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Authors: Michael Swanwick

Tales of Old Earth

BOOK: Tales of Old Earth
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Praise for the Writing of Michael Swanwick

The Iron Dragon's Daughter

A New York Times Notable Book

“Eerie … extraordinary … Dickens meets Detroit, full of grimy, toiling waifs, dark factories, trolls with boomboxes, and sleek, decadent high elves … Sordid, violent, funny, absurd, angry, by turns, as intense in its pleasures as in its pains … Swanwick takes huge risks here, and reaps big rewards.” —
Locus

“Entertaining reading … Flamboyant … Grotesquely Dickensian.” —
Newsday

In the Drift

“This episodic tale of life, war and survival in post-meltdown Pennsylvania builds a potent new myth from the reality of radioactive waste.” —George R. R. Martin

“Shocking … powerful.” —
Daily News
(New York)

“A powerful and affecting novel … Chilling, believable and uncomfortably close to home.” —
The Evening Sun
(Baltimore)

Bones of the Earth


Jurassic Park
set amid the paradox of time travel … I dare anyone to read the first chapter and not keep reading all the way through to the last shocking page.” —James Rollins,
New York Times–
bestselling author of
Subterranean
and
Bone Labyrinth

“Swanwick dramatizes of the world of dinosaurs with great flair and knowledge, even love.
Bones of the Earth
dances on the edge of an abyss.… [An] entertaining and deft performance.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Swanwick proves that sci-fi has plenty of room for wonder and literary values.” —
San Francisco Chronicle

Jack Faust


Jack Faust
is madly ambitious and brilliantly executed, recasting the entire history of science in a wholly original version of our culture's central myth of knowledge, power, and sorrow.” —William Gibson

“Superb … Wonderful and relentless … Provocative and evocative.” —
The Washington Post Book World

“Powerful … Marvelous … Consistently surprising.” —
The
New York Times Book Review

Vacuum Flowers

“Slick and highly competent entertainment that starts fast and never slows down.” —
The Washington Post

“Erotic and witty.” —
The New York Times

“Quintessentially cyberpunk … eminently readable and provocative.” —
Daily News
(New York)

Tales of Old Earth

“A stunning collection from one of science fiction's very best writers. Pay in blood, if necessary, but don't miss these stories.” —Nancy Kress

“Michael Swanwick is darkly magnificent.
Tales of Old Earth
is just one brilliant ride after another, a midnight express with a master at the throttle.” —Jack McDevitt

“Swanwick has emerged as one of the country's most respected authors.” —
The Philadelphia Inquirer

Tales of Old Earth

Stories

Michael Swanwick

This book is dedicated to

Virginia Kidd, Deborah Beale,

Martha Millard, and Jennifer Brehl

—the Other Women in my life.

Contents

Foreword
A User's Guide to Michael Swanwick

One
The Very Pulse of the Machine

Two
The Dead

Three
Scherzo with Tyrannosaur

Four
Ancient Engines

Five
North of Diddy-Wah-Diddy

Six
The Mask

Seven
Mother Grasshopper

Eight
Riding the Giganotosaur

Nine
Wild Minds

Ten
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O

Eleven
Microcosmic Dog

Twelve
In Concert

Thirteen
Radiant Doors

Fourteen
Ice Age

Fifteen
Walking Out

Sixteen
The Changeling's Tale

Seventeen
Midnight Express

Eighteen
The Wisdom of Old Earth

Nineteen
Radio Waves

About the Author

Foreword

The User's Guide to Michael Swanwick

Sometimes you have to step through the looking glass to get a proper look at someone standing next to you. During my science-fiction career, Michael Swanwick has been a hard guy to miss. He's steady, prolific, publishes all over the place, and, just like me, he has lost about a hundred awards.

But I didn't understand this guy's work at all properly until I went to Russia. I was at a science fiction convention in Saint Petersburg where they were having learned, earnest panels about Michael Swanwick. His novel
The Iron Dragon's Daughter
was the talk of the town.

This dragon book of Swanwick's is thoroughly unlike normal, tedious, off-the-rack dragon books. It's a world of magical elves and trolls where everybody's working in crappy, run-down factories, full of cruel backstabbing, many broken promises, strong-arm hustles, and pervasive despair. In other words, Russia. A shattered, rusty, “hard-fantasy” world, that is Russia to a T. I've spoken face-to-face to Russians, and they think I'm an interesting foreigner with some useful contacts outside their borders. But Michael Swanwick
really
speaks to Russians. They consider him a groundbreaking literary artist.

Then there is Swanwick the critic. I'm a critic myself, or I wouldn't be writing this introduction. I take this critical gibberish pretty seriously. I don't think an artist gets very far without a solid framework for objective understanding. You can sit there with a hammerlock on your muse, gushing prose under high pressure, and it may be pretty good stuff; but if you lack critical perspective, you'll become a toy of your own historical epoch. Your work will date quickly, because you are making way too many unconscious obeisances to the shibboleths of your own time.

Michael Swanwick, however, is a guy who has thoroughly got it down with the shibboleth and obeisance thing. Not only has he mastered this problem himself, he's quite good on the subject of other people's difficulties. Swanwick's “User's Guide to the Postmoderns” is the most important critical document about Cyberpunks and Humanists that ever came from a guy who was neither a cyberpunk nor a humanist. That article is, in fact, The Mythos: Swanwick definitively coined the Common Wisdom there. I very much doubt that a better assessment will ever be written.

At the time, one had to wonder why Swanwick had become the self-appointed arbiter of other people's quarrels. There certainly wasn't much that he could gain from this personally, and it predictably created a ow, much of it centered, with total injustice, on him, Michael Swanwick. But time has richly rewarded his courage and foresight. He did the field a genuine critical service. Science fiction is a better place for his efforts.

Not that I concur with everything Swanwick says, especially his painfully accurate assessment of my own motives. Agreement, maybe not. Respect, very definitely. I don't think that everything I write has to please Michael Swanwick. However, I would be very upset if he thought I was selling out or slacking off. Swanwick, a man and writer of firm integrity, has never sold out or slacked off. I cannot think of a single instance of this, ever, in the extensive Swanwick oeuvre. He is a strong, solid critic and he knows the evil smell of literary vices. Knowing that he's out there, sniffing—well, it keeps me to the grind.

Now we come to the matter of Swanwick being a “difficult writer.” What's this allegation about? Well, let me be up-front here: he's not for mundane wimps. Forget about it. Terrible things happen in Swanwick fiction. People suffer, often gruesomely. Furthermore, it's a rare Swanwick work which does not include some mind-altering, meticulous instance of evil sex.

So, yes, by the blinkered standards of the Christian Coalition he is somewhat disgusting and obscene. However, the true core of the matter is the Swanwick is an inherently and intrinsically strange human being. Oh sure, he's married, has a child, pays his taxes, stays out of the slammer, but at his core he's a high-voltage visionary. He's not a professional writer dabbling in the sci-fi genre. He is that rarer and far more valuable thing, an inherently science-fictional thinker who has trained himself, through years of devoted effort, to speak fluently.

His approach to theme, plot, character, situation, are all completely orthogonal to the norm. When you start a Swanwick story, it's as if a guy had knocked on your door and come in walking on his hands. And not as a mere stunt either, for he proceeds to make himself entirely at home; he does the dishes with his feet, fetches a beer from the fridge with the crook of his knee, settles on the couch with the remote control in his toes and starts making sardonic comments. They're rather insightful, disturbing, off-the-wall assessments, replete with stick-to-your-skull images that demonstrate a lifetime of imaginative concentration. Your world is not the same when he leaves.

He's not always graceful or easy, he never caters or panders, but Michael Swanwick is the Real Thing. He is entirely authentic and in full command of his material. He's gone so far into science fiction that he's coming out the far side at high velocity. So, my task is done here: you're up to speed now, you have been warned. The rest is your own lookout.

I'm proud to call him my colleague.

Bruce Sterling

January 2000

1

The Very Pulse of the Machine

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BOOK: Tales of Old Earth
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