A Diamond Chip: NYRSF Readings Celebrate Delany’s 75th (No April Fool’s Joke)

Samuel R. Delany

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Saturday, April 1, 2017 (yes, Saturday, and not an April Fool’s joke), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series commemorated the 75th birthday – the diamond jubilee – of one of speculative fiction’s most important writers and significant figures, Samuel R. “Chip” Delany, with a celebration at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn. The extravaganza featured an essay by Terence Taylor on Dhalgren and an interview with Delany by Jim Freund; and culminated with Delany reading a new nonfiction piece. Plus, it being a party, there was cake!

Over the course of his career, which began in the 1960s, Delany has won four Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, the Stonewall Book Award, and the J. Lloyd Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award, been named Grand Master by SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, and invited to be Guest of Honor at innumerable science fiction conventions. Outside of sf and fantasy, his work includes fiction, memoir, criticism, radio drama, and essays on sexuality and society, and, moreover, he has been a mentor and role model to a generation of writers, particularly those who are people of color.

The evening opened with a welcome from Freund, the Series’ Executive Curator, who confessed that he had been planning this event for a long time, ever since he realized that Delany’s next birthday would be his 75th, and proclaimed this as one of the Series’ largest gatherings. He then announced upcoming events in the Series: May 2 will feature an evening with the Serial Box podcasters, including Matthew Cody, Max Gladstone, Joel Derfner, Lindsay Smith and Michael Swanwick, with Amy Goldschlager as guest-host. On June 6, the readers will be Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly.

Terence Taylor

Introducing Taylor (the Series’ Technical Director and the author of the Vampire Testament series), Freund related that Terence had been recruited onto a panel at Readercon about the 40th anniversary of Dhalgren. Taylor, it turned out, had never read the iconic novel; he began reading it on the train up, read it straight through (all 879 pages), and finished it (supplied Taylor) about an hour before the panel. His impressions grew to a 1,500-word analytical essay, “Doing Dhalgren,” which he shared. Taylor prefaced his reading by reminiscing about moving to Chip’s neighborhood, but, having not yet read Dhalgren (which was, by the way, and to our surprise, a bestseller), mercifully not “pestering” him. Delany’s literary legacy was, beyond his work, his inspiration to writers of color. (Terence treasures, and is trying to restore, a photo of himself with Delany and the late Octavia Butler.)

Taylor examined the novel’s protagonist, the “Candide-like naïf” Kid, who enters and ultimately leaves “the autumnal city,” Bellona (the name of the Roman war goddess), which seems real and is believable. Dhalgren, said Taylor, “takes root, blossoms and plants ideas in the minds of readers.” It is “an epic tale of the rite of passage that every writer takes” – Kid can only leave Bellona after he records stories, becomes a writer – so is “essential reading for every writer.” It displays “the infinite power of the written word.” Taylor concluded that Delany was a personal inspiration and encouraged him that he could do it too. Thanking Terence, Freund confessed that his first reading of Dhalgren was hard-going, but breezed through his third, and urged everyone to read the classic.

Promoting the event, Freund had written, “It is no small honor for us that we can host a jubilee for one of speculative fiction’s most important writers – one with whom we have had a long, happy association, both personal and professional. Chip Delany was one of the very first readers at this reading series some 25+ years ago. He has been a correspondent to NYRSF — the magazine whose name this series bears – throughout its existence. Samuel R. Delany’s contributions to science fiction — nay, to literature and culture — are incalculable. He has been a role model to a great many people; a highly-esteemed critic and teacher; a writer whose fiction will be studied long after we’re all forgotten; and simply a wonderful, loving human being.”

At the microphone, though, Jim’s introduction was extemporaneous. “Nova, Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, The Star-Pit, Dhalgren, the Nevèrÿon series – books in my pocket like grains of sand.” His body of work would be an achievement for any writer, but that he did it beginning in the 1960s as a gay black man is awe-inspiring. He’s inspired millions, and particularly many of today’s foremost sf writers. Jim reminisced about the radio play of The Star-Pit, 50 years ago on WBAI (he noted that May 1 marks his own 50th anniversary on WBAI, whose studio is now two flights up from the Café) – and whose 40th anniversary was celebrated at a NYRSF reading (I reported on it at the time for SFScope), then brought up Delany for a chat.

Delany interviewed by Jim Freund

Samuel Ray Delany, Jr. was born in Harlem on April 1, 1942, the son of a funeral director, the nephew of the Delany sisters (civil rights pioneers Sadie and Bessie), and the grandson of a slave who had been taught to read and write (which was illegal) by a bored master, and who later became the head of a black Episcopal school in Raleigh, NC. Freund asked him about the first books that he read. Probably, he said, like all kids, Mother Goose, some stories in which were “problematic,” notably “Little Black Sambo.” Because his name was Sam, his cousins teased him as Sambo. Then, at a summer camp, a counselor asked him what name everyone called him. “I lied through my teeth,” and came up with “Chip.” “To this day, I prefer Chip to Samuel or Sam” (though Jeff Greenfield once called him Sammy). To the audience he said that it was “warming and humbling that so many have come out for” him.

He then did his own introduction, noting that he has been called a “sexual radical,” an Afro-Futurist” and a “Grand Master of Science Fiction.” He opined that Katherine MacLean, now in her 90s, should be named a Grand Master, and spoke up for the auxiliary literary genre of letters and journals.

A Q-&-A session opened with a question about masturbation. Unfazed, he answered and said that he doesn’t lose any dignity by telling people that he has a sex life. A former student concurred, adding that, as a professor, he talked openly about safer sex during the AIDS epidemic. The next questioner said that he thought of “the autumnal city” as New York, but what city had Delany had in mind? He responded that the exteriors were based on New York (the park is Central Park and there’s some of the Lower East Side) and the interiors on San Francisco because he started the book in New York, then moved to San Francisco. Jim Ryan asked how he felt that those two cities that he had written about had changed so much, in effect, were no longer there. “Things change,” he shrugged. Ellen Kushner said that Babel-17 and Nova were “enormous” influences, and asked why he had started writing sf. He replied because he read it and liked it. “You enter the writing world where you can,” and his then-wife (“my only wife”), Marilyn Hacker, was a slushpile reader at Ace. His first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, was submitted pseudonymously, till Don Wollheim bought it.

During the intermission, a raffle for donors was held for two copies of the audiobook of Dhalgren from Skyboat Media, read by Stefan Rudnicki. (Freund thought it “amazing” how they turned Dhalgren into an audiobook.)

Freund briefly plugged Lunacon (April 7-9 at the Westchester Marriott in Tarrytown, NY), for which he had curated a program of readings, “a damned good reading program. You should go if you can.”

