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Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 10 and 11, by Tessa Gratton and Karen Lord

Access provided by Serial Box.

We’ve reached the part of a season of Tremontaine where plot elements start to spiral very actively. A few of them are bureaucratic, but most of them are very action–violence abounds in these two episodes, and even its avoidance is active and specific. At this point in the series, getting all the regular characters appearances while the plot moves in the ways it needs to is quite a feat, but Gratton and Lord are both skilled enough with ensemble casts that it doesn’t feel contrived–even though as a writer I looked at some of what needed to happen in fairly short space and took some deep cleansing breaths. Personal favorites like Micah and her math are not getting a lot of attention here, but that’s understandable–there’s a lot to do for the plot to get to fruition.

This is basically the bit where everyone is running ahead of the rolling boulder and trying not to get crushed. Some of them are, in fact, getting crushed.

We’re also back to chocolate, so that’s a relief.

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my writing in 2017

One of the things that is sort of perpetually on my list and never makes the top of my list is having my website redone. It would be nice to have my bibliography searchable by various factors–genre, subgenre, story series, etc. At the moment, I put stories on it by when I sell them, I put the links in when they go live, et voila.

Not optimally convenient for anyone, including me. I know. And at some point I will Fix This, or more likely pay a professional to Have It Fixed. Today is not that day. So today I am sorting through, and I am reminded that some things take time to see the light of day, or some things get reprinted later. Which is cool.

So here’s the new fiction I had out in 2017:

“Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns,” Analog, Jan/Feb 2017.
The Psittaculturist’s Lesson, Daily SF, January 2017.
Out of the Woods, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, February 2017.
The Hand of Loki, New Myths, March 2017.
Running Safety Tips for Humans, Nature, April 2017.
Vervain, Grasshopper, Sun, Daily SF, April 2017.
“Vulture’s Nest,” Analog, May/June 2017.
“An Unearned Death,” F&SF, July/August 2017.
Across Pack Ice, a Fire, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, August 2017.
Planet of the Five Rings, Nature, September 2017.
The Influence of the Iron Range, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, October 2017.
I Won at NaSuHeMo!, Daily SF, November 2017.
“The Shale Giants,” Reckoning 2, December 2017.

Blue Ribbon was reprinted in Lightspeed in September, which was great, because its previous publications were both print and therefore harder to get to. Yay reprint.

I also wrote an essay for the People With Disabilities Destroy SF project, Malfunctioning Space Stations. That’ll appear in the final version as well, but it was part of the Kickstarter.

My essay How Far Are We From Minneapolis? wasn’t reprinted per se, but the way Reckoning works, its initial printing is in ebook form at the end of one year, and the online form goes up in the next year. So you may not have had a chance to see it until this year; there it is.

I’m seeing ten short story sales for the year (although hey, if anyone wants to add to that…). Ten new stories written (again, that number may go up in the next week, although I am weak and exhausted in the aftermath of a cold, so I’m not pushing it hard) and a lot of revision and a large chunk of novel. I think one of the things that becomes clear the longer I go is that raw word count, sheer numbers, are not the best measure of what kind of year it’s been.

A few weeks ago I took inventory of what I had half-done, and I discovered that I had a huge pile of short stories mostly finished. Like, when I listed them longhand in beautiful ink, most of a page. That was satisfying in a sensory way, and it helped me get organized–I finished three in two weeks. But it also pointed out how choppy this year has been for me. How it has been structured to break up flow almost as well as if it had been designed that way. Which gives me some ideas about a way forward, because–I like those stories. I don’t want them to languish half-finished, three-quarters finished. I think it’s important to my process and to my anxious-trending brain not to get into a mode where I’m writing down a to-do list where I have to finish every last story I start the minute I start it, where every life event that might interrupt something requires an immediate return to exactly what I was doing before regardless of what has inspired me since. But it’s worth noticing, it’s worth trying to work around.

So…chaotic year. Rough seas this year. And yet quite a lot out of the turmoil. Quite a lot indeed, and more to come. There are a lot of cliches about creative energy coming from turmoil, but that takes a seriously non-trivial energy input. How much I’ve been able to do that this year has varied a lot. I keep fighting for it. I will keep fighting for it.

I’ll have more to say about other people’s fiction I’ve enjoyed in 2017 closer to the actual end of the year, because I spend the end of the year traveling and there’s a lot of reading I still want to get through. So stay tuned. But this is more or less the year I’ve had, and I’m good with it, under the various circumstances.

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The Will to Battle, by Ada Palmer

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Further, the author is a dear friend of a dear friend.

How do you prevent the world from destroying itself? I wish there was a time in my adult life when this had felt like an irrelevant question. I can certainly see why Ada made it the central question of this series; we’re about the same age, and it has been relevant since before we showed up on the planet.

And this is a book that spends basically all its time on that question, that one question: how do we keep the planet from destroying itself or more specifically all the humans. Is war inevitable, how big a war is inevitable, how big a war is permissible if it siphons energy off that would otherwise contribute to a more catastrophic war. What kinds of violence can be permitted between groups of people and in what conditions. This is all on the page, and it’s practically the only thing on the page; there is a moment of dramatic filibuster when a character chooses to read the articles of the world constitution on the page. (While the concerns fascinate me, that part of the writing style was not my favorite.)

And unfortunately, this very passionate concern is very thoroughly based on the worldbuilding of the previous two books–on the gender politics and the religious politics, specifically, but also on the class politics–that are working less and less well for me the more I see of them. The former two elements are not nearly as foregrounded in The Will to Battle as they were in Seven Surrenders, but they are basic to the functioning of the entire narrative; it’s impossible to say, okay, but never mind that part, because that’s the world, that’s the functioning of the whole system. It’s not moderated, it’s not soft-pedaled, it’s all there, so if you had trouble with suspension of disbelief about anything previously, there really isn’t anything to change that in this volume. It depends very heavily on the previous ones for plot and characterization. This is not a good place to start.

I think the thing that makes it most curious for me is that the focus is entirely on the very, very, very most powerful people in the world. The nosebleed levels of elite, the .00001%–and no one else. “The people” are pawns, rioters, never major actors, never forces of their own–no one is going to rise from the herd, no one is unexpected outside very narrow circles. The world is the canvas of this book, but the world’s population behaves like an ocean in ways that ultimately don’t end up working very well for me. Ada commented, in an interview a few books back, that issues like bash’ formation would be delved further into in later books. I’m wondering where there will be room, with this focus in so much of the volume of pages so far. I guess we’ll see.

Please consider using our link to buy The Will to Battle from Amazon.

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Books read, early December

Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman, Joel Derfner, and Karen Lord, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 7-9. Discussed elsewhere.

Ann Leckie, Provenance. I enjoyed this mightily. It had questions of identity and belonging and a spot of murder here and there, it had aliens and drones and families with complicated emotional politics interacting with larger world/worlds politics. It is set in the same universe as the Ancillary books but is a very, very different reading experience, which makes me so happy, because it feels like Ann has not let herself get pigeonholed early, hurrah, I love to see range. And I love questions of forgery and provenance and authenticity. Mooooooore.

Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, eds., Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet Issue 36. This was full of stories that were beautifully done but did not individually grab me. I’m glad I read the whole issue–there wasn’t a bit of it I was sorry I read–but I’m not finding myself wanting to talk about the individual stories now that I’m done with them.

Margaret Mahy, The Haunting. Very short children’s book that is substantially about magic family politics. Barney has a very curious vision when his great-uncle dies; he and his sisters have to untangle their family history as a result. Hard to find, reasonably fun, not earthshaking. A lot of things are treated very matter-of-factly for such a short span: the kids have a stepmother they adore, one of the sisters is fat and enjoys swimming and has no time for people who try to fat-shame her, and probably several others I’m forgetting because the tone is so straightforward about human variation.

Robin McKinley, A Knot in the Grain. Reread. I think this one is somewhat stronger than A Door in the Hedge, less formulaic, more of McKinley learning to strike out on her own. The title story is interesting to me because it feels so dated and doesn’t have much of a plot and yet feels so emotionally strong that I loved reading it anyway, each time. It points out that stories are not a matter of doing the right things on a checklist, they’re a matter of hitting chords with a reader. Which we all know, and yet…having an example turn up again is never a bad thing.

