Entries Tagged 'News' ↓

Site Refresh

I finally got around to reinstalling WordPress and updating PHP. I’ve reimported all of the previous content; however, some of the formatting is a bit weird. I’ll hopefully fix that soon.

Also, hopefully I’ll get my reading list put back together at some point! I never finished my 2023 reading list and I’m not sure where my 2023 reading ended and my 2024 reading began, but I’ll figure something out.

More soon!

2023 Reading List

Previous years\’ reading lists: 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022

2023 Novels:

2023 Novellas:

  • Lost in the Moment and Found, Seanan McGuire

Non-2023 works read in 2023:

  • Artifact Space, Miles Cameron
  • Rosemary and Rue, Seanan McGuire
  • Illuminations, T. Kingfisher
  • The Raven and the Reindeer, T. Kingfisher
  • Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire
  • Down Among the Sticks and Stones, Seanan McGuire
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, Seanan McGuire
  • In an Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire
  • Come Tumbling Down, Seanan McGuire
  • Across the Green Grass Fields, Seanan McGuire
  • Where the Drowned Girls Go, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Percy Jackson and the Sword of Hades\”, Rick Riordan
  • \”Percy Jackson and the Singer of Apollo\”, Rick Riordan
  • Parasite, Mira Grant
  • Symbiont, Mira Grant
  • Chimera, Mira Grant
  • The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher
  • The Hollow Places, T. Kingfisher (in progress)

2022 Reading List

Previous years\’ reading lists: 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021

Asterisked works were read in 2023 but in time to be considered for the 2022 Hugos.

2022 Novels:

  • Spelunking Through Hell, Seanan McGuire
  • The Cartographers, Peng Shepherd
  • Nettle & Bone, T. Kingfisher
  • The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi
  • The Grief of Stones, Katherine Addison
  • Be the Serpent, Seanan McGuire
  • The Spare Man, Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Golden Enclaves, Naomi Novik
  • Station Eternity, Mur Lafferty
  • The World We Make, N.K. Jemisin
  • Nona the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

2022 Novellas:

  • Where the Drowned Girls Go, Seanan McGuire
  • Escape from Yokai Land, Charles Stross
  • Femmes Fatale, Erik Scott de Die and Amanda Cherry

2022 Short Stories:

  • \”Sacrifice Your Tears\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Ghost Lights\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”In Mercy, Rain\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Long Way From Home\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Those Three Girls from Rush\’s Bend\”, Seanan McGuire

2022 YA Stories (Lodestar):

  • Tiger Honor, Yoon Ha Lee
  • Into the Windwracked Wilds, A. Deborah Baker
  • Illuminations, T. Kingfisher*

Non-2022 works read in 2022:

  • Paladin\’s Grace, T. Kingfisher
  • Paladin\’s Strength, T. Kingfisher
  • Paladin\’s Hope, T. Kingfisher
  • The Past Is Red, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Comfort Me With Apples, Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Future is Blue, Catherynne M. Valente
  • Square3, Mira Grant
  • Dead Lies Dreaming, Charles Stross
  • Quantum of Nightmares, Charles Stross
  • Alien: Echo, Mira Grant
  • Peace Talks, Jim Butcher
  • Battle Ground, Jim Butcher
  • (Five and a half years\’ worth of Patreon stories by Seanan McGuire)
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built, Becky Chambers
  • A Spindle Splintered, Alix Harrow
  • Light from Uncommon Stars, Ryka Aoki
  • A Master of Djinn, P. Djeli Clark
  • Stormsong, C.L. Polk
  • Soulstar, C.L. Polk
  • She Who Became the Sun, Shelly Parker-Chan
  • Fireheart Tiger, Aliette de Bodard
  • \”Bots of the Lost Ark\”, Suzanne Palmer
  • \”Colors of the Immortal Palette\”, Caroline M. Yoachim
  • \”L\’Esprit de L\’Escalier\”, Catherynne Valente
  • \”O2 Arena\”, Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
  • \”That Story Isn\’t the Story\”, John Wiswell
  • \”Unseelie Brothers, Ltd.\”, Fran Wilde
  • \”The Sin of America\”, Catherynne Valente
  • \”Proof by Induction\”, José Pablo Iriarte
  • \”Tangles\”, Seanan McGuire
  • \”Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather\”, Sarah Pinsker
  • Seasonal Fears, Seanan McGuire
  • Iron Widow, Xiran Jay Zhao
  • The Witness for the Dead, Katherine Addison
  • Artemis, Andy Weir
  • A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab
  • A Gathering of Shadows, V.E. Schwab
  • A Conjuring of Light, V.E. Schwab
  • The \”Ruthless Boys of the Zodiac\” series, Caroline Peckham and Susanne Valenti
  • The Dispatcher: Murder by Other Means, John Scalzi

Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

\"\"We may be only a third of the way through 2019, but I\’d be surprised if anything manages to surpass Seanan McGuire\’s upcoming novel Middlegame as my favorite book of the year.

