Mayday! NYRSF Readings Series Presents Jo Walton and Ilana C. Myer

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, May 1 – May Day – the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by fantasy writers Jo Walton and Ilana C. Myer at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café, down the road apiece and third star to the left from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

(Mayday indeed. The Series’ original plans for May Day, a tentatively scheduled celebration of the life of Ama Paterson, fell through, but the two replacement readers were no mere consolation prize. The evening was a delight.)

In his introductory welcome (he thought of the day more as Beltane than as May Day), executive curator Jim Freund, host of  WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (which broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1-3 am), cautioned us that the event was being Livestreamed (so watch out) and asked all who could donate to donate (suggested amount $7), adding that WBAI (two floors above) was in a fundraising drive. He then announced upcoming events:

  • June 5 – A Tribute to Thomas M. Disch, with guest curator Henry Wessels, featuring Brendan Byrne, John Clute, Gregory Feeley, Elizabeth Hand, et al.
  • July – TBD
  • August 7 – A Launch Party/Reading for Sunspot Jungle, with guest curator Bill Campbell

June, he noted, marks 10 years since Disch’s final reading for the Series, a bare month before his death. Feeley, aside from his credentials as author and critic, is the executor of Disch’s estate. Campbell’s anthology was described by Freund as “bleeping [sic] massive.” June’s event would close out the Series’ 27th Season, with July and August as its Summer Season. Concluding, Freund introduced the evening’s first reader.

Journalist and cultural critic and reviewer (as Ilana Teitelbaum) Ilana C. Myer is the author of the novels Last Song Before Night and Fire Dance. She read from Fire Dance, which she described as a stand-alone sequel to Last Song Before Night, and a blend of Celtic myth and Middle Eastern magic, where poets/musicians have mystical/mental powers.

During the intermission, as traditional, a raffle was held for donors; the prizes were a copy of Fire Dance (Jim Ryan drew the tickets and, as it happened, the winner was his wife Susan – no collusion, no collusion!) and a copy of Starlings. Afterward, Freund introduced the second and final reader.

Jo Walton has published thirteen novels, among others the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Among Others; her fourteenth, Lent, is due out from Tor soon. She has also just published Starlings, a collection of short stories, poetry and a play. Additionally, her blog posts about older sf have been collected in a volume called What Makes This Book So Great, while An Informal History of the Hugos collects her blog posts about nominees and winners from 1953 to 2000. Walton has said that her plan is to live to be ninety-nine and write a book every year; she noted that she has a good start this year.

With a mind to next month’s tribute to Disch, she began by reading her essay on his On Wings of Song from An Informal History of the Hugos. She described the work as “brilliant, depressing and hilarious … as if Dostoevsky and Douglas Adams had collaborated on the Great American Novel.” She then read an abundance of selections from Starlings, enlivened by her rich Welsh accent. (Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams may not like the birds, but she does.)

She began with the eponymous “Starlings,” a short serious poem, then shifted to the uproariously absurd “Remember the Allosaur,” in which Cedric, the titular theropod (he’s a clone), has had quite the Hollywood career, even winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Othello. In “Joyful and Triumphant: St. Zenobias and the Aliens,” a Christmas posting on LiveJournal, she addresses the question of what do people do in Heaven? There are a lot of planets out there, and human and alien saints, we are told, may manifest on each other’s world; the “lucky” ones don’t become patron saints, but are free to engage in “the Great Work,” worship. “At the Bottom of the Garden” was written when her son was that age. A little girl captures a fairy man and – well, Walton had “read one too many fairy flower books.”

In “Out of It,” a damned soul, John (as his wife’s name is Helen, we presume that his was originally Johann), is asked if his bargain with Mephistopheles (which has affected history for good and ill) was worth it or if he should renounce it. “Parable Lost” is a story that has “everything in the universe” – almost – and starts with a man (call him Adam) throwing jellyfish (which are and aren’t metaphorical) into the sea. Is he helping them or thwarting the Plan for them, and what should the woman (Eve) do?

“Dragon’s Song” was a poem about dragons as they appear in many ballads. She next turned to that modern incarnation of firebreathing dragons in her cycle of “Godzilla Sonnets”: “Godzilla vs. Shakespeare,” “Godzilla in Shakespeare,” “Godzilla Weeps for Baldur,” “Godzilla in Love” and “Godzilla at Colonus.” She concluded her readings with “Three Bears Norse,” the Goldilocks story retold as a Norse saga – the bears vow revenge against the despoiler of their home, beds and porridge.

Among those present in the audience of about 30 were Richard Bowes, Susan Bratisher, Madeline Flieger (video and tech ops), Amy Goldschlager, Karen Heuler, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and James Ryan. Throughout the evening and following the readings, members of the audience availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine. (Tip your barista!) As customary, the Jenna freebie table offered books.

B is for Bradbury: Bill Oberst Jr.’s Staged Reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever)

By Mark L. Blackman: As we approach his centennial (he was born on August 22, 1920), there’s renewed interest in iconic fantasist Ray Bradbury. This is, in some part, due to next month’s fresh adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. (I still remember the Oskar Werner/Julie Christie film from Truffaut.) For his loyal following of readers, though, Bradbury’s appeal has never flagged.

