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“The $36,000.00 Answer,” by Bruce Bethke

Feb 24, 17 • Book Releases, Rampant Loon Press NewsComments Off on “The $36,000.00 Answer,” by Bruce BethkeRead More »

Quite a few people have written lately to ask, “What the [heck] is going on with Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press?”

I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, if your question is actually, “What the [heck] is going on with Straeon?” please remember that Straeon is an independent production with a completely separate submissions queue and editorial and production processes. RLP only publishes Straeon at such times as the editor delivers finished books. Aside from insisting that he abide by our general corporate policy of “no political op-eds,” RLP exercises no other control over Straeon. I did speak with the editor last November, and he told me then that Straeon #2 was nearly complete and #3 would be following shortly thereafter, but that’s as much as I know at this time.

Ergo, if you have a question about Straeon in general or the status of any given submission in particular, please contact the editor directly, at submissions (at) vintageseason (dot) com.

If on the other hand you’re one of those petulant people who have written to ask why we haven’t released the 2017 Campbellian Anthology yet, please be advised that the Campbellian Anthology series turned into the Pro Bono Project From The Deepest Flaming Depths Of Hell, so we cancelled it. It was a noble idea, which moved a ton of free e-books for us and got us loads of Internet Love, but it also consumed ungodly amounts of time, money, and other resources without making any discernible contribution to the sales of our other titles. Therefore, while in the future there may be a similar anthology of works by prospective Campbell Award nominees, I feel that absent major corporate sponsorship this is a project best handled by a non-profit organization, or other similar like-minded group of dedicated masochists. As a for-profit publisher, I wouldn’t touch this thing again with a ten-foot electric cattle prod.

Ergo, I’ve filed the Campbellian Anthology project under “learning experiences,” written off the sunk costs as flat-out losses, and now wish opportunity costs were tax-deductible. All domain names and such related to the Campbellian Anthology project are for sale, by the way, if anyone is interested.

Now, as for what’s going on with Stupefying Stories: the short and flippant answer is that we returned from our retreat last August with three books—Stupefying Stories 1.16, Theian Journal #2, and Tales from the Wild Weird West—*almost* finished, a good start at rebooting SHOWCASE in progress, and solid plans for what we intended to do through the rest of 2016.

Then Otogu dropped a house on us.

And then another house. And then a veritable hailstorm of multimillion-dollar suburban McMansions. I wound up tied-up through the end of the year with a series of high-profile, high-pressure, acceptance-critical projects, which required working a hell of a lot of late nights and weekends, and the final gentle pitter-patter of plummeting bungalows didn’t let up until just last week.

“Hey, wait a minute!” someone in the back of the room just yelled. “I thought you retired in 2014?”

Semi-retired, thank you. Yes, our original business plan called for me to retire in 2014 and go full-time on Rampant Loon Press. At the time it seemed possible: the major sticking point was the monthly cost of buying private medical insurance to cover my family. In 2014 it was within reach but a bit of a stretch, until my then-manager came up with a wonderful counter-proposal. I could cut back to half-time hours but keep my full benefits package. It seemed like a brilliant compromise.

In practice, though, within three months I was back up to a full-time workload, albeit at half-pay. Therefore when the opportunity came along to go back to full-time, I seized it—and boy, am I glad I did. In the two years since, the cost of buying private medical insurance has gone from being “a bit of a stretch” to being a free-climb up the Cliffs of Insanity.

That $36,000.00 in the title of this editorial? Had I retired as planned in 2014, that’s how much it would be costing me to buy medical insurance for my family this year.

¤

At the risk of violating my own “no political op-eds” rule, I must take a moment here to comment on the Affordable Care Act. (I refuse to call it ObamaCare. No lone politician can take the entire blame for this Amazing Colossal Clusterf*ck.) If I was intentionally trying to cripple small businesses and start-ups, I would be hard pressed to find a better way to do so than by creating something like the ACA. In my more cynical moments, of which I have no shortage, there are times I think the ACA is a brilliantly Machiavellian scheme designed to implode the American health care system, accelerate the exit of sick old people from the voting population, force freelancers and independent contractors to give up their freedom and join collective bargaining units, strangle new business startups in the crib, and make American voters beg for something very much like the U.K.’s National Health Service.

It’s either that, or else the ACA was written and passed by a bunch of blithering imbeciles who actually thought it would work. And after twenty-some years of doing meet ‘n’ greets with House representatives, Senators, governors, and aspiring presidential candidates, I must admit that my “brilliantly Machiavellian” theory is more of a hope than a belief.

I don’t claim to know what the right solution is. Public health care management is not my field. I only know that the Affordable Care Act has had a very direct impact on Rampant Loon Press in these past two years, by changing the fundamental economic assumptions that underlay all of our long-term business plans, and that this impact extends out through 2020 at the very earliest.

