Friday, September 30, 2011

"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford (Part 3 of 4)

Exo-Skeleton Town
by Jeffrey Ford

[Continued from Part 2]

The Lancaster house was a creaky old retro affair from the part of Earth's history when they used wood to build dwellings. I'd seen pictures of these things before. The style, as I had read in one of my many film books, was Victorian. These baroque shelters with lacelike woodwork and myriad rooms were always popping up in the flicks from the thirties and forties. Pointed rocket-ship-looking turrets on either side of a big three-story box with a railed platform that went all the way around it. As I made my way toward the steps that led to a door, I quickly, out of desperation, mind-wrote the script for the next scene.

I knocked once, twice, three times, and waited, hoping the lady of the house was home. There was no way I would ever make it to Exo-town on my own. Eventually the door pulled back and a young woman appeared behind an inner screen door.

"Can I help you?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

"I'm lost," I said. "I wandered away from town, hoping to see the luminous veldt, and although I've found it, I don't think I can return. Something has been chasing me through the tall grass. I'm scared and tired." Having said this, I had a feeling my words had come out too stiffly to be believed.

She opened the screen door and looked at me. "Joseph Cotten?" she said.

I nodded and looked as forlornly as possible.

"You poor man," she said, and motioned for me to enter.

As I crossed the threshold, it became clear to me that old Joe was on the job. If it had been only me, she most likely would have locked the door and called the Beetle Squad, but since it was Cotten, the consummate professional of ingratiating Third Man haplessness, she immediately felt my pain.

Inside the bowels of the old Victorian, standing on an elaborately designed rug, amidst the spiraled wooden furniture, in the face of an ancient stand-up clock, I took in the beauty of Gloriette Moss. Stootladdle knew his film, because here was obvious star quality in the supernova range—an exotic hybrid of the young Audrey Hepburn and the older Hayley Mills. She was this and more than this, with a mid-length blonde wave, a face so fresh and innocent, a smile that was straight grace until the corners curled into mischief. She wore a simple, cobalt-blue dress and no shoes. She was Jean Seberg with hair, Grace Kelly minus the affectation.

"I rarely have visitors now that my husband has passed away," she said, her hands clasped behind her back.

"Sorry to trouble you," I said. "I don't know what I was thinking, coming out here into the wilderness on my own."

"It's no trouble, really," she said. "I rather enjoy the idea of company."

"Well, just let me get my bearings and I'll be off," I said, and though I spoke this plainly, I could feel Cotten creating a look of half-hidden dejection.

"Nonsense," she said. "You've come all this way to see the veldt. You can't go back to town by yourself, you're lucky you made it here alive. There are things in the grass, you know. Things that would just as soon eat you."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I had come all the way from Earth to scout locations for a film about the bug planet. I'm thinking of reviving the art of cinema back on the home world, and I thought what better place to make a movie than the only place in the universe where movies are still appreciated for their art and not how much freasence they will bring."

"That's wonderful," she said, her face brightening more than ever. "Stay here with me for a while and I will show you the veldt. This house has so many empty rooms."

"Are you sure I won't be putting you out?" I asked.

"Please," she said. "I'll have my man show you upstairs and get you situated."

I began to speak, but she said, "I'll hear nothing to the contrary," and that ancient, elegant phrase, issuing from that smooth face made me weak.

"Vespatian," she called out, and a moment later a pale green grasshopper as tall as me, dressed in a black short-coat and trousers, appeared at the entrance to a hallway leading left.

"We have a visitor," she said. "Mr. Cotten will be staying for a time. See him to the large room on the third floor, the one with the view of the veldt."

