Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Pippa's surgery has been scheduled for Friday

Just an update for those of you who might wonder.

If you’re really keeping score, I’ll just note that I was at the veterinary hospital for NINE HOURS yesterday.

The hotel is really nice though. It’s Staybridge Suites. Full kitchen! Decent couch! Gas fire in the living room! That last is a new one for me. Huge pet fee per stay, but I thought I might be here some time. Instead I’m going to spend a LOT of time driving this week, going back and forth, three hours each way. But this was a great hotel to relax in during periods when I was actually here.

Nearly six thirty, sunrise any minute, time to pack up, get a bite to eat, and get on the road for the drive home.

Here’s Pippa a zillion years ago, about this time of year, right after I brought her home.

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Today, MRI and CAT scan —

–Tomorrow, the surgery.

We have been here since 7:30 this morning and now — it is nearly three as I type this — the consensus is that they want to talk things over before doing surgery. I gather that the MRI and CAT scan do not entirely seem to show the same thing, or something, hence discussion somewhere behind the scenes.

So, the surgery will (probably?) be tomorrow.

The good news, such as it is: they seem to think she is a good candidate for this surgery (barring whatever the puzzle regarding the various scans involves). She certainly doesn’t have syringomyelia, a problem in the breed — that will please her breeder (who has handed me a list of other questions to ask the neurologist, given that we’ve done an MRI anyway). It would have been highly atypical for SM, but still. They do think she is in fabulous shape for her age and that she should do very well once they sort out how to do the surgery. I agree that Pippa is in great shape, which is why I am willing to do it. Of course you never know, but I see no obvious reason she shouldn’t live several happy years yet if she gets through this.

You may be wondering about pet insurance. No, I don’t have it. But for years and years I have just kept a $10,000 cushion at all times for exactly this kind of situation. That’s enough to handle two serious pet health emergencies at the same time. When building that cushion, I thought of it as paying myself insurance premiums.

If I had paid $40 per month in premiums, that would be $480 per year. Multiply that times … not sure … say, eight dogs, which has been a pretty typical number of dogs for me for the last decade (leave out the cats) and that is $3840 per year. Pay that for ten years and you can add a zero, so that is $38,400 — a complete waste if nothing goes seriously wrong with any of your dogs. And that is why I haven’t paid premiums to insurance companies, but to myself: in a different kind of emergency, that money is there.

This cushion has made a big difference twice in twenty-five years, so I guess so far I’m averaging about one medical disaster per decade. After this, I will take a while to pay the cushion back up, I expect.

Okay, new subject! Having been working here at this hospital, on this uncomfortable chair made for someone taller than I am, I will add, but with WiFi available, I can now tell you with assurance that my decision not to pursue ways to improve internet access from my home is looking really solid.

I’m getting work done. It was a great idea to bring my laptop, because cutting words half a sentence at a time all the way through a manuscript is exactly the right kind of task for a day like this. But wow, is it easy to waste ten minutes or an hour doing pointless things online when the connection is right there. When I move back to working on the more creative part of writing, it’ll be great NOT to have easy internet access.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Pippa in her prime.

The rose is no longer with me. A different rose covers this gazebo now, giving rise to different pictures with other dogs posed beneath the flowers. Everything has its time, and everything ends.

But with luck, Pippa won’t have her end this year.

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Unlikable Protagonists I Love

I know, I know, this is a very common topic for a post. I have probably done posts on this topic myself, but it was probably a long time ago and now I have a new candidate for “unlikable protagonists I really love,” so time for another post.

Obviously by “unlikable” I don’t actually mean unlikable. If the protagonist is evil, excessively stupid, or suffering from various other problems, then I won’t like them one bit, far less love them, and I’m not interested in reading about them. In fact, I’m repulsed by the whole idea of reading about them. That is a different meaning of the word than I have in mind. In fact, let me sort out a few of the various types of actually, truly unlikable protagonists before I get into the category of “unlikable but I love them,” which is entirely different.

a) Characters who are unlikable because they are completely annoying twits, such as Emma in Jane Austen’s novel by that name. I’ve only ever read that novel once and doubt I will ever read it again.

b) Characters who are unlikable because they are worse than twits: they are gripped by ennui, drift through life with a sort of depressed contempt for everyone who isn’t gripped by ennui, and just make me want to slap them. This kind of protagonist is exemplified by the lead in Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse. You know, Madame Bovary, in the novel of that name, may be another character who fits what I have in mind here. Let’s say this is the kind of protagonist who is used by the author to glorify depression, as though depression were something edifying rather than a terrible pathology. I can’t bear protagonists of this kind, which is why Madame Bovary is the single novel I most hated ever ever ever. Unfortunately it was assigned twice, and even worse than that, I was such a dutiful student I actually read it both times. These days I can’t imagine why I didn’t just pick up the cliff notes the second time.

c) Characters who are unlikable because they are evil. I couldn’t stand Jaime Lannister because he threw that kid off the tower and killed his own twin sister and who knows what else. Nope nope nope. This is the same problem I had with Glokta in The Blade Itself. Yes, I know, he had glimmering of non-evil, but he was also perfectly happy to cut the fingers off men he knew were innocent in order to make them implicate other innocent people in nonexistent crimes, so you know what, I don’t care that from time to time he might have patted a puppy.

I’m sure there are other types of protagonists that I truly dislike – selfish, narcissistic protagonists; or petty, stupid protagonists; or whatever. But let’s move on to characters who are called unlikable, but they are actually highly likable, or at least I really love them. This is a really big category and this is the category I want to expand here. I can think of three categories of unlikable-but-I-love-them protagonists:

1. Protagonists who are ruthless.

I love Tremaine Valiarde in The Fall of Ile-Rien – and Nicholas Valiarde as well. Remember when Tremaine nearly shot those prisoners? I totally sympathized! Remember when someone (Florian?) said to Nicholas, “But if we do [whatever], we’d be no better than him!” and Nicholas was completely baffled by this common statement?

It’s true that ruthlessness could in theory grade over into inappropriate indifference to things or people the protagonist ought to care about. That would be different. But basically I love a ruthless protagonist who takes effective action, but is essentially a good guy. You know how Nicholas sort of reluctantly went to enormous trouble to save Inspector Ronsarde, and then everyone was worried he might kill Ronsarde because the inspector was in his way, but that was never going to happen? That’s what I mean by “essentially a good guy.”

2. Damaged, bitter protagonists.

Briony in Chime by Billingsley is this kind of protagonist. This is a fairy tale, more an original than a retelling. Briony believes she is guilty of terrible crimes, hates herself, and is a completely untrustworthy narrator. Did I like her? No. Did I love the writing? Yes. The story is one I liked almost despite itself, until close to the end, when Briony finally starts to believe she hasn’t actually done anything terrible after all.

I’m sure there are many other protagonists who fall into this category, but moving on –

3. Protagonists who care about people important to themselves a LOT but about other people perhaps very little.

Aud Torvingen, from The Blue Place series by Nicola Griffith, is the protagonist who made me think about writing about “unlikable” protagonists, because I can see perfectly well that she is not, possibly, a completely sympathetic character. This series is as much a character study as it is anything else, and Aud is certainly the sort of character who merits study. She is absolutely unique, as far as I know, among genre protagonists. She is a sensualist, a voluptuary, a hedonist, whatever the term you want to use, she is an extremely physical sort of person. She’s oriented toward the sensual world, not the world of the mind – as unlike Nicholas Valiarde, say, as you can imagine. She’s also on the edge of violence basically all the time, because to her violence is a sensual pleasure, the way dancing might be for a dancer. She does have this aspect of herself under control … most of the time … but it’s a crucial part of who she is.

Is she likable? I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe not exactly. She isn’t nice, or actually she can be, but not in a conventional way. It’s more that she responds to vulnerability first impatiently, with a sort of “Well, someone has to take care of this,” attitude, but this often – not always – grades into, let’s say, a species of tolerance that is not that far removed from actually liking someone. And when she actually falls for someone, hoo boy, she falls hard.

I think she is wonderful, and if I were being attacked by someone I would want her to happen past at that moment, and I would like to take a women’s self defense course from her. As a protagonist, she is unlikable – in a good way.

