Friday, November 22, 2019

Gahan Wilson Beets the Nebula Banquet


By now you've heard the sad news. Gahan Wilson, master of the macabre cartoon, is with us no more. I only met the man once but the loss is very real. He brought joy to all of us with... let's say unusual senses of humor. Which, as far as I can tell from the reactions online, is pretty much everybody you'd care to know.

But you want to know about that one meeting, I'm sure.

It was at a Nebula Awards Banquet many years ago. I was sitting at the same table as Ellen Datlow, then editor of Omni, who had invited him to dine with us. He seemed subdued, like he was coming down with something. Or maybe he was worried about something. At any rate, he didn't sparkle.

When our meals arrived, the waiter set down a little bowl of beets beside my plate. "Oh, joy," I said dolorously. "Beets."

"I love them!" Marianne, who was sitting to my left, said.

"You can have mine," I replied, dumping them on her plate.

Gahan Wilson, who was sitting to the other side of her, suddenly perked right up and dumped his bowl of beets onto Marianne's plate, atop mine. And in flurry of flying beets, so did everyone else at the table.

Leaving Marianne staring down at an enormous red mountain of beets, dwarfing her meal proper.

And that's all the story there is. It's a small one, but mine own. I met Gahan Wilson once, and he brought joy to everyone at the table.

Except, possibly, until later, Marianne.

Above: There Goes That Wilson Boy All Alone As Usual! A signed and numbered serigraph of this cartoon is available at The Gahan Wilson Virtual Museum. You can buy it here.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

John M. Ford Simplified and Explained


Everybody called him Mike because there were already John Fords in the culture--a movie director, a Jacobean playwright, a... well, if you're curious, you can check out Wikipedia's disambiguation page here. I didn't know Mike all that well, though we considered each other friends. But on the happy occasion of the announcement that his books will be coming back into print (if you don't know the details, you can find find them here), I thought I should present an extremely simplified sketch of the man. Just to give you some idea of what you missed.

Mike was, to begin with, intimidatingly quick-witted. Even in the science fiction community, where the default setting is Brilliant, he stood out. That shtick where you take a HELLO, MY NAME IS sticker and add the words INIGO MONTOYEZ. YOU KILLED MY FATHER. PREPARE TO DIE...? He did that first. I know because I was at the Worldcon where he did it and whenever writers read the tag for the first time, their faces would go dead for an instant as they thought: I could have come up with that. Why didn't I? Which was, by then, because for a year or three he lived in Philadelphia, a familiar thought for me.

Several people have commented on how "reserved" or "withdrawn" Mike was. But my reading of it was that that he was simply intensely private. There was certainly no lack of warmth to him. If you were talking to him, and said something amusing, either intentionally or not, a little smile would appear at the corner of his mouth, suggesting that he was enjoying the hell out of the moment but was suppressing a laugh so as not to give offense.

Mike Ford's literary art was all over the place. It drove those who knew him mad. When we were all wishing he'd write more crowd-pleasing books like The Dragon Waiting, he'd pen something like Winter Solstice, Camelot Station, a series of poems where the knights of the Round Table arrive in Camelot by steam locomotive, which he made into a chapbook and sent to his friends at Christmas  or How Much for Just the Planet?, a Star Trek novel that was also a Gilbert & Sullivan-style musical comedy--complete with songs! It was as if he were desperately looking for new ways to fail.

More precisely, it was as if he were desperately looking at new ways to fail--and failing at that as well. Winter Solstice, Camelot Station won a World Fantasy Award. When I heard the news, marveling, I said to Marianne, "This is the first time a Christmas card we've received has won a World Fantasy Award."

"This is the first time a Christmas card anyone received has won the award," she corrected me.

Mike Ford's work could be dauntingly difficult, yet he was deeply involved in gaming and other fannish activities. Gardner Dozois put it best when he said, "Mike is that rarest of animals--a fannish intellectual."

So there's what you missed. Mike died far too young. His friends--and he had a lot of them--were all shocked at his death. We still miss him terribly. But now his books are coming back into print.

Soon, you'll be able to get to know him for yourself.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

"Dragon Slayer"


Good news! Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, The Book of Dragons has just been announced. That's the cover up above.

The collection will be published this summer by Harper Voyager and has been years in the making. More so in my case, I suspect, than most of the others. Somewhere between several and many  years ago, I began writing my own contribution, "Dragon Slayer," with the words:

Every road and open doorway is a constant danger to a man of wandering disposition. Olav had stood on the threshold of his cottage one spring morning and the road had looked so fine that he couldn’t resist setting foot on it, and the next thing he knew it had carried him to the sea. There he chanced upon a merchant ship in need of a new hand. He learned the sailoring trade, fought pirates, killed a kraken, grew a beard, pierced an ear, and one memorable night won a handful of rubies at a single turn of the cards and lost them all to a barmaid who doped his ale. Two years later, he was shipwrecked off Thule and briefly married to a witch-woman who had blackwork tattoos on her face and had filed her teeth to points. 

Even the skeptical among us will have to admit that I didn't skimp on plot!

I made a strong beginning, moved Olav through several lands and pages and... came up against a wall. I had a dragon by then, but didn't know why it wanted what it did and what that meant. So onto the back lot of my hard drive it went, to languish with a hundred other partially-written stories, waiting for the day when inspiration would strike.

Then one day inspiration struck, in the form of Jonathan Strahan inviting me to submit a story to his dragon anthology. The attractive thing about the invitation was that he had a llong deadline--over a year. Surely, I thought, given that much time, I could figure out exactly what was going on.

And as it turned out, I could. It was a close thing, though. There is something lounging deep within my brain, looking like a cross between a gigantic lizard and Orson Wells, which says, "We shall write no story before its time."

And . . . 

I can't tell you what's in the collection because they haven't yet released the table of contents, but I can tell you who:

Daniel Abraham
Kelly Barnhill
Peter S. Beagle
Brooke Bolander
Beth Cato
Zen Cho
C. S. E Cooney
Aliette de Bodard
Kate Elliott
Sarah Gailey
heodora Goss
Ellen Klages
R.F. Kuang
Ann Leckie & Rachel Swirski
Ken Liu
Scott Lynch
Patricia A McKillip
Garth Nix
K. J. Parker
Kelly Robson
Michael Swanwick
Jo Walton
Elle Katharine White
Jane Yolen
J. Y. Yang

Which I think you'll agree is a pretty great lineup.

More info here.


Friday, November 8, 2019

My Philcon Schedule


Okay, it's on! And here's my schedule. If you're going to be at Philcon this weekend, be sure to say hi.

Sat 10:00 AM in Crystal Ballroom Three (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Joan Wendland (mod), Chuck Rothman, Samuel Delany,
    Robert E. Waters, Eric Avedissian, Michael Swanwick]

    Authors talk about their own literary influences, and the works that
    inspired them to become writers

Sat 12:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Promenade (Gaming) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Michael Swanwick (mod), Tess Kissinger, Phil Giunta]

Sat 1:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Brandon Budda (mod), Glenn McDorman, Michael Swanwick,
    Darrell Schweitzer]

    Best known for his masterpiece The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
    is the author of over thirty science-fiction and fantasy novels and
    hundreds of short stories. This panel explores Wolfe’s speculative
    worlds, his common themes and motifs, his most memorable characters,
    and (of course!) his magical prose

Sat 2:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Earl Bennett (mod), Michael Swanwick, James L. Cambias,
    James Beall, B. Lana Guggenheim, Russell J. Handelman]

    Remember when spaceships went whizzing through the ether? Remember
    the hollow earth? What obsolete scientific ideas shaped SF, and
    which ones still persist in it

Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza II (Two) (1 hour)

    [Panelists: Bernie Mojzes (mod), Michael Swanwick, Samuel Delany,
    Karalyn Morris, Heather Hutsell]

    Who's done it well? When does it work for a story, when does it
    fail, and why


Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Bring Three Books To Read, Mom"


Because I didn't keep as careful a calendar as I should, I committed to speaking to a class in Ann Arbor (a beautiful city, by the way) on a day when I should have been volunteering to work the polls for the Philadelphia general election.

So I filled out an absentee ballot and Marianne stepped in for me.

"Bring three books to read, Mom," our son Sean, who is the judge of elections for the 21st Ward 19th Division and for one day her boss, told her. The mayor of Philadelphia is chosen in this election but the city is so overwhelmingly Democrat that Kenney didn't bother to run. Nor did the Republican candidate. And almost all the other candidates were judicial. It can be a lot of work to get information on what judges to vote for and whom not.

So this election was widely be anticipated to be a snoozer.

