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November 2022
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Aphelion: The Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Issue 141, Volume 14 -- March 2010


It was pointed out to me recently that there is a little bit of a paradox involved with the current communications revolution we're undergoing. The paradox doesn't affect everyone equally. Indeed, some of us are barely touched by it. Others seem to be hit pretty hard by it. What is it? We've got cell phones and e-mail and voice mail and instant messaging programs and chat rooms, etc. Dozens of new things to make communications easier, and yet- And yet we seem o be more isolated from each other than ever before.

I have friends online all over the world. Most of them I'll never meet in person. Through this wonderful web of technology we have (and it is wonderful, make no mistake about that) I can speak or text or interact with them in a chat room in real time. I can write them a letter, click on my computer screen, and know that they will be reading my message within moments. I can send them a photograph, or a video of my new grandson when he starts to take his first steps, or a recording of a friend playing their guitar; click send, contact! I can even be in a live chat with text, audio, and video of several people at the same time, and yet there is something missing. There is a kind of distance between some of us that has nothing to do with our relative geographical locations. It is as if the act of closing that physical distance by way of our electronic media has brought about an increase in the emotional distance between individuals.

As I said, it doesn't strike everyone equally. Some of us can still step away from the computer and out into the real world to interact with other people with no difficulty at all. Others of us have a problem dealing with people in the flesh. I, myself, have a fear of crowds. But I fight that by going to conventions, going out shopping in brick & mortar stores, traveling - for hours at a time, one way, sometimes - just to meet up with friends and talk. I don't know how I came by this phobia. I just grew into it, over the years. I know it wasn't caused by the Internet because I was suffering from it long before the Internet came to be. It isn't a fear of being outdoors, being away from my house, or of being in a new, strange place. I love the great outdoors. I enjoy getting out of the house and doing things. I'm not the least bit uncomfortable waking up in a hotel bed a thousand miles away from my home. Or waking up in a sleeping bag in a campground far from home, either. No, my phobia is of large groups of people, strangers to me in every way, gathered together wherever and why ever they congregate. Going to the Atlanta airport is a chore. Going shopping during the Holiday Season is worse. But I did get an insight into my problem at a convention several years back. For most of the weekend at the convention, I was fine. I was overjoyed to be there and having wonderful conversations with people I'd never met before. Some of whom became fast friends. But, and you knew there was going to be an exception of some sort, on the last day of the convention some of the local people came to the hotel for their own regular Sunday morning breakfast socializing. The convention attendees hadn't given my phobia a single twitch. But these strangers pushed it into overdrive. I tried to fight it, but after several hours the anxiety was simply too much. I said farewell to my new friends, threw my bags in the car, checked out of the hotel, and fled for home. It turned out that I fled into a short but nasty thunderstorm. Less than ten minutes drive from the hotel, I was trapped on a highway in a traffic jam I later learned was some seven miles long. I saw several car wrecks that had been caused by the storm as my car crept further amid the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took several hours for emergency crews to clear those wrecks and restore traffic to normal. For most of that time, the traffic was halted completely. People got out of their vehicles and began conversations with others around them. I joined them, in several instances. No fear, no anxiety, just ordinary, everyday people that I didn't know and would never see again, united by circumstances beyond our control. It was quite an enlightening experience for me. In fact, that was the event that began my becoming able to combat my silly little phobia. I haven't ever gotten rid of it, but I eventually learned to almost totally ignore it. I am now able to go to a large public event and have a good time, without giving in to the urge to run away from the crowds. That urge to flee is still there, in the back of my mind, but I don't have to give into it. That gives me a small amount of insight into the isolation that some people online happen to show. But of course, not everyone is driven by a fear of personal interaction with others. I may be an average guy, but I wouldn't say that I'm typical of everyone. People are very much the same, and yet they are all very different.

But yet that distancing is sometimes there. Some people I have seen would rather text each other across a small room than to take a few steps and get face-to-face with each other. Some people seem gregarious and outgoing in a chatroom, but can't seem to bring themselves to interact with others offline. Is it because electronic communication allows us to adopt personae differing from our own, safe and secure in the knowledge that no one can actually touch them in any way? Perhaps, but I don't know for sure. Is there a psychological safety belt involved in being behind a computer screen on the information superhighway? I suppose that is possible, but again, I don't know. What I do know is that people are people, driven by complex emotions and drives and needs, but all pretty similar to one another when everything gets factored into the personal equation. Pretty much, people have always hidden behind masks, roles, characters of the personae we adopt and adapt. I believe that distance between us all has always been there. The Internet didn't cause it, but the Internet makes it easier to observe that distance being put into play in our personal interactions. There are just more people online. The larger sample size makes the gathering of data more accurate, so to speak. I imagine that back in the reaches of history there were people who were far more comfortable sending smoke signals to one another than they were when in a face-to-face meeting. At the core, we humans seem to be a little bit afraid of each other. If technology has proved anything, it shows that we haven't really changed much throughout our history. The better our means of communication, the more obvious the psychological distance we keep between each other becomes.

