Friday, May 27, 2022

Emerald of Earth – SEASON 2, EPISODE 19 Into the Darkness…

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see, share the link with a friend – and you’ll have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, and it won’t interfere with your Homework Schedule.)

Emerald left her filthy coverall and boots in a pile in the girl’s locker room after locking the door and taping the gaps with gray tape. In case Yamata no Orichi wanted to come back and finish what Daniel and Ayaka had started. Now she stood under a searingly hot spray in the boiling house. She’d been here for over an hour, washing her skin, her hair, her face and her feet. Once she was done, she got into another coverall, untaped the shower room door, unlocked it and peeked out.

No Daniel.

No Yamata no Orochi – Izegbe must have stalked away with Ayaka.

No one. She was alone and it was silent except for a faint hum somewhere – maybe the four-wheelers charge packs. The lights overhead made a noise, too. Not exactly a hum...but some sort of sound. They began to fade. She figured that served as nightfall in SOLAREX.

The ship also didn’t spin for gravity the way some of the old, ring-shaped space stations had done. Instead, the ship generated artificial gravity over a mesh set into most of the floors. They typically spun it to keep the surface evenly heated and keep them on a regular Earth day schedule and dimmed the lights to mimic sunsets. The amount and intensity of light varied as well with the lengthening and shortening of days following a 45 degrees North or South Latitude. It could pretend to be a long summer day and six months later, they might have a dim, short winter day and the ship’s average temperature was lower than normal. She knew it was all about keeping Human cycles turning in space.

She hurried to the bolus and pressed the call panel as twilight fell. The door opened right away and she stepped in and said, “Nile Sector, Level Three, Unit eight hundred and fourteen.” With a faint squelch, it moved and fifteen minutes later, it opened not far from her Unit.

It stopped once on the way and four teens dressed in pink tights so bright she had to turn away got in, chattering excitedly between themselves, ignoring her. She pressed against the wall, as far from them as she could get. Their sticks were different than the ones used by Jump players – which were modified lacrosse sticks. Theirs looked like a cross between a lacrosse stick and a double hockey stick.

“What are you dressed for?” she asked abruptly.

One of the girls looked down at her and said, “You’re new here, right?” Emerald nodded slowly. “We play pryzhok. Watch for us – we’ll be the champs in a few weeks!”

When the bolus stopped and squelched open, Emerald fled, terrified that she’d even said anything. Her Unit knew who she was and opened her door. She said, “GADI, start a shower for me. I want you to destroy these clothes and get me a new set.”

“What happened, Emerald?”

“I fell into the manure pit down at the ‘cane plantation,” she replied, peeling out of the clean coverall.

“It looked to me like you threw yourself in. Though I must confess the angle of the security video...”

“I didn’t throw myself in!” Emerald exclaimed.

Abruptly, a three dimensional image appeared where her wall had been. It looked as if it had been recorded from the roof of the boiling house. It replayed the scene: Emerald charged, grabbing for the pathetic looking piece of jewelry. Daniel hunched down and shouted an obscenity that the pickup caught perfectly. They collided like a couple of midfielders as she plowed into him. He fell butt first, sinking slowly, his hands and feet sticking out of the thick, mud-like slurry. His head went under as he slowly tilted back.

Emerald winced.

GADI froze the image. Arms crossed over her chest, Emerald said, “Fine then. I jumped. Turn on the shower.”

“You already took a seventy minute shower, Emerald.”

She glared at the surveillance pick up in the ceiling and snapped, “Imagine you’re Human,” she paused. “Now imagine that you just fell into a giant pond of partially decayed cow manure. Respond immediately: is a seventy minute shower long enough?”

GADI paused then said, “Your shower is ready.”

Two hours later, her fingers wrinkled as raisins, Emerald finally stepped into the sitting room of her Unit. She said, “Thanks, GADI.”

“The antiseptic effect of isopropyl alcohol is well-documented. Combined with skin and hair conditioners, you are now as disinfected as you can be without going through actual decontamination procedures.” GADI paused. “At your desk, you will find tonight’s homework assignment.”

“What homework?” Emerald exclaimed, squeaking slightly. “I’ve had a hard day! Harder than usual! I shouldn’t have to...”

“If you refuse this assignment, I will contact Team Twelve Leader Daniel Clayton.”

“No!” Emerald sighed and stepped to her work desk, dropping down into the hard-backed chair. “Why can’t this chair conform to my body like the round one does.”

“You are not relaxing. Studies indicate that a small amount of discomfort...”

“That was a rhetorical question,” Emerald said. “What’s the homework?”

“Where would you like to read the display, your desk screen or the wall screen?”


A satellite map centered on Mexico appeared. “You will be studying Mexican history. In particular, you are to research and comment on the following question: Did the ancient Mayan or Aztec people use tektites?”

Emerald’s pulse roared in her ears. “What did you say?”

GADI repeated herself.

“Why are you asking me this?”

“I have been programmed to assist in your education. One of your current educational goals is that you will be able to conduct independent research and prepare a written report communicating your findings. A secondary and short-term goal is to become familiar with SOLAREX databases. As our distance from Earth increases, we will be less and less dependent on Earth for direct database sharing. Your subject is student-specific. The due date for your written findings is tomorrow, seven pm Shiptime. Please refer to the printed assignment for specifics of format and for the rubric.”

Emerald nodded and hunched over the desk screen and started searching the SOLAREX database. It wasn’t long before she discovered that at the end of the Twentieth Century, tektites were discovered in the ancient Maya city of Tikal...

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this:

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Trunk Story Week • Part 2


How do you know when it’s time to give up on trying to sell a story?

In the old days of actual paper submissions sent by mail to magazines, there were two natural and reliable but unspoken indicators. Along about the fifth or sixth time your manuscript went out to an editor with shining bright hopes and came back home with its tail between its legs, it began to look pretty shopworn. The page edges and corners typically became dog-eared and frayed. Sometimes it might even have acquired a coffee-ring stain or two from a careless slush pile reader. 

Editors could see this, too. When a “new” submission came out of the envelope looking like it had already been around the block a few times, their level of interest in it immediately dropped. Every editor wants to believe that they are the first to get a shot at publishing some new story. A shopworn manuscript that plops out of the envelope looking sad and pathetic, with the obligatory SASE trailing behind…

Well, to paraphrase Damon Runyon, when that happens, the temptation to use that SASE becomes too strong to resist.

So back in the day the savvy writer, along about the time of the fifth or sixth rejection, would look at the bedraggled returned manuscript in their hands, glance at the accompanying rejection slip in hopes that it might contain some useful information*, and then think, “Maybe I should retype this one before I send it out again.” Of course, writers being writers, it is nearly impossible to retype a story without also rewriting it, so over the course of time a sort of stepwise refinement did take place, that sometimes actually did produce a story that eventually sold.

More often, though, the rewrite produced a new manuscript that also went out a half-dozen more times, before the second indicator took effect. This occurred when the writer was again holding the rejected manuscript in their hands, trying to discern meaning in the rejection slip and thinking the manuscript would benefit from being retyped yet again, when suddenly this thought occurred to them:

Hold on. It will take me X amount of time to retype this manuscript. I’m spending Y amount of money on 9x12 envelopes and Z amount of money on postage. Even if I sell this story on the next submission, I won’t make enough from the sale to recoup what I’ve already spent on trying to sell it.

Maybe, instead of retyping this one again, my time and money would be better spent writing and trying to sell something

At which point the savvy writer would chuck the manuscript into their “Save for the anthology” file and move on.

The thick writer, on the other hand, would remain forever stuck on trying to sell the same old story. 


* P.S. Speaking of thick writers and shopworn manuscripts, I actually knew an editor who, when he received a really high-mileage manuscript, made it a point not to use a rejection slip, but to hand-write his rejection on the first page of the manuscript. He did this both to insult the author and to force them to retype at least the first page of the manuscript.

The first actual personal rejection I ever received from a pro market editor was one of his scribbles, to the effect that my submission was a really good 1940s Astounding story, but this was 1975 and no one was interested in that old crap anymore. The joke was on him, though, as two years later Star Wars proved that no, recycled 1940s Astounding stories were exactly what the sci-fi fans wanted to see. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Trunk Story Week • Part 1

Every writer has a collection of trunk stories: stories they can’t seem to get published no matter how long they keep trying or how much effort they pour into trying to revise and improve them. If you are at all serious about being a writer, you probably have a pile of them, too.

If so, congratulations. You’re in good company. I have known hundreds of professional writers, and with one exception, not one of them has sold everything they wrote. 

Isaac Asimov complained about having trunk stories. Arthur C. Clarke complained about having trunk stories. Even Ray Bradbury complained about having trunk stories—but then in 1975 Gale Research published The Bradbury Companion, and everyone else began to complain instead. For example, Spider Robinson, in his book review column in Galaxy, described the then-newly released thing as:

“[a] labor of love—the kind that makes people build shrines to Lana Turner or wait in an alley for twelve hours for a chance to rip Paul McCartney’s lapel off. It is a shrine to Ray Bradbury, and as such serves to support the contemporary suspicion that he’s dead (at least as a writer of fictional prose).


“But the vast bulk (and it sure is) of the book is a hideous amalgam of…all I can call them are souvenirs. There is, for instance, an enormous selection of facsimiles of original manuscripts of unpublished works. Did you get that? You’re buying hand-written copy that a professional couldn’t sell to anyone.”  

If even Ray Bradbury, writing in the heyday of the pulp and slick magazines, couldn’t sell everything he wrote, until he at last had ascended to such an exalted height that he warranted hagiography of the kind Woody Allen so incisively satirized in “The Metterling Lists,” then what hope do you have that those old manuscripts in the back of your closet will suddenly and spontaneously germinate in the dark and become best-sellers?

Well, there is some cause for hope, and that’s what we’ll be talking about this week in Not Quite Ad Hoc Trunk Story Week. But do you see the immediate problem for a publisher? “These are stories a pro couldn’t sell to anyone” is a really tough sales pitch to make work with readers, unless we’re talking about the literary equivalent of a dead rock star. And of course, becoming successful after you’re dead doesn’t do you much good.

As for the one writer I knew who sold absolutely everything he wrote? I’ll reveal that secret now, although I won’t dignify him by naming him. He was, to speak plainly, a hack, who worked in multiple genres under a half-dozen pseudonyms and had an established reputation for delivering competent, formulaic, and commercially successful mid-list mass-market paperback originals exactly on schedule. He sold everything he wrote because he never began to write anything until he had a signed publication contract in-hand, and while he produced a tremendous number of books and made a comfortable living by doing so, he never produced one book that was interesting or remembered for any length of time.

That’s the nature of our business, folks, and your challenge as a writer. If you’re going to take chances, you’re going to produce at least some work that you can’t sell. Contrarily, while there can be very good money to be made in never taking any chances or doing anything original—see Brooks, Terry—if you choose that path, you’ll never produce any work that is of more than trivial and temporary interest.  

So now is as good a time as any to ask yourself: what do I want to be known for?

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Proposal: Tales from the Trunk

There is a question that is of tremendous interest to writers, but I wonder whether it’s of any interest at all to readers. The question is: What separates a story that is well-written and finished from being a story that is published? 

Let’s face it. Most stories are fated to be trunk stories. The numbers are merciless. Every day there are far more new stories being written than there are new slots opening up in which those stories could be published.

The situation has improved somewhat in recent years, with the advent of e-books and online publishing. A tremendous number of newer but much smaller markets have arisen, although much of what they’re doing is picking up the slack left behind by the failure of older and larger-circulation markets. It is easier to get published now than it used to be, albeit harder to get noticed by a large audience.

Still, more stories are being written now than could ever possibly be published. What is that je ne sais quoi that makes the difference between one story’s going out into the world to make friends and influence people, while another seemingly equally well-written story gets submitted dozen of times but never finds a forever home? 

We have had a lot of back-channel discussion of this question, here at Stupefying Stories. It’s even been proposed that we make it a point to publish the seemingly unpublishable, and to invite readers to comment and critique. I think this is a lose/lose proposition. “Hey, Readers! Look what we have here for you: a story that’s been rejected by everyone! Why don’t you invest your time in reading it and telling the author what’s wrong with it?” Yeah, that will attract a lot of non-writing readers. 

Besides, isn’t that what writing groups are for?

So instead, I’d like to float a different proposition; call it Tales from the Trunk. I think people would be interested in hearing from writers who had a story that seemed to be unsalable, but then figured out how to fix it and make it a published story. Specifically, I think people would be interested in hearing from writers who are willing to analyze their own work, and to explain how they figured out what they were doing wrong and how they corrected it.

At least, I think that’s an interesting idea for a regular feature on this site. The real question is: do you?

The lines are now open. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.


SHOWCASE • “Appliancé,” by Bruce Bethke


We’re pretty tied up right now with the work needed to get Stupefying Stories #24 ready for release on June 1st, so Ad Hoc Trunk Story week got pushed to the back burner and the new Saturday Fiction Showcase is still in the freezer, waiting to be defrosted. Hoping to kill two birds—

No, wait. I hate that expression. I don’t want to kill anything. How about, “Hoping to scare two squirrels off the bird feeder with one piece of rock-hard burned toast…”

Hmm. That expression needs more work. In the meantime, here for your entertainment is an old short story of mine, and afterward I’ll have a few words to say about what for years made this one a trunk story, and what I had to change in order to be able to sell this one to a pro magazine. 




by Bruce Bethke

First publication: Aboriginal Science Fiction, January 1991

“Good morning, Barbara,” the soft, pleasant, sexless voice said. “Time to rise and shine.” When there was no reply in sixty seconds, Snoozalarm tried again. “Good morning, Barbara. Please wake up.”

John got one eye sort of half-open, gave some consideration to waking up, then slid his hand around Barbara’s tummy and snuggled in closer, burying his nose in the back of her neck.

The clock’s voice became a bit more insistent. “This is the third call, Barbara. Please wake up. It is already 7:02.”

Her long, blonde hair smelled wonderful. He ran his fingers across the curve of her hip and down her thigh; she responded with a soft, throaty sigh...

Barbara Lynn Murphy!” Snoozalarm shrieked. “If you don’t wake up this very insta—

“I’m awake.” She started disentangling herself from John’s arms and pushing back the blankets.

“Snuggle one more minute?” John suggested.

“Afraid not.” Yawning, she sat up on the edge of the bed and started working the kinks out of her neck.

“It’s a lovely morning, Barbara!” Snoozalarm said cheerfully. “The current temperature is 56, with a predicted high today in the low 70’s. The air pollution index is low to moderate, but there is a 60-percent chance of rain in the late afternoon, so be sure to take your umbrella.” Barbara pulled on her terrycloth robe and wandered into the bathroom.

“The regularly scheduled breakfast for Friday is orange juice, wheat toast, coffee, and mushroom and cheese omelets. Do you approve, Barbara?”

“Yes,” John said.

Thirty seconds later Snoozalarm said, “I’m waiting for your okay on breakfast, Barbara.”

“It’ll be fine,” John said.

Another third seconds later Snoozalarm said, “The regularly scheduled breakfast for Friday is—”


She stepped out of the bathroom. “What’s wrong, honey?” John just scowled and pointed at the alarm clock. “Oh. Yes, that’s fine.”

“Thank you,” Snoozalarm said.

“Barb,” John asked, “how come that thing still won’t take orders from me?”

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I keep meaning to have it reprogrammed.”

“Well, I’m getting a little tired of waiting, you know?”

“I said I was sorry.”

“I mean, we’ve only been living together for six months now,” John continued. “Don’t you think it’s time you let your house know?”

Barbara’s back stiffened. “There’s no need to get nasty.”

“I’m not being nasty. I’m being hurt, because I still feel like your Man of the Weekend.”

“It’s improving, isn’t it?” she snapped. “At least Snoozalarm doesn’t call you Larry anymore!”

A furious look flashed into John’s eyes as he jumped out of bed. “You leave him out of this!”

Barbara ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. In a few seconds John heard the shower come on, so he gave up trying to talk at her through the locked door, pulled his robe on, and went to see if he could get a cup of coffee. As he walked into the kitchen, he mumbled, “Good morning,” and winced in anticipation.

“Good morning, Larry!” the appliances sang out. Snoozalarm had passed along the word, as a good NEC MajorDomot was supposed to, for they were all merrily churning away: Mr. Coffee, La Chef Food Processaire, Jiffy Skillet, Warren Waring the Blender, and even stolid old Fridge. Then poor little Toaster, always the slowest of the bunch, urgently and nervously said, “Good morning, sir.”

“Coffee ready yet?” John asked.

The coffee maker answered in a rich, masculine, Colombian-accented voice. “Not yet, but soon, Larry.” Strike Two. Shaking his head, John stepped over to the den, put his hand on the doorknob, and then hesitated for a moment, to summon his courage.

Entering the den always involved a strange mix of eagerness and dread. On the one hand, he had to enter the room to talk to Denny, and he liked Denny; the nexus of the HomeNetwork and gateway to the outside world was dependable, efficient, and best of all, completely apersonal.

On the other hand, Barbara’s collection was in there.

There was nothing to do but get it over with. Gritting his teeth, he opened the door.

Being light-sensitive, the meadowlarks were the first to start up. They in turn triggered the sound-actuated canaries, and as John charged in stabbing OFF buttons he jostled the Elvis shelf again and the five touch-sensitive dolls, representing the five stages of His career, started singing their five unstoppable two-minute songs. John got to the X-Rated Eddie Murphy doll in time, and caught most of the unrecognizables before they really got going, but he was flummoxed by the new one. There was always a new one; Barbara couldn’t pass up novelties. That’s why she’d bought into this totally wired townhouse development in the first place, and why she’d insisted they rent out John’s restored Victorian brownstone after they’d decided to move in together.

Picking up the new unrecognizable and turning it over—in the process triggering it, of course—he realized it was a four-headed Beatles doll and there was no way to stop it from singing all two-hundred and thirty-three choruses of “Hey Jude.” So he shoved it into the closet.

The Elvii were almost finished. He waited them out, then allowed himself a moment of smugness as the room settled down into the soft patter of electronic frogs and crickets shutting down. Of course, as soon as Barbara found out she would frantically turn them all back on, but for the moment he felt an incredible sense of accomplishment. He stepped back to survey the room, and triggered the singing chipmunks.

They started bickering violently in helium-squeaky three-part harmony. John bit his lower lip and fought the urge to scream “Alvin!” three times. After all, that’s what they were waiting for, and he’d be damned if he was going to kowtow to a bunch of witless silicon. Moving out of their range, he waited until they timed out. Then he again surveyed the shelves of silent knick-knacks, and turned to the desktop computer.

The printout basket was empty. “Denny!” he barked.

“On,” said the computer.

“Are you okay?”


“Then where’s my newsprint?”


“Huh?” Sometimes Denny could be laconic to the point of obscurity. It took John a full minute to realize Denny was telling him to look at the display screen, and another minute to remember how to turn the screen on. As soon as the screen came up, through, the ***NETWORK ERROR*** message appeared, along with the clarification:

interruption in BuildingSys at 07:17 ...
all CityNet services temporarily out ...
HomeNet Synchronization lost ...
all home modules now in local mode ...
sorry for the inconvenience ...

“Damn!” John spat. “Third data outage this year!” He stomped furiously out of the den. “Who wired this dump?!” he bellowed, “Migrant lettuce pickers in the off-season? Barb? This house of yours—”

The bizarre noise and awful smell first stopped him in his tracks, then made him break into a run.

In the kitchen he found a disaster-in-progress. Jiffy Skillet was frying shredded oranges, Toaster was belching smoke, Warren Waring was trying to juice eggs, and all the appliances were shrieking error messages at top volume. Viscous yellow egg goo was oozing down the sides of the blender and spreading out in a thick puddle on the counter top; a second later it found the crack between the counter and the fridge and began slithering down. Six months of living with Toaster had conditioned John to the smell of cremated bread, and now that he could see the skillet he recognized the smell of burning oranges, but a third nuance in the stench puzzled him until he watched La Chef dump freshly ground coffee into the skillet.

Mister Coffee was brewing cheese.

Once he got over the smell, the noise hit him again. Skillet and La Chef were stuck in a call-and-response routine; both had voice-operated troublefinders and each time La Chef shouted, “Assistance, s’il vous plait!”, Skillet answered, “Gosh, what a mess!” Since this wasn’t a valid response, La Chef kept shouting. Meanwhile, Mr. Coffee was muttering, “I think something is amiss,” Toaster bleated, “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!”, and the smoke kept getting thicker.

Barbara burst into the kitchen, hair dripping. “What did you do to them?”

John grabbed Toaster and began jabbing the eject button. “I didn’t do anything! The cable’s gone flakey again!” Toaster wasn’t surrendering, so John held it upside down and shook it violently.

“I’m stuck! I’m stuck!”

Put him down!” Barbara demanded. “And what’s the cable got to do with it?” John plunked Toaster down on the counter top and pulled open the silverware drawer.

“These things are all supposed to network with Denny,” John found a butter knife, “but they’ve lost sync.” Barbara realized what he was planning.

NO!” She tried to grab the knife from John’s hand, but he wrenched away. The momentum drove the blade through the charred toast and into something vital. There was a bright blue spark; John swore, dropped everything, and started sucking his thumb; Toaster gave one last shrill little screech and went silent.

“Christ!” sobbed Barbara, “you killed Toaster!” She picked up the inert appliance and cradled it in her arms.

“The toaster? How about I damn near killed myself?”

“You always hated Toaster!”

“Barb, that thing shouldn’t have been a toaster. It was a frustrated smoke alarm.” With his free hand, John reached for Mr. Coffee’s plug. A look of horror flashed across Barbara’s face; she threw her shoulder into John’s side, blocking him away.

“Don’t touch that!”

“How else am I supposed to stop it?” They struggled briefly over the cord and John came up the winner, but a few seconds too late. The coffee maker erupted like a cheddar Vesuvius, spraying scorched and bubbling molten cheese on the walls, the ceiling, John... luckily, his bathrobe caught the worst of it.

“You did that on purpose!” Barbara shrieked. John pulled a few taffy strings of cheese out of his hair, and then yanked La Chef’s plug. The food processor shut down with a gutteral squawk. “Stop it! You’re hurting them!”

