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“Mark Bourne's stories combine an antic wit and sure-stepping prose, along with enough skewed insight into the human condition to qualify as X-ray snapshots of the contents of more than a few of your acquaintances' heads. If literary grace and humor were sold in cans, a collection like this would come in a fifty-five-gallon drum.” — K.W. Jeter

“Mark Bourne is a gifted storyteller who can also turn a phrase. His work is detailed and subtle. He creates a world in a single sentence. Do not miss this collection of short stories.” — Kristine Kathryn Rusch

“If you are already familiar with Mark Bourne's stories, you don't need to take my word for how good they are. If you have not yet encountered Mark Bourne's work, you are about to experience wonders and delights. What are you waiting for?” — Esther M. Friesner

“One of the most interesting of the new crop of SF writers. Mark Bourne's stories combine an interest in ideas with living, breathing characters.” — Nancy Kress

“You might choose to explore what Ray Bradbury is implying about our present by showing us one version of the future in 'There Will Come Soft Rains, ' or you might ask what Mark Bourne is saying about human nature as he describes people who fill their lives primarily with vicarious experiences.”
from preface material in Literature and Ourselves: a Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers, on “What Dreams Are Made On”

“Mark Bourne is one of science fiction's best-kept secrets. Only his readers know how brilliant he is.” — Mike Resnick

“...It includes the excellent story 'The Case of the Detective's Smile' by Mark Bourne, which is so delightful that it ought to be true.” — The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (Carroll & Graf, 1997)

“A tone of whimsy and wonder underlies most of Bourne's stories. Even the ones set in dystopian alternate histories.... 'Being Human' has a decadence reminiscent of Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time series.” — Tangent Online

“...A collection of short stories that flutter along like butterflies and come back to burrow into your mind like yellow jackets....

Upon first reading, these stories are fun, light reading, just the thing to bring a smile to your face. It's later, after you've set the book aside, that the full significance of the tales comes back to weigh on your mind....

That's what Bourne does best: leaving you plenty to mull over later, whether you had planned to or not.” — SF Site feature review

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

“We don't write what we know. We write what we wonder about.” — Richard Peck

“Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation's laws.” — S.J. Perelman

“Liar, liar, liar, liar, liar, liar / Truth is hard and tough as nails / That's why we need fairy tales.” — from Munchhausen (1931) by Weimar Berlin cabaret composer Friedrich Hollaender

Professionally published fiction

Sometimes I completely make up stuff and somebody buys it. It's a good feeling.

New stories currently out in the world on editors' desks:
  • "The Woman Who Broke the Moon"
  • "The Final Standup of Manuel Forté"
In progress:
  • "In the Human Museum"

Some samples to taste here

“Action Figures”
Realms of Fantasy magazine

Are you too alien if nothing can touch you? Are you too soft if too much does? Don't worry — you're only human. A meditation on how we define the word "hero," “Action Figures” is my “The New Yorker story,” a little jazzier stylistically, somewhat edgier than my other work.

“. . . Well sustained by a fascinating narrative conceit, this isn't a story I would necessarily have thought to see in Realms of Fantasy, with Bourne's hip, modernist, urban feel, but it works beautifully as a chronicle of human hopes, failings, and the overwhelming influence of godlike figures swarming high above.” — Jay Lake, Tangent Online

Honorable Mention, The Year's Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois, ed.

Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine

The first published and still one of the most popular. The diner was inspired by a joint called The Old South on Highway 64 near the outskirts of Russellville, Arkansas. Try the pie.

Among my favorite pieces of fan mail, ever, came this via email from a Vietnam vet:

"Hello Mark.... I just finished reading 'Brokedown' and wanted to tell you what a wonderful experience it was to read it. Although I can appreciate all the tragic stories so widespread nowadays, a tale full of love, kindness, and hope is a rare and wonderful thing not to be taken lightly...."
Attached was his touching and insightful account of a wartime incident that he had experienced in Vietnam and the lifelong perspective shift it gave him.

"Brokedown" has been reprinted in the Russian magazine Supernova, which I have here on the shelf next to my desk. Not only is Russian a language pleasing to my ear, Cyrillic looks quite striking on the page too. However, I wonder how “Brokedown,” with the distinctive regionalism of its language and characters, translates culturally. Superbly, I hope. Perhaps it adds a layer of exoticism that might not exist for American readers. Interestingly, my other Ozark story, “Mustard Seed,” was also picked up for a Russian publication.

Update: Another reprint of "Brokedown" is on's list of Top 10 Downloads. (Algis Budrys, Lucius Shepard, Terry Bisson, Jay Lake, and Charles Dickens are there too.)

Honorable Mention, The Year's Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois, ed.

"The Case of the Detective's Smile" “The Case of the Detective's Smile”
Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg; DAW Books

One of my personal faves, blending my fondness for Sherlock Holmes with my appreciation of a certain other noteworthy Victorian literary figure. Of my stories so far, this one has proven the best suited for public readings.

In The Mammoth Book of New Sherlock Holmes Adventures (Carroll & Graf, 1997), the editors' survey of other recent Holmes books presents a description of Sherlock Holmes in Orbit that reads: “It includes the excellent story 'The Case of the Detective's Smile' by Mark Bourne, which is so delightful that it ought to be true.”

in Russianen francais“Detective's Smile” has appeared in some non-English language editions since its original book publication. Via this Russian site (nice photo) I discovered that it has been translated there. In Parisian bistros, you might find someone reading “L'énigme du sourire du détective” in Sherlock Holmes en Orbite or, more recently, in the French magazine Fiction. And a Spanish magazine described its translation as “absolutamente delicioso.” I don't what that means, but it sure sounds good when I say it aloud.

I'm pleased to note that this story is part of the Honors English Advanced Placement Writing syllabus of Shippensburg University. Study hard, everyone.

And I'm honored that “Detective's Smile” has been added to the Wold-Newton Chronology (January 1898), where it's in glorious company.

Finally, thanks to this story I was hired to write a fun computer game, which you can read about here.

Alternate Tyrants, edited by Mike Resnick; Tor Books

How did the Perseid Meteor Shower of 1928 lead to Al Capone becoming America's President-for-life (and beyond)? This story plays off one of my favorite themes, one I call the Cosmic Butterfly Effect — the notion that the tiniest of causes can, over time, ripple out into some mighty big effects. It also let me play around with my fondness for Studs Terkel's collections of oral memoirs, which are on my list of personally formative books.

So this one I like quite a bit. And so did the New York Review of Science Fiction, where Don Webb singled it out in a lengthy review, dubbing it a “gem,” “the one you buy the book for,” the type of story you thrust into the hands of those who claim to hate science fiction, and one that deserved to be reprinted many times. So here's hoping for the reality of reincarnation.

“The Nature of the Beast”
Aeon magazine

A novelette, “The Nature of the Beast” reveals the hidden history behind the big screen's most famous interspecies romance.

“The Nature of the Beast” by Mark Bourne is my favorite story....
...The story intercuts between the real past, the movie's world, and the present.  A bonus, perhaps, is the memory-overlay of the more recent Kong film by Jackson, but the story does not require those added images for its polysemous effect.  Bourne’s writing—his ear for thirties dialogue, his splendid transitions between film, present, past, layers of different realities and fantasies—is strong enough on its own....”

— Sherwood Smith, Tangent Online

"What Dreams Are Made On"“What Dreams Are Made On”
Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein; Bantam Books

The movie Shakespeare in Love is a favorite DVD in our house. Though very different, naturally, from this novelette, seeing Shakespeare's theater and his fellow players alive on the screen reminds me that I did a pretty good job with related material in this story. (And yes, I'm aware that the climactic finale of the 2007 Doctor Who episode "The Shakespeare Code" bears a striking similarity to the corresponding scene in this story. I like to imagine that screenwriter Gareth Roberts took inspiration from my work, and if so I raise a pint to him as I await my royalties check in the mail.)

About Full Spectrum 5:

“Among the handful of sf anthologies that consist solely of previously unpublished fiction, Full Spectrum reigns supreme. As the title suggests, the anthology's contents cover a broad range of cutting-edge sf and fantasy, and the editors give special consideration to innovation and craftsmanship.... All 28 stories exemplify the best in imaginative short fiction and together serve as a reliable indicator of the leading edge of sf and fantasy.”

“The most important original anthology series in the field.” — The Washington Post

Literature and Ourselves cover“What Dreams Are Made On” was reprinted (slightly revised) in the 4th edition of Literature and Ourselves: a Thematic Introduction for Readers and Writers, edited by Gloria Mason Henderson, Bill Day, and Sandra Stevenson Waller (New York: Longman, 2003, pp. 1072-1102). Literature and Ourselves is a college textbook for courses in second-semester freshman composition and intro to world literature.

Within the 1564-page collection, among the Virginia Woolf and Geoffrey Chaucer, nestled there between Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Vonnegut, Poe, cummings, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Joyce, Oates, Eliot, O'Connor, and other deep-hitters, “Dreams” joined the thematic section called Imagination and Discovery, the fiction segment of which also includes Mark Twain, Woody Allen, Ray Bradbury, and Louise Erdrich. An honor indeed.

“Being Human”
Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine

Enter “Being Human,” my contribution to the flurry of stories wrapped around nanotechnology. Of course, you can't change technology without changing other things too. Some things, however, will remain familiar to us for a long time.

“Being Human” attracted some pleasant attention when it came out. It made the Top 10 list in the Asimov's Readers Poll, was an Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction, has been translated for several foreign markets, and for a while was something of a hit on the Internet. Folks have asked me if there will be any more stories set in this milieu. I think so. It has fun possibilities. Stick around and see.

The OED and me
Page 121 of Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (Oxford University PressPowell'sAmazon) cites "Being Human" as the earliest pro fiction source for "morph v. [abbr. of metamorphosis or metamorphose] to transform a physical body into another shape." Brave New Words won the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Related Book.

“Great Works of Western Literature”
Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine

First time I killed somebody, in this case the main character. This was the first of my stories to earn several Nebula Award recommendations, but I haven't yet brought home the shiny prize. Always a bridesmaid, etc. Honorable Mention, The Year's Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois, ed.

