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Special Reader/Carter Hall crossover promotional

Today is Monday, and Tim’s Kickstarter is over 75% funded. The funding is the point at which it can happen, though; going over “funded” is still quite a good idea and gives more room for him to develop awesome projects in future.

Saturday is my mother’s sixtieth birthday. Don’t you think my mother should have nice things? I do. Like beautiful photo books. And kooky fantasy stories. She likes things like that!

That’s why for this week, as a special promotional for my mom’s birthday, if you back the Reader: War for the Oaks Kickstarter at the photo book level or higher (that’s $30 or higher), you can let me know and pick your own brand new Carter Hall story. Choose a title (I’ve never written “Carter Hall Returns to the Point” or “Carter Hall’s One Timer” or “Carter Hall and the Broken Blade” or…well, that’s the point, whatever you like), or choose a mythic or folktale element I should incorporate in a new Carter Hall story. I’ll send it to you when it’s finished.

There is no requirement that you have to be listed as a friend of my lj or anything else to participate in this promotional. My email is publicly available: it’s a gmail account at marissalingen.

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The Prodea Cookbook, by Steven Posch and Magenta Griffith

Review copy provided by author (Magenta Griffith).

The full title of this book, which would have made for a very long blog post title, is The Prodea Cookbook: Good Food and Traditions from Paganistan’s Oldest Coven. I am not a pagan, but I am a cook, and when Magenta heard me talking about doing book reviews at Minicon, she asked if I only review science fiction and fantasy. “Not at all,” I said. She already knew that I was not a pagan from previous conversations, and so this interfaith collaboration/book review was born.

And thus the other night found me staring at the hockey game saying dreamily, “Those pagans sure know how to cook an eggplant.” (The key is that the recipes for eggplant dips in this cookbook call for the eggplant to be roasted longer and hotter than what I’m used to, which is entirely a good idea. Also cayenne is the other thing my previous eggplant dips were missing. This stray observation did, however, confuse Timprov as to what, exactly, I knew about Dany Heatley that he did not, or what metaphor I was using for the Colorado Avalanche’s maroon uniform, or something.)

Also in the highly useful category: the lentil and spinach soup. I keep trying to get the internet to tell me something to do with lentils that isn’t in the dal suite of flavors for when I don’t want that, and the internet was not being optimally useful. Basil in lo, great abundance. Thank you, Prodea. The other thing that I greeted with cries of joy: the oat-flour banana bread that looks like I will be able to make my cousin a gluten-free banana bread that is still made out of food and not artificial food-like products. Hurrah.

There are essays and stories interspersed with the recipes that will probably be of limited practical use to the non-pagan cook, but on the other hand I can’t see why they should upset the non-pagan cook either. If being exposed to someone else’s faith traditions and stories while finding out how to make a pretty tasty barley mushroom dish is going to be a problem, I suspect it’s a problem with you and not with this cookbook.

It should be noted that I am nearly physically incapable of following a recipe, but that’s not a slur on any one cookbook, that’s a personality trait. So if you pick up a cookbook I liked and say, “I looked at that recipe, but it had carrots and I don’t like carrots,” I am likely to look at you in bafflement and say, “Don’t make it with carrots, then; what are parsnips for?” and so on down the list.

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Various things from Minicon weekend

First, I am pleased to say that my essay, “The Apple and the Castle,” will be appearing as one of the supplemental materials in the book, The Reader: The War for the Oaks. Get yours through the Kickstarter if you’re interested in gorgeous photos or me talking about what makes for a lasting fantasy classic, especially in the handling of setting.

Other good stuff happened besides me selling an essay. I was on a map panel that went pretty well, I thought, despite everyone on the panel being pro-map. (Panels often have a little extra frisson if the panelists disagree a bit more.) I want to particularly point out that while three of us writer panelists were traditionally published at one length or another, the two who were self-published-only were models of how self-published authors should conduct themselves on convention panels. They confined their remarks about their own books to the relevant and interesting, and they talked about other people’s work in on-topic ways, just as a good panelist ought. Later in the convention I encountered both of them, and one didn’t try to sell his book to me at all, while the other did–at a launch party I attended of my own free will, knowing that it was a launch party. Going to a launch party expecting someone not to be trying to talk up their book would just be dumb; that’s what they’re for. So as a result, I came away from it with warm positive feelings about both self-published authors, while I have no idea about the contents of their books, and I’m going to link them both here: Ozgur Sahin and Blake Hausladen. Well done, guys; that’s how to do it right. If this is what the rise of the self-published author brings programming at future cons, it’s going to be awesome. (I expect that this is not actually the case and self-published authors are as much a mixed bag as traditionally published authors. Ah well; at least I had a good panel.)

The middle-grade panel was less focused than the map panel, but several good names got discussed–Mer, everybody likes you–and our surprise last panelist got through her first panel ever without too much difficulty. (She was 14. First panels ever are hard.)

Alec’s and my reading went beautifully–not a huge crowd, but not a tiny one either, especially given that it was scheduled over the dinner hour. Timprov was a hero of the revolution in bringing us hot soup so that we were fortified before the reading.

A question came up in conversation at the book launch party, and I wanted to address it here, and that was: why don’t I post reviews of the books I get sent for review but do not finish? The dual entity known as James S. A. Corey was on Twitter just yesterday saying, “Writers: if people are bashing your work online, rejoice. It means someone has noticed it exists,” and I think that was the basic premise of the writer asking why I don’t post negative reviews: that negative press is still better for the smaller writer than no press. This is probably true. An individual post saying, “I stopped reading this on page one due to clunky prose,” or, “Rape scene chapter one, quit reading,” would still bring at least some attention to the book, and not everybody has the same taste in prose or the same distaste for chapter one rape scenes that I do.

However. I do not get paid for my reviews. My time is valuable, and my time is my own. Any time that I spend on writing reviews is my choice, and I don’t choose to spend that on books that didn’t hold my attention to the end. I am not long on time and energy. I would rather spend that time on my own writing, or on reading something else, or on staring at the birch tree outside my office window and willing the leaves on it to bud out, or on making my godson brownies, or…yeah. Things. “How long could it take?” Oh trust me. I bounce off a lot of books. It could take quite some time. Adding in discussion with people in the comments section, especially if those people want to try to talk me into reading a little further? It could really take quite some time.

Reviewers are good for writers, but reviewers do not exist to be good for writers. Reviewers are good for readers, but reviewers do not even exist to be good for readers. It is awfully nice that people send me free books to review. I am grateful. But what they are buying with the free book is the chance at my attention, and if they can’t hold my attention, they don’t get my time in the form of my reading or in the form of my review. Even if it would be useful to someone else.

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If you can deal with the snow and the dog, get on my lawn.

Kids these days: they are pretty great and you should buy them an ice cream (sorbet if they don’t do dairy).

Nobody ever sells articles that say this, despite it being true–or at least as much true as a percentage as it ever was–and look, here’s another article, this one from Slate, about how horribly broken the youth of today are, especially compared to my day, which was filled with whimsy and wonder, which, as we all know, is way better than fun and excitement. Sorry, kids, that was a quote from when the Simpsons was a TV show instead of a shambling corpse. Sorry, kids, that was an attempt to slam the Simpsons from before zombies were cool. I’m all better now. Point is: back in my day, we had whimsy and wonder and fun and excitement, although of course not as much as in the Baby Boomers’ day, because they invented all those things. Unless you ask the Lost Generation, in which case, hoo! look out Emperor Nero! And so on until you get back to Hesiod, and let’s face it, nobody had a Back In My Day like that dude.

I’m wandering, aren’t I? It happens with age. Especially Hesiod’s age. Aaaanyway.

Point being: this Slate author Rebecca Schuman teaches college students sometimes, and they do not invite her to join in their reindeer games, which proves that no college students have any reindeer games, due to them sucking, but even that is not because of them because young people have no agency ever (LIKE DUH, keep up), it’s because of us because we ruined them (POSSIBLY PERMANENTLY) with our helicoptering. Also, a survey of what people think are the “weirdest schools” is a totally accurate way to find out what weirdness people are having in their own personal schools and free time and stuff. Because, like, college students in Arizona, if surveyed, will know about my college-age friend’s shenanigans in Massachusetts. They are that epic. Oh, the shenanigans she has. They shenan, and then they go back and….

Sorry, right, the point is: I am friends with actual college students. Not, like, tons of them. But some. Enough to know that sensawunda, as we call it with solemn respect in the science fiction and fantasy writing genres, is alive in their lives. Even if they do not display it on command to random people who teach their classes. You can picture it: “Do you, like, have parties where the admission is a can of moss?” she demands eagerly. “Uh, nooooo,” say her students, thinking, oh God, let me get away from this crazy professor, I have to finish my paper so that I can figure out how to get the layers in my hair dye the way I want them before we yarn-bomb the quad.

“Someone‚Äôs got to help these damn kids today goof off more creatively,” she says, and I say: sit the hell down, Rebecca Schuman. The last thing “these damn kids today” need is another intervention from you. They are fine. They are doing their own thing. It is not your thing. Has help with whimsy ever actually helped? Ever? Back. Off.

Oh, and also? I once snapped at a Boomer age friend, “Just because college cost $5 when you went doesn’t mean it does now,” and guess what? The incredibly expensive college costs from when I was in college? That swamped people my age in student loans? Are starting to look like $5 compared to what these damn kids today are paying. So if you’re feeling like these damn kids today are just not doing enough goofing off, maybe hovering over them with narrow notions of whimsy is completely unhelpful, and maybe you should kick in for a scholarship for one of them or buy one dinner so that they have five minutes in which to goof off. Or pay them to do some chores for you or something. Because a lot of the stress you’re seeing is because they are trying to WORK while doing ALL THE CLASSES so that they are not still in debt to the student loan folks when they have to start paying for nursing home care. But yelling at them that they are not doing a good enough job at fitting in their REQUIRED WONDERMENT with their work and classes is not what we in realityland call helpful.

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Books read, early April

Elizabeth Bear, Steles of the Sky. Discussed elsewhere.

Tobias S. Buckell, Hurricane Fever. Discussed elsewhere.

Dorothy Canfield (Fisher), Understood Betsy. Kindle. This is a very strange thing: an anti-helicopter parenting manifesto kids’ novel from…1917. It’s astonishing how many of the details of the helicopter parenting map pretty exactly. I think that the sort of modern kid who enjoys “old time novels” might still enjoy it? but my main recommendation of it is to modern adults who should find it to be a quick read and may be greatly interested in the details of how much the more things change…. Canfield/Fisher is very careful not to put country living over city living, for example, and although there are a few places where her priorities make me wince, overall it’s really quite good.

C. J. Cherryh, Peacemaker. The latest atevi novel. She keeps writing ’em, I keep reading ’em. Honestly, do not start here. Whatever you do, do not start here. Not at all the strongest of the series, by no means stands alone–they get less and less stand-alone as time goes by–but I still do care how Cajeiri negotiates the question of the birthday coat and its consequences as well as being impatient for the Spoiler who still do not Spoiler yet in this book. (Maybe in the next fortuitous three. Or maybe not. Sigh.) This book could have done with more Jago. But I still liked it.

Nancy Hale, Mary Cassatt. A quite competent but not transcendent bio of one of the important (American, female) Impressionists. Recommended if you’re looking for a bio of Mary Cassatt, otherwise not really.

Seanan McGuire, Discount Armageddon. Not my usual thing, but I could see how skillfully she was appealing to the audience she was appealing to, and there were some quite amusing moments. I’ll probably go back for the next one when I’m in the mood for humorous (modern-type) urban fantasy with cryptids.

E. C. Myers, Quantum Coin. Definitely in sequel land, and while I could see where this went all sorts of places an author might be eager to go, I was less eager as a reader to follow. I hope that Myers goes somewhere entirely different with his next work.

Michael O’Brien, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon. Louisa Adams, the wife and First Lady of John Quincy Adams, was with him when he was ambassador to the court of the tsar, and she kept an account of when she had to travel by herself from that court to Paris. (“By herself”: with servants, her sister, and her son. But with no suitable male escort.) These worlds coexisted in my mind but did not really intersect: the philosophical austerity of the early American Republic (largely brought about by the elder John Adams) and the demands of an embassy at a court such as that of the early nineteenth century Russian one. Uff da, not an easy thing to have in collision, and an interesting book thereby.

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird. I loved this book! This was so beautiful! Such a lovely amazing book! Um. Except the last few chapters. Other than that, great stuff! Ignore the last couple of chapters. I think the thing was, Oyeyemi had all sorts of interesting things to say about passing and the intersection of African-Americans and ethnic whites in the era she’d chosen, and then she tried to take it an analogy too far. There was a light touch with the fairy tale parallels (seriously, fantasy writers, we could learn from the lightness of touch), there was a richness of historical detail, there was all kinds of good stuff here. But the last few chapters…well, just…no call for them really. I will try again with another of her books. Onwards.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Great Biographies: Charles A. Lindbergh, Thomas A. Edison, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.. Grandpa’s. Again, the biographies are chopped to bits and strikingly laudatory and uncontroversial. One would hardly know that Edison ever had a controversial thought or deed. I am impressed that one can even manage such a biography of Edison. Or Lindbergh, although his was an autobiography focused solely on the Spirit of St. Louis trip, which does tend to limit the debate.

Reader’s Digest Editors, Scenic Wonders of America. Grandpa’s. This was large photos of scenic areas, followed by essays about them, then lists of nearby (“one day’s drive,” which is not all that nearby, by my American standards) places to visit. It was from 1973, and it was kind of nice to see that Grandpa had looked through it and picked out some things that looked interesting and gone to see them–often with me–but it would have been unlike him to use it as a checklist, and in fact he had not. Not really the sort of thing one reads so much as looks at, but in the spirit of my project with my grandpa’s books, I did indeed look at it.

Evelyn Sharp, All the Way to Fairyland. Kindle. Somewhat twee late Victorian fairy tales, not too bad but not the best Evelyn Sharp or the best late Victorian fairy tales. Probably mostly for the specialist in one direction or the other.

Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham, Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Had some very fun bits. I was interested to see whether a novel would read more like a season or more like an episode, and for me it was more like a slightly extended episode. Clearly some of the juicier developments are being held back for future movies if it turns out that demand for such things exist, but there were still a few character arc points for the committed fan.

Monique Truong, The Book of Salt. A novel about the Vietnamese chef for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in their time in Paris. One of the key pieces of advice in critiques–which this is not, it’s nattering about books–is that one is to focus on what the author wanted a book to be, not what one wanted of the book oneself. This is one of the cases where it was a perfectly readable book where the author and I kept having drastic mismatches in what we felt was interesting about the situation and where we wanted the book to go. I, for example, found Binh’s communications (successful and otherwise) with his employers and with Parisians–and in flashback scenes, with his countrymen–fascinating, and felt that Truong missed a lot of opportunities in where she ended the scenes she chose to write. She was a lot more interested in elements like his parents’ sexualities, which…kind of bored me, frankly. So I think this is a reasonably good book for which I was very much the wrong audience.

Greg van Eekhout, California Bones. Every time I read a lovingly detailed book set in Southern California, I think, “Maybe this will be the one that makes it clear why people love this place I so very much do not love!” van Eekhout has probably come the closest so far. He also has some cool fun osteomancy worldbuilding, which is nifty and zips along. It isn’t out yet, but I borrowed a copy from someone else who got a review copy. Out this summer. Good fun. Expect to hear more when they’re actually, y’know, available and stuff.

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The Reader: War for the Oaks: Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter is up for The Reader: War for the Oaks, and Tim has done a beautiful job. You can see some of how gorgeous the photos are on the page for it, but they’re even better in person. There’ll also be essays in appreciation of War for the Oaks in the photo book (possibly one from me–we’ll see what he thinks!). And if you’re so moved, there are gorgeous prints and photo cards for extras. Some of you have gotten examples of Tim’s photo cards in the mail from me–way better than Hallmark, frankly, suitable for pretty much any occasion, festive, congratulatory, consoling, pick your mood yourself.

