Friday, August 31, 2007

I Just Wanted To Say That . . .

I don’t pretend to be cooler than you. Because I’m not, and I know it. When you become a parent, you permanently surrender any claim to coolness whatsoever. I realized that the instant the midwife plonked my small warm son into my arms for the very first time, and it didn’t bother me a bit. So don’t think that I’m trying to put on airs here.

Nevertheless, sometimes and for no virtue of your own, the universe smiles upon you. Sometimes you’re invited to the 2007 International SF/Fantasy Conference in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China. Sometimes the warm and generous people from Science Fiction World, the sponsor of the conference, squire you and your friends about town to see the local sights. Sometimes those sights include the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center. Sometimes they’ve arranged a special photo op for you there. Sometimes it all adds up to a moment so perfect that all anyone can possibly say is:

Here I am, holding a live panda in my lap.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Diagraming Babel (Part 3)

I’m still in China, but I’ll be coming home tomorrow. This entry was written while I was still back in the States, but I know I’m going to have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand I hate to leave. On the other, I’ll be home again – and with Marianne!

So why didn’t I just bring Marianne along? The flip answer is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania couldn’t do without her. The serious answer is that she’s involved in a string of workshops over the summer, and really-o truly-o couldn’t be spared. So long as you guys insist on having diseases, somebody’s got to make sure the system is ready to handle the consequences. You think FEMA’s gonna take care of that? Hah!

Diagram 3. Now I’m actively involved in writing the novel, and trying to glimpse ahead to see where it’s ultimately going. Will’s line goes straight down the middle of the page because, as the protagonist, he’s always there. The Dragon, Esme, and Nat enter from one side or the other, travel alongside Will and then depart from the text, perhaps forever, perhaps to return later in the novel. You’ll note that Esme’s line wanders in a carefree manner, where everybody else’s is firm and decisive. That’s so typical of Esme!
Uncharacteristically for me, this diagram reads from top to bottom. As follows:

(“Old Son”) (“Little Mom-Mom”)

They didn’t mean to be cruel Empire of the Sun?
(it never occurred to them...) (To see what it’s like?)
There was so little [something] What else?
to be had and [something]
that Will did not feel that Esme Esme could wander through the
had deprived her of [something] camp and come ack with an orange
Somebody had given her

Blood. There must be blood in
every chapter!!!

What is a “camp” that a refugee, an
extermination, & a boy scout should
all belong to the category?

Empire of the Sun is, of course, J. G. Ballard’s prison camp novel; Steven Spielberg made of it a movie that was nowhere near so good. I was casting about for information on what life in a refugee camp would be like.

I don’t know if I put blood in every chapter, though I tend to doubt it. As I’m working, I tend to come up with thematic enthusiasms that a few years later I find hard to understand.

And I really must apologize for the “something”s. My handwriting is execrable. Even I can’t always read it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dinosaurs, Space Flight, and Science Fiction

What do the people who put on science fiction conventions really want? This is one of those everyday puzzles that working writers face all the time. When you’re asked for a contribution to a program book, you don’t get any serious guidelines as to what they’re looking for. “I’m sure you’ll do a terrific job,” they say, and you hope to God that they’re right.

So when I was asked to pen a short essay for the program book for the 2007 International SF/Fantasy Conference in Chengdu, the first thing I had to do was to figure out what would make its readers happy. There should be a dollop of praise for the host nation’s scientific and technological accomplishments, I figured, because . . . well, because everybody likes that sort of thing (the United States most definitely not excluded). Then, because I’ve been to overseas conventions before and talked to a lot of fans, I knew that what everybody wanted most to hear about was literary movements. Not Cyberpunk or the New Wave or any of that dusty old historical stuff that happened in grand-dad’s day, but stuff so recent that the news of it hasn’t traveled around the world yet.

Fortunately, I had the inside dope on exactly the sort of literary ferment they were hoping for. So that’s what I wrote about.

I’m quite proud of the essay I wrote. Not because it’s spectactularly well-written or particularly insightful. But because it’s exactly the sort of thing that (I reckon) its readers were hoping for.

You might enjoy it too. In any case, here it is:

Dinosaurs, Space Flight, and Science Fiction

What a wonderful time this is to be a dinosaur scientist! When I was a boy, paleontology was a dusty, sleepy corner of science. Everything important had been discovered a lifetime before, and all that was left to do was to organize and catalog the fossils. Back then, dinosaurs were cold-blooded and slow-moving. They dragged their tails on the ground behind them. Some spent their lives in swamps because it was the only way they could support their enormous bodies. Or so everybody thought.

All those ideas have since been discredited and exciting new discoveries are being made every year. While I was researching Bones of the Earth, Sinosauropteryx and Caudipteryx fossils were discovered in China revealing that some dinosaurs (not all!) had feathers. Confuciusornis fossils proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that birds are directly descended from dinosaurs and thus, cladistically speaking, are themselves dinosaurs – just as human beings are hominids and mammals and vertebrates and notochordates, all at the same time. To say nothing of Gigantoraptor, announced by Dr Xing Xu, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing as I was finishing up this essay.

