ConFusion programming schedule

Here’s my schedule for programming items at ConFusion convention in Novi, Michigan, January 18-21:

12pm Friday Isle Royale
The Care and Feeding of Your Subject Expert

Writing science fiction and fantasy requires a ton of research. Having the internet at our fingertips makes it easier than it used to be, but sometimes we need to ask an expert. Many folks are delighted to geek out about their specialties, but we still need to do due diligence, respect their time, and make sure we’re asking the right questions. How do you find qualified experts? Do you approach them with prepared questions? When is it ethical to pick someone’s brain for free, and when should you insist on compensating your expert?

5pm Friday Isle Royale
Disaster Response in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Many SFF stories feature cataclysmic events, both natural and man-made, that rain destruction on civilian populations. We’re accustomed to seeing the camera spend a few moments “looking for the helpers” as our heroes crash through occupied buildings or drop mines on the Klingon fleet, but what about the hours and days that follow? What opportunities do science fiction and fantasy present to educate and reflect on disaster response processes in the real world?

10am Saturday Charlevoix
Pacifism in Speculative Fiction

Representations of pacifism in speculative fiction are often unsympathetic and/or unrealistic. It seems that the only way a character can be a pacifist and a hero is if they’re not a pacifist at all. Shephard Book’s pacifism in Firefly dissolves into kneecapping bad guys as soon as the plot requires it, and Charles Xavier gets called a pacifist when he funds and trains a private army. Who are our favorite real pacifists in speculative fiction, and how can speculative fiction contend with the conflict of being a pacifist in a violent world without running for the easy conclusion that pacifism is naive, selfish, and unsustainable?

4pm Saturday Charlevoix
Reading: A. T. Greenblatt, Marissa Lingen, Izzy Wasserstein

I am still taking suggestions for what to read here, but so far my favorite ideas are unpublished flash or the first chapter of one of my novels. Fitting it into a time slot with two other people means sharing well, so getting the entirety of a non-flash short story read is pretty much a non-starter.

The email I got listed me as doing autographs after that, but I find that short story writers don’t have a fabulous time at autographings, so I intend to…not. So if there’s anything you want me to sign at ConFusion, by all means accost me and I will sign it, but not in the time slot provided.

Short stories I read and liked in 2017

Well. Here it is, all of them together. I make no pretense of reading everything. I make no pretense of giving you a Top Ten; I am not David Letterman, and why should I be. What I do is like the things I like, and point at them. This is a lot, and I thought about just pointing at the composite posts from over the year, but you know what? No. Stand as you are able and be counted, stories I like. Other people can worry about their awards ballot. Everyone on this list has just won the Marissa Award of I Read That and Liked It, and when I went to put the link in I thought of it again and went ooh, oh, that one yesssss.

I am mortally certain that there were wondrous things I didn’t get to. Things that will be collected and I will say that was 2017? I didn’t read it then, how did I miss that? And that makes me so happy, knowing there is more still out there. I was perpetually book-short as a child. This feeling of abundance: it is so satisfying.

There were things by people I have known over a decade, friends who have sat in my chairs and eaten my food and drunk my drink. And that pleases me, I like it when my friends do things I like. And there were things by new friends, people I’d just met, people I met after I liked their things and said so, even. People I could greet with, oh yes, you had that thing about topic, I liked that. But what makes me even happier, in this tiny world that is folded funny that is speculative fiction publishing, is that I still don’t know all of these people. I still had not heard all of these names, not by a long shot. And that means there are all sorts of wondrous people out there making wondrous things I can’t even make a stab at anticipating yet.

Yay. Do that, wondrous people. Do that more.

What to Expect from the Large Hadron Collider as a college roommate, Betsy Aoki, Uncanny
The Old Woman Who Hands You An Apple, Betsy Aoki, Uncanny
“Lanny Boykin Rises Up Singing,” Jess Barber, Reckoning 2
The Last of the Minotaur Wives, Brooke Bolander,
Feeding Mr. Whiskers, Dawn Bonanno, Fireside
2067 Transcript of Found Audio Interview, Adrienne Maree Brown, Riverwise
Her Hands Like Ice, KT Bryski, Bracken
Search History, K. T. Bryski, Daily Science Fiction
Crown of Thorns, Octavia Cade, Clarkesworld
The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science, Octavia Cade, Shimmer
And the Village Breathes, Emily Cataneo, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips, Beth Cato, Uncanny
“The Bull Who Bars the Gate to Heaven,” Zella Christensen, Reckoning 2
Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work, Tina Connolly, Uncanny
Dire Wolf, Michael J. DeLuca, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
The Lies I’ve Told to Keep You Safe, Matt Dovey, Daily Science Fiction
Junebug’s Magical Magnificent Mercurial Barbershop, Malon Edwards, Fireside
“Rumplestiltskin,” Jane Elliott, Reckoning 2
The Robot Who Liked to Tell Tall Tales, Fei Dao, Clarkesworld
Man-Size, Gwynne Garfinkle, The Sockdolager
The Scholast in the Low Waters Kingdom, Max Gladstone,
The Last Cheng Beng Gift, Jaymee Goh, Lightspeed
“Excavate,” Melody Gordon, Fiyah Issue 4
“Barbara in the Frame,” Emmalia Harrington, Fiyah Issue 4
Prosthetic Daughter, Nin Harris, Clarkesworld
We Came Here to Make Friends, Martha Hood, The Sockdolager
A Late Quintessence, Justin Howe, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Le Lundi de la Matraque, Claire Humphrey, Strange Horizons
Regarding the Robot Raccoons Attached to the Hull of My Ship, Rachael K. Jones and Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, Diabolical Plots
Packing, T. Kingfisher
“Earthspun,” Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Reckoning 2
elemental haiku by Mary Soon Lee
The Compassion of the Pheasant Lord, Leena Likitalo, Lackington’s
“The Last Exorcist,” Danny Lore, Fiyah Issue 3
Red Bark and Ambergris, Kate Marshall, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Ruin Marble, Arkady Martine, Mithila Review
Flare, Kathryn McMahon, Ellipsis
Making Us Monsters, Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly, Uncanny
If a Bird Can Be a Ghost, Allison Mills, Apex
And Sneer of Cold Command, Premee Mohamed, The Sockdolager
The Water and the World, Premee Mohamed, Mythic Delirium
Learning to See Dragons, Sarah Monette
National Geographic on Assignment: the Unicorn Enclosure, Sarah Monette, PodCastle
The Stars That Fall, Samantha Murray, Flash Fiction Online
Stealing Tales, Mari Ness, Daily Science Fiction
Plain Jane Learns to Knit Wormholes, Wendy Nikel, Flash Fiction Online
Birth, Place, Brandon O’Brien, Uncanny
They Will Take You From You, Brandon O’Brien, Strange Horizons
The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon, Finbarr O’Reilly, Clarkesworld
The Cold, Lonely Waters, Aimee Ogden, Shimmer
That Lingering Sweetness, Tony Pi, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM, Rebecca Roanhorse, Apex
“Riley and Robot,” Arnica Ross, Fiyah Issue 4
For Now, Sideways, A. Merc Rustad, Diabolical Plots
Suddenwall, Sara Saab, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Stories We Carry on the Back of the Night, Jasper Sanchez, Mithila Review
Elemental Love, Rachel Swirsky, Uncanny
Some Remarks on the Reproductive Strategy of the Common Octopus, Bogi Takacs, Clarkesworld
A Lovesong from Frankenstein’s Monster, Ali Trotta, Uncanny
Sun, Moon, Dust, Ursula Vernon, Uncanny
“Fourth-Dimensional Tessellations of the American College Graduate,” Marie Vibbert, Reckoning 2
Twelve Pictures from a Second World War, Nghi Vo, Strange Horizons
A Burden Shared, Jo Walton,
Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand, Fran Wilde, Uncanny
The First Stop is Always the Last, John Wiswell, Flash Fiction Online
You Can Adapt to Anything, John Wiswell, Daily Science Fiction
“Cracks,” Xen, Fiyah Issue 3
Auspicium Melioris Aevi, JY Yang, Uncanny
Texts from the Ghost War, Alex Yuschik, Escape Pod

Short stories I’ve enjoyed: the end of 2017

This is not my year-end post! This is just the stuff I read and liked toward the end of the year. Year-end is still coming! Brace yourselves, kids. There’s…a lot. It’s been a good time to read short fiction.

The Old Woman Who Hands You An Apple, Betsy Aoki, Uncanny
“Lanny Boykin Rises Up Singing,” Jess Barber, Reckoning 2
The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science, Octavia Cade, Shimmer
And the Village Breathes, Emily Cataneo, Beneath Ceaseless Skies
“The Bull Who Bars the Gate to Heaven,” Zella Christensen, Reckoning 2
Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work, Tina Connolly, Uncanny
The Lies I’ve Told to Keep You Safe, Matt Dovey, Daily Science Fiction
“Rumplestiltskin,” Jane Elliott, Reckoning 2
“Excavate,” Melody Gordon, Fiyah Issue 4
“Barbara in the Frame,” Emmalia Harrington, Fiyah Issue 4
Le Lundi de la Matraque, Claire Humphrey, Strange Horizons
“Earthspun,” Krista Hoeppner Leahy, Reckoning 2
“The Last Exorcist,” Danny Lore, Fiyah Issue 3
Ruin Marble, Arkady Martine, Mithila Review
Flare, Kathryn McMahon, Ellipsis
Making Us Monsters, Sam J. Miller and Lara Elena Donnelly, Uncanny
The Water and the World, Premee Mohamed, Mythic Delirium
Learning to See Dragons, Sarah Monette
National Geographic on Assignment: the Unicorn Enclosure, Sarah Monette, PodCastle
Stealing Tales, Mari Ness, Daily Science Fiction
The Last Boat-Builder in Ballyvoloon, Finbarr O’Reilly, Clarkesworld
“Riley and Robot,” Arnica Ross, Fiyah Issue 4
Elemental Love, Rachel Swirsky, Uncanny
A Lovesong from Frankenstein’s Monster, Ali Trotta, Uncanny
“Fourth-Dimensional Tessellations of the American College Graduate,” Marie Vibbert, Reckoning 2
Twelve Pictures from a Second World War, Nghi Vo, Strange Horizons
The First Stop is Always the Last, John Wiswell, Flash Fiction Online
“Cracks,” Xen, Fiyah Issue 3
Texts from the Ghost War, Alex Yuschik, Escape Pod

Books read, late December

Sarah Gailey, The Fisher of Bones. A grim and affecting fantasy novella about the leader of a group of people on a trek across a wasted landscape. Gailey’s previous novella, with the hippos, was not exactly pure joy, but was a lot of fun. This is a different tone completely, displaying her range. It’s very dark. Very, very dark. Well done, but…brace yourself.

Tessa Gratton and Karen Lord, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11. Discussed elsewhere.

Rodney Hilton, Bond Men Made Free. The first half of this book is a history of peasant uprisings in medieval Europe, the second specifically a history of the British peasants’ revolt of 1381. As it is not a long book, both halves were interesting, but I could have done with twice as much of each. There is not a sufficiency of peasant uprising history running around, though, so we take what we can get I guess. There’s a lot of discussion of what worked and what didn’t, in which ways peasants got which rights when, how they conceived of what they were asking for and when they just flailed angrily and why, etc.

Justina Ireland, Troy L. Wiggins, et al, Fiyah Issues 3 and 4. One of the lovely things about Fiyah is that I can read it purely as a fan, not being eligible to submit. That being the case, I have no idea how their issue themes hit their authors, whether they feel inspiring or frustrating from the author side. From the reader side, I think they’re succeeding admirably at picking things that are broad enough and deep enough to give a body of work that feels united without feeling samey. The specific stories I loved best will show up in my short story recommendations post, but I’m definitely glad to have a subscription here for the next year.

Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties. Oh, these stories. I had read some of them, most I had not. And they just…unfolded beautifully, relentlessly. The title is perfect. I think the one that hit me the most, the best, started out feeling like a catalog of lovers, like a mimetic story, and…went from there into something far more speculative. But there’s so much here. This is another example of the hype I heard being absolutely worth it. I was entranced.

Peter Marshall, The Magic Circle of Rudolf II: Alchemy and Astrology in Renaissance Prague. Weird book about a weird man. A lot of this was background and biography, trying to put Rudolf II in his context in his place and time with the Habsburg family and Austria and Spain and…hoo. That era. They were in that “we are figuring stuff out!…we really don’t have stuff figured out!” era, when “maybe pour mercury on it!” was as good an idea as anybody had. “It might be a comet who knows!” Yes sure give that a look. This is not an outstanding book on the topic, but if you’re really enthusiastic about the topic, well, here we are.

Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia. This is a history of the concept of human rights, and a discussion of a) why people associate it with the 1940s, b) why the 1970s were actually an even stronger time for its rise, c) other aspects of human rights as a global concept/focus. Interesting, far more focused on those two decades than I expected, not too long and not too abstruse. Made a good case for human rights as a social minimum rather than a social maximum when figuring out a society.

Jeannette Ng, Under the Pendulum Sun. Oh, this one was lovely. It’s about missionaries to fairyland, a missionary and his sister more accurately, and it has all sorts of grounding in what missionaries actually were like and did, and also all sorts of grounding in what old fairy stories were actually like before they got prettified, and as a result there are strange and dark and terrifying things going on here, many of them human. Captivating, thoroughly recommended.

Ada Palmer, The Will to Battle. Discussed elsewhere.

Milorad Pavic, Dictionary of the Khazars. This is a Serbian novel in translation, a somewhat Ruritanian novel in encyclopedia entries. It would be another mildly interesting entry alongside the others I like of that type–I am a sucker for Ruritanian novels–except that being Serbian ends up distinguishing it extremely, because when Anglophones try to set a Ruritanian novel in that part of the world, they quite often attempt to leave out religion, or at least dash past it with a glancing blow. Pavic has no interest in that. Dictionary of the Khazars is in three sections for the three largest religions of that area, and quite often each section will have different things to say in its encyclopedia entry about a person or element of “Khazar” life. The shape of thing comes out distinctive and interesting, coming together at the end with a bang.

Molly Tanzer, Creatures of Will and Temper. I critiqued this book in draft and loved it then, so I saved the polished version for when I knew I would want something I would enjoy. This, it turns out, was prescient; nothing gets you through a six hour airline delay while recovering from multiple illnesses like a book you already know you like but haven’t gotten in quite its final form yet. This is a book of fin de siecle art world, family relationships, fencing, and diabolism. It’s fun. It’s got significance and depth and the ending goes straight to me–in ways that I can claim no credit for, because Molly had nailed it the very first time I saw it. I’ve been wanting to be able to rec this book for two years now, and here it is. Yay.

Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Michi Trotta, et al, Uncanny Magazine Issues 18 and 19. These were two very strong issues, and I had notes on which stories I really loved from them, and…those notes went wandering when I was in the process of recommending stories on Twitter. I have them for my big short story recommendation post! So it’ll be in there! Short version is: enjoyed them, glad I subscribe so I don’t miss things in passing, but it does mean that I’m less likely to read things in passing because I know I’ll get there eventually.

Deborah Weisgall, The World Before Her. This is a novel with two parallel time streams, one of which is about George Eliot adjusting to her late life marriage, the other about a sculptor in the ’80s whose marriage is not really working. The details of her art work are delightful, and both timelines actually end up working fairly well for me, although I have to confess that since I have recently read Middlemarch the main effect of this book is to make me want to read Daniel Deronda. There are worse effects for a book to have.

Emily Wilson translating Homer, The Odyssey. Yes, this is counter to my usual policy of listing the author first. But come on, we all know that it’s Homer’s Odyssey…and we all know that this translation being by Emily Wilson is immensely important and immensely specific. This just feels so clear on the page. I didn’t struggle with the Fitzgerald Homer I read in college–I don’t ever recall feeling like this was hard material–so the clarity I mean is aesthetic, like sparkly water. The focus on hospitality, the characters getting to be characters, even the slaves. This is just a joy to read. I’m so glad of it.

Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11, by Tessa Gratton and Karen Lord

Access provided by Serial Box.

We’ve reached the part of a season of Tremontaine where plot elements start to spiral very actively. A few of them are bureaucratic, but most of them are very action–violence abounds in these two episodes, and even its avoidance is active and specific. At this point in the series, getting all the regular characters appearances while the plot moves in the ways it needs to is quite a feat, but Gratton and Lord are both skilled enough with ensemble casts that it doesn’t feel contrived–even though as a writer I looked at some of what needed to happen in fairly short space and took some deep cleansing breaths. Personal favorites like Micah and her math are not getting a lot of attention here, but that’s understandable–there’s a lot to do for the plot to get to fruition.

This is basically the bit where everyone is running ahead of the rolling boulder and trying not to get crushed. Some of them are, in fact, getting crushed.

We’re also back to chocolate, so that’s a relief.

my writing in 2017

One of the things that is sort of perpetually on my list and never makes the top of my list is having my website redone. It would be nice to have my bibliography searchable by various factors–genre, subgenre, story series, etc. At the moment, I put stories on it by when I sell them, I put the links in when they go live, et voila.

Not optimally convenient for anyone, including me. I know. And at some point I will Fix This, or more likely pay a professional to Have It Fixed. Today is not that day. So today I am sorting through, and I am reminded that some things take time to see the light of day, or some things get reprinted later. Which is cool.

So here’s the new fiction I had out in 2017:

“Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” Analog, Jan/Feb 2017.
The Psittaculturist’s Lesson, Daily SF, January 2017.
Out of the Woods, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2017.
The Hand of Loki, New Myths, March 2017.
Running Safety Tips for Humans, Nature, April 2017.
Vervain, Grasshopper, Sun, Daily SF, April 2017.
“Vulture’s Nest,” Analog, May/June 2017.
“An Unearned Death,” F&SF, July/August 2017.
Across Pack Ice, a Fire, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, August 2017.
Planet of the Five Rings, Nature, September 2017.
The Influence of the Iron Range, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2017.
I Won at NaSuHeMo!, Daily SF, November 2017.
“The Shale Giants,” Reckoning 2, December 2017.

Blue Ribbon was reprinted in Lightspeed in September, which was great, because its previous publications were both print and therefore harder to get to. Yay reprint.

I also wrote an essay for the People With Disabilities Destroy SF project, Malfunctioning Space Stations. That’ll appear in the final version as well, but it was part of the Kickstarter.

My essay How Far Are We From Minneapolis? wasn’t reprinted per se, but the way Reckoning works, its initial printing is in ebook form at the end of one year, and the online form goes up in the next year. So you may not have had a chance to see it until this year; there it is.

I’m seeing ten short story sales for the year (although hey, if anyone wants to add to that…). Ten new stories written (again, that number may go up in the next week, although I am weak and exhausted in the aftermath of a cold, so I’m not pushing it hard) and a lot of revision and a large chunk of novel. I think one of the things that becomes clear the longer I go is that raw word count, sheer numbers, are not the best measure of what kind of year it’s been.

A few weeks ago I took inventory of what I had half-done, and I discovered that I had a huge pile of short stories mostly finished. Like, when I listed them longhand in beautiful ink, most of a page. That was satisfying in a sensory way, and it helped me get organized–I finished three in two weeks. But it also pointed out how choppy this year has been for me. How it has been structured to break up flow almost as well as if it had been designed that way. Which gives me some ideas about a way forward, because–I like those stories. I don’t want them to languish half-finished, three-quarters finished. I think it’s important to my process and to my anxious-trending brain not to get into a mode where I’m writing down a to-do list where I have to finish every last story I start the minute I start it, where every life event that might interrupt something requires an immediate return to exactly what I was doing before regardless of what has inspired me since. But it’s worth noticing, it’s worth trying to work around.

So…chaotic year. Rough seas this year. And yet quite a lot out of the turmoil. Quite a lot indeed, and more to come. There are a lot of cliches about creative energy coming from turmoil, but that takes a seriously non-trivial energy input. How much I’ve been able to do that this year has varied a lot. I keep fighting for it. I will keep fighting for it.

I’ll have more to say about other people’s fiction I’ve enjoyed in 2017 closer to the actual end of the year, because I spend the end of the year traveling and there’s a lot of reading I still want to get through. So stay tuned. But this is more or less the year I’ve had, and I’m good with it, under the various circumstances.

The Will to Battle, by Ada Palmer

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Further, the author is a dear friend of a dear friend.

How do you prevent the world from destroying itself? I wish there was a time in my adult life when this had felt like an irrelevant question. I can certainly see why Ada made it the central question of this series; we’re about the same age, and it has been relevant since before we showed up on the planet.

And this is a book that spends basically all its time on that question, that one question: how do we keep the planet from destroying itself or more specifically all the humans. Is war inevitable, how big a war is inevitable, how big a war is permissible if it siphons energy off that would otherwise contribute to a more catastrophic war. What kinds of violence can be permitted between groups of people and in what conditions. This is all on the page, and it’s practically the only thing on the page; there is a moment of dramatic filibuster when a character chooses to read the articles of the world constitution on the page. (While the concerns fascinate me, that part of the writing style was not my favorite.)

And unfortunately, this very passionate concern is very thoroughly based on the worldbuilding of the previous two books–on the gender politics and the religious politics, specifically, but also on the class politics–that are working less and less well for me the more I see of them. The former two elements are not nearly as foregrounded in The Will to Battle as they were in Seven Surrenders, but they are basic to the functioning of the entire narrative; it’s impossible to say, okay, but never mind that part, because that’s the world, that’s the functioning of the whole system. It’s not moderated, it’s not soft-pedaled, it’s all there, so if you had trouble with suspension of disbelief about anything previously, there really isn’t anything to change that in this volume. It depends very heavily on the previous ones for plot and characterization. This is not a good place to start.

I think the thing that makes it most curious for me is that the focus is entirely on the very, very, very most powerful people in the world. The nosebleed levels of elite, the .00001%–and no one else. “The people” are pawns, rioters, never major actors, never forces of their own–no one is going to rise from the herd, no one is unexpected outside very narrow circles. The world is the canvas of this book, but the world’s population behaves like an ocean in ways that ultimately don’t end up working very well for me. Ada commented, in an interview a few books back, that issues like bash’ formation would be delved further into in later books. I’m wondering where there will be room, with this focus in so much of the volume of pages so far. I guess we’ll see.

Please consider using our link to buy The Will to Battle from Amazon.

Books read, early December

Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman, Joel Derfner, and Karen Lord, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 7-9. Discussed elsewhere.

Ann Leckie, Provenance. I enjoyed this mightily. It had questions of identity and belonging and a spot of murder here and there, it had aliens and drones and families with complicated emotional politics interacting with larger world/worlds politics. It is set in the same universe as the Ancillary books but is a very, very different reading experience, which makes me so happy, because it feels like Ann has not let herself get pigeonholed early, hurrah, I love to see range. And I love questions of forgery and provenance and authenticity. Mooooooore.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, eds., Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue 36. This was full of stories that were beautifully done but did not individually grab me. I’m glad I read the whole issue–there wasn’t a bit of it I was sorry I read–but I’m not finding myself wanting to talk about the individual stories now that I’m done with them.

Margaret Mahy, The Haunting. Very short children’s book that is substantially about magic family politics. Barney has a very curious vision when his great-uncle dies; he and his sisters have to untangle their family history as a result. Hard to find, reasonably fun, not earthshaking. A lot of things are treated very matter-of-factly for such a short span: the kids have a stepmother they adore, one of the sisters is fat and enjoys swimming and has no time for people who try to fat-shame her, and probably several others I’m forgetting because the tone is so straightforward about human variation.

Robin McKinley, A Knot in the Grain. Reread. I think this one is somewhat stronger than A Door in the Hedge, less formulaic, more of McKinley learning to strike out on her own. The title story is interesting to me because it feels so dated and doesn’t have much of a plot and yet feels so emotionally strong that I loved reading it anyway, each time. It points out that stories are not a matter of doing the right things on a checklist, they’re a matter of hitting chords with a reader. Which we all know, and yet…having an example turn up again is never a bad thing.

Sarah Rees Brennan, In Other Lands. This book took a lot of risks, and I think only some of them paid off. The narrator was deliberately annoying–he was the sort of teenage smart kid who blunders all over other people’s emotions in an attempt to prove himself the smartest person in the room for the vast majority of the book. I think most readers will have had a high school friend who was like him (and if you can’t see who it was…). He was often a useful commentary on portal fantasy–there were lots of places where he was completely right–but he was allowed to be annoying in very realistic ways that were sometimes incredibly tedious to read about. And I think one of the reasons for that is that the deliberately annoying narrator risk got combined with another, which is: I understand that this book was originally written on tumblr, and that’s cool, it’s just that it looks to me like it did not get edited down significantly from its tumblr form. So the pacing is not tight. It rambles and saunters and meanders through the years of its characters’ schooling. There is a mermaid on the cover; the mermaids are purely hypothetical for most of the book. So are the harpies. I like a leisurely pace of book, with the right voice. I can deal with a grating voice, with the right pace of book. The combination made this one a pretty tough sell. Also–I’m having a hard time seeing how the relationship messages are going to get through to the people who need them, rather than the people like me, who are the aunts of the people who need them and see them coming from hundreds of pages off. It made me laugh in spots. I’m not sorry I read it. But what an odd set of choices, in some ways.

Rebecca Spang, Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution. Fascinating weird book about monetary policy and money as physical objects and all the stuff floating around those ideas. Lots of politics–Spang explicitly has no time for the people who think that economics can be separated out from politics–and lots of concern for what actual people were actually doing. There is a huge focus on how people made change in both senses of that: how alterations to the system were accomplished, but also how people who wanted to pay a certain amount and had large money got small money back in return, because this was a serious problem. HOLY CRUD were these people messed up. The investments they had…well. We certainly are messed up differently now! Fascinating, definitely recommended especially for SFF writers who want to look at how a time that sort of looks familiarish can be really, REALLY different in a lot of particulars.

Out of the dark days into more

It’s Santa Lucia Day again.

Around August I started saying, “2017 months are like dog years.” It’s been a long year, it’s felt like a long year, there are all sorts of things that make me blink and say, what, that was only last month, how can that be. This year has wedged a lot of dark in. A lot of people have found ways to disappoint us, and some of them were new and creative ways, but most of them weren’t. Most of them were old tired ways, the “really? this again?” ways, the ways that take a lot out of the people trying to make things better without providing anything the least bit diverting in return.

But that’s not why I’ve been saying that about dog years. No. The dog years comment keeps coming up because of my hoodlum friends. Because while some of the people I’ve been leaning on, some of the people who have been leaning on me–some of the people being ridiculous together and laughing together and trying to keep creating together and pointing at the horrible things and saying, “you see that? I see it too, let’s not stand for it” together–are old, old friends, some of them are brand new. A lot of them are brand new, actually. A startling lot. And a lot of the brand new ones are people that I specifically started liking and trusting because of their reactions to very dark things. It’s not just the year of me too, friends, although thank God it is finally that. It’s also the year of hell no.

Some of these friends are so brand new that they’ve never read a Santa Lucia Day post of mine before. How can this be, something so fundamental to me? and yet it’s true. Some of the people I honestly don’t know how I could have gotten through the last six months without have never read me talking about the saffron bread and the songs and the candles, about the ritual of light that comes not at Solstice but before it. Canonically before it, ritually before it, ritually heading into more darkness before there’s any hope of light. Some of the people who are suddenly right here in the middle of my heart making sandwich puns and jokes about dryad skulls, hey, don’t you go anywhere, you’re staying, I’m keeping you–some of those people were fine, cordial acquaintances the last time there was snow on the ground, and some complete strangers.

Well, here we are, then. Again or for the first time: this is how the year turns, this is what we do: we make the bread, we light the candles, we sing the songs. We kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. This is the work of the world, and we do it together. And when we find someone else who’s willing to do it next to us, we don’t let go.

This year there’s homemade Meyer lemon curd for on the lussekatter, because someone else likes it. I like it too. The combination is amazing, the saffron and lemon, wow. But I would never have said, “I think I’m going to make myself lemon curd, because I like it.” It’s easier for me to be good to other people sometimes. The more that’s going on, the more that’s true. And sometimes it can spill over. I will try this new patisserie because you’re meeting me there, I will read this classic of the English language I always wondered about because you’re sharing it with me, I will make this lemon curd for you and maybe keep the last of it that doesn’t fit in your container and eat it myself. And it tastes so good, and it looks so golden on this beautiful golden bread.

I haven’t lost the lessons of the past years, the long knead, the early preparation. I know how this goes. This year asked all of those things of me, and it’s going to ask more. It’s going to ask more of all of us. Because last year I knew we were still before Solstice on Lucia Day, still going into the dark of the year, but oh, friends, I didn’t know how much. This year I think I have some clue. I got some good national news with the rest of you last night while I was beginning to write this, and some bad family news. I have cried over my Christmas cards the last two days, one from my first best friend’s father writing about the loss of his wife and the letter I wrote him about her in October, one from a friend who stood up and was a voice for justice when I most needed him to be in June…and knew just how to be silly on the Christmas card. I cried. It was a good cry. I tried not to get it in the lussekatter dough. You tip your head back when you’re crying and kneading, you see, and you sing, and you keep going.

It doesn’t balance out, it coexists. It all coexists, and we’ll just have to get through it all together, good news and bad, happy crying and…not. It’s the first morning of Hanukkah this morning for some of you, as well as being my Santa Lucia Day, and maybe we can sit together, my candles with yours, my songs with yours. We need all of it. We need all of us. It’s a long haul, old friends and new, and it’s not even close to over. At least we’re doing it together.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.

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