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Present Writers: Laurie Marks

This is the latest in a recurring series! For more about the series, please read the original post on Marta Randall, or subsequent posts on Dorothy Heydt, Barbara Hambly, Jane Yolen, Suzy McKee Charnas, Sherwood Smith, Nisi Shawl, Pamela Dean,Gwyneth Jones , Caroline Stevermer, Patricia C. Wrede,Lois McMaster Bujold, Nancy Kress,Diane Duane, Candas Jane Dorsey, Greer Gilman, and Robin McKinley.

One of the great things about doing this series is that it encourages me to research the authors I’m writing about. I was fully prepared to write about how Laurie Marks’s Elemental Logic series, by itself, is worthy and awesome and I am so glad to be reading it, I am so excited to have more of it ahead. Because it is about how different people think logically and how we need each other, how different modes of thought fit together and how people with similar modes of thought often come to quite different conclusions, and all these lovely things fit into a fantasy model incredibly well–fantasy is an utterly great way to illuminate these things.

And then I went and looked, and she’s done other books I haven’t even heard of.

What an opportunity I have in front of me! In addition to enjoying this series–in addition to hoping that I can encourage you to be, as we say on the internet, one of today’s lucky 10,000–I am myself one of today’s lucky 10,000.

I love doing this project.

Anyway! So! Diversity of human brain types! In a fantasy matrix! In the context of colonialism and governance and cultures finding ways to live together! And with magic! This is a “yes she can sing, yes she can dance, but can she juggle” author, all in just one series, and apparently there’s more. I can’t wait for more.

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Books read, early December

Yves-Marie Berce, History of Peasant Revolts. This is actually not what it says on the tin, it’s a history only of the peasant revolts in France in the years leading up to the French Revolution, and actually mostly in Acquitaine, with only a few notes about other regions and their similarities and differences. I still find that interesting, but the narrower focus is definitely worth noting. Berce seemed to have the firm conviction that he would never be considered a peasant, which is not a conviction I share, so that grated in some places as well. Worth having but also worth supplanting and/or supplementing.

Chaz Brenchley, Dust-Up at the Crater School, Chapter 24. Kindle. The final chapter of this serial, bringing the threads of this book together for a conclusion that happened to be quite appropriate to the season in which I’m reading it, in its own Martian way.

Stephanie Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible, and Olivia, Invisible. (The latter on Kindle.) This is a charming and magical middle grade novel and the tie-in short story about the daughter of the protagonist of the novel. There are fancy dress balls, house parties, sibling fights, and bits of magic gone completely wrong. They’re rollicking good fun, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Mary Cagle, Sleepless Domain Volume 1. This is the beginning of a comic that’s very heavily influenced by anime. It’s full of magical girls with a diverse set of powers, attending school together to better facilitate their schedule in protecting their city. This plot arc is just getting started.

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Sundering Flames. The last in a trilogy, with lots about parenthood and protection, decay and hope. Definitely don’t start here, but I’m so glad to have gotten here in the end.

Nancy Goldstone, Daughters of the Winter Queen: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots. Oh seventeenth century Germany. Oh Stuart England. OH JAMES I AND VI NO. No matter what you think you know about what a jerk James I and VI was, there is always more jerk for that man to be. Always. But there were loads of interesting and (at least somewhat) competent Stuarts running around not being monarchs of England and Scotland, and this is good stuff about them. If you’ve looked at The Triumph of the Winter Queen in the Boston Museum of Fine Art, this is them. If you’ve read Neal Stephenson, this is them. Descartes shows up, Liebniz shows up, Northern Europe was very small at the time. There’s room for the Defenestration of Prague in here and still time to stop off to paint self-portraits. Good fun.

Guy Gavriel Kay, A Brightness Long Ago. Do you like Guy Kay books? This is one. I wouldn’t rank it among the most brilliant of his offerings unless you are passionately in love with Florence and possibly not then (I am not, so I can’t judge), but there are lovely moments in it, and I do, in fact, like Guy Kay books, and so look, here’s one, I read it, I’m not at all sorry. I love what he does with thinking about what it would be like to be at various moments in history, but sideways enough that he can do his own things with them.

