Michael Bishop Opens NYRSF Readings’ 29th Season

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Thursday, September 9, 2021, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series opened its 29th season with a reading from Nebula Award-winning author Michael Bishop. The event was simulcast on YouTube and Facebook.

(Yes, the readings are usually on Tuesdays, but Tuesday was Rosh HaShanah, and the reader was, after all, a Bishop. Appropriately, his text was a religious-themed story.)

Michael Bishop is the author of some 35 books, including collections, collaborations and anthologies that he has edited, among them No Enemy But Time, Unicorn Mountain, Brittle Innings, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire (and its revision Eyes of Fire), and Transfigurations (an expansion of “Death and Designation Among the Asadi”), and short stories including “The Quickening” (which earned him his first Nebula Award), “The White Otters of Childhood,” “Dogs’ Lives,” “The Samurai and the Willows,” and “Life Regarded as a Jigsaw Puzzle of Highly Lustrous Cats.”

The evening began with Series Executive Curator Jim Freund, host of WBAI-FM’s The Hour of the Wolf, introducing and interviewing Bishop. The cover of Bishop’s current book, A Few Last Words for the Late Immortals, a collection of short pieces, including poetry, depicts a baseball player, led Freund to ask why is baseball (still officially our National Pastime) such a great venue for sf and fantasy? Bishop suggested several reasons. The stadiums have an enchanted, even a haunted quality; because the games have no time limit and so can go on for days, “even years”; and because it spotlights individuals as well as the teams that they are operating as part of.

Bishop read not from the title story, but the last story in the book, a 3,000-word science fantasy, “Yahweh’s Hour.” He indicated scenes set in Roman type (set in the main character’s present) and italics (scenes involving the audience and the Creator, who is not necessarily divine). Set in a we-hope-not future of the Patchwork States of America, a literal theocracy under Overman Dad (who is not above operating spas and casinos), the titular TVshow has 100% viewership. In the audience, Mercer, granted an amnesty by Dad for murdering a teenaged transsexual, is unimpressed, until he experiences a vision or miracle.

The story was originally published as “God’s Hour” in the June 1987 issue of Omni, and did not include Mercer or Overman Dad as characters. He began revising the story after the November 2020 Election and finished after the January 6th insurrection. This led organically to a side chat about politics. Georgia, where Bishop lives, is a red state becoming a blue state. Trump was “a wretched President,” “a parody of himself,” a man with no political philosophy except Trumpism; the “election-rigging” was that “people voted.” Bishop, who has medical issues, called politicization of getting shots “absurd.”

Freund asked about Mercer’s name. Bishop noted that there is a Mercer University in Macon, Georgia not far from him and the name evokes mercy. Freund wondered if it alluded to Mercer, a Sisyphus figure, and his religion Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Bishop, the author of Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas, was surprised and confessed that he had forgotten that there was a character Mercer in the book.

Freund relayed audience questions. Did he attend a lot of author readings and does he miss them? Well, he didn’t go to conventions monthly like some of his author friends, and especially now due to his health, but yes, he misses contact with an audience. Some authors had said that the pandemic had given them time to work, but that was not so for Bishop. After he related that many of his stories are about characters in conflict with themselves, but that he personally avoids conflict. Does he work out conflicts in his stories? Yes, and he cited Unicorn Mountain.

He was asked about his experiences of revising his work. Sometimes he was surprised that a story did not “work out well,” and his reason for revising is that he wants a piece “to be the best version of itself.” Also, medical issues have slowed down his production of new material, but he is able to revise, creating something akin to new.

He was “happy at the time” about “The Quickening” (well, it won the Nebula, Freund interjected), and surprised by No Enemy But Time’s win in view of what it was up against. It is being revised next year for a 40th anniversary edition, with some things “knocked out to improve it” (he thanked Gregory Feeley for advice).

He was asked what work of his had needed the most revision. Unicorn Mountain; he cut 20,000 words and added material. He also revised several stories for A Few Last Words for the Late Immortals, as well as poetry. “The Scaffold,” he reported, a new poem, was a response to Dylan Thomas’s “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, By Fire, of a Child in London,” which led to a digression about Thomas’s recording of Under Milk Wood by Caedmon Records in a studio later used by WBAI. Freund noted that none of Bishop’s books are in audiobook form, and that he might help arrange something.

There being time for it, Bishop ended with an sf poem that had been sold to Analog and reprinted in a Best of anthology, “Secrets of the Alien Reliquary.” An Earth military expedition explores an alien bawdy house displaying Earth “deviance” and just plain oddities (Ed Asner ??).

