Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moonwise of Babel


Look what came in the mail!  It's the latest issue of Foundation, the premiere peer-reviewed journal of the mingled genres of SF and fantasy (and sometimes horror) in the world.  And, under the title "A Conversation between Michael Swanwick and Greer Gilman," it contains the "Moonwise of Babel" panel which Greer and I put on at Boskone -- my god! -- can it have been three years ago?

Here's what happened.  I got the usual questionnaire from the convention asking what panels I'd like to suggest.  And as usual, I didn't want to suggest anything.  But then I reflected on how hideous most panel topics are and decided that just for once I would come up with something better.  So I suggested that my fellow fantasist Greer and I simply have a discussion on matters we find of intense mutual interest, and that  if other people cared to listen they could.

Fortunately for me, Farah Mendelsohn happened to be in the audience and she recorded the whole thing.  The transcription begins:

MS. The reason for this item is that they always put us on panels with some specific topic – “Flower Imagery in Robert Jordan” or “The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith on J.R.R. Tolkien” – and yet it seemed to me to be more interesting for you and me to just sit and have a serious conversation. Because it strikes me that you and I are very similar writers.

[Silence] [Laughter]

Farah Mendlesohn, from audience: Greer sits there with mouth open.

GG. I think we are, as the blurb says, both serious fantasists.

MS. We are both terribly obsessed with mythology and folklore, and also I suspect that our fantasy influences are very similar. E.R. Eddison, Mervyn Peake, Hope Mirrlees, the whole line of classic fantasy that came along before the moderns.

GG Hope Mirrlees I read before I started writing, but not the other two.

MS. Really? I had heard that you said once that when you were in school you were too heavily influenced by E.R. Eddison, and on writing assignments your teacher would say “Greer, you could have a little less jewel imagery in this.”

GG No, actually, I didn’t take writing. What I did in the few English courses I took as an undergraduate, I would always say “For my final paper can I do a parody?” So pastiche is how I learned to write. I did a whole Canterbury Tale, “The Crumhorn Fragment”, with fake footnotes, of course, you must have fake footnotes, and I did Shakespeare and I did Pope, and whatever. I think it was because I really didn’t want to examine my imagination too closely, so I was very happy doing pastiche. Actually, this entire conversation is rather alarming. I do feel as if I have descended into the fireworks factory with a candle. To illuminate, sir, is to destroy.

MS. I don’t think so at all. I have gone down into the fireworks factory with a candle many times, and it is quite delightful. It sends out sparks and there are pretty colours everywhere.

Did we have fun?  Yes, we did.  I am remarkably satisfied with that conversation, and vastly pleased that it has been preserved.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Literalization of Hieronymus Bosh


I've created another story-in-a-bottle!  It is the twelfth such I have ever made and the first since Moon Over Lubyanka, which I wrote for the KGB Reading Series auction almost two years ago.

For those who weren't reading my blog back then, here's what it's all about:  I write a piece of flash fiction, roll it up, and place it in a bottle.  Then I sign and date the bottle with a diamond-tipped pen, and re-cork it.  My wife, Marianne Porter,  seals the bottle with sealing-wax.

Then I destroy every other copy of the story, both physical and electronic, so that the story inside the bottle is, in the old unspoiled sense of the word, unique.  It is the only copy in existence.

The bottled story is then given away, along with a letter of provenance.  Copyright is withheld.  Whoever ends up owning the bottle can either read the story or own the object.  It is not possible to do both.

I'm going to be guest of honor at Conquest, held in Kansas City over Memorial Day weekend, the 28th through 30th of May this year.  During the convention there will be a charity auction to benefit AboutSF, a resource center for speculative literature, science fiction, and education that also coordinates volunteer efforts throughout the speculative fiction field.  They asked me for a contribution and this is what I came up with.

Since the theme of Conquest 42 is Steampunk & Evil Geniuses (hmmm . . . I wonder why they chose me to be their guest?), I wrote a steampunk/evil genius story titled The Literalization of Hieronymus Bosh. As a flourish, I placed it in an emptied bottle of Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogle Blanc de Noirs (in any other country it would be called champagne; but in France it cannot, for it did not come from Champagne) with which Marianne and I and our friends (and dinosaur reconstruction artists) Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger toasted the completion of my new Darger & Surplus novel.

