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Obligatory author shilling.

Ahem. That is to say, my name is Elizabeth Bear (I bet many of you knew that already, since it shows up at the top of the page.)

So I wrote this book. No, not that book. This book:


And it's new, out just this week. It came out on Tuesday. It's called Karen Memory, and it's a Weird West thriller with steampunk and alternate history elements. It stars a wisecracking cast of saloon girls, an itinerant and deadpan U.S. Marshal and his even more deadpan posseman, and a deaf white cat with an attitude problem. It features adventure, hijinks, shenanigans, murder, gunfights, rooftop chases, steam-powered mechs, and the occasional airship, as contractually required!

There's this thing in the industry we call the "elevator pitch." Which is what it says on the box.

The elevator pitch for Karen Memory is "Heroic steampunk prostitutes versus disaster capitalists, in the Gold Rush American West." In any case, I think it's a lot of fun, and I hope you will too. This is one of my favorite casts of characters of all time.

Yesterday, it was #16 on Amazon in Science Fiction and #2 in Steampunk. I had threatened to get on the internets and sing a Tom Waits song if it made #1, but no luck so far.

You can read an excerpt here.

And if you buy it and hate it, you can frame the cover art. Seriously, look at that cover art.



Looks fun. Added to the to-read pile ;-)

(Although, since I'm only three books into my Patrick O'Brian Aubrey–Maturin re-re-read it may be a while until I get to it!)


That's a mighty fine looking story there. I sure do hope you are getting more than a shilling for it. As you know, a bob doesn't go very far these days.


I like it when Charlie invites guests, my reading pile grows every time :)

:) And yes, the cover art is beautiful - but that shotgun? Even if the firer's very petite, it might be 10-bore or an 8-bore (10/8-gauge for y'all) and the buttplate on the stock? Going to hurt if you actually fire it :)


{Charlie Stross} Shoot the cover artist, not the author. The authot has little or no control over the cover illustration.{/end}


There's a term of art in manga and anime, waif-fu where the most slight and unmuscular of characters can wield giant swords, hammers, guns, Nicoll-Dyson lasers etc. like they were made from aerogel. This may be more of the same.

The butt design makes me think that is an overgrown handgun rather than something meant to be mounted to the shoulder, with the extraneous "lump" behind the grip acting as a balance weight. Saying that firing something of that obvious calibre hand-held is going to result in broken wrists. That's assuming the external hammer actually impacts on a firing pin somewhere not in evidence in the image.


I approve of the cover art wholeheartedly, and the story sounds entertaining too.

Maybe if the shotgun's load is sufficiently light (salt? a dart of some kind? powdered metal for a dragon effect?) then the recoil needn't be ruinous?

Or possibly the cover-minx has had a hell of a lot of practice with it, and has a very well-toughened shoulder.

Maybe she doesn't fire it at all, and it serves as a mace...maybe when she walks in the room with it, everyone is too terrified of what will happen if it goes off at all, a-la one of Pterry Pratchett's troll's crossbows?


Ms. Bear appears to be too modest to mention that she has a "Big Idea" post about this novel over at John Scalzi's place, So I will mention it.


Ahem. Okay, then: Here's that Big Idea post:

In other news, I was so pleased by her trigger discipline I wasn't about to quibble details. Also, I think the art serves admirably as an advertisement for the book, which is after all the purpose of cover art--as well as being a gorgeous thing in its own right.


It may be the only book ever written with a prostitute as a protagonist with this much adventure and this little sex.
May I suggest that "prostitute" is what she does, not who she is?


It may be the only book ever written with a prostitute as a protagonist with this much adventure and this little sex

The possible rival that comes to my mind is Gaie Sebold's rather delightful Babylon Steel and sequelae. Her protagonist is a Madam who hires out as a mercenary when revenue is short. But there's some sex in that, even if it's not the focus, so KM may take the title.

I'll have to read it to find out. Damn you, that means I have to park my Cobra Mk III for a few hours.


The sample reads well, and I've always appreciated the services of seamstresses, in as much as there are certain things a man alone cannot always do for himself satisfactorily. Things like like replacing buttons, darning socks, pressing trousers and pleats.

I shall buy this book an revel in thoughts of crochet hooks and cover art.


And you got listed in io9's February SF and F Books You Can't Miss:

It looks like great fun!.


There appear to be tentacles on the cover. Do any cephalopod-like creatures appear in the book, or is that just a whim of the illustrator?


That would be telling. ;)


The Book Depository has just this minute informed me that my copy ..Pre-ordered on the basis that it looked interesting in every sense of 'Look ‘... is on its way ...

" Karen Memory (Hardback)
By (author) Elizabeth Bear
1 £13.67 £13.67 "

Mind you, although the cover il -lust -ration is pretty good it does have an absence of either SHARKS EQUIPED WITH LASER CANNONS or TALKING SQUID that it would have needed were it to hope to achieve near Perfection.


Serious question - how much *sexytimes* are in the book and how detailed are the descriptions? There is a very popular book club - . They have a particular need for good books, but detailed descriptions of romantic encounters are quite key to their audience. If there was enough graphic detail, then this could be an easy book to suggest for reading there.


No sexytimes at all, Aigarius. Plenty of it implied, but it's the protagonist's dayjob (nightjob?), and she treats it much like one might shuffling papers or flipping burgers--that stuff you have to do to have the money and time to do the stuff you want to do.

There is a romantic element, however. A love affair is one of the protagonist's primary motivations.


No audiobook? I demand a unabridged reading of this book narrated by Allison McLemore! Please?! She did an awesome job reading the White Trash Zombie series by Diana Rowland. This is going to be a series, right?


I've also been seeing mentions of Bass Reeves in various places. Now I have seen the latest author to be mentioned in his Wikipedia entry.

His life sounds almost like a John Wayne movie, except for one minor detail. Start with The Comancheros, and go on through True Grit to The Shootist.

Hollywood is both more and less real than we might think.


Audiobook forthcoming from Recorded Books. Right now, it's a standalone: there are no more under contract. If I get any more bright ideas, a sequel or series of sequels is a possibility, but it's not going to turn into a long epic plot arc.


I'm afraid the cover art would actually be a reason not to buy the book for me. And even though I wrote GURPS Steampunk back in the late Mesozoic, the later evolution of steampunk has made it something I normally prefer to avoid, so the elevator pitch likely wouldn't work either. However, I saw a short discussion of the book by mrissa on livejournal, and it sounded tempting—and then I got to her line about this not being the sort of steampunk where the gears are decorative design elements and I said, "Okay, I've got to read that!" I guess you can never figure what will be the right sales pitch for everyone. . . .


Plenty of it implied, but it's the protagonist's dayjob (nightjob?), and she treats it much like one might shuffling papers or flipping burgers--that stuff you have to do to have the money and time to do the stuff you want to do.

The two good films I've seen about houses of prostitution, Street of Shame (Mizoguchi) and Working Girls (Borden), both make the point that whatever the clientele think about, the women are thinking about the money.


Just listened to Our Guest Host interviewed on Rocket Talk--the rest of you should go listen, if you haven't already.

"Karen Memory" has been on my "want to read when I find a copy and the time" list since I saw the cover reveal on, and have been reading the reviews in various places (interesting that NPR has had a lot of SF book reviews lately). The "Eternal Sky" books are also on that list (and Cat Valente's "Six-Gun Snow White", but that one's harder to come by).

As for Bass Reeves and John Wayne, one thing you would never know from the movies is that not all cowboys were white guys.

And sorry I don't do Amazon, so can't help you with the ranking. I am wondering what Tom Wait's song you'd do though? "The Piano Has Been Drinking" might be a good one.


Two questions if you don't mind:
- is the broken french in the hotel name deliberate? (it should be "Hôtel Mon Chéri" or "Hôtel Ma Chérie", theorically)
- being a non-native of English, what is the peculiar language style of the narrator supposed to convey, alienness or social class? Or both, mind you...



Hi, Olivier!

The broken French is a very minor plot point in the book, actually. ;)

And Karen's voice is intended to represent idiomatic dialect of a particular place and social class, yes.


Hey, James--

I usually use the other guys for books, myself. Ahem. But I was thinking of "Tango 'Til They're Sore."

As the chord progression is within my limits and it seems thematically relevant.



All you had to do to get me was repeat the elevator pitch. After I nearly fell off my chair reading it, my instant reaction was that I *have* to get it. I'm hoping it's as fun as the pitch....

"The only thing steampunk dirigibles need are wheels, since there's no way they can get off the ground" - one of the panelists at a 1632 panel on down-tech


There were a lot of old books in the house, acquired by my grandfather in farm auctions. He liked reading and buying the books was one way he could help when somebody went bust. Similar things were being done by the farming communities in the USA.

One of those books involved airship pirates. And the airships has a super-powerful lifting gas that allowed a huge volume of usable space on board. An airship was big, so it had room. And I remember a Mickey Mouse thing, a sort of illustrated children's book, that put a whole city in the pirate airship's gasbag.

The Naval Syndicate airship Nanaimo does not have such a severe fault. But it does lift more than you would expect, including a squadron of amphibious fighter-bombers and a motor torpedo boat, and the frame is mostly of the best possible west-coast spruce and pine.

I am not going to explain anything of this. It just is.



On “And Karen's voice is intended to represent idiomatic dialect of a particular place and social class, yes.”

This afternoon I needed to travel by Metro to Newcastle Upon Tyne to Buy TEA. This, NEED, would Require More space to explain than the Dire Tea Situation in the North East of U.K.deserves.. this after Twinning’s was taken over by a Foreign Multi-national that considers the Money Making Possibilities represented by Herbal Teas to be far above the need to produce decent Earl Grey. Anyway, on my Travels, I met a man who, on hearing my voice in casual conversation, absolutely refused to believe that I was born and bred in a particular town in the North East of England. And this based entirely on his opinion of the Quality of my speaking voice- which, I have been told, is Pure 'Received Pronunciation ' English. This accent is usually Known as 'Posh '.

The man was a Scot - From just outside of Glasgow I think - and he said that I sounded like a High Court Judge...and he should know since he told me quite a lot about his criminal record.

The thing is- as I told him- I have Near Perfect Working Class Origins and my English accent is inexplicable to me in any other terms other than that I MAY, just May have a natural sense of What Sounds RIGHT. Other people have a Gymnastic Sense of Physical Balance but I have something else.

This Aint New to me...I've Lost count of the sheer number of people who have been entranced by my Voice over the years.

Just lately, as I was walking with my Furry Friend Shona- who was the Keeshond of The Baskervilles and quite impossibly pretty and also Totally Vain as you would be too if you had spent your entire life being told by Girls of All Ages and conditions that you were SO Beautiful - a Woman approached me on account of The Hound.

This was perfectly usual. Sometimes it took us half an hour to get down the local High Street and past packs of Shona girl fans of all ages.So,the, then, latest Shona Fan went on to say - in quite casual conversation - that had she still being working for the BBC she could have got me a job purely on the Basis of my Voice.

Now/or rather Then She tells/Told Me!

Voice and its Use can Sound like Magic to the listener.

Mind you the use of Mathematics manifests itself as MAGIC to me and with far better reason...Do, E = MC squared have the sheer destructive POWER of Voice ?

Come NOW DO belive ME don't you? You can TRUST IN ME ....


But I was thinking of "Tango 'Til They're Sore."

I had to look that one up on youtube, very nice. I don't have nearly enough of Waits' music, but there's plenty to choose from, "Piano" is just the first thing that came to mind, and haven't heard it in ages. And blame my typo on Typing While Migrainey.


That reminds me of when I first heard Charlie speak. I knew he's not Scottish, and I don't know how they sound in Leeds, but to my American ears he sounds fairly "Proper British". The effect of it being educated out, I suppose.


I have--used to have more of it, before I lived in Nevada--an accent that people from places not New England assumed was upper-class/educated, and which very, very good ESL speakers often identified as nearly-accentless ESL.

My family is working-class to the core, but I learned my own speech patterns from my Swedish immigrant grandfather, who believed very strongly that speaking perfect English was the road to class mobility.

And now, the inevitable digressions!


