Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Coming SOON From Dragonstairs Press!

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Look how close Marianne is to being finished making The Lonely and the Rum for Dragonstairs Press! There in the center is number 2 of an edition of 125 hand-stitched, signed and numbered chapbooks. The paper for the wraps is beautiful as is the charming illustration made by Susan McAninley for the cover label. I think this is one of Marianne's best creations yet.

So it was pretty obnoxious of me, just now, to send Marianne the text for a totally different chapbook, which she intends to create and put up for sale before finishing The Lonely and the Rum.

 Five Rings is a collection of five very short whimsies--"Gold," "Silver," "Bronze," "Last," and "Also There"--celebrating the current Olympics. Because this is officially the XXXII Olympiad, there will be only 32 copies made. Because the Olympics end on August 8 and Marianne wants the direct connection to the event, this chapbook has priority.

Fewer than thirty copies will be available for sale, I expect it to sell out pretty much immediately.

Fans of Marianne's beautifully made and scandalously affordable work will simply have to wait a little longer for The Lonely and the Rum.

 

 And what, you may well ask . . .

 I know you're wondering about the content of The Lonely and the Rum. It's... well, it's a little hard to describe. A few years ago, Greer Gilman and I had a panel at Boskone titled Moonwise of Babel, which was just the two of us chatting about fantasy. It went over well. A transcript of it was published in Foundation. So when Boskone went virtual this year, I proposed that Greer and I have another conversation, this one about a number of fantasists--chiefly Sylvia Townsend Warner, P. L. Travers, Stella Benson, and Tove Jansson, but others were mentioned as well--who had no particular commonalities but seemed worthy of discussion. We went into the conversation with a title, no agenda, and a great deal of curiosity to discover what we might have to say.

The Lonely and the Rum is the transcription of that two-person Zoom panel. It is a rather erudite, quintessentially odd conversation. It breaks off in the middle of an observation. And I think it's quite wonderful. There's nothing exactly like it. It is simultaneously a miniature and one of the eccentricities of our corner of the literature.

I concluded that we had found the other heart of fantasy, Greer that we had made an asterism of our subjects.

 

Above: Periodically, I feel I should remind everybody that I am only the content-provider for Dragonstairs Press. Marianne is the owner, editor, and sole proprietor. So being married to her is like having my editor in the same house as me. Surprisingly pleasant, to be honest.


Saturday, July 24, 2021

Meanwhile, In Hong Kong . . .

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Five members of a trade union for speech therapists have been arrested in Hong Kong... for conspiring to publish children's books. 

This must be condemned by everyone who cares about freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

And that's all I have to say. Because what else is there to be said?

You can read the CBC article about the arrest here.


Above: This shameful image by Tyrone Siu of Reuters accompanied the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website article.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Three Introductions to Three Novels by Philip K. Dick

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Look what came in the mail! Centipede Press's boxed hardcover set of Philip K. Dick's first three novels, The Cosmic Puppets, Dr. Futurity, and Vulcan's Hammer.

By now, you're not surprised to learn that I wrote introductions to all three volumes. In fact, I wrote three different introductions, each one dealing with a different aspect of Dick's life and career. Alas, I have to inform you that by the time the books reached me, they had all sold out. 

I don't think anybody here is particularly surprised about that. But if you can't buy these particular books, you can always go to their website and lust after their other creations. Centipede makes beautiful books.

To find them, click here.

Here’s the opening of the introduction to Dr. Futurity, in which I make the most outrageous statement possible about Philip K. Dick—that he was sane.

 

Exactly who—and what—was Philip K. Dick?

If there is one thing that all the world knows about him, it’s that he was as loopy as a box of eels. But, like so much that all the world knows, this is a myth.

I have talked with editors who worked closely with him and they tell me that Phil Dick was unfailingly professional in his dealings with them. Testimony of his friends presents him as a man who could be by turns charming or maddeningly difficult but was by no means insane. He did, in the Sixties, demonstrate erratic behavior and signs of paranoia. But that was at a time when he was taking full advantage of the many drugs, amphetamines emphatically included, available to a respectable citizen with a cooperative doctor. Stimulant psychosis is a serious matter. But it is not the same as madness.

The only authoritative evidence we have of Dick’s mental instability comes from PKD himself, and a comparison of conflicting statements from his many interviews reveals that he was, at the very least, an unreliable source of autobiographical facts.

That said, he was by no means an ordinary guy.

It was, I have to admit, lots of fun watching PKD move from short fiction to novels, learning and growing with each new volume.  He was, as somebody once said, by no means an ordinary guy.

 

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

The Swords of Lankhmar!

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Guess what just arrived in the mail!  It's the new Centipede Press hardcover edition of The Swords of Lankhmar. This is the fifth volume of Fritz Leiber's immortal sword and sorcery series chronicling the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

And I wrote the introduction!

Here's how my intro begins:

In retrospect it was a rude question for me to ask.

