Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Wot I Read in 2019

In an attempt to track my reading in 2019, I created this post in early January to note down every book that I finished in 2019 (I say "finished" because there were two that I was reading at the turn of the year, which I wanted to count; but this also doesn't count books I started but didn't finish before the end of the year). We'll see how long this lasts. [Edit Dec 31: I did it! It lasted all year!]


  1. Acks, Alex, Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures (finished July 11, 2019): I reviewed this book on SFFReviews.
  2. Atwood, Margaret, Hag-Seed (finished April 3, 2019): I picked this up from the airport the week before; I'd read some good buzz about it when it first came out, and it had gone on my mental to-read list then. It was good, but it also felt very...self-indulgent, I think is the best way to characterise it. It's a book that an established writer gets to write, not a book that could be a debut. It was as if the entire book was a Mary Sue, even if all of the characters in it had their foibles. Nevertheless, it was hard to put down.
  3. B.B., The Little Grey Men (finished October 6, 2019): Recommendation from WorldCon. What a strange little book. It was immensely descriptive, being suffused throughout with a deep intimate knowledge of nature. This is probably a plus in many people's books, but there was just so much description, which made it hard going for me. I loved the three gnomes, though, and their distinctive characters, and found the grim, dark way that death was treated to be both rather harsh and comfortingly ordinary. I'm not sure I'd call it a kids book, but I might try reading it to G in a few years. (Not now. There is too much vocabulary in it that she doesn't know, I'd be interrupted every few words to define them!)
  4. Benaway, Gwen, ed., Mother, Maiden, Crone (finished December 30, 2019): I picked this up at Portal Bookshop in York last month. It's a collection of fantasy stories all written by trans women and trans feminine people. I reviewed it for SFFReviews, but the review won't be up until February.
  5. Brennan, Sarah Rees, Unspoken (finished January 6, 2019): I can't remember now where this book was recommended to me, and I'll admit my first reaction on looking at the cover when my copy arrived was "erm...." And while it was a bit Twilight-stalkery, it didn't involve vampires, it made me laugh a lot, it filled me with teenage angst (yes, this can be a good thing), and I'm a sucker for a gothic romance, whether it's 19th C or 21st C. Looking forward to reading the sequel.
  6. Brennan, Sarah Rees, Untold (finished January 29, 2019): Alas, this one didn't live up to the standard set by the first one. Not enough Gothicness, not too many, too complicated love triangles, weirdly awkward not-quite-sex, and enough little details that didn't add up or showed the author isn't British... -- the idea that someone in Britain would threaten someone else by saying "I'll get a gun and shoot you"; the idea that everyone tourist goes to a post office; calling university "college". I'm glad I got this one from the library rather than buying a copy.
  7. Burgis, Stephanie, Kat Incorrigible (finished September 26, 2019): A WorldCon recommendation. Fun, but unlike some middle grade books that are great for adults, this one felt more like it was merely okay for adults.
  8. Carey, Jacqueline, Kushiel's Dart (finished September 8, 2019): A friend lent this (and the next two) to me after it came up on an FB conversation. The book did not sit well with me in its opening chapters, but the worries that I had in them were actually quite strongly assuaged as the book went on, and I came away from it thinking it was quite superlative, extremely well constructed, with great world-building, entrancing characters, and a complex but believable plot. I just wish Carey would've addressed the issue of birth control.
  9. Carey, Jacqueline, Kushiel's Chosen (finished September 13, 2019): This was a very good second book. It very nearly stood on its own feet, and much of what I loved about the previous one was maintained in this one. If I have one complaint, it's that the first one seemed...bigger. The way in which backstory was introduced in the first book was more seamless and better integrated -- little side bits and details were mentioned long before their import was ever highlighted. In this book, though, new cultures sprung onto the page fully-fledged as soon as they were needed. The result was something that was just as fun and well-crafted, but not as realistic.
  10. Carey, Jacqueline, Kushiel's Avatar (finished September 23, 2019): The minor complaints I had about book 2 did not surface at all in book 3. Book 3 actually reminded me a lot of book 1, in terms of the plot cycle, but everything was bigger, wider, and deeper. It lacked some of the erotic elements that the first two books did, but it also felt like that ws a natural progression, too. I was quite impressed.
  11. Carlisle, Karen J., Department of Curiosities (finished June 5, 2019): I've been anticipating reading this book ever since Karen first started blogging about her nascent ideas for it years ago. It was a long time coming, but as soon as it arrived I quit reading the book I had been reading to start this. I really enjoyed it; it was a sophisticated story with believable steampunk elements, and the heroine, Tilly, was the right balance of proper and improper. She's not afraid to hike up her skirts -- or rip them off entirely! -- and get her hands dirty, but she also is distractingly interested in her clothing -- I'm not sure I've ever read a book that used the word "bustle" quite so often! At first I was a bit disappointed, because I thought the book was going to be set in Australia rather than England, but I was pleased at the end when Tilly ended up in Oz.
  12. Cho, Zen, Sorcerer to the Crown (finished December 1, 2019): This was a WorldCon rec; a couple people whom I know in person suggested it, and I also attended a panel that Cho was on and really liked her. The book is basically "Austen with dragons and magic and people of color", which is a premise I find hard to fault. The book was...good. I enjoyed it. It was fun. It had all the right early-19th C feel, and it didn't get the names seriously wrong, so that's a plus in its favor. It wasn't outstanding, but it was good enough I'll probably eventually get the sequel.
  13. Córdova, Zoraida, Labyrinth Lost (finished December 18, 2019): This was another WorldCon rec. It was...okay. I'm coming to realise that urban/modern fantasy isn't really my thing, and I found the plot both a bit linear and a bit predictable and the writing was at times ponderous and too full of exposition. I'll probably read the sequel if I can get it from the library, but I'm not sure I'd purchase it.
  14. Coulthurst, Audrey, Of Fire and Stars (finished June 23, 2019): This book was an exercise in how not to write. I wanted to like it -- it had a solid premise, and I definitely want to see more lesbian NA fantasy -- but it was just...not good. The politics felt superficial and unrealistic, most of the main characters who were not the two female leads seemed to exist solely as foils to put up barriers between the MCs, I never got any sense of realism or urgency, and while you knew from the start that the two female leads were going to end up together, there was never any scope in there for any other strong relationships, whether romantic, platonic, or other (except for ONE, but one of the two involved died before the end of the book). It just didn't work for me.
  15. Epps, E. M., You Made My Heart a Hunter (finished January 8, 2019): Lhennuen is the logician-trying-to-be-human heroine that I have always wanted.
  16. Epps, E. M., The Interpreter's Tale (finished February 12, 2019): Having enjoyed the previous novella so much, I wanted to read something else by Epps, and its description intrigued me. I was delighted to find out it was set in the same universe as YMMHaH, and even briefly mentioned Lhennuen. But the focus of the story was Eliadmaru, the titular interpreter, and a royal assignment he was given. I loved how the story upset conventions: A plot point that I was sure would go badly ended up happily and sweetly, with no drama, whereas another plot point that should have been some sort of happily ever after went south in an unexpected way. So reading it was full of peaks and valleys, and now I'd like to read even more by Epps.
  17. Fennell, Jack, ed., A Brilliant Void (finished January 31, 2019): I started this in 2018, but finished it in 2019. It's a collection of early Irish short science fiction, and I reviewed it at SFFReviews.
  18. Fellman, Isaac (published under the name Rachel Fellman), The Breath of the Sun (finished August 25, 2019): Personal recommendation from a friend on twitter. The back blurb described the MC as someone who deals in paradoxes, which got me all excited, until I started reading and realised the description was rather metaphorical. But even without actual paradoxes, this book was very good. It was deep and intimate, and cold and quiet, and I had to read it slowly (I also read a lot of it while at WorldCon, tucked into a little cubicle bed in a hostel after long days of peopling, which I'm sure enhanced the slightly otherworldly feel of the experience of reading it). It wasn't sparkling and brilliant in the way that some of the books I read this year were, but I think it's among one of the best.
