Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Rare Vintage Story

This is in the way of a peek preview. Several people here have expressed an interest in obtaining one of my bottled stories. Well, I've just created another one. "Moon Over Lubyanka" is 415 words long, counting the title. and it was inspired by an evening with representatives from Eksmo, my Russian publishing house, in a smoky little piano bar restaurant overlooking the infamous Lubyanka Prison. There was a full moon low in the sky over the prison, and Moscow never looked more beautiful or romantic than it did then. So romantic was it, in fact, that I found an excuse to lure Marianne out on the balcony and kissed her so that moment would remain perfect in my memory forever.

But neither the kiss nor Marianne feature in this story. I printed out a single copy, rolled it up, and placed it in an old Perrier Jouet bottle. Then I signed and dated the bottle with a diamond tipped pen and drove a cork into its neck. Marianne sealed it with red wax and pressed into it the Claddagh ring I bought her when we were engaged.

Finally, I destroyed all electronic copies of the story, leaving the one in the bottle unique in the old, unspoiled meaning of that word.

I've contributed the bottle to a worthy cause, and it's going to be raffled off. So you don't need to be rich to get it -- just lucky.

Exactly who is auctioning the bottle off and where can't be revealed just yet. But I'll let you know when the time is ripe. Probably in early July.

And the Poem du Jour is . . .

. . . mirabile dictu, by Yeats again. (Can you tell that I'm Irish?) Click here to read it.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby

Right now I'm slogging away at the opening chapters of the Darger and Surplus novel. This is the stage where a day's work is measured in paragraphs rather than pages, and keeping you advised on how little progress was being made would only convince you that the book will never get finished. But it will, it will, it will. I speak from experience.

Meanwhile, life goes on. Two weekends ago, Marianne and I went to see the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby. Alas, their site does not have the glorious array of photos it should, but it's a truly demented event. Surely everybody here knows the old saying, "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you give an artist a bicycle, you're just asking for trouble." Well, way up in the Northern Liberties of Philadelphia, it happened that an artist was adding a couple of extra wheels to his son's outgrown tricycle when a friend dropped by and was inspired to challenge him to a race. And the rest is . . . whatever it is. I dunno. Everybody seemed to be having fun, though.

And you simply cannot dislike an event which offers a special award for "the sculpture who breaks down in the most glorious fashion." Even the solecism is quintessentially Kensington.

And Yesterday's Poem du Jour . . .

. . . was by Dorothy Parker. Fondly referred to by those who love her work best as Dotty.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

Here I am, up on the porch railing, hanging the flag for Memorial Day. The flag was the gift of Marianne's father, who served in the US Navy on board the USS Thurston. "I was off shore at every major battle in World War Two," he liked to say, "wishing them well."

My own father was a radar man in the Army Air Force. His bomber was the Mild and Bitter, known among those who care about such things as the first bomber to fly one hundred missions against the Axis and one of only two to fly two hundred missions during the war. He didn't talk much about the war.

Both men are, like so many others, gone. Today, we remember them all.

Last Saturday's Poem du Jour . . .

. . . was Pablo Neruda's "Saddest Poem." You can find it here.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Unique Zines for a Unique Audience

How exclusive are the zines you read? Odds are that I can best you. Every day (or, when things are particularly busy every second or third day), I organize all my mail by topic, throw in any interesting articles I run across on the Web, and then add illos and the day's date.

Then I give them to Marianne. She's the zine's only reader.

A random scattering of my Daybooks is shown above. Some have cartoons and photos found online. (If "fair use" means anything at all, then it allows you to make a single copy to be shown to a single person.) Others are photos that I or friends have taken. The pictures above include the not-terrorist explosion in NYC, myself and friends (the "Special 'Shark Among the Lambs' Issue"), an old Congres Boreal poster, a b&w copy of a stunning photo by Vlatko Juric-Kokic (the color printer was down), an island (the "Special 'There Will Always Be a Sark!' Issue") and the fabulous James Patrick Kelly. Among others.

Kind of nifty, really. I've been doing this for I forget how many years.

And . . .

Yesterday's Poem du Jour was "Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. Fabulous poet. Irish, of course.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Dance of the Mathoms

Hi. A gallimaufry of items today, I'm afraid. First off . . .

Podcasting "Koboldtown"

Escape Pod has podcast "A Small Room in Koboldtown" as part of its project to (I believe) podcast all the current short-fiction Hugo nominees. You can find it here.

