Monday, December 30, 2013

Tom Purdom, Lover & Fighter


It's coming soon, the book I've spent many years yearning for -- Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons, the first collection of Tom Purdom's short fiction.

How highly do I regard Tom's fiction?  So highly that I wrote the introduction to the collection -- and I hate writing introductions.  They're a lot of work.  But these stories deserve enormous praise, so I was glad to do it.

I'll be posting more about this collection as it comes available.  In the meantime, here's one paragraph from my introduction:

The very best example of this is the first story in this book, “Fossil Games,”  a tale of posthumans whose intelligence is so highly enhanced that in conversation they’ll switch between machine-generated and music-based languages in order to convey nuances of mood and yet so outclassed by their contemporaries that they must flee Earth in search of a sanctuary for inferior minds.  It is a cascade of brilliant ideas worthy of Greg Egan or Stephen Baxter at their best.  On my first reading, I could all but hear the plates of my skull creaking as my brain swelled with the effort of following his characters’ thinking.  Yet the writing is smooth and the narrative flows naturally from beginning to end.  It is a genuine tour de force and a terrific introduction to the pleasures of Purdom’s fiction.

And here's the table of contents:
       Introduction by Michael Swanwick
        “Fossil Games”
        “Haggle Chips”
        “Dragon Drill” “Canary Land”
        “Research Project”
        “Bonding with Morry”
        “A Response from EST17”
        “The Path of the Transgressor”
        “The Mists of Time”

Lovers & Fighters, Starships & Dragons will be available in print on demand and e-book formats from Fantastic Books.  will be launched in February at Boskone in Boston.  Tom Purdom will be in attendance, so if you're going to be there, you really should pick up a copy and get it autographed. 

And on an unrelated note . . .

The judging for this year's Godless Atheist Christmas Card Competition is winding down.  The results will be posted here, as they come available.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

[dream diary]

December 28, 2013

In my dreams, I wrote:

Olive Oyl at the Orgy

     The old gal was game.  But it was Popeye who was the only one standing at the end.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Working With Mariella Coudy


I'm in print again!  David Hartwell's anthology, Year's Best SF 18, arrived in yesterday's mail and it contains my story "The Woman Who Shook the World Tree."

The pleasures of writing a story differ from the pleasures of reading one.  For me, the chief pleasure in this work was getting to work with the story's protagonist, Mariella Coudy.

The story begins:  She was not a pretty child.  Nor did her appearance improve with age.  "You'd better get yourself a good education," her mother would say, alaughing.  "Because you're sure not going to get by on your looks."  But that's a misdirection.  What makes Mariella's life so difficult is not her looks -- there are tons of women who get all the romance, sex, and love they want without being at all beautiful -- or her distant parents, but her genius.  She is simply so far beyond the likes of you and me that she's almost a different, one-woman species.

So half the joy of writing this work was, for me, getting to inhabit the mind of a world-class genius and to pretend, briefly, that I could follow her thoughts.  But the other half lay in getting to create a woman of genius who was as badly socialized and as little aware of it as the worst of her male peers.

Who can forget the mathematician Paul Erdős discovered in the kitchen at 3 a. m., holding a carton of orange juice and staring baffled at the stuff puddling around his feet because he'd wanted a drink and tried to open the carton by stabbing its bottom with a steak knife?  His hosts put up with behavior like this because  of the quality of work he would do while he was visiting.  But women almost never get to be so clueless and yet admired.

I created one who was.  And then, in gratitude for her being such a lovely character, I gave Mariella Coudy everything she'd always thought she'd never have.

An "Erdős number" is a half-serious calculation of one's professional closeness to the man.  Those who have collaborated on a paper with him have an Erdős number of 1, those who haven't but have collaborated with someone who collaborated with him have an Erdős number of 2.  And so on.

I'm not a mathematician and so I have no Erdős number at all.  But I have a Mariella Coudy number of 1.  I believe I'm the only person in the world who can say that.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Lost In Space (the odd distinction Allen Steele and I Share)


Over on io9, there's a nifty article  by Emily Stamm and Charlie Jane Anders titled The Great Lost Manuscripts of Science Fiction and Fantasy.  It leaves out the original Riverworld manuscript, which Philip Jose Farmer later claimed had an eminently satisfying ending which he'd completely forgotten by the time he rewrote it and penned the subsequent sequels.  But otherwise, it hits the high points.

Alas, most of the lost manuscripts deserved to be lost.  Given how robust the SF short fiction market of the 1930s and 1940s was, any story that Isaac Asimov couldn't sell had to be pretty dire.  And Robert A. Heinlein spent decades tracking down and destroying every copy of his first novel, We The Living, he could find.  (When it was posthumously published, it turned out to contain most of the ideas that later made his reputation in a tedious and didactic plot.)

