Saturday, October 31, 2009
Just a quick jot ...
Friday, October 30, 2009
My Change of Careers
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Literary Lions of the Sea
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Winter -- er, World Fantsy Con -- Is Coming!
So how did you spend your weekend? I spent mine rewriting the first 16,000 words of my novel to make them into a stand-alone story, and then cutting, cutting, cutting, so I can read it within the hour given me at the World Fantasy Convention this coming weekend. And I am still cutting. We'll see if I can manage it in time.
Why am I putting myself through this? Well, when I do a reading, I prefer it be something which is a) unpublished, and b) a complete story. Especially when the con makes me a Guest of Honor, as the WFC has.
Have I mentioned that I'm a Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Con?
Oh yeah, and I also went to Kyle Cassidy's and Trillian Stars' fabulous wedding celebration. That's the happy couple above. May they live longer and be happier than Marianne and me. But may she and I first live a million years and always be as happy together as we are now.
If you're going to the World Fantasy Convention . . .
. . . where, as I may not have mentioned, I'm a Guest of Honor . . . here's my schedule to date. Things will doubtless be added, and if I have time and can get wi-fi in primitive, distant San Jose, California, I'll add them. But this is what I have now.
If you see me, say Hi. I'll be busy as hell. But I won't have anything better to do.
Borderlands Books and Borderlands Cafe are at 866 - 870 Valencia Street between 19th and 20th Streets in the Mission District.
Thursday5:00 PM Opening Ceremonies - sa short ceremony opening the convention and introducing Guests of Honor Jay Lake, Richard Lupoff, Garth Nix, Lisa Snellings, Donald Sydney-Fryer, Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, Zoran Zivkovic -- and me.
10:00 AM Tachyon Table Signing - in the huckster room.
2:00 PM Reading - "The Pearls of Byzantium," if it's finished by then.
4:00 PM Signing - of Hope-in-the-Mist, presumably in the hucksters room.
8:00 PM Group Autographing - a
- agroup signing for all the authors and editors attending the convention. Rather informal. Good time to strike up a conversation with a few of your favorite authors.
10:00 AM Why Steampunk Now? - a S
- a Steampunk panel with Charlie Jane Anders, Deborah Biancotti, Liz Gorinsky, Ann VanderMeer and yours truly.
1:00 PM Urban Fantasy as Alternate History - a panel with
- a panel withJon Courtenay Grimwood, L. E. Modesitt, Jr., Paul Park, Bill Willingham and yr humble correspondent. Kind of difficult to explain. They say it'll be good.
2:00 PM What We Read Just for Fun - what is sounds like. With
- what is sounds like. WithJay Lake, Richard Lupoff, Garth Nix, Jeff VanderMeer, Zoran Zivkovic and, well, me again.
5:00 PM Multi-Author Reading of The Raven - "Four authors will read Poe's famous poem, each in their own style and idiom Leanna Renee Hieber, Garth Nix, Michael Swanwick, Donald Sydney-Fryer. What is my style and idiom? I guess we'll find out.
Midnight – Weird Tales Party - the party starts earlier, but they're planning something called a "M
- the party starts earlier, but they're planning something called a "Midnight Invocation,” with various folk reading or reciting very short pieces. I'll be reading “Hush and Hark.”
1:00 PM World Fantasy Awards and Banquet - I'll be there! Along with all the other Guests of Honor (
- I'll be there! Along with all the other
Guests of Honor (Jay Lake, Richard Lupoff, Garth Nix, Lisa Snellings, Donald Sydney-Fryer, Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, Zoran Zivkovic).
And that's it for officially scheduled stuff. The picture to the right? Trillian Stars and Kyle Cassidy cut their wedding cake! After which, they did not stuff cake into each other's faces. A very elegant couple, Kyle and Trillian are.
Friday, October 23, 2009
"Hello," Said the Stick
I still have a Theo Gray book to blog about, but I'm putting it off 'til next week because The Drabblecast has just posted an audio podcast of my short story, "Hello," Said the Stick.
So how did I come to write that story in the first place? I'm glad you asked. It began when I went to a reading by a friend whose name I shall discreetly elide. Mere minutes into the reading I had discovered two facts:
1) That I already knew the piece, since I'd read it in manuscript, and
2) That my friend was the single worst reader I'd ever heard in my life, bar none.
