Friday, November 29, 2013

Losing Our Literary History

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If you want to be terrified by cultural ignorance, you have only to go to YouTube, where an activist went to four major universities with a camera and asked random students what the Holocaust was, what nation Adolph Hitler led, and whether they could define genocide.  One after another, bright and involved students failed to come anywhere near the truth.  (You can find the film here; the questioning begins at 2:22 and I found I couldn't stand to watch very much of it.)

I mention that in order to put this post into perspective.  I'm about to lament how a working knowledge of the history of science fiction and/or fantasy, which used to be common in both genres, has become a rare and endangered thing.  But I don't want to overstate my case.  Compared to well-educated young people smiling in embarrassment and saying, "Gee, I ought to know this," or "1800?" when asked when the Holocaust occurred, this is small potatoes indeed.

Still.

Over on Facebook, somebody reported attending a panel of fantasy novelists at Comic Con where a reader asked if any of them were influenced by Lord Dunsany.  None of the writers had ever heard of him.

Once upon a time -- long, long ago in the 1970s -- all science fiction writers and most fans knew the history of the SF genre inside-out.  Lester Del Rey's terrible (and astonishingly sexist; but it would have been a terrible story even if somehow the sexism could've been magicked out of it) "Helen O'Loy" had been read everybody -- because it was a significant work in the evolution of the genre.

Fantasy fans and writers had an even easier time of it, because there was so little classic fantasy back then.  You read the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series as they were reissued under the editorship of Lin Carter,  E. R. Eddison's books, the Gormenghast trilogy, maybe the Conan books, a handful of others and you were done.

At the time I sold my first story, I had read pretty much every important work of science fiction and fantasy ever written.  As had pretty much every writer before me.

Today that's not possible.  Amid the great avalanche of genre being published every year are enough genuinely good books to keep even the most voracious reader satisfied, without having to dip into the past.  But it would be a mistake.

I'm not going to mourn the passage of a more innocent time:  Believe me, we would have loved to have all these new books available back then.  But ask yourself this . . .

Who's more likely to come up with something brilliantly unexpected:  writer who've fed their brains with a steady diet of contemporary fantasy and SF or those who've read Dunsany, Mirrlees, and the other great outliers, and thus has an idea of exactly how strange and varied fantasy can be?

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Day of Abstinence and Thanksgiving

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Today is set aside for all of us to express our gratitude for what we have.  Though it is religious in origin, nonbelievers are not excluded.  This is the one day of the year when the neediest are assured of a good meal.  It is a day when people who have little invite friends who have less to dine.  It is not -- thank God! -- a holiday associated with any political party.  So we can all enjoy each other's presence at the table, whomever we may happen to be and whomever we may happen to vote for.

I will spend today with family.  I will think of everything I am grateful for, from oxygen to science fiction.

And I will not go onto the Web.  This blogpost was written last night to be posted today.

Happy Thanksgiving!  God bless you all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

House of Dreams

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Fresh out today from Tor.com -- which is, come to think, a House of Dreams in the positive sense -- is the latest installment in my Mongolian Wizard series . . . House of Dreams.  In this story, the Phony War is over,  Ritter finds himself in a tighter fix than any he's faced before, and the source of the Mongolian Wizard's power begins to come clear.

For the fourth time, the series has an illustration by Gregory Manchess. and for the fourth time, I couldn't possibly be happier.  I love the cold, wintry quality of this one.

You can read "House of Dreams" here.

By now, it should be clear that I plan to tell the story of the entire wizards' war through the eyes of  Kapit√§nleutnant Franz-Karl Ritter and his superior, Sir  Tobias Gracchus Willoughby-Quirk.  I have the story arc roughed out through the end of the war and one story beyond.  It's a fun project, if a touch dark, and I look forward to the next several years working on it.


And let us not forget . . .
 
Janis Ian's Pearl Foundation charity auction continues apace.  The personalized poem by Jane Yolen (let me repeat that -- Jane Yolen could write a poem about you!) is still in the affordable range.  As is my own story in a bottle.  Christmas is coming, and somebody you love a lot would be amazed by something on that list.  Go take a look.

You can find the auction here.


And also . . .

Dragonstairs Press is still selling my 3"x3" accordion folded story, Tumbling.  Marianne commissioned me to write this story, specifying that it should be about Lizzie O'Brien, possibly her favorite character among all those I've written.  (Every now and then she urges me to write the Lizzie O'Brien YA novel I've got on the back burner.)  What could I do but obey?  I love that woman.

You can find the Dragonstairs site here.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

my dream diary - 1

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I'm experimenting here.  For only the second time in my life, I'm keeping a dream diary.  (Excerpts from my first were published as "Lord Vacant on the Boulevard of Naked Angels." in Readercon's program book, back when I was guest of honor.) This time, I thought I'd keep it online.  Because some people won't be at all interested in this, I promise to mark these entries clearly and not to post them on Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, my regular posting days.

Inevitably, this will be an irregular feature.  We'll see how long I can maintain it.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013:

A reluctant guide was leading me through a vast and rambling abandoned house, all early 20th-century with heavy wood framed doors and the like, thickly overpainted, mostly in beige or white, some rooms empty and others retaining their furnishings.  Moving from room to passage to room took one through different alternate worlds, some of which were dangerous, which is why my guide was so reluctant.

We didn't get far.  In an empty kitchen, a woman ducked through one doorway and looked about, clearly delighted with the room.  She was slim, in her twenties or thirties, well dressed in flats, skirt, blouse and vest, and easily nine feet tall.  My guide pulled me back into the shadows before she could notice us.  Silently, we slipped out and down the hall.

The next room we came to contained perhaps eight or so sets of lawyers' stack bookcases, filled with old, well-read books.  A handful of people were standing about, silently browsing.  My guide heaved a sigh of relief.  Evidently this was a safe room.  Perhaps he also knew that I would be unlikely to go exploring further today.

The glass doors of the nearest case were almost covered with photographs and notes that explorers had pasted to them.  Ignoring these, I began going through the books.  Immediately, I was struck by a series of thin matching volumes giving the history of a city named Faran:  "Faran was never very important," my guide explained, "until it was destroyed by fire during World War II.  Now it haunts our culture's imagination."

Comment:  The house was very similar to an abandoned factory I broke into in three or so dreams earlier this year.  I hope I get to revisit it.

Thursday, November 21, 2013:

I was ending a visit to Ellen Kushner, who was writer in residence at a university, when she urged me to stop by the deli and have one of my novels interpreted as a hoagie.  This was done with verve and skill by Lawrence Person who made a hoagie so large that when it came time to slice it in two, he had to lean on the break with both forearms to compact the thing to manageable dimensions.  Then it was fed to one of the bald eagles that frequented the campus.  As it was explained to me, if the eagle came back for more, my novel would prosper.  If the hoagie became one of its favorites, it would do very well indeed.

I did not see the hoagie offered to the eagle.  But I had no doubt it would be popular, because Lawrence had put a great deal of tuna fish into it.

Comment:  Ellen Kusher is now one of the very few people, other than family, to appear more than once in my dreams.  The last time, she was spontaneously conducting a big jazz brand at a party with fellow guests Isaac Asimov and Frank Sinatra.  I saw her through the windows from the street, but rather than intrude on her happiness kept on going.

Friday, November 22, 2013:

Of a night's worth of dreams, all I remembered upon awakening were two words:  Ruffle duss.

Comment:  According to the OED, "duss" is not a word in the English language.  

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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Emperor's Crystal

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Here's something nifty that came in the mail just the other day:  The Emperor's Crystal by Lord Dunsany.   This is volume II of Lost Tales, the Pegana Press series of chapbooks reprinting uncollected short fiction of Lord Dunsany for the first time.

I received The Emperor's Crystal because I'd contributed an introduction to Lost Tales, Vol. I.  The new chapbook contains an admirable introduction by Darrell Schweitzer, one of the world's foremost authorities on Lord Dunsany and the only person I know who's actually been to Dunsany Castle, a never-before-published drawing by Dunsany himself, and nine stories by the master fantasist, one of which, "The Secret Order," is published here for the first time ever.

There are two groups of people who will be interested in this:  Dunsany completists and connoisseurs of fine printing.  For the latter, I will mention that the chapbook is folio bound with sky blue French paper and hand sewn in two color Irish linen thread. It is typeset with Goudy Franciscan & Friar Typefaces in 1920 Era Black Ink for Text & Reflex Blue for Ornaments and Titles. 

