Tuesday, May 28, 2024

I Thought This Was A Good Story --Then I Learned It Was A Heroic Story


Do you have an unread copy of the May/June issue of Asimov's on hand? Quick! Right now! Open it to page 76 and read Rattler by Leonid Kaganov. The translator's note by Alex Shvartsman at the end too.

Rattler starts with a fresh take on the alien invasion story. The invader is small and so alien as to be incomprehensible. And, at first, there is only one. But it has a singular power: If anyone tries to kill it, that person immediately dies, followed by whoever ordered that person to try and that person's superior and so on up the line. So it can't be defeated and yet it must be defeated. Classic science fiction problem story.

Opposing this is a TV news team: reporter, producer, cameraman, and (the narrator) driver. They are not exactly a team of heroes. But--and the logic of this  perfect--when you need heroes but can't get them, cowards will do.

It's a satisfying story. But it's the translator's note (Shvartsman, btw, does an excellent job of translation) that reveals the story to be something else... an act of heroism.

And why won't I tell you about the translator's note . . . ?

I worry that Kaganov has made himself an enemy of Putin's government. There's nothing you and I can do about that. But we can give him the one thing every writer craves: an audience. If you have a copy of this issue, read it. If you don't, buy one. If you can't buy one, go to whatever place you know of where readers gather and ask for somebody to explain it to you.

Share this post. Pass it off as your own, if you wish. Write your own review. Tell your friends to write reviews. Make this story known. Make its author famous.

He's already a hero.


Monday, May 27, 2024

Remembering Hetty Jones on Memorial Day



There are two memorial services in Roxborough on Memorial Day. The big one is at Gorgas Park by the war monument, and it'll have a good-sized turnout. But Marianne and I like to go to the earlier one, only a few blocks distant, at Leverington Cemetery. There, the number of vets actively participating in the ceremony is roughly equal to the number of civilians, family mostly, attending. 

The thing about Leverington Cemetery is that it contains the graves of Americans who served in all the major wars this country has fought. The bodies of soldiers who died in the Civil War were shipped home from other states. But the eighteen Revolutionary War soldiers buried there died only a short walk away when Hessian troopers set fire to the barn they had been sheltering in and shot them as they tried to escape.

So, between that and the fact that the vets at the service are neighbors who deserve what little support we can offer, that's the service we go to.

And in what has become a small tradition in our family, Marianne cut roses from our back yard and left them on the graves of two who were never American soldiers: One was Choban Hoxha, known locally as Pretzel Pete, who had spent time in a Nazi concentration camp before being taken for slave labor by the camp's Soviet liberators, but managed to escape and make his way to America.

The other was Hetty Jones

Miss Jones was the daughter of a prominent Baptist minister and had a comfortable life when the Civil War broke out. She did volunteer work on behalf of the Northern soldiers. But when her brother, a Union officer, died in action, she decided she was not doing enough, and volunteered as a nurse, first at Filbert Street United States Army General Hospital in Philadelphia, and then at Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters in Virginia, where the suffering was greater. Her service, it is recorded, was tireless. In 1864, she worked hard preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the soldiers there, and shortly thereafter came down with one of those diseases endemic to military hospitals at that time. She recovered enough to resume partial duties, but it did not last. She died, aged 56.

At Hetty Jones' funeral, her casket was carried by convalescing soldiers who knew her from the Filbert Street Hospital.She is buried beside the graves of her father and brother.  





Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Sleep of Reason is in My Hands at Last!



Look what came in the mail!  

The Sleep of Reason is my collaboration with Francisco de Goya, one original story by myself for each of the 80 etchings of his Los Caprichos. Here's the book's back copy, describing it:

At last, Goya’s immortal etchings get the fictive treatment they deserve! Grotesque, mordant, and darkly hilarious by turn, the satiric images of Los Caprichos are as relevant now as they were when they were first published in 1799. In an era of war and extreme cruelty very much like our own, they laid bare the folly and absurdity of the human condition. As do the stories Michael Swanwick has crafted to accompany them. It is a monstrous and possibly even blasphemous work of hubris for a contemporary writer to collaborate with an artist recognized as “the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns” two centuries after his death rendered him unable to give his consent to the project. But Swanwick is up to the task. Read this book and discover for yourself the satirical worlds of Goya and Swanwick.

 To this I must add that John D. Berry did a beautiful job designing the book. If you held it in your hand and opened it randomly, you'd want to own it, even before reading a single word. The reproduction of Goya's etchings is fine and lucid and the prose is laid out in an open and inviting manner that as good as begs you to sit down in an easy chair and start reading.

And what of the stories . . . ?

You may well ask. "Grotesque, mordant, and darkly hilarious by turn," describes these stories well. I wouldn't advise you to binge read them. But I am immodest enough to admit that I'm proud of the stories and the prose they're written in.

I honestly think you should buy a copy.

 The paperback edition, published at a perfectly reasonable £12.99 can be ordered directly from PS Publishing here. The hardcover edition, published at a scandalously affordable £25.00 in an edition of 100, predictably sold out before publication. 