I really don't sound local to where I grew up -- and got bullied at school as a result. (Root causes: a mother from Dahn Saath who originally worked as an actress and had good pronounced-RP elocution, combined with growing up on a street with no neighbourhood kids of my own age, and bullying-induced isolation becoming a vicious circle. Upshot: how to grow up speaking BBC English in West Yorkshire in the 1960s/1970s.)


That reminds me of a book I read in primary school, which was one of those 1900-1910 books for boys, sort of Percy F. Westerman, but I can't recall the title, just that it involved airships that could move pretty damn fast, one was run by modern day pirates and of course the goodies were after them. Various adventures in the boys own style followed. Naturally known physics was disregarded.
So I suppose the point is that dirigibles have a long history of being involved in thrilling adventures that carefully ignore real restrictions on their operating capabilities.


Apologies if I triggered any bad memories.
I could say there was one advantage of growing up partly on a military post is that we were all from someplace else, and later I went to a school outside DC which was very international. I don't think I have a particular accent, though that's just as likely to be from being a latchkey kid watching too much TV.


I don't think I have a particular accent

Umm, other than an American one, that is. I guess.


In the village where I grew up there was a young lady who studied the local accents and dialect, and my mother was told that they were very mixed. My parents came from different places, and I had a mix of their accents with that of where I grew up. None of this was particularly strong, but they were all there.

I tried to thicken up this accent when, in the few months after I passed my English Language O-level, early, I was transferred to the set studying Chaucer for English Litt.

Chaucer is good for messing up Google Translate.


There IS an accent in the US called something like "TV American". When TV took off in the 50s the networks realized they needed to be somewhat neutral in accents and went for an accent that doesn't really exist anywhere in the US except on TV. Army brats tend to speak it natively. For most actors it is something to learn. :)


I grew up in Nebraska and have been told I don't have a discernable regional accent. Funny thing about that is how this "no accent" is defined depending on where you are.

In the early 00's, I worked for a medical manufacturer here in Seattle that sent me to the U.K. for a week to work with a local repair company that was to do maintenence on some of our products. I was working outside of Abingdon, but staying in Oxford at a charming place called the Eastgate Hotel. Just lovely. Anyway, we were having lunch one day in the office, where I was finding my liking of fresh cucumber on sandwiches, when one of the office staff said "You don't sound like a Yank, actually." I said, "Is that a good thing or a bad thing" She said, "No, it's fine but you sound like a news reader from BBC2."

Not having listened to a BBC2 newsreader, I took it as a compliment and as the discussion continued found out that she was expecting a voice previously heard on the TV show "Dallas" or some such.

It was a good trip. Besides learning about cucumber on sandwiches I also found a lasting love for a good pint of Stout. Good times, Good times...

On topic:
Love the excerpt and have it in the must read pile. Well actually two piles. They have a tendency to fall over once they over 5 foot tall.


Well, I bought it, I read it, and I enjoyed it... :)

Without too much exposition on the Steampunk front, I now have this mental picture of Sigourney Weaver driving a non-standard product of the Singer Company :)


Well, I am from the West of Scotland and have been variously told that I am:-
1) Posh, by people who are "manual labour WofS".
2) Obviously Scottish but don't sound exactly like I'm from Glasgow like my classmates, by a guy from Hong Kong.
3) Incomprehensably Scottish at times, by people from the self-proclaimed "Home Counties".

This leads me to think that "accents are in the ear of the listener" as much as in the voice of the speaker.

Watching "Our Guy in India", I wondered why the production company had felt it necessary to subtitle the Indians who were speaking Englisn!


Watching "Our Guy in India", I wondered why the production company had felt it necessary to subtitle the Indians who were speaking English!

Probably a subtle form of racism—or whatever form of "-ism" this is, because it's not necessarily connected to "race". But it's a form of discrimination anyway.

I can remember examples in German TV where the production company found it necessary to subtitle a strong northern German dialect (Plattdeutsch), whereas strong southern German dialects (Bavarian, Swabian) are never subtitled.


Yeah, that was pretty much my feeling.

Also I do understand your point about German dialects, having heard an English BA (German and French) complaining that they knew Austrians spoke German, but they still couldn't understand them!


Is it racism to have problems with understanding some English accents (not dialects)?

People from India sound very different, until they have been in the UK for a few years. Some of it might be my age-worn lugholes and bad telephone lines, but have you heard the accents from those call centres?

