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The Pronouns Of Hlour

by Andy Dibble

Hlahaarn nations, almost all of which are functioning representative democracies, have requested that we produce speaking software for their people. What could be wrong with giving a people what they freely ask?

But believe me when I say it is wrong. There is history with which we, as humans and as citizens of the galaxy, must come to terms.

As recently as three centuries ago, the hlahaarn had no concept of gender. They are hermaphrodites, able to mate with any other mature member of their species, and they did. But generations of their young grew up in human primary and secondary schools. The curriculum culminated in health education, which presumed to teach hlahaarn youth how to comport themselves during intercourse. As a cost-saving measure, the company our ancestors contracted to produce said curriculum chose to adapt modules already in use on Earth. Stark differences between human and hlahaarn biology were almost entirely overlooked.

You may ask how this oversight could continue for generations. The hlahaarn have a flexible but highly-politicized distinction between temperate persons, those that come together only on their high holy days, and those that are promiscuous. Our ancestors, some founders of this organization, were horrified by accounts of anti-promiscuity pogroms and expulsions among the hlahaarn. They thought it best to encourage temperate and promiscuous to love one another, and teaching hlahaarn young of male and female was an expedient means of achieving this end. I suppose it was a noble experiment, but I question whether it was within their rights, even if the pogroms were as severe as the polemical histories available to us attest.

Some historians defend our intervention among the hlahaarn with platitudes: Cultural interaction always produces change. More refined advocates of neo-colonialism note how we have advanced their sciences, their health care, the equality of their educational systems, and furnished them with stable currency now that they are on the galactic dollar. Some with training in genetics offer statistical arguments: our teaching hlahaarn of human sexuality has reduced incest among them, which in turn reduced the incidence of harmful recessive traits. I dispute none of these arguments, but there is more to the welfare of a people than its life expectancy, standard of living, and evolutionary fitness.

You ask what this has to do with the request before us to produce speaking software? Alas, our male/female distinction has layered itself upon the pronouns of their common language, Hlour.

We are all acclimated to English’s lack of a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun that we have almost forgotten the oddness of the locutions we deploy to fill this lacuna. But the problem is wildly protracted in Hlour, which lacks gender-neutral pronouns in all of its 89 cases as well as the 4 degrees of distance in its demonstratives. Thus Hlour does not lack a mere three gender-neutral pronouns like English—counterparts to he, him, and his—but 356 such pronouns. Pronouns are no small thing in Hlour. Imagine English bereft of that, this, and all prepositions—in, for, with, and the like—and you will begin to grasp the difficulty.

Our businesses, academies, and social media are widely permissive in how persons addressed by others may define their pronouns and this permissiveness has rubbed off on the hlahaarn. It acquired a startling life among them. A significant minority have chosen elaborate schemes of obscenities or incantations, others gibberish or terms far longer than the names they replace, others the monikers of swamp creatures or house gnomes, still others the output of astrological or cryptographic formulas.

There is even a cottage industry set upon shaming celebrities by proving that their pronouns are ambiguous. The premier of a major hlahaarn nation lost their re-election bid because part of their pronoun specification, “refer to me as lours in daylight and ourls during the night,” offered no guidance during a total solar eclipse.

You must think this all quite disingenuous on the part of the hlahaarn, but realize that they do not value sincerity as we do. To them complete sincerity is childish or rude because one who is completely sincere is not in control of their emotions. Their words are suspect; sincerity, in an important sense, undermines itself. Even when discussing especially political matters they proceed with irony and understatement rather than invective. The extent to which hlahaarn mean what they say has always been a difficult game of interpretation involving the greatest attention to context.

Given how deeply the pronoun debacle has infiltrated their market halls, towers of learning, and spirit homes, whole industries have sprung up to support the cognitive burden of using the correct pronoun for the correct person in the correct situation. It is now common for lectures and sales pitches in Hlour to be given not by professors and salespeople but by leuhlorou, “professional speakers” with training in adapting speech according to the pronoun requirements of the situation as well as the appropriate apologies and forgiveness rituals to be deployed in the event that a pronoun is misused. In many urban areas, the training required of leuhlorou exceeds that of medical doctors.

Best practices vary greatly by region. In the steppes of their northern continent, most hold that persons addressed choosing their pronouns is just a reversal of the old tyranny under which speakers chose all pronouns. They maintain that persons addressed are entitled to choose only half their own pronouns. But in the agricultural east, activists push for legislation compelling the use of a common pronoun scheme or allowing choice of pronouns but only within specified limits. Everywhere, old anti-promiscuity and anti-temperance slurs are brandished on all sides. Some disputes end in violence, hearkening back to the pogroms that so stained our histories of the hlahaarn.

So their national governments have approached us, a supposedly neutral third-party. Commerce and social services are crumbling. Many hlahaarn are afraid to speak. Their pronoun databases are now many times larger than even the most comprehensive Hlour dictionary. They ask us for an automated solution, for our software to inject the necessary pronouns into everything they say. If we supply what they request, they will no longer speak to one another, but software will speak to software and they will only understand translations of their own language.

