“Searching for Cidalisa” published in Aurealis #96

Cover of Aurealis #96 features two faceless men

Cover art by Brenda Bailey

My short science fiction story is now available to read through Smashwords. It’s directly inspired by my Master of Information Science studies, featuring Google AI and rogue databases. I was thrilled to see the artwork by Andrew J McKiernan, he did a fabulous job of the Boolean too (you’ll have to buy the mag to see the artwork though, sorry)! It’s the first time I’ve had a story illustrated, and I absolutely love it. The issue will set you back a mere USD$2.99, so get onto it!

***

In my dreams, I searched the databases. Input search query, examine results, refine search query. Fields, proximity operators, even the antiquated Boolean queries—I tried every combination I could think of, all night, until I woke in the morning in a haze of exhaustion, eyes glued together, mind overloaded. I’d thumb my earLink on and mumble the names of the databases into my journal so I knew which ones I’d searched. It was habit born of delusion. Once I’d had my first coffee I deleted the cloud entries. Those databases didn’t exist anymore. My fevered dream searching was pointless. Unresolved issues are the root of repetitive dreams, I’d read.

What was I looking for? Information. Answers. And maybe, an end to the tension in my shoulders, the ache in my gut. Closure.

I was searching for Cidalisa.

From the blurb: “Aurealis #96 features Patrick Doerksen’s ‘Extracts from a Life of Science Fiction’, a poetic meditation on the nature of science fiction and humanity, S G Larner’s ‘Searching for Cidalisa’ which explores a near future society of implanted memories and rogue databases, and Annika Howells’ eerie and lyrical ‘Obsidian River’ that will live with you long after you’ve finished reading.”

“Sea Borne” published in SQ Mag #29

My dark fantasy story “Sea Borne” is now available to read online at SQ Mag #29. It’s free to read, and only a bit over 4000 words so you have no excuse.

Cover art for edition 29

Art by Kodi Murray

Here’s a teaser for the story…

The sea peeled back from the bay, sucked by a force stronger than tides. Laid bare beneath the sun, fish glittered and flopped, and deep furrows in the naked ocean floor traced the line of the currents. The horizon bulged. Ahli gaped, as cries went up around her.

“Myr wave!”

Her father, Yune, dropped the net they were piling into their little round bowl-boat. He grabbed her shoulder and pointed inland.

“Run.”

If you like it, please share!

Spider silk: a rich harvest for science fiction writers

Science is going crazy over spider silk, and science fiction writers should be too. The unique properties of spider silk have enormous implications in the fields of technology, health, acoustics and wearable armour/fabric. If you’ve ever wanted to include some spider science in your stories, look no further! I’ve collected some resources to inspire your sci-fi tech, all based on actual real scientific research.

First off, some background. How is spider silk harvested?

Harvesting

As you can imagine, harvesting spider silk is not easy, and is the main reason scientists are trying to develop synthetic spider silk. Unlike silkworms, spiders bite, and golden orb weavers cannibalise each other. Unless you’ve dreamed up some placid, non-venomous species for your story (where’s the fun in that?) harvesting is going to be a concern for your characters or your world-building. So let’s get started. Warning… this video is highly creepy! (The preview is even creepy).

Ethics

If you’re like me, ethical treatment may not be the first thing that springs to mind. I have a healthy hatredfear of spiders and I haven’t lost too much sleep over this. BUT WAIT, what if your society is run by vegans? What if the spiders are sentient, or animals just have more basic rights in this society you’ve concocted? You might want to have a bit of an understanding of the ethical considerations of harvesting spider silk.

Screenshot of a description of the process used to sedate and restrain the spider humanely

Comment responding to outrage over the treatment of the spider, by the Oxford Silk Group

Of course, not everyone was satisfied by this explanation, so you need to consider the ethics of spider silk harvesting in your stories.

Properties

However terrifying spiders may be, their webs are beautiful and technical constructions. The golden orb weaver produces yellow silk, as seen below. Scientists are still discovering the unique properties of spider silk.

Golden orb weaver spider in yellow web

By Stephen Friedt. Available at Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Acoustics

It’s logical that spider silk has interesting acoustic properties. A spider web is multi-functional: it traps prey, alerts the spider about the imminent victim, and must be strong enough to hold struggling prey. It’s the vibrations that alert the spider.

Spiders ‘tune’ their webs like guitar strings

Exploiting this acoustic quality, an engineering student manufactured a violin made from spider silk and resin. He says the blend of materials makes the acoustic qualities flexible, and they could be applied to other sound equipment.

A visionary scientist has made a violin with spider silk – and it sounds extraordinary

                                    By Imperial College London. Available on Youtube.

As well as transmitting sound, scientists have found that spider silk can dampen sound. Certain frequencies do not pass through the microstructure of the silk, and manipulating the tension of the silk changes the frequency blocked. This also means spider silk can act as an insulating material against heat (read the article at the link for an explanation).

Spiders spin unique phononic material

Health

A team of researchers from Stockholm are working to develop a genetically-engineered spider silk “bandaid” to heal chronic unhealing wounds. The concept is fascinating and has implications for ways in which you could include spider silk augmentation.

More medical uses for spider silk include sutures, implants, artificial skin and cartilage replacement.

Infographic of different medical uses for spider silk

Source: CNN.com ‘Medical applications of spider silk’ from “Harnessing spider powers to heal human bodies” by Kieran Monk.

