Holy cow, has it really been this long since I last posted here? Here are a couple of items to bring the news about my writing more or less up to date:
Last July my story “Good Deaths” appeared in the anthology Zombies: Shambling through the Ages. ”Good Deaths” is two parts Japanese ghost story and one part zombie tale, and it explains a real life historical event — in the late 1500′s an assassination attempt was made on the life of warlord Oda Nobunaga, and when the assassin was caught, Nobunaga ordered an extraordinarily slow and gruesome method of execution that makes perfect sense in a zombie collection. I had a lot of fun applying the Japan trivia I’ve been accumulating over the years to this tale.
Prime Books recently contacted me for permission to reprint my squidpunk far-future SF story “The Muse of Empires Lost” in Space Opera, edited by Rich Horton. It’s coming out in April and it looks like it will be a great anthology.
This is because I just made my final qualifying professional sale, and it’s to a great market that I’ve wanted to be involved with since I first started writing. The story is “Subduction,” and it involves plate tectonics and the Pacific Northwest and some big elemental beasts, and draws on all sorts of things I’ve picked up during my training to be a tour guide at the American Museum of Natural History. The editor has asked me to keep the details quiet for the time being so they can handle the buzz properly, but it will be published this summer and I’ll be able to discuss it publicly some time before then. And they were remarkably good about getting me paid right away.
Two years ago I posted this anecdote about the stuffed chimpanzee in this photo. To recap, during the 1930′s, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History adopted the chimp on a trip to Africa, named her Meshie, and attempted to raise her as part of his human family for years, treating her like (or better than) one of his own children. The experiment went badly for everyone involved — the children were terrified of the chimp; Meshie was sent to a zoo; and she eventually ended up as a museum exhibit.
I posted that story just because I thought it was fascinating, and because it might make an interesting blog entry. However, I keep underestimating the Web’s ability to connect people. I just got an email from Harry Raven, the son who had had to share his home with Meshie, now in his mid-80s. He wrote:
I came upon your site whilst (love that word) Googling for directions to the Meshie exhibit at the AMNH. … [A friend] just read Joyce Wadler’s NY Times story and is eager to see my father’s pet. I was afraid of my father, and I came to be afraid of Meshie as she matured. Working with Joyce to help create her story brought closure for me of a very troubling four years in our family history.
Ah, the Internet. Never know where it will take you.
Second: In his Locus “Short Fiction Survey and Recommended Reading,” Rich Horton writes:
I really liked a number of short stories this year. One particular favorite is “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” by Paul M. Berger, from Fantasy, a striking tale of an elf and his human wife, some time after the elves have subjugated humanity, as they visit a site from the war.
(I’ve been floored by the way Horton has championed this story since Fantasy bought it; he chose it for his year’s best collection, and I’m sure it was his support that got it onto the list.)
Third: Rachel Swirsky included it in her own short story recommendations for the year, calling it a “well-plotted fantasy with an intriguing structural premise.”
All of which is beginning to have me thinking that the story stands a decent chance in the Best Fantasy Magazine Story of 2010 contest. If you can spare a minute, please please go there and vote.
I think it’s worth some attention. When it was published, Rich Horton wrote in Locus, “I was impressed last year by Paul M. Berger’s Interzone piece ‘Home Again’. Now he contributes a brilliant story to Fantasy, one of the stories of the year so far, ‘Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of her Glory’…” Horton is also including it in his Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2011.
(In his blog this month, Horton called it, “in my opinion of the very top stories of the year” — as long as the missing word is something along the lines of “one,” it works out to be an absurdly flattering compliment.)
The British Science Fiction Association discussed the story as part of their on-line Short Story Club in November, and the comments were strongly mixed, which in that type of forum, is largely a good thing.
It’s 5,500 words, which puts it in the Short Story category. Please keep it in mind when you’re making your picks for the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy awards!
Lois Tilton at Locus Online was lukewarm regarding my “Stereogram” piece, but when my story “Small Burdens” came out in Strange Horizons back in March, she gave it a “Recommended.” The other day, in her year-end wrap-up, she called it one of her three favorite Strange Horizons stories of the year:
Strange Horizons, now on its second decade, is one of the oldest surviving ezines. My picks are the dystopian “The Bright and Shining Parasites of Guiyu” by Grady Hendrix, “Small Burdens” by Paul M Berger, and “The Night Train” by Lavie Tidhar.
In this post I explained a bit about where the story came from.
This isn’t the type of thing I usually put up on this site, but someone may find it useful one day, and it should be on the internet somewhere.
A friend is studying to be an opera singer, and for a performance project she was assigned an old, traditional Japanese folk song called a min’yo (民謡). She was given hand-written sheet music that included only the syllables she was expected to sing, without the meaning, and she asked me to take a crack at translating it. I said Sure, thinking that if the song was so famous I would just have to Google it.
No such luck. The song is called “Kuroda Bushi” (黒田節), and it’s popular for shamisen and shakuhachi and old-school karaoke, but there was so little out there about it in English that I ended up doing the translation from scratch. I translated all four verses in the version my friend gave me, but I came across many more. The first two verses appear to be standard in every version, but after that it looks like people mix and match about a half-dozen others, and even then they don’t always agree on the details of the lyrics.
