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Cabbage, Radishes, Pearl

Dear Great-Grandma,

I was in the store just after 6 this morning, beating the crowds to get my Thanksgiving supplies. The clerk said to me, “I can see you’re in charge of the vegetables this year. You have all the fancy things.” She was holding a cabbage and a bunch of radishes.

And I thought of you, Great-Grandma. I thought of you and your cousins, up early to get to the market to get the good cheap cabbages and radishes and the other winter vegetables of the north, get them before they were picked over. Get the family fed. All the fancy things.

Great-Grandma, you’ve arrived.

You’re looking over my shoulder as I marinate the thin-sliced beef for tonight’s noodle soup, nodding, oh yah, you can stretch a lot of soup out of that much meat, don’t need much to make it soup, to make it taste fine. Especially with a dab of pepper there, yep, hardly anyone will taste you didn’t put much meat in there, mostly carrots and radishes cut real thin. And noodles, lots of noodles, that’ll make it last. You can feed those big men for days on that soup, they’ll never guess how little you spent on the meat. Good girl.

I wouldn’t even tell you that’s not what I’m doing. I’d just say, you wouldn’t believe how cheap I got this big thing of dates–up on University there’s a Persian grocery that sells them, a quarter the price of a regular grocery store. They have a streetcar you could take there again, just like in the old days. Sit down and have some dates. Have some pecans with them. Take a load off your feet, Great-Grandma. Didn’t you hear the lady at the store? You’re one of the fancy things now. All those days of making it last, making do: you’ve made it.


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Only maybe one point for it not being Free Bird

Friends, today I am here to talk about a serious issue affecting all of us. Or at least all of us who go to concerts, or possibly listen to concert videos on YouTube.

Will you stop shouting song titles at singers while they are performing.


Just stop.

They know what songs they’ve done, or if they’ve forgotten, you shouting one isn’t going to make them suddenly spontaneously remember enough to perform the song credibly. If they only have one or two big hits, they especially know those. They know they are the big hits. They are aware. They may make a joke about it. This is almost certainly not because they think they only wrote one worthwhile song. No. It is because they know that yahoos like you only know the one.

On the other hand, if you are a hardcore superfan, shouting the titles of really obscure songs will impress no one. (Said the person with an obsessive memory who also knows those songs, who likes many of them, and who is still not impressed.) Sometimes an artist will solicit requests. That is when you get to shout titles. Otherwise there are many urges you must stifle when you venture into public with the rest of us, and this is one.

And in particular stop shouting song titles two or three songs into the set.

Seriously. Stop. Give them a chance to get their feet under them. Give them a chance to get to it, for the love of Pete. Possibly the song you want to hear fits in perfectly four songs into the set they had in their head. Five songs in. Possibly the song you want to hear is a great set closer–that happens a lot with crowd favorites. If all you want to hear is “Major Hit: the Only Chart Topper,” they run the very real risk that if they walk out and play it first, you will be restless or possibly just leave.

But if you sit/stand there and shout it every time they stop singing? This is at least as disruptive. Cease.  Desist.

We have this lovely technology that allows you to make a playlist. It’s called–follow me here–a playlist. What it is not called is a live concert. Those work differently. You do not get to fast forward through the bits you do not like; you do not get to pause when you have to pee, and above all you do not get to demand all your favorites in order of what you remembered liking just now.

I love the Cedar, I truly do. You can get varied hippie snacks (often falafel) and chai and locally brewed beer, and no one grabs your butt at a concert unless you brought them along and asked them to. All hail the Cedar. But sometimes the intimacy of the Cedar venue makes Cedar audiences into–and I say this with all love–entitled buttheads. Do not be an entitled butthead at the Cedar. Do not be an entitled butthead at any venue. If you are excited to see an artist, you may shout, “Woo!” “Yeah!” is also acceptable. I suppose if it is a rock-ish sort of show, “We love you, [artist’s given name]!” might be within bounds, but this is likely to disconcert folk artists, especially if they have moved to this area and gotten used to it here, so possibly stick to, “Woo!” You can’t go wrong with, “Woo!” Practice with me: “Wooo!” This is how you channel your excitement about possibly maybe hearing That One Song or maybe not.

John Gorka may be from New Jersey and not expect too much, but I’m from Minnesota and we have standards.

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Access, ability, health: this week’s round

After the debacle that has been several years of World Fantasy Con, Mary Robinette Kowal has posted a convention accessibility pledge. It’s worth a look; it’s worth thinking and talking about. I specifically want to highlight something that I know Mary and the other people who have been talking about this pledge agree with: that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a starting point for convention accessibility, not the be-all and end-all. Not everyone will want to sign this pledge for a number of reasons, but taking part in the conversation and advocating for accessibility is important for all of us regardless of what form it takes.

Accessibility is an ongoing conversation in part because it never takes part on just one axis. Something that makes a convention more accessible for people with one kind of limited mobility won’t help people with another kind; mobility accessibility won’t help people with hearing limitations; and so on. We understand more about neurodiversity than we did twenty years ago, or even ten, but our understanding is still imperfect.

It’s been disheartening to watch people get defensive on these issues, to see comments that amount to “I’ve tried hard and been a good person and that should be enough”–especially since “trying hard” often applies to completely different fields of endeavor: you can try very hard to have an allergen-friendly green room, and that’s wonderful, and it doesn’t do anything for wheelchair access to panels.

The post I intended to write, before this came up, was about unhelpful reactions to other people’s medical situations–thankfully not mine, no one’s in my house. I have watched people play “guess the random diagnosis” for a friend who was having enough trouble without having their random friends with no medical expertise whatsoever pelt them with guesses for diagnosis and treatment. I have listened to stories of misrecorded personal details that could have serious impact on future care. I have heard reports of care costs that were supposed to be covered by insurance and were not, to the tune of four figures–or that were covered by insurance, and were still four figures. So the main thing I wanted to say was, “Never start talking about someone else’s medical care with, ‘you should just…’ because it’s almost never ‘just.'”

And this ties back in with convention accessibility, because if you’re dealing with health problems and/or disability. Even if they’re short-term–even if you’re “just” broken your leg and “only” have to get around on crutches for weeks. You are already wrestling with a labyrinthine system that is draining your time and energy in addition to the health problem that is draining your time and energy. And then you turn to your leisure activities to relax, and you’re the one who has to put in more and more time and energy to make them baseline functional. If the conrunners don’t do it in advance, it’s the people who are already having problems in the first place (this is a known pattern across other concerns) who have to put in more time and energy that they already have depleted.

I had a miniature hissy fit while doing some revisions on Itasca Peterson, Wendigo Hunter. I was adding supporting characters, and I noticed that everyone in the book was apparently able-bodied. And I had a miniature meltdown in the privacy of my office, going, “I have to deal with disability crap both first-hand and second-hand every day. Literally every. Day. Why can’t some able-bodied person who lives only with able-bodied people be the one to notice and deal with it in their children’s book?” I am not proud of this hissy fit, and when I had finished with my meltdown, I pulled up my socks and gave one of the kickass college students Itasca looks up to a kickass walker that is painted with cool designs. Which is not the ne plus ultra of disability in children’s books, so hey, any able-bodied person who lives only with able-bodied people who wants to notice and deal, feel free. But it circles back again: the people who have to deal with this stuff, statistically, will be the ones who deal with this stuff.

So if that’s not you, one way or another…think about changing the trend somehow? Thanks.

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Books read, early November

Peter Arnade, Beggars, Iconoclasts, and Civic Patriots: The Political Culture of the Dutch Revolt. Lots of things about going smash against the Spanish in the 16th century, mostly, although extending around it. Fun bits of culture clash where the Spanish are baffled by the Low Countries and vice versa. Their women! Their literacy!  Yyyyes, excellent. A bit of a specialist volume, but interesting for that.

Holly Black, The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. I have enjoyed some of Black’s novels, and others have just not really hit me well. Apparently I appreciate her much more at shorter lengths. I’m motivated to get the novel version of “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” just to compare, because I thought that the short version did an excellent job with the gaps between our perceptions of other people and their reality. And so did a later story in the volume, “Paper Cuts Scissors,” which had lovely library imagery as well, even though I am a tough sell on library stories–in fact the stories I liked most were the ones I would have expected to be a tough sell on–so in general I will keep looking for Black’s short fiction from here on out.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People. I suspect that Bolz-Weber’s book will resonate most with those who are most aligned with an organized church. They will probably feel rueful about themselves in spots, supported in spots, nudged in spots. A lot of the places where Bolz-Weber says “we,” though about what we expect, what we want, what we do…become less applicable the less aligned you are with a formal and hierarchical church. If you are not aligned with organized Christianity at all, this is not the book for you, I don’t think.

Vera Brosgol, Anya’s Ghost. This is one of the places where my status as a non-visual person really limits my interactions with the comics medium, because for me this was just a random ghost story, pretty well-done but not amazing, and the art also being pretty well-done was not that big a draw. For others it will probably be more so. (I was reading comics recommended to me as possible Christmas presents for a few people on my shopping list. Not, alas, successfully, but also not painfully.)

Kurt Busiek & Benjamin Dewey with Jordie Bellaire and Comicraft, The Autumnlands Vol. 1: Tooth and Claw. This comic mostly has anthropomorphic animals as characters, but the champion who is summoned is a human. And I’m done; I hate that. Humans are the special ones! What about badgers? I ask you. Some beautiful landscape pictures here, but: there are venomous shrews in the world. Echidnas. And yet the human has to be the chosen one? Get away from me, book with pretty landscapes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle. A memoir of his family and their setting. I found it to be a fast and compelling read that gave a very different personal context than I’d had access to before. Worth the time for sure.

Pamela Dean, Tam Lin. Reread. Yes, I know, but I gave it to a friend to read and we were talking about it and I got lured. This time one of the tiny points that hit me that was different, being at a small private Minnesota liberal arts college in the early ’70s vs. the late ’90s: being “on financial aid” and having an on-campus job was a specific thing, not just, like…life for every single person you knew except literally one. I have no idea how many times I’ve read this book, and I love some of the same things every time, and yet there’s always something different.

Barry Deutsch, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. Quite a focus on the Orthodox Jewish culture of the setting, so if you know someone who wants to see themselves in such a heroine and/or would like to learn about that culture, here is a way. I didn’t find the action plot to be very well-paced, and it felt a bit preachy about skills/values in the resolution, but not offensively so.

Peter Haining, ed., Time Travelers: Fiction in the Fourth Dimension. This book…someone picked it up randomly ages ago, and I can’t put “reread” because it’s not in my booklog. In fact I’m not sure any of us ever read it. I think it might just have accompanied us around from apartment to apartment to house, looking like the sort of thing we might like. Which it is not. It is from 1997. I remember 1997. Women had been invented then; I remember specifically having been invented then. You would not know it from this hostile, smug book, where women are not only not authors but also substantially not protagonists, not anything really in most of the stories but dizzy objects, prizes. And the time through which these men’s thoughts traveled–all of time, all of space in most cases–was so damnably small. These were the sorts of stories that would have made me write The Stuff We Don’t Do in a fury if I hadn’t already written it, so it was a relief that I already had, because I was busy that week. And no. Just no. At least we can stop hauling this book around with us. Uff da.

Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm, Good As Lily. It felt like the title wasn’t adjusted after the comic evolved. Still: teenager has to deal with different ages of herself, hijinks ensue. Good enough that I reached for the next DKK thing on my library pile.

Derek Kirk Kim, Same Difference. Friends figuring out an interpersonal minor mystery of sorts. Mostly friend interaction of a young adult sort. Entertaining and light.

Hope Larson, Gray Horses. Slightly surreal bilingual foreign exchange student comic. Pretty but not as insightful as I had hoped.

Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Ask me if I was actually surprised. Oh, just ask me. There is some actual science here confirming that my habit of finding water and walking near it is very sensible and healthy. There is also a near-epic amount of woo, some of it in evo-devo directions, so…handle with care.

Karen Russell, Swamplandia! Unlike Russell’s short story collection, this is more grounded-weird than way-out-weird. Grounded weird is enough: it is set in Florida. It’s the story of a family of teenagers who have lost their mother and are figuring out which parts of their world were real without her and which were a collective delusion. The alligator wrestling is entirely real. Much of the stuff around it…well, that’s the book. Beautifully written, much to enjoy without the way-out-ness. Very well-characterized. I am a Karen Russell convert.

Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa, Runaways: The Complete Collection Volume Two. More of the same, more or less, without quite so many of the original characters, with more crossovery characters. This is not improving, but I still like some of the original “your parents are supervillains and you run off to do better” premise enough that I’m still with it, but I probably won’t stick with it to the bitter end.

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All the stars

Gather round, kids of all ages and genders. I’m going to tell you a secret.

The world does not come with a five-star rating system.

Several times lately I have seen people impose the five stars into systems that did not helpfully provide one. As if this is universal. As if this is the natural and right way to interact with the universe. No. No.

