Remembering Ursula K. Le Guin

Did you all hear the news that legendary SF author Ursula K. Le Guin passed away recently? Her death leaves a great disturbance in the Force, to cross a few genre threads. She was one of the giants of science fiction and fantasy. And, thankfully, she was acknowledged for it during her lifetime — she won all the major genre awards (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and the World Fantasy Award) and was only the second woman to be named a Grand Master of Science Fiction (after Andre Norton).

I was always awed by her mastery of storytelling at any length, whether short story or novella or full-length novel. And storytelling for all ages, from picture books to YA to adult — very few writers can do that! Her writing was both precise and poetic, crystalline and immediately recognizable. She was interested in ethnography and sociology, how peoples relate to each other, what cultural assumptions we make without knowing. (For example, The Left Hand of Darkness is, famously, all about deconstructing gender.) But she was brilliant at character, too, and worldbuilding. How can one person be so good at so many aspects of writing? Yet she was.

Personally, I’ve read about 10 or 15 of her books. Earthsea (a trilogy at the time) was my first exposure, as it was for many. Later I went on to The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, her later Earthsea books and her collections of shorter works. I never got as far as her poetry …

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The House Robot

The House Robot

A free short story

by Siri Paulson

 

 

Priya’s house was the last one on their street in Jaipur to get one of Reenu Mehta’s house robots. By that time, everyone knew how many things house robots were good for. You could order them to do your laundry – cheaper in the long run than paying a washerwoman. You could teach them to cook basic curries and naan faster than you could do it yourself. Some of them would even diagnose female complaints and tell you what medicines you needed. Only a woman engineer could have thought of that, the aunties said approvingly.

So Priya talked her mother into putting aside some of Priya’s teaching salary, little by little, until they could buy a second-hand house robot. It was just as useful as advertised, and, even better, her mother was able to boast to her friends about what a good deal they had gotten.

During this time, Priya’s uncle drove in from the village once in a while to see how they were getting on after the death of her father. At first he had brought money, but that had stopped after Priya’s mother turned down his offer of marriage. It was only right, he said, that he should marry his brother’s widow and so look after her. But Priya had seen the way he looked at her, and she knew it was not her mother he wanted. Since then, …

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Writing Cycles

Happy 2018! I know a lot of you have had a tough year for various reasons. Here’s hoping that the new year will treat you, and the world in general, a million times better.

Personally, I think the best word for my 2017 was “hopeful”‘…

In May I wrote here about how I had beaten my months-long writer’s block. Points 4 and 5 were about two flash fiction pieces I’d written. Several months later, both of those pieces sold–my first sales to markets outside of our co-op publishing venture here at Turtleduck Press. Score!

I started a cycle: keep an eye on upcoming themed calls for submission (anthologies and the like), use the themes as inspiration, write a story, submit just before deadline, repeat. It worked really well for generating stories (though somewhat less well for selling them), and for a while I was on a roll.

In September I decided to finally see a health professional about wrist pain I’d been struggling with on and off for years. (Don’t shoot me! I kept thinking that I’d be fine if only I could do more exercise on my own, or find the right stretches…or if I did see someone, they might tell me to STOP WRITING.) I now have a diagnosis and exercises I would never have thought of on my own. Things aren’t at 100% yet, and they may never be–I’m still working on the right combination and frequency–but they are much better.

At the same time, I …

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What Are Your Holiday Reading Traditions?

The end-of-year holidays are almost upon us! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or something else entirely, chances are pretty good that you’re looking forward to some days off work or school at the end of this month. (And if not, you’re probably doing a very important job, like working in a hospital, so my hat goes off to you.) If you’re in a part of the world where it’s cold, you’re probably looking forward to some cozy hibernating time. And that means…reading!

(Okay, who are we kidding? My fellow Turtleduckers and I were readers before we became writers. Everything leads back to reading.)

Last year, the word of the year seemed to be hygge, the Danish term for a feeling of cozy togetherness. This year, what I’m seeing everywhere is jólabókaflóðan Icelandic word meaning “Christmas book flood”. (Jola-boka-flod is how it breaks down.) It’s an Icelandic tradition where everyone gives each other books on Christmas Eve and then stays up all night reading them. (Note: All gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, not just books, so there’s no danger of wakeful children spotting Santa overnight.) Which means most books are published in the months leading up to Christmas, but I digress. Like Neil Gaiman’s All Hallows Read, this is a tradition I can wholeheartedly endorse.

For me as a child, it was always exciting to spot a book-shaped package under the tree. And I look back with fondness at the Christmas books that only appeared …

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Lessons in Letting Go

Last month, due to a file transfer glitch, I lost all my cell phone photos from the past year.

I had taken a lot of pictures–maybe three or four hundred. I tried troubleshooting, but as far as I could tell, they were just gone, vanished into the ether between the phone and the computer.

At first I was shaky and stunned. A whole year, gone.

I don’t usually take pictures of people, so I didn’t lose precious baby photos or anything like that, but I love shooting day-to-day photos around my city, my garden, architecture, and far-flung locations when we travel. (We’d gone on one international vacation in that year. It was the only time we brought our full-scale digital camera. So I didn’t lose all evidence of our trip.)

But by a few days later, I felt much calmer.

It’s true that not all the photos were exactly gone. I’m on Instagram and post often, so many of the photos survived there, though only in a low-res, square format.

It may also be true, as my spouse pointed out, that I took so many photos that no single one was particularly special to me.

But I think something else is going on.

