Alternate History and Futurity, With Dragons and Samurai: NYSF Readings Feature Chris Claremont and Chandler Klang Smith

By Mark L. Blackman: On the rainy (though not snowy) evening of Tuesday, April 3, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Downtownish Brooklyn, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series featured offerings from authors Chris Claremont and Chandler Klang Smith. The event was guest-hosted by Amy Goldschlager, an editor, proofreader, book/audiobook reviewer, and a past Curator of the Series.

Jim Freund, the Series’ Producer and Executive Curator, and the host of WBAI’s long-running Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy, welcomed the audience and guests, cautioning again that the event was being Livestreamed. It was, he said the 50th anniversary of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it would be marked the next night on Hour of the Wolf (Wednesday night/Thursday morning, 1-3 am, WBAI, 99.5 FM). (He teased that the story that was Kubrick’s inspiration wasn’t “The Sentinel!”) Tonight, though, he went on, tongue firmly in cheek, was the viewing party for Legion (Season 2 was premiering at 10 pm on FX – Claremont’s X-Men stories are the source material for the series – and, in truth, there was a more official event on the West Coast). After appealing for those who could to donate to support the Series (readings are free, with a suggested donation of $7, but no one is turned away), and thanking House Manager Barbara Krasnoff, Tech Ops Madeline Flieger, Tech Director Terence Taylor (not present, he was rather the Text Director) and the Café (tip the baristas!), he announced upcoming NYRSF readings:

  • May Day 1st (still tent.): In Memory of Ama Paterson, with Pan Morigan, Andrea Hairston and Sheree Renée Thomas
  • June 5th (tent.): A Tribute to Thomas M. Disch, with Guest Curator Henry Wessels

July was unbooked at present, August would be a launch party for Bill Campbell’s two-part anthology, and the 28th Season would open in September with a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. He concluded by turning things over to the evening’s guest curator, Amy Goldschlager.

We have “two great readers tonight,” she began, before introducing the first, Chandler Klang Smith, quipping that this was “the last stop on her New York tour”. (She’d read two weeks earlier at the KGB Bar.) Her new novel The Sky Is Yours, we were informed, was listed by Entertainment Weekly as a “Best New Book.” Tor.com and Lit Hub compared it favorably with Infinite Jest, The Wall Street Journal called it “mesmeric … a great and disturbing debut,” and NPR described it as “a wickedly satirical synthesis that underlines just how fractured our own realities can be during periods of fear, unrest, inequality and instability.” Goldschlager added that it was “a very New York kind of novel.”

Smith, who read from the novel, concurred; Empire Island is loosely based on a future New York City, one with flying, fire-spitting dragons. Duncan Ripple V, scion of a wealthy family, is haunted by, then conscripted by, the Phantom Fireman, aka the faceless Leather Lungs, to be his protégé fighting dragon fires, as you’d expect, a major threat to the largely ravaged city.

During the intermission, there was a “very cool raffle,” a drawing for those who had donated, with the prizes being an Advanced Reading Copy (“ARC”) of The Sky Is Yours and a copy of Nightcrawler (which was fittingly won by a young fan).

Chris Claremont

Chris Claremont, the evening’s second reader, is, of course, best-known for his unbroken 17-year run on Marvel Comics’ The Uncanny X-Men. (His story arc “Dark Phoenix” is the source material for next year’s major release Dark Phoenix, which will be mainstreamed into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.) Additionally, he has published nine novels, with more on the way. (As a fascinating aside, his papers are archived in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University, “right down the hall from three Gutenberg Bibles.”)

As part of the course he’s teaching at NYU in writing graphic novels (“The challenge of not being Frank Miller,” he noted, is having to find an artist), he wrote a sample story; his offering, a work-in-progress, grew out of that story. In our history, Kublai Khan tried to conquer Japan, but his fleet was blown off course by “the Divine Wind.” In his alternate history, China succeeds and the Samurai flee in boats, settling in the Hawaiian Islands, as well as in Alaska and California. Over the next few centuries, they bond with the indigenous peoples and spread, so that when Europeans arrive, they find an integrated warrior society, with horses. Thus, in the 21st century, the British domains (there is no American Revolution) end at the Alleghenys – however, somehow technology is present-day (the Internet, planes, GPS and CSIs), though we might quibble that different geopolitics would lead to technological divergences – and when a Maui-born girl is murdered in the no-man’s-land of Ohio, there’s a joint Anglo-Indigene investigation (and “spy stuff” … and unaccountably, there are dragons).

