At NYRSF Readings We Get Older and Older

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, March 7, 2017, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series offered a twist on its Family Night series-within-a-series by presenting siblings Malka Older and (the elder Older) Daniel José Older (and mercifully laying to rest jokes that for months have been getting older and older). The event, held at the Series’ venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Greater Downtown Brooklyn, was guest-hosted by former Series curator Amy Goldschlager.

The evening opened differently from usual, with a welcome from Goldschlager rather the Series’ Executive Curator, Jim Freund; he was, we were told, home dealing with basement flooding and would be arriving later. While Freund has been “flogging” the event with wordplays on “getting Older and Older,” she preferred to call it by the theme that united the two readers, “Inform and Resist.” She had long been a fan of Daniel’s work and Twitter feed (@djolder) and had subsequently become one of Malka’s, whose Infomocracy “scared the crap out of me.” The format too would be different, with both Olders reading in the first part of the evening, then sharing a discussion and Q-&-A.

Malka Older

Malka Older’s science fiction political thriller Infomocracy was named one of 2016’s best books by both Kirkus and BookRiot. Her reading was from its forthcoming (September) sequel, Null States. Providing background, the books, she explained, were set some 60 years in the future; the nation-state system has largely resolved into a system of “microdemocracy,” units of 100,000 people called “sentinels,” the whole overseen by a massive bureaucracy, Information. Her protagonist, Mishima, is on a secret mission to a formerly prominent sentinel called Heritage to bug its offices in the former headquarters of the UN in Geneva. (Bugging has suddenly become topical, it was remarked.) Her reading, we must note, was punctuated by the participation of her small and adorable daughter. Returning to the microphone, Goldschlager introduced the other Older.

Daniel J. Older

Daniel José Older is the New York Times bestselling author of the collection Salsa Nocturna, the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, which additionally won the International Latino Book Award, was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus Award and the Mythopoeic Award, and was named one of Esquire’s 80 Books Every Person Should Read. (He was also active in the successful effort to retire H.P. Lovecraft’s caricatured likeness from the World Fantasy Award owing to his vigorous partaking of the racism of his times.) Taking his place at the mike, he quipped that he’d always suspected that his sister was a spy, and recalled that this Series was the first venue where he ever read. Reading from Battle Hill Bolero, the final installment of his Bone Street Rumba series, he warned about spoilers. His protagonist, Carlos, is a “halfie,” half-dead and half-alive, and a clean-up man for the Council of the Dead. He and his partner have been dispatched to the Manhattan Bridge to kill a giant river demon; however, many humorous lines later, he winds up sharing his life (or half-life) story about his ex-girl friend (the one who half-killed him) as they chummily share Malagueño cigars.

Amy Goldschlager

He then read a briefer excerpt about Chris, dead, invisible, on fire and rebelling against the Council. His reading style, observed Goldschlager, is “almost a musical experience.” (You may hear his music at danieljoseolder.net, on YouTube and @djolder on Twitter.) Spotting Freund, who had since arrived (dry), she cautioned the gathering that the readings were being Livestreamed.

Freund then announced upcoming events in the Series. On April 1st – which most think of as April Fool’s Day, but which, since 1967, he thinks of as Samuel R. Delany’s birthday – the Series would be hosting a 75th Birthday Party for Delany. On May 2nd, Goldschlager returns as guest-host for an evening with the Serial Box podcasters (Leah Withers, Max Gladstone, Joel Derfner, et al.). June 6th readers will be Sam J. Miller (whose first novel is being published in July) and Lara Elena Donnelly. Finally, he congratulated Barbara Krasnoff on her Nebula Award nomination (for “Sabbath Wine,” a story that she read here.)

During the intermission, a raffle for donors was held for copies of Infomocracy donated by Tor.com.