Sarah Rees Brennan, In Other Lands. This book took a lot of risks, and I think only some of them paid off. The narrator was deliberately annoying–he was the sort of teenage smart kid who blunders all over other people’s emotions in an attempt to prove himself the smartest person in the room for the vast majority of the book. I think most readers will have had a high school friend who was like him (and if you can’t see who it was…). He was often a useful commentary on portal fantasy–there were lots of places where he was completely right–but he was allowed to be annoying in very realistic ways that were sometimes incredibly tedious to read about. And I think one of the reasons for that is that the deliberately annoying narrator risk got combined with another, which is: I understand that this book was originally written on tumblr, and that’s cool, it’s just that it looks to me like it did not get edited down significantly from its tumblr form. So the pacing is not tight. It rambles and saunters and meanders through the years of its characters’ schooling. There is a mermaid on the cover; the mermaids are purely hypothetical for most of the book. So are the harpies. I like a leisurely pace of book, with the right voice. I can deal with a grating voice, with the right pace of book. The combination made this one a pretty tough sell. Also–I’m having a hard time seeing how the relationship messages are going to get through to the people who need them, rather than the people like me, who are the aunts of the people who need them and see them coming from hundreds of pages off. It made me laugh in spots. I’m not sorry I read it. But what an odd set of choices, in some ways.

Rebecca Spang, Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution. Fascinating weird book about monetary policy and money as physical objects and all the stuff floating around those ideas. Lots of politics–Spang explicitly has no time for the people who think that economics can be separated out from politics–and lots of concern for what actual people were actually doing. There is a huge focus on how people made change in both senses of that: how alterations to the system were accomplished, but also how people who wanted to pay a certain amount and had large money got small money back in return, because this was a serious problem. HOLY CRUD were these people messed up. The investments they had…well. We certainly are messed up differently now! Fascinating, definitely recommended especially for SFF writers who want to look at how a time that sort of looks familiarish can be really, REALLY different in a lot of particulars.

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Out of the dark days into more

It’s Santa Lucia Day again.

Around August I started saying, “2017 months are like dog years.” It’s been a long year, it’s felt like a long year, there are all sorts of things that make me blink and say, what, that was only last month, how can that be. This year has wedged a lot of dark in. A lot of people have found ways to disappoint us, and some of them were new and creative ways, but most of them weren’t. Most of them were old tired ways, the “really? this again?” ways, the ways that take a lot out of the people trying to make things better without providing anything the least bit diverting in return.

But that’s not why I’ve been saying that about dog years. No. The dog years comment keeps coming up because of my hoodlum friends. Because while some of the people I’ve been leaning on, some of the people who have been leaning on me–some of the people being ridiculous together and laughing together and trying to keep creating together and pointing at the horrible things and saying, “you see that? I see it too, let’s not stand for it” together–are old, old friends, some of them are brand new. A lot of them are brand new, actually. A startling lot. And a lot of the brand new ones are people that I specifically started liking and trusting because of their reactions to very dark things. It’s not just the year of me too, friends, although thank God it is finally that. It’s also the year of hell no.

Some of these friends are so brand new that they’ve never read a Santa Lucia Day post of mine before. How can this be, something so fundamental to me? and yet it’s true. Some of the people I honestly don’t know how I could have gotten through the last six months without have never read me talking about the saffron bread and the songs and the candles, about the ritual of light that comes not at Solstice but before it. Canonically before it, ritually before it, ritually heading into more darkness before there’s any hope of light. Some of the people who are suddenly right here in the middle of my heart making sandwich puns and jokes about dryad skulls, hey, don’t you go anywhere, you’re staying, I’m keeping you–some of those people were fine, cordial acquaintances the last time there was snow on the ground, and some complete strangers.

Well, here we are, then. Again or for the first time: this is how the year turns, this is what we do: we make the bread, we light the candles, we sing the songs. We kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. This is the work of the world, and we do it together. And when we find someone else who’s willing to do it next to us, we don’t let go.

