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June 9th, 2012

Time-travel collection coming soon

I’ll be releasing another collection soon. This one entitled Pandering Dwarves and Other Time-Travel Tales. As a prelude to official pimpage, here’s the introduction to the collection where I deconstruct the field of time-travel a bit, and explain what the hell I’m doing.


I wanted to name this collection Pandering Dwarves and Other Decadent Time-Travel Tales, but that was about one word too long. Why “decadent,” you might ask?

Ever since I read John Kessel’s “The Pure Product” in Asimov’s back in 1986, I’ve been fascinated with the theme. Kessel’s story tells of a man from the future, living in our time as a historian in Canada. For his two-week vacation, he comes to America for a holiday replete with cons, murder, a futile suicide attempt and philosophical musings. Thing is, he’s seen so much in life across the time-lines, he’s not only frustrated but rather bored by it all. The sardonic wit and wry tone of the piece filled me with a senseawunder like I’d never experienced before in SF.

Kessel wasn’t the first to write such a story. To my knowledge, the first decadent time-travel story was published in Astounding Science Fiction way back in 1946. “Vintage Season” by C. L. Moore also tells of visitors from the future, coming back as tourists to witness a historical disaster. For them, the past is one big party, no matter how horrible for the natives of that time.

“Vintage Seasons” is one of the select stories in our field that can truly be called great, and it still holds up today. Robert Silverberg was so enamored with Moore’s story that he wrote a companion piece to it entitled “In Another Country.” In 1990 both stories were released as a Tor Double.

Two things fascinate me about this theme. First, is its unique way of looking at humankind. How a future society, one not totally unlike our own, seems so alien in its depravity yet so similar. How the ability to control time and life expectancy could change one’s outlook on morality. Such narratives say something about our past, our present, and where we might be going as a species. It’s also, if you’re of an atypical mindset, a lot of good clean twisted fun.

These three stories above have stuck with me so over the years, that eventually I knew I’d have to try my hand at one as well. Turns out I riffed on the theme more than once. While not all the stories in this collection are truly decadent, “Pandering Dwarves” certainly is. That Hub Magazine published it in 2009 still tickles me. This was a story that “couldn’t be published.”

“Mud Wrestling in a Distant Land” is a 500-word flash piece taken from a throwaway flashback in “Pandering Dwarves.” When editor Adam Lowe bought it for Polluto, he told me in email what his acquisitions editor said: “Just when you think you've read the strangest idea for a story, another one beats it. I liked it, short, snappy and funny.” I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who found it funny. Half the time I’m horrified by it ... until I start laughing again.

“Carousel Cowboys” is one of the few novelettes I’ve written (10,400 words) and it definitely falls into the decadent time-travel category. Though dark in places, it’s indicative of my style: suffused with hope and humor, because life isn’t always a grim affair to be suffered through. It’s a cowboy story, a technological Western with depravity, learned loyalty and bite.

For a lighter fare, I’ve included “Billy the Kid (A Bedtime Story), a mishmash of history and gonzo weirdness. I’ll let you decide for yourself how the other three stories here fit into the decadent-gonzo humor coefficient.

These seven offerings are me playing around with the time-honored tradition of time-travel in science fiction. Hope you groove on what I’ve done with Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine.


Marshall Payne
Marshall Payne

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