For a time, there was some entertainment to be had from determining whether or not a verbal fumble and correction would be made in literally every sentence read. But then it became clear that, yes, it would, and boredom set in. I started word-doodling in my notebook, creating neologisms and writing down odd sentences. One of which was: "Hello," said the stick.
Huh, I thought. That's intriguing. It would make a good first sentence for a story.
So, while the reading droned on, I played around with the notion. By the end of the evening, I had a couple of paragraphs and a good idea of the plot. I borrowed the idea of mercenaries fighting with weapons well below their culture's technological level from Larry Niven's "Night on Mispec Moor," and his clean, lean, stripped-down prose style as well.
The next morning was a Saturday. After breakfast, I said to Marianne, "I think I'll spend the day writing, if that's okay with you."
"Have fun," she said.
So I went to my office, wrote the story, and dropped it in the mail to Analog before the post office closed at 2 that afternoon. From original conception to actual submission in a grand total of eighteen hours -- and I got to sleep in late in between!
Oh, yeah, and it made it onto the Hugo ballot.
There is no moral to this anecdote. But, oh, if only everything I wrote came half so easily!
You can find The Drabblecast here or go straight to the podcast here. The podcast also includes "Eat the Dog," by Reverend John Sleestaxx
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Dark Side of Being a Writer
In the mail yesterday was my contributor's copy of The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, fresh out from Tachyon Publications to celebrate the 60th anniversary of F&SF. And there I am! Alongside the likes of Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut. These guys are the heroes of my youth, to say nothing of being icons of American literature.
Are you impressed yet? No? Then let's look at individual story titles: There's Shirley Jackson's "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts," James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Women Men Don't See," and Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon." These are some of the best and most famous stories our genres have ever produced. And my own "Mother Grasshopper" is among them!
[Whoops. I accidentally took in a couple of the blog's readers. My bad. Gordon was joking, as he frequently does. As indicated by the fact that Bester died in 1987. Though it would be great if he were still around.]
Monday, October 19, 2009
The True Meaning of Baseball
Did you catch last night's game between the Phillies and the Dodgers? Astounding! Particularly if you're a Phillies fan.
It put me in mind of the time when I was in Yekaterinburg and a Russian fan asked me why anybody would bother to watch baseball. Now, I'm always a lot better on rewrite than I am on first draft, and that day more so than usually. So I floundered through something lame about there always being the possibility of winning, no matter how far down you are.
"So it's all random, you mean?" my friend asked.
No, no! It's not like that at all, and if you don't understand baseball, you'll never understand America.
Everybody understands football. It's the face America presents to the world: We are bigger and stronger and tougher than you are and if you don't show us respect we'll crush you under the treads of our offensive line. It's all about power. But baseball is who we actually are. Baseball is all about heart.
"Baseball," I should have said back then, "is a morality play. It's a distillation of our lives and souls, and it's made up almost entirely of failure and redemption."
There's more than enough failure in this country, in these lives. There are long, long stretches when you're at the bottom of the league and batting .100, times when you just can't catch a break and nothing you do works. But every day you suit up and step back up to the plate. There are times when the world is cold and Cliff Lee is hot and you can do nothing but strike out, over and over and over again. You learn exactly how bitter failure can taste. But you keep on slugging.
Los Angeles had a night like that Sunday.
But then -- not often, because the game is rigged so it only happens rarely -- you get a night like Philadelphia had yesterday. Your pitches are hard and true. You rip one into the stands. Everything falls into place.
This doesn't just happen. It's earned. It takes hard work, determination, skill, practice . . . and heart. Or maybe a better word for it is spirit. You don't start out with that kind of spirit; it's forged in the smithy of failure.
Failure is so much of our lives. That's why America's favorite team is not the Yankees, but the Cubs. That's why everybody was so elated when the Red Sox finally took the pennant. It proved that all this failure was not without purpose. It showed that there's a chance of redemption for all of us.
