Glitter and Virtual Darkness: Not at the KGB Bar Reading Series Features Gibson and Rambo

By Mark L. Blackman On the night of Wednesday, November 18, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, presented authors William Gibson and Cat Rambo in YouTube livestreamed readings. This was the Series’ ninth virtual event. (Its longtime venue, the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, had shut down due to the pandemic, but the Soviet era-themed dive bar has sporadically reopened with limited capacity, and its fans are invited to help it out with donations.) The current setup, Kressel noted, offers the advantage of allowing readings from writers not living in or visiting New York; both readers were “in” from the West Coast (Rambo lives in Seattle and Gibson Vancouver). It has also enabled a larger audience than could have fit into the bar (at one point, 120 people were watching).

As the evening’s livestream began, Gibson and Rambo schmoozed with Datlow and Kressel about everything from what they were drinking (hydration is important) to the scary Michelin Man, Gene Wolfe’s role at Pringle’s (the logo character is probably based on him), Oreos, and the previous week’s tornado in New York.

The first reader, Cat Rambo, is the author of over 200 stories, among them the novelette Carpe Glitter, which received a Nebula Award earlier this year, and four novels, including the upcoming space opera, You Sexy Thing. She is a past President of SFWA, and, as it happens, was in that position when Gibson was named a Grand Master. She opened with a selection from Carpe Glitter – “seize the glitter.” A woman is cleaning out the home of her eccentric late grandmother (“Carpe glitter” is something the old lady used to say), a former stage magician and a hoarder. It is an inheritance that she chose (to her mother’s disappointment) over cash, excavating and treasure-hunting (a friend has referred to it as “urban archeology”) through rancid furs, piles of multiple copies of magazines with her old notices and her doll collection.

She then read a flash story (“one of my favorite forms”) that ran on Daily Science Fiction, “I Decline.” An old man turns down government-offered technology that can preserve – and even edit out – his memories. (The spoiler is in the title.)

A short break followed.

William Gibson is best known as the creator (or, at minimum, co-creator) of an entire subgenre of speculative fiction, Cyberpunk. He is the author of the award-winning Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light, Idoku, Spook Country, and other novels, most recently Agency, a sequel to The Peripheral.

He offered “a blended reading,” selections from the latter two novels, both of which center around “The Jackpot,” a multicausal, slow, androgenic process over 40 years rather than a solitary apocalyptic event, described by one character as “seriously bad shit.” Climate change and too much carbon results in droughts and water shortages, and pandemics that lead ultimately to the death of 80% of everyone (in other words, as we’ve heard too often on the news this year, “a perfect storm”). There is nanotechnology and cheaper energy sources, but the world is run by hereditary oligarchs. The protagonist is reached by a posse from the 22nd century who tell her about it. From Chapter 79 of The Peripheral, “The Jackpot,” he turned to Chapter 75 of Agency, “Jackpot.” The novel is set in an alternate continuum in which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, but that, he said, “doesn’t have the effect it might have, doesn’t prevent the Jackpot from happening.” Here too the protagonist is contacted by people from the future. Gibson is currently working on Jackpot, the conclusion of the trilogy.

Datlow described both selections as “greatly depressing reads, but optimistic” somehow. The Peripheral, was published in 2014 and Agency, appeared in early 2020, effectively pre-Covid-19. Trump’s election caused him to rewrite large parts of Agency, but the Coronavirus hasn’t derailed it. Both novels refer to “the pandemics,” plural.

Datlow asked how the writers are faring during the Pandemic. Rambo is staying productive with co-writing sessions, while Gibson has been “doing domestic stuff,” and “watching and reacting, and taking the measure of the fuckedness quotient and applying some of it to Jackpot #3.”

A Q&A with the audience ensued. Asked what classic sf stands up or stands out, Rambo replied that she’d been reading a number of ’70s short stories, particularly from women writers. Gibson cited J.G. Ballard and Brunner (who “got it astonishingly right,” notably Stand on Zanzibar), and we can feel like we’re in 1984. How do they decide the genders of their protagonists? Rambo said that if she didn’t know, she would return to her “D&D roots” and roll dice. Gibson noted that he had male and female protagonists in the same book; there are maybe four female protagonists in Jackpot. When he started out, he consulted Joanna Russ’s circle about handling women characters. Females, he opined, “better comprehend their world.”

What about the current milieu do they find surprising? Rambo finds social media both “horrifying and fascinating.” The only social media Gibson does is Twitter (Rambo also is on Twitter). In a digression, he observed (to laughter) that one thing that we don’t see in zombie apocalyptic fiction in books, movies and tv is people calling zombies a hoax. Kressel likened our polarized world to China Miéville’s The City and the City, with people “literally living in two realities,” pretending the others don’t exist. What are Rambo and Gibson finding to be optimistic about? Rambo likes “the informal nature of things,” and hopes that sf conventions have “a strong virtual component going forward.”

Would Gibson ever write in anyone else’s world? No, he has “never understood the impulse to write fan fiction.” What are their research methods? Gibson “Google[s] blindly,” and Rambo also relies on Google or “a good university library.” She is currently reading Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, and Gibson recommended M. John Harrison’s latest.

After a brief and reluctant cameo by her cat Jack, Datlow concluded by announcing upcoming readers:

  • December 16: Priya Sharma and Justin Key
  • January 20, 2021: Lauren Beukes and Usman T. Malik
  • February 17: Kathleen Jennings and Shveta Thakrar

All dates are the third Wednesday of the month (“come rain or shine or Covid”).

