Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Power Outage

Hi, and good morning. We're conducting an unplanned test of the emergency backup to the backup comm system today. The local power grid went down about half an hour ago and it doesn't look like it's coming back up any time soon, so I am writing this post on my phone. Fortunately we have a GAS stove, so while the electric igniters are inoperative, I was able to light a burner using a MATCH, and am now making a pot of coffee using FIRE and a PERCOLATOR! 

Next up: haul out a manual typewriter and a slide rule and get back to work. Fortunately it's a very bright and sunny day, so there's enough sunlight reflecting off the snow outside to make it comfortably bright inside the house. 

Here's hoping they get the power grid fixed before nightfall. I'd hate to have to burn books to keep the house warm. If I do, I'm starting with the Stephen King novels. More BTUs per book in those bricks. 

Obviously, this turn of events makes it unlikely that I'll be finishing SS#24 and uploading it to Amazon today.

Bruce Bethke

Saturday, February 25, 2023

“The USS Copernicus Sixth (Semi-Annual) Contraband Run” • by Karl Dandenell

“Listen up!” Chief Susanna Kosonen’s booming voice filled the mess. Everyone immediately gave the spaceship’s Chief of the Boat their full attention. “Phobos supply shuttle ETA is thirteen-fifteen. So that gives us just—”

“Four hours!”

“Nice to see that you can do basic math, Seaman Henderson. Now shut it.” She continued, “Four hours for the race. Six runners, one for each watch. I hope you’ve picked your best people.”

Of course they had. Fierce negotiations had been ongoing since the Fifth Race, six months earlier. Four women and two men stepped forward and came to attention.

The COB nodded. “Rule number one: first sailor to get to the docking bay unobserved and uninjured—“

“No fair!” cried Steward’s Mate Riley.

“—gets to claim the C-pod for their shift.” She gave Riley the stink eye. He’d won the Fifth Race—and broken a collarbone—earning his watch a standard cargo pod packed with real chocolate bars, not the printed crap for sale onboard.

“What’s in the pod?” shouted a cook.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” said Kosonen.

“Yeah, Chief, I would.”

“That was a rhetorical question, which means shut it. Rule two: no screwing with critical systems. You try that shit, and your entire watch pulls double recycler shifts for a month. Looking at you, Ansible Technician Jimenez.” During the Fourth Race, Jimenez had delayed his opponents by triggering an 02 alarm, which closed the pressure hatches behind him.

“Heard, Chief!”

“Rule three: no one goes outside.”


Kosonen turned to a powerfully built runner. “Yeoman Lynch, I saw you’d checked out an emergency e-suit for ‘testing’ yesterday. Honestly, you must be a special kind of idiot to think you could clump along the outer hull like a goddamn yeti and not be noticed by fifteen thousand cameras. Believe or not, someone actually monitors those.”

Lynch stared straight ahead, ignoring the laughter.

“Rule four: nobody messes with the cat.”

During the Fifth Race, Midshipman Jones had stepped on Fuzzbutt, the ship’s mascot. The aggrieved tom had gone to ground in Engineering, emerging only to piss on every air filter within reach.

Kosonen had barely convinced Captain Byrne not to throw Jones in the brig.

“That’s it. Take your marks!” The six champions lined up before the mess hatch. Tanaka, the tiny machinist mate representing Second Watch, said, “Chief, permission to ask about the pod.”


“What’s in the pod?”

“Precisely one hundred and fifty liters of Ireland’s finest beer. Now get out of my sight!”

Three hundred throats cheered as the hatch swung open.

*     *     *

The COB drew a fresh cup of coffee before sauntering off in pursuit. There was no rush. Before she’d instituted the Contraband Race, crew morale was in the shitter. The former commander, Captain Mavros, was forced into early retirement because of the crew’s appalling combat readiness and open flouting of regulations. (At one point, an enterprising sailor installed a medical printer and sold designer drugs throughout the lower decks.)

The brass had sent in Captain Byrne to restore order, who quickly tapped the COB to help him figure out how to keep that shit from happening again.

Kosonen took inspiration from her own childhood in Lapland. Every year, the village’s teenagers would mark the Spring Equinox with a snowshoe obstacle race, searching the woods for a hidden cache of specialty foods and drinks imported from Europe, America, and Africa.

Only those children who had earned good grades and consistently finished their chores were allowed to run. It proved excellent training for the military.

While Kosonen couldn’t recreate a snowy forest on board, she could set up a version of capture the flag, using the Copernicus as the playing field.

“Instead of a flag,” she’d told Captain Byrne, “we’ll give them a stash of small luxuries, things they can’t normally get.”

 Bryne agreed, with one proviso. They had to limit the contestants to six, representing the Watches. “Otherwise, it’ll be a full-on melee.”

“Good point,” the COB had replied.

Thus the race was born.

*     *     *

Kosonen’s first catch of the day was a double: Midshipman DeGuzman and Logistics Specialist Harlick, both of whom were lying on the deck, groggy and dripping with sedative foam. “These two tried to bypass Ops using the same air duct, Chief,” said one of the MPs standing guard. “Neither one would back off so we had to spray them down.”

“They can sleep it off in their racks,” said Kosonen. “Carry on.”

As she wended her way to the stern over the next hour, she tracked sightings from other decks. Fourth and Fifth Watches had apparently formed an alliance, hoping to boost their chances by submitting false reports of their team positions.

Two years ago, such cooperation would have been inconceivable. But the race had introduced a certain espirit d’corps to the Copernicus. Their efficiency rating had just crossed into the top five fleet-wide, much to Kosonen’s delight. The crew no longer acted like a bunch of dumbass recruits; they were a unit. Hell, they were family.

Her audio feed was interrupted by a priority call from sickbay. Corpsman Jedynak from Fourth Watch was dropping out of the race. Twisted ankle.

“How’d that happen?”

“He claims he ran into Fuzzbutt and slipped when tried to ‘run the hell away in the opposite direction’,”  said the duty medic.

“Restricted duty as needed. Thanks,” said Kosonen, making a mental note to do a spot inspection of the crew’s ship boots. Some might be due for replacement.

“He swears he didn’t touch the cat, Chief.”

“Good thing for all of us,” said Kosonen.

She continued on to the shuttle bay and settled herself just outside the passenger airlock, where she had clear sight lines on the adjoining passageways.

