September 2009: Here
at the center of the Galaxy, you can
attend top-flight literary readings at least two
nights of the week. One of the literary soirées
is usually devoted to the standard Spaceport book
kiosk fare such as the comings and goings of the
most famous stars in the sky (supernovae, it seems,
never go out of style), travelogues from planets
in the suburbs of the Galaxy and (admittedly)
middling interstellar thrillers. Thanks to the
star-studded line-up of readers, these typically
standing-room-only affairs are attended primarily
by celebrity hangers-on and space tourists.
The second of our soirées is hosted by our colony's writer-in-residence, Olati Onacliv, and is devoted to the very latest literary trends in our rapidly evolving scene. Though the audience for this event is much smaller than the above, they know they are attending a stellar event.
Our literature has been evolving rapidly for one super-big reason: we live next to the largest black hole within two million light years. In case you're trying to find us on your galactic map, we're about three light years from the galactic center, Sgr A* (pronounced "A star"), which is technically classified as a "supermassive" black hole. We're opposite the much smaller and as yet unnamed "intermediate-mass" black hole discovered a few years ago.
Though we're not close enough to be bothered by the whole "curved spacetime" thing, living next to a supermassive black hole has its trials. For example, on a near daily basis we have to deal with unpredictable showers of X-rays from super-heated matter falling into the black hole. (Because we can have three or four suns in our sky at any given time, I suppose "day" is relative.) These X-ray fireworks literally light up the night and are pretty much impossible to compete with, despite our fine literary fare. This is why our readings have become very short.
Apart from the fireworks, the X-rays have affected both us and our literature. Physiologically, they cause mutations in DNA, so most of us are either blind or have X-ray vision. So, we walk around naked all the time. After all, what's the point? Contrary to what you might expect, this hasn't led to any sort of decay in morality but it may explain why stories about loss of innocence go over so well with us naked singularities.
X-rays also knock out neurons, so most of us have shoddy memories and can be retold the same story a thousand times without anticipating its ending.
Before I forget: another important
effect of X-rays is that they burn holes into
paper, an accident of nature that has added an
element of ambiguity into our literature due to
the excision of random bits of text. Words are
often dropped mid- .
But rather than destroying the book industry,
X-rays have made it stronger. The reason is that
two novels side by side in the Spaceport book
kiosk suffer different X-ray strikes and will
tend to be missing different bits of text. Now
loyal readers buy multiple copies of a novel in
the hopes of constructing an ur-text
that is closest to the author's original intentions.
This has also led to lively coffeehouse debates
among fans because even the author can't remember
his or her original intentions.
Consequently, our authors have
been experimenting with writing shorter and shorter
stories in the hopes that if key bits are lost
by a mistimed X-ray, they can still remember enough
of the story to continue writing it. The respectable
genre of microfiction has now morphed into spare,
that are only a few densely packed pages long.
Next on the event horizon is sure to be pico-fiction.
I should explain that when I said the stories
have gotten shorter, I really did mean shorter.
Presently, the trend is to write stories with
as few words as possible, sometimes just one.
As you might imagine, their power lies in the
telling, which is why, with select members of
our colony, our readings are so popular.
The readings are short (as I think I mentioned), and the stories are to the point, surprisingly emotional, and unique. Last night I heard the famous writer L.J. Grobes read two of his "mono-verbum" works. The first story, "Complications," was so well received by the audience that he read it three times and each time the ending seemed to resonate in a different way. But my favorite was the second story, whose title escapes me-oh wait, it was, "Testimony," and though the two women beside me sat passively and appeared unimpressed, as if only an X-ray burst could turn them on, I confess that the author's marvelous tone and superb inflection moved me in a way that can only be described as cosmic.
One might expect love stories to be popular and indeed, Otali Onacliv, taking a rare turn as reader rather than host, wrapped up the evening with several heartfelt readings of his new story, "Unrequited." We clapped our hands raw. Some writers have expressed fear that this literature is on a negative trend (for perspective, this should be balanced with our local astronomers' fear that the black hole is growing) and belief is widespread that the future will dispense with words in favor of standing at the microphone and emoting. How this will transfer to the page is anyone's guess.
Whatever comes to pass, I'll
send word, someh w.
Nano-novels shouldn't be confused with NanoFiction,
a boutique publishing company that prints novels
small enough to fit on the head of a pin—ideal
for packing for interstellar travel. Through the
company is successful, some readers have found
out, to their chagrin, entire chapters of the
novel can be knocked into oblivion by wayward
X-rays and the physucase of multiple copies is
not voluntary but obligatory. - DH
to Index of Despatches | Back to the Table of Contents for Number 2
About our Correspondent
Daniel Hudon has new work appearing in Tiferet,
Neon, Two Hawks Quarterly and
Diagram. His first book, The Bluffer's
Guide to the Cosmos, (Oval) was published
in 2009. Other of his writings can be found at