"As you wish, madame," said the bug with the obsequious air of a David Niven. "This way, sir."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford (Part 2 of 4)

Exo-Skeleton Town
by Jeffrey Ford

[Continued from Part 1]

I would have rather sat on the bowl backwards for a year than take that space flight. It seemed endless, but I spent my time reading books about ancient movies and dreaming what I would do with all my gold after I scored my load. My ace in the hole was that I had a great movie to trade. This was a real one too. It had been handed down over generations on my father's side. To tell the truth, I stole it from him the day I left for the spaceport. It was a little low budget job called Night of the Living Dead. My old man would dust it off for holidays and we'd watch it. Who knew what the hell was going on in the film? It was in black and white, but supposedly, from what I had read, it was a cult classic in its time. I remember once, as a kid of about ten, my old man leaned over to me where I lay on the floor one Christmas watching it with the rest of the relatives. He said to me, "You know what the deeper implications are here?" pointing to the monitor. I shook my head. "The director is trying to say that the dead will eat you." My old man was as profound as a stone. All I saw was a bunch of stiffs marching around. For years I thought it was a parade. If I were to see that movie today, it would probably still get me in the holiday spirit. Anyway, it wasn't as early as I would have liked, but I thought the whole anti-Hollywood, independent movie scene, a late-twentieth-century phenomenon, might be ready to explode on the bug planet.

I still remember the day when we landed at the little spaceport next to Exo-Skeleton Town, and I looked out the window at a village of one-story concrete bunkers in the dark lit by streetlights. It was like a nightmare. Putting on the Cotten was the only thing that saved me from crying. Climbing into those skins is a painful experience at first. There's a moment when you have to die and then be revived by the suit's biosystem. The one thing nobody told me about was how it itches when you first get in. I thought it would drive me wild. Then another guy who had been to the bug planet before stepped into a smart little Nick Adams getup and warned me, "Whatever you do, don't think about the itching. It can seriously drive you insane." I was in agony when I stepped through the airlock and into the slow, heavy world of insects.

It cost me a fortune but I managed to arrange a meeting with Stootladdle only a few days after my arrival. He was a sight to behold. Hairy, too many arms. His eyes were round as saucers and a thousand mirrors each. I became momentarily dizzy trying to watch each and every me he was seeing all at once. The voice that came through the translator was high and thin and full of annoyance.

"Joseph Cotten," he said. "I've seen you in a few things."

"Shadow of a Doubt?" I asked.

"Never heard of it," said the flea.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #22: "Exo-Skeleton Town" by Jeffrey Ford (Part 1 of 4)

Just a quick opening comment: I've been blogging each week about the stories in Alien Contact in their order of appearance in the book. What readers need to know is that I've kept all the authors who contributed to this anthology in the dark as well. So as I reveal one story each week, the authors themselves also learn with whom they share this anthology. I've received some cool feedback from some of the authors, like when they discover that one of their favorite stories has been included in the book. Alien Contact is now available for preorder from Amazon and other booksellers, and is forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books.

"Exo-Skeleton Town"
by Jeffrey Ford

This story was originally published in the premier issue (Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2001) of Black Gate magazine, and is approximately 9,000 words in length.

In an earlier blog post, "Reflections on the 2000 World Fantasy Convention," I recalled attending the Jeffrey Ford reading and then meeting him afterward, all of which led to my acquiring and editing his first short fiction collection, The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories (Golden Gryphon Press, 2002). Prior to that convention -- and as I wrote, one of the reasons I attended was to specifically meet Jeff -- I had already read a number of his short stories. And, much to my delight, this first issue of Black Gate was one of the freebies included in the goodie bag that was handed out to con attendees. When I scanned through the magazine's table of contents, I was pleased to see that the issue contained yet another new Jeffrey Ford story. I

If you're not already a fan of the old, classic Hollywood movies -- and the actors and actresses that made these films such classics -- then you certainly will be after you've read "Exo-Skeleton Town." This is probably the quirkiest story in the anthology. And it remains one of the more unique story concepts I've ever read. In fact, even though I'm the editor, I'm almost tempted to ask Jeff: "Where the hell did this idea come from?"

