Short stories I’ve liked sorta-recently

I had a big chunk of time when I just wasn’t reading short stories much, and when I asked for recommendations from that time I got very little. So as usual, please, if there’s stuff you’ve been enjoying, give me links in the comments. (And while it’s fine to link to stuff from 2018 and before in the interest of a good read, what I’m mostly interested in with these posts is recent-ish fiction–this-year-ish mostly.)

(Also a poem or two might sneak in, you never know.)

Chen Qiufan, Coming of the Light (Broken Stars)

John Chu, Probibilitea (Uncanny)

Tiny Connolly, A Sharp Breath of Birds (Uncanny)

Nicky Drayden, The Rat King of Spanish Harlem (Fiyah Issue 9)

Meg Elison, Hey Alexa (Do Not Go Quietly)

Theodora Goss, The Cinder Girl Burns Brightly (Uncanny)

Rachael K. Jones, Oil Under Her Tongue (Do Not Go Quietly)

Cassandra Khaw, What We Have Chosen to Love (Do Not Go Quietly)

Jonathan Kincaid, The Ishologu (Fiyah Issue 9)

Karen Osborne, The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power (Uncanny)

Charles Payseur, Undercurrents (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Nibedita Sen, Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island (Nightmare)

Fran Wilde, The Unseen (Fireside)

Xia Jia, Goodnight Melancholy (Broken Stars)

Caroline Yoachim, A Wedding Gown of Autumn Leaves (Daily Science Fiction)

The Trans Space Octopus Congregation, by Bogi Takács

Review copy provided by the author.

Takács has not chosen this title accidentally. While this collection is not a single theme, its constellation of themes undulates around gender, fluidity, and form, with the alien and the other taking varying roles according to the needs of the story. The ordering of the stories has a particularly liquid flow, from one into the next in ways that inform and illuminate with no one theme or tone ever having a chance to grow stale.

I have major issues with the prior claim (NOT by Takács) that science fiction is the literature of cognitive estrangement (but that is, as they say, another panel–literally, that is a panel I will be on at Readercon next week, discussing the classic Darko Suvin essay on this topic)–but this science fiction is deeply and profoundly estranged, and at the same time is interested in healing that estrangement in the ways that healing is meaningful and possible–and the ways in which efforts toward that healing do not themselves cause greater harm. That is: recognition of estrangement is also a possible good in these stories. Diversity both of problem and of solution is recognized here.

No collection has every story for every reader, but so very much of this was for me–despite almost none of it being “for” my demographic. I am not trans, not Hungarian, not Jewish, not for that matter a cephalopod or an alien, but this is exactly the kind of science fiction where the beauty of not being “same” shines through the most. Recommended.

Books read, June

Samira Ahmed, Love, Hate, and Other Filters. This is a charming story about a Muslim-American teen from Chicago who is trying to navigate her life as an aspiring filmmaker around the usual teen beloved obstacles of family, friends, school, etc. I was pleased with how Ahmed stuck the landing.

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. A brief history of Existentialism, fairly idiosyncratic but not a bad thing to read while thinking about what to talk about on a Readercon panel. Probably not my top pick if you want to know more about Existentialism, though.

Basho, The Essential Basho. Lots of nature poetry in the kind of translation that made it hard to see why it was essential if you didn’t already know. Perhaps get introduced to Basho somewhere else, but on the other hand a great thing to read if you’re already dressed for your dad’s memorial service and not sure what else to do. (I do not advise being in that situation if you can at all avoid it.)

Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe, The Supernormal Sleuthing Service: The Lost Legacy. This is a fun kids’ book set in a hotel full of magical creatures. I particularly like a couple of the places where characters decide to trust each other and work together instead of dragging out a different kind of drama.

Stephanie Burgis, Spellswept and The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart. The former is a prequel that takes us up to the family I’ve enjoyed in previous romantic fantasy novellas, but it was the latter that really blew me away. I adored the fierce young dragon protagonist and her newfound passion for the ways of human life and chocolate. This was a book I’d saved for a rainy day, and it was perfect–definitely looking forward to the sequels, which I’m afraid I will not have the willpower to save any more!

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings. This was vivid and Gothy and only the beginning of its series, and I have the second one on my pile, and I am getting to them just in time for the third, so go timeliness.

Tim Flannery, Chasing Kangaroos: A Continent, A Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature. Sometimes a book about kangaroos, including the tree kangaroos and the prehistoric kind, is just what you need. It was sort of comfort reading, this book. Granted, the bits about kangaroo reproduction were…not comforting. But still, it’s a bit like being five years old, being able to curl up with a nice book about animals. Sometimes one needs that.

Donald Hall, Without. This is a harrowing book of poetry about Hall’s wife, poet Jane Kenyon, dying of leukemia, and also his grief thereafter. I think for some people it would be the absolute worst thing to read while grieving, but for me it was quite companionable. I have no real interest in reading anything else of Hall’s but have put the complete works of Jane Kenyon on my library list. But for me this was like…this was like the people you meet in the ICU family lounge, you have an intense and real bond with what they are going through in that moment, and then you don’t need to keep meeting up for coffee thereafter.

Carol Kendall, The Gammage Cup. Reread. I have had this book on my shelf in several states but have not reread it since, I think, Kansas, which would be 1990. It’s a fairly straightforward kids’ fantasy about villages of simple peasants, some of whom are odd and need to be more accepted for their oddity, and how they fight mushroom people. I found it more charming when I had less to read, and there is a lot of Message per unit book.

Dorianne Laux, Smoke. This is another poetry book that was recommended to me for in grief, less focused than the Hall and less successful for me but striking in a number of images.

Yoon Ha Lee, Hexarchate Stories. Discussed elsewhere.

Ken Liu, ed., Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation. A very wide mix of types and lengths of story–there’s so much SF being published in Chinese that I wish there was the funding for four or five of these a year, but I’ll take what I can get. Favorites from this volume included Chen Qiufan’s “Coming of the Light” and of course Xia Jia’s “Goodnight Melancholy.” Xia Jia is an international treasure, a favorite in any language. The more she publishes, the more impressed I am.

Rose MacAulay, The Furnace. Kindle. This one was written before WWI. Two English siblings living in Italy have their “Bohemian” lifestyle tested by various trials in life, and…it’s Rose MacAulay, so the eventual moral of the story is not modern but not completely odious either. I am going to keep picking away at her back catalog, and finding them interesting and readable as I go. And while I say “not modern,” more modern than 1907 had any right to expect to be.

Robert MacFarlane, The Lost Words. This is a brief and beautiful book of poems. I don’t usually expect this much commitment to a particular formalism to come out so well–in this case, the poems all spell out the words they’re about, acorn and otter and so on, a list of nature words taken from one of the children’s dictionaries for insufficient relevance to the lives of modern children, and MacFarlane objects beautifully.

Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. I think I am not the target audience for this book, I think the target audience knows a great deal less about adrenal response and organization, but it has a calm tone and generally a level head, so all right. It is rather gendered but tries, in that direction, not to be a jerk–that is, it recognizes that many things are different for people socialized female in our culture at various times in their lives but tries not to assume various essentialist things along the way while acknowledging that.

Suyi Davies Okungbowa, David Mogo, Godhunter. Discussed elsewhere.

Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. These volumes keep not being complete works, and I keep trying.

Terry Pratchett, Night Watch. Reread. This is one of my favorite Pratchetts. But also. But also. A book about time traveling to teach your younger self some things is a particularly odd and wonderful book to reread, because…you can see your younger self reading it and see yourself learning different things, apprehending different things. So that’s a strange dual vision.

Karen Russell, Orange World and Other Stories. I was halfway through the first story when I let out a contented sigh, knowing that I was in good hands. And I was. She does such beautiful weirdness, such a lovely exploration of the way the world shifts and is not where you expected it, possibly because it has changed, possibly because you were wrong. Estrangement, I have been thinking about literature of estrangement, and this is a lot of that. In such a lovely way.

Charles Sheffield, Vectors. Reread. This is a very early collection of Sheffield’s short work. It contains the seeds of his later ideas, several early works that later became parts of short story series, types of things he later did more of. It also contained false starts, things that were more “of their time” and less impressive…the sort of thing those of us who write a lot of short stories have early in our portfolios. Since he did go on to write so much more, this is the sort of short story collection I’d recommend picking up if you’re in an Airbnb and it’s on their shelves but not seeking out over his other work.

Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner, eds., Do Not Go Quietly. Lots to really enjoy in this anthology, quite varied stories. I think my favorites were Rachael K. Jones “Oil Under Her Tongue,” Cassandra Khaw “What We Have Chosen To Love,” and Meg Ellison “Hey Alexa,” but it was a really solid selection of a variety of genres, styles, and types.

Sherwood Smith, A Sword Named Truth. Discussed elsewhere.

Rebecca Solnit, Cinderella Liberator. Sigh. Apparently I don’t love everything Solnit does. It’s not that this was offensive or horrible, it’s just…this is what happens when people who don’t work in fantasy or children’s books think of an illustrated fairy tale as something they don’t have to think much about before bringing in an innovation, and then their innovation is basically something that was done in heaps and truckloads in the ’70s. And ’80s. And ’90s. So…there’s nothing wrong with Solnit’s version, per se, it’s the same, hey, what if a fairy tale character was empowered. But on the other hand there is something disappointing about watching the person who wrote Men Explain Things to Me not notice that a field that is dominated by women…exists. At all. And is worthy of notice. Oh well. Next time, Rebecca.

Tui T. Sutherland, Wings of Fire Book One: The Dragonet Prophecy. My goddaughter urgently wanted me to read this as part of a conversation we were having about moral complexity of characters in kids’ books, and I got the graphic novel version from the library. When I went to talk to her about it, I realized that she now feels that I will read the other eleven in the series. Well. I liked the teamwork aspects, the self-discovery, it will not be too bad to read some more, but…it is very much the sort of kids’ book that is a kids’ book rather than an all-ages book. But the different kinds of dragon are also pretty cool.

Alfred Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam. The strange thing about this edition is that it was for study, and I was not reading this to study, I was reading this to grieve across centuries with Tennyson, for which it worked admirably. There is a poem very early on where he confesses that he has chosen his particular formalism in hopes of numbing his grief, and further confesses that it is not working. And if you are fluent in Victorian formal poetry, the entire rest of the thing has spots that are very like Tennyson snotting on the sleeve of his frock coat and wailing things like, “I feel like he could just come in the room at any minute and just be here!” Which: buddy, I know. I am with you, Al. So all the essays afterward were…slightly askew for me, except Eliot, Eliot was fine, this nudged me another step closer to reading more Eliot because we had some solidarity in how we read Tennyson, which was a strange feeling. Also: I think we have this twenty-first century thing where Darwin is the synecdoche for how Victorian science turned people’s worldviews on their heads, but in this Tennyson is flipping his lid about the news that the sun will someday burn out, and it’s a powerful reminder that the entire 19th century was one thing after another like that–that in fact we have had a good solid two centuries and counting of what do you mean it’s like that I was not prepared from science.

Rey Tercerio and Bre Indigo, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. This is a graphic novel resetting of Little Women (obv) in modern Brooklyn, in a multiracial blended family with modern problems but also a great many of the beats of the original book reproduced exactly. I know Little Women. I know how the beats fall really well. So it was fascinating to watch them choose very deliberately which parts to keep, which to alter only slightly, which to change deliberately for modern readers, because the lessons that a modern reader needs–the lessons Alcott would likely have wanted to teach–are not the same. I ended up liking it, and I will be interested to see if I can talk to goddaughter about it, to see how well she knows the original and what she thinks of the changes. Ditto anyone older of course.

Emily Tesh, Silver in the Wood. Discussed elsewhere.

Fran Wilde, The Fire Opal Mechanism. An astonishing, lovely and in spots bleak, time travel fantasy where intention and reality diverge sharply. What are we trying, what do we achieve, where have we gone wrong from what we meant to do and can we get it back again. Beautiful and caring.

P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith in the City. Kindle. I had run out of cope one day, and there was Wodehouse, and this was one where he was on his game, the title character and his bosom companion attempting to work for a beleaguered bank who was possibly not the better for their services when they could have been playing their beloved cricket. It was short and made me giggle when I very much needed to, and about the time it grew tiresome it was over.

Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple, The Last Tsar’s Dragons. Discussed elsewhere.

Hexarchate Stories, by Yoon Ha Lee

Review copy provided by publisher. Also I have known the author since Officially Forever, On Here.

I have rarely read a book with such a clearly defined audience! This is for people who love Yoon’s debut trilogy (the Machineries of Empire trilogy, the one with Jedao in it) and have or enjoy a strong fanfic impulse.

What do I mean by “strong fanfic impulse”: the range of tone in this material is very, very large, and how much it has traditional story structure varies extremely. The central novella that constitutes the bulk of this volume does indeed have a fairly traditional story nature, and so do a couple of the short stories, but others are of structures like “what if favorite character went home for a holiday” structures that are more like “outtakes” and other structures that fanfic explores more thoroughly.

