Monday, September 29, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 3)

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The Nineteenth Century has gone down in the history books as the Age of Sticky-Sweet Cocktails.  But an interesting thing happened at the end of the 1880s and through the 1890s which revolutionized hard drinks forever:  America went mad for dryness.

Through most of the century, what was meant by "vermouth" was Italian Vermouth -- the sweet, red stuff.  Then French Vermouth came along -- pale, white-wine based, and determinedly dry.  This had two effects.  First, and less importantly, it produced an essentially transparent drink.  The warm orange color of the Manhattan gave way to a drink that, without its olive or twist, could easily be mistaken for a glass of water.

More significantly, taking a Martinez and substituting dry vermouth for sweet resulted in an utterly transformed drink.

The American Martini Laboratory recreated that first, Ur-Martini, using the recipe below:

Martini
One part Old Tom Gin
One part Dry Vermouth
Two dashes orange bitters
Shake over ice, then strain into a cocktail glass
Add a twist of lemon

Judging this drink is extremely difficult.  Taken as the next step in the evolution of the cocktail from its origins in the noble Manhattan, it is an eye-opener.  It does not taste at all like a Martinez with one ingredient changed.  It is an entirely new drink, and a significant step on the road to the Martini as we know it today.  So in this regard it must be considered a success.

Taken as a Martini, however...  It is extraordinarily wet, and the Old Tom Gin gives it a lingering touch of sweetness.  It is not the ne plus ultra of drinks that one goes to a Martini to experience.

Still, a good beginning.

Next:  The substitution of London Gin for Old Tom results in the Dry Martini.  Or perhaps that should be "Dry" Martini.  Stay tuned.


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Friday, September 26, 2014

This Glitterati Life: The Owl and the Writer

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Another day, another author appearance.  This time it was Jeff VanderMeer at the Free Library of Philadelphia.  He began by reading an excerpt from his Annihilation-Authority-Acceptance trilogy and then was interviewed by Chris Urie for Geekadelphia, which was the sponsoring organization for what will be a series of geek-related readings.

Chris hopes to makes the Geekadelphia series stand out from other local reading series by including something extra, something not normally seen at a reading, at each event.  This time, it was a barn owl from the Academy of Natural Sciences.  The owl was a whopping success, though it did threaten to upstage Jeff.

There was a good showing from Philadelphia's contingent of writers (Tom Purdom, Fran Wilde, and Eugene Myers, among others) and editors (Marianne Porter of Dragonstairs Press, Stephen H. Segal of Philadelphia Weekly), though as far as I could see -- but I didn't exactly poll the audience -- almost nobody from the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.  Who showed up in force for John
Scalzi's appearance at Barnes and Noble a few days ago, so I can only presume they just didn't know.

Intra-genre communications in Philadelphia seem to be almost nonexistent.

Nevertheless, a splendid time was had by all, it turned out that I was having an allergy attack rather than (as I had feared) coming down with a cold, and the owl did not, in the end, upstage the writer.  Though it can be a fearsome thing to compete against one.

So I am content.  And so too, I hope, are you.


Above, top:  Jeff VanderMeer to the left, Chris Urie on the right.  Above, bottom:  Marianne Porter to the left, barn owl to the right.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"I Guess I'm Just Not GOOD Enough For Them!"

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Today's post falls into the category of Hard Truths for New Writers.  I was at a convention some while back and heard a couple of new writers (a handful of stories, maybe a first novel but maybe not) complaining bitterly because they couldn't get on any panels on I forget which major convention -- the Worldcon, I think, or maybe the World Fantasy Con.  "I guess I'm just not good enough for them!" one said sarcastically.

Well...

At last year's Capclave, there was a terrific panel which consisted of George R. R. Martin, Howard Waldrop, and Gardner Dozois simply talking about anything that entered their heads.  It filled an enormous room, lasted over two hours, and was the most vividly entertaining piece of programming I'd seen for a long time.

One of many interesting observations made was that before MidAmericCon, the 1976 Worldcon, all conventions had single-track programming.  Either you went to the panel on Terraforming or you didn't.  You didn't have the option of going to the Gothic Lolita panel or the New Trends in Urban Fantasy panel.

