EATING THE FANTASTIC: Revisiting Helsinki with Scott Edelman

It’s November 17 and I haven’t yet written about the summer. “Blog the summer” has migrated through three bullet-journaled months. It will happen, if only because I need to get those photos off my phone — but in the meantime, I was delighted to revisit the Helsinki portion of summer magics through this delicious conversation with Scott Edelman.

Says Scott:

We discussed the importance of female friendship, the first poem she wrote at age 6 1/2 (which you’ll hear her recite), how Charles de Lint helped her get her first bookstore job, the importance of welcoming newcomers into the tent of science fiction and fantasy, what she learned about empathy from Nalo Hopkinson, the only time she ever cosplayed, which book made her a writer, why Storm is her favorite member of the X-Men, the delicious magic of honey, the difficulties of reviewing books in a field where everybody knows everybody, and much more.

Please join us for lunch!

Talking about how much I love talking has kind of been a thing this year; Scott has said that this is the longest iteration of his podcast to date, clocking in at just over 2 hours.

I enjoyed the delicious food and the delightful company very much, and I loved listening back to the ambient restaurant noise behind us, recollecting Helsinki. But more than that, I was really moved by how relaxed I sound. I’m used to experiencing interviews and podcast appearances as performances, with the slightly nervous energy that entails; but here, to me, I sound relaxed, like I was in fact just there for a meal with Scott that he happened to be recording.

I hope you enjoy it! Here, as a teaser, are the very dimly lit photos I took of the most marvellous, fairy-like dessert: frozen cranberries with hot caramel sauce.

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NPR Review: THIS MORTAL COIL by Emily Suvada

Nothing quite signals the approaching end of the year like the number of reviews I have left to write. This is probably the last one I’ll do (though won’t be the last one to appear), and it’s fitting that it should be a review of a book that goes out with such a… Bang.

Here’s a (oh dear) taste:

9781481496339_custom-aea9f637232cd0c9070f196e1514909c620e5a98-s400-c85The Hydra virus literally makes people explode.

The resulting fine pink mist gets airborne and infects anyone within a mile radius — unless they’ve first immunized themselves by eating the flesh of the infected. In a neat reversal of the usual zombie-virus trope, the healthy have to eat the sick in order to stay alive — and keep eating them, because the immunity wears off after a few weeks.

In other news, I’m reading Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels in stolen moments between deadlines and it’s so smart and so good and all the speaking characters are women and it’s breaking my heart a lot and I love it. Thinking a lot about the role art plays in the worldbuilding, and that I’d like to write something linking it to revelations we get in N. K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, because there is Cool Stuff Happening There.
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This Is How You Lose the Time War

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Navah Wolfe took the above photo at World Fantasy in Saratoga Springs, 2015, in the aftermath of Max and I duelling for honour & justice show in the parking lot. We joked, in its wake, that we should totally collaborate on something so that we could use it as a joint author photo.

In the summer of 2016, Max and I were at a writing retreat together to do just that. We had decided we wanted to write a novella together; we had decided on the form of letters exchanged between warring parties. We wrote three of five acts over the two weeks of that retreat, one act while stealing time away from World Fantasy in Columbus last year, and the finale in late December while sitting across from each other in True Grounds in Somerville.

We revised it together over the course of the spring, read from it for the first time in Ottawa this past April (back when we had the working title These Violent Delights), revised it again over the course of the summer in between a million other respective projects and travels, and sent it out into the world…

Where it landed with Navah Wolfe at Saga Press, who’s been there with it from the beginning, and whose photo of us crossing swords will, I hope, in fact actually end up inside the fully realized physical book that you’ll hold in your hands in the Fall of 2019.

I can hardly wait. Meanwhile, you can read the full announcement on Barnes & Noble’s blog — and keep an eye out! This is the longest thing I’ve had a hand in writing to date, and the whole process of announcement, cover reveals, pre-orders, all that good stuff is totally new to me! I expect to keep talking about this in increments for a while.

Duelling Max

 

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October: A Summary

I feel like if I don’t start writing about all the beautiful things I’ve experienced this year, they’ll just vanish and maybe have never been. I’ve had “Blog the Summer” on my to-do list since the first week of September, and now it’s the last day of October; I exist in a perpetual state of Catching Up on Email, and it’s all I can do to stay on top of important deadlines.

But today’s Samhain, the year’s hinge, and I have a space of time to sit and write before flipping the calendar page, so at the very least I want to talk about what an incredible month it’s been.

It began with a lovely visit: Stu’s parents came and stayed with us for the first ten days, celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, during which we had unseasonably perfect weather, though this unfortunately meant the trees weren’t as spectacularly colourful as usual. Still, it wasn’t exactly shabby.

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In spite of the fact that I was writing reviews, wrangling grant applications and revising research projects, we managed to do some neat stuff together: we visited Carleton’s annual butterfly show…

…and went on a boat trip through the Thousand Islands.

On top of that I was teaching weekly workshops at Glashan Public School under the auspices of the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, having an absolutely wonderful time with Sharon Kuiper’s 8-8 class. I taught four different workshops — on character, fairy tales, poetry, and writing spontaneously from a taste of honey — and was always blown away by what the kids managed to come up with. I’m really looking forward to them sharing their favourite pieces at the showcase in November.

Glashan Honey Workshop

No sooner did my in-laws leave than it was time for Can*Con! Dominik Parisien and Kelsi Morris came over from the shadowy place Toronto for it and stayed with us while attending. I had such a blast with them — when I wasn’t on panels having great conversations, I was at their table in the dealers’ room, watching the stack of The Starlit Wood copies steadily diminishing over the course of the con.

 

That last photo is of the final three copies, an appropriately fairy tale number with which to close out the con.

Immediately after THAT… I had a very special duty to perform.

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I had to keep Nadine (left) distracted at a very nice dinner (which went WAY too long) while Jenn (right) prepared to propose to her via private flash mob dance in the place they first met. It all worked out, in spite of my anxiety-fuelled nightmares of making everything go wrong NEARLY coming true! But they didn’t! And now Jenn and Nadine are affianced and everything is amazing and best!

I was up at 6:00 the next morning for a flight to Chicago!

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The fine folks at Writing Excuses invited Maurice Broaddus and me to be next year’s guest hosts, and we recorded a year’s worth of episodes over two days. This was intense and amazing: distilled, beautiful, challenging conversations about craft, where I felt myself learning as much as I was performing and thinking. After the first session, we repaired to Mary Robinette Kowal’s beautiful home, where she made us Boulevardiers and taught us to appreciate three different Vermouths.

It may have been how perfectly balanced were the cocktails, but whenever I tried to say how satisfying I found this work even when difficult, how much it felt like flexing muscles into new strength, how grateful I was for it, I mostly just teared up. I’d be thinking about it for the rest of the trip, though, as I went from host to host, conversation to conversation. I’m so excited for these episodes to air — partly because I’m looking forward to listening to them and reliving those two beautiful days over again.

(The following morning I would, in an attempt at helpfully doing the dishes, break one of those beautiful cocktail glasses. Mary forgave me. This will be Important Later.)

Also, dear gods but the Cards Against Humanity building is amazing. They have Global knives in the extensive kitchen! They have a shipping crate turned meditation space! This is the wallpaper in the BATHROOM.

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And this is what’s on the outside!

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After a lovely last evening with Mary spent in conversation I didn’t want to end, we got ready to part ways and reconvene at the Surrey International Writers’ Festival.

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That was the view from my hotel window, which I periodically lost time to, sitting on the couch beneath it and just watching curtains of distant rain parting over the mountains.

Surrey really deserves its own post, because I want to go into more detail about how magical everything was, how wonderful the workshops and keynote speeches, how kind the attendees, organisers, and volunteers. For now, suffice it to say that I delivered two workshops, a Blue Pencil session (where writers come up to you with three pages of manuscript and you go over them in fifteen minutes) and a keynote, had an amazing time — and then, on the last morning, a ridiculous thing happened to Stu!

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Not only did he find the only other ginger-bearded Scot in attendance at a literary conference in Surrey, British Columbia — he turned out to be his friend from highschool! Àdhamh Ó Broin is a Gaelic language consultant on Outlander, and had come from Glasgow to give workshops too. This is literally the second time this happens to Stu while we travel — Glaswegians clearly get around.

Then the conference was over, and after a weekend of solid rain, Surrey bid us a lovely farewell.

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And we were off to Portland!

DongWon Song — AKA SFF Ron Swanson or, more colloquially, World’s Best Agent — had driven up to the conference, and offered Stu and me a lift down to Portland. Neither of us had ever been in the Pacific Northwest, and the drive was breathtaking; we stopped in Seattle for soup dumplings and chat with a newly local friend, and kept on our way.

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Ostensibly I was going to give a talk to his students — who were all super smart, asked fantastic questions, and were generally a delight — but after that it was basically a holiday. Oregon is absurdly beautiful, and DongWon and Kristin gave us a fantastic foody tour of it, from food trucks to fancy restaurants to tastings of tea and honey and salt.

But better than any of that was the Bo Ssam he cooked for us on our last night there, with all the trimmings.

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On top of everything else, he drove us to the coast, so that Stu could greet the Pacific.

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The views were impossible.

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The signs were … Adorable?

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I basically felt like this the whole time.

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Many, many sealfies were taken. I’ll spare you most of them.

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While we flailed and sputtered at the ocean, DongWon was literally working.

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An agent’s work is never done. I call this one “Negotiating the Horizon”:

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To my abiding delight, we got to have a lovely breakfast with Kelly Sue DeConnick, followed by my first trip to Powell’s! Featured: Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Misfit’s Manifesto, which looks super cool.

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I signed every copy of The Starlit Wood in Powell’s, heartened by how many there were and in how many sections, and definitely hope to go back sometime.

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All too soon it was time to go — to take the train back up to Canada and visit with my cousin Rima and family!

We were pretty exhausted by this point, but Stu’s parents had insisted that we absolutely had to visit Stanley Park while in the vicinity, so we managed a glancing acquaintance with it.

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Rima took me to a very local honey bee centre, where I tasted even more honey, and got to see the workings of a hive up close through slightly smudgy glass.

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I held my hand against the glass and feeling how warm it was with the bees’ bodies.

And then it was time to go, again — but home this time, looking back over the expanse of a very thorough month. I couldn’t stop watching the colours change out the window, light draping over mountains and water like cloth under the moon.

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We’d be arriving back in Ottawa around 1:00 AM, and I only had a day or so to recover before being back at work. The jet lag’s easing now, I’m beginning to surface up out of email — and look at that. That’s most of a month blogged. The highlights, anyway. The highlights I can talk about, anyway! So many good things happened during this whirlwind trip, and I’m excited to share them in the coming weeks.

But by then it’ll be November, and that’s a whole different month.

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NYT Review: THE POWER by Naomi Alderman

If you blinked at the title, well, I’ve been doing that for about a week. I wrote a review for the New York Times. It’s my first time doing so. Many thanks to Bo Bolander for securing me a print copy in actual New York!

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My name is in the New York Times. I reviewed an interesting book by talking about Ottawa and bilingualism. It hardly seems real, but it is, as they say, right there in black and white.

Here’s an excerpt:

THERE IS A MONUMENT in Ottawa’s Minto Park dedicated to the memory of women killed by men. As with most monuments in Canada’s capital, its inscription is bilingual, and meaning exists in a tense tangle between translations. In French, it says à la mémoire de toutes les femmes qui ont subi jusqu’à la mort la violence des hommes. In English, it reads to honor and to grieve all women abused and murdered by men. It’s difficult to say, at a glance, whether one is a translation of the other, or whether they are simply two statements, separate but related, written in stone, shedding different lights on the women they commemorate.

This has everything to do with Naomi Alderman’s fourth novel, “The Power.”

I could have written a lot more, had not word-count been an issue. There’s so much to talk about here. I’ve been asked about whether it addresses trans issues at all; it doesn’t. I kept wondering if it would, but so far as I recall the only things to trouble a cis discourse (ciscourse?) are an acknowledgement of chromosomal variation and a statement that not all people with XX chromosomes have the power while a very small percentage of people with XY chromosomes do. Abigail Nussbaum has a longer review of the book on Strange Horizons, in which she adds the following, with which I agree:

It is, at this point, worth pointing out that one of the ways in which The Power fails to fully explore this premise is in its near-total silence on the subject of race. It’s never suggested, for example, that the new gender dynamics of the post-Power world are informed by preexisting racial tensions, though we would surely expect them to be. Neither do Tunde, a black African, or Allie, a biracial American, have very much to say about the role of race in their lives either pre- or post-Power. By the same token, though the book imagines that the lines along which the Power is distributed are not clear-cut—there are small numbers of women who don’t manifest the Power, and men who do—the existence of transgender and intersex people is completely ignored, as is homosexuality. These are all axes of power and oppression that play into Alderman’s central topic, and it’s unfortunate that they weren’t discussed.

Her whole review is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful that my first assignment for the NYT was reviewing such a chewy and thought-provoking book. Many thanks to everyone who’s read and shared the review; you make it harder and harder to forget that this is a real thing that happened.

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Upcoming October Appearances: Can*Con, Surrey International Writers’ Conference

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It’s all gone a bit autumn at last, and part of me breathes easier for it, even as deadlines and imminent travel loom on the horizon. Here’s a sketch of where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing for the latter half of October.

Can*Con, October 13-15

I’m a Special Guest at Ottawa’s own convention! Here’s my schedule.

Saturday

11:00-11:50 – Collaborative Creating
Amal El-Mohtar, Jack Briglio, Ursula Pflug, Robin Riopelle, Hayden Trenholm, Leah Bobet (M)

Writing can often feel like an isolated activity, but once you start connecting with other creators, collaborating on a project can be an eye-opening and liberating experience. From pairing with another writer to produce a poem or short story, to the potential chaos of a TV writers’ room, what are the benefits and pitfalls to working with other writers? How can you make sure the process works for you and your collaborators?

14:00-14:50 – They’re More Like Guidelines: Rules of Magic
Amal El-Mohtar, James Alan Gardner, Kari Sperring, Gregory A. Wilson, Violette Malan (M)

One of the most obvious ways fantasy worlds differ from reality is the inclusion of magic. Must magic obey rules? Does the creation of an effective and convincing fantastic world require a firmly-conceived magic system? What rules of magic work best for an audience and for the creation of a compelling plot? Our masters of the arcane lore will tackle these questions.

18:00-18:50 – Queer Comics
Amal El-Mohtar, Bob D’Errico, Caro Frechette, Sean Moreland, Derek Newman-Stille (M)

Queer comics have had a complex history, beginning with Fredric Wertham’s “Seduction of the Innocent” and the subsequent Comics Code Authority trying to reduce the “threat” to young people’s heterosexuality. Since that time, queer comics have survived and thrived in a variety of forms, leading to current comics that explore sexuality and gender identity, like The Wicked and the DivineBitch PlanetRat Queens and others. The titles keep going and going, and it’s time for some out-of-the-panel thinking.

Sunday

11:00-11:50 – You Should’ve Read This in 2017
Amal El-Mohtar, Jonathan Crowe, Su J. Sokol, Peter Halasz (M)

Our expert readers discuss the cutting-edge novels and short fiction in science fiction, fantasy, horror and romance that you absolutely should have read. Bring your Goodreads app or a REALLY big notebook.


Surrey International Writers’ Conference, October 19-22

I’m super excited about this — it’ll be my first time at SiWC and my first visit to British Columbia in 15 years. I’m also looking forward to visiting Portland and Seattle a bit afterwards too.

