Sunday, October 31, 2010

Two Jack-O-Lanterns


It's Halloween!

I'm posting this late Saturday night, scheduled to up up early Sunday morning, and I'm fresh back from a Halloween party where I dressed entirely in white with talcum powder in my hair and beard.  (I went as Winter.)  But before I go to bed, I thought I'd show you this year's jack-o-lanterns.  I always carve them myself and it's always a very big deal for me.
Above:  The serious one.  Below:  The frivolous one.  This is the first time I've tried shaving the pumpkin rather than carving it.  So long as I don't have to give up the traditional carving, I like it a lot.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

McSamhain Is Coming


I live in Roxborough, which is a blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia, just above Manayunk.  The sort of place where cops and carpenters live.  I'm comfortable here.  And every now and then one of my neighbors does something that makes me like them a lot.

Above:  Somebody a block or so down the street made this jack-o-lantern for Halloween.  I'm proud to live on Leverington Avenue.

And you probably didn't know that . . .

"Roxborough" and "Leverington" are both puns.  I'll have to explain that to you guys someday.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Stories


Sunday is Halloween -- my favorite holiday of the year, for all the obvious reasons and one you probably can't guess.  I'll tell you it on Monday.

In the meantime, this is the season for Halloween stories.  So I'll remind you that I have two appropriate works available on the Web.  The first is Hush and Hark! which can be found at the Drabblecast archives, beautifully read, immediately after a light news item.  Just click here.

The second is, of course, October Leaves, written word by word on autumn leaves, photographed, and posted onto Flickr.  You can find it here.   Click on the photo to go to slideshow.

And we have a winner . . .

The raffle for Fantastic Fiction at KGB, the monthly NYC reading series (and if you're the area, you should definitely check it out; it's one of the best) is over, and winner for the physical ownership of the manuscripts for three pieces of unpublished flash fiction written by me, as well as four years in which to publish them online, offline, in whatever form or forms suit him best is . . . Jacob Weisman, my friend and occasional publisher at Tachyon Publications.  Congratulations, Jacob!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Way of an Apology for Not Posting for Two Days

Those of you who have been with this blog from the beginning know that I only promise to post twice a week, on Fridays and Mondays.  I've been on such a roll this past year, however, posting almost every weekday, that my prolonged silence must look a little ominous.

The truth is rather disappointingly simple.  I've been working on a short story, "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again."  I began this story years ago, but it stalled out and I set it aside to age.  Periodically, I'd pick it up and give it another try, to little effect.  Then on Tuesday I started working on it and the plot tangles spontaneously unknotted and the structural difficulties all solved themselves.  So I've been working on and thinking about nothing else ever since.

But why -- I hear you ask -- such an ungodly long title?  Well, aside from the fact that it suits the story perfectly, I have of late grown impatient with the unvaryingly short and polite titles that are the fashion today.  The latest Asimov's, for example, has three one-word titles, a pair of two-word titles, and Gwendolyn Clare's "Ashes on the Water."  (Haven't read it yet, but I presume it's great.)  It's been a long time since such gorgeous monsters as "Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones" and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" walked the earth.  So I'm doing my little bit "to rectify the regime," as they say on Korean historical TV series.

When I stalled out on the story, it was called "The Stone of Loneliness."  I can't help suspecting that was part of the problem.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Orthopedic (Believe It Or Not) Horseshoes

I'm on the virtual air again!  Herb Kauderer and Alan Katerinsky interviewed me when I was at Confluence, and they've apparently assembled it into two separate shows for their online radio program called (implausible though that sounds) Orthopedic Horseshoes, which you can find online at Think Twice Radio.  Here's how they describe the shows:

Al & Herb have an extended conversation with Hugo, Nebula, WFA, and Sturgeon award-winning author Michael Swanwick. As the party evolves, they talk about "Foresight," reversed consciousness, 'Jack Faust,' the shortest chapter ever, Fritz Leiber, flash fiction, abecedaries, The Sleep of Reason, Goya's donkey, Clarion West, Tuckerization, Elena the Man-Hearted, winning his first Hugo, Jack Dann, Joe Haldeman, Samuel R. Delany, first moments with the big boys, telling Neil Gaiman stories, Terry Pratchett, signing autographs in China, the thatched hut of Du Fu, a tourist attraction for over a thousand years, it would be worth being fat if you could live in Chengdu, visiting the world, eventually getting some seniority, and a menagerie of pet peeves.  (29 minutes)

