Monday, August 31, 2009

The Rarest and Least Valuable of Books


The picture above was taken in Montreal by my friend Rob . I'd run into Charlie Stross, who wanted to talk business and just as we were about to pop into a bar in the basement of the Palais de Congres de Montreal, Marianne said, "What's wrong with the absinthe bar, across the street?" So the four of us and Gail as well ordered our absinthes and the waitress brought out the traditional water-drizzling device for melting the sugar cubes into the drinks.

I was doing legitimate business, really! But after seeing the picture, I don't think I'll be deducting the abinthe from my taxes as a business expense.

And last Friday ...

I went, as I do most months, to the Philadelphia Fantastic reading. I pretty much had no choice, because I was reading "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled . . ." from Gardner's The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. Marianne and I did the reading, actually, with her doing the suit's voices and me the rest. Which made it possible to read alout a text which is almost unrelentingly visual. Gardner Dozois also spoke on the making of the volume, and why publishing, science fiction, and indeed the printed word are all doomed to catastrophic collapse within the next five years.

But the best part of the evening is always the conversation at dinner afterwards. I told Darrell Schweitzer that I was able to inform Maureen Kincaid Speller that her copy of Madeleine was extraordinarily rare though very little desired, and he of course one-upped me. He'd recently found a century or more old collection of fantasy poetry (mythological creatures, Celtic fantasy kind of stuff) by a writer about whom absolutely no reference can be discovered on the Web. Further, it's inscribed by the author to his brother, and there are annotations of the text. So far as he can tell, his is the only copy of the book to survive. And there's no demand for it, because nobody has heard of the guy. "If he'd turned out to be Yeats, I'd be rich," Darrell said wryly.

And in the same conversation . . .

Victoria McManus told me that too many of my posts are too short. "Really?" I said. "I thought the whole point was to be brief, so people could sip quickly and browse on."

So now I don't know. And I thought I'd put out the question to everyone reading this. Should these posts be longer? I can't guarantee to do anything about it if they should. But at least I'd know.

Waddaya think?


Friday, August 28, 2009

In Which I Dwell Among the Immortals.


Tachyon Publications, publishers of many fine books, some of them by (modest cough) yours truly, celebrates its fourteenth anniversary this Sunday at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I've been there. Terrific bookstore. Great place to drop a lot of money on printed materials you may not technically need but definitely want. The festivities will include the Emperor Norton Awards, a "special giveaway gift" for the first 50 guests, food and drink, special guests, and a tribute to the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction on its 60th Anniversary. You can find Borderlands here and Tachyon here. Tachyon's blog entry about the event is here.

I won't be there in person, but I will be there in spirit and in audio recording as well.

All of which I mention primarily as justification for boasting about the fact that a story of mine is included in the forthcoming The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Gordon Van Gelder and published by -- no surprise here -- Tachyon Publications.

Let me repeat that. A story of mine made it into The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction! We're talking about an anthology that includes Ray Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day," Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," Philip K. Dick's "The Electric Ant," and Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon." And I am there.

Is this the fulfillment of a goal formed many long years before I sold my first story? Why, yes it is. Thank you for asking.

You can see the press release for the book here.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

There is Hope For Us All

I am not, as you may have noticed, one of the good kids who sit up in the front row, brightly scrubbed and eager to learn. I am, I afraid, one of the bad kids who sit in the back row and say fuck, as Ian MacLeod defined us in "1/72 Scale." So, often, when I'm asked a question like "How important is it for a science fiction writer to go to college?" I won't respond with a proper absolutely-necessary-best-years-of-your-life-rah-rah-rah answer, but with the truth.

No. Not needed. Look at the Golden Age writers who essentially created this genre. Yeah, sure, Asimov and Heinlein and Clarke went to college, but they were the exception. Most of the greats in our field were autodidacts. The kind of stuff we need to know, they don't teach in school.

Still, it's pleasant to learn that high school dropout Fred Pohl has finally received his degree.

You can read the Locus squib here. Or the full-scale New York Times article here.


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Immortal Eileen Gunn

Here's a picture from Worldcon, of Eileen Gunn showing off her newest award -- Pour Le Merite, informally known as the Blue Max. It was the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military honor, and I presented it to Eileen for courage in the face of . . . well, me.

