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Bewildering Stories

Foreword to an Afterword
to “Custer’s Last Jump”

by Steven Utley

Custer’s Last Jump
and other Collaborations
Authors: Howard Waldrop,
  Steven Utley, et al.
  Golden Gryphon Press
  April 1, 2003
Hardcover: price varies
Length: 280 pages
ISBN: 1930846134
Andy Warhol said that each of us here in The Future would get to be famous for fifteen minutes. He could have had the decency to warn me, personally, that my own quarter of an hour’s worth of celebrity would be stretched (close on to the point of invisibility) over a quarter of a century and then some. But he didn’t, and don’t think I’m about to forgive him for getting my hopes up, either.

Warhol also pointedly didn’t promise that each of us would get to choose what he or she will be famous for, which ought to have set the alarm bells ringing in everyone’s head. But no. Day in and day out, people blithely fix themselves in history for all time, or at least for fifteen minutes, as individuals who did truly stupid things.

Creative folks run the same risk that other people do of being remembered as idiots or jerks, but also chance being remembered for works they themselves have outgrown. Every ambitious writer likes to think, and likes to be told, that he or she just gets better and better all the time. Yet, to the end of his days and to his endless chagrin, Isaac Asimov, author of eight or nine hundred books, had well-meaning admirers inform him that “Nightfall,” published in Astounding Science Fiction when he was barely out of his teens, was the best thing he’d ever written. For Henry Kuttner, another marvel of prolificity, it was “The Graveyard Rats,” published in Weird Tales when he was barely out of his teens.

Pour moi, it is “Custer’s Last Jump,” co-written with Howard Waldrop in November 1972 — when I was barely into my twenties, and before I had had a thing published professionally.

“CLJ” appeared in print for the first time in 1976, lost a Nebula Award to Asimov the following year, was included in two of the several then-competing year’s-best-sf collections, has since been frequently reprinted for the benefit of anyone who missed it the first three or four or five or six times around, translated for the entertainment and edification of foreigners, plagiarized in a well-known literary magazine, and almost optioned for the movies by a team of screenwriters who, in common with so many people in Hollywood, had big ideas but no money.

Well, okay, it is better to be an author known for something than one unknown for anything, unless, I suppose, one is the author of Trailer Park Sluts Do Nashville. And I must also say that “CLJ” did earn me a fair bit of cigarette-and-beer money back in the days.

Nevertheless, there have been times since 1976 when I was heartily sick of the story, when its demoralizing shadow lay over everything I wanted to accomplish as a writer — when, frankly, I felt that I might as well never have written another word for publication after November 1972.

And in those despairing moments, I always told myself that if Andy Warhol were still alive, I’d be famous as the guy who kicked his butt.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2005 by Steven Utley

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