We could have honoured the freshly turned New Year by feeding the Summer King a bowl of oatmeal and plying him with metheglin before we cut his throat and buried him ever so deep in the peat bog out back of the Green Man offices, where archaeologists centuries from now would find him and write really truly boring dissertations about him and who sacrificed him... but instead we offer you, our dear readers, an edition devoted to our newest Winter Queen, Elizabeth Bear. Now don't you feel better about what we did?
Elizabeth Bear Considered
Greetings, this is Sarah Monette.
I'm trying to imagine what it would be like to meet Elizabeth Bear for the first time. I have no memory of doing so, you see; in my head, we've always known each other.
So what should I tell you?
Well, you want her on your side when the aliens invade -- she's strong and competent and stubborn as all hell. Her name suits her. Her laugh is carrying and infectious and she bears with her a tremendous joie de vivre. Smiling is easier if Bear's in the room. And I only wish I could write half as well as she does.
She's versatile and prolific --whatever your taste in fantasy and/or science fiction, somewhere in her fourteen novels and dozens of short stories, Bear's done it, and done it well. Her sense of craft is rigorous and uncompromising, and she has a keen ear for prose. She is an honest writer; you always know that her stories are trying to tell you the truth, as hard as that is and as much as it hurts. Her stories are filled with wonders -- a basilisk who used to be a laser cutting torch, two pool sharks who are fallen Hounds of Tindalos, Christopher Marlowe saved from death (twice, in two different ways), the Genii of Las Vegas, valkyries and vampires, trolls and angels and aliens. And what's most wondrous of all is that all of them, the Hounds and the vampires and Christopher Marlowe, are real people. And whether you hate them or love them, you won't regret meeting them.
You won't regret meeting Elizabeth Bear.
A Toast to Elizabeth Bear
One doesn't often think of winter and bears in the same sentence. After all, sensible bears want no part of winter, or the rule thereof; that's part of being sensible. They're off snoozing away in blissful repose, dreaming bear-ish dreams of salmon and berries and honey, and maybe the odd picnic basket or two if the spirits of the ursine are kind.
But there's always one troublemaker, isn't there? One of any sort who has to break the mold, upset the apple cart, and generally cause a ruckus by taking a look at how things have always been and asking 'is that how they always have to be?'
Which is why, ladies and gentlemen and beings of indeterminate salutation, we have for our very own Winter Queen a bear. Or, to be more specific, a Bear, hight Elizabeth to be precise, and a most wonderfully fitting and appropriate Winter Queen she is.
Now I can hear some of you rumbling your questions amongst yourselves -- her, the Winter Queen? She seems so . . . sunny. Generous with her time and her words, kindly sharing her experience over at Storytellers Unplugged and in interviews, and generally being what you might call 'warm'. And I admit, at first look she doesn't seem the Winter type. But there's first look, and then there's deeper look, and that's where you find true majesty.
Because there's winter in her words, sure enough. Cast your eye on the freezing, wounded nightmare that is Earth in the Jenny Casey books, or the haunted, icebound Paris of New Amsterdam that looses the ghostly wolves of winter on the frozen banks of the Seine, and you'll see winter enough. You'll find it in the souls of her worlds, too, in the dying, majestic hulk that houses the Jacob's Ladder trilogy, or the fading embers of human civilization on the icy, dying planet of the Edda of Burdens. And you'll find it in the characters she crafts, fey and vampires and the ancient Wolf whose blood has gone thin and cold with the endless centuries. She knows winters, and she can put them on the page so that the chill goes up through your eyes and down into your bones. Her words are ice-clear and sharp as the edge of a snowflake. Whether she's writing about the days after Ragnarok on a world halfway across the galaxy or the escapades of that slippery Shakespeare character, there's a clarity to her writing, a directness that brings the story and the reader together without hiding behind assumed cleverness or over-complicated wordplay.
And if that were all the winter to Elizabeth Bear, that'd be enough. More than enough, really, considering the stories she gifts us with, the range of the worlds she spins out of nothing and invites us to witness and visit, no matter how cold their truths might be.
Here's the thing, though. That's not all the winter she knows, and that's not all the winter she shares.
