Thursday, September 13, 2018

Oddly Misguided and Possibly Not Even Art

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There's a game I like to play on Facebook every now and again that I call Art or N'art? I have a fondness for challenging contemporary art and so when I'm visiting an institutional repository of such work, I'll take a photograph of something that might be art -- or, then again, might simply be a pile of crumbling bricks or some construction debris waiting to be hauled away. Then I'll challenge my friends: Is it art? Or n'art?

The answer, much like the Scarlet Pimpernel can be damned elusive.


Today I took a jaunt to 798 Art Zone, an old industrial neighborhood of Beijing that has been taken over by art centers and galleries and a swarm of parasitic cafes and shops. It was quite wonderful and I hope to return someday and spend a lot more time there. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art had a major retrospective on Xu Bing, an artist I had never even heard of and now one of my favorites. I may write something about him here, if I can find the time.

I also went to see Muse, which is either a gallery or a show at the 798 Building. And here I find myself punked by my own petard. Art or N'art? Postmodern irony or misguided spectacle? I honestly dunno.

The exhibition consists of a series of room in which famous works by several great painters are projected on the walls... and partially animated.

Renoir's dancers slowly incline their heads toward and away from each other, seemingly caught in a nightmare from which they cannot awaken. All move heavily, sluggishly, as if trying (and failing) to escape the embrace of paint. Luncheon of the Boating Party rocks from side to side, people shifting in relation to each other, as if it were set not on a restaurant balcony but on a boat on a heavy sea. Watching it, I felt seasick.

Van Gogh's people, by contrast, only have to contend with the moving rays of a killer sun.

Gustav Klimt's The Kiss, blown up to fill a wall, suffers from daggers and confetti of light that flow down the image, giving it a kind of Hallmark romanticism, while little colored florettes dance about on the floor, doing their damnedest to distract the viewer from the original image.

A cat wanders through several of Matisse's jostling the bric-a-brac and complaining plaintively. As well it might.

Finally, a room titled Henry's Scissors strives to provide Matisse's cut-outs with a playfulness they already had. Bird-shapes flap, fronds sway, and snippets of blue assemble themselves into women.

Each room is accompanied by its own relentlessly chipper music.

So... Art or N'art? It certainly has the nervy chutzpah of much postmodern art. But if I had to guess (I wouldn't bet money), I'd go with N'art. I think it's a misguided attempt to "bring the classics to life," to make them accessible by turning them into spectacle.

But I could be wrong. Over at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, there's a life-sized Seward Johnson sculpture of Luncheon of the Boating Party which is well on its way to the the thing I saw today.

Which is to say, I'm baffled. Maybe somebody reading this knows for sure? If so... you tell me.


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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Why Did the American Cross the Road?

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Much is said about Chinese drivers. But they are models of decorum and circumspection compared to Chinese pedestrians who stroll into the traffic and across the road as if there were not cars coming from both directions and bicycles and electric scooters from all four. Following one's progress is like watching a single fish make its way from one end of an aquarium to the other. How, you wonder, is it possible they don't bump into one another?

Those riding electric scooters, meanwhile, seem to consider themselves honorary pedestrians. While some, women mostly, wait patiently at red lights, others zip on through, confident that such petty inconveniences do not apply to them. They also reserve the right to make right turns on red, left turns on red, and in fact pretty much any motion that occurs to them at the moment. In terms of behavior, bicyclists can be considered to be the scooters' farm team. Nobody takes them very seriously.

The only people who ever seem upset at any of this are those driving automobiles. A car toots impatiently at the old woman six inches from its bumper, who plods unhurriedly onward, never once looking its way.


And as you can tell...

The hostel cafe (the "Twoo Cuup") being closed this morning, I went across the street in search of breakfast. Every smallest thing is an adventure when you're in a foreign land.

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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Teaching in Beijing

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Greetings from Beijing! I'm here to teach two sessions of a writers camp for the Future Affairs Administration.  The first class was held yesterday and it seems to have gone well.

But let's step back a bit. Years ago, when he was trying to convince me to teach at Clarion West, the late and sorely missed Lucius Shepard said, "You gotta do it, Michael. It'll make you feel like Mr. Chips."

Now, anyone who knew Lucius -- a genuine wild man, if ever there was one -- will have to pause here to try to reconcile the image of him as Mr. Chips with the existence of a universe that makes any kind of sense at all. But when I finally did teach, I discovered what he meant. It's extremely satisfying to be of some use to new writers. They're all potential and good intentions. They deserve all the help one can give.

So it was here, yesterday. Vera Sun, who runs the program for the FAA and affiliated publishing house Guokr, told me that several of the students were published already, one of them with something like eight stories. All were serious, ambitious, intelligent, willing to work hard... everything you want from a new writer. I was greatly impressed by them. Vera also me that their emphasis is on big new ideas. Another thing I am very much in favor of.

Consequently, I'm looking forward to reading their stories. A decade ago, this would have seemed unlikely. But currently there's a lot of corporate sponsorship for SF in China -- a forward-looking literature for a forward-looking nation, you can imagine the discussions in the boardrooms. Part of this sponsorship takes the happy form of underwriting translations of selected works into English. So it's possible to get an idea of the shape of what's currently happening here, even if you can't read Chinese.

(Neil Clarke has been publishing translated Chinese SF stories in Clarkesworld every month. If you're curious, you should go check them out. Along with the rest of his excellent magazine.)

