Tangent Online recently reviewed the June 2011 Analog, which included my story, “Take One For the Road”. In general, the reviewer had some nice things to say about my story:
…this was a really nice story. It took several of the basic tropes of science fiction – rockets and other worlds – and used it to tell a very human story. The author also employs a fantastic metaphor for how hard it is to achieve orbit around Mercury. I’ll leave that for you to discover. You’ll thank me for pointing it out and really thank Rubin for coming up with it.
They pointed out what they felt was a logical flaw in the story as well–something that I wondered about at the time I wrote the story, but that didn’t seem to bother my beta readers. He also mentions a few typos that crept into the story. I’m sure they are there, but considering how many times I went over the manuscript, to say nothing of the fine Analog editors, I don’t know how we miss them. In any case, it is some good feedback and overall, a nice review.
I happened across a review of the June 2011 Analog over at SFRevu, which contains my story, “Take One For the Road”. The reviewer thought the issue was “a pretty good one” and had this to say about my story:
Next up is “Take One for the Road” by Jamie Todd Rubin. Rick has a next-door neighbor named Simon. He had been part of an expedition that had walked on the surface of Mercury before Rick had been born. One of the four crew members had died and so had the manned space program. Simon is dying and he decides to tell Rick what happened. In a story like this, the payoff has to be pretty good and Rubin manages to pull it off for a well-written conclusion.
It’s always nice to see a positive review like this. After all, you hope when you write the stories that readers will enjoy reading them as much as you enjoy writing them.
I have mentioned countless times how much I admire and look up to Isaac Asimov. And while I know he had his faults (don’t we all) I have to credit him with teaching me some important things about story-telling, despite the fact that I never got to meet him in person. In fact, an element of my most recent story, “Take One For the Road” (Analog, 6/11) owes a debt to the lessons the Good Doctor taught me.
In the first volume of his autobiography, Isaac Asimov discusses one of this most famous stories, “Nightfall”. During the course of this discussion, he speculates as to why so many people thought it to be one of the best science fiction stories of all time. (He doesn’t agree with this assessment.) One of the thing he points out is that pacing of the story. He points out, quite correctly, that there is a breakneck pace to the story in part because he never allows a scene to come to its natural conclusion. It is always interrupted by some other event which in turn builds upon the tension in the story.
I deliberately tried to do this in “Take One For the Road”. For those who have read the story, the most obvious attempt at this is the scene in which Simon is describing the mission to Mercury, and the scene is interrupted with him becoming violently ill. I was attempting to build up tension by ending a scene before it could come to its natural conclusion, with the hope of pulling the reader along for the ride. I don’t know how successful I was with this, but from the comments I have received from those who have read the story, the most common compliment is in the pacing of the story and that tells me I had some measure of success in my attempt.
The lesson here, I think, is that you can learn from the advice and experience of those who came before you. There are numerous places in Asimov’s autobiographies where he talks about the writing advice he’d been given over the years. In fact, he says that part of the reason he wrote the books was to provide a kind of how-to guide for would-be writers. The pacing in my own story certainly owes a debt to the advice the Good Doctor provides, and which I managed to interpret and internalize and especially on which I was able to execute. But the critical point, I think, was in understanding how pacing in a story matters, and having a good example to follow. “Nightfall” may not be the greatest science fiction story ever told, but it is certainly an exceptional one. And I was able to learn from it.
So what examples have you been able to learn from in your own writing?
For those of you who couldn’t find the June Analog in on the news stand, or were waiting for the Kindle version, the wait is over. The June 2011 Analog with my story, “Take One for the Road” is now available on Kindle. If you want just the June issue, be sure to click the button in the “Buy Current Issue” section. (The top button is for subscribing to the magazine–not a bad idea if you like what you see.)
It has been strangely surreal seeing my story, “Take One for the Road” appear in Analog and it has been gratifying to hear from a number of people who liked the story. Even more fascinating are the things that people find in the story that I never knew were there myself. This really has been a dream come true.
When I sold my first story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer” to InterGalactic Medicine Show, Edmund Schubert asked for a short essay on the origins of the story. He does this for every story that appears in that magazine and I think it is a good idea, if only because I am always fascinated by the origins of stories. If that is not your thing, if you simply like to read the story and enjoy it for what it is, by all means, skip this post. But if you are interested in the origins behind this story, read on.
I can still remember that January day when I was a junior in college and decided that I was going to try to be a science fiction writer. I sat down and wrote a story in about 2 hours and it was uniformly awful, but I studied the guidelines for the various magazines and sent it off. I think it was two months later that I received my first rejection slip. It took another 14 years and some 100 additional rejection slips before I sold my first story to Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. Then another two years or so and a lot more rejections before selling a story to Apex Magazine. And then, back in September, I sold “Take One For the Road” to Analog.
Analog has been around for more than 80 years. Before 1960, it was called Astounding Science Fiction. It has been the gold standard for science fiction since the Golden Age and while I day dreamed about having a story of mine appear in Analog (and what daydreams they were!), I kind of thought it would never happen. Like winning the lottery. But it did, and here I am holding the June issue containing my story:
Among the various items in the mail today was the May 2011 issue of Analog. It’s always fun to see Analog or Asimov’s in the mail (despite the fact that I also subscribe to them on the Kindle). But this time it was particularly exciting because my story, “Take One For the Road” is scheduled to appear in the June 2011 issue–which means I should find it in my mailbox in about one month–very close to my Jack Benny birthday.
It still seems surreal to me that I sold a story to Analog–perhaps even more so now that I’ve been reading all those old issues of Astounding. What a history! What talent grew up in those pages! And in 30 days or so, one of my stories will be there too. Wow!
And if you think this post is a bit giddy, just think how I’ll be 30 days from now. Incidentally, it looks like there will also be stories by Edward Lerner and David D. Levine–which makes me nervous. Those guys are really good writers!