Wednesday, May 15, 2024

My Collection is a Locus Award Finalist!



The Best of Michael Swanwick Volume Two is a finalist for the Locus Awards in the Best Collection category! This is an honor worth celebrating and I'm doing so now because there's not much chance my book will win. I say that without any self-pity whatsoever. Or modesty, come to think of it. But in the forty-nine years the category has been in existence, "Best Of" collections have only won three times--for The Best of Connie Willis, The Best of Gene Wolfe, and The Best of Fritz Leiber.

But there I am, on the slate! As are nine others:

    The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Volumes 1 & 2, Peter S. Beagle (Tachyon)

    Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance and Other Stories, Tobias S. Buckell (Apex)

    The Wishing Pool and Other Stories, Tananarive Due (Akashic)

    White Cat, Black Dog, Kelly Link (Random House; Ad Astra)

    No One Will Come Back For Us, Premee Mohamed (Undertow)

    Jackal, Jackal, Tobi Ogundiran (Undertow)

    Skin Thief, Suzan Palumbo (Neon Hemlock)

    Lost Places, Sarah Pinsker (Small Beer)

    The Best of Catherynne M. Valente, Volume One, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean)


I think you'll agree that's pretty good company to be in.

And elsewhere on the list:


In related news, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro's remarkable book length interview Being Michael Swanwick is a finalist in the Best Non-Fiction category. In case you missed it, this is a series of interviews covering pretty much every work of short fiction I've ever published--where they came from, what I was trying to do with them, seasoned with a dollop of gossip. Alvaro was an extremely insightful interviewer and a most impressive researcher. He definitely deserves an award for this book, although--as one favorable reviewer noted--people who read my short fiction are a niche market. 


And up in the same category is The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History by Jack Dann.  This is relevant to me because in addition to the more analytical chapters about the nature of alternate history fiction, Jack assembled a round table of writers who have practiced the form, one of whom was me. He then posed questions, stood back, and let us disagree loudly with each other.

I will admit that, reading this book, there were a couple of times when I wished I had been more profound. But the other authors included were Kim: Kim Stanley Robinson, William Gibson, Pamela Sargent, Harry Turtledove, John Crowley, Michael Bishop, Lisa Goldstein, John Kessel, John Birmingham, Barry N. Malzberg, Janeen Webb, Bruce Sterling, Mark Shirrefs, Christopher Priest, Terry Bisson, Mary Rosenblum, Paul Di Filippo, Richard Harland, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George Zebrowski, so there a lot of things there worth hearing.

There are also eight other books nominated in this category, most of which I have not (alas) read. They are:


    42: The Wildly Improbable Ideas of Douglas Adams, Kevin Jon Davies, ed. (Unbound UK)

    Wish I Was Here: An Anti-Memoir, M. John Harrison (Serpent’s Tail; Saga 2024)

    All These Worlds, Niall Harrison (Briardene)

    101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murdered, Sadie Hartmann (Page Street Publishing)

    Space Crone, Ursula K. Le Guin (Silver)

    Ex Marginalia: Essays on Writing Speculative Fiction by Persons of Color, Chinelo Onwualu, ed. (Hydra House)

    A Traveller in Time: The Critical Practice of Maureen Kincaid Speller, Maureen Kincaid Speller (Luna Press Publishing)

    Owning the Unknown: A Science Fiction Writer Explores Atheism, Agnosticism, and the Idea of God, Robert Charles Wilson (Pitchstone)

And who do I think will win . . . ?

I honestly have no idea. Perhaps because in my first decade as a published writer, my work was nominated for major awards over and over and never once won, I've always taken pleasure in the horse-race aspects of these awards. I'd read all the fiction and make my predictions, sometimes based on what deserved to win and other times based on the literary politics going on at that moment. And I was always wrong. Always.

I concluded then that there are so many factors at play in a popularly-voted award that when it comes down to the voting it goes chaotic. Which is why the process is still so much fun to watch.


Meanwhile, if you'd like to buy one of the books discussed here, you may:

The Best of Michael Swanwick Volume 2 may be purchased from Subterranean Press here.

Being Michael Swanwick is currently on sale (three dollars off!) at Fairwood Press here.

And The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History is available from Bloomsbury Publishing here. Although non-UK readers might try a local bookseller to save on postage.


Monday, May 13, 2024

Random Readings: William Morris' "The Hollow Land"



I was reading William Morris' short romance, "The Hollow Land," yesterday. It was an early work and not one he thought worth reprinting, though it happened posthumously. A fantasy, but not a great one.

However, it had the following passage, after the hero has by cunning infiltrated a walled town at night and is leading his soldiers toward their enemy:


We had not gone far, before we heard some knights coming, and soon, in a turn of the long street, we saw them riding towards us; when they caught sight of us they seemed astonished, drew rein, and stood in some confusion.

We did not slacken our pace for an instant, but rode right at them with a yell, to which I lent myself with all my heart.