Freund concluded the evening with a request for donations (software and production do cost), thanking Barbara Krasnoff, who did the engineering, and announcing upcoming readers (back on Tuesdays):

  • October 5:  Jason Erik Lundberg
  • November 2:  Nicole Glover (event guest-curated by Amy Goldschlager)

Two Too-Near Futures from Kim Stanley Robinson and Nancy Kress

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Wednesday, July 21, (the 52nd anniversary of the first Moonwalk, depending on your time zone), the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, presented two “heavy-hitters” (Kressel’s categorization), authors Kim Stanley Robinson and Nancy Kress, in livestreamed readings on YouTube. (This is the 17th month of virtual readings, in place of in-person reading at the eponymous bar in the East Village in Manhattan, to which they plan to return – Delta variant willing – in October.)

After some schmoozing among hosts and readers (Datlow is looking forward to having dim sum with a group), Kressel gave a précis of the Series, which started in the 1990s. (For details, about how to support the Bar and the Series – which, even under the current setup, incurs expenses – visit www.kgbfantasticfiction.org.) He then introduced the first reader of the evening.

Nancy Kress is the author of 33 books, including 26 novels (among them, The Sleepless Trilogy, which opened with Beggars in Spain), four collections of short stories and three books on writing, work for which she has won five Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.  Her most recent works include Yesterday’s Kin, The Eleventh Gate, and Sea Change, a stand-alone novella from which she read.

Sea Change centers on the genetic engineering of crops, The section that she read opens in 2032 Seattle, about a decade after the Catastrophe. It is a world of homelessness and hunger, of “wandering buildings,” of electronic surveillance and counter-surveillance, the latter by a rebuilt resistance movement, the Org, which is out to save the world from itself. A member of the Org, “Carol,” is assigned to meet a new recruit, who bears a resemblance to her late son.

There was a short break (during which they discussed really bad names for cider).

The second reader, introduced by Datlow, was Kim Stanley Robinson – Stan – a multi-award winner (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, BSFA and World Fantasy Awards) probably best known for his Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars) and The Years of Rice and Salt. His most recent novels are Red Moon and The Ministry for the Future, and it was from the latter that he read selections. He lives in Davis, California, but was coming to us from somewhere in Maine with a really lousy Internet connection. The audio came through, but not the video, so we were treated instead to a couple of photos of him. It looked like a really good ventriloquist act.

As in Kress’s story, the novel is set in the near future, here the catastrophe being climate change after a big heat wave, seen through the eyes of Frank. (It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity.) Jumping ahead to a decade later (and reading from the middle of the book), an international organization has grown out of the Paris Agreement nicknamed the Ministry for the Future, and its head, Mary Murphy, is meeting with bankers. For decades, they’ve shorted civilization and wealth has shifted to them, and they’ve become the world’s not so secret government.

Since the book was published last year, Robinson shared, he’s been reading from nine set pieces; but because we’re the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, he decided to read from near the end (from Chapter 103 of 106), “after the bend in the arc of history is accomplished, following the sturm und drang.” He wanted to write “a best case scenario.” On one night, four billion people tap their phones and express their love of Mother Earth in “a worldwide lovefest.”

A Q&A session with the authors followed. (Datlow is working out the logistics on having a Q&A, as I suggested, when they return to the Bar.) Datlow asked Robinson, “How can you be so optimistic?” He replied that his mother was; she felt that it was our duty to be optimistic and to help people.

Kress was asked how she got into teaching writing. She said that she’s always been a teacher; she began teaching 4th Grade, and later college. (Kressel used one of her books on writing in a course that he took at the New School.) She was next asked why she sets so many of her stories in the near future. She answered that it’s “easier,” that she doesn’t have to create “an entirely different world society,” just “an intensification of the present,” such as food insecurity issues and genetic engineering, and it’s “a natural jumping-off point for conflicts.”

A viewer remarked that climate change has taken over sf. (I’ve even seen the acronym “cli-fi.”) Robinson observed that the Pandemic has reminded us that we’re all on one planet, and spoke about the need for renewable energy. Kressel noted that older workers who’ve been in one industry their whole life and face job loss tend to oppose new and unfamiliar renewable energy. Talk turned to CarbonCoin and decarbonization, paying people and businesses to do “good green work” and keep carbon in the ground. Robinson added that CarbonCoin wouldn’t be a cryptocurrency, but would have to be real, backed by a real currency. (He opined that the Biden Brain Trust is the best one since FDR, but it needs to communicate better.) Corn, said Kress, needs to be helped along to feed people. We’ve always hybridized plants, stated Robinson; he thought that objection to GMOs is really objection to Monsanto owning genomes.

Responding to a related question, Kress said that she writes so much about genetic engineering because “it’s here.” (At a previous Fantastic Fiction reading, she observed that genetic engineering is the wave of the future, as well as fascinating to her personally.)

Robinson was asked about his use of bureaucracy. Well, his wife is a bureaucrat, and bureaucracy may be interesting; accordingly, he takes time and goes on at length to build his extensive bureaucracies.

Both authors write characters who don’t look like them, led off another question. They consult friends about details; Robinson pointed out that writers need freedom to write about “The Other” or their stories “would be very dull.”

