Monday, March 31, 2008

Miniature Golf Courses of the Gods!

I was torn between blogging about the illustration art show at the Allentown Museum or maybe about Allentown great Charles Dent or maybe even doing a bit of straightforward reportage about the Dick Awards.

But then, on the way home, I ran across Wood's Golf Center in Norristown, with its Ray Harryhausen themed miniature golf course.  

And it was no contest.


Friday, March 28, 2008

A Small Room in Koboldtown

Tachyon Publications, the publisher of my newest collection, The Dog Said Bow-Wow, has posted a pdf of "A Small Room in Koboldtown."  The link can be found at their blog.  Just scroll down the page to the Friday, March 21 entry, "Hugo nominations announced."

In the description of my story, Jill muses, "I wonder where he puts those funny statuettes."  For which reason  I added the above photo of the trophy chimney in my office.
If you go down further, to the March 6, "Why you should be careful about asking your authors for help..." entry, wherein Jill opines:

Like any savvy publisher Jacob got on the horn to make sure that his authors actually knew they were nominated . . . and asked them to do what they could to get authors to do what they could to get out the vote for themselves.  Well, authors are funny.  So far there have been posts from Michael Swanwick and Susan Palwick asking for your votes.  They have also had a bit of fun with Jacob for asking them to do so.  Ah, authors, you self-effacing creatures, will you never learn to promote yourselves sans irony?

To which the only possible answer is:  No, of course not.  But Jill also wrote:

Has anyone ever, EVER, described Michael Swanwick as self-effacing?  Okay, it was a stretch.

Which was such an extraordinary statement that I of course had to respond.  You can find out what I said by clicking "1 Comments" immediately under the post.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Very Slight and Slightly Bawdy

I'm still in Seattle, but being tended to by my extended network of sisters. The three who deserve shout-outs in particular are Leslie Howle, who is a big mahoff at Clarion West and put me up on Thursday before the con; Nisi Shawl, writer (and another big mahoff at Clarion West), who showed me around Seattle at a great outlay of her time; and Eileen Gunn, the cult author of "Stable Strategies for Middle Management." I'm currently staying at Eileen's and John Berry's house, even though they were at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts last weekend and aren't due back here for another three hours. I'm extremely grateful to all three women.

I was particularly grateful when Leslie arranged for me to have a front-row seat at the Philip K. Dick Award ceremony. But I really wish she hadn't repeatedly referred to the event as "going to see the Dicks."

It just put the wrong images into my head.


Monday, March 24, 2008


Holy cow! I thought I'd posted this yesterday, but I seem to have hit the wrong button. Anyway, here's Monday's post:

Two quick items today, because I'm on the road and still just a frazz jet-lagged.

First, a reminder that I'll be reading at the University Book Store in Seattle, Washington this Wednesday, March 26, at 7 p.m. This is a good chance for Seattletonians (Seattleites?) to get an autographed book because I don't get out to the West Coast very often.

Also, because this was a last-minute arrangement, I'm not at all sure how many people are even aware I'm going to be there. So it would be a potential kindness if you were to show up.

Also, my Arthur C. Clarke eulogy was just posted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Writing such things is a saddening chore. But the guy got to team up with Walter Cronkite to comment on the moon landing, was knighted, co-wrote a classic movie, was pals with Prince Charles, and was revered as a living national treasure in Sri Lanka. We can't complain, really.


Friday, March 21, 2008

I'm Up For a Friggin' HUGO!!!

Okay, I've known this for a couple of days because they always give you the option of turning down the nomination and then plead with you not to tell anybody before they've confirmed all their nominations. But now it's official and I can tell the world:

"A Small Room in Koboldtown" is on the Hugo ballot for best short story. It originally appeared in Asimov's, and it has the happy distinction of being included in my newest collection, The Dog Said Bow-Wow (Tachyon Publications) as well as being an integral part of my brilliant and entertaining novel, The Dragons of Babel. Promoting which, I don't need to remind you, is the reason for this blog.

So, yes, I am extremely happy. And I hope you're happy for me as well.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke: A Space Footnote

I assume that everybody's already heard that Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday.  I think he's the last of the giants from that generation which created modern science fiction.  There will be no lack of overviews and appreciations so in the interest of keeping things light, I thought I'd share my extremely peripheral brush with greatness.  If it were any less significant, there wouldn't be anything to relate.

