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review 2020-05-09 13:54
The Glass Magician
The Glass Magician - Caroline Stevermer

Thalia is a stage magician with her show as Lady of The Lake. When her livelihood is threatened she will start a cascade of events which will eventually allow her to learn her true self and her true powers.

There was a lot in this novel. Besides Thalia being a stage magician and pretty emancipated around the start of the 20th century, there is a whole magic world related to it. You see, real magic and stage magic combined. Thalia believes she is a simple Solitaire, as opposed to Traders (shapeshifters who for some reasons make up the crème de la crème of New York society) and Sylvestri (nature people who are never really well explained but must have some kind of power also). Add to this the gruesome Manticores, who hunt unexperienced Traders in order to suck their magic out of them, and a murder charge, and it is quite a lot.

However, it was an interesting read and while I had hoped that some parts of the worldbuilding would have been explained a bit better without turning it into an infodump, I liked this version of New York. I was a bit worried in the beginning that by throwing all these things at the reader the story would feel overcrowded, but it didn’t really. Still, I had the feeling it was missing a little something that I can’t really put in words.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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text 2015-10-14 23:08
Land of 10,000 Pages: Club Book presents Emily St. John Mandel & Minnesota after the Apocalypse
Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel
River Rats - Caroline Stevermer,Frances Collin
Bone Dance - Emma Bull
Minnesota Cold - Cynthia Kraack
Cifiscape Vol. I, the Twin Cities - Ken Avidor,Brian Garrity,Toianna Gump,Max Hrabel,Bob Lipski,Ken Lubold,Aaron M. Wilson

A cross-post with MSP Reading Time, the book segment of my local activities blog,Minneapolis-St. Paul Adventure time.


Monday, I attended one of the Twin Cities many author events, listening to the Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel discuss her book Station Eleven at the Stillwater Public Library, in the Washington County Library System. I do not often make it out this far east, sadly, so I had not yet been to this impressive library building before. A beautiful, impressive Carnegie Library building updated to serve the modern world, I would love the chance to explore the stacks and resources at my leisure in the future. Hosted by Club Book, one of the many free literary events hosted by local library systems, courtesy of the Legacy Amendment! Check out those writers coming up in the next few weeks!


The evening was a grey and chilly one, the historic town nestled into the St. Croix river valley under hazy clouds and quickly changing autumn leaves. Perfect for the approach of Halloween and a discussion of the end of the world. As I wrote recently in my book blog, I have been reading a lot of post-apocalyptic literature lately and Station Eleven was by far my favorite, and one which generates a lot of discussion, as I discussed here. When I heard that Emily St. John Mandel herself would be in Stillwater to talk about it, I was there! Listening to her discuss her writing process and reasons behind writing about this topic was inspiring. Why are people so interested in stories of the end of the world? Some of the theories Mandel has heard include the continued reality of economic inequality, divorce, or a longing for redemption. For us impermament beings, perhaps, it just feels like this “fraught world we lie in always seems like its ending.”


She chose to write of the world after the Georgian Flu and the end of the modern world in order to reflect upon her sense of awe at this world we live in, one in which we can talk to people on the other side of the globe instantaneously and travel there in a matter of hours. For a lot of people, myself included, much of this world seems so precarious, yet of course we always take it for granted the internet will still be working in the morning. As Mandel said, “every season brings a new wave of absolutely disastrous narrative.” It appears that, just last week, some weirdoes were predicting that last Thursday would be, for real, judgement day. I just saw a new article discussing which American cities would be totally underwater in a century or so. Whatever your background or belief system, it seems that the end of the world is a perennial interest of many of us; I know that I find myself pondering what the coming years will bring.


In Station Eleven, the cause of the collapse of the age of electricity is the Georgian Flu, a virulent epidemic that kills an estimated 99% of the population. Mendel said she chose an epidemic due to the apolitical, timeless nature of the threat- unlike a nuclear war, the political climate will not become dated. Plagues and epidemics are among the scariest threats, like earthquakes, it is not a matter of if, but when. People might dress themselves as the walking dead and drink a lot, as in the upcoming Zombie Pub Crawl this weekend, but the fear remains- not of zombies, but of germs.  

One of the things that I liked most about Station Eleven is its realism, but also its hope, whatever comes, humans will survive, and more than survive. The novel’s arc words, “Survival is insufficient,” reflect this, as the members of the Traveling Symphony continue to travel the Great Lakes region performing Shakespeare. As a librarian, this is always the crux of my thoughts; how will we keep up, preserve, the cultural, artistic, and scientific achievements of this and earlier ages? Throughout Station Eleven, aside from the works of Shakespeare, one of the leading remains of our world that reminded was the small press graphic novel of Miranda, which was read and absorbed by surviving generations in very different ways. I am sure that, in coming centuries, this confluence of the St. Croix, Minnesota, and Mississippi Rivers will continue to remain a hub of human activity, and I hope that we can make it better and continue, not just to survive, but to thrive. 


Before I left, of course, I had to purchase another of Emily St. John Mandel’s novels, which I look forward to reading soon!


Here are a novels that depict a post-apocalyptic world in the former Twin Cities; check them out at any of our local libraries! Let me know if you discover any others!