Back in September, I caught Emmy-winner Bill Oberst Jr.’s  masterful and haunting adaptation of Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” for the solo stage. (In addition to New York, it also played in Los Angeles.) On Thursday, April 12, for one night only, Oberst returned to the same Off-Broadway venue, Theatre Row, with a staged reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever). The script, written by Oberst, adapting Bradbury’s own words, was approved by the Bradbury Estate and vetted by Bradbury scholars and authors Dr. Jonathan Eller and Dr. Phil Nichols. Oberst stars as Ray Bradbury circa 1970. “It’s like The Belle of Amherst meets Mark Twain Tonight – with dinosaurs,” said Oberst, further describing the show as “a mix of Epcot ride, Planetarium show and dream.”

To suggest Ray Bradbury, in his portrayal, Oberst relied on an old brown suit, Ray’s characteristic glasses, and a Midwestern accent (Bradbury was originally from Waukegan, Illinois), but the illusion was ultimately powered by captivating excerpts from his works brilliantly brought to life onstage by Oberst. Interspersed with selected lectures of Bradbury’s (I was privileged to hear him at the 1986 Atlanta and 2006 LA Worldcons), we were treated to readings of scenes from “A Sound of Thunder” (the story that gave the world the phrase “the butterfly effect”), Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles (“The Million-Year Picnic”), and the lesser-known “The Murderer.”

Once described as writing ghost stories without ghosts and science fiction without science (one word: Mars), Bradbury was, above all, a lyrical word-painter and the audience was held firmly in his (their) grip as we were swept along from a face-to-face in the jungle with a T. rex to a confrontation in a small-town library with the demonic master of a dark carnival to the fabled canals of Mars amid the end of the world. The “Epcot ride” whirled through story-worlds variously eerie, terrifying, satiric, bittersweet and genuinely funny.

Bradbury famously quipped “I don’t predict the future – I try to prevent it,” and there was much that resonated with us today. Take Brock, “the murderer,” overwhelmed by what we now call “smart devices”, “technology gone horribly wrong”: “In touch! There’s a slimy phrase. Touched, hell. Gripped! Pawed, rather. Mauled and massaged and pounded by voices.” (He finally snaps, and spoons a quart of French chocolate ice cream – his favorite flavor – into his car’s radio transmitter and shoots his tv, “that insidious beast.”) Then too consider the familiar-sounding deplorable Presidential candidate: “There’s an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti-human, anti-intellectual.” And at least half of the audience appreciated:

“Why not let women man the wheel? For a few years, at least. We’oove ingested testosterone from the mouth of the cave to the burned libraries of Alexandria to unending war. … Oh Lord, let all the nations and all the cities of all the world be governed, for just a little while, by women. Just ordinary, by which I mean extraordinary, women who can mother-nurse-teach the world. Men don’t have to go to the back of the bus. They can protect their ravenous egos by advising from a side-seat on how to get lost.”

(I’ve always likened Bradbury to Norman Rockwell: on the surface nostalgically vivid Americana, but subtly subversive.)

Joining Oberst on stage – the backdrop was simple, painted library shelves, apt not only for  Something Wicked This Way Comes, but reflecting Bradbury’s lifelong love of and affinity for libraries – were Off-Broadway veterans Steven Hauck as the Narrator, providing descriptions and set design (Oberst didn’t actually ride in on a bicycle, and there were no slide projections of Bradbury’s book covers nor text projected on-screen; there are plans, by the way, for a full Off-Broadway production in 2019 – I’ll be there – followed by a national tour, and Oberst will employ prosthetic make-up for his transformation into Bradbury … and maybe even have a real bicycle), and Zoë Watkins as the psychiatrist in “The Murderer” and as Bradbury’s wife and muse, Maggie. (They well-conveyed the couple’s love – at one point they evoked “Oh Yes, I Remember It Well” – even leaving their stools for a dance.) The production was directed by Michael Joseph Ormond.

Ray Bradbury Live (forever) is, at heart, Bill Oberst Jr.’s love letter to Bradbury (spread across a table immediately outside the performance space were Bill’s personal copies of a slew of books by Bradbury), so it’s only fitting to close with Bradbury’s own philosophy of life and love:

If life is going to be worth a damn, love and imagination have to be at the center of it. … How can you not be in love with something? The things you love should be things you do and the things you do should be things you love. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of your love. To hell with them. You love what you love.

That’s the fruit at the bottom of the bowl.

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.)

Welcome to Dystopia – Now Go Home: NYSF Readings Spotlight New Anthology of Fearsome Futures

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, February 6, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in less-than-paradisiacal though not-quite dystopian Brooklyn, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series hosted a cavalcade of readings spotlighting the new anthology Welcome to Dystopia. The event, guest-curated by the volume’s editor, Gordon Van Gelder, featured readings by Richard Bowes, Jennifer Marie Brissett, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Leo Vladimirsky and Paul Witcover.