  19. Fforde, Katie, A Country Escape (finished March 15, 2019): I had a long layover at LHR, so I bought this book; I started it around 1:30pm and finished it around 8:00pm, which was a satisfying experience. The book itself contained no suspense, no surprises, no worries that the heroine wouldn't end up having a happily ever after, and gave the impression of having been written according to a very precise structure/framework/recipe into which various characters and side quirks could be inserted. (E.g., the heroine's best friend was [rifle through character types] a PhD student! And the heroine's side hobby is [rifle through odd-but-not-too-out-there hobbies] cheesemaking!) I think I've been reading too much queer lit lately, because what let the book down the most for me was that not once was there any epistemic possibility that maybe Fran would end up romantically involved with Issi, rather than one of the male antagonists. Now that would've been a fun turn of events (and save PhD student Issi from the ignominity of falling in love with a minor side character, getting married, AND having a kid before the book was over.)
  20. Gaiman, Neil & Terry Pratchett, Good Omens (finished May 26, 2019): I've been wanting to reread this for awhile now, especially since finding out about the TV adaptation, so as soon as we moved house and started unpacking all the books that had been in boxes for years, I found it and started rereading it.
  21. Gladstone, Max, Three Parts Dead (finished June 13, 2019): I can't remember who recommended this to me, but it was intriguing enough for me to put in my "books I'll buy when I need to buy something more on Amazon to get free shipping". It was a combination fantasy, steampunk, and legal thriller/mystery, and it provided me with good solid enjoyment (especially the legal wrangling!). Strong female characters, including a black FMC, and an intriguing religious set-up were further pluses. The book was good enough for me to bump up the sequel on my want list.
  22. Gowar, Imogen Hermes, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock (finished March 24, 2019): I picked this up at the airport 10 days previously, intrigued by the blurb. I had to recalibrate my expectations a bit when I found out that despite the presence of mermaids in the story, it was straight up historical fiction, no fantasy or speculative elements. Nevertheless, it was an interesting story with distinctive characters, and my only complaint is that it reinforced my dislike of present-tense stories.
  23. Harkness, Deborah, A Discovery of Witches (finished August 11, 2019): I wanted to love this book so much, and I just couldn't. The premise was great: A clever academic woman in her mid-30s stumbles across a missing medieval manuscript while researching in Oxford and witches are involved. But this book ranged from making me mildly bothered (the author is an academic historian herself, and she got so many historical details wrong!) to outright enraged (SO much patriarchy! SO much problematic vampirish stalking! SO much white-European-ness! SO much reduction of the main character to her role as first wife, and then mother; her academic expertise is never taken advantage of!). Just so, so disappointing.
  24. Huff, Tanya, The Fire's Stone (finished July 8, 2019): This was another book that someone recommended somewhere so I added it to my amazon list and then bought it one time I needed to make up the difference to get free shipping. The first chapter or two were just okay, but then it really picked up and it became one of those books that taps into a crack of my heart and both fills it and makes it hurt. Two standout elements: Huff's portrayal of an alcoholic character, and a happily-ever-after for a polycule including two bi men. And while I'd love for this to be the first-of-many involving these characters, I also really appreciate a well-written standalone fantasy novel; there are not many of them.
  25. Jones, Heather Rose, Floodtide (finished January 21, 2019): It is enormously satisfying to beta read a book you've been waiting for for two years or so.
  26. Jones, Heather Rose, Floodtide (finished November 25, 2019): It's so interesting reading the published version after having betaed. This was the first time where I could tell what had been cut, and while I missed the characters that had been introduced in those chapters, I think the structure of the published version is cleaner and tighter and makes more sense. The book itself remains perhaps my favorite of the Alpennia books -- it flows along so easily and naturally. One thing I particularly liked about it was that you reach the titular floodtide, but that's not the end of the story -- in fact, it almost feels like the last few chapters are where the most important stuff happens. Too often, we never see the consequences of the resolution of a problem, but here, you do. Looking forward to when one of my nieces is of an age to buy this for her.
  27. Jones, Heather Rose, Mother of Souls (finished October 14, 2019): I'd lent this to a friend and she returned it in August, and when I reached a gap in my other books I decided to reread this in advance of Floodtide coming out next month. Having had some distance from when I last read it, which was quite close after beta reading it, I found I got something different out of it from previously. The first two times I'd read it, I remember being perennial uncertain how time was passing; but that seemed much clearer this time around, and that made some of the relationships feel like they were developing more naturally. And, man, that final chapter, and the goosebumps it gives me...
  28. Jones, Heather Rose, The Mystic Marriage (finished October 25, 2019): After having reread book 3, I had to go reread book 2. MM has never been my favorite of the Alpennia books, and there are still certain things about it that are stumbling blocks to my enjoyment. But everything else in it just seems to get better each time I read it. This time, I really appreciated the alchemical details. Jones makes alchemy seem entirely plausible, and yet still mystical.
  29. Jones, Heather Rose, Daughter of Mystery (finished December 15, 2019): After having reread book 2, I had to go reread book 1. But I couldn't find book one!! I think I lent it to someone and haven't gotten it back yet. I'm okay with that, especially after a trip to York in early Dec. found me in an independent bookshop that had a copy of three of Jones's four books, so I bought myself a new copy of DoM. This is one of those books that gets better each time you read it. It was good the first time I read it; great the next couple of times; and this time, it was truly fabulous. I am in awe at Jones's ability to construct a story, not to mention the huge depth of world. And, oh, my heart, did I love rereading Barbara and Margerit before they were Barbara and Margerit.
  30. Le Guin, Ursula K., Four Ways to Forgiveness (finished July 18, 2019): I sort of wonder where books like this were when I was growing up, why it was that I read the authors I did, and not authors like her. I found these four stories enormously more satisfying than I do her early Earthsea books, and reading them in such near succession to Russ's novel a very worthwhile, fruitful endeavor.
  31. Lundoff, Catherine, ed., Scourge of the Seas of Time (And Space) (finished March 13, 2019): I reviewed this fun collection of pirate short stories over at SFFReviews. The highlight for me was Elliott Dunstan's "Andromache's War".
  32. Montgomery, L. M., Anne of Windy Poplars (finished July 10, 2019): I was caught without a new book to read, so I reread an old favorite. This isn't my favorite of the Anne books (it might actually be my least favorite), but reading it through this time I was struck at how diverse Montgomery's characters are, and how I had not previously noticed this fully. The man with aphantasia, the woman who is either lesbian or ace, the diversity of appropriate lives that women could lead (okay, it's still curtailed, but there is a lot plenty of support for the idea that a woman needn't be married nor have children in order to have a fulfilled life). Montgomery continually goes up in my estimation as a writer, every time I reread something by her.
  33. Moon, Elizabeth, Speed of Darkness (finished January 24, 2019): I really disliked this book. I think it is a book that actively contributes to ableism, problematic stereotypes, and a rigid "black/white" view of autism and 'normality'. I do not like the glorification of autism as something to be cured. I do not think she handled her characters sympathetically or realistically. Flowers for Algernon has already been written. This book did not need to be written.
  34. Moore, Fiona, Driving Ambition (finished October 1, 2019): It's a book by a friend! Not the sort of book I usually go for, sort of a combination police thriller/mystery, but it kept me distracted through seasickness on the North Sea, which is saying a lot. At times I found the MC a bit mansplainy with his info-dumping, but it actually worked as a character feature (or flaw...) rather than being overwhelmingly infodumpy.
  35. North, Sterling, Rascal (finished February 26, 2019): I loved this book as a child, and haven't read it in decades. I read it to G as bedtime stories over the course of about two months. Golly was it hard not to ugly cry while reading the final paragraphs out loud.
