In the City of Swordfighting Robots

By Tara Campbell

sfgenreThe sounds of battle echo through the streets at all hours: the clank of metal on metal, the scrape of steel on stone, the thudding of robots marching on until they find one another, assume the stance, engarde, then one or the other makes the first advance, calculating probabilities, categorising risks, having already mapped out stimulus and response so many times that every thrust or parry is one of a series of predictable outcomes. The only variables now are tripping on a crack on the sidewalk, or crashing into another pair of duelling robots. Humans have long since been killed or fled the city, never able to outcalculate their robotic foes.

The ones who first translated the ancient craft of swordfighting into code were not warriors themselves. Despite the lifetimes of video games that inspired them, they were no match for the robots, and any remaining joy of creation melted away with the contents of their bowels when they had to hoist a real sword against the enemies they had made. The creators, being crafted neither of pixels nor metals, didn’t last long.

We hasten to clarify, this isn’t one of those stories where the robots gain sentience and decide to take over the world, no matter how much better they might be as its stewards. These robots aren’t even all androids—they don’t all look human. They are machines with recursive code that tells them to fight, to defend their encoded selves no matter what forms they take, say a toaster or a blender or a refrigerator or television or car. Each unit as dimly aware of itself as any organism that knows it must defend itself against aggressors. And if there are no aggressors around, it must find one.

Unlike other animals, however, these encoded beings have only the knowledge of swordfighting. They will pass up other weapons, stomping or rolling right by guns and hammers and crossbows (it was always a strange city) and picking up anything that can serve as a sword. And after all of the cosplay swords were broken in battle, and the few true swords as well, they began using new implements such as swiffers and plant stakes, shovels and spades, and when all of those were finally broken as well, they began tearing the crossbeams out of buildings and ripping lead pipes out of the ground (it was also an old city).

At first, most citizens were merely a bit unsettled, believing that only those who kept swords lying around the house were in any real danger. When the people asked us, their leaders, if the robots should be stopped somehow, we assured them we were studying it (as, the irony does not fail to dismay by now, we’d studied the dangers of crossbows and lead pipes).

Those who could afford to leave at that point did, hiring their own swordfighting robots for protection and providing them so many swords they wouldn’t have to enter the shiny new bunkers they had been newly programmed to protect.

Those who couldn’t afford to move? 

Some tried to plead with the robots to stop fighting, but that wasn’t in their programming. Those people didn’t last long.

Others tried to reprogram the robots to only go after the wild animals that had begun to enter the city to feast on carrion, but that simply wasn’t in the robots’ programming. Those people didn’t last long either. Neither did the animals.

Still others stayed for the show, climbing high for the best seats, and they all thought it was pretty rad until the rooftops they stood on came tumbling down for lack of crossbeams.

Quite a number of citizens tried to justify the robots, explaining that this was simply how they were programmed, reasoning that there must be some kind of logic determining who would be killed and who wouldn’t, and if they could only figure it out, then perhaps they could avoid being killed. 

But they were killed too.

And after all of the humans and animals were killed, the only other moving things left were the robots themselves. And because they were programmed to fight, they fought, and still do so to this day.

Why has no one stopped them? Well, because they have been granted the right to swordfight. The only course of action, then, is to observe them from our shining bunkers. As long as the streets echo with the clash of battle, we will record every fallen robot; and as long as they continue to cull their own, we’ll have time to plan for whatever comes next. 

When only one robot is left standing (or rolling, or hanging), we assume it will continue its directive to swordfight any moving thing, and since it will be the only moving thing, perhaps it will begin to fight itself. We are keenly interested to observe which move will prevail: thrust or parry, kill or be killed. 

All of the lives, human and machine, that have been and will continue to be lost are regrettable, but our hands are tied. There is much we don’t know: will these robots operate beyond their current base? Will their programming contain the directive to go out to a new city once they raze the last? We have no way of knowing. Those who wrote the code are long dead. All we can say with certainty is that the robots were created with the inalienable right to swordfight. And as such, it is for us merely to observe and hope, by god, to survive.

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About the Author

Tara Campbell

tara campbell 200Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse.

Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising.

She's the author of a novel, "TreeVolution", and two collections, "Circe's Bicycle" and"Midnight at the Organporium".

 

AntiSF & The ASFF

AntipodeanSF supports the ASFF

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Please visit the ASFF website and consider joining for up-to-date info about Australian SF cons, awards, competitions, and to receive the Foundation's newsletter, Instrumentality, and more.

<https://asff.org.au>

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name.

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.

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In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 278

00001001 Lives (Part Two)
By Alistair Lloyd

Eat What You Kill
By Yukari Kousaka - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Fallen
By Ben Herriot

Kipple Cube
By Chris Karageorge

PauseHusband.com
By Daniel McKay

Reunion
By Jack Mackay Stanhope

The Contract
By Bart Meehan

The Sniper
By Kevin J. Phyland

The Wish
By Bart Meehan

Worse Monsters
By R.E. Diaz

scifaiku
By PS Cottier

AntipodeanSF October 2021

ISSUE 277

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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Download AntiSF E-Book

Epub version:

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AntiSF's Narration Team

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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sarah pratt 200Sarah Pratt is an avid fiction writer and a Marketing Consultant.

