Notes from the Labyrinth
Unobtainium and Dragons' Bones
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ws: hamlet
Greetings!

This is the blog of Sarah Monette/Katherine Addison, a professional writer of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Sarah Monette is my real name; Katherine Addison is a pen name, intended to be transparent.

If you've found me here, odds are pretty good you're looking for something to read, so the following is--to the best of my knowledge--a complete list of everything I've written that's available online:

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If you know of anything I've missed, please leave a comment!
27th-May-2015 04:52 pm - UBC: Patrick Wilson, Murderesses
ws: castabella
Murderesses: A study of the Women executed in Britain since 1843Murderesses: A study of the Women executed in Britain since 1843 by Patric Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I am the person who added this book to Goodreads.

For what it is--and it is exactly what it says on the tin--this is not a bad book.

It's very 1971 in this book--Wilson earnestly lists "Lesbianism" as one of the possible physiological causes of murder, along with menopause, post-partum depression, and "unsatisfactory sexual relations"--and his attempts to draw conclusions from his material are either blindingly obvious or only dubiously plausible. (The remains of an ancient pagan cult in the area around Wix, demonstrated by the unusual number of poisoners who operated there, is my favorite.) He's astute enough to observe that most of these sixty-eight women come from the poorest and most poorly educated sections of their society, but all he draws from that is that "poverty breeds violence" and that violent crime can never be separated from its social and economic environs. He does not ask questions about how these women's poverty affected the course of the investigation of their crimes, nor how it affected the lawyers, the judge, the jury . . . the Home Secretary, who was the person who ultimately decided whether a condemned murderer should live or die. And those are questions I think should be asked.

But unlike other amateur criminologists I have read, Wilson does know how to put his facts together, and he does know how to tell the stories of his sixty-eight subjects. And he's making an honest try at objectivity. He does ask questions about whether these women should have been brought to trial, whether they should have been convicted, whether they should have been denied a reprieve and therefore hanged. Sometimes the answer is emphatically yes (the baby farmers and the burial club murderers spring instantly to mind), sometimes the answer is no (mentally disabled or mentally ill women). Sometimes the answer is a baffled maybe.

So, if this kind of thing is your cup of tea (or cup of something else, we won't ask), I recommend it, although it's obviously going to be difficult to come by. If it is not your cup of tea, this is not where I would suggest starting with Victorian true crime.



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5th-May-2015 02:07 pm - Locus Awards/Sasquan
writing: airship
The Goblin Emperor is a Locus Awards finalist in the Fantasy Novel category. (!)

In other news, I will be attending part of Sasquan (Friday through Sunday--I just don't have the stamina for the whole thing.)

I will also be part of a thing at ALAAC: RUSA's Literary Tastes Breakfast. The program description tells me that I will see papersky there, WHICH IS AWESOME.

Further bulletins as events warrant.
writing: airship
I have donated a signed hardback of The Goblin Emperor to the Con or Bust auction. Should you feel like wandering over there, don't forget to check out the many other awesome items up for bid.
14th-Apr-2015 04:29 pm - UBC: Dashiell Hammett,5 Novels
ws: hamlet
Dashiell Hammett:  Five Complete Novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin ManDashiell Hammett: Five Complete Novels: Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett




I'm gonna be honest right up front and say that my favorite of these novels is The Thin Man. I read the others with interest, but I'm unlikely to read them again. The Thin Man may get added to my stack of comfort reading. (I think it's not a coincidence that nobody made more Sam Spade movies, but Nick and Nora had a very long life in Hollywood, even if in warped form.)

So. Dashiell Hammett, generally considered the founder of the hard-boiled mystery genre. Having read his novels, my feeling is that all hard-boiled mysteries should be set during Prohibition, because there's a way in which the use of alcohol conveys the setting perfectly. Alcohol is illegal, but you can find it everywhere; the police are just as bad as anyone else. And that expresses the layer of corruption, like smog, that permeates--and saturates--every godforsaken inch of the territory Hammett covers.

