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Interview: Steven Utley on "The 400-Million-Year Itch"

Steven Utley–author of "The 400-Million-Year Itch," which appears in our April 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is about the quest for happiness. "But, then, all stories are," Utley said. "Specifically, it’s about a character who finds herself wondering how she has come to be in a particular place, surrounded by other characters who claim to know why they’re there. Doesn’t sound much like science fiction, does it?"

The story is one of Utley’s "Silurian Tales," a series of time travel stories in which scientists explore the Silurian era. "Dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals have fascinated me ever since childhood," Utley said. "My early ambition was to grow up to become a paleontologist like Roy Chapman Andrews, whose books All About Dinosaurs and All About Strange Beasts of the Past I loved. Probably I became a science-fictioneer just so I could write about prehistoric animals — it’s easier work than actually digging up their fossils."

Many years ago in Austin, Texas, a plesiosaur skeleton turned up in a creek bed bisecting a neighborhood, and the local paleontologists, including Utley’s friend Sally Shelton, descended on the site. "It was a minor media sensation, and to discourage vandals members of the excavation team camped out with lawn chairs and blankets near the site each night," Utley said. "This was during the dead of winter, so one cold-as-hell evening I took Sally and her companion some brandy and sat and talked with them for a while. And as I left to return home to my nice warm bed and nice warm wife, I thought, So this is paleontology — work like a pit pony all day, freeze under a bridge at night!"

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Free Fiction Friday: Benjamin Rosenbaum

Benjamin Rosenbaum’s first published work of fiction was “The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale,” which appeared in the pages of F&SF back in our July 2001 issue. Since then, he’s published a number of fine tales, several of which have been nominated for the field’s major awards, including the Hugo Award (twice), the Nebula Award, and the World Fantasy Award. Most of said stories will be gathered together into his first short fiction collection, The Ant King and Other Stories, which is forthcoming in August from Small Beer Press.

In addition to the award nominations previously mentioned, Ben has also twice been a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Once for his 2006 story “The House Beyond Your Sky” and once for this story, “Start the Clock,” from our August 2004 issue, which you can read in its entirety on Ben’s website.

[Edit: Ben’s F&SF debut, “The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale” is now available as a podcast from PodCastle.]

Want to be a murder victim in a novel?

Authors for Autism Research is currently hosting a bunch of auctions for the right to have a character named after you in upcoming novels by James Sallis, Elizabeth Moon, and a bunch of other writers. Check it out here:

I think I’m going to bid on one of Jodi Picoult’s novels myself—I know she’ll enjoy finding a way to put me in her novel.

Interview: Tim Sullivan on "The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D"

Tim Sullivan–author of "The Nocturnal Adventure of Dr. O and Mr. D," which appears in our April 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story came to him when he woke up one morning with the idea of two of his personal heroes meeting in some nether world.  "I jotted it down on a pad I keep under the lamp on the night stand and started writing the story that same day, after a long dry spell," Sullivan said.

In the story, a writer, Mr. D, is staying at a musician’s house; one foggy night, the musician, Dr. O, becomes restive and the two men go for a walk.  "A cat named Krishna goes with them," Sullivan said. "They visit a neighbor, an amateur artist named Doris. The three have drinks and share a few laughs, but eventually the mood becomes serious, and they talk about their most deeply held beliefs.  This darker conversational turn culminates with the  musician bluntly stating that they’re all dead.  The writer’s not so sure, and thinks that they may be living in an alternate reality that can be explained by science, but Dr. O insists that he remembers dying.  Their host remembers her death as well.  She becomes upset, and the musician apologizes to her.  After comforting Doris, the two men leave the house, and follow Krishna deeper into the fog rather than returning to the musician’s house."

Mr. D. is a deceased science fiction writer who has grown remarkably famous since he’s been living in this other reality, where he can’t reap any material benefits from his fame.  "While he’s aware of this, he’s indifferent to the exploitation of his reputation," Sullivan said. "He’s more interested in ideas than anything else—in getting at the truth of things, no matter how complex."

Dr. O, meanwhile, is a famous rock star who was murdered at the age of forty.  "The identities of the real people these two characters are based on will come as a surprise to no one," Sullivan said. "Doris is like a lot of us, trying to get through things in a creative way, even if we don’t set the world on fire with our projects."

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F&SF’s Hugo Nominees Now Online

Late last week, I posted about F&SF’s stories that have made this year’s Hugo ballot. Three out of four were already on our website because they’re also Nebula nominees. Now the fourth–"Finisterra" by David Moles–is available as well. Here’s a handy list with links:

Novella: "Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard (July 2007), "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe (April 2007)

Novelette: "The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate" by Ted Chiang (Sept. 2007); "Finisterra" by David Moles (Dec. 2007)

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