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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Claremont

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

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

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

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

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

Cadaver & Angel: NYSF Readings Feature Kwitney & Kaufmann

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

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

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

Nicholas Kauffman

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

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

Alisa Kwitney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • March 6: Alisa Kwitney and Nicholas Kaufmann
  • April 3: Chris Claremont and Chandler Klang Smith
  • Mayday 1 (tent.): In Memory of Ama Paterson, with Pan Morigan, Andrea Hairston and
    Sheree Renée Thomas
  • June 5 (tent.): A Tribute to Thomas M. Disch, with Guest Curator: Henry Wessels

Gordon Van Gelder

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

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

Leo Vladmirsky

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

Deji Bryce Olukotun

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

Jennifer Marie Brissett

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

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

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

Paul Witcover

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

Richard Bowes

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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).

Pixel Scroll 3/2/17 Doing The Trilogy Backwards

(1) RECURSIVE NEWS. The Large Hadron Collider gets a pixel tracker.

Officials said the replacement of a key component inside the CMS experiment represented the first major upgrade to the LHC – the world’s biggest machine.

Engineers have been carefully installing the new “pixel tracker” in CMS in a complex and delicate procedure on Thursday 100m underground….

More than 1,200 “dipole” magnets steer the beam around a 27km-long circular tunnel under the French-Swiss border. At certain points around the ring, the beams cross, allowing collisions to take place. Large experiments like CMS and Atlas then record the outcomes of these encounters, generating more than 10 million gigabytes of data every year.

The CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) pixel tracker is designed to disentangle and reconstruct the paths of particles emerging from the collision wreckage.

“It’s like substituting a 66 megapixel camera with a 124 megapixel camera,” Austin Ball, technical co-ordinator for the CMS experiment, told BBC News.

In simple terms, the pixel detector takes images of particles which are superimposed on top of one another, and then need to be separated.

(2) COLLECTING THE CURE. A bidder paid top dollar for a moldy piece of history.

The mold in question — which actually outpaced early expectations to be sold for a whopping $14,617, according to The Associated Press — is a capsule of the original Penicillium chrysogenum Alexander Fleming was working with when he discovered the antibiotic penicillin. Encased in a glass disc, inscribed with the words “the mould that first made Penicillin,” and signed by Fleming himself, the little sample comes from the collection of Fleming’s niece, Mary Anne Johnston.

(3) GOLD RUSS. James Davis Nicoll has the panelists reading “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ at Young People Read Old SFF.

With this story we enter the 1970s, the last decade in the Young People project . I knew which story I wanted to begin the decade with: Joanna Russ’ 1972 Nebula-winner “When It Changed”. Noted author and critic Russ’s story is a reply to such classics as Poul Anderson’s Virgin Planet, stories in which planets populated entirely by women are granted that most precious of treasures, a man and his unsolicited advice. Russ was not always entirely pleased by the status quo. Subtle hints of her displeasure can be detected in this classic first contact tale.

Of course, we live in a modern era of complete equality between the sexes. Who knows if this story can speak to younger people? Let’s find out!

Here’s one participant’s verdict –

….I’d still be willing to suggest that “When It Changed” is the most relevant of all the stories we’ve read so far in this project. I’m sure this is a very hard to believe statement, especially when you compare the story to some of the others we’ve read (i.e. dolphin-people and doomsday don’t-let-the-sun-set cultists), but I’m willing to say it and stand by it, for a few reasons….

(4) DEALING WITH IT. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Business Musings: Writing with Chronic Health Problems” deals with something I’m sure many writers are doing after seeing people’s comments here.

It wasn’t until I got a Fitbit on a lark that exercise became do-not-miss for me. Why? Because I can hit my 10,000 steps even when I’m sick. I shuffle around the house like the walking dead, determined to hit that magic number, because I’m anal, and because finishing my steps every day before midnight is something I can control.

The knee injury got in the way. I made my doctor give me a schedule and benchmarks so that I wouldn’t start up again too soon, but also so that I would start as soon as I could. He thought I was nuts, but he did it. And I followed it, even though I didn’t want to. (I wanted to hobble around the house to hit that magic 10,000 steps.) Even with an injured knee, I got 3,000-4,000 steps per day (using crutches), because I really can’t sit down for very long.

It drives me crazy.

So why am I telling you all of this? This is a writing blog, right?

Because dozens of you have asked me, both privately and in comments, how I write with a chronic health condition.

