Short Fiction

LONG BEFORE my first novel saw print, my writing career began in the magazines (where my poetry and nonfiction also appear). Modern American science fiction traces its roots to the early adventure and SF mags like the originals, Astounding (now called Analog) and Amazing. (Read James Gunn's Road to Science Fiction anthologies for an excellent history of SF.) Over time, the SF field has been influenced more and more by novels, and now by the media. But without Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell - along with all the editors who've shaped the field since - we might never have seen our genre blossom into what it's become.

I love short SF - especially when holding down demanding day jobs - because one can sit down for a few days and pretty much not come up for air until a rough draft is complete. To manage this, I don't start drafting until reaching what I call "critical mass" - the plot is outlined, I've really gotten to know the characters, and have a good feel of the setting and action. I usually start with an idea, say, "What if our relationship with aliens were like our relationship with dogs?" or "What if aliens could evolve a planet-spanning mind?" Then I start fleshing out that idea, find out who's most affected by its implications or applications, where they live (hopefully one that reinforces the theme - oh, yeah, and come up with a theme in there somewhere), and so on. Only when it's more work to hold all that material in my head than to write the thing do I turn on the computer and start typing. But I've learned to never hit the keyboard until I'm confident with as much as I can possibly know about the ideas, technologies, second- and third-level consequences and side-effects of change, characters, civilizations, etc.

Here's a list of short work for which I managed to pull all these elements together enough that editors bought them.

Selected Short-Fiction Bibliography

Ashes of Exploding Suns, Monuments to Dust

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, November/December 2018.

This novella (published as a novelette) has had quite a history: First draft complete in 2001 (9600 words). After much revision, I felt it was mostly ready to submit in 2003 (10,300 words), but a couple editors disagreed. By 2016, it had grown to 11,600 words as I resolved most of the story issues that had plagued me... but only most. I finally felt confident that it was ready for prime time in early 2016 (12,800 words); the final version ended up right at novella length (17,500 words). Writers take heart: Sometimes, fixing a technical problem leads to identifying character problems. I'm so glad I got it back and had time to re-evaluate the entire story, because now it's ROCKIN'.

After I submitted this to Analog, the editor wrote back expressing interest in seeing it again if I could resolve the physics issue that he and the previous editor had thoughtfully spent time analyzing. I presented the problem to a few physicists I work with at KU, and one (an experimental particle physicist doing a research semester at CERN) made some suggestions that led down a wormhole of research that led to finally inventing a new solution, which led to other solutions, and so on.

The editors were right: The acceleration derived from using the design I originally suggested in the earlier version of the story - something I've since discovered is called a "Class A Stellar Engine." I've been working with a few colleagues in developing the idea of a Class D Stellar Engine, and plan to write a short scientific paper on the subject, too! Why let all that math and research go to waste....

Though this might seem one of my darker pieces, I worked hard to keep it ultimately optimistic about humankind. I mean, it encompasses a 15,000-year interstellar war between several human species still plagued by our current problems, during which "Original Man" (essentially us today but with better tech) exterminates several of our child-species.

The story pivots around an agender/ace character determined to avenge their lost civilization. It's about the ghosts that often drive us, the existential threats posed by honor and pride, and how even the most rigid minds can become flexible given time, hope, and mind-opening friendship. (And how they end up changing the galaxy in unexpected ways.)

So excited to be back in Analog!

(bottom piece of art to the right is by Eldar Zakirov - my edit of the original cover art with the banner overlaid)

News and updates:

May 18, 2019:
Winner of the 2018 AnLab Award for best novelette of 2018!

If you'd like to read it, I posted it to my Patreon here. Want to read my acceptance comments? Or the other winners and finalists (at least until Analog takes down the page)?

Feb 10, 2019:
WOOHOO! It's a finalist for the AnLab Award!

Analog posted the pdf, so if you'd like to read it (and the other finalists for the various categories who gave permission), check it out (if the link goes dead, here's the final-layout pdf of the story).

The winners are announced at a breakfast ceremony during SFWA Nebula Awards Weekend, so I guess I'm going to the Nebulas this year. If I win, this would be my first major writing award. SO EXCITED!

Dec 31, 2018:
The Tangent 2018 Recommended Reading List is now out, and "Ashes & Monuments" is on it!

Dec 20:
University of Kansas News just published an interview and story about yours truly! For visual aid, I'd brought along the current issue of Analog (containing this story; holding it in photo) plus a bunch of copies of things my SF work has appeared in (you can see some on the table), and they filled a copy-paper box! That alone made me smile - sometimes it's good to see your work literally stack up :-D

Nov 19:
Interview with the University of Kansas - stay tuned!

Nov 17:
Analog just published my essay, "Literal Metaphors, Science Fiction, and How to Save the Human Species" on their Astounding Analog Companion (available online here). It's a companion piece for this piece, out right now in the November / December issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact magazine (available on newsstands for a few more days, or digitally from the publisher).

