By Mark L. Blackman: On the wintry-cold autumn evening of Wednesday, October 17th, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series presented award-winning sf authors Lawrence M. Schoen and Tim Pratt, who read from their latest novels, both continuations of earlier works.
The Series, co-hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, is held on the third Wednesday of each month at its longtime venue, the Soviet era-themed (so doubly aptly-named) Red Room of the second-floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. Readings are free, but the hosts do noodgeh the crowd to buy drinks. As Kressel put it in his opening remarks, support the Bar and support the Series. (bljatlh ‘e’ ymelev – yltlhutlh!)*
Kressel then announced upcoming readings:
- November 21 – Leanna Renee Hieber and Cat Rambo
- December 19 – Nicole Kornher-Stace and Maria Dahvana Headley
- January 16, 2019 – Victor LaValle and Julie C. Day
(A fuller list may be found at http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/.) He concluded by introducing the event’s first reader.
Tim Pratt is the Hugo Award-winning and Nebula, World Fantasy, and Philip K. Dick Awards-nominated author of 25 novels and four story collections. His Axiom space opera series began with The Wrong Stars; he read from its sequel, The Dreaming Stars.
Set several hundred years in the future, the series takes its name from the Axiom, an ancient, malevolent species that wipes out other spacefaring races, but is at present dormant. Humanity is out in deep space through the efforts of a mostly-benevolent squidlike race known as the Liars because, um, they do that a lot. Our heroes’ mission is to exterminate the Axiom before they rouse and notice us. Their bad luck, they encounter an Axiom artifact and one of their number is infected with nanobots that turn him into a homicidal psychopath. In Pratt’s breezy and entertaining selection, he is being woken again, for safety’s sake, in VR, and being very selectively updated on the situation (as you’d expect, they leave out the homicidal psychopath bit), previous attempts having been dangerously unsuccessful.
After an intermission, co-host Datlow introduced the second reader of the evening.
Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen (he holds a PhD in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics) has been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award, and the recipient of the Coyotl Award for Best Novel for the anthropomorphic Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard. He is also the author of humorous short stories, novellas and novels about his protagonist the Amazing Conroy, “a stage hypnotist turned CEO who travels the galaxy with Reggie, his alien companion animal that eats anything and farts oxygen.” In addition, he is an authority on the Klingon language.
His reading selection was from the first chapter of The Moons of Barsk, the sequel to Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard. Set 80,000 years in the future, humanity is gone, superseded by sapient, uplifted animals (they don’t know that that’s what they are) that have spread through the galaxy. The furred mammals, it seems though, are none too keen on the furless elephants (of which there are two species, descendants respectively of African and Asian pachyderms) and have exiled them to a planet that no one wants, Barsk. There, when they are about to die, “Fants,” as the two races are collectively known, receive a call to sail away to an island, the proverbial Elephants’ Graveyard. Many theories were advanced about this in Barsk, but Schoen’s premise in the sequel is that “everything in the first book is wrong;” thus Chapter 1 is entitled “Nothing But Lies.” As it opens, a physicist has arrived on the last island and, to his surprise, finds no evidence of others who preceded him there – such as bones – and then, to his shock, is greeted by a Fant who tells him that his life and work are not over. (By the way, Schoen revealed, the audiobook is read – in English – by J.G. Hertzler, General Martok on Deep Space Nine.)
In lieu of the Word Bookstore, the readers had for sale copies of their books, Pratt both Axiom novels and Schoen both Barsk novels.
Prior to the readings, Datlow, as usual, circulated, taking pictures of the early arrivals and the two readers. Her photos of the event may be seen on her Flickr page, linked to the Series’ website. The audience, often SRO, was, for some reason, noticeably smaller.
(Note: Despite the readings being held in a bar, there were no reports of pink elephants.)
*Stop talking! Drink!