So if you have that kind of impulse to see more range of structure and tone, this is definitely for you. I put off reading this volume, honestly, because I was not sure that I could deal with the levels of complexity, intensity, and darkness that Yoon sometimes brings to his fiction with the other things that were going on in my life at the time. And those are sometimes present, not going to lie about that. But the middle of the volume is definitely in the fluffier end of the range–there is no coffeeshop AU, but there is a lot more of the “this is a lighter moment” end of things, brief touches, small illuminations of a larger world.

I would not recommend starting this series in this point–it does rely fairly heavily on you having some notion of the characters and the setting. But for those who are invested, there is a range and a depth here that will likely be appealing.

Present Writers: Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the latest in a recurring series! For more about the series, please read the original post on Marta Randall, or subsequent posts on Dorothy Heydt, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sherwood Smith, Nisi Shawl, Pamela Dean,Gwyneth Jones , Caroline Stevermer, and Patricia C. Wrede.

Honest to Pete I will do a post next month on a Present Writer who is not a personal friend, but frankly it has been a lot lately, and it’s not my fault that I know a lot of amazing older writers. (Reports coming in suggest that it may be partially my fault. We can deal with that later.)

One of the things I love about Lois’s work is that she is extremely speculative about relationship, family, and reproduction. You cannot separate out the “science fiction plot” and the “family plot” or the “fantasy plot” and the “romance plot,” because they are always, always inextricable. The speculative conceit is never window-dressing, but neither are the human relationships tacked on as an afterthought. The worlds the characters live in are integral to how they relate to each other in families, how they consider building their families in complicated ways–how they have children but also how they form other kin-bonds, which affines receive what kind of loyalty and why.

It’s sometimes hard to realize how ground-breaking some of her books were because they broke so much ground that two houses have been built and torn down for an entirely new gigantic business development in the short time since Lois broke that ground. Rereading Paladin of Souls made me realize with a shock that Ista as a middle-aged heroine felt astonishing in ways that she would not now–because people took that ball and ran with it. Other treatments of family, parenthood, middle-age, and gender were shocking at the time. Some of them are still cutting-edge while others are not how Lois herself would do them now–and she keeps thinking, keeps talking to others, keeps turning over new ideas from different arts and different parts of the world. Some of Lois’s influences are obvious and others surprising, but even as she’s broken ground for others, she’s always open to others’ work, which is part of what makes her such a gift for us now.

David Mogo, Godhunter, by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Review copy provided by publisher.

A slightly future/altered Lagos, Nigeria, is the setting and the heart of David Mogo, Godhunter. It is squarely in the middle of the contemporary urban fantasy tradition–the one with Ben Aaronovitch and Jim Butcher, not the one that’s a sub-genre of romance. And that combination of factors changes the beats and the shape of the story completely.

David Mogo is half-orisha. He is learning who he is and who he wants to be. This is a very coming of age sort of book. But coming of age as the son of a god in a ravaged natural and magical landscape is anything but a standard tale. David’s care for his family, his chosen companions, his surroundings, infuse this book with an intensity that makes it a page-turner every bit as much as its dramatic action scenes do.

The Last Tsar’s Dragons, by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also I know both the authors socially.

Do you want a novella about the Russian Revolution in which Trotsky raises dragons? Because that’s what this is. The POV rotates quite a bit, so it’s not only Trotsky raising dragons, there are also sections on the Tsarina Alexandra’s views on dragons, Rasputin’s views on dragons, etc. Well, and some other things that aren’t dragons. There’s quite a lot of genuine history (fictionalized enough to provide dialog, inner thoughts, etc.) of the last days of the tsar’s empire and the beginning of the Russian Revolution–I was actually surprised at how closely this hewed to the reality of the world we live in, considering: dragons.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. The Russian Revolution and its main figures had enough weirdness for any speculative writer. In that context the dragons almost feel like the most normal thing, which may well have been the point.

In any case: if you’re like me, you heard the premise and made up your mind that you wanted it right away, and that is a very sensible thing to do.

Memorial remembrance of my dad, Dan Lingen, 6/22/19

(This is the eulogy that a family friend, Barry Anderson, read on my behalf at Dad’s memorial service yesterday. It is by no means my final word on my father, but rather a beginning of the writing I will do about Dad and what he’s meant to me–and one for a very broad audience, since we had at his memorial various sides of the family, my friends, Mom’s friends, Grandma’s friends, my colleagues, his colleagues–and of course his friends from all different parts of his life. Still. This is where I started.)

