Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 9: On Alzheimer's as Muse

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On Alzheimer’s as Muse

 

When I was sixteen, my father contracted early-onset Alzheimer’s. A year later, he was no longer recognizably himself.

 

When I was sixteen, I knew I would be a scientist, though not what kind. A year later, I was determined to be a writer.

 

When I was twenty-nine, I sold my first story. I never became a scientist.

 

--Michael Swanwick


Thursday, June 23, 2022

"Reservoir Ice"

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I'm in print again! The July/August 2022 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction has my new story "Reservoir Ice." Here's how it begins:

 

The problem was, they didn’t meet cute. Anything but. They were brought together by Zipless, an app that combined a deep reading of the user’s sexual desires and a wristbit that chimed if they neared the edge of the partner’s comfort zone. “Hello, I’m—” Matt began to say when Laura opened her apartment door and, “I don’t care who you are,” she replied, grabbing his shirt with both hands and ripping it open.

 

But, believe it or not, the story is not about sex. It's about love and romance and relationships and how difficult these can all be when you and everybody else have the ability to go back in time to undo your and their mistakes.

 

That opening paragraph, by the way, is one of the worst possible ways to begin a story. If I had the time, I'd tell you why.



And because I know . . .

 

Oh, what the heck. Some of those reading this blog are looking for writing tips. So I'll make the time to explain.

 

A quarter century ago, when I sold "Wild Minds" (one of my favorite stories, by the way) to Asimov's, its editor, Sheila Williams, told me that opening a story with a sex scene--even a mild one such as I'd written, with no explicit verbs nor any mention of body parts--was almost always the sign that the story was written by an amateur and not at all publishable. She was amused to find herself actually buying one.

 

So that's it in a nutshell. Open a story with a sex scene and you'll negatively impressed its editor at a time--the beginning--when you most want to positively impress her


Why did I do it, then? It's a character fault. I don't respond well to even the most benevolent authority. In second grade my teacher told me I couldn't begin a sentence with the word "and." And I've been doing it ever since. To such a degree that one of my final chores with any story is going through it to take out as many of those constructions as I can.

 

So don't learn from my example. Listen to Sheila. And watch those "and" sentences!


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Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 8: On Literary Awards

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On Literary Awards

 

The purpose of most literary awards is to convince authors whose work is beloved by their fans to keep writing even though their books may not earn enough money for them to quit their day jobs.

 

Many best-selling writers are never nominated for those awards and resent that fact. They are, however, missing the point.

 

--Michael Swanwick

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 7: On Literary Movements

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On Literary Movements

 

If you absolutely must join a literary movement, start one yourself. By the time you’ve heard of somebody else’s, it’s over.

 

--Michael Swanwick


Friday, June 10, 2022

One Day E-Book Sale! In the Drift! Saturday Only!

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I've been informed that the e-book of my first novel, In the Drift, goes on sale tomorrow, Saturday, June 11th, for one day only. Sale price: $1.99. Available only in the US. 

I'm also told that the promo type is "ORM - The Lineup NL." Not quite sure what that means, though I'm guessing NL means Newsletter. But if you want to sign up with The Lineup and get notifications of good deals on e-books, you can do it here. It's free.


And in case you're wondering . . .

How did I come up with an odd title like In the Drift? Well, I didn't. My working title was The Drift, but when the novel was in production, I was told that wouldn't do because it sounded like a horror novel. Which made perfect sense. My book was a post-meltdown science fiction story. But then they told me what they'd come up with. Ugh.

Worst part of all this was that there were only a couple of days to re-name the book and I couldn't come up with anything good. So out it went.

In the Drift was a fix-up of three novellas with two short connecting sections between them. The first novella was titled "Mummer Kiss." A year or two later, I got contributor's copies of the French translation and yanked out my French dictionary to see what Baiser de Masque, the lovely title its translator had given it, meant.

It meant Mummer Kiss. 

I felt so stupid.