Did I mention that we recently sold "Zeppelin City" to It'll be posted sometime in September, I think, and it's a barn-burner of a story. It's got Zeppelins, slidewalks, a spunky girl inventor named Radio Jones, an ornithopter pilot named Amelia Spindizzy, and giant naked brains in glass jars. You don't get much more science-fictiony than that.

Eileen likes to claim that we worked on it for fourteen years. She exaggerates by something like a decade. But I do seem to recall that the science was cutting-edge when we began.

Speaking (as we weren't) of bookstores . . .

Saturday, I went to Balwin's Book Barn, out in Wyeth country in Chester County. The Book Barn is that most sensible of institutions, a barn filled with used books, which you are permitted to buy.

The only quibble I have with BBB is that it's run by people who know books, so the chances of my ever finding a first edition of The Hobbit priced at five bucks is pretty much nil. But after I'd gone through their (relatively small) science fiction section, I chanced upon two hardcovers of my own books -- Jack Faust and Bones of the Earth, I think, but I could be wrong. Both were pretty reasonably priced at eight dollars a pop, and both were shelved in the Modern Fiction section. So I whipped out my pen, autographed them, and put them back on the shelf.

Now, whoever is sensible enough to buy them, can get a particularly nice deal.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Greg Frost, Liar

I'm fresh home (if fresh is the word) from Pittsburgh and completely exhausted. But does this exempt you from my implicit promise to provide you with something diverting every Monday and Friday? It does not.

Fortunately, Gregory Frost took the Liar's Club of Philadelphia to Lititz for a day trip. Here's the television footage:

And the best part? Greg doesn't live in Philadelphia. He lives in Merion.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What Does a Fan Look Like?


Yesterday I blogged about Kyle Cassidy's project photographing fans. Well, he left the URL for the pics in a response to yesterday's post, so that means we're all free to look at them! You can find the photos here.

Above, chosen pretty much at random, is Kyle's photo of Sharon Reynolds. Some of the people in the series are rather eccentrically dressed. But they look good too.

And on the Hope Mirrlees front . . .

I just now found a glowing review of Hope-in-the-Mist by the slightly mysterious MKS. I mention this for two reasons. One is that that midway through the review, MKS writes, "Swanwick's monograph is not a full-blown biography by any means, and I think he would be the first to admit it."

And since this is the only speculative sentence in the review, I wanted to say: Yes. Absolutely true. I admit it.

The other reason is that the review mentions that The Collected Poems of Hope Mirrlees, edited by Sandeep Parmar and James Byrne, will be published by Fyfield Books (Carcanet Press) in 2011. I went to Wikipedia, and saw that this information is public, so now I can mention it.

Sandeep Parmar is also researching a full-scale biography of Mirrlees, largely based on papers that were not available when I was writing my monograph. I'll have a lot to say about this when it comes out, and it will all be positive. I got an advance peek at her introduction to the collected poems, and she's a very fine writer indeed.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Kyle Cassidy and the Energizer Bunny ... Separated at Birth?


As anybody who even casually follows this blog knows, Kyle Cassidy has a project going, Where I Write, photos of authors in their work spaces. So far it's been plugged in both Wired and Boing-Boing, and the contract for the inevitable book hasn't even been signed yet.

Well, Kyle went to his first Worldcon -- Anticipation in Montreal -- a week and a half ago, in part to publicize the project, excerpts of which were published in the program book. And as long as he was there, he set up his gear and started photographing fans! Show above is my own amateurish snapshot of Kyle at work. The guy is astonishing to watch. He focuses, frames, takes a few fast shots and in a matter of seconds comes up with a picture that's an honest portrayal of how his subject really looks and attractive at the same time.

Sort of the anti-matter universe opposite of a driver's license photo.

The results were so good that they spawned several more projects in Kyle's fertile mind. In addition to at least one other project he shot at the convention just as long as he was there. Kyle really is, to borrow John Irving's term, Captain Energy.

And it's contageous. Back in the early Eighties, it was new stories by the likes of Stan Robinson or Bruce Sterling that got me fired up to write more. Now it's just hanging around with Kyle. He reminds me just how much fun work can be.

