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.