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House. This was extremely compelling and horrifying, the memoir of an abusive relationship in very short chapters, vividly written, self-aware, self-contained, alarming. I was glad to read it and glad to be done reading it.

Judith Merril, Homecalling: The Complete Solo Short SF of Judith Merril. I’d read a lot of this already, but I’m really glad to revisit it and have it all in one cover. It has all the flaws it always had but also all the virtues. I love her so much. I want to go back in time and fetch her and show her what we’ve done.

Daniel Jose Older, Dactyl Hill Squad: Freedom Fire. Second in its series of middle grade books about children of color fighting the US Civil War for the Union, using their telepathic connection to pterodactyls, in an alternate universe full of dinosaurs. Full of fun but also full of serious stuff, as Older has no intention of treating the Civil War as apolitical as well he should not.

Joy Lisi Rankin, A People’s History of Computing in the United States. Short, pithy, focuses on who used computers at various stages and how that use shaped their further development, what barriers and assumptions that use and development encountered. An interesting counterweight to more common narratives where single individuals developed vacuum tubes in, er, vacuums.

Troy L. Wiggins, DaVaun Sanders, and Brandon O’Brien, eds., Fiyah Issue 12. Kindle. Another strong and interesting issue, this one themed around Chains. My favorite story was “The Midnight Host,” by Gregory Neil Harris.

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In lieu of magic, layers

“I’m not doing the pepparkakor this year, I can’t,” I said, and everyone in the family had different reactions. My mother asked if I wanted her to do them. (No. Dad and I were the only ones who ate them really, and I only ate one. Throwing away a batch of pepparkakor minus one would be so much worse.) But Timprov said, “But you’re still doing the lussekatter, right? I think we all need them.”

Yes. I still did the lussekatter.

We all still do need them.

We need them a lot this year.

It’s been unseasonably cold early here in Minnesota–we’ve had January-typical temperatures starting in November–which is the pathetic fallacy if I’ve ever seen it. It’s so much colder this year. The world is so much colder. Well. Yes. I’ve been standing in front of the oven when I take bread out, letting the residual heat dissipate directly into me. I’ve been wearing layers early–I think my long-sleeved shirts got about three days of time on their own before it was constant sweaters, fleeces, everything in layers.

Those of you who have been coming around a lot know that Christmas Eve day was always my time for just me and my dad. This year I’m making up a new bread recipe, an apricot chocolate babka, which is based on a plain chocolate babka that uses up basically every dish in the house and totally demolishes the kitchen, but with *even more* layers of decadent goodness. And effort. And mess. (Christmas dinner is not at my house.) I’m going to do that rather than having someone try to be Substitute Dad, rather than trying to recreate the old plans without Dad who was so central to them. So there are going to be two sets of special bread in this month, and I think I need both.

It’s a lot of work, though. Fighting through the dark in hopes that there will be light again somewhere if we just keep working for it hard enough is a lot of work. The rest of the world at large isn’t any brighter than it has been–in some places this morning quite a bit worse and I’m so sorry–but I’ve been writing these posts since 2006 and this is the darkest it’s been so far for me personally. When I preface wry or struggling comments with “Since my dad died,” I can kind of get people to remember that. When I don’t, I get pushback of the “I would expect you to be more cheerful!” kind. I get that a lot.

Because…grief doesn’t change the general shape of our relationships with people. So if the general shape is “we are mutually supportive friends,” there can be ebb and flow there, it’s all good. But if the general shape is “I provide light, you soak it up,” well, get with kneading that saffron bread, lady, that is your job here. That is what you are here for. Why are you not doing your job.

A lot of years I use these posts to be grateful for those who have brought light to me, and I am, oh, I am. I have needed some of those who have been there for me this year, and I know some of them have needed me too. We have clung together on this little raft when we expected to be on dry land. But…I feel like there’s a taboo around saying that some people have brought some of the darkness too, beyond what grief itself has brought us. Beyond what fear and political upheaval and all the other things have brought us, there are the people who treat us like commodities. Because we always fought to bring the light back before.

