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Notes on "Deserted Cities of the Heart"

By Lewis Shiner

If memory serves, this comes from the summer of 1982. I was hard at work on what would be my first published novel, Frontera, and the thing that would eventually become known as cyberpunk was in its first, as yet nameless, flower.

I was very, very close to selling to Omni, the top market for science fiction (other than Playboy and Penthouse, which were on a whole other level of inaccessibility). Bill Gibson had been talking me up to Ellen Datlow, the sf editor there; I had met her at a couple of conventions, and I was getting nice, personal rejection letters from her. It was time to pull out all the stops.

I was pretty sure even then that my second novel would be called Deserted Cities of the Heart, would involve the destruction of the world (as we know it) by earthquakes, would include magic mushrooms and Mayan ruins in the Yucatan jungle and an unfinished love affair. It was the best idea I had lying around, and I decided to go ahead and cannibalize it for a short story and worry about the novel later.

I believe it was at ArmadilloCon that year, at a highrise hotel in downtown Austin, that Ellen took me aside, said she couldnít make any promises, but if I were willing to make some changes she would definitely like to see the story again. The things she wanted were minor and I knew that she was going to buy it—which she did.

When it came time to write the novel, I basically pretended the short story didnít exist—except for one small, inside joke: When Eddie uses the mushroom to travel back in time to the psychiatric hospital, one of his fellow patients is named Ryker.


© 2009 by Lewis Shiner. First published in Collected Stories, December 2009. Some rights reserved.

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