Maybe even, some day, for the Cubs.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Mad Science for the Masses
When I was a student at the College of William and Mary, Chem 101 was taught by the head of the department. Invariably, he began each lecture by explaining how one of the chemicals under discussion that day could be used to play a practical joke. This one would make a fine contact explosive that could be painted on the steps to the Chem Building, that one if insinuated into the drinking water, would turn everybody's urine blue, a third would blow a utility building sky-high, and so on. It was, I thought at first, his equivalent of opening with a joke. Certainly, we all laughed.
Theodore Gray was one of those natural chemists. He grew up, co-founded Wolfram Research (of Mathematica fame), won an Ig Nobel Prize (for his Wooden Periodic Table -- check it out here, but be prepared to spend a lot of time wandering about), and has now published a book of experiments that you really-o truly-o ought not to try at home. With careful step-by-step instructions.
Theo Gray's Mad Science is chock-a-block with fun things to do that could cost you an eye, a leg, your home, your liberty, and in some cases even your life if your lab technique isn't everything it should be.
- Make ice cream in 30 seconds, using liquid nitrogen.
- Shrink coins to half their size.
- Build your own cloud chamber.
- Make exploding hydrogen bubbles.
- Preserve snowflakes for decades.
- Make your own salt out of sodium and chlorine.
So how did I come upon this wonderfully demented tome? Theodore Gray sent me a copy. He's sort of a friend, you see. We've never met in person, but he wrote the introduction to the PS Publishing book version of my Periodic Table of Science Fiction (which I recently put back online here), and we occasionally swap e-mails. I strongly approve of Theo. We're both in the same business: That of trying to make the world a more interesting place.
Actually, he sent me two books. I'll blog about the other one sometime next week.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
How Cool is THIS?
Monday, October 12, 2009
The President's New Nobel
It's about time!
You lousy bastards should have given this to me decades ago, and you fucking well know it. Look at the morons and retards you have given it to. Okay, so Albert Einstein, personal hygiene aside, wasn't a total loser. But Niels Bohr, Desmond Tutu, Ilya Prigogine, the Dalai Lama? You'd think this award was being given for having a funny name! And whoever decided it would be a cute joke to give the prize in literature to the likes of Thomas Mann, Anatole France, and Selma Lagerlof obviously never bothered trying to read those boring old windbags. To say nothing of that self-promoting fraud, Mother Theresa!
I could go on, but I think my point is made.
The Nobel Prize was created by Alfred Nobel, who was—I trust I'm not hurting anybody's feelings here—a neurotic recluse and a mass-murdering Swede. So, when one considers the source, I really shouldn't be surprised that you only gave me the one. There are five, you know. (I don't count the Economics thingie as a real Nobel, and neither should you.) It's not as if the single greatest Writer/Peacemaker [note to self: scratch out whichever category these idiots neglect to honor me in] the world has ever known couldn't be adept in chemistry and physics and medicine as well. I assure you I could. Not that I have, granted. I've been busy. But surely intentions should count for something.
Oh, and a word about the venue. Stockholm?? InDecember??? No wonder your bikini team never showed up.
So here's what I propose: Vegas, obviously, for the climate. Ditch the king—nice guy, but no Robin Williams. For the MC, rather than doing the safe thing with Madonna or J-Lo, go visionary with the Osborne Family. Can you picture them wandering aimlessly about the stage? Hilarious. Maybe we can even convince Ozzie to bite the head off a (fake) bat.
To get television coverage in the major markets, you're going to need music—Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, maybe even get the Stones out of retirement and back in spandex again. Back 'em up with a few flash-pots and some fly-girl dancers. Filmed testimonials from Michael Jackson and the Simpsons. Choreography from The Producers. A line of Elvis impersonators. Dignified and elegant, that's the key. Keep the wire-work to a minimum.
I get shivers just thinking about it.
Now I realize that these suggestions might seem startling to some. But that's why I'm up here and you're down there—because I'm a genius and you're not. So shut up and think it over.
Meanwhile, I accept this award with a modesty so profound that pissants like you cannot even begin to comprehend it.
The above was taken from Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of the Elements. You can view it here, or the entire 118-story run of elements here.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Childhoods of Great Artists, Part 43
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The Explicated Gene Wolfe
I get free books in the mail now and then, and my reaction to them varies from an elated "Hey, look what I got!" to a sullen, "Life is too short to read stuff like this."
