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Book: The Future, by Naomi Alderman

"The only way to predict the future is to control it." An interesting idea that powers a book that has a lot to say about 21st century oligarchy and our relationship to technology. There's one conclusion that hits home particularly hard; I can't describe it without spoiling the story, but I'm glad it's there.

If I have a criticism, it's that the author has so many ideas to share that they sometimes burst the seams of the thriller that forms this novel's page-turning center. But I enjoyed every minute, nodding along and wondering what was going to happen next.

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Julia: A Retelling of George Orwell's 1984, by Sandra Newman

Not just a retelling but a complete recasting of 1984. It's helpful to consider this as a separate work: a response to 1984, in a way, rather than a layering on top or a direct sequel. It's a criticism, an extension, a modernization, and a deep appreciation for the ideas all in one - and I was hooked. There's so much I want to write about here, but I don't want to spoil it. The ending, in particular, is perfect.

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Bridge: A Novel of Suspense, by Lauren Beukes

It took me several attempts to get into Bridge, but finally, this week, I picked it up again and was sucked in. There are plenty of other novels about traveling multiple universes to see the other yous, and Beukes knowingly stops to play with those expectations. The real story here is about loss, and the memory of a person vs the person they really were. But there's a lot of good science fiction fun to be had along the way.

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Yellowface, by R. F. Kuang

This tale from a deeply unreliable, envy-driven narrator is more of a sharp satire of liberal racism than its publishing industry setting. It's at its least compelling when discussing Twitter drama, but there's ample snark just underneath each turn of phrase, and more than enough ratcheting tension to have kept me turning the pages.

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Foundry, by Eliot Peper

A knockabout spy adventure that takes a few unexpected turns and sticks a landing that had me cheering. Truly a lot of fun - I inhaled it in one sitting. As always, it's deeply researched, but the detail only ever adds to the entertainment. (Without spoiling anything, I'm very familiar with some of the settings and cultural overtones, and they rang completely true.) There are knowing callbacks to some of Eliot's earlier work, but this stands alone - and could be the start of a new series that I would gladly read the hell out of.

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Ripe, by Sarah Rose Etter

Fuck yes. A heartstoppingly relentless, bold, knife attack of a book that cuts to the heart of the emptiness of living in Silicon Valley and everywhere. Every few pages I wanted to yell, "this, this, this." I couldn't put it down.

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How High We Go in the Dark, by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Not what I thought it was going to be. An early chapter was so heartbreaking that I thought I would have to abandon the book; it brought up feelings of loss I hadn’t felt since my mother died. I still don’t know if I appreciate the catharsis, but that’s what this book is: the author conjures how deeply we feel in the face of the worst horrors.

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Severance, by Ling Ma

Though it fades out weakly, I loved this story about loss, meaning, and what it means to be an immigrant, dressed up as a science fiction novel. The science fiction is good too, and alarmingly close to the real-life global pandemic that took place a few years after it was written. This is a book about disconnection; it resonated for me hard.

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The Mimicking of Known Successes, by Malka Older

A delight from beginning to end: a cozy murder mystery set on rings around Jupiter, where humanity lives on great platforms linked by trains, centering on two women who rekindle an old romance as they get to the bottom of the crime. If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what to tell you.

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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

A beautiful novel about work, friendship, love, and identity. I suppose it's about video games too, but not really; it could just as easily be about any creative act. I loved Zevin's writing, the melancholy story, and even the characters (although they've been maligned elsewhere). For me, the work is only diminished by the knowledge that she used concepts from some real-world games (e.g., Train) without credit. It would have been so easy to fix.

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The Kaiju Preservation Society, by John Scalzi

This was written as catharsis after the stress and trauma of 2020-21, and reading it was equally cathartic. The author calls it a pop song of a book, and that’s exactly right. It might not be Bach but it has a good beat and I’ll be humming it for months. If you’re looking for catharsis too, you could do much, much worse.

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My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Smartly pointed satire loosely disguised as a thriller. Witty and dark as hell. I loved it.

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Chivalry, by Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran

A lovely little tale, rich with the best kind of British idiosyncrasy, and beautifully illustrated in watercolor.

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The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan

A ton of ideas about parenting, society, and the present moment, crammed into an emotional near-future science fiction story. I wish the protagonist had been more sympathetic - but the future it paints is alarmingly plausible.

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The door

Daniel found the door to another world the day his father died.

It sat behind the ugly painting of a hillside in France that his dad bought at a second hand shop a few years ago; he hung it proudly in his bedroom, despite Daniel’s mother’s protests. It was hanging at an angle when Daniel came to check on the house. When he straightened it, he caught a glimpse of shiny, red wood: a small square door sealed with a brass latch.

He pulled the latch and found it opened easily. Golden sunlight illuminated the dusty room; through the frame, he saw a cloudless, shimmering blue sky. Spirals of brightly-colored birds he had never seen before flew between trees. A warm breeze ran through his hair.

He shut the door with a start.

Surely he was imagining things?

Gently, he opened it again; just a crack. Again, he felt the breeze against his skin and heard the call of unfamiliar birds. It was the dead of winter, but the room was again lit in summery gold.

His heart pounded in his ears. He backed away slowly, and he kept backing away until he was locking the door, then mounting his bicycle, and finally racing home as fast as he could.

He had no idea how to process what he’d seen.

He wished there was someone he could ask about it. But his father was gone.


“Did you go over?” Daisy asked, wrapping her husband in a hug as soon as he walked in through the kitchen door. She had a spaghetti bolognese going on the stovetop; half-grated cheese sat on a wooden chopping board on the countertop. Simple comfort food for the end of a terrible day.

Daniel nodded wordlessly.

“How are you holding up?”

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet, to be honest,” Daniel said, after a moment. “I feel numb. He was a miserable man in some ways, and we never had a very warm relationship, but he was my Dad. Now he’s gone, there are so many things I want to ask him, and I can’t.”

Daisy kissed his forehead. Her blonde hair brushed against his face. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“I should tell Mum,” he said.

Daisy looked at him with concern. “Do you think she needs to know tonight? Will it make a difference to her?”

“No,” Daniel said, “but it’ll make a difference to me. I don’t want it hanging over everything. I need to tell her.”

Daisy pulled him in tighter. “She won’t know what you’re saying,” she said, quietly, as kindly as she could. “She’ll forget it as soon as you walk out through the door.” It felt blunt; cruel, even. But Daniel had been through enough for one day. He needed to rest.

“I’ll go tomorrow,” he told her, finally.

“I love you,” she said.

He loved her too, and told her so. He didn’t mention the door.


Daniel’s mother lived in a a memory care facility next to the John Radcliffe hospital, just off the ring road in east Oxford. In contrast to the hospital’s modern steel and glass, the facility’s pebble-dash walls were painted over with thick beige paint that came off in chunks at the corners. The morning sky cast the street in a dim grey, and as he walked up to the building, he shivered underneath his coat.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your Da,” Amy said after he’d signed in at the front desk. She had been the head nurse since his mother was first checked in. In some ways she was like family now: not Nurse Walsh, but Amy, the woman who had been by Daniel’s side when he first signed the forms, and when his mother’s memory had gone so far that she barely remembered who he was. His Dad hated it there, and had barely ever set foot in the building.

“Thank you,” Daniel said.

His mother sat in a big, institutional armchair upholstered in brown, wipe-clean vinyl. She was watching some daytime TV show about house-hunting in Europe on the communal flat-screen. Over the institutional smell of cleaning fluid, he could smell roses. Her perfume. Even now, with her memory mostly gone and the fabric of who she used to be torn apart by disease, she insisted on wearing it.

“Hi Mum,” he said, gently, taking care not to startle her.

She looked at him blankly.

“It’s your son,” he said. “Daniel.”

His mother smiled, but it was hard to tell if it was out of recognition.

“It’s nice to see you,” he said, smiling. She didn’t respond, and turned back to the television.

“How have you been, Mum?” He asked, sitting on a vinyl ottoman in front of her.

