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October/November 2010
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Elizabeth Hand
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Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
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Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
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Coming Attractions
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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

The Royalties of the Fathers

"Self-Published Author Claims to Be Charles Manson's Son"
—headline at Galleycat blog.

I HAD BEEN assigned to interview best-selling author Eunice Polyploidy, and of course I was nervous. I had not been able to do my customary amount of journalistic research prior to our meeting, as there existed so little public knowledge about this remarkable and talented, but enigmatic, young woman who had come out of nowhere to take the literary world by storm.

I hated going into an interview cold like this, but figured I could trust my reporter's instincts, honed from covering such fast-breaking assignments as the Lady Gaga-Senator Scott Brown nuptials, and the purchase of a bankrupt California by the Chinese government. And bolstering my spirits was the fact that I had been promised a choice publication venue for the interview: a popup window on the October 2013 iPad edition of the amalgamated Slate/Salon/HuffPo/Popular Mechanics iBooks download.

Eunice Polyploidy was, of course, a pen-name, the one under which her two mega-hits had been issued: The Other Side of the Cosmos, and Beyond the Other Side of the Cosmos. But it was the only name I had with which to greet the smiling and pretty young author who opened the door to the incredibly expensive Triplex Suite at the New York Palace Hotel.

"Eunice Polyploidy? I'm Griffin Turnbow, and I'm here for our interview."

"Please come in, Griffin," she said, beaming with what seemed like genuine interest and enthusiasm. I stepped past her into the lushly appointed sitting room, found a chair, and, after Eunice had taken her seat, set down my iPad (in recording mode) between us. I decided to open with some simple praiseworthy facts, to ease into the more probing questions.

"So, Eunice, I understand that the deal with James Cameron to film both your books has been finalized."

"Yes, Griffin, we inked the contract just yesterday."

"Congratulations. It's a remarkable achievement for one so young as yourself. Ah, just how old are you?"

"Only seventeen, Griffin."

Here was a small but significant scoop! I pressed on, seeking to elicit more biographical details.

"Did you ever imagine, when you were growing up, that such success would be yours? That you would begin your career as a writer by producing two science fiction novels which"—I consulted my notes on the iPad—"in the words of critic John Clute 'encapsulate and valorize the entire continuum of pre-vastation genre ideational conceptitude, like a whale sporting amidst a plate of smelts…'? Or, as Entertainment Weekly put it, 'Books that kick George Lucas's ass back to the Precambrian!'"

Eunice smiled with insouciant ingenuousness. "Well, Griffin, I did have a sense of my destiny from an early age, ever since I learned that my great-great-grandfather was Robert Heinlein."

My mind and mouth both temporarily shut down, and a crimson curtain passed in front of my eyes. When semi-normal brain functioning returned, I stared wordlessly at Eunice Polyploidy and made sounds like a wild boar rooting fruitlessly for truffles.

Eunice took obvious pity on me, and said, "I've decided to reveal everything about myself to you, Griffin. Finalizing the deal with James Cameron has freed me from any unease or trepidation. At last, I feel that I've made it on my own talents, without resorting to nepotism or unearned free publicity, and so I can proudly confess to my past."

I positioned my iPad's camera lens more precisely, and managed to say, "Please, Eunice, tell me everything about yourself."

"All right. But I'm going to hide the names of my female relatives under pseudonyms. You'll see why in a minute. They were all wonderful human beings, and I love them dearly. But I'm afraid their actions might be misconstrued, even at such a late date, since they all involved, um, illicit assignations. Let me explain.

"My great-great-grandmother—let's call her 'Sally'—was just seventeen years old when she met Robert Heinlein in nineteen-forty-four, at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Bright and precocious, she had a brief wartime affair with Heinlein, and the result was a girl baby born in nineteen-forty-five. My great-grandmother."

"I assume you have some proof of this connection?"

"Oh, certainly, love letters from Robert to Sally. And of course, I'm willing to undergo genetic testing as well."

"Fascinating! So science fiction is literally in your genes."

"More so than you can imagine, Griffin. You see, Sally's child, my great-grandmother—call her 'Alice'—was a caseworker at the Social Security Administration offices in Cleveland in 1962, when she was just seventeen. Prodigies run in our line, you know, although none before me have been particularly inclined toward writing. Anyhow, Alice began a romance with one of her co-workers, a certain ambitious and vastly talented, but as-yet unpublished writer named Roger Zelazny."

The next thing I knew, Eunice was dashing a glass of water in my face, drenching the carpet beneath my head. Shakily resuming my seat, I waited for Eunice to restart her tale.

"Alice gave birth to my grandmother, 'Patty,' Roger's illegitimate daughter. And, not wanting to cause any scandal, they left for the West Coast, as far from Roger's Midwest stomping grounds as they could go.

"The year was nineteen-eighty, and Patty was seventeen herself, and living in Hollywood. There, she met a visiting author working on turning one of his stories into a film. The movie was called Millennium—"

"Are you telling me that your grandmother Patty had sex with John Varley?"

Eunice grinned wickedly. "What can I say, Griffin? It just seems to be the destiny of the Polyploidy women. Patty and John did indeed conduct an affair, and the result was my mother, 'Sara.'

"Patty liked the West Coast, but not Los Angeles, and so she moved with Sara, my mother, to the town of Davis, where she got a teaching position at the University of California. And there, in the late nineties, at age seventeen, Sara—"

"Not—not with Kim Stanley Robinson!"

"Yes, Stan Robinson is my father, just as Robert Heinlein, Roger Zelazny, and John Varley are my earlier ancestors."

I gawked at this seemingly nondescript woman who bore in her genome the concentrated essence of several generations of sf writers, and felt myself to be in the presence of some cosmic anomaly, a black hole of sorts. I could feel the immense science-fictional mana wafting off her, like some kind of gravitational pull, and was glad that I myself was not a famous science fiction writer, to be drawn into her orbit. Her personal timeline was weirder than the plot of "—All You Zombies—" or Methuselah's Children.

"So, Eunice, what lies in store for you now, once these revelations about your strange past appear?"

"Well, I'm hoping you'll keep them in confidence until your October publication date. You see, between then and now I've been invited to WorldCon, and there's a certain pro I'm just dying to meet!"

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