The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"The Transcendent Tigers" by R.A. Lafferty: An Appreciation by Mike Morrow

In 2003 I discovered a yellowing Daw edition of R.A. Lafferty’s collection Strange Doings in a used bookshop in Madison, Wisconsin. My wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary, and that night while I waited for her to get ready for dinner, I dove in and read a short piece called "The Transcendent Tigers."

Big mistake.

"The Transcendent Tigers," like most of Lafferty's fiction, is a fast drug with a slow fuse. It deceives you with instant gratification, even while it changes your body chemistry so that you can never be the same reader again. The quick highs come right after one another: Lafferty was the best character-namer in history and a master of the deadpan, devastating sentence that can render the entire previous paragraph ironic with a single noun-verb pair.

But Lafferty leaves you thinking, thank God, he never reveals too much. So that you'll be enjoying a fine anniversary meal with your spouse and still thinking about how wonderful it would be if Armageddon did finally come at the hands of a seven-year-old with a red hat.

This will, in its own devious way, ruin your evening.

Your spouse will likely not want to discuss rhyming couplets that invoke devastation on the cities named within. Nor will she likely care to join you in speculating on whether or not Homoeoteleutic is really a word (it is).

But when she was ready, if she was ready, you knew you could point her to any number of Lafferty stories on the SCI FICTION site, "The Transcendent Tigers" among them, and you could grow old together basking in The Homoeoteleutic Power of a Lafferty story.

“Saddened benediction—


Link to story.

"Jury Service" by Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow: An Appreciation by Chris Nakashima-Brown

A collaboration! It doesn’t get any more sci-fi than that. This is better than a Marvel Team-Up circa 1974! Dr. Strange and Brother Voodoo! Black Panther and the Vision! Ka-Zar and Ghost Rider! Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross! The hot Asimov's wonder boys of the new century, romping their way through a 21,000-word novella edited by Grandmaster ED. Try to find something like that in the genteel literary establishment--the authorial equivalent of free jazz, detonating the idea of the author and the conventions of storytelling with improvised explosive memes.

This thing is a case study in why SF writers--and readers--have more fun. Two brightly burning young Turk authors body-slamming in cyberspace like a virtual WWF tag-team. A mano-a-mano ¿Quien es Mas Macho? for people whose stock-in-trade is post-cyberpunk eyeball kicks. Every page another bite of Gonzo Marzipan as the boys pile it on:

- Libyan Goth ninjettes!

- A hungover protagonist "trapped in a mutating bathroom by a transgendered atheist role-playing critic."

- Biohazard burkas! Anti-nanophage underwear!

- The world reimagined post-Singularity as "a matrioshka brain, nested Dyson orbitals built from dismantled moons and planets."

- Mile-long catamaran airships to North Africa crewed by uplifted Islamic gibbons!

- A feral privatized blood bank with a thing for Welsh T-helper lymphocytes.

- Visual spam filtered with adbuster proxy services!

- A chimera engineered with Koranic genome from drosophila, mus musculus, and twentieth century situationist Dan Quayle.

- Doc Björk and the People's Magical Libyan Jamahirya!

The plot? Twenty-first century party people thrown into the tech jury service: "defending the Earth from the scum of the post-Singularity patent office." A solid frame for a story that reads more like a really good Worldcon panel than a conventional narrative. After all, it's the literature of ideas.

The brain bombs pop out of the screen here, each page a contest between the authors to outdo each other with imaginative pyrotechnics. Politics, technology, fashion, food, physics (real and meta-), geography, travel, architecture, religions, genetics, you name it. Fun, and funny, infused with a warm and welcoming nerd whimsy--the spirit of Douglas Adams channeling Greg Egan through an Ono-Sendai translator. Snap, crackle, pop, chortle and boing!

Link to story.

"The Real World" by Steven Utley: An Appreciation by Russell B. Farr

Every fan of Steven Utley knows two things: that Utley loves dinosaurs, and that he doesn't write nearly enough. Oh, and that he doesn't have enough fans, so I guess that's three things.

Utley began writing his "Silurian Tales" around about the time Noah's wife was looking for her swimsuit, which is a fair achievement for a guy only born a couple of days before yesterday. He's got about two volumes of them waiting for a discerning publisher.

How does he do it? It's a little-known secret that Utley has found a time passage back to the Silurian, where he sneaks back to draw cartoons starring trilobites and collects mud by the bucket (he has a lucrative side business selling Devonian slime to starlets).

This might sound a little far-fetched, but it makes about as much sense as the idea of a guy sitting around in Tennessee turning out incredibly descriptive and emotive tales about one of the least picturesque periods in Earth's history.

Like they say, you can't handle the truth. Now go and read Utley's story before I spoil everything for you.

Back already? It was great for me too. Now, where were we? Ah, the past.

Through Utley's stories we know that there is, "for want of a better term, a space-time anomaly" (now that's a scientist who needs to get out more). But that isn't what the "Silurian Tales" are all about, "The Real World" included. Sure, you might think that "The Real World" is about the discovery of the hole and the first expedition back 400 million years, but it isn't.

An academic may come along and say that science fiction is a genre of ideas, and the story asks the question, "What if there was a space-time anomaly that enabled scientists to go back to an alternate-universe Silo-Devonian Earth?" That academic would be barking up the wrong tree (or maybe the right tree, but in the wrong universe).

"The Real World" is about explorers, pioneers, the first people to go boldly, or boldly go: what really happens and what they come back to. It's about real people who find themselves in the most unreal of situations, people who really are doing something no one else has done. Ivan Kelly is just this guy who knows a lot about soil, and is the first time-traveller. He also wonders if he returned to the same world he left, and not a further alternate-universe. The chances are that he has, and he's understandably just trying to cope with everything that follows his expedition, because, after that, how can anything seem completely real again.

Utley cleverly juxtaposes this with the tale of Ivan's brother Don, a writer in an unreal world closer to the present: Hollyweird. Ivan at the amazing Hollywood party, where everyone is fake: it's clever. Real or fake, Utley is writing about the people.

You can't take your eyes of this Utley guy for a second, not when he's giving you so much of a story as in this ten and a half thousand words. How he stays an "internationally unknown" is a mystery to me.


Russell B. Farr is the founding editor of TiconderogaOnline and Ticonderoga Publications and published Steven Utley's first collection, Ghost Seas (1997). He lives in Northam, Western Australia.

Link to story.