“At The Rialto,” by Connie Willis

I decided as I got into this process that I would definitely have work by certain authors. In my opinion, you can’t discuss science fiction, let alone women in science fiction, without dealing with its most popular authors. Sometimes that popularity gets judged by book sales; sometimes—as in the case of many short story writers—the popularity gets judged by awards and award nominations.

Connie Willis, an sf Grand Master, has received (I believe) seven Nebulas and eleven Hugos for her fiction. She has written some stories that I consider to be classics. She has also written some marvelous novels. I think Blackout and All Clear make one long masterwork.

When I pitched this project to Baen, I mentioned Connie’s story “Even the Queen” as one I’d like to include. But I’ve been thinking about this, and I’d really like a lot of the stories to be action-oriented, which “Even the Queen” is not. It is memorable and short, however.

I thumbed through my copy of The Best of Connie Willis, which Del Rey released in 2013, and felt an increasing dismay as I did so. Many of the stories I wanted to read (that I hadn’t read) weren’t here. So I’ll have to do some more reading. (Instead of including them, editor Anne Leslie Groell insisted on some of Connie’s speeches which, while fun, are not the be-all and end-all that Connie’s fiction is.)

As I thumbed, I came across “At The Rialto.” I did not and do not plan to use this story. I was at the Nebula awards ceremony that Connie used as the basis for the story, so I feel like I have an interpretation of the story that might or might not make me a fair judge of the work.

I also remember reading the story when it came out in 1989, and marveling at its technique. Connie was the writer who showed me that its possible to write about complex scientific things (or complex anything) and still end up with an entertaining story.

I remember the story vividly from that first read 26 years ago. I glanced at the opening paragraph…and reread the entire thing, even though I didn’t plan to. Which just goes to show what an excellent storyteller Connie is. She grabbed me and made me reread even when I didn’t have the time to do so.

I’m still not going to use the story in the volume for the reasons I listed above. But get a copy of The Best of Connie Willis, and read the story for yourself. You won’t regret it.

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