Aug 2 2017

Last Readercon post: The Klatsch


Ages ago, at a dim and distant Readercon, Kathei Logue (music booking agent, SF fan, Readercon volunteer) came up with the idea of the Kaffeeklatsch as a program item: sign up to hang out with an author.  One author, 12 slots for fans, one hour.  Coffee usually provided.

I haven’t seen or heard from Kathei in a long time, but her idea lives on, and other conventions have picked it up, too.  So, thanks, Kathei.

I always have fun at the kaffeeklatsches, whether I have just a couple of attendees, or a whole tableful.   I think it’s because readers, when I meet them, turn out to be so cool, so interesting.

I’ve talked to poets, writers, artists, book designers,  a guy who made swords and armor.  Musicians, any number of programmers and other people in Information Technology.  Librarians!  (I love librarians.   Do you know that librarians are the real-life Steerswomen of our age?  True fact. )  Economists. Lawyers.  Scientists! (This year we had a protein crystallographer, and a real-life NCIS agent/forensic scientist who wrote a book about her time as a CSI in Kansas.)

And I seemed to have been in a particularly chatty mood this time, as well.   As ego-boosts go, it’s hard to beat a table full of really smart people paying close attention to every word you say!

At one point, we were talking about my reading, and someone asked for some idea of the locations mentioned, and I pulled a map out of my bag.  Ah, they all went, and gathered in. What a lovely sound.

Of course, they were not expecting me to unfold the map and keep on unfolding it until it basically covered half the table.   Heh.

And it had color-coded  shadings, and cryptic notations like “Wheat Guys,” “Woods Guys,” “Tin Guys.”  Yep, here’s Lake Aizi, where Amy’s from, and here, here, there and there, that’s where Artos is going to be traveling…

Smartphones came out, and pics were taken.  Alas, I didn’t take one myself…

You know, that’s very silly of me… I really wish, in retrospect, that I had taken a photo of every Kaffeeklatsch I’ve taken part in.   I’m going to do that, going forward (but I will always ask people if they mind being included, because I know that some people just don’t want to be in photos that might get shared online.  Their choice).

Anyway, thanks to all who attended.    (Yes, even that one dude who I later learned had not read anything I had ever written.  I think he possibly sneaked in just to get some coffee.  Still, nice guy.)

Jul 28 2017

Readercon: my reading.


I had started writing a post analyzing that Sturgeon quote, and was rather enjoying myself, but suddenly found myself in a time crunch with three different tasks that need my immediate attention.   I had to set it aside; I’ll get back to it next week.

So, instead, I’ll tell you about my reading at Readercon

Yes, they were able to assign me time for a reading!  However, Book Five is currently still in a state of chaos, and the only non-chaotic parts parts are either major spoilers, or stuff I’ve already read at readings, far too many times.  So instead, I read a couple of chapters from a side-project of mine (not the fabled Seekret Project).

I’ve long had an idea that it might be fun to write a YA (Young Adult) book that would take place in the Steerswomen’s universe.  So, every now and then I cool my fevered brain by doing some work on that.

To my mind, the main differences between YA and Adult fiction are: 1. Age of the protagonist; 2. size of the vocabulary; 3. degree to which the sentences are convoluted, clause-filled, and of esoteric construction.  I’ve attempted to keep to those parameters, but not very assiduously; I’ll fix it all in the rewrites.   Mainly, I just wanted to start getting things down on paper.

And that’s what I read from at my reading.

The working title is:  TRUTH, ALWAYS.


It made no sense, no sense at all.   Amy stood staring at the boy; she couldn’t even guess what expression was on her face.

He really was going to hit her.  “You don’t even know me,”  She managed to say.
“So?”  He stepped forward again, his fist still cocked;  she stepped back again.  “Stand still,” he said in a tone of complaint, as if this were something they had both agreed to, as if she were trying to cheat him.

He stepped forward again.  She stepped back.

She wasn’t even frightened, although she thought she perhaps ought to be.   And then she realized that she really was frightened — but not by the fist, nor the twisted expression of hate on the boy’s face.  It was that it simply made no sense.   That was frightening, in a way that was hard to understand… somehow weirder than the autumn ghost-tales, and scarier than feeling the lake ice move, just a bit, silently, beneath your feet when it was midnight, and the stars were high, and you were still a mile away from shore.

Because, although you could die from drowing under the ice, at least the ice made sense.  Even ghosts had their own sort of logic.  Without that logic, ghosts couldn’t happen at all, she guessed.

But this strange boy, to whom she had spoken perhaps only five sentences, wanted to do her harm, for no reason.

That was the frightening thing; that there was a time and a place where a thing would happen for no reason.   And the thought of that made everything else crumble.

No, she told herself.  No, things made sense, they had to make sense.  People did things for reasons.

Meanwhile, the boy had kept stepping forward, and she had kept backing away; and now her back was right against the rail, and the blue, cold Aizi was beyond that.  She could back no further.

She felt for a moment that she could do absolutely nothing — because, how could arms and legs and breath ever work at all, if the world made no sense?

Then she remembered what her eldest sister Lilly had said: that bullies were really cowards and would back down if you stood up to them.    So she took a step forward.

It didn’t work.  He didn’t back down.  That fist that he was holding up moved, no hesitation at all.

His aim wasn’t good.   He hit her arm, but not square on – just at the edge, and his fist slid past and thumped up against the railing.  He yelped and snatched his hand back.  “Look what you did!”  There was blood on his knuckles.

“What I did?”  She stepped to one side, wondering why her arm didn’t hurt; and then it did, but it wasn’t much.  Hardly as bad as a skinned knee.  For a boy so eager to fight, he seemed not very good at it.

Then he made a wild noise and came at her, flailing.

But before he reached her, he fell backward, suddenly, jerked back and sent sprawling and sliding across the deck.   His face was all astonishment.   A moment later, the tip of a cane was planted on the center of his chest, and at the other end of the cane was a hand, and the hand belonged to Simon.

He stood gazing down at the boy, not with anger, but with something like curiosity.   The boy tried to get up, but Simon seemed very strong for an old man, and there was no result at all.   “Ow,” the boy said — not a real cry of pain, but just the word, spoken.

Simon tilted his head.  “What’s your name, boy?”

“Ow.  Let me go!”

“Hm.”  Simon thought for a moment, then lifted his cane just a bit.  The boy scrambled back like a crawfish, then got to his hands and knees and escaped, pounding around a cabin housing and away somewhere.   Two of the crew, a young man and a woman so old she looked like she was made of dried fish, parted as the boy dashed between them.  They exchanged a glance, then looked at Simon.   They went back to their work.

Simon turned to her, and displayed his grin, which contained only six teeth, each solitary but in perfect condition.  “I don’t think you’re hurt, are you, Amy?”

“No… I’m all right…”

“What did you say to him? That he got so angry?”

“I don’t know!” She couldn’t see the boy any longer; he had vanished, lost among the other people wandering the deck, or perhaps run below into one of the cabins.  “He asked me where I was going, and why.  And I told him, and he called me a liar. And then he came at me!”

“Hm.  Well, if you see him again, and I’m nearby, just grab my stick and give him a good solid whack.  Don’t wait for him to come at you; take the initiative!  I’ve found in life that action is better than dithering, and a wrong decision is usually better than none.”

Amy instantly thought of half a dozen situations where that would not be true at all.  But to be polite, she said: “Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

And he and his cane would be nearby, she knew, at least at night.  He was going to be sleeping in the common-cabin with her.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Cassia should have been here.  That was the plan: Amy and Cassia traveling together.  They had agreed, it was settled, and they should both be here.

If Cassia were here, she’d know what to do about the boy; or if she didn’t know, she’d go ahead and do something anyway, something graceful and smart.  That boy wouldn’t bother them if they were two together.  And people never gave Cassia trouble, anyway — she could always talk them out of it.  By the end of the conversation, they’d be on her side, and they’d even stand up to anyone else who tried to bother Cassia and Amy.  That was how it worked.    Everything worked out best when Cassia was around.

But she wasn’t here.  She had missed the boat.

Amy had asked the captain, said she knew that Cassia was on her way, was almost there, was going to show up at any moment.  And the captain did wait, for a while.

But Cassia never arrived.

So the ship set sail, leaving the mountains and Beanberry behind, moving out onto the great blue Aizi.  Beanberry disappeared behind the ship, replaced by more and more blue, the water now rougher than Amy had ever seen except during a storm, all odd random chop, small waves jumping crazily.  The mountains behind the town seemed no further away at first, only growing bluer and dimmer. Then suddenly, between one moment and the next, they were far, and looked unreal, like a painted backdrop in a traveling theater.

It would take three days to cross the lake and reach Terminus, where there was a caravan the captain meant to meet.  And another day after that to sail from Terminus to the headwaters of the Wulf.

Then Amy would have to walk.  The river wasn’t navigable immediately south of the Aizi, so the maps said.  Later, at Tintown, where the Kerrio River joined the Wulf, there would be boats, and then barges, and she could ride.

She had hundreds of miles to go.

And alone.  She was surrounded by strangers.



Simon gave something like a bow.  Amy couldn’t tell if he really knew how to make a courtly bow, or if he was making it up to tease her.  “Your choice, mistress,” he said, and waved at the hammocks.

Amy looked.  They were hung one above the other, with just one wooden rung on the hull strut for a foothold to climb up to the higher one.  Two by two in three sets, all down one side of the hold, right against the inside of the hull. The hammocks were on the right side, and on the left was the cargo: crates and boxes and barrels all lashed together in the center of the ship.  And on the other side of that, Amy knew, another set of hammocks against the other side of the hull.

Simon was much taller than she was, and he seemed more at home in a boat than she felt.  He was probably expert at clambering up.  But the idea of some strange man just hanging above her, all night long – Amy hated the idea.  “I guess I’ll go up.”  She had no idea how to do it.

“I thank you.  And my bones thank you.  And so does my bladder, which is exactly as old as my bones are but has more to say in the depths of the night.  I’d hate to plant my foot on top of you when I climbed down at some personally urgent moment.”

This was more than she wanted to know, but she managed to say: “You’re welcome.”

She waited to see if anyone else was going to climb into their own hammocks, so she could watch how it was done.  There were cabins, on the next deck above, each with bunk beds and a door that closed – but they were far too expensive.  Hammocks were all Amy could afford.

But it would have been all right, because Cassia would have had the other hammock.  They would have laughed about it. Everything strange would have been just another part of the adventure, the two of them together.

Instead, here was Simon, and she ought to have been grateful, really.  She actually was, when she remembered to be.

When Cassia didn’t arrive, the captain wouldn’t refund the money for her passage.  It was too late — the ship had left the docks.  Amy had paid for two people, but it wasn’t his fault that Cassia missed the boat.

In the lower hammock, Simon was already wrapped up in blankets and breathing deep.  It was he who had saved the day.  He had been planning to sleep on deck, wrapped in a blanket; the charge for deck passage was very small.  But when he heard that Amy had an extra hammock, he offered to pay her.  Not full fare, only half of what it really cost.  But it was better than nothing.

Amy watched the other people climbing into the upper hammocks, and decided that it wasn’t as hard as it looked.  It was all about balance and the way hanging things behaved — it was obvious where you had to put your weight, when she thought about it.

Then she put her left foot (not her right) in the foothold, grabbed the upright with her right hand, pulled herself up, switched hands, tilted back, and ended up on her back, in the hammok, looking at the bulkhead above her.  She smiled to herself, with that warm feeling she always got when she solved something.

It was old wood, just inches away, and she wondered: How old?  How many years had this ship been plying its way across the great lake, back and forth?  It was beautiful and brave, really, when you think about it.

She could ask someone, she could ask the captain.  Maybe there was a wonderful story about how the was ship passed down, generation after generation, in the captain’s family; or maybe he won it in a game of dice, and never thought to be a captain until he suddenly owned a ship!  That made her laugh, to imagine that story: how he might have been very bad at running a ship at first, but then became good at it across the years.

It was lovely, all of a sudden, to be hanging in this tiny space, wood all above her and to her right, and the open passageway to her left.  And even old Simon underneath her — who was he, really?  Wasn’t he sort of a puzzle, in his own way?  He was very nice to her, as odd as he was, with his very few teeth.

She forgot all about Cassia; until she realized that she had forgot all about Cassia, which was the same as remembering Cassia.

For a moment, she imagined that it was Cassia below her, breathing in sleep.

And that changed everything; everyone around would already be their friends, because that’s just how Cassia was.

And if that had been true, Amy right now would be glad and excited about the adventure they were undertaking.  And she did feel that way: glad and excited, exactly as if her imaginings were real.

And then she thought, what an odd thing that was.  How you can feel an emotion for something that isn’t even real.   It came to her that without Cassia, she’d be sad and lonely; it was the imaginary version of herself thinking that, while the non-imaginary her knew in fact that was what was really happening…

So, she set aside all those imaginings.  No Cassia, and none of the things that Cassia brought with her.

But Amy found that she wasn’t sad.  She wasn’t even lonely.

She was just… here.

There was enough light from a lamp down the passageway for her to see the beautiful wood above her.  She reached up, and touched it; it felt old and rich.  Then she put out her hand to the right, and laid her fingers and palm against the hull.

It felt like something alive was on the other side: the water itself, moving.   Or the ship moving, which amounted to the same thing, really.  The whole of the lake, beside which she had lived all her life, for fourteen years, somehow alive.

And all one thing.  She had not thought of that before.  You could see the lake on a map, and she often had looked at it.  But the part of the lake that she knew was just the part by Beanberry.  Half the sky, in a way.  Half the sky was sky above the lake, to the south-east.  The other half of the sky was the mountains.  They didn’t come all the way to the lakeside, but they stood to the northwest, owning the air like kings.

There were people living in the mountains, but you never saw them, so they might as well be imaginary; and there were people on the other side of the lake, but you couldn’t see the far shore.  Everything in the whole world was either back of the mountains, or on the far side of Aizi.

But here: here it was.  The moving water.  Under her hand. Just on the other side of the wood.

She pushed her hand against it a bit harder; but all that did was make her hammock sway away from the hull.  She let it sway back again, and used her touch on the hull to stop the swinging.

She was as stable as she was going to be.

She felt like things were slipping away from her on the one hand, but moving toward her on the other.  She wasn’t at all sure what she meant by that, but that’s how it felt.

Could she fall asleep in this strange place?  Whenever she had trouble falling asleep, she could always manage it by letting her thoughts run free, and imagining some sort of adventure.

One of her favorite things to imagine as she fell asleep, was that she was a steerswoman.

But that was exactly what was happening: she was going south, to become a steerswoman.

But was it a real adventure if there was no one to share it with?  Is it really an adventure if you’re all alone?

Eventually, she managed to fall asleep by imagining clouds moving through the sky, forming and breaking up again, becoming more and more hazy, until they faded into sleep.


The door  to the street opened, and a steerswoman entered.

This had been happening all day; had, in fact, been going on for a couple of months.  No one thought it surprising any more.  There were at this moment eleven other steerswomen in the tea-shop at tables in pairs.  The newcomer made twelve.

This particular steerswoman stood a moment on the threshold, then laughed out loud.  Heads turned, and then hands lifted in greeting.  One of the seated women rose and tried to wave her over, but the newcomer caught sight of something that interested her.  She declined the invitation with a tilt of her head.  She made her way across the room, swinging along on a pair of crutches, toward a table where one woman sat alone, knitting.

When the newcomer had crossed half the distance, the knitter paused, closed her eyes, and cocked her head.  She smiled.  And when the newcomer arrived, the woman at the table put down her work in her lap, and said: “Zenna.”

“Impossible for me to sneak up on you.  Even with Steerswomen’s boots.  Well — boot.”   Zenna pulled out a chair opposite the other woman, then changed her mind and sat down directly beside her.  They embraced.

“How are you?”

“I’m well,” Zenna said; then in a fond gesture pushed the other woman’s hair back from her face.  She stopped short, and made a sad sound.

The other woman made a wry face.  “Yes it’s very bad, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid so.  Oh, Berry, I’m sorry…”

“Never mind.  At least I’m spared the sight of my own reflection.”   Berry’s face was in fact very beautiful, with a delicate nose, clean brows, a fresh complexion.  Her mouth was wide, perhaps too wide; but it often happens with true beauty that a single unusual feature improves the whole.  It draws the gaze, makes one notice, makes one think, and spares its owner the blandness of perfection.

Unfortunately, in the midst of all this were Berry’s eyes.

They were dark brown, but in the left eye the color of the iris seemed to have bled wildly into the white on one side.  The pupil seemed to have forgotten its proper shape, and was oblong instead of round, a very disturbing sight.  Berry’s right pupil was a tiny, frozen black spot, difficult to find in the murky brown iris.

Zenna’s face was a wince of sympathy.  “Can you see at all anymore?”

Berry studied her.  “You’re wearing a blue skirt and a very bright yellow blouse.  And either you’re wearing your hair longer these days, or you’ve got a black kerchief on.”

“One advantage of not being a traveling steerswoman any longer — it’s so much easier to keep long hair.  You’re still wearing yours short.”

“Josef likes it.”

“Where is he?”

“Somewhere about.  But whatever he’s up to, I’m certain it involves animals.”

Zenna arranged her crutches on the floor beneath the table, settled herself more solidly, then looked about. “How does one get tea in this place?”

“One generally goes to the kitchen door and complains; although they’ve taken to keeping an eye out for my needs…  Let’s see if waving works.”

“No good. I don’t see a server to wave to.”

Two tables over, one of the other steerswomen noticed, and stood.  “I’ll fetch, Berry,” she volunteered.  She was a small woman in her fifties, dark-skinned, blue-eyed, gray-haired.  “What do you need?”

“Keridwen, thank you.   Tea for Zenna and me, if you please.”  Keridwen bustled off.  “I’m glad you came,” Berry continued to Zenna.  “You’ll tell me all about Alemeth, won’t you?  Don’t leave anything out.”

“Of course.. and I’m glad to see you, too,” and Zenna shifted uncomfortably, an action lost on Berry.  “Although…”

“You’re surprised I’m here?”


“So am I.   I was very surprised when the Prime’s message turned out to include me.  But I’m glad.  The journey alone was worth it.  A new environment — smell those flowers!  And the mist by the falls, and there’s so much light here!   The station where we were living is tucked in a forest; walking around there, I might as well have kept my eyes closed.  Still, I do wonder how much use I’ll be…”

“Don’t be silly.  You’re an intelligent, educated woman, who has more patience than all the steerswomen in this room combined.  And we’re going to need patience.”

A smile.  “Thank you.  But this little voice in my head keeps saying, ‘You don’t belong here.'”

Someone said: “The little voice is absolutely right.”  The man had approached from behind Zenna.  She turned, with an angry expression ready on her face, which vanished when she recognized him, and then became simple astonishment.

“Berry shouldn’t be here,” the man said.  “And I definitely shouldn’t be here.”  He carried a cozy-covered teapot and not two cups, but three.  He set the china on the table, added a small plate of honey-buns.   “Neither of us should be here, but here we are.”  He sat.  “I don’t know what the Prime was thinking.  We have important things to do, and dangerous ones at that.  Did I complain when she sent me off into unknown lands, sneaking about and like no proper Steerswoman should, searching for a secret wizard’s keep?  Not I.  Best person for the job, apparently, so I dug in and did it.  But then, all of a sudden, it’s ‘Drop everything and go to Logan Falls.'”  He paused, considered Zenna’s expression disparagingly.  “Don’t gape, girl.  It’s rude.”

Zenna closed her mouth, which had been hanging.  She said, in a voice of disbelief: “Arian?

“Of course.   Whom did you expect?  King Malcolm?  The man from the Moon?”   He picked up a honey-bun and bit it.

Zenna recovered, and studied him.  “Hard work seems to suit you,” she commented.

“Hmph.  I’ve worked hard my entire career.  I merely hadn’t been using my body to do it, for the last decade ore so.”

Arian was of average height, of middle age.  His forehead was high with a receeding hairline.  His crisp hair had been black once, but was well on the way to salt-and-pepper.  His beard, which he wore close-trimmed, was completely white.  Arian was lean, and strong, and his skin was sun-dark, weather-rough, but healthy.

“Your color has faded in one direction and darkened in another.  And how is it that you manage to look both older and younger at the same time?”

“The ‘older’ is my vast accumulation of knowledge and wisdom, a never-ending process.  My sagacity increases year by year; I astonish even myself!  The ‘younger’ is exercise and mental challenge.”

The door opened with a bang, followed by a small commotion, some apologies for the unintended noise, and the clearly-heard and somewhat plaintive question: “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about all those girls outside?”

“Ah,” Arian said, helping himself to another honey-bun.  “And, did I mention, Berry?  Ingrud is already in town.”

“Zenna!”  The woman who had entered now made her way across the room, moving like a small hurricane, causing persons in the path to quickly shift their chairs.  “Oh, look at you, I’m so happy!”   Arrived, she held out her arms, waiting for Zenna to rise and embrace her, then seemed to remember something, and her faced fell.  “Oh!”  She leaned down instead, wrapped her arms around the other.  “Oh, I heard, I’m so sorry –“

“No, it’s all right –“

“But, but, your leg!”

Zenna extracted herself, held Ingrud’s hands, and spoke to her definitely.  “I love living in Alemeth.  There’s so much good work to do at the Annex, and the people are wonderful. I feel quite settled and happy.”

“But –“

“And I’m used to one leg by now.  It’s been nearly five years.”

“Oh…” Ingrud said again, and cast about, found a chair, pulled it in, and sat.  “If you say so…”  But she embraced her friend again, then suddenly pulled back and rose and reached past her.  “And Berry!  I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to neglect you.”  Another hug, a bit awkward, as Ingrud left one hand on Zenna’s shoulder, as if reluctant to let her go.

“It’s all right.  We’re all going to be here for a long time.  There’ll be plenty of opportunity to catch up.”

“Catch up,” Ingrud said, pushing her cloud of wild hair back from her face.  “I’ve been catching up since I got here.  Incredible stuff; I’ve been completely out of contact since –” and she turned back to Zenna — “since the last time I saw you.  And since then —  all that’s happened!”

Arian said: “You may have had no contact with us, but we had plenty with you.”  Ingrud turned to him.  “Your logbooks arrived at the Archives regularly, while I was there,” he continued.  “I don’t think we lost a one in transit.”  He paused; Ingrid said nothing.  “Very good work, by the way.”  Still nothing.  “Oh, go ahead, get it over with.”


“Excellent.  Good reasoning on your part, Ingrud –“

“Whatever has happened to your paunch?”

“My longtime companion, yes.”  He slapped his stomach. “It decided it no longer liked the environment, and vacated the premises.”

Ingrud blinked.  “Well.  You look wonderful.”  Her tilted green eyes grew speculative.  “In fact, if you were twenty years younger –“

“Please.  Ten would do it, I think.”

“Well, I’ve always been attracted to older men.  They’re not idiots.  Usually.”   She recovered her chair.  “And look at this, here we are.  I didn’t think any from our class would be asked to come, I was so surprised!  Who else of our group is coming?”

“I have no idea,” Berry said.

“Well, who’s missing?”

Zenna said: “Janus.”

The table became silent.  Then Ingrud nodded at some internal thought, sighed, shook her head as if at another thought, seeming half-disbelieving; then nodded again, sadly.

“Make up your mind,” Arian said.

“I did, back when I saw him.  Before he settled in Alemeth, I’m assuming, that was.  He was just… so wrong.  Aside from refusing to answer my questions.   Everything about him was off, strange, and just wrong.   Even the music he played.”

All were silent for a few moments, lost in separate thoughts.  Then, with  visible effort, Berry roused herself and changed the subject.   “Speaking of music, has Mona survived the road?”

Ingrud brightened.  “Well… I had to glue some cloth tape over her low D, the valve was stuck open.  Other than that, she’s in fine voice.  I hope I can find someone to repair her.  We’re learning sea-chanteys.  There seem to be a lot of new ones.”

“Isn’t that rather a contradiction?   Aren’t all sea-chanteys old?”

Several spoke at once.   “That couldn’t be so.”

“Not at all.”

“Even the oldest must have been new at some point.”

“There’s one about a mermaid who loved a dolphin,” Ingrud said, “and convinced him to marry her.  But, and here’s the interesting part, the dolphin agreed only if she would also marry all of his brothers, too.  And that’s what they did.  There’s a verse for each brother on the wedding night.”

“Well,” Zenna said, “as long as she actually agreed.  And did they have children?”

“The song doesn’t go that far.  But I suspect that the offspring will show up in songs or tales sooner or later. It’s too lovely a concept, just dripping with poetry and tragedy!”

“All necessary components for a good song,” Berry said.

“Do you know what I’m finding interesting?”  Zenna said, looking around.  She subtly indicated the room in general.  The others caught her gesture. They did not ask, but as one, adopted a remarkable manner, where it was obvious that they were taking in the entire room and its contents, without glancing about wildly, but seeming to open up and let everything in, and evaluate and analyze what they saw.

The exception was Berry, who first reacted only to the fact that the table had gone silent, and then adopted a version of the same pose, but with head slightly tilted, listening.  She smiled.  “And to what are we attending?”

“The fact,” Arian said quietly, “that we are being closely watched.”

“I wonder what they want?” Ingrud said, as softly.

“Who?” Berry asked; then answered herself: “The other steerswomen.”

“It’s really very odd,” Zenna said.  “They’re so obviously ignoring us that it’s obvious that we’re the center of their attention.”

The door opened, and a steerswoman entered.

A flick of pause around the table, and then:




“What?” This from Berry. The newcomer took three more steps.  “Oh, that’s Edith.”

The steerswoman arrived at the table.  “Ladies.” She nodded around.  “Arian.”  He acknowledged her greeting.  She pulled a chair from a table nearby and sat.  “Apparently, I’m supposed to sit here.  Do we know why?”

Ingrud threw up her hands.  “This is ridiculous.   They’re all steerswomen.  If we ask them, they have to answer!”

“They’re treating us,” Arian said, thoughtfully, “almost as if we’re students.”

A pause.  “So,” Ingrud said, “if we did ask them, they might say something like, ‘We could answer, but this is something we’d like you to reason out for yourself?  And, do you still want us to answer?'”

“It’s rather insulting, actually,” Edith said, then slouched more comfortably in her chair, extending long legs to one side.  She was a remarkably tall woman, sun-bleached and sun-browned.  She sounded not at all insulted.

Ingrud made show of gritting her teeth in exasperation.  “I hate suspense.”

Edith shrugged.  She glanced once at Arian, sidelong, glanced away again.

He said, “Aren’t you going to remark on how changed I am?  It seems quite the topic today.”

“You look exactly as you did when you were my teacher, but twenty-five years older.  Apparently, your appearance since then and before now was just a passing phase of indolence.  You look like yourself.”

“Hm.  You were always a practical girl.”

The door opened.  “None of the girls out there know what they’re doing,” the woman who entered announced to the room at large.  “And I think they’re afraid to enter.  They know that all the steerswomen are in here.  If it rains, I do believe they’ll just stand there and get wet.”

“Excellent,” Arian replied.  “Then we can eliminate them all as being too simpleminded to qualify.  With luck, no one will qualify at all, and we can give up the enterprise entirely and all go back to our regular tasks.”

“We need them,” the woman said, and with no hesitation crossed the room to join the five.  Arrived at the table, she paused.  She was full-bodied, bright-eyed, iron-gray, somewhat older than Arian.  “They’re the next generation, or some of them are.”

“With Shayna here, we need a bigger table,” Ingrud said, and looked around for a better one.

“Or, there are too many sitting at this one,” Shayna said, off-hand.

Edith looked up at her sidelong.  “Oho.”

Shayna raised her brows.  “Yes, what?”

“She knows a thing or two,” Edith said.  Then she rose and offered her chair to the older woman.  Shayna sat.  “Tell me lady,” Edith said, “who should not be sitting at this table?”

The others stopped short, looked at Edith, then turned their regard on Shayna.   She returned their gaze.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.  There’s no reason anyone shouldn’t sit anywhere they choose.”

Edith said, from above Shayna’s head: “It was suggested that I sit with Ingrud and Arian. NOthing was said to you?”

“No. No one made any suggestions.”

Ingrud said, “Why don’t we just ask?”

“Ask what?” Shayna said.

“Why everyone is watching us so closely, while trying to look as if they’re not doing it at all,”  Ingrud said with feeling.  “A steerswoman can’t lie, but we’re free to dissemble.  Except, we’re very bad at it.  Well, most of us are.  Everyone is carefully not saying something important.”

“And meanwhile,” Berry said, setting aside her knitting, “does anyone have any idea when matters are going to begin?  At the very least, let’s invite all those girls in if it really is going to rain.  And it certainly feels as if it’s going to.”

“We can’t just sit about uselessly until the Prime arrives,” Zenna said.

“And does anyone know when that will be?”  This from Ingrud.  “Is she still too ill to travel?”

Edith said, “She seemed to be stronger when I saw her two weeks ago.”

In the middle of this, Arian suddenly sat straighter.  “That’s it.”

Ingrud threw up her hands.  “What?  Really, someone does have to speak!”

Arian looked at Shayna, but it was to the other women that he spoke.  “The rest of you didn’t see it — it was before your time.  But I was a student then, and Shayna here one of my teachers.”  He turned to the others.  “Usually, it’s the Prime who decides when things start at the Academy, and she’s in charge.  But when I was a student, it didn’t happen that way.  Because the Prime was absent.  And not because she was ill.”

Ingrud stood up.  “I’ve had it!”  She addressed the room at large.  “Someone please tell me what is going on.”

Across the room, a slim woman with wildly-curling gray hair and a very kind smile spoke up immediately.  “You’ll need to be more specific.  Your question is far too broad to answer.”  A few other women present laughed a bit; others laughed also, apparently at the laughter of the first ones.

Edith raised her voice to be heard by all.  “Tell me, lady,” she said, using the formal phrase, “– and I’ll take the answer from any steerswoman in the room… by what process does someone become Prime of the Steerswomen?”

Ingrud, still standing, said, “What?”

On the far side if the room, one of the other steerswomen spoke up.  “Generally, the person who is currently serving as Prime has a number of candidates in mind.”

Another steerswoman, Keridwen, spoke while continuing to pour tea for her table-mates.  “But she takes it no further than that.”

“But,” and Ingrud looked about the room, at the other steerswomen, and at those sitting at her own table, “but, how does it finally come down to just one?”

Arian said, thoughtfully, “The next Prime is given the opportunity to, let’s say…. rise out of chaos.”

Edith said: “And this looks like chaos to me.   A crowd of girls out in the yard, not knowing what to do or where to go; a flock of steerswomen enjoying their tea inside; no visible plan, no apparent organization –“

Ingrud sat down, puzzled.  “We have to invent the Academy?  Ourselves?  Right now? No, hold –” And she became visibly stunned.  “Me?  I’m one?  And — and, us?” She looked  at the faces around the table.

Berry had her head tilted down, her brows knit in thought.

Edith, still standing behind Shayna, nodded fractionally, chewing her lip.

Shayna drew a long breath, released it, folded her hands before her, and one by one, regarded the others calmly, waiting.

Arian sat very still, his eyes focused on some far internal distance, breathing quietly, as if tracking some prey he might startle.

Shayna said: “We need to sort those girls out.  We should gather them, and send off any spectators.  Someone should address them, and identify the ones who have already acquired accomodations –“

Arian said, without altering his expression in the least: “Shayna, do shut up.”

She drew herself up. “I beg your pardon?” she said stiffly.

He broke from his internal study, and turned to her, now very present and keenly focused.  “Obviously you already knew about this, and you’ve given it some thought. You’re prepared.  But this is news to the rest of us, so please be considerate enough to allow us a few moments to assimilate the information.”

“But something does need to be done, and soon.  While we’re sorting ourselves out, a crowd of girls are all at loose ends, and possibly frightened, far from home –“

Berry set down her knitting  and stood.   She addressed the room at large.  “Have all the adjunct teachers been contacted?”

A dark-haired woman seated by the window spoke up.  “Yes.”

“Helena, thank you,” Berry said, turning toward the voice.  “And have they all arrived?”


“Which are present, please, and which are missing?”

“We have a herbalist, a beastmaster, and a hunter on hand.  We’re drawing on the locals for a carpenter, bricklayer, blacksmith, seamstress, cobbler, leathermaker, and cook, so of course they’re already here.  Still on their way are the healer, bookbinder, and swordmaster.”

“Thank you,” Berry said, and sat.  She spread her hands, and spoke to those at her table.  “That was by way of a test.  Although apparently we are in charge, we can’t possibly be expected to personally do every task that needs doing.  Some things are already in place, some organizational neccesities already addressed.  We should discover what those are.”

“And meanwhile, the students are milling about at loose ends in the yard,” Edith commented.

“As I said,” Shayna said.

“I’ll need a chair,” Edith said absently, and looked about.  All other chairs were occupied.

Zenna rose, her chair scraping loudly.  “Take mine.”  She fumbled, gathering her crutches from beneath the table, suddenly clumsy.

“Zenna, don’t be silly, sit down –“

“I shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m sure that the Prime had good reason –“

No!”  The others stopped short, turned to her.  “You were told to come to this table — but I wasn’t. I’m not — I’m not one of you, I’m not a candidate at all.”

Ingrud put a hand on her arm.  “Zenna –“

Zenna shook it off.  “And, and, I shouldn’t be here at all — not here in Logan Falls, not at the Academy.  Or what will become the Academy.  All of you — ” and here she raised her voice a bit, speaking to the room. “You were all asked to come here.  Not every steerswoman is here — some of us are still out in the world, at our work.  But every steerswoman who is here now: by words or letter or message, you were asked to come to work at the Academy. Am I right?”  Nods all around.  Zenna looked down.  “But I wasn’t.   I was not ordered, asked, or invited.  Nothing was said to me about coming to the Academy.” She made a helpless gesture.  “I just came.  Because I wanted to.”  She fumbled with her crutches, managed to position them.  “So, I’ll leave you to this.”

The others glanced at each other, disturbed but resigned to it.

Except for Berry.  “Zenna, please stay.”

“I’ll stay for a while,” and she began moving, “but with them.” At a nearby table, another steerswoman rose to offer her seat.

“No, Zenna. Stay here, with us,” Berry said.  “Please.”

The young woman stood stopped in the middle of the room, said bitterly:  “Why?

“Because I need eyes.”

Zenna turned, looked back.

The others were staring at Berry.   Arian said, hesitantly, “But, Josef…”

“My husband reads books for me, and tells me where my teacup is, and stops me stepping into dog droppings.  And describes how beautiful the sunset looks.  But for this, I think I need a steerswoman’s eyes.  And I don’t have them.”   She reached out one hand.  “Zenna?”

Ingrud leaned back in her chair, said quietly: “Oh, perfect, perfect.”

Shayna’s face lit up, spontaneously, brilliantly.  “That’s lovely.”

“Hm,” Arian said.  “Well, there you go.”

Edith watched, waiting, head slightly tilted.

Zenna, at last, drew a breath and came back.  “Thank you.”  She took Berry’s hand, and sat, then arranged herself again, and looked about.  “And now Edith doesn’t have a chair again.”  She laughed a bit.

In fact, Edith looked, for the first time, uncertain.  She hesitated.

Arian said, “Skies above, girl, just tell someone to give you their chair.”

“Go ahead,” Ingrud urged her.  “We’re in charge. Apparently.”

Berry said to Zenna: “Tell me the look on her face.”

“She really doesn’t want to.  But she thinks she ought to.”

“She doesn’t want to give people orders, I think,” Berry said.

Ingrud threw up her hands.  “She gave us orders constantly!  When she was our teacher.  At the last Academy.”

“You were her students,” Arian noted.  “But these steerswomen were her teachers when she was a student herself, some of them.”

“I’m actually present,” Edith commented to the table.  “I’m actually able to hear you, you know.”  She made a noise of frustration.  “And I’m certain that there are more chairs available somewhere in this house.” She strode off, toward the serving entrance.

Shayna called to her: “Bring two chairs.”

Arian smiled.  “You sly creature.  There’s another, isn’t there?  Who else is coming?”

The door opened, and a steerswoman came in.


Well.  There you go.

For reference, here’s a map.  You may click to embiggen.

Back to those other tasks, some of which I may discuss in detail fairly soon…

May 12 2017

Brain-fried, but in a good way.


I’ve just spent the last week or so prepping stuff to present to my writers’ group, the Fabulous Genrettes.

I’m up next!  On Sunday!  And our last meeting was just on April 30th, so that’s less than two weeks between sessions.  But Delia Sherman will be heading off to Paris quite soon, there to live for a year.  Just because.

(Ellen, of course, will be going as well.  They have an apartment!   That’s what you do, if you are famous, cultured and erudite:  a year in Paris.   I, on the other hand, am merely a slightly famous, nerdy autodidact.   There’s lots of us, actually.  We should form a national association!  No, wait, we’re all introverts. )

Anyway, I had not much time to organize the stuff I have on hand into something both readable and critique-able.   Had to pull out all the stops (which is a lovely metaphor from pipe-organ terminology, she pointed out  nerdishly).

Actually, I quite enjoyed it… I did a lot of late-night writing, and managed to remind myself that I really do prefer writing late at night and into the wee hours.   And often enough, into  the slightly larger hours.   I really ought to just embrace that.

I’m smarter at night.   I just am.

Although, parts of the tale that I thought would be easy, turned out to involve more heavy lifting than I expected.    And of course, much needs to be discussed with Delia and Laurie J. Marks.   I might have to print out a map for us to confer over, as the story involves a whole lot of movement across great swathes of  landscape.

I did manage to take a break from the push, on Saturday, when I attended a concert.   My friend Rob is a member of the Mendelssohn Choir, and they had a joint concert with the Civic Orchestra of New Haven.   The first half was just the orchestra, doing Tchaikovsky’s Symphony Number 4, which I’ve heard possibly one other time in my life, and was a treat.   The second half was John Rutter’s Requiem, totally new to me, which had text in both English and Latin.  Alas, the printed text in the program used a very small font, which made it hard to read in the dimmed auditorium, and the acoustics did not allow the English portion to be entirely understandable, so I had to pretty much guess what was being said, and check the program later when the concert was over.  Oddly, it turned out that I recognized the Latin more easily than the English.

The concert was at Yale University’s Woolsey Hall, which is was built in 1901, in a Beaux Arts style, which I found rather fun.  A lot of Yale looks pretty grim, but this place was festooned with carven wreaths and cameos of the nine Muses plus Athena on the ceiling.

Muses plus Athena.

And a bit of trompe l’oeil sky on the ceiling.  I’m a sucker for trompe l’oeil skies.

In other news:  My planned trip to Helsinki for Worldcon looks less and less likely.   It’s just a very expensive proposition, and at this particular point I don’t have a lot of financial leeway.  Just one of those timing things.

I am, however, still slated for Readercon.

Arg.  Very tired after this big push.  I’m going to practice some guitar, and call it a night.

They also had a Calder stabile/mobile in the courtyard.



Feb 17 2017

Skipping Boskone


Yep, I’m skipping Boskone this weekend, reasons being twofold:

  1. I am scrimping and saving and economizing like mad,  hoping to get to the World Science Fiction Convention in Helsinki in August.  This is a pricey endeavor.   Planefare, hotels, food, weeks away from home in foreign countries.  My current plan is: Yes! I will go!  To accomplish this, other things have to fall by the wayside.
  2. I am in a broody, antisocial mood, brought on by story woes. I am still struggling to sort this book out into decent order.  Willing to see small groups of people, yes; grumbly-grumble, lemme-alone-dammit at very large groups of people.

But just because I’m not there, no reason you shouldn’t go!  Boskone is a blast. Here’s their website.  And here’s the list of program events.  (If you click on the list-view selection, you can see who’s on which panels and events.)  People you might like who are attending:  Jo Walton, Ada Palmer, Brian Sanderson, Ken McLeod, A.C. Ambrose, Bruce Coville, Craig Shaw Gardner, Patrick and Teresa Neilsen Hayden, Walter Jon Williams, Jane Yolen, and plenty more.

Seriously, you should go.  You don’t get out enough.

Despite missing Boskone, I will still be attending Readercon, July13-16.  I’ve been going to Readercon for ages, and I’ve been invited back this year.  (There was a snafu one year; I’ll be sure to follow up and make certain they’re keeping me on the list.)

In other random news: My car is having its clutch replaced.  Not cheap; but my mechanic is convinced that this will give the old crate five more years of life.  Amortized across five years, and eliminating the need for a new car, this works out pretty well.

We are painting various odd corners of the condo.  Furniture gets moved, a thing gets painted, furniture gets moved back.  It’s a process.

I have decided to learn as many songs about stories as I can.  Not songs that are stories; songs that refer to the existence of stories, or mention story-telling, inside the song.  I already have Patty Larkin’s “The Book I’m Not Reading” under my belt.  I have recently added Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer’s “The Mountain” (which begins: “I was born in a fork-tongued story”).   Now working on Deb Talan’s “Tell Your Story Walking,” which is much trickier than it sounds.

I am open to suggestions…

Jul 18 2016

Winding down, gearing up.


Well, Readercon is over, and my annual hang-out-with-pals-after-Readercon is also over…

Cool things from Readercon:

A reading by Ellen Kushner, from the next season of the serialized multi-author novel, Tremontaine.

Here’s a nifty trailer for the series:

The reading was followed by Ellen’s  Kaffeeklatsch — which included as a treat, a guest appearence by Ada Palmer, singing her famous (in fandom) song, “Somebody Will,” which always makes me cry.

But in a good way.  (Here’s a link to a duet version of the song, with Ada singing with Lauren Schiller.)

Also, I attended a reading by Delia Sherman, from her upcoming YA novel, The Evil Wizard Smallbone.  I’ve heard bits of the book before, and it’s always a delight.  Delia has such a graceful hand with tales of magic.

Comes out in September, but you could pre-order it now. Yes, you could.

Also: a reading by Jo Walton, from her work in progress, Poor Relations, which I enjoyed immensely.  By laughing a lot.  It was that kind of book, and she read it with vim!   (You can’t buy it yet — but the final volume of her Thessaly series, Necessity, is just out this week. )

And finally, a reading by one of Readercon’s guests of honor, Catherynne Valente,  whose writing you know I love.  I can’t recall the title — it was a work in progress, I think —  but it was dark and rich and grim and lovely.  (There’s an excerpt from it in the Readercon program, which I have at home where I am not, and not in my office, where I am.)

Hm.  I seem only to have attended readings by women this time!  Not by intention: Daryl Gregory was listed on the original program, but left off of the updated one.  Apparently he could not attend after all.  Alas.  I do love hearing him read.

The panels…


I didn’t go to many, but it seemed to me that each one I attended (and the one I was on),  rather quickly turned away from books, and toward TV shows and movies as examples of whatever subject was on hand for discussion.

And I found this disappointing.  The thing about Readercon, the blessed thing about it, is that it has traditionally been focused on books.  There’s no film track, no gaming, the dealer’s room sells nothing but books.  In theory it’s supposed to stand in opposition other conventions, which more and more deal with movies, TV, gaming, and the fandom that surrounds them.  Not that those aren’t wonderful things, and sources of real art — But Readercon has always been the exception to  the trend.   That was its charm, and its attraction.

But this time, not so much.  I don’t know what to make of that.

As well as official convention events, there was plenty of meeting and re-meeting of friends, always a glad thing.  (I’d detail more but… this is running rather long, and getting late.  Perhaps I’ll expand on events in a later post?)

And after Readercon, as is traditional, I spent a few days with fellow authors Ann Tonsor Zeddies (aka Toni Anzetti, but not any more), and Geary Gravel.   A splendid time was had by all, including much deep talk far into the night on the front porch, one reading of a work in progress, the inevitable champagne, many delicious meals, and walks around interesting places.

A denizen of the forest.

A denizen of the forest.


The Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, MA.

The Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, MA.




So.  All that is over, I’m back home and unpacked, and my laundry is done, and I’m tucked into my office.

Next on the agenda: Ack! Worldcon in August.  Preceded by a week in Chicago… Yikes, only two and a half weeks before all that.

Better get back to wrestling with the Muse.  Who is a slippery gal, but I do believe I have a weight advantage, there.



Jan 25 2016

Blizzard? Not so much.


We had one day of totally blizzard weather, with about a foot of snow, but then it was all over.  Nothing at all like the hit New York City or the Connecticut shoreline took (south of us).

I handled it by staying at home and doing all my household chores for the week.

The following day, all the roads were plowed, and the trip to my writing office (all two miles of it) presented no problem at all.

I would have gone during the blizzard, if not for an unavoidable treacherously steep hill.    No matter which route you take, you have to go down a steep, twisty road that ices over really quickly, and leads directly into a busy intersection.  Saturday was a good day to not do that.

Upside: I could observe all the birdie-pal action at home!  Our restaurant is very popular in winter, being the only one in the neighborhood with a heated birdbath.   Not that they’re bathing — it’s drinking water, and it saves them from having to eat snow and spend precious calories heating it up with their tiny birdie bodies.

We always get the cardinals and sparrows and chickadees, with some juncos tossed in the mix.  Downy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers.   The mockingbird comes by once in a while.  But Saturday, we were also mobbed by the starlings.  Good move on their part: we had liquid water, birdseed, a hanging block of suet, and a cedar tree whose branches are loaded down with a good crop of cedar berries.   A well-balanced diet, no foraging in the blizzard required.

In other news:  I totally skipped Arisia, and will probably skip Boskone, as well, due entirely to my dropping the ball during the job-loss officialdom scrambling.  Except, I might possibly drop by for a day, as audience, not panel participants.   Readercon, however: I responded to their request to let them know if I was interested in participating, with a definite Yes!  Last year I got lost in the shuffle, and didn’t make it on the program; this year I want to stay on top of things.

Also: Worldcon is coming up in the middle of August (didn’t it always used to be over Labor Day?  When did that change?), and I really do want to be on the program!   As does every other writer in the universe.  Plenty of competition, there.  Well, I’ll attend either way, but I really want to get back into the swing of panel-participating and fan-meeting, and writerly professional schmoozing.

Okay, enough of this  blogging stuff… I have some actual work to dig into!

— Oh, all right, one more thing: Walk Off the Earth.


The dancers are guest stars, and I bet you didn’t know that your fly could double as a percussion instrument.

One of these days I’m going to have to see those guys in concert.

Aug 11 2015

You know how you get back from an SF convention, and you feel kind of blue?


Because it was so great, and now you’re not there any more?

Yeah, I got that after Readercon.

Reason for Readercon.

Random person at Readercon doing what the convention is all about.

— except that it was delayed by my usual post-con hangout with Ann Zeddies and Geary Gravel.  During which, by the way, we did not do our usual arts&crafts with collages and/or collaged book-boxes, because  we were reading to each other!

Yes!  New stuff, from all three of us.  This is an unusual circumstance.  Generally, it has been observed that only one of us at a time seems to be productive, and we swap it around between the three of us.  But not this year!  Each of us had new stuff to read to the other two.  And then — we did it again! Two sessions of readings.  So happy.

And then when I got home: postcon blues.

But!  No time for that, because the Schrodinger sessions were just around the corner!  And what a blast that was.  Kind of like a convention only better because of real, actual science!   I was in heaven.


This is what science looks like.


Taking place here.

Taking place here.

And… then, back home, and the day job…  squeezing in the writing at night and on weekends…

So, that would create sort of a double-dose of post-con blues?

But no time for the blues, because next, very soon: Worldcon!  I haven’t been to a Worldcon in years and years.   It’s gonna be great.

Yeah.  And after that… triple post-con blues?

Like, this comic by Abby Howard.

Ah, hell.  It’s worth it.

Plus: extra motivation to shed this day job.   ‘Cause, then I’d never have to go back to it!  I like that idea.

Let’s think long and hard about that, shall we?




Jul 15 2015

— And she’s back!


Back from Readercon, that is, with every intention of blogging about the weekend…

But alas, not right now… Because having taken two days away from the Day Job, there’s a chunk of stuff that needs to be dealt with.  Plus: tired.  Plus: have  to unpack, clean stuff, do laundry.

Meanwhile, as a preview, here’s a photo of a lovely group dinner we had on Saturday night at the now-Readercon-traditional Korean barbecue place. A typical gathering of authors and those associated with them.  See if you can identify all the parties present!


click to embiggen, if you so choose.

click to embiggen, if you so choose, then click again for enhanced embiggenedness.



Jul 16 2014

Readercon weekend


My first actual out-and-about public appearance since — well, since the diagnosis in December.

Everyone was perfectly lovely to me.  Most people had heard about what’s been going on in my life, and were glad to see me, and welcoming.  And those who didn’t know me at all did not look askance at my odd hairdo.  Because that’s how we roll in SF/F.   I’ve given up wearing hats because: hair coming back in!  Plus: summer.  Hats are far too hot.

I did have some trouble with my energy levels.   I seem to have two settings: 1) Perfectly fine, let’s chat! 2) Okay, I go lie down now.  These alternate at apparently random intervals.

I skipped all the usual huge group dinners in favor of room service.    Because, even if I felt good at the start of the dinner, I might suddenly not — so I played it safe.

I only had the one panel, on why schools and the education experience show up so much in SF/F literature (with Greer Gilman, Lev Grossman, Faye Ringel, Delia Sherman, Rick Wilber).   I think I wasn’t my sharpest, having just fought my way through stop-and-go traffic on the Mass Pike, followed by more stop-and-go traffic  on route 95, arriving at the hotel exactly one hour before the panel, and discovering that valet parking was not an option in my case because the valet could not drive a manual shift car!  Which mine is.  Because I like it.  And all the nearby parking spots were taken — but after much explaining on my part, hotel security said that I could leave my car out front until after my panel.  Which was nice of them.

Oh, and my car’s air conditioning is broken.  Did I mention that?  Yeah.

So, I arrived already exhausted, and I feel I could have done much better on that panel…  I could have said quite a lot about the Steerswomen’s Academy, but didn’t quite have the nimbleness of mind to insert my counterpoints at the right moments.   Because, of course, the Steerswomen’s Academy is so very different from other school experiences presented in literature.

At the Meet the Schmoes Pros Party, James Patrick Kelly had the misfortune of being the first person I ran into.  Since I haven’t really seen many people other than Sabine and some close friends  for the last four months, I had to say All the Things!  Right Away!  Non-Stop!  He endured it bravely and graciously.   What a sweetie.    And of course, Ellen, and Delia, and Elaine Isaacs.  Oh, and Yves Meynard, who is such a dear.  And newly married!

And not to forget mad book collector and pal Michael Tallin, who lives on the opposite side of the country, and I only see at conventions.   His book-and-autograph fever often sends him to Readercon, and I get the pleasure of his conversation and company, without actually having to foot the bill for a flight to California!

It was lovely to be out in a social situation again, with people who are of My Tribe.

But it did wear me out.  I did not rush to get up the next day.   And rested often.

I managed to catch a couple of panels on Saturday.  When the Other Is You, where the panelists, all members of minorities or marginalized groups,  spoke of the difficulties and pitfalls in writing about their experiences.   (That was Chesya Burke, Samuel Delaney, Peter Dube, Mikki Kendall, Vendana Singh and Sabrina Vourvoulias.)  Later, I caught New Models of Masculinity,(Erik Amundsen, John Benson, Kameron Hurley, Catt Kingsgrave and Bart Leib)  wherein the panelists discussed the fact that SF/F too often uses the default cliche version of the manly man, and what are the other options?  And how does it operate in the real world today?  Fascinating.

I also caught great readings by Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Daryl Gregory.

