Original Short Fiction

 “The Melody Lingers”

 

GalaxysEdge39cover

A tale of magic and grief filtered through music in an industrial-age fantasy world.

 

This story appears in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine #39, July 2019.

Though I’m usually a hard science fiction writer, I’ve always felt I should be willing to stretch myself and broaden my range. So I’ve been dabbling with a fantasy world called Thayara for more than two decades now. I was influenced by other writers who’ve worked in both SF and fantasy, primarily Larry Niven, who’s mainly known for SF like Known Space, but who also did a series of fantasy stories collected in books like The Magic Goes Away, The Magic May Return, and More Magic in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Niven’s approach was of the kind called “logical fantasy,” basically applying hard-SF thinking to a fantasy premise: If magic existed as a law of nature, how would it plausibly work and interact with other physical laws like conservation of energy?

The other part of SF thinking I wanted to apply to a fantasy universe was futurism. I looked at the standard medieval setting of fantasy worlds, with kings and knights and feudalism and swords and horses and so forth, and I kept wondering: Why are they always medieval? What happens a thousand years later when one of these worlds starts to industrialize? How would magic and technology interact? That was the period I wanted to explore, and it’s been the focus of the few Thayara stories I’ve taken a stab at writing.

I wrote the first of those back in 1996, for the same story contest to which I also submitted the first version of “Abductive Reasoning.” I tried to pack too much worldbuilding into one story, so one of the judges noted that it “needs a novel for its scope.” I did develop a novel idea around 1997, but it never came forward from the back burner. And over the years, I decided I needed to revise my ideas for Thayara. Initially, since my original plan was to project a standard fantasy universe forward into the industrial age, the other species I featured were slight variations on stock fantasy races like elves and dragons. As an outsider to fantasy, I didn’t realize how cliched that was, and once I read complaints about the repetitive nature of the fantasy genre at the time, I decided I should try to make my universe more distinctive than that. I wrote two short stories in this reworked Thayara in 2009-10, but one of them didn’t quite work, since I pretty much wrote it from the wrong character’s viewpoint. I’ve kept meaning to go back to it and try again, but other projects have always taken precedence.

“The Melody Lingers” was the other story, originally written for submission to an open-call anthology with a musical theme. I don’t recall the thought process that led to the specific idea, but it wasn’t long after I’d written Star Trek: Titan – Over a Torrent Sea, which involved an aquatic alien species with a very musical culture and worldview, so my ideas there might have fed into this. The story turned out to be one of those that a lot of editors basically liked but that didn’t quiiiite work for them structurally or that was too unconventional a fantasy to fit their needs. I kept revising and submitting until finally Mike Resnick (a fellow Cincinnatian and a social acquaintance of mine) acquired it for Galaxy’s Edge last year. Ironically, my revisions had included expanding the story to give it more depth and better plot flow (I thought), but Mike asked me to cut it back considerably, so I ended up basically reverting to the story’s original structure, although incorporating the improvements I’d made along the way.

Spoiler discussion and notes


 “Abductive Reasoning”

 

Analog Sept/Oct 2017

A humorous tale of a first contact between a UFO believer and a real alien, which doesn’t go at all the way either one expects.

 

This story appears in the September/October 2017 Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

  • “Clever and very funny.” — Greg Hullender, Rocket Stack Rank
  • “Hilarious!” — Sam Tomaino, SFRevu
  • “‘Abductive Reasoning’ dissects the classic secret alien abduction narrative and exposes it for all its flaws and fluff while at the same time poking at our complicated human way of explaining and interacting with the unknown.” — Nicky Magas, TangentOnline

“Abductive Reasoning” is a first for me in a couple of ways. For one, it’s the first actual short story I’ve ever sold! Everything else I’ve done has been at least novelette length (my previous shortest, “The Weight of Silence,” was 7600 words), but this one’s a cozy 4100 words. It’s also my first Analog story, and my second original work after “No Dominion,” that belongs to neither the Only Superhuman universe (for want of a better term) nor the Hub universe. It’s a completely standalone tale, for now. (Well, technically there’s no reason it couldn’t share a universe with “No Dominion,” but they don’t exactly go together stylistically.)

Like my previous three original sales, this is another story I wrote ages ago, abandoned for years, and then revived. And this one’s a record-setter — I wrote the first version nearly 21 years ago for a story contest, my longest interval yet between writing a story and getting a version of it published. That story was called “An Update from the Flying Hubcap Front,” in which a real alien encounters a UFO cultist and systematically demolishes his beliefs. But it was little more than a self-indulgent polemic, and when I revisited it, I recognized the need to give the main character more motivation and investment in the core debate of the story. I ended up rewriting it from top to bottom, injecting a number of new scientific concepts I’d picked up in recent years, adding more emotional and philosophical depth, and completely changing the climax and resolution. It’s essentially a whole new story, and I was pleasantly surprised to sell it on my very first try.

I changed the title because the original seemed too labored and snarky, though I was never too happy with “Abductive Reasoning” as an alternative. I intended it merely as a pun on alien abduction and deductive reasoning, but Ina Rae Hark informed me that there actually is such a thing in logic as abductive reasoning, in which you “take away” (abduce) a best-guess conclusion from an observation, draw an inference that may or may not be correct but seems likely given your understanding of things. It’s actually one of the most common forms of reasoning, the way we determine the likely cause of an observed result. It’s how detectives determine who to charge with a crime, how doctors arrive at diagnoses, how scientists form hypotheses.

However, abductive reasoning is only as good as the assumptions you make, and doesn’t guarantee a correct result — which is why hypotheses and diagnoses need to be tested and criminal charges need to be proven in court. Two people observing the same situation with completely different worldviews will probably abduce completely incompatible inferences. In that sense, I suppose, the title actually has more relevance to the story than I’d intended.

Spoiler discussion and notes


Other original short fiction:

Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman

(Robot and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics)

Includes:

“Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, November 1998)

“Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, December 2000)

“The Weight of Silence” (Alternative Coordinates, Spring 2010)

“No Dominion” (DayBreak Magazine, June 13, 2010)

“The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” (Buzzy Mag, November 13, 2014)

“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, June 2016)

“Twilight’s Captives” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, January/February 2017)

“Aspiring to be Angels” (original to Among the Wild Cybers, August 2018)


Troubleshooter Short Fiction

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” (Footprints in the Stars, July 2019)

“Conventional Powers” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, September/October 2019)


The Hub series

Hub Space coverHub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy
Includes:
“The Hub of the Matter” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 2010)
“Home is Where the Hub Is” (Analog, December 2010)
“Make Hub, Not War” (Analog, November 2013)
Crimes of the Hub coverCrimes of the Hub
Includes:
“Hubpoint of No Return” (Analog, May/June 2018)
“…And He Built a Crooked Hub” (Analog, September/October 2018)
“Hubstitute Creatures” (Analog, November/December 2018)

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