This is why nobody should ever submit a novel to a publisher without coming up with a good title for it first. You can't trust them to do a better job of it than you can.

 

*

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 6: Writer's Block

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On Writer’s Block

 

 

 

 

 

--Michael Swanwick


Sunday, June 5, 2022

The Making of The Very Pulse of the Machine

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You can tell that Love, Death + Robots has been a big hit for Netflix because the powers that be are spending money promoting it. 

One nifty thing they've done is to make a short video on the making of The Very Pulse of the Machine's animation. In it, director Emily Dean talks about the process of adapting my story and why she made the choices she did. I found it fascinating.

That's the video up above. Or you can go directly to it on YouTube by clicking here.

 They also did a short video for the animation of Justin Coates' story "Kill Team Kill" which you can see by clicking here.


And because I know that gonnabe writers are looking for tips...

A close reading of any well-made story will teach you a lot, and that goes for animated stories as well. After you've watched the video I want you to focus on two things:

First, note how Ms. Dean went out on the beach and dragged a weight to create a reference and how she dove onto her bed for similar reasons. Prose writers have to do very similar things when research a story or novel. If you don't know what something looks or feels or smells or whatevers like, find out. It's not always dignified, but it's part of your job.

Second, note how beautiful the dancing women scene was. As Emily Dean states, in the original the description was sparse: 

Weeping, she passed through the eerie stone forms. The speed made them shift and move in her vision. As if they were dancing.

And that's all. I didn't have to describe the dance because that happens in the reader's mind. Animation is a more literal form so it has to be shown. But prose fiction is a collaboration between the writer and the reader. You must learn to trust your collaborator.

That's all for today. Class dismissed. 

 

*

Friday, June 3, 2022

E-Book Sale! Bones of the Earth! Tomorrow Only!

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I've just been told that the e-book of my dinosaurs-and-time-travel novel, Bones of the Earth, goes on sale tomorrow, Saturday, June 4th, for only $1.99. This applies to the United States and Canada only.

So what, you may well ask, is Bones of the Earth about? Well, superficially there's a mystery as to the nature of time travel and who or what made it available--to paleontologists, of all people!--long, long before it could possibly have been invented. And a tale of survival and community among a group of researchers who find themselves marooned in time at the very end of the Maastrichtian Age. But what it's really about is the nature of scientific research.

I spent well over a year researching the novel, interviewing scientists, studying fossils,  reading papers, and attending conferences. At the end of that time, I could sit in on any conversation between paleontologists and understand every word they said. I couldn't contribute to the conversation, mind you. But I could understand it.

In the process, I became fascinated by the paleontologists themselves and in the ways their lives were interwoven with their careers.They really  are a fascinating batch of people.

Also, there are dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs. As I finished each chapter, I gave it to dinosaur reconstruction artist Bob Walters, who would read it and then return it with an embarrassingly long list of corrections. After rewriting the chapter, I would send it to the late Ralph Chapman, paleontologist and structuralist, then working at the Smithsonian, and he would return it with an equally long and humiliating list of corrections. So that when I turned in the typescript to my publisher, it was as accurate a representation of dinosaurs as any ever written.

Of course, by the time Bones of the Earth was published, new discoveries had been made so that it was only almost perfectly accurate. And if I went through it today, I could doubtless create another list of inaccuracies. But I won't. Because that's not my job.

That's what other people are for.


*

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 5: On Prediction

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On Prediction

 

In The Door Into Summer, published in 1956, Robert A Heinlein predicted cell phones, Ticketron, computer-assisted design, metal detectors in airports, robot vacuum cleaners, and much more that has since come to pass. Today, Heinlein’s visionary descriptions of then-nonexistent technology are as dull as dirt to read.

 

In a story titled “The Mole Pirate,”  Murray Leinster posited a device that would put matter out of phase with matter, making it possible for someone to walk through walls. A criminal steals the technology and uses a retrofitted submarine to surface inside bank vaults and make off with all the money. The climax when the device fails and the criminal falls helplessly toward the Earth’s molten core is nonsense but riveting.

