Monday, October 31, 2016

Ghost, Dancing


It's Halloween and I'm feeling whimsical. Please forgive me. And happy Halloween! Have a scary but safe night, everyone.

And, least you forget...

My annual Halloween story, written as usual on leaves, can be found here.

Above: All images copyright 2016 by Michael Swanwick.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Lord Autumn's Game


One of my Facebook friends, and I apologize for not remembering his name but at the time I didn't realize I would need it, commented that his wife doesn't read science fiction or fantasy but does occasionally ask if "the Leaf Guy" has done anything recently. By whom she means me.

The Leaf Guy is a title I am proud to assume. Autumn is my season, Halloween is my holiday (just ask the neighborhood kids!), and fallen leaves are a medium I take a particular pleasure to dabble in.

This year, the summer was dry, autumn came late, the nights were warm, and for a while it looked like I wasn't going to have the bright leaves needed to write a Halloween story on.

But at the last moment they came through.

So the other day Marianne and I wandered through nature preserves and cemeteries, writing on leaves and photographing the results. Beforehand, I had written a four-sentence Halloween story called "Lord Autumn's Game." It came out well, I think.

You can read the story here.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

An Autumnal Cocktail


Marianne and I were out in the cemetery today and we dropped in to visit our favorite dead couple there, George and Mary Spain. You will note that their grave is inscribed COCKTAILS AT SIX.

It being Autumn, we fixed them a Manhattan. It was Marianne's idea to use a red maple leaf for the cherry.

And you may well wonder...

What were we doing in the cemetery? The answer will be posted here on Friday.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Before The Cat Said Not So Much


Recently, Carl Slaughter asked me to make a few comments about all the collections I've published leading up to this year's highly-praised Not So Much, Said the Cat. The results are up on File 770.

To give you an idea of what the comments are like, here's some of what I had to say about my first collection, Gravity's Angels. Arkham House's editor, the late Jim Turner, used to call me up and say, “Listen, Swanwick, I don’t have time for any of your nonsense. I just need a question answered and that’s the end of it.”

And then:

“Hello, Jim. It’s good to hear from you,” I’d say. And with a harmless bit of gossip here and a comment about a hot new story there, I could keep him on the phone for hours. There aren’t many people I’d want to keep on the phone for hours, but he was right at the top of the list.
Jim’s original idea for the cover was to use Picasso’s Guernica as a wrap-around. But when he looked into it, the proportions were wrong. “I’d have to crop it to make it work,” he told me over the phone, “and you can’t cut up a great work of art!”
I will be grateful to my dying day that I resisted the urge to say, “Oh, go ahead, Jim.”

You can find the entire article here.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Truth and Hearsay


I am confident that sooner or later there will be a device capable of recording dreams and, shortly after that, an affordable consumer version of that device. Alas, I do not expect it to arrive in my lifetime. So it belongs to that throng of things which I can enjoy only in my dreams.

This reflecting was brought on by a dream I had the other day. I was eating a meal -- no, a repast! a feast! -- in a restaurant and it was all astonishingly delicious. And because it was the last dream of the night, I woke up with vivid memories of exactly how it all tasted.

I did not bother putting it down into words, of course. Rich... unctuous... crispy... the whole battalion of terms used by food critics could neither do justice to the dream-feast nor give you a good idea of how it tasted.

Here's the interesting thing, though. People will tell you that you can't experience taste or smell in a dream. Some will even go so far as to claim that it's impossible to dream in color. This last I know to be untrue because on those rare occasions when I dream in black-and-white, it's an unusual enough event that I marvel at it while the dream is still going on.

And now I know for sure that it's possible to experience flavors in a dream.

What's interesting about this is that for me this is a simple fact. For you, however, it's only anecdotal evidence.

Unless, of course, you've had a similar dream yourself. Then it's fact.

And every time someone declares what can and can't happen in dreams...

I wonder where they got their information from. How large was the study? How reliable was the methodology?

Surely they don't come up with such statements based on their own. Because then they'd be asking me to accept anecdotal evidence as fact.

Above: This is what a mailbox looks like in dreams. Except this is a real one I drove past today.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Gothic Philadelphia


In European Gothic literature, the horrors come from the past. But in Philadelphia Gothic literature, the horror is contemporary -- the serial killer, the vagabond lurking in the basement (something which come to think, some friends of mine discovered they had -- and in Philadelphia! -- so that part was prescient), the corrupt city fathers with a private club in which to practice their debaucheries.

Such, anyway was the essential thesis of a lecture given by Edward G. Pettit last night at the Glenside Free Library last night. Pettit is known locally as "the Philly Poe Guy," but admited he's an even bigger fan of George Lippard, author of The Quaker City or the Monks of Monk Hill, among many, many other works. (The guy produced over a million words a year before dying at the tragically young age of 29.)

Working in the tradition of Philadelphian Charles Brockden Brown, Lippard, along with Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Montgomery Bird, and Frank J. Webb, Lippard created a Gothic tradition that eschewed castles, monasteries, and other medieval sets and props for a literature of dark alleyways, locked doors, unlit basements... a strain that has never entirely left American literature and may currently be ascendant again.

I just now downloaded The Quaker City, easily the most scandalous book of its time, and read the introduction. In it, he wrote:

The motive which impelled me to write this Work may be stated in a few words.
I was the only Protector of an orphan Sister. I was fearful that I might be taken away by death, leaving her alone in the world. I knew too well that law of society which makes a vitue of the dishonor of a poor girl, while it justly holds the seduction of a rich man's child as an infamous crime. These thoughts impressed me deeply.  

Alas for George's sister, Lippard died young. But he left her provided for. You have to admire him for that.

Above: Edward G. Pettit. His presentation went over well. And he provided a reading list! So I was happy.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Most Expensive Ruby Slippers in the World


One of my favorite cartoons is titled Alice Meets Dorothy. Dorothy Gale looks pleased and Alice of Wonderland fame exclaims "Where'd you get those shoes?"

There were several sets of slippers employed in the making of The Wizard of Oz (the movie, I mean; the slippers in the book were silver), and one pair wound up in the Smithsonian, where they're one of that institution's most popular attractions.

Contemplate that for a moment. In a museum that contains the Hope Diamond, the flag that inspired The Star Spangled Banner, the Spirit of St. Louis, and artifacts from every great figure in American history, one of the most popular attractions, and by some accounts the most popular attraction is... a movie prop.

This is proof, if any were needed, of the power of a good story.

And these thoughts were occasioned by...

I saw a small item in the morning paper noting that the National Museum of American History is trying to raise three hundred thousand dollars to conserve Dorothy Gale's single best pair of shoes. Three hundred thousand dollars for a single pair of used shoes.

That's the power of a good story.

You can read what the Smithsonian has to say about the ruby slippers (and watch a video or two) here. You can read the StarTribune account of about the fundraising here. And if you want to contribute money for their conservation, the Kickstarter page is here.


Monday, October 17, 2016

This Baffling World


The cocktail shaker pictured above is the newest -- and, at three dollars, possibly the cheapest -- addition to my small collection of barware. It is also the most baffling.

A Pepsi Cola shaker? Seriously. What kind of cocktail involves vigorously tumbling a carbonated beverage in a cocktail shaker?

Other than a Cuba Mentos, I mean.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Vacation In A Box


Last week, you'll recall, I spent at Undisclosed Location, down the Shore, and did nothing.

Above is the diary that Marianne and I kept of that week. It contains pebbles, sea glass, mermaids' toenails, swan's down (from mute swans), a very handsome leaf, and so on.

The diary is nonlinear, not text-based, and adamantly unmonetizable.

Also proof, as I said, that I spent an entire week doing nothing.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Setting Foot On The Road To Stockholm


Everybody's heard by now that Bob Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some people are getting snarky about it going to him rather than their own personal favorite singer-songwriter, and others are calling those people out for their snark.

Not me, though. I applaud the selection and feel that there can be no more sincere homage to the man than snarking about it. He was, after all, the king of snarkitude.

