Author Archives: keyanbowes

Researching the Octopus

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“The people were interesting, especially in their various interactions,” wrote a friend to whom I’d sent my story, Octonet, recently published by Escape Pod, “but the octopuses were definitely the center of the action for me.  How did you happen to focus on them and learn so much about them?”

With most stories, the sources of inspiration are buried somewhere in my mind. Maybe something surfaces, like the end of a tangled ball of twine, and it pulls me into a story.

 

 

The octopus story might have started at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco back in 2012, when they acquired three Giant Pacific Octopuses that were bycatch for crab-fishers. We went to see them – and it was remarkably difficult, because they camouflaged so well, and could slide their ample bodies into tiny crevices. In fact, we only saw one of them – with the help of a docent and careful directions.

Fast forward to three books about octopuses: The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. And Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by Roland C. Anderson, Jennifer A. Mather, and James B. Wood. I read them all in the space of a few weeks, and then I knew I wanted to write this story.

Of course that meant a deep dive (sorry!) into octopus territory.  I found a 149-page care manual for GPOs from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. And a thirty-page Giant Pacific Octopus Husbandry Manual from the British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums. An article in Cosmos magazine, How the Octopus got its Smarts. Any number of Youtube videos, including this one which was a literal deep dive into octopus territory! And lots more random articles.

When I had the first draft done, I wanted an authenticity read (Within the limits of a sci-fi story!). I wondered if one of the authors of the last book would be willing. Dr Anderson had sadly died in 2014, but Dr Jennifer Mather was kind enough to review the draft for me and provided some helpful comments. I’m very pleased to acknowledge her help.

(Octonet has been through many iterations and edits since then – and a big thank you to all my critiquers! That was the writing part, not the researching part.)

So that’s the story of the story. I’m delighted Escape Pod published it – and also had an interview Dr Mather for the podcast!

 

SOME REFERENCES:

  • The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery.
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith.
  • Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, by Roland C. Anderson, Jennifer A. Mather, and James B. Wood.
  • AZA Aquatic Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group (AITAG) (2014). Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) Care Manual. Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Silver Spring, MD.
  • Giant Pacific Octopus Husbandry Manual, British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums (2011)
  • https://cosmosmagazine.com/biology/how-the-octopus-got-its-smarts

“Octonet” in Escape Pod’s Artemis Rising

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I’m thrilled that Escape Pod has published my story, Octonet as both a Podcast (read by S. B. Divya) and in text.
I love how it’s come out. And special thanks to Dr Jennifer Mather, co-author of Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, for reviewing my draft.

 

Sometimes at night when my mind is calm, I think I hear the octopuses. Around the world, the great network of molluscan philosophers.

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I had many reasons for moving to the Pacific Northwest – weather, closeness to potential clients and my big brother Rav, distance from a very ex ex. Slimy cephalopods definitely didn’t make the list.

But then Rav needed someone to fix their new IT system. And that’s how I met the octopuses.

 

Review of ‘Light and Death’ in Locus

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I was delighted to find that ‘Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station was reviewed in Locus at Locusmag.com. Karen Burnham mentions it as one of the two stories she most enjoyed in the October 2018 issue of Fireside (together with the amazing and powerful ‘STET’).

“Lord Yama, god of death, is involved with all the telepaths, and it is with him that Savi must eventually bargain.”

And because I really loved the art for that story, here it is again.

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“A Scent of Roses” in Constellary Tales

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Constellary Tales has accepted my short story, A Scent of Roses.

This story has been through many name changes. It started out as The Scent of a Dead Rose. (It actually was inspired by the intense perfume of a bouquet of dying roses in my room.) Then I changed it to A Duty of Grief, which better represented the story as I’d written it. Finally, I submitted it as A Haunting Scent of Grief... and Constellary Tales accepted it!

In the edits, they asked me to change the name to A Scent of Roses. They felt that the title I’d used gave away too much. I agreed, because why not?

I’m looking forward to seeing it published in Constellary Tales – soon.

Edited to Add (Feb 14, 2019):  And here it is! A Scent of Roses

“But when his grandfather returned home, too late for the birth, he was furious.”

(Warning: It’s not a romantic story. The earlier title gets the mood of it better. Trigger warning for dead baby.)

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The Second Painting, with Dragon

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The second week, Lonni (our instructor) suggested we pick up some inspiration pictures of landscapes from her stack, and paint a landscape that included four elements: Sky, stone, trees and water. “If you can paint those, you can paint any landscape.”

When I’d finished the sky, rocks, trees, and water of landscape below, it looked unbalanced. All the attention went to the waterfall. The expanse of bare rock face needed something in the bottom left hand corner to draw the eye. I considered adding a person, sitting there and looking at the cascade. Instead, I chose (no surprise) a dragon. It would make the second painting a companion piece to the first dragon painting. And it gave me a reason to use contrasting reds and golds.

Waterfall with Red-gold dragon - Copyright 2019

To figure out the stance and the scale, I used a picture of a sunbathing cormorant as a model and morphed it to match the dragon of my first painting. As I painted it, it came to me the creature wasn’t sunbathing, it was displaying. The target of its display is barely visible, a red-gold dot among the trees on the other side of the falls.

(Copyright 2019)

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Art Class with Sea, Sky, and …

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A dear friend in Seattle gifted me beginner acrylic painting classes. I love oils, but they sounded so complicated! With lengthy drying times! And arcane processes! Acrylic painting sounded – easier. But not, you know, *easy*. Hence the classes, from Lonni Flowers.

There were about a dozen of us – a good mix of ages and genders. The classroom at UW was a bit small, but well-lit. Lonni offered starter packs of paint/ brushes/ canvas for a token fee. I gladly took the offer.  Much of the first session was about color blending: we worked with only three colors, red, blue and yellow – and white. No black, we’d have to mix our own. Then we started work on the already-prepared 8 x 10 canvases. She wanted us to paint sea and sky, and offered a bunch of photographs as inspiration. I picked up one, but then decided to just paint the sky out the window, and add sea from my memory.

Seascape copyright 2019

This was the picture I brought home at the end of Day 1. “Very calm,” said my friend (who was kindly keeping me company in the class.) Homework was to complete the painting before the next session, next week.

“Maybe I’ll add a dragon,” I said.

It was calm. Reasonably artistic. But… it was too calm. Boring (I mean, for me. I’d admired pictures in the same vein. It just wasn’t what I wanted to paint. Too minimalist.)

So… I tried composing some other ideas. One that I tried (just in Microsoft Paint) was “Haunts.” It was meant as just an inspiration, but I could use the idea and the composition. It had a sort of eerie-Magritte vibe, and maybe I will actually paint it some day.

Haunts copyright 2019

But it was still too minimalist… I really wanted a dragon. At first I thought I’d paint a golden dragon, to go with the relatively soft grey-blues of the picture. But when I tried, the yellow didn’t cover the blue. It was a see-through yellow dragon. So I added red and brown. And expanded the dragon. Added a rocky shoreline with algae. Then I found the sky looked too blue for the colors I had, so I added some grey and green for a moodier look.

Red gold dragon - Copyright 2019

After I’d done all that, I wanted something interesting in the bottom left of the painting to balance the dominant dragon. I painted a pile of golden eggs, two of which were hatching, and some hatchlings swimming in the water. When I took it back to class, I realized the eggs looked like the dragon’s hoard. Using reptilian eggs/ hatching photos from Google Images, I redid the eggs. Now I think they do look like eggs. At some point, I will probably redo the hatchlings in the water. I’m not happy with them.

It’s been a lot of fun. Later, I’ll post about the second class.

(Copyright 2019)

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Watching the Super Blood Wolf Moon in Seattle

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It was all over the web – the total lunar eclipse of Jan 20th 2019: the “Super Blood Wolf Moon.”

  • Super because the moon would be closest to the earth in its elliptical orbit, making it appear 14% larger than at the furthest point.
  • Blood because it would be a total eclipse, when refracted light around the earth would make the moon look red.
  • Wolf because the full moon of January is called the Wolf Moon.

Though It was the last total lunar eclipse until some time in 2021, I expected to miss it because of the weather. Monday was cloudy and slightly drizzly here in Seattle.

But. Just in time for the eclipse, the clouds moved out of the way. So I got to watch from my balcony with binoculars. It was superb. I kept calling out to passers-by (mainly people walking their dogs) and most of them turned around, looked up, and were amazed.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, and my iPhone was not very cooperative. Here’s my best shot:

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“Lepers” in Mysterion

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Source : Central Railway / Indian Railways Portal CMS Team

I’m thrilled that my short story, Lepers, has appeared again. It’s an 1100-word horror story set in Mumbai, near VT – Victoria Terminus, now renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

You can find the story here: https://www.mysteriononline.com/2019/01/lepers.html

It was written way back, and has been republished several times – and morphed along the way.