Resuming hosting, Goldschlager brought the Olders up to the stage to interview each other “because apparently they don’t know each other much.” He had come up with a game in which they guess each other’s literary influences from their favorite books and movies from childhood.  His guess for her was Anne of Green Gables and hers for him All the President’s Men. This soon evolved into a discussion of their favorite books and movies, not necessarily influences. She loved Lord of the Rings and McCaffrey; he didn’t care for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and she thought that the middle Narnia books were more interesting; he loved Sweet Valley Twins (but it didn’t influence him) and Catch-22; Blade Runner, Star Wars and Snow Crash were “huge” for both, and both loved Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October and Lord of Light. When he decided in 2009 to become a writer, he was watching a lot of animé (notably Cowboy Bebop). She never read horror “that much.”

The audience kind of being left out, a Q-&-A followed. One audience member called Malka’s debut novel, Infomocracy, one of the year’s best and said that it reminded him of Sterling’s Islands in the Net; it turns out, though, she’s never read it, but noted that Infomocracy had been called “post-cyberpunk” (adding that she didn’t regard cyberpunk as being ready for “post-”). The next questioner asked Daniel what percentage of his work was drawn directly from his experience with EMS (he’s had a decade-long career as a New York City paramedic). A lot, he said – the dealing with a bureaucracy (the FDNY), the banality. The next two questions to Malka were what had happened in her future with the military (her editor, she noted, had been curious about all the nukes) and about the economic instrument that allowed exchange between governments. The militaries formed military governments with their economies based on renting out their services to small sentinels, and that there was an electronically-based currency.

Changing gears, the following question from the audience wondered if sf writers now are better at extrapolation than the previous generation (Asimov, Clarke) was and if it’s “more integral.” Malka said that her books are less about prediction than saying something, and cited the adage that sf is less predictive (of the future) and more descriptive (of the present). Daniel was asked where his stationary bike monsters (the “ngk”) came from. He joked that it was a comment on gentrification, then replied that in his world of ghosts, he wanted something small, powerful and unkillable.

A question about the importance of setting to them both highlighted both what they had in common (their settings are “dynamic” and place has an important role in their books) and their differences. His experiences are rooted (he moved to NYC years ago, and, although most of his readers may not, he “cares where Bedford Avenue is”), while she has lived over the world, rarely in one place for long, and has a geopolitical perspective. Yet their work involves each in compassion; she has more than a decade of experience in humanitarian aid and development, whereas he’s been more hands-on as an EMT. Something else they have in common, asked how they plot out their books, if, for example, they use index cards, both responded that they don’t painstakingly plot out their books.

Capping the evening perfectly, and eradicating the pun for good, asked which Older is older, Malka pointed to her daughter and quipped that it was her – “she’s a little Older.”

The crowd of about 50 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Rob Cameron (running tech), Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (managing the door), John Kwok, Gordon Linzner, James Ryan, Terence Taylor. Afterward, people milled around, socialized and grabbed a bite (food, coffee, tea, beer, wine) at the Café. Owing to Freund’s delay, there was no Jenna Felice Freebie Table this month (though I had Lunacon 2017 flyers with me to distribute).

Valentine Horror at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, February 15, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series presented horror authors Michael Cisco and Nicholas Kaufmann at its longtime venue, the Red Room of the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. (In honor of Valentine’s Day, said Kaufmann, he and Cisco would be “reading our most romantic stories.” Don’t believe it.)

Series co-host Matthew Kressel greeted the crowd, reminded all that readings are always free and there’s no cover charge, and exhorted us to thank the Bar by buying drinks. To cover the Series’ costs (including treating the readers to dinner afterward), he announced that there would likely be a Kickstarter campaign in the spring, so that the Series, which began in the late 1990s, could continue “maybe into the 2090s, when we’re all cyborgs” … or radioactive. He next reported on upcoming readings:

March 15 — Nova Ren Suma and Kiini Ibura Salaam;
April 19 — Seth Dickinson and Laura Anne Gilman
May 17 — Sam J. Miller and E.C. Myers
June 21 –– Catherynne M. Valente and Sunny Moraine

(Further details are available at http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/.) All dates are the third Wednesday of the month. He concluded by introducing the first reader of the evening.

Nicholas Kaufmann’s work has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, a Thriller Award, and a Shirley Jackson Award. His novels include Dying is My Business and the sequel, Die and Stay Dead, and his latest, from which he read, In the Shadow of the Axe. The story is set in 1826, in a German mountain village, where a necromancer has been abducting villagers. In the scene offered, a raiding party, armed with muskets, blades, Bibles and crosses, has invaded his castle to put an end to his reign of terror. There they face shadows, the spirits of the dead, and learn the horror that has befallen the necromancer’s victims, their neighbors and loved ones.

(With profuse apologies to Kaufmann, perversely, given the chilling tone of his excerpt, lines from an old filksong ran through my mind:

In a castle, on a mountain,
In a village oh so fine,
Lived a doctor off his rocker,
And his name was Frankenstein.

… And he murdered eight or nine,
So the villagers got angry,
Dreadful sore at Frankenstein.”)

After an intermission, co-host Ellen Datlow opened the second half of the evening by introducing the next reader.

Michael Cisco is the author of several novels, including The Divinity Student, The Narrator, The Great Lover, Animal Money, The Wretch of the Sun, and a short story collection, Secret Hours., as well as shorter fiction that has appeared in The Weird, Lovecraft Unbound and Black Wings (among other places). Wearing a loud 1940s Swing Era necktie, he apologized for the slight frog in his throat which, he thought (or hoped) gave him “a sort of Barry White baritone.” After a shout-out to Hippocampus Press’s Derrick Hussey, Cisco described The Wretch of the Sun as a “Shirley-Jacksonesque haunted house novel” with secret police. In the “smart-ass” Preface, from which he read, he considers and examines the (sub)genre of haunted house stories. They are, he said, linked to ghost stories, but are distinct. Ghosts, he observed, may be laid to rest and the disturbances then cease, but a house, once haunted, is always haunted.

The novel itself, he said, weaves through several narratives. He read from scenes in which a policeman “with a rotating name” – it cycles through the letters of the alphabet, making him a sort of Everyman – has been grabbed by the secret police, who interrogate, humiliate and torture him, demanding to know why he is a liar and a traitor. (Secret police, like ghosts, see us, but are themselves unseen.) In another narrative thread, from which he also read, a college student with migraines gets visions which he thinks are fantasies, but which are real. In a final selection, the migraine is given voice! Barry White voice or not, the audience was captivated.

At the back of the room, copies of Kaufmann’s Dying is My Business and Die and Stay Dead, and Cisco’s The Wretch of the Sun were for sale by the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (and Jersey City). (In the Shadow of the Axe, said Kaufmann, currently is only available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble; the print edition has been delayed.)

Prior to the reading, as usual, Datlow whirled through the audience, taking pictures. Her photos of the event may be seen on her Flickr page, linked to the Series’ website.

It Was a Black and Wilde Night at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, January 18, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series welcomed in 2017 by presenting fantasy authors Holly Black and Fran Wilde at its longtime venue, the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, known for its unique ambience, red walls and Soviet era-themed décor.

Series co-host Matthew Kressel greeted the crowd, reminded all that readings are always free and exhorted us to thank the Bar by buying drinks, and reported on upcoming readings:

February 15 — Michael Cisco and Nicholas Kaufmann;

March 15 — Nova Ren Suma and Kiini Ibura Salaam;

April 19 — Seth Dickinson and Laura Anne Gilman

May 17 — Sam J. Miller and E.C. Myers.

(Further details are available here.) All dates are the third Wednesday of the month. He concluded by introducing the first reader of the evening.

wilde-cloudbound_comp1-1Fran Wilde’s debut novel, Updraft, won the Andre Norton Award and the Compton Crook Award, and was a Nebula nominee. Cloudbound, the second book in the Bone Universe series – which, to her surprise, has inspired fan-fic(tion) – came out in September 2016, and Horizon will appear in fall 2017; it was from the latter that she read, trying to avoid spoilers. The series, she explained, is set on a world of living bone cities that rise above the clouds, and its themes are community, love and squid. Toward that end, and in “an act of derring-do,” Horizon has three narrators. In her chosen selection, it is a flying tower leader who has just captured a “blackwing” from another city, barely ahead of an aerial attack.

After an intermission, co-host Ellen Datlow introduced the evening’s second reader.

Coldest Girl in ColdtownHolly Black has been a recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor, and a finalist for an Eisner Award. Her contemporary dark fantasy titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), the Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. Her forthcoming book, The Cruel Prince, from which she read, is the opener of a new trilogy and “is different;” it is the first story set in Faerie. In the prolog, Madoc, a Faerie noble, pursues his mortal (ex-)wife, who has fled him and taken their daughter to our world; moreover, she has remarried and had two more daughters. Confronting her, he abducts his daughter and her human half-sisters (as his wife’s daughters all are his responsibility) to Faerie where, we are informed, there are no fish sticks. The story – for which one of the magicless human girls is the narrator – picks up a decade later in Faerie. She and her twin, it seems, have adjusted to their new home, but Madoc’s furious and rebellious daughter has not.

At the back of the room, copies of Black’s books The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and The Darkest Part of the Forest, and of Wilde’s Updraft and Cloudbound were for sale by the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (which I still hear in my heart as “Greenpernt”) and Jersey City.

Prior to the reading, as usual, Datlow whirled through the audience, taking pictures. Her photos of the event may be seen on Ellen Datlow’s Flickr page, linked to the Series’ website.

Murders, Ghosts and Shadows at the KGB Bar

Livia Llewellyn and Sarah Pinsker at KGB Reading. Photo by Ellen Datlow.

Livia Llewellyn and Sarah Pinsker at KGB Reading. Photo by Ellen Datlow.

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, December 21 — the first day of winter – the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted authors Livia Llewellyn and Sarah Pinsker at its longtime venue, the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. The Bar is known for its red walls and Soviet era-themed décor, and the Series for the quality of its readers (the Series might justifiably be called Fantastic Fiction and Where to Find It). Readings are always free (though attendees are exhorted to thank the Bar by buying drinks, hard or soft).

Series co-host Matthew Kressel welcomed the crowd (somewhat smaller, likely due to the holidays) and reported on upcoming readings. Next month’s (next year’s) readers:

  • January 18 — Holly Black and Fran Wilde will be reading;
  • February 15 — Michael Cisco and Nicholas Kaufmann;
  • March 15 — Nova Ren Suma and Kiini Ibura Salaam;
  • April 19 — Seth Dickinson and Laura Anne Gilman
  • May 17 — Sam J. Miller and E.C. Myers.

(Details are available at http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/.)  All dates are the third Wednesday of the month.

Concluding, he introduced the first reader.

Sarah Pinsker

Sarah Pinsker

Sarah Pinsker, reading here for the first time, is the author of the Nebula Award-winning novelette Our Lady of the Open Road and the Sturgeon Award-winning In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind. Her work has appeared in magazines, anthologies and year’s bests. She is also a talented singer/songwriter (with three albums on various independent labels and a fourth forthcoming). The story that she read, “Talking to Dead People,” ran in the fall in Fantasy & Science Fiction. Two college roommates start a business in which they recreate models of “murder houses.” One, the narrator, painstakingly builds the miniatures, reproducing both the exterior and the interior furnishings (down to working shutters), while the other – who’s had a longtime fascination with Lizzie Borden (who, for the record, was acquitted of the “whacks” – and, no, their enterprise is called House of Wax, not Whacks) – gives “voice to the voiceless” by programming into an AI box known details of the cases and approximations of the voices of those involved, thereby allowing people to question the victims and the “murderers and monsters.”  The AIs, however, seem to know too much, and one mystery is too close to home (literally) for one of the pair.