Delany then read “Ash Wednesday,” after the day that he had conceived writing it (in it he alludes, at one point, to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets), a memoir about coming up to New York from Philadelphia for a sex party for older gay men (the “Prime-Timers”) at a Doubletree, and continuing from there upstate to the mobile home of two friends in a town near Brewster, NY. The essay ranges wide, from backstories of the other men to the events (in detail) of the respective visits, and to observations about how he has changed from a monogamous heterosexual to a white-bearded “daddy” having sex with strange men, and how society-at-large has changed – same-sex marriage, protecting abortion rights (barely), and one “phallic” tower replacing “the Tuning Fork in the Sky.” Citing his introductory description, he said that there were others more sexually radical, more socially aware and into things far more marginal than science fiction. He received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Terence returned to the microphone to toast Delany and, as Freund brought out a cake (apple), the gathering sang “Happy birthday, dear Chip.” Some in the audience got a slice (I had one; it was very tasty), though the birthday boy, being diabetic, passed on it, and for the rest, as Jim said, “we’re in a lovely café.”

The (over)capacity crowd of some 130 (people were turned away from the door, and there was no space for the Jenna Felice Freebie Table) included Melissa C. Beckman, EXO Books, Moshe Feder, Amy Goldschlager, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (managing the door and newly a Nebula Award finalist), Ellen Kushner, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Kevin Maroney, Andrew Porter, James Ryan, Delia Sherman, Henry Wessels, plus the Kestenbaums (Delany’s hosts) and his partner Dennis. Afterward, people milled around, socialized and, if they hadn’t already, grabbed a bite (food, coffee, tea, beer, wine) at the Café.

Tradition! Tradition! NYRSF Readings’ Annual Family Night Again Features Kushner & Sherman

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Monday, December 12, 2016, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series continued its tradition of celebrating the December Holidays Season with “Family Night,” featuring one of its favorite families, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (in their eighth, by my count, December appearance). Also traditional was the December guest host. (Her anonymity here is due to her outside professional concerns.)

The event, held at the Series’ venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café (in the outskirts of Downtown Brooklyn – dare we call it “Bordertown?”), opened with a welcome from its Executive Curator, Jim Freund, who is otherwise the longtime host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (the show broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 a.m.) He cautioned the gathering that the readings were being Livestreamed (this later surprised Kushner, who’d expected only to be “seen” on radio), and thanked those who had donated (the readings are nominally free, with a suggested donation of $7) as they help the Series continue (there is a rental fee for the space).

Moving into 2017, upcoming readers will be:

  • Tuesday, January 10th, Phenderson Djeli Clark and Shan Chakraborty, with guest curator Rob Cameron (who was running the cameras and whose nom de video-wiz is Cam Rob);
  • Friday, February 10th, James Morrow and Jack Womack;
  • Tuesday, March 7th, we’ll all be getting Older, siblings Malka Older and (the elder Older) Daniel José Older (also getting older, these jokes; guest curator Amy Goldschlager had earlier called it Family Night II);
  • Saturday, April 1st (despite the date, not an April Fool’s joke), the Series will host a 75th birthday gathering for Samuel R. (Chip) Delany
  • May 2nd, Goldschlager returns as host for an evening with the Serial Box podcasters (Max Gladstone, et al.).

Family Night came about, said the evening’s guest host, because December is traditionally a family time; since then, the theme has grown from the readers to encompass the audience regulars, who have become a family of sorts (Kushner soon after referred to “the NYRSF Holiday Reading family”), and stated that it was “an honor to be part of it.”  Tonight’s readers, she concluded, were “a very special pair of writers, spouses and people,” and introduced the first reader.

delia-sherman

Delia Sherman

Delia Sherman is the author of, among other works, the Prometheus and Andre Norton Award-winning The Freedom Maze, The Evil Wizard Smallbone and The Fall of the Kings (written with Kushner). Prefacing her reading, she promised a selection that wouldn’t “bring blushes to young cheeks.”  (Ellen’s offering, however, “will bring blushes to many cheeks.”) With that caveat, she read from Chapter 2 of The Evil Wizard Smallbone. On a cold December night in Maine, Nick, a runaway lost in the woods, stumbles into the Victorian mansion of the titular evil wizard – it even says “Evil Wizard” on his business card, and moreover he is the proprietor of Evil Wizard Books. Smallbone declares that Nick (whom he calls Foxkin) is his apprentice and promptly puts him to work around his house, farm and shop. The boy finds it magically impossible to run off, and, when he talks back, discovers to his dismay that he has, it seems, spent most of a week (and missed Christmas) turned into a spider. The evil wizard’s brusqueness was a source of much humor.

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who’d donated), with the prizes being a “rare” set of press-on tattoos from the online serial program Tremontaine (pronounced, we learned, “Trem-on-ten,” not “-taine”), a “Live, Laugh and Love” mug, and the copy of The Evil Wizard Smallbone from which Sherman had just read; all raffle winners also received a pencil commemorating Ellen’s and Delia’s 20th anniversary. (That the tickets drawn were consecutive, and one winner was the guest curator, might have prompted cries of “rigged” from someone who shall not be named.)

ellen-kushner

Ellen Kushner

The second reader of the evening, Ellen Kushner, is the author of the World Fantasy Award-winning Thomas the Rhymer, the children’s book The Golden Dreydl (adapted by her) as The Klezmer Nutcracker), and the much-loved novels and related short stories in the Riverside series, which has been called a “fantasy of manners” and “mannerpunk,” alternating wit, intrigue, sex, swordplay and chocolate. Swordspoint (an audiobook of which won an Audie Award) introduced readers to the setting, and was visited again in The Privilege of the Sword, The Fall of the Kings (written with Sherman), and an online collaborative prequel to Swordspoint, called Tremontaine, with the e-publisher Serial Box (SerialBox.com; season two premiered this past October). In addition, Kushner co-edited (with Holly Black) Welcome to Bordertown, a revival of the original urban fantasy shared world series created by Terri Windling.

The story from which she read, “When I was a Highwayman,” is brand new and slated to appear in The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois. Set in Riverside, 4-5 years before Swordspoint and 12 years after Tremontaine, it is a standalone that she hoped is comprehensible to non-readers of the Riverside series. (The series is not written in order, and Kushner has gone back to prequels and sequels to fill in and expand on incidents; at times this may be limiting.) Here the young swordsman-for-hire Richard St. Vier (who serves as narrator) is in partnership with the grifter Jessamyn. When work for them dries up – she’s recovering from a terminated pregnancy and the nobles for whom he performs in demonstration bouts of swordplay or as a bodyguard at weddings are in the country for the summer – and they’re running out of things to pawn or sell, he’s talked into accompanying two lowlife acquaintances as they waylay traveling nobles. (His sword is to be the incentive to “stand and deliver.”) Unfortunately, he foregoes a mask and their very first robbery victim turns out to be a young nobleman with whom he’s quite intimately acquainted. Laughter was frequent and out loud (I’m uncertain about occurrences of cheeks blushing).

