NYRSF Readings Series Features Authors James Morrow and Paul Park

By Mark L. Blackman: On the evening of Tuesday, October 7 the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series returned to its usual venue at the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art (aka Gallery La La) on Sullivan Street in Manhattan – albeit moved to the low-ceilinged basement (or “dungeon”) – for an evening of readings featuring the talents of authors James Morrow and Paul Park, both of whom have graced the Series in the past, though it has been a while since.

Jim Freund, the Series’ Executive Curator and the host of WBAI’s long-running Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (broadcast and streamed Wednesday nights/Thursday mornings from 1:30-3:00 AM), as well as host of the Hugo-winning Lightspeed Magazine Podcast, welcomed the audience and guests, and announced the next several readings. On Tuesday, November 4 (Election Day), John Langan and Nicholas Kauffmann will appear, with Amy Goldschlager guest-hosting; and Tuesday, December 2 will be the Series’ annual Family Night, as traditional, featuring Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, returning to the Commons Brooklyn, 388 Atlantic Ave., a manageable hike from the Barclays Center. The Series will return to the SGDA in 2015. Two particularly noteworthy events are April’s “Sam-Enchanted Evening,” featuring Samuel R. Delany and Sam J. Miller, and October’s first annual Margot Adler Memorial Vampire Reading. (There was a serendipitous prelude this October, as Morrow’s selection briefly mentioned a stage vampire.)

The lead-off reader, Paul Park has published novels and short stories in a variety of genres, and opted to read from his new novel, All Those Vanished Engines, which he described as “part memoir, part science-fiction novel, built of alternating strands of history, distorted memory, and impossibility.” The narrator is, like Park, a novelist and writing teacher (Park teaches writing and literature at Williams College), and the excerpt ranged from his attempts to create a D&D protagonist based partly on himself to coaching a woman student who is overcoming life traumas to vain interviews about an abandoned (unable to secure funding) secret jet project at a nearby factory during World War II (a “vanished engine”).  (Also, significantly, he did not take the advice “Never marry a Roumanian.”)

Following the intermission and a raffle of books by the readers, Freund introduced the evening’s other guest, James Morrow. Much-honored in the genre, he has twice received the World Fantasy Award and the Nebula Award, as well as the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire and the Prix Utopia. His works often mine history with a postmodern bend (meaning taking humongous liberties with historic events), such as The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher’s Apprentice (from which he read at a previous NYRSF Reading), and the novel from which he read, the forthcoming “Darwinian extravaganza,” Galápagos Regained. Set in 1848-50, a decade before the publication of The Origin of Species, the leading character, aside from Darwin himself, is Chloe Bathurst, an actress turned governess, not of Darwin’s descendants, but assistant zookeeper of the menagerie of strange creatures (including a giant tortoise) that (in this version of events) he has brought back from the Galápagos Islands. (In conversation afterward, Morrow noted that Darwin was wealthy – he was part of the Wedgewood family – which enabled him to undertake his voyage.) She connives to win the ?10,000 prize in the Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Great God Contest by swiping Darwin’s early essay on natural selection, “committing intellectual larceny,” and using it to disprove the existence of God. Ultimately, Morrow hinted, she herself voyages to the Galápagos Islands.

As traditional at NYRSF Readings, the Jenna Felice Freebie Table offered giveaway books (most publisher’s proofs), and refreshments (cider, cheese and crackers). At another table, books by Park and Morrow were for sale.

The audience of about 30-35 included Richard Bowes, Amy Goldschlager, Kim Kindya, John Kwok, Lissanne Lake, Gordon Linsner, William Shunn, Terence Taylor and Alex Whitaker. After the ritual folding-up of chairs, the readers and about half of the audience adjourned to the SoHo Room, a nearby bar for dinner and drinks.