The Big Able

By Shaun A Saunders

sfgenre“I'm afraid that you're focussing only on the 'dis', not the 'able'!”

That was about all the nonsense I could take. I screwed up my face, closed my eyes, shook my head. And that was about all I could shake, albeit very slowly, gently. Unfortunately, when I opened my eyes again, the gobble-nonsense generator — otherwise known as a human services facilitator — was still there. 

She fumbled with a data pad, tapping it repeatedly on the same spot with a blunt forefinger, as though if she hit the magic number all would be revealed. She gave up. “Ah, what was your name again? Roger?”

My name was written on the whiteboard above my bed. I closed my eyes again. I whispered “Jerry,” hoping she was listening, as the drainage tube running into my left nostril made me want to vomit when I attempted speech. I wondered if it was running into my lungs again, instead of my stomach, as had happened before. But even if I could get a word or two out, a brief pantomime even, I'd first have to get the attention of a nurse. Given that there were eight hundred beds in a standard ward, that could take a while. And even then, there would be the jerky trip back to radiography, another blast of x-rays, and, if I was right about the tube being misplaced, another torturous round of “If you sip water as I slide the tube in, it will make it easier.” There was only so much water I could sip for three hours while everyone on duty had a go, and terse shouts of, “You're not sipping fast enough!” were not encouraging.        

“Cherry?” said the facilitator, dragging my attention back to the present. “What an interesting name! No wonder I can't find it in the file. Don't worry, I'll fix that.” Making changes to my master file, she muttered something about the incompetence of everyone else she worked with. I'd heard a lot of those private conversations of late.

The nonsense generator wasn't finished, not by a long shot. And since I was flat-out on an electric bed, tubes carrying bodily fluids going every which way out, in, and out again before disappearing into canisters beneath that needed frequent emptying, I really had little choice but to put up with it all. Surely, saints were born under such conditions.

Or did I have to die first? A mental sigh. I had never listened during religious instruction a lifetime ago at school, preferring instead to opt for a nap at my desk. I had read about karma, though, and was sure that my account was well in the black. 

“All right then, Cherry. The first thing we need to discuss is your six-month plan.” She looked at me over her glasses. “You do have a six-month plan don't you? You don't want to be in here forever.”

I looked at the late to middle-aged woman overwhelming the visitor's chair next to my bed. She could be someone's grandmother. Probably was. How many people are born with green hair? But she was also here fumbling with computer tech and asking for a six-month plan from someone who had been assured he had only three months to live. And that was only so long as I stayed in the electric bed, hooked up to the plumber's nightmare. 

The facilitator persisted: Tapping the pad again, she said, “We have to fill this in. I can't get out of this page unless all of the fields are complete.” She tried a different tack. “If you're worried about what others might think, don't. We have very strict laws about that nowadays. Everyone has to be tolerant, whether they like it or not. I'll find something for you to do, no matter what it takes...”

***

The office manager at Good Will Works beamed: “Good morning Cherry! We hope you're going to be very happy here during your six-month work placement.” His eyes brushed over my electric bed. “Well, I guess you won't be needing toilet breaks, you lucky devil. My bladder's been giving me hell lately.” He pointed at my e-bed. “By the way, have you considered putting solar panels on that? It'd look great on our monthly company Green Initiative report!

“Anyway, you'll find everything else you need in the orientation package on your tablet. In fact, you'd better read all that first thing. We pride ourselves on being a value centred organisation, and to that end here is your personal pocket card of our proprietary 'twenty core values'” (he dropped it on my bed covers) “— keep it on you at all times. We expect you to memorise these, and be ready for a snap quiz from any passing HR reps.” He wagged a solemn finger, dropped his voice. “It's especially important for you not to accrue any demerit points, Cherry, as due to your short stay with us, you'll effectively always be on probation...” 

