| || |Completing the 2020 Bingo Challenge: Short Story Edition submitted by FarragutCircle to Fantasy [link] [comments]
One of the rules of the Fantasy
Bingo Reading Challenge is that you can read an anthology or collection for any of the squares. I’ve always been a fan of short fiction, so I’ve occasionally used this rule to complete my Bingo Card (I used three collections outside of the Five Short Stories square last year, for example). When planning my card for the 2020 Bingo, I noticed that several of the squares fit quite well for some of the collections and anthologies I had (a Star Trek anthology for Exploration, books with colors or numbers in their names, etc.). “What if…” I wondered, “…I can do it for every
Thus, my project is born: Complete my Bingo card using only books of short stories
, following all the other rules of Bingo. I did not
repeat a single author from one square to another, and I even made sure not to repeat editors, either. Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
A brief aside before we start, some terms I use that some may not be familiar to some:
- Anthology: A book of short stories by multiple authors, usually assembled by an editor whose name is attached to the book (i.e. The Book of Dragons edited by Jonathan Strahan)
- Collection: A book of short stories by a single author (i.e. Kabu Kabu by Nnedi Okorafor)
- Short Story Cycle: A book of short stories that has its own narrative (i.e. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood). Some similarities with “interlinked collection,” “mosaic novel,” and “fix-up novel” (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury being a famous example of the latter).
- Reprint and Original: Many anthologies/collections reprint stories published previously (reprint) vs. originally written for the book in question (original). Some collections will mix it up (such as a reprint collection with one original story to encourage readers who have read the others to pick up the new book).
What did I hope to accomplish by doing this particular short fiction challenge? Some of my friends will complain about the Five Short Stories square (especially the hard mode requirement to read a book), and I wanted to spite them a little bit and also demonstrate that there’s a lot of different and interesting books out there to read in that format! Planning:
The hardest thing about this was the original planning, as several books I thought would be an easy match for the square didn’t work because another anthology I planned to use already included that author, so I had to dig a bit deeper to find something that didn’t repeat any authors. Also, in past Bingo Challenges, my cards are usually quite fluid as I shift books around throughout the year. Because of all the authors I was juggling, I couldn’t easily do that (though it was vastly easier to do with collections instead of anthologies, for obvious reasons). Numbers:
For this card, I officially read 32 books
for the 25 squares: One of those books was quite short, so I read an additional three to meet the length requirement. For the original Five Short Stories square, I decided to be obnoxious and read five collections. These 32 books included 1 short novel (included in one of the collections), 8 novellas, 106 novelettes, 498 short stories, and 3 poems
for a total of at least 2,739,975 words
(the rough equivalent of reading the first nine novels of The Wheel of Time
). I read 189 different authors
. In addition to the 32 books above, I read 15 “pre-Bingo” books—books I felt I needed to read to be able to read the anthology or collection I actually used for my Bingo Card. Fifteen of the 32 books were ones I already owned. Nine books I checked out from the library. Five books I bought specific for
Bingo, and three books were free (gifts or free online). 1. Novel Translated from Its Original Language: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales
by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (reprint collection)
2. Setting Featuring Snow, Ice, or Cold: Frozen Fairy Tales
- Reason: I couldn’t read my first choice so I looked through my TBR list to find another SF/F collection I thought would be a translation. It also won the 2010 World Fantasy Award for Best Collection.
- Favorite Story: “My Love” as I really liked how the characters grew apart and then back together again.
- Recommended: Only if you like short depressing literary fiction that mostly hinge on dreams and ghosts.
- Hard Mode: Yes, Pretrushevskaya is a woman.
- Other Options: I really wanted to read Xia Jia’s A Summer Beyond Your Reach, but she had a story in another anthology I read. I also considered one of Ken Liu’s Chinese SF/F anthologies (Invisible Planets or Broken Stars). I read Jurado & Lara’s Spanish Women of Wonder last year. Etgar Keret’s Fly Already, Kenji Miyazawa’s Once and Forever, or Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge also looked promising.
edited by Kate Wolford (original anthology)
3. Optimistic Spec Fic: Ingathering: The Complete People Stories
- Reason: I literally searched snow and anthology and this was one of the early options.
- Favorite Story: tie between “The Stolen Heart” by Christina Ruth Johnson and “Death in Winter” by Lissa Sloan; the first just felt great, and the second has this haunting feel I loved.
- Recommended: Yes; a good selection of fairy tale-inspired stories. Read during the summer, though, it felt really cold.
- Hard Mode: Yes, every story is in a snowy or cold setting.
- Other Options: I’m kind of mad that I didn’t come across Snowpocalypse: Tales of the End of the World (edited by Clint Collins and Scott Woodward) until after I read my original choice. I like silly titles.
by Zenna Henderson (short story cycle, 1 original to this book)
4. Novel Featuring Necromancy: The Book of the Dead
- Reason: I’ve had a copy of this book for a couple years, and I needed an excuse to read it. It’s actually an omnibus of Henderson’s two People collections plus some previously uncollected stories. I’ve read the first People collection (Pilgrimage) several times people).
- Favorite Story: I’ll say “Ararat” here, but the first six stories (the original Pilgrimage collection) are amazingly wonderful and heartwarming.
- Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Zenna Henderson deserves more attention.
- Hard Mode: Yes. <3
- Other Options: If Henderson’s book hadn’t worked out, I considered Heiroglyph (edited by Ed Finn & Kathryn Cramer) and Salena Ulibarri’s two Glass and Gardens anthologies (Solarpunk Summers and Solarpunk Winters), but that would’ve required juggling my card.
edited by Jared Shurin (original anthology)
5. Ace/Aro Spec Fic: Life Within Parole, Volume 1
- Reason: I asked Jared Shurin (pornokitsch) if he knew of any anthologies with a necromantic theme, and he rattled off five or six options before remembering that he himself had edited an anthology about mummies. I don’t know how you forget something like that.
