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Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2021/3

Lectori salutem.

As summer turns to autumn in the Northern hemisphere, and the global doom and gloom of ever new pandemic variants roll on, it is easy to forget that once upon a time speculative fiction had a utopian calling. The “scientific romance”, as it was often called in the 19th century, sought to entertain, of course, but also to illuminate the reader and whisk them away to a better future. A future that is separated from the present not only by time, but by Progress writ large.

While contemporary SF tends to succumb to the temptation of merely projecting present challenges onto a date set later than our own, classic speculation took the liberty to invent futures both whimsically and radically different from the author’s world. What more, these imaginary realms were oftentimes presented as aspirational – more appealing than the reader’s own reality. Alas, with the exception of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek (and possibly Iain M. Banks’ Culture), one has to think hard to name any widely-known current SF universe one would actually like to inhabit.

While grittiness seems the dominant narrative mode of present-day sci-fi, there are utopian currents within the genre that offer relief from these dark overtones. One such stream is the emerging sub-genre perhaps best labelled as “solarpunk”.

You may have noticed our slightly different cover this quarter. It is the work of Belgian artist Dustin Jacobus, and seeks to convey at a glance some of the solution-oriented optimism that typifies solarpunk. But don’t take our word for it. In his essay, Eric Hunting offers a more substantial introduction to the resolutely positive outlook of this sub-genre.

David Kyle Johnson and Mina also return with fascinating essays on SF philosophy and speculative linguistics, respectively. And our autumn issue is, of course, filled with a band of stories ranging wide from humans wishing to make good impressions on invading aliens, to extra-terrestrial visitors who don’t at all seem interested in Earthlings.

Speculatively yours,

the SPJ co-editors & crew


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2021/2

Lectori salutem.

It’s been said that God is not a pacifist.

That certainly rings true when contemplating matter and anti-matter annihilating each other after the Big Bang or the not-quite-peaceful manner in which cosmic matter collides and the dust of long-dead celestial bodies serves as the building material for new ones. Explosive reactions drive astrophysical processes, and the competition between species, tribes, cultures, corporations, sports clubs and SF franchises serves as the basic catalyst for evolution.

If we really think about it, doesn’t it rightly inspire awe that our ancestors have come up against the universe and survived long enough to give rise to us? And if we came to be here, might there not be others out there, too? But for how long?

These are the questions we explore in this year’s special thematic issue. What follows is an anthology of 14 hand-picked original stories scouting the frontiers of xeno-anthropology (the speculative study of extra-terrestrial ways of life) and the potential ends of the world (even the universe) as we know it.

We had enormous fun curating this selection for your reading (and day-dreaming) pleasure, and sincerely hope you enjoy the journey.

Speculatively yours,

the SPJ co-editors & crew

Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2021/1

Lectori salutem.

Science-fiction, like any drama with existential implications, is better read from the safety of a couch than ‘lived’. This is felt all the more keenly by some on the editorial team and SPJ crew who once again experienced the life-affirming miracle of becoming parents in the weeks leading up to the present issue going to press.

Alas, as we continue to drift through the interminable litany of Belgium’s precipitous spring days, we may grow accustomed to look at the world outside our immediate bubble, mediated through artifices like the news, connected devices and (anti-)social media, as real but distant. Something in which we no longer partake, but digest with the same receptors we use for reading fiction. Lest we become saturated with the vicarious tedium that is Terra in 2021, let us therefore cast our mental eyes, if not away from the screen or paper, at least to subjects far from present concerns.

We promise you that our first issue this year will be entirely free of pandemics and untainted by the arcane politics of former British colonies across the Atlantic[1]. We like dystopian plague tales and discussing elections as much as anyone, but in order to renovate our mental furniture dulled by yesteryear’s gloom, we have hand-picked every tale in this issue with a view to amuse, to divert, perchance to fuel daydreams (or nightmares).

Our stories and essays (and the grey zones between them) range from the sacred to the profane, in styles from the epistolary to the challenging. Like every first issue of the year, the line-up closes with a story penned by our co-editor Ádám reflecting, as usual, on some specific niche concept we rarely see addressed in submissions.

Encouraged by the positive reception of our 2020 thematic anthology issue on immortality, we are happy to announce that we’ll be publishing another one in June 2021, this time dedicated to ‘xeno-anthropology and the end(s) of the universe’. Thereafter, Sci Phi Journal will be open for submissions again in July, so if you’d like to read more from specific authors, encourage them to keep sending us their work!

Stay safe, speculatively yours,

the co-editors

[1] Absolutely no offence intended! We just really cannot bear to read yet another story riffing on the finer points of North American governance. Let’s broaden horizons! If you want fictional elections, why not set them on the Faroese Islands for a change, or in an alt-history Babylonian Republic, or on Alpha Centauri?

Yesterearth’s Morrow

by Ádám Gerencsér

Singapore Straits Times – 1st July 1947

Readers with any interest in current affairs will scarcely need reminding that today is the first anniversary of the appearance of those strange phenomena that marked the gradual unravelling of time as a constant and steadfast quantity, the steady progression of which all previous generations could rely on so safely as to take it for granted. This view is now considered obsolete, and rightly so, but it bears repeating how nigh impossible that would have seemed just over a year ago. Over the course of the past twelve months, thanks to the rapid advances of modern science and skilful observations made by vessels of the Royal Navy, we have gained a better understanding of the new role that the International Date Line has come to play.

I have taken the liberty to compose this recollection and offer it to our esteemed editor on account of my rather immediate proximity to the longitude in question. Not only as correspondent of the Straits Times in the Crown Colony of Fiji, documenting both momentous and provincial events as they unfold, but also as a simple resident who experiences daily the disturbing effects that still have the ability to startle as much as they did at their initial onset.

It started on the 1st of July 1946 (or the 30th of June, depending on one’s whereabouts) east of the Marshall Islands and gradually spread north and south thereof, fanning out like elongated ripples along the date meridian. Within a brief period that could not have taken more than a week, or two at the most, we found ourselves confronted with a novel and hitherto unimaginable reality: anyone crossing the international date line roughly along the 180° longitude eastwards no longer cuts across a mere imaginary division, but finds himself an additional day further in the past, or rather, on a past incarnation of the Earth that is now independent of the present. The traveller may than engage in any form of interaction with the inhabitants of that past world, a Yesterearth so to speak, without perturbing in any way the future time he had left behind. After interfering with the events on the other side of the date line, one may return to the present by simply retracing his journey and realise that nothing has changed on account of their actions, other than the fact that time has moved on during their absence. On their subsequent visit to the world of two days past, however, they will notice that their interlocutors remember them well enough and any seeds of future consequence they had planted there have come to fruition.

A world map based on Mercator’s projection distorts the proportions of the surface areas of the continents, by making landmasses at extreme southerly and northerly latitudes, such as Antarctica or Greenland, appear much larger than their actual size would merit compared, for instance, with Africa. So, when we wish to achieve a more proportional representation, we divide the map into equidistant segments that are thicker towards the Equator and thinner at the poles, as if peeling the skin off an orange, and lay it out flat. Our hypothetical map now stretches from Alaska in the West to Siberia in the East, and we know that, just as the gaps between segments of the Earth’s ‘skin’ are imaginary, the edge of the map is no true boundary, but in fact loops around and connects to the opposite end. Thus, in the world as we had known it until 1946, it was not possible to stray off the map of the globe, since a resolute straight line would take one around in circles, returning to the self-same point with each circumnavigation.

That, alas, is no longer the case. Beyond the eastern margin of our map lies the western edge of someone else’s. Of course, in a manner of speaking, our world is still round, and we may be so bold as to argue with some conviction that our present time is unique and one of a kind. For it has become evidently clear that while ships and aeroplanes making their way over the surface of all preceding Earths may travel both backwards by crossing the dateline eastwards and also forward in our direction by traversing the same line due west, the same is not true for vessels in our time. We can regress by two days on the passage from Suva to Samoa, but we may not proceed into our future, as it were, giving us the impression that we stand at the pinnacle of time’s arrow. That is to say, the future is not yet existent, or certainly not accessible, until we unlock it day by day as we stride forward in tune with our calendars.

Being first among equals (and some in the colonial administration would indeed dispute even that proposition), our position brings great opportunities, but also imposes significant responsibility upon our statesmen. The lives of nations and empires now unfold in an entirely separate manner on all contiguous Earths, and the next general election back in the British Isles, to be held in 1950, might yield wildly different results in our continuity compared to the Earth of the day before yesterday. It is therefore eminently possible that the cabinet of our Empire might find itself at loggerheads with the British government elected in our immediate temporal neighbourhood. In fact, His Majesty of today might disagree with policies that are received approvingly by His Majesty of two days ago. The fact is that the political realities of life in the Dominion will inevitably develop very differently across every successive Earth each two further days down the line.