There really is a trick to the writing while chronically ill. But the trick is personal, and it’s tailored to each individual person.

So, more personal stories—and then tips.

(5) MoPOP. Nominations for next year’s inductees to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame are being taken from the public through April 16.

We’ve opened up our Hall of Fame nominations to the public so that you can choose the creations (e.g. a movie, video game, book, comic/graphic novel, superhero, etc.) and creators (e.g. director, actor, writer, animator, composer, etc.) that have most inspired you!

MoPOP also says the public will be able to vote for the selected finalists later this year, although it’s unclear what impact that vote will have. The website says —

Founded in 1996, the Hall of Fame was relocated from the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas to its permanent home at MoPOP in 2004. Nominations are accepted from the public and the final inductees are chosen by a committee of industry experts.

A public was invited to vote was taken on last year’s nominees, too, but as it says above, selected experts chose the inductees.

(6) NEBULA NOMINEE. Brooke Bolander, who calls this “sputtering,” writes a pretty good thank-you: “Nebula Finalist Frenzy, or: IT HAPPENED AGAIN WTF BBQ”.

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies,” my thousand-word rage bark published in Uncanny Magazine, is a finalist for the Best Short Story Nebula. Again, to everyone who put it on their ballot: holy shit, thank you so goddamned much. I was helping clean up after a family funeral when I got the call, so to say that I needed that good news is a grave and frankly insulting understatement to the gift you all handed me. I didn’t expect to get on the ballot last year. I figured it was probably the last time I’d be within six city blocks of a ballot for a long, long time, if ever. Is being a finalist again so soon intimidating? You’d better fuckin’ believe it, buster. Is trying to figure out how I am going to follow this up absolutely bowel-twistingly terrifying, the fear that I’ll never write anything else worthwhile once again lurking at the edges of my internal narrative like a shadow beneath a 1 AM streetlamp? DING DING DING.

(7) SURVIVOR. Pat Cadigan is deeply reflective in this installment of “Still Making Cancer My Bitch”.

…At the same time, however, it’s a little spooky to think that, had my cancer followed its standard course––had I not gotten so extremely lucky––I wouldn’t be here now. And the two friends I lost were supposed to be living their lives as usual. John Lennon once pointed out that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. Truer words were never spoken.

A few days ago, I had started writing a post about survivor guilt. There have been a few posts I found very difficult and uncomfortable to write but this one was impossible. I have seldom written nonfiction; it’s really not my metier. I did write two nonfiction books in the late 1990s, one about the making of Lost In Space and another a year later about the making of The Mummy; they were assignments I lucked into and I think they turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. But I digress.

Survivor guilt is one of those things easier felt than explained––easier done than said, if you will. You can’t write about it without sounding like you’re fishing for comfort: Please forgive me for still being alive. You know people are going to tell you that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the few whom you secretly suspect don’t forgive you.

Personally, I’ve always thought of survivor guilt as something suffered by people who have been through terrible catastrophes––natural disasters, mass transit crashes, explosions, wars. These people have been through extreme trauma and injury themselves. So claiming I have survivor guilt sounds self-aggrandising. The truth is, I’ve never been in pain and thanks to my family and my ongoing support system of friends far and wide, I’ve never felt alone or like I had no one to talk to.

What I’m feeling is more like survivor embarrassment. It’s like this: you find out you’re terminal, and you make a big deal out of it, because what the hell, it is a big deal, to you anyway. Then, holy guacamole! Things take a completely unexpected swerve and it turns out you’re not as terminal as they thought. You’re not exactly well, not in remission, but you’re stable and you’re not leaving any time soon unless someone drops a house on you. (And even then, it would probably depend on the house.)

(8) BEAR NECESSITIES. Worldcon 75 has received a 5000 € grant from Art Promotion Centre Finland. If you read Finnish, you can find out the details in the organization’s press release.

(9) ROCK SOLID EVIDENCE. “Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago”. The Telegraph has the story.

Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows organisms thrived 4.2bn years ago

It’s life, but not as we know it. The oldest fossil ever discovered on Earth shows that organisms were thriving 4.2 billion years ago, hundreds of millions of years earlier than previously thought.

The microscopic bacteria, which were smaller than the width of a human hair, were found in rock formations in Quebec, Canada, but would have lived in hot vents in the 140F (60C) oceans which covered the early planet.