Dystopianly, the evening did not begin as usual, with Series Producer and Executive Curator Jim Freund welcoming the crowd.  He, along with House Manager Barbara Krasnoff, we were told, was out with the flu. (Feel better.) Terence Taylor, the Series’ Tech Director filled in for Freund, and Amy Goldschlager (a former Curator) ran the gate. After giving thanks where due, he announced upcoming readings:

  • March 6: Alisa Kwitney and Nicholas Kaufmann
  • April 3: Chris Claremont and Chandler Klang Smith
  • Mayday 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

Gordon Van Gelder

Gordon Van Gelder is currently the publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and was for 17 years also its editor, for which he was honored twice each with the World Fantasy Award and the Hugo Award. The evening was nostalgic for him as he founded the NYRSF Readings some 27-28 years ago. “It’s strange to realize how long ago that was,” he said, recalling its first readings at the Dixon Place performance space. (I remember them well; afterward, we’d often wander back to Gordon’s place.)

On Inauguration Day last year, he continued, he was talking to a writer who said that she was afraid to write dystopian sf, “afraid that a politician would run with it.” Others clearly had a different response to the new abnormal. If such term is applicable, we seem to be in a Golden Age of dystopian arts. In the wake of the 2016 Election, George Orwell’s 1984 shot onto bestseller lists and a stage version of the novel played on Broadway. “1984 is not supposed to be a how-to book,” it was sighed, but reaction, repression, racism and doublethink – or, put more impartially, chaos and uncertainty – are in bloom, as is “The Resistance” to it. (At the Brooklyn Book Festival last fall, I noted to a staffer of The Nation that Trump had spurred much artistic, literary and political creativity. He agreed, but added that it was “not a good trade-off”.) Already too late to be a cautionary work (“if this goes on”), Welcome to Dystopia is intensely, aggressively timely, and fiercely political. (Another Van Gelder-edited anthology, Welcome to the Greenhouse, tales about climate change, similarly draws from the zeitgeist.)

Leo Vladmirsky

The first reader of the evening was Leo Vladimirsky, who recently finished his first novel, The Horrorists. He works in advertising and his experience was evident in his story, “We All Have Hearts of Gold®.” The “currency” in advertising, he explained, is the creative brief, and his story’s format follows its three stages, the e-mail to the team, the assignment and the final tv script. Set immediately after the 2021 Inauguration, the agency – which has lost staff as immigrants were sent home and its European offices were closed, though new ones opened in Russia and West Virginia – is hired by the Republican Security Service to help recruit for its team of Gold Shirts. Wearing gold polo shirts emblazoned with “MAGA” and silhouettes of Donald J. Trump, they maintained (says the creative brief) “order and safety” during the 2020 Election and prevented “voter fraud.” In the recruitment commercial, they burst into classrooms, health clinics, “perverts’” toilet stalls and even the Supreme Court, hauling off so-called offenders. (The allusion to Hitler’s Black Shirts isn’t exactly subtle.)

Deji Bryce Olukotun

Next up was Deji Bryce Olukotun, the author of the novels Nigerians in Space and its sequel After the Flare, which was nominated for the 2018 Philip K. Dick Award. (His online address, returnofthedeji.com, amusingly reminds that his name is an anagram of “Jedi.”) His story, “The Levelers,” from which he read, draws on his growing up in a small town in the New Jersey wetlands, which faced land development. The titular Levelers (not to be confused with the ultra-egalitarian antiroyalist group during the English Civil War) are developers who employ genetics, demographics and finally drones to target and burn out houses in order to steal land. Sam, a transgender, is tapping maple trees for sap when her family farm is targeted.

Jennifer Marie Brissett

In his introduction to Jennifer Marie Brissett, while putting together the anthology, Van Gelder said, he’d wanted different voices, different backgrounds and even different formats. Brissett, a Jamaican-British-American, is the author of Elysium, or The World After. She has been shortlisted for the Locus Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award and the storySouth Million Writers Award, and has won the Philip K. Dick Special Citation. Also, as she noted in her biographical sketch, “once in her life, a long time ago and for three-and-a-half years, she owned and operated a Brooklyn indie bookstore called Indigo Café & Books.” In fact, she was there on 9/11, and later witnessed PATRIOT Act-invoked overreaches. Her story “Newsletter” is in the form of a bookstore’s bulletin to the community reporting that the government was monitoring her special orders (she had actually received such a letter) and that they could even retrieve books from people’s homes; targeted books included James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. (During the Reagan Administration, the Feds attempted to monitor library patrons’ selections. Look, they’re reading books by a Russian, Asimov.)

As her story was short, she also read a scene from Eleusis, her follow-up to Elysium, and like it based on the Demeter-Persephone myth and set in a post-apocalyptic future, so it’s also an sf dystopia, she said. An interspecies spaceport docking station opens and aliens arrive.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for donors (the readings are free, with a suggested donation of $7), the prizes being a British book club edition of Clifford Simak’s City that had been the property of Charles Platt, and a copy of the anthology Welcome to the Greenhouse.

