Monday, November 30, 2009

The Lantern of Diogenes


Here's something I'll bet you didn't know about me:  I was an Eagle Scout.  God's own truth.  I earned it, too.  Nobody becomes an Eagle Scout without putting in a lot of hard work and acquiring a lot of useful skills.

So it was a particular pleasure Saturday to attend the Eagle Scout Court of Honor for J. Colin McCormick, the son of a family friend and the second of the McCormick boys to earn that honor.  Congratulations, Colin!

And totally unrelated to the above . . .

Saturday I also wrote stories for a lantern I bought for that purpose recently.  The lantern, pictured above and below, has a paper screen, so I wrote four short-shorts, one for each side, inspired by the lantern itself.  The stories ended up having a common theme:  They were all about women.

Specifically, the stories and their heroines were:  Tinkerbell, PersephoneLucifera, and Diogenes.

But I hear you thinking doubtfully, Diogenes?  You betcha.  Here, just so you don't have to take my word for it, is the proof:

by Michael Swanwick

            Admit it.  You never could figure out what the deal was with Diogenes.  Carrying a lantern in broad daylight?  Looking for an honest man?  What the fuck?
            Here’s the simple explanation.  Diogenes was a woman.
            Perhaps she was a cross-dresser.  Maybe the historians goofed.  In either case, she was a looker:  Eyes, mouth, breasts, hips, all in the right order and proportions.
            “Why the lantern?” a prospective suitor would say.
            “Because it’s night,” she’d reply.  Or:  “I need it to see in the daylight.”
            And if he agreed with her, she knew he was no good.
            This much is known and no more.  Did Diogenes ever find romance?  Did she die a spinster?  On this both history and philosophy are silent.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday


Things are still quiet here.  Yesterday Marianne and I went to Sean's apartment, where he treated us to a Thanksgiving dinner "that couldn't be beat," as Arlo Guthrie used to put it.  Only in retrospect did the above photo strike me as distinctly Goth.

And this morning, Marianne and I had a small adventure.  We got up hours before our usual time, went to Micro Center with a short but pricey list of loss leaders in hand and stood in line for an hour before the store opened, went in, and bought them all.  Because this is her first year of retirement, Marianne had never done this before.

I did, however, point out to her that the ungodly hour we had to rise in order to get the bargains was exactly the same time as she woke up for her commute to work a year ago.

What does Thanksgiving dinner have to have in order to be Thanksgiving dinner?

Over the years, we've asked this question of dozens of people.  Our answer:

stuffing (the proper kind; none of your experimental foodie recipes allowed)
cranberry sauce (jelly, not whole berry)
mashed potatoes
sweet potatoes
midget sweet gherkin pickles
creamed onions
rolls (though personally I don't eat any during the meal; I save 'em for leftovers)

The smallest number required is zero, and a surprising number of folks adhere to that.  We've known people who had sushi for Thanksgiving and thought it a perfectly satisfactory holiday meal.  But the upper limit so far belongs to our friend Gail, who's of old New England stock (she's the sixth generation of her family to live in the house she now owns) and had to have something like twenty items, including three forms of cranberry sauce and four types of pie -- and the squash pie had to be cooked in a square pan!

It was only when she was an adult and had to cook the meal herself that Gail realized that the reason the squash pie was cooked in a square pan was that by that point all the round ones had been taken.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Mill 'n' Swill at Planet Hollywood


Monday, I drove to the Big Apple for SFWA's annual Mill 'n' Swill -- the one day a year when writers treat editors and publishers to free drinks.  Because the Society of Illustrators raised the price of renting their extremely pleasant and gorgeously-illustrated facilities sky-high, this year the event was held at Planet Hollywood.  So, for reasons of plot and convenience, that's where I ate.

And what sort of a restaurant is Planet Hollywood?  Let's put it this way.  It's the sort of restaurant where all the patrons are out-of-town tourists.  New Yorkers are horrified at the very thought of eating there.

In fact, when quintessential New York sophisticate Ellen Datlow arrived, Gardner asked if she'd ever eaten there before and, after she said no, held out his hand and said, "Pay up, Michael!"

I handed him a nickel and Ellen, mortified, said, "Did you really think I'd eaten here before?"

