26 November 2005


Michael Swanwick rules.

I first discovered him through his novel The Iron Dragon's Daughter. I was at the SF bookstore buying some Very Serious Stuff — I remember Samuel R. Delaney in the mix — and the clerk recommended Dragon. This was the original pocket edition, with cover art that just screamed “trashy fantasy novel” to someone versed in the nuances of such things. I was skeptical. The clerk described how it was set in a world of fairies who have a strange parallel to modern society, where college students take classes in Alchemy 101 and they sacrifice a virgin on the 50 yard line at the homecoming game. I was still skeptical. But I was a sucker, and bought the book.

I'm glad I did. It's dark, scary, smart, and has a wicked sense of humour. It's one of those things where every character you meet has a story to tell. And the “elves at the mall” shtick works much better than it sounds, especially if you know a thing or three about classical science.

Even better is his Jack Faust. I'm a guy with over a dozen Faust adaptations on his bookshelf, and this one is my favourite. It follows Gœthe's structure, with one major twist: when Mephistopholes reveals secrets to Faustus, central to them are the secrets of modern physics — and technology — meaning that Faust fast-forwards Europe through the industrial revolution back in the 14th Century.

Things don't work out so well for Faust.

I'm thinking of him because a little while ago, Teresa Neilsen Hayden posted a cool anecdote about him. And I've been meaning for quite some time to link to his online short short story collection The Periodic Table of Science Fiction. The doubled “short short” in my last sentence was intentional; you can read most of the stories in a minute or two.

But there's a hundred of them. Set aside some time.

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