Friday, February 27, 2009

Slow Friday Morning

Whoops! I almost forgot to blog. Above, standing in front of Philadelphia's Poe House (one of only seventeen places in four cities, if my calculations are correct, where he wrote "The Raven") are (l-r:) Laird Barron, Gregory Frost, Ellen Datlow, and John Langan. The guys all have stories in Ellen Datlow's acclaimed new anthology of original fiction Poe, and Ellen is of course Ellen.

The photo, of last Saturday's promotional event, is courtesy of the quite brilliant Kyle Cassidy.

It's a slow day. I spent the morning writing a review of TH.2058 at the Tate Modern, adding new information to my slim-book-length critical biography of Hope Mirrlees, Hope-in-the-Mist (coming this summer from Temporary Culture!), and penning a couple of one-page essays. This afternoon, I should write down my reminiscences of meeting Will Jenkins (who, writing as Murray Leinster, invented the Alternate History/Parallel Worlds story and much else as well) and then come up with something graceful to congratulate Science Fiction World on their forthcoming thirtieth anniversary.

After which I hope to get some serious writing in on the still-unnamed novel. Surplus is about to meet Anya Pepsicolova -- and this is going to be difficult to write because she still refuses to reveal her heart to me. Russians! The least obedient people on Earth.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

William Shakespeare -- ZOMBIE HUNTER!!!!

Okay, as you guys know, I try very hard to have only original stuff on this blog. But every now and then I run across something on the Web that's so cool I absolutely MUST post it. So I do it in mid-week. As today.

Plays & Players
, here in Philadelphia, is putting on William Shakespeare's Land of the Dead and to promote it they've posted the following explnatory video:

I'm speechless. Shakespeare . . . killing zombies? Is there anything the man couldn't do?


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does Anybody Here Speak Spanish?

Surely somebody reading this is fluent in Spanish.  

I'm updating and revising and expanding my essay, "Hope-in-the-Mist" for book publication, and I need to know what the title for the Spanish translation of Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist translates as in English.  

The title is Entrebrumas.  

If you can help, my humble thanks.  Also, my genial envy.  I cannot imagine how beautiful Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books must be in the original.


Monday, February 23, 2009

Rattling Poe's Bones

Saturday, Marianne and I met with the Loud Philadelphians, plus horror writers John Langan and Laird Barron for a reading at the German Society of selections from Ellen Datlow's new anthology Poe.  (Ellen's pictured above.)

Wonderful event.  Originally it was supposed to be in the Poe House across the street from the German Society, but since the house it small, it got moved.  And we all got to see the German Society's extremely retro and very cool library.  Then drinks afterwards in the Northern Liberties, attended by much loud talk and laughter.

Loud Philadelphians in attendance included Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper, Tom Purdom, Greg Frost, and Kyle Cassidy.  Does Kyle count as a Loud Philadelphian?  He's actually kind of quiet.  But I think he's passed some kind of critical mass for attendance, so, yeah . . . he's one of us.

Congratulations, Kyle.  If that's the right word for it.


Friday, February 20, 2009

In which Your Humble Correspondent becomes as one with the immortal Smoot!


The incomparable Kyle Cassidy, has a new project, in the tradition of his book Armed America (portraits of gun owners in their homes; which achieves its extraordinary power by not having an agenda -- you can be a member of the NRA or one of the organizers of the Million Mom March, and find this a fascinating book) and his War Paint series (photos of tattooed soldiers and vets). And he's given me permission to break the news! Second only to his own blog, of course. Thanks, Kyle.

Where I Write is a series of photos of (as Kyle puts it) "Fantasy and Science Fiction Authors in their Creative Spaces." Or, as a writer would phrase it, "ink-stained wretches in the squalor of their offices." He's been running about the country photographing people like Joe Haldemann and Piers Anthony and Harry Harrison and he has Fred Pohl and Audrey Niffenegger scheduled and he's currently actively hunting more famous faces to photograph. (If Harlan Ellison or Ray Bradbury cares to drop him a line, I'm sure it would make his month.) I'd be terribly jealous of him if I hadn't met most of these people already.

