I seem to need a night semi-off.* So I thought I’d give you a book rec. I should do this more often. All this frelling reading should be GOOD for something, shouldn’t it?
I read this quite recently—on Astarte. On the Kindle app on my iPad. There have been various outbursts on the forum about the far greater desirability of old-fashioned hard-copy books with ink and pages and covers you open and close over and against the virtual screen pages you swipe with a finger on your e-reader of choice. Most of us acknowledge, more or less reluctantly, that e-readers have their place, however, especially the carrying your entire library with you in one slim electronic package aspect. When the next 7,000 flights are cancelled at Heathrow/O’Hare/Kuala Lumpur/Mars Central at least you have plenty to read.**
There’s another reason for e-readers as most of you know although it’s not so much discussed. I think it unsettles us Luddites. Which is that sometimes an e-book version is the only one available. And then you’re very glad to have it.
I don’t remember when I first started tripping over intriguing references to ALCHEMY OF STONE. It finally got on my amazon wish list when it was merely out of stock, and I wasted some time looking around for it elsewhere while waiting for it to come back into stock. I think there was a spell there when it wasn’t available anyway, anyhow—except for £3,612,007 on eBay—so when I accidentally discovered, some time later, that it was available on Kindle, I grabbed it.
There’s a certain justice to reading it as an e-book however; the central character is an automaton named Mattie. She was created by a clever, but damaged both physically and morally, human man; and given by him partial autonomy. Their society is divided into Mechanics and Alchemists. He is a Mechanic; he grants her freedom to study alchemy, become an alchemist, live apart from him and stop ministering to his whims—much; but he retains the key that winds her heart. That keeps her alive. Or ‘alive’.
Of course the basic story tension is between Mattie, who is far more human than Loharri is, even if he is the one made of flesh and she is the one made of springs and clockwork—by him. But it’s also about the balance, or lack of it, in their society. The status quo is unravelling as the book opens, and things start going badly wrong. . . .
There is so much to like in this book, starting with the gargoyles on page one, who come to Mattie for alchemical help. Mattie herself is a spectacular piece of story-telling; you never for a moment forget she’s not human and yet every reference to ‘the bronzed wheel-bearings of her joints squeak their mechanical greeting’ or ‘Her frame clicks as she leans forward. . . . Her dress is low-cut, and . . . there is a small transparent window in her chest, where a clockwork heart is ticking along steadily’ or ‘She extended her hand, the slender copper springs of her fingers grasping a phial of blue glass’ only makes her more human.
And I liked this book a lot. Sedia writes so well. Real style is far rarer than one might wish it were. Than I wish it were. Now, truth in advertising: this is not the most cheerful and optimistic book you’ll ever read. But I prefer to read the ambiguous ending as hopeful.
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* Probably because we’ve had bad news about someone close to us and it casts a long shadow. . . . Dear bleeding Christ on the cross dying for our sins why is life LIKE THIS?
** Although a back-up battery and a universal^ mains charger would be a good plan.
^ I guarantee that when they start laying power cables in the red dirt of Mars your travelling mains charger/power adapter will need another lobe. Every frelling country on Earth seems to have its own unique idea about electricity delivery. Think of the rampant pioneering possibilities of an entire fresh planet.
Do you dream Middle Earth, Robin, or is that just Kes? (If you’re willing to tell, of course.)
Yes. Absolutely. I was probably ‘dreaming’ the Shire before I got to the end of chapter one and it went with me when I went to bed. I read LOTR for the first time at eleven, like Kes, and it immediately altered the entire shape and extent and bias and EVERYTHING of my mind and imagination.* It was like adding dye to your rinse water: suddenly all your white shirts are hot pink. And will never be white again.** And you become a different person, wearing pink shirts, when you used to wear white. I really can’t exaggerate the effect reading LOTR had on me. And I’m a very visual person, both awake and asleep.
Middle Earth is so irretrievably and inextricably mixed up with my mind and heart and life and memories that I can’t always be sure what is dream and what is memory—or what is dream-memory of Middle Earth. You dream something enough and you develop a kind of belief in it: I think before a year ago last September it was also my Dante and my Milton. A lot of its landscape is as familiar as anything I’ve seen when I’m awake, and it’s mostly fairly consistent. Also I’ve been dreaming it for fifty years. [Note: eeep.] By sheer accumulation it’s a lot realer than some of my so-called real-life stuff. And I’d much rather spend time there, even when there are Balrogs involved, than—oh—sitting in endlessly stalled traffic breathing exhaust and missing your appointment or discovering that your favourite dress in the universe has moth holes.
About questions I won’t answer: when I used to talk to school groups a lot I used to tell them I’d answer almost anything but what I had for breakfast and what colour my typewriter was.*** The idea being that there are no stupid questions although there are a few irrelevant ones.† I can usually put a spin on the ones that I consider to be invading my privacy;†† people have different ideas about where the lines are, and I don’t have a tattoo on my forehead that says PRIVACY FETISHIST. A lot of mistakes are genuine: even a hellgoddess knows this.
