I’d say that I am currently at peak excitement for The Last Jedi, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty. As we draw ever closer to Star Wars Day (the 15th but actually for me probably the 16th), I likely will grow ever more excited until I see the movie or explode, whichever comes first. So let’s start this week’s round-up with some Kelly Marie Tran news.

Kelly Marie Tran in Buzzfeed. Kelly Marie Tran in EW. Kelly Marie Tran sorting Star Wars characters into Hogwarts houses, an activity she’s so pumped to do. And lest we forget, here’s John Boyega’s last-year enthusiasm for her, bless his heart.

I think about this picture a normal, sane amount.

Okay, good. We are all happy now, about Kelly Marie Tran. Now back to dismantling the patriarchy. (PS Kelly Marie Tran being in Star Wars is also dismantling the patriarchy, thanks Kelly Marie Tran, we owe you.)

“Many men will absorb the lessons of late 2017 to be not about the threat they’ve posed to women but about the threat that women pose to them.” Rebecca Traister on all this sexual assault business.

Love this interview with Roxane Gay.

Comedians have to get over themselves, says Drew Magary. And he attacks that awful trope of shitty, offensive comedians being truth-tellers, THANK CHRIST.

How Get Out inspired a UCLA course on horror and racism. Get Out is a movie I have seen, and it is very frightening and has lots of creepy, clever little Easter eggs for, like, critical race theory nerds. (I’m kidding.) (Sort of.)

The movie was better: AV Club has a round-up of movies that out-awesomed the books they were based on. I ardently cosign The Princess Bride in particular.

The New York Times published a puff piece about how nice and normal Nazis can be. This is only surprising to people who don’t realize how normal racism has always been.

A NOAH’S ARK REPLICA. I have nothing further to add. It is a REPLICA of Noah’s ARK that you can VISIT AND TOUR.

What would make Matt Lauer’s apology less infuriating?

20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I Dated Men for Years. Bahahah this is gold and not just because she calls Kurt Vonnegut the manic pixie dream girl of American literature.

There was this mind-numbingly stupid article at Slate about how this one lady ended up marrying her boss so we better watch out lest the #MeToo moment GO TOO FAR. Here is a good response.

Happy weekend! Go watch the Star Wars trailer a dozen more times. You’ve earned it.

Noumenon Is an Ambitious, Frustrating Space Opera

After telling everyone that I was hype as fuck for Marina J. Lostetter’s debut SFF novel Noumenon, I now can’t remember where I heard about it. If you’ve read and loved this novel, drop me a note in the comments and clear up my confusion. I’d probably have given up at the start if I hadn’t heard so much good about it; but then, of course, I wouldn’t be writing hundreds of words about the ways it wasn’t successful.


Noumenon is the story of a generation ship (well, a convoy of generation ships) setting out to explore an anomalous star called LQ Pyxidis. The journey will take hundreds of years and will be staffed by a series of clones whose originals have been heavily screened for any physical or mental problems that would cause problems for the convoy. The book consists of snapshots of the journey out to LQ Pyxidis and back to Earth, jumping ahead in each chapter by several decades and following a few key genetic lines through the convoy’s journey.

To start with the good, I love a generation ship. Generation ships are the closest thing SFF has to boarding schools.1 Lostetter does something I maybe haven’t seen before in giving us the entire journey of Convoy Seven (other convoys are launched from Earth at the same time to explore other parts of the galaxy), so that we see the mission through from its conception by Reggie Straifer, to its arrival at LQ Pyxidis, to its return to Earth.

Over the course of the clone generations, the convoy is perpetually trying to correct for the mistakes their predecessors have made. After a rash of suicides early in the mission, they begin to push hard on the notion of mission before individual, which in turn leads to its own set of problems. The decisions and emotions of individuals in any given generation have far-reaching consequences, and because Lostetter is dealing in decades and centuries rather than months and years, we’re able to see those consequences unfold. Noumenon is a book that’s keenly aware of the pitfalls of adhering too closely to the founders’ vision. It also knows that new generations, as they attempt to avoid the errors of their forebears, inevitably make shiny new mistakes. People don’t get smarter; we just get older. Only the convoy’s AI, I.C.C., is able to witness the full passage of generations and learn from each one as it goes by.

But for a book with such ambition in its premise and plot, Noumenon is surprisingly cautious with its characters and social ideas. Lostetter goes out of her way at one point to emphasize that biology isn’t destiny, but then makes a lot of choices in the book that suggest that it is. Unless I missed something, the straight characters’ clones are always straight (e.g., Reggie Straifer, Nika Marov), and the gay characters’ clones are always gay (e.g., Margarita Pavon). Nobody is ever trans. As a medium-sized spoiler for the seventh vignette (which frankly is given away by the title of the chapter), one child cloned from the genes of a computer specialist is raised believing that his original genes belonged to a plants guy. Despite this socialization, though, his heart always belongs to computers.

This was why Diego thought that if he were to reveal his secret — his distaste for botany — to anyone, it would be his mom. She was I.C.C.’s caretaker, and thought it would be nice if Diego shared her love of computers. And he did, so much so that he wished his genes had been brought on board for the AI. He wanted a job that wasn’t his, and he knew that was wrong.

None of the other clones — i.e., those who had the same jobs as their genetic originals — ever voices discontent with their task. For a book that repeatedly argues against holding clones responsible for the actions, choices, and tendencies of their genetic originals, Noumenon is strangely faithful to the assumption of biological determinism.

Lostetter also declines almost entirely to deal with race or nationality. In the first two chapters, characters are described in weird, racialized ways that disappear in later chapters — which charitably might be assumed to suggest that the narrators who grew up on earth are more conscious of race than the convoy characters. Either that or we’re just dealing with standard issue well-intentioned-white-lady writing awkwardly about race as we encounter characters for the first time.

With him was a dark-featured young woman, her hair as wavy and body as curvy as any Grecian goddess’s–Abigail, she’d said her name was.


Her eyes were a dark brown-and-gold under harshly cropped black bangs. Her expression carried the utmost seriousness, and her powerful, pointed movements were what Reggie might have expected from a strapping Russian man, not a petite Japanese woman.


Jamal was only perhaps half a foot taller than Reggie, but his lankiness gave the impression that he was a tower of a man. Neatly sheared dreadlocks were gathered in a ponytail at the base of his neck. He smiled broadly while they shook hands, and his smile shone bright white in his dark face.

Other characters are described as looking very Mongolian or very Polynesian. IT IS WEIRD AND UNCOMFORTABLE.

Nor does Noumenon posit any gendered, racial, or national awareness on the part of the convoy. Lostetter is clearly aware of and interested in dealing with the human tendency to prejudice: Eventually there emerges (spoilers here, again) a kind of slavery, which gets abolished, and then a kind of stigma against the former slaves. Lostetter thereby takes the path — incredibly common among SFF writers — of ignoring real-world prejudices in favor of invented ones (prejudice against certain genetic lines). And I just don’t believe it. I don’t believe that a convoy from Earth would retain no national allegiance at all, no awareness of different races, and no distinction among genders. Prejudices in real life are never instead of; they’re too. THAT IS KIND OF THE WHOLE CONCEPT OF INTERSECTIONALITY.

The Watsonian explanation for this, I think, is that the team organizing the convoy screened out — among other things — bigots.

The crew has been chosen based largely on their DNA and histories. On top of that, the consortium is getting full psych evals and family histories. There are predispositions that have been left out. Those with violent tendencies won’t be aboard, or those who lack loyalty, or those who are flighty. . . . No anarchists . . . . or dictators, or psychopaths, misogynists, etcetera. No matter how intellectually brilliant they are, without the proper emotional factors — emotional intelligence, if you will — they will hinder societal stability, and could endanger the mission’s success.

In past years I would have been more forgiving of this plot device: Lostetter doesn’t feel qualified to deal with race in her book (fair enough), so she handwaves it by implying that those people have been screened out. But one year into the Trump presidency, I am more than ever worried about propagating the narrative that prejudice is confined to an identifiable group of people. And since screening for rebels and authoritarians fails — we see clones who are both — it’s not reasonable to accept that screening for bigots worked flawlessly.

