When I was at Vericon two weeks ago, I had the delight of meeting a number of great writers – Greer Gilman made me laugh so hard on a panel that I was covering my face with a program; Max Gladstone taught a group of us Small World, and Saladin Ahmed promptly kicked everyone’s ass; and I got to have lunch with Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Saladin Ahmed, and Max Gladstone. Plus very fun panels to be on, and even better ones to attend, and I’m not even starting in on the delight of a first-night dinner that included Luke Scull and his delightful wife Yesica (both terrorized by what we New Englanders call “spring,” which they were inadequately coated for), plus Pat Rothfuss. Good times!
A few days after the con was over, Max Gladstone posted a fun piece of futuristic dystopian John Deere flash fiction (really, why isn’t this a Hugo category?) on his website. I read it, enjoyed it, and posted it around, as you do. Then I went along with my day, which included teaching my short story class. The class is in one of my favorite sections of the course (the “Professor Brennan has been working hard teaching Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Conrad, and the Bloomsbury group for two months, and deserves a one-week treat goddamnit” section, if you will) – on the previous class we’d discussed Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” along with Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron.” And in the class I was prepping for we were going to get to discuss Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Ray Bradbury’s “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” – really, top-notch, great stuff.
Then I remembered that April Fool’s Day was not only coming up, but this class was scheduled to meet on that day.
Then I thought about Max Gladstone’s flash story again.
Then I got a very, very bad idea.
When I went into class that afternoon, here is what I handed out to my thirty-three students:
April Fool’s Day Extra Assignment
Due: April 1, 2014, before midnight
Max Gladstone’s first novel, THREE PARTS DEAD, was named a Massachusetts Must Read Book of 2012. He was shortlisted for the 2013 John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award, and longlisted for the 2008 Writers of the Future award. TWO SERPENTS RISE, the second book in the series, was published in October 2013, and a third, FULL FATHOM FIVE, is forthcoming in July 2014.
Max graduated from Yale, where he majored in East Asian Studies with a special focus on Chan poetry and late Ming dynasty fantasy; he lived and taught for two years in rural Anhui province, and has traveled throughout Asia and Europe. He’s been a researcher for the Berkman Center for Internet and Policy Law, a tour guide for the Swiss Embassy, a go-between for a suspicious Chinese auto magazine, a translator for visiting Chinese schoolteachers, a Chinese philosophy TA, a tech industry analyst, and an editor. He has wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia.
Max is also the personal friend of the professor. HIS MISTAKE.
Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It
In addition to his excellent, genre-bending novels, Gladstone recently wrote an excellent piece of dystopian flash-fiction, “Sam Ogilvy’s Lament,” and posted it to his website at http://www.maxgladstone.com. This story fits in very nicely with the work we’ve been reading in class by Le Guin, Vonnegut, Jackson, and (particularly) Bradbury.
If you choose to participate (which is absolutely voluntary) the guidelines are as follows:
• At any time from 12:01am to 11:59pm on April 1st, you will go to the entry on Max Gladstone’s website that features “Sam Ogilvy’s Lament” (“The Tractor Story from ICFA. Also, Vericon fun!”) and post a literary analysis of the story.
• The analysis is a minimum of one paragraph in length, and should follow formal rules.
• The direction you take is up to you. You may draw parallels between Gladstone’s work and the stories that we have been reading in class. You may analyze the symbolism in the story (the emphasis on the tractor being “apple candy green”). You may analyze the moral implications of Sam Ogilvy’s decision at the conclusion of the story. You may follow whatever path your heart desires.
If you choose to participate, please make certain that there is some identifying mark on your reply text. First name and last initial are fine. If you can make it clear that Max Gladstone’s story is the subject of a class assignment – all the better.
• Those who participate will have their lowest quiz grade dropped.
We also read through Max’s flash fiction in class and discussed it a little.
April 1 rolled around yesterday, and I eagerly awaited the beginning of the swarm on Max’s website.
By 6pm, one student had posted an analysis. Clearly I had not properly calibrated the heart-breaking lethargy of students. There was a brief flurry of activity late at night, as their natural active hours appeared, and their ingrained last-minute assignment completion instincts kicked in. All told, seven participated, and I’d say that they do a good job with it – there are thoughtful comments, but it’s also clear that they’re having fun with it.
Max did eventually realize that something was going on, and he posted this tweet at 4:50pm –
A few folks are academically engaging with my tractor romance flash fiction in the comments section of my blog. How delightful.
That was a bit before the minor swarm began – really, I am pleased with the students who participated (they’ll be getting a bit of extra extra credit), but let’s all just take a moment and imagine the awesomeness of the prank that could’ve been – thirty-three students suddenly inundating Max’s website.
I guess there’s always next year.