William Shunn's short story collection

An Alternate History of the 21st Century is William Shunn's first short story collection, a chapbook from Spilt Milk Press. I've known Bill for a decade -- and even before we met, I'd heard the (true) legend of how he once threatened to blow up an airplane for the Church of Latter Day Saints. He's not only an incredible writer (and he really, really is, as his string of recent Hugo and Nebula nominations can attest), but he's also one of the sweetest, nicest, funniest people I know. It was my absolute honor and pleasure to write an intro to Bill's book. Here it is:

Bill Shunn is a legend in certain circles. Long before I met him, I'd had many people regale me with the story of how he once threatened to blow up an airplane in Canada on behalf of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The story -- incredible, hilarious, sad and instructive -- is too long to recount here. Suffice it to say that it ends with Bill getting a rectal probe from a Mountie, trying to convert a drunk in the tank to Mormonism, and then being deported from Canada as a terrorist (the whole thing is recounted in engrossing detail on Bill's website and podcast). In my mental shorthand, I thought of Bill as "that Mormon terrorist skiffy writer."

But once I met Bill, that changed. He was developing geo-hacker software for handheld computers -- this was before Big Bird hired him to program the computers at the Children's Television Network -- and he was nothing like my mental image. I'd expected someone with the fresh-faced earnestness of the door-to-door Mormons who'd roused me on Saturday mornings (albeit I also expected a mad, terrorist glint in his eye). What I found instead was a hip, ironic, funny guy that I took an immediate liking to. I introduced him immediately to my pal Karl Schroeder, a skiffy writer who comes from Mennonite stock, on the grounds that they'd probably have a lot to talk about. They did.

Bill emailed me on September 11, 2001. He'd set up a message-board CGI for survivors of the attack on the Twin Towers. Log on there and tell everyone you're OK. It was a heartbreaking thing. It filled with hundred -- thousands -- tens of thousands -- of messages. Not just "I'm OK," either. Lots of "I'm looking for my Dad, he works at --" Lots of political messages. Lots of anger. Lots of shock. It was Bill's little message board, but it became a flashpoint for the survivors of that terrible day.

Bill has the sure instincts of a twenty-first century science fiction writer. He is keenly attuned to the present (in the twenty-first century, there's no point in keeping track of the future). He recognizes those truly present-day moments that could only come now, today, in this futuristic present that we swim through without ever really seeing.

This extraordinary book is a journey through our present. From the bitingly political ("From Our Point of View We Had Moved to the Left") to the sad and personal ("Not of this Fold" -- a gorgeous novella about faith and humanity that could only have been written by a lapsed Mormon sf writer), and everything in between, this collection is the kind of thing that you can never un-read, a book that will awaken you to the present all around you.


See also:
Love in the Time of Spyware
SF podcast: reality TV as criminal tracking-bracelets
Bill Shunn hasn't been excommunicated...yet.