Thursday, November 30, 2023

E-Book Sales Tomorrow Only!



Yes, these e-book sales come along pretty often--it seems to be the publisher's marketing strategy. But it would be unprofessional of me not to support the people who are working hard to supply me with an income. 

So let me trumpet this to the skies: Tomorrow, Friday, December 1, both In the Drift and Vacuum Flowers will be on sale for only $1.99 each. That's in the US only.

In the Drift, my first novel, is a dark, moody cautionary tale set in the wake of a full meltdown at Three Mile Island. Vacuum Flowers is a bright and adventurous tour of the Solar System centuries after a human diaspora that came about when all of humanity on Earth was swallowed up by a hive mind. So the one is an antidote to the other. You can decide which one you'd like to read depending on what mood you're in.


Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Winter Songs from Dragonstairs Press


Those who follow this blog are aware that I am married to the proprietress of Dragonstairs Press and that once a year, she says, "Swanwick! Write me some Solstice stories." Which she then proceeds to incorporate into small, beautiful, and hand-stitched chapbooks appropriate for winter festivities.

And once  a year, a fraction of those chapbooks become available for sale to collectors and those who love them. 

Here's the letter that Marianne sent out to her regular clients:

Dragonstairs Press is pleased to announce the sale of Winter Songs.

Winter Songs is Michael Swanwick's witty take on some of the most popular music in the western canon.  What was Henry VIII plotting when he wrote Greensleeves?  Will Lord Wren ascend to the Throne of Twigs?  And what was in the holds of those three ships?

Enjoy these six quick tales, hand-stitched and bound in screen printed, hand-made silver paper, 5½ x 4¼, signed and numbered.  Issued in an edition of 120, of which 37 are offered for sale.

Available Saturday, December 2, 2023 at noon EST, Philadelphia time at

Mark your calendars! These chapbooks always sell out fast.


Monday, November 20, 2023

A Small Memory of Michael Bishop


Rummaging through the dusty ill-lit attic of my brain, I have uncovered a small gem of a memory. I wish I'd remembered it when I noted Michael Bishop's passing a short while ago, but this will have to do.

Back in 1986, the day after I lost my first Hugo  Award, I found myself in the green room, commiserating with Mike, George R. R. Martin, and a fanzine editor whose name I regret having forgotten. We'd all lost an award, so we had something to talk about.

George said that a very good writer whose name I am deliberately suppressing had recently told him: "You guys are always complaining about the awards you lose. But there are some of us who are equally good writers and never even get nominated."

We all nodded out heads lugubriously. Yes, yes, life is unfair.

Then Mike Bishop smiled impishly--a smile completely devoid of malice--and said, "But what do we care about her pain?"

And on the same subject . . .

I'd already lost five or six Nebula Awards by then, so I was used to the inevitable letdown. I had, however, thought that I had a chance because I was up for "Dogfight," co-written with William Gibson who was hot as hot at that time. (This may have been the first award he was up for that he didn't win.)

Later, reflecting back on the experience, I realized that Bishop, Martin, and I has lost the award in the same category. These guys were among my heroes. And I was hanging with them as equals. That meant a lot more to me than the nomination ever had.

Above: I found this photo on ISFDB, which credits it to Open Library.


Friday, November 17, 2023

A. S. Byatt--the Writer We All Hoped We'd Be When We Grew Up


A. S. Byatt (her nom de plum; her mundane name was Dame Antonia Susan Duffy) is dead. Now the scramble for the title of Best Living Writer in the English Language may begin.

I never met the lady and have only read a fraction of her work. But OMG was she a fine writer. Like many latecomers, I discovered her with Possession, a novel about a threadbare academic researcher who chances upon a once-in-a-lifetime discovery--a letter suggesting that two major Victorian poets (fictional ones; but think Christina Rosetti and Alfred, Lord Tennyson and you get the unlikelihood) had an affair. The book was magisterial. Then she wrote The Children's Book, a generational novel set in the Arts and Crafts Movement of nineteenth century England. I started reading it, fell into it, and found myself thinking, "How well she remembers her childhood!" before I slapped myself on the forehead  because it had all happened a century before she was born.