A Q-&-A session brought, the host and readers back to the platform, but it quickly mutated (sorry). Replying to a question, Claremont said that the impetus for the story was wondering why did the history of the Americas have to be Eurocentric? In this version, someone else got here first, and having been evicted from Japan by China, they resist the European invaders. He was next asked about writing comics. Whereas writing novels is a solo act, the comics writer has to communicate the story visually to the artist so that they can draw it (and different artists have different approaches). There has to be a balance of image and expository dialog, and additionally, the writer has to direct the action from the upper left to the bottom right and get the reader to turn to the next page. When there’s synergy between writer and artist, he said, it’s “mainstream comics at their best.” (As a reviewer, Goldschlager noted that doing audiobooks of graphic novels doesn’t work.) Neatly closing a circle, Claremont praised the cinematography of 2001 and “Kubrick’s genius” in having the ship slowly and silently move through space to a waltz. (Comics can afford better special effects than movies, and they can be done faster.)

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, and, it being the 5th night of Passover, several sheets of matzoh.

The audience, which exceeded 50, included Sue Hollister Barr, Melissa C. Beckman, Susan Bratisher, Karen Heuler, Alexa and Nicholas Kaufmann, Barbara Krasnoff, Gordon Linsner, Herschel M. Rothman, and James Ryan. Over the course of the evening and afterward, and, for some, despite the holiday, many audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine.

Cadaver & Angel: NYSF Readings Feature Kwitney & Kaufmann

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, March 6, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in borderline Downtown Brooklyn, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series featured offerings from authors Alisa Kwitney and Nicholas Kaufmann (“K and K”).

Jim Freund, the Series’ Producer and Executive Curator, and the host of WBAI’s long-running Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy, welcomed the audience and guests. (The event was, as regularly done, being Livestreamed; he waved at that audience.) The turnout was smaller than usual (about 30-35), he noted, likely due to an event opposite being held by Henry Wessels (himself a past Curator and occasional host) that had drawn several who might otherwise have been here; plus some might have been leery of the approaching nor’easter. After appealing for those who could to donate to support the Series (readings are free, with a suggested donation of $7, but no one is turned away), and thanking the Café and his crew, he announced upcoming NYRSF readings:

  • April 3: Chris Claremont and Chandler Klang Smith
  • May Day 1 (tent.): In Memory of Ama Paterson, with Pan Morigan, Andrea Hairston and Sheree Renée Thomas
  • June 5 (tent.): A Tribute to Thomas M. Disch, with Guest Curator: Henry Wessels

Nicholas Kauffman

Freund concluded by introducing the first reader of the evening, Nicholas Kaufmann, a Bram Stoker Award-nominated, Thriller Award-nominated and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of numerous horror, fantasy and adventure novels. Introducing his story, Kaufmann noted that, Jewish, he had “always had a problem” with the story of the Exodus, particularly the Ten Plagues, so when he had the opportunity to contribute to an anthology of alternate Jewish history, he decided to “address” it. In “Coriander for the Hidden,” the angel Sauriel, the guardian of the flowers in the Garden of Eden (“He” and “She” do a lot of “rutting,” constantly) is ordered by “The On-High,” for reasons he cannot fathom, to be the Angel of Death (“the Creeping Death”) who is to pass over the Egyptians’ homes and smite the first-born. He silently questions “The On-High’s” ways – why was the Tree of Forbidden Knowledge put in the Garden of Eden if it was meant to be stayed away from? Why are the first-born children of Egypt paying the price for Pharaoh’s sin of not letting the Israelites go, particularly when “The On-High” hardened his heart and is capable of miracles like parting the Red Sea? (Believe it or not, there are rabbinic answers, but that’s outside the present scope.) – and ultimately, secretly “breaks the rules.” (One wonders what Kaufmann will say at next month’s Haggadah reading.)

During the intermission, there was a drawing for those who had donated, with the prizes being copies of Kaufmann’s In the Shadow of the Axe and Kwitney’s Cadaver & Queen. (There was a quick reshuffling when the winner of Kaufmann’s book was his wife Alexa, who presumably has a copy already. And yes, there were more than a few “Alexa” jokes made.)