Robinson then told Kress that he found Beggars in Spain “scary” because he’s an insomniac. (Note: Despite her being based in Seattle, the Sleepless Trilogy did not inspire a certain rom-com.) Kress admitted that she needs her sleep and is “jealous” of people genetically engineered not to need sleep; how much more they can get done!

Finally, what’s next; what are they working on? Kress apologized; she doesn’t talk about work in progress. Robinson, surprisingly, is working on a nonfiction book about hiking the Sierras; the title will be The High Sierras: A Love Story.

All were looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

Upcoming readers are:

  • August 18  A.C. Wise & David Leo Rice
  • September 15  Mari Ness & Ellen Klages

On October 20th, the Series will be back in person at the KGB Bar! The readers will be Michael DeLuca and Daryl Gregory.

NYRSF Reading Series Opens 2021 with Sam J. Miller

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, January 5, 2021, the New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series opened 2021 and the second half of its 30th season with a virtual reading by writer Sam J. Miller (“to make sure we stay on our toes,” said the Series’ executive curator, Jim Freund). The event was guest hosted by Amy Goldschlager (who was described by Freund as “the general series dogsbody” – a word I’ve only otherwise encountered in Shakesperean comedies and Blackadder).

Sam J. Miller (website samjmiller.com) is the Nebula Award-winning author of The Art of Starving and Blackfish City. His short story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” won the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award, and other stories have been nominated for the World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, and Locus Awards, and reprinted in dozens of anthologies. Miller’s offering was an excerpt from his latest novel, Between the Blades.

A living machine, Tyrannosaurus Hex, is rampaging through AR (Augmented Reality – a Monster from the Vid?) and, it seems, crossing over to reality.

After the reading, Goldschlager conducted a revealing interview with Miller. He agreed that the story is “very Ray-Bradburian, ’The Veldt’ in AR.” He went on to confess that he puts “a lot of me” in his fiction, but, even though “I’m a mess,” they do “dumb things that I hope I wouldn’t do.” (Besides that, his protagonist in Between the Blades has a Hungarian name.) She noted that whales appeared in both Between the Blades and Blackfish City. “I love whales; they’re amazing” (a whale appears on the city seal of Hudson, NY, where he’s from), and like us “engage in revenge.”  James Baldwin, one of his favorite authors, also uses his and our history.

Goldschlager was in Downtown Brooklyn, which somehow led to a discussion of the issue of gentrification and the balance between “having nice things” and retaining neighborhood mix. He wants to take us to “a place where solutions can be found;” Between the Blades was “evenhanded” on the issue, she felt. A community activist and organizer, he was concerned that most people are struggling in a hard place right now, and encouraged us to understand what we can do about whatever issue we care about, health care, housing, racial and social justice. One of his is Health Care for the People – his husband is a nurse-practitioner and had Covid-19 last year – whose GoFundMe he shared: Healthcare for the People.

He misses having people to “geek out” with about Avatar: The Last Airbender (his favorite character is Prince Zuko) and the “disappointment” of Game of Thrones.

With Barbara Krasnoff as virtual “Audience Wrangler,” he took virtual questions from the virtual audience. Is “City Without a Map” a podcast or a radio show? (Freund, naturally, stuck up for radio.) Well, it’s in the future, so the words we use are not really applicable, but podcast is a good enough analogy. What genre programs (sf/fantasy) is he into currently? One obsession is Harley Quinn (HBO Max); “it has an edge.” (When Batman tells her that supervillains are ruining Gotham City, she responds no, lack of affordable housing is ruining Gotham City.) In terms of books, he praised Leo Mondello’s forthcoming Summer Suns, and said that Alaya Dawn Johnson is another favorite.

Miller has, of course, been asked the usual mainstream question “Where do you get your ideas?” (from his head), but the oddest one was whether his father reacted more to his coming out as gay or as a vegetarian. (Miller is the son of a butcher, and “the last in a long line of butchers.” That puts The Art of Starving in a whole new light.) He took them both with good humor and was quite amused by the latter. What is he working on now? Short stories, the very early draft of another novel, and a graphic novel pitch. It’s difficult to write in a visual medium like comics, and, as he can’t draw at a professional level, has to surrender some control to the artist. How has the pandemic affected his productivity? He moves between high levels and low.

Goldschlager concluded by announcing upcoming readers:

  • Tues., Feb. 2nd (Groundhog Day): Charles Yu
  • Tues., March 2nd: Karen Russell

She added that, even though the readings are virtual, there are still expenses involved and asked us to help keep the series going by donating to NYRSF Reading Series producer Jim Freund at PayPal.me/HourWolf. (And listen to Hour of the Wolf, his radio show on WBAI-FM.) Miller concluded by, as a writer, thanking Goldschlager and Locus for running audiobook reviews.

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.