Rejection! Oh, the tragedy!

At the end of January, at the urging of a few friends, I sent three sonnets off to Asimov’s, the only science fiction magazine that accepts poetry. Unlike most of the sonnets I write, these were not “occasional” sonnets, written to mark a specific event or play off of a specific theme in a conversation.

I got the rejection letter this week, a good month after Asimov’s own guidelines said to “assume the submission was lost”. Poetry is a chancy thing to publish, of course, and I’m not actually disappointed or annoyed in the least that I got knocked back. I regarded the entire submission process as being like throwing spaghetti at the wall, just to see if it stuck.

So, since Asimov’s doesn’t want them, I thought I’d publish the three of them here. Each is structured as a 14-line SF narrative, basically a short story in iambic pentameter. I had a lot of fun writing them – even managed to recycle a story idea that never jelled into one.

Principal Damage

The cloning table holds me half-reclined
And wraps the scanning visor round my head,
Recording me. I try to clear my mind,
But grief remains. My alter self is dead.
A roadside bomb went off; his whole squad died.
Like all the other soldiers grown before
From memories and tissue I’ve supplied,
He died. As will the next, and many more.
I knew that he was gone before the call —
I felt the bomb explode, and tasted blood.
I can’t explain, but I’ve died with them all,
Been burned and shot, been stabbed and drowned in mud.
Sometimes I wish that I were just a clone
So when I die, I die just once, alone.

I blame John Scalzi for this one, since he’s the one that got me into the “civilians turn soldiers in SFnial wars” mindset, years after the imprint of Starship Troopers was finally ironed out of my skull. Though Ursula K LeGuin‘s story Nine Lives is a piece of it, too, with the notion of some mystical connection among clones that activates on death.

Some Minor Alterations

At glum fifteen, I met myself at thirty.
I was an awkward kid, and couldn’t see
A future that would suit someone like me.
I wanted to be normal, not so nerdy.
She brought me pictures: husband (somewhat bland),
Cute children, pleasant house, a life in full.
The photos made it all seem possible,
And, suddenly, too dull for me to stand.
My fears of growing into her inspire
Me through the days I spend on my research,
Inventing this machine. I plan to search
Through time for the excitement I require.
And my first trip? To tell a lie, and thus
Steer my past self toward the truth of us.

The scansion on this one is iffy, but it was fun. It’s an attempt to resolve the time-travel paradox on one of my favourite wishes (that I could go back in time to my teenaged self and tell her it would all be OK in the end).

Nothing in this poem should be an indictment of my current life, by the way.


The branching universes take me far
Beyond my devastated world, to one
Where Earth revolves around a living star.
I find my other self. She doesn’t run.
I do the thing, and hide the body well,
And then go home. The keys are in her coat.
The house is nicer here — mine’s just a shell —
But on the mantelpiece, I find a note.
If you are reading this, I must be dead.
But that’s OK. I hope you made it fast.
Just know you’re not the first to come instead
Of staying home. Nor will you be the last.
Enjoy this respite from whatever hell
You’ve just escaped, and in your turn, die well.

This is recycled from a story that just never worked out about fifteen years ago. It’s based a lot on Larry Niven’s All the Myriad Ways, gone a bit dark. One of my readers cited The Golden Bough in reference to it as well, though if that is an influence it’s filtered through the culture (I have never read it).

So my quest to become a published poet is thwarted, thwarted, I tell you! And I’m not really gutted. I hope the narrative sonnets are at least interesting.

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