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CURRENT TALLY OF COMPLETED FIC WORDAGE: 417,978
All Star Trek stories are Kirk/McCoy unless otherwise stated.
All Avengers stories are Steve/Tony unless otherwise stated.

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I want more Hamilton genderswap!

Because there's only, like, THREE fics for that in AO3. >_<

Reasons ALEXANDRA Hamilton would be the best:

- The dick joke in "How come no one can get you on their staff?" is 100% clear.

- Ditto the rejoinder "To be their secretary? I don't THINK so!"

- I really like how the relationships/dynamics shift with Laurens/Hamilton, Hamilton/Eliza, and Hamilton/Angelica.

- 2x the scandal with the Reynolds Pamphlet?

- Also Washington's paternalism. And the vehemence of Hamilton's refrain "I'm notcha son!" and "CALL ME SON ONE MORE TIME!"

- EVERYTHING about the Hamilton/Burr relationship, not least the surprise and delight in his tones when Hamilton calls in the middle of the night.

- Eliza's line "I know exactly who I married" being EXTRA significant and loving.

BASICALLY THIS IS A THING I REALLY WANT NOW.

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Signalboost: Women's Book History

So my colleague Kate and I made a thing: Women in Book History Bibliography.

It is very much a work-in-progress, but we've been working on it for two days, so....it still looks shiny. But basically we're trying to pull together every scrap of scholarship on women in book history we can find, and put it all in one place. When we're happy with it, we're gonna advertise it on the book history listservs, and try to crowdsource more stuff, especially for non Anglo-European material. (Lemme tell ya, if you want to feel depressed, look at finding only three books under the Library heading "Women in the Book Trades--England" and then finding only ONE book in "Women in the Book Trades--Japan."

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Crossposted at The Future Fire:

Kate Forsyth, The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower. Fablecroft Publishing, 2016. Pp 272. ISBN 978-0-9925534-9-4. $29.95.



I’ve always been fascinated by fairy tales, and the more so when I was old enough to understand the history behind the genre. Though some of the stories find their antecedents in oral folklore, many emerged as part of a literary trend in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—a trend that was pioneered by numerous women writers at the French court just prior to the Enlightenment. If you’ve ever wondered why so many tales involve young women who are forced to marry beasts or who are abused by tyrannical step-mothers, it’s because their proto-feminist authors were writing from experience, and the “happily ever afters” that were promised were the ultimate in wish-fulfillment. Kate Forsyth played with both of these elements in her 2012 novel Bitter Greens, interweaving a retelling of the Rapunzel story with that of its seventeenth century author, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. In The Rebirth of Rapunzel, Forsyth revisits both the original tale and her own rewriting of it, and explores numerous other versions of the story along the way. In what she and scholars call a mythic biography, she closely examines the history and transformations of Rapunzel, and what they mean to her as a writer.

The book contains three sections: ‘The Rebirth of Rapunzel,’ which is a scholarly exploration of the Rapunzel tale, and includes an extensive bibliography of retellings; ‘Persinette,’ a reprint of a 1989 translation by Jack Zipes of de la Force’s 1697 Rapunzel text; and ‘Books Are Dangerous,’ a series of short essays on genre by Forsyth, several of which have previously appeared elsewhere. The ‘Rebirth’ section makes up the bulk of the volume, consisting of six chapters of analysis of the Rapunzel tale. Its academic prose is very readable but a little ungainly and repetitive: Forsyth explains more than once Stephen Knight’s concept of mythic biography and similar scholarly ideas in a way that isn’t necessary. She also returns more than once to how she utilized various motifs in writing her own novel that I think will be revelatory to those who have read Bitter Greens; I have not but now I want to pick it up, actually.

Forsyth also describes how she first read the Rapunzel tale as a child in hospital. Through both accidents and illnesses she spent a number of her early years sick and in isolation, and so internalized something of the idea of the lonely girl in a tower. Later on one of her tear ducts was infected such that eventually she was given an artificial glass duct, a surgery that was not only life-saving but connected her even more intimately to the Rapunzel tale’s theme of the ‘healing tears.’ While a number of scholarly treatises on fairy tales have emphasized psychoanalytic readings to show how readers have absorbed and responded to these stories, the way Forsyth writes about them so frankly and honestly lends itself not just to a case study but almost as a literal embodiment of how we interact with story.

Jack Zipes’ translation of ‘Persinette’ in the second section of the book is drawn from his 1989 book Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales. Zipes is one of the pioneering academics who started closely reconsidering the fairy tale as a literary form in the twentieth century; his studies include Breaking the Magic Spell: Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales (1979), Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization (1985), Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales, Children and the Culture Industry (1997), and The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (2012), among many others. As Forsyth explains in the ‘Rebirth’ section, Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s version of the story was the first to include all the tropes of what we would consider to be the Rapunzel tale: the parents exchanging the unborn child to a fairy/witch for a plant the mother craves (rampion, better known as parsley but also called Rapunzel), the girl alone in the tower, the hair ladder and the prince, the lovers’ separation and their reunion with the happy tears that heal the blinded prince.

The final section of the book consists of several short essays by Forsyth, all of them reprints of material written between 2006 and 2013. ‘The Birth of Fantasy,’ traces the history of fantasy as a genre back to Andrew Lang, connecting him to J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, and then concluding with a short discussion of George R.R. Martin. It is a short and thoughtful piece, but I think it misses something in only discussing popular male authors; for instance, despite the popularity of Lang’s Fairy books, he was only their editor and not their author, for the bulk of the stories were written by his wife, Leonora Blanche Alleyne Lang. This particular point is not one that is well-known outside of fairy tale studies, but given that there is a connection between both fairy tales and fantasy as being genres that are largely written and read by women with only certain males valorized in the canon, I find this familiar erasure disappointing, especially given Forsyth’s own focus on de la Force.

In contrast, ‘The Birth of Science Fiction’ focuses on Mary Shelley as the founding mother of SF, describing the familiar backstory of Mary and Percy’s vacation with Byron in Polidori and their challenge to each write ghost stories, which concluded for Mary with the writing and later publication of Frankenstein in 1818. ‘The Glass Slipper: A Classic Rediscovered’ is a more biographical piece describing Forsyth’s reading of Eleanor Farjeon’s The Glass Slipper as a child, and her search for and final rediscovery of the book as an adult. ‘Stories as Salvation’ is an earlier version of the first essay in the ‘Rebirth’ section, recounting Forsyth’s childhood illnesses and her discovery of Rapunzel. ‘Fuddling Up My Mucking Words Again’ is another biographical essay chronicling Forsyth’s struggles with stuttering, describing the neurological disorder that causes it and (too) briefly digressing to other well-known authors who were also afflicted, including Lewis Carroll and W. Somerset Maugham. ‘Books Are Dangerous’ describes Forsyth’s adventures in reading as both a child and adult; in a way this is most familiar of the essays because so many of us can clearly recall and empathize with those special books that totally take us out of ourselves. The final essay is ‘Rapunzel in the Antipodes,’ which returns to describing various transformations of the tale. The book concludes with a poem, ‘In the Tower,’ spoken by Rapunzel herself.

Ultimately, The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower is a fascinating and readable collection, and if the material at times overlaps and repeats, the originality of the vast remainder is utterly absorbing. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in fairy tales, genre, or honestly, just writing.

Fic: The Drowned and the Saved 1/2

So I entered that Strange New Worlds contest for Star Trek stories and didn't get in, so I thought I'd go ahead and share the story I wrote anyway because I'm still proud of it. It's gen, TOS though it could also be read as Reboot. Many thanks to the lovely abigail89 who heroically beta'd and encouraged me to finish!! <3

The Drowned and the SavedCollapse )

Belated ASECS Write-Up!

So last week I went to ASECS, the big conference for Eighteenth-Century studies. It's not really my era or area, but I was giving a paper on women printers, and they let me in, which is more than can be said for, uh, a number of other places. >_> Anyway, a lot of papers I listened to was a bit like going to class without having done the reading, but I made notes for stuff to read that sounded interesting. Also, my roommate bailed on me so I was by myself, and had to go to extra effort to mix and mingle; I went to both the Grad Student Caucus and the Women's Caucus luncheons and tried to be amenable and knowledgable, and succeed-ish. My paper went well, and I got a number of encouraging comments, and I got invited to submit to a journal and may be getting invited to submit to an edited collection, so these are positives.

I've been super tired all week though, but pushing to be productive anyway: I drafted and sent in a book review, and hopefully will finish and send off another tomorrow, and I also sent off two sets of essay edits. Then next week I hope to revise and send off another essay. So: Ever forward.

With all this traveling, I did get a chance to do some leisure reading:

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor was awesome--a bit soggy in the middle but the first half of the book was perfect, and the ending was intense.

I'd really been looking forward to The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin because I've read Bookslut for years (and I'm sad that she's closed it down), but...it had its moments but I was just put off by Crispin's internalized misogyny. She came off as incredibly bitter and issue-ridden, and I wish to fuck that her editor had been like "No, dear, write about dead writers and exotic places, not your married lover and his wife or your other lover or that woman you're jealous of and blah blah blah. Yes you are a human but you also need to get over yourself." It was a short book but so fucking exhausting.

Anyway, as a treat I went to the bookstore and got an omnibus edition of Rice's Interview with a Vampire/Vampire Lestat/Queen of the Damned. After watching the film version of Interview at PCA for probably the first time in fifteen years, I really just wanted to reread the books, and assuming those grubby paperbacks are still extant they are somewhere in my Mom's house in Georgia and, tbh, probably saturated with cat piss by now or something. Anyway, I don't think I've reread them since at least my freshman year of high school, and these were some of my favorite books as a teenager. (I still remember the conversation I had with my sibs about whether or not Lestat and Louis were gay, and they were like 'LOL no.' Man, I'm so glad kids these days have Tumblr and so forth to talk about stuff these days, because it SUCKED back in the day.) Anyway I started rereading Interview yesterday and it's just interesting to revisit a book that used to mean so much to me, you know? (Yes, I know, I was totally the little goth kitten back in the day, always dressed in black, I knoooooooooow, but I was THIRTEEN, okay, geez!)

In a couple of weeks I'm also going to be flying out to Chicago to take part in DePaul University's Celebration of Star Trek symposium, where I'm going to be speaking on two roundtables about Star Trek fandom. I am excited about this!! More anon, undoubtedly!

Conference write-up!!

So as always, PCA was the best!! I got to hang with friends, I saw a screening of Interview with the Vampire for the first time in at least fifteen years (hush, it was my ~favorite~ movie when I was thirteen, I was such a precocious little pseudo-goth, and can I just say how lovely it is that the stuff you cherished when you were young holds up? Because it so did, and I congratulate bb!me on her *excellent* taste!), I gave a paper that went well, spoke on two round tables that went very well indeed (I chaired one on "Shame, Gender, and Cultural Capital: The Problems of Reading Fanfiction" and a woman later said that, as far as she was concerned, it was worth the price of admission to the conference for that!), and I got tapped to read at a Fanfiction Caucus (I read Bucky Barnes for a Stucky fic and Thor for a Thorki fic). Also I got several books I had long coveted on sale in the book room!!!

Wednesday I'm headed out again, this time for ASECS in Pittsburgh; I'm kind of anxious because I won't have any friends there to hang out with, but I'm looking on the bright side: I can take some stuff with me and maybe get some work done, and also, I can retreat to my room to be by myself if things get overwhelming. So! Optimism!

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Flails Positive and Negative

Positive:

I'm leaving tomorrow for the first of two conferences. The first is PCA in Seattle, where I'm giving my paper on "The Problems of Fanfiction and Literary History" and speaking on two roundtables, "Shame, Gender, and Cultural Capital: The Problems of Reading Fanfiction" and "What is the Future of Vampire Studies?" And of course I get to hang out with my gang of friends and soak up academic geekiness!!

Negative:

Turned down yet again, this time a proposal for next year's MLA; the panel was on Radical Book History and I wanted to talk about reading women's manuscript circulation as a form of participatory culture. *angry sigh* I think I just need to give up and write that whole thing as an article and kick it out and have done.

In further unfun, my roommate for next week's conference, ASECS in Pittsburgh, had to bail, so I'll be all by myself at a conference I've never been to before. This is discouraging. But I figure, worst case scenario, bring an extra book and I can get some work done in the evenings, maybe. *optimism*

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Book Review: Testament by Hal Duncan

Crossposted at The Future Fire:

Hal Duncan, Testament. Eibonvale Press, 2015. Pp 398. ISBN 978-1-908125-42-2. £25.00 hb/£10.00 pb.



Speculative stories that rewrite the Bible (or its offshoots) are common enough to be nearly a dime a dozen; the sort of short story that begins with marooned astronauts on a hostile planet named Adam and Eve is a risible cliché for a reason. InTestament, Hal Duncan rewrites and intersperses the Gospels with commentary from an unnamed author, and if the product is not necessarily new, it is nonetheless absorbing.

Duncan creates two narratives in this work: the first being a somewhat straightforward recasting of Biblical text, typeset in familiar double columns and making small replacements, such as using “Worker” for “Creator” and “sublime” for “grace.” These are small changes that connote a world of meaning, especially shifts in meaning. Those readers who generally do not pay attention to translations—and Biblical translations, which of course are even more fraught in meaning—will be drawn to them here because of Duncan’s adept ventriloquizing of King James Bible style English. The second narrative is a contemporary one, typeset in a smaller, more traditionally “novel” format in brief bursts, and told in epistolary form to a violent, homophobic “lover of the sublime.” Truthfully, I was expecting these two threads to combine at some point in something like a traditional conversion narrative, but that didn’t quite happen—instead, the addressee becomes, in the end, the “everyman,” the reader. This transition shifts meaning too, as Duncan’s unnamed narrator exhorts first this assumed other to acknowledge everyday atrocities large and small for the crimes they are, whether they are groups of students being gassed by the police state or Syrian refugees fleeing en masse. The reader who has, until this moment, been aware of these events but felt themselves separate from the addressee, is then pushed into something like complicity as they are prodded to take action.

Above all, this story draws attention to reading Jesus as a crusader for social justice and something like a social anarchist. While these aspects aren’t exactly new to readers informed on historical theology, they will assuredly make a great impression on casual readers. Frankly, this is exactly the sort of book that would have most blown my mind in high school, in a profoundly thoughtful way, and as such I really hope it finds its way into the hands of younger readers who are, much as I was, stuck between a profoundly narrow-minded Christian milieu and a bigger, realer world not yet in reach. Despite preoccupations with violence and queer sex, the actual text itself is not all that explicit, with visceral images drawn in words from the pictures shown everyday on our television and computer screens.

My one complaint about the book is that the roles open to women remain small and largely passive—a choice especially at odds with past trends to retell Biblical tales through women in the mode of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and its imitators, or even to recast the new Savior as a woman, as James Morrow did in Only Begotten Daughter. If many feminist readings of texts get critiqued for being insufficiently intersectional, then this should also apply to this queer reading of the Gospels. While the relationship between Joshua, as Duncan dubs Jesus here, and Judas appears only late in the book, the homosocial bonds between he and all his followers are viewed closely at all times, while the Marys and Martha remain only on the periphery. (And in case you’re wondering, Joshua definitely doesn’t get married here, to the Magdalene or anyone else. While the legalization of gay marriage in multiple countries is still ongoing, I think it would have been a really interesting twist to have seen this profoundly socially aware, anarchist, queer Christ marry a dude, but that may just be me.)

Ultimately, Testament is a fascinating exercise in reconsidering revealed truth. Duncan’s book ends with the Fall of an Empire, a Pilate in riot gear, and the Everyman on the precipice of a new world in the making. Given how profoundly we, too, are on the brink, with rising fascism and global catastrophe edging ever forward, it’s well worth considering what roles we ourselves want to play in this new world, whether as readers or revolutionaries.
Text-To-Speech in 1846 Involved a Talking Robotic Head With Ringlets
Meet the Euphonia, a machine that boasted the ability to replicate human speech.


The Euphonia was the product of 25 years of research and an undeniably impressive feat of engineering. Fourteen piano keys controlled the articulation of the Euphonia's jaw, lips, and tongue while the roles of the lungs and larynx were performed by a bellows and an ivory reed. The operator could adjust the pitch and accent of the Euphonia's speech by turning a small screw or inserting a tube into its nose. It was reported that it took Faber seven long years simply to get his machine to correctly pronounce the letter e. ...

The answer may lie in a thought experiment put forth by the roboticist Mashahiro Mori in 1970. Mori proposed that “as [a] robot became more human-like there would first be an increase in its acceptability and then as it approached a nearly human state there would be a dramatic decrease in acceptance.” This dip in public approval represents a Goldilocks zone for robotic anthropomorphism: Robots who find themselves in it are simultaneously too human and not human enough. Faber's Euphonia seemed to have gotten lost somewhere in what Mori called “the Uncanny Valley.” ...

Sigmund Freud defined the uncanny as “that class of terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”  The Euphonia, in spite of its familiar and quintessentially human ability to speak, was still undeniably inhuman; A mechanical imposter in a rubber mask.







Puppy Pic-Spam!

A few weeks ago we adopted a new puppy to be a little sister for Bilbo; we named her Rey because she is tiny and has so much attitude.

Prepare yourself for the cute.






The best thoughts that 2am has to offer:

High winds here, which means that the only one getting any sleep in the house is Rey. (Rey is our new puppy we adopted a month ago.) Bilbo has been going nuts so I've decided to camp out with him in our interior bathroom where the whistling isn't noticeable. The alert expires at 5am. Yep, I'll be productive later today.

Anyway, have I mentioned I've become obsessed with Hamilton? Because I am. I even went and got a copy of the big fat biography of him the musical is based on, which is a lot of fun to read because it's clear how closely Lin-Manuel Miranda was working with it as he wrote. I'm really tempted to just start striking out the actual chapter titles and writing the song titles in instead. I basically just finished "Right-Hand Man" and am at the start of "A Winter's Ball."

A random thought I have had on the subject: I think I kind of consider Hamilton as a historical AU because of how it re-envisions history and race (through 1) purposefully casting POC for the Founding Fathers and 2) given that the only main white character is King George, it kind of re-situates the history of America, Britain, and "freedom"). I'm wondering if people have thoughts on that? I'm also thinking of a piece from io9 ages ago arguing that Sherlock counts as SF because of how it was essentially presenting science and scientific methods years before they were adopted in forensics, as kind of a source of comparison in how something can be SFF but also, not be. So yeah, thoughts?

A Delighted Post About Snow

It's snowing big flakes outside and it not only looks like sugar crystals BUT if you look closely actual picturesque snowflakes. Dude. DUDE!

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Some time ago someone wrote a piece about the difference between SW and ST being about narratives of personal power; essentially SW usually hinges on a "chosen one" plot and special abilities vs. ST essentially being competence porn, where it's always about someone working really hard to get where they are. In ST power is essentially shared governance, and a lot of Kirk's (and Picard's and Sisko's) preoccupation with command comes from their desire to do the best for the community ("The needs of the many" etc.) in a way that SW just isn't (even the good guys have a blurry relationship between the Republic and the Resistance, let alone the Empire and--my favorite from the prequels--the elected monarchy and the familial Senatorial rank). TL;DR SW is about special people and ST is about how everyone can be special. >_>
"Dark books:
What’s more wholesome than reading? Yet books wield a dangerous power: the best erode self, infecting readers with ideas" by Tara Isabella Burton


In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are. ...

And it’s not just toxic notions of gender that novels have the power to reinforce. Historically speaking, control of narrative and language has been inextricable from notions of political and cultural control. The power of the writer is to decide which characters, which worlds, he treats as fully human, and which as reducible and other.

In a 2009 TEDx talk, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlighted the dangers of the ‘one story’, explaining how she, as a Nigerian, found her self-understanding dominated by collective narratives – the ‘single story of Africa’ – in a manner not so different from Cordelia’s possession by Johannes. As a child, Adichie wrote exactly the kinds of stories she had access to:

"All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out… I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to."

To be a fully formed character, in the stories Adichie read, was to be white and British; the story of Africa, by contrast, was a story ‘of negatives, of difference, of darkness’.

Here, too, the act of reading is an act of experiencing another kind of danger: in this case, the danger to the self posed by writerly erasure. ‘Like our economic and political worlds,’ Adichie says, ‘stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: how they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.’ ...

At its most fundamental level, to read is to put our selves at risk, to make ourselves vulnerable by welcoming the presence of an other into our psychic space. This can be a radically transformative experience, challenging us to reformulate our own self-understanding. But at worst, we become like the dinner-party guests in The Torture Garden or Don Juan ­– our ‘possession’ by a storyteller awakening our inner violence. Or else we become like Johannes’ Cordelia, the books we read reinforcing existing societal threats to our being. Either way, the act of reading is an act of acceptance of power: a power that, if not god-like, is nevertheless – within the sphere of the text – absolute.

Happy New Year!!!!!

I'd meant to put up a year-in-review post before the new year, but, well, better late than never, yeah?

Favorite movies of 2015:

Avengers: Age of Ultron (I unabashedly loved it, and thought those who grumped about it were protesting WAY too hard.)

Crimson Peak (I fucking loved everything about this film. Just. Everything.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (I know, I'm surprised too, but I love how we have a recordsmashing hit with a lady protagonist, POC in the main roles, and the tons of OT3 fic!)

Favorite books of 2015:

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon (This book, man--so well-written and absorbing, and I absolutely need to find the time to read all of Wollstonecraft's own books!)

SPQR by Mary Beard (I'm going through this one slowly because it is so dense with detail, but it's wonderfully written, and presents a lot of the classic history I'd already known in a whole new, contemporary context.)

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Epic apocalyptic fantasy on another world--really original writing, lovely and dark.)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (This is basically the queer YA fantasy I would have done anything to read when I was a teenager. I envy kids and teens these days with the bevy of SFF and queer lit that simply wasn't around when I was growing up.)

The Just City by Jo Walton (A delightful philosophical fantasy where Athena decides to make Plato's Republic real, and pulls its citizenry from across human history. So much fun. The sequel The Philosopher Kings wasn't quite as fun, though I delighted in the twist in the end there.)

~

I'm not going to even try to have hard resolutions this year, aside from a vague "Survive." I feel like life has been delighted in thwapping me about, and I'd love to have some real down time, but I don't think I have time for it, alas. Too much to do, too much to write!

But most of all I earnestly hope and wish that humanity would get its shit together this year, because I am deeply tired of our assholery. There's too much to do in this life, too many problems to solve, for people to spend their lives being hateful destructive creatures. I want my Star Trekky utopia, and I just have to hope, and do my part, to get there.

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So about Star Wars...

... I meant to post something meaningful but I've been busy falling down the OT3 rabbit hole so, uh, yeah, sorry, Merry Christmas? Happy everything? Happy New Year?

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Looking for a beta!

I'm writing a short story to submit to the Star Trek Strange New Horizons anthology they're doing next year. It's due Jan 15, and I'm aiming to get a rough draft done by next week. Anyone got time to read and provide concrit? :D

Book Review: Clockwork Lives

Crossposted to The Future Fire.

Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart, Clockwork Lives. ECW Press, 2015. Pp. 396. ISBN 978-1-77041-294-1. $24.95.


How does one fill the pages of a book?

I feel as though I can hear thousands of weary sighs from people at their keyboards following the conclusion of National Novel Writing Month, but in the case of Anderson and Peart’s collaborative novel Clockwork Lives, the answer is literally blood and tears. Marinda Peake’s deceased father has bequeathed her a blank alchemy book and a mission: to leave behind the comfortable life she has always known and fill the volume with the stories of others. Though billed as a steampunk Canterbury Tales, this novel has more in common with Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story in both form and concept. The tale itself expertly connects Marinda’s story with those that she collects, and the physical volume, bound in embossed faux-leather with marbled endpapers and filled with tinted, patterned pages to recall handmade papers, is a bibliophile’s delight. (An archival one too: the case binding with sewn endbands is absolutely going to last longer than your average mass-market hardback!) It also contains over a dozen full-page illustrations by Nick Robles to introduce each of the stories that Marinda collects via drops of blood provided by those she speaks with; each of the tales’ chapter headings includes an evocative blood splat and a shading from red-to-black as the “blood” becomes print. It’s a fun graphic design element, recalling the dual red and green inks used in Ende’s book to denote what story sections take place in the “real” and “imaginary” worlds.

Clockwork Lives is a sequel of sorts to Anderson’s previous novel Clockwork Angels(2012), which was written to accompany the Rush album of the same name, but familiarity with that book isn’t necessary; Lives stands very well on its own. The world it describes feels like the best possible steampunk adventure story that you read long ago and still half-remember: there are airships, clockwork people, sirens in the sea, a prosperous Atlantis, a magic bookshop, and a carnival with fascinating denizens. Marinda records a dozen stories for our perusal, but it’s easy to imagine a number of other, similar volumes emerging from Anderson’s capacious imagination and pen.

My one problem with the book is with an element presented both on the book’s back and its first page: “Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two. Other lives are epics.” These lines are meant to goad Marinda on her journey; as she speaks to some people in her hometown (and elsewhere), their stories are given in only a line or two, or perhaps a paragraph. These people are unimportant says the alchemical book, and Anderson—and that bothers me. For one thing, most of the “epic” stories given belong to male characters; for another, almost all of those men, at least as interpreted by Robles, are white. The seemingly only exception is ‘The Strongman’s Tale’ in which the titular hero Golson is black, and his story is about knowing the limits of his strength. This is somewhat subverted a few pages later by Louisa, his friend (and carnival bearded lady) who explains to Marinda that she meddles with Golson’s weights so that he is continually improving and challenging himself, but the thrust of the story still rankles. Another story, ‘The Seeker’s Tale,’ belongs to Cabeza de Vaca, a fraudulent hero and explorer who truthfully spends most of his time in pubs; his illustrated appearance does not differentiate him from the other white heroes, despite his name. Too often real recorded history has minimized or erased the stories of non-white men; to see this enacted all over again in playful fiction is, frankly, annoying.

As for Marinda herself? Her story concludes rather abruptly with a love plot and a return home. The love plot doesn’t feel exactly organic, but it’s the sort of thing that we have become accustomed to as a conventional “happily ever after” and I won’t quibble with that, especially given how meta the novel is already. If it’s a story about stories, then we have to accept those elements that have become part of our narrative fabric, even if we wish they were more subversive, or played more with the form.

What Anderson does best with Clockwork Lives, I think, is engage with that particular love of books and stories that is so common to a certain kind of reader, and is again something that reminds me of Ende. Twice Marinda walks into a magical bookshop that has a portal to other universes; the eponymous bookseller of ‘The Bookseller’s Tale’ tells of her ventures to other bookshops slightly different than her own. As we all know, reading a good book is a kind of portal, too, one that lets you go to another world, explore for a while, and then come back, slightly changed.

This is a book for booklovers, steampunk aficionados, and with the holidays coming up, might make a good gift for anyone who enjoys a good yarn. Anderson gets a lot right here, and the book designers finished it off perfectly, which is not something that can always be said, alas. Marinda is also just the right sort of heroine for holiday reading, too: the sort who grows because of the people she meets, and the stories she reads.

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