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Rachel Swirsky

Rachel Swirsky(1982- )
Rachel Swirsky is an American literary, speculative fiction and fantasy writer, poet, and editor living in California. She was the founding editor of the PodCastle podcast and served as editor from 2008 to 2010.

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How the World Became Quiet: Wish I’d discovered Swirsky sooner

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How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future by Rachel Swirsky

I don’t read a lot of short stories, so it isn’t surprising that Rachel Swirsky wasn’t on my radar. Stories and novellas are what she is best known for. Subterranean Press has gathered 18 of her works into this collection, How the World Became Quiet.

Swirsky also writes poetry, which explains both her precise use of prose and her mastery of tone. This collection ranges from masterworks to pieces that are, in my opinion, interesting experiments. The book is broken into four sections; Past, Present, Future and The End, and the stories follow that, generally speaking; fantastical stories that could be set in Earth’s past or exist as folktales; stories set roughly speaking in the present day; tales, both science fiction and fantastical set in Earth’s future, and stories that discuss event... Read More

Women Destroy Science Fiction! The Stories: Special audiobook edition

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Women Destroy Science Fiction! Lightspeed Magazine Special Issue: The Stories edited by Christie Yant, Robyn Lupo, Rachel Swirsky

Last June, Hugo-winning Lightspeed Magazine, which is edited by John Joseph Adams, devoted an entire issue (Women Destroy Science Fiction!, June 2014, issue #49) to female science fiction writers and editors. Under Christie Yant’s and Robyn Lupo’s editorial leadership, they accepted 11 original short science fiction stories and 15 original pieces of SF flash fiction. Rachel Swirsky chose and reprinted 5 stories previously published elsewhere. Last month, Skyboat Media and Blackstone Audio released an audio version of the stories from Women Destroy Science Fiction. They gave these their usual excellent attention, casting each story’s... Read More

Magazine Monday: The Magazine That Would Not Die

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In 2009, fans of Realms of Fantasy, a full-size slick magazine, were dismayed to learn that its publisher, Sovereign Media, was shutting it down. Just not enough subscribers, Sovereign said; we can’t afford to keep going. But a savior came along in the form of Publisher Warren Lapine of Tir Na Nog Press, who purchased the magazine and kept it going with the same wonderful staff (including long-time editor Shawna McCarthy). Readers were delighted. Magazines are hardly ever saved, and even if they’re revived years later, they’re normally only shadows of their former selves. It was great to know that Realms of Fantasy would continue publishing. I’m sure I wasn’t the only hopeful who started writing stories in the sincere belief that someday I’d see my name on the Realms of Fantasy Read More

Magazine Monday: Nebula-Nominated Novellas

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I’ve always thought that the novella was a perfect length for short science fiction or fantasy, because it gives an author space enough to build a complete world and form characters who live and breathe in the reader’s imagination. You need more room to do this in these genres than in mainstream literature, where an author can assume that the reader is at home in the world of his characters. Yet a novella is also short enough to be read in a single sitting – a perfect lunchtime read, for instance – and a reader can take in an author’s entire milieu and ideas in one gulp. Where copies of the novellas are available online for those who wish to read them, I have linked them so that you can have as good a week of lunches this week as I had last.

There are six novellas nominated for the Nebula this year. They are all of exceptionally high quality, and the variety is enormous, so much so that comparison of one to another se... Read More

Magazine Monday: 2012 Nebula Award Nominees for Best Novelette

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It was a treat to reread Geoff Ryman’s “What We Found” to prepare to write this column. As I noted when I wrote about this story for my review on the issue of F&SF in which it originally appeared, Ryman has been writing in recent years of third-world cultures, in such a way that the reader becomes immersed in the culture, surrounded by sights, scents, tastes and sounds of a world so foreign to a first-worlder that it might as well be an alien civilization. This time, the setting is Makurdi in central Nigeria, a city with air conditioning, solar panels, smartphones -- and roosters crowing outside the window on the morning of the narrator’s wedding day. As Patrick tells his story of his stran... Read More

