Blogging My Way to Bordertown: Part II

Blogging My Way to Bordertown: Part II

bgbordertownAt work today, the Internet failed. A monstrous failure. A failure that neither Nancy the Techie from Never-Never or Nice Mike from St. Louis could fix for me. Something about reconfiguring a router. All sorts of passwords I didn’t have access to. Cords everywhere.

And I thought to myself, “I know why this is happening. It’s happening because I just read Cory Doctorow’s story ‘Shannon’s Law’ in Welcome to Bordertown.”

That too, was full of things I didn’t understand. Binary and BINGO, routers and nodes, carrier pigeons and calligraphy, systems and bytes and packets, oh my!

Now, I’m a reasonable creature. Last time it was gnomes. This time, the Internet crashes. I can deal. It’s all coincidence, right? Synchronicity?

Anyway, I really liked the Cory Doctorow story, despite feeling like an idiot while I read it. I’d never read one before — a Doctorow story, that is — although I have heard the Zeitgeist speak his name (about a bazillion times), and maybe read an article or three by him on Boing-Boing (which always gives me an almost knee-jerk reaction of BOINGyness).

Despite getting my dizzy on from all his techie terms (as I again did later in the day at work, during the good three hours I spent with tech support on the phone), what I did understand was that the protagonist dude Shannon is formidable and funny, the green-haired girl Jetfuel is uber-delish, and the Trueblood Synack is an unsolvable mystery. There is also a really great line about truthiness, “in the neighborhood of true,” which cracked me up.

bgriddlemasterAfter that I bumped into a McKillip poem. Hey, I didn’t know she wrote poetry! Not surprised, of course. I’ve read the Riddlemaster Trilogy and Winter Rose so many times, I may as well get “Deth the Harpist” tattooed on my left hand knuckles and “I <3 Corbet Lynn” on my right. The poem at first seems a take on “The Two Sisters” but then twists off in its own direction. I think I need to read it again, because I kept getting confused as to which sister was which. (Was witch?) I liked that, in the end, it really was about the two of them, and not about the love interest.

The next page was a Cat Valente story, “A Voice Like a Hole.” Would you believe I’d forgotten she was in this? It’s been so long since I actually looked at the table of contents, that I keep turning pages and getting surprises. I know Bordertown is often about runaways. What’s startling about this story is that most of it doesn’t take place in Bordertown at all. It’s a runaway’s runaway story. Every paragraph is a beautiful paper cut, but the overall tone is more wry than wounded. There’s a pared-down sumptuousness here, a clarity and sharpness that drives the story forward. It seems more like a memoir than your average fantastical first person narrative. Plus, unicorns.

There is a paragraph in Valente’s “Voice” that stopped me dead, because I recognized it. I’d never read it before, but I knew it, because I’d read Amal El-Mohtar‘s song “Stairs in Her Hair” in its drafts last year (and also, it’s on my iTunes, with Amal singing it, lovely alto critter that she is), and it references that paragraph! Maybe I’d been told before that this was all on purpose — indeed, was perhaps the whole purpose — but I sure as heck didn’t retain that info. Sure enough, no sooner did Valente’s “Voice” end, but Amal’s song began — in what I believe to be some seamless editing awesomeness. It made me think that, Ah, yes, I should really start to pay attention to the poetic interludes as separator beads in this gorgeous strand of Bordertown tales. I have no distance from an El-Mohtar rhyme, so I can’t tell if it’s good or not.

…Of course it is. Duh.

bgfreedomWhat came next? Oh! Emma Bull’s “Incunabulum.” Oh, man, Emma Bull. Did you know that she co-wrote with Steven Brust the book that’s in my Top Ten? A for-true Top Ten, not just me spouting off a list of Favorites a mile long, as I’m wont to do. (Okay, so a whole series — like Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond books — only counts as one book in my Top Ten, but still!)

Bull and Brust wrote Freedom and Necessity, and for that alone I would read anything of theirs that tumbles into my lap. Bull also wrote the very cool War for the Oaks, and Finder, and Territory, but I have to say I haven’t read much of her short fiction. You know what my problem with short fiction is? You fall in love with all these CHARACTERS and you wish you could just spend more TIME with them is all! The painter-witch! The Maybe-Not-Blank Page! The peddler! Come ON! No sooner do you shake hands with these folks but they’ve gone ’round a bend of Bordertown and you’re off to the next adventure.

And speaking of Steven Brust, looky who follows up “Incunabulum.” I shoulda known. Here’s a stanza to shiver your timbers:

“Hear my drum, it makes a din

Run back across the border

It’s made out of your brother’s skin

Run back across the border.”

And then came “A Prince of Thirteen Days” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, who is a totally new author to me, and very delightful. I don’t know what’s so sexy about waking up statues, but it was good enough for Pygmalion, and it’s good enough for me, and Johnson handles the olden concept with aplomb and sass. I have to say I liked Rabbit the best and hope to meet her again sometime.

bgnevernever1Will Shetterly’s “The Sages of Elsewhere” was dang good fun. I can’t remember if I’ve met the Wolfboy before. I didn’t think I had, and then I thought I did, and now I can’t decide. It was very much like meeting an old friend, but only after a few pages, and neither of you are sure you know each other, until you both happen to mention growing up in a certain neighborhood, and going to the same school, etc. The great thing about this one? Is that apparently there are WHOLE NOVELS about these particular characters, and you know what? I NOW OWN THEM! Mwahahahaha-ha-ha! Also? I want a book that purrs.

“Soulja Grrrl” by Jane Yolen is next, and it’s a rap. I admit, I can’t rap readily in my own head (other than “The Witch’s Rap” from Into the Woods), but this one did compel me to mouth the lines out loud, and it was so fabulous and tricksome that I recommend everyone who reads it do the same.

