Goodreads review: “Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A man is exploring a huge building, which he calls the House, but something seems odd about both him and the House. That’s how the novel opens, and soon, things become clearly wrong. The man, Piranesi, doesn’t — and in a strange way can’t — understand his own situation, which is ghastly. Yet, overall, he’s very happy, good, and generous.

The novel leads the reader on a series of discoveries. What is happening, and why does Piranesi believe such strange and obviously false things? By the end it makes sense, but with a twist. This is the novel’s final sentence: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.” We learn that the things Piranesi believed that seemed false may in fact be true.

I might not be making sense because I don’t want to give anything away. This novel won some big awards, and it deserves them. It was a delight to read.

View all my reviews

The meaning of a broken door

In August, a sudden storm broke one of the revolving front doors of my condominium building. Due to a shortage of replacement parts, we’re still waiting for it to be fixed.

That’s not the whole problem. The door is breaking more often. We live in a high-rise building amid some other high-rises, and the entrance area often becomes a wind tunnel — and in recent years, it’s been getting dangerously windy more often.

Revolving doors are a common element of architecture here in Chicago. They help keep buildings warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Tall buildings have airflow problems, and revolving doors are a space-efficient way to stop drafts. But the doors are a bit fragile, and our building may need to replace it with a different kind of door because climate change is bringing more frequent violent storms to an already windy city.

Compared to other effects of climate change, this is a laughably small problem. People are losing their homes, livelihoods, and lives to fires, floods, heat waves, hurricanes, and droughts. Yet, I think the broken revolving door illustrates the scale of climate change. The consequences are so big that even minor architectural elements are being affected. As another example, Chicago, like other cities, now requires flat roofs to be white to reflect heat: along with more storms, we’re going to face more heat, and cities can become deadly heat islands.

World-altering changes in the climate are creating a cascade of smaller changes. Here’s one of them: our front door keeps breaking — and it’s a sign of the times.

Goodreads review: “Fountain Girl” by Patricia S. Bowne

Fountain Girl

Fountain Girl by Patricia S. Bowne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: Pat Bowne and I used to belong to the same critique group, and I’ve been a fan of her writing for a long time.

She usually sets her stories and novels in the fantasy world of the Royal Academy at Osyth, a university that teaches magic. This book takes place before the academy is established, at a different magic university. A girl from a distant, isolated village comes there to learn how to master her magical skills and to find her brother’s lost child. Her particular magic involves water, but when the river runs disastrously dry, she didn’t make it happen. She’s only a first-year student — how could she have the skills to do that! But if not her, then who?

Demons, wizards, mermaids, folk tales, and irascible kings fill this story. Even better, it’s filled with plot twists. Bowne has been writing in this universe long enough to weave a lush brocade of people, places, and motivations. As an academic herself, she knows how difficult college life can be for students and professors. Throw in some angry goblins, and the stakes rise to potentially fatal.

You don’t need to have read previous Osyth novels to understand this one, by the way. As a prequel to the series, it stands on its own.

Patricia S. Bowne fiction:

View all my reviews

I began writing professionally 50 years ago this month

I love to write. I always have, and I’ve been lucky enough to get paid to do it.

My first job was a small but steady gig: I covered my high school for the local suburban newspaper. I took the work seriously and did my best, clattering out “Rocket Report” columns (our high school mascot was a rocket) on my manual typewriter. From what I recall, my writing might have been a little wooden and my interview skills needed some polishing, but I met deadlines and turned in usable prose. That’s all it takes to keep an editor happy, I learned.

After I graduated from high school, I studied writing and journalism in college. From there, I moved on to a career of writing and editing small newspapers and magazines as staff or as a freelancer, as well as working in writing-related jobs, such as newsletter editor for small organizations. I began writing fiction in the early 1990s.

A half-century at the keyboard has taught me a few things:

Writing is a long lesson in humility. I’ve made enormous mistakes — so big that I don’t want to mention them. I will no doubt keep making mistakes. I’ve learned that it’s always possible to fail to write what I meant to say, and to write something I had no idea I was actually saying. It’s also possible to make monumentally unfortunate typos.

Writing is a long lesson in discovery and joy. I once heard journalism defined as going to the most interesting places, watching the most interesting events, talking to the most interesting people, and then all you have to do is write about it. I’ve seen and done all sorts of interesting things.

I’ve been kissed by a llama, reported on a serial killer, watched children discover the power of art, talked to basket weavers, bird watchers, historians, and housewives, and found out how governments work and buildings are managed. Although I’ve observed that people lie a lot, they also tell the truth — happily, desperately, kindly, maliciously, and surprisingly. Adverbs might be what secretly makes the world go ‘round because they explain how the world goes ‘round.

I’ve met people of every possible adverb, and people empower every form of writing. These days I not only meet people, I create imaginary people for fiction. I never run out of things to say about them and the worlds where they live, real and imaginary.

