Montana fading in the rearview mirror and I’m looking at fairly substantial revisions to my western, The Last Hunt.
My meetings and the research I conducted while in the Livingston and Yellowstone area proved invaluable; I’ve found numerous inaccuracies that have to be addressed, many details that can be woven into the narrative to give the novel far more authenticity and impact. There’s a small box of books to go through, a mountain of notes and photocopies, and I’m about to dive in, head first—
Instead, my Muse decides to bushwhack me and, like the worst blindside hits, I never even sensed this one coming.
I’ve had the notion for a science fiction story for a couple of years. I’m a huge fan of the genre, grew up devouring everything space-related I could lay my hands on. Three early efforts that had a big effect on me were “A Walk in the Dark”, a tale by Arthur C. Clarke, and two short story collections, Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun and a youth-oriented anthology titled Tales of Time and Space (edited by Ross Robert Olney). The latter included “Birds of a Feather” by Robert Silverberg, which is still a fave. I spotted an edition of Tales of Time and Space at a library book sale a number of years ago. Immediately recognized it (even after an interval of thirty some odd years) and snapped it up. I treasure that book; both my sons have read it as well.
My tale, I’ve known from the start, would have a “retro SF” feel to it: like it could have been written back in the late 50’s or early 60’s by someone like Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, A.E. van Vogt or, yup, Robert Silverberg. Nothing state of the art or high tech. A small story about a lonely, little man. Some alternative history thrown in, a universe with some important differences from our own…
All very nice. But eight days ago I’m cleaning up my desk, sorting through papers and I come across a contest for novelettes and novellas, fiction between 7500-15,000 words, and all at once I’m overcome by this notion that my SF idea would be perfect for that length and I could use the contest, which has a decent payday, as my motivation. Poking a finger at the prize money: that would just about pay off your Montana trip, laddie.
Going after my conscience, my on-going worries over finances here at Casa Burns. My Muse has no sense of propriety or shame.
One things leads to another and, heh heh, eight days later I’m done, presented with a 37-page, 10,000 word tale called “Eyes in the Sky”. It came in a rush and would not be resisted. Any gal who’s given birth knows exactly what I’m talking about. The piece arrived just about fully-formed and its creation was so effortless, it made me suspicious that the bloody thing was no good. But Sherron has reassured me. She read a printed draft last night and gave “Eyes in the Sky” high grades. So I’m relieved.
But still perturbed to get yanked away from my western novel with no warning, no explanation. I guess it’s an object lesson. Something this control freak had better get through his thick head: I am not in charge. I am merely an agent, not the Source. I am servant to a difficult, mercurial taskmaster. I may grumble and groan but am compelled to obey; no rest for the weary and, as I should know by now, there’s always another story, waiting to be told…
What? More free reading for you? Why not? It’s summertime, kick back, take it easy. And here’s a mind-blowing little gem, a short story from my Reality Machine collection that I think, in all honesty, is one of the ten best I’ve ever written.
“New World Man” owes its origins to some time I spent with…I guess you’d call him a street kid. I met him at a record store/head shop after we moved back to Saskatchewan (from Baffin Island) in the mid-90’s. Hung out with “Kyle” (not his name), met his extended family, seven or eight young people sharing a grotty one-room apartment, sleeping bags spread out on the floor like nests, music constantly playing. Kyle was a Rancid freak and tried to convert me–didn’t take, pal, sorry. He introduced me to someone who morphed into the “Marvin” character and gave me a peek at a sub-culture, a way of viewing the world that was invaluable to the writing of the story.
But “New World Man” also reflects my growing misgivings as I watch the increasing prevalence and attraction of video games; we’re on the cusp of functional virtual reality, full immersion in an invented, interactive environment. What will that do to relationships, the role of family and friends, regular social intercourse with strangers on the street, at the market? More on this subject in a future post…
A German editor selected “New World Man” for an anthology of the 20 All Time Best Science Fiction Stories (Goldmann Publishing); he told me with some glee that my tale bumped one by Ike Asimov from the book. My name even made the cover, along with Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and William Gibson. Wow. The story also appeared, I should add, in the Canadian science fiction magazine On Spec.
If you really love this tale, you’ll find it in my book The Reality Machine, which is available through my virtual “Book Store” (above)–you can also pick it up from Mark Ziesing Books, Amazon, abebooks.com, etc. Originally published in 1997, it contains some of my favorite short pieces, including “Also Starring”, “While You Were Away” and “RSVP”.
Now get reading:
Click here for a free download of my short story “NewWorldMan“