Archive for May, 2008

A Mountain of Books

May 14, 2008

[I still can’t get the pictures to upload.  I’m working on it.]

En route to Congres Boreal, I stopped by Lloyd Currey’s place. (That genial man is pictured above, standing among a tiny fraction of his books.) L. W. Currey, Inc. buys and sells “rare, fine and collectible first edition books in all fields of popular fiction, with an emphasis on science fiction and fantasy literature from the earliest times to end of the twentieth century.” I spent a happy hour or two wandering through his stacks of pre-WWII fiction, marveling at such titles as Queer Tales and Through the Sun on an Airship.

Alas, I cannot find my notes and so am unable to give you a fuller report. But Lloyd did show me his extensive selection of James Branch Cabell first editions, beautifully made and illustrated books in pristine condition, and mentioned that since the man’s star has fallen so low, the prices on them are quite reasonable. I don’t know exactly what reasonable is in the rare book field, but if you’re looking for an entree into what can be an extremely pricey hobby, well, here’s your opportunity.

I’ll tell you a little about Congres Boreal on Friday. It won’t be a full con report, though — I have a novel to write.

An Update on the Earthquake in China

Ruhan Zhao reported in the “Comments” to yesterday’s post: I have got a confirm from an editor of Science Fiction World magazine that all the editors there are safe.

Those giants pandas in Chengdu and Wolong (much closer to the earth quake center than Chengdu) natural centers are also safe.

Cecelia Qin wrote me from Chengdu, just a few minutes ago: Things here in Chengdu are not so bad. But I’m extremely worried about my family since my hometown locates just right next to the center. Luckily they are all fine. But, my mom is a doctor and is the head of a hospital, their major job now is to save all the patients that transported from center…all the safe places are cleared for the patients, but I’m not sure the doctors are so safe as well.

Like everyone else who’s following this story, I’m tremendously moved by the enormous relief effort being mounted by the Chinese people. If anybody reading this knows where a contribution of money would do the most good, I’d be grateful to hear of it.



Winooski Gorge

May 14, 2008

TUESDAY, MAY 13, 2008

Driving up to Montreal on I-89, I caught a glimpse of what in my youth we called simply “the Gorge.” From the car, it looked like nothing special. But it loomed large for me in those years. Here’s what I wrote in “A Changeling Returns,” and essay originally published in Meditations on Middle-Earth:

You grow older, you grow more wary. As a boy in Vermont, I spent almost every day of one summer fishing in the Winooski River. I didn’t tell my parents that my favorite spot was a backwater just below the hydroelectric dam at the head of a stretch of river bounded by high, steep cliffs to either side, which we all called the Gorge. The river churned wildly as it went through the Gorge, and every few years a teenager died falling from the cliffs. And I certainly didn’t tell my parents that the way to the backwater was through the old power plant, and involved scrambling down the jagged, rusted-out remains of iron stairways and a running leap over a gap that would have, at a minimum, broken bones if I’d slipped. For all that, those long summer days spent with my best friend Steve, fishing and talking and playing cards and reading stacks of comic books from each other’s knapsacks, were one of the best times of my life. I wouldn’t trade the memory of them for anything.

Years later, somewhat transformed, it appeared in The Dragons of Babel:

The Gorge extended half a mile down-river from the hydroelectric dam to a sudden drop in the land that freed the Aelfwine to run swift and free across the tidewater toward its confluence with the Great River. The channel it had dug down through the bedrock was so straight and narrow that the cliffs on either side of it were almost perpendicular. The water below was white. Crashing, crushing, tumbling as if possessed by a thousand demons, it was energetic enough to splinter logs and carry boulders along in its current. Anyone trying to climb down the cliffs here would surely fall. But if he ran with all his might and jumped with all his strength, he might conceivably miss the rock and hit the water clean. In which case he would certainly die. Nobody could look down at that raging fury and pretend otherwise.

It was an endlessly fascinating prospect to contemplate: Stone, water, stone. Hardness, turbulence, hardness. Not a single tree, shrub, or flower disturbed the purity of its lifelessness. The water looked cold, endlessly cold.

Is there anything for which we feel so much nostalgia as that which, when we were young, we knew could easily kill us?

An Apology

I was, as I feared might happen, unable to find the time and opportunity to get online while at Congres Boreal (wonderful event! more on it soon), but I was not expecting to be overdue with Monday’s post. Alas, I got home at ten yesterday night, far too weary to add a single word. Next time something like this comes up, I’ll manage it better.

The Earthquake in China

As you may have heard, there was a massive earthquake in Sichuan Province, China. Science Fiction World, the widest-read SF magazine in the world, is located in Chengdu, so those of us who made new friends there last year were of course concerned. Luckily, they seem to be untouched. I’ve received an email from my fellow writer Haihong Zhao, who says:

Chengdu is quite close to the center, yet the situation there was not bad. Most of the area was in the mountains, so the information could not be transported immediately, there will be heavy rain this evening, which will make the matters worse.

We are watching, the whole China is watching, and acting.

The Chinese Army has been mobilized to lead relief efforts and the government is apparently pouring resources into the area. (Quite a contrast with Myanmar!) If I learn anything that you can’t find out more immediately elsewhere, I’ll let you know.


This Glitterati Life

May 14, 2008


[For some reason this photo won’t upload; my apologies for that.
Strange Smile Competition: I finally have photographic evidence of the Avram Davidson Society luncheon last Thursday, May 1, thanks to David Hartwell. Above, l-r: David Hartwell (he got a waiter to take the pic), myself, Henry Wessells, and Adrian Dannatt. Every group photo has to make at least one person look odd, and it seems that this time I drew the short straw.

The gathering was as small as the Society has ever garnered. People were out of town, already committed, etc., etc. But it was still worth making the effort and the two hundred mile round trip because… well… I’m a member of the Avram Davidson Society. How cool is that?

The book I’m holding up, incidentally, is The Other Nineteenth Century, which is the collected Avram Davidson steampunk stories. If you read only one AD collection in your lifetime, you should make it The Avram Davidson Treasury. But the steampunk volume is good as well.

And My Latest Adventure in Reprint-Land . . .

My contributor’s copies of The Mammoth Book of Extreme Fantasy arrived yesterday, and I had fun sampling its contents. In the introduction, editor Mike Ashley says that he has “presented the stories in sequence from the least to the most extreme, so that your imagination can expand as you work through the book.”

So of course the first thing I did was check where my story, “Radio Waves,” ranked on the Weird-o-Meter. Fifth from the end, out of two dozen. Not bad. Edged out by Ted Chiang’s “The Tower of Babel.” Perfectly fair. That was one strange story. But is Sean McMullen’s “A Ring of Green Fire,” the book’s ultimate story, really more extreme than Ted’s and mine put together? And the very first story is Andy Duncan’s “Senator Bilbo,” in which arch-racist Theodore Bilbo is a hobbit and the descendant of one B. Baggins. Is that really less extreme than the notion that when you die, the world turns upside-down and you fall off?

Well, half the fun of an anthology that purports to rank its stories by objective criteria is arguing with the results. This is a big fat book, containing a lot of very cool stories, many of which I hadn’t read before. So I’m happy. Particularly since my story is deemed way more extreme than Howard Waldrop’s.

If anybody cares to do their own ranking of these stories by Extremity/Edginess/Sheer Bugfuck Weirdness, I’d love to see the list. Though I’ll disagree with that one too.


Sleek, Chic, and Ever So Geek

May 13, 2008

Monday, May 5, 2008

In Richard Mason’s response to last Friday’s posting, he mentioned had-powered digital cameras which Sony made — but, sadly, only as a promotional item. Alas, many of the coolest things in the world are issued in limited, and thus unobtainable, editions. As witness the above absolutely real Chanel USB key. Manufactured in an edition of 250 for an in-house promotion.
You won’t be seeing this one on Ebay anytime soon, either. Chanel frowns on its employees profiteering from its brand. In fact, the Chanel employee who showed me the key made me promise not to mention her name.
Pretty cool, though. Anybody interested in getting more young women involved in IT might want to look into this.
And the exact opposite . . .

There are a zillion USB keys out there in the form of twigs, thumbs, rubber duckies, you name it. But if I had to choose the single one that was the exact opposite of the Chanel, it would have to be this one.
Et un amuse bouche . . .

Aberrant Dreams has an interview with me here. Here’s a snippet:

I’ve definitely got a love-hate relationship with the genre. On the one hand, I love the work of writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, John Crowley, Fritz Leiber, Paul Park, and all the others, who’ve written magnificent works that only fantasy makes possible. On the other hand, too many writers have learned how to write formulaic imitation fantasy. Sometimes looking at the fantasy racks can be as depressing as discovering that the Shire has been gentrified and all the hobbits cleared away to make room for condominiums and Appleby’s and Gap outlets. It hurts the heart.