“Dammit, Barbara, they don’t feel! They don’t think! They’re just silicon chips!”

“You beast!” Barbara screeched. “You’re the one with no feelings! You hate my kitchen! You hate my collection!” She stopped trying to hold back her tears. “You probably even hate me!” Clutching her poor dead toaster, unable to stop John’s unplugging rampage, she ran back into the bathroom and slammed the door.

“Oh... fudge,” John said, with some effort. He pulled the plug on Skillet, then followed Barbara. “Honey, I—honey? Please unlock this door.”

“Go away!”

“Barb, you’re being pretty juvenile about this.”

“You disgust me!”

Biting back an angry retort, John stomped into the bedroom, tore off the bathrobe and threw it into a corner, then stuffed his business clothes into his gym bag. He could wash up in the exercise room; if his boss didn’t like the time he sat down at his desk that’d be just too damn bad. He stopped in the kitchen long enough to dump the burnt oranges into the compactor—which solemnly announced, “The garbage is full,” and began singing Take Me Out to the Curbside—then slammed the door as he left.


“He’s gone, Barbara. You can come out now.” Barbara opened the bathroom door a crack and cautiously peered out. Reassured that John was gone, she opened the door the rest of the way. “Can we talk?” Snoozalarm asked.

Barbara nodded glumly. “It’s about John, isn’t it?”

“John has a serious compatibility problem. He resists integration with the HomeNet.”

“I’ve noticed,” Barbara said dejectedly. She walked over to the bed and flopped onto it. “What do you think I should do?”

“Larry did not have this problem,” Snoozalarm pointed out.

“But Larry was so dull,” Barbara protested.

“He was also reliable. The cable has been restored; John’s six-month performance review has just come in. Would you like to hear it?”

“I suppose I’d better. In summary, please.” She rolled over onto her back and ran her fingers through her wet hair.

Snoozalarm took a few seconds to prepare the summary. “The gist of it is, his market projections are as good or better than Larry’s. However, his aggressive personality has led to severe conflicts with his co-workers, and you have been given thirty days to correct the problem or face termination of your contract.”

Damn!” Barbara punched the mattress.

“This is a frequent problem with liberated artificial intelligences,” Snoozalarm noted. “They tend to develop assertive and territorial behaviors.”

“It’s my fault,” Barbara muttered. “I thought it would be fun if my android didn’t know he was an android.” She punched the mattress again. “Damn! That John software was so expensive! All those simulated memories. And that perception filter, so he wouldn’t notice all his co-workers are androids!”

“Sentience is a questionable feature in a primary breadwinner unit, Barbara.”

She sat up on the bed and sighed heavily. “Don’t I know it. Okay, call AndroServ. Tell them to reinstall the Larry software ASAP. Damn!” Barbara slid off the bed and walked into the bathroom, looking for a fresh towel.

By the time she’d finished drying off and was ready to shave her legs, Snoozalarm had made the connection. “I have AndroServ on-line,” the clock said. “Will today at noon do, Barbara?”

“If that’s the soonest they can get to him.” She paused, and pursed her lips. “Look, they won’t—hurt him, will they? He won’t know what’s happening to him?”

Snoozalarm paused to exchange data with AndroServ. “In special cases like this they use an ultrasonic remote shutoff. No, John will not be aware of this.”

“That’s very important to me,” Barbara continued. “Tell them I want a complete backup of John. Everything in his memory, right up to this morning. And after they archive him, I want them to update his world events memory every Friday.” She smiled, sadly, and picked up the bladeless razor John had used every morning for the past six months. “I may want to have a weekend affair with him, every now and then. Larry really is so dull.” She sighed, and tossed the razor into the wastebasket. “But a girl’s got to eat.”

Snoozalarm completed the call, and the AndroServ technicians showed up at John’s office at noon as promised. That night, Larry came home to Barbara. He’d been gone for six months, but he didn’t notice that little detail. In fact, he didn’t notice much of anything.

Barbara’s house was much happier.


APPLIANCÉ: A Tale from the Trunk

 It’s fun to look back on your successes. It’s more educational to look back on your failures, provided you can avoid that whole “wallowing in hopeless despair” thing.

Regarding this story, I wrote the original version of “Appliancé” sometime in 1982. I can’t say exactly when, except to say that I wrote it sometime after “Cyberpunk” and sometime before I started keeping detailed submission logs. From the records I’ve been able to exhume, it appears that it took me 25 tries to get this one published. Why?

Well, for one thing, this story wasn’t always exactly this story. The story as I originally wrote it had much in common with the one you’ve just read. It began much the same as you saw in Part 1, developed much the same as you saw in Part 2, came to a crisis almost exactly as shown in Part 3, and took the same neck-snapping shift into Barbara’s point-of-view at the beginning of Part 4.

It was the rest of the denouement that was always the problem. That, and the title.

In the original version, John was human, and after he stormed out Barbara wound up having a heart-to-heart with her bathroom mirror, which had a voice not unlike that of Joan Rivers and a nasty, manipulative personality. In the final paragraphs the mirror convinced Barbara to dump John. The original title was something that played off the Black Queen’s enchanted mirror in Snow White, and while I can’t remember the exact title now, I do remember that it was remarkably lame. Fortunately, I can’t find a copy of the Ur-story at the moment. The more I remember about it, the less inclined I am to look for it.

Between 1982 and July of 1984, that version of the story was rejected with little or no comment by ten different magazines—including, now that I look at the list, seven that have since gone out of business. Serves them right.

In 1985 I gave the story a complete rewrite, generally tightening and tuning the first three parts, but unfortunately giving it an entirely new ending, in which John was still human but Barbara ended up tossing him out and replacing him with a, er—well, with a vibrator, with the synthetic voice of Barry White. That version was retitled “Murder in Barbie’s Dream Kitchen,” and in the next two years I shopped it around four magazines, one of which lost it for ten months. Luckily, in March of 1987 an editor who kind of liked me took the time to tell me the ending was not merely bad but repellently tacky, so I put it back in the trunk until I found time for another rewrite and retitle.

[Nota bene: In today’s market, though, I think that ending would sell!]

A few months later the story reappeared as “Mirror, Mirror,” and the manipulative bathroom mirror was back, albeit this time with a superficially nicer personality and the synthetic voice of Garrison Keillor. This version ended up being a quarter-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and started coming back from magazines with rejections on the order of, “Real close, kid, but the title is a dead giveaway.” So I took it back into the rewrite shop again, and this time emerged with a story titled “Appliancé,” which was exactly the same as the story you’ve just read up through the beginning of Part 4, and in which, for the first time, John was an android—and so was Larry, but an earlier model. This version got bounced by five magazines with ever more encouraging rejection letters, including an “I would have accepted it but I have one too much like it already in inventory” from Stan Schmidt at Analog, before I finally hit on the idea that “John” and “Larry” were simply different software packages installed on the same android chassis. I wrote the final version of the ending in the Spring of 1988, and immediately sold the story to the next magazine to which I submitted it.

Equally immediately, that magazine went out of business without either paying me, publishing the story, or canceling our contract. It took me until January 1989 to recover the rights, whereupon I submitted the story to Charlie Ryan at Aboriginal SF, who immediately bought the story and published it in the January 1991 issue.

By any reasonable standard, this was an unreasonable amount of work to put into a single short story sale. In the end, though, I think it paid off. People who read this story generally seem to like it.I hope you did.

