Five Things: June 24, 2020

Hello! Let’s get to today’s five, shall we?

Chair trouble: This morning I sat down in my office chair and kept going down; the pneumatic tube that regulates the height appears to have given out. Unfortunately my desk does not lower, which means working at my usual place of business is not possible today, unless I want a righteous case of carpal tunnel, which I do not. I have thus wandered about the house to get work done with my laptop and have had a fitful time of it. I’m good with the laptops for email and blog work, and when I travel (because I have no choice), but when I’m home I very much prefer my desktop and its big, roomy monitor.

So there will be a visit to the local Staples in my near future. I have taken a look at some super fancy chairs online but thanks to Covid, all of the manufacturer websites warn of shipping delays. I’m not going to be happy waiting two weeks for a whole new chair (or for a replacement pneumatic tube, to forestall an inevitable comment).

Also, this is another one of those times when I reflect that I am fortunate to be in a position where a chair breaking down on me means I am mildly inconvenienced for a day or two, rather than just having to suck it up and deal with it because I don’t have the means to acquire a new chair. Maybe it’s weird to feel fortunate when things break down. But I do, and I think the mindfulness of that is not bad.

The Last Emperox an Amazon Top SF/F Book of 2020 (so far): My publicist sent me the news this morning, which is nice, and also a reminder that somewhat incredibly, 2020 is almost half done. This year has felt simultaneously 10,000 years long and also whiplash fast. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see the book get a little love here on the doorstep of the second half of the year. I’m happy with how things have been turning out with Emperox generally, especially in this trainwreck of a year. No matter what happens with it from here on out, it feels like it’s already won.

Is Joe Biden actually running a good campaign? Writer Jonathan Chait argues that he is in New York magazine, and, I mean, maybe? Biden didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during the primaries, where he always felt like everyone’s third choice (“everyone” in this case being “everyone I know and/or who is on Twitter”) and who, upon locking up a nomination, has mostly appeared to be following the practice of not interrupting his opponent while he is making a mistake. Which, here in 2020, might be enough to qualify as a successful campaign! Chait argues he’s doing other things right too. Sure, why not. I’m going to vote for him pretty much regardless, but I agree it’s nice to see him not fucking it up on a constant basis.

Travel restrictions for the tri-state area: New York, Connecticut and New Jersey say that if you’re coming in from somewhere that has done a shit job of handling the spread of the coronavirus, you’re going to have to quarantine for two weeks. The metric they’ve determined for this basically covers almost all of the south, and Utah and Washington thrown in as spare change. I seem to recall Florida doing something like this a couple of months ago, although I also seem to recall the specifics being different (ie, Florida not doing testing and maintaining that the only way the virus could be in the Sunshine State was if it were brought in from New York). As Michael Scott would say, how the turntables. I’m not going to be too smug about it because the way things are going, other states including mine could find themselves with the same restrictions. Wear those masks, folks.

More Muppets:

The Muppets haven’t been exactly hitting it out of the park recently, but as a card carrying Gen-Xer, I’m always willing to give them another shot.

The Big Idea: Katherine Addison

When Katherine Addison gets hold of the Victorian Era in her new novel The Angel of the Crows, she does things to it that no one expected — possibly most of all herself. Here she is to tell you how and why she’s done what she has, and why she had so much fun with it.

Disclosure: I read this book in galley and liked it enough to provide a blurb for it.

KATHERINE ADDISON:

I started writing The Angel of the Crows when I was in a particularly bad spot. I was depressed, I was stuck, nothing seemed to be working. So I had this goofy idea about Sherlock and angels and said, I’ll never publish this, but I’m sure not writing anything else right now, so what the heck, and started writing.

It very quickly turned not to be about Sherlock at all, but about the original Sherlock Holmes stories, which I have loved since I was a child. They are also stories that have burrowed deeply into our culture, as the proliferation of Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows and parodies and pastiches shows. That proliferation also shows that there’s a conversation going on about the stories, about the figures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, about the Detective and their Sidekick. This is a conversation in which I’ve listened to a lot of voices, and a conversation in which, it turns out, I have something to say… by means of making Sherlock Holmes a (slightly) fallen angel.

I wasn’t going to publish it. It was obviously too weird. But if it was already too weird, that gave me freedom to throw in anything I wanted to. Angels and vampires and werewolves and steampunk watchdogs and I had to have hell-hounds, and a giant airship mooring tower in the East End of London, and then why not Jack the Ripper? I started calling it my kitchen-sink novel.

When my editor asked me what I was working on, I told the truth.

She lit up like a pinball machine.

Apparently, everything that I thought was fun in a novel, she also thought was fun in a novel, and she didn’t think it was too weird at all.

The novel is built around the Holmes stories, and part of the game I was playing was to see how far I could twist them by putting them in this new context, where people don’t get addicted to opium, they get addicted to vampires, and a hell-hound is actually the most reasonable explanation for what killed Sir Charles Baskerville.

The novel is also built around the historical case of Jack the Ripper. I have done a lot of reading about Jack the Ripper, and this was a chance to pull out an always popular what-if: what if Sherlock Holmes had taken the case of the Whitechapel murderer? It was a chance to put all my reading to good use and a chance to try the tiniest bit of historical fiction. (The Thames Torso Murderer is real, too.) My conclusion from this is that historical fiction is extremely damn hard to write. You have to make choices about things that are historically undecided, like how many victims Jack the Ripper had. (I voted for six.) I followed the historical timeline exactly, and the things Crow reads in the papers about the Whitechapel murderer are things the newspapers really said.

The temporal structure of the novel—the timeline—is Jack the Ripper. The thematic structure is the Sherlock Holmes stories, and combining the two was a complicated venture. It should be acknowledged, though, that I made no attempt to follow any kind of Sherlockian canonical chronology—I’m wrong from the start, since A Study in Scarlet begins in 1878 and I had to move things up a whole decade to get to August of 1888 and the murder of Martha Tabram. (In this world the Second Afghan War drags on for ten years because there are fallen angels and they are very bad news.) And Conan Doyle himself never tried for any kind of continuity between stories (except that “The Adventure of the Empty House” has to take place after “The Final Problem”). So chronology there is what I say it is for the purposes of the larger story.

I used as many Sherlock Holmes stories as I could, starting with A Study in Scarlet and finishing with “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” I took them apart and recombined them; I let them gambol a bit. I increased women’s speaking parts. I repurposed some characters and made up others; I rewrote the Andaman Islander in The Sign of the Four; I mixed in the occasional historical person. This is truly my kitchen-sink novel.

Ultimately, the Big Idea of The Angel of the Crows centers on the Sherlock Holmes stories. By putting the stories in a new setting, and by putting the detective up against a mystery that has baffled real-life detectives for more than 130 years, I’m offering my own commentary on the stories and their late Victorian milieu and the place they continue to have in our culture. And having a lot of fun doing it, too.

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The Angel of the Crows: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|IndieBound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.