McGuire has said that it took her ten years of publishing novels to develop the skills she needed to write Middlegame.  I\’ve been reading her books for most of that time, and looking back I can see how she\’s been building up to this.  She has pulled together the best aspects of her various other series into one cohesive whole.  Middlegame has the intimate, emotional character arcs of her Wayward Children novellas, melded with the tight, edge-of-your-seat plotting of her Mira Grant books and the gradually epic scope of her Toby Daye series, grounded in the love of folklore and children\’s stories that runs through all of her work.

Honestly, if you like her other stories half as much as I do, \”Seanan leveled up\” is probably all you need to hear.  But there are so many things I love about this book, both in how it resonated with me and how well McGuire crafted it.  I\’m going to start by discussing some broad character elements and the first couple chapters (which are available on Tor.com), but I\’ll put a spoiler warning before I talk about anything past that.

Growing up as a \”gifted kid\”, I connected really strongly with Roger and Dodger\’s childhood experiences.  The alienation from their peers, the strange cocktail of pride and concern from their parents, the incomplete solace of long-distance friendships – all of it felt familiar to me.  (And as someone who can grasp mathematical concepts at an intuitive level, but who finds language to be filled with bewildering and terrifying ambiguities, Dodger in particular is dear to me.  I have very rarely felt so seen.)  The way the characters stumble through building a connection with each other resonated with me, too. McGuire deftly and compassionately portrays their vulnerability and their shared, aching need to be understood – and the defensiveness they sometimes adopt in response.

Middlegame\’s plot is no less compelling than its characters.  One of McGuire\’s strongest skills as an author is grabbing the reader\’s attention right from the first page, and never letting go.  Middlegame starts with \”Book VII: The End\”, containing a single chapter entitled \”Failure\”, taking place \”five minutes too late, thirty seconds from the end of the world\”.  Before we even read the first line of prose, we\’re already feeling both curiosity and tension.

Then the first line is \”There is so much blood\”, in case you had any doubt that this is a Seanan McGuire book.

The first chapter only lasts two pages, but McGuire makes the most of them.  By the end, she\’s already established the plot\’s stakes, given us a brief and tantalizing glimpse of the twin protagonists and their particular talents, and hinted at a few of the story\’s fantastical elements.  Then we rewind – not to \”Book I\”, but \”Book 0\”, over a hundred years prior, where McGuire anchors the other end of her plot with another short chapter, \”Genesis\”.  In both chapters, she has crafted the exposition with precision: she dangles just enough information for us to have all these things to wonder about, but not enough to have a solid idea of what any of it means.  We\’re left with a pile of questions and the promise of answers to come – a promise which the book more than delivers on.

And here\’s where I put a spoiler warning – there\’s one particular element of the story that I want to discuss in a bit more detail, but it goes beyond the first few chapters.


Okay, so it\’s pretty clear early on that the first \”Failure\” chapter is a future that can be avoided.  Roger and Dodger are definitely older in that than they are when we next meet them as young children.  The same chapter recurs a few more times across the book, each time with subtle differences, and we realize that Roger and Dodger are somehow rewinding their timeline in order to avoid that failure, like reloading a save file in a video game to avoid the bad ending.  Despite my default suspicion towards time-travel stories failing to address paradox effectively, I find it a pretty cool plot device when used well – I\’ve also seen it deployed (with a very different feel) in the webcomic Skin Horse, and enjoyed it there too.  In this case, the text of each failure chapter is almost identical, but the small changes from one to the next show us that Roger and Dodger are slowly pushing this event towards a better conclusion.

But that\’s not all McGuire does with the repetition of that scene.  The initial scene left us with a lot of questions, but on every subsequent iteration, we have a little bit more sense of what\’s going on, and we\’re also reminded of the things that we still don\’t understand.  That feeling of grasping something that previously eluded you is gratifying, like stepping back from a puzzle you\’re solving and seeing a new element of the picture come into focus. It\’s one of the many things that I enjoy most about reading science fiction and fantasy, and it\’s one of the many things I loved about this book.  And if you\’re the sort of reader that enjoys rereading stories multiple times to pick up all the little bits of foreshadowing and nuance that you missed your first time through, I think you\’ll find Middlegame to be particularly rewarding in that sense as well.

Middlegame comes out tomorrow, May 7th, 2019.


When I was a kid, October was my favorite month.

It started, every year, with anticipation for my birthday - I\’d go from \”my birthday\’s next month\” on September 30th to \”it\’s almost here!\” on October 1st.  The lovely two-week stretch of beautiful fall weather that signaled the transition from Michigan\’s suffocating, humid summers to face-achingly cold winters usually fell in early October.  Then, with my birthday party behind me and the last of the leftover cake eaten, October would slide smoothly into the Halloween season, with just enough time for me to make a costume and plan a trick-or-treating route and maybe carve a pumpkin at some point.  And even thirty years ago, Halloween was the gateway to the holiday season; we could spot Christmas looming over the horizon before we\’d even gotten halfway through our candy.

But at some point, it became easier to buy things for myself, and the raw, materialistic glee of birthday presents and free candy began to fade; birthdays became a yearly memento mori and Halloween became a bulwark defying Christmas\’s constant encroachment.  At some point, I moved to Seattle, where the beautiful fall days belong to September, while October is the beginning of six months\’ worth of near-daily rain.  At some point, October became a biannual whirlwind of political garbage, as campaign ads and Facebook arguments raise to fever pitch and democracy seems to be crumbling in real time.

At some point, my mom died, just a couple hours into October.

She was 47.  She should have been at my wedding, the following year.  She should have met her grandchildren.  She should still be here, lively and full of love.  She should have had decades more time.

Ten years later, it seems like the worst October yet.  We\’re bogged down in one fight for our lives after another, against a constant stream of horrible people who have given up any pretension of acting in anyone\’s interests beyond their own.  We tell ourselves stories of justice, of the eventual yet inevitable victory of good if we just fight hard enough, of clear evidence of wrongdoing being enough to ensure that consequences actually ever happen.

But October taught me that justice is a lie.  It\’s a fairy tale with no impact on reality.  There\’s no inherent moral sense to be made of a world where someone like my mom dies at 47 but Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell survive into their 70s.

I miss being a child, sometimes; I miss the comforting lies I used to believe about how the world made sense, how good would win eventually, how my mom would always be there for me.  Thirty-five Octobers have stripped all that away.

Pokemon and Privilege

\"\"Today, just under two years after I started playing, I reached the maximum level of 40 in Pokemon Go.

\”Wow,\” you might be thinking, if you\’re the sort of person to care about video game achievements, \”what an incredible accomplishment!\”  And maybe you might consider that accomplishment to be evidence of particular proficiency and/or effort on my part.  After all, I\’m the only level-40 player in my entire circle of friends, by a substantial margin.  But my own skill at the game, above-average though it may be, is not the only thing that has determined my success.  Let\’s talk about privilege.

According to most dictionaries, \”privilege\” can be generally defined as an advantage available only to a particular person or group.  Privilege as a societal concept encompasses everything from specific hardships that people in one group can avoid while people in another group have to contend with, to certain opportunities that one group can take advantage of much more easily than another, to the aggregate effect of those increased opportunities and decreased hardships has on a group\’s overall \”success\” by whatever metric you choose to measure.

I find concrete examples much easier to work with, though.  So let\’s look at the various factors besides my own skill and effort that have allowed me to reach level 40 far ahead of my friends.

  1. Office location.  I work in downtown Seattle.  This confers two huge advantages – the proximity to a large number of other players makes​ doing raids on a daily basis simple with a minimum of planning, and the high density of Pokestops means that I almost never run low on items.  (Both of those factors also mean that there are lots of Pokemon downtown and along my commute route.)
  2. Job schedule flexibility.  As a software engineer, much of my work time is unstructured; I can choose to go get lunch at a time that is convenient for joining a raid group while I\’m out.  With a successful legendary raid awarding 10,000 XP, the 150 legendary raids I\’ve won so far (including several under double- or even quadruple-XP conditions) account for around 10% of my XP total.  Once in a while I\’ve even been able to dodge out of the office for a quick coffee-break-length raid at a gym right by my office.
  3. Personal safety.  Specifically, the fact that I can walk down the street without having to maintain constant situational awareness.  I can spare the attention to catch Pokemon and spin stops as I walk, without worrying that someone might take advantage of my inattention.  (Don\’t worry, I still keep my head up when I\’m crossing streets.)  This is a product of both my physical presence as a six-foot white male and the fact that my office is in a rather safe part of town.
  4. Disposable income.  I haven\’t actually spent much real money on the game, since most of my purchases come out of Google Play credit I get from answering surveys, but I have on occasion spent a few real dollars to get some coins to buy some items.  Still, not everyone has the spare money to spend on something frivolous like that.

An interesting aspect of these privileges is the way they reinforce each other; each privilege strengthens the effects of others.  My schedule flexibility is a bigger benefit when combined with my office location (and access to frequent, well-populated raid groups) than it would be if I worked someplace that had only a handful of Pokestops and not much raid activity.  The large amount of activity around my office and commute route would be harder to take advantage of if I constantly had to worry about whether I was safe on the streets.  The lucky eggs I can buy with the spare cash I have available to spend on the game act as a multiplier on the increased XP I get from the other benefits.

I\’m proud of having reached level 40; it did take a lot of effort on my part.  I\’ve seen plenty of people in my raid groups that reached level 40 significantly earlier than I did, but that doesn\’t mean that I don\’t still have privileges that made it easier for me to do so.  And similarly, having reached level 40 before any of my friends does not mean that I\’m inherently better at the game than any of them.  It would be deeply deceptive – and insulting – to assume that someone else\’s failure to reach the level cap is an indication that they are incompetent at the game, or that they\’re just not bothering to do their best.  And it does not diminish the work that I\’ve put in to acknowledge that I have benefited from privilege as well.

Luckily, Pokemon Go is just a game.  The players\’ respective levels and rates of XP gain don\’t have anything to do with our ability to feed ourselves, our housing, our access to medical care, or the strength of our voices in our political system.  Ability to earn XP isn\’t a matter of life or death – or even a matter of comfort or destitution – and so the fact that some people are privileged far beyond others isn\’t something we need to spend a lot of time rectifying.

But structural privilege in the real world is just as strong an effect on people\’s abilities to survive and thrive.  And when people with lots of privilege ascribe their success to nothing more than their own hard work and virtue, and then assume that others\’ lack of success must therefore be the result of laziness or worthlessness, it\’s a selfish, deceptive outlook on how the world works.

2017 Hugo Nominees: Best Novella

While I have written at length about the novels this year, I find myself running a little low on time before the voting deadline, so I\’m going to have to abbreviate myself a bit.  So here\’s my rundown of the Best Novella nominees, in order of my preference.  This was in some ways a harder decision to make than the novel voting; I changed the order of these multiple times as I wrote this post.

1. A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson

A Taste of Honey is a followup to Wilson\’s debut novella The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps; while it isn\’t a direct sequel, it takes place in the same world, a pre-industrial analogue of Africa in which the gods live among, or at least adjacent to, humanity.  Olorum is a prosperous city-state ruled by a royal family that carries some of the blood of gods; the protagonist Aqib is a distant cousin of the family, son of the Master of Beasts and possessed of a talent of talking to animals.  The story with Aqib embarking on a whirlwind romance with Lucrio, a soldier accompanying a visiting delegation from Daluça (which is something of an analogue to Rome).  Olorum, and Aqib\’s family, are not nearly as accepting of same-sex relationships as Daluçan society is, and the twin pressures of that disapproval and Lucrio\’s impending departure lend additional intensity to their trysts.

Interleaved with the ten days of their relationship are vignettes from Aqib\’s decades-long marriage to a princess of the royal family, begun shortly after Lucrio\’s departure.  The Blessèd Remysade is a mathematical genius who often prioritizes her work over her family, and her daughter by Aqib manifests the divinity of their blood more strongly than either of her parents.  While Aqib remains faithful to Remysade, and is an excellent father to Lucretia, he never quite stops feeling like he could have had something else with his life instead; Lucrio had, after all, asked Aqib to come away with him.

Weaved into an elemental story of love, loss, and regret were several different aspects that I adored in different ways.  The magic of the gods, integrated with Remysade\’s advanced mathematics, is something of a Clarke-style sufficiently-advanced-technology.  Where a conversation in a \”pure fantasy\” story might have used magic incantantions and words of power, Wilson instead writes densely scientific dialogue; while the reader can at least understand enough of it to perceive it as science, Aqib as viewpoint character is utterly lost and must simply think of it as magic beyond his ken.  Aqib\’s life as a father is also something that resonated with my heart, and the scenes with an infant or a young child instinctively using magic while their parents reacted helplessly gave me sympathetic shudders as I imagined my own children suddenly defying the laws of conventional physics for their own amusement.

And then there\’s the end.  I nearly cried.  As much as I enjoyed the rest of the story, the ending made it a perfect gem of a story that reminded me of another of my favorite science fiction stories.  I won\’t say which one, as even identifying it would be a significant spoiler, but it gave me the same feeling of simultaneously stimulating my brain and engaging my heart, and being glad for the experience as it ended.

2. The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle

One of two Lovecraft pastiches on this year\’s ballot, The Ballad of Black Tom tells the story of Tommy Tester, a black man living in Harlem in 1924.  He\’s a small-time con man who mostly gets by doing odd jobs that skirt the law, but when he is hired to deliver a book full of arcane symbols to an address in Brooklyn, he knows nothing good can come of knowing the full contents of the book, and he tears a page out and hides it.  After that brush with the occult world he is never quite able to escape it.  As Tommy grows aware of the cosmic horror just beneath the surface of our reality, it is juxtaposed with the everyday horror of being black in America, as the story describes unflinchingly the many insults and injuries Tommy suffers, mostly at the hands of the police, for no reason beyond the color of his skin.

Which is more horrifying to contemplate?  An old god sleeping fitfully until he wakes and wipes humanity off the surface of the earth, or a police force empowered to murder you for no reason beyond momentary hatred?  The idea of the universe being not only uncaring but actively hostile towards the existence of humans, or the reality of American society being actively hostile towards people of color?  Compared to the fact that Tommy could be killed at any moment at the whim of an authority both powerful and impulsive, the idea of Cthulhu rising to devour us all at least has the benefit of being free of the prejudices pervading our society.

Victor LaValle uses Lovecraftian story elements to create a complex and multilayered criticism of Lovecraft\’s racism, his stories, and American society.  He shows that black Americans face everyday the kinds of existential horror that Lovecraft\’s white protagonists only saw once they went looking for it – and that they regretted seeing once they found it.  With that comparison LaValle not only demonstrates the ignorance and pointlessness of Lovecraft\’s racism, but also goes on to challenge his readers – particularly his white readers – to face the horrors that Lovecraft and his characters feared.  And by portraying in 1924 police brutality that isn\’t qualitatively different from what was still happening in 2016, LaValle reminds us that we haven\’t made nearly as much progress in addressing racial injustice as some of us would like to think.

3. Penric and the Shaman, Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric is a young sorcerer, whose powers come by way of a demon, Desdemona, who inhabits his body and mind (as she has those of twelve others before him).  He\’s also a priest of the Bastard, one of the Five Gods of the story\’s world.  In Penric and the Shaman, he is sent to track down a missing spirit, and along with Oswyl, a priest-investigator, he must chase down Inglis, a shaman who is dealing with a theological crisis of his own.

Penric and the Shaman is a warm, empathetic story.  We get viewpoints from both Penric and Inglis, and occasionally from Oswyl as well. While the characters\’ aims are originally opposed, Penric\’s compassion and spiritual duty means that he approaches the situation looking to help instead of to prevail, and the climax of the story is a reconciliation rather than a victory for one character and a defeat for another.  Both that overall arc and the theme of interdependence between humans and nature put me in mind of some of Hayao Miyazaki\’s movies as I read.  The dialogue and narration, on the other hand, is pure Bujold; she writes with the same gentle yet piercing wit that I loved in her Vorkosigan books.

This was a joy to read, and while it was the first one of her fantasy stories that I\’d read, it certainly won\’t be the last.

4. Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

What happens to the children from portal fantasies once they return to the \”real world\”?  How do they handle their lives when they realize they may never be able to go back?  In Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire contemplates the fact that such children will not be able to adjust easily to their old lives.  Some of them eventually end up at Eleanor West\’s Home for Wayward Children, where they can live among others that understand what it is to have seen a world where you belonged, and then lost it again.  Nancy Whitman is sent to the institution after returning from the underworld, and the thing she wants more than anything is to return to the side of the Lord of the Dead.

The plot of the story – a murder mystery, well suited to the talents Nancy brought back with her from the underworld – is primarily an engine to drive the emotional arc of Nancy coping with the world she\’s lost, and learning about the other children and the worlds they\’ve lost too.  McGuire effectively uses the portal experience as an allegory for the many and varied ways in which children feel like they do not fit into their own lives.  The trips they\’ve taken to other worlds have changed them, or shown them the inadequacies of the real world, or simply given them something wonderful and then taken it away again.  All of them want to return to their worlds; most of them feel like they could if they only figure out the trick to getting back, or the thing that they should be doing that they aren\’t, or some lesson they need to learn…

Portal fantasies so often use the other world as a metaphor for adolescence, an experience that must be endured in order to grow into the person you\’re supposed to be.  But growing up isn\’t that simple, and McGuire\’s home full of adolescents damaged by that process puts the lie to the notion of childhood as something one can simply and painlessly grow out of.

5. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson

This is the other Lovecraft pastiche this year, and I enjoyed it despite not having read \”The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath\”, the work it was originally based on.  Vellitt Boe is a professor at a women\’s college in the world of dreams, and one of her students – the daughter of one of the college\’s deans, and a granddaughter of one of the dream world\’s terrible gods – has run away with a dreamer, a man from the waking world.  Vellitt was a far-traveler in her younger days; now a middle-aged woman, she nevertheless argues to the faculty that she is best suited to go retrieve the missing student.

Where The Ballad of Black Tom uses Lovecraftian elements in a more-or-less direct way to refute Lovecraft\’s own attitudes, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe takes a different approach and inverts basically every aspect of Lovecraft\’s storytelling to create a mirror image of his work.  Vellitt Boe is quite at home in the dream world; until her student goes missing, her greatest concern is academic politics, rather than the dreaming gods that inhabit the world.  As her quest proceeds, those gods become aware of her, rather than the usual Lovecraftian arc of a character slowly becoming aware of them.  She handles most of the challenges she faces through negotiation and diplomacy – and, at least once, through the timely repayment of an earlier kindness – rather than the Malthusian conflict typical of Lovecraft\’s work.  And in the end, it is the unusual environment of our own world she has to contend with, rather than an earthly sleeper contending with the strange world of dreams.

It is a gentler response to Lovecraft than Black Tom, but still a refutation nevertheless; where Lovecraft\’s work spoke of the nihilistic hopelessness of the world, Johnson promises us that there are good people (and creatures) to be found wherever we go, and that there is more to heroism than the swashbuckling of young men.  And it\’s quite a good adventure story, besides.

6. This Census-Taker, China Mieville

Frankly, I bounced off of this one.  20% of the way through, while we\’d gotten little bits and hints of the existence of a plot – and a confusing, brief shift to a very different setting, later in the narrator\’s life – it seemed like very little had happened, and I found that I simply didn\’t care anymore.  A novella is a very short form compared to the dense novels that Mieville is most famous for, and while that slow-burn approach to introducing the world might work for the first thirty pages of an 800-page book, in a novella it just felt meandering.

Returning, Eventually

So I disappeared for a while there.  Life was pretty busy already, and the torrent of garbage from the Trump regime was wearing me down, but when my infant son got diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at the beginning of the year, something had to give.

His surgery was on Tuesday.  It went perfectly.  He\’s already recovering faster than the doctors expected.  Hopefully things will calm down a bit and I can get back to writing about books and politics and charity again soon.  In addition to returning to the Dragaera series, I\’ve been reading the Hugo nominees, and my choice for Best Novel is going to be a difficult one…



Weekly Charity Match #010: CAIR, continued

Multiple court orders later, Trump\’s attempt to ban many Muslims from entering the United States appears to have largely failed.  However, Islamophobia continues to play a large role in the new president\’s conception of foreign affairs.

Last Week: ACLU

Thanks to donors Jessica, Lorna Q., Kelly D., Christine H., Eric A., Lara H., Maria E., and an anonymous donor, we raised $2,815 for the ACLU.  Wow.  It was a big week for the ACLU overall, receiving nearly $30 million in donations, and I\’m glad we could be a part of that.

Also, congratulations to Christine H., winner of January\’s art giveaway!  A new month means a new giveaway; donations from February 1st through the 28th are eligible for February\’s prize of a hand-drawn and colored portrait of anyone you want.

