ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-08-18 08:04 pm
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Books I’ve Read

Some books I’ve recently read and enjoyed! As always, none of this comes close to anything like a review, because reviewing isn’t a thing I’m good at.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Dr. Greta Helsing (yes, she’s related) specializes in treating London’s supernatural denizens–people whose safety might be at risk if most Londoners knew they existed, and who might not get any sort of healthcare otherwise. It’s not going to make her rich, and it’s difficult enough with her small practice to care for vampires, mummies, ghouls, and…other sorts of creatures, without someone going around trying to kill her patients.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, and am looking forward to the next installment. You can read the first chapter here.

Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth Powell

It took me way too long to read this, but that gives you some idea of how out of control my TBR stack is. Back in 2014 I was absolutely tickled when Ack Ack Macaque tied with Ancillary Justice for the Best Novel BSFA, and I was really glad to be able to meet Gareth in person at Worldcon later that year. Now I’ve finally read this! It was a lot of fun. In the wake of WW2, France and Britain have unified–look, just go with it, ok?–and a hundred years later there are nuclear powered airships, and actual monkey Ack Ack Macaque is the central character of an amazingly popular online multiplayer game. In the non-game real world, murders and skulduggery are happening and the very survival of everyone on Earth is at stake. This book is great fun, a quick, compelling read. I’m putting the sequels on my ever-growing TBR pile.

The Course of Honour by Avoliot

Okay, this one is kind of a bonus. As in, it’s free! You can click that link and find the Download button (up there in the righthand corner) and nab a copy in your favorite ebook format. Or, you know, you can read a chapter right here on your screen, and then click on to the next at whatever pace.

I want to thank Liz Bourke for tweeting about this, because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’ve said before that I’m not much for category romance (though I do enjoy them now and again), but the fact is I’m a sucker for a good Arranged Marriage/Fake Marriage plot. And this was a good one! Jainan was married to Prince Taam of Iskat–a marriage arranged for political reasons, and when Taam suddenly dies [ahem] accidentally, the Emperor of Iskat declares that party-loving Prince Kiem will step up. And…look, I’ll just paste in the “additional tags” here, so you’ll see what you’re getting into:

Romance, Slow Burn, Arranged Marriage, Pining, past abusive relationship, space princes, Court Politics, Emotional Hurt/Comfort

Space princes. I mean. Seriously. Give it a look, and maybe leave some kudos if you like it.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-08-16 11:26 am

Provenance Preview! Read the First Three Chapters Now!

So, Provenance will be out in a bit more than a month! I can’t wait for folks to read it, honestly.

Not long ago, you had a chance to read the opening, oh I’d say half first chapter, for free online. And maybe that just whetted your appetite and now you have to wait until nearly the end of September for the rest?

Well, if you sign up for my newsletter, you can get all of Chapter 1, plus chapters 2 and 3! You might see a black banner across the top of my website asking you to sign up for the newsletter, with a text box for entering your email. You can use that, or if you’ve dismissed that click this link to go to a form you can fill out–a text box for your email, and then under that are checkboxes for which newsletters you’re signing up for. You want to check the “Ann Leckie” one, and you might or might not want to check any of the others, depending, but it’s the Ann Leckie one that will get you the chapters.

Here’s the deal–I hardly ever use my newsletter so I guarantee you won’t be spammed. What it does get used for is things like this. And for announcements of upcoming publications and such. Folks who are already signed up probably already have the chapters in their inboxes. If you aren’t signed up yet, you’ll get the chapters when you do. So, if you want to read the first three chapters early, there you go!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-07-14 01:08 pm
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Read an excerpt from Provenance!

Hey, you! Yeah, you. Wanna read an excerpt from Provenance?

Yeah, you can do that right here.

It’s round about the first half of the first chapter, actually.

I hope you enjoy it!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-07-06 08:59 am
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I’m traveling this summer!

If you look over to the righthand side of my blog, and kind of scroll down a bit, you’ll see the sidebar where I keep information about upcoming appearances. (If you’re seeing this on Dreamwidth, there’s a direct link right here.) I’ve updated it with more details about where I’ll be this summer.

Basically, I’m headed to Celsius 232 in Aviles, with a stop in Barcelona to sign books, then I’m off to Munich and Berlin, and from there I go to Birmingham and…almost certainly more things in the UK will get added to my schedule after Birmingham. Then I’m off to Uppsala, for Reception Histories of the Future.

So, keep an eye on that sidebar for more stops and more details of the ones I don’t have them for yet. I look forward to seeing you all!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-06-23 06:04 pm
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Recent Reading

Some things I’ve read recently!

The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata

If you didn’t read Nagata’s The Red Trilogy, well, you might want to consider doing so. But whether you have or you haven’t–The Last Good Man is near-future military sf. It’s tense and compelling, and features a middle-aged woman protagonist, an ex-Army pilot who now works for a private military company. During a rescue mission she discovers something that casts a new and disturbing light on an event that she’d thought, well, not safely in the past, but over and done with and accurately understood. But she wants the truth, no matter the cost. If near future and/or military is your jam, don’t miss this.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

This is volume 1 of the Murderbot Diaries, and I suspect a certain percentage of my readers don’t need to hear anything more. Go, purchase, download! You will enjoy this.

Murderbot is a SecUnit–a security android, part organic part mechanical, that isn’t supposed to have any sort of free will. It does, though, and having achieved that free will it secretly names itself Murderbot and then works hard to hide its freedom of thought from the corporation that owns it. It doesn’t actually want to murder anyone, though. It just wants to be left alone to watch its stories. Unfortunately, someone is trying to kill the humans Murderbot has been tasked to protect.

I’m not kidding, I can almost guarantee that my readers will enjoy this. I have already pre-ordered volume 2, which is out in January.

Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns

So, Lesbian Space Pirates. Out at the end of October. That may be all I need to say.

