Robin Sloan
main newsletter
October 2022

The dragon moon

The Devil's Cleft at Liselund Manor. The Island of Møn, 1809, C.W. Eckersberg
The Devil's Cleft at Liselund Manor. The Island of Møn, 1809, C.W. Eckersberg

Here’s a big newsletter edition, with new books, a new short story, lots of links and recommendations, and then a note about the future of the newsletter itself.

We’ll begin with what’s new, and there is a lot!

Both of my novels are now available in fresh paperback editions. Behold!

A fine-looking pair from MCD
A fine-looking pair from MCD

Notice that Sourdough has a new cover, this one suggesting its connec­tion to Penumbra with a shared palette, and a shared secret, which I will now spoil: both books glow in the dark.

Sourdough is bolstered with the prequel novella The Suitcase Clone, never before available in print. The new edition of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore likewise has the prequel Ajax Penumbra 1969 bundled in, along with a new foreword from Paul Yamazaki, the legendary City Lights book­seller who could easily be a character from the novel. He might, in fact, out-Penumbra Mr. Penumbra.

The new material adds to each book a satisying measure of thickness. These are a couple of truly handsome, thoughtful editions — more than ready for another ten years. Together, they would make a great holiday gift.

What else?

The sci-fi anthology Terraform, edited by Brian Merchant and Claire L. Evans, has also been published. It is a hefty paperback treasury, packed with stories commis­sioned and coaxed by Brian and Claire over many years — including one by me!

In other sci-fi news, mark your calendar:

On October 14 at 6 p.m. PT, I’ll chat with Ray Nayler about his new book The Mountain in the Sea, in a virtual event hosted by the great Myste­rious Galaxy bookstore. You can register here.

The Mountain in the Sea, MCD
The Mountain in the Sea, MCD

I wrote about Ray’s book in a previous newsletter; to reproduce just a scrap of my commentary,

The Mountain in the Sea, meanwhile, is the most exciting novel I have read this year; maybe in the past few years.

I’m looking forward to chatting with Ray for the first time — please join us!

Harriet Amber in the Conan Arcade

Next up, a new short story.

If you read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, or have been reading this newsletter for any amount of time, you’ll under­stand that this was a dream assignment:

The type foundry Commer­cial Type wanted to produce a type specimen that went beyond the usual bound­aries of the form — usually, it’s just a few weird, typographically-inter­esting sentences and paragraphs — to offer up some actually compelling content. So, they commis­sioned work from a range of writers, including me. They asked for a story that had something to do with food, and also, if possible, their home: New York City.

My contri­bu­tion was Harriet Amber in the Conan Arcade, which you can now read online, presented in two of Commer­cial Type’s great typefaces — which can be reshuf­fled with a button in the corner.

I was delighted to find Navneet Alang’s byline alongside mine in this package; his interview with Helen Rosner is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally deep and fun. All of the Food Issue’s features were illus­trated by Derrick Schultz, one of the truly great compu­ta­tional artists. They were edited by Caren Litherland, whose work I’ve admired for many years. It’s a dream team, all around!

Here’s an Easter egg for you:

I keep pages and pages of names; a stockpile, a hoard. Some are invented, others overheard or recombined. One of the names on that list, for many years, was Elettra Brixi. I’d used it, at last, in The Suitcase Clone, which I initially drafted years ago … and feared, after a while, might not see the light of day. So, writing this story for Commer­cial Type, I grasped an oppor­tu­nity to deploy the name again. Too good not to use!

However, in the time between this story’s compo­si­tion and its publication … The Suitcase Clone was released! It’s available now, both as a stand­alone e-book and bundled into that new Sourdough edition.

As a result, I’ve doubled up on Elettra Brixi. Strictly speaking, this was an accident, but/and I have decided that it IS the same character, appearing in two stories — two moments in time, separated by decades. There is no inconsistency; in fact, when you put the stories together, you begin to see the shape of a very inter­esting life. Brava ragazza!

