Monday, December 30, 2013

Tom Purdom, Lover & Fighter


It's coming soon, the book I've spent many years yearning for -- Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons, the first collection of Tom Purdom's short fiction.

How highly do I regard Tom's fiction?  So highly that I wrote the introduction to the collection -- and I hate writing introductions.  They're a lot of work.  But these stories deserve enormous praise, so I was glad to do it.

I'll be posting more about this collection as it comes available.  In the meantime, here's one paragraph from my introduction:

The very best example of this is the first story in this book, “Fossil Games,”  a tale of posthumans whose intelligence is so highly enhanced that in conversation they’ll switch between machine-generated and music-based languages in order to convey nuances of mood and yet so outclassed by their contemporaries that they must flee Earth in search of a sanctuary for inferior minds.  It is a cascade of brilliant ideas worthy of Greg Egan or Stephen Baxter at their best.  On my first reading, I could all but hear the plates of my skull creaking as my brain swelled with the effort of following his characters’ thinking.  Yet the writing is smooth and the narrative flows naturally from beginning to end.  It is a genuine tour de force and a terrific introduction to the pleasures of Purdom’s fiction.

And here's the table of contents:
       Introduction by Michael Swanwick
        “Fossil Games”
        “Haggle Chips”
        “Dragon Drill” “Canary Land”
        “Research Project”
        “Bonding with Morry”
        “A Response from EST17”
        “The Path of the Transgressor”
        “The Mists of Time”

Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons will be available in print on demand and e-book formats from Fantastic Books.  will be launched in February at Boskone in Boston.  Tom Purdom will be in attendance, so if you're going to be there, you really should pick up a copy and get it autographed. 

And on an unrelated note . . .

The judging for this year's Godless Atheist Christmas Card Competition is winding down.  The results will be posted here, as they come available.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

[dream diary]

December 28, 2013

In my dreams, I wrote:

Olive Oyl at the Orgy

     The old gal was game.  But it was Popeye who was the only one standing at the end.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Working With Mariella Coudy


I'm in print again!  David Hartwell's anthology, Year's Best SF 18, arrived in yesterday's mail and it contains my story "The Woman Who Shook the World Tree."

The pleasures of writing a story differ from the pleasures of reading one.  For me, the chief pleasure in this work was getting to work with the story's protagonist, Mariella Coudy.

The story begins:  She was not a pretty child.  Nor did her appearance improve with age.  "You'd better get yourself a good education," her mother would say, alaughing.  "Because you're sure not going to get by on your looks."  But that's a misdirection.  What makes Mariella's life so difficult is not her looks -- there are tons of women who get all the romance, sex, and love they want without being at all beautiful -- or her distant parents, but her genius.  She is simply so far beyond the likes of you and me that she's almost a different, one-woman species.

So half the joy of writing this work was, for me, getting to inhabit the mind of a world-class genius and to pretend, briefly, that I could follow her thoughts.  But the other half lay in getting to create a woman of genius who was as badly socialized and as little aware of it as the worst of her male peers.

Who can forget the mathematician Paul Erdős discovered in the kitchen at 3 a. m., holding a carton of orange juice and staring baffled at the stuff puddling around his feet because he'd wanted a drink and tried to open the carton by stabbing its bottom with a steak knife?  His hosts put up with behavior like this because  of the quality of work he would do while he was visiting.  But women almost never get to be so clueless and yet admired.

I created one who was.  And then, in gratitude for her being such a lovely character, I gave Mariella Coudy everything she'd always thought she'd never have.

An "Erdős number" is a half-serious calculation of one's professional closeness to the man.  Those who have collaborated on a paper with him have an Erdős number of 1, those who haven't but have collaborated with someone who collaborated with him have an Erdős number of 2.  And so on.

I'm not a mathematician and so I have no Erdős number at all.  But I have a Mariella Coudy number of 1.  I believe I'm the only person in the world who can say that.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Lost In Space (the odd distinction Allen Steele and I Share)


Over on io9, there's a nifty article  by Emily Stamm and Charlie Jane Anders titled The Great Lost Manuscripts of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  It leaves out the original Riverworld manuscript, which Philip Jose Farmer later claimed had an eminently satisfying ending which he'd completely forgotten by the time he rewrote it and penned the subsequent sequels.  But otherwise, it hits the high points.

Alas, most of the lost manuscripts deserved to be lost.  Given how robust the SF short fiction market of the 1930s and 1940s was, any story that Isaac Asimov couldn't sell had to be pretty dire.  And Robert A. Heinlein spent decades tracking down and destroying every copy of his first novel, We The Living, he could find.  (When it was posthumously published, it turned out to contain most of the ideas that later made his reputation in a tedious and didactic plot.)

When Jules Verne's long-lost novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was turned down by his publisher as being far too unlikely, was finally published however, it turned out to contain an astonishing number of perfectly accurate predictions.  His record there may have been better than that of H. G. Wells.  Which would have pleased Verne mightly.

The year the book was published, my friend Allen Steele and I independently recommended it for the Nebula Award.  Making us the only two human beings in history ever to vote for Verne for a Nebula.

We have mingled blood, Allen, and shall always be brothers.

You can read the article here.


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Universe Is Green!


How common is life in the universe?  Nobody can say.  The problem is that when we address the question, we have a sample of exactly one biome.  Which means that any conclusions we draw have a standard deviance of plus or minus infinity.

