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One reason to learn a foreign language is to find out about your own. Spanish — and French and Italian — avoid repetition by all means, frequently by employing what H.W. Fowler in Modern English Usage disparaged as the literary fault of “elegant variation.” But repeating words in English, except when done carelessly, is no fault: it adds clarity and even beauty. Repeated words sound especially beautiful to an English-language ear when they form part of a parallel structure, that is, a part of repeated grammatical structures.

Why is English like this? Because of the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible, the “King James” Bible. As soon as it was published, its constant use as the major work of literature readily available to the ordinary person made it the standard and model of our language. Fortunately for us, the translators produced a direct, unornamented work meant for ordinary people, not scholars. They wrote when English was a new and fresh language and could be used without complication. They stuck close to the original languages, notably Hebrew.

Much of that Hebrew was poetic, using concrete and vivid language with simple phrases, easy to translate. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme; instead, it uses parallel, balanced structures of phrases or ideas, and of words or rhythms. The second half of a parallel may paraphrase the first half, it may give a consequence, it may contradict the first half, or it may add stronger and stronger clauses or sentences that lead to an apex. The rhythm can make the prose musical.

One example is from Ruth, 1:16-17:

And Ruth said, entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.


The power and beauty of Biblical language and poetic repetition at work in modern English can be seen in this excerpt from a speech delivered on August 28, 1963, by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Now, I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slave-owners and the sons of former slaves will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the people’s injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

This is our home. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with — with this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.
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This weekend I’ll be at Capricon 39, a science fiction convention held February 14 to 17 in Wheeling, a suburb of Chicago. This year’s theme is “Strange Beasts Arise.”

If you’re there, say hi. In addition to wandering around and having fun, I’ll be on four panels:

Friday, 10 a.m. – Book Reviews vs. Literary Criticism: But Is it Good?
What is the role of a reviewer compared to that of a critic? What are the differences? What serves the genre more? How do we deal with fan reviews, especially those so-called reviews on Amazon and Goodreads?

Friday, 5:30 p.m. – Literary Economics
Most SF and fantasy assumes that there is an endless supply of money, spaceships, horses, swords, ray-guns and … Our panelists will discuss how and why to consider economics in world-building.

Sunday, 10 a.m. – The Business Side of Writing
Okay, so you’ve written your novel. Now what? Our pros guide you through what your next steps need to be and what your options as a writer are.

Sunday, noon – Resurrecting Strange Beasts
Modern genetic science may be able to recreate extinct life forms (such as mammoths). There is also the possibility of creating even stranger creatures (such as griffons, dragons, and even centaurs) by mixing genes from widely different animals. What are the pros and cons of playing with our new genetic toys in this manner?

— Sue Burke
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Shoes

Megan Leigh at the website Breaking the Glass Slipper has asked me five questions about the novel Semiosis and science fiction: the lure of first contact stories, the affinity between hard SF and horror, communication obstacles in the story, overlooked female SF writers, and why you should read Semiosis. Read it here.
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With all the talk of decluttering lately, here’s something useless, stored away in a box and half-forgotten, that I will never throw away: the key to my parents’ old home. They left that house more than twenty years ago.

That house … They loved living there, a small ranch home at the end of a cul-de-sac. They enjoyed its wide windows, airy sun porch, and large back yard. My mother planted a flower garden in front and a vegetable garden in back, and together they worked hard to create a charming, comfortable interior. On weekends they would visit nearby parks, go to sporting events, or simply relax at home. They were happy there.

I remember the times I visited. I lived in nearby city, and I had the key because I could come anytime — always welcome, just walk right in — and I came when I could for holidays and visits.

My parents have died, someone else lives in that house, and I’ll never go back. Someone else might think that the old key is useless, but they never used it to walk into that happy home.

Once, that key opened a door. Now it opens memories.