As traditional at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, while at another table, books by Sherman and Kushner were for sale and autograph.

The capacity crowd of about 60 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Rob Cameron (running tech), Randee Dawn (whose Christmas lights skirt was appropriate as well for the Festival of Lights), Amy Goldschlager, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (managing the door), Josh Kronengold, Lisa Padol, James Ryan, Terence Taylor, Gay Terry, Leah Withers and Claire Wolf Smith. Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite at the Café.

Poetry and Prose at NYRSF Readings With Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, November 15, 2016 – an otherwise dreary day – the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series presented Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe  at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn.

The evening opened as ever with executive curator Jim Freund welcoming the audience, cautioning that we were on Livestream (go to livestream.com’s Look At tab, then nyrsf or, for that night, Kij or Taafe), and, after briefly reporting that he broke his phone, announcing future readers:

  • Monday, December 12th, Annual Family Night (a traditional sub-series) with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman;
  • January 10, 2017, Phenderson Djeli Clark and Shan Chakraborty; with guest curator Rob Cameron (aka Cam);
  • Friday, February 10th, James Morrow and Jack Womack;
  • Tuesday, March 7th, we’ll all be getting Older, siblings Malka Older and Daniel José Older (guest curator Amy Goldschlager called it Family Night II).
  • Saturday, April 1st, the Series will host a 75th birthday gathering for Samuel R. (Chip) Delany.

Finally, he introduced the first of the “two really cool readers,” Sonya Taaffe, whose most recently collected fiction and poetry (her poem “Matlacihuatl’s Gift” won the Rhysling Award) are found in Ghost Signs.

Sonya Taaffe

Sonya Taaffe

Taaffe (her name rhymes with “strafe”) began by expanding on a tidbit in her bio. When she was in high school, with her father’s help, she built a radio telescope to determine if one could map a small part of the Milky Way galaxy from 42°N (the Boston area); ultimately, this led to her naming a Kuiper Belt Object (trans-Neptunian), Vanth, forthe moon of dwarf planet Orcus. The name comes from Etruscan myth – she “reads dead languages for fun” – a winged deity who guides the souls of the dead to the underworld and who is akin to Charon, and, with that, read a poem, “The Etruscan Prince,” inspired by the discovery of a tomb in Tarquinia and told from the perspective of his consort. Her next poem, “After the Red Sea,” was based on the figure of Lilith, who ran away from Adam to the Red Sea, where she became the consort of the demon Ashmedai. She followed with “When Can a Broken Glass Mend?,” “a story I’m very proud of.” From childhood, a woman encounters a demon in a mirror and a bond forms.

She continued with a series of “ghost poems,” invocations to historical figures, among them Kafka (“The Process”), Alan Turing (“The Clock House”) and a number of ancient Greeks; the first, though, “About Building,” was dedicated to her late grandparents. Addressing the current political climate (the next President was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan), she brought her “most radical” poetry, describing herself as “a queer Jew, with a uterus, and also a brain.” She invoked Axiothea, a woman who had attended Plato’s Academy (at first disguised as a male), the Sirens, Sappho (in her Aeolic dialect Tsap’pho), the Carthaginians (Carthage’s destruction displeased her – Rome had practices no less barbaric) and Catullus (whose poetry was “seriously filthy,” as was her poem).

On her blog, she related, she frequently writes about film. Her poem “The Ghost Marriage” was loosely based on Black Angel, a 1946 film noir (which featured Dan Duryea, another of her focuses of interest). Not every woman in a noir is a femme fatale or damsel in distress, she pointed out; in some, they are protagonists, independent, even anti-heroes. “Mercury Retrograde Theatre” was for her husband, who writes radio drama (and who was present to be embarrassed). She concluded with “Post-Millennial Augury Blues,” a poem written three nights earlier, after the Election results, expressing her frustration with people who draw parallels between now and the past, imagining themselves into it, often imposing their present-day perspectives and second-guessing (for instance, everyone says that if they lived before the Civil War, they’d “definitely have been an Abolitionist”). (In that vein, she lauded Ernst Lubitch’s To Be or Not to Be, a comic anti-Hitler film which was courageously made before the War’s outcome was certain.)

In a postscript, Freund reminded the audience that they could hear Taaffe another story (“The Trinitite Golem”) as part of the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology launch at the NYRSF Readings on April 5th.

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of

Ghost Signs and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. (There was no drawing for an abandoned umbrella.) Freund then introduced the second reader, who was appearing here for the first time.

Kij Johnson. Photo by Anthony Hildebrandt.

Kij Johnson. Photo by Anthony Hildebrandt.

Kij Johnson (from her initials K.I.J., pronounced “Kidge”) has won the Theodore Sturgeon Award (for “Fox Magic”), the IAFA’s Crawford Award (for best new fantasist, for The Fox Woman), the World Fantasy Award (for “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”), the Nebula Award (for “Spar,” “Ponies” and “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”) and the Hugo Award (as well for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”). Her latest books are The River Bank, “a sly response to The Wind in the Willows” and The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (Tor.com), from which she read two selections.

Vellitt, a 55-year-old professor (Johnson said that she was “tired of stories about spunky girls” or “17-year-olds with impulse control changing the world”; she herself teaches at a college and is close to that age) at a women’s college in the Dreamlands, having in her youth been a “far traveler” or adventurer, is sent by her dean to bring back a student who has run off to the Waking World with her lover (the girl’s father is a trustee). There’s also a small black cat (who’s not anthropomorphic and doesn’t talk) and strange things in the seas; the novella, she said, “twists H.P. Lovecraft around.”

Freund reminded that we could make “this fabulous evening relive” on Livestream.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered books. The audience of about 40 included Melissa C. Beckman (who, in addition, as usual, to photographing the event, brought brownies), Rob Cameron, Barbara Krasnoff, John Ordover (showing off his new, hard-won svelteness), Brad Parks, Mark W. Richards and Sam Schrieber (who was running the controls).

Afterward, the readers and some audience members enjoyed the Café’s fare.

NYRSF Day of the Dead Readings Remember Margot Adler

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, November 1, Samhain (rhymes with “how-when”), All Saints’ Day/All Hallows’ Day (following October 31, All Hallows’ Eve, and preceding November 2, All Souls’ Day) and the Day of the Dead (a three-day festival) – the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series launched (or “conjured”) a “pop-up sub-series” within that Series, the Margot Adler Memorial Readings. This inaugural edition, held at the Series’ venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Downtownish Brooklyn, featured Terence Taylor (who served also as guest curator and semi-retired Tech Director) and Sabrina Vourvoulias.