Drum-beats, smoke signals, telegraph messages, radio, telephones, text messaging, chat rooms... The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course, I'm a writer. So I could just be making it all up. What do you think? While you're thinking it over, I suppose I should quit yapping and let you get to reading the new issue of Aphelion. After all, that's why you came here. Enjoy the stories and poetry and articles. Click on over to our Forums when you're done and feel free to post your critiques and opinions. And thanks for your time,


Serials & Long Fiction

Silver Age
By J. E. Cammon
A story of the origins of super heroism in a midwestern city in the years just after the Second World War.

Short Stories

Cadence: Of Lizards and Hounds
By Christa Lasher
Cadre was a boy who thought nothing of trespassing on a neighbor's land in search of the lizards and other creatures that fascinated him. But he found a lot more than lizards in Aaron Annwn's back yard!

The Table
By Ian Cordingley
The uncontrolled spread of badly-programmed nanites had made travel between the Moon and Earth into an ordeal. To qualify for the trip, Ashley would have to undergo painful and humiliating medical testing -- and even she didn't know if she would pass.

Is There Something in the Attic?
By Belinda Rees
The storm brought a blackout, and something else: something that moved around in the attic, frightening the woman and her two small children. She had to see what it was, and deal with it -- that was part of the job of being a mother.

Basilisks and Brian (and a Very Bad First Day)
By Stuart Sharp
Brian Northington had stumbled into a world he had never suspected right in the heart of modern London, a world where magical -- and sometimes dangerous -- creatures really existed. As new jobs went, dealing with them on behalf of P. Edgeborough and Co. was -- interesting.

The Last Concerto
By James A. Andrew
Radcliffe Willowsby wanted to be a great composer. His work met with indifference at best -- until he found a new source of inspiration.

Fast Food Zombies
By Eric Krause
Working at Buster's Cheeseburger Hut was pretty much literally a McJob. Of course, dealing with marauding packs of zombies in search of sustenance (human flesh preferred, but burgers and fries easier to catch) made it a lot more exciting.

By Dave Weaver
After the banks triggered the Great Depression, everything changed. Where children once sang about the Black Plague (husha, husha, we all fall down), now they sang about the Moneymen...

My Hands
By Jeremy Kuban
Every author (successful or not) gets asked "Where do you get your ideas?" Here is an answer you probably haven't heard before.

The Problem With Gibson
By Dave Weaver
Gibson was a mind-reader. Using him to make sure that the Governor didn't go off script as he began his campaign for the Presidency seemed like a no-brainer.

Results of Forum Flash Challenges for February 2010

The February 2010 Flash Challenge was to take the example story and write it up as seen through the eyes of one of the bar patrons who were thee to witness it. Because the events described take place in Dan Hollifield's (in)famous Mare Inebrium (a decidedly unwretched hive in which scum and villainy rub shoulders (or shoulder-analogs) with heroes and ordinary joes from across all of time and space), Dan has added the stories to the official Mare Inebrium archives. Congratulations to Lester Curtis, the challenge winner for February for his story "Cold Call"!

Flash Crowd #1 - Points of View
By Dan L. Hollifield, Bill Wolfe, Lester Curtis, J. Davidson Hero, & Jaimie Elliot
Any cop can tell you that if you interview a dozen witnesses to a single crime, you'll wind up with a dozen different versions of what happened.

Poetry and Filk Music

by Mike Berger

Columns, Arches, Blocks and Walls
by Robert William Shmigelsky

Howling on the Moor
by Richard H. Fay

by J. Davidson Hero

Just An Observation
by Richard Tornello

Plantigrade People
by Lester Curtis

by Bruce Whealton

The Patron Saint of Dinosaurs
by Jean Jones


Thoughts on Writing #18: Thesaurus vs. Velociraptor Realistic About the Market
By Seanan McGuire
In an ongoing series, Seanan McGuire takes apart the engine of writing to find out how it works, and offers her insights into how to put it back together again.

Off the Shelf: A Local Habitation
By Rob Wynne
October "Toby" Daye returns in Seanan McGuire's second novel, A Local Habitation, out in paperback this week from DAW. Rob Wynne takes a look.

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