It turned out that my role in the company was to be a part of a trial 'mentoring' program, paid for by a government grant, and my responsibility was a disability client named 'Buddy', who, for work experience, each day filed waste paper and newspaper clippings into envelopes which he then placed in a filing cabinet with his name on it. Everyone helped — even though most in the office didn't read dead-trees 'papers any more, they ordered in a selection for Buddy, who then cut them up and filed them. It was my job to provide appropriate encouragement. I was to be “Buddy's buddy”, and everywhere Buddy went, I was sure to follow. As I could not manoeuvre my electric bed, that meant that my care attendant also followed, guiding the motion of my mobile mattress from his smartphone. It seemed that everyone's fate in this little production was in someone else's hands. But the other staff, the regular people, loved to wave to Buddy as he made his rounds collecting scrap paper. It made them feel so good to add to his life so.

Unfortunately for me, though, Buddy loved a good prank; in fact, he could get away with practically anything. Perhaps it was due in no small way to his friendly name and red-freckled smile. But when Buddy decided to run through the office on my second morning, it meant that I had to follow, with my bed banging against wobbly cubicle walls and chair-backs during the pursuit. This little escapade also required extra work from my own carer-cum-bed steerer, who quickly tired of the required thumb-dancing on his phone while he ran behind me. Finally, after a quick scan of the corridors to make sure no one was in our direct line of sight, he snagged Buddy with a powerful arm and wedged him between some filing cabinets and a 'copier, then whispered a few quiet but very sharp words. Buddy got the message right away: no one had ever reprimanded him like that before.

After this incident, Buddy was contrite, and took to some serious bridge-mending by playing tournament level phone chess with my bed steerer. So long as a few folders found their way each day into his personal filing cabinet, the 'Buddy Program' was considered a success. 

At Good Will Works, rituals were important, and morning and afternoon tea rituals were rigidly observed each day. Because of the limited space available in the staff room, department sections — led by their respective heads — would file in and out of these tea ceremonies according to strictly staggered fifteen-minute allotments. Because Buddy was not directly attached to any particular section, and because he was everyone's darling, he could pick and choose whatever sitting he wished, and it seemed that a chair was always to be found for him. Sometimes, he attended all the tea ceremonies, but no one seemed to mind. After all, he was different, and they wanted to make life better for him. 

It was rather more difficult for me, though, as the single door into the staff room was a tight fit for my electric bed. My bed steerer soon realised that it was easier to simply prop the door open and park me just outside. That way, he still got to have a cuppa and biscuits, and, after all, I fed from a drip, so I really wasn't missing out on the essentials. Again, no one blinked. 

Nonetheless, it was standard procedure to welcome all new employees with a sausage sizzle in the basement car-park, and I was not to be an exception. Unfortunately, the basement was unpaved, and as my bed was manoeuvred out of the lift, the crunch of gravel under the weight of a bogged bed-wheel signalled the end of my welcome-to-the company lunch. My e-bed grounded half in, half out of the lift, the lift door opening and closing on it. Those employees who had to resort to the stairs to get their free lunch of burnt dead-dogs were none too pleased with me. Even the HR manager mumbled something about the import of first appearances as he squeezed past me out of the lift. 

***

Another important ritual was the monthly Awards Ceremony, where apparently randomly selected representatives from the lowest paid employee strata would be formally presented with assorted bric-a-brac and miscellaneous free items provided by the company's stationery providers. Of course, Buddy always got an award, such was the velocity with which his company star was rising.   

In fact, Buddy even got an invite to one of the HR department's legendary eight-hour brainstorm meetings, but this wasn't as much fun as it sounded, even though the ground rules for the day were simple. As laid down by the National HR Manager, “Only three txt words per suggestion!”. (This may have been explained by the fact that he was a partially functioning dyslexic.) By the end of the day, the sole product was another re-dating of the previous five-year strategic plan, and given that all the mental exertion was carried out on a self-cleaning e-board which displayed the texted suggestions from the brainstorm participants, there wasn't even any additional filing for Buddy. Furthermore, on the advice of the highly paid 'management performance' consultant in attendance, everyone had to stand for the eight hours “to promote clear thinking and maximise attention”.