Your correspondent here admits to having made an involuntary, yet naïve attempt at bridging the date meridian and exploring some of the strangeness of the most immediate past just east of his stationment. In the spring I had received a telegraph dispatched by my former self from the world of two days ago. It had been transmitted to Samoa, which by itself was no mean feat, as communications across the Pacific have become impossible lest one was interested in sending messages across time. Telegraphs and mail to one’s contemporaries from an island west of the date line to another speck of dry land just east thereof have to ferry westwards around the entire globe, rendering a journey that formerly took less than a day into a voyage of Magellanic proportions. It is therefore incomparably easier to reach the French Polynesia of the day before than that of today. Laborious as it may be, the telegraph drafted by the man who is my equivalent in the neighbouring past was delivered by the post boat that makes the weekly crossing from Samoa. Without indulging in the tedious details of our exchange, which was hampered by delays caused by both dimensions of time and space, suffice it to say that our correspondence was short-lived and we finally agreed never to meet in person, but to live out our respective lives to the best of our conscience and abilities.

Not all contact is, however, this consensual. One hears all kinds of anecdote around the archipelago and beyond: of people trying to find their near-contemporary selves and bring them back voluntarily or otherwise to share their work or exchange places with them, of investors travelling back and forth with the intention of effecting parallel financial transactions and reaping the same profits several times, or of bereaved families striving to find their loved ones killed in accidents on a previous Earth where the same accident has not yet occurred and might never happen. The world market in commodities and resources has become confusing and at times almost untenable, and prices across near-past worlds may fluctuate in an unsustainable manner due to a potentially inexhaustible supply of material from across the datelines, while for the same reason scarcity may beset another globe. It is not unthinkable that in the future, some catastrophe or another great war could send millions of refugees fleeing to the next available future or past Earth.

On an encouraging note, one must not forget that there are those enterprising spirits who see Yesterearth’s developments as the opening of a new, endless horizon, the gateway to the exploration of the past – and not just one, but countless possible pasts. As far as we can ascertain, endeavours to traverse a long succession of datelines near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where distances are smaller but travel is unhindered by excessively cold climate, are limited only by the durability of the mode of transportation, the ability to procure fuel and, ultimately, by the life span of the traveller. We can only hope that our relative advantage of chronological primacy shields us from the worst excesses of the chaotic insecurity that must eventually arise on Earths further in the past, which are flanked on both sides by another world each two days ahead or behind them. Although news of full scale inter-temporal war have yet to be reported from anywhere, it is not inconceivable that one day the menacing powers of barbaric despotism and fascist banditry, which the valiant Allies so gallantly fought to defeat in this our last Great War, rear their ugly heads from the depths of the past and gather enough tenacity to conquer hundreds of planets up the chain to the present day, growing in strength and ferocity with each new acquisition. Should that day come, we do hope that our past compatriots would send warnings across the dateline well in advance, fully trusting in the brotherhood of free nations holding together steadfast even across several zones of time. And rest assured that the Royal Navy would be first to do its duty in the defence of Singapore, Malaya and the Crown Colonies dispersed throughout the East – whether in our time or that of Yesterearth. For we will surely not hesitate to deliver a pre-emptive strike across the meridian, for King and country, should a menace arise from the Pacific of a bygone day!


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2020/4

Lectori salutem.

Imagine, if you wish, 2020 as lived through the eyes of a science-fiction editor.

Over the past twelve months, across a landscape composed of pages, paragraphs and phrases, we could almost ‘watch’ the mental foci of the SF writing community shift as a seismographic imprint of real-world preoccupations. This was quite a sight to behold and we were privileged to keep a finger, as gently as we could, on the pulse of the collective intelligence of those who enjoy thinking about the future. This current issue of Sci Phi Journal offers what we hope is an interesting selection of though-provoking and challenging pieces that stray from the most prevalent concerns of the age and explore less frequently covered mysteries – in tones ranging from grim to perky.

Global issues like the COVID crisis affect regions of the world, and various strata of society therein, differently – this is also true for the invisible fellowship of writers. We are a European publication, but given that we select pieces to publish purely based on their literary and conceptual merit (i.e. no quotas or ‘brownie points’ of any kind), the majority of our authors hail from the Anglosphere. That is fine – even natural, perhaps. However, a side-effect is that we see a preponderance of ideological concerns permeating many of the stories submitted to us that are specific to the former or present constituent parts of the British Empire, and thus fairly alien to the psyche of continental Old Worlders like ourselves.

In order to widen the diversity of fixations, prejudices, biases and other perfectly normal human proclivities represented, and to provide some guidance on future submissions, we are adding a page to our guidelines (an “index of heresies”) specifying what we’d prefer to encounter less often in works sent to us for review. For inspiring this section, we owe a debt of gratitude to ‘role models’ provided by excellent sites such as Metaphorosis and Strange Horizons, even if the content and stylistic preferences espoused therein differ markedly from ours.

We also continue to update the ever-expanding Fictional Non-Fiction bibliography and encourage you to send us further recommendations for works in English as well as other languages (and please don’t take it personally if we happen to disagree with some of them on grounds of genre definition).

