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Again with the short stories I’ve liked

Here we are once again with this irregularly recurring feature: short stories I have liked since last time I posted about short stories I have liked. I make no pretense about having read everything, so if you want to recommend something in the comments section, please do; I am nothing like caught up, even on the magazines to which I have links here, much less those which I do not. It has been quite a time lately and is not going to get any less timey. So links to good stories are appreciated wherever they come. I can easily miss things right now.

Asleep in the Traces, by Michael J. DeLuca (Middle Planet)

The Signal Birds, by Octavia Cade (Liminal Stories)

The Middle Child’s Practical Guide to Surviving a Fairy Tale, by Mari Ness (Fireside Fiction)

Spirit of Home, by José Pablo Iriarte (Motherboard)

Contra Gravitatem (Vita Genevievis), by Arkady Martine (Lackington’s)

Blood Reckonings, by Alec Austin (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

Mortal Eyes, by Ann Chatham (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)

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Umeå, Sweden: A Darn Good Place for Lunch

We had no particular plan to stop in Umeå. It was like Vaasa on the Finland side: we needed to stop somewhere, and Umeå was there. But when we got there, it was a beautiful, an utterly gorgeous, northern city: large, fast-moving river as so many of them have*, buildings that were charming and interesting wherever you looked. Very walkable. The people were outstandingly friendly and helpful even for the far north.

(I have no idea where this idea that northerners are taciturn comes from. They talk my ear off. They did not appear to talk to Tim in the same way. But to me? Chatterboxes. You cannot get them to shut up. It’s as though they’ve met their long-lost cousin and…oh. Oh. Well. Never mind, that explains that. Seriously, in Umeå alone I saw three people who looked like specific Lingens I know.)

We didn’t have a great chance to explore Umeå; we did not, for example, stay in the hotel in the same building as the library. (See? SEE? Umeå is great.) But one of the reasons I am writing these blog posts is because there are not always English language restaurant reviews of things, and while one visit is not enough to do a proper review, an improper review is better than nothing if you’re searching your phone frantically for “restaurants Umeå.”

So: Rex Umeå. Rex is in a charming brick building–we poked our heads in because the brickwork was lovely and I could read that they had squid for supper that looked like it would be amazing, so it seemed worth finding out what lunch was. The waitress helped me finish puzzling out the lunch menu, and it all sounded great. And it was. It was so great. Transcendently awesome.

At this point in the trip it had been something like a week and a half since I had eaten meat, and something in my little anemic brain said: BEEF RYDBERG. If you have never had beef Rydberg: it is a classic Swedish dish. Here is what you do. You sauté up some onions and put them on a plate. Separately, you fine dice some potatoes and fry them crispy. Put them on the plate also. Separately, you chop up your beef and cook it in a lovely red wine sauce. Put this on the plate also. Fine. This is well enough and I thought it was grand. And then the waitress also brought me an egg yolk, freshly grated horseradish, and some Dijon mustard to mix into the hot red wine sauce to my personal taste, to make it all zippy and creamy and perfectly grand. And at Rex in Umeå, everything was utterly top quality, the horseradish absolutely fresh, perfect, perfect. They also had a little buffet of salad things and bread to go to with this, with plenty of gluten-free options if you needed that, all clearly marked, very meticulous.

Tim had some steak dish in a lovely gravy also. His would have been very nice if I had not been wallowing in beef Rydberg. Then he ate the end of my beef Rydberg because when do I finish anything in a restaurant I mean really. But if I did! This would have been a candidate! Because the polite, friendly people of Umeå are also people who can cook, there at Rex restaurant. So go throw money at them.

There is a ferry that goes from Vaasa to Umeå. I can’t think why you would want that, because the Arctic is so lovely, so very lovely. And this is not quite the Arctic. On the other hand, Vaasa and Umeå are both so great. So I can imagine wanting to bounce back and forth between them. It’s just that the stuff between them is lovely too. I would like more time in Umeå. Next time. Next time. If I’m not firmly installed in the Norwegian Arctic or something.

*This is what the -å means in Swedish cities.