“I’ve been buying a house in Spain,” she said, turning back to him. Her voice carried a touch of a Russian accent; a fragment of the community of Jewish immigrants she’d grown up with in London. “It’s beautiful.”

“That’s lovely,” Daniel said.

“Yes, it makes a very nice change. I will go there with Peter in the summer.”

“That sounds nice,” Daniel said. He swallowed hard. “Mum, that’s why I’m here. I need to talk to you about Dad. About Peter.”

“My husband,” she said, smiling.

“Yes,” Daniel said, reaching out to touch her hand. “He died, Mum.”

“That cannot be. I spoke to him this morning.”

Daniel wondered if she’d really seen him in years. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “but Dad’s gone.”

She looked at him, but said nothing. He thought he could see her eyes grow wider, just slightly, but he couldn’t say for sure.

“He had a heart attack,” he said. “They couldn’t save him. They tried everything.”

She remained motionless, and the two of them sat there in complete silence. After a minute or two had passed, she said, abruptly: “I think you should go.”

“Okay, Mum,” Daniel said. There was no sense in arguing. “I love you.”

She turned back to the television, soaking herself in the sunny images of southern Spain. As she watched and the conversation with her son faded into the background, a smile began to curl back onto her face.

Daniel picked himself up off the ottoman. He took a long look at his mother, took in the smell of her perfume, and noticed the way her happiness didn’t quite seem to reach her eyes.

He turned towards the exit and waved a half-hearted thank you to Amy. She nodded and gave him a sympathetic smile.

He was just about to push the door open out into the reception when his mother turned back to him and asked: “Have you found the door yet?”


Daniel’s father had been an academic at the university, although he had given up most of his teaching duties long ago. He sat in a small office lined with Russian literature, peering into his computer screen and slowly hunting and pecking articles for research journals. The university let him stay partially out of kindness, and partially because he had become a relatively well-known name in the field. His translation of The Brothers Karamazov had long since fallen out of fashion, but in the seventies you could buy it in any bookstore.

Now that he was dead, the university made it clear that his office needed to be cleared out within the week.

Daniel and Daisy piled his books into open boxes. When one was full, they sealed it with brown packing tape and wrote a short description across the top. Dad’s books: a completely inadequate label for a life’s work. But there was nothing else they could write; neither one of them knew much about Russian literature. The stories and traditions that he had spent his life immersed in were an unknown.

The room smelled of dusty pages, and of him.

“So what did she say?” Daisy asked, packing a heavy-looking book bound in a burgundy dust jacket.

“She told me to leave,” Daniel said.

“So she knows what happened. She understands.”

Daniel sealed up a box and piled it on top of the others. There were seven of them now, towering in one corner. “I think so,” he said, “but these days it’s hard to tell for sure.”

“Did she say anything else?”

Daniel folded together a new, empty box, and sealed up the bottom with tape. “She turned back to the television. She literally wouldn’t talk to me anymore. And that was that.”

They turned their attention back to their work, boxing up the books and the hopelessly out-of-date computer that sat on his desk. In his desk drawers, they found a handful of Rubles - bright green notes with the remains of columns illustrated across them - and a cheap, plastic compass with a loop for tying to your wrist. Beside them was a quote, scrawled in his father’s handwriting on a white notecard: “For some a prologue, for some an epilogue”.

Before long, the room was empty. Daniel knew it would be scrubbed down soon, ready for the next academic to fill it with their work, wiped clear of the memory and the smell and the spirit of his father.

It was only when they had driven away that Daniel told her what he’d seen.


The two of them held hands in his father’s bedroom, facing the door in the wall. A moment ago, he had opened it for her, and she had seen a beautiful blue sky. It seemed impossible - like a magic trick - but then he did it again, and again. Once he had opened and closed the door for a fourth time, both of them acknowledged that it was real.

“But what is it?” Daisy asked.

“It’s a door,” Daniel said. “To somewhere.”

“But what is it?”

“I have no idea.”


They sat around the small dinner table his father had kept in the kitchen, eating slices of frozen pizza and sipping at glasses of the cheap red wine they had found in the

“Well, we can’t sell the house,” Daisy said. “Not with ... that.”

