“Life From the Sky” in the May/June issue of Asimov’s magazine

My novelette “Life From the Sky” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I’m excited to be there along with some of my favorite authors.

You can subscribe to print and electronic editions at the Asimov’s website and at Amazon. Individual copies are on sale now at fine bookstores and are available at some public libraries.

The story is set in the here and now. What if alien life forms landed on Earth? What would we do?

Here are the opening paragraphs:

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Quixote out loud

A high school student reads in 2010. Photo by Sue Burke.

Each year, to commemorate the official day of Cervante’s death on April 23, the Circulo de Bellas Artes hosts a Continuous Reading of Don Quijote de La Mancha. It takes about 48 hours. Celebrities, students, and volunteers off the street each proclaim a brief excerpt. I’ve volunteered twice.

In 2008, I read a portion of Part Two, Chapter XVIII, which included a verse of very bad poetry. In 2010, I read a portion of Part Two, Chapter IV, only one sentence, but it was 122 words long. Here are my accounts from each adventure.

2008

I took part in the 12th Annual Continuous Reading of Don Quixote today.

It’s held in the Hall of Columns theater on the 4th floor of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural institution in downtown Madrid. Anyone can volunteer to read a few paragraphs, so why not me, despite my accent?

I went up to theater lobby, got my volunteer number, and went into the hall. About 100 people were inside, listening as one reader after another took the podium on the spare and dramatically lit stage. A monitor on a wall announced that they were reading from Book II, Chapter 18, which deals with what happened to Don Quixote in the castle of the Knight of the Green Doublet.

A camera crew filmed the reading for close-circuit TV throughout the building, and a radio technician monitored the live transmission on Radio Círculo 100.4 FM. A movie screen showed clips from movie adaptations of the book. An interpreter presented the words in sign language.

Volunteers came in all types and ages. Three men read their sections in Esperanto. Entire families read. Young children stumbled but bravely made it through their paragraphs. Don Quixote is a funny book, and some readers couldn’t help smiling as they read. Everyone got a brief round of applause when they finished.

My number came up. As the volunteer ahead of me read, I went to the table on stage to sign the log book, then got my assignment. I had time to read it through silently once before it was my turn to stand behind the lectern — just me, bright lights, and these words by Miguel de Cervantes:

“Verdaderamente, señor Quijote,” dijo don Lorenzo, “que deseo coger a vuestra merced en un mal latín continuado, y no puedo, porque se me desliza de entre las manos como anguila.”

“No entiendo,” respondió don Quijote, “lo que vuestra merced dice ni quiere decir en eso del deslizarme.”

“Yo me daré a entender,” respondió don Lorenzo, “y por ahora esté vuesa merced atento a los versos glosado y a la glosa, que dicen de esta manera:

¡Si mi fue tornarse a es,
sin esperar más será,
o vinese el tiempo ya
de lo que será después!…”

(“Verily, Señor Don Quixote,” said Don Lorenzo, “I wish I could catch your worship tripping at a stretch, but I cannot, for you slip through my fingers like an eel.”

“I don’t understand what you say or mean by slipping,” said Don Quixote.

“I will explain myself another time,” said Don Lorenzo; “for the present pray attend to the glossed verses and the gloss, which run thus:

Could ‘was’ become an ‘is’ for me,
Then would I ask no more than this;
Or could, for me, the time that is
Become the time that is to be!…)

2010

For the past 14 years, to celebrate the anniversary of Cervantes’ death (actually, his interment) on April 23, the Círculo de Bellas Artes of Madrid organizes a marathon reading of Don Quijote de la Mancha. Each volunteer reads a short portion of the work. I volunteered in 2008 and again this year.

I arrived today at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a seven-story cultural center in downtown Madrid, a little before 10 a.m. on a warm, sunny spring day. The sidewalk and the lobby were bustling, and TV news crews busily recorded the scene. I recognized two prominent Spanish politicians on my way to fifth-floor Hall of Columns where the reading was taking place. April 23 is World Book Day, and a cultural center was the place to be seen.

I registered in the lobby outside the hall. Some readers and groups pre-register, and some like me walk in off the street. The volunteers handed me my volunteer-off-the-street ticket, Number 176, and apologized. “It will take a long time to get to that number, an hour, maybe more.”

