It it with the greatest honor today that we have Michael Swanwick on the blog to answer a few questions in preparation for his guest episode this week in The Witch Who Came In From The Cold! Swanwick has been wowing readers since the 80s and has won five Hugos, one World Fantasy Award, and the Nebula for Best Novel with 91’s Stations of the Tide. Swanwick will be the Guest of Honor at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention.
Through a haze of cigarettes and vodka there lies a version of Prague where spies practice sorcery in their games of intrigue. While the world watches the bitter rivalry between East and West fester along the Iron Curtain, the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame continue waging their ancient war of magic. Kept to the shadows, this secret contest crosses the lines of politics and the borders of nations with impunity – the intrigues of spies may know clear sides but the battles of witches spill out over all. Tanya Morozova is a KGB officer and the latest in a long line of Ice witches and sorcerers; Gabe Pritchard is a CIA officer and reluctant Ice recruit. Enemies at one turn, suspicious allies at the next, their relationship is as explosive as the Cold War itself.
Released in weekly text+audio episodes, The Witch Who Came In From The Cold began January 27th and is written by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick.
Read it or learn more at SerialBox.com!
Can you describe your most recent project in one sentence?
The Iron Dragon’s Daughter was my thesis on the nature of fantasy, The Dragons of Babel was its antithesis, and The Iron Dragon’s Mother will be the synthesis.
Who is the author or book you will always recommend?
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. I tell people to check out the first volume, The Shadow of the Torturer, from the library and read the first chapter. If they don’t like it, they can ignore not only the rest of the books but everything else Wolfe has written, saving themselves an enormous amount of time. But if they love it (and so far, everyone I have urged the book on has loved it), they’ve begun one of the great reading adventures of a lifetime.
Favorite quote or line?
“There is always a sheet of paper. There is always a pen. There is always a way out.” H. L. Mencken.
Who is your favorite writer outside your genre?
Vladimir Nabokov. He was the most Mandarin of the great writers, more so even than Henry James, but with an appreciation of the absurdities of pop culture. If you read his lectures on the Canonical writers, you will discover that he was also a great reader, one who was delighted by the achievements of others, a true lover of what can be done with words.
Where is your happy place?
The Burren, though I’ve only been there twice, and the first time I thought it was hellish and couldn’t get through it fast enough. It’s a tremendous limestone upwelling the size of a county in the West of Ireland that looks and feels like nowhere else I’ve ever been. There’s hardly any soil but an abundance of plants grow in the grikes (crevices) in the weathered karst, many of which are found nowhere else. There are caves and cairns in great abundance there and far from the road my wife and I found a holy well where people still left offerings – coins, medicine bottles, plastic bombs and the like. After leaving it behind, my wife and I found we could not stop thinking about the Burren, and when we came back we lingered.
I return to the Burren often, in my imagination. I see a small figure in the night, fleeing. He is pursued and, because his or her horse broke a leg, afoot. Maybe someday I’ll write that story, maybe not. But it’s a comfort to me that my young fugitive, though still desperate, remains uncaught.
Last thing you read that made you think, “Well damn, that was cool…”
In novels, it’s Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, the first volume of a hard-SF trilogy of the same name. The book is full of new ideas, which is the living, beating heart of science fiction. It’s hard to exaggerate what a phenomenon it’s been in China, and here in the States I’m told it’s selling in large numbers
In short fiction, it’s “1923 – a fantasy” by Haihong Zhao, a delicate and beautiful story about a revolutionary, a dance-hall girl, and an inventor, in which nothing – not even the gender of the narrator – can be known for certain. It’s one of the best SF stories of the past decade.
If your soul was manifested outside of your body in the form of an animal (like in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series), what would it be?
A dragon, alas. But not an Anne McCaffrey dragon or one of my own. In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, John Clute characterized my writer’s voice as “warm, cruel, contemplative, moral.” So it would have to be one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s dragons.
Michael Swanwick has received the Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Hugo Awards. He has written nine novels, 150 short stories, and countless flash fictions. His latest novel, Chasing the Phoenix, is available from Tor Books. FloggingBabel.blogspot.com.