I'm very interested to hear what people think of the piece (and the story if you read it!), particularly the Sad and Rabid Puppies, because it's ostensibly just the kind of thing they like: A space opera spanning vast distances and times, packed with super-tech (I invented a new method of moving stars!), interstellar war, and other elements of hard SF - even a protagonist who's a spaceship captain...

But it subverts the conventional space opera and military narrative to tell an (ultimately) optimistic tale of social justice and hope for humanity. Plus (though I only provide clues and see no reason to call this out in the text) the ace protagonist's gender is never revealed, because they're the first-person narrator in a non-patriarchal society (so why bring their gender into it at all?) and there's no romance, plus aces need better representation in hard SF and I feel the metaphor performs double-duty for this narrative.

Gender only plays an important role in the imperialist "Original Man" humans of Sol System - that's our Earthly culture projected into the far future, clinging to obsolete social and political concepts while the "Descendent Species" scattered across the stars have moved on in varying ways.

What prompted the essay was getting a letter from a reader who wrote a deeply insightful, thoughtful, and kind analysis of what I was hoping to do with my story. He asked if I'd intended for the protagonist's struggles with their parents to parallel the narrative of the Descendent Species to Original Man.

Read on my blog for more non-spoilery excerpt, or see the full thing at The Astounding Analog Companion.

Nov 1, 2018:
Arriving in subscribers' mailboxes now! More about the other great stuff in this issue and some history of Analog (formerly Astounding) here.

Also, SFRevu gave it a nice review, calling it "An epic tale with a great conclusion."

Waking the Predator

The Hanging Garden, July 19, 2016.

This is the second time I've "literated" an illustration (as opposed to artists illustrating a story, the traditional route). My previous one was "Jupiter Whispers" (see below).

For those who know my work, my Hanging Garden story might surprise you - it's not really spec-fic at all! Though I must say it's kind of a character study for Stella from my just-completed Book 1 of The Galactic Adventures of Jack & Stella. Sort of alternate-universe Stella.

Mine is one of 10 stories for this year's collection, all inspired by a gif challenge as prompt (a very cool writing exercise). We had to pick from one of six gifs, and the authors came up with lots of great stuff - poisoned apples, dojos of destruction, and angels you wouldn't want to meet on the street. Check it out! There was also a book giveaway that's part of the project.

Orpheus' Engines

Mission Tomorrow: A New Century Of Exploration. Original anthology from Baen Books.

Ebook: October 15, 2015.
Trade paper: November 2, 2015.
Paperback (second edition of story with revisions): December 27, 2016.
Now on my Patreon for my patrons.

This is the follow-up story set in the "Jupiter Whispers" universe, but with some major updates to the characters and environment. Ultimately, these'll become a novel, after another story or two....

The story appeared on Tangent's 2015 Recommended Reading List, and I did an interview with SF Signal about it. It got some nice reviews from places like Publishers Weekly, Tangent, SFRevu ("Orpheus' Engines" by Christopher McKitterick is a very interesting story about first contact and trying to communicate with aliens. It also has my favorite line in the book that sums up the corporate mentality, "Typical. You've made first contact with aliens a trade secret" - Sam Lubell), and Locus (Christopher McKitterick offers a lyrical look at First Contact with Jovian natives that blossoms out astonishingly into transcendental realms, with "Orpheus' Engines" - Paul Di Filippo).

Some history behind these stories and the images that inspired them:

Carl Sagan showing us Voyager 1 photos of Jupiter was what got me into astronomy and, ultimately, into writing science-fiction stories about this magnificent planet and its vast system of moons. On a related note, I just discovered this article: "Particles, Environments, and Possible Ecologies in the Jovian Atmosphere," which Sagan wrote with E.E. Saltpeter in the mid-1970s. Which apparently led to the art you see below. For Sagan's book, COSMOS, and for the cover of Episode 2 from the COSMOS, and for the cover of Episode 2 from the COSMOS TV show, "One Voice is the Cosmic Fugue" (watch on YouTube here), artist Adolf Schaller produced this evocative image of "Hunters, Floaters, and Sinkers: Gas Giant Life Forms":

(The Planetary Society has a complete article on this piece, here: X.)

I don't recall seeing this image when I was a kid watching the show, but I do remember artist Ron Miller's "Jupiter Cloudscape" piece from his book, Grand Tour: A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System inspiring me to write in the setting:

I suspect they're both responsible for the stories that came out of that inspiration (which I plan to continue writing until there's enough to make into a novel). These days, we're fortunate to enjoy images from so many spacecraft. Check out this collection of Jupiter images on my blog (which also has some of this material, too).


Combat scenario between H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds Martians
    and prehistoric titanoboa

For Discovery Channel Magazine's "Godzilla vs T. Rex" article, September 2013

This article is just for fun, sort of a "Shark Week" for paleontology and SF nerds. I wrote up three short, fictional scenarios about how things might go if one of Wells' Martian tripods and a ginormous titanoboa were to encounter one another and duke it out. Titanoboa usually wins... except in an open-ground confrontation, where the tripod's range and line-of-sight provide advantage. I mean, DEATH RAY vs. MASSIVE CRUSHING POWER.

