Thursday, December 31, 2009

Andy Warhol 3' 03"

"What did our children want for Christmas, Santa?"
"Oh, er, um . . . all kinds of shit."
                 -- Fat Freddy, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers by Gilbert Shelton

"You're going to be very upset at the comments you get on YouTube."
                 -- Sean Swanwick

So what did I get for Christmas?  All kinds of stuff.  Including a Flip, the movie camera for people too busy to read the instructions.  It's fast and simplistic, and within minutes of receiving it, I made my first movie.

As follows:

I hope you enjoyed it.

Happy New Year!  May 2010 be healthy and prosperous for us all.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ursula K. Le Guin Resigns from the Authors Guild

Hi.  Not much news of late because I came down some kind of gastrointestinal bug a few days ago and am sick as dog.  Well, it's not quite that bad.  I'm as semi-sick as a dog.  An aire-, perhaps, or a -schund.

But I soldier on.  Today, I thought you'd be interested in reading, if you haven't already:

Ursula K.  Le Guin's letter of resignation from the Authors Guild

18 December 2009

To Whom it may concern at the Authors Guild:

I have been a member of the Authors Guild since 1972.

At no time during those thirty-seven years was I able to attend the functions, parties, and so forth offered by the Guild to members who happen to live on the other side of the continent. I have naturally resented this geographical discrimination, reflected also in the officership of the Guild, always almost all Easterners. But it was a petty gripe when I compared it to my gratitude to the Guild for the work you were doing in defending writers’ rights. I went on paying top dues and thought it worth it.

And now you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.

So, after being a loyal if invisible member for so long, I am resigning from the Guild. I am, however, retaining membership in the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which opposed the “Google settlement.” They don’t have your clout, but their judgment, I think, is sounder, and their courage greater.

Yours truly,

Ursula K. Le Guin

This is vintage Le Guin -- calm, reasoned, a model of lucidity, practically unanswerable.  So of course the Authors Guild tried to answer her.  Their argument was essentially: Yes, it would have been nice to keep copyright the way it was, that's why we sued Google in the first place.  But if we'd lost, then anybody could have copied anything and sold downloads of it without regard for the author's wishes.

So they panicked and, as Le Guin said, sold us down the river.

We're at the end of a decade that began with the attack on the World Trade Towers and ended with the Google Settlement, and everyone's looking for a name for it.  May I proffer, without wish of personal credit, the Age of Cowardice?

You can read the Guardian's even-handed account here.  Or the Authors Guild's statement here.  Both links courtesy of Locus, of course.


Monday, December 28, 2009

The Godless Atheist Christmas Card of the Year


We have a winner!  And not just any winner either.  Into a crowded field on a very strong year, a dark horse plunged and effortlessly swept aside the competition.

And just how strong was the competition?  John and Judith Clute's card would have taken the prize in any ordinary year:  It was one of Judith's art prints, showing two staring eyes, an enormous ear, and a mouth whispering into the ear.  The print was titled "Locked Room Mystery" and above and beyond its Godless Atheist qualities, I quite liked it.  A lovely thing.  but as a Christmas card, it raises unsettling questions:  Just who's been murdered?  Santa Claus?  Hundreds of millions of fir trees?  Jamal Kwanzaa?  A very dark card indeed.

But then Jason Van Hollander's card arrived!

I opened the envelope and inside was a piece of white paper folded over once.  I unfolded the paper and there was the smallest envelope I've ever received, glued to the paper so it wouldn't get lost.  Carefully, I slitted open the envelope.  (It had been sealed.  Jason is an artist.  Such touches are typical of him.)  Inside was a piece of stiffer paper folded concertina-style.  It began with a picture of a flower, or possibly a weed, with a grinning skull-head.  There ensued a lengthy and demented rant such as can only come from the inimitable Mr. Van Hollander.

"Dear Michael and Marianne," it began.  "you probably read about the 'Spiral' that appeared over Norway while President Obama was standing in front of a mirror in a tuxedo, practicing his acceptance speech for the Nobel prize.  Last night a similar Fortean phenomenon appeared on our street.  Make of this what you will but there are significant parallels."

There ensued what is essentially a short horror story ending with Jason, drastically reduced in size, taking up residence in a doll house, and asking for advice on how to undo his sad situation.

I could not help Jason out of his sad fix, but I could acknowledge his genius, and award him the Godless Atheist Christmas card laurels.

Congratulations, Jason!


Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Christmas Anecdote


It's Christmas Eve!  So, rather than blog on Christmas, I'm posting this today.  You may, if you like, read this in place of a Christmas story.  Though it's not really a story but an anecdote.  Nor is it heartwarming, not really.  Actually, it's kind of cynical.  That's because every word of it is absolutely true.

Now, is everybody gathered around the fireplace?  Do you all have your egg nog?  Comfy?  Good.  Then Unca Mike is going to tell you about . . .

The Christmas Carolers of Roxborough

I live in a Philadelphia blue-collar neighborhood called Roxborough.  It's a pleasant place to live and I like the people here a great deal.  My neighbors are people like plumbers and roofers and contractors, firemen and police officers and school teachers, folks who work for a living.  You don't get much vandalism here, because hardly anybody's going to commit a crime for free.

A couple of decades ago, there was a ragged band of young boys who would come to the house caroling every year.  One evening, there'd be a banging at the door and when you answered it, there they were:  smirking and shuffling their feet and hitting each other.  You'd open the door and they'd begin to sing:

     We wish you a merry Christmas
     We wish you a merry Christmas
     We wish you a merry Christmas
     And a happy new year

Then they'd wait expectantly for some money.  If you stood there like you were expecting more music or, as I would, called back into the house, "Marianne, come quick!  We've got carolers!" they'd launch into the number again:

     We wish you a merry Christmas
     We wish you a merry Christmas
     We wish you a merry Christmas
     And a happy new year

Because they clearly didn't know the second verse.  Nor did they have any other songs on tap.  But if you were dense enough to applaud and then ask for more, they sing:


and their leader's hand would come out.

Now, thanks to Charles Dickens, we all understand that there's nothing more festive or Christmasy than a gang of gamins, guttersnipes, and ragamuffins on the make.  So I'd always give them five or ten bucks for their trouble, and they always came back the next year.  It was a tradition that I valued.

But then one year, not at Christmas but on Easter Day, there was a banging on the door.  I went to answer it and there were the usual suspects grinning and hitting and smirking.  I looked at them blankly and they sang:

     We wish you a merry Easter
     We wish you a merry Easter
     We wish you a merry Easter
     And a [but here they trailed off uncomfortably] happy near year

Then their ringleader stuck out a hand.

"Nice try," I said, and shut the door in their faces.

I never saw them again.

Photo Credit:  "Punk Rudolph" by Michael Swanwick.  Copyright 2007.

And don't forget to check in Monday . . .

Which is when I'll reveal the winner of this year's Godless Atheist Christmas Card competition!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Seven Words the DHS Can't Hear

I've just written a new editorial for Sigma, the science fiction think tank founded by Arlan Andrews which provides pro bono futurism consulting for the Federal government and appropriate NGOs.  This means that my previous editorial will fade into the gray recesses of the Intertubes.  So I thought I'd present it one more time here.  After the mandatory italicized background:

This was written for and aimed at the Department of Homeland Security.  And here are the seven words that nobody in the DHS can hear:  Stop making us take off our shoes.  I know, because I've said it to the faces of many honest DHS bureaucrats and I have seen the glazed look overcome them that says, "His mouth is moving and yet nothing is coming out."

Nevertheless, I honestly believe that this ritual humiliation (which travelers through Israeli airports don't have to submit to, incidentally) is unnecessary and that the decision-makers in DHS can someday be convinced to give it up.

The following editorial is my first but surely not last attempt to make this happen.


