On the evening of Tuesday, 4 December 2012, at its current venue, the SoHo Gallery for Digital Art, the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings Series celebrated the December Holidays Season with its traditional (fifth) “Family Night.” For the fourth time (also part of the tradition), it featured the family of Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, and was guest-hosted once more by Claire Wolf Smith, who had served as the NYRSF Reading Series’ third curator.
The Series’ executive curator Jim Freund, host of WBAI-FM’s Hour of the Wolf radio program on sf and fantasy (which broadcasts and streams every Wednesday night/Thursday morning from 1:30 to 3:00 am), welcomed the crowd, called attention to the refreshments (apple juice, egg nog and oatmeal cookies) and the Jenna Felice Giveaway Table at the back of the room, and to his “Sita Sings the Blues” T-shirt, and announced upcoming NYRSF readings. The first Tuesday of January 2013 is New Year’s Day, so Veronica Schanoes and Terry McGarry will instead be reading on 8 January. Paul Witcover and Robert Freeman Wexler will be 5 February’s readers. March’s reading will spotlight John Joseph Adams’s Oz-inspired anthology, and Ron Hogan will guest-curate in May. April’s event will be the traditional tribute to a legendary sf author. Finally, he turned hosting duties over to Wolf Smith, who introduced the first of the couple reading that evening, Ellen Kushner, award-winning novelist (Thomas the Rhymer), editor (she recently co-edited Welcome to Bordertown), performer, klezmer devotee (The Golden Dreydl: a Klezmer “Nutcracker”), and public radio personality (longtime host of the public radio show Sound & Spirit).
Kushner remarked that it is customary for families to get together this time of year, and that doing this annual reading is “like a family reunion.” She related how her life had changed in the past year because of the audiobook world; a fan had suggested that she record her own books, sending her into tiny recording studios. Currently recording The Fall of the Kings, she effusively praised her co-narrator on The Privilege of the Sword (or “TPOTS”, pronounced “teapots”), Barbara Rosenblat, and voice actor Joe Hurley, noting too its cameo by Neil Gaiman. Then, trying not to do any spoilers, she read (no, she didn’t lip-synch) a couple of scenes from her “mannerpunk” novel, “TPOTS”: the Mad Duke Tremontaine and the actress the Black Rose discuss his plan to turn his niece into a swordsman; later, he and the girl, Katherine, thrash out her challenge to the city’s most powerful noble, concluding with Kushner’s favorite speech (“Think of secrets as being like money. The more you have – of other people’s – the richer you are.”). In a brief Q-&-A session, Kushner replied that she tends to hear characters’ voices as she’s writing (some writers write for the eyes, some for the ears). Yes, her audiobooks use sound effects; Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers (“the greatest movie ever made”), particularly the opening, influenced the swordplay.
Following a short recess, Wolf Smith opened the second half of the evening by introducing Delia Sherman, extolling The Freedom Maze (from which Sherman read at last December’s “Family Night”), which, she said, “richly deserved” the Prometheus Award and the Andre Norton Award. Sherman, dressed for the occasion in a dark, Victorian floor-length gown with a bustle, after nods to The Pickwick Papers and How Green Was My Valley, read from “The Ghost of Cwmlech”, her story in the young adult anthology Steampunk!, occasionally attempting a sort of Welsh accent. It was traditional for the Victorians to tell ghost stories at Christmas, though this is not a Christmas story. Set in 1861 Wales, a 17-year-old girl has been brought in as housekeeper – and to supervise the staff of “mechanicals,” automatons controlled by musical notes – of Cwmlech Manor, whose lord, the 10th Baron, a mathematician, is on the brink of financial ruin and of losing the manor. A rationalist, he cannot see or hear the sharp-tongued titular ghost of Lady Cwmlech, who died during the decidedly unromantic English Civil War, after hiding the family treasure, but the girl can.
Copies of the authors’ books and audiobooks were for sale at the back of the room, as well as gratis promotional post cards and a temporary tattoo.
The audience of just above 40 included Linda Addison, Richard Bowes, Seth Breidbart, Amy Goldschlager, Carlos Hernandez, Kim Kindya, Barbara Krasnoff, Josh Kronengold, John Kwok, Lisa Padol, Robert Rodriquez, and James Ryan. This time the exhortation to fold up the chairs fell to Wolf Smith. Afterward, as customary, the guests and a number of audience members adjourned to a nearby pub, Milady’s, for dinner and conversation.