[         ]  is a badass

that's how the light gets in

welp, Leonard Cohen just died

I expected it soon, given some things he said in the recent New Yorker profile, I knew it was going to be very soon

but why precisely now

all together, in chorus:




and if anybody wants me I will be off trying to deal with grief for literally the first songwriter I ever heard whose songs made me think, when I was a small child, and realize that songs could make you feel things

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[         ]  is a badass

Let's Make This The Eighties

The comparison I am seeing to the election of Trump, over and over again, is to the election of Reagan. An actor, a Hollywood personality, with few genuine political chops, who failed ever upward until he reached the White House; as a president, he literally joked about nuking Russia (have you heard the recording?), became a war criminal so many times over, fucked things up impressively in Central and South America, gave us the plague years (the loss of a generation of our best and brightest), and in the end was in such bad shape from dementia that basically anybody could tell him what to do.

Trump will be worse than Reagan. His targets will be different groups. But there is a limit to how much worse he can be without literally bringing on the apocalypse. Assuming that Trump does not bring on the apocalypse, the eighties passed. Reagan passed. And what were the nineties and two-thousands like? If you went to a queer activist in 1988 and said, same-sex marriage will be legal in this nation inside thirty years, that would have been-- not even bitter laughter. Just not conceivable, out of ambit, ludicrous, couldn't happen. Happened.

There will be horrific casualties, there will be crimes we cannot prevent. There will be the equivalent of the plague years, where communities had to bury their dead with their own hands. It is going to suck.

Thirty years from now, let's have the thousand-teens be the equivalent of the eighties to us. Let's have nobody able to believe how much more progressive things are, how much more free, how much more respecting of human rights. This is the eighties. Let's think of this time that way.

Now, what can Trump actually do, and what can we do about it?

-- He can push The Button, and have a nuclear war.
Directly: not much can be done about this.
Indirectly: contribute and volunteer to nuclear disarmament groups, nuclear watchdog groups, groups promoting the cause of the U.S. honoring its treaties, pro-U.N. groups, peace groups, cultural intercommunications groups.
Consoling Thought: Reagan didn't. Trump is known to be sexually violent, but does not to my knowledge have a history of, like, punching people, and there are no serious allegations that he's ever killed anyone or had anyone killed, so he must have a very slight modicum of control over his temper or he'd be dead or in jail by now. Small things to cling to, but.

-- He can attempt a coup d'etat and try to cancel upcoming elections, get illegal orders carried out, become dictator, &c.
Directly: If the rule of democracy and law in this country breaks down entirely, and there's a war, nothing else I say here applies, and we will have to choose our roles according to our skills and consciences.
Consoling Thought: Two hundred years of peaceful transfer of power casts a long shadow, especially among the apparatus of government, a whole bunch of people in everything from the Post Office to the Coast Guard who have sworn oaths to the Constitution and not to any individual President. I am far more worried about people carrying out illegal Trump orders on a small scale than I am on a loss-of-democracy scale. This is not to say that I'm not worried, because I'm pretty worried, but.

-- He can order people to do things.

At this point, I'm going to go into the only bits of law and policy that I know any damn thing about, namely LGBT issues. I would love to know more about the details of what to do about race, immigration, environmental, and general economic issues, but seeing as how I am a white middle-class person I don't know as much about many things as others do, or as I would like to.

So, an LGBT issue: same-sex marriage. What can Trump order people to do against this, and what can we do about his orders?

-- He issues an executive order that says it's illegal now.
Directly: Uh, he can't actually do that. Not one of his powers, because he's executive branch, not judicial. If he tries, we sue. And sue. And sue. And what the law says is pretty clear. And it's listen to the courts or coup d'etat, those are his options. Sue those who carry out illegal orders. Make it expensive, in time and in money. As long as it's clear what the law says-- and it is, right now-- the lower courts will cite Obergefell as precedent and we will win these cases.
Indirectly: Contribute to Lambda Legal Defense Fund and other LGBT organizations.

