"Real magic can never be made by offering up someone else's liver." ~ The Last Unicorn.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


At first the words "halo, abstain, prayer" did nothing for me. But, in my usual way, I've gone and twisted them a bit.


Twin steel halos around his wrists. The thought catches at his lips and pulls them into a smile, for what could be angelic here?

"What is funny, pet?

It's something Rob has to remind himself constantly: do not be a writer here. Turns of phrase become strokes of the cat so easily. Abstain from the metaphors and witticisms that paid for the cuffs, the straps, the whip.

"I asked a question." Jean's words, the English still tinged with Nice after five years, precede his touch on Rob's face. "What is in your mind?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Truly? I do not come here to play with nothing."

Jean kisses him hard, his teeth pinching Rob's lower lip until he whimpers.

"That is reason for being here," Jean says. "For worshiping me with your tongue."

And after he steps away, as the air hisses around the lashing straps, Rob writes a new prayer: "Punish me, Master, for I have sinned..."


Critique welcome. :)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


If you have to steal, get this book. Murder may be acceptable. China Mieville grabbed the ink of the giant squid and shot it into his printer and wrote this magnificent book.

Billy Harrow is just a employee at the Darwin Center in London; a mollusc specialist, with a talent for preserving specimens in jars. And then one day, an entire giant squid, tank and formaldehyde solution included, vanishes from the depths of the Center.

From there, it's a whirlwind of paranormal cults and the very spirits of London city fighting over when (and how) the world is going to end. Billy rises above the Everyman status he starts off with, stumbling through an epic journey to discover what his place in history will be.

Magical beings hiding in plain sight in a major metropolitan city is not a new idea. But Mieville makes it new, by creating a wholly unique culture, with intricate laws and nasty politics. No Sidhe or vampires here; they're replaced by Londonmancers and Chaos Nazis and the Ocean as a sentient, ancient power. Trust is a nice idea here, and while some of the betrayals are predictable simply because they're inevitable, there's a lot of surprises in store.

One being Collingswood. An investigator in Scotland Yard's paranormal/cult squad, Collingswood is tough, smart, and a wonderful example of a London chav--complete with the slang and accent. She's also a female character who exists entirely independent of male interest, except as a full equal amongst her colleagues. Don't look for romance in Kraken--this is not a world where love has a chance. While at first I thought she was a token spec-fic woman, there as a prize for the hero once he lives through the Big Battle, Collingswood cuts her way through the plot on her own considerable merits.

I lied, I confess. There's a smidge of romance. Marge, offhandedly introduced as a girlfriend of one of Billy's mates, outlives her significant other and goes on to find her own path through the midden. I appreciate her loyalty to her late boyfriend; it's not the obsession of "one true love," but the rage at a world where someone she cared for can vanish with no apparent consequences. Her quest is not a vendetta, and her stakes rise with each discovery and victory.

Are there issues? Sure. The plot goes a bit wonky at times--too many threads, not enough stitches. And the ending... in as spoiler-free a way as possible, it's one of those twists based off an insignificant little clue that no one but the author could have possibly worked out. Bit like Mad-Eye Moody in the fourth Harry Potter. Very much "OMG that's what was going on!" for the second before you begin to maybe feel a bit cheated. I will say no more.

However. Mieville can really fucking write. He's a master of the craft of writing. Some sentences are so beautiful I stopped to read them several times, trying to imprint their cadence into my own meagre talents. Others made me laugh out loud with their brash tune. My only quibble with his writing is his slight overliking of the word "pugnacious." It's not a quiet word that sits in the back and can be looked over. It sounds awkward to the mind, and when it shows up more than once or twice in a novel, it stands out. Mieville takes no prisoners with his vocabulary; English-major me had to go to the dictionary a few times. God, but I love smart writers, even when they're a little too free with their cleverness.

