Monday, October 16, 2017

Summer and Sex in Seventies Philadelphia

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When I first came to Philly in the early Seventies, the city shut down in summer. Air conditioning was rare. You'd go to a movie theater and watch a bad movie just for the temporary respite. Almost all the restaurants closed. During the dog days of August, you'd lie naked on top of the sweaty sheets of your bed, panting like a dog.

Not in a sexy way.

I remember, one Sunday morning in August, walking up the dotted line in the center of Chestnut Street, arms out as if it were a tightrope. There wasn't a car to be seen, from river to river.

 All big cities have sexual accommodations peculiar to them. In Philadelphia, the custom was for affluent businessmen to rent a summer house "down the Shore," for the family. The wife and kids would stay there all summer. The businessman would spend weekends with them and during the week have an affair with his secretary.

When I first came to Philly, it was the custom for wealthy families on the East Coast to park their gay scions here, where their activities wouldn't cause scandal in their social circles. So there was a large and vibrant community of young men sowing their wild oats before being called back, when older and more discreet, to take up the reins of their family businesses. When I was out, late at night, I always walked home on Spruce Street, which was the spine of what later became known as the Gayborhood, because it was always filled with respectable young men who'd have come to my aid if somebody tried to mug me.

There was also an arrangement, the name for which I've forgotten, wherein wealthy older men sponsored respectable-and-presentable young women. "Mistress" overstates the emotional component of the relationship and "escort" goes too far in the other direction. Let's say "companion." Sex was involved, but the main purpose was for the man to have a young and presentable companion on social occasions. I had a friend who companioned herself through art school. She had a regular salary and was allowed to have a boyfriend (in my friend's case, many boyfriends, none of them commercial arrangements), but when her sponsor called, she had to drop everything, glam up, and hurry to his side. The rich have similar arrangements elsewhere, but I've never lived anywhere where it was openly expressed as here.

So that's my city back then. What sexual arrangements are peculiar to your city right now?


And speaking of summer...

I spent the summer working hard on The Iron Dragon's Mother. So I'm only now spending my summer vacation in a beach house down the Shore.

Secretaries most explicitly  not involved.


Above: There's another thing that's changed. Back then, people joked about how bad weather prediction was. "They predicted no rain, so you'd better bring an umbrella. Har har har." But now, with weather satellites, radar, and the like, AccuWeather delivers predictions that are, well... accurate.


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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I've Been Humbled Bundled!

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"I know what Humble Bundle is," my son said. "But I'm surprised you know."

Sean, it turns out, is a big Humble Bundle fan. He has, apparently, bought tons of ebooks from them. He never mentioned this fact to me, or even that he reads ebooks because, well, you know... Dads.

At any rate, yes. Vacuum Flowers, my big space novel, chock-full of ideas and near-naked people, is part of a Humble Bundle offer. And it's on the first tier, which means that you can get it and four other excellent books for only a dollar. If that's how little you want to spend.

Here's what it says on the press release:

Humble Bundle and Open Road Media have teamed up to provide 20+ space adventure ebooks from award-winning authors. Choose what you want to pay, and you’ll also be supporting SFWA, which helps support and advocate for some of our favorite SciFi/Fantasy authors.    

So you get lots and lots of space adventure, contribute to a worthy cause, and get to name your own price. If that's not your cup of tea, you just don't like reading space adventure ebooks. De gustibus non est disputandum.

The offer, which starts today and ends on the 18th,  can be found here.


And let me put in a plug for...

There are a lot of Big Names in this bundle. But let me suggest you put in enough money to get Starrigger by John DeChancie. The basic premise sounds almost comic... truck drivers to the stars! But he pulled it off. There's a lot of good old-fashioned science-fictional invention and adventure in this book. Here, from Wikipedia, is the basic premise:

Jake McGraw drives a futuristic cargo truck on the Skyway. The Skyway itself is a mysterious road, built by an unknown race of aliens, which runs across various planets from one portal to another. Driving through a portal (a "tollbooth") instantaneously transports you onto a different planet, many light years away. Humans found the Skyway on Pluto and began expanding along it, encountering various alien races along the way. However no one has a map, or knows where the Skyway begins or ends, and because each portal is one-way, only explored sections with a known return path (discovered by trial and error) are considered safe to travel.    


And now you know if that's your sort of thing. Starrigger is the first volume of a trilogy. But if you're like me, you'll consider the fact that there are two more books good news. DeChancie is a fine writer and I'm sorry he's not better known.


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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Live! Tonight! Me! In Brooklyn!

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Gardner Dozois and I will be reading tonight at the New York Review of Science Readings series in Brooklyn. This will be at The Brooklyn Commons Cafe at 388 Atlantic Avenue. The doors open at 6:30, the riotous fun begins a 7:00, and the suggested donation is $7. This means that if you're a genuinely impoverished bohemian, you can just slink in and nobody will think the less of you.