Hugo, Nebula, WFA, and Sturgeon award-winning author Michael Swanwick talks with Herb & Al about his travels through Russia, and the resultant stories. Michael tells stories about Darter & Surplus, Russian fans, flavors of Russian police, the aftermaths of WWII, Yekaterinburg, 'Dancing with Bears', post-utopian fiction, Fritz Leiber, Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser, "Coming Attractions", Libertarian Russia, the train across Siberia, and "Pushkin the American".  After the closing credits, hear an excerpt from Michael Swanwick's reading of "The Pearls of Byzantium" at the Confluence SF Convention. (52 minutes)

I haven't listened to the shows yet, so I am taking it on trust that Al and Herb haven't made me sound bad.  They seemed like nice guys, though.  And their descriptions make the shows sound interesting.

"The Pearls of Byzantium," incidentally, is a stand-alone story that I crafted from the forthcoming Dancing With Bears by condensing the early chapters, adding an ending totally at odds with what happens in the novel, and then recrafting the whole into a shapely and satisfying story.  This is a trick I learned from my old pal Jack Dann.

There are absolutely no plans to ever publish "The Pearls of Byzantium."  But I'll be reading it a couple of times before the novel is published.  I'll let you know when I do.

You can find Orthopedic Horseshoes here.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Leslie Howle, Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

I had the pleasant duty yesterday of accepting an award for my good pal, Leslie Howle.  It was the Last Drink Bird Head Award (long story behind that; short version: it was created by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer) for tireless energy.  Given, as they say, "in recognition of individuals who selflessly give of themselves for worthy causes, websites, or organizations."  Below is what I said in its entirety:

Leslie spent over 20 years working as Workshop Director for Clarion West, another three years working at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame as Senior Manager for Outreach and Education, and two more years working on the museum’s Hall of Fame Committee after leaving that position.  In 2006 she started her own non-profit dedicated to running a series of speculative fiction writing workshops and readings through Richard Hugo House and the University Book Store, and that highly successful program continues to this day.  She helps out with the annual Locus Awards Weekend and this year will head up programming for writers at Norwescon.   

The award is specifically fore "tireless energy."  I've seen Leslie absolutely exhausted.  But she never let that stop her.

Leslie didn't believe she was going to win, but I nagged her into writing a few words anyway.  Here's what she has to say:

First I want to thank all the little people.  No wait, I AM the little people!  When I was twelve, my older brother came home on leave from the Army with a box of primo science fiction and fantasy paperbacks.  Naturally I dragged the box out of his closet the minute he went back to the Army and consequently was exposed to radically new ideas and ways of thinking about the world and humanity at exactly the right age. I was never the same.  I was always a reader and a writer, but I became an educator and provocateur, and the experience of working with and being inspired by creative, wildly imaginative minds like your Michael, for instance, is what fuels my so-called tireless energy.

What I do is not so much a function of tireless energy as it is the fact that all of the talented writers, readers, artists, and other imagineers I’ve had the good fortune of working with and learning from stoke the fire that keeps my motor running. 

I love this community and am continually inspired to do what I can to help writers and promote their work.  We live in troubled times, and more than ever need science fiction and fantasy’s ability to serve as a politically subversive medium for commentary and  warning against possible futures.  I do this work because I believe that what all of you do goes beyond entertainment.  It’s important and meaningful. You hold a mirror up to humanity and ask who are we?  You ask what if? 

I believe in you and I got your back.  Thanks.

You can find full info on the LDBH Awards here.


