Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Merry Christmas to All!


As always, I was on the road this weekend. Marianne and I took a quick jaunt up to New England for a carol sing at the family chapel of friends. We've been hearing about this neighborhood event for (my god, can it be?) decades and always resolved to attend some day. This year, Marianne decided that we must.

So we did.

Oh my, but it was heartwarming. Partly it was because the organizers knew that children would get restive after an hour and kept it from dragging. Partly it was because it was a tradition that went back at least a lifetime. Partly it was because the carols were sung only for two verses and so stopped before their composers ran out of inspiration and started stringing words together at random.

Mostly, it was because it was a neighborhood thing. People who knew each other from childhood made sure the organ was working, decorated the chapel, checked beforehand that everything was in place, put the songbooks out.

Then we sang.

I'll admit that my contribution was... what's the word? Corvine. Ever since I was the only child to be thrown out of the Second Grade Choir at St. Stephen's in Schenectady for vocal inadequacy, I've been painfully aware of what an offensive singing voice I have. And yet, in combination with a multitude of voices, we (including, mirabile dictu, me) sounded angelic.

It was a genuinely spiritual experience.

Marianne and I fit right in as the strangers at the feast. Afterward, though, a woman whose name I did not get told me that at the beginning of the event, the chapel was mostly full of strangers to her. But that after an hour's caroling, she knew that they were all neighbors.

Even the two strangers who had come up from Philadelphia for the event.

Merry Christmas to all! Happy Hanukah! Pagan Solstice! And all other wintry religious festivals to those who cherish them! I hope your new year is even happier than the one I hope for myself.


Friday, December 21, 2018

The Evolution of American Rye Whiskey - Part 1


While the name of the King of Cocktails is immortalized in the very title of the American Martini Laboratory, our investigations are not limited to one drink. Today begins an occasional series that will trace the history of Rye Whiskey in America, from its humble origins to the present day. Herewith, Part 1:

If we are to explore the history of Rye Whiskey in America (and that is certainly my intention), we must begin at the beginning. And that beginning is, amazingly enough, Rum.

The American Colonies, before the War of Independence were not peopled by teetotalers. Far from it! Life was hard, pleasures were relatively few and greatly appreciated, and the water was dangerous to drink. So, from the earliest colonists on, American society was awash in beer, hard cider, applejack, and distilled spirits. Some even sank so low as to drink wine -- though American wine was dreadful and imported wine so expensive that only Thomas Jefferson could afford it regularly.

In the Colonial era, the tipple of choice was rum.  Not the smooth and delicious drink we now know but a cruder version distilled from the by-products of the molasses industry. Still, it was the best of a bad lot and prodigious amounts of it were made and sold.

There were two problems with rum.

The first was that it was a major component of the "triangular trade." The Americas sold sugar and rum to England, which sent cloth and manufactured good to Africa, which sent slaves to the Americas. So it was a part of our great nation's Original Sin. Not that this bothered many American at the time. Which is also a part of our collective national guilt.

The second problem is that rum at that time was pretty rough stuff. Which is why so many Colonial drink recipes involved massive amounts of fruit and sugar.

One of the best of these drinks was invented at a gentlemen's fishing club on the banks of the Schuylkill River, not far from the world headquarters of the American Martini Institute. It is named  Fish House Punch, after the august institution in which it was first concocted

Most recipes involve bottles of each ingredient and sacks of sugar, because they were meant to be served in enormous punch bowls to large groups of hard-drinking men and women who had no idea how soon they would become our Founding Fathers and Mothers. With perseverance, however, you can find more manageable recipes. Here's one:

Fish House Punch 
1 shot rum
1 shot cognac
3/4 shot peach brandy
1 1/2 shots simple syrup.
juice from 1 lemon 
directions: Mix, Chill, and serve with a spiced cherry. Serves two.

And the results? as you might guess, this is an intensely sweet drink. Also very, very fruity. But anyone mixing this cocktail is going to know that going in. At the taste test, Fish House Punch won over even the skeptics. It is flavorful, bright, and festive. A terrific party drink and far superior to the dreadful things that are usually served in punch bowls.

Also, it packs a punch. Our Colonial forebears certainly knew how to party!

So for one bright, warm moment, everything (if you could ignore the slavery part, that is) everything was good.