¤

Given all that, then, what are our business plans going forward?

  1. 1. Rampant Loon Press will continue operations. Yes, we did give serious consideration to shutting it down or selling it off, but in the end, we decided to press on. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our original novels do make money.
     
  2. Well, except for Doctor Dead, of course. I still don’t know what we did wrong with that one. Despite our spending more on that one book than on any other single project we’ve tackled since we started the company, sales remain disappointing. Right author, right book, wrong time, I guess.
     
  3. 2. While RLP is making money, we’re not making enough money. We need to increase our sales by a factor of at least ten before I can even begin to think again about retiring and going full-time on RLP.
     
  4. 3. The idea of recruiting editors to run special projects has proven to be a complete bust. As arrogant as it sounds, if I don’t ramrod a project, it doesn’t get finished. Ergo, we’ve decided to cancel a number of previously announced spinoff titles: XF, Nightcrawlers, Putrefying Stories, Tales from the Wild Weird West, and London Calling, for starters.
     
  5. However—and this is really important—every story that was scheduled into a spinoff title has been pulled back into the Stupefying Stories queue. We are not jettisoning any stories, except by author request. We are adding more books under the Stupefying Stories name.
     
  6. 4. It’s line-in-the-sand time now. If we do not succeed in getting one book—just one book, I’m not fussy which one—released by Wednesday, March 1st, I’m pulling the plug on our short fiction operations. Likewise, if Stupefying Stories sales do not reach breakeven by December 31st, 2017, I’m shutting the magazine down.

¤

As soon as I wrote that last line, my hackles went up. When we launched Stupefying Stories nearly seven years ago, we began with a dream, a vision, a bankroll that was perhaps too thin but didn’t seem so at the time, and an extra heaping helping of chutzpah. Over the years a lot of people have put a lot of time, energy, hope, and sweat equity into turning this dream into a reality. We have reached the do-or-die stage now—but dammit, a good dream should never die with a whimper! Fail it might, but it should go down fighting, kicking, and screaming to the last!

So that’s what I’m doing now, folks: rolling up my sleeves, gritting my teeth, and getting ready to launch one last big push to either make Stupefying Stories the brilliant success I’ve always believed it could be or else to go out in a blaze of thunder and glory. I feel I personally owe it to all the people who’ve contributed their time and talent to Stupefying Stories over the years to do my damnedest to make this happen.

The next five days will tell the tale. See you next Wednesday,

~brb

 

storyend_dingbat
 

In SF/F circles Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or more recently, as the editor of Stupefying Stories and co-founder of Rampant Loon Press. In the real world he’s a project manager working in supercomputer software R&D, and while the work he does is absolutely fascinating to do, it’s almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-versed in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

OTOGU first appeared here as an acronym meaning “Other Things Of Greater Urgency,” but in time we grew to understand that he is in fact a malign deity. Truth be told, it is said that somewhere in the Far East, in the mist-shrouded K’themai Isles, there stands a great temple, built by the now-vanished K’bab people and dedicated to Otogu the Insatiable, Devourer of Days. In the heart of this temple there squats a grotesque giant idol, purportedly depicting Otogu himself, and while the idol is gilded with purest gold, the visage is that of a vast, flabby, and revoltingly toad-like creature, miserable with constipation. For though he consumes ceaselessly, despite all his straining, in the end, Otogu produces frustratingly little.

The K’bab legends as they have filtered down through the ages say Otogu is forever hungry because he feeds on nothing more substantial than time itself, and thus is never satisfied. Further, the legends hold that in the very end Otogu will consume every last moment of every day, and in final desperation turn on himself, beginning with his own left foot and consuming even his own body until utterly nothing remains. And thus will the world end, although right up until the final seconds Mankind will be too busy working to notice what’s happening.

The K’bab peoples are long gone, now; their myth of Otogu, barely remembered. Jungle has reclaimed the once mighty but now nameless city, save for the weed-strewn courtyard and the vine-covered temple mound. The first white man to see the temple, the daringly brave but severely navigationally challenged pioneering aviator Wrong-Way Wojciechowski, thought it a magnificent ruin as he flew over but was never able to find it again. Twenty years later the eminent archaeologist Professor Herr Doctor Arvid Morgenstern, working from Wojciechowski’s journal, was able to rediscover the temple and reach it on the ground, but he sent out just one brief, cryptic, and sadly direction-free message before disappearing forever into the hungry maw of the mysterious green jungle. In his message Professor Morgenstern claimed to have found proof that the temple was not in fact a ruin, but merely incomplete. According to Morgenstern the K’bab were interrupted by some petty but urgent necessity before quite finishing the blessed thing, and they’d always intended to get back to work on it one of these days…

 

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