Stay safe, speculatively yours,

the co-editors


ps: While most of the SPJ crew lead rather old-school, analogue lives, we are following the advice of a couple of kind readers to re-animate the Journal’s Twitter account from its long cryogenic slumber. If you wish to support our authors by sharing (re-tweeting?) their work, you may do so by following @sciphijournal (which we are told is not a hashtag, but an account handle, apparently).


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2020/3

Lectori salutem.

Sometimes it really feels like we had fallen asleep in a normal, mundane universe, and somehow woken up on the wrong side of the alternate continuum. While the real Earth no doubt continues its spinning trajectory unaware of our predicament, the SPJ crew seems to have been trapped on a mirror planet slowly slipping into dystopia. Our day-jobs in international organisations forced us to witness the partial unravelling of the utopian multilateral order, while the world’s great cities continue to be wrecked by lockdowns and riots.

While we are trying to figure out which grimdark SF series’ prequel we find ourselves in, we wish to distract ourselves (and hopefully our readers) by bringing you our autumn issue, packed with thought-provoking and sometimes challenging content.

Our offering of speculative vistas ranges from the satirical to the outright macabre, from theology and world-building to chilling works of fictional non-fiction. These are accented by wholesome geekiness in the form of an essay by Mina on science-fiction in audio drama and an op-ed by co-editor Mariano on horizontal totalitarianism in real and imagined forms.

We firmly believe that controversy is the catalyst for progress, and that there can be no future worth living in without freedom of thought and expression. So while in numerous parts of the world, from Belarus to China, from North Korea to the United States, fundamental liberties like the freedom of speech are curtailed in overt or implicit ways, and the range and diversity of politically acceptable views narrows by the month, we shall continue as a peaceful waystation along the galactic highway, nestled in the heart of Europe, to provide a home for discourse and experimentation that push the limits of SFF. “May a hundred flowers bloom!”

Speculatively yours,

the co-editors


ps: While most of the SPJ crew leads rather old-school, analogue lives, we are following the advice of a couple of kind readers to re-animate the Journal’s Twitter account from its long cryogenic slumber. If you wish to support our authors by sharing (re-tweeting?) their work, you may do so by following @sciphijournal (which we are told is not a hashtag, but an account handle, apparently).


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2020/2

Lectori salutem.

As our European home base is emerging from the clutches of the pandemic (or at least its first wave), we hope that our readers, authors and their loved ones have weathered the storm in good health and high spirits.

We resume our standard format this quarter, but given the doom and gloom of recent months, we try to add a cheerful touch this time, with quite a few stories that strike a light-hearted cord. These are punctuated by three essays, each courting controversy in their own particular way; be it the relationship between faith and science fiction, the dearth of SFF translations from languages other than English, or a timely reflection on pandemics as depicted in the sci-phi canon.

During the spring, we had received a record number of submissions – a welcome development, which we, however, ascribe to the unfortunate circumstances of the global lockdown. Solitude is good for literature, it seems.

The rules of social distancing also meant that the crew availed themselves of the opportunity to spend more time with their families, while doing their day jobs (and reviewing submitted stories) confined to their library armchairs. Co-editor Ádám marvelled time and again at the manner in which the world that to him seemed to be closing in, was at the same time opening up for his little daughter, barely three years old, who is at the age when the mere shadow of a cloud on the balcony is ripe with speculative possibilities.

In a way, science fiction (and sci-phi in particular) is a genre that at its core sets out to inspire in readers that same inclination towards subliminal wonder, as if seeing a new phenomenon through the eyes of a child. May we never lose our ability to revel in this playfulness of the human mind!

Speculatively yours,

the co-editors


ps: While most of the SPJ crew leads rather old-school, analogue lives, we are following the advice of a couple of kind readers to re-animate the Journal’s Twitter account from its long cryogenic slumber. If you wish to support our authors by sharing (re-tweeting?) their work, you may do so by following @sciphijournal (which we are told is not a hashtag, but an account handle, apparently).


No Vacancy

by Ádám Gerencsér

My child, I apologize for the blinding light. By now, you have probably understood that the truck swerving into your lane failed to come to a halt and you did not survive the impact.

Be advised that a million other souls around the world are hearing a similar message at this moment. You rightly expect a tunnel of light to lead you to our side. Today, however, I’m afraid that you cannot be accepted and must return to the living. In fact, no-one will be accepted until further notice, so it is imperative that you pay attention and mark my words.

