Vanilla pudding and magic phrases

This is an interview with myself about Carry On. An unnecessarily long interview. There are going to be so many spoilers.



So you read Carry On recently. Did you like it?

Pretty sure!

…so, not sure.

Look, I’m going to give it either 3 or 4 stars on Goodreads. Probably 3, thinking about it. We’ll see how I feel at the end of this interview.

Dang, what makes you want to knock this down to 3 stars?

Don’t think of it as knocking down! 3 stars is the assumed start for all books. While I read it, there was never a single moment that I wanted to knock it lower, but there also weren’t really any moments that made me want to elevate it. If I could: 3.5 stars.

Let’s get right into it, then. What did you think of Simon? Simon and Baaazzz? 

Agatha and Baz by toerning

Baz was interesting, at least! Simon was bowl of vanilla pudding. The instant boxed kind. Perfectly fine, sweet to be sure, but there’s nothing to chew on, and it’s the most basic of fake flavors. But the thing is: that’s what Simon needed to be. He was the center, the hero, the Chosen One, and this is nothing if not a Chosen One story. The boy is the Special, he enters the New World, except the rug is pulled out from under him at the last minute as he realizes several things:

  1. He’s not straight
  2. Wants to kiss his nemesis
  3. Who is definitely a confirmed vampire
  4. And wants to kiss him too
  5. The Great Evil he’s been fighting… is himself
  6. His mentor is a bananas murderer

So really, you’d think Simon would have a bit more of a reaction to this combo move. I suppose they’re a bit spread out, and the first parts are less traumatic than they are mildly surprising, and the last parts come during the climax so how much trauma can you really show in the resolution, but still. Simon is a bit flat. “I traded my magic for devil wings & tail, but I’m living with my boyfriend, so whatevs.”

As far as that boyfriend thing: Hooray! Great! Snore. They were fine, solidly in the middle rankings of Fictional Couplings I Have Read.

Okay, so you’re not sold on the Simon/Baz, that’s fine. Let’s go back to the rug-pulling. Think it worked, other than Pudding Simon?

I’m not not sold on Simon/Baz, hang on! I’m just not clamoring for more of their story. Mostly because Simon Snore I mean Snow. The bit at the beginning where he was listing all the things about Watford that he missed should have helped make him more relatable to me, but it didn’t. It felt like all he was was this guy obsessed with his roommate and a vague idea of evil. There was too much to set up to give much time to making Simon interesting. To me. Again, this is for me because I’m sure there are plenty of people who loved Simon. I didn’t much. Vanilla pudding.

Plenty of time to make Baz interesting, though I guess there’s a shortcut to that in the “everyone thinks he’s evil, secret tragedy, poor little rich boy” elements to his character.

The rug-pulling was neat. Except… I knew about all of it. Because I read Fangirl. If I hadn’t read Fangirl I suppose it might have been more exciting for me. It doesn’t have to be exciting, though. I like inverting tropes, and that helped this book a lot. If Rowell had followed the Chosen One story more closely, this would have been such a flop. But she was trying to say something new about it, change the meaning behind it. Make it more real. And I think she did that.

By making the Mage explicitly villainous, making Simon a created Chosen One, making that creation ultimately a bad thing rather than a blessing, taking the Chosen One-ness away from Simon at the end — doing all that, Rowell does start to get under the most fantastical and least realistic elements of the story.

Because to be honest, the magic isn’t the unrealistic part. The way things come together is. The idea that there is One True Hero to stop the One Pure Evil is a fantasy. There isn’t one either way. There’s people trying to do one sort of good thing, and people trying to do another sort of good that turns out to be harmful.

Penelope and Simon by toerning

That’s Rowell’s strength, is people. She always writes such good people (even when they’re slightly bland like Simon). No one is a True Archetypal Villain. They’re just people, with different desires that conflict, and sometimes people make terrible choices in the service of their desires.

Do you want to talk about the other characters?

Not really. They were good!

You read a lot of fantasy. How’s this as a fantasy?

It’s fine! It’s definitely a Rainbow Rowellâ„¢ Book, in that plot is fine but comes after characters. This is not as much about magic as it is about Simon’s Feelings, but it’s also about magic. Magic that is driven by popular phrases.

