Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The Gardner Card


This is the first in an occasional series of Things I Own That You Probably Don't.

Back in the late 1970s, I lived on 23rd Street in Center City, Philadelphia. Every Thursday, I hosted a cut-throat Hearts game. Usually, either I won or Susan Casper did. Susan, it has to be said, won more often than I did. She was a shark.

Among the regulars were a young woman named Marianne Porter and a distinguished elder writer (he must have been--my God!--all of 30 years old) named Gardner Dozois. Neither of them was an enthusiastic games-player so when they could, they sat apart from the player and chatted.

For some reason, whenever I broke open a new deck of cards, I got Gardner to autograph the jokers. Which he good-naturedly did.

Où sont les jokers d'antan? Gone with the snows. Yet one miraculously remains.



Monday, August 30, 2021

Great Two-Hearted Beast of the Archipelago



There are still copies available of Dragonstairs Press's latest chapbook, The Lonely and the Rum. This was by design. Marianne's last several publications sold out fast, within an hour of being put up for sale, and Marianne to have something available on the Dragonstairs web page between publications.

The Lonely and the Rum is a conversation that Greer Gilman and I had at this year's virtual Boskone. We went into it knowing only which writers we particularly wanted to discuss. 

Here's how the conversation began (I'm talkier at the opening than Greer, but overall we spoke a roughly equal amount):


Greer Gilman: Okay!


Michael Swanwick: All right. I’m Michael Swanwick and this is Greer Gilman. Greer and I enjoy having conversations about fantasy together. I believe that we really understand each other’s take on fantasy very well. Today, we want to talk about several writers whom we consider to be unrelated to anybody, much less each other. They seem like writers it’ll be productive to discuss.


I was thinking about fantasy and it occurred me that there is one central thing that defines all fantasy and that is J.R.R. Tolkien. We all know the reasons why Tolkien is considered to be the very heart of fantasy and why, consequently, most fantasy is judged by how close it comes to being J.R.R. Tolkien. So George R.R. Martin is considered really close not only because he has an R.R. in his name, but also because his work has lots and lots of swords. All the works commonly considered to be right at the heart of fantasy have swords and armies and such. But the books we’re going to be discussing don’t have swords at all, not even hanging on the wall. Also, they’re all outliers. Theirs is a completely different approach to fantasy. It is much quieter, much gentler, but no less savage, I think. If you take them all together, they are the other heart of fantasy. If we start looking at fantasy as a great two-hearted beast, then I think we’ve got a better handle on what's going on overall.


Greer Gilman: We're talking about fantasies that are like nothing else. I think it's important to remember that Tolkien started as a one-off and became a pattern: what fantasy is. But for years and years people like him were writing mad individual visions. They’re like Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was way off the mainland when he was writing and then became a piece of the continent. I think what connects all these books is their unlikeness to anything else. There are literal islands in these books, and their stories deal with isolation, self-sufficiency, who’s included, who’s walled out. Captivity, flight. So, we're going way off the mainland. Welcome to the archipelago.


Michael Swanwick: Who shall we start with?


Greer Gilman: Can I start with Sylvia Townsend Warner? Because she…


So now you know whether you need this or not.


It was, in my absolutely unbiased opinion, a wonderful conversation and, taken as a whole, the chapbook is a publication that stands alone in its eccentricity.


If you're interested in buying a copy, you can find it at the Dragonstairs Press website here. It costs $15 shipped within the US and $18 elsewhere. Which is scandalously reasonable for a hand-crafted chapbook of this quality.

And the boilerplate . . .


Here's what it says about The Lonely and the Rum on the Dragonestairs website:


The Lonely and the Rum is a conversation between Greer Gilman and Michael Swanwick, that was part of the virtual programming for Boskone 2021. These two masters of fantasy explored the virtues and dissimilarities of the works of P. L. Travers, Stella Benson, Tove Jansson, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, among others. The only limit was the 50-minute programming cutoff. The transcript was lightly edited by Swanwick and Gilman.


The Lonely and the Rum is 5 ¼ x 8 ½ inches, hand stitched, numbered, and signed by Gilman and Swanwick. The wrappers are silkscreened lokta paper from Nepal, with a cover illustration by Susan McAninley. It is issued in an edition of 125.



Friday, August 27, 2021

A Soft Sell for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science FIction



I just now renewed my subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for two years.