But we can make a pretty good statistical stab at how many Earth-sized planets there are circling Sol-like suns within the "Goldilocks zone," where it's neither too hot nor too cold for large amounts of liquid water to exist on the surface.

CBC News reported, about a month and a half ago, that a recent study took a Kepler telescope study of a slice of 42,000 stars in our galaxy, crunched numbers, and then extrapolated for the entire Milky Way Galaxy.  There are roughly 200 billion stars in the MWG, of which 40 billion are pretty much like our own sun.  Based on what they saw, the scientists estimate that 22 percent of those stars have Earth-like planets that could harbor life.

Using numbers a little more precise than those cited above, that comes to 8.8 billion Earthlike worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.  Which is, as Carl Sagan liked to point out, only one of billions and billions of galaxies in the universe.

What does this mean as far as the existence of life goes?  Well, when you have a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, you're not allowed to make wild surmises.  Which is why there are science fiction writers.

And so, by the awesome power invested in me as a science fiction writer, I am able to say:  God is not only good but also generous.  The galaxies are green.

Somewhere out there, right now, somebody on a planet you've never seen is wondering if we exist too.

You can read the article here.  Or you can just go outside tonight and stare at the stars in silence.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Compleat (To Date) Darger & Surplus


I recently received a letter from a fan asking for a complete listing of my Darger & Surplus stories, and where they can be found.  I don't believe this information is available elsewhere on the Web, so I thought I'd share it here:

There are three published stories:

          The Dog Said Bow-Wow
           The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport
           Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play

All of which are in my Tachyon Publications collection, The Dog Said Bow-Wow.

In addition, there is a set of four sequential short-shorts:

            Smoke and Mirrors: Four Scenes from the Postutopian Future

This has not been collected.  It originally appeared in Live Without a Net, edited by Lou Anders.  It was also published by Dragonstairs Press as a set of four small, hand-sewn, signed and numbered chapbooks:

            American Cigarettes 
             Song of the Lorelei
             The Brain-Baron  
             The Nature of Mirrors 

The Brain-Baron is sold out.  The other three are still available for four dollars apiece.  You can find Dragonstairs here.

Dragonstairs Press, incidentally, is the nano-publishing juggernaut of my wife, Marianne Porter.

There is a new story forthcoming:

              Tawny Petticoats

This chronicles the New Orleans adventures of Darger & Surplus and is scheduled to appear soon in Rogues, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. 

And there are two novels:

              Dancing With Bears

This chronicles how Darger & Surplus finally reach Moscow and what happens then.  It  came out in 2011 from Night Shade Press

              Chasing the Phoenix

This chronicles how Darger & Surplus accidentally conquered China. I recently turned in to my agent.  So a good guess is that it will appear late in 2014 or early in 2015.

There are also a few partially-written Darger & Surplus adventures which I hope to find the time to complete in the coming year.  There aren't as many short stories as I could wish for -- certainly not enough for a collection -- but in time there will be.


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Farewell to Rosemary


I learned the sad news an hour ago:  Rosemary Wolfe, Gene's wife, died over the weekend.

Gene Wolfe is, for good and sufficient reasons, much beloved in the science fiction community.  So too was Rosemary.  I did not know her well -- I chatted with her only a few times -- but everybody who did spoke of her with genuine affection.

Rosemary had serious medical problems, which made the past many years difficult for her and her beloved husband.  They also made it obvious how deeply and profoundly he loved her.  They two were devoted to each other.

If I start reflecting on the nature of a good marriage and what it means to the two people involved, we'll be here forever.  So instead, I'd like to offer up in Rosemary's memory, the smallest of recollections:

Some years back, Readercon celebrated its 20th anniversary and, as part of the ceremonies, every guest of honor they'd ever had was called up on stage in reverse order:  the most recent first and so on, all the way to their very first goh, Gene Wolfe.  I was somewhere in the middle of the mob.

When Gene's name was announced, I swear that I was the second person on his feet.  The first was Michael Bishop, appropriately enough, a guy whose heart is as big as they come.  Everybody on stage rose up, pretty much simultaneously, followed almost immediately by everybody else in the room.  It was the most heartfelt standing ovation I've ever seen -- and I've seen some that would bring tears to your eyes.

So far as I could see, there was only one person in the hall who wasn't standing -- and that was because Rosemary's health wouldn't allow it.  But I was watching her and she was the happiest person there.  She glowed.  And -- I swear I could tell -- she wasn't basking in reflected glory.  She was simply happy that the man she loved was being honored so.

That's how I'll always remember her.

God bless you and keep you, Rosemary.   I'm sure you're safe in His care now.


Friday, December 13, 2013

One Heckuva Depressing Projection


As always, I'm on the road again.  I'm tapping out this blog post late at night in a Days Inn room in Western Pennsylvania, so this will be brief.

Above, courtesy of the Planetary Society is a chart showing what's happening to NASA's planetary research budget both now and in the near future.  This is what happens when you have a Democratic president who doesn't think space research is important and a Republican Party that thinks anything the government spends money on is bad.

You can find the Planetary Society's exposition of the above chart here.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Parable of the Creche


It's Christmas season and that means it's time for my annual telling of . . .

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season.  It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy.  The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ Child, and the animals were a couple of feet high at best, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them.  But it was loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing in front of the creche, admiring it.  Sometimes they brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park was publicly owned, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course.  Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement.

