All posts by PK

the diamond-dusted edge of 2017

This is the point in our conversation where the humble blogger once again begs the pardon of you, the reader, for their negligence of this venue, most likely in some kind of neo-Regency turn of phrase. I’m kind of shit at the faux Regency stuff, though, so I’ll drop the pretense for the most part. As ever, real life and mental health got in the way, as they are wont to do, leading me to believe I didn’t have anything longform worth saying, didn’t have the ability to get it out onto the digital page, didn’t have the energy to write it.

This mostly isn’t actually the case, but brainweasels are feisty and persistent, and they’re now being reinforced by the global sociopolitical precipice we find ourselves on. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain to you how or why this is the case–I just would like to note that the fascists and trolls and other people who want marginalised people to shut up or be dead use the same, if somewhat more violent and disgusting, kinds of tactics as the self-sabotaging brain, for a reason.

I resolve, going forward, to push the fuck past that. I did some creative stuff myself this year (I put down original fiction words! I did some drawing for the first time in ages!), though nothing that has yet panned out into completion. It seems to me that my best bet for next year is to DO MORE OF THAT, push past the pathological hate, as much as is possible. So that’s my goal, for what little it’s worth. We’ll see if I find that hopelessly naive on coming back to this later.

For those keen on my reviews, I did see/hear/watch some awesome media this year, and I would like to make particular note of a few things that come to mind off the top of my head:
– The People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror collections, all of which raised the bar for the Destroy series to huge heights. For example, I’d not read the work of Isha Karki, Gabriela Santiago, Terence Taylor, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson before, and I am very glad to have been introduced to their writing. Huge kudos to the editors and staff as well as all the content creators.
– The podcast Alice Isn’t Dead (Fink & Nicole et al) which is the diverse weird Americana horror story I needed in this world.  By the way, Night Vale itself continues to be first rate.
– The Glasgow SF Writers Circle collection Thirty Years of Rain, some of whose contributors I’m fortunate to know physically or virtually and some that I’ve not met. There’s something about knowing a place and recognising it in fiction that is a bit like representation of the self, a lightbulb moment.
– Two new published stories by Rose Lemberg in their Birdverse, which I know I have mentioned here before, but they just keep getting better. I’m so pleased Rose now has an agent for their Birdverse novel too.
The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (North & Henderson et al), which improves my mood every time I think about it.
Hild by Nicola Griffith, which came out in the UK two years ago but I have only just finished it today because I was trying to savour every last paragraph. I now need to go back and reread it all.
– The reviews of Charles Payseur, who inevitably finds gems of spec fic that I’d otherwise be unaware of entirely. Also he’s from Wisconsin.
– A damn awesome Springsteen show, part of The River Tour, here in Glasgow. I’m also looking forward to reading Born to Run, which I got for Christmas.

Also, late last year I decided to start supporting a little on Patreon, and it’s been really good. Here are a few folks who I can personally say are producing great content that you can support on there:
Tanya D
– Rose Lemberg (as above)
Bogi Takács
Captain Awkward
Also, Flavia Dzodan doesn’t use Patreon (contribute to her via PayPal linked here) but her independent reporting on white nationalism and extremism and the links between Europe and the US is becoming even more vital.

I hope to be able to afford to support more folks a little bit in the future, but Brexit’s been a setback for money in dollars (student loans now cost me $40-$50 more a month due to exchange rates). Still, hoping.

Please note that I liked so much more stuff, and this is just what comes to mind off the top of my head. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows I am Our Lord/Lady of Perpetual Nope, but I do really think we need to raise each other up when there’s good to be had. And I’m planning to do more of THAT in 2017, as supporting and recognising each other is critical for people to be able to continue to do awesome work.

So hey, friends? Don’t let the bastards get to you. At least one person out there–me–thinks you are fucking amazing.

(…incidentally, the B on my laptop keyboard got royally borked a year ago today thanks to an incident with eating an exploding liqueur chocolate which watching a bad film and chatting with old friends, and it still tends to stick. If there are any Bs missing in this post, I sincerely apologise. I have learned my lesson regarding where it is safe to eat such things.)

In wine we trust

Click through to read my full commentary, or if you’re just here for the booze, the recipe itself is below. Happy December holidays, folks.

Paige’s Mulled Wine: bring me bread and bring me wine

As promised to folk on Twitter, coming to you live from a southbound train, until I lose my wifi connection somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales. If you’re not fond of my notes with 52 million little asides, proving why I am not a cookbook writer, there will be a tidy recipe version at the end. … Continue reading Paige’s Mulled Wine: bring me bread and bring me wine

  • Prep Time: 10m
  • Cook Time: 7m
  • Total Time: 17m
  • Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle of strong red wine
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg (from whole if possible)
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon
  • 1 piece of peeled root ginger (1/2 in/1 cm long)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100 grams granulated sugar (US folk: just under 1/2 cup)
  • 1 clementine or satsuma, or 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 unwaxed/washed medium lemon
  • 2 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Instructions

  1. Mix sugar and spices together, dry, in a cold saucepan.
  2. Peel (avoiding the pith) and juice the lemon and orange. Add the juice and peel to the cold saucepan and stir until evenly distributed.
  3. Add ginger piece and vanilla extract to the cold saucepan and stir once more.
  4. Add a slug of wine, adding additional if juice doesn't fully cover the sugar.
  5. Put the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden or silicone spoon, until the mixture comes to a boil.
  6. Let the syrup mixture boil for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring periodically.
  7. Turn off the heat and let the syrup come down from the boil. Set a metal strainer into a heat-proof glass measuring jug and carefully strain the spices and rind out of the syrup. Set the strainer aside and let the contents cool before throwing away.
  8. Carefully pour the syrup back into the saucepan, then add the rest of the wine.
  9. Warm over low heat, stirring gently to combine, until the wine comes to a very low simmer. Serve immediately in small mugs.

diamond dust: the process of unmonstering, part two

(part one here)

While I’m on the topic of monsters…if someone asked me if I’m a horror fan, I’d probably say ‘no’.  Admittedly, I’ve made my way through a bunch of Stephen King’s work, stopping after Bag of Bones1 and I’m hardly into Happiness And Light from a tonal perspective in my reading. But generally I don’t seek out horror unless it’s recommended to me specifically, due to anxiety and overempathy, combined with a neuroatypical brain that has huge difficulty setting aside horrifying imagery.

I was therefore a little bit wary when I opened the Queers Destroy Horror (QDH) issue of Nightmare that I received for supporting Queers Destroy Science Fiction. I’d not been that keen on the Women Destroy Horror issue, if we’re being honest (I believe I googled the Joyce Carol Oates reprint to try and figure out what the fuck I was reading), so that didn’t help either.

Reader, I was mistaken, because QDH was a lightbulb moment–there’s a lot in the issue about what it is that resonates between horror and queerness, so I won’t go into detail here, or perhaps it was just that the story selection was more my thing. Either way, I’d like to flag a couple of stories that were particularly YES, THIS for me.

Alyssa Wong’s Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers (TW: references to rape and violence against women) has so very much to say and packs so much meaning into just under 7000 words: about disavowing your mother to find yourself, about diaspora; about violence against and among women; and about what we consume of each other as emotional labour and feelings and love. Among other things, really.

Jen is a vampire who feeds on souls, relishing the dark thoughts that we have in all of us. She loathes this in herself, hates that her mother passed it on to her, and hates that at the same time it makes her feel good. Her mother’s been trying to live among humans as quietly as possible, taking only what she needs while always remaining isolated and hungry.

It’s a tiring, frustrating life lived at arm’s length from others, and Jen’s fed up with it, fed up with not being able to love like a human, fed up with her mother’s nagging, fed up with being selfless. A couple of encounters (and here I’ve got to sketch very vaguely because otherwise the whole thing’s ruined) send her away from middling, from just getting by, spiraling into what her hunger demands. However, maybe that’s not what she, what Jen, wants.

I read this on the train, finishing it in a late autumn evening gone nighttime too soon, and while it’s disturbing as hell, I couldn’t help but resonate with a lot of what Wong says. Perhaps it’s disturbing of me that in the end, I found the story oddly hopeful. But it reassured me, to remember that some truths are shared, that sometimes we overcome what we are born with and overcome what we are taught throughout our lives. More than anything else, it was a damn good and incredibly clever reminder that sometimes it takes more than one try and a hell of a lot of mistakes to become who we really are.

On the surface, Sunny Moraine’s Dispatches from a Hole in the World (TW: suicide) is even bleaker than Wong’s story. Moraine gives us the narrative of an unnamed academic, who’s doing research for their dissertation at an isolated archive containing the records of hundreds of thousands of young people’s suicides, each one calmly actioned and impossibly posted on the internet, all triggered by a plague that remains unclear even years later.

Our protagonist lived through this, and while they’re very self-aware about what happens to those who go through trauma and their survivor’s guilt, they don’t remain unaffected by what they see. They’re processing, but a bit unhealthily–alone in the only remaining archive of the suicides, trying to make meaning for something that is appalling and  inexplicable. Above all, Dispatches is a descent into hell of mythical proportions, in the trappings of the age of social media. There may be something supernatural at hand, it may be a zeitgeist, it may even be partially the protagonist’s loosening grip on reality.

Defining tragedy, giving it logic, isn’t the point, even as necessary as it may be to maintaining our sanity. What got to me were the descriptions of how the rest of the young people made networks and checked up on each other, they didn’t just let things slide. They had to, because authority was unable (or perhaps, in some way, unwilling) to make the right decisions to save lives.

This is a love letter to the works of survival that was/is done by so many marginalised communities online. It’s not a pretty love letter, though it’s certainly lyric, but it’s entirely truth. Someday, perhaps the importance of this work will be appreciated: We are saving ourselves, though certainly sometimes we fail.

The protagonist knows this, even at the end, in a maelstrom of despair. That gives me hope, too, because it’s something that can’t be taken away. It sounds trite, perhaps, to boil it down to ‘all that actually matters in the face of horrors and evils is that we don’t give up on each other’, but it’s not about sticking together without any thought, or not questioning each other.

Instead, we need to remember not to disappear others’ humanity, even when we bleed, even when shit gets really, really real, even when people are terrible. These days, on the internet, it’s a damn important thing to remember, and Moraine’s success lies in communicating this not via moral tale but visceral feeling.

Both Wong and Moraine, and Rose Lemberg in Geometries of Belonging get to the crux of the well-written monster trope: the monster is more human than those it’s set against. For marginalised folks, this something that cuts particularly close to home–and it’s heartening to see these ideas more and more across genre.


  1. Incidentally, there’s a good essay by Sigrid Ellis in the print/ebook edition of QDH on problematic stuff in King. 

diamond dust: the process of unmonstering, part one

In revitalising my blog and thinking about what kind of theme I could pick up through these Stories What I Liked1, it didn’t take long at all to pick up on the topic of othering–monstering, if you will.  Appropriate,  I suppose, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to the blogging table to write about this until this particular time of year, but there you go.

These stories, these October stories about monstering, all resonated with me a lot on a personal level, spoke to different identity aspects for me. Hence, obviously, while these rang true as a bell for me, they might not be your tales; even so, it’s damn important to read stories that aren’t our own too, and I think these all have value for readers regardless of identity politics.

To start, I’ve been following Rose Lemberg’s Birdverse for some time now, and have to start by saying they have been building a really unique and fascinating world that deserves more attention and acclaim. The world is realistically made up of some very different nations and cultures, and Rose has written stories across a number of these. Finding the links to the rest of the verse is always a treat for me, but each story does stand alone. Also effective is that none of these cultures is perfect–there is no holy grail of utopian bliss, though some are more open than others, and again in vastly different ways.

And the magic based on language and names and…I’ll let you read for yourself. It ticks all my boxes.

Geometries of Belonging (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) is set in a milieu that reminds me a bit of Kushner’s Tremontaine and Flewelling’s Rhiminee, though I’m not sure if I’m projecting my metanarrative of queer class-and-nation-crossing relationships onto the story that’s actually happening. Possibly that, and possibly the fact that the characters in the story (as is a theme in Rose’s work) are very bound to very codified cultural constraints that harm and chafe them.

Parét is a healer, but uniquely, he is a mind-healer–basically a magical psychiatrist–which ticks my boxes immediately. He’s a rare breed, and he’s in a rather complex social situation in that he has a patron/lover who’s nobility with high status but also an outsider. He’s also in a city that needs mental healthcare desperately, both for the every day and for the scars of war,  a number of years past but still linger as trauma and political repercussions.

And Parét isn’t well himself, to be honest; he has what we’d think of as PTSD due to the war and what happened to his wife and son, which he doesn’t want to heal in himself for reasons that we’ll eventually understand. Despite his problems, he’s committed to the work he does, and has a deep and unshakeable code of ethics regarding his patients. The young person Dedéi comes into Parét’s life through a combination of all these aspects–the professional and the personal and the political–and he must negotiate very thin lines of ethics, personal safety, and compassion in trying to help them.

How he traverses this path makes for a tense and compelling story, one that doesn’t really let up even after things come to a head. I found that despite the very clear ideological goals of the work, I honestly wasn’t certain where things were going to end up for our protagonist and for Dedéi, as I’m conscious from some of their other work that Rose doesn’t pull punches. For me, finding a suspenseful tale that doesn’t throw my anxiety to a head is rare, so aside from the conceptual affinity I had for the story, I took pleasure in it from a readership perspective as craft. (Admittedly, this is personal preference. I have particular problems getting through stories where we know Something Terrible Will Happen–it took me ages to get through the first half of Ancillary Justice.)

Thinking about that actually brings me back to the ideology, of Parét’s healing ethics and refusal to treat anyone without consent, but above all Dedéi’s haunting refrain: I do not wish to be remade.

It’s made clear that Dedéi would, in our world, be considered to be on the autistic spectrum, and that their gender identity is non-binary. It’s also made clear that their extremely powerful family would rather they were neither–that they were made normative, particularly as the culture they live in has literally no room for these identities. As someone who’s neuroatypical and non-binary, the word that Dedéi uses, again and again, haunted me. Remade.

Because Lemberg has it here in one–forcing normativity is an undoing, a squishing up of the identity like clay until it can be remolded to someone else’s liking, leaving little of the original form.  Like a lot of folks, I’ve spent more than a little time pondering and deciding fiercely against any hypothetical ‘fix’ for my brain chemistry, and in the end, despite the pain and difficulties, I know I would rather be me as I am than someone completely unknown and tidy.

As for non-binary gender…it ain’t broke, and it’s certainly not something that’s a part of my brain being slightly askew, that would be fixed were I fully ‘well’. This is something Dedéi and Parét know as well.

Of course, aside from my personal identification with it all, Rose is also in conversation here with the Miracle Cure narrative in SFF, the remaking of disabled characters to fit into the normal box.  But the truth of it, their own knowledge of this experience and their own feelings that are simpatico with mine and so many others’…that is what really makes ‘Geometries’ sing (like bird song, perhaps) for me.

Rose had another Birdverse story in BCS this year, Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds, which is moving and powerful in very different ways. It resonated a lot with me from the perspective of gender and societal expectations, but also that of the complexities of family: disappointment and love and misunderstanding. Do give it a read too!

In part 2: I take a look at the fantastic Queers Destroy Horror special issue of Nightmare, particularly Alyssa Wong on navigating being a monster/daughter and Sunny Moraine on the fierce reality (both agony and hope) of online life.


  1. I apologise to everyone for all the stories I liked for most of this year but didn’t write about because of brainweasels. I’m really sorry. 

on the commodification of fanworks

DISCLAIMER: I started writing this post eight months ago and have had it on the back burner since then. I’ve not been inclined to go back through except to finish off the ending just now, so please be advised that it might be disjointed or referencing events that happened…well…several months ago.

Basically, I said SCREW THIS JUST POST THE DAMN BEAST.

After all, it’s still relevant, particularly as it seems the ‘fanfic as practice’ and ‘fanfic as pretendy funtime’ meme has recently come up once more (see some good chat and fic recs here thanks to Gabby!).

——-
I’ve been around media fandom now for almost fifteen years, comparatively not all that long in the grand scheme of things, but long enough to note that there are things that come and go in cycles1.

Every so often, and it’s becoming more and more frequent, and more and more mainstream…the media picks up that there’s this ~thing~, right, where people, adult people, get really into TV shows and movies and books and dress up like people from them and write little stories and tee hee erotic stuff and pretend things. It’s all a bit oddball and subculturey, but, in the words of a sage, ‘mostly harmless’; so there are a few cheap jokes and patronising comments, then everyone mostly forgets about it when the news cycle continues.

Continue reading on the commodification of fanworks


  1. Fleetwood Mac geeks: pretend I said that in a Lindsey Buckingham voice.