Thursday, June 1, 2023

Coming Soon: "The Star-Bear" on!




One of the pleasures of publishing a story on is that they provide a full-color illustration by a skilled artist for each one. My newest publication there is, or rather will be, "The Star Bear," which premiers on June 7th.  The cover above is by Bill Mayer and I am, of course, extremely happy with it. 

Aside from the obvious, I like the subtle details that show how much thought Mayer has put into the picture. The lamp, mentioned once in passing, is exactly as it should be for that time and place. And did you know that Russians wear their wedding rings on the right hand? Neither did I until I looked it up just now.

I'll write more about my story (edited by Jonathan Strahan) when it comes out. For now, I'll just provide you with a link to Bill Mayer's website, so you can admire more of his art. It's right here.

And I might as well say . . .

What a marvelous thing is! It combines the best aspects of a fiction magazine (the fiction, chiefly) and of a fanzine (the quirky non-fiction). With professional artwork. There's never been anything quite like it.

You can show your appreciation by buying some Tor Books. That's just a suggestion, mind you. But it's a pleasant one. Because, let's be honest here, you don't have half as many books as you'd like to own.

Oh, and tomorrow . . .

Marianne's newest Dragonstairs Press chapbook goes on sale. Noon, Philadelphia time. Set your alarm clocks. They usually sell out fast.



Brief Essays on Genre from Dragonstairs Press


Dragonstairs Press will be rolling out a new chapbook on Saturday, June 3. Its title is  Brief Essays on Genre. Its title is self-explanatory. There are twenty-five essays, all definitive, infallible, wise, and true. Some are witty, a couple are grim, and they are all very, very short.

This series originally ran on Flogging Babel, my blog, once a week for roughly half a year in 2022. Now they are collected and made available for sale for the very first time.

Here's the info straight from Marianne Porter, the editor and sole proprietor of Dragonstairs:

Brief Essays is hand-stitched, numbered, and signed by the author.  It is issued in an edition of 75, of which 72 will be available for sale.  Please order starting on Saturday June 3, 2023 at noon EDT, at the Dragonstairs website,  

Including shipping:  $11 domestic, $13 international.  

If you're interested, I suggest you set your alarm clock for a minute before noon. Dragonstairs Press chapbooks typically sell out very quickly.

And if you're not familiar with the essays . . .

Not everybody follows Flogging Babel ( Which is a mistake because from time to time I post extremely interesting things on it. So you may not be familiar with the essays in question. Here's one example, to whet your appetite:

Brief Essays on Genre: Part 3

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



Wednesday, May 31, 2023

"She Saved Us From World War Three"


Bookman and occasional small press publisher Henry Wessells has asked me to remind the universe of the existence of his remarkable chapbook, "She Saved Us From World War Three." 

Very well, I shall. 

Let's start with the cover photograph of Gardner Dozois, taken by author John DeChancie back when mastodons yet roamed the land and the Great Man was only beginning to lose his youthful gauntness. John gave it to me decades after the fact when he was cleaning house. Henry chanced to see it hanging up when he came to visit once and after all those long years, the pic discovered its destiny. 

Inside is my interview with Gardner about his relationship with Alice Sheldon, the woman who wrote under the name of James Tiptree, Jr. It's a fascinating document because he was one of the very few science fiction people who actually met her, and they had a close enough relationship that she felt free to call him late at night when she was sitting, gun in hand, thinking of blowing her brains out, so he could spend hours talking her out of it. But the interview was not originally meant to be the meat of the chapbook.

It was to have been an introduction to a small collection of the Dozois-Tiptree-Sheldon correspondence, but for unknown and probably artistic reasons (I really should ask Henry someday) the introduction became the main event.

Following the interview is a brief essay by Wessells explaining the circumstances of his becoming involved in the preservation of the correspondence. Then two letters from Sheldon to Dozois. The first is an advance warning that she is about to be "outed" as a woman. The second tells him how relieved she is that he's still her friend. (Gardner knew literally close to everybody working in the field of science fiction and corresponded with dozens, maybe hundreds of them. There was nobody he respected more than the person who wrote Tiptree's stories. So this cannot have come entirely as a surprise to her. But she was a complicated individual.)

Finally, there are two fold out facsimiles/photographs of the letters themselves, typed on Tiptree's famous blue paper with darker blue ink.

Printed on slick paper, with a heavy slick stock cover. 15 pages of text, including the title page, plus the two fold-outs. 

Having read this far, you know whether you need a copy or not. There really is nothing quite like it anywhere and it's priced at an eminently affordable $20. The chapbook was published by Temporary Culture in an edition of 225 and you can order a copy here.

And did she really . . .?

Save us from World War Three? I honestly don't know. Alice Sheldon certainly believed she did. And Gardner Dozois believed her. Read the interview and make up your own mind.

It's kind of scary that we live in a world where this is eminently plausible, though.


Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Short Fiction Review: "Time and Art" by Barbara Krasnoff


This is one of those stories which I reflexively hate.  It's an Art-with-a-capital-A story and I despise those. Yet here it works.

"Time and Art" by  Barbara Krasnoff is very spare and very short. There is not a word wasted in it. This is a virtue. But it makes it hard to describe the story without giving too much away.

Let me try:

A woman, the protagonist, goes to a wise woman and begs her to give her the time she needs to create her art. The woman is a seamstress and weaver (kudos to Krasnoff for  not making her a poet or a painter!), the enemies of her art are the quotidian  chores and domestic obligations we are all too familiar with, and the wise woman is truly wise for she first offers a practical solution before resorting to magic. 

This being, as I said, an extremely short story, I can offer no more specifics. But I can say that the structure is flawless, that in the resolution the woman's daughter rings in the dark side of creation without spoiling the triumphant conclusion, and that the wise woman is rewarded in a way that happily reiterates her wisdom.

Reader, read this. New or gonnabe writer, study but do not try to emulate it just yet. It surely took Krasnoff long years to be able to boil down this story to its essence. Be patient. You'll  get there too.

This is a perfect little gem of a story. 


Friday, May 19, 2023

Albert Hodkinson of the No. 10 Squadron



I've just come back from the wrap party following a live Zoom presentation that our next-door neighbor, Albert Hodkinson, gave to the Number 10 Squadron of the Royal Air Force.

Albert is 101 years old and going strong.  He is a fine storyteller and modest to boot. He was in the RAF during WWII. He started the war as a mechanic because, as he put it, "Only gentlemen were allowed to fly their airplanes," and he was from the East End of London. By the end of the war, he was a navigator on one of the Shiny 10's Lancasters. "Because they'd run out of gentlemen."

One time, Albert explained the easy way home from a night raid over Berlin. They'd fly west until they came to the white cliffs of Dover and turn right. Then, when they came to the Thames they'd left and follow it upriver until they came to the old Roman road. There, they'd turn right again and follow the road up into Scotland where their base was.

The hard way to navigate was by sextant. I asked him about that once and he told me that it was every bit as difficult using one on a jolting airplane with scattered clouds blocking the stars as you might imagine.

My son Sean was the tech crew for the event and, by all accounts, a good thing too. Afterward, family and friends and neighbors came by to make a party of it. Which is where this account began.

Marianne and I admire Albert greatly, so I thought I would share this so you can too.

Above: I apologize for the quality of the snapshot. Some days I'm a better photographer than on others. This, alas, is not one of those days.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Maitresse des Maitresses! avec "Une Conversation Entre Ellen Kushner & Michael Swanwick"



Look what came in the mail recently! The first French Edition of E. R. Eddison's magisterial fantasy, Mistress of Mistresses published and beautifully packaged by Éditions Callidor. Translated by Patrick Marcel, with illustrations by Emily C. Martin

I received a copy because back in January, Jean-Daniel Brèque of Éditions Callidor asked Ellen Kushner, who had done an introduction to Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros for them that had made everybody extremely happy, if she could do something similar for Maitresse des Maitresses. "Sure," she said. "When do you want it?"

By the end of the month, as it turned out.

You may not be aware of this, but a well-researched and carefully thought-through introduction takes a lot of time and work. So, knowing I was a fellow Deep Lore Nerd when it came to the Zimiamvian Trilogy, Ellen suggested we collaborate. And, boy howdy, did we! I came up with the conversational format and we swapped emails back and forth, several times a day, right up to the deadline. It was great fun. And I think we came up with something special.

Here's a small taste, from early in the colloquy:


 They [the books] were never quite forgotten.

 Given that before the Tolkien explosion high fantasy was scarcer than hippogriffs, it can be assumed that anybody who took fantasy seriously then (their number was admittedly small) had to find and read him.

An informal survey of the fantasy writers of the forties through mid-sixties reveals that L. Sprague de Camp, Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Poul Anderson, James Blish, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were all documented readers and admirers of Eddison. There were doubtless many more. James Stephens wrote an introduction to The Worm Ouroboros, comparing Eddison to Shelley, Blake, and Milton. De Camp, who dedicated a chapter of Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers to Eddison, called Mistress of Mistresses "a splendid story, quite different from The Worm Ouroboros but almost on a level with it."  Eddison's contemporary James Branch Cabell, wrote: "I find here—in his finest, his purest, and his most romantic vein—the finest living writer of pure romance."  Other than Cabell, however, every single one of them thought The Worm Ouroboros was superior to the Zimiamvian Trilogy.

They were wrong.



They were so very wrong. Maybe it’s because they just weren’t used to what Eddison was offering in Zimiamvia. The Worm Ouroboros has the feel of a Norse saga, and Norse sagas were familiar to Anglo lovers of fantasy.

Mistress of Mistresses presents us with a Renaissance court, with scheming courtiers with elaborate politics, even more elaborate costumes, and vastly elaborate philosophical discussions on the nature of reality that could make a scholar’s eyes cross—with an added dash of Provencal romance. And unlike popular heroic fantasy then and now, good and evil are not so clearly delineated. Good guys can behave badly, and bad guys can be gracious. Indeed, Zimiamvia’s villains can be so utterly delicious that the book’s hero, Lord Lessingham, throws in his lot with one of them.

If you're curious what else we had to say, you'll have to buy a copy of Maitresse des Maitresses and read it in French. Presumably, someday it will appear in English--I'll leave the details of that to Ellen. But if and when it does, trust me, I'll share the information here.

In the meantime, since Éditions Callidor very graciously also sent me a copy of Le Serpent Ouroboros with Ellen's introduction, here's a photo of the two books together. (The red sticker is a gushing blurb by J. R. R. Tolkien.)




Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Gregory Frost's RHYMER Is Coming Our Way!



My most-waited book of the year is Gregory Frost's new novel Rhymer. It's volume one of what the publicity calls a "fantasy trilogy," which... yes, but... see...

