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Totally Tor: New Ken Scholes Short Story & Best SFF of the Decade

06 Jan

Hey Guys and Girls, got some news -brand new 2011 news- from Irene Gallo regarding the goings on at Tor.com. 🙂

First off, the 12 Doctors of Christmas, which began last month (hehe, last year, 😉 ) is finishing up and you can catch all the posts here.

Next up, Tor will be giving you a chance to vote for your Best SFF Novels of the Decade – yep, not just 2010, but 2000 to 2010. 🙂 The post will be going up shortly (my maths sucks, so don’t ask me what time it’ll be here in South Africa), at 11:30 US time, so don’t forget to check it out. 🙂

Here’s a bit more info:

For science fiction readers, witnessing the clock turn over to the year 2000 was a special feeling indeed. The divide had been crossed, the next century was here, and distant years bandied about solely in sci fi classics would now play out in reality.

Passing into 2011 echoes that feeling, as we now have an entire decade of the future that exists primarily in memory. We’ve done the work, so to speak, and can better appreciate the future in which we live.

In the spirit of appreciation, we now ask Tor.com readers to choose the best science fiction and fantasy novels of the first decade of the 21st century! Any novel published from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2010 is eligible* and there’s no limit to how many you can pick.**

We’ll tabulate the novels mentioned in the comments until 11:59 PM EST on Friday, January 14and the ten with the highest number of votes will be featured in a short series of appreciation posts here on the site, featuring an array of guest writers! We’ll be updating the votes regularly here on Tor.com and on through our Twitter and Facebook accounts until the end of voting, so keep checking back. And rally your friends to vote on your favorite!

Next up, mark your calendars: the 12th of January (Wednesday) will see a new short story by Ken Scholes – “Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flare”. I’m told is a science fiction romp with clowns. 😉 (Title sounds wayyy cooler now, huh?)

Here’s the cover, done by Ellen Weinstein:

And here, to whet your appetite, is an excerpt:

::

No one ever asks a clown at the end of his life what he really wanted to be when he grew up. It’s fairly obvious. No one gets hijacked into the circus. We race to it, the smell of hotdogs leading us in, our fingers aching for the sticky pull of taffy, the electric shock of pink cotton on our tongue. Ask a lawyer and he’ll say when he was a kid he wanted to be an astronaut. Ask an accountant; he’ll say he wanted to be fireman.

I am a clown. I have always wanted to be a clown. And I will die a clown if I have my way.

My name is Merton D. Kamal.

The Kamal comes from my father. I never met the man so I have no idea how he came by it. Mom got the Merton bit from some monk she used to read who wrote something like this: We learn humility by being humiliated often. Given how easily (and how frequently) Kamal is pronounced Camel, and given how the D just stands for D, you can see that she wanted her only child to be absolutely filled to the brim with humility.

My Mom is a deeply spiritual woman.

But enough about her. This is my story.

“Merton,” the ringmaster and owner Rufus P. Stowell said, “it’s just not working out.”

I was pushing forty. I’d lost some weight and everyone knows kids love a chubby clown. I’d also taken up drinking which didn’t go over well right before a show. So suddenly, I found myself without prospects and I turned myself towards home, riding into Seattle by bus on a cold November night.

Mom met me at the bus stop. She had no business driving but she came out anyway. She was standing on the sidewalk next to the station wagon when she saw me. We hugged.

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said.

I lifted my bag into the back. “Thanks.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Not really.”

We went to Denny’s anyway. Whenever my Mom wanted to talk, we went to Denny’s. It’s where she took me to tell me about boys and girls, it’s where she took me to tell me that my dog had been hit by a car.

“So what are you going to do now?” She cut and speared a chunk of meatloaf, then dipped it into her mashed potatoes and gravy before raising it to her mouth.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’ll fatten up, quit drinking, get back into the business.” I watched her left eyebrow twitch—a sure sign of disapproval. I hefted my double bacon cheeseburger, then paused. “Why? What do you think I should do?”

She leaned forward. She brought her wrinkled hand up and cupped my cheek with it. Then she smiled. “I think you’ve already tried the clown thing, Merton. Why don’t you try something different?”

I grinned. “I always wanted to be a sword-swallower but you wouldn’t let me.”

“What about . . . insurance?”

“Well, it gets steep. The swords are real, Mom.”

The eyebrow twitched again. “I’m being serious. Remember Nancy Keller?”

Of course I did. I’d lost my virginity with her back in eleventh grade. It was my second most defining moment that year. Three days later, Rufus P. Stowell’s Traveling Big Top rolled into town and my first most defining moment occurred. They said I was a natural, I had the look and the girth. Would I be interested in an internship? I left a note for Nancy in her mailbox thanking her for everything in great detail, hugged my Mom goodbye and dropped out of high school to join the circus.

Mom was still waiting for me to answer. “Yes, I remember her.”

“Well, she’s some big mucky-muck now at CARECO.”

“And?” I took a bite of the cheeseburger.

“And I told her you were coming home and asked her if she’d interview you.”

I nearly choked. “You did what?”

“I asked her if she’d interview you. For a job.”

I had no idea what to say.

So the next morning, Mom took me down to J.C. Penney’s and bought me my first suit in thirty years. That afternoon, she dropped me downtown in front of the CARECO building, waved goodbye and drove away.

The CARECO building was new. I’d visited a few times over the years, had watched buildings come and buildings go. But I had never seen anything like this. It looked like a glass Rubik’s Cube tilted precariously in a martini glass full of green jello. Inside, each floor took on the color coding of the various policies they offered. Life insurance was green. Auto, a deep blue. I can’t remember what color Long-Term Disability was. Each color had been painfully worked out, according to a plaque near the door, by a team of eminent European corporate psychologists. Supposedly, it would enhance productivity by reducing the depression inherent within the insurance industry.

While I was reading the plaque, a man stepped up to me. He was as tan as a Californian, wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt despite impending rain. I went back to reading. “Excuse me,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Have you seen a monkey around here?”

I shook my head, not really paying attention to the question. “Sorry.”

He smiled. “Thanks anyway.”

I went inside. I rode three escalators, two elevators and talked to seven receptionists. I sat in a chair that looked like plastic but was really made of foam. I filled out long and complicated application forms.

An hour later, someone took me up into an office at the top of the highest point of the inside of the glass Rubik’s Cube.

Nancy Keller looked up. She smiled until my escort closed the door on her way out.

“Merton D. Camel,” she said, stretching each syllable.

“Kamal. Hi Nancy.” The view from her office was spectacular. The walls were glass framed in steel and I could see the city spread out around me in a wide view that pulled at my stomach. The office had a modern-looking desk in the middle of it, a few chairs and some potted plants.

“I’m surprised to see you after so long. Back from clowning around?”

“I am.” I smiled. “You look good.” And she did. Her legs were still long but her hair was short and she’d traded her Van Halen tank top for a crisp blue suit.

She ignored my compliment and pointed to another of those foam chairs. “Let’s get this over with.”

I sat. She sat. I waited, trying to ignore the places where my wool suit created urgent itching.

She studied my application, then she studied me. I kept waiting. Finally, she spoke. “This interview,” she said, “consists of two questions.” She leaned forward and I realized the button on her suit coat had popped open to reveal more cleavage than I remembered her having. “First question. Do you remember the day you left for the circus, three days after our . . . special moment.” She made little quote marks in the air when she said “special.”

I nodded. “I do. I left you a note.” I grinned. “I think I even said thank you. In some detail.”

She nodded, too. “Second question. Did you ever stop to think that maybe . . . just maybe . . . my father would be the one getting the mail?” She stood and pushed a button on her desk. I stood, too. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Camel. Patrice will see you out.” She extended her hand. I shook it and it was cold.

Later, I was working on my third bowl of ice cream and looking over the Twelve Steps when her assistant called with the offer.

::

There we go, some pretty cool stuff to look forward to on Tor.com! 🙂

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on January 6, 2011 in Totally Tor

 

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M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

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