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On-ramps to various weird freeways

So there was a Fourth Street panel where Max Gladstone wanted to talk about on-ramps to the weird: what accessibility we provide readers to works with a sense of alienation and dislocation, how we allow them to navigate works of science fiction and fantasy either without feeling uncomfortable or despite that discomfort, and what tools we can get from other genres in their on ramps–genres like magic realism and surrealism. (I’m paraphrasing Max, and he should feel free to correct me if that’s not what he was talking about.) But that wasn’t the direction of the panel he was on–it was another panel but not this year’s That’s Another Panel–and then Max had to get to his next thing Sunday afternoon, and by the time Readercon rolls around, the thoughts I had early Sunday morning will be stale. Nor am I sure they’ll fit on Twitter without a blog post link to point to first. So here we go: this is your blog post link.

First of all, I think that different works of science fiction and fantasy are doing different kinds and levels of sense of dislocation and the weird. The name that gets canonically brought up in terms of “entry level” science fiction these days, someone who “provides on ramps” to science fiction, is John Scalzi. I think that in a conversation about sense of dislocation and the weird, this is more or less a complete red herring, but worth tackling first for demonstration. Most of what Scalzi has done in most of his books–I haven’t read all of them–is not all that weird. Nor is it trying to be, nor should it be trying to be–I want to emphasize that sense of dislocation, sense of the weird, is not an unmitigated virtue, is not being defined as the science fictional or fantastic thing to do, and therefore I am saying that John or his work should be deprecated for not doing it. Everybody should write the level of weirdness, alienation, dislocation, that their work demands, that they are interested in writing. John is given credit for not being highly referential, but this is blatantly false; John’s works are constantly referential. But they’re contemporary references. So the people who are frustrated by the feeling that they have to have participated in a hundred years of science fiction genre in order to understand a science fiction novel will not have that obstacle. That is one on-ramp he provides. Another he provides is almost more a staircase, because it provides access for some and not for others: it is exactly those contemporary references and style. When you have a scene of dialog with complaints about the monotony of a cafeteria menu, in exactly not only the type of complaints but the type of specific menu items that would come up for an American slightly older than me–an American John Scalzi’s age–there is a large audience for whom that is a very comforting access point. Look! It says. Things here in the future are not so weird. There may be galactic spaceships or green rejuvenated people or whatever space thing we are doing in this book. But people are still just the same. We go to our jobs and do them, we gripe about the food, we get on with it. So that sense of interpersonal familiarity is heightened with the utterly contemporary grounding. Our pop culture figures are name-checked, our relationships are reinforced. So while John gets people to buy and read science fiction–and in that sense may get people comfortable with the idea that science fiction in general is not too unbearably weird for them–what he’s not doing is getting them comfortable with a massive dislocation that is written to feel utterly unlike everything they’ve ever known. Nor does he need to want to do that. It just means that his toolbox is not all that useful for the people who do want to do that.

So. Other genres of the weird. In the course of the brief discussion during the panel, we mentioned surrealism and magic realism. I think one of the biggest on-ramps surrealism has is metatextual. People who pick up a work of surrealism have buy-in that the experience is going to be weird and dislocating before they ever get started. This is what they’ve signed on for. For all that SFF likes weird sometimes, SFF also likes adventure and speculation and many other things; alienation, dislocation, and sense of utter weirdness is not the only thing or even the main thing that a person picking up a work of science fiction and fantasy can be signing on for. So in some sense this is like asking, “How does porn get people to want to be aroused?” There is some of everybody in the world; surely there are people who watch porn for reasons other than to be aroused and then find themselves aroused anyway. But arousal is the thing it says on the tin. That is what you are buying if you buy porn. (“Buy” in the most general sense.) And the sense of dislocation, alienation, and the weird is what you are buying if you buy surrealism; the disappointing surrealism is the stuff that doesn’t deliver it. Much of the other weird avant garde that is not specifically surrealism–much of modern and post-modern art–is the same way: you go in knowing you want some of that, and if you take someone to a museum who doesn’t already want some of that, it’s not necessarily great at prompting them to start unless they just have a lightbulb moment. Much like many of us got to the weird in speculative fiction.

Which is great. (I mean, it’s terrible. Very little worse than mundane surrealism, ask me how I know. But it’s good to know.) But not very helpful in getting science fiction and fantasy writers more tools for the persuasive/converting toolbox.