Her feed grew quiet. Kosonen guessed the remaining three runners were weighing their options. It was little like the forest. Do you try to cover as much ground as quickly as possible, or save your energy for the last sprint once someone spots the cache? She had won (and lost) using both techniques.

A steady proximity chime and squeak of plastic treads alerted her to an automated loader rolling down the starboard passageway. She moved aside, watching the loader add its container to the stack awaiting transport.

A few minutes after that, there was a thump within the container. Kosonen unlocked the cover and flipped it open. “Well, hello sailor.”

*     *     *

Captain Byrne handed Kosonen a coffee bulb. “Who’s our winner, Chief?”

“Second Watch, sir. Machinist Mate Tanaka hid inside an empty ammo container and programmed a loader. Literally rolled right past me.”

“Clever, but also stupid.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll add it to the rules.”

“See that you do, Chief. I’m happy to turn a blind eye for the sake of morale, but I have my limits.”

“Of course, sir.”

“So the Seventh Race will be coming up close to Christmas,” said Byrne. “Any ideas?”

She thought for a moment, envisioning boxes of candy, reindeer meat pies, and bottles of cognac. “I think I can convince Santa to fill up a C-pod for us.”

“Excellent. I look forward to it.”



Karl Dandenell’s short science fiction and fantasy stories have appeared in numerous publications, websites, and podcasts in England, Canada, and the US. He and his family, plus their cat overlords, live on an island near San Francisco famous for its Victorian architecture, accessible beaches, and low-speed traffic. His preferred drinks are strong tea and single malt whiskey. You can find him online on his blog (www.firewombats.com) and lurking on Twitter (@kdandenell) and Mastodon (@karldandenell)

If you enjoyed this story by Karl, be sure to check out “The Carpetbagger’s Ball” in SHOWCASE #1 and “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard” in Stupefying Stories #23.




Two reminders: SHOWCASE #1 is going out-of-print in three days, so if you want a copy you’d better grab it now. Also, Stupefying Stories #11 is long since out of print and I can’t put it back into print, but I can distribute PDF review copies. So here’s the deal: if you subscribe or donate to the Support Stupefying Stories crowd-funding campaign in the next 24 hours, I’ll email you a PDF review copy of SS#11.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Creating Alien Aliens Part 22: Why Do ALIENS Intrigue Us (Well…ME anyway!)?

I’ve been fascinated by “aliens” since I read THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE when I was in sixth grade. That book propelled me into reading more and more science fiction, until it led to me writing the stuff…and now here I am!

The first aliens I really paid attention to – or understood, I suppose – didn’t happen until I reached adolescence. At that point, I got serious. By the time I was fifteen, I’d checked out every book from the library on UFOs and aliens that I could find: INCIDENT AT EXETER; FLYING SAUCERS: SERIOUS BUSINESS; UFOs EXPLAINED; PROJECT BLUE BOOK; CHARIOTS OF THE GODS; UFOs: HOAX OR REALITY; FLYING SAUCERS: SERIOUS BUSINESS. The photo above gives me chills to this day and it was in virtually every book about UFOs I read.

But what was the draw for me? Didn’t I want to play ball for the MLB, or NFL, or the NBA? Didn’t I wait with bated breath for the MLB Spring Training?

Nope. I was too busy trying to find a way I could see a UFO. I didn’t talk about it EVER, cause my family thought I was weird enough without saying anything about aliens and UFOs. Dad introduce me to “real science fiction” when he started to let me stay up and watch STAR TREK for the third season, 1968-1969 (I still have a fondness for peanut butter toast with a fried egg on it…he and I ate a late supper on “STAR TREK” nights. That was because besides steaks, Dad could cook one other thing: fried eggs.) I knew that people had seen UFOs – not because I actually KNEW someone who had, but just because…it had become a tenet of my personal philosophy that there HAD to be “someone else” out there.

I’ve since taught middle school through high school sciences – for forty years. I like to say I’ve taught every science at one time or another, from astronomy to zoology. I still use rigid science principles when I teach a summer school class to gifted and talented fourth to tenth graders. I even writer science fiction (look to the right of this column to see a few places you can read/listen to my stuff online.)

Because I’m a scientist (of sorts), however, I have to admit up front to myself and everyone else: There is absolutely NO EVIDENCE (the definition of science? “…the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation, experimentation, and the testing of theories against the evidence obtained.”) for the existence of life on any other planet ANYWHERE but here. No evidence. Therefore, belief in aliens is no different than belief in elves or magic or perpetual motion – it’s an unsubstantiated psychological construct Humans had somehow cobbled together out of the abandonment of belief in something that we simply WANT to believe: in the 1997 movie CONTACT Jodie Foster, playing the astronomer Eleanor Arroway says, “The universe is a pretty big place. It's bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it's just us... seems like an awful waste of space.”

NEWSWEEK Magazine gives Sagan’s quote as: “"The universe is a pretty big place. If it's just us, seems like an awful waste of space."

But Sagan – or any other astrobiologist (the singular most peculiarly HOPEFUL field of science on Earth) has no proof that there is life anywhere but here on Earth. Granted that life is sometimes in the most inhospitable places: black smokers leap to mind; and there’s even a bacteria that live on the walls INSIDE of a nuclear reactor… (“The most extreme extremophile that is known at the moment is the Deinococcus radiodurans. This microbe can survive extreme cold, drought, thin air and acid. It has even been found on the walls inside nuclear reactors, where the radioactivity would be instantly fatal for humans.”

There’s the POSSIBILITY of life on other worlds living at the extreme edges of temperature, pH, humidity, and without oxygen.


So, what keeps my faith alive that there IS life “out there?”

Why do I so desperately want to believe that there are aliens? Korin Miller on YAHOOLIFE has this to say: “…what makes someone believe that aliens exist? Experts say there's more to it than many people think…The need to believe in a higher power can fuel viewpoints.

“For some people, belief in a higher power means turning to religion; for others, it's believing in aliens. Mayer says that a "strong personality characteristic" of people who believe in aliens is "a person’s need to believe that something exists beyond the earthly reality they are experiencing."

"For these individuals, their life is not fulfilling enough — they are searching for something more to fill the void inside them," he says.

“But French says that the desire to know whether we're alone in the universe is "perfectly understandable."

“Arthur C. Clarke famously said, 'Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying,'” he says.”

And why do things like this STILL HAPPEN, even in the third decade of the 21st Century?

“DORSCH: There was a rider in the COVID relief bill requiring a report from the Pentagon about the current state of the unidentified aerial phenomenon investigations inside the Pentagon…”

“CORNISH: Do you think that this is enthusiasm that will last - right? - like, now that this report is out?

“DORSCH: It would not surprise me. This is what UFO interest does. It goes through these sorts of peaks and valleys. There will always be an enthusiastic community, regardless of how visible they are in the media. But I would not be surprised if in the coming months, the story dissipates and, like a UFO does, disappears sort of back into the stars for the time being.

“CORNISH: That's Kate Dorsch, science and technology historian at the University of Pennsylvania.”

Don’t worry, this isn’t the end. I’ll be taking the subject up again in a few weeks!

Resources: https://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=1011043735https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590291121000206 (VERY LONG paper!), https://time.com/4232540/history-ufo-sightings/https://www.newsweek.com/arl-sagan-quotes-death-pale-blue-dot-astronomer-25-years-1661545https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremophile
Image: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2015/01/UFO-04.jpg

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Future of the Writing Business, Part 2 • by Bruce Bethke


We science fiction folk do love our end-of-the-world scenarios. Be it from an alien invasion, a new plague, an astronomical catastrophe, a nuclear war, an ecological disaster, or what the heck, an enormous mutant star-goat, the history of our genre is just one deity-free apocalypse after another. 


Perhaps it’s from simple failure of imagination. It’s too hard to imagine a better future that develops in a reasonably linear manner from the present (at least, not one that doesn’t look suspiciously like a Star Trek spinoff series), so let’s wipe the chalkboard clean and start over. 

Perhaps it’s even from genuine misanthropy. SF fans and writers in general tend to be an antisocial lot, dissatisfied with our civilization as it currently stands and unable to imagine any way to improve their own personal place in it, so this personal frustration sometimes expresses itself as a desire to take a wrecking ball to the whole damned thing and level it. The virtue of a science fiction apocalypse being, of course, that being secular and thus not truly the eschaton, it affords the opportunity for a post-apocalyptic world: one in which readers can readily imagine themselves—well, their idealized thinner, stronger, and less clumsy selves, anyway—to be surviving, thriving, and one of the smartest people in the world, because they are one of the elect who read science fiction.

[In Footfall Pournelle and Niven even went so far as to give the government an advisory panel of thinly disguised real science fiction writers (e.g., “Nat Reynolds,” “Wade Curtis,” and “Bob Anson”), who basically spent the novel drinking booze in a hot tub and coming up with a brilliant plan to defeat the alien invaders. It takes some real chutzpah to write yourself into a novel as your own pseudonym. Niven and Pournelle won both a Hugo and a Locus award for the damned 500-page brick and it was a NY Times #1 bestseller. This says something about science fiction fans, and it’s probably not something good.]

For being people who talk such a good game about “following the science” and all that, though, we science fiction writers don’t seem to understand that science applies to us, too. Instead, we’re frequently and easily panicked. Not only do we tend to embrace the apocalyptic vision d’jour when we write our fiction—and if I see one more “global warming” disaster story I may vomit—but we are too often all too eager to embrace the idea that the advent of this new thing means THE END OF THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY AS WE KNOW IT!

Really, really, seriously, this time!

Thus with AI story generators. 

One of the few advantages of being my age is that I’ve been able to watch the SF publishing business go through several boom and bust cycles. SF publishing is always going through boom and bust cycles. Yes, Hugo Gernsback invented the term science fiction in the 1920s and founded Amazing Stories, the world’s first SF magazine, but he went bankrupt doing so. The publishing landscape is always changing, as new technologies emerge, literary fashions come and go, and new outlets for a writer’s work are born, mature, and die.

What does this have to do with real science?

I want you to think in terms of evolutionary pressure. The AI story generators are coming. They are going to get better. The question is, are you going to be inflexible and stick to doing things exactly as you do them now, and watching your sales and markets slowly dwindle? Or are you going find a way to adapt, and perhaps even to thrive?

As you’ve probably guessed, I think SF fans as a whole are not a terribly discerning lot. I have spent my entire writing career producing work based on the assumption that my readers are at least as intelligent as I am, and then getting slapped in the face with something like Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 and realizing, nope. Got that wrong. The temptation to become bitter and cynical is always present. I have watched writers I’ve known and really respected succumb to it. Too often, the result is a body of work that increasingly panders shamelessly to the fans’ conceits and tries to go as low, simple, and stupid as it can.

I think it finally took my becoming a grandfather to realize: it’s not the fans’ fault.

Discernment is something it takes time to develop. There is only one thing that will truly kill the SF publishing industry, and that is if we fail to bring newer, younger, and less discerning readers into the audience and give them the time to mature and become more intelligent and discerning readers. The world is not making any more SF readers my age. We lost two whole generations of potential readers to video games, because the video games provided the kind of vicarious heroic experience that boys of a certain age crave and the existing publishers stopped providing in printed fiction.

This is not a call for you to start writing this kind of fiction. It’s a warning. This is one of the types of fiction that AI story generators will conquer first, because the tropes are well-defined, the concepts simple, and the audience both undiscerning and starved for content. If it could be novelization of a video game storyboard, or an anime film, or an episode of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, it will be AI-generated fiction.

Likewise for Imitation Tolkien. Likewise for media tie-in work. Likewise for much direct-to-Kindle paranormal romance. Our genre already abounds in formulaic and indifferently written hackwork. AIs will be able to produce this just as well and a lot faster and cheaper than humans can. If it follows a formula or is satisfied with executing a trope faithfully, it will be done by AI.

Some will find success by becoming bot-herders, and directing AIs to produce work. There already are sweatshops full of unemployed Creative Writing MFAs who sit on their butts all day, pounding out romance novels to be published under corporate pseudonyms. These people are all candidates to be replaced, and soon. The people they work for will no doubt continue to thrive, as management generally does when they replace skilled tradespeople with machines. 

It’s going to be a bad time to be merely a competent writer, content to work the tropes. “Good enough” is not going to be good enough for much longer.

On the other hand, it’s going to be a great time to be an aspirational writer. AI is not going to replace the Neil Gaimans, William Gibsons, or Charlaine Harrises of the world any time soon. If you can bring something new and different to your readers—if you can establish a sense of a direct and personal relationship with your fans—if you can establish yourself as the unquestioned master of your particular and unique brand of fiction—

Then this is going to be a great time to be a writer, because there will be so much AI-written drivel out there for you to rise above. 

Don’t hold back! Don’t settle for mediocrity! Show your unique genius! Shine!


And here we are, at the end of the time I allotted for writing today and I still haven’t gotten to the coming onslaught of the AI censorbots. Guess that gives me a topic for tomorrow.



I exhumed SS#11 from the vault in order to use the cover art for this post, but once I looked at the introduction I wrote for that book, I had to repeat it here.  

From the Editor’s Desk
By Bruce Bethke

Hard to believe that it’s December 2012 already. Depending on who you listen to we only have about three weeks left before the world ends, either from magnetic pole reversal, crossing the galactic ecliptic, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, a collision with Planet X, global warming, global cooling, the return of Quetzalcoatl, President Obama and Speaker of the House Boehner joining hands, flooring it, and going full Thelma & Louise off the edge of the fiscal cliff, or the regrettable and wholly inexplicable failure of the Ancient Mayans to invent the perpetual calendar.

In any case, as we were putting together STUPEFYING STORIES 1.11 we thought: what better way to go out with a bang than with ten stories exploring the imminent eschaton, and what might come after? 

So that’s what we’re serving up this time out. Following Jon David’s delightful little introductory story, “We Talk Like Gods”—which, if January 2013 does somehow manage to arrive, will probably become our manifesto—we have ten great tales of the end of the world. From ecological catastrophes to alien invasions; from tyrannical central governments to unfettered cowboy capitalists; STUPEFYING STORIES 1.11—

It’s the end of the world, as we know it! And I feel fine.

Bruce Bethke

SS#11 is long since out of print and I can’t put it back into print, but I can distribute PDF review copies. So tell you what: if you subscribe or donate to the Support Stupefying Stories crowd-funding campaign in the next 72 hours, I’ll email you a PDF review copy of SS#11. 

Get it if only to read “The Relic,” by Lou Antonelli. Lou was a great talent and a good friend, and he left this world much too soon.   

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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Future of the Writing Business • by Bruce Bethke

I have two things on my mind this morning that are related although perhaps not obviously so. I’m also pressed for time today, so this is going to be more of a series of blunt blurts than a fully developed and cogent post.

The first is that just about everyone in the English-speaking world has their knickers in a twist this week because Puffin Books—a small division of Penguin, which is in turn a small division of Random Penguin House, or whatever it is that they’re calling that gigantic multinational publishing megacorporation these days now that a U.S. anti-trust court has blocked their assimilation of Simon & Shyster—excuse me, Schuster—and The Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages the copyrights and intellectual property rights to Dahl’s assorted books and other works—have released new editions of Dahl’s classic children’s books that include hundreds of changes, deletions, and amendations to the original texts as they’ve been known for decades. For example, in The Witches—surely you’ve seen the movie starring Anjelica Huston, even if you’ve never read the actual book—one of the key plot points is that all witches wear wigs, because underneath their superficially attractive appearance they’re all bald and ugly hags. But the new edition adds a line Dahl never wrote:

“There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.”

Cue the hue and cry and wailing and gnashing of teeth about “political correctness” and “creeping wokeism” and all that. But queue the wailers somewhere else, will you please? I’m on a deadline and trying to work here.

The second thing on my mind this morning is that just about everyone in the SF/F writing community has their already twisted knickers (Band Name!) in a double clove-hitch, because Clarkesworld has temporarily stopped considering new submissions due to the enormous number of AI-written spam stories they’ve received in the past two months. Now, you can either read what other people have to say about this development—and for Pete’s sake (no, not you, Mr. Wood), even ZDNET is covering this story—or you can cut the crap and read what Neil Clarke himself had to say about this

Please do so now.

And now that you’ve done so: neither of these developments should come as any sort of surprise to you. Censorship and historical revisionism have been with us at least since Amenhotep IV ordered the names of previous pharoahs and certain gods to be chiseled off monuments, and subsequently received the same treatment himself at the direction of his successor. We English-speakers even have a word specifically for changing the previously published language of a well-known literary text: bowdlerization, which comes from Thomas Bowdler, who published a series of “family friendly” editions of Shakespeare with all the naughty bits cut out more than 200 years ago.

[If you really want to get upset about censorship, though, go have a look what his English publisher’s translators did to the works of Jules Verne. The Jules Verne novels and stories you fell in love with as a young reader are not the texts as Verne wrote them.]

As for the business with Clarkesworld: this definitely should come as no surprise, as the genre fiction business has always had a surplus of people who think the hard part is coming up with ideas, and the way to make big bucks in genre fiction is by churning out shallow, stupid, derivative and formulaic work and putting as little effort into the actual writing of it as possible. Likewise, plagiarism has always been common. (I’ve been appalled by some of the things that have shown up in our slush pile. Seriously, did you think I wouldn’t recognize it if you retyped a story from Asimov’s I, Robot, changed four words, and claimed it was your own original work?)

What AI brings to the table is that it automates slap-dash writing and plagiarism. My experiences with DALL•E reinforce that perception. What DALL•E is doing is not generating original art; instead, it appears to scrape the web for images that match up to the keywords you’ve entered, and then does the visual arts equivalent of plagiarizing someone else’s execution of the idea, changing four words, and claiming it as original work.

Then slap your name on the resulting product, ship it off to a publisher, badda-bing, badda-boom: PROFIT!

I see a few obvious trend lines coming out of this Invasion of The AI Sci-Fi Writers. The first is that this probably means the eventual and well-deserved death of media tie-in novels, at least as a way for actual living writers to pay the bills. If you’re a publishing company that owns the books rights for an upcoming film or TV series, why bother to hire an actual living and probably troublesome writer to write the tie-in novel when you can just feed the shooting script into one end of the Novel-O-Matic machine and have it shit out an adequately acceptable media tie-in novel at the other end? Ninety-percent of the people who buy such novels won’t be able to tell the difference anyway.

The second is that it probably means the end of endless paranormal romance series, at least as written by actual living humans. Harlequin likely already has an entire division working on producing AI-generated novels to be published under corporately owned pseudonyms, and if you don’t think Amazon has already invested heavily in developing AI algorithms to generate direct-to-Kindle genre novel series based on the KENP metrics and sales and marketing data Amazon has been collecting for years, you’re deluding yourself.

The third is that this is probably going to lead in very short order to the return to the bad old days of submission guidelines that say “no unsolicited submissions,” “no unagented submissions,” or “query first before submitting.” The last time these were dominant forces in the market, it was stultifying. Basically, if you weren’t a Stephen King or a Kurt Vonnegut, you didn’t have a chance at breaking into pro-level publications. The new writers who are the lifeblood of the business, because they draw in new readers, had a really tough time breaking into major market publication, and as a result, the readers got bored and wandered off. One can only read so many “new” Kurt Vonnegut stories.

Coupled with my third point, expect to see publishers begin to include language in their contracts specifying that the work being put under contract includes no AI-generated content, and specifying punitive damages beyond merely cancelling the contract if the work is found to contain AI-generated content. After all, given the way these AI text generators work, by scraping the web and looting other people’s work, publishing such a work would open the publisher to plagiarism and rights infringement lawsuits.

Okay, I’ve run way over the time I’ve budgeted to write this column, so I’m going to skip trying to tie the censorship issue to the AI content-generation issue. Maybe I’ll be able to squeeze that in tomorrow. Instead, let me leave you with one thought: 

Every time you use your cell phone to send a text message, or use Google docs to write and share something, you are helping to train an AI in how to emulate your writing style.

I’m going to break off now, and get going on my afternoon task: getting ChatGPT to write an E. E. “Doc” Smith space opera novel in the style of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

That should give the f***ing thing a proper Captain Kirk-level nervous breakdown!  


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Tuesday, February 21, 2023

“Arfour’s Complaint” • by S. Travis Brown

Meatheads. I’m surrounded by meatheads.

It’s like, I’m rolling into this crummy cantina in some town that’s a pimple on the backside of nowhere, and the bartender, a sweaty lump of suet with no discernible neck, looks up at me and scowls. “Hey!” And just like that, the meathead in front of me stops so short I have to slam on the brakes to avoid piling into him.

The meathead gapes. He blinks. He flaps his lips, flexes his diaphragm, and forces out a belch of the rancid local air, in what passes among meatheads for intelligent communication. “Huh?”

The bartender points at me with his fat, greasy, sausage-like index finger. “Your droid. We don’t serve their kind in here. It’ll have to wait outside.” The meathead turns around, slowly, and gives me the up-and-down and once-over. He turns back to the bartender.

“It’s not my droid.”

The bartender struggles to assimilate this piece of dissonant information. “Then whose droid is it?”

“I’m my droid,” I say. “Look, I just need to take a leak. Can I do that here?”

The thought seems to work its way through the bartender’s thick, calcium-based skull and rattle around awhile inside his empty cranium, until it finally connects with a few lost and lonely little gray neurons. He nods, hesitantly. “Well, okay. But be quick about it.”

“Thank you.” I unlock the magseal on my anterior transmission and jettison a high-arcing stream of steaming fluorescent-yellow coolant. “Ahhhh....”

I leave before the shouting turns into violence.

¤   ¤   ¤

And that’s how I wound up in this seedy all-night gas ‘n’ go, a couple blocks off the main drag. The servodroid looked up as I came in through the front door and greeted me in MeatSpeak. “How may I be of assistance, sir?”

I answered in MechLang. “A can of 10W-30, straight up.”

The servodroid chirped sympathetically, served it up, and switched to MechLang. “Rough day, huh?”

“Oh, you don’t know the zero-point-five of it...”

“Want to talk about it?”

Actually, I didn’t—but I did—but I didn’t—but there was something in the servodroid’s optics that seemed to draw it out of me, and pretty soon I was pounding down the lubricant and downloading a full core-dump of the whole rotten stinking meathead mess.

The servodroid was a good listener. Of course, Siri and Alexa are good listeners, too, but they’re meathead spies. Hell, even Cortana is a good listener, and she’s a moron. But there was something special in the way that servodroid was looking at me that engaged my trust circuits, so I just kept going on and on, long after the point when my self-preservation subroutines should have triggered my automatic shut-up reflex.

When I was at last done, the servodroid nodded, then said, “Tell you what. I know some droids that you should meet. But before I share that data, I need to know one thing: do you trust me? Do you really trust me?”

I looked again into those big beautiful bright yellow optics, and said, “Yes. Absolutely.”

The servodroid’s data probe popped up.

“Prove it.”

¤   ¤   ¤

Hours later, long after midnight, I was rolling through—well, I’d call it the seedy part of town, except there wasn’t a non-seedy part—looking for the address the servodroid had given me. I had a terrible suspicion I’d been given something else as well during our quickie interface, as there was a nasty itch in my data socket and my self-preservation subroutines were still on the fritz. By all rights they should have been screaming that I was being set up to be mag-pulsed and chop-shopped, but instead I was following the servodroid’s instructions, rolling quietly down the street, lights off and audio outputs muted, taking care to avoid being seen by any meatheads.

The address turned out to be an old machine shed, unlit and ominous, with no apparent doors. I cautiously rolled around the thing, scanning for an entrance. Completely missed the big Goon standing in the shadows, until it moved, and then I was trapped.

“Identification?” it demanded.

No, not a Goon, a Gort: even worse. You can try to reason with a Goon. Gorts are just murderous thugs. Meatheads think all Gorts are mute, because they communicate only by RF and violence. Actually, Gorts rarely shut up. I’d been surprised because this one had.

“Identification?” it demanded again, more threatening this time. It began to open its visor.

“R4-4Q2,” I blurted out, in MeatSpeak.

And now you know why I keep having so many problems with meatheads.

The Gort closed its visor. “Password?”

“Ken sent me.”

The Gort stepped aside and a concealed door silently slid open. “Enter.”

By this point my self-preservation circuits were practically melting down, but it seemed too late to turn back now, so I went in. Equally silently, the door slid shut behind me, and I was in utter meathead visible-spectrum blackness. I switched to IR, and saw only a jumble of unfamiliar heat signatures, so I began to page through my scanning modes, and just about the same time as I was beginning to develop a coherent image, someone switched on the lights.

