Keeper of Dreams
By Orson Scott Card
Excerpted from the forward in Keeper of Dreams.
What’s the inducement for an established writer to return to the short story market? While it’s true that short stories require less typing than novels, they don’t take much less in the way of development. That is, to get any story ready to be written, to bring it to ripeness, takes about as much time and effort no matter how long the finished work turns out to be.
So why would I devote any time to writing short stories, for a few hundred or, sometimes, a few thousand dollars, when I can get many times more if I turn that idea into a book?
Believe me, that’s not a rhetorical question. Sometimes, when I’m late on a book deadline which will actually pay the bills, and I stop to write a short story that I promised to an anthology editor, my wife looks at me and says (only more nicely), ‘What were you thinking?’
How does a serious novelist end up with more than 200,000 words of short stories, novelettes, and novellas?
One answer is: I get invited to take part in some really cool anthologies. Robert Silverberg tells me about a series of big-name-only science fiction and fantasy anthologies he’s editing, and invites me to contribute a story to the sci-fi volume. Sure, I say — are you kidding? He’s not just a friend, he’s a legend in the field, and it’s going to be a great book.
Or a total stranger says, We’re doing an anthology of stories about the Vietnam War, and I say, I didn’t fight in that war, and I didn’t fight against it, I don’t see what I could contribute ... but then my mind starts ticking over the problem and I realize there is a story for somebody like me to write and so I write it.
Or they’re putting together a book for the World Fantasy Convention just at the time that I’m developing this cool concept of the source of all the stories of the Flood, and so instead of waiting till I’m ready to write the novel, I write a very long story that gets it down on paper. It’s a trial run. I’m still going to write the novel ... someday.
Or I go to another country and see a plaza that is so fascinating I have to set a story there, and just at that moment I’m reading a fascinating book about elephants, and those two things come together and I have to write the story.
Or Christmas is coming, and on a lark I decide to whip out a whimsical little Christmas story.
So it comes to four things driving this novelist, at least, to write short stories:
- The irresistible anthology.
- Stories for a particular occasion.
- The big idea that has to get down on paper so I might as well try it out as a short story first and see if it’s good enough to grow into a book.
- The jewel of an idea that is fully formed and simply has to exist as a short story, even if it doesn’t make me any money.
I appreciate your being willing to look at my shorter pieces, and I hope you find them worth the time you devote to them.
But I hope you’ll also remember that there are new writers out there, trying to be part of the conversation. Look for magazines — online or in print — and anthologies and collections. Give them a try. I can promise you that now and then — more often than you might suppose — you’ll find something and somebody wonderful.
Because if sci-fi is to survive as a genre, it won’t be because readers stick to books with familiar names on the cover. I grew up in the era when the great triumvirate of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke ruled the field. But they aren’t producing much any more. If there is no new generation to take their place, then the genre becomes a part of literary history, no longer able to produce great new work. And if a new generation is to take flight, it will fledge in the nest of short fiction.
Orson Scott Cards’ Keeper of Dreams (0-7653-0497-X; $27.95 / $30.95 CAN) was released by Tor in April. The author’s website is hatrack.com.
Security Literacy: teaching kids to think critically about security
By Cory Doctorow
How do kids figure out which search-engine results to trust? What happens to their Facebook disclosures? How can they tell whether a camera, ID check, or rule is making them safer or less safe? In the absence of the right critical literacy tools, theyll never know how to read a Wikipedia article so that they can tell if it’s credible. They’ll never know how to keep from ruining their adulthood with the videos they post as a teenager, and they’ll never know when the government is making them safer or less safe.
Little Brother tells the story of young people who bootstrap their own security literacy because the adults around them fail to do so. I think that’s a depressingly realistic storyline, unfortunately. Security is hard to get right, and doubly so when it involves unfamiliar threats and countermeasures — can you tell at a glance whether the new high-tech lock in the window of your bike shop will work? (Here’s a clue: the best-selling lock brand for two decades was recently shown to be breakable with a disposable Bic pen in 10 seconds flat.)
Kids need critical tools and they need to sharpen those critical tools through debate and discussion, and that’s where Little Brother comes in. I don’t expect anyone to agree with everything I say — and I certainly hope that kids question every word in Little Brother and figure out how they feel about this stuff for themselves.
We live in an age where critical discussion of security is *literally* illegal. You can’t turn to the TSA officer who’s just taken away your water bottle and say, “I don’t believe that you can bomb a plane with water.” Mentioning the word “bomb” in front of a TSA agent is not allowed.
The difference between freedom and totalitarianism comes down to this: do our machines serve us, or control us? We live in the technological age that puts all other technological ages to shame. We are literally covered in technology, it rides in our pockets, pressed to our skin, in our ears, sometimes even implanted in our bodies. If these devices treat us as masters, then there is no limit to what we can achieve. But if they treat us as suspects, then we are doomed, for the jailers have us in a grip that is tighter than any authoritarian fantasy of the Inquisition.
It’s my sincere hope that this book will spark vigorous discussions kid/adult about security, liberty, privacy, and free speech — about the values that ennoble us as human beings and give us the dignity to do honor to our species. Thank you for sharing it with the young people in your life — and for being a guide at a time when we need guides more than ever.
Little Brother (A Tor Teen hardcover; 0-765-31985-3, $17.95) by Cory Doctorow will be available in May. Visit Cory’s blog at craphound.com or boingboing.net.
Flying Snakes, Seeing Hands, glorious Weeping Eyes, and Holes through the
By W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
Okay, here’s the question: The year is A.D. 1350. Name the largest city in America? Come on, it can’t be that hard. This is America, for Pete’s sake! Remember? Like, you live here. You know London was the largest city in England, and Paris in France. Surely you must know the largest city in America at the same time. Okay, we’ll give you a hint: it dominated four states for nearly four hundred years--that’s one hundred years longer than New York City has been in existence. This city had economic ties to Canada in the north, Florida in the south, and Oklahoma in the west. For its first two hundred years it was surrounded by a twenty-foot-high wall with bastions every thirty yards. After that it was so powerful no enemies could mount a sufficient threat to justify the great fortifications. Still don’t know the name of this city?
That’s America. We’re a curious country. One out of four Americans claims to have some percentage of Native American ancestry. Of those, the majority claim some Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, or Seminole blood. Ask those who are Italian, and they can tell you something about Romans, the Renaissance, Venice, Florence, or Rome. Others know something about their German, Spanish, or Irish heritage. Why, then, has our Native American heritage been forgotten?
People of the Weeping Eye is another of our novels about “America’s Forgotten Past.” But this one is special: it deals with the great civilization that flourished around Moundville, Alabama. (And, yes, that is the answer to the question asked above.) While Moundville wasn’t the only powerful city in the Southeast, it survived the longest, was the most powerful, and built the largest monuments. You can still go to Moundville; it’s a twenty-minute drive south of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You won’t see the great wall, or the multi-storied buildings that once stood there.
What you will see are foundations, but even seven hundred years later, they remain impressive. Why, you might ask, are foundations all that are left? These people built with logs and roofed with thatch. Log buildings-no matter how large-don’t survive in humid forests for six hundred years.
Who built Moundville? The best guess is that ancestral Chickasaw were responsible. They came in around 1000 A.D., conquered the ancestral Alabama peoples, and built a city that would inherit part of grand Cahokia’s legacy. We call this period the Mississippian. To newcomers in American archaeology, Mississippian describes a series of cultures that traded and warred, built earthworks, crafted stylistically similar art, and built similar houses and cities.
