Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 22: On Alternate History



On Alternate History


Once, it was the playground of historians. What if the Spartans had come late to Thermopylae? What if Zheng He’s treasure fleet had reached Africa? What if Tecumseh had turned back the European expansion into North America?


Then, with “Ike at the Mike,” Howard Waldrop asked: What if Dwight David Eisenhower had become a jazz musician? And alternate histories no longer needed to make sense.


The number of alternate history stories grew exponentially soon thereafter.


--Michael Swanwick


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 21: On Writing Advice



On Writing Advice


No writing advice will work for everyone. This is because “writing” is not a single skill but a diverse range of strategies that result in a superficially similar end product. Some writers cannot begin a story until they know how it will end. For others, who write to surprise themselves, an ending foreseen is the death of the entire enterprise. And so on.


Aspiring writers must learn to approach all advice with a grain of salt. Try it out with an open mind. If it works, put it in your literary toolbox. If it doesn’t, discard it without regret. It simply doesn’t work for your kind of writer.


This advice applies to all, with no exceptions.


--Michael Swanwick


Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 20: On the Present Tense



On the Present Tense


It is at least a decade ago and I am teaching a class on writing. I no longer do this. Even then it is rare. But this time I am. Earlier in the class, I state that in fiction the present tense should only be used when there is a compelling reason to do so. Otherwise, the past tense is best.


Now a student objects, “But present tense is so much more immediate!”


“The word you are searching for,” I say, “is distancing.”


--Michael Swanwick


Friday, September 9, 2022

Rich Horton's Year's Best... NOW With "The Dragon Slayer"!



 I'm in virtual print again! Rich Horton's annual selection of the year's best science fiction and fantasy, appropriately titled The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy is now available for purchase.

This is, appropriately enough, the 13th volume in the series. Which is to say, it's cursed. Largely because of the secondary effects of Covid, it came out a year late. (All the stories were published in 2020) and in ebook format only.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the volume contains 35 stories by both new and established writers. All of which bear Rich's imprimatur as being among the best fiction published that year. Which makes it a real bargain at ten bucks.

Highly recommended. Especially my story. I liked it so much I spent years writing it. New writers take note: Don't throw away your unfinished work. The day is coming when you'll be a good enough writer to wrangle it into publishable form.

You can find the table of contents here.

And you may well ask . . .

Did I really spend years writing "The Dragon Slayer"

Yes, I did. The first sentence just came to me. I wrote it down and then the next one and before I knew it, I was down to the bottom of the page. Just as Olav set foot on the road one morning, with no particular purpose, and found himself in a faraway land in that same stretch of page.

And then? I had no idea. So I had to stop writing.

Off and on for years I tried to get the story going again. I even tried collaborating on it with a friend. Nothing much happened. I did manage to add a few pages of Olav's adventures. But it wasn't until I realized that the story wasn't really about him that I was able to slowly, painfully write the rest of the tale and bring it to a safe ending.

But to find out that ending, you're simply going to have to read the book...


Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Brief Essays on Genre, Part 19: On Fables



On Fables


Stereotypes acting out a story that sums itself up in a moral… the fable may be the most pervasive form in literature. Whenever a schemer looks vulpine or a student demands to know what a story “means,” fable is to blame.


Modernism can be read as a reaction against fable. As can science fiction’s explication of scientific principles in place of the moral.


Which is why “The Cold Equations” is so regressive. It presents a moral that has become emblematic of science fiction: The universe doesn’t give a damn. Thus reducing the genre to a platitude.


--Michael Swanwick