“She’s got sharp claws and sharper jaws and always wears fey green:

A juggernaut, a cougar, and a diva-drama queen.”


Janni Lee Simner’s “Crossings” was creepy — I’d never encountered a Lankin before — and there was a tidy tie-in scene with Yolen’s rap. The neat thing about this story was that it was a friendship story — not a love story like many, many of the Borderland tales are. I’ve got nothing against a good love story, but I’m more than halfway through the book now, and I noticed the trend is mighty strong. I found myself wondering if romance was suggested in the guidelines or if it was just in the air for the Bordertown authors. More power to ’em, I say. After all, as Simner writes: “We’d come here looking for true love.” Mostly people seem to find it, in Bordertown.

bgmeconisSuddenly, in the midst of everything, a COMIC! How cool is that? Another runaway, searching-for-lost-family, finding-true-love (or at least an interesting hook-up) story, but how fascinating to let the brain switch over and visualize someone else’s conception of Bordertown! I’d never heard of either Sara Ryan or Dylan Meconis, but that’s my ignorance rearing its empty head, and even it knows that these two women make a whiz-bang team!

This, followed by another Yolen song… Ooh, and it’s one of those spine-tinglers, those baby-bashing lullabies, those “Hush, you, or else” songs! Check it:

“Hushabye moaner, I’ll give you a sweet.

If you cannot be still, we’ll be out on the street.

I’ll sell you for pennies to change into meat.


“Our Stars, Our Selves” by Tim Pratt comes next. And now I can’t remember if I’ve read a Tim Pratt short story. No, I am almost entirely certain I have. This one was very good-humored, with a kickass rockstar chick at center, and a hilariously pathetic Gancanaugh, or “love-talker”, at periphery. A love-talker is a brand of elf which the rockstar chick, Allie Land, describes as basically, “a walking, talking, date-rape drug.” Allie’s all piss, vinegar and starfire and the best thing about her is that she’s not in love with anything but her guitar and the places it’ll take her. Cool.

There was a twist about halfway into “Elf Blood” that I had not expected, and even having had clues dropped in a previous short story, I still couldn’t predict it. I liked Annette Curtis Klause‘s defiant, lost Lizzie, and I liked her Reader Elf, too, whose mystery I badly want to know, and I just — just –!!! (At this rate, I’ll never make a concise reviewer, or one, apparently, who can finish her sentences. Le sigh.)

bgnaloI just now finished “Ours in the Prettiest” by Nalo Hopkinson. Don’t make fun of me — I’m cringing– but I know this is my first Hopkinson. Bad Cooney! No cookie! I know it because although I saw this author at WisCon last year and heard her speak and admired her, I also had no idea what anyone was talking about when they discussed her writing. My loss! Because, really. The language! The richness, the imagination and sequins and anisette, the sentence structures, the tenderness and complexity, and — HOLY GREEN BANANAS — the Jou’vert Dance! Me, I want to dance that! Meeee! In the street! With JuJu Weather a-comin’! “En bataille-là” indeed!

I wrapped up my evening’s reading with Delia Sherman’s “The Wall.” “I record them all. It’s what I do.” You and me both, Lady.

How satisfying to know I still have 118 pages left to read. Stay tuned for yet another Bordertown Blog, which’ll probably take us through the end. At about that time, I’ll probably be turning thrice widdershins in a deserted road with a rowan twig in my hair. Don’t mind me. I’m just passing through.

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Amal El-Mohtar

I love reading about your reading, dear lady!

So, fun thing about Cat’s story and my poem; the poem lines actually came first. I told Cat that the song in my head began “There is a girl with a stair in her hair,” because of this image by Rima Staines that I adore, and Cat said OMG that works with what I want to write because the girl in my story measures the distance from home by the length of her in-growing roots, staggered like stairs, and we went on from there. I changed stanzas to more closely match up with bits from Fig’s story as Cat wrote it and as I got crit from Ellen and Holly. Collaborations are love. 🙂

Amal El-Mohtar

I do not! But I have given it as a gift many times over, for it is so, so gorgeous. 🙂


Sounds like a great collection so far–that Nalo Hopkinson story in particular I’m curious about.

Sarah Avery

Alas, proper rowan twigs are surprisingly hard to come by. Rowan’s not indigenous to North America, though the Mountain Ash is reasonably close. If you really need a true rowan twig, your best bet is to phone all the botanical gardens in your area. Don’t mention that you need a twig! You just want to look, you’ll say, for research. Most of the botanical gardens will not have rowan trees, so be prepared to drive a considerable distance to the one that’s got a stand of them. Find a wind-fallen twig, if you can. Above all, be courteous to the tree.

Don’t ask me how I know.

Terri Windling

…Or I could just send you one. There are many rowan trees here on Dartmoor (in southwest England), including one in my back yard.

Thanks for the very lovely review.

Sarah Avery

One of the Yule traditions in my branch of Wicca is to burn a tiny bit of each of nine kinds of tree named in a folk rhyme. It’s a tradition of very dubious historicity, but however we got it, it’s ours now. Some of the nine woods are easy to get twigs of, but rowan is a headache every year. Inevitably, with less than a week to go before the holiday, whoever is hosting Yule ends up phoning, emailing, and facebooking frantically about, to make sure all nine woods are covered. More than once, we’ve made do with mountain ash.

If I ever write a Yule story in my Rugosa Coven series, the nine woods will be more running gag than deep magic, because that’s just the way it really plays out.

Our other Yule tradition gone awry inspired this annual safety tip, which I will pass along to you because you seem like the kind of girl who would favor combustible desserts.

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