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Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick(1950- )
Michael Swanwick won a Nebula, a Hugo, and a World Fantasy award for his science fiction novels. Learn more at this Michael Swanwick fan website and at Michael Swanwick’s blog.

Stations of the Tide: Nebula award winner now on audio

Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick

It’s the Jubilee Year on the planet Miranda. Every 200 years the planet floods and humans must leave until Miranda’s continents are reborn. Miranda used to be the home of an indigenous species of shapeshifters who, during Jubilee, would return to their aquatic forms until the waters receded, but it seems that humans have killed them off.

Gregorian, who lives on Miranda but was educated off-planet by a rich and distant father, now styles himself a magician and is telling the citizens of Miranda that he can transform them into sea creatures so they can stay on the planet. He has stolen a piece of proscribed technology from Earth and our protagonist, who we know only as “the bureaucrat,” has been sent to find out what Gregorian has up his sleeve. The bureaucrat must track down Gregorian before the Jubilee tides flood the planet. During his quest he learns about the exotic planet’s hi... Read More

Griffin’s Egg: A semi-ambitious novella

Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s Griffin’s Egg tries as much to be retro sci-fi as it does to push the limits of the genre — or at least the limits when the novella was published in 1991. The story of a industrial worker on the moon who must deal with the spillover of violence from Earth to the point of post-humanism, Swanwick’s effort succeeds as much as it could be improved, making Griffin’s Egg at least marginally effective.

Gunther Weil is an employee of G5, one of the biggest industries mining the moon for metals and raw materials. Though working on a voluntary contract, he holds no place in his heart for the rote and plethora of bureaucracy, the rubbish strewn about the moon’s surface, or the radioactive storms that plague his rover trips delivering fuel pods. But he is more afraid of political turmoil on Earth; governments continu... Read More

The Iron Dragon’s Daughter: I could have enjoyed this book…if I was on acid

The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick

Some people don't like to admit that they didn't "get" a book, but I'm secure enough with myself to say that I didn't get this one.

The Iron Dragon's Daughter started off well. Jane is a human changeling who works in a Faerie factory that makes flying iron dragons for weapons. Jane and the other child slave laborers (who are a mix of strange creatures) are entertaining and bring to mind Lord of the Flies and that scene in Sid's room from Pixar's Toy Story. Michael Swanwick's writing style is fluid and faultless.

There are flashes of Valente-esque creativity: a timeclock with a temper, a meryon (whatever that is) civilization similar to that in A Bug's Life, a ... Read More

The Iron Dragon’s Mother: Surreal

The Iron Dragon’s Mother by Michael Swanwick

It’s been eleven years since I read Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, a novel that, while recognizing Swanwick’s brilliance, I did not enjoy. Some phrases from my review include “random, chaotic, and senseless,” “weird, disjointed, obtuse, inaccessibly bizarre,” and “chaotic nihilism.” But mostly I despised the protagonist, Jane, who was “a remorseless foul-mouthed thief, drug-user, slut, and murderer.”

So, at first I expected not to enjoy The Iron Dragon’s Mother (2019), which is set in the same universe, but when I learned that it’s a stand-alon... Read More

Bones of the Earth: Revels in paleontology and paradoxes

Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick

Paleontologist Richard Leyster works for the Smithsonian. It’s his dream job, so naturally he scoffs when a strange man named Harry Griffin offers him a new job whose description and benefits are vague. But when Griffin leaves an Igloo cooler containing the head of a real dinosaur on Leyster’s desk, Leyster is definitely intrigued. A couple of years later, when Griffin finally contacts him again, Leyster is ready to sign on to Griffin’s crazy project. He and a team of scientists are sent back to the Mesozoic era to study, up close and personal, the animals that, previously, had only been known by their bones. When a Christian fundamentalist terror group disrupts the project, things get very dangerous for Leyster and his colleagues. There are also concerns about the whole time-travel technology. How does it work? Where did it come from? What is the government hiding?

