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One autumn day half a lifetime ago, I was visiting my friend Jack Dann at his house in Binghamton, New York. This was long before he emigrated to Australia. He was in a nostalgic mood, and swept a hand toward the tidy shelves holding a copy of every book he'd ever written or had a story appear in. They covered half a wall. Many years earlier, he said, he'd visited Anne McCaffrey—this was before she'd moved to Ireland—and admired her assembled clutch of publications. She'd told him then that someday sooner than he expected, he'd have a similar set of shelves, and that they'd measure out his life.

"It'll happen to you too," Jack said. "They're like a clock, ticking."

At the time, Jack's prediction seemed as simultaneously wonderful and ominous as an Arabian Nights tale.

Now I have my own set of shelves and when I look at them, I can see my life staring back at me. Thus, "The Feast of Saint Janis" and "Ginungagap," aren't just my first two published stories, but the only ones that saw print before that happy day in late 1980 when I married my wife, Marianne Porter. The next year I had the good fortune that both stories made it onto the Nebula ballot, and the even better fortune that they then both lost. I've known writers who won a major award right off the bat, and it took all the joy out of the awards process for them. Every year that they didn't win another felt like a failure to live up to their initial promise.

Winning isn't everything, and sometimes it isn't even anything at all.

"Trojan Horse" has roots deep in my childhood. My father was an engineer for General Electric's aerospace division, and he used to bring home the most wonderful publicity handouts. One day, he gave me an artist's rendering of what a GE lunar colony would look like, shown from the interior of a glass-domed crater. There was a black sky overhead and happy people strolling amid terraced gardens on the crater's inner slopes. The future never looked better. It was pretty much inevitable that someday I'd write about that colony.

"A Midwinter's Tale" was inspired by a show of Marc Chagall's paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's one of my favorite stories and an almost-direct gift from the city in which I've spent most of my adult life. "The Edge of the World," however, was based on my senior year of high school in Seven Pines, Virginia. 1968 was a terrifying time to be young. The assassination of Martin Luther King and the resulting arrest of every black student from my school in the riots that followed was only one of many horrifying events that washed through my life that year. Adolescence is hell. I swore that I would remember how it was and write about it someday. Finally I did.

I wrote "Griffin's Egg" because I was about to start on my first fantasy novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter, and knew that I'd be a way from science fiction for years. Rather than find myself using stale ideas when I returned, I threw in every hard-SF invention I'd been saving up for future use. When I came to write the nuclear war, however, the thought of a classic East-West confrontation between the US and the USSR—which everyone had been predicting for all my life—was so damned boring, I just couldn't do it. Which turned out to be a good thing because by the time the book came out (it was part of a series of hardcover novellas commissioned by Century Legend), the Soviet Union had fallen and great swaths of speculative fiction were swept into the dustbin of history.

"The Changeling's Tale" is as close to autobiographical as anything I've ever written. When I was young, I ran off with the elves to become a writer. And I've never looked back.

Years of pleasant incubation went into "North of Diddy-Wah-Diddy," mostly in the form of daydreaming while staring out the window of the train to New York City whenever I went to hobnob with my editors. I still enjoy the trip, but I must confess that I miss the sight of giant centaurs floundering through the toxic marshes of the Fresh Kill Landfill.

"Radio Waves" is set in my neighborhood of Roxborough. The telephone lines in the opening scene run right up my street and the red lights of the Seven Sisters blink benignly down upon me at night. At one point Cobb climbs through my house and sees me sitting on the couch, watching TV. "The Dead," however, is a New York City story, inspired by a show of oil paintings by an old-school American Marxist. My family comes from the Big Apple, and I have many fond and enduring memories of visiting relatives there as a child.

I almost never start a story without knowing how it's going to end, but "Mother Grasshopper" is one of the rare exceptions. It bubbled up from the hindbrain and I had no idea what it was about until two or three pages before the end. All the place names, incidentally, are towns and cities in Pennsylvania.

Shortly after "Radiant Doors" came out, one of my Clarion students dropped by my house, along with his fiancé, to invite Marianne and me to their wedding. His wife-to-be was a rabbi and she took Marianne aside and asked her how she could bear to sleep next to me, knowing I had such things in my head.

Marianne smiled and said, "Oh, they're not in his head anymore. They're in yours."

Nevertheless, the wedding was lovely, as all weddings should be. There was a klezmer band at the reception afterwards and I danced until I could dance no more.

Almost two decades after my first experience losing a Nebula, "The Very Pulse of the Machine" won a Hugo. By then, I'd lost track of how many Nebulas and Hugos I'd been nominated for and lost (okay, yes, I am bragging here, a little), and was able to accept with pure, unalloyed joy.

I have a particular fondness for "Wild Minds." It dropped into my hands in 1995, during Intersection, the first Worldcon held in Glasgow. I was staying in a cheap B&B high up on Renfrew Street, from which I could see the M8 motorway, a classic of misguided urban planning, cutting through the city like a scar, with abandoned buildings like dead flesh to either side of it. On a panel I said that we'd best embrace neural enhancement with extreme care lest it prove to be an M8 motorway right through the brain. Thus was born a story that I hope says something a little more nuanced than what one usually hears about the Catholic faith in which I was raised.

"Scherzo With Tyrannosaur" was written as a rough sketch for Bones of the Earth, to work out the mechanics of time travel and the politics of in chrono paleontology. I was so pleased with it that I later rewrote it with a totally different plot, set it in a different part of the Cretaceous, replaced the tyrannosaur with plesiosaurs, and used it as a chapter in the novel. If you read the book you'll see what I mean. It won my second Hugo.

"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O" was the result of a reading Ellen Kushner gave at a local bookstore. After the event, she hit me up for a contribution to a planned but ultimately doomed anthology of stories based on folk ballads. Nothing leapt to mind, but since Ellen is a good friend, I said I'd give it a try. So on the drive home, I said to Marianne, "Okay, here's an element for a story—a panel van filled with velociraptors. Give something else that's off the wall."

Without hesitating, she said, "A picnic basket full of dead puppies."

"I can write this sucker!" I crowed.

"The Dog Said Bow-Wow" is probably my single most popular story, due entirely to the characters of Darger and Surplus. I was word-doodling one day, and they simply showed up. After which they insinuated themselves into my life, my career, and (I'm guessing) my ultimate reputation. I've written three full-scale stories and four connected short-shorts about the rogues to date, and I've just recently begun a novel for them. The story won my third Hugo.I took a big chance with "Slow Life," writing hard science fiction about Titan at a time when the Cassini-Huygens probe was en route to Saturn. Subsequent radar mapping of Titan's surface showed it to be very much the way I described it. No credit for that goes to me, however. I was simply extrapolating from what NASA's scientists had said were their best guesses. Turns out they were right. The story won my fourth Hugo.

"Legions in Time" was an homage to A. E. Van Vogt's "Recruiting Station," which was a seminal work for me. It was the first SF story whose author's name I bothered to remember, and one of a handful which convinced me I wanted to become a writer. I didn't mean for it to win a Hugo. But it did. My fifth in six years. You'd think I'd be tired of the things by then. But I wasn't.

I grew up in Winooski, Vermont, the only town in Vermont with no small-town charm whatsoever. It was a mill town before the money went away, and the kids from Burlington, across the river, called those who lived there "river rats," and threw rocks at us. Nevertheless, there's a lot of good things about Vermont, and almost all of them are people. "Triceratops Summer" is about those people.

Finally, there's "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled . . ." This is my most recent story, and I have no idea what images it will conjure up in years to come. Perhaps the memory of me banging out this introduction and trying to find something to say about it? It'll be interesting to find out.

This book took me more than a quarter of a century to write. It will always be a landmark volume on my growing shelf of books. If I can keep it up for another twenty-seven years, my career is already half-spent. If not . . .well, not. I wrote these stories as best I could, and with the hope that they would endure. But whether they do or not is out of my hands. Once a story is published, it leaves the writer's control. These stories don't belong to me anymore.

They belong to you. I hope you like them.

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