Elle is a descendant of a Chinese medicine god, living in hiding from her family, as a person of much lower magical power, turning out magical glyphs needed by agents of the agency that runs the magical side of our world. Luc is a half-elf, and one of the highest-ranking of those agents, working directly for the head of that agency. He’s figured out that her real magical power is higher than her official rating, and wants her to do all his future glyphs. There’s also the small matter of their mutual attraction, which Luc wants to keep casual, and Elle wants to pretend doesn’t exist at all. It’s too bad they both have dangerous secrets that are about to come closing in on them.
Bitter Medicine, by Mia Tsai Tachyon Press, ISBN 9781616963842, March 2023
Review by Lis Carey: Chinese traditional magic, European fae magic, and the magic of other cultures exists alongside the non-magical world.
Elle is a descendant of a Chinese medicine god. She’s got considerable magical talent, and was supposed to be a doctor.
Instead, she’s working in a magical calligraphy shop, masquerading as a person of relatively modest power and careful to do nothing that would expose the truth, making magical glyphs for agents working for the agency that runs the magical side of this world. She has a regular client, Luc, whom she tells herself she regards as only a “business friend.” It’s just impossible for her to have any deeper feelings for him, because she can’t risk exposing who she really is.
Luc is a half-elf who works directly for the head of that magical agency, as an elite enforcer, and he’s had to do some very ugly things. He also has secrets to keep, but he’s more willing than Elle to explore the attraction between them.
He has also noticed that recent work she’s done for him is better than her official magical rating says it should be, and he wants her and only her doing any future glyphs for him. He also has some special items he wants to commission from her, for a big job he has coming up.
We slowly learn that Elle is in hiding from her family, but especially from her younger brother, and hiding her older brother, who was supposed to be heir to the family’s most important magical legacy. He’s supposed to be dead. The why of this is complicated and understandably riddled with emotion, but Elle takes all the guilt on herself.
Luc is very, very good at what he does, but he’s starting to hate it. But he’s trapped, and sees no way out. He’s also terrifyingly dangerous, and at times it results in levels of violence and blood some may find uncomfortable.
But when he’s not on a job, he’s a different man. He notices a lot about Elle that she doesn’t recognize about herself. She feels responsible for taking care of everyone around her, and feels guilty and ashamed that she can’t make everything work right for everyone she feels responsible for. She doesn’t acknowledge the ways those people have contributed to the problems she’s struggling with.
Elle is stretching herself far too thin, and not taking any care of herself.
Luc is coming to a breaking point, too, though it’s a very different one.
The language here is beautiful, and the characters and the world they live in is unfolded with exquisite care. By the time we learn Luc’s secrets, we’re ready to understand them.
Other characters are also well-done. Luc’s boss, Oberon, is monstrous, but very believable. Elle’s older brother, Tony (no more his real name than Elle is hers), is utterly likable and charming, even when we recognize his role in creating the situation that may kill all of them.
All the cultures involved are treated with respect, and scattered through the book are works or phrases in the characters’ respective languages and scripts. It’s little bits, never enough to frustrate–just lending some reality to the fact that these people really do come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
I thoroughly enjoyed this.
I received an electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
(1) COULD IT BE — THE FORCE? Google “The Mandalorian.” Then look in the bottom right corner and click. (Via Steve Lee.)
(2) SF IN SF. Rebecca Gomez Farrell will be reading with Mia Tsai at the SF in SF reading series on March 25 at 6:30 p.m. Pacific. The series takes place at the American Bookbinders Museum, 355 Clementina Alley, San Francisco, All proceeds from the $10 entry fee and cash bar go to the Museum. No one will be turned away for lack of funds.
(3) EKPEKI GOH STATUS. The international Association for the Fantastic in the Arts issued an ICFA 44 Guest of Honor Update to address the change in circumstances now that their GoH Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki can’t be present in person:
The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts is honored and proud to announce that Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki will be Guest of Honor in absentia for the ICFA 44, whose theme is Afrofuturism. His recorded presentations and live-streamed commentary will be available for exclusive viewing by those in attendance at conference events.
…Spamming via contact form is way more labor intensive than just regular spam, so you’ve got to respect the commitment–though I have to say a bit more time could have been invested in proofreading. Also, is it 4 Seasons Book Awards, as in the solicitation, or Four Seasons Book Awards, as in the little medallions in the typo-ridden image at the top of this post? It’s a bit confusing, brand identity-wise….
(5) CLARION ONLINE CLASSES. Clarion West Online Spring 2023 classes include:
Occupational burnout is a phenomenon which has been only formally studied for the last 50 years, though occupational stress has existed for…longer. Though it is a commonly used term, what is burnout actually? How does it manifest, and what contributes to it? Also, how does being an independent author contribute?
