Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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



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.


Monday, June 21, 2021

My Oddest Philadelphia Incident


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. 


Love Death + Robots--the Book!



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. 





Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sunday Only! Jack Faust E-Book $1.99



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.



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


 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.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cocktails at the Rosenbach



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!



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.


Monday, June 7, 2021

In the Footsteps of Harriet Tubman



 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.