Back in 2001, my friends Robert Walters and Tess Kissinger curated a show of space art for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Fabulous stuff.  Marianne and I were invited to the opening and to the party afterwards, held in the house of one of the museum staff.  It was a good party.  At one point, looking for a soda, I wandered into the kitchen and discovered Keir Dullea there, on his cell phone, talking to Sri Lanka.  "Hello, Arthur?" he said.  "Guess where I'm calling from."

Oh, and for a second there, I was standing at the delocalized center of the world!

And, taking care of business . . .

I'll be appearing at the KGB Bar tonight, along with David Keck.  Pleasingly quirky surroundings, two brief readings, and the chance to rub shoulders with the SF glitterati of NYC.  If you live in the city, you should consider it.   A pleasant alternative to a night of television.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Blue Collar Cool

They closed off Ridge Avenue, just a block from my house, for the afternoon yesterday, and I spent several hours watching as a crane hoisted four housing modules and stacked them on top of the old farmer's market to make two new condos.  You never saw so much nonchalance in one place in your life.  The guys doing the work knew exactly how cool they were.

Above is the crane operator.  The plastic-wrapped thing behind him is one of the modules.

Roxborough is a blue-collar neighborhood, so I deal with a lot of skilled guys who work very hard.  It's hard not to feel effete in such company.  But when when the subject comes up, I say, "Remember English Comp in high school?  I do that for a living."  That impresses 'em.

Speaking of which, here's my schedule for Norwescon this coming weekend:

Getting the Tale Write . . . Friday 4:00 p.m. Cascade 10
This is a "group-interactive creative writing experiment."  I think we're supposed to make up a story.
Andrew Dolbeck (M), Cymbric Earlysmyth, Spring Schoenhuth, Me

Autograph Session  Saturday 11:00 a.m.  Evergreen 1 & 2

Clarion West -- Why has it worked for 25 years?  Saturday 3:00 p.m.  Cascade 9
This one's pretty self-explanatory.  Mostly, I suspect, we'll sit around telling funny stories, like the "dinosaurs and sodomy" incident.
Leslie Howle (M), Mary Rosenblum, Greg Bear, Dave Williams, Me

Reading  Saturday 4:00 p.m.  Cascade 9

Networking and Self Promotion for New Writers and the Bookstore Dance  Saturday 8:00 p.m.  Cascade 5
My single best piece of advice for new writers is to go to as many signings, readings, and other public appearances by writers you know are good as you possibly can.  That way, when only three people show up for your signing, you won't slit your throat.
Stoney Compton (M), Yasmine Galenorn, Vladimir Verano, Me

Is the Short Story Dead?  How to Write and WHere to Sell Small  Saturday 10:00 p.m  Cascade 8
No question about it, the short story has never been in better shape!  Too bad it doesn't pay much.
M.K. Hobson (M), Patrick Swenson, David Lee Summers, Ted Butler, Me

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Busy Schedule

For the second time in a row, I'm a day late posting here. At the beginning of the week, I was doing pretty good -- only once in over a hundred posts, with several extra postings thrown in at no extra charge. Let's hope this isn't degenerative.

I'm going to be on the road a lot -- for me, anyway -- over the next month, so I thought I'd share my schedule with you. If I happen to be appearing locally, why not drop by and say hello?

Here's how it looks:

Wednesday, March 19:

KGB Bar, New York City: 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave, upstairs.) Reading. Free.

The last time I did a reading there, I was in Yekatarinburg a month beforehand. You have no idea how happy my Russian friends were to be able to say, "So. I understand you'll be reporting all this to the KGB." The KGB is a genuine Commie theme bar. Its walls are painted red and there are posters and statues of Socialist politicos everywhere. Is this a great country or what? Their website is David Keck will also be reading.

Friday, March 21 through Sunday, March 23:


This one you have to pay to get in because it's a four-day convention (it starts on Thursday, the 20th). If you're a West Coast book collector you should bring anything you've got by me, because I don't get out that way very often. I'll be posting my schedule sometime next week.

