Questionable Practices

Eileen Gunn  - published March 2014

March 11, 2014 · paper · 9781618730756 · $16.00 | ebook · 9781618730763 · $9.95

Light fuse and get away!

Locus Award finalist
io9 Best of the Year:
“Gunn’s talent for the surreal and bizarre is pressed into the service of exploring how our own subjectivity, and the ways we construct our selves, help to imprison us.”
Eileen on the Coode Street Podcast ·  SFWA.
Nonfiction: How America’s Leading Science Fiction Authors are Shaping Your Future, Smithsonian Magazine

Good intentions aren’t everything. Sometimes things don’t quite go the way you planned. And sometimes you don’t plan. . . . This collection of sixteen stories (and one lonely poem) wittily chart the ways trouble can ensue. No actual human beings were harmed in the creation of this book.

Stories from Eileen Gunn are always a cause for celebration. Where will she lead us? “Up the Fire Road” to a slightly alternate world. Four stories into steampunk’s heart. Into the golem’s heart. Yet never where we might expect.

Reviews for Questionable Practices

“The best of the stories in Eileen Gunn’s collection Questionable Practices also subvert expectations, taking tropes of fantasy and science fiction and turning them on their head. Elves emerge at the start of one story, only to bring violence rather than enchantment with them; two campers’ encounter with a sasquatch moves from the uncanny and into the romantic. Certain stories riff on existing stories and settings, from Star Trek to Bas-Lag, and these didn’t click quite as much for me. But when this book does click, it does so impressively, bringing with it an impressive sense of wonder.”
—Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1, Brooklyn

“True to form, Gunn’s new book, Questionable Practices, contains a number of sardonically weird looks at the future and the strangeness of corporate culture. But her insatiable eye for weirdness branches out this time around, featuring a number of different takes on the fantastical.
There is also a good deal of silliness in Questionable Practices, which should be welcomed by anyone who’s gotten tired of the pervasive stiff upper lip in SF and fantasy of late. From outright spoofs to metafictional pranks to sarcastic mischief, Gunn is constantly winking at the reader, while also packing tons of clever ideas. And just when you least expect it, she drops a serious truth bomb.”
Charlie Jane Anders, io9

“This is an excellent collection. The stories each feel fresh and different, both from one another and from anything else being written today. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, always meticulously crafted and brilliantly written, this collection is excellent work from a master of the short story. — SF Revu

“It’s always good news to get a new Gunn collection, and it’s always bad news that they come so infrequently.”

“Gunn’s stories spin ideas done up with sharp edges; they hijack pop-culture favorites and redirect the actors within; they draw for us a series of what-ifs that carry reader and characters away into the dark, there, perhaps, to breed more ideas.”

“Nebula-winner Gunn combines humor and compassion in 17 short, intricate gems that showcase her many talents. Of particular note among these outstanding works are the poem “To the Moon Alice,” in which a bombastic threat provides escape from comedic domestic violence, and “Michael Swanwick and Samuel R. Delany at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, March 2005,” an affectionate fable-like tribute to two legendary authors. “Up the Fire Road” provides dueling accounts of triadic romance and problematic parentage. “Phantom Pain” is a kaleidoscopic examination of a wounded soldier’s life. Though Gunn first saw print in the 1970s, this short collection contains a surprisingly large portion of her stories; her rate of publication has recently been increasing, giving fans reason to hope for many more delights to come.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The overwhelming mood is darkly comic science fiction—like a strange blend of Terry Gilliam and Margo Lanagan. Teen fans of either or both of those geniuses would do well to turn to Gunn for a similarly unique ride. Her prose is vividly off-kilter, her plots memorable and usually hilarious, and her characters recognizable even when they are tropes. And even though nothing is quite what it seems in these stories, the author’s firm grip on dream logic makes everything feel meaningful, even when it doesn’t quite make sense.”
School Library Journal, Adult Books for Teens