Many of us wrestle with how we may empower the peoples our ancestors colonized to speak for themselves. Our software is emphatically not the answer. Software may encourage communication. It may prop up their institutions. It may increase exports. But they will nevertheless be divided, and it will be we who came between them. Our programmers, unlearned in their cultures, will choose the parameters for how the software learns. I do not doubt our good intentions, but their language will inevitably assume the forms of human culture. We are already in their bedrooms, in the private words between lovers. Do not think they will throw off the yoke of the colonized with our help. If we give them what they ask of us, we will be in the songs their children sing beneath their violet moons. We will be in their wedding vows, in their death dirges and homilies. We will be in their thoughts. Our colonization of the hlahaarn will be complete.



Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who has worked for large healthcare systems in six countries. His work appears in Writers of the Future, Sci Phi Journal, and Space & Time. He is Articles Editor for Speculative North and has edited Strange Religion, an anthology of SFF stories about religious traditions.

Philosophy Note:

This story was inspired by current treatment of gender neutral pronouns in much of the English-speaking world combined with the observation that common solutions, like allowing people to choose their pronouns, can be unworkable when applied to languages that have much more complex schemes of pronouns than English. This story is meant to be an exploration of how a solution intended to increase autonomy can end up producing a new form of colonialism.

Leonidas Smiley’s Report From Calaveras

by Ian Alexander Tash

I, Leonidas Smiley, hereby report what I have seen on Planet Calaveras, also known as Andromeda MTS 11181865 c, with complete honesty and transparency. However, I hereby also warn that I am not infallible in case my interpretations should prove to be faulty by future interactions with the Calaveran indigenous sapient species. I understand that the council would rather begin a peaceful relationship with the creatures, but I worry that colonization of the land may not be the greatest course of action for the council to take. Even my own mission to see if their religion opens up a way for us to absorb their culture into our own had encountered difficulties, regardless of my practical reservations about this objective. However, I recognize that this mission is not my own to command, and so I once again commit myself to a report as honest and unbiased as I can make it.

The dominant sapient Calaveran species is amphibious, and thus are rather frog-like in their appearance and anatomy. They do not, however, have all of the traits of frogs, lacking the vocal and tongue capacities common to toads as we know them, and also possessing a warm-bloodedness not associated with Earth-bound amphibians. For the most part, they correspond to typical bipedal sapient life evolutionary patterns, deviating only due to the adverse weather conditions I will describe later in the report. However, because the Calaverans behave much like the common sapient species we are aware of currently, I witnessed tribes with distinct cultures depending upon, I assume, geographic necessity. Thus, henceforth I shall refer specifically to tribes of Calaverans in this report. The ones that live in the plain I call the Websterians, as their webbed appendages were more helpful and pronounced on the valley floor due to the high probability of flooding. Meanwhile, the ones who dwell in the nearby mountain communities I termed the Jimnians, as their webbing was less pronounced, but they lived in the Jimni, the Calaveran word for “mountain.”

The defining characteristic of Calaveran culture is the effect the weather has upon their lives. Calaveras is not like other planets we know that can support sapient life. Most sapient life forms were able to thrive because of stable climates, typically with four to five seasons of predictable length and weather. Calaveras, however, is special, as the weather patterns are completely random. While I would encourage meteorologists and climate experts to study the planet more closely, in the three years that I lived there before submitting this report there was no set pattern to the weather. It may be sunny one day, rainy the next, foggy for four days, sunny again for two, a blizzard for 37 straight days, sunny again for six days, and so on. I will also submit a copy of my journal that kept track of the weather changes to see if they could be mapped to any sort of pattern, but neither I nor the village chiefs could figure out the cause. However, it is likely that the weather is a big factor in the evolution into amphibious races, as only a species that is flexible in multiple climates would be able to survive long enough to further evolve. And yet the effect is not just physiological.

Culturally, both tribes of Calaverans operate under a similar ontological principle of weather tied to power. They acknowledge that the forces acting upon the weather are real, tangible things, but they attribute them not to scientific phenomena that can be observed and studied, but instead to a God or gods. I have trouble figuring out exactly how they see this divine force simply because of the linguistic barrier. While most languages we come across tend to have cases for person and number, in this case they lack the means of distinguishing between singular and plural. This linguistic choice may stem from the cultural ramifications of believing that their world is governed by a God (terminology chosen for ease of expressing the idea). If the weather must be random, then God must thrive in randomness. Thus, despite the individuality a member of a tribe may have, they are considered part of one whole tribal property, just as the entire planet is one entity experiencing the weather. When the weather changes, Calaveran culture dictates that the whole tribe must participate in a lottery system. Whoever wins by divine randomness thus acts as chief over the tribe, thus owning everything of the tribe, including its people. Thus, the tribe is one property of one person, or perhaps one could interpret it to be that the tribe is only one person, the man on top that God has chosen. The losers of the lottery are obedient and unquestioning, leaving everything in the hands of their new leader. After all, they all recognize that, good or bad, this leadership is only temporary. They may very well have to repeat the entire process again the next day, or they may be stuck with this leader for hundreds of days, all depending upon the changing weather. Tying leadership to randomness, randomness to weather, and weather to God ultimately ties leadership to God, a sort of divine right of kings, so that even one desiring to object to such a king would not feel as if they had the power to do so. However, even that statement alone may be an overgeneralized view of their faith. As alluded to earlier, the two tribes have different social and religious views based upon their geography which need further exploration.