An interesting counterexample to this is Banksy. Their work is not in museums; their audience is not very self-selected compared to most contemporary artists. I think that there are three key accessibility points there: literal physical accesssibility. Banksy stuff will be on the street where you will see it, and you will either like it or not, but you are not asked to go out of your way to get to this art that you may or may not like; the energy cost is low. Banksy’s stuff is “short” for time investment. You look, you take it in. And in fact I have seen more publication of dislocational, deeply weird fiction in short speculative fiction than in novels. And Banksy’s stuff is at least sometimes funny. Humor is a great access point if you can pull it off. If your humor is three levels of abstruse and obscure…that’s great, honestly, I love that kind of humor. But it’s important to realize that “I’ll make this really bizarre thing funny” does not automatically get you a larger audience. (Worth doing, though, because it entertains the crap out of me, and that’s what’s really important here, right? Of course. Okay.)

So the other genre we were going to talk about was magic realism. And I think one of the major tools magic realism has is sensuality. Sensuality of image and sensuality of prose. I think that most science fiction and fantasy writers know that sensory input is important at some level for almost all readers. Young writers will get advice like, “No one will care if you calculated the warp core mass exactly correctly if they can feel the spaceship controls under their hands.” But do we do it? When is the last time you could really feel the spaceship controls under your hands? Of course there are books like Dandelion Wine and the works of Cat Valente that focus on the sensual, but in general I think the speculative genres tend to shy away from it. Magic realism, on the other hand, wallows in sensuality. Why on earth is there a rain of roses in this scene? That is totally bizarre, what is going on here? Wait–do you care quite as much what’s going on here? You can practically taste the heavy, choking scent of roses in your nostrils. You can feel what the petals would be like on your skin, on your lips. Whether or not you know what they’re there for, those are some real roses, and for many readers, that pulls them along into the next piece of the book–or at the very least keeps them anchored in this one.

(For some readers, yes, you really do care. Some people bounce off magic realism because of the balance of sensuality and explanation. But if speculative writers are borrowing tools from other people’s toolbox, they can try to have both.)

And that made me think about paranormal romance. For my money, the entry point of most romance genres is sensory writing, not love or relationships or even sex. There may be stereotypes that romance novels have someone gasping, “Oh, Perceval!” on page one, but in the vast majority of romance novels, you have to wait some time to get to the sex. If sex was the on-ramp, you would have exited, parked your readerly car, and wandered off into a field of daisies. Something else has to be the on-ramp, and because I am a highly non-visual person, it looks really obvious to me that highly visual writing is one of the things it is. So: sensory writing, but focused on one sense in particular in most cases. Highly effective for a large number of readers.

Now. Does this mean I’m saying everyone should do more of this? No. I’m saying it’s one set of on-ramps, one set of access points, I have noticed, and particularly if you’re trying to do something deeply weird, deeply dislocational, and are trying to expand your audience for it, it’s a thing to think about. Adventure is a really traditional access point for both science fiction and fantasy. You can sort hard SF writers into which ones really really want to write about explosions and feel obligated to have some kind of science to dress it up and which ones really really want to write about science and feel obliged to have some kind of explosions to dress it up. Especially late in their careers, when one or the other goes out the window. But similar categorizations are more broadly true for other kinds of ideas and other kinds of action/adventure.

And I bet there are more access points I’m missing. And I’d love to talk more about them. Here or there or on Twitter. Even if you think I’m wrong. Especially if you think I’m wrong. There’s more to say here, too, about exoticism and escapism and phantasmagoria of ideas vs. senses–I know, because I’ve been having some of that conversation on email already–but honestly this is long enough and I need to hit post at some point and actually, y’know, start talking. And simultaneously get back to the story I’m writing.

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Books read, early June

Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest. Vivid modern faery novel that does some interesting second-generation things that are hard to explain without spoilers. I feel like there are some things about family dynamics that it took the Datlow/Windling fairy tale series to drag out in the open 20 years ago, that could only be discussed at the extremes then, that authors like Black can take on with more subtlety now, and can spend more time directly on the heroism of heroines like Hazel and less on what sparked her heroism. It can be a less angry book and still rooted in some of the same themes. There is more complexity of character, more forgiveness and still themes of memory and the power of origins. I do recommend this to people who have liked tales of faery all along; it is moving farther in the direction those anthologies started, not merely rehashing the same ground and yet using a style that I think early fans of those anthologies will enjoy.

Becky Cloonan, Brendan Fletcher, and Karl Kerschel, Gotham Academy Vol. 2: Calamity. I think that ongoing fans of Gotham and DC Comics in general might get more out of this than I did, but on the other hand they might be more annoyed by departures. It’s a boarding school story, featuring Bruce Wayne’s son as a supporting character in one of the storylines–Gotham’s kids, basically. It’s fun stuff so far, not blowing my mind but entertaining enough.

