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.

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.