Our family tree is growing!

Two strange new skulls have been found in Israel and China. The latter, “Dragon Man,” has been proposed as Homo longi, a new human species! Even if it turns out to be the first Denisovan skull we’ve found, it’s still huge–both literally and figuratively!

Illustration of what 50-year-old “Dragon Man” may have looked like. A bit like my brother, actually. Credit: Chuang Zhao.

These finds drive home a sad fact: it’s a lonely time to be human. Not long ago (okay, relatively) Homo sapiens was just one of at least SIX human species sharing our planet simultaneously.

We needn’t be lonely for long. Soon we’ll have the opportunity to de-extinct some of our lost fellow humans, get another chance to look into their eyes, and know them.

But should we? It’d certainly be interesting. For one, I suspect it will put our stubborn hang-ups around race into perspective. The minor variations we habitually overemphasize will probably seem a wee bit less significant when we share the room with 8-ft tall Denisovans, their massive grins revealing teeth so big archaeologists first thought they belonged to a cave bear, and peeking out from behind them, the 3-ft-tall Homo floresiensis “hobbits” of Indonesia, along with the even more petite Homo luzonensis, perhaps standing on the shoulders of a thickly muscled Neanderthal while our 90-lb tree-climbing cousin Homo naledi dangles from a ceiling pipe.

Which begs the question: if we’re somehow still stumbling over variations as minor as skin pigmentation, how will we treat these humans? Especially if they don’t possess the kinds of intelligence necessary to integrate into our society? And what if it turns out WE’RE the dummies? How will they treat us?

Pretty fun to think about, right? Hey, someone should write a book series about what happens when we bring back extinct hominins! Wink. Stay tuned for Hangman. Book 1 is about to go on submission while I flesh out Books 2-4. Fingers crossed, please. In the meantime, check out my story in Nature, “The Descent of Man,” which became the basis for Chapter 1 of the Hangman saga, along with my guest post for Nature about the science and inspiration behind this series.

A day may come when the great beasts of the past will leap to life again in our imaginations, when we shall walk again in vanished scenes, stretch painted limbs we thought were dust, and feel again the sunshine of a million years ago.
-H.G. Wells, “The Grisly Folk”

Further reading about these exciting new finds:
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01738-w
https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/06/stunning-dragon-man-skull-may-be-elusive-denisovan-or-new-species-human
For a look at the science behind de-extinction, try Regenesis, by George Church and Ed Regis.

Later, humans.

~CW, a H. sapiens of significant Neanderthal descent, with possible minor Denisovan contributions.

Hello Again, World

Apologies for my recent absence. I was hiding from 2020. And half of 2021, it seems.

The dumpster fire of last year brought some major life changes. Some good, some shit. I’ll babble about those below, if you care to know. But the thing I’m here to share, because I’m deeply excited about it: I’m back in the saddle and writing again!

Three new short stories are forthcoming. Additionally, the editors of Deep Magic, who previously honored my story “Hanging Trees” with a Pushcart nomination, recently flattered me once again by selecting it for their Best of Deep Magic anthology … which launched TODAY! Though it’s quieter than the fast-paced speculative fiction I typically write, it’s a good introduction to my short fiction. If you’ve read some of my other stories, this one is a nice change-up, stylistically. The anthology is now available on Amazon (free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

What I’m even more giddy about: I’m once again at work on my debut series, Hangman. Book I is complete, soon to go on submission, and without a doubt the best thing I’ve written. And that’s only if I don’t count Books II-IV, because they’re still growing from baby outlines to adult novels (no, not adult novels. Sorry.). Each installment is better than the last, and the saga as a whole is shaping up to be the story I always wanted to read, but never found. Probably because it is super weird! But hey, weird is a synonym for original, right? Right!? Yeah …

As for those life changes:

The Bad: A shitstorm of 2020-related stress, the exact details with which I won’t bore you because you probably had your own, but a consequence of which was a near-complete absence of my usual love of literature—reading and writing both. I suspect there may be something to that old hierarchy of needs after all.

The Good: Brooklyn, my incredibly patient saint of a partner, who was in large part responsible for getting me through the bad, convinced me to move with her to Hawaii mid-pandemic. Though we left beloved people, trees, and birds behind, we’ve already found much to treasure here. My love of literature is rivalled by my passion for trees, fruit trees in particular, and for that Hawaii truly is paradise. Here one can regularly feast on rare tropical fruits, many of them better than anything I could previously grow in Northern Nevada’s five frost-free months.