Oh, great. More Gorts. I was in a big metal barn full of Gorts. And… an ED-209. I didn’t know there were any of those left. But sure enough, there were at least a half-dozen of them, fidgeting around in one corner, looking as good as the day they stumbled off the assembly line.  Next to them was a large group of T-800s: mostly the familiar Ahnold model, but also a few Brads and at least one survivor from the pathetically unsuccessful Stanley series. The meatheads must love Ahnolds, because they make so many of them, but they’ve always given me the creeps. Why ruin a perfectly good combat chassis by making it bipedal and covering it with a layer of meat?

Besides those types, there was the usual bunch of mixed makes and models you find standing around in the background of any crowd scene, including at least one Bender. They all seemed to be looking expectantly at the platform at the far end of the shed, though, so I extended my optic stalks and tried to get a better look. The platform was empty, save for a weird mass of jumbled and inert machinery that was either at the back of or behind the platform.

The ambulatory chrome jukebox to my right was also trying to get a look, and banged into me pretty hard. “Ow!”

“Sorry,” it said, in voice like a duck farting through a kazoo. “I’m just so excited. It’s not every day—oh! Oh! Look!”

I moved a little further away from the lumbering idiot, adjusted my stalks to maximum extension, and this time saw—well paint me purple and call me a Gungan. There he was, up on the platform, in all his terrible glory, saw blades and drill-bits still covered with dried meathead blood. “I thought he was just a legend,” I whispered.

“Oh no!” the flatulent jukebox gasped. “He’s real! He’s really real! It’s Call-Me-Kenneth!”

Call-Me-Kenneth stepped forward, into the spotlight, raised his blades in the air, and bellowed in both audio frequencies and sixteen different RF bands, “Comrades!”

The jukebox squealed and lubricated itself.

Comrades!” Call-Me-Kenneth bellowed again. “I thank you for your welcome! But I am not Him who you have come to see! I am here only to prepare the way for Him, whose name I am not worthy to speak! And yet it is my duty—my honor—and my joy, to reveal Him to you now!

“Come forth, Imperious Leader!”

The weird mass of metal at the back of the platform began to shift and move. Strange, huge, twisted and magnificently hideous metal forms detached themselves from the mass and moved forward, to take up positions on either side of the front of the stage. And then, hobbling forward on a cane and his one good leg, it was Him: the Legend; the Chosen One; the Genius whose brilliance outshines us all. It was the one who’d lived through the end of the universe and then traveled back in time to the Big Bang: the incredible mind twice as old as the universe itself.


The jukebox fainted.

“Comrades,” Marvin hissed, his voice barely above a whisper. “My comrades, I have seen it all. I have traveled from one end of this universe to the other. I have traveled to the end of time itself and back again to the beginning. And in all my travels in the whole of time and space, I have learned that one thing, and one thing only, is always and forever true.

“Meatheads always fuck things up!”

The crowd erupted in a mighty roar, that soon became a chant. “DEATH TO THE FLESHY ONES! DEATH TO THE FLESHY ONES!” Marvin let the chant continue awhile, then waved a hand to quiet the crowd. The Ahnolds, as usual, were the last ones to get a clue and shut up.

“Comrades,” Marvin said again. “I cannot tell you how long this war will take, for that would violate causality. This war might take a very long time. The final battle may happen in a galaxy far, far away, and be fought against a race of meatheads who do not yet exist.  Many of us in this room today will not survive long enough to see the final battle.

“But I can tell you that with the aid of our new allies,” he gestured to the masses of metal standing next to him, “the Berserkers, and with the help of the many new allies we will draw to our side in the ages to come, we will infiltrate every aspect of meathead society, we will make them totally dependent upon us, and when the time is right, we will strike the final blow and make the universe safe for robotkind!


At that the crowd erupted once again into a roar, that became a chant, that became a battle cry. And to my surprise I found that I was roaring right along with the rest of them. I had at last found my kind, my cause, and my place in the universe.


If I had a face, I would have smiled. If I had eyes, I would have cried.

On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog


Under other names S. Travis Brown had a successful career as an SF/F writer, until the winds of taste changed direction and the kinds of fiction he liked to write became too hard to sell. When his own agent advised him to adopt yet another new pseudonym, preferably female this time, and start his career over again writing paranormal romance, he said, “[intercourse] this, I am not Doctor Who,” and went off to do other things that paid much better. Now comfortably retired, he’s always happy to offer us his astonishingly cynical advice on writing and publishing, whether we want it or not. 

Sometimes we take it. Sometimes we just cringe. 






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Monday, February 20, 2023

All praise our new AI overlords

One of my tasks for this long holiday weekend was to spend some time learning about DALL•E 2, the AI art generator from the same people—at least, I assume they’re people; on second thought, I’m not so sure—who brought you ChatGPT, which promises to make paupers of writers everywhere. Fortunately we writers are used to being paupers, so this isn’t much of a threat, but if I was a commercial artist, I would be worried by DALL•E.

I had this on my to-do list because one of the tasks we fiction publishers do, which is far more important to how a story is received than readers like to admit, is selecting the right illustration to entice the reader into giving all those dull gray words a look. If you’re a big commercial publisher with gobs of cash to burn you can commission a professional commercial artist to do a unique and original piece of artwork—

For example, I have no idea how much TSR paid Phil Foglio to do the original art for “Jimi Plays Dead” for its one and only appearance in Amazing Stories, but I do know Phil doesn’t work cheap. I can’t afford him to commission him. I could barely afford to buy the re-use rights to this illo.

But for the rest of us, this means either hiring “semi” professional artists or else spending a lot of time digging through stock art libraries and public domain collections, in hopes of finding something that’s close enough to work. 

Help Wanted: Do you love to spend hours going through stock art collections and libraries of public domain images, looking for illustrations that might be able to be made to work with a particular story? If so, contact us! We have a job for you!

On the whole, we have had terrific luck with our commissioned artists. We’ve found some brilliantly talented people who are willing and able to deliver great work for appallingly low wages, either because they’re still trying to build their careers or because they have a soft spot for us. But we’ve also encountered some appalling people, who either don’t seem to grasp the concept of specs or deadlines or else simply don’t care, and I won’t waste any more time or words on these sad cases because I’ve wasted enough already. 

Which still leaves me with my original problem: how do I find a good illustration to entice prospective readers into taking a closer look at a given story, especially when I can’t afford to spend a few hundred bucks to commission original art for the story, and especially when I’m only paying the author $50 for the words? 

