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Notes on "Stuff of Dreams"

By Lewis Shiner

This was my first big sale, the story that put me on the map (albeit as a very small dot).

I'd recently moved to Austin and was living in a garage apartment behind two guys I knew from high school, both younger than me--Bill Alberts, who was at UT Law School, and his then roommate, John Swann, who was in pharmacy school.

John always reminded me of the Roger Zelazny story "The Great Slow Kings." I hitched a ride to Dallas with him once, and it took him from 9 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon to pack two days' worth of clothes for the trip.

Yet he had an astonishing mind, and he was far more than a technical advisor on this story--more of a collaborator, really. It was his idea that the drug would be a virus--all the cool reverse transcriptase stuff is his. He provided me with all the background color on med school, the slang, the routines, and, of course, the drugs.

Later, when I was writing Deserted Cities of the Heart, John again provided tireless assistance, advice, and ideas.

A few years later, John was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his brain. We'll never know if it was implicated in John's laid back approach to life, but it killed him in the end and deprived me of a valued friend.

To quote briefly from the autobiography on my web site:

When I showed ["Stuff of Dreams"] to Lisa Tuttle, one of the Turkey City writers, she said, "Ed Ferman will buy this." I didn't believe her; Ferman was the editor of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, a.k.a. F&SF, considered the most literary of all the SF magazines. I desperately wanted to sell there, and had had a couple of nice rejection notes from him, but I'd also been burned too many times.
One of the great things about F&SF is that you find out you've sold there when you see your name on the check through the window of their envelope—a clear and unconditional response. Three months after I submitted "Stuff of Dreams" I got my check and it felt like a major watershed.
It was.

The name Matheson is of course a reference to Richard Matheson, the author of classics like The Shrinking Man and I Am Legend, and writer of some of the best Twilight Zone episodes. I suppose I thought I was being clever, but now I just find this sort of extra-textual reference annoying and distracting.

This is one of the few stories of mine that my father ever read. His one comment was, "No medical student would ever take drugs!"


Notes © 2007 by Lewis Shiner. Some rights reserved.

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