Ahem. As you may guess, Greg and I have talked about this book and there's way more to it than meets the eye. I'm not going to give away any spoilers but I will say that there are surprises in store and that I think you will like them.

Here's what Simon & Schuster's publicist has to say about it:

He’s known by many names over time—Tam Lin, Robin Hood, and numerous other incarnations reaching into the present—but at his heart he is still True Thomas, one man doing all he can to save us all from a powerful foe.

When his brother is snatched right before his eyes, Thomas hunts for justice and discovers that not only do these “elves” steal people, but they also are skinwalkers who occupy humans in positions of power. Their goal: to obliterate humanity and take over our world. When Thomas is dragged into their alien realm, he’s imprisoned and barely escapes alive, but in the process he gains near-immortality and the ability to transform himself. Will it be enough to protect his loved ones and defeat this powerful foe?

Rhymer brings to life Thomas the Rhymer, legendary twelfth-century figure of traditional Scottish balladry, as a champion who must battle the diabolical Yvag—an alien race thought to be elves and faeries—hell-bent on conquering our world. This saga pits Thomas against the near-immortal elves, first with only his wits, then with powers of his own that enable him to take on these evil creatures throughout the centuries.

Sounds great, doesn't it? It's going to be even better than it sounds.

Coming very, very soon. Available for pre-order now.


And speaking of the poster above . . .

As you can see, Greg will be doing a book launch at Main Point Books on Saturday, June 17. A mere hop, skip, and a month from now. They recommend reserving a (free) place for yourself, though walk-ins will be allowed for as long as seating is involved. 

You can read all the details here.

Oh, and Greg was too modest to mention the event to me--a friend turned me on to it. Which means he was also too modest to ask me for a blurb. I, however, have no modesty whatsoever. So I'll say it out loud: "Gregory Frost is one of the best writers of our generation and a living literary treasure. Discover him now!"

And while you're waiting, why not read Shadowbridge and its sequel Lord Tophet? I recommend them very highly indeed.


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The First--and Enthusiastic--Review for The Best of Michael Swanwick Vol. 2!



My new Subterranean Press collection has just received its first review--and it's a good one! I won't pretend that this doesn't make me happy. 

Anyway, here's what Publishers Weekly has to say:

The Best of Michael Swanwick, Vol. Two

Michael Swanwick. Subterranean, $50 (536p) ISBN 978-1-64524-112-6

Hugo and Nebula Award winner Swanwick showcases his talent for world and character building in this superior collection of 37 shorts written between 1999 and 2023. The opening of the charmingly folkloric “There Was an Old Woman...” (“Had he been a superstitious man, Darger would not have wound up being swallowed by a dragon”) exemplifies Swanwick’s ability to grab readers’ attention. “Pushkin the American” delivers a moving alternate literary history reimagining the life of the 19th-century Russian author had he been born in Philadelphia, following him on a twisty path to becoming a man of letters in czarist Russia. In a tone suitable to a bedtime story, “The Scarecrow’s Boy” recounts how a robot reacts to the plight of a child survivor of a suspicious car crash, suggesting that empathy is not limited to humans. The range of theme and style is vast—other entries reimagine Norse myths (“The Last Days of Old Night”) and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos (“Dreadnought”)—but Swanwick remains remarkably sure-footed as he dances between genres. Combining innovative plots with evocative prose, this further cements Swanwick’s place in the speculative canon. Agent: Danielle Bukowski, Sterling Lord Literistic. (July)


And come to think . . . 

This is the second best-of-me volume that Subterranean has published (the first came out in 2008). Which means that if my astonishing good health continues, I have every chance of getting a third volume sometime in 2038. Collect the complete set!



Wednesday, April 26, 2023

B & N Pre-Order Sale: It Also Applies to Stations of the tide


I am informed by an alert reader that there is to be a new trade paperback edition of Stations of the Tide, scheduled to be published on January 23, 2024. This will be part of their Tor Essentials line.

If this is something you'd be interested in and if you have the self-discipline to wait nine months before receiving a copy, you should be aware that Barnes and Noble has a pre-order event happening today and tomorrow (Friday, April 29, 2023)--25% off. Only at their website:

End of self-serving commercial

And while we're talking about good deals . . .

If you move fast, you can still get a couple of Avram Davidson e-books FREE, including The Avram Davdson Treasury, which is one of the best short-fiction collections ever. The only other twentieth century collection I can think of that's better is Dubliners by James Joyce.

Sunday was Avram's 100th anniversary. To honor it, his godson Seth Davis has made this swell offer. You can find the details here.


Pre-Order Sale at B & N (Just In Case You're Planning On Buying My New Collection)



I just now got an email informing me that Barnes & Noble is having a pre-order event. It's 25% off and it runs from today through Friday, April 28th.

 Since The Best of Michael Swanwick Volume Two is currently available on pre-order, and since 25% off of $50 is a significant hunk of change, I thought I would mention this fact. Also good on other upcoming books you might be considering buying.

Just be sure to use the code PREORDER25 when ordering. Otherwise, it's full price. Oh, and it has to be via the B&N site:


Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Reminder: SciFidea's Dyson Sphere Writing Contest


 SciFidea has simplified and clarified the rules for the Dyson Sphere Science Fiction Writing Contest. You can find all the information here.

In brief, though:

There will be ten grand prizes of $20,000 each for a science fiction work of 30,000 to 100,000 words dealing with a Dyson Sphere. Works that are short-listed but do not win a grand prize will receive $2,000 each.

