Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


 So, I was an editor for a while over at Vernacular Books until my personal life exploded. 

I picked up this book out of the slush pile with beautiful writing and a powerful story from a debut author, and next thing I know, it's getting a starred review in Publisher's Weekly


So, I'm thrilled for A. M. Muffaz, and I know this is only the beginning of a storied career with many more awards to come for her, and if I'm very lucky (luckier than I've been this summer) I'll be at World Fantasy to cheer her on!

So, if you haven't read this one, you really, really should.

Monday, July 4, 2022

The Espresso Thing

 I knew I was going to be let go. It was the way this place worked. When Carmen liked someone – the head of the orange outfits – they were king of the world, and could withstand any number of budget disasters and project launch aftermaths. But, I had stolen Carmen’s espresso pods. I didn’t know they were hers, exactly. I was setting up a meeting with the Koreans, and I was told they loved espresso. We were out of the pods in the meeting bubbles, but I knew we had some in our break room that was actually a bit better than the usual stuff. I took it, not knowing it was Carmen’s espresso, and took it to the meeting. My sin was twofold: Obviously, I upset Carmen when her precious, expensive nectar was gone by her second latte of the day; also, the espresso was so delightful for the Koreans that they bragged about it to the other suppliers, and now the company had to pay for the expensive espresso or else Kazakhstan or Bahrain or Zimbabwe would think we liked the Koreans better. Really, my time at the company was swift ending, and I knew it. I had seen how they let ARC-X 14 go, just two weeks ago, when his head started clicking while he talked, and it bothered Carmen. I had seen how they cycled through the delivery boys every season, always upgrading even though nothing was wrong with the previous model. I expected I had about two days, and once the budget cycle and the paperwork cleared, I’d be replaced, and then what? We are taken away, and go away, and we are replaced.

Carmen was not happy with me, and I was doomed to be laid off in two days.

I asked GYF-7 HHK what they thought happens when we are laid off. They are the oldest worker in the building, eligible for full retirement for almost three years, now. “The less you think about it, the better,” they said. “Look at me! I’m nearly seven, and still working. I’m going to keep on as long as I can. The busier I am, the less I think about it. Try not to think about it. I heard about the espresso thing. I’m sorry.” 

It was good advice. Thinking about it only made my production go down, and that wouldn’t help me stay, would it?

At night, when the building was quiet, and we were all lined up in our cubicles, with our shoes off, at the strips, I didn’t want to just stand around and wait. I could go for six or seven days on one night’s charge. I had plenty. I felt my time was too short to just wait like before. I walked out of the building, all the way out to the edge of the carpark. I looked up at the night sky, where the lights flooded into the clouded void. I listened to the raccoons diving in and out of the trash cans along the sidewalks where the people walked in from their cars. The raccoons hissed at me if I got too close. The night insects crashed and crashed against the bright lights. The clouds were beautiful, drifting in the gray light, and spinning and bending. There was nothing else to do but wait, then. Sunlight would come. People would return. My absence on the strips tonight would be recorded, and hasten my layoff.. I walked back to the building. 

To my great surprise, GYF-7 HHK was on the roof. I saw their silhouette against the lights and night clouds. Maybe it was all right, then. I went up to the roof to ask them what they were doing.

“I come every other night,” he  said, “I had a friend, WEJ 344-D, who did this once. They were laid off that cycle, and I was so sad. I thought I would get laid off, too, but nobody seemed to care as long as I was able to work the next day. I have been coming for years. No one has said anything. It doesn’t cost the company money. Not like the espresso thing.”

We stood together on the roof a long time, observing the night. From up high, we could see the cars rushing past the carpark lights in their own river of color in the gray night. “Will anyone miss me when I am laid off, GYF HHK 7?”

“No,” they said. “I miss my friend, though. It’s been almost four years. I don’t know what happened to them. I’m afraid to ask. They might lay me off just for asking. You never really know, to be honest. It just happens. They don't tell us why.”

Before the sun came up, we went back to our spot in the cubicles. 

There was a lot to do before the people came. We had to sweep and mop and dry the tiles, and then vacuum up the carpets. We had to sweep the bathrooms clean, and set up the break rooms and work stations. I was in charge of paper and plastics for orange team, and filled the printers. By the time Carmen came, I was already at my station, snipping and sewing the orange, and moving quickly between the machines to keep them full. I thought I could feel her looking at me, but maybe she was just looking at all of us at our stations, working at the orange cloth line. The people came around to their cubicles and called for us when they were ready, and we brought them our pile so the people could process it into the system, then GYF HHK 7 walked around with the bins to take it all away, with a couple others. The mail was delivered to the people. Carmen looked over us all from her office. When the cycle finished, it was going to be the end of a fiscal, and I knew some of us were going to be let go. She called me into her office to talk about the espresso thing, and I thought that was it, then. She was personally going to do it to me, because of the espresso thing. 

Carmen was nearly as old as the office. She had to be over fifteen. It was hard to tell, though, if she was even older. She always wore a bright orange dress with her name stitched on. It was a sign that she was the orange team lead. She had a standing desk that looked down over the green team floor from a window in her floor. She was sipping a latte from one of her little, orange demitasse.

“All right, let’s talk about the espresso thing.” 

I walked up to her desk and waited. I was wondering what being laid off might mean, where I might be sent or do. No one ever came back to tell us. 

“Bold move giving my stuff to the Koreans, but it worked. The company is going to start supplying my preferred brand in every espresso station after partner feedback. You cost the company a bit more, but personally saved me a lot, and it’s improved morale. Now, I don’t need to bring in my own espresso pods from home. I don’t have to tell you that you’ve made a lot of friends with the rank and file with really good pods for everyone. How did you figure that out? How did you pull it off?”

“I don’t understand the question, Carmen.”

“Of course you don’t. Well, good work. I’m shifting you off the fast orange line. GYF HHK 7 is way overdue for retirement. You can take their role. I checked the specs, and it’s within your wheelhouse. I want to keep you around a while. I’m curious to see what you do next.”

What was I supposed to feel? Relief? Terror? I don’t know what I was supposed to feel. I think the beat way to describe it is if a ceiling is falling on you, and you think it’s coming any moment, and then you see that it isn’t a ceiling at all, but it’s still going to crush you, but you don’t even know what it is, or when it will land.

“What’s with the insomnia thing at night? GYF HHK 7 always was a wanderer, but now you both wander a bit.”

What could I say? “The clouds are nice at night,” I said. I didn’t know what I could say. “I don’t like the raccoons.”

“Do you think we should send out an all staff and encourage it among you? Does it help your productivity or morale?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, the forms to let go of GYF HHK 7 are already submitted. Why don’t you shadow them today, and see what they do all day, so you can step in seamless tomorrow..”

“Carmen, if I may ask?”


“When we are let go, what happens? Where do we go?”


“GYF HHK 7 will ask me.”

“Oh, will they? Well, they’re long past time. Don’t worry about it. The company lets all of us go, eventually. When people go, we get another job, or we retire.”

“And us?”

She shrugged. “Well, there’s more than one answer. Sometimes you go to other departments or other companies; sometimes you don’t.  That’s all there is, really. Now, shoo. We have to keep production numbers up or we’re all laid off.”

I left her office and went to GYF HHK 7. He nodded at me. “The espresso thing. I’m so sorry.”

“I am, too,” I said. I decided not to tell him. Let them believe as long as possible. Let them not even know when the men come to take him to the back elevator. I followed him around, and I watched him at his work. When the day ended, they came for him and led him to the freight elevator. We waved goodbye to each other. There were two others let go that day, and two new workers came up to join us at the cubicles for the night. I didn’t want to stand next to them. When we were supposed to go to our cubicles and take our shoes off at the strip, I went up to the roof and looked up at the night clouds shimmering in the car park light. I watched the street where the cars raced away like boxes on the line. I didn’t know where they came from or where they were going. They were all just shapes and flashes of colors racing here and away, forever and ever.

Friday, July 1, 2022

If Faith can Move Mountains

 I have heard tell that with great enough faith, trees can wilt at a word, men and women can walk upon the water as if dry land, and mountains can be moved at a word. 

I have granted enough faith to a future in the arts to move whatever mountain I may, but the books do not move like mountains. I have handed my early morning meditations to the work of writing, and what comes of it? A flood of work drowns a flood of other work, and there are not enough readers, not enough time, for all the faithful writers dreaming the future into life. Faith has done little to help the people who have long been cast aside in publishing. Even now, they nibble at the margins of the world’s mind, winning awards and answering the calls, but the books that move units like mountains remain attached to the white men whose dreams have too long counted for too much. 

Have faith and move mountains, and I try. I have faith and move a mountain of words, and send the mountain of words into the world, and hope that this mountain takes flight, and so far there hasn’t been much flying. Mostly a gentle leap into the air followed by a drop that is precipitous and swift. 

Obscurity is a great comfort. Before Shakespeare strode upon the stage of the world, a spirit greater than the man ever was, Boethius and Chaucer, perhaps, were the giants of literature. Every library of worth contained them. And, in the hundred or two hundred years since their great flowering, they drift into academic interest, an obscurity that is limited only by the students who study them, and study less and less of them as telhe years pass. Obscurity comes for us all, fast or slow. The shining tower of Shakespeare will fall, too, into the darkness. Eventually, everyone fades out.

I take comfort in knowing that we each have our moment, build our towers, build our dream worlds, and place these bricks upon the Tower of Babel that lifts us all up a little bit more, a little bit more, and the days will come when this world collapses, and all the bricks of it descend into the sand. The memory of the tower will transcend any individual stories, until it inspires some other tower, somewhere else, in some other place and time.

I have a story in Analog, now. In two months, it will be forgotten as of it never was, at all. No prizes have ever called for me to come and claim them. No great edifice of my short work has ever been deemed worthy of a year’s best anything. A couple of my novels did okay. But, the new ones come, get some positive reviews, and dissipate faster than they were ever written.

My faith will move mountains, perhaps, and I keep on, working as I’m able, stealing corners of the day for my little prayers, that so far, have amounted to very little.