For the rest of us, I will say only that the paper is gorgeous and the printing is too.  Running one's fingertips over the page is a tactile pleasure.  All the work, including the typesetting is done by hand.  And it is published in an edition strictly limited to 92 printed copies.

Those who are likely to buy this book -- and you know who you are -- already know what this sort of thing costs.  The rest of us may turn pale at the thought of spending $110 for a chapbook or $160 for the hardbound (gray cotton cloth cover with inset pastedown and tiger end papers from Nepal) edition.  But that is, as I  said, what this sort of thing costs.

How pleasant to own a copy, though!  I'm extremely happy for myself.

You can order this or one of several other infinitely desirable works from Pegana Press here.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Way of Zatoichi.

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In the New York Times this morning, an explanation of the strange, backhanded grip used by the blind Zatoichi in a series of samurai movies:

"When you grip a sword like that, it dramatically reduces your distance, so you have to engage your opponent very closely," he said.  "If you notice in the fight scenes, he is basically right up against them.  It's a style that actually works out pretty well in close, cramped quarters."

(Where, it is added, samurai employing traditional wide swings are at a disadvantage.)

Somebody went to a lot of trouble to work all that out . . . And then didn't say a word about it in any of the 25 movies.

Are you paying attention, young writers?  Expend the effort to get everything in your stories absolutely right.  But mention only as much as the reader absolutely needs to know.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

The Evolution of a Writer's Reading

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Our reading habits evolve over our lifetimes.  As a child, I compulsively read the backs of cereal boxes, even when I already knew what they said.  As an adult in my twenties, I read every work of genre I could get my hands on.  I liked Ursula K. Le Guin's work more than I did the Brak the Barbarian books.  But I read 'em both.

Being published, however, works a radical change on your reading habits.  You grow more selective in what you'll read.  I read fewer and fewer badly-written books.  I remember the terrible sensation I had in my thirties when I received something like twenty books in the mail on one day (I was on the Nebula Jury then; story for another day) and realized that I didn't want to read them all.

The process continued.  In my early fifties, I took a look around my house one day and realized that I never would get around to reading all the books I already owned, though they were all books I had sought out for that very purpose.

Today, I find it hard to read anything I might conceivably have written myself.  What would be the point?

This is one of the shaping processes of a writer's life that nobody ever talks about.  It is a common fate for writers to find themselves reading better and better work, until they exist only on a rarefied diet of Proust and Gaddis.  In his old age, James Branch Cabell wrote an essay explaining that he no longer enjoyed any reading other than certain classic works -- and only certain passages from those.

This is, however, a process to be resisted with all one's might.  Many of our great writers in their old age ceased reading anything new and from there proceeded to cease writing anything new, and so became once-great writers.  It is not a necessary progression.  I know writers who continued reading new and unfamiliar fiction into their own age and kept themselves as literarily spry as Old Father William in consequence.

But to do so, the aging writer has to make an active effort to seek out and find new writers of merit.  It doesn't just happen.

Currently, I am reading with great pleasure Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief.


And I almost forgot to mention . . .

My friend Janis Ian's charity auction has begun!  Take a look!  (Am I a bad person for wishing I owned Anne McCaffrey's letter opener?  Click here to see.


And coming soon . . .

Marianne's nanopublishing mini-empire, Dragonstairs Press, is about to offer a new chapbook.  Just in time for Christmas!  I'll let you know when it's up for sale.


Above:  A very small fraction of the books in my bedroom.  There are more, perhaps too many more, in the living room and in my office.  And other rooms as well.  Nabokov's Speak, Memory is a terrific book, incidentally.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Bottled PROSE FOR PEARL

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I've contributed a bottle-in-a-story to Janis Ian's PROSE FOR PEARL, a ten-day auction starting on November 21st.  That's tomorrow!

Here's Janis's detailed description of the item:

Michael Swanwick
A one-of-a-kind, completely original story in a bottle.

