Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 18: On the Canon



On the Canon


Only a generation ago, every ambitious science fiction writer read every important work of science fiction ever written. That’s not possible anymore. Consequently, there is no longer a commonly agreed-upon canon.


If someone today were to write the best science fiction story ever, to considerable acclaim, it might easily go unread a generation hence.


We simply have to learn to live with this.


--Michael Swanwick


Thursday, August 25, 2022

Back When College Education Was Free (Unless You Were Rich)



I'll bet you don't know that back in the Sixties and Seventies, it was not only possible but quite easy to get a free college education, paid for by the U. S. government. So long as you weren't wealthy.

Before I explain how that worked, though, I must tell you how I paid for my college education. Just so you don't think that this is special pleading on my part.

My parents saved to help put their children through school. But since they had five kids, that was far from enough. I did benefit from several scholarships I won in my senior year of high school and was grateful for them, though none were very large. So, to keep the debt manageable, I chose a state-supported school in Virginia, where I was a resident. That saved a bundle in tuition. During the summer, I worked 48 hours a week at the Johnson Carper Furniture factory and resented every hour of it. During the school year, I had a part-time job at the library, which I quite enjoyed. All of which almost covered everything. The rest I paid for with a student loan, easily arranged through the student aid office and backed by the Federal government.

When I graduated, I owed a couple of thousand dollars and could not find a job. (There was a recession.) I hit the road without leaving a forwarding address. When I found work, I wrote to the aid office and arranged to start making payments. Then, when the job evanesced underfoot, I moved on, found work elsewhere and wrote the aid office again. It only took me a couple of years to square accounts.

Mind you, this was possible because they weren't charging compound interest on the loan. The government just wanted their money back. They weren't looking to make a profit from me.

Now here's how a lot of people I knew personally got a free education:

1) They took out government-backed loans to pay for everything.

2) A week after graduation, they declared bankruptcy.

It was as simple as that. I forget the exact terms, but the government would only seize those assets above and beyond a certain minimum. You could keep your car, the furniture in your apartment, and enough cash to keep you off the dole. And since very few of my friends had any significant assets, the procedure was virtually painless. Even to the companies making the loans. The government paid off on every defaulted loan. So it was easier to bill the Feds than to pursue a recent grad who probably didn't have the money anyway.

Since then, the government has tightened up the bankruptcy laws, college tuitions have skyrocketed, and the student loan program has become a profit center. Higher education is a very different game from what it used to be. You might almost say it's become a blood sport.

So if you think the Biden administration student loan forgiveness plan is a massive giveaway... Man, you shoulda been around in the Old Days.


Above: Image from


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 17: On Female Action Heroes



On Female Action Heroes


Long before I published my first story, one of my ambitions was to write an adventure story with a female protagonist. Joanna Russ beat everyone to it with her Alyx stories and novel. But, she admitted afterward, it was hard, hard, hard.


Today, it seems the easiest thing in the world. Just do it. But only because Joanna was there first.


Nothing that hasn’t been done before is easy until it’s been done before.


--Michael Swanwick


Thursday, August 18, 2022

Dream Diary, August 17, 2022


I dreamed I found a video online with the bland title of Montaigne, printed in gold lettering on a red leather book cover for the opening. It was a demonstration of how to make decorative unicorn tchotchkes out of kitten skulls and narwhal ivory.

At the end, the maker cautioned that narwhal tusks are very expensive, so this would always be a costly project.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 16: On Gratuitous Sex



On Gratuitous Sex


Speaking strictly for myself, I like gratuitous sex.


I believe it has a place in fiction as well.


--Michael Swanwick

Friday, August 12, 2022

My Chicon Schedule



Here it is, my Worldcon schedule!  If you're going to Chicago and you happen to see me, feel free to say hi.

Michael Swanwick


 Chicon Schedule





4:00 PM (Michigan 3)


The Blurbs: The Craft and Etiquette of Promotional Text

Catherine Asaro (m)  

Eileen Gunn  

Emily Hockaday  

Gideon Marcus  

Michael Swanwick  


Blurbs can be a great form of exposure, both for the person whose book is being blurbed, and the author lending their endorsement. Does the publisher arrange such things, or is the author meant to go out and forage for blurbs? Should you approach authors for blurbs before having your book deal in place as a means of attracting a publisher or agent? Do blurbs actually sway reviewers, retailers, or readers? Publishing professionals who have been through the blurbing process weigh in.



7:00 PM  (Michigan 1)


Judging A Book by Page 112

Tina L. Jens (m)  

Heather Rose Jones  

Michael Swanwick  

N. Frances Moritz  


They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but can you judge it by page 112? Let's talk about what causes us to jump ship early, works that surprised us with late hooks, and how to get better and braver at tossing things on the "Did Not Finish" pile, so we can keep working on that "To Be Read".





10:00 AM  (Roosevelt 3)


Constructing Your Collection: Arranging Stories and Poems

Emily Hockaday (m)  

Eric Choi    

Michael Swanwick  

Sarah Pinsker  

Terese Mason Pierre  


We’re familiar with telling a story in prose or verse, but what about the journey you lead readers on as one story transitions to another, as one poem leads to the next? From the moment someone opens your book you are setting expectations and boundaries, and while you may introduce them to something wildly different at some point in the collection, you need to plot out that course as carefully as you plot novels—especially when considering what note you end the collection on. Publishing veterans lend their opinions about what has worked, in their experience, and what hasn’t.


4:00 PM  (Airmeet 4)


Introducing Speculative Fictions (Virtual)

Sultana Raza (m)  

Alex Acks  

Maria Haskins  

Michael Swanwick  


Your friend just saw Dune, and loved it. Your sister can't get enough of Lovecraft Country. Your dad just rediscovered The Lord of the Rings films. You know that these are all film and TV adaptations of literary works, and that there are more books out there that they'd love. What works do you suggest first to an interested newcomer to speculative fiction?




10:00 AM  (Michigan 1)


The Gene Wolfe Renaissance

Craig Brewer (m)  

J.T. Greathouse  

Joan Gordon  

Michael Swanwick  

Paul Weimer  


Gene Wolfe passed away in 2019, but interest in his work continues to grow. We'll talk about the range of Wolfe-focused podcasts, the new Tor Essentials edition of his published work, the latest scholarly books and articles, and the growing public interest in his work. What are some of the most exciting facets of Wolfe's oeuvre as we re-examine it, and where are some suitable jumping-in points for Wolfe fans and newcomers?



1:00 PM (Autographing)


Autographing - Michael Swanwick



Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 15: On Noir



On Noir


The great noir writers—Hammett, Chandler, Cain, et al.—didn’t write noir but gritty realistic stories set in their present day.


Their imitators typically write not about the grit or the reality but about the stylistic tics of their heroes, set safely in the past.


--Michael Swanwick

Friday, August 5, 2022

"The Warm Equations" in Sunday Morning Transport!


I'm in virtual print again! Well, almost. My latest story, "The Warm Equations" will be delivered by Sunday Morning Transport to subscribers' mailboxes this Sunday. 

So what the heck, you may well ask, is Sunday Morning Transport? Good question. It's sort-of-a fiction zine, kind-of-a streaming thingie that will deliver an original SF or fantasy story to your virtual mailbox every Sunday morning. Nobody's ever given me a noun describing what it is, so I can't be more specific than that. A service, maybe?

Anyway, when I agreed to participate I was given a rather short number of words to work with. So, contrarian that I am, I decided to see just how trad a work of science fiction I could create within that limit. Here's how it begins:

People who say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one have never crashed a hopper into the side of a mountain. On Mercury. During a major solar flare. Osbourne, who had just done all of that, lay motionless, eyes closed, savoring the amazing fact that he was still alive. Then, with an involuntary groan, he sat up.

So, yes, it's a space explorer in peril story. And a good one.

How good? Good enough that I named it "The Warm Equations." Nuff said. 

Meanwhile, if you want to know more, here's their pitch:


Sunday Morning Transport readers are authors, thinkers, scientists, artists, dreamers. With a single science fiction or fantasy short story each Sunday, we connect across space and time. We deliver, right to your inbox: a moment of whimsy; a deep dive into an unknown world; a single illuminating transformation; a vibrant community of readers and writers built around the best new speculative stories each week.

Free subscribers receive one story a month. Paid subscribers receive one story each week, fifty weeks a year.  For paid subscribers, there’s more: the opportunity to join in a conversation about story, to ask questions, and to help build a year’s worth of moments with authors including Max Gladstone, Karen Lord, Elwin Cotman, Kij Johnson, Kat Howard, Elsa Sjunnesson, Kathleen Jennings, Sarah Monette, Juan Martinez, E.C. Myers, Maureen McHugh, Tessa Gratton, Sarah Pinsker, Yoon Ha Lee, Michael Swanwick, Brian Slattery, Malka Older, and many more. 

You can subscribe here.


Above: I apologize for using one of the AI art programs that are probably going to do a serious violence to the careers of commercial artists as soon as they get a lot better than they are today.  I was curious as to how close to real art the thing could come. Scarily close and not at all both at the same time, as it turns out. I won't be doing this again. Artists need to be supported. With money.



Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 14: On True Crime



On True Crime


People like this genre. Let them.


My wife’s Aunt Catherine, a woman I admired a great deal, was murdered by a serial killer.


When I mentioned this to my agent, she asked if I’d like to write a book about it.


“God no,” I said.


--Michael Swanwick

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Jack Faust e-Book Sale! Wednesday Only!!!


 I am informed by Open Road Media that the e-book of my novel Jack Faust will be on sale this Wednesday, July 3, 2022. That's $1.99  and, alas, in the US only.

 I came down with the determination to write my own version of the Faust legend when I was 16  years old and it took rather a long time before I was capable of tackling that great theme. At some point during that long wait, it became a meditation upon half a millennium of scientific progress.

So you are warned.