Tag: fiction

Perfect Stories

One of the things I love about baseball is that it is possible to have a “perfect game.” A perfect game is one in which a pitcher faces 27 batters, and not one of them gets on base. There are no hits, no walks, no one hit by a pitch, no one ever making it on base. Period. The perfect game, as you might imagine, is incredibly rare. From 1903 to the present, the era of “World Series” baseball, spanning 118 years, there have been 21 perfect games. In that same period of time, there have been approximately 220,000 regular season baseball games. That’s one perfect game for every 10,500 games played, which is itself about 4-5 seasons of baseball.

Like an elusive perfect game, I think stories can be perfect, too. The guidelines for a perfect story are not as well-defined as those of a perfect game, but I suspect they are just as rare, and just as impressive. In all of my reading, I’ve encountered only a handful of what I consider perfect stories.

My paperback copy of The Illustrated Man
My paperback copy of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

My list of perfect stories, and the writers who wrote them, are:

  1. “The Rocket Man” by Ray Bradbury. You can find this one in The Illustrated Man.
  2. “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore” by Harlan Ellison. You can find this one in Slippage.
  3. “The Bicentennial Man” by Isaac Asimov. This one appears in The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories
  4. “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” by Stephen King. This one appears in my favorite Stephen King collection of novellas, Different Seasons.
  5. “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. It turns out this one is currently available online, on Gizmodo
  6. “Understanding Entropy” by Barry N. Malzberg. This one can found in In the Stone House.
  7. “A Death” by Stephen King, making him the only author with 2 perfect stories on my list. I wrote about “A Death” when it first came out. This story can be found in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

I’ve never tracked the stories I’ve read in the way I keep track of the books I’ve read, but I would guess that by now, I’ve read thousands of short stories. These are the 7 out of all those thousands that, to me, are the fictional equivalent of the perfect game. Over the years, I’ve tried to think about what makes a story “perfect” in my mind. I think it involved a couple of factors:

  • After reading it the first time, when it seems that any possible change would diminish the story, it is a sign that it is perfect.
  • A perfect story keeps me thinking about it for a long time after I’ve read it.
  • A perfect story gets better with each re-read.
  • A perfect story involves a deep appreciation of the craft involved in its creation, in much the way one can marvel at the skill of a pitcher who tosses a perfect game.

There are some stories that have come close to perfection–these are the no-hitters of the short fiction world. This list is obviously longer, but here are three that immediately come to mind as close to perfect:

As I was writing this, it occurred to me that there is probably such as thing as a perfect essay as well. But I’ll save my list of perfect essays for another time.

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5 Interesting Reads – 9/11/2021

Here are some of the more interesting reads I’ve come across the the last few weeks. Let me know if any of these stand out for you. And if you have interesting reads of your own to recommend, please drop them in the comments.

  1. After “hearing” many of our kids’ classes while they were remote last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what eduction is today, and what I wish it would be. I think Seth Godin is on the right track with his “Modern Curriculum.”
  2. James Fallows has an interesting piece on presidential speeches, “Eloquence is Overrated.” In it, he writes,

effective orators sometimes succeed by making their language practically invisible. For them it serves as a pane, allowing the undistorted meaning to shine through.

This reminded me of how Isaac Asimov described his own writing style which he called his theory of “the mosaic and the plate glass”:

There is writing which resembles the mosaics of glass you see in stained-glass windows. Such windows are beautiful in themselves and let in the light in colored fragments, but you can’t expect to see through them. In the same way, there is poetic writing that is beautiful in itself and can easily affect the emotions, but such writing can be dense and can make for hard reading if you are trying to figure out what’s happening.

Plate glass, on the other hand, has no beauty of its own. Ideally, you ought not to be able to see it at all, but through it, you can see all that is happening outside. That is the equivalent of writing that is plain an unadorned. Ideally, in reading such writing, you are not even aware that you are reading. Ideas and events seem merely to flow from the mind of the writer into that of the reader without any barrier between,

I. Asimov, p.222
  1. Cal Newport recently had a great piece in the New Yorker on “Why Do We Work Too Much?” It touches on a feeling I’ve often had, what Newport describes as “a nagging sense of irresponsibility during any moment of downtime.” Also worth looking at is a follow-up he did, asking “What Would Happen If We Slowed Down?
  2. Ryan Holiday writes about the importance of his nighttime routines as a means to set him up for success the next day. This is interesting in part because he outlines 9 things that he does that align with practices of great stoics from ancient times. It was also to read it in the context of my own evening routine.
  3. Fiction: Adam-Troy Castro has a heartbreaking story in Lightspeed Magazine, “Judi.” Adam-Troy lost his wife, Judi not long ago. It was sudden and unexpected and the story reflects that. I knew Adam-Troy casually, and had breakfast with him, and his wife, Judi at a World Fantasy Convention years ago. There are wonderful people.