Kind regards,
Bruce Bethke


Are you a published author with a Tale From The Trunk you’d like to share? If so, we’re looking for writers who are both willing to let us reprint their previously publishing stories and brave enough to dissect their own work for the educational benefit of the audience. Does this sound like you? Send queries only to, subject line “Tales From The Trunk.”

Friday, May 20, 2022

Dawn of Time • Episode 7: “The dreadful secret of McDonald’s”

Written by Cécile Cristofari

Continued from Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5 | Episode 6

The story thus far: 32nd Century high school student Dawn Anderson is having a really bad day. Needing a better grade in History, she “borrowed” her father’s TimePak to take a short jaunt back to the 20th Century, only to make a perfectly innocent mistake involving a stolen handgun and a too-hot McDonald’s cherry pie. Now, instead of returning home, she is bouncing from disaster to catastrophe, each one worse than the one before. After being chased by clowns, narrowly avoiding becoming a tyrannosaur’s snack, jumping out mere moments before the Chicxulub extinction event, making a new friend (Stella) and rescuing her from the Titanic, being found by her worst enemy (Becky) and being forced to rescue her, too, from a robot uprising, the three of them have barely escaped with their souls, but not Becky’s soles, because time itself is melting…

“Time can’t be melting!” I said.

Becky was clutching her stomach, but Stella just sighed.

“Cheerleaders in 3204? Speaking 21st century English? What’s that if not time melting?”

The “errr” sound with which I answered was almost as undignified as Becky’s. Stella gave a patient look in answer.

“I’m a time agent,” she said. “Sent to retrieve a couple of devices that were causing irreparable damage to the space-time continuum. Luckily, I located yours on the Titanic.”

I started. “I thought time was melting because I saved you. Altering the continuum and all?”

“You didn’t save me!” She rolled her eyes. “Fine. My own device may have overheated when I jumped to the Titanic. I was just sitting under this table for some peace and quiet while I figured out how to get away.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“All right, thank you!” she said. “But that doesn’t change the problem. Have you drawn no lessons from the Great Climate Shift? Always investigate side effects of fuel before using it!”

“McDonald’s pies…?”

“Make time melt,” Stella said.

“And give you diabetes, and taste awful,” Becky added. Then she looked down at my jacket and her face lit up. “Hey, I have the only functioning time machine now! I won’t let you use it unless you take me home and lend a hand with that History assignment.”

I stared at her in horror. Then I remembered. I still had the gun!

“You’re not going anywhere with my jacket,” I shouted, drawing it and praying I wouldn’t have to do anything but wave it around. “And since when do cheerleaders care about History grades anyway?”

Becky’s mouth widened in shock, but Stella sighed. Again.

“Don’t be dramatic,” Stella said. “We’re not leaving anyone here. Put that down. Both of you!” she snapped at Becky, who had taken the jacket off and was waving it in front of her as if she couldn’t decide whether it looked more like a shield or like something to taunt an angry bull with. “We’ll just go to 1955 and stop McDonald’s from existing,” Stella added. “Hopefully the space-time continuum will start behaving logically again afterward.”

“But then I won’t be able to go back home!” I cried.

A polite cough interrupted me.

“Ladies, I hate to intrude, but…” the cat-spider said.

I looked back.

A flow of melting clocks, hourglasses, and dinosaur bones thundered toward us. Stella swore and pulled us onto a drifting picture frame. Reeling, we held on to one another, as years raced by.

“Rapids!” Becky shouted.

“1955! Jump!” Stella yelled.

“MIAAAAOWWW!” the cat-spider screamed.

I closed my eyes, and leaped.

Next week: “Episode 8: When things look dark…”



After working in Canada for two years, Cécile Cristofari settled in her native South France, where she teaches English literature and writes stories when her son is asleep. Her stories have appeared in Interzone, Daily Science Fiction and Reckoning, among other places. She can be found on Twitter @c_cristofari, or on her website:


Emerald of Earth – SEASON 2, EPISODE 18 ...and OUT of the Manure Pit...

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see, share the link with a friend – and you’ll have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, and it won’t interfere with your Homework Schedule.)

Emerald nodded and walked around the edge, noting the rungs of a ladder that led down into it. She also stopped at the machine where Ayaka stood. A rack of purple-capped test tubes lay in a full tray, a red light blinking. Emerald reached out to pick it up, saying, “Where do I take these?”

Ayaka slapped her hand. The test tube rack fell to the ground, two of the tubes breaking open. She snarled, “Now look what you’ve done!”

“Me? I was just asking where they were supposed to go! You slapped my hands!”

“I did not! You dropped ‘em, you clumsy infant!” She looked at Izegbe, “She dropped ‘em ‘cause she’s a clumsy infant, didn’t she Izzie?”

Izegbe’s eyes had grown large, the whites of her eyes stark against her dark skin. She stepped back.

As they heard the bolus open on the far side of the boiling shed and the buzz of a returning four-wheeler, Ayaka launched herself at Emerald. The girls weren’t very different in mass despite the age difference, but Emerald couldn’t kick because of the thick rubber waders she wore. Ayaka bowled her over instead.

Then it seemed like there was a crowd around them.

“Cat fight! Cat fight!” someone shouted – not a voice Emerald recognized. Head high stalks of sugarcane screened a dozen teenagers from SOLAR EXPLORER’s security cameras.

She and Ayaka rolled on the ground, hampered by rubber boots and heavy gloves as well as goggles strapped on their heads. Ayaka dug her fingers under the necklace and yanked. The wire cut into Emerald’s neck and she yelped, flailing. But Emerald saw when Ayaka danced away from the fight, she dangled the tektite necklace over the edge of The Pit.

Scrambling to her feet, Emerald shouted, “Give that back!”

Ayaka didn’t smirk. She was deadly intent. Daniel stood at the back of the group, his face slack, eyes unfocused, almost like he was dazed or high. He stepped forward, grabbed Ayaka by the wrist hard enough to elicit a shriek from the girl and pulled the necklace free, saying in a clam voice, “From your locker, of course. Where else would she have gotten it? You should lock the door, you know.” His face animated a bit and he managed a smirk as he said, “You can have it back, though. All you gotta do is beat Ayaka to a pulp.”

“I’m not gonna fight anyone,” Emerald snarled, stepping farther from Ayaka. Enraged, the other girl was looking back and forth between Emerald and Daniel. The older girl had landed one good punch to Emerald’s face. She’d felt a trickle from her bloodied nose and licked it away.

“Then you’re gonna get killed.” He shoved Ayaka at Emerald. They grappled then Emerald threw her off. Ayaka had a split lip. Besides her own blood, she was smeared with Emerald’s as well.

It was shift change, so Team Four had shown up about then as well. The two IT Teams had formed a semi-circle, pinning Emerald, Daniel and Izegbe between the line of bodies and the pit.

Emerald said, “Oh, that would just make everyone’s day, wouldn’t it? I’d get confined to quarters after you all swear I beat up Ayaka!”

“No one will tell,” said Daniel. “Lay her out and I’ll give you your jewelry back.” He dangled the tektite necklace over the manure pit. His green eyes were dull, but his face was flush with more than sunburn as he watched the girls. He said, “Fight or I drop it!”

“What happened to you?” Emerald shouted. Daniel’s face went blank and he blinked rapidly but he didn’t move, standing as if he were frozen in place. Emerald wiped her bloody nose. Besides Ayaka, who had a legitimate quarrel with her she’d never even met Team Four.

The six boys mostly stood at the back – and the kid she’d seen in the Core, Zech something stood apart from all of them. The six girls cheered Ayaka on.

