Hugo Award Nomination for SLEEPING WITH MONSTERS

Nominated for the 2018 Best Related Work Hugo Award.

 

Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Aqueduct Press, 2017) has been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Related Work. I’m thrilled to be in the company of so many excellent nominees.

You can read a sample from the book over at Aqueduct Press. And you can buy it in paperback from Blackwell’s, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, and The Book Depository, as well as directly from Aqueduct Press themselves.

The ebook version is available directly from Aqueduct Press, as well as from  Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

 

 

Pretty but broken: MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA

Mass Effect: Andromeda is, as most people have probably gathered, the fourth and latest instalment in Bioware’s Mass Effect series, and the first not to star the iconic Commander Shepard. It’s also done a lot less well for Bioware than anticipated, with no further content for the game announced. I’m not surprised that it hasn’t done as well as Bioware might have expected from previous titles in the series: while extremely pretty, as a role-playing game and as a narrative experience, Andromeda is pretty comprehensively broken.

And I say this as an avid consumer of Bioware’s style of character-driven plot-heavy RPGs: I’ve replayed the first three Mass Effect games at least three times each, and invested so many hours into the Dragon Age games that I positively quail at the thought of tallying up the total time.

Andromeda sees a group of at least a hundred thousand people from the Milky Way — the long-lived asari and the equally long-lived krogan, the short-lived salarians, the military-oriented turians, and, as always, humans — take a 600-year cryosleep journey to the galaxy next door, for the sake of adventure, exploring new frontiers, and unconsidered colonialism. (It is unclear whether, or how much, the leaders of the Andromeda Initiative know about the threat the Reapers pose to the Milky Way, which Shepard spends so much time fighting in the original trilogy.) Andromeda opens aboard the human colony ship, or ark, as it arrives in the Andromeda galaxy, immediately encounters a dangerous and mysterious space phenomenon (consistently referred to later as the Scourge), and discovers that the planet they were hoping to settle has had something catastrophic and weird happen to it.

The player-character can be a woman or a man, the daughter or son of the human Pathfinder, Alec Ryder. The Pathfinder’s job is apparently to be the point exploration person and authority on the challenges and opportunities of new planets. The Pathfinder is also linked to an artificial intelligence called SAM, which Alec Ryder himself developed. SAM provides data and analysis to the Pathfinder. On your first mission, you learn your brother (if you play as Female Ryder, which obviously I did) is in a coma due to things going wrong as he was coming out of cryo, and by the time the first mission is over, Alec Ryder is dead, and the younger conscious Ryder has been unexpectedly promoted to the role of Pathfinder.

There are two areas in particular where Andromeda falls down compared to other games both in the franchise and from the parent game developer. One is in its characters. The other is in how it integrates its narrative structure (and available choices) into its open-world sandbox.

Among the attractions of a character-driven RPG are the characters. Andromeda stumbles here from the beginning. I don’t know whether I’d feel more identification with Younger Ryder’s family issues if we’d actually met the brother and the father before the first mission kicks off, or if I’d had a sibling or a father of my own. But something about the initial introduction of Andromeda‘s player-character feels alienating and off, much more so than in Bioware’s other games that gave you a family and a context. In Dragon Age: Origins, for example, you spend a certain amount of time with your family/friends before significant shit kicks off, while in Dragon Age 2, although we open in medias res, this is followed by a period of downtime and adjustment which lets you get familiar with your family and new friend Aveline — and gives you a range of options in how you react to that family and friend. The other Bioware games don’t begin in the same fashion — Mass Effect provides a military officer, Dragon Age Inquisition a sole survivor, and they both in different ways avoid needing to make an immediate emotional connection to the player-character’s nearest and dearest.

Andromeda, on the other hand, presents you with a set of pieces that are supposed to have emotional valence, but doesn’t do the work needed to imbue them with connection and meaning. This is poor writing, especially for a game based on your choices. The game assumes that you, as the player-character, will care about Random Father and Random Brother without investing any real time or depth in those relationships.

This is a failure that continues through Andromeda’s approach towards characterisation, particularly with regard to the characters who become members of your crew and potentially your party. Other Bioware games — notably the first and second Mass Effect games, Dragon Age: Origins, and Dragon Age 2 — made you work to recruit characters. In the case of Dragon Age Origins, you don’t even encounter some characters until you’re about a third of the way through, giving you plenty of time to appreciate them as individuals, while in Dragon Age 2 and the first Mass Effect game, bringing characters on board occurred in the course of the plot, so that your introduction to them provided an impetus for both character and narrative development. In Mass Effect 2, character recruitment was a large part of the plot: something that, together with the excellent character-writing, worked especially well in building emotional investment in these individuals. (Mass Effect 2 and 3 had the advantage of being able to leverage your existing investment in some of these characters, but the writing exploited these pre-existing emotional hooks in extremely effective ways.) Too, previous Bioware games — in particular the Dragon Age ones — made you work to develop a rapport with your party members, making your relationship with them depend on their approval or disapproval of your actions.

In Andromeda, there’s none of this. The characters show up without you needing to do a thing, and their introduction lacks… well, character. I remember vividly Mass Effect‘s introductions to Ashley, Garrus, Tali, Wrex and Liara; ME2’s Miranda, Mordin, Samira, Thane, Garrus, Tali, Grunt, Jack, that moment where you meet Dr. Chakwas again and it’s like a shocking relief; ME3’s re-introductions to Ashley (I only saved Kaiden once), Liara, Grunt, Garrus; Origins‘ first meetings with Alistair, Morrigan, Leliana and Sten; DA2’s introductions of Aveline and Anders, and even Inquisition‘s individual introductions of Cassandra, Varric, Solas, Josephine, the Iron Bull, Vivienne, and Dorian: they stand out. Some more successfully than others, but they’re all individual moments, ones that give a powerful sense of the characters as people with agendas and desires of their own.

Hell, I remember Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its first introductions to Carth, Bastila, and the Twi’lek and the cat-person whose names I’ve lost to the mists of history but whose initial introductions left me with abiding senses of them as individuals.

Andromeda‘s characters lack these powerful moments. With one or two exceptions — the turian smuggler/fixer Vetra, who’s raising a teenaged sister, and the weary krogan mercenary Drack — they come across as bland ciphers, or worse, annoying ones. (Liam and Peebee, I’m looking at you.) Beyond Drack and Vetra, they lack any real suggestion of wanting connections or emotional lives of their own, any suggestion of a present life outside and beyond their immediate use to Ryder. This lack of depth in the characters and the player-character’s interactions with them provides a corresponding shallowness of emotional investment. Why should I care about these people?

I don’t have an answer. Or rather, the answer is that I really don’t: I kept playing more from hope that things would eventually start coming together to provide an emotionally powerful experience, and growing more and more dissatisfied when they didn’t. I suspect this reaction was exacerbated by the diffusion of narrative tension created by the open-world approach to gameplay: in order to avoid the narrative seeming like an arbitrary series of fetch-quests, open-world gameplay needs to be constructed very carefully, and deep attention needs to be paid to structure and pacing. Without this attention, narrative drive — forward momentum — falls apart.

Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware’s other game to use the open-world approach, suffered from some of this diffusion of tension. But there, by and large, the characterisation was strong enough to bridge some of the gaps, and the pacing didn’t fall quite so slack — possibly because Inquisition offers its characters at least one fairly striking reversal, and the binary choices that the narrative ends up providing at fork points feel a little more meaningful. Andromeda — it’s pretty, I grant you. Actually, it’s visually stunning: the environments and the landscapes are utter works of art. But even those gorgeous environments grow tedious when one is engaged in a seemingly-endless series of fetch-quests, and when none of one’s choices as a player-character feel as though they have any particular weight or impact.

Also, as a game, it has a deeply unexamined relationship to colonialism. Its assumptions made me feel uncomfortable, for while the game seemed to feel that the thematic argument it was having was about artificial intelligence, modification to bodies, and life (insofar as it was having a thematic argument), there’s this swathe of hey sure it’s perfectly fine to invite yourself into someone else’s house and mess with their stuff that’s just… floating around.

And yet. And yet I finished the game, grinding my way through the final back-and-forth-and-back-again that was the climax and unsatisfying conclusion. I don’t know whether that says more about my stubbornness or Andromeda‘s ability to compel me to find out what happened next — despite all its many, manifold flaws.

I don’t think I’d recommend it to an existing Mass Effect fan, though. Part of my dissatisfaction with it was the way it reminded me just enough of what I loved about the earlier games to tantalise me with its possibilities, without ever giving me the same narrative fulfilment.

There is more I could say, but it would mostly be repetition upon the same theme. They don’t make ’em like they used to, apparently. Either that, or I’m getting even less easy to please in my old age.

2018: Books I Know About And Want To Read

These are the books I know about that are coming out next year that I want to read. (If you want to make me really happy? GIVE THEM TO MEEEEEEEEEEE. Ahem.)

 

Tor.com:

Everything. No, seriously. Have you seen their list? I’m not just saying this because I like the people who work for them – though there’s that, too. But with Elizabeth Bear’s STONE MAD, Kelly Robson’s GODS, MONSTERS, AND THE LUCKY PEACH, the next book by Ruthanna Emrys, a new Charlie Stross, J.Y. Yang’s THE DESCENT OF MONSTERS…

Look, people. They know the way to my heart, is what I’m saying.

 

Tor Books:

K. Arsenault Rivera’s THE PHOENIX EMPRESS; Robyn Bennis’s BY FIRE ABOVE; Tessa Gratton’s THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR; Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS; Charles Stross’s DARK STATE; Ian McDonald’s LUNA: MOON RISING; CITY OF LIES by Sam Hawke; Lara Elena Donnelly’s ARMISTICE; Alex Bledsoe’s THE FAIRIES OF SADIEVILLE; Ilana C. Myer’s FIRE DANCE; John Scalzi’s HEAD ON.

 

Saga Press:

In no particular order: EUROPEAN TRAVEL FOR THE MONSTROUS GENTLEWOMAN by Theodora Goss; TRAIL OF LIGHTNING by Rebecca Roanhorse; RED WATERS RISING by Laura Anne Gilman; the next book by R.E. Stearns; the anthology ROBOTS VS. FAIRIES.

 

Angry Robot:

Micah Yongo’s LOST GODS looks interesting, but I’m definitely looking forward to BLOOD BINDS THE PACK by Alex Wells. And the next book by Tim Pratt!

 

Solaris:

REVENANT GUN by Yoon Ha Lee

 

DAW:

C.J. Cherryh’s EMERGENCE; HEROINE JOURNEY by Sarah Kuhn; Tanya Huff’s THE PRIVILEGE OF PEACE; Todd Lockwood’s THE SUMMER DRAGON; V.M. Escalada’s GIFT OF GRIFFINS; Cass Morris’s FROM UNSEEN FIRE.

 

Titan:

Okay, so it’s listed as Baen, but I have to believe Titan will grab the UK rights: David Drake’s THOUGH HELL SHOULD BAR THE WAY.

 

Gollancz:

Dhonielle Clayton’s THE BELLES; Alastair Reynolds’ ELYSIUM FIRE.

 

Harper Voyager:

Rebecca Kuang’s THE POPPY WAR; Nicky Drayden’s TEMPER; Becky Chambers’ RECORD OF A SPACEBORN FEW; Sarah Tarkoff’s SINLESS.

 

Orbit:

Tade Thompson’s ROSEWATER; Vivian Shaw’s DREADFUL COMPANY; Alex White’s A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE; Tyler Whitesides’ THE THOUSAND DEATHS OF ARDOR BENN; Melissa Caruso’s THE DEFIANT HEIR; Sam J. Miller’s BLACKFISH CITY; S.J. Morden’s ONE WAY; Elizabeth Moon’s INTO THE FIRE.

 

Ace:

Emma Newman’s BEFORE MARS; Django Wexler’s THE INFERNAL BATTALION; Genevieve Cogman’s THE LOST PLOT; S.M. Stirling’s BLACK CHAMBER. (He’s a mansplainer of the first degree on the internet, but it sounds like an interesting book.)

 

OTHER/INDEPENDENT:

I look forward to new books from Ursula Vernon writing as T. Kingfisher; Melissa Scott; K.J. Charles; C.E. Murphy; and with any luck, Heather Rose Jones.

 

…I haven’t even scratched the surface of possible YA to look forward to.

 

Okay, guys. What am I missing?

Links of interest!

Star Trek: Discovery:

At Lady Business:

One of the things I loved so, so much about The Vulcan Hello, and about Michael’s character, is that both show that Discovery is in love with space. Michael’s space walk scene is a really obvious, hearts over the ‘i’s,love letter to space (as well as a clever wink to the technique of shooting Star Trek in the early days) and it is glorious. Her early scenes among the sand dunes shout ‘Yes, space is unknown and can be scary but look how amazing it is out there’ and then throw chocolates at space’s feet. Michael’s practical, exposition drop of an opening speech quickly turns into ‘I remain optimistic. It’s hard not to be in the face of such beauty.’ and a discussion of a binary star system while looking out onto beautiful space vista. Star Trek: Discovery <3’s space. Hard.

 

At NoAward.net:

  • Liz is intensely amused that there was plot justification for heavy lens flare
  • There are Starfleet insignia on the boots. Like, these costumes were designed expressly to torture cosplayers, right?
  • We were so busy having feelings that we kind of overlooked the plot stuff. Liz is intrigued by Michael’s upbringing and the bombing of the Vulcan Learning Centre, and is reserving judgement on the Klingon stuff. Are Klingons inherently interesting when Worf’s not around? Look, they can’t help not being Romulans or Cardassians. No one’s perfect.
  • Liz was chatting to Tansy Rayner Roberts, who described the premiere as “emotionally intelligent”, and I think that’s a really good summary.

 

At The Mary Sue:

I’m looking forward to the far more gender-fluid future where gendered stereotypes lose ground, and anyone can be named anything that they damn well please, though we’ll still have to grapple with the cultural weight of names.

 

Books:

Elizabeth Bear on female characters and epic fantasy:

If women existed in the real world at the same ratios in which we exist in epic fantasy, the human race would be obliged to reproduce as do anglerfish. Which is to say, with one large female swimming along, going about her business, while a plethora of smaller males clamp their jaws onto her flanks, graft their bloodstreams to hers parasitically, and allow themselves to be dragged along with her wherever she happens to roam because it’s their best chance of having the opportunity to release a stream of milt over the eggs that she will inevitably deposit.

(Don’t read the comments.)

 

K. Arsenault Rivera on personal failure in fiction:

So often in epic stories the hero always makes the right decision, so often they act in the interest of the greater good. To me, it’s always been far more interesting—more human—when they choose to wallow a little instead. We might all like to imagine ourselves winning duels and pulling swords out of our loved ones, but we can all relate to making bad decisions.

 

Other:

A scientific study of cat personalities.

Call for Papers on classical receptions in speculative fiction.

 

Octocon, 6-8 October, Camden Court Hotel, Dublin

I’ll be attending Octocon next weekend. If anyone wants to bring a copy of my book for me to sign, I’d be happy to do that. I’m afraid I won’t have copies with me, but you can order them through all reputable booksellers, including Hodges Figgis on Dawson St.

I’ll be bringing some of my stack of books I will never get to read/reread in order to give away, so there’s that.

These are the panels I’ll be on:

 

Beyond the Hellmouth

Saturday 17:00 – 18:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

What makes a convincing fictional hell? Is it the uptempo singing or dancing or must it be personal and bespoke? Should moral relativism define your eternity and isn’t it possible to get used to anything eventually?

Lynda E Rucker, Peadar Ó Guilín, Dr. Allen Stroud, Fionnuala Murphy (M), Dr. Liz Bourke

 

The Art of Shipping (Free Shipping With Every Order Of The Phoenix) [18+]

Saturday 21:00 – 22:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

From characters on tv shows to countries to fast food restaurants to Kirk and Spock, everything seems to have ships now a days. Why are fangirls / is everyone obsessed with shipping?

Sakura Perez (M), C.E. Murphy, Diane Duane, Dr. Liz Bourke, Ms. Wendy Fries

 

Shapes of Family & Relationships In Genre

Sunday 12:00 – 13:00, Salusa Secundus (Camden Court Hotel)

What would be the shape of a “traditional” family off the surface of this planet? How do relationships work on a spaceship or during early planetary colonisation? What would be the economic incentives shaping family life in space? From Heinlein’s line marriages, the alien / human sexual partnership in A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet, multi-parent families in for example The Expanse, how have these questions been explored and how have the ideas stood the test of time.

C.E. Murphy, Paul Anthony Shortt, Russell A. Smith, Fionna O’Sullivan (M), Dr. Liz Bourke

 


 

I still haven’t bought my membership, because I am a broke freelancer and also slow. I should probably get on that…

My Worldcon75 schedule

Non-binary Representation in Fiction

Thursday 11:00 – 12:00, 101c (Messukeskus)

Non-binary characters have begun to appear more frequently in both literature and media, such as Steven Universe, Eth’s Skin, and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Book of Joan. The panel discusses the good and the bad non-binary representation in recent and not so recent fiction.

Nick Hubble (M), Emma Humphries, D Franklin, Nino Cipri, Liz Bourke.

Reviewing 101

Thursday 16:00 – 17:00, 102 (Messukeskus)

So you want to review books, movies, games, anything? Come here the experienced reviewers tell about how to get started with reviewing, whether in a blog, Youtube, podcast or anything!

Juan Sanmiguel, Soikkeli , Liz Bourke (M), John Clute, Fred Lerner

Storytelling in Dragon Age and Mass Effect

Sunday 16:00 – 17:00, 205 (Messukeskus)

Dragon Age- and Mass Effect-gameseries have memorable characters, relationships and epic world saving quests. Panelists discuss what kind of stories they tell, what benefits there are for playing them in multiple times, what kind of romances and other emotional experiences they offer and why scifi and fantasy fans should play them.

Liz Bourke, Evil Ivo, Tanja Sihvonen (M).

SLEEPING WITH MONSTERS: Learning to Read Critically

Over at Tor.com, I have a post up about my Sleeping With Monsters: Readings and Reactions in Science Fiction collection, “Learning to Read Critically:”

Learning to read critically is an interesting process. You find you can’t turn it off unless you try really hard: you’re always paying attention to what kind of work the narrative is doing, and what sort of thing it’s setting itself up to be. You learn to recognise what particular works are interested in, and the shape of the story they’re telling. In many cases, you can tell what sort of book any given volume’s going to be—good, bad, indifferent, actively offensive; whodunnit or military-focused or romance or thriller or coming of age—within the first few pages.

 

Sleeping With Monsters is available now in paperback and electronic versions from Aqueduct Press. You can buy it there or from:

The Book Depository

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com

And more places as I become aware of them. (There’s no listing on Barnes and Noble yet, or on Chapters for Canada.)

So far, Aqueduct Press is the only place where the ebook edition is available. But I’m pretty sure that’ll change.

Much Ado

Last night I went to a play.

It is the second play I have been to lately. The first, The Elephant Girls, I saw on the recommendation of Amal El-Mohtar while it was showing in Dublin, and that was excellent. This was a showing of Much Ado About Nothing at the Lir Theatre: a friend had got tickets through work and couldn’t go, so she passed the tickets along. So my girlfriend and I stroll along last night up by Grand Canal Dock at the hottest day (so far) of the year, to see the young people of the Lir National Academy of Dramatic Art DO SHAKESPEARE.

Wow. What a show.

It was a modern staging and a very high-energy one, at that: Much Ado About Nothing reimagined as the eighties/disco house party from hell, complete with high heels, shirtless men in hot print shorts and fur coats, Claudio lathering Don Pedro in sunscreen, and Beatrice reading Caitlin Moran. It was a small cast: Beatrice, Hero, Leonato (cross-cast as Leonata), Don Pedro, Claudio, Don John, Margaret, and Barachio, whose actor also played the Friar. There was some compression of characters and scenes but it did not detract from the play.

There were musical numbers. Scene changes were signalled by the lights going down and a couple of bars of thematically-appropriate pop music. Leonato cross-cast as Leonata is a change that works really well, and allowed the play to play with the idea of Leonata and Don Pedro having an understanding.

Beatrice delivered her lines amazingly well. She and Margaret, I think, were the best performers in the cast, though I suspect when they have a little more age and experience, the actors who were playing Leonata and Benedick and Don Pedro will be able to bring more presence to their performances. (Leonata leapt in presence once she had some pathos, rather than comedy, to play with.) Don John had little enough to do, but did it really well. And the stage business, the physical comedy, was exceptionally well done.

This staging of the play understood the misogyny that is at the heart of Much Ado About Nothing, and did not seek to minimise it: there is drinking and drug-use shown during the play, and this, juxtaposed against Claudio and Don Pedro’s vile over-reaction to aspersions cast on Hero’s sexual virtue, plays with the hypocrisy that is at the heart of the play. And at the scene break immediately after Claudio and Hero are agreed to be married the first time, members of the cast handed out invitations to the wedding.

Wedding invitation of Hero and Claudio

The text inside the cover?

“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them

There is also a particularly telling bit of business at the very end of the play. All the cast are celebrating – with the exception of a hooded and bound Margaret. The cast exits, all bar Margaret, who is left in the middle of the stage, saying plaintively into the silence, “Hello?”

And then the lights go down.

They understood their Shakespeare enough to stage it well and faithfully and hilariously — and also critique its attitudes at the same time. An excellent play.

Testimonial

 

My first research client seems to have been satisfied!

Breakfast on an ill-omened morning: a text-based adventure

You discover the milk is dead only after you’ve made your porridge with it

– abandon the porridge with curdled milk

In the fridge, there is
a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the cheddar cheese

The cheddar cheese smells like feet. Two different colours of mold decorate its surface. Eat the cheddar cheese?

– no

In the fridge, there is
a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the apple juice.

The apple juice fizzes slightly as it opens. Drink the apple juice?

– yes

The apple juice is fizzy. The apple juice has become cider. The cider is tasty, but it is not a morning drink. Continue drinking the apple juice?

– no

In the fridge, there is

a protein bar
cheddar cheese
apple juice.

– open the protein bar.

It is a mint chocolate flavoured protein bar. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it is a protein bar. Eat the protein bar?

– yes

The protein bar is breakfast.

Strange saints.

Everything I know about Saint Ijanel comes from Frances Weller’s 1978 book, Saint Ijanel: A Forgotten Holy Woman of Early Christianity. I think she’s kind of fascinating, so I want to share her with you.

 

The first mention of Saint Ijanel comes from a late sixth century ostracon from Edessa, shortly before the Muslim conquest. Her name in the Greek alphabet is rendered   Ιδζανηλη, and we find here didomai tei osioei Idzanelei, “I give to holy Ijanel” – but what’s given isn’t specified.

 

Ijanel’s name obviously derives from Armenian. It’s form of the Armenian verb to arise, and it seems possible that Ijanel the saint is a composite figure, around whom several stories — some plausible, some occurring in the lives of other saints — accreted over the course of time. While there are occasional mentions of Ijanel — in Greek as Aghia Idzanela or Izanele or Idzaneleia — as asides in other manuscripts, or once as a church in Armenian records, she is far from well known.

 

The earliest literary mention of Ijanel comes from a 9th century collection of sayings, the Apophthegmata of Armenian Saints. (Where we’re also informed in an aside that fragments from the spear of her martyrdom are miraculous relics, whose efficacy the author has seen with his own eyes.) By the 10th century it is clear her popularity is increasing, with an anonymous Greek hagiography, the Life of Saint Ijanel, in Byzantine circulation. This survives in substantial fragments, including an epitome translated into Arabic, and includes an invocation similar to the Irish litany of Saint Patrick:

 

“Holy Saint Ijanel, let me arise and go forth by day without hindrance. Holy Saint Ijanel, let me arise and go forth by night without fear. Let me rise up into battle with good courage. In peace, let me arise into wisdom and understanding. Let me rise up against tyranny with justice in my heart. Let me rise up in the morning. Let me rise up at noon. Let me rise up at the going-down of the sun. Holy Saint Ijanel, guard me and guide me until the last day, when all shall arise into glory.”

 

The author of this Life of Saint Ijanel mentions an “Emperor Constans” contemporary with Ijanel, but otherwise has — as far as can be told from the fragmentary text — very little concern with chronology. (And even this mention of Constans is not much help, since there were at least three emperors by that name.) In some ways, this hagiographical life is extremely subversive. Ijanel is – unusually for holy women – not a holy virgin, but a married woman who follows her husband to war, where she has a miraculous encounter with the angel Gabriel and receives a call to spread the gospel among the women “of the land of the unbelievers.”

 

The surviving text does not preserve what happened to her husband, but several stories — an encounter with an amorous nobleman in which Ijanel is miraculously saved when she calls on God and he “caused the land to rise up against him;” a village that Ijanel convinces to convert by miraculously causing a church to be raised overnight; another village where Ijanel is preserved from being burned alive because she calls on God to cause the waters of the nearby river to rise up, and they do; an encounter with a king who oppresses his people with heavy taxation in which Ijanel’s prayers cause “the stones of his chamber to rise up around him” — are preserved in entertaining detail. So too is a story of Ijanel healing a woman with broken legs, who got up and walked.

 

Confusingly, the Arabic manuscript epitome of the Life preserves a different account of her martyrdom to the Greek text. In the Greek text, Ijanel is faced with an unbelieving king who commands her death by impalement; in the Arabic epitome, she is — bizarrely — suspended by hooks from the walls of a city, but rescued by the apparition of an angel, who causes her to be bodily translated into heaven.

 

There also exists a short 12th-century Armenian Life, which includes elements of the Greek one, but returns to the spear mentioned in the Apophthegmata for Ijanel’s martyrdom. Or rather, spears: pierced clean through by one, she rises up and continues to engage in theological debate with the king who means to murder her. Pierced by a second, she gets up again and keeps talking. Only when she’s run through with a third spear does the king finally succeed in making her stop. The writer adds, in what may be a humorous aside playing on the Armenian derivation of Ijanel’s name, that those who wish to rise up (arise, get up, raise things up) should pray to Ijanel to aid them.

 

After the Turkish conquest of Byzantium, evidence for the continuing veneration of Ijanel disappears. Apart from one intriguing snippet, a footnote to her story: in 1773, a French traveller in Turkey, a doctor and naturalist by the name of Alexandre De La Boutière, recorded that he stayed in a small Christian village in Ottoman Armenia, where he was shown the relics of a saint in a gold-chased lead casket: the fingerbones of Saint Ijanel, which were said to have miraculous healing powers and also to move on the anniversary of her martyrdom, which De La Boutière said his hosts told him was the same as the Feast of the Dormition of Mary.

 

There you go.

Crusader Kings II: Queen of Oman

I recently started a new game of CRUSADER KINGS II, and since I’ve been enjoying Django Wexler’s write-up of his, I thought I’d do my own.

But unlike Django, I’m a cheating cheater who cheats.

Meet Karima Jamalid, a Levantine Karaite Shaykhah in the lower Arabian peninsula. There are no Levantine Karaites in the Arabian peninsula, you say! I say, I CHEATED.

203770_20170208202914_1

Thanks to the Ruler Designer Unlocked mod, Karima is a Strong Genius, Brawny and Shrewd, a Sayyid, poet gardener scholar mystic and so on, the healthiest woman on earth and so fertile that she only has to look at a man to fall pregnant.

Case in point: Shaykhah Karima of Dhofar produced a daughter almost exactly nine months after her first marriage:

203770_20170208204956_1

I also cheated my way into 50000 troops and a few thousand bits of gold. Just to get Karima started.

Karima is a vassal of the Azd Umanid Emirate, so her first cunning plan is to start a faction to weaken her liege’s power.

203770_20170208205055_1

Our second daughter is a genius. That’s useful!

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A bout of Slow Fever shortly after her second daughter’s birth results in Karima’s court physician cutting out her eye. It works! Cure! Now she’s one-eyed and badass… and still very fertile.

Several years pass. Karima forges a claim on Jask, on the other side of the Persian Gulf, and adds it to her desmesne. She has many children by many different fathers – some of whom she even married.

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Karima eventually declares independence, and after her former liege dies, claims another county, this time on the very tip of the Arabian peninsula.

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She gives Jask to her eldest daughter’s husband, and institutes elective monarchy, nominating her genius daughter Nastaran as her heir. A claim on Berbera and two quick Holy Wars later, Emira Karima is sitting pretty on a pretty piece of real estate.

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It’s stressful being a ruler. Next step, conquer the Arwadids and swear fealty to Harun al-Rashid, the Abbasid caliph, to stop him gobbling us up…

Where Do We Go From Here?

D Franklin’s post-Women’s-Marches post  (Women’s March: Where Next?) has reminded me that I meant to write my own post about Where We Are and What We Do Now.

I’m Irish, so American authoritarianism and the inauguration of a racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, transphobic, queerphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, hateful, science-denying, world-wrecking bigot as President of the United States of America? That’s not something that I can do much about, practically speaking. (Neither is the UK’s determination on self-immolation through Brexit.)

But it’s a hell of a wake-up call for local civic engagement.

So, What Do We Do Now, from an Irish perspective?

First, take a deep breath

Twitter is a firehose of information, most of it from the USA, much of it accompanied by anxious commentary, catastrophising, and urgency that frequently approaches — and sometimes spills over into — panic. Panic is exhausting, and will leave you with very little energy for meaningful action. Ration your exposure to things that inspire you to anxiety and panic, rather than inspiring you to act.

For information, sign up for mailing lists from organisations like some of these:

Friends of the Earth Ireland is one reliable place to get information and action items for environmental matters, while the Irish Wildlife Trust has a quarterly newsletter. For the right to choose, the Abortion Rights Campaign has monthly open meetings and sends regular updates. The Irish Refugee Council sends occasional updates, while the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland updates via its Facebook page. Amnesty International’s Irish branch will update you on local opportunities for activism. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties wants you to print out and post in a form for membership, but it, too, will update you on the issues. TENI, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, will keep you up to date on trans and nonbinary issues.

There are more organisations, but these are the ones I know will actually provide updates and Things For You To Do.

Speaking of Things For You To Do – this is a second piece of advice on What To Do Now. If you aren’t already familiar with your TDs and county councilors, now is the time to get familiar with them: sign up for their newsletters, check out their Facebook feeds, know what their parties are and what they stand for. Email them and ask them which way they’re voting on issues that affect you.

The website for the Houses of the Oireachtas, oireachtas.ie, is a great resource. Not only does it tell you who your TDs are, and their official emails, but you can find the order papers – that is, the published order of business, what the Dáil and the Seanad will actually be doing, for each day in the week – here, on Tuesday every week that the Houses are in session.

You can also find the Weekly Schedule – the timeline of when things will happen – here.

You can find transcripts of the proceedings from the Houses and from the committee meetings here.

And if you want to watch or listen to the proceedings – say you’ve spotted something in the Weekly Schedule and you want to know in real-time whether your TDs are arguing your corner – you can do that from here.

Also, if you want to call and leave a message by TELEPHONY with your local TDs, you can ask for their office through the Oireachtas switchboard, the number for which you can find on the Oireachtas contact page.

Your local county council has a webpage. It lists your local councilors and their official contact details. It should also have a “Service Delivery Plan” or something similarly titled, which tells you what your local council has planned for you and your area. At a local level? This is information that will be useful for you to know, if you want to lobby for change.


This is what I’m doing:

  • I’m volunteering with the Abortion Rights Campaign and going to meetings.
  • There’s a weekly check on my to-do list for “write TDs about $issue,” where the issue changes by week. Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, Anti-Fracking Bill, homelessness, ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, accessible public transport, the Moneypoint coal-fueled power plant, water, refugees, ending the Direct Provision system: I don’t want my TDs to get bored.
  • Every so often I ask them to ask a question of the Minister for something: if they do, and tell me about it (which only one has so far, three cheers for Clare Daly TD), I put it aside to think of how to ask more questions from there.
  • I’m getting familiar with what my local county council actually does, and what I might be able to lobby my councilors about with some hope of them acting in useful ways.
  • I’ve started an LGBTQ+ bookclub at my local library, the first meeting of which is to happen this month. Because building community remains important.
  • I’m investigating other avenues for local action, community- and capacity-building: it might be possible to start local monthly “coffee evenings” to bring together people on issues like lobbying for climate action or lobbying for accessibility issues (particularly with regard to public transport), but that will require a bit more knowledge and context than I have right now.
  • I’m keeping an eye out for other opportunities to volunteer in useful ways, and to throw my shoulder behind other people’s wheels.

Small acts. Local connections. Discrete things that you can do. Start small, build capacity. Build connections. Do the thing in front of you. Do what you can with what you’ve got.

(I am terrified about doing some of this, by the way: I’m insecure about my competence to start with, and interacting with humans is terrifying. But, as the great Carrie Fisher said: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action.“)

In Ireland, the next local elections for the county councils are scheduled for 2019: we have two years to start building the capacity to make local change.

 

Hugo Nominations 2017: thoughts part one

Hugo nominations are open for the 2017 Worldcon in Helsinki. So I’m thinking that you all could, if you really wanted to, nominate me for Best Fan Writer. (I’d really like another shiny rocket nominee pin.)

 But that’s not why I’m writing this post. (I wasn’t really on fire last year, and I know it.) I’m writing because there was a lot of excellent work published in 2016, and I want to share my thoughts about what I’m — probably — nominating. This post is for the prose fiction categories: I’ll probably make another later for the rest.

Novel:

1. Yoon Ha Lee, NINEFOX GAMBIT. Solaris/Rebellion/Abaddon.

A glittering, compelling and brutal science fiction novel, with an ongoing thematic argument about free will, conformism, and the cost of empire. Everyone should read it. Brilliant in several respects.

2. Foz Meadows, AN ACCIDENT OF STARS. Angry Robot.

A portal fantasy of a different hue. With consequences, and found family. When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole between worlds, she’s not a chosen one, or a hero, or anything other than a girl who ends up in the middle of things she doesn’t understand, and tries to survive them. While making new friends and enemies along the way. It’s a fabulous novel, one of my favourite things.

3. Hillary Monahan, SNAKE EYES. Solaris/Rebellion/Abaddon.

 The most extraordinary fun gruesome touching urban fantasy novel that I’ve read in years. A thriller, a story of family, and a novel about monsters: it’s utterly great.

4. Nisi Shawl, EVERFAIR. Tor.

 A brilliant alternate history of the Congo, liberally dashed with myth and a touch of magic. Deeply invested in interrogating people and systems of power, small compromises and hypocrisies and larger ones, it is a sweeping novel of nation-building and relationships.

Possible contenders for the final slot: Gladstone and Smith et al, THE WITCH WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (Serial Box); Palmer, TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING (Tor) — but I’m not convinced the first half of a duology that closes no arcs should hit the awards — Isabel Yap’s HURRICANE HEELS (Booksmugglers Publishing) if it qualifies; No Award.

Novella

 All my favourite novellas are out of Tor.com, and Laurie Penny’s Everything Belongs to the Future, Cassandra Khaw’s Hammers on Bone, and Marie Brennan’s Cold-Forged Flame are basically my top three. EDITED: I though Kai Ashante Wilson’s The Taste of Honey was novel-length but I was wrong, so IT IS NOW NUMBER ONE.

I should get Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe read in time to consider it for addition to the list.

Novelette

 Fran Wilde’s The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com).

All the novelettes in Isabel Yap’s Hurricane Heels – dammit, don’t make me pick just one.

SL Huang’s The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist (Booksmugglers Publishing).

Meredith Debonnaire’s “The Life and Times of Angel Evans.” (Booksmugglers Publishing).

 

 Short Story

Alyssa Wong’s “A Fistful of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers” (Tor.com)

Aliette de Bodard’s “Lullaby for a Lost World” (Tor.com)

But mostly I don’t read short stories. Recommend me some?

What A Year

Well, people. It’s been a year.

Not a particularly good one for me, even leaving international politics aside. (Although it’s fairly impossible to leave international politics aside right now, between the rump nationalism of Brexit and the regressive fascism-in-prospect of Trumplandia: looking either east or west from Ireland, the immediate view seems gloomy.) You may have noticed a certain lack of my blogging presence on these here tubes. I got a job, you see.

Ordinarily, that’d be good news. Unfortunately, it turns out that the job and I were fairly well unsuited to each other: I’m apparently not made for the kind of government work I found myself doing. In early October, I had my worst bout of suicidal ideation in about ten years. Combined with improbable amounts of fatigue, exhaustion, and continuing anxiety – I tried, I swear, so many prescription drugs. It took two months, but I recovered enough to return to work – long enough to give my notice.

So that was last week.

The events of the past while have made clear to me just how very little time there is to waste. I want to do work I’m good at and that I (at least for the most part) enjoy – and I want to advocate for the causes I believe in, which I could not do in the civil service job, which as a condition of employment forbade anything that could be construed as partisan political activity. So! You’ll probably be hearing a little bit more from me on Irish politics, the importance of green energy, climate change mitigation, #repealthe8th, social housing, ending Direct Provision, welcoming refugees, combating racism, building better public transport, and so on, as I harangue my local TDs (that’s the equivalent of an MP, but in Irish) and try to figure out where I can throw my weight in with political activism locally.

In the next while, I should be reactivating (under somewhat different terms) my Patreon page, writing more reviews for Locus and Tor.com, figuring out whether I have a theme for 2017 for the Sleeps With Monsters column, and looking at the practicalities of setting up a freelance biz in editorial consulting/proofreading. (I have mad skillz… but not necessarily in self-promotion.)

That is, I think, all the news that’s fit to print.

News, views, disillusions

I have finished my third week at a RealJob. The paycheque is nice, but I woke up this morning sick as a dog. Ah, well. It could be worse.

There’s a lot of news to catch up on. In my case, the most exciting piece is that, along with Mahvesh Murad, I’ll be editing Speculative Fiction 2016:

Call for Submissions: What You Need to Know

The Speculative Fiction series is a not-for-profit publication. All net proceeds will be going to charity.
The anthology seeks non-fiction reviews and essays (“works”) specific to some aspect of Speculative Fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything and anything that falls under the broad genre umbrella), including but not limited to: books, movies, tv shows, games, comics, conventions, genre trends, and so on. No short stories or original fiction, please.
The works MUST have been originally published online during the calendar year 2016.
Any pieces chosen for the publication will be paid a flat fee of $10 per work (in lieu of payment, contributors may choose to donate their fee to charity in their name).
Nominations are accepted for works published by anyone online. (This includes bloggers, friends, bloggers who are friends, authors who blog, bloggers who are authors, alien life forms, cats, etc…)
People may submit their own work or someone else’s.
People may submit as many works as they like. (There is NO limit on submissions!)
Submitted works ideally should be between 800 and 1500 words (but that’s not mandatory, we may consider longer and shorter pieces).
While submitted works can be from anywhere in the world, although we do need an English translation for consideration.
Submissions are open through December 31 2016.

Submit your nominations here. Deadline is 31 December 2016.


There are some links hanging out in my tabs:

The Church’s Lingering Shadows On Sex Work In Ireland.

Jane Austen to Cassandra.

Lesbians of 1916 are the Rising’s “hidden history.”

Carrie Fisher interviews Daisy Ridley.

Wonder Woman, Amazons, armour and history: the best thing on Tumblr.

Poem: “Questions to Ask Yourself Before Giving Up.”

Database of Public Monuments in Roman Greece. Lovely searchable database.

Doctoratus in Philosophia

Yesterday I attended the commencements ceremony for my Ph.D. I wore a waistcoat and bowtie.

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The Ph.D. robes are red and yellow silk, and very swish. I had a great day, for the most part. My mother and my academic supervisor both attended the ceremony, and I had dinner with them and some other people, and then cocktails. TWO WHOLE COCKTAILS.

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There is a downside to attending a formal ceremony in gender-noncomforming formal garb, though. Perhaps more than one.

Ph.D. graduands must line up and process in to the Public Theatre. The line is alphabetical by last name, and a person goes down the line with a clipboard checking that one is in the right place. This exchange occurred when that person — by appearance a woman — got to me:

“Elizabeth Bourke?” said they.

“Yes,” I said.

“Nooooo,” they said.

“Yes,” said I.

“Nooo – Oh,” they said, and wandered off further down the line, causing the person next to me to remark, in commiserating fashion: “I expect you get that a lot.”

During the ceremony itself, when the pro-chancellor went to hand me the parchment, he said, “Mr. Bourke, congratulations -” and the professor sitting next to him pointed out his error, since the name on the paper was Elizabeth – “oh, I’m sorry. Ms. Bourke, congratulations.” Mic’d live to the whole hall.

It would’ve taken a lot more than that to put a damper on my enjoyment of the day, but, y’know, I could’ve lived without either. Although being contradicted when I answered to my own name was extremely irritating.

Still. I am DR. BOURKE now. For good. No one can take it back.

Long overdue update!

Before anything else, there’s a new post about The 100 over at Tor.com.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve caught up on the second season of The 100, the post-apocalyptic murder-fest television show of our time. Somewhere around halfway through, and definitely by episode 2.12, “Rubicon,” I started having a vague niggling itch: it was reminding me of Xena: Warrior Princess. “But that’s not right,” I said to myself. “They’re completely different: tonally, stylistically, structurally, in all ways. Have you been sniffing glue, self? Just because people are bringing Xena back is no reason to have it on the brain!”


I’ve been silent here for quite a while. February was A Month, friends, full of Interesting Life Things All Happening Close Together. (I joined a social club, went back to rockclimbing, had some developments happen that might change the shape of my life for at least the rest of the year. Etc.)

I haven’t been blogging because I haven’t been reading: reading for an award jury (the Clarke Award, which I’m not really supposed to talk about much?) has about killed my ability to not hate fiction.

It’s not so much fun taking about books when you read the first three pages and just hate everything, even if it has obvious merits.

I’ll probably be continuing quiet here for the foreseeable future, with the odd update when I have something new over at Tor.com or somewhere else online.

In the meantime, I entertained myself over the weekend by watching THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES and tweeting about it. Here are some of those tweets:

In conclusion, only watch that show for a drinking game.