Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher

Cover of Summer in Orcus (a wolf stands in a misty glade; the trees seem to be sprouting out of a giant horned animal)

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 14 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

Once upon a time there was a girl named Summer, whose mother loved her very very very much.

Her mother loved her so much that she was not allowed to play outside where someone might grab her, nor go away on sleepovers where there might be an accident or suspicious food. She was not allowed to go away to camp, where she might be squashed by a horse or bitten by diseased mosquitoes, and she most certainly was not allowed to go on the Ferris Wheel at the carnival because (her mother said) the people who maintain the machinery are lazy and not very educated and might get drunk and forget to put a bolt back on and the entire thing could come loose at any moment and fall down and kill everyone inside, and they should probably leave the carnival immediately before it happened.

That’s the beginning of Summer in Orcus, by T. Kingfisher and illustrated by Lauren Henderson. T. Kingfisher is the pseudonym of Ursula Vernon, who is an award-winning writer and artist of children’s books and graphic novels. Anything with “T. Kingfisher” on the cover is meant for non-children, as is Summer in Orcus—however, you don’t need to be *too* grown up to appreciate this book. In fact, it was a nominee for The World Science Fiction Society Award for Best Young Adult Book. That’s how I came across it.

If you’re a listener to The Incomparable, you might recall episode 412, in which an intrepid band of book-club adventurers (including yours truly) read most-if-not-all of the 2018 Hugo Award nominees for best novel, as well as a few other nominated works. At that time, I hadn’t completed my reading, and time was getting short, so I came up with a cunning plan for the YA category. I decided to read 33% of each book, and then if there was time before voting ended, I’d loop back and finish as many as I could.

I quite enjoyed the stories published under Ursula Vernon’s name, so I decided to start with Summer in Orcus.

Welp. That was a mistake.

Why?

Because I foiled my cunning plan right out of the gate. I swiftly reached 33% of the book, and simply could not bring myself to stop. I whizzed on by 50% and then left 60% in the dust. Eventually I gave in and admitted I was reading this whole thing without stopping for anything less important than sleep, work, or food. (And sometimes not for those.)

And now, to why. This book pushed so many of my buttons I felt like a busy elevator. My literary happy-place is anywhere a youngish girl is whisked away from her normal, mundane world into a land of magic and danger (and possibly talking animals). That’s exactly what happens when 11-year-old Summer has a run-in with Baba Yaga, whose chicken-legged hut has come to roost in a neighbouring yard. The old witch promises Summer her heart’s desire! Then the witch turns Summer out into the land of Orcus, where she must figure out where she is, why she’s there, what she should be doing, whom to trust, how to get home, and what exactly *is* her heart’s desire anyway?

The twist on all this that had me lapping it up is that Summer in Orcus is incredibly self aware. Summer herself is a fan of this genre, and she’s continually comparing her circumstances to those in Narnia or Oz or similar locales. So rather than approaching her plight as a typical “oblivious” character, she tackles things the way we, as savvy readers, would likely do it.

Of course you can’t have an adventure story like this without collecting a menagerie of friends-you-make-along-the-way. In this case that includes a talking weasel, a nattily-dressed bird and his flock of valets, some truly fierce geese, and my favorite—a werehouse. That’s not a typo. It is, indeed, w-e-r-e-house, which is a talking wolf who turns into a lovely cottage at night. (Truly the best kind of companion to have along when adventuring…until the dreaded house-hunters come stalking along, anyway.)

Yes. This book has many puns. If that puts you off, A) I do not understand you, and B) you might want to avoid this one—or just push through because there’s an awful lot more to it than clever puns.

The story is not entirely made up of delight and wonder. There are moments of sadness and darkness, including some references to Summer’s mundanely sad backstory. In fact, Summer’s experience dealing with her mentally ill mother is what honed the very skills she needs to succeed in Orcus. I’ll say no more than that, except to tease the existence of characters like the the Forester, the Warlord, and the Queen-in-Chains.