Authors should never be required to explain their own work. But I honestly wanted to know. And the answer I received was significant enough to merit sharing with you.

This was back in 1990, when Fritz Leiber was a guest of honor at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference. I found myself on an appreciation panel with the great writer sitting in a wheelchair in the front row of the audience. He was 79 years old and, quite frankly, he looked exhausted. At the time, he had less than two years yet to live.

The panelists, a mix of writers and editors, were all in awe of Leiber. Whenever one of us addressed him directly, we said “sir,” and found ourselves bowing a little, as one might to the Pope or the Dalai Lama. He was possibly the fi nest literary stylist ever to grace science fi ction and fantasy and, being people who lived by words, we couldn’t help it.

 

... and I went on to ask an impertinent question that got a significant answer. But to find out what Leiber said, you'll have to buy the book.

 

Centipede Press publishes beautifully-crafted, limited edition books and charges accordingly. A copy of The Swords of Lankhmar will set you back $75. But if you can afford it, it's money well spent.

 

 You can find the book here. Or you can just go to their website here and fantasizing about buying one of everything just as soon as your boat comes in.

 


 

And while I'm on my soapbox . . .

 If you love fantasy and fine writing and haven't yet discovered Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, you're in for a treat. They are the gold standard of sword and sorcery (a term that Fritz Leiber invented, by the way). Witty, adventurous, colorful, fantastic, sexy... These stories have got it all.

To borrow a phrase from Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber could walk on water.

Sermon over. Nuff said.

 

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Monday, July 12, 2021

A Letter from the Author: About "Goblin Lake"

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About a month and a half ago, I was interviewed by Luba Lapina for the Sunrise Literature Discussion Club in Moscow. It is their practice to read a suitable story, discuss it, and then (after obtaining permission to do so) asking the author five questions about it.

The story they chose was my "Goblin Lake" and I thought their questions astute enough that I've decided to share my response to them. 

Enjoy!

Dear Luba Lapina,

What interesting sessions the Sunrise Literature Discussion Club has! I write under the assumption that my readers are intelligent and perceptive people who will have no trouble understanding my stories. So it’s pleasant to see this proved out in real life.

Let me preface my comments by observing, as I’m sure others have before me, that I can only tell you my intentions, not what the story is or means. Once a work of fiction is finished, it no longer belongs to the author but to whomever is currently reading it. My interpretation may or may not be as valid as anybody else’s.

That said, in your first question, you ask why Jack made the choice he did.

I wrote “Goblin Lake” because I wanted to tackle the great central theme of fantasy—the reconciliation of reality and imagination. The worlds of our imagination are (or can be) superior to reality in all ways but one: the fact that they don’t exist. So when I gave Jack the choice between the two, it was only fair to let him see the virtues of fantasy and the drawbacks of reality. Then I let him make up his own mind.

I could not tell you why Jack chose as he did. His thinking was as opaque to me as it was to the reader. But I had a practical reason for dictating his choice, which was that opting for immortality in a world of beauty and comfort wouldn’t have been a very interesting ending to the story. Behind that was an artistic reason, which was that his choosing the world as it is, in all its difficulty and discomfort, brings its readers to a very interesting place where they have to ask, as you did, why? Is this imperfect life truly worth celebrating? Do we let its pains and tragedies blind us to its wonders? Does mere existence justify a life that may not satisfy us? These are difficult questions and I did not want to impose answers upon them. But I very much wanted to make the reader think about them.

It’s also possible to read the ending as Jack choosing the freedom of life over the predetermination of literature. Which leads me to your second question. You asked whether we all live inside a story, whether I believe in destiny or predetermination, and whether we can exist simultaneously in parallel universes, being good in one and bad in the other.

The central issue cuts close to the bone for me. I was raised in the Catholic faith—when I was young, I intended to become a priest—and free will is a central tenet in Catholicism. So I grew up with a horror of predetermination. Reducing life to a sequence of robotic non-decisions seemed the most terrible thing imaginable.  What resolved the problem for me was the invention of chaos theory. If all complex actions have unpredictable results, then the concepts of free will and predetermination are rendered meaningless. The distinction simply goes away. I found that very liberating.

I don’t think that we live in a story for the simple reason that life doesn’t have the shapeliness and consistency that good fiction has. And I don’t believe in parallel universes because the concept seems inherently wasteful, whereas the laws of the universe as we understand them are elegant and parsimonious. But in both of these matters, as in so many other things, I could be wrong.

Addressing the third question, I have had the same experience as Tamila of projecting myself into brightly-colored book illustrations as a child. That’s not where the story came from, though it’s closely related. Almost all of us have had the experience of “falling into” a book—losing sight of the fact that we’re reading and experiencing the imaginary world as a real place. I wanted to give an imaginary character the chance to fall out of a book.

