Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Great Conversation in Philadelphia


Ten days from now I'm going to have what I honestly expect will be a great conversation with Samuel R. Delany at the Rosenbach from 6 to 7 p.m.

This event is being held in conjunction with the new Library of America publication of American Science Fiction: Eight Classic Novels of the 1960s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe. This is a two-volume set, one of which contains Chip's very fine novel Nova.

In what I believe will be almost-but-not-quite an interview, we'll be talking about the science fiction of the Nineteen-Sixties, me from the perspective of an avid reader of the stuff as it was coming out, and Delany from that of a writer who was right at the center of it all as it was happening.

So... much less about me than about him and less about either of us than about the science fiction itself. Or so I surmise. Delany will be taking the lead here. He's always an engaging and entertaining speaker, so you're in safe hands there.

The event will be held on January 9 at the Rosenbach, 2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia. You can buy tickets and find all the info on the event at the Rosenbach site here


Monday, December 23, 2019

The Parable of the Creche


Once a year I present this story here. Sometimes the details differ by a word or three. But the message, I think, is timeless. Come gather around me, children, and I will tell you...

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, over 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 at best, 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 at night, admiring it.  Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and the wonder they displayed was genuinely moving.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park is public property, 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. One might even say disgrumblement.

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 just not the same located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians. You don'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."


Friday, December 20, 2019

Bragging Time!


For every thing there is a season, saith the prophet. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted... a time for proper modesty and a time to brag.

The proper time for writers to brag is when they have a new book out and the critics smile upon it favorably. So you will forgive me for pointing out that The Iron Dragon's Mother made it onto  Kirkus's and Tor.com's and The Wall Street Journal's lists of the best fantasy & sf of the year.

I don't keep track of these things but I think that's a personal best.

Matthew Keeley, in Tor.com, writes, "In my review, I called it 'one of the best fantasies of the year.' I stand by that evaluation." You can find that list here.

Kirkus calls The Iron Dragon's Mother "another bravura performance, with a surprise ending that, after a moment's reflection, isn't so surprising after all,"adding, "Discworld meets Faust. They do not like each other. Philip Pullman picks up the pieces." You can find that judment here.

Finally, in The Wall Street Journal, Tom Shippey concludes, "Mr. Swanwick builds a world at once finely detailed and complex almost beyond comprehension. It’s one to read over and over again." This, alas, is behind a paywall, but subscribers can find it here.

I'd be a little embarrassed by all this praise if it weren't for the fact that what these reviews describe is exactly the kind of book I was trying to write: something different, something absorbing, something that might be--pray God--worth a reader's love.

Speaking of which, my book is not exactly alone on any of these lists. Even if you enjoy it as excessively as I hope you will, it can't possibly be the only book there that you'd enjoy. Why not wander through the listings a little, making notes on what novels you really should give a try?


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Watching the Army-Navy Game


Last Saturday, Marianne and I went to the Army-Navy Game. We had great seats on the lower level at the 50-yard line, courtesy of a West Point grad we know who normally attends every year but this time had to choose between one of the most prestigious games of the year and watching his son play in an important school game.

The man just aced Fathering 401.

Since I didn't serve in the military, this was one event I never expected to see. It was an unexpected privilege to be there and to get a chance to see what it was all about.

It wasn't about the game and it wasn't about being specifically in the Army or the Navy--though it was about serving or having served in the military. It was about community and continuity. There was an Army side of the stadium and a Navy side, but there were rooters for each mingled in with their rivals and nobody gave them any grief. Everybody there was aware of having participated in an extraordinary enterprise that was larger than any of them.

As for continuity... This was the 120th Army-Navy game. And of course the services go much further back. Scattered through the games were ceremonial presentations and recognitions. The president was there. Some people booed him. Others cheered. Most simply applauded the presence of their Commander in Chief.

This year, the Army backers were saddened and the Navy backers elated. They all looked happy, though, simply to be there. This was the most amiable group of people I've been among for a long time.

When we left, all the midshipmen and cadets were hurrying off to do whatever young people on leave do. The vets ambled out at a less urgent pace. They all had an air of having spent their time wisely and well.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

This Glitterati Life (Part 9,482)


It was a glitterati kind of day. Brenda Clough  was in town for her Galactic Philadelphia reading the night before last (along with John Schoffstall, author of Half-Witch). So the next day Marianne and I and took Brenda and husband Larry Clough to see the  Mütter Museum.

The Mütter is "America's finest museum of medical history." (The word "anomalies" got  dropped from the description somewhere along the line.) Along with Dr. Joseph Hyrtl’s collection of human skulls, it contains the plaster cast and conjoined liver of Siamese twins Chang & Eng, the jaw tumor of President Grover Cleveland, acollection of 2,374 swallowed objects, the tallest skeleton on display in North America, slides of Albert Einstein’s brain, and the gem of the collection—the soap lady! 

Among many other wonders, some of which are not for the faint of heart.

At the end of our visit, Brenda passed judgment on it all. "This is truly a fallen world," she said, contemplating the horrors that are perfectly natural within it. Perhaps, she suggested, we should refrain from adding to its horrors.

After a conversation-filled lunch at Village Whiskey, Brenda and Larry had to return home. So Marianne and I went back to our house, where I got some writing done. And in the evening we went to the Academy of Vocal Arts to hear Lyric Fest.  Which was, as usual splendid.

I would be lying if I were to tell you this was a typical day in my life. But what the heck. I want to turn you all green with envy, so--yes, this was a typical day for me.

Above: Marianne Porter, Brenda Clough, and Larry Clough, overlooking the medicinal garden.