Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Michael Swanwick

Go To

Michael Swanwick (1950—) is an American Speculative Fiction writer. He started with a bang when his first two published stories, "Ginungagap" and "The Feast of St. Janis" were nominated for the Nebula Award. His breakout novel, Vacuum Flowers is considered a classic of the Cyberpunk genre, but he quickly branched out into other styles. His award-winning Stations of the Tide was almost-psychedelic SF story, and The Iron Dragon's Daughter is a science fantasy which borders on what would later come to be called be called Steampunk.

Works with a page on this Wiki:

Tropes in his other works:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: In one of his "element" short-shorts, an experiment creates a new universe populated by one man and one woman. The man's name is Adam, so naturally the woman takes a new name... Jennifer.
  • Alien Autopsy: In the short story "Passage of Earth", a coroner is given a large alien worm-like creature to dissect after a spaceship crashlands on Earth, killing its crew of hundreds of worms. From his examination he speculates that the alien, which is blind, examines its surrounding mostly via taste. Halfway through the autopsy he has an irresistable compulsion to eat part of the worm whereupon it takes him over; he beats to death his ex-wife who brought him the corpse and drives out into the desert while reliving this and other unpleasant memories from his life. Belatedly he realises that he's the one being autopsied - out in the desert was another spaceship whose crew consumed him, but this all happened years before and a worm is sampling his memories as it digests him over the eons between star systems.
  • Deus est Machina: Partly mechanical, partly wetware: the Comprise in Vacuum Flowers is essentially a hivemind encompassing everything on and near Earth. Comprise physics is conservatively several centuries in advance of what the independent human civilizations away from Earth have. Earth has stopped being aggressively expansionist, though, since the lightspeed communications gap means that any large parts of it that get too far away from Earth tend to become independent personalities/dangerous rivals... lunar orbit is just about the limit at which it's possible to maintain integrity.
  • Downer Ending: In the short story "Dogfight" (co-written with William Gibson), the protagonist succeeds at his ultimate objective (defeating the local champion of a holographic, mentally-controlled battle game featuring WWI fighter planes), but immediately afterwards realizes the price he paid to do so was too high: stealing a piece of game-breaking technology from his only friend to give himself an advantage (psychologically scarring her in the process, due to a chastity implant her parents gave her that gives her a crippling fear of being touched by men) and alienating himself from the rest of the bar's patrons by robbing the game's champion (a quadriplegic war veteran) of the only pleasure left in his life. What good is a victory when you have no one to share it with?
  • Genius Loci: The short story "The Very Pulse Of The Machine" has a lone human astronaut on Io who begins hearing voices in her radio. She may be hallucinating but it's strongly suggested that they're real, and if they are, Io itself is alive and talking to her via electric currents in its crystallised-sulphur surface.
  • Genuine Imposter: In The Dragons of Babel, the king of Babel has been missing for a few decades. Will, the protagonist, falls in with a con man named Nat, who comes up with a plan to pass off Will as the king's bastard son and therefore the sole heir to the throne. In the end, it turns out that Nat is both the long-lost king and Will's biological father, meaning that Will really is the heir to the throne.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: In Jack Faust, Faust is a scientist rather than a sorcerer and Mephistopheles is a misanthropic Sufficiently Advanced Alien rather than a demon. Mephistopheles gives Faust access to all the accumulated scientific knowledge of the next several centuries, ushering in the Industrial Revolution and, eventually, a World War many hundreds of years too early.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: The series of stories about a pair of conmen called Darger and Surplus who live in the future after The Singularity has come and gone. While lovable and not really ill-intentioned (other than the cons), the two have a habit of causing horrible destruction due to meddling with Lost Technology. For instance, the two accidentally burnt down London and destroyed Prague due to unleashing a plague of robotic golems.
  • One-Man Industrial Revolution: In Jack Faust, German scholar Johannes Faust kickstarts a technological revolution that skyhooks Renaissance Europe into the early 20th century in the space of a century. Justifiable in this case, as the story is written more as a fable than a realist novel (at least, if the parts where Mephistopheles tells Faust how to create new technologies is anything to go on).
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: in Bones Of The Earth, a party among a group of researchers turns into this, thanks to alcohol and triceratops mating displays. Long story.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: The thematically-paired novels The Iron Dragon's Daughter and Jack Faust are Deconstructor Fleets that demonstrate how SF/Fantasy genre wish-fulfillment fantasies end up turning the protagonists into Omnicidal Maniacs. The former has a female protagonist and targets Land of Faerie and Changeling Fantasy tropes, while the latter has a male protagonist and targets hard-SF "competent man" tropes.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: In The Dragons of Babel, the king of Babel has been missing for a few decades. Will, the protagonist, falls in with a con man named Nat, who comes up with a plan to pass off Will as the king's bastard son and therefore the sole heir to the throne. In the end, it turns out that Nat is both the long-lost king and Will's biological father, meaning that Will really is the heir to the throne.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Some of his works (Vacuum Flowers, for one) feature a variation in which Earth (Earth specifically, not humans generally) is the Scary Dogmatic Alien. Not aliens, because that would imply there's more than one: Earth is linked into a hive mind called the Comprise. There's an uneasy peace between Earth and the rest of humanity, helped somewhat by the fact that though Earth is several centuries ahead of the individual humans in the physical sciences, it hasn't found a way around the lightspeed limit, so the hive mind starts to fragment if the "units" get too far apart. This puts a natural limit on the expansion of the Comprise (roughly lunar orbit, where the lag becomes intolerable).
  • Split Personality: In Vacuum Flowers, Wyeth has deliberated installed four distinct personalities into his own mind, modeled after archetypes (he says it's based on the ideal makeup for an aboriginal hunting party). All of them are active simultaneously and seem to get along fine; in emergency situations, they all voluntarily step aside for the persona best able to handle that particular type of emergency, and in non-emergencies they make decisions by consensus. The heroine Rebel/Eucrasia is a straighter example; the body belongs to Eucrasia, but the personality in charge at the start is Rebel, who has been overlaid on top of Eucrasia due to an accident with some entertainment software.
  • Starfish Aliens: The novella "Slow Life" describes an encounter of a human expedition with a hive intelligence underneath a methane lake that is bewildered to encounter a mind separate from its own: "Are you me? Why? Why aren't you me?"
  • Undead Laborers: Although it involves Voodoo Zombie rather than the undead, the Darger and Surplus story "Tawny Petticoats'' has the pair of con artist protagonists visit post-Singularity New Orleans, which has a large workforce of zombie slaves—people who are working off a debt (or in some cases were probably just shanghaied) and are kept in a drugged halflife until they Work Off the Debt, although it's implied that in most cases, the owners never free and the debt is a pretext.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The short story "The Promise of God" is based on the premise that using magic gradually erodes a magician's moral sense until they no longer have any concept of right and wrong; magicians are kept in check by being assigned guardians whom they are trained to obey without question.