The Shape of Things That Came

I’ve been a huge William Gibson fan ever since I stumbled onto Neuromancer in high school, so I’m eagerly anticipating some free time in my schedule, probably around the Labor Day weekend, to read his latest novel, Spook Country, and in the meantime I’m glad to see his continued assimilation into the literary mainstream, like the Sunday NYT interview with Deborah Solomon, who wonders when “American life [became] stranger than science fiction.”

“If I had gone into a publisher in New York in 1981,” Gibson replies, “and told them I wanted to write a novel that is set in a world where the climate is out of whack and Mideast terrorists have hijacked airplanes and in response the U.S. has invaded the wrong country—it’s too much. Contemporary reality is like an overlapping set of dire science-fictional scenarios.”

Too much…unless maybe you were Gregory Benford, and you were offering those publishers the manuscript to the 1980 Nebula-winning novel Timescape, set in a 1998 where the world is threatened by catastrophic climate change and New York City was obliterated by nuclear terrorists. (I can’t remember if the U.S. retaliated by invading anybody, and if I still own a copy, it’s in a basement hundreds of miles from here.) Given my own trajectory through the science fiction canon, I must have read Timescape about a year or so before Neuromancer, and, as you can see, there are aspects of it that remain fresh in my memory, more than twenty years later. You should be able to track down a copy with a little hustle, and my memory tells me it would be an effort well spent.

19 August 2007 | read this |

Katherine Shonk’s Vision of “The Incredible Appearing Man”

I believe Katherine Shonk may be the first guest in our “Selling Shorts” series to select a short story by an author who hasn’t had his or her work collected—though, if I’m wrong about that, I’d welcome the correction! Instead, she recalls a story she read once, a decade ago, that has lingered in her memory ever since. Shonk’s own debut, The Red Passport, was first published in hardcover back in 2003; the trade paperback came out earlier this year.

katherine-shonk.jpgI have a terrible memory, so I don’t remember exactly where or when I read Deborah Galyan’s short story “The Incredible Appearing Man.” But since it was published in Best American Short Stories 1996, it’s likely that I read it in 1997, after buying the book that fall or getting it for Christmas. I remembered Galyan’s story fondly (if fuzzily) for the next ten years, and can only assume that it gave me an hour or two of pleasure in the midst of what I remember as a terrible year.

In 1997, I was back in Chicago after a year in Moscow. I had followed someone there, and now we were breaking up long distance, in tortured, unnecessary phone calls that were scheduled in advance (if I recall correctly), like dates. I went back to my old secretarial job and rented a studio apartment, where mushrooms grew in a corner of the bathtub. I took in Emily, the family cat—21 years old, deaf, and either incontinent or passive aggressive. I began pining obsessively for the kitten I had left behind in Moscow with my ex. My hometown was boring, everyone seemed spoiled. At a loss, I applied to grad school. By the end of summer, under circumstances I’d rather not get into, Emily was dead, Mishka the kitten had journeyed across the ocean, and she and I were moving to Austin.

None of this has anything to do with “The Incredible Appearing Man,” but in a round-about, not-very-literal way it might explain why the story has stayed with me. The story, I think, is about the stupidity and obstinacy of youth, of the chaos we invite upon ourselves, of the difficulty some of us have growing up. It is a story that would have comforted a young Midwestern woman who was feeling like a loser after her adventure abroad. And, ten years later, it reassures me that I am not the only person to feel like a late bloomer to adulthood.


18 August 2007 | selling shorts |

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