Preview of Nick Gevers's Decad
Shortly after the appearance on Locus Online of Nick Gevers's controversial essay, "The Best SF and Fantasy Writers: A Contemporary Top Ten", Nick was approached by a publisher with an extraordinary proposal. Could Nick, upon relatively short notice, assemble an anthology featuring original stories by the writers he had selected? If so, this landmark book to be titled simply Decad would be rushed to market for the Winter 2002 season, to capitalize on the furor created by the article, perhaps even to be ready for Holiday shopping. Moreover, it would receive massive publicity from the publisher a mainstream firm of impressive commercial clout, who do not want their identity divulged at the moment as well as being issued in a spoken-word edition (with the entire cast of The Lord of the Rings being mentioned as potential voicers!).
Nick, of course, could hardly refuse here was proof that Science Fiction had finally come of age, and was receiving long-overdue attention from the powers that be but he faced a daunting challenge: persuading ten busy writers to come up with a new story apiece in time.
Not only did Nick succeed, but both he and his publisher have graciously permitted brief excerpts from this milestone anthology to appear in the venue that inspired it albeit thinly disguised for which Locus Online extends its thanks.
We will post further information about this book just as soon as it appears.
Mark R. Kelly
Introduction to Decad:
Thank god for the Internet!
"When We Were Ten"
This one refrain ran through my head time and time again during the frantic process of trying to cajole stories from the ten illustrious authors involved, edit and revise them, and coordinate their delivery to the publisher, along with this introduction. Just a few years ago, such an instant book as this would have been deemed impossible. Yet today, thanks to the miracle of technology a technology we in the SF field helped to birth with our visionary dreams voila!
And of course, without the Internet, how could a simple, top-of-the-head, scribbled-on-a-shirtsleeve-cuff list like mine ever have inspired such controversy, or attracted the attentions of any publisher at all, much less such a famous house as ******?
Of course, without the hard work and eager response of all of the writers involved, this majestic Phoenix would not have flown. It's impossible to offer enough thanks to all who contributed, but let me just offer props to Lucius Shepard for "extraordinary measures" (no problem with Fed-Ex's silly "rules" about what can and can't be shipped on this end, Lucius!), to Gene Wolfe for that whack upside my head with his cane, and of course to Paul Di Filippo, whose support and enthusiasm should be evident to all who read this.
You hold in your hands a unique volume, a snapshot if you will of the best and the brightest our field has to offer at this particular moment in time. But if sales merit, this book will not stand alone for long, since we are considering compiling up to nine more books, extending the list to include all those fine writers who unfortunately did not make the Top Ten.
Who will be the one-hundredth best writer in the field?
If you're like me, you can hardly wait to find out!
(Note: to protect author confidentiality, the following excerpts, by authors from Nick Gevers's Top 10, are presented without attribution. We trust that perceptive, sympathetic readers will draw the appropriate conclusions. If any uncertainty about actual authorship remains, please see the note at the bottom of this page.)
The Heart's Drear Tonnage
Like an insane lover, the kudzu has wreathed itself around the telephone pole in gross draperies of viridian plushness, climbing high to grapple the catenaried wires in a choking embrace. Standing at the base of this obscene tryst, Floyd Minouskine tilts back his hard hat and looks upward. The harsh Mississippi sunlight slashs like rusty blades across his eyes, digging jagged barbs into his brain, and Minouskine regrets the excess of oxycontin he snorted the day before. But a lineman's life is a hard one, hard as the climbing spikes that rattle at Minouskine's waist (as if the revived Christ were forced to perpetually carry the very nails once hammered into his flesh), and only the promise of more drugs tonight carries any solace or salvation, however temporary.
But standing here all day will not suffice, and, whistling an old Glen Campbell tune, Minouskine begins his fateful ascent....
It seemed impossible to say now, at this late date, just when the world's biggest rodent had become a rodent as big as the world. But indeed, at some point in the continuum of probabilities and likelihoods which might strain even the imagination of a professional lapidary whimsicalist, this metaphorical conceit had indeed been actualized.
Now, of course, long habitation of Mother Capybara had rendered our situation merely mundane. Like any incredibility relentlessly recomplicated, even this affront failed any longer to razzle-dazzle us.
Living around the Third Teat as we did, our small settlement had quickly become a focus of commerce, as the caravans of hairshirt weavers and toothknife dealers continually flowed in and out to exchange their humble wares for cartons of our fine milk: plain, strawberry and chocolate, and you don't even want to know where the latter two flavors came from....
