"Souvenirs" by Ian Creasey — story background

The smell drifting from Tucker's Carvery tormented Kendra all morning.  She'd had no breakfast, and only cheap nutri-gloop the day before.  The Carvery's holo-sign boasted 'Steaks From A Dozen Worlds' over its roaring exotic beasts, though market gossip said the meat wasn't imported, but grown from pirated cell-cultures — and if an alien dined there one planetfall, then next time he might find himself on the menu.  Kendra tried to wrench her gaze from the sign and keep an eye on the crowd, looking for customers.  Her throat felt raw; she'd been calling her wares since dawn.  Now she found it too much effort to shout over the hubbub of beggars, other hawkers, the recorded spiel of the robochapel down the street, and the music pouring from all the bars and cafés around the market.

Some stories take a long time to reach publication.  This story originated in 2001, early in my writing career, when I saw the submission guidelines for an anthology called Low Port: "Our intent is to collect original science fiction and science fantasy stories exploring the lives and adventures of the scrapin'-by folk — not the star captains in their glittery tradeships, or the merchants in their silks, but the people who work on the docks, or who steal, or whore, or minister, or who dream of getting out."

The implied setting reminded me of the Andre Norton novels I read as a child, full of spaceships transporting exotic cargos between faraway worlds.  I enjoyed those books, but they did tend to focus on people who actually travelled on starships, went to other planets, and had exciting adventures.  Yet obviously that milieu needed a supporting infrastructure of spaceports and markets, populated by landbound workers who had little prospect of ever stepping into any of the ships they serviced.  The Low Port anthology offered an intriguing opportunity to imagine what daily life might be like for the less fortunate inhabitants of the interstellar economy.

So I wrote the first draft of "Souvenirs", and submitted it to the anthology with high hopes.  It was rejected.

The problem with theme anthologies is that far more people submit stories than the book can accommodate, and this results in a vast stockpile of rejected manuscripts which then circulate among the regular magazine markets, whose editors understandably grow weary of seeing dozens of variations upon the same underlying premise.  My story joined that throng of manuscripts, and acquired numerous further rejections from magazines (including Asimov's, edited by Gardner Dozois in those days).

After a while, I recognised that the story lacked traction, and I put it aside.  Several years passed, during which my writing steadily improved.  I started selling stories to the top markets, including Asimov's, which was now edited by Sheila Williams.

One day in 2011, looking through my archive of story drafts, I noticed "Souvenirs".  I reckoned that enough time had elapsed to make it worth revisiting, especially as the market would no longer be flooded with Low Port rejections.

The advantage of letting a story languish for a while is that when you eventually go back to it, you have a completely fresh eye, and you can take an objective view of what works and what doesn't.  Also, after several years' more practice, you should be a better writer.

I redrafted "Souvenirs" and submitted to Asimov's, who bought it.

Page last updated: 2 September 2015