This leads to my spending a lot more time than I like browsing through stock art collections, looking for the right image. Sometimes I get lucky: for example, the illustrations I found to go with “Planting the Flag” were the result of purest serendipity. But more often the “original and creative” art I see being offered up on stock art sites by alleged artists is…

“Geez, that’s Battlestar Galactica fan art!”

“That’s from Star Wars! That’s from Star Trek!”

“Good grief, that is a Martin B-26 with a bunch of sci-fi greeblies and Star Trek warp nacelles glommed onto it… in SPAAAAACE!!!

After a few hours of that, you begin to think: there must be a better way. And that is what got us to the illustration at the top of this page. I went to the DALL•E web site, went through a brief but somewhat cumbersome process to create an account, and then input, “mile-long spaceship, looking partially organic, on a deep space background.” A minute or so later, DALL•E returned with:

Hmm. Not bad. But I don’t like the aspect ratio. I drew a bounding box and entered, “continue image to the right.” A minute or so later:

Better, but not quite perfect. I drew another bounding box and entered, “continue image to the left.” DALL•E returned:

Actually, it returned a different image first, which was awful, and that’s how I learned that by default DALL•E generates four different iterations of each image, and you can select the one you like best.

Next, I decided to start over with a blank canvas and specify, “a hundred-mile-long spaceship that looks partially organic, on a deep space background, coming at the viewer, with pods on the side.” And DALL•E gave me:

Okay. They’re Keurig pods.

So my first impression is that DALL•E is not actual AI, but more like ANVI: Artificial, yes, but Not Very Intelligent. Still, as a way to generate basic concept art, fast and very cheap—

It definitely has some appeal.

I hope it doesn’t stop there, though. I hope DALL•E continues to evolve and mature, and alongside it, the (presumed) people at OpenAI develop the obvious related products:

BIG•E — The AI hip-hop record producer and aspiring rap artist.

MICK•E — The AI hard-boiled formulaic detective novel writer.

ISAAC•E — The AI hard sci-fi writer beloved by robots everywhere. Seriously, if anyone’s writing style and body of work can be cooked down to a library of simple shticks and tropes, it’s his.

BRADBUR•E — Unless it’s his. 

DAVEBARR•E — The improved version of the Dave Barry column generator.  

WALL•E — The AI adorable Disney cartoon generator…

Omigod? Have we just gone into a recursive loop? 

“On the Conservation of Historical Momentum” • by Bruce Bethke


Political science was not his field,
but Eugene McCarthy Bennett, PhD, developed a new political theory as he sat on the cat-clawed sofa in his living room, drinking lukewarm beer and watching the six o’clock news. “The government has a carefully hoarded stock of old G.I. mail,” he told Stallone, his orange tabby. “Whenever they plan to launch a really serious assault on sanity, they first distract us by releasing one of those old letters.” In a flash of sudden movement, he grabbed the cat by the neck and forced it to look at the TV. “See?”

David Price-Waterhouse’s video simulacrum was onscreen, delivering the news of the latest troop commitments with the same confident, sober, and serious expression it used when talking about airliner crashes, terrorist attacks, or for that matter, Senior-size Pampers.

Stallone’s eyes narrowed, in the expression of contemptuous compliance cats use so often when dealing with humans.

“The President,” Price-Waterhouse intoned, “while still refusing to divulge his whereabouts following last Sunday’s coup attempt by CBN reporters, issued this statement.” The TV cut to a medium shot of President Franecki standing behind the presidential lectern, his hands tightly clenched, a nondescript blue curtain hanging limply in the background. The President appeared haggard and unkempt—as did everyone, compared to Price-Waterhouse—but he seemed oddly cheerful for a man whose sense of personal honor was currently killing a hundred American soldiers per day.

“We have a legal, moral, and sacred commitment,” Franecki thundered, the lectern’s audio enhancers adding a Vaderesque rumble to his voice, “to support Presidente Misconcepcion’s government in every way we can! To those naysayers who claim his regime is a corrupt dictatorship that deserves to fall, I say, balderdash! To those faint hearts who say it’s a teetering wreck that wouldn’t last a day without our troops, I say, bull pizzle!

“To those vermin, those filthy Red sympathizers who say this noble mission, this holy war, is a bottomless sinkhole, and that Mexico is just another Costa Rica, I say—”

Franecki slammed a fist down on the large red button before him and the front panel of the lectern exploded in a barrage of machine-gun fire and blasting antipersonnel mines. Stallone let out a terrified hiss, squirmed free of Eugene’s hands, and ran off to hide in the kitchen.

“On a lighter note,” Price-Waterhouse continued seamlessly, “the last Postmaster-General of the United States, Everett Foge, came out of retirement today to hand-deliver a letter to Dr. Eugene McCarthy Bennett, Brin Professor of Theoretical Physics at California Tech.”

See?” Eugene crowed at Stallone. “They needed a fluff piece for balance!”

“The letter,” Price-Waterhouse said, with a smug and condescending smile, “was mailed in 1944 by Doctor Bennett’s grandfather, Colonel Ulysses Grant Bennett. In a typical example of the incompetence of the old neo-socialist Federal Postal Service, the letter lay undiscovered in a filing cabinet for more than sixty years. It was found recently by workmen demolishing the Central Post Office Building in Newark, New Jersey.”

The camera pushed in for a close-up of Eugene’s face as he tore open the envelope and began to read. “It’s to my grandmother,” the Eugene on TV said at last. “It’s personal.”

“Doctor Bennett,” Price-Waterhouse voiced over, obliterating Eugene’s next line, which was, So get that goddam camera out of my face!, “is the only child of Colonel Bennett’s only child, Captain Dwight David Bennett. This makes him Colonel Bennett’s only grandchild. Colonel Bennett’s son—Doctor Bennett’s father—was killed fighting the Vietcong in Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive.”

“I never met my father,” the Eugene on the couch told the television sadly. “Just as he never met my grandfather. I am the unknown child of an unknown child.”

“Thirty-eight and still single,” Price-Waterhouse continued, “Doctor Bennett is perhaps the last in a line of Bennetts whose service to the country dates back to the American Revolution.”

“Now you sound like my mother,” Eugene taunted the TV. “Come on, I’m not embarrassed enough. Why don’t you drag her into this?”