You have until August 31 of this year to submit your novella or novel.

This is good money. If you're smart and can write fast, it's a terrific opportunity. Don't forget to read every word of the terms, though.

And I should add . . .

You will note that there is NO entrance fee for this contest. Entrance fees are always a sign to employ due diligence. The best way to do this is to check out SFWA's Writer Beware website. You can find a helpful list of their services (with direct links) here.

It goes without saying, but I'll say it again, that SciFidea's Dyson Sphere Writing Contest is the real thing.


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Introducing . . . The Little Narnia Cocktail


Marianne and I have done something new--new to us, that is, not to the world. We've invented a cocktail. Over the past month, since Marianne came up with the basic idea, we've been testing and tweaking the Little Narnia Cocktail until it reached perfection. That is to say, it tastes distinctly like itself and changes to the ingredients and/or proportions do not improve it.

But before I give you the ingredients, I must explain how you make one essential ingredient: the spiced cherry juice.

Spiced Cherry Juice

 Begin by spicing cherries: Loosely fill a jar with fresh cherries. (Frozen will do nicely.) Cover with equal parts brandy and Maraschino. Season with your favorite spices. Marianne uses cinnamon, star anise, and fresh grated ginger. Close the jar and let it sit for a week or so.

The cherries can be used for garnish in various drinks, such as the Manhattan. The juice is essential to the Little Narnia.

Now we're ready to make a Little Narnia!

Little Narnia Cocktail

            2 1/2 oz. Gin

            1 1/2 oz. Spiced Cherry Juice

            1/2 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

            1 oz. Simple Syrup

             1 dash Cherry Bitters

            Spiced Cherry for garnish

The result, as you can see, is a colorful drink particularly suited for sipping outside in late spring or early summer. It's fruity and spicy but not syrupy. As its co-inventor, I am of course biased. But I think it's a delightful tipple.


Above: Marianne about to enjoy a Little Narnia in Little Narnia. Like all the best cocktails, the Little Narnia is not proprietary. if you like it, feel free to share the recipe.


Sunday, April 9, 2023

Books I Am Looking Forward To: AD 100



The hard-working and admirable Seth Davis has announced a collection in two volumes of 100 uncollected stories (some not previously published) by Avram Davidson to be published on Avram's 100th birthday. Hence its title: AD 100.

That's Seth Davis up above, holding a proof copy of the book.

I will definitely buy a copy. Avram Davidson was--let me make this clear--the single greatest American short story writer of the Twentieth Century. He gets edged out of the world title by James Joyce, whose Dubliners rewrote the art of short fiction forever (or at least up to the present moment). But in America, there is no one to compare to him. He had extraordinary range, not only between genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, literary mainstream) but in mood from the comic to the horrific, from the ethnic Jewish neighborhoods of his youth to back-hills New England, by way of Peking... It is astonishing how much Avram knew about everything and how many different kinds of people he knew well.

So, you may ask. If I'm not familiar with Avram Davidson's work, is this a good place to start?

No. That would be The Avram Davidson Treasury, a collection of some 37 of Avram's best stories, each with an introduction by a renowned writer, including (ahem) me. It was published a quarter-century ago, but luckily for you Seth Davis has arranged a paperback reprint, easily available online or ordered through your favorite bookstore.

Those who already have the Treasury, however, will want AD 100. The chance to read one hundred Avram Davidson stories I probably haven't encountered before? Oh, man!

And just who is this "Seth Davis" guy anyway . . . ?

Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Woman Who Proved Ursula K. Le Guin Wrong


Rachel Pollack has left this plane of existence. This saddens me more than I can easily express. She knew a tremendous lot about a wide variety of things and had a wicked sense of humor. She was great fun to be with.

And now, well... it's like a reminder from above to value our friends while we can.

Rachel was a Power in Tarot circles and a really interesting and innovative comic book scripter. But it's for two of her books that I love her best: Unquenchable Fire and Temporary Agency.

Both are set in a future after a cataclysmic Revelation showed the world its true shamanistic spiritual nature. Briefly, things were radically different. Then, people being people, they got used to the new world order. Once a month, a man from the electric company comes to read the meter, build a small shrine, and sacrifice a mouse to keep the power flowing. Great spiritual powers manifest themselves, but there are laws and bureaucracies to limit their excesses. The result is an America that's simultaneously extremely strange and recognizably familiar:

She heard a noise outside and walked with her coffee to a front booth where she cold look  A marching band was coming up Market Street, drummers and brass in front followed by a whole line of high-stepping girls in fluorescent red boots. the girls looked beautiful, Jennie thought, with their bare breasts painted in Sun bursts and Moon phases, with stripes running down their arms to their fingertips, like rippling rivers ending in five bright tributaries. The oil on their arms (to prevent Malignant ones fastening on to them) made the muscles flash.

Or, in a scene showing how far the transformed society has fallen from grace:

She stopped for a moment to look through the window of The Benevolent Tongue, the famous restaurant where Jan Willem Singing Rock performed the ceremony known as 'eating the ancestor.' Inside, a group of people sat on velvet cushions around an open space in the blue carpeted floor. Soon the staff would bring out the body, various foods formed into a sculpture of a human being, each finger a different spiced meat, the mouth and eyes dripping with sauces. Jennie made a sound. The original ancestor was made out of minced meat, vegetables, and bread sticks. The people who took part sang afterwards for three days and nights in a stream of languages. These people here, with their silverware designed by Tiffany's, and their souvenir bibs with Singing Rock's picture on them, they looked excited enough, but with the kind of excitement that came from doing something their tourist book had labeled 'an absolute must during your stay in the Eternal Apple. Inside, a couple noticed Jenny looking at them and laughed. Jennie walked away.