So this story has got provenance up the yinyang, as my old pal Jack Dann would say.

Here's how it opens:

Mad? Of course I’m mad. That I, Hieronymus Bosh, the greatest scientist ever to grace Kansas City, should find myself in such a fix! It would try the patience of a saint.

Quite different was my mood on the day when, having wed the power of steam to the subtlety of galvanic forces, I stood back from the gleaming brass-and-ebony workings of my newly-created Inference Engine. Here at last was a gateway between the real and written worlds, both factual and fictional. With it, I could plunge into the Russia of War and Peace, or the Rome of Gibbon’s famous history. I could discuss philosophy with Schopenhauer, stroll through Hemingway’s “movable feast” of Paris, or even (should I choose) seduce Helen of Troy.

My first requirement, however, was wealth . . .
Only rarely do I create these things, and roughly as often as I donate them to worthy charities, I give 'em to particular friends.  So if you want one, hurry on over to Conquest and bid.  You won't be getting a shot at another one anytime soon.

And this is as good a time as any to note that . . .

The contest to name my novel is now officially closed. I've finished the Darger & Surplus novel, slapped a title on it, and shipped it off to my agent.

So who won? Did anybody win?

It's too early to say.  The title is not the title until both writer and editor agree on it.  And at this point I don't even know who the editor will be.

But rest assured that nobody here will go the bookstore one day and have the rude shock of discovering that I've ripped you off.  Homey don't play that.  If I end up using your title and you were the first to suggest it, you'll get the acknowledgment.  And the Big Box O' Books as well.

Above:  The bottled story poses amid our cat Shadowfax's dragon-hoard.  Because a cat can't sleep well without extravagant wealth.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Red Hot Patriot


You'll have noticed that I try to avoid politics here.  That's because I find my own political beliefs awfully boring.  Once you've said, "Eastern intellectual establishment bleeding-heart knee-jerk liberal and proud of it,"what more is needs to be said?  And I can use the time saved by not saying it to discuss more interesting topics, like literature and theater.

Still, I'm going to make a very small exception here and speak directly to conservatives and other non-left-wingers because I noticed that the audience for Kathleen Turner's one-woman Molly Ivins show, which  recently closed in Philadelphia (and is headed now for DC and later, presumably, Broadway), was made up pretty much entirely of liberals.

Which only makes sense, given that Center City is pretty much made up of liberals.  Still . . .  there are probably some conservatives out there who have given the show a miss because they think it's not for them.

Big mistake. 

The thing to remember about Molly Ivins is that she was a big, brash, vulgar Texan and gloried in it.  She spent most of her life covering  politics in a state that's so Republican that . . .  Well, when she was trying to uncover incidents of gay-bashing in one county, a politician assured her that no gays would come out of the closet there, because if they did people would think they were Democrats.  And all the time she was covering the most extraordinary circus-load of fools and poltroons the Good Lord ever gathered under one big tent, she got along with them just fine.  Because she was funny as hell and a great storyteller.  In Texas, apparently, that trumps politics every day.

So if it's politics that's stopping you from seeing this show, just man up and go.  Kathleen Turner is flat-out wonderful.  The day I went, she got a standing ovation -- and deserved it.  I can pretty much guarantee you'll come out of the theater, thinking, "I'll never understand how a fine woman like that could have the political beliefs she did."

Just so you know.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Hope in the West Village


I made a day trip to NYC yesterday, to meet Sandeep Parmar, currently the world's foremost authority on poet and fantasist Hope Mirrlees.  Sandeep has edited a collection of Hope's poetry (with James Byrne) which will be published late in 2011 (such are the vicissitudes of university press publishing) and is working on an eventual biography of the great lady.

Will Ms Parmar's bio be as good as my own Hope-in-the-Mist, you ask?  Far better!  She has access to papers that were not available when I was writing, and of course she has those strong academic research skills which I lack.  And she can write.  She very courteously gave me an advance peek at her introduction to the poetry volume, and it has the easy flow and felicity of phrasing that makes nonfiction a pleasure to read.

Sandeep and Marianne and I spent four hours sitting at a sidewalk table at a small restaurant in the West Village talking about Mirrlees's writing and life.  It was the sort of literary afternoon a writer lives for.