 Fresh Flowers and Small Robots:
The Open-Security Airport of 2010

by Michael Swanwick

Like most Americans regularly subjected to the discomforts and indignities of airport security, I have concluded that it is almost all “security theater.”  That is, a series of empty gestures meant to reassure travelers that it is safe to board an airplane.  Conceivably it may also help deter would-be terrorists.  Certainly it has captured none – or we would surely have been told.
Why not exchange this Theater of Misery, then, for a Theater of Optimism?  Something equally reassuring, potentially more effective, and not at all oppressive. It could be done with minimal preparation, modest cost, and no new technology.  I propose a voluntary pilot program of one small airport, where security is so easy to pass through that it is once again possible for families to meet a traveling relative as he or she gets off the jetliner.
Imagine this happy airport of the very near future:
Gone are the TSA employees who currently check boarding passes to make certain that only passengers enter the waiting areas.  They’ve been replaced by or retrained as concierges – politely and efficiently taking coats and carry-on and placing them on the conveyor belts for the X-ray machines.  They also answer questions about schedules and airport facilities, which is not technically the job of security, but makes life more pleasant for everybody.  There are no lines for the metal detectors, because their numbers have been doubled or tripled.  Passengers now stroll through casually, with their dignities and tempers intact.
Most amazingly, nobody takes their shoes off.  The possibility of shoe bombs is still very real.  But so is the possibility of an obsidian knife or a ceramic gun strapped to a passenger’s body – and only a select few are checked for those.  However, no one thinks for an instant that they are less safe than before.  This is because small robots trundle up and down the lines, projecting a laser grid over their shoes, and occasionally stopping to inhale a sudden whoosh of air.  These robots are not at all threatening – their housing has been designed by Industrial Light and Magic, the same people who created R2D2 for George Lukas’s Star Wars movies – but they are reassuringly high-tech.  They are clearly sampling the air for trace chemicals associated with explosives.
It is not necessary that the robots actually function as bomb sniffers.  (Though I’m sure the defense industry would be happy to design such devices.)  All that is needed is that they reassure our friends and unnerve our foes.  The DHS is widely believed to possess sinister technology and worse intentions.  It is time to recognize this as being not a weakness but an advantage. 

In this scenario the DHS has embraced its evil image and put it to work.  Cheap silvered plastic bubbles, of the sort used to hide surveillance cameras in casinos, are bolted to the walls.  Electric cables run to them, painted the same color as the wall, obviously to camouflage them.  Sconces directly below the bubbles hold ceramic vases containing fresh-cut flowers.  The flowers draw the eye right to the bubbles, while looking like an attempt to disguise their presence.  Passengers feel safer.  Evildoers assume the worst.

Similar examples of benign deceit come and go, as the DHS fine-tunes public awareness of its presence.  Trip-beams cause green lights to flash reassuringly as a traveler passes.  Stepping on a pressure plate triggers a musical “all-clear” note.  Decorative kinetic sculpture moves gracefully in time with foot traffic.

Passengers chosen for random security checks no longer resent this necessity.  They are taken to a pleasant and comfortable room where, after their interview, they are given complimentary chits for food and drink on their airliners.  At random intervals, two or three times a day, a bell rings and a cheerful voice announces over the intercom that another lucky passenger being checked has just received a hundred-dollar credit for the duty-free shops.  Light applause fills the airport.
In such an environment, a nervous or fearful individual stands out more clearly than is the case today.

All this is done with existing technology.  (The wall-bubbles are sometimes used to field-test a variety of passive detectors, but that is just a side benefit.)  The added cost is moderate, and the bulk of it – particularly the added space required to make the security process comfortably uncrowded – is absorbed by the airport itself.  It is considered a small price to pay for a great deal of positive publicity.

Best of all, since the security process has been simplified and sped up, it is no longer necessary to keep non-passengers out of the waiting areas.  Once again, the weary traveler can come up the ramp from the plane to find his or her family waiting with smiles and open arms.

In their hurry to get home, not one in ten passengers notes the plaque reading, “This Facility Meets DHS Open Security Standards.”  Nor do they notice the program’s certification that the airport is Security Hardened and Family Safe.  They only know that they feel safer and more at ease than any commercial air traveler has since the Twentieth Century.

The DHS has won one small, quiet victory in the War on Terror.

And on a lighter note . . .

I opened a card yesterday and froze in my tracks.  Then I showed it Marianne.  As one, we both sang:  "We've got a win-ner!"

Yes, it looks like the Godless Atheist Christmas Card competition has been won by a dark horse!  I don't think even the Clutes can top this one.  But it's not Christmas yet, so the judges' minds are still open.  Remember:  It ain't over 'til the angels sing!

