Kitten Report #12: A new decade [photos]

Charlie and George have torn into the New Year and new decade with enthusiasm. They are still growing like magic beans. George is massive; Charlie seems tiny in comparison, but he weighs 7 lbs 10 oz—above average, apparently, for a cat his age: eight months. My guess is that George is now about 10 lbs, which is more than our last male cat, even in his prime, and it’s not fat. He’s going to be a giant, I think. You can see from this picture just how big he’s getting. Kelley has amazingly large hands but he makes them look small.

Large tabby cat sitting on a lap, head tipped back in bliss

George blisses out

The reason we know Charlie’s exact weight is that we had to take him to the vet. He has some symptoms—snoring, a huffing grunt when he exerts himself, and excessive swallowing—that reminded me of when he was developing his polyp. The vet, however, thinks it may be a reoccurrence of the kitty herpes virus that leads to cold-like symptoms and upper respiratory inflammation—which is what leads to the development of polyps, but doesn’t mean he has a polyp yet. So we’re giving him prophylactic antibiotics, keeping a close eye on him, and crossing our fingers. Other than the symptoms above he is in fine fettle. As you can see by this photo, his build is quite different to George’s.

Young, slim tabby cat standing on a table

Some days Charlie looks more like a civet than an American tabby

At eight months Charlie and George are, in human terms, about eight years old. That is, they can make basic sense of the world because they’ve seen a lot of it before but, oh, there is so very much still to see for the first time. Like snow. We all woke up on Monday morning to this:

Early morning snow covering a back deck, and benches, and fences, and hedges, and trees...

And over the next few hours the kitties were fascinated by snowfall. They had no idea what it was, but George was mesmerised by the falling flakes; Charlie was mesmerised watching George watch the flakes; and I was mesmerised watching Charlie being mesmerised by George being mesmerised. It all got very meta.

Photo of two cats. One in the foreground watching one in the background who is watching snow fall outside the window.

Charlie is mesmerised by George being mesmerised by falling snow

Tabby cat staring directly into the camera with another tabby in the background

Charlie is mesmerised by me being mesmerised by Charlie being mesmerised by George being mesmerised by falling snow…

Tabby cat falling asleep on a kitty condo facing the window

Eventually George mesmerised himself to sleep

Eventually they got bored and fell asleep. George is doing this a lot, with a particular fondness for being on his back with his legs in the air. And he looks so blissed out it’s almost as mesmerising watching him sleep as it was to watch him watching the snow.

Big tabby cat lying on his back with back feet perpendicular to the back of the sofa and head hanging off the front edge of the seat

George measures the sofa in his sleep

Tabby cat lying on his back partly on a kitty condo and partly the oak desk next to it

George is getting way, way too big for that condo

Large tabby cat lying on his back on a green blanket

George finds his bliss, again

Once the snow was gone, the cedar waxwings came back and they were then mesmerised by the flock.

One cat sits on a desk by the window to eatch birds while another cat watches from his kitty condo

They want those cedar waxwings

Tabby cat stretching to the window, yearing for birds, while another tabby cat plays with the first cat's tail

Charlie *really* wants those waxwings. George really wants Charlie’s tail.

You can’t really tell from these photos but Charlie’s coat is quite different to George’s. George is a classic American Shorthair, but Charlie, well, Charlie isn’t.

Tabby cat on a lap with luxuriant white whiskers and thick fur

Charlie has a lot of fur

Beautiful soft-furred tabby sitting on an oak desk and staring straight into the camera

Which can make him look deceptively soft and sweet

You can see the difference a bit better in these two photos of their faces

Closeup of tabby cats soft furry face

Charlie has thick, soft clouds of fur

Tabby cat peers over the top of a closed trunk

George’s fur is short and sleek

Charlie is being particularly active at the moment, leaping on everything, balancing—and sometimes not—on everything, and jumping off from there.

Tabby cat balancing on the back of a wood chair

Charlie want to be one of the flying Wallendas

He’s taken to striking a Monarch of the Glen pose, standing on the kitchen table with his front paws on the back of a kitchen chair and looking tall and noble. But I’m never fast enough to catch that pic. Here’s he’s just coming down from it.

Tabby cat standing with his hinds legs on a table and front legs on the back of a wooden chair

Charlie wants to be the king

But mainly, well, they’re cats; they sleep. The other day George spent hours sleeping on my desk, moving only to turn and sleep in the other direction as the afternoon drew on to twilight.

Tabby cat asleep on cat bed on a desk between keyboard and screen

George sleeps as I work

Tabby cat still sleeps on a cat bed between keyboard and display as the afternoon darkens

The rain pours down outside, I work, George sleeps on…

They’re cats, they sleep a lot. And they’re brothers, they sleep together when there’s room.

Two tabby cats sleeping back to back on a blue throw

Back to back is good, as long as Charlie’s in front

And although George is so much bigger, it’s still Charlie who always takes point and sleeps in front of his brother, protecting him from the world.

