The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Review copy provided by Tor. My additional involvement will become clear when you open the book: I’m in the acknowledgments for having read an early draft and commented upon it.

The final version is even better (and not, I think, because of anything I said!). When I was done I just sat with it for a moment. (Possibly that may be the writing-induced exhaustion talking, but I prefer to think of it as art appreciation.) But that’s just general squishy feelings. What’s in this book?

Well, there are immortals of sorts. Partial immortals? Memory immortals? There are some quasi-literalizations of memory palaces in ways that are awesome. There’s also poker and new relationships and the blessed ties that bind, gag, and throw you in the metaphorical trunk of the metaphorical car. (Okay, we all know I should not be allowed near metaphors when I’m tired. And yet I keep proving it.) There is trust misplaced and trust very well placed indeed.

Also there is Las Vegas and poker, and while I have minuscule interest in either of those things, there is a magical ability possibly induced by membership in/proximity to the Scribblies, to make me care about desert stories I would otherwise yawn and depart from. (CoughEmmacough.)

I have hopes that in future Incrementalists books (see what I did there?) we will see more of the distant-past memories, more of the pivots and switches that go way back. I liked the centuries-old bits of this one, and I liked the flashes of even more; I liked the layering, where someone with thousands of years of memories will find the new ones fresher in a way analogous to how last week is fresher to me when I was 4–except the important things that happened when I was 4.

This is urban fantasy not doing the same thing as a dozen other urban fantasies. It is a fast read. It is Zelazny-influenced without leaning too hard on the First Person Asshole narration that can sink a Zelazny. It is worth your time. And hey! Look at that! It comes out in the morning.

The Spy From Atlantis: draft done, surprise!

Two weeks ago I wrote this post about brain momentum and my hope that I could bleed off some of that momentum into a novel.

That…didn’t entirely happen. I mean, I channeled that momentum into a novel. That much is clear. But…okay, look. I finished the draft of that novel, The Spy from Atlantis today. First draft, all done, there we go, book. That means that in the last month I’ve written five short stories and 2/3 of a book. This…is a personal record. (I still have two days left in that month, and the thought scares me a little.)

Early this year I got completely stuck and bogged down on this book. And I eventually wrote, “MORE BOOK GOES HERE” in the manuscript (in the place where more book went! and I was right, more book did go there!). And then I reminded myself that I was not on deadline, that there was no reason to make myself miserable writing that book right then, that I could just write something else.

So I did.

And then two weeks ago, more or less, I opened the file and wrote a thousand words like it was nothing. And I knew what other words went in it. It was just a matter of letting them out. Elise says Mike called this “finding the spigot.” I can’t explain it, but that spigot got found.

The thing is, I’m not yet sure it’s off. On Friday, when I was assessing what was left, I was pretty sure I was going to finish today. And there is a part of my brain that chimed in, “Oh good! Then we can work on [three other story ideas] on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, before things get really going for Farthing Party.”

PLS SEND HALP.

Seriously, there is stuff to do, and my wrists and back could really use a break. So…maybe an average of less than 4K a day is something to shoot for. Just a thought. The three rules I made, once it became clear that I was going to be writing this book NOW NOW NOW were:
No ruining my hands.
No ruining my health.
No ruining my relationships.

So I have done things like continuing to eat the same reasonable-or-better levels of food, continuing to work out and sleep, continuing to get together with friends and family, etc. They are good rules.

I just. It will be nice if I don’t need quite such a reminder that they are the rules for awhile here.

Still! Book! I am pleased, and I had fun. All the fun that was missing on this book earlier this year was back in abundance. Yay go book. I will revise it when I’m not in Montreal. I will let it marinate for a bit. But in the meantime: book! Yay go book!

Produce trio: cauliflower

I love cauliflower. Love love love LOVE cauliflower. I particularly love the purple kind. Also the orange, but deep, royal purple cauliflower from the farmer’s market is one of the best treats in the history of treats. For being one of my favorite veg, however, cauliflower has an ugly temper. The revenge it seeks when you ignore it for too long is epic. I have very vivid memories of one New Year’s Eve at my grandparents’…anyway. Ways to make cauliflower so that you eat it right up and avoid that fate.

1. Brassica (and stuff) salad. This is how I eat cauliflower the most. In fact, this is how I eat cauliflower at least three times a week and often more like six. This is a little thing I like to call “lunch.” I combine cauliflower florets, broccoli florets, and some other sturdy salad veg: rounds of real carrot if I’ve got some, cherry tomatoes, chunks of sweet bell pepper. I douse the whole thing in Ranch, Caesar, blue cheese, or some other creamy dressing, and top liberally with roasted non-salted pistachios. OM AND ALSO NOM.

2. Lebanese roasted cauliflower. This recipe, to be exact. We had it at the very restaurant the person mentions in Vancouver, and it was amazing, and I have successfully recreated the amazing back home. You don’t have to spice it exactly the same way each time, but the lemon-cumin-sumac combo is really nice.

3. Listen to Deb. I like cauliflower gratin and cauliflower soup from Smitten Kitchen, although I use less onion in the soup (“Use Less Onion” would be my kitchen’s motto were it not for Mark, but it is for Mark, and therefore we have to stick with “Basil Is A Vegetable”). Also I use a lot more paprika. A lot. Actually the soup is also good if you throw in mushrooms with the paprika and make it the love child of SK Cauliflower Soup and Random Hungarian Mushroom Soup. That is a great goodness. If I wasn’t going to Montreal, I’d make some for myself this week. Mmmm, paprika. (Note: whenever I say paprika, I mean real Hungarian paprika, not the food coloring they sell as American paprika. Szeged is the brand I use. Szeged is the brand most paprika lovers I know use. Mmmm, Szeged. They did not pay me to do a commercial for them, but I totally would. “When I want to get away from my Scandinavian Blonde-And-Bland Roots, I use Szeged spices….”)

Books read, early September.

W. H. Auden, Complete Works: Prose Vol. 3, 1949-1955. This is another volume of random essays and introductions, hundreds and hundreds of pages of them, and I after the first hundred pages I started thinking of it as Uncle Wystan Is Wrong About Stuff. He was also sometimes right about stuff, but honestly it was very much like reading blog posts from an uncle of whom you are fond and with whom you have a great deal in common…and who manages to get the wrong end of the stick about alllll sorts of things. But not Lord of the Rings. So that’s good. Seriously, I only recommend these volumes to die-hard Auden partisans, and apparently that’s me now. Even when he’s zany and wrong, I just love him. And he is often zany and wrong, and really, who among us would be loved if we were only loved for never being zany and wrong? But this is a lot of Auden even for me. I will want a bit of a break before I go looking for Vol. 4.

David Byrne, How Music Works. Yes, that David Byrne. I picked this book up because I had a song in my head, and I hoped that lengthy exposure to David Byrne blathering about process would dislodge it. And it did. (Whether I ever get “And She Was” out of my head is another question.) Seriously, David Byrne is such a process nerd. Some of the process nerdery in this book is only peripherally related to music, and he sort of bounces around through a lot of stuff, but that’s all right.

Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace, eds., Clarkesworld Year Four. I make a policy of not reviewing books I’m in, so I will just note: hey! This exists! I’m in it! I read the bits of it I didn’t write!

Stacy A. Cordery, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker. I would like more books about behind-the-scenes politicians, including/especially the women of Washington. Cordery doesn’t idealize ARL, but I think there are a few places where she lets her (and other people!) off too easily. Particularly ARL’s involvement with America First: Cordery seems to think that saying, “I’m not anti-Semitic, but…” deserves the response, “Oh, okay, you’re not anti-Semitic! I’m glad you cleared that up, then! Other remarks you’ve made and actions you’ve taken regarding Jewish people notwithstanding!” The fact that people of the time were saying things like, “Well, Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter couldn’t be involved with anything bad, so this group must not do anything bad!” is not what we would call solid evidence of anything except people’s attachment to TR. I feel like in different hands, ARL’s biography could easily have been a case study of the deterioration of the Progressive movement in the Republican party in a very personal nutshell, but that’s not what Cordery chose to do, and ARL was still interesting to read about.

