THE NEW VOICES OF SCIENCE FICTION preview: “Openness” by Alexander Weinstein

In celebration of the recently released THE NEW VOICES OF SCIENCE FICTION, Tachyon and editors Hannu Rajaniemi and Jacob Weisman present
glimpses into the future of science fiction from several of the volume’s
magnificent tales.




Alexander Weinstein

I decided to finally give up on New York, I subbed classes at a
junior high in Brooklyn. A sixth grade math teacher suffering from
downloading anxiety was out for the year, and jobs being what they
were, I took any opportunity I could. Subbing math was hardly my
dream job; I had a degree in visual art, for which I’d be in debt
for the rest of my life. All I had to show for it was my senior
collection, a series of paintings of abandoned playgrounds, stored in
a U-Pack shed in Ohio. There was a time when I’d imagined I’d
become famous, give guest lectures at colleges, and have
retrospectives at MoMA. Instead, I found myself standing in front of
a class of apathetic tweens, trying to teach them how to do long
division without accessing their browsers. I handed out pen and
paper, so that for once in their lives they’d have a tactile
experience, and watched as they texted, their eyes glazed from
blinking off message after message. They spent most of the class
killing vampires and orcs inside their heads and humoring me by
lazily filling out my photocopies.

city overwhelmed me. Every day I’d walk by hundreds of strangers,
compete for space in crowded coffee shops, and stand shoulder to
shoulder on packed subway cars. I’d scan profiles, learning that
the woman waiting for the N enjoyed thrash-hop, and the barista at my
local coffee shop loved salted caramel. I’d had a couple fleeting
relationships, but mostly I’d spend weekends going to bars and
sleeping with people who knew little more than my username. It all
made me want to turn off my layers, go back to the old days, and stay
disconnected. But you do that and you become another old guy buried
in an e-reader, complaining about how no one sends emails anymore.

So I
stayed open, shared the most superficial info of my outer layer with
the world, and filtered through everyone I passed, hoping to find
some connection. Here was citycat5, jersygirl13, m3love. And then,
one morning, there was Katie, sitting across from me on the N. She
was lakegirl03, and her hair fell from under her knit cap. The only
other info I could access was her hometown and that she was single.

I winked, and when I realized she had her tunes on, I sent off an
invite. She raised her eyes.

she winked back.

from Maine? I’m planning a trip there this summer. Any suggestions?

leaned forward and warmth spread across my chest from being allowed
into her second layer. I’m Katie, she winked. You should
visit Bar Harbor, I grew up there.
She gave me access to an image
of a lake house with tall silvery pines rising high above the
shingled roof. Wish I could help more, but this is my stop. As
she stood waiting for the doors to open, I winked a last message. Can
I invite you for a drink?
The train hissed, the
doors opened, and she looked back at me and smiled before
disappearing into the mass of early morning commuters. It was as the
train sped toward work that her contact info appeared in my mind,
along with a photo of her swimming in a lake at dusk.

turned out that Katie had been in the city for a couple of years
before she’d found a steady job. She taught senior citizens how to
successfully navigate their layers. She’d helped a retired doctor
upload images of his grandchildren so strangers could congratulate
him, and assisted a ninety-three-year-old widow in sharing her
mourning with the world. Her main challenge, she said, was getting
older folks to understand the value of their layers.

class they ask me why we can’t just talk instead,” she shared as
we lay in bed. Though Katie and I occasionally spoke, it was always
accompanied by layers. It was tiring to labor through the sentences
needed to explain how you ran into a friend; much easier to share the
memory, the friend’s name and photo appearing organically.

least they still want to speak. My class won’t even say hello.”

remember what it was like before?” she asked.

tried to think back to high school, but it was fuzzy. I was sure we
used to talk more, but it seemed like we doled out personal details
in hushed tones.

really,” I said. “Do you?”

My family’s cabin is completely out of range. Whenever I go back we
can only talk.”


shared a photo of walking in the woods with her father, the earth
covered in snow, and I felt the sharp edge of jealousy. Back where I
grew up, there hadn’t been any pristine forests to walk through,
just abandoned mini-marts, a highway, and trucks heading past our
town, which was more a pit stop than a community. The only woods were
behind the high school, a small dangerous place where older kids
might drag you if you didn’t run fast enough. And my parents sure
didn’t talk. My mother was a clinical depressive who’d spent my
childhood either behind the closed door of her bedroom or at the
kitchen table, doing crossword puzzles and telling me to be quiet
whenever I asked her something. My father had hit me so hard that
twice I’d blacked out. My history wasn’t the kind of thing I
wanted to unlock for anyone, and since leaving Ohio I’d done my
best to bury those memories within my layers.

So I
spent our first months sharing little of myself. Katie showed me the
memories of her best friends and family while I showed her the
mundane details of substitute teaching and my favorite bands. I knew
Katie could feel the contours of my hidden memories, like stones
beneath a bedsheet, but for a while she let me keep the private pain
of my unlocked layers.

For more info about THE NEW VOICES OF SCIENCE FICTION, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover art by Matt Dixon
Cover design by Elizabeth Story