Friday, March 29, 2024

The First-Ever Dragonstairs Press Book Launch!


I am fresh back (or perhaps the phrase juste should be "exhausted back") (or was, when I first began this post, before a seemingly endless stream of friends decided to die, requiring me to write memorial after memorial for them, thus postponing this far more cheerful post) from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. Where academics and writers share a common time and space and have as little to do with each other as humanly possible.

And where Dragonstairs Press (owner, editor, and proprietor: Marianne Porter) held its first-ever chapbook launch!

This was for a chapbook that could be bought at ICFA but hasn't yet been made available to the general public. Marianne tells me it will go on sale sometime in April, on a date not yet selected. 

The chapbook, pictured above, is Comicosmics. This is a play on Cosmicomics by the late, great Italo Calvino. The flash fictions I wrote are homages to Calvino but gender-reversed with the narrator being not "Old Qfwfq" but his ex-wife. Who had her own contrarian takes on his exploits.

The chapbook launch took place on Saturday afternoon, immediately after the poolside Locus photograph of all the con's participants. I talked briefly about Calvino and his unique take on SF ("science... fiction? What an intriguing idea"). Then I read one of the flash fictions I'd crafted for the occasion.

There was a good turnout of Dragonstairs aficionados. Everyone had a very pleasant time. And a significant fraction of the chapbooks were sold on the spot. The rest will be put on sale sometime in April, almost certainly on a Saturday at noon Philadelphia time. I'll let you know just as soon as I know myself.

Above, first paragraph: In all fairness, at a lunch organized by Sally Grotta, I did meet a mathematician who told me that the very little I knew about dark matter was entirely wrong; so there was at least one useful exchange of information between academia and "the creatives."


Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Annotated STATIONS OF THE TIDE (Part 1)


Tor Books has reissued what may be my most popular ever novel (unless it's The Iron Dragon's Daughter)--which is Stations of the Tide as part of their Tor Essentials line. To celebrate and, let's be honest, ruthlessly promote this event, I am now beginning a necessarily incomplete annotation of the novel. I'll be serializing it for as long as it seems to be helping sales. And then I'll stop, long before completion.

So if you want more, you should rush right out and buy my book. Not because I need the money. But because you crave the annotations.

And here they are:

A Brief and (Alas) Simplistic Annotation of Stations of the Tide Which Includes Information Only the Author Could Provide But Necessarily Omits Far More Than It Includes:

Page 1:

The bureaucrat: When I determined to write this book but had not written a word of it, I asked Marianne Porter, my wife, what she would like me to include in it. She said, “A bureaucrat who is competent and doing a necessary job.” It is no coincidence that she fit that description. Everything else in the novel followed after.

Port Richmond: Stations of the Tide takes place in what is primarily the Virginia Tidewater with touches of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. The fact that the city is named Port Richmond indicates that Miranda was colonized when the Tidewater was submerged.

heliostat: A hybrid airship/helicopter aircraft.

Page 2:

technology control: I once worked in technology Transfer for the Franklin Institute Research Laboratories. Our job was to encourage people to integrate solar energy into their homes. Technology control is many steps beyond that, into coercion.

Page 3:

the Stone House: An easy analogue for the White House.

Request for Authority: Again, an easy analogue for RFPs—Requests for Proposals. This was the US government offering a grant for a very specific project. I worked in Proposals for the Franklin Research Center (FRC was for-profit, where FIRL was nonprofit) and filed many an RFP in my time.

Page 4:

the Leviathan: An oblique reference to Moby-Dick, not that I expected anyone to get it.

Ocean: There is only one continent (never named, but we can make an educated guess) in Miranda and only one ocean. In ancient times, the waters beyond the Gates of Hercules were thought to be one world-circling sea and named Ocean. Today they are the Atlantic.

the Puzzle Palace: This name was originally given by its denizens to the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, MD. It was later also applied to the Health and Welfare building in Harrisburg, PA. Marianne worked for the Bureau of Laboratories within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health and dreaded being summoned to the Puzzle Palace.

Oh, and if this makes you want to buy my Nebula Award-winning novel, you should immediately contact your local independent bookstore. But if your town is so cruel as to deny you one, you can find it on Amazon here.


Saturday, March 23, 2024

The Many Worlds of Tom Purdom


Saturday, a memorial was held for Tom Purdom, the man we know as a first-rate science fiction writer. But whom others remember as a pioneer bicycle activist, as an SF fan, as a rocketry exponent, as an early adaptor tabletop gamer, as a lover and reviewer of classical and old music, and as a local journalist.