After an intermission, the Series’ senior co-host, Ellen Datlow, introduced the evening’s second reader.

livia-llewellyn

Livia Llewellyn

Livia Llewellyn is a writer of dark fantasy, horror and erotica, whose short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and best-of anthologies, including The Best Horror of the Year series, Year’s Best Weird Fiction and The Mammoth Book of Best Erotica. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, received two Shirley Jackson Award nominations (for Best Collection and Best Novelette, “Omphalos”). Her story “Furnace” received a 2013 Shirley Jackson Award nomination for Best Short Story, and is the title story in her second collection, Furnace. The novella from whose first part she read, The One That Comes Before, appeared in an anthology with a small printing, but is due for republication (in English and Italian). In Obsidia, a city whose magical reality is open to question, suffering excessive heat and humidity, a woman (“she’s kind of a psychopath,” said Llewellyn) wakes in the night and imagines that shadows are impinging (her dishtowels are rearranged). It was beautifully atmospheric and haunting. (Her reading was interrupted by a straggler who wondered what was going on. He didn’t quite redeem himself by calling out when she finished “You rock!”)

Copies of Llewellyn’s books were for sale – as was the anthology Cyber World, which contains a story by Kressel – at the back of the room by the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City.

Prior to the reading, as usual, Datlow whirled through the audience, taking photos. Her photos of the event may be seen on Ellen Datlow’s Flickr page .

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.

Wonder and Horror at the KGB Bar With Langan and Kressel

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, November 16, 2016, the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by authors John Langan and Matthew Kressel, both very familiar faces, at its longtime venue, the distinctively décored 2nd-floor Red Room of the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village.

The Series is co-hosted by Kressel (for the past 8 years), however, as he was reading, David Mercurio Rivera ably filled in for him and welcomed the crowd. For over two decades, he noted, the Series, whose other co-host is Ellen Datlow, has presented readings (always free, and thank the Bar by buying drinks) both by luminaries and up-and-comers on the third Wednesday of the month. He announced that next month’s readers would be –

  • December 21 – Livia Llewellyn and Sarah Pinsker.
  • January 18, 2017 – Holly Black and Fran Wilde.
  • February 15 – Michael Cisco and Nicholas Kaufmann
  • March 15 – Nova Ren Suma and Kiini Ibura Salaam.

(Details are available at here.)  Concluding, he introduced the first reader.

Matthew Kressel

Matthew Kressel

Aside from co-hosting, Matthew Kressel is the author of the novels King of Shards and the forthcoming Queen of Static. His short fiction has twice been nominated for a Nebula Award.  Additionally, he published the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, and, for his publishing work, received a World Fantasy Award nomination for Special Award Non-Professional.

At the mike, he expressed his humility at reading here, which is a very different experience from hosting. He did not recite Blade Runner in its entirety from memory, but instead read “In Memory of a Summer’s Day,” a story that will be appearing in an as-yet-entitled Alice in Wonderland-themed anthology edited by Datlow. Wonderland has here become a tourist destination and its celebrated locales attractions – the Mad Tea Party, the Croquet Ground (where hedgehogs scream), the Queen’s Court (there are no actual beheadings), etc., and eateries offer Beautiful Soup and Lobster Quadrille. (There are warnings about the Drink Me bottles, and the Caterpillar has an illegal trade in psychedelic mushrooms. Before going down the Rabbit Hole, visitors must sign a waiver. There is also, by the way, a Through the Looking Glass Tour.) Narrated by a veteran tour guide, whose British accent Kressel happily did not attempt, the humor had a strong element of inherent horror (think about it – Wonderland is far from a fun place), and ultimately the question surfaces …where is Alice?

John Langan. Photo by Mark Blackman.

John Langan. Photo by Mark Blackman.

After a break, Datlow introduced John Langan. He is the author of the novels The Fisherman and House of Windows, and the collections The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies and Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters., as well as the co-editor of Creatures:  Thirty Years of Monsters. A forthcoming third collection of his stories, Sefira and Other Betrayals, will be published by Hippocampus Press in February, and new stories will shortly appear in Children of Lovecraft, The Madness of Dr. Caligari, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, Swords v. Cthulhu, and Children of Gla’aki. This venue is one of the first places where he read, he said, and felt privileged to be back. The novella from whose beginning he read, “Hunger,” will be appearing in one of the Lovecraftian anthologies. The story, he revealed, is about two poets, though in the selection that he shared a boy and his father (who are into antique weaponry – they carry, respectively, a spear and a sword) confront an unearthly giant orange bear in their Upstate New York driveway who may be tied to a recent houseguest.

Copies of Langan’s and Kressel’s books were for sale at the back of the room by the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City.

Datlow’s photos of the event may be seen at the Series’ website, http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/ .

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.

Undebatably Fantastic Fiction as KGB Readings Series Features Ketchum and Kiernan

By Mark L. Blackman: The “K” in KGB stood for Ketchum and Kiernan as, on the evening of Wednesday, October 19 – a record-breaking warm day and the night of the third and final Presidential Debate – the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted authors Jack Ketchum and Caitlin R. Kiernan at its venue, the 2nd floor Red Room at the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village.

The crowd in the room, distinctive for its red walls and Soviet era-themed décor, was smaller than usual, was ascribed by co-host Ellen Datlow to some regular attendees staying home to watch the Debate and she expected that part of the audience would dash out quickly to catch it. She encouraged those present not to “get your stomachs in a knot,” but to stay here “and have fun.” They could, she noted, always watch the Debate on YouTube.

Continuing, she announced that next month’s readers, on November 16 will be John Langan and Series co-host Matthew Kressel. On December 21, Livia Llewellyn and Sarah Pinsker will be reading; and on January 18, 2017, Holly Black and Fran Wilde will be featured. (Details are available at the Series website.) The Series, ongoing since the 1990s, is known for reliably offering an outstanding mix of writers and styles.

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

The evening’s first reader, Caitlin R. Kiernan, is a four-time winner of the International Horror Guild Award and a two-time recipient of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker and James Tiptree, Jr. Awards. Her work includes the novels The Red Tree and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, and the short fiction collections A is for Alien, The Ape’s Wife and Other Tales, and the forthcoming Dear Sweet Filthy World. She read from a novella due to be published in February by Tor, Agents of Dreamland, a marvelously descriptive, furiously stream of consciousness evocation of modern culture, with allusions ranging from Charles Manson to the mandatory supplanting of analog tv by digital.

kiernan-agents-of-dreamland

After a break, Matt Kressel took the podium and urged the crowd to support the Bar, whose generosity allows the Series’ readings to be free, by buying a drink or soft drink. He noted too that the Series nevertheless has expenses (such as treating the readers to dinner afterward) and that they planned a fundraising drive after the new year, offering nifty premiums like signed books.

 

Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum

Jack Ketchum, the second reader of the evening, is a five-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, most recently for Lifetime Achievement, and has been called “probably the scariest guy in America” by Stephen King. A wide-ranging talent, he is the author of thirty books, including novels – five of which have been filmed – novellas, collections, nonfiction and poetry. His most recent books are the novel The Secret Life of Souls (written with director Lucky McKee) and the collection Gorilla in My Room, both due out later this year. His offering, the mystery shocker “Bully,” was from the latter. A woman’s question to her third cousin about an old photo elicits uncomfortable reminiscences and slowly reveals a terrible family secret.

ketchum-cover

Copies of Ketchum’s and Kiernan’s books were for sale at the back of the room from the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City.

Datlow’s photos of the event may be seen at the Series website.

Season of the Witch at NYRSF Readings, Featuring N.K. Jemisin and Kai Ashante Wilson

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, September 27 at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series skirted the haunting season of Hallowe’en, presenting fantasy writers N.K. Jemisin and Kai Ashante Wilson.

The event opened as usual with a welcome from producer/executive curator Jim 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), and a tongue-in-cheek caution that we were on Livestream (video and audio).  Admission to the readings are always free, but, to fund the Series (which pays to rent its current space), the suggested donation (currently $7) may be raised; crowdfunding plans are in the thinking stage.