This Week: CAIR

\"\"With the outpouring of support for the ACLU, I feel like I kind of short-changed the Council on American-Islamic Relations by including them in the same matching week; I didn\’t come close to meeting my matching limit.  They\’re doing important work, not just filing lawsuits on behalf of American Muslims but also fighting the broader trends of Islamophobia.  They\’re going to be pretty busy during this presidency.  Donate to CAIR here, and forward your donation receipt to matching@pyrlogos.com – I will continue matching donations up to the $500 limit I set last week.  (Donations to one of their regional chapters – like CAIR Seattle – will also count!)

Call to Action

After multiple delays and a lot of bad publicity, the Senate is voting on Betsy DeVos\’s nomination as Secretary of Education today (February 6th).  We are so close to successfully defeating this nominee – one of the worst prospective members of one of the worst Cabinets the country has ever seen.  If you see this before the final vote happens, call your senator and request that they vote against confirming Ms. DeVos.  After that vote happens, keep on your senators to oppose the other odious nominations – and push back against the appointment of Steve Bannon to the National Security Council as well.

Review: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest novel of the Vorkosigan Saga, and it is one of my recent favorites from the series.  It is also practically impossible to talk about without discussing plot details from earlier in the series – this is perhaps the least stand-alone Vorkosigan book yet, steeped as it is in the history of its characters.  So, stop reading now if you haven’t at least finished Cryoburn, the end of which I will be spoiling shortly.

I’ll also be discussing Gentleman Jole’s plot in more detail a little later, but I’ll warn you before I get into anything that isn’t apparent within the first chapter or two of the book.  Ready?  Here we go.

Cryoburn was one of my least favorite books in the series, but its ending makes it hugely important: its themes of handling mortality and death are capped off by Miles learning of the death of his father, Aral Vorkosigan, who has stood astride Barrayaran history like a colossus for the last forty years.  Aral served as Admiral, Regent, and Prime Minister of Barrayar, as well as Count Vorkosigan, and Miles’s entire life had been lived under that shadow.  But naturally, Miles is far from the only one to be affected by Aral’s death.  Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen examines the echoes of Aral’s life and the shape of the hole he left in his passing by returning to the viewpoint character that started off the entire series, and perhaps the only person who grokked Aral in fullness: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Aral’s widow and the Vicereine of Sergyar.

Cordelia isn’t the only protagonist, though.  The narrative flows relatively fluidly between her and the other main character of the story, Admiral Oliver Jole.  (Jole was first introduced in The Vor Game, though I had honestly forgotten about his existence until this book.)  And as not only an old friend of the Vorkosigans but also the senior Barrayaran military officer in Sergyar space, the former Viceroy’s passing left a hole both personal and professional in Jole’s life as well.  Aral has been dead for three years by now, but his ghost is essentially the third main character of the book.

(And here is where the spoilers for the latest book begin.  You have been warned.)

In fact, Jole’s relationship with the Vorkosigans is much more profound than we had been able to see from Miles’ point of view in The Vor Game.  Gentleman Jole opens with Jole in his role as Admiral greeting Vicereine Cordelia upon her return to Sergyar space, and they arrange for a more unofficial reunion – whereupon the reader learns that Jole was, for many years, effectively the third person in the Vorkosigans\’ marriage.  And Cordelia has a proposal for him: she is going to use some frozen gametes to have some more daughters, and offers her former co-spouse the use of her “eggshells” (i.e. enucleated ova) and Aral’s X-chromosome-bearing gametes so that Jole could have sons by Aral.

Cordelia’s return to Jole’s life, her offer, and the emotions redeveloping between them naturally turn his life upside down (in a way that only entanglements with Vorkosigans can), and the bulk of the novel is the two of them navigating the new opportunities that they see in front of them and the memories they have behind them.  The story is, at heart, a romance; it is clear well before the midpoint that Cordelia and Jole will rekindle their relationship, but the questions of how and for how long remain open.

The structure and setting of this book – a romance between Cordelia and a Barrayaran admiral taking place on and above the planet Sergyar – mirror that of Shards of Honor, the very first book of the series, and in that way I see Gentleman Jole as a bookend to the series, wrapping up the story of Cordelia and Aral with a bow and a happily-ever-after (at least to the extent that Aral can get such an ending posthumously).

Which leads me to the question: is this the end of the Vorkosigan Saga?  It very well could be.  If so, I found it an extremely satisfying one, both structurally for the series and as a story in its own right.  Cordelia Vorkosigan is one of my favorite characters – not only in this series, but across all of science fiction – and she deserves all the happiness that this ending gives her.