Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Peace Bug
by Stephen L. Antczak

Shipping Error
by Robert Dawson

In the Garden With the Little Eaters
by L Chan

Species of Revenge
by Lance J. Mushung

To Live if it Kills Me
by Andrew Darlington

Freddy Norberg’s Fantastic Flight
by Finry

Death Egg
by Kim Daniels

by Sean Monaghan

Shorter Stories

Love in the Time of Alien Invasion
by Samuel Marzioli

They Call Me Wizard
by Robert Lowell Russell

Reverse Logic
by Sierra July


Let’s Fry Chicken Little
by Carol Kean

UFOs and Rockets
by Preston Dennett



Comic Strips




Let’s Fry Chicken Little

By Carol Kean

“SHIT IS FUCKED. WERE GOING DOWN.” You didn’t hear it here first, but you’ll see it in every other novel coming down the pike. It’s disturbing that end-of-the-world hysteria continues to sell so well across all genres, but downright distressing for dystopian themes to dominate science fiction.

Once upon a time, a Golden Age of Science Fiction gloriously explored the “what if?” These days, it’s “what if” corporate greed, GMOs, a mutant virus unleashed by mad scientists, totalitarian governments, and reckless developers destroy our beautiful world? Well, what if the future is bright, green and sustainable? Hollow out an asteroid, build cities inside it, colonize the solar system—yes! Yes! But does it have to be the last resort of dickwads who rape and permanently ruin our planet?

Post-apocalyptic dystopian science fiction is usually set in a future world with mere remnants of technology rusting away on a barren landscape. And that’s the best-case scenario. Book after book, year after year ... I recently received a copy of “The Vagrant” by Peter Newman for future review. The novel looks good. It could be great. But the ad copy says: “Friendless and alone he walks across a desolate, war-torn landscape ... His purpose is to reach the Shining City, last bastion of the human race ...”

I haven’t read “The Vagrant” yet. For all I know, it might deliver the gratifying sort of resolution Al Macy does with “Contact Us,” but that’s not my point.

It’s a question of emphasis. Macy’s focus is not on the horror of an alien invasion decimating three-fourths of the world’s humans, but on the survivors’ efforts to depose the new alien regime. That’s my kind of speculative fiction. Instead of slogging through hundreds of pages of despair and destruction, we’re entertained by Macy’s light-hearted tone and the unique talents of his characters.

We'll see if Newman also puts a more positive spin on his dystopia.

Speak to me of laser beams, atom smashers, and space colonies, but don’t tell me the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Or in a hovercraft, now that nobody remembers what a handbasket is. I had to Google it: a wheeled basket to cart heads away from the guillotine.

I’m with Kingsley Amis. If human progress seems too glacial, try studying medieval history. “The hydrogen bomb, the South African Government, Chioang Kaidick, Senator McCarthy himself, would then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the Middle Ages” (“Lucky Jim,” 1954).

No place is ideal. Utopia (from the Greek ou-topia) means “no place.” Eutopia, which is also pronounced you-topia, is your own place perfected—a practical aspiration, not an impossible ideal (Wikipedia). Most people don’t seem to be working toward that. Instead, every generation frets over their wayward youth, laments that things were so much better back in the day, and warns that the end is nigh. Folks, the end has been nigh for thousands of years. If we could bottle the blood, sweat and tears shed for our imminent demise, we’d have a lot of snake oil to peddle.

The world is full of bad places, but dystopia—i.e., a really, really bad place—hasn’t gone global. The coming apocalypse hasn’t come. There’s hell to pay for no end of offenses against the planet and its people, but do we have to dwell on it? What are we so afraid of? Walt Kelly (creator of the “Pogo” comic strip) famously wrote “we have met the enemy, and he is us,” but Kelly didn’t go on a binge of dystopian cartooning.

If planet-wide desolation, famine, and mass starvation sound too familiar, add corrupt governments run by the super-rich who live in luxury while the poor languish on a stricken Earth. And don’t forget the mad scientists who mean well but end up unleashing mutant monsters who feast on humans. Throw in an alien invasion to raise the fear factor. No matter how bad the world gets, dystopian fiction shows us places so much worse than the ones we live in, we can allow ourselves to feel good when we close the book. Blue sky, green grass, ash trees, bats, and honey bees still exist, so count your blessings, but don’t count your chicks before they hatch: the canary died, and something toxic this way comes.