Which novel was better? I think it's blasphemous to ask.

I have a particular fondness for a novella-length book of hers called Ragnarok. In it a "thin child"--apparently Byatt herself in WWII--has a father in the RAF and does not expect him to return home alive. A bookish girl, she knows there are two gods. One is a nice one they talk about in church, and he doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the world as she knows it. The other are the Norse pantheon and they make sense of her situation. Byatt does a wonderful job of sub-creation here. Since there is a world-tree, she reasons, there must also be a world-kelp. Since Loki (who is unlike all other gods in being a shape-shifter) is father to the Midgard Serpent, obviously she must adore her father. I will say no more because why spoil something luminous? Oh, and the ending is great.

Our best and finest is now dead. I shall continue my voyage of discovery through her oeuvre. If you are familiar with Byatt's work, you will mourn with me. If not, I recommend you start with either (the one is short and the other is a world in itself) Ragnarok or Possession. When you've read both, you can move on to The Children's Book.

After which, you can tell me which book is her greatest. I have no idea.


My Philcon Schedule


Once again, it's Philcon (or, as the gamers dubbed it after the event was moved to a hotel in Cherry Hill, NJ: Chillcon) time. I'll be there and here's my schedule: 

Time                  Room Name                               Title

Fri 7:00 PM        Plaza 3                     When is a Story Collection 
                                                                Actually a Novel?  
Sat 12:00 PM      Plaza 2                     Controversy and Science Fiction 
Sat 4:00 PM        Readings                 Twenty Minute Reading    
Sun 11:00 AM     Crystal 3                   Fifty Years After Omelas: 
                                                                  A Look Forward   

Sun 12:00 PM      Autograph Table     with Bjorn Hasseler & Anna Kashina 


If you see me, be sure to say hello!



Monday, November 13, 2023

Michael Bishop



Another of my heroes has left the planet. It's been decades since I've seen Mike in person and, to my surprise, I find that on reflection we never spent enough time together that I could claim he was a friend. He was just a terrific writer whose work I admired. But he was such a warm and positive man that his loss hits hard.

In the wake of his death, I find myself thinking of when I first met him. That was when he was Principal Speaker at Philcon in 1978. He gave a speech then that was easily the most hilarious thing I have ever heard at a convention. It was filled with wisdom and sprinkled with news items from Locos, the version of Locus published in an alternate universe askew to ours. He had the audience in stitches.

Just before he went on, Mike impulsively borrowed the black cowboy hat Gardner Dozois wore back in his pre-Asimov's days. Then he announced that when he was wearing the hat, the words coming from his mouth were telepathically projected from Gardner's brain, and that when he wasn't, the words were his own. He then proceeded to employ every possible comedic variant from the idea. No professional comedian could have done better.

Fancyclopedia, which I checked to make sure I had the date right, called the speech "luminous."

That sounds about right. And so, I fancy, might one characterize his life.

And now he's gone. Have I mentioned that Bishop was a sincere Christian? If he was right in his beliefs, then he's in Heaven right now. That would be fitting. I'd applaud that.

He had the greatest smile ever.


Very Good, Very Challenging, Maybe Not To Your Taste




"The Four Last Things" by Christopher Rowe. Asimov's Science Fiction, November/December 2023


Think of "The Last Four Things" as a postcard from the far side of the Singularity. Here's how it begins:

They came on a mule ship, and they lived on what was left of it after they arrived. The hull, laid down by poet-engineers in the high docks, was laminated from hundreds of thousands of layers of zepto-sec time and planck-length matter, each layer a gossamer capable of withstanding anything they could imagine. The controlling mule itself, like all its siblings, was spun up from archived biological remnants of a lost hybrid equine, integrated with specialized subsystems designed to travel between.

Yeah. It's not easy going, and it doesn't get any easier. But those of us who have been around long enough to acquire a taste for difficult fiction will relish it. As will those readers young enough to be actively seeking out works that will challenge them. And of course those outliers who aren't supposed to get it, but will.

Oversimplifying wildly, here's the plot:

Four individuals--they may be "people" of some sort--have come to the planet Ouestmir on a voyage of discovery. There they find immortal five-meter long worms living in undersea volcanic vents and slamming themselves against the reefs that encase them--drumming, drumming, drumming.  The purpose of this is unclear. But a pattern of flares and radio signals in their star's polar regions are clearly a kind of response.

An attempt to communicate with the worms inexplicably causes the death of every worm on the planet. The drumming stops. The responses from the star cease.

What the drumming meant and why the worms died is a classic science fiction puzzle that will not be solved. Because what "The Last Four Things" is about--as is signaled by a quote from James Joyce that gives the story its title--is the nature and meaning of death.

I fear many science fiction readers will find this story annoying and even incomprehensible. Others, however, will read and reread it with pleasure.

You know who you are.


Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Nace Hopkins Day Parade


Recently, Marianne and I went to the Eastern Shore for a few days of quiet relaxation, and by sheer good luck we discovered the Nace Hopklins Day Parade in Trappe, Maryland.  Pictured above are reenactors representing Nace  and his wife.

Nathaniel "Nace" Hopkins was born into slavery and, while still technically enslaved, enlisted in the Army and fought for the Union in the civil war. Upon his return home, he was instrumental in building the first school for Black children in the area and the incorporation of the Scotts United Methodist Church. He also began, in 1867,  a yearly parade marking the 1864 emancipation of all enslaved people in Maryland. (Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, a year earlier, applied only the seceding states. The 14th Amendment was still a year away.) After his death in 1900, the parade was renamed in his honor.

 As the man deserved. He was one of those people who built this nation.

So what was the parade like? Trappe is a small town, population roughly 1100, and the parade was everything good about small town parades. There were two high school marching bands, at least one children's dance group, about thirty Chevrolet Corvettes in gleaming condition (including one that Batman could only envy). Also various vehicles, including fire trucks. Lots of people threw out candy for the children. 

Afterward, the local church had games, a bouncy castle for the children, prizes also for children, lots of food, and other entertainments. We didn't participate though it all looked like good fun. We'd already had the best of the event--being among the spectators and feeling the good will coming from them and directed toward them. 

There are a couple more pics below. I didn't take many because I was enjoying myself too much.




Sunday, November 5, 2023

In Praise of Robert Morris Sr.


Robert Morris Sr. was the father of Robert Morris, the founding father who was the "Financier of the Revolution." Marianne and I came upon the elder Morris's grave in Whitemarsh Cemetery during the course of our perambulations and have dutifully copied the words of praise inscribed upon his stone:

In memory of

 ROBERT MORRIS  a Native of Liverpool

In Great Britain

Late a Merchant at Oxford

In this Province

        Punctual Integrity influenced his Dealings

        Principles of Honor governed his Actions

        With an uncommon Degree of Sincerity

        He despised Artifice and Dissimulation

        His friendship was firm, candid and valuable

        His charity frequent, secret and well adapted

        His Zeal for the Public Good active and useful

        His hospitality was enhanced by his Conversation

        Seasoned with cheerful Wit and a sound Judgment

Which about says it all. Save only that he also, though the stone does not admit to this fact, owned many human beings, whom he held enslaved. That fact should be entered into the ledger of Eternity as well.

Oh, and here's an odd moment in history . . .

In 1747, three years before his death by accident, Morris imported 106 indentured Scottish soldiers captured at the Battle of Culloden to work the tobacco fields of Oxford.