This is, as I've said before, a very exciting time for science fiction in China. They're building something new and, I hope, splendid. I'll have more to say on this matter in the future, I'm sure.

And, yes, teaching here did make me feel like Mr. Chip. Just don't tell anyone I admitted that.


Above: Yes, the Great Wall is outside Beijing and no, I'm not likely to visit it on this trip. But I've been there. One visit is all you really need. It stays in your heart.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Good Fun at the KGB

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It was a grand night Wednesday at the KGB Bar science fiction reading series. The chief draw was Jeffrey Ford, who read two excerpts from his new novel, Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage to great acclaim. The premise -- that Captain Ahab survived the wreck of the Pequod and is now searching for his lost wife and child in New York City -- is exactly the kind of thing I never read. But, having heard Jeff read from it, I've resolved to buy the book in hardcover.

This is, incidentally, another good reason to attend readings. Aside from the fun of it, I mean. Learning about books you didn't know you wanted.

That's Jeff up top, reading.






And this next picture (photo credit: Marianne Porter) is of me. I also read two pieces. The first was "Ghost Ships," a short story that is radically different from anything I've written before. It got a very good reception, which I don't mind admitting was heartening.

I also read a slightly-condensed version of the ending of "The City of Men," the novella that Gardner Dozois and I were working on when he died. This is a sequel or continuation of "The City of God," published in 1995 in Omni Online and subsequently reprinted in Asimov's Science Fiction. The first novella was extremely dark and so, too, is the second -- until you come to the ending, which is unabashedly happy. Gardner had talked about that ending for decades and he almost got to write it. But at least it got written in the end, even if not by him.  Making the novella a fitting memorial to the man.

Then, because Gardner had always admired Robert Silverberg's innovation when John Brunner died, I asked if the crowd could honor Gardner with, not a moment of silence but a moment of applause.

The crowd did so. The applause seemed to go on forever. It's possible it's still going on now, even as you read these words.




Oh, and I should probably mention that the crowds that the KGB readings draw are made up of the cream of the New York science fiction scene: writers, editors, SF professionals and the like. All by themselves, they're reason enough for NYC residents who love science fiction to show up.

Up above: My rather blurry photo of the rather fine writer Richard Bowes, drinking a glass of uisce solais.


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Friday, August 3, 2018

A Simple Plot Diagram

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I drew up the above diagram last night as a tool to help me with a story I'm having some difficulty with. There are two main characters, Olav and Nahala, each represented by their middle initials. The main line shows their journey through the story. The small circles are particularly significant events in the story. And the arrows converging on the small circles are characters and forces introduced at that point.

Simple, yes?

So what, you ask, is the point? Well, I've got about 2,500 words written, including the first six pages which are pretty much final draft, and the final three or four paragraphs, also final draft. Plus a batch of stuff that falls somewhere in between. But while I know what must happen in the broadest outline (Olav must agree to work for a wizard, he must fight a dragon, and that fight must have a certain unexpected conclusion), the details of how the story will accomplish these things are not exactly clear. By sketching out what I know, I accomplish two things:

1) I discover aspects of the shape of the story I didn't know. For example, it turns out that the story falls into four distinct sections, which suggests alternating point of view between Olav and Nahala.

2) At the crucial plot points, as I'm tightly focused on them, I make marginal notes: snippets of dialog, observations about character and setting, and the like. These, when I go to write, can be expanded. So if I'm feeling uninspired, I can just go to the notes and start inserting them into the story.

Luckily, this is not a very complicated tale. It might be a short as 5,000 words. It's definitely going to be a short story, rather than a novella or a novelette.


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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Dream Diary: July 30, 2018

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I dreamed I dropped by Janis Ian's house for an unannounced visit -- which was pretty cheeky of me, considering she lives in a different region of the country from me. We chatted and she mentioned that that evening she was going to be in a music video with Hank Williams, for whom she'd written a song. Then she asked if I'd like to be an extra in the video.

I said yes, while reflecting on the irony that I'd had to beg off a similar invitation to appear in a music video from Neil Gaiman, because it conflicted with my visit to Janis.

(I do apologize for all the name-dropping. But that was the dream I had. The conversation, as I remember it, was a pleasant one.)


And does this mean I'll be posting here regularly again...?

I hope so. Then again, I've been intending to promise to do so for weeks, and things keep coming up. So we'll see. My intentions are good, even if the flesh is weak.


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Monday, July 9, 2018

Eight Pictures from the Gardner Dozois Memorial

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The memorial for Gardner Dozois was held Saturday at the Friends Center in Center City Philadelphia. Well over a hundred people showed up (I doubt anybody counted) to honor and remember a brilliant writer and editor and one of the best and kindest men I've ever known.

I've written many thousands of words of memorials and appreciations over he past month, so today I'll just post a few pictures with minimalist captions.

Above: Gardner's son, Christopher Casper. His words were the wisest and most heartfelt of the day.




Tess Kissinger sharing memories of Gardner.




"Look -- manatees!" George R. R. Martin tells a very funny story about the old days.



Left to right: Tom Purdom, Barbara Hearn, Margaret King.





Gregory Frost somehow looking both mischievous and elegant.




Joe Haldeman sharing a story with Chip Delany. Tess Kissinger is in the background.




Chip again.




And Jack Dann.

All in all, a very sad event, laced with laughter.


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Friday, June 22, 2018

Flogging the Time Machine!

