Sooooo. I read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time the other night because it was so hot I couldn’t sleep, and   had started reading it to me earlier that night. (At my request, not his, he’s not a big fan of it and tried to pawn me off on Drywater or whatever, but I was like: I have never read this children’s classic! Make with the tesseracts!)

As often happens when I read a book that I mostly found good but had some big issues with, I want to talk to someone about it. But this is not just a classic, it is a Beloved Classic, and while we can give Narnia and the Problem of Susan the stinkeye and admit that LOTR is kind of hinky on the all kinds of scores, some books seem to be Beyond Criticism. You don’t go taking your red pen to The Phantom Tollbooth. You just don’t. It’s not nice. And everyone loved this book as a child. The shock that went up on my Twitter feed when I said it was my first read was intense. My friends get this soft, dreamy look on their faces when I mention Charles Wallace.

And yet, why didn’t I read it? I obviously own it. (The whole series, though I’ve only read the first one so far.) I’ve obviously heard of it and been vouched for its quality. Though when I think about it I seem to remember other people saying: yeah, I loved it, but you should not read it. You wouldn’t like it. You would have Issues. And so I didn’t. But now I have. And I want to talk about it! But you can’t talk about the stuff we loved as a kid in a critical way. (Not that everyone hasn’t gotten Cool Points from shitting all over LOTR, my beloved adolescent books, in the last several years.) And I didn’t not like it. Some of it just bothered me, as an adult reader in the 2010s, rather than a child in the sixties or seventies, for whom I suspect this was as revelatory as a book could get. So, I am going to talk about A Wrinkle in Time, and I beg you not to get too angry or comment with the popular refrain: yeah that’s true but I loved it anyway. I know you did. Everyone did. You should keep loving it, for it is loveable. And we all want an Aunt Beast. (And a mother like Mrs. Murry.)

It really is highly readable–I peeled through in one night–and full of endearing characters. I can see why this book matters to people so much–firstly, best family ever. I mean, it’s like the opposite of Harry Potter (or I suppose it’s really the Weasleys, down to the red hair) and other orphan narratives where the protagonist clearly Does Not Belong. Meg is so utterly a product of her family, she belongs there, and is loved for who she is. Bookishness and geekiness are good and encouraged Murry traits. Mom is an awesome scientist, and so is Dad. Sporty brothers are viewed with slight suspicion. It’s the family we all want to be in, and few of us are.

But…despite Mom being a scientist, she stays home and takes care of the kids while Dad has adventures. She is perfect and beautiful, (uncomfortably, Calvin’s mother is expicitly not beautiful, and this is kind of a shorthand for her not being as Good as a Murry–though good heavens, a woman who has had seven children and lost all her teeth might have reason to be cranky) but domestic, cooking beneficently for her family while doing her experiments. She is not employed by the government; she is not even allowed to be involved in the rescue of her husband for no defined reason. (I mean, really, she knows him better than any of her kids, all of whom were tiny when he disappeared. Why can’t she go? Dad can be a Player.) I know in 1962 this must have been super-advanced, female-role wise, but now it feels discomfiting. I recognize that I react incredibly poorly to the "woman who stays at home being awesome and carrying on while her husband is away" trope for obvious personal reasons (I basically won’t even read The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is a thing which triggers me, and I don’t use that word lightly.) It’s especially squirmy when considered alongside the issue of Meg.

I suspect everyone loves Meg. Identifies with her, because she is an outcast in school, and even in her own family feels different, all the while she is assured she isn’t.  (She is though, as we’ll see. She’s the only one, essentially, without superpowers.) We love that type–especially when they only think they are not smart, while actually being pretty great. (I can’t recite the periodic table, yo.) But here’s the thing: everyone in this book is special but Meg. Even Calvin, who really is just some rando Charles Wallace ran into, even Calvin has a special gift and is destined to be wonderful, destined to be part of the family and obviously Meg’s future husband. Calvin’s gift is communication with the alien, Charles Wallace is clearly Jesus or something (having looked up the wiki it would seem we never actually find out why Charles is special, nor what happens to him, which is MADDENING), so incredibly marvelous and perfect that he must be protected at all costs. Meg’s gift is…being difficult and kind of pissy. And loving her (male) brother. All the men are endowed and stalwart and gifted with particular talents. Meg’s talent is an especially female one–loving her male relatives and…well, I got very tired of how many times she "wailed" "cried" or "stamped her foot." This is very infantilizing language, removing her feeling from anger or passion into the realm of tantrum. Charles Wallace is always described in adult terms, though he is five. Meg in childish terms though she is at least 14 (in high school).

Again, I’m sure back in the day having a girl as the lead at all was amazing–but Meg is not the hero of her own story. She is a Girl Having Adventures, yes, but those adventures are all about other people, she is never the point or the mover, and everyone around her is a Male of Import. More import than Meg, always, more power, more agency, more options. It was painful to me to see her so infantilized and sidelined, down to essentially fainting for a whole chapter because she’s not as good at traveling as the men–even Calvin! Who has no reason to be naturally awesome at anything the Murrys are! Calvin bothered me, as you can see. He gets very little development for how central he is to the plot, and is introduced so suddenly and is so great at being a Murry he makes Strider look like a subtle debut.

In structural terms, the book felt very rushed at the end, and I found myself gaping at (spoilers) IT’s revelation as a giant brain. Really? That’s IT? It’s become so cliche now to have a giant floating brain that I can’t see it as scary or even interesting–plus the word IT makes me think of King’s novel, and amps my expectations. I felt a whiff of anti-communist preaching in Camazotz, and wanted, really, a whole lot more to happen in those sequences. We get pages of Charles falling under the influence, but very little else. I loved Aunt Beast of course, and wanted more there too. Every single piece of the book was so interesting, but I never got enough of any of it, or enough specificity. Maybe that’s elsewhere in the series, explaining what is going on with everything.

And the God stuff…eek. Narnia was subtle, comparatively. Angels and Jesus and God, God, God.

But for all that it is incredibly compelling–like Babylon 5 it seems to be more than the sum of its parts. The gender stuff is as ever hard for me to let go of (even the Mrs. W’s are genderless in their true forms, not really women) even if they and the structural irritations are perhaps products of their time. It was lovely to see a portal science fiction tale, the tropes of portal fantasies transferred over to science fiction. Some of the passages, most particularly Aunt Beast and the Mrs W bits, were just charming. And I am still quite seriously considering naming my incoming boy-kitty (at some point soonish from darling Betsy) Charles Wallace. (Arrrg, how could MLE leave us not knowing what and where he is? I swear here and now never to do that ever.)

And yet. And yet.

Some childhood novels one can read as an adult and find wonder there. And some are hard to read as one might have when one could just black out the bits that bothered. I feel like I have missed a beautiful and moon-colored train where all the other children can shriek in delight and trade tales of tessering, leaving me to stand on the platform mumbling "But…"

PS Feel free to spoil future books for me in the comments–spoilers don’t really ruin books for me, and I’m undecided on whether to read them. Also, I said I looked up the wiki. 😉

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I have things to tell you!

One, I will be Guest of Honor at Mythcon in Albuquerque, New Mexico this weekend. Come and see me give a long talk about fairy tales and medievalism! Drink with me! I have a few extra days to hang out in town, so I hope folks will come out to play. Also I will get to see some of my family there, as my aunt and uncle and cousins are coming to see me! This is the first time any of my "people who have known me since I was born" family who will have come to a con. Eeeps!

I’ll also be doing a reading/signing on Sunday at noon at Alamosa Books in ABQ–please come out and listen! I’ll do a Q & A with the usual dry humor as well.

Also! I am now doing a regular podcast with my buddies  ,  , Paul Cornell, and Lynne Thomas. It is called SFSqueeCast, and you can find out all about it here. In it, we are all positive about things we like! Therefore, you can be sure that once a month I will be eaten by a pod person who will say kind, gentle things about books and movies in my voice.

Also also! My story The Wolves of Brooklyn is in this month’s Fantasy Magazine–will be available for free on the 18th, but available now to subscribers. It is about giant wolves eating people in Brooklyn, and inspired by a stray   comment last winter. You want to read it.

Also also also! In seven little days, a massive prequel novelette to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making will go up on It is called The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland–For a Little While, and it is about Queen Mallow, in her salad days. AND they hired Ana Juan to illustrate it OMG. Thus, it will be beautiful, and perhaps tide you kids over til the Fairyland sequel comes out next year.

Finally, GRUDGINGLY, I am on Google+ as Cat Valente. I don’t trust it, and want it off my lawn. But the Hangout thing might be worth it. Writing dates, you know? Pair it with Turntable, with which I am currently obsessed…awesome?

I am probably forgetting things.

New house pics tonight!

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As the final space shuttle launch for the foreseeable future goes up today, and the melancholy of that finality tinges the excitement of a spaceship leaving the atmosphere, I thought: wow, I never posted about the launch last year. I livetweeted, but never posted. Bad internet kitten.

So. Last year, as part of the Nebula Awards, a bunch of science fiction and fantasy writers got to see the launch of STS-132, also shuttle Atlantis, on a very sunny Florida day in May.

Now, the only reason I actually attended the Nebula ceremony was to see the launch. I had no hope of winning, see. (History makes lulz of us all.) But it was  ‘s childhood dream to see a shuttle launch, and I consider it part of my duty in this world to make  ‘s childhood dreams come true. Also, I was one of those dorky kids who watched Spacecamp like 900 times and worshipped Christa McAuliffe and was gonna be a for-real astronaut when she grew up, not like how little kids want to be an astronaut, but how big little kids want to–with some actual plans, but ultimately shitty follow-through. I went to Florida for that little girl, really.

As an odd aside, when I told my mother that I was going to see the space shuttle launch she said: "Oh! Did I ever mention that I was there to see the moon landing guys go up in ’69? We were living in Florida back then, and the ground shook like an earthquake." OH MY GOD NO YOU NEVER MENTIONED THAT HOLY CRAP. The things our parents forget to tell us! I’ll bet when she saw that ship go up she promised herself she’d tell her kids. But then so many other stories crowd in and before you know it your daughter is thirty and going to see a launch of her own. Much like I meant to post this, last year, and so many things got in the way, other stories, other triumphs and failures crowding in, asking their due.

That hot May day last year, we bused out to the site, and sat in the bleachers in the blistering sun, and watched the giant red numbers count down (then count up a little, then down again). We talked about writing, and about space shuttles, and we watched the big, shining ship out there on the pad.

I expected it to be a pretty cool thing to see, but I was unprepared for just how extraordinary it was–the sound of it roaring and the ground shaking, yes, like an earthquake, and the clouds of pale exhaust pluming out. But what I felt wasn’t really any of that, it was the collective desire of everyone in those stands, holding hands instinctively, just willing it to go up and up and up, to carry all our hopes with it (and yes, a simple research mission, but it didn’t matter what they were going up for, just that a handful of humans were flying, flying into the heavens, further than any of us would ever go, better and faster and brighter, the hope that fuels all those novels and all those kids clutching toy shuttles), a group of earthbound advanced primates, our want and wonder so focused and sharp, willing everything to be perfect, for nothing to hurt, for the world to be as it should be, as it sometimes is in our books–us, our little folk, reaching further than our grasp, and for nothing bad to happen on the way there.

Because as it rose higher and higher I realized that the last time I had seen a launch was on a television screen in my first grade classroom in 1986. I watched the Challenger and my hero Christa explode into pieces that morning, and cried only later, when I understood what had happened. Then I just watched in total shock and disbelief. And it was the same image, the shuttle rising into a perfect blue sky. Until that moment I had no idea how much my heart had held onto that image of the Challenger, the instant before it was obliterated. And watching the Atlantis, my whole being just held its breath, thinking: please don’t explode, please make it, please don’t burst into flame and fall out of the sky.

And it didn’t. And only later did the clouds of we’re not going up anymore, for all these sensible and not sensible reasons roll in. In that moment, all I felt was hope and joy. Unalloyed, unironic, full of ascending fire. And I cried again, just so full of wonder and optimism, as the image of the Challenger inside me was replaced and redeemed by a new one: the Atlantis, dwindling away from us, looking like nothing so much as a perfect, brilliant star.

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I swear, I am not dead. Or even maimed, mute, or mangled in any fashion.

Instead, I have been on tour for the last two months, which is a little liked being mangled by the sweetest, cuddliest, cheerfulest book bear ever. I’m not done yet–I’ll be Guest of Honor at Mythcon in Alberquerque next weekend–but I’m nearly there. While I’ve been gone, we’ve moved into a new house, summer has stickily and greenly arrived, I’ve gotten behind on just about everything imaginable, and I’ve spent more time in airplane cabins than humans are actually probably meant to.

And I’ve completely let the blog slide. When I’m working so hard for so long, I tend to default to a kind of baseline cavegirl state: eat, move, perform, eat, sleep, eat, move, perform, eat, lather, rinse, repeat. And I keep going until someone stops me or I collapse. Which means a lot of things which are not in that list of basic mushroomless starless actions slide. There were so many amazing moments on the tour, for the book, for me personally, for all my amazing friends all over the country and the world–but they were paid for by a very exhausted and ragged Cat who is only now beginning to recover.

But! I am back, and the summer is beginning (for me at least! I’m like three weeks behind the rest of the world) and I will be blogging again, god willing and the creek don’t rise. (It took forever even to get net access in the new house. I find myself in the odd state of googling for net help, a stackable washer and dryer, and Plymouth Rock laying hens, one after the other. MAINE LIFE YO.)  I miss you all and I miss being alive on the internet and seriously, y’all, some STUPID things have gone down since I blinked out online (looking at you, The Guardian).

I feel vaguely bad that I’ve kept up reasonably well with Twitter, but not with LJ. I suppose that’s what Twitter is, something that requires less mental energy and lifting, but still, it feels like I’ve been seeing a girl on the side, and yeah, maybe she’s not as nice or pretty or smart as my main squeeze, but she’s easy and doesn’t demand much? And that is a sleazy feeling, friends. So fiddlesticks to it, no matter how long it’s taken me to write this post while being all: everyone will have abandoned LJ and/or forgotten me, I shall begin shining up my dusty digs here.

If there’s anything I missed while I was gone, tell me–I seriously have no idea what’s been shaking, personally or otherwise, with anyone anywhere.

Hello world! I missed you!

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I swear I will get back on here–I’m recovering from the tour and kind of hiding from the internet. Stuff has happened! I want to tell you about it! But I am le tired.  However! I owe a prize winner!

The winner of the Fairyland prize package is  ! Email me your mailing address!

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