In the Shadow of the Towers compiles nearly twenty works of speculative fiction responding to and inspired by the events of 9/11, from writers seeking to confront, rebuild, and carry on, even in the face of overwhelming emotion.
Writer and editor Douglas Lain presents a thought-provoking anthology featuring a variety of award-winning and best-selling authors, from Jeff VanderMeer (Annihilation) and Cory Doctorow (Little Brother) to Susan Palwick (Flying in Place) and James Morrow (Towing Jehovah). Touching on themes as wide-ranging as politics, morality, and even heartfelt nostalgia, today’s speculative fiction writers prove that the rubric of the fantastic offers an incomparable view into how we respond to tragedy.
Each contributor, in his or her own way, contemplates the same question:
How can we continue dreaming in the shadow of the towers?
Skyhorse Publishing, under our Night Shade and Talos imprints, is proud to publish a broad range of titles for readers interested in science fiction (space opera, time travel, hard SF, alien invasion, near-future dystopia), fantasy (grimdark, sword and sorcery, contemporary urban fantasy, steampunk, alternative history), and horror (zombies, vampires, and the occult and supernatural), and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller, a national bestseller, or a Hugo or Nebula award-winner, we are committed to publishing quality books from a diverse group of authors.
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About the Author
Douglas Lain is an author and the publisher of Zero Books, which specializes in philosophy and political theory. He hosts the Zero Squared podcast, interviewing a wide range of fascinating and engaging people with insights for the new millennium. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and children.
Read an Excerpt
On October 16, 2004, the conservative columnist David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times satirizing the upcoming presidential election between the incumbent President Bush and Swift Boat Senator John Kerry. Written as a fictionalized transcript of a televised debate, Brooks took aim at both candidates.
At one point in the column, Kerry, who in real life never wasted an opportunity to disconnect and alienate the electorate, responds to a prompt from the moderator to "spew sentimental blather in order to connect with the American people," with the following: "Spirituality is important to me. I've always felt we humans are insignificant maggots scuttling across the muck of the universe, and that life itself is just a meaningless moment of agony between the suffocating stench of the womb and the foul decay of the grave."
Whether intentional or not, Brooks pulls a neat trick with this paraphrase of Beckett or Nietzsche. The towers collapsed, the office workers had died, and the mightiest military in the world had been powerless in stopping a ragtag group of Islamic terrorists armed with box cutters and airline tickets.
After the attacks of 9/11 the sense of security that had defined America since the second World War, the little confidence and optimism that had not been extinguished by Nixon and the Vietnam War, all of that was destroyed.
Writing for the US News and World Report, Roger Simon said it, if not best, then at least most directly. On September 14, 2001, just three days after the attack, he wrote:
"Life as we know it in these United States ended Tuesday morning."
We all saw the truth. Our life, as we knew it before the Twin Towers fell, could end. It had ended. The Twin Towers had fallen and with them what we thought to be true, lasting, final, and right had collapsed as well. And, for a brief moment, we were all forced to face the fact that we — not just you and not just me, but we, all of us — would die. The whole collective enterprise of the United States of America was a fragile and temporary thing. We'd watched it pulverized into dust and spread across the New York skyline in a thick cloud. We had seen it on television, this future without us in it, and it was terrible.
In hindsight, it wasn't that absurd for Brooks to have a Presidential candidate espousing nihilism during a televised debate. In 2004 we were all, even three years later, closet nihilists. The choice Brooks was presenting us with was the choice between denial of what we knew and the fruitless acceptance of it.
That's where we begin in this collection. The following stories present three different accountings of the dead and of our future deaths. There are zombies, ghosts, and black rectangles, censorship bars, set across the eyes of the world. And just like America in the days and years following 9/11, there is no salvation to be found ahead. There is no religious impulse in these ghost stories, nothing eternal to guide the corpses that still walk the earth and ghosts who can't go home again. There is nothing to these stories but paperweights and memories.
See you on the other side.
Richard Bowes's writing career started in the 1980s with the publication of his Warchild novels. Since then he has won two World Fantasy Awards, a Lambda Award, an International Horror Guild Award, and fourteen appearances in various Year's Best anthologies. "There's a Hole in the City" was originally published at SciFi.com and was the first chapter of his Lambda-nominated novel Dust Devil on a Quiet Street.
