Monday, May 25, 2020

Three Roses on Memorial Day


It being Memorial Day, Marianne and I went to Levering Cemetery for the flag-raising ceremony. We cut some roses from the back yard and left them on two graves and a memorial. The white one we left on Hetty Jones' tomb. Technically, she wasn't a soldier, but I don't think any vets would mind. She was one of many young women who volunteered to serve as nurses in the Union field hospitals. In Virginia, she caught one of the diseases that ripped through the wounded and died.. Her family  reared an elaborate marble tomb in her memory--clearly they had money. Every time I see it, I think of what a long and comfortable life she might have had if she hadn't put the welfare of others before her own.

We also left a rose on the memorial to the Virginia troopers who were killed not far from the cemetery by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. They were trapped in a barn and, if I have this right, given no opportunity to surrender. This was during the bloody mess that was the evacuation of Philadelphia, followed by the Battle of Germantown, and the retreat to Valley Forge. This was probably the darkest moment of the war for the American forces, and the men buried here, so far from their homes, might well have believed their cause was lost.

Finally, we left a rose on the grave of Choban Hoxha. He was never an American soldier but during WWII, he was captured by the Germans, so he was probably fighting for the Allies. He spent time in a Nazi prisoner of war camp and then, upon its liberation, was carried away to the Soviet Union  to labor in a work camp there. Somehow, he escaped and made his way first to Istanbul and then to America. He was a gentle, wounded soul, who made a living selling pretzels. Until his final year, no one knew his name or his story, so he was known as Pretzel Pete.

He died penniless, so the community collected money to buy him a stone and the cemetery donated the space. On the stone are the name we all knew him by and the he bore before war came along and swept him away.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Marianne on Dragonstairs Press, Me on the Couch Beside Her


Yesterday, my wife, Marianne Porter, was Zoomterviewed--is that a word?--by Mike Ziper for Fast Forward. She was witty and informative and I tried not to manterrupt--is that a word? I guess once the question is raised the answer is obvious--too much.

Anyway, Marianne was a great interview and I got to talk a little about the forthcoming City Under the Stars, the last novel by Gardner Dozois, co-written with me. The half-hour just flew by.

But don't take my word for it. You can see the interview up above.



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Live Zooming Dragonstairs Press!!!


This is cool. Tomorrow, Marianne Porter and I will be doing a Live Zoom conversation with Mike Zipser for Fast Forward.

There have been no limits set on the conversation but I expect it to focus chiefly on Dragonstairs Press, Marianne's micropress (or, as she likes to say, "nanopress") empire. It's possible something will also be said about City Under the Stars, the last collaborative novel by the late Gardner Dozois. But whatever is said, I expect it will all be great fun.

In brief, then:

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020
1:30 p.m.
a conversation with Marianne Porter
(and Michael Swanwick)
at the Fast Forward YouTube channel

You can find the Fast Forward Channel here.

And I believe it will be archived there as well. But I couldn't swear to it.


Friday, May 15, 2020

Introductions for Gonnabes


Yesterday, I noted that I had written an introduction for The Mysteries of the Faceless King, the first book of the two volume collection The Best Short Fiction of Darrell Schweitzer. I meant to also write a few words on the art of introductions for the sake of as-yet-unpublished writers who will be facing the chore themselves someday. Alas, I was getting some productive work done on a short story so I didn't have the time.

Today, if I keep my remarks brief, I may be able to patch something together.

Blurbs and introductions, if they are effective, must have two things in common: The must be complimentary and they must be true. It does less than no good at all to slap "Like P. G. Wodehouse on giggle gas!" onto the cover of King Lear. Which means you'll have to sit back and analyze not just why you like the work in question, but what the kind of people who will be happy they bought it are looking for.

This is even more difficult when you're writing an introduction--particularly for a "best of" collection--because the reader has already bought the book, probably read it, and almost certainly formed their own opinion of its virtues.

The solution to that problem I'll leave up to you. Each book, if it's worth introducing at all, is unique. So I'm afraid I can't help you there.

But I can help with the format.

Long ago, the late, lamented, and extremely useful editor Jim Turner asked me to write an introduction to a collection of stories by a writer I admired immensely. This may have been the first such I ever wrote. At any rate, I gave it my best and sent it to him. And he immediately sent it back to me.