This year there’s homemade Meyer lemon curd for on the lussekatter, because someone else likes it. I like it too. The combination is amazing, the saffron and lemon, wow. But I would never have said, “I think I’m going to make myself lemon curd, because I like it.” It’s easier for me to be good to other people sometimes. The more that’s going on, the more that’s true. And sometimes it can spill over. I will try this new patisserie because you’re meeting me there, I will read this classic of the English language I always wondered about because you’re sharing it with me, I will make this lemon curd for you and maybe keep the last of it that doesn’t fit in your container and eat it myself. And it tastes so good, and it looks so golden on this beautiful golden bread.

I haven’t lost the lessons of the past years, the long knead, the early preparation. I know how this goes. This year asked all of those things of me, and it’s going to ask more. It’s going to ask more of all of us. Because last year I knew we were still before Solstice on Lucia Day, still going into the dark of the year, but oh, friends, I didn’t know how much. This year I think I have some clue. I got some good national news with the rest of you last night while I was beginning to write this, and some bad family news. I have cried over my Christmas cards the last two days, one from my first best friend’s father writing about the loss of his wife and the letter I wrote him about her in October, one from a friend who stood up and was a voice for justice when I most needed him to be in June…and knew just how to be silly on the Christmas card. I cried. It was a good cry. I tried not to get it in the lussekatter dough. You tip your head back when you’re crying and kneading, you see, and you sing, and you keep going.

It doesn’t balance out, it coexists. It all coexists, and we’ll just have to get through it all together, good news and bad, happy crying and…not. It’s the first morning of Hanukkah this morning for some of you, as well as being my Santa Lucia Day, and maybe we can sit together, my candles with yours, my songs with yours. We need all of it. We need all of us. It’s a long haul, old friends and new, and it’s not even close to over. At least we’re doing it together.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.

2007: and

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Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 7-9

Written by Liz Duffy Adams and Delia Sherman, Joel Derfner, and Karen Lord. Review access provided by Serial Box.

The trend of identifiable style among the Tremontaine writers continues. If you want mysticism in the woods in this world, apparently you bring in Delia Sherman, because Episode 7 was the most like The Fall of the Kings of any Tremontaine episode so far. (I am here for it. Any time. I love that book.) Deer in the woods and everyone slightly addled…yep, I know who wrote this episode.

This season continues to expand on holidays in the worldbuilding. It also continues to ramify. The school is actually starting, maybe; the murder mystery is collecting evidence; the relationships are relating, and that doesn’t mean everyone is returning to season 1 configurations like swallows to Capistrano.

There is a lot less chocolate in these episodes. I don’t want the chocolate to get repetitive, but…there’s a bunch of sex that is not particularly my thing, there’s only a little swordplay, I’m leaning heavily on academic politics and investigation and woodland woowoo here because the chocolate is substantially absent. Sigh. Well. I’m told one can’t have everything. But usually one can have chocolate.

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Books read, late November

Desirina Boskovich, Never Now Always. Sometimes knowing people gets you reading things that are outside your wheelhouse. Desirina’s novella is far more horror-skewed than I usually pick up, but the writing is beautiful as I expect from her. The children in it are trying to recover their memories, trying to figure out who they are and why they are there, what it is they’re struggling toward. The cover makes the horror look visceral, and there will be a certain amount of needle-and-blood, but the main horror element is strongly existential. Skillfully done, very much recommended to those who are fond of that…and even those who aren’t and want to push their limits a little.

Laurence Gonzales, Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. A strange and interesting book, not entirely satisfying. Gonzales would desperately like for there to be a “true survivor” personality type and/or skillset, people who had the knowledge and grit and so on to survive fire and flood and blizzard and, well, anything. And he interviewed people who had done so, and he correlated traits. Problem: the universe was not written by Laurence Gonzales. So while there were tendencies that helped with survival, and while of course some skills are useful in some conditions, he had to keep admitting that “true survivors” sometimes died, that people who did everything wrong sometimes lived. Still, there were fascinating tales of people just making dreadful decisions, and of people managing to keep their heads when all others etc., and if you write about humans in extremis, this may well be of interest.

