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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Christopher Brown, Tropic of Kansas. Apparently two different professional reviewers described this as “the feel-bad book of the summer,” which makes me laugh and yet is not entirely wrong. (I enjoyed this book.) It’s an alternate America torn apart by climate change, a fascist government, the surveillance state, and…alternate. Yes. It is indeed alternate. But there are parts that make you wince, and the “ultimately hopeful” ending promised on the cover is a…conditionally hopeful ending. It’s the kind of hopeful ending that involves burning down institutions that need burning down. Which, depending on your personality, may be upsetting for you right now or just what you need.

Lois McMaster Bujold, Mira’s Last Dance. Kindle. This is the latest Penric novella, and I felt that it completed the arc of a previous story rather than standing on its own. It explores a bit more of what exactly it means to have all of Desdemona’s previous hosts living in Penric’s head with their own identities, but it’s at novella length, not novel, while juggling action and romance along with it, so while it seemed to me to be handled respectfully, there was plenty of room to go into more of it if she continues with this series.

Italo Calvino, Collection of Sand. This was a series of essays, all very short, very erudite, very much in the vein of, “Huh, wouldja lookit that.” If someone is not going to get intimidated by it being Calvino, it’s an ideal bathroom book, despite not being screamingly marketed as Italo Entertains You On the John or anything like that. Short attention span theater of letters.

Zen Cho, The Terracotta Bride. Kindle. Another novella, this one set in a Chinese-Malaysian hell with all the theological implications of same–with technological developments appropriate thereto, and interpersonal relationships the same. There’s a lot packed into novella length here, and I liked it.

George MacDonald Fraser, The Steel Bonnets. A history of the Scottish-English border and the wars and raids they had and the period when they settled down into not so much having them. This had been on my library list for awhile, and I thought, well, I’ll give the first few pages a chance and send it back rather than have it languish indefinitely on my list. Fraser doesn’t do what a modern historian would do with the topic, but he’s plenty engaging. I had had quite enough of the exploits of various clans and their scions by the time I was done, but it was a fast read for its size and worth the trouble of getting it from the library; I’m glad I tried it rather than thinking that anything that was on the list that long was clearly not a priority.

Seanan McGuire, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. A novella prequel to Every Heart a Doorway, and…I feel like it undermined that book weirdly. Every Heart a Doorway did the not-obvious thing, it did the “what happens after” thing. Down Among the Sticks and Bones gives you the portal fantasy that begins it all. Except that of all the fantasy worlds hinted at in Every Heart a Doorway, it picks the most obvious, least interesting one to portray–and only one–and then gives a backstory that makes the plot of EHaD feel…like it makes a lot less emotional sense to me. I don’t want to be more spoilerific than that, but people who have read both and would like to talk should email me about the experience.

Naomi Mitchison, The Fourth Pig. This is a collection of Mitchison’s retold fairy tales, done in the 1930s. It is fascinating in its own right, it’s fascinating if you’re passionately interested in the Great Depression (which I am), and it’s fascinating if you’re interested in retold fairy tales and want a look at what they looked like before Angela Carter got at them. I’m slowly working my way through Naomi Mitchison (she and Gerald Vizenor and Rebecca Solnit are the triumvirate of the moment that way–write me a joke where they walk into a bar) and I’m very very glad to have gotten to this one.

Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams: A Journey Into the Hidden Wars of the American West. And speaking of whom. This is not what I thought it was. It is mostly about nuclear testing. It is a bit about Yosemite and how we construct ideas of wilderness and other legends of The West. But it is really, really substantially about nuclear testing, which is something I mostly had focused on when it was interesting from a physics standpoint; what Solnit illuminated in some ways and could not illuminate in others, was not trying to, was the category of nuclear testing that occurs when the physics has been settled, and as a recovering physicist that had an extra-special horror. I think there are ways in which she made some stabs at understanding the physicists involved and got some part of the way there and some ways in which…eehhhh. I love me some W.H. Auden, too, but he is not a source of all models for everything in life maybe? I mean, maybe I’m wrong, maybe he is, but we can at least talk about this. “W.H. Auden handed me a dichotomy!” You’re allowed to hand it back I think. Uncle Wystan is dear and beloved, but so are your 6-year-old cousins, and some of the things they hand you can be deposited in the trash and your hand washed thoroughly after. I am still glad I read this. But I spent moments making faces of not-really-no.

Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Cary Pietsch, et al, Lumberjanes: Sink or Swim. What is better than Lumberjanes? Lumberjanes with a focus on water myths. Yes. For sure.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

One of my friends was recently talking in Slack about his role as a moderator at a Worldcon panel, and one of the things people agreed was a moderator’s role was keeping the panelists on topic.

And I wanted to put a word in for the times when that doesn’t happen.

The times when you have all sorts of keen ideas–either as a moderator or a panelist–about what this panel will be, and you get up on the panel, and it’s interesting, and it’s active, and it’s going places, people are engaged, discussion flows freely…and the places it’s going are not where you thought. Sometimes really not where you thought. And you have to use good judgment, because when you have a panelist who has already been bloviating for five minutes about book five of their own fabulous off-topic series and takes a breath to start in on book six, it’s time to jump right on in and get that panel back on track.

But when you’re having a really good discussion among lots of people, and it just doesn’t happen to be the good discussion you thought you were going to be having? Square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and wave goodbye to the panel not taken.

It might have been a beautiful panel. A lovely panel, an insightful panel. It might have been such an important panel that you can propose it again under a different name. (Or y’know, the same name. Sometimes audience members notice that there is more–or something in the first place–to be said.) But it is not the panel you are having right now. And taking a panel that is full of inspiration and ideas and energy and turning it into a panel that has been stopped in its tracks and wrenched around is not a success condition. It’s just not.

I was on a panel at Readercon where Maria Dahvana Headley was the moderator, and she asked the panelists a question, a good question, an insightful question, a question that might have taken us interesting places. And Max Gladstone said, “I’ve been reading about hyperobjects.” I think I blurted out something encouraging like, “Good!” so this is also on me. (I have been known to encourage Max. Maria has been known to encourage Max. Random passersby…well. You get the idea.) And then Max kept talking about hyperobjects, and it was interesting, and everyone in the room was interested, and…I caught Maria’s eye…and we could both see her question disappearing over the horizon. We traded little smiles as we saw it go. Goodbye, little question, goodbye! Because then we went from Max’s hyperobjects to whatever else that made the other panelists think of and then whatever questions the audience had and then the audience still had questions but the panel was over…and it was fun and everybody was talking after with thinky thoughts…and saying, “Stop, Max, stop! do not talk about this interesting thing! Talk about the other interesting thing!” would have made everybody feel stifled and weird and the total number of interesting things talked about would almost certainly have been fewer.

Sometimes there is still time to say, “Wow, cool, that was really interesting, but I wanted to get back to this idea Maria had twenty minutes ago/the panel description/that question Beth asked that I don’t think we fully answered/whatever.” But often there really, really isn’t, and that’s okay.

And this is true in less formal conversation, too. Extremely often I come home from my monthly lunch with one friend, I think, we didn’t even get to this bit, I forgot to tell him that–or I’ll be driving him back to his office and trying to quick hit the highlights of major life areas the leisurely lunch conversation missed. The Minnesota Long Goodbye is legendary in these parts, possibly because of this, possibly because it just takes us a long time to put on winter gear and you might as well catch up on how auntie is doing in the meantime, but possibly because there are always going to be The Conversations Not Taken, and oh crud now that you’re leaving it occurs to me what they were.

I think we all know about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and that’s relevant here, but there’s also not letting the good be the enemy of the other quite good. And you can tell yourself you’re not aiming at the perfect panel, you’re just aiming at the on-topic one, and that’s all very well, but writers and fans and sometimes editors and agents and artists being what they are…goodbye, panel that might have been, farewell, you were interesting, on to the panel that is and how it can be its best self.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Traveling in mid-July means a combined post, so settle in, friends, this is going to take a minute. Especially because travel this time meant a lot of reading short things on my Kindle on public transit.

Kate Bernheim, How a Mother Weaned Her Girl From Fairy Tales. This is mostly fairy tale-esque and fairy tale-inspired short stories. They are published with the gimmick–and I do feel that gimmick is the right word–of one paragraph per page, which means that some pages contain a single line. If you’re not reading much that’s fairy tale related, this volume will probably be a revelation. If you are, it’s another contribution to the sub-genre, fairly far over to the self-consciously literary end, but not particularly a stand-out.

Michael Bishop, One Winter in Eden. Reread. I could see that these stories were decently well-written, and yet none of them really got to me anywhere emotional. Very Cold War, I should have reread this for the Cold War Fantasy panel. Ah well.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapter 5. Kindle. Moves the plot forward considerable-like. Probably will not get to another chunk of these until I’m traveling again, as I am not a good serial reader, and they are acutely and deliberately pieces of a thing rather than whole things on their own. Still, there is plot and to spare here.

Marie Brennan, Lightning in the Blood. Second novella in its series, still using memory loss and identity to good effect, still doing action fantasy things but not solely action fantasy things. Quick and fun.

Octavia Butler, Mind of My Mind. Reread. This is an incredibly nasty book about telepathy and its implications for a caste system and parenthood and interpersonal relationships. It being Butler, it’s incredibly well done, and I’m going to want to reread the rest of the series before I have fully formed thoughts about what it’s doing, but it made me squirm quite a lot.

Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker. A novel in pieces, reflecting the effects of a man, a torturer working in a prison for a totalitarian regime and then moving on, moving away to America, on the people around him. Fascinating and kaleidoscopic, although in some places too successful at getting me invested in one character or another who was going to disappear into the rest of the background and never become foregrounded again.

Bradley Denton, One Day Closer to Death. Reread. Oh, you can smell the prairie coming off Brad Denton’s short stories. They smell like the dust that comes off corn fields in August, the weeks when the highs are all over 100 F. Some of these are incredibly nasty work, some only mildly unpleasant, and I still love them, they are still worth rereading, they still hit me in the places where I know where the hits are coming. I reread this for a Heartland Fantasy panel that went completely different places than I expected, so we only brushed by it briefly, but I still don’t regret the reread. I look at some of the old pieces differently than I did–oh, the women in “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians”–but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped loving them.

Chynna Clugston Flores et al, Lumberjanes Gotham Academy. This is the first crossover issue of a comic I’ve ever read where I’ve been reading both streams being crossed. So now I can say for sure: I just don’t like crossovers. I particularly think they’re a terrible idea for two ensemble cast comics like Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy, where you’re juggling large casts anyway. What’s Maps doing plus what’s Ripley doing would have been quite enough to keep track of without throwing in every single other character. It’s kind of a mess, and for me there was less fun than a single volume of either comic, not even the average of the two, much less the sum of the two.

George Fosty and Darril Fosty, Black Ice: The Lost History of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes. Kindle. Come for the hockey history, stay for the history of Black Canadians. Wow, the Fostys are going to make sure you get schooled whether you wanted to or not. (I did want to.) And they make a quite solid argument for Maritime Black hockey players making serious strides in the game decades ahead of white players. If you’re a hockey fan, if you’re interested in history of the icy regions, if you’re interested in how different cultural groups have interacted–and an unflinching look at how power has corrupted that–this is a solid and not unduly long look at all of that.

Lisa Goldstein, Tourists. Kindle, reread. Why didn’t I hate this book? I still can’t tell you. The title comes from the observation that we are all tourists in each other’s lives, which does not have to be true and I think is not in better lives true, but wow do these characters ever live as though they’re determined to make it true. Nor do they have a great deal of growth over the course of the book. Meanwhile the pseudo-Arabic country they’re visiting is entirely backdrop for their own (lack of) character arcs, its mythos writing itself on the messed up visitors’ minds, sometimes literally, and…why don’t I hate this book? It’s pretty messed up, honestly, and I can’t recommend it. All sorts of better books do better things with culture clash and visiting. Maybe I just want to keep it around to contrast with Hav or The Necessary Beggar or…something? I am still turning this over in my head.

Paul Gruchow, Boundary Waters: The Grace of the Wild. Hiking memoir in four seasonal sections. This has some of the best writing about hiking while cranky I’ve ever read. There are also more traditionally lyrical sections, but I howled with laughter as Gruchow got more terse, his sentences more clipped and bitten off, as his dreadful day hiking wore on…and then he told of the same hiking buddy teasing him for the foibles of the day on a trip together three years later. This is the first of his books I’ve read since the memoir of the depression that eventually killed him, and I could see the shadows of that here, but not enough to make it a sad book for me, not to spoil my love of his nature writing. Which feels like an honor and a relief.

David George Haskell, The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors. This is a set of essays on different specific trees in different parts of the world. Conveniently for me, one of the types he was talking about was very familiar, very close to home (chert-rooted fir), so I could gauge how he talked about things I don’t know by how he talked about things I do. I would happily read more of this sort of thing all the time.

Billie Holiday with William Dufty, Lady Sings the Blues. This is the sort of autobiography that’s done as an “as told to,” and my golly do I not recommend it for a day when you’re already feeling dubious about humanity, because Holiday’s life, particularly her childhood, was utterly harrowing. Dufty captures her voice in a breezy, very readable way. I read that there was some question about some of the fact checking, but human memory is fallible, and there were limits on what she was permitted to tell of her truth in the late 1950s; I was moved to seek out a later, more comprehensive biography from the recent past, when a biographer would be permitted to be clear about interracial and same-sex relationships while still focusing on the strength of Holiday’s music. That’s just come in from the library; stay tuned. In the meantime, while her life was harrowing, her voice is not. Pick a day when you’re feeling strong, but it’s worth your time if you’re at all interested in jazz.

David King, Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness, and an Extraordinary Quest for a Lost World. Kindle. Oh lordy this book. The title does not tell you what it is actually about. It is actually about this Swedish speculative archaeologist in the seventeenth century, Olof Rudbeck, who decided that Atlantis was located in…Uppsala. And he kept going, he kept finding all the other Greek mythological stuff elsewhere in Sweden. No, all of it. No, really, all. He just. Kept. Going. There is that seventeenth century thing where you have someone genuinely erudite–Rudbeck discovered the lymphatic system–and then he goes completely off the rails and finds an entirely new set of rails to go off of, like, builds an entirely new railway system just to go off it. I was talking to my friend L about this and they mentioned autodidact syndrome. I think that the entire seventeenth century has that–there was the thing where they were largely self-taught by modern standards–and hoo boy, did Rudbeck ever. He decided that it made no sense that Greek could be derived from Phoenician when Phoenician had no vowels and Greek did, but! But the runic alphabet did! So clearly the Greek alphabet was derived from the runic alphabet! Also the derivation of Hercules (Herakles) made no sense to him because of that hero’s rocky relationship with the goddess in question, so he “found” an alternative Swedish derivation meaning “dressed in warrior’s clothes” that made much more sense to him. And it just keeps going. And I sat and read this while eating sushi by myself in a restaurant and thinking, surely he will come to his senses, and no, he decides that they have to teach classes at Uppsala in the original Swedish, which, great, except, wrong reasons, and everyone is all in a dither, and oh this book. Oh. This. Book. It was a great lunch.

Nancy Kress, Tomorrow’s Kin. Discussed elsewhere.

Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World. Reread. I think my main complaint about this book, nearly two decades later, is that it isn’t, it’s mostly a Basque history of Basque country, which is very interesting and I liked it a lot and found it worth keeping around, but there was a Basque diaspora. He mentions it. He mentions having cousins in America. He just…doesn’t talk about what they did there, what the cultural effects were both directions. So…that, maybe? But early microhistory is hard, determining what belongs in it. Still cool.

Ellen Kushner, Thomas the Rhymer. Reread. Captures the fairy tale voice of the ballad, goes on beyond the original ballad tale’s end into implication, picks up perspective from other characters. Unlike some others in this series, the setting is very much the setting of the original ballad, more or less–country appropriate, generically time appropriate to when such a tale might have been set by those telling it. So from here it feels like the least revolutionary of Kushner’s books. But it was a comfortable and lovely read, and certainly made me think not at all of the plane around me, and very few things in the world can be The Fall of the Kings; only one that I can think of.

Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. These stories are the kind of very short dark fantasy/horror that feel like they have the same kind of messagey twist at the end, a revelation that is not as startling as it could be, but is supposed to make you gasp at the prose and also make you think. And they are all of a piece. I think they will work better if you read them one at a time with long pauses between, instead of the whole book at once. There will be some that really will be revelatory both in prose and in twist. But it’s a lot to ask of every story with the same structure all in a row.

Elizabeth Lynn, A Different Light. Kindle. So there is an artist who has gotten stale because he has to make art living on the same planet all the time, but he has a genetic condition that is going to kill him much quicker if he travels off-planet. And I thrashed a bit at this premise, because literally every artist we have ever known has had to make art living on the same planet all the time. Like, ugh, you are cramping my style, entire planet! This guy has gotten to be all of the elderly age of thirty and he is so stagnant because one planet is not enough, and I just eyebrowed so hard and thought, how am I going to get through an entire book with this spoiled damn brat of a man. But okay, okay; some of us are not really all that happy in some settings, I decided to go with it. And it worked out all right, he ran around and figured out some things and met some people and there was plot and there were relationships and Lynn carried through on the premise: there was no magic hey-presto your genetic condition is all fixed now yaaaaays. So there were interesting things about this, and if you can get past the initial moment of are you kidding me thirty years on just one planet poor you, I found it worth reading.

Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String. This is the kind of very short story where the author has aimed at surrealism by substituting in words nonsensically, often proper names for common nouns, giving you the rhythm of language without the sense of it. Sure, fine. I get it. I decided to keep reading in case the cumulative effect was more pleasantly disorienting or gave me a different angle on what he was doing. Not really. Eh. Quite often people who write this sort of thing want to categorize readers into those who love it and those who don’t get it, and: eh, fine, sure, if you like that, but: not really.

Emma Marris, Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. The thing that I really appreciated about this book is that it was willing–alone among the environmental and nature writing I read–to seriously interrogate what is practically possible for habitat restoration and–here’s the important bit–what we are doing it for. Marris did not entirely pretend that she had complete answers, that any one person had complete answers. But she was willing to ask questions that feel fairly taboo in other nature writing, or that feel…too reverential, perhaps? That feel as though their writers don’t want to ask them because asking them is used as a rhetorical device to say that there is no answer, rather than that there are several answers.

Colin Meloy, Wildwood. Meloy is the frontman for the Decembrists. You can tell. One, because there are occasional word choices that feel very familiar if you know the Decembrists, and two, because children’s books are not mostly permitted to ramble quite this way if the author isn’t either established or Somebody. This is an urban fantasy with its urban not-really-wild-erness tucked into Portland, Oregon, and it’s not quite coherent about that. The wild creatures are basically entirely citified, inside their “Impassable Wilderness”; they are mostly anthropomorphic birds and animals but some humans also, and they have things like postal services and militias. Very wild. The villain is going to use an invasive species and infant sacrifice to destroy all the other species, but not in favor of, y’know, development or something, because the city here is Portland, and Portland can’t be bad. Portland also can’t be specific in any way. You get the feeling of Portland from the characters if you’ve spent any time in Portland, not from the details of the setting. It is very, very white and very, very hipster, and very, very Portland. I like Portland. I never thought that I should put down this book with its cyclist heroine and superhero-drawing hero and go read something else. And yet I kept noticing all the opportunities it missed.

Judith Merril, Daughters of Earth and The Tomorrow People. Reread. I read these for an appreciation panel about Judith Merril, and most of the people on it also clearly had reread some of her work too, which was a joy. One point I did not get to on the panel: I think The Tomorrow People is the only portrayal I can think of where vestibular effects and anxiety effects are correctly tied to each other. Well done. Also: in what other work of that early era is a returned astronaut allowed to be a drunken wreck? She was doing all sorts of things other people were not even thinking of.

Judith Merril and Emily Pohl-Weary, Better to Have Loved. Reread. Fascinatingly juxtaposed with her fiction, not always in an entirely self-aware way. For someone who claims never to have internalized stereotypes, she certainly could reproduce some of them to specification…and yet there are some amazing and fascinating stories here, some of which made me want to cry and punch people on her behalf. Even having read them before. Maybe especially having read them before.

L.M. Montgomery, Short Stories 1896 to 1901. These are in some ways fascinatingly linear compared to her novels. Good intentions always carry the day. “Let’s do something nice for someone–yay, that was nice!” is not at all how it works in Montgomery’s novels. In these short stories? Always. Nothing ever backfires. Strange to see the contrast, especially with such little investment required.

William Morris, News from Nowhere. Kindle. This is the kind of utopian fiction that is entirely didactic: you go around with the protagonist and hear how well things work in the future, tra la. How much nicer it all is. And in fact this works far better than when Morris is trying to make fiction go, so I enjoyed it better than with plot–but the time travel aspect is frustrating, knowing that the protag will awake and find him on this cold hillside of the Victorian present.

Carrie Anne Noble, The Mermaid’s Sister. What a weird and uncomfortable book. The message is ostensibly about accepting people for who they are. But actually there is a metric buttload of modesty politics (ew) with a side order of weirdness about “Gypsies” (WHAT NO STOP THAT). Also the love story is basically 95% pining and then 5% surprise this all worked out, so…yeah, that did not work for me. At all.

Henry Petroski, The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure. This is mostly a book about roads and bridges, with a digression in the middle about whether our perception that things used to be built better in the past is about survivorship bias. There is so very much about infrastructure that Petroski barely skims or does not even touch on. (Ports. Waste treatment. Need I go on.) And…it’s a short book, but he chose to write a short book. This is okayish as far as it goes. Like most of our infrastructure planning and funding, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Marta Randall, Journey. Kindle. This is a book with a family taking care of refugees and having fallout from different choices and different reactions to those choices. Why did no one tell me about Marta Randall two decades ago? Well, never mind, we’re here now, with family relationships and consequences and being the political back end of the galaxy and new tech that isn’t quite what we wanted it to be and all sorts of other things I like in science fiction.

Robert Reed, The Dragons of Springplace. Reread. This is another set of short stories that was quite well written in some directions and made no emotional impact on me whatsoever. I put it back on the shelf so that when I pick it up to reread in another fifteen years, it will be entirely new to me again. I wanted to love something here, but alas, I just didn’t.

Pamela Sargent, The Alien Upstairs. Kindle. The title made this look like a romp to me. It was not. It was a quietly panicky book about a real dystopia, not a flashy thing with sorted categories but a society in which everyone is poor and struggling and everything is falling apart and everybody is making do the best they can. And into this comes an alien with more resources, and he turns things upside down in some ways, for the characters, between the characters, and they have to sort themselves, they have to figure out what to do about the entire situation, what to do with themselves, what they want to do with themselves. This book feels very modern in that way that things from the beginning of the Reagan era with the late ’70s remnants of gas shortages and some mysterious disease coming up and who knew where that would even go can feel very modern in the beginning of the Trump era when everyone you know is in some direction not okay, and I recommend it conditionally: if that will feel comforting, companionable, this is the book for you, and if the opposite, back away.

Ageeth Sluis, Deco Body, Deco City: Female Spectacle and Modernity in Mexico City, 1900-1939. This is a brilliant work that weaves in fashion, colonialism, post-revolutionary work for women, and various aspects of architecture. It is like literally nothing else I have ever read in the types of thought and human interaction it is trying to discuss together, and I found it wondrously useful and interesting. You probably can’t find it at the corner market, but I absolutely recommend finding it somewhere.

Jo Walton, The Prize in the Game. Reread. Various people treating each other as various kind of object and rebelling against same, or not, in their own ways. I found this immensely absorbing on the second read, many years after the first read; its speculative conceit is a very particular kind of destiny, and I’ve had conversations with Jo about the different kinds and concepts of destiny since I first read it. I think not the book of hers she would want you to start with, probably not even the book of hers set in this universe that she’d want you to start with, but I was glad to return to it all the same.

Eliot Weinberger, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with more ways). What a brief and delightful book. It deconstructs a Chinese poem in detail, from the character level upward. By the time he got to the first decent version, he had shown me enough that I could blurt out loud, “Now, there you go!” There are forays into translation from Chinese into Spanish, German, and French; there are discursions into single prepositions and also bits where Weinberger gets quite sharp with other translators about botany, there is a point at which he makes a dire academic enemy, and more than one member of my household had to look up for absolutely certain whether Eliot Weinberger was a real person or a joke Octavio Paz was having on all of us. It is hilarious, sometimes intentionally so. It grasps a great many important points about translation extremely keenly. There may be a point or two about the philosophy of the original poem that fall by the wayside along the way. But there are only 88 pages in this volume, so it will cost you very little time to find it and judge for yourself.

Barbara Willard, The Lark and the Laurel. Reread. This is an historical YA romance from my own youth, and it doesn’t really do much plot except for the plot twist that is simultaneously predictable and alarming. However, the prose rattled along briskly and there wasn’t much of it, so I felt entirely fine reading it until it was done; I just don’t think I’ll want to reread it. It’s set at the beginning of the reign of Henry VII, but far from court and focused on non-courtly virtues, which I would expect to like more than I did. Maybe if the romance plot twist hadn’t been so much itself.

Patricia C. Wrede, Snow White and Rose Red. Reread. Another fairy tale retold, this one very very Elizabethan. It has John Dee in it, and I do not pitch the book across the room when he appears, so you know that it is well-done, because: John Dee. I like stories with bears in them, but not enough to make up for John Dee without some other things well-handled also.

Isabel Yap, Hurricane Heels. Five girls grow to young womanhood fighting the forces of evil as superheroine avatars of a goddess, in anime mode but in a story told in prose. They become close friends, not entirely by free choice–but very few of our relationships are shaped entirely by free choice. This is very much a story centered on women’s friendships. Two of them also have a romantic relationship for part of the book. I think it would not have worked at a much longer length, but it didn’t have to; it was the length it needed to be. It was sweet and fun and had characters whose backgrounds were ethnically and personally specific. I am so glad there is this book.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I was talking to someone who is planning on doing programming for a convention, because I think everyone, or nearly everyone, who is on panels has opinions about how they should be done–certainly everyone who has helped with programming, which I have. And I wanted to say this in no uncertain terms: if you do not have a moderator, you do not have a panel.

I don’t care if you choose to have a participating moderator or a non-participating moderator. That’s up to you, your con, your topic, whatever. Do that as you will. Use your own judgment. But I can count on one hand the number of panels I have ever seen that would have done all right with completely freeform participation from the panelists and in the panelists’ interactions with the audience. I have seen several where the participants said they’d do fine that way. And generally having someone moderate either turned out to be the best decision or would have turned out to be the best decision; and quite often which person mattered a great deal.

Let me say that again: which moderator matters a great deal.

I know that it’s really hard to know who will be a good moderator if you’re doing programming for a large convention and you don’t know all the personalities of your panelists. You don’t necessarily know who will be shy, who will be balky, who will tend to ramble and then stop completely, who will talk over other panelists, who will talk over audience members, who will talk over audience members who absolutely need to be talked over…who will get a good balance of calling on rambly but interesting pros in the audience with calling on concise question-askers…moderating is hard, and moderating each specific panel is different. I know it’s hard to know. I’m sorry.

But you need a moderator. And you need to know more than five minutes in advance who is moderating, because panel prep is a thing for everybody, but it’s really, really, truly a thing for the moderator. The questions that keep a panel from being shallow and surface-driven can arise naturally and organically–but they don’t always. Sometimes the moderator brings them up. Sometimes the moderator brings them up in such a natural way that it looks like they’re natural and organic. The pitfalls that will make a panel truly dreadful: a prepared moderator can sometimes start to see them coming and steer frantically away.

And lately (at multiple conventions! I am not calling out any one convention!) I have seen a lot of “who wants to be the moderator?” as a means of choosing the moderator, and I’m sorry, but that is not enough. Quite a few people want to be the moderator who should not be the moderator. It is not quite to the level of “anyone who wants the job shouldn’t have it,” but…there are at least a great many obviously experienced people who have not been practicing using that experience to boost insightful voices with less experience. This is one of the cases where “I’ve done this ten million times and am comfortable with it” is maybe not always the thing to reinforce. Sometimes! Sometimes experience combines with awareness to give you a moderator who will help bring out new ideas, and that’s great. And other times you get someone who makes the panel their own personal pulpit, or who has vast experience with moderating badly, or any of a number of other problems. So: “I’m comfortable doing it” doesn’t always map to doing a good job.

Which may mean that I, personally, should not always be the moderator. I will try to do a good job when I moderate, but guess what? I will be the right moderator for some panels. And I will be the wrong moderator for some panels. I think that when someone comes in saying, you need a moderator to do these things, it can get read with an implication of like me, me, I would do this perfectly, I am the right choice, me. I want to explicitly say: nope. Sometimes it’s absolutely me, sometimes it’s absolutely not, and sometimes I’m the least of evils for the panelists you have. Me, personally.

But the worst panel horror stories invariably have someone asking, “And what did the moderator do?” And the answers are either: “Nothing!” or, “That was the moderator.” So: convention programming staff. Please, please, please. I know it’s a difficult question, I know you will not be able to get it perfect, and I don’t blame you when you try and it goes wrong. But I do blame you when there isn’t a moderator assigned. Please at least try. Think about the moderator as a careful part of how you do panels.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I wrote an essay for the Disabled People Destroy SF project and its Kickstarter, and here it is: Malfunctioning Space Stations.

