Friday, June 22, 2012


Back in 1991, while I was an undergraduate, I wrote a science fiction novella titled "The Other Lessons of Phaedrus." I suppose most writers are impressed with their own works, and I'm no exception, but this story was special for me. I really thought I had something clever, original, and exciting: a form of hyperspace-like travel that requires an insane pilot. It also gave me a chance to work with some heavy-handed and very dark irony. The narrator drops clues, but the reader never really knows what's happening. If I go into any more detail, I'll ruin it for you, so let's just say "I love it, " and leave it at that.

Because I considered this such a special story, I wanted to give it a special title. I chose Phaedrus as an element of the title because it seemed to fit on so many levels. For one, Plato's dialogue, the Phaedrus touches of two key areas of interest in the story: eroticism and madness. Just to up the ante a bit, the dialogue, like all the Socratic dialogues, aims to help the reader discover something by listening. One last finishing touch: Phaedrus is also the name of a famous fabulist: a Roman story teller. Perfect.

So, anyway, there's a little insight into the title. It might help explain why no one and nothing named Phaedrus appears in the story. I considered naming the ship the Phaedrus, but that seemed just a bit too facile. Besides, I didn't want anyone coming to the wrong conclusion based on a name, and the ship isn't the teacher.

The story's publication history is an interesting tale all by itself. I completed the story near the end of 1991, and because I thought so highly of it, I submitted it to Omni magazine. They were one of the highest paying genre zines in the world. The story, if they'd accepted it, would have brought about $4000. With the pulps, I'd have been lucky to get $400.

Well, not really expecting much, I waited almost three months. This was long for Omni. They usually returned rejections in a month. As the third month was rolling around, I got the story back in the mail—along with a letter from R.K., the assistant editor. He questioned some of the mechanisms I employed in the story that I thought worked quite well, but I went ahead and tried to meet his demands. He also wanted me to tone done either the sexual element of the story or the violence. He said the editor would accept one or the other but not both. I thought both were justified, but I went ahead and toned down the sexual play.

Then, after five months of back-and-forth—edits, comments, more edits, more comments—RK apologized, said he'd meddled too much and that he liked the story better before I started editing. Augh! I wasn't going to give up that easily. One more round of editing, and I returned the manuscript. There, I thought, let's see him find fault with that.

He didn't. He loved the story. Unfortunately, he said, they had just accepted a story from Harlan Ellison that touched on some similar themes. He didn't believe they could publish two such tales withing just a few months of one another. Sorry. So, after half a year of responding to comments and editing and re-editing, I still got the standard: Good luck in another market.

The next day, I flipped open a Writer's Market and submitted "The Other Lessons of Phaedrus" to the very first paying science fiction magazine I came across. That was the now-defunct Aboriginal Science Fiction. They accepted the story immediately and sent the galleys in a month. Sadly, they only paid $200 The most exasperating aspect of the sale (not counting the comedown from dreams of Omni) was that it took them over a year to publish and over two years to pay.

I wanted to publish a copy of the story hear, but I couldn't find the disc. I also have not managed to find anyone who kept records at Aboriginal. So, starting this weekend, I'm going to transcribe the story into this blogspace.

1 comment:

  1. Man! Are you still here??? I'm sorry, I cannot read this whole post right now, I'm in class. But I gotta say, I vividly remember your story and Googled it on a whim. (In class, we're reading a text where Phaedrus was mentioned.)

    I'm 29; I live in Argentina; I read your story in Spanish when it was published as an e-zine. I was like 6 or 8 years old. It made an impression. I had it printed on the printer at my father's workplace, remember those old dot matrix printers? This was pre-Internet.

    Anyway I gotta log out now, I'll be re-entering later. But, dude, congrats on a great sci fi story!!!!!

    P.S. If I seacrh for it I think I can still find the Spanish version online, if it's of any interest for you.