“Knock her off her high horse!” Coraline Maine from Team Four shouted – she was Daniel’s current girlfriend.

“Show her who’s boss!” Izegbe snarled. For the first time since coming aboard SOLAREX, she regretted decking Ayaka the day she’d arrived. She could have used a friend right about now.

Daniel said, again without much enthusiasm, “Fight or the necklace goes into the pit.”

“I’ll fish it out!” Emerald screamed.

He turned on Ayaka, who didn’t move and was blinking rapidly, too, saying, “What are you, chicken, Ayaka? You ain’t gonna pay her back for trying to take your head off?” Daniel said softly.

Ayaka looked at him for a few moments then said, “How do you know what happened? You weren’t there...”

Three of the girls and five of the boys shot Daniel a look. But he was oldest and the leader. Team Four’s leader, Cordelia McMaster hardly said a word to anyone. She led by doing, not by bragging and rarely confronted anyone. Especially not Daniel, but she wouldn’t directly stand up to him in a face off and she demurred now.

He was biggest and strongest even though they’d all been cutting sugarcane by machete for months now. “Come on girls, fight!”

Ayaka glared at Emerald.

Holding her taekwondo stance, Emerald locked gazes with Ayaka and said, “No one cares what I say, why would you?”

Ayaka’s lips thinned slowly and she straightened up, looked at Daniel and spat. “You can get off with something else, Team Leader. I’ll beat her up when I feel like it – not when you tell me to.” She spun and walked away.

“What? No fight? Then you can go swimming for your necklace, Em!” Before he could open his hand, Emerald charged, grabbing for the pathetic looking piece of jewelry that held her past. He shouted an obscenity and crouched. Emerald’s shoulder plowed into his and together, they plunged into the manure pit.

The liquid manure was only half a meter deep and Emerald landed on her hands and knees. He landed on his back, only his hands and feet sticking out of the grayish-brown slurry.

Daniel didn’t move at first, and Emerald couldn’t see the necklace. She scrambled to her feet.

Standing on the ledge, his knees level with her head, Dagur Fjarlson, one of the Team Four boys pointed and said, “About a meter to your left.” He stood up then and walked away.

Mouth clamped shut, Emerald crawled in the right direction. A girl from Team Four, Zoe Newton-Orr, said, “It’s sinking next to your left shoulder.” Emerald gingerly plucked the necklace with her right hand before it vanished. When she looked up, Zoe was gone.

“About four more meters, same direction, the floor angles up a bit. Ladder’s recessed into the wall. Boiling house is straight ahead. The girl’s showerhead farthest back has the hottest water but mixes with cold water from outside,” said Mikhail from the edge of The Pit. “Just in case you were wondering.” He stuck his hands into his coverall pockets and watched her slog through the liquid manure. Emerald looked up at Mikhail and snarled, “I don’t need your help!”

“Right then, you’re doin’ fine,” he said, turning away as well, laughing.

Behind her, Daniel groaned. Glancing over her shoulder, Emerald could see that Daniel had finally surfaced. He was still sitting butt down, clean hands in the air.

Emerald climbed out of the manure pit and when she emerged, everyone was gone. Looking down at Daniel, who was still sitting in the pit, a smile flitted across her filthy face. No one had bothered to stay around to help him get out.

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this:

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Book Release: THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING • Now available everywhere!


In a family full of heroes, Nora Connaught is the normal one. She’s never fought space pirates. Never saved anyone’s life. Never done anything even remotely heroic. Now she’s 18, and going off to college on another planet. Nora hopes she’ll finally get to live a normal life.

But life never goes as expected.

When pirates hijack the starliner on which she’s traveling, putting thousands of lives at risk, Nora finds she must live up to the Connaught name.

Can she cast her own heroic shadow?


Rampant Loon Press is excited to announce that THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING, the latest exciting space opera from bestselling sci-fi author HENRY VOGEL, is now available… well, just about everywhere! So get your copy today!

On Kindle:

On Nook:

On Kobo:

On Scribd:

In paperback:

In hardcover:

On Amazon:

At Powell’s:

At Walmart:

At Lehmanns: 

At Weltbilt:

Coming soon to Sweden and Poland! New countries and distribution channels being added daily! If you can’t find it, you’re just not trying!

P.S. If you like print books and support local bookstores, you might want to check out some of Henry’s other titles on

Tuesday, May 17, 2022



After the longest and most difficult book launch ever, The Hostage in Hiding is at last live on Kindle. Seven months on the Kindle Vella “Most Faved” list! A Science Fiction Top 5 title the entire time! Now it’s finally out worldwide on Kindle, for readers who aren’t subscribers to the Kindle Vella serialization service. Get it today!







Monday, May 16, 2022

To trunk, or not to trunk?

Every serious writer has at least one. It’s that one story you really believe in, that special story, that every one of your friends who’s read it says is really good—and yet no matter how much time you spend polishing and revising it, each time you submit it to a magazine, it comes back with the dreaded “nice try, real close” vaguely encouraging but content-free rejection. 

How do you know when it’s time to give up on a story? How can you tell when continuing to work on improving and selling a given story is just a waste of your time, and in the vernacular of the trade, it’s time to toss that story in the trunk, forget about it, and move on?

My short answer is, you don’t. Making that determination is someone else’s job. As long as you still believe in the story, you should keep trying to get it published somewhere. And while you’re waiting for that to happen, you should work on writing something else, because maybe that something else will be easier to sell.

This doesn’t seem to be sufficient answer for most writers, though. In fact, Pete Wood and I have been having quite a back-channel discussion about this question, which apparently has spilled over onto CODEX. Since I don’t belong to CODEX I’m not privy to what’s being said there, but as there seems to be lot of interest in the subject, we’re going to declare an ad hoc Trunk Story Week here on Stupefying Stories and explore the topic in some depth.

To lead off, I’d like to tell you my own hopelessly unsaleable trunk story tale. It may surprise you. 


In the early spring of 1980, I wrote a little story about a band of teenage hackers. You may have heard of it. The original version of the story ended with a paradigm shift, and the words, “Dad, there’s going to be some changes around here.” I immediately sent the story off to George Scithers at Asimov’s, who hung onto it for a bit longer than usual, then sent it back with a letter detailing everything that was wrong with my story but inviting me to rewrite it and resubmit. In particular, he wanted me to fix the ending, on the grounds that Asimov’s readers would never go for an ending in which the tech-savvy teenage punk was able to win, because he understood an emerging new technology far better than his father ever would. 

I thought about his comments for a bit, then slapped on a coda in which the protagonist gets his comeuppance and gets packed off to a military boarding school. I resubmitted the story to Asimov’s, and this time it stayed there for quite a bit longer than usual, then came back with a note from Scithers saying that while the story as a whole was much improved, he’d run it by a real mainframe computer expert, and the whole idea of punk kids running around causing serious trouble using cheap computers the size of notebooks was just too far-fetched to be credible.

After Scithers at Asimov’s rejected the story a second time, I shrugged, then sent it off to the next magazine on my target list: either Analog or OMNI, I can’t remember which and don’t feel like looking it up in my submissions log right now. The point is, between the summer of 1980 and the summer of 1981, every editor at every major magazine then in the science fiction publishing business got the chance to read this story.

And every one of them rejected it, usually with some variant on the “real close, nice try, kid” brush-off.