Magazine Monday: The Dark, Issue 1

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The internet has been a tremendous boon to short fiction readers. Many excellent web-based publications, from Subterranean Magazine to Clarkesworld to Beyond Ceaseless Skies to Lightspeed are thriving. Now there’s a new kid on the block: The Dark. Issue 1, dated October 2013, describes itself this way:
In the pages of The Dark, you will find a different kind of dark fiction. Just that -- different. And dark. Not necessarily horror, per se, with blood and guts and serial killers, but fiction that is weird and offbeat; magic realism; the fantastic; dark science fiction (and not your ordinary "robots and aliens" science fiction). No variation is off limits, and we will be encouraging our writers to take chances with their fic... Read More

Magazine Monday: Apex Magazine, Issues 55 and 56

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The most recent two issues of Apex Magazine give us a chance to say goodbye to one editor and hello to the next, and offer an interesting contrast between two strong voices.

Issue 55 is Lynne M. Thomas’s last issue of the 26 she has edited. It is a strong issue, with stories that are beautifully angry — at disease, at societal expectations, at clichés.

The first story, “What You’ve Been Missing” by Maria Dahvana Headley, is about the losses everyone suffers when a man is stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. Joe has been caught eating Proust, dipping the pages into his tea and devouring them. His wife, Bette, is enraged, because when they were first married he had said he’d sooner walk into the snow shoeless than live without the full use of his brain. Now Joe not only doesn’... Read More

Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2014

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To the dismay of all lovers of great speculative short fiction, the Summer issue of Subterranean Magazine is its last. This magazine was notable not just for the quality of its fiction, but for its willingness to publish short fiction at the novelette and novella lengths. The Summer issue ably demonstrates just what we’re going to be missing.

The magazine begins with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pushing the Sky Away (Death of a Blasphemer).” The first person narrator is in desperate straits, her water and morphine gone, lost in a building of endless hallways, caught in a dispute between the Djinn and the Ghûl. Yet despite the fantasy setting, science has a place in this tale, as Cesium isotopes and radiation poisoning play a role. Kiernan’s language is chosen carefully, turning parts of t... Read More

Magazine Monday Special Edition: Nebula-Nominated Novellas, 2014

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No, you have not jumped forward in time two days; it’s still Saturday. But the Nebula Awards will be handed out tonight, so this special edition of Magazine Monday discusses the nominated novellas.

The late, lamented Subterranean Magazine first published Rachel Swirsky’s “Grand Jeté.” The story is about Mara, a 12-year-old child who is dying of cancer, her father, who loves her very much, and the android Mara’s father has built that mimics Mara in every way, right down to her thoughts and feelings. It is an amazing technological accomplishment that Mara’s father sees as a gift to his daughter. Mara, however, sees it as a replacement for her, a confirmation of her fear that she ... Read More

SFM: Swirsky, Scalzi, Wong, Sriduangkaew, Heisler, Brookside

Short Fiction Monday: 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. 

Grand Jeté (The Great Leap) by Rachel Swirsky (2014, free at Subterranean Press)

“Mara, please wake up. I’ve made you a gift.” But gifts can be complicated: often there are strings attached, and the giver may not be completely in tune with the desires of the recipient… may, in fact, be giving the gift primarily for his or her own reasons. Mara, a young Jewish girl in the final stages of cancer, lives alone with her father Jakub, a free-lance inventor, and their aging German Shepherd in a secluded home in the countryside. T... Read More

SFM: Swirsky, Vernon, Bardugo, Norton

Short Fiction Monday: 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. 

“If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (2013, free at Apex Magazine)

Rachel Swirsky's “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is tiny in size but remarkable in strength, a real pint-sized gem. It is no wonder the story won the 2013 Nebula short story award ― anyone who can pack such a punch into so few words knows what they are doing with them.

The story reads like a love letter. The author speculates on how it would be if her lover were a dinosaur, how she would teach him to sing and help plan his dinosaur wedding. The opening tone is perfectly tender... Read More

SFM: Swirsky, Andrews, St. George, Otis

Short Fiction Monday: 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. 

“Tea Time” by Rachel Swirsky (2015, free at Lightspeed Magazine)

A wonderfully impressionistic examination of one small cranny of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. In this case, the focus is on the eternal tea party held by the two lovers—the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, who speak to each other only in quotations, and who must face the possibility of slain Time being resurrected.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. First, as a sucker for structure and experimentation, I loved the n... Read More

SFM: Kingfisher, Jones, Ferebee, Swirsky, Lecky

Short Fiction Monday: 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 Dryad’s Shoe” by T. Kingfisher (2014, free at Fantasy magazine, $2.99 at Amazon for magazine issue)

“The Dryad’s Shoe” is a charming Cinderella retelling that features Hannah, a young woman who is far more interested in gardens and bees than fancy gowns and dukes’ sons. When the local duke holds a masquerade ball for his son, an enchanted titmouse informs Hannah that a nearby dryad-tree wants to grant the girl gifts of spectacular dre... Read More

The Nebula Awards Showcase 2011: Sample the best SFF

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The Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 edited by Kevin J. Anderson

The Nebula Awards are one of the great institutions in science fiction and fantasy. Each year since 1965, the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have voted for the Best Novel, Novella (40,000-17,500 words), Novelette (17,500-7,500 words), and Short Story (less than 7,500 words) in SF and fantasy. Compiling a list of the nominees and winners for all those years would get you an excellent reading list and a comprehensive cross-view of the best that can be found in the ... Read More

Oz Reimagined: You might not even find yourself in Oz

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Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams

Oz Reimagined is a collection of tales whose characters return as often, if not more often, to the "idea" of Oz as opposed to the actual Oz many of us read about as kids (or adults) and even more of us saw in the famed MGM version of the film. As its editors, John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, say in their introduction: "You might not even find yourself in Oz, though in spirit, all these stories take place in Oz, regardless of their actual location." And actually, I personally found my favorites in here mostly to be those stories that did not hew too closely with Baum's characters or plots, but instead took the characters and skewed them, or sent them down a different path than the yellow-bricked one. Though as is often the case with anthologies, I found the collection as a whole a mixed bag, its stories evoking reactions varying from distaste to "meh" to ... Read More

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction: Packed full of excellent SF stories

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Twenty-First Century Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell

Twenty-First Century Science Fiction is packed full of excellent science fiction stories. I've been reading anthologies lately, partly to improve my own short story writing, and this is the best I've found so far. It contains stories by authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow, Catherynne M. ValenteJohn Scalzi, Jo Walton, Charles Stross, Read More

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy: “Best” sets the bar high and these stories clear it

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Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016 edited by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams

Karen Joy Fowler is the guest editor of the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. This is the second book in the annual series, which John Joseph Adams conceived of, and he still plays a large role in the selection process.

It is worth reading both Adams’ and Fowler’s introductions. Fowler’s is brilliant because she talks about the world, fiction, fantasy and language. Adam’s is instructive. He walks us through the selection process. This is where I discovered that the title, “best of science fiction and fantasy” is quite literal. It’s not “science fiction/fantasy” or “science fantasy” or “science fiction or fantasy.” The book c... Read More

Marion and Terry report on the 2013 Nebula Awards Weekend

The 48th Annual Nebula Awards weekend was held by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America at the San Jose Convention Center in northern California from May 17 through 19, 2013. Terry Weyna and I, who both live in Northern California and both are aspiring writers, decided to see what a bunch of published writers get up to when they party together.

Gene Wolfe and Teri Goulding



Marion Deeds: I think what surprised me most is how light on programming the weekend was. I thought there would be sessions about the nuts and bolts of a writing career, but I guess that SFWA members already have a pretty good idea about that. Still, I thought we’d hear about things like the new Amazon publishing arms, the Night Shade Books mess, that sort of thing.

Terry Weyn... Read More

Marion visits the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The Nebula Awards event which Terry and I recently attended also offered tours of the Computer History Museum and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. I chose the latter. Growing up in northern California I had heard about this museum. I had always assumed it would be vaguely campy, filled with Rosicrucian mysticism and quasi-historical replicas.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum



Human Mummy (male)



To my surprise, it is an elegant Egyptian museum with genuine artifacts. San Jose’s Rosicrucian Park and museum were founded in 1928 by H. Spencer Lewis, an explorer and mystic who was very interested in bringing the Rosicrucian movement back to the United States. Since the order funded expeditions at the turn of the twe... Read More