-- He tries to back a case to overturn the legality of same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court.
Directly: Remember, the Justice he definitely gets to replace is Scalia's seat! Obergefell went through without Scalia; he was in the dissenting minority. Trump needs more than one new Supreme Court Justice to overturn same-sex marriage in this country. I repeat: he needs MORE THAN ONE new Supreme Court Justice to overturn same-sex marriage in this country. Nominating and seating one Justice will take up some significant chunk of 2017, especially if we protest his nominee like hell and the Democrats in Congress filibuster. Then it's 2018, and we MUST, MUST, MUST take back Congress in the midterms (and we must get them FRIGHTENED before the midterms arrive). If that happens, we can stop him from seating a second Justice should an opening arise.
Indirectly: Support your local Democrats. Raise funds for the midterms. Start planning to get out the vote for the midterms. Figure out the local-level rising stars, or become one yourself-- you could run for the school board. You could run for dogcatcher. Pray, if you pray, and otherwise hope strongly for the healths of Ginsberg, Kennedy, and Breyer. Keep supporting those LGBT organizations.

-- He issues an executive order saying that while of course same-sex marriage remains legal, no clerk or office is required to perform it (on religious liberty grounds, of course), and those which do may mysteriously find their funding cut. (Note: this may also be an illegal order, as Kim Davis went to jail, I believe, but it's less obviously, flagrantly illegal.)
Directly: Track which clerks and offices do and don't perform marriages. Make it clear that public approval is on the side of those who do, and public disdain on the side of those who don't, showily-- in-person protests, advertising, both positive and negative. Donate to support the careers and offices of those who do. Donate to travel funds for LGBT people who need to travel to reach an office that will marry them.
Indirectly: If the government stops funding a service, the community will have to do what we can to fund it ourselves, whatever that ends up looking like.

Now, those are pretty much his three paths of action on any major front: illegal executive order, whereupon we take it to the courts; backing cases to the Supreme Court, at which point there are some things about which we are probably boned (Roe v. Wade, dammit), some things he needs one new Justice for, and some things he needs two, so we must do everything possible to make him getting one hard and two impossible; legal/shady-but-obnoxious executive orders, in which case we must circumvent them, fund the services we need ourselves, and bring public opinion down on our side.

For other things, like possible shitty new immigration laws, we're going to need to fight Congress, which is a somewhat different story and outside the scope of this post.

This is the eighties. Time to make the future change.

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[         ]  is a badass

(no subject)

My son is three weeks old, so I cannot give in to despair.

We have donated to the ACLU. We have donated to Planned Parenthood, and to the Standing Rock Sioux. Ruth goes to a Unitarian church, and when the baby is a little older we will coordinate with their social justice committee. About the same time, I will call Planned Parenthood and volunteer. We are looking for an immigrants' rights organization to donate to (suggestions welcome).

It feels like nothing. It feels like holding hair out of my face in the wind. It feels like any safety we ever thought we had in this nation was not just an illusion, but a dangerous illusion.

It can happen here, I was always told in school. It can happen anywhere. The banality of evil, the seductions of demagoguery, the selection of outsiders as scapegoats, the defining of various sets of people as outsiders... it can happen here.

The unspoken corollary was, but it won't. That's why we teach you these things in the schools in the first place. If you know it can happen here, now, to you, you can stop it.

That feels today not just as though it was wrong, but as though it was the worst of well-intentioned lies.

I don't know how to go on from here. I don't know how to help anyone else go on from here. I can barely put one foot in front of the other. I don't know where we will get the strength to fight back, and I don't know how to bear up under the weight that just settled on my shoulders.

But, because my son is three weeks old, and he has to be fed and changed and rocked and told that it is going to be all right, I have to trust that I will find that strength. That I will carry that weight. That we will fight back. That there will be losses, brutal and unnecessary losses, but that the fight will not be wholly in vain. That we will save something from the wreckage. That this will not literally be the end of the world.

One foot in front of the other, until I can figure out how. Until we can come together to do the necessary work.

Breathe. Grieve. Keep on living.