Paul Witcover

Leading off the second half of the evening, Van Gelder remarked that there were several stories about the proposed Wall (not Pink Floyd’s; China has a Great Wall, so I guess this would be the Hyuge Wall), but that Paul Witcover’s was “probably the most somber.” Witcover has been a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Awards, and in their review of his novel Tumbling After, was called by the Washington Post “a gifted, fiercely original writer whose genre-bending fiction deserves the widest possible attention.” In “Walls,” even though born in Ohio and having only been to Mexico once briefly, because others in the family were born in Mexico, the protagonist is deported to a detention camp in sight of the Wall, which is described as resembling stacks of chicken cages. Their forced march out of their Ohio town is cheered by its residents, former neighbors and classmates.

Richard Bowes

The final reader, Richard Bowes, has written six novels, four story collections, and 80-plus stories, and won two World Fantasy, a Lambda, an IHG and storySouth Million Writers Awards. Van Gelder described his piece as “one of the most New York stories in the book.” Quipped Bowes, “I write about New York because it’s the only thing I know.” (Like many other quintessential New Yorkers, Rick isn’t originally from here. He was raised in Boston, as his accent proclaims, though, in his own words, “has lived in Manhattan for the better part of a century.”) His story is set some 40 years in the future, after a certain dictator has renamed the Avenue of the Americas “the Avenue of American Greatness,” though no one calls it that, any more than they call 6th Avenue the Avenue of the Americas. Throughout, the dictator (who was impeached after California seceded and Illinois joined Canada) is referred to only as “the Monster,” “the Beast,” “His Grand Pestilence,” “the Great Infection” and “the Cancer”; indeed, “his name is the only obscenity not spoken in New York,” and the story’s title is “The Name Unspoken.” Like the first story, it was a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise nightmarish set of visions.

It’s a truism that science fiction isn’t really predictive or about the future, but is about the present. The drawback to books like this is that – with rare exceptions – they’re too anchored to their time. Trump Era sf might, many hope, soon become as outmoded and irrelevant as Cold War sf. (We seem, though, to have come full circle, back to Russian plots.)

Taylor having left (he was getting over the flu), Goldschlager did the “outro.”

Despite Freund’s absence, the traditional Jenna freebie table offered books.

The audience of perhaps 50 included Melissa C. Beckman (the Readings’ photographer), Susan Bratisher, Amy Goldschlager, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, James Ryan and Terence Taylor. Over the course of the evening, audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine.

Season’s Readings: N.K. Jemisin & Christopher Brown Offer Visions of Unhappy New Years at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, December 20, 2017, in the pause between the end of Chanukah and the arrival of the Winter Solstice, the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by authors N.K. Jemisin and Christopher Brown in the Red Room at the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, where Christmas wreaths and lights mixed incongruously with red walls and Soviet era-themed décor.  (“On the first day of Marxmas, the Party gave to me …”)

Customarily, as the audience settled in, award-winning editor and the Series’ co-host Ellen Datlow whirled around photographing the crowd (her photos are posted on the Series’ website,  Series’ website; mine accompany this report).  (Contrary to the belief of some, she had not remained in the Bar during the two days since Monday’s launch party there for her new anthology, Mad Hatters and March Hares.)

The event opened with the Series’ other co-host, Matthew Kressel, welcoming the audience, thanking the Bar, exhorting the audience to do likewise by buying a drink, hard or soft (“When you support the Bar, you support the Series”), and announcing upcoming readers:

  • January 17: Joseph Helmreich and Myke Cole
  • February 21: Cassandra Khaw and Peternelle van Arsdale
  • March 21: Chandler Klang Smith and Kelly Robson
  • April 18: Jon Padgett plus a reader to be announced
  • May 16: Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim

All dates are the third Wednesday of that month and, of course, in 2018.  (Further details may be found on the Series’ website.)  He then introduced the first reader of the evening.

Christopher Brown

Christopher Brown (not to be confused with the R&B singer and Rihanna’s ex) is the author of the 2017 novel Tropic of Kansas, which was recently nominated for the Compton Crook Award, and a World Fantasy Award nominee for the anthology he co-edited, Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic.  His next two novels will lead off a series of speculative legal thrillers (fittingly, he practices technology law) set in the world of Tropic of Kansas.  He read from the beginning of Tropic of Kansas, which, he related, was called by two reviewers “the feel bad novel of the year.”  Set in a near-future dystopia (as opposed to the current one) where a crackdown on terrorism in the wake of a series of attacks, the young protagonist, Sig, is deported from Canada and detained in a prison camp that was formerly the Mall of America, and from which he plans an escape before he can be sent to a labor camp in Detroit.

N. K. Jemisin

After an intermission, Datlow introduced the evening’s second and final reader.  N.K. (the “N” stands for Nora)  Jemisin is the author of the Broken Earth Trilogy, the first two books of which (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) received the Hugo Award for Best Novel (making her the first black person to win that Hugo), the Inheritance Trilogy, and the Dreamblood Duology.  She has also won a Locus Award for Best First Novel, and, in addition, her work has been nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree Awards.  On top of all that, she writes the Sunday New York Times’ science fiction and fantasy book review column, “Otherworldly.”

