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Some things I’ve read recently!

The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata

If you didn’t read Nagata’s The Red Trilogy, well, you might want to consider doing so. But whether you have or you haven’t–The Last Good Man is near-future military sf. It’s tense and compelling, and features a middle-aged woman protagonist, an ex-Army pilot who now works for a private military company. During a rescue mission she discovers something that casts a new and disturbing light on an event that she’d thought, well, not safely in the past, but over and done with and accurately understood. But she wants the truth, no matter the cost. If near future and/or military is your jam, don’t miss this.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

This is volume 1 of the Murderbot Diaries, and I suspect a certain percentage of my readers don’t need to hear anything more. Go, purchase, download! You will enjoy this.

Murderbot is a SecUnit–a security android, part organic part mechanical, that isn’t supposed to have any sort of free will. It does, though, and having achieved that free will it secretly names itself Murderbot and then works hard to hide its freedom of thought from the corporation that owns it. It doesn’t actually want to murder anyone, though. It just wants to be left alone to watch its stories. Unfortunately, someone is trying to kill the humans Murderbot has been tasked to protect.

I’m not kidding, I can almost guarantee that my readers will enjoy this. I have already pre-ordered volume 2, which is out in January.

Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns

So, Lesbian Space Pirates. Out at the end of October. That may be all I need to say.

Or not. Our heroines hijack a colony ship in a bid to join a famous band of space pirates–only to discover the pirates are not, as widely believed, hiding out on Barbary Station rolling in money and loot, but are in fact trapped there by the station’s renegade AI. Why is the AI doing what it’s doing? Is it conscious? Does it matter when it’s trying to kill you?

This book is good fun. Set in the Solar System, lots of action, I really enjoyed this, and I bet you will, too.

So this morning a UPS truck pulled up in front of my house, and the nice driver brought me a box. And inside that box there were books.

Specifically, advance reading copies of Provenance.

It’s a real book! Sort of.

Just as a reminder–readers of this blog likely already know, but still–Provenance is set in the Ancillaryverse but does not concern the same characters and is not set in Radch Space. No, and not in the Republic of Two Systems either. It will be out September 26, 2017, and I’m given to understand there will be an audiobook, out on the same date. I have no further details about audio, though.

I’m excited! I hope everyone enjoys the book, come September!

So, I went to Uppsala for Kontur! Which was also Swecon! It was fabulous.

I did stop by SF Bokhandeln in Stockholm to chat with folks and sign some books, which was a great time. (Seriously, if you’re ever in Stockholm, SF Bokhandeln is a great bookstore.) They probably still have some signed copies of the Ancillary trilogy, btw, so if that’s something you’re looking for, you can find it there!

You can also find signed copies at The English Bookshop in Uppsala, where Kameron Hurley, Katherine Arden, and I all signed books, and we all had a great time meeting the folks who came by. Earlier in the day Kameron, Siri Pettersen, and I got to see Gamla Uppsala and a few sights in Uppsala with an excellent guide (thanks, Anna-Pia!). So often you don’t get much of a chance to do touristy things or see stuff, so that was wonderful.

The convention itself was great. Everything ran so very well, and the panels were fun, and folks seemed to enjoy them. A highlight was Friday night’s “How to Write Male Characters” which was me and Kameron talking very seriously about this very serious subject.

The audience was just as serious and had some great questions that I firmly believe gave the whole thing that extra special pizzazz.

At any rate, the convention went swimmingly, Sweden is lovely, and I had a fabulous time. Oh, and I got gifts! The convention gave me an amazing cup and some tea:

Well, The English Bookshop gave me the English Bookshop blend tea, which is delicious, and the convention gave me the Uppsala blend, which is also delicious!

I also was given a few other gifts–namely some salt licorice fish, and of course, some fish sauce!

I’m glad to say I’ll be coming back to Uppsala in August for Reception Histories of the Future, which is an academic conference kind of thing, and is free and open to the public though you do need to register. There’ll be a lot of awesome people there and it’s the weekend before Worldcon, and it’s pretty easy to get from there to Helsinki so maybe that’s something that interests you!

Thanks so much to Anna and Nahal and Johan and Linn and I know there are other folks whose names I am forgetting. You all did a wonderful job with the convention and I had a great time.

So, I’ll start this out with a disclaimer: Adagio contacted me and offered to give me some tea for free if I would review it on Twitter. I am not one to turn down free tea, and I already buy tea from Adagio more or less regularly. And they’re the home of the Imperial Radch Tea Blends, so.

I had a gift certificate to work with, so I actually got three things–one that’s already a favorite, one that wasn’t the sort of thing I usually get but what the heck, and one that I threw in on impulse before I checked out.

I’m not much of a white tea fan. I mean, I don’t dislike it, but it’s usually been not my fave–usually it just tastes like faintly leafy hot water to me. But I got a sample of a white tea with my Manual Tea Maker No 1, and either that tea was particularly good and/or the gaiwan style brewing really brought some nice flavor out. So I’d been meaning to try another white tea in the Manual and see what I thought.

This is Adagio’s White Symphony. The flavor is very delicate–I found I got best results using a touch more than I would have for another kind of tea. I tried it just in an infuser for 3 minutes, and then I tried it in the Manual. It definitely stands up to multiple steeps, but it wasn’t noticeably more interesting in the Manual. This is also the first tea that I’ve found doesn’t do well with my tap water. I was unhappy with the first cup, which was the old “faintly leafy hot water” thing. Then I tried using filtered water and the results were much better. It tasted like a very delicate tea, instead of hot water pretending to be tea. Seems like my problem with white tea might be more about my tap water, and I’m looking forward to drinking more of this one.

This is the sort of thing you’d sip and think about how it tastes. It is not, IMO, a great choice for a hearty cuppa, or for waking up in the morning.

This is Adagio’s Fujian Baroque. It’s a reliable favorite of mine. It has a sort-of-maybe sweet, faintly almost-chocolatey flavor, with no astringency. If you find ordinary grocery store orange pekoe or black tea too bitter or astringent, you might want to give this a shot. This is one of a couple of black teas I try to keep around. (The other is PG tips, because sometimes you just want a strong milky hit of tea.) I personally wouldn’t put milk or sugar in this, but I do find that it’s a good first-thing-in-the-morning tea.

And the third tea!

This is Chestnut flavored tea. I was clicking around and saw some reviews for this. The idea struck me as somewhat improbable, and by and large I’m not that much into flavored teas, but the reviews were good, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong throwing a sample package into my order. It’s really nice! It has a sort of toasty, nutty flavor that complements the black tea really well. I will certainly add this into my regular rotation, because I like it a lot.

(Adagio has one or two improbably flavored teas–I ordered some Artichoke back when it was available and…it was odd. But I read the reviews–it had its fans. Also Cucumber White, which I used in one of my blends. That was interesting, and actually maybe I need to revisit it now that I’ve discovered that white tea is better with filtered water.)

So, there are a lot of books that strike me as interesting and I want to make time to read them, and also I get sent quite a few books by folks hoping I’ll read them in time to blurb them. Spoiler: I rarely am able to read things in time for the blurb deadline! But I still like to say something about books I’ve enjoyed reading. Here’s the latest batch!

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This won the Clarke last year! So I figured it’d be good.

It is good! I enjoyed this a lot. The last remnants of humanity find a terraformed planet! It was supposed to be seeded with primates who would be infected with a virus that would uplift them. There was an accident, though, and the primates never arrived. But the spiders were already there, so…

I enjoyed the onworld stuff from the spider POVs more than I did the stuff with humans on the ship. A lot of that was, I think, due to the constraints of setting and worldbuilding. I think I’d have some difficulty balancing those two settings, while also definitely wanting the inherent contrast they presented (heck, I’d probably want to set it up that way so there was that inherent contrast, to be honest, but the spiders were so cool that the ship humans were going to have to work awfully hard to compete). I highly recommend this book, even if you’ve got a thing about spiders. (Yes, actually, I am not a fan of spiders. I mean, I’m glad in the abstract that they exist, they eat bugs yay, the webs are pretty, biodiversity is good &c &c but on the level of the concrete and the specific, they have too many legs and are buggy and I would like them to stay far away from me please, thank you.)

Amatka by Karen Tidbeck

This isn’t out yet! You can read it starting June 27, and I recommend that you lay your hands on a copy. I managed to just miss the blurbing deadline on this, sadly, sorry!

This is a weird little book. Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two is assigned to visit the colony of Amatka to research what kinds of hygiene products they might want to buy. Nothing too weird about that, right? Except Vanja’s name, but it’s quickly clear that this is a setting in which it’s vitally important that everyone agree on what everything is and call it what it’s supposed to be called. Because otherwise…well, that’s where things start getting weird. I’d say more, but this is one of those books where the gradual unfolding of what’s going on is part of the effect and I don’t want to mess with that. It’s compelling and disturbing and totally worth reading.

Pilot Down Presumed Dead by Marjorie Phleger

All right, this is kind of cheating. This book was published in 1963, and I got it as a gift when I was 9 or 10 and I loved it. Read it multiple times. I mostly read SFF at that age, and was largely uninterested in non-SFF books, but this one was just super gripping. Basically, small plane pilot Steve Ferris gets caught in a storm and is forced to put down on a little uncharted island. Wrecks his plane and spends the rest of the book surviving, trying to get the occasional passing ship to notice him, and ultimately attempting to get back to the mainland under his own power. In retrospect, I think it shares a number of features with the SFnal books I was already reading–much if not all of the plot is problem-solving and/or bits of exploration and exposition.

A friend of mine is a Montessori teacher and a while ago we were talking about how she’s always looking for cool things to read to her Lower Elementary kids and I remembered PDPD and suggested that it might be just the sort of thing she was looking for. SPOILER turns out the kids are loving it.

I picked up a used copy–my original copy is long gone–and gave it a read. Took me maybe two hours. Its written very simply, but the descriptions are vivid enough that some of the images have stayed with me for forty years. If you know a ten year old (or thereabouts) who’s looking for a good, engaging read, this book is a good bet.

The annual Con or Bust auction has begun! You can bid on all kinds of awesome things, but of course I’m particularly interested in this one:

A signed ARC of Provenance

The ARCs don’t even exist yet, but as soon as they do I will sign one and send it off to the high bidder.

Also, check out the other fabulous auctions going. I’ve seen some really cool stuff mentioned, so poke around and check it out!

So, this is basically more or less random musings triggered by this post by John Scalzi about doing readings.

Now, I completely agree with him on the value of being prepared, and knowing that at a reading (or on a panel, or some other sort of public appearance), you’re performing. I have also noticed the overlap between writers whose readings are lively and enjoyable and writers who have even some small amount of performance experience.

My own preparations for readings are a good deal less elaborate than John’s, but then I suspect I write very, very much more slowly than he does and I haven’t practiced my ukulele in quite a while. But basically, I pick a thing to read, trying to make sure it’s not too long (y’all at WorldCon got solid read-aloud, sorry, but then again not too sorry since folks seemed to enjoy it), and then spend any remaining time taking questions. I probably ought to think if there’s something I can add to switch things up for this fall.

Now as it happens, I have a tiny bit of theater experience, along with that music degree, so I’m actually pretty comfortable onstage. But you know what else I think has helped me–years of waiting tables. I am a serious introvert, but working at waiting tables gave me practice interacting with lots of strangers for hours at a time, keeping my demeanor pleasant and mostly cheerful. It’s practice that has stood me in good stead for a lot of my non-writing-related life, actually. In a lot of ways waiting tables can be a really miserable job, but that aspect of it, learning how to be “on” very pleasantly and confidently, has been super valuable to me.

So, a while ago, I think it might have been on Tumblr, I saw someone reblog a post where someone was saying that they wished there was some way to politely tell a waiter that it was all right, the waiter didn’t have to be fake cheery with them, the poster cringed at the idea of a waiter having to do that and it was okay to just drop the act.

This bugged me, but it took me a while to figure out why. Finally I decided that there were two things about it that bothered me.

First, the assumption that a waiter’s cheerfulness was fake and therefore bad. It’s true that the cheerfulness is a performance. No question. But “performance” and “fake” are…I mean, they’re related? I could perform a fake attitude, yeah. But I could also decide that a conscious performance is the best way to convey my actual attitude. And I know that, when I was waiting tables, one of the things I enjoyed was being able to put on the persona of someone who was cheerful and extraverted, comfortable with talking to strangers, and happy to help. Yeah, I enjoyed it less when I was working with a table full of assholes, sure, but there’s value in practicing one’s “I am a person who is unfailingly polite” persona under adverse conditions.

I could go off on a tangent here about the way the culture I grew up in and am surrounded by values “sincerity” over “performance” and defines sincerity in a way that doesn’t just mean “honest” but also unscripted and spontaneous. And confessional–to be sincere is to bare your soul, to show the intimate you. In fact, bets are you associate “honest” with unscripted and spontaneous and confessional.

But a lot of things that we consider to be spontaneous and heartfelt are, in fact, scripted gestures. They kind of have to be, you have to speak in terms another person will understand, if you want to communicate with them. If you look closely you can see the underpinning of social expectation and convention that mostly goes ignored.

The clearest example of what I’m talking about is a religious one. I grew up Catholic, and that meant I spent a good deal of my childhood memorizing prayers. The Mass, its variations throughout the liturgical year notwithstanding, is essentially the same carefully scripted ritual over and over and over again. I could recite much of it in my sleep. Or, I could have before they re-did the approved English translation.

It’s commonly assumed that the recitation of these prayers is nothing but empty ritual. That there’s no way they can be real engagement with the spiritual, no way they can truly express any kind of profound emotion. I am here to tell you that the common assumption is one hundred percent fucking wrong. In fact, the pervasive presence of those prayers lends a depth and eloquence to them that I don’t think I can convey to anyone who hasn’t had that experience.* From the outside it looks like droning meaningless syllables. From the inside it’s very different.

In opposition to the Catholic style prayers we have the supposedly spontaneous prayers of some Protestant churches. A true sincere and unscripted upwelling of praise and prayer! Except not. Listen to enough, and you realize they’re built out of pre-fabricated phrases, strung together at length, with various techniques for vamping until the next thought is organized, the next unit chosen. I assume that the folks who pray this way find it a deeply emotional experience, and consider themselves to be praying very sincerely. I don’t hear spontaneity though, it’s just as formulaic as the supposedly nothing but rote Catholic prayer I grew up with, just handled a different way.

My point isn’t that there’s a right or a wrong way to pray. My point is that both these practices are equally sincere, and calling the second sort spontaneous isn’t actually terribly accurate. It’s really a performance of something that purports to be spontaneity.

My point is that “sincere” and “spontaneous” are not the same thing.

Nor is “sincere” and “intimate.” Which was my next problem with the idea that it would be kind and generous to tell a waiter they could let the act drop, and be honest with the poster who wished to ask for this.

They weren’t, as they appeared to think, offering a chance to relax. No, the poster was, in a sense, wanting to demand an intimacy with the waiter that they just hadn’t earned. A waiter does not owe you any glimpses of their private self. That’s maybe for friends and family, right? We all behave differently with intimates and strangers. Strangers generally get a more formal, more distant face. You don’t tell someone to show you that part of themselves. Well, unless there’s a big enough power differential that you don’t even notice that’s what you’re doing.

It’s not generous. It’s insulting.

Anyway. I think it’s worth taking a second or third thought when we value actions as sincere or insincere based on whether or not we think they’re spontaneous or scripted or conventional. Are they really any of those things? Why does a conventional action that gets called spontaneous but really isn’t, why does that get valued so much more highly than an action that’s just as conventional, but more obviously so? Just something to ponder.

Anyway. That’s my random musings, from reading John’s blog post and connecting it with some stuff I’d been thinking about not long ago.

Like John, my “on” demeanor is me. It’s not fake. But it is a performance, in a lot of ways. It’s a public me. I enjoy the heck out of that performance, partly because it helps me be comfortable meeting lots of awesome people. It’s exhausting, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it.

___
*I occasionally wonder just how Fredo’s death in the second Godfather movie must seem to someone who doesn’t feel the end of the Hail Mary hanging there unsaid, a background echo to the shot. Does the scene have the same emotional weight? I suspect it doesn’t, quite.

**In case anyone worries, or feels I need reassurance, no one to my knowledge has accused me of being fake in public. And I’m not particularly worried that anyone might think that. It’s just that the question of what’s sincere, what’s spontaneous, and how those get valued by the people around me, is one I chew on sometimes, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts.

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE!

It looks like Orbit has moved the release date of Provenance from October 3 to…September 26.

I found out yesterday, when some friends I was out with were like “Amazon emailed to say there was a new release date! Did you know?” and I was like, “Oh, huh. Nope. But it’s not really my department, so.”

Later in the day I was talking to my US editor about the (now, yes, final) ms I’d turned in (it’s headed to the folks in Production, who turn Word documents into actual books! Yay!) and he was like “Oh, yeah, I didn’t think that was going to get changed officially for a few days, sorry, I was getting ready to tell you about it actually.”

Which, I said, no big deal. Not my department, like I said, and the folks whose department it is know their business, and really in the end it means everyone has one week less to wait for the book than we all thought, so it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.

Con or Bust is an organization that helps PoC get to SFF conventions. They hold an annual auction fundraiser so they can do that. It’s a good cause, check them out!

This year Orbit Books is donating a signed Advance Reading Copy of Provenance. Which officially comes out October 3 of this year.

In fact the ARCs don’t physically exist yet, and won’t for a bit–I’m doing some small edits on the ms right now, and if my editors approve of them then they’ll hand things off to the wonderful folks in Production, who do all the stuff that turns a manuscript into an actual book. But as soon as there are actual, physical ARCs, Orbit will send me one, which I will happily sign and send off to the winner of this auction.

So, as it happens, I have a book coming out this year!

Also as it happens, it turns out I lied a little when I said folks who didn’t follow me on Tumblr weren’t missing anything but silly stuff. It’s mostly true–mostly I’m just silly on Tumblr. But this weekend Tumblr followers were treated to a slow-motion reveal of (most of) the cover (and title, since the title is, you know, on the cover) of my next book. It was pretty fun, actually, with people trying to guess the title from incomplete information, and cow poems, and just a good time.

And now, today, Book Riot has the official, internet-wide reveal. So click on over to take a look at the cover and the description.

If it seems appealing to you, the book is pre-orderable, though last I checked there was still a placeholder title and cover (which nonetheless I can see from the amazon rank that folks have been pre-ordering it, which is equal parts amazing and terrifying). It’s out October 3, I hope you like it!

At any rate, Amazon links! US Amazon, and UK Amazon.