Swanwick has written an original work of flash fiction called “The Mermaid’s Message” for this auction and placed it inside an old bottle of Chateau Greysac Medoc, which he titled, signed, and dated with a diamond-tipped pen. After corking, his wife added a mermaid’s toenail (Anomia ephippium, also known as a “jingle shell”) on a bit of string and sealed it with sealing wax.
Michael has destroyed all other copies and files of the text, rendering the story within the sealed bottle unique. The bottle can be kept as an artifact, or the story can be read, whichever the winning bidder chooses. Copyright is specifically withheld, so there is no third option.

The opening of the story reads: The mermaid had no name, for that was the way of her kind. Her passions were as cold as her blood and her blood was as wild as the sea. The young fisherman had a name, of course... The only other clue we have is Swanwick’s statement that “young men who fall in love with mermaids rarely come to a good end.  I know there are stories that say otherwise, but they're mostly written by land-dwelling young women who are softer on young men than they deserve.”

Generously donated by Michael Swanwick.

Janis says: When I see Michael in my mind’s eye, I picture him sitting at a table in a small, intimate club I played a couple of years ago. I was singing a song called "Mary’s Eyes", and Michael was openly weeping. That picture is engraved on my heart, and it reminds me of what I like best about him – that he’s not afraid to shed tears in a public place, or open his heart to a song.


I call these “Swanwick-in-a-Bottle”, and I actually own the one I’m pictured with here. It was purchased at auction by a fan of mine, who then graciously gave it to me. I keep telling myself that some celebratory day – perhaps when I reach 70? – I will break the bottle and read the story. I’ve been telling myself that for over a decade now, and I still can’t bear to do it. A real one-of-a-kind item, by a master story-teller.



[I should mention that I pretty much never cry in public; but Janis's song -- and Ireland -- can do that to me.] 

And here's the whole story of the auction, chopped and customized from the press release:


Starting November 21st, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter Janis Ian will host PROSE FOR PEARL, a 10-day auction of unique items and memorabilia by famous authors, to raise money for returning students.

There are items signed and donated by George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Wally Lamb, Pat Conroy, Len Wein, Joe Haldeman, Jane Yolen, Harry Turtledove, Kevin J. Anderson & Rebecca Moesta, Michael Swanwick, Mercedes Lackey, Mike Resnick, and the family of Anne McCaffrey, plus a gold, diamond, ruby watch Janis’ family gave Pearl when she graduated.

The auction will take place on the Pearl Foundation’s eBay site.  Click here after the auction goes live.

In the meantime, you can read the whole story, with lots of photos of Janis with her friends (including me; it's been a long time since I wore a Hawaiian shirt, though) here.

What’s unusual about this auction?

--   It was suggested by author George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and his wife, Parris McBride, who are donating a pilot script from the hugely successful television series, signed by all the “Starks”, as well as signed books and personal notes from Martin to the high bidders.

--   The authors are Janis’ friends, and chose the items themselves. Many posed with their items, and sent photos of themselves with Janis for the sale.

--   The items are offered with no reserve.  Each item has a description from the author as well as a short vignette by Ian detailing their relationship.

--   The authors will sign and personalize their items whenever possible.

Just what is the Pearl Foundation?

--   In 1998, Ian held the very first Internet auction through her own website,  raising over $60,000 in college scholarship funds for Goddard College. What begun as a one-time tribute to her mother’s life-long dream of attending college became the Pearl Foundation, an IRS-approved charitable organization dedicated to raising funds for returning students.

--   To date, the Pearl Foundation has given away more than $700,000 in college scholarship funding. The Pearl Foundation’s annual overhead is less than 2%.


Finally, here are the short descriptions of what's up for auction.  There are some tasty items here.  But I'm guessing it's going to be George's script that brings in the big bucks.

1.  Anne McCaffrey
Original galleys for US edition of FREEDOM’S RANSOM, plus “Final Revised Copy” of the manuscript, with handwritten notes by McCaffrey.

2. Anne McCaffrey
Mint first printing, first edition of HABIT IS AN OLD HORSE

3.  Anne McCaffrey
Three signed original bookplates from McCaffrey’s own collection.

4.  Anne McCaffrey
McCaffrey’s own Japanese-style lacquered letter opener, used by her daily.

5.  George R. R. Martin
An original pilot script for GAME OF THRONES, signed by all the Starks; can be signed and personalized by Martin on request.