One of them pointed out an electronic display board and explained that they were all over the building including the cafés. He said they would alert me when my number was coming up if I wanted to go relax elsewhere. I said I would enjoy watching the reading. He apologized again because the hall, with more than 100 seats, was filled to standing-room-only.

But I had read two years ago and expected all this. I went into the hall and found a comfortable place to stand. The brightly lit stage held a table and lectern. Above it was projected an old movie version of Don Quijote. At the dimly lit sides of the hall, technicians managed equipment for Radio Círculo and Instituto Cervantes TV, and staff organized the readers waiting to go on stage.

On the podium, high school students were reading the sonnets at the end of Part One with varying degrees of confidence as their friends in the audience snapped photos. Each volunteer read until the woman who was assigning the readings said “muchas gracias.” Then the reader stepped off the stage to applause, and it was the next volunteer’s turn.

At the start of Part Two, Chapter II, the Cervantes Institute connected to its Pekin branch, where three people active in Spanish literature – Dong Yanshen, Fan Hong Yu, and Xu Ying – each read a section. They spoke Spanish with good accents.

The reading returned to the Hall of Columns. A few VIPs slipped in among the students, along with some volunteers from the street. At the start of Chapter IV, Radio Círculo connected to the Madrid Women’s Penal Institute, where two inmates read.

At 11:15, my number came up. I signed in, and then sat next to the woman assigning the readings. She followed along in a large-print text as the person ahead of me read. When he reached the end of a sentence, she said, “Muchas gracias.” It was my turn.

The book on the podium was the same large-print edition. My section began with the words “Yo, señor Sansón” halfway down the page in the middle of a line. I found it and began reading with as much inflection as I could, though I was reading only a half-word ahead of where my finger was following the text.

I reached the end of the long sentence. “Muchas gracias,” the woman said, and I stepped down from the stage to applause.

I remained to listen to Chapter V. Most of the high school students had left. The Ambassador of Ireland read a few paragraphs; so did another VIP and a lot of ordinary people.

This doll loves to read.

When I left the hushed hall for the busy lobby, the Guild of Madrid Booksellers gave me a commemorative paper doll. Downstairs, at the even more busy main entrance, a television displayed someone reading from Chapter VI. Sixty-eight chapters remained.

Here’s the section I read:

“…Yo, señor Sansón, no pienso granjear fama de valiente, sino del mejor y más leal escudero que jamás sirvió a caballero andante; y si mi señor don Quijote, obligado de mis muchos y buenos servicios, quisiere darme alguna ínsula de las muchas que ha de topar por ahí, recibiré mucha merced en ello; y cuando no me la diere, nascido soy, y no ha de vivir el hombre en hoto de otro, sino de Dios; y más, que tan bien y aun quizá mejor me sabrá el pan desgobernado que siendo gobernador; ¿y sé yo por ventura si en esos gobiernos me tiene aparejada el diablo alguna zancadilla donde tropiece y caiga y me haga las muelas?…”

(“…I, Senor Samson, don’t plan to earn my fame by being brave but by being the best and most loyal squire who ever served a knight-errant; and if my master Don Quixote, in consideration of my many fine services, is pleased to give me some island of the many that must be around these parts, I will take it as a great favor; and if he does not give it to me, I was born to suffer, and a man must not live depending on others, only on God; and what is more, my bread will taste as good and perhaps even better without a government than if I were a governor; how do I know but that in these governments the devil may have prepared some trick to make me trip and fall and knock out my molars?…”)

Four modern myths about Cervantes

Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha among many other works, supposedly died on April 23, 1616. Here are four myths to clear up before you observe the anniversary — and before you celebrate World Book Day on April 23.

Myth 1: Cervantes died on April 23

No. Cervantes probably died on April 22. Church records say he was interred on April 23, 1616, and in Spain people are generally laid to rest on the day after their death. There is no doubt, however, that he was interred at the church of the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians in central Madrid, a few blocks from his home.

Myth 2: Cervantes died on the same day as Shakespeare

No, for two reasons. Number 1: William Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616, not April 22. Number 2: Spain was using the Gregorian calendar (just as we do now worldwide), while England was still using the old Julian calendar. The Gregorian equivalent of April 23, 1616, is May 3, 1616. Shakespeare died ten days after Cervantes was interred.

In spite of that, UNESCO has established April 23 as World Book Day to honor the two authors’ (more or less) simultaneous deaths and their unquestionable status as giants of literature.

Myth 3: Cervantes’ remains were found in 2015

Maybe. A team of 36 experts in history, archeology, and anthropology spent more than a year investigating Cervantes’ interment at the Trinitarian church. They knew his remains had been “consolidated” around 1730 after the church was rebuilt. That means the remains from several crypts were combined to free up space for more interments.

CervantesRemainsEventually, these experts located a grave from the right time, judging from fragments of clothing and a coin found in it. But what they discovered was in fact a mixture of casket hardware, pieces of wood, some rocks, and quite a few deteriorated bone fragments. (Photo by the Municipality of Madrid.) The fragments were sorted out and corresponded to six children and at least ten adults, including men and women.

One of those bones was a jaw whose owner had lost most of his teeth. We know that Cervantes had very few teeth when he died. Some rib and arm bones showed signs of injuries like the ones Cervantes suffered in the Battle of Lepanto. The director of the investigation announced that “it is possible” that “some fragments” were from Cervantes. “We can’t resolve that question with absolute certainty, and that’s why we’re prudent. We’re convinced we have something.”

Corroborating that “something” with DNA would help, but it’s going to be tough to get DNA from family members, since their remains aren’t in any better shape, if they can even be found.

In spite of that, you can go on guided tours of the church and view a five-foot-tall granite headstone that rests a floor above what are possibly Cervantes’ remains. The tour guide tells visitors, “It doesn’t matter if they’re here, over there, or somewhere else. The author hasn’t left this place.” And that’s for certain. What’s left of him, though it might not be much, is definitely in that church. Somewhere.

Myth 4: We writers should honor his remains with a visit

Maybe. Madrid is a great place to visit. These aren’t saintly relics, however, so they won’t radiate any sort of blessing to improve our souls. Even if they did, remember that while we now celebrate Cervantes’ genius, during his lifetime he was always poor and overlooked. That’s why his remains were “consolidated.” Only those rich enough to pay for the privilege got to rest in peace and solitude for all time to come. Everyone else was moved to joint burials if their space was needed for a new interment.

If we make a solemn pilgrimage to his resting place, we might be blessed by genius — or we might be cursed by poverty and obscurity. We don’t need Cervantes’ help to achieve that.

Vale.

Turning a nuisance into a money-maker

I want to open a business: a spy agency. Detectives, if you prefer.

Learn your competitor’s business secrets! Find out if your spouse is cheating! Think there’s a conspiracy? We can find out!

Here’s how it will work. My agents will (discretely, of course) follow around the target individual(s) in public areas, such as restaurants, airplanes, and stores. They will (discretely) eavesdrop when the target individual is talking on the phone.

It’s just that easy. People talk way too loud, and we all know how often we’ve heard people say things in public that we weren’t meant to hear. If my agents listened persistently, think how much they could learn.

Espionage. Perfectly legal.

Easy money. Because people with phones make it just that easy.

I’ll be at C2E2 on Sunday, April 8

c2e2-header-logoI’ll be at C2E2, the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, on Sunday afternoon, April 8. I’ll appear on a panel called The End of the World As we Know It: Dystopian & Utopian Futures in Fiction, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in Room S405b.

“From 1984 to The Handmaid’s Tale and everything in between, the best science fiction pulls from current events to create terrifying alternate futures and shine a light on the political and social issues of today. Could these realities come true? Join Sue Burke (Semiosis), Kristen Simmons (Metaltown, The Glass Arrow, the Article 5 Series), Ada Palmer (The Will to Battle, Terra Ignota Series) and Sam J. Miller (Blackfish City) as they gaze into dystopian worlds eerily similar to our own.”

Then we’ll be at an autographing session from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. at tables 33 and 34 in the Autographing Area. Books will be available for purchase, but the autographs will be free, and we’ll be glad to talk to people. (For some celebrities, free autographs isn’t the case. I’m definitely not a celebrity.)

C2E2 will be held April 6 to 8 at the South Building at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive. It’s a Chicago convention for fans dedicated to comics, pop culture, books, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and television. Last year 80,000 people attended. C2E2 is especially known for its cosplay championships.

This should be fun.