The latest iteration is in Mysterion, “an ezine of Christian-themed speculative fiction…” I did a partial rewrite of the story for this version, and I think bringing in religion gives the story additional depth and draws out some of the dilemmas at its heart.

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Emily Wilson’s Translation of the Odyssey

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Cover of The Odyssey by Homer Translated by Emily WilsonI’ve been hearing about this book for a while now, and planning to read it. I last read the Odyssey decades ago, mainly because I regarded it as part of my education. Whichever translation it was, it was okay but not inspiring.

Finally, I got around to the Wilson translation. After reading the introduction of on my Kindle app, I switched to audio. This is actually the first audio book I’ve listened to, and it made a huge difference. Claire Danes did a great job of narrating it. It really felt like something I needed to hear rather than see, and some of the repetitiveness that might have been irksome in print was perfectly acceptable in audio.

I was also struck by the social and moral code underlying the story, some of which was discussed in the introduction. King of Liars is an honorific. So is Sacker of Cities. Everything depends on the favor of the gods, but while their favor can be courted – mainly by animal sacrifices – it is not reliably given. The King is very much the boss, until he’s dethroned and someone else takes over.

Reminds me a bit of the corporate sector…

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Skagit Valley in January with Swans

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We celebrated New Year’s Day with a drive up to Skagit Valley to look for swans. It was a lovely drive – no rain, not much traffic, a good pause at Donna’s renovated Truck Stop – and yes, we found swans.

There weren’t as many this year as there had been the year before – or maybe the timing was wrong. But we did find two sizable flocks, as well as a few lone pairs flying around and grazing. I think they’re tundra swans, but not sure.

We had a pleasant lunch at a Thai restaurant – one of the few open on New Year’s Day, then walked along the river for a bit. It was pretty cold, so we didn’t stay out long. Lovely way to start the New Year!

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My Eligible Stories – 2018

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It looks like everyone’s publishing their “eligibility lists” of works first published this year. I have three things published this year. They’re all short stories, under 3K words.

1) LIGHT AND DEATH ON THE INDIAN BATTLE STATION

Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station” in Fireside Magazine (2018)

Mom’s turquoise-blue saree morphed into her silver Battle Station uniform. She pulled us in for a long hug before rushing out the door. She’d be needed in the Situation Room with all the other Telepaths.

(And here’s a lovely review of the stories in this magazine on the Quick Sips blog, including one of this story.

Excerpt: “It’s about love and war and loss and bravery. And it’s also a lot of fun, taking some dark elements and still finding its way to a light and joyous end.”)

2) CHICKEN MONSTER MOTEL

Chicken Monster Motel” in Monstrosities from Third Flatiron Publishing (2018). Also published as a podcast read by Keely Rew. (Downloadable here:  http://www.thirdflatiron.com/chickenmonstermotel.mp3 )

Recent college graduate Jerry Patel wants to manage a motel. He and his boyfriend Peter visit one that’s listed for sale. But the Chicken Monster Motel is no ordinary hostelry.

The story originated in a mix of the images and ideas: Baba Yaga’s house, family relationships as children grow up, the generational changes in values among immigrants to the US. What happens with my stories is that layers of commentary get packed into a few words and an often lighthearted plot, and it can take me months or years to unpack what I’ve written. In this story, for instance, whether the mother is a supporter or enabler depends on the viewpoint.

The anthology (and this story) was reviewed in Tangent Online by Victoria Silverwolf. Her take: “…pleasant to read.”

3) THE CHURAIL AND THE CROW

The Churail and the Crow was published in Asian Birds and Beasts anthology  from Insignia (2018).  I’m not sure of its eligibility, though, because it builds on a flash story earlier published as “Lena” in Ruthless People’s Magazine. It’s gone from 1000 words to >2000 words, but it’s built on the same armature.

If you’re reading for awards, I’d be delighted to have mine considered.

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On the Cover of Fireside, October 2018!

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ETA: It’s not on the cover… but it’s still a gorgeous, perfect illustration!

