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Notes on "Till Human Voices Wake Us"

By Lewis Shiner

When I put this story in my Edges of Things collection, I had this to say:

This was another of my misguided attempts to write for a market. I was close to selling, I thought, at both Playboy and Penthouse [I never did]. I tried to think of an idea for a fantasy story that would be sexy enough to go to a man's magazine. Mermaids, I thought. How about a scientifically plausible mermaid?
The rest fell into place by itself. I set the story on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands in Honduras, where 1'd been scuba diving with my father. As it turned out, both Lucius Shepard ("Black Coral") and Pat Murphy ("In the Islands") had also set stories on Roatan. And to make it an even smaller world, fellow Austinite Lisa Tuttle had already published a story called "Till Human Voices Wake Us," which I must have known about subconsciously. I would have changed the title to "Between the Windows of the Sea" [quoting Dylan's "Desolation Row"] if I'd sent it out again--but F&SF bought it before I had the chance.

This ended up being one of my more reprinted stories. As well as appearing in the Dozois and Dann Mermaids! anthology, Bruce Sterling put it in his much-translated and reprinted Mirrorshades.

From the Science of Names Department: The protagonist is named Campbell in honor of what I call the "hard C" rule. I had noticed that suspense writers frequently give their heroes names that start with a hard C or a K. One of my favorite writers, Robert L. Duncan, had clearly figured this out as well, as all of his characters had hard-C last names. There are a million examples, but Case in Neuromancer and Converse in Dog Soldiers are two that come readily to mind. John Carter in Burroughs's Mars books. And on and on. You can see this in my own work in Kane in Frontera, Carmichael in Deserted Cities, and Robert and Michael Cooper in Black and White.


© 2007 by Lewis Shiner. First published in Fiction Liberation Front, December 2007. Some rights reserved.

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