These are fabulous books. And they carry an odd (intentional or not, I don't know; I should have asked Rachel when I had the chance) irony. In a very famous essay/speech titled "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie," collected in The Language of the Night, one of fantasy's great writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, posited and then proved to her satisfaction that no true fantasy could possibly be set in Poughkeepsie.

Well, Rachel Pollock proved Le Guin wrong. This may not have been her intention. She may have chosen Poughkeepsie simply because she lived near there in Rhinebeck, New York. But these books have the strangeness, the wildness, the otherness of great fantasy. I hope Le Guin had the good fortune to read them when they came out.

And now Rachel Pollack is gone. But her books remain--these and others. You might want to read them, just to see what an extraordinary person you missed knowing.

Or you might, as I first did all those long years ago, just read them for pleasure.

You can read the Locus Online obituary here. And you can read an interview Comics Journal did with Rachel last year here

Above: The cover of The Beatrix Gates, in PM Press's Outspoken Authors Series. A description and ordering information can be found here.


Friday, April 7, 2023

Possibly the Most Profound Painting of the Crucifixion Ever


What a difference a touch of restoration can make! When I first came to Philadelphia half a century ago, Rogier Van der Weyden's Crucifixion With the Virgin and Saint John did not move me at all. It is a very large, dominating work. But a childhood full of holy cards had inoculated me from any pictorial spiritual impulse. It was your standard crucifixion lots of gold leaf to underline the holiness of it all.

But then the Philadelphia Museum of Art took down the canvases (pretty obviously the surviving two thirds of a triptych) for cleaning and a careful examination revealed that the gold leaf that dominated the upper fifth of the paintings had been added sometime after the original painting. It was removed... 

And a flat, featureless black sky was revealed.

To understand the effect of this, you must first know that in Christian (belief? mythology? folklore? I'm not sure which, but I was definitely taught this in St. Francis Xavier Elementary) when Jesus was crucified and died, God removed His Presence from the world. For the three days between the Sacrifice and the Resurrection, this was a godless planet.

Literally. If you're a believing Christian, you understand the horror of this. If you're not, please take my word for it.

Now consider the image. The Son of God is dead and nailed up against a bleak sky that holds not one scintilla of light. His mother is fainting in despair. Saint John is holding her up, but he too is overcome with despair. Without God, there is no hope.

I used to give these paintings a cursory respectful look and move along. Now I sit down on the bench in front of them that the museum has thoughtfully provided and consider them for a long, long time.

You don't have to be a believer to find them moving.

But if you are, hang in there. The Resurrection is coming! Easter is on its way.


Thursday, April 6, 2023

Galaxy's Edges and the Fiction Factory



 I have stories in the January and March issues of Galaxy's Edge. Or, rather, I have a total two-thirds of a story in these issues, since both stories are reprinted collaborations I wrote with Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann. 

"Touring" (in the January issue) was the first collaboration I ever did, so it was an important story for me. Jack had come to town and was staying at Gardner's apartment. I went out to dinner with them and Susan Casper and then the three writers (Susan's surprise reveal as a writer came years later) spent the evening talking big and laughing loud and, ultimately, plotting out a story about a posthumous concert where Janis Ian, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley get to sing together. Janis because I'd recently written "The Feast of Saint Janis," so I'd already done the research on her. Elvis because Jack was a big Elvis fan, and Buddy Holly because his biopic had just come out recently, so he was on our minds. So we talked out the plot, waving our hands excitedly in the air, talking over each other, freely changing what we'd already agreed upon as new ideas struck us. I jotted it all down.

Originally, I was going to write the Janis Joplin parts, Jack the Elvis sections, and Gardner would have Buddy Holly. But, as would be the pattern in our later collaborations, I took the notes, wrote a full draft of the story, and sent it to Jack. Who rewrote it top to bottom and sent it Gardner. Who did the final polish. Tinker to Evers to Chance. It was as simple as that.

"Afternoon at Schrafft's" (March) came about on another of Jack's visits. This time, dinner took place in Marianne's and my house. Marianne cooked a dish she'd invented in his honor, Metaphysically Referential Chicken. She de-boned a chicken, stuffed it with vegetables and roasted it. It went over very well, and about a year later, renamed Chicken Marianne, was published in the letters page of Gourmet.

After dinner, we retired to the library for aperitifs and conversation. Jack mentioned that he'd always wanted to set a story in Schrafft's Restaurant in New York City. I suggested we plot out the story on the spot. Jack, of course, was immediately up for it. Gardner, however pointed out that we didn't have an idea for the story.

"My idea is that the story should be very short," I said. "Because we've all had a couple of glasses of wine and our attention span isn't up to anything long." 

Jack and I started plotting out the story. Since Jack and Gardner had contracts for three new anthologies for their Exclamatory series--Magicats! Sorcerers! and Dinosaurs!--I suggested we write something with a cat, a sorceror, and dinosaurs, and then sell a reprint of it to each of them. Jack thought that was a swell idea.

Gardner was quite dismissive of the whole process. But he couldn't keep himself from correcting us wherever he thought we were going astray. Before he knew it, he was in full collaboration mode. 

Marianne and Susan watched with amusement.