Oh, hell. Even knowing these guys, I feel that twinge. Fred Pohl! Harry Harrison! That's just cool.

A selection of the pictures is going to be part of the souvenir program guide for Anticipation, the 67th WorldCon, which will be held in Montreal this summer. (The folks at Anticipation appear to be up a lot of interesting stuff. But I digress.) There's also going to be a gallery show. And, assuming he finds a publisher, there will almost certainly be a book. Which we'll be permitted to buy!

I really want a copy of that book.

And not just because I'm in it.

Though that doesn't hurt.

But wait! There's more . . .

In fit of whimsy -- almost all of my friends are given to fits of whimsy; I wonder why that is -- Kyle recently sent out the following e-mail, which I quote by permission:

New pursuits often call for new words as dictionaries are found pauce repositories -- tools unfit for pioneers. In my case, I find people asking "Well, how did X's office look?" and unable to adequately respond, I realize that there need to be new words to describe authors rooms. Hence, the Swanwick Scale of Book Clustering. There are messy offices, there are neat offices, but "messy" and "neat" don't do for describing the semi-ordered piles of books I've been finding. A "messy" office brings up visions of chicken bones, half empty wine bottles and hastily discarded clothes intermingled with old computer cords and cassette tapes. Even "cluttered" suggests a morass of different items: lawn mower parts, cuckoo clocks, tv remote controls, and the like -- authors do not have these.
They have, I've noticed, a lot of _Swanwick_. Which is to say, piles of books, perhaps ordered chronologically, or by publisher's imprint, or perhaps sorted by geography of the author, but meticulously cataloged in the author's mind.

The Swanwick Scale of Book Clustering rates the level of Swanwick in any given office using Michael as a base -- much like the International Prototype Kilogram (IPK), stored in a vault at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Savres, France.

[See Above]

Based upon this, John Grant's office, despite his protestations and piles of broken keyboards, is about .54 Swanwick,

Greg Frost's front porch is 0.0 (though his upstairs office is a credible .2), and Joe Haldeman's chimes in a 1.3 on the Swanwick scale. The only reason it isn't higher is because it has paths between the door, the dictionary, the computer, and the emergency exit:

Ben Bova, who appears to dust daily, rates a paltry .1:

Harry Harrison, even when writing full bore barely registers on the scale, you could fit all of his Swanwick in a (stainless steel) file folder:

And Piers Anthony I'm having difficulty rating because his space is so large:

-- but I'm open to speculation, if anyone wants to make an attempt. (I have a lovely 360' panorama of his office which I shall show you soon.)


So there I am, as one with the legendary Smoot! It wasn't exactly how I planned to achieve literary immortality, but what the hey. You take what you can get.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

This Surreal World

Have you noticed that the world is become increasingly more surreal? That conversational exchanges that used to be non sequiturs no longer are? For example:

"Can you tell me the time?"
"No, I don't have a phone on me."


"I need to open this bottle of beer."
"Here. Have a sheet of paper."

Didn't know that one? It's true. The good folks at CHOW have a video showing how you can open a bottle of beer with a sheet of paper. I tried it yesterday on a bottle of soda and it works! I felt ready for a bit part in Read Or Die.

You'll want to practice this one ahead of time, so you astonish your friends at your Hans Arp themed barbecue this summer.

And as long as we're discussing Sunday's performance of Brahms' Ein deutches Requiem . . .

Tom Purdom, who is not only a science fiction writer but a music critic as well, has posted his review of Sunday's concert at Broad Street Review. As expected, it's intelligent and appreciative. His fellow critic, Dan Corey, had a similar though more technical take on it. Critical of the theater's accoustics. Thought the Choral Arts Society was "a jewel of a group."

And Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer's critic? Didn't think much of the performance.

Obviously, I don't have the musical expertise to determine who's right. The audience loved it, if that matters. But I can't help thinking of how, years ago, I asked Tom why all his reviews of classical music were positive. "There are so many finely-trained classical musicians today," he said, "and so few opportunities for them to perform that only the very best get to play. So it would be surprising if a performance was anything less than excellent."

