Prayers on the Wind

by wjw on October 6, 2011

I got a little weary of copy-editing entire novels, so I decided to make my Nebula-nominated novelette, Prayers on the Wind, available for your reading pleasure.  You may download it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

It’s only 99 cents!  What have you got to lose?

The story was written at the request of the writer Lewis Shiner, who was putting together an anthology in response to a brand new fiction category— military SF.

The Eighties were very kind to subgenres.  Although there had always been plenty of stories about future war, combat with aliens, and general derring-do, the Eighties was the decade in which military science fiction became a category of its own.

The same thing happened to  cyberpunk and steampunk.  (Alternative history really didn’t get rolling till the Nineties.)

Anyway, the racks were laden with books proclaiming that the future of the human race would be  filled with blood, slaughter, massacre, xenocide . . .  One series proclaimed on its cover that There Will be War.  (A series to which I contributed, incidentally, a comic tale of Scottish Highlanders encountering ghosts on an alien world.)

(By the way, the notion that the future of humanity will be filled with conflict seems to be contradicted by the evidence.)

Anyway, Lew thought there ought to be an anthology offering an alternative— stories of the future where war was avoided, or impossible.  And so I put my mind to it.

One way to make war impossible is to re-engineer the human race.  But in that case they’d no longer be human, they’d be Asimovian robots.  If you don’t indulge in violence because you have no choice, there’s no story, because stories are about choices and their consequence.

Another possibility is to displace the violent urge onto something else, like Rollerball.  But I’d seen the movie, and it was a cliche even then.

Then I thought, Well, what if one of our major religions turns out to be objectively true, along with its moral teachings?  Would that motivate people to behave, or not?

This couldn’t be Christianity or Islam, because they have war kinda built in with that Battle at the End of Time thing.  If Judaism turns out to be true, it matters primarily to the Jews.  Confucianism isn’t a real religion, and Taoism is all over the map.

And so . . . Buddhism.  Which is at least technically a pacifist religion that says that all violence and killing are wrong.

Of the various Buddhisms available, I picked the Tibetan variety because (1) there’s only one guy in charge, so I could put a single person at the center of the moral and political argument, and (2) Tibetan Buddhism is really, really weird, which is good from the point of view of a writer.  There are native sorcerers in Tibet that practice Bon, which is either a variant of Buddhism or another religion entirely, depending on who you talk to; and Tibetan Buddhism is also strongly influenced by Tantrism, which (as Lew put it) is a “really sick religion.”

A lot of details and local color were courtesy of Alexandra David-Neel’s Magic and Mystery of Tibet. David-Neel was a French convert to Buddhism who traveled in Tibet disguised as a lady lama,  and who was Buddhist enough to understand the religion but Western enough to be skeptical of its claims.  (She lived an incredibly adventurous life, wrote many books, and died at the age of 101.)

And how do I make the claims of Buddhism objectively true?  You’ll have to read the story.

Oh— one more thing.  There’s a character in the story, an alien, named !urq.  (The exclamation point is intended to be pronounced as a click, as with the !Kung bushmen.)  The fact that it’s pronounced something like “Kirk” is not accidental.  I put into !urq’s mouth all of the arguments that might be made by the captain of the Enterprise when confronted by a culture that’s pacifist, passive, and indifferent to the notion of  progress.

So how did the anthology do?  Not well.  Lew always uses lyrics and titles from rock songs in his fiction, and When the Music’s Over somehow did not say “peace anthology” to its prospective buyers.  (I don’t know why Give Peace a Chance wasn’t somewhere in the mix.)  The cover didn’t help.  By the time the book was published, the publisher was no longer really behind it.  It appeared for a while, then faded.

Still, the anthology sold to enough of my fellow writers to get me a Nebula nomination, but not enough to win.

And now you all have a chance to read it, all on its own.

Wm. Bainbridge October 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Being a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, I will now have to read the novella! There are always quibbles when literature addresses religion, and most of them are petty, sectarian or beside the point. One thing, though, might be helpful to say: at the really interesting levels of Buddhism, particularly the Tibetan variety, searching for something that’s objectively true, in the sense of a conceptual formulation that corresponds more or less exactly to the way things really are, is a dangerous distraction that takes one farther from rather than nearer to a useful approach.

TC/The Writer Underground October 6, 2011 at 4:14 pm

In keeping with that whole “Support Your Local Cranky Sci-Fi Writer” bumpersticker thing (even though you had the poor taste to live somewhere other than the mountains of Northern California so you’re not exactly “local”), I bought the novella.

I hope the rise of ebooks adds some publishing oomph to short fiction; the stories and novellas of a lot of writers remains a bigger draw to me than their novels.

I hope to see an emerging market for writers (even those publishing novels via traditional publishers) who can ship the novel, steal a few heartbeats of time to write that short story or novella kicking around their head, and have it make financial sense.

Mark Argent October 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm

“When The Music’s Over” was one of my favorite anthologies as a teenager, primarily due to this story.

Max Kaehn October 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm

As I remarked to a fellow Zen practitioner, “The Tibetan Buddhists are hogging the special effects budget.”

Ralf The Dog October 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm

“It’s only 99 cents! What have you got to lose?” 99 cents? (Sorry, I just could not pass up that cheap and cheesy of a line.)

“If you don’t indulge in violence because you have no choice, there’s no story, because stories are about choices and their consequence.”

The conflict could be the characters finding ways around their programming to kill each other by accident. “Wow, I am on the roof of a 100 story building. Joe is standing just outside. I hate Joe and want him to die. It is wrong to hate Joe. Joe looks like he could use a hammer. I should be nice to Joe and toss him one. ‘Hey Joe, Look at this!'”

Any chance your haunted Scottish Highlander story could be republished? It sounds like it could be a fun story to read. (How did you manage to do research on haunted Scottish Highlanders?)

Ralf The Dog October 7, 2011 at 2:53 am

Just read it. I very much enjoyed it. I could see just a touch of Aristoi with a bit of a dash from Rodger Z. Over all, a nice little snack. (Should be served with a red wine.)

Ralf The Dog October 7, 2011 at 2:54 am

One more thing, I know this is trivial, however, is there a way to register for this board? (Or is it invite only and have I banned myself forever, just by asking?)

wjw October 7, 2011 at 6:39 am

Ralf, your story about Joe and the hammer is a good one. You should write it.

Register for this board? You mean this blog? Just keep posting, the only people I’ve nixed have been spammers.

Frank Shannon October 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

I don’t have a kindle is there another way for me to read this story?

wjw October 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Frank, Barnes & Noble has it available in ebook format, and Smashwords has it on nearly every format on the planet.

Wm. Bainbridge October 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Very nice, and fun. Decent research, and the Tibetans or Western assimilates connected with the hierarchy seem a lot like real Tibetans connected with the hierarchy that I’ve encountered. A Tibetan writer would probably have ended it a little differently: the incarnation’s off the wall behavior would have convinced the alien ambassador that humans are so outrageous and unpredictable that it would be best not to mess with them. Then, after the ambassador went home, the incarnation would either have floated away or disappeared into a cave somewhere to spend the rest of his life in practice. But that wouldn’t have worked for most Western sci-fi readers.

wjw October 11, 2011 at 5:48 am

Wm.>> I think this particular Incarnation wasn’t the guy to go away quietly. He would have sat in the cave for, like, twelve seconds, then gone in search of a party.

adelod November 6, 2011 at 11:04 am

Short Path!

rich c November 4, 2020 at 2:06 am

I read this while in the Peace Corps in West Africa in the mid 80’s. I remember the story, but was not very familiar with Buddhism at the time. However, the story seemed right to me. Today, I’m a practitioner. I fact I have been blessed to be around HHDL many tines.

I have been trying to track down the story for the past twenty years. And today I finally found it. I’m excited to read it again.

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