Of the dozens of stories I produced during my 20s, these are the thirteen I think are worth saving. Many of them were written in or near graduate writing programs, so they often embody a certain daring irrelevance. Others were wild attempts to break into the commercial science fiction market. Increasingly, I tried to do both at the same time. The result was some of my better work: "Incantation," "Evil Spirits Travel In Straight Lines" (The Bridge, Winter 2000), "Khodoki" (Bellowing Ark, July/August 1998)—none of which really fits into "genre" science fiction and has therefore landed mostly in small literary magazines.

These stories represent ten years of exercises and experiments, going back to my first published story, "Match Heads" (Foxtail, 1991). I was lucky in my '20's, during the Internet tech boom, to be able to buy many quiet hours between part-time software jobs. Here you see the triumphs of those blank, open spaces in my resume, those months I passed unrecorded by the technocracy. Where these stories led was to an aesthetic and a voice that would define my second released novel, γ (Gamma), forthcoming at the time of this writing.

I came to the conclusion that any sufficiently advanced science fiction is indistinguishable from reality. (To abuse the maxim by Arthur C. Clark.) The magic seeped out of my fictional worlds and was replaced by detailed research, naturalism, and the simple striving of ordinary people. But these later stories were much more magical for me. I had finally figured out how to get the "real life" out of an imaginary setting, and I found that readers were connecting to my writing much more strongly. In the end, these experiments succeeded in creating belief in readers—and, by extension, belief in myself as a writer.

Confident that I was onto something, I turned to the writing of γ around the start of the millennium, bringing this phase of story writing to a close. It was a happy moment for me, finally figuring out what I wanted to say and how to say it. Perhaps some of that thrill of discovery will come through as you read the various tales in this collection.

         

Sheldon Pacotti
Austin, Texas: May, 2013