Daily Archives: December 31st, 2009

A Year End Semi-Review: Peter Watt’s “The Island”

One thing I haven’t posted this past year very much is science fiction, mine or others’. Too bad given that it’s in the title of this ‘zine/blog.

Well, so I got distracted. It happens to folks at times. A lot of things caught my eye this year.

Enough excuses. For our end of the year/decade consumption I’m presenting to you a short taste from one of my very favorite authors, Peter Watts.

Peter Watts is one of those people whose life reads like one of his stories; dark, hard-luck, moody, witty and very prescient.

The proof of this is posted on his blog, No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons. The title itself gives you an indication of his general out look on life.

It’s this very quality that gives his writing the realistic hard edge that draws people in and grabs their attention:

You sent us out here. We do this for you. We break this painstaking trail, crawl across the universe while time itself runs down; we spin the webs and tie the knots and open the doors, then scuttle away before the light of your coming turns us into plasma.

Is it too much to ask, that you might talk to us now and then?

I know about evolution, and engineering. I know how much you’ve changed over a billion years. I’ve seen our portals give birth to gods and demons and creatures we can’t begin to comprehend. I’ve seen things I still can’t believe were ever human; alien hitchikers, perhaps, riding the rails we’ve left behind. Alien conquerers.

Exterminators too, if I’m not mistaken.

But I’ve also seen those gates stay dark and empty until they faded from our sight. We’ve infered diebacks and dark ages, civilizations burned to the ground and others risen from their ashes— and sometimes, the things that come out afterwards look a little like the ships we might have built, back in the day. They speak to each other— radio, laser, carrier neutrinos— and sometimes their voices sound something like ours. There was a time we dared to hope that they really were like us, that the circle had come round again and closed on beings we could talk to. I’ve lost count of the times we tried to break the ice.

I’ve lost count of the eons since we gave up.

A noninterference imperative, maybe? A nature preserve? Mustn’t interfere, mustn’t talk with the savages, mustn’t contaminate their quaint cultural worldviews. What culture, you imperious assholes? We’re stuck on a flying mountain, we’re riding a black hole to the ends of the universe so that you can frolic in our wake like spoiled children. The mission kills us off one by one, and we make do, really: we mix-and-match our replacements from bits of leftover genes, try to keep the Chimp from indoctrinating new generations with its own simpleminded vision of mission priorities. We’ve given our fucking lives for you, given a thousand lives, each one sliced into a thousand brief bright moments and strung out along a billion years. All so that you can step between the stars in an instant.

All these iterations of humanity fading behind us. All these hybrids and posthumans and immortals, gods and catatonic cavemen trapped in magical chariots they can’t begin to understand, and not one of them ever pointed a comm laser in our direction to say Hey, how’s it going, or Guess what? We cured Damascus Disease! or even Thanks, guys, keep up the good work.

We’re not some fucking cargo cult. We’re the backbone of your goddamn empire. You wouldn’t even be out here if it weren’t for us.

And more than all of that, you— you’re our children. Whatever you are, whatever you’ve become, you were once like this.

My sons. My daughters. Why have you forsaken me?


Good stuff, eh?

This is a draft version, or ‘fiblet’ of an excerpt from his recently published short story “The Island.” It’s in the new anthology by Gardner Dozois and Jonathon Strahan, “The New Space Opera 2.”

Needless to say I give it a hearty thumbs up and I urge you to read the freebie or buy it.

Perhaps this coming year I’ll post more new stuff from Watts and others. Maybe some more of my own amateur scribblings as well. Hell, compared to Watts, my crap is like crayon scrawling. And I failed that in kindergarten! Oh well, gotta try anyway.

So as 2009 draws to close I wish you all good luck and tidings for the coming New Year and may we all find wisdom in dealing with our daily lives and the future of this planet.

We need it.