Tag Archives: fiction

going away hungry.



For the last several months, I’ve been reading along with selections for the scifi book group that Phil co-hosts. Seed, by Rob Ziegler, is September’s selection for Different Skies. I finished it several days ago, and it took me two days to mark it read on Goodreads because I couldn’t figure out what star rating to give it. (Compulsion to star-rate, personal criteria for star-rating and my need to serve the algorithm with accurate star-rating should be a whole other blog post.) I’ve never been so much at a loss to gauge my own reaction to a book.

The world of Seed is a drought-ravaged middle America, in which the bulk of the population is starving in cruelly harsh conditions. The primary currency is barcoded seed, genetically engineered and distributed by an entity called Satori, both a corporation and a living biological city with a literal flesh and bone structure.

Three main storylines interweave towards the climax. Brood and Pollo are orphaned brothers, originally from Texas but now part of the vast and piecey mass of migrants constantly traveling in search of shelter, water and fertile earth. Sienna Doss is a military commander who loves her work and lives by the mantra Don’t Fuck Up: do the job and don’t get bogged down in the stupidity and carelessness of long chains of command. Sumedha is an administrator of Satori, a genetically engineered human who can analyze and manipulate DNA.

Each of these storylines revolves around the defection and subsequent disappearance of Pihadassa, Sumedha’s partner and the creator of Satori’s drought-hardy engineered seed. Brood is caught up in a group that calls Pihadassa the Corn Mother, and believes she will save humanity from starvation. Doss is tasked with finding her and turning her over to the US Army, who believed she was defecting to them before she disappeared. Sumedha is struggling to understand why his mate, his perfectly engineered other half, has taken herself out of the circle of connection and creation that was their life in Satori.

These are three complex arcs with distinctly different tones, and Ziegler ties them together skillfully. The story is compelling, and the characters are well-developed. And yet, and yet: I didn’t actually enjoy this very much. I think I would have given it a higher rating if it had been a worse book. There’s a conundrum. There were too many miraculous escapes from certain death; I stopped fearing for the safety of my protagonists fairly early on. There was no attempt at giving a global context to the story, which is a thing that you often encounter in post-apocalypse stories, but which bugs me. Unless you’re writing in the first person, in which case your character probably doesn’t have access to information about anything but what’s physically in front of them, I feel like apocalypse is a thing that happened to the whole world and the existence of the rest of humanity should at least get a mention. Every storyline evoked a profound sense of pity in me, but no actual affection to hang my hope on. I will say that another way: I didn’t know what to hope for. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that made me feel that way before.

Every time I read a post-apocalyptic novel, I wish I had a better background in political philosophy, and Seed was no exception. This time, I had to run to Wikipedia for a quickie education on Thomas Hobbes, who gets a casual mention from a maddeningly serene pundit early in the novel. Hobbes isn’t mentioned again, but the pundit keeps punditing smugly and at very inconvenient moments. He gets one of the last lines in the book, and it’s a very dark breadcrumb pointing in the exact opposite direction from the cautiously verdant ending. I think Ziegler intends the ending to be hopeful, but there are enough hints and unexplored trails in the narrative to make me doubt, and I wish he’d really sunk his teeth into the moral ambiguity and made Seed a harder book. The review in the New York Journal of Books ended by describing the book as “Not light. Not heavy.” I agree, but I’d have liked it better if it was one or the other. It could have been a much lighter B scifi novel and been thoroughly enjoyable, but what I really wanted was something deeper. I’m looking forward to seeing what Ziegler does with a second novel.




Amelia wilted down the beach, bored with herself. She needed a change. She was sulky, sludgy. Perhaps, she thought, she should change her hair. She was almost positive her hair hurt. Yes, that would help. She stopped and looked out to sea, shading her eyes against the glitter on the water. Did she see…was that something moving towards her? A black spot on the horizon was steadily flinging itself in Amelia’s direction. As it grew closer, she could almost make out…it was! It was a man’s bowler hat! It was so sharply black that it looked like a hole in the air. As it sailed closer, straight and true towards Amelia’s shapely head, she could feel her future changing. Everything would be different now! She would be dapper, instead of diaphanous. She would be decisive, incisive; she would snap her fingers at people and they would take notice. She would take charge, she would – suddenly there was a flash of golden fur and Amelia got a faceful of damp sand. Henry flung himself in front of her, and snapped the hat out of the air right in front of her. Landing on the sand with a soft plop! he tossed the hat in the air, and tapped it into place on his head with one jaunty paw. Damn that dog! His sartorial greed, his elastic hind legs.


My 365 sentences project is a shared venture with @scrufflibrarian. For every day that I write something, he draws something and posts it on Instagram. Early on, we agreed that we’d swap a couple of days here and there, and today is our first. I drew something, and Phil wrote this beautiful piece.

The masks didn’t bother the kids, they’d never known any different. A whole generation. But they bothered us, and a lot of others who could remember before. The seals would get wet, or a speck of dust or grit would get lodged in there, and before you knew it your neck would be red raw. You weren’t supposed to loosen them, of course, for any reason at all, but sometimes it just felt too good not to break the rules; to slide your finger under the seal and rub the skin there while the warning tone beeped, steady as a metronome. 

But worst of all? Imagine never being able to truly look someone in the eye. The slight curve of the glass always distorted things. That bothered me like nothing else. 

That night, we lay side-by-side, and we each pulled the catch at the top of our spines until it clicked free. Together, we lifted our masks clear of our heads, and we finally got to really look at each other. We’d promised ourselves we would be quick, but we got lost in the looking, and the chirping of the alarms didn’t seem quite so important any more.

day 20.

The receipt said “Your cashier was Laura.” The man stops in the act of unpacking the bag of groceries, arrested by the anomaly of the past tense. He shifts the carton of eggs to his other hand, reaches absentmindedly for the bag of tomatoes. “Was Laura.” Is she still Laura now that he’s home, the paper bag torn at the top, the condensation from the bottle of milk starting to soften one corner?

He’s arrested by a sudden vision of her identity existing only in transaction. His cashier was Laura. Maybe by now she’s Tiffany, who is only in evidence for the four minutes it takes to ring up and package a roasted chicken, a box of bandaids, two bottles of wine, a cantaloupe, and a package of ballpoint pens. Before that, someone else’s Marigold handled four pounds of roasting potatoes, a bar of baking chocolate, a jar of peanut butter, a package of sponges, a bottle of kitchen cleaner, and a box of tampons.

He thinks about Louisa, logging out of the register and eating her lunch in the breakroom: a Tupperware container of cold leftover spaghetti, carrot sticks and a Diet Coke. He thinks Louisa reads half a comic book, puts it back in her backpack, washes her hands.

Stephanie signs back into the register and sells a bag of balloons, paper streamers in pink, green and yellow, a birthday card, a box of cake mix, a tin of sprinkles and a pound of butter. The carton of eggs grows heavy on his arm, and he notices that one of the tomatoes is about to roll out of the bag. He opens the refrigerator and finishes putting his Laura groceries away.

day 7.

A very short Portland horror story.

Atticus shrieked at his cowering assistant, who clung desperately to the listing, creaking remains of Hawthorne Bridge, inches from the muscular and deadly tentacle crushing the metal. “You fool, you’ve doomed us all! I could have saved the city if only you’d brought a vegan sacrificial virgin. The monster is gluten free! GLUTEN FREE!”