Thursday, April 30, 2020

Zero Notebook 8: Frog


Originally, this was going to be a character named Frog--one who never materialized in The Iron Dragon's Mother. A wood-fey, obviously, and possibly a marsh-weller.

But look at that wistful, lost expression. I think this guy eventually became Fingolfinrhod. I really do.

Above: Image Eight. Two more to go.


Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Zero Notebook 7: Helen


Introducing Helen. There's more to her than meets the eye.

Written upside-down--so they won't necessarily be taken as gospel by any readers are three quick notes scrawled to myself:

Mother as Mind Spider

Storyteller as Spider & Weaver

Chrone as Spider

I apologize for the misspelling of "crone." But I was writing (and thinking) too fast to care much for accuracy.

But what, you ask, does it mean . . . ?

The influence of Louise Bourgeois is pretty obvious here. Late in life, she created those wonderful, terrifyingly realistic giant spiders with long steel needles at the end of their legs and said that they were all about her mother. Who made a living repairing tapestries, using long steel needles. So it's not the slap in her face it might seem.

I liked the spider representing the archetypal woman-as-maker, which fit Helen right down to the ground. I was also fighting a fight all the way through with received archetypal images of women were were almost all pretty or dainty or passive. I wanted to get at that primal fierceness that lurks inside us all.

And, ounce for ounce, you don't get much fiercer than a spider.

And tomorrow and Friday . . .

There will be news.

Above: Seventh image. Three to go.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Zero Notebook 6: Mother Eve


She never appears in person in The Iron Dragon's Mother, but Mother Eve is central to the entire enterprise. Unsettling, isn't she?

Judith Berman once told me that most of the First People have Trickster tales. But of the hundreds of tribes in North America, only two--and they small tribes--have a female trickster. The female trickster is, apparently, difficult for people to imagine.

So you can imagine my delight when I found one right inside my own culture.

But what, you ask, does it mean . . .?

Trickster is a strange and difficult character, neither a good guy nor an evil one. She exists somewhere in between, a creator of chaos and a provider of a special Something that it seems human beings require. It might be corn and it might be fire. Trickster gets blamed for a lot of the woes of existence, but it seems that without him/her, we're skunked.

I wonder if Pandora was originally a Trickster,  before they allegorized her to hell and back? It bears thinking on.

Above: Image Six. Four to go.


Friday, April 24, 2020

Zero Notebook 5: Hermes/Fire Sprite


Another character that didn't make it into The Iron Dragon's Mother. Industrialized Faerie is a rich world. The three novels I've set in it can only only hint at how rich and strange it is.

This image, for a rarity, was hardly altered at all.

And where, you ask, did I find this. . . ?

The image came from the Body Works show that toured the world some years ago. A large number of corpses were flayed and then carefully preserved, in order to display the wonders of anatomy. The show was controversial at the time because the corpses came from China and there were those who claimed the bodies hadn't been voluntarily donated but those of criminals who had died in prison. The truth of the matter was impossible to ascertain.

The show, however, was extremely popular. My son, Sean Swanwick, worked for a summer as a guide when it was displayed at the Franklin Institute and he told me that they had to watch the people touring it like hawks... Every now and then, someone would try to snap off a finger or other appendage to take home as a souvenir.

Above: Image five. Five more to go.


Citywide Blackout: Steampunk Dragons


I've been podcast! Or at least my words have, podded up into an electronic bundle and cast out into the Noosphere. Over on Citywide Blackout, I discuss The Iron Dragon's Mother, worldbuilding, and the novel I wrote with Gardner Dozois--City Under the Stars.

It is impossible to exaggerate the influence Gardner had on my life. Over the course of a single evening, he and Jack Dann taught me how to write.  He and I and Jack, in various combinations, wrote stories together and routinely sold them to publications like Playboy, Penthouse, and (this always amused Gardner hugely) High Times. Gardner and his wife, Susan Casper, were good friends to me and to Marianne for over forty years.

But then Susan died and, a little later, Gardner did too, leaving our last collaboration unfinished. But he'd told me how it would end and so I finished it so all the world could discover that he'd finished on a high note. I wanted one last novel, to stand as a monument to him.

You can hear the entire story by clicking here.