But I don't see how anybody's going to be able to top this one.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Return of the Snow Beast!


When I was seven years old in Schenectady, New York, a winter blizzard came through and by the time my father finished shoveling out, there was the usual enormous pile of snow in the back yard.   So he waited until all his kids were asleep and then went out and sculpted a slide from it.  He put a wooden ladder up the back to make it easy to climb, and then poured a bucket of water down the surface of the slid,  turning it to perfectly frictionless ice.

The next day I experienced the best winter morning in the history of the world.

I've never been able to live up to my father's standard (he grew up on a farm and knew how to do an amazing number of things), but when Sean was small, I made any number of snow forts and caves and volcanoes for him.  When Sean got bigger, he and I would sculpt the pile into enormous creatures and put tea lights in the eyes.  Sometimes we put a few drops of food coloring into a spray bottle of water and delicately tinted the snow with colors you were never perfectly sure weren't natural.  (Thanks, Dad!)    Whatever we did with the snow, it was all about fathers and sons.

Now Sean's moved out and has an apartment of his own.  So I didn't do anything with the snow.

Until I chanced to glance out the door and saw how dark and lifeless the pile looked.  So I punched a few holes in it, dropped in candles, and called Marianne to the door to look.

And I felt a whole lot better.

For no particular reason . . .

I feel like sharing my favorite music video ever with you.  Remember music videos?  Bruce Sterling said they were going to sweep aside science fiction and replace it with media-savvy postliterate freeform imaginative visual creativity.  Ah, the dreams of youth!

But if anyone deserved to sweep SF into the trashbin of history, it was the Dead Milkmen.  Those kids really had what it takes.

Mostly, a really bad attitude.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Snow Shovel in the World!


It's snowing!  Which means it's time to shovel out the driveway and sidewalk.  This is why (and I know that some of you ladies have been wondering) God created men:  To shovel snow.  Every winter, out I go, and every winter out I shall go, until the day comes for me to have that inevitable and fatal heart attack while shoveling and die in the traces.  The ambulance will come and go, but the snow will remain, and a new generation of men will take up the chore.  That's the Circle of Life, the way that anybody who grew up male in Vermont understands it.

Ever wonder what the single absolute BEST snow shovel in the world might be?  Luckily, about twenty years ago there was a string of snowstorms which left the hardware stores completely depleted of snow shovels and they had to improvise.  One store imported hundreds of shovels normally used in grain elevators to shovel grain.  When my standard flat-bladed aluminum shovel fell apart like the piece of worthless consumer trash it was, I was fortunate enough to discover  . . . the Grain Hog.

Oh, man, what a shovel.  The scoop is made from a tough and durable thermoplastic, so it's lightweight.  It has reinforcing ribs, so it's strong.  It has high sides, so you can scoop up a lot of snow and it won''t simply slide off if you tilt the blade ever so slightly.  It's a real tool designed for people who do real work, so it's made to last.  I've had it for decades and the blade still scrapes the surface of the sidewalk straight as straight.

The snow was coming down in soft pellets a few minutes ago.  Now it's falling in great big feathery flakes, hurrying toward the ground most of them, but some few dancing upward in merry spirals and loops, enjoying the flight.  They mute the colors and soften the outlines of the small old stucco'd houses of Roxborough.  Here and there a puff of smoke from a fireplace or wood stove bends down under their weight before dispersing into the air.   This really is the most beautiful time of the year.

Mostly because it gives me an excuse to use my Grain Hog.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Invading Moscow


My friend Andrew Matveev recently interviewed me for an article in the Russian magazine Energopolis.  The title -- and the last line as well -- of the interview is I Haven't Yet Decided Whether to Burn Down Moscow. Which might well make me a lot less popular in Moscow, while at the same time boosting my ratings in the rest of the country.  In the eyes of Russians who don't live there, you see, Moscow might as well be a different country.  In fact, that was the first joke I ever heard on Russian soil:  "Have you heard that Russia's opened an embassy in Moscow?"