Both Keziah and Carissa in the Black Dog series probably fall into the damaged, bitter category. The Wolf Duke in Winter is certainly ruthless – and so is Kaithairin, the griffin mage, though he’s a griffin, so maybe he doesn’t count. But I have never written a character remotely as physical as Aud Torvingen. I think that kind of character has to be written in first person, and I think it would be quite a challenge even then.

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So, unexpected trip to Columbia, MO

Anywhere in MO, if you say, “Columbia” to a dog person — or a really committed and experienced pet person of any kind, no doubt — you are using shorthand for “The vet hospital associated with the University of Missouri in Columbia.”

So I am in Columbia today, with Pippa. Here she is in the hotel room:

Pippa had a pretty bad week last week. She experienced sudden severe pain and considerable distress, seemingly a neck problem, but it was hard to be sure. Pain killers didn’t really work; prednisone didn’t really work; a visit to a chiropractor didn’t really work; so here we are.

Best guess is a disc issue with her neck. Tomorrow she’ll have an MRI. At the moment she looks like a great candidate for surgery because she is basically as healthy as a dog half her age.

So this is why I may be online less than usual this week. However, I did bring my laptop with me, so we’ll see.

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Quick links

I’m having a thoroughly distracting week, so here, have some fast links rather than a real post:

How life may have survived the Snowball Earth conditions.

Snowball Earth, as it is also known, lasted from 720 to 635 million years ago. And you’d think that a layer of ice over the ocean, cutting off the oxygen supply, would have hindered the forward march of animal life; but fossil evidence indicates that this wasn’t even remotely the case.

Rapamycin appears to be one of the most promising anti-aging treatments currently available. 

Side effects of rapamycin are a problem, but it’s since been found that a transient (3-month) treatment with rapamycin can extend life expectancy up to 60%. (Ref.) More studies are needed to determine the dosing regimen with maximal efficacy and minimal side effects. (Ref.)

Intermittent dosing at once every 5 days also extends lifespan in mice, and this “demonstrates that the anti-aging potential of rapamycin is separable from many of its negative side effects and suggests that carefully designed dosing regimens may permit the safer use of rapamycin and its analogs for the treatment of age-related diseases in humans. ” (Ref.) Note also that this dosing regimen wasn’t started until the mice were quite old, at 20 months, and it still extended lifespan.

House passes bipartisan anti-robocall bill

Good God, bipartisan action we can ALL get behind, who would have seen that coming?

These days, I just DO NOT CARE what charitable cause is being supported. I hang up on ALL robocalls and ALL requests for money and ALL people wanting to conduct a poll. I’m so over it, there are no words to express my feelings on the subject.

Also, I happened to get a scam call the other day: Amazon has blocked a fraudulent charge to your card, but we’re placing a hold on your account just to be sure you’re protected; call this number to sort it out.

That actually sounds sort of possible. A quick Google search did not pull up this exact scam. Still, a scam still seemed like by far the most likely explanation for the call. Just to make sure, I contacted Amazon — not by calling the number — and checked. Yep, it’s a scam.

I hear lots of scams now involve someone purportedly from Amazon. For heaven’s sake, let’s push that bill through and kill all robocalls of every kind. I don’t care if a tiny fraction are legitimate. That is one baby that I’d be happy to throw out with the bathwater.

Okay, the above is nice, but not soothing. Here’s something soothing:

We may have just found the perfect cure to a long work week: watching the sun set on the shores of New Zealand with a pack of contented alpacas to keep you company.

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Five SFF worlds I’d actually like to live in

So, one more obvious extension of the “five vacation spots idea.” Much harder to pick a place I’d actually want to move to permanently. Most or all of these places would be SF locations, because for cool stuff to be widely available to non-wizard-types, you generally need science fiction, not fantasy.

So-called utopian SF worlds frequently aren’t very utopian, but high on the list would be:

1) An Orbital, from Ian Banks’ Culture series. These are not exactly my favorite SF novels — I’ve only read a couple — but it seems to me anyone ought to be able to find a nice Orbital that suits them just fine. A world where material scarcity is a thing of the past? Sign me up.

2) The far-future solar system presented in John C Wright’s The Golden Age. This series is set ten thousand years in the future in, as Wikipedia puts it, “a voluntary anarchistic society spanning the Solar System called the Golden Oecumene. Technology makes nearly everyone immortal and tremendously wealthy, except those exiled from society or living outside by choice.”

Serious problems are encountered by the protagonist of the series, but for ordinary — or less ordinary — people living in The Golden Oecumene, the world is pretty close to utopian. I wouldn’t want to just step through a portal into that world, though. It seems like it would have a steep, steep learning curve for someone from our world.

3) Much farther from a utopia, nevertheless, parts of the universe presented by Becky Chambers in her space opera trilogy seem like they would be a great choice. Other parts, not so much, obviously. Still, if you got to pick the place and you stepped into that universe with a reasonable means of support, it could be a great place to live.

4) Similar to the above, if you start off with reasonable personal net worth, then KSR’s near-ish future solar system would be a good choice. I’m thinking specifically of the 2312 solar system, where there are great places to live on Mercury (!) as well as other planets that are perhaps more sensible choices.

5) Muna, in the Touchstone universe, after the trilogy is over. This is a very approachable world for someone from our reality, with technology that is less terrifying than in the Golden Oecumene, but a biiig step up from what we have here. Plus a great world to explore!

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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: general comments

So, I happened across the SPFBO posts at The Fantasy Hive, where a handful of reviewers had been cutting their thirty entries down to six semi-finalists. I noticed because one of their entries was Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis, so that caught my eye.

They followed a format where they eliminated four books and picked one semi-finalist, six times. Their comments as they work through all these entries are interesting, especially as five different reviewers rapidly provide their reactions , so click through if you’re interested in reading them: first set, second set, third set, fourth set, fifth set, sixth set.

If you’re interested, here are the semi-finalists, pulled together so you can see them, with their individual reviews linked:

A Tale of Stars and Shadow is the one selected as the finalist, by the way.

What interested me most were the patterns in the comments, as reviewers nixed one entry after another from the thirty they’d drawn to review. Here’s a reasonable if rough summary:

–One entry that went way too heavy on the Message

–Two that had significant faults in worldbuilding

–Three or four that were considered to have problematic content in some manner; eg, rape jokes; brother sexually attracted to sister, things like that.

–Eight that had problems with typos, grammar, incorrect word choices, or awkward phrasing

–Ten that had problems with flat exposition, flat plot, and/or flat characters

I will add, plenty of entries won praise, including a good handful that were not chosen as semi-finalists. But it was interesting to me to see what faults turned up, and in what proportions.

I sometimes pick up a sample or (more rarely) a full copy of a self-published book because (a) it was recommended by one of you; (b) it was recommended on Twitter and the reviewer happened to say something that caught my eye; (c) I follow the author on Twitter and like them there; (d) I happen to see it at a really good price and it looks interesting.

I’ve actually tried previously a couple of the thirty books reviewed by the Fantasy Hive reviewers, and a couple others from the 300 entries total. They didn’t necessarily work perfectly for me, but I finished several of them. Since I DNF books pretty easily these days, that says something.

Interestingly, in glancing over all the reviews from The Fantasy Hive, the one that caught my eye the most was not a book that even made it to the semi-finalist stage. It was this one:

Here is the description:

To the Iruk people of the South Polar Sea, the crew of a hunting boat is sacred–a band of men and women warriors bound by oath and a group soul. But when Lonn leads his crew away from the hunt to pursue his dream of a treasure ship, they find more than an easy bit of piracy.

The ship belongs to the witch Amlina, and after the Iruks carry off her possessions, they are robbed in turn. Worse, one of their band is taken–Glyssa, the woman Lonn loves.

To rescue her, the Iruks must join forces with Amlina on a perilous voyage far from the seas they know. To Lonn and his mates, nothing matters but saving Glyssa. But Amlina knows much more is at stake. Among her possessions is an object of ancient power. In the wrong hands, the Cloak of the Two Winds can unravel the age-old magic that keeps the world from chaos.

Here are some selected comments from Fantasy Hive reviewers, one comment each from five different reviewers:

Cloak of the Two Winds boasts some really innovative and immersive worldbuilding, including day-to-day details and hardships of the Inuit-like lifestyles (traversing the ice on skates, returning to their home and struggling to make it warm again, preparing food, etc). — Laura

I got myself a new word courtesy of the story and kindle dictionary:  “rime,” frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapour in cloud or fog.  Which is by way of saying there is a nice turn of descriptive phrase here. — Theo

My initial reaction to Cloak of the Two Winds was that I loved it: I loved how different the setting was, I loved the cultural set-up, I loved the character interactions (which felt natural and distinct and not at all forced) — Beth

[I]t was unlike anything I had read before. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does carve out a new course on frigid seas. — Mike

I really enjoyed this one, and will probably finish it after the contest. I love the concept and the world that doesn’t feel like I’ve read it 100 times before! The characters were interesting and not like cardboard cutouts. — Julia

Several of these reviewers also noted that the quality of the prose went downhill after the first chapter. Still, I find all this intriguing enough that I want to take a look for myself, so yept, I’ve now got a sample to check out.

If you want to dive more deeply into the SPFBO entries, here is the list of the ten finalists, with all their reviews linked.

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All time best fantasy novels, as chosen by people who may not read much fantasy

The Best Fantasy Novels Of All Time [Updated], from Forbes.

Forbes. Right. My immediate response, without looking at the list: Uh huh, let’s pick ten novels non-fantasy fans have heard of and there you go. Tolkien, I expect. The Game of Thrones, obviously. Harry Potter, probably. What else has been super popular? Oh, I bet The Name of the Wind is on here. Let me see, let me see . . . okay, I’m guessing Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill, which is not that popular (I think?), but is so widely regarded as a great novel that it seems fairly likely to have made anyone’s list.

Fine, whatever, enough guessing, let’s take a look and just see if the list is as utterly derivative and obvious as seems likely.

Aaaand . . . not quite! Four of my five guesses are indeed represented, though. I do feel this level of predictability suggests a lack of careful thought or a lack of awareness of the genre. Picking the most obvious possible titles probably does speed up writing the column, though.

Anyway, here are Forbes’ picks, out of order:

The Lord of the Rings

The Game of Thrones

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

The Name of the Wind, which I have actually never read, and which therefore may enjoy (?) special status as the single novel that has sat unread on my TBR shelves the longest. I know a lot of people love it and some people hate it. I guess I should try it, but who knows if the trilogy will ever be finished, and that makes me somewhat reluctant.

Harry Potter is not on this list, so I assume the author of this post excluded YA.

Then the rest of the list is filled out with titles I didn’t guess.

The Last Unicorn, which, sure, I should have guessed that one.

Tigana, which is a defensible choice, though not actually the one of GGK’s I’d pick.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, which I would not have expected. I wouldn’t pick it, but I have to agree, it’s a good, solid novel, a standout in the “gritty fantasy” category.

The Blade Itself — that’s by Joe Abercrombe, as you may know.

And finally two novels I’ve never read:

Mistborn, by Sanderson of course. He’s such a popular author, but I’ve read very little by him and haven’t been super-impressed by those of his that I’ve tried.

The Darkness that Comes Before, by R Scott Bakker, which I don’t recall even hearing about, so that’s startling. Oh, I see, it’s the first book of The Prince of Nothing series, which I have heard of. It’s supposed to be extremely dark with lots of sexual violence, which is why it’s never stuck around on my radar.

All right, the list has some redeeming entries on it. However, I don’t agree that “popular” equals “great” and I’m not keen on any list where the author apparently has never heard of Patricia McKillip. Or if he has heard of her, he doesn’t think she’s great, so there you go, obviously I am never going to be impressed by his lists.

Obviously I should throw together a list of my own. Fine, I’ll take five minutes and do that. The first choices are easy:

1) The Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t matter how obvious this choice is. Plainly TLotR deserves its spot on any list of Top Ten Fantasy Novels Ever Written.

2) The Last Unicorn. I have to agree with the Forbes column this far: this is just a perfect little gem of a tale.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I will probably never, ever re-read this tome, far less listen to it again — I “read” it in audio format. The last few chapters move briskly and I could hardly put the book down at that point. Until I got to the ending, I had absolutely no trouble putting it down, and frequently did. This novel kept me company while weeding and gardening for an entire summer. Massive thing. But yes, it is a great book, which I admire very much even if it is not one of my personal favorites.

4) The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I know, I know, it’s almost impossible to pick one book by Patricia McKillip. But when I’m forced to narrow her whole list down to just one novel, this is the one I pick.

5) Death of the Necromancer. Not my personal favorite of Martha Wells’ novels, but so well put together.

I’m starting to slow down, as my personal preferences start to interfere with picking novels I think are objectively great. Should I put The Goblin Emperor on here? What about The Curse of Chalion? How about a zillion others? Mapping Winter, which a commenter just reminded me of. Rosemary Kierstein’s Steerswoman series is (a) unfinished and (b) not really fantasy! Why didn’t I think of it as a candidate for all-time-great-science-fiction?

All right, fine, I gave myself just five minutes, let me press ahead:

6) The Curse of Chalion. I know many people prefer Paladin of Souls, but I do think Curse is the superior novel.

7) The Shadowed Sun and The Killer Moon by NK Jemisin. I know her more recent Broken Earth series got a lot more attention. I loathed the protagonist(s) too much to read more than the first part of the first book. This is the duology I’d pick.

8) The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. I really don’t know why Tigana is the one that tends to get picked out of Kay’s oeuvre. I think Lions is the superior book, and I don’t even think it’s close. If I were picking a second one of his, it wouldn’t be Tigana; it would be Under Heaven.

9) Bridge of Birds by Hughart. Everyone who hasn’t read this delightful little masterpiece should rush right out and find a copy.

Gosh, I don’t know how to pick just one more. All right, I will throw a dart semi-blindly at novels and series I think might fit in this slot … let me see … okay:

10) The Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler. Really outstanding epic fantasy.

Please weigh in on the comments! What belongs / doesn’t belong on the Forbes list, and on mine?

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Giving thanks —

Along with “five places I’d like to visit,” we might pause to consider “five things I’m grateful for at this moment.”

So —

1) Even though I haven’t finished a single project this year, and the year is practically over, I’m grateful I have written 80-90,000 words of two different manuscripts. SURELY I’ll be able to finish one or both soon!

The 4th Black Dog book, Copper Mountain, is the one I’m actually working on at the moment and might even finish this very year (if much later than I’d hoped).

The other is a science fiction novel that I thought of as a space opera when it started, but it’s not really a space opera. I’m not sure what it is. I got very stuck on it at the 80,000 word mark. So far I’ve tried taking it on in three different ways, none of which I like.

But hey! I do have 80,000 words of it sitting here! For which I am determinedly grateful, because surely I will be able to bring that book to an end eventually.

2) My two babies!

Yes, I only got one puppy from each mother. Yes, I lost a lot of money by breeding two girls and getting zero puppies to sell. But! These are both very nice puppies.

Naamah, the white one, is a lot like her mother — slender, short-coated (so far), with excellent structure. But Naamah has a significantly prettier head than Chloe, so that is exactly what I wanted from this breeding. She also poses beautifully. She should do very well in the puppy classes and I look forward very much to showing her. Besides her future as a show dog, she is also personable, charming, very active, a bit shy of new situations (we’re working on that), very attached to me, and altogether a delightful puppy.

Morgan, the black one, is not much like her mother at all! She is a solemn little thing. Her structure is not as nice right now, but was superior at eight weeks and ten weeks so is very likely to come back as she matures. She has a lot more bone and is going to be a heavier type, but still probably well within the standard. Pretty head! I hope and believe she will take after her grand champion daddy. She doesn’t have a shy bone in her body and never meets a stranger, but wow, she does not pose automatically the way Naamah does. I am having to specifically teach her to pose.

These new babies are welcome additions to the Teeming Horde, plus they both housetrained easily and early, for which I am indeed grateful.