After all they did not run away, but waited for us with their spears held out; I missed the man I had marked, or hit him rather just on the top of the helm; he bent back and the spear slipped over his head, but my horse still kept on, and I felt presently such a crash that I reeled in my saddle, and felt mad. He had lashed out at me with his sword as I came on, hitting me in the ribs (for my arm was raised), but only flatlings.

I was quite wild with rage, I turned, almost fell upon him, caught him by the neck with both hands, and threw him under the horse-hoofs, sighing with fury [...] I fought with my heart, till the big axe I swung felt like nothing but a little hammer in my hand, except for its bitterness: and as for the enemy, they went down like grass, so that we destroyed them utterly, for those knights would neither yield nor fly, but died as they stood, so that some fifteen of our men also died there.


Wow.  That is one vivid recreation of an event unlike any that Morris could possibly have taken part in. Gonnabe writers should reflect on this whenever somebody says, "Write what you know."

 There's more than one way writers can "know."



Tuesday, May 7, 2024

The Annotated STATIONS OF THE TIDE (Part 4)




Part 4! I begin to think it's possible I may bring the notations all the way to the end.  Again, I have to apologize for the fact that these notations are scattershot and incomplete. Some sources don't spring to mind immediately, while others are skipped lightly over for a variety of personal reasons. The technique allowing a man to achieve orgasms without ejaculation does, yes, work, but I'd have to do digging into the far reaches of my books to find the references and life is short. 

Meanwhile, a soupcon more insight into my novel:

Page 44:

“I killed a dog today”: When I was at William & Mary, struggling to pass German (I never did get good at it), I tried writing a story in German and only got as far as the opening line: Ich tötete heute einen Hund. This fact is of absolutely no importance. I mention it only to demonstrate how much more goes into any substantive piece of writing than the reader suspects.


Page 46:

Campaspe: The name is taken from E. R. Eddison’s A Fish Dinner in Memison. In it, Campaspe is a sylph, whose human form alternates with that of a water-rat.


Page 50:

St. Jones's: There is no such saint. But the St. Jones is a river in Delaware. No one knows the origin of its name but it is speculated to derive from St. Joan or else St. Jone, a variant Welsh spelling of St. Ione or John.


Page 60:

Clay Bank: A neighborhood in Gloucester County, Virginia. Will Jenkins who, writing as Murray Leinster, was the original Dean of Science Fiction, lived there.

Cobbs Creek: A neighborhood in West Philadelphia, and a creek defining part of Philadelphia's border.


Page 61:

remscela: A little joke here. The remscela are the prequel-tales to the Táin Bó Cúailnge in the Ulster Cycle and Remscela is the title of a Celtic fantasy novel by my friend Gregory Frost. On Miranda it is apparently also a form of alcohol.


Page 62:

fantasias: I have usurped an existing word here as the name for elaborately fantastic costumes specific to  carnival on Miranda.


Page 63:

jubilee: In Biblical times, after seven weeks of years--half a century--came the jubilee, a time of transformation, when all debts were forgiven and slaves freed. The time of the jubilee tide is, similarly, a time of physical transformation and, for some, spiritual transcendence.

Page 65:

Undine: In Miranda, a witch; in our world, the name of a water-nymph. The word was coined by Paracelsus in his alchemical writings and popularized by Undine, an 1811 novella by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué. A knight falls in love with the wild and capricious young nereid. Marriage, however, gives her a human soul and makes her virtuous in the drearily long-suffering Christian manner of the times. The knight proves unworthy and they both die—but romantically.


Page 68:

iridobacteria: A nonce-word, but in context self-evident.


Page 71:

nerve-inductor: An obvious swipe from Frank Herbert’s Dune. I am astonished I neglected to include it in the Acknowledgements page. Somehow, I forgot all about it.


Page 82:

“A new age of magical interpretation…”: This is a quote from Adolph Hitler.


Page 83:

Veilleur: French for “watchman.” There was a strong French (and French Carribean) component to the original human settlers of Miranda, as well as a lesser Armenian component.


Page 87:

the golden woman: The poncho-clad puppet who dissolves in a shower of golden rings is taken from C. L. Moore’s classic story, “No Woman Born.”





Monday, May 6, 2024

THE SLEEP OF REASON in book form at last!!!!


GREAT NEWS! and... less great news. The Sleep of Reason, my posthumous collaboration with Francisco Jose de Goya, is now available in paperback form from PS Publishing for thirteen U. K. pounds less one pence. I haven't seen it yet but I know that it's a beautiful book because John Berry did the book design. 

That was the great news. The less great news is that the signed-and-numbered hardcover edition of 100, priced at an eminently affordable twenty-five pounds, sold out pretty much instantaneously on pre-order.

Those copies will be mailed out later this week, but the paperback is available for purchase now.

And what exactly, you may ask, is this thing . . . ?

Way back when, I contracted with Eileen Gunn's then e-mag The Infinite Matrix, to write a flash fiction a week based on the illustrations of Goya's Los Caprichos. The images were by turns angry and sardonic and they called up the Irish darkness in me.
The stories can still be read online. But they read best with Goya's images large and lucid before you, and for that, you'll want the book.

You can read a typical story about the joys of motherhood by clicking here.