Not at the KGB Bar, Hunts in Weird October with Joe Hill and Laird Barron

By Mark L. Blackman: On the night of Wednesday, October 21, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series in a pre-Halloween event featured horror writers Joe Hill and Laird Barron. In its new normal (or abnormal), with the Series’ longtime venue, the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village shut down due to the pandemic (though it’s starting to reopen with limited capacity), for the eighth time, the presentation was livestreamed on YouTube. (Hill called the Bar “one of my New York City happy places.” Missing the full KGB Bar experience, I considered climbing several flights of stairs before logging on.)

As the evening began, Hill and Barron schmoozed with co-hosts Ellen Datlow (who has been hosting these readings for 20 years) and Matthew Kressel about everything from what they were and weren’t drinking (Madeira is too sweet), masks and pizza breath, candied bacon (a mix of sweet and savory), and that no one liked getting apples or food trick or treating. Kressel relayed that the evening was sponsored by Tor’s Nightfire line (and not by Jeffrey Toobin), then introduced the first reader.

Laird Barron is the author of several books, including The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us AllSwift to Chase and Worse Angels., and short fiction that has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, “stories about the evil that men do.” He spent his early years in Alaska and currently resides in the Rondout Valley in upstate New York. His reading selection was “Lorn,” a work in progress set in the wilderness around a dying town (“Lorn” is all that remained on its sign), which he began with a caution that it was “R-rated” and included animal violence. “Animals can be murderers,” he said, and related a true story about a Husky serial killer that had slaughtered sled dogs. Two brothers, Paul and Casey Arnaz, are recruited by an old buddy to hunt a predator killing the area’s pets; it could be a late eccentric’s menagerie on the loose or “local yokels who’ve gone back to the old ways.”

During a break, Hill was asked about the TARDIS behind him. He and his family were huge fans of David Tennant’s stint as the Doctor, and he even (with help from Neil Gaiman) pitched stories to Doctor Who; but they don’t, never have and never will accept scripts written by Americans. Datlow segued into his introduction.

Joe Hill (yes, I saw Joe Hill last night) is the author of Full ThrottleStrange Weather, The Fireman, NOS4A2, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, and the comics and graphic novels Locke & Key, Basketful of Heads and Plunge.(the latter under his Hill House Comics imprint with DC, ). Much of his work has been adapted or is in development for film and TV. He is, incidentally, the son of Stephen and Tabitha King, and, he joked, his wife “collects writers’ tears.”

He read from “Faun,” a short story in Full Throttle. A very wealthy young man is invited to a presentation in Boston about joining a curated hunt in Maine. For a quarter of a million dollars he can go through a little door and stalk a faun (a variety of satyr, a goatman with hooves and horns). (Hill got to do a Maine accent and a sort of Mickey Mouse voice.) The story alludes to Bradbury’s “A Sound of Distant Thunder,” but, as Hill revealed during the Q&A that followed, was also inspired by Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia; however, instead of decent English children going through a wardrobe, here a spoiled young man is the traveler. Imagine running hunts, he said, into Middle Earth or Narnia, he said.

The Q&A and discussion that followed was far-ranging. The X-Files, Hill thought, was better as a romance (will they or won’t they) than as horror (the monster of the week). Is it easier to write horror when the world feels like a horror story? Barron said that he’s as isolated as when he lived in the woods. Hill said that when he writes, he’s buried in the mechanics of each paragraph, and described himself as “a wicked overwriter” (“Faun” should have been shorter, had “fewer words”). What he writes, he felt, “isn’t scary;” other people’s stories scare him.

Some horror stories, Hill continued, are “like comfort food;” Barron also finds horror “comforting” – “there’s a filter.” In some horror stories (and movies), observed Datlow (who’s edited more than a few horror anthologies), the good are saved and evil punished, though not always. Said Hill, if you make sacrifices, the worst things in the world can be driven back. Horror reminds us of our shared humanity. “Good horror is about empathy, not sadism” (“torture porn”).

The conversation shifted, appropriately, to horror movie viewing for Halloween. Barron said that a favorite was John Carpenter’s The Thing, also Hawks’ and Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” Datlow cited Personal Shopper, Get Out and Hereditary. Hill quipped that his horror viewing was the next night’s Presidential Debate. The Swedish film Sauna and Let the Right One In were also mentioned.

Favorite villain? Hannibal Lecter was shared, though Barron liked Nicholson’s. Hill said that he wants heroes to root for, but then cited Walter White and Bruce the Shark from Jaws, who’s “the perfect menace.” Barron observed that Jaws is, in essence, “a slasher film.” The shark is a shark; she isn’t evil. This reminded Datlow of Peter Watts’ “The Things,” The Thing from the Thing’s point of view.

Datlow concluded by announcing upcoming readers:

  • November 18: William Gibson and Cat Rambo
  • December 16: Priya Sharma and Justin Key
  • January 20, 2021: Lauren Beukes and Usman T. Malik
  • February 17: Kathleen Jennings and Shveta Thakrar

All dates are the third Wednesday of the month. The new setup allows readers from all over the world, noted Datlow, though time zones do limit things.