When Jules Verne's long-lost novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was turned down by his publisher as being far too unlikely, was finally published however, it turned out to contain an astonishing number of perfectly accurate predictions.  His record there may have been better than that of H. G. Wells.  Which would have pleased Verne mightly.

The year the book was published, my friend Allen Steele and I independently recommended it for the Nebula Award.  Making us the only two human beings in history ever to vote for Verne for a Nebula.

We have mingled blood, Allen, and shall always be brothers.

You can read the article here.


Friday, December 20, 2013

The Universe Is Green!


How common is life in the universe?  Nobody can say.  The problem is that when we address the question, we have a sample of exactly one biome.  Which means that any conclusions we draw have a standard deviance of plus or minus infinity.

But we can make a pretty good statistical stab at how many Earth-sized planets there are circling Sol-like suns within the "Goldilocks zone," where it's neither too hot nor too cold for large amounts of liquid water to exist on the surface.

CBC News reported, about a month and a half ago, that a recent study took a Kepler telescope study of a slice of 42,000 stars in our galaxy, crunched numbers, and then extrapolated for the entire Milky Way Galaxy.  There are roughly 200 billion stars in the MWG, of which 40 billion are pretty much like our own sun.  Based on what they saw, the scientists estimate that 22 percent of those stars have Earth-like planets that could harbor life.

Using numbers a little more precise than those cited above, that comes to 8.8 billion Earthlike worlds in the Milky Way Galaxy alone.  Which is, as Carl Sagan liked to point out, only one of billions and billions of galaxies in the universe.

What does this mean as far as the existence of life goes?  Well, when you have a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, you're not allowed to make wild surmises.  Which is why there are science fiction writers.

And so, by the awesome power invested in me as a science fiction writer, I am able to say:  God is not only good but also generous.  The galaxies are green.

Somewhere out there, right now, somebody on a planet you've never seen is wondering if we exist too.

You can read the article here.  Or you can just go outside tonight and stare at the stars in silence.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Compleat (To Date) Darger & Surplus


I recently received a letter from a fan asking for a complete listing of my Darger & Surplus stories, and where they can be found.  I don't believe this information is available elsewhere on the Web, so I thought I'd share it here:

There are three published stories:

          The Dog Said Bow-Wow
           The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Sport
           Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play

All of which are in my Tachyon Publications collection, The Dog Said Bow-Wow.

In addition, there is a set of four sequential short-shorts:

            Smoke and Mirrors: Four Scenes from the Postutopian Future

This has not been collected.  It originally appeared in Live Without a Net, edited by Lou Anders.  It was also published by Dragonstairs Press as a set of four small, hand-sewn, signed and numbered chapbooks:

            American Cigarettes 
             Song of the Lorelei
             The Brain-Baron  
             The Nature of Mirrors 

The Brain-Baron is sold out.  The other three are still available for four dollars apiece.  You can find Dragonstairs here.

Dragonstairs Press, incidentally, is the nano-publishing juggernaut of my wife, Marianne Porter.

There is a new story forthcoming:

              Tawny Petticoats

This chronicles the New Orleans adventures of Darger & Surplus and is scheduled to appear soon in Rogues, edited by Gardner Dozois and George R. R. Martin. 

And there are two novels:

              Dancing With Bears

This chronicles how Darger & Surplus finally reach Moscow and what happens then.  It  came out in 2011 from Night Shade Press

              Chasing the Phoenix

This chronicles how Darger & Surplus accidentally conquered China. I recently turned in to my agent.  So a good guess is that it will appear late in 2014 or early in 2015.

There are also a few partially-written Darger & Surplus adventures which I hope to find the time to complete in the coming year.  There aren't as many short stories as I could wish for -- certainly not enough for a collection -- but in time there will be.


Monday, December 16, 2013

A Farewell to Rosemary


I learned the sad news an hour ago:  Rosemary Wolfe, Gene's wife, died over the weekend.

Gene Wolfe is, for good and sufficient reasons, much beloved in the science fiction community.  So too was Rosemary.  I did not know her well -- I chatted with her only a few times -- but everybody who did spoke of her with genuine affection.

Rosemary had serious medical problems, which made the past many years difficult for her and her beloved husband.  They also made it obvious how deeply and profoundly he loved her.  They two were devoted to each other.

If I start reflecting on the nature of a good marriage and what it means to the two people involved, we'll be here forever.  So instead, I'd like to offer up in Rosemary's memory, the smallest of recollections:

Some years back, Readercon celebrated its 20th anniversary and, as part of the ceremonies, every guest of honor they'd ever had was called up on stage in reverse order:  the most recent first and so on, all the way to their very first goh, Gene Wolfe.  I was somewhere in the middle of the mob.

When Gene's name was announced, I swear that I was the second person on his feet.  The first was Michael Bishop, appropriately enough, a guy whose heart is as big as they come.  Everybody on stage rose up, pretty much simultaneously, followed almost immediately by everybody else in the room.  It was the most heartfelt standing ovation I've ever seen -- and I've seen some that would bring tears to your eyes.

So far as I could see, there was only one person in the hall who wasn't standing -- and that was because Rosemary's health wouldn't allow it.  But I was watching her and she was the happiest person there.  She glowed.  And -- I swear I could tell -- she wasn't basking in reflected glory.  She was simply happy that the man she loved was being honored so.

That's how I'll always remember her.

God bless you and keep you, Rosemary.   I'm sure you're safe in His care now.


Friday, December 13, 2013

One Heckuva Depressing Projection


As always, I'm on the road again.  I'm tapping out this blog post late at night in a Days Inn room in Western Pennsylvania, so this will be brief.

Above, courtesy of the Planetary Society is a chart showing what's happening to NASA's planetary research budget both now and in the near future.  This is what happens when you have a Democratic president who doesn't think space research is important and a Republican Party that thinks anything the government spends money on is bad.

You can find the Planetary Society's exposition of the above chart here.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Parable of the Creche


It's Christmas season and that means it's time for my annual telling of . . .

The Parable of the Creche

When first I came to Roxborough, a third of a century ago, the creche was already a tradition of long standing.  Every year it appeared in Gorgas Park during the Christmas season.  It wasn't all that big -- maybe seven feet high at its tip -- and it wasn't very fancy.  The figures of Joseph and Mary, the Christ Child, and the animals were a couple of feet high at best, and there were sheets of Plexiglas over the front of the wooden construction to keep people from walking off with them.  But it was loved.

It was a common sight to see people standing in front of the creche, admiring it.  Sometimes they brought their small children to see it for the first time and that was genuinely touching.  It provided a welcome touch of seasonality and community to the park.

Alas, Gorgas Park was publicly owned, and it was only a matter of time before somebody complained that the creche violated the principle of the separation of church and state.  When the complaint finally came, the creche was taken out of the park and put into storage.

People were upset of course.  Nobody liked seeing a beloved tradition disappear.  There was a certain amount of grumbling and disgruntlement.

So the kind people of Leverington Presbyterian Church, located just across the street from the park, stepped in.  They adopted the creche and put it up on the yard in front of their church, where it could be seen and enjoyed by all.

But did this make us happy?  It did not.   The creche was just not the same, located in front of a church.  It seemed lessened, in some strange way, made into a prop for the Presbyterians.

I was in a local tappie, shortly after the adoption, and heard one of the barflies holding forth on this very subject:

"The god-damned Christians," he said, "have hijacked Christmas!"

And while I'm talking about the holidays . . .

I might as well remind you that Marianne's nano-industrial complex, Dragonstairs Press has put last year's Christmas chapbook up for sale.  Every year since 2011, she's commissioned me to write three seasonal works of flash fiction for a holiday chapbook which she designs, assembles, and hand-sews in a signed limited edition of 100. The bulk of these go out to friends of the Press.  Those that are left over go up for sale a year later.

Last year's Yuletide chapbook, Midwinter Elves, started out with thirty copies available for sale, but a lot of them have gone into the mail already.  The original Solstice chapbook, It Came Upon A Midnight, was down to nine copies when last I checked.

The perfect stocking stuffer for that bookish Significant Other of yours.  Unless s/he's a collector, in which case you're going to be in big trouble if it get wrinkled.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Midwinter Elves! From Dragonstairs Press!


Every year, for almost a 33rd of a century, Marianne has commissioned me to write three flash winter tales for a chapbook that Dragonstairs Press sends to its particular friends at Solsticetide.  Then, a year later, those few chapbooks remaining are put on sale to the general public.

Yesterday, Midwinter Elves: Three Brief Midwinter Tales, the second Solstice chapbook, went on sale.  It was published in an edition of one hundred hand-stitched, signed, and numbered copies, of which thirty are still available.  And it costs only five dollars.

The three stories are "Cookie Elves," "Adam's Third Wife," and "Meryons."

There are also a limited number left of the first chapbook,  It Came Upon a Midnight: Three Brief Midwinter Tales.  Also five dollars apiece.

The three stories are "Snowflake People," "Mrs. Claus," and "Manger Animals."

Either or both are perfect for that obsessive bibliophile on your Christmas list.

And that's the end of the commercial.  You can find the Dragonstairs Press website here.

And why, you ask, are these collectible limited edition works so cheap?

When Marianne started making limited edition, lovingly crafted chapbooks, I asked a friend who knew the economics of small presses how much she should charge for them.  "Fifty dollars apiece!" he said cheerfully.  "Anything less and the real collectors won't take it seriously."

I told this to Marianne and she was horrified.

