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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 - 03:16 pm:   

I actually thought about starting a new one with my last post in #4, but I figured I'd better not since it was Ellen's topic.

But then I noticed that John Klima started SCIFICTION 4, so I figured it was okay. If not, just smack me.

Anyway . . . "Five Guys Named Moe." Like I said, it was an interesting story. I don't normally like alternate history, but since it was about music (my second love, after short stories), I read it anyway and am glad I did. Klein's name was unfamiliar to me -- is this his first sale?
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 - 04:51 pm:   

Tribeless, obviously, your wish is our command :-)
Thanks Chris for starting the new one.

Chris, you didn't read the bio/biblio that we always provide (by clicking on Sean's name). An excerpt from it:

He graduated from Clarion West in 2001. His fiction has appeared in Zoetrope All-Story: Extra, Talebones, Strange Horizons, Murderous Intent Mystery Anthology, and Flytrap.

He was a student of mine in 2001.

I have just bought a first story by a writer named Catherine M. Morrison.

I'll see if I can wrangle Sean over here.

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Lost in Space
Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 - 08:30 pm:   

What the heck is everyone doing over here? I was looking all over for you guys!
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Tribeless
Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 01:58 am:   

"Tribeless, obviously, your wish is our command"

Just because I'm Tribeless, doesn't mean you lot have to be leaderless :-)


Out of interest, I note Asimov's and F&SF both have a circulation of about 30,000. I wonder how SCIFICTION stacks up compared to this.

Are you allowed, Ellen, to tell us how many hits the fiction only part of your site receives?
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 07:52 am:   

Tribeless,
I really don't know as the only stats are for the top hundred or so pages of the site, which include each page of the BB (Farscape comments abound).
It's one of those things I'm perfectly happy not knowing :-)

Lost in Space--glad you found us.
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 08:46 am:   

I've just read Sean's story and really is great. I love the mixture of humour, setting and sharp observations. He writes well about music, of course. So, has Sean sent you anything else yet, Ellen?
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 02:33 pm:   

Patrick, Glad you like it.

He hasn't--hint hint. He lurks but he doesn't post :-)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004 - 04:59 pm:   

Just read Five Guys Named Moe, by Sean Klein.

Not sure if I'm just obtuse, but I missed the SCIFI/Fantasy element in that story (other than the alternate timeline). It was humorous, but I did not feel that it ranked up with the other stories published recently.

Give me another River of Bees, any day!
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Patrick Samphire
Posted on Friday, February 27, 2004 - 01:56 am:   

Mike, Alternate History is generally considered to be a subgenre of science fiction, or at least of speculative fiction. It is speculating about what might have happened if something had been different in history. I think it fits well within the spec fic genre.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, February 27, 2004 - 07:00 am:   

Patrick is correct. It's an alternate history --Mike, Elvis did not end up in the CIA now did he? :-)

Or it can be considered in the "secret history" sub-subgenre.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Friday, February 27, 2004 - 11:47 am:   

Ellen, Elvis didn't end up in the CIA, he RUNS the CIA!
Thanks for clarifying, Patrick and Ellen.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, February 27, 2004 - 05:16 pm:   

Of course I knew that. And don't forget in Howard Waldrop's "Ike at the Mike" Elvis becomes a Senator and envies Ike (Eisenhower) for being a jazz musician.
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chance
Posted on Saturday, February 28, 2004 - 03:43 am:   

I love that story. Thanks for reminding me of it.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 08:29 am:   

Here's the next month's schedule:

March 3
The Three Unknowns by Severna Park novella in three parts, part one
King Solomon’s Ring by Roger Zelazny

March 10
The Three Unknowns by Severna Park part two

March 17
The Three Unknowns by Severna Park part three
The Little Lamb by Fredric Brown

March 24
The Baum Plan for Financial Independence by John Kessel

March 31
holiday

April 7
This Tragic Glass by Elizabeth Bear
Sin’s Doorway by Manly Wade Wellman

April 14
On Display Among the Lesser by Carol Emshwiller

April 21
Flight Risk by Marc Laidlaw
classic tk


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Chris Dodson
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 10:55 am:   

Yay, John Kessel!!! Is that one of his Hollywood stories?
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 11:49 am:   

Nope--completely different.
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Deb
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 07:41 pm:   

This is so weird--just tonight I was wondering if Severna Park had written anything lately and now here she is (or will be) on SCIFICTION this month. Thanks for the list. Lots to look forward to.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 09:51 pm:   

The Severna Park is a really weird kind of anti-science sf novella taking place on Mars and elsewhere off planet. Starts tomorrow.
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 09:52 pm:   

Oh, the Manly Wade Wellman classic isn't definite. The agent is checking with the literary executor but hopefully there won't be a problem.
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Jonathan
Posted on Tuesday, March 02, 2004 - 10:23 pm:   

Hey Ellen -

Any Howard stuff in the inventory?

J
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - 09:11 am:   

Hi Jonathan,
Afraid not. I'll have to start nagging him, I guess.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - 10:57 am:   

Just read the first portion of The Three Unknowns by Severna Park.

Wow!

I'll write a full review once I read the whole thing (all 3 parts), but I have a feeling it will be a glowing review...
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - 11:56 am:   

If the rest of it is this good, it may be her best story yet.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 03, 2004 - 02:33 pm:   

Glad you're enjoying it so far. I was thoroughly impressed.
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Lou Antonelli
Posted on Monday, March 08, 2004 - 11:40 am:   

"Hey Ellen - Any Howard stuff in the inventory?"

"Hi Jonathan, Afraid not. I'll have to start nagging him, I guess."