Molly Caldwell Crosby, The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. I was hoping for a more comprehensive history of yellow fever in the US. (I would have been even happier with a more comprehensive history of yellow fever worldwide! But the title did not promise that.) Instead, Crosby grazes over much of the disease’s early history, even though it was highly influential and fascinating, and focuses on the late 19th and early 20th century. Which was also interesting! I know a great deal more about Walter Reed and early consent forms for experimental procedures than I did before. So that was good. But the focus is somewhat narrower than the title promises.

Candas Jane Dorsey, Black Wine. Reread. I think when I first read this, I didn’t realize how little servanthood and slavery are handled in fantasy. This is very much an adult precursor to what Ursula LeGuin was doing in her brilliant Annals of the Western Shore, and I mean adult in the real ways as well as the euphemistic ways.

M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf. A food writer takes on rationing and shortage in elegant funny essays. Which foods are considered standard and obvious and basic has changed so much since she wrote this, but her attitudes about balance and meals are pretty darn modern. Definitely worth the short time it takes to read.

Tom Holland, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. Well, sort of what it says on the tin, but I think I wanted more of a cultural history than this was. Still, part of the gap in my understanding has been plugged, and there were a few funny bits.

Frederik Pohl, Gateway. Reread. One thing I had forgotten from the first time I read this book (back when I was in college) is how much Pohl incorporated gay men into the fabric of this world. This book is older than I am! And by the time I read it, the fact that some people in it were gay was really not a thing–except that coming up with other examples of SF that do the same thing is not as easy as it should be if it’s “really not a thing.” The narrator is a masterful FPA point-of-view–that’s First Person Asshole, for those of you playing along at home. He thrashes. He wails. He theorizes in obnoxious ways about women and AIs and society in general. He is not a pleasant guy. But the setup is pretty darn cool, and he is a fairly well-drawn FPA.

Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures. This is a translation of a mid-century German children’s book that’s apparently considered a classic in Germany. It reminds me substantially of Selma Lagerlof–definitely influenced by The Wonderful Adventures of Nils–but very, very, very German. However, considering that it was written (though not published) in the middle of WWII, it was extremely and daringly political, including all kinds of Germans and not merely an Aryanized ideal. I wouldn’t give this to my nieces or my godkids, not because it was offensive but just because I don’t think they’d like it that much, but I might well recommend it to a children’s lit prof. If, y’know. There happened to be anyone like that reading.

Greg Rucka, Patriot Acts. This is deep in the Atticus Kodiak series. I think it’s a fun political/violent thriller, worth reading, but I wouldn’t start here. If you like Atticus, you’ll know it before this book; starting with this one will make you miss several of the important emotional cues.

Peter Seymour, ed., The West That Was: A Nostalgic Collection of Writings and Pictures Recalling the Authentic American West of a Century and More Ago. Grandpa’s. This book walked a very fine line that fascinated me. I don’t think a book about the American West would be nearly so explicitly nostalgic if it was sold today. On the other hand, this book included laudatory stories of women, African-Americans, and Native Americans, so the nostalgic sensibility went in directions I didn’t quite expect. (No Asian-Americans, however. Apparently those railroads just build themselves.) I am not at all nostalgic about the American West, so I started adding “or dead” mentally at every turn: “The West! Where the white women were strong, or dead! The white men were keen-eyed, or dead! The Native Americans of both sexes were noble, or dead! The African-American men [no women, obv] were fearless, or dead!” Seriously, it’s not a bad work of its kind, it’s just that I grew up after “cowboys and Indians” was a thing small children were encouraged to play as an idealized form.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron. A highly variable collection. Some of the stories barely functioned as stories at all, though the prose level was consistently high, while others were thoughtful and delightful. The two stand-out works for me were Garth Nix’s “A Handful of Ashes,” which dealt with class issues in an intriguing and powerful way, and Ellen Klages’s “The Education of a Witch,” which applied Klages’s usual eye for telling mid-20th century detail and the child’s perspective to the topic of the anthology with a fusion that worked beautifully.

Charles Stross, Neptune’s Brood. Did you like Debt? So did Stross! Here is some mermaid SF inspired by a combination of Debt and FTL extrapolation! Seriously, that’s what it is, with the mermaid part fairly minimal. If you don’t like mermaids, you still might like this book. If you don’t like SF, lightspeed ponderings, or debt economics, you probably won’t. Looks to me like Stross was out to prove that economic science fiction is not the dismal science fiction. Not my favorite of his, but fun.

Jean-Christophe Valtat, Aurorarama. Magical realism of the far north. The cover has an airship and a polar bear on it, and it is an accurate cover. I am so easily bought sometimes. Polar bears are enough to do the trick. I needed a wintry book, and this is one. It reminded me a bit of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but while it had plenty of darkness in it, it was not nearly so grim as that. Which for me is a good thing.

Delia’s Shadow, by Jaime Lee Moyer

Review copy provided by author. Full disclosure: author is a friend, but I did not critique or otherwise contribute to this book.

Hello, readers of the future! I got this ARC months and months ago and could not stop myself from reading it, but and I agreed that it would be a lot more useful and interesting to readers if the review came out at least a little bit close to the book, so that people who were interested would not completely forget its existence. (For clarity’s sake, she said “even if you hate it, because then at least there will be discussion,” because my friends are good eggs and value my honesty. I did not hate it! Go friends! Honesty and virtue rewarded!) But honestly I have been champing at the bit for months now, because this book is awesome, and it’s finally finally coming out this week.

So one of the things that happened in the distant mists of the past from which I am writing is that I was on a panel at Minicon about SF and Mystery, and we talked about pitfalls into which speculative mystery plots fall. One of the pitfalls that frustrates me most is when the author is putting a speculative element into a mystery but has not considered its implications–when a ghost can tell the detective whodunnit once, why more ghosts cannot be found to help with further investigations, or if a spirit can move evidence around, what prevents them from planting false evidence or removing true, or etc. One of the things that pleased me most about Delia’s Shadow is that it was clearly written by a fantasy writer. The speculative component was not thrown in after the fact: it was a fully considered part of the mystery Jaime was writing. Hooray integrated ghost mystery! The police procedural proceeded on the one side, and the historical fantasy on the other, and the two integrated neatly without clash, except amongst the characters’ worldviews, which is where it ought to have clashed.

The setting was San Francisco around the World’s Fair, after the earthquake and still showing the effects. Having lived in the Bay Area after the other big earthquake (this one was years after the 1906; mine was the Loma Prieta), I can verify that the aftereffects stick around long after the aftershocks, and I found that was handled far more realistically than some of the Bay Area books that idealize the place. It was a setting, not a love song, and I appreciated that.

Those of you who hang around these parts may find the Tuckerizations charming, or you may find them distracting. I inclined a little in the latter direction, but that was my main complaint, which is a pretty small complaint for a first novel. Highly, highly recommended.

Produce trio: eggplant

I love eggplant. Really really really. It is good in so many things! Eggplant parmesan! Eggplant in garlic sauce! Ratatouille! So many lovely things to do with eggplant! So here are some.

1. Roasted eggplant. Very simple, very good. Cut off the top, whack it in half, oil each cut side as minimally as possible (basically so as to keep it from sticking). Put in a moderate oven (that’s 350 F) for half an hour or so. Timing will vary based on the size of your eggplant. Drizzle with lemon juice, sprinkle with sea salt, eat. Yum. My brother said, “I tried that, but the insides got all slumpy.” Yes! Slumpy insides are the best! So good. This is best with small eggplants. The tiny ones will do nicely, or the round green stripey ones. The long ones are fine too. But with the great big ones, the most common ones to find in American supermarkets, you get a lot of slumpy per unit slightly-crispy skin.

2. Eggplant dips. This is best with large eggplants for exactly the reason above: lot of slumpy per unit slightly-crispy skin. You may have to roast them a few minutes longer, but roast as above. Then scoop out the insides and mash them up with a fork. Then add the spicing you like: olive oil and roasted garlic is nice, or lime juice and chopped cilantro. I’m going to try sage butter today and let you know, but I hardly see how it could go wrong, because sage butter makes everything better. (Edited to add: I am right, sage butter does make everything better. It was lovely.) A variation on the roasted garlic version, with tahini and lemon juice, makes baba ghanouj, and that’s a lovely thing to do, but if you don’t have tahini, you can still have good eggplant dip. This is good for chips or crackers or as a sandwich spread base or what have you. For example you could spread the lime and cilantro eggplant dip on a good baguette and then top it with slices of avocado and sweet bell pepper and a soft white cheese.

(I saw a recipe that advised that you cut the eggplant into cubes to roast it. I do not recommend this for eggplant dip. It is a perfectly fine way to get your roasted eggplant fix from a big eggplant, but the cubes will form edges that do not want to be mashed with a fork nor with a food processor nor noffing. At least mine did. They were perfectly nice roasted eggplant cubes, but what I wanted was the tangy limey dip stuff.)

3. Fried green eggplants. This is a recent invention of Timprov’s. He takes a tablespoon or so of bacon grease, although if we hadn’t made any bacon lately I daresay it would work with other fats. He slices up the lovely little round green stripey eggplants into fairly thin slices but not paper thin, and he fries them up in the bacon grease. Then he tops steaks with them. This is good. I am a person who needs something else on a steak to make it tasty (I’m anemic and the worst carnivore ever, basically), and we are out of dates at the moment, but fried green eggplants are at least as good as sauteed mushrooms. Possibly better.

I also like moussaka, but I make it differently every time, so I have a hard time telling you how to do it from that. Oh, and I also like roasted eggplants tossed with rice vinegar and peanut oil and chopped cilantro and roasted peanuts and halved cherry tomatoes and the tiniest dash of chili oil. That’s good stuff. That’s another thing you want little eggplants for.

I do like the big eggplants, but the little ones are so handy.

Brain momentum

For the last two weeks, my brain has been stuck in “on.” I’ve said elsewhere on social media that I’ve written five stories in that time, and that’s true, and I am not sorry for the existence of those five stories. I have also done revisions on various things and worked on projects still in progress. And that’s just on the writing front.

I really enjoy the feeling that I have a hold on things, that I know how to make a story do what it needs to do. I really do not enjoy the feeling that my brain is going to be twitchy until I actually get the words out get them out get them oooooout. I don’t enjoy writing-induced insomnia, and worse, it’s pretty bad for me. And this is one of the places where I feel like the dominant culture of SFF writers online makes things harder, not easier.

Because I have friends–actual personal friends, people I have invited into my home, people who know details of my health situation–who have to have the downside of obsessive writing behavior explained to them every time. Who go into the same mode that upset me with some of the girls I knew in high school: “Oh, you look so good in that, I hate you.” You wrote so much, I hate you. Whenever anybody comes out and says to me that they hate me, I tend to reply in a very quiet voice, “I’m not feeling so fond of you right now either.” I never got accustomed to that kind of “friendly” hostility, and I don’t really want to. We’ve all got different styles of working, and all of those have ups and downs, and I don’t really think we should have a problem acknowledging that.

