New Worlds, Year Four!

I failed to schedule this for the publication date — but that’s all right; the book did not go off sale in the last twenty-four hours. 🙂

cover art for NEW WORLDS, YEAR FOUR by Marie Brennan

New Worlds, Year Four is out now! It’s a little croggling to realize my Patreon really and truly has been running for over four years without pause. But I’m quite proud of the body of work represented in the collections so far, and I’m still going strong on the topic of worldbuilding. You can get the ebook now from Book View Cafe (the publisher and host of the essays in their initial run), Amazon (note that I get a commission through that link, though I encourage you to buy from something other than the Bezos Behemoth if you can), Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iTunes, Kobo, Indigo for the Canadians among you, and Amazon UK for the Brits. The print edition will follow in June, if you prefer to have it in dead tree edition.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to polish up this week’s essay . . .

The Advent of Scent, Week 17

Some adventures this time with a new-to-me perfumer!

* Liquid Illusion (Juliette Has a Gun)
Described as “heliotropin, tuberose absolute, iris absolute, tonka bean, and cetalox” (which the internet tells me is synthetic ambergris). I can smell the almond at the outset, but it’s kind of earthy/salty in a way that I think might be the cetalox (and possibly the iris, depending on whether that’s supposed to be the flower or the root), but it rapidly goes to a slightly soapy tonka/cetalox blend. Do not like.

* Rose Cross
Described as “purest rose with sacred frankincense.” At first it’s exactly as billed. Then it PUNCHES YOU IN THE FACE WITH ROSE. Eventually that dials back to a more faded rose, and it isn’t terrible, but I do not like that note enough to want this.

* Mari Lwyd
Described as “Welsh cakes and ale with a smattering of dried lavender.” In the bottle it had that cloying, sort of buttery note I’ve encountered before, which fortunately didn’t last. Unfortunately, it pretty much just went to cake after that, which I think might partly have been built from musk. I never picked up anything ale or lavender. Meh.

* Invisible Gingerbread Man/Gingerbread Invisible Man
(BPAL appears indecisive about which is the correct name.) Described as “champagne-soaked gingerbread, candied ginger, lemon, and white sugar.” I got the ginger and lemon initially, but I also got soap, and it just got soapier the longer things went on. Blech.

* Oatmeal and Apple Spice Cookies
What it says, plus “brown sugar, nutmeg, and walnuts.” This also had a hint of that cloying note in the bottle, but that went away on application in favor of being very, very apple. The spice comes through later, but I never really got the oatmeal or walnut, and overall it’s just meh.

* Oil Fiction (Juliette Has a Gun)
Described as “tuberose, saffron, and amber.” It amuses me that my reaction to some things is “this smells like perfume” — there’s just sort of a generic, kind of floral effect to some blends. This one wasn’t bad as floral things go, and the amber comes through a bit later, but it’s still not for me.

* Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning
(This is one of the BPAL scents named after a painting, in this case one by Monet, hence the odd name.) Described as “hay, white peach, opalescent musk, orris root, pink carnation, osmanthus, and rooibos.” This once again featured that effect I can only describe as cold — no idea what does that — along with peach. The carnation showed up for a while in the early drydown, and then eventually became peach fading into musk. Not bad, but not interesting, either.

* Bon Vivant
Oh HELL no. This is described as “an effervescent blend of crystalline champagne notes and sweet strawberry,” but there was nothing effervescent about it, and very little strawberry; I smelled like flat champagne. And this one had significant throw, too, so I kept getting gusts of flat champagne coming off my wrist, to an extent that was borderline nauseating.

A Trip Down Juvenilia Lane, Vol. not-10

Take . . . three?

Back in 2016 and 2017, I began reading through my old notebooks from high school, college, and graduate school, unearthing what bits of story I was working on when, pinpointing the moment at which certain things began, and so forth, all preparatory to sending those notebooks off to be archived. Then I dropped the ball until 2019 and picked it back up again — for a single post, after which I dropped the ball again until now. But dammit, I will persevere! (Because I want these notebooks to stop cluttering up my office, heh.)

So, onward into the tenth volume!


