A lifetime of reading hasn’t prepared me for this

I am not someone who boldly steps forward and engages with life. Humans generally have messy lives, and I try to reduce the mess in mine by watching what other people do and working out potential solutions ahead of time. So a lot of what I know about life has been gained through reading instead of actual experience. I know, I know…real experience gets you real answers, life is meant to be lived, and so on. Yes, I’m exaggerating my lack of engagement a bit. Plus, I figure learning through reading exposes you to more than you might run into naturally. Thanks to all the advice columns I’ve read, I’ve learned many useful responses to relationship issues I will never encounter in my own life!

Besides advice columns, I’ve picked up on many new things through reading blogs. That’s where I first heard about various topics that are, ah, passionately discussed nowadays: trigger warnings, pronouns, cultural appropriation, and privilege. It’s been a lot easier to explore them through reading, where I have the space to realize and reflect and analyze and wince and absorb and regret and question in private.

And before blogs and advice columns, there were books, and there have always been more of them than the other two combined. In fiction, my favorite genre is fantasy. There’s lots to be learned about life in novels generally, but fantasy novels are often large scale, with the fates of nations and cultures at stake. So if I’ve been learning about how to relate to people one-to-one through reading, that’s probably also how I’ve been learning about politics. Not party politics—that’s more the stuff of blogs and social media—but the bigger issues of how governments work, how people behave in large groups, and how to be a good citizen. While these are always important issues, let’s admit it: they’re front and center now.

But here’s my problem: fantasy authors don’t set their stories in democracies. I’m absorbing lessons on how to restore a rightful king or queen to their throne.

The fantasy authors I’m familiar with live in countries where everyday people have the right to vote and their votes matter. But these authors mainly write about absolute monarchies and the struggles in their books aren’t contained within democratic norms. No one needs to worry about maintaining democratic institutions because there aren’t any.

Picture of woman on a horse and a kneeling male warrior on a fantasy chessboard.

Warning: fantasy characters in action. Do not try this with your real-life political situation.

Consider The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn is a king because he’s the heir of Isildur. It’s great that he’s honorable, intelligent, has a sense of justice, and so on, but he’d still get to be king without any of that. Certainly the people of Gondor aren’t going to be consulted in the matter. And putting Aragorn on his throne doesn’t require getting out the vote, winning midterm elections, countering foreign hacking, or fighting voter suppression. Mainly it involves winning a war against an opposing army of orcs, trolls, Nazgûl, and humans that apparently aren’t like the Men of Rohan and Gondor. There’s no need to work out how you’re going to integrate the opposition into your society afterwards because you’re going to kill a lot of them, and anyway, most of them are literally not human and the different peoples of Middle Earth tend to stick to their own. Of course, this part of the war would achieve nothing if Frodo, Sam, and Gollum hadn’t gotten the Ring to Mordor and destroyed it. That’s a great story, but there isn’t much there to support the modern upholder of democracy except a general reassurance that even the most overlooked people can make a difference.

I don’t read as much science fiction as I do fantasy, but the TV shows and movies I’ve watched have been science fiction far more than fantasy. Democracy is much more likely to exist in an SF universe, but in many stories, we don’t see much of it. My dim memory of government in the original Battlestar Galactica was that the democratically-elected Council of Twelve was mainly an obstacle for the military (our heroes) to work around or ignore—not a good model when real people and everyday life are involved. The Republic in Star Wars is a odd mixture of democracy and monarchy that mainly suggests different people over several decades doing just enough world building to support the plot of each movie. I think Star Trek‘s Federation is a federal republic, but I couldn’t tell you how it’s perceived by average people living on Federation planets; we mainly see the effects of its foreign policy. Democracy is so far gone in Blake’s 7 and Firefly that the heroes aren’t worrying about preserving democratic norms day-to-day. Mere survival is higher on their agendas—Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as applied to small rebel groups.

Comic books and graphic novels were a staple of my youth and, okay, off and on in adulthood. Here we have heroes, villains, and Good vs. Evil depicted about as clearly as it ever gets. Mind you, there’s not much beyond a supporting role for people without superpowers, and again, the methodology is “bash the enemy into defeat with nifty powers,” which is a lot more entertaining to read/look at than registering voters. Also, the villains often want to destroy Earth, not overthrow a government. Manga and anime? I’m having flashbacks to Sailor Moon. In that universe, the eventual future was going to be a monarchy, and the series never got into whether or not it’d be a constitutional one. Plus our heroines were using magic to fight for love and justice, not door-to-door campaigning.

But why does this even matter? Because unlike some of the things I mentioned at the start of this post, there aren’t many good resources. If I didn’t learn about relationship problems from advice columns, I’d have learned about them from personal experience and the experiences of people I know. Those topics I’ve found in blogs are being discussed everywhere now; even if I had to learn about them with others, I’d know about them. But our culture has offered me very little in what to do when your democracy (or federal republic) doesn’t seem as secure as you thought it was. I don’t need to have read stories about tornado drills because I’ve gone through them for most of my life. I apparently do need to read about preserving democracy, because I’ve never practiced that beyond voting and a lot of signatures on petitions.

So am I doing the normal, mundane things you do in the United States to be a good citizen? Yep. I’m registered to vote and I’ve read about the candidates in the upcoming election. But a lifetime of reading fantasy novels suggests that I should also be creating a voting amulet or a democracy talisman or something. Isn’t there a spell I should be casting?


photo credit: siliaFX CHECKMATE via photopin (license)

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Filling the pen cup

Well, yes, my exploration of fountain pens has continued. Belatedly, I realized I should do at least a smidgen of research before I spent any more money. Did so, and was promptly torn between delight at how easy it was to find useful information and regret that I hadn’t thought of this before I bought Pen #2. The fountain pen world wants to encourage newcomers, it seems: there are several “Fountain Pen 101” articles out there.

Not only did I find recommendations for good pens for beginners, I found some of those pens close to home. The art supplies store near me carries the Platinum Preppy in all its colors (seven) and nib widths (three), so I went to see what they were like in real life. Instant gratification ensued. I came, I saw, I scribbled, and I left with blue and green.

Also, these pens come with a stern warning: “Do not use this pen other than for writing.” (Guaranteed to immediately get you to think of all sorts of illicit things to do with said pen.) Now I have more dangerous tools to entertain myself with, along with my knitting needles. Who knew my hobbies were so hazardous?

Anyway, 24 hours later, I was back to get the remaining colors: pink, yellow, violet, and red. I’m not sure what I’m going to write with yellow ink, which isn’t the easiest thing to read, but how could I skip my favorite color? The store was out of the black one, which gave me an excuse to try two other beginner’s pens. The Pilot Kaküno is also a nice pen for the price, and surely everyone needs at least one pen with a winky face on the nib. (Maybe it’s intended for children. Or perhaps Pilot figures anyone’s first fountain pen should be friendly and unintimidating.) The Metropolitan, also by Pilot, has the pleasant weight of a metal body, and I can pretend to be a sophisticated adult while using it.

8 fountain pens

So I have gone from two fountain pens to ten in the course of a week, and all for a minimal outflow of money. I’ve found a nearby supplier and I’m keeping caught up on small writing projects like blog posts and book reviews because they give me an excuse to use the new pens. Ah, the joy of plunging into a new passion!

The beginning of the fountain pen adventure

I now have fountain pens. Two of them. I wasn’t expecting this. I do like pens, and I’ll buy fancy ones—well, the inexpensive end of fancy, anyway—but my main interest is ballpoint pens. Fine point, no blopping, and if it’s comfortable in the hand, we’re good. And I’ll get the occasional rollerball, because, let’s be honest, black ballpoint ink is more like gray compared to a black rollerball, and rollerballs can have finer points. But that’s about as wildly exciting as I get.

I have owned a fountain pen before. It was back when I was in high school, and I bought it because the barrel was bright yellow, my favorite color. I remember it had cartridges, and that sometimes it leaked, and the leaking was enough for me to eventually get rid of it. And then years of increasingly better ballpoints followed, and I forgot about it. It certainly hadn’t been enough of a wonderful writing experience for me to want to pursue it.

Fountain pen lying on a page of writing

Someone else’s pen.

I did not set out to get the first of my two “modern” fountain pens. Last year, I ordered a ballpoint pen from a vendor, and when I opened the package, there were two pens inside. The fountain pen was a freebie, complete with a sampler-sized vial of green ink and a little device that I now know is called a converter, but with no instructions. I left it warily alone for months before curiosity got the better of me and I tried filling it.

(I should perhaps reassure everyone at this point that no permanent damage was done. The ink wore off my fingers in a few days and I didn’t get any on my clothes. No lasting damage. Also, after my first attempt to fill the pen failed, I came to my senses, went online, and found instructions.)

The writing experience was interesting. Look, I know ballpoint pens aren’t universally loved. They’re readily available and long-lasting, but a lot of people don’t like the amount of effort it takes to push them across the paper. But since they’re what I’ve written with for most of my adult life, they’re my standard for “normal.” And to me, rollerballs aren’t that different from ballpoints, although many of mine have points so fine that they feel scratchy when I write in cursive, and I save them for printing. This first fountain pen came with a fine nib, and was a bit on the scratchy side itself, but not unbearably. But the pen itself isn’t all that comfortable to hold. It has a triangular grip and it’s plastic, without a lot of weight to it. So I decided to buy another one. All in the spirit of experimentation, you understand.

I really like holding Pen #2. It’s metal, it weighs more, the grip is round. But the nib is wider than that of the freebie, and it’s annoying. Despite that reputation ballpoint pens have for requiring a lot of pressure to write with, I must be a light writer. I’m apparently not pressing the pen firmly enough to the paper, and Pen #2 is unforgiving of light writing—it just skips. My writing with this pen looks hideous. When it’s not skipping, the pen is putting out so much ink that only my heaviest paper stands a chance of keeping it from bleeding through, and even then it’s ghosting. Yes, I’ve started the search for a finer nib that will fit this pen, which means I’m going to be learning about fountain pens, and that wasn’t on the agenda for this year. Buuuut…I have purple ink. When I bought the second fountain pen, I bought purple ink cartridges to go with it. I love the colors that are available. I’m thinking to buy more green ink and refill the freebie pen. This is going to be what keeps me playing with fountain pens: all the pretty ink.


photo credit: insEyedout Studio via photopin (license)

Reading 2017

2017 was my Year of Lowered Expectations. I’m hoping it retains that title so that I don’t have to pass it on to 2018 or some other future year. I read about 25% fewer books last year than usual. And I know it isn’t a competition, and I know you don’t get demerits for dying with a huge stack of unread books, but it was frustrating. Especially since I can’t figure out what I was doing that ate into my reading time (and my knitting time: not many finished projects last year either) so noticeably.

I did more rereading this year than usual—”usual” for me being “not at all.” I hold onto a lot of books, utterly convinced that I will reread them, and then get distracted by all the other interesting books I haven’t yet read. This year, though, I was trying to streamline my personal library, and I reread a number of books to see if I really wanted to keep them. (Often the answer was “no.” Not all once-beloved books age well.) In a couple of cases, I reread books because they worked for the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. At least that was economical. No reread books are in the following list, although I was sorely tempted to put Three Parts Dead in again, just for the amusement of including it for two years in a row.

This was a year of memorable series as well as memorable books, namely the Small Change trilogy and the Craft Sequence. I’d been intending to read the Small Change trilogy for the better part of a decade. When I finally got around to it, I devoured it as fast as the library could provide copies. It’s probably a good sign about the quality of a title (or three) if you have to get on a wait list for them even when they’ve been around for years. As for the Craft Sequence, all I can say is that I’d gotten distracted in 2016 with other books. I fixed that in 2017.

Covers of Farthing, Ha'penny, Half a Crown

  • The Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton: Farthing (9/10; finished 4/5/2017), Ha’penny (9/10; finished 4/24/2017), Half a Crown (6/10; finished 5/18/2017): Three linked novels set between 1949 and 1960 in an alternate England that made peace with Hitler and turned fascist. Unfortunately more timely than the author ever intended. I say more about it here.

Covers of Eleanor & Park, Plato at the Googleplex

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (9/10; finished 8/15/2017): So, how many books by Rainbow Rowell have I read without getting around to her possibly best-known one? Yes, it’s quite good. It also gave me flashbacks galore to being in high school (I’m a few years older than the characters). I was reading it on the Megabus, and the woman sitting next to me—who was definitely not old enough to remember 1986 personally—recognized it and assured me that it was great.
  • Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein (10/10; finished 9/15/2017): It’s always good to hear about a book, track down a copy, read it, and like it. There’s a special thrill, though, to going into a book with no real idea of what it’s about, and discover that it wasn’t what you thought it might be and still like it. I have no memory of putting this on my library wish list, and I decided to read it because everything else on the list was checked out. I thought it would be some earnest essay about philosophy in today’s world. Instead, Goldstein has written a series of short pieces, starting with the premise that Plato is alive and well and on a book tour in the modern United States. Each chapter consists of an essay on a theme in Plato’s work, followed by a fictional dialogue (lunch at the Googleplex, a debate at a Y in New York, and so on) that expands on that theme. Partway through, I returned the ebook to the library—the footnotes were badly linked, and they’re vital—and bought a print copy, already knowing I wanted to keep it.

Covers of Four Roads Cross and Last First Snow

  • Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone (10/10; finished 9/23/2017): This is the more-or-less direct sequel to Three Parts Dead, although if you read the series in order, there are three books between them. (Including Last First Snow, but I got mixed up and read it afterwards.) As sequels often do, it deals with the fallout from its predecessor; even triumphant endings have repercussions. And I went through the entire book happy to see Tara Abernathy and other characters again, plus getting all in suspense about the legal battle that builds during the story.
  • Last First Snow by Max Gladstone (10/10; finished 11/1/2017): This is fully part of the Craft Sequence (#4), but as the first novel chronologically, it has the feeling of a prequel, and I’m not always that fond of prequels. Sometimes they leave me feeling like I’ve just read the same story twice. Not so in this case: I came to the end of this book feeling like I had a much better grasp of the history of Dresediel Lex and several of the characters I’d already met. Featuring one of my favorite characters from Three Parts Dead: Elayne Kevarian (can I just say how wonderful it is to read a book where the “older woman protagonist” is over thirty?).

A-to-Z: 2018

I have a fondness for reading challenges. I must not be alone in this; as of this writing, The Master List of 2018 Reading Challenges had 128 challenges and the compiler is promising to update it through the end of 2017. I freely admit that I didn’t do terribly well at the two reading challenges I took on this year. I’ve done the Goodreads challenge since 2011, and I’ve usually managed 90-100 books a year. For whatever reason, I had to scale back to 75 books this year. I don’t know where the reading time went. I do most of my reading on the bus or while eating and I still do plenty of both. Maybe I just read thicker books this year?* And however disappointed I may be in how the Goodreads challenge is going, the 2017 Read Harder Challenge simply isn’t happening. I’ve made it to 13 books out of 24. Some books will count for multiple categories, so it’s probably closer to 15, but that’s as good as it’s going to get.

But hey, there is always another year and another challenge. Goodbye 2017, and let us turn to 2018.

I’ll be doing the Goodreads challenge again. I’m not doing the 2018 Read Harder Challenge, though. It’s a worthy challenge, and I hope many people do it and love it, but it’s not for me this year. I have learned that if I’m not enjoying something, no amount of self-motivation will get me to do it, and I can tell I wouldn’t enjoy that particular challenge. (Happy to look over the 2019 challenge when it comes out, though!) Instead, I am putting together my own challenge. Here goes:

  1. It’s an A-to-Z challenge. 26 books is achievable. Plus, the requirements are easily memorized, so I don’t have to constantly refer back to the challenge to find out what I’m supposed to be doing.
  2. Whenever possible, the books will come from my to-be-read collection. I only mark a book TBR if I own it, so the fact that LibraryThing says I have 300 TBR books was motivational as all get-out for doing this. Plus, I know a lot of my ebooks haven’t yet been added [wince]. There’s plenty to work with here. Also, any books I buy in 2018 are eligible, although I don’t plan to buy books just to have something to read for the challenge (see #3).
  3. I’m missing three letters: V, X, and Z. I have a few options here. I can reread a book I own that starts with one of these letters. I can look for a book at the library that works. Or I can buy a book, but that’s definitely the “if all else fails” option. Also, in the interests of keeping this a fun challenge, although I will prioritize book titles that start with X, “Ex” is acceptable as well. I’m not reading a book I loathe just to follow an arbitrary rule.
Photo of the book Quadrivium

Q!

I will not be reading the books in alphabetical order. And although I’m probably going to jot down a few ideas, I don’t plan to choose most of the books now. I’ll just see what I’m in the mood for when I need something to read. I plan to savor this year’s challenge. After all, I bought these books because I thought I would enjoy reading them. Now’s the time to find out.


*Maybe, but that’s not going to work as an excuse. Goodreads counts pages as well as books, and my page count for 2017 is down as well.

CONvergence 2017

I haven’t blogged about CONvergence in a couple of years, even though I’ve been attending consistently. It’s still held around July 4—it was July 6-9 this year—but I’ve been easily distracted from writing it up.

This year, I was able to stay in the main con hotel, and it made a world of difference. In 2015 and 2016, I stayed in overflow hotels. CONvergence has outgrown the hotel it started in, but moving to the Minneapolis Convention Center has more drawbacks than advantages. So the con is based at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington and most of the programming is held there. The Dealers Room, Artists Alley, and some panels are at the Sheraton Bloomington across the street. While the programming fits in two hotels, the attendees do not. The con runs 24 hours a day once it gets going and finding a parking space is a major challenge, so there’s lots of incentive to stay in a hotel instead of commuting from home. But thanks to an inconveniently-placed pair of highways and the general sprawl of the suburbs, most of the overflow hotels are an unwalkable distance away. Given the circumstances, they’re doing a fine job of managing the situation—they run free shuttles between all the overflow hotels and the parking lots—but it’s just not the same as staying close to the con itself.

This year, though, I made it back into the DoubleTree.  I didn’t have to take shelter in the Sensory Break Room, because if things got to be too much, I could retreat to my room. I didn’t have to obsess over how much stuff I was carrying because if my bag was too heavy, I could run upstairs and drop stuff off in my room. If I left something behind in my room that I needed, it was an easy trip upstairs to retrieve it. Note the theme here of “my room” and “nearby.”

By the way, as an indication of…well, something: I was on the 18th floor, overlooking the pool/cabana area on the 1st and 2nd floors where the parties are held. At night, I could hear the general roar of the parties in my room—through my closed windows, through the roof of the pool/cabana area, with approximately fourteen floors of open space between us. Whoa.

I didn’t see a dominant fandom in the costumes this year. I bet there would’ve been a lot more Wonder Woman outfits if the movie hadn’t opened so close to the con. I was surprised to see as many Sailor Moon outfits as I did (yay!). Each year, I see more costumes I don’t recognize, and I don’t know if that’s because they come from shows I’m not familiar with or if more people are coming up with original outfits. I continue to be That Person Who Freezes While Everyone Else Is Comfortable or Too Hot. I was almost laughing at how I’d be bundled up in a capelet or sweatshirt, while the people around me were fanning themselves. If there’s a fresh air vent, I have an instinct for sitting directly under it.

Panels and programming are what I focus on when I’m at a con. This year’s panels were pretty good, and I regret not going to more of them. I missed several of them because there were so many good panels that if I’d gone to all of them, I’d never have had time to visit the Dealers Room or the Art Show, I wouldn’t have had much time to spend with friends, nor would I have had any down time except first thing in the morning. (To be a morning person at a con is to be a rarity.) Still, I made it to several, including:

  • “It’s Been Written Before” spelled out for me the difference between a trope and a cliché.
  • “From Fan Fiction to Professional Writing” was one of those panels where I sat back, knitted, and listened to writers talking about their real-life experiences.
  • “Creating a Story with Tarot Cards” was a good idea in the wrong room: without a projector, even those of us in the front row couldn’t see what the panelists were doing. They tried to describe it, but I was relying on my knowledge of tarot to carry me through and I don’t know how enjoyable the panel was to those who don’t know much about tarot.
  • “Aro/Ace Relationships”: somewhat informative, but mostly a great feeling of camaraderie.
  • “Of a Certain Age” explored the dearth of older protagonists in fantasy and science fiction and left me wanting a longer, deeper discussion of the topic.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 20th Anniversary Panel”: I will merely mutter, “What do you mean it’s been 20 years?” and focus on my knitting.

I was restrained in the Dealers Room. I was happy to see my favorite dealers and left some money with them in exchange for Nice Things. Having the Dealers Room in another hotel did cut down on my casual visits. With some items, it was “Do I want this badly enough to hike all the way over there to get it?” and usually the answer was “No.” Which is probably not what the dealers want to hear. Yet the old situation, with the dealers all crammed into a room too tiny for people to move in freely—or breathe—wasn’t much fun either. It’s hard to buy something when you have to struggle to get anywhere near it.

Membership badge with pronoun sticker.

Pronoun sticker!

The con continues to emphasize diversity and openness. Each meeting room had space marked out on the floor for people in wheelchairs to use. Sign language interpretation was available. There were several panels with diversity-related themes, enough that some ended up scheduled at the same time and I had to choose (sob!). Like last year, there were pronoun stickers available for people to stick on their badges, both preprinted ones and blank ones for people who use less common pronouns. Panel moderators were encouraged to call on people without using gendered terms: “You in the back in the purple shirt” rather than “The woman in the back in the purple shirt.” The Sensory Break Room has finally been placed in a semi-quiet part of the hotel (total silence is probably impossible). I didn’t go to the parties, but I passed the party rooms frequently on my way to Consuite and was impressed that there was a sign outside each room that listed what partygoers might want to know before entering: alcohol? strobe lights? loud noise? gluten-free snacks? kid-friendly? And as in past years, there were designated safe spaces for people to go if they were being harassed.

Next year will be the 20th anniversary. I haven’t registered yet—no rush: the rates don’t go up until January. I’m curious to see how they’ll commemorate it. Ten years ago, the con went from three days to four. They’re definitely not going to five days, so what else might they try?

The Small Change trilogy

Short version: I recently read an alternative history trilogy by Jo Walton called Small Change. I think it’s good. Read it!

Long version:

The three books of Small Change are set in an alternate Britain that signed a peace treaty with Hitler in 1941. Farthing and Ha’penny take place in 1949; Half a Crown is set in 1960. I’d heard about Farthing years ago (it was published in 2006), but I was in no real hurry to read it. I’ve had an iffy success rate with Walton’s books. I may be the only SF/F reader in the world who didn’t become a passionate fan of Among Others after reading it. I enjoyed it, but it was a kind of middling enjoyment. It was a great trip down memory lane for the books of my teenagerhood, but I kept wishing I was reading the story of Morwenna’s original fight instead the story of her recovery from it. I might not have ever have gotten around to reading another one of Walton’s books after that, but then she came up with the Necessity trilogy, and I couldn’t resist the combination of Greek gods and philosophy, all wrapped up in fiction. I loved that series enough to buy all three books in hardcover (!), but then I read My Real Children and liked it except for feeling like I was missing something obvious about the ending that I was certain everyone else understood. So, some books clicked with me and some didn’t. Farthing sounded interesting, but not pressing, and there were lots of other books to read. And then, well, November came and went, and January came and went, and things are different now, and Farthing rose to the top of my to-read list. I’m guessing I wasn’t alone in this, because there was a wait list for every book in the trilogy at my library.

Small-Change

As with those other books I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed Small Change unevenly (my reviews of the individual books are linked at the end of this post). Farthing hooked me straightaway and I fell into the book until the end. It’s a classic British murder-at-the-family-estate mystery, but, well, fascism. I braced myself to be disappointed with Ha’penny for no better reason than that it was the second volume of a trilogy and middles are challenging. I ended up liking it almost as much as Farthing. Although Inspector Carmichael returns as one of the protagonists, Ha’penny is more of a political thriller than a murder mystery. It takes place a mere two weeks or so after the end of Farthing, but even in that short a period, there’s been a noticeable change in atmosphere. I was more frustrated with Half a Crown. So much of the tension in the first two books comes from the reader’s (my) knowledge that this history is “wrong” and that fascism is a threat, yet the characters are innocently—naturally, believably—dealing with their immediate concerns and not seeing this other danger. Ten years later, the characters have to deal with that threat directly. I missed the structure of a foreground story (the murder mystery, the political thriller) hinting at a bigger background story. But it was still a gripping story, whatever my disagreements with it, and I did want to know how the trilogy came out.

And the above is pretty much all I was going to say. Earlier, I’d avoided most reviews because I wanted to read the books without the filter of other people’s opinions. But afterwards, I started looking around the Internet to see what other people had to say, which is when I found this, by Jo Walton: 10th November 2016: How I feel when people reference Farthing.

(I’m assuming you’ve now read it. Beyond this point, there are spoilers for the trilogy. Assorted thoughts follow.)

If there’s any book I wrote that I wish was obsolete and that people would never be reminded of in any real world context, it’s Farthing. “Gosh, that’s dated,” I wish people would say about it. It wasn’t supposed to be a prediction. It wasn’t supposed to be an instruction manual. (The actual specifics of the post-Brexit shuffle and May etc really are scarily like what I have in the book.)

As I said, I was aware of Farthing before the 2016 Presidential election, but yes, that’s what motivated me to finally read it. For what it’s worth, I’m not recommending it to other people for that reason alone. Small Change is good and would be worth reading even if Brexit, May, Trump, etc. had never happened. But I found it impossible not to think of them while reading these books, and it wasn’t the experience I would’ve had if I’d read them back in 2006-2010.

People like the tragic ends of Farthing and Ha’Penny more than (spoilers!) the positive end of Half a Crown maybe because I didn’t do it as well, and maybe I didn’t because I was going uphill against the weight of narrative expectation and that’s hard. But it’s how fascism ended in Spain, King Juan Carlos did just what I had the Queen do in the book.

I remember this about Spain, and I’ve been holding on to this memory because there aren’t that many examples of dictatorships converting to democracies, and I need to have hope as well. But Juan Carlos had been laying the groundwork for the end of fascism for years. Nor was the world fascist in the 1970s and 1980s. At the end of Half a Crown, only Britain and a few other countries are democracies. Since we’re limited to Elvira and Carmichael’s points of view, it’s hard to tell if the Queen is as well prepared as Juan Carlos. Would Nazi Germany tolerate a Britain that was returning to democracy? Even if the Farthing Peace held, there’d be tension.

But learning this helps. Even though I’m still critical of this ending, I have more context for it now. Apparently what I need is The Annotated Small Change: With Author’s Commentary, Afterthoughts, and General Notes.

Did I mention Small Change was worth reading? Go on, try it.


My reviews of Small Change: