Short Stories

alternate wednesday: an alternate groundhog day


The U.S. celebrated Groundhog Day a couple of weeks ago (is there an international, or even fictional equivalent, I wonder?), and as usual, it was an opportunity for geeks everywhere to show our appreciation for one of the greatest time travel films ever made: Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andy MacDowell. Like I need an excuse to re-watch it! But this year the occasion reminded me of another film that is not nearly as well known…

1201PMBefore the Syfy Channel (née Sci-Fi Channel) built its reputation on making so-bad-they’re-good genre films, Fox was the champion of low-budget SF movies-of-the-week. The nostalgic and sometimes faulty part of my brain fondly remembers the 90s as the heyday of  TV movies, and Fox gave us instant classics such as Generation X, W.E.I.R.D. World, and Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (starring David Hasselhoff in the titular role). Many of them were obviously backdoor pilots for new TV shows or cheap knockoffs of Hollywood blockbusters, but my favorite of the era was 12:01.

Starring Jonathan Silverman (Weekend at Bernie’s), Helen Slater (Supergirl), Jeremy Piven, and Martin Landau, on the surface it looks like a rehash of Groundhog Day. Whereas the latter film doesn’t really try to explain the cause of the 24-hour time loop, 12:01 attributes it to a science experiment that threatens to trap the entire world in the same day. Silverman is not quite as talented or entertaining as Bill Murray, but he got the job done. I remember liking him and Slater and in general appreciating the film on its own merits. And it turns out it may not be a ripoff of Groundhog Day at all–in fact, the creators maintained that Groundhog Day stole from them.

groundhogCould be. 12:01 was based on a 1990 short film directed by Jonathan Heap called 12:01 PM, which was in turn adapted from a short story of the same title by Richard Lupoff, published in the December 1973 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. (Lupoff followed up with “12:02 PM” and “12:03 PM” in issues from 2012 and 2013–I’ve gotta track these down.) In the short film, which aired on Showtime’s 30-Minute Movie series, Myron Castleman (played by Kurtwood Smith) repeats the same hour over and over again, from 12:01 to 1:00 p.m. At least it’s his lunch break.

Director Jack Sholder expanded on this premise for 12:01, which aired on Fox on July 5, 1993. Groundhog Day was released on Feb. 12, 1993. Suspiciously close timing, but I can understand the skepticism–at least as far as the film versions go. Whichever came first, it’s a shame because there’s no avoiding the similarities, and 12:01 actually compares pretty favorably. Good enough that even though I haven’t seen it in a while, I may just grab it on DVD instead of digging out my old VHS tape from storage.

If you’re curious about this time loopy alternative to a beloved film, here’s the trailer for the Fox film, 12:01:

And here is the rarely seen short film version, which I hadn’t even heard of until researching this post.

So here’s my question of the week: If you could re-do anything from the last 24 hours, what would it be?

alternate wednesday: “Impossible Dreams”


Somebody described the experience of reading great fiction as being caught up in a vivid continuous dream, and I think movies do that better than any other kind of story. Some people say the best movie isn’t as good as the best book, and I say they’re not watching the right movies, or else they’re not watching them the right way.

One of my favorite alternate universe stories–indeed, one of my favorite short stories in general–is “Impossible Dreams” by Tim Pratt. I first read it in the July 2006 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, and it instantly felt like one of those things that was made just for me. You know, like that Thundercats/Superman crossover comic, only way way better.

impossibledreamsWithout spoiling more than I have to (considering I’m featuring it in this blog series), the story is about a cinephile named Pete who happens across a video store from another reality… Which means it offers films from another reality. Think about that for a moment, and then think about all the movies that might have been if the whims of Hollywood had turned out a little differently. “Impossible Dreams” is a love letter to film geeks, calling out some of my own favorite movies and tantalizing me with versions of them I wish I could experience.

I love films–if I could, I’d watch at least one movie a day–and this story hits two other big loves of mine: The Twilight Zone (no surprise) and parallel universes. More than that, it accurately conveys some of the joys of watching films, and the particular pleasure in sharing them with others. I can’t recommend “Impossible Dreams” highly enough, and I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. (Don’t take just my word for it; it won the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.)


Conveniently enough, you can find it online for free at Wired, have someone else read it to you over at Escape Pod, or purchase it as a $0.99 eBook for Kindle or Nook. But I also think that if you enjoy stories about alternate universes, you have to pick up Other Worlds Than These, a reprint anthology edited by John Joseph Adams which features this and many other wonderful stories that I plan to mention in the future on this blog.