But then -- spoiler alert! -- came the American Revolution and everything changed, changed utterly. Including what kind of alcohol Americans drank.

More on this will be published here later.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. Off, in fact, to have Yuletide-related adventures. Be good while I'm away, all right? I know you can.

There's a first time for everything.


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Icelandic Writing Advice


Not long ago, I was in Reykjavik for Icecon, the second science fiction convention ever held in Iceland. I thought it was a terrific small convention. There'll be third Icecon in 2020 and if you have the opportunity to go, you really should.

Since I was there, the con committee asked me to participate in a brief writers' workshop. My part of it was more a lecture than anything else, really. But I tried to squeeze everything I knew into one hour.

One of the student writers, Debbie Lai, took notes and they've been posted at Friday Ten Min Club.

Notes are just notes, of course. Simplifications. But to see if you might benefit from them, try the following sample test. Most published writers will ace it.

What question should you ask before choosing a protagonist?

Why should your protagonist NOT be a nice guy?

What is the minimum number of characters a story should have?

How much of your research should you include in your story?

If you can't be good, be... what?

We all know what a story is. In one word, what is a story about?

Hamlet is notoriously badly plotted. Why. then, do we love it so?

Pencils down. All done?  Good. If you aced it, you already know. If not, you may proceed to check out the notes here.

Above: That's what I look like in Iceland. It's he northern light, I think.


Friday, December 14, 2018

The Parable of the Creche


Once a year, I post this story here. I think it says something valuable and true about human beings. So of course it speaks to the holiday season.

Happy holidays, everybody! I hope with all my heart that they bring you contentment and joy. Though, you being human...

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, more than a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season. It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy. The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ child, and the animals were a couple of feet high, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them. But there was a painted backdrop of the hills of Bethlehem at night, the floor was strewn was real straw, and it was genuinely loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing before the creche, especially in the evening, admiring it.  Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park was publicly owned, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course. Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement.

So the kindly people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in. They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all. 

But did this make us happy?  It did not. The creche was simply  not the same, located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians. You didn’t see people standing before it anymore.

I was in a local tappie shortly after the adoption and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas."


Monday, December 10, 2018

Bones of the Earth! Cheap! Soon!


And speaking of ruthless self-promotional news...

Bones of the Earth, my wildly entertaining novel of dinosaurs-and-time-travel will be featured in Early Bird Books, Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter on the 19th of this month. On that day, the ebook will be downpriced to $1.99.

So if you like e-books, like SF, like dinosaurs, and don't already have a copy... well, this deal is for you.

You can subscribe to Early Bird Books here, so you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day it happens. If such is your choice.

Which is the whole thing in a nutshell. You couldn't ask for a kinder, gentler hard sell than that.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Small Wonders Briefly Available


It's that time of year again! Every December Dragonstairs Press (which, I have to remind people, is not my press but Marianne Porter's, I being but a lowly in-house content provider) issues a Solstice chapbook. Signed, numbered, hand-stitched, and scandalously underpriced. Those which aee not mailed out to Friends of the Press are then made available for purchase.

Newly out from Dragonstairs is Small Wonders, containing three seasonal and very short stories by your humble servant: "Midnight Journey," "A Horse Named Michael," and "The Mousewife's Tale."

Here's how the last story begins:

The Mousewife’s Tale 

Little girls, however winsome, grow up. Long before she left for college, Catherine outgrew her dollhouse and so it was placed in the attic, open side to the wall, against the day when her daughter or granddaughter might require it. 
What a treasure this was for a questing young mouse to discover! 
Wonderingly, the mouse crept inside, peering about with small bright eyes. Her whiskers twitched. There was a living room with rugs and chairs and ottomans and a dining room with a long table and chandelier. The kitchen was fully furnished. A staircase led to more rooms upstairs. 
But dust was everywhere. So, tying on an apron, the mouse grabbed a broom made from a toothpick and thistle-fluff and began to sweep. When that was done, she filled an acorn bucket with soapy water and mopped the kitchen floor. 

The doorbell rang and in trooped…

I personally like these stories. But, then, I'm biased. The perfect gift for the bibliophile on your Solstice list.

There are, as of this posting, exactly one dozen copies available, out of an edition of 120. You can find them at The prices listed are not for the postage. The prices include the postage.