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Zero Notebook 4: A Vision of God


This is the single most important image in the Zero Notebook. As my scrawled notation says: Her first glimpse/vision of Him. It is an image of God.

At this distance, I could not say why I specified Him rather than Her, given that my fictional universe is presided over by the Goddess. Probably I didn't want that fictional level of deniability. 

Below the picture it also says:

To say that the world is a fiction
is not the same as to say it is a lie.

And to the side:

How do you describe what cannot be described?

And what, you ask, does it mean . . . ?

If I knew, I would tell you. 

Above: Fourth image. Six more to go.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Zero Notebook 3: Jinx


Excerpt 3 from the Zero Notebook for The Iron Dragon's Mother.  Jinx is a pretty neat character. I'm sorry I couldn't find a place for her in the novel. She looks like trouble, doesn't she?

And I have to apologize . . .

I promised to post these on every day I didn't have news and then got so caught up on writing chores I lost track of the blog entirely. My bad. I'll do better, I promise.

For a while, anyway. 

Above: Third image. Seven to go.


Friday, April 17, 2020

E-Book Sales Sunday and Monday!


Open Road Media, my main e-book publisher, appears to be on a tear these days. Maybe because a lot of self-isolated people need books these days and aren't willing to wait for them to be delivered through the mails? I don't know and I haven't asked. I just pass along their promotions to you.

On Sunday, April 19th for one day only, my classic Grand Tour of the Solar System novel, Vacuum Flowers, will be on sale for $1.99 in Canada and the US.

Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark has a headful of stolen wetware, enemies that want her dead, and a Solar System full of colorful human and posthuman cultures that is far too small for her to hide in. She doesn't want to change everything. But she has no choice...

(Vacuum Flowers was written at the height of the Cyberpunk/Humanist wars and was meant to belong to neither camp. But I did throw in a short nod to each camp in the novel. Widely separated, of course.)

Here's their chart:

ISBN13 Title Author Promo Type Country Start Date End Date Promo Price
9781504036504 Vacuum Flowers Swanwick, Michael ORM - Portalist NL US 2020-04-19 2020-04-19 $1.99
9781504036504 Vacuum Flowers Swanwick, Michael ORM - Portalist NL CA 2020-04-19 2020-04-19 $1.99

Immediately after, on Monday, April 20th, my short story collection, ,Tales of Old Earth, goes on sale in the US and Canada for $2.99.

Tales of Old Earth contains nineteen of my best and strangest stories, including two Hugo Award winners and I forget how many also-rans. Featuring a planet-sized grasshopper, the train to Hell, an amorous sphinx, the last elves in the world, a civilization inside an International Harvester refrigerator, and much, much more!

Here's the second chart:

ISBN13 Title Author Promo Type Country Start Date End Date Promo Price
9781504036511 Tales of Old Earth Swanwick, Michael ORM - Early Bird Books NL US 2020-04-20 2020-04-20 $2.99
9781504036511 Tales of Old Earth Swanwick, Michael ORM - Early Bird Books NL CA 2020-04-20 2020-04-20 $2.99



Thursday, April 16, 2020

A Glorious Review of The Postmodern Adventures of Darger and Surplus


My Subterranean Press collection, The Postmodern Adventuers of Darger and Surplus,  has received quite a splendid review for Locus by Gary K. Wolfe, which has now been posted on Locus Online. Darger and Surplus are, as you probably know, gentlemen grifters in the future civilization that rises from the ashes of our own, after a failed revolution by the Artificial Intelligences we are currently hard at work creating. Humanity mostly won that war and the demons and mad gods were banished to a subterranean infrastructure too widespread and well-defended to be rooted out. But, as a result, the mechanical sciences have languished while the biological ones thrive.

All this is spelled out in the review more entertainingly than I have put it here. I encourage you to read it.

Meanwhile, here's the pull-quote I'd grab from the review if I were the sort of person who did that sort of thing:

As those Hugo voters apparently recognized nearly 20 years ago, Darger and Surplus not only join the small company of SF’s classic rogues, but the world they occupy is as complex, detailed, and morally chaotic as we’ve come to expect from the best of Swanwick’s fiction.

You can find the review in its glorious entirety here. Or you can just go to and poke around. Bot Locus and Locus Online make for informative, enjoyable reading

And as long as you're there . . .