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A decent respect for my editors and publishers requires that I mention that I will be making an appearance tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble. Along with other comix creators, of course. All in support of the Once Upon a Time Machine: Greek Gods & Legends anthology.

If you're in the area, why not drop by?


And last night in LIttle Narnia . . .





The American Martini Institute is often thought of as being solely about the Martini. It's the name, I suppose. But in fact, that august organization actively researches all manner of cocktails. In fact, the AMI met in solemn convocation last night for a taste-testing of Canadian Club's 100% Rye Whiskey. If one is to appreciate what American rye whiskey was and has become, this is , ironically enough, the place to start.

Why ironically? Because Canadian Rye Whisky and American Rye Whiskey are two different, though related cats -- and not just because the American version has an extra 'e' in its name. American rye, by law, just contain at least 51% rye in its mash, while the Canadian version only has to taste the way Canadians think a proper rye whisky should.

There was a time in the United States when 'whiskey' meant rye whiskey. Remember the Whiskey Rebellion? It was all about the rye. Pennsylvania and Maryland were the primary producers of rye whiskey, leaving bourbon, with its corn mash, for the Southern states -- Kentucky in particular. Allegheny County in Pennsylvania became the center for distilling Monongahela Rye. More on that in a later post.

But a funny thing happened. Rye fell out of flavor. The chief culprit was Prohibition, the mad experiment in social control which sent a generation of Americans to their bathtubs to concoct a witch's brew of alcoholic beverages that no civilized human being should have to imbibe.

During this nightmarish period, the best smuggled alcohol came from Canada -- and Canadians, as a whole, like their whisky smooth. By the time American drinkers emerged from the Age of Savagery, they had no choice but to acknowledge the superior sophistication of our brothers to the north.

Rye whiskey went into eclipse. And what could be bought pretty much uniformly hugged that 51% legal minimum. Even rye drinkers liked the flavor mellowed out with corn and malted barley in the mash.

Old Overholt, one of the most prominent of the Monongahela Ryes, was sold and reformulated. Now it's a high-corn whiskey made the Jim Beam distilleries in Kentucky.

But the winds of fashion are fickle things. Today, rye is back in favor again. Boutique distilleries are popping up everywhere. And Canadian Club, bless 'em, has put out an affordable single-rye whisky.

Now, as to the tasting...

The color is lovely, a rich amber. The nose and flavor both are strongly caramel with strong spice and notes of not English Walnut but, appropriately enough, American Black Walnut. The flavor is emphatic and, it has to be said, to the modern palate might seem just a touch harsh. This is not a sipping whisky. The caramel does tend to dominate.

But the proof of a good rye lies in how well it goes in a Manhattan. So Manhattans were made:

Manhattan
3 parts rye
1 part sweet vermouth
2 dashes cherry bitters
shake over ice
serve in a cocktail glass with spiced cherries

(Marianne spices our cherries in Maraschino liqueur, so as to avoid the horror of candied cherries.)

And the result?

It has to be said, this is a magnificent Manhattan. The rye's flavor is strong and emphatic -- in, I hasten to add, the very best way. The subtleties of the whisky come through. And the vermouth, bitters, and cherry tame the more rambunctious qualities of the naked whisky.

More research will be published here in future postings.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Bloomsday on Delancy

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Once a year the Rosenbach Museum and Library celebrates Bloomsday, the commemoration of June 15, 1904 on which all the action of James Joyce's mighty novel Ulysses occurs. Delancey Place is closed to cars and filled with chairs and a rotating schedule of local celebrities read the entire novel over the course of the event.

(That's possible, you know. In fact, the novel is nowhere near as daunting as some people make it out to be. If you've tried and bounced off it, try this trick: read it out loud. Joyce was all about the sound of words.)

So here I am with the cutout of Joyce:





And here's Samuel R. Delany, leaning into the "Wandering Rocks" section:

 


And another shot for good measure:





Also reading was boulevardier and bookman Henry Wessells:




And Fran Wilde read also. From the "Oxen of the Sun" section. Here she is Jimmy and me:





And I would be remiss if I didn't mention . . .




I'll be at the Rittenhouse Square Barnes & Noble this Friday at 7!

Several other comic book creators and I will be there to promote Once Upon A Time Machine: Greek Gods & Legends, an anthology of science-fictionalized Greek myths and legends.

This is my first comic-book story ever and I was extraordinarily pleased with how it came out. So I'd be delighted if somebody showed up for the event. If you happen to be in Philadelphia this Friday and don't have any other obligations, please consider coming.

End of hard sell.


Above: Pascale Spinney from the Academy of Vocal Arts being looked down on by Bloom himself, while Stephen Dedalus is so wrapped up in his own thoughts he fails to notice her. She was pretty magnificent.


Friday, June 8, 2018

A Few Words of Encouragement from Gardner Dozois

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Back in the day, when I was a scrawny gonnabe writer, Gardner Dozois used to offer me encouragement. We'd be sitting around in his apartment and he'd leaf through the new issue of Asimov's, suddenly stop, and say, "You know, Michael, this story is even suckier than yours."

"Gee, thanks, Gardner," I'd reply.

He'd leaf some more. "Here's another story that sucks worse than yours."

"I really appreciate that, Gardner."

Flip, flip, flip. "I don't see why that story of yours shouldn't sell. There are lots of stories here suckier than yours."

"God bless you for saying that, Gardner."

But, as time would prove, he had a point. There were indeed stories even suckier than mine and that meant that sooner or later mine was going to sell. As it did.