I think most people go through at least some phase in their life when their dad is not one of their favorite people–some time, usually in their teens, when they kind of get at each other. I never did. My dad has always been at the top of my list.

When I started studying physics, I found out about binary star systems, where two stars form a stable orbit around a center point instead of one consuming the other’s mass. I thought, that’s Mom and Dad. Then I learned that the planets in those systems tend to have very eccentric orbits, and I thought…well, there’s me. There’s always been more to our family than that–but so much of my childhood took place in that binary star system that as I try to write this, I’m having to translate from a private language with only two native speakers left. Some of the small communications among us were not even conscious. The day after Dad died, when I was missing the way that I would go off with Dad to just be silent together for a moment, Stella told me that we each made the mirror image of the same face at each other when we wanted to have that silence together. I never knew that, I just did it. It was like breathing. Right now I am trying to write this with half the light on my planet gone. When Mother was talking about how overwhelming it was to try to write a eulogy for Dad, I said to her, Mom, we can walk on the surface of the Earth, we can send people to walk on the surface of the Moon, but we can’t send people to walk on the surface of the Sun. Her relationship with Dad was two suns, and you can capture flashes of that, the lens flare of shared jokes, the warmth it cast on everything else, but you can’t portray it directly. It was just too bright.

Tolstoy said that happy families are all alike but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Being raised by my parents made it clear that that Tolstoy was completely wrong. I’m willing to believe that we are not the only happy family! But I’m pretty sure the other happy families didn’t spend nearly as much time talking about prehistoric giant beavers, Earl Battey, the Oglala Aquifer, the politics of mountain regions vs. prairie regions, or Haakon the Seventh as we have. I think it’s hard to explain how much variety of stuff I have always talked to my dad about. It’s pretty normal that I talk to Dad about how Mom is doing or how to best encourage the godkids in their dreams–although I know not everybody has a relationship with their dad where they get to do that. It’s less typical that I’ve been excited to talk to Dad about dinosaur poetry or a new book about algae that’s coming out this summer, but that’s how we roll. I have no idea how I will prepare for the talk I’m giving next month about existentialism in the works of children’s author Lloyd Alexander, without talking to Dad about it. For so many topics he was the only person in the world I could think of to talk to. Part of this is that Dad was always, always willing to go off on the weirdest tangents. No road was too obscure or too strange for my dad’s attention. There’s a story about my uncle Phil that ends in “Nah–too weird!” but one thing he got from Uncle Phil and passed on to the rest of us is that nothing was ever, ever too weird to talk to Dad about. Nothing too personal, nothing too unimportant, nothing too philosophical, nothing too off-the-wall…it could all go to Dad.

My dad approached parenting like he approached everything else: in a spirit of joyful exploration. My mom tells me that when she was pregnant, he would bend down and whisper to me in her belly, “Chemistry is fun. Math is easy.” The fun part there was not optional. The message was not “put your head down and do science at all costs, no matter how terrible it is,” it was “let’s poke at the universe together and see what fun we can have.” It was “don’t let them tell you this is a grind, because it’s actually a great big game.” After lab in college, I would call Dad to talk about how each experiment went. I still remember the surprise and excitement in his voice my junior year when we got to Franck-Hertz experiment, one he had never performed, and I got to describe the lavender mercury vapor and the peaks and valleys that showed the quantum world in a way he’d never seen. Dad loved to bounce his new membrane ideas around with me. We got excited about the world’s beautiful new possibilities together.

We explored maps together from the very beginning. When I was almost six, we packed up the five of us in Grandpa’s big blue Buick and set off east. Dad handed me the maps one morning and said, “Let’s try to get Grandpa into the middle of downtown Toronto.” For the first time, I got to help navigate–and I steered Grandpa right into the heart of Canada Day celebrations, because Dad believed I could do it. He never believed anything was beyond me. Coming out of one of the hardest years of my life, I wrote in his Father’s Day card, “Your support has always meant the world to me, Daddy, but in the last few months it’s given me the strength to pursue my dreams. Thank you.” He kept it. Mom found it in his pajama drawer along with the postcards I’d written him every week of that year, which was the year I started publishing fiction. He taught me not just how to use a map but how to go off the edges and make my own.

