A Set of Lines turns one

Today is the one-year anniversary of the publication of my novel A Set of Lines. To mark the occasion I thought I would offer a little history on its genesis. In a halfhearted attempt to ‘market’ the book when the ebook edition became available, I characterized it as ‘quotidian dystopiary meets nouveau roman,’ realizing even as I did so that this descriptor would likely either repel potential readers or simply generate blank stares. Chances are, even if you know and appreciate the French literary movement known as nouveau roman (see also: antinovel) that arose in the 1950s, you are unlikely to approve of or could even conceive of its integration with dystopian genre tropes. But to me it seemed like the most accurate way to describe the book, regardless of the likelihood of such a description alienating rather than engendering potential new readers.

I didn’t set out to write a novel blending these two types of fiction, nor did the revelation that this was what I had done immediately occur to me after finally finishing it. I was just reaching for a way to explain the book, which is typically something writers hate doing, but must at least attempt if they wish to attract readers. And, to be more precise, the nouveau roman doesn’t necessarily indicate a certain type of fiction. As a so-called movement it’s somewhat controversial, in that many or most of the writers grouped within it (notably by reviewers and critics, in general) did not see themselves as particularly unified in style or theme. That said, similarities do exist between some of their approaches.  

Eight years ago when I started writing what would become A Set of Lines, I had been gorging on nouveau roman writers—specifically a lot of Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet—and they had fully captivated me with their unique styles and focus on tone and mood over plot. As to the source of the novel’s dystopian tropes, I had always been drawn to this subgenre of science fiction, ever since I was a young reader. In my early 20s I’d even played in a concept band based on Orwell’s 1984. So I guess dystopia was in my blood from an early age, though I hadn’t been actively reading it as I began to write A Set of Lines.

I had, however, begun to see elements of both dystopian fiction and my favorite nouveau roman writers’ novels collide in my own daily life: stark repetition, circuitous conversations, blurring of dreams and waking life, hyper-exposed moments of quotidian life, endless meetings, rewriting and/or writing off the past by various overseers. Steeped in this milieu, from the kernel of a long-ago dream-memory (or was it a memory-dream) I began to write…

A Set of Lines review

The writer Rebecca Gransden posted an incisive review of A Set of Lines on Goodreads. Excerpt below:

There is a shorthand inherent in tackling dystopian themes, and Stewart moulds a knowing backdrop, using that shorthand to create a scaffolding which amplifies the atmosphere of benumbed melancholy. Throughout, there is an overwhelming sense of longing underneath the surface, a longing obfuscated and perhaps suppressed for so long, that its very function is being forgotten. The unconscious mind and its rebellion against passivity in the face of the denial of human wants and dignities is very present in this novel.

ship of fools

I recently participated in Surrealist provocateur Merl Fluin‘s flash fiction game, Ship of Fools. My contribution is entitled ‘Sea Legs’. You can read all of the responses here.

A Set of Lines ebook edition

A Set of Lines front cover

At long last the ebook edition of my novel A Set of Lines is available. The book can be downloadedfree for a limited timein a reader’s choice of all the usual formats. Many thanks to GPA archivist-technician Nathan Grover for his amiable tenacity in making this happen. For more information on A Set of Lines, including how to order the paperback edition, please visit Ghost Paper Archives. Reviews of the book can be found on Goodreads and at A Wild Slim Alien.

 

A Set of Lines review

A Set of Lines has received its first review outside of Goodreads. This perceptive review comes by way of long-time comrade-in-letters and master lipogramist Daniel Williams, aka awildslimalien.

ahoy chicagoans

To those readers living in the Chicago area: if you’ve reached the point where you feel you can leave your quarantine unit without enduring heart palpitations in order to do some socially distant browsing at one of your local bookshops, my novel A Set of Lines is now available at that fine Chicago institution known as Quimby’s. New stock of Bunker Diaries and Inner Harbor Field Reports has also arrived at the store. Just a heads up that the supply of these two publications is dwindling, and there are no plans for a second printing. As always, thanks for reading and be well.

the new experiment

From its exterior the laboratory suggests disuse: a grey windowless mass of concrete block ringed by a rusting chain-link fence entwined with clumps of chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. This is intentional. For inside, beneath the glare of a single fluorescent bulb, the scientist toils over his most ambitious experiment to date. He has been indoors for months⁠—his only encounters with fresh air taken as inhalations from a flexible plastic tube fed through a tiny aperture in the wall above his workbench. At the end of each day he meticulously cleans the inside of the tube with a long fine-fiber brush. He stores the brush in a locked drawer and wears the key around his neck on a silver chain.

A cistern of water sits in one corner of the single-room building. A metal safe holding nutrition wafers stands next to it. At night the scientist stretches out on a low cot set against the wall. Creeping through the twilight of semi-consciousness he approaches the hypnagogic border checkpoint and loiters there, stepping over and back across the border in an eccentric shuffle akin to backwoods buck dancing. As he dances he conjures his ideasdarting in and out of lucid dreams, imprinting theories on the inner walls of his mind.