Like everything else, Locus is feeling the financial stress of the lockdown. If you can afford it, and if you, like me, value the publication, consider contributing a little toward its survival.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Zero Notebook 2: Caitlin


Here on the inside cover of the Zero Notebook is a first glimpse of Caitlin. It's a photograph of a young Russian doctor and, although it misrepresents Caitlin's ethnicity entirely, it does capture her innate seriousness. Added to which are birds in flight, because flight is in her nature, and a miniature of a painting by Lucian Freud. This last was included for its lack of glossy magazine glamor but also, with a touch of irony, because I knew that the novel would be going deep into Carl Jung territory.

And what, you ask, does it mean . . .?

It doesn't. The page is a first, fumbling-in-the-darkness attempt to find the heart and soul of the novel.

Above: Second image. Eight to go.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Zero Notebook 1: Cover


Look what I found!

Some time ago, I posted every page of the Image Notebook I created to help me imagine the world and people of Industrialized Faerie for The Iron Dragon's Mother. What I didn't mention was that it was actually the second such notebook I'd made. The first notebook I lost--forever, I thought. But as it turned out, it had been misfiled in my office.

This is why you should clean your workspace at least once a decade.

The Zero Notebook, as I think of it, was begun all the way back in 2009. I pasted images from magazines and newspapers into it, created collages, some of which I altered, sought inspiration from the uncanny but visualizable. The end result is something very close to (but not identical with) outsider art.

I'll spare you the bulk of the images. But starting today I'll be posting ten images from the notebook. One on each weekday when I don't have any other news to pass along. This is the first one: the notebook's cover.

And what, you ask, does it mean . . . ?

The eye, of course, represents the eye of a dragon. It's slashed across the oval to create a zero.  The dot to the lower right is meant to suggest that the glyph represents the letter Q.,  though, of course, not exactly. That's because I wasn't looking for Answers. Just Questions.

There are a few (not many) words in the notebook. Here's an entry I ran across that begins with (almost) the cover glyph:

Q. What does the Goddess want?
A. Wrong question.

All of the above carried through into the novel and became a major, if close to undetectable, theme. The Iron Dragon's Mother would have been a very different book if I had started it with a different image.

The crinkly stuff is wide transparent tape, used to seal the image onto the cover. If this notebook ever winds up in somebody's collection, that's going to be a major conservation issue. Not my problem.

Above: First image. Nine to go.


Monday, April 13, 2020

Classifying Books: Some Early Lessons Learned


Flushed with the feeling of success that comes from having cleaned my office to such a degree that the rugs are now visible, I thought today that I would take on the problem of excess books. Surely there are some I don't actually need. So I chose a shelf at near-random (it was one of those actually accessible without moving the boxes of books stacked before it to another location), and started going through both rows (the shelves are double-stacked, of course) to see what they contained.

Only to discover that the shelf was stocked with books placed there at seeming random. Mr. Evelyn's diary lies cheek-to-jowl with Gertrude Stein's Picasso. Jeff Danziger's Teed Tales abuts, appropriately enough, a history of Vermont. There is a collection of stories by T. Corgahesson Boyle, Zora Neale Hurston's autobiography, a novel by Sean Stewart, and a collection of essays by Ursula K. Le Guin. These last two, by the way, are misfiled since I have a science fiction section arranged almost alphabetically by author and a designated place for stacks of SF criticism and related essays. Which is where Gwyneth Jones' Joanna Russ should be as well.

Here's T. H. White's wonderful collection of mythical animals from medieval bestiaries, The Book of Beasts. The Return of Fursey! Mosses from an Old Manse. Flann O'Brien's The Best of Myles reappears from hiding; after I've obsessively reread it a few times,  I'll have to hide it somewhere else among my books, if I'm ever to read anything else. Oh, but there's also John McPhee's The Pine Barrens, which some of us persist in thinking his best book. Though it has competition. And here is a battered but charming old hardcover of Charles Fort's The Book of the Damned. I have a biography of Fort around here somewhere, though I doubt I'll find it today. Some few of these I haven't read--Fishing from Earliest Times is one example, though I'm sure I'll get to it soon. But I've read every story in The Corrector of Destinies, Melville Davidson Post's extremely odd collection of detective fiction (sort of), and I'll have to blog about it here someday.

