Saturday, September 04, 2010

Maps For New Territory

As far as I'm concerned there are two ways of writing a short story. First, there's the epiphanic, where more or less the whole package arrives in your head and is unpacked by writing it down. It doesn't happen often, but I'm always thrilled when it does. 'Little Lost Robot' and 'The Thought War' happened like that. The second is much more like work. I start with an idea, usually a character and a situation, an opening scene, and proceed from there. It's like exploring new territory without a map. You stumble into cul-de-sacs and pitfalls, and waste time picking up nuggets that turn out to be iron pyrites instead of the motherlode, but you travel on in the hope of finding a fabulous view or something rare and unexpected around the next corner. And sometimes scenes or ideas you discard become the seeds for a second story. What started out as exploration becomes cartography.

That's how the Quiet War series of stories evolved, and eventually turned into two novels (with a third on the way, but it's bad luck to talk about that right now). If I were brighter and more organised, novels and stories would have dovetailed neatly together. As it was, the stories turned out to be trial runs for the novels. Maybe I'll do better next time, with what some have started calling the Jackaroo stories, in which an alien species makes contact with the people of Earth after a short sharp global conflict, and hand them the keys to a bunch of planetary systems orbiting red dwarf stars and linked by wormholes. What does humanity do with this gift? What does the gift do to humanity? And what's the catch?

So far, there are just six stories.* But I'm beginning to wonder if it's time to get down and deal with the big picture.

*‘Dust’, Forbidden Planets, edited by Peter Crowther, Daw, 2006
 ‘Making Peace’, The New Space Opera, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois, HarperCollins, 2007
 ‘Adventure’, Fast Forward 2, edited by Lou Anders, 2008
'City of the Dead' Postscripts, 2008
 ‘Crimes and Glory’, Subterranean Magazine, 2009
‘The Choice’, Asimov's Science Fiction, February 2011

EDIT: Of the above stories, only 'Crimes and Glory' is available online, here. Of the Quiet War stories, 'Reef' was available via my author's page at the Orion site, but was lost after a redesign; you might be able to find it using the wayback machine or similar. I'm thinking of putting up one on my web site's fiction archive. Any preferences?
EDIT 2: I totally forgot to include 'City of the Dead'. Corrected now. I'd like to think it's because I'm hip-deep in a third draft, but really it's down to stupidity. Thanks to Miles for pointing out the error!


Blogger PeteY said...

It would be nice if you could provide links for any of these that are available online. I know you published Crimes and Glory on this blog, but I've lost it now. Same applies to the Quiet War list, although I believe we worked that out some time ago.

September 06, 2010 9:23 pm  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Well, only one is currently available online, as far as I know (haven't checked file sharing archives). Might put up another, at some point...

September 07, 2010 5:26 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Any preferences? Well, I suppose, one of the Jackaroo stories other than Crimes & Glory. I'd like to see them all, but which one do you think is the best jumping off point for the next novel?

September 09, 2010 12:41 am  
Blogger PeteY said...

I failed to find Reef by wayback machine, but it turns out I have a copy on my hdd... So it goes.

September 09, 2010 1:50 am  
Anonymous Miles said...

Was looking through my books last night. Isn't City of the Dead a 'Jackaroo' story ??

September 14, 2010 12:41 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

That Jackaroo consept is very nice. I have read two stories and liked both. I think you should write a novel in that universe.

October 19, 2010 10:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Write a Jackaroo novel! I loved the short stories

January 26, 2011 7:46 am  
Blogger Gib said...

Just finished Crimes and Glory in "The Year's Best" collection. I enjoyed the tale, but I'm left stranded near Sarkka's Star, unsure where to go from here. Which of the Jackaroo stories, if any, continue from this point? I'd really like to know what happens to Emma and Niles (and the rest of the species, of course).

February 01, 2011 12:46 am  
Anonymous Entity said...

With the help of the above list and interlibrary loans, I've managed to read five of the six so called "Jackaroo stories" ('Adventure' eludes me). I've really enjoyed the tales and find their universe fascinating.

Paul- Please do write a novel (or series :) based on the concept! Also, thank you for your hard work; it has brought me hours of enjoyment.

March 15, 2011 12:10 pm  

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