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Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories
Eric James Stone
Paper Golem, 288 pages

Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories
Eric James Stone
While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric James Stone took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Stone graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 he became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. He lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.

Eric James Stone Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

The first collection of Nebula-winner Eric James Stone, Rejiggering the Thingamajig and Other Stories, traces the development of this writer from humble beginnings -- chopping wood behind his log cabin in Kentucky -- to award-winning writer. All of the stories are entertaining; half will stick with you. While more than capable of evoking thought and strong emotions from the reader, Stone remains unafraid of the Golden-Age-style, short-short entertainments.

Much of his work has appeared in Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Nature, and Writers of the Future, which suggests some of the story structures employed. Stylistically speaking, he hearkens back to Isaac Asimov's clean style but occasionally evokes a simpler fantasy world by adopting a slightly loftier distance.

Two story types are his métier: the charming (also humorous) and the moving. The first type is exemplified by the popular "Rejiggering the Thingamajig" (ranked third in Analog's Reader Award and podcast by Escape Pod), "The Man Who Moved the Moon" and "Accounting for Dragons." The latter group is well represented by "Betrayer of Trees," "Premature Emergence," "The Ashes of His Fathers" and "That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made." If the reprint market were as lively today as it once was, these are the ones you'd see pop up with frequency.

In the three years Mariposa Hernandez has worked on Orbital Customs Station, she's never seen a freighter ship from so far out, not to mention one carrying only "The Ashes of His Fathers." The freighter pilot, Shear-jashub Cooper, was born for this duty: to ship the ashes of his founding fathers to Earth so that they may be resurrected in the new millennium as long as they are delivered in time to their home planet. However, his religious planet declared war on Earth 600 years ago, and Earth has not forgotten and will not allow the ashes transferred until the planet can prove the ashes are not hiding disguised weapons and that the war is actually over. Meanwhile, the window for delivering the ashes is closing quickly. Too quickly. Like "Betrayer of Trees," this tale is sweetly melancholic.

In "Premature Emergence," AIs fought humans in two wars, wiping out much of human civilization. On a routine mission through hyperspace, Jonah winds up 7500 light years further from Earth than he's supposed to be, in Eta Carinae, where the star is about to hypernova. There, an AI has been observing the event and is dying from too much damage. The human and AI attack each other, but neither can survive the coming hypernova. This one has the feel of a classic along the lines of Murray Leinster's "First Contact" and Barry Longyear's "Enemy Mine" -- a must read.

In the Nebula-winning "That Leviathan Whom Thou Hast Made," Harry Malan is the Mormon President on Sol Central Station. His congregation includes six humans and forty-six plasma swales. The attractive Dr. Juanita Merced becomes his antagonist when she protests his interference in swale culture by introducing Mormonism. However, Malan creates true tension between cultures when he introduces the concept of rape to a culture that has three different genders and very different morality. The concept of rape may have been chosen for its near-universal recognition as immoral among humans but not for this culture. Merced and Malan lock horns again, but they gradually work together after Malan is invited to see the swale god, the living and original progenitor of all swales, which decides that the swale causing all of this tension with an accusation of rape should be killed.

One of the best moments, illustrating how evenly Stone portrays his characters is when Merced teases Malan about not drinking coffee or tea:

  "She picked up her coffee mug and took a long sip. 'Mmm. That is so good.'

"I merely nodded at her.

" 'Okay,' she said. 'Actually, the coffee here is awful. I just drink it for the caffeine.' "


We have humor and tension, but not cruelty. Nicely done.

Regarding the minor controversy about "Leviathan," 1) the story is even-handed; 2) Stone writes about other religions as even-handedly; 3) can a baddie or hateful character of Stone's be found on stage?; and finally 4) Stone is a story-teller in the classic SF style. People continue to judge stories by criteria they were not written for. H.P. Lovecraft bashed Henry James for not adhering to his criteria (atmosphere and horror) although James clearly has the upper hand when it comes to characters and style. Both are esteemed today -- admittedly still by different kinds of readers, but does it make sense to judge them by the same standards?

Tyrannosaurus sapiens Buddhist, Bokeerk, must learn how to go about "Rejiggering the Thingamajig" in order to get the teleporter working and to escape a violent, carnivorous world -- food she can't eat as a Buddhist -- and to return to her eggs. Bokeerk must retrieve the Thingamajig on top of an extinct volcano with the companionship of an insane AI gun that gets too much of a kick from shooting things and a helpful janitorial nano-swarm, which warns of danger. As it turns out, the Thingamajig has no desire to be enslaved again by the AI in order to make the teleport network functional, a choice that puts in conflict Bokeerk's desire to be a Buddhist and her desire to return to her eggs.

The most charming and humorous may be the look at a future Tinsletown industry, "The Man Who Moved the Moon." Uploads and downloads between digital consciousness and living flesh transfer with ease. Is your movie star actor eating too many pastries? Download him into a new body. Humans have accomplished so much technologically, that when a director requires his total solar eclipse to occur above Paris, he tells his people to move the moon. So what feels like a quixotic quest sends Darryl off in search of scientists who can fulfill this requirement. I'm usually neither a fan of stories about Hollywood nor a fan poking fun at someone's expense, but Stone's charm and his love of characters pulls this one off, quite well.

Another charmer is the brief "Accounting for Dragons," which hops from a brochure-like story (one of those joke stories that are usually quickly forgotten) to a gentleman, a virgin, who is reading the brochure to the dragon in order save his own life. But then he takes it a step farther.

Janal, the "Betrayer of Trees," flees as far south as he can go, for he has betrayed the tree to which he was supposed to be bound as its treemage. Worse, he binds an evil emperor to that poor tree, so that the emperor could live longer; however, the binding trapped the emperor within the kingdom so that he could not pursue Janal south. Janal ages and becomes a stoneworker, and is asked to return to his home, near the the emperor, where he could be spotted by family, trees, or the emperor. One of them recognizes him, and an interesting trading of tales ensues. What this story loses in drama is made up for in spades with long-held shame, forgiveness, and the powerfully sweet melancholia it evokes.

Merlin, a robot, pops through a wormhole to explore another world although a young, English-speaking girl thinks it's "The Robot Sorcerer," come to help her. In this universe, he's achieved sentience, as if by magic. In fact, many things operate by scientific laws so different from ours that it appears to be magic. His laser frees the girl from a metal circlet, but in doing so she becomes a bomb, dangerous to the entire realm, which brings security down upon them. The robot sorcerer must do so again. This one has a lot of heart and charm, with an intriguing confluence of science and magic. This might also work well as a novel.

Stone adds a new wrinkle to the old sell-your-soul-to-the-devil trope by leaving out the devil and selling it piece by piece in "Salt of Judas." A new apothecary in town will grind up a piece of the soul and mix it with Osbert's paint, making the paint smile -- if he adds more, it will talk. Unfortunately, the painting of his love brought a higher price than he thought, forcing him to seek a way to undo all of this.

The "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars" was a famous reporter who infamously reported a non-existent technology, which compelled him to write for a tabloid journal. However, he was randomly drawn to board a vessel headed to an alien planet, where the aliens have already met humans before. The scientists on board argue who it is. The choice of characters is spot on; the narrator's characterization is Stone's best; the theme beautifully executed; but the first visitor to the planet is unfortunate as it pricked the narrative's ballooning power and deflated the story. The fault may lie in this reader because it'd be difficult to substitute any other person without causing a different kind of problem. Otherwise, this is an admirable tale.

"Like Diamond Tears from Emerald Eyes" is high-fantasy dynamic-duo entertainment: One is the brains and the sword-wielder; the other oafish fellow who dispels magic. A young bride hires them to retrieve a special box from the castle of a dead wizard. She will not reveal what's in the box, which becomes problematic by the end. Nonetheless, it gives the reader something to think about.

Reprinted in David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF, "Attitude Adjustment" treats how -- as a small hole breaches the ship's hull -- Danica deals with both the ship and rich brats vacationing on the moon. The computers are down; and the ship will crash-land in a crater within forty-seven minutes. They shoot down multiple ideas until they come up with one that might work. This might be fun to teach this story in a physics classroom.

A son is forced to kill his presumed traitorous father to prevent a "Taint of Treason"; however, the son rethinks his position.

Kenneth Granley is now all uploaded "In Memory." After a phone call from a friend who attended his mother's funeral, Kenneth discovers that many of his memories have been sealed away. It turns out for good reason -- something his flesh-and-blood self did after being uploaded.

"The Final Element" is a locked-room mystery of the SF variety. Here, two experts cannot differentiate between an original Stradivarius violin and a nano-manufactured one. They conduct atomic and auditory tests. Both pass. A third method is devised. Some nuance occurs at the end when the protagonist contemplates maintaining economy or spreading beauty.

Some entertainments: A jealous poltergeist is "Waiting for Raymond." A new writer uses a computer to write "The Greatest Science-Fiction Story Ever Written" although there's a hitch. A time-traveling mother reassuringly lullabies her baby girl in "Buy You a Mockingbird" after ripping a hole in the time continuum, following the lyrics in a science-fictional manner. A politician gets a digestive system "Upgrade" in order to get his way. Archie, a Mormon, marries Misty, a demon, in "Loophole"; when Archie's introduced to her dad, the dad's none too happy.

If you're a reader that believes that fiction is meant solely for entertainment, you should find a treasure trove. If you want heart or thought mixed liberally with your entertainment, a number of these should satisfy. One of the more interesting aspects of Stone's work -- even when the point of the story appears only to entertain -- is his ability to squeeze a little more out from his endings.

A few more stories available on Amazon, but not in the collection, are discussed below.

"An Early Ford Mustang" opens with Brad's always arriving late. His uncle, who aged 58 but looked 78, donated his cursed Ford Mustang to Brad before he died. No matter how late Brad starts, the vehicle always brings him on time, but that changes when his girlfriend is dying in the hospital and he learns the true cost of owning the vehicle.

A fairy-tale-telling narrator relates how "Bird-Dropping and Sunday" came to live in the glass shoe of the giant who carries the sun around the world. Sunday was one of seven children named after the days of the week; and Bird-Dropping, a very clean boy, was named after he was dropped from an eagle flying him away. Of all the children, only Sunday was kind to Bird-Dropping, so when she is kidnapped by the forty thieves, he comes to the rescue. The highlight here is how the narrator piques your interest but whimsically decides whether he'll actually tell it. The conceit, unfortunately, was not used for larger effect.

Copyright © 2012 Trent Walters

Trent Walters teaches science; lives in Honduras; edited poetry at Abyss & Apex; blogs science, SF, education, and literature, etc. at APB; co-instigated Mundane SF (with Geoff Ryman and Julian Todd) culminating in an issue for Interzone; studied SF writing with dozens of major writers and and editors in the field; and has published works in Daily Cabal, Electric Velocipede, Fantasy, Hadley Rille anthologies, LCRW, among others.

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