Elizabeth Bear throws down a challenge to the writers:
Okay, I double-dog dare you. Go ahead and post the awfullest, grottiest, ancientest piece of juvenilia you still have a word processor that will open. I’ll wait.
Then we can all congratulate ourselves on how far we’ve come.
I can do that.
Behold “Ice Machine,” a story named after an obscure Depeche Mode song but otherwise having nothing to do with that band or that song: It’s about a private investigator on the trail of a serial killer — on an asteriod. Because, honestly, where else would one be? I wrote two-thirds of the story when I was seventeen and two-thirds when I was twenty-one, so not only is it bad, it’s also disjointed. And that’s what you look for in a story like this, isn’t it.
Now, fair warning: There are many things bad and broken about this story, namely plot, characterization and dialogue. Probably also spelling and grammar. I used to think it was pretty good, but two stints as an editor and four novels have disabused me of that notion. The best that can be said of it is that it is probably no worse than most science fiction stories written by seventeen (or twenty-one) year olds.
No, I didn’t try to sell it, although I did enter it into an undergraduate writing contest at the U of C and came in third, which reflects the lack of competition more than anything else. To be entirely honest after this story I didn’t write another short story for a decade — three years after I wrote Agent to the Stars, in fact. And I did manage to sell that one (to Strange Horizons, which at the time didn’t count as a pro sale, which I suppose is good for my Campbell eligibility). I’ve only written two other short stories since then, however. Although I’m writing a new one this weekend! Go me! Let’s hope I’ve learned something useful since I wrote the one you have here.
And remember: If you’re traumatized, blame Bear. She made me do it.