After the revolution, we’ll run more human interest pieces

CAPITOL CITY (PANEM) — Capitol University sophomore Jayden Sanderson studies a 3D simulation of a lush forest. He zooms in on a river that flows placidly through the trees. “There.” He points to a spot where the river’s bank broadens out. “It doesn’t look like much, but there’s just enough mud here for a Tribute to camouflage himself. The gamemakers didn’t count on that. The probabilities and projections always change once you add the human factor to a game. That’s the challenge.” The game design student smiles, making clear that as a hopeful future gamemaker, it’s a challenge he welcomes.

But as the Capitol gears up for the 100th annual Hunger Games, not all citizens share Sanderson’s enthusiasm. Many question whether, in this era of unprecedented prosperity for Panem, the games have outlived their usefulness.

“Sure, the Games held Panem together during a tumultuous period in our history,” says District 7 mayor Raymond Mason. “But I think it’s safe to say no one’s thinking of rebellion now.” He laughs as he gestures to the living room of his spacious townhouse, as if to prove his point. Such luxuries, a generation ago unthinkable for even the mayor of this once-impoverished lumber district, have become increasingly common among all District residents. “The Games have served their purpose. It’s time to move on.”

Hortensia Cooper, however, says Mason makes the mistake of assuming the Games’ benefits are purely political. “The economic benefits are undeniable,” insists Cooper, who serves as acting director of the Capitol Chamber of Commerce. “The prosperity we see today is a direct result of the Games, and stopping them now could propel us into a fiscal depression the likes of which we haven’t seen since the dark days of the rebellion.”

Quintillian Booth, chair of the nonprofit advocacy group Panem Remembers, counters that running the Games has a cost, too, one that can’t be measured purely in dollars and cents. “We must also consider the cost of 2,302 young lives lost since the Games began.” That’s 23 Tributes a year, plus an additional 24 for the 50th Quarter Quell. “And who can forget the 74th Games, which didn’t have a winner?” Booth asks.

It was after the 74th Games—the same Games Sanderson now studies in his classes—that this debate began. That was the year District 12 Tributes Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark shocked viewers by taking their own lives and leaving the Games without a victor. “Yeah,” Sanderson admits with an uneasy laugh. “The gamemakers didn’t count on those poison berries, either.”

“If you weren’t alive then, it’s hard to understand the horror of that moment,” says Madge Undersee, mayor of the coal-mining district Everdeen and Mellark hailed from. “When we realized what Katniss and Peeta had done, well, it changed the way we thought about the Games forever.”

Graecina Sand agrees the way we think about the Games has changed. “We’ve taken the lessons of the 74th Games very much to heart,” says this year’s Head Gamemaker, “and we’ve made quite a few changes since then. Those changes include relying solely on trained volunteer Tributes, nanobots that see to it the slain die instantly and without pain, and a ban on poisonous plant life. “We’ve moved well beyond the barbarism of our ancestors,” Sand says. “The Games today are quite humane, and taking part is a choice and a privilege, as anyone who watches the Tribute interviews can attest.” That watching those interviews is now optional is another, more recent, reform.

Yet Cooper insists, “Today’s Tributes have less choice than we’d like to believe. The sums paid to the families of those who enter the Tribute training pools is quite substantial. For young people whose families are struggling to put food on the table, there often isn’t any other choice. In the old days the process was at least somewhat democratic, but today’s Games target the Districts’ most vulnerable residents.”

Still, with recent Games budget increases and new scholarships focused on mentoring promising game design students from outside the Capitol, the Games don’t seem set to end any time soon. Recent legislation seeks to open participation to immigrants from beyond Panem’s borders as well.

“The Hunger Games are a defining part of who we are as a nation,” says President Coriolanus Snow, who like Undersee personally remembers the 74th Games. “They have a long and storied history that I see no need to apologize for. Indeed, it is an honor to be a part of it.”

Written after coming upon a fanvid with its own take on the 100th Hunger Games.

On doing a thing I needed to do

As many of you know, my first sale was to one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover anthologies, and that sale gave me my first glimmer of hope that I could build a professional writing career. I recently had a story appear in a second Darkover anthology, produced by MZB’s estate, and I tremendously enjoyed returning to one of the places where my career began.

As some you also know, this week Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter revealed in public that her mother abused her.

I read and reread her daughter’s words this week. I read, too, portions of MZB’s own court deposition (from her husband’s trial, also for child abuse) that I hadn’t read before. Then yesterday I took a deep breath, and I added up the advances from my two Darkover sales, my Darkover royalties, and (at his request) my husband Larry Hammer’s payment for his sale to MZB’s magazine.

And then we made a donation to the anti-abuse charity RAINN for that amount. I’ll donate any future Darkover royalties, as well.

I remain proud of the Darkover stories I’ve written, and I respect the many fellow writers who also got their start on the pages of MZB’s anthologies and in her magazine. MZB played a huge role in many of our careers, and it’s not my intention to deny that, or to deny how deeply many readers were touched–and in some cases saved–by MZB’s work.

But I also can’t deny the harm caused by the flawed creator of that work. What I can do is see to it that my having written in her worlds goes towards fighting those same hurts and abuses in the places they’re happening now.

So that’s what I’m doing.

And I’m posting about it here–though this feels more like a personal decision than a public one–because silence about abuse creates the illusion of acceptance, and illusions gain power over time, and so sometimes, speaking aloud is more important than staying comfortable.

Realism and mythical lyrical magical books

So on the livejournal version of last week’s post about the hard-to-define magic-y mythic-y lyrical fantasy genre, the subject of books that have this feeling without being fantastical came up.

Dacuteturtle talked about how some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories have this feeling for her. Rachelmanija talked about how “secret garden” books do.

I realized that for me, this is a huge part of the appeal of, say, the Icelandic family sagas, which are often light on the magic (and vague about its nature), and which for lack of better terminology I’ve been describing as having the feel of Tolkien, with less magic and more lawsuits. Rymenhild talked about medieval myths and allegories on the livejournal post, which one could argue are either fantasy or a genre of their own. I’d add Beowulf to her list, once one adds the poetry of the Seamus Heaney translation. (Or, I’m guessing, the original old English.)

The contemporary examples that most readily come to mind for me are Deborah Noyes’ Plague in the Mirror (whose the timeslip is the only magical element) and Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal (which feels magical yet doesn’t have anything that’s inarguable magic, though it does have things that arguably are).

Anyway, this all got me to thinking. Lots of folks talk about whether fantasy can achieve the same things realism can, with the spoken or unspoken assumption that a fantasy work is somehow more worthy or literary if it does.

But we don’t talk nearly so much about whether realism can achieve the things fantasy does, and reach for those heights. And whether it might be more worthy on some level if it does so, too.

Looking for a certain sort of book

So, there’s a certain kind of book I’m always on the lookout for. It’s not the only kind of book I’m on the lookout for, but it is the kind of book I adore when I find it.

I think of the genre as lyrical mythic fantasy. Books that can be spare, but not so spare as to lose that lyricism–this isn’t the genre of transparent prose. Books that can be dense, but not so dense that they lose a certain lightness and flow. Books that are deeply, richly immersive. Liminal perhaps. Transporting, but not only transporting. Books that make you believe the mythic is just through that veil over there, and that make you believe this as much or more through sheer language as through cleverness of worldbuilding.

You can see how this might be hard to describe. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully succeeded. When I mention what I’m looking for, I often get recs for straight up fantasy-adventure with a dash of interesting world-building. That’s not what I’m looking for (or not what I’m looking for when I talk about this kind of book–of course I like other kinds of books, too, and many books I adore don’t fit into this at all). I know what I do want when I see it, which of course is not very useful if one is looking for recommendations.

Examples include The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, The Changeling Sea, The Underneath, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Last Unicorn, maybe Moonheart and Mythago Wood (it’s been years since I read those last two, so they could have changed in memory). It almost, but not quite, includes The Blue Sword, but if I mention the Blue Sword, I get all the wrong sort of recommendations again. I just started Sorrow’s Knot, which looks like it might fit though I’m not far enough in to that yet to be sure. If Miyazaki wrote novels, it would include some but not all of his work.

Of course, all of this is highly subjective, and a book that fits this description in one reader’s mind won’t in another’s. That’s how reading works, after all.

But I thought I’d go ahead and ask, and see what I might discover. If any of the above resonates for you, and you think you might know the sort of book I’m talking about … any recommendations?

ETA: For some interesting further discussion of this sort of book, check out the comments on the livejournal version of this post.

Pen Pal, by Francesca Forrest

(I’m behind on actually sharing my reading thoughts here, but do post more regularly on Goodreads as I read.)

I first read Pen Pal on the author’s blog, where it was primarily a series of letters between the main characters. When I started reading the final version, I initially was uncertain about the addition of other epistolary elements: journals, newspaper clippings, government files, letters from other characters, worried they would change the story I’d loved.

And they did … into something richer and deeper.

penpal.jpgEm is a child of water, living in a floating community on the Gulf coast. Kaya is a child of fire, imprisoned half a world away above a volcano.

They need each other, though they don’t at first know it.

Em believes in the Seafather who watches over her people. Kaya isn’t sure whether she believes in the Ruby Lady, but she was arrested for holding a ceremony for her, just the same.

When Em’s wistful message in a bottle reaches Kaya, their two stories become entwined, and the result is a numinous story about stories and how they wind their way through lives and through communities.

This book isn’t a fantasy, not really. But it hits a particular immersive mythic-y button for me that I don’t know how to describe–I only know it when I see it, and know as well that it’s hard to find.

And it gave me exactly the right sort of happy sigh when I turned the last page, as well.

Happy new year!

Books Read in 2013:

1. The Planet Savers, Marion Zimmer Bradley (start of a Darkover reread that I never quite finished)
2. Arrow, R.J. Anderson
3. Sword of Aldones, Marion Zimmer Bradley
4. White Fur Flying, Patricia MacLaughlan
5. Doll Bones, Holly Black (adored this book about the changing–and not so changing–role of pretend games as we grow up)
6. The Bloody Sun (1964 edition), Marion Zimmer Bradley
7. Eye of the Storm, Kate Messner (quite liked this dystopic story of a superstorm-plagued future)
8. Star of Danger, Marion Zimmer Bradley
9. Winds of Darkover, Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. Spell Bound, Rachel Hawkins
11. The Desert Cries: A Season of Flash Floods in a Dry Land, Craig Childs
12. Mirage, Jenn Reese (really digging this series, too)
13. The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate (well written, but why do we tell so many kids’ stories about mothers who die and the heroic fathers who take their place and so few stories about mothers who live and are heroic?)
14. Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, Kristin Chandler
15. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel, Nikki Grimes
16. Planet Middle School, Nikki Grimes
17. Life After Theft, Aprilynne Pike (my favorite of hers so far)
18. Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, Barry Deutsch
19. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin (lovely; why did it take me so long to read this?)
20. Dark Sons, Nikki Grimes
21. Hapax, A.E. Stallings
22. The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander (speaking of things it took me awfully long to read for the first time)
23. The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander
24. Owly Volume 1: The Way Home and The Bitytersweet Summer, Andy Runton
25.The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander
26. Serafina’s Promise, Ann E. Burg
27. Olives, A.E. Stallings
28. Jumping Off Swings, Jo Knowles
29. Heritage of Hastur, Marion Zimmer Bradley
30. The Rose Throne, Mette Ivie Harrison (interesting look at transgender issues through the metaphoric lens of men’s and women’s magic)
31. Nowhere Girl, A.J. Paquette
32. The Death of Yorik Mortwell, Stephen Messer (Stephen Messer’s books have this nicely Diana Wynne Jones-ish edge to them)
33. The Lucy Variations, Sara Zarr (a look at art and doing what you love and keeping loving/remembering why you love it)
34. Taran Wanderer, Lloyd Alexander
35. The Shape of Desire, Sharon Shinn (in which unconditional love for dangerous supernatural creatures gets a bit more of critical a look than usual)
36. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Kathi Appelt (delightful–but you already knew that, right?)
37. Written in Stone, Rosanne Parry (a well-handled look at whaling in native cultures, among other things)
38. Wesley the Owl, Stacey O’Brien (enjoyed this book, but later heard–and began realizing–that as a guide to what owls are like, it may be … less than reliable)
39. The Alton Gift, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah Ross (Lew Alton’s search for redemption was the most interesting part of this book for me)
40. The High King, Lloyd Alexander
41. Still Life With Shapeshifter, Sharon Shinn
42. Tiger Lily, Jody Lynn Anderson
43. Tim Star Cecil Castellucci (read this one early; look for it in February!)
44. Killer of Enemies, Joseph Bruchac (Apache heroine in a post-apocalyptic future that holds echoes of her people’s stories–loved this one, too)
45. Alex and Me, Irene Pepperberg (the story of Alex the parrot–I don’t know whether I’m more intrigued by his learning the concept of “none” or sort of learning the concept of “sorry,” both on his own–but a fascinating read all around)
46. How to Say Goodbye in Robot, Natalie Sandiford
47. Cat Girl’s Day Off, Kimberly Pauley (hugely fun read about a girl who, in a family of magical genuises, thinks she’s failure because she can “only” talk to cats)
48. Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell (found the protag frustrating the first half of this book and adored her the second half enough to be glad I’d read it anyway)
49. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Ian Doescher (best read aloud)
In Progress: How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf, Molly Harper

May your 2014 be filled with stories, joy, and light!

The ravens would just like you to know …

… that they’ve really had enough of hearing about That Poem.

Not that it’s a bad poem, all things considered. But more than 150 years after publication, and humans still can’t resist reminding them of it at every opportunity. All their raven-y intellectual accomplishments, all their opinionated trouble-making trickster-inspired awesomeness, and all humans have to offer them in response is a single word.


Really, I think the ravens must be tired of hearing about That Poem.

A fictional mistrust of seeing the future

Prophecy and precognition rarely end well in fiction, do they?

Tempting as it is to see this as a moral statement about … well, about any number of things … I actually suspect it’s because “she listened to the prophecy and so no pain and suffering whatsoever came to pass” doesn’t make a good story.

I mean, Oedipus could have just taken a no-stabbing-or-marrying-ever vow, too, but where would Greek literature have been then?

Spoilers for Zombies, Run ahead

Specifically, spoilers for Zombies, Run, season 2, mission 13. Highlight to read.

Dear Zombies, Run Writers,

Don’t you dare kill Archie. Don’t you dare rewire Archie. Don’t you dare do anything but return Archie to us completely and absolutely unharmed.

That thing you did with Chris McShell season 1 was bad enough, and I barely knew him.

I don’t know who sent you that memo the writers of all my favorite books seem to get, the one that says it’s all right to kill the characters I like best first and get to the others later, but that memo is no longer in force.

Really, it isn’t.

Just take my word for it, okay?


“I want to be recognized! I want to be me!”

I’m continuing to work my way through the Prydain books, which are a sort of comfort reading with their telling of what’s a now-familiar sort of tale.

The Castle of Llyr was problematic for me, though, although not in exactly the way I expected. It claims to be the story of Eilonwy being sent away to learn how to be a lady/princess, so I was worried it would be a “tame the spirited girl” narrative.

It hadn’t occurred to me that instead the spirited girl would hardly be in her own story at all.

*** spoilers ahead — though I’m guessing most of you have already read these books ***

Eilonwy is a rescue object for much of this book, and so absent. She’s in danger from the start, and for reasons that never become clear, Gwydion chooses to keep this danger from her, and convinces Taran to do the same. She’s kidnapped, and the otherwise all-male cast spends the book rescuing her. And when they find her, she’s under an enchantment, so still without agency.

To her credit, in the end, with the help of her “bauble,” Eilonwy breaks her own enchantment and destroys the magic that the story’s villain wanted to control. That she gives up her chance own (chance at an) enchantress’ power to do so would be problematic, but Taran actually had to do something similar, in the previous book, which helps a little.

Also to her credit, at the story’s end Eilonwy has decided that if she has to be a lady, she’s going to ace that thing, the sooner the better, so that she can get back to being who she really is and return to her real home. She’s not a tamed princess at the end.

And yet … I get the impression she’ll be absent from the next book, as Taran goes wandering to find out who he really is, and I’m wary of what she’ll be like and what agency she’ll have when she’s returned to us in the final presumably let’s-save-the-world-for-good volume. Especially since when, at the book’s end, a battle horn washes up at Eilonwy’s feet, from her ancestral home, and she takes it–and gifts it to Taran.

Taran is clearly destined for a great destiny (though it’d be delightful to see this undermined or even just played with/explored–the author is already clearly wary of power for its own sake). At the close of The Castle of Llyr, I wonder what Eilonwy is destined for, besides becoming Taran’s wife.

In a way, it feels like the pattern that gets played out decades later with Hermione Granger and Harry Potter: Hermione is clearly the better of them, but Harry is the destined hero, and in the end nothing can change that. But I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised if things turn out otherwise.

Especially since, while Taran had to give up his object of power entirely, in The Black Cauldron, at the end of The Castle of Llyr Eilonwy’s bauble drops from Kaw’s claws into Eilonwy’s hands, like a gift of its own–though whether consolation prize or some remnant of her agency and power, I’m still waiting to see.