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Original Fiction?

One thing that I have never posted on the blog over the last 16 years is original fiction: that is, fiction I’ve written that has not appeared anywhere else. The main reason I’ve never done this is because publishing a story on the Internet is considered a first publication. Since the “first serial rights” are not available once a story appears on the Internet, it can make it harder to sell the story to professional markets.

This was more an issue when I was still finding my footing as a professional writer especially when I was submitting and selling stories to the science fiction magazines and anthologies. Over the years, however, my stories have changed and it is really hard to classify them. I have two, for instance, that don’t fall into any category that I can name.

I was thinking of posting these stories here on the blog, but since what I write here is entirely not fiction so far, I wanted to get feedback from my readers to see if original fiction is something you’d be interested in. If there is interest, my thought would be to start with these two stories that I have sitting around and see how things go. Since I try to keep most of my posts relatively short (they’ve averaged about 600 words in 2021), I’d probably post these stories as serial, running one part per week over a period of several week.

What do people think? Would you be interested in seeing some original fiction from me here on the blog? Free, of course. At this point, I’m just looking for an outlet for these stories. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment. Or, if you definitely want me to post original fiction, just “like” this post and I’ll take that as a Yes vote.

(If you are uncertain and would like to see some of my published fiction first, check out my bibliography. I think all of the stories I’ve published on InterGalactic Medicine Show are now freely available. Keep in mind, though, as I said, that my writing has evolved, and I’m not sure how I’d categorize it today.)

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Writing prompts

Over at the Arlington Writers Group last night, we had one of our “hybrid” meetups. This is where a portion of the meetup is spent on a critique, while another portion is spent on some kind of exercise. Last night, the exercise was writing prompts. We were given a bunch of prompts that came from the opening lines of various travel stories (it being summer and the season of travel) and we had a limited amount of time to write something based on the prompt. I floundered away my time with nothing coming to mind. In fact, it wasn’t until people started actually reading their stories out loud that I started to write mine. While I don’t ordinarily post fiction here, this one is so short, and I am so unlikely to use it for anything else, that I figured what the heck. So what follows is the story I wrote five minutes before I read it to the group last night. We were supposed to start the story using the prompt. I’ve italicized this part to make it clear what my prompt was.

You can find the story below the cut (or if you are reading this on a feed, immediately following this line). And keep in mind: this is not science fiction:

Read more

Free fiction: When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently if any of my stories were freely available online. For a while they weren’t but as of today, my first published story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” is now freely available here on my website.

Several people suggested that I make the story available on the Kindle and I’m still considering doing that, but I still wanted at least a sample of my work available freely for anyone who wanted to read it. I like this story, which was first published back in 2007 in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show.

If you like it, I’d urge you to go to the InterGalactic Medicine Show website and check out their most recent issue. And perhaps consider subscribing.

Boskone, day 1

Almost midnight and I’m back from my first day (well, evening really) as Boskone. It’s been a lot of fun. I attended two panels. The first was “Selling What You Write” and it was interesting, but I realized that it was probably not something that I needed to attend, having made one sale already. This was basic stuff, but it was still fun to listen to the questions that people asked. The second panel was called “Tracking History” and was centered on a discussion by authors of long series of books on how they keep the internal histories straight. David Weber was the big star on the panel and it was also an interesting discussion.

Later, I had a beer and then wandered over to the Con Suite. Now, I didn’t know what a Con Suite was, but it looked like a VIP suite. (Turns out it’s not.) However, I saw mabfan there (along with gnomi and so I went over to say hello. One thing led to another and we ended up talking for a couple of hours. Michael was great. He introduced me to a lot of people, telling them I was a new writing and where my story had been published. So, for example, he introduced me to Allen M. Steele, who talked about his first experience winning a Hugo Award, and who proceeded to give me advice on my acceptance speech, should the day ever come when I win one. I got to tell Allen how he once lost me a story sale.

Short version: Sheila Williams at ASIMOV’S really liked my story, “Wake Me When We Get There”, however, there was one fatal flaw to the story, which she pointed out, Allen Steele had handled much better in a similar story that he did.

He introduced me to Daniel Kimmel, a film critic in the Boston area, and the three of us stood around talking for quite a while. Daniel and Michael are very funny together.

He introduced me to author Sarah Beth Durst, who has been nominated for the Norton Award this year, and who stood around with us chatting for a while, too.

And he also introduced me to writer Bruce Coville who is the special guest at Boskone this year, and who stopped by to chat with us for a while as well. Michael and Bruce are also very funny together.

