Wisps of White Smoke

By Natsumi Tanaka

Translated by Toshiya Kamei

sfgenreOnce upon a time, deep down in the sea there lived a mechanical doll named Mai-hime. When she was still human, she lived in a small fishing village by the sea. While collecting seafood on the beach, she was captured and brought to Ryūgū Castle at the bottom of the ocean. Like other prisoners held captive by the tyrannical king Ryūoh, she was turned into an automaton, deprived of the freedom to move her body at will. Still, thanks to Ryūoh’s whim, she was allowed to keep her consciousness.

Along with other female automatons, Mai-hime was assigned to entertain guests at festivities inside the castle. Against her will, she was forced to wear a revealing kimono that barely covered her body and seduce her guests with alluring moves.

The hall overflowed with male guffaws ridiculing Mai-hime, but she was helpless to stop it. She wasn’t even able to frown on her own. She kept wearing her mechanical smile for the pleasure of her guests.

One day, a young land-folk arrived on a turtle’s back. His name was Urashima. Like Mai-hime, he was captured while getting ready to go fishing. But unlike her, Urashima wasn’t held against his will.

As a horde of servants kowtowed before him, Urashima felt like a daimyo with his own castle. It never occurred to him that he was surrounded by automatons.

Mai-hime appeared in the hall every night, performing a welcoming dance in her risqué kimono. She sat next to Urashima—her knees almost close enough to touch his—and poured him one cup of sake after another.

 As she was once a land-folk herself, Mai-hime’s appearance pleased Urashima. Under Ryūoh’s control, she seemed graceful and fascinating in his eyes. Her constant attention boosted his ego. Urashima never imagined Mai-hime was forced to serve him against her will.

Ryūoh concocted everything to amuse himself and his guests. While he pretended to entertain Urashima, he enjoyed the farce unfolding in front of them. Ryūoh took pleasure in watching Mai-hime humiliated. He revealed his ruse to his guests so that they could also savor the vulgarity.

One day Ryūoh brought his own daughter to the banquet to pit her against Mai-hime. Ryū-hime made a striking contrast to Mai-hime. Her rival boasted prominent curves, which made quite an impression on Urashima, as he’d never seen a sea-folk before.

Look at that princess in this extravagant castle! She’s nothing like the girls back home! Charmed by her smile, gestures, and conversational skills, Urashima was smitten right away.

Urashima couldn’t take his eyes off Ryū-hime. Against her own will, Mai-hime was forced to shamelessly flirt with Urashima. She clung to him and attempted to seduce him away from her rival in vain. Every guest snickered. While Urashima was oblivious, Mai-hime suffered greatly as there was nothing she could do.

The banquet lasted three years. With dark bags under her eyes, Mai-hime looked haggard and exhausted. On the other hand, Urashima looked more plump and round after eating, drinking, and sleeping every day for the last few years.

Around this time, Ryūoh became bored with the farce. So did his guests. Ryū-hime got tired of flirting with Urashima. It was time to pull the curtains over the stage.

As the turtle sensed Ryūoh would ask him to take Urashima home, he asked for a long holiday. Thus, it fell to Mai-hime to take him back to his village.

Mai-hime had a map embedded in her, along with an ability to swim like a mermaid. Still under Ryūoh’s control, she started out with Urashima in her arms.

As the turtle had predicted, their journey was a difficult one. Despite her newly acquired skills, Mai-hime lacked features suited for long-distance swimming. Yet, she had no choice but to keep going. Urashima struggled in her arms, slowing her down considerably. They were constantly exposed to rapid changes in the tide. Just as they approached the beach, a fierce storm gave them a harsh welcome. Still with Urashima in her arms, she landed aground, utterly exhausted.

As she felt strange sensations, she looked at her hands. To her astonishment, she was able to move her body. She got up. No one controlled her. At last, she was free. Now what? In order to gather necessary information, she gazed at the sea.

The current had shifted. The route stored in her map was no longer useful. She’d lost communication with the castle.

