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Below are 20 journal entries, after skipping by the 20 most recent ones recorded in Rush-That-Speaks' LiveJournal:

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Friday, March 18th, 2016
12:05 am
admin + a meme
Okay, I think-- I think-- that I have managed to get everyone onto the filter-to-talk-about-the-baby who asked to be (and if you asked to be, it's fine, I'm putting you on it). So if you asked, you should be able to see an entry marked as being on that filter if you look at my journal as a homepage. However, it's possible I may have missed something somewhere, so please let me know if that has happened.

Liv kindly gave me the letter L in one of those various-things-starting-with-a-letter memes. I am trying to get into the habit of posting more often and not fretting so much about what, so it was helpful.

Something I hate: Lettuce, subheading iceberg. Other kinds of lettuce are fine, but iceberg-- look, for many years I didn't think it had a taste at all, and I wondered why one would eat something that is so close to being water when one could just go get an actual glass of water. Then, lo these years ago, I made a great mistake in the making of meringue, in that I wanted a lemon meringue and so I put actual lemon juice into the meringue. Right in there with the egg whites. You would think this would then fail to stabilize, but something about the cream-of-tartar or the atmospheric conditions was perfect and the meringue baked into gorgeously fluffy little piles. I went around handing them to people, and everyone I handed one to would bite into it, and then look extremely confused and say "Lettuce?!?" That is how I discovered that iceberg lettuce does in fact have a distinct flavor, and I don't like it, and it can be duplicated by doing something completely appalling to perfectly innocent confectionery. We had to throw the rest of the batch out, because of course no one wanted more than that one bite. Butter lettuce, I am down for, or Romaine, but as for iceberg, I say it isn't spinach and I say the hell with it.

Something I love: L is for Le Guin and Lewis and L'Engle, but that's obvious if you know me, so something different: Le Tigre's 2004 album This Island has been on repeat on my headphones for a while recently. Not sure what I like best from it, the formal perfection of the title track, the in-your-face joke's-on-the-world cock-rocktechno of 'Nanny Nanny Boo Boo', the way 'New Kicks' sounds as though it were taped live at the sort of protest I've spent time at for Black Lives Matter while also being a snapshot of some crucial things about the Bush II years, or the joyous butch awareness and sensibility of 'Viz'. I loved Bikini Kill in the late nineties with the heartswollen teenage love of somebody scrawling slogans on school binders with a Wite-Out pen, but if Kathleen Hanna had to change bands, adding a pop sensibility, a bigger dose of humor, and growing a ridiculously catchy set of hooks was definitely the way to go about doing it. "All night/We've been talking to liars/And it's all right!/Just not in the style of tigers."

Somewhere I've been: Louisiana, which we drove through on the way out of Texas, cats in the back of the car taking turns yowling so they could stretch their voices longer. When we reached the comfortable and homey B&B in New Orleans, the cats said that this was acceptable and they would live here now, thank you, and in some surprise I found myself agreeing with them. The thousand little details of whether I like a place are based in part on things like the density of greenery and the indigenous food culture, both of which are good in Louisiana (or at least the bits of it we saw), but the main things for me are how much sky there is and the gestalt of the area's smell. The GPS-enabled drive through back-roads and over swamp bridges was a chance to stop being agoraphobic and annoyed at my olfactory nerves (cf. Texas) and just appreciate the countryside. Wouldn't want to live there, but I'd be delighted to go back.

Somewhere I'd like to go: Lichtenstein. If I were given a huge sum of money and absolutely forbidden to spend it on improving-the-world purposes, I would strongly consider renting out the nation of Lichtenstein for a significant wedding anniversary, because that is a thing that you can do if you can afford the rental fee. But, even lacking said amount of money, I'd love to see the place, and it sounds like a good amount to look at in one day. It's not very high on my list of places I really want to go (just the highest beginning with L), but I can imagine it being a charming detour from Germany or Austria or Switzerland or bumming around on the train.

Someone I know: Lucien, our traditionally-alpha cat, is about three feet from me on the couch as I type this. He came down with diabetes earlier in the year and it's not as under control as we'd like, yet, so at the moment he is both the smaller and the weaker cat, eight pounds on a build that doesn't begin to look full-fleshed until he weighs about twelve, and yes, it is going to his brother Rafe's head. Head as in Rafe kicking Lucien in the, at all hours. Sigh. Have not yet gotten to the point of shoving the feline equivalent of Pedialyte down Lucien's throat, but if he loses any more weight at all I am going to, as while I am of course very fond of Rafe he has never learned how to sit in my lap while I knit, and it's nice to have somebody around I can trust to behave while they do that. (Mind you, knitting is one thing, but purling, apparently, is when it is time for the kitty to treat the work-in-progress as a harpsichord. Let's not even talk about Fair Isle.)

A film I like: Labyrinth is eternal, of course, though I haven't been able to watch it yet since Bowie's death, but my most recent L-film is Laura, which I had heard of for many years as the craziest of the American film noirs and which keeps turning up in books about queer subtext in cinema. I was delighted to discover that despite having read a great deal about the movie in said books about queer subtext, everyone had been so kind as to keep the genuinely surprising plot unspoiled for me for the last fifty-odd years, and so it was a movie I didn't see coming. Laura is stylized almost past the point of psychological realism, but not quite; witty almost to the point of screwball comedy, but not quite; cast so oddly it might as well be miscast (Vincent Price as a shyster Southern gentleman of the old school? the hell? and this is Vincent Price in his early thirties, too), but not quite. (Price's accent is so terribly maladroit that it circles back around into being a brilliant impersonation of what his character thinks people want him to sound like.) Clifton Webb narrates from somewhere between Bertie Wooster, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett, everyone but everyone is a plausible suspect for at least thirty seconds, the rules of police work appear to have gone cheerfully out the window, and Gene Tierney is a revelation as the title character, a woman of such strength of agency that I'm pretty sure her mere existence shatters the standard rules of narrative. Comfort-film dark hilarity for the ages.

Ask for letters if you want them.

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Thursday, March 10th, 2016
2:50 am
this is the opt-in post for our babyfilter
I have set up a filter to talk about Ruth's pregnancy and our (hopefully) upcoming child; I think I got everybody onto it who's already mentioned that they'd like to be or who is related to the kid. This is where you opt in if you would like to be on the filter and haven't already told me.

If you use both Livejournal and Dreamwidth, please let me know whether you'd prefer one site, the other, or both, especially if you have different usernames on different sites. My default is to try to add everybody on both sites, but this can be difficult as my reading lists do not map one-to-one. If I leave you out on a site you use, it will be by mistake. Let me know and I'll fix it.

I've put up a post on the filter already, marked as such, but I probably won't be going through and adding people until tomorrow afternoon or evening; let me know after that if you ought to be able to see it and can't.

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Sunday, March 6th, 2016
3:45 am
recent music videos
Okay, dammit, I am going to post about something that isn't my health, and I am not going to let my health completely stop me from posting, and apparently I haven't written about music videos since 2014. So, some things I've run across recently and liked for various reasons.

After Beyoncé put out Formation, which you've probably seen already (but if not, you should, because it's an amazing political and symbolic synthesis of post-Katrina New Orleans, the history of Southern black culture, and Black Lives Matter), I fell down a rabbit-hole of bounce music. 'Formation' includes a voice part by Big Freedia, who is one of the big names in bounce, and her* music is infectiously danceable, a sound that makes me want to get out on the floor and party. The closest anyone seems to come to a definition of bounce is that it is music from New Orleans made specifically to shake your ass to; it uses samples and vocal parts and interlocking rhythms, and it's all about the twerking, no matter your race, gender, age, body type, or conventionality of appearance. Y'All Get Back Now is a decent place to start with Big Freedia, as she and her friends overwhelm the city of New Orleans with literally gigantic joy, and I also like Excuse, in which Freedia takes over a yoga-studio bounce class that honestly really needed it.

* Big Freedia's official pronoun is whatever the hell you feel like, but both articles written about her and people speaking with her in interviews tend to gravitate towards 'she'-- once, memorably, in an interview I have managed to lose to link rot, the reporter started with 'he' and moved towards 'she' as the conversation became more comfortable, which was a fascinating process to watch.

Ninety percent of what I know about bounce comes from the ten-minute documentary That B.E.A.T. by Abteen Bagheri (link is to the director's official upload), which I highly recommend if you're interested in local musical subcultures, like Freedia's groove, or have not recently found yourself irresistibly compelled to twerk.

Changing gears a little: Flying Lotus's Never Catch Me (ft. Kendrick Lamar) is both a great dance video and a simple concept so beautifully executed that it smacks me in the heart every single time. If the dead are the ones still dancing, we will never catch up to them, but it's good to believe that they dance.

Going a bit artsier, I have some ambivalence about FKA twigs' Glass & Patron, in which she symbolically gives birth to a modern incarnation of the queer and mostly black ballroom vogue femme scene, but I do find myself coming back to it again and again. I think my ambivalence is centered around finding the pacing peculiar, which was eased somewhat when I discovered that this video is also the last few minutes of her album/short movie M3LL155X. I have no idea what I think of M3LL155X and will probably need another few months of rewatch before I have any faith that I understand what she is doing, but FKA twigs is definitely one of the most intellectually complicated and intricately allusive video artists I've encountered in years.

If you've ever spent much time with any NES or SNES games, Das Racist's Who's That? Brooown! is a pitch-perfect, hilarious, and somewhat disturbing parody of every nineties cartridge that ever tried to be hip. Certainly the only game I have ever seen contain the command line >Shoplift ironic beer. Also features Tea Party protesters outside the U.N. and respawning hordes of yuppie gentrifiers.

Finally, one of my perennial comfort videos: M.I.A.'s Bad Girls, a celebration of skill, daring, and things that probably should not be done with cars but which look really, really fun if you can pull them off. The stuntpeople driving the two principal cars fell in love and got married during production, which is one of the cutest behind-the-scene facts I know about anything.

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Sunday, February 21st, 2016
12:50 am
health update
So I had a scan, to see what on earth has been going on with my sinuses since September that has been so disabling, and the answer is... nothing. It's not my sinuses.