Albert Goldbarth, Adventures in Ancient Egypt, Heaven and Earth, and Popular Culture. Rereads. Of these volumes, Heaven and Earth is the one I got to first the first time I read them, the one that explains why I persevered with Goldbarth back in the day. He was trying to do the most with science in it. And yet the pervasive midcentury sexism that was there the first time I read these poems stifles me now. It…I can deal with midcentury sexism to some extent, but in a lot of these poems it just left me nowhere to stand, no room to breathe, nothing to love. No reason to go back a third time. There were a few beautiful moments, things he loved, and I could even see clear, a little, to why. But I was so desperate for anyone who tried to build a bridge between the arts and the sciences, back in my early twenties. I am less desperate now.

Ben Hatke, Nobody Likes Goblins. Discussed elsewhere.

Laura Lam, False Hearts. Discussed elsewhere.

Gonzalo Lamana, Domination Without Dominance: Inca-Spanish Encounters in Early Colonial Peru. Wow, if there was ever a book that needed its subtitle for a safe search. This is an anti-colonialist book, so it rehashed a great many of the same historical events I read in May but with jargon that recontextualized them. Which I think must be useful, and yet…not as much for me, honestly. I felt like…maybe I’m assuming too much? but a lot of the stuff that the jargon was doing with pointing out that the Spanish experience was not central and universal is stuff that people should be doing all the time anyway. I know, I know: they’re not. Sigh. Also, it was…wow, am I in a particular demographic here…very male anyway. Yeah, I said that. Okay. But it’s true.

Stella Nair, At Home With the Sapa Inca: Architecture, Space, and Legacy at Chinchero. This is an amazing book. Oh wow. It goes into great detail about the buildings involved and what they imply about the life of the high Inca royalty and nobility (and from there, what we can infer about the Inca who were not royalty and nobility). Non-architectural sources–textual sources–are also used extensively, but grounded constantly in the buildings. This is exactly the sort of book I wanted. This is exactly the sort of book you probably want, if you’re interested in the Inca and even possibly if you aren’t. Of all the Inca Imperial material I’ve read, this is the one I would recommend most highly.

George O’Connor, Olympians: Ares, Bringer of War. The publisher has sent me review copies of every other entry in this graphic novel series but this one, so I got it in the library to stay current and be able to talk to my godkids about the series. I was a bit disappointed that O’Connor chose to focus his Ares volume on the Trojan War, basically bringing in almost no obscure or small-scale myth about Ares.

Antti Tuomainen, The Healer. This is a post-climate change mystery thriller set in Finland. It gets described as both spare and vivid. I lean toward the former unless you have just been to Helsinki. Lucky me, I have! So when pieces of Helsinki geography are more mentioned than described, I have just been navigating those streets and remember which ones are which; I can picture from memory rather more than from text. Anyway: serial killer in Helsinki after a very, very extreme climate change but not a lot of science fictional change otherwise. It’s not a book I would recommend widely, but it was an interesting read given my interests.

Clayton Ward., Jr., Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, Joe Guthrie, and Elam Stolzfus, Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition: Everglades to Okefenokee, 1000 Miles in 100 Days. This is mostly pictures–sawgrass, tupelos, cypress. One of Mark’s relatives who lives in Florida liked this and sent it to us for Christmas, and I just got around to looking at it. I like tree pictures, so I liked it too.

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Last Days. Compared to the volume I read last month, this was much better. I know that the apocalyptic scenario here is a larger Marvel comics scenario that Wilson and her team have to work around, but I think they did a lovely job of the characters in crisis. I am not the least bit attached to whatever else is going on in the Marvel universe. This is pretty much the only one I’m reading, because I like Alif the Unseen and wish that Wilson was still writing novels, and this is how I get her work right now.

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False Hearts, by Laura Lam

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

Usually when a book is compared to a mass media property, whether I love or hate the mass media property, I find the comparison inaccurate to the point of annoyance, because the comparison is there for people who are not me. Specifically, it is there to lure in people whose main points of comparison are all filmed, who think entirely in terms of filmed media, which are mostly not all that similar to written media in how I enjoy either.