Hammett also prefers a particularly opaque style of narration, whether he's writing in third person or first, in that you never see any character's thoughts, including the protagonists. I think it is a sign of what an excellent writer he was that this does not make his characters surface-y. They all clearly have interiority--everybody has their own agenda--we just can't see it. In third person, this tends to make everyone look like a sociopath (and honestly, it may just be that everyone in The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key IS a sociopath except Effie Perrine), and it makes it difficult bordering on impossible to invest in the main character. Although I did not like Sam Spade at all, I ended up feeling compassion for him, but Ned Beaumont, the protagonist of The Glass Key (and Hammett always uses his name that way, "Ned Beaumont," throughout the entire damn novel, possibly to really whack the hammer down on the ALIENATION key), was just kind of loathsome. I am fully prepared to argue that that was Hammett's intent, and that he did a bang-up job of it, but I'm certainly never going to put myself through reading that novel again just to watch loathsome people doing loathsome things in an endlessly repetitive chain of betrayals. It's rather Huis Close (No Exit) in that at the end Ned Beaumont and Janet Henry are stuck with each other, but the thing that makes Huis Close dramatically as well as philosophically interesting is the slow teasing out of secrets, the presentation of the mask each character wears and then the long slow reveal of what is staring out from behind it. Ned Beaumont remains opaque and dull, both in the sense of boring and in the sense of failing to reflect light.

(Full disclosure: I may also have disliked The Glass Key because it's a novel about corruption and politics with a murder in it rather than a mystery set against a backdrop of politics and corruption. I'm a hardcore genre reader, and I hate novels about politics.)

(Yes, I know. Shut up.)

The Continental Op is a little different. He's an effective narrator; I dislike him, but I invested in him--more in The Dain Curse than in Red Harvest (Red Harvest is another novel about politics and corruption; it just has a lot more murders in it.) I also have him cast irreversibly in my head as Danny DeVito circa Romancing the Stone, but that's something I did to myself. The mysteries are awkward and sprawling (and really, you should never end up with the narrator explaining the murders to the murderer) and The Dain Curse is wildly, goofily improbable. I don't like the Continental Op, but he's real enough and complex enough that I'm willing to spend time with him. I might reread The Dain Curse. Not so much Red Harvest.

What I particularly like about The Thin Man is that, if you'll pardon the cart-before-the-horse anachronism, it's like The Big Sleep meets The Great Gatsby. Nick is clearly a functioning alcoholic, and clearly was very much like the Continental Op when he was a P.I. The characters surrounding him are straight out of F. Scott Fitzgerald: aimless and narcissistic and hungry to drag other people down with them. But Nick's also a forty-year-old retired detective in love with his extremely wealthy twenty-six-year-old wife, and he's someone who's trying to do the right thing--or, maybe, someone trying to find the right thing so that he can take a run at it. I like Nick Charles in a way I don't like any of Hammett's other protagonists. And I know that's because Hammett was trying hard to make me not like them, but still.

Also? Asta. Full stop.

(Asta, aside from being female, is a Schnauzer. She's probably a standard Schnauzer (w/handler for scale), but I have somewhat wistfully cast her as a giant Schnauzer (w/kid for scale) (and here again w/Great Dane for scale), to give some real emphasis to Nick's repeated line, "Asta jumped up and punched me in the belly with her front feet." The wire haired fox terrier (w/kid for scale) who played Asta in the movies is cute as a button, but he isn't Asta.)

The Thin Man is probably not what a purist would call hard-boiled. It stays too much on the top side of society. It is neither "gritty" nor "raw." But it is definitely my favorite of Dashiell Hammett's novels, possibly because the characteristic it shares with Raymond Chandler's novels is that the protagonist is trying to do the right thing, even when he doesn't know what that is.







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12th-Apr-2015 11:19 am - UBC: Hayman, Hitler & Geli
ws: hamlet
Hitler and GeliHitler and Geli by Ronald Hayman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This book has three major problems, one historical, one methodological, and one conceptual.

The historical problem is unfortunately inherent in the subject matter. We just don't know enough about Angela Raubal to provide material for an entire book. (Weirdly, this is the same problem I had with Michael Wallis's biography of Pretty Boy Floyd, Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd.) She was a woman in Nazi Germany, she was only twenty-three when she died, and almost everything she herself put to paper was destroyed. And all the information we do have about her is warped by its proximity to Hitler, who provides a distorting vortex for anything that gets near him.

There's only two things you can do with this problem. One is write a short book, more of a monograph, and we now consider that a non-viable option unless you are an academic and only interested in academic publication. The other is to find something else to fill your empty pages. In this case Hayman's got Hitler standing right there, and I have Ian Kershaw's 2 volume biography of Hitler (Hubris and Nemesis). I know how much space that bastard can take up.

Hayman provides a weak, surface-y biography of Hitler--obviously and strongly influenced by The Psychopathic God (itself a problem we'll come back to in a moment)--which really does nothing for his argument and feels very much like filler. I admit and agree that the lack of material on his subject matter is a problem that he is not responsible for--and just because we don't know very much about Geli Raubal is NOT a reason not to write about her--but I don't think his solution was a good one. He might have done better to do some social history about women's roles and options in Weimar Germany, especially as it transitioned into Nazi Germany. Angela Lambert does an excellent job in her biography of Evan Braun of showing that even without Hitler, Braun had no good path open to her, because no woman in Nazi Germany did. Hayman doesn't show much if any awareness of that side of the problem--it's unfortunately probably not inaccurate to say that he's more interested in Hitler than in Raubal. (If I don't call him Adolf, I don't call her Geli. Fair is fair.)

The second problem, the methodological, is also inherent in the first. Almost all of Hayman's evidence (and sometimes "evidence") for his argument about Hitler and Raubal's relationship and her death is secondhand and hearsay. It's what surviving members of Hitler's inner circle wrote about Raubal or told interviewers about Raubal. And sometimes what they're saying is what somebody else told them about Raubal. In all cases, they can't be trusted because they have their own narrative and their own interests and (post-war) self-exculpation--and those are serious problems because again, Hitler is a distorting vortex. (Henriette von Shirach is probably the closest thing he has to first-hand testimony, and regrettably, I don't think you can trust her as far as you can throw her.) Hayman does not discuss (or seem to be aware of) this problem about his evidence, which makes it even less trustworthy, especially when what he's using as evidence is rumors and gossip about Hitler's sex-life.

And that leads us to the third problem, the conceptual one, which is what Hayman thinks and how he thinks about, well, Hitler's sex-life. As I said, he's clearly heavily indebted to Waite, and the distinctive thing about Waite is his careful, ponderous, by-the-book Freudian analysis of the second-hand evidence, hearsay, and rumors about Hitler's sex-life. The cryptorchism, the impotence, the "deviant sexual practices": Hayman reproduces it all without apparently noticing that we have no evidence of any of it. We have only what people say other people said about Hitler (the pornographic drawings that we have not one single example of) and what can maybe be inferred from what Hitler said about himself, and that kind of inference is a very dicey proposition, even with someone as sublimely un-self-aware as Hitler. Nobody who might have had first-hand experience of Hitler in the bedroom survived the end of the war.

The major conceptual problem comes in the discussion of Hitler's "sado-masochism"--which I put in quotes because Hayman is using Freud's model, which sees sadism and masochism purely as perversions and sicknesses, and shows absolutely no awareness that our thinking has advanced since Freud and that there are other, better, more nuanced and sophisticated models available for thinking about BDSM. (This is the same thing I bitched about at length in my review of Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator.) The problem with Hitler's sexual practices, insofar as we have genuine evidence about them, isn't the sadism or the masochism or the urophilia per se; it's that he was forcing unwilling women to participate in fulfilling his sexual needs. (Hayman labels Eva Braun a "victim of Hitler's sado-masochism" and it's not at all clear that's true, either from his perspective of "sado-masochism" being a crime or from the position I would prefer to discuss about consent, just as his calling Renate Mueller a victim of Hitler's "sado-masochism" is pretty misleading. She certainly did not enjoy her relationship with Hitler, whatever it consisted of, and hers is the clearest evidence* we have, as best I can tell from Hayman, about what Hitler's sexual practices were, but the fact that she was victimized by Hitler's government and committed suicide because she thought--rightly or wrongly--that the SS were coming to arrest her is not a direct result of "sado-masochism," Hitler's or otherwise, though you can certainly make an argument it's a direct result of Hitler's paranoia.) It's consent issues, in other words, that we need to be looking at if we want to talk about Hitler's monstrosity, and those need to be carefully separated from sadism/masochism and dominance/submission. And I could really have used Hayman to have--and to impart--a better supported understanding of how all of these things were understood in 1930s Germany instead of going for sensationalism. (And there's another thing he could have been doing instead of rehashing Hitler's biography.)