But I don't really have to ask him that question, because he's already answered it. With Jeff's most kind permission, I'm including here most of his afterword to "Exo-Skeleton Town" in The Fantasy Writer's Assistant and Other Stories. [Note: There's a bit of spoiler here, so you may want to skip this quoted text for now and scroll a bit farther down.]
This story got turned down more times than my Visa card. What's not to like? It's got giant alien bugs, Hollywood stars, balls of aphrodisiacal insect shit, drug consumption through a spigot in the crotch, and Judy Garland...shooting herself in the head....

I got the idea for this story from a book my son bought about the history of Japanese monster flicks titled Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! by Stuart Galbraith. Before looking through it, I was unaware that the great actor Joseph Cotten had done a bunch of low-budget monster movies in Japan near the end of his career. I never saw any of them, but the book had plenty of pictures. "Exo-Skeleton Town" is told in the melodramatic fashion of the black and white movies I watched on TV in the afternoons when, as a kid, I'd skip school, which was pretty often.

The name of the movie that is coveted by the mayor of the bug world, The Rain Does Things Like That, came from a deranged guy who wandered the streets of South Philly when I lived near Marconi Plaza, only a stone's throw from Monzo's Meatarama. I'd see this guy at least once a week, and he never tired of repeating that same phrase.

I've often thought that someday I'd like to write the story of the rise to power of Stootladdle, the flealike mayor of Exo-Skeleton Town. Thanks go out to Dave Truesdale and John O'Neill [of Black Gate] for bringing this creature feature to a theatre near you.

In addition to allowing me to include this afterword, Jeff has also given me permission to post the contents of this story in its entirety here on More Red Ink. So, for your reading pleasure, here is "Exo-Skeleton Town," which won the 2006 Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire, the French national speculative fiction award. The French certainly do appreciate those old Hollywood movies....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #21

I have created an "Alien Contact Anthology" Facebook page; in the column to the right, scroll down a bit to see the widget. If you are an FB user, please consider a "Like" on this FB page for future updates, including the full text of more stories, book giveaways, and more. Alien Contact is now available for preorder from and other booksellers, and is forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books. This is story #21:

"Amanda and the Alien"
by Robert Silverberg

This story was originally published in the May 1983 issue of Omni magazine, and is approximately 6,400 words in length.

My connection to this story goes back to 2003, when Claude Lalumière and I selected it for inclusion in our co-edited anthology of sardonic fiction (aka stories with attitude) entitled Witpunk, which was published at the time by Four Walls, Eight Windows. So, in selecting some of the best "alien contact" stories of the past 30 or so years for this new anthology, how could I not include this classic Robert Silverberg story: "Amanda and the Alien."

Cribbing from a couple different reviews, if I had to sum up this story in one line, it would be: A deadly, shape-changing alien, who escapes from a government detention center, has the misfortune of meeting Amanda. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the story:

Amanda spotted the alien late Friday afternoon outside the Video Center, on South Main. It was trying to look cool and laid-back, but it simply came across as bewildered and uneasy. The alien was disguised as a seventeen-year-old girl, maybe a Chicana, with olive-toned skin and hair so black it seemed almost blue, but Amanda, who was seventeen herself, knew a phony when she saw one. She studied the alien for some moments from the other side of the street to make absolutely certain. Then she walked over.

"You're doing it wrong," Amanda said. "Anybody with half a brain could tell what you really are."

"Bug off," the alien said.

"No. Listen to me. You want to stay out of the detention center, or don't you?"

The alien stared coldly at Amanda and said, "I don't know what the crap you're talking about."

"Sure you do. No sense trying to bluff me. Look, I want to help you," Amanda said. "I think you're getting a raw deal. You know what that means, a raw deal? Hey, look, come home with me, and I'll teach you a few things about passing for human. I've got the whole friggin' weekend now with nothing else to do anyway."

A flicker of interest came into the other girl's dark, chilly eyes. But it died quickly, and she said, "You some kind of lunatic?"

