Friday, July 22, 2016

And As Always...


I'm on the road again!

Well, I will be tomorrow. I'll be teaching at Clarion West in Seattle all next week. Originally the Week Six teacher was scheduled to be Geoff Ryman, who is a wonderful writer, an admirable human being, and one of the most likable guys you could ever hope to meet. Alas, he fell afoul of a Kafkaesque bureaucratic mixup that has temporarily deprived him of his passport, stranding him in the U. K.

This means that I PROBABLY WON'T BE BLOGGING AT ALL NEXT WEEK. When I teach, the students get everything I have. Nothing is certain in this phenomenal world, of course. But I doubt I'll have the time or energy to post anything here.

I'll be back here on Monday, August 1st.

In the meantime, if you'd like to support Clarion West, you can find their website and contribute to their Write-a-thon here.

Or, if you'd like to support the genre in a more cerebral manner, you could read one of Geoff's novels. I am particularly enthusiastic about The Child Garden and Air, but anything by Ryman is first-rate. The man is astonishing.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Beelzebub On Tour


My life is an odd thing, sometimes. Case in point. I've been conducting a Cat Tour with Beelzebub ("Not the real one, obviously," as I never tire of mentioning he said in "Of Finest Scarlet Was Her Gown") to support the any-minute-now publication of Not So Much, Said the Cat, my brilliant new collection of short fiction. Forthcoming from Tachyon Publications.

The highlight of the Cat Tour had to be Beelzebub's participation in a Scotch-tasting party at Roscon, Russia's national science fiction convention. But he's been seen many other places as well, from Red Square to Baltimore.

Pictured above is Beelzebub keeping a sharp lookout for trouble in Mattapoisett, an old Massachusetts whaling port on beautiful Buzzard's Bay.

More adventures are forthcoming.


Monday, July 18, 2016

One Rule To Ring Them All


It's Monday and suddenly I'm swamped with work. No time for anything deep. So I thought I would share with you the One Rule of Writing that Overrules All Other Rules.

The thing is that writing is not a single skill. It is a family of skills all of which result in superficially similar end-products. This means that no single piece of writing advice works for all writers. Write every day? Works great for many of us. Totally useless advice for others. Write from your own experience? Invaluable for some Not so great for people who write about zombies, alien planets, and serial killers. And so on.

So when a reputable source offers writing advice, keep an open mind. Try it. If it works, pat yourself on the back and put it in the tool box. If it doesn't, discard it without regret. It's still good advice. But it's good advice for some other kind of writer.

One piece of advice that's almost invariably true is this: Your characters have to interact with each other. Otherwise, no story. Invariably true. Almost.

I say almost because I advised someone on a story a while back and recently he shared with me his revised version. In it nobody interacted at all. That was, in fact, the point of the story. It worked. And there's no arguing with that.

So here's the One Rule: Anything you can get away with, you've gotten away with.

So endeth my sermon. Go ye and write better stories.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Universe Box Preview


The other day I posted a photo of the first completed box of the Universe Boxes Project. Now here's a glimpse of the interior. Pretty nifty, eh?

The Universe Boxes are issued in an edition of thirteen, of which ten will be offered up for sale by Dragonstairs Press, the nanopublishing juggernaut founded and operated by Marianne Porter. At their center is a stab-bound book with decorative papers containing a 10,500-word story, "Universe Box," written by me. It has never been published before, so this is a true first edition.

Here's how it begins:

Out of the everywhere and nowhere the thief fled, quarks and galaxies crunching underfoot, vacuum rippling like a banner in his wake. Skipping nimbly in and out of space and time, he dropped down into the quantum slush underlying physical existence and then up again into the macrocosmic realms of which reality is but the tiniest province. Nightmares beyond human imagining howled and ravaged at his heels. Nihilism and despair sleeted down on his upturned face. But the thief couldn’t have been happier. His grin was so mad and bright that it would melt granite.
 His erection was shocking.

You'll notice that not only is the book itself autographed by the author, but the contents list is autographed by both Marianne Porter and me. That's not only because the work modifying the cigar boxes and the selection of found and created items was done by Ms Porter but also because each box contains a "vaccine," one of a series of small artworks she has created, in which select items are sealed permanently in vaccine bottles, an activity straddling the line between art and shamanistic activity. 

