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This is a guest post by Rachel Swirsky:

Thanks to my friend, Ann, for letting me use her blog. I’m Rachel Swirsky, and some years ago, I wrote a short story called, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love.” It rather upset some folks who have been raising great ruckus about it since. As a response, I’ve started a Making Lemons into Jokes campaign—a fundraiser through my patreon to benefit some of the people they’ve been nastiest toward, LGBTQIAA folks who are already at the bottom of a heap made of bullshit.

Since I’m here on Ann’s blog, I’ll point out that if we reach our $600 stretch goal, she and I, along with writers John Chu, Adam-Troy Castro, Ken Liu, Juliette Wade, and Alyssa Wong, will write a story together about dinosaurs. I really want this to happen, so I hope we reach the goal. We’ve got about a week left to go!

If you want the whole story behind the fundraiser, you can read it here– https://www.patreon.com/posts/posteriors-for-5477113. But here’s what I have to say today:

There’s advice I’ve heard all my life. You’ve probably heard it, too.

In elementary school, it was “ignore the bullies.” It never seemed to work.

These days, it’s “ignore the trolls.” (And let’s not mince words – trolls are just another kind of bully.) And it doesn’t work now, either.

Why? Because bullies don’t need you.

Bullies might enjoy it when you get angry, or cry, or whatever else they want you to do. They’re the kind of people who like that. It’s foreign to my personality, and I can’t understand it, but there it is. But they don’t need it. What they need is the laughing and baying of their own hounds. They’re showing off for each other, pissing on the trees to show just how terribly big they are.

This leads to the fundamental dichotomy of bullies.

First, that they are actually capable of doing damage. A dog crapping on the carpet still leaves crap on the carpet. And if they’re all crowding into your living room to crap on you, then that’s a lot of crap. Being covered in crap won’t break your bones, but it’s not nothing. Otherwise, a lot more people would spend their free time rolling around in crap. And sometimes they do bite—someone shows up with a gun at a gym or a hair salon, or brags on a message board about a murder that shows up later in the news, or makes a “performance art” video threatening to kill a woman and driving her out of her home.

But second, they’re ridiculous. I mean, really. The kind of people who think “I can crap on things and that makes me really important!!” are not serious people. They are somewhere on the scale from scabies to anthrax. You don’t really want to scratch all the time, and you certainly don’t want to take high-powered antibiotics, but it’s not like crabs who crawl through pubic hair are something you regard as impressive.

Sometimes we try to toggle those back and forth. Can lard the living room with crap versus hilarious clowns. But they’re both.

So, you do the same thing you do when the two-year-old pulls off her diaper and pees on the floor. You clean it up, and you laugh.

In elementary school, sometimes I’d turn around and face the bullies, and laugh at what they were saying. “You realize that’s not even a coherent insult, right?”

Bullies can hurt people. That’s what “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” is about, and perhaps why it makes bullies howl. But you know what else it’s done? It’s inspired hundreds of people to come to me and tell me about their experiences being bullied as kids or being hated as adults, being pummeled or harassed, and how they’ve moved past it. How “Dinosaur” has been cathartic for them, has helped them realize they aren’t alone.

Bullies aren’t the only ones who can travel in groups. We have our bonding and our strength. And at its best, it can be fun, and silly. It can destroy hatred with humor and positive energy. It can emphasize kindness and compassion. I believe in the power of humor, and I believe in the power of people clasping hands to help other people.

Don’t get me wrong. Humor won’t stop the bullies either. We’re always going to have to spend our time walking carefully around some amount of crap on the carpet. But humor reveals that the emperor is not only naked, but not even an emperor—as often as not, he’s some poor, pathetic exiled criminal, dreaming of ruling the world with an army of poltergeists and toddlers.

Don’t let them make us forget: they are morally weak, and they are outnumbered. And they’re hilarious.

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So, Barnes and Noble is having a sale! Three adult paperbacks for thirty bucks.

Now, it’s likely all of y’all reading this have already read the Ancillary trilogy. But, see, have you read N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season? Because if you haven’t, there is a hole in your life that you probably didn’t know was there.

Nebula-winner Uprooted is part of the same deal. So is Emma Newman’s Planetfall. Have you not read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell yet? Because that one is freaking awesome. The Expanse books are on there, and oooooh look, The City & The City. Seriously, that one is amazing.

Here are the books in the deal sorted by title–there are lots–and you can also grab the little dropdown thingy up there and sort it by author.

And no, really, you should all read The Fifth Season if you haven’t already.

