Pixel Scroll 12/9/18 Harry Pixel And The Forgotten Click of Tickbox

(1) 2020 REVISION. Radio Times sets off weeping and wailing with news that “Doctor Who series 12 WILL be delayed to 2020”.

Doctor Who series 11 just came to an end – but fans will have quite a long wait until the next full selection of adventures for the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends.

The BBC have confirmed longstanding rumours that the sci-fi series won’t be back on screens for a full series in 2019, with the twelfth season of the revived series instead airing in “early” 2020.

(2) DECK THE DALEK. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society completed decorating their Dalek at the end of the December business meeting, as they have done every year since 2001. Dale Arnold says –

Andrew Bergstrom made this lifesize Dalek for a playat Balticon 35 in 2001 and it was too nice to throw away…so we started decorating it for the holidays and have done so on with new decorations addedto the mix every year.

(3) EDITOR’S INSIGHTS. “Interview: Guest Lecturer Neil Clarke” at Odyssey Writing Workshops.

As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

I don’t think there’s anything I’d raise to that level, but I do often recommend that developing writers and editors volunteer as slush readers somewhere. The experience gives you insight into the common mistakes most writers are makingand the distance you might need to start recognizing them in your own work.You’ll also see the current trends and get a good sense of your own place inthe field. I’ve yet to meet a slush reader who hasn’t underestimated their skill level. The rule for writers is to quit when you stop learning. Potential editors should keep going a few more months, just to see if they can hack the experience when it becomes routine.

Bonus advice: If you are still seeking your first sale, every editor I know wears their “discoveries” as a badge of honor. Saying “I am previously unpublished” in a cover letter is not a bad thing. When you do sell your first story, make sure the purchasing editor knows.

(4) INVERSE ROUNDUP. What would you think are “The Best Depictions of Real-Life Science in Science Fiction”? Inverse plans a series stretching through most of December discussing the best (not the most accurate) such depictions.

This December, Inverse is counting down the 20 best science moments seen in science fiction this year, whether it be on the big screen or small, in books, on stage or in the immersive worlds of video games. Our science and entertainment writers have teamed up for this year-end series to show how real-life science has been memorably —though not always accurately! — portrayed in the culture. Watch this space for more additions all month long. 

On the list is – “‘Pokémon: Let’s Go’s Fake Poké Ball Science Is Absolutely Terrifying”:

Poké Balls have been a key part of the Pokémon experience, from the original GameBoy games to the recently-released Pokémon: Let’s Go, which even works with a specially-designed Poké Ball Plus accessory that lets you simulate the experience. And yet we still have no idea how Snorlax (a giant fat cat-like creature that’s 6’11” and weighs around 1014 pounds) fits inside a metal object roughly the size of a baseball.

The canonical — and nonsensical — pseudoscientific explanation is that Poké Balls shoot out a beam that converts the Pokémon into a form of energy. Sounds fun, right? Except it’s not. The only known way to legitimately convert matter into energy is through nuclear fusion. Even in that process, less than 1 percent of the matter is converted into energy, and the reaction is so volatile that it causes massive explosions.

(5) ODDEST TITLE. The winner of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year is Joy of Waterboiling by Christina Scheffenacker. The Bookseller, which sponsors the prize, noted that “for the first time in the 40-year life of the world’s most prestigious literary gong, a foreign-language tome” has won. Published in Austria by Asche Verlag, the book is eligible for the prize despite being in German because its title is in English.

(6) THESE BOOTS AREN’T MADE FOR TALKIN’. Was there ever anybody more impressed with Harlan Ellison than himself? Perhaps Gay Talese. Now available on YouTube is Harlan’s version of this legendary pop culture confrontation: “Harlan Ellison on Esquire’s ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’ by Gay Talese.”

An excerpt and unused interview from the feature doc “‘Tis Autumn: The Search For Jackie Paris” by director Raymond DeFelitta (2007) || RIP Harlan Ellison

(7) CASTING CALL. Dublin2019 will be staging “Jophan!,” Erwin Strauss’ musical adaptation of the great classic of Irish fanwriting, The Enchanted Duplicator by Walt Willis and Bob Shaw, a fannish parody of John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Strauss is reaching out to the community for people interested in participating, either on stage, or in the orchestra pit, or wherever. There is no travel budget, so participants will have to already be planning to be attending Dublin 2019. Contact Strauss or the Dublin Theatre team at theatre@dublin2019.com.