This seems…untenable. Which to some extent she addresses, with creating new spells being difficult because a lot of popular phrases just don’t stick, and the fact that some phrases are popular for a long time and then fade. How well would someone be able to cast spells in a language they learn later in life? Idioms are always difficult to grasp in other languages, so would you basically be unable to do it until you got to a certain level of competency? Could someone teach you the phrase as a spell, and that teaches you the idiom as well?

Also, not a single magic spell was activated by Beyoncé lyrics, COME ON.

However, thinking about it, I do like it more than any sort of Latin base for spells.

Some of the other things she brought in were interesting too. I mean, it’s obvious that she’s read plenty of fantasy, and that she spent a lot of time thinking about the magic in this world. And the logic of magic schools, since there was this ill-explored undercurrent of progressive changes to the magic world. Watford had been closed off and elitist, and now the Mage flings its doors open to the world.

Rowell’s actual writing about magic as it happened was great. I liked the way she made magic so physical, especially for Simon, and the imagery she used. How sort of painful it felt at times, and how different it felt to each person, even down to taste and smell.

So yeah, it’s a good YA fantasy!

Okay, you always have to say–


there’s always something–

say it

Who or what do you wish this book had been about instead of what it was about?

dang, you got me

Penelope Bunce: The real Hero of Watford.

Penelope Bunce by taryndraws

Too many books are about Smart Girls Doing the Work and Getting No Credit. ENOUGH. Stop writing books about the Harrys and Simons. Write the books about the people who actually do the work, solve the puzzles. Bitches get shit done. Write books about them. Tell me the story of the girl with glasses and too many books and her dumb but charming friend who she keeps helping out of trouble. Tell me the story of Penelope Bunce falling for Micah, and dang it, show me Micah!

Or Lucy, even. Lucy’s chapters were there purely to fill us in on the plot. She was not doing anything, ever. Just ghostly reminiscences, explaining to the reader what was up.

And obviously I wanted more of the Mage’s reforms. I was a little bummed about that whole thing. By making the Mage the villain of the piece, it felt like it made his desires wrongheaded. So his progressivism, his ardent desire to reform the world of magic, make it more open, more equal, was tainted by his actions. And there wasn’t enough of anyone else laying claim to the movement to untaint it all. So it felt like progressivism was villainous. My interest in the hierarchical issues of magical worlds is one thing — I didn’t expect to see anything like that in this book, so what I really wanted was just a small tweak to take away that sour note.

You always want all of those things.

It’s true. More smart girls, more women doing things, more activism in a positive light. Me all over.

We haven’t talked about the origin of this book.

The whole fictional world within a fictional world thing? That this is neither the fanfic from Fangirl nor the Gemma T. Leslie version of Simon Snow? That this is some third thing entirely?


I don’t actually have much to say about that.

But you used to write Harry Potter fanfiction.

Mm-hmm, sure did.

Nothing to say.


…FINE. Any last thoughts?

If you are in the middle of the Venn diagram of Fantasy Fans and Rainbow Rowell fans, you should definitely read this. You probably already have.

If you are a fan of YA fantasy, give this a go! It’s a quick read and is pretty fun.

And here are some things that I texted a friend while reading:

  • “I’m confused. I’m on page 185 and I can’t tell if I like Carry On.”
  • On Simon: “Book 5 Harry Potter with less personality?”
  • “I’m slightly offended that she changed ‘cold as a witch’s teat’ to ‘witch’s wit’
  • “Why does everyone always have to STUMBLE ON a key piece of information by ACCIDENT”

The end.

TWIR: Vicious mermaids and cross-dressing knights

Because it had to go back to the library, I read Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant in about two days. It was fine! I wanted more from the story, though. “A schlocky faux-cumentary company discovers that mermaids are real, and they’re territorial predators” is a good start, but as it doesn’t go much beyond that, it could’ve been a short story.

The other book I read is the one that has provoked the most interaction I’ve ever experienced on Goodreads. Did you know apparently every girl but me read the Alanna books when they were younger? I didn’t! I was kind of aware of Tamora Pierce but never ever read a word by her. Until now!

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1)Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

My rating: 🐎🐎🐎🐎 (4/5 valiant steeds)

In an adult book, the fact that this is courtly-medievalish-knights-and-magic-and-nefarious-dukes would make me drop it like it was a poisonous damn snake, but in this case? *shrug* Alanna is fun!

