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Marissa Lingen

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Helsinki for the con going nerd [Jun. 6th, 2016|05:41 pm]
Marissa Lingen

I know that a great many nerds will be heading to Helsinki for the WorldCon next year, so I wanted to say some things about my experiences there that might be helpful.

So many things are in English. So many. Sooooo many. I did not encounter anyone in a service role in Helsinki (and only one in Turku) who did not speak English. They didn’t seem to expect Americans in early May, but people from everywhere else were using English as the lingua franca, so: really you will be fine.

A great many things, including hotel breakfasts, had gluten-free and dairy-free options clearly marked, so if those are concerns for you, it should be quite possible for you to travel well with some attention and forethought. This was not an issue for me, but I have friends for whom it is, and I was very pleased to see how well things would be handled for them.

I am a morning person. Apparently so is much of the Norden. Specifically: do not expect to go sit in a little cafe or bakery or coffee shop in the evening in Helsinki. That is not a thing I could find that they do. A few restaurants are open late–not very late by my standards. In the summer you can sit in a park and it will be still fairly light and gorgeous. Otherwise, what is open late is bars. If you want to do something that is not sitting in a bar drinking, you will need to plan a room party, or you will need to go out to a park. It is very easy to misjudge how late it is because of how light it is. You can walk around looking at architecture and statues, and this will be great fun. You can hang out in the lovely parks, how wonderful, highly recommended. But what you cannot do is sit in a cafe with your friends and eat the lovely pastries or drink the lovely non-alcoholic beverages in the evening. You had better get that out of your system in the morning or the afternoon. Dessert comes with supper or not at all; stash some Fazer in your bag if you get peckish in the evening.

Speaking of which: go to the Fazer Cafe. Seriously, go. It is…look, it probably won’t be the intensely emotional experience for you that it was for me (I nearly cried, for historical political reasons), but it’ll still be lovely. The windows are full of glass globes of flowers and chocolates. It’s not just a chocolate shop, it’s an elegant sensory experience from the early 20th century. Basically from the time when Karl Fazer’s politics triumphed and the Russians were out of Helsinki for good. It is gracious. Go. You may think that the Finland 2017 bid parties were just being eccentric with all the Fazer chocolates. No. This is the chocolate shop where people gathered to conspire against the tsar. (A lot of people don’t know that even in Finland.) It is so fiercely Finnish it brings a tear to your eyes. Well, to my eyes. And this thing full of grace and beauty and good taste and opposed to the authoritarians won GO GIVE THEM MONEY FOR CHOCOLATE OR A BISCUIT OR SOMETHING I AM NOT JOKING. There is a buffet. They serve actual food. If I had known that we might have eaten it, but the hotel breakfast was so lavish I was full of mustard herring and blueberry soup and Karelian pastry.

(Just eat it, it’s good. It’s got rye flour on the outside and rice in the middle. I don’t know, I’m not Finnish, much less Karelian. That’s all much further east than me. But they’re little pancakey football things. You can get them in Finnish supermarkets and museum cafes and everything. They’re better fresh, though, like in the buffet of a nice hotel breakfast. You can eat them with egg butter or strawberry jam or what you like.)

There is a restaurant called Zetor in downtown Helsinki that is very kitschy in its decor. There is an actual tractor in this restaurant, in keeping with its Finnish country food theme. However. You can get Finnish comfort cooking. Its menu is in many languages, it marks dietary needs clearly, and you are in Finland. You should try some Finnish food. It is not dreadfully expensive, and they will serve you cloudberry wine with your pyttipanna. They will serve you reindeer or blinis, or mushroom barley risotto. They will serve you boar sausages or salmon soup. Go, eat the Finnish food.

You will see a lot of restaurants labeled Nepalese. In my experience with their menus, this is mostly what would get called Indian food in North America, very little of what I think of as specifically Nepalese dishes. It is, however, a really great idea to put Indian sauces on Finnish pike perch. If you eat fish at all and you eat Indian food at all: yes. Do that.

I hear that public transit in Helsinki is quite good. I didn’t take any. I walked and walked and walked. I went to museums and also many architectural sites, churches and modern things and 19th century building after 19th century building. (With jet lag, my American sense of “hey, that must be an important building!” misled me for…um…miles, actually. I kept seeing the something a block or two down and thinking, “That’s about 150, 200 years old, it must be important!” And no. Just that I had not adjusted to the continent I was on, architecturally. Then when we stumbled upon the President’s house, it looked…just like all the other unprepossessing 19th century Finnish buildings. Oh Finland.)

And we went up to the Sibelius Monument, which Tim has lovely pictures of over at his Patreon so you can see for yourself why it’s worth going there by some means or another. The Helsinki Art Museum was not really worth it except for the Tove Jansson murals, and is also hard to find how to get in. The National Museum is lovely, and Kiasma is alarming and great if you like really modern art. (I had to flee the terrifying art.) But my favorite Helsinki thing is honestly just Helsinki. Just walking and walking and looking at Helsinki.

