Down and Safe: Episode 6 – Bad Oregon Trail Players

Yesterday saw the release of a new episode of Down and Safe, the podcast where Liz Myles, Scott Lynch, Michael Thomas and I talk about each episode of Blake’s 7. This week we look at “Mission to Destiny.”

In the sixth episode of Down and Safe, Michael, Liz, Scott, and Amal discuss Mission to Destiny, the seventh episode of Blake’s 7, and manage to keep the recording to under an hour! They blame Terry Nation. Poor Terry Nation, and his dull, dull Mission to Destiny characters. Not even the prospect of Planet Mushroom could really save it.

We’re up to Episode 7 of the show and Episode 6 of the podcast, and you can follow along by watching the show on the Tube of You.

I can totally hear the scratch in my post-Readercon voice this episode.

In other news, it is the last day of the month. Little gasps of terror keep hitching my heart at the prospect of tomorrow beginning August, during which All of the Things occur faster and more furiously than they’ve been doing all year.

Here goes.

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“The Truth About Owls” Translated to Arabic

Art by Jackie Morris

To my surprise and delight, a kind fellow named Salman Zaid wrote to me asking for permission to share his Arabic translation of “The Truth About Owls.” I’m bowled over and honoured to do so.

My father, Oussama El-Mohtar — who has a history of translating my work — also looked the translation over and, in consultation with me, made a number of suggestions and revisions which Salman then graciously incorporated. This makes the whole feel all the more special to me.

I’m just so floored by the thought that this story in particular might now find a new audience among Arabic-speakers. I’m so grateful.


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Reviews and Reprints: FOULSHAM and IMAGINARIUM 4

Some bits and bobs as I try to catch up on all the things.

First, my review of Edward Carey’s Foulsham — the second book in his Iremonger Trilogy, following the brilliant Heap House — went up at NPR Books last week, and I had this to say about it:

The pace of Foulsham is much faster than that of Heap House, so a number of important things come up amidst flurries of action; this is very exciting, but sometimes makes revelations and plot shenanigans seem arbitrary, where Heap House had a slower, more organic build. But just like Heap House, the character voices, new and old, are varied and wonderful, the situations terrifying and exhilarating, and the concept and execution so desk-thumpingly good that I resented having to spend time away from reading it. I love this series’ structure, beginning from a single house and expanding outward into a borough and then a city, widening the scope of its action even as it widens the circle of its concept’s implications.

As I say in the review, Heap House was one of my top two books last year (the other being The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine), so I can’t recommend the reading of it enough, and then I suspect reading Foulsham will just happen as a matter of course.

Next, I’m delighted to announce that “The Lonely Sea in the Sky” — my story from Lightspeed‘s WOMEN DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION issue last year — will be reprinted in Imaginarium 4: The Best Canadian Speculative Writingin among a smorgasbord of luminaries. Introduction by Margaret Atwood! What! Amaze. So I’m really looking forward to that, too.

In other news, I’ve spent a very hot day looking at flowers and thinking about weddings and have just about enough brain power left to sip a Dark & Stormy and hope it works some sympathetic magic on the weather.


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Nijmi – 1999-2015


Last night I said goodbye to Nijmi, the cat who’s been with me for 16 years, just over half my life.

Noumi1She was, objectively speaking, the best of all possible cats. She was the softest, the sweetest, the kindest. She purred if you so much as looked at her. She loved cuddles. She hated having her nails trimmed. She would, when it was time for her to eat, jump up on the arm of whatever chair I was sitting in and gently paw at me.

My mother and I picked her and her sister out of a litter together. My mother was drawn to a tiny calico, but I was enchanted by her darker sister, her black so black, her white so white, and all in between this shining silver tracery. She was luminous. Nijmi means Star. We took both of them, matched as day and night, and funnily enough until we lost her sister (named Shauna — I think we’d tried for Shams, the word for Sun, but it wasn’t quite right and suggested fakery in English, so we kept the Shh sound and went with it), Nijmi was more my mother’s cat and Shauna was more mine. But Shauna went out one night and didn’t come back, and after that I belonged to Nijmi more than anyone, as the rest of the family went to the UAE and my sister and I moved to the city.

