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Additional Introductions for
Le Styx coule à l’envers

 
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, Ms. Geiss.

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 time.

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 today.

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 I love.


Bibliography
“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, 1991.

“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, 2002.

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