So the kind people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in.  They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all.

But did this make us happy?  It did not.   The creche was just not the same, located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians.

I was in a local tappie, shortly after the adoption, and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas!"

And while I'm talking about the holidays . . .

I might as well remind you that Marianne's nano-industrial complex, Dragonstairs Press has put last year's Christmas chapbook up for sale.  Every year since 2011, she's commissioned me to write three seasonal works of flash fiction for a holiday chapbook which she designs, assembles, and hand-sews in a signed limited edition of 100. The bulk of these go out to friends of the Press.  Those that are left over go up for sale a year later.

Last year's Yuletide chapbook, Midwinter Elves, started out with thirty copies available for sale, but a lot of them have gone into the mail already.  The original Solstice chapbook, It Came Upon A Midnight, was down to nine copies when last I checked.

The perfect stocking stuffer for that bookish Significant Other of yours.  Unless s/he's a collector, in which case you're going to be in big trouble if it get wrinkled.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Midwinter Elves! From Dragonstairs Press!


Every year, for almost a 33rd of a century, Marianne has commissioned me to write three flash winter tales for a chapbook that Dragonstairs Press sends to its particular friends at Solsticetide.  Then, a year later, those few chapbooks remaining are put on sale to the general public.

Yesterday, Midwinter Elves: Three Brief Midwinter Tales, the second Solstice chapbook, went on sale.  It was published in an edition of one hundred hand-stitched, signed, and numbered copies, of which thirty are still available.  And it costs only five dollars.

The three stories are "Cookie Elves," "Adam's Third Wife," and "Meryons."

There are also a limited number left of the first chapbook,  It Came Upon a Midnight: Three Brief Midwinter Tales.  Also five dollars apiece.

The three stories are "Snowflake People," "Mrs. Claus," and "Manger Animals."

Either or both are perfect for that obsessive bibliophile on your Christmas list.

And that's the end of the commercial.  You can find the Dragonstairs Press website here.

And why, you ask, are these collectible limited edition works so cheap?

When Marianne started making limited edition, lovingly crafted chapbooks, I asked a friend who knew the economics of small presses how much she should charge for them.  "Fifty dollars apiece!" he said cheerfully.  "Anything less and the real collectors won't take it seriously."

I told this to Marianne and she was horrified.

"I believe in the Beanie Babies theory of collectibles," she said.  "Price them cheap enough for an impulse buy.  Let them go out of print.  And whoever bought them first can reap the profits."

"You can make a lot more money the other way."

"I don't care," she said.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

my dream diary - 2

December 6, 2013

Of this song, sung by Johnny Cash, all I could remember on awakening were the following lines:

Before the jury, on his knees,
He said, "Your honor, if it please,
I have no option now but God's own truth.
I'll show you there's no villain here
And that there's but one thing to fear --
Today's disaffected, misdirected youth."

Note:  this is, I think, the first time I've ever written song lyrics in my sleep.  Though I occasionally manage doggerel. And it almost scans!


Friday, December 6, 2013

The Price of Success


There are stories you read once, nod approvingly, and then promptly forget both the title and the author, because you don't realize at the time you're going to be quoting that work for the rest of your life.  As, for example, the one I read in (I think) Analog years ago, where a man realizes that the bureaucratic system for rewarding excellence in science and technology might as well have been created by hostile aliens to keep our technology backwards.  He mentions this idea to a colleague who enthusiastically promotes it -- and finds himself admired, feted, promoted, organizing conferences on the notion . . . and not actually getting anything substantive done with it.  Particularly nice was that, though it was never explicitly stated, by story's end the reader had reached the conclusion that the system was created by hostile aliens, and doing a bang-up job of holding back progress as well!

Something like that happens in literature too.  When Doris Lessing heard she'd won the Nobel Prize, she snapped, "Oh, Christ!"  She just wanted to write, and here the world was heaping distraction on her head, and she was going to lose a couple of months dealing with it all.  

I am far from being as successful as Ms Lessing.  But I must be doing pretty well, because I keep getting invitations to write incidental nonfiction -- guest of honor profiles for convention books, introductions for collections, and the like -- and, believe me, they take up a lot of time.

Nor are they things I can turn down.  An essay on R. A. Lafferty?  An introduction for Tom Purdom?  A blurb for Gene Wolfe or Eileen Gunn?  How could I not want my name associated with these guys?  Just being asked is like receiving a little medal of merit.  I'm working on three such at the moment.

I say all this not in order to whinge, but to advise young writers:  Right now, while nobody is asking, work on your non-fiction skills.  Teach yourself to think clearly and to write swiftly and well.  You'll thank yourself for that, down the line.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Grand Master Chip!


SFWA has just announced that the 2013 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award will go to Samuel R. Delany!  This is an award meant to be given to people who obviously, blatantly deserve it.  People like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe . . . and Chip (as his friends call him).  So I don't think anybody had any doubt that would happen sooner or later.  But sooner is better.

I had the good fortune of discovering Chip's works early in his career and relatively late in my pre-career.  The Einstein Intersection shaped my writings-to-be in ways that will never be mapped out and may in fact be responsible for my fondness for creating works that sprawl across the boundaries of genre without concern for what they properly "should" be.  I've been following his works, both of fiction and of criticism, with enormous joy ever since.

Just how important is Chip to science fiction?  More so even than most of his admirers -- and they are a fervent lot -- realize.  Some years ago, my pal Gardner Dozois put together two anthologies of SF, one titled The Good Old Stuff and the other The Good New Stuff.  The first was to introduce the virtues of classic SF (what might be and once was called the Old Wave) to a new generation of readers.  The second was to highlight the virtues of those who came later (post New Wave, mostly).  Afterward, he told me that in his researches it became obvious that every writer in the first book had in some way or another been influenced by Robert A. Heinlein.  Those of the second had all been influenced by Chip.

You want specifics, but alas I do not have the time to write the book explicating them.  So I will only observe that John W. Campbell once observed that you could have too much innovation in a story, that if everything is new and bright and interesting that distracts from the central thesis of the work.  But Chip said no to that.  Interesting people, interesting worlds, interesting ideas, prose that feels free to turn a handspring if it feels like it.

Science fiction got a lot more interesting when Chip came into it.  As a reader, I just want to say:  Thank you, Chip.  I appreciate that.

Click here for SFWA's press release.

Above:  God in His library.  The "real" Samuel R. Delany is actually a very pleasant man, easy to get along with, great company.  If you haven't met him, I hope that someday you do.


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Only Good Reason to Become a Writer


One of the pleasures of living in one of the Mid-Atlantic states is that any time the urge seizes one to see a bald eagle, all that is necessary is to hop in a car and drive to Conowingo Dam.  Park in the convenient lot, peer about to see where the guys with the really really really big telephoto lenses are pointing their cameras, and there they are.

As am I.

Young writers, the next time somebody points out to you that the chances of making a living writing are vanishingly small, that the same skills would set you up good in advertising, and that none of your heroes died rich, consider this . . .  It's a Monday morning and I feel like looking at eagles.  So I will.


Friday, November 29, 2013

Losing Our Literary History


If you want to be terrified by cultural ignorance, you have only to go to YouTube, where an activist went to four major universities with a camera and asked random students what the Holocaust was, what nation Adolph Hitler led, and whether they could define genocide.  One after another, bright and involved students failed to come anywhere near the truth.  (You can find the film here; the questioning begins at 2:22 and I found I couldn't stand to watch very much of it.)

I mention that in order to put this post into perspective.  I'm about to lament how a working knowledge of the history of science fiction and/or fantasy, which used to be common in both genres, has become a rare and endangered thing.  But I don't want to overstate my case.  Compared to well-educated young people smiling in embarrassment and saying, "Gee, I ought to know this," or "1800?" when asked when the Holocaust occurred, this is small potatoes indeed.


Over on Facebook, somebody reported attending a panel of fantasy novelists at Comic Con where a reader asked if any of them were influenced by Lord Dunsany.  None of the writers had ever heard of him.

Once upon a time -- long, long ago in the 1970s -- all science fiction writers and most fans knew the history of the SF genre inside-out.  Lester Del Rey's terrible (and astonishingly sexist; but it would have been a terrible story even if somehow the sexism could've been magicked out of it) "Helen O'Loy" had been read everybody -- because it was a significant work in the evolution of the genre.

Fantasy fans and writers had an even easier time of it, because there was so little classic fantasy back then.  You read the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series as they were reissued under the editorship of Lin Carter,  E. R. Eddison's books, the Gormenghast trilogy, maybe the Conan books, a handful of others and you were done.

At the time I sold my first story, I had read pretty much every important work of science fiction and fantasy ever written.  As had pretty much every writer before me.

Today that's not possible.  Amid the great avalanche of genre being published every year are enough genuinely good books to keep even the most voracious reader satisfied, without having to dip into the past.  But it would be a mistake.

I'm not going to mourn the passage of a more innocent time:  Believe me, we would have loved to have all these new books available back then.  But ask yourself this . . .

Who's more likely to come up with something brilliantly unexpected:  writer who've fed their brains with a steady diet of contemporary fantasy and SF or those who've read Dunsany, Mirrlees, and the other great outliers, and thus has an idea of exactly how strange and varied fantasy can be?


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Abstinence and Thanksgiving


Today is set aside for all of us to express our gratitude for what we have.  Though it is religious in origin, nonbelievers are not excluded.  This is the one day of the year when the neediest are assured of a good meal.  It is a day when people who have little invite friends who have less to dine.  It is not -- thank God! -- a holiday associated with any political party.  So we can all enjoy each other's presence at the table, whomever we may happen to be and whomever we may happen to vote for.

I will spend today with family.  I will think of everything I am grateful for, from oxygen to science fiction.

And I will not go onto the Web.  This blogpost was written last night to be posted today.

Happy Thanksgiving!  God bless you all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

House of Dreams


Fresh out today from -- which is, come to think, a House of Dreams in the positive sense -- is the latest installment in my Mongolian Wizard series . . . House of Dreams.  In this story, the Phony War is over,  Ritter finds himself in a tighter fix than any he's faced before, and the source of the Mongolian Wizard's power begins to come clear.

For the fourth time, the series has an illustration by Gregory Manchess. and for the fourth time, I couldn't possibly be happier.  I love the cold, wintry quality of this one.

You can read "House of Dreams" here.