Nijmi sleepingIn her prime and even in her more venerable years she was a fierce and brilliant mouser. She scared raccoons from the fire escape in the flat my sister and I shared in Ottawa. She moved with me from my childhood home in Aylmer, to Luskville, to Ottawa, to Luskville, to Aylmer, and finally back to Luskville again. The only move she didn’t make with me was overseas. Whenever I’d skype with my parents, they’d tell me that she’d come trotting into the room at the sound of my voice.
nijmisinkShe had a fascination with sinks. She was very much a faucet-cat, loved to have me stand by the tap running it for her drinking convenience. Bathrooms, water — she would stand outside the shower door waiting for me to emerge so that she could be the first to rub her cheeks and teeth and scent on me after I’d so inconsiderately washed them off.

She loved music, too — or, at least, she loved instruments. She would paw at the strings of my harp, or the soundboard, whenever it was accessible to her; she would sit next to my youngest brother while he played piano, just sleeping on the bench. She never seemed to sit anywhere else if he was playing, and always sat in a particular way, as if letting it wash over her.

Stu and NijmiShe lived through the loss of her sister and the arrival of a new cat, Fara, and through Fara’s subsequent re-homing last year. She lived through seeing a house bustling with six people reduced to two, then increasing, then dwindling, increasing again. She met my fiancé when he was only just recently become my boyfriend, and he gave proof of his worth by falling in love with her instantly (though she, wisely, as evident here, was determined to reserve judgement. She came around).
She was a wonderfully companionable cat. My laptop screen was always just the right size for her to curl up behind, such that I wrote essays, poems, stories, to the sound of her purr. She made beds of discarded envelopes, frequently sat on papers I had to grade, which I’m sure was her way of looking after me if I began to look overwrought.

IMG_3172She never got sick, never got upset with us in spite of all the upheaval that can and did take place in 16 years, was never anything but loving, gracious, comforting. She was a gift, and and I hope she knew it.

Then, in early May, she became indifferent to food and began to lose weight very quickly; a first vet visiting was astonished by how good were her teeth, joints, organs for her age, but found she had a fever, so prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic that helped for a bit. But a week or so after the antibiotics had run their course she was still looking poorly, so I took her to a clinic in the nearest town, where they found a cancerous mass in her intestines that had metastasized into her lungs. From there on it was palliative care, until yesterday.

She stopped eating on Sunday, was barely drinking, and had shifted from sleeping on soft surfaces to hard; she had some trouble with a hind leg and moving around as her body consumed itself. She gradually stopped walking more than a few steps away from where she slept, and it hurt to watch her even shift position. I looked at her and saw her just waiting to go, trying to sleep herself away. I’ve never had to put a pet down before, and I’ve been taking it very hard. I made the call to a vet who’d do home euthanasia, to spare her a hated final car journey, and in the end it was my mother and me holding on to her and crying as she slipped away.

The wind was blowing something fierce, yesterday, but there was no storm; it helped to think of the wind shaking her loose from a dying body while the sun set. The wind died when she did. Today, it’s been grey and rainy while I wrote this, and I’m grateful.

I hope she knew how completely we loved her. I hope we made her feel how much she brightened our days and nights just with the look of her, sleeping, purring, patting my face for attention. We gave her the best we could, and I miss her so much.

Goodnight, my Noumi-cat.

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Down and Safe: Episode 5 – Buzzy the Robot That Tried

Thursday came and went without me announcing that a new episode of Down and Safe is live! It’s our fifth episode, in which we look at S1E6 of Blake’s 7: “Seek-Locate-Destroy.” I swoon over Servalan and brood disapprovingly over Travis. Also listening back I honest-to-goodness SPLUTTERED at one point over something Servalan-related.

Oh, Servalan.
bernardshyA refresher: Down and Safe is a fortnightly podcast where Liz Myles, Michael D Thomas, Scott Lynch and I watch all the episodes of iconic 70s British SF show Blake’s 7 and discuss them with loving exasperation and the occasional several rather a lot of  some dirty jokes. I’m the only one who hasn’t seen the show before, so occasionally we have a segment called Consulting Orac where I’m teleported out of the room so the others can have a more spoilery discussion about how a given episode relates to future stuff.

I am having truly ludicrous amounts of fun doing this. You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or subscribe to us on iTunes or via old school RSS.

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NPR Review: LAGOON by Nnedi Okorafor

My review of Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon went up this morning. Here’s a bit of it:

Lagoon absolutely teems with characters, perspectives, and Englishes. Everything about it is diverse and varied: In structure it feels part oral tradition, part theater, part screenplay, part memoir; in content it bubbles over with characters from different species, ethnicities, classes, genders, sexualities, religions. If ever a book set out to mirror the vibrant, brimming city for which it was almost titled, Lagoon has certainly done it. But, consequently — and perhaps appropriately — it’s as choppy a read as the ocean on a stormy day.

I was given the UK edition last year (by a kind stranger who has yet to take credit for it! Thank you kind stranger!), and the cover is utterly different, and I’m thinking about the ways covers might change our experience of reading a book even when we know what to expect. I’m still trying to figure the dynamics of it out.

Lagoon imageBriefly, the UK cover gives a much better sense of the book’s contents — the quality of teeming, the diversity, the centering of a woman, the transformation, the rising of water to meet city and all the denizens therein. It’s messy and vibrant, the words themselves shaped in negative space by the bodies of the sea creatures.

The US cover looks tilted to appeal to a non-genre market; it’s glossy, a beautiful photograph of air moving through water (that looks slightly like a brain?), and one can read thematic significance into that after the fact — but it’s so sleek and clean, it says “oceans = space” and “aliens” to me much more than “Lagos,” ultimately, and it’s an interesting shift in emphasis.

Covers, man. How do they work!

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Reviews: NPR, LA Times, CSZ

Readercon was a whirlwind! After a day on the road car-conning back to Ottawa, I’m home-ish, catching up on correspondence and things that need announcing before I can even begin to process what an incredible, beautiful, excellent weekend it was.

So! Reviews!

First, Stina Leicht’s Cold Iron comes out today, and my review of it dropped this weekend.

In the acknowledgements for Cold Iron, Stina Leicht writes that one of the questions at the core of her new Malorum Gates series is, “if Tolkien had been American, what would fantasy look like?” It’s a fascinating question — and I don’t intend to sound cynical or glib when I say that, according to Cold Iron, the answer is, at least partly, “more full of guns.” Cold Iron is very attentive to the nuances of early modern warfare, on both land and sea. It explores the clash between competing technologies and philosophies as magic-wielding Kainen (elves) and musket-firing Acrasians (humans) wage war on each other.

watchmaker of filigree streetSecond, my first review for the Los Angeles Times went up! I read Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street: 

Reading this book was like watching light slowly flooding a dismal room. The difference in Thaniel’s outlook, habits and happiness before and after meeting Mori moved me to tears. The tenderness, the small kindnesses given by lonely men to each other in the absence of words — sweetening a mug of hot water and lemon with honey, buying sheet music, baking sweets — was deeply beautiful. I would have happily read a whole novel shorn of any incident but their growing love for and trust of each other.

But there’s a great deal more than that here: humor, wit, mystery and danger are threaded through the book in musical measure. It dances between genres and makes partners of several: one could call it steampunk for its Victoriana and etheric experimentation, science fiction for its musings on determinism, historical fantasy for the ways in which those elements are seamlessly blended with late 19th century London.

This is kind of a huge deal to me. A few friends told me they encountered my name in their for-real actual print newspapers, or their parents did, and it was an unlooked for surprise.

It’s sort of amazing, thinking about it now, how in spite of the perhaps more global reach of a post on the LA Times’ website, there’s something more Real and Serious about a review appearing in my friends’ hands, staining their fingers with ink. It bears thinking on. At any rate, the book is beautiful and I’m so happy I could review it.

Last but most certainly not least, I interviewed Celeste Rita Baker — whose story “Name Calling” prompted me to write this essay on reading dialect last year — for the current issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone. We discussed her new collection, Back, Belly, & Side: True Lies & False Taleswhether writing in between genres is comparable to writing in between languages and dialects, and much more. This interview isn’t available online, but I highly recommend subscribing to CSZ or buying a copy, as this issue in particular also contains poems by Alicia Cole, Bogi Takács and Sonya Taaffe.

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Uncanny Magazine Issue 5

I’m very happy to see Uncanny Magazine‘s Issue #5 arrive today, bringing with it exceptional essays, stories and poems. Thus far I’ve only read Sofia Samatar’s “Writing Queerly: Three Snapshots” and Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Midnight Hour” but both are utterly wonderful.

I read “The Midnight Hour” for the podcast, and was challenged (read a beautiful/heart-breaking sex scene out loud for hundreds of strangers in a way that doesn’t play it for laughs, whaaaat) and moved by it. It’s really, really great: a beautiful mix of consent, sacrifice, and the ethics of “rescue.” I love how much of Kowal’s fiction involves married couples shouldering burdens together and fighting side by side.

Sofia’s essay is just, you know. Sofia Samatar. What do we even do with the fact that there is such a person writing such things in the world. Her fiction devastates me, her poetry wracks me, her non-fiction’s always lighting my brain on fire. Small wonder I’m always longing to devour hers!

Skeleton key not included.

Anyway those are only two small parts of an amazing-looking issue! If you like what Uncanny does and would like to support them, please consider doing so through their Patreon or through a subscription. The Patreon has options where you receive eventual swag… Judging by what came to me in the post yesterday, it’s definitely going to be shiny!


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A couple of reviews of mine have gone up on NPR Books recently! Here are snippets from them.

First, Jo Walton’s The Philosopher Kings, the second book in her Thessaly sequence, following The Just City.

Jo Walton’s The Just City, which came out in January and which I utterly adored, ends on a wicked cliff-hanger… With what bright eagerness did I look forward, therefore, to The Philosopher Kings, hungry to pick up from where I left off, to know how Simmea, Apollo, and Maia address these problems …

… only to hear Walton cackling, Trollope-like, at my devastation in finding that The Philosopher Kings is set THIRTY YEARS LATER.

Second, Daniel José Older’s Shadowshaper, a gorgeous YA novel featuring characters I wanted to befriend.

What struck me throughout this book was the beautiful, nuanced, supportive and loving nature of Sierra’s community. Made up of her friends, her family, her extended family’s friends, her neighbors, there’s tremendous joy in their every interaction: The banter, the support, the kindness threaded through merciless teasing. There’s conflict too, of course, but that bedrock of love and affection is always there — and it’s utterly nourishing to see such a gorgeous, diverse mix of characters from different backgrounds frankly discussing their histories and futures. Sierra’s own movement through her family secrets is very effective, and the decisions she makes — of what to embrace in herself, from her nappy hair to her magical abilities — are powerfully moving.

Presently I’m reading Edward Carey’s Foulsham, the sequel to his incredible Heap House, which was one of my top three books from last year. Foulsham thus far is fully as good and I find myself resenting time I have to spend away from it. It’s coming out in a few days, and so will my review.

Likewise featured in photo: things I won’t review for NPR but that I have thoughts about for later. Briefly, The Wicked + the Divine vol. 2 is AMAZING, significantly better than the first, which was certainly no slouch; We Stand On Guard #1 I am still sorting complicated feelings about, but will keep reading. CBC reviewed it, though!

So that’s me for now — what are you all reading?


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CONvergence 2016: Guest(s) of Hono(u)r!

Well, Michael Lee declares it to be in print and therefore a thing that can be told: I’ll be one of the Guests of Honour at CONvergence in Minneapolis next year, along with Christopher Jones, Mark Oshiro, and Joseph Scrimshaw!

Convergence GoH

This will be my first GoH gig and I still can’t entirely believe it’s happening? The day I received the invitation, almost a month ago, had been going so poorly that the only thing I could think to answer besides “yes” was “…but are you sure?”

They’re sure, and so am I, and I’m so freakin’ excited I can’t even. ALL IS ODD.

Genuinely, the CONvergence 2016 tagline feels remarkably apt. How exactly DID I get here? Author, Poet, Critic. I am all of these things.

These last two weeks continue to give me day-to-day whiplash.


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