Jo Walton (papersky) wrote,
Jo Walton
papersky

Duet

The story is that a man condemned to death begs the king for life, saying that if he gives him a year he can teach his horse to sing. The king allows this, and the man's friend asks what he can possibly have been thinking. He replies "A year is a long time. I may die. The king may die. Or perhaps the horse will learn to sing..."

And at year’s end they broke the stable door
The man and horse, together, gallop yet
Beyond the sunset’s end, the pounding hoofs,
Both harmony and beat for their duet.

This little quatrain appears in Among Others, and I wrote it as a teenager. I was thinking that it's about the choices SF gives you of the widest possible answer space. The man dying or the king dying can happen in any type of story. But they're also kind of boring. The horse learning to sing is impossible in the everyday world, but when you widen it out to science fiction or fantasy answers, you can get to my happy ending. That duet is the much more interesting possibility, and I've always been much more interested in the kind stories that open out into spaces where they can offer me that kind of answer.
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