Monday, March 30, 2015

Living the Glitterati Dream


Sometimes everything comes together.  You walk out on stage, you hit your mark, and the audience loves you.  That's how Saturday's event celebrating the "Philadelphia Issue" of Asimov's Science Fiction went.

A good-sized crowd turned up, and a distinguished one. How distinguished? There were more writers in the audience than at the table, along with fans, academics, and folks of serious accomplishment in unrelated fields.  Everybody on the panel was witty and nobody hogged the microphone.  Afterward, enough copies of the magazine were sold to make the Barnes & Noble people very happy indeed.

That's us up above.  Left to right: Gregory Frost, Your Humble Narrator, Sheila Williams, Fran Wilde, Emily Hockaday, and Tom Purdom.  For those who don't already have the April/May 2015 Asimov's, it contains Fran's “How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age,” Tom's "Day Job," and a wonderfully light-hearted romp penned by Greg and myself, titled "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!" 

Believe it or not, we even had one of the protagonists of a story present.  Andy Duncan, who is one half of the inspirations for my collaboration with Greg (the other is Howard Waldrop), spent most of an hour with a slightly bemused expression as he autographed our story.

If you've been paying attention, that's seven autographs obtainable (for those who quite sensibly got the editor and editorial assistant to sign their issues) for the price of a single magazine. Which then became quite a neat little snapshot of a moment of literary history, a gathering of individuals which will never be recreated in the same configuration.

Above:  Photo by M. C. Porter.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

[dream diary]

March 26, 2015:

Dreaming, I witnessed this exchange.

Kid: I brought you a half a bag of coffee.

Man: Thanks.

Kid: Hey, hey, hey, hey! That's not a gift. It'll cost you two dollars. That's a good deal.

Man: I'm sure it is. No dice.

Kid: I've also got a goat.

Man: I know you do. I've seen it.

Kid: It's yours for fifty bucks. I'll throw in the coffee free.

Man: What would I want with a goat? Forget it.

Kid: You can have them both for nothing if you just tell me one thing: Are you or are you not my father?

(Long silence.)

Man: I'll get my checkbook.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Misha Cyberpunk Strikes Again!


I'm in Russian print again!

If you've never been to Russia, you can't imagine how happy this makes me.  Russia is a wonderful-awful place, terrifying and beautiful, and it has owned a piece of my heart ever since the moment I first set foot on it.

Now Eksmo has published Dancing With Bears in Russian translation.  This is the culmination of the first cycle of the travels of Post-Utopian con men Darger and Surplus.  They met in "The Dog Said Bow-Wow," accidentally set fire to London, and then set off for Moscow to run their biggest scam ever.  Being infinitely distractible, however, they bounced around Europe for several years having adventures (only a few of which I've recorded so far), but always headed for Moscow.

And now, at last, they have arrived.

Oh, and that cryptic title above...?

I am not the only one to comment on how to an American my last name translated into Russian looks a lot like Cyberpunk.  Back in the late Eighties or early Nineties, in fact, I invented a character, a precocious teenaged Soviet hacker, who went by the handle Misha Cyberpunk.  Alas, though I could imagine him clearly enough, the story about him never came fully into focus.  The age of the heroic hacker came and went and even if I came up with a satisfying plot now, the story would be a period piece.  So "Red Star" will never be written.

But good old Misha never quite got put back in the box. So every time I'm published in Russia, I think of him.

End of explanation.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Five Reasons Why You Want to Meet Gregory Frost This Saturday


Actually, there are hundreds of reasons why you should admire Gregory Frost and buy and read all his books. But he's going to be appearing at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble this Saturday, March 28, at 1 p.m. (along with Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, editor Sheila Williams and -- cough -- me) for an event marking the current "Philadelphia Issue" of Asimov's Science Fiction and a list of five is kind of traditional for this sort of thing, so...

5.  Because he's a tireless promoter and encourager of other people's work

In addition to his work as an educator (he's currently directing a fiction writing workshop at Swarthmore College), Greg has organized numerous symposia and writing events, and is a founding member of The Liars Club, a gathering of professionals whose name pretty much speaks for itself.

Greg knows more about how to teach writing than anyone I know.  On those rare occasions when I teach, I always go to him for advice first.  His advice is always great, and I'm always glad I took it.