  36. O'Dell, Claire, Hound of Justice (finished August 12, 2019): It took me a long time before I could write up my review of this book (usually I try to do these within a few days of finishing). Because this book hit me in the gut. Janet Watson is one of the realest, truest characters I have ever read, and the way in which O'Dell portrays her makes it so clear that Watson was written through first-hand knowledge. It's a hard read, as a result, sometimes, but it provides such a depth to the story. I don't really care about Sherlock Holmes retellings; but this was one of the best books I've read in 20109.
  37. O'Dell, Claire, A Jewel-Bright Sea (finished early November 2019): What can I say? A new book by one of my favorite authors, set in the same universe as some of my favorite books? I loved it. I had the honor and pleasure of beta reading this book a few years back, and I was thrilled when it was picked up for publication -- and then disappointed to find out it was going to be ebook only! Thankfully, not for long! A few months after the ebook was published I was able to get a hard copy, which I devoured in like two nights. The story is beautifully paced and full of detail, and I love Anna and Andreas almost as much as I loved Ilse and Raul.
  38. Osawa, Hirotaka, ed., Intelligence: Artificial and Human (finished December 28, 2019): This was a collection of eight short stories in translation by Japanese authors. I received a copy of this anthology in the hallway after a panel I was on at WorldCon in August, and it was a real delight to read and review the stories.
  39. Parrish, Rhonda, ed., Grimm, Grit, and Gasoline (finished November 24, 2019): I reviewed this collection of dieselpunk short stories at SFFReviews.
  40. Pratchett, Terry, The Truth (finished November 14, 2019): In the wake of the UK election season gearing up, I had to reread this. It was sadly far too much like nonfiction than fiction this time around.
  41. Queer Sci Fi, Migration: Queer Sci Fi's 6th Annual Flash Fiction Contest (finished October 31, 2019): I had a story in last year's collection, and while mine didn't get selected for this year's, a friend of mine got her first publication out of it! So I ordered it in support of her, and because I do rather like the quickness of so many 300 word stories. Good value. Will definitely submit to next year's contest again, and probably buy the volume even if I don't get in.
  42. Russ, Joanna, The Female Man (finished June 30, 2019): I don't remember whom recommend this to me, but I'm glad they did. It is equal parts riveting and horrifying -- every single thing a man says in this book, I could imagine being said in a quote in a contemporary Guardian article. How far we have (not) come since the 60s.
  43. Setterfield, Diane, Once Upon a River (finished March 29, 2019): I picked this up at the airport on March 27, because I loved Setterfield's Thirteenth Tale, and found Bellman & Black interesting. OUaR had the same slightly gothic horror feel that TT had, and I was particularly satisfied by the ending. The more short and long speculative fiction I read, the more I come to feel that happy endings are way harder to master than unhappy ones, so when they're done well, they're very satisfying.
  44. Simmonds, Dan, Drood (finished May 3, 2019): I have no idea how I acquired this book (possibly mom gave it to me?). But the day I'd finished up my last airport book and was looking for the next thing to read, there it was, lying on the shelf. It was big and thick and written by an author whose other works I liked (and when it came to Simmonds' Hyperion, that was one of the best books I had read in a long time, when I read it a few years ago). Drood wasn't as good as Hyperion, but it was still very good, despite how ponderous it was. Three things stuck out for me: Reading this book was the first time that I actually thought "I want to read Dickens"; Simmonds did an amazing job at capturing 19th C sensibilities, which unfortunately means the racism and sexism in the book is often incredibly distastefully hard to read, because it is so overt and so unquestioned; and I kept having a suspicion that it was going to turn out to be an "unreliable narrator" story in its resolution, and now that I've finished it, I'm not sure if that was the case or not, and I sort of wish it had had a neater denoument. Still, a good book, and it kept me occupied for a few weeks rather than a few days!
  45. Stephenson, Neil, Anathem (finished March 15, 2019): My mom got me this for Christmas (which was in mid-February, 2019). It's been quite awhile since I've read ponderous SFF by a white man, and the first few chapters were a bit too ponderous and a bit too white male, and I was uncertain how far I'd get. And then something changed -- not sure what, and not sure where or why -- and I realised that this book was basically written purely to satisfy the needs and desires and niche interests of people like me. It was astonishing, and fun, and honestly, the next time I teach Introduction to Philosophy I'm simply going to make my students read this and then find out which real-world philosopher is being represented by which fictional saunt.
  46. Stevermer, Caroline, A College of Magics (finished February 4, 2019): My friend Irina recommended this book to me in summer 2017, but it took me this long to get my hands on a copy. It was well worth the wait. It's the sort of book you consume hungrily and greedily, and leaves you burning for more.
  47. Suri, Tasha, Empire of Sand (finished December 9, 2019): Another WorldCon recommendation. Highly recommended. I loved the medieval Indian setting, I found the worldbuilding spectacular, I loved the characters, and I liked the somewhat didactic tone the book sometimes took. This was a real winner of a recommendation, and I'm putting book 2 onto my "want list".
  48. Tákacs, Bogi, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation Stories (finished November 17, 2019): I reviewed this for SFFReviews; it's a collection of short stories and some of them were really good.
  49. Thomas, Angie, On the Come Up (finished April 5, 2019): Picked this up from the airport, scouting out the young adult section. This was just as good as The Hate U Give, and I finished it in a single day. Both of Thomas's books are so different from what I usually read, and reading them feels like an epistemic experience that I could not get in any other way. I'll repeat what I said in reviewing THUG: Every white person should read this book.
  50. Townsend, Sue, The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year (finished May 17, 2019): G's school library has a box of books that parents are encouraged to "borrow" (for 50p each, and we have to bring them back) so that kids see their parents reading. (Not an issue in our house.) I picked this book up from the basket because I saw the title and felt an immediate kinship. Unfortunately, the title was the only redeeming part of the book. Not a single character was realistic or sympathetic; most of the time, they read as if written by someone who'd never actually met people before, and certainly had never met university professors specialising in astronomy. The crass racism, sexism, and ableism that was rampant throughout the book was also extremely off-putting. I think I cracked a smile once, and the only moment of true pleasure it brought was when Calabi-Yau sequences were mentioned and I thought "I recognise that term, and I once knew what they are." Overall, do not recommend, and on the strength of this book I will probably never read anything else by this author.
  51. Trelease, Gita, Enchantée (finished April 5, 2019): I bought this from the young adult section at the airport book store on the strength of the beautiful front cover and a moderately interesting back blurb, and expected it to be one a solid but not stellar book. I was pleasantly surprised! Revolutionary Paris was drawn richly and beautifully, the magical system was both central to the story and backgrounded in a way to make it seem ordinary and natural, I loved the diversity of the characters, and even more I loved the way it drew upon classic Cinderella story elements without ever being a straight-up retelling. I'd love to read more by Trelease.
  52. van Rooyen, Suzanne, Scardust (finished October 8, 2019): Recommendation from the internet (can't remember who/where). This was a 2-night book; it would've been a 1-night book if I hadn't started it after having finished another book the same night, so I ran out of time. It was totally different from what I normally read; normally I specifically avoid stories where rape and/or abuse feature as important plot points, but the soul-sucking realism of the early part of this story struck me as being important to read: This is the reality for some people's lives, and it's not necessarily good for me to ignore or pretend that that's not the case. The characters were strongly crafted and gripping, and the very satisfying ending took me by surprise. Recommended, with caveats.
  53. Wakes, Damon L., Ten Little Astronauts (finished December 4, 2019): I was offered a review copy of this collection of two novellas, and my review of it will show up on SFFReviews in January.
  54. Walsh, Jessica, Little Creepers (finished May 7, 2019): I reviewed this collection of short (mostly horror) stories at SFFReviews.
  55. Watterson, Bill, Calvin & Hobbes: 10th Anniversary Edition (finished November 2, 2019): G and I read through this one as bedtime stories. It was sort of a "greatest hits" collection, with certain story arcs featured. What I enjoyed was that some of them were introduced with a brief commentary by Watterson, and what I found interesting was that I was able to read that introduction silently to myself at the same time as I read aloud the comics to G -- a feat that I would not have imagined possible if you had suggested I try.