The difference in geography has lead to a theological split between the two tribes concerning the nature of God. The Websterians believe in an active, observant God, and thus their weather reacts to their power. Essentially, they believe that stability is a sign of blessing. Regardless of the weather, they have enough resources in the valley in order to put together a decent living, but only if the weather remains the same for a long period of time. The leader is then seen as a mediator figure between the tribe and God. If the tribe were to do anything that would anger God, the leader could step in and prevent that from happening. However, if the leader acts in a way that God would find displeasing, the punishment that befalls the entire tribe is a change in weather, thus removing the blessing from the previous leader. This creates a climate of shame within the tribe, where people are hesitant to be leaders because they do not want to be responsible for the deeds that would punish the tribe. Oftentimes, the leader dies when the weather changes, sometimes by execution by the next leader, other times by their own hands as a means of atonement, thus removing them from the pool of potential future leaders. The disgrace is monumental, as they have not only failed God, but their entire tribe. Thus, the leader tends to be incredibly just and kind to their people; however, this does not stop the tribe from having a negative hindsight view of the former leader when the weather does, in fact, finally change.

The Jimnians, however, believe in an actively random God, and thus their power reacts to the weather. God is like a gambling addict. He wakes up each morning, picks up a die and rolls it. Thus, the weather may change daily. However, there is still a chance that the die can roll the same number for hundred of days in a row. This may be necessary for their ability to cope with the rocky terrain. It may be hard to make a living, and so God must be uninterested in their individual plight. They need a neutral God, one who is unfocused upon them specifically, but who still gives legitimacy to randomness. Thus, the changing season is rather an opportunity to be as godlike as possible, to also take a random chance to see what the future holds. However, this does make the clan much more about domination and power, and leaders tend to be much crueler to their subordinates than in the valley. If God does not actively care about the situation of their lives, or rather is exuding randomness for randomness’s sake, then they do not need to worry about God’s opinion. It does not matter in the grand scheme, because God is uninterested to begin with. The one with God’s power may not have that blessing for long, so they need to take advantage of it today while they can. Thus, the only punishment for being a bad ruler is what a future leader may do to you once they have grasped the divine powers of the weather change.

I believe these to be the most relevant aspects of their culture to synthesize into a report. However, I have also submitted a copy of my journal for more specific accounts of the weather, of specific leaders, and specific episodes of my days with both of these tribes. While the idea of a loving, personal God may connect with the Websterians, they considered the rules of religion as I instructed to be strange and impractical. They cannot even see individuals as people, but merely as potential people, and thus these notions seem somewhat confusing to them. If they are possible to convert, they will take some time, but I have no hope for the Jimnians, as they would not even let me reside there unless I was willing to offer myself up as part of the tribal property. They would allow me to visit, but would balk at my notions of divinity. Even if the council decides to move forward despite my previous objections, I would like to emphasize the problem of instability once again. Even if peace agreements were made with one leader, another leader could arise the next day and annul that agreement, and thus we could never find their cooperation to be dependable unless somehow the weather could be controlled. Overall, I will honestly admit that these years have been rough and dangerous. I would not think a colonization of this planet would be wise, and at best cultural communication will be limited. However, I am ready for men wiser than I to prove me wrong.

Leonidas Smiley



Ian Alexander Tash is a freelance writer from Bakersfield, California. Not only was he published in Calliope, Orpheus, the Haiku Journal, and the Los Angeles Times, but he was also the 2021-2022 Outstanding BA Graduate of CSUB in both Religious Studies and the School of Arts & Humanities. He obtained his BA in English EMCE and Religious Studies and has spent his summer since graduation spending more time with his wife, Stephanie, and their Yorkie, Mini.

Philosophy Note:

Leonidas Smiley’s Report from Calaveras is inspired by the past few years I spent in my Religion Studies and English Language Arts double major BA program. More specifically, I drew inspiration from American Realist Literature, such as The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, as a base to extrapolate my science fiction themes, using character names and themes of randomness and betting as my base. I then thought back to studying New Religious Movements and Native American Religious Traditions, which tend to point to religious groups tending to form out of the circumstances that they are born in, the cycles of the Earth, the politics of the time, and other factors that are specific to that context. I then began to contemplate the question, “If one were to live in a world where everything was left up to chance and betting and luck, what would someone’s world look like?” This led to the entirely random world of Calaveras, where weather patterns cannot be predicted. However, that alone was not enough. After all, even with this one trait in common across an entire planet, there would not be a universally accepted belief identical in every context across the world. So I made it about tribes in different geographies as well, to wrestle with and imagine this strange setting through multiple lenses. Thus, the report began to form, specifically from the context of a dominant culture trying to recreate a mission system seen on Earth in a new context. I hope that people will enjoy this idea I’ve conjured up and speculated about, and maybe this will be a world that appears again in future works I create.

Don’t Blame The Eggs

by T. J. Berg

When Margret stepped out of the Intrans, she almost couldn’t breathe. She was on another planet. It was so hard to believe. She carefully hefted her two bags, not wanting to break the eggs she’d brought. After customs and security screening, she stepped out and looked for a placard with her name. There. A stooped Rfgdt stood with a screen mounted to its head clamp. Margret Cho, it read in red letters. She waved, and the Rfgdt’s twelve limbs and numerous auxiliaries fluttered back at her.

            She greeted the Rfgdt in her best Rffy, struggling with its lack of vowel sounds. But she felt it only polite to try. He stood a little too close and had a spicy scent, a little like nutmeg.

