C.P. Boyko on “Rock and a Hard Place”

Psychology & Other Stories coverC.P. Boyko’s Psychology and Other Stories is full of deep character studies, like the sexually confused boarding school student of “Reaction-Formation” or the sociopathic escaped mental patient of “Eat the Rich and Shit the Poor.” Boyko settles into his stories, then slowly explores their edges—at novella length, he can afford to take his time. Earlier this year, he read a short story by another Canadian writer he found equally immersive, which he tells us about here.

I have become disenchanted with first-person narration, but “Rock and a Hard Place” by Trevor Clark (in his collection Escape and Other Stories) makes me believe in it again. The story is desultory without being maundering, the narrator candid without sounding pompous or declamatory, and the voice gritty and realistic without resort to a prose that is sloppy or illiterate. The story is packed with event—it is written as a sort of unabashed confession by a 29-year-old single mother trying to quit smoking crack—and at the end of thirty dense, harrowing pages, one feels as if one has heard her entire life story. That’s quite a feat. Here are two typical paragraphs:

I remember this lease-breaking party I had so I could move out of my apartment. The neighbours were used to me cranking up my stereo, but I think they were all afraid to complain because they’d heard me yelling and ranting so often. I really outdid myself that night. A little while ago I ran into this guy I know who told me he’d never forget it. I asked, “Were you there?”

“Was I there? I was in the middle of doing a hash toke on the stove with hot knives when all the power got cut off.” The superintendent wanted to close down the stereo so he blacked out the apartment. People were throwing beer bottles, glasses, and just about everything off the balcony. They still wouldn’t break my lease, though.

There are some other great stories in this collection, too.

9 December 2012 | selling shorts |

Read This: The Human Division

Artwork from The Dog King
John Harris for Tor

I’m excited to reveal one of my first big projects for 2013: I’ll be leading a weekly “readalong” at Tor.com for my friend John Scalzi’s serial, The Human Division, about a team of diplomats and their efforts to preserve humanity’s standing in the interstellar community—and to keep the people of Earth from abandoning ties to their colonies. I don’t want to say “serialized novel,” exactly, because it’s more like a string of self-contained episodes with an overarching narrative; as Scalzi says, “two novellas, five novelettes and six short stories,” which will be released and sold individually in digital format before being collected into a single volume.

The way the readalong will work is that each week, as a new episode comes out, I’ll have a post at Tor.com where I can ask Scalzi about some of the latest plot developments, or maybe explore some technical aspects of doing a story the way he’s doing it, and then I’ll segue into a broader discussion of the stories that will encourage other readers to chime in with their theories, enthusiasms, or pet peeves. Some weeks, I might not talk to Scalzi; I could talk to his editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, or to other SF authors I know are following the story avidly, or maybe to some television folks who have thoughts about the episodic format. There’s a lot of ways we could go with this!

One person I’m almost positive I’ll be talking to at some point, if I have my way, is John Harris, who will be doing all the cover art for each installment. The Human Division is set in a fictional universe that Scalzi began delineating with his debut novel, Old Man’s War; Harris did the cover for that, and for every book in the series that followed. I’ve been given the opportunity to share with you the artwork for the seventh episode, “The Dog King,” which really sets a fantastic, “big science fiction” tone. “I’m just tremendously excited to show off Harris’ work to everyone,” Scalzi emailed me earlier this week, when I asked him about the artwork:

The Dog King, cover

“Seriously, I did little kid squees at each of them. Harris had access to the stories as I was writing them, so the images are inspired by stories, with extra Harrisosity added (as it were). So, for example with ‘The Dog King,’ there’s a cave system in the story, so Harris conjured up these really amazing cave images that you’ll see on the cover. Harris excels at epic images, so most of them are in that vein, but there are a couple that are more intimate scenes as well.”

I haven’t seen any of The Human Division yet, although I did hear Scalzi read a brief section from the first episode this summer when he was on tour for Redshirts. So I know it’s likely to make me laugh out loud in some spots and cry in others, quite possibly within the same episode. I can’t wait to get hold of it, or to start talking about it with other Scalzi fans—and maybe, along the way, recruit a few new fans to the cause.

6 December 2012 | read this |

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