Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Le Guin on Present Tense

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On those rare occasions when I teach, I come down hard on the use of the present tense in fiction. I tell my students that it's off-putting and unnatural. I say that the past tense is the natural mode for storytelling. They look at me as if I'd just said, "Motorbuggies will never catch on."

I just three minutes ago ran across these words in Ursula K. Le Guin's collection of non-fiction, Words Are My Matter (she is reviewing a novel):

Present-tense narration is now taken for granted by many by many fiction readers because everything they read, from internet news to texting, is in the present tense, but at this great length it can be hard going. Past-tense narration easily implies previous times and extends into the vast misty reaches of the subjunctive, the conditional, the future; but the pretense of a continuous eyewitness account admits little relativity of times, little connection between events. The present tense is a narrow-beam flashlight in the dark, limiting the view to the next step -- now, now, now. No past, no future. The world of the infant, of the animal, perhaps of the immortal.

Word. The present tense has its place in fiction -- but that place is rare.

Here's the rule, and it covers all cases: Only use the present tense if there is some reason for doing so that justifies losing some of your readers and annoying others. (This rule goes double for future tense.) Otherwise, use the past tense.

Go thou, young writers, and sin no more.


And while we're at it . . .

Don't get me stared on the second person!


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Friday, April 13, 2018

Twice Upon A Time Machine

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I'm in graphic print for the very first time! My story, "The Long Bow," appears in Once Upon A Time Machine Volume 2, a graphic anthology edited by Andrew Carl and Chris Stevens. 

The book apparently came out two days ago. I haven't received a contributor's copy yet, so I can't say much about the other stories in it. But I flat-out love Joe DellaGatta's artwork for mine. And I'm pleased how my plot worked out.

"The Long Bow" is a 12-page story about Telemachus's search for his father, Odysseus. If you've reread the Odyssey recently, you'll remember that it begins with Odysseus's son going out, with a boatload of armed warriors, in search of news for his missing father. He comes to an island and, spotting the local king and his retinue, pauses to decide whether to kill them all or approach them peacefully and ask if they know anything of Odysseus.

Telemachus decides not to kill anyone. But he has to make a conscious decision not to! That's always fascinated me, that the times were that chaotic.

And then there's the puzzle of Odysseus's bow. Puzzling over Telemachus's search, I came upon what I honestly believe is the answer to that particular mystery.

Anyway, the editors have been out doing the publicity thing. Over at Syfywire, there's a long interview with Andrew Carl about the book, in which he says:

Joe DellaGatta drew a beautifully moody, but charming story for Telemachus (“The Long Bow”). That one was a joy to look at in every stage of production – even his hand-written letters are beautiful. This one was actually written by Michael Swanwick, as his first-ever comic script. Science fiction readers may know him from all his award-winning books and short stories in the genre. Well, guess what? He’s an awesome comics writer, too. Often the leap from one medium to another can be awkward, but Swanwick nailed it right out of the gate. 

   You can read the whole thing here.

Meanwhile, over at the Deconstructing Comics Podcast, there's an hour and a half long interview with Chris Stevens. I heard that he says something about how Joe DellaGatta constructed the artwork for "The Long Bow" from my script, but today's a working day, so I haven't heard it yet.

You can listen to the whole thing here.


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

An E-Book Sale, Octavia Butler's Mountain, and the Ceremony of Innocence

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I have two pieces of news today and a short essay. So without any further ado...


E-Book Sale for The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Open Road Media is having a one-day sale of the e-book of The Iron Dragon's Daughter, the day after tomorrow only. That's Saturday, April 14, 2018.  My novel will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter tomorrow and  downpriced to $2.99 across all US retailers on that day.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter. Also, they have an astonishing selection of good across a wide range of genres. So if ebooks are your thing... well, there you are.


A Mountain on Charon for Octavia Butler!

Happy news! NASA has named a mountain on Charon, the largest of Pluto's five known moons, after Octavia Butler.

I didn't know Octavia well but I liked her a lot. (And I say that as a guy who lost the Nebula Award to her classic story, "Blood Child.") She was a particularly fine writer who saw her novels as a way to make the world a better place. She died much too young. And she fully deserves this honor.

I only wish it could have happened while she was still alive.

You can read about the honor done Octavia and others (including some familiar names) here.


The Ceremony of Innocence

You don't very often hear someone you love say, "I'm disappointed. I was so looking forward to burning books."

And you rarely see the owner of a small press lament on selling out an edition in a single day.

But both those things happened when the Dragonstairs Press's chapbook, Blue Moon, written in one day, made into an edition of 69 the next, and put up on sale on the third day (not coincidentally, a Blue Moon) sold out. The original plan was to burn all unsold copies at midnight. There being no unsold copies, Marianne (who is the owner, editor, and sole proprietor) and I had to create an alternative ceremony, where I signed the original manuscript and then burned it, along with a bouquet of flowers.