Well, obviously I have no hostile intentions toward Moscow, which is a city I love and fear.  May it prosper in peace forever.  I was talking about the Darger and Surplus novel, which has now reached its climax, when I have to decide which direction the plot will take.  Yesterday, I got out my map of the city and, using coins for markers, plotted out the Invasion of Moscow.  There it is above, in my rather murky reference photo.

As you can see, there are major factors in play at Arbatskaya, Oktyabrskaya, Taganskaya, Turgenevskya and Mayakovskaya, with others at Lubyanskaya and (of course) the Kremlin.  I might swap out Mayakovskaya for Pushkinskaya, just because Pushkin Square is a meaningful place for young Muscovites.  Then again, when Marianne and I stayed there, the statue of Mayakovsky was the landmark closest to our flat.  Time will tell.

I'd say more, but it would give away some of the plot.

And the traditional "Godless Atheist Christmas Card" competition is shaping up strong . . .

Those who read this blog regularly (hi, Marianne!) will remember that in my household there's a yearly informal competition for the Seasons Greetings card that contains the absolute least amount of religious or sentimental content.  The two front-runners so far, received yesterday, are:

A) A photo card from one of my sisters of her two near-grown children standing in a gift shop alongside an enormous stuffed bear.  I'm not sure if the implied seasonal content is supposed to be the bear or the mercantilism.


B)  Another photo card (!) of some dear friends standing at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets.  Because nothing says Christmas like pretty colors, I suppose.

Who will win?  I'll keep you posted!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Fallen Blossoms" Before and After


Just thought I'd throw in these two snapshots, one taken just as "Fallen Blossoms" was ignited, and one as it was dying down.


And as long as I'm sharing odd stuff . . .

Here's a video Marianne found of a tool-using octopus.  What a rich time this is to be alive!  You can read the explanation here.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Defending Our Borders from the Canadian Menace

I've put off writing about the Peter Watts incident because I didn't want to write anything out of emotion.  I wanted to be calm and reasonable about the whole thing.

Even days later, it isn't easy, but I'll try.

There's a certain amount of he-said/they-said about the incident.  But it seems that American customs officers stopped Watts's car for whatever ineffable reason (it could even have been been because it was conspicuously not-suspicious-looking; they really do target that), and Peter Watts mouthed off to them.  This is not all that uncommon an occurrence, and most law enforcement officials have been trained in how to handle it without causing an incident.  These guys pepper-sprayed Watts, cuffed him with the usual roughness, and slung him in jail overnight.  Then charged him with assault.

And dumped him at the border during a snowstorm without a coat.

It's this last bit that shocks the conscience.   Even had Watts been guilty (and I don't believe it for an instant), such treatment would have been not only cruel and unusual but probably even illegal.  Yeah, it would have been a drag to go all the way out to wherever they'd impounded the car to fetch the coat.  It probably would have involved extra paperwork, and nobody enjoys that.  But the people responsible had a moral obligation to do it, simply because Watts is a human being.  They didn't do so because he disrespected them.  He talked back to them.  He treated them like they were mere servants.

Which is what they are, remember.  Public servants.

All this happened because the people responsible are far too aware of their own importance.  They've been charged with saving our civilization from the Terrorist Apocalypse and, hoo boy, do they know it!  So, inevitably, getting their props has become Priority One for them, and the whole serve-and-protect thing goes by the wayside.  The assholes.

I told you it wasn't going to be easy staying calm and reasonable about this.

If you don't already know all about this story, you can read much more balanced accounts of the whole thing here and here.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ignore the Shoes


Marianne and I stayed up late Sunday night for the Geminids (at Valley Forge again) and then rose early Monday morning to receive and stack half a cord of firewood, and then drove off to run various holiday errands and then home again at last, absolutely exhausted, and looking forward to my son Sean dropping by tonight (I'm writing this on Monday) to help us pick up a Christmas tree at Gorgas Park.  Man, I love this time of year.  Especially since we hooked up the outdoors lights to a remote control.

Also, unexpectedly, I love the following fashion video.  Try not to fixate on the shoes.

Okay, so you couldn't ignore the shoes.  Neither could I.  According to the New York Times they're unwearable by anybody other than highly-trained catwalk fashionistas.  And even they, most likely, had some harsh things to say in the dressing room afterwards.