— Sue Burke
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The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and BehaviorThe Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior by Stefano Mancuso

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Stefano Mancuso, an authority on plant neurobiology, begins by showing how plants can remember things, although they don’t have a brain. They can move, although they have no muscles. They can imitate items in their surroundings like stones or other plants, although we don’t think they can see. It’s clear that plants pay scrupulous attention to their environment. He describes the ways plants do all this in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way.

Then, in Chapter 4, he pulls these abilities together by stressing the differences between plants and animals. Beings that can move (animals) tend to avoid problems. If the sun is too hot, animals try to find shade. If something wants to eat the animal, it runs away. Beings that are rooted in place (plants) have to solve problems. Beings with brains and other central organs can react faster, but that also makes them more vulnerable. Decapitate an animal and it’s dead. Chop off a branch of a tree, and the tree carries on. Beings with dispersed problem-solving abilities may react more slowly, but they’re more resilient.

How can a being with no central intelligence solve complex problems? Mancuso suggests that plants act more like flocks of birds: each part, each cell, reacts to its environment, and the changes in the cell and changes in the environment affect the other parts of the plant around it. Together, the plant acts as a coordinated whole. He offers several ways for decentralized intelligence to work in order to reach what looks to us like a decision.

He goes on to describe the ways that plants manipulate animals, the lessons we can learn from plants in fields like architecture and robotic design, and how plants respond to weightlessness.

I received this book as a gift, and I lingered over the stunning photos. Plants are beautiful, and the presence of plants seems to soothe human beings.

Most of all, Mancuso’s love for plants permeates the text – and his respect for them. By weight, the vast majority of life on Earth is plants. They are master problem-solvers, he says, and we can learn from them how to solve some of our own problems.

-- Sue Burke


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I’ll be reading at an open mic Saturday, January 26, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Second Unitarian Church of Chicago, 656 W. Barry Avenue. Free and open to the public to listen or participate. Light snacks provided, BYOB (bring your own beverage, alcoholic or otherwise).

We hold these open mics every few months at my church. Readings, music, spoken word, dance, and other forms of creative expression are welcome. You can find out more at the Facebook event page.

I’ll read this essay, which I wrote while I was living in Madrid, Spain. Spain is famous for encierros, or running of the bulls, and when I learned there was going to be one at a fiesta in a suburb of Madrid, my husband and I went to watch. (Not to run.) There was no violence, no blood, no harm to the bulls — but no courage on display, either.

Instead, I observed something quite different about humanity, and perhaps not even Ernest Hemingway could have turned it into a novel.

— Sue Burke
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In 2009, I started translating the medieval Spanish masterpiece, Amadis of Gaul, a chapter a week at the Amadis of Gaul website. It took me nine years (it’s a long book), but I’ve finished!

This novel, published in 1508, traces the life of the greatest knight in the world, Amadis of Gaul, starting with his conception and birth (outside of formal wedlock). He becomes a knight and battles evildoers and sorcerers, and he protects the kings he serves. He also falls in love with the most beautiful woman in the world, an unobtainable princess — and she loves him, too. Courage and passion fill this story.

You can read it at the website, or you can enjoy it in the convenience of a four-volume set in paperback and e-book, now on sale.

Why should you read this novel?

1. It’s one of the pillars of European literature and was the first continent-wide best-seller. It kicked off a century of tales of chivalry, a genre now known and loved as “sword and sorcery.” Knights in shining armor go off to fight for what’s right — with bravery tempered by fear. For readers, it was great fun, and it still is.

2. This is a story of the Middle Ages told by people in the Middle Ages. Their take on love, magic, war, fantasy, and honor doesn’t quite match our own. You can better understand their thoughts and get a glimpse of their daily lives by reading their own words. One thing I learned: being alone made them feel painfully anxious.

3. The plot is complex. It’s not just about Amadis, it’s about his family and friends, his beloved Princess Oriana, damsels in distress, and distressing damsels. The novel became a favorite of women and girls — and, eventually, it was accused of corrupting them. Don’t you want to be corrupted, too?