(8) NETFLIX SHELL GAME. Reporting for SYFY Wire, Christian Long says, “Netflix announces a new Ghost in the Shell series as part of its growing anime slate.”

It looks like Netflix is reviving another groundbreaking anime for its ever-expanding platform.

The streaming giant just announced Ghost in theShell: SAC_2045, which is set to premiere sometime in 2020. Based on Masamune Shirow’s classic manga Ghost in the Shell, which premiered back in 1989, it explores themes of consciousness and individuality through the lens of artificial intelligence.

(9) GLOWING BLACK HOLES. On December 14, the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination presents “Sir Roger Penrose: Lecture on Hawking Points”.

Sir Roger Penrose

In this special lecture, we are very pleased to welcome Sir Roger Penrose back to the Clarke Center to explore how Hawking Points –Stephen Hawking’s prediction of glowing black holes– explain the nature of how our universe was formed and if there are others like it.

Sir Roger Penrose, the celebrated mathematician and physicist, is an Emeritus Professor at the Mathematical Institute of the University of Oxford and winner of the Copley Medal and the Wolf Prize in Physics — which he shared with Stephen Hawking. He has made profound contributions in geometry, blackhole singularities, the unification of quantum mechanics and general relativity, the structure of space-time, the nature of consciousness and the origin of our Universe.

Friday, December 14, 2018 — 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Kavli Auditorium, Tata Hall forthe Sciences, Division of Physical Sciences & the Clarke Center, UC San Diego. RSVP required; pleaseRSVP here

(10) TESSER OBIT. [Item by Mark Blackman.] Gary c Tesser (1952-2018). NY fan Gary c Tesser (small “c” with no period to be demure) died on Saturday night, December 8, after a lengthy battle with cancer.

He was one of the first 2 people in SF Fandom I met (in September 1970; he was recruiting for the Brooklyn College SF & Fantasy Society) and introduced me to apas (notably TAPS) and to Lunarians, of which he later (in the early ’90s) became President.  He was my closest friend for many years.  Dubbed “Captain Doom” and self-dubbed “The Plucky Red Ace”, he was a fannish legend, his habitual lateness (“the Tesser Effect”) and unique sense of logic were the inspiration for a slew of “Tesser Stories.”

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born December 9, 1848 Joel Chandler Harris. American journalist, fiction writer, and folklorist who is best known for his collection of Uncle Remus stories. Yes he’s white and the stories are about the ‘Brer Rabbit’ stories from the African-American oral tradition but he’s widely accepted by all about having done these stories justice.  James Weldon Johnson called them “the greatest body of folklore America has produced.” (Died 1908.)
  • Born December 9, 1900Margaret Brundage. Illustrator and painter. Working in pastels on illustration board, she created most of the covers for Weird Tales between 1933 and 1938. Her work is collected in The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pulp Pin-UpArt. She was one of the very few women artist in the industry, a fact not known as she signed her work as M. Brundage. (Died 1976.)
  • Born December 9, 1934Judi Dench, 84. M in the Bond films GoldenEyeTomorrow Never DiesThe World Is Not EnoughDie Another DayCasino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Aereon in The Chronicles of Riddick, Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, Society Lady in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Miss Avocet in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Her very first genre film in the late Sixties, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was poorly received by critics and I recall her role being a mostly nude faerie.
  • Born December 9, 1953John Malkovitch, 65. I was pondering if I was going to include him then decide that Being John Malkovich which won him a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor was enough for me to include him. What a strange role that is! He also shows up in the dreadful Jonah Hex film and played Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach in the Crossbones series.These are selective highlights. 

(12) COMICS SECTION.

(13) OUT OF A HUNDRED. AbeBooks.com list of “100 (Fiction) Books to Read in a Lifetime”, says Steve Davidson, is 25% genre or genre-adjacent. Davidson continues —

The genre titles listed are classic works that have endured on bookshelves for decades, if not centuries.