Margot Adler in 2004.

Margot Adler in 2004.

The evening opened as ever with executive curator Jim Freund welcoming the audience, cautioning that we were on Livestream. After briefly reporting upcoming happenings at the Café, including a pre-Election gathering and a visit by Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, Freund announced future readers:

  • November 15, Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe;
  • December 12, Annual Family Night (another sub-series) with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman;
  • January 10, 2017, Phenderson Djeli Clark and Shan Chakraborty; with guest curator Rob Cameron (aka Cam, who was engineering this evening’s event);
  • February 10, James Morrow and Jack Womack;
  • March 7, siblings Malka Older and Daniel José Older (guest curator Amy Goldschlager called it Family Night II).
  • April 1, the Series will host a 75th birthday gathering for Samuel R. (Chip) Delany.

Moving along to the theme of the night’s readings, Freund observed that it was an appropriate day to initiate the Margot Adler Memorial Readings. On Samhain, like the Latino Christian Day of the Dead, he enlightened us, the veil between those who’ve passed on and our plane of existence is thinnest. He spoke at length, and with deeply heartfelt sentiments, about how Margot Adler had been a big part of his life for nearly five decades, far beyond originating in 1972 the radio program on sf and fantasy that he inherited and still hosts, Hour of the Wolf. (The live program, which took its name from the iconic Ingmar Bergman film, broadcasts and streams every Thursday morning – or, for those who haven’t yet gone to bed, Wednesday night – from 1:30-3 am on WBAI, 99.5 FM.)

He only had time to touch on her remarkable career and achievements:  broadcast journalist (on KPFA, the original Pacifica radio station, on WBAI, and on NPR’s All Things Considered and Morning Edition), Wiccan (he suggested that he may have introduced her to Neo-Paganism and called her “the Queen of Wicca of North America”), political activist, reviewer and author (Drawing Down the Moon and Vampires Are Us). It is fitting that the Series remembers her as Adler had been a speaker and guest host at a number of NYRSF readings, particularly if they involved one of her more recently acquired passions, vampire stories. In her latter years, she had become “obsessed” with vampires and vampire novels, reading and writing capsule reviews of some 300 (culminating in her aforementioned book), and how their popularity in different eras reflects (even if vampires can’t cast reflections) society. Summing up, he said, “her interests ranged far and wide, and any of these diverse interests will be the subject(s) of these readings.” He regretted that he (ironically) had forgotten to bring rosemary to pass around (“rosemary for remembrance”). “Blessed be,” he intoned.

TT-Head 2

Terence Taylor

With that, he turned emceeing duties over to the guest host and first reader, Terence Taylor, a familiar face at NYRSF readings, and an award-winning children’s television writer who has joked that “after a career of comforting young kids, [is] now equally dedicated to scaring their parents.”  His offering came from his work-back-in-progress Past Life, the conclusion of his trilogy “The Vampire Testaments,” which began with Bite Marks and continued with Blood Pressure. (Margot, he noted, had lauded the novels and was looking forward to the next volume; he regretted that he hadn’t completed the trilogy in time for her to have read it.)

In the selection that he read, vampire Turner has, after witnessing Germany’s horrors, become an unofficial agent for the OSS (the World War II predecessor of the CIA) and has trailed two Nazi agents back to America and, following an altercation with them on a train (they ejected him from it, which they should not have been able to do), turns up on the 1941 Hollywood doorstep of writer (and folklorist/anthropologist) Zora Neale Hurston on the night of October 31, seeking advice. (The Nazis’ plot, he let slip during the intermission, is rooted in magic – more than that I won’t give away – and they find common cause with the Klan; Taylor found following real-world connections fascinating.) The prospect of having the two (Zora and Turner) meet up again (she had been present the night that he turned) had inspired Taylor to go back to working on the third book. In an aside, he noted that he had listened to recordings of her and reported that he would be lecturing on Hurston and voodoo at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy in Brooklyn on February 2.

Taylor additionally read five pages (“that’s all you get for free”) from his story that ran in the anthology (edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen) What the #@&% Is That? (the title is pronounced as “What the Gravlax?” – the symbols used in comics to indicate cursing have been dubbed “gravlax,” like the Scandinavian sushi). The story, “The Catch,” he said, turns from horror to sf, as a mad vivisectionist who cuts up couples (“catch” is as in “the catch of the day”) finds something alien in a victim.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for those who donated to the Series (admission is free, with a suggested donation of $7, which is very likely to be rising as the Series pays to rent the space and to treat its guests at the Café). The prizes were identical flash drives featuring Hour of the Wolf broadcasts with Freund and Adler. Taylor then introduced the evening’s second reader.

sabrina-vourvouliasSabrina Vourvoulias is the author of Ink, a parallel universe/near-future novel set in a fictional city and rural town in the U.S. that draws on her memories of Guatemala’s armed internal conflict and of the Latina/Latino experience in the United States (she is an American citizen by birth but grew up in Guatemala), and of stories that have appeared at Tor.com and in Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres and a number of anthologies (including The Best YA Speculative Fiction of 2015 and Latino/a Rising), as well as articles in various Pennsylvania periodicals and posts on her blog Following the Lede.

The piece that she read, “Flying With the Dead,” was the first speculative fiction story that she ever sold (it appeared in Crossed Genres), was about magic circles. (In another “magic circle,” she noted that the term “illegal immigrant,” which had been renamed “undocumented immigrant,” had, in the current political climate, sadly gone back to “illegal immigrant.”) In keeping with the evening’s theme, the story was set on the Day of the Dead and centered on an assimilated Latino (his feelings about his heritage are symbolized by a box from his late mother that he carts around but has never opened) who works for the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and uses his background to help round up “illegal immigrants” (he’s “good at it”), a job which becomes complicated when he’s drawn to a Guatemalan girl. We were introduced to Día de Muertos customs and festivities (cemeteries become picnic grounds, “barrios of the dead,” food is left at graves and kids fly kites), and it is implied that the immigrants’ migration north reflects that of the Monarch butterfly and in turn the flight of the souls of the dead.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table of books and magazines also offered a variety of Hallowe’en candy. The audience of about 25-30 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Rob Cameron, Amy Goldschlager, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and James Ryan.

Afterward, the readers and some audience members availed themselves of the Café’s menu.

Celebrate Space and Time Magazine’s 50th Anniversary on 7/12

The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings will host Space and Time Magazine’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on July 12. The magazine’s Hildy Silverman and Gordon Linzner will be joined by featured participants Linda Addison, Daniel Braum, Katherine Hasell, and Jack Ketchum.

The event takes place in The Brooklyn Commons at 388 Atlantic Avenue. Doors open 6:30 p.m.

To celebrate the Golden Jubilee for the world’s longest-running small press sf/fantasy fiction magazine, Barbara Krasnoff will interview founding editor/publisher Gordon Linzner and current editor/publisher Hildy Silverman. Contributors Jack Ketchum, Daniel Braum, Katherine Hasell, and poetry editor Linda Addison will do readings, and cover artist Alan F. Beck will display his artwork.

Gordon Linzner is the founder and editor emeritus of Space and Time Magazine. He is the author of three novels and scores of short stories in F&SF, Twilight Zone, and other magazines and anthologies; his latest appears in the new anthology Altered States. Hildy Silverman is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Space and Time Magazine. She is also the author of numerous works of short fiction, including The Six Million Dollar Mermaid for which she was a finalist for the 2013 WSFA Small Press Award (Mermaids 13, French, ed). In the “real” world, she is a Digital Marketing Communications Specialist at Sivantos, Inc..

Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of four collections, including How To Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend, the first African-American recipient of the HWA Bram Stoker Award, and a member of CITH, HWA, SFWA and SFPA. Her site: LindaAddisonPoet.com

Daniel Braum is the author of the collection The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales. He has a story forthcoming in Space and Time Magazine. His website is Blood and Stardust.

K.L Hasell (Katherine) is an animator, actor, writer and editor who lives and works in NYC.  She once made a weeping willow laugh. She never wears a watch because time is always on her side.

Dallas Mayr, better known as Jack Ketchum, is the recipient of four Bram Stoker Awards and three further nominations. Many of his novels have been adapted to film. In 2011, Ketchum received the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award for outstanding contribution to the horror genre.

Alan F. Beck

Alan F. Beck

Alan F. Beck has been an artist, designer and illustrator for over 30 years. His numerous awards and honors include two Chesley Award nominations and a Hugo Award nomination. He recently published a children’s book The Adventures of Nogard and Jackpot and is the creator of the Mouseopolitan Museum of Art.

Barbara Krasnoff has sold over 30 pieces of short fiction to a wide variety of publications (including Space and Time Magazine) and is working on a novel. She is currently Sr. Reviews Editor for Computerworld, and a member of the NYC writers group Tabula Rasa. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Her website is BrooklynWriter.com.

The full press release follows the jump.

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At NYRSF Readings, A Clockwork Melange

_CP5_cover_mockup_small COMPBy Mark L. Blackman: On the still-wintry-cold evening of Tuesday, April 5 the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series, heading into the “home stretch” of its 25th Anniversary Season, hosted a launch party for the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 5 at its venue The Commons Café in Brooklyn. Guest-emcee was Mike Allen, editor of the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, as well as of Mythic Delirium magazine and, in addition, a Nebula Award and Shirley Jackson Award finalist and winner of three Rhysling Awards for poetry. The occasion featured readings from seven(!) of the contributors to the volume. (A beautiful, full-color program spotlighting the anthology and the septet of readers was crafted by Series producer/executive curator Jim Freund.)

The festivities opened with the customary welcome from Freund, longtime host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy. The show broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 am and worldwide at wbai.org, and for a time afterwards may be heard on-demand as well as an RSS feed for podcasts. Additionally, the Readings stream live via Livestream – this evening was, in essence, a broadcast – where they remain archived for a period of time, and may be accessed by going to Livestream.com and searching for NYRSF. (Here is the link to tonight’s Readings.)

The Readings Series, Freund reminded us, is supported entirely by donations. They are free, but there is a suggested contribution of $7.) Next month’s event, on May 3, he announced, will be a play, a project by Andrea Hairston and Pan Morigan; and on June 7 a gala will celebrate Space & Time Magazine’s 50th anniversary, with Gordon Linzner and Hildy Silverman. He concluded by thanking Terence Taylor, the Series’ technical director, and the Café’s landlady, Melissa Ennen. The Café, he noted, now has a special menu for us as well as table service, and directed attention to its menu. Not remarked on was the change in décor, the room’s long tables replaced by small, two-person round tables. This would prove difficult in a full house. Finally, Freund turned hosting duties over to Mike Allen.

Mike Allen

Mike Allen

Tonight was not only a launch party for Clockwork Phoenix 5, said Allen, but its actual all-over-the-world launch day. He described how great it was to edit the anthologies, and how proud he was that the fantastic stories don’t easily fit in commercial categories. They have an offbeat feel and a powerful emotional impact. Those in Clockwork Phoenix 5 explore the intersection between love and death. All five volumes, indicated Allen, were for sale here. He nodded to the volume’s cover artist, Paula Arwen Owen (she too should be asked to autograph the book, he said), before introducing the first reader in what Freund had quipped was “a cast of thousands.”

Brooklynite Rob Cameron paused from “working on his Buddha-like glow” to read “Squeeze.” The narrator, in the throes of lost love, encounters a ghost-child on the #7 train (much of the audience was familiar with the 7, which runs between Mid-Manhattan and Flushing, Queens) that only he and an African woman with one arm (and a phantom limb) can see.

Next to read was South Asian fantasy writer Shveta Thakrar. In her charming story, “By Thread of Night and Starlight Needle,” a twin brother and sister consult a plain-speaking witch, their requests revealing both their similarity and their differences. The tale included footnotes, perhaps indicating how influential Terry Pratchett was.

The third reader was Barbara Krasnoff, a very familiar face at the NYRSF Readings, another Brooklynite, and, in Allen’s words, “a repeat offender,” having appeared also in Clockwork Phoenix 2 and 4. Having read from her story, “Sabbath Wine,” here just two months earlier, she opted for sharing a different portion of it. In the story, set in Brownsville, Brooklyn in 1920, a pre-adolescent Jewish girl befriends a black boy, who tells her that he’s dead, and invites him to her home for a full-ceremonial Sabbath dinner. Her loving father, who has abandoned religion for radicalism, nevertheless gives in to her entreaty and goes off to obtain the titular kosher wine, a task complicated by it being the Prohibition Era and the local rabbi being only all-too-aware of his irreligiosity. Needless to say, the two argue, and her father seeks out the boy’s father, a bootlegger. (Some of us recall the story’s heartrending ending.)

During the intermission, there was a raffle drawing with the first two prizes a grab bag from Mythic Delirium and the grand prize “a real doozy,” all five volumes of Clockwork Phoenix.

Resuming, Allen introduced the next reader, Sonya Taaffe, a short fiction writer and award-winning poet.  (It is noteworthy that several of the guests were poets.  Taaffe’s biography also notes that she once named a Kuiper Belt Object.) In “The Trinitite Golem,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had headed the Manhattan Project, here already under surveillance by the FBI and on the verge of losing his security clearance, is visited by the titular creature who asks him to “undo” him.

A.C. Wise was another “a repeat offender,” having been represented also in Clockwork Phoenix 4, and is the author of the recently published debut collection The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves the World Again. Her offering, “A Guide to Birds by Song (After Death),” was beautiful and eerie, as a woman tries to understand her lover’s suicide through her typed manuscript. “Absence shapes the world around it.”

The final reading of the evening was a “fun” collaboration between C.S.E Cooney, a Nebula Award nominee for “Bone Swans” and, like Allen, a Rhysling Award-winning poet (for “The Sea King’s Second Bride”), and Carlos Hernandez, author of the short story collection The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria. The two met at Readercon a couple of years ago and their story, “The Book of May,” began as a Facebook dare. In a series of e-mail exchanges with her old D&D buddy (with Cooney and Hernandez enlivening their respective parts), a young woman with a brain tumor muses about what type of tree she wants to become after death, an oak?, a sugar maple? Amid the underlying sadness there were shifts to hysterical, laugh-out-loud bits that brilliantly illuminated the protagonists’ deep friendship.

Allen returned to the podium to be presented by Freund with a suitably decorated apple cake for him and the readers. (For the audience, it was, as someone near me quipped, “Let them watch cake.”)

As traditional at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, while the Café saw to “wining, dining and other worldly needs.”

It was a record-breaking crowd of about 90 – the Series biggest turnout ever – and not all were readers or even contributors to Clockwork Phoenix. Included among the audience were (to name a small few) Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Amy Goldschlager (filling in as ticket-taker for Barbara), Lynn Cohen Koehler, Ellen Kushner, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Gordon Linzner, James Ryan, Delia Sherman and Terence Taylor. Afterward, many stuck around to schmooze, and some adjourned to the Café.

NYRSF Readings Welcome Winter with Taylor and Headley

Parental advisory:  This report is brought to you by the letter “F.”

By Mark L. Blackman: On the frigid winter evening of Tuesday, January 5, 2016 (an exceptionally mild December had spoiled us), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series kicked off the second half of its 25th anniversary season with Maria Dahvana Headley and Terence Taylor sharing their short fiction at the Series’ current venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café (in the wonderful Borough of Brooklyn).

In with the new, in with the old, as Jim Freund, producer/executive curator of the Series and host of the long-running live radio program on WBAI-FM, Hour of the Wolf (broadcast and streamed every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 am) welcomed the audience, cautioning us that we were on camera and livestreaming (visit Livestream.com), so to be mindful of what we say and next to whom we’re sitting.  He thanked contributors (the event is free, with a suggested donation of $7), and reported that, alas, the Kickstarter campaign to fund the readings is at present a non-starter, but he still hopes to get one underway.  (Hmm, maybe he could blackmail the attendees over our shady associations.)  Next month’s readers, on 2 February, he announced, will be very familiar faces, Richard Bowes and Barbara Krasnoff.  Karen Heuler will be one of the readers on 1 March, and 5 April’s event will be the launch of Clockwork Phoenix 5, with Mike Allen guest-hosting.  Special events are also planned for May and June, respectively, a play by Andrea Hairston, with musical accompaniment, and a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Space and Time magazine, with Gordon Linzner, et al. Finally, he invited the audience to grab dinner during the intermission or after the readings at the Café, which has added hot items to its menu. (He suggested ordering early so that it would be ready.)

TT-Head 2With the evening’s first reader, Terence Taylor, unable to act in his usual role as the Series’ technical director, he and Freund swapped places, and Jim did the camera cuts.  (Video killed the radio star?)  Taylor is an award-winning children’s television writer who, “after a career of comforting young kids, [is] now equally dedicated to scaring their parents.”  He is the author of, among a number of horror stories (“literary carnage”), the Vampire Testament Trilogy, the second volume of which, Blood Pressure, he read from at a past NYRSF Reading.  The conclusion of his trilogy, Past Life, is “in process” and “not ready” for public reading (as he discovered when he tried at Readercon).  (For more on the books, see his website http://doyoubelieveinvampires.com/.)

Terence read two short pieces.  The first, “Sex Degrees of Separation,” was a modern take on Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” and appeared in the HIV-themed anthology With the Body.  (Appropriately, he was wearing Edgar Allan Poe socks, a Christmas gift, which he “limberly” displayed after his reading.)  A fictionalization of an evening out clubbing at a black gay club, the story is rooted in the disease’s trail (“Ever fuck a porn star?”) and impact (the main character is HIV-positive) on the community.

His second piece, “Star Fuckers, Inc.,” was a major (and welcome) change in mood.  Inspired by William Burroughs (of whom Taylor is a huge fan, as he discussed with an audience member during the intermission), the darkly comic work, well-received by the audience, was about time-abducted celebrity sex slaves, drugged and mind-wiped before being returned; here the stars are the later-tragic James Dean and Marilyn Monroe (still Norma Jean Baker).  (Terence was then mind-wiped and returned to the control booth.  Serves him right.)

A short break followed, during which a raffle was held for contributors.  The prizes were a copy of Taylor’s manuscript of “Star Fuckers, Inc.” (“signed with his special autograph pen”) and the audiobook (edited by Freund) of the John Joseph Adams-edited anthology Wastelands 2.

Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley is a New York Times-Bestselling author and editor, whose Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has been anthologized in many years’ bests, and who, with Neil Gaiman, is the #1 New York Times-bestselling editor of the anthology Unnatural Creatures.  Her most recent works include the young adult fantasy novel Magonia, the dark fantasy/alternate history novel Queen of Kings, and the internationally bestselling memoir The Year of Yes.  Her offering of the night was from her novelette The Virgin Played Bass, about a troupe of roving musicians passing through war’s horrors and destruction, a reimagining of the fairy tale “The Town Musicians of Bremen”, and its Scottish version “The White Pet,” with a mix of “Puss in Boots” and the Gospels.  In the midst of Eastern European war (“after the War and before the War”), Bruno, a young accordionist hooks up with a talking (multilingual yet, though fond of a certain word beginning with “F”) and singing cat (yes, he caterwauls), the White Pet, and the duo and a growing band (three Marys for their miracle plays) wander through Russia, Moldova, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Hungary toward Brementown (“Bremen’s where we’re always going, until there’s no Bremen to go to.”) and quest for fish soup.  (The nine lives trick comes in very handy for them.)  The story is running in the current issue of Uncanny, (#8) released earlier that day.