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[         ]  is a badass

protocols for talking about a tiny human online

So I'll be referring to the baby on the internet as Fox, which comes from one of his names. We also sometimes call him the cub, which we have done since long before his birth. I know foxes have kits, not cubs, but my friend [personal profile] rosefox has a Kit already, and there's no reason to be confusing.

Pronoun-wise, I tend to use 'he' as a placeholder, but 'they' is also accepted by all parents, and I'm sure we'll be informed of the correct pronoun at some point later on.

I figure I'm going to maintain a baby-news filter and put anything I want to talk about that's delicate or complicated or boring-to-those-who-aren't-me about the baby in that; if you were on the pregnancy-update filter and do not wish to be on the ongoing baby filter, please let me know. Alternately, if you weren't on the pregnancy filter and want to be on the baby filter, also please let me know.

I'll probably talk about general baby stuff unlocked but under a cut.

Collapse )

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[         ]  is a badass


Ruth, Rax, and I welcome Sebastian Reynard, 9:14 AM, Sunday, October 16th.

Forty-one weeks six days, so, unsurprisingly, a large child. Nearly ten pounds, thirty-seven centimeters head circumference (no, I don't know why we were given measurements in pounds and centimeters). Unassisted and unmedicated non-C-section delivery, which was not fun for anybody, but there were no complications and Ruth is recovering just fine.

Sebastian has some medical stuff ongoing, which is why we haven't gotten to social media much yet before this. We're not terribly worried, but it is taking energy and time and there is some worry.

He has, at the moment, blondish hair the color of his mother's, bluish-hazelish eyes the color of his mother's, and his mother's nose, though of course no idea if any of that will change. When he was put on Ruth's chest initially, and they leaned down and said 'Hiiiiiii!', he vocalized (totally accidentally, but adorably) 'Hiiiiii' right back. He is an interactive baby who wants people around and likes cuddling.

All three of his parents are delighted. I have decided on my Halloween costume this year: I can just wander across a room and call myself "The Walking Dad".

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many happy returns

A very happy birthday to [personal profile] sovay! You are an amazing partner and lover and cousin and friend. I hope today was good, and that it leads to a year filled with other things as nifty as your new apartment and your little black cats, with interesting movies and food and work and poetry and maybe some newly discovered classical manuscripts. And definitely the ocean.

B. also says happy birthday, as do Ruth and the cats.


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sparklepony only wants to read

advice about short stories

Wow, I've been doing the editor thing for some time now, and I continue to love it. I get to work with amazing people, both as magazine staff and as authors. Kelly Link won the Sturgeon Award for "The Game of Smash and Recovery" and that was delightful. (Basically I did nothing to that story except figure out how to get it into our site's HTML, because it came in as an incredibly clean and polished manuscript; the HTML was actually non-trivial, but I think it came out okay.)

Anyway, I've noticed that as I read slush, the things that I tell people when I'm writing encouraging rejection slips-- you know, the kind of rejection slip where you're like 'I liked x, I liked y, z was prohibitive, send me more of your work', as opposed to sending the form letter-- these things do, in fact, boil down to a few suggestions that I would like to tell writers* in general because maybe it would help. I'd like to get them out of my head, because maybe they will help, and maybe it will be less frustrating that I do not have time to write a full critique letter to every single slush author. There are several, but I'm going to go over them one at a time, because if I try to write them all up at once I'll never manage.

The really major one is length.

My magazine theoretically accepts anything up to 10,000 words. We buy longer lengths rarely, because anything longer than about 6K is going to be run split over two consecutive weeks, and therefore must not only be amazing enough to take up the space, but also have a splitting point where we can break it for serialization. But we do take up to 10K.

You will notice there is no limit on how short a piece can be. This is intentional.

Over the last year-and-change, I have lost track of how many times I have said 'That needs to be shorter'. I have lost track of how many times I have said 'This would be great if it lost 2K words'. I lost track of that within three or four months of starting as an editor.