So why go? Chiefly, to hear Gardner. He's best known for his two decades as editor of Asimov's Science Fiction and his 34 years as editor of The Year's Best Science Fiction. But those who know him best know that he's an even better writer than he is an editor. He quit writing when he took the Asimov's gig, but in recent months he's returned to the profession -- so this is your chance to discover if he's still got the chops.

No pressure, Gardner.

I'll be there, too, reading from my forthcoming novel, The Iron Dragon's Mother. This book completes the trilogy I began a quarter-century ago. Find out if it was time well spent.

No pressure, Michael.

The NYRSF readings are always fun. There's always a crowd of friendly, intelligent people and they always seem to be enjoying themselves. So what the heck. Why not?


Above: Omar Rayyan made that wonderful image from pix he found on the Web. He'd never seen either Gardner or me in his life. I still marvel at that.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

A Dream from My Son's Childhood

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I was going through a mound of papers in my office, finding old magazines, half-written stories, maps of foreign cities and the like when I came across a sheet of paper typed out when my son Sean was only four years old.

Here's what it said:

"Trains"

It was bedtime and I was going to read Sean another chapter of Stuart Little. But we got sidetracked and he told me about his dream instead. He was hte engineer on a "strange train" and it went into Dinosaur Land. The dinosaurs were very fierce but there were walls to either side of the track. The dinosaurs couldn't get to him because he'd built gates. THe gates kept the dinosaurs out. He painted hte train in bright colors. It was very bright. It was pink mostly. Was there green? No. Yellow? Yes. Blue? No. He didn't want to paint the bathroom because it was wet. He met an Apatosaurus. What did it say? Apatosauruses can't talk. It wanted to get in. It wanted to know where the gates were, but Sean didn't tell. The train was a half-circle on the bottom and painted very bright inside, and a half circle on hte top. The people who gave him the parts to build the train wanted him to paint it very bright. What were the people who gave him the parts like? "They were Dotty and Louise and Alice and Grandmother and Grandfather."

7/87

That was over thirty years ago -- or, in Dad time, three or four months.


And the moral of this story is...

Tempus fugit. Parents should write down incidents like this while they can.


Above: Sean Swanwick. I think the photo was by Gardner Dozois or Susan Casper. It was taken during a New Year's Eve party in their then apartment in Society Hill.


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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Few More Words of "Starlight"

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The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has just posted a brief interview with me about my story "Starlight Express," which is in their current issue. The beautiful cover by Maurizio Manzieri  summarizes the spirit of the story.

On those rare occasions when I teach, the students are always anxious to learn how to describe a character's appearance. Since I spent more time describing Flaminio (the protagonist) and Szett (the woman he meets under strange circumstances, I thought I'd share with you the entirety of those descriptions:

Where Flaminio had the ruddy complexion and coarse face of one of Martian terraformer ancestry, the woman had aristocratic features, the brown eyes and high cheekbones and wide nose of antique African blood. 

As I said, that's as much description as I ever give fictional characters -- because nothing more is needed. Create a convincing character and the reader will imagine an appropriate appearance for someone behaving in that manner. It's as simple as that.

You can read the interview here.


And the big news is...

There is a brand new story by Samuel R. Delany in the very same issue of F&SF. It's the first work of science fiction that he's written in decades, so "The Hermit of Houston" is a very big deal indeed. As could be expected, it's strange, challenging, and inventive. I like it enormously.


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Friday, September 22, 2017

Putting Your Best Foot Forward


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Here's a story with the names rubbed off, lest I unintentionally give offense. Back in the Eighties, when I was what Gardner Dozois would persist in calling "a hot new writer," for a full decade, a small press published s series of small, cheap SF paperbacks, each containing half a dozen or so stories by a writer whom I considered one of the best of my generation. I eagerly bought them all... and was invariably disappointed. Because they'd all saved their best work for an eventual hardcover collection.

Years later, I was talking to Jim Turner, the extremely valuable editor of Arkham House and later Golden Gryphon Press, about these collections, and he said, "There was no reason not to use their best. I wasn't in direct competition with those books."

I remembered this later, when Chris Logan Edwards suggested I put together a slim collection of stories for his Tigereyes Press. So I went through my uncollected works and chose the very best and because they all were written in recent years, they had an underlying unity that worked well. Chris created a beautiful book with a wonderful cover by artist Lee Moyer

A Geography of Unknown Lands placed on the ballot for the World Fantasy Award for best collection.

The moral here, I think, is obvious.


And the reason for the picture above is...

So off I went, out into the countryside, on what I would have called a "mental health day," back when I pulled down a salary.

The picture above is of a cormorant drying its wings in the sun. Cormorants work hard. Usually, I do too. But not every day.


Above: Photograph by M. C. Porter. Marianne is a much better photographer than I'll ever be.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Gone Birding

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Li Bai long ago wrote a poem, in Chinese of course, that can be translated thusly:

Because water returns, though we cut it with swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it in wine,
Because the world can in no way conform to our desires,
Today,I will let down my hair
And go fishing.

Wise words from everybody's favorite drunken savant. So today I'm going birding. If you behave yourselves while I'm away, maybe I'll share a photograph or two.

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