“’Phantom Pain’ is short and terrible and breathtaking in its ambition and its achievement. It takes the idea of a phantom limb, the way the nerves continue to sense an arm or leg that has been amputated, and expands the notion just a little bit. It tells of a man wounded in war who continues to relive the pain of that vivid moment throughout the rest of his life, so that the jungle track where he was shot and the library where he works or the marital home or the hospital where he ends up become indistinguishable. Pain and memory take away the shape of a life. It is a story that owes nothing to anyone else, it opens up entirely new perspectives for the reader, and if an entire collection made up of such stories might be unendurable, still it shows how much Eileen Gunn can achieve when she lets herself go in new directions.”
— Paul Kincaid, Los Angeles Review of Books

Table of Contents

Up the Fire Road
Chop Wood, Carry Water
No Place to Raise Kids
The Trains that Climb the Winter Tree
To the Moon Alice
Speak, Geek
Hive Mind Man
Thought Experiment
Shed That Guilt!
The Steampunk Quartet:
A Different Engine
Day After the Cooters
The Perdido Street Project
Internal Devices
The Armies of Elfland
Michael Swanwick and Samuel R. Delany at the Joyce Kilmer Service Area, March 2005
Zeppelin City
Phantom Pain


i09 interview by Annalee Newitz · “Ain’t I a Woman?” Eileen Gunn in conversation with Nisi Shawl · Lightspeed, Eileen Gunn interviewed by Andrew Liptak · Friends of Seattle Public Library blog, interview by Susan Forhan · Festivale Online, interview by Ali Kayn

Reviews for Eileen Gunn’s stories

“Without Eileen Gunn, life as we know it would be so dull we wouldn’t recognize it. Among the five or six North Americans currently able to write short stories, she has not written anywhere near enough.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

“From the first sentence of an Eileen Gunn story, you know you’re in the hands of a master. She brings you good, knotty characters every time, and sends them on trajectories you can’t help but care about. She roams the world and lets you appreciate its depth, variety and complications. She does humour and seriousness with equal aplomb; she can write to any length and know exactly what’ll fit. Above all she’s a sharp and a deep thinker; it’s a privilege to watch her mind at work. Read these stories and there’s no question you’ll feel like a smarter, more attentive human being.”
—Margo Lanagan

“Reading this book is like getting to wear the eyeballs of a madwoman in your own sockets for a day. Nothing’s going to look the same.”
—Warren Ellis

“Eileen Gunn can’t make herself write enough fiction. Encourage her by reading this right away.”
—Bruce Sterling

“Fresh, unusual perspectives on ordinary life.”
Publishers Weekly

“Corporate satire and Kafkaesque metamorphoses gleefully collide.”—Seattle Times

“Gunn’s stories are like perfect little bullets, or maybe firecrackers. When you read Gunn, you remember that short fiction can be spare, beautiful, and deadly.”
—Kelly Link

Cover and interior design by John D. Berry.
Cover illustration © Fu Wenchao/Xinhua Press/Corbis

About the Author

Eileen Gunn is a writer and editor. Her fiction has received the Nebula Award in the United States and the Sense of Gender Award in Japan, and has been nominated for the Hugo, Philip K. Dick, and World Fantasy awards, and short-listed for the James Tiptree, Jr. award. She was the editor/publisher of the edgy and influential Infinite Matrix webzine (2001-2008). She also edited, with L. Timmel Duchamp, The WisCon Chronicles 2: Provocative essays on feminism, race, revolution, and the future. Originally from the Boston area, she has lived in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, and now makes her home in Seattle, with her husband, typographer and book designer John D. Berry. She has an extensive background in technology advertising, and was Director of Advertising and Sales Promotion at Microsoft in the mid-1980s; her stories sometimes draw on her understanding of the Byzantine dynamics of the corporate workplace. Gunn recently retired from the board of directors of the Clarion West Writers Workshop after twenty-two years of service, and is presently at work on a novel.