The story is read by Cheyenne Wright, of Arcane Times and Girl Genius (my nominee for Most Entertaining Story Ever; she's the colorist), and has my favorite be-careful-of-this-Swanwick-guy warning of the year to date:

Rated PG. Contains dark, seedy places and dark, seedy characters, only a few of them alive.

A Long Overdue Disclaimer

Henry Wessells, who is not only my good friend but the man responsible for the publication of What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage?: James Branch Cabell in the Twentieth Century, wrote to correct my speculation in Monday's post that some reviewers might have been particularly kind to the book because they received their copies free:


As your publisher, it is with a wry smile that I tell you your theory of reviewer enthusiasm is full of holes!

Steven Hart subscribed to the deluxe issue of Wreckage; and Douglas A. Anderson (yes, that one) bought a copy of the paperback, and reviewed it subsequently:

"Swanwick is an engaging critic, and his enthusiasm for what he likes is infectious . . . . There is gold in the past as well as in the present, and it's nice to have writers like Swanwick point out the treasures."
— Douglas A. Anderson

Also, Paul Di Filippo lauds the book in the July 2008 Asimov's.

Your pal,


So I am, not for the first time, wrong. Some reviewers, believe it or not, will put a lot of work into a review of a book they bought despite the fact that the money they receive will not pay for the book itself. I think we should all be a little appalled with admiration at that.

Stephen Saperstein Frug, who was as I expected appalled to discover that his (mostly positive) review was the most negative one I received, wrote:

Aside from the free/bought copy issue, I wonder if there isn't another difference: was I the only reviewer to have read the book without having actually read any Cabell?

And that may well be. One of the essay's chief functions, after all, was to make the interested reader aware of which of Cabell's books he (or, more rarely, she) need not bother with, and why. To read Cabell and like some of his books -- as I did and did -- is to feel vaguely uneasy that there might be something wonderful out there that one is missing. Which I also did.

But it occurs to me that I haven't yet posted a disclaimer that I should've put up in my very first blog. So I'll do it now:


I've been assuming all along that everybody understood this. But, of course, that assumption being about matters of fact and coming from me, is absolutely unreliable. I believe that Kurt Godel had something to say about this.

Oh, and I'll exempt my formal essays on Cabell and Mirrlees from the above. I researched them as best I could, and if I got anything wrong, I'll take my lumps for doing so.

Hylozoic Soil

Okay, this is just bizarre. Bizarre and cool. It looks benign, but it's hungry for your blood. What the heck was this guy thinking? I like him a lot.

And Finally, Laptop Skins

Capitalism discovers yet another way to separate you from your money!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Into the AIR, Ju-nior Bird-men!

I don't know why this story didn't get bigger play. Yves Rossy is a hero to the teenage boy inside us all.

The Wired story is here.

But let's be honest. The camera work can't possibly compare to that of the man in the squirrel suit:

And for those of us who admire extreme acts of data recovery...

Courtesy of Greg Frost: click here.

And for those of us who admire Michael's relentless self-promotion...

I've just recently gotten three -- count 'em, three -- rave reviews for What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage?: James Branch Cabell in the Twentieth Century. In the latest New York Review of Science Fiction, Darrell Schweitzer writes:

This is the best literary monograph I have read in a long time . . . his little treatise makes clear, in away we've never quite seen it explained before, what happened to Cabell's career and why. It is a definitive autopsy report. Even the most devoted, lifelong Cabell fan will come away with insights.

And Steven Hart writes:

Swanwick has ranged the considerable length and negligible depth of the Cabell oeuvre and come back with good news about the good stuff to be found there. If, say, the Library of America decides it needs a suitable editor to bring James Branch Cabell into the Black Jacket Club, I know just the man for the job.

And in F&SF, James Sallis writes:

Cabell is a problematic author, and to all appearances was a difficult man, but for those interested in learning more about Cabell there can hardly be a better or more readable beginning than Swanwick's monograph.

But here's what's interesting about these and many previous extremely positive reviews. The book was published in an edition of two hundred. Which implies an astonishing reviewer-to-reader ratio. I suspect it's because publisher Henry Wessells was more interested in getting the book reviewed than in making money from it, and so sent out a significant fraction of the total run to reviewers.

Stephen Saperstein Frug, on the other hand, gave what he felt was a well-reasoned and -balanced review of the book here. He would be chagrined, I suspect, to be told that it was the most negative review of it I've received to date. And yet it was.

So why was everybody else so much more enthusiastic? I suspect it's because they received their books free while he had to pay for his out of his own pocket.