Yesterday it rained while I was out running errands, sheets of rain rolling into the river valley off the prairies. It was warm rain for Minnesota in November, though not in absolute terms, when what we deserve was snow, but we’ll take it. We’ll take it. My jeans were plastered to my thighs in less than a minute, my hair soaked through. I almost had to pull over, driving home, because there was so much rain that I couldn’t see two cars in front of me. I crept along through the wet white world.

It was not a five-star rain. It was a glorious rain, a drenching rain, a pounding rain.

Last weekend we heard the Minnesota Orchestra play short Sibelius pieces. The humoresques danced and romped. The Oceanides drew us in with woodwinds. For awhile I did not think of my loved ones who had been hospitalized that day. I thought of the music, of the woods of Finland and the sea and the music. At the end we clapped, and we went home, and there was no button to click for stars.  How many stars?  Five?  Why not more?  Seven, nine?  Ten stars?  Seventeen?

I know, I know–the things that do have the five-star rating system attached are trying to get feedback. Many times they’re trying to get past automated gatekeepers, and that can be a worthy goal. But the things that don’t have that don’t need you to impose it.

Sometimes things are so amazing as to leave you wordless. I know. I spend a lot of time there despite all my chattering. But “five stars” does not convey that. Any time you create a shorthand to try to convey that, it stops working the minute it’s established. For most of the things that matter, you have to get out there and say: this moved me. Or, I have mixed feelings about this.  Or, I was not so sure and then the tarragon flavor really hit me and I was a convert. Or you have to be willing to let people see the stars in your eyes.

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Robot Universe, by Ana Matronic

Review copy provided by Sterling.

The subtitle on this glossy coffee-table book is “Legendary Automatons and Androids from the Ancient World to the Distant Future.”  It spends a lot of time on the fictional robots, spending a full page spread on most of the author’s favorites from both written media and the movies.  But there are also real life examples of automata and robots, including gems like Su Son’gs Cosmic Engine.

The author’s stage name makes her passion for the topic clear, but even if she was writing as Betsy Peterson, it would be apparent from the way that she squees about robot after robot how much she loves the subject matter.  This is not a book for serious academic research.  This is a book for poring over the pictures, for going, “Gort!  I love Gort!”  (What? I do love Gort) and, “Daneel is the best thing he ever wrote,” and other bouncy happy fan reactions.  And its timing, coming out at the end of the year, is very convenient: if you’re trying to come up with the right present for someone with a lot of nerd identity but no particular inclination toward cerebral research, that person might well enjoy a hundred favorite very shiny robots, with pictures of Elektro and Sparko from the 1930s and allusions to Marge Piercy and Kraftwerk.

Please consider using our link to buy Robot Universe from Amazon.

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Points of Origin

Today’s new story is on Points of Origin.  For those of you who managed to find the copy of Analog that had “Blue Ribbon” in it, it’s the same universe, but none of the same characters, so there’s no requirement of reading one for the other or vice versa.  And it’s got grandparents and ice skating and rocks.  Oh, and Mars.  And the Oort Cloud.  And stuff.

Go, read, enjoy!

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Books read, late October

Constance Ash, ed., Not of Woman Born. Reread. We have a bunch of anthologies on the shelf that no one has picked up in ages, and I’ve been reading them a bit at a time, looking for forgotten treasures. This one was very late-’90s focused, not at all what you’d get out of asking people to do a reproductive tech anthology now (which is interesting in itself–same theme every twenty years?), but the hidden gem for me was Janni Simner’s story. When I read it the first time in college, Janni’s was just a name, one of the unfamiliar names in the table of contents, and while the story charmed and interested me, I don’t remember it particularly.  This time it read as a harbinger of thoughtfulness to come from Janni.  Perspective can make all the difference.

Kathryn Burns, Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru. Focused on how the Spanish colonists used some kinds of writing and denigrated others to colonial aims.  A certain amount of interest in native writings, though not enough for my tastes.  Interesting book, brief and to the point.

Lyndsay Faye, The Fatal Flame.  The wrong timing of this book for me, I’m afraid. I have really liked this historical mystery series of Faye’s, but I had just finished bouncing off yet another historical TV series that treated prostitution as the default historical profession for women. (Farmer, people. The default historical profession for women was farmer. I get it that you don’t always want to film that, but: farmer.) I am glad that some people–some of them friends of mine!–have thoughtful things to say about sex work and sex workers in historical settings, but on the whole I am becoming a tougher sell for casual portrayals.  Faye’s book really skirted the edges of that.  And yet it did all sorts of things I like, mid-19th century early policing and immigration and labor tensions and politics, woo! so I really think this is a case where it was a badly timed selection for me. I’d start at the beginning of the series, not with this one, though.

