LE STYX COULE A L'ENVERS was published in April, 1997 by Editions
Denoël, in their “Présences” line
edited by the late Jacques Chambon (1942-2003). For various
reasons, Jacques put this book together by mixing stories
from Dan Simmons’ first US collection, PRAYERS TO BROKEN
STONES (Dark Harvest, 1990) with stories uncollected in the
States at the time. He nevertheless wished to use Harlan Ellison’s
introduction to PRAYERS, as well as Dan’s notes for
the stories he intended to reprint. As for the other stories,
he asked Dan to write brand-new notes, and here they are,
available for the first time in English, as sent by Dan to
Jacques by fax on November, 12, 1996:
Introduction to “This Year's Class Picture”
When first contacted about the possibility of doing
a story for a zombie anthology (STILL DEAD, BOOK OF THE DEAD
2, edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector), my initial reaction
was something less than wildly enthusiastic. I mean, what
is there left to be said about zombies? What new insights
could be gleaned by writing about the walking dead?
I soon realized that I had—as usual—been asking
the wrong questions. The story that announced itself ready
and waiting to be written was about teaching and the faith
and patience of teachers, not about zombies per se. And thus,
In my 18 years of teaching in the elementary public schools,
I was honored to know more than one Ms. Geiss. These were
the teachers for whom teaching remained an avocation even
when the society changing around them had forgotten what the
word “avocation” meant and implied. These Ms.
Geisses were my colleagues around whom the riptides of educational
fads and deteriorating working conditions and increased societal
instability ebbed and flowed, surged and receded, while they
stood as tall and solid as great rocks on the seashore. But
even great rocks will be worn down eventually by tide and
My daughter, Jane, was privileged to have at least one Ms.
Geiss during her elementary-school years. To that Ms. Geiss—to
all of the Ms. Geisses who remain warm and solid and supportive
as the cold sea of the betrayal of childhood surges all about
them—I respectfully dedicate this story.
Introduction to “My Private Memoirs of the
Hoffer Stigmata Pandemic”
This story is Dan Rather’s worst nightmare.
For those cultural anthropologists who are reading this story
centuries hence and lack context, I should explain that Dan
Rather is the current “anchor” on the national
CBS Evening News. Rather took the physical place of former
anchor Walter Cronkite about a decade ago and he is a capable
and honest reporter, but he hasn’t replaced the avuncular
Cronkite in most of our hearts. The man seems strung rather
tightly, which is probably what led novelist Stephen King
to comment: “The only reason I tune in to the national
news anymore is to be watching on the night that Dan Rather
loses it and goes stark, raving apeshit on the air.”
In the meantime, Rather has been wrestling with a self-image
problem: essentially he has been trying to decide whether
to let his hair go naturally gray or to continue coloring
it. The effect has been that the TV newsman’s brown
hair fades visibly over a week’s time, the fringes turning
gray, and then suddenly reverts to a glossy, totally false
brown. Many of us men who are about Rather’s age watch
with some interest.
In Dante’s age, outward appearance was—under
certain circumstances—considered a guide to inner worth:
thus, in the Inferno, the sinners must suffer in their appearance
the physical manifestation of their sins. In this enlightened,
politically correct age, of course, such thoughts are anathema.
Witness Smith College’s official list of “Specific
Manifestations of Oppression,” which includes a new
form of vile discrimination called “lookism,”
defined as “the belief that appearance is an indicator
of a person's value.”
I wonder what sort of Hoffer Stigmata would plague such ideologically
pure and fanatical egalitarianist dogma-police? The multiple
horns and face-turned-inside-out of the Ultimate Arrogance
Syndrome? Liar’s leprosy? Power-abuser scales? Hypocrisy
probosci? Perhaps we shall someday see.
Introduction to “The Counselor”
In the United States in the last dreg years of the
dying century, teachers get no respect. Counselors get less.
In a litigious society where every group has its legal advocates,
children seem oddly unrepresented. It is not an exaggeration
to say that animals are protected by more laws and advocacy
groups than are human children. It comes from the days—not
so long gone—when children were considered property.
Indeed, in the state where I live—Colorado—the
1996 election ballot held a referendum (proposed by a Virginia
far-right Christian coalition) which, if voted into law, would
have given parents a total carte blanche to decide every aspect
of their children’s education and discipline. In other
words, a school district could have been sued if it had “violated
parental rights” by teaching evolution, or history the
wrong way, or “values,” or any one of a thousand
other right-wing Christian flashpoint subjects. Of more concern
was the fact that it would have prevented intervention in
child abuse and neglect cases … “parents have
the right to determine all aspects of their children’s
education and discipline.”
Child abuse was a sad rarity when I started teaching in 1970.
It was commonplace when I left the classroom for the last
time in 1987. One of the reasons that I left was that I was
worried that someday, during some teacher conference, I would
leap across the desk at some stepfather or mother or “uncle”
or father and begin throttling the miserable bastard because
of what I knew he or she had done to the child in my class.
Counselors get very little respect. School boards see them
as expensive line items. Principals often see them as superfluous.
Teachers see them as lazy. Some parents see them as snitches.
Perhaps it is only the children who see them as saviors.
Introduction to “My Copsa Micas”
I have always distrusted opinion essays disguised
as works of fiction. As one of the great old time movie producers
said in a memo to his directors—“If you wanna
send a message, use Western Union.”
But this is obviously a story-cum-essay. It is hard even
for me to say where actual events leave off in this story
and where fiction begins. I went to Romania. I saw Copsa Mica.
Cybele—beautiful Cybele—was my sixth-grade student
and she was buried with her “elevenses” snack
and snapshots of me and the class next to her lovely, slender
hand. My sister-in-law did almost get us arrested. I arrived
at the future with Saul Bellow at my side. I did not read
MADAME BOVARY until 1991. And so on. And so forth.
But I am a fiction writer and this is a work of fiction.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant novel CAT’S CRADLE,
he creates the religion of Bokononism, in which Prophet Bokonon
warns the faithful—“All the great truths I reveal
to you here are lies.”
To which I add—“All the great lies I reveal to
you here are truth.”
Introduction to “Looking for Kelly Dahl”
Steve Rasnic Tem asked me to do a story for an anthology
he was editing called High Fantastic which was to be filled
with fiction by Colorado authors. The fiction was to have
a sense of place to it—specifically, a sense of Colorado.
I admit that I hesitated. At the time Steve asked for a story
from me, I had lived in Colorado for more than twenty years.
I love the state. I love the mountains and the sunlight and
the blue skies and the high prairie and the sight of mountain
summit snowfields gleaming a hundred and sixty miles way as
I look out my kitchen window in the morning. But I had never
used Colorado as the setting for any of my novels.
The reason is complicated. Perhaps the best way to explain
it is by mentioning a series of stories which the science-fiction
writer Larry Niven did some years ago. The stories were fantasy
set in a time long before history, but each was written with
a scientific logic. In this ancient time, magic was real.
It worked. Magicians and sorcerers were common and their craft
was as efficient as the work of scientists or engineers today.
You see, magic was a natural resource, present in the earth
of that day as surely as gold and as invisible and usable
as magnetism. Niven had his characters call this natural resource
mana. Of course, as is true of any natural resource, mana
could be used up. When it was mined out, when the earth was
depleted of its mana magic, then the spells no longer worked,
the flying carpets fell to earth, the castles suspended in
air crashed, and the dragons died—their bones becoming
instantly fossilized until they looked like the remnants of
saurians that had walked the earth millions of years ago.
My concern about writing about my home state had something
to do with this … worried that I might use up too much
of the mana that still lies in these mountains and plains.
On my property in the mountains there is a gold mine running
seventy or eighty feet back into the hillside, blasted out
by hard rock miners more than a hundred years ago as they
searched for those last veins of gold in an area that had
been mined out. They did not find any. The mine is a sad sight
Whether I found gold—or magic—in “Looking
For Kelly Dahl” is for you to decide, of course. But
the story was important to me and I’m glad that I tried
calling forth the mana from this place and these people that
“This Year’s Class Picture”, in
STILL DEAD: BOOK OF THE DEAD 2, edited by John Skipp &
Craig Spector, Bantam, 1992.
“My Private Memoirs of the Hoffer Stigmata Pandemic”,
in MASQUES IV, edited by J. N. Williamson, Maclay & Associates,
“The Counselor”, in OBSESSIONS, edited by Gary
Raisor, Dark Harvest, 1991.
“My Copsa Micas”, in THE EARTH STRIKES BACK,
edited by Richard T. Chizmar, Mark V. Ziesing Books, 1994.
“Looking for Kelly Dahl”, in THE EARTH STRIKES
BACK, edited by Steve Rasnic Tem, Ocean View Books, 1996;
collected in WORLDS ENOUGH & TIME, Subterranean Press,
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