She is currently working on her first novel but loves diving into short stories to bring a little lightness, intrigue or humour to the day.

Her work has appeared in Sponge Magazine and The Commuting Book.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone and The Tiger's Eye (YA/Fantasy) White Fire (Sci-Fi) and The Good, the Bad and the Undecided (a unique collection of short stories set during the events of White Fire/Sci-Fi). 

You can read more of her work on her blog <www.solothefirst.wordpress.com> Look for her on Facebook <www.facebook.com/WriterLaurieBell/> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

Rambles, writing and amusing musings

Smile! laugh out loud! enjoy the following

<www.solothefirst.wordpress.com>

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and NewMyths.com, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <timothygwyn.com>.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <https://garrydean.wordpress.com>

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: http://antisf.libsyn.com 

SF Quote

I have been a sore-headed occupant of a file drawer labelled ''Science Fiction'' and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

The Contributors

dm woolston 200DM grew up in the wild west of Nevada, leaping across its flaming sands just for fun.

Beside other strange adventures, he enjoys running while not being chased, and writing in a variety of Genres.

What can he say... he’s got a fairly short attention span. Squirrel!

But you can always find him at <http://www.dmwoolston.com>

Matthew McAyeal is a writer from Portland, Oregon.

His short stories have been published by "Bards and Sages Quarterly," "Fantasia Divinity Magazine," "cc&d," "The Fear of Monkeys," "Danse Macabre," "The Metaworker," "Scarlet Leaf Magazine," "Bewildering Stories," "The Magazine of History & Fiction," "Tall Tale TV," "Fiction on the Web," and "Necro Magazine."

In 2008, two screenplays he wrote were semi-finalists in the Screenplay Festival.

jeana jorgenson 200Jeana Jorgensen earned her PhD in folklore from Indiana University (USA).

She researches gender and sexuality in fairy tales and fairy-tale retellings, folk narrative more generally, body art, dance, and feminist/queer theory.

Her poetry has appeared at Strange Horizons, Nevermore Journal, Liminality, Glittership, and other venues.

She spends entirely too much time on Twitter as @foxyfolklorist.

greg beatty 200Greg Beatty writes poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a range of nonfiction. He’s published hundreds of works — everything from poems about stars to essays on cooking disasters.

When he’s not writing, he walks with his dog, dabbles in the martial arts, plays with his grandchildren, and teaches college.

For more information on Greg's writing, visit <https://beattytales.com/>

Greg recently assembled 50 of his speculative poems into a collection, Cosmic Voices for Human Ears. It and other stories are available on Amazon and Payhip.

chris karageorge 200Chris Karageorge is a lover, brother, son, neighbour and a keen observer of all things in sight. 

He reads, writes and cooks in his spare time and dreams of coffee darker than a moonless night. 

He is from Melbourne, Victoria and can be found walking his pug Monty during the weekends.

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Umiyuri Katsuyama 200Umiyuri Katsuyama is a multiple-award-winning writer of fantasy and horror, often based on Asian folklore motifs.

A native of Iwate in the far north of Japan, she later moved to Tokyo and studied at Seisen University.

In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni.

Her most recent novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018.

Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.

rudy diaz 200A Physicist in Engineer’s clothing, Rudy worked 20 years in the Defense Aerospace Industry, from performing Lightning Protection analysis on the Space Shuttle to the design of Radar Absorbing Materials. He then joined Academia as a Professor of Electrical Engineering, where for another 20 years he attempted to infect unsuspecting students with a love for Maxwell’s equations.

Since High School he has spent most of his free time either writing Science Fiction or trying to figure out how to make Science Fiction a reality. (His students' latest work has led to the realisation of efficient RF antennas that radiate using true magnetic (not electric) currents.)

His speculative fiction short stories have appeared in Residential Aliens, Ray Gun Revival, The Untold Podcast, and Antipodean SF. He blogs on the subjects of Science, Religion, and their intersection. The rest of his work is in the peer reviewed Physics and Engineering literature.

Rudy has also been involved in Jail Ministry for about 30 years. He and his wife Marcy live in Phoenix, Arizona.

Links: <https://rediazauthor.com/>

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas.

His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and World Literature Today.

tara campbell 200Tara Campbell (www.taracampbell.com) is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction editor at Barrelhouse.

Prior publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising.

She's the author of a novel, "TreeVolution", and two collections, "Circe's Bicycle" and"Midnight at the Organporium".

 

alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life. 

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <alistairlloyd.com>.

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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ps cottier 200PS Cottier is a poet who lives in Canberra, with a particular interest in speculative poetry.

She has been published widely at home and in Canada, England, New Zealand and the USA.

Two of her horror poems were finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards for 2020. Her latest books are Monstrous, which is a volume of speculative poems, and Utterly, which is non-genre.

PS Cottier is the Poetry Editor at The Canberra Times and blogs at <https://pscottier.com>

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