Monday, December 3, 2018

The Mainstream Murray Leinster


There was no more important writer in the period between H. G. Wells and Robert Heinlein than Murray Leinster. Who was actually a Virginian named Will F. Jenkins.

In a career that began in 1913 and ended with his death in 1975, Jenkins published some 1,800 stories in more than 150 periodicals, as well as 74 novels and collections. Only a small part of his output was science fiction -- and that was written over the horrified objections of his agent. (SF didn't pay as well as the slicks, which were his usual markets.) But Jenkins loved science and wrote science fiction for the fun of it, utilizing the Leinster pen name to protect his other fiction.

Making it ironic that today Will F. Jenkins is remembered almost entirely for his science fiction, which included the first alternate history story, the original first contact, and, in "A Logic Named Joe" (Astounding, 1946), a truly prescient description of the Internet.

If you're like me, you've probably wondered what Jenkins' other fiction looked like but never had the time and energy and resources to go digging through old mainstream magazines to find out.

Well, good news! "Ten Unique Stories by Will F. Jenkins from the the Murray Leinster Archives" has just gone up for sale in e-book and paperback formats. (Created and edited, though she takes no credit for it, in an act of filial piety by his daughter Billee Stallings.) And I wrote the introduction!

Here's how the intro begins:

Introduction: Will Jenkins, Writing as Himself  

“I have a new theory about the natural structure of story,” Will Jenkins said. I was in his house, Ardudwy, in Gloucester County, Virginia, along with a fellow student who was also a science fiction fan and an indulgent William and Mary professor who thought we’d get a kick out of meeting a real writer. “I think it goes back to caveman times. A bunch of hunters are sitting around a campfire and one of them says, ‘It was pretty clever of me, the way I killed that cave bear today. Of course, he had me down for a moment and I thought I was going to die. But then I came up with that trick.’” A pause. “‘When I left the camp this morning, I had no idea that…’”
 Jenkins let his hypothetical narrator trail off, and laughed.
 That was nearly half a century ago and I still cherish the memory of that one-time-only encounter with the man who, even then, was known chiefly for his seminal works of science fiction. Which is ironic, because…

If you want to read the rest of my essay, it's visible in its entirety using Amazon's "Look Within" function here.  Or you could simply buy the book.

And I owe everyone an apology . . .

Without meaning to do so, I let my blog lapse. I was busy, I was traveling, and I had rather a large backlog of work to see to. Mea culpa. I'm sorry for that.

But now the blog is back! And I'll have a lot of things to post about over the coming months. So welcome back.

I'll do my best not to wander off in a haze of forgetfulness this time.


Saturday, November 3, 2018

Gregory Manchess Paints... Me!


So tonight, November 3, 2018, starting at 8:00 p.m. artist Gregory Manchess will paint a portrait of me... live! This will take place at the Artists' Reception of the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore.

This is a big deal for me, not only for the obvious reasons but because I am a great admirer of Greg's work. Pictured above is his illustration for "The Mongolian Wizard," the first of a projected 21-story series being published on It's a terrific painting in its own right. But it also has virtues that you'll have to read the story to fully appreciate. First of all, it neatly encapsulates the tory without giving away any of its surprises. The faces of Ritter and Sir Toby (and the wolf Geri's, too, come to think of it) express their characters as I imagined them.

Most importantly, the illustration captures the essence of the story. If you looked at it and thought, "I hope the story's as good as the picture is," then you're going to enjoy the story. Conversely, if you thought, "That is exactly the sort of thing I would never read," well... Greg's just saved you the trouble.

While I'm being painted, both Greg and I will take questions about our work. So it should be a dynamic, involving event. If you're at the WFC, consider dropping by.

Oh, and spread the word, would you? This event was put together at the last moment, so not everybody who would be interested knows about it.


And you may be wondering . . .

Haven't I been saying I wasn't going to the World Fantasy Convention?

Yes, I did say that and, indeed, I'm still in Philadelphia. I'll be there only for the two-hours-and-change that the event will take. So if for any reason you want to see me...


Friday, November 2, 2018

All Lives Lingers


I keep an untidy office. Anyone who knows me knows that that's not an exaggeration.