I know I have an accent, and I expect it would be classed as Northern. I'm not so far from Guy Martin in my origins, but I would class his accent as a bit stronger than mine. I know there are parts of Britain there I have to be wary of the difference between "thirty" and "thirteen".

Those subtitles could seem rather different if you went to a school in some cities, where there's a substantial immigrant population. You wouldn't need them. But TV in the USA has been known to subtitle actors using a Geordie accent (and, from the clips I have seen, it's not as strong an accent as the reality of a pre-BBC England would have been).

Maybe the accents are a bit like the Great Vowel Shift that hit English after Chaucer. Would a reading of Chaucer, in the original accent, need subtitles? And can we blame that on racism?


Guy Martin has announced he plans to retire from motor-cycle racing at the end of the season.

I hope he carries on with his TV work. He's done some good stuff.

Silly thought, but is Top Gear looking for a Jeremy Clarkson replacement?


"Call centre accents" are something completely other to what these people sounded like. You'd be aware that these people weren't from "your area", but not that they were from Chenai or Mumbai.

Also, Guy's a Southerner, being from Lincolnshire! "The Sarf" starts at Nottinghamshire! ;-)

Plus I'm in my 50s and haven't lived anywhere with a really large ethnic population. Maybe it's just that I actually listen?

And finally thanks for the news about Guy's retirement. Here's hoping he finally get's that illusive TT win this year!


Is it racism to have problems with understanding some English accents (not dialects)?

No, that's certainly not racism. Understanding an accent takes time, because you have to get used to listening to it. That's especially true if it's a very thick accent. As long as you haven't had a lot of exposure to the accent you will find it difficult to understand it. That's just normal.

The discrimination (as I wrote above, "racism" is probably not the right word for it) doesn't lie in your lack of understanding a particular accent. It lies in someone else deciding which accent(s) you (and everybody else!) are supposed to find difficult to understand, and which accent(s) not, and therefore consequently subtitling one accent on TV but not the other.

As a result, the first group gets the very public message "nobody understands you and that's your fault, you must make a real effort to lose your accent if you want to communicate with people from outside your group", and the second group gets the implicit message "you don't need to make any effort at all to be understood, if another person doesn't understand your accent it's their fault, not yours".


That's pretty much what I meant about "actually listening" in #46 Para 3. If you listen properly to other people then you can understand much more broad accents (presumes we mean accent, not dialect or language). For a simple example, would you understand "Fit like loon?" (or quine) as an inquiry as to the the state of your health and life generally? Or "Fur yboots $place?" as a request for directions?


Myself, on first hearing it were I standing outside a main London station (for example), probably not. Your written-down example uses a metasyntactic variable, but spoken, I might not recognise the place name.

I'd have to ask the person to repeat it.

Since we've been talking about a situation where repeating something isn't an option (the advent of digital set top boxes makes that slightly less of an issue, but it'd be arrogant in the extreme to assume everyone has one), then subtitling is the best alternative.

Were I visiting whatever part of the world uses that variant of English, I expect I'd get the hang of it fairly swiftly, but in the context of a fleeting encounter there's not the time.

(My wife would point out that in Sweden, the national news will often subtitle people from the southern city of Malmö. She sometimes tries to show me the difference between a Stockholmer accent and a Malmö one while watching Wallander, but my ear just hears Swedish.)

And so we end up with a 'standard' language, which we try to make sure everyone can interoperate in. It'll usually be the language of a particular area and class, though I understand that official standard Irish is a synthetic compromise between the different regional varieties.


.... Aaaand we are somewhere with no obvious connection to where we started. Sorry Bear!


The metasyntax was used because the place could be anywhere (town, district (type of) establishment...); for instance the last time I hweard it spoken the query was "furybootsabankloon?" (lack of spaces to indicate how fast the query was delivered) (tr "Where is the nearest bank young man?" but could be "will you direct me to $district please young man?"). Just getting the "fur yboots" is impressive.

Oh and yes there's no obvious connection to where we started, but I don't think we can even see any of the usual strange attractors from here!



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This page contains a single entry by Elizabeth Bear published on February 5, 2015 5:53 AM.

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