Press manuscript competition. She was a 2019 quarter-winner for Writers of the Future. Venues where her poems have appeared include Asimov’s SF, Missouri Review, Polu Texni, Spectral Realms and Vastarien; her speculative fiction has been published in Abyss & Apex, Little Blue Marble (CA), Pulp Literature (CA), Soft Cartel, WriteAhead/The Future Looms (UK), and elsewhere. She has competed at National Poetry Slam with the Madison Urban Spoken Word slam team. While she has no academic literary qualifications,. she is kind to those so encumbered. In a past life, she worked with horses. She thinks imagination can compensate for anything.

Contact F. J. Bergmann: demiurge@fibitz.com

Potcake Chapbooks: Updated Call for Submissions

The “Potcake Chapbook” series is named for the dogs of the Bahamas and the Caribbean – strays that live off the burnt scrapings of cooking pots. The poems in the series are a mixed bunch – but the potcake of our logo wears a bow tie to show that he and all the poems are formal. These poems are memorable in part because they rhyme and scan, as all truly memorable (i.e. easily memorisable) poetry does. We subscribe to the use of form, no matter how formless the times in which we live.

Potcakes hunt around the back streets and beaches, looking for something unguarded to eat. Like a potcake, I’m always looking to see if there is some good poem to carry off. The plans for the chapbooks are a bit sketchy, always changing–everything depends on what I run across and what Alban Low would like to illustrate. Perhaps half the poems we have published have come from my poking around back issues of online poetry magazines; and the other half have come from material that has been sent for me to look at.

When there is enough good material on a single theme to fill 13 pages of a chapbook (still leaving room for Alban’s work, of course), then it may become the next project. But until a chapbook actually goes to print everything is subject to change. An even better poem may show up and displace one tentatively placed. A slew (or slough) of poems on a new theme may cause a reprioritisation of planned chapbooks.

This is one of the reasons that I prefer to consider only poems that have already been published–so that I don’t feel guilty about having a bunch of poems that will sit with me for months, years, and may or may not be included in the Potcake series. I have flagged a thousand poems that interest me; but I can only publish a dozen in a chapbook, and only a few chapbooks will get produced in a year.

However I am always keen to read and consider rhymed and metered verse that has already been published. There are several chapbooks that are jostling in the queue for completion and publication:

Travels and Travails (travel)
City! O city! (urban life)
Just a Little Naughty
Portraits Unpleasant
Various Heresies (religion)
Lost Loves
The Horror of Spring! (seasons)

and there are more; but the next one in the series, to come out early in 2021, will be one of science fiction, tentatively ‘Rockets and Robots’. Like all the chapbooks listed above, it is nearly full already. As with all of them, if I run across another poem I really like, I’ll include it.

Poems in the chapbooks run from two or three lines to some 40 lines in length–obviously, with space at a premium, poems over 20 lines and running over one page are less likely to be included… but it does happen. Other criteria: I’m looking for wit, elegance, a variety of traditional and nonce forms, a variety of voices and moods: happy, sad, angry, sardonic, meditative… anything interesting I can scrounge. If you have something you think I might like, on any topic, please send it along to robinhelweglarsen@gmail.com

I can’t promise to use it, but I will read it and reply!

Odd poem: 19th century Science Fiction by Tennyson

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.

This excerpt from Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall’ has a steampunk feel to it–“the nations’ airy navies grappling”–what exactly did he imagine? The hot air balloons that had been developed in the previous century, now using grappling hooks and rifles in their battles? And it ends not with a talking-shop United Nations, but with a World Federal Government… It is quite a vision from the young Tennyson; and this slice of the poem has taken on a life of its own, quite distinct from the general ranting about his failed love affair which is the theme of ‘Locksley Hall’.

The full poem contains well-known lines such as

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love;

and the poet foresees his former lover, now married to a man he dislikes, in a poor relationship:

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse
.

