Friday, December 29, 2023

Celebrating the Queen of Cocktails . . . the Manhattan!


Today is the 149th anniversary of the invention of the Manhattan.  It was invented at the Manhattan Club in (of course) New York City at a gala celebration in honor of Samuel Jones Tilden, who had just been elected governor. To make the history even more glittery, the event was held in the home of Jennie Jerome, mother of Winston Churchill. Some even say the drink was made specifically for her.

And already I've told more lies than you could count after a third drink. All the above was once documented as being true--and every word of it has since been disproved by cold, solid scholarship.

But what the heck. When the truth becomes legend... print the legend.

So the Manhattan is 149 years old this evening. 

If you look up the earliest printed recipes for this noble drink, you'll find that in keeping with the taste for sticky-sweet drinks that was prevalent at the time, they called for equal portions of sweet vermouth and rye or even twice more vermouth than rye. Don't do that. 

Even today, many will tell you that the proportions should be 2-1-2, the same as the borough of Manhattan's area code--two parts rye, one part sweet vermouth, two dashes of bitters. That's close but why settle for close? Here's the taste-tested recipe for the Queen of Cocktails:

The Manhattan

3 ounces rye

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 or 2 dashes of bitters, depending on your preference

1 spiced cherry for garnish

Unlike the Martini, there's wiggle room here. I prefer Angostura bitters, where Marianne favors cherry bitters. Orange bitters are also good as are--wait for it!--Aztec chocolate bitters. It's all a matter of taste. 

Oh, and spiced cherries are far, far superior to those awful candied things you buy by the jar. But nobody's going to give you a hard time if they're what you have on hand.

À votre santé, la Reine de la Nuit!


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Richard Bowes (1944-2023)


Richard Bowes is dead. Normally, I write "has left the planet" when a fellow science fiction writer dies. But in this case,  I'd have to write has left New York City. Oh man, did he love New York! Particularly Old New York, the city that can only be found in remnants and nostalgia. It was not so much a theme in his writing as a character. 

Which makes it ironic that he was born in Boston. But when he came to the City, he came to stay. He made it a part of himself.

Bowes was a fine writer and a good man. He had a quick wit and a warm heart. He was a gay activist back when they were greatly needed. 

Over on Facebook, his niece wrote a long and loving post of what he meant to his extended family. Here's one small part of it. It captures the essence of the man better than I could hope to:

To our family, Ricky was the heart and soul of our holiday gatherings. His hilarious "backrub train" and unmatched wit brought laughter and joy to every occasion. More than his written words or his advocacy for equality, Ricky's legacy lies in the laughter, love, and resilience he shared with us all. He had a remarkable knack for engaging with every person and experience, from discussing various subjects like history, baseball, pop culture, and politics, to taking joy in the ordinary. His genuine interest and delight in our lives made him both endearing and fascinating.

Farewell, my friend. New York City is a sadder place without you.

Above: I swiped the pic of Richard Bowes from SFWA's Nebula Awards entry on him at


Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Grinch and I


Today, I was at the ROTfest in Highland Park, NJ. This is Alex Dawson's attempt to make the world a stranger place via a series of odd performances (Elvis was there, singing his version of Christmas carols) and opportunity to display his truck/bookstore/work of folk art, the Rac-On Tour. I was there to read some of  my Solstice flash fictions as a last-minute replacement for a fire eater who'd had a dental emergency.

And I missed, people tell me, one of the best performances of the day. That's because I was in it.

When I arrived, Alex told me that I'd also be reading Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (He likes to throw this kind of thing at you  unannounced; I think he has a theory that the unexpected is the parent of creativity. And since JB was there in a Grinch suit, he was told to stand in front of the stage and do whatever came to him.

So I read. I read well and I could tell this was one  of my better readings. But because I was focused on the words, I could only spare a glance or two at the Grinch. Who, apparently, acted the whole thing out. Even though nobody had told him about this before either.

Marianne told me he was wonderful, "a first-rate actor." Then she said, "Your reading was also  excellent. The two of you worked really well together."

So I missed something worth witnessing, it seems.

But if you have to miss a good performance, the next best thing is to be in it.

And I should mention . . .

I don't know JB's full name. But I have his card. He does, it says, Animation, Cosplay, Illustration, Sculpting, Voice Acting, Music Parody, Puppetry, and Etc. He sells things at and will create an original character design at for "ANY support amount!"

He also seems to be a nice guy, 

Oh, and also . . .

I just now learned that JB made the Grinch suit himself! In the picture, it looks great. In real life it looks even better. Easily the best Grinch costume I've ever seen.

Above: My good friend and I. Photo by Marianne C. Porter.


Monday, December 18, 2023

Alvaros Zinos-Amaro's "A User's Guide to Michael Swanwick," His Blog Tour, and What I Concluded From It


A few years ago, I was talking with my wife, Marianne Porter, about a novel I may someday get around to writing and said, "You'll never guess what happens to the protagonist at the end of the first chapter."

"She dies," Marianne said.

I was astonished. "How in the world did you know that?" I asked.

"It happens all the time in your fiction," she replied

This incident was brought to mind recently when I read  Alvaro Zinos-Amaro's article in,  "A User's Guide to Michael Swanwick." Alvaro is currently doing a blog tour to bring to public attention his remarkable year-and-a-half long series of conversations/interviews with me published by Fairwood Press under the title Being Michael Swanwick. 

In the article, Zinos-Amaro lists what he feels are the best of my stories and novels, along with the first sentence for each. That for my novel Vacuum Flowers was She didn't know she had died. And right away, I was struck by the fact that there were more works on the list where the protagonist was dead right from the very beginning. 

It was a strange discovery when Marianne first pointed it out to me, and it remains a strange observation today. I have no explanation for it.

But thinking about it, I realized that after I die--many long decades from now, I hope--the stories and novels will remain, living after me. It's pleasant to think that a vital fraction of my life will go blithely on, neither knowing nor caring that the rest of me is gone.

And, really, that's where, after a literary flourish or three, I was going to conclude this post. But then I thought deeper and came up with a different conclusion.

If you read Being Michael Swanwick (and, again, you already know if you will or will not) and pay close attention, you'll note that Alvaro has a crisper, cleaner voice than I do. It's as if I were speaking in first draft and he in final draft. Readihng his blog tour posts I was struck by the strength of his prose and inventiveness of his thought. I write the occasional nonfiction piece, so I'm aware of how hard that is.

Judge for yourself. You can find "A User's Guide to Michael Swanwick" here.

You can find Alvaro's post on Mary Robinette Kowal's blog here.

John Scalci hosted Alvaro here.

And Black Gate hosted Alvaro here

And if you're a gonnabe writer . . .

It would be worth your while to study these pieces and see how Alvaro Zinos-Amaro wrote very  different pieces to promote the same book. All of them varied, honest, and interesting. When you finally are published, you're going to be expected to promote yourself. (When I was first published, the Internet didn't exist and publishing houses took care of all that.) And when that happens, remember to make your self-promotion:

1) Varied

2) Honest

3) Interesting

Remember that you're not trying to outwit the system. That never works. You're just trying to bring your work to the attention of people who would enjoy reading it.

End of lecture.. Go thou and sin no more.


Friday, December 15, 2023

The Boy and the Heron and Miyazaki and Us


Marianne and Sean and I went to see Hiyao Miyazaki's newest anime, The Boy and the Heron yesterday and were glad we did. It's a good movie.

But it's not one of Miyazaki's best. It's not up there with Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke.  

The Boy and the Heron has been receiving rave reviews and it's easy to see  why. Miyazaki is old and has announced his retirement more than once before this, so we're very, very grateful for another touch of the maestro's magic. And the movie is chockablock with familiar elements from older, beloved movies: strangely aggressive shreds of paper, dwarfish but benign old women, intriguing ruins, World War Two fighter plane engineering... the list goes on and on. And even I, knowing nothing of Miyazaki's life, could see that there were strong autobiographical elements here. No wonder so many critics are acclaiming  The Boy and the Heron as a summation of his entire career.

Oh, yeah. The movie never goes where you expect it to. That's brilliant.

But while The Boy and the Heron is filled, from start to finish with striking and extraordinary imagery, the story itself is...

Oh, it's okay. But as a long-time working fantasist, I know when a plot is not fully under control of its creator. The rules change in order to keep the action moving along. You've got a fire witch, so why can't she use her powers to get you out of this fix you're in? Well, her powers are diminished while in this particular location. (Why? Don't ask.) The carnivorous budgerigars close in on our unconscious heroes with vocalized intentions to eat them and then leave one where he lies and take the other to their (previously unmentioned) king. (Why? It advances the plot.)

There's a great deal of running back and forth with things collapsing behind or under our hero. The animation is great. The fact they're running back and forth with things collapsing behind or under them, not so much.

And yet...  and yet...

Hiyao Miyazaki's universe is so beautiful, so evocative, so surprising, that you want to spend a year or three simply wandering about it. Two hours and four minutes only whetted my appetite for it.

If you have the chance to see it in a movie theater, I recommend that you do. If not... Keep Watching the Screens. 

Meanwhile, Miyazaki has once again announced that he has not quite retired. There's another movie in the works.

I can hardly wait.


Monday, December 11, 2023

The Parable of the Creche


Hey, kids! Christmas is coming! Which means it's time to post my classic  holiday story...  

The Parable of the Creche

by Michael Swanwick

When first I came to Roxborough, over forty years ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing. Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season. It wasn't all that big--maybe seven feet high at the tip of the roof--nor was it very fancy. The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ Child, and the animals were a couple of feet tall at most, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden structure to keep people from walking off with them. But there was a painted backdrop of the hills of Bethlehem at night, the floor was strewn with real straw, and the neighborhood folk genuinely loved it.

 It was a common thing to see people standing before the creche,  especially at night, admiring it. Sometimes parents brought their small children to see it for the first time and the wonder then displayed was genuinely moving. It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park is public property, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of separation of church and state. When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put in storage.

People were upset, of course. Nobody likes seeing a beloved tradition die. There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement. One might even say disgrumblement.

So the kindly folks of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in. They adopted the creche and put it up in the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all.

But did this make up happy? It did not. The creche was just not the same located in front of a church. It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians. You don't see people standing in front of it anymore.

I was in a local tappie shortly after the adoption and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas."