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Michael Swanwick

Fiction and Excerpts [12]

Fiction and Excerpts [12]

Five Great Fantasy Books Most Fans Don’t Know Exist

One of my favorite self-indulgences is browsing the mainstream shelves of bookstores in search of science fiction and fantasy. There’s a lot of it: War-horses like 1984 or Brave New World or Zamyatin’s We. Recent classics like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Byatt’s Possession. New books that could have easily been published as genre but were not.

Here are five out-of-genre fantasies many fantasy readers have never encountered.

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Series: Five Books About…

Chasing the Phoenix

In the distant future, Surplus arrives in China dressed as a Mongolian shaman, leading a yak which carries the corpse of his friend, Darger. The old high-tech world has long since collapsed, and the artificial intelligences that ran it are outlawed and destroyed. Or so it seems.

Darger and Surplus, a human and a genetically engineered dog with human intelligence who walks upright, are a pair of con men and the heroes of a series of prior Swanwick stories. They travel to what was once China and invent a scam to become rich and powerful. Pretending to have limited super-powers, they aid an ambitious local warlord who dreams of conquest and once again reuniting China under one ruler. And, against all odds, it begins to work, but it seems as if there are other forces at work behind the scenes.

Michael Swanwick’s Chasing the Phoenix is available August 11th from Tor Books.

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Day of the Kraken

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick presents a new fiction series at, consisting of stand-alone stories all set in the same world. “Day of the Kraken,” continues the epic tale of an alternate fin de siècle Europe shot through with sorcery and intrigue. (Intrigued yourself? Read the other stories, “The Mongolian Wizard” and “The Fire Gown.”)

This story was acquired and edited for by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “Day of the Kraken”]

Series: The Mongolian Wizard Stories

The Fire Gown

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick presents a new fiction series at, consisting of stand-alone stories all set in the same world. “The Fire Gown,” continues the epic tale of magic and deception in an alternate Europe of railroads and sorcery. (Intrigued? Read the first story, “The Mongolian Wizard.”)

This story was acquired and edited for by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “The Fire Gown”]

Series: The Mongolian Wizard Stories

The Mongolian Wizard

Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Michael Swanwick launches a new fiction series at of stand-alone stories all set in the same world. We begin with “The Mongolian Wizard,” a story of a very unusual international conference in a fractured Europe that never was.

This story was acquired and edited for by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

[Read “The Mongolian Wizard”]

Series: The Mongolian Wizard Stories

The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree

Enjoy “The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree,” by Michael Swanwick, a story inspired by an illustration from John Jude Palencar.

“The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree” is part of a five-story series curated by senior Tor Books editor David G. Hartwell. All five are based on a singular piece of art by John Jude Palencar and will be released for free on every Wednesday in March.

Read the story behind these stories or purchase all five right now in a $2.99 ebook.

This story was acquired and edited for by Tor Books editor David Hartwell.

[Read “The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree”]

Series: The Palencar Project

The Dead

Presenting “The Dead,” a story by Michael Swanwick, reprinted from science fiction anthology Starlight for’s Monster Mash. “The Dead” presents a future world where zombies take center stage not as a threat, but as a commodity….

Three boy zombies in matching red jackets bussed our table, bringing water, lighting candles, brushing away the crumbs between courses. Their eyes were dark, attentive, lifeless; their hands and faces so white as to be faintly luminous in the hushed light. I thought it in bad taste, but “This is Manhattan,” Courtney said. “A certain studied offensiveness is fashionable here.”

The blond brought menus and waited for our order.

[Continue reading ]

Series: Monster Mash on

The Trains that Climb the Winter Tree


We hope you enjoy this holiday story by Michael Swanwick and Eileen Gunn, previously available only to registrants. Don’t forget to check out the process post from Michael and Eileen once you finish! Merry Christmas!

It was the middle of the night when the elves came out of the mirrors. Everyone in the house was asleep. Outside, the city slumbered. Silent as shadows, the warriors went from room to room. Their knives were so sharp they could slit a throat without awakening their victim.

They killed all the adults.

The children they spared.

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Zeppelin City

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Radio Jones came dancing down the slidewalks. She jumped from the express to a local, then spun about and raced backwards, dumping speed so she could cut across the slower lanes two and three at a time. She hopped off at the mouth of an alley, glanced up in time to see a Zeppelin disappear behind a glass-domed skyscraper, and stepped through a metal door left open to vent the heat from the furnaces within.

The glass-blowers looked up from their work as she entered the hot shop. They greeted her cheerily:

“Hey, Radio!”


“You invented a robot girlfriend for me yet?”

The shop foreman lumbered forward, smiling. “Got a box of off-spec tubes for you, under the bench there.”

“Thanks, Mackie.” Radio dug through the pockets of her patched leather greatcoat and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Hey, listen, I want you to do me up an estimate for these here vacuum tubes.”

Mack studied the list. “Looks to be pretty straightforward. None of your usual experimental trash. How many do you need—one of each?”

“I was thinking more like a hundred.”

What?” Mack’s shaggy black eyebrows met in a scowl. “You planning to win big betting on the Reds?”

“Not me, I’m a Whites fan all the way. Naw, I was kinda hoping you’d gimme credit. I came up with something real hot.”

“You finally built that girlfriend for Rico?”

The workmen all laughed.

“No, c’mon, I’m serious here.” She lowered her voice. “I invented a universal radio receiver. Not fixed-frequency—tunable! It’ll receive any broadcast on the radio spectrum. Twist the dial, there you are. With this baby, you can listen in on every conversation in the big game, if you want.”

Mack whistled. “There might be a lot of interest in a device like that.”

“Funny thing, I was thinking exactly that myself.” Radio grinned. “So waddaya say?”

“I say—” Mack spun around to face the glass-blowers, who were all listening intently, and bellowed, “Get back to work!” Then, in a normal voice, “Tell you what. Set me up a demo, and if your gizmo works the way you say it does, maybe I’ll invest in it. I’ve got the materials to build it, and access to the retailers. Something like this could move twenty, maybe thirty units a day, during the games.”

“Hey! Great! The game starts when? Noon, right? I’ll bring my prototype over, and we can listen to the players talking to each other.” She darted toward the door.

“Wait.” Mack ponderously made his way into his office. He extracted a five-dollar bill from the lockbox and returned, holding it extended before him. “For the option. You agree not to sell any shares in this without me seeing this doohickey first.”

“Oh, Mackie, you’re the greatest!” She bounced up on her toes to kiss his cheek. Then, stuffing the bill into the hip pocket of her jeans, she bounded away.

Fat Edna’s was only three blocks distant. She was inside and on a stool before the door jangled shut behind her. “Morning, Edna!” The neon light she’d rigged up over the bar was, she noted with satisfaction, still working. Nice and quiet, hardly any buzz to it at all. “Gimme a big plate of scrambled eggs and pastrami, with a beer on the side.”

The bartender eyed her skeptically. “Let’s see your money first.”

With elaborate nonchalance, Radio laid the bill flat on the counter before her. Edna picked it up, held it to the light, then slowly counted out four ones and eighty-five cents change. She put a glass under the tap and called over her shoulder, “Wreck a crowd, with sliced dick!” She pulled the beer, slid the glass across the counter, and said, “Out in a minute.”

“Edna, there is nobody in the world less satisfying to show off in front of than you. You still got that package I left here?”

Wordlessly, Edna took a canvas-wrapped object from under the bar and set it before her.

“Thanks.” Radio unwrapped her prototype. It was bench-work stuff—just tubes, resistors and capacitors in a metal frame. No housing, no circuit tracer lights, and a tuner she had to turn with a pair of needle-nose pliers. But it was going to make her rich. She set about double-checking all the connectors. “Hey, plug this in for me, willya?”

Edna folded her arms and looked at her.

Radio sighed, dug in her pockets again, and slapped a nickel on the bar. Edna took the cord and plugged it into the outlet under the neon light.

With a faint hum, the tubes came to life.

“That thing’s not gonna blow up, is it?” Edna asked dubiously.

“Naw.” Radio took a pair of needle-nose pliers out of her greatcoat pocket and began casting about for a strong signal. “Most it’s gonna do is electrocute you, maybe set fire to the building. But it’s not gonna explode. You been watching too many kinescopes.”

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Series: Steampunk Month

On July 20th, 1969…by Michael Swanwick

To understand what the moon landing meant to me, you’d have to go back to a dark night in 1957 when I crouched in my attic room with my ear pressed hard against a huge old console radio. The volume was turned down as low as it would go, because I was supposed to be asleep. I was listening to news reports about Sputnik, which had just been launched by the Soviet Union. The Cold War was raging, and though I was not quite seven years old, I understood that the Soviets had just seized the ultimate military high ground.

Nobody followed the space program closer than I did. My father was an engineer for General Electric’s aerospace division, so I had a better idea of the realities than most. Thus when, less than twelve years later, using laughably primitive technology, two men landed on the Moon, I stayed up late to watch those grainy miraculous pictures on television, even though I had to get up at five in the morning to work in a factory to help pay for college. What moved me most was the plaque on the lander, reading, “WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND.” It was signed by Richard Nixon and a cynic would say that it was empty political rhetoric. Yet, astonishingly, forty years later, it appears that every word of it was true.


Michael Swanwick is an American science fiction and fantasy author and essayist. He has received the Hugo, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards for his work.

Series: Moon Landing Day