Over the same amount of time, I have said 'This needs to be longer'-- not 'There's one element that needs to be expanded and others diminished', not 'This doesn't include the scene that would really interest me', not 'You stopped before the ramifications of the plot played out', all of which can and should be fixable without changing a piece's length, but 'You wrote this too efficiently and it flat-out just needs to be longer'-- once. ONCE. I was shocked to discover myself saying it at all.

What I'm talking about here isn't specifically actual length, as an objective thing, so much as it is a pacing issue. From what I've seen, the amount of content (plot, characterization, setting, backstory, etcetera) that new and newish writers tend to put into their short stories tends to be spread out too much over too long a length. Generally, the longer a piece is, the more drastic a length cut it could sustain. When we get a 10K piece, it could often be 5K and have exactly the same content in every way. If it comes in at 6K, I'd like to see it at 4K, or at 3.5. If it comes in at 4, I'd like to see it at 3.

And so the main piece of advice I have for new short story writers, based on editorial experience, is to get a submission draft ready, the best one you can, and then sit down and remove half the wordcount while changing absolutely none of the content. It will be difficult. It may well physically hurt. You may feel as though you are hair-splitting by rejuggling entire paragraphs to get rid of only two or three words. You will believe that it cannot be done, or that if you manage it the thing will proceed to suck. Think of it as a hard boundary, the way 10K is a hard boundary for our magazine, a boundary where we throw everything out unread that goes over it, and persevere.

After a while, you will find that you are able to pry fewer and fewer words out of your drafts, because you won't be putting the extraneous ones there in the first place. This is how you internalize the kind of word multitasking, the way that every scene and every sentence does more than one thing to help the story move, that makes a professional. This is how you get the kind of density that really sucks your readers in and makes the piece come to life in their heads.

And this is how I get to write fewer 'I love it, but it's three thousand words too long' rejection letters. Seriously. Halve your wordcount, keep your content.

Best advice I have.

* If you're selling short stories reliably, you probably are not my audience for this, although it's always worth checking to see whether this advice happens to apply. But it probably doesn't, because you learned how to do this already.

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[         ]  is a badass

(no subject)

Dear everyone I know in Britain and/or who is British: I am so incredibly fucking sorry. Maybe we can all just agree to rewind 2016 to, like, somewhere in February or March and try it again from the top.

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[         ]  is a badass

a genius unappreciated in his own time

Our Lucien-cat is still alive. Ruth and I went to Provincetown for the weekend, and I thought I had just about managed to cat-proof the kitchen before we left, but this turned out not to be the case.

The thing is, Lucien's medical issues mean that he never, ever stops feeling hungry-- his body has literally forgotten what it is like to feel full-- and he is applying all of his considerable intellect and energy to the question of getting more food. It is really very draining to live with. We are already feeding him as much as he can physically process, and have no way to reason with him further. And it's difficult to tell what human food he'll think is food, and what his mobility restrictions actually are at any given moment (I suspect that last one of varying by the day, too).

Therefore, the list of things he has tried to eat in the house recently includes incidents like the time I found him sinking his fangs into the outside plastic of a packet of ramen, just like a little kitty vampire. I told him sternly that he was not a graduate student, but he kept trying, so now everything pasta-like has been added to the long, long list of things that cannot be stored anywhere cat-reachable. The list already included all pastry and bread products, all dairy and cheese products, avocados, and sorbet, as well as, of course, anything meat or meatlike and all forms of fish and shellfish. The problem is that 'stored anywhere' also means, for instance, 'put down on the counter while I get something else out of the fridge', or 'the spoon I have left in the pot between intervals of stirring', and such-like. He is an incentive to work clean in the kitchen in a way the chefs of my acquaintance would envy, because absolutely everything that one is not both holding and looking at has to be washed instantly before it becomes the subject of an Act of Cat.

Spent about an hour one night literally carrying him around everywhere I went, under one arm, as there was no other way to stop him from ninja-ing, and nobody liked that, I tell you what. Rearranging the entire kitchen is problematic due to limited space and the fact that his idea of food seems to keep expanding. He can't be kept out of the kitchen entirely, as he has to pass through it to get to the litterbox, and also it doesn't have any doors. Sigh.

So Ruth and I went away from the weekend, and everything I thought might be remotely of interest to him was either in the fridge, with a child safety lock on it because he can open the fridge, or in a cabinet, that we're duct-taping closed every time we use it because he can open the cabinets.

His actual cat food, the wet food in cans, we buy a flat at a time, still in the plastic, and stack in the kitchen. I'd known for a while that Lucien knows that food comes from cans, because he'll rub up against the flat burbling plaintively; I had vaguely considered moving the entire flat somewhere totally away from him, because I didn't want him to get frustrated having it just sitting right there. But then I figured it would be better to have him focusing on that then on, I don't know, the peanut butter, so I left it.

This was a mistake.

[personal profile] sovay and the cat-medication person we hired to come in and do the high-level cat-medicating while we were away can both corroborate:

Our cat has learned. How. To open. His own. Cans.


This is a multi-step process which involved him

a) digging through the plastic covering of the flat of cans

b) making sure not to pull the can he was after out of the flat entirely, because the other cans had to kind of wedge it in place so he could get some leverage

c) pulling up the pull-tab on the can lid somehow, probably with his teeth

and d) tugging on the pull-tab with his jaws as he pushed the can away from him with his front paws, which was, because the can was as I have mentioned wedged among other cans and the plastic, enough force to get the thing open.

[personal profile] sovay caught him during d), because it was apparently very loud and clangy and it was also four in the morning. After some understandable boggling, she put the open can in the fridge and hauled the flat into a we-hope-cat-inaccessible closet, thus at least temporarily ending his merrie games & tricks.

He has been telling me ever since I got home that I knew he was this intelligent when I left the house, and what did I think he would resort to when we only feed him two-and-a-half entire cans of insanely expensive prescription wet food per day never ever feed him. And I have been saying that there is a difference between knowledge in the abstract and in the, shall we say, concrete, and that if he has to be the Einstein of cats, maybe he could apply himself to more generally socially acceptable goals overall, and here we sit, staring at each other.


I just. I don't even.

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[         ]  is a badass

Elizabeth Hand's Cass Neary novels

I have a long and somewhat contentious relationship with Elizabeth Hand's work. There was a lot of it in the library when I was young and reading my way through the local branch, and I found her stuff an odd combination of things I really liked and couldn't find almost anywhere else in fiction and... things that are not that. I can dissect in detail what I find good about each of her early and middle-period novels, but also dissect what I consider giant, book-breaking, tear-your-hair-and-scream flaws in every single one of them. Mortal Love, for instance, is trying really hard to do genuinely unknowable and inhuman Faerie, and approaching it from a direction completely different from Hope Mirrlees or from Susannah Clarke or even from Sylvia Townsend Warner, and also Swinburne is a major character. But the protagonist's arc relies on that old, terrible, baseless mental-health canard of 'true magic and mystery can only be accessed if you stop taking the pills that cure your mental illness', and that trope is so toxic and so cliched that I snarl every time I think about that plot point. Despite the novel being good enough otherwise that I went out and read John MacGregor's The Discovery of the Art of the Insane because it was in the works cited, and that's one of the best pieces of art history anything I've ever read. You get the idea.

There's always been a certain kind of decadence that Hand is the go-to for, though, rather like Tanith Lee, but in a modern setting. Her novels have the sort of parties in them where everyone is in such an altered state of consciousness that the paranormal slips in unnoticed around the back, in the welter of various drugs and sex and people trying and usually failing to become Great Artists. On account of this vein in her work, it's never surprised me when she gets filed under dark fantasy or under horror, because she describes a lot of the sort of thing that happens when the party circuit goes wrong, the shadow side of sixties utopianism. But I've also never thought of her as particularly dark, or particularly disturbing. I mean I had never found anything of hers disturbing, myself, though I don't know if this is one of those things where I am coming at it from a different angle than the general consensus. I've never been disturbed at least partly because one of her major flaws has always been what feels to me like a reluctance to go over the top and really commit to things, a tendency for some bit of a story to be built up as a Huge Dark Secret and then turn out to be not only quite mundane and usual but exactly what one was expecting. She'd put on the brakes when I wanted the accelerator, and I'd come away admiring the competency of her craft, but with a sense of vague annoyance.

