Tuesday, June 29, 2010



What do you love about America?  The freedom of speech?  The right to bear arms?  For me, it's the Inflatosaurus rex looming up over the new car lot.  Dear God, I am nuts about this country!

And speaking of the Clarion Write-a-Thon tuckerizations . . .

Out of all 42 tuckerizations, only three were commissioned for birthdays – yesterday's and both of today's. What were the odds? One of these stories should be considered to be a weekend story, 
Happy birthday, Jessica! Happy birthday, Jill!

A Woman of Singular Skill
Michael Swanwick
The Singularity, sometimes derisively referred to as “the Rapture of the nerds,” arrived three days ahead of schedule. This was due, perhaps, to unexpected brilliance on the part of an obscure robotics team at Carnegie, the success of a counterintuitive experiment at CERN, and a linguistic breakthrough by an obscure poet in Zagreb. Unfortunately, as a result everybody found themselves living in a post-singularity, post-poverty, post-postmodernity virtual existence in the Matryoshka shells that now enveloped the sun in countless layers of Strossian computronium without having been given enough warning to pack.
A lot of things got left behind.
Thus it was Jessica Taylor Erwin's strange fate to be the only uploaded posthuman still possessed of woodcarving skills. She was living in a Vinge estate with a simple 100-room castle, garden, and lake, surrounded by an infinite forest. One day when a centaur carrying a briefcase trotted out of the infinite surrounding forest and said, “Listen. We really need your skills.”
“Fine,” she said. “Come back next Tuesday with a good set of tools and I'll give you your first lesson.”
“That's not how we do things anymore. Give me permission, and my briefcase will take the information directly from your brain.”
“Forget it,” Jessica said.
“Aw, c'mon!” the briefcase said. “Knowledge wants to be free. Don't be selfish.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Suitcase.” Jessica snapped her fingers and the centaur and his briefcase went away. Then she declared that nobody wanting to harvest information from her brain was allowed on her estate. In Postsingularia, you could do that.
A week later, Jessica was in her garden when a flying carpet descended from the sky. “Hi,” the woman sitting cross-legged on it said, “I heard you give woodcarving lessons.”
“Well, I haven't so far, but . . . How do you propose to pay for them?”
“I'm a quilter. I could teach you.”
Within the month there were a dozen workshops in Jessica's garden, and the virtual renaissance of human crafts had begun.
“You do realize,” Jessica's husband James said one day, “that you're really wreaking havoc with the whole concept of post-Singular economics.”
“Oh, hush. If we don't enjoy making things with our hands, we're not really human, are we?”

Michael Swanwick
Time travel, it turns out, is not all that dissimilar to rock climbing. Whether you’re climbing up or climbing down, moving into the future or into the past, there’s always one moment when the climber-or-traveler gets stuck, when she thinks to herself: I’ve gone too far this time. In that moment of calm terror, it’s possible for the brain to go into overdrive. Which is how Jill Roberts came to invent time travel.
She came back from the mountains full of plans and ambitions. First she went to the bank and extracted her life savings. Then she had it all converted to British hundred-pound notes. (“Nothing later than 1994,” she specified.) Throwing a handful of news and technology magazines into her bag, she set out for the past.
Down the steep timescape of tachyons she made her perilous way back to 1995, emerging at last outside Nicolson's Café in Edinburgh. Inside, sitting in a dark corner, a welfare mother sat hunched over a writing tablet. Respectfully, Roberts said, “Ms. Rowling? I’m here to make you an offer for your book.”
Any doubts the writer might have had about the offer were swept away by the wad of money that Roberts plunked down on the table before her.
From there it was but a short hop-skip-and-jump through time and space to San Francisco, where a young man named Jacob Weisman had just founded a small press called Tachyon Publications. Contracts in hand, she walked into the newly-opened offices and said, “You don’t know it yet, but I’m your new managing editor.”
Jacob Weisman looked up and scowled. “Who the hell are you?” Then, seeing the magazines she’d spread before him, “What are you?”
“I’m Jill Roberts,” she said, “and I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.”


Matthew Brandi said...

"What do you love about [insert the name of your country here]? ... Dear God, I am nuts about this country!"

It's funny: we have our share of nationalists, patriots, & xenophobes, but it is hard to imagine that any of them would employ such language, even in jest.

I don't know whether that's reassuring, or an occasion for utter despair.

Matthew Brandi said...

"Oh, hush. If we don't enjoy making things with our hands, we're not really human, are we?"

And so the blackest of humour asserts itself. I take my hat off to you, sir.

Matthew Brandi said...

Tachyons: the first couple of sentences really grabbed my attention.

Job done, or did you have an elaboration of the rock climbing/time travel thing in mind, a riff which ended up being discarded in favour of the story told here?

I know, I should keep my curiosity to myself.

Unknown said...

Thanks again,

Unknown said...

Thanks again; I enjoyed the little "Stations of the Tide" Easter egg.

Michael Swanwick said...

Yeah, the briefcase was a nice character, and a pleasant presence when I was writing that book. I miss him sometimes.

Matthew, the opening paragraph contains the one sure fact I know about rock climbing (or, in the case of my long-ago youth, rock scrambling). In a longer version of the story I would have used the possibilities it opened up. But in a work of flash, it wasn't necessary.

Matthew Brandi said...

If it is not hidden, is it an easter egg?

Matthew Brandi said...

Michael, I've probably had my brain poisoned by Mike Harrison.

Tachyon Publications said...

Thank you, Michael! Best acquisition we ever made, aside from working with you...

Matthew Brandi said...

I love that balloon crown!