I have wonderful stories of exploring the world with my family, tasting fish on the wharf in Bergen, Norway, trusting Mom’s nose to pick out the best pub in London, or dodging traffic trying to get to the North Church in Boston, but truthfully some of my favorite explorations with Dad were to such exotic locales as–silence please–the grocery store–or–drum roll–Target. Every trip to the park resulted in a magic stick. Saturday morning trips to the post office were a special treat I looked forward to all week. I think one of the things that made time with my dad so wonderful is that he was such a great listener as well as a good talker. He and Mom wanted to learn things with me, not just teach things to me. Lots of people’s musical taste stops in their early twenties. Dad did want to expose me to the artists he loved, so I got plenty of Simon and Garfunkel, Beach Boys, Carole King, and more–but he was thrilled to learn about 10,000 Maniacs, Barenaked Ladies, and the Indigo Girls in the Nineties, up to Josh Ritter and Meg Hutchinson in this decade. He never stopped having new music to love. Lillian was so proud to play Santana songs for him, but I know he would have loved learning whatever songs she and Rob grew to love, because he had never stopped and had to restart again.

This is not to say that there weren’t a few hilarious bumps in the road of joyfully exploring with Dad. When I was five, Mom worked an early shift to be able to be home with me when kindergarten got out at noon–which meant that Dad was in charge of getting me ready for school in the morning. He was still cleaning up breakfast dishes when I slipped in the bathroom and singed my wrist on the curling iron. Once he made sure it was a superficial burn, Dad did all the right things, running my wrist under cool water and bandaging it, pulling me into a hug–and then said, excited, “Marissa! Now is a great time to learn about your body!” What! I listened indignantly as he described the miracles of the white blood cells mustering a defense of my skin, which did not seem like an opportunity at that exact moment. I teased him about that one for the rest of his life, drawling out, “Daaaaad, it’s a great time to learn about your baaaaaady.”

My dad’s belief in the importance of playfulness ranged through his whole life. His relationship with Grandma started with water fights when he was a teenager and she was a fun young mom throwing her home open to hordes of her daughter’s friends. Up until his last days, Dad loved to play cards and games with Grandma and her friends–and how many mothers-in-law can honestly say not only that their son-in-law would drive their friends around for game night but that he clearly enjoyed doing it. He would also peer carefully at the intricate games Mark, Mike, and Kev would set up at Christmas, at all the tiny moving parts showing new kinds of game that he had never seen before, always a fascination.

But he took especially thoughtful care in teaching play to my friends when I was little. A lot of dads coach softball–so did mine. But I also have pretty special memories of how my dad taught one of my friends about teasing and joking. She was an immigrant whose journey to this country was pretty rough–and once she got here, her experience of Americans teasing was that she was the butt of the joke, and that laughter was always at her expense. My dad took the time to teach her in very gentle stages that it didn’t always have to be that way. I remember him coming in and saying to her, “You will be very sad because Mrs. Lingen has made brownies and you do not like those.” He waited hopefully. She paused and thought about it. “Mr. Lingen, I think you are teasing me because you know I do like brownies.” He said, “Yes–and you know you can have as many brownies as you like here at our house.” From that very simple point Dad stepped her up to the idea that you could tease somebody because you liked them–that her new American life could feature people who were including her in the joke instead of keeping her out. That was the kind of play he always liked best, and he wanted to make sure other people had the chance to enjoy it too.

With all the time they spent together from basically the minute their ages hit the double digits, you’d think my parents would know everything about each other. And yet I remember within the last year each of them marveling to each other, “I’d never heard that story,” or, “I didn’t know that!” about new discoveries they could make together, new stories to tell each other, new dreams of ways the world can get better. Some of this is that they remained always open to listening and thinking about each other’s perspective. Some of it is that they have both always listened respectfully to others, so that when they came home to each other they would have fresh perspectives to present from their conversations, new thoughts sparked by other people they value–people from all walks of life.

My dad centered values in his life, not policy–the question was always how to get clean water, clean air, how to feed hungry children, how to nurture hungry minds. When he was a young man he was interested in hearing my grandfather’s viewpoint, which was a lot more traditionally conservative than Dad’s was then. These days I’m pretty far on the progressive side, and Dad listened to that with just as much respect as he gave Grandpa. But the point for Dad was never what team you had signed up to play for it, was how the ideas worked and whether you were treating all humans with respect and decency–and whether you were always willing to take in new information on how each idea was working in the world to help real humans. My dad would be the first to tell you that if you spoke all the tongues of men and angels but had not love–real love, love that is enacted on the earth–you were a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (Probably less than that, because he would want our percussionist Lillian to have all the clanging cymbals she wants. Sorry, Stella.) 

