A quick post to say that the latest issue (May 2018) of the science fiction and fantasy webzine Aphelion features a short story of mine called Bookworm, which I wrote under the pen-name Jim Mountfield. The issue can be accessed here for the next few weeks.
Like several things I’ve written, Bookworm is the result of two different ideas I had that, originally, I assumed would lead to two different stories. They’d been bouncing around inside my head for a long time and I’d never figured out a way of constructing a coherent narrative around either of them. Then it occurred to me one day that I could combine those two ideas into one story – wildly dissimilar though they were.
In Bookworm’s case, one of the ideas was inspired by an art bookshop in Edinburgh that I occasionally worked in thirty years ago. To be honest, a mate of mine officially worked there, but he wasn’t available on certain afternoons and asked me to fill in for him. I was on the dole at the time and for the afternoons I worked there I was paid cash-in-hand. The bookshop has long since disappeared and its premises are now occupied by a pizzeria, so I think I can say that without getting anyone into trouble. The shop looked unusual in that it stood just before the junction where George IV Bridge, descending from the Royal Mile, and Candlemaker Row, climbing from the Grassmarket, slanted together. Because it was at the end of a terrace and stuck between two converging streets, it had a strange, tapering, almost triangular shape. Also, most of its frontage on the George IV Bridge side was glass.
So I’d always wanted to use that bookshop as the setting for a story – with its odd shape (‘like a slice of pie’, as Bookworm puts it); its glass frontage that meant I spent a lot of time just gazing out onto George IV Bridge, people-watching; and its shelves of big, expensive and beautifully-illustrated artbooks.
I must admit that the other idea that powers Bookworm is not an original one. It was something I encountered as a teenager, when I read a 1947 short story called Cellmate by the science fiction and horror writer Theodore Sturgeon. I thought the premise for that story was so wonderfully bizarre that I’d always wanted to write a variation on it. I’ve seen the idea turn up in several places since then – for example, in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi blockbuster Total Recall – so I don’t feel too guilty about nicking it.
Theodore Sturgeon was, incidentally, a very interesting character. I suspect he’s best remembered today not so much for his work (which included scripting a couple of episodes of the original Star Trek TV series in the late 1960s) but for coining the adage known as Sturgeon’s Law, which goes along the lines of: okay, 90% of science fiction is crap but then, 90% of everything is crap. In his day, though, he was a prolific and popular writer of short stories – he penned about 200 of them and during the 1950s he was said to be the most anthologised short-fiction writer in the English language alive. And it’s claimed that he was the inspiration for Kilgore Trout, the fictitious sci-fi writer who recurs in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut and becomes their bemused, oddball conscience. (Sturgeon… Trout… Get it?)
And there you have it. Long-gone Edinburgh art bookshop + bizarre short story by Theodore Sturgeon = Bookworm.