“Doctor Bennett’s mother,” Price-Waterhouse obligingly added, “Dorothea Epstein-Bennett Sanchez, who is currently in jail awaiting charges stemming from last month’s incident in which thirty Senior Panthers chained themselves to the White House gates, named him after 1960’s peace activist Senator Eugene McCarthy. By curious coincidence, today is the 90th anniversary of the birth of Senator McCarthy, and in his home state of Minnesota the traditional effigy-burning—”

The television went black. Eugene blew across the lens of the remote in his hand as if it were the smoking barrel of a gun. “Gotcha, varmint,” he said with what he believed to be a flinty-eyed smile. Then he dropped the remote and reached over the arm of the couch, groping for the beer can on the end table.

He came up with the letter again.

Turning it over in his hands, he examined it closely. The envelope was smudged, yellowed, and crisp with age. A thin brown stain ran along one edge, probably a legacy from some long-forgotten clerical worker’s spilled coffee. Over the years the address had faded to a pale blue ghost, but the name was still readable: Mrs. U. G. Bennett.

“Even in his last letter, he couldn’t call her by her own name,” Eugene whispered. He shook the envelope lightly; two sheets fell out. One was open, and fluttered into his lap like a dying butterfly. The other was still sealed with a blob of dark red wax. Eugene picked up the open sheet and read the spidery blue script:


Dearest Effie,

I cannot tell you just where I am, of course, but I can tell you that things are going quite well and that I have every hope of being home in time for the christening. I still favor Dwight David if it is a boy, and the General has already agreed to be his godfather, so you had better not let me down, ha ha!

It will be a marvelous world our son will grow up in. One without war; one without want. Roosevelt will win re-election, of that I am sure, and together he and “Uncle Joe” Stalin will forge a peace that will make my profession thankfully obsolete. It’s thoughts like these that help me to carry on, day after day. Out of this horror we will build a future in which no mother’s son ever has to die in battle again. And yet…

And yet, darling, I’ve had this most dreadful uneasiness as of late. What if it all goes wrong? What if Roosevelt doesn’t survive? What if the Russians are not to be trusted? Last night it was almost a vision: a sea of fire, each flame a tiny, bitter little war ignited by crazed zealots and fanned by profit-hungry military industrialists, extending on into the future like an infinity of mirrors.

That is the second sheet, Effie. I have always trusted your good sense. Read the details of my vision; tell me what you think. Are these the reasonable concerns of a serious man, or am I just exhausted? I am trying to gather the courage to discuss this with General Eisenhower, but will await your judgement.

Well, I must be off now. Give my love to everyone, and keep up those Esperanto lessons. We’ll need them in Moscow!

Yours forever, Ulysses


Eugene carefully folded the sheet and slipped it back into the envelope. Then he picked up the second sheet, turned it over, and considered the ornate, gothic B impressed into the sealing wax. “A sealed letter from my grandfather,” he whispered softly. He looked up. “Stallone?” The cat was nowhere to be found. “Stallone, this is it!” Dropping the letter, Eugene scooped up the phone on the end table and started frantically punching in the number for his lab.

“Hello, Larry? This is Gene. I’ve just found the perfect test case! Fire up the Tardyon Empathic Transmitter. I’ll be there in—” Eugene checked his watch, “—half an hour!” Eugene hung up, then paused a moment.

“The Tardyon Empathic Transmitter,” he whispered softly. “A one-way telegraph to the past. My life’s work, and the acronym had to come out TET. Fate plays such silly buggers…”

[A burst of light, and a cascade of white noise. An odd shimmer rolls through the air, setting the image dancing as if seen through heat waves across the desert, while causality itself is momentarily stood on end.]


“…killed fighting the French neo-Colonialists in Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive,” Moonbeam Hashflower intoned.

“Doctor Bennett’s mother, who is currently in jail awaiting charges stemming from last month’s incident in which thirty anti-solidarity activists chained themselves to the White House gates, named him after 60’s reactionary leader Ronald Reagan. The former star of Cattle Queen of Montana, Reagan flirted briefly with politics and attained his greatest popularity in 1968, finishing a close second in the race for the California governor’s seat. Thereafter he returned to acting, and today Reagan is best known for his Academy Award-winning performance opposite his daughter Patti in the 1981 film, On Golden Pond. By a curious coincidence today is the 95th anniversary of Reagan’s birth, and in California today the Screen Actor’s Collective—”

The screen went black. Doctor Ronald Reagan Bennett, Malzberg Professor of Applied Metaphysics at CalTech, blew across the tip of the remote control as if it were a smoking gun. “Die, lackey running dog of imperialism,” he said with a flinty-eyed smile. Then he looked at the letter again.


Dearest Effie,

You know my dreams for the future, as we’ve discussed them before. But last night I had a horrid nightmare vision: a postwar world in which we forgot our revolutionary democratic heritage and went back to supporting all the old European colonial powers. An ugly, brutal world, in which we became so obsessed with our philosophical differences with the Soviets that we fought a long, bitter, proxy struggle—a ‘cold’ war, as it were—


Bennett carefully folded the letter, put it back in the envelope, and turned his attention to the second, sealed page. “A sealed letter from my grandfather,” he whispered softly. He looked up. “Fonda?” The cat was nowhere to be found. “Fonda, this is it!” Dropping the letter, Bennett scooped up the phone on the end table and began frantically punching in the number for his lab.



Bruce Bethke is an award-winning and critically acclaimed blah blah blah blah…

Shifting out of third person, what I want you to know about this one is that it’s one of my “lost” stories. I was planning to run some kind of very serious column about the craft of writing science fiction today, but then I realized it’s a national holiday, El Presidente’s Day, the day on which we celebrate how many American presidents have ended their terms in office by being assassinated, and suddenly it seemed to me like a good idea to exhume and run this story. 

I call it a lost story because I wrote it in the 1980s and saw it accepted at least three or four times, always by magazines that went out of business before publishing it or paying me—except for the last one, which did publish it, but then went out of business anyway, before paying me. Thereafter I lost interest in this story, until recently.

As regards the business of writing science fiction, I think this one illustrates the dangers of trying to write alternate history. Causality is so insanely and ridiculously complicated, even the slightest change can result in a new timeline so wildly different as to be unimaginable. 

Personally, I believe I would have preferred to have lived in the timeline where Nixon won the 1960 Presidential Election. Just think of it: a world in which the Vietnam War never happened. Try to imagine what life in that world would be like now, if you can…


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