Read Before They Were Giants Online
Authors: James L. Sutter
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Anthologies, #made by MadMaxAU
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Before They Were Giants
Ed. by James L. Sutter
2012 by MadMaxAU eBooks
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: where it all began by James L. Sutter
The guy with the eyes
by Spider Robinson
Fragments of a hologram rose
by William Gibson
A long way back
by Ben Bova
Possible to rue
by Piers Anthony
by Cory Doctorow
Highway 61 revisited
by China Miéville
In Pierson’s orchestra
by Kim Stanley Robinson
by Greg Bear
Out of phase
by Joe Haldeman
The coldest place
by Larry Niven
Mirrors and Burnstone
by Nicola Griffith
Just a hint
by David Brin
A sparkle for Homer
by R. A. Salvatore
by Charles Stross
by Michael Swanwick.
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Where It All Began
by James L. Sutter
uthors are, by their nature, exhibitionists.
As has doubtlessly been observed before, the old aphorism about writing what you know is redundant. The act of writing itself draws pieces of you into your work, and there are no characters (at least, no believable ones) that don’t have a little piece of you at their core, that snippet of your essence that allows you to understand their motivations and make them come to life. In order to see through their eyes, you need to make them partially your eyes, and it’s not uncommon for a writer asked, “So which character is you?” to truthfully answer, “All of them.” In letting you read his work, an author gives you a glimpse of his soul, his unique worldview and his secret shames.
But while that’s all true, it’s also a lot of metaphysical crap. That’s not the exhibitionism I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the real thing: the trench-coat-flasher urge that leads a writer to take his work—work upon which he likely bases much of his self-esteem, and his ability to call himself an author with a straight face—and actually show it to people. To let it all hang out in a public forum, in which those viewing his pride and joy are equally as likely to point and laugh as to appreciate. It’s a terrifying thrill, and one that takes a thick skin, a touch of arrogance, and enormous—well, let’s call them “leaps of faith.”
These conflicting desires to both show off a story and protect one’s pride only get worse when you know that the story in question isn’t your best work, or is old enough that it no longer reflects your ability as a writer. Do you try to sweep everything but your latest masterpiece under the rug? Or do you let the readers see the literary equivalent of embarrassing baby photos, hoping they’ll appreciate how far you’ve come?
To their credit, all of the authors in this collection were brave enough to choose the latter. Within these pages you’ll find the first published science fiction and fantasy stories by fifteen of the field’s greatest living writers, along with interviews in which the authors themselves critique their debut stories, pass on some of what they’ve learned in the years since, and offer insight into how the stories came to be and how they assisted in establishing the authors’ future careers.
All of the authors here have different relationships with their early work. Some of them see those first forays as perfectly adequate, and wouldn’t change a thing. (And some of them are even correct to feel that way—it turns out Ben Bova was
that good.) Others have practically disowned their freshman efforts, and aren’t keen to be reminded of them—petitioning Charles Stross to include “The Boys” in this anthology was like producing a dead cat and asking him to autograph it. Yet one way or another, as sterling example or dire warning, each of these stories is now back in the public eye, many after long years of obscurity. And we’re lucky to have them.
Before They Were Giants
was designed to serve several functions. First and foremost, it’s intended as entertainment—as with all books in the Planet Stories line, these stories aren’t included just because of their historical significance, but because they’re
Second, it’s intended as a teaching book, a chance for aspiring (or established) writers to receive words of wisdom from their literary heroes and, in watching the greats analyze strengths and flaws in their own work, to help us all identify these traits in our own. Third, of course, is the fanboy urge to collect all of our favorite authors’ work. In dredging up stories that until now were often lost in obscure and expensive back issues of out-of-print magazines, this anthology helps us all to rest easy knowing we’ve fully honored our completist compulsions.
Yet there’s one last function of this book, a more subtle goal that trumps all the others.
As children of the modern age, we have a strange relationship with celebrity. Thanks to mass communications, we’re confronted every day by a thousand images and sound bites about entertainment’s elite, the actors and artists—and, yes, writers—who’ve managed to make it big, and are now placed atop the neon pedestal. In ascending to the ranks of the noteworthy, these individuals often cease to seem real in the same way our friends and neighbors do. They are Names and Faces, the little gods of the information age, and though we may worship at their altars, it’s hard to identify with them. For aspiring artists, striving for our own chance to be heard, there are two common reactions to this phenomenon.
One is resentment. When presented with works of beauty and genius, it’s neither comfortable nor heartening for the neophyte artist to consider the lifetime of work it takes to perfect such skill and mastery of the craft. It’s far easier to say, “Sure, they’re good, but I bet I’d be that good if I didn’t have to work/go to school/watch the kids and could focus on writing all day.”
This, of course, is the rankest of fallacies—of all the authors in this collection, not one started out with writing fiction as his or her primary vocation. Somehow, each of these authors made writing a priority, and in reviewing where (and who) they were when they published their first stories, we can catch a glimpse of how they made the initial jump from amateur to professional.
The second reaction is intimidation. It’s easy to be cowed when reading any of these authors’ current works, to throw up our hands in despair at the amount of artifice, talent, and creativity therein. Since all we ever see is the latest masterpiece, it’s easy to presume that the authors must have always had the gift, springing forth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Yet this is a lie as well, for all of them, regardless of how far they’ve come, were once no different than anyone else—just fans with dreams and typewriters.
This book is about breaking those assumptions, and showing the giants in their formative years. Sometimes these beginning works are humble. Sometimes they’re astonishing in their completeness. But all of them represent the first steps down the road to science fiction greatness. And in seeing the first steps of those who have gone before, this book is ultimately about taking your own.
Here’s your trench coat.
James L. Sutter
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The Guy with the Eyes
by Spider Robinson
allahan’s Place was pretty lively that night. Talk fought Budweiser for mouth space all over the joint, and the beer nuts supply was critical. But this guy managed to keep himself in a corner without being noticed for nearly an hour. I only spotted him myself a few minutes before all the action started, and I make a point of studying everybody at Callahan’s Place.
First thing, I saw those eyes. You get used to some haunted eyes in Callahan’s - the newcomers have ‘em - but these reminded me of a guy I knew once in Topeka, who got four people with an antique revolver before they cut him down.
I hoped like hell he’d visit the fireplace before he left.
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If you’ve never been to Callahan’s Place, God’s pity on you. Seek it in the wilds of Suffolk County, but look not for neon. A simple, hand-lettered sign illuminated by a single floodlight, and a heavy oaken door split in the center (by the head of one Big Beef McCaffrey in 1947) and poorly repaired.