Bones of... Read More

The Dog Said Bow-Wow: Short stories by Michael Swanwick

The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick

I must first off state that I am generally not an avid lover of the short story. There are a few writers that I think really excel in the genre and whose stuff I will read without hesitation (Edgar Allen Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Arthur Conan Doyle, Fritz Leiber), but in general I am often underwhelmed by the format. Keep that in mind when I say that Michael Swanwick’s collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow was quite good, but didn’t blow me away or make me into a believer.

The various Darger & Surplus tales (“The Dog Said Bow-Wow”, “The Little Cat Laughed to See Such Fun”, and “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play”), relat... Read More

Chasing the Phoenix: A mostly tasty snack between more filling meals

Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick

Michael Swanwick’s Chasing the Phoenix is a slight but solidly enjoyably pleasant story of two clever con-artists that may remind readers of Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser a bit, though the reflection/homage is perhaps a bit pale. The pleasures of the book arise from the humorously complex situations the two fall into (and have to escape out of), the sharp character banter, and the generally witty writing all around. How far those attributes carry you past an intriguing but thin worldbuilding, the not-too-substantive plot, and somewhat dull characters will go a long way to determining your level of enjoyment.

The setting is a “Post-Utopia” far future that has only recently begun to clamber out of the catacl... Read More

Magazine Monday: Clarkesworld, Issue 80

“Soulcatcher,” the opening story in the May 2013 issue of Clarkesworld, is one of James Patrick Kelly’s best stories. His protagonist, Klary, is the owner of an art gallery who has lured xeni-Harvel Asher, the ambassador from the Four Worlds, into her establishment. The xeni is “embodied” as a human male, but he retains the charisma that causes some to liken his species to the human legend of faeries; he is nearly irresistible. But Klary has been on a regimen of emotion, and besides, this xeni ruined her life, we learn in the second paragraph. This tale of revenge embodies the alien beautifully. More than that, though, Kelly imagines new forms of art, most especially a rug known as a soulcatcher, with especial vividness.

Andy Dudak’s “Tachy Psyche” is also about art, in a sense, though it truly is more ab... Read More

Magazine Monday: Clarkesworld, April 2014

Issue 91 of Clarkesworld opens with “Passage of Earth” by Michael Swanwick. Swanwick is one of my favorite authors when he’s not writing about talking dogs, and this is not a Darger and Surplus story, so I was already inclined to like it. Hank, the protagonist, is the county coroner in a small rural community. One morning, in the wee small hours, an ambulance brings a Worm to his morgue, and Evelyn, a member of the (unidentified) Agency who also happens to be his ex-wife, instructs him to perform an autopsy. The anatomy of the creature, a member of the only other intelligent species in the universe that humans have yet encountered, is so completely different from that of humans that humans don’t know how to combat them — assuming combat is necessary, and the humans appear to be spoiling for war. It’s a tale of interspecies conflict writ small, but with such imagination that the Worm t... Read More

SHORTS: Malik, Emrys, Swanwick

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman Malik (2015, free at, Kindle version). Nominated for 2015 Nebula award (novella).

When I began this story I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t what unfolded. The title evoked images of a myth retold or a fairy tale, but this story was something altogether different than what I had in mind. The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn isn’... Read More

Christmas SHORTS: Clarke, Swanwick, Wentworth, Correia

In this special edition, we've found speculative short stories with a Christmas theme. 

“The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (1954, free online or purchase at Audible)

In this Hugo-awarded Christmas-themed story, an astrophysicist who is also a Jesuit priest struggles with his faith as he returns from a scientific voyage to investigate a white dwarf, the remains of a star that went supernova thousands of years ago. What they discover shakes the priest’s faith as he tries to incorporate his new knowledge with some of the more innocent-seeming ideals of his order’s teachings.