City of Gardner: NYRSF Readings Series Features Michael Swanwick in Collaboration with Gardner Dozois

Jim Freund (L), Michael Swanwick (R)

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, September 8, 2020 (Star Trek Day), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series opened its 30th Season virtually (and perhaps virtuously) with a reading by Michael Swanwick from his extraordinary collaboration with the late Gardner Dozois, The City Under the Stars. The event was hosted by Series producer and executive curator Jim Freund, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf on WBAI-FM, and was live on Facebook and posted to the Series’ page for later viewing. (Tech was handled by Barbara Krasnoff, and Amy Goldschlager was the virtual audience’s “Question Wrangler.”)

Michael Swanwick, a longtime reader at the Series, is the author of ten novels, including Vacuum FlowersStations of the TideThe Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Jack Faust, Bones of the Earth, The Dragons of Babel, Dancing With Bears, Chasing the Phoenix, and The Iron Dragon’s Mother; and roughly 150 stories. Notable among his non-fiction is Being Gardner Dozois, a book-length interview. He has been honored with the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, the World Fantasy Award, and the Hugo Award.  (He has frequently noted that he has “the pleasant distinction of having lost more major awards than any other science fiction writer.”)

Gardner Dozois was, of course, the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine for almost 20 years, winning the Hugo Award as the year’s Best Editor 15 times. He was also honored with the Locus Award, the Nebula Award and the Sidewise Award, inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and the Skylark Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science Fiction. He was the author or editor of more than a hundred books.

The evening opened with a discussion between Swanwick and Freund (who proudly displayed his very own Darger and Surplus pen). The book that became The City Under the Stars was long in the making, said Swanwick. Dozois began the story in 1972, but hit a snag. He handed a cardboard box with his unfinished manuscript to Swanwick and asked if he could turn it into a novella. Swanwick said he saw a way – “I lied” – but later did see a plotline. “The City of God” (now the first half of this novel) was published in Omni and Asimov’s. The novella was “bleak,” “dark,” and “a little more downbeat than the Book of Job, without the happy ending.”

Its ending seemed to preclude any sequels, but, over the decades, he and Dozois “talked over what might come next” and how a longer, complete story would end; Dozois had “an uplifting idea” for how to give it “a surprisingly happy ending.” They planned to write two more novellas, “The City of Angels” and “The City of Men,” however, midway through the second novella, Gardner Dozois died.

Subsequently, Swanwick returned to the project – now a memorial to Dozois – because “I wanted the world to see this genuinely happy ending.” Aiming to “keep Gardner’s vision,” he revised and combined both novellas, and changed the direction of the work in progress. As he wrote on Tor.com, Swanwick “made of them a novel I think Gardner would have been pleased with. The ending is exactly what Gardner envisioned all those decades ago. A happy one. For everyone. When I wrote the last words of it, I cried.”

Swanwick’s reading selection was from the very beginning of Chapter 1, opening in Orange, NY. The protagonist, Hanson, is part of a crew digging in a pit for and shoveling coal to feed the machines. From there, though, he can see the City of God, “perfect and inviolate.” It’s an “astonishingly depressing story.” After that “bleak” passage, “things get even worse and worse.” He later enters the City of God, but that’s not yet “the happy ending” by any means.

Hanson, Swanwick surmised, was based on Dozois himself, “a blue-collar kid who grew up in the factory town of Salem, Massachusetts. … His sympathy was with the downtrodden.” Despite his image of being “large and jolly,” Dozois was “shy and private.” He knew that by becoming editor of Asimov’s, he was effectively ending his writing career, and his output did decrease.

Answering Freund about his own path, Swanwick said that he decided to become a writer after reading The Lord of the Rings; he wanted to make an impact like that. Another influence or impetus was his father’s early onset Alzheimer’s. This segued into a Q&A, with questions from Carol Gyzander, Ian Randal Strock and Gregory Frost, among others.

Swanwick reminisced about a collaboration of his with Dozois and Jack Dann, “An Afternoon at Schraft’s,” which was eventually published in a themed anthology with one title. His personal favorite Dozois story is “A Special Kind of Morning,” a war story. In his collaborations with Dozois, “Gardner was always the alpha male,” with say on the final draft. He reminisced about hosting the Milford-style workshop “Philford.” He met Dozois shortly after he (Swanwick) came to Philadelphia, through a friend of a friend. Eventually, Dozois shrugged and offered to make suggestions on “your sucky stories.” Swanwick is currently working on short stories for Tor.com. Final words: “Don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.” (It’s a funny business, he observed. On the same day, he received checks for $9 and $1,400.)

The next reading, announced Freund, is Tuesday, October 6th, with C.L. Polk and will be guest-hosted by Amy Goldschlager. As a postscript, he noted that the software being used was “not free” and suggested that donations be made via PayPal (details are on the Series’ Facebook page). Finally, he noted again that this was the first reading of the Series’ 30th Season, also Series founder Gordon Van Gelder’s birthday – and Star Trek Day.

Wandering Star: Virtual NYRSF Readings Go Down Under with Jack Dann

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, June 2nd (the morning of Wednesday, June 3rd in Australia), the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series, having shifted to being a virtual event in the face of shelter-in-place – and now further confronted by a citywide curfew – took those lemons and made lemonade. Taking advantage of being virtual, the Series has been offering readings without the necessity of having authors schlep out to Brooklyn (the nearby Barclays Center has been a site of demonstrations and disturbance), and last night concluded its 28th Season by presenting its farthest-flung writer, Jack Dann, coming to us from “the boondocks,” his farm overlooking the sea outside Melbourne, Australia.