I am still quietly weirded out by this personal essay thing, where I write a professional non-bloggish thing and don’t have a veil of not-about-me around it, but all the same here it is, and it’s actually important to me, so go read it, please.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

So it was a month ago that I was talking on Twitter about my love of book lists, and my friend Macey said that she wanted a list of older epic fantasies with women protagonists. Her standards for “older” are not at all stringent–she mentioned Sarah Zettel’s Isavalta series (good call!), the last of which was published in 2007, so we’re talking about things that were not published five minutes ago, not things from the 1930s necessarily. And I don’t know about Macey, but my standards for what is epic fantasy–well, they move around a lot. I think that “is it epic enough” is approximately the most boring argument we could have on this topic. So basically I was going to make this list of books with female protags, not taking place in this world, published before the last ten years.

Yeah. So. That list ended up way shorter than I expected. Way, way shorter. Epic is not my sub-genre, but still, yikes. And if you think that having a woman or a girl at the head of the book doesn’t change things, I’m going to have to disagree. And if it doesn’t, well, why don’t we? If it doesn’t change anything, why didn’t more people flip that coin differently?

So here are some. I’m sure I’m forgetting some. Some are squeaking in on technicalities (that is, just barely not this world, just barely before 2007, etc.). Some are favorites, some are things I have meant to reread and just have not gotten around to so I honestly can’t say how they look to me in this millennium, just that they exist and I have meant to look at them again. But here’s what I can do:

Lois McMaster Bujold, The Spirit Ring
Pamela Dean, The Dubious Hills
Naomi Kritzer, Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm
Megan Lindholm, Harpy’s Flight and The Reindeer People (if I recall correctly–have not reread in ages)
Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown
Elizabeth Moon, The Deed of Paksennarion (again, have not reread in ages)
Garth Nix, Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen
Tamora Pierce, oh so many things, how many of us my age and younger did her work show that we could do it our own way (which didn’t even have to be hers)
Jo Walton, The King’s Peace and The King’s Name
Patricia C. Wrede, much of the Lyra series and much of the Enchanted Forest series

If your book or your favorite book is not on this list, check to see that it is 1) fantasy that 2) has a female protagonist and 3) does not take place in this world and was 4) published in or before 2007. If it meets those criteria? Please comment adding it to this list! If it is science fiction! If it has a whole bunch of protagonists of various genders! If it was published in 2012! If it takes place in this world! Then what a worthy book it very well might be, but this is not the list for it.

Note that Macey didn’t ask for female authors particularly this time around, just for female protagonists–and noticing that Garth Nix was the only one I could find off the top of my head was also a bit startling. Please tell me some more men who have written women protags in that time frame and genre and expand the list for me!

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I know a lot of writers. Really a lot. Really really. And we all have different process, and that’s great, that’s wonderful. In person I have been known to chirp “we are all a beautiful rainbow,” but it’s really hard to get my total lack of sarcasm on that point through on the internet. (We are, though! We are all a beautiful rainbow! Yay!) In this case, I have spotted what looks like a consistent red flag for burnout, and I’m having a hard time phrasing it so that it’s clear that I don’t mean to exclude some kinds of inspiration.

Here’s the red flag. Writers with a few novels or a ton of short stories under their belt who get into a place where they only want to talk about being sick of tropes and wanting to deconstruct them. I know that deconstruction is a major creative inspiration in some writers’ processes (all a beautiful rainbow!). But the larger percentage of conversation about other people’s work gets to be about deconstruction and frustration, the more I watch for other signs of burnout.

Because–squee is not just good publicity. Squee is important for your own work. If you’re not honestly feeling like squeeing about other work you’re encountering, that’s a bad sign. And it’s probably not a bad sign about what’s out there in the world, because there is a lot of stuff out there in the world. If none of it is pressing your buttons, really none? that’s a bad sign about your buttons and where you are in terms of energy levels, taking criticism, getting enough recharge, all those things.

This is not a red flag of you being (or a friend being!) a bad person, or a worthless artist, or someone who will never recover, or anything like that. I’ve seen many people come out of this kind of burnout. But just as it’s easier to talk about how to begin a story than how to deal with the middle and ending that grow out of it, it’s a lot easier to talk about early-career things than all the paths that can grow out of them. And yet it feels to me like there are a lot of mid-career/developing writer paths and pitfalls that it would be really useful to talk about more, so…I’m going to try to do some of that, and I appreciate the other people who are doing that too.

(One of my favorite roads out of this is to cast my net very, very wide and look at things that are way outside my usual so that badly handled tropes and obvious choices are less grating. But other solutions for jolting out of this kind of deconstruction/negativity trap welcome.)

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

One of the things that has been making me furious about sexual harassment lately–secondary to all the other things that make me furious about it–is the attention tax it imposes on women. The time spent figuring out whether there’s enough evidence for us to be taken seriously this time, whether the people who were in the “surely you misinterpreted” and “that doesn’t mean what it blatantly means” camp last time will finally take us seriously, the time spent recovering from someone shouting in our faces and someone else grabbing our asses, the time sharing stories and pooling information and cleaning up messes and figuring out what to do, what we can do, what we have the power to do. That is time not spent on other things that are frankly a whole hell of a lot more interesting.

When it’s in convention terms, the time spent discussing who did what and what to do and letting the adrenaline settle and coping is time not spent on ideas for books and stories and where to go with them. It is very directly a tax on attention that could and should be going toward work. And it makes me exhausted and resentful, and then I try to corral my attention back to my work, because that is a far, far better place for it to be. I have directly observed that when I am at a con where people are dealing with an ongoing situation of this type, I come back with far, far less in the way of inspired notes for new projects–not just coming away drained instead of energized, but the specifics of what business are we doing here, where is our attention going.

I’m lucky. I know a lot of good men. I know a lot of good straight, white men. One of the benefits of this is that when a straight, white dude is an asshole, I am clear that it is artisanal assholery that he is hand-crafting by choice, not a trait he can’t avoid by his demographics. And a lot of good straight, white men have been stepping up to share the work of dealing with sexual harassment on a community level. I appreciate it. I do. But that is a choice they are making. Statistically, on average, the nonconsensual part, the part where you have to cope with the fallout of being harassed again, the part where it happens several times in a row and then it’s on your mind and you go into the next professional situation having to have a plan for how to cope–that’s a drain on your time and attention that you cannot have back, that other people can help with structurally but not in the moment. They can donate their time but not hand you back yours, not give you back those hours and days of working on the situation and processing and coping. It can happen to men. It does happen to men. And as one woman I know never loses an opportunity to point out, it does not happen to every woman. But statistically, on average, it is an attention tax that falls much, much more heavily on women, for things that we did not ask for and cannot change.

It’s not just sexual harassment. This is not the only attention tax, and I don’t mean to talk as though it is. Racist bullshit and the people who visit it upon people of color? That is, among other worse things, an attention tax on those people of color. Having to cope with accessibility issues and prejudice against the disabled? Attention tax. Homophobia and other forms of anti-queer assholery? Attention tax. Navigating the world while neurodiverse, even in ways that do not feel like a disability internally, among people who are going to be utter jerks to any hint of non-neurotypicality? Attention tax. And while I’ve talked about men and women above, the amount of attention tax that falls on gender-nonconforming and non-binary people gets mind-bogglingly larger the more gender-policing the subculture they’re interacting with gets. One of the fundamental questions is: how much jerkitude are people going to blithely shovel on you for being you and then skip along with their day, and how much will that pull away from the focus you need to do your stuff that you do.

Do I imagine I’m the first to observe this? Hardly. But “show don’t tell” is hardly new advice, either, and writers get blog posts out of that several times a year. What I’m saying to you is: this is affecting the work of people you know and care about. All the time. It doesn’t have to. It is literally all entirely voluntary. The thing I said above about artisanal bullshit: last month I got very tired of people saying “so that’s a thing that happened” when they were describing a choice someone made. So let’s not do that. Let’s not ascribe to fundamental forces things that are actual bad choices people are making.

And also: people who are doing work through all these attention taxes, who are managing to push it aside and fight their way through to focusing on making something awesome: I see you. I appreciate you. I’m sorry it’s like this. I keep hoping that some of the draining work will gain us some ground and it will be long-term less necessary. But in the meantime, thanks for clawing back some of your own in the face of it. It’s so hard, and it matters so much.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I’m back from Boston! I had a lovely time going to Readercon and writing and seeing friends and riding back and forth on the T and wandering up and down Mass Ave. I am now convinced that wandering up and down Mass Ave is a substantial part of what you do in Boston. Things are there. Also, every time you come out of the Harvard T, there is Greer Gilman, so it is written and so it must be.

But other, less eternal things are written, and you can read them! Such as this interview about my story in the July/August issue of F&SF. Interview with me! Things you might want to know! or maybe not, but there it is anyway.

I answered these interview questions in the spring, and one of the things they’re showing me now is that life moves fast. Well. I knew that. And if it’s going to move fast and smell all right while it goes, I’d better get a load of laundry in. More, much more, soon, now that I’m home for awhile.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

I am really torn about my review of this book, because there are a lot of things that I found grating and clunky in it. There are copy editing errors that make sense into nonsense, there are sentences that grate on the ear, there are near-future references that are actually already near-past references, there are places where a character introduces a piece of gratuitous racism and the protagonist gratuitously excuses him for it only to find that it has no bearing whatsoever on the larger plot. The gay character is basically labeled THE GAY in sparkly foot-high letters with no other character traits. The sections from the points of view of the Black lady assistant and the kids read as pretty patronizing to me.

And yet. And yet it is a near-future science fiction novel substantially from the POV of an older lady, and how many of those do we have right now? Not too bloody many. And she is an older lady who is a mom who is realistically concerned about her kids and eventually grandkids–she is explicitly not enmeshed in a network of friends, but she at least has some family, some life outside a career. She gets to have a love life. And her family disagrees thoroughly, completely, on politics, the economy, and the ecology. As families really, truly do.

And there is an ecology. There is a character who is obsessed with purple loosestrife. Sometimes this is a metaphor for alien or displaced ecological disruption in the main plot of the book, because there are aliens of size and conversational ability, and also there are space spores. But sometimes? Sometimes it’s not a metaphor. Sometimes it’s just purple loosestrife. Those are my favorite times of all.