New writers should take this to heart. Your stories don't actually have to be good to be published. Just less sucky than the worst of what is already being published. The bar is set a lot lower than you thought.

You can always be good after you've made that first sale.


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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Fantasy Is Not About Magic

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If you talk to new fantasists or read articles aimed at them, they're all obsessed with magical "systems" and sets of rules to make those systems logical. Which is understandable. A lot of fantasy writers come out of gaming and fantasy gaming requires lots and lots of magic to make it work. Magic, furthermore, that is logical enough to be operated by throwing sets of dice. So they think that that's what fantasy is all abou

But let me be straightforward here: Fantasy is Not About Magic. If it were, then Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy would not be considered fantasy. Nor Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint. And I could go on.

So what is the beating heart of fantasy, its sine qua non, its irreducible necessity?

Enchantment.

I realized this when I was preparing a lesson plan for a writers conference recently and thinking about Mendlesohn's First Law: Any sufficiently immersive fantasy is indistinguishable from science fiction. Which means that the more systematized, the more rationalized, the more game-able the fantasy, the less it's going to deliver on the traditional payoffs for fantasy.

"So how do you like my castle?"

"Well, Mr. Disney, the plumbing is just wonderful. And the fireworks are so well timed!"

Which is when I picked up W. H. Auden's A Certain World and found the following passage:

The state of enchantment is one of certainty. When enchanted, we neither believe nor doubt nor deny: we know, even if, as in the case of a false enchantment, our knowledge is self-decption.

Isn't that marvelous? Isn't that a perfect description of what it feels like to read good fantasy? If we accept that fantasy is about enchantment it explains so much: How a novel completely lacking in magic can still be undeniably fantasy. How a novel crammed to the gills with magic can still fail to register as fantastic.

The duty of a fantasist, then, is not to come up with systems of magic. It is to enchant.

Just as simple as that.


Above: The Northern Lights. Image taken from Absolute Iceland. You can find their website with tour info and more photos here.

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Monday, June 4, 2018

An Observation from Alice Hoffman's Youth

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I spent the weekend teaching courses on fantasy and science fiction at the Rutgers University Writing Conference. The other teachers -- or "presenters" as we were called -- were a remarkably pleasant batch. So I had a good time.

Alice Hoffman gave a keynote talk in which she said that when she was a girl it never occurred to her that she might become a writer. Because at that time, it was the commonly held belief that literature concerned itself with war and other masculine pursuits. Also, "Growing up," she said, "the only women I read were either British or dead." Encountering Grace Paley later convinced her that women's experiences could also be the stuff of literature.

I  remember the time of which she spoke and can attest that she does not exaggerate the case. And now...? Well, thanks to Ms Hoffman and many, many other women writers, it would take a pretty inattentive little girl not to realize that it can be done. That literature can be written by a woman. And that that woman might someday be her.

And, as R. A. Lafferty once remarked, that's all I have to say. I just thought I should point out that in the midst of what can some days looks like unrelieved gloom, there are patches of light, signs of progress, reasons to hope.


Above: I swiped Alice Hoffman'a pub photo, figuring that in this case she wouldn't mind. You can find her blog at http://alicehoffman.com/blog/.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

The Second-Best Advice About Awards I Ever Received

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As always, I'm on the road again.

This time I'm off to Rutgers University -- New Brunswick Writers' Conference. I'll be teaching two classes, one on genre fantasy and the other on science fiction world-building. Also, Saturday evening I'm scheduled for a speaking/reading/signing event.

Then on Sunday it will be all over.

This is one of the things that makes the writing life so odd. Events loom up, dominate one's life very intensely for the duration, and then fade away in the rear view mirror. But there's that one instant just before you make any appearance when you feel like a deer in the headlights.

Which reminds me of the second-best advice I ever received about awards...

I was in Moscow for Roscon, the Russian national science fiction convention and was about to receive the Grand Roscon Award, which is a very big deal. To me in particular. I was sitting beforehand with my Italian friend Alberto and told him I was feeling nervous about my speech.

Alberto grinned. "Don't worry about a thing," he said reassuringly. "Tomorrow, nobody will remember a word you said."

Words to live by.


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Monday, May 28, 2018

The Gardner Dozois You Didn't Know You Knew

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I told Gardner he was wrong. Turns out he wasn't.

When he went into Pennsylvania Hospital for congestive heart failure, he told me that meant he was going to die.

"No, you aren't," I said. "Your doctor said he expects to have you in rehab by Monday and home ten days after that."

When SFWA announced they were giving him the Solstice Award for lifetime achievement in science fiction, he said, "They only give you those things when you're about to die."

"You're not about to die," I said. "They're giving a Solstice Award to Sheila Williams, too, and she's not about to die."

"No, Sheila's not going to die," he admitted.

Gardner was right on all three counts. God damn him for the first two.

When Gardner's son, Christopher Casper, accepted the Solstice Award on his behalf, only -- my god! -- eight days ago, he spoke about what a shy and modest man Gardner was. This was news, I'm sure, to a lot of the audience. They all knew Gardner as a larger-than-life Rabelaisian figure, a loud and entertaining man who, in Connie Willis's characterization, was prone to shouting "Penis!" in a crowded restaurant.

But that was all an act. He assumed the role to put people at their ease and to make him approachable. He really was shy. He really was modest.