While we’re on the subject of strange coin­ci­dences and correspondences … 

A bit of trivia, for readers of The Suitcase Clone: John Belushi’s great unfin­ished movie project, the role he believed he was born to play, was a script titled … Noble Rot, about “a young, unso­phis­ti­cated guy named Johnny Glorioso, who takes an elite new Cali­fornia wine to a New York wine tasting contest”.

Johnny Glorioso … or Jim Bascule? Alas.

Burning bagels and bank shots

My friend Kiyash Monsef’s forth­coming novel is now revealed, so I believe I am allowed, at last, to show off my advance copy:

Once There Was, Kiyash Monsef
Once There Was, Kiyash Monsef

It’s clear that Simon & Schuster is putting a lot of wood behind this arrow, and they ought to: global culture will only benefit from the rise of the Monsef-verse.

When I met up with Kiyash to grate­fully receive this copy, my proposed rendezvous spot was a coffee shop I’d long avoided, punish­ment for the sin of a bagel served with rancid butter. But, it’s conve­niently located, with chairs set up in the sunshine … and it had been more than two years … time enough to have earned another chance.

When we stepped up to order our coffees, we saw two bagels on fire — fully alight, tall tongues of flame — in the toaster behind the cashier, who looked at us unaware. “What can I get you?” he asked. “The bagels — your bagels — FIRE!” we howled.

It’s going to be another two years.

Many of you know I am the co-owner, with Kathryn Tomajan, of Fat Gold, a producer of Cali­fornia extra virgin olive oil. Earlier this year, we took the next big step in the company’s evolution and purchased our own olive mill, a huge piece of equipment.

The news this month is that THE MILL IS ON THE WATER!

I have, of course, never shipped anything in a 40-foot container before, so it is thrilling to be swept up, for the first time directly, in the flux of global logistics. The container is carried on a huge ship, and I know its name; using an abstruse internet tracking tool, I watched it pull into Barcelona, watched it leave. It is nosing out into the Atlantic now. Amazing.

Illustration til Linearperspectiven, Tavle VII
1838-1840, C.W. Eckersberg
Illustration til Linearperspectiven, Tavle VII 1838-1840, C.W. Eckersberg

Here’s a bank shot of a book discovery:

I follow the blog of Hiroko Shimamura, who trans­lated both of my novels into Japanese. I have had the honor of meeting Hiroko a couple of times in Tokyo: some of the great moments of my writing life.

In a recent post, Hiroko recom­mended a mystery novel by Robert Crais. She had read, and was recommending, the Japanese edition; it took a bit of sleuthing to figure out the English title, and, having sleuthed, I decided to begin with the first in this writer’s long-running series. I’ve now read three, and I love them. Their protagonist, Elvis Cole, is a surprising, revi­sionist take on the private investigator; his partner, Joe Pike, is a kind of presiding angel … or maybe a djinn, with fire in his eyes.

In particular, the detective work feels real: the slow grind of boring obser­va­tion punc­tu­ated by a few legit­i­mately clever tricks.

In this new translation from Reading the China Dream, an intel­lec­tual reflects on the expe­ri­ence of being briefly banned from the internet. The title, along with much of the essay’s language, is oblique, and totally evocative: “If sheep don’t like to be tied up, it is not neces­sarily because they want to do something bad.”

Watching the DVD extras for The Princess Bride, ripped on YouTube, I loved this line from Mandy Patinkin, recalling Rob Reiner’s direction:

The way I want everybody to play this is, as though you have a hand of cards, and I want all of us to just almost show the hand to the audience … but we never really show it.

Tap or click to unmute.


I loved this essay, on growth in all its guises, written back in the spring by Meera S. Kumar — and I promise it’s not only because she confesses to having read Sourdough six times. Writing for the Univer­sity of Michigan’s student newspaper, Meera is a talent to watch. Her recent medi­ta­tion on the value of book clubs was wonderful.

Matt Webb, fizzing with insight: I hope libraries are snap­shot­ting today’s awkwardly sourced AIs.

Where AI is concerned, I believe we are at a point that has moved beyond hype or gloom. As with computers them­selves, or the internet, all we can do now is discuss, in a careful and creative way, what is before us.

