“The School” Update

I wanted to say a thousand thanks to everyone who contributed after the publication of “The School”! As promised, I’ll select one person at random to receive a signed copy of the manuscript. I’ll also select someone to receive a copy of Camera Obscura. The support meant a lot!

“The School” is now available in the July issue of Expanded Horizons, for which I am also very grateful. Dash from Expanded Horizons asked me about the influences of the story, so here is my comment below.

Q: What drove you to write the story, how has this gelled in your mind?  Was this floating around in your consciousness for years, or was there some “aha” moment that made it crystalize?

A: It’s been coalescing for me for a while, I guess the final prompt was reading Creating the Innocent Killer, by John Kessel, which in turn builds on Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman, by Elaine Radford, which I then also went and read. I wouldn’t say I find either entirely convincing, but they acted as the final prompt for “The School”, I think – adding that final missing piece to make it possible to write it.

The Campbell Axiom in the story – that’s pretty much a direct quote, I think, from Isaac Asimov’s autobiography, In Memory Yet Green. Asimov valued Campbell tremendously, but was also very aware of Campbell’s racism, which I think shaped American science fiction, the “Golden Age” and beyond, in ways we still feel today.

The Weber Axiom… I don’t go to conventions or anything like that, but I ended up at Eastercon when my second novel, Camera Obscura, came out recently, and somehow ended up on a space opera panel with Weber, who was the guest of honour there. So the axiom is pretty much a direct quote as well, and in fact the part of the pupil in the story, the one raising his hand to bang on about Melanesia (where I’ve lived) is the one I tried to make in response. There was a polite silence and then everyone went back to talking about calculating spaceship trajectories or whatever it was.

Stone’s comment on homosexuality as a genetic defect is still online, as are Card’s own views on the subject. There is one reference in there that’s very obscure – that only about 5 people in the world could possibly pick up on, but I couldn’t help myself working it in. It’s the one about “blending African and Jewish genetic lines to – “to mix the African’s physical prowess with the Jew’s intellectual power””. That’s actually the subject of an Israeli novel, Zirmat Cha’chamim (Genes for Geniuses, Inc. or, for a more literal translation, Smart People’s Sperm) by geneticist Ram Mo’av. Mo’av wrote a second book, Luna: The Genetic Paradise (I write about it elsewhere) – about a genetic utopia on the moon, which he wrote as he was dying of a terminal illness. It’s terribly obscure, but I had fun working that in!

Oh, and the opening paragraph is a direct reference to S.P. Somtow’s “The Bird Catcher” (which you can read in my The Apex Book of World SF, amongst others, or online) – “There was this other boy in the internment camp.  His name was Jim.  After the war, he made something of a name for himself.  He wrote books, even a memoir of the camp that got turned into a Spielberg movie.  It didn’t turn out that gloriously for me.” I loved the idea of this intersection, this meta-commenting on fiction, so I stole it!

“The School” is very much a story about science fiction. It’s also, as I’m sure some readers have helpfully pointed out, not incredibly subtle. But then, quite a lot of science fiction’s ingrained sexism or racism isn’t particularly subtle either.

At the end of the day, I wrote it because I needed to write it. It does what I want it to do, which is all I can really ask of a short story. Responses have varied wildly… read it and make up your own mind.

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