Lunch in Hilo. Starring (clockwise beginning with yellow dragon-egg-looking-thing in top left): rollinia, mango, finger limes, durian (possibly ‘Monthong’), durian ‘Pohakulani,’ and the star of the show, the best damn fruit I know of–cempedak.

Putting the cherry on the cempedak, I started an exciting new job that satisfies my fruit obsession: I’m propagating, planting, and caring for fruit trees at a budding 60-acre rare fruit orchard and probable future arboretum (can we please call it an “arbor-eat-’em”?). I’m often consulted for tree recommendations for sites ranging from city parks and universities to small home gardens, and I almost always include at least some fruit trees. Far too often, my suggestions meet resistance from this idea that fruit trees are “too messy, and too much work.” Well, life is messy, and too much work. But it requires us to eat, so if we’re going to be planting and caring for trees anyway, we might as well select those that’ll reward us with delicious, healthy fruit, right? The answer at this “arbor-eat-’em” is an emphatic “OF COURSE!” and that’s as refreshing as white pineapple on a summer day. Plus, the office views ain’t bad:

Part of the “arbor-eat-’em” overlooking Hilo Bay. At left, ice cream beans (Inga spp.) fix atmospheric nitrogen to benefit the young Garcinia trees beneath them.

To wrap up, I’ll try to convey the feeling that inspired me to check in after far too long (again, my embarrassed apologies), and to do so I’ll lean on the wisdom of a certain variety of lodgepole pine, which knows this: Only from the ashes can a forest grow anew.

Or, perhaps more fitting to this post: last year’s rotten compost is today’s delicious fruit.

To the fruits of a new year,

~CW

The Last Stand – Reprinted!

In the aftermath of last year’s catastrophic California wildfires, VICE’s Terraform published “The Last Stand,” a piece of mine about the future of fire. It’s making another stand, this time in Little Blue Marble, a publication I’m particularly fond of. You can read my story for free, or purchase the excellent anthology here.

In light of Australia’s current wildfires, this piece is unfortunately just as relevant today as it was last year. But somehow, I’m hopeful. People are taking action. Not enough to reverse current trends, but enough to inspire hope.

On top of that, we have these extraordinary machines that can capture carbon, purify air and water, manufacture building supplies, feed us, and even make us happier. They’re called trees, and if you need tips on how to obtain, install, or maintain these wondrous machines, I’m here to help!

Seriously. Post a comment or send me an e-mail. If you have a question, I’ll answer it. If I don’t know, I’ll find out. Unless you live in Antarctica, you can probably grow trees. Hell, trees used to grow in Antarctica–with significant life extension and a whole lot of patience, you could re-introduce them!

2018 Awards Eligibility and Review

1. Hanging Trees – Deep Magic

This is the first year I’ve recommended my own work for consideration, as it’s the first year I have something I feel worthy. That story is “Hanging Trees” (Deep Magic, 4400 words).

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It’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, but is really a much better fit for the science fiction awards. You can purchase the story for Kindle (free with Kindle Unlimited) or, if reading for award consideration, shoot an email to christoph@christophweber.com with your preferred format and I’ll happily send you a copy.

“Hanging Trees” is allegory for an event in the history of science which impacted me deeply and turned out to be extremely relevant in 2018. More than that, though, the story is about humanity’s place in nature, and how we might improve the ways we relate to our fellow bioforms.

Synopsis:

Eleanor Franklin, a young marsborn colonist, discovers the first complex extraterrestrial lifeform known to science: bioluminescent “trees” that dangle from the ceiling of a cavern deep below the Red Planet’s surface.

We craned our necks up toward the source of the deep green glow, and that’s when we saw them—the upside-down trees, hanging from above like living chandeliers. Their luminescent roots traversed the ceiling in a light-show lattice joining each tree to the others, anchoring the ethereal forest to the rock above.

Others take credit for Eleanor’s discovery, however, and when they realize the trees are the source of the poisonous gas plaguing their colony, they destroy them–along with the only connection to non-human life Eleanor has known.

Her days numbered, Eleanor desperately searches Mars’s underground karst landscape for more trees … and for a way of life that will allow humanity to better share the cosmos with its fellow residents.