It turns out that my temporomandibular joint syndrome, i.e. grinding my teeth in my sleep, clenching my jaw, and so on, has gotten so bad that the nerve tissue has become inflamed, I've lost the voluntary or involuntary ability to relax those muscles, and the damage is manifesting as migraine. I thought it was my sinuses because of the referred pain-- my jaws hurt far too much for me to feel all of, or even most of, the pain as coming from that area. Also, I've had TMJ for at least fifteen years, it's a known issue, but it's certainly never been anywhere near this bad, so the current hypothesis is that this bout was set off by a sinus infection back in the fall which did, in fact, go away with antibiotics. Then the whole thing just never calmed down again and I've been experiencing it as sinus pain partly because initially there was genuine sinus pain.

What I'm saying here is that apparently I have literally had one migraine, at a level just below producing visual effects, but which does cause nausea and vertigo and light-sensitivity and noise-sensitivity and all that jazz, for the past six consecutive months.

No wonder I've been so exhausted, and no wonder this has been so disabling.

The interesting thing is that asking somebody to look into possible migraine issues had been something I was already planning to do, because three times this calendar year my headache spiked into something with visual effects, which is not really something that had previously been happening. Before 2016, I'd had things I could identify as migraine two or three times in my whole life, separated by stretches of years. But this went on my medical to-do list below 'sort out my sinuses', because apparently non-visual migraines are something I find completely indistinguishable in sensation from a really terrible sinus infection which is failing to drain.

In addition, I'm used to discounting things like light-sensitivity, noise-sensitivity, and temperature-sensitivity as clinically significant symptoms, because I had meningitis as a child and the aftereffects have faded slowly over decades. So when people ask me, do you have a headache or does x part of your head hurt, it's like, do you mean discounting or including the headache I have had since 1992? I spent multiple years as an adolescent using a five-watt bulb in my bedroom to read by because it was the greatest amount of light I could tolerate, so it never surprises me when that comes back every so often? It occurs to me now that while the direct meningitis aftereffects were definitely not migraine-- there was a very specific flavor of headache associated with that, and this now is quite a different feeling-- when the whole thing got to the point of just being a vague undercurrent of pain in the background it could easily have switched over into low-grade migraines literally years ago and I would never have been able to tell. Maybe it did, who knows.

The great thing here is that I was told repeatedly by several different types of doctor that there was nothing that could be done for the post-meningitis and it would have to go away on its own, but there is a chance that they can do something about the migraine, especially since the proximate cause is so clearly my jaws. So I am going to see a neurologist, and a dentist, and they will coordinate with one another, and in the meantime I have been told to stop chewing anything and to put hot compresses on my jaws at night, and in just a couple of days of doing that I have seen decided, though not huge, improvements. I think there's a limit to how far compresses &c. can take me, but I am starting to feel a bit better.

So, in general, optimistic.

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Friday, February 19th, 2016
8:17 pm
Umberto Eco, 1932-2016
I will never get over the time he managed to open a book with an untranslated, unglossed wall of text in Hebrew, for an English-language novel, and the book became a famous international bestseller.

He visited my college, way back when, and read from Baudolino, which was his work in progress at the time. He read the chapter first in Italian, which I do not really speak and faked less well then, and after the standing ovation had died down he read the chapter again in English, which was entirely unnecessary, because everyone there had understood every word he said. It was a bit in which there is a rockslide, and you could hear all of it in the language: the initial dropping boulders as the protagonists' feet set them off, the pauses as they tried to slow down and tiptoe and move through the area more carefully, the ominous crackings underneath the pack animals, the sliding overwhelming crashes and the overall roar as the land fell down into the valley and they all went with it... I mean here that if you played this chapter to somebody who didn't know it was speech, they would register the noises, the way the syllables work together, as being an onomatopoeic depiction of a rockslide, regardless of the actual semantics. It wasn't as good in English-- I don't think Eco translated it himself, because he wasn't really English-fluent-- though the translator had clearly known what was supposed to be happening and made a valiant attempt. In Italian it was one of the two or three best readings I have ever heard a person give, revelatory, the kind of thing that expands the possibilities of language itself.

Afterward we all stood in a line for autographs, and I attempted to express something of how impressed I was by that reading, mostly I think by waving my arms a lot, and then something happened which was even more memorable, and which I am probably not going to manage to express in a way that makes it make sense.

None of the words I can use to flatly describe this situation have any of the right connotations. None of them. Even when I just limit myself to physical descriptions of actions taken, you're not going to get it, because they sound completely wrong. But I am going to have to start there.

Umberto Eco grinned at my hand-waving enthusiasm and attempts to say something about Greek and Latin poetic meters (both of which he had used in the passage in question), shook my hand, kissed my hand, signed my book, looked intently and delightedly down the front of my shirt (I have a chest tattoo; my default shirts have a lot of cleavage) for at least thirty seconds, and moved on to the next person in line.

You now have the wrong impression.

Here is an attempt to unpack the situation:

Me: *is enthusiastic and delighted in a language Eco does not speak, using vocabulary which is international, because the names of Greek and Latin poetic meters are basically recognizable no matter which modern language you are speaking*

Eco: *understands that I am being enthusiastic and delighted in a language he does not speak, and recognizes the vocabulary which means that I have understood and am happy about a specific, honestly rather esoteric aspect of the complicated thing he is trying to do*

Eco: *shakes my hand, making eye contact, firmly, in a manner which emphasizes that he is pleased to meet me and happy to hear what I have to say, but which also indicates his inability to continue the conversation in the manner which he would like and which would be the logical followup*

Me: *realizes oh of course he doesn't speak enough English for this what was I thinking gah* *starts to feel and look slightly embarrassed*

Eco: *kisses my hand, maintaining eye contact, indicating firmly that no! no! you should absolutely have said that! I am so glad that somebody understood and took the time to comment on that aspect of my work, and I am genuinely grateful that we are interacting in this way! I respect you very much for bringing it up!*

Eco: *signs book* *hands book to me with air of 'now that required bit is over with'* *manages to communicate to me, as far as I can tell psychically, 'I do not want to stop interacting with you, but there are all these other people, and we have this language barrier! What can I do that will register as a continuation of genuine human contact, be fast, and indicate admiration for you and this situation? I know!'*

Eco: *looks down my shirt for at least thirty seconds*

Line: *moves on*

Me, internally: oh my lord he actually managed to do that in a way that indicated that he was genuinely doing it as a stand-in because he respected my intellect. I... I believe him. That was... that was actually what he meant. I have never been leered at so politely in all my life. How did he do that. How was that not creepy. That was... that was not creepy in any way (and this was back when my PTSD and general skittishness were way the hell worse, especially in public and when I didn't know people). How.

A friend, right afterwards: So how was meeting Eco?

Me: He looked down my shirt! It was--

Friend: HE WHAT.

Me: No! It wasn't like that, it-- I am never going to be able to adequately explain this to anybody, am I. *sighs*

And from that day to this, no one has ever leered at me in such a non-creepy, intensely affirming, intellectually welcoming, genuinely supportive and delightful manner. I wouldn't believe it myself if he hadn't done the thing with the Italian reading immediately previously. But anyone who can do that is some kind of ludicrous language wizard; I think he could have done that reading literally anywhere on the planet and they would have understood it. So him doing the wildly impossible again right afterwards somehow seemed, well, a bit more likely.

I have spent the rest of my life proud and delighted that I was once ogled by Umberto Eco. Truly, the world has lost something in this man.

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Friday, February 12th, 2016
2:44 am
thank you + health update
Some very kind person has sent us a copy of Your Body, Your Baby, Your Birth, by Jenny Smith, which looks both straightforward and useful, but as it did not have a gift receipt I haven't the faintest notion who it was. Should you happen to be reading this, whoever you are, let me know so we can thank you properly?

Have not yet set up babyfilter, mostly due to health.

Health, and what has been going on with it: as some of you may recall, back in Texas in 2011(ish) I developed horrible respiratory issues which eventually drove me out of the state because I couldn't breathe there. Back here, after some time for recovery, I've been doing very well ever since... except that in both 2013 and 2014 I lost a solid month of the autumn to terrible sinus infections. I had just barely noticed this was starting to be a pattern when it came on again in September 2015, and this time it failed to leave. I have been some degree of incapacitated since September.

How incapacitated varies, but mostly this has been disabling. I spent Thanksgiving asleep on [personal profile] sovay's parents' couch. We ordered fancy takeout with family on Christmas Eve instead of my usual fancy cooking, and I spent Christmas itself lying down on my own couch. I spent New Year's lying down on B.'s couch, despite having made plans I really wanted to keep. I spent all of December frantically trying to catch up on work I'd got behind on in October-November, and managed, and then haven't been able to do a damn lick of work in weeks, so I'm that far behind again. And the whole thing reminds me unpleasantly of the whole Texas health mess, which doesn't help.

It's actually not remotely the same, since back in Texas we didn't have health insurance. Here, I have a concerned, caring, and competent primary care physician who referred me to a concerned, caring, and competent ENT. In Texas I was reliant on the free clinic, who cared about their work immensely and had just about ten minutes per person and so couldn't diagnose anything peculiar; here I have just had a CAT scan and have a lovely informational sheet from my ENT explaining everything she thinks could possibly be wrong with me and exactly what we would do about it in each specific case. (This is what state health insurance programs do. This, exactly this, is why I want national single-payer, because I should not have had to move cross-country back in 2011 to get decent care, because the care I have now is the kind of care I want available to everybody. This.)

So there are paths forward, and there are a great many options, and I have faith that this is going to be dealt with, and that I will feel better eventually and that, seen from a long view, eventually will be pretty soon. We may even manage to get things to where I stop losing a month every fall, because the current theory is that there is something physically, structurally wrong in my sinuses, and if that gets fixed (though it would mean, sigh, surgery) I would no longer be nearly so susceptible to infections.

But basically right now I can do One Thing Per Day. Sometimes Two Thing, and then I have to lie down the day after. And by Thing I mean, washing my hair, that's a Thing. Reading a book I've read before, that's a Thing, reading books I haven't read before is often more than one. Last Friday it snowed, and I had to take the cat to the vet a fair drive away, because his appointment was while Ruth was at work, and the cat is newly diabetic, and we're trying to get it under control. The snow didn't look all that bad when I set out, but after an hour in the vet's office it was whiteout out there, and driving home from the vet's in the snow with an annoyed and somewhat ill cat was about Six Thing all by itself. I didn't get out of bed again the whole weekend, and then only because I had to go to my own doctor. So that's what it's been like. The aggravating part is that it's not just fatigue, it's vertigo and nausea and an honestly fairly ridiculous amount of flat-out pain. This is why I haven't seen many people in a very long time, or written here much, because writing is definitely A Thing, so I have to plan for it well in advance.

I am very much looking forward to being able to write more again, both here and in general, and to being able to be more social both online and off. Rest assured, you'll all notice when that happens.

Until then, though, one thing at a time.

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Thursday, January 28th, 2016
11:58 am
So I could and at some point should make a post about the way my health has gone sideways and things I am doing/going to do about it and how that's why I haven't been on the internet much, but I don't want to make that post right now, because there are much, much better things to think about.

Namely that after two+ years of trying and more paperwork than seems remotely reasonable, Ruth is pregnant.

Assuming all goes well, the baby will arrive late September/early October. I am really looking forward to being a father.

Terminology note: I am, in fact, going to be a father. Please refer to me as any variation on that. 'Parent' is also acceptable. For a large set of personal reasons, including things about my gender identity and from my childhood, referring to me as being in any way a mother or variations on that word is not okay and I would very much rather you didn't. (Besides, there are all those people who insist that every child needs a father and a mother-- I assume they will all be delighted to know this one has got those.)

Ruth and I are both absolutely through-the-roof happy about this.

When I figure out how much I'm going to want to write about the process of this pregnancy and so on, I'll set up an opt-in filter for people who want details, because I know there are people who read this who would be upset or triggered by running across those details unexpectedly. But that is all going to happen later.

Baby! We are going to have a baby! YAY!

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Monday, January 11th, 2016
7:35 am
nobody knew what kind of magic spell to use
David Bowie (1947-2016).

Every year of my adult life, I've watched him as Andy Warhol in Basquiat at least once, the kind of delicately tender performance that made me re-evaluate Warhol and which never fails to move me to tears.

Every year since I was ten or eleven, Labyrinth as a constant, his touch of glamour in the whimsy, the whisper of real darkness among the more comprehensible magic. There's a generation of fantasy fans who came of age hypnotized, not just by the tight pants, though they are certainly tight, but by the crooked smile and the look on his face at the end when the world falls apart. I've never known whether I want to be Jareth or fuck Jareth.

I never knew that about Bowie, either.

My high school senior yearbook page is covered with Bowie lyrics, the elliptical tracings of the things I couldn't articulate. The four years of that school filled with a five-thirty-a.m. bus, more than an hour of sitting in an interior you could see your breath in in winter, wrapped in a jacket that wasn't thick enough and socks that weren't tall enough and the uniform skirt they insisted we wear, but mostly wrapped in headphones linked to a cassette recorder. Diamond Dogs and the Labyrinth soundtrack and compilations taped off the radio, fuzzy reduplications of other people's duplications, the tape-player almost warm enough to keep my fingers mobile. Without punk, I would not have survived high school, and Bowie, despite the chronology of his career not fitting into the musical movement, was something near the heart of punk rock on those cold mornings.

His was one of the first images of masculinity that I was not afraid to contemplate. Without David Bowie, I would not have survived gender. I never read him as particularly feminine: I read him as a way of being a man in the world that was so far away from the way every man around me did it that he might as well have genuinely been a spider from Mars. It opened up the space of possibility. I have never been particularly flamboyant, but I am femme as hell-- I mean, I do not actually voluntarily wear trousers, ninety percent of the time-- and Bowie showed me that the accoutrements of what most people would call high femme don't need to be simply one set of signifiers, can say whatever you want (or nothing) about your gender identity, or presentation, for that matter, if you know what you're doing. The vaguely self-actualized man-with-complications that I am today is heavily due to his influence, not the gender identity but the ability to cope with it.

I never thought he'd actually go and die or anything. Rock and roll doesn't.

Now we will all have to be fabulous and mythical and incandescent for him.

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Saturday, December 26th, 2015
11:08 pm
year-end editing roundup
It hasn't actually been a full year since I started editing at Strange Horizons, as I formally began the job in early February of 2015, but the last piece I edited for publication this calendar year has gone live, so it's time for a round-up post.

A quick note as to what editing means, at least for my magazine (other places do other things): we have a capable and talented staff of first readers, so being a piece's editor does not necessarily mean being the one to pick it out of the slush, though I do read some slush, so that can happen. One of the first readers marks a piece for the attention of the editors, and then/or one of the editors reads it and marks it for the attention of the other editors, and then we all read it and discuss buying it. Acquisition is a joint decision, and the piece's editor is assigned as part of that decision, and may or may not be the person who initially put it in the pool for the other editors to read. The editor gets picked based on a whole lot of factors, including but not limited to: everyone's pre-existing workload; editors' levels of acquaintance with the piece's author (sometimes you want to work with somebody you know, sometimes you worry about not being able to be objective about a friend's work); editors' knowledge about specialty fields dealt with in the piece (science, languages, geography and feel of real places, etc.); occasionally we resort to haruspicy; you get the idea.

What the editor actually does is to send the acceptance letter and author info questionnaire, send the contract, work with the author on any desired contract changes, sign the contract on the magazine's behalf, forward the author-signed contract to the publisher so we can pay for the work, liaise with the art department and the podcasting department, and-- the fun part-- help the author finalize the text by asking questions about clarity issues, pointing out grammatical problems and typos, discussing structure and character motivations, and generally going over the piece word-by-word to figure out what could be strengthened. Editors vary as to how much they make suggestions. I find that I generally ask a lot of questions and say 'I would like something that does x here' or 'I am confused by y', but I don't usually volunteer suggestions as to what the something that does x should be, or notes on exactly how to clarify. The point is for the story to become the strongest possible version of the author's original concept and voice, so my voice should not be detectable-- I don't do the writing, even if I wind up asking for four different versions of the same paragraph before I understand it.

The editor also galleys the piece, selects a blurb sentence which will hopefully get you to click on it, puts up the author's bio (and sometimes photo), does any necessary tweaking of the web interface to get typographical things to show correctly, sends the piece off to the proofreaders, runs the proofreaders' suggestions by the author, and gets the author's final approval of the galley. We don't actually hit the buttons that make it go live, though.

Obviously, every editor has a whole bunch of pieces in various phases at any point, and the whole process takes a while, so even though the first piece I edited had already been selected for purchase when I was hired in February, it wound up coming out in May. That's a longer-than-usual but not unheard-of lag for this kind of publishing.

In a delightful and honestly not-terribly-realistic circumstance, the very first piece I ever read as slush as an editor, literally the first piece of email in my new inbox, was a piece we wound up buying and I edited it. This never happens, because slush piles are generally full of unspeakable terror-- ask anyone in the industry. I remain confused but pleased.

Stuff I edited this year:

The Pieces, Teresa Milbrodt, 5/4/2015
What We're Having, Nathaniel Lee, 6/15/2015
Glaciers Made You, Gabby Reed, 9/7/2015
The Wives of Azhar, Roshani Chokshi, fund drive bonus issue, 9/28/2015
The Game of Smash and Recovery, Kelly Link, fund drive bonus issue, 10/19/2015
Artemis, with Wildflowers, Ani King, regular issue of 10/19/2015
Needle on Bone, Helena Bell, 11/2/2015 (this is that first email in my inbox)
Tigerskin, Kurt Hunt, 12/7/2015
Telling the Bees, T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon), 12/21/2015

I am very pleased with this as a body of work to date, and I look forward to seeing what the new year brings.

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Friday, December 11th, 2015
5:41 pm
sketches towards some posts
Things I would like to make posts about but may or may not manage to:

-- The best album I encountered in 2015 is Jenny Hval's Apocalypse, girl, which is kind of like what might happen if Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush and Tori Amos had a terrifying feminist child with a peculiar yet hilarious sense of humor and an astonishing voice, and I would like to go into more detail on this

-- Line-editing other people's fiction: how much I love it, why I love it, and why it's difficult and worthwhile

-- Things The Cat Has Done While On Steroids (the cat is literally on steroids, for sound medical reasons; let's just say the behavioral effects are... not unnoticeable)

-- stuff I've read lately, featuring any, all, or none of: The Dark Forest, Liu Cixin; The White Road, Edmund de Waal; The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson; The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness; Seven Footprints to Satan, A. Merritt (reread); Vathek, William Beckford (reread)

-- I looked through a book recently about arm knitting, which is where you use really giant yarn and use your own arms as needles, how cool is that, and my brain was instantly like does this mean there is some way to use one's legs as needles, because that sounds more readily visually parsable from above, and I haven't gotten round to trying it yet because probably one should try arm knitting first and I need to source really, really huge-ply yarn but if you ever hear that I have been found inextricably woven into some kind of knitting project this is probably why

-- Had a sinus infection the whole fall but I'm getting better now: pretty much what I just said only with details

Anyway, no idea when or if I'll have the energy for any of that, but sketching it out is better than waiting, because waiting to have the energy demonstrably results right now in no journal entries whatsoever.

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Friday, September 25th, 2015
8:04 pm
Elizabeth David's Pizza al Tegame: Excellent Home-Made Pizza In Like Forty Minutes Total
So we had some mushrooms, as one does, and I was thinking about things to do with them, and I thought pizza, but for various reasons I couldn't start cooking tonight until Ruth got home from work, and all the pizza dough recipes I have take about two hours to rise. Which would have us eating at approximately the time Ruth likes to go to bed, when you add in actual cooking time.

I looked through Elizabeth David's Italian Food, because if there was a pizza variant that would rise faster it was in there, and discovered pizza al tegame, which is an entirely unyeasted pizza, requiring no rise time because it is fried. So we went from zero to dinner in about forty minutes, and this may be the best homemade pizza I have ever had, though it also tastes very different from any other pizza I've ever had period, in a way it's very hard to put a finger on. It's definitely a thin-crust pizza, of course, but it's doughier than most thin-crust, and, I mean, if I was handed this object without having made it, I would obviously call it a pizza, but it feels as though there ought to be another word. I look forward to trying it with other topping combinations, though I'm writing down mushroom because that's what we had.

Elizabeth David's Pizza al Tegame (Fried Pizza), expanded from Italian Food, pp. 123-4

Allow one 7" pizza per person, if serving nothing else.

For 2 7" pizzas:

2 tomatoes or one can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
about 15 baby bella or button mushrooms
black pepper
fresh or dried basil
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
shredded mozzarella cheese
about a cup of olive oil (don't worry, it really doesn't either stick or seep in)

a frying pan of about 9" diameter

Chop and seed the tomatoes, or drain the canned ones. Get as much liquid out as you can, because you're going to be frying this, and any tomato liquid that gets into the oil will spatter and be dangerous and frightening.