What should I do now? She stood at the water’s edge, dazed, the soft salty breeze tickling her face. I’m . . . free. As she started down the beach, the wet sand scrambled up between her toes. I don’t need to go back!

Mai-hime gazed at her hands again. She closed her fists and opened them. They moved according to her will. She’d never imagined she’d recover this ability.

“Something’s wrong?” Urashima asked as he got up and dusted the sand off his body.

“Nothing, really.” She shook her head. He must think I’m in love with him. He looks so defenseless.

“Well, the map isn’t working,” she confessed. “I don’t know how to get back.”

“Seriously?” He sounded surprised. “Then, why don’t you come live with me?”

What an egoist! He picked Ryūoh’s daughter over me. He surely despises me. He only likes me by default. I don’t trust him, but what choice do I have left? Without revealing her true feelings, she accepted his offer.

Urashima’s village was located in the opposite direction of her village. I wish I could go home now. But what if he finds out I’m a land-folk himself? For now, I’d better follow him as I’m told. Soon he’ll let his guard down. I’ll escape when the time comes.

They walked abreast along a deserted path. After a moment of hesitation, Urashima reached for her hand. She was taken aback. Yet, she overcame her instinct to spurn his hand. Instead, she took his hand and kept walking.

They didn’t meet anyone while he almost dragged her along. Urashima made occasional stops as if to think about something. Soon he resumed his journey toward his village.

The map embedded in Mai-hime indicated they had been going round and round the same places. She stopped. Urashima looked back. He appeared to say something, but he let go of her hand and crouched down, grimacing.

He’s so out of shape. When Mai-hime kneeled down next to him, he grabbed her hand.

“Can’t find it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I can’t find my village.”

“Excuse me?”

“My village was near the beach,” Urashima continued. “I thought we’d taken the wrong path. We wandered around, but we couldn’t find a way to reach the village. The funny part is there’s nobody around here. My home isn’t here anymore. It’s gone.”

“We got caught in a storm on the way. We might have arrived at the wrong beach in the first place.”

“I don’t get it, though.”

“Why don’t we go back to the beach?” Mai-hime suggested.

Urashima nodded.

This time, she led the way. Truth be told, she couldn’t care less about finding Urashima’s home. All she wanted now was to go home to her village.

Mai-hime walked a little ahead; Urashima followed her. She cursed herself for feeling protective toward the helpless man.

I don’t even like him one bit. What’s got into me? Mai-hime didn’t understand why she wanted to help him. Her newfound freedom was confusing, even painful.

She hurried toward the village she once called home. Although the landscapes looked different, she spotted familiar signposts along the path. They looked more dilapidated than she remembered, but she shook away the notion. At least we’re headed in the right direction. She made several stops so that her travel companion could catch his breath.

“There’s no one around . . .” she wondered aloud while they rested on the roadside. Then realisation hit her, making her heart race.

Her village was gone, too.

As she turned and shook her head, Urashima’s face contorted. Then he burst into tears.

“Am I being punished for abandoning my home?”

Ryūoh must be behind this, Mai-hime thought. It’s got nothing to do with us.

Urashima crumbled to his knees. Not knowing what to do, Mai-hime knelt down next to Urashima and placed her hands on his trembling shoulders. While still sobbing, Urashima leaned on Maihime. This was something he’d never done at Ryūgū Castle.

“You’re so nice to me,” Urashima said.

Unfortunately, he’s the only one I’ve got. I’ve got no choice but to stay with him. Better not to make him angry. She kept petting him in a mechanical, half-hearted manner.

All of a sudden, Urashima looked up.

“Now I remember. Ryūoh gave me a gift before we departed. He said, ‘If you ever find yourself in trouble, you should open it.’”

Fear ran through Mai-hime. Ryūoh’s up to no good.

“Let’s open that box. It’s our only hope.” Urashima clung to her, his eyes pleading with hers.

“No!” She glared at him. “Trust me, you don’t need this, Urashima-san. Aww, you’re hurting me. Let me go!”