"Suit yourself, O thing from beyond the stars. Let them lock you up again. Let them stick electrodes up your ass. I tried to help. That's all I can do, is try," Amanda said, shrugging. She began to saunter away. She didn't look back. Three steps, four, five, hands in pockets, slowly heading for her car. Had she been wrong, she wondered? No. No. She could be wrong about some things, like Charley Taylor's interest in spending the weekend with her, maybe. But not this. That crinkly-haired chick was the missing alien for sure.


"Wait," the alien said finally.

Amanda took another easy step or two. Then she looked back over her shoulder.


"How can you tell?"

Amanda grinned. "Easy. You've got a rain slicker on, and it's only September. Rainy season doesn't start around here for another month or two. Your pants are the old Spandex kind. People like you don't wear that stuff anymore. Your face paint is San Jose colors, but you've got the cheek chevrons put on in the Berkeley pattern. That's just the first three things I noticed. I could find plenty more. Nothing about you fits together with anything else. It's like you did a survey to see how you ought to appear and then tried a little of everything. The closer I study you, the more I see…. You may think that you're perfectly camouflaged, but you aren't."


"Why should I trust you?"

"Because I've been talking to you for five minutes and I haven't yelled for the cops yet. Don't you know that half of California is out searching for you? Hey, can you read? Come over here a minute. Here." Amanda tugged the alien toward the newspaper vending box at the curb. The headline on the afternoon Examiner was:


"You understand that?" Amanda asked. "That's you they're talking about. They're out there with flame guns, tranquilizer darts, web snares, and God knows what else. There's been real hysteria for a day and a half. And you standing around here with the wrong chevrons on! Christ. Christ! What's your plan, anyway? Where are you trying to go?"

"Home," the alien said....
Amanda eventually contrives a way to use the alien to get even with her boyfriend, the aforementioned Charley Taylor, who stood her up that weekend. And to hell with the consequences. Typical seventeen-year-old behavior? You be the judge.

Amanda and the Alien was filmed in 1995 as a Showtime cable movie, directed by Jon Kroll (Big Brother, The Amazing Race, Blade: The Series), and starring Nicole Eggert (Baywatch), John Diehl (The Shield), Michael Dorn (Star Trek franchise), and Stacy Keach (Prison Break).

[Continue to Story #22]

Monday, September 19, 2011

GRRM's Stolen Thrones

George R. R. Martin has reported that two autographed scripts from the television series A Game of Thrones, which were intended to be auctioned at WorldCon for charity, never arrived at their intended destination. GRRM is assuming the scripts were stolen, and is calling on all his fans and readers to keep an eye out for them: "Whoever s[tole] these scripts will presumably try to cash in at some point. So if any of you ever see scripts fitting this description turn up on eBay, one of its competitors, or on some dealer's table -- notify me at once, and report the stolen property to whatever local authorities are appropriate. Here's what was taken: two teleplays, final shooting scripts for episodes nine and ten of season one, 'Baelor' and 'Fire and Blood,' autographed by writers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and director Alan Taylor, printed on white paper. Like Bloodraven, I have a thousand eyes and one. So let's keep 'em all peeled, boys and girls."

You can read GRRM's original blog post, which includes more than 70 comments, some insisting the scripts were stolen, others insisting they were eaten by postal machinery. Regardless, it won't hurt to remain vigilant for any A Game of Thrones scripts that show up for auction or sale.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #20

Alien Contact: 26 stories to unveil -- one per week in order of appearance in the anthology. This is story #20. Forthcoming in November from Night Shade Books. If you are new to this blog, you might want to start at the Beginnings.

"What You Are About to See"
by Jack Skillingstead

This story was originally published in the August 2008 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, and is approximately 5,100 words in length.

