Read Dreamsongs. Volume II Page 1




























  for Phipps, of course,

  there is a road, no simple highway,

  between the dawn and the dark of night.

  I’m glad you’re here to walk it with me.




  I launched my star ring series with “The Second Kind of Loneliness” and “Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring,” then lost interest and never did a third story.

  “A Peripheral Affair” was meant to be followed by the further adventures of the starship Mjolnir and the Good Ship Lollipop. None ever appeared, for the simple reason that none was ever written.

  My corpse handler series went all the way to three: “Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg” began it, “Override” followed, and “Meathouse Man” brought it to…well, a finish, if not an end. A fourth story exists as a four-page fragment, and there are ideas in my files for a dozen more. I once intended to write them all, publish them in the magazines, then collect them all together in a book I’d call Songs the Dead Men Sing. But that fourth story never got finished, and the others never got started. When I did finally use the title Songs the Dead Men Sing for a collection (from Dark Harvest, in 1983), “Meathouse Man” was the only corpse story to make the cut.

  I fared somewhat better with the Windhaven series, perhaps because Lisa Tuttle and I were collaborating on that one, so I had someone to give me a swift kick whenever my creative juices dried up (Lisa also added some swell creative juices of her own). We started out trying to write a short story, which turned into the novella “The Storms of Windhaven” (a Hugo and Nebula loser) at the prompting of Analog editor Ben Bova. “One-Wing” and “The Fall” followed, two more novellas. Then Lisa and I put the three of them together, added a prologue and epilogue, and published Windhaven, a classic example of the “fix-up” novel; a novel made by cobbling together a series of previously published short stories or novellas.

  Windhaven wasn’t supposed to be the end of Windhaven, however. Lisa and I meant to continue the tale through two more books and two more generations, showing how the changes Maris started in “The Storms of Windhaven” continued to transform her world. The second book was to be entitled Painted Wings. The protagonist would be the little girl we’d introduced in “The Fall,” all grown up.

  We never wrote it. We talked about writing it for years, but the timing never worked out. When I was free, Lisa was in the throes of a novel. When she was free, I was out in Hollywood, or doing Wild Cards, or a novel of my own. We were a thousand miles apart even when we were closest; then I went west (to Santa Fe and Los Angeles) and she went east (to England and Scotland), and we saw each other less and less often. Also, as we grew older, our voices and styles and ways of looking at the world became more and more distinct, which would have made collaborating far more challenging. Literary collaboration is a game for young writers, I think…or for old, cynical ones trying to cash in on their names. So our Painted Wings never took flight.

  My other series all proved to be even shorter, as I’ve mentioned here and there throughout these commentaries. There was the Steel Angel series (one story). The Sharra series (one story). The Gray Alys series (one story). The Wo & Shade series (one story). The Skin Trade series (one story). It’s enough to make one suspect a terminal case of creatus interruptus.

  Ah, but then comes Tuf.

  Haviland Tuf, ecological engineer, master of the Ark, and the protagonist of Tuf Voyaging, which is either a collection of short stories or a fix-up novel, depending on whether you’re a critic or a publisher. ’Twas Tuf who broke my series bugaboo for good and all, and opened up the gates for Wild Cards and A Song of Ice and Fire.

  As a reader, I had my own favorite series characters. In fantasy, I was drawn to Moorcock’s Elric and Howard’s Solomon Kane, and I loved Fritz Leiber’s dashing rogues, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. In SF, I was fond of Retief, of Dominic Flandry, of Lije Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw. But my favorites had to be Jack Vance’s galactic effectuator Magnus Ridolph and Poul Anderson’s fat, scheming merchant prince of the spaceways, Nicholas van Rijn.

  As a writer, I still had dreams of establishing a popular, long-running series of my own. I had an idea that I was certain could sustain one as well. It was 1975, and “ecology” was a word on everyone’s lips. It seemed to me that a series about some sort of biogenetic engineer, who moves from world to world solving (or in some cases, creating) ecological problems, would offer no end of story possibilities. The subject matter would allow me to explore all sorts of juicy issues…and best of all, no one else had done anything remotely like it, so far as I knew.