4. If you like Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, you’ll like it even more after you read Amadis of Gaul. You’ll get a lot more of the jokes. Chapter 6 of Quixote calls Amadis “the best of all the books composed in this genre” — and there were almost 80 books of that genre available at the time in Spanish, all inspired by Amadis but never equaling it.

5. Fight scenes! Knight versus knight, army versus army, fleet versus fleet, and knight versus horrible monster.

6. Love scenes! “Amadis turned to his lady, and when he saw her so beautiful … he was so struck by joy and shyness that he did not dare even to gaze at her. So it could well be said that in that green grass, on that cloak, more by the quiet grace of Oriana rather than the bold courage of Amadis, did the most beautiful maiden in the world become a woman.”

It was originally written as four “books,” each the size of a modern novel. Each volume includes notes to chapters, introductory material, information about the Middle Ages, lists of characters, and references.

Book I paperback and Kindle
Book II paperback and Kindle
Book III paperback and Kindle
Book IV paperback and Kindle

This novel drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?

— Sue Burke
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Here are my award-eligible works published in 2018:

“Life From the Sky”
Novelette. This isn’t a good time for alien life forms, no matter how simple and harmless, to land on Earth.
Asimov’s Magazine, May/June 2018.

Semiosis
Novel. A first contact, multi-generational story about colonists on a planet where plants are the dominant life forms — and they see animals, including humans, as their pawns.
Tor, February 2018.

— Sue Burke
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Spain’s Fundéu BBVA, which addresses critical questions about the Spanish language, has chosen microplástico (microplastics) as its word of the year for 2018.

The foundation chooses its word of the year from terms in the news. This word “highlights the awareness of one of the great environmental problems facing humanity,” according to the foundation’s website: many of the questions that the media had for Fundéu BBVA this year involved words related to the environment, which led to the selection of microplastico.

Fundéu BBVA explains: “Microplastics are small fragments of plastic (less than five millimeters) that are manufactured at that size for cleaning or hygiene products or that break off from larger pieces of plastics (shopping bags, containers of all kinds) during their decomposition. Their presence in the sand on beaches, in organisms in animals, in the sea salt we consume, and even in the water we drink have set off alarm bells, leading the reduction of single-use plastics, which are responsible for much of the problem.” [My translation.]

Runner-up words for 2018 were: descarbonizar (to reduce carbon emissions), hibridar (make hybrid, as with cars), mena (“menor extranjero no acompañado” or unaccompanied foreign minor immigrant), los nadie (the nobodies, people invisible or overlooked by society), micromachismo (male supremacist microagressions), VAR (“videoarbitraje” or video assistant referee), sobreturismo (overtourism), procrastinar (procrastinate), arancel (tariff), dataísmo (tendency to consider data supremely important) and nacionalpopulismo (alt-right).

Its word of the year for 2013 was escrache (a kind of protest), 2014 selfi (selfie), 2015 refugiado (refugee), 2016 populismo (populism), and 2017 aporophobia (fear of poverty and poor people).

Meanwhile, here in English, the words of the year were toxic according to Oxford Dictionaries; misinformation, Dictionary.com; single-use, Collins Dictionary; and justice, Merriam-Webster.

As I noted earlier, I can only conclude that in the English-speaking world, the year 2018 had a lot of problems. The Spanish-speaking world had the similar problems. Now 2019 is about to land on us. What will we talk about? Our larger conversations are certain to remain troubled and troubling.

— Sue Burke
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How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-ExtinctionHow to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Summary: It might be impossible to clone a mammoth, or, for that matter, to clone any other extinct animal. And it might not be necessary.

The author leads the reader through the problems and reasons why it might not be a good idea even to try in some cases. For example, some animals have gone extinct due to changes in their habitats, and unless these habitats have been restored, the resurrected animals would have no place to go. In addition, DNA is fragile and hard to come by for long-extinct species like mammoth.

Shapiro also considers the ways to solve some of these problems along with the benefits from de-extinction. If mammoths were reintroduced, they might transform the tundra into rich grasslands. Mammoths would also trample away the snow in winter. Snow acts as insulation from the cold air, so the permafrost would be frozen harder and thus be protected from melting by a warming climate — and permafrost has a storehouse of greenhouse gasses locked up in it. Melting permafrost would be a disaster.

