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Marissa Lingen

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You oughta know (process, not Alanis) [Feb. 11th, 2016|06:10 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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One of the nice things about doing anything for long enough–writing fiction, baking bread, whatever–is that you start to get a feel for how it goes for you. What’s thrashing around and what’s process, what’s thrashing around that’s part of process.


Some of us have way more thrashing around in our process than others.


I think the trick is to become okay with that.


So for example: last month. I was writing a story I told someone I would write. Or rather–I was writing a category of story I told them I would write. It was a pretty loose category. And I had to write several thousand words on each of a couple stories to find out that, nope, no story here! Because sometimes the dead end is obvious, and sometimes the dead end takes awhile to find. In this case, the person I had told I would write this story was a professional editor, and I had given them the concept for one of the stories with a dead end. And they agreed that, golly gee, sure sounded like a story! But nearly 4K later, I knew that I could force it to be a clanking clattering story-like object. It would have a science fictional idea, characters, a plot, a beginning, a middle, an end, something you could point to and call setting, something else you could point to and call theme. But what I could not do was get a good story that I would be happy with.


So I tried another story, and then another, and then poof! There was the story. Hurrah! Happy ending! (It actually did happen to have a happy ending on the story I ended up writing. But I mean the meta-story I am telling you here. That has a happy ending.)


For some people, this would be completely unacceptable. Not part of the process. I am happy for them. I am so glad they have a process that works. That is their process. This is mine, where I fling myself cheerfully at things, quite often with some notion of how I think they will go but sometimes not, and sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong. And sometimes the wrong wanders off into something better and more interesting. Yay! Process! But sometimes the wrong just dead-ends. And this too is process.


I think the key word here is “should,” as in: sorting out what I should and should not be able to tell in advance. Example: yesterday I wrote a complete short story from just a title. I knew that I did not have a story there until I sat down to write it. That is good. That is what I should know. If I thought that I did have a story there, that would be wrong. But if I thought that not having it was the same as there being no story there, that would also be wrong.


Some people can tell in advance whether there is enough for a story, before they have written nearly 4000 words. Bully for them! But that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for me to get hung up on these people and say that I should be able to tell that. What I should be able to tell is some of the time when there isn’t. The file I have open now: it is not organized yet. It has the gestalt of a story–it has the mouth feel of a story–it has the weight of a story–it has the voice of a story. But it does not have the structure of a story yet. That is something that I should know, that I should be able to tell from here. And in getting the structure of a story I will probably write enough prose on it that I will be able to tell that it is the story I think it is. Knowing the difference between gestalt, weight, voice, mouth feel–and plot, structure–that’s important. That’s something I should know at this stage, and I do know it. But should I be able to swear that these things won’t run away with me? that the structure will not morph out from under me? Eh. Can’t get too attached.


Novels are different. You have to figure out how to tell that there really is a novel there before you have half a novel and find out that there’s no novel. Because I am totally happy writing 4K words of a 6K story and throwing it away, but 60K words of a 90K novel…less happy. I mean, if you gotta, you gotta. But I think usually you don’t have to throw away more than 20K of something that might have been a novel but wasn’t. 30K at the outside. So that’s comforting really.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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On the giving of advice [Feb. 8th, 2016|08:54 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Last week I had a post about panels at conventions, and I got interested in how to talk about doing panels better. I’d like to see more people talk about that–especially in the contexts of different kinds of panels. Getting slightly more specific seems like it might be a fertile source of good advice, because I think one of the places people hesitate is that panels vary so much. Does it really make sense to tell people to reread a few of their favorite short stories on the topic so that their minds are fresh without a huge time commitment, if “the topic” is long series, or TV shows, or if they can’t readily think of what short stories would be applicable because it’s something like grimdark or paranormal romance that has had its main flowering in novel form? Answer: no, but anyone who has any chance of being a good panelist has the sense to filter out what advice doesn’t apply to their specific panel, I would think.