The discovery is the strongest evidence yet that similar organisms could also have evolved on Mars, which at the time still had oceans and an atmosphere, and was being bombarded by comets which probably brought the building blocks of life to Earth.

….Space expert Dr Dan Brown of Nottingham Trent University added: “The discovery is exciting since it demonstrates how quickly life can form if the conditions are right on a planet or moon.

“This makes it clear to me that as soon as we find conditions on an exoplanet that would favour life as we know it, the probability of finding some form of life on that planet is very high. However, we are not talking about little green aliens but about microorganisms.

(10) ABSTRACT THINKING. Click here for the table of contents of the March issue of Science Fiction Studies which brings us, among other headscratchers, Thomas Strychacz’ “The Political Economy of Potato Farming in Andy Weir’s The Martian” —

Abstract. This essay examines the diverse political-economic registers of Andy Weir’s The Martian (2011) in terms of its symbolic response to the material and ideological crises of the Great Recession. The 2008 financial collapse in the US led to millions losing their homes and posed a serious challenge to the legitimacy of mainstream economic principles. Published at the height of the crisis, and concerning itself with the monumental challenge of bringing just one person home, the novel writes contested economic discourses into cultural fable. On Mars, Mark Watney’s potato farming evokes the paradigmatic neoclassical economic figure of homo economicus, the self-interested, maximizing agent who constantly prioritizes competing choices in order to allocate scarce resources rationally. NASA’s Earth, conversely, is a fantastic world of “unlimited funding” where, overturning two centuries of (neo)classical economic principle, “every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out” (Weir 368-69). The novel’s confused attempts to reconcile homo economicus with a workable concept of the common good can be historicized. Other prominent documents of the recessionary era—the US government’s official Report on the Financial Crisis and Occupy Wall Street’s Declaration among them—manifest the same yearning to restore a vanishing sense of commonwealth.

(11) REVENGE OF THE SON OF THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW CLARKE. Two more shortlists from Shadow Clarke jurors.

One of the things I wanted to do with my shortlist was to explore the idea of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as an institution that challenges the near-monopoly that genre publishing has over not only the field’s annual hype cycle but also over the construction of literary excellence. Traditionally, the Clarke Award has filled this role by smuggling a few choice mainstream titles over the ghetto walls but what if those disruptive tendencies were allowed to manifest themselves more fully? What if the Clarke Award came to represent genre publishing industry’s systematic failure to drive the genre forwards?

In order to come up with a deliberately counter-cultural shortlist, I made several passes through the submissions list in order to rule things out before making more positive choices about the things I wanted to read and write about:

…Second pass: Genre publishing has slowly developed a near-monopoly on the means through which individual works acquire a word-of-mouth buzz. This monopoly is partly a result of publishers and authors developing direct relationships with reviewers and partly a result of critics and reviewers losing influence in the age of Goodreads and Amazon reviews. With most of genre culture’s systems of recommendation skewed in favour of genre imprints and established genre authors, I chose to prioritise works that were either produced outside of conventional genre culture or which have been marginalised by genre publishing and forced towards smaller publishing venues….

…The task of compiling a shortlist is slightly different for the shadow Clarke juror, because there is more scope to set a personal agenda. What do I want my shortlist to be? This question came into sharp focus when I looked at the list of submissions, and realised that I wouldn’t want to shortlist any of the books that I’d already read.

So I have had to fall back on books that I would like to read. On that basis, I decided to orient my shortlist around the idea of discovery, focusing primarily on authors I hadn’t read much before, and taking note of a few strong recommendations from trusted sources….

Mark-kitteh sent the links along with these comments: “I did a spot of tallying up:

  • The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead 5
  • Central Station — Lavie Tidhar 4
  • A Field Guide to Reality?— Joanna Kavenna 4
  • The Many Selves of Katherine North?—?Emma Geen 3
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman 3
  • The Gradual?— Christopher Priest 3

“Which conveniently makes a potential shortlist of 6. It’s unlikely to be the final result, but the jurors seem to have more to agree on than to disagree.

“They are followed by another 7 chosen by two jurors, plus 10 singletons with a lone champion. Nick Hubble has the honour of being the only juror with at least one other agreeing with all his choices.”

(12) TRIVIAL TRIVIA

Monopoly Board Games produced after September 2008 come with $20,580 in play money. Standard editions produced before that came with $15,140.