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, along with refreshments (cheese, crackers and cookies).  Additionally, books by Taylor were for sale and autograph.  The cold-braving crowd of about 30 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Amy Goldschlager (filling in as ticket-taker for Barbara Krasnoff, who was out at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), Karen Heuler, John Kwok, James and Susan Ryan, and Max Schmid.  Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite.

Taylor and Headley Guest at NYRSF Readings 1/5

The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings 25th Anniversary Season launches into 2016 with Terence Taylor and Maria Dahvana Headley sharing their work on January 5. The location is The Commons Café at 388 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Doors open 6:30 p.m. $7 suggested donation.

Terence Taylor. Photo by Jim Freund.

Terence Taylor. Photo by Jim Freund.

Terence Taylor is an award-winning children’s television writer whose work has appeared on PBS, Nickelodeon, and Disney, among many others. After a career of comforting young kids, he’s now equally dedicated to scaring their parents. His short horror stories have been published in all three “Dark Dreams” horror/suspense anthologies. His first novel, Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament, came out in September of 2009. The second book in the trilogy, Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament, was released in 2010. After a hiatus to work on other writing and video projects he has returned to the conclusion of his trilogy – Past Life. Set in 2027, it takes his heroes, human and otherwise, to a final confrontation with the mad vampire Tom O’Bedlam to decide the fate of the world.

Maria Dahvana Headley.

Maria Dahvana Headley.

Maria Dahvana Headley is a New York Times-Bestselling author and editor, most recently of the young adult fantasy novel Magonia (HarperCollins), the dark fantasy/alt-history novel Queen of Kings (Dutton), and the internationally bestselling memoir The Year of Yes (Hyperion). With Neil Gaiman, she is the #1 New York Times-bestselling editor of the anthology Unnatural Creatures (HarperChildrens), benefitting 826DC. With Kat Howard, she is the author of the novella The End of the Sentence (Subterranean Press) – one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014. Her Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated short fiction has been anthologized in many years bests.

Jim Freund is Producer and Executive Curator of The New York Review of Science Fiction Readings.  He has been involved in producing radio programs of and about literary sf/f since 1967.  His long-running live radio program, Hour of the Wolf, broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 AM.  (Check the Hour of the Wolf group on Facebook for details.)

The full press release follows the jump.

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NYRSF Readings Annual Family Night Features Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, and a Menorah

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.

Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, December 8 the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series continued its tradition of celebrating the December Holidays Season with “Family Night,” featuring one of its favorite families, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (for their seventh December happening).

On the Series’ Facebook page, in response to a query, producer/executive curator Jim Freund explained what makes it Family Night.  “Delia and Ellen are family to each other – a married couple. Also virtual family to so many of us at the Reading Series and the sf community.  And further the fiction is family-friendly – no disclaimers necessary for sensitive ears.” Also in keeping with custom, their reading was guest-hosted once more by the Reading Series’ third curator (1994-96; longtime attendees know who), its “Jon Pertwee,” as it were.  (Her anonymity here is due to her outside professional concerns.

The festive event, held at the Series’ current venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café (in Downtownish Brooklyn and “located near more public transportation than Times Square”), kicked off as usual with a welcome from Jim Freund, who is otherwise the longtime host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (the show broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 am and worldwide at wbai.org, and for a time afterwards may be heard on-demand as well as an RSS feed for podcasts) and Podcast Editor and Host for the Hugo Award-winning Lightspeed Magazine.  The Kickstarter campaign to fund the Series, he reported, has not yet gotten under way (stand by, as broadcasters say), and he relayed news of the recent death of his WBAI colleague Simon Loekle (who had participated in the Series, including a memorably chilling rendition of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” – and yes, the “l” is pronounced).

Continuing, he trumpeted upcoming readings in the Series’ 25th season: on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 the readers will be Terence Taylor (sf/fantasy writer as well as the Series’ video producer – and no, he won’t run an extension cord from the booth – Freund will handle the equipment) and Maria Dahvana Headley; and on Groundhog Day (Tuesday, 2 February), Barbara Krasnoff and Richard Bowes. Jumping ahead, April’s event will be a launch for Clockwork Phoenix 5, and May’s a play by Andrea Hairston.  Finally, Jim invited the audience to grab dinner during the intermission or after the readings at the Café, which has added hot items to its menu, then turned hosting duties over to the guest-curator (this place was, she declared, the Series’ “nicest home venue”), who introduced the evening’s first reader.

In Swordspoint, Ellen Kushner introduced readers to the much-honored and much-loved Riverside series, which has been called a “fantasy of manners” and “mannerpunk,” alternating wit, intrigue, swordplay and chocolate. The audiobook, which she narrated, won both an Audie and Audiofile Earphones Award, but, she confessed, she felt a bit odd reading, having heard professionals perform her work. She did, though, have to invent an accent for one character, then coach one actor in it.  (Later, in conversation, she revealed how instead of attempting an accent during this reading, she achieved the effect with syntax, intonation and consonant emphasis.)

Tremontaine, from which she read selections of its first chapter, “Arrivals,” is a prequel to Swordspoint, set some 15 years earlier.  One “arrival” is literal, discussion between the Duke and Duchess Tremontaine about the birth of the baby who will be the future Alec Campion, the Mad Duke Tremontaine. Another is farmgirl Micah, who, on family advice, has cut her hair and is passing as a boy, and has, we see, hidden talents as a geometer.  A third viewpoint character, Ixkaab Balam (aka Kaab), a trader, has just come to Riverside, a place full of thieves, “very bad women,” swordsmen, and poor people who like a bit of flash and dazzle (and singing – Ellen sang a few bars of a woman’s song), and almost immediately challenges a local who has insulted her people, her mother and her outfit.  (The reading was inadvertently enlivened further by Kushner’s pages getting dropped and scattered.)

In a Q&A, Kushner clarified that Tremontaine was a 13-weekly episode (in the current season) serial released Wednesday mornings (the seventh ran the next day) in text and audio (she recommended getting both) from SerialBox.com.  (The serial would not break for Christmas or New Year’s, leading Ellen to proclaim that it was a perfect escape from dull holiday family gatherings – “Tremontaine is even more fucked-up than your family.”)  Chapter 1 is available online for free, the rest cost money.  Episodes have been written also by Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese (who was present) and Patty Bryant.  Freund noted that Riverside has always been sort of a shared universe; The Fall of the Kings was written with Delia Sherman.  Well, said Kushner, it’s not wide-open, but “curated,” a collaborative serial.  She also noted that her dress and the host’s were based on the Riverside cityscape, the latter a design by Kathleen Jennings.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for a bottle of the exceedingly rare Tremontaine Pale Ale (shhh, another label had been soaked off and replaced by one with one of Jennings’ cover designs), a copy of Kushner’s The Golden Dreydl, a Jewish take on The Nutcracker (appropriate as it was Chanukah), and an inscribed (and kissed) copy of the manuscript from which Delia Sherman would be reading. In a true Chanukah miracle (topping that extra-burning oil), I won the third prize.  Then, speaking of which, as it was the third night of the Festival of Lights, Ellen presided over the ceremonial lighting of a Chanukah menorah (three candles plus the “servant” candle) and a brief blessing.  The host then introduced the second reader of the evening.

Delia Sherman is the author of, among other works, the Prometheus and Andre Norton Award-winning The Freedom Maze (from which she has read at previous NYRSF Readings), a time-travel historical set in antebellum Louisiana.  This time she read excerpts from Chapters 3-5 of The Evil Wizard Smallbone (which, she announced to the crowd’s disappointment, won’t be out until November 2016), appropriately (and giving equal time to the other December holiday) scenes set at Christmas.  We are first introduced to the eponymous 300-year-old proprietor of Evil Wizard Books and founder of the idyllic (at least on the surface), coastal town of Smallbone Cove in adults’ (“Covers”) uncomfortable answers to a young girl’s awkward questions about Zachariah Smallbone’s evil and magic.  Then we meet the (evil) wizard as he puts a boy, Nick, a runaway who had sought refuge, to work around his house and shop.  Nick (whom Smallbone calls Foxkin), having spent part of a week (and missing Christmas) turned into a spider (he’s better now), and finding it magically impossible to run off, undertakes a succession of chores.  (Is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in his future?)

As traditional at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, while at an adjoining table, books by Sherman and Kushner were for sale and autograph.  The capacity crowd of about 65 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Chris Claremont, Randee Dawn, Beth Fleisher,  Barbara Krasnoff, Josh Kronengold, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Gordon Linzner, Racheline Maltese, Lisa Padol, Max Schmid, Terence Taylor, Leah Withers, and, of course, Claire Wolf Smith.  Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite.

[See photos from the event in a public post on Ellen Kushner’s Facebook page.]

NYRSF Readings Series Opens 25th Season with Swanwick and Khanna

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, September 8 (a record-breaking scorcher in New York, and, per the Swanwicks, it was also “hot as Hell in Philadelphia”), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series opened its 25th or silver anniversary season – an impressive landmark – with two sterling readers, Michael Swanwick and Rajan Khanna.

The Series has nicely settled into its new venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café, less than a parsec from the Barclays Center in that renowned borough.  (The reading space is, incidentally, two floors below WBAI-FM.)  In his introductory welcome, executive curator Jim Freund, host of that self-same WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (which broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30-3:00 a.m.), shared his excitement over the Commons’ facilities, including three robotic cameras (with an eye to sparing us from embarrassment, he warned the audience about the cameras that were streaming the event live via Livestream and archiving it for a period of time [see http://livestream.com/accounts/12973202/events/4332267/videos/98611309], and lauded the professional skills of Terence Taylor, sf/fantasy writer and video producer.  (Will video kill the radio star?)

In continuing remarks, Freund noted that the date (September 8) was the birthday of Gordon Van Gelder, who began the Reading Series (and was born on the day that Star Trek premiered). Freund also announced a Kickstarter campaign (the Series’ first) to begin in December (so the money may be dispersed in January, plus it’s convenient for holiday gifts). The downside of the new venue is increased costs (such as space rental), and most every event is run at a loss.  (Admission remains free, with a suggested donation of $7.)  He announced as well the next reading, on 6 October, which will feature Brooke Bolander and Matthew Kressel; Amy Goldschlager will guest-host.

In related news, Freund shared that his September 10th Hour of the Wolf would be expanded to 5 a.m. and feature Ken Liu, with possibly a rebroadcast of an earlier show with him, and that his September 17 show would feature Ellen Datlow. And speaking of whom, on Wednesday, September 16, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB [Bar] Reading Series, hosted by Datlow and Kressel, will present Tom Monteleone and Lawrence C. Connolly.)  Eventually, he introduced the evening’s first reader.

Rajan Khanna

Rajan Khanna

Rajan Khanna is an author, blogger, reviewer and narrator.  The selection from which he read was taken from his second novel, Rising Tide (due out in October), a sequel to his first, Falling Sky.  For the benefit of those who hadn’t read it, he offered a chapter with flashbacks.  The story is set in a post-apocalyptic near-future where a global pandemic, the Bug, has regressed numbers of people to a violent, animalistic (and, of course, hungry) state; they are called Ferals and their fluids are highly contagious.  Salvage is the order of the day, and the protagonist joins other independent airship operators on a raid on a police facility’s weapons store.  (Wow, airships and sort-of-zombies!)  His airship is called the Cherub, which he reminds them is a sword-wielding winged guardian, but which the others think of as a “fat baby.”  One guess what they run into.  Khanna’s voice is, as we heard, well-suited for narrating, and he held the audience rapt.

During the intermission, as traditional, a raffle was held for donors; the prizes were an advance copy of Rising Tide, the manuscript from which Swanwick would be reading, and a copy of After, a young adult anthology on the themes of apocalypse and dystopia, co-edited by Ellen Datlow. (Richard Bowes, also present, noted that he had a story in it.)  Afterward, Freund introduced the second and final reader, Michael Swanwick.

Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s body of work includes Stations of the Tide, In the Drift, Vacuum Flowers, Griffin’s Egg, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, The Dragons of Babel, and Jack Faust, and the short fiction “The Edge of the World,” “Radio Waves,” “The Very Pulse of the Machine,” and “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur,” and he has been honored with the Hugo, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial, and World Fantasy Awards.

His reading was chosen from his latest novel, Chasing the Phoenix (just out from Tor Books), continues the adventures of post-Utopian con men and scoundrels Darger and Surplus (a genetically-modified dog – so he’s a con dog?) – last seen in Dancing with Bears – in which they conquer China, accidentally.  In the selection that he read, which had the audience laughing out loud, the devious duo flatter the Hidden King’s dreams of becoming Emperor, then make a deal with his rival monarch.

As customary, refreshments included crackers and cheese, and there were books offered on the Jenna Felice Freebie Table.  The audience approached 60.  (The East River is no longer a barrier.)  Among those present were Beth Anderson-Harold, Melissa C. Beckman, Brooke Bolander, Richard Bowes, Ellen Datlow, Kris Dikeman, Amy Goldschlager, Rusty Harold, Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Marianne Porter, James Ryan, Max Schmid and Terence Taylor. (Stephen Colbert was otherwise occupied.) At the end of the evening, instead of the long-established practice of going out with the writers after the reading, the gathering was on-site at the Café itself.  (The Commons offers coffees, teas, beers and wine by the glass, as well as sandwiches, salads and pastries.)