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Foreword to The Back Roads of Limbo

November 22, 2011

FOREWORD
Hi. My name is Lee. Thanks for picking up this collection of stories. It took me years to write; won’t you take a look? There are a few things you might need to know before you start reading, though. I’ll try to be brief.

First off, there are some titles in here that were meant to be short stories, and a couple that were intended as novellas. There are also a few other stories that are actually opening chapters of novels that have been waiting for me to restart them when I can find a reasonable venue for them.

There is a bit of a story behind each of these stories, which I’d like to share with you if I could:

Cash Job: On the prompting of Warren Ellis, I decided to take part in a brief flash fiction challenge, to write some cool futuristic impression in something like a thousand words or less in one day (not unlike another similar challenge I also accepted, but more on that later). I had to edit my effort down a couple of times to get it short but sweet enough to qualify, but I still prefer this longer version, which fairly screams out for at least novella treatment. You be the judge.

Me & Squiddy: This was a quick improvisation I did one day when author Adam P. Knave started raving on LiveJournal about the discovery of the gigantic squid, which he immediately declared to be Booyah Squid, because gigantic wasn’t nearly impressive enough… but I digress.

This is a quick little story told by an eight-year-old boy who behaves a bit like kids did when I was eight. I say a bit because I’m pretty sure kids didn’t actually talk exactly like this when I was a boy, but it sounds kinda like how I remember us talking. Funny how those aren’t always the same thing, huh?

Anyway, it’s not at all politically-correct, because when I was a kid, we had no idea what that even meant. That’s not an excuse; it’s just an explanation. So I don’t want any well-meaning readers writing to berate me for perpetuating racial stereotypes. You’re right, and little Eddie was wrong. Hopefully he’ll grow up to know better than to talk about Asian kids like that. If he was my kid, I’d certainly have a talk with him about it. As it is, he’s scared and hurt enough as it is. Give the kid a break.

I’d like to think that, some day, Adam will publish his response to Eddie’s tale, because it was also pretty amusing, and it would be nice to think it’s out there somewhere, creating a wormhole between this piece and itself.

Fifteen luv. Your serve again, Murnk.

Follow The Bouncing Ball: Back in 2003, I had crazy idea for a novel called Weight of the World. I wanted to write an espionage novel featuring a series of agents all called Justin something-or-other, based on the old play on words, Justin Time. Also, I’ve been a somewhat-apologetic James Bond fan ever since I was a boy; so naturally, I’ve long wanted to pay homage to Bond at some point. However, I never really wanted to write James Bond fanfic, and I saw little likelihood of ever being hired by either EON or whoever is publishing the novels at present, so I figured I’d better just stick to writing original stories

However, when I hit my thirties, my fascination with the Bond film franchise reawakened, and I started thinking about my Justin Time character, which had been laying dormant in the notes of another novel entirely. After one of those manic ideas that get you in the early hours of the morning, I thought to myself, “What if Ian Fleming’s James Bond franchise had been more like John Le Carre’s spy novels, with an actual succession of James Bonds serving in the role over the decades, to explain away the many actors who have played the role in the films?”

Crazy though the idea seemed, I couldn’t quite get it out of my head, and I started jotting down variations on the old Justin Time sobriquet, and before I knew it, I was jotting down notes for an entire cast of characters, based on recasting the key Bond film roles with other iconic actors and actresses, for an organisation that spanned decades and generations. I didn’t fool myself that I had reinvented the wheel, but I certainly thought I had an intriguing idea for a gonzo espionage story that could bring all the disparate elements of the Bond film series together thematically for perhaps the first time.

I wrote two chapters to start with, to see if I could get the flavour I was looking for, and rather liked where I was going with it. However, life intervened, and I wasn’t able to justify going back to it until very recently. This story is the first of those two chapters, essentially the ‘Pre-Title Sequence’, in Bond film fan parlance, about one Goalkeeper agent whose mission of assassinating a merciless foreign dictator seems to have gone off largely without a hitch until the very last minute.
(to be continued in The Well-Tailored Man)

The Sacred Dance of the Heavens: This is the first of two chapters I wrote while starting the groundwork for the second LINKWorlds RPG manual, which was to be called LINK: Cutthroat, but which I personally always thought of as LINK: Oceania. Collaborations are rarely ever easy.

The game was supposed to take place on an alternate reality of Earth that had been over-flooded with water from another Earth in another reality. The water shifted to this planet’s water supply was to have some strange properties that lead to some very unusual effects, quite aside from the fact that the world’s water level would be significantly higher, reducing entire continents to archipelagos and island chains.

My first job was to write the back story, which I dutifully did in a sort of Arabian Nights style, with genies and sultans and bad bargains and such. I wrote two segments, which I’m treating as separate chapters in this collection. The first is the deal gone wrong itself. The second I’ll speak of shortly.
(to be continued in The Procession of the Tartarus)

A Strange Bedtime Story: This story has the distinction of being the first piece of prose fiction I completed after I came back from my self-imposed writing hiatus, in the year 2000 (the story, not the hiatus; that ended in 1998, but I got bogged down with planning The Sunday Afternoon Matinee project). The story was actually originally intended as a bit of fanfic, but in truth, it absolutely failed as anything other than a vague ‘Elseworlds’-type vignette that may as well have been about any couple whose story can at least partly be attributed to the supernatural or pseudoscience. Any controversial fictional hetero pairing would have worked just as well; it could have been the Doctor and Amy, or Captain Jack and Gwen, or John and Chiana… really, the possibilities are endless, and at least the couple I was writing about had once been an item, so it wasn’t entirely non-canonical.

The original story was edited profusely by a woman I used to be engaged to, and I had rather a lot of fun back then rewriting the story based on prompts from her.

Sadly, it was the only time we ever succeeded in collaborating on any of my projects. As I mostly used my own responses to her suggestions, and only kept one or two of her suggestions without rewriting or rearranging them, I’ve not included her name. It’s a personal decision. Somehow, I doubt she’d appreciate even the meanest of royalty checks at this point. Also, I just got through making the final revisions today, after over a decade of it gathering moss in a Word file buried in a moldy corner of one of my forgotten backup discs, so really, I think I deserve most of the credit in any case.

I HAVE changed the name of the woman whose name appears—only once—at the end of the story. I renamed her after a character I’ve so far only alluded to in some of my other fiction. However, as it so happens, her name rhymes with the one I originally used, which was one of the only two clear references in the whole of the story that indicate the fandom I was writing for. I’m leaving it up to you to determine what the other reference is, but I will give you a hint; it’s right in plain sight.

Beyond Winter’s Edge: Now, this is a faerietale of a kind, which was turned down by a reputable short story magazine or two, but which I always felt deserved a proper audience. The story came to me while I was writing the beginning of another of my unfinished novels, called The Devil’s Cabinet Maker, a novel I’m very much looking forward to getting back to soon.

What happened was, I had my protagonist telling a bedtime story to his children, and I discovered that I couldn’t structure his storytelling session properly until I’d actually written out the bedtime story, so I knew how it went myself. This story is what I wrote.

I have very fond memories of listening to and memorising an old vinyl collection of Bill Cosby stand-up routines, and a the end of one story, he confesses, “I told you that story to tell you this one.” The Devil’s Cabinet Maker is kind of like that. I have plans to write a number of other bedtime stories told throughout that novel, once I get back to work on it, and I will probably include this story in a collection with those when Devil is done. I hope you like this one. I’m still quite proud of it, despite it not being what certain editors were looking for.

The Divine Host: Another strange story idea came to me many years ago, while I was trying to dream up what was then going to be a cyborg super agent called Golem. It all seems a little silly to me now, but the character of Golem waited patiently for me to find a story he would be willing to take part in. I actually hit on the story several years later, while thinking about how much I detest most supernatural fiction, which usually features thoroughly pleasant angels or incredibly sexy vampires.

Perhaps there had been a little too much Guinness involved, but I posited the notion, what if angels were all vampiric, and what if their job was to maintain a corrupt Totalitarian state in the Afterlife. Then I thought, what if I cast the seriously underrated Timothy Dalton as my middle-aged, battle-weary private eye, Holm, and the vastly more underrated George Lazenby as his burned-out war buddy. From there, the idea just started to grow, and I found myself writing the first chapter before I even had a proper plot. This story now has three quarters of a rough plot waiting for me to put an engine in it and make it run, and I do intend to get back to it, some fine day.

But I might be persuaded to hurry it up if enough people ask me to.

Athena’s Eyes: This is a very short story, or a drabble, as fanfic people call them, which was written to console a very dear friend of mine, author Karen Burkey, and her husband Donald, upon the death of their beloved dog, Layla. I decided to write a sad story about love and loss for a character who definitely bore more than a passing resemblance to me. It was meant to be a short story, and so it is. However, I suspect it has always wanted to be a longer story; perhaps a novella or something. What do you think?

Dream Job: Author Warren Ellis had an idea for hosting a website experiment, kind of an internet-meets-flashmob concept he called Strange Machine. He asked anyone reading the WEF or his Bad Signal mailing list to submit flash fictions that were to fit the theme of far-out, near-futuristic settings and concepts. If I remember correctly, he wanted these ideas written, edited and published within a day, based on the Flash Fiction model. I’d been noodling with the notion of writing some gonzo speculative fiction anyway, and his challenge proved to be the impetus I needed to sit down and write this piece.

I don’t recall Warren ever commenting one way or another on my piece, but it did at least get posted on the website, which is long gone now. The piece turned out so well, in my estimation, that I started dreaming up a fuller story to continue on from where this story leaves off, but it took me a while to realise it wanted to be part of an older idea I’d had then been calling Metropolis Fallen. This is an idea that is still on the drawing table, which I intend to start writing and drawing as an interactive graphic novel entitled The Arcolopolis. Hopefully it lives up to the weird promise of this first little taste of the worlds of Morgan and Jenna and their strange non-stop work days.

This version contains the original, unedited piece, plus the start of what was to be the next part of the story, which I will be continuing shortly in the Arcolopolis.

Winterlude: Back in the blazing summer of 2003, I started improvising a dimestore detective story for my writer friends on LiveJournal, which I called The Uninvited Guest, about a character called Sterling Carcieri. I’d found the name in my email spam filter one day and thought, with a name like that, what else could he possibly be but a hard-boiled Private Dick? The problem was, I’d started writing what was sizing up to be a sprawling novel, and I was busy with numerous design and writing projects, so I had to set Sterling aside for a while.

However, when the snow started falling, I had a new idea for a short story I would write for my new girlfriend, Dawn, who had enjoyed the Sterling story, and was impatiently waiting for more. I’m not entirely convinced she didn’t marry me expressly to make sure I finished that novel, but I’m hoping that, aside from completing this story (at long last) for this collection, my finally-completed outline for what has turned out to be a quadriptych (sort of like a trilogy, only in four interlocking parts) of novels will become the story she has been hoping all these years for.

Never Apologize: This is really a title that got stuck in my head the other day, and demanded that I find the story that wants to be attached to it. I didn’t really want to slow thing sup by adding a completely new story, but sometimes, you have to pay homage to your muses or they cut you.

Never Apologize is a short story about Richard Burley, an unsuccessful playwright who dabbles with writing independent video games, but discovers his true medium when he begins writing an interactive detective novel as a Christmas present for his wife, Kara.

Angela, the Huntress: This was a short story I wrote for the LINK: Saddlebags companion book that was intended to follow the critical flop RPG game, LINK: West. As it was a flop, I think you can imagine what became of the Saddlebags plan. However, the story was really pretty neat, and I always planned on writing a handful of stories featuring Angela of The Sisterhood of Brianna.

This story introduces a young couple whom I planned to include in later adventures of their own, but in this story, the male, a minor courtier in the thrall of the Dark One, is sent to seduce and turn a sweet young debutante, the daughter of a powerful Euroboran nobleman. What he only vaguely suspects is that he too is being hunted, and plot is foiled when Angela bursts in on him and the half-turned girl, and proceeds to purge her before chasing him into the woods.

I guess you can guess from my intimation of future adventures that he does not die at this time. Sorry if that spoiled it for you. Life’s full of disappointments.

The Procession of the Tartarus:
(continued from The Sacred Dance of the Heavens)
The second half of the introductory story to LINK: Cutthroat, which I prefer to call Oceania, despite there being a lot of islands in the Pacific Ocean that lay claim to that name in this world. In my story, they’re ALL Pacific islands, and this story is the bit where you learn how that actually happened. It’s also where I get to introduce the strange dimension-hopping pirate barge, The Tartarus, which becomes something like the Flying Dutchman, only much swankier looking, owing to the crew not being undead and the ship being made of enchanted gold and all that.

Anyway, big Hollywood budget type effects here. Come have a look. Then write me and demand I write more, so I can get to the bits with all the genie ruling class and the pirate navies and island empires and stuff. It’ll be great. Ninjas AS Pirates. Magic oceans. Sea monsters! From space! I’m telling you, it’ll be awesome!

The Well-Tailored Man:
(continued from Follow The Bouncing Ball)
At that point, I’d read a handful of the classic Bond novels, including my favourites, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love, but I was also starting to read Deighton and Le Carre, and couldn’t help feeling that a modern take on a Double-Oh-type spy outfit would need to have some grittier, more practical touches. I found myself coming back, time and again, to the film series, but what I was grabbing hold of were the darker, moodier scenes where James is taking care of business, preferably without the use of those fantastic sci-fi devices Q Section had been lumbering him down with since Thunderball (yes, I know the briefcase in From Russia With Love was a little ludicrous, but at least it worked on sound mechanical principles, rather than a fabulous but utterly impossible palm-sized rebreather unit or a conveniently-collapsable jet pack in the trunk of the tricked-out Aston Martin). Just James… sorry, Justin… and a gun and a knife and a look of determination.

I wasn’t going to divorce my hero from Bond’s bad habits: the smoking, drinking, gambling, fornicating, lying, and killing without qualms all had to be part of the story, or it wouldn’t ring true. However, I was going to rationalise the habits, put them back into context, and also resolve some of the disparate stylistic elements and psychological subtext that had critically dogged the franchise for most of its existence. But the more I thought about the story, the more I knew I was going to have to write it as a sort of capstone, a summation of all that had come before, ultimately delivering it to the solidly modern place I’d been dreaming of it reaching.

And then EON hired Daniel Craig and started making the Bond films as gritty and dark as I’d been praying for, and suddenly, my novel became surplus to requirements. I might still complete the novel properly, but I’m gonna hold off until there’s a bit more interest in it. Publishing these two chapters is a blatant attempt to start the ball rolling again.
____________________

I think it needs to be said that the main reason I’ve created this collection is simply because so much of my work is unknown, and I thought it was high time I did something about that. As such, I give you this primer of the kinds of things I tend to do with fiction, or at least have done over the years. The use of chapters from incomplete novels, or (as in the case of the LINKTales pieces) chapters used in other collections, is really about presenting you with a broad-if-not-exhaustive sample of my styles. It IS relatively devoid of the more horrific or naughty things I sometimes write; I’m creating separate collections for those. If you’re keen, I should have links up on the site shortly, when they’ve been made available.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy. And if any of these stories appeal to you enough that you’d like to read more, please drop me an email (please put RE: The Back Roads of Limbo in the subject title) at leeinlimbo@gmail.com to let me know. I probably won’t be able to answer every email, but I’ll certainly read them all with great interest.

Lee Edward McIlmoyle,
Somewhere in Limbo,
Waiting for (Canadian) Thanksgiving Dinner,
Monday, October 10th, 2011.

(amended Tuesday night, November 22, about two months ahead of launch because three or four stories need endings written)

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