Monday, February 29, 2016

The Witch Who Came In From The Cold


My newest project is definitely a departure for me -- I agreed to play in someone else's universe. I've done collaborations enough in my time, and the pastiche or two, to be sure. But writing an episode for The Witch Who Came In From the Cold was a very different experience. from those.

For one thing, Serial Box, the publisher, has an intriguing approach to their ebooks, more akin to television than to traditional publishing. The books are published serially, one episode a week. This requires several writers working in the same voice, with a lot of oversight and several passes of editing for each text.

So there was a great deal of work to do and it all had to be done on schedule. Luckily, though, the project was a hoot.  From the press release:

Through a haze of cigarettes and vodka in Prague, deep in the heart of the Cold War, a special force of spies rely on sorcery to win their games of intrigue 

While the world watches the bitter rivalry between East and West fester along the Iron Curtain, the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame continue waging their ancient war of magic. Kept to the shadows, this secret contest crosses the lines of politics and the borders of nations with impunity – the intrigues of spies may know clear sides but the battles of witches spill out over all. Tanya Morozova is a KGB officer and the latest in a long line of Ice witches and sorcerers; Gabe Pritchard is a CIA officer and reluctant Ice recruit. Enemies at one turn, suspicious allies at the next, their relationship is as explosive as the Cold War itself. 

The premise was fun, but I doubt I would have signed on if I didn't like characters. Tanya makes for a great lead -- smart, honest, ruthless, and totally unaware of how badly she is in need of a sense of humor. Gabe, who ends up being her foil more often than he would like,  has perhaps too much of a sense of humor for his own good. The secondary characters are well-drawn and interesting to boot.

The writer I heard mentioned most often in discussions of how the writing should go was, of course, John Le CarrĂ©, he being the master of this sort of thing. But I also kept thinking of Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch books because, as in them, one side of the battle is definitely the Bad Guys. But the moral status of their opponents is iffy at best. 

The Lead Writer for the series is Lindsay Smith. The other writers are Ian Tregillis, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Max Gladstone, and, for Episode 6 only... me.

The series has gone life and my episode, A Week Without Magic, is coming up soon. If this sounds like your sort of thing, it's available via, the Serial Box Publishing iOS app, and wherever ebooks and audiobooks are sold.  Or you can just click here.


Friday, February 26, 2016

The Only Serious Drawback to Being a Writer


Most of the time, being a full-time writer is a pretty good gig. You get to pick your own hours. Nobody yells as you for staring thoughtfully at a blank wall for an hour or two. Every now and again, somebody buys you a ticket  to Moscow. I put in my years as a cubicle-dweller and I can attest to the superiority of the freelance life.


Except when you're sick. That's when you miss the nine-to-five grind. Most particularly, that's when you miss sick leave.

I have the grunge. I'll be fine in a day or two. But in the meanwhile, I'm sick... and nobody's paying me for it. I'm losing money!


I'll see you on Monday.

Above: The fiction factory is closed for the duration. I'm going to crawl back into bed now.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Michael Swanwick, Writer on Lights (tm)


Okay, not really. But I do occasionally write a story meant for a single surface -- a mask, a light, a carafe. I'm not sure how many of them I have. They're scattered about the house.

Up above is one of them. It's a story titled "Fool Moon," and is written on the surface of an Ikea lamp which is bolted to the wall of my office.

No particular reason for telling you this. I was just feeling whimsical.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Skylark of Philadelphia


Gardner Dozois has accepted so many awards on behalf of other people that it felt strange to perform that same chore for him. But it was one of those good news/bad news situations. The membership of the New England Science Fiction Society had decided to give Gardner the Skylark Award, for services to science fiction, and Gardner was distinctly tickled by the honor. Alas, only days before Boskone, a family crisis arose and he had to cancel his hotel reservation and train tickets.

Gardner being Gardner, of course, when he asked me to stand in for him, he said, "I don't know why they're giving this to me. I've never done anything to deserve it."

So at the ceremony, after a loving peroration by David Gerrold and a brisk lecture on the dangers of the award by Bruce Coville, I accepted on Gardner's behalf, saying, "I promised Gardner that I would say that he's sure he did something to deserve this award. If you agree, please clap."

The applause was thunderous.

And now . . .

The Skylark Award, named in honor of uberpulpster E. E. "Doc" Smith and incorporating a magnifying glass in honor of his Lensman series, is famed as one of the most dangerous trophies in the world. Gardner will doubtless place it in the window of his apartment, where it will focus the rays of the sun into a white-hot point that will set the walls ablaze, killing everyone in the building in an inferno that will spread to all of Philadelphia and collapse the world economy, ushering in a centuries-long era of plague and apocalyptic despair.

So, ironically, this probably won't work out well for him. But when all is said and done, it's the honor that matters, isn't it?

Above: Photo by M. C. Porter, paparazza to the stars.


Monday, February 22, 2016

writing in my sleep [February 22, 2016)

In the middle of the night, Marianne woke me up to tell me I was snoring. I wasn't, of course, but I told her that I'd been writing lyrics for Bob Dylan. Here's a sample:

Oh, the paper said we lived in the valley
And published our sins under the fold.
Johnny Fed came calling, read the tally,
And told us he'd take payment in gold.


This is late because I spent all day driving back from Boston. But I have lots of news to pass along. So I'll be doing that soon. Stayed tuned.


Friday, February 19, 2016

A Refusal to Apologize Which Nevertheless Sounds an Awful Lot Like an Apology

Last week, I missed the Wednesday post here. Two days ago, I did it again.

So what's going on?

Well, I've been writing. It's not that I have nothing to say -- things and things and things continue to happen. But the novel I've been working on since well before I finished Chasing the Phoenix caught fire and I've been moving forward at a pace unimaginable a year ago. I am enrapt. My imagination is all entangled with the world I have created. The time comes comes to blogpost and it feels like an infidelity.

Honest to God, I want to entertain you. But I feel the call of my novel and, behind it, time's winged chariot.

So here's my promise: If I can steal the time, I'll keep you apace of current developments. If not, I'll feel guilty I didn't.

Um.. that's all, I guess.


Monday, February 15, 2016

I'm going to MOSCOW!


This is my big news for the season: If I don't have any problems with the visa -- and that's a very big if -- I'm going back to Moscow in a month. I'll be at Roscon, the Russian national science fiction convention, hobnobbing with the greats of Russian science fiction.

You can't imagine how happy I am for me.

So my convention schedule for the year is...

February 19-21: Boskone at the Weston Waterfront Boston

March 19-20: Roscon in Moscow

May 27-29: Balticon at the Hunt Valley Inn

July 8-10: Readercon in Quincy, MA

August 17-20: MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 Worldcon in Kansas CIty
                       (I'll be a guest of honor!)

October 8-9: Capclave in Gaithersburg, MD

Novemer 18-20: Philcon in Philadelphia

That's a lot of appearances! If you're going to be at any of them, be sure to say hi.


Friday, February 12, 2016

Lock Up Your Asimov's Readers' Awards -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!


Look at those two rogues... uh, great writers... up above. Those are the immortal Howard Waldrop and the almost-immortal-getting-there-right-soon-now Andy Duncan.  I was chatting with them in the bar at some damn convention or other and took it into my head to whip out my phone and take their picture. "Don't they look like two Depression-era grifters?" I said to the first person I showed it to. And to the second... And to the fourteenth... At which point, I finally realized that my subconscious was trying to tell me there was a story there.

So I wrote the opening page or two and showed what I had to Gregory Frost. Who is a terrific writer and a good friend and has a particularly fine ear for regional dialect. I suggested a collaboration. We swapped ideas. We made stuff up. We laughed like hell.

We had a lot of fun writing "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters -- H'ard and Andy Are Come to Town!"

Back when I was in college, there was a fifteen-year-old girl who was the terror of my otherwise libertine friends. She was underaged, hot to to trot, and had a thing for college boys. Oh yeah, and her father was the sheriff. I shaved a couple of years off her age and slung her into the story to give the otherwise self-assured H'ard and Andy something to worry about.

Greg, meanwhile, had been researching the Dust Bowl for a different project he had going and suggested we set the story there and then. He was the one who came up with the Dust Giant scam and H'ard's marvelous dance.

Beyond those two things, though, I couldn't tell you who wrote what. It's all kind of mixed together and swapped about. But I can tell you that the story is pretty much the most flat-out fun thing I've ever (co-) written.

So it pleases me enormously to learn that it made it onto the finalists list for the Asimov's Readers' Award. Which means, apparently, that those who read it agree with me.

You can read about the award (and admire the other stories that made the list) here. Or just go to, wander around, and maybe buy yourself a subscription to Asimov's. You've done worse things in your time.

And you can read the story itself for freebies, here.

Voting is closed and the winners will be announced in May.

And . . .

This is my second blog post of the day. If you scroll downward, you can read the first one, about my forthcoming new collection, The Dala Horse.

And . . .

Just in case you don't scroll down and read to the end, I should mention that I'm going to be at Boskone in a mere eight days. If you're going to be there too,, why not say hi?


Coming in August . . . THE DALA HORSE!


Here we go, kids! My newest collection comes out in August. And here's what the publisher, Tachyon Publications, has to say about it:

The Dala Horse

by Michael Swanwick
ISBN: 9781616962289
Published: August 2016
Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and Digital Books

The master of literary science fiction returns with this dazzling new collection. Michael Swanwick takes us on a whirlwind journey across the globe and across time and space, where magic and science exist in possibilities that are not of this world. These tales are intimate in their telling, galactic in their scope, and delightfully sesquipedalian in their verbiage.

Join the caravan through Swanwick’s worlds and into the playground of his mind. Travel from Norway to Russia and America to Gehenna. Discover a calculus problem that rocks the ages and robots who both nurture and kill. Meet a magical horse who protects the innocent, a semi-repentant troll, a savvy teenager who takes on the Devil, and time travelers from the Mesozoic who party till the end of time…

Which must be true, because what possible motivation would a publisher have to lie?

And here's a link to the table of contents.

And in case you noticed...

I didn't manage to make the time for a blog post on Wednesday because I just spent two days working on the application for a Russian visa. Which process is, appropriately enough, a bear.

And why, you ask, am I applying for the visa? More on this very question on Monday.

And also . . .

Not this weekend but next, I'll be at Boskone! If you're going to be there, be sure to say hello.

And . . .

I have so much news to pass along that I'll be making an unprecedented second Friday blog post later today! Wow.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Primates, Billingsgate, and Meaningless Intensifiers


Long ago, I gave Gardner Dozois a fresh-off-the-typewriter copy of what would be my first published story, "The Feast of Saint Janis," for his judgment and advice. When next I saw him, he handed it back with a big smile and said, "Congratulations, Michael. You're the first human being ever to write a story about rock and roll without using the word 'fuck.'"

"Oh, golly," I exclaimed. "I'd better do something about that."

So, yes, I have to admit that I have a tendency to underuse obscenity. But, being aware of it, I consciously go through my fiction to insert it where needed.

My reluctance to employ Billingsgate stems from two sources. The first is a statement a friend once made that such words are employed as "meaningless intensifiers." Which is to say that if you were to take an obscenity-laden passage and substitute "very" for every "fucking," you would have changed the meaning not one whit.

The second was something  Robert Anton Wilson said somewhere in his Illuminatus! trilogy, that when primates feel threatened they throw feces -- but when those primates are writers, they employ scatology.

This is an observation that explains so much.

Among other things, it explains the review I read online yesterday, of a book or a play or a movie -- I am deliberately vague here to avoid giving offense to someone whose sin was not only small but very, very common -- he or she absolutely despised. It was a very witty piece of prose, one of those critical bloodlettings that are such guilty pleasures to those of us they are not aimed at, and it was rife with this and that and the other words.

I thought they added nothing. So I reread the piece, mentally eliding them. The result was beyond dispute funnier, wittier, better. What I had just read was a very talented writer expressing their fear of being stuck forever, writing reviews of things they despised.

So there's my advice to new writers: If there are a lot of obscenities in your work, go through it, imagining what the text would look like without them. If they add nothing, take them out.

I, meanwhile, will be going through my work, seeing if they need to be put in.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In which I casually mention tha..t THE DALA HORSE, my new collection, is coming your way...

I'm working on the page proofs for THE DALA HORSE, my new collection of short fiction from Tachyon Publications. So far, I've gone over the stories and have moved on to the copyright notices. You'd think that would be easy, but no. Mistakes are like cockroaches. They want to abandon the cold Outside and move into your nice, warm house or book. It's almost impossible to keep them out.

Which is why I haven't posted today.

But, not having posted today, allow me to make the following announcement:

My new collection, THE DALA HORSE, is coming out this August. It will be available to be bought and autographed at MAC 2, this year's Worldcon. Where, entirely coincidentally, I will be guest of honor.

John Clute once told me that to serious book collectors, a dated autograph only increases the book's value when it's the year of publication or the day the author does something significant, like win an award or commit suicide. I jokingly tell my friends that if they come upon me signing all my old books, they should buy me a drink and cheer me up

But a book signed-and-dated when I'm goh at a Worldcon during the year of publication? Priceless. Or, anyway, worth slightly more than it was when I scribbled in it.

Verb sap.This is yet another reason you should attend the Worldcon.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Ursula Von Rydingsvard in Princeton


I've been a big fan of Ursula von Rydingsvard ever since discovering her work at Storm King. [Footnote: Storm King is arguably one of the three coolest things about the Hudson River Valley, along with Opus 40 and the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome.) So when I learned that there was a show of her work at the Princeton University Art Museum, off I went.

The untitled work is nineteen feel high, and is clad in more than three thousand hand-hammered
copper pieces over a maquette of stacked cedar beams shaped with a circular saw. It's the first time von Rydingsvard has worked with copper and it took her six months to build.

And it's gorgeous.

There's a small show of von Rydingsvard's work at the museum, comprising four works on (or of) paper, four wooden sculptures and one of dried, sewn, and stacked cow stomachs. Not a big retrospective, alas, which admittedly would cost a fortune to assemble, move, and mount. But well
worth seeing if you're in the area.

Above: My camera phone can't really do it justice. But there's a full-length shot of the sculpture, a medium-length one, and a detail of the surface.