Told in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Manhattan of "There's a Hole in the City" is a haunted one, even if what Bowes has created is ultimately a realistic fiction. The author turns our attention to the past, so that what we've perceived before as a chain of separate events can be truly seen, to quote Walter Benjamin, as "one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage."
THERE'S A HOLE IN THE CITY
On the evening of the day after the towers fell, I was waiting by the barricades on Houston Street and LaGuardia Place for my friend Mags to come up from Soho and have dinner with me. On the skyline, not two miles to the south, the pillars of smoke wavered slightly. But the creepily beautiful weather of September 11 still held, and the wind blew in from the northeast. In Greenwich Village the air was crisp and clean, with just a touch of fall about it.
I'd spent the last day and a half looking at pictures of burning towers. One of the frustrations of that time was that there was so little most of us could do about anything or for anyone.
Downtown streets were empty of all traffic except emergency vehicles. The West and East Villages from Fourteenth Street to Houston were their own separate zone. Pedestrians needed identification proving they lived or worked there in order to enter.
The barricades consisted of blue wooden police horses and a couple of unmarked vans thrown across LaGuardia Place. Behind them were a couple of cops, a few auxiliary police and one or two guys in civilian clothes with ID's of some kind pinned to their shirts. All of them looked tired, subdued by events.
At the barricades was a small crowd: ones like me waiting for friends from neighborhoods to the south; ones without proper identification waiting for confirmation so that they could continue on into Soho; people who just wanted to be outside near other people in those days of sunshine and shock. Once in a while, each of us would look up at the columns of smoke that hung in the downtown sky then look away again.
A family approached a middle-aged cop behind the barricade. The group consisted of a man, a woman, a little girl being led by the hand, a child being carried. All were blondish and wore shorts and casual tops. The parents seemed pleasant but serious people in their early thirties, professionals. They could have been tourists. But that day the city was empty of tourists.
The man said something, and I heard the cop say loudly, "You want to go where?"
"Down there," the man gestured at the columns. He indicated the children. "We want them to see." It sounded as if he couldn't imagine this appeal not working.
Everyone stared at the family. "No ID, no passage," said the cop and turned his back on them. The pleasant expressions on the parents' faces faded. They looked indignant, like a maitre d' had lost their reservations. She led one kid, he carried the other as they turned west, probably headed for another checkpoint.
"They wanted those little kids to see Ground Zero!" a woman who knew the cop said. "Are they out of their minds?"
"Looters," he replied. "That's my guess." He picked up his walkie-talkie to call the checkpoints ahead of them.
Mags appeared just then, looking a bit frayed. When you've known someone for as long as I've known her, the tendency is not to see the changes, to think you both look about the same as when you were kids.
But kids don't have gray hair, and their bodies aren't thick the way bodies get in their late fifties. Their kisses aren't perfunctory. Their conversation doesn't include curt little nods that indicate something is understood.
We walked in the middle of the streets because we could. "Couldn't sleep much last night," I said.
"Because of the quiet," she said. "No planes. I kept listening for them. I haven't been sleeping anyway. I was supposed to be in housing court today. But the courts are shut until further notice."
I said, "Notice how with only the ones who live here allowed in, the South Village is all Italians and hippies?"
"Like 1965 all over again."
She and I had been in contact more in the past few months than we had in a while. Memories of love and indifference that we shared had made close friendship an on-and-off thing for the last thirty-something years.
Earlier in 2001, at the end of an affair, I'd surrendered a rent-stabilized apartment for a cash settlement and bought a tiny co-op in the South Village. Mags lived as she had for years in a run-down building on the fringes of Soho.
So we saw each other again. I write, obviously, but she never read anything I published, which bothered me. On the other hand, she worked off and on for various activist leftist foundations, and I was mostly uninterested in that.
Mags was in the midst of classic New York work and housing trouble. Currently she was on unemployment and her landlord wanted to get her out of her apartment so he could co-op her building. The money offer he'd made wasn't bad, but she wanted things to stay as they were. It struck me that what was youthful about her was that she had never settled into her life, still stood on the edge.