Wednesday, March 26:

University Book Store: Seattle. 7 p.m. Reading and signing. Free.

If you're either too cheap or too sensible to pay money just so you can get an autograph... well, here's your alternative to a weekend of fun and intellectual variety at Norwescon.

Thursday, April 10:

Temple University:
Philadelphia. Reading. Free.

I just did a search for the specifics on the Web and apparently they're not posted yet. I'll let you know, closer to the event. I did this several years ago and gave one of my best readings ever. That'll be hard to live up to. But I'm competitive, even with myself.

Friday, April 11:

Philadelphia Science Fiction Society:
9 pm., at the Rotunda, West Philadelphia. Free. (

has a speaker at almost every one of its monthly meetings. A science fiction club is like a church -- you're always welcome, because they're hoping you'll like the experience so much you'll join. This is something like my fourth appearance over my career at PSFS, which means that I have to come up with an entirely original presentation . . . because they've heard all my boilerplate stuff long ago, you see. Good for them, a lot of extra work for me, and potentially good for you as well.

Sunday, April 13:

Robin's Books: 108 S 13th St Philadelphia. Panel with Gregory Frost and Judith M0ffett. I think it's something like 2 in the afternoon, but I'll let you know closer to the event.

Judy & Greg & I have joined forces because . . . well, three writers worth hearing are going to have at least twice as many interesting things to say as any one of us. I honestly believe this one is going to be a lot of fun. I'll be amazed and disappointed if it's not. And I'll put all the blame squarely on Greg.

And further down the calendar . . .

Friday, May 9 through Sunday May 11:

Congres Boreal:
Pavillon Henry F. Hall (7e étage), 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest
Université Concordia, Montréal, Canada. (

This one is different from the rest in that because this convention is run by and for French-speaking Canadian fans and writers, none of this will be about me. I'll be going up with Kathy and James Morrow, David Hartwell, and probably Kathryn Cramer (I picture us all in a VW Microbus with flower decals on the sides, but I guess that's not too likely) to experience and learn. It's good for the soul to go to other people's cons. If you happen to be there, though, and would like to chat, I'll be only too happy. With the single proviso that I never did manage to learn French. It's something of a sore point with me.

Friday, July 17 through Sunday, July 19:

Readercon: Burlington Marriott, Burlington, Massachusetts.

I'm skipping ahead rapidly in time here. Readercon is probably the most sercon convention in the US -- and if you don't know what "sercon" means, there are plenty of autodidacts there who would be only too happy to help you unpeel the semiotics of that term. Me, I go for the seafood. If you've never been to the Chowder House in Mattapoisett, all I can say is: So much less waiting time for me.

Friday, August 8 through Sunday August 10:

This is this Big Whoop of SF conventions, the Worldcon. I usually have something up for the Hugo, but even if I don't, it'll be well worth attending. If you'd like to meet me, why not? If you want to buy me a drink, I'll have a gin martini (Boodles, if they've got it), very dry, straight up with a twist.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Neologism du Jour

My sincerest apologies for missing yesterday's post.  I was in D.C. doing some light consulting work for the Battelle Corporation and, well, I missed my deadline.

In the course of the event, though, fellow SF writer John Hemry and I came up with a nonce-word.  We were talking about robots and discovered that it caused a great deal of confusion to use the same word for autonomous devices and those that were operated by wire or telepresence by a human being.  The jargon for having somebody operating one of those things turns out to be "man-in-loop," so we invented the word milbot for a non-autonomous robot.

Surely, however, somebody's already come up with a term for such devices.  Does anybody here know of such a word?


Monday, March 10, 2008

The Saddest Pictures I'll Take All Year


This is what people look like when they're waiting their turn to bury some of the ashes of a dear friend at the foot of a tree in her yard. On Saturday, despite a storm that flooded every piece of low-lying ground for states around and knocked out power lines everywhere, a great many friends and relatives gathered at Janet Kagan's house to pay their last respects. During a break in the rain, we did our final small kindness for her.

How strange and familiar Janet's house looked! Every inch of it, every artwork, cat toy, and heap of books imprinted with her personality, and only she herself absent. Her husband Ricky cooked an enormous amount of food, and a lot of people whom I care a great deal about were present.