Theory the first: I use photography as a form of mindfulness, to remind myself to look for moments of beauty in my not-particularly-beautiful urban life. It’s why I enjoy Instagram challenges, taking a photo roughly every day for a month. It’s a form of self-care. The …

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The Summer of Not Gardening

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that my spouse and I have been doing a vegetable garden since we bought a house in 2012. In this climate, that means working the soil and sowing seeds in late April or early May, a mad scramble to buy and plant seedlings at the end of May or into June depending on the tenderness of the plant, and weeding and watering and harvesting up to the end of September or early October.

Turns out that’s a lot of work.

I was excited to finally have a house where I could garden, and I dragged my spouse into being excited too. But…problems abounded. We had too big a garden for our time and energy levels; there were hungry squirrels in the area who like to take one bite out of each ripe tomato; and the killer–an infestation of weeds that spread by underground roots and could never be completely eradicated.

So this summer, we covered over the vegetable bed with landscape fabric and mulch, and let it lie fallow for a year while (we hope) suppressing the weeds to some extent.

We thought we would buy some potted vegetables. We bought rosemary, which got used a little, and one cherry tomato plant, which was sickly all summer and produced very few tomatoes–just enough to keep the squirrels fed. One day I was out on our back deck, writing, and a squirrel picked the only ripe tomato and sat there …

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Comfort Reads for Troubled Times

Some days it feels like the world is really going downhill. Natural disasters (as I write this, Texas and India are still recovering from massive floods, large chunks of western North America are on fire, and another hurricane is gearing up to hit some vulnerable islands on the way to Florida), politics (’nuff said), bad days on a personal level…and if they all combine, watch out!

On days like this, one of the best cures is a comfort read. Simply defined: it’s a book you pick up because you know it will make you feel better. It’s by a favourite and trusted author. You’ve probably read it before (perhaps many times), or else you’ve been looking forward to reading it (maybe it’s a new installment in a series you love). Maybe you discovered it at an impressionable age and love it beyond all reason even though you know it’s not objectively the best book ever. It has stood the test of time…at least for you.

What books qualify as comfort reads? Obviously, the answer to that is very personal. Some people might crave works that are light and funny, or sweet and romantic, or even dark, so that they feel less alone.

Here are some of mine…

The Lord of the Rings

Yup, I’m one of those people. *grins* I’ve read the books multiple times. Most of those times were long ago, but I’m slowly rereading them now, and let me tell you, it’s a bit weird revisiting them for …

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Coming Home

This week, I am home.

Sort of.

I grew up in a largish but sleepy city on the Canadian prairies. Suburbs, car culture, indoor shopping malls, long cold winters with plenty of snow and sunshine, lots of festivals and a tight-knit arts scene, large university.
But for the last 12 years I’ve lived in Toronto – one of the three biggest cities in Canada (Vancouver and Montreal are the others).

I remember being amazed by the number of pedestrians when I first moved there. You don’t nod and smile as you pass, you avert your eyes, because there are just too many people for it to make sense to nod and smile at everyone. The sheer number of restaurants, of full subway cars and buses, that Toronto can support still astounds me. And the diversity — half of all Torontonians were born outside Canada. It’s hectic and vibrant and wonderful.

When I come back to the place where I grew up, it feels like home and not home. Familiar and strange – and stranger every time. The infrastructure is always changing – big box stores and suburbs continue to sprout up, and other businesses I remember have closed. There’s now an LRT (surface-level rapid transit) running down the nearest major artery to the house where I grew up. The streets look wider than I remember, even though they mostly aren’t. The downtown core doesn’t shut down at 6 PM anymore — people actually live there now, and the whole …

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Diana Prince and the Thirteenth Doctor

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you will probably have heard by now that the Thirteenth Doctor will be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker (British, of course). You may also have Opinions about this.

Well, so do I. But first I need to tell you a story…

I didn’t grow up reading Marvel or DC comics, but I do enjoy superhero movies, and this decade has had lots of them to enjoy. I loved parts of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy. I particularly loved Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. And at first I was quite excited about the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), especially once Joss Whedon got on board.

But…who are the women in these movies? The love interests. The sexed-up Russian super-spies (come on, I like Natasha, but she’s clearly written and dressed for the male gaze). The dead mothers. The side characters. Look, I have no problem identifying with male leads (see above), but I was really feeling the lack. (Though The Force Awakens and Rogue One helped. I tried Supergirl, too, but the tone of the series isn’t quite my thing.) I was drifting away from the superheroes, back to books, where I knew I could find as many female leads as I needed.

Then came Wonder Woman.

And the tone was pitch-perfect all the way through. The filmmakers took her seriously, as a character and as a woman. They put her in armour and that’s when I knew…this movie wasn’t about the male gaze. …

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Imposter Syndrome Revisited

A couple of months ago, I blogged in this space about the “You Can’t Do It” voices (otherwise known as “imposter syndrome”). Things are looking up right now, so I wanted to share for posterity.

The Day Job

Four months ago, when I wrote the post linked above, I was temporarily covering for a retired co-worker. Now, a permanent replacement has been hired, and I’ve become a mentor figure to the new hire. Huh. I also have a new manager (the previous one retired), who seems to think I’m good at my job, including when I’m working with difficult people. I even keep getting compliments on my tact-over-email skills. Somehow I continue to be surprised by all these developments.

My Dance Community

In my dance community (contra dance), I’ve stood up in front of people to call a dance several times since I wrote this. Each time, it got easier. In fact, last time I had to deal with a hiccuping CD. This was bad because timing is very important in calling. But to my utter shock, it didn’t even faze me. (Though to be fair, it helped that the CD happened to be the same one I’d been practicing with!)

I’ve also started to see dances from an analytical perspective now that I’ve started calling them. As the volunteer newsletter writer for my community, I keep getting compliments on my writing skills (do I sense a pattern here?). And as a dancer, I’m polishing my spatial orientation skills …

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