In this case, however, several of the reasons I enjoy Orphan Black–barring Tatiana Maslany’s astonishing acting skills–were entirely present in False Hearts, and the comparison was completely apt. And I love Orphan Black. So: wow. Go figure.

Tila and Taema are formerly conjoined twins, formerly residents of a semi-primitive cult, now cured of both conditions and living in the San Francisco of the future, a peaceful city of the new nation of Pacifica. Taema believes that she knows her sister better than anyone in the world–until Tila shows up soaked in blood, with the police on her heels. All the evidence points to her as that rare bird, an actual murderer rather than someone who can get her violent impulses out in medically assisted virtual parlors. Reconciling that with the sister she knows–and diving into an underworld she never cared to explore–becomes Taema’s mission. She needs to prove to herself and the police either that Tila is as innocent as she believes, or that she didn’t really know her sister at all.

So you have the sibling relationships, you have the murky past, you have the running about future adventure stuff, you have a certain amount of bio-SF albeit along a different axis than in Orphan Black, you have a strong acceptance of differences but also understanding that none of it is simple…really. The comparison is not a bad one. And yet it does so with book nature, not with false cinematic consciousness. So okay, good then.

Please consider using our link to buy False Hearts from Amazon.

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Vaasa, Finland: its ruins, its pizza, its gelato

We continue the series that is mostly here to do English language restaurant commentary on things that don’t have a lot of English language reviews/commentary. Proper restaurant reviews require multiple visits, which we could not do for obvious reasons. But we could have benefited by having something in English that said something about where to get lunch in a given city, at least what kind of food a restaurant had.

Vasa/Vaasa (depending on whether you use the Swedish or the Finnish spelling–and it’s a bilingual city in a bilingual country, so the answer is not obvious) was not a planned stop on our trip. It was a lunch stop. We needed to stop somewhere between Turku and Oulu for lunch, and Vasa was timed perfectly. I saw a sign reading, “Gamla Vasa/Vanha Vaasa.” I said to Tim, “Gamla means old. Gamla Stan in Stockholm is full of little boutiques and restaurants and things. Turn here, maybe we can get lunch here.” (You can learn bits of Finnish by knowing bits of Swedish: Vanha also means old. Useful in the less overtly bilingual parts of Finland.)

Gamla Vasa was nothing like Gamla Stan. Gamla Vasa is the 19th century burnt out ruin of a 17th century city. It’s almost completely unprotected, so you can wander right up to the ruins and look at them intently. Finnish people were out walking their dogs among the ruins of their previous city. It burned under Russian rule. Vasa was a thorn in the Russians’ side during the wars, so when it burned, they weren’t the least bit upset; they attempted to name the rebuilt city after the tsar. That didn’t stick for five minutes after independence, and the Finns went back to calling their city Vasa. Even apart from being able to wander gorgeous ruins, it’s a lovely place, with attention to detail even on the water tower. The harbor building, the new church, the statues, everything. I would so happily go back to Vasa for more time. Vasa! Why not? Vasa! We didn’t know you’d be great, and there you were, Vasa!

But I was going to tell you where to eat. Right. Pizzeria Marco Polo is at Hovioikeudenpuistikko 11, and it is lovely. Just lovely. It appears to be run by a family from Naples. The vegetable toppings and the sausages for the pizzas and calzones are all incredibly fresh and beautifully handled–the charred eggplant and the artichokes and the mushrooms were beautiful. The cheese and the sauce were sublime. And the crust! Quite often if you get this type of pizza crust in the US, it is incomprehensible to me, because the outside is burnt and the inside is soggy. Who wants it? Why? But this. The outside was crispy, the inside was tender. Oh. Oh. That’s why. Also, the chef was sensible enough not to make the pizza crust and the calzone crust from the same dough. The calzone wanted a completely different dough, flaky, tender, but much thicker than the pizza. It was one of those meals where most of the conversation is, “This is so good. Here, taste mine, it’s so good.”

We looked at each other after eating these lovely lunches, and we said, “We have to try the gelato this person makes.” It was May when we were there, berry season, and the strawberry was lovely, utterly fresh strawberries. But the blueberry was the real perfection: the slightly gritty-bitter-sour peel flavor that comes from real blueberries, that is the utter opposite of artificial blueberry flavoring. So great, so great.