The Advent of Scent, Week 16

Yoon, at this point I’ve finished all the things I acquired off my own bat and have gone back to trying ones you sent me, so once you weigh in on these, I can send you the things you’ve requested!

* Violet Elixir (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “sweet violets, fresh grass, petitgrain, and bergamot.” Well, now I know what violets smell like! I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered the flower in person, but this smells incredibly purple — not quite like grape so much as what “grape-flavored” things smell like. The grass tones down the violets a bit, but I never pick up the citrus elements; it’s just VIOLETS the whole way through. Which is educational, but having been educated, I don’t need to try it again.

* Tonic #5 (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “sweetgrass and aquatic notes with lavender, tea tree and rosemary.” I’m beginning to think I don’t like aquatics. This has some astringent notes (probably the tea tree) and maybe the sweetgrass, but on the whole the aquatics dominate, to which I say “meh.”

* Tonic #3 (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “a clean and green blend of: parsley, peppermint, ho wood, petitgrain, kaffir leaf, bergamot and dry gingergrass.” From bottle to wrist it goes from citrusy green chased by mint to gingergrass chased by mint, settling down to citrus ginger. I’m keeping it for now, just for variety.

* Tonic #4 (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “yuzu, basil, lime leaf, lemongrass, and raw sugar cane accord.” It’s mostly sweet lemon, though there’s a green undertone from the basil early on. It’s a lot like Lemondrop, so I’ll hold onto it and compare them against each other later.

* Anubis
Described as “holy myrrh, storax, balsam, and embalming herbs.” I think the spice-like element in here is either the storax or the unnamed “embalming herbs.” It’s very incense-y; I’ll keep it to compare to Penitence (which is just frankincense and myrrh), as part of the “educating my nose” part of this project.

* Gingerbread Witch
Described as “gingerbread, pumpkin pulp, Arkansas black apple pulp, rosemary, and lemon peel.” The sort of buttery whiff I get in the bottle vanishes on application, which is good; on the other hand, so does the gingerbread. So this begins as pumpkin and ends as more or less straight-up apple. Meh.

* Meigetsu Ya
Described as “red mandarin dusted with frost.” For once the mandarin note lasts! But it mellows from the juicy, sharp orange of a Starburst or a Tic-Tac to an orange creamsicle, and neither of those is really my thing.

* Wild Fig, Blackcurrent, & Neroli
The orange note from the neroli doesn’t last long. For a little while this is woody and earthy, but when it dries it just kind of goes to soap. Fancy soap, and I wouldn’t object if my hands smelled like this after washing them, but as a perfume, no.

Books read, March 2021

Reading comic books makes it feel like I have read All the Things this month!

Lost in the Taiga, Vasily Peskov, trans. Marian Schwartz. Nonfiction about the Lykov family, who spent about fifty years living completely isolated in the Russian wilderness (having fled religious persecution in the 1930s). On the one hand this book was a little frustrating, because I wanted it to dig deeper into the psychological aspects — things like internal conflicts (the family patriarch was apparently worried about the prospect of his older son being in charge after his death) and the culture shock of coming into contact with the outside world. On the other hand, that would have required Peskov to study the family rather than just being their friend, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he chose the latter. It becomes apparent toward the end just how much effort he put into the friendship, including organizing the donations that funded all his trips to the taiga and the supplies he brought with him, the airlift for Agafia Lykov when she got sick, etc. I haven’t yet looked to see what became of Agafia in the long run, after the rest of her family had died; this book leaves off with her still choosing to live alone in the wilderness, but the life she has at that point is no longer self-sufficient, and it’s unclear how she’ll fare when circumstances mean she can’t get support from the outside. Given that it’s been nearly thirty years since then, I have to imagine the answer is “she died out there” — but if so, it’s a death she very much chose for herself, on her own terms.

Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, ed. Zelda Knight and Epeki Oghenechovwe Donald. The tone of this ranges all over the place, from horror to a kind of magical-science-fictional story that felt sort of Zelaznian. Not all of the pieces worked for me, but that’s to be expected in something with this kind of range, and it’s a good showcase for its topic.