When Philadelphia Magazine named him one of "Philadelphia's 100 Smartest People," he said, "If that's true, then God help Philadelphia!" When he was placed in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, he returned from Seattle to report that they'd placed his name and image on a brick which went into the Hall of Fame Wall. "So now I'm really just another brick in the wall." And when he couldn't make it to Pittsburgh for the Nebula Awards Weekend, he told Christopher to just say that the award properly belonged to all the writers he'd published.

Chris, of course, ignored this directive and spoke movingly of his father's virtues instead. But here's the thing. Any number of editors were capable of saying that the award really belonged to the writers. But Gardner actually meant it.

Gardner really loved science fiction. One of the greatest joys in his life was discovering a new writer of talent. There are a great many writers who are grateful to him for discovering them, praising them when nobody else did, and promoting their work. He would have told them that they had it backward: that he was grateful to them for writing what they did.

Anybody who was ever praised by Gardner Dozois should know this: He meant it. Not only did he like you personally, but he loved your work.

The second part of that mattered more than the first. I remember once he told me he'd picked up a story by a notoriously unlikeable writer for the Year's Best Science Fiction. "That's interesting," I said.

"Yeah," he replied, grinning. "The little shit wrote a really good story."

Gardner was himself an extremely fine writer. If you haven't read "A Special Kind of Morning," do yourself a favor and look it up. It's the apotheosis of science fiction war stories. He almost entirely gave that up when he became an editor because editing uses the same inner resources that writing requires.

He knew this would happen when he first became editor of Asimov's. But he felt it was a price worth paying because it enabled him to buy stories nobody else would. Some of them most readers now would be astonished to learn were ever deemed unpublishable. There were times when he risked losing his job to publish a story he admired.

He paid the price. He did it for the writers... and for the readers.

And now he's gone. The glory of his 15 Hugo Awards, the Solstice Award, the myriad other honors he received in his lifetime can now be credited to the myriad writers he published, reprinted, and promoted.

It's okay. They were never very important to him anyway.

All that mattered to him was the fiction.


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Friday, May 25, 2018

Saturday at Amalgam

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Tomorrow, at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse, I make my first appearance ever in support of a comic book story. "The Long Bow," is, not coincidentally, my first foray into the graphic art medium and it appears in Once Upon a Time Machine: Greek Gods & Legends, the second volume in what has been, so far, a very successful series.

My story is a twelve-page reinterpretation of the Odyssey and one that addresses the enigma of Odysseus's bow. I. e., how is it that a man who in two of the founding documents of Western literature is often called "sly," "crafty," and "wily," but never "superhumanly strong," has a bow that no one but he can string?

Once it's put that way, the answer seems kinda obvious, dunnit?

Anyway, it ought to be fun. Everybody who's been there speaks very highly of Amagam. So I'm looking forward to seeing it.

In brief:

1:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 26
Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse
2578 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19125


If this sounds like your kind of thing, why not drop by?


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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Spring Day in Philadelphia

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Except for a light drizzle of rain, yesterday was a fine spring day in Philadelphia. Regina Kanyu Wang was in Pennsylvania for the Nebula Awards Weekend and before going home made a side jaunt to Philadelphia. So a group of local writers met at Little Pete's Restaurant for lunch and conversation.

Regina is a science fiction writer from Shanghai, the co-founder of SF AppleCore, China's mostt influential fan organization, and the International PR Manager for Storycom, a start-up publishing house in China. It goes without saying that the conversation, roughly equally about Chinese publishing and American, was involving.

We talked, we learned, we made connections, we jotted down the titles of forthcoming collections of Chinese SF in English translation. The hours flew by. Then, after the waiters turned down the lights and began very ostentatiously cleaning up, we went our various ways.

Such meetings are, by their nature, ephemeral. But important, I think. And look how happy we all are! It was a good afternoon.

From left to right, above: Sally Grotta, Camille Bacon-Smith, Regina Kanyu Wang, Tom Purdom, Samuel R. Delany, and me Not shown because he was taking the picture was Bill Wood.


And on an unrelated note . . .

At the Nebulas, Scott Edelman was trading donuts for reminiscences about past Nebs for the podcast at his blog Eating the Fantastic. I told about the time I walked out on Newt Gingrich and regaled my fellow self-evictees with a telling of my children's story "Free Moose." I probably should have included the first couple of pages in the telling. But we grow too soon old and too late wise. As we used to say back in the day when Mastodons wandered Wales.

For those who are curious, the link can be found here.


Above: Copyright 2018  by Bill Wood.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

The Evolution of the Martini -- Available Today!

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It's May 21st or, rather, 5/21, the day known as "Five to One," the proportions of a perfect dry Martini. In honor of which, Dragonstairs Press is publishing The Evolution of the Martini, a chapbook collection of nine short essays originally published on this very blog and lightly rewritten for physical publication.

Here's Dragonstairs publisher Marianne Porter's press release:

The Proceedings of the American Martini Institute
Report of the American Martini Institute
The Evolution of the Martini

Nine short essays, originally published on Michael Swanwick's blog, tracing the evolution of the martini and what came after.

Text by Michael Swanwick.  Cover illustration by Susan McAninley.

Publication date: May 21, 2018  "Five to one"

Published in an edition of 60, of which 51 are available for sale.

Inside the United States eleven dollars, outside the United States, twelve dollars.


Which is a pretty good price for a limited edition signed-and-numbered handmade chapbook. You can, if you wish, buy the chapbook here. It was made available for sale at noon and when last I looked, there were still 26 copies available.