To sum up: It's fun, feminist, and has the giant squid. Run, do not walk. And aspiring writers, take notes.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


My 3WW offering. This week's words: phase, stumble, grimace.



She grimaced and danced away from that dream. It hurt, that vacuum beneath the dreamer’s plunging self. Even if they always woke up before they hit the ground, it did her no good.

Pink flying hippos! I can fly with them, and mum and dad are here flying with me and they aren’t fighting anymore—

She phased gently into the child’s dream, unknitting herself from the aether souldrop by souldrop. For a moment she flew, and took the memory with her. Another piece to make her. The hippos she left for someone else, but she borrowed a giggle.

The next one confused her. She wasn’t sure why the men with black-and-white faces were there, nor why they drove with the dreamer in a horse and buggy over the ocean waves. But she took the word “kiss,” because she liked the sound of it.

It resurfaced, one mind over. She tried to ease into the tumble of sweat and heartbeats, but the intensity made her stumble. Some souldrops were left behind; she lost the flying (the new ones were the easiest to lose) but kept “kiss.”

And then she understood “kiss.”

She was most reluctant to draw away from that dream. From it, she gained hands, and touching, and a kind of happiness she’d seen in no other dreams.

Back to the aether, slipsliding into her place in the universe.

She substantiated back into herself, dark as the night sky between the stars. Fitting, for she was the night sky between the stars. Each tiny drop, glimmering with dream-joy, came alight as she scattered them over her hips and thighs. Around her, other angels returned to their places, absorbing new ecstasies to project during the day and light their planets.

She wondered if any of them had “kiss.”


I'm not really sure where this came from, but I like it. Critique welcome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A short piece of my liver, thanks to 3WW

3WW, or Three Word Wednesday, is simple: three words, every Wednesday. Write, link, comment. Here's mine, for the words joke, leverage, and remedy.


Our Geometry

I am their vertex, the joining spot between them. We form an obtuse angle, he and she and I. It’s an odd form of love, to some, but we like it, though they don’t always like each other. Over and over I find remedies for their conflicts, quietly decreasing the degrees of our angle with a safe joke and my tongue in the right place. Love is leverage, in the right hands.

Sometimes they touch and spin out, flying apart until we reach 180 and I must try to join us together again.

But when it works, we form a different straight line. His cock in my cunt going through to my mouth on her clit. New leverage of hips and arms and legs to form angled positions until we are truly one. But the burst of pleasure will not remedy their clash of minds. They each leave with a light joke over discomfort. Our geometry continues.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Patriarchus Defaulcatus

I went away for the weekend--and by "away" I mean "Went to a Harry Potter symposium and the new theme park, which made me feel eleven years old"--and as you do, I brought books to read on and between planes.

Chronologically, I read Jeff Vandermeer's Shriek and then Flesh and Fire by Laura Anne Gilman. But, while Shriek was a masterpiece of ideas and mushrooms and twisty, unreliable narrators, it is Flesh and Fire that I want to talk about, in relation to larger themes of fantasy literature.

The book at a glance: Wine, if made a certain way, has magical properties, which may be harnessed and used by those who know how: Vinearts. Jerzy, a slave, is chosen as a Vineart by his owner. But his trainings are interrupted by upheavals in their world, so off he goes to make his way as best he can.

It's a damn good book, in my sense of the phrase. It's gripping (read it over two plane rides, nearly nonstop), paced perfectly, good characters, and a wonderful, bright new magic system that involves no word stranger than mustus. It also works as "Winemaking 101". Gilman creates a very interesting world, the main area of which revolves around a slave trade (and oh, do I wish I could reveal a rather juicy spoiler about that. But I won't. Go read the book.) It's not a million pages long, which defies one recent trend in fantasy literature, and there's not one goddamn vampire in sight.


Wait for it...


But. The first interesting woman is killed off fairly quickly, and the next one doesn't appear until the three-quarter mark. And despite having invented a very new world, Gilman in this book is infected by that most insidious of fungi: Patriarchus Defaulcatus. Or, default patriarchy.

Men are in charge in this world, at all the high levels. No women Vinearts are mentioned or seen. The main continuous female character has power only within a household, as the firm, but nurturing, head domestic. One noble women dies, the other has rebellious princess syndrome (but at least she gets to live to Book 2).

This is something which I greatly dislike about a lot of fantasy: even in brave new worlds, in which there are fabulous beasts, wondrous magic, unearthly beings, authors continually revert to gender power structures so prevalent in our own world. Heteronormative (more on that in a bit) and phallocentric. And I just don't see why.

Be daring. Make the genders equal in your fantasy world, and see what comes of it. Reverse things, play with roles, make a new form of society. Read lots of Ursula K. Le Guin's Ekumen stories and see how she invents worlds that work on completely different gender systems than ours. Throw out the gender norms. Make me smile.

On sexuality: there's not much of it, and what there is leans negative and slightly homophobic. This is not to say I think Gilman is a homophobe; I've met her briefly, I regularly read her blog, and I truly do not believe this to be the case. But every sexual experience Jerzy (male) has is a) unwanted and negative and b) with another man. Gilman insinuates that Jerzy, as all Vinearts, is asexual due to the magic he uses, so his distaste for amorous activity has a base. But were Jerzy's squeamish thoughts about being touched by other men necessary? Did all this attention have to be somewhat forced, and unwanted? I don't think there was a consensual sexual relationship in the whole book, only brief glimpses into the molestations young, pretty slaves like Jerzy suffered at the hands of others. An unsettling trend, I'll call it, and one I hope not to see in the second book.

I can see, at certain angles, why this book was up for a Nebula last year. Very good writing, a fascinating new world, nice characters. Some of the "coming-of-age" plot points were a little predictable, I felt, as was a certain betrayal, but after reading books for even twenty years, most things are predictable. I have issues with it, but they are my issues as a liberal sex-positive feminist, which not everyone is and I don't ask them to be. Go and read it anyway. Then come back and tell me what you thought.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Palimpsest; Art books

I finished Catherine Valente's Palimpsest a few days ago, but I found I couldn't post about it immediately. It's a dense book, a beautiful one, and it needed time for digestion.

In a nutshell (and this nutshell is, like the Tardis, bigger on the inside) Palimpsest is about four people granted brief access to a parallel fantasy world, via marks on their skin. To get to this world, this city of Palimpsest, they must have sexual relations with other people who also bear marks. To stay in Palimpsest permanently, they must regroup with their companions, who are spread across the world.

Valente creates one of the most engulfing and rich alternate worlds I have recently read. It is sublime and yet gritty and dark, full of Wonderland-like rules and oddities. The opening scene, a factory stamping out glass and metal insects, grabbed me and didn't let go. I want glass crickets to scrape their wings together in my world.

The four main characters, November, Oleg, Ludovico, and Sei, are damaged, loners, full of boundaries and vulnerabilities, each with a unique place waiting for them in Palimpsest. November, a bee-keeper, was most endearing to me, though Sei and her train obsession felt the most clear of the four storylines. Valente understands people and sexuality in a very complex way, and she transfers the nuances of each sexual encounter without being overly graphic. They are all people of fluid sexuality and re-shaping identities; sex is sex here, whatever the combination of genders and numbers. It matters more who the people are, not what genitalia they have.

The writing... ah, the writing. Stunning, simply, and that has both advantages and disadvantages. Valente has a gift for images that haunt and insights that provoke, but I found that the intricate poetry of her language distanced me from the characters. Perhaps it was intentional; I am not sure. It erased the idea of transparency in writing, for the language formed a barrier between the story and I. It was almost too much at times, like a dish of too many exotic spices. I never lost the feeling that this was a book, written very painstakingly and with great talent. The jury's still out on whether this improved the book or not.

As for beautiful books, my family stumbled upon a gallery show opening downtown the other night. The theme of the show was "the art of the book." What this produced ranged from beautifully made, illustrated, and presented books, to art that focused on the idea of the book. With books beginning to retreat into Kindle-sized packages, the show made me a little sad--will the art of the book be only a museum piece in the future?

One of the main four in Palimpsest is a high-quality bookbinder (Ludovico), and the details of his craft made me want to make books of my own. You know, when a book just doesn't have the right cover, either because it's a shitty cover in general (cheap versions of classics FTW) or it just didn't jive with your interpretation of the book. Maybe I'll get into that, when the knitting is slow and the muse is on holiday.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pieces of my liver (and heart)

My own work, or liver, as you like. Whether or not it creates true magic is up to you. Shame I missed Love Letter month on sleep.snort.fuck. Two little pieces, one general theme, one dedication.

Let’s be stuck in a car together. I want just you, and maybe a few bottles of water to counteract the chips and chocolate (as a car needs gas, so travelers need junk food). You’ll be at my side all down California 101—or all up it? I want to lie with you on some off-road beach, so south to Monterey and sea otters. Salt and sand and cool breezes; maybe we can scare the kids out of the aquarium and luxuriate in blue ripples through glass with reef sharks for company. Even if the only voice for four hours is the radio, I want you there so our ardor builds with every humming mile to be released at a B&B where even the rose-patterned dust ruffle recoils from our language.


Decompression chamber 497b, transitioning me from ground to sky to new earth. The cheap sheets, freshly enseamed, rasp my skin, and they chafed me during our reconsummation. But he is soft, jigsawed into my curves, ruffling strands of my mussed hair with every snore. I press my shoulder blades toward his heart, attempting osmosis.

In a few minutes, I will rise to wash the recirculated air from my lungs. And he will help, with gentle hands coated in cold shower gel, shocking me into laughter as I stretch twelve hours and three months and an ocean away.


New book review once I finish Catherine M. Valente's Palimpsest. Veeeeery interesting. May need to digest it for a bit.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cats in Books and on Bed

There is a method of thought in the world that insists on binaries. Good/evil, Democrat/Republican, male/female, straight/gay, etc. I'll save my rant on the problems inherent in most binaries for another day; for the time being, I'll focus on the dog person/cat person binary, which may be the most polarizing of them all.

I try to avoid putting both feet in either camp by calling myself an animal person. I mean, in addition to the wonderful dogs and cats I have owned and adored, there's been two horses, a snake, a budgie, at least fifteen guinea pigs, and several tanks of fish. I'm pretty non-discriminating when it comes to pets.

It just so happens, though, that I a) just read an anthology of stories about cats and b) adopted a new cat this morning. Minerva is happily installed on what was previously my bed, and I'm sure she'll wake up soon and come investigate the potential of the keyboard. The anthology, Tails of Wonder and Imagination, edited by Ellen Datlow, is next to me, all 40 stories of it. So I guess the previous paragraphs are a disclaimer that I am not, exclusively, a cat person.

But for anyone who is a cat person, or just likes cats, or likes good stories and doesn't mind that they all relate to cats, Tails is a good collection. Some stories only brush against cats, some transmogrify or anthropomorphize them, and some plunge wholeheartedly into what it is to be a cat of some sort. I should warn you, though, that cats are often victims of very nasty people in this book, and I (being less a softy and more a marshmallow) needed kleenex more than once. Only a few include the POV of a cat, and of those I most recommend "Old Foss is the Name of His Cat" by David Sandner. It's not only a wonderful portrait of the dignities, follies, and mysteries of felines, but a gorgeous story in the finest tradition of absurd Victorian fairy tales. Its magic is effervescent, with the eerie Jumblies coming out of the sea to tempt Old Man into the deep; only the efforts of Old Foss and magic can keep them at bay. Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl all rolled into one. If you read only one story in this book, read this one.