Marianne and I came home this afternoon from a very pleasant lunch with Julie Phillips, the author of James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, easily the best biography of a science fiction author ever written, and Samuel R. Delany who is, well, Samuel R. Delany.  We talked about Julie's bio-in-progress of Ursula K. Le Guin and a variety of other matters that I for one found interesting. Then, back home, Marianne set about baking and I went to my office to take care of some business.

Casually, I picked up a newspaper clipping from the floor and glanced at it to decide whether it should be filed or discarded.

It was Gardner Dozois' obituary.

Ah, me. I knew Gardner for something like 44 years and Marianne knew him for only a month or two less. What a kind and generous man he was! How tirelessly he worked for the good of others! How terribly, terribly sad I feel to be reminded that he's gone.

But here's the thing.

I had a friend (nobody you know) who did not live his life a fraction so well. I will not go into the details. Suffice it to say, whenever I'm reminded of him and the damage he did to others, I reflexively think: "[Name], you idiot!"

When you die, the facts of your life are suddenly, radically simplified.  It's as if an enormous hand reaches down out of the sky and with one finger draws a line under the column of figures contains all the pluses and minuses of your life. The zeros fall off. What remains is a simple number, maybe positive, maybe negative.

Which is how you will be remembered.

End of sermon. Please forgive me for making it. I was reminded of a friend today and it made me sad. At least it didn't make me angry.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Retroactive Wit for Procrastinators


What a stroke of luck! There was a button maker in the huckster room at MileHiCon 50.

What made this so fortunate  is that, as a former guest of honor at the convention,  Connie Willis was there too. And I see I'm going to have to explain this...

Long long ago in a galaxy very close to hand, back in the early 1980s, I had a notion. As a new writer of serious ambition, it was obvious to me who my peers were: people like Connie, Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, John Kessel, Pat Cadigan, James Patrick Kelley, William Gibson, and a handful of others.These were the people whose work I most admired and the people I was in friendly competition with. So one day, when there was a great deal of talk about the latest SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master (I think this was before Damon's name was appended to the award), whoever it was, I came up with the notion of getting a batch of buttons made reading Grand Master of the Future and giving them to all of my pals who I thought were likely future recipients of the award.

It was an amusing idea because we were all young and at the outsets of our careers... a little early to be thinking about such matters.

Alas, I never got the buttons made. Why, I'm not sure. Possibly out of mere cheapness. Maybe because I didn't want anybody to think any of my pals were seriously politicking for the offer. The reason doesn't really matter.

Then, decades later, the latest Grand Master was announced and it was... Connie Willis.

I had two thoughts then. The first was: Yeah, she's a good choice.

The second was: Why didn't I get those buttons made?

So when I saw the button making machine, I realized that I had the chance to make things right.

There's Connie up above, wearing a button reading Retro Grand Master of the Future. So an involuntary injustice has been made right.

I hope to have more of these made up as time goes by. In the meantime, I think that Connie Willis is an excellent Choice for the Retro Grand Master of the Future button.

And I should thank...

I really should thank the button-maker, who went through a great deal of trouble to find a printer to make the button possible. But, predictably enough,  I didn't think to ask her name. I am, alas, a Past Mater of what the French call l'esprit de escalier.

Above: I apologize for the strange color values of my photo. I'm not much of a photographer, I'm afraid.


Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Unmoving Pivot


It seems to be the season for dreams. I had another of those ones last night.

I dreamed I met a Susan Casper impersonator. I was at a large house party with an enormous number of my friends and a lot of strangers too. I was talking to a woman I thought was Susan when she said, "I must have been the worst student you ever had, Michael."

Which took me aback because, as far as I could tell, I'd never taught Susan anything about writing. She had Gardner for that. So I just said, "Well, Susan, you always had your own vision and went your own way."

But in that instant, I realized that this woman couldn't be Susan, even though she sounded exactly like her. For one thing, she was too young. For another, Susan died a year before. Still, she was astonishing. Except for the youth and being alive and the strange comment, there would have been no telling.

When she left, I turned to Gardner (in my dream he was still alive) and said, "Who was that?"

Gardner, of course, said, "I have no idea."

So I went outside to reflect on how good it was to hear my name on Susan's lips again. Susan had a way of saying your name so that you could hear the fondness she had for you. Sometimes it was mixed with amusement or exasperation. But that fondness was always there.

I lay down on the grass and, staring straight up at the sky, thought, "I am the unmoving pivot." I could feel all of life whirling about me and, one by one, my friends falling away.