            “Well met Margret Cho. You may call me Ben. I will be your university liaison for the duration of your visit.” His English was stilted but flawless. It was difficult to understand how they made such diversity of sounds by whipping their limbs and auxiliaries around, but that was exactly why she was here. “Are these your only bags?”

            “Oh, no, a shipping company is sending through my equipment. I think the university is arranging delivery?” She switched back to English, knowing he’d probably understand her better.

            “Then let us go.” He reached for a bag.

            “Oh! I can get it,” she said. “There’s some fragile . . .” She trailed off at his sudden stillness. She had read this was a sign of deep upset in the Rfgdt.

            “Eggs?” Ben asked, moving as little as possible to say it.

            “Uhh, yes.”

            “Come along then.”

            Aside from obvious signs, she knew she could not read a Rfgdt, but she got a distinct sense of cooling down from Ben as he led her to the Spine. He loaded her into a seat and harness across from him, then they shot into the tubes with the other segments.

            She plastered her face to the window, watching the bizarre cityscape go by. The giant, hive-like buildings with their branching extensions curling out and up. The sky, not quite the same blue as home. “I can’t believe I’m on an alien world,” she said.


            Ben seemed friendly again when he settled her into her quarters. It had been stocked with both human and compatible Rfgdt food and furnishings. She noticed as she set her bags in the doorway that at least four of Ben’s eyes were fixed on them. She wondered if she was reading his interest correctly. She was here to generate a computer model of their body language and communication, or at least a better one than the government issued, so she figured she’d better start asking questions now.

            “Am I reading your interest in my luggage correctly, Ben?” she asked.

            Three anterior limbs curled in along his back. “Yes. My apologies.”

            “Don’t apologize. I think, also, that you seemed . . . upset earlier? Can I ask why?”

            The three limbs unfurled, and the rest separated along a distinct line. “I was surprised you brought eggs.”

            “Was I wrong not to offer some to you immediately?”

            A wave passed over all his limbs. “No,” he said. “I do not eat eggs.”

            “But was my advisor wrong in telling me that they are a treasured delicacy here? I was told they would make both welcome gifts and a valuable trade for some local currency.”

            Ben gestured with his limbs toward a comfortable chair, then said, “I have a sample of our local coffee-like drink. Just a moment.”

            The Rfgdt did not discuss important matters without refreshments, so she waited while Ben prepared a tray of food and drink, introducing her to each item with what seemed like pride. When she was settled and sipping the drink, which tasted something like coffee heavily laced with vanilla, Ben said, “Are the Earth Humans so unaware of the dangers of eggs?”

            Margret couldn’t help a laugh. “The dangers? Don’t tell me that the whole exploding aliens things is . . .” She trailed off as his limbs stilled.

            “How can humans be so ill-informed? Yes, a small subset of our population can explode violently and kill many of those around us after consuming eggs.”

            “That can’t be.”

            “Well, it is. I find it very hard to believe that so many humans travel here bringing eggs, all claiming ignorance.”

            Margret swallowed and tried to think of how to explain. “There is . . . too much information, I guess you could say. It is not always easy to figure out what information is true, and what isn’t. So we have to decide what seems real.”

            “It is real. My niece was killed at school when a teacher exploded after eating egg. Not one neural limb was left. Seventeen children were killed by that teacher.”

            Margret set down her cup, throat suddenly tight, trying to comprehend it.

            “But, but that’s insane. It’s just an egg.”

            “We do not know why some people explode. It is a mystery, it is rare. But it happens and it is very tragic.”

            “So why don’t they make it illegal to eat eggs then? I mean, it’s just a luxury food.”

            Ben’s many limbs fluttered up into the air with tiny trembles. He mimicked a human sighing sound a moment later, loudly and a bit dramatically. “I know it is hard for humans to understand just how important our freedom to eat whatever foods we like is. But you can think of it like your bees. Our development is directly and strongly guided by our food. For much of our history, large parts of our population were kept in a substandard intellectual state in service of a powerful elite by restricting our access to the foods that put us in a dominant intellectual development path. Imagine bee drones, but feed some larvae on a special diet, and you get a queen. We had a revolution a long time ago that freed us from such tyranny. It is written into our most sacred and ancient governing documents that food choices will not be restricted.”

            “But surely they didn’t anticipate this!” Margret said. “That’s insane. If they had thought there was a food that could make you explode and kill so many people . . .”

            The flutter again, the loud sigh. “Do you think you are proposing arguments many of us have not thought of? But they say why should the enjoyment of eggs be restricted because some small number of people explode. They say it is their fundamental right to enjoy eggs. Our foods greatly influence our emotions, and consuming eggs gives many people a feeling of power and mastery. They do not want to give it up. And of course, it profits so many. Eggs fetch a high price and travelers like you almost always bring them.”

            Margret tried not to let her eyes drift to her bags. “I’m . . . I’m sorry. I suspect that there is purposeful misinformation spread about eggs back home.”

            “Yes, I suppose that there must be.”

            Margret could not tell if that was sarcasm.

            “But, aren’t people scared to eat eggs then? If people die from it?”

