William Shunn


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William Shunn

About Me

Writing Sample

“Is there something I could drink, possibly?” I ask, my throat clicking dustily.

“Of course, forgive me,” says Trigger.  “My manners are abominable.”  He points.  “There, just to the right of your elbow.

I look where he’s indicating and find a small niche in the bulkhead.  Nestled inside is a tumbler of what feels, when I pick it up, like heavy frosted glass.  It glows with the same phosphorescence as the walls.

“That wasn’t there before, right?”

Trigger grins with delight.  “Ah, the joys of a programmable living space!  You’re correct, there was no cup there before.”

Besides thirsty, I’m tired and a little nauseous.  I didn’t think my story took so long to tell, but my throat tells a different story.  So does 99, who has fallen asleep on the cushions, leaning away from me.  Derek is still passed out, and Marvel and Algebra have retreated to the inner cabin.  Besides me, Trigger’s the only one awake, and of the two of us he’s the only one alert.

Despite my thirst, I peer into the tumbler and cautiously sniff.  The liquid inside seems clear and odorless, but it’s hard to tell for sure.

“Don’t worry,” says Trigger.  “Pure water, nothing else.  I can get you most anything else, if you like, but this seemed most sensible.”

“No, this is fine, thank you.”  I drink deeply.  The water is clean and so cold it almost tastes sweet.  I can feel the chill spread through my stomach in icy trickles.  I take the tumbler, empty, from my lips and exhale.

“It will refill in the slot there if you just put it back.”

I do, and take my hand away again.  I watch.  No spout descends to fill the tumbler; instead the water wells up from inside, stopping when it nearly reaches the brim.

“You must be hungry as well,” Trigger says when I have finished another cup and put it back for another refill.  “Have you eaten tonight, Jude?”
I shake my head.  “I’ve been feeling a little woozy, though.  Not really hungry.”

“You don’t normally spend a lot of time in gravity this strong, it sounds like.  I would turn ours down a little to make you feel more comfortable, but it can be disorienting and even dangerous for people who aren’t accustomed to sleeping in lower g.”

“You can do that?”

“It’s a world of casual miracles.  Remember where and when I’m from?  I never cease being amazed either.”  He gestures toward the wall again.  “You should eat something, though.  Something small, at least.”

I look again.  A smaller niche has appeared above the first, and in it a round sort of seedcake sits on a small plate made from the same type of glass as the tumbler.

“Again, if that’s not to your taste, I can probably come up with anything else you like.  But that’s highly nutritious.  It should hold you until breakfast.”

I take the plate and nibble carefully at a corner of the seedcake.  It’s sticky and crumbly both, with a taste like honey.  “It’s very good,” I say.  “Thank you.”

“My mother used to make that,” Trigger says.  “Or something like it.  I still don’t have the formulation quite right.  Though how I’d be sure if I did, I don’t know.  It’s been so long.”

I try to hold back and eat the cake slowly, but I find the whole thing’s gone in three or four bites.  “If the real thing was better than this, it must really have been something,” I say.

“Different,” Trigger says, “not necessarily better.  But I trust that old memories and old feelings will somehow open up to me when I get it right.”  He sighs.  “But I shouldn’t keep you up much longer.  You’ve had a harder couple of days than most.  That is a hell of a story you tell.  Thank you for trusting us with it.”

I discovered a strange thing relating my experiences to Trigger and 99 (while she was still awake)–there are some secret thoughts it can be easier to tell a stranger than to tell the ones you know well and love.  I’m a little shocked at how much I’ve told them.  Not even Derek knows half of what I’ve told them.

“Thanks for listening,” I say.

“May I pick your brain for a few minutes before I let you go?”

I blink.  “Sure, I guess.  About what?”

“I must admit, I’m fascinated by your beliefs.”  He holds up his hands, something he seems to do a lot.  “I know, how could I not be?  Machinism.  I’ve studied a lot of faiths in my time, Jude, but I haven’t encountered many that have spoken to me like yours does.”

Nothing he might have said could have startled me more.  I never would have thought to find any religious seeker amongst the Sculpted.  This is why it’s with great embarrassment that I say, “I, well, I’m not sure you could join.”

His eyes widen.  “Why not?  It’s not the color of my skin, is it?”

“No, no, no!  Of course not.  It’s your mods.”

“I assure you, Jude, my arms are purely mechanical.  Precision high-tech, to be sure, but all very straightforward.”

I smile a little to hide my discomfort, and I don’t quite meet his eyes.  “It’s not that.  It’s all the other mods.  The stuff that let’s you do things in the Drealm, and everything else.”

“Oh.  I see.”  Trigger sits back, a contemplative look on his face.  “Yes, I suppose I was overlooking that bit from your story, how your mods got you in such big trouble with your father.  But let me get something straight.  I understand how symbolic it is that Jesus was a carpenter and all that, and that God was the Architect and Builder of all Creation.  But do you believe there are six literal Machines–I don’t know, sort of like a double sub-Trinity, hanging out up in heaven, ranged around the throne of God, singing hymns of great praise?  Or more likely, doing odd jobs for God–you know, some heavy lifting here, some prizing apart there?  I don’t mean to sound blasphemous, Jude, so please forgive me if I do.  I’m just trying to figure out how real these Six Fundamental Machines are to you.”

I consider the question.  “That’s a tricky one.  I believe in the Six, of course, believe they’re real, but I guess you’re asking something a little different.  As in, are they physicallyreal, apart from the versions of them we build here in the mortal realm?”

“That’s a fair restatement of the question,” Trigger says, nodding.  “Are they just Platonic abstractions, or could you actually touch one?”

“I suppose I’ve always thought of them as abstractions,” I say, taking another tumblerful of water from the niche.  “I’ve never heard or read anything that would lead me to think the Six are anything more–until you actually build them, that is.  Then it’s like turning a blueprint into something real.  But, you know, contemplating those abstractions, the guiding principles behind them, that can keep you occupied for a lifetime.”

“All right, so they are abstractions.  That jibes with what I’ve splatched so far on the subject.”  His brow wrinkles, and he sits forward again.  “But here’s what I’m having some trouble with.  One of the points High Foreman Titus was trying to make with the Six Fundamental Machines was that from a few simple building blocks–”

“Points the Builder made through the High Foreman,” I say, trying not to act amazed that this man from Mars knows the name of our founding prophet, though amazed I am.

“Fair enough.  Thank you.  So, from a few simple building blocks, great and powerful dynamos can be constructed, world-changing dynamos even.”

“Yes,” I say.  “You just have to put the pieces together in the proper combinations.”

“So far, so good, then.  I think I’ve understood the material well enough to this point.  But what confuses me is the question of where it stops.”

“I don’t follow you.”

Trigger blows out a breath as if daunted by the task of turning his thoughts into speech.  He frames his words with choppy movements of his beautiful hands.  “I mean, at what point does a thing become so complicated that its creation is no longer pleasing in God’s eyes, but instead is evil and corrupt?”

“I’m . . . not aware of a point like that,” I say, treading carefully.  I sense a trap, somehow.

“But you must be!” Trigger says intently.  “Otherwise how would you be able to say that opening a door with a mechanical lock and key is good, but opening a door with a smart-matter latch that recognizes your fingerprints is evil?  How would you be able to say that using optics to mount lenses the right distance in front of your face to correct your vision is good, but ingesting tiny machines that can change the shape of your eyes from the inside is bad?  Where’s the line?”

“But those aren’t the same things at all!”

“Sure they are.  They’re different ways of using technology to solve the same problems, is all.  In fact, to some extent, we’re talking about mechanical processes in all these cases.  So is there a size limit or something?  Is that the answer?  The more we refine and recomplicate our dynamos, the smaller we can make them, the finer we can tune their effects, but the more the Builder disapproves?”

I just stare at him, with my mouth hanging open a little.  How do you explain the obvious?  And if you can’t explain it, is it really that obvious after all?

“I’m sorry, Jude,” Trigger says.  “I’m just flaunting my ignorance here, I’m sure.  Like everyone who’s been downloading this material on Machinism today, I’m still trying to assimilate it all, and I admit my understanding is shallow.  But from the hints I’ve heard while you’ve been telling your story, I gather that Machinists believe there’s good technology and there’s evil technology.  But I can’t find anything in Titus’s writings to suggest this.  I’m probably just not reading it right, but I got the idea he was more concerned with the good and evil uses of technology than with the technology itself.”

I shake my head violently.  “No, no, no, that’s all wrong.”

“I defer to you, of course.  You’re the expert.”  He scratches his head.  “How long have Machinists been on Netherview Station, by the way?  Forty years?  Fifty?  You weren’t the main migration, I know.  Who’s seen or heard from Titus’s successors in that time?”

“You don’t even really believe in the Builder, do you,” I say hotly.  “You’ve just been trying to turn my words back on me, make me look stupid.”

His mouth tightens, and I start thinking maybe it’s not such a brilliant idea to mouth off to a man who’s named Trigger.  “No,” he says quietly, “I do believe in the Builder, in God.  I don’t doubt he exists.  I’ve got too many times in my past when I should have been dead.  There’s no other way for me to explain why I’m still here.  But anyway, I think humans are wired to believe in gods of one sort or another.  It’s in our code, a survival trait no doubt.  People who say they don’t believe in God, it’s because they’ve decided not to, trained themselves not to.  Atheism doesn’t come naturally to anyone, but you and I may be the only ones in this room who are man enough to admit it.”

My heads hurts, my nausea is back, and all I want to do is curl up and go to sleep.  I try to be polite and disengage gently, but I’m so tired the words just bunch up and burst out:  “Trigger, I need to go to bed.”

“Yes, of course, I’m sorry.”  He covers his face with one metal hand.  He stands up and extends the hand to me.  “Perhaps we’ll continue this conversation someday.”

“Yes,” I say, kicking myself for my clumsiness.  In all honesty, though, I’m more disturbed now than I was when we started the conversation.

I grasp Trigger’s cool hand, and he helps me to my feet.

What I Write

My writing is all over the map, in terms of form and genre. I’ve published hard science fiction, medieval fantasy, horror, and “mainstream” fiction, not to mention essays, poetry, and a full-length memoir.

For the Clarion West Write-A-Thon, I’m trying to jumpstart a YA SF novel that I abandoned a couple of years ago to concentrate on my memoir. The novel is an expansion of “Inclination,” my award-nominated novella.

Website

http://www.shunn.net

Twitter Handle

shunn

Publications

BOOKS

The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary, Sinister Regard, November 2015 [Association for Mormon Letters Award nominee]

Cast a Cold Eye (with Derryl Murphy), PS Publishing, November 2009

An Alternate History of the 21st Century, Spilt Milk Press, Summer 2007

 

STORIES

“After the Earthquake a Fire,” Bloodstone Review #2, Fall 2015

“Our Dependency on Foreign Keys,” Across the Margin, April 30 and May 1, 2015

“Sparkler,” Newtown Literary #5, Fall/Winter 2014

“Subterraneans” (with Laura Chavoen), Glitter and Mayhem, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas and John Klima, Apex Publications, Lexington, KY, August 2013

“Find the Gray Triangle,” 8×8, The Coop, Chicago, May 18, 2012

“Stand Up,” This May Get Awkward, December 5, 2011

“Care and Feeding of Your Piano,” Electric Velocipede #21/22, Fall 2010

“The Visitors at Wriggly Field,” The Pulps Online #3, December 2009

“A Strong Premonition of Death Struck Me This Morning,” Electric Velocipede Blog, July 20, 2009

“Timesink,” Electric Velocipede #15/16, Fall 2008

“Not of This Fold,” An Alternate History of the 21st Century, Spilt Milk Press, Summer 2007

“Objective Impermeability in a Closed System,” An Alternate History of the 21st Century, Spilt Milk Press, Summer 2007

“Inclination,” Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2006 [Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon Award nominee]

“The Ice Queen,” Storyteller, Winter 2004

“Optical Allusions,” Electric Velocipede #7, Fall 2004 (as Perry Slaughter)

“Why I Think I’ll Be Staying Home Tonight,” Electric Velocipede #6, Spring 2004

“Divided by Time,” Realms of Fantasy, December 2003

“Strong Medicine,” Salon, November 10, 2003

The Day Pietro Coppino Spoke to the Mountain,” Realms of Fantasy, October 2003

“Love in the Age of Spyware,” Salon, July 16, 2003

“Mrs. Janokowski Hits One out of the Park,” Electric Velocipede #4, Spring 2003

“The Diagnostic Feast,” Beyond the Last Star, edited by Sherwood Smith, SFF Net, 2002

“The Veil Beyond the Veil,” Realms of Fantasy, April 2002

“Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites,” Vanishing Acts, edited by Ellen Datlow, Tor Books, New York, NY, 2000 [Nebula Award nominee]

“Stalin’s Candy,” Realms of Fantasy, June 1999

“Synchronicity and the Single Girl,” Blood Rose, Autumnal Equinox 1998

“The Practical Ramifications of Interstellar Packet Loss,” Science Fiction Age, September 1998

“Celestial Mechanics,” F&SF, March 1996

“Kevin-17,” F&SF, February 1995

“Two Paths in the Forest Toulemonde,” Science Fiction Age, January 1994

“Rise Up, Ye Women That Are at Ease,” Washed by a Wave of Wind, edited by M. Shayne Bell, Signature Books, Salt Lake City, UT, 1993

“In the Dark,” Science Fiction Age, September 1993

“From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left,” F&SF, February 1993

“Cut Without Hands,” LDSF-2, edited by Benjamin Urrutia, Parables, Ludlow, MA, 1985

Write-a-thon Goals

Writing Goals

For the Clarion West Write-A-Thon, I’m trying to jumpstart a YA SF novel that I abandoned a couple of years ago to concentrate on my memoir. The novel is an expansion of “Inclination,” my award-nominated novella.

I work full time, care for a dog and a spouse, and run a local literary reading series. My writing time is seriously constrained, so my goal for the Write-A-Thon is a very modest 1,000 words each week on the novel.

Fundraising Goals

Any amount is lovely and appreciated! For a sponsorship of $25 or more, however, I will send you the novel-in-progress and all weekly updates.