Still, what a stylish event!  I'm crazy about the robot cameras.  And am I the only one who suspects that the wonderfully faun-like phizzes of the young women were derived from Matthew Barney's Cremaster movies?


Monday, December 14, 2009

The Cai Guo Qiang (Almost) Nobody Saw


"Cai Guo-Qiang is the most important artist in the world today," the art student beside me on the east terrace of the Philadelphia Museum of Art said with passionate sincerity.  "I skipped my tutorial crits to see this.  My department head was mad, but I told him that if he wouldn't let me go, I'd drop out of the department.  This is the kind of event you only get to see once in a lifetime."


I knew this  guy was great because I'd seen his gunpowder drawings in Edinburgh, at an art show attendant upon the Festival Fringe and loved the black rainbow he created in the air high over over the Castle.  So when I heard that a major installation called Fallen Blossoms was scheduled here, I determined to be present for it.  Marianne and Sean and I were at the museum an hour ahead of time, so we were right up front.  And to make a long story short . . .


Cai's art (in my admittedly naive and untutored reading) explores beauty, impermanence, flow, change, and loss.  It's also very, very cool to witness.  The smoke, which doesn't come out as fully as it should in the pix and vids, is a vivid and moving part of it.

But only a small fraction of those watching noticed something extraordinary and incidental.

Watch the amateur cell phone YouTube video:

Did you notice it?  Betcha didn't.  But if you look at the tree to the right of the colonnaded entrance about fourteen seconds in, you'll see the briefest of flicks, a little speck fleeing to the right.

That's a red tailed hawk that was perched in the tree.  The explosives went off and it was outathere!  Marianne saw it explode from the tree and pointed it out in time for me to see it as well.  And now it seems to me an intrinsic part of the art.

And speaking of art . . .

I have a particularly visual imagination.  My first fantasy novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter, was heavily influenced by Cindy Sherman's photographs.  My second, The Dragons of Babel, was in part shaped by Odd Nerdrum's paintings.  Now I'm playing with the idea of writing a third book to round the whole thing off.  This wouldn't happen anytime soon, if at all.  But I've started thinking about it and playing with images.

So I'm looking for suggestions.  What contemporary artists are out there doing rich and strange visual work that taps deeply into the mythic subconscious?  I'm talking about people I probably haven't heard of, mind you, and I'm looking for major talents, not just people who have done particularly nice pictures of elves.  So Picasso, Chagall, and Froud are straight out.  I'm looking for artists whose stuff is profoundly mind-warping.

Any ideas?


Friday, December 11, 2009

Celebrating a Virtual Year of Blog


Yesterday was the 365th blog entry here -- a virtual year!  To celebrate, Marianne and I went to see Scapin at St. Stephen's Theater.  Terrific stuff.  You rarely go wrong with Moliere, of course, but the always-reliable Lantern Theater Company outdid themselves.  The set was brilliant, the puppets were fantastic in both senses of the word, and Benjamin Lloyd in the title role was superb.  From now on, I'm going to keep an eye out for anything he appears in.

And I had a dream . . .

. . . last night.  A conventional one, not a writing-in-my-sleep one.  In it, a batch of the Loud Philadelphians (as we're known) made a group trip to a late-night radio station where Gardner Dozois was to be interviewed.  Honorary LP (though he is the quietest of men) Ricky Kagan provided transportation.  He'd gotten a job transporting coffins, so we emptied them out of the company van to make room for us all.

"There's a dead guy in here, " Tess Kissinger said as we piled the coffins up in the parking lot.  "I heard the body thump!"

Off we went.  But at the radio station, there were technical difficulties and the taping kept getting delayed.  Gardner began to fret that we wouldn't get back before the shift change, and we would get in trouble for mistreating corpses.

"You know," I said, "I'd thought the Age of Stories was over for us.  That we'd all gotten so old, we were going to spend the rest of our lives re-telling old stories.  But here we are, making a new one!"

End of dream.  The holiday seasons have begun, and I'm feeling good will toward everyone here.  May your Age of Stories never end.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Special Circle in Hell is Reserved For . . .