 F&SF has a distinguished 72-year history of publishing extraordinary and often important fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories. Its run of editors includes many of the best in the genre. The latest editor, Sheree Renée Thomas is just coming into her own right now. (There is always a months-long period when an editor is publishing stories bought by her predecessor.) Among Ms. Thomas's many prior achievements are the Dark Matter anthologies documenting the previously obscured history of Black involvement in science fiction. I am a great fan of those books and am looking forward to what comes next.

Okay, I was going to give the softest of soft-sales there, but my enthusiasm ran away with me. 

Anyway, I want to suggest that you consider subscribing. This is an interesting period in science fiction history and, as usual, F&SF is right in the midst of things.

You can subscribe via PayPal here, or by using a credit card here.

And have you noticed . . .??

There's a similarity in the covers I got from F&SF for my last two stories there, and it's not that both the people shown are Black. 

In both, the artist (Maurizio Manzieri for "Starlight Express," above; and Alan M. Clark for "Dreadnought," below) created an image designed to draw you into the story by giving you an intriguing idea of what it's about... and then, you've read the story, inviting you to look at it again, to see how your understanding of it has changed.

They are both remarkable works, and I am fortunate to have had them attached to my stories.




Tuesday, August 24, 2021

She Saved Us From World War Three




How many feminist science fiction writers does it take to save the world?

One. Her name was Alice Sheldon and she pulled us back from thermonuclear fire before she wrote her first science fiction story.

Today is the birthday of Alice Sheldon, which is not necessarily the birthday of James Tiptree, Jr., the pen name under which she wrote some of the most scathing and brilliant stories SF has ever known. (That would be the day she lifted up a jar of Tiptree jam in a supermarket and thought: Hey, that would make a great pseudonym!) In my opinion there are two ways you can best celebrate it.

 The first is by reading James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. I could gush about the book but, alas, I haven't the time. Suffice it to say that when, shortly after publication, I told the late editor David G. Hartwell that it was the best biography ever written about a science fiction writer, he replied, "No, it's the best biography ever written about a writer."

If you knew David, you would understand what high praise that was.

The other is by reading the Temporary Culture chapbook She Saved Us From World War Three: Gardner Dozois Remembers James Tiptree, Jr. 

The chapbook contains:

1. A short but significant interview that I did with Gardner about his relationship with Sheldon/Tiptree. They were important to each other. Gardner was pretty much the first to celebrate and promote Tiptree. He was in awe of his/her work. In return, she would call him late at night when she was alone with her shotgun, contemplating suicide. 

2. Henry Wessells' engaging note on the Gardner Dozois papers in the Eaton Collection at the University of California Riverside. 

3. Two letters from Sheldon to Dozois. In the first, she tells him that she is not Tiptree but a woman using that persona as a mask, ending "Let me know if you're still talking to [...]" In the second, she reacts to his response with relief, calling him "a sweet & generous soul." It also, ominously in retrospect, mentions the Fox C.E. 12-gauge double barrel double choke as a youth.

4. Fold-out facsimiles of the original letters.

It's an extraordinary document and it's still available for sale for twenty dollars from Temporary Culture. As such things go, a bargain. The day it goes out of print, the price will soar. I say this as one who failed to buy limited items and shortly thereafter discovered I never would.

You can buy the chapbook here if you wish. Or just read about it and then poke about the website. It's an interesting place.

Also, don't forget about the Julie Phillips biography. It's a terrific book. When I finished reading it, I thought to myself: I now understand Alice Sheldon better than she ever did.


Oh, and since you wonder . . .

  Yes, she really did save the world. But to find out how, you're going to have to read one of the above publications.



Remembering Rosie



 Down the hill from where I live is a neighborhood of Philadelphia called Manayunk. The name is derived from a Leni Lenape word meaning "place where we drink," which is appropriate given how many bars there are on Main Street.

When I was new to the area, I discovered a diner on Main, its name long lost to my memory, and the place itself long lost to gentrification. It was old school: shabby, comfortable, and unpretentious, and the first thing you noticed coming in was that somebody had scrawled DROP YOUR DRAWS -- ROSIE'S BACK! on the blackboard behind the counter. Nobody ever erased those words.