In 2008, though, she started writing a series of crime novels.

Generation Loss, the first one, is fine. It's pretty much exactly like all the other Elizabeth Hand novels. I enjoyed it in that way where I forgot literally everything about the plot the instant I put the book down, and noted mentally only that she had distinctly turned down the presence of the overt supernatural in the story in favor of layers of subtext, but that this didn't seem to help. I'll probably reread it eventually. It's skippable. I didn't expect much from the follow-up, if she was going to write more of them, but then at some point in there I went to hear Hand give a lecture at Readercon about Norwegian and Scandinavian black metal, and my expectations rose for her next book, cautiously.

Hand is a very good lecturer, by the way. I knew precisely nothing about Norwegian black metal, and in the course of about an hour she gave a packed room of people a precis of its major players, the various bands that have become famous and their wide-ranging occult, criminal, and racist affiliations, the distinctly terrifying imagery surrounding the music (including some photographs which raised the hair on the back of my neck), and the horrible things that have happened to various people involved, mostly at each others' hands. Only at the end, when we were all sitting and wondering why any human being would get into this whole scene, did she break out the audio and play us some of the most shatteringly beautiful and surprising music that I have ever heard. I came away feeling that if her next book shared the good points of the lecture, she would really have something there.

Available Dark (2013) met all my expectations and more. There isn't a single thing wrong with it; it's plotted and characterized perfectly, it all ticks together like clockwork while still containing the messy human unpredictability of fallible people. Its center is Cassandra Neary, forty-odd, alcoholic and speed freak, still something of a name in photography circles for her single collection of pictures of her scene of doomed teenagers because that scene happened to be at CBGB. Cass is dishonest as all addicts are, basically shit at adulting, and ekes out some bare consolations in a bleak existence through trying to make and experience good art. Her eye for photos is much of what she has remaining. The novel takes her to Finland and to Iceland, where her eye for photos gets her tangled up in a perfectly mundane set of crimes, but also.

The thing is, this book is filed under Crime; nothing in it has to be supernatural, except for how it obviously is. Cass Neary, thief, cheat, and chooser of the slain, tangles with a set of symbols, ideas, and forces far older than the surface layer of the book would suggest up front, and those forces tangle right back at her. It's an impressive book, a winter book, cold and refractory and vertiginous. Until this year, I considered it Elizabeth Hand's best novel.

This year, the third one came out, Hard Light.

This is the part where it becomes difficult to write a review, because this book got me where I live. It has another perfectly mundane set of crimes, this time in London, and it works as crime fiction; it continues the layer of brilliant supernatural subtext, without losing any of its predecessor's power (there is a level on which much of this book happens because there is a baby shaman living in the middle of nowhere country who really needs somebody to talk to, and isn't Cass surprised to be that someone). There's a layer of pop-culture references, because Cass and her circles live surrounded by jukeboxes and swiped photo books and the apparatus of underground any-and-every-art, and the references that are real are so perfectly on-point that the references Hand invents slip in absolutely seamlessly. And there's a brilliant thing that goes on for the whole book, in which every single physical description of London is both accurate, something I've heard about from people who've been there or seen in photos and on the news, and at the same time is the description of a chilling techno-dystopia which reads like an Iain Sinclair wet dream. But none of that is what I found so frightening.

I don't talk about it much, but the place I grew up in was not a good place, and when I was a teenager the group of people I spent my time with was not a good group of people. I come from the kind of city that gets described as 'a good place to raise kids' because there is nothing for those kids to do and therefore theoretically no way for them to get in trouble. This is underestimating teenagers, drastically. If there is nothing that they are allowed to do that is productive and interesting and that they feel is worth their time, they will invent entire new categories of trouble to get into, and also start chewing off their own paws like so many foxes in a suburban bear-trap. I was never heavily into drugs myself. I tried a few and they didn't do much for me and I stopped, stuff that I think of as fairly normal teenage experimentation. But the people I ran with--

The crushing futility of having nothing to do but get high is part of what people try to escape by getting high. It doesn't work. The futility springs right back out afterwards. So some people, especially the sort of bright, bookish, cooped-up kid I spent my time around, will also try other avenues that might possibly be an escape. Also teenagers like edginess. What I am saying here is that I knew a lot of aspiring Satanists and chaos magicians and Crowleyites and wannabe goth sorcerers, and some of them were into things that were pretty thoroughly fucked up. I was always considered something of a goody-two-shoes by that crowd, but I knew them. My abusive high school ex-boyfriend, who was aiming at Thelema by way of Vampire: The Masquerade, creeped me out impressively once by taking me on a roadtrip several states away to visit a relative of his, literally vanishing into the night upon getting there, and coming into our bedroom at six in the morning straight from the deck outside, stark naked and so covered in blood I did not immediately recognize him. The only thing I have ever been able to ascertain about the blood is that it wasn't his.

Anyway, I got out of that whole scene, by going off to college a long way distant, meeting a whole new set of people, and most importantly having something productive and interesting to do with my life. But I remember the ever-tightening clutch of knowing that this terrible place was all there was going to be, weekend after weekend of aimlessness broken up only by people finding new and impressive ways to be awful to each other. I know what it's like to go to bed and sleep twelve hours and get up and find that the party from the night before is still going on and the same people are not only still at it but having the same stoned set of useless conversations, as though time had slipped a groove. I had my way out, and I clutched at that even when it was a vague future glimmer that I did not really believe in.

That place is where Cass Neary lives, except that the only thing that gets her out of it is the jolt of the supernatural. The gods in these books drink blood, and that's better than the darkness that is simply human darkness, because it is, at least, completely honest. If it weren't for the gods calling her name, Cass would live her whole life in yesterday's parties, and then overdose. I have to say, any book which makes the people perpetrating human sacrifice genuinely seem as though they have the cleaner, more reasonable responses to their situation has some seriously dark wallop to it. Hand manages to clearly separate the sort of petty never-was pretension that my ex-boyfriend dealt in from the people who are devotedly doing dark things because of what they really believe, and the first lot come off terribly, as they ought to due to all of the bullshit. But the second set... let's just say I'm very glad I never met anybody like that when I was a teenager. Let's say that concept is part of what frightens me.

Greil Marcus, in his essential secret history Lipstick Traces, makes a distinction that has been very useful to me in my life, the distinction between negationist art and nihilistic art. Negationist art is art which is trying to tear down established structures in order to free people to put up something new in their place. It often has no idea what the new things should be, and it's not in the putting-things-up business itself, but the action of making a space for the future is, while it involves destruction, also to the negationist essentially creative. Nihilistic art is trying to tear down established structures in order to tear them down. It wishes nothing to remain. It is trying to stop anybody else from being in the putting-things-up business. Elizabeth Hand is not remotely a nihilist. This is part of what makes the book so disturbing. It would be much easier to deal with if it were nihilist. It would be easier to refute its characterizations, for one thing, and say, well, people don't behave like this. The thing is, though, they actually do. The fact that Cass's cockeyed moments of transcendence are entirely supernatural makes the rest of her life even more believably bitter.

Hard Light is a claustrophobic masterpiece without a word out of place, a waking nightmare grounded in enough reality to make its dreamscape stable, and it's the novel I always wanted from Elizabeth Hand and never dared to expect. It's chilling and luminous and full of amazing research into a lot of real and imaginary history, and, though I know I haven't made it seem like it, it's funny as hell. I treasure it.

I have no idea whether she's going to write another one. It could go either way, and either way would work for me. I look forward to whatever Elizabeth Hand decides to write next, but even if the next thing isn't half as good, this is the kind of book to hold onto, to think, well, I will always have this one. Whenever I dare to reread it.

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