Friday, March 30, 2018

Blue Moon Goes on Sale at Midnight


It's a new, new tradition. One that starts today. Once in a blue moon, Dragonstairs Press will publish a chapbook in an edition of 69 and offer it for sale on the day of the blue moon. Then, at midnight, all unsold copies will be burned.

Why? Chiefly because it's a beautiful idea. Books are constantly burning. Go to the oldest section of a library and inhale deeply. That beautiful "old-book smell compounded of lignin, vanillin, and nostalgia," as I put it in The Iron Dragon's Mother, is "the scent of antique culture burning in the slow bonfire of time." Once you fall in love with books, the scent never entirely leaves you.

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 31, is a blue moon. So at midnight tonight, the chapbook Blue Moon, which I wrote yesterday and which Marianne is making even as I type these words, will go on sale at Dragonstairs Press. Exactly 24 hours later,  the unsold copies will be fed to the flame.

Blue Moon contains five flash stories, all in a lunar setting. The chapbook is 8.5" by 5.5", eight pages, hand-stitched, signed and numbered, with a sodalite bead ornament. The price is ten dollars per copy, net to all. Postage included.

You can buy chapbooks here, starting at midnight tonight, Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

Here's what the beads (only one per chapbook) look like:

And here's nanopress mogul Marianne Porter, stitching them:

And here's what some of the finished copies look like:

And  in all fairness . . .

I owe a shout-out to Dagur Hjartarson and Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson, who came up with this idea originally. Their publishing house Tunglið ("Moon" in Icelandic) in Reykjavik publishes only on a full moon, only for a day, only in editions of 69 copies, and burns the unsold copies as soon as that day ends. 

You can read about them here.


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bad Moons


I've spent the morning writing flash fiction for Saturday's Blue Moon chapbook (details below) and... they're awful. Worse than that, they're all, to varying degrees, negative, dark, and cynical.

So I'm throwing everything I've written away, unfinished, and starting over again. This time I'll write something light, something pleasant.

And just so you don't think I'm making this up, here are four completed stories.  Keep in mind, though, that these are all early drafts and thus a little rough. The incomplete ones were even worse.

Waning Moon

The mysterious Mrs. Underhill, who ironed the dark blue sky flat, sprinkled it with sugar, and baked a vanilla cookie to shed gentle light after dark, was vexed.
Someone  was nibbling at her moon.
She had set it in the sky as round as a button. But now look at it – gibbous! Then half-gone. Then crescent-shaped. And still dwindling.
Who would dare?
She got out her grimoire, she got out her broom, she got out her microscope. She looked in the dusty tombs of gods who had died, nameless and unmourned, from the beginning of the universe to its end.
All the while she did, something was silently nibbling at her dress, her cloak, her shoes, her hair. Realizing this, Mrs. Underhill spun around.
Time, you rascal!” she exclaimed. “It was you! Why?”
“It was only a moon,” that watery-eyed entity replied, “andI was so very, very hungry.”
Then, without even a second’s pause, Time pointed at her life and said, “Are you done with that?”


Sacrificial Moon

The moon goddess is pale as ice and has straight white hair that reaches down to her ankles. Other than that, she goes naked. Wherever she goes, she is accompanied by wolves, twice as large as those we know and as white as the goddess herself.
She loves children, does the moon goddess. Not thin, bony starvelings unlikely to live out the winter. No. She loves plump, healthy babies, sure to live out the year and all but certain to grow into adults. These are what make her mouth water.
It would be better if they were your own, but people are weak and so she must settle for the beloved offspring of those you hate.
A blood-stained cairn, far from human settlement, is the preferred place of sacrifice. Midnight under a fool moon is the time the moon goddess likes best. That is why our watchmen are at their most vigilant under a waxing moon.
Since we converted to the White Christ, of course, our tribe practices no such sacrifices. They are, our priests tell us, an abomination unto the Lord. Still, it’s always wise to know what your neighbors are up to. Just as it’s wise not to overfeed your newborns.


War of the Ring

            In the year 842 of the third iteration of the seventh recession, new order, warships came into the Solar System, bent on revenge. For very good reasons, they destroyed the Moon. Because of ancient treaties, they left the Earth untouched. They relied on the gravitational tides set into being by the Moon’s debris to do their dirty work for them. Then they went away.
Thus the ring that circles our planet. Thus the primitive state of our technology.
Estrella was born in that ring to oxygen-debtor rock miners. She was a debt-slave miner herself when the powers that be on the planet below foreclosed on her parents, seized all their goods, and had their bodies rendered down for their chemicals.
Half-maddened with grief, Estrella stole their near-worthless oreship from the impoundment orbit, lashed it to a rock the size of a small mountain, and (from a safe distance) exploded its fusion engine.
Slowly, gracefully, the rock went tumbling down onto Buenos Aires.
Not long after, as these things go, as the spokeswomen for the radicalized citizens of the ring, Estrella issued an ultimatum to the planet below: Either acknowledge our humanity or suffer the consequences. There was only one sane option. Only madmen would respond with force.
Which is why no one lives on Earth anymore.


