Fragment

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Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday: Fragment by Craig Russell

Bertie (R.A.) MacAvoy sent me a book to read, without telling me much of anything about it, or why I should read it.

But I trust her. So I read it: Fragment, by Canadian writer Craig Russell.

Well, I meant to read just a chapter or two. But I ended up reading the whole thing, compulsively. It’s a slender volume. The story, however, is a big one.

Sometimes what’s scary about a thriller is its plausibility. One of the things speculative fiction writers do best is tell the truth sideways.  And there’s a lot of truth here. Craig Russell’s near future ecological and political world are a little too easy to imagine as reality. It was a compelling, but uncomfortable read: I found myself reading faster as the story progressed, hoping there might be some way to avert disaster. Maybe something in the way of hope, that might be carried past the pages of the book and into the outer world. The hubris and political manipulation in Fragment: yes, there are real-world analogs. Seeing the potential outcome as spelled out in this novel? Dread inducing. But I couldn’t look away.

As a key part of the novel, Russell has created  a particularly compelling, and unexpected, major character. No spoilers here … but I’d have liked to see the book return to this character’s unique viewpoint more often.

This book would make a challenging summer movie. It might be difficult to get made in the current political situation. But there are some important messages here. And the visuals would be mesmerizing.

Tea and a Tale on a Tuesday

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Max is skeptical of my experiments with water-soluble crayons over Pentel Pocket Brush pen in my sketchbook. But sometimes you just gotta scribble.

Maybe this will have to become a thing. Sometimes I’m so project-driven (today it’s a cosplay thing, and then working on the sequel to Albatross) that I don’t give myself time to sit down and just lose myself in a good book. Committing to posting something I’m reading on a Tuesday could be just the nudge I need to make sure I’m not neglecting this bit of self-care. Committing to a related sketch makes sure I’m playing in my sketchbook, too.

I attended a seminar last night on publishing for LGBTQ+ and allies. It was informative and I met some cool writers and their friends. It’s revitalizing to have “authorial energy” being shared in person. Online connections are important and so special, but I really miss that in-person connection. Note to self: look for a writing group locally. It was also a refreshing break from some of the bigotry and hate I’ve been seeing online: folks working together, sharing their craft, without judging. Diversity and inclusiveness in action.

Today’s reading: I recently finished cult favorite Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Not your typical fantasy novel … definitely more swords than sorcery. Flavors of Dumas for a modern sensibility. Kushner joined with partner Delia Sherman to return to the world of Riverside with  The Fall of the Kings . I’m not too far into the novel, but it seems there is at least a discussion of magic. Most of the characters don’t believe it’s real (yet), but I-the-reader withold judgement. As with the earlier novels in the series, there’s elevated language, a complex plot that one suspects is about to become more complicated, and intriguing characters in a well-painted habitat. I will probably stay up long after my tea is gone tonight, caught in this world, happy for the chance to revisit some of the characters I so enjoyed in the previous books. And Kushner’s matter-of-fact inclusiveness is a pure delight in the previous books, so I’m hoping to find more of that in this collaborative work.

Need more Riverside? Kushner is spearheading a new set of serial stories also set in Riverside’s world, a prequel to Swordspoint. Does the name “Tremontaine” mean anything to you? If not, go read Swordspoint. Otherwise, you can find out more at Ellen Kushner’s website.

I hope your Tuesday finds you with a warm mug and a good book.

Tuesday: Tea and a Tale

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Studio Assistant Judy Bear is a fan of chai, too.

It’s Tuesday and the hours have been dotted with spitting rainstorms, and I’ve spent the day organizing files and little pieces of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up in the course of living. Not my favorite task, but I’ve done it! As my reward and escape, I’m bundling up with a cat, a blanket, a book, and a lovely serving of chai tea. The tea was delivered with courtesy by my newly-driving-solo teen son, and it was both memorable and delicious.

The book was found courtesy of a suggestion on Goodread’s Vaginal Book Club forum (yes, it’s a thing). I’m reading Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Shoutout to that great Thomas Canty cover I remember from years ago still showing up on the digital version. I spotted a comment in an online discussion (I don’t remember the site, just my indignant harrumph in response) that claimed that this style is dated and should be replaced, but I find the Belle Epoch-influenced delicacy of Canty’s covers delightful. I remember that Alponse Mucha fell out of fashion, too, but tastes swing around, and I fully expect the future to justify my admiration for Canty’s distinct style. (Ask to see my Canty card collection; I’ve got the whole set!)

Bertie MacAvoy was commenting on the gender of a writer’s narrative voice on facebook earlier today, so I returned to the book with an ear out for the authorial voice. Perhaps I’m tired, or just too engrossed in the story to pay proper attention, but I’m hearing this narrative voice in the neutral “in my head” narrator, rather than a specific male or female timbre. I point to this as a sign of a most competent writer; when the narrator manages to disappear in the story, something’s going very right.

Summary in brief: it’s a good book, and worked well with the tea, and the cat, and the rain.

There’s plenty of fighting (did the “swordspoint” in the title tip you off?) with the fencing scenes written with interest, and brevity, both of which are important in a good battle. Engaging portrayal of a city, from the slums  to the halls of the wealthy, with sharp clear descriptions that catch and hold the mind without overwhelming. Some lovely descriptions, evocative, throughout, but not in a way that would bog down the story. The unnamed City is built up into a living, breathing place over the course of the book.

There’s political intrigue, romance, theater, and a bit of fashion. Primarily, though, this book is driven by its characters.

Deft characterization, built up through interactions and conversations between individuals as much as descriptions and direct actions, so very well balanced that way. Some homoerotic scenes, applied with discretion and most of the action implied rather than graphically described. Refreshingly casual approach to non-binary preferences.

Interesting use of power dynamics here, with sex acts, or sexual violence, threaded through as reward and threat, and the difference in the manifesting of power in this way by men versus women, against men and against women. (There’s probably a solid research paper in here, but it won’t be written by me. At least not without an additional vat of tea.)

I quite liked the two main characters, and would enjoy reading more of their adventures and interactions. A third major character in whom quite a bit of time is invested is removed from the action rather sooner than I might have expected, and I wonder if he’s going to appear in a follow-up novel. Even if this early departure wasn’t intentional as a teaser, though, he IS cited near the end; I can accept this as closing the circle, even if I’d have liked a bit more of him.

I’d love to tell you more except the tea has stopped working and I’m likely to fall asleep at the computer, which would be pleasant for none of us, but most especially the cat. So I’ll tell you goodnight, and happy reading!