The diner was presided over by Rosie. She was a vigorous old neighborhood woman who had a mouth on her. All the regulars loved her. I knew her a little because I would occasionally drop by for lunch and to keep in touch with reality.

One day, I was sitting at the counter and Rosie noticed me reading a paperback. So she came over to comment. "I don't hold with books," she said. "If you've got something to tell me, just come out and say it to my face!"

Now, I have dedicated my life to "books"--to knowledge, to literature, and specifically to fantasy and science fiction. I gave up a lot in exchange for the freedom to write. A couple of times I came close to starvation. So she was denying the validity of my entire life.

But, listening to Rosie, I had to admit that she had a point.

Above: Image taken from Philadelphianeighborhoods.com, an e-zine well worth the reading. Because if you don't know the neighborhoods, you don't know Philly.


Friday, August 20, 2021

L'Esprit de L'Escalier


L'esprit de l'escalier, or "spirit of the staircase," as you probably don't need to be told, means that moment when you're on the stairs, leaving the party, and you think of the clever thing you should have said in a conversation but didn't.

Recently, I was on a convention panel on old women in science fiction and the moderator, C. S. E. Clooney, loosening us up beforehand as a clever moderator does, posed a question: What would a thousand-year-old woman be like, compared to a hundred-year-old one? Which was an extremely good question, as witness the fact that the rest of us had no answers whatsoever. We none of us had ever thought on the matter.

Claire didn't ask the question during the live panel (thank you, Claire!), but musing on it afterwards, it occurred to me that in our relatively short lifespans we all of us suffer a great deal. We lose people we love, have health problems, do things we later regret. Someone who lived a thousand years would suffer correspondingly more. She would be a profoundly damaged individual.

But she would also have time to learn and to heal. She would have time to make herself whole again.

So I think our hypothetical thousand-year-old-human would be like a kintsugi bowl.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery or crockery with gold. The result is a piece that highlights the damage done to the original while making it more beautiful than before.

The image of a kintsugi woman pleases me greatly. And, of course, having come up with the image, I found that someone else had beaten me to it. The above photo is taken from an article in The Tyee, written by Dorothy Woodend, which uses an art gallery installation as a jumping-off point for a meditation on kintsugi as both an art form and a more than metaphoric means of healing.

You can find the article here. It's well worth reading.

Kintsugi is a celebration of transience and fragility. So our thousand-year-old woman, formidable as she would doubtless appear to you and me, would be aware of how small she was in the face of the universe, how brief her life in the face of eternity. I think she'd be fascinating to talk with

I'm just sorry I'll never get to meet her.


Saturday, August 14, 2021

THE LONELY AND THE RUM from Dragonstairs Press!



 I'm posting this on Saturday, August 14. Tomorrow, Marianne's Dragonstairs Press will put its latest chapbook, The Lonely and the Rum, up on sale.


And what an eccentric document it is!  The Lonely and the Rum is the lightly-edited transcript of a conversation that Greer Gilman and I (Michael Swanwick, if it needs be said) had for the Virtual Boskone earlier this year. In it, we discuss a group of fantasists who have little in common with each other, other than that they have less in common with everybody else. It's a rich, chewy appreciation of a number of fantasists who deserve your admiration.


As you can possibly tell from the photo, Marianne outdid herself with this one. It's a beautiful chapbook and one I'm delighted to own one.


It goes on sale Sunday, August 15, at noon Philadelphia time.

And here's all the pertinent information . . .


The Lonely and the Rum is a conversation between Greer Gilman and Michael Swanwick, that was part of the virtual programming for Boskone 2021. These two masters of fantasy explored the virtues and dissimilarities of the works of P. L. Travers, Stella Benson, Tove Jansson, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, among others. The only limit was the 50-minute programming cutoff. The transcript was lightly edited by Swanwick and Gilman.


Dragonstairs Press is very grateful to the staff of Boskone, for providing the original recording.


The Lonely and the Rum is 5 ¼ x 8 ½ inches, hand stitched, numbered, and signed by Gilman and Swanwick. The wrappers are silkscreened lokta paper from Nepal, with a cover illustration by Susan McAninly. It is issued in an edition of 125, of which 100 are offered for sale.


Sales will begin on Sunday, August 15, 2021, at noon, Eastern Daylight Time at www.dragonstairs.com.


Domestic: 15$

International: 18$


Above: All information taken from Dragonstairs Press's announcement.