Probably there are other good places to eat in Vasa, and if this was your only chance at real Finnish food, you should go find it somewhere, for sure, because Finnish food is worth eating. But how would you get to Vasa without going somewhere else in Finland first? (Well. On the ferry from Umeå maybe. But probably not just for lunch.) So unless there’s some reason this needs to be a genuine Finnish meal, get your real Finnish food somewhere else and do what real Finns do and let the Neapolitans make you beautiful, beautiful pizza and gelato.

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The Vogon poetry problem

I think we all know the Dragonsinger problem of poetry in fiction (I will describe it in case someone doesn’t), and this week I found its opposite.

The Dragonsinger problem: all the other characters go on and on about how brilliant Our Protagonist’s poetry is. “You are the best poet of your generation!” they cry. “Possibly the best ever! Our country/language/planet has never seen such a wondrous poet as you!” Problem: very few authors are the best poet of their generation. Very few best poets of their generation decide to write speculative novels. So if you do show even a few lines of such a poem, rather than only the reactions to the poems, it jolts the reader right on out of there. Or immerses them in pity for the country/language/planet that is stuck with no better poetry than that. One of the worst examples is Menolly of Dragonsong and Dragonsinger. Everyone falls all over themselves to praise her. Her peers are sooooo jealous. And Anne McCaffrey shows quite a lot of Menolly’s lyrics in the books, and they are…not, shall we say, in stiff competition for the best of her generation. I first read them right before I turned twelve, and I am not convinced that they were better than I could have done at that age. I believe they rhymed die and cry, among other things. And I was reading T.H. White at around the same time, so I had the ants to help me make fun of them with the moon/June/soon, love/dove/above, and thanks to T.H. White whenever pop music is particularly annoying me I think of Al Jolson.


Yesterday I encountered the opposite. The author was quite aware that they were portraying bad poetry. It was supposed to be youthful and exuberant but not at all good. And it went on. And on. AND ON.

This is just what Douglas Adams did not do with the Vogon poetry. Vogon poetry, as Adams described it in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, was notoriously bad throughout the galaxy, weapons-grade bad poetry. But he described it. He had a line or two. Enough for people to chuckle at how bad.

And then he was done.

Because people believe you that your bad poetry is bad. Oh, they believe you. They just don’t need to sit through it. You only need to hear the clarinets honk once to believe that a grade school band concert is bad. Too much longer and people look away. There is a very narrow land between two swamps, and those two swamps are Embarrassment Squick and Boredom. Being bad at things is rarely interesting. Dart in. Move on. Even if you’re setting a baseline for later improvement, the reader will believe you: yep, they’re bad, they can get better. Golly, we hope they get better. Soon. Now, even. Time for the training montage. Or the cut-scene to exhausted-but-better. Or something else.

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Fourth Street schedule (specifically mine)

The panel schedule is up for Fourth Street Fantasy con, which starts in about a week. (That is: there’s a social event Thursday night. Programming starts Friday.) I’m on two panels, and here they are:

Truth, Lies, and Meta. Friday, 4:30 p.m. Marissa Lingen, Emma Bull, Casey Blair. Fiction, by its nature, isn’t real, which means that when narration lies (deliberately or by omission), or a creator breaks the fourth wall, there are multiple layers of plausibility, trust, and ‘reality’ in play. How do the techniques we use to get readers to believe in a made-up world interact with cuing them that the narrator or a character in said world is a liar? (See also: Kayfabe in Wrestling; and accidental subtext, where authors make choices which suggest their world doesn’t actually work the way their narrative claims it does.) What makes us believe in a world or a character, what undermines that, and how can that tension be leveraged?

Disability in Speculative Fiction, 2:00 p.m. John Wiswell, Michael D. Thomas, Mishell Baker, Marissa Lingen. Representation of disability and chronic illness often comes in two forms: writing *the* experience or writing *an* experience. How much you define the character by their condition can define the story. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl follows India Phelps’ struggling with her schizophrenia and treatment for it, while N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdom follows Oree handling bloody plots of the gods while happening to be blind. Has there been a quantitative or qualitative shift in treatment of disabilities in SF/F in its recent history?

The full listing of panels can be found here.

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Spanish food and other solace in Turku

I love Finland, but one of the hard things is that once you leave Helsinki, it gets hard to find restaurant reviews in English–even at the level of “what kind of food does this restaurant serve.” So I have been thinking I should do a bit of that as I have the time and inclination, for other travelers in that direction–and frankly to encourage other travelers in that direction, because Finland is great. Everyone spoke English, but no one expected American travelers. Basically we didn’t hear other American voices between the Reykjavik airport and Stockholm. But we heard a lot of English, because English is what a German speaks to a Finn.