Again, Lostetter is clearly conflicted about genetic determinism and pushes back against it sometimes. The convoy decides to discontinue certain genetic lines if one of those clones behaves in ways they believe are detrimental to the mission (rebellion, suicide, etc.), and the book clearly believes this to be authoritarian folly. Yet when much or most of the clones’ makeup — from sexuality and gender to job preference — remains true to their genetic originals, it’s hard to feel that Lostetter doesn’t believe that at some level, biology is destiny.

tl;dr: Lostetter is full of cool ideas, but Noumenon disappointingly fails to grapple with the sociological implications of the world it sets up.

Have y’all read Noumenon? I’d be interested to hear other responses! Is my crabbiness just a function of having read and loved both Six Wakes (clones on a generation ship) and Ninefox Gambit (nothing in common with Noumenon really, but Yoon Ha Lee blurbed this book and the covers are sort of similar) this year? PS please read Ninefox Gambit because holy shit is it ever good.

  1. Just kidding. SFF totally has boarding schools. But still, generation ships are boarding-school-y, and I’m into it.

Angst and Ducklings: A Tiny Romance Round-Up

It’s Monday and we all probably all need some romance novels in our lives. Here are two new ones that you might want to pick up if you need something to get you through the holiday season. I received electronic copies of both of them from the publishers for review consideration, which did not influence my review because my good opinion is more costly than ebooks.

Wrong to Need You, Alisha Rai (Goodreads link!)

Wrong to Need You

Sadia Ahmad owns a cafe, tends a bar, and raises her son. When her dead husband’s brother comes back to town after years of radio silence, Sadia’s tidy world is thrown into disarray. Then they bang. A bunch. (Wrong to Need You is the second in Alisha Rai’s wonderfully angsty Forbidden Hearts series, but as with most romance serieses, you can read this one without reading the first one first.)

My favorite thing about Wrong to Need You is that Alisha Rai draws on tropes I love — a strong silent type for the hero, a stalwart single mom for the heroine, a resounding come-back-to-small-town-and-face-the-past plotline — and puts them in service of an emotionally satisfying story of two people trying to find their way. As in Hate to Want You, Rai gives her characters genuine flaws and struggles, which can’t be brushed aside by some good sex. The obstacles that stand in the way of Jackson and Sadia’s happily ever after are internal, but no less real: Each of the protagonists has to grapple with themselves and their past before they’re able to embrace the possibility of a real relationship.

Rai also includes an excellent cast of secondary characters. The Kane and Chandler families make their appearance again in this book, and Sadia has family of her own: Loving, if sometimes pushy, parents, and four sisters who adore and support her, even as they have their own ideas about the choices Sadia should be making. Watching Alisha Rai flesh out the town and residents that populate the pages of her Forbidden Hearts series has been a treat, and Wrong to Need You delivered an eminently satisfying romance that left me eager for Eve’s story.

PS I love it when romance novels set you up for what the next one’s going to be. It’s like the end of Nancy Drew mysteries. I love it. It’s the best. This has not been sarcasm.

It Takes Two to Tumble, Cat Sebastian

It Takes Two to Tumble

Much as I might like to try to summarize Cat Sebastian’s latest historical romance (Goodreads link!), she has already written what is perhaps the world’s most perfect summary of any romance novel ever. I give you:

It Takes Two to Tumble is the story of a free spirited vicar and a grumpy sea captain.  It’s basically a gay, regency Sound of Music, with far fewer children and no musical numbers.

Yep. The vicar, Ben Sedgewick, comes from free-spirited parents who lived without regard to the niceties and rituals of regency England. In some ways this was great — his father doesn’t much mind that Ben prefers men — and in other ways, it left Ben and his siblings adrift to manage for themselves. As an adult, Ben wants a life of comfort and predictability.

The sea captain, Phillip Dacre, plans to stop home just long enough to acquire a suitable tutor for his three children, now that their mother has passed away. But the children are running wild, and the vicar who’s minding them (by climbing trees with them and doing fractions about how to divide their evening pie) keeps making him see things in a new light.

It Takes Two to Tumble is — typically for Cat Sebastian — an immensely sweet romance novel in which the principal characters achieve happiness by having lots of honest conversations with each other. Phillip is mourning the loss of someone he never confessed his love to; Ben is engaged to his closest friend, Alice, who he fears will be alone in the world if Ben follows his heart and cries off from the marriage. Both of them are devoted to the Dacre children, but neither can see his way clear to making a life with them — in spite of the children’s obvious need for stability. There are also ducklings.

All in all, I tend to prefer a scootch more angst in my romance novels than It Takes Two to Tumble offered. But if you are on the hunt for something sweet and frank and open, hit up Cat Sebastian’s latest. It comes out on December 12th.

Something on Sunday: 12/3

Oh, friends, what a goddamn week. I’m sorry to everyone who had to live through that week. If you’re able to call your senators and representatives this upcoming week about the tax bill, please do it. If you’re not, hang in there because you have people rooting for you.

Despite all the shit in Congress, I am feeling ~98.6% better about life than I was last Sunday. Here are a few of the reasons why:

This week, one of my very favorite people came to visit, and I was able to give her a small gift that I’ve been hanging onto for her since December 2016. Seeing her is always such a joy. She made me laugh, I got to give her hugs, and we watched an episode of Black Sails together. All the things that are best in life.

Our fanfic podcast went live (after more time spent editing than you can imagine), and I learned that someone I made friends with on Twitter because she’s a fan of the podcast is the whole entire reason I now read fanfic. That is slightly an exaggeration but not much of one: She consulted on the Vulture article that got me started reading fic, and the first fic I ever, ever read (The Shoebox Project) was her recommendation. It made me super happy to learn that someone I really like introduced me to something I really like. Synergy!

My cousin called. If you are among the fortunate people in my life who haven’t had to listen to the tragic and tedious saga of 2017 Family Drama, you may not appreciate how momentous this is. But it meant a lot to me.

I saw an Akita out with its human and suddenly remembered one of my very favorite dogs from childhood, my grandmother’s Akita, Buddy. Until I met Jazz, Buddy was the best dog I had ever met, and it remains a very close run. Buddy was always gentle and sweet with me and my cousins, no matter how annoying we were. When he wanted pets (i.e., as soon as we got out of the car at my grandmother’s), he walked over to you and lean heavily against your side. If you were the smallest girl in your class, you really had to brace yourself against Buddy’s affectionate leans. He was such a good, good, good dog. I am sad that he is gone, but happy to have had the years with him that I did.

Akitas are very good dogs
this is an Akita

Finally, my baby nephew has been adorable this week even by his standards. I was over at my sister’s place, and she was fixing me a gin and tonic, and my nephew reached out, touched the bottle of Hendrick’s with one finger, and said, “Gin.” I said, “Whoa, what?” and he said, “Gin.” He also went to the bookstore with my mother and had a fit of delight over discovering that the bookstore had some of his favorite books. He toddled over to the shelves and tried to take them down so my mother would read them to him. This kid’s a genius and has excellent priorities. I would alter nothing.

Tell me your good things! Link them below or get at me in the comments.

Aurora Leigh Readalong: The Finishing

Here we are at the end of November, and here you are wondering why I have put you through this experience of reading a Victorian epic poem about a complainy poet and a saintly poor person and a snooty philanthropist and a sneaky posh lady. I don’t really have a moral to tell you. I just like Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s writing a lot. I think that underneath all that waffling on about the nobility of poetry, and all that Manichean stuff about virtue and evil (ugh okay it’s not Manichean BUT KINDA), she can be a shockingly modern writer, and she has lots of excellent insights. I mean:

‘Tis our woman’s trade
To suffer torment for another’s ease.
The world’s male chivalry has perished out,
But women are knights-errant to the last;
And, if Cervantes had been greater still,
He had made his Don a Donna.

So Aurora can’t figure out if she should tell Romney was Lady Waldemar did. Y’all, I know we’re in a different time period and it’s not comparable to then because of how easy it is to get a divorce, etc., etc., but if you do ever find out that my spouse organized for someone to be sold into BASICALLY SLAVERY in order to clear their path to marrying me, please let me know. I would rather know, even if it creates problems for me in my marriage. Aurora decides that if Romney’s already married, there’s no point in her telling him, so she writes to Lord Howe (remember him? He was the one throwing that terrible party for rich people where Aurora kept staring at Lady Waldemar’s boobs) to be like “look if Romney isn’t married yet, tell him this thing; but if he is married, don’t worry about it.”

She then writes a super mean letter to Lady Waldemar, and it’s the lengthiest and most thorough shovel speech I’ve ever encountered. And I read fanfiction. Kind of often. The gist is that if Lady Waldemar is ever rude to Romney or makes him feel bad about anything, ever, Aurora and Marian will like SHOW UP AT HER HOUSE and reveal everything. The implication being that if they did this, Romney would put Lady Waldemar aside, no matter the personal cost to himself — which, if that’s the case, it makes Aurora’s decision not to tell him the thing absolutely unaccountable. She knows he’d believe her, is what this letter reveals. But she still doesn’t tell. Aurora. Come on.

Oh, yeah, I forgot to say Aurora totally is in love with Romney. She keeps being like “Am I–nah.” Girl, stick with nah. Romney is terrible. Just have a pleasant life with Marian and her baby. Look at this domestic business:

I, with shut eyes, smile and motion for
The dewy kiss that’s very sure to come
From mouth and cheeks, the whole child’s face at once
Dissolv’d on mine.

Baby kisses! So adorable, yet so wet and gross. And the baby calls her “Alola!” So to recap, she could hang out with a quiet saintly lady with cause to worship her and the quiet saintly lady’s adorable and affectionate child, or she could marry Romney Leigh who like, barely respects her.

Aurora gets a letter from her pal Vincent Carrington that her latest book has been well received, that Vincent is marrying a girl called Kate who Aurora thinks is maybe not smart enough for him (SHUT UP AURORA), and that Romney has been sick and Lady Waldemar has been nursing him back to health. So she’s like “oh I guess they are married now, well this seems like a good opportunity for me to spend a whole lot more time thinking about poetry and nature and stuff.” Oh Aurora.

Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve,
The fierce demanding whistle wailing on

“Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve, the fierce demanding whistle wailing on,” title of her sex tape, nailed it, self five.

Well then Romney comes to visit, and he’s like “I guess you heard the news?” and Aurora’s like “Yes I have definitely heard the news. Vincent Carrington told me the news.” And Romney’s like “Should we…talk about the news? After all, we almost got married that one time,” and Aurora’s like “No, I mean, I would have been a bad wife, so anyway, let’s not talk about the news.”

Cool. Cool cool cool. Seems like you two are 100% talking about the same news and no misunderstandings are occurring here whatsoever.

Romney also says that Aurora’s book is tremendous and has changed his life. I don’t have anything sarcastic to say about this part. It’s nice. He’s sorry that he was such a jerk about her writing when they were younger, and he repeatedly admits he was wrong and gives her a whole bunch of compliments. And he sneers at himself for believing that he could change the world, and Aurora tells him that she admires him for making the effort, and that he shouldn’t under-rate himself for making that effort. The whole thing actually is really sincere and sweet.

Romney tells Aurora that the poors burned down Leigh Hall, which he was trying to make into a refuge for them, and … what else? They talk a bit more and Aurora says something rude about Romney’s wife, Lady Waldemar, and Romney is legitimately like HA HA HA MY WIFE YOU THOUGHT HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. He’s so overcome by Aurora’s wrongness that he can’t even form a coherent sentence, so he just gives her a letter from Lady Waldemar.

(Y’all, I was so excited when I got to this part. Aurora and Lady Waldemar insulting each other has been the absolute best thing about this book.)

Lady Waldemar starts the letter by telling Aurora the sick burn she said about Aurora’s book after reading it to Romney. This isn’t the main point of her letter. It is 97% superfluous to the message she actually wants to relay to Aurora. But not long does she repeat the insult to Aurora’s book that she told Romney several weeks ago, she then describes how that insult was like, her mic drop for walking out of Romney’s life: “I triumphed o’er you both / And left him.”

