Over the course of his writing career, science fiction author William Ledbetter has had stories published in numerous journals, including (but not limited to) Analog, Escape Pod, and Asimov’s. And now he’s collected a bunch into a handy, take home package called The Long Fall Up And Other Stories (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Ledbetter discusses how he chose which stories to include, which would make good movies, and how editing sci-fi short story anthologies influenced this collection.
To start, is there a theme that connects the stories in The Long Fall Up?
The collection doesn’t have a real theme other than that which runs through most of my short fiction. The protagonist is almost always either an outcast or underdog in some way or cut off and lonely.
How then did you decide what stories to include?
To be honest, they are just some of my favorites. Some have been widely read in popular publications, while others have been in more obscure magazines or anthologies, yet remain some of my favorites.
My main goal in picking the stories that I did was to show a broad cross section of my work.
The Long Fall Up is a collection of science fiction stories, but what subgenres of sci-fi are represented in these stories?
This kind of ties into the above question. These stories tend to address issues that are already important to our future or most likely will be. Social issues like those in “How To Fix Discarded Things” and “The Long Fall Up.” There are also several stories about humanity’s first contact with alien races and quite a few dealing with artificial intelligence. These are all topics I find endlessly interesting.
Along with all the short stories you’ve published, you’ve also written two novels in your Killday Series (Level Five and Level Six), with a third, Level Seven, coming soon. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence either on The Long Fall Up as a whole, or on specific stories in this collection?
I’ve been reading science fiction since I was a kid, so it is difficult to pin down specific influences for this collection, but my early favorites were books with subtle messages like Earth Abides by George Stewart, Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I also loved grand space opera series like Dune by Frank Herbert, The Expanse series by the writing team known as James S.A. Corey, the Spin series by Robert Charles Wilson, The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton, and the Luna series by Ian McDonald.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, shows, or games? Were any of the stories in The Long Fall Up influenced by any of those things?
I played D&D for many years, I play video games and. like most producers of speculative fiction. I’m also a huge fan and consumer of it, so I watch a lot of science fiction movies and TV. I’m sure there are many influences from those sources that I don’t realize. I do know that my story “Hungry Is The Earth” was at least partially influenced by a little known 2010 movie called Monsters that was written and directed by Gareth Edwards, which in my opinion is one of the best alien invasion movies ever, and a book series called The War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold. Both of which deal with aliens basically terraforming the Earth right out from under us, which figures prominently in my story.
Along with writing, you also edited or co-edited the anthologies The Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade, as well as Tales From A Lone Star: A Future Classics Anthology: Volume One and Volume Two. How, if at all, did working on those anthologies influence what you did with The Long Fall Up?
Work on those anthologies did make me put extra thought into which stories to include and their reading order. Conventional wisdom advises that a collection or anthology should start with a strong story, have one or two in the middle and end with a strong story. I tried to do that as well.
Now, all but one of the stories in The Long Fall Up were previously published in such journals as Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Asimov’s, and Escape Pod. Are the versions of those stories the same in The Long Fall Up as they were in those journals?
I seldom make changes to a story once I start sending it out to publishers, but there is at least one exception in this collection. I won’t mention the story, but it was one where the editor wanted to add a line of dialog that I didn’t like, which I did for that magazine, but then removed that line for all subsequent versions.
The Long Fall Up also has one new story, “How To Fix Discarded Things.” What is that story about, and did you come to write it for The Long Fall Up?
I didn’t, but it’s a story that I have always liked a lot. It deals with poverty, Universal Basic Income, being helpful to others and how people find their place in communities.
As I mentioned earlier, you have a third Killday Series novel coming out, Level Seven, which will be released as an Audible Original on December 7th, and then as a physical and digital book next year. For people unfamiliar with the Killday Series, what are these novels about, and when and where do they take place?
Though I didn’t list dates in these books, the first in the series, Level Five, takes place about forty or fifty years from now. In that future both nano-technology and artificial general intelligence are mature technologies and play major roles in the series. The whole story really takes off when one of the AI named Mortimer, escapes “into the wild” and begins releasing other AIs. Things go down hill rapidly for humanity after that, though some of the humans in the story are far more destructive than the AIs.
Okay, wait, the AI is named Mortimer? Should we read anything into that? I mean, that’s like naming a dog Milhouse; you know that pooch is not going to rescue anyone from a well.
There isn’t any real significance behind that name except it had been the name of a stuffed dragon my oldest son had when young. He and I used to make up stories and adventures involving Mortimer. So it seemed kind of fitting that Mortimer be in my first novel.
And now I feel like a jerk…
Moving on, for people who’ve read the first two Killday books, and can ignore me writing SPOILER ALERT in all caps, what is Level Seven about?
Level Seven takes place a year after the events in Level Six, and concludes the series. It deals with first the decline in human civilization, then the rapid evolution of both the human and AI species. A lot of action and some deep themes. I’m quite pleased with the way it turned out.
Going back to The Long Fall Up, writers seem split on whether their short story collections should include anything about how each story came to be. What do you do in The Long Fall Up?
I didn’t include that kind of background info in my collection. One of the reasons was because some of those stories are nearly twenty years old and I remembered very little about their origins. Though some of the stories do have interesting beginnings, like “Last House, Lost House” was an effort two write a science fiction version of a classic fairy tale, and “The Beast From Below” came out of a challenge from a friend to write a 1950’s era sci-fi story set in Oklahoma.
Hollywood loves making movies out of short stories. Are there any stories in The Long Fall Up that you think could work really well as a movie?
I think several of the stories in this collection would make good movies but for different reasons. The title story of course, “The Long Fall Up,” because there is a lot of tension, some white-knuckle action and dark themes that says a lot about our society. “Broken Wings” would probably be the best, because there is a love story, a heroic rescue, plenty of action and takes place on the Martian moon Deimos. “Last House, Lost House” is dark and moody, yet ultimately uplifting.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about The Long Fall Up?
The stories in this collection were written during a twenty-year period, so some of those I chose to include from earlier in my career might not be as well written, but they were still special to me in some way.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Long Fall Up, what sci-fi short story collection of someone else’s would you recommend they check out?
I’m going to cheat a little bit and recommend Where You Linger & Other Stories by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. This collection is fairly new, so might not be on some reader’s radar yet, but should be. These stories aren’t the same style as mine, not even close, but they are dark and beautiful and moving. Highly recommended.
And I’ll also toss in two more collections I recommend to new short fiction writers. (I told you I was cheating) These both had a huge impact on me as a reader if not necessarily my writing style. Stories Of Your Life And Others by Ted Chiang and Pump Six And Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi.