Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow, Hachette Book Group, 2019.

January Scaller is a young girl living in the mansion of the insanely wealthy William Cornelius Locke, a mansion packed with valuable collectables from all over the world…and some that apparently don’t belong in this one.  Her father, Julian, is an employee of Mr. Locke charged with traveling the world in search of said wondrous objects, so he isn’t home very much. Sometimes Mr. Locke has to travel himself, and sometimes he takes January with him as a treat or distraction.

On one such trip, January finds a doorway between worlds. So much for plot summary, because what happens doesn’t actually tell you what’s happening. That’s a separate issue altogether. Suffice to say there are more doors where that one came from and January’s discovery of them leads into all kinds of trouble, and not just for her.

I picked this one up on the recommendation of people whose taste and judgment I trust. I’m also a sucker for portal fantasies, probably ever since I came across George R.R. Martin’s “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr” in Fantastic Stories years ago. This is one of the best ones I’ve ever read. From the first page I knew I was in for a treat, for it was clear the author was a person in love with language, specifically language in the service of story. A sentence might be as long as it needs to be, and sometimes it may be convoluted, but it’s never clumsy. A sort of wordy precision which is almost but not quite a contradiction in terms, and so rare to find.

I don’t think I’m giving too much away to note that January isn’t quite what she seems, but then neither are most of the rest of Harrow’s cast. Of course their secrets are tied to the existence of the doors and the astute reader will winkle most of it out before book’s end, and that’s half the fun. There are elements that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror novel, but this isn’t one. There’s contemplation of the nature of story itself and its role in the world. Not to mention one adventure after another, which are all part of the same adventure: growing up, and self discovery.

Recommended. Heartily.

Ringing the Changes

Not inaccurate but incomplete. I’m thinking more of an addition rather than a change (although I’m likewise considering some tweaks to the website. Lord knows it could use a refresh).

Ahem. Excuse the tangent. The point I’m getting to is I’m seriously considering starting an email newsletter. And by “seriously considering” I mean yeah, it’s very likely going to happen. Not today, but not the distant future either. Such things require planning to do right which requires time which you’d think I’d have tons of, being largely confined to the house except for necessary errands, and you’d think wrong. There’s always something else I need to be doing aside from what I want to be doing. So it goes…

Sorry. Tangenting again. So here’s the thing: Why a newsletter? What’s wrong with the blog?

Well, lots of things, but that’s not the point, even if the blog isn’t going away. There are advantages to a private email list that a blog doesn’t have, and not just for me. For a start, what if I want to give actual readers a heads-up on a special promotion or giveaway or preliminary book cover, but am not ready to or don’t want to broadcast it to the world? That’s a newsletter’s job.

I’ll give you another example. When I sold “The Fox’s Daughter” to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I announced it here and over on FB. One of the biggest fans of the Yamada series didn’t see the post, even though we’re FB friends (FB is like that). It took a share from another reader to bring it to their attention. Whereupon they were somewhat put out that they weren’t immediately informed, and can’t say I blame them. When I mentioned a newsletter? They demanded to be signed up first, and when the time comes, so I shall. People are less likely to miss stuff that might interest them that way.

Frequency? Probably once a month or so, at most. And when I say “private” email list, I mean exactly that. I will not sell it and I damn well won’t share it. This is just for you and me, for however many iterations of “you and me” there are. That’s for you all to decide.

There will likely be some bonus for signing up. Haven’t decided what yet. Likely an original work before it’s available anywhere else, that kind of thing. Something else to think about.

So what do you think? Hate newsletters? Love them? What’s a newsletter? Speak now or I’ll likely just do what I want. Very dangerous, that.

Confession Time

I am a writer, so it should go without saying that I’m a reader. Show me a writer who didn’t start as a reader and I’ll show you someone painting by numbers and connecting the dots.

On the other hand, or foot, or whatever—there’s more than one kind of reader. Most true readers start as the voracious sort, and I certainly did. Once I learned that those black ink spots meant something, there was no stopping me. Storybooks, philosophy, cereal boxes, whatever. Put it in front of me and I’d read it. I wouldn’t always understand it, mind, but at the time this hardly mattered.

That’s fairly common among readers. Later, after that initial insane rush, we start to specialize…or drift, depending on your point of view. We start to recognize that certain forms “speak” to us more. It may be a phase, it may be lifelong. I started with books and later moved to an intense affair with comics when I had a bit more discretionary income and could, you know, acquire things that weren’t already in the family library. I came into that about the time Jack Kirby moved to DC and started the New Gods series. But all good and bad things come to an end, and if you’re lucky, new good things appear (and bad, whether  you’re lucky or not) and by college I was back to books. LOTR and The Earthsea (at the time) Trilogy. Fritz Leiber, Clark Ashton Smith and those echoes of the pulp era. HPL, REH.

And then…well, my true bent manifested. Turns out I am a butterfly. I go to whatever catches my attention. I am not focused. Some readers make it a point to, say, read the Romantics and ignore everything else until they’re done, then move on. I can’t do that. I go back, I go forward. I read collections and novels by current writers. I go back to things I’ve missed. Bear in mind, this is for pleasure. There’s also writerly research, which is another subject entirely. It can be and often is pleasurable, but that’s not the reason you go there. You need to know about something and try to find out what you don’t know. You go where you think that information is.

