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21st February 2017

12:20pm: The Chocolate Tarot
After she has cleaned the room
Removed all evidence of previous occupation
Set it all straight and sweet for its new inhabitant
New towels neat in fluffy white, tiny bottles facing forward,
The top sheet of toilet paper folded into a neat triangle,
She reverently draws a chocolate from the votive bag
And sets it gently on the pillow.

She does not know
The stranger who will sleep between the sheets
Whose chocolate fortune she lays down.
The sun: that's glory
Or the star: that's aspiration
A heart: for new love, or enduring love.
The dog, which represents the fool, meaning bad decisions.

Laying the chocolates down, she notes, and smiles,
Or frowns, and moves on down the hall,
And makes straight, order out of disarray
To draw out little futures one by one.
A rose, the queen of flowers.
Or the moon, that stands for loss and need.
One fate per pillow, for each traveller.

Until one morning, on the nineteenth floor
First of the day, she draws the tower.
Breath catches in her throat.
Disaster for this unknown future guest.
She could not draw again, could not change fate
She had no power, she was but the maid
Who drew, laid down, no change or no control.

She moved on down the hall to clean again.
She could not warn, for no one would believe.
And the next pillow chocolate: tower again.
Again, again, the tower eleven times,
Before she thought that she was in a tower,
This moment, in a tower that could fall
Be struck by lightning, or some other force.

She dropped the towels on the bed and turned,
Took up the bag and poured the chocolates out
Each one a tower, slumped in a towering pile.
Jumbled brown chocolate towers, like destiny.
She turned and fled, abandoned cart and job,
For work is hard to find, but life is life.
She didn't even stop to fetch her coat.

(And did the towers fall?
Or had the hotel streamlined the design?
What universe do you believe we're in?)

This poem sponsored by my splendid patrons at Patreon, who are going to make it possible for me to go to Italy this summer.

14th February 2017

6:59pm: F*k* News
Wise Churchill knew what we now see:
When news gets moulded into story
We'll cheer defeat in all its glory.
(Dunkirk was not a victory.)

But both sides now get separate news
It isn't fact, it isn't lies
But story, shaped before our eyes,
To slip into existing views.

For story has a shape, a weight,
That hurtles downhill gathering snow.
It's hard to know what's won or lost.
It might already be too late.
We've lost the thread of what we know.
It will take years to count the cost.

This poem supported by my patrons on Patreon, who are one of the things that makes it worth going on.

13th February 2017

3:47pm: My Boskone Schedule
Boskone is this weekend! In the Westin Waterfront, in Boston. I will be there, and this is my schedule.

It starts Thursday night with a multi-author event at Pandeamonium Books and Games, Cambridge MA, with me, Ada Palmer, Charlie Stross, Fran Wilde, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch. We'll play a game, do Q&A and sign. Do come if you can!

Then Boskone starts Friday.

Using History in SF and Fantasy
Friday 16:00 - 17:00, Marina 3 (Westin)
From alternate history to vaguely familiar settings in a unique story world, history is a great resource for inspiration. What are some of the most creative uses of history in fiction? How much research is needed before writing and fleshing out the story? Panelists discuss examples of how history has enriched some of our favorite novels. But can sticking to history hobble your creative instincts? When should we deviate from historical truths and strike out into the creative unknown?

Roger Zelazny: _Lord of Light_
Friday 17:00 - 18:00, Marina 3 (Westin)
This Hugo-winning and Nebula-nominated novel created a sensation 50 years ago. Does it still excite the modern reader? Was its mix of SF and fantasy elements influential on other writers, or did it stand alone? Are the Hindu/Buddhist elements mere decoration, or do they provide a backbone for the story and its world? The book's episodic structure allows individual chapters to contain complete stories. How do those stories coalesce to create a complete novel?

Kaffeeklatsch: Jo Walton

Saturday 11:00 - 12:00, Harbor I - Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)
Jo Walton (bluejo@gmail.com)

Saturday 15:00 - 16:00, Galleria - Autographing (Westin)

From Rapiers to Ray Guns
Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, Marina 1 (Westin)
From epic fantasy to space war, speculative fiction is rife with useful tools and weapons that can be used in battle. How much does a writer or reader really need to know about these weapons for fictional frays to feel real? What weapons work best for close-quarters or downrange combat in specific settings?

Boskone 54 Awards Ceremony
Saturday 20:30 - 20:50, Harbor II+III (Westin)
Saturday night's theatrical extravaganza continues with the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) event in which we present our annual Skylark and Gaughan awards. The Skylark Award honors the work and personal qualities of an exceptional contributor to science fiction. The Gaughan Award is presented to a talented emerging artist. Tonight, we will also be announcing the winner of the annual NESFA Short Story Contest.

Reading by Jo Walton
Sunday 10:30 - 11:00, Griffin (Westin)

Will be reading from Poor Relations!

Words Have More Than Meaning
Sunday 11:00 - 12:00, Marina 3 (Westin)
Words carry flavor, color, temperature, and sound. They have emotional impact and established associations. They sound harsh, funny, smooth, or soothing. We'll discuss word choice and how to achieve these visceral reactions with your writing. We'll even look at how words might lead to new perspectives in setting and plot, through some short demonstrations. Learn about the subtle power of carefully chosen language.

Abracadabra! Making Magic Real
Sunday 12:00 - 13:00, Marina 1 (Westin)
In writing fantasies — from epic to urban — how do you keep your story's magic feeling fresh and new? It's a challenge. Rules and boundaries can help, but how do you make the "science" of the supernatural seem, well, natural? Panelists discuss the perils and potentials of using magic in fiction.

This all sounds great, really looking forward to it!

11th February 2017

6:55pm: Wittenburg: a double sonnet
When studying philosophy,
At Wittenburg, a man can thrive
At least, that happened to these five
Quite different men, as you will see.
Let's contemplate them in the bar
Drinking, caught up in disputation
Before they made their reputation
One moment, as they really are,
First Brother Martin, quaffing ale
Lays out his views on simony
And how he'd like the church to be
Works before faith, the Holy Grail.
"The night is cold, the moon shines bright,
It's such hard work to set things right."

The Danish prince says "It's so odd,
As Pico says, that man's between
Angel and beast, as we have seen,
In apprehension, like a god."
Faust laughs and sighs, he'd wish that true
He buys another round, his dream
Is not of fame, as it might seem
But knowledge, to have power to do.
Quoting Agrippa, Frankenstein
Says "We alone have power of life!"
Martin says "Only with a wife,"
But Hamlet laughs "We're all divine! "
The fifth man yawns, gets up to go,
"Good night," they say, "Horatio."

(No, really, canonically, they were all there! In Wittenburg! And I am sure Hamlet must have read Pico's Oration. Since Luther's the only one who's historically real, this incident when they walked into a bar takes place in a notional 1508.) This poem sponsored by my wonderful patrons on Patreon, who are funding my book-buying habit.

7th February 2017

8:16pm: Grendel Again
Inside they're pounding on the table
Throwing down hornfulls of mead.
Boasting of exploits, of who can succeed
Who's bravest and best, most able.
And the ring of the gold on their arms
Drowns out the sound of wind in the rafter
And the memory of what comes after.
The skald sings of witches and charms.
But gold and glory are children's toys.
There is no magic to turn back death.
They drink and sing while they still have breath,
Light torches, bellow, and raise their noise.
Out in green marshlight, the willow and osier
Bend to the wind as the monsters come closer.

Sponsored by my patrons on Patreon, to whom I am increasingly grateful.

1st February 2017

4:42pm: Jon Singer Now Has a Patreon
While on the Cosine trip, I helped Jon set up a Patreon to help support him in his endeavours. It went live about a week ago, and he already has 42 patrons and over $500 a month -- this is going to make a substantial difference. If you can kick in something towards Jon's awesomeness, every little helps, and there are some really fun reward tiers. Feel free to share this!


31st January 2017

8:52am: Make Earth Great Again
So this is a poem I wrote on Twitter, with the horrible constraint of 140 characters per stanza, and worse, not being able to go back and edit. (Don't do this. Write it in Protext and copy it into Twitter, if you have to. What was I thinking?) What I was thinking was the impulse of response, combined with having the beginning come to me. I spend a lot of time combatting the Romantic image of poetry. I admit I do it as an exercise, I seldom admit I do it because I can't stop myself. But sometimes, stopping myself can be very hard. Nevertheless, revision is valuable, and so is having time to think. This is revised and a little rethought, and improved by taking the trouble. Also with more punctuation and with "and" instead of the & Twitter forced me to use.

The impulse was that I'd tweeted a link to the Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, with the note "just in case". And somebody said "But how can we get there?"

If they built an ark they wouldn't take me
I'm old and fat with a disability
And menopause, it's just too late
So I'll stay and make Earth great.

You know, like Earth was great before
In the Great Depression & the Great World War
Before the world turned soft & kind
And left all that behind.

When men were men and whites were white
And justice wept and might made right
And all went on as it did before,
Like 1984.

With real people on real Earth
Those just like me who know our worth
And real people aren't trans or bi
Or funny colors and I know why.

If I had to own those folk were real
I'd have to care and I'd have to feel
I'd use respect and empathy
And have less left for me.

Is a woman real without a dick?
Is a gay, a Muslim, is someone sick?
If you have to grant that they're people too
Does the world have space for you?

Of course we know that the answer's yes
But asking caused this hideous mess
But if we keep on shovelling shit
There's a pony under it.

We can make Earth great without that fear
Look round, accept that we're all real here
Respect is not a zero sum
And empathy never dumb.

And Earth's great now, and I love the place
And someday soon we can get to space
And though I'm white and poor and cold
It's better now than in days of old

The more of us work to set things right
Bright candles burning against the night
Unlike, together, a paradox
And hope, the last thing in every box.

Sponsored by my incredible patrons on Patreon, who are so awesome they pay me to do what I was doing anyway for free, like a model of a better future only right now and real.

26th January 2017

11:40am: Looking Out the Window Haikus
These were all written on the train between Denver and Chicago yesterday, as I looked out of the window, and posted individually on Twitter all day from when we left Denver at 9am until it got dark. I wouldn't charge anyone for one haiku, but... well... there are a bunch, and sponsored by my patrons at Patreon. Here they are as a set.

Ice slicks the puddles
Bare earth lies golden and black
Snow lurks in shadow.

Snowclad, the Rockies
Look painted on the backdrop
A scenery flat.

Canada geese strut
Past car-corpses half-buried
In dead grass and snow.

It's very soothing
Catching the landscape in words
Late in Nebraska.

Frosted reeds curve down
Over the tawny grasses
Like spun filigree.

Distance stretches flat
This is the land of wide sky
Clouds streak winter sun.

They say there's nothing
But I can't take my eyes off
Flat land, immense sky.

Clouds skimming eastwards
You can see weather coming
It's not metaphor!

Flanking the highway
Jetsam: Gas, food, motels, signs
Glimpsed: East, West, Wrong Way.

We're thirteen hours late
I got up at 4am...
Trains make me happy.

Black cows graze gold fields
In calm sun, but a cloud looms:
Snow comes and slaughter.

In summer it's corn
As far as the eye can see
Now empty, waiting.

Thin sifting of snow
Drifting, highlighting outlines
And the sky turned grey.

I was so happy
Looking out of the window
Why did I read news?

America is
So beautiful, you guys but --
Wait, is this safe now?

As the world goes on
The shadows stretching to night
The sun turns away.

Ah, dusk. The last rays
Refracted through atmosphere
Winter gold turned red.

11th January 2017

6:55pm: My CoSine Schedule
Next weekend, 21st-23rd January, I'll be in Colorado Springs, where I am Writer Guest of Honour at CoSine. Fan GoH is Jon Singer, and I think it will be a really fun convention. If you're not too far away, do consider coming!

This is my schedule:

3-4 pm Poetry Reading, Bring Yours to Share (Breckenridge)
5-6 pm Heinlein’s influence – the YA market then and now (Breckenridge)

10-11am GOH Interview with Jo Walton (Rampart)
Noon-1pm Coffee, Tea, or Poison – The creation and use of food, allergies, and stimulants in SF (Rampart)
2-3 pm Rewriting Myths and Fairy Tales (Breckenridge)
3-4 pm Pulling Time Apart – Time travel, Alternate Histories, and Alternate Universes (Rampart)
5:15 – 7pm Author Reception and Mass Signing (Ballroom)

10-11am How much does that Star Cruiser cost – fictional economics (Breckenridge)
2-3 pm You Don’t Have to be Dead: Accumulating and Dispersing Books and Other Collections (Rampart)
3-4 pm Closing Ceremonies (Rampart)

9th January 2017

12:28pm: Footfall
Sprawling relaxed, asleep,
On his ebony bed adorned with coral eagles,
Comfortable in the vigour of his flesh,
The prime of his youth,
Callous, unheeding, imperial,
On sleeps Nero.

But out in the marble hallway
The lares, the little household gods
Of his ancestors, the Aenobarbi,
Stand shuffling in their shrine,
Uneasy, trembling.
They have heard that dreaded sound
The din of doom ascending,
The tramp of iron shaking the stairs.
Then one moves, and the next,
Scurrying to the back of their shrine
Pushing and tripping, falling over each other,
All the lares, the tiny gods,
Trying to hide as best they can.

They have learned the footfall of the Furies.

(This is a translation of a 1909 poem by C.P. Cavafy.)

6th January 2017

1:09pm: Work is going well: a pantoum
Work is going well.
On a happy morning filled with pears,
a mysterious gift, and sunlight,
and words bubbling up.

On a happy morning filled with pears
You want to feel delight unconstrained
and new words bubbling up:
something casts a shadow.

You want to feel delight unconstrained
by knowing the future.
Something casts a shadow...
Intimations of the possible.

By knowing the future,
a mysterious gift, and sunlight,
intimations of the possible --
work is going well.

This is a formal pantoum, a very weird form. The pears are not all that mysterious a gift, except in their profusion, Ada's household sent them to us, and they arrived via a delighted FedEx deliverer. She clearly enjoyed taking people unexpected boxes of pears. And then as I was thanking Ada in chat, she used the expression "a happy morning filled with pears" which seemed worth commemorating. Also, I am starting a new thing. This poem sponsored by my formal form loving patrons on Patreon, encouraging me to do what I would do anyway and making me feel appreciated.

4th January 2017

4:09pm: A thing I keep noticing
For just a few minutes
On winter afternoons both clear and bright
The sun
Just before it slopes off into night
Pours into this room from below
And fills it like a bowl of golden light.

(Sponsored by my awesome and much appreciated patrons on Patreon, where I also have a new profile picture for the new year.)

25th December 2016

8:04am: A Trump Christmas Carol
So I didn't mean to post that poem in the last post, I thought of it as I was thinking about writing this post.

Laurie Penny, who is awesome, had the great idea of writing a version of A Christmas Carol where Trump gets visited by people of artists who died in 2016. And she and John Scalzi and Roz Kaveney wrote bits of it, and then Laurie asked me to join in, and I did, using Bill Higgins's excellent thought of artists who were born in 2016. And I wrote a poem which is part of it (and which really is not the Christmas poem you were looking for!) and the whole thing is up on Uncanny Magazine as a holiday special, despite the fact that we only thought of it on Thursday and didn't get it finished until last night.

7:58am: Not the Christmas Poem You Were Looking For
This is not the Christmas poem I was looking for
I wanted to have candles and a tree
A light against the darkness to be shelter from the storm
A place that would be safe for you and me.

I've got the presents wrapped, and I have special food to eat
I'm singing carols fit to beat the band
I've put my baby Jesus with the pandas round the crib,
And my head down with the ostrich in the sand.

It isn't like the world was ever perfect
There's always been a weight of work to do
But sometimes there's a burden that falls heavy on us all
So it's hard to celebrate as though it's true.

More nukes, more pussy, more corruption, threats against my friends
The fear that comes on cat-feet through the dark
Of do I dare, and should I risk, be careful now, again
Let's fight to keep alight the little spark.

When all the world is shaken by a storm out of the south
When Herod is elected to the throne
Ask what would Jesus do to overturn the tables now
And act for justice even on your own.

And even on this Christmas morning there is still the light
There's beauty, snow, and trees, sun shines above,
So we dance across the cracks and open presents merrily
And stand as best we can for hope and love.

(Sponsored by my wonderful and much appreciated patrons at Patreon.)

19th December 2016

10:15am: Moments
Poised in that moment when the light and dark stand balanced
On the crux of the year, on the turn of the way,
When the laminated water at the edge of the ice
Catches fire for a moment on the cusp of the day.

All the changing moments of the beauty of the Earth
And our sister planets turning on the spindle of our sun
The glory of the universe, held balanced on a breath,
As we see it in the moment, and as on the moments run.

Time that built us stands behind us, time the future stands before
In the moment stand the mountain and the sky.
And the meaning of the moment is to recognise the glory
Deserving in perception of the moment, if no more,
In the only moment ever we can act and change and try,
We can be the best we can, and tell the story.

(I saw the picture and had to write the poem. Sponsored by my Patrons on Patreon, who are wonderful.)

14th December 2016

8:36pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 1612
Total words: 95360
Files: 5
Music: Power up music
Tea: Pu Erh with ginseng, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for dinner, and now exhausted and going to bed early

So I cut some, and wrote a new bit, and expanded the alien bit I wrote the other day, and I now think it doesn't need any more new bits, it just needs a solid consistency revision. I have revised the first three chapters (they're long chapters, and there are thirteen of them) and will continue from there tomorrow.

I really will have this done by the end of the week. Go me.

13th December 2016

8:50pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 3741
Total words: 93748
Files: 5
Music: Power up music, several times
Tea: Blue People, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for dinner, and now done


It's not totally finished, the last alien bit needs serious expansion, and the whole thing needs a consistency revision, which I will start tomorrow, but I just wrote "and they all lived happily ever after".

12th December 2016

9:24pm: Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 5517
Total words: 90007
Files: 5 (names file)
Music: Power up, nothing since
Tea: Pu erh with ginseng, elderflower and lemon
Reason for stopping: stopped for lunch, dinner, now bedtime

My plan is to finish this book this week. This is a clear week, nobody here, not going anywhere, no looming obligations, I can do this, and here I am doing it.

Some of that today was salvage from a failed draft I wrote sometime in between when I last posted a thud and today, the rest was new. Probably about 4500 new words, three chapterlets, and the salvaged bit was reworked pretty thoroughly too.

Probably a little more than this much to go again to the end.

9th December 2016

12:36pm: Sapphic
"Men will talk of us in time to come..." Sappho fragment

Men will talk of us in time to come
And they will say "What do they do anyway?"
And "I think she was bi!" and
"How did she scan that?"

1st December 2016

8:15am: Fifty-two today
And it's been a very mixed year. Personally great in many ways, but the world has been through rather a lot. The question of My Real Children about living a good life in a bad world or the opposite is one that does occur to me uncomfortably sometimes.

Places I visited for the first time when I was fifty-one:

Walnut Creek, California
Orleans, France
St Malo, France
Fiesole, Italy
Indianapolis, Indiana
Kansas City, Missouri
Oka, Quebec

28th November 2016

9:27am: To a friend planting bulbs today
We grew up with a sense of certain doom
Tomorrow would come nuclear and bright
To end the world and plunge us into night
And blow us all to hell without a tomb.

And then it didn't. Suddenly, there's room
To live and grow and hope and love the light
This unexpected future where we might
Plant bulbs and hope to see them when they bloom.

New futures bring new fears, so now today
Worlds may go on and still find ways to end.
In darkest times not everything is grey.

The spring will come, we have a world to mend,
Hold on through this, and find a better way.
Our future is worth fighting to defend.

(This friend is my age, and she said in her LJ that half of her thinks the world will end in January, but the other half is planting bulbs. I think many people who were adult before 1989 lived with this one apocalyptic vision of nuclear war. I've had this great sense since 1990 of getting away with something, to be alive in this time.)

22nd November 2016

6:08pm: O City, City
Warm little cafes full of cake and tea,
Subtitled movies showing every hour,
A stranger on the metro with a flower,
Museums, bookstores, and the library.

Two dozen new cuisines for you to share,
Fringe theatres, and art, and symphonies,
Botanic gardens like bouquets of trees,
And transit that will take you everywhere.

Old architecture, grand, or cute, or pretty.
The markets, where the food is farmer fresh,
The baker, and the butcher, and the creche,
The diverse people making up the city.

Here things are made, and shared, and learned, and read:
All real as the pillow on your bed.

(This is Montreal. Your city may vary. Contents may settle in transit. But the people are all real.)
1:29pm: Routine Morning
She wakes the kids and fills the cereal bowl
Helps them to dress, locates an errant sock,
Glugs coffee down, with one eye on the clock:
Just like a real person with a soul.
Feeding the cat, she sees it start to rain.
The kids come clattering in, pour milk, and say
That science project was due yesterday,
The new coat's really dry but much too plain.
She hugs her wife and kids, then in the street
Cars swish on past, a man yells from one "You!"
Then "kike!" or "dyke", and leaves it incomplete.
Squelching to work, a hole in her left shoe:
An other, in the city, the elite --
A real person, hurting, just like you.

10th November 2016

12:58pm: Always a strange world: How I feel when people reference Farthing
Generally if something in the world causes somebody to think of something I have written, it's delightful. It means I've succeeded in encapsulating something, in finding a way of describing something that's useful to somebody. Something I've written has helped the world make more sense.

I remember when I was a teenager and somebody I didn't care for was in love with me while I was in love with somebody who was in love with somebody else. This reminded me of something at the time, and I realised it was Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and sat down and I re-read it and cheered myself up instead of continuing to be miserable. (Some people call this "escapism". They're idiots.) I eventually got over being in love with that person. (I wonder where he is now, and whether he remembers I exist? Probably not actually. I hope he's happy. It's so weird to think he's my age, when he'll always be sixteen and golden in my head.) I got over it, as I said, and the person who was briefly in love with me (hi if you're reading!) got over it even more quickly, but I still think the description of that dilemma in I Capture the Castle is absolutely spot on. And I still have the book and I still read it. So if my writing does that recognition thing with something, anything, for somebody, it feels great.


This summer, my French editor emailed me to say that the Small Change books were referenced in Le Parisien and Aujourd'hui -- major French papers. And what they were saying was that these books were essential and unmissable if you wanted to understand Brexit. If you wanted to understand how Britain could be insular and inturned and petty and racism and fascist. I soon heard that German papers were saying the same thing.

And now I am seeing people saying that the situation with Trump being elected is reminding them of Farthing.

It's good, really, to have given people a way to think about something. We learn through stories, and fiction can often really help because it is shaped and simplified and given emotional context in the way history often isn't. And alternate history can be particularly great for teaching historical lessons, because we already know what really happened, and in alternate history events can come around a corner and surprise you. So it's good... but...

I just wish that thing wasn't fascism.

If there's any book I wrote that I wish was obsolete and that people would never be reminded of in any real world context, it's Farthing. "Gosh, that's dated," I wish people would say about it. It wasn't supposed to be a prediction. It wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual. (The actual specifics of the post-Brexit shuffle and May etc really are scarily like what I have in the book.)

People who don't read Science Fiction imagine that it predicts the future. People who read it know that it doesn't, that while Octavia Butler might have predicted a demogogue with the slogan "Make America Great Again" as part of a dystopic background, but that doesn't mean we're living in the world of Parable of the Sower. What SF actually does for its readers is let them know that the future won't be the same as the present. It doesn't prepare you for one future, it prepares you by giving you multiple futures for the unexpected weirdness that lies ahead and will be the one and only real now by the time we're living in it. It's a strange world. But it's always a strange world. And we don't know the future, and nobody ever did, but we know it won't be the same as now or the way we imagine.

Just as SF extends trends in the present, so things in the real now do recall for us things in SF, like Butler's slogan. Post-Brexit, an MEP from Luzemburg proposed that EU citizenship could be given to individual British people who didn't want to give that up. And as well as thinking "Please, please, please..." I thought that this was like a step towards the Hive system in Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning where a very different EU is part of the power system in the future and where citizenship in anything is by opting in.

We're never going to get that exact world with its flying cars and religious censorship, no more than we have Heinlein's Martians or Cherryh's spacestations. But just as I was prepared for iphones by a Heinlein character leaving his switched off in his bag so his mom couldn't call and a Brunner character using the map on his until it goes dead, bunches of things I'm reading in today's SF will be doing the same thing for me tomorrow.

But not fascism, OK?

I guess that means I'm past grief and denial and into bargaining.

On a more cheerful note. Fiction can teach us wrong lessons. One of the things we see in fiction is evil being much more competent and efficient than it ever is in reality. Some people think evil isn't real. It is. Auden, writing in 1936, said:
"Maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now.
Nanking. Dachau."
and he didn't know the half of it with Dachau, but it broke my heart reading that in 1981 and realising that he even knew half of it. One of the things I wanted to do with the Small Change books is look at the real evil there and answer the question of how people came to do it, people, not monsters. How do good people do evil things? It's so difficult to understand. How did actual women hear Trump saying "grab them by the pussy" and still move their actual hands on a ballot paper to vote for him?

I have been fortunate in not knowing all that many evil people, so I tend to base a lot of them on my mother. Some people never knew any evil people at all and so they can't write about them. McCaffrey would be an example. And the evil dark lords in some fantasy novels are laughable. You know what, it's amazingly wonderful that we live in a world where some people can believe that. Go them. I'd like to spread that privilege Anne McCaffrey enjoyed more widely, not take it away from her. But right now. Well. Onward and upward.

In Farthing, I gave Lucy's evil mother a really efficient and sane secretary who loved her, to keep her pointing in the right direction, as my own evil mother never did. In Among Others where the mother is a lot closer to my actual mother, I had Mori quote Tokien "Oft evil will doth evil mar" and said you can't count on it, but it does often happen. If you learn from books how evil is omnicomptent that's because it makes for better shaped stories. In reality Tolkien was totally right about evil will screwing itself up a lot of the time. Evil isn't any more competent than we are, and often less so because of a greater tendency to shoot itself in the foot or betray long term for short term gains. It can be defeated. And the good people doing evil things, sometimes they need to hear that this isn't the end and they still have souls and there is a way from here to there.

There is a tendency also found in fiction to embrace despair and cynicism because it's easier, what I called in yesterday's poem "the soft temptations of despair". People like the tragic ends of Farthing and Ha'Penny more than (spoilers!) the positive end of Half a Crown maybe because I didn't do it as well, and maybe I didn't because I was going uphill against the weight of narrative expectation and that's hard. But it's how fascism ended in Spain, King Juan Carlos did just what I had the Queen do in the book.

So if Farthing is helping you understand Brexit, or Trump, or Fascism, good, and I'm so sorry you need to. And it's in print, and the sequels are, in the US and the UK and France and Germany*, if you wanted to give it to people who it might help. It could make a great Christmas present for your challenging relatives, especially as it looks relatively innocuous. It's a mystery novel. An alternate history mystery. Not any kind of propaganda. And Ha'Penny won the Prometheus award. In my acceptance speech I said "I'm a cheerful positive kind of person. That's why I wrote these books."

(* It has also been published in Japanese, Spanish and Hungarian, but I don't know the in print status or availability in those languages.)

9th November 2016

2:37pm: 9th November 2016
The sky, and books, and those we love,
And if they crash down from above
With climate change, and censorship,
And jackboots drag them from our grip...

No easy comfort is there now?
When half of "us" are "them" somehow
And wanted this, at least to fuck
The world in rage and fear. Tough luck.

The tiny victories we mark
So slowly out of justice's arc
Lie trampled, as imperfect falls
To petty evil, how that galls.

But trampled weeds spring up again
And hope peeps out amid the pain
And whispers time will surely see
These things will pass: but so will we.

I'm getting old, four years is quite
A chunk of time to live despite,
And such a loss! And have we got
To keep on trying? And for what?

The future rests on people who
Won't even try to make it true...
Why give a damn? Why should I care?
The soft temptations of despair.

But actually we haven't lost.
A setback, yes, a real cost
But Sauron hasn't got the ring
It's not "the end" of anything

We go on now from here, today
And every day, and really "they"
Aren't orcs and trolls but people who
Can choose and change like me and you.

And we can reach each other, touch,
And work on what there is, as much
As we can, human, fragile, reach
Comfort each other, make, learn, teach.

(You know what, my patrons on Patreon are so awesome that they sponsored this poem. And that in itself helps me believe people are essentially worthwhile.)
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