Well, and I’m trying to do it again. I’m burying my hands in the dough, I’m revising the words, I am doing the work. I am trying like hell to do the work. And to keep sorting out which bits of the work are really necessary and which bits I can just…let rest for a minute, a year. But I am not a commodity, I’m a person who is grieving. My mother is a person who is grieving. The answer we keep giving in this dark year, whenever anyone asks how we’re doing, is, “We’re doing the best we can.”

Today the best we can has to involve lussekatter. In a few weeks, an experimental babka. It also involves my current practice of reaching out to others who are grieving, ill, divorcing, or otherwise struggling–in general, but particularly when I’m angry at those few people who are not there for my mother in the ways they said they would be. That’s the best I can do: to not be them. To take their examples as an opportunity to do better, even when I am so very tired.

But also the best I can do today is say out loud: it is dark, and it was a lot of work making this bread, and I am really, really tired, and I could use some light. I need help with this. I can make the bread alone. (It rose enormously this year.) I cannot make this light alone. This darkness is a long road, and I am not out, and this bread is not magic. Neither are the words, “How are you? I’m thinking of you.” But until we get magic, we’re going to have to layer not-magic on not-magic until we’re warm enough to go on. They say it’s warmer if you keep moving. We can hope that’s right. We can stand by the oven and inhale the saffron and warmth and wait until it’s just barely cool enough to eat. Because this year we need this. Don’t forget we need each other.

Happy Santa Lucia Day.












2007: and

2006: — the post that started it all! Lots more about the process and my own personal lussekatt philosophy here!

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My year in writing review, 2019

Honestly this is a very weird one for me to write, because this year split down the middle for fairly obvious mental reasons. A major loss that changes your life will make it feel like you’ve had two very different years in one, so looking back and saying, “Really? that was this year?” Well, really, self: it was. I have really written two middle-grade novels and a novella this year, and an assortment of essays, poems (?! when did that happen?), and stories. I would give an exact count, but it’s only December 9, and the odds that I finish something else short before December 31 are fairly good, so let’s say…at least fifteen pieces of fiction shorter than a novella, as of right now.

If you said to yourself “throwing herself into work,” you would not be far wrong. But mostly it has been in a very good way, in a positive and inspired way. In a year when one of the things I wrote is my dad’s eulogy, I’m pretty proud of not just what I’ve written but the spirit I’ve written it in. I’m making myself a lot of revision work for the second half of the year and for 2020, but that’s all right too. (Even though I am also eager to write more new things. And have some clear ideas on that front.)

As for what’s been published, buckle in, it’s a list. On the fiction side, I got to continue to work with editors I have enjoyed working with very consistently before and also get familiar with a few new faces. Here’s what I was up to:

“The Thing, With Feathers,” Uncanny, Jan/Feb 2019.

“The Deepest Notes of the Harp and Drum,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies, January 2019.

“Painting the Massive Planet,” Analog, May/June 2019.

“Wrap Me In Oceans Wide,” Strange Horizons, 17 July 2019.

“How We Know They Have Faces,” Nature, 24 July 2019.

“Purposeful,” Daily Science Fiction, October 2019.

“In the Ancestor’s New House,” Spirits Unwrapped, edited by Daniel Braum (Lethe Press).

“Filaments of Hope,” Analog, Nov/Dec 2019.

“Family Album,” Nature, 13 November 2019.

I also had fiction reprints in print and podcast format and translations into Chinese and Spanish. I appeared on podcasts. I got interviewed. I sang, I danced, I juggled. (Okay, I did not actually juggle. I sing and dance a lot. It’s a thing.) Meanwhile in nonfiction, in addition to this blog I continued to write a little more for other places, and I like it:

That Never Happened, Uncanny Issue 27 (March/April 2019).

Beyond Cinderella: Exploring Agency Through Domestic Fantasy,, 2 May 2019.

Beware the Lifeboat, Uncanny Issue 29 (July/August 2019).

I have a couple of things coming out in January, with more beyond that, and of course a lot of what I wrote in 2019 is either on submission or being prepared for submission. There’s a lot of momentum here, is what I’m saying. And that’s a good thing.

Happy reading.

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Books read, late November

Neal Ascherson, Black Sea. This is a general history of a region that needs wayyyyy more than a general history. However, a general history is a start, and having some thoughts about, for example, fishing in the Black Sea in different eras, seems like a good thing. A brief intro to who the Greeks regarded as barbarous in the region and what line they drew is pretty instructive about what was considered barbarous elsewhere in the world in Hellenophile cultures. And so on: not a good last book to read on this, a pretty okay first book.

Daniel Braum, ed., Spirits Unwrapped. I make a policy of not reviewing things I’m in, and I’m in this.

John Crowley, Reading Backwards. Discussed elsewhere.

Kameron Hurley, Meet Me in the Future: Stories. This is my favorite thing of Kameron’s in a long time–lots of different tastes of her range of style and topic. Some of it is heart-breaking, some of it is alarming, all of it is Kameron, what a great place to start with her work–or keep going, if you already started.

Dan Jones, The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. I don’t think Dan Jones writes his own subtitles, because this book was a lot more like The Plantagenets: Oh My GOD What a Terrible Idea the Monarchy Is. I mean, I came in with that baggage, but I really don’t think Jones is in any kind of disagreement with me. It’s kind of heartbreaking watching the English people stagger through “we’ve got a really good form of government now…no wait, it’s not working, try turning it off and turning it back on again…why is it…I’m pretty sure it’s ordained by God this time….” Full of good juicy stories especially when you’re clear that it’s about the Plantagenets, not the Plantagenet era. I mean, I’d prefer Mercians and Saxons, but you take what you can get in these troubled times.

Naomi Kritzer, Catfishing on Catnet. Discussed elsewhere.

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond. This is one of the saddest books I’ve ever read. It’s funny enough in spots that I laughed out loud (and usually I am an “I’m laughing on the inside” northerner), but the entire emotional and especially intellectual core of the book is profoundly sad despite all that. As much as I’m a gigantic fan of Macaulay’s work, and oh, I am, I wouldn’t put this very high on my recommendation list not mainly for that reason but also for the reason that I expect a lot of modern readers are less enthusiastic about dealing with mid-century Church of England missionaries and their inevitable prejudices in their pleasure reading, even if a great many of those prejudices are thoroughly satirized. There are beautiful things here, I just wanted to kidnap Macaulay and bring her to stay with people who do talk a great deal about good and evil but not primarily in an early 20th century Church of England framework. You could almost have gotten to that world, Rose my darling. It was over the next ridge. Oh Rose. Now I’m going to take a break from writing my book post and have a cup of tisane and try to get over not being able to have Rose Macaulay and George Eliot to my mother’s for Thanksgiving again. It’s an ongoing process.

Laurie Marks, Earth Logic. I came late to this series but am really enjoying what it’s doing with different cultures trying to coexist with varying degrees of success, and how that’s overlaid with different individuals with their personal kinds of thought trying to coexist. Being an air person doesn’t mean you will get along well or agree with another air person, no matter how much earth logic makes you want to throw up your hands; how human and how humane this series is, and how full of ramifications, and everyone knows how I love ramifications. I can’t wait to get to the later volumes.

Garth Nix, Goldenhand. This brings together previous threads in the series. Nix is good at monsters and creatures. I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that it’s a good starting place; I don’t think it’s meant to be. If you haven’t done the whole Sabriel series, probably don’t start here, but if you have, it’s worth the time.

Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays. This is one of her more plant-specific collections, and where it’s not plants it’s nature. Short and pithy and worth reading.

Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh-Century England. This was a really lovely book about two queens of the early English period and the world and expectations around them. There was in-depth stuff about who worked for them and in what capacity, what they were called upon to witness and why…nerding out about medieval queenship, hurray.

Lynne Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas and for the last issue Michi Trota in the nonfiction spot, eds., Uncanny Magazine Issue 31. What a solid issue, oh, how good. It helps, of course, to have Elizabeth Bear’s novella “A Time to Reap” taking quite such a large percentage of word count instead of something worse–but there was also “Nutrition Facts” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires and Jenn Reese’s “A Mindreader’s Guide to Surviving Your First Year at the All-Girls Superhero Academy” on the fiction side, and then Jeannette Ng’s “As You Know, Bob…” for nonfiction, just for the things that leapt out at me, so really, quite a lovely issue.