4.  Because he gave up the visual arts for writing.

True story.  Greg has serious chops as a visual artist. While in college, he came to a point where he had to choose between the visual and written arts.  While he was contemplating the question, a fire broke out in his apartment destroying everything, including all his artwork -- but left the manuscript for the novel he was working on untouched.  He took that for a sign and has never looked back.
You think a writer's reputation relies entirely on merit?  Nope.  Blind bad luck is involved as well.  Greg's brilliant novel Tain, a retelling of the Irish epic the Tain Bo Cualigne, was so grotesquely mispackaged as to look like a Western -- at a time when Celtic fantasy was hot and Westerns were not.  You should look it up.  And Remscela as well.
God, I love this story.  Even if some of the lines I love most were written not by me but by that bastard Frost.  Consider only the following monologue, delivered by one of the Dustbowl con-men of the title, after the local sheriff threatens to telegraph the state capital to see if there are any warrants out for him or H'ard:
Wow.  How can you not want to meet a man capable of writing that?
And the particulars, again, are...
Gregory Frost, Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, Michael Swanwick and editor Sheila Williams will talk about and autograph copies of the April/May Philadelphia Issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.  This is our only scheduled appearance together, so if you want to get five autographs for the price ofa single magazine, this is your best chance.
You can read Tom Purdom's write-up of the event at the Broad Street Review here.
And you can peruse Greg's website here.

3.  Because he's the best Celtic fantasist you've never heard of.

2. Because everything he's written is terrific.

But most especially Shadowbridge and Lord Tophat: A Shadowbridge Novel.  Many years ago, Greg described the Shadowbridge world to me: one of shallow oceans with small, scattered islands, connected by bridges on which people lived. Each span of bridge had its own culture, so you could travel from 15th century London to 20th century Tokyo, just by walking far enough. More, randomly placed along the spans were spiral jetties, at the center of which was a platform. Sometimes things would appear on these platforms, imported from our own world. The knowledge of how to use such things only occasionally came with them, however. So you might be able to copy the Pachinko machine and make a fortune selling it.  But the lawnmower would remain a mystery and all you could do was to place it in an art museum.

How much did I love this idea? So much so that I told Greg, "If you don't write this, I'm going to steal it from you."

I have never said such a thing to another human being in my life. But I really, really wanted him to write it.  And he did.  So I stand vindicated.

1. Because he and I co-wrote "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!" which appears in the Philadelphia Issue being celebrated on Saturday.

“Well, I don’t mean to be negative, sir, but I’ve got to tell you:  I just simply do not believe in the telegraph, and that’s a fact.  New-fangled nonsense device like that is prone to breaking down exactly when you need it most.  Why, wires get broke and then all the electricity goes astray and flies helter-skelter all over the place, frightening horses and inconveniencing honest citizens.  Fella writes down a two-dollar message and a puff of wind blows the paper right out the window.  In all the confusion nobody even remembers who sent the darn thing or what it said.  No, sir, put not your trust in machines.  One man, one mule, and a leather sack of paper envelopes with a magenta two-cent George Washington stamp and a hand-cancelation on the front does the job best, is what I say.  Takes a little longer but a dozen times more sure.”

Barnes & Noble
Rittenhouse Square

1 p. m.
March 28, 2015


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Farewell, Peggy Rae


In Robert Altman's film of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor refuses to make a public announcement of the death of one of the radio show's regulars. "At my age," he says, "if I start acknowledging every death of a friend, the show will contain nothing else." (That's a paraphrase; I don't have it memorized.)

That's kind of how I feel at times nowadays. But I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the passing of Peggy Rae Sapienza last Sunday.  Peggy Rae was a second-generation fan, a con-goer from age 12, and one of those people who do the hard work of running conventions for many decades.

Peggy Rae was always kind to me. From what I could see, she was kind to everyone. Once, when I had a high-speed blowout on the way to Balticon, she and her first husband, Bob Pavlat, got my car towed, found a Jewish auto mechanic who was open on Easter weekend, and got me home Sunday safe and on schedule. That went far beyond anything that could be expected from people who were also involved in running the convention.

Somebody said that she exemplified all that was best in fandom.  I think that's true.

Now she's gone and there's nothing I can do to thank her for all she's done for me.  Except to mention that her father, Jack McKnight, was not only one of the founding fathers of Philadelphia fandom but also the man who machined the very first Hugo trophies in his garage machine shop. She always liked it when somebody reminded the world of how cool her Dad was.

Rest in peace, Peggy Rae. Thanks for helping me get home.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Remembering Roxborough's Pretzel Man


When I first moved to Roxborough over a third of a century ago, the Pretzel Man was a local institution.  He sold soft pretzels from his cart on Ridge Avenue.  Nobody knew his name, but he was commonly called Pretzel Pete or the Mad Russian or simply the Pretzel Man.

There was clearly something off about the Pretzel Man.  Sometimes he shouted angry speeches in a language not spoken locally.  He was pretty clearly a loner.  All anybody knew of him was that he had showed up one day in 1962 and never went away. Also that he was homeless. Sometimes he slept in a tent in somebody's backyard.  Other times in somebody's garage or shed. Long after, the garage owners said they would invite him in on Sundays to watch football.

Late in his life, some kids busted up his pretzel cart just for the hell of it, and he took to selling pretzels out of a shopping cart.  His speeches became more common.  I vividly remember him standing at the corner, pumping his fist as he rhythmically chanted:

            "Catolick!  Catolick!  Catolick!
             Communiss!  Communiss!  Communiss!

But he was always clean, and he was never violent.  And there was a sadness to the man.  You knew that he had suffered in his time.

This last was established as fact when a local Catholic church brought in a priest who could speak Russian to see if there was any way he would allow them to help him.  The conversation did not begin well, for when he heard the Russian language, he became extremely angry.  But eventually, the priest was able to calm him down, and got a rough sketch of his life.

The Pretzel Man's name was Choban Hoxha.  He was an Albanian Moslem who was captured by the Fascists in WWII and placed in a prison camp. At the end of the war, he was captured by the Communists who took him to a labor camp in Russia.  Somehow, he managed to escape, made his way to Istanbul, and from there (again, somehow) found passage to America. In the early 1960s, he came to Roxborough and there he stayed for the rest of his life.

When Hoxha died in 1995, Turner Funeral Home gave him a simple burial, at their own expense, just inside the gates of Leverington Cemetery. Somebody started a fund and collected enough quarters and dollars for a simple stone to place over his grave.  It reads:

              CHOBAN HOXHA
              PRETZEL PETE
              1913 - 1995

Between the two dates is the image of a pretzel.

Nobody knew how to help a man who wanted no help and apparently couldn't even speak English. But what little could be done, the community did.

You can read a Daily News article about him here.

And that's all...

Except for one thing.  When my son Sean was small, we walked by the Pretzel Man's cart frequently, and we were always careful to say hello.  One day, he said hello back to us.  After that, we would often stop and chat for a bit.  So we knew, as apparently no one else did, that he spoke fluent English.

Other than Marianne, Sean and I told no one.  Choban Hoxha was a mysterious man who led a difficult life. The least we could do was respect his desire for privacy.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

[dream diary]

Dreamed I found a half-cover French language paperback collection of stories that were condensed versions of my novels.  I'd had no idea someone had done this.

The collection was named after my first novel which the condenser had for some reason renamed "Bottom-Back," though its original French tltle, "Baiser de Masque" would have been far better.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Lest We Forget...


Sixty-five million years ago today, all the good Christian dinosaurs were suddenly tranported bodily into Heaven.  The evil dinosaurs left beind turned on one another in a genocidal frenzy of violence.  Thus resulting in their extinction.

This event was known as the Velocirapture.

Thank you, ladies and germs, I'll be here all week. Don't forget to tip your server.

Above:  No, this pun was not my creation.  It was floating about the Memeosphere, and I caught it.  The image came from


Thursday, March 19, 2015

[dream diary]

March 19, 2015

I dreamed some friends and I went to the Copyright Office to register some new poems.  Terry Bisson was working there and, when he was done the paperwork, handed us smooth stones with the first lines of our poems carved into them.  Then he explained at which public officials and at which specific protests we could legally throw the stones.

Bisson had recently been knighted by the British Queen and so, throughout all this, we had to address him as "Sir Terry."  Which was amusing to those of us who knew his politics.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Milles Na gCopaleen's Catechism of Cliche


Who is the single least known great writer of the Western Canon?

Brian O'Nolan.

And who was this gentleman I never heard of before?

The single least known great writer of the Western Canon.

Upon what authority do you make this extraordinary assertion?

Upon the unimpeachable authority of his great novel, At Swim-Two-Birds.  And the equally impeachable authority of his great fantasy The Third Policeman.  And the eminently peachable authority of everything else he ever wrote.

Under what name did he write?

Flann O'Brien.

Why, then, have I never heard of him?

He destroyed himself through a combination of drink, wasting his wit in pub conversation, wasting his writing time on newspaper columns that kept him from starving, putting a novel in a drawer after a single publisher rejected it, publishing under pseudonyms, writing a novel in Irish despite the readersip for such a book being unprofitably small... In short, he was Irish.  God help him, he was Irish. Also a humorist, which is almost as bad.

What does it make me if I've I've never read the sot?

Blessed of God, for you have his works before you ready to be discovered.

But if I don't bother to read them?

A total idiot.

Oh, all right.  I have somewhere in the house a copy of The Best of Myles, a collection of O'Nolan's pseudonymous weekly columns written as by "Myles na gCopaleen."  They are mad whimsical, the work of a man who was a master of the language, and the reason I don't know where the book is is that I hid it.  Otherwise, I'd keep reading it over and over and never get anything done.

By chance I recently ran across a blog that reposted one of the great man's columns, the "Catechism of Cliche."  And it prompted the foregoing orgy of admiation.

You can read the catechism here.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Four! Philadelphia! Authors! Four! (Plus One New York Editor)


Here's a cool signing event coming up in less than two weeks.  It's...

But first a little backstory.

One of the first pieces of publishing advice Gardner Dozois ever gave me, back in the 1970's, was to "sell lots of stories to one magazine."  That way, you get noticed, people start following your work and looking for more, and your reputation builds faster than if you spread your stories hither and yon.  Later, when he became editor of Asimov's, he amended this advice to "sell lots of stories to one magazine -- and make that magazine Asimov's."  But the principle remained the same.

I followed Gardner's advice and it worked well for me.  Tom Purdom, when he returned to writing short fiction in the 1990s, did much the same thing.  He offered everything he wrote to Asimov's first and since none of them were ever rejected, that's where they all appeared.  Inevitably, then, we would periodically have stories in the same issue and I began referring to these as "Philadelphia issues."

Recently, Gregory Frost and I wrote a  story called "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!"  Which, at the risk of sounding immodest, is a hoot and a half.   It was accepted in Asimov's, and slated for the April/May 2015 issue.  In that same issue, almost inevitably, is Tom Purdom's latest story, "Day Job."  And, probably not coincidentally, there is also a story by another fellow Philadelphia, Fran Wilde, titled "How to Walk Through Historic Graveyards in the Post-Digital Age."

That's four Philadelphia writers, for those who are counting.

(Okay, okay, Greg lives just outside of town in Lower Merion.  But before that he spent enough years in the city to pay his dues.  At a minimum, he's a Greater Philadelphian.  Anyway, L. Sprague de Camp also lived outside of town, but we always counted him as one of our own.)

Four writers apparently achieves some kind of critical mass, because this time editor Sheila Williams noticed this alignment of stars and declared the April/May Asimov's the first Official Philadelphia Issue.

To celebrate which, there will be a bookstore appearance and signing on:

Saturday March 28, 2015 1:00 PM
Barnes & NobleRittenhouse Square, 1805 Walnut Street, 

Four Philadelphia authors and one major science fiction editor -- which means you can get five autographs for the cost of a single magazine.  That's a good deal.

Plus, these are clever and witty and interesting people.  I should know -- I'm one of them.

I recommend the event.  It'll be great fun.  I promise.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Waking the Dead


I'd met Terry Pratchett a few times, at awards ceremonies and the like.  He was pleasant, a little reserved, and it was clear to me that he wore his signature hat chiefly to hide a bald spot he was touchy about.  But you couldn't say I knew him.  So, to find someone who might say a few words in his memory, I went to a rather shabby funeral parlor in the Ramtops where a rather shabby group had gathered for a rather shabby wake.  They all wore black.  They were all, within a rather loose definition of the term, women.

There was a sideboard cluttered with food.  I took one glimpse at the sausage and quickly looked away.  "So tell me --"I said to the nearest witch.

"It's a terrible loss, to be sure, dearie," Nanny Ogg said.  "But at least she didn't go out cackling."

"Uh, who are we --"

"Why, Granny Weatherwax, to be sure.  Who else would we be gathered here to mourn?"

"Well --"

"I never honestly thought the old bat could die," Magrat said.

A sudden silence came over the room as everyone looked over their shoulders.  Then, when nothing happened to any of them, they all sighed in mingled sadness and relief.

