Inhuman Swill : Page 183
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

This morning on the W train, a slender blonde woman in a low-cut black slip of a dress and oversize black wraparound sunglasses sat diagonally across from me making slow, wet love to a cherry-red Charms Blow-Pop. (It's a gray, humid day in the city, but surely that doesn't account for all the sweat.) Then, on the 6 train, we were all seranaded by a Mexican folk-guitar duo in chambray shirts and cowboy hats.

If only they'd been on a double bill in the same car.

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"Love in the Age of Spyware"

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My short story "Love in the Age of Spyware" (originally titled "Observations from the City of Angels") has just debuted at

If you're not familiar with Salon (unlikely in this crowd), I've built a page to help you through the process of getting a day pass so you can access the story for free:

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On the efficacy of belief

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Looking back over the past few years, I'm astonished at some of the things I've accomplished. I don't need to enumerate them here (although it would be fun), but I will point out that I now ride my bicycle to work once or twice a week, over the Queensborough Bridge and through Manhattan traffic. For anyone who knows me well, this intelligence should astound. And that's only one small astonishment among many.

As I attempt to apprehend the responsible party, one culprit stands out by far: belief. I'm not talking talking about belief in myself. I've always had that, even at the darkest times when it was squashed out of shape and jammed deep into a locked box hidden out of sight in a secret chamber of my heart. No, what I'm talking about here is the belief of one person in another when the two share space and lives.

Like ether, that fabled invisible McGuffin of 19th century science, facilitated the transmission of electromagnetic radiation through what otherwise appeared to be vacuum, so does belief facititate the transmission of ability toward accomplishment. Never mind that the Michelson-Morley experiment drove the first nail into ether's coffin over a hundred years ago. I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction the efficacy of belief.

Its effects stand out most clearly when viewed side-by-side with the results of a control culture from which it is absent. For me, this was the period from mid-1995 to early 1998 when I lived with another writer, Genevieve. Our apartment was an environment singularly and utterly devoid of belief. Once, I ventured the opinion that perhaps someday she might support us with a job while I stayed home and pursued my writing career. After some thought, Genevieve allowed as how that might possibly work—so long as she retained the power of approval and oversight of the projects I undertook. It shouldn't surprise you that I didn't manage to sell a single piece of writing during that period.

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I hate it when that happens

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Don't you hate it when you work on a post for half an hour, submit it, and the web broswer can't connect to the server? And then you hit the BACK button and the form reloads and your post is gone? Yeah, I hate it when that happens.

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My profile on the moon

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So I was hanging out in the newsgroups at when my friend the gifted writer Mark Bourne made some kind of self-effacing throwaway comment about the relative modesty of his own accomplishments in comparison to my fiction sale to Salon.

Well, I couldn't let this pass unremarked, and pointed out that he had been anointed a priest in the Eternal Annals of Canonized Literature with a Capital L when his science-fiction story "What Dreams Are Made On" was reprinted in one of those giant English literature compendiums used as textbooks in high schools and universities, Literature and Ourselves: A Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers (published by AB/Longman). I mean, for chrissakes, his story is sitting there in the same section of the book with Louise Erdrich, Ray Bradbury, Woody Allen, and Mark Twain. And those are just the writers in the immediate neighborhood.

Mark's response was typically droll and to-the-point:

Uh-huh. My audience of bedraggled, bitter, befuddled, beer-breath college freshmen assigned to read my story for class after last night's Zeta Tau Delta annual Breasts&Booze Bacchanalia. Oh, yes, this Canonized Dead White Eurocentric Male will be reeeeaallll popular compared to your larger, more awake Salon readership. Hell, Salon is my browser's home page.
I had agreed with Mark earlier that writing is far more about getting ego-strokes than either art or commerce. He turned that back on me, challenging me to be a man and own up to the immense boost my ego must have received.
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Rattle them bones

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More on Clarion. It's pleasant to hear the the MSU administration is "rattled," though what that means to the survival of the workshop is unclear.

This from the SFWA Online Update that arrives from time to time:

Near the first of the month, Michigan State University revealed that it intended to discontinue its funding for Clarion, the long-running workshop for prospective science fiction and fantasy writers. A letter from MSU's administration blamed budget reductions from the state for forcing them to cut support for some programs "in order to protect quality in core areas."

This is not the first time Clarion's funding has been threatened, but it is the most serious instance yet. A surge of messages supporting Clarion, from authors and readers, has reached the heads of the university. Doctor Lister Matheson, director of the Clarion workshop, reports that the university is "rattled" by the volume of e-mail supporting Clarion.

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Laura woke me up a few minutes ago. About the first thing I said was: "Promise me we'll never have to live in a giant underground city populated by hostile warring factions."

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Checking in briefly from Readercon outside of Boston. After an evening of drunken debauchery, I returned to my room and my wife. I faxed the Salon contract back this afternoon before leaving the office, and I learn now from email that the story will run on Wednesday. Wednesday!

Man, Internet time is cool.

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Bear with me a minute or two. This takes some explaining.

Back in 1994, I wrote a story I called "L.A. by Night," about a software developer who has volunteered to be a guinea pig in an experiment about tracking parolees via implanted devices that let the monitoring AI see and hear what he sees and hears. The story was about the havoc this wreaks on his marriage, and on the unlikely (and unwelcome) protectiveness the AI comes to feel toward him.

The story wasn't all that great, and I had no luck with the first couple of submissions. A year later, having moved briefly to Seattle, I hit on an image that seemed to embody for me the central metaphor of the narrative and which I thought might jumpstart the story. I rewrote the story as "The Sweet Scent of Night-Blooming Jasmine" and sent it off to Scott Edelman at Science Fiction Age.

Scott liked it a lot, but ultimately rejected it because he thought Age readers might not be able to look past the prurience of the story to what it was really about. "I'll probably live to regret this," I remember him writing in his rejection.

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Clarion response

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From: "Wilkins, Wendy"
To: 'Bill Shunn'
Cc: "Matheson, Lister"
Subject: RE: A plea for Clarion
Date: Sat, 5 Jul 2003 12:51:13 -0400

Thank you for being in touch about the Clarion Workshop and for letting us know of your enthusiasm for what it can provide.

Significant budget reductions from the state of Michigan required us to look at every program receiving state support. Difficult decisions about several very good programs had to be made in order to protect quality in core areas. Because we share your sense that the Clarion Workshop has served its participants well in the many years MSU has provided support, we hope you will now assist Professor Matheson in finding ways for Clarion to flourish without a significant MSU subsidy.

We are confident that with so many satisfied participants, and so much good will, that Clarion can continue on with community support. If a plan were developed by the Clarion leadership that is fiscally prudent, Provost Simon and I would be pleased to review it with an eye toward a continued association between the Workshop and MSU.

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The Accidental Terrorist 30th Anniversary Sale

Signed editions
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William Shunn