Two tabby cats spooning on a blue throw

Charlie takes point, as always, even in spooning bliss

So bottom line: the cats are happy, and growing, and getting on well with each other. Over the next decade there will, no doubt, be much mis/adventure and mischief to come. When anything interesting happens I’ll post about it. Meanwhile, feel free to go reread previous kitten reports.

2010-2019: a decade in review [photos, links]

Two tabby cats with their backs to the camera facing a hearth, watching the flames. the larger cat on the right (George), has his kitty arm around his smaller brother (Charlie). They look as though they are feeling the poignancy of the moment.

Most of the links below are to my own blog posts. But some are to images, and one or two link out. Some of the years have round-up posts, some do not.


This will be a long post: ten years is a long time; a lot has happened; and the world has changed a fair bit. Of course, it had been changing rapidly in the previous decade.

By the time the Great Recession began in 2007 (or 2008, depending on how you squint), I had seen the way publishing was going for midlist writers and decided to change direction: I let go of my old agent, but instead of getting a new one and selling a book on chapter and outlines, I began to work on the book that would become Hild. But I knew I would not make any money from it for years. At the start of the new decade the effects of the recessions were still very much with us. It was almost impossible for freelancers to make money. Kelley and I launched Sterling Editing, and helped those writers who had actual jobs and health insurance to make their work better. We also picked up a variety of freelance and consulting work where were could: we built websites, we taught, we advised corporate executives about their online presence. What money we did make almost all went on healthcare: our annual out-of-pocket medical expenses until just last year averaged about $35,000. It was a very hard time for us, and for many people we knew. I lay awake more than once worrying we would end up living in a paper bag under the overpass eating cat food.

In the last year of the last decade, and this first year of this, I was also spending a massive amount of time working with a non-profit organisation that was going through the dangerous transition from founder-led to semi-professional. I believe that at one point it came very close to collapse, but it is now thriving. It was brutally hard work, and unpaid, but not a decision I regret.

The social media revolution of the beginning of the 21st century began to accelerate. In 2008 I moved my old-fashioned website’s Ask Nicola feature to a standalone blog, Ask Nicola, (still up, because I still haven’t got around to linking everything on the ‘new’ site)—where in the first five years I averaged 330 posts a year. The Yahoo Group I’d started in 1999 began to fade. I joined Twitter. I launched a YouTube channel. And of course, like half the rest of the world, I joined Facebook—not sure when, exactly, but I’ve never liked it that much as a platform; it feels sorta pushy and intrusive. I do, however, like Instagram—though a bit less than I did since FB fucked with the feed order and gave us no way to customise it. There’s also LinkedIn, both for me, and for Aud Torvingen, who has a surprising number of connections. Social media really changed the nature of this blog. I’m okay with that. I find that I use it now not only to communicate via slightly longer-form pieces but to archive meaningful personal and career moments.


So. This was the year that the VIDA Count began, that the first Uber customer hailed a ride, and SpaceX was the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft. Additive (3D) printing was about to take off. Book world was still clinging to the 20th century. Publishers like Macmillan still thought they could stand up to Amazon (they couldn’t). Digital book sales were beginning to eat into print sales—though the most popular e-reader, the Kindle, was itself only one step beyond that first primitive, pointy trapezoidal thing with no back light; the Paper White didn’t come out til 2012. Borders was still around. B&N was still regarded as the Great Satan by independent booksellers, and indie bookseller were in a parlous state. Self-publishing was beginning to look like a thing. Audible was in its infancy and had been owned by Amazon only 2 years, and ACX was still a gleam in some executive’s eye. Book publishers began to merge. Many bookstores closed; Borders is running its digital sales through Amazon—everyone with two brain cells to rub together can see where that will end.  Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy. Not coincidentally, this is the year that Netflix streaming app became available for iOS, Wii, and smart TVs. At this stage, for most people ‘bingeing’ was a word associated with gluttons and alcoholics.

In 2010, I turned 50, just nine days after Kelley. We held a 10-day birthday jubilee. My liver shrivelled a bit, but it was worth it. In 2010 I was still doing yoga but later that year I moved to sabre. Given that sabres were originally used as a cavalry weapon, it seemed ideal to use sitting down.

Two fencers, one in black one in white, crossing sabres

I taught a fair bit, including Lambda Literary’s emerging voices workshop. For the first time my fiction was nominated for a Hugo Award—for the first short-fiction I’d written in a decade—and I decide I am GOD.

Round-up post 2010.


At the beginning of 2011 I did not yet own an iPhone or an iPad but bought an iPod Touch which used what I affectionately referred to as Crapcam, which took lovely, gauzy-looking photos that hid a multitude of sins.

A while later I bought my first iPhone 4S, and I was amazed by Siri. Borders filed for bankruptcy. Games of Thrones debuted and I was struck by the serious lack of imagination of the show-runners when it came to cod-medieval fantasy sex. During this period I wrote several of the posts that are perennial blog favourites, such as Writers Manifesto, and Lame is so gay.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. And at the end of the year the biomedical research paper I had known about for over a year, written by a friend, was finally published, announcing that MS is not, in fact, an autoimmune disease but a metabolic disorder, specifically, the result of a faulty lipid metabolism. I felt filled with hope, and in a rush of energy I inaugurated what has since become an annual tradition: blowing up the Christmas tree.