On September 10, 2008, I contacted author Nancy Kress for copies of her three "alien contact" stories (see her "Laws of Survival," Story #19). In that same email I asked Nancy to recommend one or two other stories "you think are the best -- or at least your favorites -- that have been written since 1980." And Nancy graciously responded the following day: "As for other authors' first-contact stories, there was a good one in the recent, August 2008 ASIMOV'S: Jack Skillingstead's 'What You Are About to See.' Very weird alien."

The previous year, in July 2007, I had been contacted by an agent for the Virginia Kidd Agency, on behalf of Jack Skillingstead, to inquire if I would be interested in a collection of his short stories. At the time I had already planned to depart Golden Gryphon Press at the end of the year, so I suggested the agent contact the publisher directly.1 I had some familiarity with Jack's stories, but certainly not all of them at that time. So, after receiving the recommendation from Nancy Kress, I contacted Jack's agent, explained the basics of the anthology, and requested a copy of the story, which she kindly provided. I then printed out a copy and added it to my increasingly large pile of stories to be read and considered.

The fact that "What You Are About to See" is included in this anthology shows that I was indeed taken with this story. In fact, I've probably read the story at least four or five times now, and each time the story still leaves me in awe. This is one of those stories that slithers in behind your eyeballs as you read, and tweaks the hell out of your mind. I asked Jack for some personal thoughts on the story and this is what he wrote:
"What You Are About to See" was inspired by my first-ever visit to Arizona back in 2006. I got three stories out of that Nebula Awards weekend. Which is weird when you consider I never left the hotel. Looking down at the desert from my 737 I thought of mirages, flying saucers, and a 7-Eleven store in Portland, Maine. I have no idea why. These unrelated elements came together when I needed them to at the keyboard.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Bits 'n' Pieces

My Alien Contact anthology can now be preordered from and, as well as other fine bookstores (physical and online). You may notice that the pub date is listed as January 2012; according to the publisher, Night Shade Books, this is incorrect and the book is on schedule for its November publication.

As you can see from the Facebook widget in the right column -- "Find us on Facebook: Alien Contact Anthology" -- I have just set up a "fan page" for the book. If you are an FB user, and you are so inclined, I would appreciate your click on the "Like" button. More stories from the anthology will be forthcoming, as will a giveaway or two, along with news and reviews.

On Sunday, September 11, I attended the Tachyon Publications "Sweet 16" birthday party at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. The party marked not only Tachyon's sixteen years of publishing but also the tenth anniversary of their first birthday party. On hand to celebrate the birthday, in addition to Tachyon's own Jacob and Rina Weisman, Jill Roberts, and Elizabeth Story, were Peter S. Beagle, Kathleen Bartholomew, Nancy Kress, and Jack Skillingstead. Nancy and Jack were in town for the previous evening's SF in SF event, so they hung around an extra day for the birthday festivities. Also on hand were Charlie Jane Anders, Terry Bisson, Grania Davis, Jeremy Lassen, Nick Mamatas, and Pat Murphy, to name just a few.

During the Tachyon birthday party each year, the Norton Awards are also presented. The awards are given for "extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason," in memory of Joshua Norton I, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America and Protector of Mexico. Norton Awards judge Jacob Weisman presented the book award to Steven R. Boyett for his novel Mortality Bridge (Subterranean Press); and Norton Awards judge Richard A. Lupoff presented the creativity award to Rudy Rucker for his autobiography Nested Scrolls (PS Publishing). Both Boyett and Rucker were on hand to accept their award. Rudy has a lengthy blog post, including photos, on the award. Rudy and I go way back, to the '80s when he was teaching at San Jose State; I wrote in a previous blog post of my interviewing Rudy Rucker regarding the Philip K. Dick Award, and our friendship over the years.

