So. A Thing that has been brewing is a novella I wrote called Silently and Very Fast. This is a novella about the slow, gnarly, horribly human development of AI in the hands of several generations of a very peculiar family. It is the evolution of ideas I’ve had for years, and very soon, it will be readable by other humans.

You can order it here–the print run is very limited, 500 copies, all signed, and being put out by WSFA as part of Capclave. You don’t need to go to Capclave to order a copy, but you get a discount if you do. Also check out that gorgeous cover! Mira Grant and Gardner Dozois seem to think it’s pretty spiffy, as they were kind enough to blurb it.

I am very proud of this little book, and even more proud that beginning in October, it will be serialized in Clarkesworld Magazine in three installments, and subsequently available through them as a standalone ebook. I am very grateful to CW for taking it as their first serial project.

So, you’ll be able to read it all online, but in three sections. If you snap it up now you get the whole thing at once. Many choices!

Also, hopefully, at Capclave, you’ll be able to pick up a copy of Myths of Origin, an omnibus of my early novels. It also has a beautiful cover, though this one isn’t quite final, and it’s my first sort of Works of book and of that I am making much squee. You can pre-order it now. (The old cover is still up on Amazon, don’t be confused.)

On top of all of that, The Folded World, sequel to The Habitation of the Blessed, my Prester John series, is coming out in November! Harvest time in House Valente! It also has a beautiful cover, and I have an ARC I’ll be giving away sometime tomorrow.

So proud of all my babies! Look at them growing up!

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I have two television thoughts to share.

I’ve been watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, which is a not-as-terrible-as-I-thought Knitting Show. Knitting Shows are ones I am not a fan of per se, but are mild and pleasant enough to knit to. Mostly procedurals, which I cannot watch without something to do with my hands. My attention wanders. Anyway. I’m in season 2 and it’s not half bad.

But the title sequence makes me crazy.

The difference between Grey’s Anatomy and ER is pretty much that there are a handful more women on the show. It’s the same medical drama format that has been used since St Elsewhere and probably before. Slightly more protagonist-centered, but it’s Scrubs without jokes, the same interns-in-crisis thing that’s been making money on TV for years.

But the title sequence is basically: show medical thing, show girly thing. Lather, rinse repeat. Show clamps/forceps, show eyelash curler. Show a WOMAN’S red shoes among all the REAL DOCTOR SHOES! Show an IV dripping into a cosmo. WHAT.

This is not what the show is about. No one on the show drinks froofy drinks or obsesses over shoes or is really all that traditionally feminine. Yes, they are attractive, but this is television. Meredith is actually kind of plain. It’s a show that easily passes Bechdel, but doesn’t really tackle head on the issues of being a woman in a male-dominated field. To this point, everyone in a position of power is a dude. (Bailey is a resident, and though she has some authority over our protagonists, she is not part of the power structure of the hospital.) Yet the titles make it look like Sex in the City: Hospital Edition. There was plenty of romance in ER and it never got this treatment. (Also, the title, which I thought a cute pun at first, is actually kind of icky.)

All I can think is that this is the thing where if there are women onscreen, they must be frivolous and OMG SHOEZ AND BOYZ! The show undermines itself with this weird title sequence, because it clearly wants to be at least most of the time a serious show, but in a world of amazing titles–there really must be some kind of contest over at HBO–Grey’s Anatomy is selling itself as something it’s not, and it leaves me with a gross taste in my mouth. More than two men onscreen, that’s normal. More than two ladies onscreen, it’s a chick show about chicks and boning, and they must be talking ab out shoes, amirite? (Sorry, the red shoes really get to me. NO ONE ON THE SHOW WEARS THOSE SHOES.)

Ahem.

Second thing. I was over at a friend’s house the other night. This friend is possessed of young children. These children like to watch a show called Caillou. The baby asked for it by name and thus I sat through an episode of it. Holy crap.

Ok, first off, Caillou is this (weirdly totally bald?) little boy who learns lessons about things, I guess. Par for the edutainment course. But I cannot express how different this show is than anything I watched as a kid.

No one is ever mean to Calliou. No one ever tells him no. His life is awesome all the time. When he toddles up to some bigger kids (middle schoolers it looks like–Caillou seems like a kindergartner) on the skating pond and asks to play hockey with them, they’re like: Sure kid! We’d love to play with you! Then Caillou’s dad takes him to buy a bunch of expensive hockey equipment and they go back to the pond, whereupon the big kids play with him.