"Don't be clever!" he told me angrily. "This isn't about you. It's about the fiction. Say something substantive about each story in the collection. Then stop."

So I wrote a new intro from scratch. I found something  to say about the virtues of each story in the order they appeared. When I was done, I found that I'd described everything I admired about the writer's work.

It's as simple as that. You also have to come up with a beginning and an end to tie the whole thing together. But I'll trust you to take care of that little detail on your own.


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Introducing the Best of Darrell Schweitzer


Look what came in the mail today--The Best of Darrell Schweitzer. It's a two volume set by PS Publishing, The Mysteries of the Faceless King and The Last Heretic, both beautifully made with coves and endpapers by World Fantasy Award winning artist Jason Van Hollander. 

I was given a set of the signed limited edition because I wrote the introduction to volume 1. Here's how my intro 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.

And it goes on from there. I said a lot of things that were complimentary and I hope satisfying to Darrell's soul, all of them completely true. But what I said isn't important. The mere fact that there's a two-volume set (again,  beautifully made) of the best short fiction of Darrell Schweitzer tells you already if you want it or not. If you're a fan of Darrell's work, you'll probably buy it tonight. 

You can buy Volume 1 with my introduction here. You can buy Volume 2 with Paul Di Filippo here. Or you can Google PS Publishing and spend an hour or two wandering about the website, admiring.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Death of Aubrey Darger


To begin with, this is not a new story. What I did was to take the opening chapter of Chasing the Phoenix, the second novel-length Darger and Surplus adventure, and lightly edit it. Et voila! The Death of Aubrey Darger--a perfect, stand-alone short story.

Marianne Porter has made of this story a perfectly lovely chapbook, bound in black paper, with a label modified from Abraham Lincoln's death announcement. This is a hand-stitched, signed, and issued in an edition of 100.

She is selling the chapbooks, as usual, for far too little money. $12 in the US and $14 internationally, postage included.

More information, including how to buy one, can be found at

And if you want one . . .

I asked Marianne how many Dragonstairs publications (chapbooks, cigar box assemblages, and related forms) there have been. She told me that prior to this one, there have been 2,694 individual copies of 43 separate titles. Of these only 40 individual copies of three titles (12 of Winter Solstice, 27 of The Third Frankenstein, and 1 of Cigar Box Faust) remain.

As of an hour and 17 minutes after publication, roughly one half of all available copies of The Death of Aubrey Darger are still available.

'Nuff, as Stan Lee used to say, said.


Monday, May 11, 2020

Ten Minutes With ME


How much can I say, of any serious interest in ten minutes?

Rather a lot, as it turns out. Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan, over ats at Coode Street Podcast have a series going where they ask questions of various science fiction luminaries for that brief period of time and then make the answers available on the web.

I talked about The Iron Dragon's Mother and the forthcoming City Under the Stars, of course. But I also recommended books by Carl Schoeder and Roger Zelazny that I think pretty much everybody would enjoy.

And for those of you who are on the way to become famous writers... I explained why you shouldn't hoard ideas.

You can find the podcast here. Or you can simply go to the Coode Street Podcast site here and poke around. They're interviewing a lot of interesting people. Elizabeth Hand, most recently.


Thursday, May 7, 2020

"Paris, a Poem" in SWEDISH!


Yet again, something astonishing has arrived in my mailbox. This time, it's a chapbook titled Paris ett poem, containing a Swedish translation (surely the first) of Hoope Mirrlees' modernist masterpiece, Paris, a Poem. Mirrlees, you'll recall, is best known in genre circles for her fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist, in academic circles for being on the fringes of Bloomsbury, and in poetic circles for this poem.

Ylva GislĂ©n translated the poem, wrote an introduction, provided explanatory notes, and created two collages for inclusion in the chapbook. All of it, clearly, a labor of love.

Quite a lovely  book. Published by Ellerströms.

And Speaking of Good Things . . .