There are thirty shelves of books on one wall of my office and my first attack upon the one provided me with nothing to cull,  And I've put aside a short stack of books to read or reacquaint myself with. Not have I done much to organize it--but wait! Here, just one shelf below is Damon Knight's Charles Fort. Up it goes, alongside The Book of the Damned, so nobody could say the last hour was wasted. Though it came close.

Nor was I able to impose a theme upon the shelf, other than Books I Am Delighted to Possess. But maybe that's enough.

In any case, it will have to do.

Above: For technical reasons, I'm having difficulty uploading a picture of the wall of books in my office. So here's a pic of part of the wall of books in my bedroom. 


Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Best (and Simplest!) Writing Advice You Will Ever Receive


Over on Facebook, Samuel R. Delany, answering a question in a post, offered the best and most succinct writing advice anyone has ever codified. Here, in its entirety, it is:

Writing advice: Read and reread. Think of a story you have never read but wish you had; then write it as carefully as you can. Finish it, and send it around till it's published.

The third sentence, as Chip noted at the time, was a condensation of advice that Robert A. Heinlein offered. So what you have above is the combined wisdom of two of the greatest careers science fiction has ever seen.

I could unpack that brief paragraph at enormous length. But, honestly, there's no need. You read it and you understood it. Now you only have to live it.

Above: The photo by James Hamilton was lifted from The Nation, where it illustrated a typically thoughtful and enlightened interview with Chip. You can find it here.


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Devil's Bestiary


Marianne Porter's nanopress imprint, Dragonstiars Press,  has just announced its latest chapbook!

The Devil's Bestiary, a dark, brooding, and occasionally scabrous piece of fun composed by your truly, will be made available for purchase tomorrow, Thursday April 9, at noon Philadelphia Time (that's 4 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time) at the Dragonstairs Press website,

But not a minute before then.

Here's the official announcement:

The Devil's Bestiary is Michael Swanwick's cynical,whimsical take on twenty nine creatures of myth and fables.  It is 5 ½ inch square format, with an outer wrapper of hand-dyed kozo paper, hand-stitched, numbered, and signed by the author.  It is published in a limited edition of 45, of which 40 are available for sale.   

The signed and very limited edition chapbook will go for $12 in the USA and $14 elsewhere, postage included. (When I tell Marianne she's not charging enough, she just glares at me.)  Which means that it will sell out pretty much immediately.

It's a lovely thing and I'm proud, as the content provider, to own a copy.

And rather than buy a pig in a poke with a blind horse . . .

Here are a couple of typical entries from The Devil's Bestiary:

A thousand years ago, a demon grew tired of his existence and came down to Earth to surrender himself to the first saint he encountered. He’s still looking.

A ghoul was caught in the act of anthropophagy by a camera crew from the local Action News, who needed something sensational for sweeps week. He was tried by an ambitious D. A. and defended by a lawyer from the ACLU. The jury was hung, asnd he got off. But afterward? Afterward, it was lean times for him indeed. He was not allowed near graveyards and he could not stomach non-human flesh. Vegetarianism was out of the question. He almost starved to death before an innovative mortician offered him honest work.

Today he’s the picture of affluence. Respectable people pay extremely well for his services, for he returns the remains of their loved ones to the earth in the most environmentally responsible way imaginable.

Those, at the low-rez pic above, should tell you right away whether you need a copy or not.


Monday, April 6, 2020

Defamiliarizing Faerie


The Iron Dragon's Mother received a long, thoughtful, and positive review from Matt Hilliard in the March 30 issue of Strange Horizons. Rather than give you the usual pull-quote carefully excised from the corpus of the text, I thought I'd share with you one of Hilliard's observations:

That raises the question: what is Swanwick up to with this setting? If he wants to write fun faerie stories, why not just write about faeries the normal way? Or, since a valid way to describe this book is to say it’s “about a faerie fighter pilot, but it’s really about living in a corrupt world and dealing with death,” why not just write about corruption and death in the real world where both can be found in abundance? To answer the second question, a common defense of genre fiction is that both fantasy and science fiction give us a different perspective on things that don’t change. They defamiliarize the world around us by situating us in the future or a past that never existed, and in doing so they can teach us things about humanity that we wouldn’t otherwise have known.