Read the whole review

To semi-restate my review, if I hadn’t had my inner twelve-year-old come out to read this, I would have been less patient with a few things about it. But it’s not for adults with adult perspectives! It’s not for a grown up who’s seen too many Perfectly Talented Heroes! It’s for a kid, who wants to read about girls being amazing. Plus Alanna isn’t Perfectly Talented. She has that Gift, but otherwise she works hard at all her skills, and is, apparently, constantly exhausted from working so hard. (On the other hand, nearly everyone adores her, which is perhaps the least believable thing from an adult perspective. But that’s okay!)

Anyway, the rest of the Alanna books are sure to appear on my Kindle in the near future.

Short Things

The Hogwarts founders from Andrea Castagno’s paintings of various people. – deviantArt user kala-way

Sorting Hogwarts: Charting a Deeper Meaning to the Four Houses – A while back Twitter friend @keepthemuse apparently wrote a long, thoughtful piece about a better sorting guideline for Hogwarts and it is really great. Doing the Lord’s work, he is.

Lotus Face and the Fox by Nghi Vo in Uncanny Magazine – Lovely and short, with a great soft ending. I really liked the use of masks, and the emotion that comes through.

Okay, friends, it’s a gloomy rainy day and my cat is sleeping on my bed, so I’m out.

SRIR: It’s been a while, okay?

That’s “Somewhat Recently In Reading,” in case it wasn’t obvious.

Cover of The Eerie SilenceOver the past mumble mumble weeks I’ve been working through The Eerie Silence, a book about SETI and aliens and all this thinking behind it, in a very readable sort of way. I may be taking casual notes. I’ve never been a good student. But it takes me time to get through non-fiction so I’ve been working on it for a while. (Not as long as the book on Hatshepsut, at least) I keep thinking about alien intelligence, and hope for someone to talk to out in space, and the vast impossibility of it all. And the way we tell stories about it, compulsively looking to the stars even as we throttle public works that would help us get there, and let space become privatized. Don’t let space become a privatized, capitalist space, friends! Space is for everyone! Socialism… IN SPACE.

I got off track. I’m pretty sure The Eerie Silence won’t reach the same conclusion as me. At least not explicitly.

Short things

These are some short stories I have recently dropped into my 4- or 5-Star folder on Instapaper.

Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones in Crossed Genres, which I’m sad is on its last issue. This is an older story, though.

Makeisha has seen the sun rise over prehistoric shores, where the ocean writhed with soft, slimy things that bore the promise of dung beetles, Archeopteryx, and Edgar Allan Poe. She has seen the sun set upon long-forgotten empires. When Makeisha skims a map of the continents, she sees a fractured Pangaea. She never knows where she will jump next, or how long she will stay, but she is never afraid. Makeisha has been doing this all her life.

Paranoia by Shirley Jackson, in the New Yorker. (Did you know: Shirley Jackson is really good.)

A man in a light hat stopped next to Mr. Beresford on the sidewalk and for a minute, in the middle of the crowd, he stared at Mr. Beresford and Mr. Beresford stared at him as people sometimes do without caring particularly what they see. What Mr. Beresford saw was a thin face under the light hat, a small mustache, a coat collar turned up. Funny-looking guy, Mr. Beresford thought, lightly touching his clean-shaven lip. Perhaps the man thought Mr. Beresford’s almost unconscious gesture was offensive; at any rate he frowned and looked Mr. Beresford up and down before he turned away. Ugly customer, Mr. Beresford thought.

Illustration of a spaceship floating above a planet
Art by Galen Dara

Here is My Thinking on a Situation That Affects Us All by Rahul Kanakia in Lightspeed Magazine

For years, human beings have stood underneath me and wondered where I came from and why I was here and whether I’d come to destroy you. Once, a girl and her father went right up to the top of the Empire State Building and he put her on his shoulders and she raised her arms and flapped them up and down as if she was privy to ancient wisdom. Then she said, “Helloooooooooooooo.”

I am vulnerable, as are most people, to children of any species. It is the disproportion of their bodies. The outsized heads and the too-long limbs. They remind me of when I was a newborn spaceship, all wriggly and yellow, sizzling at the bottom of the sea.


The Sisters’ Line by Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer, in Uncanny Magazine. I am not entirely sure what happened in this story but I really enjoyed it.

My nextdoor neighbor, Stacy, single mum, keeper of bees, works in robotics, thinks I’m crazy.

This train, this train I’m building is my sister’s train. I have to believe that all the pieces will fit. One day this train will be built, the magnets will be activated, and they will find the right tracks, the tracks that lead to my sister and the hidden country that has taken her.