I’m hoping that I managed to dump the brain momentum into a novel. Or two novels, I don’t really care at this point, honestly. But novels are not things I can hold in every prose detail in my head all at once, so they are less likely to hit the brain chains that take forever to die down and leave me exhausted and short on cope. Also I like novels. So the fact that I sat down and wrote a thousand words on a novel that had previously stalled out, and before that another thousand words on a novel I haven’t even tried starting–that sounds hopeful. If I can keep productivity slightly elevated but stop it from interfering with things I need like sleep, that would be really a lot better. If I just go back to regular levels of productivity, I could cope with that too.

I really am glad of the five stories. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I am feeling the negative side of that behavior pretty strongly right about now.

Other people saying smart stuff about the orchestra

If you care about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, you should probably be reading Emily anyway, but here’s a really good one. Her incredulous rage is my incredulous rage. Other letters are worthwhile, too.

In the last week, the Orchestra Board has openly declared their willingness to treat us as commodities. I don’t mean “us,” the orchestra patrons, although honestly I don’t doubt that we’re pretty fungible in their minds too. I mean us, people who work in the arts. Artists. (I get a little squirmy about declaring myself an artist. But muttering things like “I tell lies to strangers for money” only gets you so far.) Anyone who’s an avid reader or a fan of music or the visual arts or dance or–hell, anyone who watches television–we all know that these things are not like cans of Campbell’s soup. Not even the extra-fancy super-chunky cans. You may like my short stories and Alec’s short stories, or mine and Bear’s, or any of a number of other combinations, but everybody knows that liking both does not mean that they’re interchangeable.

I’m sure the Minnesota Orchestra could get some young, desperate musicians. It could even get immaculately trained young, desperate musicians. And the thing is, sometimes young musicians are the right answer–the Orchestra needs a range of ages not to fall into a variety of problems. But leaning heavily on the young and desperate–the people who need some orchestra job to pay off their conservatory loans–is not going to get you the same quality as focusing on the best. It’s not going to get you Burt Hara. It’s not going to get you Douglas Wright. It’s not going to get you Wendy Williams. I play the flute. If you want to hear a demonstration of what you’re paying Wendy Williams for, you can have me as a flutist for the Orchestra for a weekend. I promise, nobody will ask for me back.

I’m really afraid at this point that even if some kind of official settlement is reached, the musicians are going to have to look for better options as soon as they can find them. And I mean that: have to. I would. I would advise them to, unless we can get this Orchestra Board changed. I will be sad and in some cases devastated to see them go, but I work in the arts, too, and I have seen what happens to people whose publishers do not value them. It’s not pretty. I cannot recommend it. If we do get a settlement–which became even less likely the minute they started treating Osmo like he was a can of tunafish or a pair of sneakers–the first priority has to be ousting this board. Because they don’t have a plan, they don’t have a clue, and their attitude towards the musicians is scary and toxic.

This is not a difference of attitudes on one contract. This is a difference of attitudes on the value of art and artists.

I provided the flora and fauna, Alec provided the weaponization.

Today at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Alec and I have a new story for you: “On the Weaponization of Flora and Fauna”. It’s got colonialism and rare birds and the risk of being turned to stone by the imperial basilisk. I’m pretty pleased with this one–it’s one of my favorite things Alec and I have written together–so I hope you like it too.

Produce trio: things I can’t get

So when I started doing my produce trio entries, I asked what you guys would like to see in this project. And for many of the items, I’ll get there. But. We are closing in on the end of farmer’s market season, and there are several things on the list that I have not seen at our farmer’s market or Byerly’s. And part of the point of this is that I would tell you things that I have verified that I think are good, not just things that sound nifty. (And a good thing, too, because there was at least one thing for the upcoming eggplant post where I thought I had a viable technique and had to go back and adjust. Anyway.)

So! Here are the things that I can’t get. If you want to share ideas for preparation/recipes in the comments section (either on marissalingen.com or on lj, I don’t care which), please have at it. The requested items are:
Currants
Elderberries
Gooseberries

Go.