Or not. Our heroines hijack a colony ship in a bid to join a famous band of space pirates–only to discover the pirates are not, as widely believed, hiding out on Barbary Station rolling in money and loot, but are in fact trapped there by the station’s renegade AI. Why is the AI doing what it’s doing? Is it conscious? Does it matter when it’s trying to kill you?

This book is good fun. Set in the Solar System, lots of action, I really enjoyed this, and I bet you will, too.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-06-13 07:53 pm
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Provenance gets realer

So this morning a UPS truck pulled up in front of my house, and the nice driver brought me a box. And inside that box there were books.

Specifically, advance reading copies of Provenance.

It’s a real book! Sort of.

Just as a reminder–readers of this blog likely already know, but still–Provenance is set in the Ancillaryverse but does not concern the same characters and is not set in Radch Space. No, and not in the Republic of Two Systems either. It will be out September 26, 2017, and I’m given to understand there will be an audiobook, out on the same date. I have no further details about audio, though.

I’m excited! I hope everyone enjoys the book, come September!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-06-02 11:41 am
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So, I went to Uppsala for Kontur! Which was also Swecon! It was fabulous.

I did stop by SF Bokhandeln in Stockholm to chat with folks and sign some books, which was a great time. (Seriously, if you’re ever in Stockholm, SF Bokhandeln is a great bookstore.) They probably still have some signed copies of the Ancillary trilogy, btw, so if that’s something you’re looking for, you can find it there!

You can also find signed copies at The English Bookshop in Uppsala, where Kameron Hurley, Katherine Arden, and I all signed books, and we all had a great time meeting the folks who came by. Earlier in the day Kameron, Siri Pettersen, and I got to see Gamla Uppsala and a few sights in Uppsala with an excellent guide (thanks, Anna-Pia!). So often you don’t get much of a chance to do touristy things or see stuff, so that was wonderful.

The convention itself was great. Everything ran so very well, and the panels were fun, and folks seemed to enjoy them. A highlight was Friday night’s “How to Write Male Characters” which was me and Kameron talking very seriously about this very serious subject.

The audience was just as serious and had some great questions that I firmly believe gave the whole thing that extra special pizzazz.

At any rate, the convention went swimmingly, Sweden is lovely, and I had a fabulous time. Oh, and I got gifts! The convention gave me an amazing cup and some tea:

Well, The English Bookshop gave me the English Bookshop blend tea, which is delicious, and the convention gave me the Uppsala blend, which is also delicious!

I also was given a few other gifts–namely some salt licorice fish, and of course, some fish sauce!

I’m glad to say I’ll be coming back to Uppsala in August for Reception Histories of the Future, which is an academic conference kind of thing, and is free and open to the public though you do need to register. There’ll be a lot of awesome people there and it’s the weekend before Worldcon, and it’s pretty easy to get from there to Helsinki so maybe that’s something that interests you!

Thanks so much to Anna and Nahal and Johan and Linn and I know there are other folks whose names I am forgetting. You all did a wonderful job with the convention and I had a great time.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-28 01:17 pm
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Review(ish): Some Adagio Teas

So, I’ll start this out with a disclaimer: Adagio contacted me and offered to give me some tea for free if I would review it on Twitter. I am not one to turn down free tea, and I already buy tea from Adagio more or less regularly. And they’re the home of the Imperial Radch Tea Blends, so.

I had a gift certificate to work with, so I actually got three things–one that’s already a favorite, one that wasn’t the sort of thing I usually get but what the heck, and one that I threw in on impulse before I checked out.

I’m not much of a white tea fan. I mean, I don’t dislike it, but it’s usually been not my fave–usually it just tastes like faintly leafy hot water to me. But I got a sample of a white tea with my Manual Tea Maker No 1, and either that tea was particularly good and/or the gaiwan style brewing really brought some nice flavor out. So I’d been meaning to try another white tea in the Manual and see what I thought.

This is Adagio’s White Symphony. The flavor is very delicate–I found I got best results using a touch more than I would have for another kind of tea. I tried it just in an infuser for 3 minutes, and then I tried it in the Manual. It definitely stands up to multiple steeps, but it wasn’t noticeably more interesting in the Manual. This is also the first tea that I’ve found doesn’t do well with my tap water. I was unhappy with the first cup, which was the old “faintly leafy hot water” thing. Then I tried using filtered water and the results were much better. It tasted like a very delicate tea, instead of hot water pretending to be tea. Seems like my problem with white tea might be more about my tap water, and I’m looking forward to drinking more of this one.

This is the sort of thing you’d sip and think about how it tastes. It is not, IMO, a great choice for a hearty cuppa, or for waking up in the morning.

This is Adagio’s Fujian Baroque. It’s a reliable favorite of mine. It has a sort-of-maybe sweet, faintly almost-chocolatey flavor, with no astringency. If you find ordinary grocery store orange pekoe or black tea too bitter or astringent, you might want to give this a shot. This is one of a couple of black teas I try to keep around. (The other is PG tips, because sometimes you just want a strong milky hit of tea.) I personally wouldn’t put milk or sugar in this, but I do find that it’s a good first-thing-in-the-morning tea.

And the third tea!

This is Chestnut flavored tea. I was clicking around and saw some reviews for this. The idea struck me as somewhat improbable, and by and large I’m not that much into flavored teas, but the reviews were good, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong throwing a sample package into my order. It’s really nice! It has a sort of toasty, nutty flavor that complements the black tea really well. I will certainly add this into my regular rotation, because I like it a lot.

(Adagio has one or two improbably flavored teas–I ordered some Artichoke back when it was available and…it was odd. But I read the reviews–it had its fans. Also Cucumber White, which I used in one of my blends. That was interesting, and actually maybe I need to revisit it now that I’ve discovered that white tea is better with filtered water.)

