Monday, December 19, 2011

For the first time anywhere: The Quiet Guy It Always Was

New from Metrocles House (my personal publishing operation, which I figured to be SEO‑optimized for anyone searching with the combination ancient, cynic, and fart):

The Quiet Guy It Always Was.

This story is about five years old. It never found a home in the science fiction or the mainstream literary magazines, so here it is, a world premiere. People sometimes seem surprised that I’ll put out an often rejected story (about a third of the fiction in Apostrophes and Apocalypses had been turned down all over the landscape and not been published elsewhere), but if a story seems to your eyes to work and to do what it should do, there are three possibilities:

a)   something is wrong with your eyes or your definition of what a story should do,
b)   it hasn’t been to the right editor yet, and the right editor may not have a job yet. Perhaps she’s still finishing eighth grade, or serving out one more tour before she goes Reserve and takes the college benefit. Or maybe you just haven’t happened to see the market listing for Ablating Stories, or
c)    you’ve written a good story that is one way or another in an uncomfortable corner for the current market. If that happens, you’re apt to get a number of notes from editors to the effect of “I like this but …” followed by some non‑quality consideration, such as “my mother reads the magazine” or “the insurance doesn’t cover angry mobs.”

Now, if you have a chance to publish or self‑publish, if the problem is a)—quite possible if you’re a beginner, but less so after a decade or two of writing—then you might as well put it out there, because chances are everything else you’re doing has similar problems, and you need to keep trying until one of two things happens: you learn to perceive and fix the problems, or it gets really dark and they start throwing dirt over you. Till then, you keep putting it out there, to editors or audiences, and just hope enough people will see it your way, until your perception develops enough to tell you what the matter is, or it sells. If a story has really been everywhere, and you think it’s great and really can’t see a thing wrong with it, and the story is very important to you, you might look for a developmental editor or book doctor; for a fee, they’ll tell you the truth as they see it, and that may clear up the mystery. But frankly, ten submissions will cost you a tiny fraction of what one book doctor’s assessment would, and is apt to do you more good.

If the problem is b), it will only find the right editor, or in the indie world the right audience, if you keep putting it out there, so you do. And do. And do.

And if the answer is c), well, here we are with my little problem child.

Editorial comment overwhelmingly boiled down to “too much of a science fiction story for us” at mainstream places, and “cool story but not science fiction” at sf places. It always seemed very sfnal to me: 
medical and surgical technology are tech and therefore “scientific”, are they not?
Applications of new and existing tech, so it’s even hard sf, check? 
The possibility that tech may lead to new kinds of people, new ways of being, new feelings or different expressions of old ones—this is not science fiction?

The thing is, the tech in The Quiet Guy It Always Was is very close to present day, and it has to do with sex and gender and identity, which gets some people all squirmy (I should probably say this might not be bedtime reading for your younger kids). And probably not least, it has to do with the idea that medical technology is enabling new definitions of gender, preference, and desire—not just adjustments with respect to old definitions, but the gradual emergence of people who aren’t quite like anyone who existed before systematic reconstruction was possible.

Right now that possibility is pretty much unexplored in the real world—just try to imagine convincing the insurance company that you would be better off as something no one has ever seen before, than you are with a more conventional birth body and ordinary preferences aimed at other peoples' birth bodies. 

But the change is coming.  Surgery is getting cheaper and better and more reversible, and the psychology of human sexuality keeps turning up surprises. There are going to be some new kinds of people, who have new kinds of bodies and like to do new kinds of things with them. It’s about time to start exploring that in science fiction.

This is a story about the possibilities now opening up, and to my surprise, it came out … well, exuberant, if you like the idea of human beings discovering new things they like and getting them. (Vile, I guess, if you don’t like the idea of perverts discovering new perversions, but if that’s your reaction, let me just say: Pbbbbt.) I just can’t see that as a problem; when it comes to genders and preferences, the more the merrier. But of course, science fiction, especially hard sf, is traditionally about problems, not about exuberance.

Anyway, in more traditional SF you usually mess with the tech or with the kinds of people or—rarely—with both as long as one is distinctly subordinated to the other. (Gibson’s Idoru and Delaney’s Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand are about as far as I’ve seen it go).

In general, in more traditional science fiction, wonder is kept under control (and the story is kept comprehensible) by changing the tech a lot and the people very little, or vice versa; in the more daring stuff, the tech change explains the people change or vice versa. So either people who are pretty much like us are waving their zdarkas around, or people who practice fn’tang (note the apostrophe or extra skiffy goodness) are very strange but they are interacting with our world or a very familiar fictional one. More rarely, the story is about how the zdarka explains the fn’tang or vice versa. The Quiet Guy It Always Was takes things about one more step, I think, than a science fiction editor is usually comfortable with, though not a very big step—it’s a new world where people can be rebuilt to be able to pursue what they didn’t even know they really wanted, and wanting new things and getting them turns out to be fun.

I regard the ending as the happiest I’ve ever written.

Around 5700 words, if that makes a difference. Priced at 99 cents at my e‑junkie store (which has both mobi and epub) and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble (no relation, by the way, since every so often people ask, I guess because they think I’m noble). 

If I’ve intrigued you, check it out and drop me a note. You’re going to spend so many dollars in your life, what are the odds that this will actually be the most foolish one?