Or in this case, what a Spanish restaurateur speaks to two very hungry Americans who have stumbled into his restaurant on Ascension Day.

When I looked at the list of Finnish holidays before we left, for some reason Ascension Day was not listed, even though many things are either closed or close early and many (most) Finns get the day off. (This is true throughout the rest of the Norden also. Look out for Ascension Day.) The thing that was not intuitive to my American mores was that some restaurants stay open all afternoon and then close at what I would consider the beginning of supper hour: 5 or 6 p.m. (1700 or 1800 hours). So when we were wandering around Turku in the late afternoon, plenty of things looked open and we didn’t worry about it. In the US a restaurant that is open at 4 p.m. will likely be open at 7 p.m.; a restaurant that is closing for supper will close right after lunch. So when an earlyish suppertime rolled around and we were peckish from lunching on just gelato (Cafe Harmonia, go do that, it’s got salads and pita and a play area for children as well as quite creditable gelato), we kept going into restaurant after restaurant that said, “Oh, so sorry, we’re about to close.”

And then there was Torre, which is a lovely, lovely Spanish restaurant, and the lovely, lovely Spanish man who was running it was appalled at the very idea that he might shut down at 6 p.m. And appalled that we were so hungry. There was a little bar filled with olives and salads and bread! We must have this immediately! And wine! And a couple of kinds of gazpacho! Before we had our real food, even!

So we did. Friends, we did. And then our real food, which was full of all manner of seafood and saffron and I don’t even remember what else, it was beautiful Spanish food of all manner of flavors, there were all sorts of things on the menu we couldn’t order because we were only there once. We seriously considered not even trying another restaurant in Turku because all the saffron and seafood and gazpachos and goodness. They had a tapas tasting menu that required at least four people. Go to Turku with at least three friends, my dears. Accost two random Finns on the street if you must, and promise not to talk to them through dinner, because that tasting menu looked sublime. Unless there is some reason why you absolutely must eat traditional Finnish food for every meal when you are in Turku, Torre is where you want to eat, scallops and little perfect peppers, or lack of peppers if you need that, and they will leave you alone to enjoy your meal at leisure into the evening as the sun doesn’t go down on the river, because May in Turku, the sun isn’t going down for awhile, and you can walk along the river and it will be grand, just grand.

I love Turku. I love the fact that they built a modern art museum on top of their medieval history museum. I love that they let you play the harpsichord in the Sibelius Museum. I love that there is someone in Turku who leaves a wreath of white and blue flowers for Mikael Agricola and another for Anne Brahe. I love the street fair down along the river filled with all manners of excess except for excess of pushiness, never that. I love the sun on the river and the benches in the middle of the pedestrian bridges. I love the different eras all piled on each other willy-nilly in Turku Castle, because history came late to the north, we had quite a lot to do, so there is the crude labyrinth pattern scratched in the wall next to the large window to confuse evil spirits in the room next to the most blue-painted and ship-hung Reformation chapel you could wish. I love climbing up the riverbank to Turku Cathedral looming. I love the giant daisy and the glistening fishtail sculpture in the water and all of it, all of it. When I wrote about Helsinki, I was saying a thing that I knew many of you would do. I have no confidence that more than one or two of my readers will go to Turku, if any but oh, my Åbo, yes, of course yes.

But Finland was all made of yes for me.

If you’re just passing through to eat, eat at Torre, though. It’s nice.

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Nobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

Ben Hatke’s books have ranged from the nearly-wordless Little Robot to the far more verbal Zita the Spacegirl series. My personal favorite is probably Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, a charming and beautiful tale.

Nobody Likes a Goblin is toward the young and simple end of Hatke’s range. Goblin lives in his dungeon with his friend Skeleton. They have a routine they like, games they play. But–as you might expect–there is a certain type of person who does not like goblins.

Luckily, there is another type who does.

The plot is simple, the style unmistakable, the ending sweet but not as cloying as it could be given the premise. Nobody Likes a Goblin is unlikely to change your world, but it might well take a young reader’s fancy–or even more likely, a pre-reader’s. A fantasy reader who wants to start young minds dungeon crawling early could do worse than Nobody Likes a Goblin.

Please consider using our link to buy Nobody Likes a Goblin from Amazon.