And as long as we're talking about Ponyo . . .

I went to see Miyazaki's latest yesterday. Fabulous stuff. There's been a certain amount of grumbling because it's not better than Spiritied Away. But that's not what he set out to do. He's made a children's film for children. And it's a great one.

You should rush out to see it in the theater right away, though, because it's distributed by Disney which has a vested interest in keeping it away from American eyes.


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Annotated Worldcon Badge.


This was the badge I wore last week at Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon. There’s more to it than meets the eye, so I thought I might share its semiotics with you. The annotations run from top to bottom:

Rocket Pin. Given to all Hugo nominees. Mike Resnick has on occasion worn all of his dozens of nominee pins, giving him a formidably martial appearance. He and I have a cherished tradition on those years when we are both nominated for the same award of each expressing the hope that the other wins. We are both rationalists and know that this will in no way influence the outcome.

Pen Nib Star. Commissioned by Jay Lake and distributed to everyone who was ever nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. At the Hugo Losers Party, I spoke with Spring Schoenhuth, the artist, who pointed out that the nibs are all slightly tilted, making of it a propeller, thus signifying that the wearer is (or was) a “rising star.” Decidedly nifty. In an excess of whimsy, Jay also commissioned a tiara to be worn by the award’s winner, possibly inspired by a similar piece of jewelry imposed upon the winner of the Tiptree Award. Luckily, David Anthony Durham, this year’s winner, was able to pull off wearing it with panache.

Fleur-de-Lis Rocket Logo. A very nice design, combining the Canadian flag and science fiction imagery, while noting Quebec’s French heritage. There were four earlier Canadian Worldcons in 1948, 1973, 1994, and 2003, but this was the first in Francophone Canada.

Good Grief Charles Brown Button. These were handed out and I strongly suspect commissioned by Ellen Klages. The founder and editor of Locus died in his sleep on the plane home from Readercon less than a month before Anticipation. An inveterate Worldcon-goer, Charles would be pleased to know that he was once again present, if only in spirit.

Small Stickers. Given out at the entrance to parties, particularly bid parties, to mark the wearer as a supporter. Fast Forward is a cable access program in Arlington, Virginia, which airs interviews with SF and fantasy authors, along with reviews and related news items. Their party featured bottles of soda with photographs of such interviewees as Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkinson, and yours truly. Neil Gaiman, who was writer guest of honor, had separate photos for each of his five appearances on Fast Forward. The Texas bid party dished out barbecue. The British-and-Irish party served single malts. The gold star was either given to mark SFWA members, or for good penmanship. In my case, almost certainly the former.

Badge Illustration. By Taral Wayne, the artist guest of honor. Nice guy. The symbolism of his character discarding a book with a disgusted roll of her eyes was surely unintentional, though.

Reverse Side. Unseen are two zippered pockets to hold change, notes, whatever. Also a sticker with the participant’s individual schedule on it. Which proves useful when, after only a few hours of conventioneering, one loses orientation in time and space.

Programme Participant/Participant Au Programme Ribbon. The chief purpose of this ribbon is to make it easy for those running the Green Room to determine who belongs there and who does not. Note the bilinguality. Since Anticipation was held in Montreal, there were separate program tracks in English and French. The French programming had simultaneous translation for Anglophones but this fact was not widely publicized. There were posters throughout the convention center stating that the correction sheets for the program were in error. However, every item I was on occurred where the program book said it would, and was well attended by knowledgeable and engaged fans. So I have nothing but praise for those responsible.

Hugo Nominee/Nominee Au Prix Hugo Ribbon. "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled..." lost. It’s an honor just to be nominated. The winner in my category (short story) was Ted Chiang, who surely has the highest award-to-output ratio of any science fiction writer ever. But anybody listed might well have won. It was an exceptionally strong year for short fiction.