That was everyone except me, of course — I had the best sleep in a long time, even if I didn't get to join in the pizza luncheon.

But the good times soon came to a screeching halt: the following day, Buddy left his work tablet — clearly displaying pornography — on the end of my e-bed. Buddy hadn't meant to cause any trouble, he'd simply got distracted by the sight of a pile of fresh newspaper that surely needed filing. The problem was, the national HR manager just happened to be doing his morning 'floor walk', and the pictures displayed slid right past his dyslexia problem, finding a home in a more primitive section of his brain, where the lights were on.

“Have you got anything to say for yourself?” he asked me, without looking up from the tablet he now held tightly. 

I could barely squeak without inducing vomiting, due to the tube that was still lodged in my left lung instead of my stomach.

The HR Manager continued: 

“You're supposed to be Buddy's buddy, not his pimp!” He sighed dramatically. “I'm sorry, Cherry, but this one will have to go on your file: we have very strict rules governing appropriate workplace behaviours — we're an employer of choice, you know. And now that his six month probation is up, Buddy is gunning for an employee of the month award. We simply can't allow your poor choices to get in the way of that.” He looked away from the tablet briefly, made eye contact with me for the first time. 

“In fact,” he continued, tapping the tablet, “when it comes to this sort of issue, we have a strict no tolerance policy. So I'm doubly sorry Cherry — not only will this go on your file, but you'll also have to be terminated. Immediately.” 

Perhaps Buddy could file that one along with his usual daily quota? If I could have shaken my head physically, I would have. Instead, a wry smile sufficed. I had no real idea whether I'd even still be alive the next day, such was my physical condition, but at least I knew that I'd be free of this madhouse. 

The only real loser was Buddy: with me gone, that meant no bed steerer for him to play chess with, and as Buddy had explained to me once, everyone else at head office was soooo slow. 

I do hope Buddy got his award, though — without any real competition, he'd be on the management fast-track in no time.

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About the Author

Shaun A. Saunders

Shaun Saunders lives at the beachside suburb of Merewether, in Newcastle, NSW. He particularly enjoys Asimov's Foundation universe, and stories from the 'golden age' of SF. He is a regular contributor to AntipodeanSF, and winner of 2003 & 2004 AntiSF awards, and the inaugural 2005 SFSSC. His novel Mallcity 14 has been favourably compared with both 1984 and Brave New World.

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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 266

And Then There Was One
By Tim Borella

Barkeep
By Bethany Tatman

Beyond the Cold Light
By Kevin J. Phyland

Body Dysmorphia
By Daniel Purcell

Chase v. Lee, or, The Green Sheep Hip Wiggle Case
By Anya Ow

Hullu City Murder Mystery; East Texas Town Rocked by Killings
By Wes Parish

Implant
By Roger Ley

Smoking
By Kyosuke Higuchi - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Sneak
By Robert W. Caldwell

The Interview
By Chris Gladstone

The Rorne Model
By David Scholes

The Sponsor
By Shaun A. Saunders

The Visitor
By Thomas Tilton

Time Warp Donors
By Barry Yedvobnick

The Contributors

danielmackisack 200Daniel is a sociologist, social entrepreneur, sci-fi fanatic and belligerent optimist.

Raised on Star Trek, other early influences include Kim Stanley Robinson and Douglas Adams.

In addition to writing, Daniel is a former diplomat, cofounded media transparency organization 'Write In Stone', spent 4 years studying revolution and democracy in the Arab Spring and leads workshops on collective decision making.

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.

Benny Thang was born to immigrant parents and lives in Melbourne, Australia.

He enjoys stories in all its forms and hopes to write more things in the future that others might perhaps one day come across in-between the mundane things of their everyday lives.

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kyosuke higuchi 200Kyosuke Higuchi writes science fiction, speculative fiction, and literary essays. His debut novel, Kōzōsōshi [Structure Elements], won the fifth Hayakawa SF Contest in 2017. 