Technology

Spider silk allows scientists to break the laws of physics. Recently scientists in the UK used spider silk to increase the magnification possibilities of microscopes.

Spider silk: Mother Nature’s bio-superlens

Scientists are discovering that spider silk is a promising material in the area of fibre optics. Traditional materials used for fibre optics are inert, but spider silk is “made up of very long proteins rolled into a helix structure whose bonds are sensitive to a number of chemical substances“, which has sparked the imaginations of researchers in the field. Perhaps your society has a communications tech based on spider silk?

Using Spider Silk to Detect Molecules

                  By École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) Available on Youtube.

There are a number of qualities of spider silk that could be exploited in different ways, such as the discovery of the hybrid liquid/solid qualities of spider silk, causing it to behave like a liquid wire. This could have implications for structural engineering, medical technology and other fields that require unique materials.

Spider Silk Inspires Creation of Liquid Wire

By University of Oxford. Available on Youtube.

Fabric/armour

Amazingly, spider silk can be used to make fabric. The image below is of a cape woven and embroidered using the silk of golden orb weavers. It was a massive undertaking, so if you’re wanting to incorporate spider fabric into your story, consider ways it might be made possible.

Golden silk cape made from golden orb spider silk

By Cmglee. Available Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

The first minute of this video discusses the way the spider silk was harvested from golden orb weavers in Madagascar. It sounds like a logistical nightmare. It’s worth noting the spiders were released when the silk supply was exhausted (and re-captured when their silk supply was replenished). I wondered how the spiders would be able to catch prey with no capacity to spin webs? The rest of the video outlines the processing, weaving and embroidery of the fabric. It’s a fantastic video, highly recommend!

                             By Victoria and Albert Museum. Available on Vimeo

The below article reports on the same spider silk fabrics, with images. I was particularly interested by this explanation of the difficulty of producing artificial silk:

Part of the reason it’s so hard to generate spider silk in the lab is that it starts out as a liquid protein that’s produced by a special gland in the spider’s abdomen. Using their spinnerets, spiders apply a physical force to rearrange the protein’s molecular structure and turn it into solid silk. –  1 Million Spiders Make Golden Silk for Rare Cloth

More exciting than spider clothes is the idea of wearable armour made out of spider silk. Imagine a team of elite soldiers wearing spider silk armour, climbing and leaping across hostile terrain, no heavy, stiff material to hinder their movements. Most fascinating, this isn’t spider silk from spiders… this is spider silk from genetically engineered silkworms.

US Army’s Newest Defense: Genetically-Engineered Spider Silk Body Armor

The Army is Testing Genetically Engineered Spider Silk for Body Armor

Graph comparing strength and flexibility of kevlar and spider silk

By Vincentsarego. Available Wikipedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

I’ll leave you with a talk by Cheryl Hayashi for a few more possibilities to consider. As fodder for science fiction stories, you can’t really beat spider silk. It can provide inspiration for new tech, fabric, acoustics, health, and the ethical make-up of your society. I still don’t love spiders, but you have to admit they are pretty cool, and spider silk is nothing short of amazing.

New art — creepy painting

I had some fun with art yesterday. This little guy was born out of my brain playing tricks on me as I was scrolling through Facebook. Acrylic and pencil on paper, with digital manipulation.

I did an informal poll on social media and the desaturated one seems to be the favourite, but there is an interesting gender skew with men seeming to prefer the oversaturated one, and women the desaturated one (there are a few women who prefer the overdone one though).

facebellyman-desaturated

Face-belly-man desaturated © S. G. Larner

facebellyman-oversaturated

Face-belly-man oversaturated © S. G. Larner

The Heart is an Echo Chamber available to buy

Last week was the launch of The Heart an an Echo Chamber, a chapbook of vignettes that respond to Jodi Cleghorn’s work ironically titled No Need to Reply. THiaEC as we fondly call it is my debut as a cover artist, and I’m now very good at drawing hearts.

The chapbook is limited edition and can be bought here.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

The Heart is an Echo Chamber – Lois Spangler
It Couldn’t Be – Tom Dullemond
Untethering – Adam Byatt
Letting Go – S.G. Larner
Pits – Kristen Erskine
The Princess of Swords – Helen Stubbs
Starless – Ben Payne
Emerging, Closure – Rus VanWestervelt

front-cover

Women and parkour: Dangerous Women Project

If you head on over to the Dangerous Women Project, you’ll be able to read a reflective essay I wrote about parkour, women, and the gendered nature of public space.

Go visit See & Do to check out the work they’re doing, and for some videos, their channel on Vimeo is well worth checking out.

And a plug for the Brisbane Parkour Association, who run women only workshops for women who may feel a bit intimidated about just turning up to one of the mixed classes. It’s a good way to break the ice.

“Three Trophies” on Ellen Datlow’s long list of honourable mentions

On Monday I got a notification on Facebook that made me go frantically scrolling through a very long list of names. Ellen Datlow‘s long list of honourable mentions for her Best Horror of the Year was out. And I’d been pinged…

And there it was.

You’ll have to scroll a bit, and that’s only Part 2.

I’m super honoured Ellen liked my story, and considering my lacklustre year of writing, thanks to uni and work and children, it’s a much-needed boost.

The story in question,”Three Trophies”, is a dark fairytale-style short story and can be read here.