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.

Fantastic Fiction at KGB Readings Series Features Genevieve Valentine and Karen Heuler

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, July 19, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted authors Genevieve Valentine and Karen Heuler at its venue, the Red Room at the 2nd floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village (“red” in both senses, the walls’ color and the Soviet era-themed décor).

The event opened, as traditional, with Series co-host Matthew Kressel’s exhortation to support the Bar by buying a drink or two (at 90º and humid, hydration was definitely advisable), and announcing upcoming readers:

  • August 16: Gregory Frost and Rajan Khanna
  • September 20: Katherine Vaz and Chris Sharp
  • October 18: James Patrick Kelly and Kai Ashante Wilson
  • November 15: Grady Hendrix and David Rice

(All dates are the third Wednesday of the month. Details are available at the Series website,  website.) The Series, ongoing since the 1990s, is known for reliably offering an outstanding mix of writers and styles. He again thanked the Series’ loyalists for supporting its recent Kickstarter campaign (which raised about $8,900, enough to keep the Series going for another six years), and concluded by introducing the evening’s first reader.

Karen Heuler has published four novels and three story collections, and her stories have appeared in over 100 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies (a number of them Best of the Year anthologies). She has received an O. Henry Award, been a finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award, the Bellwether Award, the Shirley Jackson Award for short fiction (twice), and “a bunch of other near-misses.” She read from her just-released novella, In Search of Lost Time (Aqueduct Press) about a woman who can steal time and memories. (The title clearly evokes Proust.) Not greedy, Hildy “samples” a few minutes or, occasionally, hours, “just a little here and there,” storing them in jars (labeled with their circumstances) from which she sniffs (no tea, no madeleines). She is approached by a shady character (Michael P.) who tells her that there is a market for time; the dying, of course, want more time, and she herself is undergoing chemo for cancer of the tempora (a “totally made-up” part of the brain dealing with time). He offers to buy and threatens to steal her jars. At the same time (no pun intended, honestly!), she is accosted by a sparkly-things-favoring woman (the Bedazzler) who asks her to sift through people’s memories to find her missing daughter.

After an intermission, Series co-host Ellen Datlow took the podium and introduced the second reader of the night, author and critic Genevieve Valentine, whose most recent book is the near-future spy novel Icon (the sequel to Persona). Her first novel (she’s published four), Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, won the Crawford Award and was shortlisted for the Nebula, her short fiction has appeared in over a dozen Best of the Year anthologies (and she will, incidentally, have a story in Datlow’s Mad Hatters and March Hares), her comics work includes Catwoman for DC Comics, and her criticism and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, among other publications.

Valentine read “Familiaris” (which appeared in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales), a piece of metafiction that was based on and shifted between a Bavarian fairy tale about “a princess who couldn’t bear children and then suddenly could” – seven sons – and a contemporary woman who regards children as wolves who eat up a mother’s life and identity. (Asked her name by a clerk, out of habit, she answers “Christopher’s mom.”) “In the story,” the princess (later queen) orders her maid to take the newborns out into the woods and let them be fed to wolves. Their royal father intercepts her and they are raised secretly in the village, fated to return 18 years and seven days later for revenge. It is emphatically not a paean to motherhood; indeed, in her concluding remarks, Datlow said “Go out and multiply – or don’t.”

(Valentine’s introduction had included the line “Please ask her about the new King Arthur movie” [King Arthur: Legend of the Sword]. It was bad, she said, disappointing to hear after that build-up.)

Copies of Valentine’s Icon and Heuler’s The Inner City 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.

Genevieve Valentine and Karen Heuler at Fantastic Fiction at KGB.

Refrigerator Monologues: Fantastic Fiction Readings Welcome in Summer with Valente and Moraine

Catherine M. Valente and Sunny Moraine

By Mark L. Blackman: On the first evening of summer – the longest night of the year – Wednesday, June 21, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series presented fantasy authors Catherynne M. Valente and Sunny Moraine at its longtime venue, the aptly-named Red Room of the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. (Despite the throng, the room was pleasantly cool; must be the altitude.)

