This is Paula Guran’s Foreword to my book Black Butterflies.
Black Butterflies won the Bram Stoker award. It’s coming back into print as an ebook from Start Publications soon. The paperback versions can be gotten, used, pretty cheaply, too, at Amazon…
Foreword to Black Butterflies:
In the hours past midnight, jet-black butterflies flock into John Shirley’s dreams. If he tries to ignore them, if he doesn’t sing cold-metal songs to them, the black butterflies slice him with their razorsharp onyx wings. He has to write stories as dark and sharp and cold and beautiful as the butterflies—or they will cut him up from the inside then flutter out to infect the world.
Once written and read, the stories still infect. They divinto your brain and change you in small but unalterable ways. Because of this it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to ever entirely forget a John Shirley story.
This collection brings together some of John Shirley’s unforgettable dark stories from the last decade. BLACK BUTTERFLIES is divided into two parts. THIS WORLD offers stories set in the what we call the “real” world—the everyday world of the humans thrashing about in dilemma, twisting in obsession; stories from streets and bedrooms and bars and, offices peopled with characters whose reality you can never deny or escape—although you may try to.
THAT WORLD comprises the second part of BLACK BUTTERFLIES: tales of the surreal and supernatural, the skewed truth—reaching slightly beyond reality…or, perhaps, there is something reaching out of that Beyond and grabbing you.
In other introductions to other John Shirley books, you’ll find writers who have known him and his work for two decades. They introduce him as the original cyberpunk or an always surprising, constantly amazing progenitor of strange fiction often arising from the chaos of his life.
That’s all true, but I never knew the chaos or the punk. The John Shirley I know has, with no small amount of effort, achieved a balance in his life and work. And, unlike others, I first met him through the exquisite nightmares of his dark fiction. Before I ever walked the cyberpunk’s fictional future streets and battlegrounds, I knew only the nakedly gruesome, explicitly intense, yet utterly appealing noir of his dark side. His stories made me look inward. Like life they are tragic, sometimes cruel, but—also like life—consistently convey a message for us to discover. Invariably Shirley’s tales touch a spiritual, and often wryly humorous, resonance by exposing human paradox and exploring the deviations we sometimes call evil. Where there is danger, there is also deliverance.
John Shirley mapped the cyber-wilderness before that terrain was even identified; he creates style before it is acceptable; his dark imaginings are often too extreme for the times in which they are created; he assumes an intelligent reader in an age of “dumbing down;” he writes what he writes regardless of labels in an era typified by niches.
That’s why I wanted him to do BLACK BUTTERFLIES—stories from the last dark decade compiled as the arbitrary, but symbolic, millennium approaches. Maybe, finally, the world is ready for John Shirley.