Above: Cover illustration by Susan McAninley and copyright 2018 by her as well. 

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Evolution of the Martini on "Five to One"

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Dragonstairs Press, which I occasionally have to remind everybody is not my press but my wife Marianne Porter's, is about to release its latest chapbook -- non-fiction this time.

The Evolution of the Martini is a report from The American Martini Laboratory to its parent entity The American Martini Institute. It takes the form of nine short essays, originally published on this very blog, tracing the evolution of the martini and what came after.

Text by me. Cover illo by Susan McAninley. Who did, by the way, a splendid job. The chapbooks are issued in an edition of 60, individually numbered and signed by me.

Marianne finished stitching the last of the chapbooks today. But they won't be available until May 21st, 5/21, or "Five to One," Dry Martini Day. That's next Monday.

The last chapbook Marianne did, Blue Moon, was issued in an edition of 69 and went on sale on March 31 of this year. Because the plan was to burn all unsold copies at the end of 24 hours, they went on sale at midnight. Because the best laid plans gang aft agley, the chapbook sold out before dawn.

That was, believe it or not, unintentional. So this time, the chapbook will go on sale sometime Monday morning. No feeding frenzy, no rush to buy. The chapbook will go on sale Monday and be available for purchase for weeks to come.

That's Marianne's plan, anyway. I offered to bet Sean (our son and her IT team) ten dollars that it would sell out in a day and he said, "Mama Porter didn't raise no fools! Not taking that bet!"

Marianne tells me that of the 60 copies, 51 will be made available for sale. Ten dollars a pop. Eleven dollars, including postage, in the US. Twelve dollars, including postage, elsewhere.

Come Monday, you can buy one -- if you wish -- at www.dragonstairs.com.


And as always...

I'm on the road again. This time I'm off to the Nebulas to witness the Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award being presented to Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams, both very dear friends of mine.

I'll be reporting on the Nebs either this weekend or on Monday, depending. Alas, I will not be dishing the dirt on who behaved badly and other scandalous matters. John Scalzi might, but not me.

Because I am such a wuss.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tom Wolfe and the Legion of Space

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The man in the white suit has left the building.

Tom Wolfe distinguished himself early as one of the giants of the New Journalism. His prose was vivid, lively, and, like his choice of clothes, drew attention to itself. It was full of interjections and exclamation marks ("Zap! Pow!"), CAPITALIZED WORDS, and run-on pyrotechnics. Wolfe wasn't afraid to take more chances in a single sentence than some writers would risk in their entire careers. He was willing to go against received wisdom as well. At a time, he later wrote, when the intellectual consensus was that America was suffering from anomie and alienation, he realized that it was undergoing "a revolution of joy." People everywhere were investing their lives in things like custom car modding or stock car racing. Just because they enjoyed it! This was not your father's anomie.

I've always had a special fondness for The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in which Wolfe rode cross-country with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in a psychedelic-painted school bus, wildly over-mythologizing the LSD-fueled adventure. It was easily the second-best attempt to capture the feel of the Sixties, after Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. But the very best book the man ever wrote was The Right Stuff.

Or perhaps I should say half-book. Wolfe intensively researched the U.S. Astronaut Corps, their test-pilot backgrounds, their families, their individual lives. And he wrote vividly about it all (except, it has to be said, for the wives, who are presented as conventional suburban housewives). But The Right Stuff, which was a best-seller and made into a major movie, stops about halfway through the story to date. Wolfe, who ended the book with a passage demonstrating that he clearly preferred test pilot Chuck Yeager over the astronauts, decided the book had done its work and abandoned the remaining research.

This is a pity because it left a number of the astronauts convinced that Wolfe had done a hatchet-job on Gus Grissom, the second American in space and the first to lose his craft, the Liberty Bell 7 when it capsized and sank after its ocean landing. Grissom was suspected of panicking and blowing the hatch early (he was later fully exonerated) and Wolfe leaned heavily on his personal humiliation and sense of disgrace. But if you look at the text with a writer's eye and a knowledge of what came later (he flew flawlessly in a Gemini capsule which he had named the Molly Brown, and later along with Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 fire) it was clear that Wolfe was setting him up for a classic tale of personal redemption.

The book, incomplete though it is as a history, is the best way to get a sense of what it was like to be astronauts in the early years, their fight to be real pilots and not juste "Spam in a can," and the strange fortune of being able to be world-famous fir a few days a year and for the rest of the time anonymous, hard-drinking, automobile-destroying jet jocks for the remainder.

Wolfe went on to become a best-selling novelist. I have to admit that I've never been able to get very far into his fiction. The wonderful lightness of his non-fiction just isn't there and his puritanical streak when it comes to sex most definitely is. Others may disagree with me. Certainly, those books, starting with Bonfire of the Vanieities, sold in huge numbers.

So was Tom Wolfe a great writer? At a minimum, he came close. By my estimation, he was semi-great, the author of some great journalism, some wondrous non-fiction books, and a partial history of the early space age that should remain of interest for thousands of years to come and quite possibly forever. But, as I said, others may want to esteem him higher. If so, please feel free.

Hot jets and clear skies, sir. We thank you for your service.


And instead of another boring obituary...

You can read an interview with Wolfe that Rolling Stone has placed online here. It's lively and cheerful and gives a better sense of the man that the gloomy recaps are likely to.


Above: Photo swiped from the Rolling Stone piece.


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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Teaching at Rutgers

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I'll be teaching for two days at Rutgers University next month. I don't teach very often -- and less with each passing decade -- so this is a rare event for me.