  But who was this fellow? It seemed to me I had a terrific concept, but to sustain a series I needed a terrific character as well, someone the readers would enjoy following story after story. With that in mind, I went back and looked at some of the characters that I loved as a reader. Nicholas van Rijn. Conan. Sherlock Holmes. Mowgli. Travis McGee. Horatio Hornblower. Elric of Melnibone. Batman. Northwest Smith. Flashman. Fafhrd and the Mouser. Retief. Susan Calvin. Magnus Ridolph. A diverse bunch, certainly. I wanted to see if they shared any traits in common.

  They did.

  Two things leapt out at me. One, they all had great names, names that fit them perfectly. Memorable names. Singular names. You were not likely to meet two Horatio Hornblowers. Melnibone’s phone book would not list four Elrics. Northwest Smith was not required to use his middle initials to distinguish himself from all the other Northwest Smiths.

  Secondly, every one of them was larger than life. No average joes in this bunch. No danger of any of them vanishing into the wallpaper. Many of them are supreme in their own spheres, be that naval warfare (Hornblower), deduction (Holmes), hand-to-hand combat (Conan), or cowardice and lechery (Flashman). Most of them are severely idiosyncratic, to say the least. There is surely a place in fiction for small, commonplace, realistic characters, subtly rendered…but not as the star of an ongoing series.

  Okay, I thought to myself, I can do that.

  Thus was born Haviland Tuf, merchant, cat lover, vegetarian, big and bald, drinking mushroom wine and playing god, a fussy man and formal, who has long since veered past idiosyncrasy into out-and-out eccentricity. There’s some of Holmes and Ridolph in him, a pinch of Nicholas van Rijn, a little Hercule Poirot and a lot of Alfred Hitchcock…but not much me at all. Of all my protagonists, Tuf is the least like myself (although I did own a cat named Dax, though he was not telepathic).

  The name? Well, “Haviland” was a surname I noticed on the wall charts at a chess tournament I was directing. I’m not at all certain where the “Tuf” came from. When I put the two of them together, though, that was him, and never a doubt.

  Back in the ’70s, I was still trying to place my stories in as wide a variety
of markets as possible. I wanted to prove that I could sell to anybody, not just the same few editors. Also, I figured that every time I had a story in a new market I would reach new readers, who might then go on to look for my stuff elsewhere.

  Working on that theory, I sold the first Haviland Tuf story to a British hardcover anthology called Andromeda, edited by Peter Weston. Perhaps “A Beast for Norn” did indeed win me legions of new British readers, I couldn’t say; unfortunately, very few of my old American readers ever found the story until St. Martin’s printed an American edition of Andromeda three years later. By that time, I had already published the second Tuf story, “Call Him Moses.” I’d sold that one to Ben Bova. Thereafter Tuf became a familiar figure in the pages of Analog. Ben and his successor Stanley Schmidt got first look at each new Tuf story, and bought them all.

  Not that there were a great many. Tuf was fun, but he was by no means the only fish in my frypan. In the late ’70s I was still teaching at Clarke College, so my writing time was limited, and I had other stories I wanted to tell. And when I moved to Santa Fe at the end of 1979, to try and make a go of it as a full-time writer, my attention shifted to novels. Fevre Dream occupied most of my writing time in 1981, The Armageddon Rag in 1982, Black and White and Red All Over in 1984. (We won’t talk about 1983, my Lost Year.) The Tuf series might well have petered out at three or four stories, but for Betsy Mitchell.

  Betsy had been the assistant editor at Analog under Stan Schmidt, but in 1984 she left the magazine to become an editor at Baen Books. Not long after joining Baen she phoned to ask if I had ever considered doing a collection of Haviland Tuf’s adventures. I had, of course…but that was for “eventually,” some future time when I had accumulated enough Tuf stories to make a book.

  In 1984 I had maybe half a book at best. Still, Betsy’s offer was not one I could refuse. My career was in serious trouble just then. The readers had ignored The Armageddon Rag in droves, and as a result no editor would touch Black and White and Red All Over. This was a chance to get back into the game. I could write some more Tuf tales, sell first serial rights to Stan Schmidt at Analog, put them all together for Betsy, and make enough money to pay my mortgage for a little while longer.

  So I wrote “The Plague Star,” the tale of how Tuf came to be the master of the Ark, followed by the S’uthlam triptych, which gave the book a spine. Baen published Tuf Voyaging in February, 1986, as a novel. My fifth novel, some say…though I’ve always counted Tuf Voyaging as a short story collection. (In my own mind, Black and White and Red All Over will forever be my fifth novel, broken and unfinished though it is.)

  No sampling of my checkered career could possibly be complete without a taste of Tuf, so I’ve included two stories here. The rest can be found in Tuf Voyaging, for those who want more.

  “A Beast for Norn” was the earliest Tuf story, written in 1975 and published in 1976. When it came time for me to assemble Tuf Voyaging for Betsy in 1985, a decade had passed, and Haviland Tuf had changed somewhat, coming more into focus, as it were. The Tuf of “A Beast for Norn” no longer quite fit, so I decided to revise and expand the story, to bring the proto-Tuf more in line with the character as he’d evolved in the later stories. It is the revised version of “A Beast for Norn” that appears in Tuf Voyaging. For this retrospective, however, I thought it might be interesting to go back to my first take on Tuf. So what follows is the original version of “A Beast for Norn,” as it appeared in Andromeda in 1976.

  “Guardians” is of somewhat later vintage, having first been published in Analog in October, 1981. It was the most popular entry in the series with the readers, winning the Locus poll as Best Novelette of the year, and garnering a Hugo nomination. It finished second in the final balloting, losing the award to Roger Zelazny’s superb “Unicorn Variations.” (Roger was a dear friend of mine, and I had suggested the idea for “Unicorn Variations” to him jokingly one day, as we drove to Albuquerque for a writers’ lunch. Roger acknowledged that with a tip o’ the hat by naming his protagonist Martin…and then went right out and took my Hugo.)

  At one time there was supposed to be a second Tuf book. Tuf Voyaging did well enough so that Betsy Mitchell suggested a sequel; either another book of collected stories or perhaps a genuine full-length novel. I was willing. I had ideas for another dozen Tuf stories in my files. So contracts were duly drawn up and signed, and the book was even announced in Locus. Our working title was Twice as Tuf, although if I had gone the novel route I would probably have changed that to Tuf Landing.

  It never happened. Hollywood intervened, and I found myself out in L.A., making as much money in two weeks as the Twice as Tuf contract would have paid me for a year’s work. I needed money badly at that time, in the wake of Armageddon Rag’s disastrous sales and the failure of Black and White and Red All Over to sell.

  When the deadline came and went without a book, I suggested to Betsy that I might bring in a collaborator, who could write the stories from my outlines. I take contracts seriously, and wanted to fulfill mine with Baen if at all possible…but taking on a partner really wasn’t a very good idea. Betsy Mitchell did not think so either, and she talked me out of it. For that I remain grateful. She was right; Tuf stories written by someone else would not have been the same. I would have been cheating Baen Books, my readers, and myself. I ended up settling the Twice as Tuf contract by granting Baen Books the right to reprint some of my older books, so everyone ended up reasonably happy except the Tuf fans.

  There are still a number of those about, actually. Every year for a decade or more, a few letters have come trickling in, urging me to stop writing Wild Cards, or those TV shows, or that series of big fat fantasy novels, so I can write some more Haviland Tuf stories instead.

