How Real Aliens Killed Sci-Fi For Me

A tale of waking up from geek dreams to geek reality

The day the ship came from the other world, Fox was bringing in the last of the fall harvest. He tossed a handful of ripe squash into one of the woven baskets that stood at intervals around his field, then stood up, cracked his back, and surveyed his work. Plenty of veggies for winter.

A young man tore through the village, breaking the silence with excited shouts. He was screaming what sounded like nonsense — some kind of gigantic craft had materialized off the coast. It had enormous white wings, and many mouths from which smoke poured. The elders were down by the shore now, debating whether to go out for a closer look.

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The Insanity That Keeps Us Sane

We’ve got some strange ways of dealing with bad thoughts.

Want to hear a cool story?

In the 1280s, the Mongol warlord Hülegü Khan was getting ready to make war on the city of Baghdad — which was, at that time, the epicenter of the civilized world.

The Khan sent a threat letter to the Caliph of Baghdad that always sends chills up my spine when I read it. Here’s a sample:

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The “Gypsies” Aren’t Who You Think They Are

They’re called Roma, they’re intriguing, and “gypsy” is a slur.

All right my friends, let me tell you about “Gypsies” — or as they’re actually called, the Romani people, or simply the Roma.

They’ve been in the news a few times lately for child abductions. They’ve got a reputation as musicians and fortune-tellers at best; or as thieves, pickpockets and kidnappers at worst. They’re probably from Romania, right? They must have something to do with the Romanians.

Well, not really. Not at all, actually.

 

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Seasons Change

Yeah, I hear what they sayin’. “Strange worms are taking their place on your family tree.”

“The Cambrian explosion of animal life now seems more like a whimper,” that’s what that article in Nautilus said. Life evolved in a whole grip of directions, all type of different ways, long before the Cambrian. It’s a good article. You should read it.

But, I mean, we knew that already. Some of us did, anyway.

Musical accompaniment. This is mandatory.

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Time’s Orphans Have Names

A whirlwind journey into the furthest depths of ancient history

The world is full of orphans.

Not just orphans in the literal sense — though there are millions of those — but people who are just lost. Disconnected from the rest of us, for all kinds of reasons.

But we can listen and try to understand them.

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No One Hears You Shouting From the Slums of Mombasa

The story of a man, a city, and a piece of truth.

The estate where we live is not in the slums. It’s a nice middle-class neighborhood — about ten acres with a big stone wall around them, and a whole community of small shops and apartments and houses and cow-grazing patches inside, all connected by winding dirt trails that run through the scrub.

The long low buildings are communal houses where Swahili people live. The little shacks with signs outside are stores — butcher shops, beauty salons, convenience stores, phone top-up stands. Everything you want, you can find within the estate, sold by your neighbors.

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There Is No Yesterday

An interactive experience in speaking with people from the past

Certain photos demand your attention: vintage mugshots of Australian criminals; portraits of soon-to-be victims of Stalin’s Great Purge, or of nomads in the desert or the steppe.

You stare into these peoples’ eyes and wonder what they were thinking about, what their days were like, how their voice sounded—maybe how they died.

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Go to the Fun Countries

Some countries let you sleep. Others wake you up.

For the traveler, there are three kinds of countries.

There are the clockwork countries like England and Germany, where everything is so organized that nothing can go seriously wrong; where you can go as a tourist and do most of the same things you do at home, except you can take photos of things your friends haven’t seen, and collect stories about “foreign” customs and language mix-ups.

Then at the opposite extreme you have countries like Syria and Somalia, where you only go if you have a specific mission, because what’s mostly happening there is that things are getting blown up and people are trying to leave. Those aren’t adventure countries. Those are end-of-the-road countries.

And then, in the middle, are the fun countries.

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Alone in Nairobi

Night can make you feel like a stranger, even when you’re home

Last night, when the power had been out for twelve hours and the sun finally set and left me in the dark, and someone knocked on my door to hand me candles, and I lit the candles and sat on the bed and listened to the shouting outside — that was when I realized how alone I was.

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