Which was good enough to satisfy the need for a ceremony to mark the event. But not as good as burning twenty or forty chapbooks would have been.

We associate book-burnings with Nazis, racists, and intolerant mobs. It would have been a beautiful thing to burn books without hatred or bigotry. To burn books created for that purpose in a ceremony of joy and innocence.

Well... There was an implicit compact with Dragonstairs Press's customers and it would have been neither innocent nor joyous to hold back a few to burn. So what we have instead is the strange sensation, one which neither Marianne nor I had ever experienced before, of feeling wistful at not burning books.

Now we know that the market for such a chapbook is larger than the number of chapbooks Marianne is willing to stitch. So I have to wonder. What on earth will Dragonstairs do for the next blue moon?


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Monday, April 9, 2018

Ebook Sales! Canadians, Act Fast!

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Good news for people who read ebooks and want to acquire some of mine. Open Roads Media is holding two flash sales -- and the first one is tomorrow!

The first sale is of my collection Tales of Old Earth, which will be featured in BookBub International, an ebook deals newsletter with subscribers in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, on 4/10/2018. The ebook will be downpriced to the equivalent of 1.99 in Canada Only!

I have mixed feelings about this one. I'm delighted that my Canadian friends get to have a bargain, after being left out of so many US-only sales. (Canadian fans and writers have been extremely kind to me over the years. So I feel kind of emotional about this.) I'm sorry the offer can't be extended to Australia and he UK.

The signup page BookBub can be found here.






And there's more! The Iron Dragon's Daughter will be featured in Early Bird Books (EBB), Open Roads Media's daily deals newsletter this April 14. That's this Saturday!

The ebook will be downpriced to 2.99 across all US retailers on that day.

You can subscribe to EBB here so that you'll get the direct link to the deal on the day that it appears in the newsletter. Also, they have an astonishing selection of good across a wide range of genres. So if ebooks are your thing... well, there you are.


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Friday, March 30, 2018

Blue Moon Goes on Sale at Midnight

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It's a new, new tradition. One that starts today. Once in a blue moon, Dragonstairs Press will publish a chapbook in an edition of 69 and offer it for sale on the day of the blue moon. Then, at midnight, all unsold copies will be burned.


Why? Chiefly because it's a beautiful idea. Books are constantly burning. Go to the oldest section of a library and inhale deeply. That beautiful "old-book smell compounded of lignin, vanillin, and nostalgia," as I put it in The Iron Dragon's Mother, is "the scent of antique culture burning in the slow bonfire of time." Once you fall in love with books, the scent never entirely leaves you.

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 31, is a blue moon. So at midnight tonight, the chapbook Blue Moon, which I wrote yesterday and which Marianne is making even as I type these words, will go on sale at Dragonstairs Press. Exactly 24 hours later,  the unsold copies will be fed to the flame.

Blue Moon contains five flash stories, all in a lunar setting. The chapbook is 8.5" by 5.5", eight pages, hand-stitched, signed and numbered, with a sodalite bead ornament. The price is ten dollars per copy, net to all. Postage included.

You can buy chapbooks here, starting at midnight tonight, Eastern Daylight Saving Time.

Here's what the beads (only one per chapbook) look like:





And here's nanopress mogul Marianne Porter, stitching them:



And here's what some of the finished copies look like:





And  in all fairness . . .

I owe a shout-out to Dagur Hjartarson and Ragnar Helgi ├ôlafsson, who came up with this idea originally. Their publishing house Tungli├░ ("Moon" in Icelandic) in Reykjavik publishes only on a full moon, only for a day, only in editions of 69 copies, and burns the unsold copies as soon as that day ends. 

You can read about them here.



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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Bad Moons

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I've spent the morning writing flash fiction for Saturday's Blue Moon chapbook (details below) and... they're awful. Worse than that, they're all, to varying degrees, negative, dark, and cynical.

So I'm throwing everything I've written away, unfinished, and starting over again. This time I'll write something light, something pleasant.

And just so you don't think I'm making this up, here are four completed stories.  Keep in mind, though, that these are all early drafts and thus a little rough. The incomplete ones were even worse.


Waning Moon

The mysterious Mrs. Underhill, who ironed the dark blue sky flat, sprinkled it with sugar, and baked a vanilla cookie to shed gentle light after dark, was vexed.
            
Someone  was nibbling at her moon.
            
She had set it in the sky as round as a button. But now look at it – gibbous! Then half-gone. Then crescent-shaped. And still dwindling.
            
Who would dare?
             
She got out her grimoire, she got out her broom, she got out her microscope. She looked in the dusty tombs of gods who had died, nameless and unmourned, from the beginning of the universe to its end.
            
