A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Promise of God

One of TOF's fantasies, perhaps his only fantasy, was the short story "The Promise of God," which appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in March 1995. It is a bit under 6500 words, and TOF offers it up on the Story and Preview Page for the next week or so. See the links for the other Pages on this site, situated in the left margin; though judging by the lack of comments there, TOF may rethink the strategy. Well sometimes the comments are here on the blog.

This story was inspired by, of all people, Orson Scott Card. He was GoH at Lunacon one year and gave a presentation called IIRC "One hundred ideas per hour." It was a mass brainstorming session by which he sought to elicit story ideas from the attendees to show how simple it was to generate such ideas. It was quite an interactive session. After deciding on fantasy and a female protagonist and a few other things, he proposed that magic, like an action in  physics, elicits a reaction. One such reaction, which he discarded, was that every time a magician casts a spell, he loses part of his soul. (He was getting multiple ideas at each stage of brainstorming.)

TOF was in the back of the room and when this idea was suggested he said, "Oh!" and this story was conceived. It was only an embryo of a story, but as it grew and developed, it was finally born and (being clear fantasy) was sent off to F&SF, K.K.Rusch, ed. She thought the ending needed clarification. (The original ending was the penultimate sentence.) So TOF inserted a few reminders of a specific item and a more explicit final sentence.

Later, Gardner Dozois selected it for The Year's Best SF, 13th ed.

Neither TOF, nor K.K. nor Gardner noticed that a supporting character's name had changed halfway through the narrative. (Agnes became Alice somehow.) This flaw has been corrected in the version here presented.

Recently, TOF discussed the problem of Infodumping and modestly proposes this story as one way to deal with it. A host of data on the mixed ancestry of the culture of the story is displayed in various ways -- Leif ben Eric, the mezuzah to appease the household lares, the sheepskin, the vestal's dagger, the knout, the use of antique English words like rixler, wereman and wifman, beek, and so on, all hopefully growing clear in the context.

See what you think. 


  1. Oh, goodness, that is brilliant. I will need to find a hard copy, since I'd like to keep it around.

    What does rixler mean? I'm unable to find a definition for it anywhere, though I got the gist from the context.

  2. Would you be willing/available to answer a few questions for an article I'm writing on the Hugo controversy this year? I'm looking for the perspective of past winners and nominees and would love your insights. You can reach me at



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