This current experiment began following the now-infamous ‘centrifuge episode’, in which the scientist’s (former) circular laboratory began rotating in response to the frenetic activity of bodies moving outside its walls. The event scratched the flint of inquiry once again, leading the scientist to abandon the city of his birth and migrate to this forgotten rust-belt town, at the edges of which he established his current laboratory in a former small engine repair shop.

What you may ask is the nature of the experiment. What indeed. Does he even know himself…does he know himself? Does he know himself? What does he know?

(1) Concrete is porous.

(2) Nutrition wafers only come in one flavor: bland.

(3) Eventually the water will run out.

Now Available: A Set of Lines

A Set of Lines front cover

A Set of Lines: a novel by S. D. Stewart

Last night I drew all night. I copied the images from the textbook and then I drew them again freehand—I made them move on the page, lengthened the lines and darkened the centers.

The tree, the river, the old textbook—a triptych with shifting borders hangs in a place where dreams and memories intersect. Omission and loss haunt those who live here, suspended as they are in an endless struggle to connect. Contracting and expanding as it progresses, the narrative of their existence ever-circles around a shrouded core.


With cover design and interior illustrations by Nate Dorr, who since 2017 has been quietly depicting the beauty of decaying, mutated biospheres in his Disaster Landforms series.

Interior design and layout wizardry by Nathan Grover.

Read reviews on Goodreads.

Order the paperback | Download the ebook

Shipping Note: Delivery estimates shown during the order process are the latest possible arrival date. Most U.S. orders will take 7–11 business days to arrive, depending on the selected rate. Economy rate is reasonable: in many cases, the book will still arrive inside of a week. Delivery times outside of the U.S. will vary by location.

jasper the badger

Sir, your badger…

Yes, his name is Jasper.

Sir, some of the passengers have reported your badger has been biting their ankles.

Why do you persist in referring to him as ‘your badger’? He has a name, dammit, and it’s Jasper.

Whatever his name, sir, we can’t have him running amok in the cabin.

He’s not running amok. As you can see he is resting peacefully at my feet, safely stowed under the seat in front of me, per your draconian regulations.

That may be the case at the moment, sir, but just a few minutes ago he was up in first class, where not only did he nearly sever a woman’s pinky toe from her right foot but when I tried to corral him back here into coach, he rather nimbly leapt upon a man’s lap, causing severe scratches to the unfortunate man’s groin area. I had to administer first aid in both cases.

Hmm, that doesn’t sound like Jasper at all. Are you sure there’s not another badger on board that you may have mistaken for Jasper? To the untrained eye badgers do often look indistinguishable from one another.

Sir, I assure you there is only one badger on board this airplane and frankly at this point I’m wondering how it was ever approved for air travel.

On Jasper’s behalf I must take offense at your implication. I’ll have you know that Jasper is a certified emotional support badger. He went through a rigorous six-month training program, during which it was very difficult on both of us to be separated. If you’d like I can show you the certificate he earned. He’s quite proud of it.

That is all well and good, sir, but I simply must ask you to please ensure your badger remains under the seat in front of you for the duration of the flight.

And I must tell you that is where Jasper has been, despite these questionable reports of a rogue badger you continue to unfairly foist upon me. Frankly, I’m of a mind to contact the airline and report your egregious manners to the customer service department. What is your badge number, anyway?

Sir, I am a flight attendant. I do not have a badge number. And you are of course welcome to submit your report, but please know there will also be a report submitted that details the havoc your badger has wreaked in the first class section today, including descriptions of the numerous injuries sustained by the innocent passengers caught in the melee.

Well, I must say I’m skeptical of their innocence. They are traveling in first class, after all, and my experience with those types of people is that they always have some traces, however faint, of blood on their hands. So it’s likely this other rogue badger you claim is present somewhere in the cabin was simply settling certain karmic debts. Badgers are actually often tasked in this way with balancing the natural scales of justice, so to speak.

[What follows is a flash of silvery fur, a brief strangled cry, then silence.]

While the plane did eventually complete its flight without any further major incidents, the final medical report listed five victims of badger-inflicted injuries, including the near-fatal laceration of a flight attendant’s femoral artery. While no charges were pressed in this case, Jasper never flew again, at least not on that airline. Attempts by said airline to verify the existence of a training program for emotional support badgers led nowhere, although the investigation did uncover rumors of a similarly described program for marmots located somewhere in rural Washington state.

the porcupine and the balloon*

The Porcupine and the Balloon were never meant to be friends….or were they. It will end badly, said the Balloon’s sagging mother. Mrs. Porcupine, her quills white-flecked with age, was less concerned⁠—not foreseeing any obvious threat to her spiny little offspring. You better keep your distance if you wish to stay friends for long, was her only comment. Yet despite their mothers’ skepticism, some mystical force continued drawing the two youngsters together. The shiny buoyancy of the Balloon’s disposition held great appeal to the morose little ground-borne mammal. For the Balloon’s part, it was enthralled by the very pointiness of its companion’s appearance. People always say oil and water don’t mix. But what of balloons and porcupines? Surely the world has witnessed more volatile pairings than this? So let’s allow them their fun (while it lasts), for after all, a balloon’s very nature is ephemeral, and if this particular one prefers to go out with a bang rather than slowly deflating into a crumpled foil bag, who are we to stand in its way?

*I ran out of reading material on the train today so I wrote this for you.

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