So I am torn. The structure of this book is weird–its focus shifts around–and there are so many nits to pick. And yet there are also a lot of things it’s doing that are not as widely available as I would really want. Mixed bag, is I guess where I come down in the end. Not my favorite Nancy Kress, but not without its points.

Please consider using our link to buy Tomorrow’s Kin from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Okay, mammals! Here is what I know of my Readercon schedule, since I have a minute to tell you. If you’re going to be there, look for me in these places, or in the places you would generally look for a person (the lobby, the bar, the green room, the meet the prose party, the ’90s dance where I will be wearing an authentic ’90s dress and an authentic ’90s flannel shirt against the authentic hotel air conditioning…).

Thursday 9:00 PM  Highway to the Weirder Zone. Samuel R. Delany, Max Gladstone, Maria Dahvana Headley (leader), Chandler Klang Smith, Marissa Lingen. Surrealism, magical realism, paranormal romance, and other genres of the weird have different methods for getting the reader to suspend disbelief and acclimate as the roses rain down and the protagonist turns into a cockroach. Can authors of less-weird science fiction and fantasy borrow those tricks to ease reader dislocation, or is dislocated exactly what a reader should be? Are there different approaches that work for a phantasmagoria of ideas or a phantasmagoria of sensory impressions? And what problems arise from applying the assumptions and techniques of one genre or subgenre to another?

Friday 2:00 PM  In the Heartland. Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen, Natalie Luhrs, Peter Straub, Catherynne M. Valente. What about the middle of the U.S. makes heartland stories such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven so powerful? Recognizing that the U.S. is far from perfect, does the baked-in concept of American exceptionalism negatively affect these stories? What do they teach readers who aren’t American about Americans and their values?

Friday 4:30 PM  Reading: Marissa Lingen. Marissa Lingen reads a selection of short fiction.(That’s what the program says! I can tell you that it will be something that is sold to BCS but has not yet been published with them and will be published in the issue just before the first Tuesday in November. If that timing and venue gives you enough clue to content. Come and hear it! Also please keep me from reading to an empty room.)

Saturday 11:00 AM  Engineering in SFF, the Sequel: A Bridge Too Far. Scott H. Andrews, John Chu, Jeff Hecht, Marissa Lingen, Fran Wilde (leader). At Readercon 27, our panel of SFF writers with engineering backgrounds discussed bridges, flight, castle fortifications, and why engineering often gets short shrift compared to other technical sciences. They pointed out that readers never see a school at Hogwarts for magical engineering, or classes for building magical tools. This year a new panel will go deeper with some of these topics, getting into the different types of engineering such as bio, hydro, civil, and mechanical, and how these can inform your worldbuilding.

Sunday 10:00 AM  Reckoning Group Reading. Christopher Brown, Michael J. DeLuca, Marissa Lingen. Reckoning is a new, pro-paying, annual journal of environmental justice fiction [and nonfiction and poetry] edited by Michael Deluca. (And special guests who are not otherwise on the program! It will be great, you should totally come.)

Sunday 12:00 PM  The Works of Judith Merril. Andy Duncan, Marissa Lingen, John Stevens, Gordon Van Gelder. Celebrate and discuss the life and works of the 2016 winner of the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. (Possibly also rage at the times in which she lived! Do some of both maybe!)

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Ben Aaronovitch, The Hanging Tree. This is the latest installation in a long-running series. Do not start here. You will not have the character emphasis to get why various appearances are important or even make any sense. For people who are in the middle of this: there is at least Lesley but not as much Lesley as I could want. On the other hand there is quite a lot of Guleed, and I love Guleed. I love Sahra Guleed enough to pretty much forgive the fact that this is a pretty light entry in this series.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School Chapters 1-4 and Three Twins at the Crater School, Chapter 22-end. Kindle. I am generally, as I have said many times here, not a fan of the serial format, so what I tend to do is let them pile up until I have a book. Or in this case, I let them pile up until I’m traveling and have a good chunk of reading to catch up with on my Kindle. There’s definitely arc plot in these, but their template is both old-school SF and old-school boarding school novels, so there is a lot of short-arc/episodic stuff as well, midnight feasts and sneaking out and getting caught in various hijinks and being in disgrace for them–about as well-suited for a serial as anything could be. Three Twins is the first and Dust-Up is the one that’s going now.

E.M. Forster, Maurice. Written just before the Great War but not published for decades thereafter, this is very simply and straightforwardly about being gay and male in that era. It is a character/relationship study about a young man of that era of “good” but not “high” family and how his sexuality affects everything for him. It is short and in places poignant; Maurice is not perfect and can be very annoying, and Forster knows this, he did not mean to portray a paragon. Even if you feel like you have lots of factual data about this era, about Oscar Wilde and his trial and so on, this is still a work of art that lends texture and contrast and also makes me want to give Mr. Forster a cup of the good hot chocolate and someplace safe to hang out.

Roger Knight, Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory, 1793-1815. Logistics! So much, so many! You want to fight Napoleon, you need logistics, and the UK had a bunch of them, and not always enough, and not always lined up properly with each other. And then the logistics fight. I do like a logistics fight.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. Reread. I think this should be of particular interest to short story writers who are new to their careers and would like to see someone evolve in her ideas and execution.

Foz Meadows, A Tyranny of Queens. This portal fantasy is, among many things, a love letter to those of us who spent our education being the good girls who could be counted upon to be convenient. For all those who were seated with a harasser for the teacher’s convenience, who were ever pinched on the thigh under the desk, whose complaints were “trouble” when the harassment was not. Foz has a story about parallel worlds and magic and travel and dragons and queens and strange beasts–but also a story of standing up and saying no, of finally having enough. This book was not here for me when I was fourteen. It is here for me now, and when my goddaughter is fourteen it will be here for her. And dammit, we will still need it. Caveat: I read it in the airport lounge, and I had to try not to cry in the airport lounge, so. Possibly be careful of your location. But recommended, oh, recommended.

Judith Merril, Exile from Space (Kindle) and Out of Bounds (reread). Who has two thumbs and is on a Judith Merril panel at Readercon? Yes. So. Exile from Space really clarified one of the strong things that’s going on here, which is writing from a female perspective but for a male editorial gaze. Once I saw that I couldn’t unsee it. I’m not at all sure there’s a man of the time who would have had the tools to write this story, or most of the ones in Out of Bounds–but it’s still very much written for them, for their attention. Fascinating. Very space-focused, very Cold War, and I do love Judith Merril or I wouldn’t have volunteered for the panel, so stay tuned for more.

Elizabeth Moon, Cold Welcome. The latest Vatta book, and it’s a crash-landing into difficult polar conditions with a saboteur to find. Even in space there are too many whiners, seems to be the thesis of this book, and maybe so, but it would be more fun if not.

William Morris, The Hollow Land. Kindle. Every once in awhile when I’m traveling I read another piece of Morris’s fantasy to get another bit of how to write him in the story I have in my head. As a fabulist he is a great ceramicist and other sorts visual designer. Oh Uncle Will. I do love him, but not for this, which is overwrought and overemotional and melodramatic and full of “revenge!” and symbolic colors and people swooning and spending years at things in one paragraph. Which is not to say that it doesn’t have its own appeal, just…oh, Uncle Will.

J. Robert Moskin, The Story of the U.S. Marine Corps. Grandpa’s. I have been reading through my grandpa’s book collection since he died in 2009. I have done it in no particular order, except that I knew that I wasn’t going to want to leave things I would turn my  nose up at for last. This was second to last, and it was very solidly done on the deployments of particular Marines, sometimes down to their individual names. It is less solid on the motivations for those deployments, and not even just on the stuff that might be politically debatable, but if you’re writing historical fiction of any type that involves moving Marines from place to place, this is a good resource. It ends just after Vietnam. (The link is to a third edition which goes through the Gulf War. -ed)

Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, Death by Silver. This is a fairly light Victorian fantasy mystery, wherein men who were bullied and abused at school are put in a position of having to implicate or, sadly, exonerate their abuser of a capital crime. Reading it in close proximity to Maurice and A Tyranny of Queens was fascinating coincidence, as the type of school harassment it depicted was substantially different, and its take on British attitudes toward gay men just before Forster’s period was meant to be historically serious without being depressing. An interesting balance, not a book that will probably be a passionate favorite of mine but still a fun read.

Jessica Shattuck, The Women in the Castle. This book was simultaneously harrowing and not harrowing enough, which is odd. It’s about the survivors (…sort of) of the men who attempted to assassinate Hitler, mostly their post-WWII lives but a bit of the context they had before the war. They face privations and sexual violence, and they forgive, and don’t, and get on with things, and don’t. I feel like if you’re going to write a book that basically takes the position that a lot of people, especially women and lower-class people, were swept along into Nazism and didn’t entirely know what they were doing and that forgiveness is the road forward, engaging more than peripherally with the people they most directly hurt is called for–the people who are not privileged enough to live literally in a castle, the ones who were not a protected class. Women were at risk of sexual violence even in that protected class, but as this book demonstrates, that was not unique to the Nazi regime and is somewhat aside from the questions of it, so…the questions of forgiveness of it, how a country moves forward from it, deserve more depth than this gives.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, and Michi Trota, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issues 15, 16, 17. Kindle. I’m not sure there was a weak piece in all three of these issues. I’ll put the links in short story posts, but in general I enjoyed all the content and was glad to have it in this compact form–especially since rereading a couple of the pieces I’d already read online brought aspects of them to my attention that I hadn’t entirely noticed before.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

  1. The issue of F&SF with my story “An Unearned Death” in it is available now! You can get it from SF Site for paper copies and subscriptions or from Weightless Books for the ebook version. Mine is the July/August issue, although they have many fine issues also available for you. There’ll be a blog post coming up on their site, so stay tuned for the links on that.
  2. Yesterday I came home from my New York trip to find that I sold a story, “Flow,” to Fireside Fiction! More word on when that comes out when we collectively know more, but I’m really proud of this one and happy to be working with Fireside for the first time.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled running around trying to get all the things done.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

A friend asked me for this blog post, and I really haven’t been feeling the blogging lately, so here we go, a way into it by talking to a specific person.