“Kuroda Bushi” means “Song of Kuroda,” but if you write “bushi” like this武士 instead of 節, it means “samurai.” (The wordplay is intentional.) The Kuroda clan supported the shogun in the wars to unify Japan in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s, and they were given northern Kyushu as their fiefdom. The song is based on a much older piece of court music called “Etenraku,” which was popular during the Heian Period (794-1185).
I found this explanation of the first two verses here, on the International Shakuhachi Society’s website:
Verse 1 commemorates a supposed event of 1590. The shogun Hideyoshi had just presented a famed spear to his general Masanori. The Kuroda warrior Mori Tahei then arrived with a message for Masanori, who insisted that Tahei join him in a celebratory drink. Forbidden to drink “on duty”, he refused; Masanori insisted, and finally offered him a gift of his choice if he would drink. Tahei drank — and claimed the spear!
(The spear is real, and it is kept in the Fukuoka City Museum. That’s a picture of it up at the top.)
Verse 2 reaches back to the 12th century: the emperor’s concubine had, through court intrigue, been banished to a hidden hut in the woods. The monarch sent a servant to find her. From a distance, he heard her playing on her koto zither a tune that confirmed she still loved her man.
So these two verses are taken from unrelated stories, and in fact none of the other verses I’ve seen appear to be connected either (if anyone out there can shed any light on this, please let me know).
Here is my translation of the four verses my friend will be singing. Since nothing ever disappears from the internet, maybe someday someone will be Googling around looking for a translation and this will give them a helpful head start:
Kuroda-Bushi — Song of Kuroda
酒は飲め飲め 飲むならば 日ノ本一のこの槍を 飲み取るほどに飲むならば これぞ真の黒田武士
Sake wa nome, nome! Nomu naraba, hi no moto ichi no kono yari o, nomi toru hodo ni nomu naraba, kore zo makoto no Kuroda bushi!
Drink! Drink this sake! If you drink, this, the finest spear in all of the Land of the Rising Sun will be yours! Drink enough to show you are a true Kuroda warrior!
峰の嵐か松風か 訪ねる人の琴の音か 駒ひき止めて立ち寄れば 爪音高き想夫恋
Mine no arashi ka? Matsu kaze ka? Tazuneru hito no koto no ne ka?
Koma hiki tomete tachi yoreba, tsuma oto takaki — Soh fu ren.
Is that the sound of a storm up in the peaks? Or is it the wind in the pines? Or could it be music from the koto of the one I seek?
He reined in his horse and paused, and heard the clear sound of her instrument expressing her yearning for her lord.
春のやよいのあけぼのに 四方の山べを見わたせば 花の盛りも はくの かからぬ峰こそ なかりけれ
Haru no yayoi no akebono ni yomo no yamabe o miwataseba, hana no sakari mo, haku no kakaranu mine koso nakarikere.
In the spring, in the third month, at dawn, he could see that all around him the mountainsides were covered with blooming flowers, but there were no peaks that were untouched by snow clouds.
花たちばなも匂うなり 軒のあやめも薫るなり 夕暮まえのさみだれに 山ほととぎす名乗るなり して
Hana tachibana mo niou nari, noki no ayame mo kaoru nari, yugure mae no samidare ni yama hototogisu nanoru nari shite.
The mandarin orange blossoms smelled sweet, and the irises under the eaves were fragrant, and in the early summer rain before twilight the mountain cuckoo was calling its own name.
And just so you know what I’m talking about, here’s a performance of the first two verses:
The BSFA’s Short Story Club has ended, and they are in the post-mortem phase now. My “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” got some of the harsh treatment I expected, but it looks like my story polarized the group more than most, and the discussion also included a few comments from people who thought it worked. Even the criticism was generally thoughtful, helpful feedback, and I was glad to have it (with the possible exception of the one that suggested people only liked my story because they had been fooled into it by the cool title).
This process was made a lot more bearable by the fact that halfway through the week, while those comments were still coming in, I was notified that Rich Horton had picked the story for inclusion in his The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011. I got the email while I was sitting in a reading at the KGB Fantastic Fiction series, so I was able to turn around and share the news with my friends and several big-shot pro writers and editors. To make the evening even more surreal, that day was my birthday, and the co-host of the series, my buddy Matt Kressel, led the audience in singing “Happy Birthday.”
Prime Books announced the TOC for the anthology today.
That’s me down at the bottom: “And More.”
There are several names that mean a lot to me in this list (including Neil Gaiman, whom I was fortunate to have as a Clarion instructor), and I am floored to be sharing a book with them.
The members of Altered Fluid are donating a critique as part of the KGB Fantastic Fiction raffle. All ten current members of the group will critique a story up to 7000 words from the winning ticket holder, either in person or via Skype. Fantastic Fiction at KGB is a NY-based reading series featuring luminaries and up-and-comers in speculative fiction.
Details about the raffle can be found here. And a full list of prizes can be found here.
The editorial staff of Vector, the critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association, is running an online short story club – each week from late August through November, they’re discussing a noteworthy or interesting story that has been published on the internet recently. And I’m stunned to say they’ve selected my “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory” as one of the 13 stories for discussion!
Looking back at the discussions of last year’s stories, these guys don’t pull any punches, so I’m not expecting a love-fest. But I am delighted to get this type of critical attention, and I’m eager to see what they have to say.
And by some weird coincidence, discussion of my story will commence on November 17, which is also my birthday…