But rather than de-extinct species, existing species could be engineered to be so much like them that they can serve the same ecological purpose and even look a lot alike. We can change elephants in a way to bring back something just like a mammoth.

Shapiro doesn’t oppose de-extinction, but she knows it’s going to be hard to do and wants readers to understand what’s involved and what the alternatives are. She fulfills her goal to teach and to share her cautious enthusiasm.

P.S. I read this book as research for a novel. No spoilers, though.

--Sue Burke

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The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This novel starts with a horrifying disaster and ends with joy and hope. In the middle it zigzags in a fascinating way between anger and fear, which are overcome through grit and competence. I could tell you about the plot, but that’s easy information to find. This is how the book will make you feel, which is the most important thing. It’s an entertaining ride with a thoughtful side.

P.S. As a child, I loved watching Mr. Wizard. It was fun to see him play an important role in this book.


-- Sue Burke

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I am gratified (and relieved!) by how many people have enjoyed my novel Semiosis. Readers send me notes, booksellers are glad to see me, and the novel has made some year’s best lists for 2018. This is an unexpected and wonderful holiday gift.

New York Public Library
“Our librarians — through their experience recommending books to patrons and as readers themselves — have highlighted their picks for 100 best books written for adults and published this year.”

New York Magazine’s Vulture
“This first-contact story is up there with the best of Le Guin in terms of beautiful, engrossing, brilliantly imagined sci-fi.”

The Verge
“Alien life likely won’t take the form of a bumpy-headed alien, but something that we might not recognize as intelligent at first blush.”

Chicago Review of Books
“The 10 Best Science Fiction Books of 2018: From arctic metropolises to killer plants.”

Powell’s Books
“The only thing wrong with this spectacular debut is that it isn’t long enough.”

The Best Sci Fi Books
“25 Best Science Fiction Books of 2018: A lot of science fiction writers got weird. Good stuff.”

A Goodreads Listopia of Hugo 2019 Eligible Novels
“It's hard to keep track of all the science fiction and fantasy books published in one year.”

— Sue Burke
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In December, online dictionaries and usage sites start announcing their words of the year. They base their selection on user interest and, as Oxford Dictionaries puts it, the “word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

I can only conclude that we live in troubled times.

Oxford’s word is toxic. It doesn’t get much worse than that: toxic chemical, masculinity, substance, gas, environment, relationship, culture, waste, algae, and air. Oxford explained its choice this way:

“In 2018, toxic added many strings to its poisoned bow, becoming an intoxicating descriptor for the year’s most talked about topics. It is the sheer scope of its application, as found by our research, that made toxic the stand-out choice for the Word of the Year title.”

Dictionary.com’s choice, misinformation, doesn’t bring holiday cheer, either. Why choose it? It’s editors said:

“The rampant spread of misinformation poses new challenges for navigating life in 2018. As a dictionary, we believe understanding the concept is vital to identifying misinformation in the wild and ultimately curbing its impact.”

CNN noticed Dictionary.com’s choice of misinformation and its previous words of the year for the last ten years. CNN news editor Brandon Griggs was moved to comment: “Sure, it's impossible to sum up a year in a single word. But taken together, these nine words paint a pretty dark picture of the past decade.”

Collins Dictionary chose single-use, a term that also brings tidings of a great gloom, as Collins noted:

“Single-use refers to products — often plastic — that are ‘made to be used once only’ before disposal. Images of plastic adrift in the most distant oceans, such as straws, bottles, and bags, have led to a global campaign to reduce their use.”

Merriam-Webster’s word also reflects our preoccupations: justice. “It was a top lookup throughout the year, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017,” the dictionary’s editors said.

“The concept of justice has been at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice. In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

The Merriam-Webster runners-up for 2018 included nationalism, feckless, and the “sometimes vulgar” noun pissant.