"That's it, then.  She's well and truly gone."  Nanny Ogg topped her teacup and every other one in sight from a flask.  "Drink up, while I thinks of a muffin in her honor."

"I don't know what we'll do," Magrat said, "without her."

"You'll do the same as you ever did.  You think that just because somebody did you a good turn or ten, they have an obligation to hang around forever, at your beck and call?  It ain't healthy!  Let her go, lace up your boots, shoulder your rucksack and get on with it.  That's what she'd have wanted you to do."

I cleared my throat.  "Actually, I came here to get a quote from you about Terry Pratchett."

"Uh.  Who?"

"Never heard of the sot!"

"He was a writer," I said.  "The best at what he did, much admired, greatly beloved, profoundly mourned.  He left behind something like seventy books."

Nanny Ogg took a huge bite of sausage, and then belched with prolonged satisfaction.  I did not know which would haunt me the longer -- the sight or the smell.  "Oh.  Well, then," she said.  "The same goes for him, I'd reckon."


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Two Ways to Improve Your Book Reviews (Part 2)


Decades ago, when I was first taken on as a client by the legendary Virginia Kidd, she had two pieces of advice to offer me.  The first was, "Never rewrite your old books."  The second was, "Don't write reviews."  Her reasoning being that positive reviews don't win you friends but negative reviews create enemies like nobody's business.  These were wise words and if I've disobeyed her second dictum from time to time, I've tried to only do so when there was something I wanted to celebrate.

A more nuanced approach was taken by John Updike, who for many years wrote long critical reviews for the New Yorker.  They were both entertaining and elucidating.  So much so that when I discovered that the library had a copy of Hugging the Shore, a cinder block of a book which was largely a decade's worth of those reviews, I borrowed it and ripped through all the reviews in less than a week.

At first glance, all the reviews were positive.  That was part of their charm.  But midway through the book, I finished a description of the virtues of I forget which book it was and realized that he hadn't liked the book.  This fact, however, he had left out as irrelevant.  Instead, he carefully described that book in such a way that those who, like himself, wouldn't enjoy it, would not feel compelled to buy a copy.  Those who would like the book, however, would shortly be holding a copy in their hands.

This is much more work than recording one's gut reaction to the book.  But it's worth it, as I discovered when I borrowed the previous collected cinder block from the library and discovered that in the Sixties and Seventies Updike had not been shy about letting you know the ways that other people's books had failed him.  That was a highly politicized time and Updike was a believer in the moral propriety of the Viet Nam War, so his scorn tended to fall upon left wing writers.  Who in turn and for whatever reason (drugs may or may not have been involved) were more likely to be writing "experimental" fiction than those he admired.

Negative reviews are always fun if it's not your own book that got caught in the wringer.  But the collection was nowhere near as enjoyable as the later one was.  That aura of great-souledness was gone.

This insight proved useful to me sometime later when I agreed to review several books for a serious publication and found that I had serious problems with one of them.  Having spoken with the author's admirers on many occasions, I knew that my problems were not theirs.  So I doubled down on the work and wrote a careful description that would leave the fans salivating but warn away those who, like myself, would not enjoy it.

That was many years ago.  Have I ever once regretted not doing my best to take the author down?  No.

Similarly, Neil Gaiman's review of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant, ends with him admitting that it's a "a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love."  Reading those words, I could feel Gaiman's reluctance to commit them to paper.  But he had an obligation to make it clear that this was a novel that might not satisfy readers of traditional fantasy.

It was a nicely done essay.  It made me want to read the novel and then make up my own mind about it.

You can read Neil's review here.

So am I saying that you have to refrain from writing savagely negative reviews . . . ?

No, of course not.  Do whatever you wish.

And by sheer coincidence . . .

I received my contributor's copies of "the Philadelphia issue" of Asimov's Science Fiction yesterday (more on the Philadelphia part Monday), and this morning discovered that Robert Silverberg had dedicated his column to... John Updike's reviews.  His slant on them is different from mine and well worth your reading and pondering.

So if this topic is of interest to you, I urge you to buy a copy of the April/May double issue of Asimov's as soon as it hits the newsstands.  March 17th, I believe.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Two Ways to Improve Your Book Reviews (Part 1)


A week or so late, I discovered Neil Gaiman's New York Times review of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant.  And was particularly struck by the grace of Neil's opening paragraph...

Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller. It is a way of talking about things that are not, and cannot be, literally true. It is a way of making our metaphors concrete, and it shades into myth in one direction, allegory in another. Once, many years ago, a French translator decided that my novel “Stardust” was an allegory, based on and around John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (it wasn’t), and somewhat loosely translated the book with footnotes to that effect. This has left me a little shy of talking about allegory, and very shy of ever mentioning “The Pilgrim’s Progress.”

... and so I decided to share with you two simple techniques that will make your book reviews (assuming you do review books) significantly better.

The first, as illustrated above, is to bring something into the discussion from the world outside the book in question.  In Gaiman's case, it's a personal anecdote, but it could be almost anything -- an interesting fact about Linnaeus's grave, the nesting habits of the halcyon, a better technique for opening walnuts -- provided only that it is pertinent to the book under discussion.  

Why bother?  Because it opens out the realm of discourse beyond that of a judgmental reader confronting a book full of static words to show how the work in discussion is actually in dialogue with the entire universe.  A book is, to the extent of its author's talent, a living thing and sometimes even a magical one.  Rather than tying it to a chair and interrogating it in hopes it will give up its meaning, you should make the encounter one between the book, the reader, and the world.

You don't have time to do this thoroughly, of course.  But if you drop a hint, the reader will follow.

You can read the review here.

Next:  The second technique.

Above:  The very cool illo is by Peter Sis, author and artist.  You can find his web page here.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Speculations K.C. -- the Kansas City Worldcon Anthology


Is this the future of science fiction anthologies?  It's certainly a future.  I'll be fascinated to see if kickstarted books remain viable into the foreseeable future, or if they're a bit of a fad.  One thing is clear, though.  You need to know what you're doing.

Editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt seems to know what he's doing.  He's assembling Speculations K. C., an anthology of science fiction stories both new and reprint (spoiler: mine will be a reprint -- but a good one!) by science fiction writers either associated with Kansas City or with next year's Worldcon, MidAmeriCon II.  Where (ahem) I'll be a guest of honor.

Personally, I think it would be a great book to bring to MAC II for autographs.  Particularly if you snagged more than your friends did.  Not that I'm suggesting you make a cutthroat game of it.

You can find the Kickstarter campaign, decide whether you want to support it, snag yourself an early copy here.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Collected Poetry of Michael Swanwick

As always, I'm on the road again.  And my iPad is dying.  So I shan't even try to come up with an illo for this post.

Over on Facebook, the other day, my friend Mario posted a picture of a nudibranch and the first several comments scanned, so I tied them together into a piece of doggerel.

"Marianne should collect your poetry," Mario wrote.

"There's an idea," Marianne responded.

"No, there isn't," I typed sternly.

So, as a preemptive move, I am publishing here the complete contents of my poetic oeuvre.  To whit:

Why should I buy comparative
And thus pay twice the price,
When the simple and declarative
Quite amply will suffice?

I will not buy a porringer
When all I need's a porring.
Now will I spring for oranger
When all I need's an orange.

That's my contribution to world poesy:  a rhyme for orange.  A small accomplisment, but mine own.

And so I retired from the lists undefeated.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Janet Kagan's Song


The death of a certain actor recently, got me thinking about Star Trek, and whenever I think of Star Trek and death, I think of Janet Kagan, who died far too young.

Janet's second novel written but first published was Uhura's Song, a Trek tie-in and one that was particularly popular, in part because it gave agency to a character everyone liked the but show's scripts slighted and in part because Janet's fiction connected with people.  Her first novel, Hellspark, followed soon after, part of a two-book deal.  (The story was that the publisher wasn't taking first novels and so her editor offered her the Trek contract in order to get around that restriction.  Maybe so.  It's also possible that the editor was desperate for good writers to do the tie-ins at a time when -- believe it or not -- they were hard to get.)  It was extremely popular.

Those were her only novels, unless you count Mirabile, a collection of stories set on the eponymous novel, all starring the same protagonist and all telling a single progressive story.  These stories were wildly popular.

One day, much to her amazement, her story "The Nutcracker Coup," won a Hugo.  Nobody else was amazed.  Her work was positive, upbeat, funny, and fun.  These were qualities she valued in fiction (Her favorite novel was James H. Schmitz's The Witches of Karres), and so that's what she wrote.  This was not the dominant style at the time she wrote it, but she wrote what she loved.

So if there are any young writers out there wondering... that's how to win a Hugo.  Write the kind of fiction you want to read.