Saturday, November 4, 2023

Unca Mike's Guide To North American Bookstores: Unicorn Bookshop


From the outside, it's just a nondescript brick building with a cool sign. But inside, Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, Maryland, is everything a secondhand book store should be: eccentrically laid out in a labyrinth of small rooms that are crammed  with a great variety of books--and, for a bonus, a map room on the second floor.

There is a separate room for notably old or autographed or first edition or particularly valuable books, but when I visit (once every so many years) I always start with the fiction shelves. The books are meticulously curated coming into the shop but after they've been shelved...not so much. Some have been there so long they've drifted away from their original placement. A novel by Richard Harding Davis is shelved beside James Branch Cabell. Here and there are non-fiction books with titles suggesting that they're novels and collections of poems by writers better known for their prose.

All this makes hunting for books that much more exciting. Recently, a friend lamented that online book buying meant that there was no longer any reason for him to go to bookstores. But if I hadn't dropped in, would I know that I needed a copy of Ben Hecht's One Thousand and One Afternoons in Chicago? I'd never heard of it. Or a paperback (headed, ultimately, for our Little Free Library) of Kipling's Rewards and Fairies, a sequel to his far more famous Puck of Pook's Hill? 

I seriously doubt it.

So, yeah, I recommend you spend a long, rainy afternoon there sometime. The books are reasonably priced, there are comfy chairs here and there in the shop, and the proprietor is a genial man. Time spent there is time well wasted.

Oh, and in the general fiction section are two copies of my Jack Faust in hardcover, not at all expensive, which I autographed the last time I was there, a year ago. Would somebody please go and buy them? They're depressing the hell out of me.

Oh, and . . .

Here's a photo of the door to the bookstore. Wondering why there's a Universal No Deer sign on it?  You can read the entire amazing story here. Immediately followed by a poem chronicling the event, for those who won't believe anything unless it's put into verse.


Thursday, November 2, 2023

Under A Harvest Moon (Text Version)



For those who couldn't keep up with a month's worth of leaf-reading, here's the text of this year's Halloween story:





Under a Harvest Moon


Michael Swanwick

(with Marianne Porter)



Guilt-ridden, sorrowful, the mourner came to their cemetery. Because both the living lover and the dead were goths, this was at midnight on Samhain.


Strewing dead roses on an all-too-new grave, the mourner said, “We argued, it’s true. I have a temper. So did you. But no one could deny our passion, our mutual need, our love.”




At last, the mourner turned away.


A bony hand burst out of the dirt and seized the mourner’s ankle in a grip like iron. With a scream, the mourner fell backward, pulling the hand after, and an arm up to the elbow as well.


Kicking away from the unholy assailant with all available strength, the mourner slowly and unwillingly dredged all of an arm and a shoulder out of the soil. The arm was brown and its muscles like leather.


“Oh, please!” the mourner sobbed. “No! Don’t!”


A head emerged from the grave dirt and after it, another arm. Now the lich was using its own strength in tandem with the mourner’s to free itself from the grave.


One thrawn hand released the ankle even as another seized a knee. Hand over hand, the corpse pulled itself into the realm of the living. And then raised up the mourner so they were standing chest to chest.


The lich wrapped its arms around the mourner. Its flesh was rotting. Its nose was gone. One eye had succumbed to putrescence. Bits of skull were exposed. But there was no mistaking that face.


Weeping, for remorse drowned out fear, the mourner said, “I didn’t mean for it to haen. O Yes, it was my fault. But—”


“Hush.” The lich’s face came within an inch of the mourner’s. Its breath stank of rotting tongue. “That doesn’t matter.”


It wrapped tough, unbreakable fingers around the mourner’s throat. “Here’s what matters I cannot die without you. Can you live without me? Say yes, and I will release you. Say no and you will die.”


“No!” the mourner cried. “Oh, please, no! However dire and fearful death may be, I choose to share it with you. Take me there.


Take me now.”