A few more dictionaries and word usage experts have yet to offer their choices for 2018. Brace yourself.

— Sue Burke
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My novel Semiosis on sale until January 1: only $2.99.

You can buy it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, eBooks.com, Google books, iTunes, and Kobo. The publisher’s link to the ebook all those sites is here.

What would make a better holiday gift for yourself or for others than a story that will forever change the way you look at your garden?

— Sue Burke
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A new e-zine is available for your pleasure: Axion, “where words, worlds, and wormholes collide. So annihilation, real or imaginary, is a real possibility.” It’s not professional (it’s not after your stinkin’ money), so it can focus on being fun and quirky.

Its editors warn: “We are three college students who have created this site for a course in online publishing. We have come to your planet in peace. We mean you and your species no harm.”

Their inaugural posts include an interview of myself and Amalia Gladhart on translating Angélica Gorodischer. I translated the novel Prodigies and Amalia translated Trafalgar. (Ursula K. Le Guin translated Kalpa Imperial.)

Axion was also kind enough to publish my poem "First Colony’s Fate.”

And you’ll find much more: fiction, art, commentary, interviews, music, poetry, and news. Axion invites your submissions and comments in multiple languages. You can be part of real or imaginary annihilation.

You can also read the other e-zines from the class: Doomwave; Tell Tale Heart; Ventanas; Twisted; The Bitch Has Issues; and House of Horror, Glitter, and Words.

— Sue Burke
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On Saturday, December 1, from 1 to 3:30 p.m., three Chicago authors will be talking with astronomers at the Adler Planetarium about our inspiration from the stars. I’m one of the authors.

I’ll be discussing life on other planets and how huge the universe is with Mark SubbaRao, president-elect of the International Planetarium Society and director of Adler’s Space Visualization Program. Asteroid 170009 Subbarao is named after him for his work on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Astronomer Mark Hammergren will talk with Michael Moreci, author of the science fiction novel Black Star Renegades. Astronomer Maria Weber will talk with Lori Rader-Day, author of the murder mystery Under a Dark Sky.

Admission to the book club talk is free with general admission, and if you’re an Illinois resident, you get free admission to the entire planetarium on Saturday with a valid Illinois ID as part of Illinois Resident Discount Day.

Books will be available for purchase, and we’ll be signing books and chatting with the audience after the talk. You can get full information about the event and books here.

Science informs fiction! Come find out how.

— Sue Burke
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Windycon.pngWhat goes on at science fiction conventions? Here’s my report for Windycon 45, held earlier this month. This is a fan-run literary convention that focuses on books and authors rather than on TV and movie shows and stars. I prepared this report for the fanzine Alexiad.

Windycon 45
November 9 to 11, 2018
Westin Lombard Yorktown Center
Lombard, Illinois

Friday, November 9


Since the hotel is located out in the suburbs southwest of O’Hare Airport and highly inconvenient to mass transit, I talked my husband into dropping me off on his way to work. By coincidence, the ride coincided with Chicago’s first snowfall and took more than an hour. (A friend kindly gave me a ride home on Sunday.) The hotel provided a very early check-in, and the 14th floor offered a fine view as big snowflakes fell onto Yorktown Center’s mall roofs and parking lots. I relaxed in the room until things got busy in the late afternoon.

Registration went smoothly, and after chatting at some fan booths, I attended my first panel, “Flash Fiction for Fun and Profit,” which offered useful hints for how to write and sell very short stories. The next one, “And Now for Something Completely Different,” featured panelists who weren’t sure what to do with the topic: “A discussion of unique and unusual genres in science fiction, graphic novels, and comics.” Instead they talked about marketing categories and how nothing can be completely different and new, which isn’t really a problem. As one panelist pointed out, “You don’t go to a play by Shakespeare to find out how it ends.”