- Favorite Story: tie between “Old Souls” by David Thomas Moore and “Three Memories of Death” by Will Hill (non-SF/F)
- Recommended: Yes, but it’s out of print! Several of the stories were reprinted in Paula Guran’s The Mammoth Book of the Mummy, including “Three Memories of Death.”
- Hard Mode: No, through several do have mummies as protagonists.
- Other Options: I was considering Brian McNaughton’s The Throne of Bones since the description seemed rather death-magicky. At this point, the Paula Guran anthology above would probably be a good choice.
by RoAnna Sylver (collection, mix of reprint and original)
6. Novel Featuring a Ghost: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
- Reason: A friend found this on Claudie Arseneault’s asexual recommendations website, which was good, but I felt I needed to read her novel Chameleon Moon first to understand the collection. I’m glad I did.
- Favorite Story: Reluctantly “Phoenix Down” as it felt the most self-contained.
- Recommended: Only if you loved Chameleon Moon, which I only recommend if you like a sample of the writing. It’s amazingly diverse in representation, but my frustrations with the novel related more towards its pacing and worldbuilding. Plus I don’t like superheroes.
- Hard Mode: Yes, half the stories have an asexual or aromantic protagaonist.
- Other Options: My original choice was Common Bonds: An Aromantic Speculative Anthology edited by Claudie Arseneault, C.T. Callahan, B.R. Sanders, and RoAnna Sylver, a Kickstarter-funded book. However, due to the pandemic, the publication was pushed back, and I didn't want to wait any longer. I also seriously considered Chuck Tingle’s Not Pounded in the Butt.
by M. R. James (collection, mix of reprint and original)
7. Novel Featuring Exploration: No Limits
- Reason: I just searched ghost anthology, and this was a top result. I have actually never heard of M. R. James before this year, but I gather he’s a huge influence since he’s written so many ghost stories.
- Favorite Story: “The Mezzotint” as it was the one that creeped me out the most.
- Recommended: Yes, but only if you realize that it’s got an older style to them (since this book came out in 1904), and that most of these stories won’t creep you out in the year 2020.
- Hard Mode: No, the ghosts are either antagonists or obstacles.
- Other Options: I actually don’t know, I stopped searching after I found the book. M. R. James does have 3 more collections of ghost stories, though (all of 4 of which have been gathered in Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James).
edited by Peter David (original anthology)
8. Climate Fiction: Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction
- Reason: I read the first few Star Trek: New Frontier novels back in the late 1990s, but never finished it, so I got all the books for a personal readthrough. Star Trek is by definition perfect for the exploration square, so I read the books. However, I was reading them in publication order, so I had to read the first 14 books before I could get to the anthology!
- Favorite Story: “Waiting for G’Doh, or, How I Learned to Stop Moving” is a rather funny story about the security officer Zak Kebron at the beginning of his career.
- Recommended: Yes, but only if you’ve read at least the first six Star Trek: New Frontier novels (all the stories are set before the first book, but most of the characters aren’t really established until you’ve read the first four).
- Hard Mode: Maybe, nearly all the stories feature exploration, but the plots are often about backstories for the main characters of the series.
- Other Options: I considered James Alan Gardner’s Gravity Wells (his novel Expendable is a perfect exploration book, so I was hoping the collection would work). Past anthologies that would probably work is Federations edited by John Joseph Adams, Galactic Empires edited by Neil Clarke, and maybe Alastair Reynolds’s Deep Navigation or Galactic North.
edited by Manjana Milkoreit, Meredith Martinez, & Joey Eschrich (original anthology)
9. Novel with a Color in the Title: The King in Yellow
- Reason: A friend recommended to me as this theme was getting difficult for me to find, as all my other options included stories by authors I had to read for other squares. This book was produced from a short story contest run by the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative at Arizona State University and judged in part by Kim Stanley Robinson.
- Favorite Story: “On Darwin Tides” by Shauna O’Meara, which follows a “sea gypsy” in Malaysia as she struggles in this new dystopian future.
- Recommended: Only if the topic appeals to you—because it was a contest, the stories are mostly from amateur writers and the quality mostly shows. It’s free online, though, and there’s a second book, Everything Change II, which I’ve been told is better.
- Hard Mode: No, most of them are apocalyptic or post-apocalypse.
- Other Options: My original choice was Drowned Worlds edited by Jonathan Strahan, but there’s also Loosed upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction edited by John Joseph Adams, and I imagine a lot of solarpunk-themed books could work for this, too.
by Robert W. Chambers (original collection)
10. Any Fantasy Book Club Book of the Month OR Fantasy Readalong Book: Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea
- Reason: I already had it (it’s available on Project Gutenberg)
- Favorite Story: “In the Court of the Dragon” which felt like one of the creepier stories to me.
- Recommended: Honestly, no. Only half the stories are SF/F, the other half are all stories about bohemian artists in Paris. This book is known for the stories involving “The King in Yellow” play, but they didn’t really work for me.
- Hard Mode: Yes.
- Other Options: I considered using Judith Tarr’s Nine White Horses, the anthology Blackguards, Jack Vance’s Wild Thyme, Green Magic, Walter Jon Williams’s The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories, Black Feathers edited by Ellen Datlow, or How Long ‘til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin.
by Sarah Pinsker (reprint collection, 1 original to this book)
11. Self-Published Novel: In the Stars I'll Find You & Other Tales of Futures Fantastic
- Reason: The Goodreads Book of the Month club picked it for June this year. I did own or read all the other options that were available at the time.
- Favorite Story: tie between “And Then There Were (N-One)” and “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind”
- Recommended: Yes! There’s only one story I would rate less than 4 stars in this book.
- Hard Mode: Yes, I actually led the discussion for the book in June.
- Other Options: We don’t read very many collections or anthologies for the Fantasy book clubs, so my only choices were Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Deviltry (Classics club, November 2017), Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin’s anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories (RAB, May 2018), and we currently have Daniel M. Lavery’s The Merry Spinster for FIF (September 2020). There’s also the Dresden Files read-along which did two of Butcher’s collections, and the Uncanny Magazine Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction/Fantasy read-along (those would’ve been rereads for me, though).
by Bradley P. Beaulieu (mostly reprint collection)
12. Novel with Chapter Epigraphs: Not the End of the World
- Reason: I already owned this, it was basically the oldest self-published collection I had.
- Favorite Story: tie between “Flashed Forward” and “No Viviremos Como Presos” – both dealing with a lot of emotions.
- Recommended: Yes, the only other stories by Beaulieu I’ve read were 2 co-written novellas, and I felt this collection was better. I haven’t read his novels so I can’t compare.
- Hard Mode: Yes, at the time of this post, it has 18 ratings on Goodreads.
- Other Options: There are hundreds of options, but I could’ve read Lawrence M. Schoen’s recent collection The Rule of Three and Other Stories (his other collection, Buffalito Bundle, has stories featuring The Amazing Conroy and are lots of fun.)
by Kate Atkinson (short story cycle)
13. Novel Published in 2020: Shadows & Tall Trees 8
- Reason: This was another difficult square, as I knew a short story cycle had the best chance of having epigraphs before every story. I finally found this book by Kate Atkinson. (Ironically, I realized later that my Politics choice also had epigraphs.)
- Favorite Story: “The Cat Lover,” I guess.
- Recommended: No, unless you like literary magical realism where stories just kind of end.
- Hard Mode: No, all of the epigraphs are quotes from Latin or Shakespeare.
- Other Options: Apparently, Retief! by Keith Laumer would’ve worked from my options. It really is a difficult thing because in a collection some authors might have an epigraph for a story, but not all or most of them.
edited by Michael Kelly (original anthology)
14. Novel Set in a School or University: Sideways Stories from Wayside School
- Reason: I picked this off Locus Magazine’s forthcoming books list and bought it.
- Favorite Story: tie between “The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell” by Brian Evenson and “Child of Shower and Gleam” by Rebecca Campbell – the first is creepy as hell, and the second is strange and lovely.
- Recommended: Yes, if you’re comfortable with weird or darker fantasy stories.
- Hard Mode: No, Michael Kelly has edited several anthologies before.
- Other Options: I had planned to use The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu, but I needed Liu for another square. I also considered A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell, and I had three anthologies from Joshua Palmatier I could’ve used (Apocalyptic, Galactic Stew, and My Battery is Low and It is Getting Dark) but I needed another Palmatier anthology for another square. Any of the various “Best Science Fiction or Fantasy of the Year” type anthologies that came out in 2020 would’ve been appropriate as well (Jonathan Strahan, Neil Clarke, Rich Horton, Paula Guran, Ellen Datlow, Bogi Takács, and Jared Shurin all edit “Year’s Best” or “Best of Year”-style anthologies).
; Wayside School is Falling Down
; Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger
; and Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom
by Louis Sachar (short story cycles)
15. Book About Books: Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries, and Lore
- Reason: Strangely, one of the first books I thought of for this square. Plus, the most recent book had come out. I decided to read all four as each book is really short (only about 20,000 words per book). Only the first one or two was a reread.
- Favorite Story: None, they’re all funny and good.
- Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Maybe better for kids, but I smiled a lot while reading these.
- Hard Mode: Yes.
- Other Options: Witch High edited by Denise Little would’ve been good, but included a story by Esther M. Friesner whom I needed for another square. A Kickstarter-funded anthology, Schoolbooks & Sorcery edited by Michael M. Jones, would’ve worked, but it’s not out yet.
edited by Paula Guran (reprint anthology)
16. A Book That Made You Laugh: Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma and Other Stories
- Reason: This was another difficult square because did you know that searching “book anthology” does not narrow things down at all?? I finally hit upon just searching “library anthology” which did the trick, but this one anthology predetermined at least 3 other squares because of its authors (I couldn’t use Ken Liu, Xia Jia, Amal El-Mohtar, and others because they were all in here).
- Favorite Story: tie between “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Klages and “Summer Reading” by Ken Liu. Klages’s story about “feral librarians raising a child” is just wonderful, and Liu’s is very, very sweet.
- Recommended: Yes, absolutely. This also contains Scott Lynch’s excellent “In the Stacks” and I will never not say no to Kage Baker.
- Hard Mode: No, libraries are an integral part of most of the stories.
- Other Options: *gestures wildly* I don’t know!
by Alex Shvartsman (mostly reprint collection)
17. Five Short Stories:
- Reason: Alex Shvartsman edits an annual humorous SF/F anthology series called Unidentified Funny Objects (the 8th volume is out this fall), but even though I have them all, they all shared authors with other squares until I remember that I had two collections from Shvartsman, and this was one of them.
- Favorite Story: “Things We Leave Behind” is a semiautobiographical story about books. Absolutely lovely.
- Recommended: Yes, but I understand most won’t share his sense of humor. He also tends to write very short stories, so don’t read these for immersion.
- Hard Mode: Yes.
- Other Options: Books making you laugh is so subjective, so any author you like probably has something that could work (you only need one story to make you laugh after all). John Scalzi has a couple collections that could work, Connie Willis has a great sense of humor.
Not for Use in Navigation: Thirteen Stories
- Reason: To be obnoxious I decided to read five collections for this square (instead of just five short stories). I decided to read 5 that I already owned by women/non-binary people. I picked semi-randomly (Hand and McHugh), by older ones I owned (Wurts), and by a couple new ones I was excited about (Datt Sharma and Slatter).
by Iona Datt Sharma (reprint collection)
Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories
- Favorite Story: “Quarter Days” is a full third of this book, and it’s an interesting post-WWI setting with magic.
- Recommended: Yes, they have an interesting outlook, and one of the stories has an Indian wedding in space.
by Elizabeth Hand (reprint collection, 1 original)
After the Apocalypse
- Favorite Story: “The Least Trumps” should appeal to the booklover in every single one of us.
- Recommended: These are definitely interesting stories, but I’d only recommend for “The Least Trumps” and “Cleopatra Brimstone.” She’s got a poetic style here that didn't always work for me.
by Maureen F. McHugh (reprint collection, 2 original)
Sourdough and Other Stories
- Favorite Story: “Special Economics” which follows a Chinese girl trapped into working at a factory.
- Recommended: Yes, though it’s also one of the few themed collections (versus themed anthologies) that I’ve seen, with every story dealing with apocalypse in some way.
by Angela Slatter (mostly original collection/short story cycle)
That Ways Lies Camelot
- Favorite Story: “Gallowberries” which features Patience from the Tor.com novella Of Sorrow and Such as a young woman.
- Recommended: Yes, absolutely. Every story is in the same setting, and they all interconnect with each other. I can’t wait to read more from Slatter (I already have The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings).
by Janny Wurts (mostly reprint collection)
- Favorite Story: tie between “Wayfinder” and “That Way Lies Camelot” – both are great stories, the first a coming of age, and the other is bittersweet.
- Recommended: Yes, definitely. In addition to the above, “Dreambridge” is also awesome. I wasn’t as fond of the three ElfQuest stories, but it was interesting to read Wurts’s 4 Fleet stories as I never realized she ever wrote anything close to straight science fiction.
18. Big Dumb Object: Alien Artifacts
- Hard Mode: … Yes?
- Other Options: This is the most open-ended square for this particular Bingo Card, especially since at the time of this post, I own 121 unread anthologies and collections.
edited by Joshua Palmatier & Patricia Bray (original anthology)
19. Feminist Novel: Skin Folk
- Reason: This was one of the books that made me realize I could do an all-short-story card. I thought the anthology’s theme would perfectly encapsulate the square.
- Favorite Story: “Me and Alice” by Angela Penrose – a kid finds a strange artifact while digging at a site.
- Recommended: Yes, though a few stories weren’t to my taste.
- Hard Mode: No, while the classical BDO is present in several stories, most would fall in the wider definition being used for Bingo.
- Other Options: I’m at a loss here, as I never looked for more after I found this.
by Nalo Hopkinson (collection, mix of reprint and original)
20. Novel by a Canadian Author: The Very Best of Charles de Lint
- Reason: I owned this already from a Humble Bundle.
- Favorite Story: “And the Lillies-Them A-Blow” – a woman is inspired to reconsider her life.
- Recommended: Yes.
- Hard Mode: Yes, Hopkinson is a Jamaican-born Canadian.
- Other Options: I had a few other books from the same Humble Bundle called Women of SFF. Most of them would’ve worked.
by Charles de Lint (reprint collection)
21. Novel with a Number in the Title: Nine White Horses: Nine Tales of Horses and Magic
- Reason: It appears I picked this up in 2014 for some reason (I’ve never read de Lint before this year). But he’s Canadian!
- Favorite Story: There are honestly too many to say, but I’ll say “In the Pines” for now.
- Recommended: Yes, yes, yes. I basically added everything he’s written to my TBR.
- Hard Mode: Maybe, it was originally published in 2010 with Tachyon Publications, but in 2014 it was reprinted by de Lint’s Triskell Press (which is the copy I have), which would count.
- Other Options: A friend sent me an anthology edited by Dominik Parisien called Clockwork Canada: Steampunk Fiction, though I would’ve had to juggle square to get it to work. Nalo Hopkinson is Canadian, so Skin Folk would’ve worked, too. Jo Walton has a collection called Starlings.
by Judith Tarr (reprint collection)
22. Romantic Fantasy/Paranormal Romance: Once Upon a Kiss: 17 Romantic Faerie Tales
- Reason: At the time, the only collection I had with a number that I could use.
- Favorite Story: “Classical Horses” – an absolutely lovely story that mixes real life and fantasy, and appeals to my Classics nerd background.
- Recommended: Yes! Tarr is a wonderful writer.
- Hard Mode: Yes.
- Other Options: I could’ve used The Golem of Deneb Seven and Other Stories by Alex Shvartsman, Nine Hundred Grandmothers by R. A. Lafferty, and The Rule of Three and Other Stories by Lawrence M. Schoen.
published by Anthea Sharp (original anthology)
23. Novel with a Magical Pet: No True Way: All-New Tales of Valdemar
- Reason: My original first choice was a bust when I realized quickly that the stories involved love, but were not romance stories. This was an emergency backup as I was nearing the end of reading for this Bingo Challenge.
- Favorite Story: “The Bakers Grimm” by Hailey Edwards, which is a sweet little story about baking under pressure.
- Recommended: No. 99% of the stories are direct appeals to try to get you to buy their books. Many of the stories don’t even really feel like short stories. I had a friend who only read urban fantasy who was adamant that she hated reading short stories and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I do. Many of these read more like vignettes than proper short stories.
- Hard Mode: No, the HEA Club hasn’t done any anthologies or collections for me to participate in.
- Other Options: My backup would’ve been to find some paranormal romance series and look for a collection or anthology in that world, but it would’ve involved more prep reading.
edited by Mercedes Lackey (original anthology)
24. Graphic Novel (at least 1 volume) OR Audiobook/Audiodrama: Eerie Archives, Volume 1
- Reason: Valdemar is an easy setting to choose for this square, and even though I had stopped reading the yearly anthologies (they’re up to 13 or 14 now), I decided to grab the 8th anthology from the library.
- Favorite Story: “A Dream Reborn” by Dylan Birtolo, a beggar girl with a gift grows a conscience.
- Recommended: Only if you’re a Valdemar fan and you literally can’t get enough of the world (I’d recommend sticking with the novels up until the Collegium Chronicles).
- Hard Mode: Yes, Companions can usually speak telepathically with their Heralds and a select few others.
- Other Options: I’m sure there’s a themed anthology perfect for this, but I honestly don’t know offhand if there is one, since this was an easy choice for me.
edited by Archie Goodwin (original comic book anthology)
25. Novel Featuring Politics: Retief!
- Reason: I searched “comics anthology” into my library’s digital catalog. This showed up.
- Favorite Story: No real favorite, but I guess “Flame Fiend” by Eando Binder, about a man desperate to avoid fire.
- Recommended: Yes, if you’re interested in 1960s horror comics anthology magazines. Each story is about 6-10 pages long, but many felt like cheesy horror to my modern eyes.
- Hard Mode: Maybe, each story is standalone, but this book contained the first 5 issues of Eerie comics. I’m going with No because Eerie is a running series.
- Other Options: I considered The Escapist (inspired from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), a Mouse Guard comics anthology, and Thrilling Adventure Hour before finding Eerie. I also though the Eisner Awards were a good source of finding potential comics anthologies, since that's a category.
by Keith Laumer (reprint collection)
- Reason: I knew the main character was a problem-solving diplomat, so this was an easy pick.
- Favorite Story: “Diplomat-at-Arms” which is a great story of following an experienced old man on a mission, and “Cultural Exchange,” a really funny bureaucratic tale (and this one is free on Project Gutenberg).
- Recommended: Yes, with reservations. They’re all stories from the 1960s, they’re bureaucratic galactic pulp fiction where Retief always knows better than his bumbling superiors and women only show up in secretarial or minor support roles. The stories also feel a bit repetitive as a whole, so if you read these, space it out.
- Hard Mode: No, several of the stories feature royalty.
- Other Options: I felt like this was a nebulous category, but offhand, I’d suggest Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance edited by Jason Sizemore & Lesley Conner and Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against edited by Gary Whitta, Christie Yant, and Hugh Howey for two explicitly political anthologies, and maybe something like Harry Turtledove’s interlinked collection Agent of Byzantium for an alternate history take on a Byzantine special agent.
- Favorite collections: The Very Best of Charles de Lint by Charles de Lint, Ingathering: The Complete People Stories by Zenna Henderson, Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker, Sourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter, and Nine White Horses by Judith Tarr
- Favorite anthologies: Ex Libris edited by Paula Guran and The Book of the Dead edited by Jared Shurin
- Favorite overall short stories: In addition to my favorite stories in the books above, I’d also give a special place to The Very Best of Charles de Lint (“In the Pines,” “In the House of My Enemy,” “A Wish Named Arnold,” “Mr. Truepenny's Book Emporium and Gallery,” “Pixel Pixies,” “The Badger in the Bag,” “Timeskip,” “Into the Green,” “Birds,” and “Pal o' Mine”) and to Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea (“And Then There Were (N-One),” “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” “Our Lady of the Open Road,” “Wind Will Rove,” and “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide”).
- An Aside: My father died suddenly in the middle of my reading for this challenge. The books I read from Zenna Henderson and Charles de Lint really helped me during this time, with de Lint’s book making me cry multiple times (in a good way).
Sometime last year after touting one short story or another to my friends, I said, “Oh, I don’t think I read *that* much short fiction,” and they all looked at me funny for some reason.
Oh. Never mind. I get it now.
All joking aside, I’ve read SF/F magazines off and on growing up, and I always enjoyed the occasional Year’s Best Science Fiction
anthology from Gardner Dozois, and Robert Silverberg’s Legends
anthologies were rather formative to my growth as a fantasy reader (that’s where I read George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb for the first time). Some of my favorite writers have done amazing short stories (in fact, I think I like Alastair Reynolds better at the short length than the novel; witness my love for his story “Zima Blue”!). Even if you don’t read more than the usual five short stories for the Bingo Challenge, please consider branching out! I hope I’ve shown with my own card how much variety is out there.
If you’re not sure where to start, your favorite author may have some short stories of their own, either in an anthology or one of their own collections. Mary Robinette Kowal is one of my favorites, and I loved her collection Word Puppets
. If they’re prolific enough, they may have a “Best of” book, like The Best of Connie Willis
or The Very Best of Kate Elliott
. Trying one of the Year’s Best anthologies I mention under #13, Published in 2020
, is also a fun way to explore short fiction.
And even though I didn’t read any for my Bingo Challenge, there are tons of SF/F magazines out there to read from on a daily, weekly, monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly schedule. My personal recommendation is for Asimov’s SF
, and Fantasy & Science Fiction
for subscription-only options, and places like Clarkesworld
, and Tor.com
for free online stories. There are also some great magazines/sites like Beneath Ceaseless Skies
and Daily Science Fiction
Looking at award lists is a fun way to get started, as most of the major awards also have short fiction categories. Find out where they were published and try out a magazine issue or an anthology.
I’ll end this with the following:
- an interview by our own tctippens with Jonathan Strahan over at the Fantasy Inn Podcast where they discuss not only his new anthology The Book of Dragons, but reading short fiction in general.
- Editor Jared Shurin ( pornokitsch ) just came out with The Best of British Fantasy 2019 this past June: check it out!
- One of my favorite short story writers is John Wiswell, and I’d like to link two of his wonderful stories: "Tank!" follows a sentient tank attending its first SF convention, and "Open House on Haunted Hill" is a very sweet story about a haunted house trying to get sold to a new family. Both stories are quite short and you can read each in just a few minutes.
- And finally… this is what the internet should be: Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Pictures Please"
Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now... Section 66 submitted by
"You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality.
We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker
(think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and
after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII. (An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.)
Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another
reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own
. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems.
We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved
and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface?
But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany.
I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison
? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need
control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment
of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before.
Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred
about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice,
as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers...
Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy.
Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust. Section 67
Man, how do I even start
summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes.
We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!
). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive.
Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour."
(674) How can you win at chess when there's no King?
How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced?
Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk
, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator
. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal.
This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made
- at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well.
Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out
- instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building
through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other
struggles, but there are also spectators
, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight.
We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message.
You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0.
Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant. The Low-Frequency Listeners
The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained
. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway. Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy
You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers... On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards"
An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets. My Doper's Cadenza
It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat
around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end. Shit 'n' Shinola
Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle.
We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole
, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural. An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet
Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel
", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light
is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next.
This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet. A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes
We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be. Streets
Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return.
Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts. Listening to the Toilet
As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation
of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War. Witty Repartee
A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down... Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man
A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves
. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is
a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We
can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era. Some Characteristics of Imipolex G
We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile
plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700) My gods, I made it through this section... Section 68
Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the C
ommissariat for I
ctivities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra
and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching.
Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be.
Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at
the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our
moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person...
We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal. Tchitcherine's Haunting
Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real
- no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death. Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens
- one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death.
But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it
or at least not using the weapon
isn't even an option...).
Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party.
We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature?
Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!
) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee. Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this, thank you
. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections. Questions
- In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
- What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
- 175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
- In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
- In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
- In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
My therapist keeps telling me that it's good for people to know what's possible, both bad and
good. I've been lucky in a lot of areas and I didn't want to post about it because I don't want people to feel bad. But she keeps telling me that hope is an important tool for people so, if this is upsetting, blame her lol.
First some context and personal info about me. I'm nonbinary, but I lean and present masculine. I'm not on hormones. After wanting it for roughly 15 years, I got top surgery this year at the ripe old age of 29 (kidding about being old--sort of. I think this sub tends to skew pretty young, so I feel old compared to a lot of you lol).
I am so sorry about the length of this. I tried to break it down into chunks so if you want to skip headers you can.
Quick TL;DR Timeline:
- Childhood/Early Teens: Gender??? who cares, I'm me
- Teens: I absolutely do not want these boobs but I don't have a choice. Gender still weird.
- Early 20s: Learned about other gender identities and gender affirming surgeries
- 23: Started seriously considering top surgery for real.
- 27: Called to schedule a consultation with NYU Langone.
- 28: Had my consultation
- 29: Had my surgery
Until ~puberty~ and the dreaded body changes, gender was largely not something I thought about. I knew people tended to fit someone into either male or female, and I knew people viewed me as female and treated me as such, but it's not something I felt strongly about for myself at all. Puberty wound up sending me into a bit of an existential crisis. I hated
my breasts. I hated how they made my shirts fit weird, I hated how people treated me differently if they were sort of on display, I constantly felt like I was smuggling a pair of grapefruits around.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 50, and had a mastectomy. I was like, holy shit? I WISH I WOULD GET BREAST CANCER SO THEY'D HAVE TO CUT OFF MY BOOBS!
Yes, in retrospect, holy fuck
that is an awful way to go about it. At the time I didn't know you could just like... get surgery. My only experiences with surgery were emergency situations, so I thought something had to be immediately, grievously, life-threateningly wrong in order to get surgery.
So I carried that ungodly wish around for a good several years. Yikes.
At the time I also hadn't heard of the term "nonbinary" and it was also really eating at me. "Woman" absolutely felt wrong, but "Man" didn't quite feel right either. I used to joke about feeling like a shapeless amoeba and being happy like that
. But there was no way that was valid... right?? Obviously I was wrong, I found out about different gender identities and was much happier in that regard.
It may sound weird or look the same on the outside, but a lot of my masculine traits and tendencies are less about actually being masculine
but really more about being less feminine.
I know it looks the same from the outside but internally, it was an important distinction for me.
Still hated having boobs, tho.
This is one of the areas I really lucked out on, and the biggest thing I didn't want people to feel bad about. When it comes to my identity (and unrelated to this but my sexuality as well) my parents have been, well, remarkably chill.
My dad has always been tuned into my social media, so he already knew everything and ultimately was the one who was like "what are you waiting for? Schedule an appointment already!" I had to bring him to a therapy appointment once to talk about surgery strategy, and he basically said "parents who can't support their kids unconditionally shouldn't be parents" without missing a beat so that was nice. Otherwise he basically just lets me take the lead. Let him know what I need from him, and he'll do it.
My mom I was definitely more worried about, though it turned out to be pretty unfounded. My mom and I haven't had the greatest history. It basically boils down to a clash in personalities. I was a pretty shy kid, she was always pushy about it, and neither of us handled my Moody Teenager-ness well. Things have improved a lot since I became an adult and since I started antidepressant/antianxiety meds. I also had to bring her to a therapy appointment to talk about surgery recovery strategy, where it turns out she always knew about my identity in some way, she was just waiting for me to tell her myself. And then she was all hands on deck. She checked in with me after every pre-op and post-op appointment, she asked if there was anything she needed to do or buy, she dug up a bunch of her current husband's old button-ups for me to wear post-op, she stayed with me at the hospital and took me home, etc.
There was never any weirdness or questioning from either of them. I knew my dad would be chill, I was always worried about my mom though, but it was all a pleasant surprise.
Researching Top Surgery (and Therapy)
Thanks to the internet and places like Tumblr, I was introduced to the concept of gender affirming surgeries. I was initially skeptical that I qualified (the good ol' "am I trans enough??" question) but the more I read personal accounts and stories from people, the more I realized that I did indeed fit the bill.
But I was working at CVS at the time, had no health insurance, was (and still am) paying off student loans... it just wasn't going to happen at that time. So for 5 years I did nothing. Just plucked away at life.
Then I got a new job with actual health insurance. Interest renewed. It would still be a couple of years before I even called to make a consultation but, I started looking into everything again.
So I came up with a list of questions and goals that needed to be answered and researched:
- What surgeon and where?
- Did my health insurance even cover it?
- If so, what information and documents would I need?
- How much of it does insurance cover?
- How much time off would I need for recovery?
I would like to emphasize, I knew NOTHING about insurance going into this. But honestly, it's not that difficult. Go through it slowly, google any terms you don't know or understand, and don't be afraid to call or email your insurance to ask even the stupidest of questions. It's their job to answer your questions.
First, I found my insurance's policy for "Gender Affirming Services (Transgender Services)" which is its official title within my insurance. I read it several times, and in my case I was glad that the language avoided sticking strictly to the binary, because I was worried I wouldn't qualify. They used phrases like "gender identity other than that assigned at birth." I actually just looked at it now and it's been updated even further to be even more inclusive, which is nice. It has a list of services and surgeries that are covered, along with any requirements. I saved the pdf, as well as printed it and stuck it in a big 3-ring binder that would become my go-to resource.
