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The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

In the last 3/4 of The Goblin Emperor, I caught myself making excuses to get up and do other things. Sort the laundry, write an email, get another glass of water. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, not because I didn’t want to see how it ended, but because I knew that when it was over, it would be over. And I didn’t want it to be over quite yet. I wasn’t ready to be done yet. The Goblin Emperor is, as its author indicated in Q&A yesterday, a stand-alone. So it’s not just “it’s over, until the next book in the trilogy, which is scheduled for October,” or, “it’s over, until the sequel which is due next year if all goes well.” It’s, well, over.

And, I mean, this is great, because there is the whole story, no waiting. There is no biting your nails through another volume or three or twelve wondering if the whole thing will fall apart (it doesn’t) or turn out to have a point after all (it does). All your cynical horrible friends–you know you have them–we love our cynical horrible friends–can be presented with this volume with full assurances that this is the whole story, no cliffhangers, no to-be-continued, no chance of bloating into a thirty-volume epic. Beginning, middle, end, airship crashes, court politics, astronomy, all right here. Airship crashes! Court politics! Astronomy! These are the things Mrissas like best! Also architectural proposals and people tripping over things they assume other people will know (but do not) (in mutual directions) and more court politics! And layers of etiquette and loyalty and more court politics!

But I want more goblins, she whined ungratefully. And more steppe nomads. And more elves would do, but really: goblins and steppe nomads, this is what I want. Not in this book, I hasten to add. This book had the proper proportion of these things.

This is a fantasy novel, and will get labeled with fantasy court politics and steampunk tags–and rightly so, I think, although some of the things I find most annoying about steampunk are absent–I think the group who might miss out and should hear about it is people who love Cherryh’s atevi books. There is even tea (albeit more pleasantly, in samovars), there are very interesting servant and bodyguard characters, there is attention to logistics, there is intercultural diplomacy, there are pieces where people think they understand just when they do not and things go awry…it’s not the likeliest “if you like this, you should try that,” but it seemed worth mentioning.

One of the things I’ve seen in a few other reviews that also seems worth mentioning: Maia, the main character, is very concerned with treating others well. My father once told me that our parents are patterns for us whether we like it or not, but we get to choose whether they are positive or negative patterns, whether we follow their lead or make sure we don’t do whatever-it-is, large or small scale, as they did. And Maia is a character who is living that, sometimes with his literal parents and sometimes with other figures who have passed in and out of his young life in parental surrogate roles. But the thing I said in the comments section of my Gilman review, about how I can deal with all sorts of darkness if people are kind to each other: Maia is kind. He does his best to be. Even without airship crashes and court politics, that would have been worth a lot to me.

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Q&A from Katherine Addison

This weekend we have a Q&A from Katherine Addison, who is not very secretly Sarah Monette, friend to this blog and author of The Goblin Emperor, which comes out on Tuesday. So basically, if you order it now, it won’t be like pre-ordering, it’ll just be like ordering. I’m in the middle of reading my advance copy now, and I figured it’d make more sense to have the questions I asked before reading up before the thoughts I had after reading, so here we go!

1. Would you characterize The Goblin Emperor as a noir novel or a clair novel? Or some of each, or neither? (As of the writing of these questions I have not yet read it.)

It’s some of both, I think, but it’s definitely more clair than the Doctrine of Labyrinths.

2. Katherine Addison is an open pseudonym. Did the book start as a project for that pseudonym? If so, did it feel different working under another name? What changed?

No, I had a complete (or nearly complete) draft of The Goblin Emperor when I signed the contract with Tor. It was always going to be the next book I published. I don’t divide my writing into “Sarah” and “Katherine.” It’s all just me.

3. If there was to be a line of perfumes for _The Goblin Emperor_, what scents would you want in it?

Elvish scents should be cold and crisp and bright, goblin scents darker and warmer and just a smidgen more ruthless. The Nazhmorhathveras use a lot of sandalwood (which is my personal favorite scent).

4. You have talked about The Goblin Emperor on your blog as a standalone. Is that still planned to be the case? Do you have other things you might want to do with these characters or with this world, or are you moving on to other horizons? Or do you know yet?

I don’t entirely know yet. This story is complete as it stands, so there won’t be any direct sequels, but there are a couple of ideas drifting around my head that could become novels set in the same world and with some of the same characters. And I don’t want to say any more because I’m paranoid about jinxing myself.

5. You’ve written fantasies with trains, airships, and other steampunk trappings. Is there a line of modernity past which things stop being fun for you, or do the gadgets make it all the more enjoyable?

I don’t see any reason there should be a line in the sand. One of the stories collected in Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home is science fiction magical realism, and I am intensely fond of it. (“No Man’s Land,” for those who are interested.) And if we can imagine a world in which magic exists, there’s no reason not to imagine a world in which magic and computers exist.

6. Tell us about the inspirational powers of sock elephants.

The past three years have been hard for a variety of reasons, some of them physical and some of them professional, and I have found myself trapped in a sort of rut–or maybe a pit–of not being able to write, and then when I do write something, being utterly paralyzed by the nasty little voice in the back of my head that says, “No one wants to read that. Why are you even bothering?” You scrabble at the walls of the pit, and then you slide back down to the bottom.

So the sock elephant (whose history is
here) is a concretization of the idea that if I write something, someone will want to read it. No matter how ugly you are, someone will fall in love with you.

That nasty little voice is a liar. My sock elephant says so.

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The Revolutions, by Felix Gilman

Review copy provided by Tor.

There is a line about 2/3 of the way through this book: “One could glimpse horror in a can of soup.” And I read it, and I thought, well, you could, that’s clear enough.

This is a stand-alone, not going along with the Gun and the Line books, and yet like those it is just about as far out on the edge of dark fantasy with a drumbeat of dark dark gloom despair woe woe gloom despair as I have any patience for. Most of Gilman’s characters do not have very functional relationships with each other. There is a bit of the middle where the really quite sensible option would have been for the people who are romantically involved to break up with each other, and I honestly can’t tell you why they didn’t. (Because it would have messed up the plot. But other than that.)

I kept reading this book. Gilman’s prose is readable, very readable. On the sentence level, I can always go on with him. And I always think, “Well, maybe this time–” And then no. Not this time. Not any time. No no no no. This one is about late nineteenth century Britain and its fantasmagorical notions of the spheres, Mars in particular but all of them really–and I am interested in that. I am interested in the ways that fantasy can take that on, can take that different places than the world did. Secret societies, secret computing machines and their alternate results, this is of interest to me! But then the drumbeat of Felix Gilman ground it into muck, as he always does, because that’s how he thinks books go.

I really need to remember this. Some of you like that sort of thing, and more power to you; he does it quite well, and here is where you can find it.

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Last week I was watching yet another murder mystery on television with my workout–really, on any given day, it’s a good bet that I will be watching at least one murder mystery on television with my workout, sometimes two depending on how long they are–and this time it featured a character who had been seriously injured and could not walk. And whenever I see that, I wince, because I know that they’re more than 50% likely to do dodgy PT/OT on screen, and in fact they did.

See, on TV, PT and OT are the same thing. Here is what they both consist of: there are the two parallel bars at armpit height, and the person who cannot walk is supposed to walk between them, and the PT/OT/random relative of the person who cannot walk yells at them to walk. And mostly they eventually do. Isn’t that easy? Isn’t that great? Why can’t everybody walk unassisted by now! How straightforward it all is! And why do people bother to go to school to learn to do PT or OT when anyone–the janitor, the hospital administrator, in fact the random relative of the person who cannot walk–could quite easily do this task?


And I know that the actors who play these characters who cannot walk are usually themselves able-bodied. But the PT/OT characters never do anything like, for example, making sure the characters they are supposed to be helping are stepping down on the correct part of their foot, by which I mean the bottom. I know that gait problems are one of the things the able-bodied can see when they watch someone with assistive devices walking, but they’re also one of the things that therapy will be working to correct, and they don’t show up out of nowhere. “I was in a car accident, and now I walk on the sides of my feet for no reason!” No, and also no. There’s a reason you don’t see people with visible gait problems walking around without assistive devices very often: incurable gait problems make it very hard to walk without them. So if you’re aiming for unassisted walking, you’re going to try to correct the gait if at all possible. A therapist worth their salt will notice that you are setting your feet down sideways and will stop you and work to correct it. They may remove you from the Parallel Bars of Doom and set you to doing different exercises somewhere else.

But that can’t be right, because being shouted at to walk is the only therapy anyone who cannot walk needs, right?

Another thing that never happens: nobody on TV ever needs to be told to slow down and take a rest, because we always need to be yelled at to do more and try harder. So no physical therapist ever says, “You’re not doing yourself any more good here, you’re just wearing yourself out.” Even though in people close to me alone, I can think of four physical therapy examples where the therapist said, “Now for heaven’s sake don’t do more than X amount, because it won’t help and might hurt you.” But on TV, no. Never.

(Yes, I know that sometimes you do PT and are told to just do it for as much as you can stand, until you drop, etc. It’s just that this is the only mode I see represented on TV.)

This is just sloppy, and I’m very tired of it. Physical therapy and occupational therapy are not the same thing, and between them they cover all kinds of activities to rehabilitate all kinds of body systems. If you’re someone who writes fiction, please think about portraying something different for your PT or OT. If you don’t know what that might include, do some research. There are physical therapists and occupational therapists and lots and lots of people who have been through one or both, and I bet you can easily find boatloads of us who are willing to talk about our experiences and the details that do not involve walking on the sides of your feet between two bars and being yelled at.

Oh, wait. I’m being unfair. Sometimes people who can’t walk also get to go swimming for their PT/OT. Nothing much happens there except they go swimming. Well. I take it all back, then. I was very, very wrong.

Seriously, if you have some examples of PT/OT on TV done better than this, please recommend them to me in the comments.

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The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent, by Marie Brennan

Review copy provided by author, who is also a personal friend under another name.

The Victorian naturalist’s memoir is in my opinion an untapped gold mine for fabulists, and Marie Brennan does the genre well. I would love to see more of this sort of thing in fantasy: the secondary world, the functioning and creatures not the same as ours, but treated with the same attitudes and approach as in that era of our history. Or an earlier one: a Linnaeus of a fantasy land would be like catnip to me.

Lady Isabella returns here from her adventures in A Natural History of Dragons, which volume I think would be helpful but not necessary to appreciating the events of the current one. In this installment, she has come through early widowhood, pregnancy, and her son’s infancy, is now a published naturalist, and is ready to face new challenges with new companions, all of whom come with challenges of their own (none of which are allowed to overtake the story’s momentum). The set of dragons and near-dragons this particular expedition is investigating is located in a jungle known as the Green Hell, on a continent seemingly inspired by our world’s Africa. Unlike most fantasy scenarios, this inspiration involves awareness that African cultures are far from being monolithic. There are three imagined Erigan cultures in this volume alone, and our heroine, while being far from a modern enlightened thinker at points, has some level of exasperation for her own compatriots for treating the continent as a monolith. It’s a fine line to walk, taking inspiration from a colonialist era, and I think Brennan does it extremely well, especially with a later ceremony that would be a major plot spoiler.

The thoughts on colonialism are mostly a background process. The foreground is adventures with dragons and their investigation, with progress towards a more modern scientific attitude juxtaposed with (literally) high-flying feats. No one becomes a dragon rider here. They don’t have to. There are plenty of life cycles, breeding grounds, and fanged things sinking their teeth in at inopportune moments without anyone having to stick an apostrophe in their name for fun. Highly recommended.

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This One Summer, by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is more or less the exact opposite of The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, as far as graphic novels for young people go, and it’s sort of amusing that the two arrived in one package. This One Summer is a moody coming of age story about a young girl and her family and friends, about the ways that she finds that the people she admires and the people she is mad at sometimes need to switch places for awhile, and that she doesn’t know quite everything she thinks she knows.

Rose and her parents come to the same cabin every year, and she’s friends with a younger girl there, Windy. I think that one of the things I like best about This One Summer is the way that it depicts the tension in Rose and Windy’s friendship, as Rose has gotten a little bit older and more sophisticated than Windy, and yet not quite as much older and more sophisticated as she hopes. Those delicate cusp moments are difficult to get across in a few drawings and lines of dialog, and the Tamakis pull it off perfectly. And Rose and Windy are in turn not quite old enough to be part of the circle of teenagers around the cabins–they’re on the outside looking in, and they don’t understand all of what they’re looking at, and the ways they try to make sense of it all can sometimes be self-serving, and sometimes cruel, but ultimately neither.

The same is true of Rose’s relationship with her parents: she has been dragged into their issues and did not ask to be, and she is not always perfectly understanding of that, as who could expect her to be. She is prickly and frustrated and herself, but ultimately she has a sense of who they are as a family, and who their family is to the world, that shines through.

This is very much a relationship book. The plot is quiet, though the girls are often not. While I frequently complain that there isn’t enough story in graphic novels, there’s as much story here as in many a YA novel with the same number of pages. The expressive faces and body language account for a great deal and carry through mute hurt and joy and much more.

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The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza, by James Kochalka (and a few other things)

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

You know how I said that Zita the Spacegirl could be enjoyed by all ages? The Glorkian Warrior…is not so much all ages humor. If you think peanut butter-clam pizza is funny, then this will probably be about your speed. It is silly, it is extremely silly, it is sillier than that. It has a Super Backpack who is the voice of reason–the Super Backpack Super-Ego, if you will. It is entirely possible that my seven-year-old goddaughter will be too mature for this book. I feel sure that it has an audience, because this kind of alien goofy banana joke humor always has an audience, but it’s the kind of audience that likes Gonk-goes-bonk jokes.

Ah, but! If you are looking for something for a small relative who has that sort of sense of humor, and you don’t want it to be toilet humor, this is not generally scatalogical. It’s very silly, and it’s sometimes gross, but the places where it’s gross are neither sexual nor scatalogical, so you can go forward with it, confident that the parent will not kill you for teaching the kid new poop jokes.

I read this very short graphic novel in something like ten minutes flat after sending my agent the latest draft of my latest novel and doing the page proofs for my latest Analog story with my latest writing Alec–wait, no, same Alec I’ve always written with. I just got caught up in all the latests. I also read my latest (arrrrgh! but it’s a good latest along with all the other good latests in this paragraph) story in the latest (I CANNOT STOP) issue of On Spec, also collaborative with Alec. This one is “The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Re-Capitation,” and we’re pretty pleased. You can get it from the nice folks at On Spec, I expect.

Anyway, after all those latests, I am feeling a bit like a puppet with cut strings, so a very silly, very short graphic novel was much more what I was up for than the large and heavy biography I was otherwise in the middle of reading. More when I can. Stay warm; that’s my big goal tonight.

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Books read, early March

Joseph Barry, Infamous Woman: The Life of George Sand. Lots of scandalous nineteenth century gossip to be had in this, and various artists wandering in and out and having their own way in various aspects of their lives, and being shoved into corners by illness and revolution and financial concerns. Interesting stuff. Recommended.

danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. A lot of what’s in here is stuff I already knew, but I strongly suspect that I am not boyd’s main target audience here. I think the main message is not “there’s nothing to be afraid of” so much as “most people seem to be afraid of the wrong stuff.” Also, holy crud do we need more genuine cross-generational public spaces. Also, people seem to believe things that are patently untrue, such as “I wouldn’t let my [sixteen-year-old] kid talk to strangers in person, so I’m just carrying that onto the internet.” Culturally we require kids of that age to talk to strangers all the time; what people who say that seem to mean is that they don’t expect their teenagers to have adult friends of their own with common interests apart from the parents. Because if a 16-year-old refused to speak to classmates they hadn’t been formally introduced to by their parents, or to the clerk at the grocery store? it would be considered rude and weird. And most 18-year-olds are dumped off and expected to live and construct entire social lives with strangers. But “I don’t let my kid talk to strangers” is one of those things that sounds like it’s probably true, so people are allowed to say it without having someone challenge them on what a dumb thing it is to say about a person who is allowed to operate a motor vehicle. Or even a bicycle.

Cathy Marie Buchanan, The Painted Girls. An historical novel about young Paris Opera dancers and their lives, dealing with what the impressions and views of artists such as Zola and Degas and the less savory characters around them would do to the impoverished women who were their object. In spite of that not at all uplifting theme, it has moments of great sweetness and beauty, and the women in question manage to claw out their own realistic happy ending despite their appalling circumstances. If you want the romance of the ballet, this is so not for you. I ended up entranced.

Mike Carey, The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underworld. The worst Mike Carey thing I have ever read. Tedious, zombieful, wallowing in non-shocking attempts at gross-outs and shock-turns. I have not quit reading the series based on this volume but have started considering whether I will soon.

J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City. This is one of those books that as a writer I was glad I read when I did, because it bore extremely superficial similarities to an idea I was playing with, so now I can change a few details so that the deep differences will be clear and not obscured by superficial similarities. Hurrah timing! It was pacey and enjoyable, although I did wish that the historical Portuguese setting had been, well, more Portuguese. There was very little that was individually Portuguese about it, so I hope she can do more with that in future works. Still, even without much historical Portugal, murderous magic, selkies, and merfolk: want that? This is that.

Megan Crewe, The Worlds We Make. A mostly fitting end to this trilogy. It zipped right past, hitting the logistics strengths of the series hard (YAY LOGISTICS), and while the very ending was slightly not…hrmmm…hard-nosed? enough for me, it certainly made gestures in that direction considering that this was in fact YA. I will be eager to see what Crewe does next.

M. J. Engh, Wheel of the Winds. Did you ever say to yourself, “If only I had some Jack Vance to read without the sexism”? Worry not, here is this book. It is a planetary navigation adventure. Also, M. J. Engh thought very thoroughly about what it would take to have this kind of adventure with a mid-sized dog. This book very thoroughly understands not only where that kind of dog can be a useful companion but also where allowances must be made for the dog and where special accommodations must be arranged. The dog is not a prop that can be stuffed in the bag of holding. This seems like a small thing, and yet: dogs. Really.

Judith Flanders, The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. I am so fond of Judith Flanders, when I opened this book as a present from Mark, I blurted out, “Oh! Judith Flanders! She’s my favorite Victorianist who wasn’t in our wedding!” She lived up to that expectation here, going into murder ballads and broadsheets and sets of dolls, how murders were covered and how they were prosecuted, what expectations of evidence were and how people perceived the possibilities of the world around them. Well done, hurrah, more please.

John M. Ford, The Final Reflection. Reread. Interesting to read in proximity to some of Mike’s other stuff. It’s been awhile since I revisited this one, and the other thing it’s interesting to have in proximity to it is late season ST:DS9, which we are slowly rewatching as a household. They decided to go a completely different direction with Klingon culture, which makes me a little sad: this is the best Star Trek novel, and Mike’s Klingons really were much cooler. Ah well.

Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. Discussed elsewhere.

Karen Lord, Redemption in Indigo. I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, ever since I read The Best of All Possible Worlds. It’s less polished and less balanced than her excellent later work, a completely different style of book, but still interesting, a fantasy of consequences, with African (specifically Senegalese) roots we don’t see often enough in fantasy. Well done, worth pursuing even if we didn’t know that Lord had gotten even better since (which in my opinion we do).