In fact, I did not put Jack inside the book. I found him already there. Which is why, to answer your fourth question, the story is set where and when it is. During the Thirty Years War, a ten-year-old boy was kidnapped by Hessian soldiers to be their servant. Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (this is probably a pseudonym) grew up to be first a musketeer and then an aide to his commanding officer. After the war, he held various civilian occupations, eventually becoming a magistrate. This gave him the leisure to devote himself to literature, including Simplicius Simplicissimus which is considered to be the finest German novel of the seventeenth century. It is a picaresque novel, in which a simple young man is kidnapped by soldiers, becomes a soldier himself, and experiences every occupation available to a man of his times: raider, doctor, courtier, lover, and so on and so on. It was witty, sharply satirical, and enormous fun to read.

Simplicissimus was so great a hit that somebody pirated the book, wrote new chapters extending its plot, and sold the book as his own. Von Grimmelshausen then took the pirated book, added yet more chapters of his own, and re-published it—without removing the chapters he hadn’t written. Every writer who knows this story loves him for doing that. It also means—but if this did not bother the author, why should it bother us?—that he may not have written the section, the only example of fantasy in the book, in which his hero goes to live beneath the Mummelsee.

Von Grimmelshausen knew the reality of war from first-hand experience. Yet from those horrors he crafted a delightful work of the imagination. So, again, we are confronted with the relationship of fiction and reality.

Finally, you asked about the Mummelsee’s statement that “One miracle is enough for any life”—why only one, what can be said to be a miracle, and how many miracles per life are enough.

A miracle is something that, by the nature of the universe, you cannot have, no matter how much you desire it. There have been wondrous moments in my life that felt like miracles—the birth of my son, the moment when Marianne and I were declared married, a flash of religious ecstasy when I was a boy. But nothing forbids such moments.

It sounds banal to say it aloud, but simply being alive is a miracle. Even if, as I believe, life is common in the universe, intelligent life has to be extraordinarily rare. During conception, hundreds of millions of sperms compete for a single egg. The odds of you simply being here are statistically indistinguishable from a miracle. I try to remember that when I’m feeling grouchy.

One miracle per lifetime is, I’m afraid, all we get. But it’s enough.

Which finishes my responses to the questions you posed. But I will throw in the answer to a sixth question you could not have known to ask. This is something I’ve never told anybody but my wife before now. I named the protagonist Johann/Jürgen/Jack as a kind of memorial to my younger brother Jack, who was killed by a drunken hit-and-run driver in Florida in the early 1980s. Since he no longer has a place in reality, I gave him one in fantasy, where he need never die and can live whatever life he chooses. That it is not possible to restore Jack to life in the real world is yet another way that reality is inferior to fantasy. Yet I dearly wish I could. Perhaps that is the true answer to your first question.

Thank you for letting me discuss my story with you. I wish you all a long life and many books.

All best,

Michael Swanwick 

 

Above: "Goblin Lake" originally appeared in Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. A noble book and one that is well worth your seeking out.

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Dreadnought!

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My story "Dreadnought," which is a very bleak one indeed, received the cover for the July-August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. This is extremely pleasant news if you happen to be me.

The cover art is by Alan M. Clark and, as you can see, it's a very powerful image indeed. It also cuts to the heart of the story, though you'll have to read it to see why.

 Here's how it begins:

The troll lived under the overpass where the expressway, the state road, and the river road came together. His name was Luke, and he had found a kind of equilibrium in his difficult life. When it rained, he'd spend the day with a jug, listening to the civilians roar by overhead, frantically pursuing their unfathomable goals. There had been times when the weather was so hard and miserable that he hadn't left his shelter to relieve himself. But so far, he'd never actually sunk to sleeping in it.

 

He figured he wasn't doing so bad, considering.

 

The story is set in my own neighborhood, Roxborough, in Philadelphia. It took me halfway to forever years to figure it out. How many I'm not sure, but I began writing it at least a decade ago

There is a lesson here for gonnabe writers: Save your incomplete stories. Just in case you figure out someday how to make them work.


And as always . . .

I'm on the road again. Marianne and I are off to view some art museums and maybe a used book store or two. If I get the chance, I'll try to write a blog post sharing my activities. We'll see.

Meanwhile, don't get in any trouble while I'm gone. There are burritos in the refrigerator if you get hungry. And, whatever you do, don't forget to feed the cat. 

You wouldn't want Miss Hope to get angry at you. Trust me on this one.

 


Tuesday, June 22, 2021

A Few Quiet Words of Thanks for the People Putting on Discon III

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Yesterday, I reserved my hotel room for Discon III. And that put me in mind of the first and only time I was on a con committee.

This was in the 1970s, before I made my first sale. I'd only been to a few science fiction conventions but I knew the guy in charge of putting on a con whose name I conveniently forget and, doubtless for reasons of fannish politics, he filled the committee with his friends, despite the fact we none of us had any experience at the tasks we were assigned.

Long story, short. I did a terrible job. And I've never volunteered to serve again. Because even if everything goes perfectly, your reward for putting on a convention is not getting to experience it.

So I'd like to express my gratitude to the Discon III staff, both present and past. That includes everybody who quit for reasons of principle and everybody who decided to tough it out, also for reasons of principle.

