Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Short Story Highlight: Michael Swanwick's "Steadfast Castle"

"Steadfast Castle" explores an interesting premise regarding an intelligent AI house and the emotional responses during difficult situations. However, what makes the story standout from the crowd is the dialogue. The story is told solely through dialogue and similar to the book Pirate Talk or Mermelade that Rebecca mentioned previously in her six sentences flash, it's told without quotes.

A common writing exercise is to present dialogue without any tags or action occurring with the emphasis on bringing out a difference in the voice between the two characters so that it is obvious who says which lines. Brandon Sanderson often takes short breaks from his writing during which he works on specific exercises and in addition to this, he and Dan and Howard on the podcast, Writing Excuses, dissect several examples of dialogue only exercises (part one, part two). What struck me about these exercises is how frequently the exercises differentiate the characters as one person who has expertise and someone who is an apprentice. However, after hearing several of these, it felt cliché because it was used so frequently and it was refreshing to come across "Steadfast Castle" and see this used in a different relationship.

The short story involves a house and a detective, which provides a good foundation for differentiating the two characters and also emphasizes the conflict between these two characters, which creates an intriguing story.

This story was published in the September/October issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction and I highly recommend it.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Aidan! I'll make sure to check these exercises you linked up, and the story as well.

  2. I recently read that story. (I'm a few issues behind in F&SF... that's a perpetual state until my sub lapses, I catch up then resub having missed one or two altogether.)

    It was definitely, shall we say, an interesting story. One of the better ones in that issue (although, admittedly, I'm not done with the issue, yet).

  3. @Mari, I still remember your exercise in this fashion of two boys leaping off a cliff. I don't think I understood the goals of the exercise as well back then. It is intriguing seeing this as my view of craft matures.

    @Stephen, I also lag on my F&SF subscriptions. I think I need to work on either allowing myself to decide that stories are not for me (since I usually avoid a story but after weeks tell myself to read it anyways since I may learn something from it) and skip them or work on myself to not go into avoidance. I also liked Literomancer in the issue; but that was partially because it sparked a great conversation with one of my colleagues whose wife is Japanese on reading japanese (and chinese) characters.

  4. I just barely started on Literomancer, in all honesty. My F&SF is in the restroom, so I pretty much only get to read it, you know, when...