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So, Ryan recently announced some awesome stuff he made at work, and he’s getting a little attention in the Tech media. Only problem is, several of them are running a photo of him off his about page. A photo I took, not under Creative Commons or anything. No credit, and they didn’t ask either of us.

I don’t actually mind, though I did consider posing Qubit for a lolcat take-down notice just for giggles. It’s just more than a bit odd that tech news sites wouldn’t be a little more savvy, a little more careful.

Recent uses of Book Darts, part V

Thursday August 21, 2008 @ 11:17 AM (UTC)

I’m reading VALIS by Philip K. Dick.

“Basically, Sherri’s idea had to do with bringing Fat’s mind down from the cosmic and the abstract to the particular. She had hatched out the practical notion that nothing is more real than a large World War Two Soviet tank.”

“Fat realized that one of two possibilities existed and only two; either Dr. Stone was totally insane – not just insane but totally so – or else in an artful, professional fashion he had gotten Fat to talk; he had drawn Fat out and now knew that Fat was totally insane.”

500 words a day (or so)

Wednesday August 20, 2008 @ 11:33 AM (UTC)

Of late, I’ve been listening to the Adventures in Sci Fi Publishing podcast (are podcast names italicized?). This only happens, say, while grocery shopping or folding clothes, so I’m plugging through them fairly slowly. However, it’s interesting and often inspiring.

This summer, they’re doing some contest which, in manner of crossover comics plotlines, is supposed to get AiSFP listeners to listen to sister program I Should Be Writing and vice versa. It has writer guests deliver ‘Keys to Publishing’ which we’re supposed to collect from both shows. Anyway, the first one, in Podcast 56, was delivered by Tobias Buckell and was, naturally, persistence. Always number one, that one, I thought, as I picked out green taco sauce for enchiladas, but when Buckell expanded, it turned out he was not talking about sending stories out doggedly (hey wait, how many stories do I have out? Maybe I need that pep talk too), but about writing doggedly. “I think a professional has to write a lot, and be persistent about it. It takes about 300 words a day or a page a day to create a novel in a year, and a novel in a year is quite often, you know, a rate that a lot of people have to hit in order to make a living at it.”

Obviously, this is good advice, as is the unpacking he does about practicing for productivity and practicing our craft in general, so I decided I would start writing 500 words a days towards a project I’m working on. If I only hit 300, that would be okay (I’ve discovered that setting goals works better if I don’t berate myself for falling short), and this is in addition to any other projects I’m working on. The first obstacle was, of course, that I do my initial drafts longhand. My Clairefontaine notebooks don’t have a word count function. So I chose a couple of pages and counted the words, estimated how many pages would make 500 words, and did that the first day, then typed it in (revising as I go, which is part of the point) and found it was 562 words. So far, so good – my goal is four pages longhand, not counting cross-outs.

I’ve been doing it ever since, though yesterday I tried to cram it in before bed and ended up with three pages (hopefully that falls within my 300 word range). With the exception of yesterday’s hiccup, what I’ve found is that it’s easy. I sit down with all the despair and feeling of dorkiness that besets a new project, unsure what scene to write on the heels of the one I finished the day before. But I get an idea, or maybe two before one sticks, and I write. Most days I have written well over four pages, written to the end of a scene or until looking at the clock in alarm. This is the mystical “butt in seat” that our faculty member David Long recommends in place of muse. This is doing the work. This is self-conscious and awkward, but it’s moving me forward to revision, to having made something, to the future.

Sometimes when established writers throw numbers around, it’s in the form of a rate, and it tends to cause panic in me and my fellows. But it doesn’t have to, if it’s not a rate, but a small, manageable goal. 500 words. 4 pages longhand. I can do this, every day.

The need to know

Monday August 18, 2008 @ 10:12 AM (UTC)

In sorting through boxes of late, I’ve come across many things I’d long forgotten, and one thing at least that gave me a rueful smile. It is a little notebook from when I read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun*, starting with The Shadow of the Torturer. They’re good books, well written and building to a surprising culmination. However, they’re also written in a strange style. They are meant to have been ‘translated’ from an arcane and alien tongue, and to ‘better represent the original text’, Wolfe has used unusual words.

And I don’t mean unusual words like purulent, adumbrate or deliquescent. I mean unusual like he must have a full OED and perused the alternate spellings so long he decided he could invent more with confidence; I mean so unusual that I had online access to the OED at the time and could only guess at some; I mean unusual as if they were not words in the language, tools in its toolbox, but forgotten implements ranged for display in the cases of a museum of curiosities.

It drove me crazy. When there is a word I do not know in a book, I want to learn it. I scrawl it down, leave a Book Dart, or note the place, and then I look it up later. Or, if it isn’t clear enough from context, I do it right then. Now, Gene Wolfe is not mean enough to write a book in English that English-speakers cannot read (oh Lord, I just thought about the task of translating these) – all these words are used carefully so that you can get a rough idea – “Oh, it’s a building material” – and move on with your reading. Or positioned so you don’t really have to know. Or linked into long lists to make it easier to figure out the context (the one I remember is, in fact, building materials) and deadly obvious that you should not look them all up.

I did. At first, I looked up every one. And there were usually something like six each page. Which brings me to the little notebook. When I realized looking each up before proceeding made the act of ‘reading’ problematic, I bought this tiny notebook at the University Bookstore and started scrawling the words in, to be joined by their definitions at a later date. This solution, too, ended, and I stopped worrying and learned to love the evocative mystery. I managed, thus, to finish reading the tetrology ** in less than a decade and without stealing a copy of the OED.

The notebook, however, abides.

A sample:

gallipot: little pot, apothecary
badelaire: badelar (OED): short broad sword with scimitar-like curve
myste: myst (OED): priest initiated into mysteries
armiger: one entitled to bear heraldic arms
mestachin [I think]: sword dancer in fantastic costume or their dance
caracara: aberrant falcon in South America with vulture tendencies
saros: Babylonian for 3600 or a period of 3600; also, modern astronomy: cycle of 18 years, 10 and 2/3 days in which solar and lunar eclipses repeat themselves
nenuphar: water lily
wildgrave: ruler of an uncultivated or forest region
khan: a building (unfurnished) for the use of travelers
coffle: train of men or beasts fastened together, especially slaves

The list persists beyond the defined part for 13 pages. Looking at it now, I find many words I know – ‘martello’, ‘stunsil’, ‘anchorite’, ‘salubrious’,‘capybara’. I don’t exult too much over my former self, however, because I do seem to recall, in the enthusiasm of my drive to know, adding words I knew, but not precisely, to the pages, confidently expecting I would define them all. I already know about myself that as I have grown I have come to be on better terms – friends, almost – with ambiguity, but how startling to see it so demonstrated, the contrast so clearly drawn between the person I am now and the one that scrawled these lists, desperate to know, eight or so years ago.

* If anyone I know has a line on where these books are now, please let me know. Maybe I lent them?
** Really, really. They were a gift from my dad, they’re beautiful editions, and last time I looked I couldn’t find those TPB volumes in print.

Keep your opinion polls off my body

Friday August 15, 2008 @ 05:52 PM (UTC)

I, personally, am entirely convinced by the Health and Human Services Secretary blogging that the leaked draft regulation doesn’t have anything to do with contraception.

After all, redefining abortion to be possible before implantation (“any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”) based on, I kid you not, polling data (“A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term ‘abortion.’”) is totally innocent. Now, recently studies have indicated that oral hormonal contraception, even at emergency contraception levels, doesn’t seem to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, but I’m pretty damn sure that polling data would not reflect that research, so that’s easy to get around. Science always is. Heck, the regulations are about the conscience of health care workers, so what matters isn’t whether the patient’s contraceptives prevent implantation, but whether the health care worker feels they will.

The leaked document, by the way, is also worrying gay rights advocates who think the guidelines will allow health care workers to refuse treatment or medicine to gay and transgender patients based on their religious convictions. Woohoo!

Here is the leaked document in PDF, and the Washington Post’s original coverage. Thrill to such features as (quoting the later article I first linked) “a major section of the draft regulation titled ‘The Problem’ [that] cites state laws designed to make sure that women have access to birth control pills and Plan B.” Many of those laws are about emergency rooms providing emergency birth control to rape survivors. Isn’t it good to know our friendly Gilead U.S. Government really cares about its handmaids female citizens?