ETA2: It *is* on the cover, of the E-book edition. (Fireside comes out monthly in e-book, and quarterly in print. So it’s the cover of the October e-book but not the Quarterly. See the last picture below.)

I was thrilled when Fireside accepted my story, Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station, and now it’s out.

I was *even more thrilled* to discover that my story was on the cover, with an the illustration by Saleha Chowdhury! Look at this:

I grabbed the kid away as the thing ricocheted against the ceiling, fizzed, and exploded. “Ritika! That’s so stupid!”
But before I could scold her properly, the sound of divine footsteps echoed in the hall and inside our heads. We froze…

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There Actually Are Beavers! Seattle’s Beaver Pond Natural Area

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In a continuing exploration of the Thornton Creek Natural Areas, we went today to Beaver Pond. It’s actually two patches of preserved wild area in the middle of apartment buildings, homes, and office blocks. There’s  a delightful forest with a nice little trail through it, that starts on 8th near 105th, (Northeast) and across 8th. I wandered through it and saw what I think was a mountain chickadee, also two separate guys who seem to be camping there. (Later, in roadside bushes, I saw a song sparrow that was quite bold.)

Between 105th and 106th, there’s the actual beaver pond. The pond is connected to Thornton Creek via some culverts and a tiny open roadside pond – and that’s where, today, I saw a beaver, around 7 p.m.

I’d met a lady who was clearly looking for the beavers. She lived around there, I think, and had been observing them for a couple of years. It was she who pointed at this unlikely place, and said she’d seen beavers there before.

And while we were talking, and she pointed out where she’d seen them, this beaver surfaced. But before I could take a photo – it heard our voices, and went under in a swirl of water. So the photo I got is of the beaver’s wake, not really the beaver.

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Pocket Jungle in Seattle – Thornton Creek

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In Seattle today I wanted to go into a forest, but didn’t want to go too far. That’s how we ended up at Thornton Creek – specifically, the section called Licorice Fern natural area. It was a delightful creek valley, quite small (less than a half mile from the trail entrance to where it climbed up – via a metal ladder – to the road). But it was a veritable jungle, full of all kinds of plants at every level, and going through it felt like an adventure. Aside from a few too many insects near the actual creek, it was lovely.

It was definitely a hike, though, with paths uneven and marshy (logs and planks had been put in to help keep shoes dry) and plants trying to take advantage of the opening and obliterate the trail. I’d recommend jeans rather than shorts and long-sleeved shirts, mainly for insects.

I didn’t see many birds, though I think they’re there. One bird I heard and then saw was a Steller’s Jay, yelling its head off I guess about this hiker in its woodland. (Which may be why I didn’t see any others!) I thought I heard a woodpecker, and I found a feather which may have come from a barred owl.

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“The Churail and the Crow” in Asian Birds and Beasts anthology from Insignia

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There’s a new anthology in the Insignia series of Asian-flavored speculative fiction: Asian Birds and Beasts. Here’s the cover, with the same styling as the previous five anthologies. It’ll be coming out August 20th, 2018 as an ebook.

I’m thrilled that one of my stories will be in this one. Here’s the table of contents:

CONTENTS

‘Reborn’ by Nidhi Singh

‘The Star Ball’ by Amy Fontaine

‘Raising Words’ by Stewart C. Baker

‘Apsaras’ Dance’ by Kelly Matsuura

‘Ravens’ by Russell Hemmell

‘The Azure Dragon’ Lorraine Schein

‘The Churail and the Crow’ by Keyan Bowes

‘Vermillion Nights’ by Joyce Chng

My story is a sort-of-reprint – it’s a greatly expanded version of a flash piece first published as Lena. I’ve always wanted to flesh out that story, and I’m happy it found a new home.

 

More of Shakespeare’s Thumbnails

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Some years ago, I started an experiment – making little graphics representing each of Shakespeare’s plays in a 400-pixel square. The idea was to make an image that would represent the play to people who knew it, in a minimal way. Some are more minimal than others…

The first three, which I published on my then-Livejournal and have copied over to this blog, were Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet. Those are here: Shakespeare’s Thumbnails.

Now I’m uploading a few others.

 

Richard III – African American Shakespeare Company

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I’ve been watching the African American Shakespeare Company’s productions when I can for some years now. They used to operate out of a building on Filmore, a small intimate theater which gave a sense of being in an art theater. They no longer have that space, and this year they did Richard III, starring L. Peter Callender, in the War Memorial Opera House’s Taube Atrium theater. It’s a more traditional space, at least as it’s set up now. Tickets are $30. It attracted a pretty big audience, I think every seat was taken.