6.  George R. R. Martin
Personal presentation copy of A DANCE WITH DRAGONS. Martin has offered to write a note on his personal stationary thanking the high bidder for supporting the Pearl Foundation. Can be personalized on request.

7.  George R. R. Martin
Signed hardcovers of all five A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE novels. Martin has offered to write a note on his personal stationary thanking the high bidder for supporting the Pearl Foundation. Can be personalized on request.

8.  Harlan Ellison
Signed & numbered “Harlan Ellison rat”, from Ellison’s personal collection, and this original print of Ellison holding the sculpture. Both can be personalized to the winner upon request.

9.  Harry Turtledove
Turtledove’s personal ARC (Advance Reading Copy) of On the Train, signed by authors Harry and Rachel Turtledove.


10.  Jane Yolen
A signed personalized poem/fairy tale by this award-winning author about the high bidder or someone of their choice.

11.  Joe Haldeman
Signed copy of THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING with a drawing of the winner and a poem about the winner, both by Joe Haldeman.


12.  Kevin Anderson & Rebecca Moesta
Original production manuscript for Star Wars’ YOUNG JEDI KNIGHTS: DARKEST KNIGHT, with hand-written editorial and production marks, and signed first-edition of the original publication.


13.  Len Wein
Signed copy of 1991 Marvel Milestone edition of GIANT-SIZED X-MEN #1, and a “Wolverine claws auction paddle”. Can be signed and personalized.

14.  Mercedes Lackey
Lackey’s own mandolin in handmade case, signed letter about it, and hand-written note by Ian detailing the story of how the case came to be made.

15.  Michael Swanwick
A one-of-a-kind, completely original story in a bottle, signed.

16.  Mike Resnick
The first three LUCIFER JONES BOOKS in a numbered, limited (300) run, pub. by John Betancourt (Wildside Press); can be signed and personalized.

17.  Neil Gaiman
Signed Hill House presentation copy of AMERICAN GODS, from Gaiman's personal collection. Signed by Gaiman, who will personalize on request.

18.  Orson Scott Card
Signed hardcover first edition of SONGMASTER, from Card’s personal collection. Can be signed and personalized upon request.

19.  Orson Scott Card
Signed hardcover first edition of A PLANET CALLED TREASON, from Card’s personal collection, personalized on request.

20. Orson Scott Card
ENDER’S GAME Easton Press leather bound edition, from Card’s personal presentation collection, signed and personalized on request.

21.  The family of Pearl Yadoff Fink
A gold Cresaux watch with diamond and ruby surround, presented to Pearl on her graduation by her children, appraised recently at $2,900.00.

22.  Ray Bradbury
Signed FAHRENHEIT 451 Ballantine Books 1988 edition, with photograph of Bradbury at the signing.

23.  Pat Conroy
Signed first edition of LORDS OF DISCIPLINE; personalized on request.

24.  Pat Conroy
Signed first edition of BEACH MUSIC, personalized on request.

25.  Wally Lamb
An original draft page from SHE’S COME UNDONE with Lamb’s handwritten notes; signed 20th-anniversary edition of “SCU”, dust jacket to the first edition; signed first edition of New York Times Bestseller WE ARE WATER, signed copy of COULDN’T KEEP IT TO MYSELF, and an original early article about the publication of Lamb’s first novel.


Above:  That's me looking pensively at the bottle in question.  I'm probably reflecting on how much work one of those things is to make.  Which is why I do it so rarely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Name of the Genre

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We've pretty much settled on science fiction as being the best name for the sort of stuff we in genre like to read and write.  Is it really the best possible term?  Probably not.  But, as with democracy, before we get too critical, we should probably consider the alternatives.

Going back to the beginning, Jules Verne wrote Voyages Extraordinaires, emphasizing the adventure aspect of his fiction.  H. G. Wells, a far better prose stylist but a little looser with the laws of science -- when asked his opinion of Wells' First Men in the Moon, Verne snapped, "Show me this cavorite! -- wrote what were then called Scientific Romances.  (The term predates him, but I'm not pretending to any rigorous scholarship in this blogpost.)