Update, 8/23/08: The rule has been officially proposed. This is not just dangerous because it’s vague or because it redefines scientific terms by popularity contest. It’s dangerous because the officials who are supposed to care about and provide for people’s health in this country assume “that a patient could go to another provider”, in short are unconcerned about widening the healthcare gap and denying services to those who don’t have the coverage, time off work, or transportation money to go to another provider.

Water and film

Thursday August 14, 2008 @ 11:31 AM (UTC)

Spoiler Warning: This post contains extremely mild spoilers for Dark City, medium-sized Batman Begins spoilers, and sizable spoilers for Signs and The Wizard of Oz. I will put a friendly bold phrase after the spoiler paragraphs are done, for your skipping pleasure.

I watched the Director’s Cut of Dark City yesterday. The movie was already splendid, but the Director’s Cut was more or less flawless.

I was struck by the fact that the Strangers are afraid of water. This sounds familiar, so I started cataloging all the adversaries in film that are similarly afraid of water. I only got as far as the grays in Signs and the Wicked Witch of the West, but I feel certain there are more. In Dark City it’s particularly intriguing because the adversaries have a conflicted relationship with the human psyche. Sadly, I could not refer to von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales as it went in the first box of books I packed, but in it von Franz says that water in fairy tales represents the unconscious (which in Jungian theory is not just the forgotten and suppressed psyche, but the part of the psyche that contains the richest creative potential and which we must embrace in order to be whole Selves.) This makes sense if you consider water as a source of fear for the Strangers, and in fact water’s central role in the imaginative life of John Murdoch.

One of the writers of Dark City, David S. Goyer, also worked on Batman Begins, in which the villains try to use the water which connects the people of Gotham to drive them mad. It’s almost like they’re trying to poison the Collective Unconscious!

No worries! I try not to go crazy with the Jungianism, in general. It can be, as von Franz admits, just a way of “replac[ing] one myth by another”. But you all know I love water – water in the ocean, water falling from the sky, water running headlong off a basalt bluff. It’s interesting to think what place this necessary element, this harbinger and nurturer of life, holds in our collective imagination. It’s beautiful how the tropes of old hold true in our modern myth-making.

Any other hydrophobic movie villains to add to my list? Other movies whose waterways make for interesting musing?

On e-mail submissions

Wednesday August 13, 2008 @ 11:11 AM (UTC)

I’m not, in general, one of those writers who complains about the submissions process. I got excited at my first personal rejection, after all, and while of course I overanalyze the heck out of rejection letters (that’s almost in the ‘writer’ job description), I don’t take them personally or assume it means the editor thinks my work is crap. Maybe the editors have brainwashed me or something, but I figure rejection means that story wasn’t right for that magazine at that time, and that a long wait means the staff and editors (at some mags, especially litmags, volunteers) have a lot of submissions to work through.

That said, this wheel does have a squeak. I think it’s worth mentioning because e-mail submissions are only becoming more common, and because, knowing as many up-and-coming writers dabbling in editing and ambitious villainesses plotting small presses as I do, someone might read it who will be a chief editor someday.

E-mail is unreliable. USPS does suffer the occasional train derailment or unscrupulous postman throwing his stack into a piano, but on the whole, if you send a manila envelope, it gets where it’s going. E-mail, on the other hand, often gets where it’s going and sits in a junk folder, or is intercepted by the journal’s ISP because someone on your ISP is a spammer. And there’s no way for you to know. After waiting a few months to allow a decent interval, you can query, but if that doesn’t receive a response either, does that mean the staff is swamped, or that your submission has company in limbo?

All I suggest is that venues that accept e-mail submissions send acknowledgments. (They’re pretty easy to automate, I think, and copy-paste is a low-tech fallback.) If the venues also indicate on their submissions guidelines that an acknowledgment should arrive within X days of your submission, then the writer will know if her submission got eaten by the internet or blackballed by the blacklist. She can then proceed to send it from a different provider, et cetera. Many magazines already do this, and it’s a boon to writers’ peace of mind.

Goodreads vs. LibraryThing

Tuesday August 12, 2008 @ 12:44 PM (UTC)

I first mentioned my two book-cataloging affiliations in the “Against Friendship” social networking post:

From there, I also got into LibraryThing, which sadly seems to be superior but is not getting the new membership gestalt goodreads is.

I thought it was time to revisit the topic and really dig into the pros and cons of the two sites. Now, I do realize there are other book-cataloging websites – many. But it’s ridiculous enough to use two, so I haven’t tried any others.

The first thing to address is, why use a book cataloging website at all? Since this discussion is predicated on my use patterns and preferences, it’s only fair to set them out. Everyone’s intentions vary, but for me the benefits have been:

  • It reminds me to go read instead of messing with the internet.
  • It allows me to access my friends’ opinions (or at least star-ratings) on books when I need them – when I’m trying to buy Christmas gifts at 2 am, for example.
  • It’s helped me develop a practice of summarizing my thoughts on each book I read, which made annotating my grad school reading easy and has, I feel, made my opinions on books sharper and better expressed.
  • It provides a central place to save all my well-intentioned ‘to-read’ books.
  • It captures data on my books – to kibbitz over with my Mom at her yearly-book-tabulation time, to keep track of books borrowed or lent, et cetera.

Goodreads was designed as a social networking site for book-cataloging. Its home page is familiar to users of networks like Facebook – a log of the recent books added, reviews posted, “friendships” established by your friends on the site.

LibraryThing was designed by librarians. It’s centered around the collection of book data, and social networking has only gradually colonized it – as noted in “Against Friendship”, it originally had only ‘Interesting Libraries’ and ‘Private watchlist’ and now has ‘Friends’ as well. Its customizable home page, recently revamped, gives pride of place to a search-box that searches your own library of books. By default, the next item down is your recently added books.

That gives you the basic difference between the sites in a nutshell: GR is centered on the social aspects, LT is centered on your books. Still, it’s more than possible to use them in a very similar way. If I had to choose a word to sum up each, I’d call Goodreads “simple” and LibraryThing “robust.” Goodreads’ interface is clean, appealing and fairly self-explanatory, and the conceits of social networking have been widely disseminated, so the bar to new user entry is low. LibraryThing can be more intimidating, its wealth of information necessitating and populating many fields all over the screen.

That data, though, is fabulous. Unlike Goodreads, which is committed to a categorization system called ‘shelves’, LibraryThing uses tagging. This encourages the user to find her own ways to use the system – combining fairly utilitarian and obvious tags like “own, read, fiction, novel” with the personal and highly useful “lent to Grandma” (and subsequent “read by Grandma” – my Grandma’s local library closed, you see) or “Box 25.” In addition, the basic ‘library card’ information for your book on LT is well-designed. If your book has an author, a translator, an editor and an illustrator, you can enter all their names and label the rôle of each accordingly[*]. You can, if you like, enter the date you bought or checked out the book and the day you started reading it, the date you finished. Goodreads has, by contrast, only “date read,” recently expanded from month and year to day, month, year. On Goodreads, book cover is linked to ISBN, an often inaccurate shortcut, whereas on LibraryThing you can choose from the covers uploaded by other users or a bunch of pretty blank covers as well as the ISBN-linked Amazon images. LibraryThing has a great book-adding interface that allows you to type the tags once for one group of book-adds and integrates a barcode scanner seamlessly. They have a versatile batch-edit mode for changes, and you can search hundreds of libraries worldwide as well as Amazon, whereas Goodreads only searches the various Amazon sites. If I’m going to spend time entering data on my books, I prefer to have complete and accurate information, so LibraryThing wins by a mile on that front.

Goodreads is free and runs on ad revenue, whereas LibraryThing is ad-free and free up to 200 books, after which you are asked to pay $10/year or $25 for a lifetime membership.

