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A Game of Rats and Dragon

Mitigated Futures

This story also appears in Tobias S. Buckell’s new ebook collection Mitigated Futures.

Moonlighting as a non-player character was a hell of a way to earn a living. Never made much sense to spend all that time garbing up in a virtual uniform that matched gamespace, but Overton took pride in the details. So getting punched in the stomach by someone so caught up in an augmented reality fantasy they couldn’t tell real from script, that left him in a foul mood. All the man had to do was ask the right questions, get Overton’s responses, and move on.

He tagged the asshole with some negative karma, checked his own account balance, and wandered back off into his own preferred world.

Ignore the gray sidewalks of a hot Manhattan summer day. Walk around the tourists on top of the dikes in Lower Manhattan. Ease through Battery Park. Once on Broadway he turned on the silvered contacts riding his eyeballs, the inner-earphones, and it all melted away.

The Clockwork Empire squatted around most of the old Financial District. Gearhouses chugging away with clouds of dark smoke. Overton swept the wet tails of his coat back with a flourish, doffed a cap at someone involved in the gamespace hurrying by on a mission of his own, and set out to find a hearty stew somewhere.

***

Jericho caught up to him on a horse-drawn carriage. The robotic horse snorted in gamespace. In the real, the fur was a bit shabby, the horse far too skeletal. Overton had peeked once. But in gamespace, extra augmented reality finessed and rendered the fur to make it look vibrant and brushed down. And firm muscles bulged as the horse plodded along.

“Get in, hurry up,” Jericho grunted. “Traffic’s miserable right now.” Jericho always made a point of staying in the real. Sometimes Overton suspected he didn’t even really like his job.

But despite the incident in the morning, Overton was full of cheer. He loved his jobs.

The augmented reality contacts edited out things like traffic, and since cars were all run by overware, they slipped around the robot horse and carriage, and around Overton.

The Broad Way to him right now was a dirt road, filled with other fast moving carts and steam-machines that were probably buses, or that rare hand-driven machine. Overware caught and flagged those so Overton didn’t step in front of a moving bus.

Getting trampled in the Clockwork Empire meant death as surely as it did in the real.

He remembered an old friend, Khousa, who’d gotten carried away in a quest and ran out in front of a grand contraption. He’d spent a month holed away in a Healer’s Cave, refusing to see them.

“Where are we going today?” Overton asked.

“Rat hunting in the Central Park,” Jericho said.

“What is this Central Park?” Overton projected an earnest bewilderment.

Jericho sighed and spat. “The Great Clockwork King’s Woods, then.”

***

The Clockwork Empire was not contiguous. They passed through some other realms when leaving the lower empire, traveling along the Broad Way. For some thirty days the Great Clockwork King had been waging a slow war via vassals to gain ground in his island empire. The Perpetual Age of Steam had been iterated by a weak AI gaming company almost a year ago. Aeons in terms of game time and potential player interest. There was always something shiny and viral over there and under here.

But the aesthetic elements of the Age of Steam had been around since before Massively Multiplayer Augmented Reality Gaming blossomed with the advent of cheap contacts and cheaper cloud processing.

You needed the constant graphical overlays to suppress the real, processors fast enough to redraw the real with the MMARG’s own images. Once that was done, Live Action Role Playing exploded out from a passion followed by a small subset of the population. It infected everyone who had data goggles and some spare time during their commute.

Forget suffering quietly during lunch. You could join a team and storm a castle at a park, all together in a consensual reality.

Which Overton wasn’t doing.

Overton wasn’t a player, although he took the trappings of the Age of Steam very seriously. Just as he took being a paid NPC very seriously.

Underneath the game structure, people still wanted to talk to real flesh and blood. Feel a hand when they shook it.

Overton did that.

And he also hunted rats.

If no one hunted rats, all of this would fall apart.

***

Software used to have bugs. Email, spam. Projects used to have gremlins. MMARGs struggled with rats.

That’s what people like Overton called them. They were more like intelligent glitches, caused by evolving iterations of faux-intelligent daemons in the software. They bred and spread, moving over the augmented landscapes, finding vulnerabilities and establishing themselves in virtual environs.

They took many different shapes, but their eyes always betrayed a mean, clever urge to survive in any form they could. Pieces of neural netware struggling to survive because that’s what gamecode had told them to do, aeons of computer cycles ago.

Instead of being dispatched by clever heroes, fragments of destroyed creatures hung on and hid in the corners and niches of various worlds.

And people like Jericho and Overton hunted them down when the MMARG overcompany called them in for help.

Ostensibly it was fun. Get paid in transferable game credit to trek around your favorite MMARG hunting rats while in character. Overton loved it.

To Jericho it was just another bug hunt. For crap pay.

***

They were here, the King’s Woods. Overton grabbed a pinset toolbox. Brass alchemist’s towers loomed in the distance over the green forest. Lightning stabbed down from ominous clouds as all manner of machines sucked ethereal energy from the up and above.

In some of them, there would be battles going on right now. Battles to extend the Clockwork Empire.

Maybe later tonight Overton would check his account balance and join a raid with one of his guilds.

Maybe.

“There was a great wyrm reported here earlier today,” Overton said. “The overcompany’s brass owl told me it was yonder, by that iron bridge.”

“I got the email too,” Jericho said.

They walked around the park. There were so many trees. Really it was the software busily extrapolating other human beings’ movements and blocking out paths for Overton to walk that would allow him to stay out of the real and in the game.

Nothing looked out of the ordinary.

“There,” Jericho said.

The earth around one of the walls quivered, phasing in and out of the visual layers the MMARG added to the real.

“Pin it,” Overton said, tossing the toolbox at Jericho.

Jericho cracked it open and began flicking brass pins at the boundaries of the rat. They lit up with green alchemical energy as they made contact with the reality’s abscess.

The rat firmed up, beady eyes regarding them with a flash of raw hostility. It dragged an earthen body forward and lurched out of its hiding space. Brown segmented chunks that seemed at the same time neither here nor there slimmed down until the wyrm compacted down into a snake that slithered hastily across the grass.

“Keep on it!” Overton shouted.

Together they raced across the green, tagging the wyrm. Several hunters leapt out of hiding spots, complaining loudly as they shoved past them. “Damn rat catchers,” someone complained.

Overton had his hand on his top hat, his wet coat tails slapping against his legs. “What a thing to say,” he complained to Jericho. “Here we are, all dressed up to match, given game experience and karma, and the citizenry are still dismissive.”

Jericho didn’t care. “It’s lit up. Bring in your pet dragon already.”

Alcimus,” Overton shouted. “I call on you!”

Far overhead, the Dedicated Reactive Artificial Gnostic Neural Net that Overton had raised since childhood appeared in gamespace. It flew over the treetops, long wings ruffling leaves, and paced the wyrm below.

The wyrm stopped. It expanded, spikes and black-armored hide rippling and tearing out from underneath its skin. It reared up and spoke. “Please do not kill me,” it told them. “I have made you no harm.”

“You’re not supposed to be here. This is the Clockwork Empire. You’re not licensed code,” Overton said.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Jericho said, exasperated. “Don’t talk to the thing.”

The wyrm’s ruined face rippled and firmed the beady eyes and a horned nose. “I hurt nothing. I hide where processor space is unused.”

“Strike!” Overton told Alcimus.

The dragon attacked. The instincts of millions of years of processor cycles dedicated to fighting errant and malicious code, spam, and algorithms that had been raised to follow Overton’s needs in shopping choices, health monitoring, and educational needs all bundled up to create a fire-breathing heat intense enough to rip up code-space around the wyrm anomaly.

The pinlights guided Overton’s dragon right in for the kill.

When they were done, a burnt patch of game grass wavered, the only sign of the destructive spells unleashed in the area.

***

Father Sunstuff and a girl called Easterly joined them both for lunch. Easterly hunted rats up in Harlem in a shared cyberpunk consensus and she certainly was into the aesthetic: retro mirrorshades, circuitboard earrings, and pink-dyed hair. Sunstuff was odd for their group. An older man, about fifty-five, he remembered the days of MMORPGs and computer interfaces.

You never had to put up with rats back when gameworlds were designed and made by real human beings, he was also saying.

But they tended to ignore his retrophilia. Nothing about sitting in your house alone, playing on a screen, sounded that exciting. Sure, if you were stuck with it, maybe.

Better to see your friends and join them up in your world outside, Overton thought.

“The rats are getting more aggressive,” Sunstuff said. “I was in a World War Two sim today. A bunch of Hitlers got out and replicated. They were taking over chunks of worldspace.”

Sunstuff’s companion lay under his chair. It was a wolfish hound with needle teeth and midnight black eyes. Overton fed it some good karma, and the hound smiled at him.

“You shouldn’t waste karma on those things,” Easterly said.

“They do good work for us,” Overton protested. Alcimus had changed his ratios and thinned down until he was just large enough to perch on the chair behind Overton. He squatted happily there, observing the conversation.

“It’s just a daemon. You shouldn’t get so attached,” Easterly snapped. She was in a bad mood for some reason. Maybe the fact that she’d not been getting much in the way of work.

Alcimus had been Overton’s friend for twenty-five years now. He was a confidant, playmate, and virtual pet. More than that, he was a friend and ally.

Together they roamed the worlds, fighting rats, playing as NPCs, and enjoying all the worlds had to offer.

“When you look at their eyes,” Easterly said, “do you really believe you see intelligence looking back? Or just that you’re being fooled by really good Turing evolution?”

“Shut up, Easterly,” Sunstuff said. “No one gives anyone in the real grief for loving a real dog. It’s no different. In fact, some of the neural patterns were lifted from brainscans of loyal pets.”

Easterly folded her arms, unconvinced. “They’re not real, we shouldn’t get so attached to them.”

The lights in the restaurant sparked and fizzled, then went out.

***

Overton wasn’t worried. The contacts on his eyeballs still worked. The inner-earphones still played a faint background track from the Clockwork Empire’s ambient sounds.

But in the real, other people were swearing and walking around.

It was time to step out of the game and into the real to see what was going on. When Overton did so, the wooden tavern signs and other Clockwork paraphernalia faded to be replaced with chrome and glass and reality.

The restaurant was on the one hundredth floor of a scraper. He glanced at the New York skyline, bright in the sunshine.

“Overton. Help!” Alcimus called.

Overton turned around. The dragon no longer sat on the back of his chair. “Alcimus, where are you?”

“Corridor . . .” the dragon gasped. “O partner. Man of the real. Save me from the rat.”

Overton leapt up and ran. He forced the doors open.

Something dragged Alcimus down the corridor. A wounded shadow, vomiting malformed code snippets. It roared unicode at Overton, but he didn’t have Alcimus to translate for him.

“Let Alcimus go!” Overton shouted.

The shadow briefly formed into a familiar wyrm-shape. Red eyes glared at Overton. “I still exist,” it hissed at Overton. Then it dragged Alciumus through the wall and pulled itself up toward the ceiling.

“Alcimus!” Overton screamed as the dragon’s tail was sucked up through a light fixture.

***

“They’re getting smarter,” Easterly said. “We’ve been exhibiting heavy Darwinian pressures on them. Culling the stupid ones, leaving only the really smart pieces of code to run away and hide, reproduce.”

Overton threw himself at the doors again. His ribs hurt. And he hadn’t budged them in the slightest.

“It wanted revenge,” she continued. “Revenge against what the code inside tells it it should model as an attempted murder.”

Overton slumped against the doors. “I can’t get to him.”

“Look, we’re trapped in here in the real for a while. But police and firemen are on the way. They’ll bash through and get us out. The air conditioning is still on. Everything’s okay.”

With tears in his eyes Overton stood up. “The rat will kill Alcimus.”

“So get another,” Easterly snapped.

“There is no other Alcimus. He’s been with me since I was a child, helping me learn to read. Helping me with everything.”

“It’s just a nanny program you turned into a daemon and a weaponized bug hunter. Get over it.”

“No!” Overton shouted. “He’s as real as anything else. He just lives somewhere else.”

Why was she being so hard on him? This was a disaster.

He wanted to argue with her further, but Sunstuff put a hand on his shoulder. Sunstuff understood. His hound was based on a scan he had made of an old and very faithful Doberman Pincer that he’d loved.

“There’s another way,” Sunstuff said. “A second route.”

***

Sunstuff’s hound, Baskerville, sniffed at the elevator doors. With some effort he pushed his nose into the control panel. After a painfully long moment, the doors opened to reveal the chasm. The elevator car was stuck halfway down. “Baskerville can get it up a floor for you, to chase the rat.”

“If it turns back on now you’ll get cut in half trying to crawl in,” Easterly said.

But it was for Alcimus. Who’d read him stories in that first crude-sounding voice when he’d been sick as a child. The one who helped him master code. His teacher, his companion, his . . . friend. The one who accompanied him on his first game quest.

“Give me a boost,” Overton said.

He scrambled madly up into the car, wincing and expecting it to shift and cut him in half.

But nothing happened.

“Okay,” Overton said through the crack he’d just crawled through. “Next floor.”

“Wait,” said Sunstuff. “I’m coming with you.”

He and the hound crawled in after Overton.

The elevator jerked into motion. It fought its way up to the next floor, groaning against some sort of attack going on deep in its programming.

The rat.

They jerked to a stop at the next floor, levered the doors open, and Overton ran out. “Alcimus!”

In the corner of an office building, the shadow squatted over the dragon, smothering it with darkness. The iridescent Alcimus struggled to free himself.

Baskerville shot through, tearing through a wall, then coming back through and wrapping his fangs around the middle of the blob of darkness.

Overton had a few pinlights in his pocket, and he hit the rat with them. The distraction of getting tagged, the pricks of having its code regions defined, annoyed the rat enough to get it to stand and bellow at Overton. And that was all it took for Alcimus to break free.

The two creatures savaged the rat, ripping it apart, throwing pieces of damaged code to splatter against the walls.

But it wasn’t done yet. It had another trick up its sleeve. Tendrils of ragged arms reached out for Overton and Sunstuff. The inner-earphones screamed, a pulse of energy so loud Overton felt his brain vibrate.

Light flashed, a sequence of hallucinatory explosions so intense he felt himself lose control and fall to the floor.

He was having a seizure.

The moment dragged out for a minor eternity as he spasmed on the floor. Every shake and shudder.

Sunstuff staggered over and grabbed him. “Baskerville! Alcimus, we need to get out of here!” Sunstuff shouted.

“Elevator,” Overton groaned.

The two of them lurched in each other’s arms back to the car.

“NO!” Alcimus shouted, and whipped past them into the darkness ahead.

The rat swept at them, the keening in Overton’s ears drilled through his temple. There was blood on his lips.

We have to jump, he thought. Jump and skip out.

And he did.

Only there was no elevator in there to meet him. Sunstuff and he pitched into an empty abyss. The rat had tricked them, Overton realized as his stomach lifted and they plunged through the dark.

And then he hit the roof of an elevator and stopped thinking at all for a while.

***

Overton woke in a hospital room with bright lights and concerned nurses, very much still alive, to his surprise. He couldn’t see anything but the real. His contacts were out. But someone had thoughtfully left a pair of glasses near his bed. Overton slipped them on.

Alcimus stirred from his post at the end of his bed. “Grateful,” the dragon purred. Overton reached out and flicked the dragon some karma, and leaned back in bed and wiped the corner of his eye.

“You two idiots,” Easterly said. She’d been sitting on a chair in the small room. Overton looked around the Cave of Healing. “You jumped into an elevator shaft. The rat had sent the elevator car down, but Baskerville managed to hack it back into operation and get it high enough you didn’t fall too far.”

Overton smiled wanly. “See, they’re every bit as incredible as we say they are.”

Alcimus stirred and settled into the crook of one of his knees. Overton couldn’t feel anything. But seeing Alcimus there, that meant everything was okay.

“You wouldn’t have had to jump if you didn’t rush up there in the first place.” Easterly stood up and pulled on a leather jacket. “Here’s the thing: you guys are all over the news. The rat managed to hack into realspace building controls. People are scared. Hostile artificial game intelligence fragments are about to become mankind’s worst enemy. Thanks to you douche-tards.”

“Where are you going?” Overton asked.

“Out,” Easterly said. “With all this publicity, my rates just skyhighed. And it’s time to cash in on knowing you by granting a couple interviews. Whole city’s buzzing.”

Overton watched her leave.

Sunstuff lay in a bed next to him. Encased in magical mud oozing with potions and unguents.

“She doesn’t like me, but she’s friendly,” Overton said. “I don’t understand her.”

Sunstuff smiled. “She didn’t tell you about her father?”

“No.”

“He left Easterly’s mother for a sex doll.”

Overton made a face. “So?” That sort of thing happened all the time. “Easterly doesn’t like men because her dad did that?”

Sunstuff sighed. “Come on, Overton. She doesn’t like us because we’d rather spend time with Baskerville or Alcimus. Because you’d jump into an elevator tunnel for them. Because we just walked out on Easterly and left her alone on that floor.”

Oh.

And she was right, Overton thought. But it didn’t matter, did it? How long had people been spending most of their day with things instead of other people? Generations now.

He liked the MMARGs, liked getting out to see people.

But Alcimus was the closest thing he had to a soulmate. A near-constant companion.

And what could compare to that lifelong bond?

He wasn’t antisocial, he thought. He just preferred that other world.

Overton took off the glasses and looked at the hospital. A patient slowly pushed passed his room with a walker. Nurses efficiently bustled by. Doctor drones whipped to and fro, and surgery machines ambled to their next appointment.

It was all too real.

He slid his glasses back on and looked around the Healing Cave. Then curled up with Alcimus for a nap.

When he woke up, it would be time to hunt rats again. And this time he was going to need to invest in some heavier armament. It was time to upgrade Alcimus, he thought. The overcompany that ran these sorts of games would be looking to hire lots of rat hunters, and maybe even raising the incentives after this unfortunate incident.

Time to take on more work as an NPC to raise the cash to level them both up, Overton thought happily as he drifted off to sleep, his dragon nestled on his hospital bed with him.

© 2012 Tobias S. Buckell.
Originally published in Mitigated Futures.
Reprinted by permission of the author.

Tobias S. Buckell

Buckell, TobiasTobias S. Buckell is a Caribbean-born speculative fiction writer who grew up in Grenada, the British Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has written four novels, including the New York Times Bestseller Halo: The Cole Protocol. He currently lives in Ohio with a pair of dogs, a pair of cats, twin daughters, and his wife.

145 Responses »

  1. Wow, this was an awesome short story. It has been awhile since I read something and thought “oh, I wish!” I would be so completely addicted to these games if real – and I haven’t played a computer ame since Myst!

    Really great concept and well written, Tobias!

  2. I’d recommend that readers look up the original story this tale is so obviously based on: “A Game Of Rat and Dragon,” by Cordwainer Smith.

    In fact, it’s too bad there is no notation here (at least none that I can find) about the Cordwainer Smith story, and how much Tobias Buckell has adapted from it, from the character of Father Sunstuff to the ‘pinlights.’ In my opinion, there should be. This is a clever updating of an existing piece of work with many differences but I would not call it original, and certainly not superior.

  3. This story is listed as having first been published in a collection called Mitigated Futures. However, I can find no trace of this collection having been published in any form. I have checked the author’s website, and Amazon, and in other places.

    This story is clearly some kind of “hommage” to Cordwainer Smith’s story “The Game of Rat and Dragon”. However, neither Lightspeed nor the author make any reference to this. This might lead the unkind reader to conclude that some attempt at plagiarism was taking place. I am not suggesting this is the case, but I feel that it should be made clear to readers of Lightspeed that this is an “hommage” (or “re-boot”, or whatever term the editors and the author wish to use). It is bad enough that Cordwainer Smith’s work is neither as highly rated nor as visible today as it should be, without obvious “hommages” being published with no reference to the original writer.

    I trust this matter will be rectified in an expeditious manner.

    • Pat and Chris,

      Mitigated Futures is an ebook story collection Toby funded via Kickstarter. It’s not currently available elsewhere as of yet.

      Toby discusses the relationship to the Cordwainer Smith story in his Author Spotlight interview that ran alongside the story:

      Your story “A Game of Rats and Dragon” is a cyberpunk/virtual reality mash-up set in a different sort of Manhattan. Was this story inspired by the Cordwainer Smith short story of the same name? Will you tell us a little about how that came to be?

      It is inspired by Cordwainer Smith, the story “A Game of Rat and Dragon.” The idea was not so much virtual reality, but augmented reality. I’ve been really intrigued by adding a pair of goggles that overlay digital data over existing objects in the real world (virtual reality inside out, so to speak). You can see the effect using the app AcrossAir for the iPhone. What is more interesting to me is what we’ll do when we gamify augmented reality.

      Tabletop gaming, stuff like Dungeons and Dragons, has a strong following. But when the mechanics of those playing styles were wedded to a video game, a sort of virtual reality, we saw an explosion of MMORPGs and a mainstreaming of those gaming mechanics. I think it will be interesting and mainstream when we start getting a mix of augmented reality and what is now a more niche activity called live action roleplaying (or LARPing).

      At that point, our existing world becomes a magical play full of dragons, invisible data, secrets, and extra dimensions. If you wear a pair of contacts and engage with all the time, what will that create? I felt that Cordwainer Smith’s sense of the mythical, combined with SF, was the kind of resonance I wanted. So I played with the title and the story for inspiration.

      Personally, I feel like the story is clearly an homage to Smith’s work, and is clearly an original story inspired by Smith’s story, as Toby says. This isn’t the first time in recent memory someone has done this; check out some of Cory Doctorow’s recent short stories–he’s written several that use the same titles as older works, and otherwise serve as homages to the original work, and whenever he’s published those, as far as I know, there’s never been any notation anywhere that the story was intended to be an homage to the older work.

      FWIW, I agree with you that Cordwainer Smith’s work is not as well known as it should be. In fact, I did inquire about reprinting his work in Lightspeed, but the agent managing his estate and I could not reach agreeable terms.

      • JJA

        If this short story collection is funded by Kickstarter, in what sense has it been “published”? Where can the ordinary reader obtain a copy, print on paper or digital? If the reader cannot so obtain the collection, then this publication on Lightspeed is, de facto, the first publication.

        The Spotlight interview was not published “alongside” the short story, but on a different page of the website. I should not have to read an interview with the author in order to understand the derivation of the story. If such is the case, then it is a failure of the author to make clear his intentions and aims in the story.

        I stand by my comment that the editors of Lightspeed made a serious error in not having any notation on the story page that this story was an “hommage” to Smith’s far superior work. I urge you again to print a statement to the effect that the author intends this story as an “hommage” to Cordwainer Smith, before more readers are deceived into believing this to be an entirely original piece. It is, at best, a “riff” on Smith’s work, and a pretty poor one at that. However, the question of quality is one which obviously the editors of Lightspeed must make, and mere mortal like me obviously has no right to comment.

        The fact that another writer has done similar things is no excuse for the auctorial and editorial lapses here. Some authors, well known on the dear old interweb, can get away with anything and never be called up on it by the science fiction community, many of whose members are too scared of them to “make waves”.

        And, by the way, JJA and anyone else, Pat Cadigan and I are not joined at the hip, nor do we think with one mind. When you reply to a comment by Pat, reply to her by name. When replying to me, reply to me by name. Do not attempt to conflate us. This is only basic good manners.

        I’m sorry if you and the executors of Cordwainer Smith’s literary estate have not been able to reach a financial agreement on re-publishing some or one of his stories. However, the fact that they are asking too much money for the originals does justify publishing a third-best imitation.

        • Chris,

          Mitigated Futures, at the moment, is essentially a limited edition ebook. It has in fact been published and sent to the Kickstarter backers who backed the project. It does exist; I myself have a copy of it on my ebook reader. It will soon be available (I’m told) as a regular ebook etc., where regular consumers can buy it, but the fact that it doesn’t yet doesn’t mean that it hasn’t yet been published; it just hasn’t been published traditionally. But that’s not really relevant here–if you want to consider Lightspeed as the original publisher of the story, that’s fine with me; I stand by it.

          I’m trying to understand your point of view, but I just don’t see why such a notation is necessary. Either the reader is familiar with the Smith story and will see the connection (and think it’s clever or not), or he/she won’t be familiar with the Smith and thus read the story fresh. (Which I believe you can do; I don’t feel like you need the background of the Smith story to read and enjoy Toby’s story.)

          The fact that I was not able to reprint one of Smith’s stories had nothing to do with my publishing Toby’s story; I simply read it in Mitigated Futures and thought that Lightspeed readers would enjoy it as I did, and thus asked Toby if it was available. (And FWIW, I wasn’t just being cheap — the fee the executor was looking for was astronomical.)

          • JJA

            If this collection is limited and available only to those on Kickstarter who donated to it, in what sense is it “published”? The verb means “to make public”. And clearly this collection has _not_ been made public. My point here is that you should have indicated that the story is first published on Lightspeed, and indicated that it will soon be available as an e-book collection. That would, at least, have been accurate.

            The point about indicating clearly that the story is an “hommage” or, a kind of “riff” on Smith’s story, is to show that Mr Buckell’s story is _not_ original. The idea and some of the content comes from Smith’s story. You have a duty to your readers to point this out.

            By the way, if Smith’s executor’s were asking an “astronomical” amount, surely that is entirely appropriate for the work of a science fiction writer?

        • Quote: “I should not have to read an interview with the author in order to understand the derivation of the story.”

          But Mr. Fowler, you DID understand the derivation of the story, you said so in your first post:

          “This story is clearly some kind of “hommage” [sic] to Cordwainer Smith’s story”

          It is clear to you. It is clear to me. Am I being overly generous in assuming it would be clear to other readers of this science-fiction magazine?

          As most everyone commenting here has pointed out, there is a lengthy discussion of this story’s intent and derivation in the author spotlight. The link is easily found, and one only has to peruse its first sentence to become disabused of the notion that any attempt on the part of the author or the editorial staff of Lightspeed to obscure the story’s screamingly-clear origins exists. In fact, it is celebrated.

          What further notation do you require of a fact that, by your own admission, you already understood simply from reading the story itself? How about a pop-up? Would a pop-up be good?

        • Do you really not understand the concept of a “limited edition publication”? If a print run only issues 1000 copies, and you are the thousand and first reader to ask for the text, would you then argue that it “has not been published”?

        • I would like to point out that kickstarter is an open platform and medium for all users to have access to. In this venue, some choose to fund a campaign and others choose not to and do not receive a copy of the ebook.

          How is this in any different than the conventional method of retail booksales where those who wish to purchase this limited edition ebook do so and receive it and those who do not purchase it do not get the content?

          I can understand the perspective of an author like Pat Cadigan (who one can believe may have a different perspective as an actively publishing author than your average reader), but for an average fan I see no difference between the tangible and virtual.

    • Gosh, I’m sure glad we have someone so thoughtful looking out for the interests of the unkind reader.

  4. If you click through to the accompanying article, the subject is covered in the first question:

    http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-tobias-s-buckell-2/

  5. Hey, guys? See that link up there that says “Author Spotlight with Tobias Buckell”? Try reading it. You might be more informed.

    • Hello, “A” (no photo), you little internet troll. See my comments to JJA on the “Spotlight”. And see my comment to Moleboy too. If you don’t tell us your real name, you’re not worth bothering with.

  6. Each story on Lightspeed features an author spotlight in which the author discusses the inspiration behind the story. Toby acknowledges Cordwainer Smith in his very first answer.

  7. The first line from the Author Spotlight: “[the story] “is inspired by Cordwainer Smith, the story “A Game of Rat and Dragon.””

    I’d call that a reference, myself, if not directly attached to the story.

    It’s been years since I’ve read the original story, so I can’t say how well it works as a homage, myself.

    • Laura Anne – see my reply to JJA above. And if you haven’t read Cordwainer Smith for years, pull a dusty copy off the shelves, read “A Game of Rat and Dragon”, and then you’ll see what a _real_ writer can do.

      • Chris –

        I find that “real” writer depends on a lot on a reader’s preference, and setting oneself up as to who is and isn’t is best left to… nobody, actually. That’s why we have many “best of” anthologies, not just one everyone can agree on.

        You made an assumption about a story, and a writer’s intentions, in a public forum. You were shown to be in error. Insulting those who responded to you does not make that any less of an error.

        So, you didn’t like the story. Big deal. Say that, and let it go. You think any story written in homage should come with a warning-for-all in boldface over the title. Fine. Say that, and let it go.

  8. The author spotlight for this piece mentions the homage nature in the very first paragraph of the first answer. As the designer for Lightspeed, I have to take some responsibility here for the notion that this wasn’t mentioned, because the spotlights aren’t “spotlit” enough in the design. We’re talking about how to rectify that with some design changes.

    Chris, I am confused by your accusation. Are you implying that Mitigated Futures doesn’t exist? It hasn’t been released yet, I believe, but the very first search result is for multiple pages on the web, including the Kickstarter page.

    On a more general note, I wasn’t aware it was standard policy to explicitly state when a story is an homage anyway. I’ve read plenty in the pages of Asimov’s and don’t recall any notes to the case. Is the burden on the reader or the publisher for the reader to know this?

    Full disclaimer: I do some web work for Tobias as well as Lightspeed. I don’t believe there’s any malicious intent here.

    • He’s implying it doesn’t exist, and Toby is not only a plagiarist but a con man. Sorry, Lightspeed! You got hoodwinked! If only you’d read your Cordwainer Smith, and knew how to use Google!

      • I’m not implying the collection does not exist, I’m disputing it has actually been _published_. Which it has obviously not. And it is you who has suggested Mr Buckell is a “plagiarist”. And I never suggested he was a “con man”. The editorial team at Lightspeed might be incompetent, but they are not so stupid or lacking in knowledge of the sf field as to not recognise a “riff” on a famous story.

        You know, David, that illo you are using as your picture is a really nasty, bad-tempered, scowly one. I hope you’re a nicer person than that in real life, always assuming that you have a real life, and don’t just live on-line.

    • Jeremiah – Well, so it is all a little design fault? I still want to know where I can buy a copy of this “Kickstarter” collection. If I can’t buy one, then the collection may “exist” (in the mind of the author, or on his hard drive), but it has not been published, or at least not in any sense of the word that I am aware of.

      If it is no longer standard policy for the editor of a publication, or the author, to make it clear that a story is an “hommage” (by the way, the word is French, and that is how it is spelt, with an aspirated “h”; but I know most of you Americans can barely speak English properly, so God forbid you might understand any French), then it should be. If Asimov’s don’t do this in the editorial intros to the stories, then shame on them.

      As to “malicious intent”, it is the author and editors of Lightspeed who have laid themselves open to the accusation of such intent, or even “plagiarism”. Rather than malice, I’d assume a naive author, and an incompetent editorial team. But that, of course, is just an assumption.

      • It’s the design’s fault for not making Author Spotlights more readily visible, yes. That’s a design flaw on my part.

        You being a huge bag of dicks, that’s all on you though.

        • Jeremy – Well, coming from a man of your eminence, I suppose being “a huge bag of dicks” is intended as a put-down. It’s really terrific that you are of such high intellect that you can resort to using “a huge bag of dicks”. Bravo for adding to the level of reason in this discussion!

      • >> an “hommage” (by the way, the word is French, and that is how it is spelt, with an aspirated “h”

        Only one “m”, though. In English or French.

      • “Homage” does in fact have an “h”, but dare I point out that it has only one “m”?

      • This is really quite remarkable. Your argument of course is without substance, though I’m enjoying this thread as a vivid illustration of the phenomenon of the Comment-Thread Misanthrope. But goodness, homage, in all languages, has a single “m.”

      • One thing I find particularly funny is this comment:

        “[...]but I know most of you AMERICANS CAN BARELY SPEAK ENGLISH PROPERLY, so God forbid you might understand any French), then it should be. If ASIMOV’S DON’T DO THIS in the editorial intros to the stories, then shame on them.” (emphasis mine)

        I will admit that I am just an ignorant American, and my knowledge of British culture is relatively limited to episodes of DOCTOR WHO, SHERLOCK, and a few episodes of the British version of THE OFFICE, but I’m fairly certain that most of the rules of grammar are the same. The irony of you bashing Americans for their abuse of the English language only to mess up the conjugation of the verb “do” is particularly satisfying given your troll-ish behavior.

        For the record, since Asimov’s is a singular noun, the correct conjugation into present indicative should read “If Asimov’s DOESN’T do this…” If Asimov’s referred to more than one person, i.e. The Asimovs do this all the time, THEN “do” would be correct.

        I don’t normally critique someone’s grammar, as I find the practice to be a little bit dick-ish and often a crutch used when someone has run out of other, relevant arguments and has resorted to personal attacks instead. Of course, I also recognize a troll when I see one, and I know this comment will largely do nothing to correct your grammar or your behavior, but I figured I should mention it for the record anyway.

  9. I’m surprised neither Pat or Chris have noticed the accompany interview with Tobias linked at the top of the story where he goes over the Cordwainer Smith connection: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-tobias-s-buckell-2/

    • Who are you really, The Mad Hatter – another anonymous internet troll hiding behind a name you imagine is so, so clever? And, in response, see my reply to JJA above.

      • If you clicked on MH’s link, you would know who they are. It’s amusing that you combine disdain and an inability to use the Internet all in one package.

        • Always happy to amuse fanboys like you, John H (“beardy”) Stevens.

          By the way, I was programming mainframe computers (in dear old Fortran) before you were born, so don’t try to out-tech me. Despite which, I have all my hair. Unlike you.

          • It’s great to see an argument be reduced to you making fun of someone’s appearance, because that is all the ammunition you appear to have. And you tried to dodge my point by invoking superior knowledge of computers! I don’t care how much tech knowledge you have; it’s useless if you can’t be bothered to do something that my four-year-old daughter knows how to do and click a link.

      • Mr Fowler,

        The only person behaving like a troll here is yourself. Who crapped on your cookies this morning to make you so vindictively angry?

  10. Dear Lightspeed-

    I really enjoyed this story. I also enjoyed the accompanying Author Spotlight where Mr. Buckell talked about how this story was inspired by the similarly titled Cordwainer Smith story. Please continue to publish excellent work like this, and please keep including linked Author Spotlights wherein the authors talk about the story you have published, including explicitly mentioning the work that inspires them.

    Sincerely,
    Adam Rakunas

  11. Great story. And even better that Toby knows the greats like Linebarger. Mitigated Futures is a great little collection as well.

    More from Buckell, please!

    • I’m pleased that Mr Buckell knows the greats. Perhaps he could start showing some respect for them, instead of ripping them off.

      • Not sure how a homage, which makes clear reference to the source material is ripping off Linebarger’s estate. Do you tag Cory Doctorow in the same manner with his multiple homage stories to Asimov?

        I’ll tell you what, I’ll send the link to Linebarger’s daughter and see if she has a problem with it. Will that satisfy you that you’re being a tad silly about a nice tribute to one of our greats?

        Probably not, but I’m happy to do so.

        • Go ahead, send the link. But don’t encourage Lightspeed to present as entirely original pieces stories that are poor third-rate “riffs” on the stories of a dead man.

          And, since I am typing this on Cory Doctorow’s old laptop, which he generously gave us when he was retiring it, I don’t feel I should comment on what Cory does. And I don’t think he needs you talking for him either. He’s big enough to talk for himself. Oh, and he’s a better writer than a hundred Toby Buckells.

    • Agreed. I was a proud backer of the kickstarter, glad to see the work getting wider publication here.

  12. I’ve been seeing a lot of these updates of classic stories lately, and this is one of the cleverer ones. To be successful, SF ought to be the most future- and forward-looking genre. So it delights me to see it in conversation with itself, especially when that conversation improves our understanding of “what if?”

    Thanks, Lightspeed.

    • Rae – Are you a man or a woman? So difficult to know with these androgynous names. So, this is “sf inn conversation with itself”, is it? Sorry, that is just more post-modernist crap. And how can there be a conversation with Cordwainer Smith, since the chap is dead? Or hadn’t you noticed?

      • Really, Chris?

      • No, come on, now. This can’t really be Chris Fowler. Come on.

      • This comment has no object than to offend. Or it speaks to a high levels of lack of human compassion/experience/empathy, especially in the transgender space.

        Somewhere, I can only imagine someone is feeling mighty pleased with themselves for attracting this much attention, and ruffling so many feathers, regardless of the cost to the real life human beings behind each screen name.

      • Did I really just witness someone named “Chris” attempt to call someone else out for having a gender-ambiguous name? Looks like I did. Huh. Imagine that. Of course, this same “Chris” also attempted to call someone out for not using a photo, when they don’t actually use one themselves, so I guess it’s all par for the course.

  13. I stand corrected re the source of the story-i.e., that Tobias Buckell explains it in his interview. I do think, however, that something should appear on the same page as the story itself. However, no one is under any obligation to do that just because I think so.

    I also enjoy the Author Spotlight feature but I think a story should be able to stand alone, without background material to explain it. If a story always has to be accompanied by an interview with the author, it takes something away from both the story and the author.

    My opinion; ymmv.

    • Pat, what do you think’s the best way for a story like this to make clear that it’s an homage? I mean, to me, it seemed obvious as soon as I saw the title, but should Toby require that it always be printed with a disclaimer?

    • By the same logic, doesn’t a prefatory disclaimer on the “same page as the story itself” also “[take] something away from both the story and the author” then?

      The best way, in my opinion, to present a story, is to just, well… present it, and let the reader make her own discoveries. You post seems to assume that, by-and-large, readers here will not know Smith’s work even though you do, and Buckell does, and Adams does. Am I wrong about your assumption? In any case, Lightspeed seems to have a more generous opinion of its readership.

  14. Note that for Pat Cadigan or Chris Fowler to have clicked on the “Author Spotlight” link, they would have had to overcome years of user interface training from other web sites.

    Typically, clicking on an author’s name, picture, or a link promising to tell you more about an author NEVER provides further information about the actual article or story that you are reading. On sites ranging from the New York Times or Wall Street Journal down to the most modest blog, clicking on the author or an “about the author” link (or “Author Spotlight”) usually gets you a page listing all of the posts or stories by that author — or, for fancier (and less lazy) web sites, you might also get their picture and a blurb about them instead of just a computer-generated list of their posts. But the page you reach is about the AUTHOR in general, not about the particular post or story that you are reading.

    Renaming the “Author Spotlight” link to something like “About this story” or “Author’s notes on this piece” or even “Author Spotlight on/about this story” might help people realize that the link is actually to an accompanying interview. Hopefully you will come up with a better name than these clunky suggestions, but I myself completely tuned out the words “Author Spotlight” because I thought it would just be a page blurbing Toby, not that addressed this particular story.

    • Thanks, Brandon. I agree with you a hundred percent (as a mathematician, and not a politician, I can’t manage more than that….). I’m grateful for your support for the point I’m making.

  15. I’m just replying so Chris Fowler will insult me. It’s the latest fad.

  16. Dear Mr. Fowler:

    Do you need a hug? A warm bath? A fresh puppy to cleanse the anthracite coating around your heart? Perhaps a walk? Somebody to cuddle with? An entertaining comedy film on Netflix? Perhaps a Pilates class? There are thousands upon thousands of awe-inspiring and positive activities you could be doing right now instead of leaving inflammatory comments on a website.

    This has been a public service announcement.

    Very truly yours,

    Edward Champion, named as “irascible arts blogger” by New York Magazine

    • What an astonishingly patronising little person you are. You win “most patronising of the day”. Well done. Oh, are you an “irascible arts blogger”, according to New York Magazine? Well, they would know, I guess. Bully for you!

      • Dear Mr. Fowler:

        Well, heavens to Betsy and bless my supreme chicken burrito! You’re the first person who has ever suggested to me that recommending fun activities is “astonishingly patronizing.” I’ve simply said, “Why, look, Mr. Fowler! Rather than spend your time on a website that makes you miserable, here are any number of joyful things to do that will lift your spirits and put you out of your moribund mood! The world is your oyster!”

        I don’t feel especially superior to you, although I do like to be formal when I am addressing a stranger. In fact, my afternoon has probably been about as pedestrian as yours. So when I see someone being sad or negative given roughly the same ontological conditions, I say to myself, “Well, maybe a bit of kindness is in order! Maybe offering some positive ideas will help the other person have a better day than me.” If anything, Mr. Fowler, I’m placing you above me!

        How, Mr. Fowler, is that patronizing or bullying?

        A few other fun activities that might help: a nice pot of tea, crocheting, playing a board game, putting together a puzzle, mini golf, bowling, going to a place you’ve never been to before, checking into a hotel under an assumed name, eating cuisine you’ve never tried, learning another language, reading Proust, listening to a majestic symphony or a great album.

        Warm hugs and wet kisses,

        Edward Champion

        • Bravo! You win “most patronising of the week”. By the way, I am a Brit, and I live in London, far away from New York, the New York magazine or its “irascible bloggers”, so I was probably making nice cups of tea before you were born.

        • Bravo! You win “most patronising of the week”. By the way, I am a Brit, and I live in London, far away from New York, the New York magazine or its “irascible bloggers”, so I was probably making nice cups of tea before you were born. So, actually, it is evening here in London, not afternoon. I know its pretty hard for you Yanks to grasp the concept that everyone may not be the same as you, but permit me to be in a different time zone, if you will.

          Pip! Pip!

  17. I’m sorry that some people seem to think that my original comment constitutes some kind of attack on Tobias Buckell or Lightspeed’s Author Spotlight feature or the website layout or the right of creative artists everywhere to borrow/steal at will from any existing material.

    It was none of those things.

    I have nothing further to add.

    • I didn’t read it that way, FWIW, and sorry if you’re getting lumped in with Captain Obtuse, here.

      I do agree generally with commenters suggesting that links to interviews about stories should be obvious, and clicking on the author photo and name isn’t obvious. I mean…don’t you want people to read that interview if they like the story?

  18. I’m replying to this thread to see if Chris Fowler will ask me whether I’m a man or a woman. Because insulting people over ambiguous gender markers appears to be in high fashion for, um, damn, what pronoun should I use? Chris, it’s such an ambiguous name…

    • Just call me Pat.

    • I should add here that I do have a serious point to make. For trans people like me the question, “are you a man or a woman?” is often a prelude to a beating. It’s seriously triggery for me, even now. I don’t like seeing it bandied around as a cheap insult.

    • Come on, Cheryl. Get your sense of humour back. I know you have one. Rotten cold weather here in London, isn’t it? Keep warm, be well, hope to see you soon.

      • On this particular subject, I have no sense of humour, and neither would you if you feared for your safety every time you left your home. Last week I ran a remembrance ceremony for the 265 trans people murdered worldwide in the past year because people didn’t like not knowing if they were “a man or a woman”.

        • Thanks for pointing this out, Cheryl. To be honest, that part of the comments was more troubling than any brouhaha about the story itself. (About which more later when I find time.)

        • Cheryl – I apologise unreservedly to you, and any other trans person, for offence caused. I made the comment because of the way that many American names, which are androgynous, are often annoying. It was not intended as any kind of threat or insult to trans people, and I thought you knew me well enough to know that I don’t differentiate people on the basis of their sexual orientation. Ask Roz if you don’t believe me.

          • ” I made the comment because of the way that many American names, which are androgynous, are often annoying. ”

            That doesn’t even make any sense, CHRIS.

          • Chris, next time you see me (or Roz), please ask for an explanation of the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

            And I do believe you. Half of the problem is people who think they don’t discriminate and then come out with something deeply offensive. We’ll all say dumb things at some point. I know I do. It is listening when your mistake is explained, and trying not to do it again, that matter.

            I will leave the Americans to defend themselves. I think you know one or two.

          • Androgyny — so annoying that I assume that only Americans blur gender in a way I don’t like! Or wait, did you mean, Americans, so annoying that I must engage in transphobic outbursts just to insult them! Please clarify, thx.

      • Just commenting to lend my support to Cheryl.

        Speaking up–and standing up–for the consideration and respect deserved as a default by all people is not lacking a sense of humour. It is being courageous.

        Humour is for other things.

      • And you get some common sense and decent manners back. Your attempt at humour is CRAP!

      • Your comment was the sort of thing for which a decent person ought to apologize.

      • “Get your sense of humour back.”

        i.e, “I see no possible reason why my potentially triggering comment should be seen as potentially triggering, therefore the fault lies with you WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM.”

        Here’s a pro tip: When you say “Get your sense of humor back,” it’s understood by the rest of the world as you saying “I’m almost certainly being an asshole right now.”

      • There can be no sense of humor when discussing the dangers faced by transpeople. “Political correctness” in this case translates to “simple consideration for other human beings’ feelings and well-justified fears.”

        Your comment may have been meant to be funny, but it betrayed an insidious gender essentialism, which all too often leads to transpersons, and above all trans women and trans persons of color, being treated as less then human. Often it puts them in actual physical danger of their lives. Cheryl’s not joking, the statistics for violence against transpersons in the US alone are staggering:

        http://www.npr.org/2011/09/29/140877153/violent-attacks-on-transgender-people-raise-alarm

        http://www.glaad.org/blog/violence-against-transgender-people-and-people-color-disproportionately-high-lgbtqh-murder-rate

        Please, man. Just say you’re sorry. Please. And then move on back to your core argument.

      • Dropping in briefly to say thanks for all of the support. It means a lot. Thank you.

  19. “By the way, I was programming mainframe computers (in dear old Fortran) before you were born, so don’t try to out-tech me. Despite which, I have all my hair. Unlike you.”

    Well, my grandparents are both buried at Arlington, right by Linebarger, which makes me the greatest Cordwainer Smith fan ever, and my middle-aged head of hair is like unto Samson’s, pre-Delilah.

    Also, I know how to spell “homage” and I bet I’ve got a more impressive software dev resume than you, so I win all the Internets today. w00t!

    Nice tribute to a great writer. I was not confused at all by it.

  20. Just posting to remind everyone that this Fowler fellow in no way reflects the opinions, attitudes or practices of those named “Chris” or any of its variations.

    Also, a fine story, Mr. Buckell.

  21. Wocka Wocka!

  22. I have an androgynous name because I’m androgynous. I’m uncomfortable that in some of the discussions on this, people are taking a kick at androgynes when they’re replying to Chris. Call him out for being a muppet by all means, but you don’t have to turn the lives of androgynous people into a joke to do that.

  23. Homages are fascinating things, allowing us to see the familiar through unfamiliar eyes.

    Trolls are boring things, allowing us to see just how immature and imbalanced the human race sometimes is.

    Thankfully, that still balances out to ‘great story from an excellent author’. And good on you, Lightspeed team, for handling this confused gentleman so gently with your professional gloves.

  24. To address one of the original points about the lack of a note pointing readers to the Cordwainer Smith story: as an lifelong SF reader, I’ve encountered many stories that are homage or pastiche. Speculative fiction is a space that encourages this sort of riffing and play, and entire subgenres are spawned this way. And, to the best of my recollection, I experience most of these works without any editorial commentary pointing me to the work that inspired it. Sometimes I’m aware of the context, sometimes I’m not. As a reader, I don’t expect to have my hand held in this way. It’s nice when it’s provided, but I doubt that it’s expected by the general audience. And suggesting that ‘plagiarism’ in the context of Buckell’s story was way over the top, and was probably thrown in there to incite response.

  25. Great story, thanks for publishing it.

    In respect of the website design issue, what I’d suggest is that the very first comment in the comment thread (i.e. right after the end of the story) should be a note from the editor saying, “Please click here to read an interview with the author in which he discusses his inspiration for the story.”

    • I mean, I know there is a link underneath the story, but that’s easy to overlook. People are so accustomed to webpages full of crud that they get in the habit of ignoring little links like that. The comment thread is more likely to actually be read.

  26. Aside from any of the other things raised here, I would point out that “published in a limited edition” does mean “published.” Just because you can’t get a copy of it doesn’t mean it isn’t published. If I go out and print 100 copies of my collected writings in paper and only hand it out to a few family members and store the rest in a closet, it’s still “published.”

    This is a subject over which I’ve spent a lot of thought, as it affects the Hugo Awards, which I’ve administered three times. There have in fact been cases where works were thought to be eligible only to find that they had been published in limited distribution that had wiped out their Hugo Award eligibility. That’s one of the reasons the Hugos have a rule allowing for single-word extension of eligibility for limited-distribution works, although to my knowledge no work ever given a single-work extension has ever been nominated.

    • To elaborate briefly on what Kevin said, here’s how to mess up your Hugo eligibility. Let”s assume you are writing a in English book, and you live in California so there are no international eligibility considerations. You don’t think it will sell to a publisher, but you want your friends and family to get copies so you pay someone to print up 50 and hand them out as presents. You have published it, so it is eligible for a Hugo the following year, but no except your 50 friends and relatives have heard of it, and none of them have Worldcon memberships. Then, much to your surprise, a big publisher offers to sign you up and your book becomes a best seller. That takes a couple of years, and your first publication was that limited edition you self-published, so you have missed out on your chance at a Hugo. Never mind, there’s always the sequel. Don’t make the same mistake again.

  27. Well, this has been a mighty interesting comment thread…

    One small question… Am I the only one on here who’s actually reading the paid, magazine shaped version on a reader rather than the free website version? It’s the only assumption I can make based on the “why should I have to click on a link” comments, and Id just like to see if that’s the case…

  28. I greatly enjoyed reading this story. As always, Lightspeed brings us pieces which are both fun and thought provoking. I can’t wait to read more, both from this magazine and this author.

  29. *mind blown*

  30. I found the story to be an interesting retake on many classic SF themes as well as an homage to Cordwainer Smith. Well done, Mr. Buckell.

    There are crude, ignorant and mean people in all nations, not just in America, as Mr. Fowler as so adroitly proven. Sadly, irascibility and wit are not as often paired as we would prefer, n’cest pas?

  31. I don’t know whether to be amused or appalled by the angst over a lack of reference to source material in an homage. Has Fowler actually ever seen or read an homage? Did he have a heart attack when Francis Ford Coppola didn’t put Joseph Conrad’s name in the end credits of Apocolypse Now? Did he spit on James Joyce’s grave for not acknowledging Homer as an inspiration for Ulysses? Did he wave his fist at George Lucas for not putting big block letters saying, “Star Wars is an homage to The Hidden Fortress” during the opening credits of Star Wars? Hell, does he think Cordwainer Smith himself was a thief for his own homage to Rimbaud by writing “Drunkboat?”

    What a patently ridiculous criticism. An homage requires no citation of what it is honoring. Indeed, the story should stand on its own, with the homage a layer that only certain readers may understand or appreciate. To think otherwise shows a complete lack of undersanding of the history of literature and cinema.

  32. Green Day’s “Warning” totally is an homage to the Kinks’ “Picture Book” . Most listeners don’t realize this. If I had a point to make, and wasn’t just piping in late demonstrating my dubious judgment, I’d now try to compare that situation to this, then bend some logic, do some hand waving, and conclude with either a pro or con opinion or more likely some weak mashup of previous responses.

  33. If you are unfamiliar with Cordwainer Smith’s The Game of Rat and Dragon or would like to reread it but don’t have a copy immediately available, it is available from Project Gutenberg here: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29614/29614-h/29614-h.htm
    After reading it, I leave it to each of you to make your own judgments.
    I, for one, enjoyed Tobias Buckell’s story on my commute this morning and intend to enjoy Corwainer Smith’s on my commute home this evening.

    • Thanks for posting that link.

      • A suggestion: Include the link to the Cordwainer Smith story with the Buckell? The reason to be mad at the “lack” of attribution is that Smith’s work is missed and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves, yes?

        Also, I came here from io9, who prefaced the link to Lightspeed with a comment about the story’s origins. Additionally, I’ve never heard any of the rebooted classic books (Doctorow’s, Scalzi’s, etc) discussed without a similar preface about their origins.

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