Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Good News For Everyone Who Happens To Be Me!


I got a starred review from Publishers Weekly! Or, rather, my upcoming Tachyon Publications collection Not So Much, Said the Cat got a starred review.

For a writer, this is a big deal, so I'm extremely happy about it.

Here it is in its entirety:

 Multiple Hugo Award–winner Swanwick (Chasing the Phoenix) returns with this superb collection of stories published between 2008 and 2014. Ranging across the various subgenres of fantasy and science fiction, the volume includes the Hugo-winning “From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled...,” in which a space suit AI narrates how its owner escaped from a conquered alien metropolis with a burden of incalculable value. Other stories of note are “The Man in Grey,” whose title character is one of reality’s stage managers, in charge of making sure that the props and sets are in place for the 50,000 people who really exist in our universe, all others being mere illusion; “Tawny Petticoats,” in which swindlers Darger and Surplus are taken in by the dauntingly beautiful title character; and “The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin,” in which two poor little rich girls living on a grim colonial world discover their true alien heritage. Each of these 17 stories is a gem, beautifully written, expertly plotted, with brilliantly developed characters. This is as good as short speculative fiction gets.

And here's the blurb that will most likely go on the book:

Each of these 17 stories is a gem, beautifully written, expertly plotted, with brilliantly developed characters. This is as good as short speculative fiction gets.-- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
So, yes, I am very, very happy about this.

And I should explain . . .

Actually, "From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled" didn't win a Hugo. It was nominated but lost to Ted Chiang's story, "Exhalation." Over the years, I'd had remarkably good fortune in the stories I've lost to. Octavia Butler's "Blood Child" was another one I wasn't embarrassed to lose to.

And I should also apologize . . .

No, I didn't manage to blog yesterday. Mea culpa. It's summer and it's hot and I was lazy. I'll do my very best to get back on schedule tomorrow.

Above: "It's da bomb!" says Beelzebub, the promotional cat. Shown here in Baltimore sitting atop an unexploded shell that fell into Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Day Lafferty Autographed My Book Twice


Yesterday, Andrew Mass came to the house to interview me for a documentary film he's making about R. A. Lafferty. It went well, I think. But afterward, it occurred to me that I had one small story about Lafferty that I've never committed to print. So here it is.

Forty years ago, I attended my first Worldcon -- MidAmeriCon in Kansas City. Where my motley crew of friends brought things like electric guitars and amps, the Starship Troopers war game, an industrial laser, and so on, I carried with me a single book, a hardcover of Lafferty's Does Anyone Else Have Anything Further to Add? Of all the writers present (pretty much everyone in the SF world), his was the autograph I most desired.

I must have been ignorant of the fact that there were scheduled autograph sessions because i carried the book around with me, hoping I would see the man. And I did! He was talking to Silverberg or Asimov or some other giant of the field, so I stood nearby and in a break in the conversation asked if he would sign my book.

Lafferty took the book, flipped to the title page, then flipped two pages back and signed the blank end-paer. I thanked the man and floated away.

A couple of my friends were nearby and, laughing, took the book from me and opened it to the title page. There was Lafferty's autograph a second time, inscribed to me. It was a surreal moment.

My friends, it turned out, had earlier taken my book while I was sleeping, gotten the autograph, and then not told me. As a practical joke, you see. But it hadn't quite worked out the way they'd thought it would because, on seeing his signature, Lafferty had simply found another page to sign.

It was a kindly act, not calling me out for asking him to sign a book that was already signed. Lafferty was a true gent.

Immediately above: R. A. Lafferty's second autograph.


Monday, June 20, 2016

It's A Wonderful Life


What an astonishing world we live in! The Hendricks Gin Blimp just flew over our neighborhood. It's emblazoned with the name of the product and the all-seeing eye of the Illuminati.

The American Martini Laboratory has tested Hendricks and ruled that it is not a great Martini gin. But it is miraculously good in a gin-and-tonic. So it looks like we'll be having gin-and-tonics at the cocktail hour tonight.

Above: My phone camera doesn't have the resolution, so I swiped this image from the Web. You can find the original at: http://www.bizbash.com/hendricks-air-blimp-hendricks-gin-promoted-product-hendricks-air-campaign/gallery/168907#.V2hLya5OGC4


Friday, June 17, 2016

Introducing Liu Cixin


The industrious Carl Slaughter has published an interview with Chinese SF superstar Liu Cixin (or, as his name is rendered in English translation, Cixin Liu) over in File 770. It is emblematic of how difficult it is for Americans to receive news of overseas SF that this interview took two long years, several intermediaries and more than one translator to get here. (The current version is by, one almost says "of course," Ken Liu, whose translations have become the gold standard for Chinese SF.)

Liu Cixin is best known for The Three-Body Problem, volume one of a hard-SF trilogy of the same name, which was the first science fiction novel to become a mainstream best-seller in China, and the first translated work to the the Hugo Award. More significant, I feel, is the fact that his fellow science fiction writers in China are in awe of his work. I'm a big fan of this guy.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

 Since the 80s, China has been introduced to a large amount of foreign (mainly English) science fiction.  Some influential American science fiction has been translated and published in China.  The publication cycle has been greatly shortened.  For example, when stories win a Hugo/Nebula, they are soon after published in China.  Foreign publishing in China is still in infancy and quantity is tiny.  “The Three Body Problem” is the only Chinese science fiction novel published in English.  It won a Hugo.  Some Chinese writers have appeared in western magazines and websites.  There are 2 Chinese writers published in Nature.  In my opinion, science fiction is the most global literature because it deals with issues relevant to all races.  So I prefer English speaking science fiction fans read my novel because it’s science fiction, not because it’s “Chinese” science fiction.

You can read the entire interview here.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Working Hard and Hardly Working


One of the central ironies of a writer's life is that you look the least productive when you're working the hardest. And vice versa. When a new novel comes out, it represents work that was completed perhaps a year earlier. But it sure makes you look good. Conversely, when you're working hardest, there's nothing new coming out and you appear to be stuck somewhere between lazy and indolent.

Right now, on the stands... pretty much nothing. But I'm working very hard on The Iron Dragon's Mother. And I've got a number of lesser but very cool projects in the pipeline, which will be coming out at irregular intervals over the coming year. So I'm busy as can be.

Most of these projects I can't mention, for various reasons. But I will say that The Universe Box Project over at Marianne's Dragonstairs Press moves steadily toward completion, and that when it is done, it will be something rare and wonderful.

Oh, yeah, and my newest short fiction collection, Not So Much, Said the Cat should be on the stands in not terribly long. But that's the other side of the coin. It contains seventeen stories, written over the course of several years. So its appearance will not indicate that I am being industrious -- just that I was so, once upon a time.

Above: The shelves where I keep copies of all my publications. They filled up long ago, and everything since is scattered about in shelves and boxes elsewhere in the house.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Song of the Vikings


I just finished reading Song of the Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown.  What a terrific book! For all my obsession with mythology, I had never looked into the author of the Edda, of Heimskringla, and of so much more. So I was astonished to discover how much is known about the life of Snorri Sturluson, the man who wrote down most of what we know about the Norse gods.

Snorri, it turns out, was both the richest and the most powerful man in Iceland. He was a wily merchant and an ambitious politician in an age when it was pretty much a given that such a man would die by violence. It seems almost unfair that he should also be the greatest poet of his time and place, but there it is. To our lasting benefit, he wrote down (and in some cases may have invented) the stories of the Norse gods at the last possible moment when it could be done. A generation after his death, the poetic tradition he worked in was dead, and the stories on their way to oblivion.

Nancy Marie Brown is the ideal guide to the life and works of Snorri. She knows the material up one side and down the other. Occasional asides provide glimpses into the enormous body of scholarship that has accrued around Icelandic literature. She has a good sense of what the casual reader will find of interest and leaves out a great deal that the specialist must surely find fascinating.

Most importantly, this woman can write. The prose is fluid, the sentences and paragraphs pleasurable, and she sails the reader through a great deal of complicated material with grace and clarity. I loved the material, but I also found a great deal of joy in the telling.

If this is your sort of thing, check it out. I'm sure you can find it on ABE but if not, then Interlibrary Loan is your friend.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Of Time and the Writer


I was contacted recently by a writer -- young, presumably, and probably as yet unpublished -- who wanted me to read and comment a story he or she had written. When I said that, for good and sufficient reasons, I couldn't, the writer demanded to know what those reasons could possibly be.

So I thought I'd explain this here.

1. You're asking someone you don't know to do unpaid work for you.

Yes, I'm capable of doing it. So too, I presume, you're capable of mowing a lawn or painting a wall or washing windows. But I wouldn't dream of asking you to do so for me. It's just not reasonable.

2. You're not the only one who wants me to read and comment on your work.

Forget, for the moment, gonnabe writers. I get requests all the time from editors to read soon-to-be published novels in the hope that I'll give them a blurb. Some of them are by good friends whom I know to be very fine writers. The rest have, at a very minimum, convinced a major publisher to invest in their careers. I can't get to a fraction as many of these as I would like. But they all have priority over a request from a complete stranger.

3. My analytic skills are valuable.

I know a young freelancer who does skilled office work for fifty dollars an hour and grunt-work for twenty an hour. So it's not immodest of me to suppose that I could get significantly more, if I wanted to put my services on the market.

4. People have paid for my literary advice, and it would be an insult to them for me to give away that same advice gratis. (Other than here on my blog, or as favors to close friends, I mean.)

I'm thinking here of the Clarion and Clarion West and Clarion South classes I've taught. Also of the recent writing seminar at Balticon 50. All the students made significant sacrifices for my advice. They'd feel pretty silly if they found out that it could have been had for just the asking.

5. You probably  don't really want my advice.

My experience with people who ask for advice is that they don't actually want it. They want to be told that their stories are perfect as they are and that I'm going to bend heaven and earth to find them an agent and a publisher. They don't think that's what they want. But their disappointment when I give them a list of ways their work fails to come up to snuff, speaks volumes.

And finally...

6. I hear time's wing'd chariot drawing near.

There is only so much time in a single life and a single career, and at my age if I have another quarter-century of productivity, I'll have beaten the actuarial tables. So right now my primary focus (aside from family and loved ones, I mean) is on creating an enduring body of work. For that I need luck, hard work, and as much of my time as I can give it.

That's why I have the above sentence taped to the top of my CRT monitor. People come to me all the time with fun projects and worthy causes. Sometimes I agree to them. Sometimes, afterward, I regret that. Not because there was anything wrong with the projects and causes. But because I've got a novel to finish, and at the moment that requires as much of my time and attention as I can give it.

And that's it. I hope I don't sound too hostile. I bear you no ill-will. I don't resent you for asking.  I hope your story is great and it sells and that it leads into a splendid career as one of the best writers of the century. Why not?

But for good and sufficient reasons, I have to turn down your request to read and comment on your story.