Thursday, August 19, 2004


When you come out of the desert into the border town, you feel like a wisp of smoke rising into the cloudless sky. You’re two eyes and a dry tongue. But you can’t burn up; you’ve already passed through flame on your way to ash. Even the sweat between your breasts is ethereal, otherworldly. A mirage has more substance.

The border town, as many of them did, manifested itself to you at the end of your second week in the desert. It began as a trickle of silver light off imagined metal, a suggestion of a curved sheen. You could have ignored it as false. You could have taken it for another of the desert’s many tricks.

But The Book of the City corrected you, with an entry under "Other Towns":

"Often, you will find that these border towns, in unconscious echo of the City, are centered around a metal dome. This dome may be visible long before the rest of the town. These domes often prove to be the tops of ancient buildings long since buried beneath the sand."

Drifting closer, the blur of dome comes into focus. It is wide and high and damaged. It reflects the old building style, conforming to the realities of a lost religion, the workmanship of its metal predating the arrival of the desert.

Around the dome hunch the sand-and-rock-built houses and other structures of the typical border town. The buildings are nondescript, yellow-brown, rarely higher than three stories. Here and there, a solitary gaunt horse, some chickens, a rooting creature that resembles a pig. Above fly the sea gulls that have no sea to return to.

Every border town has given you something: information, a wound, a talisman, a trinket. At one, you bought the blank book you now call The Book of the City. At another, you discovered much of what is written in that book. The third took a gout of flesh from your left thigh. The fourth put a pulsing stone inside your head. When the City is near, the stone throbs and you feel the ache of a pain too distant to be of use.

It has been a long time since you felt the pain. You’re beginning to think your quest is hopeless.

That's an excerpt from "Three Days in a Border Town," my latest short story, out in Polyphony #4, and officially begins the story cycle "prologued" in my Secret Life collection with the experimental cut-up story "The City." The stories take place in the future of my Veniss Underground setting--so far in the future that they could be read as dark fantasy. The next story in the cycle is called "The Circus on the Bridge" and continues our heroine's quest. I'm very proud of "Three Days" and hope fans of my work will pick up Polyphony #4 for it. This cycle will eventually form a mosaic novel of sorts.

Jonathan Strahan had some very kind things to say about "Three Days" in his blog (July 21st entry).

Polyphony #4 looks to be very strong. I can't review it officially since I'm in it, but I've read four or five stories and been impressed. Stepan Chapman's "Ataxia, the Wooden Continent" is very amusing and I loved Alex Irvine's "Down in the Fog-Shrouded City," which is beautiful and wacked out and inventive. Other contributors include Gavin Grant, Eliot Fintushel, Theodora Goss, Lucius Shepard, Don Webb, Robert Wexler, and Michael Bishop. The official release date is apparently September.



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