Naturally, I was overwhelmed by all of this. It’s such a cool feeling to talk face-to-face with these writers. I mean, I was chatting about Hugo Award speeches with Allen Steele, the guy who wrote “Hunting Wabbit”, which amused me so much when it appeared in SCIENCE FICTION AGE. There are nearly two full days left to the conference and now, I can’t wait for more! Thanks again, mabfan!

Immitation of life

Last night, I caught Jarhead on HBO and afterward found myself thinking that I wanted to be a Marine. Don’t get me wrong, this is not unique to either the movie, or the subject of the film. I often find myself wishing I was whatever it was that I was just watching on some interesting show. I wonder, though, if this is a common phenomenon (at least one that people will admit to). Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • When I watch any of the Rocky movies, I find I want to be a boxer
  • When I watch The Office I tell myself I want to be just like Jim Halpert (especially when he thinks up the clever practical jokes
  • When I watch Smallville I want to be Superman
  • If I watch a movie about lawyers, I want to be a lawyer; if I watch a movie about astronomers, I want to be an astronomer
  • When I watch House, I want to be just like Gregory House
  • When I watch Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers I find myself wishing I was an E Company soldier fighting in World War II

I suppose that well written film and television are supposed to have this effect on people, but I never hear anyone talk about it. As far as I know, I am the only person in the world who has ever admitted to these feelings of imitation. Do other people think like this?

What’s more is that I find myself doing this with my writing as well. If I have been reading Harlan Ellison stories, what I write shortly thereafter will have an attempt at a Harlan Ellison edge to it. If I have been reading a Barry Malzberg story, I’ll try writing something that has a Malzberg feel to it. Same for Bradbury. Or Asimov.

It has made me wonder if I have any personality of my own, or if I am just jumble of imitations and impressions I get from my reading and TV watching and movie watching. Sometimes I am hyper-conscious of this and other times I am completely unaware of it. Regardless, the feelings are fleeting; they last for a little while and then they drift off, replaced by feelings of imitation for the latest show or movie.

So don’t worry, I didn’t run out and join the Marines after watching Jarhead last night. I did get a pretty short “military-style” haircut, though. No, instead of joining the Marines, I thought long and hard about joining some counter-terrorism unit and becoming a super-secret agent. Of course, I had just finished watching the latest episode of 24, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it.

Retiring some stories

Every few years, I go through the stories that I’ve written and have failed to sell, and ultimately retire them. Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve gone through a few rounds of this, and each round represents a generation of my stories. Each round, also, I like to thing, represents a better and better set of stories.

This time, I figure why waste them. Therefore, I have put together a page where you can read the 6 stories that I am finally retiring. You can access the page here:


Four of the six stories have already been posted. I’m a little to tired to finish the other two tonight. I posted them on the blog so that people reading the stories could, if they wished, use the “Comments” feature to comment on the stories.

This batch of six stories includes my all-time personal favorite to-date: “The Last S.F. Writer”. But I warn you: only a seasoned s.f. reader will get all of the references, so I added a comment to the story to point out the references I made. The batch also includes “Wake Me When We Get There,” which from a sales point of view, is the one that I came closest with in this round. It is probably the most “marketable” story I have written to-date, although it’s not my favorite.

These stories accumulated a total of 24 rejection slips over a period spanning spring of 2002 through late 2005.

So, have at it, and let me know if you enjoy them, or if you don’t, what you don’t like about them. I’m always looking for ways to improve.

And there will be a new generation of stories. I am working hard on a novella, “Graveyard Shift,” which I’ve mentioned here from time-to-time. After that, I’ve got a few more stories to get out of me in short order.

Domestic spying and Da Vinvi Code

I keep reading (and hearing) in the news that the government did nothing illegal when requesting phone records, and other sort of spying on Americans. That is probably true, and while I don’t have evidence for it, I’ll take that at face value. Because to me, that’s not the point. There are lots of things that are legal, but that does not make them ethical. Ethical people often do less than the maximum allowable, and more than minimally acceptable. It is, in my opinion, a breach of trust, and it is also disappointing that our representatives don’t have more faith in the American people.

I caught an “in depth” news segment on the Da Vinci Code this evening and there were several people interviewed, who angrily charged that the movie was spreading lies, innuendo, and completely ficticious nonsense. Some of these people were vitriolic! All I can say is: DUH!, People: IT’S FICTION! IT’S ALL MADE UP! What you think fiction is, except well-told lies? Should it make you think? Maybe. But fictions primary purpose, since mankind lived in caves and told stories around campfires is to ENTERTAIN. I, for one, am sick and tired of all of the complaining about the damage this movie is going to do to–who knows what? It’s fiction. Don’t go see the movie if you don’t like the theme. But please shut up already.