Series co-host Matthew Kressel greeted the crowd, acknowledged the Solstice, and offered a “big, huge, enormous thank-you to everyone who donated to” their fundraiser on Kickstarter to cover the Series’ expenses. (While the readings are always free and there’s no cover charge, it costs money to run; readers receive a small stipend and are treated to dinner afterward.) They raised over $9,700, more than double their goal, enough funds to keep the Series running for at least six more years. Rob Cameron (“Cam”) from Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers was given a minute or so to plug the Kickstarter for the second season of their podcast (kaleidocast.nyc). Kressel then announced upcoming readers:

  • July 19: Genevieve Valentine and Karen Heuler
  • August 16: Gregory Frost and Rajan Khanna
  • September 20: Katherine Vaz and Chris Sharp
  • October 18: James Patrick Kelly and Kai Ashante Wilson

All dates are the third Wednesday of the month. Additional details may be found at http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/.

Sunny Moraine

The first reader was Sunny Moraine, whose short fiction has appeared in multiple Year’s Best anthologies, her debut short fiction collection Singing With All My Skin and Bone (available from Undertow Publications). She shared two short stories, the first, “Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams,” “by chance” involved refrigerators, and ran last week on Tor.com. A dead girl climbs out of a refrigerator, followed by others; they swarm, spread out, terrorize (certainly intimidate), and soon infiltrate popular culture, from “reality” shows to Law and Order: SVU (“a different type of dead girl”).

Her second offering was the title story from Singing With All My Skin and Bone, which she had never read aloud before. It was, she said, “the most intensely personal story [she] ever published.” A young witch’s pain and scars awaken “flesh and blood magic.” The story was disturbingly captivating, a stunning contrast from her other story’s satiric absurdity. (“That was a brave thing to get up and read in public,” said one audience member.)

After an intermission, co-host Ellen Datlow opened the second half of the program by giving away two anthologies, exhorting us to thank the Bar by buying drinks, and introducing the next reader.

Catherynne M. Valente

Catherynne M. Valente is the New York Times bestselling author of over 30 books of fiction and poetry, including Palimpsest, the Orphan’s Tales series, Deathless, Radiance, The Refrigerator Monologues, and the crowdfunded phenomenon The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (and the four books that followed). She has been a finalist for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and has earned the Andre Norton, Tiptree, Prix Imaginales, Eugie Foster Memorial, Mythopoeic, Rhysling, Lambda, Locus, Romantic Times and Hugo Awards, and, just this week, the 2017 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award (for “The Future is Blue”). (She tweeted: “OMG you guys I won the Sturgeon Award! I’m a real science fiction writer now!”)

“To continue the cold storage theme” of the evening, she read a selection from The Refrigerator Monologues, which she described as “The Vagina Monologues for superhero girlfriends.” Though she didn’t elaborate further, there is a distressing tendency in superhero comics for women – wives and girlfriends of superheroes and female heroes – to be victimized, assaulted, crippled or murdered as a plot point to motivate male superheroes so that their storyline may progress. The exemplar is Alexandra DeWitt, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, who literally was “refrigerated,” killed and stuffed into a fridge by a supervillain. (The term “Women in Refrigerators” was coined by Gail Simone, and Valente co-dedicated the book to her.) Then there’s Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man (indeed, her fate in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “pissed me off,” said Valente elsewhere, and inspired her to “throw art in its face”) and Barbara Gordon, the first Batgirl (see The Killing Joke), and two words: Lois Lane. The Refrigerator Monologues is a series of six linked stories from the perspectives of these women – they call themselves the Hell Hath Club – who meet in the Underworld (in the sense of the Afterlife, not the criminal world), in the Lethe Café in Deadtown, and share their tales of woe.

In the selected story, alternately bitter and darkly humorous, failed actress Daisy Green, girlfriend of the Insomniac, a Ukrainian immigrant to Brighton Beach-Coney Island who received “a Christmas wish list of superpowers” at Chernobyl (one of which is apparently sucking up all of her luck), is victimized nightly by Miasma, a living nightmare who returns relentlessly from his defeats. Eventually, she flees back to Hollywood, adopting her own secret identity (complete at times with skintight outfit and mask), Delilah Daredevil, porn star, with, ultimately, a tragic ending.

At the back of the room, copies of The Refrigerator Monologues and Singing With All My Skin and Bone were for sale by the Word Bookstore of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (and also Jersey City).

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

NYRSF Readings Series Closes 26th Season with Miller and Donnelly

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, June 6, 2017, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series featured readings by Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly, two Clarion “broodmates” from the graduating class of 2012 and collaborators on an epistolary novelette (about which more later), at its regular venue, the Brooklyn Commons Cafe on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

The night got under way with Jim Freund, Producer and Executive Curator of the Series, and host of the long-running live radio program Hour of the Wolf broadcast on WBAI-FM, calling the audience to attention with a duck call. (Apparently, it’s not only the 26th Season, but Duck Season.) While it was “in theory” the end of the Season, he revealed that he planned some special events, a Summer Season, in July and August, notably an evening of music dedicated to Ama Patterson. The 27th Season will “officially” start in September. Of special note: slated as readers on Tuesday, October 3 are Michael Swanwick and Gardner Dozois, and December will feature a musical event. He reminded the gathering of the importance of their donations (the suggested donation is $7, but no one is turned away) as there are costs involved, such as renting the space. Concluding, he introduced the first reader (“two ‘n’s, two ‘l’s”).

Lara Elena Donnelly

Lara Elena Donnelly is the author of glam spy thriller Amberlough (which has been described as “1984 meets Cabaret“ and “James Bond by way of Oscar Wilde”), and her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Mythic Delirium. She read from her sequel to Amberlough (due out in May 2018). In an alternate 1920s (Amerberlough is a city in Gedda) where fascism is rising (“so it’s relevant!”), celebrity and spy (there spooks are called “foxes”) Lillian dePaul is sent by her station chief to a film premiere in Porachis where Aristide Makricosta, the world’s most notorious refugee, puts in an appearance. She supplied accents for several characters. Afterward, Donnelly gave out Amberlough buttons.

During the intermission, there was a raffle drawing for donors for “cool items,” a Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology that’s not in stores yet, and that includes a story by Miller, and a copy of Amberlough “profusely illustrated” by Donnelly. Freund then introduced the second reader of the evening.

Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller’s short stories have appeared in multiple “year’s best” anthologies (“but who’s counting?”) and been finalists for multiple Nebula Awards as well as for World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards. His short story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” (from which he read at the Fantastic Fiction Reading Series last year) won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award. His debut novel The Art of Starving, which will be out in July, was called “Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless and powerful… a classic in the making” by Book Riot. His second novel, Blackfish City, will be published in 2018.

Miller read from near the end of The Art of Starving, a section from which he had not read at the KGB three weeks earlier, though perhaps that audience overlap is why he did not provide sufficient background for the story. The protagonist, a gay teen, has come into supernatural powers through “the Art of Starving,” and, at an otherwise “perfectly banal” party at the home of a slaughterhouse owner, confronts a bully.

Lara Elena Donnelly, Jim Freund, and Sam J. Miller.

Freund then conducted a Q&A session with the authors who had, we learned, met online just before Clarion. The focus immediately shifted to their intriguing jointly-written gay epistolary time travel novelette (11,000 words), ”Making Us Monsters,” set in and after World War I, about gay English soldier-poets (or poet-soldiers) Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Owen died on the battlefield just a week before the Armistice, yet Sassoon is continuing to receive letters from him years after. “It took forever to sell the thing,” said Donnelly, despite it being the centennial of the First World War. (It will run in Uncanny in November, 99 years after the end of the War.) She wrote the Sassoon letters (“Lara writes gay men extremely well,” said Miller) and he Owen’s.

The two poets met in psychiatric treatment in 1917. (Owen was suffering from trauma, what we call PTSD and they “shell shock,” and Sassoon for opposition to the War.) During World War I, they explained, pacifists were considered traitors and given a choice between court-martial and psychiatric treatment; homosexuality was certainly viewed as a psychiatric condition.

What drew them to the period and to these two poets?, asked an audience member. Donnelly was interested in the ‘20s (she was a swing dancer, and has danced with fire) and had read D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young People, and socialite Stephen Tennant had had an affair with Sassoon. Miller had always liked Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,” and hadn’t known that he was gay. (“The old lie: Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori.” Sassoon’s poetry likewise savagely un-glorifies the War’s horrors.) He is also interested in the history of psychiatric care — its evolution from a way to punish to a method of treatment — and in what constitutes mental illness.

As traditional at these Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books, while the Cafe saw to “wining [beer and coffee as well], dining and other worldly needs [three rest rooms].”

The crowd of about 40-50 included Melissa C. Beckman, Richard Bowes, Seth Dickinson, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (House manager and Ticket-taker), Diana Pho (Donnelly’s editor), Susan Bratisher and James Ryan, and Terence Taylor (Tech Director). Afterward, many stuck around to schmooze, and/or adjourn to the Cafe.

For those who missed attending, the event was Livestreamed (the audience is always cautioned that they’re “on the Internet visually”); visit Livestream.com and search for NYRSF.

It’s Myers & Miller Time at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the summerlike spring evening of Wednesday, May 17th, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series presented authors E.C. Myers and Sam J. Miller at its longtime venue, the dimly-lit and aptly-named Red Room of the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. I arrived later than usual, and the crowd seemed at more than capacity.

Series co-host Matthew Kressel greeted the crowd, and reported on their current fundraiser on Kickstarter to cover the Series’ expenses. While the readings are always free and there’s no cover charge, it costs about $120/month (or $1,500/year) to run. He recited a partial list of “rewards”for donors (a fuller list may be found here), among them: signed copies of John Crowley books; from John Joseph Adams, trade paperbacks of Queers Destroy Science Fiction; from Ellen Datlow, “lots of books,”including Alien Sex; and from Neil Gaiman, four rare signed copies of his books. Additionally, Nancy Kress and Jeffrey Ford are offering Tuckerizations (that is, a character with the donor’s name in their books); John Langan to create a monster; and N.K. Jemisin and others critiques. The money, he assured, will be used for small stipends for the authors and to treat them to dinner after their readings. (Earlier Myers had kidded that there are no tote bags and the readers would not be interrupted mid-reading for a fundraising appeal.) He concluded by introducing the event’s first reader.

E.C. Myers. Photo by Mark Blackman.

E.C. Myers (the “E” is for Eugene) describes himself as “assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts, and raised by a single mother and a public library in Yonkers, New York. ”He has published four novels, the first of which, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy, and the subsequent The Silence of Six was selected by YALSA as one of its “Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers”in 2016. His next book will be DoubleThink, (he’s on a 1984 kick — the book very much fits the current zeitgeist), a collection of stories related to The Silence of Six. (He also writes for ReMade, a YA science fiction series from Serial Box Publishing, from which I heard Matthew Cody read earlier this month at the most recent NYRSF Readings event.)

His offering was from “Big Brother,”a story in Feral Youth, a multiauthor collected which he characterized as “Canterbury Tales as YA,”with each telling a story. The starting point is a 17-minute viral video of a 13-year-old girl sleeping and, by appearance, erotically dreaming (in “full-on When Harry Met Sally“mode) recorded by her teen older brother who has dreams of being a filmmaker. A glimpsed hovering presence, he and his friends deduce, is likely an incubus. The creepy aspects of the story were only somewhat relieved by their humorous comments.

After an intermission, co-host Ellen Datlow assumed the podium and exhorted us to thank the Bar by buying drinks (it was definitely a night calling for hydration), and announced upcoming readings:

  • June 21 — Catherynne M. Valente and Sunny Moraine
  • July 19K. Jemisin and Karen Heuler

She then introduced the second reader of the evening.

Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller’s short stories have appeared in multiple “year’s best” anthologies and been finalists for multiple Nebula Awards as well as for World Fantasy and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Awards. His short story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides”(from which he read at the KGB last year) won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award. His debut novel The Art of Starving, which will be out in July, was called “Funny, haunting, beautiful, relentless and powerful … a classic in the making” by Book Riot. His second novel, The Breaks, will be published in 2018.

Like Myers, his selection was from a YA work, the forthcoming The Art of Starving; he read from the very beginning and the end. The protagonist, it seems, is not actually starving or even hungry, but simply “chooses not to eat.”He suffers from an eating disorder — though he emphatically rejects the label — in which he sees himself as “an enormous, fat, greasy, disgusting creature”while the rest of the world somehow sees him as “a scrawny bag of bones”and urges him to eat, thereby earning his undying hatred. Ultimately, he releases hundreds of pigs from a slaughterhouse and leads the “squealing army”to defile and destroy the homes of his perceived enemies.

At the back of the room, copies of Myers’ The Silence of Six and its sequel Against All Silence were for sale by the Word Bookstores of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (and Jersey City). Also available were free copies of “pamphlet”editions of the novellas “S.O.S.: A Prequel to The Silence of Six“and “DoubleThink,”a stand-alone in the SOS (or SØS) Series that bridges The Silence of Six and Against All Silence. Miller’s novel is, of course, not out yet, but he had stickers to sign and go into the book.

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

Hot Serial:  NYRSF Readings Series Presents an Evening with Serial Box Authors

L to R: Joel Derfner, Michael Swanwick, Max Gladstone, Matthew Cody, Lindsay Smith, Ellen Kushner, Amy Goldschlager.

By Mark L. Blackman: On the spring evening of Tuesday, May 2, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series, in a special event, showcased Serial Box, a publisher of serialized fiction in text and audio delivered in weekly episodes; it currently runs five ongoing series. In this innovative – or perhaps retrograde – publishing platform, as with television, the serials are collaboratively written by author teams. Representing four of the serials, and reading from their projects, were authors Michael Swanwick, Max Gladstone, Lindsay Smith, Matthew Cody, and Joel Derfner. (Ellen Kushner participated in the events, though did not read.) The stories were as diverse as the “writers rooms,” touching upon Urban Fantasy, Mannerpunk, Magical Espionage, and Young Adult Science Fiction.

Welcoming the audience to the Series’ venue, the Brooklyn Commons in transit-accessible Brooklyn, executive curator Jim Freund, host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy, shared the sad news of the death of Ama Patterson, who had been an integral part of Andrea Hairston’s performance at the Series. He thanked members of his own team, hinted at a possible special event later in the month, and announced that the 26th Season would likely close on Tuesday, June 6 with readings by Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly. He then turned the stage over to the evening’s guest host/guest curator (and curator emerita) Amy Goldschlager.

Amy Goldschlager, an editor, proofreader and book/audiobook reviewer, related that serialized fiction began in the 19th century (notably with Dickens), and shared worlds with Thieves World and Wild Cards; Serial Box, she saw as “a wonderful confluence of it all.” With that, she introduced the first reader of the night, Joel Derfner, representing the Mannerpunk Tremontaine.

Joel Derfner

Joel Derfner is the author of Gay Haiku, Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever and What Ended Up Happening Instead, and Lawfully Wedded Husband: How My Gay Marriage Will Save the American Family. (Indeed, he does live, “alas, in Brooklyn, along with his husband and their small, fluffy dog.” He never did explain that “alas,” however.) His selection, from the prequel to – set 15 years before – Swordspoint, and preceding the writing of On the Causes of Nature (which figures in that novel), was characterized by Goldschlager as a “delightfully snarky bit of foreshadowing,” and contained many double entendres – intentional and not – about sausages. (His sex scenes, he said, were too long.)

Lindsay Smith

Next to read was Lindsay Smith, who offered a scene from the “urban fantasy Cold War thriller” (Goldschlager) The Witch Who Came in From the Cold. There are, Smith explained, two factions of witches, the Fire and the Ice (so “the Cold” is not just the Cold War), fighting a war (here in 1970s Prague) alongside the one with American, British and Soviet spies.

Matthew Cody

Like Smith, Matthew Cody is a YA author; his published works include the award-winning Powerless and the Supers of Noble’s Green series, the Robin Hood re-imagining Will in Scarlet, and his current series The Secrets of the Pied Piper. His Serial Box series, ReMade, is about resurrected teens who are kidnapped and sent to the future; the action takes place in the future and in flashbacks (the present), and the scene that he chose was one of the latter. The boy, Holden (yes, named after you-know-who), who played a fairy (the only boy one) with no lines in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, nervously offers a ride to the cast party to its star (Titania), which does not end as he might have hoped.

During the intermission, a raffle drawing was held for donors in the audience, and two won a season of the Serial Box serial of their choice.

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone, co-creator of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold and creator of Bookburners, describes himself as having “been thrown from a horse in Mongolia, drunk almond milk with monks on Wudang Shan, and wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat.” He is also the author of the Craft Sequence of books about undead gods and skeletal law wizards­, Full Fathom Five, Three Parts Dead, Two Serpents Rise, Last First Snow., and the forthcoming Ruin of Angels (which doesn’t have a number in the title!). Bookburners is, he explained, a “supernatural procedural” about secret agents from the Vatican who pursue demons and black magic. For his reading, he offered the audience a choice between the first season and a preview of the third, which is launching in June, and the latter won out (the vote was not “rigged”). (What happened in Belfast?)

Back on stage, Goldschlager said that she and Freund had asserted that there can’t be a NYRSF Readings season without a reading by Michael Swanwick, and he writes for Serial Box. Swanwick has written nine novels – the latest of which is Chasing the Phoenix – 150 short stories, and countless flash fictions, and has received the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Hugo Awards. He returned us to The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, prefacing his reading by noting that, as if there aren’t already too many characters in it, he had brought in two more, the Russian general Bitovsky and the Norwegian Magnus. (They must be spies – they’re meeting in “a spy bar.”)

There was a recess as the stage was reset with all of the readers – joined by Kushner – for an interview by Goldschlager. She opened by asking about the process of collaboration, which Gladstone called “a Frankenstein process.” There are a lot of story breakdowns. (As on tv, the editor/publisher equivalent is a “showrunner.”) Smith said that Witch is “more puzzle-piecey,” with people gravitating toward their own characters. Derfner disagreed, and jokingly called her a liar. There are a lot of personal meetings over Tremontaine. Gladstone noted his writers retreats. What struck him, said Swanwick, was how many times a story goes through the editorial process, somewhere between six and 123 (he cited a debate over whether it’s duct tape or duck tape – as in a film or tv show, there has to be consistency, or continuity). There is a “house voice.” Derfner said that he liked “having structure, and not having to make things up.” In Season 1, he said, he had trouble getting Diane’s (the Duchess Tremontaine) voice right and asked Kushner to revise him. She said that she was doing Joel doing herself; the process was “metaphysical” (I offered the word). They had to invent a new way of doing a narrative.

Cody said with his background in theater (he holds a Master’s Degree in Theater, with a focus on Shakespeare), he enjoyed the collaborative process. People would fight for their idea, but only up to a point. Alluding to ReMade, Goldschlager noted that we figure things out (that they’re in the future) before the characters do, and wondered about how “genre-savvy” the readers are, particularly in YA. Whatever the genre, replied Cody, soap opera is the “underpinning” of YA. Finally, she asked Gladstone if The Witch Who Came in From the Cold and Bookburners take place in the same universe. “Stay tuned,” he intoned, providing a perfect conclusion to the interviews.

In the Q&A that followed, an audience member asked how they select people to be “in their zone.” Gladstone looks for writers “who are going to jump on and run with it” and had a “willingness to speak the same language.” Kushner said that she had it easier, had the advantage of everyone being a Swordspoint fan, knowing and loving the Riverside books, and knowing that they can “play well with others.” The writers, she continued, “have to be flexible, open to their ideas being changed.” There are gay men in the story, and so she has “an actual gay man” writing episodes. His theatrical background also helps. (Derfner has, as his biography states, composed the score to musicals that “have played in New York, London, and various cities in between [going counterclockwise].”) Her Tremontaine team, she observed, was “queer or writers of color, or both.”

The next questioner asked if the long form was easier to play with than a shorter form. Gladstone said that it made it easier to “compartmentalize.” Smith said that they have to create an “atmosphere;” she can tell which writer wrote which episode, yet the story unifies and flows. The final questioner asked about how much work goes into the “Series Bible” (again, a tv term). Cody said that it gave “everyone a level playing field,” but, as Gladstone agreed, it changed quickly and almost immediately as everyone gave input.

The customary Jenna Felice Freebie Table returned and there were copies of Tremontaine offered for sale. The audience, which approached 70, included Melissa C. Beckman (the Readings’ “official photographer”), Richard Bowes, Rob Cameron, Lynn Cohen Koehler, Barbara Krasnoff (the House Manager and a Nebula Award nominee), John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Marianne Porter, James Ryan, Terence Taylor (Tech Director), Paul Witcover, and Serial Box co-founders Molly Barton and Julian Yap. Throughout the course of the evening and afterward, members of the audience availed themselves of the Café’s fare.

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

Samuel R. Delany

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

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

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

Terence Taylor

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

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

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

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

Delany interviewed by Jim Freund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.