Isn’t in interesting (?) that of these titles that have demonstrated longevity, continued relevance (and, as a side note, continued sales that dwarf just about everything else) each and every one ofthem is not only “science fiction”, but each and every one of them is social commentary?  “Political messaging in fiction” as somehave called it?

Not trying to resurrect a dead horse here, but it’s interesting nonetheless that SF’s enduring works — the classics — are all united in this way.

(14) THEY’RE NOT RELATED. James Davis Nicoll worries about these things. Your mileage may vary: “SF Novels That Get Special Relativity All Wrong” at Tor.com.

I gravitate towards certain SF sub-genres, such as stories featuring relativistic travel. I’ve encountered a fair number of such sub-genrebooks in which it is clear that the authors did not, emphatically NOT, understand relativity. This article features novels in which authors have wrestled with Mr. Einstein and lost three falls out of three.

As you know, there are two essential foundations of relativity.The first is that the laws of physics are the same everywhere. The second is that the speed of light is invariant regardless of one’s frame of reference. Every single SF novel in which reference is made to time as measured by the ship as “subjective” and time measured by the Earth “objective” is wrong: everyone’s clocks are right, even if they don’t agree with each other.

(15) PLEONASM DETECTED ON JUPITER. The Traveler is a bit jaded about Poul Anderson’s prose in the latest IF: “December 9, 1963 Indifferent to it all (January 1964 IF)” at Galactic Journey.

Some examples: Anderson likes to wax poetic on technical details.  He spends a full two pages describing what could have been handled with this sentence: “I used a neutrino beam to contact the Jovians; nothing else could penetrate their giant planet’s hellish radiation belts or the tens of thousands of thick atmosphere.”

Two.  Pages.

(16) ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING: Jason has compiled another “year’s best” at Featured Futures, which includes 29 stories of science fiction, fantasy, and their various permutations: Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy #2 (2018 Stories).

This second annual virtual anthology of the year’s best speculative fiction differs in four primary ways from last year’s Web’s Best Science Fiction #1 (2017 Stories) and Web’s Best Fantasy #1 (2017 Stories). Rather than restricting my coverage to web magazines as in 2017, I added coverage of several 2018 print magazines which created a much larger pool of stories to choose from. Thus, the word count for the “best” stories has increased from 140,000 to 250,000 words. Further, those words were evenly divided between two volumes of science fictional and fantastic stories but have now been combined into a single volume with three sections of uneven story and word counts. Finally, because of some of this, I renamed it to Year’s Best Short Science Fiction and Fantasy.

What hasn’t changed is the principle of selecting (to repeat the first introduction’s quote of the late Gardner Dozois) “only those stories that honestly and forcibly struck me as being the best published during that year, with no consideration for log-rolling, friendship, fashion, politics, or any other kind of outside influence.” And there’s still the same qualification to that: for variety’s sake, if multiple stories are by the same author or have strikingly similar elements, I try to select only one. Similarly, I’ve attempted to sequence the stories for a varied reading experience rather than any other principle.

(17) THE ONLINE PALEONTOLOGIST. BBC reports “‘Digital museum’ brings millions of fossils out of the dark”.

The bid to create a “global digital museum” has been welcomed byscientists, who say it will enable them to study valuable specimens that are currently “hidden” in museum drawers.

(18) MR. RICO’S ARTIST. Andrew Liptak interviews Stephen Hickman for The Verge: “An artist on creating the retro art for a new edition of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers”.

You’ve provided cover illustrations for some of Heinlein’s works before — how did working on this edition stack up to those works?

The main difference is that I had quite a bit more time on each of my previous illustrations to refine and finish the paintings, which were done just for book cover images.

A cover is like a small movie poster, designed to compete with literally hundreds of similar tiny posters for the attention of potential buyers in bookstores. On the other hand, illustrations for the interior of a book should be approached a bit differently. They can be more quiet and thoughtful in their presentation, in terms of color mood and content, which is relative in the case of a book like Starship Troopers, naturally.

(19) YODA CLAUS. Business Insider tips readers to “27 creative and unexpected gifts for ‘Star Wars’ fans of all ages”. Two examples –

PANCAKE STAMP

LUGGAGE TAGS

(20) TODAY’S HERESY. An NPR writer throws down the challenge — “Dear Internet: Goats In Sweaters Are Cuter Than Kittens In Mittens”.