            “People are very good at justifying what they do. I believe this is true of both our species. I believe what people say most often is that those that explode have some weakness, but that they do not, or the exploders do not prepare the egg correctly, while they do, or even that it is something else entirely that makes them explode. Do not blame the egg.” The words, neatly articulated, came out strangely flat. “Besides, often times the one that explodes even survives. The outward blast annihilates much that surrounds them, but frequently leaves enough of their own neural limbs intact for resurrection.”

            “I see,” Margret said. She thought of the expensive egg cases she purchased to preserve the eggs through Intrans. Well worth the investment. Three dozen eggs and you’ll have a nice supplement to the university income. You can really get out and see the planet on three dozen eggs. That’s what the dealer told her.

            A flurry of movement drew Margret’s attention. Ben stood up. “Excuse my poor manners. Intrans is tiring. I will be back this evening to continue your orientation. There will be a small dinner for you so you can meet your team.”

            His many appendages all drew together in front of him in an elaborate knot, the various colors sliding into an alignment that, when finished, showed a pattern of a blue lightning bolt slashed across a red field. This was something like a bow, something like a good bye, and a revealing of Ben’s Rfgdt sigil to grant her respect.

            “Thank you,” Margret said. “Uh, and thank you for, letting me know about the egg problem. I am very sorry, about your niece.”

            “Good day, Margret Cho,” was all Ben said. Then he left her alone. She mulled over what an amazing project it was going to be, building a program that could fully understand and replicate the complicated sounds, colors, and body language of the Rfgdt. Another wave of excitement overwhelmed her. Then it soured when she looked at her suitcases. What was she going to do with three dozen eggs now? Eat them for breakfast? She had really been looking forward to the extra bit of income. She had planned to use the money to take one of the undersea tours. Would her three dozen eggs really make a difference in the global egg trade? It wasn’t as if she would force anyone to eat them. What they ate was their choice.

            Margret unloaded her eggs into the refrigeration unit. Either way, it would be a waste to throw them out. What was the harm in hanging onto them? It didn’t mean she was going to sell them. She could just tuck them away for a while. In the meantime, Ben was right. She could use a nap.



T. J. Berg is a molecular and cellular biologist working and writing in Sweden. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in many places, including Talebones (for which it received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror), Daily Science Fiction, Caledonia Dreamin’, Sensorama, Thirty Years of Rain, Tales to Terrify, and Diabolical Plots. When not writing or doing science, she can be found travelling the world, cooking, or hiking. To find more fiction or odd musings, check out and, very occasionally, Twitter @TJBergWrites.

Philosophy Note:

At the intersection of a deep and long cultural history colliding with modern technologies, how do you make decisions about what sacred, traditional freedoms trump societal safety? This story uses the meeting of two alien civilizations to highlight this dilemma.

Thirty Years After

by Jared Kavanagh

Great Yarmouth, the British call it.

To the uninitiated American reader of my travel journals, any town in modern Britain that possesses the appellation “great” must have acquired it via tragic irony. After all, Britain no longer possesses any urban agglomerations of sufficient size to be called cities.

In truth, the provenance of the name is ancient, far older than the Day. Four locals gave me five explanations for where Great Yarmouth’s name came from. I was, and remained, sceptical of all of them.

What mattered was that Great Yarmouth was a minor British port before the Day, and was the largest that didn’t receive a visit from Soviet bombers or missiles. The town has boomed since then, where most of Britain has declined.

As a surviving port on a railhead, Great Yarmouth became the main entry point for the trickle of American aid that Britain received after the Day. Marks of our country’s time here are plentiful, from the six soulless concrete and timber piers built for relief ships, to the equally soulless concrete runways built in an airport when it appeared our aid would be an ongoing endeavour, to the prominently named Yankee Refuge which is still the largest pub in town.

The last relief ship left a quarter of a century ago, but Great Yarmouth prospered afterward, in so far as any town in the ashes of Europe can be said to thrive. Tourism is the only industry in modern Britain which genuinely earns the country any foreign currency, and Great Yarmouth is the biggest arrival point for the few curious sight-seers who want to experience Britain’s surviving hospitality.

My arrival date was October 27, 1992, the thirty year anniversary of the Day. A few Americans celebrate this date as the anniversary of the day the spectre of communism was cleansed from the globe. Most only mourn, even back home. In Great Yarmouth, no-one celebrated the Day, but all remembered it.

Arrival at the airport was simplicity itself, for those who had found one of the few flights that crossed the Atlantic. Passport control consisted of a cursory glance at whatever travel documentation was presented, and customs checks were non-existent. Britain’s downsized government had much higher priorities than bothering incoming tourists. Their officials occasionally scrutinised those who were departing, but never arriving.

Distinguishing tourists from locals – or returning locals – presented no difficulties. Most of the accoutrements of travel in Europe were similar to those within the Americas, but there was one significant difference. Tourists in Britain all had Geiger counters somewhere about their person.

Three decades on, most of the United Kingdom was no more radioactive than the background levels back home. Save for the sheets of glass which once formed their cities, that is. Nevertheless, any prudent traveller knew the risk of stumbling into one of the remaining hot pockets of soil somewhere on their jaunt, or being served fish which was hot in a manner other than the traditional culinary style.

The airport was only a couple of train stops from town. I’d planned to use the railroad as the best way to meet passengers, but it turned out that every visitor caught the train, for want of an alternative.

