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February Prompt: On This Special Day


Theme:

Write a story in which a special day plays an important role. A special day may be a holiday or a national observance of some sort (any nation), and it can be either real or fictional.


I am writing this prompt on Valentine's Day, 2024, the 50th my wife and I have spent together. We don't celebrate it anymore, not with others anyway. Many of our single friends and family, whether divorced, widowed, or just unattached by choice, tell us how much they hate this "special day." They call it a made-up "Hallmark holiday." It's not entirely made up though. Is it?


You might think Valentine's Day has some romantic connection with Saint Valentine, but there were at least three different Saint Valentines in history, and they all died gruesome deaths. Not very romantic. The first association with romance and love originated from a decidedly un-saintly English poet who wrote,


For this was on Seynt Valentynes day, Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make, Of every kinde, that men thynke may; And that so huge a noyse gan they make, That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake So ful was, that unnethe was ther space For me to stonde, so ful was al the place. — Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1382) The Parliament of Fowls AKA Parlement of Briddes

In modern times, most holidays seem to be about getting time off from work and/or spending money to buy stuff. Even so, there are always some of us for whom each still has that certain special meaning. This time of year there are a lot of them you might use as the setting or subject of your imaginative sci-fi fable. That's not to say you must choose one of the special days in February and March; the idea is to allow this theme to inspire you, not constrain you.


Maybe in the future, April Fool's Day means mandatory IQ tests and culling of the "fools." Or Mardi Gras krewes have become independent, warring nation-states. Or your attempt to finish your SFS submission before midnight on the Ides of March (see deadline below) is interrupted by aliens wearing togas. Or maybe it's just a special day for the characters in your story. The meaning of "special day" is mostly up to you and your special imagination.


Rules

  • Entries should be submitted in the usual way using the Write for Us submissions link.

  • Mention the title of the prompt (On This Special Day) in the Notes field of the submissions form.

  • Submissions must be received by March 15 to qualify.

  • Entries must comply with all the usual SFS Guidelines.

  • Your work can be horror, dystopian, alien, or whatever, as long as it’s Sci-Fi and addresses the prompt's theme.

  • Submit only one story for this prompt.

  • You may continue to submit stories to SFS that are outside the contest, and we encourage you to do so.


If you have more than one story that fits the theme, please submit your best one for the prompt and send us the others as non-theme entries. Also, if the editors feel your theme entry is good enough to publish but does not quite satisfy the theme requirements, we reserve the right to accept it as a non-theme submission.


After the prompt has ended and all the entrants have been processed (usually before the first day of the following month), we will list and link to the participating stories in a blog post. The editorial staff will then choose one story for special mention as the Editors' Choice of the Month.


Image Prompts

Alongside the theme prompt, we will also have some pre-made art related to the theme in the image-prompts discord channel. For those of you who are visually inspired, image prompts can be an excellent resource. While it is an aid we recommend using, you can still submit a story without an image and we will choose one for you.


Exemplars

We chose our classic sci-fi examples this month to represent each of three

possible interpretations of the term "special day." Clark's famous Christmas story is about a real holiday, Kuttner's is about a fictional one, and Shaw's is about a day that is special only for his characters. All are fine examples of vintage sci-fi that could have been entries to this month's theme prompt. Click on the links below to read any of them online:



Arthur C. Clark, a declared atheist, wrote The Star from the point of view of the main character, a Jesuit astrophysicist who has discovered something that shakes his faith to the core. Is redemption a zero-sum game?


The Light of Other Days is a story about a scientific invention that provides a window to the past. But the price for it is negotiable. The author, Irishman Bob Shaw, was known for his participation in science fiction fandoms and was a frequent speaker at Eastercon, a long-running sci-fi fan convention that happens during Easter, another upcoming special day that falls on March 31 this year.


But if you only read one of these, it should be Year Day by Henry Kuttner. It is about a made-up special day, "the calendar day that comes between the end of the old year and the start of the new". The tale is as accurate a description of today's cacophony of adverts and attention-grabbing media as I've ever read, along with all the fictional science required for the distribution and suppression of that cacophony. It is a completely believable projection of social media into the near future, written more than seventy years ago.


Let me mention one more exemplar from one our own sci-fi masters. It was written for an earlier prompt (Feasts with the Beasts) but the thing that made it so interesting to me was the central deceit of the story:


  • Treaty Day  — J. Millard Simpson, Sci-Fi Shorts , 2023


So, go on. Pick a day, any day, as long as it's special to you. Tell us a story about the humans, aliens, or robots that live through that day.


Good luck, and we hope you had a Happy Parliament of Brides Day!


 — The Editors

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