 

Draw your own conclusions.

 

--Michael Swanwick

 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 4: On the Origin of Fantasy

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On the Origin of Fantasy

 

The first story was told by a spear-fisher deep in our ancestral past. After missing a cast, the fisher exclaimed, “Did you see that fish?”

 

“No,” somebody standing nearby said. “How big was it?”

 

“It was—” The spear-fisher held up hands to indicate the length, then suddenly yanked them farther apart. “—this big!”

 

For a heartbeat, it had seemed the Ur-story would be mimetic—mainstream. But with a leap of imagination it became fantasy and realism has been a subset of fantasy ever since.

 

--Michael Swanwick


Monday, May 23, 2022

A Few Quiet Words of Praise for Philip Gelatt

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So I have seen the Netflix/Blur Studio animation of my story “The Very Pulse of the Machine” in the third season of Love, Death + Robots, and I love it.

 

Great praise is due to Polygon Pictures, the Japanese studio responsible for the beautiful and occasionally hallucinatory animation, and to the director, Emily Dean, who put it all together.  They’ve been receiving it, too.

 

Less often mentioned is the writer, Philip Gelatt. I imagine that most people think he had a relatively easy job, since all he had to do was put what was in my story in script form.

 

Boy howdy, no! “The Very Pulse of the Machine” was written in what’s called “third person close point of view.” Third person, of course, is when the protagonist is a “they” rather than an “I” (first person) or a “you” (second person). When the reader is given access to the character’s inner thoughts, that makes it "close" as opposed to the more distanced “limited point of view.” In both the animated and print versions of the story, Martha Kivelson (Kivelsen in the original) is exhausted and occasionally hallucinating. From time to time she lapses into stream of consciousness.

 

This would not work in an animation. The constant jabber would drive the viewer mad. So the animated version showed MK from the outside. Which created a new set of problems. Without access to her thoughts, her actions had to be made self-evident. A good example of this is why she’s dragging the corpse of her friend, Juliet Burton, behind her. In the print version of “The Very Pulse of the Machine,” Martha has personal reasons for doing this. In the animated version, her oxygen is depleted and so she plugs her suit’s breathing tube into her friend’s suit.

 

That’s very neat, quickly done, instantly comprehensible to the viewer—and not at all easy to come up with.

 

As I watched the episode onscreen, I was alert to every change that had been made—everything that was left out, everything that had been invented. They were all good decisions. Which required a good writer.

 

So I thank you, Philip Gelatt. Great praise be unto you.

 

 

And speaking of Easter eggs . . .

 

I got an enormous kick out of the quick glimpse of a poetry anthology titled Poems of Old Earth. That wasn’t mine, but it was a sly reference to my short fiction collection Tales of Old Earth. Kudos to whoever it was who came up with that.

 

 

*


Thursday, May 19, 2022

"The Very Pulse of the Machine" Animated (and Streaming Today!)

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Today's the day when I get to see what Blur Studio did with my Hugo Award winning story, "The Very Pulse of the Machine." The snippets seen on various trailers look promising. 

Love, Death + Robots releases its third season on Netflix today. As of this writing (I am typing this yesterday), I haven't seen my segment. But the credits look good.

Polygon Pictures, which did the animation, is the first Japanese studio involved in the project. Emily Dean, the director, appears to be on a short, steep upward arc. And Philip Gelatt, the writer, wrote the script for Europa Report, which I thought was a pretty great movie. So I am optimistic. 

 Here's Netflix's elevator pitch for the segment:

When an exploratory expedition on the surface of the moon Io ends in disaster, an astronaut must trek to safety dragging the body of her co-pilot while using potentially mind-warping drugs to deal with the pain of her own injuries in this trippy tribute to comic book legend Moebius.

You can see the trailer for season 3 here

If you don't have Netflix, you can see one episode, "Exit Strategies," which Blur dropped onto YouTube, and get an idea of what you're missing here.



