Scales and Shapes and Stories

I’ve been doing more short story reading in the last while than I’ve done since I was little – I was never much of a short story reader when I was younger, but something seems to have turned me into someone who can write them, at least with the right sort of provocation, so I’ve been trying to get a sense of what else is out there. (And there are some damn good stories. I read Marissa Lingen’s “The Thing, With Feathers” earlier today, for example.) And it’s got me thinking about the scale of thing, the shapes of things.

One thing I really liked about “The Thing, With Feathers” is that it had a very tight, personal scale: not just that it was two people dealing with their world, but that it wasn’t epic, it wasn’t save the world, it wasn’t a grand quest, it wasn’t about more than what it takes for a couple of people to get through the night, and consider the day after.

I’m finding myself hungry for personal stories. Intimate stories, in their way.

(Which isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the grander things, I will at some point manage to come up with something to say about Vellum other than “HOLY FUCK THIS FUCKING BOOK HAL DUNCAN YOU MAD GENIUS WHAT THE HELL“, possibly after I’ve read Ink, which is on my nightstand under the ILL copy of Same-Sex Love in India, which is research and probably ought to be finished first especially since it has to go back.)

But Geometries of Belonging by Rose Lemberg had me sobbing, and my tears were the ones of someone who had finally seen themselves, somehow, in a story, in the form of someone who so desperately does not wish his will to make a mark upon the world, but who is, nonetheless, one who changes grand events, in a quiet, intimate, personal way, the pebble that turns the landslide. I want stories about small people, real people, ordinary people, and perhaps they do something extraordinary, and perhaps they just live out the night, but I want those stories, and I want to tell those stories.

I’ve been poking at the Baen fantasy adventure short story contest, and I’ve written a thing, and I’m pretty sure it’s not what they’re looking for. It’s an adventure story, sure, but it’s not about heroes and it’s not about warriors, it’s about a couple of guys with a hireable airship that get into trouble and have to figure out how to get out of it again. The people are too ordinary, I think, for that. I’ll try to write something else, something Baen-ier, and find somewhere else to send that one.

(But oh, back to Vellum, and maybe part of the genius of Vellum is that its multiply factured mirror shards of narrative contain, not just grand epics and immortal beings and an impending and ongoing apocalypse but these small personal stories, upon which other things hinge, vividly drawn. I cannot help but think that if only I could have ascended to godhood in response to a bully the world would be different. I cannot help but shudder at that moment where Seamus offers Jack a light, because it is so intimate, so personal, and after the weight of book leading up to that moment that it kicks like an ascended mule, an epic moment that is on a human scale and actually has been earned by the towering stack of implications and gah. I was not intending to write about Vellum right now but it is in fact consuming my brain with a furious intensity that I really wish I could swear eloquently enough to properly convey.)

I look at Cracked Pots and In The Seed as I write them and they’re long books, they’re slow books, they’re books about people and the science in them is actually paced like real science, slow and with a lot of missteps and tangents, and it’s counterpointing the complexities of humans, and that’s the story I want to tell. And people seem to like reading it, and the short stories I’m building in that same world, about some of the same ordinary people doing their various ordinary people things! But, again, it’s slow and long and it doesn’t have that action thrill kick and I don’t know whether that will make enough people happy.

But I can’t be alone in not wanting all the stories to be about finding new life and new civilizations, or saving the world, or overthrowing the system, or whatever else, to want stories that I can fit into, which aren’t a sensory overload extravaganza that goes too fast and does too much for an autistic homebody to have space in. I just get afraid, sometimes, that the stories I’m trying to tell are too much not the thing that other people want to hear, because they’re too quiet like that, too many threads in the mist. Or the Fog.

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