The First Woman on the Moon

The first woman on the moon was a Russian, of course. This was in Soviet times, when rivalry with the United States meant that the successes in the space race were announced after the fact and the failures were a State secret. In this way, the history of the Soviet space program was one of uninterrupted successes.
It was madness to think that human beings could reach the moon using Nineteen Sixties technology. But the Americans were about to do just that, and so the Soviets moved first. To cut costs, they sent up one cosmonaut instead of three – and because they knew it would shame their rivals, a woman.
Months before the Americans, Anya Petrova stood upon the moon. She was staring up at the Earth when Baikonur Mission Control informed her that there had been a system failure and that she would not be returning to Earth, her husband, and their children.
The technician was openly weeping. “We have failed you, he sobbed. “We—”
“Worth it,” Anya said, and opened her helmet.


And as long as we're on the subject...

Today I write the text for Blue Moon. Tomorrow Marianne creates 69 chapbooks. And Saturday, March 31, they go on sale. Ten dollars a pop, shipping included. No pre-orders.

And on on Sunday, one minute after midnight, all unsold copies will be burned. So if you want a copy, you'll have to buy it Saturday.

The chapbooks will be available at Dragonstairs Press. You can find it here.

Above: All three stories copyright 2018 by Michael Swanwick. Just to keep them from being published again.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Small Day in Manayunk


Yesterday was an exciting time for fans of very small presses. Micropress maven Henry Wessells and nanopress nabob Marianne Porter met for lunch in Manayunk to discuss their diminutive publishing empires.

I was present to sign copies of Henry's newest and thinnest ever chapbook Reading in Public, which is to be included with certain copies of his non-fiction magnum opus A Conversation Larger Than the Universe. Which I can say without spoiling anything is about specific science fiction books. Also a cracking good read.

There are days when my life seems extremely pleasant and yesterday was one of those.

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

The great Blue Moon project approaches. On Thursday, I'll write the text for a chapbook. On Friday, Marianne will create 69 copies of it. On Saturday it will go on sale at the Dragonstairs web site. And shortly after midnight, earliest Sunday morning, all the unsold copies will be burned.

All that's known at this point about the chapbook are its title and the price: Blue Moon. Ten dollars, net to all. Postage included. No preorders.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Dragonstairs! Dragonstairs! Dragonstairs!


Every now and then I like to remind people that Dragonstairs Press, with which I am so closely associated, is not my imprint that of Editor, Bookbinder, and Sole Proprietor, Marianne Porter. Who is, admittedly, my wife. But does that give me the authority to tell her what to do?

It does not.

But as long as I'm on the subject, Dragonstairs has two new projects going.

The first one is titled Blue Moon. Inspired by the small Icelandic publishing houseTunglið, which publishes books in an edition of 69, sells them for one day only, and then at the end of the day burns all those that haven't sold, Marianne and her in-house content provider (me) are going to do much the same thing.

With two significant differences:  First, the chapbooks will be published only on a blue moon. (Hence the title.) Second, to make things more interesting, we'll be doing a variant on the make-a-comic-book-in-24-hours thing. On March 29th, I'll write the text. On March 30th, Marianne will design, print, and stitch the chapbook. And on March 31st, they'll be put up for sale.

At midnight, Dragonstairs will cease honoring purchases and all unsold copies will be burned in the early minutes of (appropriately enough) April 1, which is also (appropriately enough in a different way) Easter.

If all goes as planned, we'll put up a video of the fire shortly thereafter.

Chapbooks will be ten dollars, postage included. No pre-orders.

You can read about the wondrous Reykjavik press here.

And you can read the Scandinavia and the World comic where I first learned about moon books here. SatW's original purpose was to explain Scandinavian culture to the rest of the world, so the protocol of reading the comic is different from what you're used to. First you read the comic, then you read the text below to find out what it's all about. I'm a big fan.

And second . . .

For the first time, Dragonstairs is selling a book made by somebody else. Being Gardner Dozois is a book-length interview I conducted with Gardner covering every story he'd ever published, from his first to the latest at the time of the interview -- what worked, what didn't, and why.

Gardner is the only writer I know who can talk objectively about his own work. I began this interview because I learned so much from my conversations with him and felt it was a shame more writers couldn't benefit from them. Marianne feels this is a book most writers will benefit from reading. I agree to a point -- it's not a how-to book. It won't tell you how to plot, how to make your dialogue scintillate, or any of that stuff. It's more of a graduate-level book. If you're already writing publishable prose, have literary ambitions, and are hoping for insight into the workings of a world-class writer, well, here it is.

