Here's a silly story.
I'm a permanent resident in Bulgaria, which means I need to renew my D Visa and get a new ID card every five years. That is why I was waiting with Pavlina and Ellie in the bureaucrat-lined corridor of the Migration Directorate. A line of people waited outside in the cold, and another line of people waited inside the building. We stood alongside a Russian and a group of Koreans before windows 3 and 4. This was probably the right place, but who could be sure?
I haven't had a good time in the Migration Directorate. I've been told off, yelled at, fined, and generally confused. For a while, I had an immigration lawyer to help me, but he retired. The last time I did this was five years ago, which means I didn't remember what documents I needed and anyway there had been a change of procedures. So I just brought everything. Old ID card and passport, obviously, and then marriage certificate, bank statement, proof of residence. Photos. Copies of everything! I was riding high on a wave of anxiety.
The borders of my vision constricting, I counted and recounted the documents. Passport. Copies. Bank statement. Copies. Passport. Had I lost my passport? What if they yelled at me again?
"Korea?" called the woman at window 4. We were next.
"Get out your ID card," said Pavlina, and I tugged my wallet out of my wallet.
Bank card bank card American driver's licence library card. Library card bank card. I flipped through them mindlessly, eyes failing to catch on the pink and blue of my ID card. And again. Library card driver's licence. But my ID card was always there. My vision constricted further. I couldn't remember taking my ID card out of my copy machine. It must still be there, at home.
It would have been nice to just faint. Let the darkness close in and collapse. Then all this could be somebody else's problem. Just giving up and going home would have been nice too. But Pavlina had taken time out of her day to come with me. Ellie was there. There was a Korean supermarket across the street, and we'd promised ourselves lunch there after this was all over. I had to deserve that lunch.
"SASht?" That's the Bulgarian version of USA.
We were pushed forward and onto the mercy of the lady behind the window. "I forgot my ID card." "He left it in the copier." With very damp hands, I shoved the paper copy under her window.
"Calm," she said. "Do you have your passport?"
She gave us a form to fill out. What were my parents' dates of birth? Here's the stamp for your passport. Whoops, my shift's over. Here's the next window-lady. Now look into the camera. Boop your bank card on the reader to pay. Your new ID will be ready by the 25th. When you pick it up, bring your receipt, your passport, and your old card. You'll bring your card next time, right?
The Migration Directorate had changed its procedures, indeed. Mercy flowed like water. I stumbled out of the place burbling thanks to everyone, and followed Pavlina and Ellie to the Korean supermarket. We bought steamed buns for lunch.
They were half-frozen and bad, but that's not the point. The point is that anxiety is the opposite of useful. It's a lesson I keep having to learn. I suppose I should be grateful I get so many opportunities to do just that.
In other news, Tim Morris, the illustrator for Fellow Tetrapod, has collected together all the pictures and species descriptions so far in the story, with some of his own analysis. You can see that here.
Otherwise, I mostly just wrote Fellow Tetrapod. There was a big hump to get over (the bridge between the end of Act II and the beginning of Act III) and I had to throttle down to two posts a week for a while. But now we're over the hump and back to three posts a week. I won't jinx anything by making a prediction, but the writing is easier and the end of the story is close.
As always happens when I'm nearing the end of a project. Another project beckons. The world map and language for Ghost of Mercy continue to develop, as you can see on my Patreon.
And I read some books
The Lake Wobegon Virus by Garrison Keillor
It's welcome political wish-fulfillment. What if neighbors were only being torn apart by a virus that infects their brains and makes them say terrible things to each other? That would be nice. I had the sense here that Keillor was packing up Lake Wobegon and putting it away, but if that was ever his intention, he snapped out of it. Don't worry, the little town is okay at the end.
Scale by Greg Egan
I gave Egan another chance after The Book of All Skies, which was lazy and obnoxious. Scale, I was happy to find, wasn't obnoxious, but although it wasn't exactly lazy, it was thin. The speculative physics of the book is interesting, but then there is quite a lot of biological hand-waving to get us to the point where we have tiny, dense, very fast humans. They're all genetically related to each other and they all speak different dialects of the same language. But it isn't easy to make cities accessible to all "scales" of people, and then an evil corporation joins forces with the corrupt government to leverage a new technology than can upset the balance between the scales. The story is all there, but it's very bare bones, the minimum needed to keep us interested in the leptons.
All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
Just as sweet All Creatures Great and Small, though a bit less cohesive. The stories here have less to do with each other, and some were episodes from before Herriot's marriage that didn't make it into book one. World War II casts a deep shadow over everything, but Herriot says he doesn't want to talk about that. I understand. My favorite story was about the dead parrot ;)
Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
What I like best about McCall Smith is that his characters are never entirely wrong or entirely right. Mma Ramotswe is right about Mma Makutsi's shoes, and Mma Makutsi is right about Mma Ramotswe's weight. But the shoes and pretty and Mma Ramotswe doesn't like dieting. So sit back in the chair you didn't ask for and enjoy life.
What if? 2 by Randall Munroe
It's not as good as the first one. There are some good scenarios that explain interesting physics concepts (like what if the solar system was filled with soup?), but Munroe spends far to much time talking about law. The law isn't as interesting as physics.
Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky
I read this back in college and loved it, but I like Bormashenko's new translation even more. Red's scummy humanity shines through better. And as for the storytelling! Aliens dumped a bunch of god-tech on Earth, the government locked the area down, treasure-hunting "stalkers" arose to smuggle this stuff out (or get messily killed by it), the government hunted the stalkers while it pursued its own research, the researchers hired stalkers as assistants…and that's where the book begins. You have to do a lot of work to get up to speed, but once you do, things are going very fast, indeed.
Wish Lanterns by Alec Ash
I like "what's it like" books. This one is "what's it like to be a thirty-something in Beijing?" It follows eight people from their childhoods in the eighties to the middle of the twenty-teens. These are personal stories, and the pattern they show is incomplete. Of course they don't show you what life is like in China, but they do show you what it's like to be one of these millennials: silly, angry, exhausted, moving forward.
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
I read this maybe ten years ago and did not get it. This second time, I was enough of a grown-up to see what Wolfe was doing. It also helped that I knew what the hell was happening. A young man in the distant future goes out to seek his fortune. Traveling performers invite him to join their band. He goes to a pawn shop to buy a coat and falls in love with the proprietor! But now he's been challenged to a duel! The pawn shop girl takes him to pick his dueling weapon and gets them into a chariot race! Their chariot crashes through a shrine and now this guy has possession of a holy relic. And on and on. Each of these stories does actually end, and the things that look like random chance aren't. At least not all of them. There's some kind of plan amidst this chaos, if you can find it.
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett
This is the first real witches book, and it has some cracks. The story doesn't really start to tick over until halfway through, but after that everything does come together. Until then, enjoy Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. They're perfect, and worth following around.
Daniel M. Bensen