(13) TODAY’S DAY

Today is Dr. Seuss Day, a full twenty-four hours to make a mess with the Cat in the Hat, dance around with the Fox in Sox, hear a Who with Horton, count the red and blue fish, help the Grinch see the error of his ways, and listen to Sam I Am’s friend complain about his dish of green eggs and ham, the ungrateful hairball!

(14) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

(15) EARLY BARR. At Galactic Journey, Victoria Silverwolf has an eye for talent — “[March 1,1962] Hearts and Flowers (April 1962 Fantastic)”:

Appropriately, The April 1962 issue of Fantastic is full of romance, along with the sense of wonder demanded by readers of speculative fiction.

Before we get to the mushy stuff, however, Judith Merril offers us a mysterious look at The Shrine of Temptation.  George Barr’s beautiful cover art appears to have inspired this ambiguous tale of good, evil, and strange rituals.  Barr’s work has appeared in a handful of fanzines for a few years, but I believe this is his first professional publication.  Based on the quality of this painting, I believe the young artist has a fine career ahead of him.

(16) IT’S MERVEILLEUX. At The New York Review of Science Fiction: “Brian Stableford: Madme De Villaneuve and the Origins of the Fantasy Novel”

The first concerted attempt to define and characterize a genre of fantasy fiction was made by Charles-Joseph Mayer between 1785 and 1789 when he published the 41 exemplary volumes of Le Cabinet des fées, ou Collection choisie des contes de fées et autres contes merveilleux [The Cabinet of the Fairies, or, Selected Collection of Fairy Tales and Other Marvelous Tales] in parallel with Charles Garnier’s Voyages imaginaires, songes, visions et romans cabalistiques [Imaginary Voyages, Dreams, Visions, and Cabalistic Fiction]. The latter is now regarded as most significant for the volumes containing imaginary voyages that can be affiliated in retrospect to the nascent genre of roman scientifique [scientific fiction] but, as the full title illustrates, it contains a good deal of material that would nowadays be considered to belong to the fantasy genre, and some of the items, such as Madame Roumier-Robert’s “Les Ondins, conte moral” (1768; tr. as “The Water-Sprites”) would have been perfectly at home in Mayer’s collection. It was, however, Mayer’s assembly that identified the two principal strands of the genre of the merveilleux as the mock folktales that became fashionable in the literary salons of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in association with the court of Louis XIV and tales written in imitation of Antoine Galland’s collection of Les Mille-et-une nuits (1707–19), which claimed to be translations of Arabian folklore, although many of the inclusions are drastically rewritten from the original manuscripts or wholly invented by Galland.

(17) PULLMAN. In “Paradise regained: ‘His Dark Materials’ is even better than I remembered”, the Financial Times’ Nilanjana Roy uses the forthcoming publication of The Book of Dust to discuss how she read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy ten years ago and how much she enjoyed these books. (The article is behind a paywall; the link is to a Google cache which can be read after taking a survey.)

The first in the trilogy is the most memorably dazzling, a classic quest story where the young Lyra travels to the north, befriending armoured bears and witch-queens. She has a daemon, Pantalaimon — most people in her world do, the daemon being an animal who is the external manifestation of a person’s inner spirit — and that is what I remembered most about the trilogy. When His Dark Materials came out, most of my friends abandoned their dignity and played games of Guess His Daemon? assigning slinking jackals or brown marmorated stink bug daemons to those they didn’t like.

(18) IT PAYS NOT TO BE IGNORANT. BoingBoing tells about the Norwegian news site that makes readers pass a test proving they read the post before commenting on it.

The team at NRKbeta attributes the civil tenor of its comments to a feature it introduced last month. On some stories, potential commenters are now required to answer three basic multiple-choice questions about the article before they’re allowed to post a comment. (For instance, in the digital surveillance story: “What does DGF stand for?”)

(19) THE CULTURE WARS.  Yes, it’s Buzzfeed – perhaps someday you’ll forgive me. “This Far-Right Tweet About ‘The Future That Liberals Want’ Backfired Into A Huge Meme”. A lot of tweets have been gathered in this post – here are three examples, the tweet that started everything, one of the pushback, and a third from the bizarre spinoffs.

(Buzzfeed says the photo was originally posted on @subwaycreatures, where it was used to “showcase the beauty of New York’s diversity.”)

Finally:

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, JJ, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title inspiration credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Lis Carey.]