Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 5: On Prediction




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



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



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!)



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.



Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 3: On Fantastika



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!



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!



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"



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:





    “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)







Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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



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




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)



"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



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