Another reminder, if we needed it, to take all reviews with a grain of sale.


Friday, May 16, 2008

James Morrow in the Dog Cemetery

What more need be said? There are strange things to be found on the long road between Philadelphia and Montreal. This is one of them. Here's a photo of James Morrow thinking appropriate thoughts in the dog cemetery.

Congres Boreal was delightful. I think it was Jean-Louis Trudel who told me that it was modeled after Readercon. But quite frankly, while Readercon is crammed with smart and articulate people, the conversations were better at Boreal.

I don't have the time to do a full con report. Among those present were Elisabeth Vonarburg, Karl Schroeder, Jo Walton, Catherine Dufour, Claude Lalumiere, Yves Meynard, and (briefly) Donald Kingsbury. I talked, I listened, I learned, I did a one-question interview with Karl which I've already sent to the New York Review of Science Fiction, and I posted a few photos on Flikr. You can find them here.

Kathryn Cramer also has some pix of Boreal up on Flikr, including one of me as the Clown of Death.

Me . . . In . . . Spaaaaaace!

A website called has posted a "NASA List of books, movies, television shows, and music maintained on the International Space Station (ISS) for recreational/off-duty consumption." And guess who just barely squeaked in? The surprisingly genre-heavy list of book (lots of Lois McMaster Bujold, for example) includes several issues of Asimov's Science Fiction, one of which contains "The Word That Sings the Scythe," a revised-for-stand-alone-publication section of (yes) The Dragons of Babel. One small step for a writer, one giant leap toward getting a Lunar crater named after me someday.

You can read the list here. There doesn't seem to be much music on it. Maybe the astronauts have all got their own iPods?

What You Can Do (Part 2)

Marianne did a little more thorough search of the Web than did I and came up with Charity Navigator's list of the most effective places to contribute money for disaster relief in China. These include "4-star charities" Direct Relief International, Mercy Corps, United Methodist Committee on Relief (all three working with partner agencies in China) and ADRA (on the ground in China). You can check it out here.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

How to Help (Part 1)

Ruhan Zhao sent me the link for the American Red Cross's dedicated funds donation site for China earthquake relief. I did a quick Web search, and this appears to be the most reliable way for foreign nationals to make a donation.

If, like me, you'd like to contribute to the effort, you can find the site here.

Ruhan also tells me that Cecilia Qin, who was my volunteer translator during my stay in Chengdu, may be sleeping on the sports field with other students while the threat of aftershocks continues. This is a minor inconvenience compared to the misery of those caught by the worst of the quakes. But it really brings home the vast extent of the displacement this disaster has caused.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Mountain of Books.

En route to Congres Boreal, I stopped by Lloyd Currey's place. (That genial man is pictured above, standing among a tiny fraction of his books.) L. W. Currey, Inc. buys and sells "rare, fine and collectible first edition books in all fields of popular fiction, with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy literature from the earliest times to end of the twentieth century." I spent a happy hour or two wandering through his stacks of pre-WWII fiction, marveling at such titles as Queer Tales and Through the Sun on an Airship.

Alas, I cannot find my notes and so am unable to give you a fuller report. But Lloyd did show me his extensive selection of James Branch Cabell first editions, beautifully made and illustrated books in pristine condition, and mentioned that since the man's star has fallen so low, the prices on them are quite reasonable. I don't know exactly what reasonable is in the rare book field, but if you're looking for an entree into what can be an extremely pricey hobby, well, here's your opportunity.

I'll tell you a little about Congres Boreal on Friday. It won't be a full con report, though -- I have a novel to write.

An Update on the Earthquake in China

Ruhan Zhao reported in the "Comments" to yesterday's post: I have got a confirm from an editor of Science Fiction World magazine that all the editors there are safe.

Those giants pandas in Chengdu and Wolong (much closer to the earth quake center than Chengdu) natural centers are also safe.

Cecelia Qin wrote me from Chengdu, just a few minutes ago: Things here in Chengdu are not so bad. But I'm extremely worried about my family since my hometown locates just right next to the center. Luckily they are all fine. But, my mom is a doctor and is the head of a hospital, their major job now is to save all the patients that transported from center...all the safe places are cleared for the patients, but I'm not sure the doctors are so safe as well.

