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Prisoners on the Moon

Greetings, Blog-checkers!

I have three new stories in the most recent issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review. You can grab the issue here

You can also read one of the stories below, which is about the controversial subject of moon prisons. 

Yours in the regolith, 

Seth

Prisoners on the Moon

When the initial steps were taken, most  of the plan’s  organizers  were focused  on the simple  practicality of the decision.  With the success of the newer space stations farther out, the moon was no longer being put to much use as a transportation hub. The hundreds of dormitories that once housed the staff needed to operate the moon’s electromagnetic freight cannons and launch compounds were now mostly empty. And while the colony’s public administrators would have been happy to sell the place off to commercial developers of condominiums and resorts, the idea seemed laughable. After all, who would want to go to the moon?

Enough generations had brought back reports to Earth of what a grim, undesirable place it was:  one’s  waking hours  confined to  industrial  facilities  overlooking pale deserts of regolith interrupted only by desolate-looking craters, the view obscured by the persistent layer of corrosive dust that accumulated on every porthole and window.

A man slumped forward on his barstool is asked what it was like to live there for eleven years. He shrugs. “They run your piss through algae, and then you drink it.”

So the idea to turn the place into a prison seemed like the only way to make sure that the moon’s existing infrastructure would not go to waste, though the public initially resisted  the notion.  Not  because  it seemed  cruel to banish  prisoners  from the planet. After all, these  were violent offenders  with no possibility  of parole. But because the moon had still managed to maintain a symbolic resonance in most people’s imaginations. Even if it was an uninviting place to visit, the moon as it appeared in the night sky was still a sight that filled people with inarticulate longings and a somber type of hopefulness.

A similar attitude had been a hurdle for those who had first wanted to turn the moon into a center for shipping and transportation. All initiatives for that project first had to be ratified by an international committee, whose firm consensus had been that “any facilities established on the moon should be camouflaged  so as to imitate its surface and thus not diminish its natural beauty as seen from the Earth.”

But even after this new plan to send prisoners to the moon had been approved, on the grounds that it would bring about no noticeable changes to the night sky, there was still some  widespread  discomfort  at the thought of it. One of the advantages of terrestrial  prisons,  people realized, was that they were always out of sight,  so easy to forget about or ignore. Driving down a rural interstate, one saw a series of squat buildings in the distance surrounded by barbed wire. Such a facility was passed by so quickly that most people barely had time to realize that it was a prison containing the sum of so many brutal, unfortunate lives.

Once the first cohort of prisoners had been sent, no one could look up at the night sky without imagining a line of convicts being led to a cellblock amid the long darkness of a lunar night. In the minds  of observers,  the moon had become populated with sad-eyed  men and women who looked down at the Earth and thought about their hometowns, the sound of rain, the feeling of being inside the world and looking out as  opposed  to outside  the world and looking in. The notion that anyone could be locked away at all, even here on Earth and even if they had done everything to deserve it, suddenly seemed like madness. This aspect of society that people had managed to disregard for so long was now taking place on a stage that occupied a central place in their imaginations, and the resulting surge of empathy was undeniable.

Over time there was a groundswell of prison and judicial reform. People began to call for less aggressive sentencing and an emphasis on rehabilitation. They demanded public inspectors be sent to the moon to ensure that living conditions there were adequate. Some concerned citizens were even moved to join advocacy groups or write letters to their representatives asking that dubious cases be reopened and sentences overturned. Wrongly accused men and women were brought back to Earth two and three at a time.

Of course, there were many prisoners who were unquestionably guilty, those who expressed no remorse and whose hatred of their fellow man indicated clearly that their place was on the moon. And yet even the removal of such wretched individuals was never cause for celebration. People quietly mourned the existence of these prisoners, not because of the particular  offenses they had committed, but because of the evil that innocent men and women were forced to commit in denying these  criminals  their freedom.

No matter how equitably punishments were decided on or carried out, the sight of the moon, once beautiful, now instilled a deeply moral sadness. Its waning usually came as some relief, a thin crescent perhaps even obscured by a dark bank of clouds. But when full, it looked bigger than ever. There were nights when it seemed to fill the whole sky. When there was no place else to look.

Das Kolumne #12

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My Tin House column is back with more indispensable writing advice. Check it out to learn how to improve your writing the simple and natural way by adding in bears (preferably ones wearing beautiful vests).   

Hello Again

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Greetings, my loyal Sethnauts!

I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled and relieved to learn that I have a short story in the new issue of Tin House. The issue also features work by some exciting newcomers like Stephen King and C.K. Williams. Make sure to check it out!

Below I’ve included a quick excerpt from my contribution, Hello Again.

Yours urgently,

SF 

After a long and tumultuous expansion, the universe began to contract. The speed with which it had cast itself out was finally overpowered by the inward gravitational pull of its own suspended matter, and so the stars and planets paused like weary travelers before beginning to drift the long way back toward one another. They drew together in great clumps, colliding with such force that they collapsed into black holes. Thus, all of creation devoured itself and was compressed down to a region of incredible heat and density. This situation was altogether identical to the initial conditions that had preceded the big bang. And since there was nothing to prevent that happy explosion from recurring, the universe inevitably sprang forth once more in a cycle that was without end. If this activity could have been viewed as a whole over an impossible amount of time, it would have looked as if the universe were steadily breathing in and out, in and out, in and out.