This is the Old Earth Books hardcover (Michael Walsh publisher and International Man of Mystery), new, and autographed by both Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick. It costs twenty-five dollars plus four dollars shipping within the United States. Alas, shipping anywhere else, even to Canada, is ridiculously expensive. It used not to be, but that was a long time ago.

You can order the book directly from Dragonstairs Press here.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Free Movies (and Panel) Next Week


Just a reminder.  One week today, I'll be taking part in a bioethics panel for U of P's Third Annual Bioethics Film Festival here in Philadelphia at International House. Here's the schedule:

Tuesday, March 20:  Bride of Frankenstein

Wednesday, March 21:  Young Frankenstein

Thursday, March 22:  Blade Runner  (I'll be on the panel for this one.)

Each evening begins with a 5:30 reception. The movie starts at 6:00. And the panel discussion is either before or after the movie, I'm not really sure.

Either way, I'm expecting to have a blast. We'll be talking about Philip K. Dick, after all. Now there was an interesting man.

Oh, and I should mention that tickets to the movies are FREE. You do have to go to the site and register for them. But that's easy. Just click here.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Le Chat C'Est Moi


Look what came in the mail!

This is the Russian edition of my short fiction collection Not So Much Said the Cat. The cat in question being Beelzebub ("Not the famous one, obviously," as he himself observed) from "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown." In the story, a young woman named Su-lin follows her father to Hell and tries to win him back. Beelzebub was a "scrawny, flea-bitten, one-eyed disgrace of a tomcat" with a trashy way of talking. Quite frankly, he's my favorite character in the study.

The Russians, in my experience, always make attractive-looking books. One thing I particularly liked about this one was how demonic Beelzebub came out. The character was inspired, in part, by the demon cat Behemoth in Mikhail Bulgakov's great novel, The Master and Margarita. Bulgakov's character wore a bow tie, toted a Browning automatic, and, frankly, was a greater creation than mine. But Behemoth's blood flows in Beelzebub's veins.

I'm pretty sure the illustrator spotted that. And I'm grateful for it.

And, oh yeah...

In the same mail were contributor's copies of the Russian translation of Dancing With Bears. This was the first Darger & Surplus novel and I'll confess to being curious as to what the Russian SF readers make of it. In their first adventure, back when they appeared only in short fiction, my two Post-Utopian con men accidentally set fire to London and then set off for Russia to pull the con of their careers on the Duke of Muskovy.

An American and a Brit single-handedly invading Russia? As Napoleon once said, "What could possibly go wrong?"

Or, as Marx said, "History repeats itself -- first as tragedy, then as farce." I wish I'd thought to use that as an epigram for the book.

Here's the cover, steampunk samovar and all:


Monday, March 5, 2018

For Gonnabe Writers: Being Edited

Some years back, I had a conversation with a young writer who, almost by accident (an agent was involved), sold a story to one of the major slick magazines. These things happen, though not as often as we like.

"I thought it was a terrible story," the writer said. "It was an experiment that really didn't work. But it sold and the money was good and my agent said the exposure would do me good, so I let them have it."

Then the editor sent back corrections to be made. "And I fought like a fiend against every one of them!"

I know that you like to think that you yourself would not behave like that. But let's be honest. That is exactly how you'd behave.

So when your get your first set of  proofreading notes or editorial notes (emotionally, your reaction will be exactly the same), you should do these four things:

1) Take a deep breath. Literally. Oxygen will help calm you down. If you or your spouse has ever taken birthing classes, think "cleansing breath."

2) Recognize that each publishing house has its own style sheet. The distinction between "grey" and "gray" may matter passionately to you, but is invisible to the reader.

3) Remember that the editor is nowhere near as dogmatic and unreasonable as you. If you have good reasons for your position, he or she will probably give in reasonably. So there's no need for you to work yourself into a rage.

4) Cultivate a sense of humor. Bitter, bitter, bitter humor.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. More on this when I get home. Unless there's something else to talk about.

Above: I'm traveling with a palmtop/netbook which doesn't upload and download pictures well. Hence the lack of an illo. I'll put one in after I get back home.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Ice Age" in China!


I'm in print in China again. Science Fiction World Translations has published an early story of mine "Ice Age." In it a young couple, freshly moved into a new apartment, discover first a woolly mammoth the size of a horsefly frozen into an ice cube, and then that there's an entire civilization in the freezer compartment of their refrigerator.

The cover of the magazine went to Derek Künsken, whose first novel, The Quantum Magician, has the singular honor of being simultaneously serialized by SFWT and our own Analog. I met Derek in Chengdu last November and he's a nice guy, so good for him. I bought the issue of Analog with the first installment and I'll be reading it just as soon as I can figure out where I left it.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again! More than likely I'll be posting about parts of my trip, along with the usual shenanigans next week.

Above: The illo is mine, the cover Derek's.