I have a new story out in the world today. It is called “Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex” and you can find in the anthology New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, edited by Nisi Shawl.
I was very honored when Nisi reached out to me to see if I would write a story for this anthology. Nisi has been one of the most insightful reviewers of my fiction since the very beginning. Whenever I see a review from her of my work it quickly becomes clear that she ‘gets’ everything I ah trying to do in a book. Her review of Hurricane Fever in the LA Review of Books remains so dead on to what I was trying to write that I still have a print out of it in my office. Her comments on Ragamuffin really encouraged me. Her novel Everfair was an amazing steampunk novel, set in the Belgian Congo, that I read far too late to blurb it, to my regret.
As the deadline to write the story approached, I had just gotten back from a trip to the Caribbean where I saw the largest tourist playground of my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them, designed by the same folk who did the great big palm tree in the ocean in the Middle East. It was mega-engineering. The sort of thing you gawp at. It was like an alien world had been dropped onto the island in question.
It was gaudy.
It was impressive.
It was big.
It was like the death star of tourist resorts. You could hate what it did or stood for (some folk I talked to certainly did), or you could be proud of it (some taxi drivers I spoke to were), but the engineering alone was still wildly amazing to behold.
For the first time, I wrote down the phrase ‘Tourist Industrial Complex’ in a notebook, based on the ‘military industrial complex‘ concept Eisenhower created to help me put something into words I’d long struggled with.
After that, I had to come up with a story.
Here’s the beginning of that story to whet your appetite:
When the aliens arrived at JFK they reeked of ammonia, sulphur, and something else that Tavi never could quite put a finger on. He was used to it all after several years of shuttling them through the outer tanks and waiting for their gear to spit ozone and adapt to Earth’s air. He would load luggage, specialized environmental adaptation equipment, and crosscheck the being’s needs, itenerary, and sight seeing needs.
What he wasn’t expecting was for a four hundred pound, octopus-like creature to open the door of his cab a thousand feet over the new Brooklyn Bridge on the way into Manhattan, filling the cab with an explosion of cold, screaming air and lighting the dash up with alarms.
He also definitely wasn’t expecting the alien to scream “look at those spires!” through a speaker that translated language for it.
And for a long moment, after the alien jumped out of the cab, Tavi just kept flying straight ahead, frozen in shock.
This couldn’t be happening. Not to him. Not in his broken down old cab he’d been just keeping going and with a re-up on the Manhattan license due soon.
To fly into Manhattan you needed a permit, and Tavi was up to date. That was the first thing he panicked about, because a few years ago he’d let it lapse for a bit. The New York Tourism Bereau hadn’t just fined him, but banned him from operating for a while. Tavi had limped along on some odd jobs, tank cleaning at the airport, cleaning out the backs of the cabs when they came back after a run to the island, and other muck work.
But no, he breathed, all his licenses were up to date. And he knew that it was a horrible thing to worry about as he circled the water near the bridge, he should be worrying about his passenger. Maybe this alien was able to withstand long falls, Tavi thought.
But it wasn’t coming up.
He had a contact card somewhere in the dash screen’s memory. He tapped, calling the alien.
“Please answer. Please.”
But it did not pick up.
What did he know about the alien. It looked like some octupus-type thing. What did that mean? They shouldn’t have even been walking around, so it had to have been wearing an exoskeleton of some kind.
Could that have protected it?
Tavi circled the water once more. He had to call this in. But then the police would start hassling him about past mistakes. Somehow this would be his fault. He would lose his permit to fly into Manhattan. And it was Manhattan that the aliens loved above all else. The authentic American experience. Most of it was built up with zones for varying kinds of aliens. Methane breathers in the Garment district, the buildings capped with translucent covers and an alien atmosphere. Hydrogen types were all north of Central Park.
He found the sheer number of shops fun to browse, but very little of sold anything of use to humans. In the beginning, a lot of researchers and scientists had rushed there to buy what the Galactics were all selling, sure they could reverse engineer what they found.
It was a lot of cheap alien stuff that purported to be made in Earth but wasn’t. Last year some government agency purchased a ‘real’ human sports car that could be shipped back to the home planet of your choice. It had an engine inside that seemed to be some kind of anti-gravity device that got everyone really excited. It exploded when they cracked the casing, taking out several city blocks.
When confronted about it, the tall, furry saurapod-like aliens that had several other models in their windows on Broadway shrugged and said it wasn’t made by them, they just shipped them to Earth to sell.
But the Galactics packed the city buying that shit when they weren’t slouching beside the lakes in Central Park. If Tavi couldn’t get to Manhattan, he didn’t have a job.
With a groan Tavi tapped 9-1-1. There were going to be a lot of questions. He was going to be in it up to his neck.
But if he took off, they’d have his transponder on file. Then he’d look guilty.
With a faint clenching in his stomach Tavi prepared for his day to go wrong.