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Cast of Wonders 494: The Day I Didn’t Get a Pet Nebula


The Day I Didn’t Get a Pet Nebula

by Effie Seiberg

On the day I turned nine, I didn’t get a pet nebula.

I’d really really wanted one, just like the one Shelly had. And I’d been talking about it FOR-EVER, so Dad could have the time to save up for the one in the pawn shop, and I’m not usually patient enough to talk about anything that long. I told him how responsible I was and how I could take it for walks and trim its dust wisps and everything. I made him breakfast when he got home from his shift a bunch of times, and even did the dishes after to prove how responsible I was.

“C’mon kiddo, you know that’s not possible,” he’d said, ten rotation cycles before my birthday. We were at the wobbly kitchen table and he was helping me with my physics homework after dinner, so everything still smelled like tacos with neutron star shavings and spray cheese. The chapter was all about distortions of spacetime, cosmic strings and black holes and whatnot. He leaned his head on one tentacle, like he was too tired to hold it up on its own. Even his work shirt looked tired, like the frayed thin patches were struggling to hold his tentacles in. “A pet nebula isn’t happening.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 492: Stillwater


Stillwater

by Valerie Kemp

Nothing ever changes in Stillwater. Nothing. I get up every morning at the crack of dawn, in the blazing heat, and drive our pick-up all over, delivering eggs and milk and whatever else my daddy feels like selling, to the good people of Stillwater, population 413.

I work my way in a circle from the edge of town, where we live, to the center. I endure all the little old ladies who like to pinch my cheek when they tell me, “Why Pruitt Reese, you are becoming more like your daddy every day!” Like that’s a good thing. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 488: Little Wonders 32 – the Power of Imagination


Interview with a Sixth Grade Science Fiction Food Stylist

by B Myers

A full excerpt from Gustatory Semiotics Review (Winter) follows.


It was our privilege to conduct this interview at the Matz residence in Saukinee, casually situated near our subject’s working environment—the Matz kitchen table. Kevin Matz, in his brief tenure as an originator of radical alterities in the foodsphere, has already reworked several well-known genre themes (via found objects, snack items, condiments, and food coloring) into novel tableaux formats. We found the artist a voluble if elliptical subject.


GSR: Kevin, let’s talk about the nearly complete canvas we see before us—Jelly Caravan. This installation, which will remain on exhibit until—.”

Kevin: About 5:30.

GSR: At first glance, this piece seems to represent graphically the terror of distances. Upon a vast expanse of black construction paper we see a tenuous line of objects. What is the significance or purpose of these objects you refer to as jelly galleons?

Kevin: The jelly galleons bring jellies from other star systems. Probably because the flavors come from the starlight. It’s hard to tell. No one understands the language of the jelly galleons. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 486: Eight Arms to Hold You


Eight Arms to Hold You

by Angela Teagardner

Oscar woke with the sun. He turned one glassy eye toward the tiny window near the ceiling where rose-gold light crept in. It was barred with a lattice of steel–steel currently scalloped with red paper hearts–but at least it faced toward the rising sun. He’d learned to wake as soon as that light, or maybe just the warmth from it, crept across his sensitive skin.

He stretched his limbs, reaching almost to the edges of his tiny cell. Today was the day. Operation Puddle Jump was a go. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 485: Simons, Far and Near


Simons, Far and Near

by Ana Gardner

Days after a solar hurricane fried Western Europe, nations across the world gathered their brightest grade-schoolers, and they launched us into space with promises of glory and cake.

Solar storms were worsening ahead of schedule, said government men in wrinkled suits, as they pulled us from our underground shelters and stuffed us into armored tanks. The exodus ships, forced to launch early, weren’t ready to sustain endless space travel. They’d need places to land, shelters for their thousands of passengers, far from our ever-deadlier sun.

And someone had to travel on ahead and build those shelters.

Fortunately, we learned as we marched up the launch ramp, Earth had a few shuttles ready for immediate departure. Sure, they had poor radiation shields and leaky engines, but wouldn’t you know it? Shuttle travel damaged the body worst after puberty. Kids had great odds of surviving a trip across the solar system.

‘Great odds’—those were the words they used, and they loaded us into hastily-cobbled ships and chucked us from burning Earth like spores from a coughing fungus. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 482: In Real Time (Staff Picks 2021)


In Real Time

by Avra Margariti

The kites frozen across the sky dapple the lawn like stained glass. Human statues dot the park, caught mid-motion: picnicking, dog-walking, sun-bathing. They might have been unnerving, once. Now, the utter stillness and silence soothes me like nothing else. In Frozen Time, scents are amplified tenfold. Grass, flowers, sugar. I drop a few coins into a vendor’s tip jar, then fill a clear bag with candy worms, chewing as I stroll down the small hill.

When a shape weaves between the stationary people, I think it’s only an optical illusion. A vase, two faces, now a vase again.

I blink, and the silhouette has drawn closer. It belongs to a kid not much younger than me in appearance, although there’s really no way to tell with people like us, who know how to manipulate time. The kid nods at me, casual like we’re meeting in the street and not in a frozen world, then steals a fistful of my candy.

“Who are you?” I ask once my tongue unglues itself from my palate. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 481: Factory Mother (Staff Picks 2021)


Factory Mother

by Sid Jain

The mushroom mycelia sundering in the pale, hot fermentation medium reminded Hanifa of her apartment building melting in Old Delhi: when concrete flowed like lava and spilled her life onto the streets.

“Hani, you with me?”

Hani blinked twice. “Yes, Gary.”

She stepped away from the sightglass, away from her memories. She was here, now, contained by the blistered grey walls of Mycagen Foods, in Durham, North Carolina. Here, the air didn’t slough the skin off newborns in their crib.

Gary, her night shift supervisor, rapped on his handheld tablet with his four fingers impatiently. “We don’t have all night, Hanifa.”

Well, Gary, she thought, learn to wait as I have. I’ve been waiting to be American for years. We all have our vigils to keep. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 480: The Umbra


The Umbra

by Johnny Caputo

The Umbra glided from rooftop to rooftop, his footing sure and light. The soles of his boots made no sound as he bounded from shingle to snowy shingle because he was silence incarnate, justice in the night. The Keepers, oblivious in their cushy, heated houses below, were too busy stuffing their gluttonous faces or resting their slothful heads to be aware of his presence. But soon enough, they would know the terror the darkness brings. The Umbra would teach them the true definition of justice. He would make them feel the wrath of—

Dave stubbed his toe on a snow-covered, rooftop skylight. He took a tumble and nearly cracked his head against the gravel. Luckily, he wasn’t going nearly as fast as he would have liked to imagine, so he managed to get his arms underneath him to soften the blow. He sat there for a terrible, silent moment, feeling the full sting of his mishap in both his hands and his pride. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 479: Loving the Falls (Staff Picks 2021)


Loving the Falls

by Marie Vibbert

I was in love with falling water. If I stared at a waterfall long enough, it pulled me to jump in. I could read the signs about sharp rocks and imagine the looks of disapproval that warned me against it, but I was always going to give in some day. I did, in my senior year of high school, during the spring flood. The vitality of the river was over-the-top, the surface all surge and deft scoops. I imagined it’d be like sliding on silk, or caramel, or running my body over God’s six-pack abs.

It wasn’t.

The impact hurt; rock cracked my butt like the water wasn’t there, and then I was breathing water, sputtering. I panicked and flailed, realizing I’d made a terrible mistake. My love was unrequited, leaving me nothing but a slush of pebbles and twigs and the slick-as-snot bottom. No glorious view of the edge, no anticipation, no acceptance. There was a brief moment of stomach-less-ness, and then I hit a wall of concrete and died. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 476: When Whales Fall


When Whales Fall

by Darcie Little Badger

As the whale corpse landed, Discordant Hum felt auspicious vibrations in the cold abyssal water. “A giant fell,” she said. “It’s ours.” Her body glowed green-pleased. Quick Squeak and Melodious Chord, Discord’s sisters, swam in tight circles above her head.

“What about neighbor broods?” Melodious asked. “They may want it, too.” She waved a tentacle, one of six hanging down her belly, its tip shorn during the last territorial fight.

“You have five spares,” Quick said.

“As a sculptor, I need them all!” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 472: AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest (Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

Show Notes

The Annual Migration of Clouds is a “cli-fi” post-apocalyptic novella by author Premee Mohamed. It takes place in the distant future, after the climate crisis has entirely disrupted life as we know it, and a mysterious mind-controlling fungus has wormed its way through the scattered population. The story focuses on a choice: Reid, a young woman who carries this parasite, has been given a chance to move far away, to study in one of the few communities sustained by pre-disaster technology, but her mother is ill, and in a world where the planting season is planned down to the minute, every body counts. It’s not easy for her to leave her loved ones behind. To set her family up for life, Reid decides to take part in a foolhardy and dangerous mission. To accomplish this task, she must ask others to put great trust in her, but she can’t easily separate her own thoughts from the parasite’s will, making it difficult for her to even trust herself.

If you’re not yet familiar with Premee Mohamed, you’re sure to hear of her soon. She’s an Indo-Caribbean scientist and author based in Edmonton, Alberta, where this book is set, and a rising star in speculative fiction. Premee is a biologist and works in the field of climate science, so the depiction of Reid’s parasitic passengers is eerily plausible, and the climate disaster scenarios in the book are grounded in modern-day research predicting an all-too-likely future.

Yet there’s still hope to be found here: rather than doubling down on the hardships of life-after-technology as so many gritty apocalyptic novels do, this book’s focus is on connection and friendship, the things that bind us together. It shows the world moving forward after terrible hardships — including natural disaster and plague — and reflects upon the importance of community, our duty to take care of one another, and our collective ability to get through difficult times. In other words, it is exactly the sort of book we need right now.

 

 


AP Practical Literary Theory Suggests This Is A Quest
(Or: What Danny Did Over Spring Break)

by Isabel J. Kim

Danny died on a Tuesday which was a real bummer because he was supposed to go on a road trip on Wednesday with the gang, and if he was dead then there was no way his mom was going to be cool with him going. Instead, Danny would have to spend the next three weeks on a mythic journey to regain his life from the demons that dwell below, play dice against a three-headed chthonic judge sitting on an opalescent throne, or ask his mom for one of the GET OUT OF DEATH FREE cards she got comped from work.

And then he’d be grounded for, like, six months.

Danny spent ten minutes lying on the asphalt feeling sorry for himself. Then he sighed and picked his broken body up off of the street. He took out his phone and called the gang.

The dead don’t text. They lack the fine motor skills. Fumbling, he poked his way to a group call.

“Bad news, gang,” Danny said when his friends answered. “I’m dead.” (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 470: Matches


Matches

by Sydney Paige Guerrero

Madge used to make wishes on raindrops. Lev always said that you could see more raindrops on windows than stars in the night sky and while airplanes and city lights may try to trick you, raindrops were never anything except exactly what they were. Back when they were nine years old and his house was a sanctuary from the emptiness of her own home, they would spend hours wishing for impossible things–ice cream cones that tasted like any flavor they could think of, unicorns and giant robots whisking them away from their math homework, Madge’s father coming home from Singapore to celebrate her birthday. Their fingers would draw new constellations, follow raindrops as they slid across the glass like shooting stars, and let themselves believe that anything was possible even just for a while.

It would be easy, she thinks, to make such a wish now as she watches raindrops quiver on the taxi window. Madge could wish the past year and a half away, go back to a time before she and Lev broke up, before he told her he was getting married, before she ran away to an entirely different universe to escape him. Easy, yes, but certainly not true. (Continue Reading…)