Monday, December 29, 2008

What I SHOULDA Said About Neil Gaiman

The latest issue of Rain Taxi notes the my-god-can-it-be? twentieth anniversary of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. They solicited a shout-out to the Man on the event, and I wrote one that would have been appropriate had they garnered the twelve-to-twenty squibs, blurbs, and whimsies I was sure they would have.

But when I received my contributor's copy of the zine, there were only three squibs. Possibly this was because they could only dedicate a page to them. Or maybe the editor didn't have a good idea of exactly how many he could have gotten. Or there might have been some other reason. So what I wrote came out sounding, to me at least, as if I were trying just a little too hard. As if I weren't willing to just stand up and praise the guy.

If I'd known, I would have said something along the lines of: I love Sandman, I read the comics as they came out, and I have the complete set of compilations on my shelves. Then I would've commented on which my favorite stories are (probably and predictably the Shakespeares -- I'm a writer, after all -- but I might've speculated on which I'd've liked best if I were a civilian).

Then I would've delved a little deeper into Gaiman's appeal by pointing out that his script for the Neverwhere mini-series allowed inspired actors to create unforgetable roles (the Marquise de Carabras and Vandermeer & Croup being my favorites, but I wouldn't argue with yours) while being sharp enough that the occasional flat performance (I've lost my notes, but I'm sure there were some) didn't sink the enterprise because we viewers could mentally fill in what should have been there. And I would have finished with a sharp observation about the value of plot and/or character creation.

On top of which I would have given a literal shout-out, something on the lines of: "Yo! Neil! Keep on raving!"
Oh well.

But even if I wasn't note-perfect in this instance, it was a pleasure reading Rain Taxi. The reviews cover genre, poetry, non-fiction, and serious mainstream as if an intelligent reader might actually be capable of appreciating all of them! A lovely magazine.

And here, just so you know what I'm talking about, is what I wrote:

Storytelling in Chengdu

Neil and I are kindred enough spirits that I’ve compiled a mental list of areas where he can best me on my home turf. He’s better-read than I am in early twentieth-century classic fantasy, which before meeting him I would have said was unlikely. He knows more about R. A. Lafferty’s works, which I would have said was impossible. I’m not ready to concede his superior knowledge of mythology and folklore – I have lain down on the Stone of Loneliness, and I know why Weyland Smith has geese, and there are not many who can claim half as much – but given that I had to turn to him to learn what portunes are, it’s well within the realm of possibility.

Not that any of this is a competition.

But here’s the thing. I am a compulsive storyteller. Start me up, and I do not stop. People tell me it can be a bit much. “No more stories!” a well-known writer shouted at me once, when he was trying to organize dinner. “We’ve got things to accomplish here!” Nor was he the only one, over the years, to intimate I might fruitfully dial it down.

So it amazed me when I was in Chengdu last year with Neil (and Nancy Kress and Rob Sawyer, and several other very pleasant folk) to discover that he’s got an even worse case of narrative-itis than I do. Everything set him off. When we’d been mobbed by young Chinese fans seeking autographs, he said, “Autographing is fun for the first two and a half hours. When I was in Brazil . . .” At the Panda Breeding and Research Center, he began, “I have a friend who got a job here harvesting panda sperm. It turns out this is done by electroshock, so . . .” There were times I could hardly get an anecdote in edgewise.

And you know what I learned? Two things. First, that my well-known friend (possibly prompted by hunger) was wrong. A compulsive storyteller is the best company in the world. Second, that given the choice, I’d rather listen to Neil’s stories than tell my own, simply because I already know how mine come out. So in that respect, I guess Neil wins.

Not as I said, that it’s a competition.

– Michael Swanwick



Neil Gaiman said...

It was heartwarming and lovely. And I'm glad there were only a handful. More would have been numbing. The ones that were there made me smile.

mythusmage said...

I know why Wayland Smith has geese. He's had them every since his trip to India way long ago.

Was way back before Iskander's time, when a smith had only wrought iron or steel to work with, and wrought iron was weak while steel was expensive. What people needed was cast iron, and in India they made it.

So he straightens out the crook in his leg-had a crook in his leg back then, though it tended to switch from side to side depending on his mood, and walks of to India.

On his way there he runs across an old goose. So old his white feathers have gone grey then back to white again. A cantankerous, groucy, evil tempered, pushy old goose with a hankering for whatever he can bamboozle, intimidate, or otherwise bully out of Wayland.

Wayland, being a god and all and thus effectively immune to the strategems of most mortals, gave up what he had inside of five minutes. Which is pretty amazing when you consider nobody had invented the half hour yet. So it was that an elderly goose and his ambulatory lunch counter Wayland Smith walked to India.

The Tamil, who were the ones making the cast iron, were glad to have such a famous personage as their guest. And the first smith with him. For the goose spent little time indeed impressing upon his hosts the truth of the old saying, "Cats bow down to geese." In return to hosting the old fowl the Tamil were happy to teach his servant the secret of cast iron.

Thus did live go smoothly until the day came when a King Cobra got wind of the goose.

The cobra was pissed. The cobra was outraged. No goose was going to lord it over the king of snakes. So the cobra went to confront the goose.

The last anybody say of that cobra, he was high tailin' for Kamchatka, and had run off not only his own four feet (Didn't know about cobra feet, did ya?) and the feet of all the other cobras then alive.

And that is why Wayland Smith has geese. Figures it's better to be on their good side than stumping around on the bottom of his ankles.

Michael Swanwick said...

That was genuinely demented, mythusmage, so I won't say that you're wrong. People who insist on a strict adherence to truth-as-they-understand-it, deprive themselves of a lot of gratuitous entertainment.

Thanks for posting!

mythusmage said...

You're welcome. Saw the chance to entertain, and blew my wisdom check something horrible. :)