3) I am very pleased and grateful that Leda won two majors this year, thus guaranteeing that she will become a champion in the near-ish future. I didn’t expect it. She’s not as pretty as her sister Kimmie, but she is a solid youngster with plenty of bone, shorter-cast, and I think that is what put her ahead. Plus she’s cute when she tips her head sideways:

Plus I’m grateful that Conner won a major. He does need one more, but surely in 2020 my handsome young dude will get that major. Poof, instant champion, that’s all he needs to finish.

4) Leaving the dog theme, I’m grateful I’m in reasonable health. Sure, I deal with chronic pain issues. I’m grateful (truly!) that these are minor and that I can deal with them via OTC painkillers and exercises and so on.

While I’m at it, I’m grateful for the continuing reasonable health of my various relatives, and very grateful Dad likes reading, as his mobility has become so restricted that heaven knows what he would do if he didn’t have a near-infinite supply of books.

Can you imagine what it would have been like for an elderly mobility-restricted person in the 1500s? Or the 1200s? Or in 1000 BC? Even if his family took care of him, how difficult and frankly boring his life would have been before the modern day!

So I’m deeply grateful, as always, to have been born now, and here, and not as, say, a hunter-gatherer at any point in humanity’s deep history.

5) Bringing my focus back to smaller and more immediate things, I’m grateful for all the writers whose books I’ve read this year. I haven’t kept track of books read, but I’ve been doing a ton of re-reading all year. I’m very grateful to every author who’s written such outstanding novels that I can go back to them again and again and love them every time.

I just re-read Nicola Griffith’s Aud Torvingen trilogy The writing in those is sooooo stunning. Griffith breaks rules in the best possible way, as when she opens The Blue Place with a couple of fragments. The writing is just so … lush. Reviewers throw that word around pretty casually. They should stop. This is the type of writing that really deserved that term. Lush, rich, extraordinarily sensual … Griffith pours more attention into building the physical, sensual world than literally any other writer I can think of.

I’m grateful to her for writing this trilogy, and to all the other many and varied authors whose work has brought me such pleasure this year.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Five fictional places you’d like to visit

Okay, natural extension for the “five real places you’d like to visit” meme: What are five fictional places you’d like to visit for a vacation? Not to live, just to visit. Assume a competent tourism industry and not only that, but you can assume any horrible world-shattering cataclysms, wars, dark lords, and other emergencies will hold off while you’re there. You get a nice vacation before or after a crisis, or in a locale where the crisis is temporarily in abeyance.

I know, limiting it to five would be really hard! But let me see. I don’t want to pick low-hanging fruit by saying Rivendell or anything like that. I want to pick things a little less obvious. Also, I have zero desire to visit any location in a world with slapstick elements, such as Hogwarts or any place on the Diskworld.

The choices below are mostly in the order I thought of them, not in any kind of priority order.

1)The City and the City.

I don’t entirely believe in Beszel and Ul Qoma. But what a remarkable idea. I would like to visit the city and the other city and just experience this whole unseeing thing, or watch citizens of the two cities manage to unsee the other city.

2) The Temple City of Duvalpore in Martha Wells’ The Wheel of the Infinite.

What a beautiful place. All those lovely canals and temples and palaces. Of course the right time to visit would be during the festival when the rite when the Wheel is redrawn.

3) The Quaddie habitats in LMB’s universe. I’d like to see the Minchenko Ballet. There aren’t any good covers for any LMB novel (right?), but at least this version of Diplomatic Immunity tries to feature a Quaddie.

Admittedly, it doesn’t do a very good job. But sure, points for trying.

4) Larry Nivan’s Ringworld. Here’s the artwork, sans text, because hey, Michael Whelan’s art is always worth emphasizing.

This would be a fantastic place for a working vacation — imagine being a naturalist here. I would want to stay for a good long time. A year, maybe, rather than a couple of weeks. Not sure I’d want to actually live there forever, but a loooong vacation for sure.

5) The Floating Islands.

I would really like to visit the Floating Islands, try to see the dragons, eat the amazing food, and just generally sight-see.

How about you all? Which SFF world would you pick for a vacation?

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