Private cars in Great Yarmouth were non-existent; people walked or pedalled or were pedalled by others. Fuel was rationed for essential transport and agricultural use, and misusing it was a hanging offence, literally. A couple of the chattier locals on the train into town went into great detail about executions they’d witnessed.

As was my habit, on the first day I spent a couple of hours strolling around Great Yarmouth. I didn’t need longer – nowhere in the town was far from anywhere else.

The town was a small strip of land between river and sea, marked by a mix of old and new. The old was traditional Britain, with heritage cottages on narrow lanes. The new was identical brick houses – brick was the cheapest construction material around here – with wider, cobbled streets. Broad streets served no transportation purpose that I could discern, but made the tourists feel more comfortable.

I bypassed the more openly tourist-seeking spots, leaving them for another time, though the prospect of the Herring Museum intrigued me. On this day, I cared more to find out what the locals recalled of the Day.

This aim drew me to the Yankee Refuge. Like so much of the town, the décor here presented a curious mix of classical and new-fangled. The walls, and the bar itself, were made of finely-polished chestnut; sound and beautiful timber. The stools were newer, and could be politely described as workmanlike. Beer came in ceramic mugs, not glasses. Light bulbs existed, but only a few – enough to make the dimness bearable rather than illuminate.

Ventured conversations quickly made it plain that discussions of the Day or its anniversary would attract flinty stares. Some were prepared to talk, but none wanted to be asked.

Conversations about the Day revealed the British think the United States emerged unscathed. Not true, to anyone even casually familiar with American history. I saw no reason to mention the rubble where Anchorage and Seattle once stood, or the effects of radiation which touched everywhere. Compared to Britain, we got off lightly. Compared to mainland Europe or the former Soviet Union, we were blessed.

Indirect probes about Britain’s fate provided more revealing answers. The locals viewed Great Yarmouth as “the luckiest city in the unluckiest country.” Every year two thousand or more people moved here from elsewhere in Britain. Every year, around the same number fled Britain’s shores entirely.

None of my American readers would be surprised that so many sought to emigrate. More intriguing was their choice of destination. None mentioned the United States. Most named Canada, Australia, or New Zealand. “They helped us, and help us still,” was the gist of their explanations. If I had to sum up the difference between Americans and the British, it would be thus: Americans want to forget the Day happened, while the British want to escape what happened.



Jared Kavanagh is a writer of alternate history, speculative fiction and sometimes just plain weird stuff. He is the author of the Sidewise Award-nominated Lands of Red and Gold alternate history series, and editor of the Alternate Australias anthology. His short fiction has recently appeared in anthologies from Sea Lion Press and B Cubed Press.

Philosophy Note:

The inspiration for this tale came from assessments of how if the Cuban Missile Crisis went nuclear, the United States had the power projection to devastate the Soviet Union, while the Soviet Union could strike at the USA’s European allies but do relatively little harm to the United States itself. It follows the tradition of works which explore alternate histories via pseudo-non-fiction, such as the venerable collection If It Had Happened Otherwise (edited by JC Squire) and Robert Sobel’s classic alternate history textbook For Want of a Nail. Other recent examples in this tradition include Nicholas Sumner’s Drake’s Drum series, and Tom Anderson’s Look to the West series.


by Tristan Zaborniak

Once upon time, a people (and their gods) lived, rollicking, chortling, sometimes wistful (though never despairing), watching the seasons turn and themselves grow old, all in amiable collaboration with time and admiration of space. They felt themselves comfortably swaddled in unambiguous laws of material and its causality, ordained as to allow precise quantity with rod and with clock, and thus a consistent sequence of consequence.  

And so they went about, measuring goods and their distances of travel, the passing days and years and stars, the sizes and weights of coins, the freeboard of boats and their areas of sail, transactions and cattle, pints and bales, all with scales appreciable to the eye or its slight stretch. A practical people they were.

However, so his story goes, one chance evening Moredictus (among their lot) put to doubt prevailing thought (or its lack thereof on the matter), asking: “What might be eventual, if I were to cleave this wheel of cheese first in half, take one of the following halves and cleave it in half again, repeating this procedure so on and so on, endlessly?” 

In this benign way did begin the beginning of the ending of the end of measure. Frenzied debate swirled and clamored over Moredictus’ dimensionless volumes, birthing a bloated bestiary of other profane quandaries. Informatic singularities, substance without substance, interminable surfaces enclosing terminable spaces, untimable moments and unmomentable times, and beings… civilizations… of scales unseen.

Reason proceeded thusly. If a body may be split unto infinity, then that body is, piece-wise, an infinitude, each piece of negligible proportion and constitution. Therefore, asking how to construct or specify anything of any size requires (in many cases) an instruction set of unending length. One such case is that of an island coastline: shorten one’s rule, lengthen the extent, shorten one’s rule, lengthen the extent. One finds the coastline to be with interminable detail, while the area contained converges to an exact finitude. 

It was then conjectured that if information content is scale-independent, then a body of arbitrary intricacy at scale X may be reproduced exactly at scale Y, where X > Y or X < Y. This led to the inevitable corollary that there might and must dance and sing and multiply persons and beasts unbeknownst to the unmagnifying eye, and untimeknownst to the unmagnifying watch.

