Monday, January 29, 2024

The Phases of the Sun and Moon--Saturday, from Dragonstairs!



I periodically have to remind everybody that Dragonstairs Press is not my imprint but that of my wife, Marianne Porter, who lovingly crafts and creates each chapbook. I'm just the in-house content provider. It's particularly important that I not try to hog the glory in this case because Marianne has created something special.

Phases of the Sun and Moon is a hand-made accordion-fold chapbook. One side, Phases of the Moon, contains eight flash fictions following the lives of lovers from first love to old age. The other, Phases of the Sun similarly follows the lives of their opposites--which are, of course, writers. When you finish one side, simply flip the book over, and the second half is there to be read.

The accordion books are, of course, beautifully and painstakingly handmade. So painstakingly, in fact, that Marianne made only 19. Which means that in spite of the fact that they cost significantly more than Dragonstairs Press chapbooks usually do, they'll sell out fast.

They go on sale at noon, Philadelphia time, this Saturday, February 3 at

Here's the press release:

Dragonstairs Press is pleased to announce that The Phases of the Moon/The Phases of the Sun will be going on sale February 3rd, 2024, noon, eastern standard time, at .

The Phases of the Sun/The Phases of the Moon is an accordion-fold, hand made, signed, numbered, limited edition chapbook of text by Michael Swanwick.  They measure 6” x 8”, and can be read in sequence (New to Last Crescent) from either side.  The Phases of the Sun recounts the stages in a writer's career and The Phases of the Moon tells of a lifetime of romance.

Created in an edition of 19, of which 15 are offered for sale.

$60 including domestic shipping.

$75 including international shipping.


And I should mention . . .

I've read these stories a couple of times in public and they've always gone over like gangbusters. Particularly when there were writers in the audience. Because they knew that, however acerbic the stories might have sounded to non-writers, every word in them was true.


Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Five Things You Didn't Know About Stations of the Tide



To my great pleasure, Stations of the Tide is in print again! In a lot of ways, this is my strangest novel--solid science fiction that feels a lot like fantasy, filled with black constellations, Tantric sex, a sentient briefcase, a homicidal magician, a hero bureaucrat, hallucinogenic rain, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by Ezra Pound... Oh, the list goes on and on. A lot of strange stuff went into the book. I remember, as I was writing it, thinking, "Nobody is going to get a word of this." And yet, it was the most intensely understood novel I ever wrote.

Here are five things that very few people know about Stations of the Tide but which may increase your pleasure in reading it:

1. When I began writing, I determined to include an act of magic in every chapter, beginning with an act of slight-of-hand at the beginning and growing more and more esoteric as the novel progressed. I also set a standard for myself that each instance of magic would be something that Isaac Asimov would admit (grudgingly at times, perhaps) could happen in our reality.

2. The technology on Miranda is, for reasons the system's offworld elite deem justifiable, being suppressed to 20th century levels. This is in part my response to the many, many SF stories and novels in which planetary technology is suppressed to medieval levels.

3. A lot of reviewers saw the influence of Gene Wolfe on this particular book, and I cannot deny that. Oddly, nobody seems to have noticed that of Gabriel Garcia Márquez, particularly One Hundred Years of Solitude. I threw in a shipwreck covered with orchids in the middle of a jungle just so that nobody would think I was trying to get away with anything.

4. Many people think the novel is set in Louisiana bayou country. Not so. (I've never been there. I look forward to visiting it.) It's set in an off-worldly version of Tidewater, Virginia, with just a smidge of Northern Vermont, where it borders on Canada, for seasoning. Both places I know and love.

5. There are fourteen Stations of the Cross in Catholic religion and fourteen chapters in my novel. You might think this is no coincidence, but it is. My novel had been accepted under the awful place-holder title of Sea-Twin and I only came up with its current (far superior, I believe) title at the last minute. So, much as I'd like to to take credit for this I cannot.

There's a lot more hidden in the book, but these will do for a start. If you've read it, I hope you liked it. If you haven't, I hope you'll buy it and read it and like it. That's why I wrote it.

Really, taken as a whole, the book's intent is as simple as that.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Albert Hodkinson's War


Albert Hodkinson, whose neighbor I am proud to be, turned 102 the other day. Eighty years ago, he was one of that small group of airmen who effectively saved civilization from Nazi Germany--the Royal Air Force. When he enlisted, he wanted to be a pilot. However, he was made a mechanic because he was from the East End of London, and "only gentlemen were allowed to fly in their airplanes." Long before the war was over, however, "they had run out of gentlemen," and he became a navigator.

Albert guided Halifax bombers on runs over Berlin.

Much later, Albert wrote a series of story poems about his experiences in WWII in order to record what it was like to be "an ordinary man under extraordinary circumstances." My son, Sean Swanwick recorded him reading those poems and has been editing them for clarity of sound. Now the first three readings have gone up on YouTube.

The readings are short, and Sean asks a few questions after each one. You can find the first three videos here.

There will be more in the coming weeks.


Thursday, January 18, 2024

Howard Waldrop, Implausibly, Is No More



l-r: Howard Waldrop, Andy Duncan

 Howard Waldrop is dead. This seems impossible--almost as impossible as that he could have existed in the first place. He was unlike anybody else. I once labeled him in print as "the weird mind of his generation," and it was true. He simply didn't think the way other people did.

You could see it in the best of his stories. People would come back from conventions where he'd read a new story (he incubated them in his mind for a long time and didn't write anything down until the story was letter-perfect; fans learned that you could squeeze a new one out of him by making him the guest of honor at a con and requesting that he read something new at it; the night before the reading, he'd sit down and write out... something amazing) and say something like, "Howard wrote a story about dodo birds surviving in the American South," or "Howard wrote a story about Dwight D. Eisenhower becoming a jazz musician," and I'd think: Damn. I wish I'd had that idea! One day somebody said, "Howard wrote a story about Izaak Walton and John Bunyan going fishing in the Slough of Despond."

Damn, I thought. I wish I'd had that idea--and I wish I knew what the hell it was!  

(The story is "God's Hooks!" and it's one of my favorites, almost as good as "Ugly Chickens," his dodo story.)

Howard was a true original, and he paid for that with a lifetime of poverty. He moved often from one cheap rental to another, occasionally living in a tent or on somebody's porch or once, memorably, in the basement (or, some said, septic tank) that was all that existed of a house under construction. He loved fishing and made and sold low-end fly rods. He was famously prickly about accepting "charity" from anybody. An editor once bought him a meal and Howard insisted that the next one was on him. The fact that the editor paid out of an expense account carried no weight with him. I bought him a drink once and his friends were amazed that he'd let me get away with it.

But now I see that I've wandered away from a dry recital of facts and am printing the legend. Well, so be it. There was nobody remotely like Howard anywhere outside of American folk tales. Johnny Appleseed comes close, or maybe Jack of Appalachia. So it's no surprise that he returned occasionally to that particular well for inspiration. He was simply paying a visit home.

And if you're wondering about that remarkable photo . . .

I was in a bar with Howard and Andy Duncan, swapping gossip and tall tales when it occurred to me that I should take a picture of the two. So I did. And that's how it came out. For weeks after, I'd show the snap to somebody and say, "Don't H'ard and Andy look like two Dust Bowl-era grifters? I mean, just look at them. These two are going to stroll off with your wallet, whistling." 

The sixth or seventh time I said that, I realized that my subconscious was trying to tell me that there was an opportunity to be had there. So, long story short, I recruited Gregory Frost and the two of us wrote a story titled "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters--H'ard and Andy are Come to Town." It was a good story, too. So good that it deserved that title. 

Now that team of magical-America confidence tricksters exists only in memory. Andy Duncan, who probably has no idea that he's just inherited the title of "strange mind of his generation," will simply have to carry on alone.