In a special treat, and fighting bronchial problems, she shared the revised version of an unpublished short story, at present entitled “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death.”  Continuing the evening’s dystopian theme (where was the season’s merry jollity?), we were shown a future where the powerful inhabitants of Towers dominate, ruling by fear and dependency, and have genetically tweaked frogs (as in the Plague in the Book of Exodus) into drug-sniffing dragons.  Rural black raiders, however, have co-opted the dragons, diverting them from eating dark-skinned people with what sounded like soul food (this is a serious story, she reminded us).

At the back of the room, copies of Tropic of Kansas and books by Jemisin were for sale from the Word bookstore of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City, NJ.  Much of the audience hung around for a while afterward, then likely headed out for dinner.

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.

Pixel Scroll 11/26/17 I Can’t Believe I Pixeled In Front Of The Dean Of Science Fiction

(1) PRONOUNS AND ROCKET STACK RANK. Bogi Takács wrote a series of tweets criticizing Greg Hullender’s statements in reviews about the usage of pronouns for non-binary characters in stories reviewed at Rocket Stack Rank, adding many screenshots of examples. Takács also pointed out the reviews are given a certain implied authority because Rocket Stack Rank is linked from the official The Hugo Awards site as a “Third Party Recommendation Site.”

Get into the thread here:

The Hugo connection is illustrated here:

The comments on the Hugo linkage include one from Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

For those who are unfamiliar, here is Bogi Takács’ brief bio from Patreon:

I’m Bogi Takács, a Hungarian Jewish agender trans person (e/em/eir/emself or singular they pronouns) currently living in the US as a resident alien. I write speculative fiction and poetry – I have had work published in various professional venues like Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Apex and Strange Horizons.

Other comments on RSR, Hullender’s views, and their impact included —

(2) COCO CASHES IN. On opening weekend in the U.S., “Pixar’s ‘Coco’ feasts on ‘Justice League’ at box office”.

Pixar’s “Coco” sang its way to the fourth best Thanksgiving weekend ever with an estimated $71.2 million over the five-day weekend, a total that easily toppled Warner Bros.’ “Justice League.”

“Coco” rode strong reviews and an A-plus CinemaScore from audiences to the top spot at the domestic box office. According to studio estimates Sunday, it grossed $49 million from Friday to Sunday. Centered on the Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), “Coco” has already set box office records in Mexico, where it has made $53.4 million in three weeks.

(3) BSFA AWARDS. The British Science Fiction Association invites members to “Nominate for the BSFA Awards” between now and December 31:

The BSFA awards are presented annually by the British Science Fiction Association, based on a vote of BSFA members and – in recent years – members of the British national science fiction convention Eastercon. They are fan awards that not only seek to honour the most worthy examples in each category, but to promote the genre of science fiction, and get people reading, talking about and enjoying all that contemporary science fiction has to offer.

…Nominations are open until 31st December. This will be the first round. Then from 1st January to 30th January the opportunity for members to vote for their shortlist from the collated suggestions will be provided. This will be the second round.

To nominate in the first round, fill in the form here: http://tinyurl.com/BSFA2017nominations

or email your nominations to awards@bsfa.co.uk. A form and process for the second round will be made available on this page after the first round has closed.

(4) FLORIDA EXPANDS RIGHT TO CHALLENGE TEXTBOOKS. The Associated Press has the story: “New Florida law expected to increase textbook challenges”.

A parent in Florida is citing profanity and violence in trying to get the local school to ban Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” — itself a cautionary tale on the banning of books. Another wants to remove Walter Dean Myers’ “Bad Boy” for using the word “penis” and a homophobic slur.

Elsewhere in Florida, some say global warming and evolution are a hoax and should not be taught in textbooks unopposed. Others say their local school’s textbooks shortchange Islam’s role in the world, while their opponents argue it’s the danger posed by Muslim terrorists that’s underexposed.

Under a bill passed by the Florida Legislature this year, any district resident — regardless of whether they have a child in school — can now challenge material as pornographic, biased, inaccurate or a violation of state law and get a hearing before an outside mediator.

The mediator advises the local school board, whose decision is final. Previously, challenges could only be made by parents to the school or district. There was also no mediator and fewer mandates. Districts must now also post online a list of all new books and material by grade level to make monitoring easier.

(5) THANKSGIVING AT THE ISS. A day like any other day, only turkey was there: “Happy Space Thanksgiving: How the Food-Stuffed Holiday Went Orbital”.

One Thanksgiving party will literally look down upon them all, as the crew of the International Space Station (ISS) continues its longstanding tradition of observing the festive harvest holiday from orbit. This year’s menu includes irradiated smoked turkey, rehydratable cornbread dressing, green beans and mushrooms, broccoli au gratin, mashed potatoes, candied yams, sweet tea, and thermostabilized cherry blueberry cobbler for dessert.