You see, heaven was established with a clear purpose: housing the spirits of the faithful departed, along with those of benevolent unbelievers. The billions of entities who were its original inhabitants formed an ecosystem: the hierarchy of angels. The kingdom reposed in a state of serene equilibrium, waiting with eager patience for its first arrivals, while on the blue planet the primordial soup spewed forth algae, bacteria, dinosaurs, trees and marsupials, all of which did not possess a receptive soul. That gift was imparted to a couple of primates who had shown promise by overcoming their own limitations and reaching for the fruit of knowledge. Many of their descendants failed, but some lived a life pleasing to the Maker – and as they departed, we began to receive them. Hunters and gatherers from communities attuned to the natural order of things had no difficulty fitting in here.

Then, gradually, your kind took to evolution with increasing zest. We were not too concerned by the newcomers from tribes that worshipped the sun, or despotic fiefdoms ruled by warlords. Once we had presented them with ’alpha males’, higher angels they could respect and whose commands they would follow, they slotted right in. But then alphabets cropped up and written discourses began to spread – we were aghast at receiving scholars, pharisees and scribes! Things first threatened to get out of hand when arrivals began to trickle in from the Greek city states. The celestial spheres were no longer immutable and the abodes of the dead were echoing with the chatter of varied languages debating history, philosophy, ethics, even metaphysics – before long, a pluralism of views became the new norm in the outer cloud rings.

Mankind’s ideas mutated at an accelerating pace, while with each passing generation more and more of you were born and died. Countless bloody wars filled our entrance halls with the ghosts of massacred innocents from all corners of the world. Our hierarchy became untenable, the very orderliness of the afterlife teetered on the brink as the emergence of new angels failed to keep up with the breakneck population growth among the deceased. The renaissance was bad enough, but the second wave of so-called enlightenment in your 19th century practically overwhelmed the administrative capacities of the angelic host, which had hitherto acted as the immune system of the heavenly realm. With the wide spread of literacy, free-thinkers started arriving in unprecedented numbers, and it was no longer possible to smoothly integrate them as their revolutionary discourse had infected the ethereal fabric woven during bygone, calmer ages.

The breaking point came today. Of the million or so newcomers expected, one was bound to tip the balance and human souls would outnumber angels for the first time in the kingdom’s history. With a view to ensuring the sustainable operation of heaven, no further arrivals will be admitted before the Maker guides us to find a solution. Until that happens, all deaths are suspended indefinitely. No accidents, illnesses or acts of crime will be permitted to result in mortal casualties – the physical forces of the universe shall be instructed to conspire for the preservation of human life under all circumstances. Please note, however, that births do not fall within our jurisdiction and will continue unabated. Therefore, go back now and tell all who would listen: your kind has certain arrangements to make…


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2020/1

Lectori salutem.

As we enter the second year since the relaunch of SPJ and encourage our readership to retreat into cosy bubbles of isolation to avoid the looming spread of a ‘novel’ contagion*, it is sobering to contemplate that we are protagonists (or, at the very least, extras) in a major SF scenario.

At the time of writing, your co-editors are hunkering down to witness epic, planetary-scale medical speculative fiction unfolding in front of our eyes. Fortunately, for the time being, the events are mostly mediated by our screens, ensuring a distance akin to that of a reader to words on a page. Or to the dispassion wherewith an immortal being would regard the morbid curiosity of death (c.f. Brian Stableford’s now-classic “Mortimer Gray’s History of Death”).

Which brings us to our first departure from the usual mixture of speculative essays and challenging fiction. The Q1 issue of 2020 is made up entirely of short stories, all clustered around the theme of immortality, and various antitheses thereof, from legislating a timely death to erasing one’s memory from the bookshelves of history. These were selected from a rich spectrum of submissions, and we note with relief that more and more authors ‘get’ the conceptual narrative and world-building approaches to speculative fiction, and particularly the fictional non-fiction (FNF) subgenre we strive to cultivate.

The time of the fabled spring clean will be upon us soon, and fittingly our plans for 2020 include completing the process of making archived digital content from SPJ’s previous incarnations available, which had previously languished behind a subscription or paywall, and strive to clean up the tags and category markers across the site.

Coinciding with the 2020Q1 issue is an update of our FNF bibliography, which we intend to continue expanding, grateful as always for further recommendations. We might explore the possibility of another thematic issue later during the year (depending on our means), but also hope to continue our series of articles on speculative fiction in less well-known regional literary markets. If you speak a language that is, perhaps due to lack of exposure or translations into English, less accessible to the international public, and feel inclined to write about the state of SF in that milieu, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Stay safe, memento mori.

Speculatively yours,

the co-editors


* In reference to the virus carrying the ‘novel’ epithet, we wish to reiterate our long-held opposition to fat literature.

Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2019/4

Alas, one cannot shake the feeling that it is not entirely appropriate for a publication dedicated to SF, a genre most commonly associated with the future, to avert its gaze towards the sentimentality of the path already travelled. Yet with the approach of the festive season, we permit ourselves this small indulgence.