The evening/morning was hosted by Jim Freund, the Series’ executive curator, from his living room (and not a bunker) in Brooklyn. (At last word, his radio show, The Hour of the Wolf, is off hiatus and airing on WBAI-FM every two weeks for an hour, Saturdays at 5 am.) The Series’ Patreon page is https://www.patreon.com/JimFreund.

For those who don’t know Jack (the line is Freund’s), Jack Dann is the Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award and Shirley Jackson Award-winning author or editor of over 75 works. They include the novels The Memory Cathedral, The Rebel (a “James Dean novel”), The Silent, The Man Who Melted and the current Shadows in the Stone: A Novel of Transformations, as well as the short story collection Concentration; and the Jewish-themed anthologies Wandering Stars and More Wandering Stars, and, co-edited with Janeen Webb, Dreaming Down-Under and Dreaming Again.

After being welcomed and introduced by Freund, Dann read from opening chapters from Shadows in the Stone. Drawing from Gnosticism, the ambitiously researched novel and adventure story is set in an alternate reality and ranges from Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea (I’ve been to the area, and seen the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem) to the Italian Renaissance (where 90% of the novel takes place) and even the American Civil War (what happened in Scranton in 1862?).

Jack Dann

The selection that he read introduced Lucian, a boy in Qumran who is visited by the archangel Gabriel, who foreshadows a war between Heaven and Hell. The scene jumps ahead to his community being invaded by Roman knights, led by an Inquisitor, in search of the Scrolls and their wisdom. Wisdom will become a central theme, manifested in Sophia, an angel of wisdom.

In a Q&A “wrangled” by Amy Goldschlager, Dann remembered Alice K. Turner, late fiction editor of Playboy, Twilight Zone Magazine and Gardner Dozois. What about the Dead Sea Scrolls inspired the novel? He replied that he found it “good narrative material.” Asked about his writing methods, he said that he learns as he’s writing, and goes back as his characters develop. Finally, as one would expect, there didn’t seem to be a single book that could serve as an introduction to all things Jack Dann. With that, we bid him G’day.

The 29th Season will open on September 1st, virtually or in person, with Michael Swanwick.

Abby Has Died

By Mark L. Blackman: New York fan Ariel Makepeace Julienne Winterbreuke – also known as I Abra Cinii, Ariel Cinii and simply Abby – was found dead in her “Upstate Manhattan” apartment on Sunday, March 8. She was 66. Neighbor and fellow fan Bill Wagner provided the few details available:

Some sad news. New York fan and my direct next door neighbor Ariel Winterbreuke was found dead in her apartment. She had been dead at least a week. A neighbor said the police went down the fire escape to get into her apartment for a wellness check. Reportedly she had recently appeared thin and not looking well. No cause of death is yet known.

Abby, one of the first trans people in Fandom, was phenomenally creative and inventive (she even devised an alien language and way of thought for her fiction called Sartine). She was an apahack (in both incarnations of APA-NYU), an artist, a filker and performer (known for “Imported Sly,” “Unknown is Unending,” and the New York-centric “The Alternate Side” and “Swing Low, Sweet Double-A”), and the author (as Ariel Cinii) of the Touching Lands’ Dance trilogy (The Family Forge, The Organized Seer and The Telepaths’ Song).

Abby attending an open-air art exhibition in Rockefeller Center. Photo by and used with permission of Deb Wunder.

Fantastic Fiction at KGB Readings Present Kelly and Clark

James Patrick Kelly and P. Djèlí Clark

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, February 19, the monthly Fantastic Fiction at KGB Readings Series hosted award-winning authors James Patrick Kelly and P. Djèlí Clark at its longtime venue, the definitely Red Room at the 2nd floor KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village.

The event opened with Series co-host Ellen Datlow (fighting through a cold) welcoming the crowd and announcing upcoming readers:

  • March 18: Robert Levy, Daniel Braum
  • April 15: Michael Cisco, Clay MacLeod Chapman
  • May 20: Leanna Renee Hieber, Ilana C. Myers
  • June 17: N.K. Jemisin, Kenneth Schneyer
  • July 15: Mike Allen, Benjamin Rosenbaum

She concluded by introducing the evening’s first reader.

P. (for Phenderson) Djèlí Clark (and yes, it’s a penname) is the author of the fantasy novellas The Black God’s Drums and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, and “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington,” a short story that earned him both a Nebula and Locus Award, and was a finalist for both the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Short Story and the 2019 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. As it was Black History Month and just after Presidents’ Day (formerly Washington’s Birthday), his opening offering was from that story, the first six teeth.

Washington’s famous choppers were not wooden (and certainly not carved from that legendary cherry tree), but were made from his own teeth that had fallen out, animal teeth and slaves’ teeth purchased from slave-owners. (His dentures, one might say, were the original George Washington bridge.) Clark, an historian in the other part of his professional life, imagines a mouthful of supernatural backstories for the titular dentation, of African warriors and conjuremen (wisdom teeth?), a strange counterpoint to the barbaric practice.