As a result, the slots on the panels were reserved for the Big Kids -- Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, and the like.  Newbies like George or Gardner or Howard were consigned to the kids table -- the New Writers panel -- where they languished for year after year.

But MidAmeriCon was the largest science fiction convention ever held (at that time) and they had an innovation -- five or six track programming.  It was a big success.  So big that all the major regionals, conventions that then drew thousands of attendees, copied them.  Suddenly, there was room for everyone on the dais.  Multi-track programming spread to the smaller cons.  Over the decades, as attendance dwindled at SF conventions (for many reasons, not all of them bad), multi-track programming became the norm and nobody things of going back to single track.

That's why there's so much space for you at your local convention.  I cringe at the thought of the programming at one particular convention which has so many panels and so few attendees that a typical one will have nine panelists and an audience of five.

Worldcons, World Fantasy Conventions, and the like, however, have a huge pool of Big Name Writers to draw from, and not that many more panels that does, say, PodunkCon.  So, naturally, they are more likely to ask George or Howard or Gardner (or Connie or Kelly or Eileen) to be on the programming than the author of the The Verbing Noun: Volume 1 of the Nounword Trilogy.

This sounds harsh to you because you put your heart and soul into that book.  But it's a simple truth:  Conventions are going to give preference to the writers that readers most want to see and hear.

But nobody's growing any younger and everybody dies sooner or later.  Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke are long gone.  Your day will come.

Provided only that by the time you're their age, you've accomplished as much as Howard or George or Gardner.

End of sermon.  Go thou, and sin no more.

You can find the video of The Howard, George, and Gardner Show panel here.


Above:  I didn't have an appropriate picture to post, so I put up a snap of my back yard, taken using the SkyView app.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

On The Shores of Little Narnia

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Because I know a lot of folks are curious about what the creative process looks like, I thought I'd share this with you.

I ran across this manilla folder the other day.  Every so many months, I go into the back yard --"Little Narnia," I call it -- late at night with a glass of Scotch to organize my thoughts.  This night, apparently, I had only the folder to write upon and a scratchy pen to write with.

Here's what I wrote:

FRONT RIGHT:

"On the Shores of Little Narnia"

What is magic?  At first blush this seems a self-evident piece of rhetoric along the lines of "what is love?" and "What is New Jersey?"  But on contemplation it proves harder to answer than might seem.

(Doodle)

Wineglass garden.

(Chart)

War                  Hidden Emp.             Love

Crossroads.    
Three Armies
River
Coast.                      *
North.                     PS

* The Emperor knows all -- because he is consistently underestimated.

HE: all he issues a (something something) her death

(Scribble?)

It is almost a relief to stop.

FRONT LEFT:

1. The Dragon's Eye

"What did you expect?"

(Arc diagram with five notations:)

Crossroads

Battle

Every heart is broken

"Do you love me?"
"Majesty, who else?"

North
They surrender because they know your defeat in North will unite all

(Doodle)

"Moygenheide"

Was ever there an unlikelier triumph?

"Show me the mathematics of the human heart"

... Hveopt (?) & wept

BACK RIGHT

"Oh!" she said."I think your intentions are not honorable and I am afraid"

"I promise I will remember your name as long as I can."

But his name, if she had ever heard it, was gone entirely.  So, as long as she could turned out to be not very long at all.  Fire Orchid felt guilty about this for the greater part of an afternoon.

Stab Story:

Stitch by stitch, page by page.  Fire Orchid did not ordinarily concern herself with the making of books.  She had a family to support. (?)

This time was different.

I do not have the freedom to contemplate truth/society/whatever free of the distractions of ordinary life.  Perhaps, freed of those distractions, they man nothing.

BACK LEFT

(Doodle of skull)

Barges pulled by canal serpents


And a few words of explanation . . .

Not all the context for the notes is obvious to me.  But the arc diagram is clearly an early attempt to organize the novel that later became Chasing the Phoenix, out next year from Tor Books.  HE is the Hidden Emperor, a major character in that novel.

The wineglass garden, in the tradition of rock gardens and Claes Oldenburg's rope garden, would probably work quite nicely.  Which reminds me that I have to get the shoe garden in shape for next spring.  I'm afraid it was badly neglected this year.

The Dragon's Eye was a reference to the notebook I keep for the third Iron Dragon novel.