Just braggin'.

And have you noticed that George Scithers died last Monday . . . ?

Because the Philadelphia Inquirer sure hasn't.  It's Friday, and not so much as an obituary has appeared.

This is shameful.  It's a disgrace to Philadelphia, and a sad indicator of how far a once-great newspaper has fallen.

If you agree with me, and can articulate it politely, the Inquirer's general phone number is (215) 575-6484.  The editor in charge of content is Wendy Warren at (215) 575-6410.  The News Channel Manger is Frank Kummer at (215) 575-6467.  The Living Channel Manager is Lissa Atkins at (215) 575-6528.

The mailing address is:  Philadelphia Inquirer
                                      P.O. Box 7788
                                      Philadelphia, PA 19101

Pass this information along to anybody else you know who might be willing to let the Inquirer know that there are real and positive reasons why a Philadelphian who gave much of his life to science fiction literature should have his passing acknowledged by his home town newspaper.

George did a lot of good in his life.  His passing should be at least noted.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Whale Fossils


Remember the "Whales in Philadelphia" post a week ago?  My friend Victoria recommended the view from the top of the Kimmel Center.  So, since we were in Center City this afternoon, Marianne and I took the elevator to the roof garden and . . . they're gone!

The installation ended, the whales were disassembled, and all that remains of them are the imprints of the dried clay that flaked off the whales, trod into the gravel.

It's an image so profound that further words would only cheapen it.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

George Scithers (1929 - 2010)


George Scithers died yesterday.  George was a man of many accomplishments.  His Hugo Award-winning fanzine Amra introduced the term "sword and sorcery" (reprinted from an obscure fanzine with almost no circulation) to the world.  He edited three major magazines -- Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Amazing, and Weird Tales.  His Owlswick Press published literary jokes like the Necronomicon (in untranslated form; the Arabic-looking text gets larger and more rushed as it moves toward its abrupt end) and To Serve Man, a anthropophagic cookbook (which he wrote himself under a pseudonym).  It also published some beautiful and even essential books by writers like Avram Davidson and Lord Dunsany.  He chaired a Worldcon.  He won a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award.  Robert Heinlein's Glory Road was written in response to a postcard George sent him, saying in essence, "Okay, the hero has slain the dragon, won the princess, and saved the kingdom -- NOW what?"

George marched to the beat of a different drummer.  He had the bearing of a career military man (which he was for a time), the fashion sense of an engineer (he almost always wore plaid jackets), and the passion of a trufan.  He liked adventure fiction a lot, but equally admired the work of Gene Wolfe.  He had enormous energy and boundless enthusiasm.  He had no tolerance for fools, but to everyone else he was extraordinarily generous.  He encouraged young fans who wanted to get into publishing and were willing to work hard by giving them jobs as slush pile readers and then moving them up as fast and as far as their talents would take him.  As an editor, he promoted writers he thought talented with tremendous vigor.

I don't think there will ever be a true accounting of everything George Scithers did.  For decades, he was everywhere and did everything and claimed very little credit for it.  You never knew where he was going to pop up.  I remember vividly opening the paper one morning and seeing a cartoon with the byline, "A tip of the Hatlo hat to George Scithers."

And now he's gone.

Rest in peace, George.  God knows, you've earned it.


Monday, April 19, 2010

The Single Best Piece of Advice a Gonnabe Writer Can Receive


I dropped by the Free Library of Philadelphia Book Festival twice this weekend, once out of idle curiosity and once to see Jane Yolen, who was one of the guests.  Jane (above) was promoting Foiled, her first Manga, illo'd by Mike Cavallaro, who also spoke.   It was a very pleasant talk and afterwards I stood in line to buy a copy of the first issue.

Earlier, though, Marianne and I were talking with Kyle Cassidy and Trillian Stars when Kyle glanced over at the Children's Book Signing Tent and said, "That's sad."  He was referring to an author sitting glumly behind a stack of books with nobody at all coming up to get an autograph.

This happens.  It happens all the time.  And it has nothing at all to do with whether you're a good writer or not.  It's happened to me.  I've seen it happen to Samuel R. Delany.  It can happen to anybody.

But the incident put me in mind of the single best piece of advice an unpublished writer can hear.  Which is:  While you're still unpublished, go to every appearance, reading, and signing by people you know are good writers, and take careful note of how they're treated.

