Welcome to my website!

This is the official website of writer Victoria Janssen.

You can email her at victoriajanssen [at] yahoo [dot] com or follow her on twitter.

You’ll find website navigation at the top of this page. Scroll down this page for blog posts, or if you’re looking for a particular post, use the search functions to the left.

I hope you enjoy your visit!

My October Reading Log

The Forbidden Stars by Tim Pratt is third in the Axiom space opera series. Like the previous books, it is banter-tastic, and has a lot of clever solutions to life-threatening problems as Our Heroes try to rescue colonists who’ve been lost for a hundred years without dooming the rest of humanity in the process. I didn’t like it as much as the first book, when everything was delightfully new, but I did think it was a satisfying end to the trilogy. CW: major character death.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite is delightful. It’s a mainstream female/female historical romance about an astronomer and the widow of an astronomer, who has a pursuit of her own which I felt deeply. What I particularly found compelling about the book is that both protagonists have passions at which they are skilled, but they don’t achieve true fulfilment in pursuit of those passions until they find support in each other. Also, there’s a background community of women, both in their pasts and in their present. It perhaps gets a little too tidy at the end, and I was mildly annoyed by a Big Misunderstanding, but I did not mind, really, because the rest of the book was so excellent, and the Misunderstanding did not drag on for too long. Highly recommended.

Grave Importance by Vivian Shaw finishes off the Greta Helsing books, very satisfactorily, though I wish there would be more than three because I find the worldbuilding so entertaining. Greta gets to travel to France to substitute as director of an exclusive mummy clinic; weird symptoms some of them are experiencing turn out to be symptoms of a much bigger problem that’s been going on for all three books. I don’t want to spoil any more, since the book is so new, but Shaw definitely goes for it full-bore. I loved it.

I re-read The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner because I had an extra copy, and it was on top of a pile of giveaways, easily in sight, and it tempted me. I realized, while reading, that I’d read it when it came out and not since then; ditto with the rest of the series. That might have to change when the new one comes out! The second read, since I knew basically where things were going, was much more illuminating than the first because I could see how Turner delicately set everything up, revealing new interpretations of events at carefully gauged moments. So amazing. So delightful.

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas is fourth in the “Lady Sherlock” mystery series, currently one of the few series that I love enough to pre-order. Rather than a close AU of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, in my opinion it’s a Secret History, in which the main players are women; there’s also an element of Remington Steele. Charlotte Holmes is the detective, aided by former actress Mrs. Watson; Charlotte’s sister Livia is becoming the chronicler of the male stand-in Sherlock. Charlotte’s love interest Ash is the brother of a Mycroftian figure. There is a Moriarty, as well. In this volume, a powerful Indian ruler, who’s recently passed her throne to her son, needs their help; at the same time, Mrs. Watson reviews their past romantic relationship and realizes how little she understood of her Indian lover’s views on the colonialism under which her country suffers. Livia’s romance progresses and suffers setbacks; Charlotte’s romance is in abeyance, with Ash, still awaiting his divorce, always unsure of her true feelings for him.

Tendu by kristophine is an Avengers ballet AU, featuring a slow burn romance between Natasha Romanov and Pepper Potts, with secondary Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, as they try to avoid adverse publicity that might harm the company. Tony Stark, a dancer turned inventor after an injury, starts a new company with a selection of “under-utilized” dancers, who are all outsides to the traditional ballet world expectations in one way or another, and has to fight off attempts by his former manager Obadiah Stane to torpedo him in various ways. I don’t know a huge amount about ballet companies, so I loved all of those worldbuilding details, for instance that Balanchine apparently sucked rocks with his insistence on waiflike female dancers.

If you’re looking for humor, your ass, it haunts me by bazzystar is a farcial wonder featuring a haunted purple chair that Bucky finds on the street in Brooklyn.