Mary Renault, The Friendly Young Ladies. I think this is the last Mary Renault I will try. I think me and Mary Renault are just not meant to be. There were five major characters in this book, three of them interesting. The other two got the most page time, and they got almost no character arc whatsoever, just an entire book of flatness. Someone does indeed deserve to get abandoned in this book, and someone does indeed deserve a sock in the jaw, and it is not the characters who received those fates. I understand that there are all sorts of things she could not do because of the censors of the time. But choosing to get around that by using a clueless protag who never does get any kind of clue…is not really a very sympathetic choice for me. And the ending, oh good heavens the ending. And then her notes about the ending later, arrrrgh. So: no more Mary Renault for me, I think, thank you, no; understanding why she did things in context does not translate to enjoying her doing them, even if Leo and Helen and Joe were all lovely and characters I would gladly have spent more time with.

Marie Rutkoski, The Shadow Society. Much more romance balance on this one than I am used to in my fantasy, but handled in a way that was not too visual for my tastes (my usual complaint about romance is not the love but the visual focus). The relationship between very different talented young people from very different parallel Chicagos is the center, but the worldbuilding is crucial to the ups and downs of their relationship–and the rest of the plot. All the good things that people say about blending fantasy and romance apply here. Also the positive foster parent relationship, the good friendships, and other factors made it a fun read.

Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill. This book looks like it’s doing two more typical things than what it settles into actually doing. The first is a battlefield military SF novel. The second is a Groundhog’s Day type time loop narrative. And then it goes on to do something more interesting than either one with the time loops. It’s very short, it’s very punchy, and if you don’t mind the violence that comes with a military setting (especially when it’s divorced from the baggage of a lot of American MilSF), it’s a lot of fun.

Janet D. Spector, What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village. This is a classic example of the Book of How Everyone Else Is Wrong. In this case it really does look like everyone else was wrong, and quite badly, too. One of Spector’s advantages seems to be that she worked with the local Dakota instead of ignoring them (this seems basic, and yet); another was cataloging organic material and handmade material, not just metal objects purchased from white settlers (again, obvious, right? and yet), and she did some reinterpretation that was very interesting and quite logical. This is very local to me–as in, I could get to her specific dig sites with very little more direction than what is provided in the book, could picture them easily–but I think it would be interesting to those who are not from this area also.

Jonathan Strahan, ed., Fearsome Journeys. Is there anything better than reading someone you like doing the thing you like them doing? Absolutely, and that’s reading someone you like doing something new. I got two of those in this volume, one from Scott Lynch and one from Ellen Klages. I also got stand-out stories from Elizabeth Bear and Daniel Abraham, whose novels are less unitary and who therefore have less of a “their thing” to deviate from. This is in the upper ranks of fantasy anthologies I’ve read in this decade, possibly the best–I haven’t sat down to do a total ordering, since that’s not my scene. But as fantasy anthologies go, it’s definitely worth the time.

E. P. Thompson, William Morris. Oh, E. P. Thompson, how I love you. Oh, William Morris, also with the love. This is a big thumping biography, and Thompson has the necessary background in poetry and also the necessary background in English socialists (Marxist and non-) to give context to the whole messy thing. And Morris was the Pre-Raphaelite who would get in there and dye stuff himself, and Morris was the one who would get in there and do the lead lines for the stained glass and figure out the exact colors when Rosetti had just tossed him a pencil sketch of roughly how something should look–oh, I did not come out of this a greater fan of Rosetti at all–and really, he was such a tinkery nerd. So fond, so fond. And I was even more fond because Thompson would make no bones about the parts of Morris’s work that were complete crap–he was a biographer who was clearly fond of his subject, but not at all reverent, he would just dive right in and say, “Despite Rosetti’s enthusiasm for Morris’s latest work at the time, this poem had no visible virtues,” or something like that, and you’d go and find it online and read it and go, oh, ugh, Uncle Will, what a thing to write, go and dye something, you’ll feel better after. It was so lovely. Towards the end it got to be a really diffuse accounting of English socialism of the period more than a biography of William Morris per se, but you can sympathize with that, given that Thompson was who he was and Morris was who he was. It was an awfully tempting rabbit to go running after. Anyway I highly recommend this if you are even remotely interested. And if you are not, then I will do the interpretive dance of Janey Morris and George Bernard Shaw and the blackberry pudding for you, and that’s almost as good.