Eventually, I decided the time had come to leave. So I got up and went looking for the party's hostess so I could say goodbye.

But Janet Kagan was nowhere to be found.

And, again, as always . . .

I'm on the road. This time to Denver for MileHiCon.

Tomorrow at 4, I think, I have a panel discussion with Shaenon Garrity, best known for the (highly recommended) Narbonic and Skin Horse comics. It's a pairing so obvious that I don't have to tell you what the topic will be.

I'm sure we'll have figured it out by then.

Be there or be square!

Above: Susan Casper. All her friends miss her terribly.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Story Whose Name I Will Not Tell in a Category I Do Not Know


I'm in print again! Collaboratively! In an editorial that's simultaneously fiction and non-fiction.

Okay, this may take some explanation. Especially since I can't say much about my contribution without ruining the... Story? Essay? Whatever it is.

Here's what happened. Some time ago, in response to something I had read, I wrote a work of flash fiction and sent it off to Sheila Williams. It has a title but I can't tell you it without ruining the... But let's not go there again. Anyway, I knew that Sheila would publish it. I just didn't know how. Because the work was... kind of tricky to put into a magazine. But I trusted Sheila to figure out a way.

Which of course she did. Sheila made my short-short the centerpiece of an editorial titled "Never Say 'Highly Unlikely' Again." So I have a new collaborative... something... in the November/December 2018 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

Thank you, Sheila.

As usual, the first thing I did upon receiving the magazine was to add the collaborative work to my bibliography. The only question was whether it belonged in the"fiction" or "non-fiction" section.

Ultimately, I had to create a new category: "fiction/non-fiction hybrids."

I realize this is all a little vague, but if you read the editorial, all will be explained.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again! Or I will be soon. Tomorrow I jet to Denver to attend MileHiCon, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary by bringing back so many former guests of honor you'll have to brush them aside to get into the bar.

Being one of said former guests of honor, I felt I should attend.

So off I go! More adventures when I return.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Five Things Nailed to Joe Haldeman's Door"


Dream Diary, 10/7/18

On my next-to-last night in Iceland, I had one of those dreams. One where someone you cared about isn't really dead after all.

In my dream, it was Gardner Dozois. It was only a few days after his death and I had suddenly realized  that there was a grace period of two weeks after you die before you have to go away. So I hurried over to his apartment.

When I got there, he handed me a thin typescript--maybe six pages altogether--of an essay he had just written. "I'd rather it was fiction," I said, "but I'll take what I can get." The title was "Five Things Nailed to Joe Haldeman's Door." 

"Aha!" I cried. "I know what this is." Because it was clearly a companion piece to an article Joe had written about his early days as a writer, titled "Five Things Nailed to My Door." Which had been written for I forget now what non-fiction book, possibly a collection of essays about his work. At which point, I dropped Gardner's typescript.

Gathering up the pages, I noticed that they had been misnumbered, so I said, "This is so very appropriate. I read Joe's piece a couple of days ago and every single page was numbered either 2 or 3--including the first one!"

Gardner threw back his head and laughed, then, that beautiful, full-hearted laugh of his. I felt a twinge of sorrow, then, knowing that this was the last time I would ever hear it.

At which moment, I woke up. It was night, and I'd heard Gardner laugh one more time. And I felt such a strange mixture of sadness and gratitude.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Starlight Touching China


I brought home from China a pendant for Marianne. It was a gift from Jie Zhang, one of my writing students in the Future Affairs Administration writing workshop. That's it up above, in use.

The pendant, as you can see, is a lovely piece of jewelry and Marianne was very happy to receive it. As Jie Zhang explained it to me, the spiral at the center of the piece represents starlight, the symbols around it are the Chinese names for constellations, and the line of stones downward represents the starlight coming down to touch the Earth.

So there's science touching science fiction touching craft. A tight little knot of creativity.
Jie Zhang has a store on Wechat, for those who use that app.  Here's (I think) the information for finding it.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. This time, I'll be in Iceland -- in part just to gad about, but mostly for Icecon, the national science fiction convention in Reykjavik.

More details as they develop.

Above: As you can see, I've packed everything I need for a tip to the North: a sturdy coat, a sturdy bottle of Scotch, and a sturdy cat.


