The short story collection will be out in about a year, and we can only hope that 2022 promises to be better than 2020 or (thus far), 2021. It will consist, tentatively, of ten stories, some previously published, some never-before-seen, and two written to bracket the collection. I really have to complete the first one, which is about two-thirds done in draft form. That tale features a number of challenging elements. The setting takes a ground's eye view of an alternate timeline, so I simply set it in my adopted city. However, it challenges the brain to work through how 1971 might be if we'd had eighteen years of awareness that extremely advanced aliens were about, and could return at any moment. I was fortunate to get access to the local archives before the recent shutdown, and other, more general historical sources for research purposes. Contrary to popular belief, everything isn't available online.
Consider the iconic 1960s, for example. Sure, we'd still have a baby boom generation and the questioning of certain aspects of society. Civil Rights, Rock 'n' Roll, the Beat Generation, and car culture were already underway in '53. But consider how important the space program would become. Even in our timeline, John F. Kennedy contemplated sharing space-tech development with the Soviet Union. Imagine a timeline where we know aliens exist, and we know there may be others, whose intentions we can only ponder. Imagine those aliens arrived the month Josef Stalin died, an event which, even in our timeline, involved significant political upheaval and a push for a more reform-minded communist government.
So, no real Cold War. Armed conflict in Vietnam gets stifled. What are the repercussions? Take one microdot of an example: do the American experiments with LSD as potential mind-control/truth serum drug occur, or at least on the same scale? Those experiments, fuelled by the Cold War, mainstreamed the drug at a particular time in history. No LSD on campus and in the music industry, no psychedelia, at least, not as a dominant influence. Assuming the Beatles still form (I do), what do their later albums sound like?
Now, imagine the larger repercussions.
Racism, certainly, would continue to exist-- it's culturally engrained, and idiots are always going to idiot. However, we've had a generation of international cooperation among people who have seen, hosted, and spoken with creatures who are absolutely not human. How do we look at something clearly other and then think another human being is anything but another human being?
If Sputnik had the west upgrading our education systems, what would an urgent program for space exploration and planetary defence do, one unhindered by any significant global armed conflict?
Imagine a culture that knows there's something out there.
How would world religions react? Conspiracy-minded people?
The aliens have an organizational structure that functions just fine for them, but makes precious little sense by human standards. How does that influence political and philosophical thought?
Our visitors gifted us with a musical instrument (they have music). Humans can only sort-of play it, but it can be replicated fairly easily. That's a part of the story. Think about this: creatures descend from the sky and hand us the equivalent of a flute before they end their visit. "I visited earth and all I got them was this lousy pennywhistle," by itself, would alter human history profoundly.
Then the aliens return.
That's just freakin' backstory, much of it only brushed against by the plot of "Flying Whistle Stop." So, as that story expands to novella length, it has created one or two challenges.
The collection's final tale, on the other hand, involves a contemporary setting (well, mostly) and takes a more yarn-like approach, as an unreliable and intoxicated narrator takes centre stage.
I've also been given the go-ahead by the publisher to discuss cover concepts with an artist friend, though they do not guarantee they will purchase his work. He's currently sketching a proof-of-concept drawing for the collection:
"Flying Whistle Stop": In an alternative 1953, aliens visit earth. Eighteen years later, they return. Some young people find evidence of an anti-alien plot that may have significant repercussions.
"Let There Be": To quote Lois Tilton in Locus, the story takes place on:
...a world with two sentient species, the diurnal Corboran who seem humanish but aren't, and the nocturnal Ghyel.... one of the functions of the nighttime race is to consume the dead. Lem's house has a Ghyel living upstairs.... When his newborn child dies, he invites the Ghyel to take it to the funeral ceremony, before it will be consumed. This is how it's supposed to be, sanctioned by religion. Funeral rites take place at sundown, the boundary established by the Creator between the two worlds. But things may soon change.
A thoughtful look at an alien world where some things turn out to be much like our own. Despite the dark fantasy tone, the story's material is science fiction (March 29, 2013).
The story was originally published in On Spec in 2013.
"Crabbing in Worley": A short-short about a small town where you want to dig with care. Appeared in Ecks #1 in the 1990s. I have a copy of that issue somewhere. I really need to find it and confirm the date. I can locate only one reference to the short-lived magazine online.
"The Count": The arrival of a disturbed old man to a small town leads to the unravelling of a mystery that surrounds an affable resident. In answer to your question, no, this is not a vampire story.
"Foundling": A lonely young woman adopts a strange predatory child she meets in a park (as one does). First published in Not One of Us (2015).
"The Book of Dennis": This novella (shortlisted a few years back for the Ken Klonksy Contest and almost published) traces the parallel lives of two men, Dennis Dobbler and Denis Hughes, over fifty years. The story hinges on their second encounter, when Dennis goes off on a Quixotic quest to locate the runaway daughter of a childhood friend. Set in the same fictional universe as The Con, it hints at the possible influence of unearthly forces in the lives of human beings.
"Robbie Burns Night": An ageing alcoholic encounters a ghost on January 25. Is he haunted by an actual spirit or something else? It includes minor characters from "The Book of Dennis," and therefore also shares a world with The Con.
"No Human Involved": By far the most disturbing story in the collection, it takes place in a future where consciousness can be duplicated so that the simulacrum of a dead human being can live on in a virtual reality. What would happen if a disturbed individual got their hands on such a simulacrum, especially of someone against whom they have been carrying a grudge?
"The Shade at Aseneith": This is a Lovecraftian parody in which some privileged university students take an annual road trip to cut lose in some unsuspecting small town. This year, they have selected the wrong small town. Eldritch hilarity ensues. First published in The Were-Traveler in the autumn of 2020.
"Live Nude Aliens": Completed yesterday!
Okay, this one was fun to write. I pantsed it, rewriting when I didn't like where it was going. I had given myself the following requirements. The story would:
-have to be worth reading
-have a lighter tone
-reference, in Easter Egg fashion, at least some of the other tales in the collection.
-feature Patti and Chelsea, the geek girls from The Con, who have drawn some positive attention from those who have read my novel.
-take as its starting point a dream I had recently about a drunk young man wearing a cracked imitation Star Wars stormtrooper helmet and announcing his drunkenness. He clearly, desperately, wanted to tell someone his story.
-take place on Free Comic Book Day, 2019, the last time (to date) such an event has been held.
-involve a concept I had for an alien species inspired by a drawing of a piece of nineteenth-century chemistry equipment that rather resembled an opabinia.
-most importantly, justify the title, "Live Nude Aliens."
I would have dropped any of those elements if they'd marred the story. Indeed, I eliminated and simplified some of the allusions to the other tales because they served no other, story-related purpose and interrupted the flow. But, in a general way, I was able to keep them all, and I rather like how it turned out.
In short, two bright young women attend Free Comic Book Day, where they swap stories with an intoxicated young man who insists he has had a twilight zone-like encounter with extra-terrestrials and, naturally, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Best story also gets brunch paid for by the other two.
My day job prohibits much writing next week, but I've been assured I have a fair bit of time to complete "Flying Whistle Stop." It's a superior story to "Live Nude Aliens," but not as consistently fun to pen.