Authors: Walter Jon Williams
Tags: #Science Fiction
The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories
Â© 2010 by Walter Jon Williams.
This edition of
The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories
Â© 2010 by Night Shade Books
Jacket art by Andrew Kim
Jacket design by Michael Ellis
Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart
All rights reserved
Introduction by Charles Stross. Â© 2010 Charles Stross.
Story afterwords by Walter Jon Williams. Â© 2010 Walter Jon Williams.
Asimov's Science Fiction
, September 1997.
Not of Woman Born
, ed. Constance Ash, Roc, 1999.
"The Last Ride of German Freddie,"
Worlds That Weren't,
ed. Laura Anne Gilman, Roc, 2002.
"The Millennium Party,"
, August 2002.
"The Green Leopard Plague,"
Asimov's Science Fiction
, October-November 2003.
"The Tang Dynasty Underwater Pyramid,"
, August 4, 2004.
Escape from Earth
, ed. Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, SFBC, 2006.
"Send Them Flowers,"
The New Space Opera
, ed. Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois, Harper Eos, 2007.
The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows
, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Viking, 2007.
Night Shade Books
Â Â Please visit us on the web at
Â Â Â Â Â http://www.nightshadebooks.com
Voice of the Whirlwind
Drake Maijstral series
The Crown Jewels
House of Shards
Rock of Ages
City on Fire
Dread Empire's Fall series
The Conventions of War
Ambassador of Progress
Elegy for Angels and Dogs
Days of Atonement
(by Walter J. Williams)
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Destiny's Way
This Is Not a Game
Greetings: I want you to know that I envy you.
You're reading the introduction to a new collection of short stories by one of science fiction's most versatile and elegant writers, and because you're reading the introduction I infer that you're probably about to read
The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories
for the first time.
And I envy you, because I won't get to read this book for the first time ever again.
Walter is one of the science fiction field's secret treasures. It wasn't always thus; his first five novels were of a nautical, if not Napoleonic, type (a form that he has successfully translated into space opera in his Dread Empire's Fall series). For reasons I'm unclear on (but applaud the results of) he turned his hand to science fiction in the early 1980s, releasing a steady stream of novels over two and a half decades that bracket the quirks and obsessions of some of the genre's leading lights with his own inimitable style. From the Zelazny-esque world of
to the criminal comedy caper of the Drake Maijstral books (think Raffles in Space, with just a touch of Jeeves, and you won't go far wrong), he's put his own distinctive stamp on a host of popular themesâand broken new ground of his own, with such landmark novels as
. Along the way he came close to leaving a mark of a much more significant kind, writing the definitive cyberpunk novel in the form of
, while widely admired, is seldom emulated;
, mostly written before
was published, seems to have defined the form.)
Fiction publishing is a hard furrow to till. Writing of quality, on its own, isn't enough to earn you success; you need a goodly supply of luck. Walter shouldn't be a secret treasure of science fiction; he ought to be a
one, with a couple of shelves in every bookstore, not to mention a display in the window. But it's
good fortune that Walter has had sufficient tenacity, skill, and luck to weather the vicissitudes and keep plugging away. Moreover, he has the energy and inclination to write short stories as well as novels. Short stories are an ill-rewarded part of the field. If you're a freelance writer with a bank manager breathing down your neck it's all too easy to concentrate on novels, where the pay is better and the deadlines easier.
I mentioned earlier that Walter is a versatile and elegant writer; and his flexibility is at the forefront in this showcase collection. Taste is a highly subjective phenomenon, but I think the big guns are on my side in this case: "Daddy's World" and "The Green Leopard Plague" both won the Nebula Award, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's gong for the best fiction of the year, while "The Last Ride of German Freddie" won the Sidewise for best alternate history; oh, and lest I forget, "The Green Leopard Plague" also made the cut for the Hugo Award,
top spot in the SF award firmament. But don't let that put you off the other stories in this collectionâthey're just as good. (The only difference is that they were published in anthologies that don't generally make the radar of the award voters.)
Anyway, I'm waffling and wasting paper gilding the lily here. You didn't pick up this book to read my frothing, did you? Listen, just read the stories already: you won't regret it!
One day Jamie went with his family to a new place, a place that had not existed before. The people who lived there were called Whirlikins, who were tall, thin people with pointed heads. They had long arms and made frantic gestures when they talked, and when they grew excited threw their arms out
to either side and spun like tops until they got all blurry. They would whirr madly over the green grass beneath the pumpkin-orange sky of the Whirlikin Country, and sometimes they would bump into each other with an alarming clashing noise, but they were never hurt, only bounced off and spun away in another direction.
Sometimes one of them would spin so hard that he would dig himself right into the ground, and come to a sudden stop, buried to the shoulders, with an expression of alarmed dismay.
Jamie had never seen anything so funny. He laughed and laughed.
His little sister Becky laughed, too. Once she laughed so hard that she fell over onto her stomach, and Daddy picked her up and whirled her through the air, as if he were a Whirlikin himself, and they were both laughing all the while.
Afterwards, they heard the dinner bell, and Daddy said it was time to go home. After they waved goodbye to the Whirlikins, Becky and Jamie walked hand-in-hand with Momma as they walked over the grassy hills toward home, and the pumpkin-orange sky slowly turned to blue.
The way home ran past El Castillo. El Castillo looked like a fabulous place, a castle with towers and domes and minarets, all gleaming in the sun. Music floated down from El Castillo, the swift, intricate music of many guitars, and Jamie could hear the fast click of heels and the shouts and laughter of happy people.
But Jamie did not try to enter El Castillo. He had tried before, and discovered that El Castillo was guarded by La Duchesa, an angular, forbidding woman all in black, with a tall comb in her hair. When Jamie asked to come inside, La Duchesa had looked down at him and said, "I do not admit anyone who does not know Spanish irregular verbs!" It was all she ever said.
Jamie had asked Daddy what a Spanish irregular verb wasâhe had difficulty pronouncing the wordsâand Daddy had said, "Someday you'll learn, and La Duchesa will let you into her castle. But right now you're too young to learn Spanish."
That was all right with Jamie. There were plenty of things to do without going into El Castillo. And new places, like the country where the Whirlikins lived, appeared sometimes out of nowhere, and were quite enough to explore.
The color of the sky faded from orange to blue. Fluffy white clouds coasted in the air above the two-story frame house. Mister Jeepers, who was sitting on the ridgepole, gave a cry of delight and soared toward them through the air.
"Jamie's home!" he sang happily. "Jamie's home, and he's brought his beautiful sister!"
Mister Jeepers was diamond-shaped, like a kite, with his head at the topmost corner, hands on either sides, and little bowlegged comical legs attached on the bottom. He was bright red. Like a kite, he could fly, and he swooped through in a series of aerial cartwheels as he sailed toward Jamie and his party.
Becky looked up at Mister Jeepers and laughed from pure joy. "Jamie," she said, "you live in the best place in the world!"
At night, when Jamie lay in bed with his stuffed giraffe, Selena would ride a beam of pale light from the Moon to the Earth and sit by Jamie's side. She was a pale woman, slightly translucent, with a silver crescent on her brow. She would stroke Jamie's forehead with a cool hand, and she would sing to him until his eyes grew heavy and slumber stole upon him.
The birds have tucked their heads
The night is dark and deep
All is quiet, all is safe,
And little Jamie goes to sleep.
Whenever Jamie woke during the night, Selena was there to comfort him. He was glad that Selena always watched out for him, because sometimes he still had nightmares about being in the hospital. When the nightmares came, she was always there to comfort him, stroke him, sing him back to sleep.
Before long the nightmares began to fade.
Princess Gigunda always took Jamie for lessons. She was a huge woman, taller than Daddy, with frowzy hair and big bare feet and a crown that could never be made to sit straight on her head. She was homely, with a mournful face that was ugly and endearing at the same time. As she shuffled along with Jamie to his lessons, Princess Gigunda complained about the way her feet hurt, and about how she was a giant and unattractive, and how she would never be married.
"I'll marry you when I get bigger," Jamie said loyally, and the Princess' homely face screwed up into an expression of beaming pleasure.
Jamie had different lessons with different people. Mrs. Winkle, down at the little red brick schoolhouse, taught him his ABCs. Coach Toadâwho
oneâtaught him field games, where he raced and jumped and threw against various people and animals. Mr. McGillicuddy, a pleasant whiskered fat man who wore red sleepers with a trapdoor in back, showed him his magic globe. When Jamie put his finger anywhere on the globe, trumpets began to sound, and he could see what was happening where he was pointing, and Mr. McGillicuddy would take him on a tour and show him interesting things. Buildings, statues, pictures, parks, people. "This is Nome," he would say. "Can you say Nome?"
"Nome," Jamie would repeat, shaping his mouth around the unfamiliar word, and Mr. McGillicuddy would smile and bob his head and look pleased.
If Jamie did well on his lessons, he got extra time with the Whirlikins, or at the Zoo, or with Mr. Fuzzy or in Pandaland. Until the dinner bell rang, and it was time to go home.
Jamie did well with his lessons almost every day.
When Princess Gigunda took him home from his lessons, Mister Jeepers would fly from the ridgepole to meet him, and tell him that his family was ready to see him. And then Momma and Daddy and Becky would wave from the windows of the house, and he would run to meet them.
Once, when he was in the living room telling his family about his latest trip through Mr. McGillicuddy's magic globe, he began skipping about with enthusiasm, and waving his arms like a Whirlikin, and suddenly he noticed that no one else was paying attention. That Momma and Daddy and Becky were staring at something else, their faces frozen in different attitudes of polite attention.
Jamie felt a chill finger touch his neck.
"Momma?" Jamie said. "Daddy?" Momma and Daddy did not respond. Their faces didn't move. Daddy's face was blurred strangely, as if it been caught in the middle of movement.
"Daddy?" Jamie came close and tried to tug at his father's shirt sleeve. It was hard, like marble, and his fingers couldn't get a purchase at it. Terror blew hot in his heart.
" Jamie cried. He tried to tug harder. "Daddy! Wake up!" Daddy didn't respond. He ran to Momma and tugged at her hand. "Momma! Momma!" Her hand was like the hand of a statue. She didn't move no matter how hard Jamie pulled.
"Help!" Jamie screamed. "Mister Jeepers! Mr. Fuzzy! Help my Momma!" Tears fell down his face as he ran from Becky to Momma to Daddy, tugging and pulling at them, wrapping his arms around their frozen legs and trying to pull them toward him. He ran outside, but everything was curiously still. No wind blew. Mister Jeepers sat on the ridgepole, a broad smile fixed as usual to his face, but he was frozen, too, and did not respond to Jamie's calls.