Space.com says “Thanksgiving in Space Means Turkey, Work and Football for Astronauts”:

“They don’t actually have the day off on Thursday,” NASA spokesman Dan Huot told Space.com in an email, adding that the crew has “a lot of cargo-unloading tasks to complete” with the Cygnus spacecraft that arrived last Tuesday (Nov. 14). However, the astronauts will at least have Friday off, Huot said.

Along with over 7,700 lbs. (3,500 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment, the Cygnus cargo craft delivered the crew their Thanksgiving dinner and some other tasty treats, like pizza and ice cream. Holiday gifts and care packages from the astronauts’ families also shipped with Cygnus. With that trove of holiday goodies just waiting to be unpacked, the astronauts have plenty of incentives for working through the holiday

(6) AFTER THE STUFFING. Here’s how it looks from the Batcave:

(7) ANTHOLOGY APPEARANCE. Cora Buhlert highlights her recently-published story: “New science fiction anthology with a new “In Love and War” story available: The Guardian, edited by Alasdair Shaw”.

The Guardian includes eleven science fiction stories by international authors, all featuring guardians of some kind. My own story in the anthology, “Baptism of Fire” is a prequel story to my In Love and War space opera romance series, so all you fans of Anjali and Mikhail (come on, I know there are some of you out there) rejoice.

(8) ALAS, POOR ALANTIM. Motherboard invites you to “Watch a Robot Eulogize Its ‘Brother’ at Moscow’s New Cemetery for Dead Machines”; video at the link.

The sad news is that this Alantim could not be revived after the attack. But the silver lining is that its death inspired Olga Budnik, a spokesperson for the Muscovite tech hub Phystechpark, to create the world’s first dedicated robot cemetery.

“Alantim was a really good robot,” Budnik told me in an email. “It was supportive, always polite, always happy to see you. You know, like a pet. And [the cemetery] was an idea to bury it like a pet. Not disassemble or carry it to the trash. To say good-bye.”

On October 31, Alantim’s Earthly remains were placed at the Phystechpark cemetery site next to a box for collecting other dead robots. He was eulogized by another Alantim, who honored his dearly departed “brother” for being “very useful to your people and Russian science,” according to a Russian-to-English translation of the ceremony as seen at the top of this article.

(9) COURT IS IN SESSION. Lauren Davis briefs io9 readers about “Six Strange Cases of Science Fiction Trademarks”.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Ownership Claimed by: The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate

The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate owns numerous trademarks based on Tolkien’s works, as well as registered trademarks on Tolkien’s name. Last year, a fellow who sold buttons reading “While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion” through Zazzle was contacted by Zazzle, who said that they were removing the buttons at the Tolkien Estate’s request. Later, Zazzle restored the buttons, saying that they had been removed erroneously due to a miscommunication, but it shined a light on the estate’s ownership of Tolkien’s name and left lots of folks wondering where the line was. When are you invoking Tolkien the brand and when are you referring to Tolkien the man?

The estate also owns the right to publicity for Tolkien’s name and image, which they used to challenge the publication of Steve Hillard’s historical fiction book, Mirkwood: A Novel About JRR Tolkien. Eventually Hillard and the estate settled, with Hillard agreeing to make some changes to the book’s appearance to make it look less like one of Tolkien’s novels. A Mirkwood movie is in the works.

Bonus Round: Like any other trademark holder, the Tolkien Estate has to be vigilant about enforcing their trademarks. But some are stranger than others. In 2004, the estate issued a cease and desist letter to the owner of the domain Shiremail.com, claiming the estate owned the trademark on the word “shire.” The word “shire,” which means an administrative subdivision, such as a county, has been around since the 12th century.

(10) BOARDMAN OBIT. Perdita Boardman (1931-2017) died November 26 after a long illness. Mark Blackman writes:

Perdita was best-known in Northeast Fandom for hosting Lunarians meetings and running the Lunacon Con Suite for many years, and with her husband, John, hosting a monthly fannish gathering called First Saturday. For their long service, she and John were voted Honorary Members of the Lunarians.

Her younger daughter, Deirdre, shared the following on Facebook:

I wanted to share with family (& friends) about the passing of my mom this morning peacefully in her sleep.

Many know she has been suffering from severe dementia well over a decade now, but she became very sick about two weeks ago and moved to hospice care.

Born Dec 27, 1931 in Baxter Springs, KS she grew up outside of Detroit, bounced around a bit living in Chicago, San Francisco, Virginia and finally settling in New York City about 1960, first in Manhattan, then Park Slope and finally her well known home in Flatbush. She spent her final years in Frederick, MD to be closer to Karina & I.

She has loved science fiction & fantasy (as well as mysteries & regency romances) novels since the 50s and was an avid reader.

She was a talented artist, master seamstress and knitted the most amazing sweaters!

I could go on all.

One of her funny quotes from the other day after being annoyed by nurses prodding her was, “I am Perdita Ann Lilly Nelson Boardman and I am going to sleep”

Good night mom.

