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Notes on "Stompin' at the Savoy"

By Lewis Shiner

In Texas in the 70s they had a series of TV ads featuring a female model in scanty clothes and a cowboy hat standing in front of a drilling rig. "Don't have an oil well?" she smirked. "Get one! You'll enjoy doing business with the Western Company!" These incredibly offensive ads ran for what seemed like years, at a cost of untold millions. A friend in the oil business later told me the ads been targeted at just two major oil companies, and Western had landed both, so the campaign was considered an unprecedented success.

Similarly, I wrote "Stompin' at the Savoy" for a Turkey City Workshop with pretty much the sole idea of making my fellow Austin writer Bruce Sterling laugh. I was tired of his long, painful critiques of my stories and wanted, just once, for Sterling to rave about a story of mine. The ploy worked, and I amused myself at the same time.

"Stompin'" is a classic clean-out-the-notebook story, cobbled together from half a dozen goofy ideas that hadn't found a home over the years. It is far from the first story whose characters are named for knock-knock jokes, but it was, I believe, the first published story to feature the Subgenius™ mythos. I went to high school with the founder of the cult and had been a card-carrying member for years when I wrote the story.

This is a story that dares to be dumb, one of the few times I let down my guard and didn't cling desperately to my dignity. I like that about it, and like the protagonist for his rather touching innocence.

None of the regular SF magazines wanted anything to do with it, of course, and who can blame them? Pat Cadigan and Arnie Fenner rescued it from oblivion for SHAYOL #7 (actually published in 1986, if memory serves, despite the 1985 cover date), and it was subsequently bootlegged in a cheap fanzine and finally reprinted in the Subgenius anthology, Three Fisted Tales of Bob.

I have no explanation for the title, which I swiped from a swing tune performed by Benny Goodman and others. It just felt right, somehow.


© 2008 by Lewis Shiner. First published in Fiction Liberation Front, January 2008. Some rights reserved.

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