Fiction and poetry by Robert Dawson

At the moment, titles go up here when they are accepted for publication somewhere. I won't guarantee to keep posting everything forever but I'll try to put new material up from time to time.

If it has been accepted somewhere but not appeared, there won't be a link (yet): whoever has agreed to publish it gets to be first.

If a work has appeared and there is a public link I will post it. Otherwise, if a work is published but not on a public site, and I've retained the rights, I will probably -eventually- put it on my own site with a link from here.

And if everybody's turned something down and I decide that "everybody's out of step except Robert" then maybe I'll post it so you can make up your own minds.

My "Writer's Bill of Rights" is posted here.

You can email me here .

Fiction

  1. Final Exam, [Online], Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 1.2(2011) 121-125

    This was the story that got me started - not my first try at writing, but when I showed it to Chandler Davis, one of the editors at the Mathematical Intelligencer, he suggested I bring it to the upcoming workshop on creative writing in math and science at BIRS, and that did get me started. I got the original idea from a talk in the hall with a colleague about cheating in exams, and the story took off from there. Oddly, nobody has ever accused it of being an author-insertion wish-fulfilment story... yet.
  2. Damned Souls and Statistics, [Online] LabLit

    This one began on EDSTAT-L. There was a discussion going on about the rather old-fashioned methods of statistical inference that are taught in intro stats courses, and I made up a little counterexample of what one could do within the rules. Then I thought it could be expanded into a didactic short-short if I didn't expect anybody but statisticians to read it. Then I decided, what the hell, let's go for it. (True story: it nearly got into a certain popular stats journal, but the editor and I finally agreed we couldn't agree on some crucial points. The sticking point seems to have been my protagonist's description of her perfunctory review: "like getting laid without getting kissed" - even if the reference was hypothetical and negative.)

    Recently (July 2013) it has been accepted as a reprint by Mad Scientist Journal (online Nov 11 2013, and in their Fall 2013 antho).

  3. Space, [Online] AE Micro 3, April 2012

    The contest rules said "200 words." What can you say about space in 200 words? As Bart Simpson might have put it:

    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.
    Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it. Space is important, and we must not stop exploring it.

    But that's (if anything) poetry, and they wanted fiction. Now, writing anything honest and new about exploring space, or travelling through it, or whatever seemed to need more than two hundred words (that's about seven limericks' worth!) So that left not exploring it.

    Well, I'd been trying for a while to write something a little sad and a little angry about the way things were going in the self-styled Real World, adding one more small voice to such trumpet blasts as Poul Anderson's wonderful "Murphy's Hall" or Jerry Pournelle's epigram "I always thought I'd live to see the first man on the moon. I never thought I'd see the last." And this is what came out.

    Get the whole issue free [here], and try the origami binding.

  4. The Widow, [Online] AE 7, May 28, 2012

    This is one of my favorites among my early stories. When I started writing it, I knew what was happening. By the end I was starting to wonder. Hah! Suckered by my own character - very postmodern.
  5. On The Occasion Of Your Graduation, [Online] Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 2.2(2012) 154-156.

    A letter, in the not-too-distant future, from an old mathematician to his young student.
  6. Please Wait, [Online] Imaginaire 1, 26-33. Reprinted in Mad Scientist Journal, Fall 2014

    A sisterpecked computer geek finds himself thrust into the role of private eye.
  7. Transit of Venus ( Dandelions of Mars ,Whortleberry Press, June 2013)

    Astronomy, weather, and Ray Bradbury.
  8. Folklore of Lunenburg County ( Metastasis , Wolfsinger, October 2013)

    This anthology, edited by Rhonda Parrish, is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society - hence the somewhat grim title. But for the same reason it attracted some wonderful stories and poems by terrific writers.
  9. Time Zones (appeared in Perihelion, Nov. 2013; no longer archived)

    I wrote much of this story on the plane on my way home from the Sage Hill writing workshop in August, 2012. My sons were 16 and 18 at the time. Read it and you'll see why this is relevant!

    (To be reprinted in Mad Scientist Journal)

  10. Christmas in the Trenches ( Aurora Wolf, Nov. 2013)

    This was one of my first stories - a bit of a poor fit to any one genre, unless there's a gamer-romance magazine out there I don't know about. And the central character catalyzes the plot rather than consciously bringing it about. But... I was really happy when Aurora Wolf saw something in it.
  11. Soldier's Return (Niteblade, Dec. 2013)

    This story was written for a competition, in which participants had to swap settings. A. T. Greenblatt came up with this very unusual room.
  12. The Fifth Postulate (Imaginaire, Dec. 2013)

    There really is something almost prescient in the way Euclid structured parts of the Elements. (This story started out as an entry to the 2013 AE Micro contest, which had "Elements" as its theme; but it rapidly grew too long for the 200-word limit. So I let it grow to flash length and submitted another micro story instead.)
  13. Pop-ups ( Nature Futures, April 24 2014):

    Imagine a future technology even more immersive than Google Glass. Imagine the problems...