Lots of the Village restaurants weren't opened. The owners couldn't or wouldn't come into the city. Angelina's on Thompson Street was, though, because Angelina lives just a couple of doors down from her place. She was busy serving tables herself since the waiters couldn't get in from where they lived.
Later, I had reason to try and remember. The place was full but very quiet. People murmured to each other as Mags and I did. Nobody I knew was there. In the background Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances played.
"Like the Blitz," someone said.
"Never the same again," said a person at another table.
"There isn't even anyplace to volunteer to help," a third person said.
I don't drink anymore. But Mags, as I remember, had a carafe of wine. Phone service had been spotty, but we had managed to exchange bits of what we had seen.
"Mrs. Pirelli," I said. "The Italian lady upstairs from me. I told you she had a heart attack watching the smoke and flames on television. Her son worked in the World Trade Center and she was sure he had burned to death.
"Getting an ambulance wasn't possible yesterday morning. But the guys at that little fire barn around the corner were there. Waiting to be called, I guess. They took her to St. Vincent's in the chief's car. Right about then, her son came up the street, his pinstripe suit with a hole burned in the shoulder, soot on his face, wild-eyed. But alive. Today they say she's doing fine."
I waited, spearing clams, twirling linguine. Mags had a deeper and darker story to tell; a dip into the subconscious. Before I'd known her and afterward, Mags had a few rough brushes with mental disturbance. Back in college, where we first met, I envied her that, wished I had something as dramatic to talk about.
"I've been thinking about what happened last night." She'd already told me some of this. "The downstairs bell rang, which scared me. But with phone service being bad, it could have been a friend, someone who needed to talk. I looked out the window. The street was empty, dead like I'd never seen it.
"Nothing but papers blowing down the street. You know how every time you see a scrap of paper now you think it's from the Trade Center? For a minute I thought I saw something move, but when I looked again there was nothing.
"I didn't ring the buzzer, but it seemed someone upstairs did because I heard this noise, a rustling in the hall.
"When I went to the door and lifted the spy hole, this figure stood there on the landing. Looking around like she was lost. She wore a dress, long and torn. And a blouse, what I realized was a shirtwaist. Turn-of-the-century clothes. When she turned toward my door, I saw her face. It was bloody, smashed. Like she had taken a big jump or fall. I gasped, and then she was gone."
"And you woke up?"
"No, I tried to call you. But the phones were all fucked up. She had fallen, but not from a hundred stories. Anyway, she wasn't from here and now."
Mags had emptied the carafe. I remember that she'd just ordered a salad and didn't eat that. But Angelina brought a fresh carafe. I told Mags about the family at the barricades.
"There's a hole in the city," said Mags.
That night, after we had parted, I lay in bed watching but not seeing some old movie on TV, avoiding any channel with any kind of news, when the buzzer sounded. I jumped up and went to the view screen. On the empty street downstairs a man, wild-eyed, disheveled, glared directly into the camera.
Phone service was not reliable. Cops were not in evidence in the neighborhood right then. I froze and didn't buzz him in. But, as in Mags's building, someone else did. I bolted my door, watched at the spy hole, listened to the footsteps, slow, uncertain. When he came into sight on the second floor landing he looked around and said in a hoarse voice, "Hello? Sorry, but I can't find my mom's front-door key."
Only then did I unlock the door, open it, and ask her exhausted son how Mrs. Pirelli was doing.
"Fine," he said. "Getting great treatment. St. Vincent was geared up for thousands of casualties. Instead." He shrugged. "Anyway, she thanks all of you. Me too."
In fact, I hadn't done much. We said good night, and he shuffled on upstairs to where he was crashing in his mother's place.
By September of 2001 I had worked an information desk in the university library for almost thirty years. I live right around the corner from Washington Square, and just before 10 a.m. on Thursday, I set out for work. The Moslem-run souvlaki stand across the street was still closed, its owner and workers gone since Tuesday morning. All the little falafel shops in the South Village were shut and dark.
On my way to work I saw a three-legged rat running not too quickly down the middle of MacDougal Street. I decided not to think about portents and symbolism.