Finally, questions of affect and effect lent further befuddling to the burgeoning craze. Assuming an atomic foundation, it may straightforwardly be said that the interactions between atoms yield epiphenomena, interactions between these epiphenomena yield further epiphenomena, and so on. Casting aside this foundation à la Moredictums, all phenomena become prefixed with epi, rendering the dream of reductionism dead and the nightmare of recursion chaotically stampeding, saddled by homunculi.

The people wailed with indignant dread at this affront to sense and logic, and their deities burned in effigy. They felt marooned, their yardsticks and balances and hourglasses and yearnings deceptive and impotent and asinine and vain. They felt themselves a hideous crossbreed of delusion and illusion, an infinitesimal blip located precisely nowhere, lost to some remote corner of an incalculable mandelbulb, bullied by the trappings of existence.

Verging on collapse without conviction or creed, a council was called to determine their faith and their fate. Admit death and join the cold graves of the old gods? Or, admit breath and seek nature’s secret natures anew?

After much deliberating discussion, the latter saw favorable election, and the central pillar to its scheme developed. A story would be written, about a people building castles in the err, convinced of the tautological equation between sense and reality, perceiving of but one scale. The story would recount the sudden, paroxysmic recounting of counting. The story would tell of forlorn angst and abandon, and the project of the dejected people to seek solace in seeking. The story would be printed so small as to reach the hypothesized beings of the scale below, and ask that they pass it along likewise, unless they inhabit the frontier of epilessphenomena, whence they should write to the beings above in iterative succession of their atomism. In this way, the people hoped to resolve their circumstance and circumscale.

You hold in your hands this very story, and we ask you, in turn: are you of atoms, or of continuum?



A vertiginous hodgepodge of maps and territories, quantum computers, wildfire and carbon dynamics, algorhythms, mirrors, and corpuscles and vibratiuncles define this author.

Philosophy Note:

We all know that particles combine to make wholeicles. What if the stuff of stuff were continuous, though? Pursuing this question, in combination with ideas from endosymbiosis and fractal chaos, and inspiration on scale-shift abstracted from Douglas Hofstadter’s Little Harmonic Labyrinth form the warp and weft of this tale.


by Madeline Barnicle

Pursuant to galactic policy 10-93, no humans are permitted in microdimensional (4-11) transport vessels, except as licensed Observers to resolve any quantum inconsistencies that may arise.

Passengers must provide their own oxygen for humans.

Policy 13-72 guarantees that no licensing institution can require humans to limit their reproductive capabilities as a condition of becoming Observers. However, humans in transit for more than 2.5 megaseconds may experience higher-than-average tissue discharge.

As a matter of etiquette, please refrain from insulting other passengers’ humans. Humans from all planets, and those of undetermined ancestry, can become qualified Observers.

Unfortunately, empathy-processing companions are not allowed.



Madeline Barnicle holds a PhD in mathematical logic from UCLA, and now lives in Maryland. Find her stories at

Swag Of Distant Earth

by Matt McHugh

The Journal of Cultural Xenology

Volume 4,236,957 – Issue 3 (Supplemental)

Analysis of Crypto-Marketing Symbology in the Pioneer 10 Advertisement for 2001: A Space Odyssey

SubLord Gormatu (Lead Author), Professor of Xenoglyphics, The Empress B.A.T. University; k]i[n+Xi(ah)vün-te’əl, Associate Professor of Adjacency, Institute of Dimensional Topology; Jeet Patel (Corresponding Author), Intern.

Mass Tariff Funder Statement: Grants provided by The Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, Foundation for Expansion Studies; and Viewers Like You.


A gold-anodized plaque affixed to the artifact dubbed “Pioneer 10,” which was set adrift by a pre-quantspace society inhabiting the third planet of a mid-galactic star, is an advertisement for an audio-visual narrative entitled 2001: A Space Odyssey.


Since the start of the Eighth Age of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (all praise and submission to Her horrific glory) our team of xenologists has focused on the cultural particulars of the inhabitants of a remote planet known in its most common local dialects as Earth, or more descriptively, Dirt Ball (地球). (NOTE: The inhabitants use many dialects and scripting systems, the study of which is a specialty of our team.)

Relatively recently, the planet’s dominant primate species has developed the technology to process visible light and acoustic waves for storage. This stored information is manipulated to produce narrative sequences known as moving pictures, or more commonly by the quaint diminutive “movies”—though again an alternate dialect offers a more technically illuminating moniker: electric shadows (电影).

Electric shadow movies are extremely popular on Dirt Ball. Fees charged for their viewing fuel entire sectors of the economy. The industry is highly competitive and, somewhat paradoxically, must invest heavily in marketing expenditures to recoup production costs. Physical signage with cryptic imagery, intended to suggest but not reveal details of the narrative’s storyline, is a common advertising strategy.

The electric shadow known as 2001: A Space Odyssey (Erratum: The numeric prefix refers to a time-keeping system, not—as previously thought—the number of discarded versions produced by its creator) is a speculation on what the natives might encounter beyond the gravitational field of their planet of origin. Since Pioneer 10 was designed to travel outside Dirt Ball’s gravity, placing advertising for 2001 upon it was an inspired marketing gimmick.

Materials and Methods

Access to the Quantspace Omniscope, enabled by the boundless largess of the Empress B.A.T. (oh, what ecstasy to behold Her magnificent oblivion!), was essential to our remote observational research. Also, the Homeomorphic Space Grapnel, on loan from the Institute of Dimensional Topology, allowed us to obtain the actual Pioneer 10 artifact for direct inspection. From there, our team of iconographers collaborated to decode the marketing message.