“Mustard Seed”
Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine

My sort-of homage to the late, great Clifford Simak, this look at religious prejudice and conversion received a keen review in Locus magazine (“...A timely comparison to the film Contact, which may be substantive by the standards of movie sci-fi but pales in comparison to the issues routinely tackled by prose SF such as this”). It also appeared on Locus magazine's Recommended Reading list and as an Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois, ed.

Like “Brokedown,” this one has been reprinted in a Russian magazine, which, while wonderful (Spasibo vam!), does leave me curious about what the readers there make of the setting and people of the story.

"On the Road of Silver"“On the Road of Silver”
Chicks in Chainmail, edited by Esther Friesner; Baen Books

My serendipitously muse-like wife Elizabeth deserves credit for triggering this story.

When Esther Friesner asked me to be in her new anthology, my first thought was “Satirical Tongue-in-Cheek Feminist Sword-and-Sorcery Fantasy isn't my usual shtick.” However, willing to stretch my writerly horizons, I accepted her offer with enthusiasm. So there I was, stuck at my office desk for a long time trying to come up with a plot worthy of the invitation. Nothing clicked. Until. Elizabeth, possessor of our family's sole green thumb, entered the house from our backyard garden. She was clad in full gardening gear head to toe. As if arrayed for battle. She was cursing the existence of the Pacific Northwest banana slug. I had my story.

One of my favorite reviews of this story, calling it a “wonderful read,” appeared in the newsgroup alt.shoe.lesbians. Plus, total stranger grabbed a sentence from this story (“Charm oozed from him like yogurt through a colander”) and for months used it as a sig file in her newsgroup postings. It's the only time — to my knowledge — that my name appeared simultaneously in, alt.torture, and

Chicks in Chainmail was such a success that the publisher asked for a sequel. So the next volume, Did You Say “Chicks”?, followed suit and included a novelette called “Like No Business I Know” (see below).

"Like No Business I Know"“Like No Business I Know”
Did You Say “Chicks”?!, edited by Esther Friesner; Baen Books

This one has become a reader favorite. What's more appropriate for a sequel to Chicks in Chainmail than a sequel to “On the Road of Silver”? Okay, this one isn't strictly a sequel, though the main character of “Silver” is among the supporting cast of “Business.” This time, a popular syndicated TV fantasy series (fans of Xena: Warrior Princess, take note) is in trouble, and the denizens of Faerie decide to help out (and catch a famous mischief-maker to boot).

Addendum: Baen Books has reprinted the first three books of the five-book Chicks series, including the two stories above, in a new 870-page omnibus edition, Chicks Ahoy (Amazon).

Mars Dust & Magic Shows

“Meet the girl who became a beautiful dirigible; the housewife who led an army against an evil empire; the author who really wrote the great works of western literature — these are but a few of the fascinating people who inhabit the worlds of Mark Bourne. Featuring eleven stories, Mars Dust & Magic Shows provides a glimpse into the secret lives of Sherlock Holmes, William Shakespeare, Al Capone, King Kong, and dozens of lesser-known heroes, monsters, and players. Climb aboard, and find out why authors, editors, and readers are calling Mark Bourne 'a gifted story teller,' 'a wonderful read,' and 'absolutamente delicioso.'”

Buy now
In 2001, Scorpius Digital Publishing approached me about collecting my previously published short fiction (plus a new humor short) in an ebook edition. Hence Mars Dust & Magic Shows. David Delamare provided the splendid cover art.

It was nice while it lasted. Scorpius no longer exists so the book is now out of print, alas. But think of Mars Dust & Magic Shows as Volume 1 of my published short fiction, he said hopefully.

In the works

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” — E.L. Doctorow

Okay, I'm working on it. Stay tuned. You're gonna love it.

Other fun stuff

Comics: Not Just Mickey Mousin' Anymore

Serenity TalesBeing quite fond of the TV series Firefly and its follow-up movie, Serenity, I was pleased as all get-out when the invitation to contribute to Serenity Tales arrived. (It's also hosted at Webcomics Nation.) Serenity Tales is a collection of free, downloadable comic-book stories, homages, pastiches, and plain ol' good clean fun inspired by the Firefly/Serenity 'verse and visualized by various talents working in ink and pixels.

My three contributions so far:

Take My Love, pencils by M.E. Russell, inks by Bill Mudron. At as part of the promo for Dark Horse Comics' Serenity one-shots. picked it up too.

Yarn, illustrated by Neal Skorpen

Diversionary Tactics, illustrated by David Stroup

Of course, it helps quite a bit to be already acquainted with the characters and whatnot, but either way dive in and enjoy the rest of the offerings there too. “Shiny.”

A Star is Bourne*

On a related note, I was the “astronomical consultant” for Vonda McIntyre's novel, Star Wars: The Crystal Star. In payment I received my very own alien star system, Markbee's Star, right there in chapter 6. The fourth planet there is home to the Zeffliffl, seaweed-like folk inhabiting the shallow seas surrounding the smaller southern continent. Thanks, Vonda.

* (Groan, yes, I know.)