Mince the garlic, and toss it with the tomatoes in a bowl, with a good pinch of salt, and black pepper and basil to taste (bearing in mind that the tastes will become stronger the longer you leave it). Set the bowl aside.

Stem the mushrooms and wipe them off with a paper towel thoroughly. Do not allow water anywhere near them-- just keep wiping until you feel all right about it. Break them into chunks with your fingers, or slice them fairly thickly.

In the frying pan, heat less than a teaspoon of olive oil over high heat, enough to barely coat the bottom if scraped over it with a spatula. Get that near the smoke point. Put the mushrooms in, in one layer, trying not to crowd them. Leave them strictly alone for one solid minute. Cook, stirring, for another two minutes, removing them from the heat instantly if you see them giving off any liquid. Steam is great. Liquid is bad. Once they look cooked, pour them into another bowl, toss with a little black pepper (NO SALT, it will make them weep) and set aside. Turn off the heat for now, and wipe any egregious mushroom residue out of the pan.

I found it easier to make the crusts one at a time because then I didn't have to split the dough, but that's me; you can do them all at once.

Anyway, for each crust, take 1/2 cup (1/4 lb.) of flour, make a well in the center of it, add 1 tsp. baking powder and a generous pinch of salt, and stir in 2 tablespoons of water. Mix it with your hand, adding more water by drops if needed, until it makes an elastic dough. Knead it for a few minutes, although not so long as to become tough, and roll or pat out into a 7" round. You can leave the round sitting for a few minutes without it drying out, but if it's going to be more than that I would recommend covering it with plastic wrap.

Take about a cup of olive oil, or enough that it will come level with the top of your disc of dough, and heat it over high in the frying pan. While it's heating, line up next to the pan your tomato mixture, your mushrooms, your cheese, your crust rounds, a cover for your pan, and a couple of plates to transfer the pizza to.

When the oil is nearly smoking, add a pizza crust, and cook, turning down heat if it seems to be going too fast, for 3-5 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Flip it. Apply the tomatoes and then mushrooms carefully with spoons in the classical pizza fashion. Cook another two minutes, and then add a thin layer of the cheese. Cover the pan until the cheese is all melted, about another three minutes. The total cooking time of each pizza is about ten minutes.

Remove from pan-- a slotted spatula is a help here-- and onto plate. Note that leftovers will have the crust toughen, so get them eaten within a couple of hours, ideally while still hot.

Elizabeth David say "An excellent variety of pizza if carefully made," and I entirely agree.

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Sunday, August 23rd, 2015
3:34 am
if not for the puppies
Presenting: the Hugo ballots we would have gotten if not for the slate voting.

Please note that I am not touching Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, as the puppy nominations were fairly well-liked elsewhere, and I know a lot of people concluded that giving an award to a puppy pick in this category wouldn't hurt anything as none of the puppies were actually involved in producing any of it. Also, I'm only including categories in which somebody was bumped by a puppy. Nominees are listed in order of the number of nominations they received, with the puppies removed, five nominations per category. This year's actual winners marked by an asterisk, when relevant. All statistics are derived from the Hugo statistics PDF, which is publicly available in a link from here. That's also where you can compare this with the ballots we actually got.

Best Novel:

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin*
Lock In, by John Scalzi
City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Best Novella:

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss
The Regular, by Ken Liu
Yesterday's Kin, by Nancy Kress
Grand Jete (The Great Leap), by Rachel Swirsky
The Mothers of Voorhisville, by Mary Rickert

Best Novelette:

'The Day the World Turned Upside Down', Thomas Olde Heuvelt*
'Each to Each', by Seanan McGuire
'The Devil in America', by Kai Wilson
'The Litany of Earth', by Ruthanna Emrys
'The Magician and LaPlace's Demon', by Tom Crossbill

Best Short Story:

'Jackalope Wives', by Ursula Vernon
'The Breath of War', by Aliette de Bodard
'The Truth About Owls', by Amal El-Mohtar
'When It Ends, He Catches Her', by Eugie Foster
'A Kiss With Teeth', by Max Gladstone

Best Related Work:

What Makes This Book So Great, by Jo Walton
Chicks Dig Gaming, ed. Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith, and Lars Pearson
Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology, ed. Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor
Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF, ed. Jim C. Hines
'Tropes Vs. Women: Women as Background Decoration', by Anita Sarkeesian

Best Graphic Story:

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona*
Saga, Vol. 3, by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery, by Kurtis J. Weibe, Laura Tavishati, Roc Upchurch, and Ed Brisson
Sex Criminals Vol. 1: One Weird Trick, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Saga, Vol. 4, by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form):

Doctor Who: 'Listen'
Orphan Black: 'By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried'*
Agents of Shield: 'Turn, Turn, Turn'
Game of Thrones: 'The Lion and the Rose'
The Legend of Korra: 'The Last Stand'

Best Editor, Short Form:

John Joseph Adams
Neil Clarke
Ellen Datlow
Jonathan Strahan
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form:

Liz Gorinsky
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Lee Harris
Anne Perry

Best Professional Artist:

Julie Dillon*
John Picacio
Galen Dara
Stephan Martiniere
Chris McGrath

Best Semiprozine:

Lightspeed Magazine, ed. John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant*
Strange Horizons, ed. Niall Harrison, Julia Rios, An Owomoyela, and Catherine Krahe
Beneath Ceaseless Skies, ed. Scott H. Andrews
The Book Smugglers, ed. Ana Grilo, Thea James
Interzone, ed. Andy Cox

Best Fanzine:

Journey Planet, ed. James Bacon, Christopher J. Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery*
The Drink Tank, ed. Vanessa Applegate, James Bacon, and Christopher J Garcia
Lady Business, Renay and Jody
File 770, Mike Glyer
A Dribble of Ink, Aiden Moher

Best Fancast:

Galactic Suburbia Podcast*
Tea and Jeopardy
The Coode Street Podcast
The Skiffy and Fanty Show

Best Fanwriter:

Laura J. Mixon*
Abigail Nussbaum
Liz Bourke
Natalie Luhrs
Mark Oshiro

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer:

Wesley Chu*
Andy Weir (who was eligible, because the Campbells go by first professional publication, as opposed to the Hugos, which count self-publication against eligibility; thanks to [personal profile] rosefox for clearing this up)
Alyssa Wong
Carmen Maria Machado
Django Wexler

My congratulations and condolences to everyone who got bumped from the ballot. Not only does this ballot have, in my opinion, an appreciable increase in quality over the one we got, but it looks one heck of a lot more like the Nebulas and the Locuses and the other awards in the field.

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Saturday, August 22nd, 2015
7:48 pm
links of interest
The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey is running! This is a demographic survey for people who identify as trans, genderqueer, or non-binary who are living in the U.S. or U.S. territories or military bases. It is the largest demographic survey of this population and is an extremely important policy tool and referent for lobbyists and activists. I'm linking to the FAQ, and I strongly urge anyone who identifies as being in the target population to take the survey. It took me about half an hour.

You can send your name to Mars! NASA is etching submitted names onto a microchip that they are sending on the Mars Insight mission in March 2016. Enter by September 8th here. Complete with shiny generated boarding pass and adorable 'frequent flyer' program.

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Thursday, August 13th, 2015
4:10 am
wait, what was that call number
Did I ever tell you all about the time I read the Necronomicon in a reference library? I must have done, because it's a story I tell because it's amazing and kind of hilarious, but I don't seem to be able to find anywhere on this journal I've told it, so maybe I haven't.

Anyway, I was in some part of high school age, let's say fifteen, and I was in the middle of the phase where I was running rampant through the occult/esoteric/new age section of the library, a thing I did for a few years which served to fill my brain with extremely peculiar trivia and eventually gave me a stone-cold rock-solid bullshit detector which has served me very nicely ever since. I lived in Columbus, Ohio, which is important to the outcome here, I think. And I was a kind of semi-goth semi-punk deeply geeky sort of kid; I went to a very ritzy private school and spent four years causing them to make all kinds of sudden new specifications in the uniform requirements.

So what I was wearing on the day in question was a little plaid skirt and a white blouse and a uniform blue knit cardigan with the school crest, and the uniform (deeply sensible) black Doc Martens (which were constructed along the lines of Roman public works and which I wear to this day), because I had just come from school. Also safety pins through my earlobes-- I'd filed down the points and put them in through existing piercings instead of regular earrings, because I wasn't an idiot, but it was impressive how everyone who saw them assumed otherwise, which I found sad and a little funny; and my nice cold-weather water-resistant black cloak with the steel pin that I'd gotten at the Renaissance Festival (and which I still wear also), because it was winter, and, again, because I had just come from school. In short, the way I looked was one people who know me now would probably recognize, except that my hair was brown then and I had no facial jewelry, and back then in Columbus, Ohio at that time it was a look that guaranteed that no one would ever, ever approach me on the street for any reason. I regularly had conversations with panhandlers who dressed more respectably than I did. Not more nicely-- more respectably. But honestly, once I left the school building and stopped being in actively-pissing-these-people-off mode, I didn't really consider it a statement, unless the statement was 'leave me alone'. Oh, and I had a backpack covered with quotes from Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist, in White-Out, and I'd probably painted my nails in either White-Out or black Sharpie, which were the only things I ever used for that, because I never had any money. Fairly standard alienated teenager stuff.

Anyhow, that day in the main branch of the Columbus library I spent some time working on my project of the moment, which was collating mentions of esoterica in H.P. Lovecraft with the card catalog and the indices and bibliographies of other books to see which things were real and which Lovecraft had made up. This was before there was much in the way of internet, so it took me awhile, months I think, and many library hours. And as I was trying to make the very new and very clumsy computer card catalog talk to me, I got a wild hair and decided to look up the Necronomicon, knowing that nothing would come of it.

Popped right up. The entry said it was in the building. No author listed, just the title.

This confused me.

It was labeled reference, of course, and that part made sense, so I left the circulating part of the stacks and went to the non-circulating and there was nothing of the sort where the call number ought to be. No hole for it. I figured it was probably a joke that somebody'd put into the system, in which case it was a good example of librarian humor and I approved mightily. But I have always been the sort of person who would like to know exactly what is going on, when possible, so I went over to the reference desk and I asked about it.

Now, in my life up to that point, librarians had been a constant positive influence. I had met good librarians and incompetent librarians, well-meaning ones and patronizing ones and unthinkably useful ones, but this was the first time in my life I ever met an actively hostile librarian. She looked me up and down and started exuding a three-foot-thick wall of ice in my general direction. She knew exactly what I was talking about and she was Not Happy. She said, in tones identical to those in which she might have said the words 'go fuck yourself', that they had the book and I could see it, but that she would have to go get it for me. By this point I was somewhere beyond confused and into weirded out, so I said sure, just to see what she would do. And she stood up and disappeared into the back.

She was not gone a short time. She was not gone too long a time. She was gone what I would consider to be a precisely calibrated professional amount of time, enough time to make her disapproval plain and to hope I would wander off, but not long enough to make it valid if I decided to complain to the management. Mind you, by that point I would have stood there until the library closed. She came back, finally, carrying a book, which looked to me like a disintegrating mass-market paperback, and instead of handing it to me she explained that all use of this book had to be supervised. She marched me over to a table with a chair at it, and she put the book down on the table, and I sat down in the chair, and she stood about a foot behind my left shoulder, fixed her eyes on the wall opposite us, and settled in to glare at that wall for the duration. I mean she stood there with her arms crossed, so close I could hear her breathing, and if her eyes had had laser beams that wall would not have stood one instant. It was meant to make me feel uncomfortable, and it succeeded admirably.

I picked up the book, and it was a battered and disintegrating mass-market paperback, and it had 'The Necronomicon' on the cover of it. There was no author listed. There was no publisher's information. There was no copyright page. It had obviously been printed, because it was in print, but there wasn't even a title page, and I couldn't tell if there had ever been one. It was full of diagrams, which began straight away, and most of them didn't have captions. They looked like the back section of my geometry textbook, except all the angles were labeled in, as far as I could tell, Hebrew. Where there was text, it was the sort of thing you get as Necronomicon quotes in Lovecraft, some of it verbatim.

By this point my bullshit detector, which had not yet attained finely tuned but which was certainly more than nonexistent, was telling me that this was one of the more ludicrous things that had yet happened in my life to date. Also, I was getting sick of feeling the librarian lurking over my shoulder and hating me. There did not seem to be much of interest in the book, really. I gave it back to her, and thanked her politely, and went home wondering what the actual fuck.

When I saw myself in the mirror at home, I realized some of it, because remember, I had forgotten about my outfit as soon as it stopped being a statement. I looked at myself, and I thought about her face, and I started laughing, because it was that or be very upset. She'd thought I was a witch, or that I was trying to be one; and not the neopagan Wiccan-y kind that you got some of even in that city in those years, but the kind who could give you the Evil Eye, the really malefic kind. There had been fear as well as anger and disapproval there. It remains one of the only times an adult human being has been honestly scared of me, and I have never forgotten how it felt, for her to have that specific type of fright and mistrust in my direction. I did not like it at all, though I'm probably lucky it didn't go to my head. And I still had no idea how the whole thing had even happened.

It took more than a year for me to find out (remember, this was before the internet), but at a pagan Halloween party at the Only Occult Store In Columbus, Ohio the next autumn, I got to talking with the shop owner, and I asked him about it, as it continued to confuse me. He told me (and I corroborated, years later, when the internet happened) that back in the 1970s a vaguely Satanist vaguely Gardnerian type had had a yen for Lovecraft and had done up a version of the Necronomicon with a New Age press, using extrapolation from the Lovecraft stories and the kind of ritual magic that he practiced personally, and leaving out all the publication stuff in hopes of convincing everybody that it was authentic. It hadn't sold very well, because after the initial rush of people hoping for scandalous and evil secrets everyone realized it was mostly diagrams and that even if you were into ritual magic they weren't all that interesting (and, he added, mostly didn't work). But copies continued to float around, basically on the strength of the title. I mentioned what had happened with the library, and he said that yeah, he'd heard about other people having similar experiences, and that he was under the impression that the library started that because they'd had several copies go on unauthorized walkabout. I had noticed myself that there were things they had trouble keeping in stock in the occult section, especially anything that looked like a manual, and that a title I'd see there one week would very frequently be marked the next as missing. But something about the book, or its associations, or more likely about the kind of people who asked for it, meant that the librarians had gotten-- well, the way I'd seen, about the whole thing. He also found it both a little upsetting and kind of hilarious.

I thought it over and decided that Lovecraft would have been tickled pink by the way we'd all behaved, me and the librarian and probably even the publisher. It remains one of the more surreal experiences of my life.

Advantages of a Midwestern childhood. I suspect it's as close as a person can come to the experience of, well, reading the Necronomicon, and closer than most people get. It is certainly the only time I've been mistaken for the frightening kind of witch. The whole thing was, honestly, very educational. I expect it means I get stat points if I play Call of Cthulhu, though I've never taken advantage of that; and at least any SAN loss was temporary, as far as I know.

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Thursday, July 30th, 2015
11:37 pm
There is too much. Let me sum up.
The longer I go without making an entry, the harder it becomes to summarize all the huge things that have gone on since the last time I made an entry, and therefore the longer I go without making an entry. I should probably just nip this vicious circle in the bud.

So, in no particular order:

-- A thing that has been making me happy for a few days: ♥ ♥ ♥ NO BOSTON OLYMPICS ♥ ♥ ♥

Seriously, the entire concept of having the Olympics here was, as I have been saying to people for months, literally the single worst idea I've heard this year, but I was pretty convinced it was going to happen anyway, because that is how things have generally worked with huge sporting events and their placement committees and city governments and protesting populace in recent years. Fortunately, the Boston Mayor decided that the city government here would actually listen to the protests, a revolutionary step that should be taken more often. Every time I go downtown for, oh, probably the next few years I am going to remember and be thankful that it isn't all being torn down and relocated for shit we don't need or want.

-- I got a second nose ring. It is on the same side as the first, and about an eighth of an inch behind it. My body modification policy is that I won't get anything that I don't solidly want, i.e. the same exact thing in the same exact location, for a full calendar year, but this idea has been kicking around in my head since I got the first nose ring fifteen years ago. Before I went off to college in Philly, I'd only ever seen pictures of people who had single nose rings or studs, let alone having met anybody in real life who had even one, but the person who did my first ring had two studs on the same side and it looked absolutely amazing on her. Every so often while looking in the mirror over the years I'd hold up a second ring, and it usually passed the other test-- do I look more like my internal mental image of myself with this item than without it-- but it's only recently it passed the full-year marker.

Went to Brian Moeller at the Boston Tattoo Company in Davis Square, and it was a lovely experience. I walked in off the street and they were friendly and polite and charged a reasonable amount and gave me exactly and precisely what I wanted. It's healing up nicely, and, as I remembered from the first one, really isn't all that unpleasant during the healing process (certainly nowhere near as bad as a tattoo).

The amusing thing is that (and I had this some with the first ring but nowhere near as thoroughly) people don't notice. I have found it entertaining to have to explain to people that I have a new facial piercing, but that's how it's been going down. Like, B. has been my lover for a decade and I had to tell him about it, and he's a pretty observant guy.

-- Speaking of B., as I said, we've been together for ten years now. The anniversary was back in June, and his anniversary with [personal profile] gaudior (also the tenth, this year) is a movable feast but usually in late July/early August, so we split the difference and the three of us went to Quebec City for a week's vacation last week. [personal profile] gaudior and I haven't been traveling much and haven't been traveling out of easy driving distance of our fertility doctors, because we're trying to have a kid and timing is a thing, but it had been ten years since [personal profile] gaudior took a vacation that wasn't going to see people for conventions or holidays, which is a great vacation but a different sort of vacation, and it was about time.

Quebec City is a wonderful place to spend a week and I recommend it, although you should probably think of it as a hiking holiday. The hills did more of a number on me than the hills of San Francisco ever had, as, even though they theoretically aren't as bad, San Francisco has replaced more of its slopey bits with actual stairways than Quebec City has. After an incline passes a certain point I would honestly rather have stairs than slope, because at least you can sit down on stairs for a while if you need to, and your thigh muscles aren't going 'what angle are you trying to put your foot at again?' every step. There is a funicular, which helped a lot.

I've never been to London, but the descriptions I'd heard of QC were 'about sixty percent Paris and forty percent London, with French food and American-style plumbing', and the non-London parts of that statement are precisely accurate. The pastry is as good as in France, and we got to introduce B. to maple products (it turns out that if you didn't live in New England and didn't go to state fairs as a kid you may, somehow, be unaware that the maple tree loves us and wants us to be happy), and we had a whole lot of poutine with the kind of cheese curds you can't get around here. This included some cheese curds purchased from a Benedictine monastery near the town of Magog (B. said 'if I see any signs for Gog also, I am turning this car around', which is fair), and those cheese curds were so good that they stood up to sitting in a hot car for some hours and then being put into an American pseudo-poutine in which I made brown gravy and we poured it and the curds over pasta because damn if I was making French fries directly after a long road trip. It was ludicrously delicious. This is not meant to be a real or thorough travel report, but this is a reminder to myself and a note to other people that if the Boutique de l'Abbaye de St-Benoît-du-Lac ever manages to get online shopping together, they sell the best cheese curds I have ever encountered.

The thing I will probably remember about QC longest is that the horse-cabs that go through downtown have a depot just in front of our hotel, and in an attempt to combat the smell all the hotels on that street (it is lined with them) had planted massive, massive beds of lilies. So the street literally smelled of horseshit and lilies, for blocks. Lilies do not cover the smell of horseshit, being in a different part of the odor spectrum, but the mingled smells were pleasantly and peculiarly medieval-feeling in a way I had never expected to encounter.

-- Readercon happened. This is not a con report, either. It was a decent con in that I did all of the programming that I was supposed to be on, and I saw some of the people I wanted to see, but I got sick in the middle and didn't manage to attend after Saturday afternoon, so I didn't see enough of people and didn't get to much programming that wasn't including me. Next year I may well not click the program ticky-box that says that I am willing to moderate, because I think I have moderator-burnout; it takes a certain set of social skills, because I am invested in everyone on the panel having about the same amount of time to talk, and keeping the conversation flowing smoothly, and interrupting anybody who is starting to be a blowhard but without making them feel as though I've shut them up forcibly so they don't escalate, and it's a great deal of work, really, and work that I basically only do in this context. I'm good at it, and I got good feedback about every panel I moderated this Readercon, from random audience members, including about the panel I thought went sufficiently badly that I wince when I think about it, but at this point my principle mental association with cons is exhaustion, so it's time to start doing less work.