Probably as a consequence of the differences outlined above, LibraryThing has 473,080 users while Goodreads claims over 1,000,000. This despite LibraryThing being founded August, 2005 and Goodreads December, 2006. For the social aspects (accessing my friends’ opinions when I need them) the population difference makes Goodreads the victor – vast mobs of my acquaintances signed up for Goodreads (many of them, strangers to each other, at exactly the same time, in fact.) The social exchange Goodreads emphasizes is that of opinions, and therefore there are a lot more reviews on Goodreads in general, even if there aren’t any from your friends on a particular book. There’s also a nice feature (I was among the users petitioning for its addition) where you can mark which friend recommended a book to you. LibraryThing, being a little more focused on the collection and cataloging of books, generally has fewer reviews (in all fairness, while they have fewer ratings, they display a nice bar graph of them, which is helpful.) I hereby back up my anecdotal ‘feeling’ with data – I chose the first book my eyes fell on (The Blind Assassin) and found that on LibraryThing 5350 people have entered the book in their ‘library’, 1328 of whom have given it a star rating, and 79 of whom have entered a review. On Goodreads, it’s harder to determine exact numbers but I believe 9173 people have entered it, 7272 have given a star rating, and about 700 have entered at least a one-word review.

Which brings us to another, more delicate topic. I may sound elitist here, but I’m not running for office, so who cares? Probably as a consequence of the differences outlined above, LibraryThing’s smaller population is more serious about books. You see fewer, if any, really stupid or careless reviews, and the discussion groups (which I don’t really do much with on either site) seem to have lively, literate discussion.

So, returning to the reasons I use these sites, we see that both are equally good at reminding me to go read, at developing my reviewing skills, and keeping track of my books to read. Goodreads is better for showing me my friends’ opinions on books, and LibraryThing is lightyears better for capturing data on my library. Goodreads has been good about adding features, which has improved the site experience for me and captured more information, but they’re still far behind LT, and I really wonder if they should try to catch up. There are some limits they would have trouble shedding – they are really wed to the ‘shelf’ model for example, too wedded I think to swap it for tags, and adding tags on top of shelves would be klugey and make it more confusing for new users. If they try to make their site robust, they will sacrifice the simplicity and accessibility that have made them successful.

For me, LibraryThing is the clear winner. It’s versatile, and allows me to capture all the data I might ever want about my book collection and reading, the first time it comes up. It is fun to explore other people’s book collections, see library similarities and see the trends and recommendations that so much data produce. (Thanks for getting me started on it, Miss Thursday!) I keep up on Goodreads though, because the social aspect is fun, and I like to see what all my friends and classmates are reading. So I am doomed to keep both accounts, but I hope this blogget helps someone decide which one fits their book-cataloging needs.

Update, 9/7/2008: As I recently discovered while browsing a used bookstore in Mountain View, LibraryThing is quicker and easier to use on the iPhone, which surprised me.

*Updates, 2/16/2009: Goodreads has added multi-author and customizable role support to their book data, although it is not as integrated and easy as LibraryThing’s. They have added an experimental mobile version of the site, which loads more quickly. Current numbers of users at each site can be viewed by clicking through the links in the relevant paragraph above. On a personal note, Goodreads has risen in my esteem somewhat: they are very responsive to user input and requests, which can lead to quick improvement. I still use both, and plan to continue doing so.

Grey City XVIII

Monday August 11, 2008 @ 10:59 AM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII
The Grey City VIII
The Grey City IX
The Grey City X
The Grey City XI
The Grey City XII
The Grey City XIII
The Grey City XIV
The Grey City XV
The Grey City XVI
The Grey City XVII

Eirian stayed huddled in the flotsam at the edge of the Warrens long after the Runners had turned back into the darkness. Shudders rocked her, and set up tinny peals in the metal fence palings in which she sheltered.

Carys was dead. She had known at once but in an animal way, a kenning without thought to future or meaning. Carys was dead, and she had been driven to a wild, unknown part of this horrible city. Where would she go? How could she escape, and who could she ask now that she was alone? She huddled, oblivious to the light building in the hazy air by the minute.

There was a scent of tobacco smoke, and a footfall crunched on the cinder street. Eirian clutched at the poles around her, held her breath.

“Whaddid they want?” said a boy’s voice, and a much older girl replied:

“Wanted a good scare, most like, so they come down t’have a look at the Warrens.”

“Ran away quick enough.”

“Why they calls ‘em Runners, in’it?”

The speakers slouched a little closer to the gate, and Eirian saw them — a slab-faced boy of about her age and a terribly skinny young woman in a man’s waistcoat and trousers, smoking a bit of tobacco rolled in paper.

“Nothin’ goin’ on ’ere,” declared the girl. She tugged her cap low over her eyes, turned, and tossed the stub of her cigarette into the debris. Eirian yelped as the brand hit her cheek, and the strange girl’s hands were around her wrist before she realized her mistake.

“Intruder!” cried the boy as the other dragged her captive out into the ruddy bonfire light. “Who is it, Sly?” he said, shrinking back.

“It’s only a girl.”

Eirian felt moved to protest. “You’re a gi—”

Sly’s hand clamped under her chin and turned her face to the firelight. “Look what a fresh face she’s got – and the clothes! A Country lass, no doubt.” Her words were light, but she didn’t blink, and her chin had the set of fury.

The boy stared at Eirian’s illuminated face. “What’s that by her mouf?”

Sly said, “Looks like blood. Must have bit ’er lip, then.”

Eirian shook her head free and said, “I have not!” She scrubbed at her cheek with her already filthy apron, and glowered at Sly. “I bit that Runner.”

The boy’s eyes widened. “Bit a Runner? And lived to tell? Sly, maybe we should take her home, for all she’s a girl? P’raps somefing could be made of her.”

The lean girl scowled but nodded. “First, let’s show ’er the sights. Show ’er the secrets of the Warrens.” She leaned close to Eirian’s face, and her breath was full of stale smoke. “Then she’ll be one of us, like.” She spun and set off across the street, the boy prodding Eirian to follow.

“Keep ’er close to me, Mouse,” Sly ordered as she reached the stoop of an empty-windowed house. “Don’t want ‘er fallin’ into any traps, do we?”

Mouse chivvied Eirian along, into the house and up a stair to the second floor. “First floor’s weak,” he said. “Fall right froo to th’basement.”

Sly traversed the second floor and leaned out of a long window, its sill dirty from many feet. After looking both ways, she stepped out. Eirian followed and found herself on a broad metal beam wedged between this building and the next. The big girl led across and paused on the sill of the opposite window. “Don’t touch the floor,” she said to Eirian. “I mean it.” She ducked into the house and swooped out of sight. Following, Eirian was nearly hit in the brow with a returning trapeze fashioned from two ships’ lines and a hefty ladder rung. She peered across to where Sly hunkered on a face-down wardrobe, then peeked over her shoulder. Mouse flapped his hands encouragingly.

She tightened her grip on the rung and pushed off from the window. She barely made it over the broad, bare floor, but Sly grabbed one rope and she was able to hop onto the creaking wardrobe. “Why can’t we touch the floor?” she puffed as Mouse made his flight.

“It tilts,” Sly said. “Flops down an’ dumps you onto great rusty spikes. For the Runners, Lor’bless’em.”

Similar dangers were pointed out to her, or occasionally avoided with such habitual grace that her guides forgot to mention them. Eirian leaned on a handrail, and Mouse had to grab her to stop her falling to a pavement far below. The deeper they went, the more certain Eirian was that she would never find her way out alone without misadventure, and the more people they heard or saw. Once Sly shushed them as they walked along a flat roof where five grown-ups were taking out pens and inks, wax and seals, preparing to harness the full morning light. Eirian peered at the pages before them, very official-looking, but Sly grabbed her sleeve and pulled her on.

Now the path returned to the ground, tracing a strange worm-trail between flimsy buildings and along streets almost crowded out of existence by ramshackle houses. Many corridors or alleys Eirian glanced down came to a sudden end at a wall, or stopped in a flurry of doors giving on various improvised shelters.

Sly paused to roll another smoke, and strolled along smoking and raising her cap or hand to passers-by. Some people, like the scrivening group, seemed to be setting about their work as the sun rose above the level of the buildings. Others were returning, heavy bags over their shoulders and strange implements in their hands. Women in bright clothes stumbled back likewise, some arm in arm with tough-looking men whose pockets bulged forth clubs or gun-butts. Their brusk calls and beery good-mornings set up a background babble like the cawing of crows.

“What is this place?” said Eirian.

“’Tis the Warrens,” Mouse said, confused.

“I know, you’ve said, but what do all these people do here? How do they eat? There is no market, no shops, no gardens…why do the roads go nowhere?”