By now, it should be clear that I plan to tell the story of the entire wizards' war through the eyes of  Kapitänleutnant Franz-Karl Ritter and his superior, Sir  Tobias Gracchus Willoughby-Quirk.  I have the story arc roughed out through the end of the war and one story beyond.  It's a fun project, if a touch dark, and I look forward to the next several years working on it.

And let us not forget . . .
Janis Ian's Pearl Foundation charity auction continues apace.  The personalized poem by Jane Yolen (let me repeat that -- Jane Yolen could write a poem about you!) is still in the affordable range.  As is my own story in a bottle.  Christmas is coming, and somebody you love a lot would be amazed by something on that list.  Go take a look.

You can find the auction here.

And also . . .

Dragonstairs Press is still selling my 3"x3" accordion folded story, Tumbling.  Marianne commissioned me to write this story, specifying that it should be about Lizzie O'Brien, possibly her favorite character among all those I've written.  (Every now and then she urges me to write the Lizzie O'Brien YA novel I've got on the back burner.)  What could I do but obey?  I love that woman.

You can find the Dragonstairs site here.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

my dream diary - 1


I'm experimenting here.  For only the second time in my life, I'm keeping a dream diary.  (Excerpts from my first were published as "Lord Vacant on the Boulevard of Naked Angels." in Readercon's program book, back when I was guest of honor.) This time, I thought I'd keep it online.  Because some people won't be at all interested in this, I promise to mark these entries clearly and not to post them on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, my regular posting days.

Inevitably, this will be an irregular feature.  We'll see how long I can maintain it.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013:

A reluctant guide was leading me through a vast and rambling abandoned house, all early 20th-century with heavy wood framed doors and the like, thickly overpainted, mostly in beige or white, some rooms empty and others retaining their furnishings.  Moving from room to passage to room took one through different alternate worlds, some of which were dangerous, which is why my guide was so reluctant.

We didn't get far.  In an empty kitchen, a woman ducked through one doorway and looked about, clearly delighted with the room.  She was slim, in her twenties or thirties, well dressed in flats, skirt, blouse and vest, and easily nine feet tall.  My guide pulled me back into the shadows before she could notice us.  Silently, we slipped out and down the hall.

The next room we came to contained perhaps eight or so sets of lawyers' stack bookcases, filled with old, well-read books.  A handful of people were standing about, silently browsing.  My guide heaved a sigh of relief.  Evidently this was a safe room.  Perhaps he also knew that I would be unlikely to go exploring further today.

The glass doors of the nearest case were almost covered with photographs and notes that explorers had pasted to them.  Ignoring these, I began going through the books.  Immediately, I was struck by a series of thin matching volumes giving the history of a city named Faran:  "Faran was never very important," my guide explained, "until it was destroyed by fire during World War II.  Now it haunts our culture's imagination."

Comment:  The house was very similar to an abandoned factory I broke into in three or so dreams earlier this year.  I hope I get to revisit it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013:

I was ending a visit to Ellen Kushner, who was writer in residence at a university, when she urged me to stop by the deli and have one of my novels interpreted as a hoagie.  This was done with verve and skill by Lawrence Person who made a hoagie so large that when it came time to slice it in two, he had to lean on the break with both forearms to compact the thing to manageable dimensions.  Then it was fed to one of the bald eagles that frequented the campus.  As it was explained to me, if the eagle came back for more, my novel would prosper.  If the hoagie became one of its favorites, it would do very well indeed.

I did not see the hoagie offered to the eagle.  But I had no doubt it would be popular, because Lawrence had put a great deal of tuna fish into it.

Comment:  Ellen Kusher is now one of the very few people, other than family, to appear more than once in my dreams.  The last time, she was spontaneously conducting a big jazz brand at a party with fellow guests Isaac Asimov and Frank Sinatra.  I saw her through the windows from the street, but rather than intrude on her happiness kept on going.

Friday, November 22, 2013:

Of a night's worth of dreams, all I remembered upon awakening were two words:  Ruffle duss.

Comment:  According to the OED, "duss" is not a word in the English language.  


Monday, November 25, 2013

The Emperor's Crystal


Here's something nifty that came in the mail just the other day:  The Emperor's Crystal by Lord Dunsany.   This is volume II of Lost Tales, the Pegana Press series of chapbooks reprinting uncollected short fiction of Lord Dunsany for the first time.

I received The Emperor's Crystal because I'd contributed an introduction to Lost Tales, Vol. I.  The new chapbook contains an admirable introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, one of the world's foremost authorities on Lord Dunsany and the only person I know who's actually been to Dunsany Castle, a never-before-published drawing by Dunsany himself, and nine stories by the master fantasist, one of which, "The Secret Order," is published here for the first time ever.

There are two groups of people who will be interested in this:  Dunsany completists and connoisseurs of fine printing.  For the latter, I will mention that the chapbook is folio bound with sky blue French paper and hand sewn in two color Irish linen thread. It is typeset with Goudy Franciscan & Friar Typefaces in 1920 Era Black Ink for Text & Reflex Blue for Ornaments and Titles. 

For the rest of us, I will say only that the paper is gorgeous and the printing is too.  Running one's fingertips over the page is a tactile pleasure.  All the work, including the typesetting is done by hand.  And it is published in an edition strictly limited to 92 printed copies.

Those who are likely to buy this book -- and you know who you are -- already know what this sort of thing costs.  The rest of us may turn pale at the thought of spending $110 for a chapbook or $160 for the hardbound (gray cotton cloth cover with inset pastedown and tiger end papers from Nepal) edition.  But that is, as I  said, what this sort of thing costs.