My dad taught me that a perfect day was a day that we all spent together as a family. The details didn’t matter–it was the time we spent that made it perfect. So if I tried a new recipe and the sauce came out soupy–perfect day. If the beautiful castle and garden in Uppsala were at the top of a very VERY steep hill–perfect day. (As God is my witness, Grandma, it looked flat as a pancake on the map.) He appreciated the ways that Mom and I spent time lining up details to make a GOOD day, whether it was reading newspapers over brunch, climbing down a thousand-year-old copper mine, learning a Japanese style of weaving, or spending all day making the year’s supply of lefse and Christmas cookies. But ANY of the details were the RIGHT details as long as we were together, and Dad knew that was what mattered. He would hug me at the end of the day and whisper, “It was a perfect day.”

We had so many perfect days.

Silver in the Wood, by Emily Tesh

Review copy provided by the great chain of agentsiblings through which I know Emily.

This novella is so central to what our agentsibs love, I can hardly believe it. Trees trees, so many trees. Dryads all over the place, questions of who stays dead. Tobias, the wild man of the forest, has dark secrets in his past, and trees upon trees in his present. His future is entwined with that of Henry Silver, both intrigued and intriguing. Henry has a lot of questions, most of which Tobias would really rather not have to answer.

I may have a different favorite character than the rest of them (Henry’s mommmmm), but I think we are united in the squee on this one. This is just our sort of thing, just exactly our sort of leafy stabby thing.

Readercon programming schedule

Classic Nonfiction Essay Club: “Estrangement and Cognition” by Darko Suvin
Meg Elison (mod), Tom Greene, Alexander Jablokov, Marissa Lingen, Graham Sleight
Fri 1:00 PM, Salon B
Darko Suvin’s preferred edition of his essay “Estrangement and Cognition,” coining the oft-repeated statement that SF is the literature of cognitive estrangement, first appeared in 1979. (Strange Horizons later reprinted it online.) It was a decade in the making, and the world and SF both changed quite a bit from 1969 to 1979. We’ll consider “Estrangement and Cognition” in the context of SF’s New Wave, the political upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s, and the subsequent shifts in speculative genres.

17776 and All That: The Crumbling of the Jock-Nerd Divide
Susan Bigelow, Keffy R.M. Kehrli, Robert Killheffer, Marissa Lingen (mod), Cecilia Tan
Fri 6:00 PM, Salon B
Jon Bois’s wild digital narrative “17776: What Football Will Look Like in the Future” appeared on SB Nation, a sports news website, and aimed straight at the commonalities of sports and SF fandoms: rules and ways around the rules, glorious absurdity, tragedy alongside heroism. The jock-nerd divide has crumbled. What does that mean for nerd lit? Will cerebral SF embrace sweaty physicality? Will epic hockey games replace epic battlefields? This panel of sports-fan fans will discuss these possibilities and more.

Reading: Marissa Lingen
Sat 11:00 AM, Salon C

You Know, It Kinda Grows on You
James Patrick Kelly (mod), Marissa Lingen, Arkady Martine, Eric Schaller, David G. Shaw
Sat 3:00 PM, Salon B
Spaceships that are giant plants, humans whose brains rival supercomputers, lizards bred to function as flying flamethrowers—these are just a few science-fictional examples of how humans might manipulate their bodies and environments to support the human race’s spread throughout the universe. This panel will examine imagined technology that lives and breathes, and how human life might change and grow alongside it.

Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist
C.S.E. Cooney, Andrea Martinez Corbin, Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen (mod), Sonya Taaffe
Sun 11:00 AM, Salon 3
Lloyd Alexander, translator of Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote an existentialist epic fantasy series. As Jesse Schotter writes on Full Stop, “The end of The High King, and Taran’s choice to remain in Prydain… salvage[s] the idea of free will within the deterministic framework of the genre.” How did existentialism influence Alexander’s other work (Time Cat, the Westmark trilogy)? What are other examples of existentialist speculative fiction epics? With the present deconstruction of prophecy-driven epics, how can writers learn from Alexander’s work?