Then the gist of the letter is that when she got Aurora’s frankly rather blackmailing letter, she told Romney the truth about what had happened with Marian, while strenuously denying that the sold-into-slavery-and-raped thing was her fault. And also that Romney loves Aurora and Aurora loves Romney but Romney’s still going to marry Marian because he feels like he should; and she, Lady Waldemar, not unreasonably washes her hands of all of them. And then this is the end of the letter. It’s so good.

Observe, Aurora Leigh,
Your droop of eyelid is the same as his,
And, but for you, I might have won his love,
And to you, I have shown my naked heart,
For which three things I hate, hate, hate you! …
I hate you from this gulph
And hollow of my soul, which opens out
To what, except for you, had been my heaven,
And is instead, a place to curse by.

In my imagination, the poem ends there. It’s just a set-up for a sequel where Romney Leigh gets kidnapped by pirates and Aurora and Lady Waldemar have to take to the sea in order to rescue him. YES I HAVE A TYPE W/R/T STORIES SO SUE ME.

In actual fact, Romney proposes to Marian because he feels like he should, Marian declines and peaces out, Aurora finds out that Romney is now blind, and Aurora and Romney confess their undying love to each other. And I guess they decide together that they’re going to each do the type of work that matters to them, but it’s going to be richer and more successful because they now also have Love.

Y’all, this has been a privilege. Aurora Leigh is exactly how I remembered it: sometimes awesome and sometimes tedious, with so many lines peppered in there that just blew me away with their clarity and insight. Thank you for taking this journey with me. Thank you to Alice for humoring me.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 92: Fanfiction Forever

Happy Wednesday! Submit to our Holiday Gift Guide so that we’ll be able to pick books for you! Just tell us a few things about the person you want to buy a book for (by December 6th), and Whiskey Jenny and I will each pick out a book for you to give your person.

This week, we’re welcoming Kay of the Not Now I’m Reading podcast to answer all our questions about fanfiction and how we got into it. We encountered MANY PROBLEMS while recording in terms of like, Skype being monstrous? So if there’s any bits that sound slightly awkward, that’ll be why. But it’s just an almost-full hour of us nattering on about fanfiction, if that’s something you’d be into. You can listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Here are the time signatures if you want to skip around!

1:33 – What We’re Reading
7:49 – How we all got into fanfiction!
15:53 – All our fanfiction questioned, answered
35:59 – Limited Release, by rageprufrock
50:06 – What We’re Reading for Next Time!

Books (and fics) mentioned:

Take the Lead and Dance with Me, Alexis Daria
Invisible No More,
Andrea Ritchie
Wrong to Need You,
Alisha Rai (the first one is Hate to Want You)
How a Moth Becomes a Boat, Josephine Rowe
the Mortal Instrument series, Cassandra Clare
the Vulture article that got me started reading fanfic in the first place
The Shoebox Project
Fic, Anne Jamison
1796 Broadway, rainproof and teaberryblue
Duende, astolat
Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell
Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
Limited Release, rageprufrock
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, Melina Marchetta

Again, please get at us in the holiday gift guide submission form and help us help you buy gifts for your loved ones. We love choosing books. We love it.

You can find our wonderful guest star Kay on Twitter or at her wonderful podcast, Not Now I’m Reading. The other fics she offered us as possible podcast reads are:

If You Liked the Book, You’ll Hate the Movie, by paperclipbitch
Tomorrow Belongs to Me, by valtyr
His Fate Will Be Unlearned, by scifigrl47
Maggie Fitzgerald and the Saltwater Drip, by antistar_e (kaikamahine)

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Something on Sunday: 11/26

Hey y’all, sorry this is going up a little late. I had a rough weekend and I’m feeling really glum and having a hard time looking on the bright side. But: I read a wonderful (but sad) YA novel called Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and it reminded me again of how much I love to read; and I caught up on the new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is absolutely terrific. So there’s that!

Let me know what’s good in your  neck of the woods!

Review: Mars Evacuees, Sophia McDougall

WHAT A TREASURE. Seriously, what a TREASURE. I read the first chapter of Mars Evacuees, one of the books Renay gave us in her fabulous SF starter pack, and I was so delighted with it that I set the book fondly and gently aside to read another day.

(If this doesn’t sound like the most rousing of recommendations, you must not know how I feel about delayed gratification. If little me had been administered the marshmallow test, she’d have asked the testers if it were possible to wait even longer and get even more marshmallows in the end.)

Mars Evacuees

This absolute genuine treasure of a book is about a girl called Alice whose mum fights the Morrors that have invaded Earth. Alice is evacuated from her posh school to Mars, which is safer from aliens though not safer from burning to death, where she meets brilliant Josephine and daring Carl (and Carl’s muffin of a baby brother, Noel). When all the adults vanish from the Mars station where the kids are being trained, it’s up to Alice and her friends to save the world.

One of two things is true about me and middle grade fiction: EITHER I mostly don’t enjoy it, so I only read it when people push it at me very hard indeed, so I end up reading the cream of the crop. OR I like middle-grade fiction quite a bit but read less of it than I could be reading because I have this false narrative that I don’t care for it. I think the first one is the true one! But maybe I’ll carve out some time next year to find a way to prove it one way or the other.

Whatever the case may be, Mars Evacuees is a treasure and a joy, and I wanted to hug it on every page. Alice and Carl and Josephine (and Noel) (and the large goldfish robot assigned to teach them their lessons) make a wonderful team, each of them bringing different skills to the table and balancing each other out in times of crisis. (Pretty much the whole book is crisis.) They’re plucky in the way middle grade book characters can get away with being plucky, but McDougall steers away from the over-preciousness that drives me bats, and she does allow her characters their moments of sadness and loss.

Perhaps most wonderfully of all — and I’ll get into spoilers for a minute here, if you can bear with me — the resolution of the story is that peace breaks out. About two-thirds of the way through, the kids come across a young Morror, and this slender line of communication becomes the basis for a (hopefully) lasting peace between the species. And whether or not it’s possible in real life for friendship to change the world, it was terrific to spend some time in a book where it was.

Mars Evacuees! Tell your friends!

Something on Sunday: 11/19

Happy Sunday, friends! Here in Louisiana, the weather shocked me by taking a turn for the coolish. I have my fingers crossed (but am not sanguine) that it will stay under 70 through Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t that be nice? A cool Thanksgiving? Anyway, right now it’s in the mid-fifties and sunny, so I am a happy and thankful gal. Here’s what’s been making me happy this week.

Giggling over:

This ranking of the sex stares of every dude in Poldark. What a blessing. I don’t even watch Poldark, but I am familiar with the Aidan Turner smolder-face.

Charmed by:

This picture book my dad bought for my nephew, entitled The Octopuppy. Just go to your local bookstore and check it out, and thank me later. You will not be disappointed. It is perhaps the greatest work of fiction of all time.

Looking forward to:

Telling people what books to buy for their loved ones! Me and Whiskey Jenny are planning a holiday podcast episode, and we want to help you pick out gifts for your hard-to-buy-for friends-and-relations. Just go by our Holiday Gift Guide page, give us your name and a little bit of info about the person you’re shopping for, and we’ll each give you a personalized book recommendation in our December 13th podcast. (That way you’ll still have enough time to go shopping.)

Inspired by:

My dad and I had the bright idea to walk home from breakfast this morning, stopping at the grocery store on the way to pick up our groceries for Thanksgiving. We got excellent exercise, but it did mean that we had to walk the last mile laden down with groceries that included a large bottle of Hendrick’s gin and a 10-pound bag of potatoes that I thought it was a great idea to buy. And a very, very kind lady pulled up next to us and asked if she could give us a ride. We declined because we did want the exercise, but it was so nice and I hope to find an opportunity this week to pay it forward.

What about y’all? What’s been going on for you this week that’s worth hanging onto? Let me know in the comments or link your post up below!

Aurora Leigh Readalong, Part Three

I enjoy that the consensus of this Aurora Leigh readalong immediately and spontaneously coalesced into the following:

  1. This is very hard and requires slow, careful reading.
  2. But so many good lines!
  3. Also, Romney is a butthead.

Those three main bullet points do sum up with extreme accuracy the main three things I remember from reading Aurora Leigh for the first time in 2010 or whatever it was. For those reading along at home, I do not remember softening towards Romney as time went on. Maybe this reread will surprise me (but I don’t think so). How can I ever like someone about whom Aurora says this?