But, forgive me for stating the obvious, the event would have been a lot more fun if Janet were still around.

More photos of the memorial can be found here.


Friday, March 7, 2008

How I Failed to Create Dungeons and Dragons

Gary Gygax died recently, as I'm sure you already know, and that sad event has put me in a nostalgic mood.  Specifically, I've been thinking about the time I tried to create Dungeons & Dragons.

No, seriously.  It was in 1971 or '72.  I was in college then, and I came up with a project that I thought of as a kind of interactive theater piece with only the actors themselves as audience.  It was going to be a murder mystery on a spaceship which was mysteriously similar to the U.S.S. Enterprise.  I put an enormous amount of work into drawing up character sheets, ship layout charts, and so forth.  It also had an elaborate chance-based mechanism-or-system, the details of which I've mercifully forgotten, so that I could myself participate in the thing without having an advantage over the others.  I cannot tell you the seriousness with which I approached this enterprise.

Finally, I gathered eight or so friends and, sitting around a conference table in an unused classroom one night, we tried it out.

It bombed, of course.

Despite the fact that several of my friends were actors and all of them were game, the scenario could not be made convincing.  The story would not come to life.  After a few hours, we concluded that whatever this thing was, it could not be made to make work.  No trace of it now remains, not even so much as a single character sheet.

But here's the interesting thing.  My wife, Marianne Porter, did very much the same thing at about the same time.  She called it "writing a novel" and she and a batch of her friends got together and tried to do exactly that -- except that instead of writing it all down, they would make it up on the fly, each one playing an individual character.  Another friend tried to create a Western adventure on the fly with a roomful of compatriots.  And over the years I've spoken to several others who testified that, about that same time, they were working on something analogous.  It was just in the air.

Which is not to downplay Gygax's achievement.  Exactly the opposite.  Nobody appreciates how hard an accomplishment is, quite as well as someone who failed at it.  In retrospect, it's clear that what I lacked most were a DM, the concept of randomizing encounter outcome (not just the setup) with dice, and a more open-ended adventure.

But that's like Columbus's Egg.  Once it's been done, it's no big deal.  It's that first time that's difficult.

As I and (surely) thousands of others proved.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Four-for-Four on the Locus Poll

Jacob Weisman called me from Tachyon Publications yesterday. He was very excited because I made it onto the Locus recommended reading list four times. The Dog Said Bow-Wow was listed under collections, "The Skysailor's Tale" and "Urdumheim" under novelettes, and "A Small Room in Koboldtown" under short stories.

Jacob was excited because The Dog Said Bow-Wow is a Tachyon book and because "The Skysailor's Tale" and "Urdumheim" were both credited as being original to it. Technically, Locus was mistaken about "Urdumheim," which originally appeared in F&SF. But that's okay, because "Koboldtown," which originally appeared in Asimov's, is reprinted in my collection, so he's four-for-four this year.

You can read the list here.

Jacob would very much like everybody to vote for my collection in the Locus Poll and Survey here.  But he'd be just as happy if you voted for Susan Palwick's The Fate of Mice or Ellen Klages' Portable Childhoods. Because they're Tachyon books too.

If you'd like to vote for either of those books over mine, I certainly won't be offended. Susan Palwick is a very worthy writer. And Ellen Klages is like a sister to me.

A bratty kid sister.

Hoo-boy. If Ellen wins this thing, I'm going to hear about it from her. So I'll tell you what. If you vote for her, please make a point of it to look her next the next time you're both at the same convention, and tell you did so because I told you to. Okay? Thanks.

That'll really fry her shorts.


Diagramming Babel (Part 29 and Last)

Diagram 29.  At last it ends!  After twenty-nine weeks, we come to the final diagram of the last full chapter.  Will's line is not specifically marked, but you can see that he descends to his moment of crisis step by step, as if undoing the great Ziggurat he's spent most of the novel climbing.  In retrospect, it's odd how important that was to me, given that there's no way the reader would ever know that.

From top to bottom, left to right:


.                                    THE DRAGON

.                                                               THE JUDGE

He is moving down the 
side of a ziggurat
drives out (something) lords
He closed and locked the doors

Will looks up etc.


They were all aspects of Me.
I have taken a particular interest in yr family
was slippery as eels
all evade responsibility


I've blocked out two key names because . . . well, don't you hate it when somebody ruins the ending of a book for you?

"Will looks up, etc." was just a place-marker for a scene I obviously knew in great detail.  So it's extremely odd that I have a character and obviously one who is a major power (THE JUDGE) who never made it into the novel.  So, even at this late date, the book was still in flux. What was going on, I suspect, was that I was going to invoke a supernatural power, possibly one of the Seven, to make or imply a few explanations, the way I did in The Iron Dragon's Daughter with the Goddess's Consort.  But TIDD was a very different book.  Jane didn't belong in her world so all her issues were essentially moral and religious.  Will does belong, and as a result, this is a secular book.  That's why Will never gets to talk to a god, though there are plenty of them about.  I mean, Esme did sell her youth to the Year Eater, after all.

I wonder who was "slippery as eels," though -- Will or the Judge?

Note that at the end the unnamed character goes one way and Will the other.  One soars and one does not.  To find out which, you'll just have to read the book.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Janet Kagan

Janet Kagan died last Friday at her home in Lincoln Park, New Jersey. She was a good friend and a good writer, too. Janet had been seriously sick for quite some time and unwell for years before that, but when the crisis came, it came on fast. She was placed in hospice care and died almost immediately after. She’d expressed a desire to go quickly, so for this small favor her friends should all be grateful.

As you can probably guess from the flatness of what I’ve written so far, I’m pretty broken up about this. Everyone who knew her is.

Janet was bright, witty, bubbly, and fun to be around. She and her husband Ricky threw some of the best parties ever. If you’ve ever read any of her work, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of what a positive, upbeat person she was.

All of which is to say that Janet would have hated the morose tone of this posting. So, instead of going on in this vein, I’m going to post a piece of flash fiction I wrote for her, years ago, at a convention. She’d confided in me that she’d detected a theme in my fiction that she found very disturbing, and I’d told her that it simply wasn’t there. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I have this strange gift for detecting patterns in other people’s fiction. I can see it everywhere. I’m never mistaken.”

“Except in this instance,” I said, smiling.

I expected the conversation would simply end in this impasse. But unhappily (and uncharacteristically, too – this may have been the first sign that Janet’s health was declining), she decided that she had insulted me and nothing I could say would convince her otherwise.

Musing over this the next morning at breakfast, I hit upon the expedient of writing a piece of flash fiction which would make her laugh and so set everything right again. So I did, and she did, and for the longest time everything was.

Here’s the story that convinced Janet that we were still friends:

Like the Boiled Eggs in Isaac Asimov

She hadn't wanted the gift.

Janet Kagan had simply woken up one morning and there it was: the ability to detect patterns in other people's fiction. Things like the giant cheese wedges in Norman Spinrad. The Barney imagery in Joanna Russ. The shaved mice in Larry Niven.

Which was why she was where she was now – running in blind terror down a long and Harlan Ellisonesque alley while the misshapen shadows of her pursuers leapt and capered on the walls.
It made no sense whatsoever to her that they wanted to kill her. But they did. She knew that. It was as clear as the references to the Trilateral Commission in the novels of Samuel R. Delany. Janet stumbled against a trash can, sending it crashing noisily to the ground. She fell, and struggled back to her feet, and ran.

There up ahead – a wall! With a sickening lurch in the pit of her stomach, she realized that she was caught in a cul-de-sac.

There was no way out. She could no more hope to escape than she could avoid seeing the encoded messages to Libyan terrorists in the Xanth novels of Piers Anthony.

In despair, she stumbled to a halt.

Her pursuers, seeing she was trapped, stopped as well. A menacing form stepped out of the shadows. It was the head of SFWA's crack team of assassins, James Morrow himself. He had a lead pipe in his hand. His eyes glowed red, as if he were one of the myriad werewolves informing his own fiction.

Behind him were more shadows, deformed, unsightly. Writers all.

"God damn it," Janet cried in anguish, "I wasn't even an English major!"

And then they were upon her.


Now she’s gone. Rest in peace, Janet. God bless you. Hot jets.