Sometimes I’ve had work that did not involve writing, but when I’m writing, it’s not work, it’s the energy of discovery and joy. There’s always more to learn. So far, I’ve been lucky for a full half-century.

My Chicon 8 schedule: come say hi!

I’ll be at Chicon 8, the 80th World Science Fiction Convention, held September 1 to 5 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. Almost 5,000 people are expected to attend in person with 1,500 attending virtually. Hundreds of activities are planned. It will be a five-day party, and you can still sign up and come.

Here’s what I’m scheduled to do, eight panels and a table talk (locations subject to change):

The Future of Science Fiction Is International – Crystal Ballroom C – Thursday, September 1, 11:30 a.m. CDT

International SFF is flourishing, with new and classic non-English works being translated in unprecedented numbers, and writers and readers from diverse cultural backgrounds interacting in real time. Why is a more global approach to SFF important to the future of the genre as a whole? Who are the authors, translators, and venues to watch, and what are some of the most fascinating trends and works right now? Andy Dudak, moderator; Hildur Knútsdóttir, Leslie, Sue Burke.

Terraforming and Alien Life – Regency Ballroom D – Thursday, September 1, 4:00 p.m. CDT

If we terraform a planet, what happens to the living things that evolved there? Would an “Earth-like” planet have living things we could live alongside? How might Earth life integrate into an alien ecology? This panel will contemplate the ecological impacts of making another planet more Earth-like. Colin Alexander, moderator; Eva L. Elasigue, Kevin Wabaunsee, Sue Burke.

What Books Get Translated? – Michigan 1 – Thursday, September 1, 7:00 p.m. CDT

The world is filled with amazing SFF that isn’t written in English and never gets an English translation. There’s also a lot of English SFF that never gets translated into other languages. Why do some works get translations, while others don’t? Sue Burke, moderator; Andy Dudak, Hildur Knútsdóttir, Yasser Bahjatt.

Table Talk with Sue Burke – Crystal Foyer – Friday, September 2, 1:00 p.m. CDT

Table Talks are informal hour-long discussions with a “host” and up to seven people — similar to the Kaffeeklatsches and Literary Beers hosted by previous Worldcons. As part of Chicon 8’s commitment to its covid-19 policy, there will be no beverages this time, just talk. Come and find out if your houseplants want to kill you.

1940: The First Chicon – Randolph 1 – Friday, September 2, 7:00 p.m. CDT

The second-ever Worldcon — the 1940 convention in Chicago — established traditions that have echoed through many events that havefollowed: the masquerade, the con suite, filking… Explore the full history of this seminal event, including the backstories of its organization and the historical context that informed it. We will also include a recreation of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Guest of Honor speech. Alex Mui, moderator; David Ritter, John Hertz, Sue Burke.

Readings from Ludlow Charlington’s Doghouse – Roosevelt 1 – Saturday, September 3, 11:30 a.m. CDT

Fetch these delightful doggie stories from Ludlow Charlington’s Doghouse, a fantasy anthology benefiting Friends of Chicago Animal Care & Control. 19 authors, 34 drabbles, stories, poems, plays, and songs. Even a music video! Full of good bois and grrrrrls. Potential readers include Tina Jens, Steven H Silver, Sue Burke, K. M. Herkes, Joe Janes, and Lauren Masterson.

Translation Is Creative Writing – Grand Hall K – Saturday, September 3, 7:00 p.m. CDT

The job of a translator is not merely to pick the matching words in the second language. Done well, translation conveys the tone and flavor of the original text. A character with an ascerbic wit in Chinese should be just as funny in English, for example. Lyrical descriptions of landscapes should be equally poetic. What makes a translation work, and who does it well? Jean Bürlesk, moderator; Andy Dudak, Sue Burke, Su J Sokol, Yasser Bahjatt.

The State of the Translation Market – Randolph 3 – Sunday, September 4, 4:00 p.m. CDT

Translation rights sound both appealing and intimidating to those becoming authors or publishers. How does the process work in 2022? Are there trends in format, genre, or subject matter to imitate or avoid? What markets or languages are underserved and present great artistic and business opportunities? Translators and those with work in translation simplify the subject for those interested in bringing their work to global audiences. Joshua Bilmes, moderator; Hildur Knútsdóttir, Neil Clarke, Sue Burke.

Science: The Core of Science Fiction’s Sense of Wonder – Airmeet 1 (virtual programming) – Monday, September 5, 2022, 11:30 a.m. CDT

SF shows its audience amazing things, but what distinguishes SF stories from other fantastic tales is the assumption that all this might be true, somewhere or someday. That’s one of SF’s key strengths, but it’s one that often gets overlooked. What are some great examples of fiction that uses scientific reality to convey a sense of awe and wonder? Mary Robinette Kowal, moderator; Miguel O. Mitchell, M V Melcer (Mel), Sue Burke.