And I’ve relatively rarely been heckled. It’s happened a few times, and very unpleasant it is—and I’ve also, a few times, had classrooms that were out to get me, but every one of those without exception I saw coming by the relationship of the kids with their teacher—but I don’t (much) write the kind of edgy, controversial, in your face stuff that attracts aggressive or splintery personalities.††† My problem more often was the warm fuzzy patroniser: the perfect stranger who would walk straight up to me (around a podium or signing table at a publisher’s booth as necessary), give me a hug, and tell me what a sweet little story BEAUTY is. ARRRRRGH.
One additional reason why I am the snarling hellgoddess you see before you today is because of all those people warping me when I was a tender young author. ‡
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* This effect may have been exaggerated by the fact that it was happening in Japan. I’ve told you this before of course. My US Navy father was stationed there—this is the early sixties, less than twenty years after the end of WWII—and we lived on a ‘dependents’ base in a Tokyo suburb. You don’t get a lot more alienated from your surroundings and apparent reality than being an immediately-identifiable kid belonging to the military-occupation gang, surrounded by a people and a culture who don’t want you there—and where by the shape of your eyes and the colour of your hair don’t belong. Going native is only a limited option: you can’t just go over the wall, borrow some clothes and hang out. Japan itself looked very strange to me but—and I’ve told you this before too, but it’s also one of the major influences on my life and my storytelling so on a blog that only exists because I write books for a living it’s worth repeating—when I got back to America it looked strange and—alien. Home was no longer home.
And I missed Japan, where I didn’t belong and never learnt to speak the language. Speaking of dreaming: I’ve dreamed of Japan all my life since we left too, and I guarantee it has as much to do with reality as the Shire does to the Worcestershire of Tolkien’s childhood.^
Lots of writers and other artistic types feel like rejects, oddballs, exiles and outcasts for one reason or another, and I was a dweeby, awkward kid and would have found my dork status quickly enough even if I’d been born and grown up in the same town and graduated from high school with the same class I’d started kindergarten with. But I got to have the whole creative-doodah-stands-apart-from-society made manifest by being a Navy brat. As the saying goes, if Tolkien hadn’t existed I’d’ve had to make him up. I’m very glad I didn’t have to make him up. I wouldn’t have done nearly such a good job.^^
^ My dreams of Middle Earth are, of course, dead accurate.
^^ Although there would have been more WOMEN.+
+ How frelling convenient is it that dwarf women are never seen? And that there aren’t very many of them, and to outsiders they look just like the blokes? Why didn’t Tolkien invent cloning and get it over with? Or maybe they slam a couple of gems together and SHAZAAM!, new (male) dwarf?
** Which is a good thing. White is a nightmare to keep white.^ Although I have no idea why I would necessarily think of this image in terms of hot pink.
^ At least if you spend a lot of time in the company of garden plants and hairy hellcritters. And chocolate.
*** It’s been a very long time since I did a lot of school groups.
† I was also lucky. No one ever asked me anything like ‘Have you ever had sex with a giant tortoise?’ That one is perhaps easy^. But I also pretty much escaped any of those questions where the discernable pause before I said ‘no’ might have been suggestive.
†† Where do you live?
††† Mostly. I have referred occasionally to the fact that a few of my letters and emails are real snorters. And it’s funny not-ha-ha what some people think is edgy and controversial and in your face.
‡ This is also one of the reasons I’m a bit testy about a certain attitude toward my first novel. I know, I know, long-time blog readers have heard this all before. The people who love BEAUTY because it’s sweet and who therefore (inevitably) think all the rest of my books are less sweet like this is a failing, FRELL ME OFF. I know, I know, it’s just another demonstration of the ‘if you do something once successfully DO IT AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN.’ This works pretty well with kicking footballs and making brownies. IT DOESN’T WORK WITH STORY-TELLING. NOT REAL STORY-TELLING.^
^ And please don’t remind me that some of those purveyors of the same frelling story, yea verily unto the ninety-sixth volume, are wealthy and I am not. You win some and you lose some.
Arrrrrrgh. I am not getting on with sorting out Third House for rental as fast as I should through a combination of factors: gremlins, gremlins, ME, native disorganizational genius, deep personal reluctance imperfectly repressed and gremlins. Did I mention gremlins? Originally I was going to start moving [Peter’s and my] backlist to the storage warehouse last week but Atlas and I got our diaries crossed* and he showed up on Thursday when I was going to the dentist.** ARRRRRGH.
First opportunity for a reschedule was today. I am not sleeping well*** and I have all these CRITTERS to hurtle and Peter and Atlas are detestably early risers so they played pinochle or something till I pantingly arrived, having run the hellterror 6,728 times around the (tiny) kitchen at the cottage, including over the island and across the ceiling† while I mainlined black tea, then locked her back in her crate with her breakfast†† and threw the hellhounds in the back of Wolfgang for ballast. We convoyed to Hrothgar’s Hall††† with Atlas going uphill at about twelve miles an hour with all that backlist dragging him down, and Peter noted lugubriously that it was too far for him to come on his bicycle. !!!!!!!*&^%$£”!!!!!!!! YES, IT IS.
We fell out of our various vehicles and I made a horse’s ass of myself trying to break into . . . I mean, use my honestly-acquired keys and instructions to get us into the flipping warehouse and open the loading gate. I’d still be there‡ if Atlas hadn’t cleared his throat and indicated salient features a couple of times. How does he KNOW? These frelling mechanical people. It’s like being able to do maths in your head or fly by flapping your arms. You’re either born with the gift or you aren’t.
I took hellhounds for a sprint around the perimeter while Atlas and Peter got on with unloading. There were sheep, white-winged doves that made me come all over Emmylou Harris and make a nice change from pigeons, and horses. This may have possibilities: I’ll have to look at the local footpath map. I quite like the idea of going for six copies of THE SUNSHINE ROSE HERO AND THE OUTLAW BLUE PEGASUS CHALICE END and having a nice country hurtle with some critters while I’m at it.‡‡
I looked at the space remaining in the tiny cubicle—the barely-more-than-a-cupboard—after Atlas and Peter had made tidy box-piles against one wall, and thought dark, evil thoughts. Then we all went home for lunch‡‡‡ . . . after which I crept, bent and oppressed with woe,§ back up to Third House and squinted, with the other eye squeezed shut, at the remaining boxes of backlist and 4,341 other people’s books still on shelves. . . .
Bottom line. I haven’t got a prayer of getting all those books in that space.§§ Never mind the odd box of towels§§§ and maybe kitchen china too.#
So Atlas brought the next load, this time of my backlist, along since that’s what he was there for and we weren’t going to burst out of the confines of the cupboard till the third load, and I applied to the Nice Man## who runs Hrothgar’s Hall and . . . of course he’s just rented the last remaining next-size-up cupboard and only has small airplane hangar—sort of helicopter hanger—sized units left. So I am faced with ENTIRELY READJUSTING my plans for only having stuff like backlist that we need to have available in this place and storing the big stuff in the very-slightly-cheaper, but-your-stuff-goes-away-and-you-can’t-get-at-it warehouse.
I’m so happy. Not.
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* A little like pistols at dawn, but not very
** That whole side of my head is still irregularly flaring and snarling and saying DON’T DO THAT AGAIN, OKAY? Whimper. But he’s not done yet.
*** I am still breathing = I am not sleeping well
† The pans hanging from the ceiling rack making a musical noise as she weaves among them like a barrel-racing Quarter horse
†† She is now getting most of her food via kong. http://www.kongcompany.com/en-uk/
This is supposed to help keep her amused. Rather than just chowing down the contents of her bowl faster than the speed of light^ she has to work for her meals. Well, yes, but trust the hellcritter that belongs to me to find an alternative application. Your dog is supposed to chew the thing: Pav mainly throws it around. She does some chewing . . . but mostly she throws it around. Whang. Whang. WHOP. Whang. As musical accompaniments go I prefer the ting-tong of clashing pans.
^ This is totally true, you know. Scientists should investigate the physics of bullie food-inhalation. I’m sure the resulting warp drive would be better than dilithium crystals. We might make it to the stars after all.
††† Big storage facilities are creepy. I’m sure there are some really excellent horror stories about big storage facilities. Don’t bother to tell me: there’s no way I’m going to read any of them.
‡ And the hellterror would be very cross and HUNGRY.
‡‡ ::Urgently looking for reasons not to hate everything about renting Third House::
‡‡‡ Variously. The lunch part did not include the hellhounds. Siiiiiiiigh. Hellterror says, Put me in, coach. I can handle it. I’ll even play with that dumb rubber thing if it makes you happy.
§ Including non-eating hellhounds
§§ Also I think there’s a Pit and the Pendulum vibe and with every box you deposit in the space the walls move a little closer together.
§§§ There’s nothing the hellterror enjoys more than a nice towel shredding, so I can use the back-up
# We don’t need any hellterror help for breakages. Although she did take out the plate glass window of my ex-glass-fronted bookcase about a week ago. I spent hours sweeping, scrubbing and patting the floor for splinters. Also moaning. Moaning goes with this kind of work. The kitchen floor hasn’t been that clean in years.
## He probably needs a name. He will probably appear on these pages again. Also, he has two adorable spaniels. One of them wags her tail in her sleep.