River Rats, Caroline Stevermer, 1992– a young adult novel set after a nuclear war, following a group of young traveling musicians as they travel up and down the Mississippi. The silent and empty ruins of Minneapolis and St. Paul are among the most haunting portions of the novel.


Bone Dance, Emma Bull, 1991 – An interesting cyber punk, post-apocalyptic urban fantasy (how often do you see one of those, especially in Minnesota?), Bone Dance doesn’t go right out a say it is set about a century after a nuclear war devastated North America, but there are plenty of hints to show where it is, including a climatic scene in the remains of the IDS Tower.


Minnesota Cold, Cynthia Kraack, 2009– This interesting novel depicts Minnesota after an another nuclear event, as an orderly but tyrannical rogue state, which I can describe only as North Korea as run by Target. It is interesting that I can still recognize aspects of the state in the author’s descriptions.


Cifiscape Vol. 1, The Twin Cities– This intriguing anthology of local speculative fiction has a post-apocalyptic bent. Most of the short stories and comics collected here depict the Twin Cities after some kind of collapse or dystopia. The cover image, from Ken Avidor’s Bicyclopolis is one of the most atmospheric images of an apocalyptic Twin Cities I’ve seen.

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text 2014-02-26 15:00
The Anxiety of the Future
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Pirate Cinema - Cory Doctorow
Tribes: The Dog Years - Iñaki Miranda,Michael Geszel
Metatropolis Erzählungen - John Scalzi,Bernhard Kempen
Oryx and Crake - Campbell Scott,Margaret Atwood
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
Adventure Time Vol. 1 - Branden Lamb,Shelli Paroline,Ryan North
The Year of the Flood - Bernadette Dunne,Mark Bramhall,Katie MacNichol,Margaret Atwood
River Rats - Caroline Stevermer,Frances Collin


Early in the year, I often spend time looking back over the last, at all the events that occurred since the previous January, and look forward to all the things that could happen in the coming months, both in my own life and across the world.  Reflecting on the successes and failures of the last year, trying to learn from mistakes and continue doing what works while interpolating how these changes might affect the future are constant obsessions for many people, though it is true that humans can only really exist in the present. Thinking about this, one can feel a little wistful about the future. The past and the future are such preoccupations, the future after all is the present that will be lived later. If this is true of one’s own personal concerns, how much more compelling are conceptions of where the entirety of human society will end up?


Things are getting better, right? No, maybe they’re getting worse by the day. Are we talking about technology? Maybe this will be the year bionic organs will improve quality of life for thousands. Or, are we talking about the environment? Which major city will be impacted by a hurricane or typhoon bolstered by erratic global temperatures and rising sea levels this year, or be effected by corporate corruption? How about world politics? Maybe Minnesota will finally allow the selling of beer on Sundays or will the internet finally be reigned in by corporations. That was why for January 2014, I focused on novels dealing with an apocalyptic or dystopian near-futures. 


It was definitely interesting comparing and contrasting the similar and opposing themes of these various depictions of the near (or far) future, of what will happens to the cities and landscapes of the modern human habitat; the environmental collapse and scientific chaos of Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam series, the collapsing world held together by digital paradise of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, the ripped from tomorrow’s headline copyright thrills of Cory Doctorow’s Pirate Cinema, the fully realized near future cities of METAtropolis. From the traditional “after the bomb” depictions of Caroline Stevermer’s River Rats to the anarchic, childlike nostalgia of Adventure Time. In the end, they all draw upon current trends and themes, and offer some ideas of what life will be like in the future.


While the quality of the tales in the anthology METAtropolis: the Dawn of Uncivilization varied a little in my opinion, they were diverse enough in their depictions of a post-peak oil world that they are a good place to start in discussing writer's ideas of the future of cities. Neither entirely post-apocalyptic or totally dystopian, the shared world presented by the authors here seems a realistic, if worrying, picture of our coming decades.  In a lot of ways, indeed, METAtropolis set the stage for the other tales I would read over the month as the roles of the environment, powerful corporations, digital worlds, and sustainability of human systems are examined. All of these topics would come to be explored in greater detail in the coming novels I read throughout the month. From Portland, to Detroit, to St. Louis, the future of these cities are very interesting. 


The world depicted in Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, both the corrupt near-future and the post plague apocalypse was by turns bleak and fascinating. I only recently first read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and was very impressed with her ability to convey the bleakness of a setting while exploring the everyday lives of the characters that live there, and this continues into the first two novels of her MaddAddam trilogy. When Snowman, Amanda, Toby, Ren, and other characters grew up, it seems that all moral and ethical concerns had been disregarded by the elite, and corporations turned DNA, the basis of life itself, into profit, not only creating such hybrids as pigoons and wolvogs but using entire populations as unwilling subjects, and forcing them to pay for the privilege. Hmm, sounds familiar. As was warned by such eco-religious groups as the God's Gardners that such decadence was unsustainable, as is warned today, the majority of humanity were killed off by Crake's culling pestilence. Created to clear off the world for his genetically engineered "perfect" humans, the Crakers, it almost comes as a relief. Still, the survivors are attempting to rebuild, and the philosophies of both the innocent Crakers and the spiritual but practical God's Gardeners was among the most interesting parts of these books for me.  


