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In addition to their individual quality, the 16 stories in this rollicking collection amply demonstrate Hugo-winner Swanwick's impressive versatility. Characters vary from feuding prospectors on a heat-scoured Venus in "Tin Marsh" to clients of "The Bordello in Faerie." On one end of the mood spectrum are the three elegantly wry adventures of Darger and Surplus, roguish postapocalypse con artists; on the other is the gentle "Triceratops Summer," told in a matter-of-fact, laconic style that at first seems to show wonderful things becoming commonplace and then reveals that the familiar can still be wonderful. Swanwick (The Iron Dragon's Daughter) pulls apart overused situations to see what makes them tick and then constructs fresh, surprising plots from the pieces. The locked-room mystery may seem hopelessly stale, but not when it's "A Small Room in Koboldtown," where voodoo beings and sleazy politics abound. Readers tired of conventional fantasy and SF will find this collection of intriguing characters and lovingly told stories deeply refreshing. (Sept.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
“Witty, smart, challenging, marveling in off-beat invention and beautifully written....”
—SF Site, featured review
“Every reader with a dollop of humanity will admire Michael Swanwick’s rowdy good humor. His towering creativity seems so effortless that it is easily overlooked—so effortless, and so immense. You won’t want to put this book down.”
“By turns funny, clever, mysterious, and possessing hidden depths, the stories in Swanwick’s latest collection demonstrate he’s at the top of his game. Delightful, thoughtful work, sure to please his readers.”
—Jeff VanderMeer, author of The Third Bear
“For most writers, it’s a good day when a story is witty or has great ideas or characters. Michael Swanwick consistently wins on all three.”
“Michael Swanwick is one of my all-time favorite short-story writers. Sometimes he makes me laugh, sometimes he makes me shudder, sometimes he makes me weep. He always makes me think. And that’s just when I am talking to him.”
“In The Dog Said Bow-Wow, a valuable author has taken the disreputable duckling of category fiction and nurtured it into a swan of elegant speculation, as the wick of disciplined fancy draws the reader’s inflamed imagination ever downward through the waxen feast. Swan and wick: an essential conjunction yielding wonder, warmth, wit, and many a synergistic epiphany.”
—James Morrow, author of Shambling Toward Hiroshima
“Michael Swanwick’s stories start soft, sneak close, and punch hard. And nobody else—nobody!—in science fiction has his range.”
—Nancy Kress, author of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall
“Michael Swanwick’s The Dog Said Bow-Wow is an extraordinarily strong collection. His fierce imagination, subtle humor, and genius for implication are evident in each of these stories.”
“...arguably [the] best collection of his stories, populated by tricksters, dinosaurs, gods, and explorers, Swanwick takes a variety of old themes and styles and twists them into something fresh and new.”
“Swanwick’s graceful prose, prodigious inventiveness, and sense of humor are very much in evidence here....”
“...surpassingly brilliant...storytelling of the highest order.”
“Witty, smart, challenging, marveling in off-beat invention and beautifully written....”
"Hello," Said the Stick
"HELLO," SAID THE STICK.
The soldier stopped, and looked around. He did not touch the hilt of his sword, but he adjusted his stance so he could reach it quickly, if need be. But there was nothing to be seen. The moors stretched flat and empty for miles about. "Who said that?"
"I did. Down here."
"Ah. I see." The soldier poked gingerly at the stick with his foot. "Some sort of radio device, eh? I've heard of such. Where are you speaking from?"
"I'm right here. The stick. I'm from off-planet. They can make things like me there."
"Can they, now? Well that's interesting, I suppose."
"Pick me up," said the stick. "Take me with you."
"Because I make an excellent weapon."
"No, I mean what's in it for you?"
The stick paused. "You're smarter than you look."
"Thanks. I think."
"Okay, here's the deal. I'm a symbiotic mechanism. I was designed to be totally helpless without a human partner. Pick me up, throw an acorn in the air, take a swing at it, and I can shift my weight so you hit it a country mile. Leave me here and I can't budge an inch."
"Why would they build you like that?"
"So I'd be a good and faithful tool. And I will. I'll be the best quarter-staff you ever had. Try me and see."
"How do I know you won't take over my brain?" the soldier asked suspiciously. "I've heard off-world wizards can make devices that do things like that."
"They're called technicians, not wizards. And that sort of technology is strictly prohibited on planetary surfaces. You have nothing to worry about."
"Even so.... It's nothing I'd want to chance."
The stick sighed. "Tell me something. What's your rank? Are you a general? A field commander?"
"Tramping alone across the moors like this? Naw, I'm just a gallow-glass—a mercenary and a foot soldier."
"Then what have you got to lose?"
The soldier laughed aloud. He bent to pick up the stick. Then he put it down again. Then he picked it up.
"Well, I don't mind telling you that takes a weight off my mind."
"I could use a change of scenery. Let's go. We can talk along the way."
The soldier resumed his stroll down the dirt track. He swung the stick lightly back and forth before him, admiring how it lopped off the heads of thistles, while deftly sidestepping the sedge-roses. "So you're off to join the Iron Duke in his siege of Port Morningstar, are you?" the stick remarked conversationally.
"How'd you know that?"
"Oh, one hears things, being a stick. Fly on the wall, and all that."
"It's an unfamiliar figure of speech, but I catch your meaning. Who do you think's going to win? The Iron Duke or the Council of Seven?"
"It's a close thing, by all accounts. But the Iron Duke has the advantage of numbers. That always counts for something. If I had to bet money, I'd say you chose employers well."
"That's good. I like being on the winning side. Less chance of dying, for one thing."
They'd progressed several miles across the moors when the sun began to set. The soldier laid the stick aside and set a snare for supper. By the time he'd pitched a tent, made camp, and cut peat for a fire, he'd caught a rabbit. He roasted it slow and, because he had a fondness for drumsticks, ate all six legs first, along with three small bunyips, boiled with a pinch of salt from a tin. Like many an old campaigner, he ate in silence, giving the food his undivided attention.
"Well," he said when he was full and in the mood for conversation again. "What were you doing out here in the middle of this godforsaken wilderness?"
The stick had been stuck into the earth on the opposite side of the campfire, so that it stood upright. "I was dropped by a soldier," it said, "much like yourself. He was in pretty bad shape at the time. I doubt he's still alive."
The soldier frowned. "You're not exactly standard gear."
"No, I'm not. By compact, planetside wars are fought with primitive weaponry. It was found that wars were almost as environmentally destructive as the internal combustion engine. So ..."
"Internal combustion engine?"
"Never mind. It's complicated. The point I was trying to make, though, is that the technology is there, even if it's not supposed to be used. So they cheat. Your side, the other side. Everybody cheats."
"That sword of yours, for example. Take it out, let's get a look at it."
He drew the sword. Firelight glimmered across its surface.
"Tungsten-ceramic-titanium-alloy. Self-sharpening, never rusts. You could slam it against a granite boulder and it wouldn't break. Am I right?"
"It's a good blade. I couldn't say what it was made of."
"Trust me on this one."
"Still ... you're a lot fancier than this old sword of mine. It can't talk, for one thing."
"It's possible," said the stick, "that the Council of Seven is, out of desperation, pushing the envelope a little, these days."
"Now that's a figure of speech I've neither heard before nor can comprehend."
"It means simply that it's likely they're using weapons rather more sophisticated than is strictly speaking allowed by the Covenants of Warfare. There's a lot riding on this siege. The Iron Duke has put everything he has into it. If he were defeated, then the worst the Council of Seven could expect would be sanctions and a fine. So long as they don't use tac-nukes or self-reprogramming viruses, the powers that be won't invoke their right to invade."
"Tac-nukes or self-reprogamming viruses?"
"Again, it's complicated. But I see you're yawning. Why don't you bank the fire and turn in? Get some sleep," said the stick. "We can talk more in the morning."
But in the morning, the soldier didn't feel much like talking. He packed his gear, shouldered the stick, and set off down the road with far less vigor than he had the day before. On this, the stick did not comment.
At noon, the soldier stopped for lunch. He let his pack slip from his shoulders and leaned the stick against it. Then he rummaged within for the lef-tover rabbit, only to make a face and thrust it away from him. "Phaw!" he said. "I cannot remember when I felt so weak! I must be coming down with something."
"Do you think so?" the stick asked.
"Aye. And I'm nauseated, and I've got the sweats as well."
The soldier wiped his forehead with his hand. It came back bloody.
"Chort!" he swore. "What's wrong with me?"
"Radiation poisoning, I expect. I operate off a plutonium battery."
"It's ... you ... You knew this would happen to me." Unsteadily, he stood, and drew his sword. He struck at the stick with all his might. Sparks flew, but it was not damaged. Again and again he struck, until his strength was gone. His eyes filled with tears. "Oh, foul and treacherous stick, to kill a man so!"
"Is this crueler than hacking a man to death with a big knife? I don't see how. But it's not necessary for you to die."
"No. If you grab your gear and hurry, you just might make it to the Iron Duke's camp in time. The medics there can heal you — anti-radiation treatments aren't proscribed by the Protocols. And, to tell you the truth, you do more damage to the Iron Duke's cause alive and using up his personnel and resources than you do neatly dead in the moorlands. Go! Now!"
With a curse, the soldier kicked the stick as hard as he could. Then he grabbed his pack and shambled off.
It was not long before he disappeared over the horizon.
A day passed.
A young man came trotting down the dirt track. He carried a sword and a light pack. He had the look of a mercenary.
"Hello," said the stick.CHAPTER 2
The Dog Said Bow-Wow
THE DOG LOOKED like he had just stepped out of a children's book. There must have been a hundred physical adaptations required to allow him to walk upright. The pelvis, of course, had been entirely reshaped. The feet alone would have needed dozens of changes. He had knees, and knees were tricky.
To say nothing of the neurological enhancements.
But what Darger found himself most fascinated by was the creature's costume. His suit fit him perfectly, with a slit in the back for the tail, and — again — a hundred invisible adaptations that caused it to hang on his body in a way that looked perfectly natural.
"You must have an extraordinary tailor," Darger said.
The dog shifted his cane from one paw to the other, so they could shake, and in the least affected manner imaginable replied, "That is a common observation, sir."
"You're from the States?" It was a safe assumption, given where they stood — on the docks — and that the schooner Yankee Dreamer had sailed up the Thames with the morning tide. Darger had seen its bubble sails over the rooftops, like so many rainbows. "Have you found lodgings yet?"
"Indeed I am, and no I have not. If you could recommend a tavern of the cleaner sort?"
"No need for that. I would be only too happy to put you up for a few days in my own rooms." And, lowering his voice, Darger said, "I have a business proposition to put to you."
"Then lead on, sir, and I shall follow you with a right good will."
* * *
The dog's name was Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux, but "Call me Sir Plus," he said with a self-denigrating smile, and "Surplus" he was ever after.
Surplus was, as Darger had at first glance suspected and by conversation confirmed, a bit of a rogue — something more than mischievous and less than a cut-throat. A dog, in fine, after Darger's own heart.
Over drinks in a public house, Darger displayed his box and explained his intentions for it. Surplus warily touched the intricately carved teak housing, and then drew away from it. "You outline an intriguing scheme, Master Darger —"
"Please. Call me Aubrey."
"Aubrey, then. Yet here we have a delicate point. How shall we divide up the ... ah, spoils of this enterprise? I hesitate to mention this, but many a promising partnership has foundered on precisely such shoals."
Darger unscrewed the salt cellar and poured its contents onto the table. With his dagger, he drew a fine line down the middle of the heap. "I divide — you choose. Or the other way around, if you please. From self-interest, you'll not find a grain's difference between the two."
"Excellent!" cried Surplus and, dropping a pinch of salt in his beer, drank to the bargain.
It was raining when they left for Buckingham Labyrinth. Darger stared out the carriage window at the drear streets and worn buildings gliding by and sighed. "Poor, weary old London! History is a grinding-wheel that has been applied too many a time to thy face."
"It is also," Surplus reminded him, "to be the making of our fortunes. Raise your eyes to the Labyrinth, sir, with its soaring towers and bright surfaces rising above these shops and flats like a crystal mountain rearing up out of a ramshackle wooden sea, and be comforted."
"That is fine advice," Darger agreed. "But it cannot comfort a lover of cities, nor one of a melancholic turn of mind."
"Pah!" cried Surplus, and said no more until they arrived at their destination.
At the portal into Buckingham, the sergeant-interface strode forward as they stepped down from the carriage. He blinked at the sight of Surplus, but said only, "Papers?"
Surplus presented the man with his passport and the credentials Darger had spent the morning forging, then added with a negligent wave of his paw, "And this is my autistic."
The sergeant-interface glanced once at Darger, and forgot about him completely. Darger had the gift, priceless to one in his profession, of a face so nondescript that once someone looked away, it disappeared from that person's consciousness forever. "This way, sir. The officer of protocol will want to examine these himself."
A dwarf savant was produced to lead them through the outer circle of the Labyrinth. They passed by ladies in bioluminescent gowns and gentlemen with boots and gloves cut from leathers cloned from their own skin. Both women and men were extravagantly bejeweled — for the ostentatious display of wealth was yet again in fashion — and the halls were lushly clad and pillared in marble, porphyry and jasper. Yet Darger could not help noticing how worn the carpets were, how chipped and sooted the oil lamps. His sharp eye espied the remains of an antique electrical system, and traces as well of telephone lines and fiber optic cables from an age when those technologies were yet workable.
These last he viewed with particular pleasure.
The dwarf savant stopped before a heavy black door carved over with gilt griffins, locomotives, and fleurs-de-lis. "This is a door," he said. "The wood is ebony. Its binomial is Diospyros ebenum. It was harvested in Serendip. The gilding is of gold. Gold has an atomic weight of 197.2."
He knocked on the door and opened it.
The officer of protocol was a dark-browed man of imposing mass. He did not stand for them. "I am Lord Coherence-Hamilton, and this —" he indicated the slender, clear-eyed woman who stood beside him — "is my sister, Pamela."
Surplus bowed deeply to the Lady, who dimpled and dipped a slight curtsey in return.
The protocol officer quickly scanned the credentials. "Explain these fraudulent papers, sirrah. The Demesne of Western Vermont! Damn me if I have ever heard of such a place."
"Then you have missed much," Surplus said haughtily. "It is true we are a young nation, created only seventy-five years ago during the Partition of New England. But there is much of note to commend our fair land. The glorious beauty of Lake Champlain. The gene-mills of Winooski, that ancient seat of learning the Universitas Viridis Montis of Burlington, the Technarchaeological Institute of — "He stopped. "We have much to be proud of, sir, and nothing of which to be ashamed."
The bearlike official glared suspiciously at him, then said, "What brings you to London? Why do you desire an audience with the queen?"
"My mission and destination lie in Russia. However, England being on my itinerary and I a diplomat, I was charged to extend the compliments of my nation to your monarch." Surplus did not quite shrug. "There is no more to it than that. In three days I shall be in France, and you will have forgotten about me completely."
Scornfully, the officer tossed the credentials to the savant, who glanced at and politely returned them to Surplus. The small fellow sat down at a little desk scaled to his own size and swiftly made out a copy. "Your papers will be taken to Whitechapel and examined there. If everything goes well — which I doubt — and there's an opening — not likely — you'll be presented to the queen sometime between a week and ten days hence."
"Ten days! Sir, I am on a very strict schedule!"
"Then you wish to withdraw your petition?"
Surplus hesitated. "I ... I shall have to think on't, sir."
Lady Pamela watched coolly as the dwarf savant led them away.
The room they were shown to had massively framed mirrors and oil paintings dark with age upon the walls, and a generous log fire in the hearth. When their small guide had gone, Darger carefully locked and bolted the door. Then he tossed the box onto the bed, and bounced down alongside it. Lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling, he said, "The Lady Pamela is a strikingly beautiful woman. I'll be damned if she's not."
Ignoring him, Surplus locked paws behind his back, and proceeded to pace up and down the room. He was full of nervous energy. At last, he expostulated, "This is a deep game you have gotten me into, Darger! Lord Coherence-Hamilton suspects us of all manner of black-guardry —"
"Well, and what of that?"
"I repeat myself: We have not even begun our play yet, and he suspects us already! I trust neither him nor his genetically remade dwarf."
"You are in no position to be displaying such vulgar prejudice."
"I am not bigoted about the creature, Darger, I fear him! Once let suspicion of us into that macroencephalic head of his, and he will worry at it until he has found out our every secret."
"Get a grip on yourself, Surplus! Be a man! We are in this too deep already to back out. Questions would be asked, and investigations made."
"I am anything but a man, thank God," Surplus replied. "Still, you are right. In for a penny, in for a pound. For now, I might as well sleep. Get off the bed. You can have the hearth-rug."
"I! The rug!"
"I am groggy of mornings. Were someone to knock, and I to unthinkingly open the door, it would hardly do to have you found sharing a bed with your master."
Excerpted from The Dog Said Bow-Wow by Michael Swanwick. Copyright © 2007 Michael Swanwick. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 21, 2011
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