Monday, February 19, 2018

Let's Launch Sputnik Again!


SpaceX has made the claim that with their new Falcon 9 rocket, they're able to lift satellites to low Earth orbit for a thousand dollars a pound and eventually, the Wall Street Journal reports, fifty dollars a pound.

Let's repeat that: Fifty dollars a pound. If true, that's astonishing. The biggest barrier to moving into space is the cost of moving matter into orbit and beyond. If it's not Elon Musk talking through his hat, that's revolutionary.

At that price, you could put an exact replica of Sputnik into orbit for less than ten thousand dollars.

Which is something I think we should do.

The first artificial satellite ever was launched into space in 1957. It was, yes, part of the Cold War competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. It was also one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race. That can never be taken away from the nations -- Russia foremost, but the others should not be forgotten -- that did the deed.

The United States successfully redefined the competition in space as a race for the Moon, which we consequently won. But there was no serious commitment in the US to space exploration until the Soviet Union demonstrated they were far, far ahead of us on that front. Which is to say, we won the race in 1969 -- but we wouldn't have been anywhere near the Mare Tranquillitatis then if it hadn't been for the fierce but peaceful competition between two great powers.

Now, there are 71 space organizations, thirteen of which have launch capability and six of which have full launch capability (Russian, the United States, China, Japan, Europe, India), plus rather a lot of private concerns. It's a good time to honor our past.

Just wanted to put that thought in your head.

And as always...

I'm on the road again. More when I get home.


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Third Annual Bioethics Film Festival -- And Me!


This is a pretty good deal for people who live in Philadelphia and enjoy watching science fiction films for free. The University of Pennsylvania is holding theThird Annual Bioethics Film Festival this coming March 20-22. They'll be showing (in order) The Bride of Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein, and Bladerunner. 

There's a reception before each movie and a discussion of the ethical issues raised at some point in the evening. Afterward, I'm guessing.

The panel on Thursday, March 22, will consist of Dominic Sisti, moderator, Stephanie Dick, an authority on AI (and no relation to PKD), and... me.

I think it'll be a fun discussion.

Tickets are free but you have to reserve them. Which is easily done by going to the website here.

And for those going to Boskone this weekend...

I posted my schedule yesterday. Scroll down and check it out.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Boskone Schedule


Boskone is this weekend and yet, oddly enough, it looks like there won't be a blizzard. I really don't know what to make of this.

Nevertheless, here's my schedule. If you see me, why not say hi?

My Final Schedule for Boskone 55

Jurassic Park and Dinosaurs v. 5.0

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, Marina 2 (Westin)

Twenty-five years ago, an islandful of dinosaurs tore up the Hollywood box office. Four flicks later (in June, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom will make five), these reptile relics continue to slay us. Why is the thought of a dinosaur theme park still so cool? (And by the way, what’s funny about the concept of dinos in space?) More broadly, why would the idea of the prehistoric past colliding with our present/future hold such fascination? And would we be better off letting sleeping saurians lie?

Bob Eggleton, Elise Sacchetti (M), David McDonald, William Hayashi, Michael Swanwick

Autographing: Michael Swanwick

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 13:00 - 14:00, Galleria - Autographing (Westin)\

Breaking the Laws of Magic

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 14:00 - 15:00, Harbor III (Westin)

Brandon Sanderson, in his First Law of Magics: "An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic." George R. R. Martin: "I want hints of the unknowable. I want awe and wonder. I want mystery. I want to discover but also be unsure of what I’m about to encounter. I guess that means I want magic!" Is it important to have a system of magic? Once you've defined a given magic system's limits, is it OK to break them?

Faye Ringel (M), Walter Jon Williams, Julie Holderman, Michael Swanwick, Clarence Young

Kaffeeklatsch: Michael Swanwick

17 Feb 2018, Saturday 17:00 - 18:00, Harbor I - Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

Something Old/New/Borrowed/Blue

18 Feb 2018, Sunday 13:00 - 14:00, Burroughs (Westin)

Expand your to-be-read list, as well as your horizons. Our intrepid panelists will recommend a classic SF book, a current SF book, something brought in from outside SF that is a must-read — and, if they wish, something sexy as well!
Fred Lerner, Paul Di Filippo, Geary Gravel, Michael Swanwick, Edie Stern (M)


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

La Romance d'Ariel


Sunday, I went to the Academy of Vocal Arts, here in Philadelphia, for a recital of songs by Claude Debussy. On admittance, I was given a handout with the texts of all the songs in English translation Perhaps it was rude of me, but as a five-finger exercise I tried writing a short-short story for each of the songs as it was being sung. There were 23 songs and I managed 22 extremely short stories. The last was so beautiful I couldn't bring myself to write anything.

Here's the first one I wrote.

La Romance d’Ariel

Miranda thought nothing of it when song burst out of nowhere, praising her beauty, her virtue, the golden tips of her hair. For her this was normal. All her life it had happened. How could it not?

To love-struck Ariel, time was but another direction. He had sung of the wild roses of her forehead shedding their white petals on the day she was born. On the day she left Prospero’s Isle, he would turn around and dive back into her youth, carrying with him his unrequited desire. There he would dwell forever.

Eternally faithful, always unnoticed.