The Recursive Man

Aftermaths, April 13, 2012, Hadley Rille Books. Illustration by Kandis Elliot.

Surveyor of Mars

Westward Weird, February 7, 2012, DAW Books

I had a lot of fun writing this story about a Martian land surveyor - and reluctant gunfighter - who gets drawn into larger and less-pleasant events that will shape the future of the pioneer world. It's set in about 1900 on Percival Lowell's Mars after H.G. Wells' Martian invasion of England. A horrific civil war wiped out the (sentient) Martians, and human pioneers are homesteading, mining, and looting the planet. The surveyor of Mars is a young man who emigrated because of troubles back home in Montana that led to his father's death. Unfortunately, troubles arise on Mars, too, with a war brewing between the Company and the settlers....

Inspiration came from Wells' War of the Worlds; Percival Lowell's Mars as the Abode of Life and Mars and Its Canals to get a feel for how people thought of Mars at the time; Antoniadi's map of Mars as he and Lowell saw it through the imperfect optics of the time; and Jonathan Raban's Bad Land, a wonderful look at the plight of the pioneers who settled northeast Montana, aka "The Great American Desert."

Gunfighters, Buffalo Soldiers, pioneers, a habitable Mars that never was but maybe could have been: I plan to work more within this setting!

Nice comment about the story here, by author Lane Robins.

The Enlightenment

Sentinels In Honor of Arthur C. Clarke, August 2010, Hadley Rille Books

The Empty Utopia

Ruins: Extraterrestrial, October 2007, Hadley Rille Books

Honorable mention in The Years Best Science Fiction 2007. Nice review from David C. Kopaska-Merkel here. Another lovely review of the anthology by Fantasy Book Critic here.

Jupiter Whispers

Visual Journeys: A Tribute to Space Art, July 2007, Hadley Rille Books
Now on my Patreon for patrons.

Honorable mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction 2007. Also got nice reviews from Richard Horton, TCM Reviews, and Some Fantastic. Such a cool anthology: The editor asked the authors to "literate" space-art, rather than hiring artists to illustrate the stories. I picked the fantastic illustration to the right, from Ron Miller's Grand Tour: A Traveler's Guide to the Solar System, which blew me away in junior high and inspired me to write this story (and more to come).

Man, I wish this were still in print, but full-color art anthos aren't a good way for publishers to make much profit.

The Enlightenment

Synergy: New Science Fiction, September 2004, Five Star Books

Nominated for the Sturgeon Award.

Lost Dogs

Outlanders eBook, Scorpius Digital.

Nice review in Tangent.

Lost Dogs

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, September 2001

Illustration by Broeck Steadman.

The Web

Artemis Magazine, the Artemis Project, Summer 2000

I love that a Bob Eggleston piece illustrated the story! Snippets of the image appeared throughout the text.

City of Tomorrow

Captain Proton, Pocket Books, November 1999

This (and my other Captain Proton pieces) got a nice mention in this Amazing Stories interview.

Under Observation

Captain Proton, Pocket Books, November 1999

Worlds of Tomorrow

Captain Proton, Pocket Books, November 1999

What Lurks in a Man's Mind

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, October 1999

Illustration by Broeck Steadman.


Analog Science Fiction & Fact, October 1999

Circles of Light and Shadow

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, February 1999

This one got a lot of nice reviews: from SF Site, tpi, Cerberus, and Tangent, and it was also a nominee for the 2000 Locus Poll Award. Nominations for the Nebula, the AnLab, and the Locus Poll awards.

I got a kick out of how it was quoted in a medical journal: "Anecdotal evidence is legitimate if it appears in sufficient quantity."

Illustration by Beryl Bush.

A Scientist's War

E-Scape, December 1998

A Plague of Mannequins

E-Scape, October 1996

This was one of the very first online SF magazines! Founded in the Kansas City area, too.

The Recursive Man

Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, #20 (April 1996)

Nominated for the Sturgeon and Nebula awards. Illustrations by Kandis Elliot.


A Call to Arms

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, January 1996

Paving the Road to Armageddon

Analog Science Fiction & Fact, May 1995

Nominations for the Sturgeon, Nebula, and Hugo awards; appeared on Tangent's Recommended Reading List.

Illustrations by the amazing Vincent Di Fate - and I own the original two-page spread piece!

The Myth of Sephoön

NOTA, Spring 1991

Martians and Others

NOTA, Winter 1990

NOTA is the literary magazine of the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire.

Forty Minutes

OHS Blackboard, May 1985

My first fiction publication, and the first - and last! - story my high-school paper ever published (due to parental thoughts on alien sex in the school paper... which is fair I guess).








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