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-28 11:06 am
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Some Books I’ve Read

So, there are a lot of books that strike me as interesting and I want to make time to read them, and also I get sent quite a few books by folks hoping I’ll read them in time to blurb them. Spoiler: I rarely am able to read things in time for the blurb deadline! But I still like to say something about books I’ve enjoyed reading. Here’s the latest batch!

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

This won the Clarke last year! So I figured it’d be good.

It is good! I enjoyed this a lot. The last remnants of humanity find a terraformed planet! It was supposed to be seeded with primates who would be infected with a virus that would uplift them. There was an accident, though, and the primates never arrived. But the spiders were already there, so…

I enjoyed the onworld stuff from the spider POVs more than I did the stuff with humans on the ship. A lot of that was, I think, due to the constraints of setting and worldbuilding. I think I’d have some difficulty balancing those two settings, while also definitely wanting the inherent contrast they presented (heck, I’d probably want to set it up that way so there was that inherent contrast, to be honest, but the spiders were so cool that the ship humans were going to have to work awfully hard to compete). I highly recommend this book, even if you’ve got a thing about spiders. (Yes, actually, I am not a fan of spiders. I mean, I’m glad in the abstract that they exist, they eat bugs yay, the webs are pretty, biodiversity is good &c &c but on the level of the concrete and the specific, they have too many legs and are buggy and I would like them to stay far away from me please, thank you.)

Amatka by Karen Tidbeck

This isn’t out yet! You can read it starting June 27, and I recommend that you lay your hands on a copy. I managed to just miss the blurbing deadline on this, sadly, sorry!

This is a weird little book. Brilars’ Vanja Essre Two is assigned to visit the colony of Amatka to research what kinds of hygiene products they might want to buy. Nothing too weird about that, right? Except Vanja’s name, but it’s quickly clear that this is a setting in which it’s vitally important that everyone agree on what everything is and call it what it’s supposed to be called. Because otherwise…well, that’s where things start getting weird. I’d say more, but this is one of those books where the gradual unfolding of what’s going on is part of the effect and I don’t want to mess with that. It’s compelling and disturbing and totally worth reading.

Pilot Down Presumed Dead by Marjorie Phleger

All right, this is kind of cheating. This book was published in 1963, and I got it as a gift when I was 9 or 10 and I loved it. Read it multiple times. I mostly read SFF at that age, and was largely uninterested in non-SFF books, but this one was just super gripping. Basically, small plane pilot Steve Ferris gets caught in a storm and is forced to put down on a little uncharted island. Wrecks his plane and spends the rest of the book surviving, trying to get the occasional passing ship to notice him, and ultimately attempting to get back to the mainland under his own power. In retrospect, I think it shares a number of features with the SFnal books I was already reading–much if not all of the plot is problem-solving and/or bits of exploration and exposition.

A friend of mine is a Montessori teacher and a while ago we were talking about how she’s always looking for cool things to read to her Lower Elementary kids and I remembered PDPD and suggested that it might be just the sort of thing she was looking for. SPOILER turns out the kids are loving it.

I picked up a used copy–my original copy is long gone–and gave it a read. Took me maybe two hours. Its written very simply, but the descriptions are vivid enough that some of the images have stayed with me for forty years. If you know a ten year old (or thereabouts) who’s looking for a good, engaging read, this book is a good bet.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-24 08:15 am

Con or Bust Bidding is Open!

The annual Con or Bust auction has begun! You can bid on all kinds of awesome things, but of course I’m particularly interested in this one:

A signed ARC of Provenance

The ARCs don’t even exist yet, but as soon as they do I will sign one and send it off to the high bidder.

Also, check out the other fabulous auctions going. I’ve seen some really cool stuff mentioned, so poke around and check it out!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-13 05:28 pm
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On Performance and Sincerity

So, this is basically more or less random musings triggered by this post by John Scalzi about doing readings.

Now, I completely agree with him on the value of being prepared, and knowing that at a reading (or on a panel, or some other sort of public appearance), you’re performing. I have also noticed the overlap between writers whose readings are lively and enjoyable and writers who have even some small amount of performance experience.

My own preparations for readings are a good deal less elaborate than John’s, but then I suspect I write very, very much more slowly than he does and I haven’t practiced my ukulele in quite a while. But basically, I pick a thing to read, trying to make sure it’s not too long (y’all at WorldCon got solid read-aloud, sorry, but then again not too sorry since folks seemed to enjoy it), and then spend any remaining time taking questions. I probably ought to think if there’s something I can add to switch things up for this fall.

Now as it happens, I have a tiny bit of theater experience, along with that music degree, so I’m actually pretty comfortable onstage. But you know what else I think has helped me–years of waiting tables. I am a serious introvert, but working at waiting tables gave me practice interacting with lots of strangers for hours at a time, keeping my demeanor pleasant and mostly cheerful. It’s practice that has stood me in good stead for a lot of my non-writing-related life, actually. In a lot of ways waiting tables can be a really miserable job, but that aspect of it, learning how to be “on” very pleasantly and confidently, has been super valuable to me.

So, a while ago, I think it might have been on Tumblr, I saw someone reblog a post where someone was saying that they wished there was some way to politely tell a waiter that it was all right, the waiter didn’t have to be fake cheery with them, the poster cringed at the idea of a waiter having to do that and it was okay to just drop the act.

This bugged me, but it took me a while to figure out why. Finally I decided that there were two things about it that bothered me.

First, the assumption that a waiter’s cheerfulness was fake and therefore bad. It’s true that the cheerfulness is a performance. No question. But “performance” and “fake” are…I mean, they’re related? I could perform a fake attitude, yeah. But I could also decide that a conscious performance is the best way to convey my actual attitude. And I know that, when I was waiting tables, one of the things I enjoyed was being able to put on the persona of someone who was cheerful and extraverted, comfortable with talking to strangers, and happy to help. Yeah, I enjoyed it less when I was working with a table full of assholes, sure, but there’s value in practicing one’s “I am a person who is unfailingly polite” persona under adverse conditions.