Science fictions writers are a lot like paleontologists in some ways: As a rule, they don’t earn a lot of money. They’re doing what they love. And for those of us working in science fiction, it’s a wonderful time to be alive. Back in 1980 when I published my first story, it would have been easy for me to list the twenty best living science fiction writers. Now I couldn’t even begin to list the twenty best new writers. There has never been so much talent in the field as there is today.

I started to compile a list of significant English-language SF or fantasy writers who may well be unknown in China, beginning almost randomly with Ted Chiang, Greer Gilman, Charles Stross, Jeffrey Ford, Ken MacLeod, Ian M. Banks, Paul Park, Nalo Hopkinson, Andy Duncan, Eileen Gunn, Sean Stewart, Kelly Link, Mary Doria Russell, Paolo Bacigalupi . . . But the list goes on and on and there are already far too many for me to give you any idea of their individual virtues. So instead I’m going to present a short sketch of the three literary movements that are currently the most active in the field. Only a small fraction of the writers who matter belong to these groups. But their concerns are representative. They say something about what’s going on today.

Interstitial Arts was founded by my friend Ellen Kushner, who has a fondness for literary movements. (This is her third, after Mannerpunk, and the Young Trollopes. ) As their official Web page puts it:

What is Interstitial Art? It is art made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It is art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels. . . . Just as in nature the greatest areas of biodiversity occur in the margins of land between ecosystems, it is our belief that some of the most vital, innovative, and challenging art being created today can be found in the margins between categories, genres, and disciplines. Because such works are hard to classify, they are often misunderstood in a culture that has become overly dependent on branding and selling art by category labels. Border-crossing works of literature, for example, which consciously borrow tropes and themes from both genre and mainstream fiction, are classified as one or the other — and then critiqued according to the terms of that classification rather than on the book's own terms, often to the detriment of the work in question.

Of all the groups under consideration, Interstitial Arts is the most ambitious in it that does not limit itself to literature, but includes (or hopes to include) all arts, including painting, theater, and music. While it is unclear how large a readership there is for IA, it is absolutely certain that there’s a great demand for it on the part of writers. In recent years, there have been several anthologies (usually small-press) dedicated to what might be called not-quite-SF-or-fantasy stories, almost every one of which has its own name for the category – slipstream, new wave fabulist, cross-genre – and friends tell me that it was more difficult to sell to them than to, say, Asimov’s, which has far more readers, because so many first-rate writers were trying to get in.

If you’re still a little vague as to exactly what Interstitial Art is . . . Well, welcome to the club. A few years ago, I attended the first-ever Interstitial Arts conference, and though they were persistently questioned by not-unfriendly critics, not one of the organizers could actually define it.

The Interstitial Arts Foundation has just published their first anthology, Interfictions, so it’s too early to say how readers will respond to it. Nevertheless, this desire on the part of genre writers to expand the limits of what they can write, is a major trend in contemporary science fiction. With or without an organizing movement, it looks like it’s here to stay.

The New Weird is the creation of M. John Harrison, whose Viriconium books are ancestral to the movement and is typified by China Miéville, whose novel Perdido Street Station hit science fiction with the same force as William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The novel is set New Crobuzon, a vast shambles of a city inhabited by humans, bird-men, scarab-headed kephri, froglike vodyanoi, cactus-people and I forget what other races. It sounds strange, but the novel (and the books Miéville has written since) is far, far stranger than it sounds.

Miéville’s work is so startlingly original as to seem without precedent or peer. But that’s not how he himself sees it. In a guest editorial in The Third Alternative, he wrote:

Something is happening in the literature of the fantastic. A slippage. A freeing-up. The quality is astounding. Notions are sputtering and bleeding across internal and external boundaries. Particularly in Britain, where we are being reviewed in the papers, of all things, and selling copies, and being read and riffed off by yer actual proper literary writers. We are writing books which cheerfully ignore the boundaries between SF, fantasy and horror. Justina Robson, M John Harrison, Steve Cockayne, Al Reynolds, Steph Swainston and too many others to mention, despite all our differences, share something. And our furniture has invaded their headspace. From outside the field, writers like Toby Litt and David Mitchell use the trappings of SF with a respect and facility that has long been missing in the clodhopping condescension of the literati.

What this has in common with Interstitial Arts is a dissatisfaction with the genres as they currently are, and a disinclination to respect their boundaries. What makes it radically different from IA is that there is no desire to expand beyond fantasy, science fiction, and horror. New Weird simply wishes to break down the walls between genres and reshape the fiction being written within. They have no particular desire to move into the mainstream.

This reflects a strong contemporary desire in the genre to write science fiction and fantasy that is stranger and more intense than what we have now. To write, in short, fiction which is everything we like about genre fiction but more so.
The New Weird anthology – titled, appropriately enough, The New Weird Anthology – is being edited by Jeff Vandermeer, who was an early critic of the movement and has since been won over to it. It comes out in 2008.

Mundane Science Fiction is the newest of the movements and the one with the least to show for itself. Nobody would take it seriously save for two things. The first is that it is the creation of Geoff Ryman, best known for such startlingly original works as The Unconquered Country, The Child Garden, and what is probably my favorite novel of 2004, Air. The second is that it has a strong argument. In extremely abbreviated form (taken from one of several manifestoes), the Mundanes believe:

That interstellar travel remains unlikely. Warp drives, worm holes, and other forms of faster-than-light magic are wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future.

