Friday, May 6, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #1

As noted in the introduction, which I posted on April 25, I plan to blog about the contents of my forthcoming anthology Alien Contact -- one story each week, in order of appearance, beginning this week and for the next 25 weeks. Assuming all goes well, I hope to complete this project by the end of October, just in time for the anthology's publication in November from Night Shade Books. Here is the first story in the anthology:

"The Thought War" by Paul McAuley

This story originally appeared in Postscripts1 magazine (Summer 2008, Number 15) and is approximately 2,900 words in length. Indeed, a short story. I first read "The Thought War" when I copyedited The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Three for anthology editor Jonathan Strahan and publisher Night Shade Books. I finished working on the anthology page proofs on December 18, 2008 -- a week before Christmas.

As I noted previously, in August I had met with Jeremy Lassen, Editor-in-Chief at Night Shade Books, at which time I proposed my "alien contact" anthology -- so I was actively seeking stories at the time I was working on this copyediting project.

When reading a story for my own pleasure, I typically buzz right through any editorial introduction to that story. If the introduction (and/or afterword) is written by the author her/himself, then I consider that an essential part of the story and will read it accordingly; not so with editorial introductions, as I said. But, since I was copyediting the page proofs, and I edit linearly, I tackled the introduction first, and then approached the story.

And I was struck by the very first word of this story. In fact, the first word is its own sentence, its own paragraph:

That's it -- a one-word beginning: "Listen:" -- How could I not be intrigued?

And then the colon following the word "Listen" immediately pulled me into the very next sentence/line:
Don't try to speak. Don't try to move. Listen to me. Listen to my story.

If you haven't read this story by Paul McAuley previously, then I hope I've intrigued you as well, enough to seek out this story in the anthology. About "The Thought War," Paul writes: "Where do writers get their ideas? In the case of this little alien invasion story, it was from the pages of New Scientist -- an article about a theory that posits an extreme solution to the case of the well-established effect that observers have on collapsing super-imposed states of quantum particles, and my discovery of an old, history-steeped cemetery in a corner of North London."

A cemetery? Just what kind of aliens are these? And don't let that bit about "collapsing super-imposed states of quantum particles" scare you away: this is not what I would consider a "hard SF" story. On the contrary, in less than 2,900 words Paul has written a little marvel -- a tense, first-person account of how he -- the story's protagonist, that is -- and the world around him, evolved to the present circumstances, with a bit of speculation thrown in for good measure. Though it is a one-way conversation [Listen:], he is, at the same time, testing the individual to whom he is speaking. What we discover, as readers, is how the present has affected the speaker's perception of reality, which, in turn, has altered his memories of the past, leaving us to question just what is real. And possibly even who should be testing whom.

Oh, and there's a nifty bit in the story on Bolzmann brains, too. From Wikipedia: "a hypothesized self-aware entity which arises due to random fluctuations out of a state of chaos." Boltzmann brains, cemeteries.... Are you catching the drift of this story yet?

Paul has also created a neologism in the story that may be more familiar to U.K. readers than those of us here in the States; the word is "menezesing." So with the author's permission, I'll provide the context in which the word is used:

Soldiers everywhere on the streets. Security checks and sirens and a constant low-level dread. Lynch mobs. Public hangings and burnings. Ten or twenty menezesings in London alone, each and every day.

and then share Paul's alternate sentence for us U.S. readers:

Soldiers everywhere on the streets. Security checks and sirens and a constant low-level dread. Lynch mobs. Public hangings and burnings. Ten or twenty people accidentally shot by police in London alone, each and every day.

The word "menezesing" is derived from Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian who was shot on the London Underground by the Metropolitan police, in a case of mistaken identity, in July 2005. At the time, the police were hunting suspects in a failed terrorist bombing. Further details on Menezes and the shooting can be found, once again, on Wikipedia.

[Continue to Story #2]


1. Postscripts was first published in 2004 by editor and publisher Peter Crowther of PS Publishing in the U.K. The publication recently changed from a quarterly periodical to a twice-yearly anthology, co-edited by Peter Crowther and Nick Gevers.

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