To prove it, here's an excerpt from the Nat Hentoff interview (you can find the whole hilarious thing here) in Playboy, back when he was only 24:

PLAYBOY: Mistake or not, what made you decide to go the rock-'n'-roll route?

DYLAN: Carelessness. I lost my one true love. I started drinking. The first thing I know, I'm in a card game. Then I'm in a crap game. I wake up in a pool hall. Then this big Mexican lady drags me off the table, takes me to Philadelphia. She leaves me alone in her house, and it burns down. I wind up in Phoenix. I get a job as a Chinaman. I start working in a dime store, and move in with a 13-year-old girl. Then this big Mexican lady from Philadelphia comes in and burns the house down. I go down to Dallas. I get a job as a "before" in a Charles Atlas "before and after" ad. I move in with a delivery boy who can cook fantastic chili and hot dogs. Then this 13-year-old girl from Phoenix comes and burns the house down. The delivery boy - he ain't so mild: He gives her the knife, and the next thing I know I'm in Omaha. It's so cold there, by this time I'm robbing my own bicycles and frying my own fish. I stumble onto some luck and get a job as a carburetor out at the hot-rod races every Thursday night. I move in with a high school teacher who also does a little plumbing on the side, who ain't much to look at, but who's built a special kind of refrigerator that can turn newspaper into lettuce. Everything's going good until that delivery boy shows up and tries to knife me. Needless to say, he burned the house down, and I hit the road. The first guy that picked me up asked me if I wanted to be a star. What could I say?

PLAYBOY: And that's how you became a rock-'n'-roll singer?

DYLAN: No, that's how I got tuberculosis.

You have to admit, that's not bad. Kid's got a future ahead of him.

Doesn't suffer fools gladly, though.

Above: Image swiped from GAMbIT Magazine. You can find their list of Dylan's 75 best songs here.


Monday, October 10, 2016

My Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech


It's that time of year again, when I grace you with...

My Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
(Presented Here Against the Unlikely Chance I Never Get to Deliver It)

It’s about time!

You lousy bastards should have given this to me decades ago, and you fucking well know it.  Look at the morons and retards you have given it to.  Okay, so Albert Einstein, personal hygiene aside, wasn’t a total loser.  But Niels Bohr, Desmond Tutu, Ilya Prigogine, the Dalai Lama?  You’d think this award was being given for having a funny name!  And whoever decided it would be a cute joke to give the prize in literature to the likes of Thomas Mann, Anatole France, and Selma Lagerlöf obviously never bothered trying to read those boring old windbags.  To say nothing of that self-promoting fraud, Mother Theresa!

I could go on, but I think my point is made.

The Nobel Prize was created by Alfred Nobel, who was – I trust I’m not hurting anybody’s feelings here – a neurotic recluse and a mass-murdering Swede.  So, when one considers the source, I really shouldn’t be surprised that you only gave me the one.  There are five, you know.  (I don’t count the Economics thingie as a real Nobel, and neither should you.) It’s not as if the single greatest Writer/Peacemaker [note to self: scratch out whichever category these idiots neglect to honor me in] the world has ever known couldn’t be adept in chemistry and physics and medicine as well.  I assure you I could.  Not that I have, granted.  I’ve been busy.  But surely intentions should count for something.

Oh, and a word about the venue.  Stockholm??  In December???  No wonder your bikini team never showed up.

So here’s what I propose: Vegas, obviously, for the climate.  Ditch the king – nice guy, but no Robin Williams.  For the MC, rather than doing the safe thing with Madonna or J-Lo, go visionary with the Osborne Family.  Can you picture them wandering aimlessly about the stage?  Hilarious.  Maybe we can even convince Ozzie to bite the head off a (fake) bat.

To get television coverage in the major markets, you’re going to need music – Guns ‘n’ Roses, Aerosmith, maybe even get the Stones out of their retirement homes and back in spandex again.  Back ‘em up with a few flash-pots and some fly-girl dancers.  Filmed testimonials from Michael Jackson and the Simpsons.  Choreography from The Producers.  A line of Elvis impersonators.  Dignified and elegant, that’s the key.  Keep the wire-work to a minimum.

I get shivers just thinking about it.