That magic interstellar travel can lead to an illusion of a universe abundant with worlds as hospitable to life as this Earth. This is also unlikely.

That this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth.

There are several more SF commonplaces the Mundanes reject, including alien civilizations and artificial intelligence. In order, therefore, for science fiction to have a positive influence on the world, they intend to write only stories that take place in the future we are likely to have, rather than the one we wish were possible. It would be nice to sip alien wine beside an ancient canal with a Martian princess, they say. But it’s simply not going to happen.

The interesting thing about the Mundanes is how many writers responded angrily to their rhetoric while agreeing with their premises. One of many commentators on this phenomenon pointed out that what the Mundanes were objecting to was not the free play of imagination per se, but what she called third-hand fiction – stories written by people who, having no real ideas of their own, create imitations of the SF they loved when they were young.

The Mundanes are so new that they haven’t even arranged their own anthology. But a future issue of Interzone will be dedicated to their work. That’s one magazine I intend to pick up.

So we have three movements. One is trying to move science fiction beyond the barriers that traditionally define it – to colonize what we like to call the mainstream. One wants to stay within those boundaries but break down the barriers between science fiction, fantasy, and horror in order to create a more vigorous hybrid form. The third wants to concentrate SF on its traditional core concern, the future as it actually will be. What do they all have in common?


All three movements are made up of writers who are trying their very best to write fiction the likes of which nobody has ever seen before. More literary, more science-fictional, more consequential. With high hopes and glad ambition they are storming the slopes of Parnassus.

Which is what all of us, whether we belong to a movement or not, are trying to do.

At the beginning of this essay, I said that it was an exciting time to be a paleontologist. It is an exciting time to be involved in rocketry as well. It was not long ago that China became the third nation to put a man into space. The significance of this is enormous. So long as there were only two nations, Russia and the United States, capable of manned spaceflight, it was possible to believe it was all politics – flashy and expensive, but not lasting. No more. Now it is clear that humanity is moving into space. If one country falters and loses interest, another will pick up the torch.

There have been three great events in the history of life. The first was when life first arose on Earth. The second was when life first left the oceans and moved onto land. The third was when life first left the planet. We are privileged to be alive in the fleeting eyeblink of time when this third event is taking place. Which is also – and this is not coincidental – the same instant in which the human race could very well put an end to itself. There’s never been a time that offered better material for a serious science fiction writer to work with.

There’s never been a better time to be a science fiction writer.


Friday, August 24, 2007

What I Do For Fun

I’m in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China, right now, and my son Sean is posting an item I wrote before I left.

What shall I see and what shall I learn while I’m away? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out. In the meantime, here’s a brief, ten-photo essay which I provided for a display at the conference. The organizers asked for ten pictures of each participants engaged in his or her hobbies. Which presented a problem for me because writing is my hobby. When I’m not writing to earn a living, I like to relax by writing something whimsical and unprofitable, like my biographical essay on Hope Mirrlees or “Fool Moon,” a love letter to Marianne which I wrote as a story on the cover of a moon-shaped lamp I bought at IKEA.

Nevertheless, I do get away from my desk occasionally, so I chose ten photos that give some idea of the range of things I most enjoy and sent them to Science Fiction World (the sponsor of the conference, as well as being a major SF magazine and the publisher of the Chinese translation of my Bones of the Earth), along with the following captions. I have no idea if they’re going to use the captions or not. Personally, I think they should. But that might not fit in with their display.

1. I Get Involved With Public Art. (This is in Stamford, Connecticut.)

2. I Write About Neglected Fantasy Writers. (Here I am, laying a rose on Hope Mirrlees’ family memorial in
Glasgow, Scotland.).

3. I Waste Hours with Friends in a Sidewalk Cafe in Croatia.

4. I Spend Time With My Beautiful Wife, Marianne Porter.

5. I Interview Vladimir Mikhailov. (l-r: Mikhailov, me, Alexei Bezouglyi, translating)

6. I Speak With a Human Eyeball at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

7. I Have Dinner With My Friends, Russian Writer Andrew Matveev and His Wife Natalya Matveeva in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

8. I Hang Out With My Imagination.

9. I Study the History of Rocketry. (Inside the house of Sergei Korolev, “the Great Designer,” in Moscow.)

10. I Dance With Turtles.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Diagraming Babel (Part 2)

I’m either in China right now, or on the plane to Chengu. But that doesn’t matter, because I arranged for my son Sean to post this, the second in a series of diagrams I used to help plot out The Dragons of Babel.

(Er, actually, he's in Chicago. Apparently his flight was canceled because shrimp ate the wiring in the engines, or something, so his entire trip to China is pushed back twenty-four hours. Viva airtravel! --Sean)

Diagram 2. There are actually two diagrams here. Both are simpler than the first one was, and the larger of the two is almost a doodle, but I’ve introduced characters and that’s a step forward. The spiral in the big diagram represents the protagonist’s voyage through the novel from beginning (the base) to end (the peak). The metaphor of rising through the Tower of Babel to its very tip will later become literal.