Like everyone else who's following this story, I'm tremendously moved by the enormous relief effort being mounted by the Chinese people. If anybody reading this knows where a contribution of money would do the most good, I'd be grateful to hear of it.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Winooski Gorge

Driving up to Montreal on I-89, I caught a glimpse of what in my youth we called simply "the Gorge." From the car, it looked like nothing special. But it loomed large for me in those years. Here's what I wrote in "A Changeling Returns," and essay originally published in Meditations on Middle-Earth:

You grow older, you grow more wary. As a boy in Vermont, I spent almost every day of one summer fishing in the Winooski River. I didn’t tell my parents that my favorite spot was a backwater just below the hydroelectric dam at the head of a stretch of river bounded by high, steep cliffs to either side, which we all called the Gorge. The river churned wildly as it went through the Gorge, and every few years a teenager died falling from the cliffs. And I certainly didn’t tell my parents that the way to the backwater was through the old power plant, and involved scrambling down the jagged, rusted-out remains of iron stairways and a running leap over a gap that would have, at a minimum, broken bones if I’d slipped. For all that, those long summer days spent with my best friend Steve, fishing and talking and playing cards and reading stacks of comic books from each other’s knapsacks, were one of the best times of my life. I wouldn’t trade the memory of them for anything.

Years later, somewhat transformed, it appeared in The Dragons of Babel:

The Gorge extended half a mile down-river from the hydroelectric dam to a sudden drop in the land that freed the Aelfwine to run swift and free across the tidewater toward its confluence with the Great River. The channel it had dug down through the bedrock was so straight and narrow that the cliffs on either side of it were almost perpendicular. The water below was white. Crashing, crushing, tumbling as if possessed by a thousand demons, it was energetic enough to splinter logs and carry boulders along in its current. Anyone trying to climb down the cliffs here would surely fall. But if he ran with all his might and jumped with all his strength, he might conceivably miss the rock and hit the water clean. In which case he would certainly die. Nobody could look down at that raging fury and pretend otherwise.

It was an endlessly fascinating prospect to contemplate: Stone, water, stone. Hardness, turbulence, hardness. Not a single tree, shrub, or flower disturbed the purity of its lifelessness. The water looked cold, endlessly cold.

Is there anything for which we feel so much nostalgia as that which, when we were young, we knew could easily kill us?

An Apology

I was, as I feared might happen, unable to find the time and opportunity to get online while at Congres Boreal (wonderful event! more on it soon), but I was not expecting to be overdue with Monday's post. Alas, I got home at ten yesterday night, far too weary to add a single word. Next time something like this comes up, I'll manage it better.

The Earthquake in China

As you may have heard, there was a massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, China. Science Fiction World, the widest-read SF magazine in the world, is located in Chengdu, so those of us who made new friends there last year were of course concerned. Luckily, they seem to be untouched. I've received an email from my fellow writer Haihong Zhao, who says:

Chengdu is quite close to the center, yet the situation there was not bad. Most of the area was in the mountains, so the information could not be transported immediately, there will be heavy rain this evening, which will make the
matters worse.

We are watching, the whole China is watching, and acting.

The Chinese Army has been mobilized to lead relief efforts and the government is apparently pouring resources into the area. (Quite a contrast with Myanmar!) If I learn anything that you can't find out more immediately elsewhere, I'll let you know.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Quick Note

I'm off to Montreal for the 2008 Congres Boreal (my apologies for not having mastered the art of adding accents to Web posts), and while I shall try to blog while I'm there, there's a small but measurable possibility that I won't mange to get access to a computer. If there's nothing here on Friday, that's why and I apologize for it.

But I expect I'll manage. I'll certainly try.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

This Glitteratti Life

Strange Smile Competition:  I finally have photographic evidence of the Avram Davidson Society luncheon last Thursday, May 1, thanks to David Hartwell.  Above, l-r:  David Hartwell (he got a waiter to take the pic), myself, Henry Wessells, and Adrian Dannatt.  Every group photo has to make at least one person look odd, and it seems that this time I drew the short straw.

The gathering was as small as the Society has ever garnered.  People were out of town, already committed, etc., etc.  But it was still worth making the effort and the two hundred mile round trip because... well...  I'm a member of the Avram Davidson Society.  How cool is that?

The book I'm holding up, incidentally, is The Other Nineteenth Century, which is the collected Avram Davidson steampunk stories.  If you read only one AD collection in your lifetime, you should make it The Avram Davidson Treasury.  But the steampunk volume is good as well.

And My Latest Adventure in Reprint-Land . . .

My contributor's copies of The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy arrived yesterday, and I had fun sampling its contents.  In the introduction, editor Mike Ashley says that he has "presented the stories in sequence from the least to the most extreme, so that your imagination can expand as you work through the book."