This book was originally published as a free serial, with chapters released twice weekly, and while I can kinda see that structure, I didn’t know it going in, and I wouldn’t have recognized it except for stumbling across that fact on Goodreads. To me it was an engrossing journey-quest that had me laughing and crying and wanting much, much more. I do hope I’ll get it.

In closing, I’d like to warn you all: Antelope women cannot be trusted.

Advertisements

Recently Read

Recently Read

Hey all! If you haven’t heard the news, The Incomparable podcast network has a podcast feed all about books!

So poor is my sense of time that I was going to call Recently Read a “recent addition” to the network. Then I looked at the list of episodes and realized the first one came out in June of last year. How does time even work?

Anyway, if you’re a book-lover like I am, you may want to check this out. Each episode is short (usually well under 10 minutes!) and consists of someone talking about a book they just read. I’ve done several, and it’s honestly encouraged me to read more. Turns out I like having a place I can talk about a book I just read, even if it’s a one-sided conversation.

I’ve got a couple more drafted — yes, I write the script out before I record — and I’ll be posting them soonish. It recently occurred to me that those scripts (with a little bit of polishing) would make for good blog posts. I know not everyone can (or wants to) listen to podcasts, so I plan to start posting those book reviews here. Also soonish.

I really do encourage you to check out the podcast though. There are many more people than just lil ol’ me on the network, and quite a few of us have been Recently Reading. It’s fun!

Talking About Mental Health

I’ve talked about mental health on this blog quite a lot over the years. I haven’t done it as much over the last couple years, but then again, I haven’t talked about *much* on this blog over that time. The reason for that is, ironically, mental health. (Or the lack thereof, honestly.)

Today on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat it’s #BellLetsTalk day. I’ve mentioned this before because it’s important to me. I chose to move to Canada almost five years ago, and finding there’s a very public day devoted to mental health awareness surprised and pleased me. (Every tweet/RT/post/etc. including “#BellLetsTalk” means another 5 cents donated to mental health initiatives in Canada.)

I will give my usual caveat that EVERY DAY should be a day for talking about mental health. Ending the stigma around mental illness is a job for more than one day, but the more money we can tweet into this effort, the more resources organizations will have to put toward this all year round, so I hope you’ll all get out there and use the hashtag–you don’t even have to be in Canada! (I think there’s a way to participate via text messages and calling too.)

So once again, I’m here to do my little part and tell my own story. I hope hearing me talk about my own struggle will help others know they’re not alone. Because you’re not. I suffer from mental illness, and I am not ashamed. (Or at least I try really hard not to be. It’s still difficult to get past the stigma sometimes, but I think I’ve come a long way.) So on with the show…


A couple years ago I realized I really needed some help. It had been many years since I’d been on medication, but I was struggling mightily—missing work, lacking joy in even the things I love the most (podcasting, of course), so I did what I always tell other people to do—talk to someone. For me, that someone was my doctor. (I am so lucky and pleased to have a doctor I like and trust and who trusts *me* to know my own mind and body and make decisions for myself.) We tried a variety of different medications to help address my depression and anxiety. I think over the course of one year I tried five or six different meds. Some of them didn’t work. Some of them worked but had debilitating side effects. I got discouraged and kinda gave up.

So for a while I stepped away from regular medication, in part to let my body and brain re-set after all that bouncing around from med to med. (Though I still had [and have] some as-needed meds for anxiety.) I managed to get by for about a year this way, but it was really just “getting by”. And then eventually that “getting by” started to slip to not-quite-getting-by.

I went back to my doctor.

Now I’m on some new meds that seem to be working (and without super-awful side effects! yay!). It’s early yet, but I’m hopeful.

[Note: The writing of this blog post was literally just interrupted by my reminder to take my Cipralex. LOL at timing!]

Anyway, my mental health is the number one factor in determining when I have the energy to write outside of my day job. I would love to promise more regular content here, but I don’t know how my mental health will hold up. But as I said, I’m hopeful, and I have a few things I wrote for podcasts that I might be able to re-purpose for blog posts, just to keep things moving while I work up to fulfilling the last of my Patreon reward posts.