I really need a night off.* So I thought I’d leave you with two Exciting Announcements and a few links.**
Peter’s IN THE PALACE OF THE KHANS has been nominated for the Carnegie long list:
And just in case you haven’t already bought your copy, here’s a reminder:
The ‘buy now’ takes you to amazon.uk but amazon.com and Barnes and Noble have it as well.
And SHADOWS is coming out in the UK:
EBook 5 December
Paperback 2 January
The cover will look pretty much the same and the blurby stuff has been rewritten but it’s still about Maggie and some very peculiar shadows. It should be available for pre-order by now.**
And if you wish to be encouraged, possibly inspired, but not to say hectored, pleeeeease read this:
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* You know there are several people out there who have offered guest posts and then disappeared. . . . Just thought this might be worth mentioning.
** You’ll have to look the link up yourselves. I don’t go near the Robin McKinley pages on amazon.
*** Or if you want to be reminded of my back catalogue you can read this:
That would be graphic book rec, or if you prefer fabulous comic book rec.*
. . . Oh heavens, how do I try to tell you what a hoot it is, and how adorable? Especially when my head is going bang bang bang as the inevitable result of two and a half hours in a dentist’s chair today.** Well I can start by saying that it’s perfect reading for lying on a sofa with an assortment of hellcritters and a sore head***.
A charming young Victorian woman, whose famous father is an archaeologist, wants to go for a walk in Kensington Park, but has no chaperon. Being an enterprising sort, she fishes one of her father’s mummies out of his sarcophagus, dresses him in tails and a top hat, and drags him outdoors. They listen to Mozart. They take tea.
They fall in love.†
One warning: the plot, such as it is, is very, very, very ridiculous, and for pity’s sake don’t expect consistency or for all the loose flapping bits to be tied up before the end. Once you’ve got your seatbelt on—and your rational intellect sent off to read Schopenhauer†††—you’ll be fine. But I spent the first several pages going, Wha’? Wha’? I don’t read much illustrated storytelling and am not used to the tropes. It’s okay, I went back and reread the beginning. But I hope you won’t have to.
I loved the drawing—Queen Victoria alone is worth the price of admission‡—and the text is full of divine one-liners. I usually figure that anything in the first few pages doesn’t count as a spoiler but in a very short graphic novel, um. However . . . our mummy gets drunk on his tea: ‘ . . . I’ve had neither food nor drink in thirty-two centuries . . .’ While he’s sleeping it off he dreams of his children, and they guess he wants to marry the pretty lady. Maybe her father won’t agree to it, he says. Why wouldn’t the lady’s father agree? they ask. ‘Because I’m dead and it’s just not done,’ he replies.
A word here also for the translator, Alexis Siegel, who must have had a hell of a time in both the good and the bad way.
Go for it.
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* I’ve never quite become friendly with the ‘graphic novel’ or, since they’re not always fiction, ‘graphic literature’ terminology. Having spent my entire professional life being whacked around by one or another genre label^ I feel that graphic literature sounds like an attempt to civilise something that at its best is often enthusiastically and energetically uncivilised.^^ But I admit I don’t know fiddlesticks about that corner of the publishing world, so I may be tilting at non-existent windmills about this.
^ When are you going to write/have you ever written a real book?
^^ A bit like F&SF, for example. Or what the Victorians did to fairy tales when they decided to dumb them down for kids.
** Yes. Shorter than predicted. He didn’t finish. Moan.
*** Even if the need to keep the youngest of the party firmly trapped in place was not ideal in these circumstances
† Well of course.
†† Well of course.
Schopenhauer at one point uses the example that in case of a child’s death a woman with a lesser intellectual capacity will suffer less than a woman with a developed intellect.
The point being that the analysis and understanding of death and its consequences enhances the pain far beyond the mere acute animalistic pain. Thus the higher evolved the intellect the more the suffering. . . .
I’m afraid this chiefly makes me want to climb in my trusty time machine and race back through the centuries so that I can rip Schopenhauer’s head off and give it back to him on a platter with an apple in its mouth. Of all the . . .
And just by the way I observe that it’s apparently only the woman who grieves? Presumably there had been a dad involved in this situation? Presumably men are pure intellect and don’t stoop to mere weak mortal grief at all? Grrrrrrrr.
Note that I hated Philosophy 101 in college. Just for reasons like these. My [male] professors weren’t overly fond of me either.
‡ Although once I got my seatbelt on, the one place I was thrown out of the story again was by reference to Queen Victoria’s corgis. It’s not Queen Victoria who has corgis.^
^ Okay, it’s a joke, fine. Don’t joke about DOGS.
‡‡ And it’s totally cool to have a book rec about a thirty-two-hundred-year-old mummy named Imhotep on Halloween. Eat your heart out, Boris Karloff. Or Arnold Vosloo, for that matter.