The Last Smile in Sunder City, Luke Arnold. Secondary world urban fantasy of the noir detective variety — but with a very interesting setting premise: up until recently, there was a source of magic that supported a world full of different kinds of supernatural creatures. Then Humans, the one non-magical species, wrecked it for everybody else. The immediate mystery wound up being less interesting to me than the longer-term story of people coping (or not) in this new environment, but the latter is engaging, the narrative voice is vivid, and I really like that while the Human protagonist Fetch Phillips is clearly carrying around a big ol’ whack of pain, the story is Very Very Clear that his pain is nothing next to that of all the people who lost the magic that made them what they are.

Digger, Volume 3, Ursula Vernon.
Digger, Volume 4, Ursula Vernon.
Digger, Volume 5, Ursula Vernon.
Digger, Volume 6, Ursula Vernon. When I picked up Volume 4, I had a moment where I thought, “Oh no! I am already halfway through Digger — soon there will be no more of it for me to read!” Which didn’t stop me from inhaling Volumes 4-6 in a single evening. Everybody who told me this is good was right, and while there is no more Digger for me to read, the good news is that I have the books on my shelf and can revisit them whenever I want. (It’s also online, of course, but I pefer curling up with a book.) It probably says something about the type of person I am that I was delighted by the funerary cannibalism, but that’s because I honestly can’t think of another instance of that in fiction — cannibalism where it’s a respectful rite of mourning, not a cheap way of depicting savagery.

Elfquest: The Final Quest, Volume 3, Wendy and Richard Pini.
Elfquest: The Final Quest, Volume 4, Wendy and Richard Pini. I didn’t realize, until I read the various afterwords on the final volume, that this really had been the planned ending for a very long time — that it was not, as I’d assumed, a story which went on for a while and eventually they decided to wrap it up. I think I should re-read the series as a whole, because this definitely suffered unfairly from me constantly trying to remember who some of the newer characters were. Some parts are deliberately not 100% resolved (because it being the end of one story doesn’t mean all other stories end with it); a few others felt to me like a resolution happened, but I didn’t feel it the way I wanted to. And fundamentally there’s the problem that I have never cared about all the Djun conflict that kept recurring in the later volumes, and which forms the big climax here. But on the other hand, it brings in some really cool stuff (the Rootless Ones!), and I don’t regret reading through to the end.

Life Along the Silk Road, Susan Whitfield. Nonfiction in one of my favorite genres, which is a look at daily life in some place and time. This one’s unusual because it covers a big swath of the Silk Road over a period of 250 years; since that’s obviously a huge topic, it breaks it up by having each chapter follow a particular individual in a particular place and time (some of them fictional, others based on real figures supplemented by general evidence). Four of the ten are women, too, which I appreciated. Given ten characters and a not very large book, it’s all still pretty brief, but it does a great job of looking at Eurasia from a point in the middle instead of one side or another, which is a thing I could use more of.

Elfquest: Stargazer’s Hunt, Volume 1, Wendy and Richard Pini and Sonny Strait. Speaking of not all the stories being resolved! The Pinis are still narratively involved at this point, but the art here is all done by Wendy’s long-time colorist Sonny Strait. I’m glad to have this story (with the second half coming out next year, I think), because yeah, this is a corner of the narrative that needs its own resolution still.

The Gilded Ones, Namina Forna. I wasn’t super-engaged at the start of this novel, because I’ve read enough YA fantasies of this type that I thought I could see where it was going. Then it didn’t do what I expected, and I got interested. I think parts of it could be stronger (the entire conduct of the war seems not well thought-out), and I honestly recommend not even looking at the map because nothing about the geography depicted there makes sense vis-a-vis what the text says — but I liked it overall. And it also seems to be a stand-alone, which I was not expecting and was glad to see.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, Carlos Hernandez. Another from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, but this one gets much further away than most from the general mission statement of “world mythology” — Sal’s ability to poke holes through into other universes and bring things through for a while is talked about in terms of calamity physics, not Cuban folklore. (I seem to have a preference for the books from this imprint that don’t follow the Riordan model of “protagonist discovers they are the child of a god.”) I really enjoyed it! Sal and Gabi are both great characters, mature for their age without seeming like they’re teenagers or adults in kids’ bodies, and the whole mood of this one is very good-hearted.

One Kickstarter ends; another begins!

As I post this, there are just twenty-three hours to go on the Kickstarter for Shapers of Worlds II, including a short story from yours truly. It’s reached its funding goal, but there are still plenty of prizes left, including signed copies of The Mask of Mirrors (all the ARCs of The Liar’s Knot have been claimed) and some ready-to-hang acrylic prints of my black-and-white photos:

black and white photos for the Shapers of Worlds II Kickstarter

And though I’m not personally involved with it, I’d like to bring The Deadlands to your attention: a Kickstarter for a new magazine, helmed by E. Catherine Tobler, the former editor of the much-missed Shimmer. (I also happen to be friends with the poetry editor, Sonya Taaffe, and the art director, Cory Skerry.) I find it hilarious that one of the backer rewards you can choose is a fake obituary detailing the peculiar manner in which you died . . . anyway, this one is running for a while, but some of the limited rewards have already sold out, so back now rather than later!

The Advent of Scent, Week 15

* Port-au-Prince
Described as “buttered rum flavored with almond, bay, clove and sassafras.” In the bottle, it’s sweet almond with clove and herbal touches. The sassafras comes through on application; it’s basically alcoholic root beer. The once it starts to dry, it suddenly becomes CLOVE, with the sassafrass undertones coming back through later on. It’s different and interesting enough to keep for now.

* Elf
This is one of BPAL’s RPG series. Described as “pale golden musk, honeycomb, amber, parma violet, hawthorne bark, aspen leaf, forest lily, life everlasting, white moss, and a hint of wild berry.” I quite liked how this one smelled in the bottle — bright, clean, sort of green, but sweetly so. I think the floral that comes through on application is the violet (haven’t smelled enough violet perfumes to be sure), but in the end it just goes to sort of musky amber. I found the beginning more interesting than the end.

* Darkness
Described as “blackest opium and narcissus deepened by myrrh.” My sister and I decided that this perfume declares you are Going to the Opera: Verdi at first, but she granted that I might be seeing Puccini after it dried down a bit. It’s heavy and sweet without being sugary, lifted a bit by the floral note; there’s a moment while it’s drying that gets harshly resinous, but that goes away and it returns to how it started. Not really my thing.

(The next batch of perfumes are a mix of ones I ordered and some freebies. Haus of Gloi had a spring collection that looked interesting, and I realized I was close enough to having tried Imaginary Authors’ entire catalogue that I might as well finish it out.)

* Saint Julep (Imaginary Authors)
Described as “sweet mint, tangerine, southern magnolia, bourbon, grisalva, and sugarcube.” Very magnolia at the outset, with maybe a hint of mint; the tangerine appears briefly as it dries; but then it just goes sort of . . . green, which I think is the grisalva. Green may be my favorite color, but that doesn’t mean I really want to smell of it.

* Imp (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “peculiar passion fruit mingling with sun cured apricots, perfectly pink grapefruit juice and innocent whispers of wet mimosa blooms.” This one is SUPA FROOTY! Gets a little tarter on application, and then picks up a floral lift, but it stays generally fruity overall. Yoon, I suspect you might want this one, if you don’t have it already . . .

* Telegrama (Imaginary Authors)
Described as “talc, lavender absolute, black pepper, teak, amyris, vanilla powder, and fresh linens.” Based on the example of this and A Whiff of Waffle Cone, amyris seems to just steamroll any perfume it’s in that I try on, at least the way Imaginary Authors uses it. It’s kind of rich and warming, but not in a way that I really like.

* Every Storm a Serenade (Imaginary Authors)
Described as “Danish spruce, eucalyptus, vetiver, calone, ambergris, and Baltic sea mist.” The internet tells me calone is a compound developed to give stuff the scent of watermelon; well, it works! The whole way through, this one is basically watermelon with an undertone of evergreen. Again, not my thing.

* Capy (Haus of Gloi)
Described as “tart lemon, crushed lavender, white tea, and green moss.” The bottle scent is very refreshing! My sister tried this one as well; on me on me it was more lemon and lavender, going to tea, while with her it went more to tea and lavender, and then to soap.