Alisa Kwitney

Freund next introduced the event’s second reader, Alisa Kwitney (who also writes under the name Alisa Sheckley – she’s the late Robert Sheckley’s daughter). In her own right, she is the Eisner-nominated author of numerous graphic novels, romantic women’s fiction, urban fantasy, and non-fiction titles, a former editor for the Vertigo imprint of DC Comics, and currently the writer of the DC Prestige Miniseries Mystik U, and editor of Gothic horror for Liminal Comics. Her first YA novel, Cadaver & Queen, has just come out (Harlequin Teen), and has been described as a “steampunk play on Frankenstein, set in the English countryside against the backdrop of the Boer War, [that] explores themes of belonging, sexuality, and what it means to be human.” Set in 1902, Lizzie, an American, female medical student, is at a facility where cadavers are being reanimated as “biomechanicals” to be soldiers in Queen Victoria’s army – they obey and don’t feel pain. In it, she explores the theme of “dehumanization, which happens in war.” In a twist, one of the biomechanicals is a newly-deceased medical student named Victor Frankenstein who, unlike the others – perhaps because his cadaver is so fresh – has self-awareness and his memories, along with awareness of his surroundings; he also has a left arm from another body, and those memories.

As a treat, she presented a dramatic reading of the Prologue and a later chapter (though not of “the sexy parts”), with her “entourage” of two providing male and female dialogue. (Victor’s growl, an attempt by him at speech, was a lot of fun.) Kwitney spoke briefly about Mystik U, the first two issues of which are out, before holding a Q&A session. In replies, she said that she loves pulp, romance and horror; that for Cadaver & Queen she researched “Victorian trivia” and mostly stuck to history (like England’s and Germany’s arms race), except, of course, for biomechanicals (which in that world began during the Crimean War and which other nations are also working on); that Mary Shelley’s inspiration was experiments by Galvani and Volta; that a century ago, “medical science” believed a lot of “weird things” (even as late as the 1980s, many believed that babies didn’t feel pain!); and that she selected Mystik U’s artist, Mike Norton, from an offered list (another artist had been assigned originally) and is very happy with him. She alluded to her follow-up to Cadaver & Queen (there’ll be an eye transplant), and a theme that she keeps coming back to is that “we are most ourselves when we are concealed by some kind of mask.”

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books (and, oddly, yahrzeit memorial candles, presumably unrelated to Kaufmann’s story).

The audience included Melissa C. Beckman, Susan Bratisher, Amy Goldschlager, Karen Heuler, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, Lissanne Lake, Herschel M. Rothman, James Ryan, Sam Shreiber (running video), Chandler Klang Smith (one of next month’s readers), (Tech Director) Terence Taylor, and Kaufmann’s wife Alexa (though not his “two ridiculous cats”). Over the course of the evening and afterward, many audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine. (“It’s a good night for soup,” said Freund.)

A Festive Evening of Music and Comedy (But No Readings) at NYRSF Readings – With Valente, Pinsker and Miller

By Mark L. Blackman: On the rainy late autumn evening of Tuesday, December 5, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series closed the first half of its 27th anniversary season at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café (in the most wonderful Borough of Brooklyn) with a special Holidays event of “SFF: Singing Friends Festival,” featuring Sarah Pinsker in concert, and Catherynne M. Valente with her game show, “It Was a Dark and Stormy Mic,” hosted by Heath Miller.

Longtime attendees of these readings know that, for over a decade, it’s been a tradition to present “Family Night,” featuring its “official holiday family,” Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner; however, they are currently sojourning in Paris and le Métro doesn’t stop at Atlantic Avenue.  In their place, the Series offered a “really, really festive variety show,” an evening of music and games from two sf/fantasy stars.

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 a.m.) welcomed the audience, cautioning us as he customarily does 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.  (Just ask Billy Bush.)  He thanked contributors (the event is free, with a suggested donation of $7), his crew and the Café, and reported on upcoming readings:

  • Jan. 9: Sunny Moraine and Brooke Bolander
  • Feb. 6: “Welcome to Dystopia,” with Gordon Van Gelder (who started the Series)
  • Mar. 6: Alisa Kwitney and Nicholas Kaufmann
  • Apr. 3: Chandler Klang Smith and Chris Claremont

He concluded by introducing the opening act of the evening.

Sarah Pinsker performing

Sarah Pinsker is the author of the Nebula winning novelette “Our Lady of the Open Road” and the Theodore Sturgeon Award winning novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind.” She is also, as we saw, a singer/songwriter who has toured nationally behind three albums on various independent labels, with, punned Freund, “a fourth fourthcoming.”  Pinsker’s guitar and vocals were accompanied by Karen Osborne (who is also a writer, having sold her first story) on fiddle.  “I’ve never opened for myself before,” she said.