“Let me have it, bitch!” Urashima tightened his grip on her wrists. “Ryūoh gave it to me!”

Mai-hime struggled to free herself from his grasp.

“Listen to me, Urashima-san. I promise I’ll never leave you. You can’t open this box!”

“Get out of my way! Why do you stop me?”

“Well . . .” Mai-hime hesitated. Should I tell him it’s Ryūoh’s trap?

Urashima shoved her with all his might. She fell, the box scurrying across the ground. Without minding her, Urashima dove for the box.

It all happened in the blink of an eye.

He grabbed the box and opened it. Wisps of white smoke rose from inside and enveloped his face. He gasped, dropped the box, and suddenly, to Mai-hime’s horror, she faced a white-haired old man with bent shoulders and bowed back. He sank down to the ground.

The box was empty.

Then it dawned on her that Urashima had spent more than three years at the castle. She cowered in horror. Ryūoh even controlled the passage of time.

So many years had passed that their villages had vanished without a trace.

On top of that, only Urashima aged accordingly. Looking at her own hands, she knew she didn’t age along with him. Suddenly, time was tearing them apart. He was going to leave her behind.

Mai-hime rose to her feet and picked up the box from the ground. She shook it, then struck it, but no smoke came out.

She screamed in despair. Nothing in the world could help her now. As she reached toward him, seeking comfort, Urashima let out a yelp and crawled away from her.

Following his gaze, she realised what frightened and repulsed Urashima. A tear across her skin revealed her elaborate mechanism, the sun’s rays shining on the nuts, gears, and springs. When he pushed her down, she’d landed on a sharp stone on the ground, cutting open her skin.

“Y-you-y-you’re not human!” Urashima’s voice trembled. “Stay away from me!” As his illusion of her crumbled to dust, his weakened heart gave out. Despair was the last thing that flashed through his mind.

As he breathed his last, Mai-hime remained frozen, unable to reach out and comfort him in his last moments. Her gaze hovered over his shrivelled body until he stopped fidgeting altogether.

After a long while, Mai-hime approached Urashima, who lay lifeless. When she placed her hand on him, he was already cold, unfamiliar to her touch.

“Let the sea take him,” she whispered to herself as she gently closed his eyes.

Left to her own devices, she’d have to forge her own path.

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About the Author

Natsumi Tanaka

NatsumiNatsumi Tanaka is a writer living in Kyoto, Japan. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous Japanese magazines such as Anima Solaris, Kotori no kyuden, and Tanpen.

She is the author of the short story collection Yumemiru ningyo no okoku (2017).

Translated by Toshiya Kamei, her short fiction has appeared in various English-language publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Japanese Fantasy Drabbles, and The William & Mary Review.

 

About the Translator

Toshiya Kamei

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 269

Aberrant Orbitlusa Channellings
By Sultana Raza

Candy Town
By Amy Logan

Curiosity Coil
By Myna Chang

Emergency
By Bruce McNair

Morning Garden
By Umiyuri Katsuyama
Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Night Music
By Connor Orrico

On Demand
By Kevin J. Phyland

Space Train
By Laurie Bell

State of the Art
By Carl Walmsley

The Broken City
By Michael Casey

The Demise of Major Strom
By Timothy Dwyer

The First Artifact to Reach the End of the Universe
By Haneko Takayama
Translated by Toshiya Kamei

The Polishing of a Knob
By Kerrie Noor

Turn the Tables
By Ashley Noel

Woman Apart
By Keech Ballard

The Contributors

Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances.

His favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert.

Wes lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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NatsumiNatsumi Tanaka is a writer living in Kyoto, Japan. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous Japanese magazines such as Anima Solaris, Kotori no kyuden, and Tanpen.

She is the author of the short story collection Yumemiru ningyo no okoku (2017).

Translated by Toshiya Kamei, her short fiction has appeared in various English-language publications, including Daily Science Fiction, Japanese Fantasy Drabbles, and The William & Mary Review.

evan sheldon 200Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared recently in American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and New Flash Fiction Review.

He is a senior editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project.