Anyhow, you may be wondering why I'm including the Tachyon Pubs birthday party and related events in this blog post on my Alien Contact anthology. And to answer that, I will share the following photograph with you:

Nancy Kress and Jack Skillingstead, and the ARC of Alien Contact

I had planned to attend the Tachyon Pubs birthday party since I had received the first announcement, but my circumstances changed a few weeks ago (see Status blog post). In fact, as of Saturday evening, due to work deadlines as well as the cost of public transit to San Francisco ($47.40 round trip for the two of us, using both Caltrain and BART), I had decided to stay home that day and work, in between loads of laundry. Mid-morning on Sunday I turned on the PC to send an email to Rina to let her know I would not be attending, when, to my surprise, I found an email in my inbox from Cliff Winnig letting me know that I could hitch a ride with him to San Francisco for the b-day party. It was a sign....

As both Nancy Kress and Jack Skillingstead were making a rare Bay Area appearance (they hail from Seattle), this gave me a chance to chat with them (and to meet Jack for the first time) about their contributions to the Alien Contact anthology. I revealed Nancy's story last week -- "Laws of Survival" (Story #19) -- and Jack's story just happens to be Story #20, which will be revealed shortly.

I'm not much of an autograph collector these days, but I did have both Nancy and Jack sign my copy of the ARC, as well as Pat Murphy, too, who contributed the story "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City" (Story #7) to the anthology. [Sorry I didn't get you in the photograph as well, Pat; hopefully next time.]

Friday, September 9, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #19

You might want to begin here....

"Laws of Survival"
by Nancy Kress

This story was originally published in the December 2007 issue of Jim Baen's Universe, which, sadly, ceased publication with the April 2010 issue. "Laws of Survival" is approximately 12,400 words in length, and is the second longest story in the anthology.

I was considering two other stories as well, by Nancy Kress, but I chose this one for a number of reasons: among them, the first person point of view, the absent (but still ever-present) aliens, the unusual premise -- and most important, "Laws of Survival" is a damn good story. A couple pages into the story, Jill, the protagonist, wonders: Who knew why the aliens put their Domes by garbage dumps, by waste pits, by radioactive cities? Who knew why aliens did anything?

The author had a few words to share with readers about the story:
"Laws of Survival" is about coping with dogs. It's also about coping with aliens, but for most of the story the protagonist is coping with difficult dogs, courtesy of the aliens. I think the story is revenge against my toy poodle, a very difficult dog. Too bad she can't read. At any rate, Gardner Dozois liked the story well enough to include it in his Year's Best Science Fiction annual anthology. But, then, Gardner never met my poodle.

Oh, did I mention that this story is all about dogs? And aliens... Well, sort of. Jill encounters two different floating robotic computers, which she names "Blue" and "Green," respectively. What came to mind when I read this story was the space probe "Nomad" -- "Sterilize! Sterilize!" -- in the season 2 episode "The Changeling," from Star Trek: The Original Series. Anyhow, the robot computers need the dogs, and this is where Jill comes in. From the story:
I went out very early one morning to look for food. Before dawn was safest for a woman alone. The boy-gangs had gone to bed, tired of attacking each other. The trucks from the city hadn’t arrived yet. That meant the garbage was pretty picked over, but it also meant most of the refugee camp wasn’t out scavenging....

That morning was cool but fair, with a pearly haze that the sun would burn off later. I wore all my clothing, for warmth, and my boots. Yesterday’s garbage load, I’d heard somebody say, was huge, so I had hopes. I hiked to my favorite spot, where garbage spills almost to the Dome wall. Maybe I’d find bread, or even fruit that wasn’t too rotten.

Instead I found the puppy.


I hate it when grief seizes me. I hate it and it’s dangerous, a violation of one of Jill’s Laws of Survival. I can go for weeks, months without thinking of my life before the War. Without remembering or feeling. Then something will strike me.... I can’t afford joy, which always comes with an astronomical price tag. I can’t even afford the grief that comes from the memory of living things, which is why it is only the flower, the birdsong, the morning sunlight that starts it. My grief was not for that puppy. I still intended to eat it.