Hoo boy. Were we--and everyone else--wrong! There were lines. The division had 594 registered voters, some of whom were almost certainly dead or moved, and 205 active voters. That's more than one-third! You have to work the polls to appreciate how extraordinary that is in an off year with no major office at stake.

And, according to the news, the same thing applied everywhere in the country.

The only possible explanation is that the entire nation is gearing up for next year's presidential election. Everyday citizens are taking their franchise seriously.

That makes me feel good about this country.

Above: The view from my airplane window as I came into Philadelphia. I think I'll stay put for a little while.


Monday, November 4, 2019

A For Really And Truly Ghost Ship


How's this for an eerie coincidence? Right after my story "Ghost Ships" appeared in the 70th Anniversary Issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, a for really and truly ghost ship appeared on the the Delaware River in Philadelphia.

I am not making this up. That's it up above.

And here's the city's explanation.

Inspired by the nuanced and complex history of the Delaware River in the 1700s, Biangle Studio created the site specific, three-dimensional light and water-based public art installation Ghost Ship. The 18th-century ship appears on the Philadelphia Waterfront as Ghost Ship for the month of October to shine a light on the shared history of the Delaware River, and reflect on its role in shaping Philadelphia today.    
Which, if you read carefully, you will discover means that it's over. They've turned off the pumps throwing water into the air and  the lights projecting onto the droplets. Like all ghost sightings it's ephemeral... seen and then over.

But beautiful. It lingers.

And speaking of my story . . .

A good issue of a fiction magazine is like an enhanced anthology. There's a book's worth of short fiction, and a selection of reviews and non-fiction to boot.  One of the best anthologies of he year was F&SF's 70th Anniversary Issue, which has just gone off the stands.

Here's the table of conetnts:

September/October 2019
70th Anniversary Issue


“The White Cat’s Divorce” by Kelly Link
“American Gold Mine” by Paolo Bacigalupi
“Kabul” by Michael Moorcock
“Erase, Erase, Erase” by Elizabeth Bear


“Little Inn on the Jianghu” by Y.M. Pang
“Under the Hill” by Maureen McHugh
“Madness Afoot” by Amanda Hollander
“The Light on Eldoreth” by Nick Wolven
“Booksavr” by Ken Liu
“The Wrong Badger” by Esther Friesner
“Ghost Ships” by Michael Swanwick
“Homecoming” by Gardner Dozois


“Last Human in the Olympics” by Mary Soon Lee
“Halstead IV” by Jeff Crandall


Three Score and Ten by Robert Silverberg
Books to Look For by Charles de Lint

    This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
    Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
    Becoming Superman: My Journey from Poverty to Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski
    The Golden Age of Science Fiction by John Wade
    Dracopedia Field Guide by William O’Connor
    Best Game Ever by R. R. Angell

Books by James Sallis
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Films: Love Death + Some Regression by Karin Lowachee
Science: Net Up or Net Down? by Jerry Oltion
Plumage from Pegasus: A Giraffe Yoked to an Ox: A Review of Flora Columbia: Goddess of a New Age by Paul Di Filippo
Curiosities: Science Fiction: Complete with Everything: Aliens, Giant Ants, Space Cadets, Robots, and One Plucky Girl by No-Frills Entertainment (1981) by Thomas Kaufsek

Cartoons by Mark Heath, Danny Shanahan
Cover by David A. Hardy

The issue has vanished from the stands like the ghost ships in my story. But you can buy individual issues from the F&SF website. Or, if you're the kind of person who likes to throw an Ipod loaded with their entire library into their carry-on bag just before making a spontaneous trip to Katmandu, from Weightless Books.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. I'll post my adventures, if I have any, from the wilds of Michigan.


Friday, November 1, 2019

What the North Wind Said


Well, it's November and the Halloween Season is over, all five nights of it. All through October, I've been serializing a story-or-prose-poem I wrote on leaves. Here it is, in its entirety:

The North Wind Speaks

My sister comes rustling through the birch woods.  Gentle she is, but restless, aloof, and intent on her search.

What is the East Wind looking for?  If only she’d tell us!  She has a thousand brothers and we are all devoted to her welfare.  Is it a faithless lover?  We’ll track the bastard down and kill him.  A lost child?  As good as found and returned.  The answer to a cunning riddle posed her by a sphinx?  We know everything there is to know.

But when we ask, our sister does not answer.  She shakes her head, smiles sadly, and moves on.

And in her wake – rain.

Above: The jack-o-lanterns have disappeared from the porch, leaving behind two pumpkin ghosts.