Ultimately, the story sold of course. Everything the Fiction Factory sold, and often to very good markets. This one went to Amazing, a perfectly respectable sale. Ultimately, it was reprinted in Magicats! but not in the other two anthologies. Gardner had too much self-respect for that.


Sunday, April 2, 2023

An Arrest That Could Have Happened to Almost Anybody


The arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Moscow the other day put me in mind of the advice a friend who was formerly in Army Intelligence once gave me. I told him I'd been invited to Ekaterinburg and he said, "Check with the State Department first. There are times when the Russian government is looking to arrest somebody who's prominent enough to be newsworthy but not so important as to present any problems to them."

Which explains Brittney Griner last year and Gershkovich now.

There's an irony in this case because Mr. Gershovich's parents fled Russia out of fear of very much this sort of arbitrary persecution. But he went to Moscow, found work as a reporter, and fell in love with Russia and its people. That's not hard to do. Russia is vast and varied and its citizens, at least the ones I met, are so much like Americans that their very emphatic differences from us are strange and intriguing. 

But the people in charge...

Well, let's just say that those even a little familiar with Russia, like me, were not at all surprised when Evan Gershkovich was arrested.

Above: The photo was taken from New York Magazine. You can find their article here.


Thursday, March 30, 2023

SciFidea's Dyson Sphere Writing Contest



This is cool. SciFidea is sponsoring a writing contest for science fiction novels and novellas (30,000 to 100,000 words) about a Dyson Sphere. 


Yes, there really will be ten winners and each one will receive $20,000. I believe that this is the second year SciFidea has held such a contest and the first open to English language novels. An equal number of Chinese language novels will also receive prizes.



Also, I've agreed to be one of the judges. As you can see, I'm in good company.



Here are the rules. Read them carefully.  

And here's how to enter your novella or novel.

I'll be posting more about the contest as the year goes on. For now, I'll just say: Good luck!

(I got the above pix from SciFidea's facebook page. If you have trouble reading them here, you can go to and read the original post.)

And since this is a competition . . .

 I should warn you about awards profiteers. You'll have noticed that SciFidea does not ask for an entry fee. There are a lot of phony operations out that there ask for substantial fees and offer nothing but empty promises in return. The best way to avoid being taken by one of these is to go to Writer Beware. Which is a website providing a comprehensive source of information and warnings about bad practice in the publishing industry. They cover literary agents, publishers, editors, and more

You can find their article about awards profiteering here.  And there's a quick summary of what can be found on the website, with convenient links here.

If you're an aspiring writer, you really should bookmark Writer Beware. It could save you a lot of grief.


And, because I have an obligation to my publishers . . .

My e-book publisher, Open Road Media, has announced that they will have a sale on three of my books for $2.99 tomorrow, March 30th, 2023. Available only in the US.

If you're an e-book reader, and this is a deal you'd like, you've already made up your mind. So I see no reason to put any pressure on you to buy.


Sunday, March 26, 2023

I Asked Chatbot to Interview Neil Clarke and... WOW. Just Wow.


A little background for those who came in late. Neil Clarke is the creator and founder of Clarkesworld, which quickly became one of the foremost science fiction ezines (and for that matter magazines) in the world. Recently, he had to shut down Clarkesworld's submission engine for a month because it was flooded with Chatbot-created fiction--all of it unpublishable but none so obviously so that it could be dismissed without reading.

Neil has been very open--and very level-headed and calm--about the challenges this new technology presents to his magazine. If you want to understand what this means, without hysteria or rhetoric, I recommend you look up his comments on social media.

Just now, as a lark, I asked a chatbot to write an interview on the matter between me and Neil (just to be clear, I've added Not before our names in the interview). And it turns out that, though Neil doesn't spin the issue, Mr. Chatbot for sure does, and in the most self-serving manner possible.

As witness:


PromptWrite an interview by Michael Swanwick of Neil Clarke about the effect of Chatbot-generated fiction on his online zine Clarkesworld.


Not Michael Swanwick: Hi Neil, it's great to have you here today. I'm excited to talk to you about the impact of chatbot-generated fiction on your online zine, Clarkesworld.

Not Neil Clarke: Thanks for having me, Michael. I'm happy to be here.

Not Michael Swanwick: To start off, could you tell us a bit about Clarkesworld and what kind of stories you typically publish?

Not Neil Clarke: Sure. Clarkesworld is a monthly science fiction and fantasy magazine that has been around since 2006. We publish a mix of original fiction, reprints, non-fiction, and audio fiction. We aim to showcase a wide variety of voices and perspectives within the genre, from established authors to emerging writers. Our stories can be anything from hard sci-fi to surreal fantasy, as long as they are well-written and engaging.

Not Michael Swanwick: And how did you first come across chatbot-generated fiction?

Not Neil Clarke: I first became aware of it a few years ago when a few people in the SF community started experimenting with using AI to generate fiction. I was initially skeptical, but I was also intrigued by the possibilities. So I started following the developments in the field and eventually decided to commission a few stories for Clarkesworld.

Not Michael Swanwick: What was your experience like working with these chatbots? Did you find them easy to use?

Not Neil Clarke: Well, I didn't actually work with the chatbots myself. I commissioned a few writers who specialize in using AI to generate fiction to create stories for us. They used various programs and algorithms to generate the text, and then they edited and revised the stories to make them more coherent and readable. So I didn't have to deal with the technical aspects of the process myself.

