So many books


There’s much to be said about November, most of it not complimentary, but I did read a lot of mostly wonderful new books.

(link forthcoming for The Time Roads, but I think I must reread or at least re-skim it first)

One I’d been looking forward to since Heather Rose Jones first talked about it: Floodtide.

One I’d been looking forward to since I saw Naomi Kritzer moderate a panel at Worldcon in Dublin, or perhaps since I first learned she was writing a novel on the same premise as Cat Pictures Please: Catfishing on Catnet.

A couple more by Shira Glassman (I’ve now got all six of her books available from Gumroad). Still need to get hold of The Second Mango and A Harvest of Ripe Figs, to complete my Mangoverse collection. I love those people.

The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich because it came up in a conversation on Twitter.  Not what I expected from Beth Bernobich, but no regrets.

Most of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis. Enjoyable but I agree with Spouse that the Cecelia and Kate series is better.

One DNF: The Expensive Halo by Gordon Daviot, which is a pseudonym of Josephine Tey, which is itself a pseudonym. I found it on Gutenberg under the name of Josephine Tey so I wanted to read it, but when it switched from interesting people in a dysfunctional family to rich layabouts who suffered greatly from the Eight Deadly Words I didn’t feel called to try to read on. I’ve since read reviews that make it clear that there is a connection and it will end well, but I don’t have the patience. It’s very hard to make me say a book is boring but Josephine Tey Gordon Daviot has the questionable distinction of succeeding. Give me Inspector Grant any day. Or Miss Pym Disposes, which is difficult and sometimes painful to read but intriguing all the way.


The dream engine gives me deadlines


I’d accidentally committed myself for two events on the same Saturday: one roleplaying/reading/writing/fandom-related, and one church/choir-related. Each was with a handful of other people, non-overlapping. I’d made six small posters (or one poster with six panels) for one of the events and I knew people would expect me to explain it/them, or show it off, or at least talk about it. The events were on opposite sides of my home town, both reachable by bike, but still at the same time. And that time was very soon: in less than a week. Though I’d done all the work I’d promised to do, I’d have to be at both events in person unless I found someone to replace me.

I was worrying a bit about that when I woke up (dreamed that I woke up, in fact) and realised that one of the things was this Saturday and the other not until the 28th. (Never mind that “this Saturday”, as in the day after tomorrow, is the 28th.) Relieved, I went to a meeting related to the “earlier” event, in a house that I could find because I recognised the little garden at the corner of the street. A long thin sleek black cat walked ahead of me, and when I wanted to pet it over the garden fence there was another cat even closer, a sort of washed-out calico, sand and grey and off-white.

When I got to the house it started snowing. A lot. In no time there was a couple of inches of snow on the window in the roof. I tried to put a piece of plastic sheeting up to keep the window from breaking under the weight but it turned out that there was so much water on the sheeting from the melted snow that it fell on me and on the landing, spreading water everywhere.

My mother was sitting at the kitchen table, looking about the same age as me (in waking life she died in 1998, about ten years older than I am now). We talked a bit about how to keep the water out. I think the house was hers, though she probably wasn’t involved in the meeting or the event.


Worldcon: Monday


Somewhat sketchy because I’m writing this more than a month after the fact: lots of life got in the way.

Packed and left my suitcase in the locker again (the exact same locker, it turned out). Hugged everybody who wasn’t coming along to the CCD (that is, everybody except Roommate; two were going on the mid-morning ferry and one to the airport to fly to Berlin for a holiday/family visit before going home to Canada. Then to the Point.

Costume and textile research and documentation

That was in the Odeon (a cinema) and it was strange to be part of much more of an audience than in conference rooms! I was nicely in front, which would have been awkward for the screen but was perfect for 4 people sitting in front of/under it.

The panel was mostly about research to get costumes right. It was especially interesting to hear the one man on it talk about how he made clothes, armor and weapons for his Roman-army re-enactment. Strangely, when it was all so much about getting things right, it made me less anxious about my medievaloid clothes; I’d expected more anxious because I’m not re-enacting or portraying anything and I’m always afraid people expect me to be doing that (and getting it wrong). I now know that the people who are really involved with costuming also appreciate the difference between inspired-by clothes and costume. And some of them wear inspired-by clothes themselves! I should really have worn something on my head, but I was wearing something that the green linen cap didn’t go with and I don’t have a proper kerchief. (Note intention for next time.)

The most important thing (when trying to get things right) is to document everything youre doing, so you and others will know when you have actual data and when you’re making an educated guess.

Katrin Kania: I have a box in my basement which has contents that will never come out
Audience: but are there mothballs in it?
KK: No, but I think that’s not necessary

Well-meaning vs ‘plain-dealing’ villains

Lauren Roy: plain dealing “he tells you what he’s going to do and then he does it”

Paul Anthony Shortt: unaware of the destruction you’re causing (dig up a field to plant a garden and destroy a whole civilization of ants) – ambivalent, not necessarily evil.

Antiheroes (I forgot the context)

PAS talks too much, not over the women (yet) but too long-winded.

Máire Brophy: it’s possible to understand a character and not agree with them. OH THAT’S SO RIGHT
LR? : Villains are not just not coloured-in heroes, they have their own motivations.

MB: I love unlikeable characters. I write them. I love writing jerks.
Femme fatale: does she wake up in the morning and go “mwahaha, I’m going to sexually confuse people”?

LR: it’s unimaginable that someone climbs to power and also has a life (in the context of, mostly, women heroes)

The last thing I went to was Greer Gilman’s reading; is doing the same thing twice and intending to do it again the beginning of a tradition? I have yet to read a whole book by Greer but the one she was reading from had some wonderful little kids, and appealing adults as well.


Worldcon: Sunday


It didn’t feel much like Sunday, but at some point I said “it must be Sunday, I’m going to a panel about religion!”

On the tram I sat next to two teenage girls speaking Irish, which made me realise where the “Irish lilt” in English comes from: the speech melody was exactly the same, though of course I couldn’t understand a word.

I signed up for Sara Uckelman’s beer-with-the-author, as number 2 of a potential 10. This was at the same time as the Hugos, so I didn’t expect it to be wildly popular (also Sara isn’t very well known), but it was still nice to be on the list.

Another three-way clash, and I tooted this:

Hm, do I try for the fun panel (portal fantasy) or the instructive one (archaeology) or the useful one (literary blind spots)? Or do I assume I’ll be too late for the 10am panel and aim at the 11am one that most interests me (lack of technological progress in fantasy)?

Eventually I went with the flow and ended up being herded into a panel room by CCD staff, who addressed two femme-presenting adult humans as “you girls”. It would probably have been a waste of effort to try educating them.