I could go off on a tangent here about the way the culture I grew up in and am surrounded by values “sincerity” over “performance” and defines sincerity in a way that doesn’t just mean “honest” but also unscripted and spontaneous. And confessional–to be sincere is to bare your soul, to show the intimate you. In fact, bets are you associate “honest” with unscripted and spontaneous and confessional.

But a lot of things that we consider to be spontaneous and heartfelt are, in fact, scripted gestures. They kind of have to be, you have to speak in terms another person will understand, if you want to communicate with them. If you look closely you can see the underpinning of social expectation and convention that mostly goes ignored.

The clearest example of what I’m talking about is a religious one. I grew up Catholic, and that meant I spent a good deal of my childhood memorizing prayers. The Mass, its variations throughout the liturgical year notwithstanding, is essentially the same carefully scripted ritual over and over and over again. I could recite much of it in my sleep. Or, I could have before they re-did the approved English translation.

It’s commonly assumed that the recitation of these prayers is nothing but empty ritual. That there’s no way they can be real engagement with the spiritual, no way they can truly express any kind of profound emotion. I am here to tell you that the common assumption is one hundred percent fucking wrong. In fact, the pervasive presence of those prayers lends a depth and eloquence to them that I don’t think I can convey to anyone who hasn’t had that experience.* From the outside it looks like droning meaningless syllables. From the inside it’s very different.

In opposition to the Catholic style prayers we have the supposedly spontaneous prayers of some Protestant churches. A true sincere and unscripted upwelling of praise and prayer! Except not. Listen to enough, and you realize they’re built out of pre-fabricated phrases, strung together at length, with various techniques for vamping until the next thought is organized, the next unit chosen. I assume that the folks who pray this way find it a deeply emotional experience, and consider themselves to be praying very sincerely. I don’t hear spontaneity though, it’s just as formulaic as the supposedly nothing but rote Catholic prayer I grew up with, just handled a different way.

My point isn’t that there’s a right or a wrong way to pray. My point is that both these practices are equally sincere, and calling the second sort spontaneous isn’t actually terribly accurate. It’s really a performance of something that purports to be spontaneity.

My point is that “sincere” and “spontaneous” are not the same thing.

Nor is “sincere” and “intimate.” Which was my next problem with the idea that it would be kind and generous to tell a waiter they could let the act drop, and be honest with the poster who wished to ask for this.

They weren’t, as they appeared to think, offering a chance to relax. No, the poster was, in a sense, wanting to demand an intimacy with the waiter that they just hadn’t earned. A waiter does not owe you any glimpses of their private self. That’s maybe for friends and family, right? We all behave differently with intimates and strangers. Strangers generally get a more formal, more distant face. You don’t tell someone to show you that part of themselves. Well, unless there’s a big enough power differential that you don’t even notice that’s what you’re doing.

It’s not generous. It’s insulting.

Anyway. I think it’s worth taking a second or third thought when we value actions as sincere or insincere based on whether or not we think they’re spontaneous or scripted or conventional. Are they really any of those things? Why does a conventional action that gets called spontaneous but really isn’t, why does that get valued so much more highly than an action that’s just as conventional, but more obviously so? Just something to ponder.

Anyway. That’s my random musings, from reading John’s blog post and connecting it with some stuff I’d been thinking about not long ago.

Like John, my “on” demeanor is me. It’s not fake. But it is a performance, in a lot of ways. It’s a public me. I enjoy the heck out of that performance, partly because it helps me be comfortable meeting lots of awesome people. It’s exhausting, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it.

*I occasionally wonder just how Fredo’s death in the second Godfather movie must seem to someone who doesn’t feel the end of the Hail Mary hanging there unsaid, a background echo to the shot. Does the scene have the same emotional weight? I suspect it doesn’t, quite.

**In case anyone worries, or feels I need reassurance, no one to my knowledge has accused me of being fake in public. And I’m not particularly worried that anyone might think that. It’s just that the question of what’s sincere, what’s spontaneous, and how those get valued by the people around me, is one I chew on sometimes, and I figured I’d share some of those thoughts.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-13 01:12 pm

Provenance Release Date Change


It looks like Orbit has moved the release date of Provenance from October 3 to…September 26.

I found out yesterday, when some friends I was out with were like “Amazon emailed to say there was a new release date! Did you know?” and I was like, “Oh, huh. Nope. But it’s not really my department, so.”

Later in the day I was talking to my US editor about the (now, yes, final) ms I’d turned in (it’s headed to the folks in Production, who turn Word documents into actual books! Yay!) and he was like “Oh, yeah, I didn’t think that was going to get changed officially for a few days, sorry, I was getting ready to tell you about it actually.”

Which, I said, no big deal. Not my department, like I said, and the folks whose department it is know their business, and really in the end it means everyone has one week less to wait for the book than we all thought, so it’s all good, as far as I’m concerned.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (Default)
2017-04-09 08:22 am

LJ importing/Duplicate posts

 So, I already had been xposting to both LJ and DW for a while. I figured, though, that I would run an import and grab the LJ comments. I wasn't sure how that was going to turn out.

It turns out that first off, DW's import thingy is super busy right now (wonder why!) so it took a couple days. And now I seem to have duplicates of every post. I could go through and delete the extras, but in some cases both have comments on them, and besides I have other things to do at the moment. I might go down the list and delete any dupes that are commentless, but certainly not right now.

So, if you're looking at my DW journal and wondering about the duplicate entries, that would be why.
ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-04 08:06 pm

Leaving Livejournal

So, lately all my posts here (or nearly all) are mirrored from, and crossposted over on Dreamwidth.

