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, Thierry Fraysse 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!