How pleasant to own a copy, though!  I'm extremely happy for myself.

You can order this or one of several other infinitely desirable works from Pegana Press here.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Way of Zatoichi.

In the New York Times this morning, an explanation of the strange, backhanded grip used by the blind Zatoichi in a series of samurai movies:

"When you grip a sword like that, it dramatically reduces your distance, so you have to engage your opponent very closely," he said.  "If you notice in the fight scenes, he is basically right up against them.  It's a style that actually works out pretty well in close, cramped quarters."

(Where, it is added, samurai employing traditional wide swings are at a disadvantage.)

Somebody went to a lot of trouble to work all that out . . . And then didn't say a word about it in any of the 25 movies.

Are you paying attention, young writers?  Expend the effort to get everything in your stories absolutely right.  But mention only as much as the reader absolutely needs to know.


Friday, November 22, 2013

The Evolution of a Writer's Reading


Our reading habits evolve over our lifetimes.  As a child, I compulsively read the backs of cereal boxes, even when I already knew what they said.  As an adult in my twenties, I read every work of genre I could get my hands on.  I liked Ursula K. Le Guin's work more than I did the Brak the Barbarian books.  But I read 'em both.

Being published, however, works a radical change on your reading habits.  You grow more selective in what you'll read.  I read fewer and fewer badly-written books.  I remember the terrible sensation I had in my thirties when I received something like twenty books in the mail on one day (I was on the Nebula Jury then; story for another day) and realized that I didn't want to read them all.

The process continued.  In my early fifties, I took a look around my house one day and realized that I never would get around to reading all the books I already owned, though they were all books I had sought out for that very purpose.

Today, I find it hard to read anything I might conceivably have written myself.  What would be the point?

This is one of the shaping processes of a writer's life that nobody ever talks about.  It is a common fate for writers to find themselves reading better and better work, until they exist only on a rarefied diet of Proust and Gaddis.  In his old age, James Branch Cabell wrote an essay explaining that he no longer enjoyed any reading other than certain classic works -- and only certain passages from those.

This is, however, a process to be resisted with all one's might.  Many of our great writers in their old age ceased reading anything new and from there proceeded to cease writing anything new, and so became once-great writers.  It is not a necessary progression.  I know writers who continued reading new and unfamiliar fiction into their own age and kept themselves as literarily spry as Old Father William in consequence.

But to do so, the aging writer has to make an active effort to seek out and find new writers of merit.  It doesn't just happen.

Currently, I am reading with great pleasure Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief.

And I almost forgot to mention . . .

My friend Janis Ian's charity auction has begun!  Take a look!  (Am I a bad person for wishing I owned Anne McCaffrey's letter opener?  Click here to see.

And coming soon . . .

Marianne's nanopublishing mini-empire, Dragonstairs Press, is about to offer a new chapbook.  Just in time for Christmas!  I'll let you know when it's up for sale.

Above:  A very small fraction of the books in my bedroom.  There are more, perhaps too many more, in the living room and in my office.  And other rooms as well.  Nabokov's Speak, Memory is a terrific book, incidentally.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013



I've contributed a bottle-in-a-story to Janis Ian's PROSE FOR PEARL, a ten-day auction starting on November 21st.  That's tomorrow!

Here's Janis's detailed description of the item:

Michael Swanwick
A one-of-a-kind, completely original story in a bottle.

Swanwick has written an original work of flash fiction called “The Mermaid’s Message” for this auction and placed it inside an old bottle of Chateau Greysac Medoc, which he titled, signed, and dated with a diamond-tipped pen. After corking, his wife added a mermaid’s toenail (Anomia ephippium, also known as a “jingle shell”) on a bit of string and sealed it with sealing wax.
Michael has destroyed all other copies and files of the text, rendering the story within the sealed bottle unique. The bottle can be kept as an artifact, or the story can be read, whichever the winning bidder chooses. Copyright is specifically withheld, so there is no third option.

The opening of the story reads: The mermaid had no name, for that was the way of her kind. Her passions were as cold as her blood and her blood was as wild as the sea. The young fisherman had a name, of course... The only other clue we have is Swanwick’s statement that “young men who fall in love with mermaids rarely come to a good end.  I know there are stories that say otherwise, but they're mostly written by land-dwelling young women who are softer on young men than they deserve.”

Generously donated by Michael Swanwick.

Janis says: When I see Michael in my mind’s eye, I picture him sitting at a table in a small, intimate club I played a couple of years ago. I was singing a song called "Mary’s Eyes", and Michael was openly weeping. That picture is engraved on my heart, and it reminds me of what I like best about him – that he’s not afraid to shed tears in a public place, or open his heart to a song.

I call these “Swanwick-in-a-Bottle”, and I actually own the one I’m pictured with here. It was purchased at auction by a fan of mine, who then graciously gave it to me. I keep telling myself that some celebratory day – perhaps when I reach 70? – I will break the bottle and read the story. I’ve been telling myself that for over a decade now, and I still can’t bear to do it. A real one-of-a-kind item, by a master story-teller.

[I should mention that I pretty much never cry in public; but Janis's song -- and Ireland -- can do that to me.] 

And here's the whole story of the auction, chopped and customized from the press release:

Starting November 21st, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian will host PROSE FOR PEARL, a 10-day auction of unique items and memorabilia by famous authors, to raise money for returning students.

There are items signed and donated by George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Wally Lamb, Pat Conroy, Len Wein, Joe Haldeman, Jane Yolen, Harry Turtledove, Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Michael Swanwick, Mercedes Lackey, Mike Resnick, and the family of Anne McCaffrey, plus a gold, diamond, ruby watch Janis’ family gave Pearl when she graduated.

The auction will take place on the Pearl Foundation’s eBay site.  Click here after the auction goes live.

In the meantime, you can read the whole story, with lots of photos of Janis with her friends (including me; it's been a long time since I wore a Hawaiian shirt, though) here.

What’s unusual about this auction?

--   It was suggested by author George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and his wife, Parris McBride, who are donating a pilot script from the hugely successful television series, signed by all the “Starks”, as well as signed books and personal notes from Martin to the high bidders.

--   The authors are Janis’ friends, and chose the items themselves. Many posed with their items, and sent photos of themselves with Janis for the sale.

--   The items are offered with no reserve.  Each item has a description from the author as well as a short vignette by Ian detailing their relationship.

--   The authors will sign and personalize their items whenever possible.

Just what is the Pearl Foundation?

--   In 1998, Ian held the very first Internet auction through her own website,  raising over $60,000 in college scholarship funds for Goddard College. What begun as a one-time tribute to her mother’s life-long dream of attending college became the Pearl Foundation, an IRS-approved charitable organization dedicated to raising funds for returning students.

--   To date, the Pearl Foundation has given away more than $700,000 in college scholarship funding. The Pearl Foundation’s annual overhead is less than 2%.

Finally, here are the short descriptions of what's up for auction.  There are some tasty items here.  But I'm guessing it's going to be George's script that brings in the big bucks.

1.  Anne McCaffrey
Original galleys for US edition of FREEDOM’S RANSOM, plus “Final Revised Copy” of the manuscript, with handwritten notes by McCaffrey.

2. Anne McCaffrey
Mint first printing, first edition of HABIT IS AN OLD HORSE

3.  Anne McCaffrey
Three signed original bookplates from McCaffrey’s own collection.

4.  Anne McCaffrey
McCaffrey’s own Japanese-style lacquered letter opener, used by her daily.

5.  George R. R. Martin
An original pilot script for GAME OF THRONES, signed by all the Starks; can be signed and personalized by Martin on request.

6.  George R. R. Martin
Personal presentation copy of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Martin has offered to write a note on his personal stationary thanking the high bidder for supporting the Pearl Foundation. Can be personalized on request.

7.  George R. R. Martin
Signed hardcovers of all five A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE novels. Martin has offered to write a note on his personal stationary thanking the high bidder for supporting the Pearl Foundation. Can be personalized on request.

8.  Harlan Ellison
Signed & numbered “Harlan Ellison rat”, from Ellison’s personal collection, and this original print of Ellison holding the sculpture. Both can be personalized to the winner upon request.

9.  Harry Turtledove
Turtledove’s personal ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of On the Train, signed by authors Harry and Rachel Turtledove.

10.  Jane Yolen
A signed personalized poem/fairy tale by this award-winning author about the high bidder or someone of their choice.

11.  Joe Haldeman
Signed copy of THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING with a drawing of the winner and a poem about the winner, both by Joe Haldeman.

12.  Kevin Anderson & Rebecca Moesta
Original production manuscript for Star Wars’ YOUNG JEDI KNIGHTS: DARKEST KNIGHT, with hand-written editorial and production marks, and signed first-edition of the original publication.

13.  Len Wein
Signed copy of 1991 Marvel Milestone edition of GIANT-SIZED X-MEN #1, and a “Wolverine claws auction paddle”. Can be signed and personalized.

14.  Mercedes Lackey
Lackey’s own mandolin in handmade case, signed letter about it, and hand-written note by Ian detailing the story of how the case came to be made.

15.  Michael Swanwick
A one-of-a-kind, completely original story in a bottle, signed.

16.  Mike Resnick
The first three LUCIFER JONES BOOKS in a numbered, limited (300) run, pub. by John Betancourt (Wildside Press); can be signed and personalized.

17.  Neil Gaiman
Signed Hill House presentation copy of AMERICAN GODS, from Gaiman's personal collection. Signed by Gaiman, who will personalize on request.

18.  Orson Scott Card
Signed hardcover first edition of SONGMASTER, from Card’s personal collection. Can be signed and personalized upon request.

19.  Orson Scott Card
Signed hardcover first edition of A PLANET CALLED TREASON, from Card’s personal collection, personalized on request.

20. Orson Scott Card
ENDER’S GAME Easton Press leather bound edition, from Card’s personal presentation collection, signed and personalized on request.

21.  The family of Pearl Yadoff Fink
A gold Cresaux watch with diamond and ruby surround, presented to Pearl on her graduation by her children, appraised recently at $2,900.00.

22.  Ray Bradbury
Signed FAHRENHEIT 451 Ballantine Books 1988 edition, with photograph of Bradbury at the signing.

23.  Pat Conroy
Signed first edition of LORDS OF DISCIPLINE; personalized on request.

24.  Pat Conroy
Signed first edition of BEACH MUSIC, personalized on request.

25.  Wally Lamb
An original draft page from SHE’S COME UNDONE with Lamb’s handwritten notes; signed 20th-anniversary edition of “SCU”, dust jacket to the first edition; signed first edition of New York Times Bestseller WE ARE WATER, signed copy of COULDN’T KEEP IT TO MYSELF, and an original early article about the publication of Lamb’s first novel.