This has been a star-crossed year for the Worldcon. I won't bother to list all the problems: Acts of God, acts of Man, acts of Fans. We all know them. It must have been maddening to be at the white-hot center of them all.

Which makes this a good time to say: Thank you.

I've got my room and I've got my membership and I'm looking forward to the first ever Christmas Worldcon with glad anticipation. After this past year, I really need it.

And my past record proves that I couldn't have done it without you.


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Monday, June 21, 2021

My Oddest Philadelphia Incident

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Some time ago in The New York Review of Science Fiction, I created an occasional series of what I called Singular Interviews: a single question posed to a writer and their response to that question.

I got to learn the answers to a few thins I'd been wondering about and I liked how the interviews looked in print. It's a useful format and I've always thought that others could profitably employ it for their own purposes.

Well, now my friend Henry Wessells--author and bookman--has posed a singular question to me. As follows:

Henry Wessells: Michael, you are a resident of Philadelphia, a Philadelphian, even, of long standing (probably as long as I have been an ex-Philadelphian): what is the oddest thing (or incident) you have ever seen or witnessed in Billy Penn’s Town?

To learn my reply, you'll have to go to Henry's blog, The Endless Bookshelf.  You'll find my singular interview here. But I recommend just going to www.endlessbookshelf.net and poking around. 


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Love Death + Robots--the Book!

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Tim Miller, the co-creator of Love Death + Robots, has arranged a kind of gift for its fans: an anthology from Cohesion Pres of all the original stories (and for a couple of items screenplays) that the episodes of the first series were based on.

To be specific, that's:

Sonnie's Edge by Peter F. Hamilton

Three Robots by John Scalzi

The Witness by Alberto Mielgo

Suits by Steve Lewis

Sucker of Souls by Kristen Cross

When the Yogurt Took Over by John Scalzi  (who has blogged about how unlikely that was)

Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds

Good Hunting by Ken Liu

The Dump by Joe R. Lansdale

Shape-Shifters by Marko Kloos

Helping Hand by Claudine Griggs

Fish Night by Joe R. Lansdale

Lucky Thirteen by Marko Kloos

Zima Blue by Alastair Reynolds

Blind Spot by Vitaliy Shushko

Ice Age by Michael Swanwick (that's me!)

Alternate Histories by John Scalzi

The Secret War by David W. Amendola

Which is, to state the obvious, one heck of a good anthology. With the added benefit that fans of the series can compare and contrast the original stories with the animations, to see how they differ and what went into the translation.Which is, speaking solely for myself, goood geeky fun.

Available in trade paperback. Wherever fine books are sold. I recommend your local independent bookstore. 


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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sunday Only! Jack Faust E-Book $1.99

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I've just been informed by the good folks at Open Road Media that the e-book of my novel, Jack Faust, will be on sale for one day only, this Sunday, June 20th. 

As I understand it, you have to subscribe to The Portalist to access the deal. But subscription doesn't cost anything, so if you like getting e-books cheap, it's a good deal.

You can subscribe here.


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In Print Again, With "Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After"

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 I'm in print again! This time with "Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After" in the current (July/August 2021) issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.

 "Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After" is a bleak and beautiful (if I succeeded in doing what I aimed after) look at suicide and despair. Which is why it comes with a warning to that effect right at the beginning. There are times in everyone's lives when they would not want to read it.

So why did I write it? What does it mean? I'm afraid I can't tell you, for the simple reason that I do not know.All I can tell you is that I came up with the opening literally decades ago. That I began writing it at least a year and maybe two years ago. And that it was a bear to write. With enormous effort, I managed to create a story I believe to be honest and true. Explaining it is above my pay grade.

Still, what joy to be in print again! Even if I can't explain why.


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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cocktails at the Rosenbach

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Marianne and I are fully vaccinated and the infection rates in Philadelphia are way down, so we've started doing things again.

Most of Saturday was spent at the virtual Laffcon, a free, one-day celebration of he works of R. A. Lafferty. For me,  the highlight was an interview with Greg Ketter and Bryan Cholfin, who back in the day created small presses to publish Lafferty's work. Which was by then deemed unprofitable by the major presses.

The major presses had a point. Both Greg and Bryan agree that Lafferty has an avid readership of somewhere between seven hundred and one thousand. Enough, as one of them put it, to ensure that they "didn't lose too much money." Certainly, nobody got rich. When asked if they might ever publish more of Lafferty's work, Ketter said that he was coming up on retirement age and might well return to the project after that. But Cholfin replied, "Not a chance!"

So there you are. Except to note that they both found Lafferty to be extremely genial and easy to work with. When one asked for a small alteration to a story, he replied, "Just write whatever you like."

Which is not how writers usually react to such requests.

 

But then, afterward . . .

Then, Marianne and I went to the Rosenbach, a museum and library harboring one of the world's greatest collection of rare books and manuscripts. (It has the only complete manuscript--there are several, but the others were broken up and sold in pieces--of James Joyce's Ulysses.) There, we took part in a cocktail workshop. Not that we don't know how to mix cocktails, but because it looked like fun and benefited a worthy institution.

