Wow! Look at this place! All spruced up and clean and gorgeous, thanks to Hafsah at Icey Designs.

Hopefully everything will be much easier to navigate around here, so that I can tell you about things, and then you can tell me about things, and it’ll be one big Telling Party with everyone invited.

Yes, that means I’ll be blogging more. I’m going to focus on this site as the core conversation-having place, as the heat-death of Livejournal (which breaks my heart just about all the time) has diaspora-ed everyone from that once-hallowed hall full of kids smoking and telling dirty jokes and talking about art while wearing bedazzled jean jackets. I’ll still cross-post to LJ and Dreamwidth, (in fact, for those of you reading this on one of those sites, I should clarify that the spruced up gorgeousness is over at my website) but hopefully we can migrate slowly this-a-way.

More exciting things soon!

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This month, you can find the first part of a new CMV novelette in Clarkesworld Magazine‘s 100th issue: click here to read “The Long Goodnight of Violet Wild,” or here to listen to the story as read by Kate Baker.

And if you don’t already read Clarkesworld Magazine, what are you waiting for? The 100th issue is a fine place to start, with an amazing cover by Julie Dillon, previously unpublished fiction from the late, great Jay Lake, and so many more pieces of fiction and nonfiction, powerful and fascinating. There’s work from Kij Johnson, the article “#PurpleSF” by Cat Rambo, even translated sci-fi from Tang Fei and Zhang Ran. Click on over.

For those of you eagerly awaiting the fourth installment in the Fairyland series, Cat has a message for you:

fairyland4-tweet

You can revisit “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While” over here at Tor.com.

Can’t wait another second for a sneak peek of The Boy Who Lost Fairyland? Luckily, io9’s got you covered with a free chapter! Follow the HTML road to read Chapter 3 from The Boy Who Lost Fairyland: “Troll to Boy, Boy to Troll.”

Posted in News Comment

It’s that time, everyone! Nebula Awards nominations are open until February 15, for those of you in the SFWA. The 2015 World Fantasy Awards judges are in their reading period until June 1. If you are attending this year’s World Fantasy Convention or attended one in the last two years – you can nominate!

ifmagic-coverThen there are the Hugo Awards: the nominations period opened just over a week ago. Step up, step up, one and all of you who are Worldcon members – do your genre duty and have your say in the best stories, films, and related works of 2014!

Remember, anyone who attended Worldcon last year or is registered for this year’s Worldcon (or next year’s!) by the end of this month can nominate.

CMV’s eligible for the Best¬†Related Works category this year, with her collection of essays, Indistinguishable from Magic.

Nominate early, vote often, and read always.

Posted in Blog Posts, News Comment

This is a horror story. I’m serious. It will thick your blood with cold; it will turn your hair the color of terror. We begin in London, amid the fog and freezing rain…

As some of you know, I spent the better part of August in the UK. I went to Worldcon, I went to Yorkshire on a research trip for a new book, I met David Tennant and Peter Davison (!), saw some old and new friends, learned to take the London Tube system as my legal spouse, to love, honor, and cherish it under construction and in good service, made puns as part of a Worldcon version of the iconic British radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, and ate approximately All the Pies. Important to note: my partner in crime during all of this running about was one Heath Miller, actor, director, secretly a Muppet in a human suit.

The other thing we did in London? Comedy. Now, I may not have made it totally clear how much I love stand-up comedy. I love it all the way. If I could I would probably go see comics two or three times a week. Even when it’s terrible, I still love it. I can’t even really explain why. Some loves are just pure. They have no provenance. They just are. Sketch comedy and improv also, but stand-up is tops for me. I spent so many hours watching old-school Comedy Central at 3 am, and only recently have actually gotten to go see live comedy, and OMG it smells awful and the food sucks and the drinks are weak and the walls smell like cigarettes and sometimes the comics are just the most old-timey misogynist jerks and you never know whether it will be any good at all or not and it is THE BEST. I know, it’s weird. But Dave Atell showed up to do a surprise set at the Comedy Cellar and it was my birthday and it was all I could do not to scream like he was The Beatles because EEEEE REMEMBER INSOMNIAC I LOVED THAT SHOW THAT SHOW IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. He did ten minutes about dogs and cats. It was awesome.

The point is, my comedy appetite approaches the insatiable. When Heath and I first started seeing shows together, I don’t really think he believed me when I said I am a Fan of stand-up as much as I am of SFF. He thought I’d bail the first time someone got up and complained about their wife. But I know that people being awful is just a standard hazard of watching comedians, like SFF has alien words with apostrophes in the middle of them or thinly veiled versions of orcs.

So we went to Edinburgh, where I went to University for awhile, and where my dear and nearly-oldest friend Kaite Welsh lives, and it was Fringetime, so holy crap we saw a lot of comedy. Most of it was great. One was memorably terrible–but half the fun of seeing live theater of any kind is talking about it afterward. It is our general philosophy that you either get your money’s worth from the show being wonderful or from the entertainment of tearing bad art apart afterward and figuring out how you would fix it if you were In Charge of That Thing. So I get value even from execrable theater. I am comfortable with the roulette-wheel of This-Thing-Costs-Way-More-Than-A-Movie-Or-Book-And-It-Might-Really-Suck. It’s COOL.

THE STAGE, SHE IS SET. Buckle up, kids.

Picture Heath and I, at the end of August, exhausted from traveling, both of us having brought a nasty cold home as a Yorkshire souvenir, climbing into the back of a lovely black car we’d arranged to take us to Heathrow. Looking forward to a long, quiet ride. Because one thing I’ve always loved about British drivers of cabs and car services has always been that they don’t try to talk to you the whole time. Sure, they may appear to hate you like the plague, but they won’t tell you about it. Here in Maine, it’s basically a constant barrage of questions and weirdness (my last cab in Portland? The guy drove with the driver’s seat reclined all the way into my lap, complaining the whole time that he was neither high nor drunk right now and really ought to be).

Oh, we were so innocent then.

He seemed like a perfectly nice man. He started talking right away, but he was charming and pleasant. He was from Pakistan. He switched accents flawlessly about four times in two minutes while telling us where he was from and the assumptions people make about him. We were delighted. For a moment, a precious, shining moment suspended in the air like a brief, crystal raindrop, we were delighted.

Then, he put a portable DVD player in my hands. While driving. One already open, on, and cued to his performance at the Comedy Store Gong Night.

It was like looking into the abyss.

He told a couple of jokes. Not stand-up really, just question and answer jokes. The answers were 100% the most racist, sexist, ableist things I’ve ever heard out of a performer’s mouth in real life. When he ran out of those, he just tossed the mic from one hand to the other over and over, and when that ceased to amuse even the most hardcore microphone-tossing fetishist, he just dropped and started DOING PUSH-UPS on the stage. My mind has refused to retain the jokes themselves, having some sense of the traumatic ripple effect of holding those punchlines next to the more important, functioning parts of my brain. If I remembered them, I’d never write anything again. I’d just stare at the screen repeating: “If I had a dog named Syndrome, whenever someone came over to my house and rang the doorbell I could yell Down, Syndrome!” Oh, God. The emptiness. The dark.

We handed the player back, pale and shaking from our brush with utter nihilism. We thought it was over. I remember us then, so young. So gentle-hearted.

He worked us over with a few “What do you call a deer with no eyes?” numbers, which we just answered wearily (No idear) and prayed for death. I can’t even watch a television show in which the characters embarrass themselves. I hide my face like it’s a slasher movie, not a sitcom. So my heart was already trying to hide behind my liver like a kid watching the Daleks from behind a damn couch.

But then it happened. He asked us how broad-minded we were. Now, normally, when asked that question, I expect something good and wholesome to follow. Something that speaks to the world becoming more open and honest. Coming out. A confession of being aroused by Victorian rocking horses. A nice threeway. Hell, even “Would you mind carrying this package of drugs back to America with you?” would be better, warmer, fuzzier, than what was actually about to fall out of this guy’s mouth. So I made a non-committal sound. A “yes, I am broad-minded but mostly I am please-stop-you’re-hurting-me-minded so unless this is going to turn into something else please stop” kind of whimper. But Heath is wiser than I. He knew it was code. Code for: how offensive can I be right now? How shit can I make the shit I’m about to say?

Heath said: We are not. Broad-minded. At all.

It didn’t matter. The ritual to raise the Old Gods was already in progress. There was nothing we could do to stop it.

The driver started talking about how you can’t make good jokes anymore. Everyone’s so sensitive. Like, he can’t even tell that Down, Syndrome! joke anymore. (Heath broke through our rictus of politeness at that point and said: that’s because it’s a terrible joke. I couldn’t manage more than a sustained, high-pitched whine like my dogs make when there’s thunder outside. Good for him. I was trained too well to be polite to strangers. I could feel my manners trying to claw their way out of my eyes and flee screaming, but I clung to them. They were all I had.) But really, it should be ok for him to make jokes like that because he can take the mickey out of himself as well. At which point streamed forth a river of blisteringly racist anti-Pakistani “jokes” (The mildest one, and thus the only one my benevolent brain has allowed me to retain is: When I tell people I’m from Lahore, they think my mother’s a French prostitute!) that made him giggle like a schoolkid while I slid down in my seat, trying to vanish into the leather, whispering to the lock: Please, God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far, far away.

At this point, it was clear he was just practicing his “act” on us. And it wouldn’t end because we had no Gong to bang. We literally couldn’t leave. We were a captive audience–actually captives, in a four-door prison hurtling down the highway, driven by a warden barely paying attention to the road because he had to keep looking in the rearview to see our reaction to his star turn. He kept saying: you gotta have a hobby. It’s not easy, is it, being on stage. Writing material. It’s not easy!

Thing is, this driver was in a car with a writer and an actor. Both of whom have directed theater, both of whom have written comedy, both of whom are semi-professional dissectors of performance. Both of whom find being on stage and writing material pretty damn enjoyable most of the time. It is not our hobby. It is our job. So we rallied. We made the decision individually and began almost in unison. We thought: we can make him better. We can teach him. We have the technology. Mostly, we can make him stop talking if we talk louder.

We started giving him notes. Hey, you know, you’re pretty good at accents, that bit in the beginning was great, when you were telling us about expectations. You know, you could really make something of that, play with an audience so they don’t know what your real accent is, so they’re forced to examine their own preconceptions. And that really works better with story-based comedy rather than one-liner jokes, which is not really what stand-up is all about anymore. Try telling a story, something personal, something real, and shifting your voice so that your voice becomes part of the story. It could really work for you.

You see? We tried. Tried to engage, to help, to share what we knew. To steer him without pissing off the guy who held our lives in his hands, careening between cars and not wearing a seatbelt. When we die fifty years from now, grandchildren gathered around us, clocks stopped in the hall, the light softly fading on the mantle, both of us will whisper with our last, rattling breath: we tried.

And it seemed to unlock something deep in his soul. Something too big to keep inside.

“Oh!” exclaimed he. “You mean like…” And out it came. An “Asian” “accent” right out of the Breakfast At Tiffany’s school of subtle humor and sensitivity. And he did tell a story. In that voice. Nay, not a story. A folktale from the ancient mists. We’ll call it How Chinese People Got Their Slanty Eyes. (My brain was shrieking at this point: SAFEWORD NOPE NOPE SAFEWORD FUCK I NEED AN ADULT WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME I’M A GOOD PERSON). Do you want to know how? You don’t, you really don’t. No one does. Seriously, even circuit comics in the Catskills in the 40s would have thought this was a little much. It’s because they eat too much “flied lice” and it made them constipated, at which point, as a people, the Chinese nation strained so hard to take one massive, colossal shit that their eyes went slanty forever there is no God or goodness love is dead and the sun is as sackcloth. It was like being stuck in a car with a Dementor. Then he switched to a “funny” “black” voice and I felt as thought I’d never be cheerful again.

I feel like London was with us in that car. Sitting between us with a beer and a microphone yelling: YOU LIKE COMEDY, DO YOU? I HEARD YOU LIKE A BIT OF COMEDY. BIT OF NICE COMEDY ALL UP IN YOUR EARS? YEAH, COME ON, YOU LOVE IT. COULDN’T LET YOU GO WITHOUT A BIT MORE, COULD I? WHY, YOU WERE JUST SAYING YOU WISHED YOU COULD STAY A LITTLE LONGER AND SEE A FEW MORE SHOWS IN MY WEST END, WEREN’T YOU? YEAH, YOU WERE. WANTED YOUR GIGGLES, DID YOU? WELL, HERE YOU GO. DON’T SAY I NEVER DID ANYTHING FOR YOU. A WHOLE HALF HOUR SHOW, JUST FOR YOU. YEAH, I KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE. GET IT ALL OVER YOU, ALL OVER YOUR FACE. STOP COMPLAINING. COMEDY’S THE BEST. YOU SAID SO. YOU SAID YOU COULD SEE IT EVERY NIGHT. I HEARD YOU. I LOVE YOU AND I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY. STOP PLUGGING YOUR EARS. WHY ARE YOU CLAWING AT THE WINDOW? COMEDY, YEAH, LAUGH IT UP, YOU COLONIAL FUCKING PEASANT PILLOCKS, LAUGH!

And I was. Clawing the window. Tapping the glass. Crumpled against the arm rest, my back turned toward the driver to protect my precious internal organs from shrapnel. I envied the birds outside, trying to land on pigeon-proof spikes. What is freedom? What is life? What is silence?

We kept trying. We were valiant. We would not give up on him. No, no, that’s still racist, we insisted. Like really, really racist. Tell a story. About you. About your life. Something personal. And for a moment, just a moment, a little butterfly of a moment flitting through the summer grass, he seemed to stop and think. And said: “You mean like…my father came to this country in 1963 with only five quid in his pocket.” Yes! “That’s the great thing about Britain, you can come with nothing and you can really make something of yourself.” Yes! “And now my Dad still has five quid in his pocket–it’s the same five quid!” No! Well, I mean, it’s the least racist thing you’ve said, only implies that Pakistanis are cheap, so I guess that’s progress? It’s not good but it’s better…

And with manic glee, he looked back at me and said: “Listening to my wife is like agreeing to the Terms of Service on a website. I have no idea what it means but I always click ok!”

ARE YOU A ROBOT? A ROBOT PROGRAMMED WITH NOTHING BUT JOKES WRITTEN BY HATEFUL TIM, THE HAPPY BIGOT, WHO LIVES UNDER A ROCK IN BRIXTON AND DEMANDS TRIBUTE FROM ALL WHO PASS HIM BY? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME? I AM A WOMAN, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT ONE WOULD REALLY ZING ME? AM I ON SOME KIND OF PRANK SHOW? IS IT THE CASH CAB? IT’S THE CASH CAB ISN’T IT? THERE’S A SECRET CAMERA IN THE DASHBOARD AND NOW I’LL WIN A HUNDRED POUNDS BECAUSE I DIDN’T CRY. PLEASE SAY THEY HAVE CASH CAB OVER HERE. OR CANDID CAMERA. THE WORLD WILL MAKE SENSE AGAIN. NO, BAD ROBOT! STOP TALKING. STOP. STOP WORDS. WORDS OVER.

Heath opened his mouth to cry uncle. To surrender and beg for terms. Just stop. Whatever it takes. Just stop the violence. But we were pulling into Heathrow and it didn’t seem worth it. Nothing seemed worth it. All hope had fled the universe. We stumbled out of the car and held up our arms in the rain like it was pure Shawshank up in that car park and we’d crawled through a river of shit to come out clean. He tried to overcharge us– 20 for the ride, 10 for the show, I guess–but we had strength enough left to refuse. We watched him drive away, our ears still ringing. Did that just happen? Is that a real thing that happened in the real world? How can we ever be whole again?

So we did what we could to heal. We went to the airport bar. And alcohol said: I am a merciful god. There, there. Tell me what the bad man did. And then tell the Internet, and Lo, you shall be cleansed.

And it is done.

Posted in Blog Posts Comment

Sometimes when I am on a deadline, my brain wanders off into traffic with a propeller hat on and its shirt pulled up over its head because SCREW YOU IMMA THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD EXCEPT THAT BOOK YOU LIKE SO MUCH WHEEE IS THAT A FIRETRUCK? And by sometimes I mean always.

At the moment, my brain is jumping up and down on a stop sign hollering I’M GONNA THINK ABOUT X-MEN ALL THE TIME HA HA YOU CAN’T STOP ME. My brain is a stone cold doofus a lot of the time. After my chapters are done for the day, I go straight to reading about the goddamn X-Men. I’ve watched or re-watched five of the seven movies in the last week and fallen asleep three separate, majestic times with my phone in my hand, glowing with the useless, mocking light of a wikipedia entry on Genosha.

It’s not really my fault. Days of Future Past came out, and my descent into mutant madness began with watching X-Men: First Class, which I had only seen half of on a trans-Pacific flight with the sound broken so that the only dialogue was the intermittent apologies of a harried flight attendant. Which was much more genuine and interesting, it turns out, than what January Jones was actually saying. ZING. Anyway, the X-Men have always attracted me in concept, if not always in execution–it appeals to my love of categorization, of pantheons, of chosen family and marginalized groups. And matching outfits.

And so, at first, I was a happy little squirrel searching out delicious walnuts of storylines both familiar and un-, because holy cats is this shit convoluted. But then I got mad. It usually happens eventually, when it comes to blockbuster mainstream intellectual properties–and yes, the X-Men are mainstream now. Indie niche uncool flicks don’t have $100 million opening weekends. I didn’t even see X-Men: Last Stand until last week because I didn’t want to see Dark Phoenix turned into a nuclear vagina on the fritz who ruins everything with the power of kissing. Spoiler: it was as terrible as I thought it would be! Yay!

But everyone said Days of Future Past erased all that! It is so awesome, you guys! 91% on Rotten Tomatoes! Quicksilver! Time travel! Beloved arc from the comics! Mystique gets to do things other than be naked and barefoot in Xavier’s kitchen! Well, great, let’s make this happen! To the sensible compact car!

Perhaps you can see, even now, the dark stormclouds of my fury gathering in the distance. Perhaps the severity of my side-eye can be seen from space.

Because here’s the funny thing about that beloved arc from the comics. The filmmakers looked at it and clearly thought to themselves: yeah, yeah, this is all great. Everyone loves this story about a woman who takes the fate of the world into her own hands and goes back in time, with the help of another woman, to fix history and avert the horrible deaths of everyone she knows and pretty much everyone she doesn’t know either. Fans have loved it for thirty years, men, women, kids, adults. It’s universal! Literally no one has ever had a problem with the protagonist being female, which is pretty damn impressive, if you think about it. We’ll make a billion dollars. One problem, though! Women are the fucking WORST. Nobody wants to watch a chick do things unless they are sex things or secretary things or sex secretary things or sometimes bad things that the men can come clean up because, as previously mentioned, they are the worst. So here’s what we’ll do! Even though we could literally act out a comic book with stick figures, play-doh, and a fifth-grader who just woke up from a nap and still fall asleep on piles of money come opening weekend, we can’t have a girl in our clubhouse! We’ll just replace that big dumb girl with Wolverine! That way we don’t have to get any cooties on our movie of Masculine Glowering. We’ll put her in there somewhere, just so the fans know we know what we did, but don’t give her too many lines. After all, if women get more than 20% of the lines in a summer movie, the moon turns to sackcloth.

YOU SIR, ARE A GENIUS, HAVE A YACHT.

So they did it. They pulled a Morpheus and turned a strong female protagonist with agency and a storyline of her own into a Duracell battery. Instead of being the one to go back in time and make decisions and affect the course of events, Kitty Pryde sits very still, grits her teeth, and provides transportation for the male hero she’s been replaced with. She barely speaks. She gets wounded, but only because nobody thought strapping down the guy with knives for hands might be a good idea. No one gives her medical attention, though they do pet her hair and tell her she’s doing great, like she’s a dog at the vet. She moans a lot. They took her story, gave it to a man, and made her a prop.

(And look, yes, before you say it, I know she wasn’t born in 1973. If it’s cool to change the protagonist of the story, it would not be sacrilege to make her just physically go back in time instead of the younger-body-consciousness thing. Or if it really is impossible to have a woman onscreen without a chaperone, send her and Wolverine back together. Or do another damn story arc. Wolverine has shit-tons of his own. Writing is choices. Narrative is choices. The writers made a choice. And their choice sucks.)

But the thing that really gets me is The Hobbit. Non sequitur, you say? NAY, say I. See, when word got out that Peter Jackson et al were adding in a new character to their Hobbit films, a non-canon character, a female character, fandom collectively lost its fool mind. You can’t just change Tolkien! Oh no! (Except for cutting out the end of The Lord of the Rings which is totes fine even though it changes the entire meaning of the story.) Cram in a whole mess of The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and the Appendices and whatever the lead animator dreamed about last night until the poor Hobbit burst at the seams into three unnecessary movies, but not a GIRL! Heavens to Betsy! (Not that that excuses Tauriel, who is awful, and exists for a romantic subplot and little else. But it’s not being a girl that makes her awful. It’s just bad writing, which knows no demographic.)

We cannot have a female Doctor! We cannot take men’s stories and give them to women! It would never work! The sexes are so different! It would be silly to have a woman acting like a man! But a woman’s story? Well, who cares? Give it to someone more interesting. Someone more worthy.

But replace wholesale the female protagonist of a darling comic arc with a man? Crickets. Everyone is fine with it. Oh, a couple of feminists are all buttmad, but they don’t count. Most reviews I’ve seen don’t acknowledge it, or if they do, they praise the filmmakers for making a “better” choice. Who cares? That Quicksilver scene was so awesome! Yes it was. I’m so glad yet another woman was erased from her own narrative so we could have another cigar joke. It really is a better choice. This way, no one will make the mistake of thinking there were ever women in comics, and those icky girls will stop trying to read them and everything can go back to the way it was when the real comics fans were eleven and girls were just scary aliens they could keep out of their rooms. Except in 1981, we were allowed to have a marquee comic book story that revolved around a woman. Marvel thought people would like that–lo and behold, they did. And in 2014, it doesn’t make sense to anyone anymore. That just breaks my heart. Really.

It also feeds into something else I’d been thinking about since seeing About Time, in which time travel is explicitly only possible for men, for literally no narrative reason whatsoever, just because. See, women don’t get to time travel much in the movies. Beyond Peggy Sue Got Married, which is explicitly about time traveling for romantic/reproductive purposes, the protagonists in time travel movies, and much of TV, are men. You can say it’s because history is hard for women, but it doesn’t really wash. If men can get away with clothes and words and abilities that are all wrong for the eras they travel to, women can get away with being women. Give her a strapping male intern to keep off the barbarians if you like–it’s more than Kitty Pryde gets to do. An escorted woman can go more or less anywhere, and honestly, a woman can find out more information in a drawing room in Edwardian England than a man can on a battlefield in Crimea. And there’s always, you know, the future. But no, a time traveling woman would get all her periods at once or something, so she has to stay home. There’s even a sneaky little through-meme of men not even telling their wives, girlfriends, or female friends that they are time traveling. Don’t worry your pretty head about it. Sleep on the porch.

Comic book movies are, increasingly, the only cinematic game in town, at least to bring in billions and go up on every screen in the world. In part because they take advantage of the big screen in a way most of our home theaters, awesome though they are, can’t quite duplicate yet. In part because no part of my generation’s childhood is safe from being packaged and marketed back to us. In part because they present a comforting black and white moral universe in which arms dealers are really charming heroes, honor equals military service, and there will always be some big strong man to save us whose personal integrity can be unerringly and unquestioningly relied upon. And if that sounds a little fascistic to you, well, it is. The fact that these movies, these vast cultural events, have settled into a self-satisfied world of representation that would be outdone by any 90s SF/F television series, in which one woman and/or one person of color is sufficient, especially if they are wholly defined by the most stereotypical traits of their gender or race (Black Widow and Bumblebee, I’m looking at you), to stand in for, you know, the majority of the human race that is not white, not male, or both, is alarming. When stories are taken away from a woman and given to a man, when a woman is reduced to a power source (oh, irony) for a big, strong, straightest of the straight man, what should we make of it but that she is simply not worth our attention? It teaches everyone, kids and adults, what stories are worth telling. Whose voices count. Who is allowed to act. Who is allowed to decide. And if you don’t think people carry that into their everyday lives, I’ve got a Brooklyn Bridge to destroy for you.

Posted in Blog Posts Comment