For people of faith, “The Star” is a reminder of the sov... Read More

SHORTS: Gladstone, Chiang, Bolander, Johnston, Swanwick, Vaughn

Our weekly sampling of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are some great stories that caught our eyes this week:

“A Kiss With Teeth” by Max Gladstone (2014, free at, 99c Kindle Version)

Within the first two paragraphs “A Kiss With Teeth” has outlined an unusual premise: a vampire masquerades as human in order to be an ordinary husband and father. He isn’t blending in to feast on blood or evade capture, but simply to give his wife and especially his son a... Read More

SHORTS: Vernon, Pinsker, Leigh, Swanwick, Young

our weekly exploration of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. This week's (entirely coincidental) theme seems to be the monstrous elements within us.

The Dark Birds by Ursula Vernon (Jan. 2017, free at Apex, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

This creepy story is told by one of the ogre’s daughters, who lives in a home where the cannibalistic ogre stays in the basement and is fed by the mother. There are always three daughters, even though the mother has a child every few years. The daughters always have the same three names: the oldest is Ruth, the... Read More

SHORTS: Kusano, Swanwick, Howard, Tanzer

Our weekly sampling of free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are some of the stories that caught our attention this week. 

“Next Station, Shibuya” by Iori Kusano (Jan. 2017, free at Apex, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

A poetic little story (under 4000 words) narrated by a city (or perhaps a city’s local spirit/deity) in second-person address toward Nagiko, a resident in whom the city has taken a particular interest.  I really liked the small details by which the city shows its love of Nagiko:
As you walked home from the station I made sure every streetlight above you was... Read More

SHORTS: 2018 Locus Award finalists

Today's SHORTS column features all of the 2018 Locus Award finalists for short fiction. The Locus Award winners will be announced by Connie Willis during Locus Award weekend, June 22 - June 24, 2018.


In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle (2017)

Claudio, a middle-aged curmudgeonly farmer living in a remote area of the Italian countryside, has been a standoffish loner since his wife left him decades ago. He’s satisfied with his current lifestyle, taking care of his land and his animals, and writing poetry that he shares with no one.

Everything changes one morning when a unicorn shows up on his farm. The pure and beautiful unicorn inspires Claudio’s poetry an... Read More

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology by Gordon Van Gelder (ed.)

The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction: Sixtieth Anniversary Anthology is an excellent collection of 23 stories picked from the treasure trove of short fiction that's been published in the eponymous magazine over the past 60 years. Editor Gordon Van Gelder — also the editor of the magazine since 1997 — has done an admirable job, picking stories that illustrate the diversity of both the genre and the magazine. As such, this is a great anthology for SF&F fans as well as newcomers looking for a taste.

The line-up of authors in this collection looks like a veritable Who's Who of speculative fiction: Ray Bradbury, Read More

Wings of Fire: I thought I didn’t like dragons

Wings of Fire edited by Jonathan Strahan & Marianne S. Jablon

I don't like dragons.

This is probably not the first sentence you'd expect to find in a review of Wings of Fire, an anthology devoted exclusively to dragon stories, but I thought it best to get it out of the way right from the start.

There's nothing inherently wrong with dragons. They're just terribly overused, one of those tired genre mainstays that people who typically don't read a lot of fantasy will expect in a fantasy novel because they were practically unavoidable for a long time. To this day, I confess to having to suppress a mental groan whenever I encounter them.

For a long time, I actively avoided reading any fantasy novel with the word dragon in the title. Granted, I made several exceptions to this rule in the past, most notably The King's Dragon by Read More

The Secret History of Fantasy: Stories that redefine the genre

The Secret History of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle

The basic premise of the SECRET HISTORY anthologies (there's also a science fiction one, The Secret History of Science Fiction, which I haven't read) is that there's a type of writing that got missed or buried because other things were more popular, more commercial, or dodged the spec-fic labeling. Certainly that's the thrust of Peter S. Beagle's introduction, and the two other non-fiction pieces by Ursula K. Le Guin and editor David G. Hartwell.