Then came the tireless science enthusiast, inventor, and crook, Hugo Gernsback, whose magazines created science fiction as a genre and whose letter columns in those same magazines created fandom.  In keeping with the aesthetics of a man who named his weirdly visionary novel Ralph 124C41+ (try saying it out loud), his moniker for this nascent literary form was a real jaw-acher:  Scientifiction.

Obviously, that couldn't endure and with the demise of Gernsback's magazines, the acceptable term among cognoscenti became Science Fiction.  Shortly thereafter, the abbreviation SF came into common insider use, sometimes capitalized and other times not.

Alas, uber-fan, agent, magazine editor, and compulsive collector Forrest J. Ackerman, seeking his place in literary history, came up with something shorter and catchier:  Sci-Fi.  It caught on.  Sort of.  Mostly, it became attached to 1950s monster movies.  Fans pointedly used "science fiction" to refer to the sort of literature they valued, while reserving Ackerman's term for schlock.  Thus causing a great deal of snarking by those in the know directed at innocent civilians who thought they were simply using the proper term.

(Not long ago, the SciFi Channel, whose name roused outrage in fandom when it first came out, officially changed their name to SyFy, a Polish word meaning "syphilis."  Their intention being to distance themselves from the schlock implications of the old term.  Which was ironic, given how greatly many of its own shows contributed to exactly that impression.)

Somewhere in there, Robert A. Heinlein made a valiant effort to point out the inherent virtues of the genre by giving it a more respectable title:  Speculative Fiction.  This had the virtue of getting around the fact that a lot of the works we most highly prize, such as Ray Bradbury's, while excellent on the speculative front, weren't terribly strong on the science.

Alas, though Harlan Ellison spent decades championing this term (and excoriating the use of "sci-fi"), it never caught on among the general public.  So it must be considered a failure.  If Harlan couldn't make it stick, nobody could.

Today we have, through attrition and the will of the masses, settled upon Science Fiction as the one true name for our beloved genre.  Just in time, as John Clute would tell you, for its death.

But that's another story, for another time.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Science Fiction Museum

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Over Philcon weekend, I chatted with Leo Imperial, the Vice President for Programs and Visitor Experience for a museum that doesn't yet exist.  Which is why he was engaged in outreach to the SF community.

The vision of a group of volunteers is to create a major museum -- the Science Fiction Museum -- dedicated to my favorite genre of fiction in Washington, D.C.  Their immediate goal is to create a preview room, which could be used to raise funds for the museum.

I'm not sure how I feel about the basic idea, because as a writer I see the museums of the world as serving as a virtual museum of not only science fiction but of all literature.  But I like their vision and I like their passion and I wish them well.

You can find the Museum of Science Fiction blog here.  There are links that will answer any questions you may have.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Writer's Guilty Pleasures

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As always, I'm on the road again. As is my camera, currently winging its way to a repair facility in Nebraska.  So I thought I'd share with you a handful of guilty pleasures whose satisfactions (for me) derive directly from my being a writer.

Here they are:

On Writing by John Gardner.  Gardner's books on how to write are unsurpassed in their seriousness and in how they portray writing as a holy chore.  Porn for writers, really.

Shakespeare in Love.  More porn for writers.  Tom Stoppard has always been weak on plot.  But he was brought into the project after the original writer had come up with a robust plot and given the chore of witting it up.  Which he did beautifully. But the core plot, which conflates romantic love with the desire to become a better writer, is what makes this movie.

Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny.  Zelazny's work was always clever.  But in this novel, about a perpetual undergrad, spending his time climbing buildings and ducking graduation, who gets caught up in an interstellar power struggle, involving a viral gem, doodlehums, a condescending kangaroo, and really good whiskey, is an unending cascade of cleverness for its own sake.  It looks effortless, it won't make you a better person, and it can always be read again.

Hitchcock/Truffaut.  In 1962, Francois Truffaut interviewed Hitchcock about every film he had made to date in order.  Later published as a full-length book, it's the ultimate movie-geek look at how the movies were made and why they were made that way.  Chockablock with good advice (never kill a child; the audience won't forgive you for it) from a man who knew what he was doing.

The New York Review of Books.  A terrible waste of time that could be better spent actually reading the books being analyzed.  Entertaining, though.