The goat pics turnout to be about more than making people go “awwwwww.”

The caprine fashionistas are featured on a calendar, the sales of which have benefited local organizations in Varanasi, India, where most of the images were taken.

Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. Now she considers the project as adding “net happiness” to the world and helping to share a little slice of life from parts of the world that Americans don’t often get to see.

(21) THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY. Netflix dropped a trailer. The show airs February 15.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Dale Arnold, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Cat Eldridge, Jason, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael J. Walsh, Carl Slaughter, Alan Baumler, Steve Davidson, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew.]

Alien Re-Encounters at the KGB Bar with Schoen and Pratt

Lawrence Schoen and Tim Pratt.

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

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.

Lawrence Schoen

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!

Michael Swanwick & Jeffrey Ford Read at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the humid but not-rainy evening of Wednesday, August 15, 2018, the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by award-winning authors Michael Swanwick and Jeffrey Ford in the 2nd-floor Red Room of the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village.

As customary, as the audience settled in, Series co-host Ellen Datlow whirled around the room, which is notable for its Soviet-era décor, photographing the crowd.  (Her photos may be found here.) The event opened with Datlow welcoming the audience, reporting that co-host Matthew Kressel was hiking national parks out west (good idea – before they’re sold to mining companies) and that David Mercurio Rivera would be filling in for him. She then announced upcoming readers:

  • September 19:  Patrick McGrath, tba
  • October 17:  Lawrence Schoen, Tim Pratt
  • November 21:  Leanna Renee Hieber, Cat Rambo
  • December 19:  Nicole Kornher-Stace, Maria Dahvana Headley

… continuing on into 2019, and concluded by introducing the evening’s first reader.

Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, The Shadow Year and The Cosmology of the Wider World, and the story collections The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace, and A Natural History of Hell.  His fiction has won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Nebula, the Shirley Jackson Award, the World Fantasy Award and the Gran Prix de l’Imaginaire.  He read the first chapter of his most recent novel, Ahab’s Return: Or The Last Voyage, “the part before the good stuff happens,” and “some of the good stuff.”

In 1855 Manhattan, Harrow, a “confabulator” at a less than respectable newspaper – we’d call it a tabloid or “fake news” – is confronted by Captain Ahab, who is looking for Ishmael (who has written a book about their last voyage), but, above all, for his wife and son. It seems that the mad whaler did not drown when pulled under the waves by the white whale, but slipped out of the ropes and was rescued (by a different ship than Ishmael). Like Odysseus, he has had adventures while voyaging home (among them, encountering a manticore, as Ford continued), and these stories are embellished and written up for his paper by Harrow (making them Harrowing adventures?).

Copies of The Twilight Pariah were given away (well, tossed into the audience).

After an intermission, Rivera took the podium, and, has Datlow had earlier, reminded the audience that the readings were free and urged them to support the Bar by buying lots of drinks. He then introduced the second “super-luminary” reader of the evening.

Michael Swanwick 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. 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 also has “the pleasant distinction of having lost more major awards than any other science fiction writer.”) He read two short “things,” each of which was “unusual,” but “for different reasons.”

“Ghost Ships,” which he finished two weeks ago, is “not your standard ghost story.” It begins with a reminiscence from the ’70s of three townies driving through Tidewater Virginia in a used hearse who see fleetingly offshore two square-rigged wooden ships crewed by rough-looking men in 18th-century garb. It was in broad daylight, and the narrator was “not a party to the sighting” and only heard about it at second-hand. He is musing as he drives to a college reunion at William and Mary, and as he drives home. The ghost ships become a metaphor for the temporary nature of life, and, rather than fiction, as Swanwick’s wife, Marianne Porter, discerned, it is an essay. “Every word of it, the names excepted, is true.”

He prefaced his second “unusual” selection with background. In 1995, he and Gardner Dozois had written a novella, “City of God” (which was published by Datlow), an “astonishingly depressing story.” (The protagonist, Hanson, spends it shoveling coal into a hole.) They had talked about writing a sequel. Dozois died in May, and, “as a kind of memorial,” Swanwick finished it, “giving it the ending Gardner would have wanted.” In “City of Men,” Hanson, who had sent the City of God into the world, meets a scientist who is studying the Cathedral; there is a happy ending, of sorts.

