GBR #4: Michael F. Flynn

imageI’m at a loss from the beginning, as Flynn enjoys (as evidenced in his blog) statistical analysis and philosophy and the animated discussion thereof. This doesn’t help me with my “something to talk about at the convention” quest. If I find in my hands something  like a random bead box, I’m much happier arranging the beads into patterns, or wondering who made them and how they got here, than I am forming arguments about them. I’d even enjoy just watching the light play over the beads. So if I happen to meet Michael F. Flynn at Balticon, our natural tendencies in discourse will be very different.

Fortunately for his fans, his very analytical thought processes are not mutually exclusive with an ability to imagine and create. Michael F. Flynn’s many works include subjects as diverse as time travel, alt history, and quantum foam (the drawing above is a joke about that, referencing the story mentioned in the last post). He works in both novels and short stories, committing himself to extensive research when needed to create authoritative prose. Most readers consider his extensive catalog to be “hard” science fiction.  Michael A. Ventrella interviewed him; between this interview and Flynn’s extensive blog, you can get a pretty good picture of Flynn’s thoughts. And they are many, and wide-ranging.




GBR #3: Nancy Springer


Nancy Springer, sketched directly in pen, then colored with crayon. Because CRAYONS!

I Am Morgan le Fay

At last: I reveal myself! Quail before me, mortal child! Down the long years have I journeyed…

Wait..this isn’t actually a declaration of my secret identity.  (That’s for another time.)

The Great Balticon Readathon continues with a look into the Arthurian realm with the very prolific Nancy Springer. Springer has broken the 50 book barrier. Think about that for a minute. Imagine the sheer linear feet of bookshelf space. Has it sunk in? Great! Now that you’re properly wide-eyed, let’s continue.

I Am Morgan Le Fay is one of those books marketed as Young Adult that so many of us who are no longer precisely young enjoy.

((Aside: Young…compared to what? We need a good term for these readers, and books these readers enjoy. A good book is a good book, and there should be no stigma attached to reading something outside of a prescribed age group. How about Aoung Ydult? Yes. That’ll do. End of aside.))


One of the risks assumed in addressing such an often-referenced legend in a book is that the whole enterprise can so easily fall into cliché. Overfamiliarity can kill a reader’s interest.   Nancy Springer takes these familiar characters, as well as a number of brand-new ones (or old ones in new guises) and builds for them a world that is lyric and mystical and uniquely hers.

Morgan’s power comes from her otherworldly nature but, like her enchanted castle, the life she builds is based on very real, and quite primal, human emotions and experience. Aoung Ydults, and Young Adults too, will appreciate the psychological foundation for Morgan’s flawed choices. This book would make an excellent book discussion group, because it raises questions. Can an individual overcome family history? Are we truly able to choose our actions? Or are our decisions pre-determined by early experience? Is Morgan a trustworthy narrator? Do we believe her when (spoiler redacted)? Are there parallels to people we know in life? Do we believe them?

I Am Morgan le Fay is a very readable book. Springer’s prose is lyric without being overblown. It is crisp in places, lush with description in others, but the parts blend well. Very approachable. (Just as with Varley, though, I found myself more deeply touched by an animal death than by some human passings. Seems to be a theme beginning here in the GBR. Or, perhaps, it’s just me.)

And speaking of accessible, Nancy Springer’s back list is now available via Open Road as digital downloads! She’s also rocking an author blog on Goodreads, and tweets about things that matter to me (like dandelions, for example. Oh, and books.) Be sure to visit her author site for these links and more.

If you have been following along through the Readathon, you know that I am seeking out things about which I could have conversations with the various authors, should we meet at Balticon. Nancy Springer collects, among other circular things, Venn diagrams. Thus I have made one. It’s the thought that counts.





GBR #2.5 More on Varley


John Varley. Blue because I was playing with watercolor; why do you ask?


Note to self: If you meet John Varley at #Balticon50, DO NOT under any circumstances vocalize the “John Varley-corn” song that’s been stuck in your brainpan these last few days.

He’s far from “a little bown man with a nut-brown beard,” despite the jolly rollicking of my disobedient subconscious which has trapped me with this inglorious earworm. To begin with, John Varley is TALL. 6’5″, it’s been said. I’m married to a tall man. And we created, between us, another one. But even in a house full of men who can reach things off the top shelf, John Varley would stand out.

Additionally, his beard is not particularly brown any longer, from photos I’ve seen. This is appropriate for someone with the writing pedigree that he has. And with his life experience.

He also has a gift for being on the right end of serendipity, repeatedly. How does one ACCIDENTALLY end up at Woodstock?

To answer that question, visit his website: Plan to spend some time poking about and reading: his more personal writing can be funny and, at the same time, deeply moving. The whole premise of the Great Balticon Readathon is to enable ourselves to make the most of our convention experience. We may not get to know each of the Guests of Honor on a personal level, but knowing basic background is cool. It adds layers and depth to a panel or book signing if the person in front of you is more than a name and a title. And maybe you’ll have a point of common interest to discuss!

I quite enjoyed reading Mammoth. Thanks again to Bertie MacAvoy for the review, which was our previous post. Feel free to discuss the book in the comments with us if you like! One thing I particularly appreciate about Varley’s work is his aptitude with female characters who DO INTERESTING THINGS. Particularly given the era in which he began writing, stumbling across such creatures was more unusual than finding … well, perhaps a mammoth!

But if I talk to John Varley at Balticon? It will probably be about pinball.  Y’see, in his blog he mentions having owned Gorgar! My husband told me that he’s jealous. A Gorgar, in lovely condition, is his Great White Whale. (Although I don’t know where he thinks he’d put another pinball machine… Perhaps he should read Mammoth for some unlikely tips on folding things into other dimensions?) I think he wants me to find out if Varley still owns Gorgar! and if so make inquiries. I told him that this is Not Proper Convention Ettiquette. And yet — I suspect I may get a hopeful text at some point over that weekend. Mr. Varley, I apologize in advance. And officially invite you over to play Centaur.




GBR #2: Varley’s MAMMOTH

Look who stopped by from! Printed with kind permission.

Guest review by R.A. MacAvoy


In this novel John Varley gives us the most intricate sort of time travel story, and no time travel story is easy in itself. On top of this he donates some very believable portrait sketches of people, some of whom are human and some mammoths of assorted species. Even including mammoth teenage angst. And to tie all this in a bow is an over-story that is a children’s informative introduction into the world of the Pleistocene, complete with bold type for vocabulary building and ‘hyperlinks’ to other source material.

What makes this layered complexity work is humor: over-the-top humor with lovely comic timing.

And my response to it is, as I began my review, is Wow! (See – it’s in bold, too.)
Make that double-Wow.

GBR 1.5: All Clear by Connie Willis


True confession: I ditched my original reading schedule for my Great Balticon Readathon because I simply had to finish the duology of Blackout/All Clear.

The second book was a much faster read. I suspect this is because I was already familiar with and could recognize characters, places, and situations. Another factor may have been that I was burning through pages, waiting to see what happened next.

I recommended this book specifically to a couple of my friends who will likely love it. I did not recommend it to others: this writing will have very little middle ground among readers. While there’s a lot of action, there’s a great deal of introspection as well. The plot, rather than following the direct line of narrative we are taught in writing courses, ignores the expected linear nature of stories and follows its own way. Not everyone is going to enjoy that. There’s a great deal of humor here, too. It reminds me of Shakespeare: some of  the humor is overt and situational, while some of it’s very subtle. Again: not everyone appreciates the knowing wink, the knowing nod that shifts a scene from tragic to comic. Fortunately, there are as many different flavors of speculative fiction as there are writers. If you don’t care for the style of one, it’s easy to find another. I happen to have greatly enjoyed Blackout/All Clear. If I hadn’t other commitments pressing, I’d be scouting another Willis book to read.

If it does nothing else, the Great Balticon Readathon has brought me these books, and I’m happy for having read them.

After finishing the book, I looked at some reviews online. Some claim that the characters are thinly drawn. I disagree with that. However, they are portrayed indirectly. It’s very easy to miss that development if you’re attentive, or skimming through to get to the next plot point (which can also be easy to miss). For example, if you’re a person who prefers reading, “Character X was distractable,” rather than watching Character X being a distracted, and finding your own conclusion from that,  this may not become your favorite book.

i love the complexity of the minor characters too. No cut-and-paste villains here, no flawless saints. The greedy landlady is also capable of kindness. Heroes are bad listeners. The verger is presumptuous (in the kindest possible way, but still interfering).  A city, a community, is a complex and changeable thing, and our author has reflected this in her characters.

Last thing in my notes to point out is how real Connie Willis made WWII Britain for me. I’ve watched movies, read a few eye-witness accounts. But I don’t think I ever really had an inkling of the day-to-day reality of the Blitz before this immersion. And as painful as it was, at times, to vicariously experience it, I was reluctant to leave that world. Well done, Connie Willis!

Dispatches from the Front (Page)


Laundry VS reading: the winner is clear


You may recall, dear reader, that I recently rather blatantly suggested that Connie Willis might be a supernatural creature. Well, she has revenged herself on me for that outrageous statement, and IN SPADES. I have just finished Blackout… and it ended with a cliffhanger. Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to get Blackout, then go ahead and acquire All Clear at the same time. Trust me on this one. You are going to want to know what happens.

And now I’m left with unanswered questions of my own! HOW will Nancy be able to resist continuing into All Clear, and keep to her schedule by beginning a different author tonight? CAN she finish the Great Balticon Readathon before the convention actually begins? WHO will replenish the family tea supplies so she can keep reading? WILL Nancy be crushed by the growing mounds of unattended laundry surrounding her?

A quick reader response to the book itself: In Blackout, Willis has created a world that one can fall into. (The difficulty is climbing back out: I find myself resenting household mundanities that keep me from pursuing the story.) We learn about the characters organically through their speech and action, and the reactions of other characters to them. Willis is an expert at creating full-fleshed characters without heavy-handed description. You learn about the people of the book by watching them, listening to them, working with them, rather than being told who they are and how you ought to feel about them.

I note that this book took me longer to read than I’d planned. In addition to my broken schedule, I think my very real memory issues impacted my reading. When I create my own work, no matter how real the characters may be to me, I create a dramatis personae chart to refer to as I go along. It would have been helpful to me to have done so with Blackout, at least for the beginning section, as my inability to process made it harder for me to track which character was who, where, when. (This is a feature, not a bug! It replicates the environment of the book. Meta reading experience. I only mention it so that folks with memory or focusing issues will consider making themselves a cheat sheet to refer to.) This is a very dense plot, with intricate patterning.

So: vivid setting, excellent character building, dense and compelling plot. What more could one want from a book? Obviously: Book 2. Unequivocal thumbs up for this fascinating, complex tale of WWII Britain, time travel, and a threatened near future. Bonus points for Shakespeare, and plenty of references to The Tempest (my favorite play). Bonus points for synchronicity, as I have been working on a Tempest-inspired short story for Shakespeare’s birthday.


GBR #1: Connie Willis


Why Willis Comes First

I fell right out of reading Speculative Fiction for adults, and the world surrounding it, for a few years; why is for another day. One author that did make it into my consciousness, via the fine folks over at Metafilter, was Connie Willis. Her time travel novels are favorites over on the blue, and for very good reason. They are beautiful and heart wrenching betimes, and also funny, which is so very hard to do well. And Willis does funny brilliantly.

She’s first on my Great Balticon Readathon list, though, because I need to tell her to tell her that the jig is, frankly, up. In 2015, she survived being bitten by a bat. She jokingly alluded to vampires, and her relief at not being transformed. Ha ha, Connie. You can’t be transformed into a vampire … if you are ALREADY some kind of supernatural creature! I developed this theory during my research for this Readathon.  I looked at many, many images of Connie Willis. It is obvious that, other than the cleverly recolored hair, the woman has. not. changed.  I offer the following images as evidence:


Connie Willis, Circa 1996



Connie Willis, circa 2016

See what I mean? Unchanged. Something uncanny is afoot!

After the Readathon, in fact, I may go search through historic paintings to see if I can’t spot her. It’s a shame there are no paintings of Shakespeare’s wife. Because I have Suspicions there.


Aside from my fangirling, I discovered that she is a fellow Shakespearian and has in fact one-upped me by naming her daughter Cordelia. I adore this. Also,  I learned that in addition to the rest of her very substantial backlist, Blackout and All Clear exist. And I really want to read them. So my first selection for the Readathon is the Blackout/All Clear combo for Kindle (Two books for $23.98: less than the cost of going to a movie and will last hours longer. Bonus, I can eat this cauliflower I just roasted instead of buying overpriced popcorn. I can’t afford NOT to buy them!). If you have not read the previous books in this series, I highly recommend the award-winning Doomsday Book (funny, but heartbreaking) and To Say Nothing of the Dog (a delightful comedy of manners).

You can find ConnieWillis online or join the Fans of Connie Willis page on Facebook. She’s charming wherever you find her! Also, she’s a fellow chai tea aficionado and can sing in a choir (which I have never managed to do), can smile naturally in every known picture (another skill I don’t have) and has survived being bat-bitten (which I have also never managed to do. I have, however, helped raise an orphaned bat to release to the wild. Sincerely hoping these two events are not related … if so, my most sincere apologies, Connie Willis!) Watch for Connie’s newest book coming in October 2016: Crosstalk



Countdown to Balticon!

I’m going to be shaking the sawgrass off my feet and heading north to Balticon next month! This should be a tremendous amount of fun. Quandry over the luggage, though: is one empty suitcase going to be enough to haul back my treasures? Will I be forced to abandon clothing to make room for books?


In general, a no-brainer. Ditch the clothes! But I LOATHE shopping for clothes. In fact, I have to go shopping today, as yet another batch of favorite t-shirts give up the ghost and politely request to be released to the rag bag. If I don’t bring my clothes home from Baltimore, I will still require clothes for daily functioning … and that means I shall have to shop again.

Maybe the venue has a pack-and-ship?

Meanwhile, on a more celebratory shopping note, visit the Balticon website and LOOK at all these amazing guests! I have read many books by these folks. I confess, though: there are at least two who’ve not made it out of my massive “To Read” pile. And for some of them, it’s been many a-year since I’ve read their work. What a great opportunity, I note to myself, for a Balticon Read-a-thon! I’m going to go through and try to read or re-read at least one work from each of these folks before the convention.

(I’m going to save Martin for last, in case I run out of time. My son’s making his way through Martin’s epic, and we’ve been discussing, so these works at least are fresh in my mind.)

If you can make it to Balticon, incroyable! Say hi! If you can’t make it to Balticon, you could consider joining me on my reading adventure. 50 years of great fiction!

Balticon 50 Here We Come!

First Rule of Book Club

…we don’t talk about Book Club. Wrestling with the messy etiquette of reviews and self-promotion.

We received a thoughtful, well-written, considered review. Apparently, though, it is simply Not Done to thank a reviewer for their time and consideration and words. It’s such a relief, really, though, seeing this review: writing is so intense and personal; editing is so intense and isolating, and removes the writer from the work …

So much in a book takes place in the reader’s mind.  Images, impressions, scenes root and grow … or else they don’t. After so much contact with the text, it behaves differently in the mind of the writers than to someone coming to the book for the first time. You have to wonder if anyone will be able to see in a book the things that you, as the writers, were trying to seed in it.

You also start to wonder if anyone’s seen it at all. I’ve been told from multiple sources, and it seems logical: don’t oversaturate your social media with self-promotion. So Bertie and I have held back from waving Albatross around like a flag. But within the past week, three separate friends have asked me these questions or some variant: You wrote a book? Is it out yet?

So seeing this review today, and the care and thought that went into the engagement with the text? It matters. Knowing that someone understood what we were trying to say? Well, apparently, I can’t say thanks.

..and yet, here I am, suffused with gratitude.

It seems my writer’s heart isn’t very good at etiquette. Gratitude, though … I’ve got that down.

Off to write now.