All the while she did, something was silently nibbling at her dress, her cloak, her shoes, her hair. Realizing this, Mrs. Underhill spun around.
           
Time, you rascal!” she exclaimed. “It was you! Why?”
            
“It was only a moon,” that watery-eyed entity replied, “andI was so very, very hungry.”
           
Then, without even a second’s pause, Time pointed at her life and said, “Are you done with that?”

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Sacrificial Moon

The moon goddess is pale as ice and has straight white hair that reaches down to her ankles. Other than that, she goes naked. Wherever she goes, she is accompanied by wolves, twice as large as those we know and as white as the goddess herself.
           
She loves children, does the moon goddess. Not thin, bony starvelings unlikely to live out the winter. No. She loves plump, healthy babies, sure to live out the year and all but certain to grow into adults. These are what make her mouth water.
           
It would be better if they were your own, but people are weak and so she must settle for the beloved offspring of those you hate.
           
A blood-stained cairn, far from human settlement, is the preferred place of sacrifice. Midnight under a fool moon is the time the moon goddess likes best. That is why our watchmen are at their most vigilant under a waxing moon.
           
Since we converted to the White Christ, of course, our tribe practices no such sacrifices. They are, our priests tell us, an abomination unto the Lord. Still, it’s always wise to know what your neighbors are up to. Just as it’s wise not to overfeed your newborns.

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War of the Ring

            In the year 842 of the third iteration of the seventh recession, new order, warships came into the Solar System, bent on revenge. For very good reasons, they destroyed the Moon. Because of ancient treaties, they left the Earth untouched. They relied on the gravitational tides set into being by the Moon’s debris to do their dirty work for them. Then they went away.
           
Thus the ring that circles our planet. Thus the primitive state of our technology.
           
Estrella was born in that ring to oxygen-debtor rock miners. She was a debt-slave miner herself when the powers that be on the planet below foreclosed on her parents, seized all their goods, and had their bodies rendered down for their chemicals.
           
Half-maddened with grief, Estrella stole their near-worthless oreship from the impoundment orbit, lashed it to a rock the size of a small mountain, and (from a safe distance) exploded its fusion engine.
           
Slowly, gracefully, the rock went tumbling down onto Buenos Aires.
           
Not long after, as these things go, as the spokeswomen for the radicalized citizens of the ring, Estrella issued an ultimatum to the planet below: Either acknowledge our humanity or suffer the consequences. There was only one sane option. Only madmen would respond with force.
           
Which is why no one lives on Earth anymore.

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The First Woman on the Moon

The first woman on the moon was a Russian, of course. This was in Soviet times, when rivalry with the United States meant that the successes in the space race were announced after the fact and the failures were a State secret. In this way, the history of the Soviet space program was one of uninterrupted successes.
           
It was madness to think that human beings could reach the moon using Nineteen Sixties technology. But the Americans were about to do just that, and so the Soviets moved first. To cut costs, they sent up one cosmonaut instead of three – and because they knew it would shame their rivals, a woman.
           
Months before the Americans, Anya Petrova stood upon the moon. She was staring up at the Earth when Baikonur Mission Control informed her that there had been a system failure and that she would not be returning to Earth, her husband, and their children.
           
The technician was openly weeping. “We have failed you, he sobbed. “We—”
           
“Worth it,” Anya said, and opened her helmet.


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And as long as we're on the subject...

Today I write the text for Blue Moon. Tomorrow Marianne creates 69 chapbooks. And Saturday, March 31, they go on sale. Ten dollars a pop, shipping included. No pre-orders.

And on on Sunday, one minute after midnight, all unsold copies will be burned. So if you want a copy, you'll have to buy it Saturday.

The chapbooks will be available at Dragonstairs Press. You can find it here.


Above: All three stories copyright 2018 by Michael Swanwick. Just to keep them from being published again.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Small Day in Manayunk

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Yesterday was an exciting time for fans of very small presses. Micropress maven Henry Wessells and nanopress nabob Marianne Porter met for lunch in Manayunk to discuss their diminutive publishing empires.

I was present to sign copies of Henry's newest and thinnest ever chapbook Reading in Public, which is to be included with certain copies of his non-fiction magnum opus A Conversation Larger Than the Universe. Which I can say without spoiling anything is about specific science fiction books. Also a cracking good read.

There are days when my life seems extremely pleasant and yesterday was one of those.


And as long as we're talking about Dragonstairs...

The great Blue Moon project approaches. On Thursday, I'll write the text for a chapbook. On Friday, Marianne will create 69 copies of it. On Saturday it will go on sale at the Dragonstairs web site. And shortly after midnight, earliest Sunday morning, all the unsold copies will be burned.

All that's known at this point about the chapbook are its title and the price: Blue Moon. Ten dollars, net to all. Postage included. No preorders.


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