Friday, September 21, 2018

Beijing At Night


What a wonderful experience Beijing must be to an architect! The city is filled with strange and wonderful buildings. A skyscraper is going about its business when suddenly the windows ripple in strange patterns. Fifteen-story hotels have traditional green-tile roofs. Occasionally, as above, the city even looks like yesterday's science fiction.

What you're looking at is the plaza with reflecting pool in the center of a cluster of buildings, one of which houses the Future Affairs Administration, a publishing house that began, if I recall correctly, as a science fiction fan group. Today, it has some thirty employees and publishes both on the Web and in good old-fashioned books. And it's still growing!

Last week, I ate a fabulous meal in a restaurant on the plaza and then went to a bookstore event on the same plaza. What a rich world this is, and what a remarkable place is Beijing!

Oh, and that yellow thing to the right of center, above? It's a viewing room, where people can enjoy watching the future taking place.

There's another photo of it, from a different angle, below.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Oddly Misguided and Possibly Not Even Art

There's a game I like to play on Facebook every now and again that I call Art or N'art? I have a fondness for challenging contemporary art and so when I'm visiting an institutional repository of such work, I'll take a photograph of something that might be art -- or, then again, might simply be a pile of crumbling bricks or some construction debris waiting to be hauled away. Then I'll challenge my friends: Is it art? Or n'art?

The answer, much like the Scarlet Pimpernel can be damned elusive.

Today I took a jaunt to 798 Art Zone, an old industrial neighborhood of Beijing that has been taken over by art centers and galleries and a swarm of parasitic cafes and shops. It was quite wonderful and I hope to return someday and spend a lot more time there. The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art had a major retrospective on Xu Bing, an artist I had never even heard of and now one of my favorites. I may write something about him here, if I can find the time.

I also went to see Muse, which is either a gallery or a show at the 798 Building. And here I find myself punked by my own petard. Art or N'art? Postmodern irony or misguided spectacle? I honestly dunno.

The exhibition consists of a series of room in which famous works by several great painters are projected on the walls... and partially animated.

Renoir's dancers slowly incline their heads toward and away from each other, seemingly caught in a nightmare from which they cannot awaken. All move heavily, sluggishly, as if trying (and failing) to escape the embrace of paint. Luncheon of the Boating Party rocks from side to side, people shifting in relation to each other, as if it were set not on a restaurant balcony but on a boat on a heavy sea. Watching it, I felt seasick.

Van Gogh's people, by contrast, only have to contend with the moving rays of a killer sun.

Gustav Klimt's The Kiss, blown up to fill a wall, suffers from daggers and confetti of light that flow down the image, giving it a kind of Hallmark romanticism, while little colored florettes dance about on the floor, doing their damnedest to distract the viewer from the original image.

A cat wanders through several of Matisse's jostling the bric-a-brac and complaining plaintively. As well it might.

Finally, a room titled Henry's Scissors strives to provide Matisse's cut-outs with a playfulness they already had. Bird-shapes flap, fronds sway, and snippets of blue assemble themselves into women.

Each room is accompanied by its own relentlessly chipper music.

So... Art or N'art? It certainly has the nervy chutzpah of much postmodern art. But if I had to guess (I wouldn't bet money), I'd go with N'art. I think it's a misguided attempt to "bring the classics to life," to make them accessible by turning them into spectacle.

But I could be wrong. Over at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, there's a life-sized Seward Johnson sculpture of Luncheon of the Boating Party which is well on its way to the the thing I saw today.

Which is to say, I'm baffled. Maybe somebody reading this knows for sure? If so... you tell me.


Sunday, September 9, 2018

Why Did the American Cross the Road?

Much is said about Chinese drivers. But they are models of decorum and circumspection compared to Chinese pedestrians who stroll into the traffic and across the road as if there were not cars coming from both directions and bicycles and electric scooters from all four. Following one's progress is like watching a single fish make its way from one end of an aquarium to the other. How, you wonder, is it possible they don't bump into one another?

Those riding electric scooters, meanwhile, seem to consider themselves honorary pedestrians. While some, women mostly, wait patiently at red lights, others zip on through, confident that such petty inconveniences do not apply to them. They also reserve the right to make right turns on red, left turns on red, and in fact pretty much any motion that occurs to them at the moment. In terms of behavior, bicyclists can be considered to be the scooters' farm team. Nobody takes them very seriously.

