The Big Idea: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

Some writers have a “thing” – a niche, a trick, or a trope that they make their own. And then some other writers… wander. In this Big Idea for Being Michael Swanwick, a non-fiction exploration into the life and works of the multiple-award-winning author, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro explains how Swanwick’s thematic diversity is, indeed, his thing.


Life is like a box of Michael Swanwick stories.

In fact, read enough of them, and the membrane separating his fiction from our reality becomes increasingly porous, so that we might say that Michael Swanwick stories are like a box of life.

When we discussed his story “Universe Box” Michael shared with me that he enjoys cigar boxes–probably not surprising from the author of Cigar-Box Faust and Other Miniatures (2003).

“Universe Box” opens with a trickster stealing the whole universe and hiding it inside a cigar box. That seems like an apt image for the magic of Swanwick’s writing. He can conjure up an entire cosmos in a few thousand or even just a couple of hundred words, which was part of what inspired me to produce Being Michael Swanwick.

Stations of the Tide (1991), a Nebula winner, was my first encounter with Michael’s fiction. I found the novel in a used bookshop during a blazing summer in the south of Spain. A teenager at the time, I devoured the book in a white heat that rivaled the weather, and by the time I put it down I half-believed the whole thing had been a dream. Some years passed and, now a late teen, I hit on his short story “The Dead” (1996), which made me sit up very straight. It took me a few stunned minutes to accept that its author was the same guy who had written that memorably trippy book. This happened a third time in 2001, when, in my early twenties, I read the Hugo-winning “The Dog Said Bow-Wow,” the first in what would become a series of irrepressibly fun stories, and managed to “discover” Michael Swanwick yet again.

Some writers have such distinctive or consistent approaches to their material that their prose becomes almost as identifiable as their bylines. Not so with Swanwick. One of his trademarks, I realized, was that he could completely disappear into the voices and aesthetics of his tales…

Being Michael Swanwick: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s

Read more at: The Big Idea: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro

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