He concluded by leading a moment not of silence for Dozois – he was, after all, a writer – but of applause.

Books (including Vanitas, Ford’s first novel) were for sale at the back of the room from the Word bookstore in Brooklyn.

To those going, enjoy Worldcon!

At NYRSF Readings, a Brave Little Toast to Thomas M. Disch

Henry Wessells

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, February 6th, at its venue, the Brooklyn Commons Café in Brooklyn (somewhere on the Ruins of Earth), the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series presented a tribute to the brilliant author and poet Thomas M. Disch (1940-2008), a celebration of his life and work, guest-hosted by Henry Wessells (a past guest curator) and featuring his peers and friends, including his literary executor, readings from his works and a short film.

The evening began with Series Producer and Executive Curator Jim Freund welcoming the crowd to the final session of the Series’ 27th Season, adding that there would be a special Summer Series: .

  • July 3rd – David Mack and Seth Dickinson, guest curated by Amy Goldschlager (a former Curator)
  • August 7th – A Launch Party/Reading for Sunspot Jungle, with guest curator Bill Campbell

As usual, he cautioned us that the event was being Livestreamed (so watch where you scratch) and asked all who could donate to donate (suggested amount $7, but no one gets turned away).

Freund related that he met Tom Disch during his early days at Hour of the Wolf, and that he was among the first ever to read at the NYRSF Reading Series. Disch’s last public appearance was a reading from his new novel, The Word of God, at a NYRSF event on June 3, 2008, 10 years and two days ago. (It was at the Series’ then-venue, the South Street Seaport, and I was privileged to have attended.) In it, Disch was God (and Philip K. Dick was Satan). Sadly, Disch killed himself by gunshot on July 4, 2008 (he referred to the 4th as “the Holiday”) in his Manhattan apartment. He had been depressed since the 2005 death of his partner, Charles (“Charlie”) Naylor; the two had been together for some three decades.

Shifting tone, Freund announced that the evening had “a sponsor,” and proceeded to read (his delivery bringing to mind Johnny Carson’s pitchman character Art Fern) “Fun With Your New Head.” (“Two heads are better than one. … Only $49.95!”)

(On a personal note, the story collection Fun with Your New Head was the first Disch that I ever read; and, it seems, for Elizabeth Hand as well.)

Then Wessells, a short story writer, poet and antiquarian bookseller, assumed his role of host. As well as a writer of prose – which ranged from wildly satirical stories to dark cautionary tales to works for children – Disch was a poet, and “wanted to be remembered as the Thomas Beddoes of death in America.” (Beddoes was a minor Romantic poet. “Americans,” said Disch once, “don’t read poetry, but they love poets.”) The first part of the evening, he announced, would be a panel on his life, followed by a clip from the film Winter Journey.

Gregory Feeley, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Henry Wessells

He was joined on stage by John Clute, Gregory Feeley and Elizabeth Hand. Hand, a multiple-award-winning author of novels and collections of short fiction, and reviewer, read a note from John Crowley, “Remembering Tom,” followed by “Ghost Ship,” a story from Disch’s last blog.

John Clute

Clute is variously an author, reviewer, critic, and encyclopedia writer – he is best known for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (the first version of which was published in 1979 and now exists in an online version). He shared that he met Disch in 1961 when they were at NYU, and their friendship continued until Tom’s death. His writing ability was “full-fledged” at 22. He was kind and generous, but he was also quick to end friendships for the littlest reason. He also sent out signals that his death, when it came, would be at his timing and at his own hand.

Elizabeth Hand

Gregory Feeley is a writer of and about science fiction. He is Disch’s literary executor (he had two, one for prose, Feeley, and one for poetry; though sometimes overlooked, poetry was half of Disch’s professional life), and is preparing an edition of Disch’s best short fiction. He met Disch in late 1978, when the Magazine of F&SF announced that they were going to publish On Wings of Song, which they described as “his best and longest novel,” in serial form, and he wrote him a letter, which Disch answered. Wings’ protagonist, Daniel Weinreb, was loosely based on Naylor, though the latter was not “a man without talent.” Clute, armed with laptop, read a very brief reminiscence from Pamela Zoline.