Now's a good time. I saw Howard in Austin on Friday, and he said it was time to send you another story.
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ellen
Posted on Monday, March 08, 2004 - 01:14 pm:   

Glad to hear that Lou. I guess I'll call him (I wish he had email!)
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Douglas M. Chapman
Posted on Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - 09:22 am:   

Ms. Datlow, a quick question: while you're compiling the YBF&H (which I'm sure takes weeks if not months to wade through potential inclusions), do you and your readers continue to review the slush pile for Scifiction? Or do you wait until the compiling process is complete to resume wading through the slush? Thanks.

Doug
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 10, 2004 - 02:55 pm:   

My paying job is working for SCIFICTION so that work always continues to be done no matter what freelance editing I'm doing.

My reader continues to read the slush pile and I continue to read the non-slush (although I'm a bit behind now because of working to finish up the summary of the year) and edit the stories scheduled for the site. SCIFICTION brings out a story a week. I can't just stop acquiring and editing for it.

YBFH takes all year. I may take a break for a few weeks between one year and the next but that's all I have time for.
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Douglas M. Chapman
Posted on Thursday, March 11, 2004 - 05:56 am:   

Thanks for the quick reply.

Doug
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T Andrews
Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 - 05:33 pm:   

The Three Unknowns is fantastic!
The story sucked me in, fast and thoroughly. I'm
looking forward to part three, but at the same time I'm sad to see the end.
I had never heard of Severna Parks before, so thanks for that gift!
I'll put my search engine to work and find out where I can get my hands on some more of Parks' work.
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T Andrews
Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 - 05:38 pm:   

Found her homepage, and realized that it's Park, not Parks, and also realized I must be living under a rock not to have heard of her. Oh, wait a minute, I AM living under a rock....;)
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 - 07:40 pm:   

Hey T, we published her Nebula Award winning story "The Cure For Everything" on the site too. It's in our archives.
I also published a couple of her stories on Event Horizon, which is still up, if you want to check them out.
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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 12:55 pm:   

Ellen, I _loved_ "The Three Unknowns." "The Cure for Everything" was a fantastic story, but "The Three Unknowns" was even better. It's rare to see stories in SFF that portray the darker side of academia.
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T Andrews
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 01:53 pm:   

I'll be sure to find those other stories ~ thanks!
The conclusion of The Three Unknowns was very satisfying.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 02:19 pm:   

True dat. So far, it's the best story I've read this year, from anywhere. I have high hopes for the upcoming John Kessel story, too.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 02:56 pm:   

I'm glad you all like it. I think it's pretty fascinating. As I was describing it to Lucius today, one of the more interesting things about it--to me-- is that travel to Mars and space is taken for granted in the story (it's actually a short novella) and yes, most writers don't deal with the dark side of academia. ALthough Ray Vukcevich's "The Wages of Syntax" published in 02 and up for the Nebula does as well.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 02:57 pm:   

Chris, I hope it doesn't disappoint you (the Kessel) --it's....a bit odd.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 03:00 pm:   

Recently bought stories by Mary Rosenblum, Greg Benford, a novella collaboration by Gardner, George RR Martin, and Daniel Abraham, a novelette by Christopher Rowe, first story by a new writer, Catherine Morrison, and Kit Reed. Also, Jim Patrick Kelly's xmas story is coming up in late May :-)

Oh yes, and a wonderful novella by Paul Witcover, our illustrious copy editor.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 03:31 pm:   

Odd is good. I like odd.

Wow, what a great list of upcoming writers! Dozois, Martin, Abraham, Kelly, Benford . . . I'm wetting my pants here! Also looking forward to Mary Rosenblum's story -- just the other day, I was wondering what happened to her.
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JeremyT
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 05:46 pm:   

"Wages of Syntax" was one of my favorite stories last year. It is definitely getting a nod from me for the Hugos.
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 10:03 pm:   

Jeremy, unfortunately, "The Wages of Syntax" came out in 2002, which means it was eligible last year not this, alas.
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JeremyT
Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2004 - 06:11 am:   

oh crud. The older I get, the more the years start blurring together. I hope I remembered to nominate it last year. Half my ballot was SCIFICTION stories anyway :-)
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Scott William Carter
Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2004 - 09:37 am:   

"The Wages of Syntax" is on the final ballot for a Nebula this year, though. I've been reading Ray's stuff since I workshopped with him in Eugene, Oregon ten years ago when I was in college, and he just keeps getting better.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2004 - 03:58 pm:   

For whatever reason, I have a blind spot for most of Ray's work, although I loved his stories "Whisper", "By the Time We Get to Uranus", and especially "Poop". How can you not like a story called "Poop"?
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 11:57 am:   

Discussion of The Three Unknowns by Severna Park

I felt Park opened the story solidly. From her first paragraph I could tell that space travel was not uncommon in her setting, which was intriguing, but the last sentence was the one that really tilted me into the story:
By tomorrow she should be able to see Hoshi Noh's tiny, troubling excavation.
I felt this was a great use of words, since I was immediately very interested in the excavation. Simple sentences can do so much!

The arrogance of Althea, the central character, made me unsympathetic to her at first. Notes like “Althea made the corner of her mouth scornful” and “Poor Hoshi, thought Althea without a bit of sympathy” caused me to desire, more than a little bit, a comeuppance for the snooty professor. I feel that good authors draw their readers in and help them invest in the characters, be the invested emotions negative or positive, and Park certainly drew me in with her writing here.

I felt the back-story was great, setting up a very believable conflict between Hoshi and Althea, and I had no problems suspending disbelief and watching them go at each other. I also thought the manner of their duel was fitting to their precise and powerful intellects, very controlled yet with devastating results. It seems to me that this continuation of character is the sign of a fine touch; great writing that is a delight to read. Every aspect of character seemed to me to contribute to the suspense of disbelief and the continuation of the single effect, or theme.

While I tend to put more faith in scientific findings, and more stock in empirical evidence, than in spiritual notions, even I was disgusted with the antics of Althea and Hoshi by the end of this story. If real science was conducted on a regular basis in the way this story suggests, it seems that humanity would cease advancement and even begin spiraling rapidly down the tech tree. I thought Park did a great job of offering a warning here, but to me her warning was more about the dangers of arrogance or of reward structures that encourage bad behavior than about the dark side of academia. I could see this story similarly condemning fields like business, and with some tweaks, even religion.

In all, I felt this was an excellent read and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to enjoy it. Thanks to Park and Ellen!
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 05:41 pm:   

Thanks Mike. I'll see if I can get Severna to check out the BB.
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Severna Park
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 07:25 pm:   

It's great to get such wonderful feedback. I'm so pleased you all liked The Three Unknowns. It took about a year to write and was partly a kind of study in anxiety about going to grad school this year. I'm pleased to relate that There Have Been No Shennanigans in my grad program that would even remotely compare to Althea and Hoshi's <grin> although in my copious reasearch, I did find some pretty horrific stories, particularly from post-docs involved in the hard sciences.

Many thanks to Ellen for letting me know about this BB, and thank you all for posting!
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 08:08 pm:   

Good Lord, Mike, where do you find the time for all those in-depth posts? I wish I could do that!:-)

You should be reviewing for Locus or Tangent, man.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 08:13 pm:   

My ability to review doesn't extend much farther than "It was great!", "It sucked!", and "Ehhh . . .it's alright."

As for "The Three Unknowns" -- it was great!
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jeff ford
Posted on Friday, March 19, 2004 - 09:47 pm:   

I agree, Severna Park's novella is terrific. For those who are just discovering her writing, check out her novel The Annunciate -- an Avon Eos book from 99. I can't describe it, you just have to check it out. It's wild as all get out. Get the hard cover if you can, it's got equally impressive cover art.

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Mike Bailey
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 07:50 am:   

Thanks for the referral, Chris. Should I quote you on my job application to Locus and Tangent?

The reason I do these long reviews is this: I took an English 102 class a few years back that focused on writing critical essays about short fiction, and I loved it. Now I feel like it is my duty to the literature community to contribute (even if it is just my tiny opinion) to the dialog about the works I read. I think these authors deserve more than the checks they receive as payment for delivering good stuff to us. Also, I have found that thinking hard about what worked for me (or didn't) in short fiction, and then putting my thoughts on a page, helps my own writing improve.

WARNING: The below might sound like kissing up, but it is just the facts, man.

I feel like I am getting free writing lessons from these great authors, and since SCIFICTION is one of the best sources for great speculative shorts around (IMHO it is better than RoF or Asimov), I want to show appreciation to the authors (and to Ellen for picking great stuff).
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Ellen
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 11:04 am:   

Jeez, Mike I concur with Chris--please volunteer to review our stuff for Tangent online--you can take a gander at the recent reviews of SCIFICTION there for free (after a week or two) and you'll understand why :-)

Thank you thank you.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Saturday, March 20, 2004 - 05:44 pm:   

I don't want to turn this into a Tangent-bashing thread, but without naming names, many of the reviewers are a bit lazy -- they do nothing more than describe what happens in the story, with no real criticism, not even a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It's no good for any potential readers who are trying to decide if a magazine is worth subscribing to or not.

Mike, you'd definitely be a breath of fresh air if you were reviewing for 'em.
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Tribeless
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 12:14 am:   

I agree Chris. None of the Tangent reviews I've read would have passed muster in any English Lit course I've ever done.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 03:00 pm:   

OK folks, thanks for the compliments! I sent the Tangent editor an email. But if I post them there, I probably will not be allowed to repost them here, right?
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Ellen
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 04:11 pm:   

Mike, You might be able to after after a certain period. Why don't you ask Thomas Seay? He is the editor of the ezine section.
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Tribeless
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 05:39 pm:   

Actually, talking about review publications, I have found a very good one over the month; namely, 'The Internet Review of Science Fiction'.

Its new and even the editor in the last issue admits its still a bit thin, but for depth, analysis, and reasoned opinion, it beats the pants off Tangent. You need to register (free) to see the reviews and critiques, but its well worth it. Check out, for example, the short fiction reviews in the latest issue (including reviews of recent stories in F&SF, Asimov's, SCI-FICTION, and much more)at:

http://www.irosf.com/

Oh, check out the depth of the review on Ray Vukcevich.
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 08:32 pm:   

OK, now I've found the happening spot on the internet:~)

How's everybody doing?

Stacey
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Sunday, March 21, 2004 - 11:38 pm:   

Tribeless, I totally agree about the IROSF. Bluejack's reviews are very enlightening, and I'm also a big fan of John Joseph Adams' sub-genre articles. As I said over on their forum, it's so rare to find short fiction reviews in print or online (much less GOOD short fiction reviews), so I hope they'll stick around for awhile.

Stacey: Welcome to the monkeyhouse!
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Ellen
Posted on Monday, March 22, 2004 - 09:03 am:   

They are doing a wonderful job and I hope they stick around awhile.
Welcome Stacey.
I'm in Florida right now until the 29th.
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Monday, March 22, 2004 - 12:02 pm:   

Hey, I apologize for overposting at Sci Fiction. And thanks to Mike B. for directing me over here. This seems to be the place for discussion regarding stuff at Sci Fiction. Severna Park's novella was really, really good.
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Ellen
Posted on Monday, March 22, 2004 - 04:49 pm:   

Stacey, posting there is fine except because so few people get into the discussion this actually IS a better place to "talk" about SCIFICTION stuff.
If we ever get our new BBs in place maybe there will be more traffic there.
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Monday, March 22, 2004 - 07:28 pm:   

Kewl.