A lot of people do pacing instinctively, sometimes synaesthetically. This is why you’ll hear metaphors like an unbalanced washing machine, a car with a flat tire–things where the rhythm is off, things where the story is going THUMPa THUMPa THUMPa. If you have that feeling for it, if you have that instinct, hurrah! Lucky you. If not, here are some other ways to spot broken pacing.

Ask an external reader. If they are bored in some sections, the pacing is probably breaking down. (Also boredom, who wants it.) Also, if they can spot the scenes that are the most important to the writer, that’s no good–obviously there will be things like the climax of the piece that are important scenes, but you don’t want to have a lot of scenes that are obviously un-important. If the reader feels like a scene doesn’t matter to you and they’re right, take it out and find another way to do the thing it’s doing. If they’re wrong and it really is important to you? Probably a pacing problem.

Track things! Track all the things. Okay, not all. But any of the things. Figure out what elements are showing up in each scene, what each scene is doing. You can do this with characters. You can do it with things like description/action/dialog balance. You can do it with objects that are touchstones to your plot. You can do it with locations. Anything you are wanting to pull through the book and balance, you can track, sometimes with color. Put it on notecards, print it out in tiny font and highlight it, just do a chapter list in a different file: who is in Chapter 1 with the protag(s). Who is in Chapter 2. Or: where does the Axe of Awesomeness show up first, where does it show up again, how long is it between spottings of the Major Macguffin. Has the reader had time to forget about it or think it is no longer important or get distracted by the Minor Macguffin. Has the Shiny Red Herring come up often enough? Track it in red to see where it is swimming. Is there a love story? If there is supposed to be a love story but you are not seeing Captain Swoonypants between Chapter 2 and Chapter 13, the pants: they will not be swooning. That is what we call a major sag in the pacing. (And/or in the pants.) Negative relationship stuff, too: that distance between a fight and the next appearance of the person fought with will mean that that relationship is not carrying a lot of tension. The pacing on it will sag. The reader will forget that they are supposed to care.

A thing that I said in the previous paragraph: figure out what each scene is doing. Not just one thing. If it’s just one thing, the pacing will sag and fall over. Do more. But also: when you revise, sometimes one of the things a scene used to be doing will change. If you rip out a subplot, remember to look at the scenes around the stuff you removed. It’s not just that you have to check to get the information redistributed. It’s that the beats also have to be redistributed. If that subplot contained the moments to breathe, your new pacing will be too frenetic. If that subplot contained mostly action and excitement, a hint of that needs to creep back into the new pacing. Pacing, sadly, is not just something you can do once and be done.

Stylistic and length changes. Word length, sentence length, paragraph length, chapter length. You can change these deliberately if you want to, but if you find you have subconsciously changed them without meaning to, you may be rushing a section or meandering through a section that will not feel integrated with the rest of the book and will nag at the reader–sometimes without them being able to spot why.

Note that you do not have to do length analysis on every element of every book every time. This is more a diagnostic for when something seems to not be working or if you consistently have problems than something every writer should do at every moment. In fact, all of this is in that category. If you’re finding that people are saying things you don’t really get about pacing, that something is not working and you don’t understand why, you can poke at these things (or at ideas people will offer in the comments, maybe!). But no writing tool is universal, this is not universal, and you should feel utterly free to not do any of this if you don’t need to and don’t feel like it.

I feel like I can’t stress enough in process posts that everybody works differently, because I hear enough conversation about “I heard one piece of advice and I thought I had to,” and seriously, no, you do not have to, you never have to. Do what works for you. Discard things that sound horrifying until/unless nothing else is working and you feel like it’s worth a shot. Try things that are exciting or weird, try things that feel like they’re fixing the problems you actually have, and don’t listen to me when you don’t feel like it. Okay? Okay.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Miracles. Gods are apparently like ants in a California apartment complex in this Bennett trilogy: you think you’ve killed them all and there’s always one or two coming back again, so put your miracles in sealed containers. This is definitely a third book of a trilogy, not a stand-alone; I do not at all recommend starting here, but it does end things nicely. (The first book is City of Stairs – ed)

C.J. Cherryh, Convergence. This, on the other hand, is a sawed-off chunk of an ongoing thing. I wrote to another friend who has also read all twenty books of this series with a character’s name in all caps followed by “???” after reading this book. There is plot again, it is not like the trilogy within this series that was essentially focused on Bren getting his apartment back and furnishing it. Is it better for that? I’m not sure. I’m still reading as of book twenty, which tells you something, but for the love of Pete, do not do not DO NOT start here, it will be confusing and boring and generally awful, which it is not when you have read the other nineteen. On the other hand: will you want to read nineteen of these to get to this? I don’t know. It is very much science fiction about alien interactions, and it is very psychologically medieval in ways that I appreciate, and there are moments (like the name in all caps with the ???) where I feel like this is a very long game she has been planning in intricate detail all along and other moments where I am fairly sure it is the equivalent of going out for a morning nature walk with Auntie Carolyn and having her point out which tiny flowers and mushrooms grow under that big leaf and which ones are poisonous (most of them). On the other other hand, I do like nature walks.

Kathryn Evans, More of Me. Discussed elsewhere.

John M. Ford, The Scholars of Night. Reread. I picked this up for my Cold War Fantasy panel, and it is made of love for Christopher Marlowe and Anthony Price and intricacy. It is exactly what this panel is all about, but I reread it not that long ago; I just wanted the excuse.

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. Reread. This is the last of my old Natalie Goldberg books, and honestly it is the one to get if you’re getting a Natalie Goldberg book for a new writer. It is straightforward and cheerful and does not self-aggrandize particularly; it quotes her teachers without acting like they hung the moon, it has ideas for what to do but sort of shrugs through them like, yep, try these and if they don’t work try something else, just try stuff. I am no longer at a point where I think it’s a good use of shelf space for me to keep this book, so I will set it free for some newer writer to enjoy, but it did not make me snippy with Batman the way the others did. (…if you didn’t read that blog post, maybe we should just draw a veil over it.)

Paul Gruchow, Letters to a Young Madman: A Memoir. Gruchow is a Minnesota nature writer and observer of the land, farming, people…he overlaps with my interests enough that I have been reading his books in an essentially random order from the library, and then I came to this one and it blindsided me. Because the present tense in that first sentence is inaccurate. Paul Gruchow. Oh God. Paul Gruchow did not survive his last bout with depression more than a decade ago. I had been darting merrily through feeling so much kinship with this man, and he was gone the whole time I was reading him, painfully and horribly gone, and he suffered so much before he went, and this is the memoir of how. I recommend it under only two circumstances: 1) If you have not read a memoir of depression and mental health treatment and hospitalization in this country. This is a keenly observed and fiercely intelligent example of its genre. It is not heartening. It is not uplifting. It is not the work of a person who managed to find his way out, to see brighter days ahead, to kick at the darkness, as the man said, until it bled daylight. The man I was starting to think of metaphorically as “cousin Paul,” struggled and fought with himself and hurt himself and his family and was hurt by himself and the world, and then he died. This is that book. If you are not yourself depressed and/or have not otherwise experienced the mental health system up close and have not read anyone’s detailed modern account of it, I think you should read at least one, and you could do far worse than letting it be Paul Gruchow’s. You also owe it to yourself to choose very carefully when you subject yourself to it. It does not have to be today, tomorrow, next week. You can look with deliberation when you must look. 2) If you have read such a book before but have come to love the other works of Paul Gruchow, you can choose to look again even if you know the facts and figures of modern mental health care. That would be me. You can see how some of his other stories are changed, cast in different lights, by these stories. By the stories of his illness. You may decide that you don’t want that of a writer whose work you love. And you may decide that you owe it to a writer whose work you love to have his whole work, not to look away. If it was me, I would want some of my readers to look away, to only have the brilliant and lovely things I said about frogs and rocks and farming. And I would want some of my readers not to look away, to read all my work, even the hardest and darkest. It is not me. But we come from the same places and the same people. It could have been. I am glad I didn’t look away. It has been a very long time since I cried so hard over a book as I did over the opening and closing pages of this book, and also many, many times over the middle, and it was not a very long book. Proceed with caution if at all.

Marvin Kaye, ed. The Fair Folk. Reread. Vividly told tales, most of which did not hit me particularly personally. The opening story from Tanith Lee is a really great example of a story that feels like it is going to be a wonderful story for someone else, a story that will go right to someone else’s heart and stay there. I think it’s easier to recognize those with experience.

Donald Keene, ed., Anthology of Japanese Literature from the Earliest Era to the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Reread. This is something I purchased for a college class and kept. It is not the very last word in Japanese lit, but with twenty years’ experience it turns out to still be a quite decent first word and well worth keeping; there were things I was happy to quote and discuss with friends. I haven’t done a survey of survey anthologies, so I don’t know if this would be the one I would recommend above all others, but as the one I already have on my shelf, it had many things worth reading in it and I am glad to keep giving it space, which is a quite nice feeling. There were several place where I rolled my eyes at Donald Keene himself and his notes–his handling of notes on periods where there were predominantly women authors were not, shall we say, deft and sensitive–but most of the material was the material and could just be enjoyed for that. Good mix of poems, stories, diary excerpts, novel excerpts, play treatments.

Naomi Mitchison, Sea-Green Ribbons. This is a strangely spare novel of a young woman printer during Cromwell’s time. I enjoyed it except for the ending, which I found unsatisfying in its handling of Quakers and slavery, and I spent much of the experience cocking my head and squinting sideways at it and thinking of Gillian Bradshaw’s London in Chains and A Corruptible Crown. They are really, really, really, really similar. Young woman printer, era of Cromwell, sexual trauma, various details…I don’t think that one is cribbed from the other, their style is quite, quite different, and their endings are, and there is something like four times as much of the Bradshaw. It was just very strange. I want more novels of the Interregnum, but it’s okay if the others are not specifically about young women printers with sexual trauma, variety being the spice etc.

