VIDEO: Uncanny Duel with Max Gladstone

We bit our thumbs. We bit them at each other. We put up our swords, and today, we put up also our videos.

Some months ago during Uncanny Magazine‘s Year Two Kickstarter, Max Gladstone and I pledged to make duelling silly videos. There was a possibility of involving Shakespeare. But this idea sort of grew in the telling and culminated in me challenging Max to an actual duel with swords during World Fantasy over a Delicate Personal Matter,  and consequently — well, you’ll have to watch and see. (Do make sure to read the credits, they’re delightful.)

But fun as it was, I confess to actually loving the gag reel even more. Marvel at Gladstone’s Uncanny Editing Skills!

This was absolutely the highlight of WFC 2015 for me. Enjoy! And do subscribe to Uncanny!


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NPR Review – LUNGDON by Edward Carey

First there was Heap House. Then there was Foulsham. Now the final volume of Edward Carey’s exceptional Iremonger trilogy has been released, and I’ve reviewed it for NPR Books.

9781468309553_custom-794c62e4aa5b1891ab1e92ee4b8fb46519626776-s400-c85Lungdon is relentless. Peril piles on peril, points of view tilt and whirl, and the whole would be dizzying were it not anchored in familiar characters and their splendid voices — not to mention Carey’s wonderful drawings, which sometimes introduce or illuminate a chapter. Lungdon is that rare thing, the final volume in a trilogy that sticks its landing, ambitiously swelling the cast of characters and story beats before tying the action off as neatly as twist ties on a garbage bag.

Reading the final volume made me want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. I think my favourite of the three is still Heap House, but I genuinely can’t recommend the whole enough.


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WFC 2015 – Revisiting

Cask of Amontillado Party!

Photo by Stephen Segal, November 2007

In 2007, I took my first solo road trip: a five-hour jaunt from Ottawa to Saratoga Springs, there to attend the World Fantasy Convention and room with people I only knew from the internet. I was 22, had been publishing Goblin Fruit for a year, was only dimly acquainted with people from LJ, had very little notion of how I ought to behave or who to approach; I was profoundly starry-eyed, about as shy as I’ve ever been around other humans, recently returned from a year of living a very isolated life in the United Arab Emirates, awkward as anything. I left having had a wonderful time, having made friends, met heroes, made friends of heroes.

In 2015, I drove down to Saratoga Springs again, this time with the wonderful Kate Heartfield, and spent a weekend unable to keep up with all the friends in attendance, trying hard to make hugs in hallways count for all the things I wanted to say, all the gratitude I wanted to express.

There are people I met at WFC in 2007 who are now firmly woven into the fabric of my life, people I literally cannot imagine my life without. To return with those people to the same place in which I first met them, to sit in the same tea shops or walk the same lovely stretch of street, to make new memories with them and to be introduced through them to new people — how unbearably, unspeakably beautiful it all is, how wonderful.

A highlights reel: on Thursday I had just enough time to check in before scrambling into the panel I was on, titled “Magic is the essential ingredient of Epic Fantasy… except when it isn’t,” with Max Gladstone, Paul Di Filippo, and Kate Laity.

WFC panel

It went really well, I thought, and the audience was engaged and thoughtful and asked neat questions. And immediately thereafter I met Andrea Phillips, who offered me delicious fudge, and later I became acquainted with Maple 9, a lovely whiskey bar where I sampled a number of delicious scotches in good company.

I spent much of Friday morning and afternoon ensconced in my hotel room working (something I wasn’t alone in doing, dubious-hooray!), becoming increasingly acquainted with The Chair.

But in the evening there was a mass signing event, which was great fun — besides the loveliness of talking to people who want you to sign things for them, there were drinks and a truly impressive bit of catering (tuna tartare! What!). There was an Asimov’s party where I picked up a copy of the upcoming December issue, and a birthday party for Bo Bolander, and just a revolving dazzlement of shiny happy people. Here are some of those people, inexplicably having all chosen a Teal + Mustard colour scheme for the day with no prior planning (not even the two of us who were roommates)!

Mustard Teal Brigade

There were parties every night, and the usual ebb and flow of conversation from Party to FloorCon to LobbyCon and so forth. There were dinners, and lunches, and teas, and breakfasts, and drinks, and readings — I attended Max Gladstone’s reading from a non-Craft Sequence novel (!!!), as well as Tina Connolly and C. S. E. Cooney’s joint reading, all of which were tremendous.

My own reading was at 11:30 on Sunday, but there was some … Business to transact first.

Duelling Max

Photo by Marco Palmieri

For Reasons that will soon be made clear, I challenged Max to a duel. For the outcome, well… You’ll have to wait a little bit longer.

My reading went really well! I read “Pockets,” my story in Uncanny from the beginning of the year, and Scott Edelman was kind enough to record the whole thing.

(If you’d like to listen without watching you can do so in this podcast.)

Shortly thereafter it was time for the World Fantasy Award Ceremony, which the following photos have nothing to do with.

Scary MaxPunched Max

I was overjoyed to learn that this would be the last year that H. P. Lovecraft would be the face of the award, and look forward to seeing what it will be.

Elise PendantsEmerging from the awards ceremony, more than a little dazed by the experience, I found Elise Matthesen and had just enough time for a squeeze and acquaintance with some of her newborn shinies — two of which came home with me. That’s “Owl with Imaginary Moon” on the right, and a pendant in the “Writing” series on the left.

And then home, and I’m still, to my shame, recovering, because apparently that’s how it works now, I need a week to recover from a weekend — except the weekend before was Can-Con, and the week before that was Boston, and the week before that was NYC, so, OK, possibly I have slightly more reason to be exhausted than I’m allowing for, but I’m exhausted and there is so much to catch up on, so I will get back to doing that.

But it was a wonderful convention, and I’m so happy I went.

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NPR Review – WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Travel, travel and yet more travel have delayed my writing a bunch of neat things up — many of which happened while travelling! — but as I play catch-up, here’s a bit from my review of the Welcome to Night Vale novel I totally forgot to post about when it went up!

In Night Vale, people experience several realities at once — and so do I, writing this review with a strange sort of triple vision. On the one hand, I want to speak as a fan of the extraordinarily popular podcast, so beloved that its listeners catapulted the novel into Amazon’s #2 spot seven months before its release; on the other hand I want to explain Night Vale to people who may not have yet encountered it; on the third, vestigial hand I want to look at Welcome to Night Vale as a stand-alone novel, and try to see it from the perspective of someone who isn’t already in love with the recurring characters, locations, and spatio-temporal anomalies of the podcast.

I’ve since learned that there are to be more Night Vale novels, and am pleased to hear it! I got to attend one of their live shows in Glasgow back in September and it was great fun. I’m constantly awed by the achievement of Night Vale as a fan phenomenon (a … fanomenon?), and am still thinking about the ways in which the live shows function with the podcast, the merchandise, the novel, all swirling together into a mode of audience engagement that I’d like to better articulate.


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NPR Review: CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

My review of Rainbow Rowell’s first fantasy novel, Carry On, is up at NPR Books!

I’ve been looking forward to this for months, and it more than lived up to my expectations. Also it gave me the opportunity to link — FROM NPR! — to my favourite Harry Potter fanfic of all time: Blood Magic by GatewayGirl, which, if you’ve not read, do read. It’s wonderful enough that when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out I was super confused because it was contradicting things I’d absorbed as canon from Blood Magic, because it was just. That. Good.

But, right, Carry On!

As a stand-alone book separated from its context, Carry On is wildly fun, deliciously readable, immersive and compulsive as good fan fiction is. It has a magic system that’s all elegant simplicity and that forms a smooth, easy background for the main event of character dialogue and interaction. As she did in Eleanor & Park, Rowell will frequently shift points of view within a scene to show how two people are experiencing either side of a conversation — which is especially effective and engaging in Simon and Basilton (Baz)’s scenes, as their rivalry grows into a complicated romance.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I devoured it. It sucked me in and delighted me even as its politics increasingly made me really uncomfortable. In fact I’m not even sure I can say “its politics” — I suspect what made me uncomfortable was more a lack of consideration for the implications of what was going on than any kind of outright message. But them’s spoilers, so I’ll just sit over here and wait until some other people have read it before I talk about those bits.


