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Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues

This story was the second story I wrote for Week Six of my stay at Clarion West—the week when Vernor Vinge was instructing us—and I was incredibly excited to see it accepted by Sheila Williams at Asimov’s SF for publication in July 2008. The issue is no longer on newsstands, but you can still buy a downloadable copy of the Fictionwise eMagazine edition here. The story also appeared in Gardner Dozois The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 26.

As of March 25, 2009, there is a wonderful podcast of this story at Starship Sofa, read by JJ Campanella, and illustrated by Skeet Scienski. It’s also been collected in text form in StarShipSofa Stories Volume 1, a fiction anthology created by Tony Smith over at the StarShipSofa podcast.

(I’m extra-pleased because it was—discounting one story I think got lost in the mail—my first submission to Asimov’s, and it ended up on the Locus 2008 Recommended Reading List!)

Yes, this is a character in my story. Squee!

Week Six was a very productive week for me – my first fiction sale ever also was written for this week. But this story benefitted from incredibly useful feedback not only by my classmates and instructor, Vernor Vinge, but also from suggestions and comments provided by editor Ellen Datlow and fellow writer Stephanie Denise Brown.

I should note that the language has been cleaned up for Asimov’s publication of the story. The narrator’s voice was pretty explicitly modeled on the voice of Miles Davis as captured in his autobiography, Miles (edited, I imagine extensively, by Quincy Troupe), which my best friend in high school, Mike, gave to me for my birthday in 1991, the same year Davis died. Miles Davis was the musician responsible for my early interest in jazz, and while I now favor his older work, it was Tutu, Amandla, and an old double-LP collection from the 70s, including many tracks involving Davis, most of them originating, I think, from the 1950s. It was titled Tallest Trees (loaned to me, dubbed onto tape from the local library’s scratched-up LP copy, by my then-saxophone teacher, Rick Harris) and it was this tape that made me sit up and listen to the older music Davis had played very, very seriously.

And yeah, I took saxophone lessons for years, and thereafter actively played jazz for many years. No recordings of any of those gigs now remain, but jazz was and remains an important part of my life (as a search through my Listal database of CDs owned (note: dead link) will show), even if Seoul is a bit of a desert for the kinds of jazz I like—the less tonal, the less traditional, the better.

In any case, I should let this story speak for itself, but I will note that it combines many of the major issues and threads that interest me: from jazz music and the brilliance of black American musical creativity in in the first half of the 20th century, the treatment of black artists and art by a white establishment, and the effect of drugs on that artistic community, to the voice of Miles Davis, to alternate history (an abiding interest since I first read The Man in the High Castle many years ago) and QM (goofily applied here, but an interest for more than a decade now), this story pulls together many of the things I care passionately about.

During his critique of “Lester Young…”, Venor Vinge said something about this story being to jazz music what hard SF is to science, and I think that’s about the best way to describe it: it’s as much a love poem to jazz and SF as it is to anything else.

“Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues” is in the July 2008 issue of Asimov’s SF, and will also be appearing as a podcast at Starship Sofa and has been honoured with being selected for including in The Year’s Best SF, Vol. 26, edited by Gardner Dozois.


“Especially good is ‘‘Lester Young and the Jupiter’s Moons’ Blues’’ by Gord Sellar, a new writer of enormous promise on the strength of the tour de force he accomplishes here. Writing in a style drawing on the hip autobiographical voice of Miles Davis, Sellar reimagines the late 1940s East Coast jazz scene as it might have evolved had aliens visited Earth during and after WWII…” (Nick Gevers in Locus)

“Think about the first time you discovered science fiction you enjoyed; remember the wonder and joy you felt, the sort of sensation that makes you twelve years old again. Sellar conjures up that Ray Bradbury-esque golden-hour bliss with a piece which has a traditional feel but glimmers with freshness, originality, and craft…sort of like a good rendition of a jazz standard.” (Val Grimm at The Fix)

“… the oddest setting of any story this year… It’s a terrific story, and should deservedly bring Sellar wider exposure.” (Colin Harvey at Suite

“… atmospheric, way cool story.” (Sam Tomaino at SFRevu)

“This is an absolutely wonderful mix of 1940s jazz & black culture, plus sort of an alien invasion; the voice of the character is dead-on. Why isn’t more SF written like this? That is to say, with characters clearly of color and willing to explore issues of race. This story will stick with me for a long, long time.” (Kyle Maxwell at Chrome Bits)

“It’s got a nice atmosphere, and the fact that many of the musicians are Muslim is an interesting touch.” (Gabriel McKee at SF Gospel)

“… one of the most individual stories I’ve read for some time… a story that rings true…” (Mark Watson, Best SF Reviews)

“… a deliriously loopy tale, full of bizarre yet compelling imagery, and told in a decidedly different voice to the usual science fiction fare.” (Lawrence Conquest, The Barking Dog)

“Gord Sellar obviously knows and loves his jazz. I know a whole lot less but he does an excellent job of filling in the gaps for us newbies. The narrator’s voice, based on that of Miles Davis, adds enough authenticity to the tale to make up for the somehwat haphazard introduction of aliens into New York’s past. And it has to be said, they make an excellent metaphor for soulless music executives.” (uncredited review at Shortbits)

There’s a not-easily blurbable (though generally positive) review here that asks interesting questions about the impact of external references on reception of a piece like this.

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