September 25th, 2017
ysabetwordsmith: Damask smiling over their shoulder (polychrome)
This poem is spillover from the August 15, 2017 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "family of choice" square in my 7-31-17 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and directly follows "An Atmosphere of Shame."

Warning: This poem is flangst. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Shiv has trouble relaxing and having fun, due to his history of abuse and neglect, so a beach trip is more complicated for him than for most people. ECR Boy! The poem includes multiple flashbacks, social anxiety, financial anxiety, extreme body modesty, hypervigilance, reference to past near-drowning, emergency manhandling (by Aida of Shiv and by Shiv of Edison), flibbering over acceptance vs. rejection, awkward interactions with another family, mild overstrain of superpowers, awkward apologies, Edison is blunt as a bowling ball and has no filter because he is four, and Shiv is little better due to past abuse, frustration over solar limitations, and other challenges. On the whole, though, it has a positive tone. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward. This is the second in the beach thread, and you'll need it to make sense of later poetry as well as [personal profile] dialecticdreamer's story "Family Stories."


"Everything That Is Real About Us"


The trip to the beach
started out unlike anything
that Shiv had experienced before
(which helped) because they
traveled by teleporter.

A swish and swirl of energy,
and they were all standing
on a compass rose set into
the concrete skirt around
a red brick lighthouse.

The teleporter gave them
a jaunty wave and disappeared.

"Welcome to IT Beach, sponsored by
geeks including Bill Gates, Aron Buffer,
Cheryl Kocinski, and corporations from
Adobe Systems, Inc. to X Marks the Spot,"
said Dr. G. "All hail the Beach of Geeks!"

"Hail!" the Finns chorused.

"Now can we play in the sand?"
Edison said, hopping up and down.

Elisabeth laughed. "As soon as we
make our supply run," she said.

Shiv looked at the family loaded
with baskets, bags, backpacks,
and coolers with enough food
to feed him for a week.

"We need to buy more
stuff?" he said faintly.

"Just a few things particular
to this location," Elisabeth said.

As she led the way along a row
of vendor booths, Shiv spied one
cheerfully labeled Hatters Gonna Hat.

The front table held handsome fedoras,
while sun hats flapped in the breeze,
including some cheap straw ones for
only a dollar. There were cloth hats too.

"I call safety on hats," Molly said.
"Shiv doesn't have one, and Edison
outgrew his old sun hat again."

"Go pick," Elisabeth said,
putting a hand on each boy
to urge them into the booth.

Shiv looked around willingly enough,
but hesitated to make a selection,
because they'd already bought
a ton of stuff for him today.

It was more than everything
that he had ever gotten on all of
his previous beach trips combined.

"You really do need a hat, Shiv.
Your hair and skin are so light that
you'll burn in no time if you don't,"
Molly said gently. "If it bothers you
for me to buy, then look for one in
your own price range. Straw ones
start at a buck if you're broke."

"I kinda like that white safari hat,"
Shiv admitted. "I always wanted one,
but I never had a chance before."

"This canvas one?" Molly said,
lifting it off its hook. "It's reversible,
charcoal on the inside, and it has
brass grommets for ventilation.
You have a good eye."

"I just wanted one that I
could pick up," Shiv said.
He poked his superpower
through the grommets and
tugged the hat into his hands.

"That's a great idea,"
Molly said. "Then the wind
couldn't steal it, even if you
don't cinch the neck string."

Meanwhile the shopkeeper --
who wore a fake fur trapper hat
that was completely out of place
on the beach -- was helping Edison
pick out the correct size of hat.

Edison wanted a baseball cap with
red, yellow, blue, and green cloth
and a propeller whirring overhead.

However, he was distracted by
playing with the shopkeeper's shirt,
which had a funny face stuck to it that
you could change with colorful pieces of
vrip cloth, including plastic googly eyes
that actually moved. It was weird.

Edison scampered over, grabbed
Shiv's hat, and shoved it along with
his own into Molly's hands. "Okay,
Molly, we're ready to check out,
can we go now?" he said.

"In a minute," she said, then
turned and added, "Shiv?"

"Whatever," he said with a shrug.

So Molly bought both hats and
handed them back to their owners,
then everyone trooped to the next booth.

Cynosure Seas Gift & Beach Shop
had sunglasses, mats, surfboards and
plastic buckets spilling out the front.

They had more beach toys than
Shiv had ever seen in his life.

You could get just a bucket and
shovel for five bucks, or a bigger one
with tools or treats, or even one with
a ton of tools if you had more money.

There were small, medium, and large sets
of sandcastle molds, too. The shop even had
a set of three different brick-shaped molds.

"We have plenty of beach toys," Dr. G said,
patting Shiv on the shoulder. "We just need
to log our previous treasures, and Aida wants
a new bucket to fill with aquarium decorations."

Edison ran to a shelf and dragged loose
a box almost too big for him to carry.

"And apparently a few other things,"
Dr. G said with a wry smile. "Well,
as long as we're getting that, then we
may as well get a spare one." He took
Edison's box and added another one.

They moved to a section marked
Treasure Island, which had buckets in
assorted sizes that read, Beach Treasures.

Then Shiv noticed that Elisabeth carried
a bucket full of tidbits with the same design,
only someone had used a marker on it so
it said, Yesterday's Beach Treasures.

She dumped out the bucket onto a table,
and all the Finns gathered around to make
a pattern out of rocks, glass and plastic beads,
seashells, bones, and bits of driftwood.

"House rule for the Yesterday bucket
is that everyone can choose one thing
to take out and put in," Dr. G explained.
"That matches the beach rule that everyone
can take one nonliving treasure for free, and
if you want more, you can buy a bucket. They
close that option if there's not enough sea-wrack
to go around, though, and supplies are limited."

A shopkeeper took a snapshot of the contents,
then helped everyone repack the bucket.
Aida brought her new bucket, and
finally Dr. G paid for everything.

"This way, this way," Edison said,
dancing around the slower adults
as they walked toward the beach.

Tucked into a notch in the cliffs was
the white stucco building that held
the IT Beach offices and showerhouse.

They stopped there to change clothes, and
Dr. G said, "The family changing room is here."

"Yeah, so?" Shiv said. "The sign for
the men's room is right over there."
Not wanting to get stuck in a room
with a couple of kids, he headed
briskly in the other direction.

"Suit yourself, but this is the one
that has the private cubicles with
locking doors," Halley said.

Shiv made a quick U-turn and
followed them into the family one.

It was empty, and then completely
full of Finns. "Shiv, you get first pick
of cubicles," said Dr. G. "Preference?"

"This is fine," Shiv said, taking
the middle one in front of him.

"Edison, who do you want --"
Elisabeth began to ask.

"Heron!" crowed Edison.

Shiv tried to tune out the noise
as he scrambled out of his clothes
and then into his new swimsuit.

There was barely room in his bag
to shove in his street clothes and shoes.
He hadn't expected so much new stuff on top
of his go-home clothes, an emergency wallet,
a candy bar, and a ratty hand towel.

When he came out, everyone was
milling around in their swimsuits.

"Sunspotz and sunscreen," Molly said
as she opened a makeup organizer case
full of beach essentials. "Shiv, you start
since you have the lightest skin."

It still startled him to be offered
something as expensive as Sunspotz,
but he'd rather deal with that than risk
getting a sunburn, because those sucked.

So he put the sticker on the back of
his hand, and just like it had at Pennsic,
after a few seconds he couldn't even
tell that he had the thing on, as if
it was a temporary tattoo.

He slathered himself with
sunscreen, then handed
the bottle back to Molly.

They left the changing room
and headed for the beach stairs
by a strange glass tower going down.

"Does anyone need the beach lift today?"
Elisabeth asked, looking at Graham.

"I'm good," said Dr. G. "Shiv?"

"I'm fine," he said, staring at
the unfamiliar structure.

The Finns ignored the stairs
alongside the beach lift, instead
choosing the switchback path
cut into the stone cliff.

Shiv was really, really glad
that it had high metal handrails.
The view was gorgeous, though.

Below them, the beach was
a long swath of golden-brown sand
broken up by the clusters of rocks.
Sunlight sparkled on blue water
that foamed white at the edge.

Dogs scampered around,
making Shiv wrinkle his nose.
He wasn't a dog person.

People dotted the beach in
singles, couples, and families --
not enough of them to feel crowded,
just enough to add some interest.

Automatically Shiv started scanning
for marks, then quashed the impulse.

He already had more loot than he needed,
and the Finns had more food than even he
could eat. He didn't need any more, or
the trouble that could come with it.
Besides, he felt like a mooch.

They came down onto the sand,
and Shiv saw a glint of light at
the far end of the beach.

"Is that a bridge?" he asked,
staring into the distance.

"It's a natural bridge," Dr. G said
at the same time Halley said,
"That's Backbone Arch."

"There's another beach
on the other side of the arch,
Steamer Lane, but that one has
heavy surf for experienced surfers,"
said Elisabeth. "It's too rough
for children or novices."

Aida heaved a sigh,
bumping her beach bucket
against the side of her thigh.
"We could still go watch."

"And wear ourselves out trying
to keep Halley and Edison out of
the water?" Elisabeth said. "No thanks."

Shiv let the family argument ripple
past him. As long as nobody was
yelling or throwing things, he
didn't care what they said.

He was too distracted by
the beach itself, the sighing
of the waves and the soft sand
all full of things and the seagulls
flapping and squealing overhead.

"Let's pick a spot," Dr. G said.

The other Finns fanned out,
examining the ground as well
as the surrounding scenery.

"Here looks good," Molly said,
waving for people to join her.

Elisabeth took out two blue packets,
each of which unfolded into a big beach mat,
and then staked them down to the sand.

Aida set up something that looked like
a cross between an umbrella and a tent,
tilted to block the sun and pinned down
on the bottom where it touched the ground.

Dr. G took out a sand screw, twisted it
into the beach, then added a little table
and a giant rainbow beach umbrella.

Shiv helped pile up all the totes
and carriers full of stuff, keeping
a close eye on his own bag.

Finally he retreated under
the shade that Aida had put up
over one of the beach mats.

Shiv liked the not-quite-tent.
It gave him something he could
crawl under and watch the beach
without being seen by everyone.

Just sitting under it made him
feel a little less nervous after
all the excitement today.

Sand scrunched underfoot
as someone new approached,
and suddenly Shiv's instincts
shrilled a sharp warning.

Whoever it was had
weapons everywhere.

There were two tiny knives
laced into the boot tongues, and
a cunning little coin knife that must
be tucked into a hidden pocket in
the wearer's board shorts.

Then there was a thing like
a pointy plastic ring, only it was
turned toward the inside of the palm.

Shiv wasn't even sure what that one did,
but he was sure that it meant trouble.

The beach bag held even more:
a titanium keychain knife, another
concealed in a money clip, and
a comb knife of rigid plastic.

Even as Shiv scrambled
to his feet, he wondered if he
could duplicate that coin knife --
unlike his, it had a sheath, and
the blade was fine steel somehow
set inside the original coin.

"Shiv, come out here,
there's someone I'd like you
to meet," Dr. G called.

Maybe they weren't about
to get massacred after all.

"Hi, Watermark!" said Halley
as thon pelted past them to hug
a short muscular person wearing
a Bareskin top and board shorts
striped with blue-and-white.

"This is Watermark, one of
the folks who helps with security
for our family," Dr. G explained.

Shiv looked at the bright blue-green streak
that formed a crest in the dark hair, and realized
he was looking at a superpowered bodyguard --
and no white hat would have that arsenal.

So he tucked his hands behind his back,
squared his feet, and gave the stranger
the little shoulder-bow that Boss White
had carefully drummed into him.

"Hi, I'm Shiv with the Ebonies & Ivories
out of Omaha, Nebraska," he said.
"Dr. G invited me here today."

She returned the bow and said,
"Watermark of the Marionettes,
from Italy. I'm pleased to meet you."

Shiv couldn't resist any longer,
now that he knew she wasn't a threat.
"Can I see your coin knife? It's so keen."

She raised an eyebrow, but pulled it
from its secret pocket and showed him.

Shiv stroked it with his talent,
careful not to move the metal itself.
"Okay, yeah, I think that I could
make one like that," he said happily.

It would be a nuisance to cut the coin
into a hilt and sheath, but after that
making a circular blade and melding it
into the middle of the hilt would be easy.

"That's a useful skill," she said,
then added, "Nice swimsuit."

"You too," Shiv said. He hadn't
seen Bareskins before, and now
they were popping up everywhere.

"I love the watercolor effect,"
she said. "Where did you get those?
I'd like to get a pair of my own."

"Uh, Variations just this morning,"
Shiv said. "Halley picked the store."

"Yeah," Halley said, but thankfully
left out the embarrassing details.
"Come and play! The beach has
good waves today, not too rough."

"That's for kids," Shiv scoffed.

"What, your dodging skills are
so good you don't need practice?"
Watermark said. "Suit yourself,
but I like to keep mine in shape."

Shiv watched them walk down
to the water, where the blue waves
broke into curves of white foam.

They splashed around for a few minutes,
but then Watermark switched to something
that was obviously an exercise -- waiting
for a wave to rush in, and then leaping
away at the last possible second.

As Shiv watched, Watermark
missed a jump and got splashed.

"Ha ha, you're dead!" Halley teased,
then pounced on her and knocked
both of them into the water.

It looked like a lot of fun.

Shiv felt tempted to join them,
but then he remembered that time
when a much older foster sister
had pushed him down and
nearly drowned him.

She hadn't gotten into
trouble for it, of course.
Shiv had been the only one
who got in trouble in that family.

"Are you okay?" asked Dr. G.
"You look like you're having
mixed feelings about something.
If you want to join them, go ahead,
but you don't have to go in the water
if you don't want to for any reason."

"I'm fine," Shiv said. Then he
realized that if he didn't buck up,
Dr. G was going to realize how
nervous he was feeling.

So Shiv made himself go
down to the surf and splash in
the waves for a little while.

It was more fun than he expected.

Most of the Finns joined in, at least
for a little while, regardless of their age.

That made Shiv feel a bit less
like he was acting childish.

Then Edison bounded over and said,
"I wanna go treasure hunting and so does
Aida. You wanna come with us?"

"May as well," Shiv agreed.

"Sure," Halley said. "Wait up
and let me get my shoes on."

Thon was barefoot. Watermark
had left her boots on, and Shiv had
his beach shoes which were fantastic.

They hiked down toward the far end
of the beach with its weird rock bridge.

The sand gave way to gravel and
then to piles of rock. Halley climbed
over them with familiar grace.

Watermark followed, keeping
one hand turned toward the ocean.
Shiv decided not to ask about that.

Ahead of them, Edison eagerly
pointed out the first of the tidepools.

And Aida turned into a nature program.

As Shiv stared, she narrated every plant,
animal, and rock formation they passed.
Some of it was in English, and some
was in some science language that
Shiv didn't even recognize.

"This beach has two types of
tidepools," Aida said. "Here is
a boulder field, and farther out,
rock outcrops reach into the ocean."

"Can we explore the rock outcrops?"
Halley asked, and Edison said, "Yay!"

"No," Watermark said before Aida
could answer. "That's too risky. You
could fall in and get swept away."

"I can swim!" Edison protested.

"Not well enough for that water,"
said the bodyguard, and Aida agreed.

Shiv heaved a sigh of relief.
He couldn't actually swim at all,
even though he enjoyed getting wet
if nobody else crowded too close
and made him feel anxious.

Even the shallow tidepools
of the boulder field proved
fascinating to explore, though.

"These are ochre sea stars
(Pisaster ochraceus) and then
these are giant green anemones
(Anthopleura xanthogrammica),"
Aida said, pointing to the critters.

"Uh huh," Shiv said. "Now tell us
something useful: do they bite?"

"Not humans, but they are both
voracious predators," Aida said.
"Look around, see how this tidepool
is clear of mussels? Sea stars eat them."

"Look! Octopodes!" Edison said,
pointing into another pool.

Something red and slimy
slithered out of it, over the rocks.

"That's an East Pacific red octopus
(Octopus rubescens)," said Aida.
"They're very intelligent."

They crossed an area covered by
a slippery carpet of grassy stuff that
made Shiv grateful for his new shoes.

"This is surfgrass (Phyllospadix torreyi),"
Aida said as they hiked over it. "It's one of
the few flowering plants that grows in
the ocean. See the bubbles on it?
Those are made of pure oxygen."

Shiv spied a shimmering seashell
that was whole, not broken like
most of them, and reached for it.

Aida grabbed his wrist. "No!"
she said, then let go. "Sorry, Da
told us not to grab you. But don't ever
touch shells with your bare hands until you
make sure they're empty. Some molluscs
are venomous, and most seashells are
sharp. You could cut yourself."

Shiv snorted. "No I won't."
He picked up the seashell with
his superpower, juggling it
up and down in midair.

"Okay, you got me," Aida said
with a laugh. "Just do it that way.
I usually poke things with a stick."

Shiv realized that she and
the younger Finns each held
a long piece of driftwood, and
of course Aida had her beach knife
strapped high on her right thigh.

He couldn't resist asking,
"So do you know what this is?"

"That's a California mussel
(Mytilus californianus)," she said.
"When they're alive, they're edible."

They put it in the treasure bucket
and continued on through the tidepools.

"Look at this, but don't bother it,"
Watermark said, pointing to
a tiny creature underwater.

It was the most brilliant shade
of blue that Shiv had ever seen,
dotted with equally vivid yellow.
Two ears poked up from one end
and a crown of tentacles on the other.

"Ooo," Halley said, leaning over
so far that thon almost bumped into
Edison on the other side of the pool.

"This is a California blue dorid
(Felimare californiensis)," Aida said.
"They're pretty rare around here."

Shiv found what he thought of
as a regular seashell, a gray spiral.

"Kellet's whelk (Kelletia kelletii),"
said Aida. "They're all over the place,
so take as many of those shells as
you want. People like to make
garden art from them."

"We should probably turn back,"
Watermark said, so they did.

Shiv was playing idly with
the edge of the mussel when
Edison found another shiny shell.

"Good one!" Aida said. "Threaded abalone,
(Haliotis kamtschatkana assimilis). Their shells
are popular for making jewelry and other crafts."

"Finders keepers," Edison said, grinning.

"That's pretty big to put in the yesterday bucket,
but you can put it in my today bucket," Aida said.

They found more shells in the sand on the way
back to the Finn camp. Sometimes Aida needed
her beach knife to pry them out of the rocks.

They crossed paths with a woman headed
in the opposite direction, whose black bikini
did nothing to hide her impressive muscles.
Like Aida, she had a big beach knife strapped
to her right thigh, and sturdy beach shoes.

"Hi, Aida," she called. "How's the hunting?"

"Hi, Sandy," Aida said. "It's good today.
There was a storm just last week, and
the beach isn't too picked over yet. We
mostly hit the low and middle zones."

"Then I may go high," Sandy said.
"I'm hunting supplies for a neighbor
who makes nature crafts, and
a few fun things for myself."

As they walked on, Aida explained,
"Sandy is a firewoman in Mercedes.
We do educational events together."

Before long, they had found enough
treasures to fill most of her bucket.

Finally they reached the Finn camp,
only for Shiv to be cornered by
Molly who said, "Hand, please."

He showed her the hand with
the Sunspot stuck on the back.

"Good, you're still green," she said,
letting him go. "The new sunscreen
is definitely working better for you."

He hadn't even noticed the bottle.

Then Shiv gratefully flopped onto
a beach towel with a sperm whale
printed on it in shades of blue.

"Mine," Aida growled. She didn't
grab him again, but she did yank at
the corner of the beach towel.

"Fine," Shiv grumbled,
rolling onto the starfish one.

"Aida, if you don't want to share
your towel, please remember
to roll it up when you're not
lying on it," Elisabeth said.

Shiv didn't care what towel
he used. He just wanted
lie there and not move.

He ate a candy bar, and then
the sound of the surf lulled him
into a doze for a few minutes.

Then he heard a jingle,
followed by excited voices.

A vendor of cold treats pushed
his cart along the beach, and
the younger Finns asked for some.

"Oh, I want a Matisse," said Molly.
"Something berry flavored if he has it."

The vendor, sensing an easy mark,
steered his cart in their direction.

Shiv pushed himself to his feet
and joined the general rush
toward the cart full of goodies.

Molly picked out a glass jar of
Matisse yogurt in raspberry vanilla.

There were popsicles made of
plain water, coconut water, or
almond milk, any of those with
fruit chunks, and blended fruit.

A basket held all kinds of fresh fruit
for making milkshakes or smoothies.

Edison wanted coconut water with
orange slices, while Halley ordered
a banana blueberry almond milk blend.

Shiv tried to be good and not whine
for anything, really he did, but then
he spied a familiar, spiky red lump.

"Is that dragonfruit? That's dragonfruit,"
he said. "Can I have some? I want some."

He remembered from Pennsic that Dr. G
would buy anything edible that Shiv pointed to,
and sure enough, Dr. G said, "Yes, it is, and
yes, you can. Do you want the popsicle
or the healthy unicorn smoothie?"

"The smoothie," Shiv said. He couldn't
resist the swirl of pale blue and hot pink.

"You have a fine set of sons,"
the vendor said to Dr. G.
"Is this one your oldest?"

"Shiv is more of a nephew,"
Dr. G said. "My oldest son is
Heron, and he's back there."

Shiv damn near choked on
his smoothie. He was used
to hearing, Oh, he's not ours,
he's just a foster child.


He had learned to be quick
about excluding himself
to avoid the rejection, but
this time he'd been caught with
his mouth full and missed the cue.

He wasn't sure how he felt
about what Dr. G had just said.

Nobody had ever really claimed him
like this before, except for Boss White,
and that was different from this.

Tolliver hadn't wanted Shiv as
an apprentice, but he was still
the closest thing that Shiv had to
a father figure other than his boss.

Mr. Vanburen had treated Shiv
as a bratty little brother, which was ...
surprisingly more functional than most of
Shiv's relationships with foster siblings.

Being claimed still brought up
a whole hassle of mixed feelings
that Shiv didn't want to deal with.

So he slunk back to the camp and then
took his drink under the not-a-tent to savor.

It was frigid and delicious. The blue swirl
tasted a little like tea and something floral.
The hot pink was the dragonfruit, with
kind of a cucumber-melon flavor.

Shiv wanted something to go with it,
so he rummaged in the snack hamper.

They had Jumble Munch in Chive Dive
and Honeybunch, not his favorite flavors.
Then he found something in baggies
labeled Strawberry Power Bars.

Those turned out to be delicious.
Shiv snarfed down the first one
in about four bites, then took
another to nibble slowly.

Meanwhile Halley unpacked
a whole heap of sandcastle molds and
other tools from some kind of mesh hamper.

Edison dumped out the yesterday bucket
and started making patterns with the bits.

"Whatcha got there?" Shiv asked with
his mouth full of strawberry goodness.
"Wait, are those the pyramids?"

"We're going to make sandcastles,"
Halley said. "These are the molds."

"That's an Egyptian pyramid and
that's Mayan," said Edison pointing
to the orange and red molds. "Then
the Parthenon is from Greece and
the Colosseum is Roman." They were
green and yellow. "The Taj Mahal is, um ..."

"That's this blue one with the onion dome,"
Dr. G said. "It's a Muslim mausoleum in India."

Trust the Finns to build sandcastles
shaped like major world monuments.

They weren't the only folks intent
on making sand sculptures, though,
Shiv saw as he looked around.

A family of thirteen had bought
the brick set and were busy
building a giant fort of sand.

They all seemed to be having
a great time, but none of them
actually looked related to each other.

"What's with them?" Shiv asked.
"Are they really together, or what?"

"That's the St. Elmo Sankofa Home,"
said Elisabeth. "They live in Santa Cruz.
It's one of the few group homes that accept
superkids. See the lady with the chestnut hair?
That's my house sister Ellen Capercaille. We
grew up together in Winlock House."

"Why does one of the kids look ...
smushed?" Shiv wondered.

He really did. His head was
as wide as it was tall. One eye
went one way and one went
the other. He didn't have all
his teeth and something was
definitely wrong with his nose.

"Shh," said Elisabeth. "Collie
is a shapeshifter. He doesn't
have much practice with holding
human form yet, and this is actually
quite good for him. If you make fun
of his face, that would make him sad,
so please keep your voice down."

Shiv thought about how hard it was,
sometimes, not to wet the bed at night
and then imagined having to concentrate
like that all the time just to stay human.
He shuddered. "Sorry, I didn't know."

"That's okay, most people don't,"
said Elisabeth. "It's okay to ask
questions, too, just remember
to respect people's feelings."

Ellen seemed to be coaching
several of the younger boys as
they worked on the fort, but Shiv
couldn't recognize any of the words.

"What language is that?" Shiv said.
He tilted his head, trying to catch it.

"I don't know, but I can find out.
Hey, Ellen!" Elisabeth called.
"Awaswas or Chuk'chansi?"

"It's Chuk'chansi, like Ichiro here,"
said Ellen, waving at a boy with
short black hair and glasses. "He's
learning, and so we're practicing."

"Sounds Indian maybe, but
not like Omaha," said Shiv.
"Hey kid, you know hand-talk?"
He made the signs for sun and
water. "I dunno one for beach."

Ichiro turned away and hurried
to the other side of the sand fort.

"What'd I do now?" Shiv said,
cringing in anticipation of
the inevitable lecture.

He should know better
than to try making friends,
really he should. The Finns
rubbed off on him, though, and
sometimes he just ... forgot.

"You didn't do anything wrong,"
Ellen said. "It's just that Ichiro has
a complicated past, and a lot of that
comes from the Chuk'chansi tribe."

"You don't like them, or what?"
Shiv said, trying to make sense of it.

"I don't like their behavior," she said carefully.
"They kicked out a bunch of folks, including
my mentor Fat Salmon who was one of
the few native speakers of Chuk'chansi
back then. We put him in an apartment
on our lot until he passed away, but
I'm still pretty mad at the tribe."

"What's that got to do with the kid
snubbing us?" Shiv asked.

"He's not snubbing you, he's
just sensitive about his past,"
Ellen said. "You can help
by changing the subject."

Shiv had no intention of
fucking up again by picking
another wrong topic.

Just then, Collie staggered
over to Edison and mumbled
something that was probably
supposed to sound English but
Shiv couldn't understand a word of.

"We're sorting some decorations,"
Edison said. "Do you want to help?"

Collie nodded and reached clumsily
for the pile of stones and shells.

"Halley's mixing up the fixative
for my sandcastle," Edison said.
"We're going to try something new,
spraying it over the outside instead of
pouring both solutions into dry sand."

For some reason, that made Ichiro pop up
behind the sand fort. After a moment, he
came to talk with Halley. Shiv could hear
the words just fine, but he still couldn't
understand them, even in English.

Several of the other Finns had
already started on a sandcastle
with a broad base and two towers.

Halley and Ichiro mixed a batch
of some cloudy liquid while Dr. G
watched them work. Then they
blended that with some sand.

"Okay, Edison, here you go,"
Halley said, handing him
the big tub of damp sand.

Edison started working on it,
and it looked almost like clay.

"Would you like to make one?"
Dr. G asked Shiv. "There's
plenty to go around if you do."

"Regular is fine for me," Shiv said.
"I just need some water for it."

"There's a watering can in
the beach tools," Edison said,
pointing toward the hamper.

Shiv found the tiny can,
ran down to the beach to fill it,
and then came back to the camp.

He chose a spot and watered
the sand until it stuck together.

Then he made a pile using
a round mold, but he didn't
leave it that way. Instead,
he used seashells to carve
the sand into a new shape.

It was delicate work, and
as Shiv sculpted the towers,
he used his superpower
to reshape the shells.

He loved how sharp
they could get with
only a little coaxing.

He made windows and
doors, and even the fine lines
of the stones in the walls.

The older Finns were making
good progress on theirs, too, with
Heron adding rows of tiny rocks and
shells to outline imaginary gardens.

Edison finished his sandcastle.
"Okay, Halley, spray it on!"
he said, wiggling eagerly.

Halley used a spritz bottle of
some yellowish liquid to wet down
the outside of the castle, while Ichiro
had a sprayer of ocean water.

After a few minutes, Halley
told Edison, "Test it now, but
be careful. If it's not hard yet,
we can spray it again and
wait a little bit longer."

Edison tapped his finger
against the sandcastle, and
it made a solid clink sound.
"Yes!" the boy crowed.

"Okay, test it and see
if it worked," Halley said.

Edison carefully picked up
the sandcastle and shook it.
Grit rained out from the bottom,
leaving a thin shell of hard sand.

"Isn't that fragile?" Shiv asked.

"Nah, it's hard as concrete now,"
Edison said, rapping his knuckles on it.

"But what if it didn't work?" Shiv said,
He'd feel awful if that happened to his.

"Then we'd mark this experiment as a failure,
and try something else this time," Halley said
with a shrug. "It did work, though, so now
we can publish this on GeekSqueak."

"Can I help with the writeup?" Ichiro said.

"Sure, using ocean water to help keep
the bacteria happy was a good idea,"
Halley said. "Maybe architects can
use that for building houses!"

"Shiv, do you want to make
your sandcastle permanent, too?"
Dr. G asked. "Ours is bigger than we'd
want to keep, but yours is small enough."

"Permanent how?" Shiv asked him.
Sandcastles weren't meant to last.

"Well, I bought an extra box
of that bacterial fixative in case
anyone else wanted it, but if you'd like
to try using your superpower instead,
then the kids can use that one with
play sand at home," said Dr. G.

Of course as soon as he
said superpower, Shiv wanted
to see if he could make that work.

He hunkered down beside
his sandcastle and concentrated
on it, all the tiny grains of sand
that made up its shape.

He squeezed the sand
together with his mind, trying
to make the edges go into each other
so that they'd stay put even after he
let go of the energy around them.

He felt it working, or thought he did,
and when he came out of the haze
to look at his work, he saw that it had
turned glittery and glassy on the surface.

The sandcastle was also only about
half the size it was when he started.

"What the hell happened?" Shiv said.

"If you mean the shrinkage, I think it's
because you compressed the sand
while binding it," Dr. G explained.

"Huh," Shiv said, suddenly dizzy.
The world was graying out too.
"Think I need to lie down."

Gentle fingers pressed against
his wrist, and then Dr. G said,
"Here, try this. We brought
some Hum-Dingers in case
anyone ran low on energy."

A plastic packet tapped against
Shiv's hand, so he accepted it.

The energy gel tasted like honey
and rice and caramel, with enough salt
to stand out as a separate flavor.

As soon as he finished that one,
Dr. G handed him another packet.

By the end of the second, Shiv had
revived enough to accept the bottle
of water that Dr. G offered him.

"It would help if you could eat
something, too," said Dr. G.

"Are there any strawberry bars
left?" Shiv said. He'd seen the boys
digging into the bag earlier.

"Two left," Dr. G said, and
brought both of them to Shiv.

"These're won'r'ful," Shiv mumbled
around a mouthful. "Wish we had more."

"Thank you," said Dr. G. "My wife
and I made these last night."

Shiv ate both bars, and
after that he felt a lot better.
At least the beach quit spinning.

Maybe he could cadge the recipe
and make his own, if that wasn't
too complicated or too expensive.

He knew the Finns were above
his pay grade in a lot of ways.

Shiv licked his fingers, then
picked up his sandcastle.

"That turned out really well,"
Halley said. "I bet you could
sell those as sculptures."

Shiv hugged his sandcastle
against his chest. "No."

"That's okay, Shiv, you don't
have to sell those if you don't
want to," Dr. G assured him.

"Since you're keeping it, you
could make it a candleholder,"
Edison said. "Look at the towers.
You made three with flat tops and
the rest pointy. The big towers
are wide enough for tea lights."

Halley dug into a beach tote and
brought out a giant bag of tea lights.
"Here, have as many as you want,"
thon said. "We use these for picnics
and decorating our sandcastles."

"Like how?" Shiv said, although
he took a few of the tiny flat candles.

"Let me give you some inspiration,"
Dr. G said. He brought up pictures on
his smartphone of candlelit beaches and
a previous sandcastle the family made.

"That is so out of my league,"
Shiv said, shaking his head.

"No it's not," Edison said.
"You just take these and go
like here --" He tried to push them
into the towers, but the candles were
just a little bit too wide to fit in. "Aww.
Can you make the tops wider?"

"Maybe." Shiv dumped out
the candles and ran a fingertip
inside the top edge of the tower,
pressing the sand in on itself to make
the space a little wider and deeper.

When he tried the candles again,
they fit perfectly into the hollows.

"Yay, you did it!" Edison crowed,
wrapping Shiv in a strangling hug.
Then he scampered away.

"I don't know how you put up
with him," Shiv said. "I couldn't."

"Well, I couldn't cup my hands
around a sandcastle and turn it
to stone," Dr. G said with a smile.

"If people keep taking the sand,
won't the beach run out?" Shiv said.

"Do you know where sand
comes from?" Aida said as she
moved over beside Shiv.

"The beach?" Shiv said,
wondering what the catch was.

"Sand comes from the rocks,"
Aida said, pointing to the cliff.
"Wind and water break off pieces,
and wear down those boulders into
pebbles, and then into sand."

"Okay, so?" Shiv said as he
looked at the tall rugged cliff.

"So that takes time," Aida said.
"Also people do things like build dams
that block sand from flowing downriver
and replenishing beaches. If the loss rate
exceeds the gain rate, then the beach shrinks."

"That doesn't sound good," Shiv said.
He liked this beach. Or maybe he just
liked going to beaches with people who
didn't totally suck. In any case, he didn't
want for IT Beach to wash away.

"It's not good, so if the sand
runs low, then the beach office
closes the takeaway options while
they refresh the sand," said Aida.
"There's a guy named Saltation who
uses Beach Powers to move sand
from harbors to shrinking beaches."

"Cool," Shiv said. "I like this sand.
It's fun to play with. Some of the bits
feel sharper than others, though."

Aida grinned at him. "Here, let me
show you something," she said as she
reached into one of the many beach totes.
"This is a pocket microscope. Pick up
some sand and look at it under this."

Shiv didn't really see the point,
but he gave it a try anyway.

And the sand was beautiful.

Magnified, it looked like gravel.
Some of the grains were sharp while
others had been polished smooth.

Most were tan or white, but a few
were orange or pink, and one was green.
A tiny seashell nestled among the stones,
along with a bright blue fragment.

"This beach is mostly feldspar and
some quartz," Aida said. "Feldspar
will be brown or tan, and quartz is
usually white or clear, although it
can be rosy, smoky, or other colors."

"What's this blue thing?" Shiv asked.
It didn't look like the rest of the sand.

Aida looked and said, "That's beach glass.
I didn't see any in the tidepools, but if we
search the sand around here, we might
find bigger pieces -- but probably not
more cobalt, because that's rare.
Most is brown, clear, or green."

"It's pretty," Shiv said. "I've
never seen anything like it."

As he tilted his hand, the grains
of sand glittered in the sunlight.

"Have you ever seen recycled glass?"
Aida asked. "Folks tumble the good kind
into gravel for paving paths, and then
junk glass goes into concrete mix
for making sparkly bricks."

Shiv thought about that.
"Like a light gray brick with
black specks that glitter?"

"Yes, that's a common kind,"
Aida said. "It's the tumbled glass
that resembles beach glass, but it's
not identical because the weathering
in a tumbler is only mechanical."

"Beach glass has chemical changes
from the salt water, too," Dr. G added.

"I'd like to see a bigger piece,"
Shiv said. "It sounds nifty."

"I don't know if we have any
in the yesterday bucket now,"
Dr. G said. "We could certainly
go beachcombing, though."

"Yeah, let's do that," Shiv said,
pushing himself to his feet.

Just in time for Edison to come
pelting back to the not-a-tent.

Shiv tensed, but the boy didn't
grab onto his legs this time.

"Mum says I might owe you
an apology," Edison said.
"Do you want it or not?"

"For what?" Shiv said,
shaking his head. "You
didn't do anything that was
any more obnoxious than usual."

"I shouldn't have bugged you
about your back," Edison said.
"Mum told me it can make people sad
if you point at their scars, and maybe
you didn't want to talk about it."

"Really don't," Shiv said. "So
why'd you say anything, if you're
supposed to know better?"

Edison's lip wobbled. "Because
somebody hurt you and it's mean!"

"I'm not -- okay, yes, it hurt when
it happened but it doesn't now,"
Shiv said, trying not to remember
Boss Batir swinging the belt
or the burning smack of it
against his skin. "I'm fine."

"You don't look fine, but Mum
said it doesn't count as fibbing
and that I should just ignore it,"
Edison replied. "I'm sorry for
making a fuss in the store."

Shiv snorted. "That's not a fuss.
I've made so much of a fuss that
I got arrested and dragged out."

"That's stupid!" Edison said,
his eyes widening. "Didn't they
know an upset person needs
a quiet room to calm down?"

Shiv flashed on the one that was
no bigger than a refrigerator, pink walls
closing in so he couldn't breathe.

"Not. A. Fan," he gritted.

The breeze shifted, and
Shiv moved to follow it.

Right now he needed the wind on
his face and the wild smell of the ocean
to remind him where he really was.

"Edison, keep your focus on
your mistakes," Dr. G said.

"I'm sorry that I grabbed you
without asking first," Edison said
to Shiv. "I know it's wrong, but
sometimes my skin gets hungry
and I just ... forget the rules."

Shiv had "just forgotten"
a zillion things when he was
upset, and he had never gotten
an inch of slack for any of it.

Suddenly he didn't want
to be that much of a dick.

"Water under the bridge," he said,
waving it off. "Just remember it's
not always safe to jump on me.
If I'm in a good mood, it's only
annoying. If I'm in a bad mood,
then somebody could get hurt."

That had happened before.
Shiv had lost count of how many
foster homes he got kicked out of
for being "too violent," no matter
what had started the fight.

As bad as some of those had been,
Shiv would hate it if Edison
got hurt because of him.

Edison wilted. "I didn't mean
to scare you. I'm really sorry."

"I wasn't scared!" Shiv said.
Creeped out, yeah, but Edison
didn't need to hear that.

"So we're all okay now?"
Edison said. "I don't want
you to stay mad at me."

"I'm not mad either," Shiv said.
"It's just I was already antsy
because of the store, and
you pushed a little too hard."

"You don't like stores?"
Edison said, frowning.
"But they have nice stuff."

"Nice if you can afford it,"
Shiv muttered, tamping down
all the memories of wanting and
not having. "Let's say I have a lot
of bad memories about stores, and
not very many good ones -- and all
of the good memories are recent."

"That stinks," Edison said.

"Yeah, it does," Shiv said.
"That's the story of my life,
kid -- one big heap of stink."

"I'm sorry I made you remember
the bad parts," Edison said. "Today
was supposed to be all about fun."

That made Shiv smirk. "Well,
it's the most fun that I've
ever had on a beach."

"So will you forgive me
for messing up?" Edison said.

"Yeah, sure," Shiv replied,
and braced himself for
the boy to ram him.

Edison didn't. Instead,
he tucked his fist against
his palm and bowed. "Mum
said not to grab you again,
and do this instead."

Bemused, Shiv returned
the rock-and-water salute.

Then he realized that he felt
like something was ... missing.

So he spread his hands and
said, "C'mere, Monkey, let's
play some Hot Potato."

Edison grinned and hugged him.
Together they chanted, "One potato,
two potato, three potato, hot!"

The little boy let go, and Shiv
sighed. It was weird, but it was
turning into a familiar sort of weird
that apparently he missed when
Edison actually left him alone.

"Will you come beachcombing
with me?" Edison said. "I heard
you talking about the beach glass,
and I want to look for some, but Mum
said I had to take a big person along."

"I want to look for beach glass too,"
Shiv said. "Is there room in the bucket?"

"If there's not, we can throw out
something else," Edison said.

"Sure, that works," Shiv said.
"Aida, are you coming? It sounded
like you know where to look."

"I'll come with you," she said.
"This is a good beach for hunting
sea glass, because it has lots of rocks.
Chips of glass wash up near those."

"I'll come too," said Dr. G. "I've
been lounging around long enough;
I should get up and move now."

They rambled along the beach,
sometimes right where the waves
were bringing in new stuff from
the ocean, and other times
farther up the slope.

Shiv enjoyed himself,
even though the beach was
a mix of fun and trigger farm.

Everything familiar made him twitchy.
He wasn't actually good at relaxing
in the first place. A lot of it was
new, though, and the Finns
were fascinating company.

Every time Shiv started to slip
into a funk, someone pulled him out --
a dog barked at him, Halley cracked a joke.
That made it kind of a roller-coaster,
but he wouldn't give it up anyway.

He liked listening to Dr. G talk
about the people they saw, and
Edison's bright chatter was funny.

As they walked, Aida showed them
how pebbles and bits of seashell
collected near the boulders.

Once she found the first piece
of beach glass, a bright green oval
with a frosty surface, Shiv got the feel
of it in his head and started sweeping
the shore with his superpower.

Beach glass reminded him of
the felted soap that a lady sold at
the farmer's market, soft and fuzzy
outside but with a hard core underneath.

The beach was mostly sand full of rocks,
some rounded and others still sharp, but
there were also a few fragments of glass
in the same range of development.

"Look out!" Shiv snapped,
yanking Edison backwards
with a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey," Edison whined.
"No grabbing means you too!"

Shiv pointed down. "Watch
where you put your feet. You
almost stepped on that."

"Stepped on what?" Edison said.
"All I can see is more sand."

Shiv looked closer, and sighed.
Only the tips of the wicked points
actually showed above the surface.

Reaching down with his superpower,
he jerked the broken bottle out of the sand.

Dr. G swore under his breath.

Shiv didn't know any of the words,
but they weren't the string of vegetables
in Esperanto that he usually used.

"Edison, let me carry you for
a little while," Dr. G said.

"Okay," Edison said, holding out
his arms to be picked up.

"What about the bottle?"
Edison said, watching it hover.

"It's not beach glass yet,
it's just litter, and big pieces
like that are dangerous," Aida said
as she opened a garbage bag.

"Wait a minute," said Dr. G.
"Shiv, would you like to try
making some beach glass with
your superpower? It won't quite be
identical due to chemical weathering,
but I bet you could come close."

"Sure, I'll try it," Shiv said, and
Aida gave him a different bag for it.

Farther along, Edison spotted
a cluster of shells surrounding
a piece of white glass worn
into sort of a heart shape.

Then Shiv spied a bit
of pale, icy blue glass.

"Oh, you got lucky,"
Aida said, envy clear in
her voice. "That's a rare color.
You won't see much blue,
even this light blue."

"Can I keep it?" Shiv asked,
hoping that he could.

"You can if it fits into
the bucket," Aida said.

It fit, and they moved on.

They found a few more pieces
before they turned back, but only
some were good enough to keep.

Aida pointed out big chips,
broken edges, and pieces that
simply weren't finished enough yet.

"Throw 'em back," she said, suiting
actions to words as she skipped
a bottle bottom out over the waves.
"Let the ocean polish them some more."

When they got back to the Finn camp,
Molly checked everyone's Sunspotz
again. "Your green is just starting to fade,"
she told Shiv. "You've got a little more time in
the sun, but not much. How about finding
some shady recreation for a while?"

"Fine by me," Shiv said, reclaiming
his starfish beach towel. The not-a-tent
cast plenty of shade over him. "I can
try my hand at making beach glass."

He used his superpower to break
the brown bottle bottom into bits
the size of the ones they'd found.

He smoothed the edges, which
was easy, but when he tried
to mimic the delicate frosting
and pitting, he couldn't.

"This is stupid," he muttered,
throwing away another failure.

"It's not stupid, it's just new,"
Dr. G said. "Pick a fresh piece,
and this time, concentrate on
just one thing. Try the frosting."

That made it a lot easier to get
an even coating of frost, but then
the edges were still pretty sharp.

"Smooth the edges, then do
the frosting," Dr. G suggested.

That worked pretty well, but Shiv
never did get the hang of the pitting
before he ran out of glass and energy.

He handed Dr. G the best piece
and said, "For the family treasure bucket."

Then Shiv tossed the rest of the pieces
out over the beach. Let the ocean
finish what he had started.

A mouthwatering smell filled
the air, making his stomach growl.
It smelled like seafood, onions, and
other things he couldn't identify.

Elisabeth gave a shrill whistle,
then yelled, "Finns to the center!"
which brought everyone running.

Dr. G grinned and held out
a hand to haul Shiv up, which
was more necessary than
Shiv wanted to admit.

"There's a mom-and-pop shop
that digs firepits to make seafood boils,
and their specialty is selling large quantities,"
the older man explained. "They put the food
in disposable aluminum trays, each one
with enough to feed ten people."

Sure enough, the Hispanic dude
was uncovering huge heaps of food --
whole crabs and clams, potatoes,
corn on the cob, and onions.

Another tin held a mountain of
tropical fruit in all kinds of colors,
glossy with some sort of syrup.

"Shovel it up, Aida's coming,"
Dr. G advised as he piled food
onto his plate as fast as he could.

Shiv didn't hesitate to grab a plate and
load it with as much as it could hold.

The seafood was salty and savory,
the vegetables boiled to tenderness.

The fruit held an unexpected hint of
some spice that he couldn't identify, and
Shiv frowned over it as he chewed.

"That's cardamom and lime, in case
you're curious," Heron said as he
sidled up to the table. Shiv had
only seen glimpses of him all day.

"It's good," Shiv said.

They took their plates and
sat down to finish the stuff that
couldn't be snitched with fingers.

You needed both hands to open
a crab, and everyone else wanted
tools, although Shiv didn't bother.

The heavy meal restored his energy
by the time he was licking the last of
the juice from his fingers. "That
was awesome," Shiv said.

"We're happy to feed you
any time," Heron said.

He really liked feeding people.
Shiv noticed that, for all his long face,
Heron was as good for a handout as Dr. G.

"Yeah, I get that," Shiv said. "It's weird,
but I think I'm starting to like it anyway."

"We'll grow on you," Heron said.
"Okay, I ate a little too much. I need
to walk it off. Would you like to come
with me, and get away from the horde
for a few minutes of quiet time?"

"Good idea," Shiv said, checking
the back of his hand. The yellow dot
was beginning to show color. "I've
got a little bit of sun time left."

So they walked toward the far end
of the beach again, where the waves
rushed and shushed against the rocks.

It was quiet and calm, not too many people
around -- the ones who wanted to wade or
play in the sand tended to stay closer
to the lighthouse, and this far down,
the tidepools were the main attraction.

"What are all these knives
buried in the sand?" Shiv said,
suddenly looking down at the beach.
A wave swished around his ankles.
"And why are some of them moving?"

"What kni--oh!" Heron said, perking up.
"About the size of your hand, really sharp,
and kind of like two of them stuck together?"

"Yeah, how did you know?" Shiv said.
They didn't show on the surface,
at least not that he could see.

"Those aren't knives, they're razor clams.
There's a show," Heron said, pointing to
a tiny hole in the sand. "We're outside of
the peak season, so this is a long shot,
but let me just check ..." He poked at
his waterproof vidwatch, then grinned.
"Yes! We're in luck! I'll call it in."

Shiv was stunned. He had never
seen Heron look so excited before,
and it seemed weird. "What?" he said.

"It's safe to dig razor clams today, and we're
outside the peak season, so almost nobody
has licenses now," Heron said. "Technically we
don't need any, because the beach itself is open for
clamming, but it's worth buying in for the perks, like
getting first dibs on the clams -- if they run low, people
with licenses can still go digging, but the beach
will stop offering it for the general public."

"Okay, what does this have to do
with me?" Shiv said, tilting his head.

"They're fast little things," Hero said.
"Da's going to buy us a family license.
You're going to shut it about being
a mooch today, because you're
about to help us catch supper."

"I've never done anything with
clams before," Shiv hedged.

"So? The shells are sharp, just
pull them toward the surface so
we can dig them up," Heron said.
"Razor clams are big and meaty.
We'll make a nice pot of chowder."

"Okay, that I can do," Shiv said.
He liked clam chowder, and
he didn't get it very often.

The shells really were sharp; it'd
be easy to pick them up, even through
several feet of damp sand. Some
of them were down pretty deep.

Before long, they had a horde
of eager Finns all around them,
and Dr. G handed out pings for
the family license by touching
his vidwatch to everyone else's.

Shiv's wasn't the waterproof kind,
which cost more, so he had to peel off
the plastic sleeve protecting it.

"Do you want a quick lesson
in clamming, or just have at it?"
Aida asked, turning to him.

"Please," Shiv said. "I have
no idea what I'm doing here."

"Okay, when a wave comes in,
the razor clams will move toward
the surface. When it goes out,
they'll dig in," Aida said. "They're
fast, so grab 'em when they're high."

"I can reach them even where
they are now," Shiv pointed out.

"Why make more work for yourself?"
she said with a shrug. "Also, take
the second-biggest clams. Leave
the giants to make more big clams,
and the little ones to grow up."

Shiv closed his eyes and felt
for the razor clams, knife-sharp
and lurking far underfoot, then
tried to compare their sizes.

"The granddaddies are down,
like, yea far below the rest,"
he said, measuring in the air.

"They'll come up," Aida said,
and then, "Wave! Everyone ready!"

The wave swooshed around them,
and all of a sudden it felt like being
in the middle of a knife fight.

Shiv grabbed as fast as he could,
but razor clams were slippery somehow
in a way that ordinary knives weren't,
and they slithered through his grip.

He only managed to flip two of them
onto the dry sand before the rest
escaped back below the surface.

"Mine!" Elisabeth yelled
at the same time Aida
called, "Strong show!"

Both of them started
digging like mad, Elisabeth
with her trench tool and
Aida with her knife.

Shiv got the hell out of
their way. He could find
the darn things anywhere.

Each time a wave rushed in,
he managed to snatch another
two or three of the clams and
toss them to shore, where Edison
put them into the family bucket.

Heron was right, razor clams
were big fat things, full of meat.

"Look at this," Aida said proudly,
holding up something that looked
like a pecker caught in a butterfly knife.
"I bet that we get a third of a pound
of meat off this one, maybe more!"

Shiv had to admit it was kind of fun
chasing clams, even if it was hard work,
especially when you got so much meat
every time you caught one of them.

The oysters they served at Blues Moon
were kind of like clams, but they were only
about the size of his thumb inside.

"Time to call it a day," Molly said.

"What?" Shiv said, staring
at her. "I'm not finished yet!"

"Oh, you're finished, all right,"
she said, pointing down.
"Look at your hand."

Shiv looked, and dammit,
the green spot was all gone and
the yellow one was as bright as butter.

"But we only have like thirty clams!"
Shiv protested. "The family license
lets us pool our limits, and we could've
gotten these for two solo licenses.
That's such a waste of money."

"It's not a waste, Shiv, because
some of the money from licenses goes
to maintain the beach, and the rest of it
goes to other wildlife in the state," said Dr. G.
"I don't begrudge it, and neither should you
if you like this beach as much as I think."

It really was a wonderful beach, and
Shiv wanted to have it for later,
including these nice clams.

He sighed, and looked at
his Sunspot again. He really
didn't want to get a sunburn, even if
it sucked to quit clamming before
they were anywhere near their limit.

"Yeah, okay, I guess I better quit,"
he said, hiking up to dry sand.
"Now what do we do?"

"I don't know about you, but
I'm giving my five to my sister,"
Elisabeth declared. "That's enough
to make a modest pot of chowder."

"Yeah, but they usually make it
by the gallon like we do," Heron said.

"Don't we still owe them for that trunk
of shrimp?" Dr. D said, tilting his head.

"That's exactly what I was thinking,"
Elisabeth said. "Besides, they have
even more mouths to feed than we do --
nine kids, plus four houseparents."

"Let's just split the take in half,
then," said Dr. G. "Share the wealth."

"I'm smooth with that, and I know
Ellen will be thrilled," said Elisabeth.

"Shiv, what about you?" Dr. G said,
turning around to face him.

"Why are you asking me?"
Shiv said, startled. "You
paid for the family license!"

"You did most of the work digging
the clams, so you get a say in where
they end up," Dr. G explained.

Shiv thought about it.
He wondered if it was safe
to ask what he really wanted.

Only one way to find out.

He licked his lips, tasting salt,
and said, "Can I have some of
the chowder to take home?"

"One care package, coming right up,"
Dr. G said. "We do that all the time for
anyone who's away from home. Since
we're talking about this now, do you
want in on the baked goods too?"

Shiv wasn't about to turn down
free food. "Yeah, I'm in."

"And the clams, darling?"
Elisabeth prompted.

"Split 'em even," Shiv said.

He knew what it was like
living in a group home and
always hungry: it sucked.

Elisabeth might say that hers
was different, but Shiv would bet
some of the kids went hungry
just because they wouldn't ask
for food, even if it was there.

Shiv's legs felt like lead
as he hiked back to the camp,
but he didn't want to sound like
a whiner, so he didn't say anything.

Molly sidled up and tapped his hand
with something scratchy and plastic.

"What's this?" he said, looking down
at a packet with fruit on the label.

"Perk for being responsible
about your sun time," she said.
"Go on, start with that one."

Shiv ripped into it, because lunch
was long gone as far as his belly was
concerned. The energy gel tasted
like apple butter and raspberries.

Molly fed him more of them,
and when Shiv slowed down, then
she offered him a little black ball
instead. "For dessert," she said.

It looked like burnt rubber, but
he popped it in his mouth anyway,
because how bad could it be?

Chocolate.

So much chocolate,
so dark and rich, that
his eyes rolled back
in sheer pleasure.

It was mixed with
something sticky and
something crunchy
and it was so good.

Shiv was trying to suck
the enamel off his teeth
to get more of it when Molly
handed him another one.

Well. If this was what he got
for humoring her, maybe
he'd do it more often.

When they reached camp,
the St. Elmo Sankofa Home
were packing up their towels.

"Oh, good, you're back,"
Ellen said to Elisabeth. "I was
hoping you'd get here in time
to watch your own stuff. We
need to head home now."

"So do we, but we have
a surprise for you," Elisabeth said,
holding up the bucket of razor clams.
"Half of these are yours, as soon
as Graham tags out at the office."

"My goodness!" Ellen said.
"To what do we owe this honor?"

Elisabeth laughed. "That trunk
of wonderful shrimp you sent us,
and Shiv's skill at digging clams."

"Thank you, Shiv, that's
a generous gift," Ellen said.
"We'll all enjoy a pot of chowder!"

Elisabeth nudged him, just
the barest touch of elbow.

"Uh, welcome," Shiv said.
He wasn't used to anyone
making such a fuss over him.

"So what was your favorite part
of the trip today?" Dr. G asked.

"The beach," Shiv said with a chuckle.
"I don't know, I liked making sandcastles
and finding beach glass and there was
this blue critter in the tidepool."

"Least favorite part?" Dr. G said.

"All the dogs," Shiv said,
wrinkling his nose. "I'm
really not into dogs."

"Hardly a surprise," Dr. G said.
"This is nicknamed Dog Beach,
so you'll usually see some."

"It was nice of you to invite me,"
Shiv said. "People usually don't."

"Well, that doesn't help at all,
does it?" Dr. G said. "I think this
worked out much better for everyone.
We can do it again sometime, if you like.
Meanwhile, it's time to pack up."

Shiv ducked into the not-a-tent
to put his things back into his bag.

Halley came and gathered up
some of the sandcastle molds
that were lying around them.

Shiv stared at the jumble of junk.
How had his stuff gotten scattered
all over everywhere like this, when he'd
only gone into it once or twice?

Dr. G sat down beside him
and said, "It's amazing what a mess
the beach always makes, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I didn't think
I brought this much, but ..."

"Well, Heron kind of scrambled
the camp, calling in the clams,"
Dr. G said. "It probably got
kicked over, sorry about that."

Shiv looked at the tidy tote that
Dr. G was repacking, everything
snapped into its own perfect pocket.

Shiv sighed, suddenly ashamed
of the cheap canvas bag that he had
bought at the Omaha Farmer's Market.

"It's odd, isn't it?" Dr. G said to no one
in particular. "We're ashamed of everything --
ourselves, our relatives, our incomes, our opinions,
just as we are ashamed of our naked skins."

"I guess," Shiv said, one finger flicking
the handle of his bag back and forth.

"We are ashamed of everything
that is real about us," Dr. G said,
"but we shouldn't be, because that
is what makes us who we are,
and who we are is important."

"I'm not important," Shiv protested.

"You are to us," Dr. G said, patting him
on the shoulder. The fleeting heat of
his hand was gone before Shiv had time
to appreciate it. "As soon as you're done
with that, we can fold up the umbrellas."

Dr. G stood up and walked away,
leaving Shiv to his task and his thoughts.

It was strange how someone could
make Shiv feel so confused, and yet
so much more real, at the same time.

Shiv shook his head and went back
to work, tossing aside what wasn't his --
Halley could deal with the Finn things --
and putting his own stuff in his bag.

Something crinkled under his hand.

He yanked the bag open, because he
knew that he hadn't left anything in it
which should make a sound like that.

If Edison put an empty wrapper in
Shiv's bag, the brat was going to regret it.

Instead, Shiv found a whole packet of
Sunspotz with their cheerful stoplight label.

At first he thought that someone must have
dropped it, but no, it was tucked way down
deep in the bag where he wouldn't have
found it until later if it hadn't crinkled.

He wondered if someone might be
trying to set him up, but that was just nuts;
it wasn't like the Finns to frame anyone,
even someone they hated, and they
kept claiming to like him.

Which was also nuts, but
that was the Finns for you.
They had funny taste in people.

Fine, whatever, he'd keep the Sunspotz
and be grateful for their added safety.

Shiv finished packing and swept
his hand over the beach mat
to clear the sand away.

Then he helped Aida take down
the not-a-tent, folding up both it
and the beach mat underneath
so those would fit into their bags.

As they picked up everything
and turned to leave, Shiv took
one last look over his shoulder
at IT Beach behind them.

The sand glittered golden
in the sun and the blue water
winked with a few white waves.

It was the best beach that Shiv
had ever seen, and the Finns were
some of the best people he had
ever met, and he let himself
believe, just for a minute,

that he could keep them.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long and so is the batch of footnotes.  I will add those in a separate post.



Mood:: 'busy' busy

Posted by Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

In Mirror Dance, Mark ruined what passed for his life and then found a better path. In Memory, Miles is freshly cryo-revived, so now it’s his turn!

The tradition in this reread blog is that we kick off the new book by examining some book covers. What does Memory have in store for us?

Note: This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

Memory has some reminders of how little I know about Barrayaran military insignia, for starters. I know you get some tabs to pin to your shirt collar when you get promoted (“May I, Lieutenant? For my pleasure.”) Barrayar kind of loses me on things like colors and shapes, and the insignia featured in the lower left hand corner of this cover don’t look like Horus eyes to me. But I’m going to assume they are, and I’m going to assume that those somehow represent a captain’s rank, because I have decided that this silhouette is Simon Illyan’s. That’s why it’s totally cool that none of the stuff inside this head happens inside this book; No cities burn to the ground, no shuttles crash, I think it’s possible that someone gets shot but I can’t recall a specific incident (other than Miles’s seizure), and Alys Vorpatril isn’t a redhead. I am completely befuddled by Ms. Pouty Lips.

The cover for the Kindle edition is comparatively understated. Once again, we’re looking at Simon Illyan. This time, things are leaving his head. It’s very dignified. Where these Kindle covers miss the mark, I usually feel it’s because they’re a little boring.

In the interests of giving credit where it is due, the Kindle edition isn’t as boring as this German cover, which features a character I have never even heard of before—who is this blond kid?—and which would also work as a cover for any story that has an army vaguely near it.

The Estonian cover, by Toomas Nicklus, looks like it was intended for a book about an airfield in the Second World War.

The Japanese cover is a beautifully rendered image of something that absolutely does not happen in the book. I’m including it because I think that might be Elli Quinn on the lower left. Given an opportunity to draw a physically fit brunette woman with stunning facial features, a shocking number of artists have opted to draw space ships or something instead. She’s on some covers of Ethan of Athos, and some covers of Brothers in Arms, and Esad Ribic put her on the back cover of Mirror Dance, although I was dismayed by his decision to focus on her torso. (I’m sure it’s a very nice torso, but that’s not what Bujold has described as her most notable feature.) In total fairness, that’s almost all of the books she appears in. This is her last personal appearance in the books, so it’s the last time there’s an excuse to put her on a book cover. I’m struggling with that.

I’m super-critical of all of these because I have fallen in love with the Czech version.

If Martina Pilcerova’s painting of Miles holding a knife to his throat is too pretty, it is because the drama and use of color draw on the pre-Raphealite movement. Pilcerova has also created a moment that isn’t precisely in the story, but she honors its emotional heart. Her Miles is like a sexy Hamlet. That’s not in the story either, but again, I think it honors its emotional heart.

 * * *

The first four chapters of Memory feature Miles making every possible mistake. He leads a combat squad rescuing a kidnapped ImpSec courier, has a seizure in the middle of the action, and cuts off Lt. Vorberg’s legs with his plasma arc. Elli Quinn was his second-in-command on the mission, but he didn’t tell her about his seizure issues before he became an emergency. He didn’t tell anyone in the upward portion of his chain of command either, because he didn’t want to be stuck in a desk job. He puts together a mission report that leaves out all mention of seizures because he still doesn’t want a desk job. He argues with Elli Quinn about it because she is a rational adult. Quinn very rightly points out that Illyan has agents in the Dendarii Fleet, and word is likely to get back to him. Elli’s tone in the scene suggests to me that she will send word herself if Illyan’s agents don’t. I agree with her—commanders with uncontrolled seizures should have the sense to run operations from a safe distance with appropriate backup. And, you know, to get their seizures under control rather than crossing their fingers and hoping the seizure fairy is busy elsewhere today.

Miles’s attitude in re the relative virtues of combat and desks has a longer history in popular culture. Captain Kirk also subscribed to the philosophy that taking a desk job was, in essence, giving up on life. Aral and Cordelia would have had Things To Say about this if Miles had mentioned it to them. Both of them did a lot of meaningful work after leaving the line. They might have sent Miles to have a conversation with Koudelka, whose nerve disruptor injury made him unfit for combat at what turned out to be the beginning of his career. I’ve referred to Kipling several times in the course of this reread, so I feel justified in pointing out that Kipling also said things about seizures, although in a very different context—“Epileptic fits don’t matter in Political employ” (“The Post That Fitted,” 1886). It’s a decent poem, with fascinating ironic relevance to a book where a character ruins his life by trying to pretend that he’s not epileptic. You should read it, if you’re not familiar. The blog post will be here when you get back.

The poem’s discussion of romantic infidelity is also relevant to Memory’s early chapters. Miles is abruptly summoned home. Since he has lately argued with Elli, he brings Sgt. Taura as his bodyguard. He’s still sleeping with her. Miles has many excuses for this; He and Elli have never made vows or promises, his relationship with Taura predates his one with Quinn.

Yeah, nice try. If you have to hide one partner from the other partner, lest someone feel aggrieved and betrayed, you’re not being fair. And Miles isn’t being fair to Taura either. He’s Taura’s knight in shining armor, but only when they’re alone, and not anywhere near Barrayar. Miles is desperate to find any woman in the universe who he can bring home to Barrayar, as long as that woman isn’t Taura. I could live with that—Barrayar can barely accept Miles and Mark—if Miles spent a single second’s emotion on the fact that Taura probably would take on Barrayar if he asked her to, and it would be a horrible waste of her short and precious life. They do have a nice dinner. There are a lot of dinners in this book, even in the first four chapters.

On his return to Vorbarr Sultana, Miles delivers his doctored report to ImpSec Headquarters and finds Illyan away. He’s sent home on leave, but told to hold himself ready to report on short notice. This begins an idle section where Miles tries to sort out independent adulthood outside the context of his personal mercenary fleet; Miles starts doing ordinary things. He runs into Duv Galen in the elevator and exchanges greetings. Duv is seeing someone. How nice. Miles goes home to Vorkosigan House and notices that the gate guard is keeping a cat. Miles gets a little drunk. Miles goes to the corner store and buys cat food and TV dinners—Barrayaran TV dinners come with exclamation points. The shopkeeper accuses Miles of being a bachelor. Miles and Ivan find some people to invite to one of the Emperor’s parties. These are such fun slice of life moments, this little calm in the eye of Miles’s storm.

Remember in The Vor Game, when Miles found a man dead in a drain pipe? That was shortly before Miles faced a moment of decision that had serious consequences for his military career. Somewhere in the course of that book, Admiral Naismith stuffed Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan in a closet. In these first four chapters of Memory, the Lieutenant has escaped and kiled Admiral Naismith. It wasn’t staged as dramatically as Killer coming out and kicking Baron Ryoval in the larynx. The Lieutenant started plotting this murder shortly before he got over his cryo-revival amnesia and Naismith hasn’t yet discovered his own corpse.

This blog post would not be complete without mention of Elena and Baz Bothari-Jesek, who have left their lord’s service to pursue parenthood and civilian life. Elena is expecting a girl. Miles declined to be a complete idiot about it, which was clearly a struggle for him. The Koudelka daughters also get a mention, foreshadowing the significant roles they will play in this book and in A Civil Campaign.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

Posted by Sweepstakes

The Name of the Wind 10th Anniversary Edition

We want to send you a copy of the 10th anniversary edition of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, available October 3rd from DAW! Two lucky readers will each win a copy of the book, and a poster of the new cover art.

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

This deluxe, illustrated anniversary hardcover includes more than 50 pages of extra content!

• Beautiful, iconic cover by artist Sam Weber and designer Paul Buckley
• Gorgeous, never-before-seen illustrations by artist Dan Dos Santos
• Detailed and updated world map by artist Nate Taylor
• Brand-new author’s note
• Appendix detailing calendar system and currencies
• Pronunciation guide of names and places

Comment in the post to enter!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States and D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec). To enter, comment on this post beginning at 3:30 PM Eastern Time (ET) on September 25th. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET on September 29th. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tor.com, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

ysabetwordsmith: Artwork of the wordsmith typing. (typing)
posted by [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith at 02:18pm on 25/09/2017 under ,
These are some posts from the later part of last week in case you missed them:
Poem: "We Must Bear Witness"
Poem: "An Atmosphere of Shame"
Poem: "Black Swan Lake"
Saturday Yardening
Crowdfunding Creative Jam
The Jewel in the Heart of Quantum Physics
Birdfeeding
Hard Things


The half-price sale in Polychrome Heroics is now complete.  I have a few new poems up already, and more to post.

"Branded in His Memory" is fully committed, so if you pledged money toward that, now is the time to send it (not counting the person who specified a later date of donation).  Look on the sale page to see the tally; I had to put it there because the donor comments kind of spread around several posts.

The discussion "Working Around Microphones" has gained a lot of attention. If you're concerned about accessibility and diversity, please check out this list of ideas for supporting everyone's comfort and communication. If you're an organizer, or you know someone who is, by all means print it out and pass it around.


Poetry in Microfunding:
"The Inner Transition" belongs to Polychrome Heroics: Berettaflies.  Stylet enjoys a shower and Valor's Widow starts cooking.  "The Higher a Monkey Climbs" belongs to Polychrome Heroics and has 23 new verses.  Pips and Jules discuss what to get for G and Joshua after the fire.  "Two Foxes" belongs to Polychrome Heroics: Iron Horses.  The Iron Horses tell Kenzie what happened to the gaybashers.  

Weather has been hot and muggy.  Currently blooming: dandelions, marigolds, petunias, lantana, million bells,  firecracker plant, white and red clover, morning glories, frost asters, torenia, purple aster, sawtooth sunflowers, pink sedum, purple sedum.
posted by [syndicated profile] tordotcom_feed at 07:00pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon—a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

Based on the Oscar-nominated animated short film of the same name, The Dam Keeper is a lush, vibrantly drawn graphic novel by Tonko House cofounders Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi—available September 26th from First Second.

 

 

DamKeeperINT_Final-18 DamKeeperINT_Final-19 DamKeeperINT_Final-20 DamKeeperINT_Final-21 DamKeeperINT_Final-22 DamKeeperINT_Final-23 DamKeeperINT_Final-24

Posted by Tor.com

Following the sad news of Kit Reed’s death yesterday at the age of 85, the community of science fiction and fantasy readers, fans, editors, and authors have made it clear how much she will be missed, expressed grief at the passing of a legend and celebrating an extraordinary life and career. Jen Gunnels, Reed’s editor at Tor Books, penned the following tribute to the author:

Several years ago, I met Kit Reed for the first time at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. It was… an intimidating moment. I mean, Kit Reed. She was the most gracious, elegant, suffer-no-fools woman I had ever met, and I adored her for it. Over the years, we became better friends, and when I stepped in as her editor after the death of David Hartwell, we started the editor/author relationship. It was all too brief.

Kit was old school in all the best ways. Meet with an editor? Then it had to be at the Algonquin, that famous hotel where the Algonquin Round Table met—the literati like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, and others shared drinks and barbs and molded literary culture. She would fill me in on literary news in a manner that Dorothy Parker would have approved. She was much like a fairy godmother—if fairy godmothers knew EVERYONE in the book circles, swore like a Teamster, and carried herself like that bullet proof broad from a noir novel. I think that this would have pleased her to know.

While we’ve lost a writer who helped pioneer the genre for women, she has left us with an ongoing legacy in her work and with her approach to young talent—authors and editors alike. So, remember her by raising a glass and saying something insightful and biting and clever. She’s really only gone just around the corner.

Tor editor Marco Palmieri tweeted a recent noir-ish photo of Reed, writing:

Elsewhere, Reed and her work have been celebrated with an outpouring of tributes by many of her fellow authors:

Finally, calling Reed “a brilliant giant of science fiction,” Cory Doctorow penned a touching tribute on BoingBoing, which you can read in full here. As he notes, those who wish to honor her memory with a donation can do so by donating to the Alzheimers’ Walk of Greater Los Angeles in her name, to 826 National or another writing program, or to a cancer charity like Cancer Research. Clearly, Reed’s impact on the field of SFF, her kindness toward and support of other writers, and her impressive body of books and stories will continue to inspire all of us—friends, fans, and strangers alike—for years to come.

Posted by Judith Tarr

I’m glad my whim and the vagaries of my bookshelves brought me to ’Ware Hawk after The Gate of the Cat, though it was published earlier (1983 versus 1987) and falls earlier in the chronology of the Witch World books as well. It was no problem to move back in time to a period soon after Trey of Swords, years after the Witches of Estcarp moved the mountains against Karsten, and this is a much better book. I can mercifully forget the adventures of—who was that again? What adventures?

Ah. Relief.

Here we have a collection of classic Norton tropes: a mismatched pair of misfit humans, a battle between Light and Dark, interfering Old Ones, a quest through death and beyond, and of course, a geas.

Norton loves a geas. Character or characters driven by forces beyond their control? Compulsion so strong they can’t resist? Unseen and unknown Powers manipulating humans like pieces on a gaming board? That’s your standard Witch World plot. The Old Ones even recycle. Here we have Ninutra again, the neutral force of Trey of Swords (Ni-Neutral? Get it?).

This time she’s messing with the last (or so the character thinks) scion of a noble house of the Old Race in Karsten, driving her through dreams and visions to return from exile to the ruins of Hawksholme and claim a mysterious and dangerous artifact. What makes this particular version of the trope rise above the rest is the quality of the characters.

When Norton’s characters are on, they really are on. Tirtha does Strong Norton Female exceptionally well. She’s tough, trail-wise, smart, and while she’s geas-bound, she works actively to make it happen. She’s not a passive instrument. She embraces her destiny.

Part one of her plan, as far as the novel goes, is to hire a guide through the broken mountains to Hawksholme. The single candidate at the hiring fair is another exceptional character: a one-handed, falconless Falconer, whose name, we eventually learn, is Nirel. (Falconers, like the Witches they notoriously loathe, keep their names to themselves.)

Nirel is an interesting person. We only see him through Tirtha, and she sees him through a filter of assumptions about Falconers. They’re clannish, secretive, and ferociously misogynistic. She’s not even sure this Falconer will agree to work for her, and is surprised when he does.

She continues to be surprised as they travel together through the dangerous terrain of this world. Like several characters before him, he happens across a mystical weapon, a dagger that clearly is not meant for use as such, but has magical powers—and he doesn’t shy off it as Tirtha expects: Falconers hate magic, she’s been taught. He uses it early and often to protect them and to find their way. Late in the story we learn that it has a long history, and its name is Basir’s Tongue.

The dagger brings Nirel another and possibly even more precious gift: a hawk named Wind Warrior. Or maybe it’s the other way about: the hawk reveals the dagger to Nirel. We learn a great deal about Falconers and their birds. Men and hawks communicate in bird language, the birds have their own clans and leaders, and individual birds make a conscious choice to bond with a man.

What we don’t get from Nirel is any genuine hatred of Tirtha as a woman. She keeps expecting it and assuming it, but he serves her loyally and will not let her dissolve their bargain before the expiration date. When that date gets closer, and Tirtha has told him the truth about her mission, he voluntarily extends his service indefinitely.

By that point it’s quietly clear, though not to Tirtha, that Nirel doesn’t hate her at all. Quite the opposite. It’s subtle, understated, and far from explicit, but a glance here and an action there tells us that his feelings for her have developed and grown. If he ever really did hate women, he certainly learns not to hate this one.

Tirtha is much slower with her own emotional arc, but she has an awful lot on her mind. She doesn’t have time to worry about matters of romance. She’s busy being geas-bound, questing for the place of her dream, and dealing with a band of enemies who are also looking for the magic box—and one of them is a Power of the Dark, named Rane as we discover, which further ups the ante. When she finally makes it to the box and takes possession of it, she’s pretty thoroughly convinced that she’s dead and her spirit is haunting her body, which holds the box in a literal death grip. It’s not until somewhat later, when Nirel also is presumed dead, that she starts to recognize her feelings for him.

As Norton romances go, this is as good as it gets. It’s mostly hints and glances, but they add up. The conclusion actually feels like the culmination of a believable arc. I was ready for it and I cheered when it happened.

Even Nirel’s transformation from dour warrior to happy young man in love makes sense in context. We don’t get any of his internal progression from doubly maimed Falconer to willing Lord of the Hawk, but we see just enough of it to deduce the rest.

This being a sequel to Trey of Swords, we actually have a trio here (and if we happened to miss it, it’s pointed to in so many words later in the book). The third member of the fellowship is an unusual character for a Norton novel.

We first meet him as a child driven catatonic a by horrific attack on the walled farm compound he lives in. And not only catatonic—magically invisible. It’s the hawk who finds and is able to see him. The humans rescue him by feel, and Tirtha, who keeps insisting (with various degrees of frustration) that she has no major witch powers despite being of the Old Race, has enough healing power, assisted by Nirel, the hawk, and the magic dagger, to make him visible and bring him out of his catatonia.

His name is Alon, and he’s older than he looks. Sometimes he seems much older. We never learn who or what he really is, except that he’s probably at least part Old One, his powers are enormous but he doesn’t know much about them yet, and he was brought to the farm by a Wisewoman named Yachne.

Yachne is a loose end here. All through the rest of the story we keep getting hints that she disappeared before the attack on the farm, she found Alon somewhere and had plans for him, and she may be following him now. But she never shows up, and we never find out what’s going on there. Alon helps a great deal with the finding of the box and the defeat of Rane, but he drops out of the story after that, and there’s no closure except Tirtha’s observation that he has more to do in this life. If that sequel was planned, I don’t think it ever hapened, unless there’s a short piece somewhere.

He’s a lively and intriguing character while he is on stage. There’s always the danger he’ll slip into catatonia from terror again, but when he does seem to do that, it becomes evident that he’s feigning it in order to keep his enemies off balance. When he’s not a captive, he’s an interesting combination of child and ancient creature of power. Both Tirtha and Nirel feel very protective of him, but are also in awe of his capabilities.

For quite some time the story seems to be about Tirtha finding Hawksholme and the magic box, and fighting Rane and his human allies for possession of it. When she finally claims the box, the plot takes a sharp turn. Nirel is apparently killed, the hawk is maimed and transforms into one of Ninutra’s supernatural birds, and Tirtha commits suicide by ingesting poison—but remains conscious inside her moribund body.

Because the body won’t release the box, and the one bandit who tries to take it meets a fate no one will specify except that it’s horrific, she’s hauled off, box and all, out of the ruined castle and into Escore. Rane, it seems, has a plan, and that involves using the box to ramp up the power of the Dark in Escore.

But Ninutra also has a plan, which she has been orchestrating for years. Tirtha is not the only one of the Hawk’s blood to have been called by geas. Before they meet Alon, Tirtha and Nirel find the body of a man of the Old Race who wears the lord’s ring of Hawksholme, but Tirtha doesn’t recognize him. He carries a scroll in a magically secured container, which Tirtha eventually manages to open, but none of the fellowship can read it.

To keep the theme of threes going, there’s one more Hawk pulled into the quest: a half-Sulcar man whom Tirtha knew as a child. Rane and company capture and torture him, and force him to help them capture the box—attached to Tirtha, but since she’s dead, there’s nothing she can do about it.

Ninutra, however, is still in control. She guards Tirtha with the Shadow Sword, and eventually we meet the human woman who won it in Trey of Swords: the Wisewoman Crytha, along with her companions, Uruk the ancient axeman and Yonan.

I think Norton had a thing for Yonan. He shows up all over the place in the late Witch World books. Here he’s the same person, more or less, that he was in Trey of Swords, though not nearly as conflicted about being the reincarnation of an ancient adept.

The three of them help Tirtha and Alon and a badly wounded but still living and ferociously determined Nirel to wield the box, fulfill Ninutra’s plan, and defeat Rane and company. They all end up in what we can presume is the Green Valley, though the most we see of it is the magic mud that we encountered in the Tregarth series.

I knew that was coming as soon as I realized they were all headed for Escore. Tirtha turns out not to be dead at all; what she thought was a poison was a powerful paralytic drug. She did break her back and suffer other agonizing injuries, but the mud takes care of that.

It really takes care of Nirel and the hawk, who gets his own body back when Ninutra is done with him. The hawk grows a new foot, and—even more miraculous—Nirel grows a hand. And they’re all healed and healthy and happy and together, though Alon is off somewhere denying us closure.

This was a satisfying read, page by page. Loved the characters. Didn’t find the standard endless quest narrative as annoying as usual—it moved along fairly quickly, it had a point to it, and there was that twist after Hawksholme.

Even the standard weird dream-sequences worked for me, and traveling for a third of the book with a character who thought she was dead was actually interesting. We could only know what Tirtha knew, with her very limited vision and her frequent lapses into comae. It could have been frustrating but it was rather intriguing—a bit of a tour de force in unreliable narration.

I enjoyed it. It actually made up for the slog of The Gate of the Cat.

Next will be the last of the Witch World novels on my list: Horn Crown. Then we’ll move on to another Norton universe.

Judith Tarr forayed into the Witch World with a novella, “Falcon Law,” in Four from the Witch World. Her first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Her new short novel, Dragons in the Earth, a contemporary fantasy set in Arizona, was published last fall by Book View Cafe. In between, she’s written historicals and historical fantasies and epic fantasies and space operas, some of which have been published as ebooks from Book View Café. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

Posted by Liz Bourke

It is difficult for me to write this review without simply gushing READ THIS NOW. (But seriously: read this now.)

It’s true that I have been a fan of Ann Leckie’s work since first reading Ancillary Justice, and that Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy only deepened my appreciation for Leckie’s ability to tell a story. The Imperial Radch trilogy impressed a lot of people, as witnessed by the array of awards and award nominations it took home. But after such a successful debut—after such a lauded debut trilogy—there is always going to be a question when the author moves on to something new. Can the next book live up to the quality of what has gone before while breaking new ground? Or will they spend their career telling different versions of the same story?

The answer, in Leckie’s case, is Provenance, which is every bit as good as her previous work and very different in theme, tone, and approach. Provenance takes place in the same universe as the Ancillary books, but outside the Radchaai sphere of influence. Hwae is a small planet-nation of limited importance to anyone except its inhabitants and near neighbours. Unlike the Radchaai, the people of Hwae have three genders (and consequently three sets of pronouns, she, he, and e) which young people choose between as one of the signs they have become adult. Hwaeans ascribe immense social and cultural importance to relics, which play a significant (and legitimating) role in their culture and politics. Those politics revolve around important families (and/or the very wealthy) who periodically must run for election. People in these families frequently adopt or foster children from less-well-off crèches, but it seems that only one child can inherit their parent’s name and position. This is certainly the case when it comes to Ingray Aughskold’s mother, Netano Aughskold. In order to impress her mother and show up her elder brother, Ingray has come up with a brilliant plan. A plan so brilliant it doesn’t go off the rails until oh, just before Provenance begins.

Ingray paid to get a criminal out of prison, on Tyr Siilas station, in order that she can convince said criminal to tell her where e put the Hwaean relics that e was convicted of stealing. (Her plan did not include any inducement for e to tell her other than “asking nicely.”) Unfortunately, the criminal arrives in a suspension box—essentially in stasis—which she did not expect. She further did not expect Captain Uisine, the ship-captain she hired to get her and her cargo home, to refuse to take a person who isn’t awake anywhere without them being woken up and asked if they were quite all right with being shipped off to strange places. And she certainly didn’t expect the person who wakes up from suspension to completely deny being Pahlad Budrakim, the criminal who’s central to Ingray’s plan.

Oops.

This is where the complications begin. Murder, fraud, and an obsessive ambassador from the alien Geck (one of the few Geck ever to leave the Geck home system) who believes that Captain Uisine’s ship was stolen from the Geck and refuses to be persuaded otherwise all come into play. So does a political dispute among Hwae’s neighbours, which is about to spill over—is in fact in the process of spilling over—onto Hwae itself.

Ingray is a delightful main character. (And a very different one from Breq.) Ingray is really quite a young adult, with the grasp of second- and third- order consequences commonly found among first-year undergraduates. Ingray makes many of her plans, at least at first, based on the assumption that people will act in the way that she imagines they will act. When they don’t—when they react to Ingray in a completely different fashion—Ingray is frequently left scrambling to catch up, bereft of a backup plan, until she stumbles across something that works (more or less), or is backed up by her ability to make friends—or at least find people who feel sympathetically inclined towards her—in unusual places.