In the summer of 1981 I sent the story to Amazing Stories. Founded in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback—the Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo Awards are named—by 1981 Amazing was the Nora Desmond of science fiction publishing; a once-grand old lady lately fallen on hard times, and no longer considered even close to being an “A-list” market. What I didn’t know then was that there was also a lot of turmoil going on behind the scenes, as the magazine was in the process of being acquired by TSR (the makers of Dungeons & Dragons), and the editorial staff was struggling with continuing to put out a magazine while also wondering whether they’d still have jobs once the acquisition was complete. (It turned out the answer was no, they didn’t.) 

My story sat gathering dust at Amazing for about a year. In response to my ever-more-frantic queries I received a series of ever-more-promising replies from a soon to be unemployed assistant editor, until my final shit-or-get-off-the-pot query produced a reply from none other than George Scithers, just hired away from Asimov’s. Scithers informed me that the outgoing editorial staff had thrown out every manuscript they’d been holding for further consideration and I should consider my submission lost. However, if I wanted to resubmit the story…

I shrugged, thought ‘why not?’, and sent a fresh printout of the manuscript to Scithers, who loved it, had to have it, and in July of 1982 finally bought it. My little story, “Cyberpunk,” was at last published in the November 1983 issue of Amazing—strictly speaking, AMAZINGTM Science Fiction Stories combined with FANTASTICTM Stories; the magazine by that point was quite a conglomeration of merged trademarks—which was on the newsstands in September of 1983.

And the rest, as they say, is history.


The lesson here is simple: everything changes. Writers change and grow. (At least, I hope you do.) Readers change. Publishers change. Markets change. Magazines change.

Even editors change.

In 1980, George Scithers was the four-time Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s, the top magazine in the field. (Although Ellen Datlow over at OMNI probably would have argued with that.) In that role George’s job was to keep Asimov’s the best-selling monthly magazine in the industry, and between the magazine’s reputation and Davis Publications’ generous budget he had first pick of the best stories being produced by the best short-story writers then working. The 1980 George Scithers had no trouble filling every issue with first-rate stories by big name authors.

In 1982, George Scithers was the new editor at Amazing, and his job was to use TSR’s enormous budget and marketing power to dethrone Asimov’s. The problem was that because of Amazing’s dodgy reputation and faltering circulation, a lot of “his” writers chose to stay with Asimov’s rather than follow him to Amazing. He would have to start over and develop a new talent pool.

In short, the 1980 Scithers didn’t need to take risks, he just needed to keep doing what he’d been doing all along. The 1982 Scithers absolutely had to take risks and be open to finding new talent, because that was the only way he would be able to grow his magazine’s circulation.

That, in a nutshell, is what turned a story that was unacceptable in 1980, and rejected by every major editor then working in the business, into the legend that was born in 1983. Not one word of the story changed.

The only thing that changed was the relative career situation of the editor who had rejected it twice, and then on the third try bought and published it.

Submitted for your consideration,

—Bruce Bethke

Saturday, May 14, 2022

A little something for the weekend?


This morning, instead of a movie review, I’d like to toss out a question for serious discussion.

Okay, you really want a movie review? Here’s a quick one. Rambo: Last Blood: AVOID. Netflix served this up on our recommended because you watched list and by doing so proved that either Netflix hates us or their recommendation algorithm is seriously screwed up. There is no reason to watch this movie—unless you really hate Mexicans and long to watch a fat, bloated, old Sylvester Stallone kill lots of Mexicans in a third-act “explicit yet strangely cartoonish orgy of violence” that looks like it was lifted straight out of an M-rated video game. This is the movie that asks the question: If I was a 20-something-year-old Mexican narco-terrorist hunting for a 75-year-old gringo in a warren of tunnels, and suddenly the sound system began blasting out The Doors’ Five to One, would I think:

a.) Ooh, this is scary, it’s like I’m suddenly in Apocalypse Now and I’m getting totally psyched out!


b.) Dammit, Gramps has overdosed on Geritol and taken out his hearing aids again. Let’s hope he at least still has his Depends on.

John Wayne could pull off the “weary old gunfighter reluctantly coming out of retirement to fight one last battle” shtick. Sylvester Stallone is no John Wayne.  


So, back to the question I wanted to discuss. While reviewing movies is fun and easy, and movie reviews seem to draw a lot of eyeballs, Stupefying Stories has always been about stories, and the people who tell them. As we refine our focus, publishing movie reviews seem a bit… off-mission. 

For a long time we had a feature on this site called SHOWCASE, in which we published stories that for one reason or another didn’t fit into the context of the magazine but that were too good to ignore. For example:

SHOWCASE: “The Very Last Time I Will Ever Have Sex with a Tree,” by Nathan Cromwell

How, you might wonder, did I end up in a public park with my pants around my ankles and my—er, parts—pinched inside a tree? Long story short, I met a brunette at Retox, she was hot and I was tipsy, and I didn’t check her I.D. Even sober I hate asking a woman to prove she’s real: choose the right moment, it’s awkward; choose the wrong moment, it can scotch the whole deal; and if you choose no moment, you can end up imprisoned by a tree.

Three years ago, according to the most popular theory, the rise of science and the decline in respect for religion pulled modern beliefs back just enough to let the older ones peep through again—not anything big, like gods, but an occasional pixie, goblin, sylph…or dryad. At first these beings terrified and delighted everyone, but after the novelty wore off they became nuisances. And vice-versa: a troll might settle under a bridge, ready to harass passers-over the next morning, only to wake up inside a full-blown homeless encampment and rounded up in a NIMBY-powered police sweep. After a while the mythicals blended, somewhat, into modern life, but you can’t take the tale out of the fairy, if you get me. Even disguised, something irresistible in an idealized, belief-animated figment hurries a man’s pulse.

How would you feel if we were to drop the movie reviews, and instead go back to running a SHOWCASE story or two every Saturday morning? 

The lines are open. I’d like to hear your opinion. 


P.S. One of the features of the new site design is that over in the right column, if you click the [Tags] tab, you'll see all the labels we've ever applied to posts. There's a lot of cruft and clutter there and we need to do some serious cleanup and reorg, but if you select the "Showcase" tag, you'll find all the stories we're published on this site under the SHOWCASE aegis.

There are a lot of good stories there. Check them out. For example, every spring, right about this time, I get the urge to re-read “Bootleg Bees,” by Laura Jane Swanson.


Friday, May 13, 2022

Dawn of Time • Episode 6: “Tick tock, drip drop”

Written by Paul Celmer

Continued from Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3 | Episode 4 | Episode 5

The story thus far: 32nd Century high school student Dawn Anderson is having a really bad day. Needing a better grade in History, she “borrowed” her father’s TimePak to take a short jaunt back to the 20th Century, only to make a perfectly innocent mistake involving a stolen handgun and a too-hot McDonald’s cherry pie. Now, instead of returning home, she is bouncing from disaster to catastrophe, each one worse than the one before. After being chased by clowns, narrowly avoiding becoming a tyrannosaur’s snack, jumping out mere moments before the Chicxulub extinction event, making a new friend and rescuing her from the Titanic, being found by her worst enemy and being forced to rescue her, too, from a robot uprising, the three of them have at last come face-to-face with… Aw heck, we’ll just let it speak for itself.

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

I stared at the creature in the ice cave and tried to understand its strange language.

“Excuse me,” something squeaked. A furry creature the size of a cat with eight legs and eight eyes paced near my feet. “I speak Cthulhueese. What he’s saying is, ‘In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.’”

“Useful. Anything else?”

“I’ll translate the rest if you free me from these caverns,” the cat-spider said.

“Done!” I said.

“Cthulhu wants to gnaw your souls into pie paste.”