But I heard a noise behind me and turned. The Dome wall was opening.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #18

In a previous blog post I unveiled the cover for my forthcoming Alien Contact anthology (Night Shade Books, November) along with a recap listing of the first 17 stories. The anthology is now available for preorder on  And here is story #18:

"If Nudity Offends You"
by Elizabeth Moon

This story was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1988, and is approximately 4,900 words in length.

I read this Elizabeth Moon story when it first came out, and loved it for the young female protagonist's strength and attitude, for the way she focused on her day-to-day living -- money concerns, boys, clothing, makeup, work, etc. -- totally oblivious to the finer details of what was actually going on around her.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2007, I had an opportunity to read this story once again as I compiled the contents for Elizabeth's short story collection, Moon Flights, which was also published by Night Shade Books. (This short story collection is well worth your serious consideration.) Then, a year later, when I was putting together the proposal for Alien Contact, this story was at the top of my list for inclusion in the anthology.

I asked the author for her thoughts on "If Nudity Offends You," and she wrote about the story's genesis. Be aware that there are definite spoilers in what follows:
In 1979 we moved to a very small town in central Texas. Although I had grown up in what I thought was a small town, this one was much smaller and much more insular (much less so now). I enjoyed the differences, and especially the way oral storytelling—from short anecdotes to long involved family histories—had survived.

"If Nudity Offends You" resulted from the collision of two stories told me by a local woman. Her brother took a job as a rural mail carrier, and one day he had to deliver a registered mail package to a mobile home in a remote area. When he got there, a neatly printed sign by the door said "If nudity offends you, please do not ring this bell."

He thought it was a joke of some kind (surely no one would really come to the door with no clothes on) and he had to get a signature for the package. So he rang the bell. And sure enough, a woman came to the door with no clothes on and he tried not to look as she calmly took the package and signed the form. But he told his sister, who told me, of his astonishment that the woman with no clothes was brown all over—no tan lines—and she wasn't the least embarrassed.

Hmm, I thought, that's the kernel of something. It's an anecdote, not story, but it's oddball enough to be interesting. I was writing mostly science fiction at the time, and didn't initially see anything SFnal in it.

A year or so later, the same woman told me about her son's girlfriend, who lived in a trailer park where there'd been trouble with people stealing power by switching the cords to someone else's plug. Her son's girlfriend had been one of several victims; her son had traced the cord to the wrong plug and then confronted the power thieves. This anecdote vibrated in the depths, but not enough to generate a story when I was neck deep in a different story. Again, a kernel, but nothing more.

Then I overheard a few phrases of an argument between a couple of old men sitting on a bench downtown. "How could you tell if they were aliens? I know people who don't act much like people."

Almost instantly, the kernels merged, formed a story's critical mass. What if the alien lived next door? In a trailer park? What kind of person would see an alien naked and not notice? Someone for whom noticing another person's nakedness—when not sexually involved with them—would be unthinkable. Someone so focused on their own concerns, their immediate needs and desires, that they could miss an unexpected reality.

I showed the story, when it was finished, to an older woman who volunteered at the little town library. She read it, laughed, and then looked thoughtful. "I wonder who does live next door, we ever know?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

August Links & Things

My apologies for the belated August links wrap-up. This has been a trying two weeks...see my previous blog post for an explanation. Onward:

  • The novel The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501, by Andrew Fox, does for food what Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 did for books. In honor of the forthcoming eBook edition of TGHM, Andrew has posted links from around the world on "Food Police, Food Fascists, or GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) food terrorist stories." Here's just one: "Washington bureaucrats work to have Tony the Tiger Placed on the Endangered Species Act." [Note: I edited TGHM for Tachyon Publications.]
  • When is the last time that you sent a postcard? In fact, have you ever written and mailed a picture postcard to someone? Received a postcard? In the NY Review of Books blog, Charles Simic takes a nostalgic look at "The Lost Art of Postcard Writing": "Until a few years ago, hardly a day would go by in the summer without the mailman bringing a postcard from a vacationing friend or acquaintance. Nowadays, you’re bound to get an email enclosing a photograph....The terrific thing about postcards was their immense variety. It wasn’t just the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, or some other famous tourist attraction you were likely to receive in the mail, but also a card with a picture of a roadside diner in Iowa, the biggest hog at some state fair in the South.... Almost every business in this country, from a dog photographer to a fancy resort and spa, had a card." (via @smallindiepress)
  • On occasion, I have used the Internet Archive (aka the Wayback Machine) to find links and such to use in my blog posts. The nonprofit Internet Archive was founded in 1996 by Brewster Kahle in order to save a copy of every web page ever posted. New Zealand's 3 News reports that Kahle has launched a new project: "the MIT-trained computer scientist and entrepreneur is expanding his effort to safeguard and share knowledge by trying to preserve a physical copy of every book ever published." (via @bkwrksevents)
  • From Penton Media's American Printer magazine ceased production after 128 years. The August 2011 edition was the last edition published. (via
  • From postcards, to books, to magazines, to bookstores... Opened 32 years ago, the Travel Bookshop, made famous in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts flick Notting Hill, has closed, according to
  • Have you read Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld? Or possibly The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan? Or perhaps Push by Sapphire, which was made into the Academy Award-winning film Precious? These are only 3 of the more than 20 books banned by U.S. schools so far this year. Censorship is on the rise. Read the list. (via @RickKlaw)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Today is the first of the month and I should be working on my link wrap-up for August; this is also week #18, which means story #18 from my forthcoming anthology Alien Contact is to be revealed. But, alas...

My mother has entered hospice care and I am visiting her and spending as much time as I am able, as well as dealing with legal paperwork, and bills and such, and also a house that she has lived in since 1965 (and, of course, where I lived until it was definitely time for me to leave home). Sometimes I don't know whether I'm coming or going, and sleeping only about 5 hours each night since Sunday, well, that's not helping matters much either.

I've had little time to be online, so my apologies for the limited content, other than the anthology's cover art that I have just posted. So, there won't be any other blogs this week, unfortunately. As for next week, I have a lot of letter writing and faxing to do (Power of Attorney) on behalf of the mom, but I'll do my best to make up for the shortfalls this week.

Thanks for your continued support and for reading the words I post here.
Cheers, all!

Alien Contact Anthology Uncovered

Seventeen weeks, now -- and I have blogged about the first 17 stories to be included in my Alien Contact anthology, forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November. In fact, of those 17 stories, four of the stories were posted in their entirety, plus I included a link to the text of another story posted online elsewhere as well as a link to a podcast of a sixth story. Nine stories remain....

Here are the first 17 stories, plus the introduction, with links to their respective blog posts:

Introduction: "Beginnings..." by Marty Halpern

Story #1
: "The Thought War" by Paul McAuley

Story #2: "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" by Neil Gaiman [link to the entire story content online]

Story #3
: "Face Value" by Karen Joy Fowler

Story #4: "The Road Not Taken" by Harry Turtledove

Story #5: "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" by George Alec Effinger

Story #6: "I Am the Doorway" by Stephen King

Story #7
: "Recycling Strategies for the Inner City" by Pat Murphy

Story #8
: "The 43 Antarean Dynasties" by Mike Resnick [the complete story in three parts]

Story #9: "The Gold Bug" by Orson Scott Card

Story #10: "Kin" by Bruce McAllister [the complete story in two parts]

Story #11: "Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song" by Ernest Hogan [the complete story in three parts]

Story #12: "Angel" by Pat Cadigan

Story #13
: "The First Contact with the Gorgonids" by Ursula K. Le Guin

Story #14: "Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl's" by Adam-Troy Castro

Story #15: "A Midwinter's Tale" by Michael Swanwick

Story #16: "Texture of Other Ways" by Mark W. Tiedemann [the complete story in three parts]

Story #17
: "To Go Boldly" by Cory Doctorow [link to a podcast of the entire story online]

Story #18 to be revealed real soon now....