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Month: August 2015

The Most Heartfelt Government Document Ever


This place is not a place of honor.

No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.

Nothing valued is here.

This place is a message and part of a system of messages.

Pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us.

We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

Excerpts from Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia National Laboratories report SAND92-1382 / UC-721, p. F-49

Literally unbelievable. This U.S. government website presents the thinking and conclusions behind a project to determine how best to mark a site containing nuclear waste which would persist and remain dangerous for 12,000 years, and therefore needed to be clearly and persistently marked for future generations regardless of circumstance.

It’s fascinating. They start by discussing the physical characteristics of the site itself — how to make it feel unwelcoming from the first moment you encounter it, how to discourage farming or construction on top of it, how to instill dread and foreboding for thousands of years to come. Their solutions involve using persistent earthworks that will retain their emotional characteristics even if someday they are covered in sand.

They move on to markers and communication systems. They cannot rely on the notion that English will persist. They take into account factors like salvage and scavenging. Metal markers are produced curved, so their immediate utility as construction materials, weapons, etc., will be diminished. Signs are protected by walls to diminish the effects of the environment across 12,000 years.

Ingeniously, they developed a hierarchy of important messages to deliver. Not literally, but conceptually:

Level I: Rudimentary Information: “Something man-made is here”

Level II: Cautionary Information: “Something man-made is here and it is dangerous”

Level III: Basic Information: Tells what, why, when, where, who, and how (in terms of information relay, not how the site was constructed)

Level IV: Complex Information: Highly detailed written records, tables, figures, graphs, maps and diagrams

It’s fascinating and well worth reading.

New Horror Fiction: The Black Thylacine

Gods_Memes_and_Monsters_cover_350My new short story, “The Black Thylacine,” is now available in the anthology Gods, Memes, and Monsters: A 21st Century Bestiary. This book has a great line-up of more than sixty authors contributing short pieces about new and different creatures rooted in our contemporary anxieties, threats, and technologies. Editor Heather J. Wood at Stone Skin Press has put together a really fun and unusual book and it’s definitely worth checking out. I’m pleased to see that my Black Thylacine took pole position in the exquisite cover art by Rachel Kahn!

I’d be remiss in not crediting my daughter Vivian for helping to inspire this story. Although he’s not properly named, the protagonist of my story is the British naturalist David Attenborough. He’s my daughter’s hero and she’s watched dozens of nature programs over and over again for years. His work inspired her passion for the natural world and wildlife biology and while she’s only seven, she knows more about wildlife than I do thanks to him. I’m sorry I put him in such unpleasant jeopardy in my story . . .

Stone Skin also published another of my stories, “Footsteps in Limbo,” in their anthology The New Hero, Volume Two, edited by the estimable Robin D. Laws.