Despite the fact that we are writing about America’s past, for many readers, People of the Weeping Eye will seem like epic fantasy. Here is a universe that is at once familiar and ultimately foreign. We rely heavily on the myths and legends of the great Southeastern tribes. They believed the world was divided into three realms: that of the sky, earth, and underworld. Each of these worlds was filled with powerful and dangerous spirit-beings. The most powerful were those with mixed characteristics--like snakes with wings, birds that lived underwater, and flying fish. Only the most powerful shaman, like the Kala Hiki in Weeping Eye, could locate and pass through the holes that led from one realm to the other. Snakes were water beings, and the most powerful of these was the horned serpent. He had rainbow-colored scales, horns on his head, and great crystal eyes.
Our characters, Trader, Old White, and the Contrary girl, Two Petals, travel the same Mississippi River that flows today. They pass sites like the Shiloh Mounds and Cahokia, a World Heritage Site. If you go to Moundville, you can climb the same stairs that Smoke Shield and Flying Hawk did. You can look down from the bluff where Mary Wet Bear heard singing rise from the Black Warrior River. The novel is about actual places and archaeology. In museums you can see many of the artifacts we describe in the novel. We include a bibliography at the end so that interested readers can go to the same source material we use.
We hope you enjoy this journey through America’s forgotten past, and into the heart of one of the grandest civilizations in the world. Watch out for Two Petals!
W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear
People of the Weeping Eye (0-7653-1438-X; $25.95) by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear was released by Forge in April 2008. The authors’ website is gear-gear.com.
Winding the Mainspring
By Jay Lake
Mainspring dropped into my lap fully formed. At least in a sense. Book ninjas did not deliver the manuscript to my desk all complete and nicely formatted, of course. Doing that is the work of any novelist. But the idea, now there is another story.
I've always been fascinated by clockwork, machines, lost technology. The Antikythera mechanism is one of the coolest things I'd ever heard of. The orreries of the eighteenth century are marvels of design and execution.
Such hubris, to render the universe in a handful of gears and bright brass balls. Forward in time we have the Babbage engine and the complex world of fine watchmaking. Like many people, I feel a magpie attraction to things which fit together, slide round one another, the tiny gears and giant cogs of life.
These days, all that has gone from a metaphor of precision to a metaphor for the supposed unrelenting drudgery of modern times. Charlie Chaplin said it best, perhaps.
So here I have gears in my head, and a sense of them in the world at large. And here I am at the Oregon Coast Professional Writers’ Workshop, an irregular series of very intense programs put on by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, with an assist from Loren Coleman and a rotating cast of peripatetic industry pros. Kris and Dean spent a day hammering book proposals into our heads, then told us to produce two proposals overnight, for discussion and review.
Being me, I produced six. Wrote each of them in a different way, too. Mainspring was one of those six. All the gears in my head, and two millennia of mechanical history, coalesced as one forty-five minute stretch of writing out of an evening’s fevered work.
It was all there right at the beginning — Hethor, the Wall, the gears of heaven. Making it work was another issue entirely. When it came time to write the novel, I read books on the history of clockmaking, timekeeping, calendars. From them I salted the names of minor characters with the great timekeepers and horologists of history. I consulted with an aerospace engineer as to how best to arrange the heavens. His response was mind-bogglingly complex, albeit gorgeous. Then I threw his advice away because reality is no excuse, especially when writing science fantasy. I bought a desktop miniglobe so I could trace Hethor’s journey and know which hand the African coast was on at any moment.
In other words, like any novel, the writing process was almost as epic as the story itself. But the idea was always there. What if Creation were real, the Renaissance conception of God the Watchmaker in place and to hand? Yet He Himself was absent? That would be the opposite of our world, where faith is a matter of, well, faith, and God is for the most part seen only by those looking for him. In my world, there are no atheists, only dissenters. And everything runs like the clockwork of proverbial wit.
Still, it all rises from the overread and overfed imagination of the child I was and the man I became. And that all came to me one night in a flash. Which I am convinced is how the best ideas work.
Mainspring (0-7653-5636-8; $7.99 / $9.99 CAN) by Jay Lake was released by Tor in April. The author’s blog is available at jaylake.livejournal.com.