He followed up by reading from an advance bound manuscript of his forthcoming (in October or November) dark fantasy novella Ring Shout. In an alternate 1922 Macon, Georgia, a trio of black women – a bootlegger with a magic sword, a sharpshooter World War vet, and a “Harlem Hellfighter” – hunt Klansmen (“Ku Kluxers”). The original Klan’s sheets were intended to make them seem ghostlike, adding to the terror they induced, but here their hell-raising is given a literal twist, evil, malevolent sorcery. (While Clark didn’t say, in his story, it seems that D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation cast an actual spell drawing on the hatred and ugliness at America’s heart, leading to the rise and rebirth of the Klan … much as, absent the sorcery, it did in ours.) Advisory: there was much use of the n-word (small “n”) and “graphic language.”

After an intermission, Mercurio David Rivera, filling in for co-host Matthew Kressel (who was off on another island), introduced the second featured reader.

James Patrick Kelly has been honored with the Hugo Award for his novelettes “Think Like a Dinosaur” and “1016 to 1,” and the Nebula Award for his novella Burn. His most recent books are the novella King of the DogsQueen Of the Cats (which he described as a “romantic comedy” set on another planet in the far future, where dogs and cats have been uplifted, mostly in a circus), and a collection, The Promise of Space. (Like Clark, he too likes secret history; with John Kessel, he co-edited the anthology The Secret History of Science Fiction.)

Despite his description of it, he did not read from King of the DogsQueen Of the Cats, but instead a story so new that his wife (who was present) hadn’t read it, and that didn’t yet have a title (working titles include “Showdown,” “5°C” and, maybe seriously not in contention, “OK, Boomer”). Set in New Hampshire, it’s a future of cybernetic prosthesis and rejuvenation drugs, where rangers hunt Boomers (the only generation, he said, everyone agrees on hating – Kelly is one, as am I – but I thought it was Millennials whom everyone agrees on hating), like Willow’s great-grandmother.

Datlow closed the evening with the traditional exhortation to support the Bar by buying a drink. Prior to the readings, as usual, she snapped photos of the readers and the audience. Her photos of the event may be seen on Flickr now, and later at the Series website, http://www.kgbfantasticfiction.org/.

The Game Was Afoot at NYRSF Readings: “Crimes, Capers, and Conan Doyle”

By Mark L. Blackman: On Tuesday, February 4th, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, which has its own “dreadful record of sin” but is no “great cesspool,” the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series hosted an evening of “Crimes, Capers, and Conan Doyle,” featuring two award-winning writers whose methods have delved into Sherlockiana,  Elizabeth Crowens and Teel James Glenn. (The program, it should be noted, missed Holmes’s birthday by a month.)

The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf (who described himself as a “Holmes Pun Philosopher”), welcoming the audience and noting that the night’s readings would be on Facebook Live, plugging that the Café’s kitchen would be open till intermission (so order hot food early), and announcing upcoming readings.  Guest-hosted by Amy Goldschlager, March 3rd’s readings would be the third in a series featuring writers from Serial Box. On a future date there will be a Latinx Night. (Check the website for details.) He reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience may donate on its Patreon page. Finally, as they would be performing in tandem, he introduced both of the evening’s readers.

Elizabeth Crowens has worn many hats in Hollywood (she wore a couple last night), is a Sherlock Holmes fan and an invested member of the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes, and a contributor to Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, among others. Additionally, she has two award-winning alternate history novels, Silent Meridian and A Pocketful of Lodestones, with A War in Too Many Worlds forthcoming, in her “The Time Traveler Professor” series, described as “a 19th-century X-Files meets Doctor Who.” (The titular professor was inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine to build his own working one.)

Teel James Glenn (or “T.J.,” whom I knew many years ago from fannish gatherings) notes that he “has killed hundreds and been killed even more times – on stage and screen, traveling the world as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, bodyguard, actor and haunted house barker.” (I remember when he played a Soviet spy on The Guiding Light, but, with due apologies, not his fight scene with Hawk – the future Captain Sisko – on Spenser for Hire. In most of his parts, he told me, he has three lines, then gets “punched in the face;” fortunately, we presume, Freund didn’t know.) As a writer, he has had stories in over a hundred magazines including Weird Tales, Fantasy Tales, Sherlock Holmes Mystery, and even Mad(!), and is the author of the bestselling SF thriller series “The Exceptionals,” one book in which was a finalist in the EPIC book awards, and the winner of the 2012 Pulp Ark Ward for Best Author. (As both he and Crowens have black belts in martial arts – and also have appeared in Black Belt Magazine – some in the audience wondered about a match between them, but she declined. “He’s a stuntman – he gets lit on fire!”)

Elizabeth Crowens and Teel James Glenn. Photo by Mark Blackman.

Appropriately, Crowens’ selection from A Pocketful of Lodestones featured Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has been called in to solve a real mystery at a house in Brighton (England, not Brooklyn) during the Great War. (Glenn voiced Doyle, with a Scottish burr, while she handled the other characters.) The McGuffin is a ghost-haunted red book that writes itself and manifests whatever is drawn in it in a closet.

This was followed by Glenn’s “noncanical” story “The Case of the Final Interview,” with him as Dr. Watson (doing an English accent this time) and Crowdens as a dissolute actor (he even is a cocaine user) being recruited to pose as Holmes during his supposed absence; the role, he’s cautioned, can be dangerous (poisonous snakes being only one potential peril).