Fire Orchid is possibly my favorite character in Chasing the Phoenix, other than Darger & Surplus themselves.  I'm sorry I never wrote this story, because I have no memory of what its plot was to be.  The "stab story" is a story written for a "stab book," which involves a particular style of hand stitching.  Marianne was planning to make a stab book for Dragonstairs Press, and wanted me to write something for it.  Later, she came up with a scheme for the book which didn't involve me writing a story.

The barges pulled by canal serpents were a detail for the Darger & Surplus story that later became "Tawny Petticoats."  Published in Rogues, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois.

So that evening, I was working on two novels, at least two stories, and any number of notions.  The notes are schematic to a fault, but they were only meant to keep my thoughts retrievable for the next day.  Anything I didn't get around to doing serious work on by then would be as good as discarded.


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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 2)

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The Martinez

Last week we visited the ultimate ancestor of the Martini which, surprisingly enough, was the Manhattan -- or rather the Nineteenth Century version of the Manhattan.  Today, the Drink That Would Be King makes its first major mutation.  Somebody -- and there are many conflicting stories as to who it was -- made a Manhattan with gin instead of whiskey.  Thus changing history forever.

But first it has to be explained that just as "whiskey" a century-and-some years ago actually meant rye, so too "gin" did not mean London Dry Gin, which is the stuff we overwhelmingly drink today.  It meant either Genever Gin (the original, but of no relevance to today's post) or else Old Tom Gin.

Old Tom Gin is, simply enough, sweet gin.  It actually includes simple syrup in its formulation.  There are today, two commonly available Old Tom Gins -- Hayman's Old Tom Gin and Ransom Old Tom Gin -- and a slew of boutique Old Toms from craft distilleries, which will be ignored here simply because they're expensive and hard to find.

Embarrassingly enough, Hayman's and Ransom are very different-tasting gins.  That's because back in the heyday of Old Tom Gins, there was a great variety in the formulations, brand by brand.  No one knows which was used for the cocktail in question; presumably it varied from bartender to bartender.  For this experiment, Marianne and I bought a bottle of Ransom.

The new drink was promptly dubbed the Martinez and it caught on fast and hard.  There are many recipes for the Martinez, and while they are all, essentially, an old-style Manhattan made with Old Tom Gin rather than rye, we chose the following:

Martinez 
One part Old Tom Gin
One part sweet vermouth
two dashes orange bitters
one dash maraschino
shake over ice
strain into a glass
serve with a twist of lemon peel

And the result was . . . drum roll, please . . . a surprisingly good summer drink.  It's still sweet, of course.  But sweet in a pleasant way.  The flavor of the Old Tom gin dominates lightly, and the other flavors harmonize with it.  This is the sort of cocktail I think of as a "lady drink" -- provided one imagines the lady drinking it as being your sophisticated New York City aunt, the one with the expensive enamel cigarette case with matching lighter, which she kept in her Chanel purse, and the scandalous past she never regretted.

Really, quite an excellent tipple.  Lovely color too.  I'd recommend it to anyone.

But no matter how many of them you drink, you'll still never mistake a Martinez for a Martini.  There were still several crucial steps yet to go before that could happen.

The American Martini Laboratory will be recreating those steps and reviewing them for you here in the near future.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Secret Life of Books

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Marianne and I drove to the Big Apple yesterday for a launch party hosted by bookman, small press entrepreneur, writer, and poet Henry Wessells.  It was held at James Cummins Bookseller, which is the perfect place to drop by when you happen to be in the mood to pick up the typescript of a book-length poem by W. H. Auden or a watercolor drawing of Madeleine by Ludwig Bemelmans.

The book being launched was a small press (Temporary Culture, Henry's own imprint) limited edition (226 copies) collection of six poems by Henry Wessells "on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics," titled The Private Life of Books.  With photographs by Paul Sch├╝tze.


It's really quite a lovely book.

Unexpected traffic caused me to miss most of the party, but it was a glittery event nonetheless, and the milieu could not be improved upon.  Pictured above are Henry himself and Marianne Porter, founder, proprietor, designer, and creator of Dragonstairs Press.

Click here to find ordering information on The Private Life of Books.

Click here to browse Joseph Cummins Bookseller.

And click here to see The Endless Bookshelf, the blog of the only man in the world who enjoys books more than you do.