Above:  That's me looking pensively at the bottle in question.  I'm probably reflecting on how much work one of those things is to make.  Which is why I do it so rarely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Name of the Genre


We've pretty much settled on science fiction as being the best name for the sort of stuff we in genre like to read and write.  Is it really the best possible term?  Probably not.  But, as with democracy, before we get too critical, we should probably consider the alternatives.

Going back to the beginning, Jules Verne wrote Voyages Extraordinaires, emphasizing the adventure aspect of his fiction.  H. G. Wells, a far better prose stylist but a little looser with the laws of science -- when asked his opinion of Wells' First Men in the Moon, Verne snapped, "Show me this cavorite! -- wrote what were then called Scientific Romances.  (The term predates him, but I'm not pretending to any rigorous scholarship in this blogpost.)

Then came the tireless science enthusiast, inventor, and crook, Hugo Gernsback, whose magazines created science fiction as a genre and whose letter columns in those same magazines created fandom.  In keeping with the aesthetics of a man who named his weirdly visionary novel Ralph 124C41+ (try saying it out loud), his moniker for this nascent literary form was a real jaw-acher:  Scientifiction.

Obviously, that couldn't endure and with the demise of Gernsback's magazines, the acceptable term among cognoscenti became Science Fiction.  Shortly thereafter, the abbreviation SF came into common insider use, sometimes capitalized and other times not.

Alas, uber-fan, agent, magazine editor, and compulsive collector Forrest J. Ackerman, seeking his place in literary history, came up with something shorter and catchier:  Sci-Fi.  It caught on.  Sort of.  Mostly, it became attached to 1950s monster movies.  Fans pointedly used "science fiction" to refer to the sort of literature they valued, while reserving Ackerman's term for schlock.  Thus causing a great deal of snarking by those in the know directed at innocent civilians who thought they were simply using the proper term.

(Not long ago, the SciFi Channel, whose name roused outrage in fandom when it first came out, officially changed their name to SyFy, a Polish word meaning "syphilis."  Their intention being to distance themselves from the schlock implications of the old term.  Which was ironic, given how greatly many of its own shows contributed to exactly that impression.)

Somewhere in there, Robert A. Heinlein made a valiant effort to point out the inherent virtues of the genre by giving it a more respectable title:  Speculative Fiction.  This had the virtue of getting around the fact that a lot of the works we most highly prize, such as Ray Bradbury's, while excellent on the speculative front, weren't terribly strong on the science.

Alas, though Harlan Ellison spent decades championing this term (and excoriating the use of "sci-fi"), it never caught on among the general public.  So it must be considered a failure.  If Harlan couldn't make it stick, nobody could.

Today we have, through attrition and the will of the masses, settled upon Science Fiction as the one true name for our beloved genre.  Just in time, as John Clute would tell you, for its death.

But that's another story, for another time.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The Science Fiction Museum


Over Philcon weekend, I chatted with Leo Imperial, the Vice President for Programs and Visitor Experience for a museum that doesn't yet exist.  Which is why he was engaged in outreach to the SF community.

The vision of a group of volunteers is to create a major museum -- the Science Fiction Museum -- dedicated to my favorite genre of fiction in Washington, D.C.  Their immediate goal is to create a preview room, which could be used to raise funds for the museum.

I'm not sure how I feel about the basic idea, because as a writer I see the museums of the world as serving as a virtual museum of not only science fiction but of all literature.  But I like their vision and I like their passion and I wish them well.

You can find the Museum of Science Fiction blog here.  There are links that will answer any questions you may have.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Writer's Guilty Pleasures


As always, I'm on the road again. As is my camera, currently winging its way to a repair facility in Nebraska.  So I thought I'd share with you a handful of guilty pleasures whose satisfactions (for me) derive directly from my being a writer.

Here they are:

On Writing by John Gardner.  Gardner's books on how to write are unsurpassed in their seriousness and in how they portray writing as a holy chore.  Porn for writers, really.

Shakespeare in Love.  More porn for writers.  Tom Stoppard has always been weak on plot.  But he was brought into the project after the original writer had come up with a robust plot and given the chore of witting it up.  Which he did beautifully. But the core plot, which conflates romantic love with the desire to become a better writer, is what makes this movie.

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny.  Zelazny's work was always clever.  But in this novel, about a perpetual undergrad, spending his time climbing buildings and ducking graduation, who gets caught up in an interstellar power struggle, involving a viral gem, doodlehums, a condescending kangaroo, and really good whiskey, is an unending cascade of cleverness for its own sake.  It looks effortless, it won't make you a better person, and it can always be read again.

Hitchcock/Truffaut.  In 1962, Francois Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock about every film he had made to date in order.  Later published as a full-length book, it's the ultimate movie-geek look at how the movies were made and why they were made that way.  Chockablock with good advice (never kill a child; the audience won't forgive you for it) from a man who knew what he was doing.

The New York Review of Books.  A terrible waste of time that could be better spent actually reading the books being analyzed.  Entertaining, though.

And that's my list . . . 

What's yours?