Also as a good friend. I mean that most intently. But pretty much everybody in the back room of  Tabernacle Church in West Philadelphia (where Marianne and I were married, and where I once worked as church secretary) would be able to make that claim. Tom had a gift for friendship.

People from all those worlds, and family as well, gathered to pay homage to the man we thought would never die, simply because we couldn't imagine the world without him. Almost everybody who went up to the front of the metaphorical church to testify remarked on his unmistakable voice: loud and raspy.

The best testimony came from I-forget-who declared, "I asked Tom what he thought of cyberpunk and he said, 'I think of myself as cybergenteel.'" The second best came from me, when I observed that Tom would have loved everything about this gathering of people he cared about and family he loved but the praise of him. He hated praise when it was aimed his way. In my best imitation of his voice, I channeled him saying, "Can't we talk about something interesting?"

Representatives of all Tom Purdom's worlds praised him, expounded his virtues, mourned the loss of the man we thought would never die.

And then, still in mourning but feeling better for having spoken, we all went home.

And because you want to know . .  .

How can you honor this decent and talented man? Well, he has two books currently in print, both from Fantastic Books:

Lovers and Fighters, Starships and Dragons collects Tom's best military and romantic stories, including "Fossil Games," which was nominated for the Hugo Award in the year 2000. I consider it one of the best SF stories of the decade. If you disagree, I'll meet you out back of the bar.

Romance on Four Worlds collects novellas about Giacomo Casanova set in the far future. Tom, who read all of the original Casinova's multi-volume memoires, was struck by the fact that the Great Womanizer fell passionately in love with all of his conquests. In these stories, he imagines Casanova as heroic and romantic in equal parts.

If you know Tom's work, you have these books. If you don't, buy them now. 

You can find both Tom Purdom's books here

I urge you to buy them. You won't be disappointed.

And was Tom remembered, you ask, by local media . . . ?

Why, yes. You can find the Broad Street Review memorial here.

Above: Pic taken from Broad Street Review. Alaina Johns,  who was much younger than he, said he was proud to introduce her as his editor. She was at the beginning of her career and he gave her his wholehearted support, even in those rare cases when she thought his submission wasn't good enough. Thou gonnabe writers who will someday be important, learn from this and do likewise.


Thursday, March 21, 2024

Vernor Vinge Has Left The Galaxy


This winter of discontent has claimed yet another giant of science fiction, Vernor Vinge.

I didn't really know Vinge personally... a conversation now and then, but nothing significant... but as a reader, his loss comes as a body blow. At his best, he was the very beau ideal of the science fiction writer, embodying new ideas in engaging plots.

Vinge was one of the best idea people in the field. His inventions ranged from the outrageously big (the speed of light and magnitude of possible intelligence growing larger with distance from the galactic core)  to the convincingly small (city buses being routinely equipped with sensors for early detection of emerging diseases). He'll probably be best remembered for taking John von Neumann's then-obscure idea of the singularity and making it a household word. And, to a lesser degree, for presenting the first fully convincing portray of cyberspace, years before William Gibson gave it the name cyberspace.

These are not small accomplishments. But I think he should be chiefly celebrated for his novels. For A Fire Upon the Deep, A Deepness in the Sky, Marooned in Realtime, and all the others. Just a few days ago, I came back from the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts with a copy of Rainbows End, which I had bought there, and gave it to my son, Sean. He was delighted.

Which is how, I think, Vinge should be remembered. With delight.

Above: I swiped this photo Vinge's author page at Macmillan Publishers, which published Vernor's books. The photographer was Gloria Price.


Monday, March 18, 2024

Locus Fundraiser (Deep Pockets Edition)



Locus Magazine is the closest thing that printed science fiction has to a center. It's not just where we get the news and reviews that matter to SF fans and writers, but where we learn about what 's happening outside the restricted circle of people we happen to know. Sort of like a Serengeti watering hole without the chance of being eaten by a lion. So it matters that it stays in business and it matters that its yearly fundraiser succeeds.

Right now, they're holding two simultaneous fundraisers. One I've already talked about because Marianne and I donated three Dragonstairs Press chapbooks to it. You can find that here.

They're also holding a week-long fundraiser for the well-heeled. The incentives being offered range from Neil Gaiman recording a personalized voicemail message for you ($450) to a fairy stone tiara ($250) created by Hugo Award and Chesley Award winning artist Sara Felix.

There are also some rather expensive items on offer as well.

If you have the money, you should take a look. If you don't, you should look anyway and daydream about what you'd get if HBO picked up that fantasy trilogy you haven't yet written.  You can find the items here. But hurry--this fundraiser ends Wednesday.