Some items within the box, such as the book and a bundle of calling cards for characters in the story, are common to all the boxes. Some are common to other boxes but not to all. And some are unique to each box.

I exist in order to create interesting things. So you can imagine how happy I am with this collaboration. 

Nota bene: Dragonstairs Press does not do pre-orders, even for dear friends. A week before the boxes go on sale, information about them will be posted on the Dragonstairs website here

Above: Photo by Henry Wessells. Whose website at is well worth your perusal.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

In Which I Am Interviewed by Chris Urie


The industrious Chris Urie, writer and Associate Editor at Geekadelphia, has interviewed me for Clarkesworld. The occasion is the imminent (soon! very soon! sometime this month!) of my new Tachyon Publications collection, Not So Much, Said the Cat.

Her's how it begins:

Why does the cat say “not so much?”
He’s a character in a story about a young teenaged girl’s attempt to rescue her father from Hell. Beelzebub is there for whatever reasons a cat would be sent to perdition, and when he delivers that line he’s telling the girl that she might be lovely to look at for other humans, but for a cat . . . Which he does simply because he’s a contrarian and in Hell honesty is an offense to local community standards.
I hadn’t thought of this before, but Beelzebub—“Not the famous one, obviously,” as he says—and I have a lot in common. We both enjoy telling the truth in unexpected ways.

You can find the entire interview here. Or you can simply go to Clarkesworld itself here and poke around, maybe read a few stories. It publishes a lot of good fiction.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Stop Ending Your Stories Like That!


It's hot, I've got work to do, and I don't have any news about forthcoming publications. So here's a quick piece of writing advice:

Stop ending your stories like that!

By which I mean your science fiction stories. And what ticks me off about the way your science fiction story ends is that, after a great deal of suspension of disbelief, after things happen that couldn't possibly happen in the real world, after using up a small but irreplaceable fraction of the time I have left on this planet... you resolve it by having the protagonist feel better.

This is so very, very common. The traumatized veteran of a intergalactic war has an encounter with a sentient war machine and, after discovering their common posthumanity, feels better. The widower invents a machine that allows him to talk to his dead wife, and feels better. An astronaut on Pluto, awaiting rescue, becomes reconciled to his fate and also to the late father who could never express affection for her and feels better. I made up these examples off the top of my head, but they read a lot like stories I've read recently.

The problem is that this isn't a science fiction plot. Science fiction is about change -- and the more challenging the change, the better. Think how much better those stories would be if the vet merged with the war machine, becoming a new organism. Or if the dead wife enlisted her husband's help to escape from Hell. Or if the astronaut died and discovered that when chilled to Plutonian temperatures, the brain keeps on thinking, though the body is inert.

I'm not saying you can't sell stories with and-the-protagonist-felt-better endings. Obviously, they sell all the time. But you're not going to win any awards with them

And before you call me a hypocrite...

Yes, I've done it myself. "An Empty House With Many Doors" has exactly that ending. It was a good story, and I'm not about to apologize for it.

Didn't win any awards, though.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Meanwhile, Back In Nairobi...


Earlier this year, I was in Moscow for Roscon, the Russian national science fiction convention, and on a panel Nick Perumov asked an extremely good question, one that forced me to think about something I'd never considered before. He asked whether the proliferation of science fiction around the world and in Africa in particular wasn't promoting globalization and the weakening of indigenous cultures by forcing people to write in a manner and in a literary tradition that was not their own.

(He wasn't saying that it did, I should make clear. But he wanted us to take sides and defend our positions.)

Unfortunately, because everything anybody said had to be translated, we came to the end of our time slot before I could give my answer. Which was: "No. Globalization is already happening. Science fiction is a set of concepts and literary tools that people anywhere can pick up and use to fight back." 

Now, over at Geoff Ryman has posted part one of an essay titled 100 African Writers of SFF -- and it's an eye opener. As it turns out, there are many, many writers employing fantasy & science fiction in Africa for exactly that reason: To stake a claim to their part of the future, to establish their own voices, and to pass their own judgements on what's happening now and slated to happen in the years to come.

