This story was published a year ago, on 365 Tomorrows, one of the highlights for me in the sludge year that was 2020.

by Dave Williams

When the warnings blasted on radios and TVs and cellphone texts, Sasha called Tony and their frantic voices collided. “Is this real”—“Do what we planned”—“I’ll come get you”—“Get in the bunker”—“It’ll be faster if I get you”—“Stick to the plan.”

Then Tony’s voice vanished. Sasha tapped the phone’s screen, but the rings ended with his voicemail greeting. If she drove to his office, they’d be back home before he got here on the bus. If buses were running. Streets would’ve been packed with cars.

The plan had seemed ridiculous months ago, but they said “just in case” and figured searching for each other would’ve led to getting lost in chaos. Smarter to head home on their own. Her luck to be working from home today. Why couldn’t this happen on Saturday?

Sasha crammed food into bags—fruit, veggies, cookies, potato chips—and carried them into the bunker disguised as a shed in the backyard. A floor hatch opened to a ladder leading underground. A main room and tiny bathroom.

She had thought Tony was nutty for thinking the bunker was a great idea to buy the house. The bunker was a relic from the Cold War, when the homeowners feared Soviet and American missiles could fly in both directions. Tony had said, “It’d be cool to have something different. The kids could use the bunker as a fort.”

Two kids. Another plan. Since the bunker was well-maintained and not creepy, Sasha took the plunge. Tony became boy-like as he stocked the bunker with provisions. And he participated in decorating the nursery. Her doomsday-prepper jokes died off; let him have his fun. A joy to make the home their own.

Stick to the plan. Tony’s last words echoed in Sasha’s mind as she kept redialing his number.

The hand-cranked radio said, “Confirmation that missiles are targeting major metropolitan areas.”

Shock made way for tears lasting for weeks. Sasha gripped hope she’d hear a knock and Tony’s voice: “It’s me! Unlock the hatch!” Giving up on that, she gripped hope that Tony found a safe place. She cursed their choice to live in suburbs close to the city. Why not live in a small town? But those didn’t have as many jobs.

Madness threatened beyond her depression. She paced the room, ate junk food and raw produce, probed radio stations for news and music, hated herself for gratitude that she wasn’t pregnant. She yearned for children, but a newborn would’ve made this situation much more challenging.

She struggled into a routine. Did stretches throughout the days. Read used paperbacks. Acted as four opponents in Scrabble. Rearranged the old bed, table, chairs. Wrote her worries in a notebook. Frugally consumed the canned and dried food.

As months dragged, the food supply lowered. She grew disgusted with the bunker’s stale, unwashed odor.

The devil’s advocate won her inner debate, and Sasha opened the hatch. She ached for different environment, different air. In the shed, she listened to sounds of the outside world. Thankfully, birds were chirping. But no noises of cars. She was too scared to open the shed’s door.

Then she had to open it. The food was gone. She felt bad for nagging Tony about wasting money on canned goods. She never thought he’d be right.

Outside, she breathed deeply without caring if the air was radioactive. Either that or starvation. The sky and trees were gorgeous.

She went into her house for a shower, fresh clothes, large meal. Then she would decide where to search for other survivors.

copyright © 2020 Dave Williams

TV Review: The Expanse

Bright Center Star Cluster, by NASA
Bright Center Star Cluster_by NASA on Unsplash

A year passed between when I finished watching the fourth season of The Expanse by myself and when my family started watching the series at the beginning.

While I liked the series the first time, the second viewing was even better. There was the sense of sharing the story with my family and talking about it together. And I more appreciated the arc of the characters who become the crew of the Rocinante.

James Holden says in the first episode, “No heroes here, Cap,” to Captain McDowell of the Canterbury, as Holden and a handful of characters are on a shuttle to investigate the distress call coming from the Scopuli.

Well, those characters go a long way, literally and figuratively, in five seasons of the show. Traveling the solar system (and beyond), they become heroes.