The opening ceremony at 7 p.m. introduced the convention’s theme, Unlikely Heros, and the guests of honor: Faith Hunter, author; Galen Dara, artist; Kevin Roche, costuming (also the outgoing Worldcon chair, sporting a giant zebra-striped mohawk); Jen Midkiff, music, Bobbi Armbruster, fan; Andrew Trembley, toastmaster; and additional guests including Mike Resnick, Alex and Phyllis Eisenstein, Eric Flint, and Jody Lynn Nye. The charity, an annual feature of Windycons, was the DuPage County Habitat for Humanity.

The convention featured a wide variety of panels, concerts, filking, children’s programming, video and board game rooms, book clubs, an ongoing LED kit workshop (learn to solder!), costuming workshops (make chain mail!) and a Masquerade costume contest. A Klingon Assault Group operated a jail-and-bail to raise funds for Habitat. The Royal Manticoran Navy, which is the Honor Harrington Fan Association, raffled off games and a Kindle to fund roof repairs for the Rantoul, Illinois, public library.

An 8 p.m. panel discussed “Evil Computers” and concluded that the real evil lay in malicious programmers. I wandered around for the next hour, then moderated a panel on “Science in the Kitchen.” We intentionally tiptoed around the issue of GMOs and instead talked about such topics as industrial versus home cooking, vat-grown meat, and urban hydroponics.

By then most organized activities were over, so it was time to roam from party to party on the top three floors of the hotel and eat, drink, and chat. The spacious con suite also served free beer and wine. I went to bed after midnight, but many people stayed up later.

Saturday, November 10

I spent Saturday morning in the Writer’s Workshop offering advice (sage, I hope) to up-and-coming authors. The three in my group had sound stories, although I recommended a clearer emotional focus.

In the Dealer’s Room, I bought a pair of earrings for myself and a shirt for my husband featuring the words “Still Flat, We Checked” embroidered over a NASA-style red, white, and blue meatball. Through sheer force of will, I tried to avoid buying a book or two, but eventually I came home with one. In the Art Show, I bid on a piece and took a selfie with the Tiki Dalek that Kevin Roche brought, a tropical beach version of the Doctor Who nemesis.

After a panel on “Villains, Monsters, and Motherhood,” I took a lunch break in the Con Suite, which was serving Chicago hot dogs with the traditional poppy-seed buns and all the “dragged through the garden” toppings, as well as ketchup for clueless out-of-town guests (an authentic Chicago hot dog does not use ketchup). In the line, I met a man who had attended every single Windycon since 1973. “It’s like family,” he said. That’s something a lot of other people said during the weekend, from con co-chair Daniel “gundo” Gunderson on down.

The committee for Chicago’s 2022 Worldcon bid met to ratify its bylaws, elect its board and officers, and review progress; a downtown hotel looks likely. I attended a couple of panels, “Which Witch Is Yours?” and “Heroes East vs. West.”

I also participated in a couple of panels. At “¿Cómo Estás? Translation Challenges,” we discussed odd differences between various languages. At “Animal Typecasting,” we compared real animals to the compliant and stereotypical animals often seen in media, the kind of misrepresentation that inspired some people who saw the film Pocahontas to get baby racoons as a pet, with disastrous results.

I attended the Writers and Donuts gathering to chat with other writers and eat donuts (provided by Richard Chwedyk), then it was time for the serious business of visiting and comparing parties. I met a 30-year-old woman who had been coming to Windycon her whole life: her parents met there, they brought her as an infant, and she met her husband there, so for her the con and her family are inseparable. The Chicago 2022 convention bid party’s entertainment included an origami sheet that could be folded (with a lot of complex steps) into a rocket (befitting the bid’s slogan, “Take to the Stars”), but even with my still being pretty sober and having experienced help, my wrinkled, misshapen rocket would have crashed at takeoff.

Sunday, November 11

I learned my Art Show bid was outbid, which was sort of okay, since it was a charity auction item and the funds went to Habitat for Humanity. At the panel “The Sequel Is Finally Here!” Eric Flint provided his usual phlegmatic and wise commentary. (I ought to buy one of his books and see if I like his writing as much as I like him.) “Fantasy Chicago” discussed the weird things in the city, including (semi)secret tunnels between buildings, ghosts, and some very odd museums.