Friday, October 22, 2010



I had a strange dream last night.  Well, my dreams are always strange.  Stranger than usual, I should have said.  In it, I was writing a letter to Eileen Gunn, as apparently I did on a regular basis.  I have no idea how the letters got to her.  It began:

Dear Eileen:

It's been over a year since I accidentally fell into this parallel world and found myself unable to return home.  The people here are all left-eyed, though none of them seem to be aware of this fact.  They are also largely right-handed, a fact to which they inexplicably attach some importance.  But what is most significant is their superiority in the field of electronics . . .

And boy are they superior!  They have computers you can hold in the palm of your hand.  They have wireless telephones that fit in a shirt pocket.  In my home reality, the best we can do are those little hand-held games which the alt-reality people had way back in the 1980s.

Most of the rest of the dream was tech stuff, finding a way to interface the superior alt-reality electronics to our inferior reality stuff, so the information could be passed along to uplift our electronica.

Ah, but then at the end of the dream, when the new tech made made it possible for me to be restored to home reality, I went looking for Eileen and found her in a small blue room with strings stretched from wall to wall and pendant on those strings slabs of asiago, emmenthal, longhorn . . .  Eileen stood surrounded by all this cheese-based information technology in an a data-trance, helplessly murmuring fractions of the data that was thundering through her traumatized brain.

Which was when I realized that our plan to update our reality's technology had gone too far, too fast.

And speaking of Homer . . .

Two Iliads in one month!  Two different performances of an ancient epic set in the ninth year of a seemingly endless war with no prospect of a happy ending ever.  I wonder what's going on.

Oh, yeah.

An Iliad, playing at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton until November 19, is a tour de force, a one-man retelling of the ancient epic.  Stephen Spinella  plays Homer as a restless nomadic storryteller, doomed to keep on telling his story while the world churns through war after war, learning nothing at all from it.

A little depresssing, if you think about it.  But well worth seeing.  I recommend it.

And I'm off again . . .

I'm gallavanting off to Capclave!  If you're going to be there either today or tomorrow, be sure to say hi.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Scene from the Twenenenty-Firiririrst CENNNNNtury!


Here's how you know you're not in the Twentieth Century anymore.  You're walking along the river or surfing the Intertubes when two young men go hurrying past, carrying a glowing pod.  What's going on? you ask.

And the answer . . . 

Nothing's going on.  Nothing at all.  Keep on moving.  Nothing to see here.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gamblers of the World, Unite!


I'm not here today.  I'm . . . all together, children . . . on the road again!  Never mind that.  While I'm gallavanting about (our next door neighbor Pat refers to Marianne and me as "the gallavanters"), I thought I'd share with you a photo of me from my old days as a commissar in the CCCP.

Speaking of which, have you bought your tickets for the KGB raffle yet?  The KGB Bar is a Classic Commie themed bar in the Village in NYC (the walls are painted red!) and Fantastic Fiction at KGB is a really quite splendid reading series which deserves your support.  Once a year, they raise money by selling one-dollar chances for a wide variety of prizes.  The best thing about which is that the tickets are prize-specific.  So if what you want is a tuckerization by Lucius Shepard, you needn't worry that you'll end up stuck with a tour of Tor Books by editor Liz Gorinsky.

Actually, that last one sounds pretty cool.  Tor Books is located in the historic Flatiron Building and the offices are a hive of activity as a great many inherently interesting people create books.  Plus, they've got a tremendous set of shelves of all their new releases (and Tor prints a significant percentage of all the books you most particularly want) which people they like are allowed to pick and choose from.

I wouldn't mention that last except that Liz specifies that he winner gets to leave with "as many books as you can carry."  So, on reflection, even if what you're after is the Zoe Van Gelder art on back of a Ray Vukcevich Manuscript, you should drop a buck on the tour. 

Because -- trust me on this one -- you don't own enough books.

You can find information about the raffle here and this year's remarkable list of prizes here.

Above:  In truth, the photo was taken by the astonishing Kyle Cassidy on his cell phone.  Kyle takes better pix on his cell phone than I could with a RolleiFlex and years of courses.  No idea how he does that.  None whatsoever. 


Monday, October 18, 2010

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Sean

Look what Marianne found among our family photos the other day!  It's a fumetto that Sean and Marianne and I made when the young man was considerably younger than he is now.  We'd completely forgotten doing this, but it was typical of a lot of fun stuff we used to do together.


