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Notes on "Soldier, Sailor"

By Lewis Shiner

This is the introduction I wrote for the story for my Nine Hard Questions about the Nature of the Universe collection:

This is obviously an early version of my novel Frontera, which was published in 1984. The characters started off in a mainstream novel called And Then Palestrina, which I dropped out of college to finish in the summer of 1970. It was basically the story of a college kid (Scotty) who meets a free spirit (Reese) and drops out to look for adventure with him. Adventure eludes them and so they become serial killers (and eventually mass-murderers) instead. Well, it made sense at the time.
Back in college in the spring of 1973 I condensed the novel into an audition piece for an advanced fiction writing class taught by Marshall Terry. He let me in anyway. There I rethought the whole idea as science fiction (which I'd started reading again) with blatant mythic elements and retitled it "Soldier, Sailor." Over the next summer I finished that version of the novel, much of it in longhand. It was incredibly longwinded and dull, so much so that I never bothered to type it up.
In early 1976 I had slipped from a story a week to one a month or so. At the same time I was reading Ballard and was enthralled with his condensed novels. I kept coming back to the thematic materials of "Soldier, Sailor," but it was only when I changed Scotty's name to Kane (with all the attendant homicidal implications) that things fell into place.
The ampersands (&) were an homage to William Blake. They were also, along with the inflated diction level and the self-consciousness of the characters, an attempt to create artistic distance. They give the short story a very different mood from the novel, one I still enjoy.


© 2007 by Lewis Shiner. Some rights reserved.

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