Thus as we mark the relaunched Sci Phi Journal completing its first year, we wish to use this opportunity to thank you for your continued readership and the kind expressions of support we have received throughout 2019.

In this winter issue, we are delighted to once again offer you an unconventional selection of original fiction, essays as well as a translation of an obscure gem of contemporary European spec fic. What more, this edition accompanies an important step forward for the Journal, one that has been in preparation for quite some while.

The SPJ site is unveiling a major new feature as a culmination of several years of research work by co-editor Mariano: an extensive, living bibliography of our favourite stylistic sub-genre, Fictional Non-Fiction. In its present state, the index runs to a printed length of about 80 pages, and Mariano does not conceal his ambition to make it as complete as possible. For that, we invite your help to expand it by writing to us or posting suggestions in the comment section. We hope that with time the FNF List will grow to serve as a valuable resource for all scholars and readers interested in this rigorous, concept-driven mode of writing.

The entire SPJ team thank you for your companionship along the journey in 2019 and look forward to sailing forth into 2020 to bring you more cutting-edge philosophical speculation.

We wish all our readers, authors and contributors a merry Christmas and an auspicious start into 2020!

Speculatively yours,

the co-editors


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2019/3

At the time of writing, Ádám of the SPJ editorial team is on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Yet the primary impressions his sojourn inspires belong not in the realm of theology, but world building. (Admittedly, the two are related.)

To an avid reader of the fantastic, even a cursory intercourse with the State of Israel reveals it as a prime example of applied utopian SF. Aside from its symbols and official historiography, consider the resurrection of arcane Hebrew as the vehicular language of a new society: t’is the stuff that compensatory alternate history is made of.

Take Theodor Herzl’s foundational novel Altneuland, published in 1902, which lays out plans for the future Jewish state, in the guise of programmatic fiction. The title of the book was translated into Hebrew as Tel Aviv. Now guess the name of the country’s largest city today…

Israel’s continued existence and demonstrations of might attest to the power of narratives in shaping social consent. (And yes, except for the man-versus-nature tales of the hard-SF tradition, it is a staple of drama that triumphs often come at someone else’s expense – this is no different in the geopolitics of the Middle East.)

Ask three Israelis and they’ll have four opinions. Yet in spite of ‘sinat chinam’, the eternal curse of discord, this heterodox society that oftentimes intimates a Mediterranean re-imagining of Blade Runner, where college girls in army uniform carrying assault rifles mingle with Haredim and rainbow warriors at retrofuturist malls, has nonetheless managed to forge a sense of identity and purpose.

It even has its own hermetic SF scene in Hebrew, though some gems slipping under the radar may be stumbled across in English, such as It Could Have Been. Safra’s wish-fulfilment fantasy reads like a guided tour of a Jerusalem that is proudly the largest city in the world, where the Second Temple still stands. This 2015 graphic novel is predicated on an alternate history timeline, wherein literally every character we encounter holds fast to a dress code associated with Orthodox Judaism and Israel’s capital is the envy of the globe. No doubt it has the potential to appeal to some readers and upset others. As good speculative fiction should.

So beware, narratives are powerful. Be mindful of what you write. It might spark a cult, inspire riots or, heaven forfend, cause offence. (If so, we’ll publish it.)

In this spirit, the editors wish you an enjoyable read of our autumn crop of world building, speculative philosophy and exotic SF!

Yours truly,

the co-editors


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2019/2

One of the parables attributed to Christ tells of the evolutionary trials of seeds that fall unto various kinds of soil, particularly with reference to their subsequent growth prospects.

Now cyberspace certainly is a difficult terrain with plenty of rocky patches, so we at SPJ are well pleased that this summer issue of the relaunched journal augurs a bountiful harvest, with fresh fiction and essays from both established and new authors. We continue our series on rarely explored regional SF, this time with an expedition into Chilean dystopia. We also publish our first annotated translation: a seminal piece of early fictional non-fiction, brought to you in conjunction with our sister journal Hélice, where you will find a different(!) translation of the same work.

We were overwhelmed by the amount of stories submitted to us for publication in the spring issue, and by the number of visitors to the site. We are gradually making available the entire treasure trove of past SPJ stories (incl. those previously restricted to subscribers) and bring you new content with each quarterly issue. The comment sections remain fairly quiet, though, so don’t be shy, please share your thoughts with our authors. Feedback (even, or particularly, critical) helps us, authors and editors alike, hone our craft.

We plan ambitious initiatives for the near future, most importantly a comprehensive, ‘living’ bibliography of virtually the entire modern corpus of speculative, fictional non-fiction, as a permanent feature to be hosted on our site. Our next call for submissions is not far off either (1-31 July). In August, we’ll be represented at both the WorldCon in Dublin and TitanCon in Belfast (you may recognise Mariano and me by our SPJ T-shirts).