You see, for every frozen lake and snow-laden branch, there's another side to winter. There's the flickering hearth and warm cabin, the cup of mulled cider and the companionship of loved ones against the cold. And that's there in her books as well, the love and warmth that winter engenders just as surely as it freezes rivers and smothers the world in snow. You can see it in Seven For a Secret, where an immortal's love for an aging and dying woman is enough, perhaps, to change the course of empires. You can see it in Jenny Casey's world, where a family's love -- as unconventional as that family or that love might be -- is enough to remake Earth. And you can see it in the love with which she so obviously gifts her characters and her worlds, which she so generously consents to share with us.
And so I say raise a glass to the Winter Queen, whose reign reaches to the pages on the other side of the stars and into the dim and distant past, and whose cold precision with words is matched only by the warmth at the heart of her writing. May her reign be glorious!
Elizabeth Bear's Winter Queen Speech
My earliest memories are winter. A wooden floor in the Vermont farmhouse where I was a baby, the wood stove rippling behind its wall of heat. My mother dressing me in two snowsuits to stick me in a snowbank, out of the way, so she could get things done. You might say that winter was my babysitter.
We moved to Connecticut when I was still a toddler, and that's where I spent most of my life. In the seventies, we had winters here, real winters, the sort that caved in arena roofs and meant I walked to school alongside plow drifts taller than my head.
The day my grandmother died, there was an ice storm. My college roommate drove me home through a world that had turned to threads of blown glass overnight. Every tree, every branch on every tree, every twig on every branch, were remade in fractal, singing crystal.
Later, I lived in a garret, a little apartment under the eaves of an old clapboard house that the wind blew through in winter. My roommate and I put heating pads in our beds and burned kerosene lamps in the living room to stay warm. We had record-breaking snowfalls that winter, and I had no car. I walked a half mile to the bus stop every morning through ankle-deep slush (when I was lucky), down a road with no sidewalks, and had a cough I couldn't shake.
I found out eventually that I'd had pneumonia. I was working at a hospital at the time, and nobody noticed.
I moved to Las Vegas, and lived there seven years. Seven years without a winter. Seven years when I only once saw snow I did not drive to visit, because the west end of the valley got brushed by a high-elevation storm.
I hated the heat, but what I really missed was the cold. The short days, the long cozy nights, the sense of the world at rest. I'm a New Englander at heart, and in the long run I came home.
Now as I write this, sleet is falling outside my window, and a cold draft creeps through the inadequate single-thickness windows I can't get my management company to replace, and I'm thinking that this will be the last winter I spend in the tiny apartment that has been my home for three years now. I've moved the tropical plants back from the glass because their leaves were yellowing, and there's frost on the inside of every pane.
It's cold here, and I welcome the cold.
I have had no easy or sheltered relationship with winter. I know how it blows through thin walls, how it hurts when your socks are worn and so is your coat.
But I also know that winter is a quiet and wholesome time, a time when we nest deep and replenish our souls. We begin it with a frenzy of preparations, of festivities, of lights and gifts and feasting. But that's the commencement of winter, the overture, and it ends when the sun starts its return.
Real winter comes with the new year, and before long the lights dim and the music goes silent. We wait it out, the darkness and cold. We watch the blue shadows move too fast on wind-carved snow, and the gray mist come and close the heavens. We watch the pain-bright stars on nights too cold for snow, and bear witness to the rainbow ice halos that wreath the moon. We light candles and melt peppermint sticks into our cocoa and huddle under ragged afghans knit by grandmothers and aunts and call friends just to chat. When we walk outside, we bundle into mittens over gloves, scarves around necks, knit caps pulled down to our ears. We feel the snow crunch under our boots and the dead leaves crunch under the snow. Our breath slides white between teeth that ache with the cold breath in.
We live for the small pleasures. We renew and grow fat, like bulbs below the frost, hoarding our strength in green coils.
Winter is a private thing.
The Reader's Guide to Elizabeth Bear
Richard Dansky reviews Bear's alternate history novel New Amsterdam, which features a vampire and sorceress solving mysteries. Of the novel's various vignettes, he says, 'The murders are a means of instigating the character interactions, and as such, they do admirably. Bear plays with the classic images of both genres -- the locked room mystery, the ever-intriguing Tesla -- but ultimately lets them serve as supporting elements to the intriguing, and ultimately touching human story she is telling.'