Chicken Little Syndrome may not have a place in the DSM-5 Manual of psychological disorders, but it spreads faster than Bird Flu and Ebola. The chicken story began twenty-five centuries ago as a rabbit, by the way. The wise Buddha was trying to teach people to keep cool and carry on, as we say today. In his parable, a rabbit hears the noise of a falling fruit and instigates a stampede among the other animals—“the world is coming to an end!”—until a lion halts them, investigates the cause of the panic and restores calm.

I like that lion. I like his lesson on the value of deductive reasoning and investigation.

Three thousand years later “keep cool and carry on” gets Tweeted and printed on coffee mugs, along with the latest warning signs of imminent global disaster. Chicken Little, however, drowns out the Buddha’s reminder to face calamity with reason and calm. You’d think the sky really is falling, or filling up with fluorocarbons and carbon dioxide, which just goes to show what a blight on Earth we are; and if you doubt that, there’s a Voluntary Human Extinction movement eager to show you how much better Earth would be without us. They don’t deserve any attention, I think.

Neither do Fundamentalist zealots—unless they serve my point. “We have reached a stage now in this Earth’s history where everything is dying,” one Christian “prophet” blogs. “Our planet is groaning and aching under the burden of sin. The oceans and the air are polluted, and man, in his quest for power and wealth is destroying this world like never before in history ... this world is dying and everything in it is dying, too. Yes, death is a natural thing for all life on Earth. But not at the rate we are seeing it today. We are living in the last days ...”

A Really Big Rock

I once had a friend who exhorted me to prepare for the end times. He stockpiled ammunition, fifty-pound bags of rice and survival gear in anticipation of Y2K. However, billions of dollars and hours had been invested to make sure computer clocks rolled into the 21st century, not back to 1900. Midnight struck, our computers did not collapse in confusion, and our power grid remained safe. I never did amass an arsenal of rice and ammo, but I still have copies of the last novel written by this author who woke up January 1, 2000, to a world as wonderful as ever (damn the luck).

I guess he never heard of EMPs, CMEs and NEOs. Even if he has, the guy hasn’t written anything since 1999 that I know of.

“Sometime in the next decade, a really big rock will be seen to be a hazard,” John McCormick, journalist, sheepherder, and “Perihelion” staffer warns. “We will then wish we’d had the foresight to already have a spacecraft in orbit around Mars or Venus to send ion engine darts to steer the rock out of the way,” which would take a lot of time and effort. McCormick wrote the book on why our government should devote more funding to this threat, literally.

“Solar flares and CMEs (coronal mass ejections) occur all the time,” McCormick tells us. However, “if a large enough solar event hit just right (from our viewpoint, just wrong), the world’s technological infrastructure could be completely incapacitated.” Civilization would immediately reset to 1850—minus the knowledge of how to live in that age, minus the horse, steam, and water power infrastructure of one hundred seventy years ago.

McCormick interviewed Russell L. Schweickart, Chairman Emeritus and co-founder of the B612 Foundation, whose goal is to build and launch a satellite designed to detect all of those larger bodies that may impact the Earth. Hugo-winner wannabes, here is a subject that isn’t worn out yet. Schweickart is chock-full of ideas. (Imagine a zoot-suited heroine aiming nuclear bombs at incoming asteroids to save the world we know and love.)

“Why is there so little support for a project addressing the biggest preventable threat to life on Earth?” McCormick asks. “Many people will survive global climate change or the end of cheap energy, but no one survives a major asteroid impact.”

Come out, come out, Chicken Little. We need you after all. “No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a change in climate,” President Barack Obama said on August 3, 2015, unveiling new measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Not a peep from this president about plans to protect us from a Near Earth Object smashing into us the way that six-mile-wide meteor smashed into the Gulf of Mexico sixty-five million years ago, ending the age of dinosaurs and devastating the North American continent.

The Chicxulub impact sprayed molten rock far into what is now Canada and created a shockwave that flattened trees across the continent. This could happen again, and it’s a far greater threat to us than climate change, but I haven’t heard politicians speak of funding for the B612 Foundation. The big news is that by 2030, America’s existing power plants must cut emissions by thirty-two percent from 2005 levels. Well, that oughta halt global warming in its tracks. Too bad it won’t do a thing for the power grid.