He then announced upcoming readings:  November 1st (All Saints’ Day – not All Souls’ Day) will be the inaugural Margot Adler Memorial Reading; on November 15th, readers will be Kij Johnson and Sonya Taaffe; and Monday, December 12th, will be the traditional Family Night with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.  Looking ahead to 2017, take note that April 1st will be Samuel R. Delany’s 75th birthday.

The first reader, Kai Ashante Wilson, is a rising star of fantastic fiction, the author of the stories “Super Bass” (pronounced like the musical instrument, not the fish), “The Devil in America” (nominated for both the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards) and “Kaiju maximus®,” the novellas The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps and A Taste of Honey.  His offering was a selection from his novelette, “Légendaire,” which appeared in the anthology, Stories for Chip (which celebrates the legacy of the aforementioned science fiction grandmaster Samuel R. Delany). Kai Ashante Wilson lives in New York City.  Dedicated to Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, and subsequently Prince, the fable, set in a sort of fantasy New Orleans, concerns a small boy whose prodigious dancing has attracted the attention of the local witches, or racosi (spelling uncertain).  One counsels him to “get in some trouble” because the best dancers all have broken hearts.  The imagery was beautiful.

Kai Ashanti Wilson performing for New York Review of Science Fiction Readings.

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During the break, a raffle was held, the prizes a copy of “The Devil in America” and what Freund described as the Kai Ashante Wilson Chapstick, and access at the $50 level to N.K. Jemisin’s Pantheon blog, Epiphany 2.0, along with a print out of part of her blog.

The evening’s second reader, N.K. (the “N” stands for Nora)  Jemisin, has been nominated multiple times for the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards; shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar and the Tiptree Awards.  In addition, she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times’ Reviewer’s Choice Award, and, last month, won the Best Novel Hugo for The Fifth Season.  (She is, noted Freund, the first black writer to win the Hugo Award in that category, Delany and Octavia Butler having received it in other categories.)  Seven of her novels, a novella and a short story collection are out now from Orbit Books (the most recent is The Obelisk Gate, a follow-up to The Fifth Season and the second book in the Broken Earth Trilogy).  Besides all that, she is the New York Times’ science fiction reviewer.

She shared “Red Dirt Witch,” a story that is not finished (this was its second draft), though it has already been sold, and that she is “not entirely happy with.”  In Deep South Alabama in the still-segregated early ’60s, a poverty-stricken black herbalist is confronted both in this world and in dreams by a White Lady (the capitals soon became clear), a Celtic fae who steals (and taps) children of Power, and wants her newly adolescent daughter.  In return, she offers an unsavory deal, that one life for the family’s prosperity and safety.  (The Civil Rights movement would involve great struggle and lead to triumphant progress.)  By audience demand, Jemisin read to the story’s (as it stood) conclusion.

In a Q&A, a woman asked “How are you not happy with that?”  Another even said that she cried.  Jemisin was “not sure” about why, and what was off.  (The first draft was longer.)  In response to another question, Jemisin revealed that it was based in part on her father’s side of the family; he was from the named town outside Birmingham, that her great-grandmother made a living healing and working magic for people, and that her grandmother was named Pauline, like the daughter in the story.  (Perhaps the deeply personal connection to the story is why she was dissatisfied?)  Wilson reported that he has other stories in that universe, and was urged to write a full novel.  A photo session followed.

N. K. Jemisin reads for NYRSF Readings.

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As customary at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, and, for food and beverages, the Café was a few steps away.

The capacity crowd of about at least 70 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Catelynn Cunningham, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff, Matt Kressel, John Kwok, Mark Richards and Terence Taylor, the Series’ Technical Director, plus a cheering section of members of the Altered Fluid writing group and a brief walk-in from WBAI’s Max Schmid.  Schmoozing and more partaking of the Café’s wares ensued.