His short fiction has appeared in Syosetsu Subaru, S-F Magazine, and Bungei, among others. 

His latest book is a collection of essays entitled Subete namonaki mirai (2020). 

Kyosuke lives with his wife and young daughter in Nagoya, Japan. Find him on Twitter at <https://twitter.com/rrr_kgknk>.

Daphne has read SF since childhood. She writes poems, flash fiction and short stories which vary from the darkly humorous to the vaguely sinister. She is currently working on a flash novella, and a collection of short stories.

Daphne reads regularly at Perth Poetry club and has recorded two podcasts for ILAA on Kalamunda radio.

She lives with her partner and a holographic cat.

Her pamphlet The Blue Boob Club is published by Indigo Dreams Press: <https://www.indigodreams.co.uk/daphne-milne/4594486684>.

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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 demonstration 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 the Crossover Alliance Anthology Volume 2. 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.

<https://rediazauthor.com/>

In recent years, Ben F. Blitzer has produced three unpublished literary novels and an unpublished novella, set in or around Perth, Western Australia.

Some of his shorter works of fiction, however, feature science-fiction, fantasy, and horror themes.

He lives in Western Australia.

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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.

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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Maree Collie loves the idea of Flash Fiction. So much to say in such a little space. She also dabbles in short stories, monologues and plays.

Maree has had pieces published in anthologies, a play performed in 2018, and a monologue slated for performance October 2019.

She has completed a BA in Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University.

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roger ley2 200Roger Ley is a retired lecturer in Computer Aided Engineering. He writes speculative fiction because it stops him drinking hard liquor and chasing fast women.

‘Lone Orbit’ is one of the stories in his speculative fiction collection, 'Dead People on Facebook' which will cost you half a cup of coffee.

His three other speculative fiction books are similarly available on Amazon AU or visit his website.

Find Roger at: <https://rogerley.co.uk>.

Roger’s Amazon author page: <https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01KOVZFHM>.

His YouTube playlist: <https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHDmc8dxD57cPaMnsYfuJhQIirRohnaWY>.

George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His short stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, Helios Quarterly Magazine, Unsung Stories, Best Vegan SFF, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Bards & Sages Quarterly, Havok, SF Comet, Mad Scientist Journal, Truancy, Digital Fiction QuickFic, The Centropic Oracle, StarShipSofa, 600 Second Saga, Antipodean SF, Manawaker Studio's FFP, Fifty Flashes, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Event Horizon 2017, and many other magazines and anthologies.

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Where you see strange dreams, cockatoos and other nonsensical nostrums congregate, there’s a good chance you’ll also come across our author.

By day he’s all manner of mundane things: a board member, business association manager, policy adviser, researcher and scholar - in Canberra.

At night he lets those wild ideas of his run, well, wild.

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kevinjphyland 200Old enough to just remember the first manned Moon landing, Kevin was so impressed he made science his life.

Retired now from teaching he amuses himself by reading, writing, following his love of weather and correcting people on the internet.

He’s been writing since his teens and hopes he will one day get it right.

He can be found on twitter @KevinPhyland where he goes by the handle of CaptainZero and his work is around the place if you search using google or use the antisf.com.au archive.

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Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"

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Shaun Saunders lives at the beachside suburb of Merewether, in Newcastle, NSW. He particularly enjoys Asimov's Foundation universe, and stories from the 'golden age' of SF. He is a regular contributor to AntipodeanSF, and winner of 2003 & 2004 AntiSF awards, and the inaugural 2005 SFSSC. His novel Mallcity 14 has been favourably compared with both 1984 and Brave New World.

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AntipodeanSF October 2020

ISSUE 265

Speculative Fiction
Downside-Up
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

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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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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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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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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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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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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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 (YA/ Fantasy — available now) and White Fire (Sci Fi — available now)

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

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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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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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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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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

If your God is everywhere, if He is always watching, why should your people make houses to go to worship Him? Faced with an all-seeing, everywhere-being God, I would think what is needed is a place to hide.

Tad Williams, Caliban's Hour

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