This Glitteratti Life

May 2, 2008

FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2008


It always happens.  Not to you, maybe, because you’re better organized than I am.  But always to me.  Two minutes after I hit St. Mark’s Square in Venice, my camera died.  Standing in front of the Tsar’s Bell in the Kremlin, my camera ran out of juice.  And so on, in Sweden… Finland… Croatia…  If if would be a really good idea to have a snapshot, my camera’s not available.
Which is why there isn’t a photo on today’s post.  
Yesterday, I got up, ran a few errands, and then drove a hundred miles north to New York City for the Avram Davidson Society luncheon.  This august organization exists to promote the memory and reputation of one of the great American short fiction writers of the Twentieth Century.  It’s entirely a coincidence that two of my editors were there.  Henry Wessells,founder of the Society, of course published What Can Be Saved from the Wreckage?  James Branch Cabell in the Twentieth Century, famed for its 17-copy limited hardcover edition signed by myself, Barry Humphries (you may know him as Dame Edna), and JBC himself, and has plans to do something else by me, though not this year.  And David Hartwell is my editor at Tor — insert mandatory plug for The Dragons of Babel here — as well as being a friend of long standing.  David and I discussed, among many other things, the logistics of our trip with James and Kathy Morrow to Congres Boreal next week.
Then a quick hundred-mile jaunt home to feed the cat, pick up Marianne, and drive downtown for dinner with Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper, and Ricky Kagan.
I mention all this not to dazzle you with my fabulous social life (though if you cared to be dazzled, I wouldn’t object) but to explain why I haven’t whomped up something more substantive for today’s post.  
I was having a life.
So may we all.

Et un amuse bouche pour vous . . .
You probably want to hear a bit of the gossip.  Hmm… well…  Gardner (who edits, remember, The Year’s Best Science Fiction for St. Martin’s Press) tells me that Jonathan Strahan’s new anthology, The Starry Rift, is an early front-runner for best science fiction anthology of the year — despite the fact that it’s aimed specifically at the YA market.
What’s that?  Oh, yes,  We really do gossip about business and art, and a lot of the gossip is simple praise.  I know how unlikely that sounds.

May 2, 2008


The Modernist’s Babel
God was the first to go, followed closely by Man.  We inherited a corpus of Western art that sprang from Medieval piety, overgrown with Renaissance sincerity, and was quickly overgrown with the Baroque and the Rococo.  All that baggage!  It got in the way of what we wanted to do.
We despised it, we discredited it, we destroyed it.
The pointless surface of a Vermeer, a Rembrandt, even a Dali  — who could respect it?  Oh, some of our earlier members, our Picassos, our Klees, our Miros, suffered from an excess of technique.  But we were patient and they died and our work could continue its inexorable march toward simplification.  We got rid of that idiot fixation on beauty.  We got rid of the decoration and elaboration.  We reduced art to its quiddity.
Bruegel’s Tower of Babel was re-imagined first as a collage, then as a line, and finally as a sheet of untouched white paper.
And on the seventh day we rested.
But then came Postmodernism, with its parody and pastiche and — worst of all — its rediscovery of representation.  One by one, all the elements we freed fine art from are returning.  Unmediated imagery.  Craft.  Prettiness.
Imagine our disgust.  Imagine our pain.  So must the ghost of Attila look now upon Europe and what has been done to his legacy:  All his work undone. 
 All that beautiful desolation no more.
4/30/08 12:45-12:55 p.m.
Yes, I know how unfair the above is — I’m a big fan of the high modernists, though not of what their movement eventually devolved into.  But one of my notebook sketches of Babel was a collage, and this is the story it suggested. 
I didn’t have the time to write anything polished (I’m running a little late today), so I just jotted down the above first draft, directly onto the post.  I may revisit and revise it, if I ever find the time.
And the latest poet on Poem du Jour is Shakespeare.  You can read it here.  Tomorrow, Lewis Carroll.  Not one of the the ones you expect.

Poem du Jour Redux Again

May 2, 2008




The Poem du Jour is up and running, and I’ve just posted the Tuesday poem. Those who are interested can check it out here.


Always Cut the Opening Pages

May 2, 2008

MONDAY, APRIL 28, 2008


I went to Gregory Frost’s reading at Philly Fantastic last Friday — he was promoting Shadowbridge, which is why Thomas Thiemeyer’s wonderful cover image is posted above — and afterwards consulted with him about a story that had been giving me trouble. The story was “Libertarian Russia” (and, yes, I know that’s a contradiction in terms — it’s a science fictionstory), and the advice he gave me was, essentially, “Cut the first page.”