What?

Allow me to tell how how this would have gone down if it were a 70s/80s era kid’s show.

The big kids maybe would have said they’d play with him. Maybe. Depends on the genre. They might have laughed at him and called him names right there. But when Caillou got back with all that equipment? They would definitely have beaten the shit out of him and stolen it, leaving Caillou to learn a hard lesson about how people are the worst. Or enter a fantasy world of magic and enchantment where he would make friends with a lion-bear or something and come back to get revenge on the bullies. Revenge was a big theme back then. If you had a bike, a bigger kid would magically manifest out of the air to beat you up and steal it. If you were in a movie for kids, you were an underdog, and anyone in a higher grade than you was pure evil. Sweep the leg, Caillou!

The conflict in this episode came from Caillou not being super awesome at hockey right away, and learning that maybe he’d have to practice or something, which bums Caillou right the fuck out. Also earlier, it didn’t snow when he wanted it to. I…have no words.

Listen, Charlie Brown not only never got to play football, but Lucy stole his ball, abused him verbally and caused him to hurt himself repeatedly, and then charged him for therapy. And the Peanuts are SUPER wholesome entertainment for children of all ages! I was waiting for this to be a bullying episode, where Caillou would learn something about something, but no, everything was awesome in the beginning and slightly more awesome in the end.

I don’t want to be all KIDS THESE DAYS but I can’t see how, exactly, you function on planet earth if this is what sets up your expectations of human interaction. If your idea of a bad day is when everyone accepts you and is extra nice to you only you weren’t better than them at their own hobbies. I don’t even want to meet adult Caillou, who has got to be some kind of monster of entitlement and douchery. He might have straight up murdered the first person who didn’t want to go out with him.

I know childrens’ innocence must be protected, but eventually they do have to learn that people are the worst, and they are a people, and therefore they have the capacity to be the worst, too. At which point other people will react to that, and the world will keep going round. Caillou is distraught that it didn’t snow on his schedule and that his cat wasn’t that into learning a trick. I mean, it is a baby show (though everyone is very articulate and talking in long dialogues, so not that much of a baby show? They aren’t teaching simple words or anything. There’s a plot.) but I just couldn’t get over how not-my-childhood’s-television this was. It made the Muppets look like the fucking Wire.

Of course, what I learned as a kid was that a luck dragon was a good tool for conflict management, so who am I to judge?

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Having read two “classic” books recently, I was struck by the sheer quality of both of them, but also by where they drastically differed–their relationship to their female characters.

People have been telling me to read Bridge of Birds for years. Extolling its virtues, singing its praises, going so far as to lend me a copy. And it is a very good book, delightful and funny and it even involves one of my favorite Japanese festivals/folktales in its Chinese iteration. But no one, in telling me how much I’d love this book said: just try to overlook the gender issues. It was written twenty-five years ago. No one even brought it up.

See, the whole time I was nodding along and thinking, wow, this is really pretty great, I was also waiting. Waiting for a female character who was not a horrendous villain or a perfect, virtuous ghost. A non-grotesque, non-dead woman with any agency at all. A girl or woman allowed to speak for herself or act on her own behalf. I thought, toward the end, that a certain princess might be it, but no, she’s really not much more than a McGuffin, and waits around for the very clever boys to rescue her, while having been presented throughout the book as really pretty awful, just like all the other living women.

I mean, at one point, “Henpecked Ho” (charming) is roundly praised for brutally murdering his wife and “seven fat sisters” with an axe. We never saw the wife or sisters or heard their side of anything, only that some of them were fat and Henpecked Ho didn’t like them. He apparently did well by chopping them all to pieces. He then murders another (this time villainous) woman with the same axe and the mess of her entrails are played for comedy. Wow. Go team? And then there’s the scene where our hero is locked in a room with a concubine and told to have sex with her–her desires are not in question. But it’s ok because even though she starts out terrified of the guy whose nickname is Number Ten Ox looming over her, by the end she likes it! Yay!

I can’t help it. This bothers me. And one might say well, ancient China yes? Not so many actualized women back then. Totes fair to ignore them unless you want to faceplant your hero in some titties (actual scene). Not only is this not true, (and a sad thing people somehow keep saying about every single historical period even though I am hard pressed to think of one entirely unpeopled by powerful women, not to mention just women, living their lives, having brains and thoughts and struggles of their own–history seems to be a place where writers feel “safe” perpetuating the worst misogyny) but seeing as it’s a “Novel of a China that Never Was” I fail to see why that favorite bit of social history has to be set in stone. All the women in the story–and there are several–are relegated to beautiful tragic robots (ghosts behave remarkably like robots in this setup) or monsters of the first kind. And even the monsters don’t get any real personality. She’s awful and greedy. That’s enough. Miser Shen joins the party for awhile and is totally redeemed–can you imagine the Ancestress or Fainting Maid allowed to do the same? I can’t. Why could not the handmaidens or Bright Star or Lotus Cloud not be given some stake, some point of view, some voice? They are classic NPCs, but I guess they don’t end up on the business end of an axe.

It’s a good book, as I said. It really is. It’s just awfully tough for me to give it the adulation so many of my friends do. I kept waiting, and in the end, I was served the same dish of women don’t have stories, they are setpieces for men’s stories, also they are terrible that I so often get plopped on my table. And I just don’t want to eat that shit anymore. And 1984 really isn’t so long ago that I can say it’s of its time, on account of the book I read right afterward.

Which was The Haunting of Hill House.

Holy crap! This book is so good! I know this is all I Should Have Read It By Now territory, but I hadn’t read it before and it is just so very awesome.

And lo! It has a female lead! With an internal life and thoughts and difficulties! She is not a kickass heroine, nor is she perfect or fabulous, she cares a little about shoes but in a very human way, and she has no superpowers. But look! She has a mind! She wants things! She takes action to make her life less shitty! And in less than 50 pages I loved her and felt sorry for her and wanted nothing bad to happen to her, which is of course the kiss of death in a horror book, but lo once more! Is her death played for laughs? Is it gratuitous and full of nudity and sexualized violence? Does it happen merely to further a male character’s arc? Nay, I tell you! None of these things! (That long scene of her driving to Hill House is just masterful character writing. Wow. I cared so much about her. It really blew me away. Horror films and books on this very famous template seem to so often skip the part about a fleshed out character we care deeply about.)

Now, hold on. I am going to blow your mind.

THERE IS A SECOND FEMALE CHARACTER.

Who is a lesbian! (I’m not crazy, right? Theo’s totally a lesbian? That whole “friend” she shares an apartment with thing? Boy nickname?) A lesbian who doesn’t murder anyone or molest anyone or go crazy from her lesbian-being! Just a girl in the fifties who happens to be a lesbian which is a rough fucking gig, and she isn’t always perfectly nice but you know, the house is haunted and shit gets pretty real, you’d be snappish too. And these women! They have a conversation! About their lives and wants and minds! A couple of them actually! And they become friends! FRIENDS. Subtle currents of desire that you couldn’t even entirely say are there or not there, yes, but friends. And they do not immediately vanish when the dudes come on the scene.There is even a THIRD female character, who is admittedly awful. But she is allowed to know things and take action, even if they are stupid things and stupid actions, because when women are treated as people they sometimes are idiots, just like men.

And this was written in 1959. That’s pre-Mad Men, for those of you playing along at home. A period where folks feel totally safe sidelining women of all kinds. (I think part–and only part–of where the recent filming went wrong was in updating the time period, as the narrative really needs the subtext of everything going on genderwise in 1959, that even wearing pants feels like rebellion to Eleanor, the relationship between a woman and a house, the free-radical carcinogen of a woman when she does not have a house to contain her, the repetition of home as both promise and threat, all of it. Without that it’s just a horror flick template.)

So yeah, no, I can’t give 1984 much of a pass. And I know, I know. Cat, it’s just a fun romp of a book! Why does everything have to be all srs bsns?

Well, because fun romps are where you see what people really think. What they think is funny, who they think is a good butt for a joke, which broad stereotypes they think are valid and which they think should be subverted, what they create when they think it’s just for fun, not for literature. It doesn’t escape me that one of these was written by a man and one by a woman, but I don’t really chalk much up to that. I don’t know Hughart and I sure didn’t know Jackson, and some great books that do not offend were written by men.

But Hill House was like a drink of fresh water after a long glass of wine slightly gone to vinegar. Sigh.

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I would like to tell you about something I like and something I don’t. Don’t worry, this is a completely frivolous post. You need not take a position. Or you may! But these will not be earth-shaking.

First, I love my thesaurus. I love it in a serious, lifetime commitment sort of way. It is the giant complete Roget’s 6th Edition, and it could murder a medium-sized terrier with its heft and weight. But it would never do something like that! My thesaurus is all heart.

You see, when I am working, I cannot be trusted with the internet. The internet has shiny things, and Twitter, and blogs, and Cracked, and reddit and says Caaaaaat. You can put off that story another hour. Whooooo wooooould knoooow. I cannot actually resist this at all. So I have to work with all the nets off, and all net-capable devices cleverly in another room or building. And not just nets off, but turned off by my programmer husband in such a way that I do not know how he has done it, nor can I undo it myself.

This makes finding little details, not to mention the quotidian work of looking shit up in a thesaurus, rather irritating.

But my Roget 6th Edition! She comes to the rescue! She can be used in an offline capacity, and is full of good words. But that’s not why I love her. Or not all of it. See, she also has lists. Of every animal. Every plant. Every type of clothing. Every type of cocktail. Every jewel and mineral and chemical and metal. Every type of firework. It goes on and on, these lists. They are amazing, and so helpful, if I need to know what sorts of trees I might like to have growing here, or what sort of food to serve at a feast, or that the dress I want is called a houppelande.

She is not in alphabetical order, either. That’s for noobs. She is in this esoteric Mrs Basil E Frankweiler Victorian order that starts of with BEING, EXISTENCE, and sort of flows through everything in the world via word association. So it’s awesome for seeing something in the next column over that you really need, because the next column is thematically linked, see? SO GOOD.

In short, I could not live with out my giant Terrierbane Thesaurus. The end.

Now, if you don’t like dieting talk, I would skip out on this next one.

Oh my god. So I’m dieting because BLEH but I need to lose weight, I’m not healthy or strong and the tour really showed me that. So I’m dieting. I’ve pretty much tried them all and I hate them all, but just calorie-counting doesn’t work for me, and also triggers my number-obsessions to the point of refusing to eat because of even numbers and that is not ok. So. I’ve been on the Harcombe Diet, because azure suggested it and it looked…ok. It’s a basic paleo kind of thing but with lots of live yogurt. It says you will lose 7-10 pounds in Phase 1! And did I?

Actually, yes. I lost 8.2 pounds. Great! Neato!

Only then we come to phase 2, at which point I start to get cranky. (And gain back two pounds almost immediately) Because phase 2 is one of those Oh, you can have anything you want! Only you have to separate carbs and fats/proteins. So easy! (I question the science of the food separating thing anyway, but whatever.)

Um. What this means is that food is now completely boring. It was cool for awhile, except for the no vinegar so no dressing on dry salad, but now it’s either meat and salad or brown rice and plain steamed vegetables. No fruit except berries, no nuts, no sauces except, basically, pureed tomatoes over whole wheat pasta. Nothing processed, and her definition of processed is pretty draconian. Honey is referred to as a processed food, even unpasteurized honey, and is forbidden. (Yet skim milk, which is processed like whoa, is somehow ok?) That is not anything I want to eat. I fucking hate whole wheat pasta. It’s like eating boiled cardboard. Thrillingly, she suggests puffed sugarless brown rice ceral for breakfast WITH NO MILK. MOAR CARDBOARD. CARDBOARD ALL THE TIME.

So…basically I now don’t care about food. I don’t care what I eat because there isn’t much joy in the available palette. I refuse to eat a tub of plain unflavored Greek yogurt everyday so I eat Activia because I can stand the taste. But that has sugar so technically I’m cheating. But really…the food is horribly uninspiring. And this diet is advertised as a great way to live the rest of your life. On unflavored yogurt, plain tea, puffed rice cereal, and a tiny square of dark chocolate to treat yourself, as long as it’s above 85% cocoa. EAT ON THAT BITTER, BITTER CHOCOLATE AND LIKE IT IT IS YOUR TREAT.

And this diet does the thing I hate most. It claims that this is the way we were “meant” to eat, and that up until a couple of hundred years ago everyone ate this way.

OK, slow down, hoss. Because I know Atkins does this too and so do a lot of other diets. It is a bunch of shit. First off, I’m pretty sure our cave-brethren were not carefully separating carbs and proteins. They were seeking out as much fat and sugar as possible to survive. If they found a potato and a fucking apple to go with it it was called the FEAST OF ALL AUTUMNS YO. The way were “meant” to eat IS the problem–we are still hard wired to want all that delicious survival and hunt it down at all costs. The idea that we weren’t “meant” to eat bread also drives me up a wall. Yes, it is processed and is calorically dense (once considered a good thing, as for most of history everyone not the king or a friend of the king has been operating at a calorie deficit), and Wonder Bread is a piece of crap. But we have been making and eating bread since civilization started–in fact, eating and making bread was, as far back as Homer and the fucking Odyssey, the marker of a civilized person. Only a monster doesn’t eat bread, Cyclops, what the hell is wrong with you, living on sheep and sailors and runny cheese?

“Meant to eat” is meaningless. We weren’t “meant” to be over six feet tall or live much past fifty. Nobody was “meant” to walk around on six-inch high heels all day. Shit changes. As I get older I see how terrifyingly much of all this is determined by genetics. I have friends who eat terrible, processed, fatty food and don’t exercise and stay much thinner than I am. I have friends who eat organic and are active and are bigger than I am. We all do our best and it’s quite hard, in this culture. Especially when diets and people trumpet the way we’re “meant” to eat and it goes against everything our body is actually telling us. There’s no food fate. Unless you’re talking about kosher or halal, I don’t want to hear about what humans were meant to eat, because no one handed us a menu writ in fire.

So yes. I hate diets that claim to be what mankind was “meant” to eat. Because we were “meant” to eat anything and everything we could get our hands on. Look at our teeth. That has little or no bearing on what we should be doing now, because even if you eat like a hunter gatherer you are not hunting or gathering, so kind of ruining the whole system there. We can behave other than how our most primitive selves behaved. We do it all the time. I also hate diets that are incredibly restrictive but claim not to be, and then toot that you should eat like this for the rest of your life. Expecting someone to live without–not just sugar, but any sweetening whatsoever, natural or not, forever, is not realistic. That is an entire taste group. That is willpower on a scale that…well, if I had it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to this weight to begin with, you know?

So I guess the tactic of this diet is to suck all the joy out of food so you consider it fuel and never look forward to it. (This is not the fault of the cooking in our house, it’s the diet, and how little is allowed to be paired together) Great? I know a certain portion of the population considers this the only right way to look at food, but I am a foodie and a cook and an Italian woman with a super awesome kitchen. Food once held such joy for me, and it’s autumn and I want to make pumpkin pie. Subtracting one giant part of life’s joy and pleasure doesn’t seem like a sustainable “lifestyle change” to me.

I’m still on it, I guess. Unless I practice some carb restriction I really don’t lose anything. We’ve started up hot yoga which is really kicking my ass exercise wise, and this is good. There’s progress. It’s slow. I’ve accepted that this time around I’m going to have to fight for every pound. That’s fine. I’m committed to it and I have to take better care of myself. It’s not a choice anymore.

But apparently commitment tastes like puffed, boiled probiotic carboard.

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It turned to autumn so fast. Literally, one day to the next.

Old men on the ferry were looking at a sun-drenched, hot day last week and saying “This is the last warm day. It’ll turn tonight.”

And it did. Suddenly the air is crisp, and there was a frost warning last night, and the very tips of the leaves are starting to go red. This is my favorite season, I love it so much I kind of married it (we got married on the most autumnal of autumnal days, in an apple orchard, with leaves falling all around) and I get so excited when the light and the air turns like this. It’s all coming–festivals (Common Ground! Sacred and Profane!) and my little museum space and Halloween and the Great Pumpkin and Thanksgiving and then SNOW and Christmas and St. Lucia and ALL THE BEST THINGS. Give me September through March any year. It is my time.

We went apple-picking yesterday with friends. I don’t actually much care for apples as a fruit (unless they are green), I’m more of a pear girl (and pumpkin! Which is not a fruit) but it was so nice to lie on the grass under a streaky blue sky with a big blue barn nearby and the soft thud of apples sounding. Two little girls in full tiaras and fairy gowns ran through the orchard rows. Crows watched.

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