Part One: Winching the Cyclopes

It was raining when Maebel went to hew the cyclopes from the eye-grid. She had to walk carefully, lest her feet slip on the matrix of rusty blades, throwing her to the rising cyclops flesh below. Each cyclops panted in its iron square, green and bloodshot eyes wobbling at the top, peering past the walls to a sky whose depth they could not grasp.
Today, it was grey.
The cyclopes smelled the worst when it rained. It was a bit of a wet dog smell with hints of summer sausage and garbage-dump run-off. Each cyclops murmured maw maw maw as she walked past, tiny mouths mewling for fish-heads, wood pulp and grease. But her feeding bucket was gone today, replaced with a hook and chain. She threw her leather cloak on an overhanging branch, trusting the rain to keep her clean.
Every time she started from the center, wincing as the hook sank deep into the monster’s flesh. The cyclops burped, confused. She steeled her nerves for screams. Her burly arms pulsated as she heaved the bloody chain, focusing on her breath as the cyclops began to howl. Things fell into its square all the time, morsels and shrapnel alike. But now, for the first time, it saw its walls receding, its vision taken over by a two-eyed girl against a flat and widening sky.
When the cyclops had been dragged about half-way up its pen, Maebel lashed one end of the chain to a piece of rebar and took her break. A cloud of froth and snot rose above the confused beast, mingling and floating with the day’s damp haze. It washed over Maebel, diluted, wicking into her pores as they distended to make room for sweat. It was never easy in the rain. The chain would get slippery and the cyclopes’ pheromones would ride the fog to cause a ruckus.
The cyclopes in the surrounding squares began to moan in eerie unison. They mistook the fear pheromones for their own and reacted identically, mouths twisting wide and teeth scraping the walls. Maebel unpacked her taser. It was easiest to make the divine imprint here where the monster was right at the cusp.
“I am the face of the infinite,” she recited with measured inflection. “All you perceive is my body, and what hands you will need are mine.” Then she stooped low to deliver the electroshock, arcing blue light into the cyclops’ quivering pupil.
This she repeated three times, until the cyclops stopped spreading its pheromones and bellows. She gave three yanks of her chain ’til the cyclops crept to the precipice, sides roiling against Maebel’s feet. She shocked it one last time, holding her ear close to its mouth, until she heard the maw maw maw of its hunger. She held out a single, sweaty palm. Its tongue reached demurely, lapping at the gathered salt. The creature giggled with appreciation.
She took out her paddle, and thwacked it twice on either side of its eyeball and mouth. The creature hissed, before reifying her paddle-strikes to form the stump of a head. She thwacked again at its blobbish, featureless torso, until it had flexed itself into something hand-like and dextrous.
A pillar of salt with a high golden base stood miles away from the grid. The cyclops could not see the distance, only changes in size. Fields of cabbage stretched in between. Maebel sank a hand deep into the cyclops’ nape and twisted three times clock-wise. “Move towards the pillar and pile your back with cabbage,” she whispered. “And in my name ye shall be rewarded.”
The cyclops panted through its malformed airtube before scuttling across the grate. It never looked down as it passed over its siblings, before tumbling to the fields below. There, it gathered cabbage blindly, its single eye fixed on the pillar of salt at the edge of the world.
Maebel pulled a small eyeball from the pouch on her belt, spat it down into the empty space. Red veins took root in the soil below as she spun her hook high overhead.

Seize the Means of (Re)Production; Become Your Own Ant Queen

The mother-song rings chemical
The cutting time is nigh
Mandibles twitch, The Swarm is heaving
We are all one body.

Our backs haul the leaves Titanic
Green sails for fungal spores
Larvae hunger, The Swarm is leaving
The sap is running thick.

Stunted wings and gonads nascent
Regal dreams stir outwards
The Mother’s chosen grubs are feasting
For grace of queen go we.

Something stirs
Something breaks
The Swarm is doing what the Swarm is doing
The Swarm is closing in.

Wee bodies scattered hasty,
Deficits caloric
Shape us in the vortex-form
The spinning Swarm is weaving.

The fungal milk will curdle
In gasters ossified
Pupae split and chitin cracks
The hungry Swarm is grieving.

Everything Stinks in the Jaw of the Beast

An arched red ceiling lies rigid above, a wet writhing carpet below.
Ivory curtains enclose the beast’s softness, speckled with scraps of dead friends.
Everything rushes towards the black sphincter, esophagal, anal, unwidening.
The roots of the curtains are pockmarked and reddened.
The roots of the curtains are bleeding.
The roots of the curtains are tender, soft, yielding.
Human faces embedded and raw.
The roots of the curtains reach out to the lips.
Sustained by the monster’s soft lineage.
Gingivitic, gingivivial, gingivital, generic bacteria creep and inflame.
Plaque erodes ivory, cavities emerge, and slime hunkers down in new darkness.
Cytoplasm trembles, enamel wears down, metastasis waits in the wings.
We have always been being eaten.
Some day a tooth may fall out.