(11) LE GUIN AS CRITIC. Ursula K. Le Guin reviews You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison – stories “for the uncommon reader” in The Guardian:

One of these brilliantly told stories, “The Walls”, begins: “A man, let’s call him D, is seen digging his way out through the wall of his cell. To help in this project, D has only the thinnest and least reliable tools: two dessert spoons (one stainless steel, one electro-plated nickel silver); half of a pair of curved nail scissors; some domestic knives lacking handles; and so on. The cell wall, constructed from grey, squarish cinder blocks about a foot on a side has been carelessly mortared and laid without much attention to detail. But this lack of artifice makes no difference; none of the knives is long enough to reach the last half inch of mortar at the back of each block, and the more D uses them the shorter they get. Each block must, eventually, be loosened and removed by hand, a task which can take several months, and which leaves him exhausted.”

A close attention to detail characterises this story and contributes much to its effectiveness, and yet, like the careless mortaring of the cinder blocks, it makes no difference in the end. Why and how does D have two dessert spoons? What does he live on during these months (which become years)? Who brings it to his cell? We have nothing with which to fill in unstated facts, as we’re used to doing when reading fiction, because the story is consistent only in pulling the carpet out from under its own feet. It is a play of imagination in a void. Its power is that of a dream, in this case a bad one, the kind that keeps repeating itself with variations in an endless loop of frustration.

This holds for all the stories collected in You Should Come With Me Now. Some of them are surrealistic, some are spoofs, some are fables; many are funny, all are inventive; none entirely escapes the loop….

(12) 25 WAYS TO RUB YOUR LAMP. A Yahoo! Movies piece, “Disney’s ‘Aladdin’: 25 magical fun facts for 25th anniversary”, has lots of trivia about Aladdin, including how Patrick Stewart nearly played Jafar but couldn’t get out of his Star Trek: The Next Generation commitments and how there is a hidden Aladdin reference in Hamilton.

  1. The animators crafted the Genie around Williams’s rapid-fire improv. Co-director Ron Musker said Williams did 25 takes for the movie’s first scene, “and they were all different.” The entertainer would stick to the script for the first few takes, “then he would riff.” Musker said Williams recorded 16 hours’ worth of material, forcing the creative team to piece the character together “like a ransom note.”

(13) COMICS SECTION.

  • Mike Kennedy quit groaning at the Tolkien pun long enough to send a link to today’s Brevity.

(14) HE’S DEAD ED. The Smithsonian covers nine theories about “The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” (2014 article.)

On September 27 [1849] —almost a week earlier—Poe had left Richmond, Virginia bound for Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems for Mrs. St. Leon Loud, a minor figure in American poetry at the time. When Walker found Poe in delirious disarray outside of the polling place, it was the first anyone had heard or seen of the poet since his departure from Richmond. Poe never made it to Philadelphia to attend to his editing business. Nor did he ever make it back to New York, where he had been living, to escort his aunt back to Richmond for his impending wedding. Poe was never to leave Baltimore, where he launched his career in the early 19th- century, again—and in the four days between Walker finding Poe outside the public house and Poe’s death on October 7, he never regained enough consciousness to explain how he had come to be found, in soiled clothes not his own, incoherent on the streets. Instead, Poe spent his final days wavering between fits of delirium, gripped by visual hallucinations. The night before his death, according to his attending physician Dr. John J. Moran, Poe repeatedly called out for “Reynolds”—a figure who, to this day, remains a mystery.

(15) MISSING FROM THE MARQUEE. The project loses some name cachet as “Adam Nimoy Steps Down From Directing Deep Space Nine Doc, Release Pushed Back” – story at TrekMovie.com.

On Saturday there were two announcements from What We Left Behind, the upcoming crowd-funded Star Trek: Deep Space Nine documentary.  Adam Nimoy, while remaining involved, will no longer be directing, and the release date  is likely being pushed back.

Nimoy stepping back

In a statement posted on Facebook Saturday, Adam Nimoy revealed he was stepping down as director for What We left Behind, but he will continue to be a producer and advisor on the doc. The reason given for the change was that he needed more time to focus on other responsibilities. From the statement:

“The real creative force behind the DS9 documentary was well in place before I came along. I was happy to lend them support and guidance to push the project along so that it could be completed in time for the 25th anniversary of the show which is coming up in 2018. I wish the creative team all good things as they Boldly Go!”

(16) WINDOW ON THE UNIVERSE. Motherboard’s article about the “Casting of a Giant Mirror for the First Extremely Large Telescope” has a good infographic comparing the relative sizes of all the existing large telescopes, as well.

(17) HARD SF. Down these mean starlanes a man must go…. A Twitter conversation begins here:

(18) COMPLETE HORSESHOE. Here’s another statistic I never knew anyone kept – the record for world’s largest horseshoe sculpture: “Camberley artist’s dragon ‘could obliterate’ world record”.

Mr Poolman’s sculpture is described as “not just a dragon but a tableau”, telling the story of a village bringing a dragon from the sky with arrows and stones.

