Every November, three hundred million butterflies arrive in Central Mexico. Every March, cliff swallows flock to San Juan Capistrano. And every June a new story by James Patrick Kelly graces the pages of Asimov’s. This month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the story that initiated this uninterrupted string of tales.
Jim’s first June story, the searing tale of “Saint Theresa of the Aliens,” was published in 1984. It was also his first story to receive a Nebula nomination. The novelette is well worth checking out, but it was not his first story for Asimov’s. That honor goes to “Still Time” (August 1983); a tale I encountered as a shy assistant editor. One of only a handful of stories I’ve ever come across that has to be read in a single sitting, it’s a thrilling tale about a man who thinks he’s prepared to survive a nuclear war. He has his supplies and he’s built his bunker. Unfortunately, when the bombs come, they come with little warning. He’s at home working on his shelter, but his daughter is in daycare and his wife is at her job miles from home.
Not long after “Still Time” was published, I attended my first professional Worldcon, and I made up my mind that I had to meet the author of this compelling story. I approached the writer with trepidation and timidly blurted out how much I’d loved the tale. Then I shrank away, mortified by my forwardness. What I didn’t know was that Jim was a pretty nervous young author himself. Years later, he told me he’d been floored by my comment because I was the first “New York City editor” to come up and compliment him on his work.
Although I was responsible for many aspects of the production of the magazine, I did not really think of myself as an editor, then. I wasn’t choosing the stories, and I was not yet editing any of them either. Jim’s second June story, however, marked a major transition for me. The story came in during a crisis. We’d always kept a tight rein on our inventory, and while this was fiscally prudent, we found ourselves in a slightly precarious position when the editor had to take a sudden leave of absence to cope with a family emergency. Asimov’s now had a thirty page hole in its upcoming issue and I had the exciting, if alarming, instructions to fill the hole with the very best material I could find. As I began to read Jim’s hallucinogenic submission about a midsummer day at Stonehenge, I started to relax. The result was that “Solstice” (1985) became the very first story I ever purchased for the magazine. The following year’s June story, “The Prisoner of Chillon,” was a loose sequel to “Solstice.” This novelette distinguished itself by becoming the very first winner of our newly instituted Readers’ Award.
It was after the publication of “Prisoner” that we realized we had a tradition going. The tradition was of course dependent on three very important factors. First, Jim had to submit a story to us; second, we had to have space for it in the June issue (and no pressing needs to use it in a different month); and third, and most important, we had to like and accept the story. No one really expected all three factors to happen every June (or rather December, which is when the issue is actually put together) or that it would be possible to keep the tradition going for very long. All we did know was that we’d been pretty happy with the stories we’d seen so far.
More important, you seemed pretty happy with Jim’s stories, too. In 1990, his story about a wild future in which your mom could be the Statue of Liberty, “Mr. Boy,” picked up its own Readers’ Award. (What’s more, that year Jim shared a Reader’s Award for a poem he co-wrote with Robert Frazier. The poem, however, appeared in our December issue.) Both “Mr. Boy” and our 1991 June tale, “Standing in Line with Mister Jimmy,” ended up as finalists for the Nebula Award as well.
“Think Like a Dinosaur,” Jim’s 1995 June story, was the blockbuster. The spine-tingling novella about what might really happen if we had transporter technology brought him an SF Chronicle Award, the Reader’s Award, and his very first Hugo Award. It was a finalist for the Nebula too. His quieter 1997 story, “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” received the Locus Award and made it to the Hugo and Nebula ballots, as well. “Itsy Bitsy Spider” always brings me close to tears. If you want to reread it, you’ll find it in our 30th Anniversary Anthology. Jim won another Hugo for his chilling 1999 novelette, “1016 to 1,” and at least three of his subsequent June stories have also been finalists for the major awards.
With the June 1998 issue, Jim’s relationship with Asimov’s grew to include the role of bi-monthly internet columnist. His amusing and informative essays have proven to be popular with you, too. Although these essays have only been with us for a third of the magazine’s existence, it seems hard to remember a time when they weren’t an essential part of our publication.
Since our first meeting in 1983 my friendship with Jim has also taken on added dimensions. He’s become one of my closest confidants, and is often a sounding board for my editorials, though not this one. We’ve gone boating on the Lamprey River in New Hampshire, and looking for alligators in the Everglades. I sometimes have to light a fire under him when he comes close to missing his “On the Net” deadlines, but it’s worth it, since he inevitably turns in such delightful material. Jim and I attended each other’s wedding, and my whole family made it to Boston for his fiftieth birthday. And each year, like those who await the swallows and the butterflies, I look forward to the beauty that will be found in the tale that becomes the James Patrick Kelly June story.