“You ’ave ventured far from ’ome,” laughed Sly. “The Warrens is our place, in’it? A place for pickers, mashers, smashers, slickers, wheelers and nances, any as makes their way on the East side of the law. There’s plenty for sale for those as knows where to look.”

“You’re thieves?”

Sly rolled her eyes. “Such a flat. Yes, Bo Peep, we’re thieves.”

Mouse nodded. “An’ you can be one too, for a few years any rate. Girls make more as nances, once they get big.”

“But Sly-” Eirian began, but the girl grabbed her arm and twisted it, pushing her ahead.

“That spot there’s where Tooth Charlie killed Archie Deuce over a repeatin’ watch,” she said with feigned enthusiasm, and pointed to a broken hitching post. “Greatest smasher’s ever was, an’ Charlie mashed ’is ’ead in on that post.”

She shouldered onwards, and led them into twisting alleys where gray-faced women divided meager breakfasts for their broods. A tight squeeze between two clapboard sheds, and they were on a high wall above the broad, fetid river. A few yards downstream, a vast hulk of stained stone jutted into the current, and Mouse broke away towards it. Sly pushed Eirian along the wall to the bridge.

For it had been a bridge, once. Though the wind scoured this part of the river of its full fog, Eirian could not clearly see the remnants of the bridge on the other side, but one arch persisted on the Warrens side, ending ragged. There had once been shops along the span, which accounted for the plain, unfinished look of its sides now that the wooden structures had fallen, rotted or burned away. Sly gestured, and Eirian walked carefully onto it.

“Why is it broken?”

“No one knows, now. We says we did it, and they,” with a gesture to the respectable other bank, “says they did it. But someone did it with a great lot of gunpowder, many years back. An’ no one’s managed to build another one since.”

Mouse had run to the farthest end of the bridge, and was drawing on the exposed rock with a bit of chalk.

“Look ’ere,” said Sly, and gestured to a great gap in the downriver side of the bridge, where several openings had been broken into one. The river coiled black and deep below. Sly flicked her cigarette butt over the side, and it fell long and slow to the water. “It’s called the ‘Ole. Maybe it’s as the river turns ‘ere it’s so deep — maybe it’s a trick of the sewers wot lets in just above. But it runs deep and pulls down, some say into tunnels from when the city was new, founded by foreign gemplemen who dug. Wherever it ends up, it don’t give anything back. An’ that’s why they say the Warrens keeps their dead.”

With a quick jerk, Sly tripped Eirian forward over the side and caught her by her apron sash. The fabric cinched away her breath, and she felt terror blaze into anger as she was suspended a hundred feet above the filthy, roiling water.

“I don’t want to hear another word out of you about Sly bein’ a girl.” She spoke low and quick, so Mouse would not be alarmed. “I ain’t starved meself since age eight to keep the change at bay just to be ruined by some farm girl with a smart mouth and a big head. Sly is a lad, you ‘ear? A slight one, ruined by years of starvin’ to keep small enough for a door panel or a window hentry, but a roisterin’ great lad all the same. Swear you’ll keep it dark.”


“My secret! Swear I’m a boy or I’ll pitch you, sure’n I will!”

Eirian screwed her mouth shut and stared at the mesmerizing sweep of the river below, the way a great braid of the water rose as if taking breath and then dove under its fellows, dragging all the Warrens’ refuse down to pack into some long-forgotten grotto, dead upon dead, forever.

Grey City XIX


Friday August 08, 2008 @ 01:18 PM (UTC)

So I finally created a blogroll. I didn’t do this for a long time because when I first started blogging, it seemed more than likely that people who were reading my blog already knew each other’s blogs. But now, after my MFA program, I know a lot more bloggers, so I thought I’d link them here.

This blogroll will eventually be linked in the sidebar under Oddments, as “Friends”. I have used real names for bloggers who do so, leaving off last names or using handles by the same criterion. If you’re a bloggin’ friend of mine and you are not on the list, it may be because I thought you weren’t updating any more, or because I didn’t know if linking to you would break your desired level of anonymity. These are not all the blogs I read. That list would be long, fluctuate a great deal, and involve scads of people I don’t know, let alone call ‘friend’. There are a few blogs I read whose authors I’ve met only in passing, but don’t really know, so those aren’t listed.

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