Yeah, something about posting over there makes me feel "out in the spotlight," you know? It's probably just me; I don't know. Funny how our perceptions of different internet environments affect our participation in those environments (that's kind of what my girlfriend did her dissertation work on). Thanks for being so welcoming and all :-) It's neat to find a place of like-minded folks.

Stacey
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rick bowes
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 12:01 am:   

Loved The Three Unknowns, a kind of academic comedy of manners.

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Ellen
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 10:40 am:   

Glad you liked it Rick. The more often I read it the more I loved it.
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rick bowes
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 11:47 am:   

Over in his group Jeff Ford asks when Paul Witcover's wonderfully evocative story(Is it still called THE LEFT OF THE DIAL?) is going to be published.
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Tribeless
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 12:22 pm:   

Ellen, how many years is SCI-FICTION going to keep the sci-fiction archives up for ultimately?
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 02:26 pm:   

OMIGOD! Just read Kessel's new one. Lots of thoughts. Must compose. Will post soon. First impression: story contains MUCH deeper message than the casual reader will pick up on...
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - 02:42 pm:   

Okay, here's my sad, feeble attempt at a Mike Bailey-ish post, in regard to John Kessel's "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence." Since this contains major spoilers, I've decided to format it with white text. Just highlight the text to read it clearly.

First of all, I'd like to say that line by line, this was one of the most well-written SCIFICTION stories I've ever read. Some of the sentences and turns of phrase here are classic --

"calm as a Christian holding four aces"

"The softness of Dot's breast or the shit smell of the crapper in the Highway 28 Texaco, how can there be anything more real than that?"

"I had some time to contemplate the ways in which I was a fool, number one being the way I let an ex lap-dancer from Mebane lead me around by my imagination for the last ten years."

These lines have a folksy Southern charm that is quite endearing.

Being a Southerner myself, I've always enjoyed SF/F in the literary tradition of the American South -- this has always been a specialty of Kessel, Michael Bishop, Andy Duncan, Dale Bailey, and others. Along with the references to T-Birds, Texaco, Willie Nelson, gravel roads, and broken down houses with "a battered pickup in the dirt driveway and a rust spotted propane tank outside in the yard", there's a certain wistfulness and nostalgia inherent in this story that places it firmly in the Southern tradition. There's a pervasive sense here that Things Were Better Once -- before Sid's old man went bust, before he and Dot turned to a life of crime. Everything in Sid and Dot's world seems to be fucked up and broken down, a sharp contrast to the later Emerald City scenes (which I'll get to in a minute).

Sid is an interesting, extremely conflicted character. He seems to have a desperate need for control (as evinced by the line, "That's the story of my life: me trying to save the rest of you—and the rest of you ignoring me" and the fact that he won't give Dot a match even though he has them), and yet he falls in line with everything Dot says and does, rather like a lapdog. Is Sid meant to be the Toto to Dot's Dorothy?

I wonder if all the Emerald City stuff is supposed to be going on only in Sid's mind. Early in the story, Sid says: "Radioactive Roy and the people like him are just looking for an exit door. I can understand that. Everybody dreams of an exit door sometimes." Is the last part of the story supposed to be Sid's dream of an exit door, a way out of his pathetic life?

The most important parts of the story are the references to and resonances with THE WIZARD OF OZ.The main references I found are as follows:

1. The title, of course, is a reference to L. Frank Baum, writer of THE WIZARD OF OZ.
2. Dot's full name is Dorothy Gale, and she's wearing red sneakers.
3. The city that Dot and Sid end up in is clearly meant to be the Emerald City.
4. Miss Goode=Glenda the Good Witch
5. There is a picture on the wall of the house, a woodcut print of a woman holding a fish. In the background, outside a window, a tornado is tearing up a dirt road.

The original WIZARD OF OZ was an allegorical fable about the Populist party's fight for financial independence from the gold standard (more on that can be found here: http://www.halcyon.com/piglet/Populism.htm). The title of Kessel's story leads me to believe that this story is about a similar fight for independence, but from what? From Dot? From Sid's pathetic life? From the entropy of Sid's world? That's just one of many intriguing questions Kessel's story left floating around in my head.


This was truly a wonderful story. If "The Three Unknowns" is my favorite SF story of the year so far, then "The Baum Plan for Financial Independence" is my favorite fantasy.

Oh, and one other question: What is the significance of the name Sidney Xavier Dubose? It's such an odd name -- surely it means something.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 06:52 am:   

Wow, way to go Chris! Not a feeble attempt at all! I was about to ask what the Baum reference was all about, so thanks for answering that. You picked up on some great Easter eggs that I missed.

My interpretation of the theme, or single effect of the story, is likely to be a bit controversial, but I can't really finish my critique because Kessel's story is down right now on SCIFICTION. Broken link or something.

Ellen, you might want to let the sysadmin know.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 08:33 am:   

Looks like they fixed it...

Warning: Overlong Post

Criticism of “The Baum Plan for Financial Independence” by John Kessel

I was very impressed with Kessel’s “Baum Plan”, and after glancing at his bio (and seeing his monster credentials) I wondered whether I should have the audacity to criticize the tale. Then I figured, Kessel puts his pants on one leg at a time, too, so what the heck, I’ll criticize his story. Then I thought, uh oh, maybe he doesn’t put them on one leg at a time. Maybe he lies on the floor or bed and does both legs at once. Then I thought, too much thinking about Kessel’s pants is weird. Better start writing the critique.

I feel that Kessel does a great job with this story, in so many ways, that it is hard for me to know where to begin. A casual reader might have read this story: Two trashy people ride in a strange subway to an even stranger terminal where they are given tons of cash. That casual reader would, in my opinion, really miss out on some great layers of this deceptively simple story.

In my opinion, Kessel begins strongly, following the advice I’m sure he gives his creative writing students, by tilting the reader into the story with the first sentence.
When I picked her up at the Stop 'n Shop on Route 28, Dot was wearing a short black skirt and red sneakers just like the ones she had taken from the bargain rack the night we broke into the Sears in Hendersonville five years earlier.
This sentence, a bit of a mouthful, not only piqued my interest, but also immediately began showing me the character traits of Dot and Sid. That’s doing a lot with the first sentence!

Like Chris Dodson, I felt Kessel loaded up “Baum Plan” with tons of yummy sentences that were a joy to read. Chris quoted some of my favorites, and here is another (about cigarettes):
Whenever my old man came in to clear her untouched lunch he asked her if he could have one, and mother would smile at him, eyes big, and pull two more coffin nails out of the red-and-white pack with her nicotine-stained fingers.

For me, though, a strong theme is what makes a great story, and I felt Kessel really delivered on theme. Whether the following was intentional on Kessel’s part, I do not know, but I thought he put a lot of effort into character building in order to drive home a powerful point later in the story. Since I think Sid communicated to me what some critics call “the moment of epiphany” late in the story, I will start by focusing on Kessel’s characterization of Sid.

Kessel starts showing us that Sid is basically an imperfect but good-hearted person in the second paragraph, which is critical for us to believe if we are to “get” the moral of this tale. Sid didn’t kill the Sears night watchman during the lark in the store, only gave him a concussion, and Sid admits that “a man has to take responsibility for his own actions” while also admitting that he has a weakness for Dot. We see Sid’s belief in accountability reinforced in the way he discards Roy’s notion of an exit door from reality, while admitting that “everyone dreams of an exit door sometimes.” Kessel continues to show Sid’s good nature by the way Sid fiercely confronts his father in a effort to protect his mother from the ravages of lung disease brought on by smoking:
As he bent over to put the tray on the counter, I snatched the cigarettes from his breast pocket and crushed them into bits over the plate of pears and cottage cheese…. That's the story of my life: me trying to save the rest of you—and the rest of you ignoring me.

Since Kessel so carefully establishes Sid’s character, we can imagine the effect on him when he looks out the window and sees that the luxuries of jade city are bought with the lives of the common folk:
The sun beat down pitilessly on citizens who went from street to street between the fine buildings with bowed heads and plodding steps. I saw a team of four men in purple shirts pulling a cart; I saw other men with sticks herd children down to a park; I saw vehicles rumble past tired street workers, kicking up clouds of yellow dust so thick that I could taste it.
We can imagine Sid identifying with the downtrodden, since he is one of the dregs of our own society, having come recently from prison. We can also picture Sid struggling with the idea of taking what he surely considers to be dirty money, his notions of accountability battling with his opportunity to take advantage of a honest-to-goodness exit door.

This all leads to the moment of epiphany at the end of the story:
"One person's dream come true is somebody else's nightmare," I said. "Somebody always has to pay." I had never thought that before, but as I spoke it I realized it was true.
I can imagine how taking the money might bother Sid for the rest of his life. I can see that as an ex bottom-rung-dweller Sid might always feel nagging guilt that his luxury was purchased at such steep cost to others. The fact that I can feel that way about Sid shows that Kessel really nailed the character. But alas, Sid did not make the noble choice. He says goodbye to Dot along with his scruples when he burns his clothes, an attempt to eradicate his history along with his guilt. It seems to me that the attempt does not quite succeed.

Now for the possible controversy: I think Kessel may have written an allegory here. Chris Dodson saw references to the Wizard of Oz, and since he pointed them out, now I see them too. But I think the more powerful message is a condemnation of how powerful western nations, and America in particular, live in relative luxury while the third world suffers.

My support for this thesis can be found in characterization. Sid is the tough yet caring, slightly homophobic, sucker-for-the-ladies everyman that represents the American male. Dot represents America as well. Muslim nations often express the sentiment that America is “the great whore,” and Dot, with her curvy hips, her “bright red lipstick and breath smelling of cigarettes,” her games on the Sear’s bed, and her ex lap-dancer history certainly fits the mold. Sid cares enough to be curious about how the jade city is run, and to feel bad about it, but doesn’t care enough to do the right thing. In the same way, Kessel may be implying that he feels Americans know that our concentration of wealth is not fair, and that we live on the backs of poor nations, but that even if we do care, we don’t care enough to take action – to make a difference.

I also think that the high technology, arrogance, and implied decadence of the jade city residents is supposed to be symbolic of America, or at least the world view of America.

I could go on about a few of the ways Kessel creates tension in this story (I think he shows some masterful touches there), but I’ll leave that as a topic for someone else.

Thanks for your time!
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 12:34 pm:   

Great post, Mike! Your theory about the story's condemnation of Western nations is quite intriguing. Now I have to go back and re-read it.

I'm not sure I would have picked up on those WIZARD OF OZ references if not for the fact that I watched the movie a day or two before Ellen posted the title of the story back on March 2. When I saw "Baum", THE WIZARD OF OZ was the first thing that popped into my head. That's what made me ask if it was one of his Hollywood stories.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 07:24 pm:   

Hi everyone. First time I have time to post today as I'm at the Conf of the fantastic and someone here just mentioned the problem with the link to John K's story. I emailed my producer about the problem but if it's not fixed by tomorrow morning around 10 am someone should contact http://www.scifi.com/feedback/
and let them know the problem.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 07:28 pm:   

Paul Witcover's marvelous novella "Left of the Dial" is coming out September 1st in three or four parts.

Tribeless, the archives will stay up indefinitely --or until an author asks for a story to be removed. So far all our originals are still up (although sometimes we've removed one temporarily if the story is in a collection (eg Chip Crockett by Liz Hand was taken off for a few months when her collection came out). Reprints are a different story. Depends on the estate.
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Ellen
Posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004 - 07:39 pm:   

Mike and Chris,
Thanks for your thoughtful posts. I'm going to get John to post here (I hope ) although he's currently at the Conf with me here. Or at least I'll try to get him to lurk.

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ellen
Posted on Friday, March 26, 2004 - 06:11 am:   

It seems to be working now.

John says he's check the BB when he gets back home Monday so you can speculate all you like till then :-)
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Friday, March 26, 2004 - 10:24 am:   

John, if you're reading, thanks for writing such a kick-ass story! I can't get the thing out of my head -- it's got more layers than a Big Mac, but it's a lot better for your health.

And Ellen, thanks for publishing it. My tastes generally run in the direction of straight-up science fiction, but it's nice to see something Really Weird every once in a while.
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, March 26, 2004 - 02:15 pm:   

John's pleased to hear that people are enjoying it and will definitely check in when he gets back.
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John Kessel
Posted on Sunday, March 28, 2004 - 12:12 pm:   

Thanks Chris and Mike for some of the most cogent comments I have ever had on a story I have written. I can't imagine anything more gratifying for a writer than to have two such intelligent readers sucking the marrow out of the conscious and unconscious meanings of his work.

I'll respond to a couple of things, though I don't want to say too much since I believe that, once the story is out of the writer's hands, it should speak for itself.

I definitely had all the Oz references in mind. I'm a big fan of all the Oz books. The Third World reading Mike gives pleases me a great deal, since in my mind the story is about class, about those who have and those who don't and how those things can warp even the best hearted among us, though I did not have an allegory in mind.

Thanks for your sympathetic readings of my characters. I really like both Dot and Sid though I don't think they are paragons by any means. And they're a lot different from most of my characters. I had fun trying to assume Sid's voice and come up with colorful turns of phrase.

Mike identifies exactly the sentence that I intend to be the climax of the story, though I did not know Sid was going to say that until the moment he said it.

A lot this story comes out of my unconscious--probably more than most of my stories--but I believe that writing is a matter of your conscious collaborating with your unconscious. I can be scary what lurks down there.

I just read the story at the ICFA where Ellen and I were for the last four days, and it seemed to go over very well. It was in a session where James Patrick Kelly read a new story that is also going to appear at SciFiction, and the two stories seemed to go together nicely, though we did not plan it that way. It was a treat to read to such a good audience, and it has made my month to come home to your comments.

best,
John
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Monday, March 29, 2004 - 02:34 pm:   

John,

I've been posting at various SF message boards for about two years now, and I still never fail to get a kick out of talking to professionals in the field (especially nice ones.) :-)

Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind comments.

Ever the drooling fanboy,
Chris Dodson
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 10:50 am:   

Ellen and Chris,

I emailed Thomas Seay at Tangent about reviewing SCIFICTION, but he is sticking with his current reviewers for now. He may send me some other work, and if I do it well, maybe someday I'll get to review SCIFICTION for him. For now I'll just keep posting here.

The print mag review editor, Chris Markwyn, is interested in using me for Analog and some other reviews, so within a month or so I may end up reviewing for him. Chris, I bet you could do it too if you are interested. He needed lots of help. No pay, but I already read the stuff, and I already write up my opinions, so why not?

Thanks for the tips. :-)

Also, Chris... where are the various SF boards you mention above? I am fairly new to the interactive scene, although I have been a reader for decades. I would be interested in reading some of the other BBs. So far, Ellen's is tops.
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Chris Dodson
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 01:09 pm:   

Mike, my favorite board (and the one I've been at the longest) is the Asimov's message board. All the people there are really nice, and there's a bunch of interesting threads. The place is chock full of aspiring writers who are an inspiration whenever I'm feeling bad about my own writing, and there are a lot of professionals who post there as well, including Gardner Dozois, James Patrick Kelly, Steven Utley, Tom Purdom, Jack Skillingstead, Matt Jarpe, and others.

Other message boards I frequent are the TTA Press board, the Analog board, and the IROSF board. Although those three aren't as active as Asimov's, there's some interesting stuff on each.

This isn't a message board, but Locus Online is a great place to read reviews and find out about new books and magazines. They also have a very comprehensive Links Portal that lists just about every other SF/F site of interest.

If you're a horror fan, your best bet is probably the various message boards at HorrorWorld, although the setup isn't very user-friendly.

Good luck with Tangent. With the quality of your reviews being as high as it is, you might be able to use Tangent as a springboard into paid reviews eventually. I might e-mail them about doing reviews, too; hopefully they won't stick me with any ANALOG issues, though. :-) I do have one question: will you be getting review copies, or will you have to buy the magazines yourself?
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 05:02 pm:   

Mike. I'm sorry to hear that Thomas is sticking by his current reviewer. I barely skim the reviews of SCIFICTION on Tangent Online these days as they're shallow and useless whether the reviewer likes the story or not.
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chance
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 06:20 pm:   

Mike, I second the recommendation you try the new internet review of SF. So far their stuff has been lovely, in depth and even when I haven't agreed, very well thought out. (ok, maybe there was no prior recommendation, but it is more persuasive if many voices are clamoring.)

Ellen - me too, ever once in a while I will look at a review or two for SCI FICTION, skim, and then move on. Half the time she seems to miss the entire point of the story. (Since SCI FICTION is one of my favorite markets, I've noticed myself going there far less often because of it.)
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 08:30 pm:   

chance,
I've occasionally looked at the new internet review of sf and like what they're doing. I was very impressed by Jay Lake's analysis of Ray Vukcevich's "The Wages of Syntax."
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E Thomas
Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2004 - 09:26 pm:   

Well, I will add onto the "clamor" ;) and say you really should check out writing for the Internet Review of Science Fiction. They are really emphasizing the kind of literary criticism that you are doing here, and since they are just starting out it might be a good place to submit reviews.

I also like the reading lists at irosf, even though they make me slightly depressed that I never have enough time to read.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 08:40 am:   

Chris,

Tangent mails some magazines, but some others (like Analog, RoF, Asimov's) you have to buy for yourself. If you email the contact email address on their site, Mr. Markwyn will respond in a week or two with an answer.

I sent him links to all my other online reviews and my website, and that seemed to be good enough credentials to get me a reply. Oh, I also name-dropped (sorry, Ellen) and told him that Ellen asked me to apply. (It's true, look above!)

Later! ;-)
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 - 10:17 pm:   

Anybody going to be at the World Horror Convention next week; I'll be reading Friday between 4-5 on the Animals in Horror panel. (I've got a little novel called "Claws" I think you might get out of). Anybody thinking of attending?

Stacey
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 08:38 am:   

I'm afraid I'll be missing it as I've got the Nebulas the next weekend in Seattle.
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 12:20 pm:   

Hi Ellen,

I've been reading over the scheduling for the WHC and saw that Night Shade Books will be represented there. Pretty cool. This is my first convention since 1998 (and my first since going sober fours years back) and I'm really excited! (probably too excited)

I saw somewhere on-line that you'll be the guest of honor editor at another convention later this year. What convention is that?

Stacey
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Stacey Cochran
Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 12:24 pm:   

Mike,

What is your website URL? I'm interested in checking it out!

Stacey
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 02:10 pm:   

World Fantasy in Phoenix over Halloween weekend.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, April 01, 2004 - 06:41 pm:   

Stacey, it's just a wee Geocities thing I tossed on the net a few months ago. If you go, you'll proably be the first or second visitor!

http://www.geocities.com/mikebailey2000
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Mark
Posted on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 10:59 am:   

You know what I really hate? I hate reading over a story I submitted a month ago and finding glaring grammar errors. You know, like missing verbs.

Ack.

Serves me right for making last minute tweaks after I'd had it proofread, and not proofing it again. May my sloppiness serve as a lesson to all.

-- Sloppy McSloppington (aka Mark)
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Tribeless
Posted on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 01:41 pm:   

But that is so easy to do Mark. I can read a wrongly written sentence over and over and miss a glaring mistake repeatedly because my mind simply unconsciously reads what should have been. If you see what I mean.

That's why its good to use a critiquing group, or have someone else read your script before submitting.
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ellen
Posted on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 04:04 pm:   

By the way, I'm delighted to note that Carol Emshwiller's story "Boys" made the shortlist for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.
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Mark
Posted on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 05:40 pm:   

Re: glaring errors.

You're right, Tribeless, it is easy to miss mistakes like that, but it still burns. The worst part is I know these errors were made while implementing the corrections my proofreader suggested.

It was one of those, "while I'm fixing this here, I think this next sentence might sound better this way" sort of deals. You know the kind. And I did it not once, but three times.

Soooo sloppy.

(P.S. In case there's someone else who uses the name Mark around here, and lest you think I may be he, let me just clarify that this is a new, different Mark de-lurking. Since my first post is about glaring errors in manuscripts, I'll hold off on saying it's an improved Mark. But in any event: hi everybody.)
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ellen
Posted on Friday, April 02, 2004 - 08:58 pm:   

Everyone makes errors. Every story we publish goes through an edit, a copy edit, and a proofread and still errors creep in. The nice thing about publishing on the net is that errors can be fixed, even if they're online.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 12:14 pm:   

I noticed a link to this story on the main scifi.com page, so I wrote about it:

Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale, starts slowly, albeit colorfully, but then redeems by building to a soaring finish that the patient reader may take as a personal reward.

The link to the story is here:
http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/originals/originals_archive/leguin/leguin1.html

The first two paragraphs, although beautifully written, did not interest me. But when Le Guin started on the Gyr’s use of self-grown quills and old-fashioned letter writing, I was hooked. How romantic! And the way she brings in pseudo-historical fact makes it all seem more real:

The Gyr write with quill pens. It is traditional for a father to give a set of his own stiff ruff-quills to a child beginning to learn to write. Lovers exchange feathers with which to write love letters to one another, a pretty custom, referred to in a famous scene in the play The Misunderstanding by Inuinui:
O my betraying plume, that wrote his love
To her! His love—my feather, and my blood!


But the real power in “Flyers” is hinted at throughout, and only at the end driven home. In my opinion, the single effect of this tale is to help the reader rediscover the power of dreams (in the context of having the ability to follow a dream, but tragically failing to do so out of fear.)

I believe the climax of the story is here, after a build where the reader experiences the joy, pain, and fear to which the rare winged Gyr are exposed. A human interviewer had just finished talking to a winged Gyr who had disdained flight, supposedly because he preferred the company of other Gyr to the freedom of flight (which, by the way, carries a five percent chance of a fall, possibly fatal, caused by wing collapse):

Shortly before I left I asked him, "Do you ever dream of flying?"
Lawyerlike, he was slow to answer. He looked away, out the window.
"Doesn't everyone?" he said.


