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Phoenix Pick

An Imprint of Arc Manor


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Limits copyright © 1985 by Larry Niven. All rights reserved. This book may not be copied or repr o duced, in whole or in part, by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without written permission from the publisher except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual persons, events or localities is purely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author and publisher.

Tarikian, TARK Classic Fiction, Arc Manor, Arc Manor Classic Reprints, Phoenix Pick, Phoenix Science Fiction Classics, Phoenix Rider, Manor Thrift, The Stellar Guild and logos associated with those imprints are trademarks or registered trademarks of Arc Manor, LLC, Rockville , Maryland. All other trademarks and trademarked names are properties of their respective owners.

This book is presented as is, without any warranties (implied or otherwise) as to the accuracy of the production, text or translation.

Digital Edition

ISBN (Digital Edition):     978-1-61242-070-7

ISBN (Paper Edition):       978-1-61242-069-1

Published by Phoenix Pick

an imprint of Arc Manor

P. O. Box 10339

Rockville, MD 20849-0339



Half my output used to be short stories.

It’s common knowledge in this field that the money is in novels; but it’s also true that stories come in their own length. Stretching an idea beyond its length is even worse than over-compressing it. Ordinarily I would have continued to write short stories.

What happened was, I hit a bump in my career.

A novice writer should try anything, not just to pay the rent, but because he needs practice, versatility, skills. Later he must learn to turn down bad offers: the first bump.

The second bump comes when he learns to turn down good offers.

I’m a slow learner.

I learned to say no; but that was only a couple of years ago. Show me a contract and I flinch; but if I committed myself years ago, it gets signed; and then the book must be written.

Footfall, being written with Jerry Pournelle, is a year and a half overdue and finished. But everything else is backed up behind it.

I didn’t know whether The Integral Trees and The Smoke Ring would be one book or two; it was conceived as Siamese twins. It’s two, and The Smoke Ring is awaiting Footfall.

So are a children’s book to be written with Jerry Pournelle and Wendy All; and The Legacy of Heorot, with Jerry (again) and Steven Barnes. A collection of the Warlock stories needed rewriting to remove redundancies. I’ve been rewriting speeches into articles for the Philcon.

Where would I find time to write short stories?

But I did.

In 1983, Fred Saberhagen wrote me with a strange proposal. How would I like to write a Berserker story?

The idea: Fred will ask half a dozen friends to write tales of human-Berserker encounters. Fred will shuffle them into the order he likes, and write a beginning and an ending to turn it all into a novel.

Sure I wanted to write a Berserker story! I didn’t have to do any research; it was all in my head. I’ve been reading them long enough. I wrote “A Teardrop Falls” and sent copies to Fred and to Omni, which bought it for an indecently large sum considering that I hadn’t even built my own background.

I’ve since seen other Berserker pastiches in the magazines, and I await the novel with some eagerness.

There was to be a new magazine on the stands, a meld of fact and fiction aimed at the general reading public. Its name: Cosmos. Its editor: Diana King.

Diana commissioned a story for that magazine from me and Jerry Pournelle. Topic: probably asteroid mining. Tone: space advocacy, and light. “What we’d really like to be writing,” I said, “is ‘To Bring Home the Steel,’ by Don Kingsbury. Only it’s already done.”

Call it a character flaw: I have to be inspired. Jerry and I gathered one evening to plot the story. I didn’t get going until we realized who it was that scared Jackie Halfie into leaving Earth.

What happened? Cosmos became Omni. Diana King resigned and was replaced by Ben Bova. Ben rejected “Spirals” because it was too long. The story ultimately appeared in Jim Baen’s Destinies.

Collaborations are hard work. The only valid excuse for collaborating is this: there is a story you would like to write, and you don’t have the skills you’d need to write it alone.

Exceptions? Sure! Jerry and I wrote “Spirals” together because it was more fun that way. And there is a classic exception, a way of collaborating that holds no risks at all.

Here’s how it works. You’ve got a story in your trunk. Somewhere in there is a terrific story idea; but it never jelled. You broke your heart over it when you didn’t yet have the skills, and now you can’t throw it away and you can’t bear to look at the damn thing either.

Then you meet a writer who seems to have the skills you would have needed. Hand him the manuscript! “Can you do anything with this?”

Look: you’ve already done your share of the work, and it’s earned you nothing. He’s done no work at all. If he says “No,” you’ve lost nothing. He’s lost nothing. If he says “Yes,” it’s his risk. Maybe you can get reinspired.

It was that way with “The Locusts.” I’d only recently met Steven Barnes. The direction he was taking, he would soon become the best of the New Wave writers. Well, I couldn’t have that…

I handed him “The Locusts,” and he made it work. Ultimately I watched that story lose him his first Hugo Award. We’ve since written two novels together.

At the

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