I’m in the middle of getting ready to go to Chicago this weekend for the Nebulas, but I just got word that prints of Lauren Saint Onge’s wonderful cover art for the Subterranean special editions of the Ancilary books are available for purchase.

Screenshot 2016-05-10 18.03.11

Just personally, I love these. I already have the Ancillary Justice cover hanging on my wall, it is now only a matter of time before it is joined by Sword and Mercy. If you want one or more of these on your wall, well, here they are!

So, uh, this is a thing that happened. I mean, not just Ancillary Mercy being a finalist, which is super awesome (and thank you to the readers who voted for it!), but also, look at the novelette category.

Yeah, my story “Another Word for World” is a finalist for the Locus Awards this year. Like novel, the other works in the category are pretty amazing stuff, so I’m counting them just being on that finalist list as wins on my personal scoreboard. But “Another Word for World” has the distinction of being the very first time any short fiction of mine has been shortlisted for any sort of award. I mean, I’ve seen individuals say, here and there, “Oh, I’m going to recc/nominate “[Shortfic]” by Ann Leckie this year, I really loved it” (and enjoyed the heck out of seeing that, and tucked those away to remind me to keep going during long spells of rejection), but this is the first time a story of mine has actually made the cut.

So, I’m kind of giddy about that!

“Another Word for World” appeared in Future Visions, by the way, which is full of great stories by amazing authors. You can download the whole thing for free and read them all, not just mine!

The other day, while I was reading a (published) work of fiction, I came across a passage that seemed to me was a result of the author being determined to write the piece in 3rd person limited, but wanting very badly to do something that would have benefitted very much from the piece being in omniscient POV. Instead, the author had kluged together an awkward workaround.

I would have been a bit less dismayed to see such a thing if it had not been for the context of the way new writers are nearly always taught about POV. I’ve not infrequently seen advice to avoid omni altogether, either because it’s difficult and therefore only for experts, or because readers aren’t used to it, or because editors won’t or don’t buy works using that POV. Specific advice for handling POV is nearly always advice for handling 3rd person limited, though it’s often articulated only as advice for handling POV, period. Writers who use that advice as their default template for handling POV will find themselves faced with difficulties if they attempt omni–hence, perhaps, the common wisdom that omni is hard to do, though once you realize that your POV technique isn’t POV technique but 3rd person limited technique, it becomes much easier. And then, of course, writers trained up on the features of 3rd person limited as “good POV” will read through that framework as well, which makes pieces written in omni look like they’re just full of incompetent POV slips and if it works anyway, well that’s because the writer “knew how to break the rules.”

***

Excuse me, I had to take a few calming breaths after typing the “know how to break the rules” thing. Look, if you can break it and the story still works–if lots and lots of writers break it and those stories still work–it is not a rule. There are not actually any rules. Okay? Okay.

I’ve dealt with the “omniscient is too difficult to attempt” bullshit previously.

Now, let’s talk about common POV advice. The one, basic precept a newbie writer learns is that while you’re in the POV of a particular character, the text should only reflect what that character might know or actually think. This is good as far as it goes–it’s not the whole ballgame, but it’ll keep you from making the most obvious missteps. Asking yourself, as you write each sentence, “Would Star Ranger Samantha actually know or think this?” will keep you from slipping out of her POV. So far, so good.

Then there’s advice to avoid headhopping. This is also excellent advice–for 3rd person limited. Switching in and out of characters’ heads without warning is disorienting and confusing in that context. If you want to have more than one POV character in a 3rd person limited piece, you need to signal each POV switch so that your reader doesn’t have to stop and puzzle out whose thoughts they’re reading, not even for an instant. A scene break is conventional, but there are other ways to do it. (And a scene break by itself isn’t enough–you want to open that next paragraph with a sentence–or maybe even just a few words–that will re-orient the reader to the new POV.)

But what if you want the POV of more than one person in a single scene? There are ways to do this without a scene break in limited 3rd, though you want to be careful with them, they require very close control of your POV, and a very careful consideration of how you’re moving the reader from character to character. I’m not going to say don’t try it–on the contrary, do try it! You’ll come out of it with better control of POV and the flow of information to the reader. But you know what can give your reader the thoughts of multiple characters in a single scene without so much as breaking a sweat?

That’s right. Omniscient.

On twitter, Alex Clark-McGlenn suggested (if I understood correctly) that one of the problems with omni was an inherent lack of tension:

Since in omni the narrator knows all, why isn’t the narrative giving you this or that or the other piece of information? The reader, perhaps, rather than feeling enthralled feels manipulated. Or the omniscient voice, since it would know who the murderer was (to take an unsubtle example) must naturally mention that at some point, and there’s the end of suspense.

So, I disagree that tension is a product of concealing information from the reader. You get tension a couple of different ways, and one of them does involve controlling the rate of information the reader gets, but that’s not exactly the same thing as “concealing” that information. Just knowing what’s going to happen isn’t always going to kill tension. Now, if you’re handling your omniscient POV badly, yeah, it’s going to kick the reader out of the story enough that they wonder why the heck the narrator is hiding this or that. And if you’re trained up as a writer to think that limited 3rd is the one true POV, you’re maybe not going to handle omni very well.

There’s a tendency to think of omni as though it’s basically 3rd limited except you can headhop all you want and throw in whatever info you want, and of course that’s difficult because it violates everything one has learned about doing POV well–heck, when you try doing that, the results aren’t good at all, and so how the heck does it work, when it works???

But it’s really very simple. Omniscient always has a narrator. That narrator, by the way, is not always literally omniscient in the sense that they know everything there is to know in the universe. They are omniscient for the purposes of the story.

Sometimes that narrator is named–sometimes they declare themselves the narrator from the start, and tell you who they are. Sometimes the narrator is essentially a version of the actual author of the story. Sometimes they stand so far in the background you hardly know there’s a narrator at all, but they’re there.

But the story is always being told from the POV of that narrator, who just happens to know a whole lot about the circumstances of the story, for whatever reason. They’re telling you the story, commenting on it, judging it, maybe even making snarky remarks about it. But the story is being filtered through the perceptions of that narrator.

Once you know that, omni becomes more or less a snap. Well, barring the actual details of execution, which will probably take some practice, but it’s no longer as puzzling as it might have been. Decide who’s telling the story–you don’t have to tell the reader up front, you just have to know, yourself; you don’t have to have a name or history for them, you just need to have a feel for who they are and how they’d tell this story–and then have them tell it. No matter how many characters’ thoughts you report, you’re never violating that narrator’s POV. You’re not headhopping, you’re still in your narrator’s head.

Let me be clear, there’s nothing wrong with 3rd person limited POV. But it’s not the only way to go.

Now, is it true that editors won’t buy it, or that readers won’t read it? I suspect there’s not as much published in omni, but is that because editors won’t buy it, or because writers don’t write in it, or when they do they handle it badly because they’re thinking of it as multi-limited 3rd with unrestrained headhopping?

And as for readers–you learn to read particular sorts of things by reading those sorts of things. If no one is writing omni, readers won’t be used to it. If you want readers to appreciate works in omniscient, well, you have to give them well-written examples of it to read. Editors are readers. It’s possible some younger editors may well have limited experience reading work in omniscient. I’m guessing about that, I don’t know for certain.

You can throw up your hands and say that the only thing to do is to write thing things editors are used to and likely to buy. You know, if you want. You do you, I’m not here to tell you how to manage your career. But I don’t think that’s the best course to take, I think if you give editors and other readers a really well-done example of something they’re not used to, they’ll be interested and intrigued. I don’t think we’re helpless in the face of What The Reader Expects.

This leads me to wonder how we got into a situation where, at least in SFF, limited 3rd is the One True POV. And I saw this tweet:

And I’ve been chewing on it. Here’s the thing: limited 3rd seems to just…come out of the air. There appears to be nothing between the story and the reader, just the raw facts of the character’s thoughts and impressions, just reality somehow arriving onto the page. Except it’s not–that reality is framed, carefully pruned and curated by the writer. It pretends to be an objective camera-view of the story. Except, even a camera isn’t actually objective. Things are edited, or left out of the frame, very carefully, to produce the film. It’s not raw truth, it’s carefully shaped.

There are advantages to doing this–limited 3rd can give you a particularly strong immediacy, can put you deep into a character’s experience, and that’s awesome. That’s possible to do with omni, of course, but it’s one of the things limited 3rd does best.

Omni, on the other hand, draws at least a little attention to the fact that you’re getting not raw truth, but someone’s interpretation of events. You’re getting the same with limited 3rd, of course, it’s just that the fact that the author is doing just that–presenting you not with utterly objective fact but with their take on the story–is concealed.

I think that in some parts of SF there is a particular value placed on the idea of Objective Truth. There’s no such thing, actually. I mean, yes, there are things that are true about the world–two plus two equals four, and the sun is about eight light-minutes from the earth, and objects in motion stay in motion unless some other force acts on them, and things like that, those are all facts. But stories? Stories, even stories arranged entirely out of facts, well, those arrangements aren’t somehow naturally occurring truths, but interpretations, thoughts about the world that come from a particular point of view–that is, the author’s. Some other author might have (almost certainly would have) arranged those facts differently, with very different results.

Limited 3rd conceals this–it conceals the fact that the story has not come from out of nowhere, some objectively factual place, but from the point of view of the author, with all its inherent assumptions and biases.

And if, as a writer, it’s the only POV you know how to use, and any others are deprecated, it conceals this fact from you, the writer, as well.

I’m not saying there’s anything inherently wrong with limited 3rd. Heck, the thing I’m working on now is in limited 3rd. Just, it’s not the only way to go. And it’s worth learning how to use others. It’s worth your time to spend some thought on how those others actually work, and to read things written in them and try to see how they’re put together.

This is getting long, and I have other thoughts, but I should stop here. But, in summary: no POV is inherently good or bad, they all have advantages and disadvantages. Don’t feel stuck with limited 3rd if you want to do something another POV would do better. All are worth learning, all are worth practicing. They’re all tools worth having in your box. Why limit yourself?

I just spent an awesome week in Japan, and an awesome weekend at Hal-Con, where I was a guest of honor! It was pretty excellent. It’s a fairly small convention, well-run, and they took great care of me. Which was extra-important considering I speak about two words of Japanese; I can, if pressed, say “Hello” and “Thank you.”

The convention put together a book of several pieces of my short fiction, translated into Japanese:

The Endangered Camp

With a fabulous dinosaur on the cover, and lovely illustrations inside, all by my fellow GoH Nozomu Tamaki.

It was an honor and a pleasure to meet everyone. The convention staff did a great job–I know even for a small con there’s a lot of work involved, and most of it will be invisible if you do it right.

The convention was the perfect finish to a week of doing touristy things–I wanted to see at least a little of Japan while I was there. I highly recommend the Edo Tokyo Museum, if you like museums, which I do. And I stayed at an onsen in Gora and took hot spring baths and ate wonderful food (and leveled up my previously more-or-less adequate chopstick skillz). By the time I got to the con, I could eat without (mostly) embarrassing myself, and my sleep schedule was on the verge of adjusting to the fourteen-hour time difference (just in time to fly back home and do it again!), though not quite there.

I don’t tend to take a lot of pictures, unless I’m explicitly doing research on something and think I need pics for future reference, but I did take one or two of the view out my hotel window in Numazu:

2016-04-18 05.23.19

And one of some lovely fish-shaped cakes a reader gave me as a gift:

2016-04-18 08.27.06

Okay, those aren’t really cakes. The two in the middle are pancakes with bean paste inside, and the top and bottom ones are a kind of wafer-cookie sandwich, also filled with bean paste. Still. Close enough.

I will close out with some frozen coelacanths, from the aquarium in Numazu, which was one of the venues for the GoH dinner on Saturday night:

Screenshot 2016-04-21 09.46.14

If your mind works like mine does, you will want to know that the tour guide at the aquarium informed us that coelacanth doesn’t taste like much of anything, and is very oily and gristly (ISTR the exact description was “like chewing on a toothbrush”). That wasn’t firsthand information, but the guide could tell us from her own experience that giant isopod, when cooked, tastes like chicken.

Thanks again to the folks at Hal-Con, for inviting me and for all their hard work to make the weekend such a success!

Quite frequently someone at a reading will ask me if I’ll ever explain about that icon Breq is carrying. And the answer is, I already have.


Residents of Noage Itray could look up and see the ballcourt hanging ten miles overhead, four meters wide and fifty long from goal line to goal line. Stands stretched along each side, row upon row of seats slanting up and back. For the station’s entire thirty-five-mile cylindrical length, buildings and gardens clung to its curving interior walls, bright with reflected sunlight. Noage Itray was the largest and wealthiest of the four stations in its Precinct—the second oldest of the four Precincts.
 
Under the ballcourt stands, proof of that antiquity, stood ranks of life-sized statues serving, crouching, springing to meet the ball. Elaborately painted wristguards, jewels on necks and arms, shimmered faintly in half shadow, each statue the result of the septennial elections decided on Noage Itray’s Blue Lily ballcourt.
 
They were called the Hundred, though Her-Breath-Contains-The-Universe had counted three hundred and seventy-two of them. On game days flowers decked each statue. The air would be heavy with their scent and the muttered prayers of worshipers as they streamed past, into the stands. Today the space echoed coldly, the stale remains of incense barely perceptible, the Hundred staring into empty, silent space.

I know I’ve linked it here before, but since I keep getting the question, I figure folks who have followed more recently might not have seen it.

So, by a certain point it became obvious that when I would set to work on a fantasy piece, I would end up centering it around a particular animal. Maybe two animals. This was handy, because at the time I was writing these a trip to the zoo was generally greeted with enthusiasm by most of the other people in the house, though they would sometimes get impatient with my desire to stare for a while at a particular animal they found less interesting than others.

For “Beloved of the Sun,” which I sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies in 2010, I had decided (for reasons that I’m not a hundred percent clear on anymore) that I wanted to write a scary, dangerous butterfly. As often happened, Ant actually ended up with more screen time, and by the time I was done writing I knew way more about sturgeons in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers than I strictly ever needed to. (I’ve forgotten a good deal of it now, honestly.)

But the couple of trips to the Insectarium at the zoo were a complete success from my kids’ standpoint! So that was a win.

I knelt on a woven mat. The room was dark, the walls barely visible. A low fire burned on the packed-earth floor. Human heads circled the fire, eyes shadowed, dark mouths open as though they were about to speak or scream. The fire flared up momentarily, and I saw they were round clay pots, the faces molded and painted on. Across the fire from me sat a man in leggings and linen shirt, his face strong-boned and sharp, long black hair pulled back. Behind him sat a large, dark bird on a perch.
 
“She sees,” said a voice like wind through an empty jar. “She hears. She may or may not understand what she hears. But her mind seems to receive speech as words, not merely sounds.”
 
“But she doesn’t speak,” said the man. “Is there damage?”

Nearly all my fantasy stories have shorthand titles that I used while writing them or while discussing the stories with my writer friends, especially the people who saw the stories at various stages before the final draft. “The Nalendar” is “the skink.” “Marsh Gods” is “the Crane.” “The Unknown God” is usually “the horse” but sometimes “the Frog.” Despite Ant’s taking the stage more often, this one was “Butterfly.”

The Endangered Camp” is one of my few short science fiction pieces.

Back in the day, when I first decided to try to sell short fiction in earnest, I ran across an interview with then-F&SF slushreader John Joseph Adams.  F&SF was of course one of the venues I wanted very badly to sell to, and I had not managed to get anything past JJA and onto then-editor Gordon VanGelder’s desk. Like a lot of newbie writers, I was searching desperately for something that would get me out of the slush.

(Note to aspiring writers–I know it is useless to say this to you, because it was useless to say it to me at the time, but I’ll say it anyway: this is not actually a productive aim. Just work on writing the best stories you can. Getting past the slusher before you’re actually producing salable work (and you will never be able to tell, yourself, whether your work is salable so just do the best you can and leave the rest to the universe) will do you no good. I know, you don’t believe me. That’s all right, I did my best for you. Keep writing. It’ll be all right.)

Anyway. Someone interviewed JJA and asked him what he wished he saw more of in the slush. And he said he wished he’d see more post-apocalyptic fiction, more stories involving Mars, and more stories with dinosaurs. And I said, jokingly, “Now the race is on–who will be the first to submit a Post Apocalyptic Dinosaurs on Mars story?”

And about two days later I was driving and was fortunately on an empty street when it hit me just how I could write exactly that.

I wrote the first draft while I was at Clarion West. Gordon VanGelder was our week four instructor, and I submitted it that week. He was unimpressed. Undaunted, I revised it and submitted it various places. It did not sell. Until it hit the second volume of the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series. 

(Well, okay, actually it was my third sale to now-defunct Helix. It was never published–long story, part of the fallout of the whole mess that resulted in the creation of Transcriptase. They hadn’t paid me–Helix paid on publication, not acceptance–so I asked to withdraw the story so I could submit it elsewhere, since it was obvious to me that they would at that point never publish it. I was given the story back, and I sent it back out into the fray.)

You could do worse than check out any volume of the CP anthos, btw.

Anyway. Rich Horton picked it up for the corresponding year’s Best SF antho, which pleased me, because I’m really quite fond of this story.

Last time I mentioned working diligently during a particular period to write shorter and shorter, until I reached the (for me) region of ultimate fiction shortness. As a result of that effort, I have several very short pieces out there. One of them was for a rather unusual anthology, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany. Pieces took the form of entries in a field guide, and mine was for a plant called Clickweed. (Someone actually turned up with a copy at Outland in Oslo, which surprised and delighted me.) It’s not available online, and it’s a bit odd out of context–but then, the actual context was (delightfully) odd to begin with.

Also around this time, I wrote the 1,000 word “Bury the Dead,” which never had a print publication, so I put it on my website for International Pixel Stained Technopeasant Wretch Day, and later it was narrated over at Podcastle by the awesome Tina Connolly.

I wrote “Footprints” in a fit of pique after an online conversation that made me angry, and then sold it to Postcards from Hell, which was an interesting project that sadly never did more than it’s first series of postcards. I put it on my Livejournal for another IPSTP Day, once its exclusivity period had lapsed. Five hundred words! That’s very nearly the lowest wordcount I would ever manage.

But the actual lowest? The point at which I said to myself, “Self, you have accomplished that. Check the box and go do other things”? That was “The Sad History of the Tearless Onion.” I wrote it for the first Escape Pod flash fiction contest. It came in fourth, but EP bought it anyway, and eventually it ran on Podcastle. Three hundred words. I had done it!

Later, after Ancillary Justice came out, Popular Science asked me for a flash fiction piece for their Dispatches from the Future, specifically on the topic of aging. So I do have one much more recent piece of fiction that’s three hundred words long: “HappyMart.” Scroll down–or, you know, just read Ian Tregellis’ story which is just above mine.

This is really not a length at which I’m comfortable–when it comes to short fiction I’m happiest when I’m working in the eight to twelve thousand word range, honestly. But I’m pretty proud of having managed to actually write these stories.

Oh, and since A Field Guide to Surreal Botany came out in 2008, I’m pretty sure my bit of it is past any exclusivity period, so here’s my entry. (Without, of course, the lovely illustration.) I think you can still get copies of the book, actually, and it’s a cool little project that I enjoyed very much.

Common Clickweed
 
Anyone who has wandered by the side of a lake or a stream will have encountered the common clickweed. Its seven-leaved basal rosette, the distinctive smooth, thick leaves, and the hairy stalks that trail into the water, are unmistakeable. Raise those stalks out of the water (gingerly, with a stick!) and the lens-shaped growths near the ends of those stalks emit the clicking sound that gives these predatory plants their name. To a fish’s ear these clicks sound remarkably like a distressed knucklefish, and any hearer hoping for an easy mouthful is lured into the entangling hairs and trapped, to be absorbed by the clickweed over a period of several days. Half-digested clickweed prey is sought after by some epicures, who eat it with vinegar, or a dash of coarse salt. This, and the noise the plant makes, is the extent of the clickweed’s charm. It is hardly a beautiful plant.
 
But common, ugly clickweed has a secret. Some seventy-five years ago a retired diplomat named Bren Wilson was separated from her party during a caving expedition. Fifty years later her skeleton was found near an underground pool, along with a notebook detailing her last days. According to this account she lived by the pool for weeks, eating the sparse prey of a clickweed bleached white by its subterranean existence. This is not impossible; though each clickweed seems like a single plant, in fact it is really one part of a single organism that may stretch as far as a quarter mile, hundreds of sets of leaves emerging from the same rhizome. It is conceivable that an offshoot might find its way into a cavern.
 
But the next part of her notes led readers to assume that, disoriented and malnourished, she had imagined the plant entirely–she wrote that she had been able to find the plant and its pool because it glowed. “Like a cold fire,” she wrote, “golden and glittering and burning.” This would seem impossible–clickweed had never been observed to glow under any circumstances, and phosphoresence serves no purpose in a cavern, since the creatures that live there are blind.
 
But fifteen years after the discovery of Wilson’s notes research confirmed that, contrary to all common sense, some of these do indeed glow. There is no predicting whether a particular specimen will, nor when it will do so–a subterranean colony might shine for its entire existence, or grow for years in darkness, burn for three days to a month, and then go dark again. As Wilson herself wrote, “It can serve no purpose…but it is not mysterious, because no one can even suspect it. It exists, it would seem, for itself alone.”
 
Pilolaqueus sonivius
 
Carnivorous, colonial geophyte. 7-leaved base rosette of oblanceolate leaves, 4-10 cm, fleshy and glabrous. Trailing stalks 20-70cm, 2-5mm wide, with numerous long, fine but strong hairs. Near the ends 2-6 lenticular excresences, opposite, lacunate. Monoecious, pedicels 0.5-1cm, apetalous, capsule ovoid, black, dehiscent, 5-seeded. Found along the banks of lakes, streams, and small rivers on every continent.