People keep asking me if I’m going for the Helsinki WorldCon. My dears: I have no idea. The vertigo is not kind enough to let me plan things more than a year in advance with travel of that magnitude. So: while I would love to make some kind of plan that involves striding around Helsinki with some of my favorite nerds in tow going, “Look! It’s a statue of this writer! and here’s why that’s important! and here’s who built this church!”, I honestly don’t know. I wish that you would all stop asking. I will say when I know. But in the meantime: the Sibelius Monument! The Fazer Cafe! Zetor! I am telling you the things as best I can.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, May [Jun. 4th, 2016|08:48 pm]
Marissa Lingen

Renee Ahdieh, The Crown and the Arrow. Kindle. This was a promotional short story of the sort that is the interstices between perspectives in the related novel. I’m still willing to try these, but I’m coming to the conclusion that very few of them are satisfying as short stories; they’re mostly not trying to be short stories. They’re trying to be trailers for the related novels, or author-written fanfic, basically. Short story writing and novel writing are not the same skill, and while some of the authors who are being encouraged by their publishers to put this kind of content out may very well have short story writing skills, they aren’t necessarily being encouraged to use it here. So…I am the wrong reader for this kind of content. I am more pleased by the shape of the novel staying the shape of the novel than by “deleted scene” or “extra perspective” type short content; I want a short story to be satisfying in itself. I will just wait impatiently for the next actual Renee Ahdieh book in this series.

A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book. Reread. Oh how I love this book. Oh how I love this book. Its cast of thousands does not bother me in the slightest. It is right in my wheelhouse, all the Pre-Raphaelite and Fabian and all the different kinds of artist and their families, the places they overlap and the ways they go off the rails. It is such a lovely book, the class differences and class crossing and passing and not passing. The things Byatt does with the stresses of a world without reliable birth control, with women who just desperately, passionately, want to work, want to do something. And the ones who don’t. Possession is the canonical favorite Byatt, and I keep meaning to go back and reread that, but I don’t think it can possibly supplant this in my heart, this is meant for me, it is mine.

John Crowley, Little, Big. Reread. This is such a strange book. It’s got all sorts of women, but they seem curiously passive and interchangeable. And yet there is enough to it, enough weight of magic, that I still like it, I still like the feel of the places and the weight of things. And it is better, much better, for having read even one of Thornton Burgess’s books; the thing that was all right when read as general was much, much better as a specific reference.

Aliette de Bodard, Ships in Exile. Kindle. (Not available for purchase. -ed) A handful of stories in various settings I had seen the edges of from de Bodard before; I particularly liked the Mexica-inflected future, similarly influenced to her mystery novels but with a very, very different result.

Pamela Dean, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. Reread. I keep coming around to different places every time I read this book. This time I kept thinking: I don’t know of anybody else who has even tried to talk about the adolescent balance in autonomy and protection in quite this way. I don’t even know how many people have tried to think about it nearly this carefully, even if they came to very different conclusions. I think mostly, culturally, autonomy is not a word people are encouraged to think about for persons under the age of seventeen or so, twenty-five to be safe, possibly a minimum monthly income instead.

Mark Forsyth, The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. This was another of Forsyth’s pop etymology books, nothing particularly earth-shattering but a perfectly pleasant thing to pick up and put down when I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to read before getting on a plane and didn’t want anything with narrative throughput that I would mind interrupting.

Elena Helander-Renvall, Silde: Sami Mythic Texts and Stories. A beautifully illustrated volume purchased at the Arktikum. (And as far as I can tell available only in Finnish museums. Some of the illustrations are online. -ed) Not as large as one might like, but we take what we can get here, tales of the kinds of spirits, the kinds of dogs, the kinds of people of the far north of the Scandinavian peninsula and western Russia.

Reginald Hill, Good Morning, Midnight. Reread. Not entirely believable Dalziel backstory, I’m afraid, and not one of the more memorable late series entries. I do like Emily Dickinson. I wish Hill had done better by her. Not offensive, just not a standout.

Kameron Hurley, The Geek Feminist Revolution. Discussed elsewhere.

E.K. Johnston, Exit, Pursued by a Bear. This is a beautiful thing to do, so very much worth having. Read with care. It is not, very surely not, a Teen Problem Novel. It is the story of Hermione, a cheerleader, who goes away to cheerleading camp and is roofied and raped. It is the story of her surviving. Her aftermath. Her living on and being herself. It is the story of those who are fiercely, wonderfully there for her, and some who are not–some who don’t know how to be, some who don’t want to be. If you have ever been Hermione. If you have ever been Polly, the best friend–oh how I love Polly–with the stats, who among us has not been one or the other or both, once or twice or too many times.This book is for the Hermiones, the Pollys, the moms and the dads and the Coaches. Kate wrote it for all of us with so much love, and she wrote it for the girls who hope they never identify firsthand with anybody in it, ever, ever, because that’s the hell of YA: you write things like this hoping that they are in advance of the problems teenagers actually face, and you know that in too many cases they aren’t. Read it carefully. Choose your timing carefully. But read it, because it’s beautiful, and it’s the kind of triumphant that life is allowed to be, and it’s written with love.

Gwyneth Jones, Band of Gypsys. Reread. This is act four of a five-act structure, and everything goes all to hell, as you would expect, geopolitically and interpersonally. I do love this series still, and it is worth not skipping this on the reread, but while the others can be grim, this is more of a grim slog, and also there are fertility issues that may be difficult in multiple directions, be aware if you’re considering it.

Kim MacQuarrie, The Last Days of the Incas. Large and moderately informative book about what it says on the tin.

Hilary McKay, Casson Family: Rose’s Blog. Kindle. Very short and very light, does not cohere as a story. Much though I like getting more Cassons, this felt more like “no, really you’re not getting more Cassons” rather than like actually more Cassons. It trickled off in the end in a not very satisfying way. It was meant as promotional material. Repeating theme: I am not the audience for promotional material really.

William Morris, The Wood Beyond the World. Kindle. Oh how I love William Morris…as a designer of wallpapers and ceramic tiles. As an overwrought fabulist mumbling about which women are the scheming evil women with scheming evil dwarves? OH UNCLE WILL NOT REALLY NO. Go look at pictures of the ceramic tiles instead, really. That will be best. The title is the best thing in this book. No wonder CS Lewis wanted to do something better with it.

Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning. Discussed elsewhere.

Johan Reinhard, The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes. Do you think that Johan Reinhard is the most interesting person in the world? Do you expect that he has been right in every conversation that he’s had, and probably has been ill done by in most interactions? If not, this book will probably annoy you considerably. The mummy in question is interesting. The bits where he is actually talking about how she was found: pretty interesting. All the bits that are pompous overwrought not-really-memoir: eh. Also there was much more room for information about. Well. The Inca Empire. Which interested me more than Johan Reinhard did, before I knew anything about Johan Reinhard, and now that I have read this book and learned more about him: even more so.

Ranylt Richildis, ed., Lackington’s Issue 9. Kindle. I hate it when friends of mine have the clear-cut most interesting story in an issue of something, because then I feel like I’m being biased and fond. But Arkady Martine’s ‘Contra Gravitatem (Vita Genevievis)’  was the clear standout; it drew on Martine’s scholarly knowledge and Silver Age SF for a satisfying modern story.

John Ruskin, The Two Paths. Kindle. This took me months to read. Months. Because every time I would to go read it, I would curse at John Ruskin and put it back down again. Finally I was on the train to Falun and gritted my teeth so that I could go on to read other things that were not bloody bloody John Ruskin. He enumerates in this, for example, how it is that we can know that Scottish art is superior to Indian art. Yes, how is it that we can know a thing that is not true as a generalization? Tell us, John Ruskin! Having read it, I can tell you: he is making racist bullshit 19th century claims. One of my friends upon hearing me complain started condescending to me about how philosophy can be hard if you don’t have the background. Begging pardon, I do have the background. And with the background, it can be quite easy to see when someone is using the language of aesthetic philosophy to back up the racist claim that made them most comfortable, that they had arrived at before they started. There was no chance that the pure spirit of philosophic inquiry was going to lead John Ruskin to the idea that Scottish art might be inferior to that of anybody brown. Or that, God forbid, art should be judged on a case by case basis rather than nationally. So. This was useful in the “what kind of crap would people in particular situations have been fed and what kind of crap would somewhat later people be reacting against” research. I do not commend it otherwise.

Sherwood Smith, Commando Bats. Kindle. Older ladies wrestle with newly granted magic powers. Hijinks ensue. I could do with more hijinks from this crew whenever Sherwood wanted.

G. Willow Wilson, Ms. Marvel: Crushed. I was disappointed in this volume compared to the previous two. The plot felt incredibly paint-by-numbers and canned. I hope that it was just a move to get the plot to a more interesting place. I’ve heartily enjoyed what Wilson has done so far, so I’m willing to keep going, and it’s not like this was in any way upsetting or offensive. Just: meh.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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The Geek Feminist Revolution, by Kameron Hurley [May. 31st, 2016|05:16 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Full disclosure: Kameron and I are not besties but are the “have a long chatty lunch at a con” level of cordial. Do I always remember this kind of disclosure? I should. This field, ack.

If you follow Kameron Hurley’s blog, most of this book will be familiar to you. I say “most” because, in addition to the pieces written specifically for this collection, even the most adamant follower of a blog scarcely memorizes every post. There will always be the day when you were at your grandmother’s, the link you didn’t catch, the time when you totally meant to come back to that later…but never did. Also, blogs–even the best-curated–get choked down a bit with ephemera. There will always be a post that, in retrospect, turns out not to have been among the best. A post that needs an update, and you read it five minutes after it went up and missed the update.

These, then, are the selected favorites of Hurley’s blog posts, edited to be their best selves. They are the form she wants to stand by, the form she wants to discuss in the long-term. This is not her only argument, but this time around, this is her argument. This is her fight.

Some of the essays that were written for this collection are at least as important as the blog posts that went viral. They make it fuller, more rounded argument. They have perspective. One, in particular, “When the Rebel Becomes Queen: Changing Broken Systems from the Inside,” takes on one of the hardest topics for people in our culture in my generation and the one before it: admitting to power. Because, as Hurley points out, the difference doesn’t always feel immensely powerful on the inside. It doesn’t come with a sceptre or an army or a giant bank account. But that doesn’t mean that the power differential isn’t real and important in how you treat people, and I’m very pleased to see someone like Hurley–who is not a multimillionaire, who is not a household name in households other than mine–explicitly recognizing that and grappling with its implications in a book like this.

So the new content is well worth having, and if you want to, you can take a minute to find out what you think of that old. But I do think that if you’re having the kind of conversation that genre tends to be, putting this kind of essay online so that it’s widely accessible, and also publishing it in this kind of format so that it’s more polished and permanent, has a lot of value. I’ve been glad to see authors like Jo Walton and Cory Doctorow do it in recent years, and Hurley’s is a valuable voice in that thread of discussion.

Please consider using our link to buy The Geek Feminist Revolution from Amazon.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Interview with Ada Palmer [May. 30th, 2016|05:46 am]
Marissa Lingen
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Today I am hosting an interview with Ada Palmer, the latest stop on her blog tour for her new book Too Like the Lightning. I’ve attempted to avoid spoilers in both interview questions and review, although both refer to the contents; you can read my thoughts on the book here.

1) Are you in some sense a dual-vocateur, or is only one of writing and history your vocation? or are they the same vocation? or is something else “how you introduce yourself at parties” (cooking, singing, art appreciation)?

I introduce myself as both.  I’ve been delighted to have a lot of readers respond enthusiastically to voker/vocateur, and I do think it’s something we see every day but don’t have a good name for, the difference between someone who works and then stops versus someone for whom work is an all-hours passion.  We have “day job” but that implies that it’s somehow not important, not the real you, whereas I have friends who love their jobs and are great at them but are still happy that the job ends when they clock out.  I like how voker/vocateur make clear that both kinds of relationship to one’s work are good and worthy of respect.  For myself, history and writing are very much intertwined sets of one vocation, born mostly out of reading figures from the past.  I talk in my author’s note at the end about what I call the Great Conversation, how authors in past eras responded to each other.  It’s a conversation across time, years and decades of human labor poured into writing works for later generations to receive, in the pure faith that there will be yet more scholars in the future to read, and to respond.  They worked so hard to pass things forward, copying them by hand as centuries made the papyrus crumble, and commenting and responding, continuing the conversation life by life.  Petrarch did it most overtly.  He wrote letters to Seneca and Cicero in response to reading their letters even though they had been dead a thousand years.  And he also wrote a letter to Posterity, just the same way, addressed to the later scholars for whom he salvaged Cicero and Seneca, expecting us to pass it forward too.  I want to read that, to discuss it, study it, share it with others, that’s the heart my scholarship, what I do as a historian and as a history professor.  But I also want to do more.  Petrarch didn’t want us to just measure and discuss him and his peers like so many specimens in a cabinet.  He wanted us to reply.  I don’t know how anyone can read Petrarch’s letters to us, and Voltaire’s, and Cicero’s, and not want to reply.  To pass it forward.  To pay it forward, all those years they gave us, trusting us, to give some years back, to them and to Posterity.  So I replied.  That’s the fiction.  And, like them, I trust there will be more replies to come.

2) You spend much of your time teaching people who are “blessed with newness,” though less blessed than Bridger. How do you think your experience as a professor has changed how you write sensayers, caregivers, and others who interact with the young?

Interesting question.  I think that transitioning from being taught to teaching has made me think a lot about what it was like being the student, doing a lot of analysis of points when I had good experiences with teachers, or bad ones, and trying to think from the other end what the big differences are.  I think a lot of it has to do with whether the person in the teacher position thinks of the students as peers/people equivalent to the teacher, or whether the teacher categorizes students as other/separate.  My worst student experiences tended to be situations where the teacher wouldn’t talk to us about why we were learning, what the bigger purpose was, and didn’t want to follow up probing questions.  Situations where we were clearly units to be given information/instruction like so many potted plans to be given water.  The best experiences were ones where teachers were eager to discuss the deeper purposes behind what we were learning, would step up at the outset to explain the why and what for, and the origins of things.  I felt that a lot of the difference came from empathy, whether teachers thought of students as coequal human beings with a natural right to understand why, and to ask questions, like anyone in a normal conversation.  When I write caregiver or teacher characters I think a lot about whether the caregiver/teacher thinks of interlocutors/students as equals, or as subjects to be protected/educated/guided by someone who knows better.  Carlyle very much empathizes and everyone else as coequal participants in exploring something Carlyle just happens to have explored more than most.  Other caregivers that we see have that to a lesser degree, or no degree.  Set-sets bring out this tension a lot, since their seeming inhumanity makes it extra easy for people to see them as other/not self.  The tension between good and bad teachers/caregivers, and the consequence of that difference for the world, will continue to grow over the four books.

3) Bash’es [deliberately formed quasi-family-type living groups] are of primary importance in this book, in this culture, but all the bash’es we see in serious detail are comparatively stable–that is, already formed. How tempted were you to do a side plot in bash’ formation? Can we hope for one in future books?

Yes, in fact I’m working at this very moment on a chapter which treats that quite a bit. The first part of this story focuses on the mature stages of large political plans and manipulations, and on the consequences of hereditary bash’es as opposed to new-formed bash’es.  So it didn’t make sense for a young college-age new bash’ to be central to that action.  I was also interested in focusing primarily on more mature characters, since there is already so much great genre fiction about young adults and coming-of-age, so it felt to me like I had more new things to contribute to a world of adults.  But in the later books, as we see the consequences of these “days of transformation” Mycroft is describing, then there will be some attention to new bash’es, and in particular to how challenging and frightening it is to be in the midst of trying to form a new bash’ when all this occurs.

4) The Hives carefully all have strengths and appeal and weaknesses/downsides. Do you try to guess which Hive your friends would choose? Do you mostly guess right? Or do they let you pick for them?

The question is usually “What Hive would you be if you weren’t a Utopian?”  Most of my friends are just as deep into science fiction & fantasy as I am, so Utopia is almost everyone’s first choice.  But it’s fun asking people which other Hive they would pick. Sometimes people have an instant answer that feels exactly right, and you think “Yes, of course he’d be a Brillist,” but sometimes people are torn and we have a great discussion, and talk about the merits and appeals of each.  It’s often especially interesting for noticing differences between friends, for example conversations where one friend finds the European and Mitsubishi Hives appealing because ancestry and nation of origin are important to that friend, and ethnicity/nationalism are important parts of those two Hives, but another friend in the same conversation may be baffled and find those two Hives totally unappealing.  In the course of the conversation we discover how unimportant ancestry/nation is to that friend in contrast with the other.  I think that many fictional stories sort people into groups by personality, or by the kinds of jobs people want to do, but fewer do it by political philosophy as Hives do, since they relate to fundamental ideas of how justice should work, or what the source of power is.  I’ve never thought of trying to guess or assign Hives to others, though, I think of it as such a personal thing, it would be an invasion of privacy to impose it on someone.  Some of my friends want to make an online quiz, which I think could be a lot of fun.  And I’ve found it interesting that, while almost all my friends say “Utopia first!” I’ve had several friends be deeply torn between Utopia and Cousins, and feel they would have to reluctantly pick Cousins over Utopians.  I think that the Cousins pull very differently from most of the Hives, based more on personality than philosophy in some senses, and it’s interesting to see the Cousins be the one that makes even SF fans torn.  I look forward to seeing how those who identify with Cousins will respond to the later books, especially the fourth.

5) The Terra Ignota series is substantial–several volumes coming from Tor. Do you have plans to do any shorter work, either in other universes or in other times/places in this universe? Or is Terra Ignota taking up all your fictional time and energy for the moment?

I find short fiction extremely challenging, it’s never flowed well for me, even though I love reading short fiction, especially short mysteries and ghost stories. I read a lot more short fiction than novels, but writing is very difficult (for which reason I’m a huge admirer of how you pour out so much incredible short fiction! [hey, thanks!–ed.]) I have one standalone short story that I’ve been trying to finish for… an embarrassing number of years, and do hope to finish someday.  I have one idea for a short story in the world of Terra Ignota, and I have the scene all picked out, but the structure of how to make it stand alone has never come.  So it’s just the novels for now, unless I ever finally conquer that short story.  But Terra Ignota isn’t taking up all my fictional energy right now, a lot of my energy is going into planning for the next couple of novel series I intend to start writing when Terra Ignota is finished.  I spent five years world building Terra Ignota before I sat down to outline and then write it, so I have several other series that are in that long preparatory stage, including two complete worlds that are just about ready to be outlined and written, and a couple other worlds that need a few more years of work to fill in all the gaps.

Ada Palmer is a professor in the history department of the University of Chicago, specializing in Renaissance history and the history of ideas. Her first nonfiction book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. She is also a composer of folk and Renaissance-tinged a capella music, most of which she performs with the group Sassafrass. Her personal site is at adapalmer.com, and she writes about history for a popular audience at exurbe.com and about SF and fantasy-related matters at Tor.com.

9780765378002_FC Ada Palmer



Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Things I left behind in Finland and Sweden, a partial list [May. 25th, 2016|10:59 am]
Marissa Lingen

A terrible fantasy novel I didn’t care about. The $2 I would have gotten from it at Half Price was not worth hauling it around for three weeks once I realized on day two that I wasn’t going to read more than 50 pages.

Five worn-out pairs of underwear and two worn-out bras. This was by design. Going to get thrown out somewhere. Good-bye, skivvies! Good-bye!

The Finnish phrasebook that contained “Can I get this in gabardine?” but not “service required” or “oil change” or…really, gabardine? Gabardine? Also, the dating section: if all I can say is, “can I get this in gabardine?”, I feel that “dating” is perhaps a euphemism, and going ahead and labeling it the “picking up strangers for sex” section is better. There were not any phrases in this section like, “What do you do?” or “What are your hobbies?” with a list of common answers. Kids, we have words for this, and they are not “dating.”

My black ankle boots, with two new rips in the leather. Well done, boots! Your service was appreciated!

Three pairs of tights. Unlike the boots and skivvies, these were not planned. They were eaten by the boots in their ravenous last days.

The Finnish guidebook that blandly mentioned that Helsinki might have modern art museums but not what or where, and claimed that there was a market where there was no market. I found the market. Helsinki was great. The guidebook not so much.

My purse. Um. This one was even less planned than the tights. It became leprous and started losing chunks of leather. Purse! Don’t do that, purse! I had to buy a purse in a Stockholm boutique on an emergency basis.

My fear that vertigo means no overseas travel. Vertigo means carefully managed international travel. Timed around the meds, planned very precisely around certain parameters. Do I know a year in advance whether a particular trip will be possible? No. But will some kinds of trips be possible? I think so. Yes.

Any sense that I might go the rest of my life without returning to the Arctic. Oh. Oh, you guys. The light, the air. The rivers. The rivers. I was barely out of Rovaniemi before I started researching Tromsø, Kiruna, Hammerfest, more. More. More. I’m going back. It can’t be soon, but–I have to go back.

There may also be a single perfectly good purple sock missing. Laundry progresses and hope recedes.

More as I can, as logistics allow.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer [May. 24th, 2016|08:35 am]
Marissa Lingen

Review copy provided by Tor Books. Further disclosure: while not a close friend, Ada is that next connection out: a close friend of a close friend.

My best history professor once said–to open a class, no less–that one needed a science fictional mindset to understand the past properly. Ada Palmer is a history professor, and she’s setting up this mindset in both directions. Too Like the Lightning is set in the Twenty-Fifth Century but calls upon the Eighteenth as a frame of reference for its events very first thing, as its mode of storytelling, its voice. This could easily be taken for a stylistic whim. That would be a mistake. Nothing here is accidental. It is all very, very thoughtful.

I am trying to avoid spoilers, but: the Eighteenth-Century very carefully sets up a frame of reference that is not our own in a number of ways–gender, politics, religion, questions of innocence, crime, and patronage. If you lose sight of that. If you think that this is a book that is really using the same ideas as you are for guilt and sin, family and priority and importance, you will find yourself abruptly quite wrong, and possibly as upset as one of the characters about it.

There are other historical touchstones. Victor Hugo is specifically called upon to justify the unhappinesses that crop up in the characters’ lives. Why are we not reading a happy book: like many other ideas, this one is touched on explicitly, discussed. There is an entire profession centered around the discussion of ideas about the universe, the sensayer, and a sensayer is a central character to this novel. There is plenty of room to discuss historical figures past and conjectured. What Palmer does not do is fall into the common science fiction writer trap of behaving as though the music and culture of her own teens were eternal to the universe forevermore. This is not just statistically more probable. It’s a hint: do not center 2016 and its concerns in your mind. The characters are not who you want them to be if you are feeling cuddly. They are very thoroughly from another milieu, with its assumptions built in. Even their faults are built into other assumptions completely.

For everyone who has ever asked: where are my flying cars? Fine, here, here are your flying cars. Did you expect them to come with pronoun emphasis changes, multiple interlocking/overlapping changes to the dominant social structure, and plots ranging from a family’s spiritual advice to the fate of what might pass for nations if nations still worked that way? With plenty of murder, gore, and implied sexual content along the way? And arguments between the characters but also between the reader and the narrator? No? Well, we can’t do you blood and love without the rhetoric in this universe, and we can’t do you flying cars without the pronouns and social structures. A lot of things turn out to be compulsory. Diderot does, and imaginary friends. You get a lot for free with your flying cars these days. George Jetson’s hair would curl.

George Jetson’s hair needed it.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, late April [May. 1st, 2016|05:59 am]
Marissa Lingen

W.H. Auden, Complete Poems. Reread. If there is anything better to read as a writer preparing oneself for a trip to the north than “Letter to Lord Byron,” I can’t think what it would be. I love that thing so much. It’s such a strange thing to want to do, a chatty personal/general letter to Lord Byron about WH Auden’s vacation in Iceland and what the world was like at the moment, all the stuff that had been happening since Byron died with a few aside that Byron should tell Jane Austen when he got the chance. I love Auden as one loves a nerdy grumpy uncle. He has this whole cluster of things, liking Norse myths and tinkering but taking machines as interesting, fun, rather than transcendent. There are individual bits that I love, but also I actually love the whole 900-page experience, the bits like his horrible moon landing poem that make me mutter, “Oh, shut UP, Uncle Wys,” as well as his memorial poem for Louis MacNeice that made me cry for being so clearly a one-of-us in mourning. I last read this eight years ago. I will go back and read it again in another some years. He’s flawed and giggly and grumpy and wants to do the oddest things, and I love him.

Minister Faust, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain. Reread. There have been a lot more superhero books since I read this one, and I wanted to see how it felt in that different context. The other thing that I was not fully aware had happened in that time, though, was that the word “intersectionality” had lodged itself firmly in my brain. So: this is an exercise in supremely unreliable narrator, and it is a(n authorially deliberate) tragedy of non-intersectionality cast as a comedic comic book narrative. What a singular thing to do. I still think it’s probably my least favorite Minister Faust book, but they’re generally worth reading, so it’s not like that’s a hearty condemnation.

Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring. Reread. I wanted to go back and see how this held up, since I haven’t read it since it was published. The answer is: beautifully. This is not the book Hopkinson would write today, but we get to have the books she writes today, too, so all’s well. I remember that the things she was doing with a setting that was both post-apocalyptic and fantastical felt fresh to me at the time, but they’re still detailed and specific enough that other people doing those categories has not made Hopkinson’s Toronto dated or less readable, and the characters are vividly themselves and relate interestingly to each other. Still very much recommended.

Jessica M. Lepler, The Many Panics of 1837: People, Politics, and the Creation of a Transatlantic Financial Crisis. You know how badly we understand banking now? Wow, did we understand it even worse in the early 19th century. Reserve rate, what’s that? Oh dear. One of the most interesting points I took away from this book is that some patterns of didactic mass market fiction endure forever. Holding individual families responsible for a financial crisis that they could not have altered one whit by eating gruel instead of mutton, and writing fiction that showed how if only everyone was virtuous, we’d all get through this…that pattern repeats and repeats and repeats. (It’s not that there aren’t blue-collar jobs at union wages like there used to be, it’s that you’re too picky and he’s afraid of commitment! Quick, stamp out another romcom and clap, children, and Tinkerbell won’t die!)

Seanan McGuire, Every Heart a Doorway. I am a sucker for portal fantasies, and this is getting described as one. It is not. It’s a meta-portal fantasy, or possibly an urban fantasy wherein the fantasy conceit is that portal fantasies are real. If you’re looking for the essential emotional dislocation of the portal fantasy, this does not have it. Which does not make it a bad book–far from it. The teenagers in this book have all been through different portals, which are categorized, typed along various axes, and they are dealing with readjustment to this world. Or…not. And I found it fascinating and satisfying, except that the last page felt a bit abrupt. But it’s a novella, there’s only room for so much, and dozens of portals will have to be their own satisfaction. If you thought that the only justification for The Magician’s Nephew was the Wood Between the Worlds but were frustrated that they didn’t do more in it: here, here you go, without midcentury misogyny and with a whole lot of its own plot and characterization.

Alan Weisman, Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. This is the sort of book that fascinates me and yet I always want to know the perspectives not covered by the author. Gaviotas is a planned community in Colombia, and from all accounts I could casually find upon reading this book it’s doing some really good things with sustainability for trees, the things that live in and around them, and also humans. It sounds like a very good idea. There is a part of me that wants to get, for example, a candid perspective from a woman living in Gaviotas, because that sort of thing is often where the cracks in a utopianist experiment show up. But: harvesting resin, cool, okay. Interesting stuff, another for my planned community shelf, and mulling.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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It’s not a bear hunt, but…maybe go through it anyway. [Apr. 26th, 2016|08:55 pm]
Marissa Lingen

That is: you can go over it. You can around it. You don’t have to go through it.

But sometimes you should.

Here’s what I’m talking about: the other week when I was having tea with some writer friends, one of them started talking about a problem she was having in her work. Let’s say that it was that people were finding her settings too generic. (It wasn’t. But let’s say that it was, because I like my friends to be able to discuss their problems without feeling like the whole internet will then become their confidante without their permission.) And the way she phrased this problem meant that the rest of us were helping her brainstorm ways to make a generic setting okay–the sorts of plots where a generic setting would not call attention to itself or bother anybody, the sorts of characters that could do their own personal, individual pyrotechnics and not make anybody go, “…does this person actually come from anywhere in particular? it feels like not.”

And as she was listening to us, she backed up and said no, what she actually wanted now that she was listening to us all was to make her settings less generic. How to work on that. And we immediately switched gears. Oh! You want to work on that, right! Let’s talk about ways to work on that!

There actually could have been three things there, though: 1) Her settings were not actually generic, but the unique stuff was not coming through. Work on how to bring out the unique stuff. 2) Her settings were generic. Does not actually care much about setting compared to other elements. Make other elements so amazing that people are too busy going, “wow, I love this protagonist,” or, “I could not wait to find out what happens next!” or, “What snappy dialog!” or whatever. 3) Her settings were generic. Try to make them less so.

#2 is risky in some ways–the good-enough story element–because on the one hand you have to admit that the odds that you will knock everybody’s socks off in every single aspect of a book are essentially nil. But on the other hand…deciding right up front that you don’t actually care if a major element is very good leaves you pretty vulnerable, especially if readers don’t like the basket you put all your eggs in. “I have really awesome speculative ideas!” you might say, and I might roll my eyes and say, “wow, this is supposed to be hard science fiction? because let me tell you how the physics of that totally doesn’t work. And also the characters are completely cardboard. Yick.” That has happened. That has happened more than once. On the other hand, the authors with whom this has happened have plenty of fans. So–priorities. It’s really hard to identify everything you might want to improve simultaneously, even if you’re just pleasing yourself and not cranky people who majored in something related to your idea. Sometimes it’s really, really okay to work around one or two things that you know are weaknesses for awhile.

Sometimes it’s time to dive in and try to get better at them.

You’re the one who gets to say which is which.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Eight happens to be my favorite number [Apr. 24th, 2016|10:01 pm]
Marissa Lingen

In eight days I will be on the flight to HEL.

Which ideally will not be the flight from HEL.

Anyone who has ever told me that I am going straight to HEL: you are wrong. I have a stopover in Reykjavik.

Tip the waitstaff, friends, we’re here all week. And then we’re going to Finland.

Seriously, I do intend to think of other things in the next week. But not a lot of them. Because: Finland and Sweden. Sweden and Finland. Packing and getting foreign moneys and writing up informative house things for our dear housesitter/dogsitter and making sure the people who have May birthdays will have May birthday cards early rather than late and…stuff. The stuff that is stuff. Stuff like using up the remaining foodstuffs but not so soon that we have to buy a lot more of it to use up. That stuff.

If I did this sort of thing less often I would be worse at it, and if I did it more often I wouldn’t have to think about it quite so much. But I’m in this middle ground where it’s not old hat but there has to be a very, very detailed list.

So: blogging light over the next month. Is what I’m saying. I will have email. Email is so useful. Yay email.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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Books read, early April [Apr. 21st, 2016|09:13 am]
Marissa Lingen

John Allison and Lissa Treiman, Giant Days. A slice-of-life comic set among new university students in the UK. People sorting out their personal issues on a number of fronts. Charming enough that I kept going but not enough that I will seek out a sequel; it’s not really my genre-combo.

Walter Alvarez, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. About the extinction event from the front lines of figuring it out. Nerds probably know all this stuff, so the value in this is either introductory or hearing it from the source. Alvarez is a little bit of a dinosaur himself in spots.

Marie Brennan, In the Labyrinth of Drakes. Discussed elsewhere.

Margaret Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle. Fascinating stuff, emotionally wrenching, particularly in the intersection of these groups. White ladies of the time: not always filled with understanding of their fellow humans’ experiences, it turns out, particularly when propaganda they were exposed to at the time focused on the potential threat to them rather than the actual danger, injury, and loss experienced by Black people on a daily basis. The immigrant experience focused on here was German and Irish, in case that’s relevant to people’s interest level. Goes into the post-Civil War shaping of the Gettysburg story also.

William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. I would be fascinated to see how this book would be different if it was written today, but it’s still fascinating to have a look at how differently the two groups regarded land management, settlement, and sustenance/sustainability in the same area in the same period. Highly recommended, especially for speculative fiction writers who are thinking about cultural differences.

Michael J. DeLuca, Jason S. Ridler, Scott H. Andrews, Erin Hoffman, and Justin Howe, The Homeless Moon. A chapbook put together by five friends. That is, five friends of each other; I only know two of them. My favorite stories were DeLuca’s and Hoffman’s, playing most directly with personal relationships, but it’s a fascinating project, and I’m glad they did more together.

