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The Sternal Journal

Running exactly what we say we will, always eventually
Hiya Sternal Journalists,

Thanks to everyone who has sent love about Zoomdiddy. It has more streams than anything I've ever put on Spotify, and I hate to say it, but metrics are important! And all those people who said "I loved this/this made me smile/etc." I cherished that too, but you can't quantify a smile. It's not better, just different!

Last week, I said I'd be chatting with a real-ass expert about WUIs this week, and I totally have (chatted with that expert), but I just finished transcribing our chat and I think it's worth putting a little more elbow grease into this story! So I'll be saving that for next week.

This week, I thought I'd reprint a thing I wrote for my day job, the fantastic writing org 826LA (check out some of the student writing produced in our workshops at the virtual hub. If you have young ones in your life, there are even a few cool little DIY workshops!). 

Anyway, for the past couple months I've had the pleasure of leading a time travel-themed book club for some of our donors and the past month has been spent on short stories from The Time Traveler's Almanac. This has stories by all of the greats and some I'd never heard of including my new favorite sci-fi writer, Nalo Hopkinson.

Her story, "Message in a Bottle," is funny, poignant, and cynical-but-reverent about creativity in all the ways that push my buttons and I've included the little discussion guide I wrote for it below the signature.

If you want a hard copy, you can pick it up at 826LA's store, The Time Travel Mart, but if you want a digital copy, snag one at Bookshop for fifteen bucks. If you like time travel, I guarantee this is a steal (I obviously am not making money off of any of these). 

And if you just want a little tiny rec, Jewel's Pieces of You just turned 25 and I have been buh-huh-humping the newly released demo of "You Were Meant for Me."

Okay, that's all, reprint of my discussion guide for Nalo Hopkinson's "Message in a Bottle," originally written for 826LA's Time Scouts Book Club(!) below the sig!

Love to all, drink water, wash your hands, make a voting plan! 



Hello once again, Time Scouts!

Maybe you're here because you just can't stop reading about time travel! Maybe you're more like some of the people who visited Greg's art exhibit in this week's story: "here because... it's cool to say that you went to an art opening last weekend."

If you're in the latter camp, we completely agree. It is cool to say you're currently in a Virtual Time Travel Book Club run by a chrono-convenience store which benefits the coolest nonprofit in LA.

Especially this week. We loved Nalo Hopkinson's "Message in a Bottle," even though it completely turned our minds upside down and inside out about who can or should assign value to art!

If you were as blown away as we were, check out some of Hopkinson's other writing, including Skin Folk, a short story collection that won the World Fantasy Award and was one of New York Times' Best Books of the Year.

But for now, let's decode that "Message in a Bottle!"


1. In the opening scene, well before he knows Kamla's true identity, Greg comments to himself about the eeriness of adult features and sensibilities that seem to peek out of young children: 

"She frowns up at me with that enfranchised hauteur that is the province of kings and four-year-olds." 


"She looks at me over the top of her cup. It's a calm, ancient gaze and it unnerves me utterly."


By the end of the story, we've learned the truth. Kamla is not a precocious 4-year-old, but a genetically modified 20-something future clone on a mission.

What does the eventual revelation say about these early details? Does the truth within Greg's observations break down when they morph into sly narrative clues? Or is the eeriness Greg senses only underscored when it turns out that, yes, some children do literally have wisdom beyond their years?


2. Oftentimes, time travel technology exists in a vacuum. We follow either the first person to time travel or the most powerful person currently using it. In "Message in a Bottle," that's all brushed aside when Kamla explains why her mode of time travel is so logistically complicated:


"They wanted to send us here and back as full adults, but do you have any idea what the freight costs would have been? The insurance? Arts grants are hard to get in my world, too. The gallery had to scale the budget way back."


Kamla reveals here the horrific-but-totally-believable reality that humanity will be able to widely utilize time travel before being able to effectively fund the arts (we screamed in acceptant agony). 

But we also noticed that neither Kamla nor Greg felt any need to go over the wider world that Kamla comes from. Kamla, a curator, and Greg, an artist, stay hyper-focused on discussing the intricacies and needs of this future art world. What is this saying about Kamla? About Greg? About the way "art people" talk about art in general?


3. We end on Greg, a self-important and self-conscious artist on the rise. He is fresh with the knowledge that a National Gallery curator has come from the future to procure a seashell from one of his installations to include in a mega retrospective deep into the future.

The twist? They don't want it as an example of Greg's work. They want it as an example of the mollusk who lived in the shell's work. And these future curators only value that mollusk's work because other mollusks' shells appeared to be derivative of this one mollusk's shell. 

So... what should Greg do? If he acquiesces, he cements his art legacy, but only as a footnote to a much "greater" artist's story. If he doesn't, he has no legacy. 

And... does the mollusk care about any of this?


Let us know what you think! Our brains are still doing backflips.

Next week, we'll read:


"Delhi" by Vandana Singh.


Until then, stay relatively!


Troop 826LA

*** ***

Okay, it's Sternal Journal Julian again. If you read all that without reading the story, go read the story! It's great. Get it from the library or something. 

Love again! Plan-to-vote again!

Copyright © 2020 Julian M. Stern, All rights reserved.

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