It was held in the Rosenbach's garden and it was great fun. Also, far from the first time, Marianne and I found ourselves the oldest people there. I'm proud of that.

 

Top: The man in the striped Jacket is Edward Pettit, who organized the event. Expertise was provided by Nick and Lee,  from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (bar supplies and tasting room) here in Philadelphia. The gin was from Tamworth Distilling, which is in New Hampshire but own by Art in the Age.


 

Friday, June 11, 2021

The Iron Dragon's Daughter in Czech!

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I'm in print again! This time, it's The Iron Dragon's Daughter, appearing in Czech translation. There's the cover up above. Looks great, doesn't it?

 I wrote an introduction specifically for this edition which I don't feel free to share because intros are selling points for books. But I'll give you the title and the very beginning immediately below:

 

Foreword: My Years of Not Writing The Iron Dragon’s Daughter

 

Well over a quarter-century ago my wife Marianne Porter and I were driving from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to visit relatives. Our ten year old son Sean was in the back seat, engrossed in a hand-held video game and Marianne and I were talking first about fantasy literature and then about steam locomotives. I made a joke about the Baldwin Steam Dragon Works and Marianne laughed.

 

A mile farther down the road, I said to Marianne, “Write that down for me, would you,?”

           

That instant when I recognized that my quip was actually a story idea was when The Iron Dragon’s Daughter was born. Over the next few hundred miles…

 

The introduction goes on from there to the moment, years later, when I actually began to write.But to know that story, you'll have to buy the book. And read Czech.


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Monday, June 7, 2021

In the Footsteps of Harriet Tubman

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 Many years ago, wandering down the Eastern Shore, Marianne and I came across the above historical marker at Harriet Tubman's birthplace. It was pretty clear that the property owners down at the bottom of that long drive weren't thrilled with association of their land with a woman whom all decent Americans now consider a hero. As the current photo suggests, they're still not.

Well... as it turns out, Ms. Tubman was probably born elsewhere. Making this simply the place where she was first utilized as a field slave. At age six.

[long pause]

Back then, you'd have had to be a historian to locate other sites associated with "the Moses of her people." But times have changed. The foundation of a house belonging to her father, originally a slave but later free, has been found within Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and is currently being studied and preserved. As a result, an information center has been created just outside the refuge. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland has created a self-guided Tubman Byway driving tour, so you can go from site to site associated with her and with the underground railroad.

In an effort to shake off lockdown fever, Marianne and I made an overnight jaunt to Blackwater to ogle the bald eagles and other avifauna there. We thought we'd also take in the Tubman sites.

We're going to have to make a second trip.

As it turns out, there are a lot of sites to see and to appreciate them, you'd best read a biography and download the supplementary material explaining the stops on the tourist brochure map. But I can comment on two stops.

The second stop we made was the tourist info center. It contains the usual explanatory movie, a lot of bronze statuary, and explanatory graphics which, to be fair, did tell me things I didn't know. But it was just one of those places.

The first stop, though... Bucktown Village Store. Wow. It's a one-room clapboard store, the sort of place you'd zoom past without a second glance because it's obviously not important. But if Tubman's life were a novel, this is where it would begin. The twelve-year-old Harriet was in the store when a slave overseer, chasing a terrified young man, ordered her to grab him.

She did not. 

The overseer, in a rage, picked up a two-pound weight and threw it at the young man. It struck Tubman in the head, knocking her unconscious. This resulted in medical problems for the rest of her life, including epileptic seizures. The next day, she was back in the fields, bloody rag around her herrad.

Let me repeat. She was twelve years old.

In all the rest of her extraordinary life, she always worked for freedom and never for revenge. She was a far better human being than I can ever hope to be.


And . . .

On our way home, Marianne and I stopped for lunch in Denton. In front of the courthouse was an info-sign explaining that in the antebellum, there was a slave market there, where human beings were bought and sold. This would have been unthinkable back when I lived in the South.

The first step to reconciliation is admitting that something happened.


But also . . .

Driving across Maryland, I had to marvel at how little it had changed since Harriet Tubman's time. It's still damnably flat. It still alternates woodlands and farms. It's still a terrifying long trudge to freedom. The drive seemed to last forever. I cannot imagine what her flight felt like.

 

And finally . . .

The Harriet Tubman Museum of Cape May had to postpone their opening when the pandemic hit. But you can bet I'll be going there just as soon as it's safely opened.

  

 


 Above: That's it, the site of the first recorded act of defiance by Harriet Tubman, in all its sun-dusty glory.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021

My Advice for New Writers

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New writers ask me for advice all the time. I tell them: Discard the opening pages setting the scene and start where the action begins. Rip out all the adverbs. Rewrite over and over until the story can't be improved upon.

But what they want to hear is: Clutch the manuscript to your heart. Flood it with love. Then send it out. Because it's perfect as it is.