The only people who ever seem upset at any of this are those driving automobiles. A car toots impatiently at the old woman six inches from its bumper, who plods unhurriedly onward, never once looking its way.

And as you can tell...

The hostel cafe (the "Twoo Cuup") being closed this morning, I went across the street in search of breakfast. Every smallest thing is an adventure when you're in a foreign land.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Teaching in Beijing


Greetings from Beijing! I'm here to teach two sessions of a writers camp for the Future Affairs Administration.  The first class was held yesterday and it seems to have gone well.

But let's step back a bit. Years ago, when he was trying to convince me to teach at Clarion West, the late and sorely missed Lucius Shepard said, "You gotta do it, Michael. It'll make you feel like Mr. Chips."

Now, anyone who knew Lucius -- a genuine wild man, if ever there was one -- will have to pause here to try to reconcile the image of him as Mr. Chips with the existence of a universe that makes any kind of sense at all. But when I finally did teach, I discovered what he meant. It's extremely satisfying to be of some use to new writers. They're all potential and good intentions. They deserve all the help one can give.

So it was here, yesterday. Vera Sun, who runs the program for the FAA and affiliated publishing house Guokr, told me that several of the students were published already, one of them with something like eight stories. All were serious, ambitious, intelligent, willing to work hard... everything you want from a new writer. I was greatly impressed by them. Vera also me that their emphasis is on big new ideas. Another thing I am very much in favor of.

Consequently, I'm looking forward to reading their stories. A decade ago, this would have seemed unlikely. But currently there's a lot of corporate sponsorship for SF in China -- a forward-looking literature for a forward-looking nation, you can imagine the discussions in the boardrooms. Part of this sponsorship takes the happy form of underwriting translations of selected works into English. So it's possible to get an idea of the shape of what's currently happening here, even if you can't read Chinese.

(Neil Clarke has been publishing translated Chinese SF stories in Clarkesworld every month. If you're curious, you should go check them out. Along with the rest of his excellent magazine.)

This is, as I've said before, a very exciting time for science fiction in China. They're building something new and, I hope, splendid. I'll have more to say on this matter in the future, I'm sure.

And, yes, teaching here did make me feel like Mr. Chip. Just don't tell anyone I admitted that.

Above: Yes, the Great Wall is outside Beijing and no, I'm not likely to visit it on this trip. But I've been there. One visit is all you really need. It stays in your heart.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Good Fun at the KGB


It was a grand night Wednesday at the KGB Bar science fiction reading series. The chief draw was Jeffrey Ford, who read two excerpts from his new novel, Ahab's Return: or, The Last Voyage to great acclaim. The premise -- that Captain Ahab survived the wreck of the Pequod and is now searching for his lost wife and child in New York City -- is exactly the kind of thing I never read. But, having heard Jeff read from it, I've resolved to buy the book in hardcover.

This is, incidentally, another good reason to attend readings. Aside from the fun of it, I mean. Learning about books you didn't know you wanted.

That's Jeff up top, reading.

And this next picture (photo credit: Marianne Porter) is of me. I also read two pieces. The first was "Ghost Ships," a short story that is radically different from anything I've written before. It got a very good reception, which I don't mind admitting was heartening.

I also read a slightly-condensed version of the ending of "The City of Men," the novella that Gardner Dozois and I were working on when he died. This is a sequel or continuation of "The City of God," published in 1995 in Omni Online and subsequently reprinted in Asimov's Science Fiction. The first novella was extremely dark and so, too, is the second -- until you come to the ending, which is unabashedly happy. Gardner had talked about that ending for decades and he almost got to write it. But at least it got written in the end, even if not by him.  Making the novella a fitting memorial to the man.

Then, because Gardner had always admired Robert Silverberg's innovation when John Brunner died, I asked if the crowd could honor Gardner with, not a moment of silence but a moment of applause.

The crowd did so. The applause seemed to go on forever. It's possible it's still going on now, even as you read these words.

Oh, and I should probably mention that the crowds that the KGB readings draw are made up of the cream of the New York science fiction scene: writers, editors, SF professionals and the like. All by themselves, they're reason enough for NYC residents who love science fiction to show up.

Up above: My rather blurry photo of the rather fine writer Richard Bowes, drinking a glass of uisce solais.