The smaller diagram tracks three characters through a section of the novel. Each line represents one character. The line that goes straight, top to bottom, is Will le Fey, the protagonist. When lines of other characters travel alongside his both characters are in the plot. When lines diverge, one goes away. A slanting line suggests a character off on a plot of his or her own who only intersects with the protagonist’s plot for one event or scene.

The W stands for Will, the protagonist. The S is for a sister who never materialized. And of course the D is for the dragon. And the circle? That’s the moon. It represents all that is unobtainable, everything that can never be known or achieved or realized. Which is a lot of what this novel is secretly about.

I never said I wasn’t pretentious.

The text reads:

Does Will have a sister? A family?

A Journey on the “Left-Hand Path”

Definitely Klee’s “Limits of Understanding”

As it turns out, Will has no sister. The question of family is a lot more complicated than it looks.

Note that for the “left-hand path,” I carefully made the spiral counter-clockwise.

“Limits of Understanding” is a wonderful drawing by one of my favorite authors, which I’ve only seen reproduced in a mass-market paperback on Karl Jung. I spent months trying to find a better copy of it in art books and the Web. To no avail.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage?

The single coolest and most collectable book to be published this coming November has got to be What Can Be Saved From the Wreckage? James Branch Cabell in the Twentieth Century. It won’t be the most popular or profitable volume or the book of widest interest. But it will definitely be the coolest. And I wrote it!

Here’s the story. I started reading Cabell as a teenager, decades ago, when several of his fantasies were published in Lin Carter’s Adult Fantasy series. Early on, I conceived the ambition to read Cabell’s entire oeuvre and began collecting his works (most of which could and still can be bought quite cheaply in used book stores) as I encountered them. A couple of years ago, I got serious about the project, and with the aid of the rare book room in the University of Pennsylvania Library, managed to complete reading everything the man had ever published, with the exception of his family genealogies. Which, however, I did glance at, to make sure there wasn’t anything clever going on there. I also read a lot of criticism and all I could find out about the man’s life. Then I wrote an 18,500-word essay (counting my extravagant footnotes) summarizing Cabell’s life and carefully weighing the value of his works.

It begins:

There are, alas, an infinite number of ways for a writer to destroy himself. James Branch Cabell chose one of the more interesting. Standing at the helm of the single most successful literary career of any fantasist of the twentieth century, he drove the great ship of his reputation straight and unerringly onto the rocks.

It is hard to imagine today the magnitude of James Branch Cabell’s fame in the early part of the last century. Cabell’s books were Mark Twain’s chief reading in the great humorist’s declining years. Theodore Roosevelt received him at the White House. The occultist Aleister Crowley harried him with fan letters. H. L. Mencken was his advocate. A symphonic tone poem based on Cabell’s Jurgen debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1925. Sinclair Lewis, accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930, mentioned him as one of a number of writers who might reasonably have won it.

Yet he died as good as forgotten. A 1958 memorial by Edmund Wilson, a late convert to his work, began, “I do not know how many people will feel a special sense of loss at the death of James Branch Cabell.” Today there is little left to remind people of what he once was. Jurgen is still read in the Dover paperback edition, and hard-core fantasy fans seek out the Ballantine reprints of his other fantasies in used bookstores. But that’s pretty much it. The other day I received in the mail a copy of
Jurgen, personally inscribed To Anita “Star of my Life” and signed “Jimmy” Cabell. It cost me twenty dollars, including postage. A comparable book by William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, or F. Scott Fitzgerald – to name two writers he could not abide and a third who once humbly begged a blurb from him for The Beautiful and the Damned – would have set me back a bundle.

This remarkable feat of self-obliteration was accomplished through diligence, hard work, and a perverse brilliance of timing on Cabell’s part. His chief tool was a uniform edition of his works.

I happen to think this is a good essay, but that’s not what makes its book publication extraordinary. The coolness factor derives directly from Henry Wessells, the publisher. Henry is a serious rare book man (he works for James Cummins, Bookseller in New York City, which is one of the very first places you’ll want to go shopping after winning big in the lottery), and his imprint, Temporary Culture, is issuing the book in two states. One is a trade paperback (6 x 9 inches, 64 pp.) edition of 200, very reasonably priced at fifteen dollars. It’s the limited edition hardcover that jacks up the cool quotient to eleven.

But before I should explain why, let me briefly mention the introduction and the man who wrote it. “Jurgen Down Under,” is a very graceful piece of writing by the estimable Barry Humphries, reflecting on his first encountering the then-scandalous Jurgen in the 1950s Australia of his youth. Barry Humphries is best known to the world as Dame Edna, but you don’t have to know anything of his comedic brilliance to appreciate the essay he wrote.

Now, as to the hardcover . . . It will be printed in an edition of 17 numbered copies, each one signed by me, Barry Humphries, and James Branch Cabell. This last is a bit of a trick, given that Cabell died almost fifty years ago, but Henry Wessells achieved it by sacrificing an incomplete set of the Storisende Edition of Cabell’s works (originally 18 volumes) and harvesting the signed leaves. Neat, huh? Most of those copies are already spoken for, so if you desperately need one, you’d better move fast. Serious collectors can inquire for a subscription price, which (the press release says), “includes shipping within the USA and a copy of the trade issue.” So you can read the essay and still keep the pages of the limited edition pristine and uncut, you see.

