Short Tales from the Mothership

UC San Diego Library’s short fiction challenge provides an entertaining and entrancing celebration of science fiction of all kinds.

It is still the library. It’s still clearly a small room of Geisel, but stepping into the Seuss Room when it’s decked out for “Short Tales from the Mothership” means something fundamental and atmospheric has shifted. A table near the front is adorned with a mish-mash of tokens from sci-fi stories of all kinds: the bust of a man with his exposed brains attached to a thin wired device, a child’s robot, mailboxes filled with postcards featuring science fiction stories from past meetings. Decorative plates buzz with lightning shots of neon blue electricity while multicolored lights flash in the corner — a strobe kaleidoscope of primary color — across the darkened room. A harp and synthesizer play in the corner and the walls are plastered with parodic “X-Files” “I Believe” posters; Geisel Library edited into an eerie space ship, hovering over the extraterrestrial and foreign backdrop of some silhouetted San Diegan palm trees.

They say the Geisel Library was modeled after the image of an opened book, but it suddenly becomes impossible not to see the UFO.

Of course, reality is still inescapable, the illusion of the otherworldly wavers with the desktop projector and glaring red “EXIT” sign, an unforgettable reminder of our own place in the modern day, with robots in our pockets but not quite yet in our brains. However, the mood is effectively set — if perhaps only by the eerie constancy of the flashing lights.

This is the third meeting of “Short Tales from the Mothership,” a spoken-word event hosted by the UCSD Library, based off of a micro-fiction challenge originally proposed by ‘70s sci-fi magazine editor George Hay. Hay challenged speculative fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke to write a complete science-fiction story that could fit onto a postcard. This averages to about 250 words per card, which is the maximum word-count that the writers for this event work with.

Each writer — or a designated reader that they have asked to go in their stead — takes turns going to the front of the room and reciting a postcard-sized sci-fi story of their own. Scott Paulson, the creator of the event and tonight’s emcee, kicks things off by reading a short-story. Paulson reads one of his own micro-fiction stories, a witty but eerie tale about aliens who travel through space and time to pursue help from a sleep therapy harpist whose commercial was accidentally transmitted to them through transdimensional radio waves.

Photo by Jerry Zhou

The evening moves through writers and stories of all kinds, including Greg Loui, president of the UCSD Wordsmiths, a speculative-fiction writing club; Sienna Hemminger, whose short story takes the all-too familiar form of a campus email — this one coming from “The Republic of UCSD” in 2097 with reminders to acquire a brain scanning chip to enter the library; and Lily Huang, who brings character to her performance by doing voices for some of her characters.

Readers and authors range from alumni to faculty to students to nearby writers to 11-year-old Daniel Flynn, who reads a multipart story of his own composition featuring familiar characters such as Kirk and King Kong. Stories spiral vastly from writer to writer, ranging from bleak warnings on conservation to amusing or chilling anecdotes to hopeful looks at a more advanced future.

A sort of spell seems to fall during each reading; a quiet, surrounded by nothing but words and colored lights with occasional interspersed applause.

After the final reading, two Geisel-fied “I Believe” T-shirts are raffled off and everyone else is informed that there are free posters just outside the room. This isn’t the only treat for those in attendance; alongside the posters are tables set up with all sorts of otherworldly goodies such as “Venus Vines” (Red Vines), Astronaut Rations (little cups filled with jelly beans) and “Total Eclipse Brownies.” There is also a “Refreshment Laboratory” serving funky multicolored and carbonated drinks. All around, the event is good-natured, clever, and in utter celebration of the kind of imaginative thinking and storytelling that has kept mankind’s eyes pointed to the stars for decades.

“Short Tales from the Mothership” hopes to eventually hold quarterly meetings, but currently seems to be gathering on more of a “fall and January” sort of basis. Nevertheless, on the occasions the group does meet, stepping through the door of the Geisel Library, climbing on board the “mothership” itself, seems to be an exciting excursion to otherworldly adventures.


Photo Courtesy of Jerry Zhou

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