 

Above: Photo by Mikey Mongol.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

The Mysteries of the Faceless King

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Look what came in the mail! The collected Best Short Fiction of Darrell Schweitzer in two volumes from PS Publishing. With cover, end papers, and signature page illustrated by (of course) World Fantasy Award winning artist Jason Van Hollander. Which I received because I wrote the introduction to Volume 1: The Mysteries of the Faceless King.

 

I am not going to make a sales pitch here, because that's not the way it works. PS Publishing carefully chooses authors they know have a loyal following, and create beautifully-made and well-edited volumes in limited editions. Which then routinely proceed to sell out. That's just the way it is.

 

But I have to say something. So I'll just give you the very beginning of my intro: 


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.

 

 My introduction goes on from there, touching upon various aspect of Darrell's career. To know what I said, you'll have to buy the book. But I can share the single virtue that most contributed to his having a two-volume "Best Of" collection of his fiction: Steadfastness.

 

When Darrell was first starting out as a writer, there was very little market for weird fiction, which was what he most wanted to write. He wrote it anyway and sold it to magazines most people have never heard of, often for laughably little recompense. Over the decades, he worked as a reviewer, book dealer, interviewer, writing instructor, literary agent, editor, and God knows what else. During which time he surely learned what an uncommercial genre it was he had given his heart to. He wrote it anyway. He never gave up. He never stopped writing what he loved best.

 

So you wanna know how to get to Carnegie Hall? Stay the course.

 

Monday, May 3, 2021

An Unexpected Pleasure

a .


 

I was browsing Locus Magazine's top ten finalists list for the Locus Awards, pausing occasionally to reminiscently admire a work I'd already read when, unexpectedly down in the Best Collection list I came upon my name. 

The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus is up against some pretty impressive competition To begin, The Best of Elizabeth Bear and The Best of Jeffrey Ford, both from Subterranean and both (I can say this even without having seen either) pretty damn splendid. There's If It Bleeds by Stephen King who, setting aside how amazingly successful his career has been, is a terrific writer at short length. And The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by the astonishing Ken Liu and Nine Bar Blues by the equally astonishing Sheree Renée Thomas. Meg Elison, who is having a moment, is up for Big Girl. And Jane Yolen's latest, The Midnight Circus is in the running too, as I assume Jane Yolen's collections inevitably are whenever they appear.

I know nothing, I confess, about Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel (great title!) by Julian K. Jarboe or Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future by Lavanya Lakshminarayan. But, judging by the company they keep, I obviously should.

Short of winning one, this is the greatest pleasure of the whole awards process: going over the lists, reflecting on the works you've read and making mental notes to look up those you have not. If you haven't gone over the short list yet, you can find it on Locus Online here.

And, oh yes: Best of luck to all us nominees! 


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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Gratuitous Sex

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For reasons of plot, I just now did a web search and discovered that my single most aphoristic moment has not been preserved online.

 Allow me to correct that. 

Back in the Eighties, when the transgressions of the New Wave were still fresh in everybody's minds, as was the indignation with which the Old Wave greeted them, I was on a panel about sex where somebody from the audience asked me what I felt about gratuitous sex. Conventional wisdom was that sex was okay in a story if it was necessary to the central idea but otherwise not.

"I'm in favor of gratuitous sex," I said. Then, after the briefest of pauses, "And I believe it has its place in fiction as well."

Roars of laughter and applause.

NOT, I assure you, because my bon mot was all that bon. But because in that more innocent age, most of the people in the audience had had sex with one or more new partners within the past day and were hoping to repeat the experience soon.

Anyway... feel free to quote me. I don't expect to be saying anything half so clever anytime soon.

 

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Remembrance of Leaves Past

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Look what Marianne found in the back yard! It's a relict of last year's Halloween story, an oak leaf with the word "Cemetery" written on it. 

You'd think this would put me in a down mood, but it does not. This is a great week for me. Tomorrow, after more than a year of being very, very responsible, I will be officially immune and can resume my usual joyful, irresponsible life. Plus, a very dear friend told us she's become a grandmother! She's somebody who deserves joy and it gladdens me to see her so happy.

Plus, the leaf itself reminds me how much fun Marianne and I had wandering through cemeteries, writing on leaves and then documenting them so they could be posted, two or three at a time, on my blog. I'm looking forward to resuming what has become an annual tradition this autumn.

All winter, like some evil doppelganger of George R. R. Martin, I have been reminding people that "Spring Is Coming!"  Now it has arrived, and with it, joy.

Wishing the same for you, I remain,

yr. obt. spt.

Michael Swanwick

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Love, Death + Robots Season 2

 .

 

 

The last time I was in China, for a science fiction conference in Chengdu, I brought along a Love, Death + Robots t-shirt, which I'd earned the honst way--by writing a story that one of the first-season episodes was based on. Boy, did that make me popular! LD+R wsa clearly a global phenomenon.