Finally, it seems only fitting that a short story about loving movies should be turned into a film of its own. As it happens, Israeli director Shir Comay has done just that with his 2011 short film, Impossible Dreams, starring Ori Yaniv and Ayala Zilberman. It took me a while to get around to watching it, but I saw it yesterday and it’s a terrific adaptation. I think it works especially well in its 22-minute run time, as it feels like a modern Twilight Zone episode–and even seems specifically designed to evoke that. Check out the full film below in Hebrew with English subtitles. (Here’s the trailer.)

What nonexistent films would you most like to see?

welcome to nathan’s world

If you're wondering, this scene is totally canonical with Fair Coin and Quantum Coin. (Image courtesy Joshua Davis Photograph)

Since a lot of readers have told me they like Nathan Prime, but didn’t see enough of him in Fair Coin, I decided to give him the spotlight in my contribution to Literary Escapism’s “School’s In” series this month. Consider this an appetizer for Quantum Coin in October, with cameos by all the major players: Ephraim, Jena, Mary, and Shelley. Well, okay, almost all the major players. Sorry, Zoe.

So pop over to Literary Escapism to read a brief transcript of Nathan’s video blog, and enter a giveaway for a free copy of my books.

For the couple of people who told me they don’t like Nathan… This probably won’t change your mind. But Quantum Coin might!

back to school

I really miss summer vacation. When I was a kid, summers meant weeks of uninterrupted reading time; every morning began with a trip to my local library, where I loaded up on seven or eight books. I lugged them home, settled into my favorite armchair, and devoured them all one after the other like literary Pringles. My school would have a summer reading challenge to see who could read the most books. It’s no surprise that the summer I read more than 100 books, at the start of the fourth grade, I suddenly needed glasses.

Now, as more or less of an adult, there’s no such thing as summer break. (Cue the violins.) Even when I get a vacation, I’m constantly working on something: My idea of “time off” is several days of uninterrupted writing time. But I remember what it was like as the summer dwindled away and September approached with its promise of full school days and nights and weekends doing homework. As much as I enjoyed learning and reuniting with friends at school, it was always a tough adjustment.

Literary Escapism is hosting a unique blog series this month, featuring thirty authors who are sharing stories about their book characters returning to school. I was delighted to be invited to participate. I contributed a short piece starring some characters from Fair Coin and Quantum Coin, in which Nathan Mackenzie finally steals some of the limelight from his best friend, Ephraim Scott.

Many of the posts include giveaways of the authors’ books, and Pyr has generously offered up a copy of Fair Coin and Quantum Coin to be given together to one lucky winner. More details will follow when the post goes up near the end of the month. In the meantime, here’s a list of all the stories, which will be updated throughout the month, including one from K.D. McEntire about Wendy, Eddie, and Piotr from her books Lightbringer and Reaper.

Listen… The bell’s ringing for first period. You’d better get to class and crack open those books!

crits for critters!

I’m offering up a short story critique (up to 5000 words) or a critique of a query letter and the first 30 pages of your novel, in the Pens for Paws Auction to raise money for Fat Kitty City, a no-kill, cage-free cat sanctuary in El Dorado Hills that also rescues dogs (as foster homes allow). I am happy to aid our feline overlords, even at this great personal sacrifice.

If you’re wondering what makes me qualified to critique anything you write, that’s a very good question! I have at least a little bit of experience with writing and publishing short stories, through the rigorous Clarion West Writing Workshop (in the incredibly talented class of 2005); my participation in New York’s finest team of superwriters, Altered Fluid; and as a submissions reader for Sybil’s Garage and several editions of Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror. Many of the stories and novels I have critiqued have been published and received awards and critical acclaim, and I’m totally claiming some of that credit.

I also wrote a query letter and a novel that fooled at least one agent into taking me on as a client, which eventually resulted in my novel getting published, so let’s call that a 100% success rate, shall we? I’ve heard from more than one person that I’m pretty good at writing query letters, which are tricky things. My “specialties” are in science fiction, fantasy, and young adult fiction, but whatever your genre, this is a rare opportunity to get feedback from someone who should know better than to critique a stranger’s work. But hey, I’ll do almost anything for money that will support a good and worthy cause.

In any event, you’re almost guaranteed to get value for your dollar, depending on how much you bid and some definitions of value.

Bidding is open internationally through May 11, 11 p.m. EST. Please spread the word to anyone who might be interested and consider bidding. If you don’t have a story or novel ready yet, you can claim your prize whenever you do.