    (Also included in their Futures 2 anthology)

  14. Along the Ashfold Road (Perihelion, May 12, 2014)

    This is a sort of sequel to "Sunira's Daughters" (see below.)

    Industrial society has collapsed. Many things that we take for granted today are in short supply; and some people will go to great lengths to get them. Maura and Lissie have made the dangerous journey along the ashfold road. Will they get what they are after?

  15. Diversion Program

    appeared in June 2014 in Issues in Earth Science (James Beamon gave invaluable help on the urban dialect. Thanks, James!)

    Just a little push can redirect a rogue asteroid - or a rogue human.

  16. Sunira's Daughters

    appeared in the first issue of STRAEON. I wrote this one in July, 2012, at the Sage Hill writing workshop. (Thanks to Spider, Holly, Jillian, Doug and Sarah for helping kick it into shape!)

    Two geneticists at a conference make an earth-shattering discovery about human reproduction. And then things get complicated.

  17. Lucky Stars

    appeared Oct 12 2014 in Perihelion.
    Brianna and Pat figure out how to scam the lottery. Their mathematical calculations are correct...
  18. Dust and Blue Smoke

    appeared in Fall 2014 in The Colored Lens. This short story is inspired by the late Ray Bradbury and is set in the sort of quiet small town that he wrote about so often. The only person around who still owns a car has just managed to buy a gallon of gasoline. So where else would the kids go?
  19. Five Drabbles

    A "drabble" is a story of exactly one hundred words. These will appear in SpeckLit.
  20. As We Grow Older

    appeared in Nov. 2014 in Every Day Fiction. You can make as much or as little of this little story as you want. Maybe it's fantasy, maybe it isn't.
  21. He Likes Things Tidy

    appeared in Winter 2015 AE. A quiet country gas station has a new assistant. He likes things tidy...
  22. By Degrees

    appeared in AE Micro 2015. Some students seem to have their whole lives plotted out. Read this and four more exciting stories in a free, expertly hand-bound chapbook.
  23. Souvenir

    appears in The Colored Lens. Maybe the most awful protagonist I've ever written?
  24. Edgar

    appeared in NewMyths in June. Edgar Allen Poe was one of the most innovative writers of his (or any) time. Not only did he write innovative fantasy, horror, and science fiction, he also invented the modern detective story and gave a resolution of Olbers' Paradox in cosmology. So where did he get his ideas from? Probably not where this story suggests.
  25. Shipping Error

    appeared in Perihelion in August 2015. Ever pick up something in a grocery store, realize you haven't a clue what's in it, and wonder if you dare try it?
  26. Three Drabbles

    in SpeckLit.
  27. Rattleback

    appeared in freezeframe's YA issue in September 2015. Kellie likes lobster-fishing with her father on his boat, but she has other ambitions.
  28. At The Bend Of The Road

    was published in Zen of the Dead , edited by Lester Smith of Popcorn Press. (This is a big anthology of ghost stories, supernatural poems, and similar goodies. Lots of good stuff!)

    As for my story: One of the kids in Kevin MacDonald's class has just posted his picture on Facebook - with his real name. And this means that Kevin has to disappear - forever.

  29. The Gift Of The Calamari

    is in Whortleberry Press's Strange Changes.

    You all remember O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," don't you? And that heartbreaking opening line?

    'One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.'

    Great minds down the ages have wondered (in extremely bored moments) how exactly Della made up the remaining $1.27 without using pennies. Now it can be told... but, remember, there really are things Mankind was not meant to know.

  30. Sixteen Tonnes

    is in Perihelion. When the very air they breathe has to be shipped up from Earth at enormous costs, Luna City doesn't have resources to spare. Mark's the one-man excavation crew, with the city's teenagers as his willing assistants. But things have just gone badly wrong.
  31. Boomerang Zone

    won third place in the 2015 Jim Baen Memorial Short Fiction Competition, and appeared in the first issue of Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores in January 2016. Melissa Pratt and her buddy Declan Adair are doing repair work on the outside of the space station Myriad when a thruster malfunction hurls him into space. Will the laws of physics allow her to rescue him?
  32. Be Mine Forever

    appeared in AE in February 2015. Back when Chantal was a young woman, a boyfriend gave her a talking Valentine. The relationship didn't work out, but she kept the card.
  33. The Adventure of the Durham Monograph

    is in Perihelion. Yes, Chris Watson is descended from that Watson. But when, punting near Cambridge, he meets a woman who claims to be Holmes, things are about to take a strange turn!
  34. Ghost Town Girl