I was supposed to be a panelist on “Autonomous Cars: awesome or awful?” but the moderator didn’t show up and, to my surprise, things took a loud, contentious turn even before the panel started. So I proclaimed myself moderator and spent the hour using the classroom management skills I learned teaching teenagers to smooth out the debate, making order and fun out of chaos and yelling. Both the panelist and the audience were evenly and deeply split between feasible versus unfeasible, safe versus unsafe, and an improvement versus an impoverishment to people’s lives.

It was almost time to go home. At the closing ceremony, gundo announced that through various means, more than $1,700 had been raised for Habitat for Humanity. Galen Dara, whose art decorated the program book and Windycon website, won Best in Show in the Art Show. Party awards were selected by popular vote: Best Food and Snacks, Royal Manticoran Navy; Best Alcoholic Drink, Bar Fleet; Best Non-Alcoholic Drink, Bar Fleet; and Best Party, Moulin Rouge.

From what I could tell, everything had gone smoothly. I had fun, met interesting people, learned new things, drank tasty drinks, sold a couple copies of my book, and relaxed.

Next year’s Windycon will be November 15 to 17, again at the Westin Lombard, with the theme Space Opera. Guests of honor are Elizabeth Moon, author; Mitchell Bently, artist; Chris Barkley, fan; Harp Twins, music; and Lee Martindale, toastmistress.
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The Meaning of the First World WarThe Meaning of the First World War by René Albrecht-Carrié

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Since this brief book was originally written for the 50th anniversary of World War I, it is in itself a historical artifact. But more than that makes it worthwhile.

Albrecht-Carrié does not try to place blame for the start of the war. Instead, “the little Eurasian peninsula that was Europe, which had conquered the world and was its powerhouse, contained too much energy and power for the narrowness of its confines. The very process of imperial activity had simultaneously furnished occasion for clashes and crises and served the function of safety valve for the overflowing energy of Europe. There was, in 1914, no more room in the world for fresh conquests.” (Page 43)

In other words, in addition to poor leadership, bad diplomacy, pent-up need for social change, and an inability to understand the new nature of warfare – what another author has labeled “sleepwalking” – the thrust of history itself pushed Europe toward a crisis that left few good outcomes, although they were possible. Poor choices meant they did not happen.

Once war began – and the book does not examine the military campaign with any depth, only the political considerations around it – all these factors caused greater change than anyone expected: politically, geographically, economically, militarily, and socially. Russia, for example, became Marxist. The United States had to get involved and become a superpower. France and Britain were bled dry. And, in the end, true peace was impossible because there were too many problems to solve. The meaning of the war could be summed up in one word, “change.”

Then World War I led directly to World War II, which solidified those changes.

Albrecht-Carrié ends the book attempting to assess the situation of Europe and the world fifty years after the start of World War I. He tries to understand what will happen with the bold and hopeful agreements that we now know led to the European Union, which at the 100th anniversary of the start of the war faces its own crisis. He also tries to imagine how the clash between the United States and the Soviet Union will go, and how the United States and Europe will finally relate.

In that way, the book ends with as much tension as it starts, a useful reminder to our time that the decades past were not as rosy and easy as we might remember. In 1964, he wrote:

“No one should be surprised to find that our time is beset by deep uncertainty and bedeviling confusion. The scientific and technical explosion is no less a source of stress than the population explosion, and the current state of literature and arts is apt expression of the search for an answer to unresolved dilemmas. But on whatever clouded course we may be launched, no one now thinks of going back to the days of 1939, let alone those of pre-1914. The First World War was a great break with the past. That is its fundamental meaning.” (Page 172)






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From November 9 to 11, I’ll be attending Windycon 45, Chicago’s oldest science fiction convention. It’s a literary-based event (the guests of honor are authors, filk musicians, artists, cosplayers, and fans), with children’s programming, games, anime, panels on all sorts of topics during the day, and parties at night. Usually more than a thousand people attend.