 

Above, top: There I am with the season 3 t-shirt and the Dragonstairs Press logo. (The latest chapbook, The Proceedings of the American Martini Institute, A Report of the American Martini Laboratory, The Once and Future Rye: The Whiskey that Was America, goes on sale tomorrow at noon, Philadelphia time.) 

Above bottom: A still from the animation.

 

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 3: On Fantastika

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On Fantastika

 

The term fantastika, meaning a single genre encompassing both science fiction and fantasy, originated in Eastern Europe. Science fiction chauvinists object to it strenuously. But, given that Hugo Gernsback included work by Edgar Rice Burroughs in Amazing Stories, the ur-zine of what he then called “scientifiction,” it has to be admitted that the distinction between fantasy and science fiction was blurred even before the latter was named.

 

--Michael Swanwick

The Iron Dragon's Daughter E-Book Sale! Act Fast!

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Another one of those one-day pop-up e-book sales. Here's what they told me:

The e-book of  The Iron Dragon's Daughter will be on sale for $1.99 on Wednesday, May 18 for one day only. This is an Early Bird Books promotion available only in Canada and the US.

 Which is all I know.

If you want to sign up for the Early Bird Books newsletter, which will give you the direct link to the promotion, you can do so here.

 

And because you may not know . . .

 

The Iron Dragon's Daughter is the story of Jane, a girl who has been kidnapped by the elves and forced to work in a factory, building dragons. Faerie has been industrialized. The high-elven wear Armani suits and dwarves sit in the back of the bus. As the story opens, the enslaved children who labor in the Baldwin Dragon Works are planning to murder their supervisor, Blugg.

This has proved to be my most popular novel ever. Some of my pals give me a hard time about that. "You peaked twenty-five years ago?" But there it is. A fact is a fact. 

Anyway, if you like reading e-books and you're at all curious about my work, this is a great opportunity.

There. That's as close to a hard sell as I'll ever come.

 

*

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Once and Future Rye, the Dragonstairs Chapbook!

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Marianne's Dragonstairs Press has released its latest chapbook, a compilation of my posts on the history of rye whiskey in America!

Here's the official notification: 


Dragonstairs Press is pleased to announce publication of The Proceedings of the American Martini Institute A Report of the American Martini Laboratory The Once and Future Rye: The Whiskey that Was America by Michael Swanwick, with a cover illustration by Susan McAninley. This report, tracking the rise of rye whiskey, its tragic downfall, and its wondrous rebirth, originally appeared as a number of posts on the Flogging Babel blog and has since been lightly rewritten. It is a 8 ½ x 5 ½ inch chapbook, hand-stitched, and is issued in a signed, numbered edition of 80, of which 76 are available for sale.

Domestic price, including shipping $12

International price, including shipping $14

 

Please note that it doesn't go on sale until Saturday, May 21 at noon, Eastern time. Also note that in direct contrast to some of Dragonstairs Press's small-run and ultra-small-run productions, this one will not sell out in one or two or even five minutes. It is Marianne's intention to have this chapbook available for sale for weeks and even months to come. But even if that doesn't happen, it's pretty sure to take days to sell out.

 

No guarantees, though.


And why, you ask, that particular date . . .?

 

May 21st, or 5/21, was chosen because it is National Dry Martini Day... Five to One.


 

*

 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Surprisingly Popular "Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After"

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Rather to my surprise, I find my story "Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After" included in the 2022 Locus Awards Top Ten Finalists list for short story. That's not me being modest. The story was published with a trigger warning that it deals frankly with suicide and despair, and that's not usually the kind of thing that ends up being popular. Respected maybe. But popular? No.

 

And yet, there it is. I think that says something rather rather admirable about the science fiction readership.

 

"Huginn and Muninn--and What Came After" is a story I meant to tackle for many years and finally did. It is in part, yes, about a suicide that people I know tried hard to prevent, but it's also a meditation on what can and cannot be known about the life that came before. Among, of course, other things.

