Inhuman Swill : Writing : Page 26
            

Via Paul Melko by way of David Moles, I encountered this morning a fascinating essay by SF writer and scholar John Kessel exploring and repudiating the morality of intention that underpins Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and attempting to explain the book's enduring popularity.

It's a long essay, and quite worth reading if you have any interest in morality and fiction, but here's a distillation:

The number of times this scenario of unjustified attack and savage retaliation is repeated, not just in Ender's Game but in other of Card's stories and novels, suggests that it falls close to the heart of his vision of moral action in the world.... The same destructive act that would condemn a bad person, when performed by a good person, does not implicate the actor, and in fact may be read as a sign of that person's virtue....

This, I fear, is the appeal of Ender's Game: it models this scenario precisely and absolves the child of any doubt that his actions in response to such treatment are questionable. It offers revenge without guilt. If you ever as a child felt unloved, if you ever feared that at some level you might deserve any abuse you suffered, Ender's story tells you that you do not. In your soul, you are good. You are specially gifted, and better than anyone else. Your mistreatment is the evidence of your gifts. You are morally superior. Your turn will come, and then you may severely punish others, yet remain blameless. You are the hero....

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It's official, or will be when the promised contract arrives in the mail. I just made my first sale to Asimov's. A 19,000-word novella no less.

The story's called "Inclination," and though it takes place a few decades earlier, it's set in the same future milieu as my Nebula-nominated novelette "Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites." And it certainly won't be the last thing I write that's set on or near or in a place somehow connected to Netherview Station.

No clue yet when it will run, but publication is surely many months away.

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I'm just sayin'

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The Years Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection
I stopped by Borders on the way to Petco, and I can now confirm that The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-first Annual Collection is out and available in stores.

I would never suggest that you buy a $20 book for the sake of a four-page story by yours truly that's available online for free, but if you do pick up a copy of YBSF 21 you'll be getting a heaping slab of Really Good Stuff, not the least of which is William Barton's novella "Off on a Starship," one of my favorite stories from 2003. I'm just sayin'.

(Btw, Gardner's honorable-mentions list at the back of the book includes no less than five of my stories from 2003. Not counting the one he actually reprinted, of course.)

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Draft validation

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From my agent, a generally positive assessment of the third draft of The Accidental Terrorist:

I've read your revision and I'm pretty darn happy with it. I think you've done a good job synthesizing and compacting huge swaths of material into a much more manageable narrative. I'm also happy with the choices you've made in adding flashback material. All in all, this is a strong piece of revision, and it makes me confident that we'll be able to whip this monster into submission shape sooner rather than later....

I'm very happy with the work you've done thus far, and very impressed. It was a huge haul you just went through, and while this new revision won't be easy, you have gotten over the hump. This book is much, much closer than it ever was. Good work.

In the elided portion, he went into some suggested adjustments of voice in the sections leading up to the subclimax and climax, where the writing might have lost some necessary passion, and I think he's probably right about that. But the fact that he likes what I did with this draft is a huge validation and relief.

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Missionary Man

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My memoir is finished. Well, the first draft, anyway. Time to go and lift a pint.

Better idea than trying to lift the manuscript. It rolled in at 1,076 pages.

Next step: blue pencil.

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Chapter 43: "Whiplash"

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Hey, I'm back in the game, and back up to 870 ms pages. Woo-hoo!

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Back up to 848 ms pages. Manuscript goes in the mail to my agent first thing tomorrow. Or today, rather.

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Shrinkage

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Okay, I've taken the memoir about as far down as I can go now, from 947 pages to 833. That a little more than 12% shrinkage, or almost an eighth of the book. Wow! I've also gone from 47 chapters to 41.

Now I have just one more chapter to write—the money shot, "Words and Phrases You Must Never Use in Airports"—before I'm at a place where I can send the nearly damn complete manuscript to my agent for forwarding to HarperCollins. Tomorrow!

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Missionary Man

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So my agent has an editor at HarperCollins interested in the memoir. Unfortunately, a different Harper editor has already rejected it, so the title has to change for this new submission. Therefore, the book henceforth is called Missionary Man, not The Accidental Terrorist. (It will also help, of course, that there's now almost twice as much book as there was on the previous submission. That will go far toward helping everyone involved pretend this is a fresh submission.)

In preparation for delivering the almost-complete manuscript, I've been eliminating some chapters that have given other editors pause, including the three chapters about my stint at the Clarion science-fiction writing workshop in the summer of 1985. I'm pleased to say that in the past week I've whittled the ms down from 947 to 855 pages, and I still have one more unnecessary chapter to purge. The tricky thing has been finding ways to interpolate condensations of some of the salient backstory from the material I've eliminated into the remaining narrative. But I'm just about done! With luck I'll have the ms in the mail to Shawna on Monday.

Anyway, that's why, when I resume the new-chapter postings, the chapter and page counts will have shrunk.

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947 ms pages and counting.

You may notice that this is Chapter 47, when the last chapter I announced was 48. I did a little reorganization, and now there are fewer chapters.

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