Propitious Birds (Toronto Day 532)

imageA thing about living right downtown here is I mostly see sparrows and pigeons. Starlings, sometimes. Grackles and gulls, for sure. I’ve had cardinals and finches in the tree outside my window, there’s a young raptor who taunts me on Queen Street when I’m out without the big zoom camera, and I can go to the lakeshore for ducks and cormorants. It’s not as though the birds aren’t here.

But, day to day, it’s mostly sparrowkind.

In Vancouver last week I caught glimpses of all my faves: crows (commuting crows, by the hundreds!), starlings, great blue herons, three species of duck, bushtits, cormorants, and a glimpse of northern flicker. I thought I’d have to content myself with the scolding of a Stellar’s jay in the bushes, but it turns out my sister-in-law feeds them. I almost collided with one Monday on my way out the door; it was headed to a clutch of peanuts on the kitchen windowsill.

It was satisfying and soul-nourishing, and a nice concrete example of a difference, neither good nor bad, between Then and Now. But not truly between Here and There, because if I’d got a house outside of the downtown core, I’d be hip-deep in feathery company.

Home from the West Coast, Catching Up

I’m ba-aaack! And so happy to be back with my wife and my kittens and all the wonderful things.

I did some terrific things and saw many beloved friends while I was away, and will tell you all about it over the next little while, possibly in lots of short blog posts like this one. Here, for example, is a shot of me and author Don DeBrandt, channeling Charlie’s Angels.

And here is a review of “The Color of Paradox,” and five other short stories, from The Other Side of the Rain.

 

Thankful for a whirlwind tour of #NYCC!

imageNew York Comic Con was an enormous, delightful, fan-filled spectacle of an experience, and I was thrilled to be able to go there, to meet some readers and get to know all of Team Tor a little better. I got to talk magic systems with Sam Sykes, Ilona and Gordon Andrews, Kim Harrison, George Hagen and Jeff Somers at a standing-room only panel. I signed books, gave out Child of a Hidden Sea buttons, and met a lot of people who had, previously, been e-mail contacts.

In and around the event, Kelly and I visited The Frick Collection, the Met, Chelsea Market and the High Line. We saw Cabaret, with Alan Cummings, at the former Studio 54. I tried on some dresses at the Desigual store, but failed to commit to any of them, and walked through Central Park a couple times. In the process, I got a much much better sense of where things are in Midtown.

What else? We ate many pastries, and actually saw Times Square both by day and by night. (Our decision to skip it on the previous trip was more or less borne out, but I admit I wasn’t entirely immune to the glitter and flash of it all.) We drank much coffee at Gregory’s, and much better coffee at Blue Bottle, and discovered that the Food Network has a fantastically beautiful loading dock of all things:

On Sunday we went to the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn with Ellen Datlow, Rick Bowes and Terence Taylor, and then we looked around the neighborhood (which includes a superhero supply store!) for a little before going back to our new digs in the West Village.

Then on Monday we flew home to two well-cared for but pleasingly happy to see us kittens. By then we were in such kitteh withdrawal that, despite having been favored with a bit of love from the cats at our Air B&B, we were watching the Greatest Hits of the Kitten Channel on Kelly’s phone during take-off.

The Change, feminism, and S.M. Stirling’s THE GOLDEN PRINCESS

keep readingI reviewed The Golden Princess for Bookworm Blues on On September 23rd. This is the latest in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse, and is set several generations after the Change. (The Emberverse has its own Wiki, so if you’re looking to study up, go here.)

The Golden Princess focuses on a new generation of Montival movers and shakers: Princess Orlaith, her brother and their various friends and followers. In the former category is the Empress of Japan, Reiko, a young ruler far from home. Like Orlaith, she’s grieving the sudden loss of her father even as she takes on new responsibilities.

Reiko is on a quest  much like the one that brought the magical Sword of the Lady to Orlaith’s royal dad, Rudi MacKenzie. I won’t rerun the review here, but two weeks later a couple other things about the book have come to mind as the story settles into my consciousness:

First, this is a book about two young women forming the kind of friendship that might, given their respective political roles, be truly world-altering.

Second, the Change is starting to be seen by this new generation of younger characters as the way things have always been. This is not to say they don’t know about the Industrial world and information age–all of which came to a crashing halt a few years before Y2K. That history’s very much available to them, but the advanced technological period of human history is, more and more, being perceived as the blip. We are a aberration, a brief interruption in a feudal way of living that is seen, by its citizens, as more “natural.”

It’s a believable evolution in mindset. You can see it in action yourself if you try to tell a nine year old about life before TV (No! It really happened!) But what intrigues me about this paradigm-shift in these books is that the remarkable young women dotted through the narrative don’t have much sense that the weird industrial period coincided with a whole lot of feminist activism. Without it, few of them would be queens, royal couriers or knights-at-arm.

This is emphatically not to say that Stirling is ignoring the same history of activism, or downplaying the challenges faced by women in his brave new world. The big baddies in this world make a gruesome art of oppressing women, and The Golden Princess
contains, among other things, one character’s brush with sexual assault and an intriguing reference to a female-dominated Japanese civil service.

Sexual politics aren’t the point of this book, but they’re there, and they’re both subtle and intriguing. It wouldn’t be right or desirable to watch Orlaith and Reiko sit around jawing about the advances their great-great-grandmothers made, battling glass ceilings their descendants couldn’t even imagine. But that blip–us, and our values–are part of what makes this particular fictional revival of the medieval lifestyle so interesting.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of two mighty queens becoming besties is one of the most enjoyable elements of the story.

What Are You Working On This Autumn?

photo by Kelly Robson
photo by Kelly Robson

Today I am shaving 260 words from one of the squid stories*, so I can send it to a market with a firm 7.5K word limit. I can tell I’ve been through the story before. There’s not much to trim. It’s tempting to simply change the word count at the top of the page and assume they don’t really care about that extra half page or so.

But that would be errant smart-assery, not to mention unprofessional. Even if I weren’t generally rule-abiding, I know it makes me nuts when my students blithely ignore my guidelines. So–a sentence here, an adjective there. Nip, tuck, smooth.

Next weekend I am one of a bunch of Tor authors heading off to the New York Comicon, so I’ll continue working on these little bits and bobs for awhile yet. I’ll shoot a few stories off to market, push paper on a grant application, comb through the files looking for reprint opportunities, that kind of thing.

But this Saturday is my (so far) favorite Toronto event, Nuit Blanche Last year we made our way through the throngs to Nathan Phillips Square, and back, and saw many awesome things. Then we were home, in bed and exhausted, just as the party was properly starting.

Nuit Blanche Toronto 2013

This year we are practically at City Hall the minute we step out our front door. So I hope to see even more incredible sights and performances before thronging home to collapse at some ludicrous hour like ten.

How about all of you–what’s on the boards for October?

*Squid Stories
______________

Five Good Things about Meghan Sheedy,” in Strange Horizons, and “The Town on Blighted Sea.” (The latter is also in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fourth Annual Collection)
The Sweet Spot,” in Lightspeed and Imaginarium 2013: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing.
“Time of the Snake,” in Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge.

Number Two Jane Austen Hero

cranford memeLast night, as Kelly and I were falling into a not-very-deep literary conversation, I decided I’d expand the conversation by posting the following question on Facebook:

Alyx Dellamonica -15 hrs · Toronto ·

 Assuming we all agree that Mr. Darcy is Jane Austen’s most desirable hero/dudebro/prospective mate, who is second in the pecking order? Is it Knightley? Bingley? Henry Crawford?
(Of course, I was kidding about Henry Crawford.)Now, as I write this post, the unofficial poll results are:3 people say “What? Darcy? No way!”

Edward Ferrars and Henry Tilney are getting no love at all, and Mr. Knightly, from Emma,  gets one hat-tip. There’s some quiet praise for Edmund Bertram.

The two contenders are: Colonel Brandon and Frederick Wentworth… and it looks like Brandon’s pulling ahead.

There’s been some talk about whether the fire of fannish love, in each case, was sparked by the literary characters or by their portrayals in film and TV. Is Darcy the undisputed cock of the Austen walk solely because of Colin Firth? Will Alan Rickman lock the number two spot for Colonel Brandon? Even Edmund Bertram’s supporters mention Johnny Lee Miller in a yum-yum favorable context.

Speaking of delicious Darcy goodness, have you all seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?

Your thoughts on this burning issue are always welcome.

Cause and Effect: Yoga Edition

imageYesterday I realized I was bestowing big grins on a subset of the guys I passed on the street. They all happened to be about the same size, in the mid-twenties age range, and bearded and gingery. Not quite scruffy, but definitely not corporate.

In time, I worked out that what these guys have in common is that they might possibly look like one of Yyoga’s ashtanga instructors. Because I go into the studio without my glasses on, I have a smeary and apparently rather approximate idea of what the fellow in question looks like.

Basically I spent the day smiling at people who almost certainly weren’t O the very nice yoga dude.

This may imply that as I get older and blinder, my goodwill toward all humanity will increase as I continue to assume that everyone I see out and about is, possibly, one of my friends or acquaintances.

Ten Books that Left Bite Marks

keep readingOver on Facebook, several people tagged me in the “list ten books that have stayed with you” meme. It has taken me awhile to get to it, in part because the moment I started, I realized I needed a list for childhood faves and a second one for books that had an impact since I’ve been an adult. Here’s the latter list, in no especial order:

Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis. When we were first married, Kelly and I took turns reading each other novels that were important to us. She got to the crisis in this book one evening, shortly before I had to head off to work at an all-night answering service. I phoned her as soon as things got slow and begged her to finish it over the phone. It took her until 1:00 in the morning. I started rereading it the next day.

How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove. This was my first real introduction to long-form alternate history, and the first scene whereby a not-assassinated Abraham Lincoln is talking to trade unionists about their rights blew my brain right out of its skull. (I keep tchotchkes and TTC tokens there now.)

Mystery, by Peter Straub. This could just about go on the childhood list. It’s a book I’ve returned to, every couple years, since I was in my teen.

I have a love-hate relationship with Straub’s work, and with the Blue Rose novels particularly. This is the one I love beyond reason: it’s perfect, in terms of its writing and the story it tells, and the fact that he ret-conned the story later causes me actual physical pain.

Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson. Early Stephenson often makes me happier than later Stephenson, though I have mad love for Snow Crash, too. This one, with its poisoned lobsters and anti-pollution activists, goes straight to my enviro-geek heart.

The Shape of Snakes, by Minette Walters, absolutely fascinates me. I reread it just about yearly. The ending gets me every time.

In the Woods, by Tana French. I’ve gone on at length about this one, and its gorgeous prose and unreliable narrator, before.

The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith. And its sequels. Lesbian noir, with a point of view so convincing it makes you feel as though someone’s reached inside your brain and rewired you.

The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, a man who has written so many brilliant novels. And yet this is the one I love: a retelling of Huck Finn as a modern U.S. disaster novel. Heart, heart, heart.

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. An alternate world where people care about literature the way people here care about football. With time travel to boot. Oh Emm Effin’ Gee!

The Closer, by Donn Cortez. Another book whose final line just kills. This was written prior to Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but the concept is similar. Is it darker? Less dark? You decide.

I will not tag others–I’m coming late to this meme and figure everyone who wants to play has done so–but I will note for anyone who’s interested that I plan to post the childhood books list in the not too distant, so even if you did the above exercise, you can jump on that wagon too.

Here’s Moxy Fruvous to play us out:

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