Friday, May 6, 2016

The Mot Juste Not Often Spoken Aloud


A little less than two weeks ago, there was a memorial for David Hartwell at Columbia University in NYC. David was a serious mover and shaker in the world of science fiction, both as an editor and as a fan. A lot of people were pretty shaken when he was suddenly taken from us. So the gathering was a pretty heady combination of editors, agents, writers, big-name fans, bookmen, and the like. Even David's boss, Tom Doherty, was there to talk about his old friend.

Two days ago, I was at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr for Fran Wilde's book launch of her new Tor novella, The Lapidary and Her Stone. Fran, who is hooked into the new-and-upcoming-writer circuit in a way I haven't been for decades, told me that the memorial was widely seen as the networking opportunity of the season.

That's not how it felt on the ground.

Partly, it was that the event was organized by Jennifer Gunnels (seen above, left, next to Marianne) and she made sure that only people who belonged there were invited. I told my agent, Martha Millard, that this was the third memorial for David I'd attended, and she said, "Maybe after a few more, we'll begin to believe that he's gone." Nobody there was in a networking mood.

I did not speak, though I would have had I been needed. But I knew there would be many, many who wanted to lay a last wreath of words at David's feet, and in this I was right. The tributes did go on for quite a bit.

Still, there was one thing that was said by several of the speakers and also privately, both before and after the formal part of the memorial. "We are a family." It was said over and over. "We are all family."

Looking around at that gathering, I could see that it was true. It was mot juste for this gathering. These were all people I cared about, all people who mattered to me and to each other.

We don't often say this aloud. Ours is not an age that celebrates sentiment. But there it is. Amid all our moving and shaking, money-seeking and literary ambition, we have created something that requires a warmer, closer, more personal word than community.

Above, l-r: Jennifer Gunnels, Marianne Porter, Kevin J. Maroney. A lot of speakers got applause. Only Kevin got spontaneous laughter. He also paraphrased John 21, verse 25, which I thought was magnificently cheeky of him. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Blurbs So Much," Said the Cat


It's hard to look modest when you're blogging about the blurbs an upcoming book has received so far. But, really, the generosity of all those who contributed blurbs does overwhelm me, in large part because I know exactly how much work these things can be.

As a matter of policy, I never thank reviewers for saying nice things about my work, because I honestly believe it's condescending to do so. Either they gave their best reactions or they didn't. But good reviews do make me happy, too.

So here are the blurbs that Tachyon Publications has gathered to date for my forthcoming collection "Not So Much," Said the Cat.

“OK—it’s official. Michael Swanwick is a god. He makes worlds that work, every tick and tock of them. He makes people who cry, sweat, puke, fall in love, die in conceivable ways. He’s smart and crafty, passionate and wily. Both trickster and life-giver. He creates and uncreates. And yes, he brings Light. If I don't exactly worship him, I read every story of his I can get my hands on. So thanks, Tachyon for bringing me more stories—some old favorites, some I hadn't read before. Because gods need their readers, and God knows, I need more Swanwick.”
—Jane Yolen, author of Briar Rose
“Michael Swanwick is one of our most reliably entertaining and provocative writers.”
—Greg Bear, author of Darwin’s Radio
“I would effuse about the excellence of the stories within this collection—Michael Swanwick's eleventh such—for they are by turns shocking, delightful, puckish, innovative, and electric. . . . However, I am too busy plotting how to steal the devil’s stone (given to him by a Siberian shaman) that Michael keeps by his typewriter in order to unlock his writing power, all without disturbing his cat.”
—Fran Wilde, Nebula-nominated author of Updraft and Cloudbound
“This is standard Swanwick, where the reader’s feet never quite touch the ground. Brilliant.”
—Jack McDevitt, author of The Engines of God
“A perfect marriage of classic stories and bleeding edge tech, from godlike continental AIs to the abolishment of time, clever discourse on libertarianism and zero-sum economics in a mirroring tale of humanity and alien bugs, fairy tales and one of the best futuristic con-games I've ever had the pleasure of consuming.”
—Brad K. Horner
“A whirlwind of stories that take you across the world, through different pockets of time, and into a sample of the lives being lived, Not So Much, Said the Cat is an excellent compilation. Swanwick’s latest book is a delight to read, both entertaining and insightful.”
Pooled Ink

“I fell head-over-heels in love with this collection of stories.”
Lipstick and Libraries


Monday, May 2, 2016

A Simple Solution to the Bathroom Wars


On my first visit to Russia, a fan took me aside and, lowering his voice, said, "Tell me. Is it true that your Samuel R. Delany is... of a different persuasion?"

"Queer as can be!" I said cheerfully. "He's written entire books about how gay he is."

And my friend nodded in a way that indicated he was taking my theory about Chip's sexuality into consideration.

Russia is anything but enlightened on the LGBT front. So you can imagine how surprised I was last month to discover a simple way of evading the current, entirely-unnecessary debate over which bathroom transgendered people should use.

I was in a convention center in Moscow when I felt the call of nature. So I followed the signs and found myself suddenly standing before a large open space with free-standing sinks at which women were washing their hands. Beyond them was a wall of doors with behind each door a toilet.

You don't often find yourself in an unfamiliar category of public space. So I stood a distance back from the arrangement, watching while several men hurried past and into the little rooms. Then, when I was clear on the rules -- that all the rooms were available to people of all genders -- I did my business.