So once again, I’ll just say to anyone out there that’s struggling: you are not alone. I hope you’ll reach out and find some help.

And to everyone, whether you’re struggling or not, please take a moment today to use the #BellLetsTalk hashtag. Each time I see it come through my feed, my heart lifts a little bit. I have to imagine it’s doing the same for others. Seems like a pretty easy way to spread joy while raising money for a worthy cause.

Finally, mega-thanks to my spouse Steven and all my friends, family, and internet pals who have stuck with me through all this and provided constant understanding and support. I love you all so very very much.

2018 Awards Eligibility Post

First of all I just noticed how long it’s been since I’ve posted anything here, and I’m fighting hard not to feel great guilt or at least chagrin. 2018 brought some huge personal challenges that included mental and physical health issues — both of which have gotten worse and not better. (I’m working with several doctors to turn that around, but so far it’s not really happening.)

Anyway, despite all that, I managed to have a pretty productive year in the world of podcasting, and I’ve got a bunch of stuff that is technically eligible for awards. I don’t actually think most of these warrant nominations, and some of the ones I *do* think are worthy are exceedingly unlikely to be recognized, but that is not really the point of this. I encourage you all to go read Melissa F. Olson’s Awards Eligibility Post and take special note of the bit where she talks about why these kinds of posts are important. Those thoughts are as applicable to podcasters as they are to writers.

So without further ado, here’s the list!


Uncanny Magazine is eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine.


Everything else I do (unsurprisingly) falls into the Hugo Award category for Best Fancast:

Verity! – My first podcast, in which 6 women, in 5 time zones, from 4 countries, on 3 continents, in 2 hemispheres, talk about 1 thing: Doctor Who. (We’ve been nominated twice before, and it was a huge honour.)

Lazy Doctor Who – My spouse, Steven, and I are making our way through “the pilgrimage” — watching every episode of Doctor Who in order. And we’re podcasting about it. It’s “lazy” because we do it from our couch and only do it when we have time and feel like it.

The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 – I am so proud of this podcast, which Chip and Shannon Sudderth and I completed in 2018. We watched the whole five-year arc of Babylon 5 and did a podcast episode about each episode. It makes me feel all fuzzy to look back and see what we accomplished together.

In The Village – This is another “completed” podcast effort. Steven and I watched all 17 episodes of The Prisoner to celebrate its 50th anniversary. We did not agree on many things, but we had a grand time doing it. I have never fallen in love with a tv show harder and faster than I did with The Prisoner so it was sheer delight to do a podcast about it.

Earp Chirp – in 2018, my Albertan pals Annette and Kirsten and I launched this podcast devoted to Wynonna Earp, a show that is both shot and set in our home province. It’s a loose, instant-reaction-style podcast recorded on the same couch used for Lazy Doctor Who. In addition to our general observations, we comment on the accuracy (or inaccuracy) of the Albertanisms on the show. It’s important to note that Steven is our Crackerjack Producer.


I also contribute frequently to a couple of podcasts that are also eligible in other(?) Hugo categories:

The Incomparable Jason Snell has brought together a fabulous crew of geeks to talk about many geekalicious topics, from books to tv to movies to comics to video games to music to board games to…Thanksgiving dinner? I’m one of the most frequent panelists on the show, so it would be cool to see it get a nod. I’m pretty sure this would fall under Best Related Work, as I think it’s not eligible for fancast due to financial restrictions.

Total Party Kill – This D&D podcast on The Incomparable Podcast Network sees some of the panelists play a variety of tabletop roleplaying games. I’m on nearly all the episodes, and I edit lots and lots of them, so I spend a lot of time and effort and love on this one. I’m not totally sure if it’s a “fancast” or if it would qualify under Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form. (If anyone has expertise in this area, feel free to clarify in the comments.)

And that, as they say, is that! Unless I’ve forgotten something, which is entirely possible.

Just Work Through It

Okay, so that’s not always good advice. It’s often impossible to just work through it—whatever “it” may be. But occasionally, for me, it not only keeps life on track—it actually helps.