Above: Photo by Michael Swanwick.



Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Tom Purdom, Heart of Philadelphia


Photo by Sally Grotta

This is very hard for me to write. So please excuse its infelicities. I knew this man for a full fifty years.

Tom Purdom is dead. Not enough people will know what a loss this is. While he was as vivid and eccentric an individual as any of the rest of us, he absolutely refused to promote himself. I think he believed it was ungentlemanly. But those who knew him, cherished him.

Tom was the very heart of Philadelphia science fiction long before I came to town in 1974. He and his socially elegant wife Sara Purdom had monthly open houses where all the SF community was welcome--even rowdies like Gardner Dozois and myself. They two served as role models for Marianne and me. 

His gatherings were as glittery events as our crew ever saw. I recall Milton Rothman discussing the physics of nuclear-powered aircraft, and I most vividly remember Jack McKnight (who machined the first Hugo trophies in  his garage) pretending to steal our then-infant son Sean at one of these soirees.

Tom had three careers: First as a science fiction writer (he published his first two stories in 1957). Then, after he was squeezed out of the field by commercial forces, as a freelance writer specializing in biological and medical matters, chiefly for hospitals and universities. When Gardner Dozois became editor of Asimov's, one of his ambitions was to get Tom writing SF again. Under Gardner's prodding, he wrote "A Proper Place to Live," which, if unsold, could serve as a love letter to his wife Sara. Gardner bought it and Tom responded with a series of ambitious stories which put him in direct competition with the best of that era's young writers. "Fossil Games," a Hugo nominee, was my favorite (and in my opinion one of the best stories of the decade) but it was preceded and followed by many stories that were almost as good.

Tom was opinionated and a natural contrarian. Once, I told him I had decided to take his advice on some particular matter and he immediately told me why I shouldn't. But there was never any anger in our disagreements. They were more in the nature of a game, something done for the intellectual fun of it. 

He was also a strange combination of stoic and epicure. When his publisher told him that his half of a paperback double hadn't sold as well as the other half (and paid him accordingly) he refused to challenge that, because gentlemen took their lumps without complaining. But he also arranged his life to maximize the three great pleasures in his life: family (particularly his wife Sara, to whom he was devoted), witty conversation with interesting people, and what he called "sitting in a room where musicians were making music surrounded by people who like to  sit in rooms where musicians are making music." His gig as a classical music critic allowed him the luxury of never having to listen to recorded music. 

Tom was always worth listening to, always interesting, always full of new ideas. If you knew him, you wished he lived next door to you. If you didn't know him... Well, maybe you should read some of his stories. He was a good man and a very good writer. He worked to make this world a better, more civilized place.

Vaya con dios, Tom. You leave a great many people heartbroken by your absence. But I guess that's the price of your presence in the first place.




Saturday, January 13, 2024

Three Things You Must Know About Terry Bisson (May Stalin Bless His Soul)


"I enjoyed working as an auto mechanic," Terry Bisson, who would later ghost-write a book for the Car Talk guys, once told me. "But one Saturday, when it was raining and I'd been working on this car for hours and I had just barked my knuckles on a bolt that refused to turn, I looked over to the mechanic on a creeper the next car over and said, 'Manuel, why are we doing this to ourselves?'

"And Manuel grinned and said, "You think this is hard? Try chopping cane.'"

So there's the first thing you should know about Terry. He was grounded in reality. He could fix a car or write a book with equal facility.

Another time, I was at a Worldcon in the SFWA suite with Terry and Sheila Williams and Terry started talking about attending the first (and, as it turned out, only) science fiction convention in the Soviet Union. ("As we got off the boat, they handed us all watermelons and we wandered into the woods, carrying them, as if we were in a surrealist painting...") He said, "I told them, 'I know you guys are all capitalists now, but I'm still a Stalinist. I hold to the old ways.'"

Then he got up and walked off. Sheila looked after him, smiled sweetly, and said, "I really had a hard time not saying, 'You and Fidel, Terry.'"

That's the second thing you should know about Terry. He was a committed Communist. As a member of the May 19th Communist Organization, an offshoot of the Weather Underground, he was sentenced to three months in jail for refusing to rat out friends who had gone on the lam.

You don't have to agree with his politics to admire him for that. He walked the walk.

"I'm writing a story with Terry Bisson," I told Gardner Dozois. Gardner looked astonished. Then, savvy editor that he was, he said, "No, you're not."

Gardner was right, of course. When I proposed that we collaborate, Terry had given me some notes he had made for a story in which the protagonist was griping about everything around him even as he was living, as Terry put it, "in a fucking Utopia." I took the notes, wrote a solid beginning to the story, and sent it to him for continuation. And... He apologized that he couldn't do it, and gave me full ownership and carte blanche of the story. So I named the protagonist "Terry Bissel" and published it. 

"Walking Out" placed on the Hugo ballot. At the time, I joked that it would have won if Terry had participated. But awards aren't what matters. What matters is that if he'd participated, it would have been a better story.

That's the third thing you need to know about Terry Bisson. He was a hell of a good writer. "Bears Discover Fire" was one of the best stories of the nineties. Talking Man deserves a place on the Pantheon of Fantasy Fiction. 

Terry wrote far too little and far too rarely. But what he did write was of the finest quality.

And here's a fourth thing you don't need to know but all his friends were aware of: He was one sweet guy.

Vayo con dios, mi amigo. May Stalin himself welcome you into Commie Heaven.

And from Terry's New Yorker profile . . .

On his Web site, Bisson once quoted the Surrealist and communist Paul Eluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” When asked about it, he said, gently, “That’s the world I want to be in.”

You can read the profile by Margret Grebowicz here. Read  today, it's a first-class obituary. But it was published while Terry was alive and so he got to read it. Thank you and God bless you for that, Ms. Grebowicz.

And a glimmer of good news  . . .

If you're a subscriber to Locus, you know that Terry has been publishing a series of mini-micro masterpieces of sf under the title of This Month in History, a future history in the form of two or three sentence entries. All are witty, most are satiric, and by slow degrees I found them addictive.

The last time I communicated with Terry, I asked if they would ever see book form. He told me that a small press (I forget its name) would publish them in 2024.

When they do, whoever they are, I'm going to buy a copy.

Above: This picture of Terry Bisson was taken from the PM  Press site. PM Press is leftist, sincere, literary. Terry did a lot of work for and with them. Start here and search for their science fiction publications. You won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Stations of the Tide in Ukraine


I have learned that Zhupansky Publishing House in Ukraine will be publishing Stations of the Tide. This is the same publisher that published The Iron Dragon's Daughter in 2021.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I find it incredibly moving that ordinary life can go on in the midst of a horrific war--and that my book can be a small distraction from that war. On the other hand, I feel bad about taking money out of a country that very much needs it.

So I'm giving it all back.

The four organizations I've chosen for this purpose are:

Future for Ukraine: Founded by displaced Ukrainian women, FFU aids displaced Ukrainian children and women coping with the psychological consequences of war. They also provide prosthetics for wounded Ukrainians abroad and humanitarian aid to affected regions within Ukraine.

GlobalGiving Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund: This supports locally-led organizations throughout Ukraine providing essentials for refugees, health and psychological support, and access to education and economic assistance.

Malteser International: This is the humanitarian relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta. It provides food, shelter, and emergency medial care within Ukraine and neighboring countries.

Global Empowerment Mission: To date, GEM has helped relocate nearly 39,000 refugees, placed some 14,000 people in temporary housing, and repaired hundreds of buildings and homes.

I chose these organizations from Forbes Magazine's list of charities working to relieve some of the suffering the war has imposed upon the people of Ukraine. If you wish to donate to any of them, you can find the list and more information on them here.

Above: I found this graphic at the US Department of State's travel advisory page for Ukraine. They advise against traveling there.