Just so that when it happens to you, you don't cut your throat afterwards.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Practical Magic

" . . . but perhaps the most useful thing about being a writer of fiction is that nothing is ever wasted . . . you tend to see everything as a potential structure of words.  One of my daughters made this abruptly clear to me when she came not long ago into the kitchen where I was trying to get the door of our terrible old refrigerator open; it always stuck when the weather was wet, and one of the delights of a cold rainy day was opening the refrigerator door.  My daughter watched me wrestling with it for a minute and then she said that I was foolish to bang on the refrigerator door like that; why not use magic to open it?  I thought about this.  I poured myself another cup of coffee and lighted a cigarette and sat down for a while and thought about it; and then decided that she was right.  I left the refrigerator where it was and when in to my typewriter  and wrote a story about not being able to open the refrigerator door and getting the children to open it with magic.  When a magazine bought the story I bought a new refrigerator."

          -- Shirley Jackson; "Experience and Fiction"


Friday, April 16, 2010

The Tower of Books


Pictured above are the books I used to research the Darger & Surplus novel.  Not all of them, obviously.  The downstairs books, the ones I was keeping in front of one of the living room windows. But they're a big chunk of the whole, somewhere between a half and a third.

Most of 'em I'm keeping.  The Pelevin, the Lukyanchenko, and the Kurkov books, obviously.  Maybe even the Tolstoy.  But I've already boxed up a good half of 'em to go back to Book Haven (Rolf and Rikki don't appear to have a website, but you can read the bookgeek raves here) for store credit for research on the next novel.

I have reached an age where I am getting rid of good books.  Which is to say that I'm perilously close to being old.

But fighting it every step of the way.

And, you ask, does that mean . . . ?

Yes, the novel is done.  And sent in to my agent.  So now the fun begins.

And the title?  Do I have a title?

Yes, I do.  Provisionally.  For which reason I can say nothing until my editor, whoever he or she turns out to be, casts the final and deciding vote.  But IF it turns out to be one of those suggested, rest assured that the Big  Box O' Schwag (remember that word? late 90s slang?) will go to the nominator.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

There's a nifty little video over at Neil Gaiman's Journal (here) which is so nicely done that I can't resist posting it here, in case you haven't seen it already.  It's a trailer for Instructions, Neil's new children's book, which is forthcoming from HarperCollins in just twelve days.

Trailer is actually a pretty weak word for the thing.  The vid is a pencils-to-painting animation of the entire book with Neil's narration.  And since Neil reads extremely well and the paintings are all by Charles Vess . . .  Well.  That's all I have to say.

Except that I think it's going to sell a lot of copies, and not just to kids.

And that I wonder if it was Gaiman or Vess who decided to make the protagonist a cat.  Good call, whosoever's idea it was.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Whales in Philadelphia


Look what I found:  Three whales beached in a Philadelphia parking lot!  They were the work of artist Shay Church and about thirty volunteers who slathered wet clay on wooden armatures.  The installation is by no means permanent . . .  You can see the hardened clay flaking off already, after only two weeks exposure to the elements.  But they are profound in decay.

The installation is called Gray Whales: Philadelphia.  The parking lot is on opposite the University of the Arts at 313 South Broad Street, right next to the church.  You can check out the artist's home page here.  It includes a video of the construction of a similar whale elsewhere.

And here are a couple more pics:


Monday, April 12, 2010

Does It Sound Crazy? No? Then It's Not . . .

Okay, now this is cool.  There's a three-dollar app for the iPhone, iPad, and presumably other iProducts that I also don't own, which will take a flat photo of somebody's face -- yours, mine, George Washington's, Rush Limbaugh's, your dog's -- and then make it move, blink, and so on so that it looks three-dimensional and alive.  Tap a button and say something like, oh, "Real life was hard, so I've moved to cyberspace," and after ten seconds' processing, the photo will deliver the line convincingly.

PhotoSpeak has been available here since last September, but apparently it was a big hit in Japan for some time before that.  Here's what a (presumably) Japanese schoolkid did with it:


And the moral of this story is . . .

