Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Goblin Markets, Night Markets, et al.


Over at Tor.com, Randee Dawn has written an article about shopping in Faerie. Well, in fantasy literature, anyway, which is almost the same thing. I mention this because a section of Ms. Dawn's essay deals with the night market in Avernus, which appears in my most recent novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother. 

I will not give away any of the article, but I will mention the fact that that section was inspired by the night market of Split, Croatia. Marianne and I were staying in a room just inside the Silver Gate of Diocletian's Palace and the night market was just outside the city walls. And I am here to tell you that it had all the magic of a carnival at night. Wonderful and tacky at one and the same time.

You can find the article here. Or just wander through the Tor.com website, which has many stories and articles of interest including my story, "The Star-Bear," which just went up a week or so ago.


Above; If you've never read Christina Rosetti's Goblin Market, you really should. She denied the sexual subtext that seems so obvious to us, but just try reading it aloud and make up your own mind. Not in front of children or teenagers, though. They'll start snickering.


Friday, June 23, 2023

Soft Sell Friday: Things By Me You Can Buy (If You Wish)


Two announcements today. First, the e-book of Tales of Old Earth, my quite splendid collection of short fiction, goes on sale tomorrow, Saturday, the 24th of June, for $1.99 (US and Canada only). So if you like e-books, don't already have this one, and would like to get a taste of my short fiction... well, there you are.

Second, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association is having a silent auction. Among the many items and opportunities on offer is a pair of  Dragonstairs Press chapbooks, written by Yours Truly and published by Marianne Porter.

Here's the official description:

Two Dragonstairs Press limited edition chapbooks, each signed and numbered: THE ONCE AND FUTURE RYE by Michael Swanwick, a history of "the whiskey that was America," and THE LONELY AND THE RUM, a conversation between Swanwick and Greer Gilman exploring the virtues and dissimilarities of the works of P. L. Travers, Stella Benson, Tove Jansson, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, among others. (Note: the ONCE AND FUTURE RYE chapbook is the last one available anywhere.)

I might add that the small item, bottom right, is Marianne's official business card. It takes the form of a very small chapbook, hand-sewn in wrappers.

You can find the auction here. Or you can go direct to the chapbooks here. But, really, it's more fun to just poke around and see what's on offer.


Monday, June 19, 2023

Lynn Sun On SciFidea's Dyson Sphere Writing Contest


In a recent interview, Lynn Sun, the Chief Editor  of SciFidea talks about the Dyson Sphere writing contest in detail, including the origins of SciFidea.

Reporter: Can you share with us how SciFidea was developed and launched back in 2021?

Lynn Sun: Sure. SciFidea started as a popular column named “奇想”(QiXiang) in the well-known Chinese SF magazine Science Fiction World. “Qixiang” means fantastic ideas literally, and it refers to the ideas or inspirations for science fiction. We then created a new word – SciFidea – for its English version. It was a new venture. When I joined Tang’s team, there were only Tang and me, a tiny startup with a big science fiction dream. We did all the work, editing, publishing, advertising… you name it! It was not until the second year that we started to have other workmates.

Most of our authors got deeply influenced by Western SF from a young age, and they have the eagerness to communicate with the global SF community directly. It just occurred to us that there is a need for them to talk globally. Our authors have a global perspective, and they can write for all. To provide our writers with a bigger stage, to better connect with the world, and to reach out to a bigger SF community, we decided to dream bigger and go abroad. It was no doubt a huge challenge, as we had many uncertainties about foreign languages and international rules. But we had to get things done without waiting for it to be ready.

 There's a lot more and it's all interesting. I recommend you consider reading the entire interview here.


And if you're thinking of entering the contest . . .

Type fast! There's still time to write a novel or novella (30,000 to 100,000 words) if you're fast and you're good. And if you're both, there's a decent chance of being one of the ten winners to receive a $20,000 advance on your novel. 

You can find the contest rules in detail here.




Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Writing "The Star-Bear"



Today, my latest story, "The Star-Bear," goes online at Tor.com. It was edited by Jonathan Strahan and illustrated by Bill Mayer. The illustration is directly above.

To mark the occasion, I've written an essay explaining what went into this particular story, why I wrote it, and some of its hidden allusions. I recommend that you go to Tor.com and read the story first and then come back and read what I had to say. Then again, there are people in this world who eat dessert first. You know which type you are better than I do.

 You can find the story here. Or you can go to Tor.com and poke around. It's well worth doing.


Writing "The Star-Bear"


I used to be president of the world.


Okay, technically I was president of the International Union of Writers1 and it was only an honorary position. But the honor meant a lot to me because it had been arranged by my friends in Russia. I’ve been to Russia several times over the past two decades and attended Roscon, the national SF convention, twice and Aelita, the country’s oldest SF convention three times (one of them virtual). I had the opportunity to become good friends with many writers, and fans there. I think the world of them.


There is something about Russia, or perhaps I mean the Russian people, that grabs you by the heart. It’s elusive and hard to explain, but I’ve heard it called “the strangeness of the Russian soul.” Puzzling over that strangeness led me to write two stories set in Siberia, “Libertarian Russia” and “Pushkin the American.”2 As the titles will tell you, they were genre, not mainstream.


Then the Russian army invaded Ukraine. I had no choice but to resign my position with the IUW.


My Russian friends were outraged. They had bought into Putin’s potent mix of truths, half-truths, slanders, conspiracy theories, and lies. I happened to know something of the subject, so I posted an essay online explaining why the claim that the U.S. had 32 “bioweapon labs” in Ukraine, ready to unleash plagues upon their helpless motherland was a dark fantasy and ridiculous to boot. If anybody there read it, nobody was convinced. Someday the war in Ukraine will end. But I doubt I’ll ever be welcomed back by the Russian science fiction community that had so warmly embraced me.


It is a sad thing to lose a friend. Sadder still to lose many friends all at once, along with a country I’d come to care about. Not a fraction as sad as what every citizen of Ukraine is now going through, of course. But sad enough that I wanted to write a story about that loss.


                 *                                  *                                  *


The hero of that story was based on an émigré writer named Alexei Remizov—a modernist, satirist, calligrapher, and student of folklore. When he fled Russia in 1921, he was held to be an important writer. In Paris, he gained the admiration of such luminaries as James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov, but the passing decades saw his prominence dwindle.  He alienated the émigré community and outraged Nabokov by applying for and receiving a Soviet passport. But though he was obviously tempted, he did not return to his native country. Which was probably a good thing, for many writers who fled and then returned did not live long after. When he found himself unpublishable, he created unique stories combining illustrations and a calligraphic text, which could be enjoyed only by a single reader at a time. He died in 1957, well on his way to being forgotten.


I anagrammatized Remizov’s name to Zerimov because what little I knew of Remizov’s life didn’t fit with the story I wanted to tell. His wife Serafima, for one, did not die in Moscow but went into exile with him.


While Remizov was teaching Russian in Paris, he became friends with the classicist Jane Ellen Harrison and her companion Hope Mirrlees, author of the fantasy novel Lud-in-the-Mist. His work had a strong influence on Mirrlees, so she and Jane made the most fleeting possible appearance in the story—you’d miss it if I didn’t point it out—as “English bluestockings” Zerimov teaches at the Ecole des Langues Orientales. There is also a reference to Jean Cocteau’s Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance, and the claim that a genius could build upon its innovations to create something astounding. Which Mirrlees did in Paris, a Poem, printed and published in chapbook form by none other than Virginia Woolf. The late scholar Julia Briggs called the poem “modernism’s lost masterpiece,” and those few of us who have made a study of it are all convinced it must surely have been an influence on T. S. Eliot, who was a close friend of Mirrlees.


So there is a great deal hidden in this story which no sane person would expect you to be able to winkle out. Here’s an example: When Zerimov describes his first encounter with the Star-Bear, making claws of his fingers and saying, “It reared up and went: Raowrr!” This line I took from my late friend, Andrew Matveev. As a young writer, it was his ambition to be the Russian Hunter S. Thompson. The editor he submitted his first novel to jabbed the typescript with his forefinger and said, “This novel will never be published.” Then he had Matveev sent into internal exile. In Ekaterinburg, he was given a job as night watchman at the zoo, to keep him out of the way. In the small hours, the big cats there made it clear what they wanted to do with him. After Perestoika, Andrew (never Andrei) Matveev was free to write and publish. But, he said, “A part of what I could have been was taken away from me.”


I could go on and on. But I am not trying to impress you with my cleverness. I simply hold up these sources so you can appreciate how much more than you can see goes into even the simplest and most straightforward of stories. That bit of fluff you enjoy so much? That too. All of a writer’s life goes into every story, and a great deal of effort goes into hiding that fact. Because, as William Butler Yeats wrote in one of his poems, “A line will take us hours maybe;/Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,/ Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.”


I hope you read my story, which the good folk at Tor have made available online for free. But if it doesn’t work for you on the surface level, as a simple tale of a man and a bear and possibly a woman, all this background will be for naught. Still, if you do read it, I hope it gives you pleasure.


The story’s title was borrowed from Remizov’s bear-story “The Star-Bear,” one of four by him that appeared in The Book of the Bear, translated and edited by Harrison and Mirrlees.



1 The IUW was founded in Paris in 1954, hit hard times with Perestroika, and now its membership is almost entirely Russian, though there have been efforts in recent years to make it truly international again. If you know the history of the last seventy years, this should tell you a lot.


2In one, a young post-Collapse Russian, enamored of American cowboy movies, travels across Siberia and discovers why “Russian” and “Libertarian” are incompatible terms. The other is about a 19th century American stranded in Ekaterinburg, who becomes his new nation’s most revered writer. Which I admit was pretty cheeky of me.

Above: The Illustration for "The Star-Bear" was, as I said, made by Bill Mayer. I think he did a terrific job of it.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Coming Soon: "The Star-Bear" on Tor.com!




One of the pleasures of publishing a story on Tor.com 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 Tor.com 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,   www.dragonstairs.com.  

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 (www.floggingbabel.blogspot.com). 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