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Does Anyone Know...

...how much weekly allowance a twelve-year-old kid would have gotten around the year 2000?  It's for a book, of course.


My mother immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1947, along with her brother and sister.  All of Eastern Europe was turning Communist then, and because the US government thought that those countries were sending us spies or saboteurs, they had begun to drastically limit the number of people from there who could enter the United States.

So when the three of them arrived at Ellis Island they were labeled “Enemy Aliens,” and were detained for a week, until the authorities could contact distant relatives who would vouch for them.  My mother said that she drank her first Coca-Cola there, and she thought it was so terrible it had to be something they only gave to prisoners.  And she told me something the immigrants said among themselves, that from Ellis Island the Statue of Liberty has her back to you.

The three of them had come to the US on a Visitor’s Visa, so when they left Ellis Island they were warned that they could only stay for three months.  When their time was up the FBI called my mother in for an interview, where she had to come up with some sort of fiction about why she hadn’t left yet.  There were more interviews after that, each one worse than before, each one threatening her with deportation.  (I once asked her why they interviewed her and not her brother or sister, and she said that they had probably picked her out as the most nervous of the three.)  Then Congress passed the McCarren Act, which gave amnesty to refugees from Communism and allowed them to start on a path toward citizenship.  She was pregnant with me when she took the Oath of Citizenship.

The thing about immigrants is that they flat out love this country.  After all, out of all the countries in the world they chose this one.  They risk a lot, sometimes even their lives, to get here.  Many of them are fleeing dictators or famine or war or torture, and when they see how we live they can barely believe their good fortune.  My father, for example, had a lifelong love affair with the First Amendment, partly because, as I said before, his father had nearly been arrested by the Gestapo for saying something negative about Hitler.  He couldn’t get over the idea that not only could you criticize the people in government, but that every two or four years, if you didn’t like them, you were supposed to criticize them, to debate their merits with your friends and family.

I do understand that there can be a few bad people among all the millions that come here.  But the vetting we do already seems to work fine — not one terrorist has ever come from the seven countries named in the Executive Order.  More than that, though, I think the US is making the same stupid mistake they made back in 1947.  The people who come here are not Communist spies from Eastern Europe or terrorists from the Middle East — those are the very things they reject, the reasons they have to flee.  If we turn them away now, we are placing them in great danger.

Every generation, this country is renewed by immigrants.  I’m not going to go into all the fantastic immigrants who came here, and all the things they gave us.  But if we ban those who arrive from certain countries, I guarantee we will miss out on some incredible people.


This morning I got a call from Pew Research, and I got to say that I disapproved of Trump!  (They didn't have any stronger words I could choose.)  This is especially exciting since apparently voters in California didn't count in the last election, so at least I was able to make my opinion known.

Sorry, More Politics

Well, we’ve done it.  We’ve just inaugurated a man who will, almost certainly, go down as the worst president in U.S. history: stupider and more incurious than George W. Bush; greedier and more of a war-monger than Dick Cheney; more cold-hearted than Reagan; more thin-skinned and vindictive than Nixon; more of an adulterer than Clinton and Kennedy combined; more crooked than Harding.  As for his racism and misogyny and xenophobia, you’d have to go back even farther to find a comparison, to a time when those in power dismissed minorities and women with jokes and epithets.

And then there are the traits that are all his own: malignant narcissism, a pathetic desire for adulation, a penchant for lying that comes almost as easily as breathing, massive conflicts of interest, a debt to Russia whose outlines are only now becoming clear.

I … don’t really know how to end this post.  Yesterday was pretty grim, but today the marches have given me hope.  What matters, I think, is keeping this feeling of resistance alive, reminding ourselves that none of this is normal, that this isn't the way the United States usually works.  And we're going to have to do that for four years, or for however long he’s in office.  If we can keep that up, we just might be able to make it through.

A Thousand Words...

Remember that political rant I went on after the election?  Here it is in picture form, much more concisely and briefly stated:


(This is from the DailyKos graphic library.)

Some Blatant Self-Promotion

1. An e-book of my collection of short stories, Travellers in Magic, will be available for $1.99 on December 29 here.  (I think you have to wait for the day itself to click through.) I still think most of these stories are pretty good — some of them were nominated for the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards, and one, “Cassandra’s Photographs,” was nominated for a Hugo.  “Cassandra’s Photographs” is also one of the few stories I wrote that Doug didn’t like much — and, considering its eventual nomination, I keep hoping he won’t like more of my stories.  No such luck so far, though.

2. My story “The Catastrophe of Cities” is out this month in Asimov’s Science Fiction.  It was inspired by a misreading of the phrase “the lost cities of the plains,” as “the lost cities of Paris,” which immediately gave me the idea of a lost city scattered and hidden within another city.  Dyslexia can be useful!  Dyslexics untie!

3. I feel as if I should have three points here.  Okay, here’s an observation, something I just realized — sometimes writing the second chapter of a novel can be harder than writing the first.

Some Books I Liked This Year

Not necessarily books that came out in 2016, but books I read this year.

So, Anyway…, by John Cleese: Funny, delightful, filled with stories about Cleese's fascinating early life.  Cleese comes across as talented, self-deprecating, and, as I wrote earlier, "a genuinely decent person.  He seems to have liked just about everyone, and when he introduces someone he is not only generous with his praise but specific with it, telling us exactly what he likes about them and what kind of talents they have."

Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge: Hardinge writes about the undersides of things, what happens beneath bridges, or in the middle of the night, or on the flip side of folk tales.  This one takes the changeling story and turns it inside out.  But the best part about it is the characters, who are a mix of good and bad, helpful and inconsistent — just like real people.

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson: I loved Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened so much that I was a bit worried about picking up this one, because I didn’t see how it could possibly live up to the earlier book.  But in a way it’s even better, because here she’s devastatingly honest about her depression.  And it’s hilarious, which is rare — you don’t get too many funny books about depression.  Highly recommended for depressives, and for other people too.

Dreams of Distant Shores, by Patricia McKillip:  Short stories by the amazing Patricia McKillip. I got to blurb this one, so I may be just a teeny bit biased.  Here’s what I said: "Anyone about to open this book is a very lucky person indeed.  You are about to encounter mysteries, monsters jewels, songs, witches, a treasure chest of story.  Here are magic worlds, places of enchantment, and a wonderful, lyrical voice to guide you through them.”

This Census Taker, China Mieville: The narrator, a young boy, lives in a harsh, strange, mountainous region, in the aftermath of some catastrophe which is never named.  His father may or may not have killed his mother, and while the boy is still trying to deal with this, a census taker comes to his village and starts asking questions.  Mieville seems to thrive on taking risks with his fiction — this is really not like anything I’ve ever read before.  Watch out for acronyms.

Medusa’s Web, by Tim Powers: Powers weaves a story around some Los Angeles history, an addictive pastime among old-time movie stars, and a modern-day gothic family.  I think this is what used to be called “fantasy with rivets,” where the magic is worked out as rigorously as any science, and while I usually prefer my fantasy to be more mysterious, I did like this, probably because the family’s story was compelling and I enjoyed the history.

Quote of the Month

"Far and away the greatest menace to the writer -- any writer, beginning or otherwise -- is the reader....  Picture this creature, this clod, this reader, as lying comfortably in a hammock, yawning and easily distracted, a glass of iced tea by his side, half a dozen light novels and a magazine or two right where he can reach them, a portable television set well within his vision, the sun shining lazily and a golden sleepy haze surrounding him.  Now ask him to select a story -- a story slaved over and polished, edited and refined and perfected with infinite labor -- and ask him to lie there and read.  Dirty fighting is only half of it -- any possible trick must be well within the rules for the writer."  -- Shirley Jackson, "Garlic in Fiction," in the new book Let Me Tell You.

Wow, I didn't mean to quote that much of it.  It's certainly how I feel, a lot of the time.

More Politics, and My Father Again

I’ve written before about my father’s experiences growing up in Nazi Germany, before his family fled to Holland.  He didn’t talk about that time much, but I do remember one thing he said.  His parents had gotten together with some friends before the election, and one of them, someone who was Jewish, said, “Why don’t we vote for Hitler?  He’ll keep the Communists down.  And he doesn’t really mean all that about the Jews.”

I’ve been thinking about that story a lot lately.  “He doesn’t really mean it,” people are saying about Trump.  “He’s not going to deport people who have lived in the U.S. since they were kids.  He’s not going to break up families.  He doesn’t really think the U.S. should register Muslims.”

(Incidentally, I’ve never seen anyone talk about how exactly a Muslim registry would work.  What if your parents were Muslim but you no longer believed in their faith?  What if only one of your parents was Muslim?  Or only one grandparent?  Or you had one drop of Muslim blood?  How far back would it go?)

But as Maya Angelou said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."  Yes, he means it.  Yes, he’d register Muslims if he could, despite the fact that doing so would be unconstitutional.  Yes, he’d break up families, and deport parents who are here without documents.  Yes, he’d build a wall, or at least start to build one before he figured out that it would cost a fortune and, no, Mexico won’t pay for it.

All of which is to say that I don’t plan to give Trump a chance, and I hope other people don’t either.  (I especially hope this of the Democrats in congress, though they haven’t shown much of a spine before this.)  I’ve seen this movie before, through the stories my parents told me.  His agenda is so vile he shouldn’t be able to get away with even the smallest part of it.

Weird Thanksgiving Present

Yesterday I got a box of chocolates in the mail, with a somewhat puzzling card that said, "Happy Thanksgiving/ Will, Sharen, Nick & Alex."  Puzzling because I have no idea who these people are.

So, Will, Sharen, Nick & Alex -- I'm not sure if these chocolates were intended for you or if they were sent by you.  Since I have no idea how to get in touch with you, though, I have to say I've already eaten a few.  And they were delicious.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!