Now, whenever I teach Clarion (West, South, or Classic Coke), I find the commonest error made by new writers is to start writing well before the story begins. Usually I can cut anywhere from one to eight pages right off the top. So it was a surprise to discover that, after more than a quarter-century as a published writer, I’d done it again.

Here’s the opening I had to cut:

He left Moscow at dawn, rush hour traffic heavy around him and the sun a golden dazzle in the smog. American jazz saxophone played in his head, smooth and cool. Charlie Parker. He hunched low over his motorcycle and when a traffic cop gestured him to the shoulder with a languid wave of his white baton for a random ID check, Victor popped a wheelie and flipped him the finger. Then he opened up the throttle and slalomed away, back and forth across four lanes of madly honking traffic.

In the rearview mirror, he saw the cop glaring after him, taking a mental snapshot of his license plate. If he ever returned to Moscow, he’d be in a world of trouble. Every cop in the city – and Moscow had more flavors of cops than anywhere – would have his number and a good idea of what he looked like.

Fuck that. Victor was never coming back.

Three years was enough.

Outside the city, the roads got better as they passed through the gated communities where the rich huddled inside well-guarded architectural fantasies and then dwindled to neglect and disrepair before finally turning to dirt. That was when, laughing wildly, he tore off his helmet and flung it away, into the air, into the weeds, into the past . . .

He was home now. He was free.

He was in Libertarian Russia.

A lot of work went into that opening. It began with my last morning in Moscow and the drive to the airport with the sun in my eyes and jazz on the radio, incorporated observations I’d made there, and had a few hidden science fictiony bits that wouldn’t become obvious until later in the story. I was very fond of that page.

Nevertheless, it had to go. That’s the first lesson you learn as a writer: You have to be ruthless with your own prose.

I include it here because the thirty-fourth or -seventh lesson you learn it:Never waste anything.

Day Three of 
Poem du Jour Held Captive . . .

There’s no news yet. I’ll let you know when there is.

And for those of you who listen to podcasts . . . 

Paul Cole of WRFR radio is podcasting “A Small Room in Koboldtown” in two parts. The first half has been uploaded and can be found here.


Poem du Jour Redux

May 2, 2008




TZ writes of my other, newly launched blog Poem Du Jour

“This blog is under review due to possible Blogger Terms of Service violations and is open to authors only”

That sounds ominous. Will the patient live?

I just got that message myself when I went to make my Saturday posting. It was generated by robots because they’d automatically determined that my blog “has characteristics of a spam blog.”

I think that means the poetry.

A lot of spam does of course contain poetry in an attempt to fool spam filters, and I’m guessing that quoting “The Windhover” in full automatically identifies you as spam nowadays. So Gresham’s Law apparently applies to language as well as currency!

The automated system assures me that a human being will look at the blog within four business days, at which point I see no reason why anybody could object to what I posted.



Poem du Jour

May 2, 2008

FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008


Okay, I am now completely and officially mad. I have created a second blog — and it’s about poetry!

Here’s the story:

Several years ago, my son Sean complained that, despite having graduated from Central High (which periodically swaps the distinction of being the best public high school on the East Coast with Boston Latin), he had no familiarity with poetry whatsoever. So I began to email him a poem a day, along with a few helpful comments about things that might not be obvious to the untutored. The intent was to demonstrate that there’s nothing mysterious of intimidating about poetry — it’s just words.

Really, really good words.

After a while, some of Sean’s friends asked if they could receive the emails as well, creating a de facto listserv of five to eight recipients. Most of those emails have been long lost, but my friend Benjamin Davis recently uncovered a cache of them, to which I was able to add a few of my own. Marianne and Sean both thought I should turn them into a blog. To be perfectly frank, I thought they were nuts. But, as I frequently tell Marianne, “I am the most obedient of husbands.”

I don’t know why she snorts so derisively when I say that.

Anyway, I’ll be posting one letter every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. These posts are not in any sense systematic. But if you’re interested, I’ve started the blog with the first five surviving letters

And in perfectly unrelated news . . .

I made it onto the Locus Awards Finalists list twice . . . Once for Short Story (“A Small Room in Koboldtown”), where I’m up against Peter S. Beagle, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, and Ken MacLeod, and once for Collection (THE DOG SAID BOW-WOW) where I’m up against Jack Vance, Cory Doctorow, Howard Waldrop, and Connie Willis.

I mention the competition so that, should I lose, you’ll understand why. That’s a pretty damned distinguished lot! It feels great to belong among them.

You can check it out here.