Above:  The powers behind the literary juggernauts of Temporary Culture and Dragonstairs Press.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tony Auth

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Tony Auth died the other day.  He was the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial cartoonist for decades, and his angriest cartoons could draw blood.  During the Watergate mess, he drew a cartoon of the White House as a brothel with Nixon as the madam, watching sadly as some of her whores are led into a paddy wagon.

But he also had a lovely sense of whimsy.  Nobody did gentle and happy better than him.  Behind the register at Joseph Fox Bookshop (the last of the great old independent bookstores in Philadelphia), you can see the envelopes tacked up of his correspondence with the bookshop, each with a delightful color drawing on it, of anthropomorphic foxes and the like.  You could tell just by looking at his work that he loved to draw.

Auth illustrated a number of children's books, and for a time drew a daily comic strip written by Daniel Pinkwater.  It was a brilliant piece of work, filled with joy and adventure.  Alas, the market for comic pulp adventure is limited in this time and place, and Norb did not last long.  The cartoons were collected in a single large paperback volume, shoddily bound.  I just now took a look on Amazon and see that you can buy a copy for as little as one hundred dollars.

I never met the guy but I do have one of his watercolors, bought cheap at an estate sale.  Still, I'm going to miss his drawings.  What a clean, open, accomplished line he had!  We're all the poorer for his going.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

This Glitterati Life: Adam Cusack's Spook Buggy

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Saturday, Marianne and I jaunted out to West Philly for a book launch at Locust Moon Books.  The book in question was Spook Buggy,  a graphic novel by artist-writer Adam Cusack about a woman who finds herself suddenly extracted from life without actually being dead.

It is, I have to say, kind of a hoot to be by far the oldest person in a room full of talented, ambitious, energetic young artists of various stripes.  In addition to Cusack's book and samples of his art, there were works by other artists inspired by his book, a three-song CD, and even Spook Buggy earrings  by Rosemari Lane.

In the end, I bought the book, the CD (the songs, sung by Adam Cusack himself, were surprisingly good; I'll fill you in on the composer and instrumentalists as soon as my son Sean returns the CD), and a pair of the earrings. You can see Lane's unrelated jewelry here.)

I don't see a specific site where you can buy Spook Buggy, but you can go to the Locust Moon site and poke around here.


And as always . . .

I'm on the road again.  I apologize for the brevity of this post that fact made necessary.


Above:  That's Adam posing with some of his art.  The man knows what to do when you point a camera at him.


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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Evolution of the Martini (Part 1)

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Like it or loathe it, the Martini is the most austere and uncompromising of alcoholic concoctions -- indeed, the very king of cocktails.

But how did it come about?

We at the American Martini Laboratory determined to find out, to sample the ancestral drinks, and to pass judgment upon them.  Over the next several weeks, one drink at a time, our researches will be shared here.

The scholarly study of the history of cocktails has been, since the beginning, a difficult one, and there are very few facts that are uncontested, particularly when it comes to the Martini.  However, the majority of scholars agree that the very first almost-Martini was a late nineteenth-century cocktail called the Martinez -- a drink consisting chiefly of equal parts of sweet vermouth and Old Tom gin.  This is the drink the AML will be testing and tasting next week.

But first, let's look at the precursor drink, that from which the Martinez was derived.  Which is, improbably enough, the Manhattan.

To understand this, it helps to know that Nineteenth-Century cocktails were almost invariably sweet and that, as often as not, they included a raw egg.  The original Manhattan did not include an egg, thank God, but it was even sweeter than the amber and autumnal drink we enjoy today.  To appreciate it, let's first look at a contemporary recipe for this drink:

Manhattan
combine:
three parts rye
one part sweet vermouth
a dash of angostura bitters
shake well over ice
strain into cocktail glasses
add a maraschino cherry
serve

There are variations, of course.  In my household we use cherries that Marianne has spiced in maraschino and add a few drops of the maraschino.

In the nineteenth century, this drink was much sweeter.  Here's one of several very similar recipes from the time:

Manhattancombine:
one part whiskey (rye)
one part sweet vermouth
two dashes angostura bitters
one dash maraschino
shake well over ice
strain into cocktail glasses
serve

This is the drink the AML recreated the other night and taste-tested.  It should be noted that the original recipe called for whiskey rather than rye.  That was for the simple reason that in the nineteenth century rye was what was meant when people spoke of whiskey.  You'll note also that the maraschino cherry has yet to make an appearance.  Back then, people were as likely as not to drop a slice of orange in their drink, along with possibly a splash of of simple syrup, just to sweeten it up.

And the result of the tasting?

The Nineteenth-Century Manhattan was, it goes without saying, a sweet drink.  It had not reached the golden beauty of the contemporary cocktail.  But it was on its way.  It was recognizably the same drink -- though probably not in the proportions that you and I would mix them today.

And it was in no way like the modern Martini.

Next Friday (if all goes as planned) I will post the second drink in this series -- the Martinez.  Which, while recognizably ancestral to the Martini, is still not a drink that could be mistaken for one.


Above:  The makings of the (Nineteenth Century) Manhattan.  The Art Deco glasses with naked female dancers are courtesy of the estate of William C. Porter, my late father-in-law.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Owls for Literature!

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I've got a link for you which I haven't seen yet.  Chris Urie of Geekadelphia gave it to me, noting that it goes live at 10:30 a.m.  Which is inconvenient since, as always, I'm on the road again.

But thanks to the miracle of Blogspot, I'm posting this the night before and scheduling it for midmorning.

Here's the deal:  on September 25 at 7:30 p.m., Chris will be hosting an author event at the Free Library of Philadelphia with Jeff VanderMeer.  Since VanderMeer's latest novel features an owl, a rep from the Academy of Natural Sciences will be present with a live barn owl.

If you don't think this is cool, I have no hope for you whatsoever.  None.

Here's the link.  I look forward to seeing it.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Graham Joyce: "Walk It Off, Lad!"

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I only met Graham Joyce the once and that was in a busload of writers, so I'm not sure if he ever caught my name.  You couldn't say we were close.  Nor have I read much of his work.  I'm not big on horror fiction.  But there was that bus trip...

This was in San Francisco.  There was a World Fantasy Con going on, and somebody organized a signing at a bookstore with twenty or thirty writers.  A bus was rented to drive us from the convention to the signing and back again.  Flocks of people showed up to snag autographs they normally couldn't get.  It was a great deal for collectors with enough money to drop on a pile of new hardcovers and a terrific scam for the bookseller.  I have no idea who put that one together.

On the bus on the way back, there was a certain amount of jockeying for who would get to talk and who would have to listen.  Somehow Joyce found an opening and mentioned that he'd just won an award for best non-fiction book about sports.  He'd gotten a call asking if he'd be willing to be the goalie for England's national soccer (or football) team -- him forty-something years old, with a bad back, shot knees, eyesight going, you must be mad.  Ah, but it was the national writers' team and they had to take who they could get.  Plus there was a free trip to Italy in it.  So...

And on he went, mesmerizingly.  At one point, he said, "So I combined this with my experiences with soccer as I was growing up."  And we all leaned forward anxiously

"You made it self-deprecating, I hope?" somebody said.

"Oh, yes, very self-deprecating."

And we all leaned back in relief.  An audience of writers is not quite the same thing as an audience of readers.

It was a lovely story and Joyce told it so well that even today I could tell you most of it from memory.  When I got home, I bought a copy of Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular.  Soccer means nothing to me, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I'm guessing that people who have actually played the sport, or watched it for pleasure, would love it to pieces.

Yesterday afternoon, Graham Joyce died.  The world has been diminished by one storyteller.  This is, as John Clute observed, deeply sad.

Based entirely on the one book and single bus ride, though, I'm guessing that he wouldn't want us to get all mawkish about it.  In my mind's ear, I hear his voice in that working-class accent of his saying the same thing his coaches would tell him if he twisted an ankle:  "Walk it off, lad!"

Well, it won't be easy.  But we'll do our best.


And on a much lighter note . . .

The august two-person ruling board of the American Martini Laboratory has decided to re-create the evolution of the Martini, drink by drink, starting deep in the 19th Century with the rather surprising ancestor from which this most austere of all cocktails ultimately arose.

The first installment (with recipe) will be posted on Friday.  Barring exceptionally bad or particularly good news, of course.

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Monday, September 8, 2014

This Glitterati Life: Morrow and Gregory at Big Blue Marble

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Saturday, I went to Big Blue Marble in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, to hear James Morrow and Daryl Gregory read.  It was a hoot.

Jim read from his latest book, The Madonna and the Starship, a novella in which a writer of pulp television has to face down diabolical space lobsters.  Daryl read from We Are All Completely Fine, in which survivors of various horror-movie scenarios undergo group therapy.

In the audience were many writers including Fran Wilde, Eugene Myers, and Darrell Schweitzer.

Also, for some reason, a lot of psychiatrists.


And I may have said this before . . .

There was a good turnout at Big Blue Marble.  But the sad truth is that, for a variety of reasons, you don't always get a crowd for readings and signings.  I was at a reading by Samuel R. Delany once, back at the peak of his popular fame, at which only four people attended -- and one was a book dealer who had brought a pile of books to be autographed so he could charge more for them.

So I always tell gonnabe writers -- if you're one, pay close attention -- that while they're still unpublished they should go to as many readings, signings, and other public appearances by writers they know are good.  "Just so when it happens to you, you won't slit your throat."

I've had published writers tell me that was the best advice they ever received.


Above:  Rather a terrible phone snap.  That's James Morrow on the left; Daryl Gregory on the right.  

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Friday, September 5, 2014

Science Fiction & Rock and Roll

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One of the first lessons I learned as a science fiction writer was that it was extremely hard to sell a SF story about rock and roll.  Editors didn't want it.  Worse, they'd rather condescendingly lecture you on the absolute lack of overlap between people who read science fiction and people who listened to rock music.

That was in the early 1980s -- late enough, one would have thought, for the message to have gotten through that rock music was a popular art form.

And things got better . . . approximately never.  There have been either one anthology in the English language (Rock On!  edited by Paula Guran) or two (In Dreams, billed as a celebration of the 7-inch single and edited by Paul J. McCauley & Kim Newman, may or may not limit itself to rock and roll; plus, it included horror stories) of science fiction stories about rock and roll and that's it.

So I'm particularly pleased that "Touring," a tale of Elvis and Buddy Holly and Janis Joplin getting together for one last concert, which I co-wrote with Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, is included in Alternative Rock, an honest-to-God sci fi rock'n'roll anthology.  Published in France by Editions Gallimard.  In French, of course.

The other stories are:

"The Twelfth Album" by Stephen Baxter
"Red Elvis" by Walter Jon Williams"
"A Dead Singer" by Michael Moorcock
"Snodgrass" by Ian R. MacLeod
So it's a good selection of stories.

In the meantime . . .  How long has rap been around?  Have you noticed that there aren't many science fiction stories about rap music either?


Above:  The book with and without a promotional wrapper.  Looks great either way.


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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Russia in War and in Peace

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I am currently reading Gogol.  Not systematically, mind you.  Just for pleasure.  It put me in mind of how much I love Russia, and how much I hate geopolitics.

The first time I visited Russia was in 2004 when I went to Ekaterinburg for Aelita, that nation's oldest science fiction convention.  Ekaterinburg was a little scary back then.  Russia had just pulled itself  back up from Perestroika and things were a bit rough around the edges.  So it was startling how fast and how hard I fell for the place.

Partly it was the people, of course.  I will always be friends with (in the order we met) Alexei Bezouglyi and Boris Dolingo and my brother by another mother Andrew Matveev.  But there's also a quality that's kind of hard to explain, a familiarity about Russia.  Russians, while being very much different from us, feel a lot like Americans, both in good ways and bad.  It's as if we were twin brothers, separated at birth, one of whom got all the good luck and the other all the bad.  Neither of whom had done anything to deserve it.

I had the privilege of returning to Ekaterinburg in 2012, after eight years of economic growth, and the transformation was startling.  There were huge postmodern residential high-rises at the edge of town, looking like they'd just been air-dropped from Mars.  One of the main avenues was lined with miles of shiny new construction.  Everything was cleaner, pleasanter, more optimistic.  It felt like a European university city.  Were it not for the fact that I don't speak Russian, I could have imagined myself living there and being happy.

I thought then: Prosperity is a good thing.  I wanted nothing more than for Russia to keep getting richer and richer.