Order and inquiries should go not to me but to:

Henry Wessells
P.O. Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072 USA
Electronym : wessells(at)aol(dot)com

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Single Best Thing Anybody Ever Said To Me About Awards

I’ve just learned that “Lord Weary’s Empire,” an excerpt from The Dragons of Babel that was rewritten and published as an independent story, came in third for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The award itself went to Robert Charles Wilson for "The Cartesian Theater," and second place went to Robert Reed for "A Billion Eves."

There’s something particularly pleasurable about placing close to an award but not getting it. You don’t have to be graciously modest about it, for one thing. Nor are you required to board an airplane and fly to a distant awards ceremony. You get all the satisfaction of knowing that other people think well of your work without any of the obligations attendant upon winning.

Di I hear somebody say “sour grapes?” Well, I understand your skepticism. But I mean it. It would have been pleasant to win – it’s always pleasant to win – but it wasn’t necessary. Back a decade-and-a-half ago, when Stations of the Tide won the Hugo for Best Novel, William Gibson called me long-distance from Vancouver to congratulate me at rather expensive-to-him length. Which shows you the kind of Mensch that Bill is. I mean, I considered him a friend but not so close a friend that I would have noticed if he hadn’t called. And in the course of the phone conversation, he said the single best thing anybody ever said to me about awards.

“Now that you’ve got a Nebula,” Gibson said, “you need never want one again. That ‘Nebula-Award winner’ tag will follow you around for the rest of your life like a little puppy. They can’t take it away from you for bad behavior. Winning twenty more won’t make it any larger.”

Have you guessed by now that I already have a Sturgeon? It was for “The Edge of the World,” back in 1990.

So thanks, Bill! Thanks for freeing from Nebula Fever. Congratulations to Robert Charles Wilson for winning the award! Best of luck in the future to Robert Reed, whose work has been regularly placing on the short list in recent years and whose “Mere” came in third in 2005.

You see how pleasant that is? I get to be a good sport and simultaneously brag about having already won the Sturgeon. Not to mention the Nebula. And, what the heck, five Hugos.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Diagramming Babel (Part 1)

Greg Frost and I were having dinner with Janis Ian once when something one of us said made her exclaim, “Writers have even bigger egos than musicians!”

We both nodded complacently. “Of course,” Greg said.

“Musicians have to be able to play well with others,” I explained.

So, as a typical writer, I confidently expect that whatever civilization comes after ours will revere me as a saint. And when they place my statue in their cathedrals, they’ll have no trouble assigning a symbol to it (like Saint Agatha’s bells or Peter’s keys) so people will know who it’s supposed to represent. My statue will be holding a notebook, because that’s what’s almost always in my hands. There are people who have known me over a quarter of a century and never once seen me without one.

Three of my notebooks (the Scribbledehobbledehoydenii as they’re collectively monickered) were dedicated to The Dragons of Babel, so I went through them to see what I might post. Among the scribbles and sketches and coffee stains, I found plot diagrams. Lots and lots of plot diagrams.

This probably leads you to imagine me as being terribly organized in a crisp and Teutonic way, projecting laser plotlines across the vast emptiness of prosespace. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I was doing was not so much plotting the way forward, as trying to figure out what the heck was going on. I invented my own diagram structure with lines representing each character so I could plot their comings and goings. Sometimes the diagrams helped keep track of who was in play and who wasn’t. Sometimes they helped make clear exactly why a section wasn’t working. Other times, the novel was going fine, and I simply didn’t bother with them.
Marianne (my wife, the love of my life, and the “M. C. Porter Endowment for the Arts” mentioned in all of my book acknowledgments) finds these things fascinating and baffling all at once. “Do they really mean anything?” she’ll ask me occasionally. Oh, yes, I assure her. I couldn’t write the novel was going without them. She trusts me, and so she takes my word on this.

Marianne also thinks that other people will be interested in seeing the diagrams and thus getting a glimpse into what we ink-stained wretches call, with varying degrees of bitterness and bemusement , “the creative process.” I have faith in her judgment. So that’s what I’ll do.

I’ll post the second one next Wednesday, a week from today, and keep on doing so until I’ve run through them all or else my readers’ patience, whichever comes first.

Reproduced above is the first diagram. Now for my explanation of what it says.

Diagram 1. This is as crude and inchoate as they get. The diagram was made in 2002, three years and something like six notebook pages after I decided to write the novel in 1999. This is a gestation period that even an elephant might feel horrified pity for. I was trying to figure out what the novel would look like, feel like, be about . . . So it turns out that The Dragons of Babel, like Ymer arising out of the primal chaos of Ginugagap, began as almost pure abstraction.

From top to bottom, it says:

returning from Burning Man, Dave Brown found Las Vegas overwhelming.