The Temporary Culture chapbook assembled by Henry Wessells, "She Saved Us from World War Three," was reviewed by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post. Here's what he said:

Besides being one of the stars of “The Booksellers,” Henry Wessells is also the proprietor of the micro-publisher, Temporary Culture. His latest booklet, “She Saved Us From World War Three,” brings together an interview, essay and two letters highlighting the friendship between Gardner Dozois, the longtime editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Alice Sheldon, the former Washington intelligence agent whose intense, sometimes feminist sci-fi — no one ever forgets “The Women Men Don’t See” — was written using the pseudonym James Tiptree Jr. In one letter Sheldon explains that she has pretty much stopped writing because “the stories were getting to hurt too much.”

Which is pretty good coverage for a micro-press.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Zero Notebook 10: Helen


Our revels now are ended. These our images, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air...

But before we go, one more page, the back inside cover to be specific. It contains two more images of Helen. One is a publicity shot from a period she was going to leave out of the autobiography she never wrote, when she made a brief, ill-fated stab at acting. The other is from a dark period in her middle age.

She was far better-looking than she'd ever admit to being.

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

To find that out, you're just going to have to read The Iron Dragon's Mother, now aren't you?

Above: Tenth image. Tout finis!


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Zero Notebook 9: Dragon Skull


Dragons are, as everybody knows, half fighter jet and half fire spirit.

Here's the skull of one.

Above: Image Nine. One more to go.


Monday, May 4, 2020

The Postutopian Adventures of Michael Swanwick


Look what came in the mail! My contributor's copies of The Postmodern Adventures of Darger and Surplus. Which I can now honestly tell you are beautiful books. Marianne--owner, reditor, and sole entrepreneur of Dragonstairs Press, remember--especially admired the texture of the endpapers.

This is the first Darger and Surplus collection of short, and it collects everything except the two novels. But I should caution you that it is a slim book--five previously published stories, four related short-shorts, and "There Was an Old Woman..." a story written expressly for this collection.  Bloated this volume is not.

Subterranean Press has created, as I said, one lovely volume. It costs $40, because it's a high-quality collector's item, published in a limited edition of one thousand. But for a high quality collector's item, published in a limited edition of one thousand, that's pretty cheap.

Here's the table of contents:

  • Mother Goose’s Errant Sons
  • The Dog Said Bow-Wow
  • The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport
  • Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play
  • Tawny Petticoats
  • There Was An Old Woman
  • Appendix:

  • Introduction to Appendix: A Little Smoke and a Mirror or Three
  • Smoke and Mirrors: Four Scenes from the Postutopian Future

If you're interested, you can buy a copy of the book here.

Or you can buy an e-book version for $5 here.

Oe you can simply go the the Subterranean website and poke around here.  Mine isn't the only book there you want. Far from it.


Friday, May 1, 2020

"She Saved Us From World War Three"

Very few people in the science fiction community ever came face to face with Alice Sheldon, who wrote SF under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr, much less met her tarantulas. One of those very few was Gardner Dozois. When he sold his papers to UC Riverside (the proceeds went to keeping his wife, Susan Casper, alive for several years longer than would otherwise have happened), bookman Henry Wessells became aware of the correspondence between Sheldon and Dozois.

Now, Henry has created a chapbook, She Saved Us from World War Three, containing the two most significant letters from that correspondence. The first is from Sheldon, telling Gardner that the secret of her identity was about to go public and that she was not a man but a woman. The second is her relieved response to Gardner's assurance that they were still friends.

Which understates how Gardner felt about Sheldon/Tiptree. He was in awe of her as a writer and remained so after the murder-suicide that ended her life.

To go with the letters and give them some context, I interviewed Gardner about his friendship with Alice Sheldon and this introduction now forms the bulk of the chapbook.

Today is the publication date for She Saved Us from World War Three and it is currently available for sale. It costs $20, which is not cheap for twenty pages of prose but is cheap for a beautifully made limited edition chapbook with fold-out facsimiles of the letters themselves.

Those of you who need it know who you are. Me, I already have my copy. I'm going to dig up the oversized paperclip which Sheldon gave to Gardner  as a souvenir of their meeting and Gardner gave to me because souvenirs meant nothing to him and keep the two of them together. This is a very meaningful publication for me.

You can find ordering information here.

Above: The chapbook's cover. Photo by John DeChancie and used with his permission. John is a Mensch. I esteem him highly.