On the occasion of his 50th birthday, I wrote the following for Jim Kelly

(with apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge).


The Rime of the Ancient Scrivener

 (as transcribed by John Kessel)



It is an ancient scrivener
And he stoppeth one of three
(the other two go through his legs
A Buckner fan is he)

Excuse me, that's another tale
The one about the Sox.
This one's about a writer whose
Production really rocks

Except nobody reads him much.
That's why he bothered one
On his way to a bar mitzvah bash
desperate for fun.

He seized the guest with clammy hand,
"I wrote a tale--  quoth he;
"Hold off, unhand me, graybeard loon!"
--No way that stoppeth he.

"I am a writer," the scrivener quoth
"And I mean to speak my mind.
I write a line of fiction prose
The scientific kind."

The mitzvah guest he beat his breast
Yet could not choose but hear
So stood in line with Mister Jim
Who whispered in his ear:

 "I started out, a fresh faced youth
To conquer time and space
I went to Clarion,"  he said
But ended in this place."

"This looks okay,"  the guest maintained
And tried to loose his grip
"You’re living here beside this lake
What cause have you to rip?"

"What cause?"  he countered, sighing deep
His voice a dying whimper
"Sure it looks fine on June 15th
Try living here through winter!

"The ice was here, the ice was there
The ice was all around
It cracked and growled, it roared and howled.
I drank another round."

"That sounds like fun,"  opined the guest
"More time to write a novel."
The scrivener cursed, "Don’t talk such fudge!
If not for lovely Pam the judge
I’d be living in a hovel.

"Besides, don’t speak about my book.
That topic spikes my fear
I’ll be lucky if I get it done
Before the future gets here.

"Despite my labors all I write’s
one miserable screed per year
If not for the June Asimov’s
I’d have no damned career."

The mitzvah guest he did protest,
"I’d love to hear your tale
But can’t you hear the festive song?
The matzoh’s getting stale"

He held him, and his glittering eye
The guest could not deter
Although the scrivener’s breath was ripe
His talk he’d not defer
And thus spake out that ancient man,
The bright eyed scrivener:

"Let me tell you about my latest dream
That’s why I stopped you, brother
A ghastlier vision ne'er was seen
Nor will be any other:
A con suite full of sci-fi geeks
Passed out against each other.

‘These are my peers?’  I cried to God
‘Please save me from such dorkers!
Where are the Updikes and DeLillos
Where are the babes with cigarillios
My place in the New Yorker?’

"They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes
T’was passing strange, even in a dream
To see those dead men rise."

"Please let me go,"  the guest did plead
"Your tale I cannot bear.
Or if you must go on, old man
I beg you tell me, if you can
Precisely who was there."

"Who was there? I’ll tell you who,"
--The scrivener’s eyes did glint--
"A mamoth editor dispensing wit
Regarding navel lint,
Hard science writers arguing
about Chandrasekar’s limit

"A tall Coloradan with archaic collar
An egotist Estonian.
Some geeks dancing with the chairs
An egoist Ellisonian.

"Fantasy writers wearing buskins
Commiting trilogies
Libertarians, cadging drinks,
Axe-grinding Feminazis

"To see those zombies going through
the motions of trying to sell
You’d think there was a point to it.
I thought I was in hell.

"Before too long, the booze ran out,
And all the pros did shrink
Water, water, everywhere!
--Not any drop to drink.

"I thought I’d flee while still I could
No one was watching me.
Then the body of my collaborator
Stood by me, knee to knee
A cadaverous, gloomy, haunted wight
Worse off, by God, than me!

"He moaned about mainstream respect
He bitched in terms unvarnished
About his dearth of movie sales.
‘You think that’s bad,’ I finally wails
‘My Hugo's getting tarnished!’

"I tried to leave but the body begged
Commenced his cause to plead it
His plan for a tale ‘bout nanotech
So we sat down together and wrote this drek
Would you care to read it?"

To his surprise, the mitzvah guest
Showed signs of getting piqued
"I beg you please sir, say no more
You’re thinking like a dinosaur
Soon to be extinct.

"Methinks you doth protest too much.
Although you say you rue it,
If writing these things brings such pain
Pray tell me why you do it?"

The scrivener, his brow did cloud
His face did crimson grow
He pulled his scant and carrot hair
(To tell the truth, there’s not much there)
And shouted, "I don’t know!

"It’s true I won a Hugo once
And winning sure was fun
But the odds against another win
Are 10 to the 16th to one."

And then a magic thing occurred
the plot at once was twisted
The mitzvah guest began to glow
His visage became misted.

The mitzvah guest, he was transformed
Never to turn back again
wearing mylar shorts and tack
a rocket pack upon his back
His garments were Gernsbackian.

Flowing golden locks above
Magnaboots below:
"I am the sprit of sf
And I am here to show

"You that you have the greatest gift
this side of the moon!
You have the gift of great b.s.
For anyone who writes sf
'Can be no greater boon!

You conjure fiction out of air,
Your settings are invented,
Your characters don’t have to scan,
Your plots are all resented
by realists casting dirty looks
because real people buy your books.
In all your works, by hook or crook
reality’s relented.

So though you’re fifty years and more
do not despair my son:
keep writing and I guarantee
you’ll soon be fifty-one.

You’re always Mister Boy to me
A Big Guy, nonetheless
An upstart Crow,no Rat I trow,
There’s Faith within your breast.

Farewell, farewell, but this I tell
To thee, thou scrivener
He writeth well, who faketh well
Both facts and character.

He writeth best who faketh best
All lengths both great and small
For Gardener, who loveth thee
Hath room to print them all."

The Scrivener, whose eye is red
Whose beard with age is hoar
Looked up, and saw the sf ghost
Blast off amid a roar.
He’s gone, like certain royalties
go flying out the door.

The scrivener, yes, he had been stunned
But also was reborn
With melancholy Irish smile
He faced the morrow morn.