Dystopian Pop Art

A few miles north of Alliance Nebraska, an occasional silo sprouts from the quilt of corn and soybean fields. It seems plausible that we might drive for hours and see nothing else. Maybe Carhenge doesn’t really exist. It’s urban legend, a consensual hallucination with no basis in reality.

Then, there it is, writhing within the wavy mirage of blacktop heat—a scale replica of Stonehenge rendered in vintage automobiles.

We park beside five Harleys and an RV. Dragonflies and July heat surround us as we cross the dusty gravel to the gift shop. We pick t-shirts, and for another dollar, a map that shows the make and model of each car. The girl doom-scrolling her Android behind the counter will probably finish junior high in the fall. She rings us up in spite of her prosthetic arm.

Carhenge’s arches are surreal, as if Andy Warhol has designed the set of a Mad Max remake. Every car is coated in thick gray primer. The chrome bumpers and door handles, the windshield and louvred vent windows, every surface is gray. It softens them, like some Claes Oldenburg sculpture.

My spouse narrates our walk by reading from our map. “That’s a ’49 Ford on top of a ’67 Cadillac,” she says. Or, “Wow, I had a friend with a Chevy Nova just like this.”

Two children chase each other around a vertical Buick, half buried and pointed at the sky. The bikers admire an arch of Oldsmobiles on their way out. They start their Harleys and banish south on the asphalt road.

A dusty plaque tells us Jim Reinders created this tribute to American industrialization on ten acres in 1987. The sculpture and gift shop are now owned and operated by the city of Alliance. Two time capsules are buried nearby, and the plaque details dates for their excavation and opening.

We leave. Back in Alliance, the city seems deserted, like a frontier ghost town. Everyone is at Alliance’s only theater, watching the new Elvis movie in air conditioned comfort. After we check in to our hotel, we stumble upon what I can only describe as some of the best Italian food I’ve had, lasagna with homemade sauce and a garden-fresh salad.

Carhenge draws us back in the evening. Sheer curtains of virga hang from the dark clouds, but the sunset spills across the western horizon like burning gasoline. We pass through an arch. Above us, mourning doves coo from the undercarriage of a De Soto. The smell of fertilizer makes me sneeze, and the startled doves take flight. Their silhouettes scatter in the sunset.

Summer Update

Our road trip to Carhenge was a highlight of the summer, but my daily Claritin dose warns me that fall is near. Time to publish this summer writing update before the leaves turn.

Read on for the results of the Roswell Awards, my thoughts on bioprinting, and a quick review of Emily St. John Mandel’s latest release. You’ll also find my usual summary of what I’ve been reading and writing.

Be sure to come back in the Fall. In a few months I’ll know how my entry fared in the Imagine 2200 short story contest. The RMFW Gold writing conference will be in Denver September 9-11. While there, I plan to do my first public reading. The fall update will include a full report.

Results from the 2022 Roswell Awards

It’s official! My story, Dr. Harriet Hartfeld’s Home for Aging AIs, took second place in the 2022 Roswell Awards.

A huge thank you to Omega Sci-Fi for hosting the outstanding May 21 livestream awards event. Actor Tim Russ of Star Trek Voyager fame narrated my story in a breathtaking dramatic reading, and His cold and logical Vulcan voice added depth and emotion to my story’s ASI protagonist. Danielle Costa, Vice President of Visual Effects at Marvel Studios, virtually handed me my award.

I’ll be honest. I’m a rank amateur. Taking second place in an event like this seriously blew some fuses in my brain.

Next steps? Harriet Hartfeld is being considered for publication by several professional SF magazines. So far, only rejections, but I’m still hoping to sell the story and see it in print.

Print Me an Ear

In one of my earliest published stories, The Re-creation of Sahmik Ghee, hunters who die on a hostile frozen planet are brought back to life thanks to 3D printing. I’d been reading Glasshouse by Charles Stross at the time, but the ability to create any object from atoms or molecules is a long-standing science fiction trope. Star Trek’s replicator is just one of many early examples.

While re-creating an entire human is still years beyond our abilities, printing human cells and organs is a reality today. Medical researchers recently printed and transplanted an entire human ear, marking a revolution in regenerative medicine.

Livers, portions of the eye, and clumps of brain tissue to name a few, can all be created in the lab. But the bioprinted ear transplant is the first 3D-printed implant made of living tissues.

The transplant treats a condition called microtia in which the outer ear is underdeveloped or absent. To create the transplant, doctors biopsy the patient’s cartilage cells, replicate them, and combine them with a collagen-based bio-ink. A 3D bioprinter arranges this material into the shape of the missing ear’s cartilage. Finally, doctors transplant the cartilage under the patient’s skin. The bioprinted transplant is living tissue, which means new cells will grow as needed.

Performed in March as part of a clinical trial, the procedure was announced on June 2, 2022. 3DBio Therapeutics, the company that pioneered the technique, will publish results after completion of the trial.

Book Highlight – Sea of Tranquility

Writing a time travel story is easy? Send your protagonist back in time, have them change the past (intentionally or otherwise), then return them to a future that has been altered in some ironic or unexpected manner. It’s a familiar plot for fans of the film Back to the Future or Ray Bradbury’s classic short story A Sound of Thunder.

Time travel isn’t that simple though. You end up with paradoxes. What if you kill the inventor of your time machine? Or your own parents? Time travel is so implausible that many authors rely on readers suspending their disbelief.

In Sea of Tranquility, time travel works just a little too well. So well, in fact, that something else must be going on. And author Emily St. John Mandel reveals nuggets of the mystery in an engaging and well-crafted narrative. Every thought-provoking chapter tickled my intellect.

But maybe science fiction isn’t your bag. Maybe you want to know more about Vincent, the Glass Hotel character who went from investment wizard spouse to bartender to cargo ship chef in a matter of a few pages. If so, Sea of Tranquility is your sequel.

Or maybe you’d like to know how the overwhelming success of Station Eleven, the dystopian pandemic novel that took the young adult market by storm, changed the author’s life. In that case, Sea of Tranquility is your memoir.

For whatever reason you decide to read it, I hope you can admire how Mandel crammed historical fiction, science fiction, sequel, and memoir into an audiobook half the length of a normal novel and still avoid feeling rushed. It’s a book that will satisfy many readers, with masterful prose worthy of examination by every author.

Filling the Wastebasket

The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.—Isaac Bashevis Singer

Many writing contest require submitter anonymity for fairness. As I increasingly submit material to such contests, posting about my work here risks compromising that anonymity. Bummer, because I enjoy telling you, my loyal half-dozen, what I’m up to. Going forward, if there’s a chance my work will end up in a contest, I can’t reveal the titles or quotes. Sorry!

A Story about Climate Change

In spite of the chaos in my life, I’ve managed to put together an entry for the Imagine 2200 contest. I’m not sure this is the story they’re looking for. They want stories of hope, and mine is a dark warning. But it’s the story I wanted to tell, and if it loses, fine. I’ll shop it around to other publications. Look for my fall update to hear how my story fared.


My critique group’s next anthology is underway, and I’ve contributed a very short story. Ever wonder what Poseidon might say about our polluted oceans? He’s telling us with every wave. We only need to listen. That’s Heroes in a nutshell. The anthology will be published in time for holiday gift-giving, fingers crossed. I’ll keep you posted.

A Memoir

I’ve got a couple on again / off again memoirs in progress. The latest is a mostly factual account of my time as a punk in Detroit and environs back in the ‘80s. Publication isn’t the end goal, but you never know where my crap will end up. It might make a good humor piece. Regardless, it has served as an effective tool for breaking through writers block.

What I’m Reading

I’m always hungry for more books. These were delicious.

  • As You Were by Tasha Christensen. A young adult romance set in a high school, with big stakes for the future of the marching band. This is the debut novel by my friend Tasha, who was the co-editor of Wild: Uncivilized Tales.
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan. Egan’s non-linear follow-up to A Visit from the Goon Squad, set in a future where anyone’s memories can be accessed and relived, is a biting commentary on the allure of social media. The “citizen spies” segment is told with a breathtaking slipstream narrative.
  • Early Risers by Jasper Fforde. In a parallel England where everyone hibernates during harsh winters, Charlie uncovers a plot to turn the sleeping into living zombies.
  • False Faces edited by Angie Hodapp and Warren Hammond. RMFW’s 2018 short fiction anthology explores the people we only seem to be.
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem. A foster kid taken in by a small-time criminal turns detective after his benefactor’s murder, and only Tourette’s Syndrome stands in his way. This is Lethem’s 1999 breakout novel, adapted for film in 2019.
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel. Equal parts historical fiction, science fiction, and memoir. This author, a self-described “not a science fiction” author, has become my favorite science fiction author.
  • Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown. A frightening dystopia that combines climate catastrophe with governmental dysfunction.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This Pulitzer prize-winning novel is an in-depth study of a fictional punk band and their circle of friends, but it’s also reality—how we change over time, succeed, fail, laugh, and cry. And it’s a masterfully written outside-the-box narrative that is worthy of scrutiny by any would-be fiction author.

I’m currently reading these three books. Okay, the astute reader might notice a couple have been here for some time. So, “currently reading,” with a generous definition of “reading”.

  • Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Dang it. I just never seem to get to these books, still waiting to be read.

  • Caging Skies by Christine Leunens
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Down Below Station by CJ Cherryh
  • Fast Track by John DeDakis

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