Saturday, March 16, 2024

A Midnight Symposium in Orlando


Last night, I found myself at a table not far from the pool, talking with a batch of friends about snakes, cigars, animal control officers, fifty-thousand-dollar turtles, and such. The usual. But around midnight, people began to drift off to bed, leaving Ellen Klages, Madeleine Robbins, Walter Jon Williams, Emma Bull and me to talk about short fiction.

Oh, what a conversation that was! "With the hoofs and horns still on it," as R. A. Lafferty used to say. There was a particular emphasis on the works of Kelly Link and Howard Waldrop because even among the wild productions of genre writers, they're outliers, stories whose very existence is hard to explain. Oh, and stories of Clarions (east, west, and south) we've attended or taught, lessons learned and lessons almost impossible to make students understand...

An enchanted evening. And then, everybody reached the end simultaneously, stood up, and went back to our rooms. Leaving the hotel grounds by the lake empty, because we were the last writers standing.

And because I know that . . .

There will be gonnabe writers reading this, hoping to find a trail of breadcrumbs out of the dark forest. I'll offer them a single crouton, Howard's explanation of the distinction between a short story and a novel:

A short story is about the most important event in the protagonist's life. A novel is about the most important period in the protagonist's life.

Which, properly employed, should help you recognize what length of fiction the story you're working on wants to be.

Above, l-r: E. Klages, M. Robbins, E. Bull, W. J. Williams. Photographer, also present: M. Swanwick


Monday, March 11, 2024

The Locus Fundraiser Soars Into The Future!


Locus Magazine's fundraiser is a quarter-way to its goal, with 25 days to go. And there are a lot of cool perks for donors. A personalized letter to you from a fictional character. A couple of story critiques from pro writers. (These are pretty hard to come by; they're a lot of work for the writer!) A couple of tuckerizations (that's a mention of you by name, in the author's next novel; the writer Wilson Tucker was notorious for doing this to friends, hence the term) and one goaterization (you'll have to go to that perk for a definition). Plus lots of signed hardcovers--which would make excellent Christmas or birthday presents for the fanatic reader you care about most.

But probably the niftiest perk of the lot is a half-hour private Zoom coffee chat with Connie Willis. With typical generosity Ms. Willis has volunteered to take on up to eight of these, and they're not cheap. But they're worth it. Connie is extremely good company. She's as smart as a whip. She knows everything that's worth knowing about science fiction. And she's a genuinely kind human being. I can't think of a more pleasant person to share a cup of coffee or tea with.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Connie has won more Hugos and Nebulas for fiction than anyone else in history?

If you're curious, you can visit the Locus Indiegogo fundraiser here.


Saturday, March 9, 2024

Nevermore: An Interview With The Raven--On Sale Today!




Good news! Dragonstairs Press's latest chapbook comes out today.


Here's the official word from Marianne Porter:


Nevermore: an Interview with the Raven is Michael Swanwick's historical chat with that great actor and literary hero, collaborator with Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, and so many others.  Yes, that Raven.

Nevermore was created to mark Swanwick's kaffeklatch at 2024 Boskone.  Printed in an edition of 40, of which 28 are offered for sale, at, on Saturday March 9, 2024, at noon, eastern (Philadelphia) time.  5 ½ x 4 ¼ inches.  Hand-stitched, numbered, and signed by the author.


To  which I will only add that it's expected to sell out fast. 

And because I know you're curious . . .


Here's a brief excerpt:

Swanwick:  How did you come to meet Edgar Allan Poe?

Raven: Through the usual literary circuit. I was doing some work for Chuck Dickens, modeling for Grip, the raven in Barnaby Rudge. Ed thought my part was (and I quote) "intensely amusing." He also thought it a shame that I had been relegated to the status of a minor character. He felt that my "Croaking might have been prophetically heard in the course of the drama." Quote, unquote. Well, what actor could possibly object to a review like that?

So when Poe contacted my agent, I was all agog for the part he offered me. A title role? From the hottest, most au courant writer of the times? C'mon. Who could turn that down? Not me.



Thursday, March 7, 2024

Advance Copy of Father Winter!



The Locus fundraiser on Indiegogo has moved into its third day and posted as a new perk the third and last otherwise unobtainable Dragonstairs Press chapbook contributed by Marianne and me--Father Winter.

Father Winter is the latest in a series of Solstice chapbooks sent out in the winter holiday season by Dragonstairs Press to select friends of the press. Lovingly crafted, hand sewn, signed and numbered in an edition of 120. As is traditional, last year's remaining copies (of which this is one) will be put up on sale sometime in November or December. When, because there are only 37 copies, they will sell out in the first fifteen minutes. As Will Sonnett used to say: "No brag, just fact."

Last winter's theme was fathers and sons, so it is particularly appropriate that my son, Sean William Swanwick, collaborated with me on this chapbook. In token of which, it is autographed by both of us. Just look at those signatures! One is calm and clever and the other obviously the scrawling of a Bond villain-grade monomaniac.  

If you're curious, you can find the Locus fundraiser here. You'll find a lot of cool perks on offer: autographed books, Zoom meetings, critiques, tuckerizations, a goat naming, a personalized letter from a fictional character, and much more! Take a peek. You might just find the perfect gift for your favorite book-lover.

And since I know you're curious . . .

Here's the first story in Father Winter. It's about my late father, John Francis Swanwick, and I will not apologize for the sentimentality of it.


Winter Wonderland

Spring belongs to mothers. It's the time of birth and beauty and kneeling in the garden to plant seeds that will come to fruition in the summer. Summer also belongs to mothers, for it's the time of growth and joy, both qualities that come easier to women than to men. Autumn? Think of hot cider, bright leaves pressed in books, strolls in the woods, jars of home-canned preserves, knitted sweaters. Mom  again.

But winter? That belongs to fathers. Black ice. Snow squalls. Shoveling the walk, rotating the tires and putting chains on them, scraping ice off the windshield, chopping wood and bringing it indoors by the armful if you had a fireplace.

My father was a farm boy. He belonged to 4-H and won ribbons at county fairs. It was important to him that his children could identify the breeds of cows the family car drove past on the highway. But because he grew up at a time when radio was the wondrous technology that computers were only a few decades ago and he was particularly bright, he became an engineer.

Still, he retained a few tricks from his boyhood.

One day, a blizzard came down from Canada, turned the sky black, and dumped foot upon  foot of snow on Schenectady. We children went to bed while the snow was still coming down hard. And in the morning...

Something wonderful! In the backyard, my father had made a slide out of snow, curved at the center so there was no chance of falling off. On the straight-up side of it, he placed a wooden ladder. And over the sliding surface, he had poured a bucket of water, so that it froze solid and an inch thick.

There was never a faster or more magical slide than that. Nobody but our father could have made it.

Nor was there a more lasting one. Okay, sure, when the weather turned warmer the snow melted away to nothing. But in my memory it's still there, gleaming in the bright winter sun, as enduring as love itself.




Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Last Copy of In His Own Words!



The Locus fundraiser continues apace! As mentioned yesterday, Marianne and I contributed three otherwise unobtainable Dragonstairs Press chapbooks to the cause. The first one up, Brief Essays on Genre, went fast... as Marianne's lovingly-made, hand-stitched, signed and numbered chapbooks tend to do. So they've put up the second chapbook. 

This one is In His Own Words, a chapbook created to mark the dedication of a plaque in Gardner's honor in the Pen & Pencil Club, Philadelphia's venerable journalists club. It was a particularly apt place for the plaque not only because Gardner was a member but because he got his start as a military journalist in the U. S. Army. I assembled all the most pertinent parts from a much longer interview and Marianne made a beautiful chapbook of it. Issued in an edition of 60 and bound in hand-made paper from Sri Lanka, crafted from recycled elephant dung. Because Gardner would have thought that was hilarious.

 You can find Locus's Indiegogo campaign, chockablock with cool incentives for giving, here.  

And if you're curious about the contents . . .

The chapbook was given out to family and journalists at the unveiling, where I gave a brief talk about Gardner Dozois's career as an award-winning military journalist. You should have seen the journalists' shocked faces when I told his helicopter story! And of course the story behind the photograph on the cover is hilarious. But this being a science fiction audience, I thought you'd be most interested in learning about Gardner's relationship with two giants of the field--John W. Campbell and Isaac Asimov.


You also met John W. Campbell, didn’t you?


Gardner Dozois: Very, very briefly. Only right at the end of his life, in fact. I met him for about five minutes. It was at a Lunacon in 1971. He died about two months later, in fact, so that was the only chance I ever got to meet him. Someone with a mischievous sense of humor, probably Damon Knight, dragged me up to meet John Campbell in the huckster room where he was standing.


You must understand two things. One, this was at the height of the New Wave wars, which has receded so far into the past that nobody even remembers it anymore. But it was a hot issue of the time. And two, I was a young hippie freak, of about a hundred and fifty pounds at that point. And I would have been wearing my army fatigue jacket, because I didn’t have anything else to wear, and probably combat boots, because I didn’t have any other shoes. And probably a pair of blue jeans, and some sort of body shirt. And I had hair literally down past my ass. Very, very long hair, and an untrimmed beard which sort of flopped around like a huge flag. So I looked like an Amish person gone insane. Damon dragged me up to John Campbell, and said, “Here’s a hot new writer, really good, I want you to meet.”


I stuck out of my hand, and he sort of reflexively shook my hand while cringing back. Before I even said anything, he said, “I like the Old Wave stuff. I don’t like this New Wave stuff. Only Old Wave science fiction for Analog.”


Oh, well, okay, Mr. Campbell, and he said, “Oh, none of this New Wave stuff!” He was sort of backing away. “Only Old Wave stuff!” And he backed away, crossing himself.


That was my one and only meeting with John Campbell.


What was it like working with Isaac Asimov?


Gardner Dozois: Isaac was great to work for. For one thing, he didn’t really meddle with the editorial content of the magazine at all. Which from my perspective was fine, because most of the stuff I was buying he would not have liked, if he actually read any of it. He was smart enough to hire people that he trusted, and then not interfere with them. Which is very, very rare in today’s society.


He would come into the office once a week to pick up the letters, because he answered the letters for the letter column. It was always a big event when Isaac showed up at the office. People from all other departments, crosswords magazines and everything, would get excited because Isaac was coming into the office. He would arrive and you could hear him whistling and singing down the hallway. He would do Gilbert and Sullivan songs. He would do little dances, while he was coming down the corridor. He would make up limericks on the spot for whoever was in the office. He would make up often insulting, mildly risque limericks about them, and he would make up little poems which he would recite, and then he would pick up the mail and he would sing off down the corridor. That would be about it, actually, for our dealing with Isaac.


But he certainly was a good boss to work with. He left you alone. He was entertaining when he showed up. You can’t ask more from a boss than that.


Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Three Otherwise Unobtainable Dragonstairs Chapbooks!




Locus Magazine is having its annual fundraiser! I hold it to be a self-evident truth that Locus is a necessary element of the community focused on the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. So Marianne and I have contributed two Dragonstairs Press chapbooks held back for this purpose but otherwise sold out long ago, and one that will not be available for sale until next December. When, experience has taught us, it will then sell out in half an hour.


Our contributions—all hand-stitched, numbered, and signed, written by Michael Swanwick and lovingly hand-crafted by Marianne Porter—are:


Brief Essays on Genre is a collection of 25 short and often witty discussions of literature including the definition of science fiction and fantasy, why write true crime, the place of gratuitous sex in fiction, and the proper use of the present tense. Indispensable to the gonnabe writer.  Issued in an edition of 75, all of which save this copy are no longer available.


 In His Own Words was created to mark the unveiling of a plaque in the Pen & Pencil Club in Philadelphia, to honor Gardner Dozois, who began his writing career as an award-winning journalist in the U S Army. This is a transcription of an interview by Michael Swanwick in which Gardner described his (occasionally wacky) career as a military newsman as well as his philosophy of editing. Issued in an edition of 60 and was bound in hand-made paper from Sri Lanka, crafted from recycled elephant dung. Because Gardner would have thought that was hilarious.


Father Winter is a collection of seven father-themed Solstice stories written by Michael Swanwick and his son, Sean Swanwick. It was created as a winter gift to select friends of Dragonstairs Press in an addition of 120. Those that were not given away will be put on sale this coming winter and go out of print shortly thereafter.


The chapbooks were donated as a group but the Locus editors are offering them up separately on their Indiegogo page. The first one went up today and the others will be added later in the campaign.


You can explore the campaign and its perks—pins, autographed books, story critiques, tuckerizations, coffee mugs, and much more at:



And you may notice . . .


The photo shown on Indiegogo does not depict Brief Essays on Genre. Somebody did a quick search and came up with another, also sold-out, chapbook. But to make up for that, here are the first two essays in the chapbook:


Brief Essays on Genre: Part 1


On the Origin of Science Fiction


The first written glyph was a straight line drawn with a stick in the mud or sand and it meant: I am here. This was the beginning of history.


A moment’s reflection, however, reveals that implicit in the statement was another: I was not always here. This was the beginning of literature.


So science fiction, the literature of change, was present in written language from the very beginning.



Brief Essays on Genre: Part 2


On the Nature of Fantasy


Why fantasy?


Because the world as it is makes us unhappy.


Why not make the world as good as you wish it were?


Because only in fantasy do we have the power to change the world to that extent.


But fantasy won’t do that.


Neither will reality.


Why not simply accept reality as it is?


I spit in your face.


Above, last line: Not literally, of course.