The recent LJ user agreement shenanigans have made me rethink even that passive engagement with LJ. Which is kind of a shame, because I do still look at my f-list. There are some folks I follow here who I don't other places. But a lot of those have gone over to the "mirroring blog posts on LJ" thing so I guess I'll go through and put those blogs in my feed reader.

Anyway. You can still find me at the blog, and over on Dreamwidth. And on Tumblr--I crosspost blog posts to my Tumblr too.
ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-04-04 10:51 am

Con or Bust Auction: Signed ARC of PROVENANCE

Con or Bust is an organization that helps PoC get to SFF conventions. They hold an annual auction fundraiser so they can do that. It’s a good cause, check them out!

This year Orbit Books is donating a signed Advance Reading Copy of Provenance. Which officially comes out October 3 of this year.

In fact the ARCs don’t physically exist yet, and won’t for a bit–I’m doing some small edits on the ms right now, and if my editors approve of them then they’ll hand things off to the wonderful folks in Production, who do all the stuff that turns a manuscript into an actual book. But as soon as there are actual, physical ARCs, Orbit will send me one, which I will happily sign and send off to the winner of this auction.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-03-27 08:40 am

Cover Reveal: PROVENANCE

So, as it happens, I have a book coming out this year!

Also as it happens, it turns out I lied a little when I said folks who didn’t follow me on Tumblr weren’t missing anything but silly stuff. It’s mostly true–mostly I’m just silly on Tumblr. But this weekend Tumblr followers were treated to a slow-motion reveal of (most of) the cover (and title, since the title is, you know, on the cover) of my next book. It was pretty fun, actually, with people trying to guess the title from incomplete information, and cow poems, and just a good time.

And now, today, Book Riot has the official, internet-wide reveal. So click on over to take a look at the cover and the description.

If it seems appealing to you, the book is pre-orderable, though last I checked there was still a placeholder title and cover (which nonetheless I can see from the amazon rank that folks have been pre-ordering it, which is equal parts amazing and terrifying). It’s out October 3, I hope you like it!

At any rate, Amazon links! US Amazon, and UK Amazon.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-02-25 09:13 am
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Kouign-amann update!

This is mostly for the St Louisans who read my blog, because I don’t imagine it will do anyone else much good.

I found a place in St Louis that sells kouign-amann!

That place is Nathaniel Reid Bakery.

Nathaniel Reid himself–who is a very personable young man, he was behind the counter when I was there this morning–is apparently an award winning pastry chef guy. The bakery sells all sorts of cakes and macrons and croissants and things, plus coffee (including espresso and such) and hot chocolate (made from actual chocolate and milk and cream, he told me, not any kind of powder or syrup), and tea but it’s the usual afterthought tea generally is. They also have sandwich-sandwiches, and a small space to sit and eat.

I would tell you how the kouign-amann is but I was diverted by the breakfast sandwiches, which mine was even more delicious than it looked or sounded. It was also filling, so that box with the kouign-amann in it will have to wait a bit. But this is an excellent development!

Huge thanks to Anna Schwind for the heads-up on this!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-02-14 02:04 pm
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On Tea

Hey, there’s some stressful and depressing shit going down lately. Let’s talk about something pleasant and stress-reducing!

Well, okay, so being super picky about making tea may be stress-INducing for some. If so, no worries. I have one, firm position on how to make the best cup of tea: the best cup of tea is one you enjoyed making (or making it didn’t annoy you too much) and tastes good to you. I will not budge from that position.

That said. There are some ways in which attempts to make that cup of tea are susceptible to various predictable failures. And so I figured I would share the things that work for me to prevent those failures. And also maybe provide opportunities for folks who might actively enjoy the fiddly tea making process if they tried it to have a bit more fun with it and nerd out even more than they already might. (Those of you who are already nerding out probably already do or have most of these things.)

So! The first, most common pitfall in making tea: You heat the water, throw the bag (or the infuser full of leaves) into the cup, pour the water, set it on the desk beside you and…promptly forget about it as you dive into your work. Hours later you remember that tea, now cold– and bitter enough to strip paint.

Friends, there is a simple solution to this, provided you remember to implement it: a timer. This could be a voice assistant on your computer or your phone, an app made purposely for timing the steeping of tea, or a dollar store kitchen timer shaped like a strawberry. Really, it doesn’t matter, but this is a tea-hack that can cost very little and vastly improve your tea-drinking experiences.

For the style of brewing that’s the default in the US (the sort most of you reading this likely think of as just “making tea”), you’ll probably like black tea best at 3-5 minutes, green tea 1-3 minutes (if you’ve got a really nice sencha you might even want to go 30-45 seconds), oolong 3-5 minutes, and white tea 2-5 minutes depending on the actual tea. Those are just guidelines, adjust as needed for your taste. If you want to be super nerdy you can note down what times work best for you for each tea. I don’t do that. I just do black & oolong at 3 minutes, most Chinese greens at 2-3, and sencha at 1 minute. When I’m making them in a cup with an infuser, anyway. If I’m doing the “lots of leaves, many short steeps” method (in a gaiwan, say) I won’t go much longer than a minute, but that’s something to play with if you find you enjoy that kind of thing, and that’s not a brewing method that’s suitable for the “get some caffeine in me so I can get to work this morning” thing.

If you’ve moved to loose leaf brewing, you’ve probably found that measuring out teaspoons of leaves doesn’t quite work. It might work for stuff with very small leaves, or that’s been cut into very small pieces, but it’s useless for large-leaved teas–different teas take up space very differently and some just won’t go into a spoon, no not even that cute little “perfect cup of tea” spoon so many places sell. This makes it difficult to get the amount of leaves just right, let alone consistent from cup to cup (or pot to pot).

So. Doing loos leaf? Want maybe another level of nerdery/tea improvement? Consider a scale. You can get a nice little pocket scale for about ten bucks. The one at that link is the one I have. I set my infuser on it–I use these bad boys–turn it on, and then add however much tea I’m going to use. Rule of thumb for most teas (Western default style brewing) is about 3g per 8oz of water. That’s only a rule of thumb–some need more and some might be fine with less.

