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Last month, editor Nick Gevers asked me to write a story for an upcoming anthology called Extrasolar, to be published by PS Publishing. Somebody who had been expected to deliver a story had not done so and the deadline was coming up.
Nick described the theme of the antho thusly:
Stories will deal with the recent discoveries via the Hubble Telescope and other efforts at identifying extrasolar planets–all those bizarre solar systems made up of superjovians, hot Neptunes, superearths, lots of planets close to their stars, wild eccentric orbits, etc. What are the implications of these observations, for the nature of planetary systems in the universe as a whole, for the hope of finding life elsewhere in the galaxy, for SF itself, a genre that traditionally has anticipated other solar systems arranged rather like ours?
So, basically hard SF, which I don’t write, but I can do space-opera set against interesting backgrounds. So I was very pleased to take a shot at it. I decided to revive Erm Kaslo, my hardboiled “confidential operative” whose investigations take him out among the Ten Thousand Worlds of The Spray. The story is called “Thunderstone” and it shows Erm before the events in his upcoming novel, A Wizard’s Henchman, when he has to deal with the universe arbitrarily switching its fundamental operating principle from rationalism to magic.
Nick has accepted the story. The antho will be out next year.
Fans of my Luff Imbry tales owe Nick Gevers a tip of the hat. It was he who suggested, after Luff’s initial appearance in the novel Black Brillion, that I write some stories about him for the quarterly PS Publishing anthology, Postscripts. Without Nick’s suggestion, I might have let the fat man fade into the shadows.
I was planning to attend WorldCon in Kansas City next month but I’ve had a long conversation with my enlarged prostate and the result is I won’t be going. So I have an attending membership to sell.
In fact, such is the appalling state of my memory these days that I recently discovered I have two such memberships, since I apparently acquired a second one about two months after I bought the first.
The current rate for attending memberships is US$210. Any reasonable offers will be accepted.
I’ve only just found out that Old Venus, the retro-theme anthology I was part of, has won the Locus Award for best anthology of 2015. It’s predecessor, Old Mars, also won the Locus Award for 2014. Congratulations to editors George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois and to all the contributors.
My story was “Greeves and the Evening Star,” in which I attempted a Jeeves and Wooster romp, with the names changed. It probably has no reprint possibilities, so perhaps I’ll put it up for a free read.
Speaking of reprints, a neat little short-short story of mine (750 words) “The Hat Thing,” is reprinted in Polar Borealis, an on-line magazine of Canadian sf written by pros and emerging authors. The zine is a non-profit labor of love put together by Canadian megafan Richard Graeme Cameron, with GoFundMe funding that lets him pay the contributors.
If you want a good smattering of Canadian sff, for a free read, PB is well worth a look.
Some years ago now, I was invited to submit a story to a cross-genre anthology called ROGUES, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. I knew they would be expecting me to submit something with a Jack Vance feel to it, so I invented a character called Raffalon, a thief, and set him in the Dying Earthesque milieu I’d been working in for several years. The story was called “The Inn of the Seven Blessings.”
George and Gardner bought the story, the anthology came out and was a great success – amazing, but I’m still receiving royalties for that story. In the reviews, it got the usual mix: not everyone likes the Vancean style, but those who do like it like it a lot.
But I have seen a number of reviews – I think they’re all from female readers – who excoriated the story (and me) for the fact that Raffalon’s relations with women are less than admirable. The readers clearly assume that my character’s views must be my own. Over time, the number of those reviews has increased, and then this week I saw one on Goodreads that prompted me to make a detailed response.
Here it is:
The reviewer said: I enjoyed these characters. They were flawed, funny, and realistic. I don’t enjoy his thoughts on women, as seen in this book. I’d like to read more from this author.
And here’s my response (which contains SPOILERS):
My thoughts on women: I have been staunchly pro-feminist since I learned what feminism was all about in the early seventies. I believe the emancipation of women from their biological and social roles has been the most important thing to have happened in my lifetime. I am particularly pleased to see nerd girls like Sarah Parcak, who once would have been nurses or librarians, get hold of fusty old fields like archaeology and make revolutions.
My thoughts on the woman in the story: Erminia is a plain and ungainly young woman under the domination of her inn-keeper father, who prefers her buxom sister because she brings in the punters. He sends Erminia off to pick mushrooms for a bigwig’s banquet even though he knows there are cannibal were-men in the forest. She is captured but rescued by Raffalon — who, like most thieves, is a self-centered son of a bitch and at first does not treat her with respect.
When he tries to force himself upon her, she clobbers him then finds a knife and lets him know she will use it. From then on in the narrative she is at least his equal: she’s the one who discovers Fulferin has betrayed them and says they have to run.
She keeps up with Raffalon in the pursuit of Fulferin, sees that they must find a way to ambush him, and plays an equal part in taking him down. She also has the vital information about what the villain is up to. And, at the climax, she is the one who distracts the wizard so Raffalon can overpower him with the god. For all I know, the plan to undo the wizard was hers. Probably was, since Raffalon is not very competent; he couldn’t even steal a chicken at the beginning of the story.
The freed gods reward them with their seven blessings and, yes, Erminia becomes beautiful and can now do a graceful curtsy, but Raffalon is also transformed. They then go out into the world together, at which point it is Erminia who sets the agenda, though first she has to see whether Raffalon meets her requirements.
I don’t explain my characters — I “show, don’t tell” — but I thought it should be obvious from the way Erminia handles herself (and Raffalon) that she is going to be the dominant partner in their relationship. She is the character with the most agency. She is tough, smart, and brave all the way through, and without her there would be no victory.
Some afterthoughts since I posted that reply: I’ve often said that writing is about pitching and catching. The writer pitches; the reader catches. But what the reader catches is not necessarily what the writer pitched. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just the way human beings work.
I’ve done a number of Raffalon stories since and sold them all to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Some readers have said they enjoy the stories and some of them seem to like Raffalon himself, although to me he’s a selfish narcissist who wouldn’t bestir himself to help another human being unless there was something in it for himself. He’s modeled on one of my relatives.
But it bemuses me how some readers do not make a distinction between authors and their characters, especially the disreputable ones. And yet the readers who reacted strongly against him in “Inn of the Seven Blessings” assume I must be a misogynist, but none of them have said they assume I’m a thief.
I’ve sold another novelette to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s called “The Prognosticant” and carries on the life and times of my new serial character, Baldemar, a young wizard’s henchman. It’s my thirtieth sale to F&SF.
And I’ve turned in “Thunderstone,” a space-opera/science-fantasy mix to Nick Gevers, who is editing an invitation-only antho I was invited to submit to on a last-minute basis when somebody else didn’t deliver a story. It features Erm Kaslo, a far-future Sam Spade. I’m hoping Nick takes it.
I invented Kaslo some years ago for a story called “And Then Some,” that ran in Asimov’s and then again in Lightspeed Magazine, where it became the beginning of a serialized novel called The Kaslo Chronicles. After it ran, I tidied up the narrative and sold it to PS Publishing, which will bring it out in limited editions and ebook format in the next few weeks, retitled as A Wizard’s Henchman.
I’m telling you all this because I see I have set things up for possible confusion. Erm Kaslo is a hard-boiled, Sam-Spade-type private eye who becomes a wizard’s henchman when the universe switches from science to magic, and we make the transition from a Jack Vancean Gaean Reach kind of civilization to the decadence of The Dying Earth.
Baldemar is a wizard’s henchman on an Old Earth that is already well into the Dying Earth era. They have nothing in common except the henchman thing.
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