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Igms issue 20, p.12

IGMS Issue 20, page 12


IGMS Issue 20

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  It was the hand of Asdruel against my brow.

  And then the hand of the creeping yamin cupping my knee, and the hand of Lemuel the nagid poet on my chest over my heart.

  But not my brow, not my knee, not my chest, not my heart. Lytrotis's. Miserable puny weakling fool that he was, he was the darling that Eloi had bound this body to; he was soothed and calmed by their touch, while I was set aflame and felt torture and tearing beyond anything that I had known before.

  "Lytrotis," said Asdruel softly. "I am Asdruel."

  "Lemuel," screeched the nagid.

  And the voice of the yamin rasped his name: "Hhasah."

  "In the name of the Beyn," said Asdruel, "we command this spirit to come out of him."

  The knife was in my hand. I am the strongest of my kind. The Beyn was trapped in a baby's body, and seeing only what the babe could see and knowing only what the babe could know. He could not bring his power to bear against me. And they did not know my name.

  I gripped the knife. Though I burned white-hot at every point where my immaterial evryon self connected with the beast, I pushed the blade forward.

  The baby gurgled and laughed. The baby said a word.

  "Or," he said. It once had been my name. Yet it might just as easily have been a random sound, no word at all.

  "Or," whispered Asdruel. "Once you were of the mighty, a son of the morning. But here you have no power. This body is not yours. In the name of the Beyn, and by his power, which he put in us, we command you to come out."

  But I could not obey them. For as they spoke, I was already gone.

  Not gone -- I was still there. My boundaries, as far as they could be detected at all, were entirely contained within the body of the beast called Lytrotis. But I did not connect with the beast at any point. It belonged to Lytrotis entirely.

  I could sense how he flowed again into every corner of the beast and made it his again. A homecoming it was for him. And in his joy, relief, and gratitude, he wept and sank to his knees.

  "Rise up," rasped Hhasah. "Come in and see what we do here."

  But Lytrotis did not rise.

  "Why are you afraid?" screeched Lemuel. "You are free now."

  "I fear it will come back," said Lytrotis, "and take me again."

  "It will not," said Asdruel. "We have forbidden it."

  And it was true. I could not even hold the thought of taking Lytrotis's beast again. It fled my mind each time I tried to think of it; finally I gave it up so I could think at all.

  Lytrotis rose to his feet and let himself be drawn inside the garden. As he went, Hhasah reached up into his sleeve and took the knife and then pushed it hiltfirst into his own body -- such malleable flesh, these yaminim, with nonce pockets wherever they needed them, for as long as they were needed.

  I could not ride in Lytrotis now. I was outside the gate. I could not pass through it. The barrier was impenetrable. And I was blind to it. Whatever went on inside, I could not sense it. For where the Beyn was, I could not, an unprotected evyon, go.

  But I did not have to see. I knew. The bioforms were introduced to him as he was anointed; the philter was used to lave his body, and it entered him at pores and mouth, and he inhaled the fumes.

  Inside the beast, the links to the evyon of the Beyn were made firm and eternal. Mortal, yes, the body still was that -- it could be killed. But only if the Beyn was willing to let it happen.

  I should not have done it myself. I should have trained someone, told him to avert his gaze when it was time to kill.

  But these were the darlings, after all. Even the greedy fools like Lytrotis were Eloi's darlings, or had been, once. When they came close enough they would withhold the blow. It would not even take the hands of the Wise Men to stop them. Only when he allowed it would they touch him violently, and pierce him, and slay him.

  The shock of it faded. The grief. The disappointment. All that was left to me was rage.

  But rage could not exist for long so close to him. He didn't like it, and now I had no beast to hold me in one place upon the surface of Earth. I felt myself pushed away as if by the blow of a giant's fist, and then I was on a mountain top, far from Bethlehem, far from Judea, far from Rome. A mountain covered with ice.

  Too late now to stop him when it would have been the easiest. But I would find a way.

  Meanwhile, I had foreseen the possibility. I am not so vain as to deny the possibility of being beaten, and so I had my plans already laid. Herod's order was already given. The soldiers were already marching. There were eighteen babies under two years of age within the village, and another six in nearby homes. They would die at the first light of dawn.

  And one of them would be the Beyn. Bound up now so that he could rise again, but deprived of all his opportunity to teach them how to prepare for death so they, too, could rise. This or that piece of Eloi's plan might be carried out, but not all. They would see it, all the evyonim, all the beynim, all the seraphim and cherubim, yaminim and nagidim, they would see.

  I know. The story is already familiar to you.

  How the Wise Men left in darkness and went home another way, where Herod's men could never find them -- for they boarded their starship and flew off in a starlike blaze into the night.

  And the parents and the baby, they were also warned, and while they had no starship to carry them away, they had the dromedaries and the servants of the Wise Men, and gold enough to pay them.

  Gold enough to live in exile for ten years in Alexandria, among the Jews and Greeks of that city, with all the learning of the world to draw upon in his education.

  And I was left with the bitter knowledge that every step of mine had been foreseen before I took it. Gold! I had not guessed its purpose. It was his armor; it was gold that supported the Beyn and his parents in Egypt until the atrocities of Herod were forgotten, and no one looked any longer for the babe that had been visited by the strange, unseeable Wise Men from the east.

  What was left to me? To act out my part in the plan. And what was my part?

  To tempt him and fail to introduce impurity into him.

  To use the teachers and scholars to trip him up and confuse him and expose the fact that Eloi cared nothing for these people; but always he had an answer, and the common folk continued to follow him and listen to his words.

  And finally, when it was time, when he allowed it, to have him killed.

  Useless. Worse than useless -- essential to the plan I hated with all my heart.

  Yet as he died, I was there, inside a Roman soldier, and they heard me cry out in his voice: "Yes, take that, you Beyn of Eloi!"

  But even those exultant words of mine, as I rejoiced in his suffering, were written down another way, as if I were testifying of him; as if I were afraid.

  Worst of all, when he put himself together again, eternal evyon with domesticated beast, he changed you all, all the darlings. We could not possess your bodies any more, not as we used to; you could fight us now and keep us out. Even when the evyonim succumbed to us, we could not feel the passion and the pain of the beast, not as we used to. Otherwise you would have known the bitterness of captivity within a beast controlled by someone else, by me. The Beyn has protected you all your life, and you never knew it, and didn't care.

  All this you see so clearly now, because you are separated from your beast, and now I cannot lie to you. But you recognize me, don't you? You know how often I have whispered to you, I or one of those who serve me. You know how I played upon your worst desires -- or your best, when that served my purpose.

  I could not stop the Beyn, I never could, I know that now. He was too strong for me, and Eloi watched over him.

  But you I can stop. I have stopped you. See how unclean you are? I taught you how to be this thing of filth, and you learned my lessons well, and went beyond them to become a master of self-indulgence and destruction.

  Now you see me naked and you know the truth about us both. Do you think that he'll accept you now?

  This is not
my story and it never was. It is our story.

  You belong to me.

  InterGalactic Interview With Ellen Datlow

  by Darrell Schweitzer

  * * *

  Ellen Datlow is very close to being the anthologist of fantasy and horror over the past thirty years or so. She came into prominence as the fiction editor of Omni in the '80s and since then has edited the webzines Event Horizon and Scifiction, in addition to a large number of anthologies, both by herself and often in collaboration with Terri Windling. With Windling, she co-edited The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for many years. In later volumes, Windling was replaced by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. That series has ended, although Ellen is now editing The Best Horror of the Year for Night Shade Books. She has won five Hugo Awards, (one for Best Website, Scifiction), two Bram Stoker Awards, nine World Fantasy Awards, two International Horror Guild Awards, two Shirley Jackson Awards, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award.

  SCHWEITZER: How did you get to be an editor? Was this your ambition from the start or did it just happen somehow?

  DATLOW: I've always loved reading. When I was in high school and even in college I remember thinking that working in a bookstore might be fun. After college I traveled around western Europe, as far south as Turkey and as north as Finland, for about a year. When I returned, I worked a lot of temp jobs until I decided to apply for jobs in publishing houses.

  I had no idea what being an editor meant until I got my first job in publishing as secretary to the New York salesman in the New York office of Little, Brown & Co. The office was small enough that I could see what everyone did. There was a full time slush reader, believe it or not (this was around 1973) and because she had so much to read, she let me read some of it in my spare time. So that was my first exposure to anything editorial. After about nine months I was offered a job (through someone at LB who knew someone at another house) at Charterhouse as editorial assistant to Carol Rinzler. Unfortunately, even as she hired me I think she was aware that the imprint at the David McKay Co. was about to go under -- it was founded by Richard Kluger, who had left. But Jim Wade, a senior editor at McKay, took me on as his assistant. Unfortunately, a few months later the publishers -- Kennett and Eleanor Rawson -- plus Jim all walked out, leaving me without a job (while in the hospital with pneumonia)

  After miserable/or non-productive work-experiences in book publishing for a few years (working for Arbor House for the monstrous Donald Fine, then at Holt, Rinehart, and Winston -- now named Henry Holt, and finally Crown) -- my first magazine job was with Omni. While working at HR&W for three years, I began to read science fiction submissions for the SF Book Club, for Jim Frenkel at Dell, and Ellen Kushner at Ace (I think it was Ace). I also read for 20th Century Fox and the Book of the Month Club.

  At Omni, I started as Associate Fiction editor for Bob Sheckley, and the rest is history.

  SCHWEITZER: Well the rest may be history, but that's what we're interested in here. So, did you start out with an interest in science fiction and fantasy or was this something that happened due to where you found yourself?

  DATLOW: I was always interested in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I read everything my parents had in the apartment from the non-fiction reference book The World We Live In to Bullfinch's Mythology and the Odyssey and the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Guy de Maupassant. As a young adult I read a lot of historical novels by Irving Stone, Harold Robbins, plus such books as Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Group. I read everything. But I realize now that I was also very interested in short stories. I read Ellison's collections and Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions and Partners in Wonder and The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural, Richard Matheson's Shock series, Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, etc. etc.

  SCHWEITZER: How much would you say that Bob Sheckley influenced you as an editor? How long did you work for him as his assistant?

  DATLOW: Bob didn't influence me as an editor at all. He knew nothing about working in an office or about being an editor. I taught myself to edit -- I'd already done some substantive editing on a couple of novels at Arbor House and at Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (one of the late Edward Whittemore's novels -- The Sinai Tapestry).

  Before Bob Sheckley was hired as fiction editor, Ben Bova was the fiction editor, giving me slush to read. Ben also went over a manuscript with me one time after he had me line edit it. That was the extent of my hands-on editing education. But you can't really teach editing . . . it's an on the job art/skill that I'm still constantly learning with each story I work on.

  Once Bob was hired, I was first reader for everything: for the slush and for the pro submissions. We had no knowledge of "editor/associate editor" protocol -- neither of us. So I ended up reading 99.9 % of the submissions first, passing on the stories I liked to Bob during the 1½ years or so he worked at Omni (a handful of Bob's friends sent their stories to Bob's home address).

  I guess you could say Bob influenced my editing by letting me do it all.

  SCHWEITZER: I don't know if you want to put this in the interview or not, but the muckraking journalist in me is curious to know why you describe Donald Fine as "monstrous."

  DATLOW: You can either use this or not -- it's common knowledge in publishing. He was verbally abusive to his employees and at least twice a year when he still owned Arbor House, which was located on Lexington Avenue, he was reported to the building management by neighboring companies because they could hear him screaming and cursing at his employees. I took the job in desperation, as my unemployment had run out. I was warned about him. I was hired as the receptionist and within four months I had edited a couple of novels and done some publicity. But the so-called straw that made me resign (I'm one of the few who actually gave two weeks notice) was his intention to "promote" me to his assistant -- which meant I'd have had to interact with him more closely and suffer his verbal abuse. As it was, I was sick to my stomach going into work every morning, so even though I didn't have another job, I had to quit. I was very lucky in that I found another job (with Holt) within a week.

  Several years later when I spotted him at an ABA (now called BEA) I walked out of his line of sight -- not that he would have recognized me. Dozens of people would have danced on his grave if we could have (I'm one). Ask Gordon Van Gelder about him. A woman who ran out of the office in tears when I was there worked at St. Martin's later and she told Gordon about it. We met at a party once and toasted to his death.

  SCHWEITZER: Wow. At least he is dead and can't sue.

  DATLOW: You're welcome to spread word of his atrocities far and wide.

  SCHWEITZER: On a happier subject, let's talk about your editorial agenda. Everybody says "I want good stories." For Omni you wanted good stories. But is there more to it than that? Particularly when you're editing a high-end market like that, you get a chance to lead, and actually shape what the field is to become. So, at what point did you have any sense of this?

  DATLOW: When I began editing the fiction at Omni I had no agenda but to buy the stories I really enjoyed. I came into the field from the outside (even though I read in that field all my life) and had no preconceived ideas of what I wanted to do. I didn't know science fiction magazines existed until I got to Omni. Growing up, I'd read anthologies -- original ones and Best of the Years. I didn't look at copyright pages so I had no idea where those stories came from, if they'd been published previously.

  SCHWEITZER: Does this mean you're the mother of Cyberpunk? After all, it was in Omni that a good deal of Cyberpunk happened.

  DATLOW: The mother of Cyberpunk . . . no. I was the Queen of Cyberpunk, thank you! -- and only by accident. William Gibson's stories were brilliant. I published most of his sprawl stories in Omni. It wasn't that I saw something "new" -- just something wonderful. I bought some Bruce Sterling (not his most famous ones), some Lew Shiner, a lot of Pat Cadigan, several Tom Maddox stories, and one story by John Shirley. I certainly had no agenda when I was editing and buying their stories. I just thought they wer
e mighty fine.

  I wouldn't call how I developed as an editor and what I do now as an editor an "agenda," but over the years I've realized that loving sf/f and horror and working at Omni, Event Horizon, and Sci Fiction gave me the leeway to publish all three of those subgenres of the fantastic (including terror fiction, which is more psychological horror).

  The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror also did that -- my co-editors and I always searched for our material in all kinds of places that one wouldn't necessary expect to find it -- mainstream magazines and anthologies and collections and literary journals. And of course all genre publications. I continue to try to read in and out of genre for my Best Horror of the Year.

  So if seducing readers into enjoying stories outside their genre comfort zone is an agenda then that's my agenda.

  SCHWEITZER: So as far as leading the field from the editorial chair, you didn't become John W. Campbell then. But there must have been trends you wished to encourage and trends (or clichés) you wished to discourage. Can you think of examples?

  DATLOW: I didn't even know who John W. Campbell was when I started. (Blasphemy, I know). I wanted science fiction to be perceived as a literature for adults. I wanted it to be as literate as the best mainstream fiction. I really dislike clunky writing and I have always disliked it. It's the first thing to throw me out of a story.

  I guess when I was much younger, an intriguing idea could carry me along for the ride, but by the time I was in my thirties I wanted to be enveloped by a story in which the characters were believable and spoke in words and sentences that mirror real life. Intriguing ideas were still important to me, but the story was more so. And I think I proved that science fiction could be both stylish and intriguing during my years editing magazines and webzines.

  SCHWEITZER: Do you think an editor could deliberately reshape the field today the way Campbell did in the 1940s? Or might it be a matter that no one is in a pivotal enough position to do so? In 1940, Astounding was THE science fiction market for people who wanted to be taken seriously. Today, there is more than one.

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