“No, I suppose not,” Daniel said. “But we can’t just keep the house here, sitting empty. It’s not right.”

“I agree. I just don’t know what to do about it. What if someone breaks in and finds it?”

“We don’t know where it goes; where that place is. What if it’s dangerous? What if, when you climb through, you can’t come back? We don’t know anything.”

“Do you think we can move it?” Daisy asked.

“It’s a doorway. How can you move a doorway?”

They finished their wine in silence as the sunlight left them and the room dimmed.

After they had sat in darkness for a while, Daisy said: “we should go through it.”


Daniel insisted that he would be the first to climb through. The plan was that he would climb back all the way, and then go through again, to make sure it was possible and that Daisy wouldn’t be trapped there. Then, and only then, she would climb through to follow him. They would leave the door open, with a broom propped against it so that it couldn’t swing shut.

It was small and square and two thirds the way up the wall, so he found that he needed to stand on a chair to have any hope of pulling himself through. Even then, it took more arm strength than he was comfortable exerting. But he found he could grip the sides of the doorframe, and Daisy gave him a small push, which helped. Before long, he felt the sun on his back and found that his feet were planted in the greenest grass he’d ever seen.

On this side, the doorframe floated in mid-air: just a square hanging in space with Daisy inside, and behind her, the gloom of the bedroom.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “It’s actually lovely in here. Out here. Wherever here is.”

“Come back out,” Daisy beckoned.

He pulled himself back through the doorway, awkwardly landing backwards on the chair. “That was pretty good, actually.”

“Okay,” Daisy said, “now back you go, and then I’ll follow you.”

Daniel once again pulled himself through the doorframe, and then gave Daisy a hand and helped her through behind him. Her sneakers landed in the grass.

“Oh,” Daisy said, turning her head towards the sky, “this is magnificent.”

They could see now that they were on a grassy hillside on the edge of a forest. On one side, they could see the birds and the trees. On the other, if they looked back beyond the doorframe, they could see a valley stretch out below them, and beyond it, more rolling hills dotted with trees and shrubs. Flowers sprung up among the grass. There were no signs of civilization anywhere; not so much as a hedgerow. It was wild and beautiful.

“How could your father keep this a secret?” Daisy asked, smiling. She turned to Daniel, but found that he was suddenly still, his face turned ashen.

Then she heard it.

From through the doorframe, somewhere back in the house, she could hear the sound of floorboards creaking under footsteps. As she listened, she realized that each step was getting louder; the person in the house was getting closer.

“Who is it?” Daisy whispered.

“Someone must have broken in,” Daniel whispered back.

“What if they see the door?”

“I don’t think we can avoid it now.”

They crouched below the frame and looked up, hoping to see who had broken into the house without being seen themselves.

“Is he here?” an unfamiliar woman’s voice said, somewhere in the house.

“I don’t see him,” a man’s voice said.

“Fine,” the first voice said. “Find the doorway and let’s sit in wait before he comes to look at the house.”

“Right you are,” the second voice said, noticeably louder. They were getting closer still; coming up the stairs now.

“If you see him, we must use force,” the first voice said. “We know the evil that lurks in his heart. It must be stamped out.”

Daisy clasped her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide in horror. Daniel was so still that she wasn’t sure if he was still breathing.

“Who is that?” Daisy whispered.

“I don’t know,” Daniel whispered.

“I found it! Ya ponyal!” shouted a voice from somewhere behind the doorway, and they heard the sounds of running footsteps.

Suddenly, Daniel stood up, reached through the square frame back into the bedroom, and closed the door behind them. The square of red wood hung in mid-air, impossibly. Behind it, he could hear the knocking and scratching of men, desperate to break through, but for reasons he couldn’t understand, they were barred.


The ground was soft but dry underfoot. As they walked down into the valley, they encountered the odd mouse amidst the grass or a bird pecking at something in the ground. The sun was warm, but the air wasn’t too hot or dry. It was the perfect summer’s day, and they were trapped in it.