Here’s my schedule:

Friday

10:00 – 11:15 – Writing from Sensory Input

Amal’s first collection of fiction and poetry was written to the taste, scent and sight of twenty-eight different kinds of honey. While this workshop unfortunately can’t reproduce that situation, we’ll explore how spontaneous writing from the senses can interact fruitfully with other elements of the fiction-writing toolkit, with exercises drawn from touching, smelling, and tasting interesting things.

*Attendees with allergies: please note that there will be honey and pine branches in the room.*

2:15 – 3:30 PM – Worldbuilding

Amal El-MohtarMary C. MooreDongWon SongGreg Van EekhoutMary Robinette Kowal (M)

How do you bring an imaginary world to life? How do you layer the strange and fantastic on the real world in a believable way? Join our panel for a look at building cohesive, immersive worlds for characters to inhabit.

Saturday

3:45 – 5:00 PM  – Poetry as a Tool for Writing Fiction

Poetry and prose are often understood as opposites, to the point where poetry turning up in fiction is seen as intrusive, while narrative poetry is often dismissed as incapable of seriousness. In this workshop we’ll approach poetry and prose as related modes with different emphases, and explore how drawing on poetry can help unlock or overcome problems in our fiction writing.

7:15 PM – Keynote speech


After that, I expect to be in Portland, OR from October 23-24 or thereabouts, and in Seattle for a day or two afterwards, before heading back up to Vancouver and flying back to Ottawa. I’ve never been to either Portland or Seattle, so if you’re local to those places and have recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

And that’s me away.

 

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NPR Reviews: AN UNKINDNESS OF GHOSTS by Rivers Solomon and THE RULES OF MAGIC by Alice Hoffman

So many amazing books have come out these last two months, and it’s been my privilege to read and discuss them. Here are another two.

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

When I finished An Unkindness of Ghosts and put it down, I almost immediately picked it up again to re-read from the beginning, to admire how early certain seeds were sown, how thoroughly integrated were its plantation roots into space-faring soil. This book is not an allegory for life on plantations: it’s a transposition, and through it an interrogation, an investigation, of the falsehoods and broken memories of a nightmare past. It drags up pervasive stereotypes of happy mammies and consenting love between slaver and enslaved and vivisects them, the dextrous voices of characters like Aint Melusine and Giselle deployed like scalpels to part the inflamed skin of bad history.

 

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Owens women have always had grey eyes, a spark of magic, and bad luck in love. Legend has it that their ancestor, Maria Owens, abandoned by her lover and accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials, cursed her bloodline to prevent her daughters suffering as she did. But Maria’s journal also urges her descendants to “fall in love whenever you can,” and the contradiction between curse and command is at the heart of Francis, Jet, and Vincent’s lives. Coming of age on the Upper East Side with fashionable parents suspicious of the extraordinary, they explore and develop their powers together in secret — all the while resisting, and failing to resist, falling in love, with catastrophic consequences.

Other than those, I read Naomi Alderman’s The Power, Brooke Bolander’s forthcoming novella The Only Harmless Great Thing, and am halfway through Fran Wilde’s Horizon, the conclusion to her Bone Universe trilogy. I hope to fit Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka and Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels in by the weekend, Can*Con and two weeks of upcoming travel notwithstanding! More on which later.

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Last Days

It’s 33 degrees Celsius outside, and depending on how long I’ve been sitting in cool conditioned air, it feels like a strange gift. I step out into the grassy amphitheatre with stone seats outside my building and the sun feels like a warm palm on my skin, like a hand cupping my chin, like a friend smiling on your threshold with one foot out the door.

It’s autumn, but it’s hotter than it’s been for much of the summer. Everything feels like the last of something, even as it’s also lasting — isn’t that a fascinating bit of language– longer than it perhaps should.

I want to lean into that language and feel where it bends and joins. The last — to last. I’m thinking of endings and beginnings a lot right now.

Kit Reed died yesterday, and I’m stunned by how much that’s affected me. I did not know her well. I had the pleasure of her company at dinner last year at World Fantasy in Columbus. She was deeply beloved by many people whom I deeply love. She was 85 years old. I offer my condolences to the family, friends, and community mourning her loss and celebrating her life. She was so kind to me, and I wanted, as I so often want with older women who’ve beaten a path down and made mine easier to walk, to live up to her and know her better.

To know her better, now, through the reminiscences people are offering, the anecdotes, feels like watching a tapestry unfurl on a long wall. It feels like a last breath of summer in autumn. There is a poem I haven’t written (not about Kit — I wouldn’t presume), of which the first line is “If dying were like autumn,” and I turn it over in my head as I read others’ words: her son Mack’s tribute was the first I read, saying that she didn’t want any kind of memorial service, and that she didn’t tell anyone she was ill. She died as she wanted to, and is it strange that it gladdens me so much, that she had power over that?

I don’t know what I’m writing except that I want to mark this, that a woman lived, that she lived a long, amazing life, that she was fierce and sharp and funny and beloved, that she wrote, that she was read, that she was respected, that she faced death as she chose to, and that I feel privileged to have brushed my life against hers, however fleetingly, over food and wine and fire.

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NPR Reviews: SHADOWHOUSE FALL by Daniel José Older + AUTONOMOUS by Annalee Newitz

More reviews! So many reviews!

First, my review of Daniel José Older’s Shadowhouse Fall:

Everything I loved about Shadowshaper is found in Shadowhouse Fall, but sharper and fiercer, pushed harder and farther. The love and loyalty Sierra and her friends feel for each other is all the more affecting for being forged in fire: They walk through metal detectors into school every morning, endure and resist casual assaults on their personhood and bodies in relentless routine. As with Shadowshaper, the parts I loved best were the characters, the exuberance of these people’s voices, the intimacy and honesty of their interactions. I loved seeing more of Sierra’s relationship with her best friend Bennie, more of Izzy and Tee’s romance, more of Juan and Pulpo’s devotion to each other. All of these relationships are complex and full of friction, and the sparks they give off illuminate important facets of the story.

Next, my review of Annalee Newitz’ Autonomous:

I rarely dog-ear the books I read for review, trusting myself to remember their most notable aspects. I dog-eared enough of Autonomous‘ pages to almost double its thickness, such was the granularity of things I wanted to highlight, praise, and discuss. From startling insights to delicately turned prose to whole passages of unbearably tender musings on the intimate desires of artificial intelligence, there’s much more than I can feasibly talk about here. But here’s some highlights.

 

More soon, because I don’t know if you noticed but roughly a million billion incredible books came out in September! Ones that I’ve not yet read but am deeply excited to devour: Max Gladstone’s Ruin of Angels, Fran Wilde’s Horizon, River Solomon’s River of Ghosts, and I’m super keen to read Malka Older’s Infomocracy so I can dive into Null States in turn!

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NPR Review: THE RIVER BANK by Kij Johnson

My review of Kij Johnson’s The River Bank, delightfully illustrated by Kathleen Jennings, is up at NPR Books! Here’s a taste:

The River Bank is set a year after the events of The Wind in the Willows, and takes up its familiar, much-beloved characters in their natural summertime habitats and occupations: Mole and Rat go boating, Badger keeps the Weasels and Stoats in line, and all are beleaguered by their periodically reformed friend Toad of Toad Hall. But two new people have arrived at the River Bank, taking up residence in Sunflower Cottage, a Miss Mole and a Miss Rabbit. While most of the River Bank’s denizens welcome the new arrivals, Mr. Mole regards them with grumpy suspicion. In particular, he shuns Miss Mole completely, and seems to have some previous acquaintance with her of which he refuses to speak. But when Toad — innocently encouraged by Miss Rabbit — conceives a new, disastrous passion for motorcycles, all manner of incident, consequence, shambles and shenanigans ensue, forcing the Moles to put aside their differences — and similarities — in order to help.

I read this book and wrote this review mostly while by a river bank myself, watching the season shift like mist on the water. It left me with picnic ambitions and a warm sense of peace and longing tangling together like light through the summer’s last leaves. I hope you enjoy it.

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