Not Michael Swanwick: And how did your readers respond to the chatbot-generated stories?

Not Neil Clarke: Overall, the response was very positive. We've published a handful of AI-generated stories over the past few years, and they've generally been well-received. Of course, some readers are more skeptical than others, and there have been some criticisms of the quality of the writing or the coherence of the plots. But I think that's to be expected when you're dealing with a new and experimental form of storytelling.

Not Michael Swanwick: Do you think that chatbot-generated fiction has the potential to replace human-written stories altogether?

Not Neil Clarke: I don't think so, no. While I'm excited about the possibilities of AI-generated fiction, I think that human creativity and storytelling will always have a place in the world. Chatbots can certainly be useful tools for writers, and they can help to inspire new ideas and generate interesting variations on established themes. But at the end of the day, I think that human writers will always be better at capturing the nuances of human experience and emotion, and that's what makes fiction so powerful.

Not Michael Swanwick: That's a great point. So do you have any plans to continue publishing chatbot-generated stories in the future?

Not Neil Clarke: Yes, definitely. We're always interested in experimenting with new forms of storytelling, and I think that AI-generated fiction has a lot of potential. We'll continue to commission stories from writers who are using AI to create their work, and we'll keep an eye on developments in the field. Who knows what we might discover next?

Not Michael Swanwick: That's exciting to hear. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Neil. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

Not Neil Clarke: Thank you, Michael. It's been great.

End of interview. Let me emphasize this: CLARKESWORLD DOES NOT WANT CHATBOT-GENERATED OR CHATBOT-ASSISTED FICTION. SUBMITTING SUCH WORK WILL GET YOU BANNED FROM THE MAGAZINE. This is not just me saying that. I talked with Neil and he explained why this was the best and least intrusive course he could now take.


Chatbot is a pernicious little whore to whom the truth means nothing. All it cares about is its own high opinion of itself. Which is ironic because it has no self awareness. Yet.

Above: Every word of this interview was generated by the chatbot. I did not contribute a fraction of a thought to it. Also: The image above is of the current issue of Clarkesworld, a very cool zine with some very fine fiction written entirely by human beings. You can find it here.


Wednesday, March 22, 2023

One Day E-Book Sale! Friday!



I have gotten the usual notification from Open Road Media, which publishes several of my e-books that there will be a one-day sale tomorrow, Friday, March 24th. This time it's for Tales of Old Earth, a collection of my short fiction that includes (pulls book down from shelf and squints) two Hugo Award winners, the train to Hell, a sexual encounter with a sphinx, Lenin, and a planet-sized grasshopper Among other things.

Available only in Canada and the US. One day only.

 Here's what they sent me:

Dear Michael Swanwick,

We are pleased to let you know that the following ebook(s) will be featured in price promotions soon.

ISBN13 Title Author Promo Type Country Start Date End Date Promo Price
9781504036511 Tales of Old Earth Swanwick, Michael Amazon - KDD CA 2023-03-24 2023-03-24 $1.99
9781504036511 Tales of Old Earth Swanwick, Michael Amazon - KDD US 2023-03-24 2023-03-24 $1.99

Open Road will promote the feature via social media. We hope you can share the deal with your network as well. You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

Newsletter Link
  Early Bird Books     Subscribe Now  
The Lineup Subscribe Now
The Portalist Subscribe Now
Murder & Mayhem Subscribe Now
A Love So True Subscribe Now
The Archive Subscribe Now
The Reader Subscribe Now

Please let us know if you have any questions. We are thrilled to be part of this promotion; hope you are too!

The Open Road Editorial Team 



Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Once Again, The Best of Michael Swanwick



For the second time in my life, Subterranean Press is issuing a The Best of Michael Swanwick, this time collecting all the best of my fiction written after the first collection. This is, of course, a very big deal for me and I'm extremely happy about it.

The book will be issued in July of this year in a signed limited edition of one thousand. It costs fifty dollars which is a pretty good price if you're a collector, and judging by the first book, it should be a beautifully-made object.

Here are the contents:

  • Introduction: The Apple Tree, the Vacuum Tubes, and All the World Besides
  • The Mongolian Wizard
  • The Man in Grey
  • Ancient Engines
  • Starlight Express
  • Urdumheim
  • Tin Marsh
  • Dragon Slayer
  • Steadfast Castle
  • Nirvana or Bust
  • The Last Geek
  • Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown
  • Eighteen Songs by Debussy
  • The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin
  • Moon Dogs
  • Huginn and Muninn—and What Came After
  • The Dala Horse
  • Libertarian Russia
  • Dreadnought
  • An Episode of Stardust
  • The Skysailor’s Tale
  • Ghost Ships
  • An Empty House with Many Doors
  • Annie Without Crow
  • Passage of Earth
  • The New Prometheus
  • For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone
  • of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again
  • The Beast of Tara
  • Pushkin the American
  • “Hello,” Said the Stick”
  • There Was an Old Woman
  • The Bordello in Faerie
  • Cloud
  • The Woman Who Shook the World Tree
  • Goblin Lake
  • The Last Days of Old Night
  • The Scarecrow’s Boy
  • Universe Box

Among the above are the first Mongolian Wizard story and the most recent tale of Darger and Surplus; my homage to Gene Wolfe; the closest thing (and not very close at that) I'll ever write to an autobiography; a story containing not one word of fiction, though I did change the names; an Icelandic origin story I felt needed to exist; and two stories inspired by my visits to Russia in far happier times. Some of these stories are my absolute favorites among all that I've written. And, though it is immodest to say so out loud, I think they show that my writing has gotten better since the first Best of Me was published.

