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January 1999
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

Scissors Cut Paper, Paper Covers Schlock

"If Stephen King, John Grisham, and Michael Crichton got together, they'd become one of the top three publishers overnight."
---Morgan Entrekin, publisher for Grove Press, quoted in The New Yorker, 10/6/97.

Sweating despite the cool recirculated air, his nervous stomach spasming, his lanky shock-cushioned body nearly folded in half around various struts and controls, Michael Crichton IV rolled into the luxurious boardroom of KGC Publishing, secure in the cramped interior of his armored trundlebug. This model, equipped with a wide range of sensors, weapons and defenses, was the same one used by the troops of such protectorates as Microsoft-Snapple and Harvard-Sam Adams. Nothing short of an illegal quantum-disruptor could penetrate this heavy carapace.

With the announcement Crichton IV intended to make today, he knew he'd need every ounce of shielding.

No one could be counted on to react more fiercely than partners betrayed.

Not that Crichton IV's confederates were especially pleasant even when coddled. Their three-way partnership was riven with strife. Day-to-day management of KGC involved too many violent emotions, too many bruised artistic sensibilities. Literary trespassing and poaching, even if unintentional, on what the partners deemed their personal territories raised hackles and frequently brought down massive internecine firepower. This was the forty-second headquarters they had gone through in the nearly one hundred of their existence---and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Assuming KGC even continued to exist after today.

Crichton IV tracked his vehicle around the teak conference table and into a power position from which he could monitor the entrance to the boardroom. Calling this meeting for ten AM, he had deliberately arrived before the others so as to secure the most advantageous spot. One of the building's load-bearing beams ran directly above him, and he hoped it might serve to protect him from the eventual falling debris.

Now on his monitors Crichton IV saw his partners arrive, concealed in their own armored carriers. Deliberately built only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, the boardroom door was the first test of status. Crichton IV watched as Stephen King VI and John Grisham III jostled for precedence, with King VI eventually winning. Crichton IV wasn't surprised: King VI was as daring and impulsive as all of his identical ancestors, taking risks the other partners shied away from. That was why there had been six of him, though, compared to four Crichtons and three Grishams.

Now on two of Crichton IV's screens popped up the images of his partners. Neither of them looked very happy.

"You'd better have a damn good reason for making me haul my ass away from my studio this early in the morning," said King VI. "I barely got fifty pages written since breakfast."

"I concur," said Grisham III. "We might have the basis of a suit or at least an actionable tort here. Scribendi interruptus."

Beating around the bush wouldn't make the fateful words any easier to say. Crichton IV cleared his throat with a rasping sound and uttered the deadly sentence.

"Gentlemen, I want to resign---"

Ravening gouts of belligerent hell-energy erupted from the one-man tanks of his partners, setting off coruscating force-shield reactions amongst all three. Instantly, the walls of the boardroom were reduced to atoms, opening the suite to the cool air two hundred meters above groundlevel. The ceiling was partially evaporated, along with a good-sized chunk of the seven remaining floors above, and a radiant flare shot out from the top of the KGC building, as if signalling construction crews to begin pouring the foundations for HQ number forty-three.

Thank god I gave the publicity department the day off, Crichton IV thought.

Luckily, the floor of the boardroom was reinforced with the same material used in the Quito Beanstalk, so the partners did not plunge to the basement. Instead, they remained in place for the downfall of debris that quickly followed the spectacular attack. And, as Crichton IV had foreseen, King VI and Grisham III were buried, while he was protected by a truncated portion of the building's structural components.

Quickly, before his opponents could extricate themselves, Crichton IV whipped his trundlebug over the junkpiles and extruded two metal tentacles which burrowed down intelligently to the immobilized vehicles, clamped on and administered a paralyzing surge that fried their electronics. Into the defenseless tanks, the tentacles next insinuated audivideo feeds under the control of an exultant Crichton IV. The shaken but unharmed faces of King VI and Grisham III reappeared on his screens.

"Okay, you two---now you're going to listen to me."

His partners scowled, but acquiesced, having no choice in the matter.

"I said I wanted to resign, and you two immediately assumed I was joining another firm, a rival."

"Well, what else would we think!" King VI shouted. "That has to be what you're up to!"

"Who is it?" queried Grisham III in his coolest prosecutorial tones. "Clancy, Koontz and Steel? No? Don't tell me you're still entertaining those laughable literary pretensions you once had. You'd never get an offer from Updike, Mailer and Bellow, not in a million years. Or are you finally affirming your genre roots? Did you cut a deal with Bear, Benford, Brin, Baxter and Egan?"

"None of those. I'm striking out on my own."

King VI laughed harshly. "You fool! You'll lose all the synergy of our partnership, all the economies of scale. Your rackspace in the protectorate retail outlets won't be guaranteed anymore. Your brandname will sink like a stone."

"I'm retiring not just from publishing as we currently practice it, but from writing as well," Crichton IV announced. This unbelievable statement shocked his soon-to-be ex-partners into silence. "I think the Crichton lineage has said all it can say over the past century. I also think the same is true for all the rest of us amalgamated, incorporated writers. But of course that's a recognition I leave each individual to reach on his own. No, I plan to embark on a new venture entirely. Gentlemen---I'm going to become an early- twentieth-century-style publisher."

An even deeper stunned silence greeted this announcement, until finally Grisham III found his tongue. "You mean, soliciting manuscripts from non-commodified, even previously unpublished writers and printing small and medium-sized quantities of an extensive number of titles twice a year, risking your own money while trusting the marketplace to discriminate between good books and bad?"


"You're bughouse!" exclaimed King VI.

"Not at all. It's the only way out of the stagnant, uncreative pool we're drowning in. The only books that see print nowadays are predigested, by-the-numbers, focus-group-approved rehashes of past bestsellers. We've killed the vital kind of fiction that once existed. Face it, gentlemen---we're dinosaurs squashing the life out of the very field we profess to love."

King snorted. "Shoulda known the dinosaurs would come into this somehow."

Grisham III spoke. "How do we know this, ahem, disclosure is not some roundabout way of stabbing us in the back? What guarantees do we have that this is not an underhanded plot?"

"I'm not joining Pychon, Delillo and Erickson, believe me."

"It's a sob story," said King VI. "He's just angling for a bigger share of the profits."

"And I'm not joining Krantz, Collins and Pilcher either. No, I'm telling you the simple truth. I'm going to start an old-fashioned publishing firm, one that doesn't even bear my name. I'm thinking of calling it Andromeda Publishing. Our motto will be: 'A new strain of books.' "

"Well, in that case, if you don't need your name, we'll just clone you again. I'm sure Crichton V will see things our way."

Crichton IV smiled. "You forget, gentlemen, the medical training associated with my lineage. I've secured all my cell-samples from the corporate vaults, and incinerated my living quarters. There'll be no more Crichtons after me. That's part of the problem, not the solution."

Finally admitting defeat, the two abandoned partners addressed each other.

"I suppose we'll just have to merge with some other hacks in order to compete."

"The mystery field has been having a good year. Let me initiate negotiations with Leonard, Hiassen, Burke, Vachss and Westlake."

Satisfied that he could now take his leave safely and embark on realizing his new dreams, Crichton IV began to reel in his audiovideo taps, but was brought up short by a shout from King VI.

"Hey, Mikey!"


"Uh, would you read something by a friend of mine named Richard Bachman?"

"Well, of course I'll read your friend's piece," Crichton IV said with a wink, "right after I deal with a manuscript or two from my old friend John Lange."

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