Have you ever wondered what an alien song might sound like? Would it even need to be transmitted by sound waves? What if the song is telepathic or carried by a bacterium directly to the audience member’s central processing unit?

Here we go with the “what if” questions again. Something tells me that will be a recurring theme with James Gunn’s Ad Astra.

Even though we’re quickly approaching the deadline for our first online “issue” due out this summer, there’s still time to send your work in for consideration before the cutoff on March 31, 2012. But wait! Remember our call for submissions? In it we described the theme of our first edition as “communication and information.” We have already read many virtual trees worth of stories and poems about this rather broad topic, but no two pieces are the same. Your job is to send us more takes on this theme to make our job of choosing the finalists as difficult as possible.

As I considered the topic of theme for this blog, that title up above came to me, which grew organically, as opposed to mechanically or magically, into that opening paragraph filled with questions without answers. Now that I have some few words of distance from that genesis, let’s step back a bit. Mirriam-Webster’s dictionary site gives its first definition of theme in two parts:

a : a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation <guilt and punishment is the theme of the story>

b : a specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern <the campaign has lacked a theme>

Both of these seem eminently valid for our purposes. The challenge we’re putting before you, the writer, is to come up with stories, poems, or critical works dealing with communication and information as your “subject or topic of discourse” or “specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern.” Trust me; this is a tougher task than it might at first appear.

There are many forms of communication and information sharing in the universe we call home, and many more in the realms of imagination. One might say that any piece of writing is, by definition, dealing with communication and information. Fair warning: talent being roughly equal, if you write about an astronaut werewolf hunting little green men as a midnight snack, but neglect to deal in some form with issues of communication and information, your chances of being selected are going to be much slimmer than, say, someone who muses about the importance of a single-celled organism’s ability to pass down its traits to successive generations via DNA.

There might be an infinite number of permutations one can come up with on the theme of communication and information. One may be less than obvious or simply difficult to discern. Another may be so central to plot that the story would crumble without it. Our job as editors is to pull at the thread and see if the work unravels into endless questions or knits impossible dilemmas. Either could be entirely too engrossing not to publish. Your job is to use this theme as a basis for original writing that will make us stop and think, or maybe sit back and marvel at your wondrous way with words.

As I wrap up this long-winded examination of theme, I would like to present an additional challenge to those willing to pick up the gauntlet. Call it theme practice. Better yet, call it “Hinting at the Incredible.”

In the comments attached to this blog entry, I challenge you to come up with extremely short examples of our theme in action. If you’ve never heard of the term “hint fiction,” go ahead and Google it. In short order you’ll find out about Robert Swartwood’s anthology of the same name. He describes hint fiction as “a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story.” See if you can create a story or poem in 25 words or less that hints at larger concerns regarding communication and information.

If nothing else, I hope this exercise will get people thinking and creating, both before our deadline and long after. I’ll even start things off with a pair of my own attempts, which were submitted to (and rejected by) the aforementioned anthology. I challenge you all to do better. It shouldn’t be too hard, since I wasn’t even thinking about the theme of communication and information at the time I wrote them.

For our purposes, let’s not count the title in the word limit, but please try to keep the title to not more than 5 words. You don’t need to get to 25 words; 10 words might serve your purpose equally well, or perhaps better.

Consider the theme as a catalyst for creation, the spark of life. After that, the rest is merely consumption and growth. Easy, right? Prove it: go forth and create!

Douglas McKinney
Fiction and Poetry Editor