Diane Duane, Games Wizards Play. Argh. ARGH. This is book ten in an ongoing series. Definitely do not read it if you haven’t read the other nine. If you have…well, look. One of the pleasures of book ten in an ongoing series is spending more time with the characters you like, and I feel like GWP fails on that front. Duane has spent nine books establishing Kit and Nita as people who don’t care that much about what Kids At School think, people who have lives ranging around the universe doing cool stuff and having lots of teenage peers outside Kids At School. Now that they are dating, nearly the entirety of their dating relationship for this volume is obsessing about whether Kids At School think they are definitely having sex or definitely not. (They are definitely not. But this is far less important, apparently, than what people who are not characters in this or any other book think about whether they are or not.) They go on and on for pages and pages about how stupid these jerks are and how annoying it is. I agree. It is annoying. SO SHUT UP ABOUT IT. Think about what you want and what the other person wants. If you have to, think about the people you actually interact with. But for heaven’s sake leave off about Sir Not Appearing In This Volume because I could not possibly care less. And speaking of things I could not possibly care less about: wizard’s tournaments that have never been mentioned before this volume. Yawn. Jerkface young wizards who are supposed to be mentored for such tournaments because the Powers That Be say so: oh, is that the time? YAWN. Sometimes the Powers That Be are getting awfully darn convenient in this series. Why should I care about this stupid character? THE POWERS WANT YOU TO. WELL I DON’T. So there is a little charming bit with planets. And there is some cultural iffiness. And there is the increasing problem of the time slippage of when exactly these books take place, having started in 1982, taken about four years, and are now set in 2016, which is not helped when the author herself is not hitting her marks on setting them in 2016 but is trying. And…gosh I hope she recovers from this one. Because I really do like this series and think it has good things yet to do if only it gets there. But YUCK.

Brian Fagan, The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850. This is an overview sort of book, and I read it after the climate change-related book below. I do not recommend that ordering. But if you don’t know a lot about the climate shift in that period and all the things that went into it–and came out of it–this is a good short summary sort of book. Or if you just want to refresh your brain in that direction, which was more my case.

Mark Forsyth, The Horologican: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language. “Lost” is really an overstatement. Most of them were mildly obscure at best. But Forsyth has an entertaining enough set of stories to tell. It was a fast read, occasionally too centered on his own cultural experience to the point of making sweeping pronouncements. If you can cope with that, it’ll stay fun. If that makes you wince too often, it won’t.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Nameless City. Discussed elsewhere.

Kelly Link, Get in Trouble. I went to write my thoughts on this book right after the Pulitzer Prize committee wrote theirs. Um. So I liked it too, it turns out. I liked it first? No, probably not. I feel like there is more of a YA shift here, but I haven’t read the intervening collections yet–they’re on my list–between this and Magic for Beginners–so I may just be late to the party. Anyway I approve of the teenward shift, of the awkward and hidden things in young people and the awkward and hidden things in the world finding their way toward each other in Link’s work.

David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé, The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health. The section on symbiogenesis was really interesting. The rest…puts soil development and microbiome development together in interesting ways I guess but none of it is earth-shattering. Montgomery’s book on dirt is better. This meanders around food and cancer and all sorts of stuff that seems like it should be more interesting than it is, probably because this is highly popularized and not very deep. (Symbiogenesis, though! Let’s have more on that.)

Steven Ozment, The Burgermeister’s Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German Town. Sexual virtue and politics and lawsuits and female agency in the courts. Ozment is always so good at microhistory. He is my favorite historian of Germany.

Robert W. Patch, Maya Revolt and Revolution in the Eighteenth Century. Another book about agency in court systems where it tends to be discounted, and also what happens when that agency is undercut. In this case it’s indigenous people, including women but not limited thereto, whose agency is examined. Still, an interesting commonality with the Ozment that I didn’t expect. This is very very case-study based, giving the names of every single person involved.

Jeffrey Quilter, The Moche of Ancient Peru: Media and Messages. Lots of pictures of Moche pottery. This is the least obscene set of Moche pottery I have ever seen in my life. I don’t mean that as a criticism per se–there are some pieces like one of the llama ones that are really quite lovely. But I raised an eyebrow at how selectively non-obscene it was.

William Rosen, The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century. This is a much deeper, more thorough, and more interesting exploration of the effects of climate change on a period of history. It’s also remarkably cheerful considering the title. The famine doesn’t come until well over halfway into the book, and there’s lots of squabbling over the throne of Scotland and various other upbeat topics. Um. I think the person who writes this sort of book must be a person very much like myself in some regards? might be why I can find it so chipper? But really it’s not a gloomy book at all, it races right along through rains and Viking raids and other things that make a person happy.

Oliver Sacks, Gratitude. A set of essays from the very end of Sacks’s prolific life. Not offensive in any way–cheering, in fact–but probably only of great importance to the Sacks completist.

Øystein Sørensen and Bo Stråth, eds., The Cultural Construction of Norden. A very curious set of essays about how the modern Norden countries (that is, Scandinavia plus Finland and Iceland) got to where it is, culturally. It makes several very weird assumptions, such as not talking about immigration or emigration. So…no Turks, no Finns-in-Sweden, no anybody, right then. Also the Haugean movement and similar movements are described as though their remains in Norway (or the rest of the Norden region) settled into their current form without any influence from bleeding their radical elements off into the US and Canada. As if by magic. So…I ended up eyebrowing at this book a lot more than I was enlightened by it, and I wouldn’t end up recommending it.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

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