Just another way of saying I am haphazard in the extreme. For instance, I’ve managed to read ULYSSES, but not FINNEGAN’S WAKE. I’ve read Eddison’s THE WORM OUROBOROS but not Morris’ THE WELL AT WORLD’S END. You get the idea.

So the confession part. I, a fantasist, have never read George Macdonald. At all. This is something I feel a sharp need to address. So I’ve acquired copies of THE GOLDEN KEY and PHANTASTES.

Which, at the very minimum, will tell me what, if anything I’ve missed. Other than, you know, almost everything.

So What’s Your Superpower?

Like most who do what I do, I started as a reader. The voracious sort, of anything I could get my hands on that had words on it. Fiction, non-fiction, cereal boxes, whatever. Comics were a big part of that.

Which brings me to “What’s Your Superpower?”

We’ve all seen that meme. “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Always a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a serious element to it because you can tell a lot about a person by what they desire. Once you eliminate the obvious and over-used (super strength, flying and such) it gets a lot more interesting. Things like “I want to time-travel at will” or “Solve any crossword in under ten seconds” are not unheard of. Anyone who wants “People to do what I say” probably needs counseling, or at least a safe distance. It’s a sort of mini-test for the state of your head.

Me, I’m torn between two. The first is that I’d like the power to understand and speak any language I hear, and read and write any language I see. Forget super-strength, I think this would be incredibly cool. Not especially heroic in the earth-saving sense, but certainly very useful. We’d finally know what the Phaistos Disk is talking about.

The second is dangerously close to the “People to do what I say” option above. I’ve even written a couple of pieces with this notion: I’d like the ability, for example when I’m hearing a politician speechifying or a preacher preaching, to simply say, “Tell the truth.”

And they would.

Now, I’m not talking about catching lies as such, though this would often do that. Just make them say what they really feel is true. Facts are facts, but the truth of facts is they are open to interpretation. Facts are what is, truth is what they mean. Facts are dispassionate; truth is personal. Does a person really mean what they say? Even when they’re spouting absolute nonsense? I figure we can sort out the nonsense on our own; that’s our job. Also doesn’t mean the person speaking isn’t a vile waste of oxygen, but at least we’ll know if they’re a sincere vile waste of oxygen.

It’s a good thing to know.

So what’s your superpower?

Liminal Conversation

Since I’m currently torn between conflicts and thus not able to concentrate properly on any of them, I’m posting a piece of flash fiction in lieu of having anything to say. Except in a story.

The key word, in case there was any doubt, was “liminal.”

 

 

Liminal Conversation

Tisha was looking thoughtful. That was nearly always trouble. Then she looked at me, and I knew that the trouble had arrived. “Why does no one use the word ‘liminal’ in normal conversation?”

Dinner was over. Dishes were done. Tisha’s focus was almost scary, but once we were finished with the mundanities of the day, then a brilliant mind has the chance to wander, and hers could wander further than most. There had been a time when such questions left me bewildered, but that was mostly because I had been both smitten and impertinent enough to want to understand the thought process going on behind those haunting green eyes. After a few years together, I had learned to just go with it. “I imagine there are people who do, yet I’m not surprised there isn’t more of it. You have to admit, it’s a fairly obscure word.”

“But why then? It’s so useful.”

I blinked. “Well, in the esoteric sense of useful….”

She dismissed that. “Rubbish. I’m not talking Schrodinger’s Cat, here, where you need to express whether the cat is in a state neither alive nor dead, but in a transitional non-state. I mean mundane things, like a bridge. Liminal is the best description for a bridge I’ve ever heard.”

“Because it’s neither one piece of land nor another?”

“Silly. Because it is by definition the transition from one place to another. Once you set foot or wheel on a bridge, you are literally in a liminal state, neither here nor there.”

“And that state doesn’t change until you reach one side or the other?”

“Exactly. And let’s not forget its cousin subliminal, which I’ll admit does get used more often, but only because it expresses a concept that is defined by the liminal root. Liminal in that sense meaning ‘barely at the doors of perception.’ Subliminal is something a part of your brain recognizes and acts on, even if the conscious mind has no idea why.”

“As in just below the liminal threshold, whereas a faintly red sky near sunrise is at the liminal threshold if you recognize that it’s red.”

“You got it. Now how about a dock? A transitional state between land and sea, or rather land and ship. Completely liminal.”

“Or a shading between the colors red and pink? Neither pink nor red?”

“Absolutely liminal. Or how else would you describe the state between one breath and the next? You’re probably going to take that breath, but if you didn’t then it’s not between one breath and the next, it’s between life and death.”

“Or a bottle that just needs to lose one more bubble of air before it sinks?”

She nodded. “Really, anything of that sort. See how useful it is?”

“I do.”

Tisha was looking thoughtful again. “Do we still have that bottle of zinfandel? I could go for a glass.”

“Me too. I’ll get it.”

Three repeats of “red” and one mention of bottle. Liminal? Very useful, but subliminal? Winner, hands down.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.