With Apologies to Charles Addams


Sunday, October 17, 2010

LIGHT DRIFT! Tonight Only!


There I am looking cool and mysterious.  Last night, Marianne and I went down to the Schuylkill River, between Chestnut and Market to look at Light Drift, a three-night art installation.  Tonight is the last day, so if you want to see it, you'll have to hurry.

Here's the official explanation, taken from a post card somebody was kind enough to hand me:

LIGHT DRIFT is an interactive lighting installation which creates a field of reponsive and occupiable lighting elements along the edge of the Schuylkill River.

The lighting elements are shaped like orbs and are equipped with electronics that allow them to repond to the public and communicate with each other.  The orbs on land use sensors to detect the presence of a erson and relay a radio signal to the corresponding orbs in the water, allowing visitors to create and choreograph patterns of light in the river.  As viewers engage the orbs, the grid of lights in the water becomes an index of thea ctivities on land.  Light Drift brings people together through their interaction with the orbs, creating new connections along the river's edge.

The work is credited to My Studio / Howeler + Yoon Architecture.  You can find their website here, but you'll have to browse through a lot of different projects to find Light Drift.   And you can find an article about the installation here.

It's free, it goes from dusk to dawn, and come morning they'll take it all away.

When Marianne and I were there last night, the adults stared into the river, trying to gigure out the patterns of shifting light.  The children ran from chair-pod to chair-pod.  Little kids, it turns out, love to sit on things that light up.

Below:  Some more photos of the event, taken by M. C. Porter.  The last shot is of a backup pod being carried to a waiting kayak to replace a light which (as you may notice in the first photo) burned out.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Another Good Mail Day


Marianne and I spent the day with our friends Rosie and Demian Phillips, visiting various art museums and having a good time.  So today's post goes up a little late in the day.

But look what came in the mail!  Being a fantasist doesn't pay very well, but you get to meet some very cool people.

Above:  The packaged photographed in our garden.  Below:  Its contents.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Revisiting Poughkeepsie, Part 2: The Language of the Night


I dug out my tattered old paperback of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Language of the Night and re-read "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" to see how it was holding up, thirty-seven years after it was first published.

Why would I even wonder?  Well, for one thing the central conceit, preserved in the title, that Poughkeepsie stands in for everything that fantasy is not has been, ironically enough, disproved.  In 1988, Rachel Pollack published the absolutely wonderous Unquenchable Fire, a fantasy novel set in the aftermath of an irruption of the shamanistic universe into our world.  In it, when the man comes to read the electric meter, he also builds a shrine and sacrifices a mouse to keep the power flowing.  The cheerleaders in a homecoming parade march topless and smeared with blood -- terrifying maenads normalized into everyday American life.  It's an exhilarating work and no question about it core fantasy.

The novel is set in Poughkeepsie.  As is Pollack's later Temporary Agency, which I also strongly commend to your attention.

All this proves, of course, is that fantasy has grown and changed since the essay first appeared in 1973.  But I approached the essay prepared for anything.

The first thing I noticed was how much fantasy has changed in the last third of a century and how little fantasy was available then.  Le Guin acknowledged the tremendous debt that fantasy readers owed to Lin Carter for his Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, without which (at that time) you could not have claimed to have a serious fantasy genre at all.  And she consistently referred to her subject as "heroic fantasy," which was at the time the single best term available.

If you ever doubt the power that a name has to shape our thinking, consider only the following sentence, central to Le Guin's discussion of the language of fantasy:

Nobody who says "I told you so" has ever been, or ever will be a hero.
Ged, in the Earthsea books, started out as a hero-to-be.  But over the sequence of books, he grew out of it.  As Le Guin's art matured, she more and more came to distrust the very idea of heroes.  Yet, early on, she was thinking in those terms simply because the language told her to.

This is not a criticism, however.  Le Guin's essay does open a window into an earlier literary era, when fantasy readers had to scrabble through cardboard boxes stuck behind the "Occult" and "Children's" sections of used book stores, to feed their hunger.  But it invalidates none of what she was talking about.

What she was talking about was language and the ways in which it can be properly used to create a fantasy world that lives and breathes upon the page.  On which subject her language soared!  To a young aspiring fantasist, it was a clarion call to battle.

(And in that metaphor, we see again how a simple name, "heroic fantasy," can shape our responses.)

Accompanying her discussion of the ways language can be used in a fantasy are examples of ways it should not:  Archaicisms, false feeling, fake grammar, journalistic prose . . .  To many, many gonnabe writers, these few brief pages were worth any number of writing workshops.

To answer the question I first asked yesterday:  Yes, the essay holds up extremely well.  It would still be a very good starting place for someone trying to learn how to write fantasy.  In some ways fantasy has moved beyond it . . .  But to a very large degree it was Le Guin herself who changed the genre.

Which is why Aqueduct Press published 80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin (edited by Karen Joy Fowler and Debbie Notkin and priced at a very reasonable nineteen dollars in paperback) in the first place.

And speaking of mischievous Finns . . .

Years ago, at Finncon, a fan came up with a wicked idea for a practical joke: "We should get a fan with a very strong Finnish accent to call up our next prospective guest of honor and say, 'I am calling from Helsinki to inform you that you are to receive a very great honor."

"That's a funny idea," I said.  "But what science fiction writer could conceivably think he or she has a shot at the Nobel Prize?"

The fan smirked.  "Stanislaw Lem."

Sometime after that, I told this story to Gordon Van Gelder.  He smiled gently and said, "Or Ursula K. Le Guin.  But who would be so mean?"


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Revisiting Poughkeepsie, Part 1: 80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin


This came in the mail the other day.  80! Memories & Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin is a festschrift for the woman whom I suppose we shall now have to refer to as the grande dame of fantasy.  And of course ...

But wait, I hear some of you say.  Festschrift?

Fairly asked.  A festschrift is a collection of writings, a book, celebrating a particularly valued individual and presented to him or her while said luminary is still alive.  (If the book were gathered and published posthumously, it would be a gedenkenschrift. )  Because it's so much trouble to put together, it's normally reserved for people who are both outstanding in their chosen profession and greatly beloved.

Le Guin was about to turn eighty, and her friends got together to present her with exactly such a literary beast.  It contained stories, poems, essays, and front-of-church testimonials by such luminaries as Eileen Gunn, Gwynneth Jones, Karen Joy Fowler, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ellen Kushner, Nancy Kress, etc., etc., etc.  In the wake of what was probably a pretty good party, it's been published by Aqueduct Press, and members of the general public are allowed to buy and read it.

Now, either you want this book (I did and now I have it) or you don't, and you already know which camp you dwell within, and no amount of descriptive analysis will budge you one way or the other.  

So I'm not going to review the book.  Why bother?

However, I was inspired by Lisa Tuttle's heartfelt contribution, "'From Elfland to Poughkeepsie' and Back Again, or, I Think We're in Poughkeepsie Now, Toto," on how important a single seminal Le Guin essay was to her, to go back and revisit said essay.

I've been meaning to reread "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" for some time now.  It came out in 1973 when genre fantasy was a new phenomenon.  I read it shortly thereafter and was blown away by it.  "Yes!" I thought.  "She gets it!"  We were all just figuring out this new (though most of the texts worth reading were half a century old by then) phenomenon, and a lot of very silly things were being said and thought and written about it.  Le Guin's essay was not silly.  She understood fantasy and why it should be valued and she said some things that were very valuable to a young, unpublished writer who aspired to write the stuff himself.

Over a third of a century has passed, and there have been some remarkable changes.  I wondered how well the essay held up.

Unfortunately, I'm currently all on fire to work on "The Stone of Loneliness," a story I began several years ago and which suddenly and unexpectedly exploded back into life yesterday.  So I haven't the time to write down what I found out today.  I'll have to tell you tomorrow.

