Inhuman Swill : Writing : Page 10

Care and feeding of your backups

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Last April I wrote the first draft of a story called "Care and Feeding of Your Piano." It's a short, humorous piece written entirely as excerpts from the interactive instruction manual for a bioengineered piano*.

Armed with some suggestions from my writing group, I sat in my Baltimore-area hotel room a month and a half later and spent two hours applying some heavy revisions to the sucker, which including reordering many chunks of text to achieve more comic juxtapositions. I sync'd the laptop with the USB memory stick I always carried as backup—at least, I presume I did, because that had long been my habit—then rushed over to Balticon for my scheduled reading. I read that story and one called "Timesink" (which was then and is still forthcoming in Electric Velocipede) directly from my computer screen. The reading seemed to go over pretty well, at least according to Jamie Rubin, who was there.

In June, as I prepared to attend the Blue Heaven workshop, I got frustrated with all the cruft slowing down my laptop, so I wiped it and reinstalled Windows XP. At the end of that month, we moved to Chicago. As we unpacked, I became more and more uneasy the longer my black Manhattan Portage shoulder bag, which I was looking for, failed to turn up. I always carried my USB memory stick in a little Velcro'd pocket on the front of it. The shoulder bag has never turned up, one of the very few casualties of our move.

It wasn't until we'd been here a month or more that I went to the desktop machine to take another look at my revised version of "Care and Feeding." I was going to give it a quick polish-and-trim and get it out there—first stop, New Yorker "Shouts & Murmurs" submission. (Why not, right?)

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Don't drown!

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I am a huge fan of the warnings and advisories from the National Weather Service. It's something about the matter-of-fact cataloging of the various ways weather phenomena can take life. These reports are marvels of terse concision, and I recommend them to anyone who delights in language.

This, for example, from today's flood warning for Northern Illinois:

MOST FLOOD DEATHS OCCUR IN AUTOMOBILES. NEVER DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE INTO AREAS WHERE THE WATER COVERS THE ROADWAY. FLOOD WATERS ARE USUALLY DEEPER THAN THEY APPEAR. JUST ONE FOOT OF FLOWING WATER IS POWERFUL ENOUGH TO SWEEP VEHICLES OFF THE ROAD. WHEN ENCOUNTERING FLOODED ROADS MAKE THE SMART CHOICE...TURN AROUND...DONT DROWN.
Masterful. If you don't hear the music, there's nothing I can do for you.
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Discover Magazine, February 2008
Hey, I have a reporting credit in the February issue of Discover magazine!

Discover does a humorous monthly column at the back of the magazine called "20 Things You Didn't Know About..." February's column was "20 Things You Didn't Know About Science Fiction," and its posting online seems to have stirred up a small pot of controversy over at io9, Gawker's SF blog. Seems as if a lot of people were not amused, and in turn Discover was not amused that they were not amused. (Thanks to John Joseph Adams for being one of the voices of reason in the io9 comments, and defending my honor.)

For the record, my reporting duties consisted of supplying the Discover writers with about a dozen pieces of SF trivia, of which they borrowed maybe four, putting their own inimitable spin on the material. I'm happy to say I gave them the one about Gene Wolfe and Pringles. But to balance that out, I also gave them the one about some fans not liking the term "sci-fi." (An example of one of my nuggets that didn't make the cut was that Heinlein Crater in the Hellas Southeast Quadrangle of Mars is named after Robert A. Heinlein. So there you go.)

I would have posted about this sooner, except that I didn't become aware that the column was online, or about the attendant flamewars, until early last Saturday morning as we were preparing to leave for a weekend in Iowa. And to be perfectly clear, having my name in Discover is totally awesome.

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Noted

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Let's hear it for some of my Blue Heaven cohorts this week.

Tim Pratt is interviewed this week at Sci-Fi Weekly about his burgeoning career, which includes selling film and television options to his Marla Mason stories and novels.

[info]paulmelko's excellent debut novel Singularity's Ring gets well-reviewed over at Sci-Fi Weekly as well, even if it's a bit of a slapdash writeup. You should go out and read this novel now. I loved it.

And last but not least, congratulations to [info]gregvaneekhout on selling his debut novel NorseCODE to Bantam! This is a terrific novel, too, or at least the earlier drafts I read were, and I have no doubt it grew even more awesome in revisions. In a perfect world, you would be able to go out and read this novel now too.

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Don't knock it

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I was reading a major novel from a major genre publisher last night (okay, it was Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston, from Del Rey), when a character suddenly "knocked" an arrow into his bowstring.

Not to knock the book's copy editor, but the nock is the notch at the end of the arrow into which the bowstring fits. When you slide the arrow into place against the string, you have nocked it.

But this was also a book where "puss" leaks from one character's eyes, so maybe I shouldn't snatch at hopes that the copy-editing will improve.

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My novelette "Not of This Fold" made the preliminary Nebula ballot for 2007. John Klima, publisher of the chapbook where it originally appeared, is making a free PDF of the story available on the Electric Velocipede website:

Not of This Fold (PDF)
This link is for anyone, not just for the SFWA members who might soon be voting on the preliminary ballot. I hope that you Worldcon members will read it before making your Hugo nominations.
There's also an audio version of "Not of This Fold," slightly abridged, available as Episode 10 in my ScientiFicShunn podcast:
Not of This Fold (MP3)
The audio is taken from a 2006 broadcast of "Hour of the Wolf."
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Old shoe week

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John eat BRAINS!
Going home to New York City is as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe. I flew there Tuesday afternoon with just a backpack and the parka on my back, and I was immediately at ease and confident in a way I don't yet feel in Chicago. The only bad part was that I was alone, since Laura was on a concurrent business trip to Rochester.

But I wasn't solitary for long. I took a cab from Laguardia to my borrowed apartment in Astoria, Queens, dumped off most of the contents of my pack, and headed into the city. After a quick stop at my old office, I met John Klima, in from Iowa way, at the Tor offices in the Flatiron Building. I acquired an advance copy of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, I chatted with Patrick Nielsen Hayden for a minute or two, and John and I hauled his bags back to Astoria on the subway.

We had a full evening ahead, but before I tell you about it I have to back up several months and remind you of the segment of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" that Laura and I caught back in July:

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Stories for SFWA members

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SFWA members, if you're looking for something to read over this coming holiday week, drop me a line at shunn [at] livejournal [dot] com and I'll send you PDFs of my novelette "Not of This Fold" and my short story "Objective Impermeability in a Closed System," both original stories from my recent chapbook, An Alternate History of the 21st Century.

By the same token, if you have 2007 stories you want to share, send 'em on over.

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The polite lie

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I'm sorry, but no, I don't respect everyone's views and opinions.

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Locus of power

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It was as straightforward as I had hoped to find the November Locus in Manhattan. I simply walked up to the usual place on the newsstand at the Union Square Barnes & Noble and picked up a copy. I'm trying not to be frustrated that I don't yet have the ability to pull off similar feats in the city of Chicago. But it will come.

Anyway, I was finally able to read the Nick Gevers review of my chapbook, which leads off his short fiction column. It says, in part:

William Shunn is one of those SF writers who, because they specialize in short fiction, are not given quite the recognition they deserve—no novels, no mass-market publication, so only the plaudits of the cognoscenti of the short form. Yet Shunn is a fine writer; ingenious, stylish, closely in touch with current global trends and expert in producing thought-provoking near-future SF, and at last he has a collection to show off that keen ability, even if it is only of chapbook length. [It] contains six stories, including two impressive original novelettes.

"Objective Impermeability in a Closed System" is an intense evocation of the ethical and emotional dilemmas of a scientist of whom idealism is expected but for whom compromise is easier.... A temporal paradox exists; AIs and a time machine become involved; but rather than the conventional circular narrative this implies, Shunn opts for an unusual, psychologically resonant conclusion, and a subtle questioning of the essentials of cause and effect. The implications run quite deep.

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