Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 18
- Grade: 12
Imagine a world populated by hideous trolls, time-traveling scientists, and intergalactic freighter captains—with smartphones and social media.
The World of Dew and Other Stories, chosen by Michelle Pretorius as the 2020 Blue Light Books Prize winner, invites readers into 18 different universes that have unexpected resonances with our own modern life. While these tales are unabashedly sci-fi and fantasy, Julian Mortimer Smith approaches each at a curious angle. Ghosts are cataloged using a Pokémon Go–like app, a soldier has to get enough upvotes on social media before he is allowed to take a shot, and a golden age of cooperation begins as societies around the world prepare for a looming pandemic of blindness. In addition to featuring stories that have appeared in some of the world's top speculative fiction outlets, The World of Dew and Other Stories also includes five new stories published here for the first time.
These tales are sometimes terrifying, sometimes touching, sometimes provocative, and occasionally very silly. They function both as windows through which readers can glimpse vast universes waiting to be explored and as mirrors reflecting our own reality back at us in a strange and unfamiliar light.
About the author
Julian Mortimer Smith is a writer of speculative fiction. His short stories have appeared in many of the world's top science fiction and fantasy venues, including Asimov's, Lightspeed, Terraform, and Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy. He lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Excerpt: The World of Dew and Other Stories (by (author) Julian Mortimer Smith)
Come-from-aways think it's the tide that brings the wreckage in, but any local child will tell you the truth of the matter. You can have fifty fine days in a row, and the beaches will be clean and empty except for the usual haul of rockweed, driftwood, and old plastic bottles. Fifty fine days, and then there'll come a thick, foggy night of the sort we do so well around here, and the next morning there it'll be—a rocket engine from an alien spaceship, or a cracked satellite dish as big as a bus, half-buried in the sand down on Bartlett's Beach.
I found out that Shauna was pregnant on one of those thick, foggy nights. She told me over the phone. She said she wanted to come tell me in person, but her dad was out with the truck. She wasn't crying or nothing. She just sounded kind of tired and sad. After she finished speaking, there was a long silence while she waited for me to say something, but I was on the old rotary phone in the kitchen, and my mom was within easy earshot, and I wouldn't have known what to say anyway. So we both just said goodbye and hung up.
That night, I bundled myself up in coat, hat, and scarf and trudged through the half-frozen mud down to the wharf, the fog wet against my cheeks. There's an old dory down in Peter Saulnier's shed that he gives me the use of sometimes. Last summer, I ran a little ferry service to Gull Island. You can walk to the island at low tide, but tourists don't always know that, and if they arrived at high tide, they would pay me five dollars for the crossing. If they arrived at low tide, on the other hand, they might walk to the island and fall asleep sunbathing, and I would have to go and rescue them when they woke up and found themselves marooned. Those ones would also pay me the five dollars.
I always liked rowing that dory. I did some of my best thinking going back and forth between Gull Island and the beach. There's something simple and clear about the effort of straining at the oars while the waves slap wetly against the sides. There's also something about it that makes me think of sex, and maybe that's why I went and fetched it on the night I found out that Shauna was pregnant.
I opened the shed as quietly as I could, not wanting to wake Peter's dogs, and dragged the dory over the dunes and onto the beach. It was so dark I couldn't even see where the waves began, so I just dragged the boat along the sand until I felt the seawater soaking into my boots. Then I jumped in and began to row.
The fog brings the wreckage in, and it's the wreckage of a spacefaring civilization. Those are the local facts. There are various theories to explain those facts, and they depend on who's doing the telling.
Joey Outhouse reckons we're an alien dumping ground.
"Just look around you," he'll say if he's pressed and has had a whiff or two of rum. "Imagine looking down on the Earth from space and thinking to yourself, Now, where am I going to throw all my old trash? The shit nobody wants anymore? Well, I'm telling you, boy, those aliens looked down, and they went all around the world, and this was the place they chose. And be honest: Does that surprise you? It don't surprise me one bit. Just look around you!"
But old Bob Piecemate, who's been to college and fancies himself an intellectual, takes a different view on the issue.
"There's always been something special about this area," he says. "We're close to a portal of some sort. Ley lines intersecting and whatnot. That's where the fog comes from. It's no earthly fog. Nobody who's been out in it can claim it is. The portal opens, and the fog flows out of it. And our dimension is like a bridge. And sometimes, while a spacecraft is passing from one dimension to the other, a bit gets caught and breaks off."
As I rowed through the fog, I thought about the letters of acceptance on the kitchen table and my mom so thrilled that I would be going to college. That was impossible now, of course. I thought about the sort of job I would be able to get in town and knew there were no jobs to be had now that the tourist ferry from Maine was no longer running and no one was buying lobster on account of the recession. I thought about leaving for the city, but I knew that Shauna would want to stay near her family and her church.
This whole town is like Gull Island, I thought. If you stay too long, it becomes impossible to leave. A piece of you catches, and you have to break it off if you want to get away.
I knew after five minutes that I had overshot the island, but I kept rowing anyway, pulling blindly into the fog until even the orange smudge of the lights on Killam's Wharf had disappeared. And then I was alone.
It was a still night, and I felt that I was rowing through a big cold absence. I thought that this must be what it's like to be in outer space, floating through so much nothingness that all the effort you can give won't make a damn bit of difference, because you'll never get where you're going.
It occurred to me that I would be able to see stars if I were in space, but it was too foggy for that. But then, all of a sudden, I could see stars, a whole galaxy of them, spread out below me, underneath the water. And they weren't the reflections of stars neither, I can promise you that. Above my head, the fog was still as thick as stew. But below me — far, far below — the stars burned bright and clear.
Even on a still night like that one, the ocean is always moving, but those stars didn't move. They just hung steady, as if the water were nothing but a thin film and I was looking down through it at something beyond.
Well, I stared into that starry, submarine sky for a long while. I stared until my feet had gone numb and I could barely move my muscles, and I knew that I should start rowing for land, or I would freeze to death. But I no longer knew which way land lay. There were no clues to be had out there in the fog.
Smith's enjoyable debut collection brings together 18 science fiction and fantasy stories, though the fantasy far outshines the sci-fi. . . . Fantasy lovers should seek this out.
The uniquely visualized tales of The World of Dew and Other Stories place traditional human struggles with mortality, love, and belonging into a panoply of new worlds.