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 Flowers, Stations of the Tide, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Jack Faust, Bones of the Earth, The Dragons of Babel, Dancing With Bears, Chasing 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!