Other ones that come out on top are Tanith Lee's "Arthur's Lion"--a very good take on the idea of dreams coming to life, and much stronger than "Tiger in the Snow" (Daniel Wynn Barber), which uses the same trope but in a less inventive way. "No Heaven Will Not Ever Be..." is a delightful piece of magical realism by A.R. Morlan that both touched and broke my heart. "Coyote Peyote" is another cat POV, but the cat is a smart-talking private investigator right out of Guy Noir: Private Eye, with lines like, "My self-esteem was so low I could have won a limbo contest dancing under it."

But as you read through, from beginning to end, I dare you not to notice this:

The consistent connection between cats and sexy women, usually though not always in the hands of male authors. "Dark Eyes, Faith, and Devotion" (Charles de Lint), "Not Waving" (Michael Marshall Smith), and "The Jaguar Jungle" (Lucius Shepard) all feature sexy, mysterious women who are also cats, with two 1st person male narrators and one third-person. "Candia" (Graham Joyce) wanders towards the furry side of the spectrum, with sexy women who have cat tails, also with a 1st person male narrator. "Antiquities" has John Crowley implicating the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet in a string of seductions in Victorian England. A character in "Antiquities" actually gives voice to this trend, and cites the grace and manner of cats as lending them to connection with attractive women. The first three feature women/cats in dependent positions relative to the male MC.

I mean, the connection between women and cats didn't start here or anything. Catwoman, catsuit, any number of hentai anthro films, the term "pussy," crazy cat ladies (never crazy cat men). We're stuck with felines, it seems, an we'll have to deal with it.

What we have demonstrated in these stories, ladies and gentleman, is the male gaze. The term was originally used in film studies to dissect the effect of male directors filming women, and the difference (actual and theoretical) from how they filmed men. The term and theory behind it has travelled over to literary studies, and I find it convenient for the time being. For on the male gaze: Feminism 101

The first three stories feature a doubled male gaze--male author and male POV character, both of whom (along with the not-necessarily-male reader) are looking at the female character. She is the watched, the desired (and let me assure you that plenty of page space went into describing just how desirable these women were. To which I say: my hetero vag doesn't care.) They are distant objects of desire, hidden by the feline/feminine mystique, while other women characters who were less secretive and plain became antagonists of the semi-feline beauties. It's a mild form of misogyny, this putting up on a pedestal of beautiful and unattainable women while those of us with plainness to spare get shoved aside. I was quite surprised to find this in De Lint's story, actually, because he's usually very down-to-earth with his women characters. His succumbing to the tropes of "mysterious and beautiful object of desire" was a bit disappointing; I expect his characters to be defined by something other than being wanted by a man.

I can almost excuse the "mysterious" part, since it is cats and cats are all mysterious and stuff, but I could do without it being intrinsically connected to women, like we're another species or something. "Mysterious" is not a character trait; it's an excuse to not actually give them a personality or agency, because they have to be secretive and whatnot.

I think what irritates me most is that it just isn't necessary. Why do women characters always have to be stunning, especially in fantasy? Men in the real world love, desire, and have happy lives with women who are not "beautiful," yet this never seems to translate into writing. Why do some authors (male and female) insist on defining their female characters' worth by how beautiful they are? I get enough of that on TV and in ads; please to take it out of my pleasure reading, kthx.

(Disclaimer for this and future posts: Yes, I am a feminist. Yes, I will actively look for this stuff when reading. No, I do not hate men. No, it doesn't mean I didn't like these stories or thought they were badly written or am blackballing the authors. Discussion of this appreciated; flaming will not be tolerated. I get to choose what flaming is and isn't.)

So. Quick wrap-up: Tails is good, though I wish Datlow could have edited out at least a few of the stories about teh hawtness of kitty-women. I'm off to snuggle with Minerva and read Catherine M. Valente's Palimpsest.