Daniel had tried to move the doorframe so they could take it with them, but it stayed firm, as if it was cemented in something other than thin air. In the end they decided to leave it and see if they could find civilization. In the best case, there might be another door that could take them somewhere else, back into the real world.

It wasn’t that this place wasn’t the real world - it was just, they didn’t know what it was, or where. Or even when, if they stopped to think about it.

They had been walking for hours when they came across three strange, small cottages. Each of them was built with a wooden frame, with sticks and leaves packed in with clay and covered in a mixture of lime and sand. The roofs leaned up at sheer angles and were covered in bundles of straw. At one end, a small clay chimney jutted out, with a triangular, slate chimney cap.

“Do you think they’ll have water?” Daisy asked. It had been a long, hot walk.

“I think we have to try,” Daniel said. “I hope they’re friendly.”

Nervously, Daniel walked up to the door of the closest cottage and gave it a small, polite knock. There was no answer. After a few moments, he knocked again; when nobody came to the door, he turned back to Daisy and shrugged.

“Let’s try the next one,” she said. She walked to the next-closest cottage and knocked on the door. Again, there was no answer; she waited and tried again, but once more nobody came to the door.

They were about to walk up to the door of the third cottage when it opened with a bang. A small, old woman wearing a red handkerchief around her head walked out and looked at them with fierce eyes.

Chy mozhu ya vam dopomohty?” the woman asked, sternly, in what sounded like a Russian accent.

Daniel raised his hand in a friendly wave. “Hello,” he said.


The three of them sat in the old woman’s one-room cottage, drinking cups of strong, black tea. They didn’t share a common language, but Daisy seemed to have a knack for getting her intentions across through gestures and intonation. The woman’s name was Olena, and she had plenty of tea to share.

The sun outside had begun to dim, and Olena lit a small fire, which crackled in the fireplace and cast shadows that danced across the walls. She told her story as best she could, given the lack of words between them. Her husband, Ananiy, had gone to find a better home, taking her son, Andriy, with him. There was an army, or a mob of some kind - it was hard to tell through the language barrier - that was rampaging over the land and stealing peoples’ homes. Villages were burned to the ground. Entire families were obliterated.

As she spoke, Daniel recognized one word: “pogrom”.

Olena stood up to go outside; she gestured towards the fireplace and made a chopping motion. Firewood. Daniel and Daisy raised their hands and pointed to themselves instead; we’ll gather it for you. She smiled in acceptance, and the two of them left the cottage to find wood to burn.

“Did you hear her?” Daniel asked in a hushed whisper. As they walked around the cottage, they found a small pile of dry wood in a clay hut. “Pogroms. She was talking about pogroms.”

“I think she’s speaking Russian,” Daisy said.

“Is this —?”

Daisy nodded. “It seems insane, but I think we’re in the past. Like, over a hundred years ago in the past. It’s crazy, but at the same time, it must be. The pogroms in Russia were during the revolution. The White Army murdered Jews and spread propaganda that they were communists.”

“I think you’re right, but it’s more than that,” Daniel said.

“More than that?”

“It’s a lot, but yeah,” Daniel said, “more than that. I think Ananiy was my great grandfather. Ananiy and Olena were my great grandparents.”

Daisy gave him a quick hug; then, they gathered as much firewood as each of them could carry under each arm, and went back inside.

Olena laid out some woolen blankets on the floor for them to sleep under (“spaty,” she said, while gesturing emphatically towards them). She slept on a small, wooden bed in the corner under another set of blankets. The fire slowed and turned to embers, and before long they could hear the old woman’s gentle snoring.


In the darkness, Daisy turned to face Daniel. “How do we get back?” she whispered.

“I think we have to find our way back to the door,” Daniel said. “It seems like there’s only one way back.”

“What about Olena? What if the White Army comes to find her?”

“If she really is my great grandmother, they won’t. My great grandmother survived the pogroms and fled to join Ananiy and Andriy in London. She’ll be okay.”

“And if she isn’t?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel admitted. “I don’t think we can risk bringing her home. Into the future, I mean.”