15 Technically True Facts About Animals

An animal can chase the storm.
An animal can fly.
An animal can bridle fear,
and ride it off to gore.
An animal can spark a heat
to dwarf the risen sun.

An animal can wear a shell
An animal can lurk.
An animal can sprout new bones
where heart and lung should be
An animal can feel its web
of atoms growing slow

An animal can learn its name
An animal forgets.
An animal can twist its skin
with mutant colors bright.
An animal can carve its face
on sacred mountain sides

An animal can photograph the growing pains of time.
An animal can see with eyeball, schnoz, wet forking tongue,
antennae, skin, electropulse,
camera lens, long white cane,
Labrador with leather tether,
crystal ball, and hate.
An animal can smell your fear.

Review: Everything Belongs to the Future, by Laurie Penny

At the end of the 21st century the rich are able to extend their lifespans up to three centuries with highly expensive medication. The cause of this expense is implied to be proprietary; the medication doesn’t require tremendous resources to create, but the patent is enforced with Orwellian fervor. Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs to the Future is an incisive work of science fiction, exploring classic transhuman anxieties with a keen political eye.
Penny plants her readers in the world of Alex, an undercover agent in deep cover as a member of a radical art collective living in opposition to the life-extension procedure. He insinuates himself into the group, living in their colony, participating in their resistance efforts and even starting a relationship with one of the other members. The text and its afterword leave no room for ambiguity: Alex, by his actions, is a rapist. He manipulates a woman, Nina, into sleeping with him under false pretenses and violates her right to make her own choices in ways both subtle and overt. Penny is unflinching in her condemnation of her protagonist’s behavior and its real-world antecedents. While Alex may admit to feelings of guilt about betraying his friends and Nina politically, his narration still grasps to rationalize his rape. He convinces himself that he is betraying Nina for her own sake, in order to protect their love. This self-deceit only collapses when Penny’s female characters are able to speak up, dismantling his excuses with a few stark proclamations.
The stakes are high in Everything Belongs to the Future, and while Penny never lets her reader excuse Alex’s rape she does provide the tools to understand how a man like him would come to be. Alex is, at his core, a selfish coward. When his handlers offer him a 50-year life extension in exchange for his service, he’s unable to refuse. When he believes himself to have fallen in love he tries to secure the same deal for his ‘partner’ (a term he uses only grudgingly, as a sop to Nina’s notions of equality). He claims that once the deal’s made clear she’ll “have to” forgive him. Never mind the fact that Nina is radically opposed to the life extension procedure, never mind that his end of the deal requires him to double-down on thwarting the activism that gives her purpose. However much he may think in terms of love, Alex ultimately sees Nina as an item to be possessed.
I can’t cast myself as an expert on Laurie Penny, but she is a journalist whose work I’ll always make time to read when I come across it. It’s thrilling to see her branch out into the world of science fiction, and I came into this book with high expectations. If you’re a fan of Penny’s generally, then Everything Belongs to the Future should not disappoint. If you haven’t checked out her non-fiction, consider giving some of it a peek if this book appeals to you.
Everything Belongs to the Future is a quick read, and while some of its thematic territory is well-trod the characters are believable and well realized. While it devotes most of its time to the process of radicalization, the injustice of medical inequality and the leverage of the state into an apparatus of rape culture, it also takes time to explore the worth of art in human life and the immeasurability of time. Penny’s journalistic background feeds seamlessly into her fiction as the text repeatedly signals the real-life seeds from which her story is grown. As far as I understand this is Penny’s first major work of fiction, but it’s clear that her political insight will make her a major asset within the Sci-Fi genre for as long as she cares to dwell there.

Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

“Every man’s got a little bad in him.”
Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw is a brisk noir novel crammed with secret cults and Lovecraftian monsters. More importantly, it’s a story about domestic violence and toxic masculinity. It opens with a haunted 10-year-old boy hiring one Mister Persons. Mister Persons is an ancient, psychic thing wearing the body of an aged PI. As the young man plants his piggy bank on Mister Persons’s desk he drops his bomb-shell: his step-dad is a monster, and he wants to hire another monster to kill him.
The job takes Mister Persons through the decaying homes, restaurants and factories of working-class London. Every step of the way he’s confronted with body-horror mutants and rebuffed by scared bystanders. An infection is worming through the homes of London, one that warps human mass into a shifting soup of eyes, fangs and spores. Throughout the novel people look the other way, too weighed down by daily life to fight the beasts living in their husbands and fathers.
Khaw does a beautiful job of infusing Mister Persons with reluctant menace. It becomes clear early on that his hardboiled persona is like a sort of memetic cage, channeling his impulses into a fascimile of humanity. Mister Persons internal world is described in smooth, hard-boiled prose, slightly at odds with the modern vernacular of the people he runs into. He deviates most when describing human body language, viewed with the alien precision of an entomologist dissecting a spider. The other monsters in Khaw’s London are less refined, their language degrading into some eldritch tongue as they lose their grips on the identities they’ve stolen.
Mister Persons is more eloquent, more refined, and perhaps more conflicted, but he’s no less dangerous than the beasts infecting London. Khaw shows this in distressingly familiar terms. We see him loom over abused women, violate strangers with a casual touch, and pick up other people’s kids at school, with bystanders whispering at the edges. His very presence is invasive, opening up telepathic streams. He’s tempted to write this telepathic violation off as something natural, like breathing, but even he knows that’s a weak excuse. Persons doesn’t rationalize his existence so much as fantasize about a better one. He returns again and again to fantasies about heroism without ever really indulging. “I’m not one for a fine touch,” he tells himself. “I’m a man.” But he’s not a man. He’s some kind of thing– a psychic parasite warping the flesh of its host body. Unless, of course, that’s all a ‘man’ is.
I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for media that reworks Lovecraft’s mythos into something more personal. While the uncaring gaze of the cosmos isn’t without its charms it loses its punch once you’ve digested a bit of existentialism. Khaw’s horrors are different. The Abyss may still lurk in the background but its pointy, scary bits are not just human, they’re familiar. If anything, the bubbling body-horror scenes help take the edge of the nauseating subtext of gnawing capitalism, domestic abuse and useless bystanders.

Lesser Evils: Supervillain Presidencies as Rated in Units of Trump

Cons: repeated flip-flops with regard to exterminating the human race, mixed record as leader of the mutant nation Genosha, hangs out with a weird little Toad-man
Pros: First Jewish president, might be the only force capable of fixing America’s gun problem, dashing purple cape
Rating: 0.5 Trumps. Magneto has exhibited a murderous streak at times, but he’s also demonstrated a willingness to work across the aisle and cooperate with the X-men to take down greater threats such as the mutant pharaoh Apocalypse and Ted Cruz.
The Penguin
Cons: Extensive ties to organized crime and Tim Burton, raw fish breath is off-putting to other heads of state,
Pros: Executive experience in his role as mayor of Gotham, accomplished negotiator, classy dresser
Rating: 0.4 Trumps. As a craven one-percenter with an unhealthy fixation on his weird hands, The Penguin shares many of Trump’s insecurities. On the other hand, he’s much more likely to take aggressive action against climate change in order to preserve his supply of exotic birds.
Cons: Rocky relations with Dimension X, aggressively interventionist approach to interdimensional relations, running mate is some kind of obese mute robot in a speedo
Pros: genius-level intellect, hypnosis powers could benefit international diplomacy, owns a badass technodrome
Rating: 0.7 Trumps. A Krang presidency would arguably be pretty good for America, but disastrous for the cosmos. As an evil brain in a robot body, Krang outpowers Trump in both intellect and physical prowess. He’s likely to transform the country into an interdimensional super power, but there’s going to be at least a couple alien genocides in the process.
Cons: Venom addiction can lead to erratic behavior, gives undue access to lobbyists from the League of Shadows, tiny American flag pins cannot penetrate his rippling pectorals
Pros: classic Jesuit education, rags-to-riches background, capable of out-wrestling Vladimir Putin
Rating: 0.15 Trumps. As a drug-addicted authoritarian with a propensity for violence, Bane falls well within the political norm. As president he’d be one of the great showmen of American history, and while breaking the backs of one’s political rivals makes for a bad democracy, it makes for great television.
The Red Skull:
Cons: Sworn enemy of America, Literal Nazi, lipless visage makes his ‘b’s sound weird, alt-right followers responsible for some truly disgusting red Pepes
Pros: Uh… Nah.
Rating: 1.25 Trumps. While the Red Skull has demonstrated greater restraint with Weapons of Mass Destruction than Trump is likely to, he was also the direct protege of Adolf Hitler. This is the kind of guy who lives in a place called The Skull House.
Image Attributions:
Art from Uncanny X-Men Vol 4 #5, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Nolan Woodard
Art from the Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition, by Brian Bolland
Screenshot Teenage Mutant Turts (1987 Series)
Art from Batman #497 by Jim Aparo
Art from Uncanny Avengers #1 by John Cassaday