In an interview on SCIFI.com (http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue189/interview.html), Ursula K. Le Guin writes, “Part of what a [story] does is make you feel with the people in it--so that you really can get into their skin and be a different person for a while, while you're reading the [story]. If the person is too remote from human experience, I think that's not possible.”

Le Guin keeps with that philosophy in “Flyers”, writing a tale where the alien Gyr experience the same fear and joy that humans are capable of experiencing. Because we can identify so readily with the Gyr, we can learn the lesson that Le Guin was trying to teach through them.

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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 02:55 pm:   

Mike,
Thanks for another graceful analysis. I think you'll like tomorrow's new story :-)
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ellen
Posted on Tuesday, April 06, 2004 - 02:58 pm:   

Um. Except it's "Gy" not "Gyr" as you have through some of the review.
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 10:32 am:   

Ok. I went with Gyr, because of this line by Le Guin:
"The Gyr write with quill pens."
I assumed the planet was named Gy (or the plane of existence was named Gy), and that the inhabitants were the Gyr. Kind of like how I live in America, but I am an American.
If I was wrong, I beg forgiveness. I will cover myself with ash and chant 365 "Hail Ursulas." ;-)
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 01:22 pm:   

I don’t think I could get away with the lush writing in Elizabeth Bear’s “This Tragic Glass.” I’d be afraid someone would accuse me of dabbling in purple prose. Some of Bear’s sentences are so lush that my eyeballs are still aching from the kicks they received during the reading. But the important thing is, in my opinion, Bear succeeds in pulling off sentences that surround the reader with images, but still manage not to suffocate us.

The first paragraph is a perfect example of this balancing act, as well as a shining example of how to capture a reader from the first line of the story.
The light gleamed pewter under gracious, bowering trees; a liver-chestnut gelding stamped one white hoof on the road. His rider stood in his stirrups to see through wreaths of mist, shrugging to settle a slashed black doublet which violated several sumptuary laws. Two breaths steamed as horse and man surveyed the broad lawn of scythe-cut grass that bulwarked the manor house where they had spent the night and much of the day before.

It is interesting to me that SCIFICTION readers seem to see subject matter coming in clumps. Ellen previously noted buying groups of ghost stories; for a while there were some stories about mental illnesses or conditions; and now we seem to be seeing a lot of academic references. But the role of academia in “Tragic Glass” differs from recent tales enough to be fresh (to me, at least). I believe Bear’s intended theme had more to do with the fight against social pressures that try to force us to be what we are not, where Severna Park’s recent academic tale, “The Three Unknowns,” seemed to me to be more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of arrogance, or of reward structures that encourage bad behavior.

Bear is not heavy-handed with the theme, and it might take some careful looking to find what I think is the main delivery of the lesson, when Satyavati offers counsel to the displaced Kit.
You are what you are," … "Someone will have to appreciate that."
But perhaps Saty needs to take her own advice (see below).

One aspect of the story seemed unclear to me: There is, in my opinion, some subtext that points to sexual tension between Saty and Kit, and I am unsure what contribution Bear intended that tension to make to the “single effect,” especially since it seems to contradict with Saty’s earlier behaviors. Saty had seemed repulsed by casual interpersonal contact (with male Baldassare and female Haverson) and had related a sexual harassment incident involving another woman. Based on Saty’s past and her reactions, I had no idea what her gender preference was (and she seemed rather neuter, to tell the truth). I’m curious to hear what others thought of that aspect, and what contribution they thought it made, if any.

I also loved the dialog in "Tragic Glass," but I'll leave that subject open for another intrepid review poster.

In all, as Ellen had anticipated, I did like this new story, and I shall endeavour to write half as well, and be pleased if I succeed in doing so. (Forgive me, I had to try to be archaic in at least one spot in the review.) ;-)
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 05:10 pm:   

Mike,
I apologize. You're absolutely right. I haven't looked at the story for 3 1/2 years--since we published it. They are gyr--and that's what it has throughout the story....
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Elizabeth Bear
Posted on Wednesday, April 07, 2004 - 05:53 pm:   

Mike,

Ellen let me know about your post. Thank you for writing about your insights!

As a writer, I'm a firm believer that 50% of any story belongs to the reader and what he brings to it. As long as I've built something that will give him (forgive my non-gender-neutral pronounage) satisfaction when he'd brought his own interpretation in, I'm pretty happy.

That said, however, I will confess that I was thinking of this as a love story when I wrote it. But I wanted to write a very different sort of love story from the one that's traditional to American culture, in that I wanted to divorce it from our usual assumptions about love, sexuality, gender roles, and romantic partnership. And since so many elements in the story deal with the fallacy of categories, as it were, it seemed natural to set the Satya outside of the categories as well as Kit. So she was intended to be a bit neuter and spooky, as you saw her.

I had all these questions, you see, but I'm afraid I was short on answers, somewhat.

--Bear
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Mike Bailey
Posted on Thursday, April 08, 2004 - 10:40 am:   

Elizabeth,

Thanks for the clarification of what you were intending while you wrote "Tragic Glass". The love story aspect of your story was subtle (and most-decidedly non-categorical) enough to slip by me, and I appreciate your comments.

The theme I fixated on had more to do with the fight against social pressures that try to force us to be what we are not, which seems closely related to your "fallacy of categories" ideas. In that light, the non-traditional love story does seem to me to contribute nicely to that theme. Kit and Satya would seem to be in the wrong age category, the wrong sex category, and the wrong racial category (according to today's dominant cultural attitudes). Hey, they are even in the wrong temporal category! If their fledgling love worked out, they would certainly triumph over all manner of social pressure!

Thanks for the story!
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Elizabeth Bear
Posted on Monday, April 12, 2004 - 08:29 am:   

Mike--

I like your interpretation a lot! Thank you for sharing it.

--Bear

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