James D. Macdonald, whose story written in collaboration with his wife Debra Doyle, "Philologos; or, A Murder in Bistrita," appears in the February 2008 issue of F&SF, said in an interview that the story is about a scholar in search of a rare book. "With overtones of paranoia and undertones of unresolved sexual tension," he said. "It’s also an origin story for one of the non-protagonists but major supporting characters in [our novel] Land of Mist and Snow."
The origin of the story, Macdonald said, comes from a line in Land of Mist and Snow, in which one of the characters, Captain William R. Sharps, USN, says, in a letter to Commodore Vanderbilt: "I found the lost ur-text of the Grey Book (in the wine cellar of a fortress in Carpatho-Ruthenia — an amusing story, worth telling over brandy and cigars, but not germane to my present communication), and bent my energies toward transcribing and translating those portions which had been purged from the younger MSS."
But the reader never does hear that "amusing story" in the course of the novel, Macdonald said. "In fact, I had no idea when writing the novel what the story was that he had to tell. But that line sat in the back of my mind and the story asked to be told."