2. The Last Stand – Terraform (VICE)

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My other eligible story is “The Last Stand” (1000 words), which appeared Nov. 2018 in Terraform (VICE). It draws on climate/fire science and my years as a firefighter to paint a picture of what California wildfires will look like–and what we stand to lose–if we don’t alter current trends. It lacks the layered depth of “Hanging Trees,” but I certainly won’t stop you from considering it!

Much Love,

~Christoph

The Future of Fire

Terraform, the future fiction section of VICE, just published “The Last Stand,” a piece of mine about the future of fire in California. It draws on climate/fire science and my experiences fighting fire to paint a picture of where we’re headed if we don’t get our shit together. You can read it here, along with my notes and references for you nerds interested in the science behind science fiction. Comments/arguments welcome.

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Special thanks to Tony Alvarez, hotshot firefighter, US Marine, and the hardest-working human I know, for providing the inspiration behind fire soldiers, and for schooling me on the proper way to sling a Humvee via helicopter.

I donated my payment for this piece to those who lost their homes and loved ones in the recent CA fires. If you have the means, I hope you’ll consider making a donation, however small. The California Fire Foundation is a good option: responding firefighters know who needs help, and they distribute funds on site, when assistance is most critical.

Much Love,

~Christoph

Hanging Trees

New story day! “Hanging Trees” is out now in the spring issue of Deep Magic (available here).

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I’m especially excited because this issue includes a story by Ken Liu. His translation of The Three-body Problem is among my all-time favorite novels, and his short story “The Paper Menagerie” (winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards) brought me to tears when I first read it.

“Hanging Trees” is slower than the thriller-type SF stories I usually write; nevertheless, I think it’s among my best. Set on a near-future Mars colony, it’s an allegory for an event in the history of science which impacted me deeply, and which I think is relevant today.

Like puzzles? “Hanging Trees” contains numerous clues to its inspiration; if you think you know which historical event inspired El’s story, tell me in a comment. The first reader to guess correctly will get a tree I’ve grown from seed, or a pack of wildflower seeds native to your region!

Möbius – free for one week

If you missed my science fiction medical mystery, “Möbius,” it’s available free for one week in Event Horizon: An Anthology of Authors Eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (download). After July 15, “Möbius” will still be available, but only by purchasing Writers of the Future, Vol. 32 (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers).

Of course I’d blow smoke about all my story-babies, so here’s an unbiased opinion from review magazine Tangent Online: “‘Möbius’ is a tightly written mix of mystery and moral questions that literally leaves the ending in your hands. Centering on a world where genetic research is tightly regulated, outlaw labs have sprung up and law enforcement has responded. The characters are well written, the mystery plausible, and the story reads like a high stakes poker game with the characters in a cycle of raising the stakes that leaves you racing through the story. Probably the best of the anthology.”

Enjoy!

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Artwork for “Möbius” by Talia Spencer

Taking Root

My new short story, “Taking Root,” is now available in D.O.A. III (Kindle and paperback), alongside some great writers, including Jack Ketchum, named “the scariest guy in America” by Stephen King. Please proceed with caution: “depraved” does not even come close to describing this book. Happy reading! 🙂

While I feel the warning is necessary, there’s some stellar writing in this anthology, including these lines that I think speak to why (mostly) sane people read and write the kinds of atrocities found within:

“There is no bottom. And there is no top … No matter how hard you fall, there is always a deeper darkness below. But if that is true, there is also no end to the height and the light that a soul can aspire to. Up goes up forever, too. A little perspective is a wonderful thing.”

– John Skipp, “Splatterpunk Alphabet Souffle”

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The Three-body Problem, and What America Can Learn from the Cultural Revolution

I rarely write book reviews, but after reading The Three-body Problem I must yawp from my rooftop just how extraordinary this novel is, in the hope that others will experience the same mind-bending awe this masterpiece inspired in me.

The Three-body Problem is by no means slow, though it’s not exactly an action-packed, cliffhanger-type novel. I enjoy those as well, and I’ll highly recommend Red Rising and Ready Player One if that’s what you’re looking for. But Liu Cixin didn’t need to blow shit up to keep me reading through the night: the sheer scope, originality, and power of his ideas do that job more than adequately.

The novel is set in China, largely in Beijing, a city in which I studied and worked for over a Continue reading