[He] likes me very well,
And wishes me a paradise of good,
Good looks, good means, and good digestion!–ay,
But otherwise evades me, puts me off
With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness,–
Too light a book for a grave man’s reading!

Too light a book for a grave man’s reading is exactly why I love this poem. I mean this passage is basically the whole of How to Suppress Women’s Writing condensed into six lines of iambic pentameter.

Then there is a lot more talk about poetry and how it’s the noblest art, much much much more noble than dumb stupid drama but drama’s okay too but not like poetry okay.

If I were EBB’s editor, I would urge her to cut 75% of the talk about how noble poetry is compared to other professions out of this poem. It would be better, and we’d all want to smack Aurora less. Reader, I skimmed.

BUT. It was T O T A L L Y worth it to get to the part where Aurora’s attending a party at the Howes’ place and learns by eavesdropping Romney is fixing to marry none other than Lady Waldemar. GASP. (Lady Waldemar is at the party too. Aurora comments on her “alabaster shoulders and bare breasts” teehee hashtag gal pals.) Aurora seems to like spending time with rich people so she can judge them. I find this to be a terrible mistake. I can judge rich people perfectly happily from a safe and comfortable distance and not use up my valuable Black Sails-watching time attending their dumb parties.

(There’s a young philosophy bro at the Howes’ party, and Aurora describes him as speaking “with just that shade of sneering on the lip / Compensates for the lagging of the beard.” PLUS CA FUCKING CHANGE, you know what I’m saying?)

Lord Howe asks Aurora to marry a dopey friend of his; Aurora has to listen to two bros have opinions about Women and also Art and also Philosophy; and Lady Waldemar pounces on Aurora to tell her all about her betrothal to Romney. Aurora’s like:

The party is so relentlessly horrible — and again, this is really Aurora’s fault for choosing to go to a rich people party — that once it’s over, she litrally leaves the country. I WOULD TOO.

The next bit is hard to read, I’m not going to lie to you. Although I never read anything that makes me interested in living in the Victorian era (it is far preferable to just read about the Victorian era), sometimes I will read something that makes me want to burn the Victorians to the ground. Book six of Aurora Leigh was one of those things.

In Paris, a city Aurora spends kind of a while defending, I guess because people in England still felt a way about Bonaparte? Or something? I don’t really know much about the mid-1800s — was there something other than Bonaparte that made all British people act snotty about France? Or was it just standard-issue England/France hostility?

Anyway, in Paris, Aurora happens across Marian in the street with a (gasp!) baby, and she basically chases Marian down to demand that Marian explain herself. She is an utter shit about everything. She’s like “Marian you allowed yourself to be seduced so your kisses to this baby’s sweet angel cheek are as the touch of rot upon a dewy flower,” and then once Marian explains that no, she wasn’t seduced, she was raped and is now basically dead, Aurora’s like “MARIAN YOU ARE A SAINT A CHASTE SAINT FROM HEAVEN.”

Double fuck you to the Victorian era that this was a progressive stance for Aurora Leigh to take. I was going to say something nice earlier about how Aurora argues for poets to write about Social Issues, but now I am too furious about what a dick she is to Marian. She and Lady Waldemar and Romney should form a dickish self-righteous polyamorous relationship and THEY WOULD ALL DESERVE EACH OTHER.

Marian tells Aurora what happened: how Lady Waldemar came to visit her all throughout her engagement to Romney and slowly, gradually convinced her that she would ruin Romney’s life by marrying him. Then she gave Marian to her maid, and her maid dumped Marian in a gross brothel, where she was raped and impregnated and went insane, and then the brothel threw her out. This is all quite a bit more Gothic than I remembered.

We’re on a break next week for Thanksgiving, so have a pleasant Turkey Day! Tune in on the 30th for the conclusion of Aurora Leigh, in which I can only hope everybody dies miserably. As ever, thanks to the beautiful Alice for hosting!