During the intermission, a Raffle was held for those who donated, with the prizes Glenn’s Tabloid Terror and Crowdens’ A Pocketful of Lodestones. (Something else they had in common: he had illustrated his book covers and she had designed hers.)

Resuming the evening’s program, though stepping away from the Great Detective, Glenn soloed with an amusing short story from Tabloid Terror, “Were Goes There?,” featuring Hollywood reporter and PR flack, Maxie Donovan, up in Québec, Canada for a movie premiere. (Glenn clearly had fun with the broad French accents of the locals.) In lumberjack country, a loup-garou has been killing girls, and he undertakes to figure out who in the tavern with him is the “furry fiend.”

Crowdens’ unpublished “A Case Study from a Scarlet Planet” sends Holmes to Mars, with her enacting a futuristic Dr. Watson and Glenn (doing an English accent) as the Holmes stand-in, who might be a clone of the original (via blood from a bee’s stinger). The two meet while seeking  affordable lodging and wind up at Cell 221B. (A Study in Scarlet, Red Planet, elementary.) They have been called in by the android Inspectors Lestrade and Greggson to investigate a murder.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books and a few magazines. The audience of close to 40, not counting Freund and the readers, included Amy Goldschlager, Karen Heuler, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, James Ryan and Susan Ratisher Ryan. Over the course of the evening, audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine.

Magical Mystery Tour: NYRSF Readings Spotlight the Beatles Across Space and Time

By Mark L. Blackman: The Beatles entered my consciousness not through the bathroom window but with my brother telling me about a new singing group with “haircuts like Moe” of the Three Stooges. (Decades later, he watched Sir Paul perform in Tel Aviv.) Soon after I saw their landmark first appearance on Ed Sullivan. By then Beatlemania had erupted – the moptops were the Fab Four – everyone had to get them into their lives. We followed their long and winding road from sweet love songs to India and Sergeant Pepper and The End.

When friends visited from England, they made a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields – a place to go – then across the street to the Dakota.

This time of year is a sad one for Beatles fans. Last month saw the anniversary of George’s death, next week will be that of John’s murder. A celebration of their music, fame and legacy, what they meant, something to say that it’s O.K. and make us feel good in a special way, is most welcome. We saw a reminder of their status as The ’60s Icons last summer as fans gathered on the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road on, where else?, London’s Abbey Road.

Yesterday, on the evening of Tuesday, December 3rd – Giving Tuesday – at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series hosted a launch party (we’re going to a party party) for Across the Universe, an anthology of 25 freaky and twisted (and shouted) speculative fiction stories about the Beatles and alternative variations of the still-Fab Four. Edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn, the ticket to ride features what-ifs by Spider Robinson, Jody Lynn Nye, David Gerrold, Cat Rambo, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Allen Steele, Pat Cadigan, Gregory Frost, Gregory Benford, Matthew Amati, Ken Schneyer, Bev Vincent, Patrick Barb, Gail Z. Martin, Barbara Clough, Eric Avedissian, Alan Goldsher, R. Jean Mathieu, Beth Patterson, and Christian Smith, coming together, plus the, um, Fab Five readers of the evening: Charles Barouch, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Carol Gyzander, Gordon Linzner, and Sally Wiener Grotta.

All together now.

As we gathered, Beatles tunes played to get us into the spirit of things. The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf (with WBAI-FM back on the air, he’s no longer sitting in a nowhere land) welcoming the audience to the last reading of 2019. He began by noting that tonight’s readings would be on Facebook Live, rather than streamed on Livestream, plugging that the Café’s kitchen would be open through most of the evening, and announcing that next month’s readers (January 7th) would be Hildy Silverman and A.C. Wise (though without glitter). He reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience may donate on its Patreon page, Jim Freund.

Randee Dawn

Bringing up guest host and the book’s co-editor Randee Dawn, he reported that Across the Universe is actually the second such anthology, the first being All Together Now, edited by James Ryan. Dawn is a Brooklyn-based author and entertainment journalist who focuses on speculative fiction, but is co-author of The Law & Order:  SVU Unofficial Companion. After recounting how she and Ventrella pretty much simultaneously came up with the idea, presented it to Ian Randal Strock of Fantastic Books and launched a Kickstarter campaign to realize it, she introduced the evening’s first reader.

Sally Wiener Grotta is the author of The Winter Boy and Jo Joe, a journalist and the co-curator of the Galactic Philadelphia author reading series. She read from her story “The Truth Within,” in which George goes to Key Biscayne and tries to get Nixon interested in (“hooked on”) transcendental meditation: “Imagine a chilled Nixon at peace with himself. … And poof! No more carpet bombing and napalm.”

Carol Gyzander, writer of various crossgenre ’punk stories and the second reader, read from “Deal with the Devil”, which is one answer to “how did the Beatles get so good?” Set in Liverpool after their return from playing clubs in Hamburg (Pete Best is still their drummer), two kids, fans of Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, using black magic to connect with their idols, instead reach – through their old black and white “telly” – the Beatles.

Next up was Gordon Linzner, founder and former editor of Space & Time Magazine, author of The Spy Who Drank Blood, and who, as lead singer of the Saboteur Tiger Blues Band, has covered a fair share of Beatles songs. His story alludes to a tv show with four protagonists, “The Hey! Team.” With John as leader and wacko Richard “Ringo” Starkey in the Murdoch role, they try to prevent the abduction of Chuck Berry’s guitar Maybellene, while being pursued by Colonel Pepper (he was promoted).

Charles Barouch

“The Perfect Bridge,” Charles Barouch’s quickie was another time travel story. A computer programmer in 1978, using a “Yellow Subroutine,” reaches across to 1967 to plant an Appleseed.

During the intermission, a raffle was held for those who donated, with three prizes: from Carol Gyzander’s What We’ve Unlearned;  Sally Wiener Grotta’s Jo Joe; and Gordon Linzner’s The Spy Who Drank Blood. Freund reported that the Brooklyn Commons was starting a series or festival of short subject films and invited us to sign up electronically at a terminal up front.

Keith R.A. DeCandido

Opening the second half of the show was Keith R.A. DeCandido, who is perhaps best known for his media tie-in work across “33 different universes, from Alien to Zorro.” In “Used to Be,” which is set sort of in his “Precinct” fantasy police procedural series, the Beatles are recast as Jahn, Gyorg, Paol and Starki, D&D tropes (Jahn is a bard, Starki a barbarian).

Filling in for the scheduled final reader, Dawn read Matthew Amati’s “Apocalypse Rock.” Set in an alternate history where the U.S. lost JFK’s Cuban Missile Crisis gamble, four musicians wander a postapocalyptic landscape of gangs and cannibal mutants to a battle of the bands at the titular site.

Ian Randall Strock

Then, in a bonus, the book’s publisher (“the guy who writes the checks”), Ian Randal Strock, read “Rubber Soul” by Spider Robinson. In the 1985 story, John is resurrected 24 years after his death at 40, making him…

Finally, it being a party party and all the world is birthday cake, Dawn brought out a huge cake (though not honey pie or marshmallow pie) decorated with a copy of the cover art by Dave Alvarez. (I took a piece but not too much.)

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books. The audience of close to 80, counting Freund and the readers, included Karen Heuler, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok, James Ryan and Susan Bratisher Ryan.

It was a hard day’s night. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.

Two’s Crowds at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, October 16th, as a nor’easter raged outside, the monthly Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted authors Barbara Krasnoff and Nicole Kornher-Stace at its longtime venue, the most sincerely Red Room of the second-floor (or third – there’s a major schism – but, either way, it’s a steep climb up stairs) KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village. (The Room seemed darker than usual.)

The event opened with Series co-host Matthew Kressel welcoming the crowd (who’d come out in the storm) and the standard exhortation to thank the Bar by buying drinks, hard or soft (readings are always free, and our patronage keeps it so) (somewhat smaller, likely due to the holidays) and reported on upcoming readings. The next months’ readers are:

November 20
David Mack
Glassner

December 18
Paul Tremblay
Nathan Ballingrud

January 15, 2020
Cassandra Khaw
Richard Kadrey

February 19
James Patrick Kelly
P. Djeli Clark

(Details are available at here.)  All dates are the third Wednesday of the month.

He concluded by introducing the first reader of the evening. Nicole Kornher-Stace is the author of the Norton Award finalist Archivist Wasp and its sequel, Latchkey. Her next novel, Firebreak, is due out from Saga in 2020, and it was from it that she read. Firebreak, she relayed, has been described as “if Saga Press and Black Mirror had a baby.” Set in the future, in an oppressive company town – notably, they’ve locked up the water supply – Mallory Parker leads a protest (the revolution is being broadcast online), and security, behind disruptor shields, is brutally disbanding the crowd. (Though, of course, not intended, it was hard not to think of what’s happening in Hong Kong.) When there is a rainfall, protestors grab red plastic cups to catch it, deemed illegally “poaching water.” Her offering was well-received, though Kornher-Stace did read a bit too fast.

After an intermission, the Series’ senior co-host, Ellen Datlow, introduced the evening’s second reader. Barbara Krasnoff is the author of over 35 short stories, including “Sabbath Wine,” which was a finalist for the Nebula Award, and recently published a mosaic novel (connected stories) titled The History of Soul 2065, a generational saga of two Jewish girls’ descendants, spanning from the eve of World War I to the second half of the 21st century, including “Sabbath Wine.” (She’s also responsible for a series of wryly captioned photos delving into the inner situations of street objects and urban wildlife that can be found under the hashtag #TheirBackstories.)

Her reading was of a story from The History of Soul 2065, “Stoop Ladies.” Set in 1983, in Brooklyn (of course), Julie Jacobson (not strictly speaking on either girl’s family tree), newly laid off from her office job (a PR representative) after 17 years, sighs and decides to join the crowd (a very different one from Firebreak) of mostly elderly women who congregate evenings in the yard outside her brownstone to schmooze and gossip, and with whom she occasionally sits. (My mother called the bunch who set up beach chairs outside our apartment house “Rogues Gallery,” with people passing by on the sidewalk or entering the building running the gauntlet of their scrutiny, though we dubbed them “Yenta Center.” Julie’s neighbors are more ethnically diverse.) Sharing her woes, she finds Chablis and sympathy, and perhaps a little magic. The story was quirky – like the ladies – and enchanting.

Prior to the reading, as usual, Datlow whirled through the audience, taking photos. (It looks like she’s also using a cameraphone these days.) Her photos of the event may be seen on her Flickr page.