    appeared in Page and Spine. in March 2016. Lauri's parents are caretakers in an abandoned mining town, in northern BC, that's gradually being dismantled. Her only friend there is a girl who died before Lauri was born, but whose talking simulacrum lives on in a high-tech tombstone. And it's Hallowe'en...
  35. The Art Of Failure

    appeared in the first issue of Compelling Science Fiction. It's also in the 2016 issue of The Year's Best Military and Adventure SF. Chesley Armitage is the translator on the Avalon, a tramp starship trading on dubious planets. The latest communication from the planet Zafostha has the captain puzzled.
  36. The Numerals Of Ahaxa

    appeared in May 2016 in Aurora Wolf. Mike MacLean is a number theorist on sabbatical. Why has he been summoned to a recently-discovered village in the Brazilian rainforest?
  37. The Practice Room

    will, perhaps, appear in Black Denim.
  38. This Is Not When You Said That You Would Meet Me

    is in Stupefying Stories . When she went into cryosleep, her husband promised to wake her as soon as they found a cure. He was a sweet and loving man, but hed always been the forgetful sort.
  39. Thermodemonics

    appeared in Polar Borealis 3. Kevin was failing his Thermodynamics course. So he summoned the demon Dantalion to help him. What could go wrong?
  40. Ladies' Night

    appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics . "Lady" Jane is a card sharp. The Joint Statistical Meetings are in town, and she's ready to teach some probability theory.
  41. Trader

    is in After the Happily Ever After by Transmundane Press. Thuriphel's father was a Trader, who sold starwine to Land's Men without the king's leave, and Thuriphel wants to sail the same course. But he's having to learn the tricks on his own.
  42. The Flight Of The Osprey

    will appear in Neo-Opsis . Eilie used to be a smuggler, and she still has the fastest airship in Halifax. A Fenian sympathizer is flying up from New England with a bomb that could destroy the city, and it's up to her to stop him.
  43. Sparrowfall

    appeared in Nature Futures on June 8th. The city has a million eyes, a million ears, and robots to do its bidding. It is programmed to help its residents. But its powers are limited.
  44. The White Bear

    will appear in Compostela: Tesseracts 20 in 2017.
  45. Hunter's Moon

    will appear in the anthology Ghosts On Drugs. Chris made his first mistake hanging out with Kel. He made his second mistake accepting the little bottle from him. His third mistake was the big one.
  46. Iron Jenny and the Princess

    will appear in Over The Rainbow by Wordpress. Topaz does not want to marry the Prince, or anybody else - she would rather build labyrinths. But sometimes a princess has to do her duty.


Poetry

  1. A Statistical Lament (after Joni Mitchell), (verse), [Online] LabLit science verse series

    A pastiche of "Clouds," describing the difficulty of finding a satisfactory approach to statistics. This one was composed entirely in my head while walking to work (over several days) - not an easy way to work, but it can pay off.

  2. Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, Void: Senryu for Musashi [Online] The Sword, January 2012 p.28

    Thoughts of a (middle-aged, recreational) fencer. A senryu is a poem in a style more or less identical to the haiku, but dealing with the quirks of human nature rather than the seasons. Miyamoto Musashi was a famous Japanese swordsman of the Edo period, and author of the Book of Five Rings. I've somewhat presumptuously borrowed the titles of the five books to label the individual senryu.
  3. Lines on a Pool Sheet, The Sonneteer Week 18, April 18, 2012.

    Another fencing poem (it will also be appearing in The Sword in October 2012.) The phenomenon of intransitivity has often been observed in sports in which people or teams compete in pairs; the pairwise comparisons that emerge among three or more contestants are not always consistent! (Martin Gardner wrote about this in his April 1974 Mathematical Games column.) The 4-4-4-2 structure of the Shakespearian sonnet was ideal to describe this situation. You can consider the volta (the "on the other hand" moment that is central to the sonnet) to be after line 8 if you find this surprising; otherwise, it's after line 12! (Maybe the first is a volta and the second a revolta?)

    Sadly, the Sonneteer appears to have folded with its mother publication, The Resurrectionist . You can find the poem on page 65 of The Sword for October 2012 (page 25 of the electronic version).

  4. Honorifics [Online] Open Heart Forgery , 3.4, May 2012

    This one is just for fun. As I said to somebody at the OHF launch, the reference to the "untuned Western ear" is truth in advertising; while I am interested in linguistics in a very amateurish sort of way, my research for this one was done on Wikipedia, not in a century-old teahouse at the foot of Fuji-san.
  5. Five Weather Observations, CMOS Bulletin, June 2012

    This one was originally written for my wife, who is a meteorologist. As the CMOS Bulletin site is password-protected, I've put the poem online [here].
  6. Mademoiselle, The Resurrectionist 1 (June 2012) pp 53-54

    This poem, deliberately echoing Kipling and Service , was based on an actual news story a few years before it was written. The refrain takes something from Browning's "Fra Lippo Lippi"; the influence of Service's "Tipperary Days" cannot be denied, but it's more of a reaction than a tribute. Sadly, the Resurrectionist does not seem to have survived (or returned from the dead); I have put the poem online [here].
  7. editing poem [Online] Open Heart Forgery , 3.6, August 2012

    Sometimes when a poem isn't working out the way you want, you try to change the style.
  8. Underdog [Online] Open Heart Forgery , 3.8, November 2012

    Unconsciously influenced by Richard Wilbur's poem "Junk", I suspect.
  9. Survivor's Guide to the Baktun-13 Bug [Online] LabLit science verse series

    This one was originally written for a humorous winter solstice card (I don't have a problem with sending Christmas cards, but I like the idea of doing my own and I can't always design good Christmas cards!) The Y2K parallels seemed obvious. I sent it to LabLit because (a) it fit and (b) I only had 24 hours before the world ended, and Jenny Rohn at LabLit is the only editor I know who could get it published in time!

    (Reprinted in JoAnne Growney's math poetry blog, Nov. 2013))

  10. Some Contributions to the Sociology of Numbers Journal of Humanistic Mathematics 3 (1): 167-168

    Numbers have personalities, right?

  11. Sestina Lente. (Dalhousie Review 91(3/4), Fall/Winter 2012)

    The sestina is a very mathematical type of poem; it works by permutation, specifically by applying the permutation (1->2->4->5->3->6) to obtain the last words of one verse from the last words of the previous one. An easy theorem of group theory shows that such a pattern cannot extend beyond six verses without repeating; the sestina achieves this maximum, then trots all six words out for a bow in a three-line envoi. The form is quite flexible but tends to work well for themes of brooding and obsession, due to the way the same theme words keep recurring. Here I've considered the mechanical aspects of the sestina as a metaphorical mechanism.

  12. Hailstone. (Rampike 22(1), March 2013)

    This poem (or whatever it is) is generated by a modification of the Collatz "hailstone algorithm" to make it work on strings of words. Start with a short passage at the beginning of a long mother text. The rules that generate each passage from the next are:

    Do you always end up with a 4->2->1->4 cycle? (And do the same words eventually recur?)

    I chose this set of rules because it was deterministic, like the Collatz algorithm. There are lots of other variations to experiment with.

    (And I'm honored beyond belief to be sharing a ToC with Brian Aldiss!)

    (Reprinted in JoAnne Growney's math poetry blog, Sept 2014)

  13. Fig Tree Rag, Imaginaire (March 2013)

    This poem is about chaos and period doubling. As a sufficiently complicated dynamical system gets driven harder, a common response is period doubling : stronger and weaker oscillations alternate. After a while this happens again and a pattern of period four emerges, and so on. These doublings occur faster and faster: if three successive doublings occur at parameter values of an,an+1, and an+2, the ratio (an+1 - an)/(an+2 - an+1) approaches Feigenbaum's constant which is about 4.67 - astonishingly, this is the same across many systems. Because this is a geometric series, an infinite number of doublings occur for a finite change in parameter values, after which the system's behavior is chaotic (though dropping back into periodicity, including periods that are not powers of 2, on occasion.)

    The rhythm of this poem echoes this. "Feigenbaum", of course, means "fig tree"... the title also riffs on Scott Joplin's elegant and rhythmically adventurous "Fig Leaf Rag".

  14. The Girl From Sunken R'lyeh, Parody (2.1, April 2013)

    Tall and green and pentapodal... Norman Gimbel meets H. P. Lovecraft.

    You can read it here (or buy the issue!)

  15. Trail Clearing (Villanelle), [Online] Open Heart Forgery , 4.6, Sept. 2013

    A villanelle is a very repetitive verse form, repeating and recycling the same rhymes and even lines until the effect is hypnotic - or everybody's ready to scream. For that reason, like the sestina, it tends to be used to depict themes of brooding and obsession - like Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night", perhaps the best-known example. This one is a depiction of obsession and insanity if you like, but we all had fun...
  16. Three Haiku, Scifaikuest, Nov 2013;

    One appears online, (two others are in the print version.) These started as part of a haiku chain among some spec-fic writers.

  17. Three Writing Exercises (after John Gardner), (Rampike, Spring 2014)

    John Gardner, in his "The Craft of Fiction," gives some wonderful exercises in making words do magic. These inspired this poem.
  18. Resilient Private Clouds, (Star*Line 39.1 (Winter 2016)

    This started out as one of those almost-spam emails. I'm fairly sure the computer book they were selling was for real, and no doubt somebody was delighted to hear aboutit. But it just set mymind off on a tangent.

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