Privileged Person Problems

ROBYN: Please don’t bite me while I’m using tools.
ME: I haven’t bitten you in AGES.

It has recently been borne into me that maybe people don’t normally get hungry like I do? Like maybe for normal people it goes something like this:

Stage 1: Not hungry.

Stage 2: Little bit hungry.

Stage 3: Starting to think about a sandwich.

Stage 4: But I could probably hold out until dinner.

Stage 5: Mmm, a satisfying meal for which I had a healthy appetite!

For me, it goes like this:

Stage 1: Not hungry.

Stage 2: Would claw the face off a toddler for a hamburger.

So when normal people say “I’m hungry,” maybe they mean, “I could eat.” When I say “I’m hungry,” I mean, “I require immediate sustenance! Earth creatures, where might one find nutritional content to satisfy my vast appetite?”

I go straight from feeling fine to belly-rumbling, hand-trembling hunger. Also, and more relevant to the task of getting food into myself, I become extremely stupid.

At home it doesn’t matter; I either buy something or go downstairs and stuff myself with bread. But in Tucson, when the hunger hits, I might be in a car being driven by others, with no idea of when a meal might appear. Stupidly, I try to stick it out for a while, but eventually, my yearning is too great, and I must speak of the gnawing in my gut. Then conversations like this occur:

ME: I’m hungry.
ROBYN: What do you want?
ME: Food.
JAMESON: What kind of food?

What kind? What kind? Don’t bamboozle me with your questions, man! I can’t make decisions in this state! I would like to eat all the food. Failing that, just hand me something to put in my mouth. Doesn’t have to be edible; I’ll chew plastic.

What I said in this post opening is true; I haven’t bitten Robyn in ages. But she’s a martial artist. She’s full of juicy muscle.

Could anyone really blame me if I did?

Demons and Magicians and Dancers, Oh My

Internets, let’s talk about books, a subject dear to my heart.

Specifically, let’s talk about a book dear to my heart, Sarah Rees Brennan’s The Demon’s Covenant.

Sarah and I met over the internets via mutual friend and scary brilliant person, Justine Larbalestier. An admirer of Sarah’s work in fiction and non-fiction, especially The Demon’s Lexicon, I had sent her Guardian of the Dead. She liked it! (In fact, she blurbed it, which you can see on the US back cover)

And she emailed me, in return, The Demon’s Covenant.

I was in Oamaru at the time, and the next day I was set to go to Invercargill with my father to visit his father, and pick up my sister from Queenstown on the way home. I talked my mother into letting me print the manuscript on her school computer.

I read it in my aunt and uncle’s house, and stayed up for most of the night babbling to Sarah about how awesome it was. And then I made her tell me the plot of the third book, because I desperately needed to know who was going to live and who die and who was going to romance who. This is not my normal relation to Sarah and spoilers. Usually I have to figuratively gag her to prevent entire plots from spilling out of her figurative mouth. In this case, I shamelessly begged.

I mention the family connections up there, because they were very much on my mind as I read. The Demon’s Covenant is a book about families, about how they are formed and how they are maintained and protected and betrayed. It is a book about lies and promises and the importance of a good plan. It is a book told by Mae, QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE, and it concerns her little brother using his abilities to trust and love against all the evidence to acquire a true friend and a terrible crush. In the middle of a supernatural cold war that is rapidly heating up, because that is just Jamie’s style. It is witty and warm and messes with tropes in a way I adore and is full of ideas that make me squeal and basically I really admire this book.

I love the settings, the solidity of the English settings against the wild glittering magic of the isolated Goblin Markets, and the way that one can suddenly seep into another, as in the very first scene where Mae, heading for a night on the town with school friends, encounters magic in the streets.

And I am head over heels in love with Mae, who is a normal girl in a world of magicians and demons and skilled warriors, insofar as “normal” encompasses brilliance, bravery, wit, charm, ambition, stubbornness, a recognition of her own limits, and a conscious refusal to be sidelined because of them. She is, as Sarah outlines in this awesome post, Ms. Normal in Paranormalandia.

And that is nearly always my favourite girl. That’s why Iris is my personal most-loved character in Guardian of the Dead, and why I love Lucy from My Love Lies Bleeding, and why Quincie P. Morris makes me grin. I love Ms. Normal, probably because if I suddenly discovered the world around me was inhabited by supernatural foes and eldritch powers warring for world domination, my skillset would no doubt still be restricted to such items as “reading very fast” and “baking”. And I would, nevertheless, try to put them to good use, as Mae does with her own skills at strategy and communication in The Demon’s Covenant.

Goodness, I had intended to do one of my blithe summaries in dialogue form, but it appears my love for this series carried me away into more substantial waters. How very unlike me. Maybe later!

Actual Fan Email, Actual Response

Hi Karen,

As a child (I am now an elderly 21) I loved geckos. At After School Care we would collect gecko eggs to take them home and put them in cotton wool lined egg cups, waiting for them to hatch.

At home I kept my school bag outside, hanging from a rack on the wall beside the front door. One night I went out there to get something from it. The wall (as was usual) was covered in geckos, that was cool – geckos and I were tight, we had a mutual respect for each other…right? Well Karen, apparently NOT. Because these little $*%@# decided to drop their tails – leaving me faced with a swarm of fleshy coloured beady eyed blobs, with their bloody stumps all up in my business. PLUS!! Their discarded tails were twitching all over the ground at my feet like evil zombie worms who wanted to crawl into my ears and devour my brain. I was unable to move, I wanted to vomit and vomit and vomit and vomit and then die. Since that day I haven’t been able to look at a gecko without feeling nauseous.

So. I wanted to congratulate you on writing the most terrifyingly traumatic scene of anything ever. Well done. I think I got as far as CRUNCHING GECKO IN MOUTH before I started researching frontal lobe lobotomies in the Sunshine Coast QLD area. Unfortunately nobody seems to be advertising their services, so I guess I’ll be performing one on myself.

[Section snipped for spoilers]

Thanks for writing a great book, it was a nice change to read a fantasy novel set in the southern hemisphere. I look forward to reading your future works.

Yours in an ever-present state of gecko terror,
Sasha.

Dear Sasha,

I have a confession to make. I wrote that scene with one purpose, and one purpose only – to terrify you. Not general “you, the reader”. Specifically “you, Sasha”. Having heard of you through channels too complicated and baroque to go into, I immediately realised that we would be foes eternally and it was forthwith my only ambition to write a book about my homeland, include a scene with geckoes and the crunching thereof, and, by hideous and foul means, induce you to read it, thus softening you up for further psychological assaults.

I am delighted that my mission has succeeded, and I look forward to further terrifying you through nefarious means that MAY OR MAY NOT include my future books.

Yours in enmity,
Karen.

(PS, glad you liked the book, especially the Southern Hemisphereyness of it! I laughed so hard at this email. Is there any chance that I could excerpt a section of it on my blog?)

In Which I Talk To Books

So last time on Karen’s exciting poll of what she should write about next, being paralysed by her choices, the winner was That Massive Pile Of Books She Has Consumed Recently.

You bastards.

These are the books sitting on the bottom shelf of my lovely new bookshelf, which means I have read them since arriving in the US. Minor spoilers.

*knucklecrack* READY? LET’S GO!

Norse Code, Greg van Eekhout.

BOOK: Action-packed Ragnarok as conspiracy theory, with MBA-student-turned-Valkyrie Kathy Castillo and perenially dumped on minor god Hermod trying to avert doom as it thunders towards them on wolf feet.
ME: Yeah, but are you funny?
BOOK: You know it.
ME: I am IN.

The Perils of Pleasure, Julie Anne Long.

BOOK: Female mercenary rescues male prisoner condemned to hang for a murder he didn’t commit. Then things get entertainingly complicated.
ME: Plot, schmot, are the sexy scenes sexy?
BOOK: Check out this one set in a closet.
ME: Whoa.
BOOK: Oh, and here’s a hayloft scene.
ME: WHOA.
BOOK: Right?

Bloodthirsty, Flynn Meaney.

BOOK: Finbar, a normal kid widely regarded as the Less Hot Twin, develops a genuine allergy to sunlight and then lets girls admiring of Certain Popular Vampire Books think he is a vampire in order to impress the girl of his dreams. Who, uh, doesn’t seem to care about those ridiculous rumours, but does like him as a person.
ME: Cute! But Finbar really could be looking at a wider selection of YA vampire novels, here.
BOOK: Why don’t you just write a column about that for Strange Horizons?
ME: WELL, MAYBE I WILL, BOOK.
BOOK: FINE, THEN!
ME: FINE!

Saving Maddie, Varian Johnson.

BOOK: Boy and girl were childhood friends; now she returns superhot and with a bad reputation, and he, down with God and his preacher Dad, wonders if he ought to be saving her.
ME: I am going to be so pissed if he succeeds.
BOOK: No spoilers, but it’s more complicated than that!
ME: Good. Ooh, hey! I like this Maddie.
BOOK: Thought you might.

Half-World, Hiromi Goto.

BOOK: Want to read a book inspired by non-Western mythology where a fat teenager must get her courage together to save the people she cares about?
ME: Book, you know that is my weakness!
BOOK: Oh, also, eerie settings, awesomely creepy villain, delightful repudiation of might makes right.
ME: Eeeeee!

Geektastic, ed. Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci.

BOOK: Various fun stories/short comics drenched in geek aesthetic, most of them awesomely girl-friendly!
ME: Except this one where the great revenge for someone victimised by a female bully is to take half-naked locker-room pictures of her with a concealed camera and photoshop that image into a sleazy hotel room, print the image on a poster telling people she likes sex and to call her on X number, and thereby slut-shaming her all over the school. Then her nice boyfriend breaks up with her because she is such a slut! Yay, happy ending?
BOOK: You don’t think she was a terrible person?
ME: I think she was AWFUL. But I balk at girls using the mechanics of girl-hating to fight girls and justifying it because the girls in question are SO AWFUL. Quite apart from the fact that taking naked pictures of someone without their consent is totally sexual assault and I don’t like the valorisation of sexual assult, this “solution” is all about taking advantage of the dominant narrative that girls having sex is disgaceful.
BOOK: Oh.
ME: I’m just saying. Can’t we ritually humiliate mean girls without making it all about how expressing sexual desire is the grossest thing ever for girls to do, the slutty sluts?
BOOK: … probably?
ME: But the rest of the book is great.

The DUFF, Kody Keplinger.

BOOK: “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” Bianca starts a sexual relationship with a guy she despises, then comes to like as she recognises that he is actually a person.
ME: Whoa.
BOOK: Sex? Sometimes tricky and sometimes used as escape vent instead of dealing with one’s issues. but it is not inherently shameful.
ME: YAY!

The Summer I Turned Pretty, Jenny Han.

BOOK: Hey, remember that period when you realised you were attractive and a bunch of young men also realised it and you were suddenly juggling a whole bunch of issues on how to be an ethical person making good choices and there weren’t any handy how-to guides and everything was completely confusing?
ME: I totally do!
BOOK: It happens to protagonist Belly in summer vacation. She’s fifteen.
ME: Oh, man, the poor kid. Hey, I really like how, although there are three boys interested in her, this is really Belly’s story. It’s not about which boy would be objectively best for Belly, it’s about her feelings and choices and desires, which are often subjective and confused.
BOOK: Wanna read the sequel?
ME: Heck, yes.

The Boyfriend List and The Boy Book, E. Lockhart.

BOOK: Wit, feminism, sharp characterisation, clear-eyed depiction of anxiety disorders as a thing both normal and treatable, structural tricks that inform the story, important friendships between young women-
ME: Honestly, you had me at “E. Lockhart”.
BOOK: Karen, I’m trying to explain why others might want to read me.
ME: Oh, right, well, because you are awesome.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, Steig Larsson.

BOOK: I am a book composed of 569 pages printed on paper, translated by Reg Keeland, published by the Quercus imprint of MacLehose Press in Monotype Sabon in 2009-
ME: How had I forgotten all the endless trivial detailing and blocking description from the first book?
BOOK: Because Lisbeth Salander is an awesome hacker badass, and you really like books where the exploitation and trafficking of women and girls is called to violent account.
ME: Yeah, but they also make me uneasy because I am never sure the best answer to violence is more violence.
BOOK: Whatever, you going to read the last one?
ME: Probably, but not until it’s in paperback.

Alcestis, Katharine Beutner.

BOOK: Riffing on Greek myth with a feminist take on Alcestis, the silent good wife who took her husband’s death and was rescued by Hercules.
ME: I am so into books where silenced women get voices. Oh, hey! Interesting thoughts on the nature of divinity! Also, hot sex scenes!
BOOK: Yup. Also, my writing is exquisite.
ME: I don’t suppose you could manage an unambiguously happy ending?
BOOK: Bit beyond the unbearable circumscription of Alcestis’s life, yes.

The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner, Stephenie Meyer.

BOOK: Another woman silenced in the initial narrative who gets a voice!
ME: She dies.
BOOK: True, but Bree is kinda badass, don’t you think?
ME: Well, yeah. I do love vampire books where vampires are all like, “humans, awesome, let’s eat them.”
BOOK: Also, how hilarious is it that Edward’s crazysparklygorgeous beauty is cut down to “the redhead”?
ME: PRETTY DARN HILARIOUS.

Thief Eyes, Janni Lee Simner.

BOOK: Contemporary fantasy set in Iceland, with complicated motives for “heroes” and “villains”, charming characters, fantastic evocation of setting, and a love triangle that doesn’t end in a gross way?
ME: Yes, please!

Sorta Like A Rock Star, Matthew Quick.

BOOK: A Manic Pixie Dream Girl Who Quirkily Inspires Others Book Written By A Dude…
ME: Oh, please.
BOOK: … told from the PoV of said girl.
ME: … wait, what? You mean it’s not all about how MPDGs are so mysteriously unknowable, yet will eventually turn quirkily to the arms of the Ordinary Everyman Hero?
BOOK: Nope! It’s about the difficulty of hope, how terrible things happen for no reason, how the mechanics of poverty and oppression keep great people down, how they can be combated, and how faith – of many kinds, including in one’s God, in one’s self, and in one’s friends and allies – can be maintained, lost, regained, and blaze like a beacon for others. There’s barely any hints of romance.
ME: I didn’t know this could be done!
BOOK: Believe it, sister.

Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare.

BOOK: VICTORIAN STEAMPUNK Shadowhunters! Tessa has magic powers and is being hunted by Mysterious People With Dark Intentions. For love interests, you may have a choice of hot nice Jem, or hot sarcastic Will. Which team are you?
ME: TEAM TESSA.
BOOK: She is pretty darn great! May I do some interrogation of gender and race roles of the period?
ME: You certainly may.

Split, Swati Avashti.

BOOK: Want to read a book about families and domestic abuse and how redemption is possible and terrifying and not something you do once, but practice over and over?
ME: Um, yes?
BOOK: Great. Jace just punched his girlfriend, then his abusive father, then drove halfway across the country to turn up at his brother’s doorstep. Chris got out years ago. Now they have to deal with each other as the people they grew to be, and try to get their mother free.
ME: You’re freaking me out a little.
BOOK: Because domestic abuse is such a non-freaky subject.
ME: Point taken.

You Killed Wesley Payne, Sean Beaudoin.

BOOK: Salt River High is a school where the cliques run their rackets and no one talks about The Body. Down these mean hallways must walk a teen who is not himself mean, hard-boiled teen detective Dalton Rev, on a mission to solve the mystery, collect the cash, and maybe get the girl.
ME: Noir pulp meets high school clique narrative meets murder mystery? Are you kidding?
BOOK: Lady, I never kid about a case.
ME: FanTAStic.

I also read N.K. Jemisin’s sequels to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but I think I can’t talk about those so much yet because I’m not sure what’s changing. I can tell you they are superb. Also, your envy gives me strength.

Which I needed to complete this post, good grief. Tell me something fun, y’all!