Next I started looking at surgeons that accepted my insurance, and whose results and reviews seemed good enough for me. Transbucket was still working at the time, so I went through the images and wrote a list of surgeons down. I live in NY, which has a few good but long-waitlisted surgeons, so to keep things a little less complicated I decided to narrow the list down to NY surgeons. I read some sketchy things about Mt. Sinai's surgeons at the time, so I decided to nix them from the list. Ultimately I decided to go with Dr. Bluebond-Langner with NYU Langone. Knowing there was going to be a long wait to deal with the rest of my prep, I called to schedule a consult pretty much immediately after I made my choice. The consult wound up being a year later, so that gave me time and a concrete deadline to work toward.
Call date: January 2018
Consult date: January 2019
NYU Langone sent me a pretty comprehensive packet of info, including some requirements for getting surgery. Mainly it was a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and letter from a therapist, which would also cover my insurance requirements.
So my next step was finding a suitable therapist. I had already read about the long wait times between consults and surgery, so I didn't immediately jump into therapy. There was a long stretch of just doing nothing.
Initially I started out by using the "find a provider" tool on my insurance website to try and find a therapist, but it wasn't really getting me anywhere. BCBS's various websites suck ass. After having some initial talks with a few therapists, I found out it's kind of annoying for them to work with insurance in NY, so they work out of network but provide the receipts and codes for you to submit a claim on your own.
So instead I started by searching "WPATH therapist [location]" and scoped out the results. They weren't necessarily registered with WPATH, but they were at least familiar with it and that was the important factor, for me. I reached out to them explaining who I was, what my identity was, and that I was seeking a diagnosis and letter so that I could get top surgery. I told them that I was absolutely okay if they were uncomfortable with this and did not want to continue.
Everyone responded kindly and was down for it, but I was put off by the short responses from some of them or the informal abbreviations. In any other normal everyday situation I absolutely would not care, but I had taken the time to write this formal email where I basically bared my deepest secrets to them, and getting back a "k" was like... nah man. This ain't it.
Except one woman who responded with the kind of thoughtfulness and care I was expecting, and seemed like a perfect fit. I love her to death and I'm still having sessions with her on a regular basis.
Therapy start: May 2019
It was my first time being in therapy at all. Some of it was about my identity, some of it was just general life stuff, but she's great at guiding things along and she's not afraid to ask me if that's what I really think or if I'm just saying what I think she wants me to say, stuff like that. Also I've slipped out a few curses in front of her (I curse a LOT in casual conversation) so it's pretty funny when your therapist isn't afraid to say "fuck" in front of you now.
In November 2019 we worked on and finalized my letter. She had me read it a dozen times before I signed off on it, and we made sure all the pertinent info and requirements were in, including the diagnosis code for gender dysphoria. She faxed it over to the hospital and also gave me a copy. Ultimately the letter was good for one year but she made it clear that she would absolutely change the date and resubmit it if my surgery date wound up falling past that point.
A big source of my info on surgery, recovery, and good stuff to have around has come from blog posts and from this sub. You have been invaluable. It was good to see the gamut of recoveries from "ridiculously smooth" to "absolute hell" and help me plan for the worst case (which thankfully wasn't necessary).
The World's Longest Home Stretch AKA Approaching Surgery
Consult in January 2020 finally arrived. I was in the waiting room longer than I was actually in any part of the consult lmao. Dr. Bluebond-Langner is nice and great, let me be clear. But for her it was just another Tuesday, so she was basically just blasting right along and asking me questions while taking measurements of my chest. I had some questions and she was happy to answer but I was also just kind of nervous and caught up in the expediency of the whole process, so it was all done in like, 3 minutes.
Then the photographer team took photos of me shirtless in several positions and angles. Super, duper weird and awkward but they were extremely nice and professional, and pretty made it as un-weird as possible.
The good news is that they have a stellar patient portal where you can ask questions pretty much whenever you want, and they also sent me another email and another physical packet of information which largely covered anything I forgot to ask in my stupor.
About 3 days later I got my surgery date.
Surgery date: August 2020
Obviously COVID has been a hell of a thing. Appointments were pushed back, masks were worn, hand sanitizer was applied judiciously, temperatures were taken at doorways. I waited with bated breath to see if my appointment would be rescheduled. Thankfully I lucked out big time and hospitals started doing non-emergency surgeries again before my date came up, so they called and told me I was still on for August.
I had to have an appointment with my Primary Care Physician (PCP) and explain that I was having surgery and I was going to need a bunch of tests done, and the results sent to the hospital. My doctor's office is a teaching office, so I basically had to come out to my PCP and the student shadowing her, but it was all chill. My doctor told me that she has several trans patients now and they're seeing an increase in people who are more comfortable to come out, which is nice. So she was 100% down to do whatever tests the hospital needed.
In practice, getting the results in and to the hospital on time was a bit of a pain in the ass. I think technically several of my results were late but it didn't screw me over. The tests had to be done within a certain window before surgery (not too early, basically) but the processing took forever on a couple of them, and I had to ask and triple check with the doctor's office a few times because the hospital was still missing a couple of them. It was a bit of unnecessary stress leading up to surgery lol.
PTO scheduled, bag packed, took a train into the city for surgery.
First off, everyone at the hospital was super nice the entire time I was there.
You're not allowed to eat or drink after midnight the night before. That night I woke up every hour from a nightmare that I had accidentally eaten something.
I showed up in sweats and a hoodie, got my patient wrist band (with my preferred name!) and then waited for what felt like an eternity while my mom and I chatted.
Someone came and got me, I had to brush my teeth and use mouthwash (something about cutting down on possible infection), had me pee in a cup one last time, and gave me a gown. My mom was allowed to join me in the "staging area" where other people were stationed and waiting for their surgeries to start. It was just a lot of taking vitals, starting the IV, people introducing themselves to you and what their role was going to be in your surgery, Dr. Bluebond-Langner marking up my chest and asking me how I was feeling.
