The Engine of Recall
The well-received collection of my short science fiction, from Red Deer Press
I'm not a prolific short story writer. When I was 14 I started writing my first novel, and for me, short fiction has always been a sideline. One of the consequences of this is that I tend to lavish way too much attention on short pieces when I do work on them--totally out of proportion to the $200 or so that a short piece will fetch in today's market.
Still, short fiction's been good to me. On the strength of one short story sale, I was able to muscle my way into the founding meeting of SF Canada (our national SF and fantasy writer's association). That story was "Pools of Air", which in Winter 2008 is being taught with some of my other stories at York University here in Toronto.
Anyway in 2004 Robert J. Sawyer asked me if I had anything suitable for his new line, Robert J. Sawyer Books, which had started coming out of Red Deer Press in Alberta. I pitched a short story collection, not expecting much to come of it--but Rob was highly interested. As it turned out, his instincts were right; the collection has done very well for me.
Rob asked me to gather together only my hard science fiction, and initially I balked, because that would exclude two of my favourite stories: the Aurora Award winning "The Toy Mill", which I wrote with David Nickle; and "Dawn" which, though one of my few forays into fantasy, is also one of my most emotional and, I think, effective works. Rob applied the thumbscrews, however, and so the collection became strictly hard SF. To seal this pedigree, he managed somehow to convince Stephen Baxter to write the introduction!
Short story collections don't get reviewed much, but this one got national attention in Quill & Quire, Canada's largest review magazine. They liked it a lot. So did SF Site. Reader response has also been enthusiastic--"Alexander's Road", which I wrote specially for the collection and was my first short piece in years, was nominated for the 2006 Aurora Award. Availability of the collection in the United States has generated sales all out of proportion to my expectations.
I was given an unusual amount of input (for publishing) into the design of the book. Red Deer asked me to propose cover art, and I suggested something that would fall in line with the overall theme of the 'outsider'--of isolation and grand perspective--that I'd imbued into many of the stories. The hardcover edition looks exactly as I was hoping it would.
I thought that was it--taking to heart the usual publishing wisdom that short story collections don't do that well. In particular, Canadian publishing expectations are usually low: sales of 10,000 domestically are enough to put you in bestseller territory. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the hardcover had sold well enough that Red Deer had decided to do a trade paperback version.
For this edition, Red Deer commissioned Jean-Pierre Normand to do the artwork, and he provided a number of striking images for me to consider. It was hard to decide which one to go with; in the end we chose one that represented the central action of the title story.
You can check the collection out by reading the first story. "Hopscotch", one of my earliest stories, was nominated for an Aurora Award, and I think it still holds up pretty well. It's been optioned for film and would make a perfect art-house movie. You can read it online (in PDF format).
I've recently begun writing short fiction again, with stories like "Book, Theatre, and Wheel" and "Mitigation". The success of The Engine of Recall was definitely a factor in getting me off by duff to do it.