Books purchased: American Shore, Samuel R. Delany, new Wesleyan edition; Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace, which I have been looking forward to since her short story in Clockwork Phoenix 4; Faces Under Water, Tanith Lee, and The Year of the Gryphon, Diana Wynne Jones, both cheap used like-new hardcovers of things I've been wanting to have around.

-- Also, marriage equality happened! It is not the end of the tunnel, for me or for others, by any means, it is not the entire lifting of the weight, there is a lot of work to do; but it is a lifting, it is a victory, it is a longed-for and much-awaited light. For my family, personally, it is the financial consideration of one of us not having to adopt the children the other might bear, our own children, should we ever want to travel even in our own country with them; it is the sigh of relief on realizing that it would take days instead of hours to drive anywhere that we are legal strangers; it is more certainty that we will never again have to pay the gay-marriage tax, which was the money we paid when we could not file federally as married. It is real financial and emotional and legal gain, for me and for my household and for others that I love, and I saw it coming but could not, of course, be really sure until it happened, and I am delighted that it did.

-- That, of course, is not everything that's been going on in my life the last month or so, not even everything vitally important, but it's enough to be going on with, I think. Whew.

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Saturday, June 20th, 2015
8:30 pm
salad for a hot day
It is so muggy out today that all three of us eating here felt as though we had been mugged, so we needed something really quick and doable in hot weather and balanced and with stuff that was already in the house and didn't require a store trip, and this came out so well that I felt the urge to write it down.

A recent food discovery of mine is acino di pepe, tiny pearls of pasta which cook into something which should resemble couscous, but does not, and should resemble orzo, but does not. It expands dramatically over the course of its cooking time.

Salad of Acino di Pepe

1/2 box of acino di pepe (this is like 1/4 lb. uncooked)
1/4 lb. frozen spinach
2 Quorn vegetarian chicken cutlets, or 1/4 lb. of tofu
1 red or yellow bell pepper
1 clove garlic
5 or 6 capers
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
lemon juice
black pepper

Put about three times the volume of water as you have pasta into a large pot with some salt and bring to a boil. Pour in the pasta. Acino di pepe takes 12 minutes, so set a timer for 10.

Chop the bell pepper and set it aside. Defrost and chop the Quorn, or chop the tofu. Mince the garlic very fine. Chop the capers coarsely.

In a very large bowl, pour about 1/4 cup of good olive oil, about 1 T balsamic vinegar, maybe 10 drops of lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp. mustard. Whisk until emulsified. Add about 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. paprika and the same of oregano. (All of these measurements are approximate and should be tweaked to taste.) Whisk in the raw garlic and the capers.

Stir the Quorn or tofu into the vinaigrette until coated and let sit at least five minutes before adding anything else.

When the timer goes off, toss the frozen spinach into the pasta pot, without doing anything else to it, and set the timer for another two minutes.

The annoying thing with acino di pepe is that it needs a fine-mesh strainer. If you have a large one, use that; I have a smallish one and found it easier to ladle the drained pasta and spinach out of the pot than to pour out the water. Anyway, drain and put the pasta and spinach in the mixing bowl and stir to coat. Add the bell pepper and stir in that. At this point it turned out to need another splash of lemon juice and about another 1/2 tsp. of mustard, stirred in vigorously.

In an ideal world, one would then put this in the fridge overnight. In this imperfect world we live in, it feeds three for dinner with ample leftovers, which will taste way better after being left in the fridge overnight, but which are delicious even while still warm. This is balanced, complete in one pot, contains protein, starch, and veggies, is vegan (acino di pepe does not have egg), takes about twenty minutes, and is genuinely far tastier than I expected even knowing the ways of classical French salads, of which this is an adapted version. If you were being extremely classically French you could top each person's plate with anchovy fillets, an impulse I understand but do not share. (Of course, if you are the sort of person who habitually tops each person's plate with classical French anchovy fillets, you have probably been making something very similar to this for years now and have no need of this entry.)

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Wednesday, June 10th, 2015
3:21 am
bits and pieces
I feel as though I ought to be writing more about my actual life, but I'm not up for piecing together any kind of coherent account of what I've been up to lately, so here are some snippets of things that I've done or thought or felt as they've gone by.

-- The aftertaste of the shot of Fernet Branca was very distinctive and familiar. Maybe it was honey? I kept thinking it was honey. There wasn't any way to check at the time, as there was a full dancefloor and no particular lighting and I do not, in fact, have a smartphone. I was not old enough for eighties darkwave dance nights the first time they happened but, apparently and unsurprisingly, eighties darkwave, when it dispersed into the Midwest, became nineties tryhard Goth nights in Ohio with no particular alteration, at about the time I started sneaking out to attempt to have a life. The shot of Fernet was in memoriam: it's what the fifteen-year-olds around me used to drink instead of absinthe, because we weren't aspirational enough for Pernod, I am not even joking. The nice thing about now is that I can go to this sort of thing with my girlfriend and enjoy it a great deal while realizing that literally every single aspect of my life is categorically better than the nineties in Ohio; it overlays the evening like a veil, how bad it would be there, how good it can be here. Research afterwards said the aftertaste was probably saffron, and as soon as I heard the word I recognized the flavor, oh, of course, saffron, how did I mistake it for honey.

-- I didn't lie to the cat. Saying 'We don't eat roses' would have been a lie, because rose is one of my favorite flavors. "You shouldn't eat roses," I said, firmly. He told me I was still lying. The rose, which belonged to my wife, was yellow with red edges, and was evidently the most appealing object ever to have existed. He kept lunging, and sneaking around behind when our backs were turned, and it was worse than I've seen him be with anything except pumpkin muffins, for which he turns into a ninja. It was worse than the time I fished him out of the salad bowl. I have made a mental note never, ever to bring rose-flavored pastry home with me as I do not want him to drop on my head from the ceiling. "You'll only be terribly ill later," I told him. Coming in from the blind side, he swallowed an entire petal before he could be pulled away, and sat self-righteously and triumphantly as we all awaited his stomach going into reverse. The other cat, at this point, had almost considered waking up and staring at all this, but had decided it was too much work to bother.

Sadly, I did not in any way lie to the cat. I rather wish I had been.

-- [personal profile] jinian made and gave to me a not-quite-anniversary quilt, which is in various shades of blue and black and one unexpected interweaving of pink, in curves and paths and circles. It reminds me a little of aquarium light and a little of wirework jewelry and a little of the boardgame Tsuro, and she was correct about the weight of blanket that I like on my feet when it is too warm to have any other blankets. It fills out the entire trifecta: beautiful, useful, and sentimental value. (If I am going to keep anything long-term, it has to be at least two of those.) I am still gobsmacked by it.

-- Canobie Lake, an amusement park up across the New Hampshire border from here, does in fact have a lake and will take you out on a twenty-minute lake cruise so you can stare at all the houses and try to figure out how many of them are real and how many are summer people. It also has several adorable little rollercoasters. Honestly, they are mostly so short in duration, like under two minutes ride, because of having such tiny spatial footprints, that I wouldn't consider it worth spending the time in line waiting to go on them except that there basically weren't any lines. An economical and lovely way to make your roller coaster look classy as all get out is to paint the major uprights so they appear to be birch trees. There was also a peacock in a cage behind one of the rollercoasters, so we could get a lot closer than you can get to free-ranging peacocks, and it even seemed vaguely glad to see us, as long as we fed it.

(Peacocks are dicks. At the Sydney Zoo, once, there were albino peacocks ranging freely, and when we got to the echidna enclosure, which was just a big hole with a rock wall around it, there was a white peacock who would flutter delicately over until it was standing in front of the echidna, and then make a loud, peacockish, offended noise, at which point the echidna would trundle-- the only possible verb for an echidna is trundle-- directly away from it, huffing and puffing, and the peacock would wait for it to get some distance and then flutter delicately over... There was an attendant, who seemed to think it was the only way the echidna ever got any exercise, but still. Peacocks are dicks. I am unwilling to get close to them unless there is mesh between the two of us, is what I am saying here.)

Canobie Lake is a smaller theme park, and consequently not owned by any major media corporation. It was peculiar and relaxing to be in a theme park not owned by any major media corporation. The mascots walking around were, like, a guy in a dog costume, and a guy literally dressed as a slice of pizza. The antique statues of things like popcorn above all the concession stands have no brand labels whatsoever, and were clearly never tested on any focus groups, which was both endearing and moderately terrifying-- above a sandwich shop, for instance, a plaster statue looking every bit of fifty war-worn years old showed a six-foot hero sandwich which had somehow grown a human head and was literally in the process of consuming its own body. Good clean fun for the whole family.

It was a lot more of my family than usual, actually, as [personal profile] gaudior went despite not liking rollercoasters, and so did [personal profile] jinian (who does), and [personal profile] sovay (who really, really does), and B. was up from Virginia for the weekend, and while I don't think that's the greatest number of my partners I've ever had in the same place doing the same thing at the same time, it is certainly more than quorum. Noteworthy.

-- Twin Peaks, which is out in its entirety on Netflix, has held up extremely well; it is just as good as it ever was, or better. Highly recommended.

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Saturday, May 30th, 2015
9:14 pm
Elle est trois, la morte (Tanith Lee, 1947-2015)
I am lying on a couch, in that stage of food poisoning where one lies on a couch and looks wan and pale, the stage where I feel as though I am probably on the couch for dramatical reasons until I try to get up and realize that the whole thing, sadly, has nothing to do with drama. This makes it a decent time to write about Tanith Lee, who didn't, as far as I am aware, actually write any stories in which somebody owns a genuine fainting couch, but I would not remotely have put it past her.

I can't remember when I first read Tanith Lee. That is literal. I can't remember not having read any Tanith Lee. She's one of the writers I can trace swiped phrases from in the early, derivative, plotless stories I scribbled in notebooks when I was seven. Heinlein, Andre Norton, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Tanith Lee. She's also the only one of those writers whom I must have found for myself, because my father's SFF collection is encyclopedic and exhaustive until Dangerous Visions (1967), in which year he gave up in annoyance. (He and I have our... differences in this matter.) Lee is too late a writer for him to have collected, so I must have come across her on my own, in one of the sneaky forays into the adult half of the library which occupied so much of my time as a child. I simply can't recall how I did it, or when, or what caused me to pick up something of hers, much less what drew me back to her repeatedly over years and years before I could understand ninety percent of what was going on in her work. She was just always there. I always had some book of hers floating around the house, but she was so prolific that there was always something new to find, a trait she shared with Norton. If I bounced off one of her pieces, I could move on to the next, and then try again in a year, or two years, or never, and not worry about running out.

I am now worried about running out.

The interesting thing is that, unlike many of the writers I read when I was extremely young, or the ones I imprinted on when I began to develop selectivity, I have never been aware of Lee as a writer I particularly love. I am also, most of the time, not aware of my own DNA as something governing the expression of certain physical and mental traits. It underlies a great deal of my life, but something has to point it out to me. This may be because I couldn't understand so much of her when I started; I do remember the dawning, gradual awareness that if I had no idea what was going on, the story was probably about sex.

As Lee was one of the last and greatest of the Decadent writers, her stories are very frequently about sex. Lee's work is one of the reasons I was always confused by the sexual conservatism of entire chunks of SFF as a field in about, oh, the early oughts-- not the people who were making conservative arguments, but the people who were tentatively and slowly making moves towards putting in genderfuck and occasional gay people and heterosexual kink, and I was sitting there going, look, I know Delany is an outlier and I should expect the world to be twenty years behind him, but I don't hear much about Tanith Lee as a radical force and she did all this in the eighties and y'all are therefore just behind. It turns out that what this means is that Tanith Lee was a quietly radical force. You can be incredibly transgressive if everyone thinks of you as a Decadent writer, because the assumption tends to be that your narrative is going to come down on the side, whether intentionally or otherwise, of condemning the transgressive things you write about, and that if your narrative doesn't do that sufficiently, your life will do it for you. It's true that Baudelaire and Rimbaud and Verlaine etc. led extremely disorganized and frequently unhappy and dysfunctional lives, but one reason the anecdotes about said unhappiness and dissipation have gained such currency in the public imagination is as an Object Lesson against any radical politics with which their readers might come away. Look-- their lives are so awful that their ideology must be on faulty grounds! (Whereas a lot of the awful actually comes from being gay, and/or kinky, and/or radically eccentric, while living in a society set up to quash all that sort of thing.) And there Tanith Lee was, being alive and prolific and not making any tabloid headlines, and in her work everybody (especially women) has sexual agency, queer people exist, gender roles range from oppressively enforced dystopian nightmares to optional playthings, and when rape culture and sexual brutality exist they are damaging and destructive to everybody involved with them. Lee has characters who are asexual and characters who are cheerfully promiscuous; who are monogamous in orientation and who are all shades of otherwise; who are abused and abusers and who are neither; happy endings and the reverse for the good, the bad, and the everything in-between. It is a foundation of the human and diverse supporting trappings so Gothicly lush that the complexity and fundamental empathy of it all are, apparently, not obvious.

And, above that basic foundation, which was formational for me on deep levels, I have spent much of my life arguing with Tanith Lee as a writer. I disagree with her about the proper construction of a plot, the emphasis which ought to be put on character, the rhythm of scenes, how foreshadowed an ending ought to be and how foreshadowing should work at all, when a happy ending is and isn't appropriate, the number of adjectives it is useful to have piled all over everything... I could go on. And on. Her work draws me back and back and back to yell at her. The Book of the Dead: STOP THAT THAT IS COLONIALIST BULLSHIT and also these aren't even stories this is literally a collection of images you have thrown at the page in hopes that some of them stick oh wait apparently that one did as it has appeared regularly in my dreams for years now DAMMIT Tanith. Black Unicorn: there is no other book in the world as charming and perfect as the first about fifty pages of this novel, and I will now proceed to read it fifty jillion times in order to figure out EXACTLY how the ending of this book and the ENTIRE REST OF ITS SERIES go COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY OFF THE RAILS and I can now pinpoint to within a sentence where it goes wrong, but not, so far, why and how, DAMMIT, TANITH. (When I was interviewed for my high school yearbook they asked about my pet peeves and I said that peeves are too high-maintenance to make good pets and nobody got it.) 'Elle Est Trois, La Morte': that is BAD FRENCH POETRY and also this entire story is such a ripoff of de Quincey that you have cited him to make sure people know about it, and I have had the verse of I repeat BAD FRENCH POETRY stuck in my head since approximately 1992, dammit, Tanith, why are you doing this to me. The Gods Are Thirsty: wow, it's amazing how much you can make specific historical figures fit your particular archetypes for characters as opposed to, you know, resembling what those figures were actually like, but also, wow, it's amazing how well a book works when you very carefully select the historical figures to work with based on the ways you know you will deform them into the archetypes you always end up using, this is authorial jujitsu against yourself on a level I don't even know how or whether to complain about, damn it, Tanith.

Also, as I believe I have stated elsewhere, she and I would get on much better if only she didn't hate the color blue.

Hadn't hated. This is the problem and the glory of an author being so mentally integrated into my understanding of the universe. I don't have to stop explaining to her in my head that she is WRONG, but I am never going to get to do it in person, and she's never going to write a book fixing any of these things, or elaborating on them, or making them even more wrong. Dammit, Tanith.

Anyway, the masterpieces, as far as I'm concerned, at any rate the ones I recommend to people, are Black Unicorn, and Faces Under Water (about which I do not want to yell at her even a little bit!), and The Book of the Mad (though you should probably read the other Secret Books of Paradys too for context, and they're good but not as good), and The Silver Metal Lover, and the Biting the Sun duology, and the short story 'The Devil's Rose' (the single cruelest piece of fiction I have ever read, due to its distressing plausibility and significant chance of having happened at some point). But everyone who reads Lee has a different list. It's time, now, to start the work of keeping her read, of keeping her in the conversation, of not letting that quietly radical force go silent. Apparently she had trouble being published towards the end of her life, and now, when her ideas are starting to have some wider cultural weight and currency, is exactly the wrong time for that to become an issue.

Please read Tanith Lee.

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2015
3:43 am
Recent Film: Holy Motors
Holy Motors (2012), dir. Leos Carax

When [personal profile] gaudior is out of town, I spend a lot of time with [personal profile] jinian and [personal profile] sovay (I mean, more than the lot of time I do usually), and I also spend a lot of time poking at Netflix. Netflix appears to have realized that the way to my heart, specifically, is to acquire recent-ish festival-circuit movies that I did not manage to see. (It's probably also reasonably cheap for them.) I tried to see Holy Motors when it came out, at the Harvard Film Archive, but the director was there in person, and I have never seen such a line at a movie theatre anywhere in this town at all, let alone at the HFA, which is genteelly unaccustomed to the concept of 'line'. So I finally got around to it this past Friday night, and I have been struggling to articulate the experience ever since.

This is pretty much the standard critical reaction. Everyone agrees that it's a really good movie, but beyond that, things become more difficult. I mean, the Guardian apparently called it 'a splendid furry teacup of a film', if that gives you an idea. Over email I have compared it with the Golux's hat. If I have to pick vaguely describable things to compare it to, it's probably as close as we'll get to a film of Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover, despite having no plot, character, or setting elements in common. I also suspect a chunk of it of being an unfaithful adaptation of Michael Cisco's novel The Great Lover, which, if you have not read it, is one of the most resolutely anti-narrative books ever written for most of its length.

Fortunately, I was lucky in that I got what I believe to be the correct connotations from the title, which helped exceedingly. I heard 'holy motors' and thought, what concepts of that sort are floating around in the world, and then I thought of the mythological blood engines, the continuous sacrifices necessary to keep the entire Aztec cosmology working. Those are holy motors, and they demand food. In the movie, the motors are the same and the sacrifice is similar, but the system that is being served is cinema, the entire apparatus of movies and those who make them and those who view them.

I was also lucky in that one of my strongest associations with the word 'saint' comes from John Crowley's novel Engine Summer (cf. my username), in which a saint is "someone who lives many lives between birth and dying". I haven't asked Crowley if he had film in mind at all when he came up with this, though I would be fascinated to know, but that complicated and multivalent definition, which has in its novel of origin so many meanings that I don't want to go into it, is also certainly true of those actors we call 'the saints of the cinema'. Many lives, many births, many loves, many deaths. So I was able to recognize the main character of Holy Motors as a saint, cinematic variant, fairly easily, which made wrapping my mind around the movie a much faster process.

The basic conceit of Holy Motors is that its principal actor (Denis Lavant, stunning) spends a day traveling through Paris in a large white limousine, being chauffeured to what he refers to as appointments. For each appointment he wears a different costume, and each one is literally a chunk of a life, which he lives out until it's time to get back into the limousine. Through various conversations he has with his chauffeur (Edith Scob, majestic) and other people around, it eventually becomes clear that this is set far enough in the future for cameras to have become basically nano-drones, and in this way the actor is participating in the making of multiple movies at the same time. In some, he is important, in at least one the protagonist, in at least one the villain, in several minor bystanding characters. He dies in a couple, by violence or otherwise, and because this is cinema it looks perfectly real, until the bodies all stand up again.

Two things become clear over time, and the interplay of these things is the principal emotional arc of the movie: one, we are not going to get to see his 'real life'. He has no 'real life'. Going from appointment to appointment like this is how he spends at least eighteen hours a day, every day. These are his real lives. They're scripted, of course, because movies are scripted-- and one thing I love is that the different appointments have different levels of quality in the scripts; one of them is such an embarrassingly cliched soap-opera weepie that it's only the fact that it's his real life that makes Lavant's lines even mildly sayable-- but he spends the hours living in each of them, and each of them is truly a part of him. He seems exhausted by this, but it's hard to tell, because, two: because the interludes inside the limousine, in which he is supposedly not acting, are being shown on film, to an audience (me) which is watching it, those cannot, if you think about it, possibly be unscripted either. I mean they are doubly scripted, they are scripted in the world of the movie as well as in our world. So he has an entire emotional arc with his chauffeur, and an interlude that is supposed to play as unscripted time in which he sneaks off and has an emotional chat with another actor, and I sat there fiercely doubting that that could actually be happening until suddenly there was a grand sweeping musical number and I realized the whole thing had to be an easter-egg for the people (like me) who are following the actor instead of watching any one of the movies he's making. This film puts the viewer firmly in the exact place of its projected SFnal audience, which I think is spiffy.