"I believe in the Beanie Babies theory of collectibles," she said.  "Price them cheap enough for an impulse buy.  Let them go out of print.  And whoever bought them first can reap the profits."

"You can make a lot more money the other way."

"I don't care," she said.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

my dream diary - 2

December 6, 2013

Of this song, sung by Johnny Cash, all I could remember on awakening were the following lines:

Before the jury, on his knees,
He said, "Your honor, if it please,
I have no option now but God's own truth.
I'll show you there's no villain here
And that there's but one thing to fear --
Today's disaffected, misdirected youth."

Note:  this is, I think, the first time I've ever written song lyrics in my sleep.  Though I occasionally manage doggerel. And it almost scans!


Friday, December 6, 2013

The Price of Success


There are stories you read once, nod approvingly, and then promptly forget both the title and the author, because you don't realize at the time you're going to be quoting that work for the rest of your life.  As, for example, the one I read in (I think) Analog years ago, where a man realizes that the bureaucratic system for rewarding excellence in science and technology might as well have been created by hostile aliens to keep our technology backwards.  He mentions this idea to a colleague who enthusiastically promotes it -- and finds himself admired, feted, promoted, organizing conferences on the notion . . . and not actually getting anything substantive done with it.  Particularly nice was that, though it was never explicitly stated, by story's end the reader had reached the conclusion that the system was created by hostile aliens, and doing a bang-up job of holding back progress as well!

Something like that happens in literature too.  When Doris Lessing heard she'd won the Nobel Prize, she snapped, "Oh, Christ!"  She just wanted to write, and here the world was heaping distraction on her head, and she was going to lose a couple of months dealing with it all.  

I am far from being as successful as Ms Lessing.  But I must be doing pretty well, because I keep getting invitations to write incidental nonfiction -- guest of honor profiles for convention books, introductions for collections, and the like -- and, believe me, they take up a lot of time.

Nor are they things I can turn down.  An essay on R. A. Lafferty?  An introduction for Tom Purdom?  A blurb for Gene Wolfe or Eileen Gunn?  How could I not want my name associated with these guys?  Just being asked is like receiving a little medal of merit.  I'm working on three such at the moment.

I say all this not in order to whinge, but to advise young writers:  Right now, while nobody is asking, work on your non-fiction skills.  Teach yourself to think clearly and to write swiftly and well.  You'll thank yourself for that, down the line.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Grand Master Chip!


SFWA has just announced that the 2013 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award will go to Samuel R. Delany!  This is an award meant to be given to people who obviously, blatantly deserve it.  People like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe . . . and Chip (as his friends call him).  So I don't think anybody had any doubt that would happen sooner or later.  But sooner is better.

I had the good fortune of discovering Chip's works early in his career and relatively late in my pre-career.  The Einstein Intersection shaped my writings-to-be in ways that will never be mapped out and may in fact be responsible for my fondness for creating works that sprawl across the boundaries of genre without concern for what they properly "should" be.  I've been following his works, both of fiction and of criticism, with enormous joy ever since.

Just how important is Chip to science fiction?  More so even than most of his admirers -- and they are a fervent lot -- realize.  Some years ago, my pal Gardner Dozois put together two anthologies of SF, one titled The Good Old Stuff and the other The Good New Stuff.  The first was to introduce the virtues of classic SF (what might be and once was called the Old Wave) to a new generation of readers.  The second was to highlight the virtues of those who came later (post New Wave, mostly).  Afterward, he told me that in his researches it became obvious that every writer in the first book had in some way or another been influenced by Robert A. Heinlein.  Those of the second had all been influenced by Chip.

You want specifics, but alas I do not have the time to write the book explicating them.  So I will only observe that John W. Campbell once observed that you could have too much innovation in a story, that if everything is new and bright and interesting that distracts from the central thesis of the work.  But Chip said no to that.  Interesting people, interesting worlds, interesting ideas, prose that feels free to turn a handspring if it feels like it.

Science fiction got a lot more interesting when Chip came into it.  As a reader, I just want to say:  Thank you, Chip.  I appreciate that.

Click here for SFWA's press release.

Above:  God in His library.  The "real" Samuel R. Delany is actually a very pleasant man, easy to get along with, great company.  If you haven't met him, I hope that someday you do.


Monday, December 2, 2013

The Only Good Reason to Become a Writer


One of the pleasures of living in one of the Mid-Atlantic states is that any time the urge seizes one to see a bald eagle, all that is necessary is to hop in a car and drive to Conowingo Dam.  Park in the convenient lot, peer about to see where the guys with the really really really big telephoto lenses are pointing their cameras, and there they are.

As am I.

Young writers, the next time somebody points out to you that the chances of making a living writing are vanishingly small, that the same skills would set you up good in advertising, and that none of your heroes died rich, consider this . . .  It's a Monday morning and I feel like looking at eagles.  So I will.