where outlander lands you pretty quick



I finished the first book and after a big brick of pages of “hmm, that’s interesting, but it’s all awfully easy; so this is what a romance novel is like, huh?” and a hundred pages of “congratulations that’s more messed up than any fic I ever read” you start in on the next one and it’s all “can a sister get a police box in here STAT.”

Also I want to believe the screwdriver brandished in the beginning of DIA as a possible defense was a reference. I really do.

(Image from here.)


mothers of sons and mourning

I keep encountering books about sons by women who have lost them. Come sign this book. Come meet this woman. Come know this stranger who is gone.

Where are the women who have lost their daughters?

The women I have known with sons…their love makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mean just the predictable crap, either–the talking about he’s so handsome, so strong, so brave, etc.–but how they treat others through the prism of their sons. Other kids, other mothers, their other offspring. They are, in many ways, not dissimilar to white men in Japan–they forget the ideals they used to espouse, and the very real reasons why they used to espouse them. The speculate on the virginity of their sons’ girlfriends, often dismissing them as skanks based on a a skirt, a pair of shoes, a brightly-colored bra-strap. They brag about how much “extra room” they need to plan for in the pants they purchase their sons. They fret if their sons make less than their mates–“he’s destined for more than this,” they say, “he’s better than that.”

Your sons are people. Not cardboard cut-outs of every societal ill you spent your younger years recognizing as overbearing, narrow-minded and damaging. You didn’t raise a character on a sitcom. You raised an individual.

The women I know who have lost their daughters do not speak of them. Ever. I have tried to figure out why this is. Do we allow for the mourning of sons and not daughters? Does society give you a blueprint for one and not the other? Is it just chance that the only people I know who deal with grief through reticence lost daughters, and those who can’t stop talking about the deceased lost sons?

When it comes to being chronically ill and not dead, women tend to be on the receiving end of blame. Ridiculously so. “Yeah, they’re saying they don’t know why she has Crohn’s Disease, but I’m telling you she ate meat all the time, and I told her it was a bad idea…” I have actually heard people say that. Or, “I know it sounds bad, but maybe if she took better care of herself she wouldn’t be in the hospital now.” The guys do not sop up so much blame, even to the point of receiving excuses: “yeah yeah, he smoked, but you have to admit it had it pretty rough there, he needed some release.” And, “of course he knew the risks, but you’ve got to live a little, you know?”

These are actual things people say. I’ve heard them. And I don’t understand it. Who are we allowed to mourn publicly? Whose pain is supposed to be private? Whose shitty situation is misfortune, and whose is their own fault? (Crohn’s disease? Seriously? Her own fault?)

I ask because whatever the answers are they’re bad answers. No one’s pain matters more or less than another’s. No one’s is cleaner. Implying that it is, overtly or covertly, does damage. To everyone involved. We need to stop.


Everyone says that the power is in placing people somewhere else; transporting your readers into another world; other hearts. But the power here is in taking you outside yourself, not entombed in the labyrinths of fictional minds in fictional worlds but above them, outside them and your own too, making you feel old, and aching, but also like you know something of how things actually play out, in life. For those few brief minutes after you’ve been brought to the edge of tears by fiction you think you understand. And maybe you do. And then the veil of your own life and its demands and constraints settles back down, like a dew, dampening everything, seeping into everything, and those moments when you were flying above, so knowing and so impossibly alone, begin to drift, to fade, like clouds, lost maps; like dreams.

“darkness, some light carried but not very much”

This is just the best book on escapism. This and the one that came before it.

It occurred to him that sometimes you didn’t really arrive at a conclusion about your life, you just discovered that you already had. He wasn’t about to flee from all this, let his hair grow wild and his garments stink of unwashed sweat and excrement in the desert while his skin blistered and burned. One lived in the world. Sought what slender grace was to be found, however one defined such things, and accepted that Jad’s creation–or Ludan’s, the zubir’s, or that of any other worshipped power–was not a place where mortal men and women were meant to find tranquil ease. There might be other worlds–some taught as much–better than this, where such harmonies were possible, but he didn’t live in one and was not ever going to live in one.” — Guy Gavriel Kay, Lord of Emperors

Also, in a(n almost) completely different vein:

He saw tears startle like diamonds on her cheekbones and he knew–knew–that even consumed like a burning taper by desire she was raging within against the revealed weakness of that, the dimensions of longing betrayed. She could kill him now, he thought, as easily as kiss him again. Not a haven, this woman, this room, not a shelter of any kind at all, but a destination he’d needed overwhelmingly to reach and could not, by any means, deny: these bitter, furious complexities of human need, down here beneath the perfect dome and stars.”

You need to know people think that way. 

This is not a new thing. A new trope. I understood it to be a recognizable mode of being, very young, solely because I read novels. And yet the older I get the more flabbergasted I am that people–men, shall we say, because women tend not to talk to me about these sorts of things–do not expect this. Well, expect it. Read a novel, for crying out loud. Even some writers of novels are so embarrassingly shocked by this. Michel Houellebecq’s Isabel. Daniel’s ridiculous surprise at her resentment of the fondness he digs up in her. Give me a break. The power you wield is not always welcome. How could you think otherwise?

80 days

I was excited all week about being able to write about 80 Days, the interactive fiction game based on Jules Verne’s novel and set in a world decidedly more steampunk than the one we read about. Then I discovered that my friend Austin Walker had already broached the topic.

You win this round, Walker.

What they talk about on that podcast is how, despite might expect given the nature of the genre, 80 Days does not turn a blind eye to the imperialism and its attendant oppression that underlies steampunk as a genre. It doesn’t dye everybody white, or conversely just erase the histories of people of color and the bullshit they faced, wave a magic wand and say “hey presto! racism never existed! yay!” You don’t play, as they note in the podcast, the grand adventurer. You play his valet, and are subservient to him, and your interactions with the people you meet take that into account–that, and your own history as, potentially, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars.

paris01 paris02 paris03 paris04

You don’t escape that. When you are in places where people remember being subjugated by the French, you keep your mouth shut. Or rather, you have the option–you can play as someone who knows he’d be best to keep his accent quiet. Or you can stick your nose high in the air (as long as your English master isn’t around) and act as though you and your countrymen can do no wrong. Should you carry on this way, your options and people’s reactions to you will change accordingly. No one forgets. No one erases.

Moreover, the technological advances in the world do not come without cost. You see the changes they wreak on peoples, on environments, on social systems.




If there is power, it matters how people got it. And the game does not hide this process or its brutal history, or the costs people are willing (or not) to pay for it. The game is huge; there are over 140 cities you can visit by everything from donkey carts to airships to trains that sprout mechanical fins and dive into the ocean when their route hits the beach. The game plays with history in ways I find engrossing. It being set in 1872, a mere four years after the Meiji Restoration, I of course spent my first two trips trying to make it to Japan.

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The writer, one Meg Jayanth, bothered to research the two-word kanji catchphrases that kept cropping up during that time! That is some research. The whole game is beautifully written, well-nuanced. Nor is your character merely a man with a past trying to make his way in the world–you can make, ah, advances, across both race and sex, and use your charm on individuals of your choosing–do you ham it up with your fellow manservants on the train to Cairo, or do you deem yourself above foreigners and speak only to those of the pasty-white upper crust?

This is a huge, well-written, visually and aurally delightful (“oh my god, is that FF12 on your phone?!” cried my husband upon hearing a song) game, and well worth your five dollars.