Tag Archives: science fiction

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.

Review: “Aniara” by Harry Martinson

Aniara has fascinated me for a long time because it combines three of my favourite literary interests: science fiction, poetry, and the works of Nobel Prizewinners.

Harry Martinson wrote the book in the 1950s, a decade after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but before Sputnik launched the Space Age. It is the story of mass migration to Mars from the destroyed Earth, centred on a miles-long spaceship with thousands of emigrants that is knocked off course and is headed out of the solar system on a hopeless journey.

The existentialism of the situation – living lives of no destination in an inescapable vessel – is in practical terms no different from our own endless circling of the Sun… The issues of whether this feels different, and whether it should feel different, are never addressed but resonated with me nevertheless.

The characters are diverse and interesting. With the book having been written by a male, and with the narrator having a variety of sexual relationships with women, I was surprised to find that the recent film version has a female protagonist. Well, why not make it into a lesbian sf movie, though?

The book is divided into 103 ‘songs’ of half a page to seven pages in length – only 102 in the English translation by Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley Schubert, as they and the author agreed that Song 42 is untranslatable.

This raises the question of what the verse is like in the original Swedish. A mixture of formal and free verse, apparently, but with much more rhyme and structure than in the translation. (That the translation is weaker is natural enough, but unfortunate). While I wait to find a full copy in Swedish (which I will be able to work my through, with the English translation in my other hand), I am glad to have found a Swede’s Goodreads review in English which gives samples of the poetry in both languages. (Thank you, Lisa!) For example:

“Försök till räddning genom tankeflykt
och överglidningar från dröm till dröm
blev ofta vår metod.
Med ena benet dränkt i känslosvall
det andra med sitt stöd i känslodöd
vi ofta stod.
Jag frågade mig själv men glömde svara.
Jag drömde mig ett liv men glömde vara.
Jag reste alltet runt men glömde fara. –
Ty jag satt fånge här i Aniara.”

In the MacDiarmid/Schubert translation:

“Attempts at respite through the flight of thought
and constant transference from dream to dream
was often our method of seeking relief.
With one leg steeped in a flood of feeling
and one supported by a lack of feeling
we often stood.
I questioned myself but quite forgot to answer.
I dreamt of life but quite forgot to live.
I ranged the universe–but could not travel farther
for I was imprisoned here, in Aniara.”

The MacDiarmid/Schubert translation is not great, as shown in this excerpt. Not only is there a general lack of rhyme, but the second-to-last line would translate correctly as “I traveled all around but forgot about danger”. The only justification for changing the meaning is to make the (very weak) rhyme of “farther” with “Aniara”.

But then again, translating poetry into a different language’s poetry is at least as difficult as translating a written story into a film… so, as for this translation: I’ll give it five (out of ten, for the try). But the original? From what I can see and guess, ten out of ten!

Sonnet: “The Quincentenarian Looks Back”

“Twentieth century”! – hard to think it through,
remember details in that distant view…
At her tenth birthday party, why’d I throw
her in the pool, all dressed up? Still don’t know.
Later we lived together overseas;
I had no clue of female hygiene needs,
never bought tampons, she used toilet paper.
Later she had a child. Mine? I wonder.
I’d left, we lived with others, better fit…
or did we marry, and have kids, then split?
I married once or twice, had kids, I’m sure.
Sent her too rude a joke, and heard no more.
We knew so little in those small young lives…
I miss you, though, my girl, or wife, or wives.

This science fiction sonnet, maybe a little flippant, was published recently in the Rat’s Ass Review edited by Roderick Bates. But what will happen when people live longer and ever longer? At what point will be stop bothering to remember things that were once essential to our lives? And the photo is a little flippant, too – if we start living to 500, it can only be because we can reverse aging. There may be a few eccentrics who choose to maintain their bodies as “old”, like in the photo, but I think most people would opt for something in the biological 20s.

And, really, it’s not so much a sonnet as 14 lines rhymed in pairs. And even the rhymes are pretty iffy. Oh well. But so long as you amuse or otherwise engage Rick Bates, you have a good chance of being published in RAR. His basic advice for anyone who has something they are dithering about sending out is: “Go ahead and submit.”

 

Poetry Resources: Bewildering Stories. Poem: “When at the End”

Bewildering Stories is a weekly magazine of sf and speculative fiction (mostly) and poetry (some), created and managed by Don Webb and half a dozen others. Because it does a Quarterly Review and an Annual Review of the editor’s choice, it produces about 47 issues a year of original material (or predominantly original – it allows previously published material). It is now coming up on issue number 800. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how long it has been in existence… for an online magazine, it is truly venerable.

I often have a poem in Bewildering Stories, and this week is no exception: “When at the End – Wishful Thinking“:

“When at the end of life we who by swords, axes, cleavers
go as heroes to Valhalla, the rest go to Hel.”

“When at the end of life we the true believers
go as saints to Heaven, the rest go to Hell.”

“Our memory is all that we are.
When at the end of life we are remembered,
we still exist for as long as our memory lasts.
Remember us! We are no more than memories of our pasts.”

When, at the end, the helmet of this life is lifted away,
the Virtual Reality of “human” fades to grey,
will you find yourself in a world fresh, rich and deep,
an environment more meaningful, truer, greater?
(And is it somewhere you go even now, in sleep?)
Surely behind the simulation must be a Simulator.

It accepts formal and informal verse, being more concerned with the speculative nature of the ideas than with an aesthetic preference. The poem above is pretty much a sonnet, though the scansion is uneven, the rhyme scheme unorthodox and the rhymes themselves iffy (beginning with rhyming Hel with Hell). So not a very aesthetic product, but full of speculation – which is the priority.

The editorial board is diverse, Don being based in Canada but drawing on others in the UK and US. Submissions of course can come from anywhere. And another nice thing that Don does is to include “Challenge questions” about a number of the pieces in each issue. The answers from readers are not typically shared, but it is a nice way of provoking more thought.

Altogether a worthwhile magazine for poets as well as fiction writers.