Today, I opened a package from Sirius Fiction and said, "Oh my God!' I'd just gotten a copy of the second (expanded) edition of Lexicon Urthus, Michael Andre-Driussi's dictionary of the strange and wonderful words in Gene Wolfe's Urth cycle (the Book of the New Sun quartet and related texts), and a reviewer's copy of the spanking-new The Wizard Knight Companion, subtitled A Lexicon for Gene Wolfe's The Knight and The Wizard.
Then I showed Marianne the new book and she took it out of my hands and did not give it back.
There's a lot of scholarship, both true and faux, attached to science fiction and fantasy books nowadays, but such efforts are particularly rewarding when applied to Wolfe's oeuvre, because he puts so much more into his works than almost any other writer.
As an example, here's a Lexicon Urthus word which, because I once worked for the National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center, I was able to shed some light upon. In the Book of the New Sun, Severian has a fuligin cloak, blacker than black, whose warmth he several times praises. The word is derived from fuliginous, meaning sooty or soot-colored:
fuligin a sooty color, powdered black (1, chap. 4, 39).
Commentary: the descriptions of this color as being "blacker than black" (aside from the powerful sin aspect) indicate to Michael Swanwick that it is actually "selective black," a black that absorbs light beyond the visible spectrum and into the ultraviolet. Selective coatings are used on solar collectors to maximize absorption of radiation. It is a notion that engineer Wolfe would definitely be familiar with, and the seeming paradox of having a practical explanation would fit his sense of humor. Presumably a fuligin cloak would be unusually warm.
What I want to point out about this is that it's the literary equivalent of what programmers call "Easter eggs," hidden messages or treats placed into games or programs for the lucky (or canny) person to find, which are not necessary for your enjoyment of the experience.
People who seek these things out tend to make Wolfe's books sound like a riddle inside in an enigma wrapped in something that's too much work to be much fun. Not true. Okay, there are a couple of his books which are not for the weak-minded. But you can do a fast and superficial reading of The Knight and The Wizard (originally submitted to Wolfe's editor as a single book, The Wizard Knight, but broken in two for reasons of publishing economics) and not only have a good time but get everything that's most important about it: The examination of what qualities make a man a knight and the ending, which could hardly be clearer in its meaning. Nobody literally needs The Wizard Knight Companion.
But some of us -- and we know who we are, we happy few, you and I -- want it anyway. Simply because when we love a book, we want to understand it better. Also because we have a weakness for Easter eggs.
For us, there is Michael Andre-Driussi's book. For which I am duly grateful.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Slidewalks, Zeppelins, and Naked Brains in Bottles!
Zeppelin City, the brilliant collaborative story between Eileen Gunn and, well, (cough) me, has just been published on Tor.com as part of their special October theme of Steampunk Month.
Monday, October 5, 2009
My Periodic Table of Science Fiction REBORN!
When the lamentably titled but greatly-missed webzine SciFiction went under, it took with it Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction. Recently, even the unauthorized mirror site went down, apparently because some other working writer pointed out to the proprietor that publishing people's work without their permission is simply not nice. Which meant that if you wanted to read those stories, you either had find a copy of the out-of-print PS Publishing book or else know Serbian.
At top: The cover for the book version of The Periodic Table of Science Fiction. I always loved that woodcut.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Rich and Strange
Yesterday morning, I was watching elk fighting on the side of a mountain of mine tailings, and last night I was at a production of Beckett's Happy Days (with a brilliant performance by Mary Elizabeth Scallen). This is either the strangest of all rich worlds or the richest of all strange worlds.
Above: One of a gazillion snapshots I took. Really, I should've brought a sound recorder to capture the bull elks bugling. It's a sound like no other.
Oh, and an open question . . .
I'm thinking of maybe sometime next year writing an essay on flash fiction. In preparation for which I really ought to assemble a list of the masters of the form. I'm talking about people who have actual books, or at least locatable web collections.
Offhand, I'd have to include Julio Cortazar for Chronopios and Famas, Franz Kafka for Parables and Paradoxes, Carol Lay for her Story Minute compilations, and Lynda Barry for various Ernie Pook's Comeek collections.
Who am I leaving out?