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Shirleen Smith, People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwitch’in Elders. The two different spellings of the group name are there on the cover, so I have replicated them faithfully, knowing well the problems of transliteration. These are people of the far north who are not Inuit, telling some of their own stories, with photos illustrating the lands where they live. Quite useful for filling in gaps in perception about the peoples of the far north.

Stanley Weintraub, Beardsley. Biography of Aubrey Beardsley. Does what it says on the tin, does not do a great deal more than that, except that the accompanying illustrations gave me a much more solid reminder of what stuff is Beardsley-influenced. (A lot. Really a lot.)

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What mid-March is, threaded through

We have all sorts of things going on, tasks and chores and ideas, attempts at healing and social things, worries and relief. And threaded over and under and around and through it is the fact that we are coming up on the fifth anniversary of my grandpa’s death. Like his mother before him, he died on March 16, cementing the next day’s St. Patrick’s Day associations for me pretty permanently. Maybe there’ll come a time when I don’t think of it, but I kind of doubt that. On the day he died, I was so glad and so grateful to have a loved one cooking corned beef and cabbage for us because it was hot food made with love, but now the association is so strong I hope I never eat it again.

I brought all his books home and cataloged them and stacked them up, and I have been reading through them. Some of them I bounce off, some I read through, and you see them in my book post. There were hundreds. Now there are less than twenty. When I realized the five-year anniversary was coming, I was grateful that there were not fewer, because I will soon be done reading Grandpa’s books, and if there had been two or three, if there had been only a handful, it might have felt like the right thing to try to finish on the anniversary, and I think that would have been wrong. I think that would have been too much synchronicity to bear, and yet it would have been hard to resist that kind of narrative pull. So I will just keep at it steadily, and I will finish reading them when I finish reading them. The universe is full of ragged ends and things that don’t come out evenly, and that is better than okay, it is good. The tidy packages, the tied-up strings, they are not how life works.

When I have finished reading my grandpa’s books that he owned, I will be okay. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I will cry. I will probably cry like my heart is breaking all over again, because it will be one more thing, one more piece of loss. But I can never lose my grandpa all the way. I knew that the day he died, and I was right; I know it just as much now. Every year for his birthday I buy myself a book for Grandpa and me. And it’s a good tradition, but that thing I said up there about things coming out evenly, I meant it, so if I’m somewhere in an odd little bookshop and I find a book for Grandpa and it’s not coming up on February 1, I buy it for Grandpa and me anyway. Or I get it from the library for Grandpa and me. Of course it’s not the same. It’s not remotely the same, that’s the horrible part. But I can only do the part I can do, and this is the part I can do, the stories, the remembrance, my side of the conversation.

And putting more of the protag’s grandpa in the book I’m revising. Because he belongs there, and because.

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The Zita the Spacegirl Trilogy, by Ben Hatke

Review copies provided by First Second Books.

First Second was really smart here. The most recent of the Zita books, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl, just came out, so instead of sending me just that one, they also sent me Zita the Spacegirl and Legends of Zita the Spacegirl so I could read the whole thing. Which I could do in a total of less than an hour, because they’re graphic novels for kids, or more to the point for all/most ages. I would say that the main restraint on the Zita books will not be age but temperament. There are going to be a few people who find their cartoon levels of threat frightening or bothersome, but that’s probably going to be as true at age 2 as at age 82.

Zita is extremely charming. She has adventures, she is extremely stubborn, and she makes a very wide variety of friends, including robots and a giant mouse and aliens of all sorts. (I am very much attached to Strong-Strong in particular.) Zita and her friend Joseph are thrown into their adventures, but she is very active and very much attached to virtues like justice, loyalty, friendship, and stubbornness, without being too didactic about them. She has a cool costume and all sorts of aspects one could easily attach to as “favorite,” and while the first story is pretty straightforward and sweet, the second and third ramify from there and have consequences that are not quite so obvious.

It’s rare that I can recommend something without regard to age, but I really can here. The question is whether you like mild, sweet, cartoony space adventure comic books. If you do, Zita will probably make you smile.