I thought I knew the play, but apparently not well enough. I found the first half a bit confusing and had trouble keeping track of who was who and what was going on exactly (though of course the broader action and themes were quite clear). It wasn’t helped by the acoustics.  After the intermission, though, it came together very well indeed, and I found it gripping.

The set included a sort of catwalk parallel to the stage edge, which, with the front of the stage, was the area of action. The setting was projected onto a back screen and a movable screen mounted on this catwalk, so scene changes were effortless… a picture of a stone wall representing the tower, a palace interior, and outdoors sunset scene for the battlefield. The ghosts that appear to Richard and to Richmond the night before the battle were in video projected on these screens.

I tried to take a photograph of the first scene to include in this blog, but the ill-mannered woman sitting next to me slapped down my hand. I’m not clear why. The announcement had prohibited flash photography and video, but I was doing neither. Anyway, I didn’t pursue it. It wasn’t that important. (The picture I’ve included is the latest in my “Shakespeare’s thumbnails” series.)

For me, the standout performance was that of Queen Margaret (played by Beli Sullivan), the widow of the late king Henry VI. Her fury and curses  formed the backbone of the play, even though she actually appears in few scenes. In fact, something about the production tilted the emphasis toward the royal women: Queen Margaret; the Duchess of York, the mother of the Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence, and Richard III who caused the death of both his brothers; Queen Elizabeth, the widow of Edward IV and mother of the murdered princes; and Anne, daughter-in-law of Henry VI and later Richard III’s reluctant wife. Their stories carried the real emotion of the play.

All in all, a worthwhile evening.

Wiscon 42 is Over – 2018

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As usual, Wiscon became a whirlwind of panels, friends, conversations, activities. I took notes at some of the panels I attended (and may add them to this post later).

On Saturday, I joined a group for a reading at Michelangelo’s. I read my currently unpublished story, The Liverwood Conspiracy. Cath Schaff Stump made this poster to let people know about our reading.

At a panel I didn’t get to (I’d planned to, but in the end couldn’t make it), there was a kerfuffle when one of the panelists expressed compassion for Nazis. (The Third Reich ones, not the current day wannabes.) I was impressed by how quickly Wiscon reacted to manage the situation.

The Tiptree auction was a hoot. I always attended when Ellen Klages was the auctioneer in a spirit of stand-up comedy, and after she retired, the role was taken over by Sumana Harihareswara. Sumana’s made it her own, and it was a lot of fun. Best item: An inflatable pink vinyl fish skeleton, where the bidding started at $2 and made it to… I don’t recall: $200?

The Guest of Honor speeches were wonderful. Saladin Ahmed spoke about his grandmother, who was an activist, matriarch, and the heart of the family. (His speech is posted to his Patreon page, here.)  Tananarive Due spoke of Afrofuturism, activism, and literature as a way of fighting for a better world – together with regular activism. (That speech is on Youtube.)

Look forward to next year!

First Day at Wiscon 2018

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Here I am, at Wiscon 42! Yesterday, I met with a friend who’s moved from the Bay Area to Madison, where the lower cost of living allows for a transition from biotech to full-time writing. We had a pleasant dinner and ended up in a smoke shop run by a delightfully nerdy guy who stocked some splendid glass and fabric art. (There were dragons. And a Rick and Morty version of a thangka.)

Today was the Wiscon kick-off with the guest of honor readings at the wonderful bookstore, Room of One’s Own. Unfortunately, Tananarive Due couldn’t be there because between her teaching schedule at UCLA and the flights from the West Coast, she’d need a time-turner. Saladin Ahmed was there, though, and gave a warm and self-deprecating introduction. Then he read a short story that was a comical yet moving play on the Indiana Jones trope.

After the reading and the Q&A, I wandered around the bookstore for a while. It’s the kind of place I’d love to be accidentally locked into for the night – room after room, filled with carefully selected books. As I was leaving, I saw a copy of Rati Mehrotra’s book, Markswoman, in the wild. (I already have a copy, so didn’t buy it. It’s an Asian-flavored fantasy with some marvelous world-building and good characters, and I enjoyed it a lot.)