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Concluding Uncanny Year One: Poem + Podcast

Today marks the online release of the last bit of Uncanny magazine’s Year One content and accompanying podcast! Episode 6B is a bit me-heavy, as I’m both reading a story and a poem (my own!) but I hope you’ll give it a listen all the same.

The story I’m reading is “Never Mind the Watching Ones” by Keffy R. M. Kehrli, and features glitterfrogs, unfulfilling sex, and teenage ennui. I loved reading it; I also loved learning that this story was originally intended for the Glitter & Mayhem anthology, which would have made Keffy and me ToC-mates! I’m glad to still get to be so in this issue of Uncanny.

The poem I’m reading is “Biting Tongues,” which I wrote initially at Nisi Shawl’s request for The WisCon Chronicles (Vol 5): Writing and Racial Identity. It’s a bit of a love letter to my experience of WisCon, in particular to the one where Mary Anne Mohanraj was one of the Guests of Honour and gave a speech that I still think about with gratitude and respect. This is the poem’s first appearance online.

The podcast also includes a really charming interview with Keffy, conducted by Dangerous Deborah Stanish.

I’m so proud of Uncanny — I really think its first year has been tremendous, and I continue to be grateful for how excellent everyone is to work with. Here’s to many more years! Onwards and upwards!


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Rocket Talk: Nesting Responses to The Traitor Baru Cormorant

Following my previous post on the subject, the latest episode of’s Rocket Talk podcast features Kameron Hurley and me talking with Justin Landon about The Traitor Baru Cormorant and the discussion surrounding its representation of queerness. Says Justin:

Recently released from Tor, Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant has spawned a multitude of reactions across the genre community. Amal El-Mohtar and Kameron Hurley join Justin on Rocket Talk to discuss how this response reflects a larger conversation: how has social media and online book discussion impacted how we engage one another in dialogue about the things we love? It’s an honest and riveting conversation that doesn’t shy from controversial subjects.

I had a fantastic time talking with them. Also, since the episode went live, Heather Rose Jones listened to it and weighed in with a fantastic series of tweets fleshing out the history and types of Queer Tragedy in ways I was totally unfamiliar with. I highly recommend reading what she has to say, and am super grateful to her for sharing her knowledge on the subject.

I’m also glad, though, to be able to stand by my statement that The Traitor Baru Cormorant isn’t a Queer Tragedy Story even in the light of Jones’ expanded definition. But that said, Jones makes more excellent points: that we’re talking A LOT about this book, and that ironically even discussions about “who is allowed” to write queer stories can end up obscuring stories written by queer people, especially women.

That said — and this is not in contradiction of Jones, but in addition to her points — I think it’s also worthwhile to interrogate our assumptions about thinking of authors as being Straight Until Proven Otherwise. For reasons of Bisexual Erasure, for reasons of recognizing that people can be questioning, undecided, asexual, genderqueer, closeted, for reasons of just troubling heteronormativity in general. I know it’s hard to square this with a need to genuinely diversify our personal reading and our publishing environments — but I keep coming back to this brilliant article by Sofia Samatar (that I’ve not pointed to here before, that I need to discuss in more depth in its own right, blargh) that touches on how “the invisibility of a person is also the visibility of race”:

I’m interested in visibility as it relates to the lives and working conditions of academics of color, at a time when visibility has come to dominate discussions of race in U.S. universities to such an extent that it has made other frameworks for approaching difference virtually impossible. We speak of diversity, of representation. Diversity, unlike the work of anti-racism, can be represented visually through statistics. How many of X do you have? What percent? There is an obsession with seeing bodies that raises the ghosts of racial memory.

And further

Academics of color experience an enervating visibility, but it’s not simply that we’re part of a very small minority. We are also a desired minority, at least for appearance’s sake. University life demands that academics of color commodify themselves as symbols of diversity—in fact, as diversity itself, since diversity, in this context, is located entirely in the realm of the symbolic.

(Emphases mine.)

I flag these things up not to say that race and sexual orientation are equivalent and interchangeable categories (they’re absolutely not), nor that it isn’t hugely important to have stories about and by queer people published and publicised fully as much as stories about queer people written by non-queer people. I just want to draw attention to the fact that the most lauded way of getting to that point — discussing, celebrating, raising up the voices of queer people writing stories about queer people — has knock-on effects that ought to be kept in view while we work towards those goals. Those knock-on effects can and do include: limiting the stories queer people can tell; commodifying their experience; and placing pressure on queer authors to be visibly so.

I don’t even have answers to any of this, except to keep the conversation going, and to get the conversation to broaden, deepen, to be enriched with more people’s recommendations and perspectives.

To that end, I would really love if you could recommend, in comments (please in comments, not on Twitter, I’d love to just have them in one handily accessible place), books you’ve read and loved featuring queer protagonists written by queer people — especially if they’re books that are coming out soon.

Here are some of my own recs off the top of my head (a mix of novels, short story collections, and poetry collections that have fiction in them) and in no particular order, with links to reviews I’ve written of them, featuring queer protagonists written by queer people:

Hild by Nicola Griffith
Bodies in Motion by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Swordspoint and Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak
The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson
by Malinda Lo
Scruffians! by Hal Duncan
The Ant King and Other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum
The Orphan’s Tales duology by Catherynne Valente
Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
The Haunted Girl by Lisa Bradley
Ghost Signs by Sonya Taaffe

Here are some anthologies edited by at least one queer person and also featuring queer authors and characters in varying mixes (full disclosure: I have contributed to all of these, but have also read the full books and recommend them wholeheartedly):

Here, We Crossed Rose Lemberg
Kaleidoscope: Diverse Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, eds Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein
Glitter and Mayhem, eds Lynne Thomas, Michael D Thomas, and John Klima
Queers Destroy Science Fictioned Seanan McGuire

And here are some books I love featuring queer protagonists written by people whose sexual orientation I don’t know:

Touch by Claire North
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
My Real Children by Jo Walton
Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

and, of course — The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson.

Your own recs! I would love them please! Especially if I can put them on my lists to review! Feel free also to recommend your own works.

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My review of Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant is up at NPR Books. This is a taste of it:

To read The Traitor Baru Cormorant is to sink inexorably into a book that should not be anywhere near as absorbing as it is — to realize that the white-knuckled grip with which you hold it was provoked by several consecutive pages of loans, taxes and commodity trading. It seems impossible that the economics of a fantasy world should be so viscerally riveting, but they are, and it’s incredible: You think you’re on solid ground right up until you feel that ground closing around your throat.

I wrote this review without having read any others (which is my preferred MO where reviewing books is concerned). Once I’d turned it in I read Foz Meadows’ take from early reading, and Liz Bourke‘s. (Both are spoilery.) Both critique aspects of the book’s world-building and its representation of homophobia and queerness. I disagree, respectfully and completely, with these critiques — as one might expect from someone who’s read the whole book seeing people offering up their experience of the first few chapters (which is a completely legitimate thing to do; both Meadows and Bourke clearly indicate how much of the book they’ve read and how These Are Not Reviews). Meanwhile, Kameron Hurley wrote a passionately personal review in support of the book, and Arkady Martine wrote a (super spoilery but fantastically thorough) engagement with it, with reservations, taking the whole of these conversations into account.

Un/Relatedly, all of us are queer.

This last part is really important to me, because I’ve been watching conversations emerging — mostly on Twitter, mostly subtweeting, mostly in fits and starts — trying to categorize responses to the book according to some sort of ticky-box taxonomy of readers. I find this utterly repellent. Some people will suggest that only queer people have problems with the book, ergo it must write queer people’s lives poorly; others will counter with “well, Amal liked the book,” as if that could be the last word on the subject; still others will try to parse whether it’s my Brownness or my Queerness that has shaped my response, in pursuit of some sort of One True Response to the book.

This is all the rankest bullshit. It’s also kind of Incrastic, which is ironic.

There are straight white people who didn’t like this book. There are straight white people who did. There are queer people who loved it, and hated it, and had problems with it. This is all fine and normal and okay. It’s insulting, and limiting, and degrading to look at these conversations and impressions as some kind of vote-tallying representing Queer Opinion or Brown Opinion in order to arrive at a monolithic pronouncement on Dickinson’s success or failure.

What you could do instead: listen to the people you trust, whose taste you know and understand and can measure against your own, in terms of what you want to read or not read.

I have enormous sympathy for bouncing off things, for knee-jerk responses to media. Fury Road left me feeling hollow and miserable. I can’t watch Breaking Bad. I literally, physically can’t. Four episodes in I felt the tension was going to damage me and I abandoned it and I am 100% happy to have done so. I have a ludicrously specific allergy to body-swap stories. I have a really hard time with horror, except when I don’t, and I’m still working on figuring out why that is.

If you don’t want to read about bad things happening to queer people I completely, totally understand. I get not wanting to be punched where you’re already bruised, and trying to figure out whether or not this book will do that. All power to you on making your decision based on the things people have said about it and your own self-knowledge and resources.

But please, leave off trying to sort responses based on people’s identities. All that does is make queer people who disliked the book afraid of speaking up, queer people who did like the book worried about whether or not they’re sufficiently queer for the conversation, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. As if consensus is the default not to be deviated from instead of a thing that sometimes happens. There is no One True Opinion to be had. There’s only the one that’s right for you.

Talking about books is one of the keenest pleasures I have in this world. It’s right up there with watching hummingbirds and lightning storms and drinking tea and going swimming. To really talk about a book, to have delved in or bounced off and try to figure out the hows and whys of our reading, where they matched up and where they diverged, is delicious to me. I love it.

I hate to see people feel afraid to do it.

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Down and Safe: Episode 9 – Phlegmatic Science Fiction


Rejoice and make merry, for there is a new episode of Down and Safe, the podcast in which Michael D Thomas, Liz M Myles, Scott Lynch and I discuss each episode of iconic British SF TV show Blake’s 7. Something I said made it into the title this time! THIS IS A TRIUMPH FOR ME!

Since I’m not actually sure that bit made it into the episode — I proposed organizing SF by classical humours rather than along the usual Mohs Scale of SF Hardness. “Hard” and “Soft” make no sense as metrics of SF variation! But the humours? Choleric, Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Melancholic? AMAZE. And you can apply them to fantasy too!

I may try to expand that into a proper essay at some point instead of a throwaway (literally, THANKS LIZ, maybe?) bit of dubious wit on a podcast but that’s the gist.


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Embersong – Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours’ First Video

BACT video stillLast year, Rose Lemberg invited CSE Cooney, Caitlyn Paxson and myself — in our capacity as the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours — to write a song for her Kickstarted anthology, An Alphabet of Embers. We did so — and in May, we got together in Westerly, RI to frolic in a public park while wearing attractive fripperies.

Crow MaskWe had a lot of fun, often laughing helplessly while trying to look So Serious. The outtakes of this, should they ever surface, will be uproarious.

(They will never, ever surface.)

What was really cool about doing this video is that what we ended up with, vague-narrative-wise, was the reverse of what we thought we were doing: we didn’t have a solid story in mind, but tried to think of stuff that might look interesting or narrative-sparking in the vicinity of this park. So, ENORMOUSLY CHARISMATIC TREE STUMP, yes! Passing masks back and forth, absolutely! Grasping at straws in terms of making a visual story cohere with the song, MOST DEFINITELY! But somehow Magill Foote took our shaky camera phone footage and wizarded it into something I actually enjoy watching and listening to.

So here, for you, is the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours‘ first ever video offering, of an as-yet never-performed song. Caitlyn’s playing the harp arrangement she composed; melody and lyrics are by me; Caitlyn and I are singing. The crow mask belongs to Jessica Wick, who, along with Betsie Withey, did the actual filming and occasional directing of our shenanigans.

Really hoping we’ll get to do this together at a con sometime.


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