Pissing in the Snow
Wa'al, honeychile, set yo'self right down here by Mawmaw's knee and I'll tell you up a story rich as fatback about the time the Devil's own Self came to our poor little town of Sportsbra, Tennessee. It all began during the big snow of 1999. Ya see, we ain't never had sech a snow here in the Deep South like that before, just gallopin' piles 'n' piles of Yankee white flakes. Turned out 'twas all a promotion for the local radio station, what had brung down some snow-makin' machinery from Aspen, where them Hollywood types like to hang out. But the Devil, ya see, didn't know that, since he didn't happen to listen to that pertickler MOR station, being more of a heavy-metal dude hisself, and so he showed up fumin' and fussin' on the very doorstep of Shoat's Roadhouse, concerned that all us sinners was a-gonna get some relief from the natural-born, skull-boilin' Tennessee heat that addles our brains and makes us'all talk like this....
The Stochastically Godelized Fashionista
Amped-up mitochondria and a Super-SquishyTM amygdala obviated REM's nightly grapples, so the photo shoot had now gone on for seventy-two continuous hours.
Under the massed lenses of floating telemediated cameras, Frenzy Xerox earned her outrageous salary, roughly equivalent to the entire pre-Croggle GNP of Uzbekistan, before that ex-Soviet, never-fully-capitalized satrapy had been assimilated into the Greater Rotarian Co-Prosperity Tetrahedron. Posturing her langorous hyperattenuated limbs in various iconic asanas of formalized First World indifference to the poverty and lack of really nice shoes found in the struggling urbiomes scattered across the globe (now really only half a globe, after the invasion by the Gadarene Swine and their giant slicing machines), Frenzy conveyed a supreme unconcernedness, a mindless exaltation of her own augmented flesh, in service now to the necessary voyeurism that sustained the remnants of humanity.
But beneath her supermodel cool, Frenzy's Oxford-trained brain (running Palm Pilot's latest operating system atop a Unix-Bayer wetware foundation with inbuilt aspirin trickle) was busy factoring ten simultaneous sets of Null-SAT equations, in search of the one solution that would allow her to perfect her Valence Destabilizer and strike back against the Swine or, barring that, at least score tickets to the sold-out concert by Lourdes Ciccone that night....
When the man whom later generations would crown as the supreme creator across all of humanity's long history was born, he was allotted by his destiny and karma with the capacity to produce precisely seventy-two stories. No more, no less. Just one for every year of his productive adult life. (For he lived to the advanced old age of 102.)
At first, when the man realized he had within him sufficient sustenance and resources to produce but a single story each year of his career, he rebelled, and cursed the fates. What injustice! What indignity! Every story earned him riches, acclaim and awards. Yet he was limited to only one per annum. What heights could he not scale, if he could but increase his productivity? To say nothing of writing a novel!
And among his readers, too, sadness reigned. How they longed for additional treasures from their beloved author.
But after some while, both writer and fans reconciled themselves to this situation.
And then came the year with two stories....
The Fairy Prince's Bad Day
Price Waterhouse ambled through the foggy marsh surrounding his cottage in the Shuttlecock region of England, hard by the village of Sumphole. Lugubrious nightingales serenaded him from hoary branches, while the weepy-eyed sun strove in vain to disperse the mists that wreathed Waterhouse and his world, isolating him from all of his fellows.
If only his life had eventuated differently, he would still retain his post of Minister of Knitting under the post-Blair government of Lord Archer. But the scandal, the media swarm, Waterhouse's appearance in a bikini as Page Three Girl These were tragic incidents which no amount of moping could overcome.
And his career as public servant had begun so well. His handling of the relief effort for the sufferers of the Dropsy Plague in the Sudan had earned him public accolades equal to the later brickbats. And all those cardigans had looked so stylish on the emaciated tribesmen.
Waterhouse paused by a hummock or was it a hillock? and recalled his mother's voice, reading to him an Andrew Lang story about a Fairy Prince who had been exiled from the Fairy Court, for failing to adhere to Fairy Protocols. Weeping, Waterhouse stumbled onward, until his foot encountered a ill-placed root....
A Loquacious Exegesis of the Chronicles of Humblegrim
As a historian, Pember Crumblebuns flourished an exactitude of punctilio which contributed in no small manner to his being frequently misunderstood. Perhaps in the forty-third century prior to Crumblebuns's reign as Chief Misnomerist of the amberine, gristful city of Humblegrim, when such savants as Dingus Hackberry and Veale Piecrimper filled with their impenetrable tomes the scholarly libraries of the sprawling, specter-haunted city of Humblegrim, hard by the Armorall Ocean, bisected by the Magwheel River, in sight of the Turtlewax Mountains ("Vistas for all predelictions!" boasted the tourist brochures of the city) perhaps in this dim former age men of similar fusty peccavity had existed. But in his own day, Crumblebuns was irreproachable for his contrarian incertitude.
One day, during the Festival of the Weary Lexicographer, Crumblebuns sat in his otiose study with its view of the Plaza of Tag Sales, contemplating a tattered manuscript fetched for him at no small cost from the ruins of the Temple of Kreplach. Writ in the cursive font of the Lesser Walmart's Touters, the scrap of text seemed to be praising the virtues of certain small appliances no longer manufactured in this decadent age. Now, if only Crumblebuns could decipher this one key cryptic word, "xbox"....
The Old Woman's Lament
In an undistinguished village named Wispelway on the island of Gravelstone lived an old woman whom her fellow villagers knew only as Nurse Selfless. Versed in simples, yarbs and psychomimetic mushrooms, Nurse Selfless, when she was not abroad gathering her botanicals, could oft be seen trundling her trundle and other bundles from house to house, dispensing her healing potions and elixers to ailing townsfolk, at reasonable rates. A plump chicken, several yards of the finest Rackjobber silk, the pot of coins buried in the backyard, the young wife's firstborn these were the minor fees exacted by the beneficent Nurse, and she was much beloved, especially by those seeking to commune with the Mother Mushroom.
One day, whilst strolling the strand in search of cockles and mussels and the wrack of the ships lured onto the reefs by her witchfires, Nurse Selfless came upon a sight that made her pause and gasp. A man lay upon the sands, his clothes in tatters, unmoving, with arms outflung like one who grasps after a coin that has fallen down a sewer grating.
Hastening to the motionless yet still breathing form, Nurse Selfless quickly turned the pockets of his trews inside out. The man regained awareness enough to mumble some small plea. But finding naught in his pockets, Nurse Selfless swore vividly, gave him a small pettish kick, and moved on....
Milton Marmoset was late for work. And now he would catch hell for sure. The last time Milton had failed to clock in on time for his shift as sausage-slicer at Pepperdine's Pizzaria, his boss, Preston Pepperdine, had threatened to put him on the delivery route out to Tumbletown as punishment. Six drivers had been lost in just the last week on the Tumbletown route. And not to casual violence or armed robbery, either. No, the idling cars and empty uniforms of each driver had been found intact and untouched outside the very same house, 1296 Alien Masquerade Lane. The police were baffled, since 1296 Alien Masquerade Lane was the residence of an innocent old African-American widow named Mrs. N. Saysha Belle Broodmother. Milton himself suspected that the drivers had simply gone crazy from Pepperdine's insistence that they recite the Pepperdine Pizzaria jingle when delivering each pie. Upon losing their wits, they had subsequently run naked through the streets, heading for Bora Bora or some other idyllic refuge from the crass commercialism of modern life.
Pushing open the door of his place of employment, Milton confronted the glaring visage of his boss, and knew he would soon get a chance to learn firsthand what had happened to his coworkers. Gritting his teeth, Milton began mentally rehearsing the requisite company jingle: "Pepperdine pies pervade the skies/Galactic monsters have gotten wise/They've crossed the lightyears to our humble globe/To make our drivers roughly disrobe/In search of the secret only Milton could guess/It's his funky sweat that gives the sausages zest..."
Oobleck for the Obelist
So it chanced on that morning that when I first thrust my private member out the window to make water upon the grass, I turned my eyes to the skies and saw the green rain begin. A meteorological phenomenon hitherto unknown to us who in recent generations had settled this strange world, a world of megrims and clandestini, hurkles and gnurrs, lawyer-birds and septugenarians. Alarmed, yet queerly serene, as I was under most circumstances, I hastily entrousered my serpentium and turned to my recumbent wife upon our narrow cot.
But my wife no longer lay there. In her place was a bird, a dark bird, with glossy plumage and oracular mien. Then the bird transformed into a mer-creature, an aquaeous siren of the deeps. Then the oceanic bride changed into a ghost, a portentously talkative ghost of one of the natives we human colonists had slaughtered if indeed such enigmatic yet highly symbolical lifeforms had ever existed or if we weren't the natives ourselves.
My wife suddenly reappeared, and I realized that she had been simply turning the pages of a book, and I, all catafluxed and addlegostered, had mistaken the images on those selfsame pages for actual personages and creatures. Yet who was to say whether image or flesh presented a more eternal presence in the eyes of the One who ruled over us, the great Pornocrates?
Setting down her book upon the coverlet, my wife said to me, "And who shall make breakfast this morning of the green rain?"
And I answered her thus, "Let us employ this coin I have carried purposelessly but unswervingly for years ever since we left the Place of Vague Description, and flip for it...."
Note: the above is a parody, by Paul Di Filippo. Locus Online apologizes for any confusion that this piece might cause to readers or authors; Locus Online, Paul Di Filippo, and Nick Gevers, maintain the highest respect and regard for these authors, or we would certainly not have bothered.