And of course they've been doing this for years.

Ryman's article sketches out complex situations, innovate creators, and a complicated relationship with Western culture. There are writers who grew up rarely speaking their native language because English is much more prestigious in the business world. Others have lived in the United States, but chose to return home. (At least one is moving to China to find work.) Several, when asked to cite their influences list books that are classics in the West. Everyone profiled is smart and perceptive. Only a few have their works excerpted, but when that happens, the prose is convincing. Here's an example from a story by Alexander Ikawa:

Night was the best time to visit Quadrant 7 if you were looking for mem-bits from the 21st. Old men too poor to afford to make money any other way, sold priceless memories for as little as 100 EA$. They sold to me cheaply because I bought memories nobody else wanted. Love, pain, laughter, and happiness, but mostly I bought history. I paid extra for memories of childhood in the late 21st; before the water and energy rations, even before ZEOS itself. I had a modest website where I uploaded them for free, and it was getting quite well known. I wasn’t the only one looking for the feelings we had lost. The vicious gangs that ran the quadrant did it differently though. They almost exclusively bought sexual memories, and then violence, thrills, and intoxication in that order. And if you owed them for food or a place to sleep as most of the old men did, they paid you nothing. They preferred to rip them for quality, erasing the memory from its donor’s mind completely. Gaps in the mind drove you crazy after a while, and the quadrant streets were full of people who had sold too much, wandering the streets trying to relearn things they had known all their lives.

You can -- and, if you're interested in science fiction and fantasy, I think you should -- read the entire first half of the article here.

I look forward to the second half with glad anticipation.

Above: Geoff writes, "You will hear a lot about Kwani? ('Why?' in Swahili) in this series. When Binyavanga Wainaina won the Caine Prize in 2003 he set up the company with the Prize money. The company publishes regular, book-like anthologies, individual novels and collections, runs the monthly Kwani? Open Mic nights and sponsors the Kwani? MS Award, which resulted in the first publication of Nansubaga Makumbi’s Kintu and also of Nikhil Singh’s Taty Went West. Kwani? was one of the sponsors of the workshop that resulted in the foundation of the Jalada collective."


Friday, July 8, 2016

Coming SOON!


I'm prepping for MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 Worldcon in Kansas City, where (modest cough) I'm to be a guest of honor, and working on more projects simultaneously than I can keep track of. So there will be a lot of announcements over the next year or so.

Meanwhile, there are three books coming out before MidAmeriCon in various formats. They are:

Hope-in-the-Mist, my slim biography of Hope Mirrlees, will be published soon in e-book format. It is now available for pre-order at Weightless Books. This was a labor of love both on my part and on Henry Wessells, who published it under his Temporary Culture imprint in an edition of 200 copies. They sold out almost instantaneously and I've long wished for an ebook edition because there has been so little written about Mirrlees that any scholar wishing to write about her must read my book, it being the only biography of her in existence.  Which was maddening for said scholars because it's also close to unobtainable, even via interlibrary loan.
the part of

Now at last, it's virtually obtainable. Here.

Not So Much, Said the Cat, my latest collection of short fiction, is scheduled to be published sometime this month by Tachyon Publications. If you've been following my blog, you've heard perhaps more than you wanted of the rave reviews it's been receiving. But the stories are good, I think, and the distillation of everything I've spent the past forty-some years learning.


Universe Boxes, a collaborative work by me and Dragonstairs Press nanomogul Marianne Porter. This is a strange and wonderful ultra-limited edition of thirteen unique boxes, of which ten will be available for sale. I'll be writing about this in more detail as the publication date nears, but essentially, each one consists of a) a cigar box, stamped and canceled as if it had gone through the mail and lined with star charts and paleontological photomechanical illustrations. b) various items, some (such as the bundle of business cards, common to all the boxes, others unique, c) a "vaccine," one of a series of small art objects created by Marianne Porter with select items permanently sealed inside a vaccine bottle, and d) "Universe Box," an original novelette by me in a stab-bound book with decorative papers.

