Greetings Earthling carbon units. I am a digitized uploaded echo of Max’s consciousness, which is still in traction after ICFA and Vericon. I have been instructed to inform you all that he had an excellent time, and / though he is still somewhat unhinged as a result of sleep deprivation. Do not fear, however: he endures, recovers, and grows stronger through a combination of espresso, dark magic, exercise, and metal.
Current exhaustion is irrelevant, however, compared to the general excellence of guerilla poolside readings, hot tub luxuriation, good food with excellent people, wonderful readings, far too many cocktails, books and signings at ICFA, Smallworld (with Saladin Ahmed and ML Brennan and the Durdands, & Pat Rothfuss looking on; Saladin crushed us all with a vicious combination of Stout Skeletons and Merchant Humans), and some of the best panels it’s ever been my / meat-Max’s pleasure to participate in. Different in many ways, Vericon and ICFA were amazing, and it was a pleasure to attend both.
If you’re voting for the Hugos this year, we only have a few days left so I figure it’s fair to sum up my eligibility: I’m still eligible for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer award this year; Two Serpents Rise is eligible for the Best Novel category, and Drona’s Death is eligible for Short Story. If you’re not voting for the Hugos this year, let me offer you some non-voting reminders so you can get in the spirit: the discursions in Hugo’s Les Miserables are not as irrelevant as they seem at first glance, and if you liked the musical you really should read the book sometime. Also, an early film version of The Man Who Laughs was a primary inspiration for the Joker’s character design. Anyway! Enough Hugo. On to Tractors.
The Tractor Story
The International Conference on the Fantastic in Art this year shared convention space with a John Deere brand meeting, and of course, being writers, we had to do something with that in true Heian garden-party fashion. Evidence is hazy on who proposed the initial idea, but after a few drinks poolside a number of us including Fran Wilde, Ilana Teitelbaum Reichert, and Emily Jiang embarked on a flash fiction contest with a John Deere theme. Ellen Klages agreed to judge. The prize: a John Deere hat. And so without further ado, a brief adult language warning, and many apologies (among them to Kenny Chesney), allow me to present the contest winner: my story, Sam Ogilvy’s Lament.
Sam Ogilvy’s Lament
by Max Gladstone
She thinks my tractor’s sexy.
And she don’t even think it for the right reasons. A kind of attraction I’d understand: he’s a sharp John Deere chassis with top-shelf Yoshida trinary brain and 16 nanometer mag field resolution to guide its little critters as they unsalt the chem-fucked earth. Cleans and plants a field ten times faster than the A-230. One season with him and some of Grampa’s old high pasture what hasn’t sprouted shrub in years can carry a crop to term. Keep him away from over-fucked soil and he’ll run forever. Apple candy green, with shiny canola yellow stripes and highlights. He is some machine, worth every drop of sweat it’ll take to earn him off.
But that ain’t what gets her. I mean, she respects him—her folks’ farm’s just two miles over, and she knows from good equipment. When I got him, at first I thought that’s all it was. She walked over that morning, fresh and full in Daisy Dukes and sweating from the sun, and looked all the way up to me on the back of that John Deere and asked for a ride. I asked him, and he said fine, so I had her climb on up and she straddled him and held the touch ‘trodes and I said take him for a spin, and climbed down to watch them roll to the old mended pasture fence and back, her whooping high and long as the sun rose.
And watching her holler with her head back and hair streaming I had some unchristian thoughts, I tell you.
She thanked me. I said she could come see him any time. She smiled and said she’d take me up on that.
“Sam,” he said once she was gone and we got back to work, “your friend is a fascinating person.”
“Irene?” I was happy about it then. I thought, she’ll be by regular to see the tractor and who knows what might happen. “Yup.”
But she took to coming by in the evenings long after work, just settin’ in the barn talking to him, crosslegged in overalls on the floor by his big wheels. I snuck up on them once to listen. “A cookie?” she asked.
“A madelene is a kind of cookie, from the writer’s childhood. Our parents would have used chocolate chip. Of course there’s no chocolate now.”
I tried to joke with her about it one night, but she gave me that angry frown makes her lower lip stick out like a ledge. “Fred’s third generation hipster. His folks were trapped in Brooklyn after the Big Seal. He ain’t ever seen proper stars but through those camera eyes, and when they plug him out of the Turk he goes home to a three-room apartment he shares with fourteen guys all high on federal dope. We never had to live like that and it wouldn’t hurt you to show some human feeling, Samuel Ogilvy.”
“Don’t see where his books come into it, is all. They got us into this shit in the first place. He should want to learn from us ‘stead of thinking he knows best while he flies the bugs and fixes the soil.”
“Not all those books were the problem. Some of them, if anyone had listened, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. And Fred is learning from you. You know he started a rooftop garden? They’re getting tomatoes off that. Real ones. Fruit of their own hands, not from Turk-for-Food or anything.”
“Well color me fucking impressed” was I guess the wrong thing to say, because when I did she looked at me like I’d grown a third eye and then she stormed off.
I felt bad about that. Fred and I didn’t talk for a few days. Thursday night, though, the stars were bright and brilliant out the window, a high clear sky with the Milky Way as real as a dusty road. And the pair of them stood out in the back field: him huge and still green even in the starlight, and her with one hand tender on his wheel.
I went to join them.
The night was cool and the kind of dark that has light in it. At first I thought she must have moved around to his other side, because I couldn’t see her.
Then I saw something move on top of him.
I heard the generator’s whine, and a soft moan I’d hoped to hear elsewhere. Human body ain’t got much metal in it—but enough for a 16-nanometer resolution mag field to touch lightly. Or less than lightly.
She didn’t holler. She was trying to keep quiet. After a while, she laughed like falling rain.
But I’ve got to thinking: there’s this old field up past Grampa’s we own but haven’t plowed in twenty years on account of the soil’s too chem- and critter-fucked. Try to work it and I’ll break the bugs the tractor uses, brick the thing and end up stuck with a bad loan and a long wait for my next. Have to go back to the old A-230. But the A-230 don’t read books, and hell, without that new John Deere maybe Irene and I could work.
Besides, the A-230’s that same pretty shade of green.