Her first song, “Everything Bounces,” alluded to Road Runner/Coyote cartoons’ idiosyncratic physics, while her second, “Water Wings,” was about a 19th-century couple “out for a row” who’ve gotten hopelessly lost and have to swim for it … “positivity in the midst of adversity.”  “Cave Drawing” was inspired by a documentary on homeless people living in subway tunnels yet creating in graffiti “amazing art on the walls.”  Her next, as yet untitled, was “about unrequited love in a circus sideshow” (aren’t most songs?), and was followed by “Wingspan” (not, she enunciated, “Waistband”).  Most of her songs, she said, were about the ocean, her “weird dreams” or something she heard on NPR, and her big finish, took us back to the ocean.

Sarah Pinsker accompanied by Karen Osborne

During the intermission, a raffle was held for contributors.  The prizes were a copy of Black Feathers, a horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow, and a copy of the first rebirth issue of Omni; and a “so, so unbound” galley of Valente’s new space opera.  Freund then introduced Valente.

Catherynne Valente and Heath Miller

Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over two dozen works of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, DeathlessRadiance, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Own Making (and the four books that followed it), and the winner of the Andre Norton, Tiptree, Sturgeon, Prix Imaginales, Eugie Foster Memorial, Mythopoeic, Rhysling, Lambda, Locus, Romantic Times’ Critics Choice and Hugo Awards; she has as well been a finalist for the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards.  She in turn introduced Heath Miller, “actor extraordinaire” from Perth and “man of a thousand voices” (several without an Aussie accent), who would be hosting their game show, and they were joined on panel by Pinsker.

Versions of the game show, explained Miller to those unfamiliar with it, have been performed at Readercon and Windycon, and now it was in Brooklyn, where “most of history happened here.”  It was, not to mince words, a rollicking laugh riot, with all three convulsing the audience throughout as they proceeded through a series of rounds or “games.”  Asked to name holiday-themed books that Santa might leave under the tree, Valente and Pinsker buzzed in (yes, each had a buzzer) with Rendezvous With Ramadan, Manger in a Mange Land, and A Few Good Menorah.  In a round called “Oscar Wildely Incorrect” (the other title option was “George Bernard Unsure”), they finished quotations (including Wilde’s “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young …”  “Instagram everything,” said Pinsker).  In “Gregorian Chants,” they replaced songs’ pronouns with “Greg,” hence Valente sang “Greg Will Survive” and Pinsker “Thank Greg for Being a Friend.”

Game Show: Catherynne Valente, Heath Miller and Sarah Pinsker

“Intellectual Property Values” asked them to increase or decrease titles; in lightning succession they fired off Justice Little League, Social Justice League, The One Body Problem, Murder on the Orient Local, and The Penultimate Jedi.  “Lexiconfusion” was what we used to call “Daffynitions,” alternative definitions (for example, “Concave: the Javits Center”).  Next they sang song lyrics to other songs’ tunes:  Pinsker sang “Folsom Prison Blues” to “I Had a Little Dreidel” (I hear the rabbi plotzin’), and Valente and Miller in a duet sang “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to “Where the Wild Roses Grow.”  It’s impossible to do the event justice; to experience it more fully and vividly, visit Livestream.com.

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books.  Additionally, Pinsker’s CDs were for sale and autograph.  The crowd of about 60 (probably most of whom walked in front of my camera) included Melissa C. Beckman, Madeline Flieger (running camera and operations), Amy Goldschlager, (house manager/ticket-taker) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, Kevin J. Maroney (publisher of The New York Review of Science Fiction) and (Technical Director) Terence Taylor.  Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite at the Café, which has excellent food, a coffee bar, beer and wine.

Happy Holidays.

OMNI Is Back

Omni Magazine has reappeared on newsstands, now published by Penthouse Global Media Inc. in Los Angeles, with editor-in-chief Pamela Weintraub and fiction editor Ellen Datlow.

Nancy Kress has a time travel story in the debut issue, “Every Hour of Light and Dark.”

The magazine is on a new schedule, as Ellen Datlow explained on Facebook:

It’s a quarterly continuation of the original. We actually published two all reprint issues in 2016 and have had an active website for several years (with reprints from the original OMNI). We’ve got a new website we’ll be rolling out soon, with reprints and some material from the new print issues.

Last night Jim Freund interviewed OMNI editors Pamela Weintraub, Ellen Datlow, Robert Karl, Johannes Killheffer, and Corey Powell on his WBAI 99.5 FM show Hour of the Wolf. Click the link to hear the program.

[Thanks to JJ for the story.]

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.