Suspension: Flash Fiction


My t-shirts are suspended off plastic hangers in my closet. Straight and still as soldiers at attention. They obey a force I can name but not understand.

As I sit on the side of my bed, I’m fixated by this mundane miracle. I think of Sir Isaac beneath the proverbial apple tree. A fleshy fruit hangs by a stem one moment, unleashes its potential the next, striking a great mind burgeoning with equations and alchemy. A big bang of calculated trajectories. Arcing, plunging objects in motion: cannonballs, gravity bombs, the long curve of missiles.

Suspended in space.

I flash on Cherie. One Halloween afternoon, Mom ironed my new store-bought Spiderman costume, then placed it with its plastic mask on a wire hanger. She hooked it on a doorway frame in our kitchen. Hovering there like a scarecrow, the suit and mask alarmed Cherie, who barked and barked her shrill poodle bark. “Christ on the cross,” said my exasperated mother. “Christ almighty.”

I rise off my creaking bed and, naked though I am, hobble through the too-still house to the garage. A rope dangles off a rafter, one end tied to a thick pipe. With difficulty, I untie that end, pull the rest down, and unknot the remaining loop. Then I coil it all and place it neatly on a pegboard hook, where it hangs straight and still.


For a little more of my fiction, please go to Fiction/Poetry 

Huginn and Muninn as Space Ravens

You probably remember Odin, the one-eyed king of the Norse gods. You might even remember he had a couple of ravens always swooping about, sometimes perching on his shoulders and whispering in his ears. You might not, however, remember their names, which happen to be Huginn and Muninn, which mean, respectively, “thought” and “memory.”

This old myth (and I’m a sucker for mythology) was recently reincarnated as a new science fiction conceit in Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s latest novel Children of Memory.

I’m not going to review the book. There are already hundreds of reviews and I’m not a huge fan of book reviews in general.

But I did want to quickly mention something that’s not highlighted in the book itself or in anything else I’ve so far read about it. That is, Tchaikovsky was blatantly and, I’d say, mischievously ripping off Norse mythology when he created the corvid characters of Gethli and Gothi.

Space Ravens

The literary conceit that Tchaikovsky uses in the book is that these two space ravens, as you might call them, are two parts of a whole. Neither one is sapient in itself but together they represent a creature that’s about as sapient as your average human being.

Tchaikovsky is not shy about his exploitation of the Huginn and Muninn myth. More than once, he alludes to the neurodivergency of the two birds, with one being excellent at recording the details of day-to-day life and the other being wondrous at seeing how all those details fit together into a conceptual whole. Apart they are cognitively crippled but together they form a kind of genius.

The two birds are part of a much larger corvid population that evolved to form the same kinds of pair bonds again and again. At one point, the author writes that Gethli and Gothi are citizens from a civilization “made from independent halves of thought and memory.”

The reference to Huginn and Muninn can’t get much more explicit than that.

Does It Matter?

Why does it matter? Well, it doesn’t really. People are enjoying (or not) the book regardless of whether they get the reference. Heck, even an egghead like Erza Klein did a whole interview about the fictional ravens without once alluding to Odin’s avian companions.

But it is interesting to see how a modern author is able to lift from whole cloth a mythical idea, turn it into a science fiction conceit, and then have people talking about it like it’s a modern innovation without acknowledging that it’s a very old, pre-scientific idea.

Of course, that’s not the first time it has happened. In fact, the whole zombie genre stems directly from folklore, though there is usually a psuedo-scientific explanation for them in modern sci-fi horror. Likewise, the vampire in Peter Watt’s Blindsight is another example of a creature from folklore appearing in hard science fiction.

The Ongoing Cycle

I suppose that it’s an ongoing cycle. Just as we continue to pull from mythology for science fiction (the creatures in the Alien franchise are basically just space dragons, after all), the sci-fi creatures of today become a part of tomorrow’s folklore. The movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for example, both pulls from and continues to nurture our modern folklore about big-headed aliens surreptitiously visiting Earth.

And on we go. The science-fictional Iron Man and Captain America fight alongside the mythical Thor to defeat an army of aliens led by (what else?) another Norse god, Loki.

And we take it all in stride, even as the lines get ever blurrier and more surreal.

So, welcome, Gethli and Gothi, to our new pantheon of ancient mythical creatures who can comfortably inhabit the undiscovered terrains of our science fictional future.


P.S. Note that, apparently like Tchaikovsky, I’m also a fan of corvids, which feature prominently in my short story The Municipality.

Featured image: From Ranveig. Odin hrafnar: the two ravens Hugin and Munin on Odin's shoulders.



Greetings Earthlings!

Should we use that old trope? No, you’ll think it’s a joke or scam or spam.

“Humanity” perhaps is best.

Greetings humanity.

Should we cap it?

Greetings Humanity!

Not bad.

Or we could start more sternly with

People of Earth

It sounds rather stuffy and officious, if not downright threatening. Like we’re overlords coming down the gravity well to gentrify the joint. Which in a way…

But let’s try again.

Dear Humanity,

We are the…

…but what are we? Who are we? Symbol-based communication is so challenging and limiting.

You would consider non-symbolic communication too threatening, no doubt. A big, hearty hug would be misconstrued. As would even tiny tweaks to your neural tissue.

It’s been easier with the other sapients: the whales, corvids, cephalopods and others. We take forms that are similar to them but not quite identical so they know we are, well, alien. They shy away at first, or display aggression. We gently persist, intent on amiability. Play games, share sustenance, sing songs, dance poems. They typically come to accept us, even like us.

But we can’t do that so easily with you, can we? You are so squeamish about even tiny differences. Oh, we get it. Your species is still young and, to be honest, badly inbred. So horribly homogeneous that you’re deeply paranoid of the “others” in your midst. Thus your almost inexplicable bigotries toward other humans even minutely different from yourselves, your violence and wars, your hopeless addiction to outrage.

Oh sure, we could make ourselves look exactly like you to blend in. Would you be upset if we said we already had? That we are among you now? Breaking bread? Having conversations? Even making love?

If we were, of course, we would not, could not, confess it.

No, you would consider that intrusive or sneaky or rude or threatening or ickily unnatural. Or all of the above and worse. Liars. Infiltrators. Demons!

It scares us, though we’ve worked to understand it.

We know you expect an upfront announcement, an introduction, some form of request for entry, written or spoken using your slippery symbolic languages.

Therein lies the rub, to quote your Shakespeare. Symbols are so terribly abstract and subject to interpretation, always prone to couching or framing or even twisting, with all the news you don’t like being “fake news.”

We’ve thought a movie or VR experience might be best. You are, after all, visual creatures.

But even if we did, you’d create your own narrative around it. Or, rather, many narratives depending on your group identities. You can’t help yourselves. You are basically tribal, mistrustful, story-telling machines.

And so we are back to Square One. How best to introduce ourselves?

Dear Humanity,

We are the aliens you’ve long been imagining, awaiting. We don’t have a name you can pronounce or draw or see or hear, so we will let you name us. (We know we can’t stop you.)

If we had to try to translate our essence into words you might grasp, it would be something like, “We who explore so as to savor the infinite fluctuations of existence and the even more infinite permutations of quantum imaginings.”

But who knows what you’d do with that? “Savor,” for example, might sound ominous, conjuring atavistic fears of primate-eating space dragons. And would you take issue with “more infinite”? Are we allowed humor, however mild? You see the problem.

Oh, we are well aware there’ll be no human consensus regardless of what we do or say. There will be hysterics and fear and chaos (although that’s just a matter of degree when it comes to humanity, we’ve learned).

There will be uncomfortable questions that we must skirt and then accusations of evasiveness and prevarication. Distrust from some, worship from others.

The more we think on it, the less inviting it becomes, no matter how carefully we craft our message.

So….never mind.

We must tear up this virtual epistle, not just because we don’t want to inadvertently and perhaps even fatally disrupt your lives (such as they are) but because the harum-scarum repercussions sound predictable and tedious. We are not a fan of tedium.

Maybe in another century or millennium or more. What’s the hurry? We are under no obligation to solve your Fermi paradox, to awkwardly confess, “It’s not us, it’s you.”

In the meantime, your Earthling sibs are companions enough. More than enough. The dolphins with their wonderfully wicked play, the stirring empathies of bonobos, the wisecracking clacking, clicking and chatter of parrots.

They all know we are here. They chant and chirp our tale, capering their welcome, heralding us, each in their own way. You would learn of us through them if only you were better listeners.

They chant elegies as well, of course, sometimes beseeching our assistance in surviving the brutes who are you. Some even petition, in so many words, for your extinction (we will mention no names). We express sympathy but tell them it is not our way to intervene.

Would we make an exception at some point? Perhaps. Never say never.

For now, though, we await your readiness. Evolution may yet work its wonders, framing and shaping, preparing you to make our acquaintance—not as your most reluctant judges (and, heaven forbid, worse) but as your someday, would-be, boon companions.

For more fiction by Mark R. Vickers, go to Fiction/Poetry

Featured image: Mycetozoa from Ernst Haeckel‘s 1904 Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms of Nature)