Aaaaand... apparently they're full up. But there's a waiting list. You can find it and everything else about the conference here.

Anyway, here's everything I'm going to be on at the conference:


WRITING GENRE FANTASY



Saturday, June 2, 2018

1:10-2:40 P.M.

Genre fantasy is very different from science fiction, much less well understood, and possessed of its own set of pitfalls for the unwary writer. This workshop will help you to avoid those pitfalls. Going back to the basics of world-building, you will learn to shape your fantasy world into something that both convinces and makes sense, while still retaining the magic that drew you to it in the first place. Exotic and richly detailed though your fantasy world may be, it is still ruled by the basics of narrative. Luckily, those basics are simple and easily mastered, leaving you free to exercise your imagination to the limit.


SCIENCE FICTION WORLD-BUILDING

Sunday, June 3, 2018

10:10-11:40 A.M.



When writing science fiction, it’s all too easy to get lost in the minutia of world-building at the expense of your story’s coherence. This workshop will teach you how to move from your nifty idea to a finished work. Starting with the most efficient modes of research, you will learn how to build a world around your idea and then populate it with characters that will embody the idea clearly and effectively. Along the way, you will also learn how much of your research to include in the finished story – and, more importantly, how much to leave out.



READING & SIGNING EVENT


Saturday, June 2, 2018

5:10 - 7:30 P. M.

ALICE HOFFMAN
CHRIS BOHJALIAN
MICHAEL SWANWICK
PABLO MEDINA


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Flogging the Time Machine

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One way in which comics publishing is like prose publishing is that when a book first comes out, the paying customers have priority. Contributor copies get shipped later.

So, as a small gift to me, Marianne ordered a copy of Once Upon a Time Machine, Volume 2 online and gave it to me this morning. There I am on the front porch reading (of course) my own story.With pleasure, I might add. Because artist Joe DellaGatta did a really excellent job of rendering my vision. He really was the right person for the job.

I've already told you that this is my first comic book story ever and that I'm pleased with how it comes out. So that's all the sales pitch I'll give you.

Except to say that if you run across it at your local independent bookstore or comic book store, buying it would support not only me (indirectly) but them (in a much more direct manner).


And while to book is still new . . .

I'll be making two appearances in Philadelphia to support this book.

The first will be at Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse at 2578 Frankford Avenue (that's in the Norther Liberties) on May 26 from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be other writers or artists or writer/artists there as well. More details as they come available.

In the meantime, you can check out the store's website here.

The second will be at the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square on June 22, sometime in the evening. More than that I don't yet know. But I'll be banging the tin can to bring you more info just as soon as I do.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Le Guin on Present Tense

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On those rare occasions when I teach, I come down hard on the use of the present tense in fiction. I tell my students that it's off-putting and unnatural. I say that the past tense is the natural mode for storytelling. They look at me as if I'd just said, "Motorbuggies will never catch on."

I just three minutes ago ran across these words in Ursula K. Le Guin's collection of non-fiction, Words Are My Matter (she is reviewing a novel):

Present-tense narration is now taken for granted by many by many fiction readers because everything they read, from internet news to texting, is in the present tense, but at this great length it can be hard going. Past-tense narration easily implies previous times and extends into the vast misty reaches of the subjunctive, the conditional, the future; but the pretense of a continuous eyewitness account admits little relativity of times, little connection between events. The present tense is a narrow-beam flashlight in the dark, limiting the view to the next step -- now, now, now. No past, no future. The world of the infant, of the animal, perhaps of the immortal.

Word. The present tense has its place in fiction -- but that place is rare.

Here's the rule, and it covers all cases: Only use the present tense if there is some reason for doing so that justifies losing some of your readers and annoying others. (This rule goes double for future tense.) Otherwise, use the past tense.

Go thou, young writers, and sin no more.


And while we're at it . . .

Don't get me stared on the second person!


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Friday, April 13, 2018

Twice Upon A Time Machine

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I'm in graphic print for the very first time! My story, "The Long Bow," appears in Once Upon A Time Machine Volume 2, a graphic anthology edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens. 

The book apparently came out two days ago. I haven't received a contributor's copy yet, so I can't say much about the other stories in it. But I flat-out love Joe DellaGatta's artwork for mine. And I'm pleased how my plot worked out.

"The Long Bow" is a 12-page story about Telemachus's search for his father, Odysseus. If you've reread the Odyssey recently, you'll remember that it begins with Odysseus's son going out, with a boatload of armed warriors, in search of news for his missing father. He comes to an island and, spotting the local king and his retinue, pauses to decide whether to kill them all or approach them peacefully and ask if they know anything of Odysseus.

Telemachus decides not to kill anyone. But he has to make a conscious decision not to! That's always fascinated me, that the times were that chaotic.

And then there's the puzzle of Odysseus's bow. Puzzling over Telemachus's search, I came upon what I honestly believe is the answer to that particular mystery.

Anyway, the editors have been out doing the publicity thing. Over at Syfywire, there's a long interview with Andrew Carl about the book, in which he says:

Joe DellaGatta drew a beautifully moody, but charming story for Telemachus (“The Long Bow”). That one was a joy to look at in every stage of production – even his hand-written letters are beautiful. This one was actually written by Michael Swanwick, as his first-ever comic script. Science fiction readers may know him from all his award-winning books and short stories in the genre. Well, guess what? He’s an awesome comics writer, too. Often the leap from one medium to another can be awkward, but Swanwick nailed it right out of the gate. 