I finished Hild. The rewritten ms made an impressive stack.

My new agent sent it out to publishers. I knew it was a good book; I knew it would change things for me. When it sold to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a goodly sum, I went practically insane with joy.

A few months later I got my first (and still favourite) ukulele, Jeepster, and recorded some songs. Disabled artist Riva Lehrer came to Seattle and we collaborated on a mixed-media portrait, which turned out pretty well and in fact sold so fast I never did get to see the finished thing. Oh, well.

DADT had just been repealed, and we could all sense the winds of change blowing from the Obama Whitehouse. One of the most amazing changes was the passage of the ACA (Obamacare), signed into law March 2010 because it meant I could no longer be refused coverage for previous conditions, which widened my choices considerably. The cost did not go down, but at least it was no longer climbing 20% a year. We spent election week in Vancouver and ignored the madness; on returning to another 4 years of Obama (yay!) I made a surprising—to both me and Kelley—to become a US citizen.

This year I did two round-up posts:

Round-up post, Part One
Round-up post, Part Two


I should have known this was going to be a year like no other when, right out of the box, the pope resigned. I did author photoshoots for Hild and liked the results so much I asked the photographer to shoot me and Kelley.

Kelley and Nicola, May 2013. Photo by Jennifer Durham.

Then I became a US citizen. Then we were in New York for BEA, doing five events a day to promote the upcoming publication of Hild. I also won an award.

Just days after getting back from New York, on the silver anniversary of when Kelley and I met and fell in love—the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and paved the way for marriage equality. A month later, Kelley and I were co Guests of Honour at Westercon, where we also held a mini-reunion of Clarion class of 1988. Two months after that, on the 20th Anniversary of our first, non-legal wedding, Kelley and I got married. After many conversations, we decided we would reclaim an old and honourable word, and call each other wife.

Sepia-tone photo of two women holding hands, wearing identical wedding rings

Then Hild came out and for the rest year my life was all Hild, all the time: a national tour for the hardcover; interviews; essays; book signings. Right at the end of the year: a handshake on an amazing movie deal for Hild. Seriously—just the option money was as much as many conversion prices.

Round-up post for 2013.


This was a hard year. Apart from the crushing financial disappointment of getting the movie contract, and then the producer walking away, and constant travelling—a UK tour, followed by another US tour for the paperback—I had some awful health-related issues. You can see both encapsulated here: happiness and general delight at the world—but that arm strapping as a harbinger:

But even the hard-times were tempered by joy. I had an amazing life-changing eye procedure that meant, for the first time in my life, I didn’t need glasses: going from -17 and -16 dioptres to 20/20 vision seemed—still seems, no was—a fucking miracle. I also published another short story. It didn’t win any awards, but “Cold Wind” seemed to strike a chord among artists.

Cold Wind, by Rovina Cai.

Round-up post for 2014.


After years of complaining about the treatment of women in the literary ecosystem, and taking small steps to address that (see, for example, Taking the Russ Pledge), I finally got cross enough to put together some statistics. I wrote a blog post, Books about women don’t win big awards: some data. The world went mad. It was my first experience of a post going truly viral. It’s easily the most-read post I’ve ever written. It was read and reported on all over the world; I did dozens of interviews. A $50,000 prize was established as a result; and a Toronto Literary Festival celebrating women’s voices.

For the first time, Kelley and I spent a wedding anniversary apart, but it was for the best of reasons: Kelley was in Perth, Australia, on the set of her movie, OtherLife. And speaking of movies, with Carol the world discovered (gasp!) that people would pay actual cash money to watch women on screen.

Round-up post for 2015.


By this point I had long ago set aside my sabre; I was still occasionally doing archery but eventually it got too difficult to go pick up the arrows. At this point that I faced reality, got a wheelchair, and came out as a cripple.

Sepia-tone photo of black TiLite AeroA wheelchair with e-motion wheels

I also enrolled as a doctoral candidate at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. It was an experiment for all of us: I would do the whole thing remotely, as a reasonable accommodation. But, oh, I loved—loved, loved, loved—academic access to multiple institutions. I learnt at warp speed. A month later, we heard the results of the Brexit referendum, and I knew that night that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and perhaps even President. I was not happy.

I coined the hashtag #CripLit, and, with Alice Wong, launched #CripLit, the first Twitter chat for disabled writers. There were many other hashtags launched before and after this time, too: #BlackLivesMatter (2013), #OwnVoices (2015), and #MeToo (in 2017, though the phrase had been used since 2006 by Tarana Burke). By the end of 2016 we needed them more than ever. I’m not going to dwell on the last three years of politics, though, because it’s just too fucking hard. If you want my opinion, you can read blog posts such as Punching nazis, How to defeat an autocrat, and Passport to a perilous future. This was a time where, in the US and UK and many other places, we saw the resurgence of autocracy and kleptocracy, voter suppression and the subversion of legal and legislative process. I argued myself hoarse with many US citizens that a nation’s institutions are only as strong as the ethics of those elected to uphold them.


After I wrote the first draft of my PhD thesis, I wrote the first draft of So Lucky. Then I submitted my thesis. Then I rewrote So Lucky and sold it to Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Then I defended my PhD thesis and become Doctor Griffith.

Another big triumph this year: I finally managed to revert the rights to all three Aud novels. Oh, that made me happy! I also learnt how to travel with my wheelchair: we went to San Diego for the North American premiere of OtherLife. It’s currently streaming on Netflix; go watch it.

We had had a few erratic years, but financially things were a little less dire; we were getting by on our writing and freelance consulting incomes—Kelley was bringing in the lion’s share—keeping our heads above water, though sometimes only just. But it was stressful, and Kelley was juggling entirely too much. And politically and economically we were beginning to wonder if we could stay in Seattle, or even the US. This year I felt so unsettled I couldn’t bear the idea of blowing up the tree, so made reindeer dance instead.

One ray of hope in an otherwise relentless depressing political and cultural year, Get Out made money at the box office.


Ursula Le Guin died. She was a friend—we’d had her to the house, been out for dinner many times—but not one of our very closest friends, so I was astonished at just how hard her death hit me. Perhaps it was because this was a time when we most needed her voice. I was still feeling it when I narrated the So Lucky audiobook the following month. But I focused.

“Yes?” In which I am *focused*…

Surprisingly, I was still feeling Ursula’s loss when So Lucky came out. Sadly, though, I was not a bit surprised at some of the ableist crap apparent in the reviews I got for that book.

In June it was the 30th anniversary of meeting Kelley, and I put together 30 Years: a love story in photos. I wrote a short story, “Glimmer,” and posted it on my website as a free audio download. I began to write nonfiction about disability, including for the New York Times. I was beginning to think: We can do this. Plus, the world was making great strides in movie representation terms. Black Panther, Wonder Woman, and Crazy Rich Asians were all hits.

We were still skating from precarious contract to precarious contract, though, and nothing seemed to be changing except our expenses, which were growing—it’s not cheap being a cripple. And we had to pay a serious chunk of change for a wheelchair-accessible van with hand controls. Thisput us at our absolute limit, and maybe a bit beyond, and then we found out that a contract Kelley had been relying on the for first quarter 2019 could not, in fact, be relied upon. We were facing a black hole with no solution in sight. In middle of numb, blank despair, just two days before Christmas, Kelley was offered a full-time, permanent job. Health benefits! Social security payments! Tax relief! Paid time off! It was a Christmas miracle. This year I blew things up with enthusiasm, and we had a lovely holiday and New Year.

Round-up post 2018.


This year has felt like a surreal mirror-image of the future I imagined as a child. We don’t have flying cars, but we do have killer drones. It’s not the government who is listening to everything we say, but Big Tech; they’re watching, too. And we invited them in because we decided privacy is a reasonable sacrifice for convenience. SpaceX and Blue Origin, two companies founded and owned by billionaires, have rockets that take off and land again on their fins, just like the pulp SF of the 30s. We don’t really have working autonomous vehicles, but we do have electric cars—it’s just that if you live outside big metro areas, well, good luck recharging. We no longer have Concorde; planes go a bit slower, and are a lot more crowded. And for those of us in wheelchairs, well, access has not improved nearly as significantly as we had hoped since passage of the ADA in 1995. Having said that, many organisations are now beginning to pay attention and make at least a gesture (pitiful gestures in some cases; I’m looking at you AWP). Bookstores and libraries are most definitely paying attention except, oops, for Long Island City, New York. And the world has finally woken up to the fact of climate change (something I began worrying about in the late 80s with the discovery, and relentless growth, of the ozone hole), though of course are not doing anything about it. Perhaps they are confused by some of the extreme weather events we’re having, which are not always about being too warm: Seattle, for example, saw record-breaking snow early in the year. I do not understand why governments can’t see that the kind of grinding conflict and migration we’ve had these last ten years are a direct result of environmental degradation. Just look at history. Only this time it will be much, much worse.

However, to stay sane I’ve had to focus on things within my own personal zone of control: there’s nothing much I can do about Trump, about Brexit, about the Supreme Court and every other damn thing except vote and occasionally use this and other platforms to make my voice heard. So this year I’ve been internally focused.

Part of that internal focus is the result of dealing with so much grief. In March, my father died. Less than a week later, our oldest and best friend in Seattle, Vonda McIntyre, died (and I still haven’t been able to write anything for or about her, apart from this very short piece that came out a few days ago). Somehow, and I’m not sure how, in the following three weeks I managed to learn to drive with hand controls and pass my driving test, fly to the UK to give Dad’s eulogy and start dealing with his estate, and travelto Vancouver to give a plenary speech at IONA, a medieval conference. Not long after that, my aunt died. Grief and exhaustion overwhelmed me; I felt as though someone had stuck a blender in my brain, then poured the resulting slurry into a bucket of eels.

During this internal phase I wrote only about things close to home, for example, The gift of a negative review, and the problem with Ruined Earth novels.

And then I abruptly thought, Well, fuck it, if the world keeps trying to beat me bloody, I’ll beat it right back. I took up boxing. (I love it. If you box, come and join me at Title Boxing Club—fully accessible—in Greenwood any time.)

Secure in the knowledge of where the next mortgage payment is coming from, I got a new toy: an iPad Pro, with Pencil. I use it now for everything except long fiction: photo and video manipulation, audio recording, social media, and writing short pieces. We’ve come a long way, baby, since the beginning of the decade, and Crapcam.

This year I also made some stuff happen with my fiction, which I discuss in a writing update: Hild, Aud, Ammonite and more. I celebrated 30 years residence in the US with Kelley. I was delighted (and seriously surprised) when So Lucky won the Washington State Book Award. And perhaps most exciting, energising, and just plain lovely of all, we got kittens: Charlie and George, survivors of a litter of six.

If they could survive the horrors they were born into, and even evolve a higher consciousness, then, fuck yes, we can survive anything the next decade throws at us.

The next decade

In one decade we’ve gone from hardly anyone having a smartphone to a fully app-based society. Drones herd sheep. TV has changed forever. Bingeing is a thing. And a lot of the most popular shows are adaptations of literary properties. Publishing itself has, meanwhile, changed to the outer edge of recognisable. Today we have the Big 5 publishers, and a variety of small, specialised independents. B&N has come perilously close to closing; but the remaining indie bookstores are thriving. However, Amazon owns at least 50% of the US book market and I doubt that this will decrease anytime soon.

Tech behemoths like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook have changed our world to an astonishing degree. Let’s Amazon and its home city of Seattle as an example. Amazon has remade whole chunks of Seattle in its own image, including South Lake Union, a neighbourhood that formerly consisted of parking lots, abandoned warehouses, and cheap artists’ living and working space. (One such space, Re-Bar, is hanging on. I love that place.) In just eight years, rent-plus-utilities in Seattle have gone from around $700 a month to almost $1700 a month. Not coincidentally, homelessness here is now epidemic.

Then years ago, the protestors of Occupy were bringing attention to income inequality. What difference has it made? I believe it helped begin a trickle of change. Those protesters are now probably protesting homelessness. Or the climate crisis. Or gun violence. In a decade that saw horrors like Sandy Hook, the Parkland shootings, and the massacre in Las Vegas, there had been zero significant movement towards gun control. This year alone, as of writing this, there have been 418 mass shootings in the US. But people are talking about it. Change takes time.

This decade so many people have done so much work on so many fronts—the Women’s Marches, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, homelessness, anti-fascism (and anti-racism, and anti-white supremacy), Occupy, legalising cannabis—that it’s hard to keep track. There is so very much to do—but it does make a difference. To take just on example: popular culture. Films by and about women are beginning to make money. Women seem to own TV drama and comedy. Books by and about women, by and about women of colour, by and about queer people, are winning awards. But it just a beginning, and it’s fragile. We need more people like the judge who resigned in anger at the explicit sexism of judging.

So how will the next decade unfurl? As I’ve said before, I have no idea. All I know is: it will be nothing we expect; what will make a difference is staying alive to the possibility of change; staying open to feeling; ready and willing to assume good intent and to be kind to one another—but also ready to call bullshit in no uncertain terms. That’s my plan, anyway. My wish for you is that your New Year is exactly as exciting as you wish it to be, and you get to spend it how and with whom you like. See you on the other side.


Blog stats 2019

This post will be short and numbers based. In a couple of days I’ll publish a long, juicy post reviewing the decade.

In 2019 I published 33% less: 50 posts vs. 75 posts in 2018. The average word count of each was 630. According to WordPress, this year about 56,000 people visited the blog, a lot less than last year. I have no real idea how many people actually read each post but I suspect it’s a multiple of the WP figures: more than 2,000 people read by email, a few hundred via the WP feed, and another couple of thousand between three other platforms where the blog reposts automagically. But whichever way you slice it, the nature of this blog is changing. More thoughts on that in a few days.

Most popular

Another indication of change: not a single post written this year made the list of 10 most visited. So here are two lists:

Overall Most Visited (in descending order of popularity)

My Favourites This Year (in no particular order)

Visitors, Referrals

Like last year, readers came to the blog mainly through organic search, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, and from almost exactly the same 150+ countries as last year—still no one from Mongolia, Svalbard, or Greenland, huh—and this time, in the top 10, readers from Ireland outpaced those from New Zealand.

  • US
  • UK
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • India
  • France
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden

No predictions for the coming year because I am always—always!—wrong.