This has been a lovely project to support, and I would really like for him to be able to do more beautiful nerdy things in this vein. The Kickstarter is starting strong, but it still needs support. Please go look at the page and think about backing it. Thanks so much.

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Minicon schedule

Here is my Minicon schedule as I finally know it:

SAT 2:30 PM Krushenko’s
Terra Incognita: The Role of Maps in SF&F Literature

A discussion of maps used in speculative fiction, either as endpieces or as part of the story. What are good (and bad) examples of maps of imaginary worlds? Can the inclusion of maps create problems? What can maps tell us of the modes of transportation, natural setting, and politics of the realm? Are maps for modern fantasy novels too modern (i.e. accurate)?

Michael Kingsley (m), Blake Hausladen, Eleanor A. Arnason, Marissa Lingen, Ruth Berman

SAT 4:00 PM Ver 5/6

Younger than YA
Let’s talk about children’s F&SF books aimed at the pre-tween audience.

David Lenander (m), Jane Yolen, Laura Krentz, Marissa Lingen

(Note: I didn’t realize this would involve fantasy also! Even better: I have even more to say about MG speculative fiction broadly than MG SF narrowly.)

SAT 6:00 PM Ver 1/2
Marissa Lingen and Alec Austin – Reading

Our tentative plan is a poem of Alec’s, a co-written story, and a story of just-mine. Come for the fun, stay for the additional fun!

If you look at the programming grid, you may be under the impression that I will also be moderating a panel called Fantastic YA on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. That panel sounds lovely, and I did volunteer for it, but at 10:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday morning I expect to be on the first verse of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” next to my grandmother, as I have been on every Easter Sunday I can manage and will be on every Easter Sunday I can manage. She is an active, sharp 82. She is 82. Am I going to drag her (and, not so incidentally, the rest of the family) out to sunrise services at 6 a.m. because programming ignored my very clear statement that I need to not be on anything before noon on Sunday? No, no I am not.

I was not thrilled to not have my schedule a week before the con started, and I was trying to be nice and understanding, because it’s hard work to program a con, and I like the people I know in programming and have no reason not to like the people I don’t know well. It was making some family and medical scheduling a bit difficult, but I was trying to roll with it. But when I woke up this morning to a schedule that directly ignored my one hard and fast schedule limitation (which, as I said, had been clearly stated when I volunteered), I have to say that it did not make me very happy. I doubt that the panel will be able to be moved at this late date, so I expect that they will need to find another moderator and panelist. If I’m wrong, I’ll update my schedule later, but so far as I know it this is what I’m doing at Minicon, and I hope it’ll be fun.

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Hurricane Fever, by Tobias S. Buckell

Review copy provided by Tor.

The first of Buckell’s thrillers (Arctic Rising) made me sit up and take notice, because there is a distinct stylistic difference between writing a thriller and writing near-future SF. I think a lot of us SF writers look at the sales numbers for thrillers and think, “But that’s basically the stuff we’re doing!” But the differences are crucial. They start with the shorter sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and often books, and they go on from there. The thriller skims the surface of the near-future technological and social changes, focusing on action and adventure. The emotional connections between characters are clear, not murky, whether they are positive or negative–even when someone is in the “friend or enemy?” category, they are clearly tagged by genre conventions to be in this category. It is sharp and accessible and fast.

Buckell has completely nailed this style, as distinct from the style of his previous books. He deserves the sales numbers that go with it, and I hope he’s getting them, because he has married the thriller style to actual knowledge of the Caribbean as something other than a vacation destination and fun extrapolative bits of SF–shark-based bio-paint, awesome!–so that it is a superior grade of thriller. If you’re an SF reader who dips into thrillers from time to time, or if you have a dedicated thriller reader in the circle of people for whom you buy presents, Hurricane Fever (out in July) should definitely make your shopping list.

Hurricane Fever the story of Prudence “Roo” Jones, who is preparing for the increasingly common storms he and his nephew weather on his boat when he gets a message from an old friend. The consequences for Roo, his neighbors and friends, and his nephew Delroy, span several islands and the entire rest of the book. There are multiple storms of varying severity, other strong effects of climate change, a hemorrhagic plague, tailored genes, spies whose governmental support is also varying, Bond villain monologues, neo-Nazis to thwart…the whole thing races along at an amazing clip, and if you like thrillers, you won’t want to miss it.

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Query letters: a brief example

Someone who is fairly new to submitting short stories has asked me about querying when they are overdue, and I actually know something about it, so I figured I would answer where others can see. Querying can be stressful for writers but shouldn’t be. If you aren’t obstreperous about it, editors should not get mad at you, and if they do, it’s not your fault. So:

1. Look into their average response times. This information is available online. Wait a bit longer than their average before you query. So if you’re looking at a publication with a week-long response time, it’s okay to query at three weeks, but if you’ve submitted somewhere that routinely takes nine months to get around to responding to short stories, don’t query until a year or more. Don’t query at their average. Average means average. It means that some things take a shorter time and some things take longer. If you query at exactly their stated response times, they will roll their eyes and be mildly annoyed. If they say, “Please do not query before [stated time frame],” go ahead and query at the stated time frame; they said it, they should mean it.

(I probably wait too long to query, mostly, so don’t ask me exactly how long. It’s not a science. If you think a market takes too long to answer, you don’t have to submit there in the first place. On the other hand, if they’re taking much longer to reply to you than they do in general, they probably know that and should not get grumpy with you for a polite query.)

2. Be brief, neutral, and to the point. Use the salutation you’d usually use in addressing the editor or editors, whether that’s “Dear Editors” or “Dear Dr. Chao” or “Hey Chris.” Here’s the basic form I use:

I’m writing to check on the status of my short story, “This Is Awesome And You Should Buy It.” My records show that I submitted it on 1/2/13[, and your system gave it the tracking number #123ABC]. Is it still under consideration? Thanks. Best, Marissa Lingen

Obviously, if they don’t give tracking numbers or if you didn’t save that information, leave that part out. If you don’t keep precise records, I suppose you could say, “I submitted it in January of ’13,” but the more information you can give them about what the heck this story is, the better chance they have of being able to track down whether they responded or are still thinking about it.

Earlier in my career I felt like I should add all sorts of hedging stuff about whether it had maybe gotten lost in the ether, you know, these things happen, I totally understand, or, like, anything that might have happened like that…yeah. No. You don’t have to do that. Emails do go awry, and so do postal letters. That’s what you’re trying to find out. They know that. Just ask.

3. Try not to read too much into a long response time. I know. Trust me, I know. If they always answer within a week, and it’s been a month…or if there’s a submission tracker that shows that everything around your story has gotten an answer and yours hasn’t…it’s so easy to spin fantasies about how the editor has fallen in love and is just trying to find space in the budget. And sometimes that’s true! And sometimes the editor just had time to read the twelve 3000 word stories that came in around yours in odd gaps of time and did not have enough time to read your 6000 word story. Or yours is the first in a long run of stories they are not getting to. Or else they were absolutely sure they hit send on that rejection letter they wrote, and instead they hit save. Or they are trying to figure out exactly how to phrase their very constructive encouraging rejection letter, because they really want to be constructive and encouraging to a promising young writer, which is important, but, from the standpoint of you, the promising young writer, not nearly so important as the acceptance letter, contract, check, fame, glory, and impending awards ceremonies. Editors take the time they will take. The query is just there to make sure they’re still taking it. Breathe. Be matter-of-fact. Send it.

4. Once they answer, a brief thanks is fine, but you don’t have to get into a long discussion unless the answer is, “Yes, we’re buying this, and here are the edits we want.” “We show that we rejected that two months ago,” should get, “Okay, thanks for letting me know,” or “Okay, thanks for your attention.” Similarly, “Yes, that’s still under consideration,” can get a reply of, “Okay, thanks,” or “Glad to hear it, thanks.” Longer replies give you more of a chance to trip over your own feet. Do not get tempted by them. If the editor says something specific such as, “Yes, my mother was attacked by a herd of rabid moose, and I’ve fallen behind while I help her convalesce,” resist the urge to say, “Moose bites can be pretty nasty, you know,” as every nerd the editor knows will have said it, and in this field that will be a lot of nerds. But it’s fine to say, “I hope she’s back to full strength soon. Thanks for letting me know.” But again, keep it brief, keep it professional.

If the editor is a personal friend and you already know that their mother was attacked by a herd of rabid moose–or if they have been quite open about it on Twitter and you follow them–then wait a little longer before querying about your story. On the other hand, it is still entirely permissible to query about your story. You are still a professional, and so are they, and one of the hazards of the modern internet is letting too much of the window on each other’s personal lives interfere with work stuff. Are they still working as an editor of their magazine? Then query. Politely, briefly, professionally–waiting a bit longer than you otherwise would, to account for the moose attack–but query. The bit above, about how you should address the editor as you otherwise would, can modify your query letter as much as it otherwise would. If you would address it “Dear Editors” or “Dear Dr. Chao,” you should probably not write, “How’s your mom? I hope they hunted down the last of the moose herd, those foaming drooling bastards.” If you’d usually write “Hey Chris,” you can use your own judgment about making things more casual, but if you’re not close with the editor in question, just stick to the business basics.

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Steles of the Sky, by Elizabeth Bear

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Also the author is a personal friend, which I sometimes completely forget to say, as I forgot to say it about Katherine Addison, which does not mean I like her any less or am any less willing to make her dinner or am trying to put one over on people in order to get them to buy The Goblin Emperor. (Which you should do! But not because Addison is my friend; I have plenty of friends whose books I don’t like half so well as The Goblin Emperor. But this is not a post about one of them. Ahem. Anyway.)

I hate total orderings. Total orderings give me hives. There is no particular reason one has to say that one thing is the very best thing and another is the second best and on down the list when they have diverse good points, and there will be reasons to recommend one book to one person and another to another.

That being said. Now that the Eternal Sky series is finished, I feel that it is a very strong contender for Bear’s best work to date, even over the one that has my heart so transparently that it got dedicated to me before I’d even read it. (That would be By the Mountain Bound, and if you’ve read the Edda of Burdens, you’re probably going, yeah, that’s pretty Mrissable. And yeah, it is. But these books, people. These books.) It’s a very high contender for “thing to recommend if someone says ‘Elizabeth Bear, I’ve never read her, what should I read,'” unless there’s a darn good reason to go another way, such as their passionate love for generation ships or the Norse, and even maybe then. The things she’s doing are strong and interesting and complicated, and Steles of the Sky is very much a book of sticking the landing.

And what a complex landing it is to stick. I feel that what Bear deserves for this–what I would have wanted in order to try to get it right myself–is a tiny set of carven stone pieces in jade and tiger’s eye and all the materials, to be the dragon and the bear men (BEAR MEN SHE GAVE ME BEAR MEN IN A BLIZZARD SHE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO) and the horses, each of the horses and the herd, and the ghulim and all. I am amazed that she managed to make it all work without an entire layout of them, and I think she deserves them all to play with and pet, just for making it all work.

Here is what you will notice, if you pay attention to the rest of the series so far: you will notice that not everyone gets to win. And that even the people who get to win…you will probably start to think as you think about what there is in play…probably do not get to do so without a price.

There are some pretty high prices in this book. I’m finding it hard to talk about it without spoilers, but…yes. Not without cost, this one.

Some series are books that only incidentally go together–they have the same characters and setting, but the events are only loosely linked. This is not one of them. While there are ample reminders of who is who and what is what if you haven’t reread Range of Ghosts as a refresher before picking up Steles, the weight of everything from the horses’ colors to Hsiung’s choices will be much stronger with the weight of the previous two before it. But the thing is complete now; if you’re a reader who only wants to read stories that are complete, now’s your time. Highly recommended.