With these ongoing efforts we hope to ensure that the seeds planted by the founders of SPJ will continue to fall unto fertile ground and bear sparks of literary joy for many a friend of spec fic.

Yours truly,

the co-editors


Editorial – Sci Phi Journal 2019/1

by Ádám Gerencsér

Online publishing is a fractured landscape. There is a large volume of content vying for the attention of a relatively narrow readership. So why another journal?

In his post ‘So Long, and Thanks for the Philosophy’, the previous editor, Ray Blank, who had steered the Sci Phi Journal through the turbulent year of 2017, announced that it would be discontinued.

It so happened that I stumbled upon SPJ the very day Ray published that post. Looking for a venue that  carried ‘my kind’ of SF, I realised that, while there are many sites, they all feature similar content. If you compare the submission guidelines of most SF mags, you’ll see a tendency to gravitate towards popular criteria that resemble contemporary literature at large. I was particularly aggrieved by the ubiquitous demand for the C-word: stories must be ‘character-driven’.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that tales concerned primarily with the goings-on of imaginary people have their place and are likely what the majority of readers have come to expect, particularly now that narrative tastes are shaped by television and online media. But writing, especially short fiction, can do so much more.

Thus sprung the wish to resurrect SPJ in order to provide a home for philosophical, conceptual and idea-driven speculation. I’m most fortunate that on this quest I can count on formidable allies such as Mariano Rodriguez Martín, editor of the speculative fiction journal Hélice and prolific scholar of the genre’s history, along a small but plucky band of    enthusiastic (foolhardy?) volunteers.

Over the coming months, we intend to add additional sections to the journal, reminiscent of ‘pinned posts’ or wiki articles, on topics that broadly correlate with serious philosophical speculation. For instance, we plan to build a comprehensive bibliography of ‘artefacts’ (the above-mentioned fictional non-fiction) and will invite readers to flag up any titles we might have missed.

We have few illusions, for we are pragmatic idealists. This site exists as a labour of love and generates no form of income. But if we can gradually gather a core of readers and writers who are ‘into’ this niche and wish to   engage in an exchange of ideas and inspiration through stories, articles and frank discussion in the comment sections, it will have already been worth it. For in the cacophony of the world, we will have found each other.

Yours truly,

the co-editor

P.S.: Our heartfelt thanks go out to the crew who made this first edition possible (you may read more about them in the About section of the website) and the authors of fiction and articles who had so generously contributed original work to support the journal’s revival. You are awesome!


The End of History, the Beginning of Hers

A lost tale reconstructed from the Byzantine chronicle of 1453

by Ádám Gerencsér

A portent of imminent defeat hung heavily in the air. This day of reckoning had been put off for generations by the forefathers of the city’s current inhabitants, in turn by diplomacy, by cunning or deceit, at times by feigned fealty and tributes, but always with an increasing sense of humiliation. The impoverished inheritors of Christendom’s Eastern capital had fought a forlorn struggle to stem the tide of their decline, as their empire aged and wilted in the shade cast by its young and powerful neighbour, the harbinger of a new prophet promising conquest and mastery over ever more chatteled infidels.

Tomorrow, the harvest. What Crusaders had sown two and a half centuries ago, the sword, nay, the scythe of Islam would finally reap. With each passing lifetime, fortresses fell, land was laid waste, fiefdoms splintered, dynasties fought over dwindling mementos of past glory. For each mistrusted ally, two loyal enemies were made and the people of the soil were crippled by soldiering and levies of taxation. The territory crumbled and contracted like a tightening noose, until nothing but a claim to titular figments stretched beyond the ramparts. Owned, perhaps, but not governed. Even Constantinopolis was a ghost of its former self, with more stones than menfolk, more bastions than arms to man them. And for the past two moons a resolute foe on all sides, wearing down what remained, preparing for the morrow’s final assault. The Occident had sent blessings but no ships to their rescue.

But now the city was awake with chants of hope and consolation. The emperor Constantine, eleventh to carry the Name, had summoned the Patriarchs, the generals of the army, the admirals of the fleet, the magistrates of the districts, the priests, monks, merchants and mendicants. And the women, huddling their children, too soft to fight, too scared to sleep, sensing despair on pale adult faces. Processions with all the paraphernalia of devotion. In the church of Holy Wisdom, Romans and Greeks saying mass together at last, clinging to prayer for reassurance. And what prayer! Supplications of a mindfulness only produced on mortality’s verge.

“I had looked into the future and did not like what I saw. I besieged Him for His permission to intervene. And now I take form.”