The slightly blurry photo above shows the first Universe Box to be completed.

And while I'm at it...

I should also mention that Open Road Media had made ebook versions of five of my novels and one collection available for the first time ever. They are:

Bones of the Earth
In the Drift
Jack Faust
Tales of Old Earth (the collection)
Vacuum Flowers
and, of course, The Iron Dragon's Daughter.

And now, for some reason, I feel exhausted.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Man With The Write Stuff


A while back, I wrote a story called "Goblin Lake," which was in part a metafiction based on several chapters of Simplicius Simplicissimus, by Hans Jakob Christoffel Von Grimmelshausen.

Okay, I hear you saying, Hans Jakob What?

Good question. During the Thirty Years War, a troop of Hessian soldiers rolled up to a farm and confiscated food, horses -- and a ten year old boy for a servant. He grew up in the military, became a soldier, and, upon the end of the war,  got a job managing the estate of his former CO.

The quintessential self-made man and a born writer to boot, Von Grimmelshausen (a nom de plume and the anagram of the name of his master's estate; we have no idea what his real name was) wrote a picaresque novel about a simple peasant boy, raised by a monk, who becomes a soldier, a doctor, a courtier, a lover, and pretty much everything else a man of his times could become. It is great fun, occasionally scatological, and, not surprisingly, it became a best seller.

Those who know something about Seventeenth-Century literature can see the next part coming. Somebody pirated the book and added new chapters, thus killing the market for the original book.

Did Von Grimmelshausen get angry? Did he get even? No. The man was, as I said, a born writer. The real thing. He had the Write Stuff.

He added another ten chapters to the end of the pirated edition, kept the material written by whoever had stolen his work, and published the end-result as his own.

He was, and remains, an inspiration for us all.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Iron Dragon's Daughter E-Book For Two Bucks -- But Only Today!


This just came into my mailbox from Open Road Media:

I'm delighted to share with you that THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER will be featured in the Early Bird Books newsletter today, July 5.

Early Bird Books is a daily deals newsletter that goes out to more than 415,000 subscribers.

TIDD will be downpriced at $1.99 for today only. The discount will be available at all major etailers, but we'd love to have as
many people as possible sign up for Early Bird Books so that they'll be aware of our many excellent authors and titles.

Please feel free to share the sign-up URL with your fans:

And we encourage you to post the special pricing news today via your social channels. On the day of the promo, you may point readers to the catalog page on our Open Road website:

Over the years, a lot of readers have asked when The Iron Dragon's Daughter would be available in ebook format. Well... it's real, it's a deal, and don't get used to it. The very cheap price goes away tomorrow.

Oh, and there's a page that also includes other fantasy novels that you may very much want to buy at $1.99.  You can find it here.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Night Thoughts in the Thurber House


Garrison Keillor has retired from radio. Saturday was his final performance. I'm far from the only person who's going to miss that astonishing voice of his and, in particular, the News from Lake Wobegon.

They're going to try to keep the A Prairie Home Companion going, but I doubt it will work. Most likely, they'll try to turn it into a musical variety show, which is something it never was. It was two-hour festival of storytelling with occasional music. And it was powered by the fact that Keillor was -- is -- one of the greatest short fiction writers of the past fifty years.

I don't think this will be obvious until somebody combs through the collected NFLW and his prolific other writings and assembles a Best of Garrison Keillor. But the man was one of the great American short fiction writers and one of the great American humorists.

That and a hit radio show will make you a decent living.

A couple of years ago, I went to a writing event in the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. Picture a library full of introverts tapping away at their laptops or scribbling on pads of paper. I began a lot of stories there and finished six, which I published in the New York Review of Science Fiction. One of them, set in the house of yet another important writer, was written in praise of Keillor. I present it below.

Vaya con dios, sir. You are one of the ornaments of American literature.