My schedule:

Friday, 10 to 11 p.m. panel. Science in the Kitchen: How science is changing the way we eat.

Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon, Writers Workshop. We’ll critique short stories and chapters of novels. Preregistration required.

Saturday, 4 to 5 p.m. panel. ¿Como Estás? Translation Challenges: What are the challenges in translating your work to other languages?

Saturday, 8 to 9 p.m. panel. Animal Typecasting: Hollywood and authors typecast all the time. Why are reptiles almost always the villain? A discussion about different animals and how they are typecast.

Sunday, 1 to 2 p.m. panel. Autonomous Cars: More and more, our cars are becoming automated. Is this new technology awesome or awful?

If you’re there, say hi!

— Sue Burke
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In 2008, I was living in Spain. What was election night like far from home? Patriotic, for starters. And long, very long. Being six time zones east of Washington, DC, made November 4 last almost until dawn. This is an article I wrote about that night for Guidepost, the official magazine of The American Club of Madrid. Tomorrow’s election, ten years later and here in Chicago, will be very different.


“In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope,” Senator Barack Obama said in a much-quoted speech given in New Hampshire during the primaries. “Yes we can.” Full of hope, we crowded into the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid for the election night party on November 4.

Like everything else about the campaign, enthusiasm exceeded expectations. The party’s organizer, Democrats Abroad Spain, had hoped for 2,000 people at the event, which started at 11 p.m. But Obamamania had taken hold in Madrid, and far more wanted to attend. Lines several blocks long formed outside the entrance.

Inside, results trickled in. At 1 a.m., Obama got his first victory: Vermont, with three electoral votes. Everyone cheered wildly. But Kentucky, with 8 votes, had gone for McCain. A few voices booed. Then we kept waiting.

People had come ready for a patriotic party. Many were dressed in red, white and blue, sported Obama t-shirts and buttons, had the campaign logo painted on their face, or carried placards or American flags. Several men wore American flag ties. One woman sparkled in a star-spangled sequined vest.

Live music and televised results on big screens filled the ground floor of the building. The band Guns 'N' Butter had people dancing when the Salón de Columnas on the fourth floor opened up at 1 a.m. It was showing CNN’s election night special report on three large screens. That’s where my husband and I wound up, sharing maps and tidbits of geopolitical wisdom with old and new friends as we watched the results with undivided attention. The room was soon packed to overflowing.

At 1:30 a.m., we screamed as Obama took the lead in Florida, a sign of a possible national victory. By 2 a.m., some people were already exhausted and lay on the floor around the TV screens as the lead grew to 77-34 electoral votes. At 2:15 a.m., CNN called Ohio for Obama — great news. By 3:10 a.m., the crowd began thinning out, since the outcome was becoming clear. At 3:20 a.m., my friends and I studied a map and did the math, then considered buying a bottle of cava, Spain’s answer to champaign. But we didn’t dare celebrate, not until the final results were in. Probability wasn’t good enough. We had to be sure. We kept waiting.

As 5 a.m. neared, everyone got on their feet. The polls closed on the West Coast, and, immediately, CNN projected victory for Obama! We screamed. We hugged. Ten minutes later, we were still screaming. Yes we can. Si se puede. O-ba-ma!

We watched as Senator John McCain gave a gracious concession speech. “Let there be no reason now for any American to fail to cherish their citizenship on this, the greatest nation on Earth. Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country.”

We gave him warm applause. Singer Angie Herna took the stage and microphone and led us in a heartfelt “America the Beautiful.”

And though was already 6 a.m., no one would leave until President-Elect Obama spoke. Finally, he took the podium in Grant Park, Chicago.

“I was never the likeliest candidate for this office,” he said. “Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.”

A woman near me, who had painted little American flags on her fingernails, wept. My eyes were wet, too.

And so we all finally left into cold pre-dawn darkness. An unlikely candidate, an unlikely story, and hope. We can change America and the world. Yes we can.

— Sue Burke
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