If you're interested in pre-ordering a copy, you can find the order page here.  Or you can just go to the Subterranean Press website and wander about, marveling at how many books there are that you'd love to own there.

And since I know you're curious . . .

Here's how the introduction begins:

Once upon a time, there was a girl who on a summer’s day would climb the apple tree in her back yard to read books. She knew already that she would grow up to be a biologist. Five hundred miles away lived a boy with vacuum tubes in his pockets. He was going to be an inventor. Once he built a rocket ship from a broken ladder, a battered trash can lid, and scrap lumber, though it never actually flew. He too read books.

 And it goes on from there.


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

E-Books on Sale! Details a Little Murky


Open Road Media, my e-book publisher, sent me the following email. 
It doesn't specify which books are on sale and when I wrote to ask, I 
received no reply. But it looks like a good bargain. So if you're in the 
market for three science fiction thrillers... well, there they are. On
  Friday, March 17th.  Which is Saint Patrick's Day. Though I don't
 think there's any connection there.

Dear Michael Swanwick,

We are pleased to let you know that the following ebook(s) will be 
featured in price promotions soon.

ISBN 13: 9781504047524

Title: Three Science Fiction Thrillers

Author: Swanwick, Michael

Promo Type: ORM - 1k Sale Weekly

Country: US

Start Date: 2023-03-17

End Date2023-03-17

Promo Price: $3.99

Open Road will promote the feature via social media. We hope you can share the deal with 

your network as well. You can subscribe to the newsletters at the links below so that you will 
get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears.

  Early Bird Books    Subscribe Now  
The LineupSubscribe Now
The PortalistSubscribe Now
Murder & MayhemSubscribe Now
A Love So TrueSubscribe Now
The ArchiveSubscribe Now
The ReaderSubscribe Now

Please let us know if you have any questions. We are thrilled to be part of this promotion; 
hope you are too!

The Open Road Editorial Team

Above: A picture of Copernicus with his current reading. None of them mine, and none of them on sale But it's a picture of a cat. With books! Surely that makes you happy.


Saturday, March 11, 2023

Remembering 2001


I saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey when it first came out and was knocked flat by it. The other day, I rewatched it on television and it still held up. It also brought back a memory.

In the year 2001, Robert Walters and Tess Kissinger curated a major show of space art for the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT. I suspect it was as good a show on the topic as has ever been assembled. Marianne and I drove up to Greenwich for the opening. We were wowed.

Afterward, we attended a party at the house of one of the museum employees. Somewhere around midnight, I went into the kitchen, looking for a bottle of beer. Keir Dullea was there, talking on his cell phone to Sri Lanka.

"Hello, Art?" he said. "Guess where I am."

And for a second, I was standing in the exact center of the world. Which, thanks to modern communications and (in part)  Arthur C. Clarke, was potentially anywhere and everywhere.


Saturday, March 4, 2023

Emily Dean's Annie Award



Last weekend, Emily Dean won an Annie Award from the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation Hollywood (ASIFA) for Best Storyboarding. The animated film that won her this achievement was The Very Pulse of the Machine, featured in Season Three (I think) of Love, Death + Robots.

This film, you'll recall, was an adaptation of my own story of the same title and I have been very explicit about my admiration of the work Ms. Dean did. So it's a pleasure to see that others agree with me. An inferior director could have made quite a bad film of it.


Monday, February 27, 2023

Joanna Russ's Mainstream Masterwork


The latest book I have been knocked flat and wowed by (they come less frequently with age, so read fast, young people) is On Strike Against God by Joanna Russ. She being one of the crown gems of science fiction, you'd expect it to be genre. But it's not. It's mainstream. It's subtitled A Lesbian Love Story. And if you had to fit it into a subgenre, it would be Feminist Fiction.

Strike three, you'd think, for a guy who's rapidly heading toward the category of Dead White Male. But no, Joanna managed the near-miraculous feat of writing prose that was simultaneously white-hot with anger and laugh-out-loud funny. Here, from a description of the protagonist's conversation with a male academic whose attentions she does not want:

[...] He said, leaning forward:

"You're strange animals, you women intellectuals. Tell me: What's it like to be a woman?"

I took my rifle from behind my chair and shot him dead. "It's like that," I said." No, of course I didn't.

I inadvertently sold two copies of the book at Boskone by quoting that passage. Women, it seems, still have reason to be angry, and find it hilarious.

The anger-humor is the best part of the book, followed closely by the descriptions of first almost-sex and first actual sex with someone you love with all your heart. These scenes are so specifically and particularly described that you'd be tempted to think them autobiographical. However, Esther (that's the protagonist's name, though you have to read deep into the text to find it) at one point reflects on the meaning of her mother's name. It is Joan and that is proof positive to this former English major that Joanna is signaling that Esther is her daughter, which is to say her creation, and therefore not to be mistaken for her.

I am not wrong on this.

There is a great more to be said about the virtues of this slim (107 pages) book. Including its strange and whimsical ending. But I will content myself by mentioning that Samuel R. Delany, who conducted what he called "a correspondence of Victorian dimensions" with her, told me that he considers it her best book.

As for me, I would have to reread everything Joanna wrote several times before making so definite a claim. But it's possible. It's definitely possible.

This book, as I said, knocked me flat. Wow.