Miracles With Cards by James Swain
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1996)
Here's the kind of book that can always arrest my attention, bring a smile to my face,
and thoroughly distract me for awhile from doing important and necessary things in my
life—like eating and sleeping. This is a terrific book of nothing less than great sleight-of-hand
card magic. If you're the kind of cardician that is thrilled to read fresh effects that
are brutally strong, if you're not afraid to kick into the real work at times to achieve a
desired effect, and if you're not afraid to do the occasional virtually effortless miracle,
then you will enjoy this book. Hell, you will want this book!
Mr. Swain has created a volume of excellent material that will most assuredly attract
some of the attention that is his due, despite his amateur status and the fact that, since
he does not lecture or do convention appearances, few magi have the opportunity to see
him work (regrettably, myself included). Astute cardicians with their ears to the ground
and eyes to the literature have of course already long taken notice of Mr. Swain's
distinctive if rare contributions, from isolated but highly influential routines like the the
Vanishing Aces and Poker Interchange, to his previous manuscript, Don't Blink.
Nevertheless, many more are certainly about to hear and remember his name.
The author begins with some introductory commentary in his foreword, including the
suggestion that "If you are going to perform close-up, it is my belief that the standard
must be you. The tricks and routines you present must be overwhelming. You should be
the very best close-up performer you can because, chances are, you will be one of the
very few your audiences will ever see." Before proceeding further, please go back and
read that again! Mr. Swain goes on to make this cogent point: "Sleight of hand is magic's
last true haven. It is the only branch of the art which cannot be 'bought into' by
purchasing expensive props and videos tailor-made for those seeking a pleasant
weekend sideline. Becoming proficient in sleight of hand does not have a price tag
except for years of hard labor—no different from any of the other fine arts." Okay, class,
now that we understand one another, you are free to proceed at your own risk.
There are 46 entries, most of which are complete routines, a handful of which are
sleights. The sleights are all unquestionably noteworthy; these include a deceptive bluff
multiple shift that is not terribly demanding beyond the need to achieve smoothness and
natural timing; and a useful if somewhat advanced item called the Pass Palm that, via
mechanics based on those of the Classic Pass, enables a packet of cards from the top of
the deck to be secretly transferred to left hand bottom palm in one instantaneous action.
Mr. Swain has a passion for the Classic Pass— an appreciation I share with him—and he
gives some invaluable notes and tips that represent a contemporary expert's knowledge.
This deserves to be added to the small record of useful current sources on this subject,
including the Collected Works of Derek Dingle by Richard Kaufman, and the Card
Classics of Ken Krenzel by Harry Lorayne, both of which are cited by Mr. Swain. (To this
recommended list I would also append Taylor and Elias' work on the Jiggle and Riffle
Passes, from Epilogue ) I would also add here to Mr. Swain's cogent remarks that while it
is wise to consider blues guitar legend Buddy Guy's advice to aspiring musicians, "Try to
have a guitar in your hands all the time," it is also unquestionably wise to choose the
appropriate skills to practice. It is common today to see magicians who have yet to
master, for example, a Spread Cull Control, much less a Side Steal, attempting to
"practice" the pass. Such a run-before-walking approach is a waste of energy and a
detriment to all concerned.
"Sleight of hand is magic's last true haven. It is the only branch of the art
which cannot be "bought into" by purchasing expensive props and videos
tailor-made for those seeking a pleasant weekend sideline."—James Swam,Miracles With Cards
There are, thankfully if frustratingly, far too many valid, solid tricks in this book to
discuss all of them here. The very first item is the Airmail Card, a novel and amazing
revelation, which Bill Malone endorses as the proverbial "worth-the-price-of-the-book"
entry. This is an unusual card-to-wallet plot that bears a distant relation to Darwin
Ortiz's equally notable Dream Card. One routine that jumped out at me is an awesomely
clever version of the card in matchbook; this is so good, I hope you forget I even
mentioned it. The subtle method here is as good as the potent effect, and while I'm not
generally fond of card-to-impossible locations in which the selection is not signed, the
construction of this routine makes it more than worthy of any expert's attention. This
trick is followed by a hands-off, selected card to card box in which the effect borders on
frightening, but the method is criminally easy. There is very clever ungaffed version of
Phil Goldstein's B'Wave in which the selected Queen mysteriously magically transports
itself to the card box. There is an interesting (for a change!) Triumph variant, entitled
Perfect Triumph, in which part of the effect includes a shuffled deck not only righting
itself but arriving in new-deck order, along with a transposition of the selected card.
Miracle Aces is the kind of direct quickie that cardicians are always looking for, in which
four Aces are convincingly distributed in the deck, and then instantly and visibly appear
at the face of the deck. In My Opener, which the author explains is intended to
"demonstrate[s] my ability to handle a deck of cards and fool the hell out of an audience
at the same time," a series of repeated Ace revelations and a Triumph sequence leads to
a final Ace location in which the entirety of each accompanying complete suit of cards is
also revealed. There is a genuinely spectacular closer entitled Rules of the Game which is
ridiculously simple to do, and which is preceded by some straight talk about simple
ethical principles that every reader should simply accept, understand, commit to
memory, and get over it. There is also an interesting series of effects with the Jennings
Box, a gaffed card box that I was first introduced to in 1982 at a memorable lecture by
Mr. Jennings. And there is much more. You could build a fantastic card act out of this
book—with plenty of variety and dynamics—and then go out and make a living from it.
The design of the book is straightforward; no frills, cleanly typeset, no dustjacket, and all
in all perfectly clean and serviceable. Mr. Swain writes clearly and concisely, generally communicating his technical ideas effectively. The highlight of the production is the 128
stunningly crisp photographs. I don't know how they got these photos to look these
good, but they are terrific. High quality line drawings are generally superior to
photographs, but these leave nothing wanting. I could have lived without the frou-frou
corner frills which mar these otherwise superb photos, being as they are merely
extraneous ink on the page, but that is my only complaint, and a mild one at that. This is
the best book of sleight-of-hand card material that has come across the desk in awhile,
and if these tricks don't turn you on, then you ain't got no switches.