Tessa Gratton and Paul Witcover, Tremontaine Season 3, Episodes 5 and 6. Discussed elsewhere.

E.K. Johnston, That Inevitable Victorian Thing. This felt very rushed, from the title on. It’s a charming title, but it doesn’t fit all that well with the book, which…is not actually Victorian, it’s neo-Victorian alternate history near future SF. It’s the sort of title that sounds like a working title that everyone can easily fall in love with but…as fitting the actual book? Eh. There is a truly essential character for the first third of the book who completely disappears for the rest. There’s all sorts of interesting worldbuilding that is literally in the author’s note at the end, which…frankly does not count, sorry. And having talked to the author a couple of times I’m pretty sure what the shape of the ending was aiming at for a love triangle resolution, and…I think it could have gotten there with another draft or two? I was really glad that the main characters were not forced into being nasty within their private relationships, but their relationship with the public…I felt could have used some development. This was a book that was there when I needed something fun and fluffy, but the farther I got from it, the more I said, “Wait a minute.” And I wish it had waited a minute, because it’s not a book that I felt was terminally broken.

Naomi Kritzer, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories. I had read many or most of these. I was happy to read them again. Having them collected in one place is charming and useful, and they have emotional range as well as genre range. A really great collection, highly recommended.

Fonda Lee, Zeroboxer. Mixed martial arts in space, with genetic engineering, the YA version. If that pitch makes your ears perk up, this is definitely for you. I’m not the target audience, and I still enjoyed this book. I would have liked a little more denouement, but even without it, this was entertaining and fun, and I’ll be interested in the rest of Lee’s work, which looks widely variable in topic.

Kari Maaren, Weave a Circle Round. Discussed elsewhere.

Robin McKinley, The Door in the Hedge. Reread. There is a lot of metaphor repetition here, and the characterization is often extremely shallow, and yet…and yet these stories manage not to make me furious, they manage to be interesting and gentle and fairy tale-ish and themselves. I should probably wait longer before another reread, but there was another short story collection that was a slap in the face on page one, so…this was a good antidote.

Paul Preston, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain. I picked this up because I wanted to understand more of the roots of the Catalan independence movement, and I didn’t feel I could do that without more about the Spanish Civil War. Preston gives a master class in how to destroy both-sides-ism here, saying, sure, yes, there was violence on both sides, let’s look at how much violence, let’s look at what kinds of violence. This book was shattering to read, and he did an amazing job with intersectionality for a book that was not “about” any particular subgroup of the Spanish population. He started in the introduction talking about the anti-Semitism of the Spanish Right and went straight on from there; the complex relationship with Catholic faith, both using it and attacking it; sexual violence against women (including nuns as a specifically addressed sub-category). Harrowing. Awful. I had to take lots of breaks. Extremely, extremely well-done.

Robert Sheckley, Untouched by Human Hands. Reread. I wanted this to hold up well, and…it really didn’t. The women were nearly nonexistent, the men barely better, the satires…I think I was most disappointed in the satires, actually, because of gaping mental holes like: the satire of consumer debt had consumerism and militarism as opposing forces. What? In Sheckley’s lifetime, what? How did that even, you lived through the rise of the phrase “military-industrial complex” for a reason, dude. The prose was better than a lot of the people who are touted over Sheckley from this era, but as idea fiction goes, the ideas were…not where I hoped I had left them, alas.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Fascinating as a study of social and economic life in Maine in that era, with all its intricate concerns. Courtship customs are handled here, debt, cloth manufacture, rape trials, all sorts of things. One of my old teachers used to say, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you, it’s what you know that ain’t so,” and there’s a lot of debunking of that sort of thing here–for example, the assumption that the day that you get married and the day that you move in together are necessarily the same day. Apparently not in this culture, usually they were separated by about a month. Fantasy writers take note, this is great stuff.

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Another bit of progress to reckon with

This week’s writing-publishing news that has already gone on the more rapid social media is that I sold a story, “The Shale Giants,” to Reckoning for their second issue, which will be coming out soon in ebook form, then more slowly as linkable stories and in a print copy. I loved their first issue, and I’m really excited to be part of their second.