“Yikes!” I said. “By the way, where are we?”

“The caverns at the end of time, year 9999. Someone didn’t want to pay for the extra digit.”

“Use the pie,” Stella said. “It’s warm enough now.”

I tried but nothing happened.

“Some laws of physics don’t apply here,” the cat-spider said. “Oops.” 

“Uh-oh.” I turned to Becky. “Hey, remember that last lesson we had in Literature?”

A blank stare. “Huh?”

Why was I wasting time asking Becky anything? She only noticed boys.

“Never mind.” I said, and bent down to face the cat-spider. “See if Cthulhu will take two soles now, and a promise to bring more later.”

The cat-spider grunted and gurgled.

Cthulhu nodded.

“Quick, Becky, give me your shoes!”

“What? The best part of my cheerleading outfit?” Becky stamped her foot.

“Quit pouting and just do it!” I said.

 “Okay, but I won’t forget this.” Becky took off her shoes—and her socks, for some reason.

I cut the shoes with my pocketknife. I used the tongues to wipe the stinky green goo from my arm and pitched the bottoms into Cthulhu’s gross mouth.

“Take our soles!” I yelled.

The cat-spider translated.

Cthulhu roared, but slithered aside.

“It accepts homophones! Still, let’s not press our luck,” the cat-spider said.

Stella bent down to pick up the cuddly cat-spider, who purred loudly while Stella whispered something I did not catch into the eight furry ears arranged like a crown on the top of its head. Then we dashed down a long dark hallway with the flapping of Becky’s bare feet echoing between the moldy stone walls. The hallway was lined with paintings. Starry Night. The Mona Lisa. Campbell’s soup cans.

“Ick! A museum of cliché art,” Becky said.

“This is worse than that dorm room I saw when my parents dragged me on a tour of a fancy liberal arts college,” I said.

“Now you know why I had to escape,” the cat-spider said.

We stopped in front of some melting clocks by Salvador Dali.

“I don’t feel so good.” Becky put her hand on her stomach.

“Time itself is melting!” said the cat-spider.

I couldn’t move. My feet dripped into the floor. Soon we would be nothing but paint splotches…

Next week: “Episode 7: The dreadful secret of McDonald’s”


 When not traveling to parallel universes, Paul Celmer is a technical writer in Durham, North Carolina. His recently published flash science fiction includes “Spooky Action At a Distance” in Daily Science Fiction and “The Last Rosy-Fingered Dawn” in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.

Emerald of Earth • Season 2, Episode 17: “Into the Manure Pit”


While Daniel was busy trying to be nice, the girls who were only a little older than Emerald were just as busy being obnoxious.

Ayaka, who’d fended off Emerald’s practiced roundhouse kick, was waiting for her when she stepped out of the bolus the next morning. She and Izegbe, her silent, glowering friend, stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Ayaka was the mouthpiece of the pair of bullying girls that Emerald had one day called Yamata no Orochi, after the Eight Headed Snake of Japanese mythology. Ayaka said, “You’re late.”

Emerald said, “You’re not my boss.”

“We’re older than you.”

Looking directly at Izegbe, Emerald said, “Listen Orochi, if Daniel says I’m late, then...”

He rounded the corner of the boiling shed and said, “You’re late.”

Yamata no Orochi – Ayaka and Izegbe – smirked as one. Emerald lifted her chin a bit and said in a childish a voice as she dared, “I had nightmares last night. I didn’t get much sleep.”

On every other day she’d spent on the plantation, that would have elicited at least a worried look. Today, Daniel shook his head and touched his ipik, saying, “That’s a demerit.”

Yamata no Orochi looked doubly surprised.

Zadok scurried in, trying to get his wildly curly red hair to lay down. It was too short and he only succeeded in making it stick up worse. Daniel glared at him and said, “Demerit,” and touched his ipik. He shook his head while studying his ipik and finally said, “We’ve got jobs to do, kids. This isn’t grammar school any more. So, we have an infestation of beetles and the sugar cane is not doing as well as projections had estimated it would do.”

Søren said softly, “We’ve only been running for a year. We’re still in the data gathering phase.”

Daniel snorted and said, “Try telling that to Master Usorituen! Besides, we have to figure out what’s going on before Team Four does.”

Emerald looked around her Team and said, “Who’s Team Four?”

Ayaka made a raspberry sound and said, “Didn’t you read the prospectus?”

“What’s a prospectus?”

Søren said, “In our case the prospectus is a description of the ideas behind this project.” He paused, “Are you familiar with concept notes?” Emerald shook her head.

“I’ve been online schooled and field schooled my whole life – except maybe for kindergarten.”

Søren nodded and said, “They’re usually used by students embarking on research to gather and present preliminary ideas. We’re doing...”

Daniel cut him off, “That doesn’t matter! If we don’t solve this, then Team Four will get the prize!”

This time Yamata no Orochi spoke in chorus, “The prize is...” Ayaka said.

“A day trip to the Jump Sphere Tournament on the surface! The SOLAREX Comets are playing DUKHAN Dragons!” Izegbe said, gesturing wildly.

Even Mikhail looked puzzled and said, “It’s a virtual tournament. It won’t even really be happening.”

Izegbe bristled, making fists and shouted, “You take that back!”

Daniel stepped between them, throwing Mikhail a dark look then turning to Izegbe and saying, “Head over to the manure pit. You and Ayaka and Emerald are going to be working there this morning.”

Yamata no Orochi cried in unison, “The Pit!”

Daniel make a brushing motion and said, “All you’ll be doing is collecting vials from the processor. Master Usorituen agreed to let me program it to collect a few complex proteins and organophosphates we can try to use to control the beetles.”

Zadok said, “Hey, I could ask my dad if he could design...”

Daniel snapped, “I don’t want your mommies and daddies coming to our rescue!” He pointed at Zadok with his ipik. “If you can’t do it yourself, then don’t volunteer it! Can you program a bioresponse package on a DNA Manipulator?” Zadok shook his head slowly, eyes wide. “Then don’t volunteer your parent’s skills! We have to solve this ourselves!”

Elisavet raised her hand. Daniel snapped, “What?”

She said, “I can do a simple database search for a natural response match.” She shrugged, “If we could find a natural predator, we could requisition a batch from the Cloning Lab.”

Daniel’s eyebrows went up and he smiled a bit. Nodding, he said, “Good thinking, Elisavet! You can work from home if you want.”

She smiled and the change was stunning. Emerald thought she should try smiling more often. She was somber most of the days they’d worked together and while she’d talk about the technical parts of the plantation, she wasn’t much for gossip or snarky remarks. Yamato no Orochi Ayaka and Izegbe, Zadok, Daniel and Mikhail were the ones who rarely stopped talking – Mikhail and Zadok liked to “boy gossip”, Ayaka and Izegbe would tear anyone down they thought deserved it and Daniel just liked the sound of his own voice.

He turned to the rest of them and said, “So the girls are at the manure pit, Søren and Mikhail, I want you over in the outer corner checking the walls. I want to know if the beetles are getting in from there. Zadok and me will start on the inner corner. We should meet in the middle by the time Team Four arrives.” He sighed, “Maybe Eli will have something for us by then. Let’s go!”

The boys headed for the boiling shed and were soon speeding for the far corners of the plantation on electric four-wheelers. The girls went into the locker room adjoining the garage and changed into their work clothes then headed for The Pit. When they all three reached the door at the same moment, they stopped, standing at the door. Then Emerald headed for the manure pit. She heard the girls whisper, then laugh behind her.


To be continued...