Down the rabbit hole: the appeal of portal fantasy

I had such high hopes of this but I wish I’d gone to “Writing past our literary blind spots” instead, like Roommate and Friend and Other Friend. Seanan McGuire was the first on the panel, and very entertaining on her own, but then the panel proper started and it was so disappointing. Not much about the actual appeal of portal fantasy, but lots of “yes, this unlikely thing happens to be a portal fantasy too” without any exploring as to why. Also I was at the back of the room so I couldn’t see the panellists, and two of the four (and of course the ones with indistinct voices to start with) didn’t use the microphones properly. I didn’t even attempt to take notes because it was hard enough to merely understand what was being said, let alone process it and extract note-down-able phrases.

Then, of course, I was too late for “The lack of technological progress in fantasy”, so I went for a late second breakfast or early lunch. I managed to eat an entire wrap and answer a (siilly, and meant that way) survey while in line for coffee.

Gods, religion and atheism in the genre

Wow, Naomi Kritzer is such a wonderful no-nonsense person. Too bad that she was the moderator so she didn’t get to say much herself, though she did say a few much-to-the-point things.

First a bit of inventory-taking, mostly in universes I wasn’t conversant with:
Dragonage games have gods
Pokémon Go is a Shinto witch world

Naomi Kritzer: is there a difference between atheist worldbuilding and worldbuilding where religion is simply absent?
Derwin Mak: explicitly atheist takes as much work as explicitly religious
Dominic Riemenschneider: in fantasy you sort of have to have religion but it isn’t really part of the worldbuilding, it’s just there but doesn’t play a role
(I don’t think that’s necessarily true, by the way. It’s very much part of the worldbuilding if that’s done well, it seeps through the whole world.)

Ehud Maimon: atheism has to have something to push against, no religion doesn’t necessarily mean atheism
Meg MacDonald: Star Trek episode with false gods (Who mourns for Adonais?), implies that there are real gods

EM: nationalism, the secular religion

NK: asks about Spirited Away
DM: purification ritual in the bath-house
All creatures in Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are kami
Pokémon is an electrical kami
Sailor Moon: religion is always there, in the background

NK (grew up Jewish) read the entire Narnia series and didn’t realize until the end of the last book that it’s Christian allegory

Battlestar Galactica: weird Mormon imagery

Most settings with more than one god have lots of gods, but only one Satan

Lois McMaster Bujold: What would religion that wasn’t dualistic look like
(in the Curse of Chalion series)
5 gods: Father, Mother, Daughter, Son and Bastard
Role of the bastard: keep the religion dynamic
The gods can only work through (willing) humans

Indecent theology
The queer god
(don’t know what those were about, leaving it in in case I remember)

“in our direst need, the smallest gifts” (from the Chalion books too)

NK: If we ever meet aliens and they have a religion there’ll definitely be humans who want to convert to it

DR: East Germany is the most atheistic region in the world
art history student: who is the guy on the cross

Me: (only time I actually asked a question on a panel): (straight from the panel description) Is it possible for atheism to exist in worlds where gods literally walk among the people?
Answer: (don’t recall who gave it): Terry Pratchett.
(And they were right, of course.)

Recommendations: Third Eye trilogy: all the characters are Hindu deities (at least I think it’s this one, it’s got reincarnated characters but the blurb or reviews don’t talk about Hindu deities)
Crazy Rich Asians
Anne Stevens, Godblind (too bad it’s grimdark so I think I’ll pass on this one)

Neurodiversity and extraordinary powers in SFF

Er, I went for the name of the panel, because I was waiting for the extraordinary powers to show up! But the longer description was spot-on: it was all about representation. Most people on the panel were on the ADHD spectrum, only Mikko Rauhala (who I don’t seem to have quoted) was autistic.

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry turned up with a very cute service dog. It sat gnawing its paws for a while, then she beckoned it under the table where it made a clearly dog-shaped bulge in the tablecloth.

Terri Ash: the Vulcans are coded autistic

Sherlock Holmes

Shweta Adhyam: if you don’t name the condition it still can’t do all the work of representation

ESH: othering my experience by making it non-human
SA: “aliening”
TA: it takes neurodiversity into the fantastic racism tropes, which is not a good place to be

ESH: how do we do it in a setting that has no words for it?
(I don’t remember any answers to that question. It makes no difference for my own writing, because I’m not trying to do explicit representation, only to have a world with all sorts as a matter of course)

Changeling myths

Physical conditions “pass through the portal”, you can have blind witches for instance, but mental conditions don’t seem to

Not naming = not medicalising
(which is a GOOD thing in my opinion!)

Recommendation: Mishell Baker, The Arcadia project

Establishing a different baseline establishes alienness and that’s a good way to do it

After this panel I went to have my Ellen Klages book signed, and told Ellen about my blog post (“I was that kid”), and she remembered it! Also bought a mug because the seller and I agreed that the last T-shirt they had with that text didn’t fit over my Great Tracts of Land. (I liked this one too but when I got round to buying things at this stall they didn’t have it in any useful form any more. (Mouse pad only, I think.) And more earrings: there was a stall with small dice earrings and I got them to change round two pairs so I could have an ordinary D10 and a tens D10.

I took the crowd out for pizza in a restaurant Roommate recommended because they’ve got it in Oxford as well and she knew it was good (and it was good!) and then it was almost time for the Hugos, where none of us went (anyway I had an appointment for Sara’s literary beer at 21:00), but it was streamed to a screen in the bar. Hilarious speech-to-text subtitles: “bored of the rings and cream of thrown”. (Roommate pointed out that Bored of the Rings actually exists, and I think I even saw it somewhere once.)


Then someone came to tell us that it was also streamed to the room next to the bar, with sound! (And also with a bar, only without any music.)

Literary Beer: Dr Sara L. Uckelman

Sara and I had already talked several times over the past couple of days, and found out we liked one another just as much as online. Eventually about 6 people turned up. “Do we bring our own beer?” “Unless you’re Sara Uckelman, yes.” I got another wonderful red ale (which I had about 10 pints of in the course of Worldcon, I think) but didn’t drink it right away because someone had brought his homemade mead to share!

Icebreaker: “what’s the high point of your Worldcon until now?” and I named the neurodiversity meetup as the high point I could actually point at, but it was mostly the general atmosphere of “nobody is weird because everybody is weird”.

We all cheered Archive of our Own winning the Hugo (someone was looking over their shoulder occasionally to see if there was anything going on that we shouldn’t miss), and we talked writing, and reading, and crafting, and everything, until my flatmates came to tell me they were going home and I decided to stay on for a while. I tried to buy Sara another drink (cider, this time) but it happened to be the post-Hugos party and the drinks were free.

I had to finish my cider quickly (too good to leave) in order to catch the last tram, “people, I love you all, but I really need to go”. It turned out to be the last-but-one tram, but better be safe than sorry.


Worldcon: Saturday


(The Pit of Despair)

I was wearing my velvet dress! With the new wooden earrings! Nothing on my head, though, I brought my green maid’s cap but neither the colour nor the style went with the dress. I wish I’d had at least a square of something white and sheer to wear as a kerchief, but alas.

We (two flatmates and me) wanted to get into “Misconceptions in medieval history” but we were late so it was already full. Instead we went upstairs where there was a “full contact medieval combat demonstration” going on. The other two went elsewhere after a bit, but I stayed for the whole thing, and it was very exciting. I learned a lot about armor! (And yes, women can fight men. Though they don’t do that in their normal competitions. This woman was small but fierce and I think she won the bout, though they weren’t really competing, only demonstrating.)

I should perhaps have gone to “Improv as a writing tool” — Roommate did and liked it — but that would have made me miss the next one, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Invisible work: mothers and caregivers in SFF

The notes don’t do justice to the excellent panel. Leaving this here as-is for later reference. I think all the panellists were mothers (but I’m only 100% sure about Aliette de Bodard, who has two small sons).

Rivers Solomon: My statement about the depiction of mothers in science fiction and fantasy is that there’s a lack of it

Kate Elliott: it’s important not to marginalize women’s work

Rogue One: daddy issues, having the engineer be her mother would have been so much more exciting.

Aliette de Bodard: Black Panther: the protagonist’s mother must have existed

RS: narratives of men dominate

RS: families are baggage, heroes must be unencumbered

KE: solo hero free of consequences

AdB: parents can’t protect their children from everything

RS: worship the way of the individual
KE: I’m just going to blame America
Cult of the individual
Kinship is rooted in culture

AdB: difficult to ask for help, means that you’ve failed

Emotional labour
Siblings, older/younger relationship

AdB: Pregnancy as body horror – can’t be the only story we can tell ourselves (that’s a book-meets-wall thing for me, I like a content warning if a book has that so I can avoid it)

AdB and KE: main function of the breast is to actually breastfeed the baby

KE: the insidious trope that women have no important links

RS: Hild “the conniving room” (must start Hild again, don’t know why I stopped last time)

AdB: mother as the vessel of the chosen one, Virgin Mary, the child matters much more than the mother

AdB: how often do you see toddlers or young children in science fiction, skip immediately from young babies to teenagers

RS: recommends “girls made of snow and glass” (and I think I might want to read that, yes)

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: how much of this is a genre problem?
AdB: crime fiction has it too

Audience: you can’t be a damsel if you’re dead

AdB: you have to push back against the tropes
RS: I’m all for expanding the scope of the tropes but not at the cost of women’s erasure

But for the queues I’d have gone to “There be dragons! Crafting maps for fantasy worlds” because mapmaking was what I wanted someone to give a workshop on (but didn’t have the skill myself, or the right contacts/influence to cause it) and this was second best. But there was a Naomi Novik reading half an hour later: from her new trilogy, about a magical college (as in: what you do after high school, an advanced vocational school rather than a university). I so want to read that! Unfortunately it doesn’t come out until the autumn of 2020.

This made me too late to queue for either of the 15:00 things I’d considered: a fireside chat with Diane Duane (I’m not fond of sitting through a 50-minute interview, but it was sort of my only chance to see Diane Duane at all) and “What I learned along the way” (how do writers keep writing in the face of failure, which is something I’d really like to learn because rejections almost made me stop writing completely once). I don’t remember what I did instead — probably just hung around for a while — but then I went to the Point (cinema and other buildings at the docks hired for the purpose, where all the art and music was; it was confusing), saw some of the art show, and tried to buy a Citizen of Europe pin. There was a sign that the pins were available at the “print shop”, and when I asked the art show crew where that was, they pointed me to the end of the hall, where some people were operating an old hand-press. I was too much in the mid-con Pit of Despair by then to actually enjoy it — mostly I love old printing presses — but asked the people about the pins without much hope, and indeed they’d never heard of them. Ah well.

Framed calligraphed Chinese character hanging on a wall beside a cupboard

In my writing space!

Going back, I spotted an online friend I’d been looking out for and we talked for a bit. Then one of the printing people (an eager young Irishman) came running to “help” me, making me more or less run away from him and go back to where I’d seen the pins in the first place. He gave up running after me, fortunately, and I went back to my friend and sat down with her while she practiced calligraphy (and eventually made a beautiful thing especially for me). Then I saw the print shop — it was actually a shop in the art show where you could buy prints of some of the art, and it had been staring me in the face all this time! So now I have a Citizen of Europe pin, more relevant for the British than for me, of course, but I’m glad I got it. When I went to apologise to the young Irishman the printers were all gone, worse luck.

I went back to the flat to put the calligraphy in a safe place. It was more or less safe already, because I’d bought a book that was almost A4 (a new second-hand copy of The Road Goes Ever On, which I lost in a leakage incident; cost me 60 euros but worth every cent) and it was flat in that in the laptop compartment of my bag, but I wanted it to be really safe. Also, to change into something more comfortable because I didn’t really want to expose the velvet dress to me-in-a-restaurant. I thought I might make it back for the 21:00 “Send in the crones: older women in SFF” panel — I’d already given up on Diane Duane’s 20:00 Literary Beer, anyway I was sure it would have been full even if I’d queued to sign up the moment I arrived at the CCD — but we ended up in a rather complex restaurant and I didn’t bother to try.

Afterwards, I and other novices got initiated into the basics of Steven Universe (by the mostly-recovered jetlagged person). A whole world to explore when I’m in the mood to watch something.

Next Worldcon I manage to go to, I might want to be on my own (perhaps rooming with only Roommate again), because it was great fun to be with a group of like-minded people but it does come with some social obligations that unavoidably get in the way of other things. I would have liked some more alone time, too, but at the time it didn’t occur to me that I could just have taken that.


Worldcon: Friday


A Day of Meetups, it seems. Though I also managed to go to 2 panels, a very good one and a meh one.

I was actually at the conference centre (henceforth CCD) at half past nine in the morning, showing T and K where to register. Then I lost them, a good thing, I could be sure I didn’t have to herd those cats any more.

Sign saying A person's business in the bathroom is their ownAnother good thing: the sign on the inside of the lavatory door. I tooted (on Mastodon) about it, which propagated to Twitter, and got dozens of likes in both places in a couple of hours. And I wasn’t even the first to mention it!

The ethics of secret power

Stephanie Katz: what part of the world do people come from?
People: * all different countries *
Taijo Fujii, coming in: Morning!

Where are the Potterverse soup kitchens? (In Fantastic Beasts the anti-wizard antagonists work very hard to feed hundreds of poor children, while the nominal good guys live in luxury.) I could have told them — but didn’t — about Maile and some of her peers! But then that verse isn’t the Potterverse.

Why do superheroes need secrecy? If it’s just one person who can be hurt, harmed through their family, the secrecy makes sense. We put our trust in these heroes that they’ll do the right thing.

Working with a team: the whole is greater than the individual. (The bad guys don’t do that so much!)

Marcus Gipps: We know that in our real world there are secret societies of varying levels of secrecy. Of course there are probably secret societies we don’t know about, which is more of a problem.
– Freemasonry, old school tie, get a leg up from belonging, is that ethical?

Conspiracy theories – there must be something going on, someone wielding secret powers for evil.

In N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series people with powers are feared.

“of course *I* would only use it for good”

E.C. Ambrose: what you (Stephanie) describe as escapism is probably empowerment, we want to read about people using their powers for good so we can imagine we are those people.

The banality of evil: “I’m not the most powerful person, but I have power over *you*”.

Mentor archetype, guiding you in the right direction

Jewish tradition: 36 righteous people in the world doing good, if they are outed they’ll die, usually only recognised after death
this: Throws a whole new light on “Certainly this was a righteous Man!

Secret powers hiding in plain sight, like tech skills, “I worked hard for my power”. Education is now a sort of superpower, controlled by gatekeepers, keep certain people in and other people out

Vast amounts of wealth is in itself a superpower.

The villain doesn’t care if he takes out a whole city to get at Spiderman. Spiderman cares immensely if he takes out a busload of senior citizens to get at the villain.

The good guys have teams, the bad guys have minions. Minions are reliant on the villain’s favour.

ECA: when we have power we tend not to want to share it (who are you calling “we”?)

“Power should be given to everyone so no one is special” this is my gripe with The Rainbow Fish, too, make everybody the same so nobody is singled out either positively or negatively. I think power should be shared so EVERYBODY is special, like at Worldcon, where for a couple of days we have the illusion that the world is actually like that.

I wanted to go to “Introduction to own voices” then, if only to find out whether my fears that it’s yet another sort of gatekeeping are founded, or else “Problematic favourites and the death of the author”, but I saw the queues and despaired and went in search of food and coffee. And my first pair of earrings! To wear with my red velvet dress because I’d left all my amber jewellery at home. As well as my rainbow IDIC pin that I’d ordered especially for Worldcon. (Though it might be in the depths of my toiletries bag; I found only one of the two I ordered in my writing-table.)

There were several delectable concerts but they were all at the Point, where I didn’t go until Saturday (see next post): that made me miss them all. Some people I knew were hanging out at the Point most of the time and got much more music. Ah well, one can’t have everything.

Conlangers’ meetup

But I had THIS. Lowest point: we did a names round. I was almost last, which was a good thing because it gave me lots of time to prepare and lots of examples, and a bad thing because it gave me lots of time to build up anxiety. After this we just hung around and talked, a lot better. Highest point: Michael, aged ten or so, who had a galaxy full of warring planets with his friends, all with their own languages. I asked him “do you read fantasy too?” and when he said yes, gave him a pair of bookmarks and told him there’s a good battle in Gates and Passages. There was, of course, the ubiquitous Esperantist who did nothing but promote Esperanto, but he (it’s always a he) was universally ignored.

It was impractical that the room had been set up for a panel when there was a meetup (later that day another meetup I was at had the same problem) but at least it came up in the feedback session and got fixed on Saturday.

Cultural appropriation: a product of a shrinking world?

Interesting but not as relevant as I’d hoped. Right from the beginning I started to think that this panel was not really for me: cultural appropriation as such isn’t strictly a US thing, but the focus of the panel was.

Why the focus on the US? Probably because the US has so many branches of cultural heritage but the powers that be are cishet white male.

Jeannette: it’s about accuracy, the right context.

Global ≠ US only

Borrowing from another culture than one’s own doesn’t always need to be a deep cultural experience. We (= non-[white cishet male abled US-of-European-descent] people, so about 80% of the people in the room) are not a gateway.

Missed “Angels and demons: Christian mysticism in fantasy” which might have been more interesting and/or relevant. But the queues. It was by then impossible to attend two things back-to-back because there was 10 minutes “hall time” and the queues were at least half an hour long. I could have gone to “Language is a virus from outer space” but I think I was talking with someone. I heard later from someone who had been there that it hadn’t been much different from the alien languages panel in Helsinki. (Which had the advantage of having both Heather Rose Jones and David Peterson on it; this one had four people I didn’t know at all.)

I really wanted to get into the 18:00 thing, so I was in the queue very early when there were only about 4 people in it and had a nice talk with a Dutchwoman, first in English, and then I asked “why are we speaking English when both of us are Dutch?” so then in Dutch.

Neurodiversity meetup

It almost looked as if we were going to have a names round again, but the woman more or less in charge (she was behind the panel table) started out by asking “who has this thing? who has that thing?” and we had a very merry round of that instead. I got to mention my ACTUAL NEWFOUND SUPERPOWER of sign-reading, and someone else had something similar! And there was a man who I’d have liked to talk more with (but didn’t get round to that, both of us were talking with other people) who has another thing I have as well, that we’re completely comfortable when alone in anonymous surroundings (like on a train) and sometimes seek that out on purpose when we have to do some thinking. He goes to London for that.

Very good atmosphere of “I am not the weird one! It’s the world that’s weird!”, bracing and empowering.

This was what I’d asked to postpone the NetHack meetup from 19:00 to 19:30 for, though someone protested that people would then have to miss 2 things because events in the CCD were on the whole hour. As it was, there were only 8 of us, 9 when the very jetlagged flatmate found us in the bar when we were almost leaving.

NetHack meetup

I was wearing my “peaceful thaumaturge called Raisse” T-shirt, but found that I’d lost my ridiculous hat, probably on the Holyhead-Dublin ferry because I remembered wearing it there for a while and then putting it in my pocket (or, more likely, outside my pocket). Ah well, it wasn’t something to actually wear anyway, though it’s a pity because it was a unique item and the outfit that made it went out of business.

We stood in the hall holding up our flyers for half an hour and then suddenly collected 3 more people than the 59 people sitting around a cafe table, some holding pints of beer. from our apartment (Roommate, who isn’t a NetHack player, had gone to a concert, I think.) Someone knew of a less crowded bar than the pub we originally wanted to go to (it’s too famous, I think) so we went there, and it was indeed almost empty. Not the kind of bar I’d go to of my own accord, but with the group it was okay, except that here was live music by someone who sang 70s-to-90s rock songs, not very accurately, only very loudly. We asked if the amp could be turned down a bit and the waitress said yes but just like in NetHack, Nothing Happened.

We did have lots of good talk. One person offered to get me past the queue to see the Book of Kells and I almost took him up on that but that would have been Saturday when I was too busy/distracted /confused to take any action outside Worldcon. I’m still somewhat sorry I didn’t get to see the Book of Kells, but that just means I’ll have to go to Dublin again when there’s no Worldcon taking up all my attention and energy.

Worldcon: Thursday


I arrived too late for two of the things I wanted to attend, because (shock!) it takes quite some time to get from Holyhead to Dublin on the ferry, and I’d been separated from my suitcase and had to retrieve it (with the laptop inside to make my backpack a more comfortable weight, and I was so flabbergasted at having to put the suitcase through a hatch that I didn’t think of taking the laptop out until it was already out of reach; but it was comfortably padded with clothes, so nothing untoward happened to it). Then there was a shuttle bus to the city centre, which I should probably have left earlier if I’d only known where. I ended up in a street full of Asian snack bars and betting shops (most of the betting shops probably not Asian), hot, hungry and confused. Not so much thirsty: there was still water in my water bottle.

Saint Augustine Street street sign, in Irish and EnglishThe first thing I did was go into the nearest snack bar and fix the hunger and, with it, some of the confusion. I also needed the toilet rather badly, but that was up a flight of steep stairs and I didn’t want to either lug the suitcase up (and down!) or leave it behind, so I walked the almost-a-mile to the apartment building where friendly reception people let me use the staff facility and gave me a token for the luggage locker.

On to Worldcon! I found the tram easily and achieved a weekly ticket — later I heard there were much cheaper tickets to be had, with the same functionality, but 12 euros on the scale of Worldcon expense is hardly the end of the world. (I bought two pairs of earrings each costing 5/4 of that.)

Then it was a bit hard to find the actual entrance, I saw several people with badges and felt very much like I didn’t belong, but eventually asked one of them where to go for registration, which was all the way around the building. And the other tram stop, which I’d already passed, turned out to be marginally closer and less cluttered with bits of building site, so that was what I used the rest of the time.

Even when I got the badge, with an uncomfortable bit of “do you want my legal name or my badge name” (“either will do”, and the correct name was on the badge, whew) I still didn’t feel like I belonged. I wandered a bit through the dealers’ room and into the main hall, until I saw Heather Rose Jones talking to some people. She did for me what I inadvertently did for her in Helsinki: give me a feeling of “at least there’s someone I know here”.

Then, of course, I kept meeting people I knew and people who knew me and everything was all right.

I had to miss “Liking problematic things” and “Writing villains in YA literature who defy expectation” (which would have clashed anyway), and then “Throwing Grandma out the airlock”, Aliette de Bodard’s reading, and “Science, religion and the art of storytelling” (but got a more
interesting/relevant religion panel later, I think). And I’m very glad I was too craven to sign up for Diane Duane’s writing workshop because I’d have missed that too. It did mean that I missed Diane Duane completely by never being anywhere that she was.

(In panel notes: actual notes and quotes are bold, the rest is my post-hoc subtext)

Medieval textiles and textile crafts

(I’m not a weaver, but I play one in roleplaying games occasionally.)

With the wonderful Jeannette Ng (I really need to find someone who has already read Under the Pendulum Sun and knows me well enough to tell me if it’s not too dark for me) and the equally wonderful Katrin Kania (“Can I have a human remote control please?”).

“When you spin bad yarn and sell it to a weaver, you’ll have sold it three times: the first, the last and the only time”.

Spinning with a distaff produces about 60 meters an hour. I learned to spin with a drop spindle in my teens, and later with a spinning wheel (which wasn’t invented until the 16th century!)

Different kinds of weave for different purposes: plain weave (linnenbinding in Dutch), twill (two threads over), satin, samitum (complex twill). We got swatches of fabric to touch, excellent!

Most modern silks are far too too soft: medieval silk would be more like linen.

The idea that the Middle Ages = everybody wore drab and dreary clothes is SO wrong (so why do so many people still think that?) We got samples of wool dyed with vegetable dyes in wonderful colours, reds, blues, greens, yellows.

When woad-dyed fabric comes out of the vat it’s yellow-green, it dries blue by oxidation. The pictures to go with that were spectacular. Also dyeing with woad is so complex that it’s a whole trade of its own: there are ten places in the Netherlands that have a street called after it.

Tablet weaving = for ribbons and bands. That actually looks like something I could take up.

Crochet, like spinning wheels, is a 16th-century thing, but the Romans already knitted. Socks! Not much knitted fabric survived, but then not much fabric survived at all because it’s all organic material and it tends to be destroyed completely by time and environment. Finding a bit of fabric the size of a stamp is as exciting for the textile archeologist (that’s what Katrin is) as finding a gold ring is for a non-textile archeologist.

Then the curse of Worldcon hit: panels are always too short.

Creating wonderful new worlds

(didn’t remember actually going there until I saw the notes I took: must have eaten very late)

Simon R. Green frankly is an obnoxious person who talks over the women on the strength of his having cranked out more than 60 books. (Jane, of Dumpy Little Unicorn, noticed that too.) Reminds me a lot of Maree Mallory’s foster father in Deep Secret. He actually bragged about having written more books than an acquaintance of his because he plots and outlines everything in advance and the acquaintance is a pantser. I wish he’d named the acquaintance so I could seek out that person’s books!

SRG: The barbarians didn’t bring down the empire, they inherited it.

Emma Newman: it’s like a stone in my shoe when I’m reading [something] when it doesn’t all fit together.

SRG: I’ve suffered for my art and now it’s your turn. (I think that was in the context of leaving lots of infodump in a published book, not SRG’s actual opinion)

EN: what’s the point of having a fantastic world if there aren’t any characters you care about?

SRG started another diatribe about plotting everything, but then he allows for “happy accidents” like 200 pages of veering off on a tangent in the middle of book 3 of a series. People tell him that’s the best book in the series. Care to guess why?

Gah, Chekhov’s gun comes out of the woodwork.

Finally I could get to the apartment and meet everybody — already met two of them in Holyhead, of course, and I knew Roommate from Helsinki — and most of all I wanted a shower and to get out of my travelling clothes, so to St. Augustine Street I went. And then to the pub, where there was decent pub food and a singer with a splendid voice and quite good presentation and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. I wonder if there are any pubs in Dublin that don’t have live music!

Worldcon: travel


I vowed not to fly again unless there’s absolutely no other choice, so I went to Dublin by train and ferry. I might have gone to Dublin by train and ferry regardless, but this was a very nice incentive. It’s almost two days’ travel, every bit of it delightful. (except for one small incident on the way back, see below)

Deventer – Hoek van Holland

almost empty bus station under dramatic clouds

Desolate bus station (Den Haag Leyenburg). Note that you can enlarge any picture to 1200px by clicking it.

There used to be a boat train from Rotterdam to Hook of Holland, but it was discontinued (the empty station with its power-line supports without any power lines looked very despondent) and now you go by tram to some desolate bus station in a distant part of The Hague and take a bus that goes all the way to the ferry port.

I was the only person on that bus going all the way to the ferry port. I admit that I was very early — if I’d known there was a large Japanese restaurant in the Hook of Holland station I would probably have gone even earlier and eaten there instead of having something on the train — but those boat trains used to be PACKED when I used them in my noughts, teens and twenties. Eventually there were a few dozen foot passengers, but most of them apparently came by car and left it in the station parking lot. Isn’t the idea of being a foot passenger that you’re not using a car?

Security here: show my ID to the Koninklijke Marechaussee and tell them the purpose of my visit to the UK. I told them “go all the way to the utter north-west of Wales and take a ferry to Ireland”, which seemed to surprise them a bit.

Hoek van Holland – Harwich

Shameless plug: the overnight ferry is wonderful. I loved my tiny private moving hotel room. The Stena Hollandica seems to be the largest ferry in the world, and yes, it was huge indeed.

receipt for a beer saying Number of items: 0,017

… HOW many beers?

Before sailing I sat in the bar and had … 0,017 beers? Reminds me of the engineer joke.  Much later someone said on Twitter that a pint is about this portion of a 30-liter keg, but for days I boggled every time I came across the receipt.

It was a kind of uneventful crossing — these ferries are so huge that the “slight to moderate swell” the announcer announced didn’t feel much like movement — but I was up very early, which was of course even earlier in the London (and Dublin) timezone. Excellent breakfast. Foot passengers got let off the ferry last of all, so I sat in a lounge watching first lorries, then cars drive away before we were released.

Framed blue poster showing person with text balloon "REPORT UNUSUAL INTEREST IN SECURITY"

See it. Say it. Sorted.

Security here: “immigration” okayish, not that I intend to actually immigrate to the UK right now. When asked why I was going to the UK I said “cross it by train and take the ferry to Ireland to go to Worldcon”. Person looked about as surprised as the Dutch marechaussee. Baggage control: really creepy. Positively Scarfolk. There were several of these posters (similar design, different text) but I didn’t dare take any more pictures because that would probably have been “unusual interest in security”. I tried to ask a security woman for permission but she didn’t react to my “excuse me?” so I just took this one literally behind her back.

The station was a huge anticlimax: no ticket office where I could get my Britrail pass stamped, and a woman who sold tickets said that not only she didn’t have a stamp, but I didn’t need a stamp. This was a little strange because the text on the pass itself insisted that it wouldn’t be valid without a stamp, but I resolved to get that done in London. She did call me “darling”, and I went back to thank her for that because it’s one of the things I realise I’ve been missing.

Harwich – London Liverpool Street

No boat train here either, but a local (as in: stops at every tree) commuter train. I was alone in first class for the first couple of stations, then more people came in and I got a man opposite me who I was sure had voted Leave. (All the English, Welsh and Scottish people I know personally voted Remain.)

Sign saying that first class is for first class ticket holders only.More “see it, say it, sorted” announcements. Apparently the UK government wants its citizens to spy on each other all the time. The individual people I met were all nice and helpful and non-threatening, but if I wrote dystopia I’d so use it. I think I’ll need to read Thursday Next again.

PSA: to travel first class you need a first class ticket.

It was still quite early in the morning, and the train didn’t become full even in second class (I think Greater Anglia, which runs this line, calls it Standard) until the view started to look like London. And then it actually was London, and rush hour at that!

At Liverpool Street I found a Greater Anglia desk where a puzzled person stamped the cover of my rail pass because his stamp was too large to put on the pass itself. Nobody ever asked for that stamp so I could have done without, but it was a restful feeling to have it.

The Tube through London

I braved the tube to Euston against advice to take a taxi — I don’t like taking taxis alone, and public transport is something I’m good at, and while I was doing it I discovered AN ACTUAL SUPERPOWER I didn’t know I had: if I know the language at all I can read and understand signs fast enough to pass for native.

The ticket machine didn’t like either of my bank cards, but it did like the twenty-pound note I got from a cash machine on the ferry.

I hadn’t realised that Liverpool Street Station isn’t on the Circle Line, so I had to do one stop on the Victoria Line which goes literally every minute in the rush hour and is crammed full nevertheless.

London Euston – Holyhead

Train departures sign showing the train to Chester as Not arrivedThe train to Chester was late, so I explored Euston Station (in a state of being renovated), got some more pounds from a cash machine, and bought food for the journey. Which I realised I shouldn’t have done when I saw the splendid station cafe in Chester, where the train arrived at lunchtime. The Ribena infused water was delicious, though.

The train was just over half reserved, and when I made to sit next to someone in a double seat a man stood up to give me his reserved single seat because he wanted to sit next to the person he was travelling with! Reserved at different times and got non-adjacent seats, perhaps.

Virgin Trains gave its first class passengers endless cups of strong tea with real milk. (Or whatever else they liked in the coffee-and-tea category. Also water and juice.) There were several different newspapers but I preferred to read Judge Dee, and look out of the window at a very representative cross-section of England.

train departing from Chester station

“When is your train?” “Right now!” “Catch it!” “How? It’s already moving!”

In Chester I narrowly missed the train to Holyhead — because there weren’t any signs in sight to exercise my newfound superpower on, the first one I saw was when I’d already gone under the underpass. I sat on a bench eating my second inadequate sandwich (because I still prefer eating something edible-but-inadequate to throwing food away) and talked to various people on Mastodon and Twitter and WhatsApp.

Then I squeezed myself into a train full of people with rucksacks, some even looking somewhat fannish, but it turned out that they all got off the train on various stations in North Wales, only a handful going all the way to Holyhead. In Bangor the train emptied so thoroughly that I thought nobody had told me that it ended there, but fortunately a heavily tattooed man sat opposite me and had a very shouty phone conversation in Welsh, of which I could only understand the (English) swear-words. I think I managed to wear my “don’t understand any language” face.

Orange bicycle standing on a station platform under a Welsh/English bilingual signBilingual sign at a station in North Wales! I think it was either Rhyl or Llandudno Junction but I may be mistaken. English: lift. Cymraeg: lifft, because ‘f’ is the English way and ‘ff’ is the Welsh way to spell /f/.

In Holyhead I foolishly followed the “to the town centre” sign, which led me over a huge futuristic footbridge, instead of leaving the station at the back and cutting right through to my B&B. I was using Google Maps and suddenly thought “I oughtn’t to be over water here!” but it turned out to be only a couple of minutes longer.

The B&B turned out to be right on the outskirts of the town, looking out on fields and a cemetery that I’d have loved to explore if it hadn’t been getting darkish yet when I’d put my things away and showered and dressed in something I hadn’t been travelling in for a day and a half, to meet my friends at the Stanley Arms. Half a mile away. I suspect everything in Holyhead is half a mile from anywhere else.

View over fields with a large cemetery in the mid-range

View from Holyhead Lodge

It was strange and magnificent to meet people who have been my friends online for years but who I’d never seen in the flesh before. We were offline friends immediately, too! I didn’t see one of them until much later because his jetlag was so bad that he couldn’t function at the same time as others, but I joined the other two for beer and eventually a (yummy) burger. Then I got back to the Holyhead Lodge while it was still a bit light, but still almost got lost because it looked so different in the gloom. There was a cat, but it was too dark to approach it safely, and it ran away when I came close anyway.

At breakfast I met another Worldcon-goer! My first, apart from the people in the Stanley Arms who were in the same apartment but on a later ferry. He came to sit with me and we talked about books, of course. The B&B man (Mel) was very interested in Worldcon but didn’t know what it was all about: I told him that science fiction was with spaceships and planets, and fantasy with magic and witches and dragons. “Oh! Like Harry Potter!” “Exactly,” I said and gave him a pair of bookmarks. Not that Terms of Service or Gates and Passages have witches or dragons, though they arguably have magic.

Holyhead – Dublin

I’d put my laptop in my suitcase so I wouldn’t have to carry it, but then I got separated from my suitcase! I spent most of the crossing faintly worried, but got it back in one piece eventually. Day crossings are very different from overnight crossings. TV screens everywhere, periodically showing only “Please listen to this safety announcement” instead of the actual text of the safety announcement.

I eventually found the quiet lounge, where there was no TV, but the temperature was too low for comfort. Fortunately, that was right at the end of the voyage when I could already see Ireland from the window.

I’d had a full Welsh breakfast at Holyhead Lodge, so by the time I got hungry all the restaurants on the ferry were closed, and the vending machines were down (not only for me but for everybody, apparently). When the ferry arrived at Dublin I was very hungry, and I didn’t have a protein bar (as I was careful to carry on all subsequent days) so I had to make do with water.

There was a shuttle bus! I bought a return ticket because I could imagine going back the same way, but eventually took a taxi to the ferryport on the way back. Only out 2,50 euros, and I was spending so much money anyway that I hardly noticed.

The shuttle bus stopped in the middle of Dublin in front of an Asian snack bar, where I got a (not very) spicy pulled pork burger but didn’t dare try bubble tea. Then I walked about a mile and a half to St Augustine Street where our apartment was. By that time I was so tired and confused that I’d lost most language, but I managed to put my suitcase in storage and use the staff toilet.

On to Worldcon! By tram! It was easy to find, and fairly easy to get a ticket (though I think I could have got a ticket 10 euros cheaper if I’d remembered how to, or perhaps that wasn’t announced until I already had mine). When I got to the CCD (Convention Centre Dublin) I suddenly had a really bad case of impostor syndrome (“I don’t belong here!”) when I saw all the people already wearing badges when I didn’t have one yet. That cleared up pretty soon when the first person I saw that I knew was Heather Rose Jones, just like in Helsinki.

I was the first to have reached the apartment, but the last to actually make it there, because my roommate had spent the first night in Dublin in a hotel and had been at the CCD all of Thursday and the rest came by a later ferry and went straight to St Augustine Street, not to the CCD at all. A wonderful place, not as close to the CCD as the one we had originally that was cancelled from under us at the last moment, but with three real twin rooms rather than some people having to sleep in the living room, and close enough to the tram that we could reach the CCD within half an hour. The person who had done all the reservations, and lives close to Scotland, had brought a little plush Nessie for each of us, and set them to guard our beds.

And now the way back!

Dublin – Holyhead

Another night in a different hotel, because Worldcon decided to have a full programme on the Monday after we booked the first apartment and we could only have the second for the same number of days. Roommate and I — no longer roommates, but still hotel mates: my room was on the first floor and hers all the way at the top — took a taxi because we couldn’t be hedgehogged to search for it.

Small bright hotel room with single bed

Dergvale Hotel

Another tiny hotel room! This one didn’t move me from one country to another in my sleep, but it wasn’t all that much larger. There was one annoying thing: the bed had an almost imperceptible incline, the wall side was about a centimetre higher, so I kept starting awake thinking I was rolling off (there was never any real danger of that).  Someone on Mastodon or Twitter suggested propping it up with a rolled-up blanket, and I could have used the bedspread for that, but by the time I saw that it was 5am and I was going to get up at 6 anyway so I didn’t try. Nevertheless, when I ever go to Dublin again I want to be in this hotel again, and taste their breakfast, which I could smell when we left but had no time to eat because our taxi to the ferryport came exactly at breakfast time.

The first thing we saw at the ferryport was a “queue here” sign, and all the other passengers who hadn’t been at Worldcon must have wondered why that made two grey-haired ladies collapse in giggles. (The next blog post will Explain All.) No queue, possibly because we were too early for that.

Security here: bleh. When I saw an airport-like machine with a walk-through metal detector and trays for laptops and metal objects I started to take the laptop out of my bag, but they waved me past around the scanner and the same for Roommate. I thought they probably thought I looked like someone’s innocent granny, and when I said that to Roommate she thought they probably thought she looked like someone’s innocent auntie. Other fannish-looking people just behind us did get stopped. Because we had suitcases and they had rucksacks and a guitar? There was a hijabi woman too, but I didn’t see if she was actually stopped or was just waiting in the now existing queue. If I’d seen it happen I might have tried to find an email address I could use to complain about racial profiling.

Another uneventful crossing, most of which we spent reading at a restaurant table, then reading at a table in a lounge that had slightly fewer children running around and shouting, probably in the pirate game that someone had announced over the speakers when we were just sailing.

Holyhead – London Euston

A small plush Nessie sitting on a large red suitcase

Nessie on guard

A direct train! All the way to London! Very full though, and I didn’t have a reserved seat while Roommate did (to Crewe, where she was going to change for Birmingham-Oxford). There was someone already in her seat, who told her that there had been a blind man in it earlier but the train staff had moved him somewhere else when they saw the second person’s reservation. So that was a double booking at least. We found seats marked Available a bit further on even with room for my huge suitcase.

green bag labelled Welsh Potato CRISPS, Lamb & Mint flavour

Surprisingly good!

In Crewe I hugged Roommate and moved to first class, where there was a little more room and an actual table! Also, the blind man moved from Roommate’s original seat. No endless cups of tea, though, even though this was another Virgin train. Fortunately I had enough water and the bag of strange crisps I’d bought in the Holyhead station shop. And the Aero peppermint bar, which I liked so much that I bought two large bars in a chocolate promotion on the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry.

In Milton Keynes, the blind man expected someone to be there to collect him. That person never turned up, so the train went on before he could even get off. Apparently the staff had called ahead to London, because at Euston Station there was an assistance team waiting to help him get on a train back to Milton Keynes.

The Tube

London Tube sign showing route from Kings Cross to Liverpool Street and beyondNorthern Line this time, less crowded than the Victoria Line though that might have been because it was earlier in the rush hour. Someone offered me a seat, but I was getting off at the next stop so it was irrelevant.

London Liverpool Street – Harwich

Theoretically I had three hours in London and could have gone for a proper dinner somewhere, but evening rush hour was beginning and I didn’t want the hassle of checking and retrieving my suitcase and possibly having to hurry back. So I took the first train to Harwich, convinced that there would be a restaurant there. I even remembered the Japanese restaurant (which actually is in Hook of Holland, of course).

Tiny first class compartment: 8 seats, 7 of which occupied, the other 6 by office-type people. Everybody except me got off long before Harwich. This train was too early to be a boat train anyway.


bottle of fruit drink with waiting room as background

Not Ribena.