 

Again, I think it speaks well of the readership that so many people liked such a difficult work. I thank them for that. Really, that's my reward right there.

 

 Below is the full list for the category. As you can see, it's a nice mix of established writers who have richly earned our respect and hot new writers who are tearing up the boards. I'm feeling rather full of myself to be listed among their number:

 

 

SHORT STORY

 

    “If the Martians Have Magic“, P. Djèlí Clark (Uncanny 9-10/21)

 

    “Mr. Death“, Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/21)

 

    “Proof by Induction“, José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny 5-6/21)

 

    “Let All the Children Boogie“, Sam J. Miller (Tor.com 1/6/21)

 

    “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather“, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 3-4/21)

 

    “Crazy Beautiful”, Cat Rambo (F&SF 3-4/21)

 

    “Huginn and Muninn – and What Came After“, Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s 7-8/21)

 

    “An Arc of Electric Skin“, Wole Talabi (Asimov’s 9-10/21)

 

    “The Sin of America“, Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny 3-4/21)

 

    “For Lack of a Bed“, John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots 4/21)

 


 

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 2: On the Nature of Fantasy

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On the Nature of Fantasy

 

Why fantasy?

 

Because the world as it is makes us unhappy.

 

Why not make the world as good as you wish it were?

 

Because only in fantasy do we have the power to change the world to that extent.

 

But fantasy won’t do that.

 

Neither will reality.

 

Why not simply accept reality as it is?

 

I spit in your face.

 

--Michael Swanwick


Love Death Robots + The Very Pulse of the Machine

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It's official! My Hugo-winning short story "The Very Pulse of the Machine" has been adapted for and will appear in Season 3 of Love Death + Robots.  That the season trailer up above

I haven't seen the episode yet, but Blur, the production company, did a really good job with "Ice Age," in the first season, so I expect something equally good.

The two stories are very different, mind you. "Ice Age" is a lighthearted story about a young couple who discover a lost civilization in the freezer compartment of their refrigerator. "The Very Pulse of the Machine" is a hard-science tale of an astronaut in peril who makes a discovery greater than anything she could have expected. But the folks at Blur have got range. So my hopes are up.


And because I know . . .

Gonnabe writers occasionally drop by this blog, hoping I'll drop a writing tip. So okay, here's one.

You may wonder why I pretty consistently make my astronauts female. This began when I was working on "Ginungagap," my second published story. The protagonist needed to be a heroic astronaut, cool under pressure and able to face death without flinching. But I could not make him convincing.

The problem, I realized, was that I was identifying too closely with the character. Why was he behaving as he did? Because he's a space hero! Where did he come from? Schenectady, New York! He had no reasons for any of his actions. He was just a fantasy identification figure.

So I tried making the character a woman.

I have three sisters. They always had a reason for anything they did. I've known a lot of women in my life. Again, they all had reasons for everything.  When I thought of my protagonist as a woman, the reasons for her career choice became obvious.

Now, I am NOT suggesting that you routinely gender-switch characters. Just that if you find yourself identifying too closely with your protagonist, it might help to make that character something you are not: male, lesbian, differently abled, Laotian... Whatever.

Just make sure you know Whatever people well enough to write them convincingly.


 *

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Short Fiction Reviews: "Give Me English" by Ai Jiang (F&SF, May/June 2022)

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"Give Me English" is a simple story and appropriately short, set in a world where the currency is language. You pay the rent, a taxi fare, the grocery bill with words, which disappear from your mind with each transaction. The richer you are, the more languages you speak. The poor retain only a few words, and if they lose those they become homeless and Silent.

The protagonist is a young woman who has come to an English-speaking nation seeking a better life. Which, lacking a sufficient vocabulary, she cannot find. So she sells her native Chinese words bit by bit, to buy English. And, bit by bit, she loses the ability to communicate with her parents back home.

This is a lovely metaphor for the immigrant's struggle to learn a new language and fear that the old one--and their connection to family and origins--is steadily slipping away. But it's also something more.

One of the simplest pleasures in life is staring at the sky on a beautiful day. Sometimes it's subtle shades of blue blending into one another with gray-and-white clouds slowly shifting form. Other times it's a Wagnerian sunset with reds, oranges, and purples, like so many clarion blasts welcoming in the coming night. "If they could find a way to charge for the sky," I think at such times, "I could never afford this."

In the same spirit, "Give Me English" is not so much about the immigrant experience or even about predatory capitalism as it is about the beauty and wonder of language.


*

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 1: On the Origin of Science Fiction

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On the Origin of Science Fiction

 

The first written glyph was a straight line drawn with a stick in the mud or sand and it meant: I am here. This was the beginning of history.

 

A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that implicit in the statement was another: I was not always here. This was the beginning of literature.

 

So science fiction, the literature of change, was present in written language from the very beginning.

 

--Michael Swanwick

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Disney Must Pay (One Year Later)

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Remember the "Disney Must Pay" campaign? A certain corporation is hoping you don't. The corporate stance is that when they bought things like the Star Wars franchise and the Buffyverse, they acquired the assets (like tie-in novels) but not the debts (like the contracted obligation to pay royalties).

Well, the #DisneyMustPay Task Force has issued another open letter. If you agree with them, please spread the word. It's the right thing to do.

Something that the Disney corporation knows very little about.


Here's the letter:

 

Dear Disney,



Walt Disney said, “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way.” We believe all authors must be paid. The #DisneyMustPay campaign started in November 2020 with a press conference and an open letter to Mickey Mouse. 

 

We remind you: it’s been well over a year. 

 

You’ve paid some authors what you owed them. But there are other creators that you don’t want to talk about. And, because you did not take our advice, new creators are coming forward who are owed money, too.

 

You still refuse to recognize your obligations to lesser-known authors who wrote media tie-in works for Marvel, for Star Wars, for Aliens, for Predator, for Buffy: TVS, and more, universes that you’ve bought the rights to, along with the obligations to those creators. You’ve re-published their works but have failed to do even the bare necessities of contract and talent management. You’ve failed to pay these writers royalties they’re legally owed and have not given them the courtesy of royalty statements and reprint notices.

 

These pandemic years have been hard on creators. Surveys by the Authors Guild and the Society of Authors have shown 71.4% of writers’ incomes in the USA and 57% in the UK have declined since it began. Inflation is growing, bills still need to be paid. Honor the contracts.

 

#DisneyMustPay all writers what they’re owed. Put up an FAQ, create a point of contact, send out royalty statements, make payments in a timely manner, and let creators know when you’ve republished their works. 

 

It’s time to honor your agreements. It’s time all creators were paid what they’re owed.

 

Signed, 



The #DisneyMustPay Task Force

Neil Gaiman

Tess Gerritsen

Lee Goldbert

Mary Robinette Kowal

Chuck Wendig

 

[You can find their website here.]

 

 

Above: Image copyright 2021 by WritersMustBePaid.org. I doubt they'll object to my borrowing it in this context. Incidentally, I don't have a dog in this fight. Which only intensifies my conviction that the writers who do have the moral high ground.

 


Thursday, April 28, 2022

One-Day! E-Book! Sale! Jack Faust! $1.99! Tomorrow (Friday) Only!!!!

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Open Road Media, which publishes several e-book novels of mine and one e-collection, has announced a one-day sale of Jack Faust for only $1.99.

That's tomorrow, Friday, April 29 and this deal is available in the US only. And just for the one day.

So if you're an e-book reader who doesn't have this title, wants to read it, and can afford to drop two bucks... well, then this deal is for you.

 I believe this is wherever you can buy US e-books. But just in case, the Amazon.com entry for it is here.

 

And it occurs to me . . .

It's possible that you don't know much about Jack Faust.  Well... I could tell you that it's my revisionist science fiction retelling of the Faust legend. I could tell you that when I first read Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, I loved and was terrified by the opening and ending of the play as only a Catholic schoolboy could be, but regretted the middle acts where Faustus piddles away all that soul-bought power playing pranks on college students and the Pope. I wanted a Faust that was damned by the very knowledge he had lusted after. I could tell you that decades passed before I was a good enough writer to create that story.

But instead, I'll simply tell you that the demon Faust sells its soul to is actual an alien race in a parallel universe with a far higher ambient level of energy that wishes to destroy humanity and that its name is expressed in our universe as an equation:

me  h = i δ t0 Φ H  L Σ S

If that's not enough to whet your appetite, you may not want to read this book.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Once and Future Rye, Part Last: Risen Like the Phoenix

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Chapter 11: Risen Like the Phoenix

 

Nature abhors a vacuum. In the early years of the twenty-first century, many entrepreneurs had made their nut by building a company from scratch and then selling it to whatever big fish of a corporation swallowed up their kind. Now they were looking around for a business that would be fun to build and run. Craft breweries were an obvious possibility, but that niche was already crowded and hard to make a name in. They did, however, serve as a good model for craft distilleries.

 

Ambitious men and women bought cheap real estate, expensive stills, and a lot of oak barrels, and set to work. Almost all began by making vodka and then gin, which required no aging. Then they set their sights higher… and saw that the market for rye was scandalously underserved.

 

Meanwhile, the Craft Cocktail movement was in full bloom. To oversimplify drastically, a lot of bartenders grew tired of mixing vodka with fruit juices and liqueurs to make sticky-sweet and obvious concoctions with names like Screaming Orgasm, Sex on the Beach, or Harvey Wallbanger. They wanted to regain their self-respect . Looking backward in time they rediscovered drinks that honored the alcohol in them. Drinks with names a grownup would feel comfortable ordering in public.

 

Not only did they succeed at all of the above, but by creating a market for sophisticated drinks, these heroic baristas resurrected extinct spirits like Old Tom Gin and liqueurs like Crème de Violette. If you’ve ever enjoyed a Martinez or an Aviation, you have reason to be grateful to them all.

 

The movement can be divided into two factions: One employs the finest and freshest ingredients to create classic cocktails, many of which had passed into near-oblivion. The other employs the finest and freshest ingredients to create new cocktails inspired by those classics  but tweaked with combinations unknown to our revered ancestral  topers. Which cult you prefer is strictly a personal choice. I choose to defer to whichever bar I happen to be in at the time.

 

To honor the completely mad crafters of artisanal cocktails, you could do worse than to raise a Perfect Black Manhattan, a variant of a drink invented in San Francisco in 2015 with dry vermouth replacing half the Averna to keep its flavor from overwhelming the rye:

 

Perfect Black Manhattan

2 ounces rye whiskey

½ ounce Averna

½ ounce dry vermouth

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters

spiced cherry

 

directions: mix, chill, and serve with a spiced cherry for garnish

 

This is a beautifully dark cocktail with an appropriately bitter heart. It would be the perfect drink to mix to celebrate the end of an affair you should never have begun. Like life itself, it can be savored despite the bitterness and, on occasion, even because of it.

 

On which note, this chronicle comes—gracefully, I hope—to an end. It has been a long and bumpy road that led from the barely drinkable swill our Colonial forebears tossed back with depraved abandon to the artisanal and hand-crafted (whatever that may mean in this context) ryes and rye cocktails that now grace our better watering holes.

 

No matter what the coming decades may bring, it may be confidently predicted that they will pass in the twinkling of an eye. When they do, parts of this chronicle will doubtless seem quaint and, for reasons unforeseeable, out of date. So be it. But, barring the extinction of the human race, it seems a safe bet that rye whiskey will endure.

 

To which pleasant prospect, I raise my glass. Slainte!

 

 

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