It’s been sixty-five years since J. R. R. Tolkien published The Fellowship of the Ring and spawned a host of imitators, and for most of Swanwick’s readers, fantasy has become deeply familiar. If it’s too familiar, it no longer defamiliarizes. What to do? Some authors, such as those of the New Weird, responded by moving away from Tolkien’s folklore influences, pushing into stranger territory. Swanwick has done the opposite, hewing closely to the peoples and monsters of folklore traditions from around the world (albeit with the occasional references to Tolkien himself, as with Caitlin’s brother, named Fingolfinrhod). But by mixing together elves and Gucci handbags, dwarves and cigarettes, or dragons and jet fighters, Swanwick continually shifts the context his reader must use. Whenever you find yourself getting comfortable, the novel suddenly sounds like this: “With the easy, racist phrasing of his class, her brother said, ‘Well, the kobold is in the henhouse now, to be sure’” (p. 289).
Overall, the review is positive, the sort of thing that warms a writer's heart. Hilliard has some negative things to say along the way, but since they're based on a careful reading of the book I actually wrote, I don't see that I have any right to complain.

You can read the whole review here.  Or go to Strange Horizons here and wander around, maybe read a story or two while you're there.

Above: Cleaning office, I came across the above photo of myself at age 23, when I was new to Philadelphia and determined to be a science fiction writer. It captures my mood then pretty well.


Friday, April 3, 2020

A Message From Chengdu


My friend Renne, who works for Science Fiction World in Chengdu, China, gave me permission to share the above video. It was made by the science fiction community in Chengdu.  Here's what he says about it:

My friends and I made a little something for those we know around the world, and who are forced to stay home for the most part of day. Now that it’s clear that virus knows no borders, we feel like we should do something to counter its move. Of course, this is far from enough, we can never do what doctors and nurses did round the clock. Just maybe this little video would make things a tiny bit cheerful in these strange days.

I hope you have fun with this! 

And as long as I'm talking about China . . .

Like pretty much everyone else who has ever gone to China, I fell in love with the country and its people. The people are admirable (the science fiction community particularly so) and the country has sites of stunning beauty. Few who have stood on the Great Wall will ever forget the experience.

But my favorite spot in all of China is the Thatched Hut of Du Fu. Fifteen hundred years ago, the great poet, wrote a poem about it and as a result, tourists have been visiting the site for over a millennium. The grounds are as beautifully landscaped as the Chinese can manage, which is saying a lot, and the hut itself has been reconstructed, rebuilt, torn down, and raised back up repeatedly over the years. At one point it was as large as a palace. Now it's a simple hut again. I've visited it several times.

Du Fu knew more than his share of sorrow. He lived in a time of war. But he also wrote a poem that contains some of my favorite lines ever:

Since water still flows, though we cut it with swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine,
Since the world can in no way conform to our desires,
Tomorrow I will let down my hair and go fishing.

Which is, I think, profound.


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Mysteries of the Faceless King


Coming soon from PS Publishing is The Mysteries of the Faceless King, the first of two volumes collecting the best of Darrell Schweitzer's short fiction. Beautifully made, with a cover by the estimable Jason Van Hollander.

Also, an introduction by (cough) me. Here's how that begins:

Once upon a time . . .None of the stories collected herein begin with those words, though some come close. But they might as well. For Darrell Schweitzer writes a very traditional sort of story. His fiction is almost always fantasy, which is a mode nested deep in the roots of Story; usually horror, a mode as old as nightmares; and very often weird fantasy, a much more recent mode but one that is dear to his heart. Most could have been written a hundred years ago—or, with equal ease, a hundred years in the future. This is not a criticism. Timelessness is precisely what he is after.

PS Publishing has posted the entirety of the introduction online, preparatory to publication of the book sometime this month. So if you're curious as to what I said, you have only two options. You can buy the book. Or you can read the intro online for free.

But if you don't buy the book, you won't get the stories. You're in a quandary.

You can find the entire introductory essay here. Or you can just go to the PS Publishing website and wander about, marveling at how many of their books you want by clicking here.

And I should remind you . . .

The ebook of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, the first of three stand-alone fantasies in the Iron Dragons Trilogy, goes on sale tomorrow (Wednesday, April 1, 2020) for the one day only for only $1.99. That's a good deal. But only tomorrow and only in Canada and the US.