So of course the first thing I did was check where my story, "Radio Waves," ranked on the Weird-o-Meter.   Fifth from the end, out of two dozen.  Not bad.  Edged out by Ted Chiang's "The Tower of Babel."  Perfectly fair.  That was one strange story.  But is Sean McMullen's "A Ring of Green Fire," the book's ultimate story, really more extreme than Ted's and mine put together?  And the very first story is Andy Duncan's "Senator Bilbo," in which arch-racist Theodore Bilbo is a hobbit and the descendant of one B. Baggins.  Is that really less extreme than the notion that when you die, the world turns upside-down and you fall off?

Well, half the fun of an anthology that purports to rank its stories by objective criteria is arguing with the results.  This is a big fat book, containing a lot of very cool stories, many of which I hadn't read before.  So I'm happy.  Particularly since my story is deemed way more extreme than Howard Waldrop's.

If anybody cares to do their own ranking of these stories by Extremity/Edginess/Sheer Bugfuck Weirdness, I'd love to see the list.  Though I'll disagree with that one too.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Sleek, Chic, and Ever So Geek

In Richard Mason's response to last Friday's posting, he mentioned had-powered digital cameras which Sony made -- but, sadly, only as a promotional item. Alas, many of the coolest things in the world are issued in limited, and thus unobtainable, editions. As witness the above absolutely real Chanel USB key. Manufactured in an edition of 250 for an in-house promotion.

You won't be seeing this one on Ebay anytime soon, either. Chanel frowns on its employees profiteering from its brand. In fact, the Chanel employee who showed me the key made me promise not to mention her name.

Pretty cool, though. Anybody interested in getting more young women involved in IT might want to look into this.

And the exact opposite . . .

There are a zillion USB keys out there in the form of twigs, thumbs, rubber duckies, you name it. But if I had to choose the single one that was the exact opposite of the Chanel, it would have to be this one.

Et un amuse bouche . . .

Aberrant Dreams has an interview with me here. Here's a snippet:

I've definitely got a love-hate relationship with the genre. On the one hand, I love the work of writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, John Crowley, Fritz Leiber, Paul Park, and all the others, who've written magnificent works that only fantasy makes possible. On the other hand, too many writers have learned how to write formulaic imitation fantasy. Sometimes looking at the fantasy racks can be as depressing as discovering that the Shire has been gentrified and all the hobbits cleared away to make room for condominiums and Appleby's and Gap outlets. It hurts the heart.


Friday, May 2, 2008

This Glitteratti Life

It always happens.  Not to you, maybe, because you're better organized than I am.  But always to me.  Two minutes after I hit St. Mark's Square in Venice, my camera died.  Standing in front of the Tsar's Bell in the Kremlin, my camera ran out of juice.  And so on, in Sweden... Finland... Croatia...  If if would be a really good idea to have a snapshot, my camera's not available.

Which is why there isn't a photo on today's post.  

Yesterday, I got up, ran a few errands, and then drove a hundred miles north to New York City for the Avram Davidson Society luncheon.  This august organization exists to promote the memory and reputation of one of the great American short fiction writers of the Twentieth Century.  It's entirely a coincidence that two of my editors were there.  Henry Wessells, founder of the Society, of course published What Can Be Saved from the Wreckage?  James Branch Cabell in the Twentieth Century, famed for its 17-copy limited hardcover edition signed by myself, Barry Humphries (you may know him as Dame Edna), and JBC himself, and has plans to do something else by me, though not this year.  And David Hartwell is my editor at Tor -- insert mandatory plug for The Dragons of Babel here -- as well as being a friend of long standing.  David and I discussed, among many other things, the logistics of our trip with James and Kathy Morrow to Congres Boreal next week.

Then a quick hundred-mile jaunt home to feed the cat, pick up Marianne, and drive downtown for dinner with Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper, and Ricky Kagan.

I mention all this not to dazzle you with my fabulous social life (though if you cared to be dazzled, I wouldn't object) but to explain why I haven't whomped up something more substantive for today's post.  

I was having a life.

So may we all.

Et un amuse bouche pour vous . . .

You probably want to hear a bit of the gossip.  Hmm... well...  Gardner (who edits, remember, The Year's Best Science Fiction for St. Martin's Press) tells me that Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, The Starry Rift, is an early front-runner for best science fiction anthology of the year -- despite the fact that it's aimed specifically at the YA market.

What's that?  Oh, yes,  We really do gossip about business and art, and a lot of the gossip is simple praise.  I know how unlikely that sounds.