Hugo Loser Ribbon. George R. R. Martin had these made up and handed them out to anyone who’d ever lost a Hugo. They were received with unalloyed joy. At the Asimov’s party in the SFWA Suite, George reminisced about the first Hugo Losers Party, held in his hotel room the day after the awards ceremony. “If any of the winners were unwise enough to try to get in, we’d do something to them like spraying shaving cream in their hair. We carried Joe Haldeman out to the swimming pool and threw him in.” These days the Hugo Losers Party is run by the upcoming Worldcon committee and is by invitation only. No shaving cream whatsoever is involved. One cannot help but feel that something has been lost.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Mo Better Montreal Graffito


In stark contrast to yesterday's ingenious take on old-school graffiti, here's something I stumbled across on the way to lunch from the Biodome. Les Vandals Canadiense really have got the mad skills, eh?

And how did I like Montreal as a whole? Well, just take everything their Chamber of Commerce wishes people would write about the city, translate it into English, and there you are. At night the streets are flooded with young people in love (or something sufficiently similar to love for them to work with), strolling hand in hand; eating in romantic sidewalk cafes; taking in the sights; laughing; speaking the language of romance, French ... oh yeah, and drinking too much. Way, way too much in the case of at least one young lady, who fortunately had a courteous young man nearby to retrieve her pants and gallantly return them to her.

Chivalry is not dead.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Montreal Graffiti


I'm still on the road, where Internet access is spotty, so this may have to be my Friday post.

Above is a rather impressive example of Montreal graffiti. This city has got some of the most splendid and imaginative wall art I've seen anywhere. Who knew?

Right now I'm blogging from a Day's Inn outside of Burlington, Vermont. Tomorrow I'll probably take a flying visit to Winooski, my old stomping grounds, hit up a couple of bookstores, and then flee to Kingston, New York. You'll get more considered intellectual content when I fetch up to home. Monday for most likely.

Stopping now. Language going am. Because tired almost certainly am I. 'Night.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Anticipation Delenda Est


The Worldcon is over. I've been here four days, catching up with friends, learning scandalous gossip, shmoozing, doing business, buying books, talking on panels, and having a great time. Now I collapse.

Above: Cory Doctorow's actual hand! On it, a repop Soviet submarine watch. Beside it, his palmtop. You saw them here first.


Friday, August 7, 2009

The Solemn Majesty of David Hartwell

I realize that this post is technically on Saturday, and I apologize. But to me this is still Friday. I'm fresh back from my second day at the Worldcon, one of the survivors of the hotel raid on the Asimov's party in the SFWA Suite, and still mulling over scores of intense, personal, intellectual conversations. But it's late, I'm sleepy, and so you get . . .

Above: Congoers solemnly stand before a display of David Hartwell's ties. David's ties are loud, cheap (he will not wear one that costs more than five dollars), and numerous -- this is one short side of a large rectangle.

The amazing thing is the seriousness with which the ties are regarded. It is as if they were standing before a Monet. You think I am kidding. I am not kidding. I simply report what I see.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Worldcon Schedule


I'm going to MONTREAL! Lovely city, great place to be, and as long as I'm there I thought I might as well take in Anticipation, Worldcon 2009. What with me being up for a Hugo and all.

If you're going to be there as well, why not say hello? I'm not standoffish.

Here's my schedule:


2:00 PM 1hr 30min P-518A One Genre or Many?


9:00 AM 1hr P-512CG Why Write Across the Genres?

Fri 3:30 PM 30min P-Autographs Michael Swanwick Signing


11:00 AM Signing & Schmoozing at Tachyon Booth (hucksters room)

2:00 PM 1hr 30min P-522B, Landscape in Fiction as Character; the language of landscape


12:30 PM P-514AB The New York Review of Science Fiction – I was a last-minute addition to this one; I graciously agreed to take the “con” position.

Sunday Evening Sometime -- 8:00 PM maybe? The Hugo Awards Ceremony – All the pomp and pageantry of losing yet another major award! I've been through these things many times and it really is like a microcosm of your career. For most of the weekend, your friends are congratulating you, slapping your back, and wishing you all the best, and then . . . Well, an embarrassed silence falls over the rest of the convention. You're as good as forgotten. You look back on Saturday with nostalgia.

As you can probably guess, I enjoy the whole awards process, and I milk it for all the drama I can get.


10:00 AM 1hr P-511A Movements in Fantasy – They mean literary movements, not the kind you were thinking of. What were you, brought up in a barn?