Structure is so much more than a formula to be followed. It’s a set of reader expectations that are emergent from the genre, culture, and the story itself, and understanding those structures not only helps you write but it also helps ensure a satisfying reading experience.
In this workshop, we’ll venture beyond the three-act structure, discussing other established plot structures before moving on to the structures inherent in scenes and character arcs. Then we’ll explore how structure is emergent from story and learn how to identify the points in a story that set trajectories and reader expectations. Finally, we’ll put that analysis to good use with exercises to identify a scene’s structure, pick out missing structural elements, and determine how to end a troublesome scene.
Students will explore how structure works on a plot, scene, and character level, in various structures, and how to identify the moments that define a story, scene, or character arc’s structure.
(6) SFF IN TRIVIA. [Item by David Goldfarb.] Jeopardy! has a Page-a-Day calendar, featuring questions taken from the show. March 2 and 3 this year were from the category “It Takes a Villain”, from the episode airing on October 11, 2019.
March 2: $400 level (easiest tier): He says the movie line “You don’t know the power of the dark side.”
March 3: $1600 level (fourth tier): He’s the non-human villain in “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Meanwhile, LearnedLeague’s match for Friday the 3rd had one question directly about SFF, and one with an association.
Question 3 for the day: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands are the first three novels in what 4300+ page epic fantasy series?
This is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. 48% of LLamas got this right, with the most common wrong answer being Dune (6% of answers).
Question 4 was this: The keys on older typesetting machines were arranged in columns, which were sorted by the frequency with which their constituent letters were used. The second column was s h r d l u (consisting of the 7th through the 12th most frequently used letters); what six letters comprised the first column and often appeared with “shrdlu” in print due to operator error? (Note, the six letters must be in exact order.)
Answer: ETAOIN. This had only an 8% get rate! But I got it because I remembered a story by Fredric Brown about a sentient Linotype machine titled. “ETAOIN SHRDLU”.
(7) JOHN D. TEEHAN (1967-2023). Founder of the Merry Blacksmith Press, John D. Teehan, publisher of numerous science fiction, fantasy, graphic and prose novels, died February 23. From the SFWA Blog tribute —
Michael Capobianco, co-chair of the Estates-Legacy Committee and past SFWA president, remarks, “For a decade and a half, John was a major asset to SFWA. In charge of all typesetting, layout, art, and printing of the SFWA Bulletin, his professionalism helped make the Bulletin a great-looking glossy magazine.”
(8) MEMORY LANE.
1954 – [Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Our Beginning this Scroll is Fredric Brown’s Martians, Go Home, which is what I’d call a classic of the genre. (You of course are free to disagree with my claim if you so wish.)
It was first published in Astounding Science Fiction in September 1954 and then by E. P. Dutton in 1955. It’s still in-print from Bantam, and it’s included in the NESFA published Martians and Madness: The Complete SF Novels of Fredric Brown.
Ok, what are my thoughts on it? It’s a really, really fun novel that is light-hearted and plays nicely off the long standing trope of little green men. I know it would later be made into a film starting Randy Quaid but I’ve neither seen it nor have any desire to so since I like the novel.
Now here’s your Beginning full of little green men. Well it should be if it isn’t.
If the peoples of Earth were not prepared for the coming of the Martians, it was their own fault. Events of the preceding century in general and of the preceding few decades in particular should have prepared them.
One might say that preparation, in a very general sort of way, had been going on much longer than that, for ever since men had known that Earth was not the center of the Universe but only one of a number of planets circling about the same sun, men had speculated as to whether the other planets might not be, like Earth, inhabited. However, such speculation, for lack of evidence pro or con, remained on a purely philosophical plane, like speculation as to how many angels could dance on the point of a pin and whether Adam had a tnavel. So let’s say that preparation really started with Schiaparelli and Lowell, especially Lowell.
Schiaparelli was the Italian astronomer who discovered the canali on Mars, but he never claimed that they were artificial constructions. His word canali meant channels.
It was the American astronomer Lowell who changed the translation. It was Lowell who, after studying and drawing them, set afire first his own imagination and then the imagination of the public by claiming they were canals, definitely artificial. Proof positive that Mars was inhabited.
True, few other astronomers went along with Lowell; some denied the very existence of the markings or claimed they were only optical illusions, some explained them as natural markings, not canals at all.
But by and large the public, which always tends to accentuate the positive, eliminated the negative and sided with Lowell. Latching onto the affirmative, they demanded and got millions of words of speculation, popular-science and Sunday-supplement style, about the Martians.
(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.
[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]
Born March 4, 1905 — Frank Utpatel. Artist who did some interior illustrations for Weird Tales, he’s remembered for his Arkham House book covers that began with Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth novel in 1936. He would do covers for Ashton, Howard, Derleth, and Lovecraft. One of my favorite covers by him is for Derleth’s The Casebook of Solar Pons but then I like all of his Solar Pons covers and their obviously Holmesian riff. (Died 1980.)
Born March 4, 1914 — Ward Kimball. He was part of Walt Disney’s original team of animators, known as the Nine Old Men. Keep in mind that he did not create characters but animated them, which he did to great ability — Jiminy Cricket, the Mad Hatter, Mickey Mouse, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. He eventually became an animation director at Disney starting with Fantasia, and he worked on Mary Poppins. (Died 2002.)
Born March 4, 1923 — Patrick Moore. He held the record as the presenter of the world’s longest-running television series with the same original presenter, BBC’s The Sky at Night. He was a genre writer with six such novels to his name, one co-written, and a lot of related non-fiction, one that garnered him a Hugo nomination at Interaction, Futures: 50 Years in Space: The Challenge of the Stars, that was co-written with David A. Hardy. (Died 2012.)
Born March 4, 1965 — Paul W. S. Anderson, 58. If there be modern pulp films, he’s the director of them. He’s responsible for the Resident Evil franchise plus Event Horizon, Alien V. Predator, Pandorum and even Monster Hunter.
Born March 4, 1966 — Paul Malmont, 57. Author of the comic strips, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril and Jack London in Paradise which blends pulp tropes and SF elements including using as protagonists Heinlein and Asimov. He wrote the first four issues of DC Comics’ Doc Savage series with artist Howard Porter.
Born March 4, 1973 — Len Wiseman, 50. Producer or Director of the Underworld franchise. Director of the Total Recall remake. Also involved in Stargate, Independence Day, Men in Black and Godzilla in the Property Department end of things. He is the Sleepy Hollow series creator and producer for much of it, wrote the pilot as well. (Is it worth watching? I’ve not seen any of it.) Producer for much of the Lucifer series as well and is the producer for the entire series of the rebooted Swamp Thing. Also produced The Gifted.
(10) FORTHCOMING SFF ON THE BRITISH STAGE. Two live sff stage productions will open in England later this year.
The Lord of the Rings musical will be revived in an “epic and intimate immersive” production this summer.
The show, which was first seen in Toronto in 2006 ahead of a West End premiere the subsequent year, is based on the classic trilogy by J R R Tolkien about a group of Hobbits who attempt to destroy a piece of malevolent jewelry. The series of novels was adapted into three record-breaking films in the early 21st century.
The stage show has book and lyrics by Shaun McKenna and Matthew Warchus and music by A R Rahman (Bombay Dreams, Slumdog Millionaire), Finnish folk band Värttinä and Tony Award winner and Grammy-nominated Christopher Nightingale (Matilda the Musical).
In an original production, designed by Simon Kenny, at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, audiences will follow the story across the venue’s auditorium and garden spaces. The revival will feature an ensemble cast and large-scale puppets, with full company and creative team to be revealed….
“You will meet endearing new characters, as well as very familiar ones, on a journey into the past that sets the groundwork for the future of Stranger Things. We’re dying to tell you more about the story but won’t – it’s more fun to discover it for yourself. Can’t wait to see you nerds in London!”
(11) OOPS. [Item by Mike Kennedy.] A new “temporary museum —the Misalignment Museum—has opened in San Francisco. It’s essentially a work of dystoptic science fiction itself, set in a future where AI started to wipe out humanity, but then thought better of it before completing the job. (Especially the bottom floor.) “Welcome to the Museum of the Future AI Apocalypse” in WIRED.
… “It’s weird, because it’s such a terrifying topic, but it makes me happy people are interested,” Kim says from a coffee shop across the street. As we talk, we watch passersby peer into the gallery space—fittingly located eight blocks from the offices of OpenAI—that has a prominent “Sorry for killing most of humanity” sign along one wall.
The project started five months ago, shortly before ChatGPT sparked expectation in the tech industry and beyond that we are on the cusp of a wave of AI disruption and somehow closer to the nebulous concept of artificial general intelligence, or AGI. There’s no consensus about the definition of AGI, but the museum calls it the ability to understand or learn any intellectual task that a human can….
[Thanks to Andrew Porter, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, Michael Toman, David Goldfarb, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, John King Tarpinian, and Chris Barkley for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cat Eldridge.]