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1st December 2016
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
St Malo, France
Kansas City, Missouri
28th November 2016
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
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.)
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
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.
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.
, 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
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
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.)
30th October 2016
Canadian SF at Harvard
I'm giving a talk tomorrow at Harvard on Canadian SF and Fantasy, as part of their Canada seminar series. It's 4-6pm tomorrow, at the Knafel building. More information : here
. It's free and open to the public, so if you're around and interested, do come.
23rd October 2016
Joy of Reading
From : Fox in Socks
to Keats, the words delight
And tangle tongues to joy, a farrago
Of syllables and sound like leaves that blow
To settle in great heaps, red, gold, and bright.
And reading is enchantment, as we grow
We sink into a story every night
Holding our breath in hopes all will come right
And enter in a place that's known, and know.
The magic of reading eludes the empirical
But there we are caring, the everyday miracle
That rises from pages, and words plain or lyrical
That make us partake of some people, a place
That never existed, in time or in space
But move us to laughter, to tears, to grace.
(Thanks to my Patrons at Patreon
who generously sponsor me for what I'd be doing for free anyway because they are awesome like that.)
20th October 2016
Jardin Botanique, 15th October 2016
Her arms are to the sky :
her feet are in the dust
she is draped in careless drops of gold
(some down already, swirl around her)
the rain is coming
and wind is coming
and night is coming
and winter is coming
she is reaching
gold leaves against deepening blue
a tracery of branches, reaching,
the huge harvest moon
low in the sky
catches a moment,
hangs heavy in her net
through sudden burn of tears.
(Supported by my wonderful Patrons at Patreon
12th October 2016
"Cold, impossible, ahead"
How did we wind up here? :
How when we left
so hopeful from the trailhead down below,
with all our sights set high
when all the peaks were shining up ahead?
But yet each turn
which each seemed at the time the best to take
and each false start, best guess, and compromise,
led winding through a trackless mire to this
this moment quaking on this precipice
with everything uncertain.
too tiny to make out
our starting point
and beckoning above
the peaks we longed to scale,
still lovely, still a dream, still out of reach.
So here we are at last
alone and cold
and after all this waste of youth and time
and this is all we have,
this moment, now,
bowed down beneath a solitary sky.
But calling this the end is to despair,
and to embrace defeat and bitterness.
No, this is where we start from,
here and now,
bogged down in this morass
and on this edge.
We can go on, and must,
sideways and up
on, step by step,
tired out, bearing our loads,
and trudging on our long and weary way
as slowly up and slowly on we go.
(The title is from Auden's "Now the leaves are falling fast". Sponsored by my wonderful patrons at Patreon
. This poem, in addition to being written by me, is written by a character in a novel I thought of this morning and may one day write called Bright Moment
9th October 2016
Because you need your sleep... A very short love poem
I'll draw the curtains tight across so Dawn :
Creeping across the sky, some hours from now,
Won't peep her rosy fingers through a crack
To see you sprawled out sleeping softly there
And fall in love with you, and wake you up.
5th October 2016
Death Just Sucks
There is no way to win, no best to make, :
No comfort shining in the midst of loss
No matter what we dot or what we cross
Or short term realise, we lose our stake.
There's nothing fair, there is no even break,
We diet, exercise, we even floss,
We love our lives and live, but death will toss
To win it all again, and take and take.
So all of us inevitably die,
I hate it, but it keeps on being true.
We can't make bets or bargains, or know why.
Death comes to us, and die we must, and do.
Let's face it, there will come a day that I
Go down into that darkness. Also you.
27th September 2016
Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 1035 :
Total words: 84490
Tea: Jin Die with ginseng
Music: Startup music, then nothing
Reason for stopping: end of bit
This is the beginning of the last chapter. It will be a long chapter, probably 10,000 words, and there is a lot to go in it. I haven't been able to work on it for ages either because I have been too busy or because it was too hot when I was home. But here we go, moving again, and I should be able to jog on to the end now.
14th September 2016
Come Get Me, Fairies
Come get me, fairies, come and get me soon :
And take me off with you, I want to go
To magic lands beyond the fields we know
The land of hope, to fairyland, Annwn,
There's nothing here that's worth my love and life
My friends make fun of me, they have since school
"You still believe in fairies? How uncool!"
Just pettiness and boredom, pain and strife.
But just like Puddleglum, I will believe
Lions and suns are better, I want more
Than broken dreams and hearts, I want to leave.
My house is green, the windows, walls and door,
This world is cold and hollow, and I grieve.
Come get me fairies, like you did before.
(Another possible explanation of the green house in Narberth. Both these poems sponsored by my excellent patrons at Patreon
13th September 2016
The Debunking Website of the Person Who Lives in a Green House in Narbeth
It's all a hoax, it's lies and fairytales :
The photos are all faked, as you can tell
If you look close at shadows, and as well
Depopulation never struck across all Wales.
I live in Narbeth, and my house is green!
The only one there is, because I know
They're lying to us dupes, and all they show
Is faked up nonsense -- there's no fairy queen.
Come on, wise up, it never happened, hey?
I know they tell you bad things will befall
But I'm still here, to prove the truth I say.
There was no magic horse, no year-long ball,
No empty land, no mice, no secret way --
They never went to fairyland at all!
So the background to this is the Mabinogion story of Manawydan the son of Llyr, in which the heroes sit on a hill in Narbeth and everyone else in Wales disappears to fairyland, and (I'm leaving things out) the four of them have various adventures getting them back, which all concludes with an agreement that the fairies will never do it again as long as people don't paint their houses green -- and by and large, in West Wales, people don't. But I was in Narbeth today, and there's this one green house, and I was wondering about who lived there, and I realised it must be a fairy denialist.
31st August 2016
Watching the Dance
Over the wormhole, see them play :
Thistledown ships that drift away
Take your places, whirl and dart,
Kiss and touch and then depart.
Shipping out on the early runs
To distant worlds round distant suns
Skipping, skimming, out and in,
With matchless verve let the dance begin!
Dancing ships at the wormhole's bight
Light as leaf and fast as light
One instant poised, then gone so far
To the very edge of where humans are.
Catching their moment, never late,
While we, on station, staidly wait,
Timing the frolic, keeping neat,
Scheduling every ship, each beat.
Salute your partners! Flick and fly!
We count you off as you pass us by,
Appointing your motions, fast and slow,
Under changeless stars, as we watch you go.
(Thanks to my awesome patrons on Patreon
28th August 2016
Nonsense Poem 3
When you rhyme "handkerchief" with "mantlepiece" :
It's just a way of showing that you know
Not rhyme but scansion, that you have the lease
On how words fit to rhythms, fast and slow,
And that responsible can never rhyme
Though bee's lip sips apocalypse for free
And June moon dune's due soon -- ah, all the time,
Since Odin first drew words down from the tree.
But I dream of a time when I know what to say
Sensing a feeling I want to get right
To what neat ends we lend ourselves this way
And poetry's simpler than sleeping tonight.
Words leap like dolphins, phosphorescent flash,
And sink back to the dark without a splash.
(It's a good thing I have a whimsy section on my poetry page, that's all I'm saying. I got out of the bath to write this down! Brought to you by my long suffering Patrons on Patreon
27th August 2016
The reeds beside the water whisper still :
Old secrets long entrusted, Midas's ears
And Caesar's wife, the wind that hears
Bears sussurus away and always will.
Tall reeds that bend, that fall before a knife,
What secrets do you know and still keep well?
Your whispering heads are bent and will not tell
What you could say that still might touch on life.
Oh reeds, in green, and brown, and summer gold,
New secrets learn from me, new words to rhyme,
Whisper to winds the tales thus far untold
By reeds or people, rocketships that climb
And long-lived lives, and answers that unfold,
Among the hopes and dreams of future time.
(This one wasn't going to be a sonnet, and then it was. You know, some people are very interested in the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I am too.)
Brought to you by my excellent Patrons at Patreon
, and so was yesterday's even if I forgot to say so.
26th August 2016
How Do I Know You?
(A love sonnet from the universe of : Poor Relations
How do I know you, in these shifting days
When fashions pass like clouds across your face
When you look different in the myriad ways,
That you have chosen to enhance your grace?
From day to day you choose what you present,
And choose again, and change and shift and grow
But what you choose is simply accident,
I see essential you, and always know.
I know you through all protocols you change
Your face, your hair, your gender, and your skin,
Because your central self retains your smile,
Your changing details reinforce your range,
Though aliens attack and war begin,
I know and recognize you all the while.
8th August 2016
My Worldcon Schedule
: Kansas City's Favorite Son: Robert A Heinlein
Wednesday 14:00 - 15:00, 2204 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Let's take a look at the life (and career) of Robert A. Heinlein, Kansas City's favorite science fiction author. He grew up in Kansas City, and that history had an impact on his writing. Are some well-known characters, such as Lazarus Long and Maureen Johnson Smith, more autobiographical than others?
Bradford Lyau (M), Jo Walton
Look, a Heinlein panel. With me on it!Kaffeeklatsch
Wednesday 16:00 - 17:00, 2211 (KKs) (Kansas City Convention Center)
Jo Walton, Mike ResnickMars Needs Poets
Thursday 11:00 - 12:00, 2205 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Let's talk science fiction and fantasy poetry! Where can you find it? Who's writing it? What pieces do we love? And how is science fiction changing the landscape of modern poetry?
Jim Davidson (M), Mary Soon Lee, Rose Lemberg, Frederick Turner, Dr. Mary A. Turzillo Ph.D., Jo Walton
Is modern poetry paying any attention to us? News to me if so.SF as Protest Literature
Thursday 16:00 - 17:00, 2502A (Kansas City Convention Center)
Science fiction has a history of political and sociological undertones. The genre is the starting point for dystopian fiction, among other forms of politically engaged fiction. How has SF become the literature of protest? What are examples of historical SF protest books and who is currently writing SF literature that protests (religion, gender inequality, gender identity, technology, politics, capitalism, etc.)?
Bradford Lyau, Mark Oshiro, Jo Walton, Alex Jablokow (M), Ann Leckie
This should be fun.Reading: Jo Walton
Thursday 19:00 - 20:00, 2203 (Readings) (Kansas City Convention Center)
I will be reading from Poor Relations. Also, as they've given me an hour, I will read some poetry, and take requests.History of the Book
Friday 12:00 - 13:00, 2206 (Kansas City Convention Center)
From Cuneiform tablets to papyrus and parchment to paper, from the scroll to the codex to the hand-written and hand-bound book, to the Gutenberg Press and the e-book. Let us take a journey through time and technology.
Ada Palmer (M), Jo Walton, Lauren Schiller
You should see Ada's collection of original books suitable to hand around the room -- and if you come, you can!Short Fiction of the 1980s
Friday 14:00 - 15:00, 2210 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Our panel discuss some of the short fiction of the 1980s, and its influence on their writing or editing. What authors rose to prominence, and how did they affect the genre? What responses did these provoke in our panel, and how did they work with, and against some of the prevailing science fiction ideas of the time?
Gordon Van Gelder (M), Michael Swanwick, John Kessel, Ellen Datlow, Jo Walton
I guess I'm on this as the consumer where the others are the producers. Well, that's all right by me.Nifty Narrative Tricks
Friday 16:00 - 17:00, 2502A (Kansas City Convention Center)
Authors share some of their tricks for drawing the reader in, imparting knowledge, and making sure they write a compelling and engaging story.
James Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jo Walton, Elizabeth Bear (M), Steven Gould
This topic is usually greatPrometheus Awards
Saturday 14:00 - 15:00, 2205 (Kansas City Convention Center)
Awards given annually by the Libertarian Futurist Society.
Fran Van Cleave (M), Jo WaltonAutographing
: Jeanette Epps, Sheila Finch, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stan Love, Bogi Takács, Jo Walton
Saturday 16:00 - 17:00, Autographing Space (Kansas City Convention Center)
Jeanette Epps, Stan Love, Sheila Finch, Mary Robinette Kowal, Bogi Takács, Jo Walton
Come and get your books signed
There are no lasting victories, for time :
Goes on and builds each course on time before
Best case, advancement comes with each new floor
All gains get covered up as on we climb.
And Entropy is real and full of power
Our hard-won victories can slip away
Subside back to the unforgiving clay
Where once we raised the stories of our tower.
Through fire and destruction, bombs and ill
Through loss and pain and ruin and regret
Build on as best we can, each brick we set,
Each little victory that time will kill.
And winning now can count, despite war, sack,
Although Rome fell we got the muses back.
2nd August 2016
Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 4581 :
Total words: 82211
Music: No music
Tea: Jin Die with ginseng
Reason for stopping: Finished chapter, time for a break
I also reworked the stuff I wrote yesterday. So that's chapter 11 done, only chapter 12 and an alien epilogue to go.
Next time I have the chance to have another day like this, I should finish the book, though it will also need a solid day or two of fiddling once I have a through draft. But I'm close.
May get some more done in the morning, but I am heading off for GenCon tomorrow afternoon.
Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 1993 :
Total words: 77630
Music: no music
Tea: Blue people ginseng oolong, and then white orchard
Reason for stopping: doing things with people
This was yesterday, just under 2000 words of chapter 11, still needing reworking which I plan to do right now.
If you read: "They didn't look anything like aliens in a higa hololoid, why, they didn't even have tentacles!" would the two made up words of "higa hololoid" be relatively transparent to you?
1st August 2016
The Just City free e-book giveway on Tor.com
: The Just City
is being given away free as an e-book for the next week (1st to 7th) on Tor.com, because it is their book club book for August. There will also be some book club stuff about it going on all month, including three new posts by me about the inspiration for the series.
25th July 2016
Thud: Poor Relations
Words: 3180 :
Total words: 75638
Music: No music
Tea: White Orchard
Reason for stopping: too hot
As soon as the temperature drops I am writing, but it is very hot right now, so I'm not getting much done.
I have written one alien bit, expanded the last bit, and gone through and put in mentions of the system of government.
An interesting thing I thought when I was doing the latter -- you could read any number of mainstream books and you wouldn't learn much about how the system of government works.
There's A Suitable Boy
and Phineas Finn
and House of Cards
and any number of political thrillers, but really in most mainstream books if you didn't already know you couldn't work it out. You might find out there's a president and senators, or a prime minister and MPs, but you equally well might not, and even if you did you wouldn't know who elected them or how elections worked. SF is usually better about it.
Also, the Poor Relations
synopsis: Some newcomers come to a small village and cause social ripples. And then there's an alien invasion.
But I realised after I posted that on Twitter that it gives an inaccurate impression that it's a historical small village, not a small village on Mars.
Two chapters and 2 alien bits to go, and I've been working all day and feel like I'm still in the same place.