Authors: James P. Blaylock
James P. Blaylock
In the last years of the twentieth century (as Wells might have put it), Gollancz, Britain’s oldest and most distinguished science fiction imprint, created the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series. Dedicated to re-publishing the English language’s finest works of SF and Fantasy, most of which were languishing out of print at the time, they were – and remain – landmark lists, consummately fulfilling the original mission statement:
‘SF MASTERWORKS is a library of the greatest SF ever written, chosen with the help of today’s leading SF writers and editors. These books show that genuinely innovative SF is as exciting today as when it was first written.’
Now, as we move inexorably into the twenty-first century, we are delighted to be widening our remit even more. The realities of commercial publishing are such that vast troves of classic SF & Fantasy are almost certainly destined never again to see print. Until very recently, this meant that anyone interested in reading any of these books would have been confined to scouring second-hand bookshops. The advent of digital publishing has changed that paradigm for ever.
The technology now exists to enable us to make available, for the first time, the entire backlists of an incredibly wide range of classic and modern SF and fantasy authors. Our plan is, at its simplest, to use this technology to build on the success of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series and to go even further.
Welcome to the new home of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Welcome to the most comprehensive electronic library of classic SFF titles ever assembled.
Welcome to the SF Gateway.
‘Are you sure you are not your own father?—or, excuse me, your own fool?”
[by Tim Powers]
HESE THREE STORIES
are collaborations between James Blaylock and three students at the Orange County High School of the Arts, known as OCHSA. He and I both teach there.
Blaylock is the head of the Creative Writing department—my boss—and our attitudes toward fiction writing are pretty similar: take your story seriously, make it intriguing and accessible and entertaining to readers, and work at getting it published. The ceiling of the basement room I generally teach in is papered with rejection slips the students have received, and they’re always adding more—and many of them have already made professional sales, too.
There aren’t actually any chairs or desks in that basement room, just pillows and beanbags and an extensive library that stretches away into other subterranean chambers. The Creative Writing department is in a converted 19th-century church, complete with choir lofts, and tall stained-glass windows, and this catacomb basement which Blaylock took over.
I’ve taught fiction writing at a lot of places—at various colleges, and the Clarion Workshop at Michigan State University, and the Writers of the Future Workshop in half a dozen cities—but I’ve got to say I’ve seen the brightest and most promising writers at OCHSA.
Even as I write that, it seems peculiar—
Well, I guess these aren’t typical high school students. We get to choose from among a lot of applicants, based on samples of their writing, and they come from all over the southern California area, sometimes with long commuting—and they’re powerfully motivated. By the time we first meet them they’re generally already impressively well-read and writing their heads off.
I like to think that Blaylock and I, and the other creative writing instructors, all of whom have professional credits, are leading these students away from—well, from majoring in creative writing in college, among other things. I hope they’ll major in anything else—literature, history, anthropology, engineering!—and write fiction on the side, learning the writing craft from their widespread reading and their experiences. Lester del Rey once said that “to know everything about writing, and nothing else, is to know nothing about writing.”
I have high hopes for these students. They write stories because they love stories, and they bring to their developing craft an enthusiasm that excludes self-conscious conformity to whatever literary postures happen to be in style. And here’s the work of three of them! Enjoy it, and remember their names.
[with Adriana Campoy]
had been gone only a couple of days when Max tried on a pair of the old man’s trousers. The strange idea came into his mind when he was petting the cat, and he didn’t question it. The trousers fit him well, as did the khaki work shirt and suspenders that had been hanging in the closet next to them. They were old fashioned, but they suited the house, in which everything hearkened back to a lost age. A
, Max thought, smiling at his own joke and feeling somehow more at home now, like a hermit crab in a new shell. Elmer, his uncle’s ancient, tailless cat, regarded him from the doorway with an air of approval, as if borrowing the clothing had been the cat’s idea all along.
The invitation to housesit had come in the form of a letter, posted, apparently, when the old man was already leaving, because Max had found the house empty, with a note on the kitchen counter that read, “Make yourself at home.” The invitation had been as vague about the date of his uncle’s return as it had been about his destination. That also suited Max well enough, since his lease had run out on the flat he had been renting above Watson’s Drug Store in the Plaza, and he was temporarily homeless. Most of his own stuff was in a closet-sized storage unit that cost him forty dollars a month, a sad comment on the state of his worldly goods. It occurred to him impulsively that he would quit paying the storage bill and simply let the stuff go. If he was going to make himself at home, he might as well do a thorough job of it.
God bless the generosity of uncles
, Max muttered, reaching for the pull-cord to the ceiling lamp, waving his hand around before looking up and discovering that there was no pull-cord, which confounded him for a moment, because he had the absolute idea in his mind that there should be, and that he had reached for a pull cord a thousand times over the years. The certainty faded into curiosity. He had never, after all, lived in a house old enough to have such an item as a pull cord for a ceiling lamp.
He shut off the wall switch and went out into the living room, where he found Elmer holding an immense dead lizard. If it was a fresh kill, it had been a quick one, given that Elmer had just minutes ago been lounging in the bedroom doorway. “That’ll make you skinny,” Max warned him. “There’s nothing nourishing in a reptile.” In the dim light Elmer could easily be mistaken for a bobcat, and he pretty much had to cram himself through the cat door when he came and went. How he had hauled the saurian back in through the door was a mystery. The battle must have resembled a scene in a Godzilla movie. Dragging the lizard, Elmer walked along the edge of the room toward the kitchen where he vanished into the shadows at the edge of a bookcase, glancing back momentarily, his eyes glowing green.
Max gave the interior of the house an appraising look. The day he moved in he had fallen into the habits of a stay-at-home eccentric, whiling away the hours in study, poring over the collections in the glass and wood cabinets that lined the living room—the seashells and geodes and beetles and antique bric-a-brac. He found himself opening and closing small wooden cupboards in which were hidden trilobite fossils and gizzard stones and petrified dinosaur eggs, reading through old volumes of natural history late into the night, most of it seriously out of date, with imaginative illustrations drawn during a time when science had no real argument with Jules Verne. There was something in the air of the house that lent Max’s brain a retentive quality that surprised him, and he found that the arcane information in his uncle’s library wasn’t a mere collection of dead and disembodied facts, but seemed to call up dim memories, like glimpses of long-forgotten dreams. It was as if he already knew what he was reading, and had simply to be reminded of it.
The old house was of indeterminate age, built when there had been nothing but avocado and orange groves and empty fields in the area. Aside from the occasional coat of paint, it hadn’t suffered any changes over the years. His Uncle Jonathan had inherited the place in the 1940s from his own uncle, the house always having “been in the family.” There had apparently been other uncles. The bystreet outside was shaded by curb trees and had almost no traffic to break the afternoon silence. There was the distant sound of church bells in the morning and evening, nearly the only reminder of the passing of time if the blinds were drawn, which they were. Max had started locking the front door on his second day in the house, finding that he had lost any desire to venture out.
He had been pleasantly surprised to discover that there was enough food in the kitchen cupboards to last through a prolonged siege—jars of string beans and peaches, canned meat and canisters of oatmeal and cocoa, all of it looking as if it had been purchased at an antiques store. But there was apparently nothing wrong with any of it, and something downright pleasant in the thought that he could disappear from the world for months if he chose to, heating up his food on the old gas stove, which was a mint green object on stilt-like legs, built during an era that had an inventive sense of humor, or perhaps a humorous sense of invention. This morning there had been the sound of clinking glass out on the porch, and he had looked out to discover bottles of milk, a dozen eggs, cheese, and a loaf of bread. Happily, there was no bill, and the delivery person had already disappeared.
He got back to work now, pulling down a likely looking volume and losing himself in an account of stick insects of the genus Phasmidae, which the book referred to as “specters.” Max got up to take a look in the insect cabinets, where his uncle kept dozens of sticklike and leaf-like insects ranged alongside the sticks and leaves they were meant to mimic. He studied the creatures with a magnifying glass, marveling at the uncanny and sometimes minute likenesses to their relevant sticks and leaves.