The Geck are interestingly strange, and have a very different social organisation than any of the human societies Leckie has written about to date in the Imperial Radch universe. (The only Radchaai in the book is the ambassador to the Geck. An ambassador in a posting she never wanted, that no one cares about, to a people who mostly ignore her. She’s kind of hilariously rude and give-no-fucks: she wants to go home and drink tea, but that’s not going to happen for her.)

As Ingray convinces the person she thought was Pahlad to work with her to at least embarrass her brother, she learns that Pahlad can’t lead her to the relics. E can only tell her a truth about them which, if it got out and was proven, would have a destabilising effect on Hwaean society.

Of course, then the people with guns happen.

Part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, part political thriller, and part exploration of questions of memory, meaning, and cultural identity as represented by physical relics of the past, Provenance is an extraordinarily good book. Tightly paced and brilliantly characterised—as one might expect from Leckie—with engaging prose and a deeply interesting set of complicated intersecting cultures, it is a book that I loved, and one that I expect to read again.

It’s remarkably fun, really good, and has a strikingly satisfying conclusion. Very well recommended.

Provenance is available September 26th from Orbit Books.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, is out now from Aqueduct Press. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

Posted by Alter S. Reiss

“Getting the archaeology right” doesn’t actually matter that much when it comes to fantasy. The fact is, when it comes to secondary worlds, a lot of the absolutely basic assumptions don’t make any sense. Why are there people in this world, whose history—whose natural history—is so different from ours? If dragons and elder gods and all that were around for hundreds of thousands of years, why are the horses and carrots and stews and pie in that world exactly the same as ours?

Once you’re willing to swallow that horses are the same despite gryphon-related predation pressures, why strain at faceted diamonds a few centuries too early?

Even if something is set in an actual time and place, the sort of mistakes that archaeologists notice don’t matter that much. Writing about anything—mainly horses and guns, but really, anything—will upset people who know the subject well, but there are very few works that fail artistically because they annoyed experts.

Nobody can do all the research about everything, and specificity works better than generalities, even if the specificity is wrong, because most readers aren’t going to notice things that are wrong. Provided it’s not wrong in well-known ways—for one reason or another, readers are able to accept “hello” in a pseudo-medieval setting but will reject “okay,” even if those words were both later coinages. Potatoes in medieval Europe will be rejected, while orange carrots are accepted, although those were introduced at about the same time.

And even though people might notice a subset of blatant anachronisms, even those aren’t necessarily going to actually cause them to fall out of the work. There are lots of people who are annoyed by the potatoes in the Lord of the Rings, but that’s seldom sufficient to cause them to reject the work as a whole.

There are a couple of things that archaeology can do, though. One of the pleasures of reading fantasy is seeing people in situations that are greatly different from our own, and seeing how people did things in pre-modern times is a short-cut to differences of that sort.

In one of my early manuscripts, which is deservedly never going to see the light of day, I had a bunch of convict laborers being taken out to a work site. And I had them brought there by ox-cart. The reason why I did that was because I had the default assumption that when people are going long distances, they go in vehicles. It was set in olden times, so they had an old-timey vehicle, but I didn’t look hard enough at the default assumption. Prisoners wouldn’t have gone in a cart—they’d have walked. Getting the precise details of a 12th century ox-cart right doesn’t matter nearly as much as noticing whether or not there’d be an ox-cart there in the first place.

Similarly, there’s a tendency when writing in pre-modern settings to have people cooking in iron pots or skillets. Iron is old-timey, it’s not too different from what we use now, good enough. But the fact is, right up until the industrial revolution, for every iron cook-pot that’s been excavated, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of clay cooking vessels. And glazed cooking vessels come in relatively late, and are relatively uncommon.

There are a lot of reasons not to make cooking vessels out of clay. Ceramics are excellent insulators, heavy, likely to shatter if dropped, and will occasionally explode when heated. In addition, unglazed pottery is porous. Those pores retain flavors and fats from everything that gets cooked in them; when that fat goes rancid, the pot will taint everything cooked in it. But the reason why pottery was preferred over the conductive, resilient, and much less explosive iron was because people could throw pots in their spare time. Not that every single person living in pre-industrial society could manage that, but it was a sort of common adult skill—a bit like being able to set up a wireless network, or change the oil on a car.

That isn’t to say that there need to be more scenes where the stalwart heroes have their pots explode because of thermal shock (though I’ll admit, I’d like that.) But before machines did more of the heavy work of mining and refining and fashioning tools, people had a different relationship to their tools, and a glimpse of that in a story can go a long way.

Close attention to ancient material culture can cause dozens of similar insights into different ways people used to interact with their world. Light, let’s say. Oil lamps are a pretty common find, as are amphora used to transport and store olive oil. And using one of those lamps tells you that those lamps don’t give that much light.

Modern lighting is amazingly clean and bright, which causes the default assumption that if the light is on, you can see things. Oil lamps, or tallow candles, or even medieval fireplaces, simply didn’t give that much light. And when lamp oil was coming from overseas, and was also one of the best sources of calories available, people didn’t burn any more than they needed, not unless they were extremely wealthy. So there’d be a little bit of light; just enough to do let them see what they wanted to see, and no more than that.

There are similar things that could be mentioned about food storage, about the shapes of storage vessels, about the differences between dirt floors and stone floors, between ancient sheep and modern sheep, and so on, and so on.

Which is what archaeology does have to offer. Getting things wrong doesn’t necessarily matter. But getting things right, even just one or two small things right, can convey an authenticity that will carry the weight of any number of wrong assumptions.

History gives some of the same benefits for fantasy, as well as things that archaeology can’t offer. But history is what people who lived in those times thought was worth writing down. They had their blind spots, the same way we do; if all that survived of the culture of the 21st century were some histories, and a few novels and screenplays, it would be hard to figure out how we interacted with our wifi networks. Fiction that was based on those histories and novels might get some things right—it might get a lot right. But looking at the material culture could help people understand things about our lives that our history books don’t discuss.

This article was originally published in September 2015.

Alter S. Reiss is the author of Sunset Mantle as well as an archaeologist and writer who lives in Jerusalem with his wife Naomi and their son Uriel. He likes good books, bad movies, and old time radio shows.

ffutures: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] ffutures at 06:51pm on 25/09/2017 under
This is an interesting one because it's (a) British and set in Britain and (b) originally aimed at younger readers; Maelstrom was first published by Puffin Books, a children's imprint, in the 1980s:

https://bundleofholding.com/presents/Maelstrom

"This offer features Maelstrom, Alexander Scott's 1984 tabletop fantasy roleplaying game of Tudor magick and danger. Originally published by Puffin Books under the Adventure Gamebooks banner (alongside the famous Fighting Fantasy series), Maelstrom introduced a generation of British youth to roleplaying. Now the current publisher, Arion Games, has contributed this comprehensive bargain-priced offer of almost the entire Maelstrom line -- including two brand-new titles debuting in this offer and not yet sold anywhere else.

Set in Tudor England around 1540, Maelstrom lets you create and adventure with nobles, mercenaries, priests, tradesmen, and herbalists. The game's innovative freeform magick system, arguably a precursor to such classics as Ars Magica, allows mages to warp reality to their own ends. Combat is fast and furious, with dozens of weapons and armor types. The wound system means injuries are a real threat. The herbal section, a highlight of the original Maelstrom rules, has inspired many net-based RPG herbals.

We provide each ebook complete in .PDF (Portable Document Format). Like all Bundle of Holding titles, these books have NO DRM (Digital Restrictions Management), and our customers are entitled to move them freely among all their ereaders.

Ten percent of each purchase (after gateway fees) goes to the charity designated by Arion Games owner Graham Bottley, the Yorkshire (UK) Air Ambulance. "In the area where I live it is a literal life saver," says Graham. "I very nearly needed it myself a couple of years ago, but it could not fly at night at that time. In the United Kingdom these services are funded only by charities, and because there is a reasonable chance I may need it again, it is the main charity I support."

The total retail value of the titles in this offer at launch is US$105. Customers who pay just US$11.95 get all six titles in our Starter Collection (retail value $43) as DRM-free .PDF ebooks, including the complete Maelstrom core rulebook (retail price $10) and the Maelstrom Companion (retail $8); Maelstrom Domesday (retail $15), a standalone companion game set in AD 1086 (previously in the August 2015 Bundle of the Ages +2), plus its Investigators Guide (retail $6); and the two supplements MQ1 Tournaments and MQ2 Inns & Taverns (retail $2 each).

Those who pay more than the threshold (average) price, which is set at $23.95 to start, also get our entire Bonus Collection with no less than eleven more titles worth an additional $62:

  • NEW IN THIS OFFER! Maelstrom Gothic (retail $15): A complete standalone game that adapts Maelstrom for supernatural investigations in 1850s Victorian England.
  • ALSO NEW! Domesday North Yorkshire Moors (retail $8): A remote and wild region with enough supernatural action for an entire Domesday campaign.
  • Classic Fantasy Toolkit (retail $5) and Bestiary (retail $3): Grab your 10' pole for traditional dungeon-crawling using the Maelstrom system.
  • Beggars Companion (retail $8): The lowest of the low can get into a lot of mischief.
  • Four Maelstrom adventures (total retail $13) -- The Beast of Ledsham, Purple Mushroom Caves, The Sward [sic] and the Stone, and The Yuletide Spirit.
  • Domesday Maps and Charts (retail $5) and Manor Cartography Symbols (retail $5).

At least one more title will be added after launch. "When a title is added after launch, ALL customers who previously purchased the bundle automatically receive the newly added title, REGARDLESS of whether or not they paid more than average. This is their reward for buying early."


This is one I'll certainly be downloading, it looks interesting and I want to see how they handled aiming an RPG at this age group - I missed it when it was in dead tree format. It looks to be reasonable value for money - but as usual I wonder if I need yet another fantasy system I'll probably never use, or would get it if I was paying for it. Since I don't, I have to point out that as usual your mileage may vary.

Posted by Jane

Oracle’s Moon by Thea Harrison $ 1.99 From the Jacket Copy: As a second daughter, Grace Andreas never had to worry about the intrigues of the Elder Races. But when her sister, Petra, and her husband are both killed, Grace inherits the Power and responsibilities of the Oracle of Louisville, ... more >
posted by [syndicated profile] wwdn_feed at 05:05pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Wil

I spoke with John Moe about my mental illness for his podcast, The Hilarious World of Depression:

Wil Wheaton was a child star in Stand By Me, a regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation as a teenager, and has been trying to figure out his role in show business for a long time since then. He was dealing with the pressures of fame and the fickle tastes of Hollywood, all while dealing with a chemical imbalance in his brain that made him prone to anxiety and depression. Wil’s better now thanks to medication, but despite his long IMDb page and regular work on The Big Bang Theory, his hit YouTube show, and a thriving and varied career, he sees himself primarily as a failed actor.

It’s a good show, as they say. Go give it a listen.

posted by [syndicated profile] dailykitten_feed at 04:44pm on 25/09/2017

Posted by Tom "The Kittenmaster" Cooper

Please join me in remembrance for our Star Kit for today, Cleo. She was 16 years old from California.

Cleo

Miss Cleo died a few weeks ago. She was 16 and lived a long, full, loving life. She was the sweetest and most protective cat I’ve ever had. Such a sweetie pie. Very independent and yet very loving. One for the cuddles if she trusted you (and if she was tired :)). I remember when I was a kid that my brother and I would go on walks and she’d follow us to make sure we were OK and safe. Cleo was an indoor cat for a little while because we (my mom, my brother, and I) were afraid she’d get hit by a car. She managed to push out window screens in order to get out to the free world. She was a character. <3. She loved us all so much, especially my mom. She knew who took care of her. We all did, but my mom was special because she was a mama to the kitty mama of the house. Cleo always came running when she heard the sound of our car pulling up to the house. She had a little bell on her collar so we could always hear her coming. I loved and still love her.