In the meantime, allow me to leave you with the three most terrifying words ever found at the end of a fantasy novel or, indeed, a blog post:



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stations of the Tide


For some reason, I've been having extraordinarily good luck with covers lately.  Just take a gander at what Tor commissioned for the upcoming reissue of Stations of the Tide.  Moody, evocative, romantic, and -- not that this matters half so much to readers as it does to authors -- accurately based on a scene in the novel.

So I am grateful to Tor's director Irene Gallo for commissioning it, and to cover designer Jamie Stafford-Hill for putting it all together.  But most especially to the artist, Thom Tenery, for the kind of creation that makes you pick up a book and read the first page, hoping against hope that it will be as good as the cover promises.

You can check out Tenery's website here.  Terrific stuff.  You'll forgive me, I hope, for thinking I got the best of the lot.


Monday, October 11, 2010

My Weekend in Rhinebeck


I had one heck of a great four days wandering up to Rhinebeck, New York, and back.  Marianne and I toured Storm King.  We dropped in on Opus 40.  We tromped through Dia: Beacon, staring at challenging art until our brains hurt.

And, oh yeah, we attended the wedding of my favorite goddaughter in all the universe.

Alicia Ma is my niece.  I've known her since she was an infant and thought I was the wittiest man in the world because I knew how to play peek-a-boo.  Now she's a grown woman and married.  It makes me feel old -- but in a good way.  I've known this beautiful and talented woman all her life.  That's an extraordinary privilege.

And over at the Commie bar . . .

The hosts of the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series (held in the KGB Bar in NYC, which is decorated with vintage communist posters and statuettes) are holding their annual fund-raiser.  It takes the form of a raffle.  Dozens of writers contribute prizes and you can buy one-dollar raffle tickets for the specific prize you want.

Let's say you really, really, really want the pre-submission draft printout of the first chapter of William Gibson's new novel, Zero History, signed and inscribed to you personally.  You can buy a chance specifically for that prize, rather than for the story critique by Nancy Kress.  (Nancy is, incidentally, so extremely acute on the mechanics of fiction as to leave me aghast with admiration.  And I am not an easy man to impress in such matters.)  Or, if you absolutely need Neil Gaiman's used keyboard, to infuse magic into your computer, you can improved the odds by buying lots and lots of chances.

Or you might look for something cool by a writer who's not terribly well-known yet but will later turn out to be the new Robert Heinlein.  That way, your chances of winning go way up, as do your bragging rights later on.

I myself have contributed three pieces of unpublished flash fiction.  This includes the original manuscripts, autographed, and also the right to publish -- under my name --  "Fish Story," "The Last Astronauts," and "Your Dream Book WIth Lucky Numbers" on your blog or Webpage or Facebook page or fanzine or whatever.  Or keep them to yourself, if you prefer.  I pledge not to publish the stories myself before 2015, so you'll have exclusive use of them for years.  The stories are 196, 281, and 407 words long respectively.

Click here for the Fantastic Fiction at KGB site.  Or here for the list of prizes.  I guarantee you that there's something there you want.

Above:  My brother-in-law Shieh-ya Ma, Alicia, my sister Pat.  Not shown in the picture is Alicia's husband, Kevin Bolz.  He's an impressive young man and I like him.  


Friday, October 8, 2010

Something I Will NEVER Have In My House


Greetings from Rhinebeck, New York!  Yes, Marianne and I are on the road yet again.  Our next-door neighbor Pat refers to us as "the gallivanters."

On the way here we stopped in at Opus 40 to enjoy October's bright blue weather and clamber all over that wonderful frog-nurturing and quarry-filling sculpture.  Before his premature death in 1976, accidentally crushed by a slab of stone, sculptor Harvey Fite created many stone statues, one enduring work of what would later come to be known as landscape art, and a number of minor whimsies.   Two of which are shown above.

I love those things!  But, as you've observed yourself if you've ever visited my house, there are no swan-shaped anythings  anywhere to be seen.  That's because with a name like mine, if you break discipline once, you'll put it into people's heads that you're a collector and you'll be given more and more swan-shaped trash until the house is entirely full and there's nothing to be done but to move to a foreign land and change your name.

Still.  Clever bit of found art, eh?