These last *mumble mumble* months (years?) have been pretty rough in the brain chemistry department. And as I work with doctors and lifestyle changes to try to sort things out, it can be quite a roller-coaster of non-productivity and keeping-afloat and oh-my-god-I-let-everything-slide-now-I’m-screwed.

I’m trying to get better at remembering that there’s a weird limbo-area where I am most certainly not feeling well, but I can still Get Things Done. And when I lean into that (instead of leaning into the couch, as is my wont), my mental health actually improves. (Marginally, but I’ll take any little bit of improvement.)

It’s not easy to remember that, so this is a very public reminder to myself. At the risk of going all corporate:

Just do it.

Corporeal Musings

Sometimes when the automatic faucet at work takes an extra moment to turn on, I worry. For that split-second, I wonder if I’ve become insubstantial.

But then, as I’m washing my hands, I’m a little sad. If I was insubstantial, I wouldn’t have to…well…do anything. That sounds really nice these days.

Though I suppose that depends on whether I’m invisible too. If I was visible, I’d probably be able to be useful and productive in some way. (After people stop freaking out and waving their hands through me. I bet that’d get annoying real fast.) If they know I’m there, they’ll probably want me to contribute.

I could still proofread. I’d just need someone to hang out with me and jot down the errors I find.

If I had a voice, I could still podcast. I’d just need someone to set up the mic for me and press Record. Oooh! And I wouldn’t have to worry about bumping my head on the microphone anymore! (That happens more than you might think.)

I’d need to do prep for the podcasts, but with help, I should be able to do that too. Again, someone to press play on Netflix or turn pages in a book. No more videogames, though. I’d have to rely on YouTube playthroughs.

Though now I’m wondering about furniture. Can I still lie on the couch or in bed? Probably not. Which would make sitting next to someone or in front of a mic pretty tough.

Wait. The floor still holds me up for some reason?

Ok. Inconsistent internal logic finally derailed this train of thought. That’s probably just as well. My break is over.


I wrote this at work last week and forgot to post it. Then over the weekend I was in a public restroom, and an automatic sink wouldn’t work for me at all. After my typical “Oh shit, I’m insubstantial!” thought, I switched to a different one, and it worked.

But then

When I was drying my hands, the original sink turned on.

So now I’m pretty sure I’m a time-traveler.

Baseline: No

I suck at turning things down. Things are fun! Especially when those fun things involve fun people. And most of the people I know are fun people. And they do many fun things. Sometimes they invite me to do fun things along with them. I often say yes!

I say yes too much.

I also plan my own fun things. Sometimes too much.

For example, this past weekend was a super-fun thing! Steven and I went to Calgary for a couple of nights and watched the Oilers play the Flames (ok, so the fact that we lost was less-than-fun, but it was fun overall), did some shopping, drove through Alberta’s badlands, and went to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller to look at dinosaurs. We even took time to watch some Doctor Who and record a podcast. All fun!

But hoo boy, does fun take its toll. Stress is stress whether it’s because of good things or bad things. When I planned that trip, I had no idea how wrecked I’d be at the end of last week. (Answer: Very Wrecked) So my fun weekend was less fun than it would have been and pretty much depleted even my reserve tanks of coherence and energy.

If I do my usual thing over the next couple weeks, those tanks will never refill. I know this, but I rarely act on it. I’m trying to treat myself better these days, so:

Dear world full of fun and interesting people,

No.

No, I will not join you for your fun and interesting thing. (Not unless it can wait a couple of weeks.)

Love,

Me

***

The one exception I did make was to schedule a short recording session for Beginner’s Puck because A) that probably should have been on the calendar anyway, so it’s pseudo-grandfathered in, and B) I have So Much hockey stuff to talk about! I went to an Oilers Game Day Live! And the Oilers game (in Calgary)! And holy buttons, that recent EBUG story! EBUGs are our thing!

So yeah. That’s a reasonable excuse, but for all other items, I’m gonna heed Nancy Reagan and “just say no.”