Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Talking About Darger & Surplus


The industrious Carl Slaughter has interviewed me about my Darger & Surplus books and stories, and published the results in the current SF Signal. Which leads me to reflect on the nature of fictional confidence artists. Why are they so much more charming than the real thing?

I know whereof I speak here, because two con men once tried to take me with a cunning variation on the classic Pigeon Drop. It involved a hapless-looking man with a strong African accent stopping me on the street to ask for directions, a second man stopping to help, the promise of a large cash reward for my help accompanied by a quick flash of the first man's wad of greenbacks, and the determination that I should show the African how to use an ATM machine. If I had thought for a minute that I would take money away from the poor schlub, I might not have put the pieces together to realize it was a scam in time to walk away untaken.

I did not find those guys charming at all. Particularly since they were relying on my being not only gullible but at least a little racist as well.

But in our imaginations, we are free to fantasize being unfettered by morality and able to trick and outwit ordinary members of the herd. We imagine ourselves as the carefree predators and mere humans as our prey.

Which is, ironically enough, the most common trick in the con man's book: He offers you the chance to swindle somebody else. The roper presented himself as being a gullible fool, pathetically eager to throw his money away. And the inside man gently urged me to join him in fleecing him.

As I said, in real life not very charming.

Ah, but in our dreams...

You can find the interview here.



Cambias said...

I recall reading a book (can't remember the title) about famous con men, mostly of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Almost to a man, they died penniless, as the result of being bilked of their wealth by other con men.

Mark Pontin said...

Could THE BIG CON by David Maurer -- who was an academic linguist-- be the book you're thinking of?

Michael Swanwick said...

Maurer's was the single best book about con men -- and Mauer was a stand-up guy, too. When he was dying, he destroyed all his correspondence so the police couldn't use it to track down his sources of information.

Stephen said...

Maybe this is an appropriate place to ask: I was toying with the idea of inserting a con man into a work of fiction. But I know very little about them, aside from novels & movies. Maurer sounds like a good place to start, but are there any other books (largely thinking of non-fiction, but not closed to the idea that fiction might be useful) that you would recommend as research reading?

Michael Swanwick said...

Seriously, THE BIG CON is the only book you need. It covers everything in depth and in an engaging manner. No other book comes close.

But for simple entertainment value, I recommend THE CON GAME AND "YELLOW KID" WEIL, written by Weil and W. T. Brannon (which appears to have been reissued as "YELLOW KID" WEIL: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AMERICA'S MASTER SWINDLER). Weil was perhaps the single greatest con man this nation of frauds ever produced. And he was a master raconteur as well. The book is easy to find in both book and e-book formats.

Stephen said...

Thank you very much!