It was the most chill hospital experience I have ever had. Granted all of my other experiences were like, emergency room visits where things were much more hectic. This was all planned out, everyone was relaxed, everything was fine.
After that, one big nap. The last thing I remember was getting up on the table and apologizing for being in the way while someone said "don't be sorry, you're the star of the show, we're all here for you" and then I was out like a light.
Next time I woke up I was in the recovery wing, where they stash you before they bring you to your permanent room. Initially, I was pretty dizzy and out of it, but I was definitely waking up. They were getting ready to move me, so I had to stand up, but I somehow managed to pull one of the drain bulbs out (NOT the tube that was in my body, thank god) so I looked like I was in a horror movie with a big puddle of blood on my side lol. They had me swap gowns.
While this was going on and I was standing up, it was the only time I felt bad. I felt sick and I told someone I think I needed to sit down. As soon as I sat down in the wheelchair I immediately felt better, and they were ready to wheel me to my room.
Post-Op in the Hospital
Dr. Bluebond-Langner keeps people overnight, so I stayed the night in the hospital.
This is another area where I feel a little bad, but my recovery has been pretty stellar and apparently I'm part Wolverine from X-Men because doctors and nurses keep telling me that I'm healing really well. Almost immediately, I was fairly mobile. The anesthesia hasn't really hung around. I was walking city blocks upon city blocks to my post-op appointments, and I'd say maybe about 1 month post-op I really started getting my range of motion back in my arms. I'm a little over 2 months now post op and can fully raise my arms over my head, etc. My pain management was also basically nonexistent. I used some extra strength tylenol for a few days until I forgot to take it, realized I didn't really seem to need it, and just stopped from thereon out.
STILL NO LIFTING THOUGH! Everyone is adamant about that.
After my initial hiccup with the anesthesia, it wore off pretty fast. I was up and able to walk laps around the hospital without issue. The nurse taking care of me had to keep telling me to slow down. I was wide awake, chatting and eating full meals (side note: the hospital food there was REALLY GOOD). I was able to get in an out of bed on my own, I started stripping my own drains (scared the crap out of the nurse who just saw someone moving behind my door and didn't realize I was able to do it on my own).
A few times throughout my stay, either Dr. Bluebond-Langner herself or someone on her team would come by and undo my compression vest to check things out and make sure there were no issues.
If I had one complaint, it's the IV fluids. I had to pee CONSTANTLY.
My mom stayed with me until the end of visiting hours, chatting and doing her own work, occasionally helping me reach things, flagging down a nurse when I had to pee for the hundreth time, etc.
Otherwise, I was discharged the next morning. The Uber ride and subsequent train ride home were pretty smooth. I was worried that every little bump would kill me, but the tightness of the compression vest kept everything pretty secure.
Recovery at Home
I was pretty self-sufficient. We had already moved a bunch of water glasses onto the counter for easy access, and I had a bunch of reasonably healthy easy-cook food ready to go. I had an adjustable incline pillow for sleeping on my back and keeping me somewhat elevated, coupled with a neck pillow and a total blackout sleep mask. My dog kept me company.
Sleeping is honestly probably the worst part. I am very much a side and stomach sleeper. And although my recovery was pretty smooth, surgery is still surgery and I found it difficult to get a good, restful sleep through the general uncomfortableness.
Showering and bathing was probably the second worst part. Taking a shallow bath was definitely easier but I basically couldn't get really clean because I was constantly worried about accidentally pulling the drains, or getting something wet.
Part of my dismissal included a packet with a calendar for measuring and recording my drains. I tried to do that at about 9am and 9pm every day to keep an even 12 hour spread. I'm not a particularly squeamish person, but even I initially was a bit grossed out by the contents of the drains. I got used to it after a couple of days, though.
My drains were, mercifully, not painful or irritated at the drain sites. The only issue I had was a VERY small hematoma on my right side, down where the drain actually starts in your body. Emptying my drains on that side started to produce a slightly painful pinching feeling in that spot, and putting pressure on it would hurt a bit. I contacted the surgeon's office about it, and they gave me the option to come in, or just ride it out and let it reabsorb itself. I chose to leave it alone, and it started feeling better after a few days.
I had several post-op appointments, 1 each week after surgery for 3 weeks. First week was just a checkup, nothing super notable to be honest. Basically just a "holy crap you're only one week out? I would not have guessed, you're walking around just fine."
At 2 weeks, we took the drains out. Thank god, because I went back to work the next day and really needed a proper shower. I still had to keep the compression vest on, but I was at least allowed to take it off and wash it. That thing was rank. And I was allowed to wear deodorant.
At 3 weeks, I was officially allowed to take the vest off. They showed me how to do scar massaging, they did a quick draining of some fluid in both of my sides (in Dr. Bluebond-Langner's own words, she was being "nitpicky" about it because it was a minor amount, but figured she might as well just do it while I was there), made me promise I'd keep moisturizing my nipple scabs, and said they'll see me in a month.
The scabs fell off eventually by the way. I think one fell off at like 3 weeks, the other at 4. Yes, it looks terrifying. No, they didn't die. Yes, it's normal. It is weird to see the very pink, fresh skin underneath but that's normal.
Now I just oil up my scars with bio-oil every day and massage as part of my morning routine. I already made a previous post about my scars being hypertrophic
and how I'm fine with that, and it might be hard to believe when you see hypertrophic scars, but they look and feel much better now than they did, and they're only going to keep getting better.
I was using the silicone strips, but my scars kinda go up near my arm pits and when I get sweaty at work, it makes them come loose. I was taping those parts but the tape irritates my skin, so I just stopped trying to make that work for now.
So that's where I'm at now. I feel much, much better. I stand taller instead of hunching over to try and hide my chest. I'm probably a lot older than a lot of folks in here who probably can't even imagine waiting until nearly 30 to get to some of these points. I guess if there's a takeaway it's 1) sometimes surgery goes pretty smoothly and 2) your life doesn't end if you don't transition before 18.
I THINK it's pretty comprehensive in here but, if there's a particular question you have about something feel free to ask.
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