(There have only ever been two kinds of librarians in the history of the world: the prudish, bitter ones with lipstick running into the cracks around
(There have only ever been two kinds of librarians in the history of the world: the prudish, bitter ones with lipstick running into the cracks around their lips who believe the books are their personal property and patrons are dangerous delinquents come to steal them; and witches).
oh, man YES!!!
i MEANT to spend the day reviewing this author's full-length novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January, which i finished last week and LOVED, but Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ beseeched me to read this story immediately, and even though i had been planning to save it for my annual december short story advent calendar project, i'm so glad i obeyed, because it is a wonderful WONDERFUL story about books and magic and the librarians who oversee the realm where these two overlap.
even though i am not currently working as a librarian (FEEL FREE TO HIRE ME, THO!), i have the degree, i am a substitute librarian at a high school, and i've been a bookseller for about a million years, and a lot of this story is about the part of librarianship/booksellerhood about which i am most passionate: readers' advisory, which practice is summed-up here with a little more magical flourish than any of my RA textbooks ever did:
Because I am a librarian of the second sort, I almost always know what kind of book a person wants. It’s like a very particular smell rising off them which is instantly recognizable as Murder mystery or Political biography or Something kind of trashy but ultimately life-affirming, preferably with lesbians.
I do my best to give people the books they need most. In grad school, they called it “ensuring readers have access to texts/materials that are engaging and emotionally rewarding,” and in my other kind of schooling, they called it “divining the unfilled spaces in their souls and filling them with stories and starshine,” but it comes to the same thing.
this is a truly exceptional short story about the power of books—of the right book—to transport, rescue, sustain, a reader—to help them escape. it may be a more literal take on the theme than most, but it's incredibly life-affirming and feels like a love letter to those of us who really just want to be useful; to help connect the right reader with the right book at the right time, especially those special readers who know what they want to get out of a book, but don't know how to find the signal in the noise; The kind that let their eyes feather across the titles like trailing fingertips, heads cocked, with book-hunger rising off them like heatwaves from July pavement.
i probably read it from a very self-centered perspective, but it gives hope to those of us still desperately seeking a forum in which this VERY IMPORTANT skill can also put food on our tables. books are important. the right book is important.
I sent him home with The Count of Monte Cristo, partly because it requires your full attention and a flow chart to keep track of the plot and the kid needed distracting, but mostly because of what Edmund says on the second-to-last page: “… all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,—‘Wait and hope.’”
But people can’t keep waiting and hoping forever.
They fracture, they unravel, they crack open; they do something desperate and stupid and then you see their high school senior photo printed in the Ulysses Gazette, grainy and oversized, and you spend the next five years thinking: if only I’d given her the right book.
a poignant and beautiful story that's strengthening my waiting-and-hoping muscles.
last year, amy(other amy) tipped me off to this cool thing she was doing: the short story advent calendar, where you sign WELCOME TO DECEMBER PROJECT!
last year, amy(other amy) tipped me off to this cool thing she was doing: the short story advent calendar, where you sign up to this thingie here and you get a free story each day.
i dropped the ball and by the time i came to my senses, it had already sold out, so for december project, i'm going rogue and just reading a free online story a day of my choosing. this foolhardy endeavor is going to screw up my already-deep-in-the-weeds review backlog, so i don't think i will be reviewing each individual story "properly;" i can't be treating each short story like a real book and spending half my day examining and dissecting it, so we'll just see what shape this project takes as we go.
and if you know of any particularly good short stories available free online, let me know! i'm no good at finding them myself unless they're on the tor.com site, and i only have enough at this stage of the game to fill half my calendar. <--- that part is no longer true, but i am still interested in getting suggestions!
Everything that lives can have jaws that bite and claws that catch, if the need is dire enough.
this is SO MUCH FUN!
it's a standalone set in a the world of well-known children's story, so it's all the spooky joy of mcguire without any anxiety that you might be missing out on references if you haven't read any of her UF series. which may be a fear only i have, or had, when i first saw this one.
it has all the strengths of her kind of characters, with a nice fairytale feel to it in its language and themes, and even its cadence at times:
When I was very small, no more than a comma of a creature compared to the pages and paragraphs of my parents, they used to tell me stories of the world outside the wood. “It’s terrible there,” said my mother, shivering. “Their sense is nonsense, and their nonsense is sense. You can trust nothing outside the wood. Nothing. All of it waits only to destroy you.”
“It’s terrible there,” said my father, with eyes like chips of ice, so cold that they burned. “Their truths are lies, and their lies are truth. You can believe nothing outside the wood. Nothing. All of it waits only to disprove you.”
wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, i loved it to pieces.
if she has any others that are standalones and suitable for this project, lemme know, please!
Humans should really do more research. There were operating manuals that would have warned her not to fuck with us.
All Systems Red lit the fuse, this one exploded. i am now fully on team murderbot.
murrrrrderbotttt—saving pesky humans from their foolhardiness, giving sexbots some dang agency, and dispensing hard-won life lessons along the way:
“Sometimes people do things to you that you can't do anything about. You just have to survive it and go on.”
it's exhausting being a murderbot on the lam—pulling an irish goodbye on the crew from their last job and trying to pass for (augmented) human long enough to return to the place where a routine job went horribly wrong and they became murderbot, seeking answers about whether or not they were culpable, and if they could be a danger to others—which is, it must be said, a pretty human concern for a murderbot. it's a very stressful situation, and requires plenty of self-soothing with entertainment feeds, the murderbot equivalent of 'netflix and chill'—a method of self-soothing THIS (unaugmented) human lady did plenty of during The Great Lockdown of 2020.
but on the way to the scene of the incident, murderbot makes a FRIEND! ART is the transport's snarky AI, and their buddy-watching of shows—and their varying reactions to them—was a slick way for wells to flesh out their respective characters. i particularly enjoyed murderbot's love of the programs despite the lack of SecUnit representation, or their misrepresentation—I guess you can't tell a story from the point of view of something that you don't think has a point of view, and i'm glad they're getting the chance to correct that wrong through these delightful books; telling the story of exhausting humans, sarcastic transport bots, and all the emotional discomfort of being a rogue murderbot in the world.
it's funny and charming and unexpectedly warm, as murderbot, with their newly-acquired free will, begins developing their own value system—choosing to help their new human acquaintances get out of the dangerous situations they've blundered themselves into, although not without some impatient grumbles and eyerolling grouchiness.
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person, other than … killing you?”
it is subtly adorable that this condescending jab is an echo of one of murderbot's first interactions with ART:
"I'm not your crew. I'm not a human. I'm a construct. Constructs and bots can't trust each other."
It was quiet for ten precious seconds, though I could tell from the spike in its feed activity it was doing something. I realized it must be searching its databases, looking for a way to refute my statement. Then it said, Why not?
I had spent so much time pretending to be patient with humans asking stupid questions. I should have more self-control than this. "Because we both have to follow human orders. A human could tell you to purge my memory. A human could tell me to destroy your systems."
I thought it would argue that I couldn't possibly hurt it, which would derail the whole conversation.
But it said, There are no humans here now.
I realized I had been trapped into this conversational dead end, with the transport pretending to need this explained in order to get me to articulate it to myself. I didn't know who I was more annoyed at, myself or it. No, I was definitely more annoyed at it.
m-bot has learned how to pay that shit forward, and i'm eager to see what comes next.
what better way to celebrate the release day of murderbot #6 than to...read murderbot #2?