Can I Just Say

Eighteen months and more on, a review I wrote for Strange Horizons is still capable of attracting ire.

(ETA: Oops. I missed this! More ire than I’d thought.)

And it’s not the only one. Two years on from this review, people still occasionally pop up to take (rather odd, by me) issue with it.

(Screencap source, from the blog of the same person who has some ire for the SH review. Post whence the screencap came, since edited.)

Oddly enough, no one’s taken me to task for – or even much seemed to notice – this review, wherein I deployed Grumpy Cat.

Not this Grumpy Cat:

But still, Grumpy Cat. (I haven’t .giffed a book review before.)

No one is outraged when I review an indie title by a little-known Canadian woman, and call it terrible.

But the outrage – shall we call it outrage? In some cases it seems stronger than mere affront – that has attached itself to those other reviews?

It is persistent, and expresses itself often in gendered ways.

That, by-the-by, is an observation, rather than a complaint. For myself, I won’t complain:* I’ve come to find it incredibly entertaining when my reviews – those reviews, since they seem to be the only ones which do – draw fire on grounds of their tone, or on some spurious lack of intellect or perception on my part.

No, seriously, mate. Tell me how I’m wrong on the internet again! Ask me if I know what words mean! Imply that I’m doing something for the attention – or because I’m jealous – or because I’m bored.

C’mon. Is that the best you can do?

(Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution. And I’m not in it for you, princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.)

I’ll be over here in my corner chuckling – and maybe quoting Merleau-Ponty: “In the last resort, the actions of others are, according to this theory, always understood through my own; the ‘one’ or the ‘we’ through the ‘I’.”

We must return to the social with which we are in contact by the mere fact of existing

I don’t want to talk about phenomenology, exactly. I do mean to mention perception. This discrepancy between reactions.

As an aside: it troubles me that one response to women who perceive, and upon perceiving object to, high levels of sexual objectification or sexual violence (explicit or implied), in novels and visual media, is a version of gaslighting.

It is odd, being a person who has opinions in public. Who is mostly having opinions in public because she is being paid to talk write them. But I’ve at times (“Admirals and Amazons: Women In Military Science Fiction” is perhaps the most striking example, although you can make a case for “Epic Fantasy Is Crushingly Conservative?”) gone out of my way to phrase those opinions in ways designed to provoke.

There’s no way to have a conversation if nobody answers, after all.

Every time you open your metaphorical mouth on the internet, you don’t just run the risk of annoying someone. Given sufficient exposure, you’re just about guaranteed that someone will be pissed off. There’s always the risk of lost connections, lost income… if you’re bolshy enough and unwilling to acknowledge their point of view, sometimes, lost friends.

Words are dangerous tools. They turn in your hand. They cut as well as comfort.

The same phrase can strike two different people three different ways.

After two years having opinions, many of them cranky, most of them feminist, I’m a little surprised not to have seen a rape threat yet. (Seen.) I know, or have heard of, too many people who have received them. (Even one would be too many.) And I wonder. What separates me from them? Just my good fortune?

Or is this another case where perceptions of legitimacy and authority, attention and protection, affect responses? I don’t have sufficient data to hypothesise –

But every time I write something in the least bit confronting, I wonder how long good fortune lasts. Because I knew going in that it’s improbable it should last forever.

That’s what makes the ire those reviews attract so entertaining. I judge! I hate! I condescend!

Oh, ire-stirred ones. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

But only, and only to, the text.

At least at first.

I couldn’t write either review better now. They’re solid, honest work. Better-constructed, if I’m being fair, than some of the reviews I’ve written this summer: there’s nothing like thesis deadlines for distraction.

I’ve learned a bit since about comment threads, and engaging, since. I’d like to think I could do that part better now.

I like to think… I couldn’t, of course. I have even less time on my hands.

Can I just say:

Support Strange Horizons’ fund drive.

*Mock, or state objection, perhaps.

Public Service Announcement: Influenza

What are the symptoms?

A number of symptoms are associated with the flu. The most obvious ones are headaches, a dry cough, and fever of a temperature in the region of 38 to 40 degrees centigrade. A good indication that one is suffering from flu, not merely a cold, is if the symptoms are of sudden onset, and thereafter over a number of hours one feels increasingly unwell.

