Monday, February 26, 2024

Brian Stableford: The Formidable Man And His Remarkable Future History

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Brian Stableford died two days ago. He was a fine science fiction and horror writer and a most erudite critic and literary historian. I knew him a little but couldn't claim to be his friend. And I have only one story to tell about him. It's a small one but since it might turn you on to a very interesting book, I'll share it.

The book is The Third Millennium: A History of the World AD 2000–3000 by Stableford and David Langford. The spine of it was a future history he had mapped out and embodied in many stories and novels in which science, particularly biotech, makes the human race ever more happy until everyone is immortal and has anything they could wish for. Any writer could tell that's an impossible future to find stories in, but he had no problem there. Fiction just flowed out of him. 

Oh, and the book was full of pictures cleverly repurposed for the future history. One, for example, showing an electrician almost buried in cables, purported to show a biotechnician among the roots of an ailing organic house.

So, anyway... I ran into Stableford at a Worldcon and told him I was reading the book and enjoying it enormously. I said that I especially liked the end of the chapter on the death of capitalism when the Last Capitalist, just before leaving  for exile on Mars, snarls, "The meek have inherited the earth."

"That was Langford's," he said gloomily. Then, still gloomily, "When we sent in the manuscript, the editor sent it back with a note requesting 'more jokes.'"

Wikipedia informs me that Stableford wrote over seventy novels and translated over a hundred books. You have no idea how intimidating I found that--and still do. The man was astonishing.

But if The Third Millennium sounds interesting to you, check it out. There's nothing quite like it.


Above: Photograph by Lionel Allorge. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (File:Brian Stableford à la remise du prix Actu SF aux 13emes Rencontres de l’Imaginaire de Sèvres le 26 novembre 2016 - 07.jpg - Wikimedia Commons). Merci beaucoup, M. Allorge.


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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Tom Purdom in Roxborough

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Gregory Frost, one of the guests

Because Tom Purdom used to hold a monthly brunch for the Philadelphia SF writing community, Marianne and I held a memorial brunch in Roxborough in his memory this Saturday. Those attending included Gregory and Barabara Frost, Victoria McManus, Darrell Schweitzer, Mattie Brahan, Sally Grotta, Samuel R. Delany, Sean Swanwick, and Lawrence Schoen. All people who knew Tom and many of us who knew him for decades.

We honored Tom with conversation (free of background music, of course--he was a music critic but only listened to it live), and then with memories of him. Chip Delany told of how back when all he knew of Tom was that they'd shared an Ace double, he'd made a public appearance in a Philadelphia university and there among the young people was an older man--Tom. Chip read a short story and in the Q&A afterward, Tom suggested that the story would be improved by making a small change in it. Chip agreed and made the change before publication and was impressed afterward not only by Tom's insight but by his generosity in offering the observation. "He'd listened to the story," Chip said.

Then, after sharing our memories, we went back to talking, talking, talking about everything under the sun and moon. Not only because that's the sort of people we are but because that's what Tom would have wanted.

Another thing he would have approved of was that we were reuniting a lot of people whom hadn't seen each other in a long time. The whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing? No. What absence does is remind you just how much you rely on seeing the people you care about most on a regular basis

And before you ask . . .

Chip did not remember what change Tom had suggested. He can't even remember what story he read. But he remembered the event, the suggestion, the kindness.

 

And a few more photos . . .

I regret not getting pics of everyone, but you know how it is when you're having fun.





 

Above: All photos by Michael Swanwick. Top to bottom: Samuel R. Delany, Darrell Schweitzer, Sally Grotta, and Victoria McManus. Camille Bacon-Smith could not attend but was there in spirit.


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Monday, February 5, 2024

My True and Gentle Friend, Sandy Meschkow

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My old friend Sandy Meschkow died the other day. You probably didn't know him. But Sandy was a gentle soul, a kind man, and a good friend of mine for close to fifty years.

I cannot remember Sandy ever being angry about anything. Where other people would have felt anger, Sandy was amused. When he was working at the Franklin Institute, he taped up a picture of Gore Vidal, whose writing he admired, in his workspace and his boss suggested he take it down because he wouldn't want people to think he was "one of them." Sandy, who was as straight as they come, thought this was hilarious—not that somebody would think he was gay but that anybody would think that being gay was something to be ashamed of. The picture stayed.

Sandy was an engineer and eminently competent. One day his boss said, "Meschkow! You're writing a manual on aluminum welding." To which Sandy responded, "But... but... I don't know anything about aluminum welding." To which his boss responded, "Then learn." And, of course, as these stories go, Sandy learned and wrote and the manual became standard.

He was a passionate fan of science and a mainstay of Philadelphia’s science fiction community. He was also a major reason why the Institute became an employment haven for bright and overeducated but unskilled young fans. He and I worked together there at the National Solar Heating and Cooling Information Center. Sandy was a pay grade or five above me yet he never acted as if we weren't anything but peers. He believed in me as a writer back when I hadn’t published a single word of fiction. His support came when I needed it most.

Sandy outlived two wives—both marriages happy—and on retirement gradually faded from public life. It was typical of him that he would slip away quietly.

And now this kindly, generous man is gone. The world is diminished by his leaving it.

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Sunday, February 4, 2024

One Last Visit To Tom Purdom's Apartment

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Marianne and I went to Tom Purdom's Center City Philadelphia apartment today to help sort through things. It was a melancholy day.

As we were leaving, I saw Tom's signature coat and cap on pegs behind the door. Waiting like faithful pets for their master to gather them up and take them out into the streets again. Tom was a great walker and he'd carried them many a hundred miles up and down the city he only rarely left.

 I looked at them and thought, "I miss him too." And left, closing the door quietly behind me.

 

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Monday, January 29, 2024

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

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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 www.dragonstairs.com.

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 dragonstairs.com .

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

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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.


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Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Albert Hodkinson's War

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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.


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