But then why, I asked, are so many of the mainstream press reviews so negative? "The competition for a reviewer position in a major newspaper is even worse than for a performer. So to keep their jobs, the reviewers have to display a highly-trained sensibility and an extraordinary set of standards. I, however, have the luxury of simply enjoying the music and then jotting down my thoughts about what made it pleasurable."

Oh, I said.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Victoria's Requiem

Yesterday, Marianne and I went to hear Brahms's Ein deutsches Requiem at the Kimmel Center.  Quite a glorious piece of music.  The dean of Philadelphia science fiction, Tom Purdom (above, looking noble over a bowl of soup), organized a party of eleven to meet afterwards for dinner and discussion.

One reason we went to the Requiem was that our friend, writer Victoria McManus is a member of the Choral Arts Society of Philadelphia, so she was singing in the piece.  Afterwards, she told me a great deal of technical information about the performance . . . that sections of it she was used to singing very fast had been slowed down and consequently that extra breaths had been inserted into the score, that because the theater had no shell they had to sing louder than usual, and so on . . . the most interesting of which was that because she was singing she couldn't hear how the performance actually sounded!  The chamber orchestra was in front of them, so they couldn't hear it properly, the people to either end of the chorus were so placed that they sounded as if they were coming in late, and consequently the singers simply had to trust that conductor Ignat Solzhenitsyn and Matthew Glandorf, artistic director for the Choral Arts Society, knew what they were doing.  It wasn't until the end, when they audience applauded, that they knew whether they'd sounded good or not.

Not to worry, Vickie.  You guys sounded great.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Prisoner of Books

Above:  Portrait of the Writer Inside the British Library

Two things to apologize for today:  First, that somehow I've once again managed to miss posting on time.  Second, that this is essentially another Postcard from London. 

Well... for the first:  No excuses, and I'll strive to do better in the future.  For the second, after I promise not to do it again, all I can say is ... 

Let's be honest.  That's my life in a single photo.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Ellen in Happier Times

The above picture of Ellen Datlow was taken in London in John and Judith Clute's flat in Camden Town.  Alas, just days later, she took a step wrong and wrenched her ankle.  I saw her again at the BSFS meeting a day after she'd been reassured that it would heal by itself, and her ankle had swelled alarmingly and turned a quite fetching shade of pinkish-red that wouldn't have looked out of place in the fresh fruit section of the supermarket.  Everybody, myself included, urged her to go back for a second opinion.

Today she goes in for surgery.

Well . . . the prospects look good, and she'd got Pat Cadigan nearby to pay visits and raise spirits, as Pat does quite well.  But Ellen deserves better.  As one of R. A. Lafferty's characters, a French Canadian, once put it, "There are days when le bon Dieu is not so bon.  He and I are due for a long talk on this very matter."


Monday, February 2, 2009

Two Disreputable Gentlemen

MY APOLOGIES! I've been having strange troubles with Internet access while wandering about Great Britain. Here's what I managed to get written but was cut off before I could hit the "post" button yesterday:

I'm in Edinburgh now, but in an hour I'll be on the train to York. Meanwhile, I've been having fun. As witness the above photo.

No, it is not of Vladimir and Estragon in happier days. The two disreputable gentlemen are Ken MacLeod and your humble correspondent. Ken is best known for his brilliant and politically charged space operas. And he was kind enough to volunteer to show Marianne and me about Edinburgh on Saturday.

What, you ask, did we do? Mostly, we wandered about. Sometimes we came across a bookstore and went in. We started at Transreal, Mike Calder's wonderful science fiction bookstore in Cowgateshead, just above the Grassmarket, where I wrote a quick short-short story and then gave the manuscript to Mike. Later, we dropped into Word Press, a leftist bookstore of the sort that hasn't existed in Philadelphia since Robin's Books folded two weeks ago. And there may well have been other stores. My memory is all a happy dazzle.

And what did I do when confronted by so many wonderful books? Reader, I bought them!