Persons suffering from the flu may have a combination of some,or all of the following symptoms:

-Fever (with temperature in the region of 38 to 40 degrees centigrade).
– Runny nose and sore throat, usually accompanied by a dry, tickly cough.
– Aching pains in the muscles and joints.
– Severe headaches.
– Dry cough
– Chest pains.
– Lack of appetite.
– Inability to sleep at night – may feel cold and shivery, or hot and sweaty.
– Vomiting or diarrhoea.

Remedies: Rest, fluids, staying warm, paracetamol.

Symptoms of influenza usually persist for five to ten days. Fatigue and weakness may thereafter persist for three to five weeks. If fever returns after recovery has begun, it is a bad sign, and may indicate bacterial pneumonia.

Why, you might ask, am I talking about this?

Because last night I woke sweating among sheets sodden enough to wring water from them, weak in every fibre and with a sensation as though of having been punched below the floating rib. I’m presently lurching from “uncomfortably hot” to “weakly shivering,” and although my throat no longer feels entirely full of ground glass shards, it really doesn’t feel good, either. My nose produces snot like it’s going out of fashion, and the skin around my nostrils and upper lip is chapped and raw.

Yesterday I had an email from the college service telling me to come in for my cheap ‘flu vaccine. Too late for me. Too late – but not for you.

This sucks. Get the vaccine.

Hippocrates, Epidemics 4.23:
“Patients were shivering, nauseous, without appetite, relapsing, haemorrhagic, splenic – mostly painful on the left… Aristophon’s daughter was feverish on the third and fifth day. She was dry throughout for the most part, and her belly was upset. It stopped on the thirtieth day without a clear crisis.”

History is excellent for showing you how much worse things could be.

Pál Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary 895-1526 and some thoughts about fantasy and Parts East

Pál Engel, The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary 895-1526. English translation by Andrew Ayton. I.B. Tauris, 2005.

For a change of pace, I like to have at least one history book on the go that has nothing to do with what I’m supposed to be reading. For several months between spring and late August, this 400-pages-plus tome by Pál Engel, alleged to be the standard introductory work in English on medieval Hungary, was the history in question.

Its twenty chapters present a chronological progression from the pre-Christian Hungary of the 8th century through to the Jagiellonian kings at the end of the Middle Ages and the kingdom of Hungary’s eventual division between the Holy Roman and Ottoman Empires. Accounts of political events are interleaved with chapters which focus more thoroughly on the social and economic background. Its level of detail increases as it progresses forward in time, but Engel does – to my eye, at least – a decent job of laying out the problems, silences, and biases of the sources. Bear in mind, however, that while my impression is one of good faith history, I can’t speak to its accuracy, since it is very far from those periods on which I’ve done any serious reading.

Europe east of Vienna and north of Byzantium is the disregarded younger sibling of European medieval history. (Or, perhaps, the disregarded great-aunt you forget lives in the attic until she thumps the floor and the ceiling-plaster in the living-room cracks.) Only when one begins to investigate it does one realise how little do the Balkans, the Carpathian basin, or the Polish plains influence our view of the European medieval world. Even though, for example, the kingdom of Hungary was a major exporter of gold and horseflesh, and the Hungarian crown was at times deeply involved in the politics and succession disputes not only of its neighbours, but of kingdoms further afield as well. The feudal organisation of the medieval Hungarian kingdom looks rather different to the English or French model, for example. It’s eye-opening to see a different sort of hierarchy, when it comes to the gradations in status between people not part of the “magnate” class of nobility.

It’s a good, well-structured overview, and I can see why it would be offered up as the standard introduction on the topic.

From here let me segue to a brief excursus on history, Europe’s Pannonian Plain, and fantasy. It has troubled me for a while that Parts East of Vienna seem to be fair game for invented nations (Sherwood Smith, this year’s Gene Wolfe novel, others), but something that’s prodded my mind as a particular cause of unease recently is the Lackey/Flint/Freer alt-hist fantasy collaboration The Shadow of the Lion. Set in Venice, it’s pretty much a coming-of-age fantasy with a whole bunch of youthful protagonists doing their coming-of-age among intrigue and magic and danger.

Which would be fair enough, but I went to reread it lately – I hadn’t, I don’t think, read it since 2003 or 2004 – only to be confronted with a baffling and rather offensive piece of worldbuilding and characterisation. For one of the princes of Europe is inhumanly, demonically evil, where all the others are merely humanly flawed. This ruler is not a Spaniard or a Frank or an Englishman, nor even an Italian or a German or a Greek; rather it is one Jagiellon, Grand Duke of Poland and Lithuania.

Is it the bias of my sources? Or is it that when deciding upon villains, a writer is that much more inclined to portray people from the lands beyond the former Iron Curtain, or from the “barbaric” (cough), “fierce” (cough cough), “inscrutable” (choke), “exotic” (choke choke), “decadent” (cough) [check as applies] East, as wicked beyond reason or redemption?

When it comes to the eastern bits of Europe and their apparent fantasy counterparts, it is American writers who do this par excellence. And I’m just a little pissed about it.

(The historical Jagiellonowie rulers of Poland were interesting. They deserve better than to be cast as incarnate devils.)

Another conversation about why CODE NAME VERITY is ALL MANNER OF EXCELLENT.

An IM conversation about the 2013 Printz Award winner devolves into a conversation about why Elizabeth Wein’s CODE NAME VERITY is ALL MANNER OF EXCELLENT.

Featuring your humble correspondent, and Jenny of Jenny’s Library.

We are not concerned hereunder with spoilers, so if you haven’t read CNV? We’re going to ruin the ending for you.

Jenny: I kinda want to read In Darkness [by Nick Lake] and compare it to Monster [by Walter Dean Myers]

Because Monster? is about a boy on trial for murder

And we spend much of the book not knowing if he’s guilty or not

(and in the end, it’s still uncertain – it’s debatable)

but on the first page of In Darkness we have the narrator saying “I first shot a man when I was twelve years old.”

So we have one book that’s not just about young men of color and the violence in their lives, but more importantly the extent to which our perceptions of young men of color and violence affects how society treats them, and what kinds of chances they get

And I suspect In Darkness will only be about the first, at best

and also – there’s something about how they are both addressing their audience

(Code Name Verity too)

Despite the very different reasons for Steve and Verity writing, there’s something similar in how they’re addressing their audience

in the extent to which the writers writing these characters allow the personalities of young people to come through

and I’ve only read the first page of In Darkness

but the character here is addressing it’s readers much differently

in a way that’s much more removed and lacking that same kind of personality

which means it’s lacking that closeness and humanity

intimacy I guess is the better word

Liz: Maybe Lake just sucks at voice

Jenny: This is quite possible!

I suspect that the amount of potential for disrespect involved in presuming to tell this story has something to do with it as well

Any decently smart reader can figure out within the first page or two of Monster and Verity

that Wein is using the lowered expectations we have for young women in order to take us by surprise later

while Myers is showing the lowered expectations we have for young men of color in order to ask us to do better

but what is Lake doing?

other than confirming what we already think about young men of color


the main takeaway from Lake’s first page is that he wants us to be shocked and feel sympathetic

but Verity and Monster – while the shock is there, the main points are empathy and respect

Liz: Yes

I mean, I do not know from Monster

Jenny: heh

well, and I’m more going from what I remember about the book, than the first page, which I don’t remember precisely

Liz: But in CNV, we are shocked by what is happening to Julie, and only later realise that it isn’t exactly as straightforward as it seems.

There is a layered playing with empathy there.

Jenny: Yes

in both books

Liz: Particularly with respect to Anna Engel and the German officer.

Because both of them are broken by the same system that is breaking Julie, even as they’re complicit in it

Jenny: Monster is a mix of journal entries, and then what’s happening to Steve written out in screenplay – as if he’s detached from his own trial

and it’s an unreliable narrator in ways

except the point is to force us to ask ourselves just why we really don’t trust him, why the people in his life don’t trust him

rather than to use our trust to lie and make us believe it

but the going back and forth from journal and screenplay

it has the same sort of intimacy and detachment that Verity does through her letters, but then spending so much time talking about herself in third person in them

and they both exist in the story for similar and yet very different goals, the characters in the story are doing the detaching thing for the same reason

because they are scared and ashamed

Liz: I do not find shame in Code Name Verity

Not in retrospect

You know how she goes on about what a shameful coward she is? And in retrospect it’s such a goddamn effective misdirect

Jenny: Verity has clarified for me why I like unreliable narrators in young adult novels, but rarely like them in adult novels. because in young adults novels, they are more often about identity, and young adult’s identity is much more in flux, so often lying is just as honest in terms if who they are as telling the truth is.

Yes, no

Let me try to clarify?

Liz: Because she’s terrified but not broken, and that playing with shame, playing on the image of (socially-sanctioned as female) weakness, is a way of convincing her interrogators she is broken

While at the same time?

Doing the exact same thing to the reader.

Jenny: I think maybe more mad at herself is more what I meant?

Liz: And then pulling out the goddamn rug.

Jenny: Because she is mad at herself for getting caught

At least I think she is

Liz: I think that rolls together into angry+terrified at the whole situation to me.

Jenny: Yes, that’s maybe a better way of putting it

Liz: And the distancing effect is a way of… well, it’s a resist-interrogation technique, isn’t it?


Jenny: Yes – which is what Steve is doing too

Liz: Pretending it’s happening to someone else

That’s part of what makes CNV so effective

Jenny: *nods*

Liz: Because, well.

EVERYTHING about it?

From Julie’s POV?

Is doing about seven different things at once.

It is dense in terms of effective technique.

Jenny: Fuck yes

Liz: (and affective technique, to boot)

Jenny: which is why I look at In Darkness and just go O.o

because maybe it will surprise me?

but I’ll bet it won’t be a quarter as good at telling the story of the violence in the lives of young men of color as Monster does

and Verity does some of the same things that Monster does but better

it’s much more clever

Another thing I’d like to add:

I haven’t had a favorite book since childhood because once I got to my teen years, so few of them touched me in quite the same way, or stayed with me for as long. I could never pick and “favorite” was always changing

I suspect that CNV will be my favorite for a very long time (relatively speaking)

like, I’m obsessing over this story in a way I haven’t in years

(except for maybe PC Hodgell’s Kencyrath books)

I mean, Bujold was awesome and distracting and all, but I dunno how to describe it

the difference, I mean

Liz: The difference between your response to Wein and to Bujold’s stuff, what do you mean?

Jenny: Well, this sounds slightly silly?

but it feels more life changing

like, I’m very glad I’ve read Bujold’s books

they will always be favorites

they made me think about things in new ways

but…. CNV feels different somehow

Liz: Is it because it doesn’t flinch?

Because that’s what did it for me.

Jenny: that’s definitely part of it

Liz: It takes all your expectations that a book like this is not actually going to go there

Jenny: and it goes places even worse

Liz: And then it goes there. Into that moment that combines perfect horror with unlooked-for grace.

Jenny: Not precisely?

I think it’s more because it redefines what it means to love someone that much

perhaps because I’ve grown up on too much Hollywood?

Liz: “It’s like falling in love, finding your best friend”?

Jenny: Yes, but also… in choosing to shoot Julie, Maddie is choosing to love her friend over loving herself

Maybe that’s not the best way to put it? But Maddie gives up trying to be Julie’s hero

Because it’s more important to her to do what Julie needs than what Maddie wishes she could do  (not that Maddie actually wanted to be Julie’s hero, precisely, but you get the idea)

in that moment, Maddie chooses the pain and guilt of having failed her best friend in the world over letting her friend spend even one more moment in pain

and that’s a much bigger sacrifice than risking her life for the chance to save both of them

Liz: Or fail to save either.

Jenny: yes

Liz: Yeah

Jenny: and…maybe this sounds stupid?

but it feels like a very… female perspective on war and battle

and what it really means

not that this story couldn’t happen – doesn’t happen – among men?

like, the traditional male perspective is that one is risking one’s life for one’s loved ones back home, watching your friends die doing the same

Liz: Mercy, and survival, and the fact that some fates really are worse that death but that the death part doesn’t actually hurt any less because of that?

Jenny: Yeah

I think also – the difference between war that you go somewhere else to make, and war that brings itself to you

because while women have always fought! and they fight in far off places – the war that women fight does tend to more often be war where the battlefield is your own home

at least, that’s my impression?

and when it comes to losing loved ones, friends, making sacrifices…

There’s just something about not having the comfort of knowing your family is safe back home that’s different, and that comes through not just in Maddie and Julie’s friendship, but their fears.

It’s more just that… I’ve known that war is different when it isn’t sending troops elsewhere?

but my own country hasn’t lived that in generations and it shows in the shitty choices we make

and this is a perspective we need more of because war is always in someone’s home

and because it’s not a perspective that my country has lived in generations, I may know it, but I don’t know it

It’s a fundamentally NOT White American Male perspective on war<

So, yeah, it actually pisses me off more now that In Darkness got the medal and CNV just got an honor

because based on the sample that I’ve seen I don’t see it challenging that perspective.

That war is Over There.

Further thoughts are invited from all comers.

Sleeps With Monsters: Elizabeth Wein: Vous qui savez

I’ve been lax about sharing my posts here lately – blame the fact that I’m a PhD student: theses are distracting creatures – but today’s one is intimately connected with yesterday’s post on Charlotte Delbo’s Auschwitz and After.

Sleeps With Monsters: Elizabeth Wein: Vous qui savez:

Some books change your life. Some you come to already changed.

Elizabeth Wein’s most recent two novels, CODE NAME VERITY and ROSE UNDER FIRE, are set during World War II. Respectively, they mainly take place in Occupied France and in concentration-camp Germany.

Charlotte Delbo, Auschwitz and After

Normally, I get distracted by books whose narrative arc ends in triumph. Pick up and read, carried along by prose and arc until the denouement returns me to myself and I realise how much time has passed: until the moment of triumph brings me back to all the work I should have done.

Delbo’s tripartite memoir allows of no such literary catharsis.

I bought Auschwitz and After once I had read Elizabeth Wein’s novel Rose Under Fire, spurred by a half-remembered fragment of prose – and by the realisation that it had been years since I read an account of the enormity of suffering that is fast passing out of living memory. “Try to look,” Delbo writes. “Just try and see.”

A corpse. The left eye devoured by a rat. The other open with its fringe of lashes.

Try to look. Just try and see.

There is no bearing witness to horror that seems ghoulish now but was everyday reality for tens – hundreds – of thousands as they died. All that can be done to honour those dead is to hold the words of the survivors a while longer.

To try and see, and remember.

Not one of us will return is the title of the first part of Delbo’s memoir. Stark. That’s one word for it. Vignettes and poems. Snapshots and images, their bleak brutality transmuted by Delbo’s pen into a lasting literary testament that nonetheless bears a searing kind of beauty.

Delbo finishes one such vignette with, “And now I am sitting in a café, writing this text.”

One has the sense that no real return is possible.

The Measure of Our Days is relentless in revealing how very far one has to come, how very different life becomes, in the aftermath of such an enormity. “I do not know,” Delbo writes, in a poetry made all the more savagely affecting by its plainness:

“I do not know
if you can still
make something of me
If you have the courage to try…”

Of the three books that comprise Auschwitz and After it is this last, this after, that is the hardest to read.

At one point, Delbo describes her pubic hair as “matted with diarrhoea,” after seventy-seven days without washing.

It is only then that I realise I haven’t even begun to comprehend.

Fourth Walls: Strange Horizons has a fund drive, and I have some thoughts related to one of their recent columns

Strange Horizons are having their annual fund drive.

I don’t know what to say when it comes to Strange Horizons. I don’t read short fiction very often, and their editorial taste in poems is frequently – although not always – very different to mine. (They bought a poem from me, so it’s certainly not always.) I write reviews for them, so all I have to say about the reviews department is coloured by the possibility of bias – I’m honoured to be in that company: me, I come up well short in comparison to Foz Meadows and Nic Clarke and Aishwarya Subramanian and Martin Lewis, among the rest.

They publish interesting columns. All their staff are volunteers. They pay all their contributors, and the rates are pretty damn good. If they were ever to go under, they’d leave an enormous gap in their wake.

$11,000 is a relatively small budget on which to run a weekly magazine. They’re worth supporting.

The most recent of their columns, Renay’s Communities: You Got Your Industry In My Fanwork has drawn a spot of attention. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully get where Renay is coming from: there’s space for authors to engage in discussion of their own work… but crucially, only as long as they get that intent isn’t everything. It’s not magic: their work is open to multiple interpretations, and they have to live with knowing the interpretation they’d prefer to put on it isn’t always going to be the one that strikes the reader most strongly, or even at all.

It depends on the reader. For some of us, the brown parcel sat abandoned on a train station bench is just a package. For others, it’s a potential bomb and they’ve had too much of that kind of hurt already. (If you’ll forgive the metaphor.)

It’s odd, reviewing things and writing about them, in an SFF context. I learned to think and talk about books from writers working on the craft of creating them, because back when I acquired a computer and entered upon internet communities, I wanted write novels. (It’s a hobby I’ve mostly managed to give up – or fooled myself, at any rate, into believing so. There’s little time in a PhD for extraneity.) I kept a running tally of the books I read for my own reference. A friend – its publisher – asked me to contribute a review to Ideomancer, and that gave me sufficient confidence that I starting pitching elsewhere.

I needed coffee-money, after all.

Some of the books I’ve reviewed have been authored by friends. Some of the people whose books I’ve reviewed, or who have agreed to interviews for that column I write, have since become more than mere acquaintances. You can’t talk to pleasant people about shared interests and enthusiasms and not eventually become friendly with some of them: I’d say you had to be an asshole to want not to. And the line between what’s appropriate between friends or potential friends and what’s appropriate between writer and reviewer… gets a bit odd, at times, from this perspective.

If their book doesn’t work for me, I won’t say it to their face. That’d just be rude. But the review isn’t for them. It’s for me, and for the general readership of the website or magazine that’s (normally) paying me. The exercise in intellectual honesty – Am I harder on this book because I like the author? Or, conversely, Am I not looking hard enough at its flaws? – combined with the exercise of figuring out what the appropriate level of professionalism is in interactions with authors, publicists, editors and the like who aren’t friends who I know’ll call me on it if I step over the wrong sort of line… makes it occasionally weird, awkward, and stressful.

Maybe more than occasionally.

That weirdness leaves aside interacting with people who are readers without being also otherwise engaged in the production of reading material, or who, like me, review things for money or kicks.

Renay talks about a “fannish fourth wall.” I’ve never been a self-described abstract “fan.” And from where I stand, it looks more like a funhouse mirror. Things appear differently, depending on how you look.

Mind you, something doesn’t appear differently no matter how I look at it?

In the comments to Renay’s piece at Strange Horizons, Ben Aaronovitch keeps looking like a disingenous ass.

Lucian of Samosata, True History

Lucian’s True History, as promised.


ψεύσματα ποικίλα πιθανῶς τε καἐναλήθως ἐξενηνόχαμεν

Persuasively and plausibly have I brought forth artful lies.

-Lucian of Samosata, True History I.2



The True History is a very short work. A novelette or perhaps a novella (depending on your definitions), it’s probably the most famous thing to have sprung from the pen of that little-known comic writer, Lucian of Samosata, and the only one of his published works to engage directly with fantastic.


He’s no ordinary science fiction or fantasy writer. True History, in its slender translation from the original Greek, combines a satirical twist on the travelogue – long familiar to us from such writers as Ἰαμβοῦλος (“Islands of the Sun”), Κτησίας the Knidian (“Indian Matters”), Antonius Diogenes (“An Account of the Unbelievable Things Beyond Thule”) and Michael Palin (“New Europe”) – with a lively dose of mythological reference. Are you ready to travel to the kingdom of the Moon? Pass by the edges of Cloud-cuckoo-land? Tread in the footsteps of Herakles and visit the Isles of the Blessed? If so, read on.


Unlike the vast majority of writers in the fantastic vein – Virgil comes to mind, and so does Robert Jordan – Lucian isn’t interested in grand lengthy sagas full of portents and battle-scenes, whose dramatis personae are impossible to keep straight without a scorecard. (At this length he’d be hard-pressed to cram that many in.) Instead, we have the narrator – a fictionalised Lucian himself – who sets out with fifty unnamed companions and a ship to reach the ends of the earth:


αἰτία δέ μοι τῆς ἀποδημίας καὶ ὑπόθεσις… τὸ βούλεσθαι μαθεῖν τί τὸ τέλος ἐστὶν τοῦ ὠκεανοῦ καί τίνες οἱ πέραν κατοικοῦντες ἄνθρωποι.


“And the cause and purpose of my journey… was the desire to learn what was at the end of the ocean, and what were the people who dwelled beyond.”


But it wouldn’t be a story unless our brave narrator ran into trouble first…


I’m not sure the True History is a single story, so much as a loosely-connected series of vignettes. “In which Lucian stumbles onto something else again” could be its subtitle. The island of the plant-people. The whirlwind that picks his ship up and sets it in the heavens, where for seven days and seven nights it’s driven by the wind, until it lands on the Moon. The war between the Moonites and the Sunites. Escaping from the belly of a whale. Being asked to take a letter from the dead Odysseus to Calypso: “Now I am in the Island of the Blessed, bitterly regretting having given up my life with you and your offer of immortality.”


There is a passage of exposition concerning the people of the Moon which I had forgotten, and which brings to heart how very different Lucian is from most of the rest of the genre field. (Although he’s terrible in his portrayal of women – he just doesn’t.) On the Moon, men marry men, and produce children with each other. There’s a lot of man-lovin’ in the True History, but this vision of male pregnancy is an outstanding example of its difference.


In the end, True History ends abruptly, with unfulfilled promises of a sequel. Reading it in light of SFF is a strange, disjointing experience – it is both like and unlike Novellas What I Have Seen – but an oddly rewarding one.