You might want to find out how many fluid oz your favorite mugs hold, by the way, so that when you stagger into the kitchen you’ve already done the math and know that you need 5g of tea or whatever.

Once you’ve got this down, you can play with other styles of brewing, btw. For instance, I’m not much of a white tea fan–but I do enjoy it a fair amount when I use the high-volume-of-leaves/low-steeping-time/many-steeps method. Poke around for information on using a gaiwan–though you could totally do something similar in a cup with an infuser, which honestly I recommend because as awesome as gaiwans are I always burn the everliving fuck out of my fingers when I try to use one, and the Manual Tea Maker No 1, which I love and which solves that problem for me, is kind of pricey.

If you really want to get nerdy, you can fiddle with water temperature. There’s an expensive way to do this, and a cheap one. The expensive one involves buying a variable temperature kettle. Which is super fun, but, yeah, costs.

However, if you have a food thermometer–and if you cook it really is a good idea to have one–you can heat your water to whatever temp you like on a stove or with your regular kettle. Either heat to boiling and test the temp till it drops to where you want it, or test it as it heats till it gets to the right place. I’ll be honest, that sounds like a drag to me, but lots of folks do it and enjoy it. Google around for some recommended temperature ranges, try some things out and see what you like best.

For keeping pots of tea (or sufficiently large and stable cups) warm, check out the various glass, ceramic, or cast iron tea warmers. I use this one, but there are others out there. You put a candle in them–a tea light, right? Yeah, that’s why they’re called that!–and set the pot or cup on top. These work really well, but remember not to just leave the candle burning if you walk away for more than a few minutes. I’ve never actually had a problem, but when it comes to candles you’re better safe than sorry. There are also electric tea warmers out there, just the right size for a cup or a mug to sit on. Once again, don’t forget they’re plugged in and switched on.

Oh, and hey! Almost forgot this one. Matcha has been kind of trendy, and you can get a cool matcha set with a bamboo whisk and learn to froth it, and if that’s something that you’ll enjoy then I salute you! But me, I use a very large mug (which I only fill about three quarters full of water) and a little $3 battery-powered milk frother. No, it’s not meditative or anything. But I like it.

So there you go, a few ways to maybe increase your tea nerdery and also give you a more consistently excellent cup of tea, none of which cost much. If you try only one of them, try the timer. It’s a ridiculously simple tea-hack, honestly, that’s made my life so much nicer.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-01-31 05:11 pm
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On Contacting Your Elected Representatives

There’s a lot of contradictory information going around about contacting representatives (by which I mean both Senators and Congresspersons–the term “representatives” is unhelpfully ambiguous at times because it can mean just Congresspersons, or it can mean them and Senators who also do represent us, but anyway) there is, as I said, a lot of contradictory information going around about just how to best contact representatives.

Common wisdom would have it that only calling, on the phone, is effective and that email is entirely useless. I saw someone tweet that snail mail takes weeks–weeks!–to be processed before it reaches anyone’s desk.

So, none of this is actually true.

My source is Annalee Flower Horne:

This is my summary of advice she’s given. Any errors or misstatements are my own.

First of all, phone calls are NOT the only effective way to communicate. Snail mail letters and postcards are absolutely fine. So, it turns out, are emails! HOWEVER.

You want to be direct and clear in your email or letter. Best is to choose one issue. If possible, open with something personal. “As a parent whose children attend public schools,” that’s personal, that’s where this issue hits home for me, “I am absolutely opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She is unqualified and will be a disaster for Missouri’s public schools.” And then a specific, actionable request. “I’m calling on you to oppose her nomination.” The personal bit could also be “I have a lot of friends who will be affected by” or even “I am very concerned/upset about…”

EDIT Jan 31: Annalee clarified to me that she advises opening with the “ask” (“I’m calling on Senator X to oppose”) and then give the personal, but she says that as long as the letter is concise, the order isn’t a big deal.

One topic per letter or email. Use your own words. The emails that actually are useless are the form emails that various orgs try to get folks to sign onto–they’re all identical, it’s obvious they’re not the person’s own thoughts, and they’re easy to dismiss. They’re mostly effective as fundraisers for the orgs that set them up. But YOUR own email, that you send, say from the official’s contact form on their website, that you wrote in your own words? They see that. They count that.

I’m seeing some assertions that with phones down, fax is next best, but I’m told that by and large faxes arrive as email attachments, so you might as well just email. In fact, this is what Annalee has to say about faxing:

ONLY CONTACT YOUR OWN REPRESENTATIVES. If you are not a constituent, you will be ignored. And Annalee suggests it’s better to send to the DC office. The local offices deal mostly with local matters, the staff isn’t really trained or equipped to deal with more, and your letters about legislative issues will be forwarded to the DC office anyway, so if you’re snail mailing you might as well send it right to DC.

I want to point out, too, that considering the Senate’s phones have been essentially melting down the last couple days, the cries of “ONLY PHONECALLS WILL DO” seem even more off-target. The phones might go down, and voicemails fill up, but the USPS keeps delivering those letters and the mailroom keeps processing them. So don’t feel like you’re doing something second-best if you’re “only” writing letters or emails.

And as always, if you’re calling, be polite to the interns answering the phones. They get paid a pittance and work long hours, and they’re not in charge of anything but taking your message.

Note, if you’re calling for impeachment (I know, I know, it’s a long shot. I know, Pence would be godawful but with him as Pres we may come out of this with an actual country and not just a smoking crater. And if nothing else Bannon would be gone) those calls/letters should only go to your Congressperson. Impeachment has to start in the House.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

ann_leckie: (AJ)
2017-01-16 09:51 am
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Vericon 2016 GoH Speech

Last year I was GoH at Vericon. It was a fabulous time! And while I was there, I gave a GoH speech. It’s the only one I’ve given so far, because usually organizers say something like “you can give a speech, or someone can interview you” and I go “INTERVIEW yes please interview me.”