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Storm King


On the road again!  Tonight I'm in Saugertes, which inevitably means that I stopped at Storm King along the way.  Storm King is located in Mountainville, New York, and is an outdoor museum of modern and postmodern sculpture.  If you ever have the chance to miss it, by all means don't.

My favorite sculpture is Andy Goldsworthy's Wall That Went for a Walk.  Sauntering from the information center, guided by their site map, you notice along one side of the path an old and fallen stone wall of the sort that is ubiquitous through that part of the country.  Then, slowly, it raises itself up and becomes a sturdy, five-foot-tall dry stone wall.  As it progresses, it begins to wander, curving gracefully one way and then the other.  Then it plunges downslope through the woods.  As it does, it begins curving back and forth, to one side of trees and then the other, more and more wildly, more and more tightly, like a boy running down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, the wall plunges into the water of a pond and disappears.

At the far side of the pond, the wall reappears again and runs straight as a rule up a meadowed slope and then across the fields.

The speed of the thing is dizzying.

Above:  You can't see it, but at the very last bit of the wall before it disappeared underwater were two turtles, sunning themselves.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fictions Critical and Otherwise

I appear to be extraordinarily in print.  In addition to October Leaves on Flickr, there's "Steadfast Castle" in F&SF and "Libertarian Russia" in Asimov's.  And now, on Abyss & Apex, there's "Spirits in the Night, a work of flash fiction.  

You can go directly to the story by clicking here.  But why would you?  Instead, go to the home page of the current issue and check out all the fiction by clicking here.

To celebrate the appearance of "Spirits in the Night," I present the recipe for the drink formally known as a Whisky MacDonald, though it is almost inevitably shortened to Whisky Mac:

Two shots blended whisky 
One shot green ginger wine (most commonly Crabbie's or Stone's)
No ice

And that's it.  I discovered this drink when I was in Edinburgh this summer, and it's perfect with autumn weather.  American bartenders appear to have never heard of it, though it's a mainstay in Scotland.

And meanwhile, over at The Endless Bookshelf . . . 

Bookman Henry Wessells, my friend and sometimes publisher, has written a short essay on Wendy Walker's critical fictions.  Critical fictions being one of his particular interests.  (He's been known to write them himself.)

And exactly what is a critical fiction?  Henry proposes his own working definition:

fiction that works as fiction while simultaneously articulating a critical response to a literary work, and citing phrases and images from the earlier work to new ends ; looking at familiar works in unfamiliar light, to bring out responses and ideas one didn’t know that one didn’t know. I would distinguish the critical fiction, which takes an existing literary work as a point of departure — from the pastiche, which is fundamentally imitative or continuative of the earlier work

And now you know whether you wish to read the whole thing or not.  You can find it here.


Monday, October 4, 2010



I have a gift for you today.  I've just posted a Halloween story online.  It's a good old-fashioned, Bradburyesque tale presented in a format that may well be unique.

Unique how, you wonder?  I'm glad you asked.

I wrote October Leaves last fall, a word at a time, on autumn leaves.  I photographed the leaves where I found them -- in parks and cemeteries and city streets --  and then left them where they lay, possibly to be found by puzzled passers-by.  To indicate paragraph breaks, I used photos of gravestones from historic Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Now I've posted the photos, in order, on Flickr.  You can go there and read the entire story for free.

October Leaves can be found at:

Or just click here.

And for those of us who have a restless urge to buy books . . .

October Leaves is also available as a physical book.  You can go to Blurb Books ( and run a search on "Michael Swanwick."  Or you can go straight to the book by clicking here.  Be sure to check out the preview first.

Above:  The cover photo for the book.  It's the only picture where the words are spelled out a letter at a time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Beauty of Entropy


I'm on the road again!  Yeah, it was a last-minute decision.  But when duty calls, you and I sigh and roll up our sleeves.  That's just the kind of people we are.

But there'll be interesting stuff galore next week.  Guaranteed!  See you then.

Above:  It's raining in my neighborhood.  It's also yard saling.  And here's the strangely beautiful result.  It takes a heck of a lotta canvas to get a yard moving.  But when it's under weigh, cresting the wave of a city hill, there's no sight like it.