No Control
A human construct must be imperfect
people pray
Not all of Man’s works are good
people pray
The Problem of Authenticity
A City is Built on Restraint as Much as Ambition
A sonic tower, moving within time
In such an environment, how can you pray?
people pray
Wilson Goode baffled by Marianne
Social Structure Reflected in the Physical
conflicting impressions
people pray
Drunkard’s Walk “I thought yr old man was God.”
The city as sorting mechanism
sustaining music
The foundation of this city is an unacknowledged courage
“If you don’t work, why are you here?”
people pray
How many?
“A billion windows and not one eye”
This is Davy Crockett’s Buffalo: Too Big For Any Man to See


“I thought your old man was God.” At my Aunt Helen’s funeral, one of my relatives reminisced to another about another his father, a fireman, dropping by for a cup of coffee after a big fire, streaked with soot and smelling of smoke.

Wilson Goode is a former mayor of Philadelphia, and it was on his watch that the confrontation with MOVE occurred and we became the only American city ever to bomb itself. Marianne and I met him at a church breakfast at Roxborough Baptist Church. Funny story. Remind me to tell you it sometime.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Dragons of Babel

The funny thing about making a living as a writer is how eventless it seems as you’re doing it, and how varied when you sit back and take stock. When Marianne comes home after a long day protecting the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and asks how my day went, I’ll hold up my hands and wiggle my fingers: “Like that.” Because, really, that’s all I do. Writing as a spectator sport ranks right up there with World Federation Napping.

But take a glim at the picture to the right. That’s Stephan Martiniere’s original artwork for The Dragons of Babel, my new fantasy novel, coming out in December, 2007. Pretty nifty, eh? Martiniere is a jack-of-all-trades artist. He was the visual art director for games (like Uru: Ages Beyond Myst) that even I’ve heard of, was nominated for an Emmy for an animated film he directed, won an award for his work on a theme park, and on and on and on. And, of course, he does book covers.

So, yeah, that day wasn’t entirely eventless.

The scan was sent to me by David Hartwell, my editor at Tor, who also said I should start a blog for the express purpose of promoting the book. “But make it interesting,” he said. “There are a thousand sites out there with the first chapter of a novel and a scan of the cover. Nobody cares for that anymore. They want to see something different. The more different interesting things, the better.”

Okay, I said. That’s what I’ll do.

And here I am.

Reflecting on what I might possibly include or talk about as incentives for people to drop by regularly, I off the top of my head came up with the following short list:

bottled stories
the odd piece of art or three by the inimitable Jason Van Hollander
the single most collectable book to be published this coming November
electric pickles
photos from my research trip to Moscow this March
my many collaborations with Eileen Gunn
my noble and probably quixotic crusade to destroy a literary term
and (probably) more photos and stories from my upcoming trip to Chengdu, China.

Which, again, suggests that my life is not nearly so eventless as it seems to me.

But, of course, if I’m going to be flogging The Dragons of Babel, I’d better come up with interesting things to post that relate directly to it. Such as the list of Entities, Places, Things (below), which I created to speed the copy editing along. I learned long ago that if you’re going to fill a novel with strange words and Odd Capitalizations, a list like this can spare the copy editor worlds of trouble and thus make him or her more kindly disposed toward the author, and more likely to assume that I might have some rough idea of what I’m doing in the novel. Still, when I assembled this list, I was astonished how many different fairy types and characters there actually were in the novel. It’s as thronged with ‘em as Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke.

The list is slightly altered to avoid spoiling plot surprises. No “Norman Bates’s mother (actually Bates himself) here. Though such entries are indeed useful to the copy editor.

Another thing David Hartwell said was that the blog would have to be updated two or three times a week, “without fail.” So, all right. I will commit here and now to updating the blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Mondays and Wednesdays absolutely and positively, and Fridays if at all possible. (I threw that last bit in just to give myself a little wriggle room, but I don't expect to need it.)

If there’s anybody out there who doesn’t find this more than enough already, you can also check out my Web page,, which is chock-a-block with fiction, essays, a writing column that does its best to cut off all new talent at the knees, and I forget exactly what else. There’s a lot of it, though.

See you on Wednesday!

Entities, Places, Things:

This list is for the assistance of the proofreader. It is not intended to go into the book.


abatwa (singular and plural)
the Aelfwine
Ethan Allen
the Alphabet of Trees
alphonse (slang for a kept man)
Amnye Machen (not Amne Machin)
Anastasia, Aunt Anastasia, Auntie
the Armies of the Mighty
the Armies of Twilight
the Armory
the Army of Night
Alberecht & Ting, Gastrolitheurs
albino giants
Alcyone L’Inconnu, Alcyone, Allie
Muhammad Ali
an apple imp
Bessie Applemere, Hag Applemere
Ararat (both mountain and skyscraper)
the Assay
ATF (Alchemy, Tobacco, and Firearms)
Auld Black Agnes
Auntie Fox
Avalon, the Isles of Avalon
the awen


Babel, the Tower of Babel, the Tower, the Dread Tower, the Tower of Whores
Babylonia, Babylon, Babylonians
Captain Bagabyxas
The Ballad of Oberon’s Arse
barnacle geese
Battery Park, the Battery
the battle-light
the Bay of Demons
Puck Berrysnatcher
bird maidens
a BlackBerry
William Blake
the Blessed Isles
Block A
Block G
Fata Bloduewedd
bluebell sprites
Blue Mountain coffee
Bobby Buggane
Sergeant Bombast
Bonecrusher, ‘Crusher
les bonnes meres
Bowie knife
the Bowery
Bowling Green Station
Bowie knife
the Breakneck Boys, the Breaknecks
the Brig o’ Doom, the Brig-O
Brocielande Station
brown men
the burning man, the Burning Man (first usage is l.c.; thereafter, a proper name), the lancer


Fata Caldogatto
Master Cambion
Camp Oberon, Oberon Displaced Persons Camp, Oberon DPC
Candlemas eve
capricorn (lower case)
the Cauldron Boy
the center square (later known as Tyrant Square)
the Century of the Turbine
the Chansons Amoreuses de Merlin Sylvanus
chimneysweeper (dandelion)
the City Garda
City Council
City Hall
City Services
Le Club Frottage
Cluricauns, cluricauns (capitalized when short for the Society of Cluricauns; lower case
the Society of Cluricauns
a cobber
cobbley, cobblies
Coleman lantern
the Commandant
the Lord High Comptroller
Conestoga wagon
the Contingent Territories
Corpsecandle Green
the Council of Magi, the Council
crystal goon, goon
the Criminal Vengeance Division
the Cult of Profane Love


Daiera, Damia, Danae (names that are not Deianira’s)
Daisy Jenny
the Darul as-Salam Arcades
the Daughters of the West
the dawn-times
day of the Kraken
day of the Labrys
day of the Toad
the Debatable Hills
Deianira, Deianira the Diener (a diener)
Jack Dempsey
Fata d’Etoile
dire wolf, dire wolves
Division of Signs and Omens
the Dockalfar
Donkey Ears
downs trolls
House sayn-Draco
a dragon (also known as the old war-drake, the Worm, Father of Lies, Lord Dragon, etc., etc.)
dragons, war-dragons, war-drakes
Dragon Stout
Pippin Droit-de-Seigneur (old Stinky)
the Duchess
The Duchess’s Hole
Dullahan the Deathless (Bobby Buggane)
duppy, duppies, duppy-man
dwarf, dwarves, dwarven, dwarvenkind.
dwarves, black (black hair, pale skin)
dwarves, red (ginger hair, swarthy skin)
the dwellers-in-the-depths


the East
Duke Ellington
elf-brat, elf-girl, elf-lady, elf-lord, elf-pack
Fata Elspeth (‘Speth)
elven, high-elven (not elfin)
the Empire of Night, Lord Weary’s Empire
Blind Enna
Epona, the queen-mare
Ereshkigal (one of the Seven)


Fäerie Minor
Fäerie Major
the Fane of Darkness
Fennbennech Ai
Eilrik von Fenris
the Fifth Amazons
Fifth Avenue.
Daddy Fingerbones
the First Age
the Fisher King
the Fisher King’s disease
Gustave Flaubert
the flesh folk
Florian of House L’Inconnu, Florian L’Inconnu
the Fôret de Verges
the forges of the sunset
Kim Freydisdottir


Galadriel, Gal, Laddie-girl
Fata Gardsvord
the Gates of Dawn
Generalissimo Lizardo
the Gihon
Ginarr Gnomesbastard
Ginny Gall
glamour (delusory magic) is given the British spelling to distinguish it from glamor
goblin market
the Goddess
Gog, Magog, and Gogmagog
the Gorge
Grammarie Fields
Grand Central Station
Grandfather Domovoy
Grannystone Hill
the great forges of the East
the Great River
great-great-great-grandmother (Will’s stone-mother)
Green Knight
the greenshirties
the Guardians of the Four Quarters


Captain Hackem
Hagmere Pond.
the halls of granite
the hammermen
Handel’s Water Music
the Hanging Gardens, the Gardens, the Hanging Gardens of Babel
Hard Rock Cafe
the healing-women
Hell’s Kitchen
the hero-light
His Absent Majesty
His Absent Majesty’s Air Force, the Air Force
His Absent Majesty’s governance
thane-lady Hjördis
the Holy City
the holmgangulog
Annie Hop-the-Frog
horned-god’s paintbrush
the horse-folk
Fata von und zu Horselberg.
Hound of Hoolan
Fata L’Inconnu
House L’Inconnu
Lord Humbaba
humble-bees (not bumble-bees), p. 188


the Ice Tongs Man
Ichabod the Fool
Imate li što za prijaviti?” (Croatian)
Immigration Control
the Inner World
Irn Bru
the Ivory Gate


Lord Jaegerwulf
Fata Jayne
Jenny Jumpup, Jenny, Jen
Jeyes Fluid
Jimi Begood
johatsu (both singular and plural)
John the Conqueror root
Joyeuse (Charlemagne’s sword)
Jumping Joan
the Just and Honorable Guild of Rogues, Swindlers, Cozeners, and Knaves


the ka
Fata Kahindo
the Khazar Dynasty
the King’s Master of Revels
K-Y Jelly


Lady Favor-Me-Not
Lady Nightlady
the lancers
the Land of Fire
the Land of Youth
Lord Lascaux,
the Legless One
lemans (lovers)
lex mundi
lex talionis
Liane the Wanderer
the lighthouse of Rhodes
Queen Lilith
Lily St. Dionysée
Fata L’Inconnu
House L’Inconnu
the Lion Guard
the Liosalfar
Little Thule
Little Tommy Redcap
Litvak night-hags
Lords of Babel
Lords of the Governance
Lords of the Mayoralty
the Lower East Side
Sergeant Lucasta
lux aeterna


Queen Mab’s lace
the Mad Dog
Magh Mell
St. John Malice
manticore, manticore cub
Marduk, Marduk XVII, Marduk XXIII, Marduk XXIV
Big Red Margotty
Little Red Margotty
Mariachi pants
Martin Pecker
Maxwell’s imp of the perverse
the Mayoralty
Mary McCarthy
the Master of the Tests
Meadows Trail
the Meatpacking District
the mirror-boy
Fata Misericordia
Molotov cocktails
Hornbori Monadnock
the Mother of Beasts
the Mother of Darkness
Mother Griet, Mom-Mom, Grietchen
Mother Night (one of the Seven)
the Motsognirsaga
the Mountains of the Moon [see Ptolemy]
Mud Street


the Nameless Ones
Nanshe (El Sonámbula, der Träumengeist, L’Oneiroi des Reves)
Mullah Nasreddin
Nat Whilk
Niflheim, Niflheim Station, Niflheimers
Night Striders
King Nimrod
Nineveh Station
nkisi nkonde
North Sea


the Obsidian Throne (the Unmoving Pivot of the World, the Perilous Siege)
Old City Hall
the Old Forest
oroborus (not ouroboros)
the Outer World


the Palace of Leaves
Dan Picaro
pie-powders court
Pierrot, Monsieur Pierrot, Lord Pierrot
Little Pikku
pixie dust
the polis
the polits
the political police
Political Security
Porte Molitor Station, Porte Molitor
the potter and her ‘prentices
les poulettes, une poulette (the political police)
a Power
Prester John
the Pretender
the prisoner of Elfland
the Public Library


Radegonde de la Cockaigne
Ralph the Ferrier
the Rat’s Nose
Red Stripe
Jack Riddle, Captain Jack Riddle, Captain Riddle, Captain Jack, Jack the Lucky
the River Road
the rock people
rock troll
the Roxy Movie Theater


Salem Toussaint, Alderman Toussaint, the Big Guy, the Boss
Saligos de Gralloch
Fata Melusine Sansculotte
the Scissors-Grinder (old Tanarahumra)
the Scrannel Dogge
the Scythe
Scythian lamb
the sea-elves
Selene (the moon)
Dame Serena
the Seven
the Shadowlands
Sherlock Holmes Junior
Shorty (Hrothgar Thalwegsson)
Detective Shulpae
the Sigil of Inspiration
Siktir git! (Turkish)
Sixth Avenue
Christopher Sly
the Sons of the Blest
the Sons of Corrin (crows)
The Sons of Fire
the Southern Seas
spook (racist slang for haint)
Jack and Nora Sprat
Stardust, stardust (the song is capitalized, the substance not)
the Starveling
the Straits of Hyperborea
straw man
the Sucker Punch A.C.
the Sullen Man
Swiss Army knife
the swordsfey St Vier (no period after St)


T’ai Shan (not to be confused with Tai-hang Shan)
Tartarus Station
Teggish (informal adj. for the Tylwyth Teg)
the teind
Tenali Raman
Thai shit demons
Hrothgar Thalwegsson (Shorty)
Third Street Station
the Thousand Races
three card Monte
the tidewater
the tinker
Tir na bOg (not a typo for Tir na nOg)
Tom Nobody
the Tower of Whores, the Dread Tower, the Tower of Kings, the Tower (Babel)
the transit police
trolls, trollish, trollweight
trooping fairies
Tylwyth Teg (golden-skinned, leaf-eared)


Unca Will
ungodsly (not ungodly)
the Unmoving Pivot of the World (the Obsidian Throne)
the Upper West Side
Uptown, uptown (capitalized when a place or adjective, but not when a direction)
the Urals


"Vašu putovnicu, molim!" (Croatian)
Lord Venganza
Vickie, Victoria il Volpone Sheherazade Jones, Contessa Victoria il Volpone
the village
the village elders
the village moot
the vixen


the War
water dragons
Lord Weary
the West (a region)
the West (a Titan)
the West Side
the Western Paradise
Nat Whilk
Whinny Moor Landfill
the whisperer, the Whisperer (first three times lower case, upper case thereafter), Whisperer
the White Ladies
whitesmiths, the whitesmith
wild man of the forest, wild man, wild men
Will le Fey, Will, Master Le Fey, Unca Will
[Winds]: the Anemoi, Boreas, Zephyros, Notos, Euros, Tramontana, Ponente, Ostro Levante,
Maestro, Libeccio, Siroco, Greco
Le Wine Bar
winged bulls, bulls, man-bulls, bull-man
Frank Lloyd Wright


Detective Xisuthros
Xylia of Arcadia


the yage-witch
yarbles (balls)
the Year Eater (one of the Seven)
the year of the Grasshopper
year of the Monolith
yellow-jackets (soldiers)
Yggdrasil, the world tree


Zorya Vechernayaya.