  1. Bydén, Börje and Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist, eds., The Aristotelian Tradition: Aristotle's Works on Logic and Metaphysics and Their Reception in the Middle Ages (finished June 11, 2019): I read this to review for Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval. Spoiler: It was good, but patchy in its coverage.
  2. Hughes, John, ed., The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, with a Particular Account of their Lives, Amours, and Misfortunes: Extracted Chiefly from Monsieur Bayle...To Which are Added Four Poems, by Mr. Pope and Other Hands (finished February 6, 2019): I'll confess, I skipped the poems. And the rest...I hadn't expected as much stomach curdling misogyny and patriarchy as I found. Not recommended.
  3. Ladd, Christine, "On the Algebra of Logic" (finished January 15, 2019): I'm counting this as a book, because of its length, and the fact it was a PhD thesis. This was another "started in 2018, finished in 2019" book, because I read it at a rate of 3-5 pages per day, only 1-2 days a week.
  4. de Pisan, Christine, The Treasure of the City of Ladies (finished February 27 or 28, 2019): This was not nearly as rewarding as the letters of Abelard & Heloise; I ranted quite a bit on twitter about how Christine is not the feminist ancestress so many women are looking for (cf. especially here)
  5. Wilson, Robin and Amirouche Moktefi, eds., The Mathematical World of Charles L. Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) (finished July 11, 2019): I read this to review it for the Lewis Carroll Review. It was excellent. The reviews editor liked my review enough that she also put it up on the reviews section of the British Society for Literature and Science website.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

How do we (teach students to) ask questions?

Yesterday I gave a talk with this title at Nottingham Philosophy's departmental colloquium. The post below isn't a transcription of the talk but it's the notes I wrote up on the train down which I mostly followed when speaking. I'm reproducing the notes here unchanged, not because I didn't get loads of useful feedback from the Q&A, but because I don't have the time to amend/augment it now, and in any case I'm planning to take this and try to turn it into an actual journal paper.

I'd like to thank Matthew and the rest of you for the invitation to come give a talk, because it gives me an opportunity to explore some things that I spend a lot of time thinking about but which I feel like we (as a profession) spend very little time talking about – either with each other or with our students. I know from Matthew and Ian that Nottingham is a very open and pluralistic department, so I wanted to do something a little bit different. This is going to be more of an interactive exercise where I get you guys to think reflectively about a bunch of stuff and then share your thoughts with each other and with me. It's primarily selfish in nature: I want to get better at this, so I want to get as much different input as I can.

What is philosophy?

  1. Is it content?

    Is it about who our predecessors are, and what they thought? Is it names, dates, influences, concepts, theories, questions, applications, problems, paradoxes? [If it is, what distinguishes philosophy from history of philosophy?] Is it about investigating fundamental reality?

  2. (2) Is it method?

    Or is it method? Can any topic be philosophical so long as we apply certain kinds (the right kinds?) of methods to it?

    What are the methods? Formal logic; informal logic; concept analysis; phenomenology; thought experiments; etc.

One needn't place themselves firmly in one camp or the other – it's possible to take any position on the spectrum between these two extremes, and probably most philosophers find themselves somewhere in the middle. But if hard pressed to come up with a means of excluding philosophy from non-philosophy, each of you will end up favoring one side or another.

Why is it important to know where you stand on this issue? It's because it relates to another topic, namely:

What are we teaching when we teach undergraduates philosophy?

  1. Is it philosophy?
  2. Is it how to be a philosopher?

These are not quite the same question as the previous question, but if you say the answer is (3) then whether you take (1) or (2) will make a difference.

Think back to your own undergraduate career. What did you learn? What courses were you required to take? In the US, I had to do history of ancient and history of modern; I had to take at least one ethics course; I had to take at least one logic course. For the rest, I had choice, but the classes I took tended to focus on particular areas/subfields/figures in philosophy: Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein; philosophy of language; metaphysics; epistemology; philosophy of math. As I got higher up (and started taking grad classes) I got focused topics like compositionality and vagueness and logicism. But there was a very clear sense that we were learning who the important figures, themes, concepts, developments in philosophy were. In only one case did I get the feeling that my professor was teaching me what he was teaching me because he thought it was right (Terry Penner doing Plato was amazing.)

If there was an expectation that we would learn how to be philosophers, it was that this would fall out of reading and seeing how the great philosophers did philosophy. (This is, if you think about it, an interesting pedagogical assumption. Would we expect people to learn how to become engineers by reading/seeing how other engineers do engineering? Would we expect people to learn how to write fiction by reading/seeing how other authors write fiction? It's a pedagogical technique that seems more appropriate in some cases than in others, and not appropriate across the board: So we must ask the question, "Is it appropriate for philosophy?")

Does anyone else's experiences differ from mine?

Anyway, the takeaway I took from this, as a student, is that this is what I was supposed to teach my own (undergraduate) students – that there were certain figures, concepts, disputes, etc. that any student having gotten a philosophy degree should come away with some degree of knowledge/familiarity with. (Let me just say as an aside here that this is where questions of canon come in…questions I'm not going to talk about so much, but not because I don't think they're important.) So if I was teaching philosophy of language, I should teach people about Frege/Sense/Reference; Russell/Donnellan/Kaplan/definite descriptions; Kripke; possibly Geach. Maybe at a higher level I could teach semantics, and compositionality, and theories of truth.

That's what I should teach…but what I really wanted to teach was all the ways in which philosophy of language gets fiction wrong, and how to deal with lies, and what do we mean by "meaning" and "nonsense" and "meaningless", and the problems fanfiction causes. But if I did that, then I'd have to give up on giving them the broad foundation in the historical debates and developments – there simply isn't enough time.

But what if what we were really supposed to be doing was teaching students how to do philosophy or how to be philosophers?

Then all the things I wanted to be teaching them and talking to them about, I could. But if that's what our goal is, then I think for the most part, we don't do a very good job at it.

In my capacity as director of undergrad dissertations at Durham, the biggest thing concern I've seen over the years is that students don't really know how to come up with dissertation topics. They look at the grand topics they've covered in their classes – the problem of evil, why is there something rather than nothing, what are numbers, etc. – and worry (quite rightly) that (a) they can't come up with a grand topic like this; (b) if they do, they won't be able to come up with an original contribution; (c) if they do, they can't adequately discuss it in 12k. Or, they look at the sorts of essay topics they're given in their classes or exams, and try to come up with something that sounds like that, and invariably end up with something clunky, awkward, and not very much fun.

My first experience with teaching (UK) students how to come up with their own questions was a few years ago when I taught a 2nd year course on Language, Logic, and Reality. I talked with the other person running the module and we agreed on a plan. The course had one formative paper and two summative papers. The formative paper, we would give them one question – everyone had to write on it. (It tied back to the very first lecture when I wrote three quotes up on the board – one in medieval Welsh, one in Sindarin, and one in Linear B. We asked them whether the quote in Linear B was meaningful, and why/why not.) The second paper we had around 7 pre-set questions students could choose from. But their final paper, they had to come up with their own topic. We told them this at the very beginning of the year, and provided a lot of "and this would be an EXCELLENT topic for your final paper" during lectures and discussions. We also arranged for my students to talk to the other lecturer to get their questions vetted, and vice versa, so that no one ended up picking something unreasonable for 3000 words. These final papers were across the board a much higher quality than the other ones.

But I can't recall how many people I had in my office telling me things like "I didn't know that I could talk about X in philosophy" or "Is this philosophical enough?" (Those two words are the bane of my existence). The worry whether something is "philosophical enough" connects to a concern that philosophy is demarcated by its subject matter, rather than its method, and that if one wants to talk about something in a philosophical context one must relate it back and anchor it in that subject matter. Whereas if one things that philosophy is a matter of method, then anything can be philosophical enough. It was working with students that convinced them that method is the way forward, and that method is what we should be teaching them, and what we should be teaching them explicitly.

(Side note: As a graduate student in the US, I remember being utterly baffled how my compatriots wrote journal articles. How did one come up with an idea that was suited to an article? I didn't have much problem writing seminar papers, but journal articles seemed a very different thing, and not once did I get any explicit guidance as to what the difference is or how I should approach one vs. the other.)

So how do we teach students to ask questions? Well, here's how I teach them:

When students are in my office wondering what to write their dissertations on, I have a surefire method of finding them a topic that excites and interests them. First, I ask them what interests them outside of philosophy. What do they read, what do they listen to, what do they watch, what do they talk about with friends, what are their hobbies? [Only once did I have a student tell me he had no hobbies.] Then, I ask them what interests them in philosophy – is it ethics, is it metaphysics, is it epistemology, is it language/logic? That is…are they interested in what is right? What is? What we know? How we say true things about it/draw inferences about it? Finally, I ask them: What's in the intersection. There's your thesis topic.

But that just gets a topic. How does one know what to say about it? These are the questions I have them go through:

  • What do you want to know?
  • What would count as an answer to this question? How are you going to discriminate between things that answer the question and things that don't?
  • What would count as a good answer to this question? How are you going to discriminate between competing answers? What are your foundational principles, the things that you cannot give up? What is the purpose of this answer (are you looking for something functional, moral, epistemological, etc.)? State these at the beginning of what you are writing, as part of your motivation.
  • Then, once you've answered the question…who cares? Why does it matter? What has changed as a result of having this answer? What must change as a result of having this answer? Does having this answer affect our behavior? Does it affect what philosophical position we must adopt to remain consistent? Does it change the philosophical landscape by either removing or adding possible positions? What difference does it make?

These are, at the heart of it, the questions I think philosophers should be asking, whatever other questions they ask. Do not ask "Why is there something rather than nothing?" or "What is a fact?" unless you have some idea of what could possibly count as an answer, and some idea of what could possibly count as a good answer. And when it's boiled down to this, these are fairly straightforward things to teach students to ask.

Answering them, on the other hand… is another matter altogether.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

It shouldn't be like this

Yesterday afternoon I went down to Leeds to give a talk at the joint Mathematics/Philosophy Logic seminar.

It was, in almost all respects, a really lovely day. I know the Leeds campus quite well, having been going to the International Medieval Congress there quite regularly for the last 10+ years, and I realised on the train down that I think I've probably been to Leeds more often than any other university in the UK other than Durham. I got in a few hours early, and hung out in the Old Bar to finish up my slides. (It was very strange, being on the Old Bar and not having it overrun with medievalists. I didn't overhear any conversations about transcribing codices, or rants about sexuality in Arthurian lit.) While sitting there, a friend surprised me by finding me there, and we got to chat for half an hour or so before I headed over to the mathematics dept., where another friend was waiting to join the audience of the talk. There were also a number of other people that I'd met at the British Logic Colloquium in September, which when sprinkled throughout the rather large audience made me feel at ease. I then got to give one of my favorite talks to mathematical logicians -- in it, I try to convince them that they should care about medieval logic, and show them amusing and sometimes rude pictures from manuscripts (my slides are here. There was a lot of enthusiastic nodding during the talk, and some excellent questions at the end. Afterwards, a third friend of mine turned up, and joined us for beers, and then the dept. took me out for dinner -- so, basically a really, really wonderful day out.


I was the only woman in the room.

We all know that philosophy has a gender problem, that math has a gender problem, and that logic, sitting in the uncomfortable intersection between math and philosophy, has inherited the worst of both worlds. There have been many contexts in which I've been one of only two or three women in a group of logicians, and when I was an undergrad and early grad student, this was so normalised, to be honest I hardly even noticed. (To also be honest, I rather liked the skewed ratio, because it gave YoungNerd!Sara members of the opposite gender she could actually talk to and who actually wanted to talk to her. Dear reader, I married one of them.) But this was the first time where I was the only one.

During dinner I pointed this out, and to their credit, the people I was having dinner with fully acknowledged that this was a problem, and also that it is not an accident that they have invited as many women to come speak as they have. The first step towards fixing a problem is recognising it.

But even so, I wonder when the last time one of them gave a talk to an audience that was only women. It's 2019. It shouldn't be like this.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Stats and graphs and publishing fiction

I've now been writing and submitting short (and long!) stories moderately seriously for just over 5 years -- after a decade or more hiatus from writing fiction, I decided one day, August 26, 2014, to start writing again, and I did. Since then, I've written hundreds of thousands of words (literally -- since I started tracking my words via WordKeeperAlpha in September 2017, I have written more than 200,000 words of fiction!), and I've had a satisfying amount of my fiction published. I was thinking the other day that publications don't ever really tell the whole story -- of the time between when a piece was first submitted and when it was finally published, or how many rejections there were between first submission and first publication. So I thought I'd do a post about this, doing some graphs and stats on the last five years. (Well, rather, the last two and a half, which is when I started using the Submissions Grinder; this won't affect the stats very much, as prior to that I had only one story that I had ever submitted, and it was accepted on the first go.)

Between 2017-05-04 and 2019-09-16, I've submitted 23 stories. 11 (=48%) of them have been accepted. (Some of those which have not (yet) been accepted were one-off things written for a specific venue and when they weren't successful there there wasn't any great pressure to try resubmitting them, so if I didn't count those "dead" stories that acceptance percentage would be even higher! I hadn't realised how high it was, this is quite rewarding.) The first two graphs focus just on the accepted stories, and the third graph will focus on ones not yet accepted. (If you click on a graph you'll get a larger, easier to read version.)

The first graph plots how many days there were between when a story was first submitted, and when it was finally accepted:

The second graph plots how many rejections each accepted story got before it was finally accepted:

And then final graph plots how many rejections stories that have not yet been accepted yet have accrued already:

One thing that comes out of these numbers is that persistence pays off. This makes me feel a lot better about the stories that I keep submitting and submitting and submitting. They will eventually get there. Eventually.

Edited to add another graph: Plotting the number of rejections vs. the length of time between initial submission and first acceptance:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Story birthday! "On the Other Side of the Dark Entry Gate"

Yesterday my drabble "On the Other Side of the Dark Entry Gate" was published in Black Hare Press's anthology Beyond.

(Book selfies are hard, when they're of ebooks!)

The original idea for this story dates back to spring 2017, when one of the Marvel films was being filmed at Durham Cathedral. My daughter's school is right behind the cathedral, and during filming there was limited access. To inform us of this, we got an email from school, which contained this delightful line:

The Dark Entry gate is locked; access will be via The Bailey.

That was when I knew I needed to write the story of the Dark Entry Gate -- especially when in proximity to a cathedral, doesn't that sound like a euphemism for the entrance to the pit of hell?

The story itself had a number of false starts over the last two years, but when I saw the theme for this anthology, the perfect drabble came out in one go.

Here's a picture of the Dark Entry gate when it is open:

Monday, September 16, 2019

How to write academic papers for fun and profit

Back in spring, I chatted briefly with a group of master's students about what I was looking for in their final papers, and how they could go about structuring them (this was in the context of encouraging them to think beyond the length of paper they'd been used to writing -- instead of 3k, 5-6k). It took about 15 minutes and some scribbling on the board, but afterwards one of them thanked me and said no one had ever taught them this before.

Following up on that tweet, I wrote up what I could remember of the advice I'd given.

Then, last week, someone in an FB group for fiction writing that I'm in was struggling with writing a paper for one of her classes, unsure how to get started. This group has 17+k members, and I often end up putting on my "professional academic" hat and giving people advice on picking classes, applying to uni, talking to their profs, etc., and this post was no different. The topic was an argumentative paper on quality management in insurance companies with special regard for business customers -- a topic I know nothing about, but you know what? I know what sort of paper I'd want to read on this subject...and the structure it has turned out to be rather similar to what I'd given the philosophy students for their logic papers!

So I thought I'd compile this advice into a blog post. Note that this isn't the only way to write such papers, but it's a way, and it's a good one, and it's one that not only do I encourage my students and other students to use, but I use myself quite often, too.

Advice from twitter:

  • Your intro should include what your problem/puzzle/issue is; what motivated your choice; and what tools you'll use to solve it.
  • You should say what other people have done that's relevant, and why it's inadequate (if it isn't inadequate, then you don't have a puzzle/problem to solve).
  • You should define all your technical apparatus. This can be done in two ways:
    1. Either you introduce the technical apparatus and the motivating examples/material concurrently, in an interleaved fashion.
    2. Or you present all the technical apparatus, and then apply it to your motivating examples/material.
    It's REALLY HARD to know which route is best. I often end up starting with one method, finding it wholly inadequate, switching to the other, hating it, and then switching back.
  • After you've applied your technical appartus, say something about the consequences. What have you gained from doing this? What have you learned? What are the problems? What still needs to be done?
  • And all of that will segue into your conclusion/recap/future work section. I think that's about it.

Advice from FB:

The first thing you need is what question you're trying to answer, and what your answer is: Everything else gets built around that. I often recommend to my students to work backwards: What do you want your reader to come away with at the end? Set up your entire paper to drive that point home:

  • Motivate the question -- which is this a question worth answering? Why this question rather than another question?
  • Contextualise the question -- what has already been said to answer this question? Why are these previous answers inadequate? How will your answer differ?
  • Motivate the answer -- what will count as a good answer? How will you discriminate good answers from bad answers? (This will, of course, be connected to the previous, in that you want answers that do things that previous answers haven't done).
  • Answer the question.
  • Explain how your answer answers the question and why it is a good answer.
  • Remind your reader what the question and answer were, and conclude.

Aim for 1000 words for the first two, maybe 1500 for the third, 2000 for the fourth, and another ~2.5k for the fifth and sixth -- that's 7000 words and should be about 20 pages.

There you go! Have fun. Oh, wait, you want to know how to make money from all of this? Ahahahahahahah....

Monday, September 9, 2019

Story birthday! "The Simurgh's Daughter"

About two weeks ago, my short story "The Simurgh's Daughter" was published in the anthology Pioneers and Pathfinders (Amazon link); my print copy arrived today!

This story was written over Christmas break 2017-2018. I'd seen a call for stories for an anthology on Asian bird themed SFF, and was interested in exploring this theme in an atypical way. G had recently come home with a children's version of the Shahnameh from the library, and while reading it, especially stories of the simurgh, I wanted to write a story that fit within that mythos while not being a retelling of it, and I wanted to write a story for her.

She was my first beta reader and my biggest champion for the story throughout. I read it to her, and she drew pictures of parts of the story -- those pictures were taped to my kitchen cupboard for a good year, reminding me that no matter what happens, she loves my stories and believes in them.

"A fragrant pliant golden green haoma tree which blooms in summer"

"Vourukasha the world sea"

"The simurgh is a wondrous bird with copper feathers and the tail of a peacock and the face of a beautiful woman"

"She landed upon Harā Berezaitī the peak of the tallest mountain when a cry caught her ears"

"You were born upon the mountain Harā Berezaitī around which the stars and the moon resolve"

"The city of Amui upon the shores of a great sea"

I have a pretty good track record of writing stories for specific themed anthologies and failing to place them in those anthologies, but placing the stories elsewhere. I'd shopped this one around for quite awhile before I decided to ask Jessica, who edited Pioneers and Pathfinders if she'd like to read it, even if the story wasn't an exact fit for the antho brief. She loved it as much as G did. :)

I loved reading up on Persian mythology and history while writing the story, reading about Ahura Mazda, about haoma trees, about the world-sea, looking at geography to choose where exactly I would set Harā Berezaitī and which city (modern-day Amol) I would set Simbar's adventures in. I also loved research Persian food, making myself hungry along the way! (One book I stumbled across was Jan Gonda, Rice and Barley Offerings in the Veda). And finally, to the best of my knowledge, Simbar and Thriti are both plausible historical Persian feminine names; Saena is a name used for the simurgh in the Yashts, a collection of Avestan hymns.

I'm super glad to see this story in print, and look forward to reading it to G for many years to come.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Doctor Logic Goes to WorldCon!

Edit August 1: The final schedule is now up, and I can confirm that the below is all correct.

I am super excited to be going to my first WorldCon, in Dublin next month. It'll be an interesting adventure -- it's my not only my first WorldCon, but it's also my first SFF con of any type, and while there I'll be participating in events that feature many different facets of my life. I've got lodgings arranged with philosophy and NaNoWriMo friends; I'm giving a paper on onomastics in the academic track; I'm speaking in two panels on AI; and I'll be participating in the demos and display stalls for the Society for Creative Anachronism; and I've got a drink-beer-with-an-author session. All my academic, hobby, and authorial pursuits all coming together into one!

So, what, exactly am I do, and where can you find me? Here's the scoop!

Thursday, August 15

11:30-12:50: Worlds (Academic Session)

Names: Form & Function in Worldbuilding & Conlangs

Significant interest has been generated in recent years in the robust development of conlangs (constructed languages) for fantasy and sci-fi purposes, with detailed handbooks now available for the amateur conlanger, providing instructions on how to develop grammar, phonology, etc. One area of linguistic development that many conlangers often overlook is personal and place name patterns and practices.

The influence of medieval European naming practices can be seen throughout contemporary fantasy naming practices. This influence can be traced back to the Father of Fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, as many of his names – such as Gandalf, Thorin, Frodo, Theodred, and Peregrine – are in fact genuine medieval names; and Tolkien himself was significantly influenced by the medieval-style romances of William Morris. However, unlike Tolkien and Morris, many modern authors developing ‘generic medieval European’ style fantasy worlds do not have a background in medieval history or linguistics, with the result that even dedicated conlangers approach names in an unsystematic or ungrounded way.

In this talk we argue for the importance of including personal names and place names in the development of fantasy worlds and languages, and highlight the distinctive aspects of the formation and function of personal and place names that conlangers and authors should be aware of when developing a world or a language. We also show how resources available to the amateur historian and linguist, such as the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, can be used to develop consistent, grounded, systematic name pools and patterns of construction.

Date, Time, Location

15 Aug 2019, Thursday 11:30 - 12:20, Odeon 6 (Academic) (Point Square Dublin)


  1. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman – ‘Names: Form & Function in Worldbuilding & Conlangs’
  2. Andrew Richardson – ‘Civilisation and Science Fiction’
  3. Dr Kevin Koidl – ‘Trust and the Future of Social Media’

Friday, August 16

16:30-17:20: Is Hari Seldon’s project becoming achievable? (Panel)

People have long tried to predict future outcomes of nations or personal behaviour. Prediction is now enhanced by big data and machine learning. Panellists consider which events we already can predict with high probability. With stochasticity, which events will we never ‘get’? What mechanisms would prevent misuse (e.g. for advertising or influencing voting)? What would trigger a ‘Seldon Crisis’?

