November 30, 2010

Further manifestations of creative reader baked goods & Ask Robin

Okay, is this too amazing or what?  One of our lurkers emailed me out of the blue a few days ago to say that (a) she really liked my books (b) she read the blog faithfully and (c) oh by the way she got married and I might be interested in her wedding cake. 

           Yowzah. 

           I’m not sure how clear the photo is going to be on your various screens (yes I asked her if I could post it first, she showed a bizarre pleasure at this request), but the bottom book is the complete Jane Austen.  The top one (the only standard item for a wedding) is the Bible.  The middle two I think you can see.  She wrote:  I am both an aspiring writer and a part time librarian and have a deep love of books so when none of the traditional wedding cake styles struck my fancy, I came up with my own design.  I chose my favorite love stories for each layer of the cake, the Bible on top, and the collected works of Jane Austen on bottom and Beauty and Spindle’s End in the middle.  . . . I thought Spindle’s End was especially appropriate as my husband often reminds me of Narl, right down to the occasional grunt.

              Also hee hee hee with the yowzah, then.

 * * * 

So in honour of all of my craz—of all of my thoughtful and judicious readers, let’s have an Ask Robin or two to finish off with.  I realise we haven’t had any in forever but this is mostly because I’ve been doing an awful lot of Ask-Robiny things* as part of the marketing splash for PEGASUS.  But the flood of these seems to be abating so I can flop back into my usual Days in the Life froth.**

            And remember the Ask Robin archive.   The official—as opposed to the clueless—queries about the sequel to SUNSHINE have fallen off, which would make me happier if the clueless ones didn’t keep coming in, but I’m still regularly asked whether Luthe and Aerin get back together, which I dealt with definitively here http://robinmckinleysblog.com/2010/09/21/ask-robin-sort-of-not-yes-no-maybe/  (it’s in among others, you have to scroll down a ways) although I’ve mentioned it various other places. 

            Here’s another one that I get regularly, and it’s certainly been answered in previous incarnations but I’m not sure it’s ever appeared on the blog and thus got into the archive: 

I’ve been wondering this one for years, and I think I’ve checked everywhere else for the answer. In Hero, after Aerin defeats Agsded, she falls asleep and dreams three different scenes. One is of Hetta from Water and one is Harry, I thought. But the last one is of three men, one of whom we hear is called Tommy and one called Leo. Is that a story that is published somewhere and I missed it, or is it a story not yet written, or is it in a drawer somewhere?

That’s actually not Hetta, although it’s a reasonable guess.  But ‘The white walls around her were so high there seemed to be clouds resting on their heads;  low steps behind her led to an open door . . . and the flat earth around the pool was covered with squares of white stone.’  Nope.  Not Hetta.  It’s yet another Damar story I haven’t told yet***, this one about a (relatively) back-country witch (she’s been banished for the sin of being inconvenient) who finds herself inadvertently going up against a general who is on her side in terms of feeling that the tyrant who banished her ought to be himself removed.  They have a slight disagreement about justifiable means.  The second one is Harry.  And the third one is a snippet, edited for inclusion there, from the original Damar story, the one I was writing and losing my mind over that I put aside to write BEAUTY, which was going to be a short story, right?  Just to give me a break from Damar.  It all began with Damar.

 * * *

* The most recent was headed ‘I’m a reader not a writer’ and was a list of funny or non-writing questions, such as What is the last film you saw? (I don’t remember, it’s been so long:  you could ask me what was the last opera I saw, I could answer that, and so could all my blog readers), or You have won one million dollars, what is the first thing you would buy? (A new front door for Third House), and various others that take too much backstory for anyone who doesn’t read the blog regularly, plus a lot of ‘what is your favourite—?’ ‘what is the single—?’ which always make my mind go blank.  But one of those that I knew the answer to instantly was ‘what is your favourite flavour of ice cream’ . . . which regretfully I decided not to answer.  Of course I’m going to post the link when it goes live, and lots of faithful blog readers were going to say, favourite ice cream, she doesn’t eat ice cream, she’s always moaning about not eating dairy, what’s with this, I’m not going to feel sorry for her any more.  I would hate it if people stopped feeling sorry for me for not being able to eat ice cream.  So I thought I’d tell you that while my tradition of having an Ice Cream Blow Out about once a year has rather lapsed because the last time I did it I really paid for it and I’m thinking even ice cream isn’t worth it . . . I can still remember the Perfect Ice Cream, which is chocolate chip in vanilla ice cream.  LOTS of chocolate chips in a SUBLIME vanilla ice cream.  Which they pretty well frelling stopped making, or maybe it’s just what I could find over here, and maybe, since I stopped having blow outs, the fashion has swung back in my direction (in which case don’t tell me).  I used to end up buying a pint of sextuplet chocolate super whammy ice cream plus a pint of vanilla, Haagen Dasz^ or Ben and Jerry’s or—more lately—Green & Black’s, and mixing.^^  And yes, I could get through two pints of ice cream in a single blow out, no problem.^^^ This used to freak Peter out enough however that the last time or two I did it when he was playing bridge.

^ I don’t remember how to spell this, so I was googling it and . . . they appear to have a theme song ‘Melt Together’—??!!!??   Okay, it’s a good thing I don’t buy their ice cream any more.

^^ I think it was Haagen Dazs that used to have a vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds.  This with octuplet chocolate whatever . . . mmmmmmmm.  All right, I’m homesick.  I’m homesick for a body that can eat ice cream.  Never mind. 

^^^ A woman who can eat a quarter of a pie for supper is not going to be stymied by two pints of ice cream. 

** I originally wrote ‘sloth’ and then thought SLOTH?  800-1500 words every night is SLOTH?  Holy slavedriver, Batman, what is my idea of hard work?  Froth, however, is clearly valid. 

*** It’s not even one of the regular Several Third Damar Novels

Morning After Pumpkin Pie

 

Meanwhile . . . it’s still cold.  And you’ll be hustling along after your hellhounds trying to warm up enough to stop your teeth chattering and your fingers burning*, so you’re also breathing shallowly because that air in your nice warm lungs is cold, and sooner or later the imbalance between output and input catches up with you and you are forced to take a long, deep, painful breath and . . . it smells like snow.  AAAAUGH.  According to the forecast we’re going to have flurries for the next several days, culminating in proper snow which will then turn to sleet this weekend.**  So charming.  Whoever pissed the weather gods off, can we please stake them outside the village walls for the tigers, Skadi, Boreas, Beira, or whoever, and get on with our lives?  I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas, okay?  I’m dreaming of hurtling hellhounds without getting knotted up in Chaos’ dranglefabbing slightly-too-small coat*** which will not stay where it’s put, but moseys around like a housefly on a wall.

            This disagreeable weather continues to rouse memories of holidays past in regions where snow for Thanksgiving was not unheard-of and snow for Christmas planned for.†   And I had a long conversation with Hannah this afternoon including comparative Thanksgiving dinners, and hers wins, since she was catering for the multitudes, and for the American multitudes at that, who have expectations.††  And specifically what I found myself remembering was one or two unsatisfactory Thanksgivings from the dim and distant past, and coming home afterward to a cold house without even any of the right leftovers in the refrigerator because I’d had dinner somewhere else, and feeling out of sorts because however admirable the dinner and enlivening the company, certain specific Thanksgiving cravings had not been slaked.  Take pumpkin.  I love pumpkin.  I realise this is not a universal philosophy.  There are people who positively dislike pumpkin.  These unnatural creatures have even been known to host Thanksgiving dinner . . . and fail to produce pumpkin pie. 

            On one of these occasions I came home late Sunday night, tired, cranky, and jonesing like a koala bereft of eucalyptus.  Monday morning I went out in a purposeful manner, got a bargain on tinned pumpkin and made the following:

 Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie 

1 9” unbaked pie crust

1 c mashed cooked or tinned pumpkin (DON’T use so-called ‘pumpkin pie filling’)

1 c apple butter:  herewith begins the lecture.  It all depends on your apple butter.  You want something as thick as possible, and preferably not too sweet, but use what you like

¼ to ½ c dark brown sugar, depending on your apple butter

Again, the amount of spices you use will depend on the spiciness of your apple butter.  So, approximately ½ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp ginger.  I like sweet spices and would expect to use 1 tsp cinnamon, but if I’m using apple butter that I also made, this may be overkill

3 eggs

½ c evaporated milk

Probably a tablespoon or two of ordinary milk

Combine pumpkin, apple butter, brown sugar, spices.  (Mush up the brown sugar in a little of the pumpkin first, so it’ll beat in smoothly.)  Beat eggs together vigorously, then lightly into the pumpkin.  Stir in about half the evaporated milk and look at what you’ve got.  It should look gloppy but not runny.  (It helps if you’re used to what ordinary pumpkin pie filling looks like raw.  This will be darker and have more texture because of the apple butter, but it should be about the same consistency.)  If it’s already runny, stop now.  If it still looks kind of La Brea Tar Pitsy, stir in the rest of the evaporated milk.  Now look at it again.  If it’ll actually keep its shape in a spoon, that’s too gloppy:  add a little milk.  If it slowly oozes over the edge of the spoon—perfect. 

            Pour in the unbaked pie shell.  I cover the edges with tin foil so they don’t burn.  400°F for about 10 minutes, then lower to 350° and start checking after about 20 more minutes.  You want it set but not shrivelled, and you want to take the tin foil off the edges of the crust about 15 minutes before you take the pie out.  I usually figure 45-50 minutes total.

             As I recall it took me four days to get through it.  It was gone by the weekend—I did have a friend round once for a cup of tea and a slice of pie.  That was back in the days when I had a metabolism however . . . and also I lived alone, so if I wanted to have a glass of cranberry juice and a quarter of a pie for supper, it was my business.

* * *

* although the woolly liners in the All Stars are a great success in preventing the “ . . .Oh, oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire . . . !” thing, although a lack of wendigoes in southern England is also helpful.

** Penelope and Niall are being punished for leaving the Deputy Ringing Master in feeble and desperate charge for something so mere and frivolous as a holiday.

*** He is also dreaming of this

† Things I have never once been nostalgic for include the set of chains that lived in the boot of your car.  Yes, I keep telling you, I am that old. 

†† Someone on the forum wanted to know how you go about having Thanksgiving in England.  Basically you just roast your fowl of choice, slap a few platters of this and that on the table, line up the pies on the sideboard and shout, Yo!  Dinner!   The one standard I did officially allow to slip, back when we were at the (large) old house and had things like dinner parties cough cough cough COUGH which is to say feedable people in the vicinity, was to have the Thanksgiving blow-out on the following Saturday, since British employers don’t give you the Thursday and Friday off.

Blah blah blah cold blah blah bells blah blah COLD COLD COLD

 

It’s damnably cold here and I have to keep going out in it.  Hellhound hurtles, frelling belling, hauling dustbins down the death-defying cottage steps for Monday dustbin collection, which involves a lockdown on the entire town for half a day, caused by a single very-well-deployed dustbin juggernaut.  The only thing I can think of (trying . . . trying) in favour of freezing your appendages off is that it does put an old Maine girl in the mood for Christmas.  Sort of.  Christmas lights have been going up all over this weekend and my inner Scrooge is stirring and muttering.*

        Stuffed Chaos in his coat this afternoon because he feels the cold much worse than Darkness does, and stuffed proves to be the applicable verb.  He’s filled out at last.  Yaaaay.  Well, yaaaay from a happy-owner-he-EATS** point of view***:  not so much from a I-paid-money-for-these-coats-and-now-I-have-to-do-it-again? perspective.  Although it’s less the money than the prospect of finding the necessary:  my guys fall between sizes in a highly inconvenient way.†  Chaos, who heretofore has put up with his coat with minimal fuss, was Not Happy, and produced some eloquent postures that Marcel Marceau might have killed for (expressively).  And chances are, if Chaos’ is straining at the seams, Darkness’ isn’t going to go round him at all, so I’d better get, ahem, hot on the greyhound apparel sites.  Happy Christmas guys!  New clothing!  . . . There are some things that none of the men in my life really understand.††

          Eight a.m. was somehow even earlier than usual today and autopilot was much in evidence.  I was just recovering with a cup of tea and a bit of handbell bob major on Pooka††† when the phone rang and it was Amy, needing a last-minute fourth ringer tonight at Sox Episcopi.  Certainly, I’m not doing anything this afternoon but writing a novel.  It’s a good thing I left early, the church is completely invisible in the dark—even after I figured out by a process of crude elimination, consisting of driving through the village two or three times and turning around a lot, where it had to be I still couldn’t see it.  Even the lych-gate, favoured landmark of church-seekers all over these islands, is nestled in caliginous shrubbery—very tall caliginous shrubbery, so espying the steeple isn’t an option either.  Dranglefab.  And of course since you’re ringing before the service the church isn’t lit up yet. 

            Sox Episcopi’s bells are not possessed by demons in any of the standard ways.  but they’re itty-bitty tinkerbells, slightly larger than your standard 250ml wine glass but not by very much‡, and for those of us accustomed to more weight in the hand it’s a constant check and pull in so as not to yank one inadvertently out of the tower‡‡—and the ropes, furthermore, are about as thick and, crucially, as glossy as embroidery floss, which means you can’t get a grip.  It was a trifle exciting.  Amy wickedly had her hand through the bottom loop, which you must never, never, NEVER do, and I was ringing with my hands horizontal instead of vertical, my left hand creating a 90° bend in the rope as it fed through my right, to slow the oiled-pig slither down somewhat:  and little bells turn fast on their little wheels, so we were also going at almost handbell speed . . . gah.  I apologised at the end for having less than perfect control over my instrument, and Amy, bless her, apologised for dragging me away from a heap of warm hellhounds and said on the contrary, she was very grateful I’d said yes, because the bells were a bit tricky, and there were a lot of ringers she didn’t dare ask.  Flattery will get you everywhere:  Amy now has a slave for life.  If a somewhat insubordinate slave.  It had occurred to me as I was casting around in the dark for this legendary church which like Brigadoon only appears every hundred years and/or when it jolly well feels like it, that I could perhaps ask very submissively if there was any chance that Amy could come to New Arcadia tower practise this Friday?, because Niall and Penelope are going on holiday, I’ll be in charge, and I need supporters.‡‡‡ 

* * *

* Chiefly NOOOOOOOO.  GET AWAY FROM ME WITH THAT TINSEL.  It’s funny, you’d think I’d be delighted—any sparkle must be good sparkle, right?  Hmm.  It’s challenging, being a pink-glitter-loving grouch.  I wonder if I’d like the flash parts of Christmas any better if one of the denotative colours was pink?  My native extremism gets a workout around Christmas and Christmas doodah and fandangle however—I tend to want either NONE or TOO MUCH, and if you’re going to go for the latter it needs to be the right kind of too much, which is to say tacky, but even here there are pitfalls:  there’s a right and wrong tacky too.  This year like every year since we moved into town I will make excuses to walk past my favourite overstuffed garden of gewgaw delights as often as possible^ . . . and, for the last three blog-burdened years, to sigh over the impossibility of photographing it.  On the other hand, the two-storey inflatable Homer Simpson^^ remains in my mind as a touchstone, if perhaps not quite a shining light, of the Wrong Way to Go.^^^ 

^ I’m sure the hedges, fences and little public greens on that street are just as adequate for hellhound purposes as any others. 

^^ Which was not repeated after its first Christmas:  possibly the neighbours had no sense of humour. 

^^^ I have no sense of humour either.  Besides, he wasn’t even dressed up as Santa.  Or Rudolf.  Or even the Nuckelavee, although if one were feeling sufficiently unkind one might say he didn’t need to. 

** usually 

*** This includes not cringing when I see the RSPCA or the dog warden van go by because they probably won’t stop and talk to me about neglect and the importance of regular worming, etc. 

† Not least because by having kept their balls, they’re more robustly built, as I think Diane in MN pointed out. 

†† Although Peter obeys signals better. 

††† It’s working.  I’m afraid to tell Niall.  His face will light up in a truly ominous manner and he’ll start talking about Kent and Cambridge again.  This is a bit like a pianist who has finally mastered Three Blind Mice using both hands being assigned Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for next week.  

‡ This is bellringerspeak, you know.  The biggest bell is about 400 pounds.  Which is a pretty large wineglass really. 

‡‡ More bellringerspeak.  They’re up there with monster great frames and a lot of hardware.  But you could certainly break a stay, which would make you very, very unpopular. 

‡‡‡ Holidays, for pity’s sake.  Who needs holidays?  Although . . . if I’m getting into blackmail^ . . . I asked Niall in an insinuating fashion if there was any chance of ensorcelling him off to ring at Rumbelow some Sunday afternoon:  I’m not a beginner any more, but it still wouldn’t be at all a bad thing to be bringing along a really good ringer if you’re making an assault on a ring of notoriously difficult bells with a crack band, even if said crack band is avowedly desperate for any ringers for their second Sunday service.  He went away and consulted, and was advised that the marital CEO felt that he was already spending quite enough time ringing, thank you very much.^^  I happen to know however that he’s ringing handbells this evening and I’m wondering if some trade-off might be accomplished, possibly even including a lead or two of handbell Cambridge or Kent. . . . I can only die if my brain explodes. . . .

 ^ Saints preserve me, I’m turning into a politician

 ^^ I’ve heard a similar line myself, once or twice.  These tedious people with their ideas about moderation

Pegasus Parties – NYC and Indy (Black Bear)

On one hand, I feel guilty for hi-jacking Robin’s blog regularly with these Pegasus Party Reports.  On the other, every guest blog gives her that much more time to work on Pegasus II, so I can’t feel too bad about it….

So you’ve already heard about Jeanne Marie’s spectaculariffic get-together in Kansas City last weekend.  Our other two public PRC’s were in Indianapolis (my own stomping grounds) and The Big Apple.  Our New York gathering was small, but cozy–held at Irving Place Coffee in Manhattan.  Here’s a report from Kathy L., our intrepid organizer:

The cake party went very well!  We had 4 people in all–I think the confluence of the weekend and upcoming holidays derailed some plans.   However, a grand time was had by the four of us–we had tea, red velvet cupcakes, and even chicken soup!  We met at a classic, stereotypically hip New York cafe, identifying each other by our carefully positioned copies of Pegasus.  We talked books, books, and more books, circling around Robin’s many times, and gathering some terrific recommendations along the way.  I made everyone say what their favorite Robin book was and we had quite the range:  The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown, Deerskin, and Dragonhaven.  One of us was an eighth-grade teacher, and since everyone already had a copy of Pegasus, we agreed that the publisher’s copy ought to be donated to her classroom.

And a close-up of cupcake, coffee, and book:

Well done, Kathy L and the NYC crowd!

The central Indiana PRC was similar, in that it involved cupcakes, book chat, and more book chat!  I had a sudden attack of paranoia that we might only have 2 people (Kathy_S and myself, who were carpooling) and so I posted on my Facebook that I was on my way to a Pegasus Release and Cupcakes Party, about an hour before launch time.  Lo and behold, my friend Andy called out of the blue and asked to tag along–despite never having read Robin’s books, he’s a fantasy fan and is always up for trying something new.  So the three of us headed to the bookstore with a pile of McKinley books and a large box of cupcakes in tow.

The icing on the peanut butter chocolate one is to die for.

When we got to the bookstore, we found jhutchison already waiting for us–and SHE brought cupcakes TOO!

I don't even know what flavor this cupcake was. I don't care.

We all settled in to get to know each other, spread Robin’s books out on the table, and started chatting.  Soon we were joined by Maureen E, and Suzanne (who’s seldom on the forum, but reads the blog and decided to join our soiree!)  Andy was very excited to have an intellectual discussion about fantasy novels:

CUPCAAAAAAAAAKE

Well, after the cupcakes, that is.  Really, though, we had a great conversation about books–after some talk about Robin’s work, we went around the table and gave recommendations for the best thing we’d read recently that was NOT Pegasus.  We raffled off the posters and the book, plus a copy of YA Chalice (I had an extra.)  Pegasus was won by jhutchison, who already owns the book and thus declared her intention to donate it to her local library.  Hooray!

Finally the Barnes and Noble coffeeshop dude came over to find out just what we were up to.  We offered him a cupcake in exchange for taking our group photo; he readily agreed.

From left, that's Maureen E, Andy, Kathy_S, jhutchison, Black Bear, and Suzanne

As you can see, it was a highly successful Pegasus Release Weekend!  I’m looking forward to hearing from this week’s folks, we’ve got 4 coming up before the end of November.

****Special Note!**** If you are in the Denver Metro Area and you like Robin’s books, please consider coming to the Denver PRC!  They lost a couple confirmed attendees due to scheduling issues, but are pressing ahead regardless.  It’s December 4, at the Tattered Cover on 16th St. at 2:30 pm.  For info you can contact our organizer directly: hilarylpalmer [at] aol [dot] com.

 

Reading in Bed

 

The tooth isn’t so bad but the anaesthetic hangover is pretty extreme.  I slept like a dead thing last night (which is much to be preferred to not sleeping at all, of course) but having some experience of dental anaesthesia hangovers I thoughtfully set my kitchen-timer alarm to get me up this morning before the hellhounds’ bladders exploded.  When it went off I came gimping up to the surface like a wounded mole, peered out from under the duvet, several extra blankets and two enormous pillows*, blinked my tiny blind eyes at the terrible light** and wondered what planet I was on.  Earth?  Still?  I’d’ve sworn I’d reincarnated by now.  And it’s so COOOOOOLD.  Geez.  At this rate I’m going to turn the central heating on.  Such profligacy.   Usually the Aga can handle Hampshire winter, but when the hellhounds and I press ourselves against it till there is a faint charring smell and our outer surfaces are still cold, it may be time for drastic measures.  Barring the importunities of various bladders, including my own, I could just stay in bed . . . hey!  I have an idea!  We can all have a pee and go back to bed with a good book.*** 

            Ally Condie’s MATCHED is officially out the end of the month (according to the back of the ARC), but I’ve been seeing plugs and squees and rocketing sales for it for a little while now.  It’s another of these books I wasn’t going to like.  It’s dystopian.  Ugh.  I’m so over dystopias.  It’s told in present tense.  I continue to cling to my dislike of present tense narration, although there are getting to be kind of a lot of books that I’ve liked that are told in present tense.†  It’s chiefly a love story.  I like a little romance with my story;  when the love thing takes centre stage I get testy.  And this book has a clear moral.  Get away from me with that thing.

            In fact it’s subtle, perceptive and engrossing.  It’s told in this cool, simple, faux-naif voice (which fits the present-tense narration very well) by seventeen-year-old Cassia.  She has grown up in the perfect Society, where everyone (or perhaps almost everyone) is healthy and contented and has work to do that suits their abilities.  And, in this Society, when you are seventeen, you go to your Match Banquet, where you will meet your (perfect) mate, as perfectly chosen by the Society administration.  The book begins with Cassia, accompanied by her parents, her best friend Xander and his parents, going to the Match Banquet which will introduce both Cassia and Xander to their future spouses.  Cassia is nervous;  Xander is not.  You-the-reader may already be wondering about this Society, its arranged-marriage system and its curiously docile citizens.  Then there is this exchange between Xander and Cassia:

            ‘“How could you tell I was nervous?”

            ‘“Because you keep opening and closing that.”  Xander points to the golden object in my hands.  “I didn’t know you had an artifact.”  A few treasures from the past float around among us.  Though citizens of the Society are allowed one artifact each, they are hard to come by. . . . ’

            Citizens of the Society are allowed one artifact each?  Cassia’s precious object is a compact:  ‘“But look,” I tell [Xander], popping the compact open to show him the inside:  a little mirror, made of real glass, and a small hollow where the original owner once stored powder for her face, according to Grandfather.  Now, I use it to hold the three emergency tablets that everyone carries—one green, one blue, one red.’

            The three emergency tablets that everyone carries?  Okay, I’m pretty well hooked, and I’m only on page four.  The book is like this:  Condie smoothly feeds you the facts of Cassia’s life as they come up—and they come up steadily and appallingly—she slides a lot of the Society’s grotesque machinations over without Cassia ever noticing they’re grotesque, and you half don’t notice yourself which adds to the what??? when you do.  The force of the story is in Cassia slowly waking up to what we out here in this reality would call the horror of her situation:  ‘I’ve always wondered what my dreams look like on paper, in numbers.  Someone out there knows, but it isn’t me.  I pull the sleep tags from my skin, taking care not to tug too hard on the one behind my ear. . . . Glad that my turn is over, I put the equipment back in its box.  It’s [Cassia’s brother] Bram’s turn to be tagged tonight.’  What?  And I’ll leave you to discover for yourselves the ‘commissions to choose the hundred best of everything:  Hundred Songs, Hundred Paintings, Hundred Stories, Hundred Poems . . .’

            But something odd—something unprecedented, something un-Society-like—happens to Cassia.  At her Match Banquet she is Matched with Xander, her best friend.  This is rare enough;  most Matches have never met each other, never heard each other’s name, weren’t aware each other existed.  But it does happen, that Matches are known to each other.   But when Cassia reads the microcard the Society provides each person on their Match . . . for a moment the face that comes into view on the screen is not Xander’s.

            It is a boy named Ky Markham, whom Cassia also knows, although not well.  But when a Society official draws Cassia aside, apologises for the mistake, and gives her a new, perfect microcard containing only Xander’s face and information about Xander’s life, the official also tells her—to reassure her that the mistake was superficial only, that there was never any chance that Ky would have been her Match—that Ky will not be anyone’s match, because Ky is an Aberration.  Cassia is curiously distressed by this news.  And then she finds herself in a new hiking leisure-activity group (of course the Society monitors your leisure activities) with Ky, and begins to get to know him, and begins to wonder about a Society that would brand him an Aberration. . . .    

* * *

* These are a total necessity.   While it’s still dark, they block my over-the-road neighbour’s frelling security light which penetrates my feeble little curtain like an enchanted sword through the vitals of a miscreant.  Once it’s daylight they allow me to ignore people on the telephone wanting to offer me further unprecedented handbell opportunities;  upgrades on my iPhone package involving not only more minutes a month than there are minutes in a month, which I already have in my present package, but the chance to put my name down now for a real-time feed from the new space station they’re building around Rhea^, and if I die of old age first I can leave it to someone in my will;  and the Folio Society wanting me to resubscribe, which I have every intention of doing after it’s too late to qualify for their Christmas giveaways of large heavy books I don’t want but will feel a strange reluctance to give to Oxfam.  Said pillows also allow me not to hear brisk knocks on the door heralding the presence of meter readers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and frelling delivery persons who have been told 1,000,000,000 times to leave it behind the gate, you moron.  Pillows up to these arduous tasks are indeed so large and heavy I need three more support pillows to prevent my neck from breaking.

^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/nov/25/oxygen-saturn-moon-rhea

** And what is making that damned beeping noise?

*** Hellhounds like this plan.  It means they get to go to my bed.  Yes.  The one drawback to reading in bed in the winter (not that it stops me) is that one must have certain crucial body parts clear of the bedclothes with which to view and manipulate the book.  Well placed radiant hellhounds are of great benefit in these circumstances.  Totally worth all the hair they leave behind.

† I’m reading another one now, drat it, which will grace these virtual pages some day.

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