A situation which he thinks she deserves, and which brings out his (pre-)Victorian misogynism:

Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match’d with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine—

So we can leave all that alone, and just look at his science fiction passage: the skies filling with commerce and warfare, before the world achieves global peace and quiet. A nice vision of a young man in his mid-20s, writing two years before Victoria became queen. 1835 is quite early. For comparison Jules Verne, often called “the Father of Science Fiction”, was only seven years old when Tennyson wrote ‘Locksley Hall’. But that hardly makes Tennyson unique as a prophet: Mary Shelley had published ‘Frankenstein’ in 1818, and her apocalyptic dystopian ‘The Last Man’ in 1826. And fantastical speculation goes back a lot further, to at least the 2nd century with the bizarre work of Lucian of Samosata, an Assyrian who wrote A True Story. But at least compared with Lucian, Tennyson was on the right track, with a little more science to back his fiction.

Photo: “steampunk attack” by tom.keil is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sonnet: “The Four Evangelists of the Apocalypse”

 

Apocalypse

Corporate Apocalypse

The evangelists of the apocalypse,
our old friends Murder, Murk, Lucre and Grab,
advance, all slinging guns and swinging hips–
valkyries, horsemen, ravens – rend and stab,
corporate-coloured red, blue, yellow, green–
give opiate online lives, plant-meat kebabs,
while sucking out the everything between
to flesh and farm their diabolic labs
where rats, replaced by chimps, replaced by us
are harvested, dissected and thrown out.
The Evangelists, a giant octopus,
seize and build all that maximizes clout
till A.I., comet-like (think Yucatan)
wipes homo sapiens out, grows Superman.

This apocalyptic SF sonnet was published in Star*Line, now edited by F. J. (Jeannie) Bergmann of Wisconsin. Think of it as pure optimism: the evil corporate giants were sucking humanity dry, but then A.I. takes over and, yes, wipes us out altogether, but at least replaces us with something better! The optimism being that we may not be actually eliminated, more like upgraded…

Do I believe that? No. But I also don’t think we can even guess at what the world will be like by the end of this century. Humans will be transforming themselves unpredictably by then. So hopefully the planet will still have some form of us around, and not just postnuclear cockroaches.

Sonnet: “When the A.I. Hit”

When the AI hit, Diamandis, Thiel,
Branson, Page, Brin, some Russians and Chinese
became the gods of Earth, of skies and seas,
by grappling it to themselves with hoops of steel;
appeared as giants, credit cards, or scotch
to screw with mortals, rape them just for play;
fought, and destroyed the Earth, blasted away…
taking along, as fleas on arms, legs, crotch,
musician, writer, politician, whore,
derelict, linguist, murderer, the insane…
some samples of the human heart and brain
as being interesting distractions for
the gaps of interstellar time and space.
Aspire to fleadom, folks, or leave no trace.

This sonnet was originally published in Snakeskin a couple of years ago. Like the previous sonnet I put up here, it reflects my concerns about the near future. The list of people who might take advantage of the possibilities offered by the ongoing revolutions in genetics, robotics, A.I. and Nanotechnology should today include Elon Musk–but the candidates for practical godhood change every few years.

And what the vast majority of left-behind humans can do about it is anyone’s guess.

Sonnet: “Last Will and Testament”

I, Robin, being of sound mind, declare
the Cryonics Institute shall have my corpse.
That’s where I’ll rest, if I can get shipped there,
no matter how friends stare, family gawps.
“I”, “corpse” and “rest” are contradictory, true,
because we’re into science frontier realms
where problem-solving causes problems anew,
where human thought both helps and overwhelms.
Limitless lifespan, or apocalypse?
Both feasible as we reach out through space.
Cryonics is a ticket for both trips…
or none at all, if humans lose our race.
Enjoy this puzzle-path, solve it and thrive.
Drive to arrive alive. Strive to survive.

Another of my existential sonnets, this one just published in Star*Line, the quarterly publication of SFPA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, now in its 43rd year. Star*Line is one of those tolerant poetry magazines which will publish anything that appeals to editor Vince Gotera, from formal verse to experimental poetry–so long as it deals with space ships or time travel, dragons or golems and so on, of course.

Technically this is a Shakespearean sonnet, i.e. it’s in iambic pentameter and rhymes ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. Each of the 4-line blocks is a complete thought, describing the existential situation being faced. There is a volta or turn (but it’s weak) before the final couplet which moves from description to prescription: the couplet is a call to action.

By the way, I am changing the poem’s title with this blog post–it appears in Star*Line with the first line as the title.