In the case of fantasy, this type of wri... Read More

Rogues: A diverse and satisfying collection

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Rogues, a short-story anthology by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, is a marvelously diverse collection of stories and genres, tied together by those scoundrels, those tricksters, those rascals, those rogues that you can't help but love. I listened to it on audiobook and loved the experience, especially because a few of the readers were actors from Game of Thrones.

When I picked this up, I was most excited to hear two stories in particular: "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," by Neil Gaiman, and "The Lightning Tree," by Patrick Rothfus... Read More

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold: Spy vs. Spy in the city of a hundred spires

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis & Michael Swanwick

The Witch Who Came in from the Cold (2017) is a study in contradictions. It’s a collaborative novel that feels seamless despite the five contributing authors: Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick. It was originally published in serialized form by Serial Box — Season One comprising the con... Read More

Other books by Michael Swanwick

Mongolian Wizard — (2012) Publisher: With “The Mongolian Wizard,” Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick launches a new fiction series — beginning with this story of a very unusual international conference in a fractured Europe that never was.

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsMichael Swanwick Tales of Old EarthIn the Drift — (1985) Publisher: Set in America in the 21st century, this is a generation-spanning saga of the fight for power and survival after a nuclear meltdown at Three Mile Island. One man must find the power to become the new ruler of a society where radiation has created human mutations and a death zone known as the Drift.

Vacuum Flowers — (1987) Publisher: In a world of plug-in personalities and colonized asteroids, daring fugitive Rebel Elizabeth Mudlark seeks refuge on Earth orbiting settlements, where evil, self-interest, and greed flourish in the vacuum of space.

Michael Swanwick Tales of Old Earth

Gravity’s Angels — (1991) Publisher: Gravity’s Angels is a showcase for a decade’s worth of Swanwick’s shorter fictions, from his first published short story, “The Feast of Saint Janis,” to a descent past the edge of a flat Earth otherwise very like our own in “The Edge of the World,” which won the 1990 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The stories collected here are luminous with the promise of his ambition, smart and allusive, dense with ideas and images, sacred and profane.

Michael Swanwick Tales of Old EarthTales of Old Earth — (1992) Publisher: From pure fantasy to hard science fiction, this finely crafted offering by one of the greatest science fiction writers of his generation promises to stretch readers’ minds far beyond ordinary limits. Nineteen tales from Michael Swanwick’s best short fiction of the past decade are gathered here for the first time, including the 1999 Hugo Award-nominated “Radiant Doors” and “Wild Minds” and this year’s winning story, “The Very Pulse of the Machine.” The collection also features “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O,” written especially for this volume.Michael Swanwick Jack Faust, The Dragons of Babel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Jack Faust — (1997) Publisher: At the turn of the 16th century, Magister Faust is made an offer he cannot refuse by the demon Mephistopheles — to know all there is to know. Faust believes that humankind will use this knowledge only for good, but in only a few years the nuclear weapons of our 20th century have been created.

Michael Swanwick Jack Faust, The Dragons of Babel, The Iron Dragon's DaughterThe Dragons of Babel — (2008) Publisher: A fantasy masterpiece from a five-time Hugo Award winner! A war-dragon of Babel crashes in the idyllic fields of a post-industrialized Faerie and, dragging himself into the nearest village, declares himself king and makes young Will his lieutenant. Nightly, he crawls inside the young fey’s brain to get a measure of what his subjects think. Forced out of his village, Will travels with female centaur soldiers, witnesses the violent clash of giants, and acquires a surrogate daughter, Esme, who has no knowledge of the past and may be immortal. Evacuated to the Tower of Babel — infinitely high, infinitely vulgar, very much like New York City — Will meets the confidence trickster Nat Whilk. Inside the Dread Tower, Will becomes a hero to the homeless living in the tunnels under the city, rises as an underling to a politician, and meets his one true love — a high-elven woman he dare not aspire to. You’ve heard of hard SF: This is hard fantasy from a master of the form.


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