In Harwich there was only a huge waiting room, almost completely deserted, with a closed cafe and 4 vending machines, 2 empty, 1 out of order, and 1 working. Fortunately it was the drinks machine because I was parched. The most promising-looking drink (apart from water which I got for free from the tap) was not as nice as the Ribena infused water I’d had earlier: too sweet, and the surplus sweetness was from stevia, which doesn’t taste as vile as artificial sweeteners but it does give a weird taste.

Security here: they only wanted to see my ticket and ID. Apparently they aren’t much concerned about people leaving the UK. Not even any “see it, say it, sorted” posters here.

Harwich – Hoek van Holland

I was on the ferry at 8:40 and the restaurant didn’t open until 9, so I hung out near the Guest Service desk (waiting to order breakfast, but it turned out I didn’t need to order breakfast in advance) and saw someone check in their very friendly dog. Dogs go in kennels on the voyage, and from the conversation between the Guest Service person and the dog owner it appeared that there’s a camera in the kennel that’s streamed either to the cabin TV or to some channel you can watch on your phone, like a baby monitor for dogs.

By now the restaurant was open, sort of, people were still bringing in some of the dishes including the one I wanted. Food and beer, neither as good as the Stena Line breakfast but I was so hungry and thirsty that it was all right.

Then a short night: timezone shift the other way. I was in the cabin late enough to hear the wake-up call starting with bird song. I tried to turn it off with the TV remote but all I succeeded in was turning the TV on and getting the safety talk, this time with all the text on the screen! Apparently they assume that everybody will turn on their TV at some point. (Well, I did, just not deliberately.)

Another of those splendid breakfasts! Then I went through the cabin to make sure I hadn’t left anything, all the time standing with my back to my coat so I forgot to take that.

Hoek van Holland – Deventer

Security here: just show my ID to a friendly Marechaussee and walk through the “Nothing to declare” line.

And there’s the Japanese restaurant! Closed, of course, because it was 8 in the morning.

While waiting for the 35 bus I noticed that I didn’t have my coat and decided not to waste a lot of time trying to retrieve it, but to look up what to do on the Stena Line site once I got home. I did find a form there and filled it in, but got an email back almost immediately saying they hadn’t found it. Ah well, I was procrastinating on replacing it anyway.

Getting off the 35 bus I was fighting my backpack and suitcase and trying to figure out the unfamiliar checkout thing, when a young fellow YANKED the transport pass from my hand and checked out for me. I stood on the platform fuming for minutes and missed a tram. No problem, because that only meant I had 10 minutes instead of 20 to catch the direct train for the last lap home, but still a pain. Please, people, grey hair and tiredness and unfamiliarity with that particular machine doesn’t mean someone needs your meddling. If he’d only asked “can I help you” I could have said “no, thanks”; it wasn’t as if there was any hurry, the bus ended there.

Home by noon, showered and unpacked, sorted out all the fannish debris (which I forgot to take a picture of, a pity because it was more than I brought from Helsinki) and had a three-hour nap, unusual but not surprising after all that travel and two short nights in a row.

The King’s Deryni


Cover of The King's DeryniKatherine Kurtz, The King’s Deryni

I already had this in hardback, from the moment it was out (late 2014) but unfortunately it has such small type in a light font, in such huge line lengths, that my middle-aged eyes gave up. I thought I’d finished it regardless but the last 20% or so was a complete surprise when I’d finally acquired an epub version.

Perhaps I gave up even earlier and I just don’t remember what I did and didn’t read, because the first 80% (or even more) of the book is completely unsurprising. Bill Capossere of Fantasy Literature nails it. Children grow up, little boys become pages, pages become squires, squires are knighted, people get married, babies are born, people die, battles are fought, kings come into their magical inheritance… oh wait. Yes, that is surprising, and I’d have liked to see more of it. As it is, most of the psychic training of young Alaric Morgan happens when he’s in a trance. That is the way his mentor’s religious-knights order trains its novices, as the mentor tells him. Yes, that’s as may be, but we readers would like to be in on it! All we get now is “you’ll know that when you need it”.

I have very high tolerance for low-plot slice-of-life writing, but even I was “what, it’s Twelfth Night again?” after a few iterations. And much like In the King’s Service and Childe Morgan, when something does happen it’s likely to be the killing-off of a beloved character. That may continue in the fifteen-year-gap between The King’s Deryni and Deryni Rising, or the adult Alaric Morgan from the latter wouldn’t be an almost friendless man with hardly any family! The King’s Deryni ends with him having three half-sisters, all with a husband and children, and many friends, who he’s in intensive contact with.

Yes, I know that Deryni Rising was the first Deryni novel Katherine Kurtz wrote, when she didn’t know about all those people yet and wrote only the ones pertinent to that story. All writers know that’s how it happens. I’ll call it “prequelitis”, and if that wasn’t a word, now it is. But my fanfic brain thinks up several scenarios to get rid of all those friends and relatives. (No, I won’t go there; I’d rather think they’re all living happy lives and just aren’t needed for the plot of Deryni Rising and its sequels.)

The pet peeves from my earlier post remain: however much it’s stressed that good people use their powers for good and only evil people for evil, much of what Deryni do with their powers is coercion. As I said in that earlier post, that’s what my bad guys do. Setting “controls”, altering people’s memory — urgh. Also, the Camberian Council is much more in the spotlight than in other books, masterminding people’s lives.

Alaric Morgan, then. I like him a lot, but isn’t he far too competent and precocious? At four he seems seven, at seven an adolescent, at fourteen an adult. Granted, it’s alternate-world historical fantasy, you can argue that children grow up faster than we’re used to, but that doesn’t excuse all of it. You need some experience to be an adult. I somewhat miss the almost-adult brittleness of a fourteen-year-old when he leads the magical ritual to confirm King Brion’s Haldane powers. (But that magical ritual is impressive. Too bad that the king’s soldiers arrive just too early and distrust him because of it.)

I’ll now go on to reread Deryni Rising[1] and try to figure out if Alaric Morgan is different in the light of what I now know about him.

[1] After I’ve finished reading and reviewing a friend’s book because I promised to do that.

Vespers of Easter


Time: 0:25 Total: 3:25 Grand total: 17:40
Congregation: 25 or so. Daughter alerted me to a woman who had come in from the street who had noticed “there was something going on” and wanted to know what it was, and she stayed until the end.
Crew: Altar: Fr T and a hypodiakon. Choir: SSSAAATT, sorely in need of basses but we sang joyfully anyway.

The “we can’t stop celebrating” service. Opportunity to say “Christ is risen” to people who couldn’t come in the night. I saw one definite enemy and ignored them; would have greeted them in the night (as I did another enemy, I pointedly do that every year trying to stop being enemies but it hasn’t worked until now) but that mood was gone by Vespers. (I don’t have many enemies: can still count them on the fingers of one hand and have fingers left over. If I ever run out of fingers I may try to reconcile.)