And that's my list . . . 

What's yours?

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Monday, November 11, 2013

From Dragonstairs Press -- Tumbling!

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My favorite publisher in all the world, Marianne Porter, has put my newest publication up for sale on the Dragonstairs Press website.

"Tumbling" was commissioned by and written for Marianne to be published in accordion format by her nanopress.  Its protagonist is self-doubting astronaut Lizzie O'Brien, who was also the protagonist of "Slow Life," and the story documents an incident occurring during her training.

Here's how it begins:

1.  Don’t panic.
 Lizzie O’Brien, tumbling head over heels with no idea where she was or what had happened, tried to seize hold of herself.  Oh dear Lord, she thought.  What have I done now?  Is anyone hurt?  The sky was black around her.  A bright blue-and-white Earth looped over and over her.  She was spinning on at least two axes.  She could tell by the wobbly way the Earth moved from side to side.


"Tumbling" is roughly a thousand words, and the booklet is three inches by three inches.  It's cut and folded from a single 8 ½" by 11" sheet of paper and is twelve "pages" long.  Issued in a signed and numbered edition of 50, and available for ten dollars from the Dragonstairs website.

Click here to find out more.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Convention Etiquette for Writers

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Decades ago, when he was guest of honor at Philcon -- it may even have been his first goh gig -- William Gibson, then new to the literary superstar biz, said to me, "When I get home, I'm going to have to lie down in a dark room for a day with a damp cloth over my ego, until the swelling goes down."

Anybody who's ever been a writer guest at a science fiction con knows what he meant.  It's a very intense experience.  You put a great deal of time into being both modest and impressively intelligent. The latter because you want to be sure the con committee are getting good weight after spending rather a lot on your room and airfare, and the former because you want the fans to think well of you.  If you fail at either, you'll feel bad about yourself afterward.  But even if you succeed, you've just spent three days presenting an unrealistically shiny version of yourself.

You really do need to decompress afterward.

But you can make things easier on yourself.  If you're a guest, a panelist, or in any other way a participant a one of these things, you should:

1.  Be polite.  This includes not hogging the microphone on panels.

2.  Don't drink too much. 

3.  Don't try to take advantage of the event.  I was told once of a guest of honor -- no name was given me -- who immediately upon moving into his hotel suite had the hotel send out all his clothes to be dry cleaned at the con committee's expense.  They paid, but I was reliably informed that he was never invited to be goh at a science fiction convention again.  Because the people who  put such things on talk to each other.

4.  Suffer fools gladly.  Because -- not always or even usually, but often enough -- there will be fools. I am thinking of course of the fan who wanted me to explain to him why he'd never heard of me.  At least six times during that convention he sought me out to articulate how well-read he was in genre and how clueless as to my existence.  I'm sure that my not telling him off will count in my favor when the Day of Judgment comes.

Of course there does come a time (I am thinking of the fan who explained to me at great length how much he hated something I'd written -- and then kept coming back to apologize for having said and then sidetracking himself into repeating his original rant), when you have to kindly, even lovingly, explain that the point has been made and that he should find a new object to fixate his derangement upon.

In such cases, however, it's considered bad form to recommend a substitute writer by name.


And this weekend . . .

Today through Sunday, I'll be chillin' at Chillcon.  Which is what my son's friends used to call the Philcons held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, before they got so discouraged with the event that they stopped coming.

Here's my schedule:


Friday


10:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Three (1 hour)
DO WE STILL BELIEVE IN YESTERDAY'S TOMORROW?
[Panelists: Michael J. Walsh (mod), Allen Steele, Gregory Frost, Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Swanwick]