Katrina Firlik, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside. All sorts of interesting mechanical details about what neurosurgery feels and smells like. Unevenly paced and edited, so Firlik will be chirping along about various infections and then suddenly hit you with a Raymond Chandler poem that knocks your knees out from under you. I think this one doesn’t cross the line into “of interest no matter what,” it mostly really is of interest if you like brains.  (Brains!) But I do.

Allyson Hobbs, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. Starts with the very earliest colonial days, goes through to the 20th century, all the reasons why a person with some African and some European ancestry might choose to cross what we as Americans perceive as the color line and try to be perceived as purely white.  Also went into some of the logistics of that type of passing and some of the things that might be considered drawbacks or losses from that choice. I understand why Hobbs chose to focus on a black/white split only, but I wish I knew where to get more of the books (or if there are any yet) that go into the gradations of brown: what persons of partial Native American ancestry had as options, what persons without that ancestry managed to use as options all the same, where there were shades of not-quite-whiteness perceived at the time that are less clear to us now (did some people we would call African-American consider it useful to pass themselves off as Jewish? some Mediterranean European ethnicities? other world ethnicities that were lesser known to white populations at the time? when/where were those choices common?).  It’s totally okay for that not to be the book Hobbs wanted to write, and yet it is a set of dimensions about race, racial passing, and the American experience that I hope someone does choose to write about in depth.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy. At one point I laughed loud enough to alarm the dog.  And I love the Translator so very much.  There’s more going on with Stations and Ships and who is Significant, and I really love those questions–human vs. Significant–I really love how this series is wrapped up in that way.  But what I think is likeliest to stick with me and make me want to reread and reread is the Translator.

Jenny  Nordberg, The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan. Many of you have read an essay or article from this book, about girls in Afghanistan dressing as boys and living as boys for part of their childhoods for various reasons.  Nordberg goes farther into gender in modern Afghanistan and how it is not quite what Westerners assume.  My main qualm about it is that she often seems too surprised herself that gender is not a monolith, that the treatment of it in her Swedish upbringing was not universal. The anecdotes about Afghani life and gender are fascinating, though, and well worth the (short) time.

Daniel José Older, Half Resurrection Blues. Some of these characters have short stories associated with them, and I’ve liked the short stories, so I was glad to pick up the novel. It was at least as good.  It’s pacey and fun, its characters what we should have seen in urban fantasy ages ago–sharp and funny and emotionally involved with each other and with their city. I’m very glad to see this is the beginning of a series.

Kim Stanley Robinson, ed., Futures Primitive: The New Ecotopias. Reread. This anthology made me so angry. It was not making even the vaguest attempt at writing ecotopia, at tackling any of the ecological problems that were already, by the mid-’90s when it was written, starting to become quite clear–I remember, I was there. Robinson had written actual ecotopia himself, and this was a reprint anthology, so one couldn’t even chalk it up to “he asked a bunch of big names and was disappointed in what he got but had to go with it.” Much of it was undirected primitivism, some of it not even that, but the ecological component was nebulous at best. We’ve kept this anthology on our shelf since the late ’90s, and I’m afraid it was not one that rewarded the shelf space or a reread.

Matthew David Surridge, Reading Strange Matters. Discussed elsewhere.

Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 5. Kindle. It turns out that when I got around to reading the Kindle copy, I had already read basically the whole thing online. So I merely note the completeness for my own records.

Catherynne M. Valente, Radiance. Discussed elsewhere.

Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, and Takeshi Miyazawa, The Runaways Vol. 1. This made me smile, although the ending of the volume–well, I’ll be interested to see whether anything happens in volume 2 that makes me like the very ending any better.  There were all sorts of fun bits along the way, enough to make me want to keep going in the series, but the very ending left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. This is the story of a bunch of teens who find out that their parents are supervillains, basically, and run away and try to deal with the entire situation themselves. Many of them have some flavor of superpowers themselves, and there are other superpowered people in the world, and…well.  Hijinks, as you would expect, ensue.

Brian K. Vaughan et al, The Escapists. This is an incredibly establishment comic for a comic about indie comics. The self-awareness factor did not seem high. It wasn’t offensive, but I didn’t see a lot of point unless you’re a rabid fan of Kavalier & Clay and possibly even then.