Curve of the World: Vonda N. McIntyre’s final novel

Seattle Metropolitan Magazine has an end-of-decade feature, “Washington Writers Pick Their Favorite Local Books of the Decade,” in which I talk about why, especially now, the world needs Vonda N. McIntyre’s final novel, Curve of the World.

Curve of the World by Vonda McIntyre
Vonda N. McIntyre completed her final novel, Curve of the World, in March, just two weeks before she died of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Vonda was a brilliant writer with huge talent—and an even greater heart. She believed in community and humanity’s ability to solve problems by paying attention to reality and to each other. Curve of the World is an alternate history of the ancient world, three or four thousand years ago, in which Minoans build a global trading community based on mutual obligation and a trust-but-verify approach to communication. We meet people, human and imperfect people of the steppe, Central America, the North American plains, northwest coast, plus the piratical Sea People who prey on them, and see how the Minoan credo—pay attention, communicate, tell the truth (particularly to yourself), and trust-but-verify—can build a working world in which capitalism, global trade, and fairness are not contradictions in terms. There is still conflict—war and famine, fear and hatred, love and friendship, human dignity and human slavery—because people are people, but it is a marvelous vision of how the world might have been, perhaps once was, and might, still, one day be. The world needs this novel.

The article also talks about two other books of note for SFF readers: G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair. Go read it and find out just how many amazing local author’s there are for you to explore.

Blowing up the Christmas tree

For the last nine years our household has enjoyed buying a Christmas tree, decorating it (Kelley’s work), and then blowing it up as inventively as possible (my work delight).

This year was a challenge. First of all because we now have kittens, Charlie and George. They like climbing things, batting at things, and best of all, chewing things to destruction. So we had to get a big, sturdy tree they couldn’t tip over, and we had to put it far enough away from other furniture that they couldn’t leap directly into it. No tinsel icicles for them to eat and then to trail around the house dangling from their butt. (I speak from experience.) No crunchy, tasty little incandescent lights. No glass ornaments for sleepy humans to tread on. Eventually we found enough cloth and wooden ornaments, and bought new less-chewable lights, and just nixed the tinsel. Then after trial and error we figured out what the kitty tide-line for ornaments was and hung everything above that—except the lights, which we tucked deep into the tree way from questing paws.

So now we had a tree, and we’d decorated it. Next: go to my trusty apps to find new SFX to blow up the tree. Which is where we ran into trouble.

Some of the apps I’ve used before no longer run on the updated iOS. And those apps that have updated their software have not updated their gallery of FX. But half way down the second bottle of wine that evening I thought, Ha! If Kelley can decorate a kitty-proof tree then by god I can blow it up! And, indeed, with a bit of ingenuity—combining apps, adding filters, and editing in iMovie—I came up with a few things. Only two, though, involve destroying the tree. So here, for your holiday delectation and delight, are four heart-warming Christmas scenes.

Let’s start with snow. For this first one, in which Charlie is astonished to find two snowmen in his living room, I recommend you go to fullscreen to watch his reactions.

Then, eh, because snowmen are all well and good but snowballs aren’t exactly awe-inspiring, here’s the grown-up version.

Next, although I have yet to see Rise of Skywalker, we’ll be doing that in the next couple of weeks. Here, in anticipation, is BB8 finding out you should never, ever fuck with a tree with powerful friends. (How powerful? Well, here’s another example of the tree striking back.)

And, finally: dolls. I don’t like them. The only time my parents were foolish enough to buy me a doll as a Christmas present—when I was six—I used it as a hockey stick. Nope. I really don’t like them.

For those who want to see pyrotechnics past, go watch my Blow Shit Up! channel on YouTube. You’ll find many of my favourites there: the dragon, Darth Vader, the rock, a piano, dancing reindeer… Enjoy!



The third decade of the 21st century

As a child I found the year 2000…incredible. Yes, I drew pictures of the city of the future: the domes, the flying cars, the automated travel bed (because even then I was ill a lot)—all the usual predictions. But I didn’t really believe it, didn’t deep down viscerally feel that one day I would be forty years old. Nuh-uh. Not possible. Not credible. Yet here we are, well past it. In just two weeks we’ll be starting the third decade of the 21st century. Two weeks. 2020.

I’m starting this new decade with less optimism than I’ve had since, well, ever. For one thing, I begin the new decade as an orphan. Death never entered my thinking as a child or young adult. Sure, my grandparents died but that was sort of what grandparents did, right? Get old and die. Nothing to do with me, not connected at all. I would just get taller and more autonomous; I’d zoom around in a flying car; and I’d still have four sisters, two parents, and a host of aunts and uncles. But today I have no parents, two sisters, and a single aunt.

As a child and then adolescent I also assumed (if I thought about it at all, which I rather doubt) that democracy would be strong and I’d be living in a United Kingdom that was integrated with Europe. Wrong, in a mixed way. Of course I also thought I’d be a white-coated scientist saving the world (brraaap!) or, failing that, a world-famous singer (brraaap!), or—if things went horribly wrong—an entrepreneur (brraaap, brraaap, brraaaaaap!!). Instead, I’m a novelist. So wrong, but in a good way.

Whatever I imagined as my profession, though, I assumed I’d be supremely fit, unconscionably healthy, and wildly good-looking. Well, hey, one out of three isn’t bad…

By the late 90s my thoughts about the future were a bit more complex and rather more specific. At this point I assumed as givens the continued spread of democracy, rule of law, spread of scientific thinking, and reduction in poverty. Wrong—but, again, in a mixed way. Because contrary to what most people think, globally there are fewer violent conflicts. Fewer deaths from disease and poverty. More countries than ever before are democracies. It’s true that many are far from perfect democracies, and that many countries seem to be teetering on the verge of autocracy, but, even so, for much of the world governance is better than it was. The most remarkable change has been to poverty and food security. We have an incredible set of institutions—the World Trade Organisation, the International Court of Law, etc—that actually work, mostly. Again, not perfect, but, again, so much better than anything we had before.

Which makes what is going on now more frightening: rich countries in the best place to encourage continued or, better, accelerated change for the good—such as the UK, where I was born, and the US, where I live—are, instead, beginning to dismantle, brick-by-brick, the legal and cultural institutions that made all this century’s improvements possible: a sense of fairness, the primacy of fact-based argument, the rule of law, social democracy, and a free and fair press. Of course, what led to these institutions possible in the first place was rapacious colonialism, natural resource exploitation, and the ruthless abuse of those who are not white male nondisabled straight Christians, but I had hope that the world was moving in a direction that might enable acknowledgement of and even reparations for those horrors.

I won’t rehash here ideology wars, and the anthropocenic climate change that is exacerbating them, but say only: I was abysmally wrong. And in a very unhappy way.

Another way in which I was wrong, though, is that I thought my achievements (whatever they turned out to be) were entirely my own: done without social support, without even a college degree, and with my back against the wall of a queer-hating universe. Instead, here I am, married, a dual citizen, and with a PhD that I did just because, well, it was interesting. I am delighted to be wrong about these things.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to get to is that predicting the future is a fool’s game. Sure, there are some things you can predict; you can look at corporate development pipelines (drugs, devices, renewables), demographics (birth and death rates), climate statistics, and federal appointments (young, right-wing, hardline judges) and come up with some notion of how the world might look in ten years. But mostly? Nope.

I’m smart. I read a lot. I think a lot. And I occasionally write science fiction in which I test drive future scenarios. But when people ask me to predict the next decade, I laugh. (On a good day I laugh; on a bad day I opine bitterly that the few who are left will be living in a paper bag under the broken overpass eating scavenged cat food.) Seriously, I am pitifully crap at predicting the future. The most seriously I’ve ever tried was when writing, in 1993 (published 1995), Slow River. Oh, I did get some things right: Bioremediation and the need for it (though today we’re doing much, much less than we could and we need it much, much more than we did). Data ransom. An increasing divide between rich and poor. Charity as fashion. Older people feeling like digital immigrants, strangers in their own culture. But I completely missed social media, the rise of online commerce, and the ubiquity of asomatic connectedness (for good and ill).

So the only thing I’m reasonably sure about in terms of prognostication is that in two weeks we’ll be writing ‘2020’ on our cheques. Except, oh wait, we don’t write cheques anymore. And maybe some deadly pandemic, unexpected asteroid, or nuclear holocaust—or just someone careless tripping the national grid leading to a cascade of devastating effects—could render this notion of money, or even the people who might need it, obsolete.

So, no, I’m not going to offer any predictions for the coming decade. Instead, between now and the end of the year I might write the occasional decade-in-review blog post. Meanwhile, I will tell you that I’m not actually depressed, but I am grieving: grieving the death of people I loved, grieving the dying of social democracy, and grieving the ecosystem that once was.

Helpful people often suggest that the way through grief is acceptance. What they don’t tell you (perhaps because they don’t know) that is that acceptance is usually the result of exhaustion which leads to a fragile—and temporary—peace.  Acceptance is only the first stage of recovery. Acceptance is not the place to stop. Yes, first we have to accept what is real, and where we are—we can’t afford to tell ourselves a rosy story, to hide from what’s happening—but we don’t, we do not, have to accept the inevitability of that status quo, or soldier grimly forward without hope.

So after our acceptance that Yes, this is really happening, perhaps the way forward is to be determined to improve this reality. And a vital step in that process? Don’t shut down. Keep feeling. Because if you stop feeling you’re hiding, and if you’re hiding you’ll never change anything. Thinking can come later, and then planning. But first: feel. And in that spirit, here are two of my favourite songs (at least, favourites today): one from the middle of last century, and one from the end of this decade. Enjoy. Seriously, enjoy them.


Kitten Report #11: Seven months old today [photos]

Today our rescue kitties Charlie and George, only survivors of a litter of six, are exactly seven months old. We’ve had them a little over four months. Despite being obviously brothers, they are developing very differently.

George is much more shy than his brother; his build is much heftier—wider, thicker, longer, more dense—and I’d guess he’s at least 20% taller and heavier than Charlie. Charlie, though, doesn’t seem to care; I’m not sure he’s even noticed. Despite his brain injury, and subsequent near-death and some visual impairment, he’s fearless. He’s the explorer, always the first to investigate something—the fire, the pot of boiling water, the dishwasher—the first to greet strangers and plonk himself on their lap. Loud noises don’t seem to faze him. When the vacuum cleaner comes out, he’ll follow it round trying to figure out if it’s edible. (George, on the other hand, hides under the bed.) When they sleep together, it’s Charlie who assumes the protective position; it’s Charlie who makes George lie still while he cleans his ears throughly (and chews on them for good measure). He is much finer-boned than George, smaller in every dimension. I can guarantee that he will be the first to escape outside and give us a heart attack.

But, oh how they have both grown! Here is Charlie when we first got him. And Charlie about three weeks ago. That’s exactly the same kitty condo platform in both photos.

Two photos of the same tabby kitten sitting on the same piece of furniture. On the left, he is tiny and fluffy; on the right, he is big and burly.

Charlie as a kitty lordling-in-training, and as a full-fledge condo lord.

And here are Charlie and George a couple of weeks ago:

Two tabby kittens on a kitty condo. The one on the left is posing as a sort of split-level library lion

George posing as a sort of split-level library lion because he’s getting too big for a single platform

About one minute after I took this photo from my side of the breakfast table, I got Kelley to sneak around the table, make a noise, and take a picture of them head-on. You might recognise that one. You’ll see that despite the difference in size, Charlie still gets the top spot, every time. Charlie also tends to push George off whatever lap he’s enjoying.

Here’s George yesterday. As you can see, he’s getting to be a serious armful.

Tabby cat sitting on the lap of a woman wearing a pale sweater. The cat looks big.

An armful of lapcat

Apparently, domestic short-hairs don’t even begin to approach their full size til they’re 9-12 months old, and then they grow slightly for the next six months, reaching their full growth at 18 months. So George, at exactly 7 months, is going to be big. Despite that, he’s still pushed around by Charlie but seems to take the domineering phlegmatically. He’s developing a certain savoir-faire, becoming a cat-about town:

tabby kitten in careless, lounging pose

Imagine top hat, silk scarf, and monocle

Charlie also likes playing library lion, though he prefers the leather sofa, particularly when I’ve just got up and he gets the claim the warm spot on the old, soft leather:

Tabby kitty on brown leather sofa, facing right in library lion pose

Leather library lion

Sadly, he also likes ripping up that leather:

Brown leather with a furrowed ridge clawed across it

Charlie wuz here

As well as his cat-about-town persona, George is embracing his pink and frilly side. He loves this cat bed that Kelley’s mum’s female cat, Joey, rejected:

Burly butch tabby sprawling on pink frilly cat bed

George embraces his pink and frilly side

Charlie still prefers my wheelchair as a bed, but, even better, likes to be right there, in my face, making a point—with eyes, ears, and whiskers—that I need to stop whatever I’m doing, RIGHT NOW, and make a lap:

Young tabby cat with very tall pointy ears

These ears were built for pointing, and that’s just what they’ll do…

He’s also beginning to develop a dangerous fondness for the laundry basket, particularly when it’s full of clean and just-folded clothes.

They are still developing skills. For the first time I saw George do the full and focused cat-scratch thing, and now both cats are getting agile enough that they can hang upside down from the sofa arm held only by their claws hooked into the fabric (sigh) and still leap convulsively to catch the soaring Feather in the mouth and drag it to earth. George now chitters reliably at the sight of birds; Charlie still can’t chitter, but makes a wheezing sort of churr. George is figuring out how to meow, but it’s a bizarrely high and tiny meow for such a big burly beastie. Charlie can manage a sort of bubbly meow with a deeper pitch. He has also deduced that rubbing my face, shoulders and arms madly with his cheek produces food.

They eat high-calorie, grain-free kitten food. And zero dry food (a terrible thing to feed to cats, in my opinion). My guess is they’re consuming 800 – 850 calories a day between them; surprisingly, Charlie eats as much as George. Soon I want to start introducing raw food into their diet. George won’t have a problem with that, but Charlie might: he still doesn’t seem to recognise human food. George will turn cartwheels for a tasty snippet of cooked cod or chicken or ground beef, but Charlie ignores all human food except…kale. Which he adores—as we discovered when he dragged a bunch off the counter and chewed it to bits.

Yes, they’re still chewing but much less—though we did have one scary incident last week when Charlie offered to chew my water glass. Fortunately, he hasn’t tried a repeat performance. I think their incisors, canines, and premolars are in now. I’m guessing the four molars will take a while. No doubt we’ll discover they’re erupting when they start trying to eat my phone again. Just FYI, kitty teeth are tougher than gorilla glass.

An iPhone with a tooth-mark in the corner of the screen

Kitty tooth vs gorilla glass

What comes next? Well, kitties vs. the Christmas tree. Fun ahead…