But I started thinking about the more general problem of giving advice, which is audience and characteristic error. Even in the standard panel advice that is focused on etiquette, I see this problem. For example! One of the most common pieces of advice I see is, “Don’t monopolize the panel. Let the other panelists have an equal amount of time to talk.” Except…what if you’re on a panel on Non-Western Cultures in Fantasy with four middle-aged white men, two of whom think that Lord of Light is the last word on the subject but are maaaaybe willing to allow for Bridge of Birds if you stretch a bit? Do you sit back and let them go on and on about those and then squeeze in your long contemporary list (complete with non-Western writers GO FIGURE) on your “fair share” of the panel? HELL NO YOU DO NOT. At least–I didn’t. And I am not sorry I didn’t. But that is not my characteristic error. My characteristic error is not to sit down at the end of the panel and stare at my hands and say, “very true, Socrates.”


But for some people it is. So when you give the “don’t monopolize the panel, don’t run your mouth” advice, the odds that you will make a dent in the people who monologue about their own brilliance for twenty minutes: fairly low. The odds that Sherwood or Caroline* will hear this and nod and say, “Oh, very true, it’s so important not to rattle on,” and will shut their mouths even further? Unfortunately high. So trying to dodge the pitfalls of advice-giving in that regard gets difficult, and the question becomes: who is your actual audience for advice in the first place?


For me, talking about panels, it’s mostly new people. Because new people do not have a shtick already. New people know that they don’t know things. They are looking to know more things. (Ideally so are experienced people, but we know that doesn’t always work out.) So you might be able to catch J. New Shyauthor and say, hey, you’re on the panel for a reason, here’s how to prepare for it so that you can feel more confident. And you also might grab L. New Blabbermouth early enough that they at least have moments of self-awareness when they remember to turn to Pamela** and ask what she thinks while the panel is still going on and not just out for supper later.


This is true of writing advice, too. The people who were likely to get down on themselves for not writing ten million words every day are the ones who will pick up on the “writers write every day” quote from whoever they’ve picked now to be the person to use to beat yourself up over it. The people who were likely to be flaky butterfly writers are going to choose the “art finds YOU” quotes instead. People gravitate to their own characteristic errors. Yes, even me. Especially me. So: balance, balance, balance. And seeking out advice from people not like oneself. And asking oneself who the audience is for advice in the first place and whether it’s even worth the time, because if you’re not going to be able to get past characteristic errors so that the person who needs it can hear it, better to write about how to make a macrame owl.


Nobody makes macrame owls anymore. I am from the tail-end of a generation consumed with kitsch and retro, and yet are there macrame owls everywhere? There are not. It seems that everybody’s characteristic error is not making macrame owls. You folks might really want to get on that. I’m telling you for your own good.


…eh, who am I kidding, nobody listens to unsolicited advice.


*Randomly selected names for hypothetical panelists. Resemblance to actual insightful fantasy writers entirely coincidental.


**See previous footnote.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late January [Feb. 4th, 2016|07:23 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Diane Ackerman, Jaguar of Sweet Laughter. Reread. The colonialism fairy has visited the early poems in this volume, and there is more self-directed sexism than I could see when I first read Ackerman nearly twenty years ago. But I could also–easily–find in this volume the poems that are the reason I came to like her, the reason I bought so many of her works in the first place–“When You Take Me From This Good Rich Soil,” of course, and “Nuclear Winter” and “At Belingshausen, the Russian Base, Antarctica.” Poems that stick around doing the things they meant to do after nearly twenty years, so that I’m glad I returned looking for them.


Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Blades. Sequels are hard. This one feels like a particularly difficult tonal shift, from the shattered mirror dead god experience of City of Stairs to a very human set of consequences. It’s an interesting book, an engrossing book, but not ultimately one that succeeds as well for me as its predecessor. I think it depends on the reader which will be more favored. I think it relies on knowledge of the previous volume for impact, but I can’t swear to it.


John Bowker, ed., Orthogonal SF: The War at Home. Kindle. A quirky and fascinating new entry on the SF magazine scene. I felt that the positive standout stories were “#Anon and the Antlers” by Michael J. DeLuca and “A Citizen’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven” by Josh Pearce, and Alana I. Capria’s “Gelatin Molds” was really really not my thing…but it was not my thing in a way that committed whole-heartedly to what it was doing. It was not trying half-assedly to be something else. None of the stories were mealy-mouthed. Two stories out of five that make me go “oh hell yeah”–and zero stories that I can’t remember, zero stories that make me go “wait, which one was that?”–not at all bad for a start.


Chaz Brenchley, Sister Anthony Comes Down. Kindle. Short piece in the same universe as the Crater School and bearing immediately upon it but not, for the most part, sharing its style. However, it’s the kind of bonus you get with the Patreon, and it is not in serial form, so I took advantage of its self-contained nature to jump in and be able to jump out again.


Marie Brennan, Chains and Memory. Kindle. Discussed elsewhere.


Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint. A murder mystery very much in the puzzle novel style: practically entirely composed of “how will they prove it.” Translated from the Japanese, with cultural assumptions intact. So okay then.


Gwyneth Jones, Midnight Lamp. Reread. There is no point to even trying with this series without starting at the beginning, with Bold As Love. By now they are deep into the weeds, far far into consequences and follow-on effects. Fiorinda is putting herself back together after having saved the world once. So are Ax and Sage. California Adventures! And so on. I like how this book doesn’t escalate directly. Sequels that manage not to do that and still find interesting things to say are better.


L.M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley. Kindle. Reread. When I was sick in ’15 I read the first six Green Gables books. When faced with a fairly loud setting and a need to read on my Kindle, I reached for this familiar volume, which has a balance of kids’ antics and adults’ love lives as most Montgomery does. It was one of my favorites when I was little, and I still like it reasonably well. Note that there will be moments of unthinking racism against persons not present, as part of the fabric of the culture depicted, and some of the parenting practices from the kinder and more progressive parents are still pretty barbaric.


Emma Newman, Planetfall. A fascinating science fiction psychological study of an individual and a community dealing with colonization and background aliens while completely failing to cope with a mental health issue that is central to the book. I found the ending not at all satisfying. “Wow!” I kept saying to myself. “This is really compassionate and understanding, I wonder how she’s going to stick the landing?” Uh…better luck next time? Seriously, the rest of the reading experience is worth following Newman’s career and trying again, but the ending…did not quite make it, for me, and I will be happy to talk on email with those who either have already read it or find the details important enough that they want spoilers.


George O’Connor, Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One. Discussed elsewhere.


Benjamin Parzybok, Sherwood Nation. Drought and crisis and how people come to the end of their rope, what they do when they get there. Particularly interesting to read fairly close to Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which are very different water/drought books set in the Pacific coast states. Parzybok’s scenes of family life in externally imposed crisis are particularly poignant and believable, and having “Maid Marian” and her crew to cheer for keeps it from getting to be too grindingly much. Also the very last page works in so very many ways that I am kind of fidgety to talk to people who have read the whole thing about what I like about it.


Mary Rickert, The Memory Garden. Beautiful domestic fantasy with lots of old women as protagonists and supporting characters. I have no idea why this book hasn’t come up when we were discussing Lifelode and The Dubious Hills as domestic fantasy, even though the setting is this world instead of secondary world. Full of garden life and ad hoc families and the way that people cope and then shape their lives around their coping.


Ysabeau S. Wilce, Prophecies, Libels, and Dreams: Stories of Califa. These are in the Flora Segunda universe but not nearly as middle-grade-skewed as the Flora books, which is an interesting balance. The prose voice also varies in how much it’s off into the twee land of Flora–for all that it took me a couple of tries to really get into the voice of those books, I found I missed it a bit in the more restrained stories, even though I saw why Wilce made the choices she did for each. Writing adult stories in the world of your children’s books is just the sort of fun interesting totally non-commercial thing I think more people should do, so I want to call this particularly to the attention of Flora’s fans.


Kai Ashante Wilson, The Devil in America. Reread. I remembered liking something by the author, so I picked up this beautiful little bound version from the free table at ConFusion. Turns out that what I remember liking is this. Well, still, now I have a beautiful little bound version, and that’s no bad thing. Racism, bargains, cost.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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A good example for this panel… [Feb. 3rd, 2016|09:53 am]
Marissa Lingen
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One of the things Alec and I talk about a lot is how to make panels at conventions better. Because he did the programming for Fourth Street for four years, naturally some of that conversation has been from the programming side: how do you choose panelists, how do you choose a moderator, how do you write the panel description so that the panelists don’t stare blankly at each other wondering what on earth you were thinking or wander off into the weeds. But he hasn’t been doing programming, and we’ve been talking about it from the other angle a lot more lately: as panelists, how do you do panels well.


I think one of the most interesting questions is how to get depth for those who are ready without making the new people feel completely lost at sea. And one theory I have right now that I would like to propose and see what other people think of it is what sorts of things are most useful for squee and what things are more useful for analysis. Specifically: I think that if you have a clear choice, if you have a ton of examples to choose from, the most commonly known things are best for analysis, and the least commonly known things are the best for squee. With a spectrum between, and with the possibility of giving more than one example or speaking comparatively, obviously.


Of course depending on the convention there are entire panels based on squee. These are usually clearly labeled: “Professor Whom Fans Latest Season Recap: what’s awesome, what are we looking for next season?”, that sort of thing–very different from the panel where the Professor Whom fans are analyzing the Sniffling Cherub episodes in detail and what particular motifs recur in them. But I mean in general, on a panel that invites analysis, the more commonly known a work, the more people will have access to the analytical point you try to make. Or alternately, providing triangulation–if you can think of two or three lesser known examples, you increase the odds that your listener will know one of them. So that will help with what you’re saying about how to build complex character relationships, or how to do exposition, or whatever it is that you’re analyzing.


And of course squee about lesser known things gives people more of a chance to find out about something they might not have heard about. We all get overcome by exuberance for things we love, and I don’t want to stifle that if it happens that the thing you love is loved by other people. But squee after squee can make a panel shallow. I once went to a panel that was literally only a list of anime the panelists liked. Not even descriptions. Just titles. So that’s one end of a spectrum from squee to analysis that was…I think suboptimal. I think that while there was a bonding experience to be had from the people who were saying, “And I watch this!” “Yeah!”, it was perhaps not the best panel to be had. Obviously a certain amount of spontaneity is part of the point of doing panels at all, rather than inviting individuals to give prepared speeches. But if you’re one of the panelists, you know the topic in advance, so you have a chance to think through: what am I enthusiastic about that is less known. What examples can I use that might be accessible to the listeners I have in this particular audience. Am I missing a way anything about that approach, do you think? Do you have other ideas about squee, analysis, and other panel behavior that isn’t the standard etiquette advice?




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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All the news that’s fit to pixelate [Jan. 26th, 2016|06:33 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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A lot of work stuff going on here. Some of it is in the category of “secret projects, cannot discuss.” Some of it has just departed from that category! So! I will tell you now!


1) I have signed the final paperwork and can now say that I am very pleased to have my long-form work represented by Kurestin Armada of PS Literary. If you have a fabulous book deal you have been waiting to fling at me and were not sure where to fling that offer, the answer is: Kurestin Armada, PS Literary. More seriously, I am looking forward to working with Kurestin. It really feels like the right fit for both of us.


(Kids, don’t ever let anyone make you feel like this goes only one direction. You and your agent are choosing each other, not just them choosing you.)


2) I sold “Drifting Like Leaves, Falling Like Acorns” to Analog. This is a story in the same mosaic as several previous stories, and it is the weirdest thing I have ever sold to Analog. Trevor seems to agree, calling it an “odd duck”–yep–quack!–but when they say “odd duck” in an acceptance letter, you say “thank you!” See, we can all do our part in keeping science fiction weird.


3) Strange Horizons did a reader poll for 2015, and my story It Brought Us All Together came in fourth. I’m not sure why I included the link there, since apparently enough of you liked it to vote it fourth out of all the year’s stories! Thanks, readers! Mycogeneticist origin stories are more popular than I ever knew, which is great, because I’m writing another, completely different one. And then the two mycogeneticists can get together and fight crime…er, actually just fungal plagues…but I get ahead of myself.


I do that a lot.


I want a 4) and a 5) in honor of the late great Rise/wilfulcait (for those of you who are late to this party, she was the source of “five things make a post,” breast cancer stole my friend away years and years ago now, and I still think of her whenever I do a post like that), but I don’t think I have two more bits of thematic news. Ah well. She would understand.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Young ‘uns [Jan. 26th, 2016|08:33 am]
Marissa Lingen
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A few weeks ago, when we were having a rash of notable deaths, one of my friends was asking, in her grief, whether it would just be like this from here on out. One of her icons, one of her heroes, after another. And Tim very quietly said to me, “Now would be a great time to start liking the work of artists younger than yourself. Every time is a great time.”


Well: yeah. And the immediate aftermath of a death is not the right time to say it more loudly than that, which is why I waited. But yeah. Because you’re not trying to replace anybody. No one will ever replace the artists of your childhood, the people who inspired you in your teens, those who touched your heart and lifted your mind in the first days you were an adult. Those people are irreplaceable.


But that doesn’t mean you go quietly into a downhill spiral of fewer and fewer artists to love. I think too many people do. The studies show it: most people stop liking new music in their late twenties or early thirties. They stop seeking it out–or maybe they never sought it out, and they stop being in situations where it finds them automatically. I think this is maybe less true on average for books and movies, but still somewhat true: the shape of things you seek out slows down.


And it gets easier to feel like the world is getting worse. Like things are getting sadder, diminishing. But they’re not. There’s more good stuff out there. The kids are not only all right, they can be there so that when the artist who was 30 when you were 15–30 and living hard, 30 and partying all night on the tour bus–turns out to be mortal, as statistically it turns out a great many of us are–there’s the artist who was 15 when you were 30.


And no, they don’t sound the same. They won’t feel like being 17 and having your life ahead of you. They’ll feel like being 37, or 57, or 87. And still choosing to have your life ahead of you.


That’s a pretty good thing to sound like too.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One, by George O’Connor [Jan. 18th, 2016|08:02 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by First Second Books.


The muses hustle you through Apollonian mythology. Seriously, this is a whirlwind tour. Birth! Slaying Python! Daphne! Marsyas! Hyacinth! Asklepios and his centaurs! Fighting, screwing, the lyre, the sun, healing, wheeeee! So much Apollo. Seriously so much. In one very, very short book.


If you’ve been reading Jo Walton’s Thessaly trilogy, you will notice that this comic brushes past events covered in more depth in The Just City and The Philosopher Kings. Apollo! He’s a thing there! But even if you’re not interested in that series, this is reasonably pretty and a decent introduction or refresher. I would say “for young people,” and it is, but only if you don’t mind the young people not getting a completely prettied up version. Daphne is nearly raped here; Marsyas is flayed. The Greek gods: you don’t want to invite them to your parties. Or pointedly not-invite them to your parties! Lest they show up and turn you into a goat!


I feel like it’s such a fast run-through that it’s not the best of the series, but the series is worth having, and this is a reasonable installment of it.


Please consider using our link to buy Olympians: Apollo, The Brilliant One from Amazon.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Chains and Memory, by Marie Brennan [Jan. 17th, 2016|03:24 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by the author, who is also a personal friend. Also I backed the Kickstarter for this book.


While very thoroughly a sequel to Lies and Prophecy, Chains and Memory avoids the trap of doing all the same things. Kim and Julian are not still at college. Their relationship has progressed. Their roommates and best friends, while still emotionally close, are physically distant, and other secondary characters have taken the stage. If you want “more just like that,” this is not more just like that.


If, however, you want a sequel that is trying to take the next step with worldbuilding consequences–that is thinking through implications and pushing them–that is saying “yes, and another” to relationships not only between the main characters but with the other people and in fact institutions in their lives–it is that.


So it really depends on what you want from a sequel.


The roles of the Seelie and Unseelie in the human world have also progressed, and their hand in how humans–varieties of telepaths and non-telepaths–interact with each other, reaching back through history, are thoroughly examined in this book. There are passages about which kinds of telepaths are like theater kids, and then there are passages about Congress. There are action scenes. There is not fencing, but there is fighting, torture, revenge, and true love. Of more than one sort.


There is not actually a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, though. I suppose one can’t have everything. At least not in a book of this length.


Please consider using our link to buy Chains and Memory from Amazon.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early January [Jan. 16th, 2016|10:37 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Exclusive of manuscripts, which I don’t talk about publicly.


Octavia Cade, Chemical Letters. This was a joyful, beautiful, nerdy romp through poems and chemistry. The world needs more like this. Hurrah. Hurrah.


Thomas Goetz, The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis. Oh, this book. So first of all: it is gross. It does not stay with the parts of TB where someone dies looking pale and ethereal. It goes into TB and the rest of medicine in the time, in ways that are useful and disgusting. Now, me, I am the sort of person who read this while eating lunch, no problem. You judge for yourself whether you are, though, because Goetz…does not hesitate to go there. And not just with the gross, though. It is tragic: people not accepting procedures that will be lifesaving. People self-deluding that they have cures they do not. Koch, a great medical man in some ways, gradually painting himself into a corner wherein he believes himself to be unjustly persecuted just because he peddled a false TB cure and also opposed pasteurization of dairy products. (OH IS THAT ALL. POOR YOU HOW THEY PERSECUTE YOU THERE THERE.) The other thing this is, though, weirdly, is a piece of biographical criticism, of how Arthur Conan Doyle could become the man who could invent and write Sherlock Holmes in the first place. And John Watson. The influences upon him, the things that touched his life that pushed and pulled and added up to…yes, there he is: the creator of Holmes and Watson. And it’s not even a very long book, to pack in the medical background of the time, serious amounts of Franco-Prussian War politics, and the character of the two men and their families. So if you have the stomach for it, I do recommend this. But if you don’t, I don’t blame you for it.


Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard, The End of the Sentence. A spooky ghost novella, but a kinder one than I feared to begin with, and worth the trouble. I’m glad that Magonia made me seek it out.


Tove Jansson, Sculptor’s Daughter: A Childhood Memoir. I should have guessed from reading the Moomin books that Jansson would have an unerring feel for what it is like to be a child, but you can’t tell in advance that someone is going to write a memoir in that frame of mind, in the frame of mind of what it was like at the time. Remembering that perspective. It was so lovely, because she was sensible in the way that children are sensible, and there were so many important details that adults leave out, things that one would want to know about 1910s-20s Finland.


Fiona MacCarthy, Anarchy and Beauty: William Morris and His Legacy, 1860-1960. Lots of pictures, less text. The jacket copy focuses on radical sexual politics, which is not much in evidence in the minimal text at all–I personally am a better source on that than this book is–and there’s a bit more on radical non-sexual politics, but only a bit. As for influence, yes, there’s some of that, but only darting into it here and there, considering how broad and deep Morris’s influence runs. I’m glad to have this book, but it’s weirdly frustrating. Not even so much shallow as spotty. And that particularly surprised me from MacCarthy, who gave us the giant exhaustive Burne-Jones biography that took up so much of my time in 2015–but this was a volume from curating an exhibit, so. Well, there’s other Morris stuff out there.


Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Fascinatingly, the fantasy plot is both completely crucial and entirely relegated to the edges of this book. What a neat needle to thread. This is a YA telling the story of the kids who aren’t in the middle of saving the world from the giant fantasy menace. They’re caught up in their own senior year relationships, and oh, does Ness remember what it’s like to be a high school senior. To be in love with your best friend, to be weirdly awkward with your other best friend for reasons you don’t fully understand, to be trying to figure out how to be good to your family and still have things the way your newly adult self needs them…with magic you can’t control or even quite see, that isn’t much to do with you, all around the edges…yes, Ness has a handle on the end of childhood very, very well.


Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. The last Terry Pratchett novel, and you can see where it’s not quite done, where in some spots it’s an outline–gesturing at Terry Pratchett Discovers Third Wave Feminism, sketching in Pterry’s Last Love Letter To the Old Codger He’ll Never Get To Be. And yet he gave us one more bit of Tiffany Aching, and the death of Granny Weatherwax–the loved ones of Granny Weatherwax mourning her–and you know, that was enough, I think. Not his chart-topper, his greatest masterwork. But enough. Trying for more even to the last, I hope we can all say as much.


Alter Reiss, Sunset Mantle. I must admit that I critiqued this novella in draft form. And now it’s published! Go team! This is fantasy with strong religious worldbuilding (by which I mean in-world religion, not our-world religion) and a military component, with a loving central relationship and practical work, all packed into a plotty action-filled novella. But I’ve admitted my bias.


Nisi Shawl and Bill Campbell, eds., Stories for Chip: A Tribute to Samuel R. Delany. In addition to having amazing cover art (seriously, who did that?), this covers a wide range of what Delany has meant to various people, in both fiction and nonfiction. Some people are just doing their own thing, which is influenced by him indirectly. Some are more directly trying to demonstrate his influence. For me the standout stories were Benjamin Rosenbaum’s “The First Gate of Logic” and Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl’s collaborative “Jamaica Ginger,” but I imagine that this is very much a “something for everyone” anthology, and what that something is will vary considerably.


Gordon Shepherd, Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters. My subtitle: “Why Nonfiction Voice Matters.” This is a book whose author does not know who his audience is. Is it people who are interested in highly technical things? That would have been fine. Is it a lay audience with no technical skill? That would have been okay, too, because I could have skipped it; his voice when writing for the lay audience is really, really patronizing, and his metaphors completely unenlightening if you didn’t understand them from the technical passages. And then there are the chapters where he wanders off outside his own fields of expertise to speculate about things like Why Modern People Are Obese and goes completely off the rails, and if you want someone speculating about that on little to no expertise, why pick someone with a terrible prose voice? The parts that were Shepherd writing technically in his field were a-okay with me, but for that I think looking up his papers in journals on academia.edu or some such is a far better way to go. Also this is what happens when people who are obsessed with visual processing try to do other things; they can’t even see that something that is processed spatially in the brain may not be processed visually, come on, people, this is not hard. ALSO. Let me be the first to tell you that it is possible to write about taste/smell and memory without dwelling on Proust. Do it now. Do it today.


Salla Simukka, As Black As Ebony. The third in the “Snow White” trilogy of Finnish crime YA novels. It felt tacked on, obligatory; Our Heroine…does some stuff…figures out some stuff…has some stuff done to her and triumphs in the end. All very short chapters. If you liked the first two in the series, this one is still skippable, unless you are really really set on learning what happens to Lumikki.


Leslie Valiant, Probably Approximately Correct: Nature’s Algorithms for Learning and Prospering in a Complex World. This…is an excellent example of what happens when you know your own field (mathematics/computer science) really really well, are interested in someone else’s field (biology/evolution), and…do not perhaps take as much time as you ought to understand what they are saying. About evolution and its mechanisms and why. As a result Valiant is very clear when he’s talking about algorithms, and less insightful than he hopes when he’s talking about evolution.




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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art talks to each other about rocs and tea [Jan. 10th, 2016|12:57 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Something delightful has happened.


This won’t make any sense unless you have read the story I posted as a Christmas present for you all–you still can read it, How to Wrap a Roc’s Egg, go ahead. But. My friend Mary has gone and written a poem to answer part of it. And she said I could post it for you to enjoy, so when you’ve finished the story, here is the poem.


Bosko the Bold’s Last Exploit


by Mary Alexandra Agner


I do miss tea, you know.

Iced especially, would be lovely

but the dreams of chill and clink

melt quickly under equator sun,

and canon fire lacks, as accompaniment.

I write with some regret, Anna—

not for the rocs themselves,

or breaking our agreement,

nor thirty years of high sea hijinks

helping myself to gold and spice,

yardarms and yeomen,

what books the babies let me read

between their dives of great destruction.

Nor all the stars that you will never see in Sweden.

I regret I took away your dream

even while you gave me one

I didn’t know held all my happiness.

I hope you got your tea, acres of plants

turning that northern light to tart

and complex on the taster’s tongue.

I hope this letter finds its way to you.

My notoriety is built on flame and claw

and once my last breath slips away

so will the rocs.

What fame I leave may be insufficient postage.


(Isn’t that lovely? I couldn’t be more pleased, both with the thing itself and with the meta-thing of it.)




Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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