Date, Time, Location

16 Aug 2019, Friday 16:30 - 17:20, Alhambra (Point Square Dublin)


  1. Shmulik Shelach
  2. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University)
  3. Tomasz Kozlowski (Atelier of Improvisation) (Moderator)
  4. Marina Berlin

Saturday, August 17

15:30-16:20: Crafting your fandom (Panel)

From building a spaceship wardrobe to knitting the Doctor’s scarf, baking the Death Star, or putting their travel cards into wands, fans have ever more inventive ways to express their love, enthusiasm, and fandom through arts and crafts. Our panellists will share their love of fandom crafting from what they do to how they do, and discuss why we all do it.

Date, Time, Location

17 Aug 2019, Saturday 15:30 - 16:20, Alhambra (Point Square Dublin)


  1. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University) (Moderator)
  2. Todd Allis
  3. Arwen Grune
  4. Michelle Coleman (University of Nottingham)
  5. Alicia Zaloga

Sunday, August 18

17:00-17:50: Society for Creative Anachronism (demo)

Date, Time, Location

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 17:00 - 17:50, 4th floor foyer (CCD)

21:00-21:50: Literary Beer with Dr Sara L. Uckelman

Come and keep me company and have a beer (or not) and talk about writing (or not) or academia (or not)!

Date, Time Location

18 Aug 2019, Sunday 21:00 - 21:50, Liffey-A (Fan Bar) (CCD)

Monday, August 19

10:30-11:30: AIs and the female image (Panel)

Whether in smart homes or wearing mechanical bodies, until recently many ‘female’ AIs emphasised beauty and sexuality. Now some portrayals emphasise strength and intelligence. Can we do both? How does the representation of ‘male’ AIs differ? Must we anthropomorphise AIs and assign them genders? Can we have non-binary AIs?

Date, Time, Location

19 Aug 2019, Monday 10:30 - 11:30, Odeon 1 (Point Square Dublin)


  1. Madeline Ashby
  2. Charles Stross
  3. Pat Cadigan
  4. Dr V Anne Smith (University of St Andrews)
  5. Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University)

It may come as a surprise to some people that I am actually an introvert and sometimes can suffer from incapacity shyness and anxiety. I've spent a large part of my life thinking "Surely everyone has someone they would like to talk to more than talk to me". But if people come up and talk to me, I am positively delighted and often can pretend very well to be an extrovert. So look out for these shoes and introduce yourself to me if you see me! (And if there is someone else at WorldCon with these shoes...I want to meet you.)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

New publication announcement!

On Friday, my paper "Contradictions, Impossibility, and Triviality: A Response to Jc Beall" was published in Journal of Analytic Theology, as part of a symposium on Jc Beall's paper, also published in the same issue, "Christ – A Contradiction: A Defense of Contradictory Christology". It was a pleasure to be invited by the editors of the journal to participate in this symposium, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Beall's paper and responding to it. I look forward to reading all the other responses with the attention and care they are due.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

the "I forgot to wear trousers to lecture" dream

[Note: I originally posted this to my personal blog, which I don't share the link around to much, and kept wanting to share it with people because it's so funny, so I finally decided to copy the post over to this blog, so I can share this link.]

Last night [April 28, 2016] I dreamt it was my first introduction to logic tutorial, and as I was waiting for everyone to file in I realized there was a lot more people there than I was expecting -- instead of 10-12, or even max 20, it was more than three times that (as the people kept filing in, the room kept growing, but even so, it was a small room and it was full). And then someone else professorial showed up, expecting to teach there at the same time; his course was on the Swedish/Danish October 1844-1846 Revolt between the red coats and the green coats. But we compared notes, and realized that I was scheduled to teach there at 9:00am, which it was, and he was scheduled to teach there at 8:00am, and had thus missed his first lecture. Oops.

Nevertheless, the room was still awfully full, so I realized this must've been the first lecture, not the first tutorial, and adjusted my plan correspondingly and when the trickle slowed, I launched into my "What is logic?" with full vim.

Lots of vim, because right about then was when I realized that I was lecturing in my underwear. On the other hand, I also had my coronet on, so it all evened out, and I blithely Emperor's New Clothesed my way through the opening words until someone tentatively raised her hand and asked "Uhhh, what class is this supposed to be?"

"Introduction to Logic.",/p>

"Not dance?"

"Uhhh, no. But what kind of dance? I can teach medieval and Renaissance dance, as well as tap, ballet, and jazz." [Note: This is true]

"Modern hip-hop."

"Sorry, no, not this room." And about twenty of the students filed out.

At that point I was poking my head out the door to see if there was anyone else planning to show up, and realized there were people with pitchforks running through the halls! -- the red coats and the green coats. A red coat, pursued by two green coats, saw my open door and dashed into the lecture hall, swooped me up, flung me over his shoulder, and ran down the stairs. I did have to ask him if he was one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, because, to be honest my knowledge of the October 1844-1846 Revolt was quite minimal -- the only thing I knew about it was that Joel has a wargame based on it, entitled "Bugles and Bubbles" -- and I didn't even remember who won in the end. I don't remember his answer, and things became a bit fuzzy for a bit, but eventually I escaped him, found some proper clothing to match my crown, snuck through various halls and into the cathedral where the funeral service for the king was happening, and somehow by the time I woke up, I ended up queen of Sweden.

So, you know, it wasn't all bad.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Short story birthday: "An Orb of Ice-Blue Held Aloft in a Perfect Hand"

Mermaid Audris by Phil Mac Fadden

Yesterday my short story "An Orb of Ice-Blue Held Aloft in a Perfect Hand" was published in Manawaker Studio's Flash Fiction Podcast. (Go listen to it! It's only 10 minutes long!)

The story itself has quite a story behind it. Late February/early March last year, I was involved in the longest-ever strike in UK higher-education history. From long cold days on the picket lines in the snow, to the harshness of being able to do my job, it was a tough time (something I blogged about daily here, starting with Day 1). I was struggling with the disruption of my schedule, of my projects, of my identity. Then one of my friends posted the above photo on Facebook, and I commented "I wanna write that story."

So I did.

About a week later when the local branch of the Durham UCU held a "Solidarity Salon", I read my strike story out loud -- the first time I've ever read any of my fiction aloud to an audience other than my daughter. Writing that story provided me with an outlet and a solace amidst a very stressful time, and I am so pleased that I was able to capture such an amazingly beautiful photo (of my amazingly beautiful friend!) in a story. That someone else liked my story enough to publish it is just the cherry on the top!

Photo credit: Mermaid Audris by Phil Mc Fadden. Follow @MermaidAudris on twitter.