Saturday, 21 December 2013

It's official! I'm delighted to report that my book, _An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850_, will be published by U. of Pennsylvania Press. Thanks again to *everyone* who offered feedback and advice!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Best Books of the Year (so far)

Looking for book recommendations? My list of the best contemporary books I've read for fun this year:

1) Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (fiction) - A young teenager deals with death of uncle. And it's bloody, bloody brilliant.

2) Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction) - Housewife discovers butterfly migration and then herself. Some of the best characterization I read this year.

3) Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon (non-fiction) - Dry but compelling overview of parents whose children belong to a different identity category from them (autistic, deaf, musical prodigies, deaf, criminal etc.)

4) The Last Policeman/Countdown City by Ben Winters (SF/mystery) - Detective ignores apocalypse, focuses on solving crimes. Tackles some big philosophical issues in a convincing genre pairing. Mystery lovers - check this one out.

5) We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (fiction) - Young woman grapples with fallout after being raised to think of a chimp as her sister.

6) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (YA fantasy) - For once, a YA novel that both made me root for its romance and seriously worry about the fate of the heroine. Also, it has terrifying carnivorous horses.

7) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (SF) - Tight plot, interesting lead.

8) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (memoir/graphic novel) - Bechdel describes her belated discovery of her dead father's secret homosexual life in graphic novel form.

9) On Saudi Arabia by Karen Elliott House (non-fiction) - Good overview of contemporary Saudi and its issues.

10) Wild by Cheryl Strayed (memoir) - It almost convinced me to hike the PCT, and that's saying something.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Back from Boskone

On my way back from Boskone where, yes, I had a lovely time. matociquala introduced me and Fran Wilde to "Drink," a bartender's bar in which they make pale fruity things called Bohemians, which I'll be hankering after for a long time. Other things I'll be hankering after for a while included the Boskone art show, which had some of the strongest pieces I've seen so far at cons. But alas, the budget would not let me buy.

I didn't end up attending that many panels, but those I did proved interesting. Jim Kelly gave an intriguing talk on the Virtual Utopia, which gave me some ideas for my upcoming lecture on The Matrix. And the "gamechanger" panel added to my reading list, as I knew it would. Other than that, I mainly hung out in the lobby and caught up with familiar faces, including some of the ICFA brigade and mindstalk, who I had yet to meet in his new Boston habitat.

On Sunday we were kidnapped by James D. Macdonald and Debra Doyle and taken indoor skydiving, which is, btw, AWESOME, and does not come with the same terrifying quantity of space and ground found in the other kind of skydiving. I thoroughly approve.

My observations re: indoor skydiving are limited to the fact that a) it's harder than it looks and b) I'd like to do it again. Actually, I'll add that the thing that constantly surprises me about skydiving is the nothing-beneath-you part. The hindpart of my brain equates flying with swimming, but there's a significant difference between feeling yourself supported by water and the what-the-hell-is-THAT sensation of being supported by wind. Wind's much less stable, and it's also full of light and noise and NOTHING, and to someone who's a confident swimmer, it's very odd.

Now: back to work.

Thursday, 14 February 2013


Sunk: The Incredible Truth about a Ship that Never Should Have Sailed makes for some terrifying reading (at least for me, and I gather, via conversation, most people who have sailed). The author's a UD grad student, apparently, and she seems to have done a bang-up job of outlining and analyzing the Bounty's sinking. Her description of the rigging going into the water just horrifies me.

But what also horrifies me -- and tends to terrify me about survival stories in general -- is the way that social dynamics can force people into situations they are clearly realize are risky, even if the height of the stakes isn't clear. It's all very well to say, on shore and with hindsight, "I wouldn't have set sail." But clearly even crewmembers who weren't entirely comfortable with the decision to sail didn't break ranks and leave. I don't know if it genuinely occurred to them to do so, or whether staying in port was financially or practically feasible for them. Given that any departing individuals would have been shorting the ship on crew, I also don't know if it was *socially* feasible. The urge to help out your community is pretty strong.

Anyway. If you have time, it's a worthwhile read.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

I swear that once I locate a camera and time, I will post documentary evidence of THE CAT.

In the meantime, be assured: THE CAT is doing just fine. It has managed one apartment-escape and several food cupboard break-ins, and has (mostly) learned to accept that I am not going to be feeding it every 5 minutes. It barfed on my carpet twice to express its displeasure with this (or its generalized sense of ennui, I wasn't sure). Since then it has discovered my lap. Now it is mastering the art of parking itself between me and my laptop keyboard to signal that I MUST PET THE CAT.

I give in. I pet THE CAT, and I learn to type with my arm in an awkward position.

In other news: I'm teaching 2 SF classes this semester: a Dystopian Fiction class and a Fantasy class, both at the undergraduate level. These are the courses I've been soliciting reading suggestions for on Facebook, so thanks for all the f-list suggestions. So far, so good, although The Hobbit is proving a bit of a harder text to teach than I thought it would be. I found Return of the King hard to teach too, when I had that on the syllabus. Maybe I'm just not enough of a Tolkien buff to teach Tolkien; I'm not sure. I love his fiction in the abstract, but the majority of analytical work that people do with his books involves tracing his mythological sources and trying to describe his project en toto. Neither interest me, particularly. But I'm trying.

In the meantime, Orwell's 1984, which I haven't read since high school, teaches beautifully. There's much more in the novel than I remembered, and my students have been making some very clever observations about everything from patriarchy to typography. I can't wait to unleash them on The Handmaid's Tale.

In yet other news: Just finished watching the Downton Abbey Xmas special. As a writer, I am underwhelmed by the ending they chose for that character.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Two weeks ago, my elderly neighbor died. She was a sweet lady who'd babysat my plants many times. And she had a cat. A cat that, for one reason and another, now had no home.

The upshot: I now have a cat. A 14-year-old grey cat that, from what I can tell, is determined to compete with me in world domination. And everything else, including the running of my life.

THE CAT has two interests in life: eating and trying to escape. Unfortunately for THE CAT, the first of these requires me to feed it. Which if THE CAT had its way, would be all the time.

For week one this resulted in an interesting standoff, in which the cat either yowled or pointedly ignored me, and I, having a cattish personality myself, pointedly ignored it.

We've now progressed to the point where we occasionally deign to notice each other's presence. And THE CAT has now learned, to its and my benefit, that just because I'm doing an impromptu song-and-dance performance of The Threepenny Opera in my kitchen does not mean I'm about to feed it. There's hope for us yet.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Coming to America

The latest email reads, "we want to make sure you have NO plans to marry (in the NEAR future) a Foreign National.... if you do have plans in the near future to marry, we should discuss same BEFORE we file!"

Me: Nope. Not marrying a foreign national in the next few months, thanks.

Versions of other questions I have recently answered:

Q. Have you ever worked as a prostitute?
Q. Have you ever conspired to attack the United States?
Q. Have you ever been trained to kill with your bare hands?
Q. How do you feel about Nazis?
Q. Do you have syphilis?
Q. Are you sure?
Q. What about T.B.?
Q. Have you ever tortured animals for fun?
Q. Have you ever been neo-nazi prostitute out to bomb the U.S.A with tortured animals?
Q. But do you consider the above a valid career option?

Me: No to all, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, this elusive update is in lieu of other updates I can't actually give for legal reasons. Short version: things are swimming along here. And I got to go to NYC recently! Woot!