Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 12 and 13

By Joel Derfner, Tessa Gratton, Karen Lord, and Racheline Maltese

Review access provided by Serial Box.

This is the end of the season of Tremontaine, and it’s very obvious. Some season endings are about wrapping up plot threads, some are about setting up new plot threads for the next season. This is both. This is a ton of both. There is more than one scale of fight scene here; there are personal confrontations and decisions not to confront. There are relationships, if not repaired, at least…in d├ętente.

There are deaths. Unexpected deaths. Surprises. Fencing fighting torture revenge…not so much true love. But it’s not really that kind of series. Chocolate, though. Lots and lots of true chocolate.

And something quite new in all the world of Tremontaine. Something looking up. A new direction (nudge nudge) for season 4. So that’s very interesting.

It’s not your turn, sir.

I had a really good time at ConFusion, and I am planning to go back next year. My friends are great. The programming was lovely. Yay concom. Yay ConFusion. I put that at the beginning so that you will have the context: general positive feeling, sense that the con has handled things well and is a good place to be, overall.

So let’s talk about my second panel, Disaster Response in SFF. I was moderating. A gentleman in the audience had enough of the free-flowing discussion provided by the panelists, apparently. He did not wait for Q&A or even raise his hand. He just jumped right in, interrupting the panel to lecture us with a long, hostile, rambling comment on his own theories of where this panel should go and how wrong we all were for not going there.

When we tried to address this gently but firmly, the individual was having none. He leapt into the lack-of-breach again to angrily and belligerently espouse his viewpoint. It was fairly clear that he felt that he got to direct the content of the panel, that not only did he get a voice but that he got it whenever he wanted and to the exclusion of the people who were actually on the panel, and that we were offending his sensibilities by having our panel discussion instead of the one he controlled.

At that point I had had enough and instructed him that it was time for him to let the panelists return to our discussion. With visible incredulity, he asked, “Are you cutting me off?” I told him that, as I had never called on him in the first place, I was indeed. Patrick Nielsen Hayden was one of the panelists, and he backed me up and pointed out that it was not Q&A period and not his turn to talk. This man got up and stormed out in a huff.

He went down to complain to ops about me, volubly and at length.

Meanwhile, the panel went on with some spirit, and at the end of the actual Q&A an audience member (note: not a plant!) used their turn to talk to call for a round of applause for my moderating. People kept thanking me for how I handled it. Nice of them. I note this because I was not the one who was honestly shocked at how extreme and persistent his behavior was. This was not Standard Fannish Interruption.

The same guy came into the Visions of Positive Masculinity panel to make a very similar political point. For some reason, he was able to 1) wait until the Q&A portion of the panel; 2) phrase his idea in the form of a brief and civil question; 3) not pitch a fit and storm out even though the panelists on that panel openly mocked him. The moderator of that panel has in my estimate at least six inches of height on me. He is male. All the other panelists on that panel were also male, of varying sizes and shapes. He did not complain about any of them despite the fact that they basically dismissed his idea with derisive laughter.

Okay. So. I talked to some friends, some of whom were involved with the concom/staff, and given what I was saying and what they were hearing about his behavior, they encouraged me to file an incident report. ConFusion’s ops team did everything right here. Everything. They made sure that I was seated comfortably, offered water, offered my choice of report formats (written or out loud), that I had a person with whom I was comfortable with me for the whole time, that I could discuss my statement rather than just turning it in and not knowing whether it was getting any attention. They asked after my safety and comfort and what would make me feel safe and comfortable going forward at the con.

Here’s what felt like a sea change to me. Here’s what makes me write about this: they did not minimize OR maximize response. They were proactively interested in an incident of someone being rude and disruptive. At that point I was hoping that just having the incident report on file would be enough, that not having further confrontation would allow this person to go on with his con and simmer down, focus on time with friends, other panels, etc.

That person came to the next panel I was on, Saturday morning, and the moderator (not me) was very firm about what type of questions and commentary would and would not be allowed. The disruptive man followed me out of the room after the panel. I was leaving with two male friends. He sort of lurked in the elevator lobby glaring at me and then left. He was associated with a particular fan group that must gather somewhere, but I don’t know where: I didn’t see them around con space much, and they’re visible as a group. So that allowed me to relax somewhat, knowing that this guy was off with his buddies, (I hoped) settling himself down and focusing on something else. (Turns out nope. But I hoped.)

I’m going to be careful about how I put this next part, because it’s not my story to tell: he approached someone involved with the con to complain about me again on Sunday morning. Please note that the original incident was Friday afternoon and that I did not say or do another thing related to him. But Sunday morning he felt the need to approach someone to lodge another complaint that I would not let him disrupt the Friday afternoon panel. This is the part where I feel the need to be vague: his behavior then escalated with that person. It is being handled. His continued fixation and escalation are disturbing to me, and I’m very glad that the concom/persons formally associated with the con are handling it well thus far, as well as, of course, very grateful for my friends and their support. (Oh friends. Oh, thank you, thank you, friends.)

So here’s why I’m posting this:

1. This would have been a totally different experience at many cons. I didn’t go to ConFusion ten years ago, but I expect it would have been a totally different experience at ConFusion ten years ago. There used to be a reluctance in fandom to handle anything formally. Don’t come into my mentions saying, “Not at MY con,” because you know very well it’s true, there was ALWAYS a reluctance to handle anything formally that was not a direct assault charge (and sometimes even then). “Are you sure you want to make a thing of this” was practically a mantra, and we all knew it. The difference between a convention that went into “are you really going to make us deal with this?” mode and a convention that did not want to escalate but also understood that this was in fact theirs to deal with was astonishing.

And it did not require assuming that any of the bad behaviors were definitely going to get worse at any point. I am frustrated with how often discussions of bad behavior at cons–sexual harassment or other behaviors–behave as though it’s a binary system, wherein people are cast into the outer darkness at the first peep, the first nasty glare. The only bad thing that happened to this man before his last escalation was that nobody allowed him to disrupt a panel and recenter it on his own views. That’s it. That was his negative consequence. But my positive consequence was that I knew that the convention had my back if things got worse.

Yes, I had my friends. I am so very, very grateful for my friends. But my friends and I could go on with our con without them making up a guard roster wherein I never went up to my room to drop my coat off alone, never dashed for a panel leaving one group of friends in the lobby to meet up with another in programming space. When you’ve had a bad interaction and the person from it turns up in the places he can easily find you, follows you out of them…that’s the sort of precaution your friend-group starts to assemble in a double-quick hurry.

I’ve had to be escorted everywhere for disability reasons, before I was cleared to use my cane on bad vertigo days. It comes with pitfalls. Among them: are you going to lean on your absolute closest friends for every single escort duty? If not, are the outer circle group members you’ve just met actually as trustworthy as you hope? (Answer from past experience: no. No they are not. Some of them will use this opportunity to do things to you on the theory that, hey, it’ll be better than what you’re afraid of from other people.) But even aside from that, it’s annoying. And it’s the sort of thing that adults should not have to do in a public place.

There have always been real consequences to people in my position for experiencing something like this. When you’re running an event like this, you get to choose whether there are real consequences to people in his position.

2. This was not sexual harassment. But it was gendered.

The person he approached to complain about me on Sunday was, like me, wearing some of the trappings of traditional femininity. The people who laughed in his face Friday afternoon with no complaints, no consequences to themselves? All male. All male and all masculine. And yes, I was the moderator on my panel–but he didn’t say a word about Patrick cheerfully saying, “Bye!” to him as he departed, or about Patrick backing up my moderating. There was no complaint about Patrick. It was all me.

I’ll cope with it. That’s fine. But see it for what it is.

Dealing with sexual harassment in convention spaces is hugely important. It has been hugely important for me personally. But don’t for a moment make the mistake of thinking that it is the only gendered interaction that matters. And don’t think for a moment that the dynamic would be the same if he’d decided to turn up glaring with Patrick or treat a male concom member the way he did the person on Sunday. It’s no accident he didn’t try–and so conventions need to be equally deliberate in their handling of this sort of thing. ConFusion was, and I thank them for it.

3. If our situations had been reversed, I would have had the same options as the early part of his behavior. Let me repeat that: in his position. I could have tried exactly the same things and seen what would have resulted.

Let me explain.

Let’s say that I was in the audience of a panel where the panelists were, instead of talking about how people tend to pull together in times of disaster (our actual topic of discussion, that offended him so), talking about something that offended my sensibilities to the point where I had to speak out. Let’s say I was in the audience of a panel about moderating, for example! And they were saying that women are just not capable of moderating well because we’re too weak!

I would absolutely have the option of speaking out of turn. Of not waiting for the Q&A portion of the panel to open my mouth and say, wow, you are so wrong, that could not be wrong-er. The moderator could then shut me down. And then I could take my complaint to ops and explain to them what happened, give them my side of the story, and they could decide what they felt their convention’s stance was on a moderator behaving in that fashion was.

And if the con decided that yes, that’s fine, that’s who we are as a con, I could take my woes to my friends, to the internet, etc. and explain what happened, what I said, what they said, what everyone’s position was. It’s the part where you then follow the person, attempt to intimidate the person, lodge repeated complaints about behavior that has not changed, and escalate with other people about their original behavior that really is…not an acceptable option.

This dude’s position, as near as I can describe it, was that fiction is boring if people treat each other decently. He brought that position to Disaster Relief in SFF and to Positive Visions of Masculinity. His other de facto position seemed to be that if some woman was running the panel he shouldn’t have to wait to talk, and that her making him wait his turn was intolerable enough to ruin his entire weekend and make a stab at ruining the weekends of others.

He didn’t succeed at the last part. And that was substantially because the ConFusion staff and concom did not let it. Also my friends did not let it and I did not let it. But: you have to decide for yourself what’s worth breaking the rules of discourse. You can’t be surprised if other people don’t agree with you if you don’t give them a good solid reason to agree with you. If you break the rules of discourse, you deal with the consequences of breaking those rules, even if you are in the right.

I understand that by posting about this, I risk having some people come in and argue with me, because I have used words like “angry” and “hostile” that require me to evaluate tone and behavior and allow people who were not present to decide that I must automatically be wrong. Perhaps he was not staring at me angrily when he followed me to the elevator lobby! Perhaps his face is always like that and he just had to be there! Perhaps the escalation I have not specified was utterly innocent also! (Hint: it was not.) Perhaps I am a sensitive snowflake who was utterly in the wrong and he is utterly in the right and everything would be fine if only I had not messed it up and then pointed out that it was messed up! Well. I am tired of that, and I’m not doing it any more.

I understand that some of you are very nervous that you won’t be able to read tone, either in yourself or in other people. That you will get deemed A Bad Person for reasons that you do not understand, and cast into the outer darkness thereby. Please note that that is not what happened here. If all that had happened is that this person had gotten angry and rude in my panel and stormed out–all of which, I grant, are tone readings–I would not be posting now. There were multiple escalations throughout the weekend. And still I have not declared him to be A Bad Person. Nor, you will note, have I named him to the internet. What I have done is named his behavior. More than that, I have described the excellent and supportive behavior of the convention–that latter is why I am posting in the first place.

I have a dear friend who spends a great deal of time turning backflips trying to come up with reasons why someone’s bad behavior might not be bad. Or why it might not be as bad as it seems. And I keep having to explain to him that what this means is that he is shifting the badness to other people, specifically to the people who were affected by it. That if it’s fine for someone much larger than me to complain about me doing my designated job, then follow me and glower at me, then it follows that I am being unreasonable to object to this.

We’d all like to think that conventions will handle the big dramatic cases well–the cases where police ought to be called, basically, the cases that make a harrowing story. (We’d like to think that. We’re often wrong, but let that pass.) This is not a harrowing story. It was mildly alarming, not terrifying. But I think that in some ways the edge cases are a different kind of difficult because they’re so easy to second guess. I really appreciate ConFusion’s willingness to sort this out as a case that wasn’t obvious and dramatic–as a case that could easily, if he had made different choices, have languished as a couple of incident reports from different perspectives and some eyerolling subtweets. They allowed room for everyone to make better choices from his initial bad ones, while still supporting me and making me feel safe and not making me feel like a constant burden on my friends. Having been at conventions where I had far less confidence about far worse incidents, I appreciate that more than I can say.

One more actually

That is, I have one more 2017 publication, according to the cover date on this magazine that just arrived. The Winter 2017 issue of On Spec is available for purchase, and in it is “A Lab of One’s Own,” a story I co-wrote with Alec Austin. This one was a long time coming and is related to an even older story of ours, “The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Re-Capitation,” so if you enjoyed that one, here you go!

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, Tor.com
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, Tor.com
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, Tor.com
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.