Featuring original short stories by 30 of Science Fiction's top writers, Stars is a huge anthology in both volume and talent. Each story, available only here, is based on a Janis Ian song and written expressly for Stars, creating a meld of jazz, prose, and science fiction found nowhere else―a treasure trove for fans of both SF and Janis Ian!
Stars was compiled and edited by Mike Resnick and Janis Ian and includes stories by Nebula winners and science fiction greats such as Joe Haldeman, Jane Yolen, Gregory Benford, Orson Scott Card, and more. Included, too, a story by Janis Ian.
The stories "have heart. They have life. They have truth. They move me," says Janis Ian. "As an artist I can ask for nothing more."
For the last few years, I've wanted to do a StoryBundle that includes Stars. I love this anthology. I'm not sure who came up with the anthology idea—Mike, a Hugo-nominated editor, who has edited dozens of anthologies, or Janis herself. All I know is that the anthology did not exist before one World Science Fiction Convention, and after that convention, Janis and Mike were inviting sf authors to write stories from Janis's songs.
Leave it to Mike to discover that Janis is a life-long science fiction fan. Leave it to Janis to be so generous as to let writers play in her creative universe. Stars includes Janis's first original short story (which is wonderful). In addition to sharing this anthology in StoryBundle, Janis also agreed to let everyone who buys the bundle have an MP3 of her song "Welcome Home." If you're a longtime sf fan, you'll recognize everything she mentions in the song. If you're new to the genre, look up the books in the annotated lyrics and learn about the history of the sf field.
And if you've never listened to Janis's music, I can recommend listening to every song that inspired the stories in this volume. She's a fantastic songwriter, and you'll be a fan from the first few notes. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"This dazzling, highly original anthology, ignited by the meeting of songwriter Ian and a host of SF writers affected by her music at the 2001 Worldcon, showcases 30 mostly superior stories, each based on one of her songs. Some contributors take Ian at her word that science fiction is 'the jazz of prose,' responding to many of society's sharpest wounds with bittersweet improvisatory descants, like Terry Bisson in 'Come Dance with Me,' David Gerrold in 'Riding Janis' and Orson Scott Card in 'Inventing Lovers on the Phone,' tales that probe the angst of adolescence… The entire anthology seems to vibrate with the death throes of one world passing away, while far stranger ones struggle to be born. Their commonality, Ian tells us in her introduction, is that 'They have heart. They have life. They have truth.' No artist - nor any reader - could ask for more."– Publisher's Weekly
… who called to say "come dance with me"
and murmured vague obscenities.
It isn't all it seems
~ from At Seventeen by Janis Ian
"Not so tight," Billy said. "I can't breathe."
I was like, isn't that the whole idea? But I didn't say anything, I just loosened his rope and straightened it. I never had a boy friend before, but straightening a tie is something every girl knows how to do, from watching Friends and The Creek. And this was sort of the same.
"That's better," Billy said. "I still have to do you—Amaranth."
I love it when boys call me Amaranth. Amaranth is my real name, my secret name, the name I chose for myself. I closed my eyes while Billy put my rope around my neck and pulled it tight. It was rougher than the string, that's for sure, but I didn't worry about it leaving a frankenstein mark. They could do me like they did that other girl and cover it with a high lace collar at my funeral.
I'm like, No! Billy clickety-clicked the cuffs on my hands behind my back, then ratcheted his own together and dropped the key onto the desk. It ring like a bell when it hit. We were standing on a metal desk in the junked-up office of an abandoned skating rink on New Circle Road, Roller Heaven. There's a joke if jokes are what does it for you.
They say sounds get real loud when you're fixing to die, but you couldn't prove it by me. I listened for a bird, maybe a nightingale, but there weren't any. Maybe they don't like night after all. Maybe it's just another phony name. The best I could do was a dog barking and a horn honking somewhere. Pluto in his little car, picking up his girl friend. Goodbye cruel world!
I heard a gagging sound like somebody trying to puke. At first I thought it was Billy trying to say goodbye, so I opened my eyes for one last smile-try, and then I saw he was stretching, trying to use his feet to reach the key. I don't know how he planned to pick it up, unless there was some magic gum on the bottom of his shoe, and even if he did, then what? Go home to our happy homes? That made me mad, after all my hard work. I kicked the fucking desk over. That's one thing big legs are good for. That and keeping boys away.
Billy was in, right away. As soon as I kicked the desk over, his mouth popped open and his eyes got the look you get when you enter the Realm for the first time. His legs were doing a little dance. My own eyes closed on their own even though they were wide open, which was weird. But OK. I couldn't breathe, but what did I care? I could see the stairs under my feet, and I could see somebody in front of me, running down the steps. I figured it must be Billy—who else? I reached out and grabbed his coat but it wasn't exactly a coat. It wasn't exactly leather. It was cold and slick, and when I tried to pull him back it slipped through my fingers, and he went on down, around the corner. Something was hitting the door. BAM then BAM, like those little rams on "Cops." There was a light, pulling at me, like another rope. It was so bright I closed my eyes, which was like opening them, everything being reversed, which makes sense, if you think about it. I was looking into a flashlight and I felt two hands under my tits, lifting me up. Mommy, I groaned, but it was a black woman.
I heard her say "This one's breathing," and then she stepped away and somebody else strapped me to a stretcher. Meanwhile EMS came in and cut Billy down. I barely opened my eyes so they wouldn't see that I was seeing. I could tell Billy had made it all the way into the Realm and I was glad, even though I hadn't. It's like in those movies when the guy dies happy because he has saved his girl friend's life, only reversed. It's gross to see the way they handle people when they are dead. It's not like what you see on TV, believe me. "Can you hear me?" The black woman was back.
I was like, of course I can hear you, you're hollering right in my fucking ear.
"Why did you do it?"
I said, to get out of class, and she goes, "Huh?"
I said, everybody gets out of class when there's a kevorker. Usually there's an assembly. She goes, "Good God, girl," (Have you ever noticed how some people are always calling you girl?) and gives me a shot, which you're not supposed to do without permission, I'm pretty sure. Don't make jokes with cops. Or EMS personnel, which are the same thing. I woke up in jail. You know where you are right away, because of the bars.
I sat up and groaned. There was a fat white lady sitting outside the bars reading a paper. Suicide watch. I felt better already. They brought me pancakes for breakfast, with a plastic fork. I acted like I was trying to stab myself with the fork but the lady reading the paper didn't seem to think that was funny. It was the Star. Did you know that the Star and the Enquirer are put out by the same company? When I found that out, it was like the last straw. After a while two cops wearing suits came and took me upstairs to a little Interview Room, just like NYPD Blue. One cop was black and one was white. Everything at the jail is perfectly integrated. There was another man waiting for them in the room, wearing a less cheap suit.
"I'm your lawyer," he said. "I was engaged by your father."
Congratulations, I said (on his engagement) but he didn't get it. Instead of paying attention to me, he laid a briefcase on the table and unsnapped the two snaps, and they were so loud I thought, maybe I'm dead after all; everything is so loud. But no such luck. The white cop told me I was going be charged with murder, and could possibly face the death penalty if I was tried as an adult. I'm like, Hooray, I feel better already. The black cop pulled out a palmtop, the kind that records onto a flashcard, and set it on the table in front of me.
"Eleanor," he said. "Can I call you Eleanor?"
I shrugged and said, Why not. Everybody else does.
"Here." He took a pack of cigarettes out of his cheap generic sport coat.
"You can't give her that," the white cop said. "She's underage."
"So what," said the black cop. They were playing good cop/bad cop. "You are going to charge her with murder and you won't even give her a fucking cigarette?"
"It's not established yet that they intend to charge her with murder," said the lawyer; "my" lawyer.
The black cop, the Good Cop, tapped a Marlboro out of the pack and lit it for me with his orange Lakers lighter. I took a drag even though I don't actually smoke. I saw a woman smoke once through a hole in her neck. She was dying of cancer. It was cool. He said, "Can you tell us why you did it?"
I told him so we could have assembly, the same thing I had told the EMS lady. That didn't go over too hot. The white cop looked disgusted. The lawyer looked pissed. The black cop took a drag on his own cigarette, and then squinted at it and put it out. You can always tell when somebody's trying to quit. The lawyer pushed the ashtray as far away as he could without pushing it off the table and said, "Her father tells me she likes to be called Amaranth." "Amaranth," said the black cop. "Why don't you tell us the truth."
I'm like, Okay. The truth, if that's really what you want. The truth is that there really is a Life after Death. But it's only for teenagers who kill themselves.
The assembly thing wasn't totally a joke. They call them Healing Assemblies. The first one was in November, right after I transferred to Oakmont. A boy and a girl kevorked in her garage using his dad's car exhaust. They left the radio on and died listening to WFFV, soft rock, the kind of folky stuff my original mother liked. According to the papers they were "popular," and it was a "mystery" why they had done it, and it was all true I guess. They were definitely more popular dead than alive. Who isn't? The next two were in January, and they were part of the goth crowd. They did it at the old skating rink on Outer Loop. They hung themselves with electrical cable. Their names were Gail and Gregory. The two Gs made it easy to remember.
There was another Healing Assembly. Afterward, there were all these girl-hugging clumps in front of the school, like they like to show on TV. I was just about the only girl standing off by myself, as usual, which is maybe why they wanted to interview me. They don't usually interview fat girls. Maybe it was the goth thing. The TV lady was all set up with a camera guy following her, and a sound guy following him, and a battery guy following them all, like the Wizard of Oz. She stuck a mike in my face and said, "Were they friends of yours? Why do you think they did it?"
Well, yes, I think they did it to get out of class, I said. She frowned and switched off her camera and they all stomped off together. By now I was in the middle of a circle of kids. They all walked away too, looking disgusted, like I had let an enormous fart. But Billy looked back. I had already noticed him because he was wearing a black string around his neck. Some skinny girl was holding his hand and she pulled him away.
Even though I don't smoke I can fake it. The next day I went to Marlboro Country outside the lunch room where the goth types hang out and bummed a cigarette. Pretty soon there he was. William Winston Lamont was his full name. I had checked it in the Yearbook database during English.
"It's no joke," he said. "There really is a Life After Death."
Cool, I said. Finally my father has put me in a school where I can learn something. I shook out my sleeve so he could see the scars on my wrist.
"What's your name?"
I said they call me Amaranth, my first actual lie. There wasn't any they. But I had just moved to Oakmont from Edgefield, all the way on the other side of Columbus, and why not start over?
"Know what this means?" he said, pulling down his collar, like I hadn't already seen the black string tied around his neck.
I said sure, just guessing. But you're not really going to do it.
"What do you mean?"
Guessing again, I said, your girl friend won't let you. Miss Teen Queen.
He stepped on his cigarette and said, "Fuck you" and walked away.
Okay, I said.
"What did you say?" he said. He stopped.
I said OK, I said. I said, are you hard of hearing?