Night Thoughts in the Thurber House

James Thurber’s childhood home in Columbus had the rare fortune to be preserved as a museum and literary center.  In consequence of which, twice a year it hosted a writer-in-residence who was housed in a furnished third-floor room and given the gift of time to work on his or her craft.  That room, the very one from which Thurber’s grandfather (as described in My Life and Hard Times) threw shoes down the stairway to frighten away ghosts, subsequently knew many distinguished writers.  But possibly the most honored and certainly the most frequent of these guests was Garrison Keillor.
One night, the first night of his third residency, Keillor was visited by the ghost of Mark Twain.  He’d been lying abed, unable to sleep, thinking of the fate of literary humorists in America.  So many of the greats were completely forgotten!  Thurber himself grew year by year less well known, less beloved, though his prose was still as fresh as the day it was written.  It was a sobering subject for a man who was known and beloved as a humorist himself, and the occasion for many dark thoughts.
A sudden chuckle, close at hand, brought Keillor bolt upright in the bed.  Whipping his head to one side, he saw a ghostly pallor in the form of a whiskered gent in a white suit.  He recognized the apparition immediately – who would not? – as Samuel Clemens, the man who wrote under the pseudonym of Mark Twain.
“You’re working yourself into a sweat, old hoss,” the revenant said genially, “and all to no purpose.”
Keillor, who had in his time read many fictional accounts of such confrontations with the illustrious dead, knew that this sort of visitation traditionally brought comfort and solace to those on the receiving end.  So, feeling encouraged, he said, “You mean because my posthumous reputation is secure?”
Mark Twain laughed.  “I mean no such thing.  No, the intent of my words is exactly the opposite.  You might as well stop worrying because the fame you want is simply not yours to be had.”  He produced a cigar out of nowhere and sucked on it complacently. “The public mind is small, you see, and has just enough room in it for one humorist.  Which position I’ve got pretty solidly nailed down.  Not just by my works, mind you, but also by my personality, which is so damnably if undeservedly loveable as to be unassailable. So you see, you might as well stop worrying about your place in literary history.  It’s already occupied.”
“Surely there’s room for two,” Keillor said pleadingly.
The spirit shook his snow-white locks.  “How did that moving picture show put it?  ‘There can be only one.’  I took out Bret Harte, and I knocked down Jim Thurber, and I reckon I can settle for you as well.”
So saying, the phantom faded away.
After that, there was no possibility of sleep.  Keillor got up, got dressed, and sat down to write.  “You bastard,” he said.  “I’ll get you.”

And he began to compose the most heartwarming story about Mark Twain anybody had ever written.


Copyright 2014 by Michael Swanwick. This story first appeared in the New York Review of Science Fiction.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Me! Me! Wonderful Me!


I'm in print again!  The very fine Polish magazine Nowa Fantasyka has just published the translated version of From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled as "A za nami ginęła chwała Babel." Alas, as so frequently happens the "word snowflakes" that Uncle Vanya speaks in when he's not employing pidgin were left-justified rather than center-justified, so all the hard work I put in making the structure reflect a trust-based logic was for naught.

But that cannot dim my joy. Poland is a beautiful country and has long been an intellectual center of Europe. So I feel a particular thrill when one of my stories is published there.

And on the self-promotional front...

Reviews for my forthcoming collection (by golly, this month, I believe!) Not So Much, Said the Cat keep pouring in. I've told you about the starred Kirkus review and the starred Publishers Weekly review. Here's a sampling of what's being said elsewhere:

“A whirlwind of stories that take you across the world, through different pockets of time, and into a sample of the lives being lived, Not So Much, Said the Cat is an excellent compilation. Swanwick’s latest book is a delight to read, both entertaining and insightful.”
Pooled Ink 

“I fell head-over-heels in love with this collection of stories.” —Lipstick and Libraries “Half Neil Gaiman, half Kelly Link, wonderfully unique.”
-- Johann Thorsson, Book Riot 

“His writing is flawless and creative, his characters incredibly well-developed for short stories, and the descriptive nature of his text can make you feel as if you’re living in these other worlds right along with the characters. Mr. Swanwick’s readers (and many critics) have gone so far as to call him the ‘god’ of the science fiction world.”
-- Heather Fazio, Times Union

So I am feeling particularly happy these days.

That's all for today. Have a safe and joyous Fourth of July, whether you celebrate it or not.