You can find him online at <https://evanjamessheldon.com>.

jakedean200Jake Dean is a writer and waverider living on Kaurna land in South Australia.

His fiction has appeared in White Horses, The Fiction Pool, Sweaty City, Underground Writers and others.

He's utterly convinced there's a perfect wave breaking somewhere else in the solar system right now.

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Yen Ooi is the author of Sun: Queens of Earth (novel), A Suspicious Collection of Short Stories and Poetry (collection), and Road to Guangdong (computer game), and SF series editor at Brain Mill Press.

Her short stories and poetry have been featured in various publications; most recently, her short story 'The Butterfly Lovers' was published in The Good Journal 3. She is a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London, focusing on Chinese science fiction, where she is interested in the evolution of the genre and the discourses between native and diasporic voices.

As a writer and editor, Yen hopes to develop writing that is rich in culture that will steer genre fiction into a future that is humanity-focused. Yen is also a lecturer at Westminster University's MA Creative Writing course, a mentor in marketing and publishing, and co-founder of CreateThinkDo.

matthew r dohertyMatthew R. Doherty currently resides in Leeds, England, where he spends most of his free time writing about military history, but his other consuming passion is for science fiction.

His main influences are Patrick O’Brian and Philip Jose Farmer.

His favourite single book is “A Canticle For Leibowitz.”

He is currently working on a space opera novel, which will be finished at some point in the 22nd Century.

joanna barrettJoanna is a writer who lives in the bush near the Glasshouse Mountains in Queensland.

She writes both fiction and non-fiction.

Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications including Griffith Review, That’s Life magazine and The School Magazine.

She used to be a journalist but much prefers making stuff up.

At the moment she’s having fun working on a historical novel called What Eddy does for Louis.

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Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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andrew dunn 200Andrew writes science-fiction and fantasy from the state of Maryland on the eastern coast of the United States, often drawing ideas from jogs through forest trails at sunrise or a tasty beer at sunset. 

Andrew writes each story with the goal of giving readers something they will enjoy, without relying on the typical, predictable, or cliche'. His work has previously appeared in AntipodeanSF, 365 Tomorrows, and soon Daily Science Fiction

When Andrew isn't writing chances are he's playing guitar or bass, exploring abandoned places, or spending quality time with a bulldog. Andrew hopes you enjoy this story, and he will continue to try and write stories that you'll love to read! 

tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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Robin Hillard as had a number of stories published in magazines and ezines including AntipodeanSF.

She now lives in Melbourne with a bossy little dog who takes her to the off leash park.  

Everybody (including Robin) knows their dog is the most beautiful and the variety of size and shape gave her the idea for this story.

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Tony Owens is an ESL teacher living in Brisbane with his wife and son.

His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies In Fabula-Divino, Zombies Ain’t Funny,18, Darkest Depths and Andromeda Spaceways Magazine 2017’s Best Stories.

He is a proud member of the Vision Writers Group and his ultimate ambition is to find the literary sweet-spot between H.P. Lovecraft and P.G. Wodehouse.

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Harris Tobias lives and writes in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of two novels: The Greer Agency & A Felony of Birds. He has written dozens of short stories many of which are available on line at <quantummuse.com>. He is the author of many children’s books including At The Robot ZooMoonRivet Saves His Skin and An Alphabet Book of Bugs available in print from

CreateSpace and as ebooks for Nook & Kindle. You can find links to his writings here: <harristobias-fiction.blogspot.com>

kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the antisf.com.au archive.

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Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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simon petrie 200Simon Petrie, born and educated in New Zealand, now lives in the Australian Capital Territory, where he is paid to be careful with words.

He's had a few stories published before, both in AntipodeanSF and elsewhere. He has been shortlisted several times for the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards, and is a three-time Sir Julius Vogel Award winner, most recently in 2018 for his SF/crime novella Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body.

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AntipodeanSF January 2021

ISSUE 268

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (YA/ Fantasy — available now) and White Fire (Sci Fi — available now)

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

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Philip K. Dick

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