Wanna see something truly appalling?  Check out the commercial video above.  But not when there are children in the room.  Honest.  In a decent society, the people responsible for this would be immediately put to death.

At which point the Devil would have a very hard time deciding in which circle of Hell to place them.

And a plug for . . . 

My friend Oz Whiston asked if I'd shill for the Taos Toolbox writers workshop, to be held in mid-June of next year for two weeks.  It's being taught by Nancy Kress and Walter Jon Williams, who collectively know pretty much everything there is to know about writing.

Dunno how much it costs or how hard it is to get in, but presumably you can find out here.

Oz also has a testimonial blog page here.


Monday, December 7, 2009

ON THE AIR once again


Since last we spoke . . .

Friday, I was interviewed by my friend Andrew Matveev for a magazine in Moscow.

Saturday, it snowed and all in an instant autumn turned to winter.  Over the river and through the woods Marianne and I drove, to Big Blue Marble, where  my pal Victoria Janssen had a book launch party for her new erotic romance, The Moonlight Mistress.  And, yes, there were luscious pomegranates on display.

Sunday, I went to the Morris Arboretum, where I've been obsessively photographing Patrick Dougherty's installation, the Summer Palace.  I'll surely write a batch of short-shorts about it and maybe even (if the Good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise) something longer.  Eventually.  Right now, I've got a novel to write.

And today's a good time to wander over to The Drabblecast, and hear their version of my "Invisibility for Beginners."  Pretty cool.  Right here.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Playing Hooky


 "Are you looking for the bird?" the worker at the Bree-Zee-Lee Marina asked.

Well, yeah, I was.  And there it is above, an ivory gull, which is an Arctic bird which never gets down as far south as Cape May Point, New Jersey.  Before now.

The above is how it all came out.  Below is how my blog looked this morning, before Marianne and I drove off into the birding wilds of New Jersey:

Playing Hooky

Did I mention that Marianne retired earlier this year?  That means that I'm old enough to be retired, if only I had a job.  Then I could spend all my time writing.

Except today.  Today I'm taking advantage of the whole self-employment thing by hanging out the GONE FISHING sign and playing hooky.  Actually, I'm not going fishing, I'm going birding.  There's a fabulously rare gull down at Cape May Point that Marianne would like to see.  But since I never catch anything when I go fishing anyway, I don't see that there's much difference.

But just so you haven't dropped by this page for nothing, check out the hypernew Nokia Morph here.  See how long it takes you to decide whether this product actually exists or not.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Back to Toronto!


As is so common with me these days, I'm on the road right now.  But I wanted to pass along the news that I'm going to be the Author Guest of Honor at sparkling-new convention SFContario next November.  This is particularly good news for me because it's in Canada and I love Canada, and it's in Ontario and I love Ontario, and it's in Toronto and oh man do I love Toronto.  So I expect to have a great time.  I'll keep you posted as additional info comes in.

Meanwhile, here's the basic press release as it was posted on Boing-Boing:

We are starting up a shiny new SF convention in downtown Toronto, called SFContario. The inaugural convention will take place November 19-21st 2010 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel in downtown Toronto. It's a lovely hotel that overlooks Allan Gardens and is a stone's throw away from all the restaurants and attractions downtown Toronto has to offer. Our confirmed guests of honour are:

Michael Swanwick Author GOH
Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden Editor GOH's
Geri Sullivan Fan GOH
Karen Linsley Filk GOH

We're going to have a great con! Anyone wishing to register can do so online. Current registration rate is $35 and will be increasing to $45 on December 9th.

And in stark contrast to the joyous news above . . .

You've probably heard that fantasy great Robert Holdstock died on Sunday.  I met him exactly once, in a crowded and noisy club under the arches in Edinburgh, so I don't have any personal reminiscences to share.  But, holy gee, could that man write!  Mythago Wood is not only a fabulous book, but so original that in Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendelsohn had to define a separate mode of fantasy to account for it.

Holdstock died shortly after publishing Avilion, a sequel to Mythago Wood (I have it on order), and all the reviews reported that it was great.  That's the way a writer wants to go out . . . on a high note, reminding his writers of all those books  books he'll never get the chance to write.

Rest in peace, Robert.  I regret all those books I'll ever get the chance to read.