Size / / /

"The fuel [Egyptian railroaders] use for the locomotive is composed of

mummies three thousand years old, purchased by the ton or by the graveyard

for that purpose."

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

On the night spur

between Kharga and Kena,

the old locomotive

chuffs in the cool desert air,

iron lungs awheeze with belched

steam and smoke the color of parchment.

By now the reserves of coal

have long been exhausted; powering

the train for the remainder

of its journey is backup fuel,

bought by the plunderload

from those who made their living

excavating the tombs.

Tiny flakes of the stuff float

about the car,

evading the boilerman's shovel—

probably no residue of boy-king or priest,

but more likely ordinary human

bitumen, transmuted

by the mortuary alchemists of Ancient Kemet

from common reserves

and in all likelihood

designed to serve the Pharaoh

in the afterlife.

Wrapped in cerecloth, the fragments

sputter and crack, readily taking flame.

Soon giving way

to tiny conflagrations of blackened

skin and blood-tar, they

emit, in addition to the smell

of burnt linen (which reminds

the boilerman of a fire in Cairo's

slums when he was a boy),

a mixed perfume of frankincense

and charred bone.

So, after clacking hieroglyph

and hieroglyph of rail, the transit

continues, more or less on time.

Finally exhausted, however,

the shoveler decides to take a break,

stepping between the two cars

to let his sweat be drawn off.

A cigarette is rolled from paper

and tobacco; as the train chugs

on, a retrieved ember from the firebox

provides him the light he needs.

Inhaling deeply, the boilerman

is drawn to a common observation—

how the desert at this time of night

resembles the umber flanks of a sphinx—

even as he studiously avoids

looking to the far side of the sky,

where smoke meets morning clouds

and ka evaporate like bubbles in asphalt.




Robert Borski works for a consortium of elves repairing shoes in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. You can read more of his work in our archives.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
Cloud Atlas can be expressed as ABC[P]YZY[P]CBA. The Actual Star , however, would be depicted as A[P]ZA[P]ZA[P]Z (and so on).
a ghostly airship / sorting and discarding to a pattern that isn’t available to those who are part of it / now attempting to deal with the utterly unknowable
Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
Tuesday: Genre Fiction: The Roaring Years by Peter Nicholls 
Wednesday: HellSans by Ever Dundas 
Thursday: Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072 by M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi 
Friday: House of the Dragon Season One 
Issue 23 Jan 2023
Issue 16 Jan 2023
Issue 9 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
2 Jan 2023
Welcome, fellow walkers of the jianghu.
Issue 2 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
Issue 19 Dec 2022
Issue 12 Dec 2022
Issue 5 Dec 2022
Issue 28 Nov 2022
By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
Issue 21 Nov 2022
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