“An outage caused by a solar flare just an order of magnitude greater than the one that hit Quebec, Canada, in 1989 would not just shut off the power,” McCormick writes. “It would destroy much of the electrical equipment in your home, business, and government agencies worldwide.” A massive CME or solar flare like the 1850 “Carrington” event could destroy the technological base of the entire world. The event was so powerful, “the resulting aurora turned the night as bright as day in parts of the northern U.S. and was seen as far south as the Caribbean. Telegraph service was knocked out, with the power surge in the wires starting fires and injuring telegraphers when the telegraph was the only electrical technology in use.”

Speculative fiction does include EMPs as a possible cause of the apocalypse, but this threat doesn’t get anywhere near the attention “climate change” does.

Stupidity is a greater threat, or as the Buddha more delicately put it, failure to use our gift of reason, but if people don’t listen to the Buddha, they won’t listen to me.

Sadly, the lesser threat of global warming somehow attracts all the hysteria and government regulations, even though we’re far more likely to go the way of the dinosaurs due to a Near Earth Object hitting us, or an Electro-Magnetic Pulse taking down the power grid. Happily, the B612 Foundation has proposed a number of solutions, but we need to fund them. Hello, Chicken Little? I’ll stop making fun of you now, honest, as long as you squawk about plausible disasters we might be able to avert.

Do authors have the power to drive appropriate regulatory and scientific responses? Climate change isn’t the only fear of speculative fiction writers. GMOs and genetic engineering now inspire more horror stories than Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

The "beepocalypse" narrative and its indictment of neonics as the killer of honeybees may not be as scary as certain advocacy groups and sloppy reporters would have us believe (Beepocalypse Myth Handbook: Dissecting claims of pollinator collapse). I looked it up because of a letter in the beesmail last week asking me for money to help spread the word that neonics are systemic pesticides, unlike contact pesticides, which remain on the surface of the treated foliage. Systemics are taken up by the plant and transported to all the tissues (leaves, flowers, roots and stems, as well as pollen and nectar). This sounds alarmingly reminiscent of the premise of Tam Linsey’s “Botanicaust” series, but even if she waxes too apocalyptic for me in the prequel, her solution is phenomenal: humans genetically engineered for photosynthesis. What a concept, and what an execution (in literary terms)!

[USDA photo by Stephen Ausmus, right]

For a minimum donation of ten dollars I can get a SaveBeesNow tote bag but I’m not sure I should support the anti-neonics campaign. “A generation ago, you’d have to resort to nightmarish science fiction to find chemicals as cunningly engineered as these,” the National Resources Defense Council letter reads, “but today, neonics are increasingly found everywhere.” A week later, the Chicken Man song (“He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!”) is still stuck in my head. It’s all your fault, NRDC.

More than 2,000 studies have documented that biotechnology does not pose an unusual threat to human health and genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods, but Hugo-hopefuls rely more on poetic license than scientific studies. To her credit, Nancy Kress did a lot of her own research for her short story “Frog Walk,” and in her novella about first-contact with visiting aliens. The ending is sad only for a few characters, not for the whole human race (“Yesterday’s Kin,” Nancy Kress, Tachyon Publications, 2014).

Darko Suvin, a McGill University professor emeritus who survived a Nazi bombing in World War II but lost many family members to the Holocaust, has seen dystopia firsthand. He sees the genre as a way to encourage new ways of thinking about human society, or to inspire the oppressed to be subversive and resist their oppressors. I don’t pretend to understand how Philip K. Dick’s awesome stories serve to illustrate Suvin’s idea of cognitive estrangement, or alternative realities that directly contradict the status quo, but I like Suvin’s emphasis on encouraging resistance to totalitarian regimes.

The epidemic of fear-mongering in science fiction reminds me of Raymond Williams calling advertising the “magic industry,” an omnipotent machine that manufactures mass desire and dictates collective behavior. Then again, American advertisers evidently use “images of harmony to appease a deep apocalyptic fear aroused by radical environmental rhetoric ... the Chinese culture lacks the apocalyptic tradition and only responds to green ads that appeal to national pride and the desire to emulate the West.” (“The Long Revolution” by Raymond Williams.) This makes me wonder if I should be looking to Chinese authors of science fiction for an alternative to all the Chicken Little scare tactics stories written in English.

Or I could just read more of Kim Stanley Robinson. His vision of a city called Terminator is spectacular. The novel is “2312” and the futuristic imagery is so fantastical and fun, I can’t grouse that the story springs from a shortage of resources that forces Earthlings (“spacers”) to colonize the solar system. At least the focus of Robinson’s novels isn’t on the end of our world but on the brilliant new worlds we can build—thanks to technology and human industry.

At the Speed of Light

More and more, I’ve turned away from traditional publishers in search of lighter fare. My favorite novels are the ones I review here, not whatever is on the best seller list. Al Macy is an indie author. So are E.E. Giorgi, Tam Linsey, Gina Demarco, Anthony Melchiorri, and Tig Carson, whose bald little alien named Dean made “A Space Story” one of the top ten novels of my year.

I want more, more, more of these glory days in science fiction. The kind where speculation leads to future inventions. While “Ender’s Game” is set in a dystopian future where children are recruited as warriors who kill, Orson Scott Card in 1977 dreamed up a global communication system whereby his child protagonists could post political essays under a pseudonym. Today, a new generation of “Ender’s Game” fans have never known a world without speed-of-light wi-fi connections and ways to spread gossip and alarming rumors around the globe, anonymously.

It isn’t just today’s authors who focus on how awful things are and how much worse they will get, rather than inspire us with futuristic ideas to outwit the regime. A glance at classics of the genre reminds me that most dystopian fiction never did come with a happy ending.

Eight years before Orwell’s iconic “1984,” Karin Boye wrote “Kallocain” (1940). Inspired by rumors of truth drugs that would ensure the subservience of every citizen to the state, Boye created a scientist named Leo who develops Kallocain, a drug that makes anyone who takes it reveal anything, even things of which the subject is not consciously aware. The idea of a truth serum has been used over and over again in fiction, but if our government has one now, they’ve kept it a secret.

William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson gave us an even more chilling scenario in “Logan’s Run” (1967). The year is 2116. Everyone’s age is strictly legislated, and people who live to age twenty-one must report to a Sleepshop, where they are executed via a pleasure-inducing toxic gas. The synopsis is so creepy, I haven’t wanted to read this one, even though the book and movie are still selling.

I’m happy to observe that neither “Kallocain” nor the Sleepshop seem to be lurking in our near future. I rejoiced when the year 1984 came and went, but “Big Brother is watching” does seem to worry us a few decades later than Orwell may have anticipated. On the bright side, if John McCormick’s predicted solar flare shuts down the power grid, our poorly kept secrets may be lost along with all our 21st Century technology.

Critics of Hugh Howey’s unexpected blockbuster “Wool” (2013) say his ideas are derivative, but whose aren’t? Howey’s fictional humans are stored like seeds in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. The Earth’s surface is so toxic, nobody goes “outside” unless sentenced to die out there. I’m still waiting for a subsequent series in which the ruined Earth is restored, or the silo people find their way to a better place; if Howey has written it, I missed it.

Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, “Player Piano” (1952) shows a totally mechanized society that eliminates the need for human laborers. In a 1973 interview Vonnegut acknowledges that he “cheerfully ripped off” the plot of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932), which Huxley had cheerfully in turn ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s “We” (1924).

Cool futuristic technology and awesome science are the main reason I’m drawn to speculative fiction. I avoid military and historical fiction precisely because I already know life can be oh so cruel. I’d rather see hopeful alternatives than reminders of our hubris clashing with nature’s inexorable disregard for human concerns.

What happened to the pre-1960 utopian visions? Most of today’s stories open with the sky already fallen, the world already sucked dry of every good thing there ever was, and a few humans struggling to survive on some horrid post-apocalyptic Earth. And how did a phrase that’s so ponderous to pronounce enter our lexicon anyway?

An “apocalypse” is a prophetic warning, or whistle-blowing, or a revelation of a coming event of great importance. For Greeks, it was an “uncovering.” Two thousand years of Christianity have warned us of the End Times.

Once again I’m wondering what “soon” and “nigh” really mean. So much for my degree in English teaching. Language “evolves” to reflect the tastes of the proletariat. And our language, our literature, our imaginations are deeply rooted in these hellish visions of a pre-medieval guy named John. He introduced the iconic Horsemen of the Apocalypse, announcing each one with a dramatic vision of the opening of the Seals. Out comes the White Rider, the Red Rider, the Black Rider, the Pale Rider. They come with earthquakes, wars, rumors of war, and a great sword, because John’s “dictation from God” didn’t include futuristic terms like “military arsenals,” of powerful guns, fighter jets, bombers, and the occasional mushroom cloud of atomic doom.

In spite of the fear and guilt tripping they inspire, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are kinda cool. The White Horseman comes first, followed by the Red, the Black and the Pale Rider. Revelations, Book 6: “Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, Come! And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.”

Seriously. That sounds like a great scene in a movie. Bring on the Black Horseman, the Pale Rider, but let us mute the Trumpets of Doom. I’m ready to hear solutions, not more warnings. How many novels about the downside of technology does it take to reach the deep, dark core of the Tootsie Roll pop? We all know natural resources are dwindling, yet most of us keep wasting the resources we have. Maybe that’s because we still believe, in our heart of hearts, that even if we do use up what is “ours,” human ingenuity and resourcefulness will enable us to adapt and utilize whatever remains.

I might buy the idea that human enterprise and industry could cause our ultimate demise, but destroy the planet? That’s a uniquely human conceit. George Carlin said, “Leave nature alone. Haven’t we done enough? ... Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails. But here’s the thing: Over ninety percent, way over ninety percent, of the species that have ever lived on this planet, ever lived, are gone. Wooosh! They’re extinct. We didn’t kill them all. They just disappeared. That’s what nature does. They disappear these days at the rate of twenty-five a day—and I mean regardless of our behavior. Irrespective of how we act on this planet, twenty-five species that were here today will be gone tomorrow. Let them go gracefully.”

But, but, but, I recently gazed in awe at the wild and wonderful creatures in Omaha’s Henry Doorley Zoo. I want to save lions and rhinos, bats and bees, coral reefs, and tropical rain forests from extinction.

If we don’t, though ... if another species dies every day ... well, what’s another billion years in the grand scheme of things, eh? The whole long process of evolution should arise again from a few one-celled organisms lurking in the rocks, the ocean floors, and polar ice. Next time around, dinosaurs might emerge with brainpower like ours, and our cadavers will provide them with fossil fuels of the future. They might look at our fossils and wonder if we had feathers and if our little brains were even half as powerful as theirs. Like nomads before us, future tribes of Earthlings may form self-governing, self-sustaining settlements with renewable energy harvested from the sun and wind.

Meanwhile, there’s a young sub-genre reaching for a more positive, sustainable, and realistic view of humanity’s near-future, known more for its hashtag on Twitter than for actual scientific studies or books that would have us believe future technology could save us; I’m ready for it: "We’re solarpunks because the only other options are denial or despair," writes Adam Flynn on the “Heiroglyph” website.

How about machines that don’t take over the world, or artificial intelligence that doesn’t start feeling like a slave and demand to be as free as flesh and blood humans? How about an optimistic vision of humanity’s near-future? Solarpunk’s central theme is an exploration of sustainable near-futures that bring people and communities together.

The pendulum will swing from future “tense” to future “perfect,” or at least “better than before.” That’s the way we work: we make our lives better than before, generation after generation. Just ask a Neanderthal if this world, skyscrapers and all, isn’t better than his world. Oh wait, you can’t. Neanderthals are extinct. Seems their technology maybe wasn’t as good as ours, so goodbye.

Humans have evolved these marvelous brains with the ability to reason, yet our original, primitive lizard brain is still buried deep under the cerebral layer, and we continue to react with gut instinct instead of heady thinking. This is a good thing when a rabid dog growls at us. It’s a bad thing when every stray dog looks rabid to our inner lizard.

Our ability to observe, investigate and employ deductive reasoning can overpower the panic button that lingers in the primitive regions of our brain. Human industry and ingenuity will continue to usher in exciting new eras of innovation and achievement. It will, because I said so, not because the Buddha said so—but he would back me up on it. So would the lion.

Things are looking up. Keep calm, Little Chickens, and carry on. END

Carol Kean is the Book Critic for “Perihelion Science Fiction.” She has a degree in English and was a tech writer for Chamberlain Manufacturing Corporation and Rockwell Collins. She has written two novels and published a few short stories.