Henry Wessells knew him during the last years of his life. (He was with Disch when he spread Naylor’s ashes.) Though regarded as part of the British New Wave, Camp Concentration was “very much an American book.” Disch lived in New York, London, Spain and Turkey, but he remembered his Midwestern roots (he was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota). Wessells subsequently cited his “Minnesota Quartet,” The Businessman, The M.D., The Priest, and The Sub. (Disch later said that he thought that The Priest was published 10 years too early.) During his lifetime, he won a Hugo (his only one) for a nonfiction work (Best Related Book), for The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World, and a John Campbell Award, for On Wings of Song (which received nominations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel).

Eric Solstein and Henry Wessells

Filmmaker Eric Solstein, joining Wessells on stage, related that he met Disch at the Sullivan County (aka the Catskills) home that he shared with Naylor, and, after Naylor’s death, Disch asked him to videotape what he called his “suicide note.” The “note,” such as it was, took the form of “a suite of 31 poems,” “a cycle of mourning verse” about Naylor, called Winter Journey, the title of the film as well. Shot with a handheld camera (as was evident), it took, said Solstein, three years to edit it, during which Disch went on with his life. We watched an excerpt, the first three poems. (It may be viewed on Solstein’s YouTube channel.)

Thomas M. Disch on video

During the intermission, a raffle was held for donors, with the prizes being a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s The American Shore: Meditations on a Tale of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch – “Angouleme” (“Angouleme” was a story in 334), and a copy of a video featuring Disch’s NYRSF readings from 1993 and June 3, 2008.

The second half of the evening focused on Disch’s work. Wessells read a note from Delany, an excerpt from The American Shore, praising him as a “raconteur.”

Brendan C. Byrne

Brendan C. Byrne (neither the late Governor of New Jersey nor the since-renamed arena) has written criticism and short fiction. He never knew Disch, except as a reader. He offered an essay on 334. Written in and reflecting 1972 New York, his future Manhattan is a city of shortages and xenophobia (seen in its sterilization policy), and without privacy. Clute added that 334 has to be read against the background of the British New Wave. People aren’t starving, as in typical sf dystopias; it’s an impersonal welfare state, but not malignant. “It’s a complex vision.”

Terence Taylor

On Wings of Song (1979), said Wessells, “is set in an America not unlike our own, but suffering more shortages;” many cities have collapsed. Flying is achieved through rapture in song, but Daniel Weinreb, the protagonist, is not a good enough singer. (Disch, Clute observed, was obsessed with music.) With that, he introduced Terence Taylor, horror writer and the Series’ Tech Director, who took the stage to read an excerpt from the novel.

Wessells then brought his panel (Clute, Feeley and Hand) back on stage, with Byrne joining them, and asked them to cite or recommend Disch works. Byrne said that he was next going to read The Sub. Hand said that “The Roaches” and “The Descending” (in Fun with Your New Head) were the first Disch stories that she read (at 9), adding that we shouldn’t overlook The Brave Little Toaster. (Disch was, we were told, “mad about Paddington Bear;” he and Naylor had stuffed animals. “He was a depressive, but he wanted to be happy.”) She added Neighboring Lives (which he wrote with Charles Naylor). Clute recommended The Word of God, “a minor book, but in its way hilarious,” and Feeley Clara Reeve (written as Leonie Hargrave), which was set in the Victorian Era.

Gregory Feeley, Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Brendan C. Byrne, Henry Wessells

On a final note, Wessells said that Disch had written a treatment for Disney that generated the original idea for The Lion King. (Well, Hamlet and Kimba the White Lion inspired it too.)

Regrettably, and doubtless embarrassingly, in a bit of strangeness, there were some technical difficulties during the evening, from sudden reverb to lights going on full force.

As traditional, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered a slew of books. The audience of perhaps 60 included Melissa C. Beckman (the Readings’ photographer), Moshe Feder, Amy Goldschlager, (House Manager) Barbara Krasnoff, Lissanne Lake and Marco Palmieri. Over the course of the evening, audience members availed themselves of the Café’s food, coffee bar, beer and wine.

That’s about the size of it.

— June 6, 2018

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.