“It’s partly collapsed,” Mr Powell said, “brought to the ground, in its death throes.”

Tens of thousands of old horseshoes were provided by farriers in Hampshire – some of them were used whole and others cut into smaller pieces.

“A complete horseshoe is quite limiting in what it can be made into,” Mr Poolman said.

(19) NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. Brandon Sanderson isn’t just on the list, he’s #1 —

(20) UNDER THE TREE. We continue our cavalcade of holiday presents with –

(21) MULTITASKING. It’s a Jedi thing: “Elle UK Interviews Daisy Ridley While She Builds A Lego Millennium Falcon”.

She’s talented and beautiful and she plays Luke Skywalker’s new padawan, Rey, in one of the most anticipated “Star Wars” films of all time, but now comes the true test: Can Daisy Ridley build the Millennium Falcon with Legos?

Elle UK interviewed the “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” actress, asking her things like when was the last time she cried, what color her lightsaber would be, and if her father still prefers “Star Trek” (ouch) ? all while she’s tasked with building the Millennium Falcon out of Legos.

(22) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Happiness by Steve Cutts is a cartoon on Vimeo about rats trying to survive the rat race as commuters, consumers, and at work. I’m having trouble getting it to embed, so here’s the link — https://vimeo.com/groups/motion/videos/244405542

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, DMS, Carl Slaughter, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Mark Blackman, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Swanwick

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

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

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

Gardner Dozois

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

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

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

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

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

Pillar of the Community:  Warming up to 451ºF

Bill Oberst Jr. in Pillar of Fire

By Mark L. Blackman: Many of us first encountered the term “Pillar of Fire” in the Book of Exodus, where it was a manifestation of God accompanying the Hebrew wanderers. In Ray Bradbury’s 1948 sf/horror novella of that name, it is starkly literal, the towering stone Incinerators into which cadavers are consigned, like so much trash, both the newly deceased and ultimately those long-buried. The disinterring of the last cemetery on Earth (appropriately in Salem) disturbs the grave of one William Langtry (died 1933), who “[comes] out of the Earth hating.”

He finds himself in the sterilized, debatable utopia of 2349, where, in the name of sanitation and mental health, not only are the dead cremated, but so too have been all dark or disturbing influences, such as horror literature like the “ghastly” works of Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft (“the Great Burning”). (Bradbury once described the story, which he also adapted into a play, as “a rehearsal for Fahrenheit 451.”)  Crime – theft and murder – and fear have been eliminated and become inconceivable, but, Lantry discovers, so has the spirit animating humanity. “Declaring war on an entire world,” “the last dead man on Earth” embarks on a spree of murder and the destruction of Incinerators, hoping, in his madness and loneliness, to restore fear of the dark and to create others like him (“new friends”).

On September 17th, actor Bill Oberst, Jr. brought his one-man performance of Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire, directed by Ezra Buzzington, to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, in the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (Off-Broadway), after two sold-out runs in Los Angeles. Additionally, his staged theatrical reading of the novella won an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and was named Best Solo Show Of Hollywood Fringe Festival in the Best Of Los Angeles Theater 2015 roundup at Bitter-Lemons.com. The one-night New York run, it should be noted, sold out as well.

The Emmy and Lon Chaney Award-winning fan favorite indie horror actor, whose scarred face is perhaps most familiar from tv’s Criminal Minds (where he was an Unsub who got away) and Scream Queens, calls the piece a hymn to Halloween. “From the opening sentence: ‘He came out of the Earth hating,’ Bradbury is defending Halloween and horror against those who want a world without superstition. In 2349, burial is banned – they burn people’s bodies like trash. There’s only one dead man left, and he’s pissed! Only Ray Bradbury can make you cheer for a zombie terrorist.”

Bill Oberst Jr. after the performance. Photo by Mark Blackman.

Commanding the bare stage, firmly gripping the audience, Oberst breathed sympathy, melancholy and tragedy, along with “graveyard dust” (after all, one can’t breathe life into the respiration-challenged walking dead), into the character of Lantry (whom, face it, is impossible to “cheer”). Clad in rags (Oberst was aware that clothes would not have survived 400 years of burial), didn’t – despite it being labeled “a theatrical reading” – merely recite Bradbury’s text, but performed it as a dramatic monologue, only occasionally referring to a copy of the story in an old edition of S is for Space. (The production was edited and abridged from the original novella, rather than being a staging of the aforementioned play. Bradbury’s beautifully descriptive and powerful language thereby were retained largely intact to fuel the piece.) Accented by lighting, brief music and sound effects, it remained a one-man presentation, with several other characters’ dialog emerging illusory in loudspeakered pre-recordings. (I’m uncertain if that idea worked. Was it intended to render the living into the Voice of God?)

The production clearly was a labor of love for Oberst. “‘Pillar of Fire’ was the first piece of Bradbury I ever read. It’s dear to my heart,” he told me, relating how, years ago, he’d found of S is for Space in the woods. It’s still his “go-to book.” I have a feeling that the copy that he was clutching was that very one.

No spoilers here – read the story.