There was no Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Science Fiction and Fantasy Competition — and that’s okay.  Kirk Poland was a brilliant, hilarious idea, and thrived for many years — but it has basically run its course, and is best retired.   We shall remember it fondly.  Time to do something else.

The something else was A Most Readerconnish Miscellany: readings, music, poetry, by all sorts of people, as part of a fundraiser for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and Operation   Hammond, which teaches convention runners and volunteers about first aid, both worthy causes.   I arrived late, and left early, later discovering that I’d missed a performance by Ellen Kushner!  but I caught a vivid, rousing poetry recitation by C.S.E. Cooney.   I had heard her do “The Sea King’s Second Bride” in the past and was blown away; this time I arrived partway through her poem, which involved a woman, a double-bass, and the Devil.  It was awesome.

A reading by one of  the guests of honor, Andrea Hairston, also included a banjo-player who had put some of the song lyrics in Hairston’s work to actual music with actual banjo.  Excellent.

And Daniel Jose Older did an excerpt from his work — completely amazing.   A true performer and storyteller, with this brilliant, crazy urban edge. After his bit, I waved over the person collecting the donations and handed over forty bucks, because damn! I now have to run out and get everything available by Older.

Then my Kaffeeklatsch, which I think went well.  We merged the the other person klatsching, one Adrienne J. Odasso, a poet new to me.   I bought one of her chap-books, but haven’t delved into it yet…

Oh, look!  My indicator just flipped over from Perfectly Fine! to I Go Lie Down Now.  I shall do that, soon.

I do regret that I wasn’t able to meet & greet and hang with all the people I’d hoped to… but my on again/off again energy level kept me from being as social as I’d have liked, and from seeing as many panels as I wished I could have seen.  I passed people in the halls who I wanted to talk to, or hang with… but I just couldn’t do all I wanted.

So if I missed you, I do apologize (looking at you, Kate Nepveu!).

But I was so glad to finally get out into the real (as in SF/F fan and writers’) world again.

In other news: Radiation is going well. About which, more later.







Jul 22 2013

Readercon. As promised.


Hot.  Hot hot hot.   Northeast was miserable all week and all weekend!

Readercon was lovely, however, despite — or possibly because of — having to drive there and back on Thursday for my two events, and drive back for the weekend after work on Friday.

Someone suggested to me that Thursday at Readercon is attended by only the most dedicated and devoted of fans.   Possibly that’s true, given that most people would have to take actual time off work to be there by Thursday.     A purer, more distilled Readercon, perhaps?   Actually, Readercon is really already distilled, focusing as it does on actual readable works and eschewing other media.  La creme de la creme de la creme, perhaps?

Well, I certainly had a grand time.

The panel “The Bit I Remember” came off well, I thought, with Howard Waldrop, Sonya Taaffe, Yoon Ha Lee, Ellen Brody and I contributing reminiscences of tales and parts of tales that stuck with us long after the stories in question were read; and discussions of why, and how.

I had my sad tale of Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, the book that got me hooked on science fiction.   Loved it, as a kid — later discovered that its message was exactly the opposite of what I thought it was.  Alas.

But then I also got to share my experience with John Wyndham’s Rebirth (The Chrysalids, in Britain) — where every time I read it I found more and more to love:  Starting with “Ooh, telepathic kids, neat!” at around age 12; through “Wow, nuclear apocalypse that’s so deep– !”  at about 14; through “The evils of forced conformity — true, so true!” at about 16; through “Religion as a tool of suppression —  amen to that!” at about 19; to, sometime after I had become a published author in my own right, “Holy Moses — look at the prose, look at how the thread of the tale is spun out, look at what’s said and what’s not said, look at how he makes the reader discover the tale …this guy really knows how to write!

And an interesting moment came when Yoon Ha Lee brought up reading Poul Andersons’ Brain Wave at age twelve — which I read at pretty much the same age, give or take.

She hated it!  I loved it!

Things that made it unreadable to her just washed over me with no effect. At one point, I was mentioning how my identification as a reader was more with the male characters, and the lesser role of the females didn’t outrage me at that age — and she gave me a puzzled side-glance that I could not help but read as a polite version of: What, are you crazy?

It wasn’t until later, when Waldrop mentioned the old witticism that the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” is 12, that I realized something:

Yoon Ha Lee read Brain Wave at age twelve.  I read it at age twelve.

Yoon Ha Lee’s age twelve was in 1993.   My age twelve was in 1965.

And that was the difference.

In 1965 there were almost zero female protagonists to be found in science fiction.  Of course I was identifying with the males.  Of course it was their story that was the story.  I was too young to know it was possible for things to be different.

All the things I liked about Brain Wave still exist, of course.   But Yoon is certainly right that women were given rather short shrift; and their experience of the events of the book are based on that time’s expectations of women’s roles — which would absolutely be objectionable in 1993!

By the way, the book was written in 1953.   In retrospect, I’m amazed that women were present at all!

(For the record, there were two major female characters.  One was a secretary, the other a housewife.  When planet Earth moved out of the dampening field that had been suppressing electromagnetic processes, which life on Earth had evolved to compensate for, and the result was much more efficient brain function, allowing for greater possible operational intelligence — the secretary could handle it and the housewife, tragically, could not.)

Alas, I realized the huge gap between my twelve and Yoon’s much too late to add it to the discussion onstage.   The conversation had moved on.

One of the more interesting panels I’ve participated in.   You know, you can’t always tell by the printed description in the program schedule.

And my reading was one of the best-attended I’ve ever had.   There must have been about a dozen people there — I was quite surprised.

I hadn’t decided beforehand what I would be reading, choosing to leave the choice to the last minute (hoping, frankly, for some inspiration).   When I arrived I explained that much of my new stuff was in flux; and of the parts that were readable, I had already read all I could without going into spoilers, at previous readings.   So I would be reading from something already published….

And then, hooray!  Inspiration did strike me!

In the form of: me addressing the audience, and asking “Is there anything you would like to hear me read?”

A hand shot straight up, immediately, no hesitation. I called on the woman.  She said (or words to the same effect): “The part where Rowan and Bel are at the campfire, and their discussing the giant throwing the jewels, and drawing diagrams on the ground.”

Perfect!  Moody, scientific!  A neat encapsulation of the tone and sense of the whole series, in one scene!  And the scene that immediately follows that is a great action sequence.

And that’s what I read.  I think it went well.   I certainly had fun.

Immediately after the reading, some people came up for autographs, including the hand-raiser, who said: “Thank you for the teapot!”

Yes, it was Mary Alexandra Agner, winner of the latest Teapot contest — and a writer herself, of stories, articles and poetry.   I was so glad to meet her.   (And you should explore her website.)

Hm.  I see I’ve spent rather a long time on this post already… I’ll have to make the rest brief:

Readercon was much smaller this year than previously, I believe — which is not a bad thing, as long as they were able to break even on their costs.

My actual autographing was at the end of the convention, and I think only one person asked that something be signed.

The “Constellations of Genres” panel was, alas, a snore.

John Crowley’s presentation on “Teaching Utopia” was fascinating.

The backlist/ebook panel (including Betsy Mitchell, who did such a brilliant job editing The Lost Steersman back when she was with Del Rey Books) was very interesting…

And the Crowdfunding panel was excellent, with lots of examples, suggestions, warnings, encouragement, etc.

After the convention, as is now usual, I spent some quality time with Ann Tonsor Zeddies and Geary Gravel.  And there are pictures of our crafts project, but alas, I have to stop writing this now.   So I’ll write about that later this week.

But here’s a teaser:

One of two that Geary made...

One of two that Geary made…