I enjoyed the series for the complex storytelling involving many more characters than the main folks of the Rocinante. And the characters are interesting for their motivations and goals, from Chrisjen Avasarala to Joe Miller to Bobbie Draper to Fred Johnson to Jules-Pierre Mao. All of them contribute to the plot’s weaving, their motivations pushing against each other, and conflicts arising.

The show takes place (mostly) in our own solar system, so we get a chance to see how fictional humans have ranged from Earth. And those new homes have consequences. The main source of conflict is among three factions — people from Earth, Mars, or the asteroid belt — in how they view and treat one another. We see how the effort to terraform Mars, and the delay of that goal, has affected Martians. And how mining has affected Belters, as well as scarcity of water. They view Earthers as spoiled by having breathable air and easy lives.

For an overview of the plot, split by seasons, where you can drill down to episodes, check out the Wikipedia article.

The Fandom hosts The Expanse Wiki if you want to check out that for more info.

The storytelling and characters are huge strong points for the series. To me, the details add a great deal to the show’s feel. I’m not an astrophysicist, but these details seem more “realistic” than other science fiction series and movies.

What I mean about the details…

Ships don’t have “warp speed” or “hyper jumps.” Instead of getting to a destination in a flash of zoomy lines, a ship takes a while to get there. This is important for different reasons, such as military ships traveling toward conflicts. And for rescuing stranded characters. In season 4, one character says it’ll take their ship a week to get to Illus. In The Expanse, ships are equipped with the Epstein Drive, which uses fusion.

Also on the note of speed, communications aren’t instantaneous. If characters are in close enough proximity, they can chat back and forth on video — such as Luna (our moon) to Earth. However, long distances can take more time for a video message to be delivered. In those cases, a conversation doesn’t happen, just a video clip is shown.

In the scenes on ships, we’re not treated to lovely backgrounds of stars through windows. The ships have video screens instead of windows, so the characters can check out different views on the screens. This might not be as scenic as windows, but it strikes me as more practical. Especially in battles, when fired rounds can punch through ships’ hulls.

Some ships have comfortable space for their occupants: Rocinante and various military vessels. But that’s not true across the board, as many ships have cramped quarters. For example, the Tynon, which Klaes Ashford captains for a time.

Gravity on board the ships isn’t automatic. When ships are not accelerating enough to simulate gravity, characters turn on the magnetism on the bottom of their boots, so they can walk and don’t float around.

This story began as a book series by James S. A. Corey. While researching for this post, I learned that isn’t one person, but the pen name of two writers: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. I haven’t read the books yet, but I’ll have to make time to do so.

The TV show ran on the Syfy Network for three seasons, then was picked up by Amazon Prime and came out with seasons 4 and 5. I’m looking forward to season 6. Wikipedia says that will be the final season, but the authors say that’ll be a pause.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens after that.

Book Review: Nevertheless, She Persisted

Today I’m reviewing Nevertheless, She Persisted — an anthology of eleven flash-fiction stories.

The book’s blurb starts with:

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. Three short lines, fired over social media in response to questions of why Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the United States Senate, for daring to read aloud the words of Coretta Scott King.

The authors of the stories in this book are Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Jo Walton, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherynne M. Valente, Brooke Bolander, Alyssa Wong, Kameron Hurley, Nisi Shawl, and Carrie Vaughn

The stories are great examples of how a skilled writer can include a lot of information in a small space. These eleven flash stories manage to create other worlds by offering glimpses of those worlds and allowing the reader’s imagination to expand from there.

In the stories, women strive against forces that wish to keep them down. Several stories begin with the same three sentences: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” From there, the writers fly off in various directions. It’s interesting to see where different authors go from the same starting point.

One character battles a monster to defend a city. Another wants to connect her brain with a neural network. Another strives to escape a labyrinth. Another dares to touch the emperor’s heart.

I enjoyed some stories more than others, which is no surprise in an anthology of stories by different authors. Overall, I found this book to have quality sci-fi and fantasy stories.

As of today, the ebook is free on Amazon, a very nice incentive to check it out.