Copyright 2018 by Michael Swanwick. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

In Print In China!


Look what came in the mail! I'm in print in China again.

This happens often enough to be flattering, but it never loses its thrill for me. People half the world away want to read my stories. I've met some of them. Some of them are my friends. This is a very big deal for me. 

The greatest reward a writer gets is being part of the community of writers. Yeah, the money is useful because it helps keep one from starving to death. But knowing that someone like Paul Park or Greer Gilman or Zhang Haihong takes you seriously as a writer is the real payoff. And of course there's always the thought that among your readers are probably some very remarkable people. About ten years ago, Haihong introduced me to a quiet but confident man named Liu Cixin who, she assured me, was the best science fiction writer in China. It was only much later, when I read The Three-Body Problem that I understood why she admired him so.

The book is World's Science Fiction Stories Collection II. It contains eighteen stories, all translated from English. My contribution to the book is "Steadfast Castle."

Above: Even the Dragonstairs Prss rug dragon is impressed by the collection.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Conversation Larger Than The Universe


I've been busy on a dozen projects, all of which will be interesting to talk about when done, but not yet. But last week I was in the Grolier Club for the launch of Henry Wessells' exhibition of books from his science fiction and fantasy collection, A Conversation Larger Than the Universe.

The Grolier Club is an organization for book fanciers. Not folks like you and me, mere buyers and readers and amassers of books, but serious bibliophiles. Researchers and scholars and people who make important collections available to their peers. The tomes and related papers on display are not necessarily rare -- though some of them are very rare indeed -- but, taken all together, present a sketch of the entwined genres as a whole, one slightly askew, for it is representative of the interests of a single reader but in its way comprehensive.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book, also titled A Conversation Larger Than the Universe,and subtitled Readings in Science Fiction and the Fantastic. It includes images of I think all the books on display and Henry's graceful writing about the field: It can be read as a history of the twinned and mingled genres, though really it's best to think of as a series of windows opened into different times and concerns. Representative chapters include "Doc Savage & the 1930s," "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" (not about the Howard Waldrop story but about the intersection of SF and rock), "Dark Science," and "Boucher and Borges." If these are topics of interest to you, I can only add that what is said about them is all lucid and engaging.

But I haven't time for a full-scale book review -- those dozen projects, remember? -- so I can only add that the book will be available early this month and can be preordered here.

And you can find review quotes and a description of the book here

And while I'm reminiscing...

Did you know that rock and roll used to be a very hard thing to sell to a science fiction magazine? Back in the early 1980s, both Gardner Dozois and I went about raving to every editor in the field about a wonderful unpublished story called "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll" by a wonderful writer named Howard Waldrop and the universal response was, "Rock and roll? Ick." (Eventually, a young editor named Ellen Datlow bought it for Omni.) Gardner and I wrote a science fiction story with Jack Dann in which Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, and Elvis Presley meet under mysterious circumstances and if it hadn't sold right off the bat to Penthouse, I have no idea where it would have gone. High Times, maybe. That's where Gardner and I sold "Snow Job," our time-traveling, cocaine-dealer con men story. Back then, our salvage markets paid a lot more than the SF magazines did.

But that, as they say, is another story, for another time.

Above: Henry Wessells and me. I apologize for the bluriness. The light levels in the hall were pretty low.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Few Quiet Words Of Praise For Ursula K. Le Guin


Ursula K. Le Guin has left the planet.

I always hoped to meet Ms Le Guin. I never did. But I read her stories and novels and essays, so the rest doesn't matter. Like most of those who now reading these words, I have lost an elder sister.

In the wake of her death, there will be a sorting-out of Le Guin's work. This is literature, that is tref. The Left Hand of Darkness has a good chance of being declared Canonical as does "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." We can go up and down the (now, alas, completed) bibliography, arguing pleasantly which works might well live forever and which will be reserved for scholars to use as thesis-fodder. But forget that.

Return with me in my memory to those days when she was a new writer whose reputation was no better than her latest story. Imagine what it was like to encounter her work, as I did, unprepared by reputation. Here was someone I'd never heard of before who was doing astonishing things. Whose prose was sleek and elegant. Who might easily have been making a reputation for herself in the mainstream but for inexplicable reasons was down here in the trenches of science fiction with the rest of us.


Imagine reading The Left Hand of Darkness when you were expecting nothing more than a paperback space opera.

Harlan Ellison once accused me of having the "cringe of genre." Yeah, ouch, okay, point taken. But in every generation, there are a few writers so good that you're astonished they exist at all, let alone here in the corner of literature we love most. They include (in and out of genre) Delany, Nabokov, Russ, Barth, Byatt, Pynchon, Wolfe... and Le Guin. Writers of such accomplishment that they define the literary landscape.

I've already made my concluding observation elsewhere, so I apologize to those who have seen it before but...

Marianne's father and my father-in-law, William Christian Porter, was a distinguished lawyer and lay pastor and deacon for many years in his church. When he died, the minister compared him to one of the cedars of Lebanon, saying, "Now he's gone. How different the skyline looks!" I could hear the astonishment, the disbelief in his voice.

Now Ursula is gone. How different the skyline looks!

Above: Ursula K. Le Guin mask by Eileen Gunn. Thanks, Eileen!