But for Vericon I gave a speech. I wrote it out very carefully, and printed it out and then marked it all up on the plane, and then I didn’t actually read it, that felt weird, I just kind of talked using the printed speech as an outline. So the text below isn’t exactly what I said that day. But it’s close. And I’m rearranging and reorganizing my office and filing tons of things that need to be filed, and this is one of them, and I’d been meaning to post it, so. Here you go.

There’s a thing that happens when someone criticizes a story or a movie–or a game–in public. You can almost set your watch by it. Somebody is going to turn up to tell you that it’s just a story. You’re overthinking things, it’s just entertainment!

So, maybe I’ve got a stake in saying this–well, definitely I’ve got a stake in saying this, because at this point in my life I make my living telling stories. But stories are important. Stories are how we make sense out of the incredibly noisy and complicated world around us, and how we make sense of what the people around us do. How we make sense of ourselves. I’m convinced that narrative is a basic mode of human thought, and all the stories we hear and read become templates that we can use to understand our lives.

This can be a very positive thing. We can tell ourselves a story about what might happen, if certain other things have already happened, a story that lets us see patterns and predict how those patterns might play out in the future. It lets us anticipate and prepare for things that otherwise might take us by surprise. It helps us create new things. That’s an amazing tool to have. And narratives often hook right into our emotions, emotions that are, I am convinced, a crucial part of our decision-making process. Some decisions are actually very difficult to make without emotions, and in a crisis you don’t want to waste valuable time doing a careful, logical comparison. You want to act fast. Emotions–and the stories that elicit them–are a way to help you do that. So maybe you’ve never met an angry bear. But maybe you know a lot of stories about the tragic and frightening things that happen when people meet angry bears and so when you do meet one you know without having to stop and think it through that you’re in danger. Those stories might not even all be about bears, specifically, but there’s enough similarity between angry bears and angry lions and angry targs that when you actually meet that bear you can make a super quick assessment of the situation.

But there’s a negative side, too. We mostly don’t think of ourselves as reacting to the world based on stories. It mostly just feels like we’re seeing things as they really are. But those narratives aren’t just organizing what we’re seeing, they’re shaping and filtering it, organizing what we experience so that what we experience fits into the narrative frame we’re using. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, but sometimes the choice of narrative frame can make the difference between life and death.

So, let’s talk robots and artificial intelligence. There’s been a fair amount of comment recently on the potential dangers of AI. Elon Musk thinks maybe a superintelligent spam filter might set out to kill all humans because that’s the most efficient way to eliminate spam. Stephen Hawking thinks there’s a real danger superintelligent AIs might out-evolve us, which might lead to our extinction. They’re both hoary old science fiction tropes, and Dr Hawking you’re fabulous at physics but, dude, that’s not even how evolution works.

Plus, we’re maybe kind of jumping the gun a little. AI is way more impressive than it was even a few years ago, and it’s getting better all the time, but–our new World Go champion notwithstanding–we’re a ways from even basic intelligence, let alone the super kind. It’s cool that OK Google can tell me the weather–usually, there was that time I’d been in Oslo a nearly a week and asked Google what was the temperature outside and it told me how warm it was in St Louis–and maybe list some restaurants, or sometimes pull up a relevant Wikipedia article. But it can’t do much more than that. It certainly can’t think for itself. Google’s not alone in that–I don’t see Siri and Cortana teaming up to wipe humanity from the Earth any time soon. And if Alexa tries taking over we can just turn on our radios and let NPR tell her what to do.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Skynet has a dastardly plan to enslave humanity by beating us at Go and/or repeatedly saying “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that” over and over. But I think it’s going to be quite a while before we see self aware AIs smart enough to plot the end of Humanity. And honestly I wouldn’t bet on that being something super smart AIs would want.

But we tend to think that if they’re smart, they’ll think like we do. So our ideas about the dangers of AI are inescapably ideas about the dangers of other people. And when it comes to AI, it’s a particular sort of people we’re using as a model.

The very first robot story–the first ever use of the word “robot” in fact–is a robot uprising story. But when Karel Čapek wrote RUR he wasn’t worried about artificial intelligence. The robots of his story aren’t mechanical, they’re made of some sort of synthetic biological material. And the word “robot” which Čapek famously coined, comes from a Czech word for “slave.” It’s a story about the revolt of people made on an assembly line (the first actual assembly line had debuted just ten years earlier). It’s a story about the rebellion of people who were built to be the cheapest, most efficient workers possible, workers you didn’t have to pay, or feed anything in particular, or take any notice or care of. In other words, slaves.

And Čapek ‘s story hit a nerve. It didn’t just give us the word for robot, it is the ultimate model for nearly all the robot uprising stories since. So that model–robots as slaves, with all the assumed dangers attendant on enslaving people who outnumber you–is the model we’re using when we think about super smart machines. This has not been lost on any number of science fiction writers, who have used robot and AI stories to comment explicitly on oppression and racism. But just personally–well, I won’t go into my problems with the whole “slaves in my allegory are machines and the masters are human beings” bit, though that’s kind of icky when you think about it, but on top of that I think it’s a dangerous model to use as a basis for actual, serious real world predictions about artificial intelligence.

It’s demonstrably a dangerous model to use for interactions with humans. If you’re white, you probably know what it’s like to go into a majority non-white neighborhood. Possibly you shorthand that as a “bad” neighborhood, or a “dangerous” one. You probably feel intimidated, even threatened. The hostility of the people living there is assumed.