Daisy nodded and thought for a minute. “This is all so surreal. I don’t know how we got here or how this even exists. But there’s one more thing I’ve been thinking. It’s going to sound strange, but I don’t think it can be stranger than anything else that’s happened today.”

“I think I know who the people in the house were,” Daisy whispered. “I think, somehow, it was the White Army. Or, perhaps, the ghosts of the White Army, or their descendants. The way they were talking - we know the evil that lurks in his heart. It’s such a strange thing to say. And they were speaking in Russian when they found the door. It seems so strange, but I’m scared that what I’m saying might actually be true, and they might be waiting for us whenever we go back.”

“How much time do you think has passed?” Daniel asked.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s night-time now, right? Here? And it was evening when we climbed through the door back home. If time moves at the same speed here as there - which it must do, because we heard people through the doorway - then it’s got to be early morning there by now.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying it’s time to go.”


“The door?” Daniel sat himself back down on the vinyl ottoman in front of his mother. “What do you know about that?”

She smiled at him like she used to, back before her illness dragged her away from the world; a smile of recognition and love. “I know all about it,” she said. “It followed him. It followed us. From where we came from, where our parents came from, and their parents, too, all the way up to us sitting here now. And it will follow you, and your children, and their children.”

“It seems so impossible,” Daniel said.

“When something bad happens, it ripples outwards. When someone is hurt, their children are hurt too, and so, too, their children. We all carry the past with us. That is what the door is. The things that hurt us follow us forever.”

“That sounds like a curse.”

“It is,” his mother said. “And it is a curse that is ten times worse if you pretend it’s not there. You will feel tired and not know why you are tired. It will pull at you and make you crazy with a thousand tiny hooks, and you will blame yourself. Trauma you inherit has no cause other than what comes through your family; you are confronted by ghosts that aren’t yours. The only way to stop the cycle - the waves of hurt that flow from generation to generation - is to face it. And that’s what the door is.”

“So I have to go through it?”

“Yes,” she said. “That won’t stop the hurt its tracks. But it will give you the power to fight it, as knowledge always does. It will give it a name, and a form.”

“I don’t understand what this means.”

“You will. I can tell you no more.”

Daniel got up and hugged his mother. “I love you, Mum,” he said.

“I love you too,” she said, turning back to the television. “Now leave me with my home in Spain.”


They stood, once again, in front of the door, which hung against nothingness in the dead of the night. They had folded the blankets as neatly as they could, left Olena sleeping in her bed, and made the long journey up out of the valley.

“I don’t know what’s behind this door,” Daniel said. “They might still be there. It might be dangerous. You didn’t ask for this; this isn’t a part of your family history. I’m sorry.”

“It isn’t, and it is,” Daisy said. “It’s part of my family history now because you’re my family. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t come to me from my parents; it comes to me from love. I accept it because I accept you. It’s not my family history; it’s my family future. And knowing it helps me know you a little better.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am.”

They embraced each other, then, in the night.

“Let’s do this,” Daisy said.

Daniel pushed the door open and it swung out into his father’s bedroom. His face glowed as the morning light shone through the frame. He turned to face Daisy and smiled; then, with one swift movement, he swung himself through the square and out into the room.

A moment later, she followed him. Her feet dropped back onto the beige carpet with a thud.

They were back in the present day. Dust floated in rays of sunlight. The ugly painting sat on the floor, balanced against the wall.

The house was silent and empty, but it sang with the life of Daniel’s parents: their history; the history they brought with them; the stories they left behind.

“What now?” Daisy asked.

Wordlessly, Daniel moved forward.


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A beautiful day on Colony 12

I can see twelve sailing dinghies out on the bay, tacking and jibing while the twin, hot suns reflect sparkles in the water. For a moment, I have to squint through the glare to see them from the bluff, but my lens corrects for the ambient light quickly. I save a vignette to my vault for posterity. Something to remember this view by.

“Sam!” I hear my mother call to me as if she was right here, but my lens lets me know she’s out on the water. The Aurora, her little blue sailboat, is in the middle of the group, and I can just about make out the shape of her waving to me from the stern. My lens catches me straining and shows me a picture-in-picture zoom of her face. “It’s such a beautiful day!”

