I recently began reading The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson, inspired by someone-or-other’s list of all-time best SF. Despite some frustrations with an occasionally jumpy writing style, I’m enjoying it immensely. Rich with detail and mystery, it’s a font and spectacle of ancient myth. The main character is Virgil Magus — the poet Virgil as warped and retold by medieval myths about his sorcerous wisdom. I’m only halfway through, but the plot seems interesting thus far.
But that’s not why I wrote this post. My edition of this book has a preface wherein Davidson said he planned to write more Virgil Magus books, so I glanced at Wikipedia to confirm whether this happened. Not only did he, but in those links, I found mention of a story I half-remembered from 1998! I had only remembered the second half of the title Virgil Magus: King Without Country, but it was enough to trigger the memory when I saw it listed. That (along with ) is story has been echoing in my head for years. VM:KWC is a story of Davidson’s that was posthumously finished by Michael Swanwick, possibly my all-time favorite author. If you want a slew of info and spoilers, read through the first link in this paragraph. Suffice to say the general tone and a few specific tricks in that story (e.g. the sword) inspired me in many ways throughout the years since.
This is the second time this year I’ve managed to identify a short story that inspired me >10 years ago. The other culprit was The Hydrogen Wall by Gregory Benford. That one was less serendipitous: I was thinking about it one day, and the near-closing line that stuck in my head: “The answer does not lie within your conceptual space.” That and a bit of google-fu eventually led me to a copy I could read (without having to shovel through back issues of Asimov’s in my highschool bedroom).
If I ever write a story that makes someone think, ten years later,: “Wow, I remember the story that had X and Y, that made me think about Z. I wish I could remember its name or author.” — if I write one story that accomplishes that, I will call my writing a success.