"No," I said.  "But it's more fun if you bet.  If I'd thought there was a chance in Hell of it, I'd've risked a dollar.  And if I'd really believed it, I'd've bet serious money."

Above, clockwise from left:  Ellen Datlow, Gordon Van Gelder, Richard Bowes, Ricky Kagan, Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper.  A pretty distinguished table of people, actually.

And as long as I'm here . . . 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you have a lot to be grateful for.  And if you don't, then I hope the coming year will be kinder to you.


Monday, November 23, 2009

A Quiet Evening At Home


Well, Philcon has come and gone.  (Most interesting observation of the weekend, from new writer Anna Kashina:  "In Russian, there is no word for privacy.")  Cory Doctorow was very kind and generous when my reading went five minutes over schedule.  I stayed for his reading, of selections from his not-yet-published novel, for which he spent a month in southern China, doing research, and it sounds like a winner.  Some of the panels went well, others fell flat, and I learned more about the strange field in which I work.  So it was worth attending.

Afterwards, Marianne and I had a few close friends over to the house.  Here are their pictures.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Sort Of Evening One Goes To The Theater For


Last night Marianne and I went to the Curio Theatre Company production of Conor McPherson's The Weir. It's sold as a series of ghost stories in an Irish pub, but really it's about how human contact is all that holds us back from the abyss. And it's the sort of show which is entirely dependent upon the actors. If one of them sucks, the play does too.

The play does not suck

So kudos to Liam Castellen, Josh Hitchens, Paul Kuhn, Eric Scotalti and Jennifer Summerfield for a wonderful night of theater.

The stage designer put the entire thing -- the pub and the audience -- right up on the stage, with seats on three sides and walls around it all. So only 45 people can see each performance. This and some brilliant reviews mean that Saturday's performance, the last, has only three seats available. If Philadelphia is on your radar and you have the day free and you move fast, I heartily recommend it.


My Philcon Schedule . . . I Think


Look what I got for my birthday! Two taxidermy cat's-eyes and a coyote tooth, from the one woman on earth who always knows what I want. I love you, Marianne.

And Speaking of Philcon . . .

This has to be some kind of a record. Philcon starts tomorrow and Programming still hasn't notified me as to what I'm scheduled to be on.

However, I just now discovered that they've put the program online, so here's what's probably my schedule. Odd. I was very careful not to agree to be the moderator for anything. Also, I'm not at all sure I'll be able to manage to attend the Microfiction panel. Which is a pity because it looks interesting. I'd be able to wing it,too, which is a plus. Some of the others (that first one, for example) look like they'd benefit from a little prep. But it's a bit late for that now.

Well, I shall simply do my best. If anybody wants to quickly suggest what might be the "core books and concepts for an understanding of the Science Fiction genre," that would be an enormous help.

For the reading, I'll either do "Goblin Lake," if I've been given a half-hour or "The Pearls of Byzantium" if I've been given an hour. The latter I created by taking the first three chapters of my Darger and Surplus novel, revising the ending to make it a stand-alone story, and then cutting it ruthlessly from 16,000 words to slightly less than 10,000. It's a story that may never be published -- and certainly not in this exact form. So if I have an hour, the reading will be unique in the old, unspoiled sense of the word.

Fri 7:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—A Science Fiction Curriculum For New Comers

Science Fiction authors list the core books and concepts for an understanding of the Science Fiction genre.
Michael J. Walsh (mod), Walter Hunt, Ted Rickles, Gail Z. Martin, Michael Swanwick

Fri 8:00 PM in Plaza II (Two)—Zombie Jamboree

Jane Austen spinning in her grave. The current fascination of all things zombie.
Tony Finan (mod), Michael Swanwick, D.E. Christman, James Chambers, Jonathan Maberry

Sat 1:00 PM in Executive Suite 623—MIchael Swanwick Reading

Sat 8:00 PM in Plaza I (One)—Insert Tab B Into Slot A

The treatment of sex in Science Fiction.
Victoria Janssen (mod), Lawrence M. Schoen, Michael Swanwick, Stephanie Burke, Lee Gilliland

Sat 9:00 PM in Plaza I (One)—The Art Of The Collaboration

What is it like to write with another writer and develop a unique voice which is not that of either partner but something new? Various authors who have collaborated explain how it is done.
Michael Swanwick (mod), Keith R.A. DeCandido, Mike McPhail, Chris Pisano, Brian Koscienski

Sun 12:00 PM in Plaza V (Five)—Why Isn't Science Fiction More International?