B is for Bradbury: Bill Oberst Jr.’s Staged Reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever)

By Mark L. Blackman: As we approach his centennial (he was born on August 22, 1920), there’s renewed interest in iconic fantasist Ray Bradbury. This is, in some part, due to next month’s fresh adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. (I still remember the Oskar Werner/Julie Christie film from Truffaut.) For his loyal following of readers, though, Bradbury’s appeal has never flagged.

Back in September, I caught Emmy-winner Bill Oberst Jr.’s  masterful and haunting adaptation of Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire” for the solo stage. (In addition to New York, it also played in Los Angeles.) On Thursday, April 12, for one night only, Oberst returned to the same Off-Broadway venue, Theatre Row, with a staged reading of Ray Bradbury Live (forever). The script, written by Oberst, adapting Bradbury’s own words, was approved by the Bradbury Estate and vetted by Bradbury scholars and authors Dr. Jonathan Eller and Dr. Phil Nichols. Oberst stars as Ray Bradbury circa 1970. “It’s like The Belle of Amherst meets Mark Twain Tonight – with dinosaurs,” said Oberst, further describing the show as “a mix of Epcot ride, Planetarium show and dream.”

To suggest Ray Bradbury, in his portrayal, Oberst relied on an old brown suit, Ray’s characteristic glasses, and a Midwestern accent (Bradbury was originally from Waukegan, Illinois), but the illusion was ultimately powered by captivating excerpts from his works brilliantly brought to life onstage by Oberst. Interspersed with selected lectures of Bradbury’s (I was privileged to hear him at the 1986 Atlanta and 2006 LA Worldcons), we were treated to readings of scenes from “A Sound of Thunder” (the story that gave the world the phrase “the butterfly effect”), Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles (“The Million-Year Picnic”), and the lesser-known “The Murderer.”

Once described as writing ghost stories without ghosts and science fiction without science (one word: Mars), Bradbury was, above all, a lyrical word-painter and the audience was held firmly in his (their) grip as we were swept along from a face-to-face in the jungle with a T. rex to a confrontation in a small-town library with the demonic master of a dark carnival to the fabled canals of Mars amid the end of the world. The “Epcot ride” whirled through story-worlds variously eerie, terrifying, satiric, bittersweet and genuinely funny.

Bradbury famously quipped “I don’t predict the future – I try to prevent it,” and there was much that resonated with us today. Take Brock, “the murderer,” overwhelmed by what we now call “smart devices”, “technology gone horribly wrong”: “In touch! There’s a slimy phrase. Touched, hell. Gripped! Pawed, rather. Mauled and massaged and pounded by voices.” (He finally snaps, and spoons a quart of French chocolate ice cream – his favorite flavor – into his car’s radio transmitter and shoots his tv, “that insidious beast.”) Then too consider the familiar-sounding deplorable Presidential candidate: “There’s an anti-everything man for you, a militarist, anti-human, anti-intellectual.” And at least half of the audience appreciated:

“Why not let women man the wheel? For a few years, at least. We’oove ingested testosterone from the mouth of the cave to the burned libraries of Alexandria to unending war. … Oh Lord, let all the nations and all the cities of all the world be governed, for just a little while, by women. Just ordinary, by which I mean extraordinary, women who can mother-nurse-teach the world. Men don’t have to go to the back of the bus. They can protect their ravenous egos by advising from a side-seat on how to get lost.”

(I’ve always likened Bradbury to Norman Rockwell: on the surface nostalgically vivid Americana, but subtly subversive.)

Joining Oberst on stage – the backdrop was simple, painted library shelves, apt not only for  Something Wicked This Way Comes, but reflecting Bradbury’s lifelong love of and affinity for libraries – were Off-Broadway veterans Steven Hauck as the Narrator, providing descriptions and set design (Oberst didn’t actually ride in on a bicycle, and there were no slide projections of Bradbury’s book covers nor text projected on-screen; there are plans, by the way, for a full Off-Broadway production in 2019 – I’ll be there – followed by a national tour, and Oberst will employ prosthetic make-up for his transformation into Bradbury … and maybe even have a real bicycle), and Zoë Watkins as the psychiatrist in “The Murderer” and as Bradbury’s wife and muse, Maggie. (They well-conveyed the couple’s love – at one point they evoked “Oh Yes, I Remember It Well” – even leaving their stools for a dance.) The production was directed by Michael Joseph Ormond.

Ray Bradbury Live (forever) is, at heart, Bill Oberst Jr.’s love letter to Bradbury (spread across a table immediately outside the performance space were Bill’s personal copies of a slew of books by Bradbury), so it’s only fitting to close with Bradbury’s own philosophy of life and love:

If life is going to be worth a damn, love and imagination have to be at the center of it. … How can you not be in love with something? The things you love should be things you do and the things you do should be things you love. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of your love. To hell with them. You love what you love.

That’s the fruit at the bottom of the bowl.

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.

Season’s Readings: N.K. Jemisin & Christopher Brown Offer Visions of Unhappy New Years at the KGB Bar

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, December 20, 2017, in the pause between the end of Chanukah and the arrival of the Winter Solstice, the Fantastic Fiction Readings Series hosted readings by authors N.K. Jemisin and Christopher Brown in the Red Room at the KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village, where Christmas wreaths and lights mixed incongruously with red walls and Soviet era-themed décor.  (“On the first day of Marxmas, the Party gave to me …”)

Customarily, as the audience settled in, award-winning editor and the Series’ co-host Ellen Datlow whirled around photographing the crowd (her photos are posted on the Series’ website,  Series’ website; mine accompany this report).  (Contrary to the belief of some, she had not remained in the Bar during the two days since Monday’s launch party there for her new anthology, Mad Hatters and March Hares.)

The event opened with the Series’ other co-host, Matthew Kressel, welcoming the audience, thanking the Bar, exhorting the audience to do likewise by buying a drink, hard or soft (“When you support the Bar, you support the Series”), and announcing upcoming readers:

  • January 17: Joseph Helmreich and Myke Cole
  • February 21: Cassandra Khaw and Peternelle van Arsdale
  • March 21: Chandler Klang Smith and Kelly Robson
  • April 18: Jon Padgett plus a reader to be announced
  • May 16: Tina Connolly and Caroline M. Yoachim

All dates are the third Wednesday of that month and, of course, in 2018.  (Further details may be found on the Series’ website.)  He then introduced the first reader of the evening.

Christopher Brown

Christopher Brown (not to be confused with the R&B singer and Rihanna’s ex) is the author of the 2017 novel Tropic of Kansas, which was recently nominated for the Compton Crook Award, and a World Fantasy Award nominee for the anthology he co-edited, Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic.  His next two novels will lead off a series of speculative legal thrillers (fittingly, he practices technology law) set in the world of Tropic of Kansas.  He read from the beginning of Tropic of Kansas, which, he related, was called by two reviewers “the feel bad novel of the year.”  Set in a near-future dystopia (as opposed to the current one) where a crackdown on terrorism in the wake of a series of attacks, the young protagonist, Sig, is deported from Canada and detained in a prison camp that was formerly the Mall of America, and from which he plans an escape before he can be sent to a labor camp in Detroit.

N. K. Jemisin

After an intermission, Datlow introduced the evening’s second and final reader.  N.K. (the “N” stands for Nora)  Jemisin is the author of the Broken Earth Trilogy, the first two books of which (The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate) received the Hugo Award for Best Novel (making her the first black person to win that Hugo), the Inheritance Trilogy, and the Dreamblood Duology.  She has also won a Locus Award for Best First Novel, and, in addition, her work has been nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree Awards.  On top of all that, she writes the Sunday New York Times’ science fiction and fantasy book review column, “Otherworldly.”

In a special treat, and fighting bronchial problems, she shared the revised version of an unpublished short story, at present entitled “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death.”  Continuing the evening’s dystopian theme (where was the season’s merry jollity?), we were shown a future where the powerful inhabitants of Towers dominate, ruling by fear and dependency, and have genetically tweaked frogs (as in the Plague in the Book of Exodus) into drug-sniffing dragons.  Rural black raiders, however, have co-opted the dragons, diverting them from eating dark-skinned people with what sounded like soul food (this is a serious story, she reminded us).

At the back of the room, copies of Tropic of Kansas and books by Jemisin were for sale from the Word bookstore of Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Jersey City, NJ.  Much of the audience hung around for a while afterward, then likely headed out for dinner.