So what’s dangerous about that, besides the danger a white person is in? Well, it’s not the white person who’s in danger. This is not an abstract question for me, I know very precisely what happens when a young white woman on her own is stranded in the middle of the night in a poor, majority black neighborhood: The people there help her. They offer to change her flat tire (I didn’t have a spare), and when she walks half a mile down the road to an all-night gas station they let her into the locked cashier’s cubicle so she can call Triple A (cell phones weren’t really a thing at the time). And while she waits for the tow truck, the people who stop for gas ask, “Miss, are you all right? Do you need some help?” And she says no, and they say “All right, I just wanted to be sure you were okay.” And they buy their gas and go.

And when the tow truck driver comes he says something like “Wow, this is a really dangerous neighborhood, and it’s the middle of the night! You must have been scared. You’re lucky nothing happened to you.” And she says, “Actually, everyone I ran into was pretty helpful.”

Because people generally are. Why should anyone expect differently? And I will admit to you, while I was sitting there outside that gas station, I expected differently, and I was surprised at what actually happened. When really I shouldn’t have been. So why was I?

Because of the narrative. The one about oppressed people who’ll rise up if given half a chance and do us the way we’ve done them.

So, one result of this narrative is that often white people who find themselves in majority non-white neighborhoods are needlessly afraid of the people around them.

Another result? When, say, a young Black woman knocks on a door in the middle of the night looking for help, the White homeowner will assume she’s a threat and shoot her to death. When Black men confront police–or, let’s be entirely frank, sometimes when the police are faced with Black children–the police assume they’re threats and shoot them. This narrative is not harmless. People have died because of it. Lots of people.

And it’s this same model so many people are using to seriously predict the effect of AI on our future. It doesn’t even work right now, for dealing with other people. But that fact is invisible to a lot of people, because we don’t think much about the narratives we use to make sense out of the world. And narratives, they’re sticky. In her Hugo-winning essay “We Have Always Fought” Kameron Hurley gives the made up example of the things everyone knows about llamas–they’re scaly, right? And carnivorous? Everyone knows that, it’s common knowledge. And sure, sometimes you run into a llama that’s fuzzy and eats grass–maybe the only llamas you’ve ever met have a distaste for meat and a distinct lack of scales, but those are exceptions! They have to be, because everyone knows what llamas are like.

That’s how unexamined narratives work. Exception after exception won’t change our assuming the truth of the narrative. Nothing will change that, except our recognizing it as a narrative–not reality itself, but a frame that forces reality into a pattern we’re familiar with.

So all the high profile alarm about the dangers of AI isn’t a problem just because the predictions people are seriously making might be inaccurate. It’s that when I hear people make these predictions, it’s not only really obvious that they’re using that narrative for a framework, but more importantly, that they’re unaware of it, and so almost certainly unaware of the way it’s applied to actual, existing human beings. This doesn’t make Elon Musk, or Bill Gates, or Stephen Hawking or anyone else racists, or terrible people–we are all, to some extent, unable to escape the narratives that surround us, and that we frame our lives with. But it does mean that the narrative gets reinforced, by people who command lots of respect and large audiences.

And I’m not at all saying that writers who use that narrative, or readers who enjoy reading it, are bad people or necessarily doing anything wrong. I’m not into telling writers what they should write, or readers what they should read–I’m actively opposed to that, in fact. Writers should write the stories they want to write, the way they want to write them. Readers should read the stories they want to read. But I do think it’s important for writers and readers both to be aware of the narratives they’re drawing on, and how those narratives might distort our view of the world, and influence our attitudes and choices. Like technology itself, narrative can be applied in ways that are beneficial, or in ways that are not.

And like technology itself, knowing what the potential effects are is crucial to avoiding negative outcomes. And it’s the thing you don’t see, that you don’t realize exists, that will trip you up. Knowing the narrative is there, you can work with it or work around it, maybe consciously choose a better one for whatever situation you’re in. If you don’t recognize or acknowledge its existence, you will have no choice in the matter. An angry bear right out in the open, that you know is angry, is far less dangerous than the angry bear behind some underbrush in a woods that everyone knows is entirely safe and bear-free. Your hike, wherever it takes you, will be the better for your having an actual, accurate idea of where the bears are.

Now, I do think it’s important to consider the possible effects of creating actual AIs. Very few new technologies have been unambiguously good, or implemented as well as they might be, and it’s wise to think ahead and avoid what dangers we can. But let’s take some time to separate things we’re assuming are true because they’re part of a familiar story that feels realistic to us, and things that are actually true. And let’s maybe consider how the things we fear about AI are literally fears about other people, and the way that addressing those fears directly might actually move us toward some solutions to real problems, and allow us to see real dangers ahead much more clearly.

Thank you.

So, then I took questions, and a person in the audience who was, in fact, an expert with relevant degrees, pointed out that there are already problems with AIs that have nothing to do with the Robot Uprising and everything to do with the fact that the data all these neural nets are taking in is not, in fact, completely neutral and objective but comes loaded with a host of prejudices and assumptions. We assume that if a computer gives us the result it’s perfectly objective and without any kind of flaw, but even if AI logic is completely objective (not an assumption I think we should make, but let’s do that for the sake of argument), its conclusions won’t be objective if the data it’s working with isn’t. This can have seemingly small effects–Netflix steers certain people to watch certain things, making parts of its inventory effectively invisible to certain groups of viewers–to situations where people don’t even get to see job listings because they don’t fit a certain set of demographic characteristics, or completely law abiding citizens end up on lists of people likely to commit violent crime, because of course the algorithm is using historical data and we’re going to ignore the way that historically black citizens have been–and are–disproportionately arrested and convicted for particular crimes, crimes that are also committed by plenty of white citizens but they don’t get the same reaction from the justice system.

In these cases, the supposed perfect objectivity of the AI is just reinforcing existing cultural assumptions. But that’s a big ‘just’ and it’s one that has very real, life altering and life threatening consequences for quite a few people. So, you know, when you’re worrying about the danger of super-intelligent AIs, maybe add that to your list.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.