We aren't seeing many translations. We aren't seeing many stories from non-English speaking authors. What are we missing?
Michael Swanwick (mod), Darrell Schweitzer, Michael F. Flynn, Phillip Thorne

Sun 2:00 PM in Executive Suite 823—Microfiction: The Next Big Thing?

A number of magazines have opened dedicated to the art of the quick-fic. Pros and cons of flash fiction (under 1,000 words), nanofiction (under 40 words), and Twitter fiction (under 140 characters).
Nathan Lilly (mod), Michael Swanwick, Ef Deal, Dina Leacock, Jared Axelrod

I'll see y'all there! Don't be too shy to say hi.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Prisoner of Leonids


Did anybody else get up at three a. m. to look at the Leonids today? Marianne and I drove out to Valley Forge for the occasion. This was not an affectation . . . it's simply the closest place to Philadelphia where the light pollution is low enough to have a hope of being able to see anything. We didn't see a lot of falling stars, but it was worth it just for the experience of being there.

Which is way more than I can say for the remake of The Prisoner. I'd been wondering why they decided to revive this ultimately-flawed classic of the Cold War era today. Then, seeing it, I was baffled as to why, with such a crisp original to use as a model, they'd made such a limp, plodding, lifeless bowl of oatmeal out of it. (*)

My theory after dozing through either two or eighteen episodes -- I'm not quite sure which -- is that the producers wanted to make the next Lost and, having an option on the old Patrick McGoohan miniseries, decided to use it as a platform.

It makes as much sense as anything in the show is ever likely to.

(*) Ian McKellan gets a free pass from my criticism, though; he's magnificent.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The Castle of Youth


I'm still working hard on the novel, at the expense of having an interesting outside life to report upon. So this is an entry I should have posted a month or two ago, when things didn't look so autumnal.

The Morris Arboretum, here in Philadelphia, is your essential Pretty Neat Place. I'm a member, and I spend a certain amount of time there, communing with that strange hybrid of nature and artifice which a really good arboretum is.

Recently, the Morris added a new attraction: the Tree Adventure. It's a walkway that lets you wander up in the forest canopy, fifty feet up, in perfect safety. It has various educational features which are actually interesting. It has a giant bird nest with giant eggs in it, which kids can climb atop. Best of all, there's a rope net which allows kids to roll and clamber about high, high, high above the ground without the least chance of getting hurt. It's a very cool thing that operates exactly the way it's designed to, and children love it.

So the irony is extremely gentle that, not very far away from the Tree Adventure, a clutch of children found a real dead tree they could climb upon. That's them up above. In a castle. Or a sailing ship. Or something else equally cool and equally closed to the adult imagination.


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Search for Terrestrial Intelligence Continues


Whoops. I almost failed to make a Friday post. I got so caught up in the Novel that I lost all track of time.

Yesterday, I had lunch with Tom Purdom, because I wanted to pump his brain for information on how 19th-century artillery was organized. We went to Irish Bards and stayed after for several hours, talking about writing. As Tom observed afterward, it's always pleasant to talk about writing instead of actually doing it.

Pictured above: A message I found in the streets of Philadelphia, on my way to see Tom. That is not a sticker or hand-cut linoleum like the Toynbee/2001 messages you still see occasionally, here in the Sprawl. It's a rectangle of solid metal with the letters cut out, which was then sealed into the road using tar and macadam. A strange thing to do by somebody with a lot of fabricating skills.

But we'll never know that particular story.


Monday, November 9, 2009

I Got A Rock . . .


Not much to report today. I'm busily working on my novel and that's where most of my energy went.

However, since by state law all blog entries made in California must be upbeat, here's an item I didn't post while I was on the West Coast:

Last Tuesday, two days after the World Fantasy Convention (during which, my good friend Jeff Ford won two -- count 'em, two -- World Fantasy Awards!), I woke up in a hotel in Santa Rosa to find Marianne had been going through the local tourist brochures. "Guess what's only four blocks away from us? The Charles Shultz Museum!"

Who could resist?

Alas, when I got there, at ten a.m. Tuesday morning, I discovered from a sign in the door that:

1. The museum didn't open until 11:30 a.m.

2. It was closed on Tuesdays.

3. Writers were not allowed in.

4. Especially science fiction writers.

5. But most particularly not Michael Swanwick.

Okay, in my bitterness, I may have made up those last three. But you can picture my disappointment. Or, rather, you don't have to. Marianne took a photo of it for you.

Pictured above: Me, in front of the Charles Shultz Museum.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jack London's Grave


Yesterday, I visited Jack London's grave. That's it above, a large stone that was rolled, in accordance with his wishes, over his ashes on a favored knoll in his estate in the Valley of the Moon.

The photo below shows me there. I wrote a bit in my notebook. Then I found an oak leaf and signed it and tossed it onto the stone.

Jack was a fellow writer. He would have understood instantly what I meant by that.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tofuburger in Paradise


As you'll recall, after the World Fantasy Convention Marianne poured me into a candy-apple-red Jeep convertible (as required by state law) and drove me off into the wilds of California.

I, of course, have an East Coaster's natural suspicion of a place where total strangers smile at you and, worse, may not even have an ulterior motive for doing so. But after a while, you begin to think how pleasant it is to be in a place where November weather is like early September back home and frog-strangler rains are unheard-of.

Yesterday, we were driving about Marin County, looking at ravens and red-shouldered hawks and Western meadowlarks and the like. From high atop the cliffs of Point Reyes, we saw not only sea lions but harbor seals as well -- a lifetime first for me. Then, inland, we'd stopped in the middle of nowhere so Marianne could identify a bird she'd spotted, and we saw otters frolicking (there's no other word for it) in Walker Creek.

And I thought . . . I thought . . . . Well, I thought that it might be nice to live someplace as nice as this.

But then I was saved. By a sign. It read:


First of all, I thought, there's a name for "baby deer" -- fawns. Secondly, fawns do not form communal age-based crossing groups. They stick with their mothers. So, really, what we have here is a deer crossing. And, finally, deer are not a fragile and endangered species to be cherished and preserved. They're an environmental blight. Rats with antlers. The Devil's Own Smurfs!

So the soft and lovely fogs of California have not rotted my character to the point where I can't return home. Thank God.

Well, and hoping you are the same,


Monday, November 2, 2009

Ringing Down the Curtain on the WFC


A lot of good people won World Fantasy Awards yesterday. You can find the list here. Two of those good people are shown above: Michael Walsh, of Old Earth Books, for Old Earth Books and especially for publishing Howard Waldrop, and Ellen Asher, who received a lifetime achievement award for her career at the Science Fiction Book Club. They are Heroes of Literature, the both of them.

Afterwards, I asked Ellen how she felt about the standing ovation she'd received. "I was embarrassed," she said. "All I did was sit in an office for thirty-four years."

No. What she did was to be a good friend to the field (particularly to the readers) for the length of her career. Kudos to her. Wild applause.

And now . . .

On the "fun books" panel, I said that reading a book by an author one knew could be trusted explicitly was like getting into a convertible driven by a beautiful woman and leaning back and letting her take you away, while the wind blew in your hair.

"Happen to you much?" one of my fellow panelists said, in (friendly) irony.

As a matter of fact, yes. I'm worn and exhausted and now Marianne's going to pour me into a cherry-red Jeep convertible and drive me up the California coast. I don't know where we're going, but I trust her to get me there.

Well, and hoping you are the same,


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chatting With Silverbob

One of the more pleasant memories of a decidedly pleasant weekend (I except the extremely ugly Game 3 of the World Series last night) was sitting on a couch in the F&SF suite, chatting with Robert Silverberg. If you didn't have any idea who he was, you'd still think he was an extremely charming and witty and learned and intelligent man. But of course, he's rather more than that. He's . . . Robert Silverberg.

I said as much to David Hartwell, on my way to the Weird Tales party, where I read "Hush and Hark" as part of their "Midnight Invocations" . . . "There I was, talking to Robert Silverberg, as if I had a right to do so!" I said.

"Of course you had the right," David said. Then, with only the slightest pause, "But he is the King."

So I'm well and happy and hoping you are the same.