The other way it puts the viewer in the place of its projected SFnal audience is that none of what I just said above is explained at all in-text. You just watch it. You have to assemble it piecemeal entirely from incluing. It took me most of the film's two-hour running time to be certain of my hypotheses, and there was a stretch of at least a half hour in the center where I sat there thinking 'I have no idea what is going on here, but I am really enjoying this movie'. I can't recall the last time I had that particular experience. Usually not knowing what is going on bothers me.

However, what makes the film work, and the only reason it can work at all, is that each individual movie scene is so good. I would cheerfully watch any of the larger films. Even the ones that obviously suck do so very entertainingly. They are visually stunning and unique, brilliantly acted, and extremely engrossing. Denis Lavant's actor is chameleonic, fading into each part while still maintaining a startling degree of charisma and almost forcing a sense of empathy with each of his characters. (It is also astonishing how much emotional charge each scene gains from being a documentary of his real and lived life, and how much that works to produce an emotional charge even though it is only true in-universe... I hope someone has written a dissertation on this movie's layers of meta-fiction.) I would have found Holy Motors just as entertaining, though I probably wouldn't admire and respect it this much, if I'd never been able to put together the intellectual web of it. Given that Leos Carax has said that it started as a compilation project of a chunk of every feature film idea he's never been able to get the money to do, I am impressed that either he doesn't have dud ideas or he has successfully managed to weed out the portions of these projects that do not work. And he's thrown them all at the screen in a brilliant, charming, and actively joyous jigsaw-puzzle Golux's hat of a movie, and the question I came away with is: if this is how we wind up feeding those holy motors, would it still be worth it? Denis Lavant's character is living in his own private utopia and dystopia, at the exact same time. Every emotion is curated for maximum effect, every single aspect of his life designed for maximum artistic gorgeousness. But how many people have ever really wanted to trade places with one of the saints?

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Wednesday, May 6th, 2015
3:04 am
recent reading
Tracker, C.J. Cherryh

This is the somewhere-in-the-low-double-digits-I-have-frankly-forgottenth of Cherryh's atevi books, and it is not where you start. At this point, this series is almost less a series of novels to me than it is a series of yearly family visits. How is Ilisidi's leg? What has Cajeiri's terrible pet broken recently? Oh, Bren got his apartment back, how nice, my, that was quite a complicated thing, some people's children, you did mention something about that last year, yes, I will have some more tea, thank you. This impression is not weakened by the fact that all the book titles ending in -er or -or means that I cannot assign a book's events to the book they took place in with any degree of accuracy. I was able to pick out this book as the newest one in the shop because it was the only one in hardcover, and I can actually recite with fair accuracy what has happened in the series to date, but ask me whether Precursor comes before or after Betrayer and I'll be like I DON'T KNOW THOSE ARE CERTAINLY BOTH WORDS. So, the kind of family visit which you have, about once a year, and greatly enjoy, but which has gotten into a rhythm, where you know how it is going to go to such a point that you almost do not need to go.

Which is not to say people shouldn't read these; they're lovely. Merely that I urge you to cultivate a sense of calm and detachment about the pacing of the overall plot.

There is a thing which can happen to writers of series, where they write a book, and it comes out, and they want to have a time skip before the next one, and they hand in an outline or possibly even a manuscript to their editor, and the editor says 'I have absolutely no idea how the situation we find ourselves in at the start of this next book could have happened during this time skip, please write a novel set during the time skip because your readers are going to be totally lost'. And then the writer does, and that book comes out, and the writer brings back the original outline/manuscript, and the editor says 'That's better, but we still haven't had xyz things explained, you need to write another book set during the time skip before we can get back to the plan'. And the thing is, this can go on basically indefinitely. It very famously happened to George R.R. Martin, but I've also heard of it happening to Rosemary Kirstein, and to Elizabeth Wein, and in all cases years and years and books have passed and we've either only just gotten to the post-time-skip or it hasn't turned up yet at all. I am about eighty percent certain that this precise situation happened to Cherryh with the atevi series, and that it happened right after the re-establishment of Tabini's government, and all the books we've gotten since have been explanations Cherryh originally thought we should have been able to infer between the end of that book and the beginning of... and this is the nice thing about Tracker, actually... the next book in the series from now, whatever it turns out to be called. If this is what happened, Cherryh was wrong and we couldn't infer all the things that would have been elided, but the editor was also wrong and we could have had at least two fewer books. As of next book, we shall resume our regularly scheduled actual series plot.

In the meantime, these are people I've really liked seeing once a year, because one always worries that Bren is overworking (he is) and not eating or sleeping enough (the eating's fine, the other isn't). The cover of this installment is also damn close to priceless. Presently the other shoe will drop, but until then, more more tea, thank you.

The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu

In an essay somewhere in The Language of the Night, Ursula Le Guin asks the question of whether a science-fiction or fantasy book should be a novel, that is, whether it should attempt the three-dimensional portrayal of its characters with sufficient complexity as to make them mimetically convincing. (She also asks the question of whether a science-fiction or fantasy book can do this, but that's fairly easily dealt with by finding examples of it happening: yes, it can.) After pondering the question for a while, Le Guin confesses that it's difficult for her to work with, as a question, because to her it is so obvious that not only can it be done, but that we have not seen anything like the full potential of what could happen when it is done well, and consequently it ought to be done. So she's entering the question with bias, she says, and therefore puts it down again.

It is true that one of the principal forms of SFF, and a form which it does not share with much else in literature except possibly historical fiction, is the depiction of long-term, very large things at a scale far greater than the human, in a manner which remains engrossing without containing any complicated or even remotely mimetic characters. Take Olaf Stapledon-- Stapledon is gripping. Entire galactic civilizations rise and fall, and it's almost pure sense of wonder and brilliantly written, and if Last and First Men has any characters whatsoever I certainly failed to notice them and did not care about the lack. This is the kind of thing one would like to see continued, as a literary tradition.

And of course those of us who do hold that an SFF book should be a novel-- and I am with Le Guin on this, always and forever and unequivocally; it can, it should, it ought to be-- would like to find some way of fusing the two, of having the novel-as-world-schema, covering aeons and/or concepts on the macrocosmic scale, having that be the same book as the novel with the three-dimensional characters that become, for the reader, real people to the point of being friends and enemies and family you look in on every so often.

This is, I expect, why there's a blurb on the cover of The Three-Body Problem by Kim Stanley Robinson, who is one of the people in the field who works hardest at fusing the two. The Three-Body Problem can be read as an attempt at such a fusion. The thing is, though, I think that's erroneous. I think that all the characters in Three-Body are types, and intentional types, and that each of them represents a specific viewpoint in the complex intellectual structure of speculation that the book is setting up, and nothing else. I think this because none of them ever does anything surprising, not once; the book itself is what does surprising things, the twists and turns of that intellectual structure as expressed through the overall narration and not through the actions of individual people.

Taken that way, it's a very good book. It's one of the better books of its kind I've seen. And I am not frustrated with it for not being a fusion of the story based on ideas and the novel of character, because I don't think it's trying to do that at all. But it's never going to be a favorite book of mine, because, as I said before, I'm with Le Guin. Lots of people have written good books based on ideas this way, and lots of people have written good novels of character, and very few have explored the space between and that's what I want to read, personally. Read, and write myself, and if I fail at one or the other aspect of the fusion what I am actually good at writing is character.

And this leads into an interesting thing about the Hugo Awards, since Three-Body's nomination was why I got around to reading it. The Hugos are trying to judge chalk and cheese, in the novel category, which is pretty standard for the Hugos. This year there are three honest nominees for Best Novel, by which I mean nominees not gamed onto the ballot for political reasons. Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor is a fantasy of manners and entirely a novel of character. It's very good at what it does. The Three-Body Problem is hard near-future SF and entirely a story of ideas. It's very good at what it does. Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, is an attempt at a fusion between the two things, and a sequel to a fusion between the two which actually worked and was both, and I'm about a third of the way through it so I'll get back to you on how good I think it is at what it does and whether it falls into being entirely one or the other of its subcategories. But, assuming it is also very good at what it does, how is one to choose between these three? They're not trying to do anything like the same things. Not by how well they meet their own ambitions, because it's possible to be infinitely ambitious in each direction, and at least the Addison and the Liu Cixin appear to have lived up to their authors' hopes for them. Not by personal inclination towards whether I prefer a novel of character or a novel of ideas, because that inclination on my part has nothing to do with the quality of the works. It's an interesting problem.

[The Puppy factions, as far as I can tell, would like the novel of character to remove itself from SFF and go stand in a corner somewhere being abstruse. This is what they mean when they say they want 'good old-fashioned storytelling'-- they want characters who are types, because then they can be intellectually challenged on the macro level without being challenged about their conceptions of people on the personal level. Including any elements in a character which don't fit into the character types they grew up with is read and taken as a challenge to their conceptions of people on a personal level, which is why they seem to have missed the intellectual structure of Leckie's Ancillary Justice and its questions about AI, personality, and identity, in a great morass of being distressed about the universal 'she' pronoun used throughout it. To a person who wants only idea-driven fiction a la Stapledon, every character attribute must directly contribute to the overall scaffolding of the idea, regardless of whether people would actually behave this way or not. It doesn't matter that the characters aren't acting like real people-- that's not what they're there for. They're there as a device. So those of us who say, for instance, that we would like more women in our novels, more GLBT people, more cultural diversity, they see that not as assisting the depiction of more mimetic characters but as complicating the idea structure with things that aren't an integral part of the device. Because everything other than the very vaguest sketch of a character is non-integral, and, due to any number of factors including outright horrible prejudice and/or character traits not being things the writer of ideas cares about, the very vaguest sketch of a character tends to come out as the cultural default of straight, white, male, cis, ablebodied. That's why there are some Puppy-types who keep saying 'but we do have characters who are black, or gay, when it's necessary to the story!' and then looking confused when we growl. What they don't seem to understand, or claim not to understand, is that those of us who want diversity in our fiction don't have anything against novels of ideas. Or even against character types. What we want is to change those types, because it will make the outcome of the thought experiments in the novel of ideas more interesting. Change the defaults. I found the type characters in The Three-Body Problem way more interesting than most other two-dimensional characters I've encountered recently, because they are sketches from a different culture.]

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