Finally, it must be mentioned that culling the archives of Dirt Ball provided enormous insight. A popular maxim among Empire xenologists is “No one understands undeveloped primitives like other undeveloped primitives” and to that end we acknowledge the contributions of the American Film Institute, Wikipedia, and reddit user pFloyd237.


Analysis of the Pioneer 2001 advertisement begins in grid square [1A] with multiple circles extending to square [1K]. These represent the local star and planetary bodies (Dirt Ball itself is in [1E]). Their unnatural alignment, a common motif in 2001, plays to native superstition that planetary conjunctions herald momentous events.

The line extending from Dirt Ball to [2H] indicates the travel of the space vehicle in 2001 called Discovery, depicted as a parabolic communications antenna, known as the AE-35 unit, aimed toward Dirt Ball. Note Discovery passes between two planets. The ship’s stated destination in the 2001 moving picture was “Jupiter” [1G] while the scripted version said “Saturn” [H1]; this is obviously a compromise to appease the substantial ego needs of the respective version creators.

Turning now to the circular objects in [10C] and [10E]. These suggest the relationship between Discovery’s support vehicles, referred to as pods, and the singular eye of the sentient computing machine named Hal. Discovery’s primate crew believe the pod to be safe from Hal’s omnipresent awareness, but are proven incorrect when Hal assumes control of a pod to lethal effect. These linked symbols illustrate that the primates’ technologies have aligned against them.

On to the most conspicuous feature: the representation of the primates themselves in grid [9I] to [3M]. They are a sexually dimorphic species—highlighted with a striking lack of modesty in [6J] and [6L]—with the male obviously the more submissive as shown by the gesture of supplication in [8I]. Note the geometric arc-and-chord behind the male. This depicts a tension-based projectile launcher called a bow. The protagonist of the 2001 narrative is named as “Dave Bowman” so the symbolism here is rather blunt. For one more subtle, note the pair of right triangles with adjacent vertices in [7N]. Baffling at first, these become meaningful when rotated perpendicularly in conjunction with the bow: it is a boat with a wind-driven sail. Oriented vertically, the sailboat is aimed against the vector of gravity, the significance of which is revealed by delving into a defunct primate dialect where “astro” means star and “naut” refers to travel by boat. Dave Bowman is an astronaut, sailing to the stars. Very clever. (NOTE: Due to local moral conventions, Dave Bowman is never depicted in the electric shadow in a pristine uncovered state, except during a regression to infancy.)

Finally, to the most contextually significant images: the rectangle cornered in [9H] and the multiple radiants centered in [6D]. The rectangle is an object in 2001 called The Monolith (a defunct dialect for “single stone”). The Monolith is intended to be an artifact originating from an unknown civilization outside of Dirt Ball. It is described with a frontal proportion in the ratio of 4×9, although this two-dimensional depiction here is 3×9. This discrepancy is possibly due to the marketing department receiving incorrect information from the movie producers (a common occurrence in the electric shadow industry) or the marketing department simply being stupid (also common, see: Gormatu et al. “A Case Study in Xeno-Economic Fatuousness: The ‘New Coke’ Fiasco.” Seminars in Social Inferiority, sponsored by the Empress B.A.T. Academy of Inevitable Destiny).

Taken overall, 2001 is the story of the primates’ attempt to discover the civilization responsible for The Monolith. That quest is aided by an accidental excursion through a quantspace conduit—i.e., the figure centered in [6D]. Referred to as “The Stargate sequence,” the visual representation of a quantspace journey in 2001 is astoundingly accurate for a society yet to achieve one. This leads to the disturbing notion that a rogue element from the Fleet of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying (may all who defy her exquisiteness burn in agony before her pediments) has traversed to Dirt Ball and communed with the locals for some treasonous purpose.


Given that 2001: A Space Odyssey reveals that a primitive society has speculated on the existence of an advanced trans-galactic civilization with worrisome precision—and then chosen to boldly go and advertise that speculation via an extra-gravitic projectile—our team proposes immediate invasion and subjugation of the planet Dirt Ball. Let it be noted that SubLord Gormatu is prepared to assume the heavy burden of full Lordship in service to the insatiably righteous hunger of the Empress Beautiful and Terrifying, and is willing to accept the lowly governorship of Dirt Ball. In doing so, Lord Gormatu will be ideally positioned to plunder Dirt Ball’s archives, transmitting via Omiscope uncorrupted versions of the electric shadows most favored by the Empress (Her radiance, Her ruthlessness, matched only by Her sophistication) including the “Disney Princess” series and the complete oeuvre of Jackie Chan (成龍), especially the early-career efforts when he was still “yummy buff” (with great apology for quoting the candid ejaculation of the Empress in Her aesthetic reverie). This analysis and conclusion is hereby submitted with prostrate humility for the peerless review of the minions of the Empress B.A.T for the undeserved honor of basking for a fleeting moment in the all-consuming glow of Her unrivalled and devastatingly gorgeous wisdom.



Matt McHugh was born in suburban Pennsylvania, attended LaSalle University in Philadelphia, and after a few years as a Manhattanite, currently calls New Jersey home. Website: