A rider approached from the East, a slowly growing smudge against the shimmering heat. Even at this distance I could tell that he was a long way from home – he sat too straight in the saddle for one thing. We get his kind from time to time, visitors who see the Genre Territories as chance to blood themselves, say they been there ‘n’ done that.
I let my hand slide from the handle of my Le Guin 45 where it had subconsciously fallen. This was some wetback from the East, not one of those scarred veterans of the Genre Wars. I waited patiently, chewing a plug of Martin & Abercrombie - a rich, dark blend.
“You the Sheriff my good man?” he asked, standing slightly in the stirrups. Whether this was to give himself greater height to look down his nose or to relieve the soreness in his buttocks, I don’t rightly know. I don’t like to judge.
I shrugged,” You could say that, though we tend not to do things quite that way round here.”
“Well, I have come to spread the word, ” he said, loosening his canary yellow cravat.
“And what word would that be?”
“The Good Word. To bring literature to the masses.”
I raised one brow, “Is that so?”
“Yes but in a form they can understand. Why, we could have talking ducks, killer turtles… space aliens!”
I chewed. Sometimes it’s better to let these types run it out a little.
“It’s my firm belief that genre works can still speak to some greater human truth.” Then with a mischievous wink, “ If they don’t, well, they’ve still got space aliens.”
I shifted uncomfortably and wondered if I should let him get down of his horse before I broke the news to him. I was about to divest myself of a little wisdom garnered from watching the coming and goings of our quaint one road genre town, when he spoke again.
“Look. It’ll be a hoot my good fellow. Like something written by that Vonnegut chap.”
I spat my plug of tobacco into the dirt and cleared my throat, “Now son. Can I call you son?” He nodded, looking a little wary. “ Who’s it going to be a hoot for? Huh? I mean you make this big ol’ trip to the territories thinking you’re going to bring culture to the masses who love genre, that we are going to go down on bended knee and thank the Good Lord for preserving you from roving bands of Neckbeards, just so we can benefit from the wisdom of literature infused with our tropes. Some of us frown a might unkindly on folks in the appropriation business. Perhaps you sought to educate us in the possibilities, without checking to see that we already are aware of them? Or did you come here looking for help? We can be a good lot to have on side in a shootout – plenty o’ practice in that medicine show.”
“Umm well…,” he began to visibly deflate. He reached inside his riding coat to pull out a copy of a magazine. “Look we do really great printed copy, it’s cheap relatively speaking, great value for what you are getting.”
“Now look”, I said, motioning with both hands for him to calm down. “ I am sure it’s a nice glossy magazine, but we long ago moved into the digital and a lot of our best short fiction is online, for the masses, for free. We kinda don’t need ya. Now we’re not a rude bunch as a rule but we can get rubbed up the wrong way especially by folks who come across as a might pretentious.” I tapped the time piece on my chain and brought up some three dimensional links that floated in the heat shimmer . “Here you go, son try these on for size: Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons they’re a taste of what we do.”
He looked nervously before whispering, “Thank you” and urging his horse forward.
“Oh and one more thing.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “You might be tempted to try that spiel over over at Rosie May’s Bodice Bursting Emporium of Romance Fiction, I’ll tell you now, those women know how to band together and run a business, don’t need no help from no one. . . but they are always accommodating to newcomers”
He tipped his hat in reply and made his way on down the road. His back a little less straight.
Maybe there’s hope for you yet, I thought and I sat down, returning to one of my favourite books:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
A tongue in cheek reply to a call for submissions from The Canary Press, whose original call out featured a line about Literature and cheap seats. I think their heart is in the right place but couldn’t resist a creative response. So if you do want to, please submit here.