    The standard science fiction "future" of the past, which came
    complete with can-do engineers in space suits conquering the
    universe, is now based on fiction more than 50 years old.  How valid
    is this vision of the future
Saturday
Sat 12:00 PM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour) DO YOU REALLY WANT TO LIVE IN A UTOPIA? [Panelists: Edward Carmien (mod), Tobias Cabral, Alexis Gilliland, Michael Swanwick, Ian Randal Strock] People may claim that they are happy in fictional utopias but on closer inspection, the happiest utopia seems inherently flawed. Because utopian happiness rarely generates the drama necessary to drive a story, does this mean that all fictional utopias have fundamental problems 1:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour) WHO IS AVRAM DAVIDSON, AND WHY ARE THEY STILL TALKING ABOUT HIM? [Panelists: Michael J. Walsh (mod), Darrell Schweitzer, Michael Swanwick, Gardner Dozois] The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction said of him "He is perhaps sf's most explicitly literary author." Discover the works of one of science fiction's unique geniuses Sat 3:00 PM in Executive Suite 623 (1 hour) READING: MICHAEL SWANWICK (1655) I'll be reading the first chapter of Chasing the Phoenix, my new Darger & Surplus 
  novel.  But it functions as a stand-alone story, so that's okay.

6:00 PM in Plaza V (Five) (1 hour)
REMEMBERING FREDERIK POHL  

[Panelists: Darrell Schweitzer (mod), Michael Swanwick, Gardner Dozois, Tom Purdom, Andrew C. Murphy]

    Fred Pohl, who passed away on Sept. 2nd of 2013, was a writer who
    also was a member of the first Philcon. He wrote GATEWAY, edited
    GALAXY magazine and in his later years a popular award-winning
    blogger ("THE WAY THE FUTURE BLOGS").  He was also one of science
    fiction's grand masters.  We will remember his life and work


And that's all!  If you're going to be there, be sure to say hello.


Above:  Yes, that's not this year's Philcon logo.  But it looked nifty, so I went with it.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

From Sriharikota to Mars!

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Many decades ago, Robert A. Heinlein caught a lot of heat for cautioning that the future in space didn't have to be American -- that it could just as easily belong to China or Japan or India.  Some people thought that was racist.

Not me.  I think he was just stating the obvious:  That there are a lot of ambitious nations out there with smart and capable people, and that if the United States turned its back on the future, the human race would go on without us.  Yes, he was making an appeal to American pride.  But it's Japanese and Chinese and Indian pride that fuels their space programs.

Plus, of course, the prospect of a serious slice that incredibly lucrative space industry.

Yesterday, India launched Mangalyaan, its first probe to the planet Mars.  Mars is a mission-eater and no nation has successfully reached it on their first attempt.  But there's a first for everything, and I think India may well break the streak.

You can read the New York Times article here.

And it's cheap!  According to NPR the total budget was only $73 million.  Click here to read more.


And, speaking of the glitterati . . .

I went to the Big Apple yesterday for the NYRSF Readings at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art. Reading from their works were Fran Wilde and Rajan Khanna, both of whom recently sold their first novels.  Also present but not reading was Alana Teitelbaum who by coincidence also recently sold her first novel.  It was good to see her again.




Above:  Fran Wilde, reading.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Because I am a Citizen . . .

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6:45 a. m. this morning, I said to Marianne, "This is what democracy looks like."

She took one look at my haggard, half-asleep face and burst out laughing.

Then I gulped down a cup of coffee and we walked over to Roxborough High and voted.  Marianne was #2 and I was #3.  This election is for judges and related officials only, so the turnout is guaranteed to be low.  And it required a fair amount of work to get even a rudimentary idea of who was worth voting for.  But that didn't stop either of us.

I always vote.  The assembled members of the NRA will voluntarily surrender all their guns long before anyone manages to pry the ballot out of my cold, dead hand.  I know that a lot of people are cynical about its value and consequently don't bother.  To them I will say this:  Your opting out only makes my vote and the Tea Party's votes worth more.

There can't be a lot of people who are happy about both those facts.


Above:  Just to be clear, I applaud the Tea Party folks for voting, and for voting their consciences.  I say that with no irony whatsoever.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

The Only Writing Advice You'll Ever Need

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I remember when I was young and unpublished.  I was happy with the first part of that situation but not the second, so I was always writing and always looking for a shortcut to success.

What I found is that there is none.  You write, day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not.  Eventually, if you have the potential, you become good enough to be published.

That obligation, to write whether you want to or not, never goes away.

Case in point:  I really don't feel like writing today.  And I really, really, really don't feel like writing a blog post.  But here I am.  Because that's what it takes.

Chop wood, carry water.  That's all the writing advice you'll ever need.


Above:  My office.  It's astonishing how much clutter I'm not showing you.

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