Now, alas, Russia and the West are at odds again.  Russia has sent troops into the Ukraine.  The U.S. is imposing economic sanctions.  Which is good because in Realpolitik terms, America has to do something and sanctions are preferable to bullets.  But still.  I wish we were not seeking to undo the material progress that Russia was just beginning to achieve.

Well, I am an American and, unlike Russians, Americans are still an irrationally optimistic lot.  So I persist in believing or at least hoping that someday we will all awaken from the nightmare of history and be brothers again.  Difficult brothers, mind you, because we are both  difficult peoples.  But brothers (and sisters) nonetheless.

Be well, my brothers.  My thoughts and prayers, such as they are, are always with you.


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Monday, September 1, 2014

Jay Kay Klein's Astounding Bequest

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You don't have to be exceptionally good at what you do to be important.  Sometimes a combination of hard work, persistence, and caring for the right thing will suffice.

Case in point:  Jay Kay Klein.

Jay Kay was a fixture in science fiction long before I discovered fandom, and for decades thereafter.  At every convention he attended -- and he went to lots -- he was constantly wandering about, taking pictures of greats, near-greats, and obscurities of science fiction receiving awards, speaking on panels, taking part in costume events.  He began taking photographs in the 1940s and continued doing so until he could no longer attend science fiction events.  How many thousands of photos did he take?  I couldn't tell you.  But I do know that every single one of them had his photographer's stamp on the back, along with a penciled notation of who the photo was of, when it was taken, and at what event.  Thus making them extremely useful to scholars and literary historians.

Jay Kay was a competent photographer, nothing special.  His pics were clear and in focus, but only rarely striking.  They were good snapshots, for the most part.  But the number and range and comprehensiveness of them made them extremely valuable.

How valuable?  Well, he willed them to the University of California Riverside's Eaton Collection of Science Fiction & Fantasy, reputedly "the largest publicly accessible collection of its kind in the world."  Which had them appraised as being worth $1.4 million dollars.

Wow.

There's a lesson to be learned here, and I'm not above pointing it out to you:  Even if you don't have a special ability to paint or create music or write fiction, you can still lead a life of importance.  All it takes is gumption, hard work, and the ability to stick to a useful task.

And falling in love with the right thing, of course.

You can read io9's account here.  And UCR/Today's account here.


And as a happy side-effect . . .

Generous man that he was, Jay Kay Klein also left cash to the Eaton Collection.  Specifically, he left $3.5 million dollars.

Again, wow.

This may have had the happy side-effect of saving the Eaton Collection.  Recently, it looked like a new university administration -- not understanding the value of an archive dedicated not to the history of chemistry or Jacobean tragedy or Japanese ukiyo-e, or anything self-evidently worthwhile but to science fiction and fantasy, literary forms so young that there are still many of doubt their validity -- was going to downsize the collection or even fold it into some other department in their library system.

Jay Kay's bequest has surely saved the collection from any such fate, however.  Because this is America and in America nothing validates an intellectual endeavor like money.


And how cool is the Eaton Collection . . . ?

I have almost no idea.  But I do know that they recently bought Gardner Dozois's correspondence,  dating back to long before he became an editor.  Letters from writers like Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, and William Gibson back when they were perfect unknowns.  Or the letter from a writer whose name I have conveniently forgotten, writing from Paris and signed "Your sniveling poodle."  Or the round-robin story beginning "There are seven silent salacious ways to fellate Robert A. Heinlein," and continuing in another hand (each writer got to contribute one sentence at a time) "And six of them don't work."  Or . . .

Oh, there's some juicy stuff in there, all right.  Scholars are going to have a great glimpse behind the curtain at how literature is really collected, once the stuff is available.


And once again . . .

I've told this story before, but what the heck.  I ran into Jay Kay Klein at the Millennial Philcon in 2000, and stopped to chat.  He told me he'd been at the 1953 Worldcon, the first one held in Philadelphia.  "I know things about it that nobody else remembers," he said.

"Oh yeah?" I replied.  "Like what?"

"Like the fact that I was there."

And now you've had the last laugh, Jay Kay.  For as long as scholars care about science fiction -- and I am confident that will be a long, long time -- there will be people who are grateful that you were there.


Above:  The image of Jay Kay Klein at work was taken from Mike Glyer's legendary fanzine File 770.  Click here to see their 2012 obituary of him.


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