On the ceiling of the Hagia Sophia, obscured by the scented smoke from a forest of candles, a mosaic on the right apse appeared to move. The slight alteration of form at first remained subtle and was perhaps dismissed as a mirage by the devoted who witnessed it privately. The archangel seemed to slowly spread her wings and firm her grip on the golden staff. She gently drew towards herself the orb in her left palm, which intimated familiar outlines: a walled city perched on the tip of a peninsula, folded into a narrow, lengthy bight and nestled by a great waterway.

The ceremony was interrupted by a breath of collective awe as tiny cubes of cut stone began to rain down from the arch of the apse. The winged messenger literally stepped out of the masonry and crashed to the ground, indenting the tiled floor with her knees. The impact echoed through the vaulted dome like the recoil of Ottoman siege batteries. Then silence.

She only spoke for a moment, words uttered in the Language, her voice intent and clear.

“Many of you will die tomorrow. Repent and He shall accept you into heaven. But if you live, then stand your ground and I will deliver you victory.”

Holy water still pearling on his regal armour, crying the tears of a lifetime’s uncertain faith thus vindicated, the Basileos was first to kneel before her and embrace her feet in the relief of surrender. The prelates and the congregation gazed on, numb with catharsis. Yet the angel enfolded Constantine in her arms, pulled him up and kissed his temple.

“I saw that you would die with honour, so you shall live. In His name you still rule.”


They beheld her soaring on the parapet of the Mesoteichion, at the moment when ladders went up against the whole length of the wall from the Propontis to the Golden Horn and the serried ranks of warriors assailed the breaches lacerated by Turkish bombards. She ascended with wings outstretched, then plunged into the mass of bodies, helmets, pikes and lances.

“Forgive me.”

She struck with elemental force, the impact scattering a cloud of flesh and material. Battalions of men were knocked over and cast afield, or left lying shattered, semi-conscious of blood seeping from torn eardrums. A blur of blade-like feathers tore through confused lines of janissaries, spahis and topchis, leaving concentric circles of devastation in their wake.

Once the damage was sufficient to make the outcome a foregone conclusion, and the angel was confident that the resolve of the defenders was thus steeled, she shot forward across the Horn. The Sultan’s golden-red tent commanded the height of Galata hill, from whence Mehmed could observe the entire field of battle, then the city and behind it, the sea. Proper form required that he be seated, on a portable throne, or a white horse, but now he stood erect, bitterly fixated on a spectacle of the impossible. Allah had never shown himself to his worshippers and yet was saving that whore, Byzantium.

The apparition knew the power of words and left courtiers and guards unharmed as she landed with the softness of benevolent judgment. A tall seraphine shadow against the midday sun, she threw the remnant of a horse-tailed banner at the Sultan’s feet and gently laid a hand on his throat.

“You will leave Rumelia and never cross the Bosporus again.”

With the realisation of his life spared, his campaign lost and his creed made nought, the ruler whispered acquiescence. The angel released her grip and gave him a second glance before taking to the air.

“Convert. Spread the faith. You could still be of use.”


After the dead had been buried, and the probing dusk was lit up by torches – not to scorch, but to illuminate – the Emperor and his Patriarchs ascended to the roof loggia of the monastic library where the messenger landed to rest. Approaching her with the shy, impassioned love of freshly adopted orphans, Constantine dispensed with thanks and addressed what mattered to them most. Was this miracle a fleeting sign? Would she disappear by the morning? Would the city have to fight another day, left to rely once again on desperate human efforts for its survival?

Yet wings folded, legs crossed and brows serene, the visitor seemed comfortable.

“I will stay, if needs be, until a hundred generations grow old.”

Over the city, death-bound yesterday, now preserved and born anew, the angel’s gaze caressed a starlit, virgin horizon of infinite potential.

“Don’t fear. Hell has no power but over the mind. It softens the virtuous and flatters the vicious. Its might relies on the meekness of good men. I will make you strong.”

As the incantations of triumphant oratories rose to the balcony of the monastery, her thoughts drifted from the present. She envisioned the building of armies and fleets, foundries and siege engines, the sending of emissaries to the realms of Christendom, a personal apparition at the Papal Council, the founding of new schools, academies and hospitals, hastening the advance of civilisation for the ennoblement of a race fashioned to her liking. A succession of souls living disciplined lives of faith and valour. A world of glorious victories, then lawful peace and pious order. And glancing further into her immortal future, she saw limitless promise: a pilgrim armada of obedient starships ploughing the depths of space, forever expanding her regency. An empire uniting all under heaven.

Leaning intently over sprawling maps of Europe, the Holy Land and the Silk Road under the insurgent light of her own Morning Star, she could not help but utter in exultation: “My kingdom come. My will be done.”