   You can read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, over at the Deconstructing Comics Podcast, there's an hour and a half long interview with Chris Stevens. I heard that he says something about how Joe DellaGatta constructed the artwork for "The Long Bow" from my script, but today's a working day, so I haven't heard it yet.

You can listen to the whole thing here.


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

An E-Book Sale, Octavia Butler's Mountain, and the Ceremony of Innocence

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I have two pieces of news today and a short essay. So without any further ado...


E-Book Sale for The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Open Road Media is having a one-day sale of the e-book of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, the day after tomorrow only. That's Saturday, April 14, 2018.  My novel will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter tomorrow and  downpriced to $2.99 across all US retailers on that day.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter. Also, they have an astonishing selection of good across a wide range of genres. So if ebooks are your thing... well, there you are.


A Mountain on Charon for Octavia Butler!

Happy news! NASA has named a mountain on Charon, the largest of Pluto's five known moons, after Octavia Butler.

I didn't know Octavia well but I liked her a lot. (And I say that as a guy who lost the Nebula Award to her classic story, "Blood Child.") She was a particularly fine writer who saw her novels as a way to make the world a better place. She died much too young. And she fully deserves this honor.

I only wish it could have happened while she was still alive.

You can read about the honor done Octavia and others (including some familiar names) here.


The Ceremony of Innocence

You don't very often hear someone you love say, "I'm disappointed. I was so looking forward to burning books."

And you rarely see the owner of a small press lament on selling out an edition in a single day.

But both those things happened when the Dragonstairs Press's chapbook, Blue Moon, written in one day, made into an edition of 69 the next, and put up on sale on the third day (not coincidentally, a Blue Moon) sold out. The original plan was to burn all unsold copies at midnight. There being no unsold copies, Marianne (who is the owner, editor, and sole proprietor) and I had to create an alternative ceremony, where I signed the original manuscript and then burned it, along with a bouquet of flowers.

Which was good enough to satisfy the need for a ceremony to mark the event. But not as good as burning twenty or forty chapbooks would have been.

We associate book-burnings with Nazis, racists, and intolerant mobs. It would have been a beautiful thing to burn books without hatred or bigotry. To burn books created for that purpose in a ceremony of joy and innocence.

Well... There was an implicit compact with Dragonstairs Press's customers and it would have been neither innocent nor joyous to hold back a few to burn. So what we have instead is the strange sensation, one which neither Marianne nor I had ever experienced before, of feeling wistful at not burning books.

Now we know that the market for such a chapbook is larger than the number of chapbooks Marianne is willing to stitch. So I have to wonder. What on earth will Dragonstairs do for the next blue moon?


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Monday, April 9, 2018

Ebook Sales! Canadians, Act Fast!

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Good news for people who read ebooks and want to acquire some of mine. Open Roads Media is holding two flash sales -- and the first one is tomorrow!

The first sale is of my collection Tales of Old Earth, which will be featured in BookBub International, an ebook deals newsletter with subscribers in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, on 4/10/2018. The ebook will be downpriced to the equivalent of 1.99 in Canada Only!

I have mixed feelings about this one. I'm delighted that my Canadian friends get to have a bargain, after being left out of so many US-only sales. (Canadian fans and writers have been extremely kind to me over the years. So I feel kind of emotional about this.) I'm sorry the offer can't be extended to Australia and he UK.

The signup page BookBub can be found here.






And there's more! The Iron Dragon's Daughter will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter this April 14. That's this Saturday!

The ebook will be downpriced to 2.99 across all US retailers on that day.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter. Also, they have an astonishing selection of good across a wide range of genres. So if ebooks are your thing... well, there you are.


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Friday, March 30, 2018

Blue Moon Goes on Sale at Midnight

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It's a new, new tradition. One that starts today. Once in a blue moon, Dragonstairs Press will publish a chapbook in an edition of 69 and offer it for sale on the day of the blue moon. Then, at midnight, all unsold copies will be burned.


Why? Chiefly because it's a beautiful idea. Books are constantly burning. Go to the oldest section of a library and inhale deeply. That beautiful "old-book smell compounded of lignin, vanillin, and nostalgia," as I put it in The Iron Dragon's Mother, is "the scent of antique culture burning in the slow bonfire of time." Once you fall in love with books, the scent never entirely leaves you.

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 31, is a blue moon. So at midnight tonight, the chapbook Blue Moon, which I wrote yesterday and which Marianne is making even as I type these words, will go on sale at Dragonstairs Press. Exactly 24 hours later,  the unsold copies will be fed to the flame.

Blue Moon contains five flash stories, all in a lunar setting. The chapbook is 8.5" by 5.5", eight pages, hand-stitched, signed and numbered, with a sodalite bead ornament. The price is ten dollars per copy, net to all. Postage included.

You can buy chapbooks here, starting at midnight tonight, Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

Here's what the beads (only one per chapbook) look like:





And here's nanopress mogul Marianne Porter, stitching them:



And here's what some of the finished copies look like:





And  in all fairness . . .

I owe a shout-out to Dagur Hjartarson and Ragnar Helgi ├ôlafsson, who came up with this idea originally. Their publishing house Tungli├░ ("Moon" in Icelandic) in Reykjavik publishes only on a full moon, only for a day, only in editions of 69 copies, and burns the unsold copies as soon as that day ends. 

You can read about them here.



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