Comes a Reckoning: NYRSF Readings Spotlight Creative Writing on Environmental Justice

By Mark L. Blackman: One might think that, as we all breathe air and need potable water to survive – among the few things that all of humanity has in common – the environment would be as noncontroversial and nonpartisan as anything could be, but no. Even the very first Earth Day in 1970 was savaged as, variously, Hitler’s birthday and Lenin’s birthday. One button that I have from back then displays an upside-down peace sign, resembling a tree, calling us to “make peace with nature” … thus environmentalism was deemed “unpatriotic” (and ridiculed as “tree-hugging”) long before visible and undisputed climate change was called “a Chinese hoax” and even weather reports were politicized.

On the evening of Monday, October 14 – Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Federal Columbus Day and the start of the second day of Sukkot (a Jewish festival with arboreal aspects) – at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn, two floors below the beleaguered WBAI-FM (more on that below), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series spotlighted Reckoning, an annual journal of creative writing on environmental justice. (Trade paper, perfect-bound copies are $15, but are free online to get the message out. The 4th issue will be out in January. Visit Reckoning.press for more information.) The event was guest-hosted by its publisher, Michael J. DeLuca, and featured readings by Emily Houk, Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Marissa Lingen, Emery Robin and Brian Francis Slattery. (The readers read from works in Reckoning 1 and 2, with the exception of Robin, whose story will run in Reckoning 4.)

The event opened, as usual, with producer and executive curator Jim Freund (and, until last week, host of the long-running sf/fantasy radio program Hour of the Wolf) welcoming the audience. He began by noting that tonight’s readings would on Facebook Live, rather than streamed on Livestream, (Livestream should be back in November.)  He then addressed the elephant in the room two floors above. A week earlier, WBAI-FM’s parent company, Pacifica Across America – or, more specifically, a group of the owners – abruptly shut down the listener-sponsored station. Legal counteractions ensued, with more to come. Freund (who was wearing a WBAI t-shirt) assured all that WBAI-FM would be back, and announced that there would be a rally and press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday the 15th at noon (too late for those reading this) in support of BAI.

Michael J. DeLuca

Returning to why we were there, he reminded those who can to donate to the Series ($7 is the suggested donation, but no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds), and reported that the home audience (to coin a phrase) may donate on its Patreon page. He concluded by announcing future readers: On Tuesday (yes, the Series returns to its usual schedule), November 5th (Election Day and Guy Fawkes Day – “Remember, remember, the 5th of November”), the readers will be Gay Partington Terry and Robert V.S. Redick. December 3rd will be “party time,” an evening of Glitter Spec Fic, featuring A.C. Wise and others to be corralled “reading stories and performing music to do with glitter.” (On the Series webpage, this notice was displayed in multiple colors.) Disclosing his own early environmental activism, he then turned “the show” over to DeLuca.

DeLuca describes hisroots as mycorrhizal with sugar maple and Eastern white pine,” a theme seen in his website, mossyskull.com. His fiction has appeared most recently in Beneath Ceaseless SkiesThree-Lobed Burning EyeStrangelet and Middle Planet. He observed that holding the event on Indigenous Peoples’ Day was “in keeping with the spirit of environmental justice” (some anthropologists may disagree).

Brian Francis Slattery

First up was Brian Francis Slattery, who has written four novels and is also the arts editor and a reporter for the New Haven Independent, and a musician. “For a week out of every year, lives without electricity” (and that’s without living in California). He read from his semi-fictional essay “The Kinder and More Caring Future,” musings on sustainability (we shouldn’t eat meat-eating predators, including certain fish like haddock) and a reminiscence on the wake of Hurricane Irene. “Hurricane Irene was the future calling,” showing us the perils of seas rising.)

Krista Hoeppner Leahy

Krista Hoeppner Leahy, the second reader, has appeared in a Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy,  ClarkesworldLady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Farrago’s Wainscot. Her offering washer short poem “Eathspun,” about our relationship with Nature (“All of us belong to the sky”). (Another memorable line was “Breathe through your cloaca.”)

During the intermission, a raffle was held (for those who donated), with the prizes being copies of Infomocracy by Malka Older and Galápagos Regained by James Morrow. DeLuca then opened the second half of the evening.

Emily Houk

Emily Houk commented that her story “Plague Winter” reads as science fiction, but is historical, about bio-control of invasive species (we were referred to The Simpsons). Here a lab assistant sets plague doctor beetles on hemlocks. (I might have seen the trees in her story in Western Massachusetts.)

In keeping with the ecological theme, Marissa Lingen reported that she has “a large collection of foliage-themed jewelry.” She read her story “The Shale Giants.” (“Humans want to steal their breath.”)

The final reader of the evening, Emery Robin, read a story set in her hometown Oakland, “Ambient and Isolated Effects of Fine Particulate Matter.” After fires – and drought – in Northern California, the sky is hazy, and the air quality has been severely affected, become unbreathable (people wear masks) and ashy – people are turning gray.

DeLuca concluded the evening by inviting submissions.

The traditional Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a small assortment of books along with copies of Cultural Survival Quarterly (focused indigenous issues and traditional knowledge; DeLuca’s sister is on staff). The audience of about 40, counting Freund and the readers (but not the Chabad duo who wandered in with the Four Species), included Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, John Kwok and (Tech Director) Terence Taylor. The kitchen closed early, but the Café still offered beverages, cold food and snacks.