From Philly with Fantasy: NYRSF Readings Feature Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, October 3, 2017, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series continued its newly-opened 27th Season with the phenomenal line-up of  Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick (a “dynamic duo”) at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn.

The evening opened, as ever, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund (and host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf) sounding his duck call (inherited from Simon Loekle) and welcoming the audience, reminding those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away for not kicking in), and announcing future readers:

Tuesday, November 7th (Election Day), the readers will be S.A. Chakraborty and a second writer to be named;

Tuesday, December 5th will be a musical event – an “SFF: Singing Friends Fest” – featuring Sarah Pinsker and Catherynne M. Valente, among others, “pro sf writers doing music.”

He continued into 2018 (of note, there will be special evenings memorializing Ama Patterson and Thomas M. Disch), then heralded that on Monday, October 16, 3-5 p.m. (that’s “p.m.” with a “p,” not quite “the Hour of the Wolf;” one hopes that Jim’s listeners can stay up that late) on WBAI (99.5 FM), he would be celebrating (5 months late) his 50th anniversary at WBAI. (It’s also the 50th anniversary of the production of Samuel R. Delany’s The Star-Pit.)

He concluded by thanking House Manager (and Nebula finalist) Barbara Krasnoff, Tech Director Terence Taylor (who was not present, but managing things remotely), “the roadie” Madeline Flieger, and the Brooklyn Commons Café.

Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick, the evening’s first reader, is the author of ten novels, including Vacuum FlowersStations of the TideThe Iron Dragon’s DaughterJack FaustBones of the EarthThe Dragons of BabelDancing With BearsChasing the Phoenix, and the forthcoming The Iron Dragon’s Mother; and roughly 150 stories, many of which have been reprinted in Best of the Year anthologies. Notable among his non-fiction is Being Gardner Dozois, a book-length interview. Since his first story was published in 1980, Swanwick has been honored with the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon and World Fantasy Awards, and received a Hugo Award for fiction in an unprecedented five out of six years.  (He also has “the pleasant distinction of having lost more major awards than any other science fiction writer,” making him, as an audience member suggested, “the Susan Lucci of SF.”) Last year he was Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention. (He was also, by the way, Writer GoH at Lunacon 2005.)

Swanwick’s selection was the third chapter, and a paragraph or so into the fourth, of The Iron Dragon’s Mother, which completes a fantasy trilogy begun almost 25 years ago. (One novel is a novel, he observed; “two is an uncompleted trilogy.”) He began with an apology; for the first time ever since he’s been reading his work in public, he forgot to bring the text. Instead, he read a copy that he had e-mailed himself off a borrowed laptop. (It worked out fine.) In it, he introduces a new character, Caitlin, the half-elven bastard daughter of the Lord of House Sans Merci, who has returned home to see her dying father, to a family that’s magically dysfunctional. (Dinner was a poisonous spider.) More troubles await her when she returns to her base, he hinted.

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of a not-yet-published book by Robert Silverberg, and a copy of Being Gardner Dozois.

Gardner Dozois

It’s been a while since Gardner Dozois has done a NYRSF Reading, said Freund, in his introduction; he and Swanwick were among the Series’ first readers. Dozois was, of course, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for almost 20 years. He has won the Hugo Award as the year’s Best Editor 15 times and the Locus Award 31 times (including an unprecedented 16 times in a row), and the Nebula Award twice, as well as a Sidewise Award for his own short fiction (which has been most recently collected in When the Great Days Come). He is the author or editor of more than a hundred books, including a novel written in collaboration with George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham, Hunter’s Run, many solo anthologies, among them the annual series The Year’s Best Science Fiction (which has won the Locus Award for Best Anthology – more than any other anthology series in history), as well as a number of anthologies co-edited with GRRM. (Martin, he mused, has vanished from the scene, “disappeared into television – Beauty and the Beast?”) He has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and won the Skylark Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction. Born in Salem, Massachusetts (somehow he evaded the Witch Trials), he now lives in Philadelphia (as does Swanwick).

Dozois remarked that he had stopped writing fiction years ago, “until recently, when ideas began popping into my head.” He offered two short pieces, the first of which was “Neanderthals” (which he pronounced correctly, with a “t” rather than, as commonly done, a “th”). An assassin on the moon to kill the head of a clandestine drug operation faces a Neanderthal bodyguard. Here (as similarly in Robert J. Sawyer’s Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy) they are not “lumbering brutes,” but quick-moving and our intellectual equals. Were they brought by time machine (and is the assassin a time traveler) or created by genetic manipulation (they weren’t wiped out, but survive genetically “in our blood”)? In the second story, “Watchman,” a dead man is reawakened – and not for the first time – for a mission, to slay a dragon; the dragon (if it is indeed one) is in the semblance of a harmless-looking old man making breakfast. Dozois concluded by plugging his new solo fantasy anthology, The Book of Swords.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books. The audience of about 40 included Melissa C. Beckman (who, as usual, photographed the event), Madeline Flieger, Amy Goldschlager, Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, Gordon Linzner, Marianne Porter, Mark W. Richards, Ian Randal Strock, and Alex Whitaker.

Throughout the evening and afterward, the readers and some audience members enjoyed the Café’s fare. (Regrettably, the downside of the venue was noise, most disturbingly loud voices, coming from the Café.)

For those unable to have attended (and who lack access to a time machine), the events were captured on Livestream.

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