Now, the trailer for season 2 has been released, along with a list of  new episodes. Do I have a story in it? With all modesty, I can safely say... no.

 But there's a third season coming, later this year. Will I have something in that one? All I can say is that I'm being a little vague on that front.

The seasons drops on Netflix on May 14. I'll be watching.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Love Death + Robots: The Official Anthology: Vol. 1!

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Okay, this is a cool project. You may remember that my story "Ice Age" was made into an episode of Love Death + Robots, the terrific series of animated short science fiction created by Tim Miller  and David Fincher. In fact, Tim Miller himself directed my episode. I was pretty chuffed about that.

Now there's an e-book collecting the stories and screenplays the cartoons were based on.  Publication date is May 14 but it's available for pre-order now. I look forward to getting my copy so I can see what changes were made in the adaptation. (The line "Too soon" in my episode? Tim Miller's addition--and a good one, too.)


Here are the links they gave me:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0923HJQ5G

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B0923HJQ5G

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0923HJQ5G

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B0923HJQ5G

 

 

And yes . . .

 

I regret that there's not a hardcover too. But given that Cohesion Press, the publisher, is in Australia and that the mails are what they are today, you could go made waiting for the book to arrive.

 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Annie Without Crow!

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I'm in virtual print again!

"Annie Without Crow" is up on Tor.com.  The lovely portrait of Annie above, by Wylie Beckert, illustrates the story. The talented Jonathan Strahan edited.

And what, you ask, is the plot? Well, Annie, who is the avatar of Romantic Love, has a falling-out with her one true love, Crow, who is Trickster. And when something like that happens, what's a girl to do but retreat to her all-female estate in the sixteenth century and plot revenge upon all males everywhere and everywhen?

Romance doesn't always play nice.

You can read the story here. Or, you know, just go to Tor.com and poke around. There are a lot of good stories and articles to be found there. 


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Friday, April 2, 2021

A Requiem for Old Bessie

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For years and possibly even decades, whenever I chanced to post a picture of my office, people would ignore the ostensible subject of the post and exclaim in horror,: You're still using a CRT monitor?!

Well, yes, I'd  reply. It still works fine.

But think of all the extra space you'd have if you bought a flat screen instead.

Well... As it turns out, things are as mortal as people. Old Bessie (a name I gave the CRT monitor posthumously when I realized how much I was going to miss it) died and I had no choice but to get with the times.

And now look! My desktop, which had earlier been merely cluttered, is now a parody of itself. There are books and notebooks and office supplies on top, a tin box I used to gather up I forget what (for neatness' sake), half-written stories, a printout of someone else's novel, magazines, CDs and mini-CDs, an orange 3.5 inch floppy disk, and look here! a letter from Gene Wolfe. 

I'm afraid to dig any deeper, list I find old obligations, safely forgotten long ago, and realize I still have to deal with them. But clearly, Old Bessie, by taking up so much of my desktop, was imposing a degree of neatness that the newcomer, slim and sleek as it is, simply cannot. There's a moral here, and I think we all know what it is:

Never tidy up. It just makes more room for clutter to accumulate.


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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Life Hacks for Readers

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Life Hack for Readers No. 1:

In a pinch, a book can be used as a bookmark for another book.

 


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Was There EVER a Cyberpunk?

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I was just now reading Paul Di Filippo's glowing review of Bruce Sterling's new Tachyon Publications collection Robot Artists & Black Swans: The Italian Fantascienza Stories, in which Paul reflects on  how much cyberpunk (by which he means, chiefly, Bruce) has changed in the past 35 or so years.

Cyberpunk, the movement, which was created by Sterling, served him well in the early years, though he never much cared for the name and I doubt he's entirely pleased with how it's still stuck on him, however much his fiction has changed. But thinking about the Old Days brought up a memory of a genial argument that Ellen Datlow and I had back then.

I posited, for various reasons that no longer matter, that there was no such thing as cyberpunk, but that if there were, William Gibson wasn't a part of it. Ellen smiled and said that she was absolutely certain that there was such a thing as cyberpunk and that Bill was its only practitioner.

All these years later, there's been an ironic reversal. The world has decided that cyberpunk exists but that Bill Gibson is no longer a part of it. Meanwhile, I've decided that Ellen was right on both counts.

 I can't say I'm surprised. Ellen is a very insightful woman.

You can read Paul's review here.  

 

And as long as I'm here . . .

I haven't been promoting my own books with all the egotistical vigor I should have. Mea culpa. So this is just a reminder that the ebook of Vacuum Flowers is still on sale and will remain so for the rest of the month of March.

You can find the details here. 

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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Annie Without Crow

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I have a new story coming on Tor.Com, this April 7! That's the title and the cover illustration up above. The artist was Wylie Beckert. Who did, I think you'll agree, a great job of it.

Yes, "Annie Without Crow" makes "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O" the first story of a series. No, I don't expect there to be any more . It's a two-story series. 

