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My first short story collection, focusing largely (but by no means exclusively) on parallel world stories.

Table of Contents | Introduction | Booksellers | Exits

Table of Contents

[This is only a small portion of the original introduction to the collection. After further autobiographical material it eventually goes on to give the history of each story in the book. It's much too long and self-indulgent, but I've kept it in every edition.]


    Welcome to my book!

    Maybe you're here because you've enjoyed my novels, or because you've seen some of these stories in magazines or anthologies and liked them. Or maybe the title piqued your interest, or the cover caught your eye. Whatever the reason, I hope you'll be pleased by the stories; I think there are some good ones.

    I always wanted to see my name on a collection of short stories; I've always wanted to be a writer, always loved short stories. My novels have been appearing for over a decade, and much of the thrill has worn off, but short stories are still special for me, and a single-author collection like this -- well, it's been something I've wanted for as long as I can remember, and I've finally made it.

    It's taken a long time for it to happen, and I want to use this introduction to tell you how it came about. Let me start off with an explanation of how I wound up as a writer of fantasy and science fiction. After that I'll explain where the stories in this collection came from. It's going to be largely a shameless display of egotism, so nobody will be offended if you get bored and skip ahead to the stories.

    Here's the beginning: I started reading science fiction when I was five. Honest. And I decided to write it when I was seven.

    Both my parents read science fiction, you see. That meant my three older siblings read it, as well. I don't remember ever not knowing what science fiction was; the concept had percolated into my consciousness by the time I was four, definitely.

    It was about that age that I noticed my sibs reading comic books, and I saw the nifty pictures of dinosaurs and spaceships and stuff and I wanted to read comic books, too.

    And when I was five, I learned the letters of the alphabet in kindergarten, and the sounds each one made. I still remember the flash of insight when the teacher wrote a song called "K-K-Katy" on the blackboard and taught us to sing it, and the connection between those three Ks and the sound at the beginning of the song clicked into place somewhere in my head, and I began sounding out words.

    I didn't know I was actually reading; I assumed that there was some trick to it I hadn't learned yet, but what I was doing seemed to work, so I tried it out.

    I tried it not on Dr. Seuss or any of the kid stuff I was supposed to read, but on a coverless comic book, identified twenty years later as Adventures into the Unknown #105, that my sister Marian had picked up somewhere and left lying around the house. The lead story, "Last of the Tree People," involved a botanist who goes to the Moon and finds intelligent trees and carnivorous dinosaurs. Another story was called "The Martian Mirage," and had this nifty domed city that appeared and disappeared. A third was "Born to Be A Grocer," about these weird disembodied intelligences that live among us -- and who are about to take over the world.

    I was hooked.

    Not on science fiction, per se -- on comic books.

    Tarzan, Turok, Superboy, all of those. It was 1959. I'd missed the Golden Age of Comics; the gruesome horror and crime of the early 1950s had been stamped out; the great superhero revival hadn't really started yet. All the same, there were plenty of exciting comic books out there to read, and I loved them all. I had no money, but I had two older sisters who bought them, and that was just as good.

    I had an older brother, too, but I don't remember him ever having any money or buying any comic books. Fortunately, Marian and Jody weren't the stereotypical 1950s sissy-type girls -- they didn't bring home romance comics, they brought home westerns and science fiction and superhero stuff. Also Little Lulu and Donald Duck, but those were great, too.

    And there was a whole big box that had accumulated before I'd learned to read.

    So I went on to first grade and discovered that I was reading the right way after all, and then I went on to second grade, where several very important events in my life happened.

    First, I ran out of comic books. I'd worked my way through the box, and I was reading them faster than my sisters bought them, and my weekly allowance was only a dime, and even at the used book store in those pre-inflation days that only bought two second-hand comics -- or four, if I got coverless ones.

    I could go through four in an afternoon; what about the other six days each week?

    My parents had been complaining all along that I should read something better than comic books, so, in desperation, I took them up on it. I'd had my fill of Dick and Jane and their kin in school -- books, I am convinced, that were designed to teach kids that reading is excruciatingly dull. I wanted something good.

    Well, my parents read books for fun, so I swiped two of those, and snuck 'em up to my room, and even into school. The idea of reading an entire grown-up novel was too daunting to contemplate, so I picked two that were collections of short stories.

    The first one was The Green Hills of Earth, by Robert A. Heinlein. The second one was The October Country, by Ray Bradbury.

    That got me hooked on science fiction. And fantasy. And horror. I was thoroughly caught, even though I couldn't follow a lot of what the heck was going on in those stories -- when I was seven, most of "Delilah and the Space Rigger" or "The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse" went right over my head.

    The next important event was my first in-class writing assignment. The teacher, Miss Conroy, gave us a title, and told us to write something to go with it -- a story, an essay, anything. The title was "Little Bird."

    Most of the kids did stuff like, "See the bird. It is a little bird. See the bird fly away. Fly, bird, fly." Dick and Jane strike again. Bleah.

    A few got some rudimentary plot in there; I remember there were about three that I thought were okay.

    Mine was a love story about two chickadees -- it just about covered both sides of the sheet of paper we were given. When the teacher read it it sounded pretty dumb -- but not as bad as the other kids, and Miss Conroy praised it and said something about maybe someday I'd be a writer.

    I liked that idea. Writing it had been fun. Not much of what I did in school was fun, at that point. So I went home and showed my paper with the gold star on it to my mother and said, "I want to be a writer when I grow up."

    Seven is an age when the subject of what you'll be when you grow up is a popular one. I'd previously talked about being in real estate ("a house seller") or urban planning ("a city builder") or the sciences ("an atom bomb builder"), and my parents had always encouraged me.

    But when I said I wanted to be a writer, my mother said, "Are you sure? That's a very hard way to make a living; you might not be able to do it."

    I was astonished and baffled. I could be a rocket scientist, or a nuclear physicist, but not a writer?

    So I tried it out on my father, and got about the same reaction.

    I'm still not quite sure why, even after thirty years. It wasn't just a bad day, or anything; from then on, right up until I sold my first novel, my parents encouraged me to write, if I wanted to, but as a hobby -- making a career of it they seemed to consider impractical or downright impossible.

    I took it as a challenge, though.


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