At least I won’t have to waste any time looking for her.

“Mom, you need to come back to shore,” I say through our lens channel.

“Why? We’re having a competition out here,” she says. “I’m not winning yet, but I’m getting close!” She dips one hand in the water as her boat tilts with the wind. As spots of seawater spray onto her face, she grins broadly.

We can’t stay. While I stand on the bluff, my shoes dirtied by the marsh, escape pods are being readied.

I was three years old when we came to Colony 12. I dimly remember leaving the dark of the transport out to the sunny patch of dirt where terraforming was already underway. I grew up in the wooden home my parents built on the newly created bay. It’s where I learned to read; where my mother taught me to sail; where my father died from the lingering side effects of faster than light travel. It’s where I took care of my mother once it was just the two of us.

Colony 12’s twin planet follows in a Lagrange point sixty degrees behind its orbit. It was sunrise when it was struck by an asteroid; I was barely into my first cup of coffee. There was no flash. No roar or perceptible change. Just an unobtrusive notification from my lens telling me that the planets would collide within hours.

In less than that, the escape pods will leave. Not to the homeworld – that’s just a memory now – but to the constellation of motherships out beyond orbit. From there, perhaps we’ll join another colony, or find a new planet to inhabit.

It won’t be home.

I stand for a moment, taking in the smell of marsh and salt water I’ve known virtually for my whole life, and watch my mother’s smile. Just her and the wind.

But I have to tell her. I flick a news story about the collision to her lens.

“I’ll read that later, honey,” she says, her smile faltering a little. “I just want to sail right now.”

“We need to leave, Mom,” I tell her. “Right now. It’s dangerous to stay.”

“Nonsense,” Mom says. “It’s such a beautiful day. We’re having such a nice race. I wish you were out here with me, Sam.” In a way, I wish that too.

The Aurora is gaining on another, red sailing dinghy. Its wake cuts through the shimmering waves, returning my mother’s grin to full intensity.

I ask my lens to make sure there’s room reserved on the closest escape pod for both of us. Our places should have been allocated automatically, but I want to confirm. Everything is always taken care of – the lenses react to our conscious and subconscious intentions – but I can check if I want to. In the midst of all this subliminal technology, our waking lives on terraformed colonies aided by intelligent lenses plugged into to our central nervous systems, we’re still human beings.

One space is reserved.

I realize I recognize the pilot of the red dinghy: an old teacher of mine. His hair is lighter and the lines on his skin are more pronounced, but his face is unmistakable.

Glancing at the other sailors, I realize I recognize them all. In a single, terrible instant, I know why my mother won’t come in.

They’re all my mother’s age; all pioneer colonists. Early faster than light travel killed some of its test pilots outright. The others experienced symptoms that medical AI couldn’t diagnose. They all knew there was a risk, but they did it anyway. Our planet was dying. They needed to find a home for their children.

“I love you, Sammy,” my mother says, over the lens. She looks straight at me, eye to eye, over the link. I wish I could hold her hand one last time.

“I love you too, Mom,” I say.

“I’m proud of you,” she says.

“You’re everything I have,” I tell her. “I can’t leave without you.”

“I’ll be with you,” my mother tells me. “But you have to leave now.”

A new lens notification flashes into my peripheral vision. The twin is accelerating towards us. It’ll start interfering with our gravity within moments. We have under an hour left.

Something starts to pull at the treetops like an invisible hand.

“You need to go,” she says. “You don’t need me. Just picture me right now, out on the bay, with the wind in my sails. I'll be here.”

“Please,” I tell her.

“It’s a beautiful day,” my mother says, and the video link is cut.

I stand on the bluff, alone for the first time, watching the distant specks of boats float across the bay. This beautiful landscape, the smells, the mud on the bluff – it’s all her work. All for me.

I turn to leave. As I look back one last time, I think I can see the boats start to rise up from the water as the trees pull upwards. My mother’s face is turned with them, pointed at the sky.

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