Here's how it came about:

Years ago, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman came to the Main Line for a reading. Marianne and I of course went to listen. Afterward, Ellen hit me up for a story for an anthology she was hoping to sell of fantasies based on border ballads. She suggested a few possible titles.

"None of these really sing to me," I said dubiously. "But if you can come up with two vivid images that don't fit together, I'll give it a try." This is the way I write.

Alas, Ellen couldn't get into the game. It's not the way she writes. But on the way home, I said to Marianne, "One element is a trailor truck full of Deinonychus. What's the other?"

Quick as a flash, Marianne said, "A basket full of dead puppies."

"I can write this bastard!" I crowed.

And so I did. "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O"was the story of how Trickster fell in love with another man's wife and the price he paid to win her. I like the story a lot. It has some rough moments, but it's romantic.

But it bothered me that, though Annie is, in the story, obviously worth everything that Crow goes through for her, she never really got to show how ruthless she could be in her own right. Hence, "Annie Without Crow."

At the end of the first story, after all, Annie became an Avatar and a particularly dangerous one at that. She's nobody you'd want to cross.

But odds are you already have. When you read the story, you'll see what I mean.


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Every Day is a Small Adventure

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On Monday, the governor of Pennsylvania eased travel restrictions, making it possible to leave the state without having to quarantine oneself for fourteen days upon re-entry. (There's not actually any mechanism for enforcing this; but once you start cutting corners on safety...) So I decided to play hooky from work. Marianne and I went down to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. This is as safe an activity as can be had in pandemic times. Mostly, we were inside a car and, when we weren't, we were outside and (with one exception) never within six feet of another human being. 

Then, maybe two hours into the refuge, we stopped to look at a great blue heron (that's it above) and when we tried to start up the car again... nothing.

As adventures go, this was a small one, within the hour, a cheerful auto mechanic was telling us that Bombay Hook was his favorite place on earth and that he was grateful to have the call because not only was it a beautiful day but, being on call, he didn't have to pay admission. So he got us going, we curtailed our day and we made it back to Philadelphia on an almost-empty tank of gas.

But it reminded me of how, before Covid-19, almost every day was like that one. Full of unexpected events and strange occurrences. I'm looking forward to being in that situation again.

Also, the great blue was a sport about the whole thing. It stayed in the pond the entire time, stalking its prey and filling up on small fish and creepy-crawlies. So we had something to watch while we waited.


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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Vacuum Flowers E-Book Sale ALL MARCH!!!

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 There are a lot of one-day pop-up e-book sales happening these days, but this one is different from the others in that it lasts all month! I think this is a first for me.

At any rate Vacuum Flowers whose protagonist has the undeniably charming name of Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark will be on sale for $1.99 through the month of March. 

Here's the boilerplate, as it was emailed to me:

 
We are pleased to let you know that the following ebook(s) will be featured in price promotions soon.

ISBN13 Title Author Promo Type Country Start Date End Date Promo Price
9781504036504 Vacuum Flowers Swanwick, Michael Amazon - KMD US 2021-03-01 2021-03-31 $1.99


Open Road will promote the feature via social media. We hope you can share the deal with your network as well. You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

Newsletter Link
  Early Bird Books     Subscribe Now  
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Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Book of Blarney

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Dragonstairs Press, Marianne Porter's one-woman  nanopress, has just announced its latest chapbook, with flash fictions written by yours truly.

 Here's her press release:

The Book of Blarney is being published in a small limited edition this Friday afternoon and is pretty much guaranteed to go out of print within the hour. 

Dragonstairs celebrates St. Patrick's Day! 

Four whimsical, cynical vignettes on the theme of Ireland's religious and literary history.

5 ½ by 4 ¼ inches.  Wrapper of Nepalese lokta paper, in two different states. Decorated with an applied harp label and green ribbon.   Numbered and signed by the author.  Issued in an edition of 50, 11 of which were distributed to participants of Michael Swanwick's virtual kaffeklatch at 2021 Boskone.  36 will be available for sale on Friday, 3 PM EST, at dragonstairs.com.


 Since the run is small, this is pretty much guaranteed to sell out within the hour. Marianne hates it when I point that out. But I mention it just to give you some advance warning.


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Monday, February 22, 2021

Dream Atlas

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I'm in print again! That always makes me feel good. And in good company too. 

Here's how ""Dream Atlas" begins: 

This is new, she thought. Remember it.

 

In her dream, a red-and-white bird with sharp little teeth was fussing over its eggs, turning them with its beak. They were ivory, speckled with brown, and nestled atop a bed of ferns inside a shallow dirt cave. Eleanor heard ocean waves crashing and the sharp cries of other toothbirds as they flashed by. She smelled the salt air, the ferns, the dirt, the sweet tang of droppings—and that was unusual. All within a bright circle of light in the gloom. It was like peering down a long, dim tunnel.

 

Eleanor knew it was a dream because she was a lucid dreamer and…


To read more, of course, you'll need a copy of the March/April 2021 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. 

But you already have a subscription, don't you?


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