Healing Rules by jenrose is actually unfinished, though it felt finished to me. It’s a Check Please! story from this series I mentioned before about using love and money to make a terrible situation much better. I mention it here because the story includes house-buying, which I’ve encountered four or five times in my fanfiction reading in recent weeks. Is it some weird thing where I’m attracting House Pr0n because I’m looking for a house, or is this a major theme in fanfiction that I’ve somehow missed all these years? How is House Pr0n linked to Found Family, and is it a component of Curtain Fic or the reverse? Enquiring minds want to know.

to win back what you lost by magdaliny is a post-Winter Soldier MCU series in which Bucky Barnes chooses a new direction for his life, one that helps people. It also has some great dialogue with his therapist. I was reading this series while riding Amtrak and the Metro, and in tiny increments of free time during CapClave weekend, and I was always glad to come back to it. Hope comes out of terrible circumstances; a good thing for me to remember.

Like pretty much everyone right now, I highly recommend Demonology and the Tri-Phasic Model of Trauma: An Integrative Approach by Nnm, a Good Omens story about Crowley and his therapist after the world ends. I especially admired the prose style, but the original character pov (Aubrey Thyme, the therapist) is also brilliant.

Love of a Particular Kind by Laura Kaye plays delightfully with Omegaverse tropes but makes humans descended from birds, so the characters have all sorts of hilarious mating rituals and other clever worldbuilding bits. Other than that, it’s a sweet romance between Hawkeye and Coulson in a pre-Avengers S.H.I.E.L.D. setting, with Black Widow as the third member of their Flock. Then the last section is a lengthy consummation of the bond, in which we learn with immense gratitude that the bird people do not have a single cloaca, but are humanlike in genital shape, with bonus additional structures and self-lubrication. I trusted the author, and went with it, and had fun reading.

Monstress Volume 3: Haven introduces a new location and new allies who might not exactly be allies, and complicates the plot quite a bit. Volume 4 just arrived. At some point I will have to read the whole thing in one go, because I am starting to lose details that are no doubt significant because of the time that passes between my reading of each volume. The art remains gorgeous, and I continue to love the proliferation of female characters.

My 2019 Philcon Schedule

I’ll be attending Philcon this weekend, November 8-10, in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Here’s my program schedule.

Saturday, November 9, 11:00 AM, Plaza 4
“AUs You Didn’t Know You Needed”
Chris Bell, Aaron Feldman, Victoria Janssen, Robert C. Roman [moderator]
Obi-Wan as a serial killer? A roundtable discussion of fandom’s best—or at least, most entertaining–fusions, crossovers, and world remixes.

Saturday, November 9, 12:00 PM, Crystal Ballroom Three
“Ending Literary Snobbery”
Ellen Asher, Marilyn ‘Mattie’ Brahen, Victoria Janssen, Linda J. Lee, Susan Schwartz [moderator]
For genres that ostensibly exist to push boundaries and imagine beyond the horizon, there’s a surprisingly large number of people who take pride in not only limiting what kinds of stories they read but the very formats in which they are willing to read them. A discussion of how elitism harms science fiction and fantasy communities.

Saturday, November 9, 6:00 PM, Plaza 3
“The Best Science Fiction You Missed Last Year”
Victoria Janssen [moderator], Chris Kreuter, David Walton
It’s easy enough to look up who was nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula, but what else came out that is well worth picking up a copy?

Sunday, November 10, 11:00 AM, Plaza 2
“The Star Trek Novels”
Keith R.A. DeCandido, Glenn Hauman, Victoria Janssen, Elyse Rosenstein, Susan Schwartz [moderator], Steve H. Wilson
How much of what we consider canon for the Trek universe comes from the tie-in books and novelizations of the media, rather than the shows and films?

My 2019 Capclave Schedule

I’ll be at CapClave in Rockville, Maryland this weekend, October 18-20, 2019. You can find me on the following panels.

Friday, 6:00 pm, Monroe
Economics of SF/Fantasy Worlds
A world is made up of many entwined parts. People need basic things to flourish. Where do they come from? How can you have a thriving city in the middle of a desert? If you can make gold, does it have value? How do you put a price tag on magic? Which books get it right and wrong?
Victoria Janssen, L. Penelope, Michelle D. Sonnier [moderator], Michael Swanwick

Saturday, 10:00 am, Monroe
Like the Work but Hate the Author
Can we separate a writer from his/her works? How does learning that an author has expressed racism/sexism/anti-Semitism/anti-gay attitudes affect how we see his/her works? Should we hold up pre-modern authors to modern morality?
Victoria Janssen, Will MacIntosh, Don Sakers [moderator], Jon Skovron

Saturday, 11:00 am, Truman
Genre Elements in Mainstream Works
We are continually seeing sf/fantasy elements in books not published/labeled as sf/fantasy. Why? How much from a genre is needed before a book moves from mainstream to genre? Or does it depend on the author? Why are mainstream authors stealing from sf/fantasy? Are ghosts (Beloved, Lincoln in the Bardo) no longer considered genre?
Beth Brenner, Kelly F. Dwyer [moderator], Victoria Janssen, Will McIntosh, A.C. Wise

My September Reading Log

I read a lengthy anonymous review book this month, so my other reading was a bit sparse!

A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser is a short historical romance that I’ve been meaning to read for literally years. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it features a black British soldier, Elijah, and a white cook, Rose, whose husband is killed unexpectedly. Of course Elijah has long harbored a crush on Rose, and of course Rose admires Elijah, because there is not a lot of wordcount in this story. I liked the thoughtful resolution in which they return to England and figure out how they’re going to fit into the village where she was born, and with her dead husband’s family.

How to Be a Superhero by turningterrific used the recent James Bond movies as canon for a lighthearted Bond/Q romance that involves World of Warcraft and Q’s small nephew. It was really sweet, which I did not expect from the previous couple of times I’d stuck my toe into this fandom, via a friend’s recommendations.

Laid Bare by sixbeforelunch is a Star Trek: the Next Generation story focusing on Counselor Troi, as she tries to figure out a mental issue that is plaguing the ship’s Vulcan population. I enjoyed this a lot, both the mystery itself and how the daily business of a ship’s counselor was described. TW for Original Character death and child endangerment.

Something Like This by emmagrant01 is an epic Check Please! novel with excellent original characters and a couple of romances and parental relationships and hockey. Star NHL rookie Jack Zimmerman’s anxiety is realistically treated in the way it affects his hockey, his feelings for his college friend Eric Bittle, and everything else. Highly recommended.
If you have never read the comic, here is the link: Check Please! It’s a fun and easy read. Plus there is a lot of good fanfiction.

The Kinder Thing by stele3 is a Captain America and Bucky plotty slash story with a twist I had not seen before! Ever! It involves time travel, and post-Endgame Cap with nineteen-year-old Bucky. I will not spoil it further, because I found the twists delightful.

The Violet Hour by breathedout is a Sherlock slash casefic AU set in the 1920s. Holmes and Watson meet several members of the Bloomsbury crowd including Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and Vanessa Bell. Watson’s war was of course World War One. I would happily read more set in this world.

My August Reading Log

The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I by Larry Zuckerman was a slog, but not because it’s a bad book. It was a slog because it’s difficult to read about so much pure, unadulterated fuckery being done to people. Worse is the postwar mess of trying to get reparations or at least acknowledgment. For those who don’t have a lot of knowledge about World War One, Germany decided to invade neutral Belgium for a quick route to France. They then proceeded to occupy Belgium (and northern France) and confiscate resources on a terrifying scale for their war effort. By “confiscate” I mean they demanded locals hand over everything from animals to mattresses, carried off all the equipment from factories to Germany, and took Belgian nationals to Germany as workers against their will, while justifying their actions right and left. I had read about these events before from the point of view of occupied people; this book, in contrast, was an overview that detailed the rage-inducing goings-on among governments and government leaders. It was far, far too much like current politics for my liking. I know politics are always like this. I wish they weren’t. I bought this book in 2010 and only this year sat down to read it.

If you’d like more about the occupation of Belgium and Northern France in WWI, I highly recommend The Long Silence: Civilian Life under the German Occupation of Northern France, 1914-1918 by Helen McPhail and French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front by Margaret H. Darrow.

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan took me a while because I loathe plots where potential social humiliation of heroine by hero is in play, but it didn’t happen and I got past that. I wanted it to not-happen sooner, no matter how realistic the reasons for considering this action were. Not my favorite of this series for that reason, but had some good stuff in the latter parts.

Hither Page by Cat Sebastian is a murder mystery and male/male romance set in England, just after World War Two, and I am definitely willing to read a second book, though I am wondering if this is going to be one of those tiny villages that become rife with murders.

Two Weddings & Several Revelations by L.A Hall is the next Comfortable Courtesan book, and it went by in a flash; I am loving hearing about what the Next Generation are up to, as if they are real people.

Air Logic by Laurie J. Marks is the long-awaited conclusion to the Elemental Logic series, which came out this year and which I saved for vacation time so I could immerse myself. I found it very delicious and satisfying, and was first surprised and then gratified by the epilogue. Garland the cook remains my favorite character. I decided this is my Howarts Houses/Elemental Logic matchup: Earth is Huffflepuff, Water is Slytherin, Fire is Gryffindor, and Air is Ravenclaw.

Rise of the Black Panther by Evan Narcisse did a great job, I feel, of taking a lot of previous comics canon and updating and compressing it. It starts with World War II and Captain America’s visit to Wakanda, progressing through T’Challa’s grandfather and father before getting to his own ascension to the throne. Recommended especially if you haven’t read a lot previously about this character.

Wakanda Forever by Nnedi Okorafor sends the Dora Milaje to New York after Nakia/Malice, where they encounter Spiderman. I am not fond of that storyline (from previous BP canon), but I think it was somewhat improved here. The rest of the volume had short stories from previous writers of Black Panther, which I really enjoyed.

Black Panther Book 7: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part 2 by Ta-Nehisi Coates thickens the plot as the rebels try to regain their memories, and a deity is loose in the body of the emperor’s daughter.

Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis underwhelmed me because it felt like they were trying to recapture the grim tone of Alias even though the character had moved on. Jessica is undercover and doesn’t tell Luke, which precipitates a rupture; however, I didn’t believe in the excuse. It was nice to see a bit of Jessica’s female friendships. There was a fair amount of Plot dealing with the events of Civil War II and the new Secret Wars, which I haven’t read and am not really interested in, so your mileage may vary.

Hermione Granger’s Hogwarts Crammer for Delinquents on the Run by waspabi is an alternate universe in which Harry Potter is not found by wizardkind until he’s an older teenager, when Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, Ginny, and Draco whisk him away and begin teaching him magic. He’s at first extremely dubious, but even having evil wizards after him is better than his life before. What I particularly admire about this story is the way changes from canon are imparted gradually, in bits and pieces, never info-dumped. It ends with Hermione’s group meeting up with the Order of the Phoenix. Bonus non-white Harry and Hermione. Recommended.

I had read this story before, probably when it was new in May 2017, but somehow failed to bookmark it or remember that I had done so. I was a little way in before I realized!

My July Reading Log

For a Readercon panel, I re-read The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein and its three sequels.
It did not matter to her that she walked in danger; it only mattered that she could speak and act freely again, and that the power given to her by her training and nature need not be hidden like some secret sin…The change, she knew, was only in herself; she was relieved of deception, and her mind was free to work on its familiar paths. She recognized for the first time that lies worked damage in two directions.

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score: Seducing the Sedgwicks by Cat Sebastian was recommended to me, but I don’t remember who it was, or why. It turned out to be second in a series, but was easy enough to follow. Set in 1817 London, it’s a male/male romance about an interracial couple. Sam Fox is a former boxer who runs a pub that serves as a social center for some of London’s black community; Hartley Sedgwick rose from impoverished gentility to higher society, but was recently disgraced when rumors of his sexual relationship with his godfather came to light. Possible trigger: he blames himself for exchanging sex for a better life for his brothers, but he was sixteen years old and coerced. Both heroes are kind and considerate of each other, and good at psychology. It’s light on the historical atmosphere, and rich in found family narrative. Recommended if you like soothing stories about good people who are good together.

The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira features a crossdressing English cavalry captain who falls in love with her major’s sister, just after the Napoleonic Wars. I particularly liked that some of the LGBT community of the period is shown, so the captain is not alone in her masquerade; her well-off lover, however, had a much harder time of it due to parental expectations. It’s written in a style more reminiscent of the period than most historical romances usually attempt.

Incalculable Diffusion (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 3) by L.A. Hall is delightful if you’re already familiar with the main Comfortable Courtesan series; it’s a collection of letters and stories that mostly take place after the end of the original series, and provides more information about some events that were referenced in the previous Circle volume. I ate it right up.

Null Set by S.L. Huang is the second book about Cas Russell, an amnesiac mercenary with a mathematical superpower. I enjoyed it, but felt the book was trying a bit too hard to hit similar notes to the first one; the stakes are upped because Cas’ own memories are, potentially, the Big Bad. The best part was the story’s exploration of gray areas of morality, particularly decisions made for people and their safety instead of by them, and where both types of choices can go wrong, and what a slippery slope that can be. I am assuming there will be more in this series? I’m interested to see where it goes.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was a book that enchanted me when I was young; I’d bought a copy some years ago, as an adult, and re-read it to see if I wanted to keep it. The answer is no, because it is about a thousand times more depressing to read this book as an adult who has anthropological knowledge and understands grief, and now knows it was based on true events.

Sad spoilers ahead! It starts off with a tribe of indigenous people living on an island off the coast of California; Aleuts travel down the coast to hunt sea otters and fail to pay the locals for this imposition. There are some white people who treat them badly, as well, and soon most of the men on the island are dead. The people decide to leave the island with missionaries. The protagonist Karana’s little brother is left behind, and she leaves the ship to get him, hoping someone will come back for them. Nobody comes. Her little brother is killed by wild dogs. (At this point, I remembered skipping the beginning on re-reads.) She manages to make a smaller canoe that she can handle from a larger one that had been left behind, plans to kill the wild dogs and does kill a bunch of them before taming one that the Aleuts had left behind to go feral. She has a dog for a companion, yay! But Karana is stuck on this island for eighteen years, and she is lonely and has to come up with strategies to cheer herself up, like making a new dress decorated with feathers. I remember loving reading about her making spears and places to hide in caves and other survival-related tasks. Once, briefly, she has some time with an Aleut girl who comes to the island with her family (?) but Karana has to remain hidden from the hunters, and then the Aleuts leave again. Her dog dies of old age and she captures his son and tames him, so she has a dog again. Eventually she is rescued and goes to live in a Catholic mission, but nobody knows what happened to her people, and nobody spoke her language anymore. The modern estimate is that ninety percent of the indigenous population of California died of disease or were killed in the nineteenth century, so this story made me way sadder than before I knew this.

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh is new in the Psy-Changeling universe, but a new overarching storyline apparently started while I wasn’t looking, so this was third in Psy-Changeling Trinity. I was very faithful to this series for quite a while. It featured a world inhabited by baseline humans, humans with psychic powers, and humans who could change into animals, everything from rats to wolves to hawks to leopards, but mostly focusing on the wolves and leopards because predators are always the hot ones in paranormal romance. Singh set up automatic conflict between the very emotional Changelings and the emotion-suppressing Psy. Mate-bonding between a Psy and a Changeling would result in the Psy being freed to feel, and eventually it was revealed that Silence, the suppression of emotion, was harming all Psy. At this stage in the series, Silence is no longer endorsed, and the new conflict involves the Psy struggling to deal with the resulting changes and damage to the psychic network that ties them all together, and recovering from what their society had done to empathic Psy under Silence.

This particular volume features an empath who was held captive and exploited by a sociopathic Psy, then rescued by a wolf Changeling whose brother, father, and grandfather all died as a result of a Changeling disorder that made them lose human connection and murder their loved ones. Meanwhile, another Psy is having weird blackouts and indirectly attacking empaths, as a result of Silence damage. Despite all those issues, the couple end up together happily and relatively smoothly. The heroine, having been isolated for so long, loves living among the close-knit Changeling society, so there’s a found family element. And lots of couples from previous books show up.

I don’t think I’m going to go back to this series in any dedicated way, but I admire the way Singh structured this world and has allowed paradigm shift to allow further exploration of her themes.

I had been saving Merely a Marriage by Jo Beverley, since it was her last novel, and she is one of my favorite historical romance authors. I devoured it over the weekend, delighting in the complex, justified conflicts between the characters, and the portrayal of two people who had changed and grown up since their last brief encounter. Several of Beverley’s books have been re-reads for me, so when next I visit her work, that will be how.

The Beverley put me into a historical romance mood, so I started in on Courtney Milan’s “Brothers Sinister” series; I’d read the introductory novella a while back. The Duchess War features a couple coping with and overcoming past traumas; they’re a former child prodigy and a radical duke, which offered a nice change to the usual roles of historical romance couples.

A Kiss for Midwinter is the sequel novella, featuring the romance of secondary characters from The Duchess War; I found the doctor character, in particular, delightful, because he’s so blunt and straightforward.

Black Panther Book 6: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2018) is really cool; it seems to be an Elseworlds type of story, in which Wakanda is an evil, dominating intergalactic space empire and Maroon rebels take the names Nakia, M’Baku, and T’Challa as they fight back. N’Jadaku (aka Erik Killmonger) is the emperor who looks like he will have a bigger role in the next volume. Coates is writing a slavery allegory, if you can call it an allegory when there are literal slaves in the vibranium mines, some of them dark-skinned humans, some of them aliens of various types. The slaves, here called “mules,” have had their memories erased, and this made me think of how American slavery, by removing people from their home, then selling them away from their families, forcibly removed their cultural and familial memories, which has terrible long-term repercussions. If you didn’t get into Coates’ first Black Panther series, you might want to give this one a try. The resonant thematic aspect reminded me of Coates’ Black Panther and the Crew: We Are the Streets, which I also loved.

Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos languished unfinished on my tablet for a while, mostly because I was not carrying around my tablet. I applaud this series for attempting to show new solutions to traditional superhero problems, and new angles on the responsibilities superheroes would have to their communities. But at the time I was finishing this volume, I felt hopeless and was doubting any of those strategies would work. It was by no means the fault of the comic. Another week, I would have been uplifted.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant is what it says in the title. Each chapter looks at another aspect of “original” behavior, with a focus on people who are inventors and businesspeople. Though the author cites every study he references, it’s a very talky style and easy to read; I could easily see the chapters presented as individual talks. I would recommend reading the chapters with a bit of space between them, because I started to get annoyed with seeing the same rhetorical tricks used repeatedly, most frequently relating an anecdote about a famous person or event but not revealing the identifying information until the end of the story. Interesting thing I learned: the first people to come up a business based on a New Thing and rush into it don’t generally do as well financially as those who wait a bit, see the lay of the land, and then approach the New Thing from a new angle. I was not very surprised to learn that people who produce a lot of work tend to produce a higher number of original and lasting creations; I thought immediately of Bach, though I think even his work that doesn’t get much attention is better than a lot of other people’s, I will fight you on that. I was pleased to learn that successful “originals” tend to balance risks with safer bets rather than going all in and, say, immediately quitting their dayjob.

Parts 11 and 12 of the post-series Buffy: the Vampire Slayer series Snapshots/Cleveland verse by nwhepcat were posted recently. Part 11 included some material I’d already read, but now enmeshed in a larger narrative that flowed into part 12, which had a delightful twist. I love this series because I feel it does some of the characters better than the canon, and has a cast of lovable, complex original characters as well. It’s a perfect example of “more of this, but better.”

Like Real People Do by xiaq is a Check Please! romance between Kent Parsons, who might as well be an original character, and a truly original character, Eli, who is a figure skater with an injury-induced seizure disorder, and also a friend of Bitty’s. I enjoyed this sweet romance and gentle coming-out story a lot though I wish there’d been more proofreading; there were a lot of homonym-type errors which might have come from using voice recognition software, or just from the fact that the author appears to be a graduate student and has no time. I felt the story was intended to be a parallel to the canon Bitty/Jack relationship, and perhaps a commentary on it, but maybe I am thinking about this too much! Bonus service dog and protective giant hockey players. I do not think canon knowledge is necessary to read it.

My June Reading Log

I re-read the entire The Comfortable Courtesan: Being Memoirs by Clorinda Cathcart (that has been a Lady of the Town these several years) series by L.A. Hall, which is very soothing to my nerves. I highly recommend this series if you would like to see the Ultimate Hufflepuff (with some Slytherin methods) going about her business with great success. On a second read, it is striking me how tiny mentions of things build throughout the text until they become Events, and change the status quo. Things Turn Out Well is apparently what I need right now.

The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch is a novella in the Rivers of London series, but it takes place in Germany, and has a different first-person narrator. Tobias Winter sounds like Peter Grant, though he’s less ambitious and is into cooking rather than architecture and the science of magic. He and local cop Vanessa Sommer poke around a mysterious death that revolves around a vineyard and river goddesses, and we learn a bit about how the magic police work in Germany, and some of the longterm effects in Germany of the Ettersberg disaster that is referenced in the rest of the series. I liked seeing the worldbuilding extended, and would read more like this.

Shadowblade by Anna Kashina is a straightforward second-world fantasy featuring fabulous weaponry, intrigue, and instalove enlivened a bit because the warrior participants think it’s a really bad idea. The plot follows the heroine’s ascent from being a bullied sword student to a major actor in a plot to overturn the empire. My favorite part was that the heroine experiences swordfights with the hero as the best thing ever.

Proper English by K.J. Charles is historical f/f romance with a mystery (though not a hugely mysterious one). I love the characterization in Charles’ work, and this book was no exception. Some elements in the characters of the two heroines weren’t immediately obvious, and I liked both of them, and enjoyed the progress of their relationship. The murder victim was obvious from the start, the solution less so, and I thought that little bit of extra plot helped out the development of the romance, because it gave Pat and Fen something to do outside of the normal run of their existence.

The Art Of Cooking For Two by littleblackfox is an Avengers/Great British Baking Show crossover/AU (no powers), and I really don’t need to say much beyond that, do I? It is exactly as soothing as you might imagine, with only minor threats and a soothing repetition as the contestants return each weekend to compete.

After a weekend of memorializing Blake’s 7 actors via watching a bunch of episodes and interviews during a visit with a fellow fan, I re-read an old favorite by a deceased friend, Duty by Pat_Jacquerie (Pat_Nussman). This is Avon/Tarrant slash from the 1990s, set on an original world with original characters, so I think you could read it without knowing much except these two guys are rebels against an evil Federation, their relationship is generally antagonistic, and one is older and more cynical than the other. I still found it very satisfying and classic.

warp of water, weft of stone by jediseagull is a Rivers of London story set in a nebulous future of the series; it has a slightly melancholy feel, and a happy ending.

ready to make it by defcontwo is an alternate version of the ending of Avengers: Endgame focusing on Sam Wilson and what he did after returning from being dusted.

I Know I’d Look Good On You by Brangwen is an Inception slash novel, Arthur/Eames, which I find fun; since these two characters barely share any screen time in the movie, the writers get very creative with their relationship and backstories. This one starts with a dreamsharing operation in South Africa, and ends up in London, with Eames in a stage play.

Steerswoman Series Book Club, Readercon 2019

This is a spoiler post! All spoilers, all the time, for all four books of Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman Series.

Rather than put this off until I feel I can make a beautiful coherent post, I’m just going to post the notes I scribbled during the panel while trying to keep track of the discussion and at the same time mentally prepare what I was going to say next that fit into said discussion. As I am not Archie Goodwin, I cannot tell you which bits are verbatim and which summarized on the fly; I have also added stuff to make this recap a tad more coherent. I think I got some things out of order as well, since my notes are crammed into all kinds of small spaces in my little Moleskine. All inaccuracies are my fault.

Panelists: Kate Nepveu [moderator], Elaine Isaak, Victoria Janssen, Yves Meynard, Cecilia Tan.

KN: had us each name the topic we most wanted to discuss, because we had way more to discuss than we had time for. And I can’t remember specifically what those topics were, other than that “outstanding mysteries” was last.

CT: Steerswoman series is science fiction that appears to be fantasy at first glance, some “next-level consciousness,” predecessors Darkover and Pern. From interviews, knows that woman writers did this at first because science fiction was respected and fantasy was not.

YM: the diction isn’t the sort usually associated with fantasy. It’s not flowery but luminous. Knowledge, understanding, truth. Word choice is a matter of music as [part of?] an orchestra. Flows beautifully. Mystical intellectual ecstasy. [I had a note about the way Rowan is portrayed admiring maps.]

EI: role of the reader in worldbuiling – constructed like a mystery, reader is looking over detective’s shoulder. We know things the character doesn’t, so it’s very complex from a writing standpoint to set up the right level of tension. Rowan doesn’t have the right information; when will she get it?

CT [to Rosemary]: “You’re not a pantser, are you?” [laughter] It’s a large mystery full of smaller mysteries.

VJ: variety of genre tropes represented in the smaller mysteries, such as a long journey with companions, first contact.

YM: it takes Rowan six years to figure things out, he noted the time scale was carefully delineated.

KN: the section with Rowan and the demons is very disorienting, and it’s hard to shift out of it for book four. [to Rosemary] “Janus’ name is a little on point.” R explains she meant to change his name to something better but never got around to it and then it was too late. VJ pointed out later (on panel? in the green room with R.?) that the people in the book had no idea of the significance of Janus’ name.

KN: Noted portrayal of PTSD for both Fletcher and Janus.

VJ: deaf worker at Shammer and Dhree’s keep, apparently not part of a Deaf community, but ASL or some equivalent used with “wood gnomes” (I presume are chimpanzees).

CT: ASL [or idea of it?] crucial for demon first contact. Outskirters use military-style gestural language, hand signals at a distance. Outskirters also use the metric system and the clock system of directions, they “debrief,” plus seyoh sounds like “C.O.,” Commanding Officer. [KN exclaims, as she didn’t catch that before.] [VJ thought, but didn’t say, the Outskirters insist they were the first people; the scouts?]

YM: they are positive books, but not simple 2+2=4, there are shades of grey. There’s a high body count; reflects the world they are in.

KN: notes scene where Bel tortures a soldier, Rowan takes refuge in thinking about orbital theory. Rosemary later points out the torture happens off-screen (we’re in Rowan’s head, and see Willam’s reactions). KN makes sure to warn people about that scene when she recommends the books.

VJ: Bel fills the role a typical male hero might take in another series; willing to kill/torture, deadly skilled with weapons and fighting, we don’t get into her head really.

CT: a male character in each book who gets schooled, then leaves. Willam, Janus, Steffie. Gender role reversal.

VJ: understanding leads to empathy [not sure I said this or just noted it down]

KN: cultural understanding is not shown as necessarily frictionless, for example, Rowan with the Outskirters – should she adopt a matronymic? no!

CT: wizards – “power corrupts.”

EI: wizards are essentially sysadmins. [discussion of The Krue/Crew, losing their knowledge, losing empathy with “the folk,” not wanting things to change, which Corvus states explicitly; Janus says that as well]

Audience: female roles in society (innkeeper, dockworker) mostly equal to men’s, gender roles become background noise.

Discussion about outstanding mysteries we hope will be answered.

EI: the spaceship is close, but it lost contact?

VJ: has Slado contacted the ship? why did the humans bring chimpanzees and dolphins with them? Are the dolphins heading out to explore the planet’s oceans via the dolphin stair? What are they eating? [someone wondered if they could be robot dolphins, CT mentioned David Brin’s Uplift series]

YM: why terraforming this planet, when it already has a rich biosphere [though inimical to humans]? ended up there by accident, needed to make do? Einar’s song – is Earth dead?

KN: is the ghost lover in Einar’s song an AI?

YM: why the dragons?

KN: the basilisk? [discussion of these robots/weapons and what they might actually look like, their possible original purposes]

VJ: have wizards killed steerswomen before, because they found out too much?

Rosemary: “This is a writer’s dream, and you are my dream panelists.” Regarding all our questions, she “can neither confirm nor deny.”

My Readercon 2019 Schedule

Here’s where you can find me this weekend at Readercon, July 11-14, 2019, Quincy, Massachusetts.

Friday, 3:00 pm: Kaffeeklatsch
Theodora Goss and Victoria Janssen

Saturday, 12:00 pm, Salon A
“Classic Fiction Book Club: The Steerswomen Series”

Kate Nepveu [moderator], Elaine Isaak, Victoria Janssen, Yves Meynard, Cecilia Tan
Since the publication of Rosemary Kirstein’s first novel, The Steerswoman, in 1989, the Steerswoman series has become a quiet classic for its powerful female friendships, slowly-revealed worldbuilding, and unique approach to genre paradigms. Over the last 30 years, four novels have been published, with another two intended in the future. We’ll look at the state of the series today, and speculate about where it might be going.