Unisex bathrooms. This was the dire, society-destroying threat that sank the Equal Rights Amendment decades ago. And yet, they're nothing new. I grew up in a house that had one. You probably did too.

Above: The men's room door at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. Another pretty simple solution.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Give In To Your Better Impulses


To be a science fiction writer is to leave your mind open to vagrant thoughts and impulses -- some good, some bad. Mostly, I manage not to give in to my bad impulses, thought some of them are damnably clever, and this has worked out well for me. As witness the fact that I am not one of the most hated men in science fiction.

But sometimes I resisted good impulses, usually through cheapness or laziness.

Back in the 1980s, it was very common for button-makers to set up business in convention huckster rooms with buttons bearing slogans like FRODO LIVES! or IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU FART. But they would also make buttons on the spot featuring slogans that had just occurred to you.

I was at a Worldcon and had just been talking with James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel when I saw such a vender and had a sudden impulse to buy eight or nine buttons reading GRAND MASTER OF THE FUTURE to hand out to my pals, all new and largely ignored writers. Jim and John would have gotten one, as would Bruce Sterling and Nancy Kress. Plus a few others.

One of whom would definitely have been Connie Willis.

The day it was announced that Connie was receiving the Grand Master Award, I regretted my laziness and cheapness in no having those buttons made. It would have been a hoot to have a photo of Connie with the button. And I could have sent her a new button (presuming I could find someone to make it) reading GRAND MASTER OF THE PRESENT to replace the one she almost certainly would have lost or thrown away decades before.

Ah, well. I missed my chance. But don't you make the same mistake I did. Always give in to your better impulses.

Above: Connie Willis, Grand Master of the Future, Present, and Past. I'm pretty sure you're given time-traveling powers along with the award.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Luncheon in Memison


There was a memorial for the late David Hartwell in New York City on Monday, the third such I've attended, and there will be more. David was an important figure in the field. Afterward, six of us went out to lunch together. We had a pleasant time, enjoyed it greatly, and many interesting things were said. However, I didn't take notes, so the following fictionalized account will have to do instead.

A Luncheon in Memison

"Who wants what?" Gordon asked. As the god of industry and organization, it was his job to impose some semblance of order on the luncheon.

"I want a reign of blood and death," Marianne replied.

"That's what you always ask for," Ellen said. "Just once try the salad." She was the goddess responsible for organic foods, natural fibers and the like. There were times when she envied the hell out of Marianne, but there it was. What could you do?

"Six martinis and a bicycle horn," said Michael. He was the trickster of the group.

"Make that one martini and the mushroom risotto," Gordon told the waitress."David?"

"Croque Monsieur," David said. Nobody knew what he was the god of, but it seemed to have something to do with wine and foods with foreign names.

When the food arrived, they ate, as gods do, avidly and with great satisfaction.

"You were in China last year, weren't you, Marianne?" Ellen asked. "How was it?"

"People died in great numbers," Marianne said. "Also, the food was delicious."

Above (l-r): Gordon Van Gelder, Marianne Porter, Michael Swanwick, Ellen Kushner, David Axler. Photo by Delia Sherman. Delia would have been in this story if she'd been in the photo. But there it is. What can you do?


Monday, April 25, 2016

"I Liked It Better When We Were Going to Each Other's Weddings"


Brief post today, because I'm off to New York City for David Hartwell's memorial. It's the third one I've attended, but in ways the most apt because it's being held by Tor Books, the publishing house he worked at most recently and for many years.

Years ago, Ansible reported on the funeral of a British editor, and quoted Christopher Priest as saying, "I liked it better when we were going to each other's weddings."

So, yeah. Like that.


Friday, April 22, 2016

New From Dragonstairs -- Five Seasons!


Not long ago, Marianne published her smallest edition ever -- an art book titled Fallen Leaves, which was issued in an edition of twenty, of which seventeen were offered up for sale. The costs of producing it being what they were, it was Dragonstairs Press's priciest (though still, her advisors argued, underpriced) book to date. And it sold out in less than twenty hours.

Those who know Marianne can predict where this is going.

 As atonement for making a book which some could not afford and hardly any had the opportunity to buy, Marianne has created a new chapbook titled Five Seasons, containing five related flash fictions, all written by me. Signed and numbered in an edition of one hundred, hand-sewn with appropriately crimson thread, it sells for only five dollars, plus one dollar for shipping in the US or two dollars elsewhere in the world.

Or, for free, you can read the first section here.  It's titled...


I crave thy pardon, mistress, that I did try to eat thee.  It were the Darkwinter, when we all do what we must to survive.  I understand why thou dost flinch from my touch.
      Still.  Didst thou not kill thy sister, who did love thee, when the foodstuffs ran low?  Not that I disapprove.  It were the right thing to do, God wot.  Hunger knows no morals.  I did the same with my father, poor soul.
      Those dire times are behind us.  The snows are melting at last.  We can scrabble in the mud for last year’s roots, and perhaps a small rodent or three.  We keep our knives sharp and close to hand, of course, because we each know what the other is capable of.
      Now the ice turns back into pond water.  The air is warm.  Desperation falls a day, a second day, a third into the past.  Now at last – though I grip my blade as firmly as thou dost thine – I am free to say . . .
      I do love thee.

Which, okay, yes, is a little grimmer and more cynical than I usually go. But you should see the other four! 

Those who wish to buy a copy of the chapbook can find the Dragonstairs Press website here.