Corporate tyranny and technology also plays a major role in Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema and Ernest Cline's Ready Player One, though instead of biotech and genetic engineering, here we see the effects of revolutions in communication technology. Pirate Cinema was by far the least "futuristic" of the novels I read in January, only debate-ably counting as a dystopia, though this also made it the most realistic, and in some ways, worrying of them. In a United Kingdom in which copyright is ruthlessly enforced by a government chained to international conglomerates, freedom is curtailed and creativity stifled, but it takes determined and passionate action to stem this tide. The protagonist, Cecil, an average kid from Northern England undergoes among the most compelling personal transformations I read, from an apolitical movie-loving kid to a committed movie-loving activist. 


Ready Player One, on the other hand, could almost be set in the same world as Oryx and Crake, though focused, like Pirate Cinema, on information technology rather than biological control. Still, the 2044 world inhabited by young Wade is a bleak, depressed shadow of the modern world in which the poor (almost everyone) gather on the edges of major cities in tottering piles of trailer homes and travel becomes out of the reach of many as infrastructure rots and government stagnates. Only an open source virtual reality universe, OASIS, in which people can go to school, work, shop, and play continues to bind civilization, and it is no wonder that so much of this world is built from nostalgia. The creator of OASIS hid easter eggs in his world, based on his love of the culture of his childhood, the 1980s, which would pass along his company and fortune to any who find them. Wade, of course, becomes involved but also the world's major communication corp, willing to do anything to control OASIS as they control what remains of the "real world."  


This feeling of nostalgia, looking back at when things were good in youth is a thing even without an apocalypse. This is particularly true of the most unusual book I read for this theme, the Adventure Time: Volume I graphic novel, written by Ryan North and Branden Lamb, and illustrated by Shelli Paroline. While a particularly genre defying, humorous comic drawing deeply from the quirky television show, the setting of a post-apocalyptic world hundreds of years after a "Mushroom War" which returned magic to the world, is quite evident. Even with the rainicorns and candy people, there are melancholic feelings beneath the surreal cuteness. As show creator Pendleton Ward stated in an interview, his favorite emotion was "to feel happy and sad at the same time," an idea which comes out both in the show and the comic and in many of these explorations of the future. Things rarely turn out as expected and even if changes are good, the familiarity of the past is gone forever. Adventure Time definitely draws from a lot of the same influences as Ready Player One, I feel, '80s video games and RPGs, pop culture and general childhood exuberance that makes it attractive to both kids and adults. Even its nuclear holocaust brings to mind the apocalyptic fears of the '80s. 


Speaking of nostalgia, a man-made apocalypse due to a war or attack that collapsed all of society into a pre-modern world is still one of the most common tropes of what the near future will be like, though fading a little since the end of the Cold War. The lone survivor walking through a wasteland of ruined buildings and mutants, fighting to survive and scavenging old tech remains a standard trope. Tribes: The Dog Years provides a particularly stereotypical example of the genre, with little to differentiate it from any number of wasteland epics. River Rats was a much more interesting, if also flawed, exploration of a post nuclear Minnesota in which the crew of an improvised river boat on the Mississippi get involved in a quest for a hidden cash of weapons. Both, interestingly, involve adolescents as the main protagonists; in fact, the protagonists of many of these stories, even those not intended for a juvenile audience, are quite young. Could this be because it is the young who will, in their lives, be likely to have to deal with these problems and disasters? 


This also highlights another interesting theme that appeared several times in these works; the inclusion of games as a counterpoint to the great game of the end of the world. This was a main theme in Ready Player One of course, but also appeared prominently in Oryx and Crake, with the MaddAddam resistance drawing its membership from "Extinctathon," an online game. One of the main survivors of the apocalypse in Adventure Time is a sentient GameBoy and in Karl Schroeder's story in METAtropolis. "To Hie from Far Cilenia", online games are creating entire sustainable societies. Some thought provoking stuff, but I think I will leave off January's reading theme on this note, though I will drop in the Decemberist's "Calamity Song," from the record The King is Dead, which sums up these themes very well.





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review 2013-10-28 00:00
The Grand Tour
The Grand Tour - Patricia C. Wrede,Caroline Stevermer 2.5 stars.

I think the letter device worked better with the two of them on separate adventures - having Kate and Cecy directly corresponding was more fun and personal. In this one it felt more imbalanced, since Kate had a personal journal where she tended to talk about intimate moments with Thomas, and Cecy had a deposition. The plot dragged, not really picking up until the end, and I feel like both the cousins' relationship and the romantic relationships fared better in the first book.
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review 2013-10-23 00:00
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede,Caroline Stevermer This is just really good fun - I found it recommended on a "If you like Gail Carriger..." list and while it's YA (i.e. no sex *g*), it has a similar sense of whimsy and plays very amusingly with Regency clichés (only with a magical twist). I also quite enjoyed the epistolary style, as the whole novel is composed of letters between cousins and best friends Cecelia and Kate.
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