Now I realize that these suggestions might seem startling to some.  But that’s why I’m up here and you’re down there – because I’m a genius and you’re not.  So shut up and think it over.
Meanwhile, I accept this Award with a modesty so profound that pissants like you cannot even begin to comprehend it.

Thank you.

Copyright 2002 by Michael Swanwick. Which explains why a couple of the references are dated. Who now remembers the Swedish Bikini Team?


Friday, October 7, 2016

Mission Almost Accomplished


I don't return home until Sunday. But I'm happy to report that my compulsion to write (see Wednesday's blog) has been almost conquered.

Hence the brevity of this post.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writ In Sand


The ocean is a battleground. Walk along its verge and you'll see evidence of astonishing carnage: helmets, shields, and claws strewn about in great profusion, and all patrolled by gulls who feed upon the warriors' remains and sandpipers who seek out the conscientious objectors hiding in their sandy bunkers.

So it is strange how we land-dwellers to to so violent a place to find peace. Yet we do.

Once a year, Marianne and I rent a place "down the Shore" for a week. Every day, I go to the edge of the sea and, picking up  a stick or a bit of shell begin to write in the wet sand. A few words at a time, a sentence at most, get laid down before the sea comes up to erase them.

What I write is never long -- flash fiction -- and nobody sees all of it but me. And because it's wiped away before its completed, it never exists as a whole save possibly, briefly, in my mind. Where it is soon forgotten.

Every day I write and every day a little slower. Until by the end of the week I am content to sit by the sea and not write.

And then I can go home and pick up the pen again.


Finnish Fandom's Funniest Practical Joke Ever

Worldcon 75 is coming and it will be held in Helsinki, Finland. Meanwhile, the Nobel Prizes are being announced in Stockholm, Sweden. In honor of both, I will share with you the practical joke that ran like wildfire through Finncon the year I was guest of honor there. I forget, alas, who came up with it. But if you ask a Finnish SMOF, I'm sure they'll be able to tell you.

"What we should do," the prankster said, "is next time we choose a foreign guest of honor, get a fan with a very strong Swedish accent to phone and say, "I am calling from Stockholm to inform you that you are receiving a very great honor..."

"That's funny," I said, "but what science fiction writer would possibly believe it?"

Without hesitation, the prankster said, "Stanislaw Lem!"

And later, back in the States...

I told this story to Gordon Van Gelder and he said, "Or Ursula K. Le Guin. But who would be so mean?"


Monday, October 3, 2016

Scary Monsters: The "Tomato"


Halloween season is coming, so it's time to consider scary monsters. Shown above is a slice of the "tomato" I very sensibly removed it from my lobster salad sandwich, lest I should accidentally eat it.

The "tomato" is very much like the tomato when viewed from the outside: red, beautiful, enticing. But where the tomato is juicy and delicious, the "tomato" is dry, crunchy, and devoid of flavor. The interior of a tomato is colorful delight. The interior of a "tomato" is dominated by whites and yellows. Nor is is at all delicate or juicy. Poke it with a fork wherever you will, you will find nothing that will give you pleasure to put into your mouth, flense the rest though you will.

The frankenfruit that is the "tomato" is the unholy offspring of advertising and greengrocery. Advertising convinced us that we wanted that perfect dewy exterior. Grocers paid to have the fruit hacked so that it arrived in the store looking like the pictures in the advertisements, at the price of both flavor and texture. The result is something whose appeal is wholly nostalgic.

Nor is this the only abomination that modern mercantilism has visited upon us. Here's a riddle for you:

Q: What do tomatoes, strawberries, and peaches have in common?

A: They didn't used to be crunchy.

If you've never had a moist tomato, if you're not familiar with strawberries  that stain your fingers, if you've never felt the juice of a ripe peach running down your chin, you've been cheated of a fraction of the bliss that is your birthright as a human being. I recommend that you go looking for the real thing. It's not easy to find, sometimes, but it's out there.

And that slice of wood pulp they put in your sandwich? Remove it. Lunch will taste better without it.

Above: Tomat O'Lantern courtesy of yours truly. Take the idea and run with it.