The big TVs set up in the library atrium still showed the towers falling again and again. But now they also showed workers digging in the flaming wreckage at Ground Zero.
Like the day before, I was the only one in my department who'd made it in. The librarians lived too far away. Even Marco, the student assistant, wasn't around.
Marco lived in a dorm downtown right near the World Trade Center. They'd been evacuated with nothing more than a few books and the clothes they were wearing. Tuesday, he'd been very upset. I'd given him Kleenex, made him take deep breaths, got him to call his mother back in California. I'd even walked him over to the gym, where the university was putting up the displaced students.
Thursday morning, all of the computer stations around the information desk were occupied. Students sat furiously typing email and devouring incoming messages, but the intensity had slackened since 9/11. The girls no longer sniffed and dabbed at tears as they read. The boys didn't jump up and come back from the restrooms red-eyed and saying they had allergies.
I said good morning and sat down. The kids hadn't spoken much to me in the last few days, had no questions to ask. But all of them from time to time would turn and look to make sure I was still there. If I got up to leave the desk, they'd ask when I was coming back.
Some of the back windows had a downtown view. The pillar of smoke wavered. The wind was changing.
The phone rang. Reception had improved. Most calls went through. When I answered, a voice, tight and tense, blurted out, "Jennie Levine was who I saw. She was nineteen years old in 1911 when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned. She lived in my building with her family ninety years ago. Her spirit found its way home. But the inside of my building has changed so much that she didn't recognize it."
"Hi, Mags," I said. "You want to come up here and have lunch?"
A couple of hours later, we were in a small dining hall normally used by faculty on the west side of the Square. The university, with food on hand and not enough people to eat it, had thrown open its cafeterias and dining halls to anybody with a university identification. We could even bring a friend if we cared to.
Now that I looked, Mags had tension lines around her eyes and hair that could have used some tending. But we were all of us a little ragged in those days of sun and horror. People kept glancing downtown, even if they were inside and not near a window.
The Indian lady who ran the facility greeted us, thanked us for coming. I had a really nice gumbo, fresh avocado salad, a soothing pudding. The place was half-empty, and conversations again were muted. I told Mags about Mrs. Pirelli's son the night before.
She looked up from her plate, unsmiling, said, "I did not imagine Jennie Levine," and closed that subject.
Afterward, she and I stood on Washington Place before the university building that had once housed the sweatshop called the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. At the end of the block, a long convoy of olive green army trucks rolled silently down Broadway.
Mags said, "On the afternoon of March 25, 1911, one hundred and forty-six young women burned to death on this site. Fire broke out in a pile of rags. The door to the roof was locked. The fire ladders couldn't reach the eighth floor. The girls burned."
Her voice tightened as she said, "They jumped and were smashed on the sidewalk. Many of them, most of them, lived right around here. In the renovated tenements we live in now. It's like those planes blew a hole in the city and Jennie Levine returned through it."
Excerpted from "In the Shadow of the Towers"
Copyright © 2015 Douglas Lain.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
One: The Dead,
"There's a Hole in the City" — — Richard Bowes,
"My Eyes, Your Ears" — — Ray Vukcevich,
"Beyond the Flags" — — Kris Saknussemm,
"Beautiful Stuff" — — Susan Palwick,
Two: Reaction and Repetition,
Excerpt from The Zenith Angle — — Bruce Sterling,
"The Goat Variations" — — Jeff VanderMeer,
"Our Lady of Toledo Transmission" — — Rob McCleary,
"The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill" — — Kelly Robson,
"Retribution" — — Tim Marquitz,
"Until Forgiveness Comes" — — K. Tempest Bradford,
"Pipeline" — — Brian Aldiss,
Three: The New Normal,
Excerpt from Little Brother — — Cory Doctorow,
"Unexpected Outcomes" — — Tim Pratt,
"Out of My Sight, Out of My Mind" — — David Friedman,
"Closing Time" — — Jack Ketchum,
"The Last Apollo Mission" — — Douglas Lain,
"Giliad" — — Gregory Feeley,
"Apologue" — — James Morrow,
About the Editor,