I loved this interview with Timothy Morton, full of sharp lines:

A feeling is an idea that hasn’t been artic­u­lated yet, whereas an idea is more like the receipt that comes out of the cash register of the thinking process.

It reminded me of a book I’d meant to recommend, which is Morton’s Space­craft, an extended riff on the deep meaning of the Millennium Falcon.

It really is a riff: loose, discursive, funny. It is also, as argu­men­ta­tion goes, pretty rough — there are obvious errors. Yet that’s not a critique: I loved it.

Spacecraft is a very slim book, almost a fat pamphlet, and it reads like a super-extended blog post. I think that’s a pretty cool format; there ought to be more books like this.

Morton is so obviously tapped into what is interesting about the world, and so eagerly pushing its edge: much more inter­esting and dangerous than any of the reac­tionary intel­lec­tuals who love to call them­selves “dangerous”. If you are looking for a writer to prod and trouble your thinking, you have found them.

What does Kim Stanley Robinson believe he contributes to the conver­sa­tion about climate?

Three things: the future as subject for speculation; the syncretic combi­na­tion of all the fields into a holistic vision of civilisation; and lastly, narrative as a mode of knowing.

Sounds good! We’ll take it! That’s from a terrific little interview, found in the great Sentiers newsletter.

I sincerely think someone ought to make a movie about a fiction­al­ized version of Saturday Night Live’s hand-written cue card department, which consists of NINE PEOPLE!

What a weird craft. It’s a whole little world.

Illustration til Linearperspectiven, Tavle IV
1838-1840, C.W. Eckersberg
Illustration til Linearperspectiven, Tavle IV 1838-1840, C.W. Eckersberg

Who, me, Antony?

I recently watched, for approx­i­mately random reasons, the 1953 produc­tion of Julius Caesar, with Marlon Brando as Mark Antony and James Mason as Brutus. It was totally gripping, in a way I hadn’t expected. And, maybe this is a boring thing to say, but: yes, there really are scary parallels to our world, our moment.

Mark Antony’s speech across Caesar’s corpse — “Friend, Romans, countrymen”, that one — evokes perfectly, and horrifyingly, the trick of the slimiest partic­i­pants in our contem­po­rary public sphere. It is the great oleagi­nous “Who, me?”

Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.

Antony saying, of course: let me stir you up.

They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.

Antony saying: they are NOT honorable; their reasons are corrupt.

For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor, poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

Antony saying: rise and mutiny.

Listen to him; don’t you recognize this tone, this trick? “Who, me?”

Tap or click to unmute.

It’s both discom­fiting and, in a way, reas­suring to know this rhetor­ical mode is as old as English, as old as politics. I found this 1953 produc­tion impres­sive and captivating, here from the vantage point of 2022. I sincerely recommend it.

The double dagger, sheathed

The new edition of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore commem­o­rates the book’s tenth anniversary. Many of you have been reading this newsletter since 2012, some even longer. Think of all that has changed in our lives across these years.

We have been known, all along, as the Society of the Double Dagger. Today, at this hour, the society is disbanded.

Fear not: for in the same meeting (this is it, right here) we are reconstituted. The member­ship remains unchanged. You will receive newslet­ters uninterrupted. Our shared interests shine undimmed. (“So, it’s just a re-branding, then?” a voice snarks from the back row.) What’s new are the lines of inquiry that have fueled my forth­coming novel, which I’ll now bring into this newsletter. They are diverse: animal life, wetland ecology, invented languages … tons more. I have begun, also, to engage more deeply and inten­tion­ally with my influences — among them C. S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Cooper — and, for the first time, with their influences — among them George MacDonald, William Morris, Kenneth Grahame. So, you’ll encounter those writers here, too.

You’ll learn lots more about this new novel — and its larger project — in the months and (if I’m lucky) years ahead. For now, accept my welcome, and know that a dagger wouldn’t have done you any good, not where we’re going.

You are now among the Tres­passers on the Dragon Moon.

Langebro, Copenhagen, in the Moonlight with Running Figures, 1836, C.W. Eckersberg
Langebro, Copenhagen, in the Moonlight with Running Figures, 1836, C.W. Eckersberg

From Oakland!


P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter on November 8.

October 2022