“Stalemate,” with spoilers

Today, my science fictional story “Stalemate” became available for free at Lackington’s. This is my second sale to Lackington’s, the first being “A City on its Tentacles” in the inaugural issue. I love this magazine.

Editor Ranylt Richildis purchased “Stalemate” as a cornerstone for Issue 4. In the Introduction, she writes,

Issue 4 was built around the theme of “institutions” after we received an SF tale from Rose Lemberg set on a communal spaceship. The stark routine and  interior that encase the narrator make institutions manifest, as does the nod to universities, but Rose’s story also explores less tangible institutions, such as friendship, art, and war.

I’ve only recently started writing again in the Boundless universe, a very old SFnal universe of mine in which certain extremely talented people – mostly scientists, but not exclusively – discover that they neither age nor die after reaching their mental and professional peak. Some of those Boundless have formed a loose interstellar society, and are pursuing certain goals; others are alone. The setting of “Stalemate,” a planet called Calamity or Gebe-2, is home of one of the Boundless, Kabede Nan Telesa. The story is narrated from the point of view of Kabede’s unnamed friend.

It was a difficult story to write, and difficult to send out.





In many ways, Calamity feels like home to me. I’ve been returning to it since I was a teenager. There is a memory leecher installed in the upper atmosphere, so people who manage to land lose their memories. It is a blessing. A respite. Calamity is a place of refuge for me, a sensory haven away from the never-ceasing demands and buzzing and pull of an individualistic society forever focused on accomplishment. And yet, every time I attempted to write a story about Calamity, it has been a story narrated by outsiders.

The unnamed narrator of “Stalemate” feels fiercely about Kabede; there is not much meaning left in his world beyond this friendship. Kabede, though, is not as enthused. The unnamed narrator is a close friend, yet Kabede faults him for not seeing their people. Instead, the narrator clings to his memories of a destroyed world; on Gebe-2, he keeps refusing opportunities to befriend, to bond, to discover the true beauty of the people who escaped from the original Gebe. He thinks, for example, that the people of Gebe-2 make no art – even as he witnesses and participates in their elaborate folk-gaming culture. He refuses the friendship and camaraderie of Eighty-nine and his fellow engineers, and leaves as lonely as he came.

I chose this viewpoint for many reasons. I wanted to write about mistakes we make out of strong convictions, how we push people away; and about the marrow-bone necessity of friendship, and about loneliness. Always loneliness.

Eventually, I think, the narrator will stop coming. Other people will arrive, other Boundless, and form close friendships with Kabede and their people.

Although, perhaps, he’ll change. It’s hard to know.

I hope you like this story. It is close to me.

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R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.

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