Toni Morrison, Jazz. Lots of people failing to make their relationships work, but the language is rich and improvisationally jazzy, very successfully evocative of the ’20s urban setting and newly urbanized Black American culture of the Great Diaspora. If someone other than Toni Morrison had been writing this, the petty, angry despair of the major characters might well have put me off, but Morrison’s writing is so beautiful it was worthwhile for me.

Jim Northrup, Marcie R. Rendon, Linda LeGarde Grover, and Denise Sweet, Nitaawichige: Selected Poetry and Prose by Four Anishinaabe Writers. Highly varied voices and forms, but the traditions they’re drawing on are very recognizably Anishinaabe in their own ways. A very short chapbook, definitely worth the time if you can find it. Hilarity and anger and pathos and beauty all represented here.

Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd’s Crown. Rereads. After long hiatus, I have finished the Tiffany Aching series. Last first: The Shepherd’s Crown is Pratchett’s last book, and you can see that he was not quite done with it, that it is the bones of the book he meant to write rather than the full book, with its gestures toward third-wave feminism and a love letter to the geezerhood the author himself would never achieve. It has some great things to nod at. It makes me wistful. As for I Shall Wear Midnight…I find myself ambivalent about books with the “they persecute us for our virtues because they are stinky jerks” plots right now, and this is one. And yet it is a pretty good one, and sometimes “they” do. And the virtue in particular in this one is being willing to step up and help where help is needed, and I want more of that in fiction and in life.

Frederick Taylor, The Downfall of Money: Germany’s Hyperinflation and the Destruction of the Middle Class. This sounds a bit dry but is very, very human–it’s very much about how the German people experienced the interwar hyperinflationary period, what played into it and what it created. Interesting and a much quicker read than one might expect.

Catherynne M. Valente, Deathless. Reread. This is far and away my favorite Valente novel for adults. I picked it up because I misremembered the time frame–I had thought, for some reason, that the ending was long after it was, deep in the Stalinist period, instead of 1942–and so I thought it might be of interest to my Cold War Fantasy panel at 4th St. Well, this is why we do panel prep, and of course 1942 is the exact right year to end this book. It is so vivid, so food-oriented and so full of myth and relationship and history. It is not for my panel. I still don’t regret the reread.

Martha Wells, All Systems Red. Murderbot! I was one of the last on the Murderbot train, but I do like Murderbot. All Murderbot wants is to be let by to figure things out and watch videos, is this too much to ask? Apparently so because humans, ugh. We are with you, Murderbot! We are with you through the rest of your adventures among humans, ugh, and whoever else you may encounter. Intimate voice far future SF, hurrah, more please.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Amulet Books.

Some spoilers are our friends, although I will not visit them upon you unsought. This is the first time I remember in ages flipping to the last few pages of a book to make sure that a particular concept was not how a book ended, because if it was, I did not want to be there for that experience. It wasn’t. I kept reading. In fact, I turned the pages compulsively.

The science fiction concept of this YA novel makes a better special effect than actual science: the cells of an entire person reproducing themselves and pulling apart fully formed, so that an entirely new version can step out and also leave the old version intact. Teva has been doing this annually, so that there is herself, age 16, but also her previous selves, known by their ages: Fifteen, Fourteen, and so on. Her mother, for reasons later made clear, has decided that it isn’t safe for this to be known, so once the split happens, the earlier version has to stay in the house all the time, and no one else is allowed in.

This is not, as you might well imagine, a long-term tenable situation.

I will not want to reread this book, because it is emotionally well-done. The claustrophobia of the well-meant captives, the panicked family turned in on themselves, the girl(s) taught to distrust the school friends and teachers who are part of her/their daily life…and inevitably led to doubt her/their own sanity. It was all incredibly evocative. There were times when I writhed reading it. The speculative conceit was not realistic. The teenage psychology was. And it was very clear that you do not have to intend to be a monster to wind up treating your loved ones monstrously, and you do not have to intend to be a jailer to put them in a prison they need to escape.

Those who have issues with reading about self-harm will probably also find this book really, really difficult. Like, you would need a serious good reason to read this book if you are a person in this category because there are substantial amounts of very vivid description of self-harm. This is for plot reasons due to the speculative conceit, but I’m not sure that will make the experience less difficult to read and may well make it more so. Beyond that I cannot honestly tell whether people whose families were less loving and healthy than mine will find this book cathartic or personally horrifying or some of each. You should tread with caution not because this is badly done but because it is well and lovingly done. This is not a hopeless book. Its ending is a substantially positive one. But I think it will be a wall-climbing experience for many readers.

Please consider using our link to buy More of Me from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Saturday 9:30 a.m. Dreaming Under Darkening Skies: The Cold War Fantastic A discussion of living and creating in the decades when the world was presumed to be an atomic tinderbox waiting for someone to push the button. Many writers cheerfully assumed we’d skip right past the whole mess, and an equal number assumed we’d all be served broiled on toast. While some wrote apocalypses or recoveries, others (including Tim Powers and John M. Ford) wrote intricately paranoiac tales of Cold War magic. What did those decades give our fantasy, what did they take from it, and how much of that time is still haunting our thoughts/works?

Saturday 11:00 a.m. Plotting Agency: From Resistance to Responsibility With great power comes a wall on every side, or so it seems. Much of our fiction can be described along an axis running from Resistance to Responsibility. At one end, characters have little or no control over their circumstances, such as Frodo and Samwise barely avoiding starvation on what increasingly feels like a suicide mission. At the other end lie books like Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, where protagonists grapple with so much power that their real struggle is to break as little of the world as possible. Many stories seek to provoke or inspire by having characters travel this axis, including Lord of Light, The Broken Earth series, the works of John Christopher, and The Traitor Baru Cormorant. What do stories along this spectrum offer us? In the end, how can power become as much of a prison as deprivation?

For those who don’t know, Fourth Street is a single-track convention, so there’s no need to give room numbers. It’s all in the programming room. Wake up Saturday morning, stick your head under the shower, come down to the programming room and listen to my dulcet tones soothing and cheering you on these soothing and cheering topics.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and this style of book is apparently a signature of hers: a set of interviews about a period, but not from famous people, from dozens or hundreds of ordinary people, many of them identified only by first name and last initial or not even that, when the commentary was captured in a stream of chatter at a public event. This one is focused on the experience of the late Soviet period and the fall of communism, especially from the point of view of the last people to really identify themselves as Soviets rather than Russians. It is not a cheerful book and talks a lot about people who were suicidal in this period, people whose lives were shattered and never rebuilt–but also, since it is filtered through a very ordinary-person-on-the-ground lens, about salami and kitchens other details that would be difficult to pull out of thin air as important unless you were part of that culture and that time. I’m glad I read this, and I’m glad I’m done reading it.

Elizabeth Bowen, The House in Paris. A literary novel of the thirties, with two small children who have never met before, running into each other in the house of strangers who are more to one of them than he knows, and then the gradual discovery of what they are to him and why. Bowen does child perspective very well indeed. I have some issues with the ending, but I’m not sorry I read it. This was one of the books I read this fortnight that treated reading a novel as though no one could possibly want to do it for fun: specifically, it came with introductory material that not only spoiled the plot/characterization considerably, it discussed some of the unfolding of the prose in a way that I found extremely annoying, as I would far rather have come to those particular turns of language and observation organically, in the text, because that’s what novels are, dammit. And the person who was writing this flattened and weird introduction was A.S. Byatt, who should have known better. I really need to remember to skip the intros. (She loved this book. I think I put it on my wish list because I read her gushing about it elsewhere in not nearly such an insensitive way.)

Bryan Cartledge, The Will to Survive: A History of Hungary. This is a mostly good general history of Hungary, briskly written. You may be surprised to find that Maria Theresa is the only woman to ever have any effect on Hungarian history, but welp, here we are, apparently.

Geoffrey Cowan, Let the People Rule: Theodore Roosevelt and the Birth of the Presidential Primary. An examination of how the selection of presidential candidates has changed over the years, with a focus not only on Roosevelt himself but on how we sometimes let our desire to win something overcome our stated ideals. None of the several books I’ve read on Theodore Roosevelt have wanted to go into any detail on his decisions and the Progressive Party’s decisions under him to throw Black/anti-racist Southern Progressive under the bus to attempt to win the white Southern vote. The desired narrative is so thoroughly “they split the Republican party” that the fact that they split that party and made the anti-racist progressives not sure why they should vote Progressive somehow gets elided. Funny thing that.

Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning and Wild Mind. Rereads. I have become aware that our habit of acquiring new books will not result in our bookshelves expanding infinitely to accommodate, so I’ve been culling some parts of the collection. I culled the “stories should have a beginning, middle, and end” level of writing books some years ago, but I kept the more essay-style personal ones at the time. Now I’m revisiting them to see what they have to offer at this stage of my career and personality type. In this case, not a lot: Goldberg talks endlessly about her one mediocre novel but has made her career of being a writing-about-writing person. She is ceaselessly enthusiastic about her own freewriting and how she shouldn’t censor it but, I see with more experience, a great deal more judgmental about other people’s results. They, apparently, need to censor themselves into being more like Natalie Goldberg. Hmm. No thanks. (There was one point where she was proudly displaying a freewrite where she wrote, “My home is the night,” and I muttered, “Oh, shut up, Batman.” I think this is a sign I’m done here. I am usually nicer to Batman.)

Paul Gruchow, Grass Roots. This is a memoir of growing up on a farm outside Montevideo, Minnesota, in the late forties and early fifties. Gruchow is thoughtful about his father’s methods of farming and about his own childhood; I don’t agree with everything he says, but I agree with a lot of it, and I know his land, I know his people. I think there is beauty here for those for whom it is less familiar, less loved, but if you’re from these parts, there’s a home note to this.

A.E. Housman, Last Poems. Kindle. When I read A Shropshire Lad last fortnight, Larry said it was more of a concept album and this was more of a regular sort of cluster of songs, and I think that’s fair. Quite often the songs from a concept album don’t stand as well alone, don’t get played as often, and the opposite happened here. While these are less a unit, less doing a suite of a thing, they are not as inspired, not as thoroughly quoted and taught, less familiar. Still interesting, but very brief, and I spent the whole time being sad for the poor man, who said in the introduction that he could pretty completely tell at this point in his life that there would be no more, but he wasn’t dead yet. He was alive but had no more poems in him. Oof.

Shirley Jackson, The Lottery and Other Stories. Hot takes from Marissa: this Jackson woman can write a story. I had read some of these in different locations, but the ones I hadn’t wowed me too. The opening story, “The Intoxicated,” was just such a sharp portrayal of a teenage girl and the disconnect between her and her parents’ party guest, her worldview and his, amazing, blew me away and then just kept going. Funny and creepy and temporally rooted and in spots universal.

Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver. This is the other novel with an introduction that I wish just had not. Just please don’t. It’s about trust and innocence and small towns and relationships, insiders and outsiders. It’s very brief and very cutting, and if you’re thinking, oh, the Moomins are so much fun, this will be a nice book, no, it is not at all a nice book.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird. Reread. This was also not particularly useful for me at this point in my writing process, but I think for the opposite reason to the Natalie Goldberg books. Anne Lamott has written several things that are not how-to-write books, she is not at all in love with the sound of her own navel clapping, but I really don’t find the level of hostility that she nurtures (under the pretense of not nurturing it) at all useful at this stage of life, and the little bits of writing advice are not for me any more. So that can also go in the bag to take to the used bookstore.

Dinaw Mengestu, How to Read the Air. This was the story of two marriages failing, thirty years apart. It was beautifully written. One was the marriage of two Ethiopian immigrants, the other their son’s marriage. It was people failing to connect and failing to communicate, over and over again, with gorgeous detail, for the entire book. You will need quite a lot of tolerance for sadness if you read this book, and I picked it up at a time when I did not perhaps have as much as it wanted me to. I kept reading it, because it was very well done. But know what you’re getting into, time it carefully, if you and this book are going to have a time together.

Laura Secor, Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran. This is the book I needed a break from when I picked up the Mengestu, above. It is a history of Iran from roughly 1970 on. It goes into detail about the political parties but also the prison system, the wars with Iraq. The people who kept hoping they were going to make things better in one direction or another. It is worth knowing more about Iran, but maybe have something more cheerful than the Mengestu on hand to liven the intervals. Take breaks. Pace yourself. Breathe.

Johanna Sinisalo, The Core of the Sun. This book did not work for me. It is a satire, and I see what it is trying to do, but this is where being a science fiction writer vs. a literary writer can sometimes very much come into play: when someone’s metaphor does not take into account biological reality, I balk hard. I have a long rant about gender and genetics here, available to them as wants it, but basically: this book treats women as a separable sub-species from men, and even in the kind of hideous dystopia that it depicts, even with the horrible treatment of people who do not fit a predetermined gender box (that it puts basically offstage and hoo boy do I have issues there as well), nope, that is not how hormones or chromosomes work, the X chromosome goes really in all the humans, you literally cannot mess with “women’s genes” and not “men’s genes,” what even, this is so very wrong. I tried to just go with the capsaicin stuff, but once I was thrown out of the satire by the main body of the work, it was hard to really groove with the over-the-top elements there. Sigh.

E.P. Thompson, The Romantics: England in a Revolutionary Age. A collection of essays on poetry (and other art theory) and politics. Thompson is solid, but this is not peak Thompson, it’s posthumously published. I like Thompson, so still worth reading. And I like the direction of poetry/polemics it explores.

Gerald Vizenor, Blue Ravens. Vizenor is always doing something different with every book, and also always touching on some beloved themes, Native life, tricksters, teasing. I am so impressed with him and always greet each of his books with joy. I wish he was better known among speculative fiction readers, but not all of his work is speculative. This isn’t. It’s an historical novel centered around WWI, some Anishinaabe boys from the White Earth Reservation who go to war and survive and paint and write poems, their lives before the war and after in the north of Minnesota and in Paris. I was enchanted.

Richard M. Watt, Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918-1939. Logistics. This book had logistics. It went into things like “what does it take to put together an army from scratch when you are suddenly a country and the bigger country you were carved from resents losing you.” I like logistics. Fascinating details about this. So glad I read it.

Ben H. Winters, Countdown City. The sequel to The Last Policeman, a series about trying to keep the world going when it’s about to end. I was hoping that he would have more to say about hope and its deliberate cultivation, and ultimately I didn’t find his insistence on forms to be satisfying. Maybe neither did he–there’s a third book, and this book leans heavily on its existence–but it does so in a way that makes me less inclined to go find it. Meh. The previous book is probably enough to stick with.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

It’s time again for another batch of: short stories I liked since the last time I posted about some short stories! As always, this makes no pretense of being exhaustive. The appearance on this list of a story does not mean that I’ve read everything else a magazine puts out–so feel free to recommend your own favorites in the comments. Sharing around good stories is the entire point.

The Cold, Lonely Waters, by Aimee Ogden (Shimmer)

The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom, by Max Gladstone (Tor.com) (Is there a bonus for using “water” or “waters” in your title? Well. In your story, yes, so in your title, probably. Why be coy about this? Water. It’s a family thing.)

The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales, by Fei Dao (Clarkesworld) (Translated by Ken Liu)

Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus, by Bogi Takacs (Clarkesworld)

2067: Transcript of Found Audio Interview, by Adrienne Maree Brown (Riverwise)

A Burden Shared, by Jo Walton (Tor.com)

That Lingering Sweetness, by Tony Pi (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

They Will Take You From You, by Brandon O’Brien (Strange Horizons)

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

You volunteer for a thing. Good for you. Seriously, non-sarcastically: good. The world needs people to step up on so many fronts, and you do. And you do the thing, and then the thing gets done, and sometimes you have a natural gift for it, and sometimes you don’t, sometimes you just work hard at it and do some learning and figure out the thing. You get good at the thing, fast or slow you get good at it. There’s a little bit of applause but maybe not as much as there is work done. There never really is, that’s how volunteering works.

Great! Fantastic! Now stop.

I’m serious. I’m really, really not kidding. You need you to stop. Your organization needs you to stop.

Not stop volunteering completely. Nope. The world needs people to step up. But here’s the problem: if the same person steps up to the same job for too long, it becomes invisible. It becomes A’s job. And A still gets thanked, hey, good job, A, what would we ever do without A. But sometimes that last rhetorical question turns literal: A is probably not immune to breaking their leg, having a family member who needs care, a job crisis, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Tahiti. (Or Australia. Hi, Paul.) A, to get really morbid with you, is probably not the world’s first immortal. So if you can’t do the thing without A…you can’t do the thing. And the more important the thing is, the more that’s a problem.

Also of concern, and very hard to bring up: sometimes A’s skills slip for one reason or another. Yes, you. Even if you’re A.

Say you’re arranging the little kids’ Christmas program. And the first two years, you are filled with joy and energy and you have so many ideas and it is amazing! And people tell you how amazing it is! The best ever! My golly! What a Christmas program! And the next few years, you have not quite so much joy but so much experience, so the combination is still pretty great, probably better than anyone else could do! Wow! You are the Christmas program monarch! And when a 4-year-old vomits off the back of the risers, you have someone ready to clean it up quietly, and you have enough adults to make sure that the 6-year-olds do not rampage when they get offstage afterwards, and this is just a super, super job!

And ten years down the line, not one single person has approached the beloved mainstay of the community to say, “Your Christmas programs stink on ice and you need to stop.” Which of course they would feel totally comfortable doing, so you can definitely tell that you’re still at the top of your game and feedback will always get to you before people are frustrated enough for it to be non-constructive.

Say it’s not the Christmas program. And it’s not just burnout. Say it’s finances, and say your memory has started to go. This is not a random example; I know someone who was in charge of part of the finances of a volunteer organization and started to slip into the early stages of Alzheimer’s. And for the first few years, experience carried them through, and I bet that they told themselves that it was still fine and they were still doing a better job than anyone else would have done. And for the first few years they were probably even right. And by the time they moved into the memory unit, there was literally over a decade of mishandled finances for that volunteer organization. No one is the villain here. That person is not a bad person. But we never think it’s us. We never think, I bet I’m the problem here.

Nor is Alzheimer’s the only way this can happen. There are habits of thought one falls into, things that seem obvious, that are just The Way We’ve Always Done It, and some of them are because We have had Bitter Experience, and some of them are…just habit. Sometimes the Bitter Experience no longer applies. Sometimes this is all very true, and passing the job along to someone else will mean that it is done worse. We have to do that anyway. We have to be willing to let someone else make mistakes and do it worse sometimes. And sometimes we can pass along notes and advice and all sorts of information to make this smoother, but it can never be perfect.

But seriously. Rotating jobs. Changing what you’re volunteering for. I very, very occasionally see this discussed as a favor to yourself to avoid burnout, and it is. It’s also a favor to your organization. And you can come back after a few years, when someone else has taken a turn and learned to do the thing…although if it’s always you and the same person alternating, that also tells you a thing about the organization.

The last question is, what if no one else steps up? And the answer is: that tells you something about the health of the organization, right there. If no one else steps up and you are literally the only one, then maybe it’s time to say that your volunteer energies should be used on something else anyway. Which is a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve put a lot of time, energy, and love into something. But. Sometimes.

I have no exact perfect answer for a timeline on this. There is no five-year rule or ten-year rule or one-year rule. It depends on what you’re doing, how often it happens, what kind of energy it requires, what size of group, all sorts of things. But I’ve seen this in more than one kind of organization–churches, art groups, science fiction conventions–all in the last year, so I thought I’d say: we never think it’s us. Sometimes it’s us when we least want it to be, and those times are the times when we get the least signaling about it.

August 2017

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