Last week I was in DC to make a three-minute presentation for Sigma which began with the observation that when talking about technology, if it sounds plausible, not-crazy, not at all science fictional, then you're not talking about the future but about something that's already in development and possibly even in production.

So it was ironic that one of the future techs I cited was the notion Bruce Sterling and others have been pushing of using low-cost fabbers to make consumer goods at home out of plastic.  Ironic because in yesterday's New York Times, which is not exactly a hotbed of futuristic thinking, one of the editors chronicled a chance encounter on an Amtrak commuter train which led to two young entrepreneurs hauling out their MakerBot and manufacturing a beer opener for him  on the spot.

MakerBot is a 3-D printer, a fabber, that can build you pretty much anything that can be built from hot, squirted plastic.  You can buy a kit to make one for (wait for it) only $750.  That's cheaper than the first home computer kits were.  Check out the home site here.

And it's also a reminder that if it doesn't sound absolutely crazy, it's not science fiction.

And a little more on Science Fiction World . . .

Sanfeng has pointed out that there's an even more comprehensive article on Science Fiction World to be read here.   It's an astonishing story and those who care about the future of science fiction -- even science fiction we may not be well-educated enough  (cough!) to read -- are grateful for the courage of the magazine's editors.


Friday, April 9, 2010

A Close Call for Chinese Science Fiction


Three years ago I went to China for a science fiction convention in Chengdu.  Our hosts, from Science Fiction World, the largest and most-read science fiction magazine in the world, treated us extremely well and for a week afterward showed us the local sites.  We ate fabulous food.  I got to hold an honest-to-God real live panda in my lap.  There was absolutely no way our experience could have been improved upon.

Except one.

One evening, late in the trip, we guests asked politely if it would be possible to visit the Science Fiction World offices.  And it was!  Apparently it had never occurred to the SFW editors that, as science fiction people, we'd get a thrill out of visiting their place of work.  But it was one of the (admittedly many) high points of our visit.

So you can imagine how amazed I was to discover that every single editor working for SFW had signed a petition asking for the removal of chief editor Li Chang.  I've known a lot of science fiction editors, and many if not all of them had reason to resent upper management.  Yet none of them would air their grievances (to me! who wouldn't pass them on!) until at least two changes of management had occurred and tracking back the complaints to individuals wouldn't be possible.

It's almost impossible to make an editor so unhappy that he'll go public with it.

Combine that with the fact that, so far as I can tell, the Chinese are more respectful of authority than any other people in the world.  For every single editor working for the magazine to sign such a petition, something had to be seriously wrong.

And, according to the petition, there was.  Reputedly, Li Chang replaced the spectacular cover art with advertising.  Also reputedly, he told the fiction editors to write all the stories themselves and the art editor to draw the illos rather than pay artists to do so.  When Li Chang assumed command in 2009, the magazine had a readership of 150,000.  A year later, it was down to 130,000 and dropping.

You can imagine how unhappy I, as a once and maybe future columnist for Science Fiction World, felt upon learning this.  As was Rob Sawyer, who was also at the convention in Chengdu, and whom I chanced to run into at I-Con a week or two ago.  And as were, I presume, the other guests as well.

Science fiction is at an earlier stage of development in China than it is here, more at the "Golden Age" plot-and-science-driven stage of development.  The magazine gets letters of complaints from fans if a story doesn't have enough science in it.  So the genre is still growing and its most interesting developments may be yet to come, the creations of future writers who are currently readers-and-fans.  Which makes this a particularly destructive time to sabotage the world's most successful SF magazine.

The good news is that on April 1st, ten days after the petition was posted, the Communist Party of China suspended Li Chang, pending an investigation into the charges of corruption.  So it looks like Science Fiction World may well be saved, and that what had to be a terrifying act of courage on the part of the people who put the magazine together has paid off.

And I, for one, am relieved.

You can read a more comprehensive account here.

Above:  Where's Waldo?  Nancy Kress, Rob Sawyer, and Neil Gaiman are easy to spot in this group shot of visiting dignitaries at the Science Fiction World offices.  But for some reason I hid in the back row.  Usually I'm more forthcoming.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kosher -- and Fabulous Too!


A month ago, my review of Ann & Jeff Vandermeer's "flash book," The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, was published in The New York Review of Science Fiction.  So enough time has has passed for me to post it online, I think.  If you're interested in buying a copy, though, you should act fast.  I suspect it's going to go out of print pretty fast.

Here's the review:

The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals, by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2010, $11.00 hb, 96 pages.

 This is an excellent example (and the first I’ve seen) of what might well be called a flash book.  Authors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer got into a discussion of which mythological animals would and would not be kosher to eat, and then put the results onto Jeff’s blog.   Their meditations became a minor Internet sensation, got Boing Boing’d, went global, and were covered in a story by Swedish National Public Radio.  Publisher Jacob Weisman noticed and commissioned a book version for the 30th anniversary of Tachyon Publications.

If all goes well, the volume (which has all the earmarks of a very limited print run) will sell out quickly, leaving all the professionals with a small profit and everybody else with a pleasant little book.

How pleasant?

Not as pleasant, obviously, as Jorge Luis Borges’s The Book of Imaginary Beings, the collection of brief essays whose existence haunts this book.  (Borges is cited by name in one of the introductions and six of the entries, and features prominently in the only entry which is fabricated by the Vandermeers from whole cloth.)   But then, it doesn’t try to be. 

What it tries to be is lighter than air.  The thirty-four entries – whose length, frankly, makes Borges look a trifle long-winded – range freely and eclectically from Dragon to Cornish Owlman to Sea-Monkey, and the essays are breezy and brief.  They are each followed by an even briefer discussion between the principals which sets the tone of the book.  In them Ann, who is Jewish, lays down the dietary law to Jeff, who is not.  Jeff is identified as Evil Monkey, his nom de blog.  Here’s an example:

            ANN:  “No reptiles or amphibians.”
            EVIL MONKEY:  “No exceptions?  What if a dragon asks politely to
            be eaten?”
            ANN:  “Jews don’t take suggestions from non-kosher food.”
            EVIL MONKEY:  “Does that mean you take suggestions from
            kosher food?!”
            ANN:  “Shut.  Up.”

And now you know whether you’d like this book or not. 

It is important when dealing with fabulous, mythical, or even religious matters to be as scrupulously honest as possible, particularly when writing about things you yourself are convinced have no physical reality.  Here, the individual essays are factually reliable for any reasonably attentive reader.  Several start out soberly and then at the end veer into Vandermeeresque whimsy.  But the break is always obvious and the inventions are not such as are likely to be picked up and passed along as fact by the gullible.  So this is, as all good books must be, an honest one.

It is a pleasant one as well.  It is pleasant enough to buy.  And it is pleasant enough to keep.   A very long time from now, it will still make people smile.

The book is bracketed by a serious introduction dealing with fabulous beasts by Joseph Nigg, who is an authority on the subject, and (strangely enough) a interview by Ann with Duff Goldman of the Food Network’s Ace of Cakes.  Goldman takes a far more catholic view of what is kosher than does Vandermeer and zestfully details how to cook such imaginary creatures as Wookiees and Mongolian Death Worms.  Personally, I think Mr. Goldman is on shaky theological grounds.  There’s not a religion in the world that would condone Wookieephagy.  Moreover, while I realize that as a former member of the Church of Rome, I have no standing here, I really must disagree on the Mongolian Death Worm question as well.  As Saint Thomas Aquinas would have put it:  “I say it’s tref and I say the hell with it!”

This, and the odd rendering of aigikornos as aigi kornos are the only two quibbles I have with this book.  It is a modest work, which wears its whimsy lightly.  It will be bought by people expecting what it is and no more.  I shall include it in my own permanent collection of bestiaries and mythobiologies and, just to make sure it doesn’t feel unwanted, I shall keep it alongside the Borges.

And there is happy news in China . . .

I've just learned that Li Chang, the "controversial" chief editor of Science Fiction World has been suspended!  This is very good news indeed.  I'll explain on Friday.


Monday, April 5, 2010

And Once Again, I am Happy, Happy, Happy


The Hugo shortlist has just been announced, and so now I can at last crow about being on the Best Related Work ballot for Hope-in-the-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees.  "Best Related Work" used to be "Best Nonfiction" until it was won by the extraordinarily funny Science Made Stupid, whose author (Tom Weller) observed in his acceptance speech that he was flattered until he got to the "nonfiction" part, at which point he had to wonder about the people giving it to him.  Weller's next book, Culture Made Stupid, mentioned on the back that the prior book had won "a Hugo -- you know, one of those Yugoslavian cars?"  At which point the SF world blushed deep crimson and changed the category title.  The world is a better place for Mr. Weller being in it.

So why am I so happy?  Take a look at my competition.

Best Related Book
- Canary Fever: Reviews, John Clute (Beccon)
- Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees, Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
- The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teens' Science Fiction, Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
- On Joanna Russ, Farah Mendlesohn (ed.) (Wesleyan)
- The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms, Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)
- This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is "I"), Jack Vance (Subterranean)

That's one tough category.  I've read the Clute, the Mendlesohn on Russ, and the Merrick, and of course Jack Vance is Jack Vance.  The Mendlesohn study of Kids Books I failed to get at last year's Worldcon because the only huckster selling them sold out in about ten minutes flat.  Which reminds me that it's time to call Big Blue Marble and place an order.  Shoulda done it long ago.

So who would I vote for if I weren't on the ballot?  I honestly don't know.  As I said, that's one tough category.  Luckily for me, however, I have a dog in this fight.  So all moral quandaries are solved.  I'll simply vote for myself.

The rest of you guys have got it tough, though.  I don't envy you at all.

You can see the entire Hugo ballot here.

And just a reminder . . .

The search for a title for my Darger & Surplus novel continues.  My Blue Ribbon Panel of Only Slightly Nepotistic Judges met this weekend and did a first pass-through of your title ideas to date, and eliminated about a third of them as not having a chance in Hell.  (This included the strangely brilliant Gorky Bark, alas.  Just because it's good doesn't mean that it's right.)

I'll have the novel in the mail to my agent this week.  And I'll know who if anybody is the contest winner . . . when the novel gets named.  I can't announce a winner before then because, well, if I chose your submission and then my editor overruled me, you'd be terribly disappointed.

But trust me, I'm grateful for your help and I'm taking all your suggestions seriously.  Even Gorky Bark.

Above:  There I am with the world's foremost Hope Mirrlees impersonator, Marianne Porter.  Marianne's Uncle Charles used to do a splendid job impersonating George Westinghouse at corporate meetings.  There must be something in the bloodline.


Friday, April 2, 2010

In Which I Invent a New Holiday


Writing is a tough dollar.  Tougher than you realize, probably.  Yeah, Stephen King is doing okay.  But most of the writers you like aren't.  A couple of years ago, David Hartwell estimated that in the mingled genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, only a hundred writers are actually making a living at it.  That includes King, Neil Gaiman, me, and that guy who's living in a cardboard box and eating cat food but is somehow staying alive without any other source of income.  The rest are making do with day jobs, working in academia or as editors, or are supported by an understanding spouse.

In the latest issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction, he predicts that, due to changes in publishing, that number will dwindle to twelve in a couple of years.  Twelve!

And yet every year dozens and maybe hundreds of hopeful new writers rush cheerfully into print.  Wouldn't it  be kindness itself to discourage them?

The question answers itself.

So I'm hereby declaring February 14 to be INTERNATIONAL DISCOURAGE NEW WRITERS DAY!

Why, you ask, should I choose Valentine's Day for such a grim task?  Because on February 14, 1969, Barry Malzberg wrote Memoirs of a Parisian Chambermaid, a 60,000-word novel, in only sixteen hours!!! 

Once a year, this astounding feat should be held up to all new and prospective writers as the gold standard of what a real writer ought to be able to do.  "Sound impossible?" you should ask.  "Then find another field."

When I first heard this story from the man himself, incidentally, I was gobsmacked.  "Barry!" I said.  "How could you possibly write a novel in only sixteen hours?"

"I can type two hundred words a minute," he replied.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Just a Place-Holder

I'm on the road again.  So there's nothing of substance to say today.  Other than that . . .

I am almost finished the Darger & Surplus novel.  Right now I'm doing the final polish, and the finished typescript goes to my agent in a couple of days.  And this book has everything!  Bears!  Demons!  Neanderthals!  Cyberwolves!  You name it, this novel's got it.

Except a title.  So keep those suggestions pouring in.  The Blue Ribbon Panel of Distinguished and Only Slightly Nepotistic Judges meets this weekend.