Richard also takes a look at the sequel, Seven for a Secret, announcing that 'where New Amsterdam was a series of mysteries, this is a single story of genteel espionage. Where New Amsterdam had a strong action element to it, here the pyrotechnics are emotional. And where New Amsterdam was in many ways about beginnings, Seven For a Secret is about endings, and last acts of defiance against the dying of the light.'
Robert Tilendis kicks off his reviews for this edition with a peek at Blood and Iron, book one of the Promethean Age series. 'One of the freshest and most interesting developments in fantasy literature over the past decade or two has been the emergence of what I tend to call 'contemporary fantasy.' Known also as 'urban fantasy' or sometimes 'mythic literature,' it combines the trappings and motifs of classic fantasy and sometimes horror with a modern-day, usually urban milieu. It also moves freely into other genres. Call it fantasy's answer to cyberpunk. It has that kind of fluidity and, more often than not, that kind of hard-edged, dark vision. Elizabeth Bear's Blood and Iron, the latest such novel to come my way, is the story of what turns out to be the latest battle in an ongoing and centuries-long war between the Courts of Faerie, whose power is of song and bindings and innate gifts, and the Magi of the Prometheus Club, whose magic is a thing of arcane knowledge and iron weapons, against which the Fae have little recourse.'
He then looks at the next book in the series, Whiskey and Water. Was it worth the wait? Oh, yes -- 'intrigued and delighted' more or less sums up my reaction to Whiskey and Water as a whole. Don't think of it as a sequel, because it's not -- it's the next part of the story, and just as rich, magical and poetic as its predecessor.'
Robert has this to say about Dust, 'At her best, Elizabeth Bear can deliver the kind of hard-edged poetry that one often searches for in vain in science-fiction.' He also says 'It may seem strange to talk about 'poetry' and 'science fiction' in the same sentence, but one need only read Dust to see exactly what I mean.'
Next up, Robert takes a gander at Elizabeth Bear's linked novels Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth, which is really one large novel divided into two parts that combines Elizabethan history and all its intrigues with the magical word of Faerie. He raves, 'Where others are writing mythic fiction, Bear has written mythic history -- it may not be history as it happened (as much as we can know what happened), but it is history that rings true in a much deeper way than a mere relation of events could ever accomplish. What's left to say? Brava!'
Robert left speechless?!? Hard to believe, isn't it? So hear why this was so -- 'Elizabeth Bear has put me in an odd position -- I read Blood and Iron, loved it, found it rich, stimulating -- altogether an extraordinary book. I've now read Carnival, her latest, and find myself without much to say. Well, not entirely, but you have to admit, this doesn't happen very often... I enjoyed Carnival thoroughly, even though I didn't find it particularly subtle or challenging. But, there's something to be said for a well-written, engaging story about ideas, particularly when the ideas are not belabored and the cast is attractive.'
Seems Robert has some quibbles about Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's A Companion to Wolves, though ultimately he did enjoy it and would like to see sequels. He says, 'the universe here is a fascinating one, drawing heavily on Germanic folklore and set in a grim, cold, unyielding world that reflects the dark cast of Norse mythology.... The narrative is fluent and absorbing, the characters engaging, the storyline moves along briskly. And yet I wasn't as enthralled as I should have been, I think.'
Robert raves about The Chains That You Refuse -- 'There are lots of reasons to get this book. I could go on about every story -- there is that much in each of them -- but I'd rather talk about the surprises, the little twists to character and circumstance, the way diction changes from narrator to narrator -- not just speech patterns, but vocabulary, pacing, even the sound you hear in your mind changes. I could note Bear's refusal to explain the little universes she's created while giving us the clues we need to figure it out (a trend in recent fantasy and science fiction, and one I applaud heartily). Or, I could just mention the strength of her prose, that keeps you reading and reading just because you're enjoying it so much.'
When Robert finished reading All the Windwracked Stars, he mused to himself 'I find myself wondering why stories like this one -- painful stories that don't quite settle into despair -- move us so deeply while happy stories of shining heroes and golden quests, though they might lighten our mood for a moment, seldom resonate to the depth that this one does.' He concludes 'Elizabeth Bear has started to scare me. All the Windwracked Stars, like the three novels that came before it, packs a terrific wallop, and any artist who can achieve that level with that consistency is frightening indeed. There's a degree of honesty that any artist has to achieve if they want us to pay attention beyond the moment -- they can't be afraid of the hard places. Bear's there.'
And to end at the beginning, we close out with Robert’s look at Bear’s first published trilogy: Hammered, Scardown, and Worldwired. Though he has some minor issues with the books, which he attributes mostly to hindsight, he has this praise for her early work: ‘These were greeted by the usual accolades, which in Bear's case were honestly earned and have been fully justified. These are good reads, and she is, indeed, an important new voice in science fiction and fantasy.’
Bear on All Things Gustatory
We 'ere at Green Man remember the winter afternoon that Elizabeth carefully tended a pot of turkey stock that many hours later would become one of the most tasty turkey veggie soups ever encountered by anyone 'ere. In honour of that amazing culinary experience which you can read 'bout in a back issue of Le hérisson de sommeil (The Sleeping Hedgehog), the in-house newsletter for our staff, we decided to skip the all too common questions about her writings and focus on the really good stuff -- food and drink!
First, what would you put in your ideal picnic basket?
Fried chicken, watermelon, and lemonade. Or sushi and iced green tea and sake. But probably not both.
So what makes for great sushi?
The rice. Salty, sweet, savory, chewy. And of course, super-fresh vegetables and fish.
Second, one staffer says 'Ask for her recipe for Miso Soup. She gave it to me verbally at Viable Paradise, where she made it, but I can't remember the ingredients. It was really really good, with tofu, and I can't seem to find the kind of seaweed she used.'
It's not my recipe: it's my friend Lisa's recipe. Boil water, sprinkle in a little dashi (which is powdered bonito fish), turn off the heat, whisk in red or white miso (to taste), and add a little wakame seaweed and some diced firm tofu. Do not boil the tofu or miso. Eat!
What is for you a great winter hearty meal?
I eat the same thing year-round, with the exception of the fresh vegetables and fruit I can't get in wintertime. Right now, I'm eating brown and wild rice pilaf with wheat berries, chicken stock, green and black olives, garlic, preserved lemons, and sun dried tomatoes. I forgot to put in the almonds, though.
As The Winter Queen, what would be on the menu for Your Banquet?
Isn't that the cook's department? I just approve these things.
Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook 'ere, always asks our honoured guests what they want to eat and drink. She tries to comply even if it means getting The Fey members of our staff to lend a hand.
It should involve pomegranates, though. My favorite thing about Las Vegas was the fresh locally-grown pomegranates in winter. And marzipan. And tangerines, which are still a winter food to me, though you can get them year-round now.
Maybe a spinach salad with pears and blue cheese for a starter, and caramelized walnuts. The soup should be cream of mustard, my favorite winter soup -- very simple: it's just brown mustard, eggs, flour, butter, and milk, and I think I will make some tonight. Lobster for the fish, with lemon and drawn butter, but otherwise served very simple (I am a New England girl, after all): just boiled or flash-steamed, and not for too long, then cracked out of the shell for convenience.
Roast duck for the main course, butterflied and cooked very hot over rosemary sprigs and garlic so the fat runs down into the bottom of the broiler pan and fries the sliced potatoes you hid there. A good red wine with that: duck can stand up to it. Dessert should be a custard tart with tangerines and pomegranates, and marzipan to nibble on with the whisky and rye and tea and coffee, after.
If I were the Summer Queen, I'd call for sushi.
It's been a very long day of copy edits and Mrs. Ware, the Head Cook here, a generally understanding person about writers (though musicians driver her nuts), says she's happy to make you your favourite dessert. What shall she and her staff prepare? No treat is beyond her doing!
I stick with the brownies. Perfect food.
Is there a perfect brownie in your estimation? Consensus 'ere at Green Man is a dark chocolate brownie that is moist but not too moist -- no nuts or other junk, just overwhelmingly chocolatey!
I go for chewy, not too sweet. Walnuts, mint, or pecans are acceptable, though they adulterate the quality--all that other crap is not. And no frosting.
In honour of your status as Winter Queen, you drink free in the Green Man Pub. Name your poison. We have everything known to man and elf.
I'm a simple girl. Laphroiag quarter-cask, please, straight up.
What makes for the perfect chocolate experience?
I am a serious chocolate snob. Fortunately, I don't eat much of it. But I have an absolute weakness, a jones -- if you will -- for candied ginger (the horribly expensive tender baby kind) enrobed in dark chocolate, and also for bittersweet truffles with an Aztec twist: I like them with a touch of red pepper and cinnamon in the ganache.
Really good hot cocoa and chocolate ice cream also make me happy, and I consider the unadulterated fudgy brownie to be one of nature's two perfect foods. (The other is bacon.)
Have you tried any of the dark chocolates with bacon in them?
Thanks, I think I'll pass.
We 'ere at Green Man tried one during a chocolate sampling. Most 'ere felt it was not terribly good as neither the chocolate or the bacon worked. Not bad, just blah.
It seemed to me like it would be gimmicky and awful.
Chocolate with salt, though? Oh. My God!
Which is more perfect food? Chocolate or peanut butter?
Dude. Peanuts are gross. (I will eat peanut butter, as long as it's the kind with enough molasses in it that you can't taste the damned peanuts.) But neither is the perfect food. the perfect food is bacon. Or brownies. Or pomegranates.
Coffee or tea? And what makes for a perfect cuppa?
I shall respond with a quote from Blues Traveller, because I can:
I know no matter what the waitress brings
I like good mellow unburned drip coffee with a little cardamom in the grind, or vanilla, or just plain -- black, or sometimes with a little sugar and/or. I also like cappuccino and Vietnamese coffee. I generally avoid anything from Starbucks.
As for tea, I like many kinds -- green and black, mostly. Favorites include rose pouchong, bancha, jasmine green tea, green tea with mint, Stash's Green Ginger Peach and all of their chais, and Upton Tea's Russian Caravan and Vanilla Black teas. Also, Twining's Earl Grey, but it has to be Twining's. People keep trying to convert me to Harney and Sons, and I find it nasty. Also, Kusmi tea's Prince Vladimir blend.
I usually prefer Chinese teas to Indian, because I mostly don't adulterate my tea, but sometimes a little Darjeeling with milk and sugar is nice.
I do not recommend people try to buy me tea, because I am fussy and particular about it.
Once The Cat gets you out of bed, what is breakfast? And when you do something special for breakfast, what is it?
I'm not big on special breakfast foods. Leftovers, toast, a handful of almonds, some carrot juice, pasta, whatever's lying around.
Speakin' of breakfast matters, we 'ere at Green Man are very fond of cheese, particularly well-aged Cheddars. Which cheeses make you lustful?
Really, really good sharp white Vermont cheddar is one of my favorite foods. Especially with pears or apples. Or apple pie. I also love goat cheese. But really, I love most cheeses, except brie, which tastes like diesel fuel smells, and limberger, and those flavorless American varieties like mild cheddar and Monterey jack.
So any last thoughts on food and drink? Anything our readers should really know?
Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!
Now that you've read this edition on Elizabeth Bear, we should remind you about our other special editions. Of course, we've done several editions on master storyteller Peter S. Beagle which you can find thisaway and over 'ere; a great edition on Charles de Lint; one on the ever fascinating trio of Brian, Toby, and Wendy Froud; naturally we did one on master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien who is very much loved by our staff; and one on a fantastic new storyteller, Catherynne Valente who is always worth reading as is master storyteller Patricia McKillip. Oh, we should mention that every year that we do both best books and best music in which many of the wonderful folks we review 'ere along with the editorial staff pick their choices of what they liked for that year. And our Editor just reminded me that we did an edition devoted to the Year's Best Fantasy & Horror anthology.
For our main page, please go here; to search the roots, branches, and leaves of what we oft times affectionly call Yggdrasil, use the Google search engine; every past edition of our fortnightly What's New can be found here; for a detailed look at Green Man Review, go thisaway; and lastly, you report errors over here. Still have questions? Email our Editor here. Provided he's not in the Green Man Pub savouring a pint of Sjolmet Stout from the Valhalla Brewery in Unst while listening to Ms. Bear, like the skald she is, tell a tale of Nordic deities misbehaving badly during long, cruel winter nights, he'll try to answer your question!
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Uploaded 27 December LLS