What’s more, because the various components of the universe were always cast out in the same order and with the same amount of force, the next universe was always indistinguishable from the previous one. Every galaxy, every mountain range, every molecule was arranged in space and time as it had been in all the other countless iterations of the universe. Even something as seemingly accidental and haphazard as the human race was reproduced perfectly and without variation. People were born into bodies that were composed of the exact same matter they had been composed of hundreds of trillions of years earlier. They were born at the same times to the same mothers and ultimately lived out the same fates.

Though individuals could make choices that were entirely spontaneous and in keeping with their own natures, they encountered all the same circumstances at all the same moments with all their same internal frameworks, meaning their choices—though made freely—were always inevitably the same. Whether it was an unpunished murder or the discovery of penicillin, the people involved would hit their marks perfectly, performing their roles with the unwitting urgency that came from the assumption that one had never in a previous universe lived one’s life before. That is, until the human race’s understanding of the universe expanded to include the indisputable fact that the universe and everything in it was repeating, at which point humanity was thrown into a state of existential crisis.

After all, it did take some of the charm out of free will to know that every decision had already been made and would be made again and again ceaselessly. People’s most inconsequential and private behaviors were suddenly stretching off in both directions of time in a dizzying symmetry, so that even as they were astounded by the apparent vastness of their own existences they also began to feel robbed of themselves, deprived of all personal agency. In a way, the astrologists had been correct; an individual’s fate was no different than the position and movement of the heavenly bodies. Each well-reasoned or spur-ofthe-moment decision was just another projectile flying from the universe’s center, each person’s will caroming off space and time in a pattern that was determined billions of years ago by the manner in which all matter had been expelled.

The Evil Tyrant of Ten Kurk

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Greetings, Seth-heads! 

I have a new story in the most recent issue of The Missouri Review

I’ve included an excerpt from the story below. If this short passage (combined with the title page of naked death-fighting shown above) doesn’t pique your curiosity enough to make you subscribe to TMR right now, then you need to get your curiosity muscle checked, mon frère.  

Yours respectfully, 

Seth Fried

EXCERPT: 

The tyrant and rebels

Though the majority of his subjects have abandoned all hope of resisting him, every so often the tyrant will commit such an outrageous act that a young hero will attempt to organize a rebellion.

This is always an exciting time in Ten Kurk. Oh, what a privilege it is to be young and to have a castle to storm. To spend some hopeful night bivouacked in the woods to the north of the tyrant’s fortress. The stink of bonfires and the grave sound of pledges being made between comrades in the dark.

Though nothing will come of it. The tyrant will have planted a traitor among the rebels, and their camp will be ambushed in the night. If an assault is made on the fortress, the rebels will find its defenses too daunting. They will die pathetically beneath high spires in clouds of their own musket smoke. Even so, as they look up from the field of battle to his impenetrable defenses, the rebels will be grateful that they had a fortress to charge at in the first place, that behind all their woes was an entity unmistakably at fault.

The tyrant and nature

Occasionally a storm moves through Ten Kurk. In the calm that follows, citizens come up from their cellars to find trees uprooted by strong winds, wheel carts and chicken coops swept up and smashed in the street. Occasionally they will also see in the distance that the tyrant’s fortress is missing a turret or that one of its heavy walls has been damaged.

Even with his men hard at work making repairs—scaffolding visible over a breach, loads of stone making their way up—the sight of the fortress in such a state never fails to remind his subjects that the tyrant’s power is nothing compared to all the forces that operate beyond his authority.

The tyrant is usually so relentless in his rule that his will can seem all-encompassing. By committing atrocity after atrocity, he creates a world for his subjects that is defined solely by his disdain for them.

But these sudden acts of nature reveal the world to be something more complicated, a chaos of fates centered on nothing, directed at no one. A flash of lightning splits an oak tree, a river floods a town, a lion eats its cub, a star in the night sky extinguishes itself. When measured against nature’s raw, impersonal destruction, the tyrant’s crimes against his subjects begin to seem theatrical, ludicrous.

It is for this reason that natural disasters are very much to the tyrant’s advantage. After a storm has passed and his fortress has been repaired, he arranges to have any evidence of the damage dragged into one of Ten Kurk’s public squares. A massive rubble of dark stone. When his people look on it, there is a sudden air of acceptance and even approval of the tyrant’s authority, as if they have been reminded once more that beyond the illusion of his supremacy lies oblivion.

Das Kolumne #11

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Das Kolumne #11 is here and it’s going to shove a big heaping silver spoon of laughter into your gullet. This installment focuses on the wacky world of inequality. You can read it HERE

Notifications

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I have a very serious and well-written piece up over at The New Yorker. 

You can read it here. If the piece leaves you feeling excited to check out the poetry of the young and ambitious Alexander Wilkins, then I encourage you to check out his site here

booksmatter:

Literary fact of the day, courtesy of Seth Fried and Julia Mehoke’s brilliant new webcomic, The Factspace.

booksmatter:

Literary fact of the day, courtesy of Seth Fried and Julia Mehoke’s brilliant new webcomic, The Factspace.

Your New Favorite Webcomic

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As we all know, the internet is famous for two things: pornography and misinformation. If you’re a fan of the latter, then Julia Mehoke and I urge you to check out our  brand new webcomic, which will be providing the internet with more fake trivia than it can handle. 

Please visit thefactspace.com for our weekly updated comic and follow us on twitter (@thefactspace) to enjoy our unending stream of non-traditional facts.