Thursday, December 28, 2017

Chasing the Phoenix and Dancing With Bears in Russia


I'm making the final changes to The Iron Dragon's Mother, which is why, of late, I haven't been as active here I should be. But I can't help sharing the good news that I'm in print in Russia again!

There up above are Dancing With Bears and Chasing the Phoenix. Presented with the usual Russian flair for graphic design.

I've always wondered what Russian readers think of Darger and Surplus's adventures in their country. I did take some liberties with the facts. And with Moscow. But my respect for and admiration of the Russian people is genuine. So I'm hoping that they didn't take offense.

Above: Photo by my friend Alexei Bezouglyi. Thanks, Alexei!


Friday, December 22, 2017

What Kind of Biblio- Are You?


If I have a weakness -- and everybody agrees that's understating it -- it's that I'm overfond of stuffy old compilations of essays. Belles lettres. Books that were written just for the joy of putting words down on paper. Resting on a shelf in the bathroom convenient to the throne right now is Curiosities of Literature, a selection of essays from a much larger collection of the same name by Isaac D'Israeli, father of the similarly-named British politician.

Ben's dad Ike was the sort of scholar who is never happier than when writing about other writers writing about writers and their books. And in an essay on "the rabid Abbé Rive," he provides the divine's useful list of types of book amateurs:

A bibliognoste, from the Greek, is one knowing in title-pages and colophons, and in editions; the place and year when printed; the presses whence issued; and all the minutiæ of a book.

A bibliographe is a describer of books and other literary arrangements.

A bibliomane is an indiscriminate accumulator, who blunders faster than he buys, cock-brained and purse-heavy.

A bibliophile, the lover of books, is the only one in the class who appears to read them for his own pleasure.

A bibliotaphe buries his books, by keeping them under lock, or framing them in glass-cases.

To these categories, D'Israeli adds two more, both professional: The bibliothecaire or librarian and the bibliopole or bookseller, particularly of rare books.

So where do you fall on the spectrum? Me, I'm somewhere between a bibliophile and a bibliomane.

And are there any more useful categories that could be added to the above?

Above: Some of the books in my bedroom. Not, it goes without saying, the largest collection of books in the house.


Monday, December 18, 2017

A Second Night of Galactic Philadelphia


So there's this monthly reading series called Galactic Philadelphia, which is held in the Irish Pub in (no prizes for guessing this one) Center City Philadelphia. Last week, the guest readers were Tom Doyle and Fran Wilde.  That's Tom up above at the far left with the Usual Suspects behind him. And by "usual suspects," I mean pretty much a Who's Who of the local science fiction world.

Dominating the photo above is writer/editor/fan/pretty-much-everyting-else Darrell Schweitzer, oblivious to the fact that he's being photographed. Behind him is Fran Wilde, not oblivious to the fact that she's being photographed. (To be fair, I also took a shot where she didn't notice but it was much duller, so I yelled, "Hey, FRAN!" to get a better one.)

Not shown but among those present were nanopress magnate, Marianne Porter, writers Samuel R. Delany and Tom Purdom, and Dennis Rickett.

And, finally, here's Fran Wilde herself.

This is only the second event of the series and it had to be moved to a larger room. There's a very comfortable feel to this event. I enjoyed it immensely. So... Kudos to Sally Grotta and Lawrence Schoen, who are the driving forces behind the series. (If I've left anyone out, I'm sure they'll let me know. Nicely, of course. Because they're not mean people.)

Above, top: How many of the people behind Tom can you identify?


Friday, December 15, 2017

My First Graphic Story Ever!


I have news. In April, Dark Horse comics will publish Once Upon A Time Machine: Greek Gods and Legends. It's volume two of an anthology of graphic stories that was pretty successful a few years ago. And I have a story in it!

This is the first time I've written a comic book script (or whatever it's called). It's an interesting medium to write for -- extremely concise and far more concerned with the images than the words. It wasn't until writing this that I understood Scott McCloud's contention that the most important part of a comic is the gutter -- the space between panels. But he's right. That's where all the movement takes place. Which is to say, that the action is conveyed not by individual pictures but by the relation of each drawing to the next one.

My story is titled "The Long Bow," and it answers one of the mysteries of The Odyssey that everybody should find baffling, but apparently very few have ever thought about. (And yet the clues are in the text.)

The man responsible for -- yes! -- drawing the long bow is Joe DellaGatta. I'm extremely happy with his artwork, both for the way it amplifies and make clear the plot and simply as as graphic art.

I haven't seen any of the other stories, so all I can tell you about the rest of the book is that it's edited Andrew Carl & Chris Stevens, best known for the Eisner and Havey Award-winning book, Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream.  So the odds are that it'll be good.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Parable of the Creche


It's that time of year again, the one we call Almost Christmas. Which, as we all know, is the time when this blog traditionally presents...

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, over a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season.  It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy.  The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ child, and the animals were a couple of feet high at best, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them.  But there was a painted backdrop of the hills of Bethlehem at night, the floor was strewn was real straw, and it was genuinely loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing before the creche, especially at night, admiring it.  Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park is public property, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course.  Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement. One might evensay disgrumblement.

So the kindly people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in.  They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all.

But did this make us happy?  It did not.   The creche was just not the same located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians.  You don't see people standing before it anymore.

I was in a local tappie shortly after the adoption and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas."


Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Birder's Christmas Carol


I was in Bombay Hook yesterday and it was a great day for birding. All told, Marianne and I saw nine bald eagles, including two in a tree (above) we could hear speaking to each other and a pair in courting flight. You really need to see two together to fully appreciate what spectacular fliers they are. Also several thousand snow geese, many great blue herons, some quite closeby, a variety of other birds, and a red fox!

So I am happy.

To celebrate, I took a classic Christmas carol and adopted it for birders. You know how the song goes, so I'm only going to give you the final round:

The Twelve Days of Christmas Birding

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love spotted these:
Twelve turkeys drumming
Eleven peeps a-piping
Ten lapwings larking
Nine quails a-dancing
Eight doves a-mourning
Seven mute swans swimming
Six geese a-laying
Four peregrines
Three black ducks
Two godwits
And an eagle in a bare tree

                           -- Michael Swanwick

Above: Photo by M. C. Porter. Photo and poem are both issued under a Creative Commons license. You are free to use them for noncommercial purposes, so long as credit is retained. And you can change the words of the carol. That's how I came up with it myself.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Two Roads Diverged...


My friend and occasional editor, Gabrielle Wei, knowing of my fondness for writing on leaves, sent me the above picture of a ginkgo leaf. I was touched, of course, but also reminded of a true story.

This happened to a neighbor of my family's, back when we lived in Winooski, Vermont. She was out driving, one day, on a lonely country road, when she came to an intersection. She stopped at the stop sign and started forward.

Just then, a maniac driving far too fast for the road, blasted through the intersection, ignoring the stop sign entirely.

Both drivers slammed on their brakes. They missed colliding by inches. The driver who had been going too fast turned to look back and glared at my neighbor in fury. Then he put his foot on the accelerator and sped away.

And our neighbor recognized him.

She told us the next day that she sat in her car for several minutes, shivering, and reflecting on the headline that would have been printed the next day, had she not braked in time:


Every word of this story is true. Had it been a fiction, I'm pretty sure there would have been an implicit moral to it.

And as long as we're talking about leaves...

Here's a picture I took of the water trough outside the thatched cottage of Du Fu in Chengdu. It looks like I left out a couple of strokes in the great poet's name, but that's just a trick of the light. I copied it out very carefully.