But where he really goes off the rails (for me) is in his attempt to do a Freudian analysis of Hitler's career as a dictator and mass murderer, trying to use "sado-masochism" as an explanation for Hitler's aggression against his European neighbors, for his orders to massacre the Poles and the Russians and the Jews of all nationalities, for his scorched earth tactics at the end of the war. And trying to argue that Hitler's "sado-masochism" infected all of Nazi Germany, that that's the explanation for totalitarianism and the rule of terror. Leaving aside the question of how much influence Hitler's personal style had (and I'm willing to be persuaded it had a LOT, but I need some evidence), this argument is completely ignoring the entire history of the German right-wing at least back to World War I, if not much, much farther. The things that Hayman points to as the results of Hitler's "sado-masochism" are things--like everything else about Hitler--that were lying around waiting to be picked up and turned into weapons.

So. Hayman's argument is that Hitler murdered Raubal (or, more likely, would have been convicted of manslaughter), and where the book is actually interesting is in his analysis of the lies the top Nazis were telling (half an hour after they said it was suicide, they were trying to announce it was an accident) and where they contradicted each other and what we can learn from those contradictions. It's not clear whether Raubal died on the day before her body was found or the day before that. It's not clear whether her face was bruised, not clear whether her nose was broken. It's not clear whether Hitler was in the Munich flat when she died or--as everyone loudly insisted--on the way to Nuremberg. Her motive for suicide was thin at best, and the letter she broke off writing in the middle of a word was full of plans for a visit to Vienna. The path the bullet took through her body (entering above the heart and lodging at her left hip) was very peculiar and an almost impossible angle for a suicide to achieve, even if she would have wanted to. Everyone very carefully forgot to look for powder burns on her skin and clothes. Her body was whisked away to be buried in Austria before anyone could suggest an autopsy or an inquest.

It's hard to tell what's genuine hinkiness and what's the effect of Hitler's distorting vortex (and again, Hayman's refusal to admit the vortex into his analysis is a serious problem), but I ended up being fairly convinced that Raubal did not kill herself, even if I didn't buy any of the rest of Hayman's argument about Hitler.

And in the end, I suppose that's my most central disappointment in this book: it's about Hitler when the person I'm interested in is Raubal.


---
*The "evidence" we have from Renate Mueller is what the OSS Source Book says (quoting someone, but Hayman's citation isn't clear enough for me to figure out who) that a director named Adolf Zeissler said (and goodness knows when he said it, since it could be any time from 1936 through the end of the war) that Renate Mueller told him in 1936, four years after her experience and at a time when, blacklisted and a morphine addict, she had no incentive to be, and cannot be counted by any stretch of the imagination as, a reliable witness. Hayman does not talk at all about the problematic nature of his evidence here. Or anywhere else.



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4th-Apr-2015 05:04 pm - Hugo
writing: airship
The nominees for the 2015 Hugos have been announced. The Goblin Emperor is on the list for Best Novel.

I find this all very very weird. Good weird! But weird.
28th-Feb-2015 10:42 am - Nebula Awards Weekend
writing: katherine
So, yes, I will be attending the Nebula Awards Weekend this year. I will be attending as Katherine Addison, given that Katherine Addison is the one nominated for the award, not Sarah Monette.

As you might expect, this is a rather peculiar feeling.
ws: castabella
The News From Whitechapel: Jack The Ripper In The Daily TelegraphThe News From Whitechapel: Jack The Ripper In The Daily Telegraph by Alexander Chisholm

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This book is for you if you want primary sources and you are either:

(A) interested in Jack the Ripper
(B) interested in Victorian journalism.

Otherwise, this book is probably NOT for you, since it is a compilation of The Daily Telegraph's coverage of the five canonical murders of Jack the Ripper (Nichols, Chapman, Stride, Eddowes, Kelly). The editors have included commentaries about each murder, which I found to be little more than a distraction, but might be helpful for someone just getting their feet wet in Ripperology.

I gave this book five stars because it is an AWESOME primary source for both Jack the Ripper and late-Victorian journalism and I deeply appreciate the work the editors did to put it together, but this is very much a YMMV kind of review. If you aren't the target audience in a very small niche market, it's probably not going to be your cup of tea.

I loved it.



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20th-Feb-2015 01:11 pm - Nebulas (Nebulae?)
writing: airship
The Nebula nominees for 2014 have been announced.

The Goblin Emperor is one of the nominees for Best Novel (!!!!!).

Congratulations to everyone on the list!
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