  To which I can only say, “Maybe one of these days, when you least expect it…”


  HAVILAND TUF WAS RELAXING IN AN ALEHOUSE ON TAMBER WHEN the thin man found him. He sat by himself in the darkest corner of the dimly lit tavern, his elbows resting on the table and the top of his bald head almost brushing the low wooden beam above. Four empty mugs sat before him, their insides streaked by rings of foam, while a fifth, half-full, was cradled in huge calloused hands.

  If Tuf was aware of the curious glances the other patrons gave him from time to time, he showed no sign of it; he quaffed his ale methodically, and his face—bone-white and completely hairless, as was the rest of him—was without expression. He was a man of heroic dimensions, Haviland Tuf, a giant with an equally gigantic paunch, and he made a singular solitary figure drinking alone in his booth.

  Although he was not quite alone, in truth; his black tomcat Dax lay asleep on the table before him, a ball of dark fur, and Tuf would occasionally set down his mug of ale and idly stroke his quiet companion. Dax would not stir from his comfortable position among the empty mugs. The cat was fully as large, compared to other cats, as Haviland Tuf was compared to other men.

  When the thin man came walking up to Tuf’s booth, Tuf said nothing at all. He merely looked up, and blinked, and waited for the other to begin.

  “You are Haviland Tuf, the animal-seller,” the thin man said. He was indeed painfully thin. His garments, all black leather and grey fur, hung loose on him, bagging here and there. Yet he was plainly a man of some means, since he wore a thin brass coronet around his brow, under a mop of black hair, and his fingers were all adorned with rings.

  Tuf stroked Dax, and—looking down at the cat—began to speak. “Did you hear that, Dax?” he said. He spoke very slowly, his voice a deep bass with only a hint of inflection. “I am Haviland Tuf, the animal-seller. Or so I am taken to be.” Then he looked up at the thin man who stood there impatiently. “Sir,” he said. “I am indeed Haviland Tuf. And I do indeed trade in animals. Yet perhaps I do not consider myself an animal-seller. Perhaps I consider myself an ecological engineer.”

  The thin man waved his hand in an irritated gesture, and slid uninvited into the booth opposite Tuf. “I understa
nd that you own a seedship of the ancient Ecological Corps, but that does not make you an ecological engineer, Tuf. They are all dead, and have been for centuries. But if you would prefer to be called an ecological engineer, then well and good. I require your services. I want to buy a monster from you, a great fierce beast.”

  “Ah,” said Tuf, speaking to the cat again. “He wants to buy a monster, this stranger who seats himself at my table.”

  “My name is Herold Norn, if that is what’s bothering you,” the thin man said. “I am the Senior Beast-Master of my House, one of the Twelve Great Houses of Lyronica.”

  “Lyronica,” Tuf stated. “I have heard of Lyronica. The next world out from here towards the Fringe, is it not? Esteemed for its gaming pits?”

  Norn smiled. “Yesyes,” he said.

  Haviland Tuf scratched Dax behind the ear, a peculiar rhythmic scratch, and the tomcat slowly uncurled, yawning, and glanced up at the thin man. A wave of reassurance came flooding into Tuf; the visitor was well-intentioned and truthful, it seemed. According to Dax. All cats have a touch of psi. Dax had more than a touch; the genetic wizards of the vanished Ecological Corps had seen to that. He was Tuf’s mindreader.

  “The affair becomes clearer,” Tuf said. “Perhaps you would care to elaborate, Herold Norn?”

  Norn nodded. “Certainly, certainly. What do you know of Lyronica, Tuf? Particularly of the gaming pits?”

  Tuf’s heavy and stark white face remained emotionless. “Some small things. Perhaps not enough, if I am to deal with you. Tell me what you will, and Dax and I will consider the matter.”

  Herold Norn rubbed thin hands together, and nodded again. “Dax?” he said. “Oh, of course. Your cat. A handsome animal, although personally I have never been fond of beasts who cannot fight. Real beauty lies in killing-strength, I always say.”

  “A peculiar attitude,” Tuf commented.

  “Nono,” said Norn, “not at all. I hope that your work here has not infected you with Tamberkin squeamishness.”