“The Book of How to Live” is live! + some notes

My new Birdverse novelette, “The Book of How to Live,” is live in Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ 8th Anniversary double issue.

Here are some notes about this story:

I first became a fan of Mikhail Lomonosov as an eight year old living in Vorkuta, when I read his “Ode to Glass.” I memorized some of his astronomical and other scientific poems, and read everything about him I could find. Lomonosov was an 18-century Russian polymath from a peasant family, who traveled by foot from his home village in the northern Arkhangelsk region to Moscow because he was determined to study. He was admitted into the Slavic Greek Latin Academy on false pretenses – he claimed to be from a priestly rather than a peasant family – and was almost expelled when this was discovered. He was not, however, expelled, and eventually became one of the most influential scientists, social scientists, and poets of the Russian 18th century. As a child, I was deeply inspired and influenced by his story, the humble origins, the very long journey he made on foot, the determination, what it took to get into a higher education environment. I held on to this story and the hope that everything is possible.

As a grown-up and an academic who is multiply marginalized, I wanted to poke at this favorite childhood story some more. What if the Lomonosov-like figure is a woman? What if the Lomonosov-like figure is a queer, asexual woman? What if the Lomonosov-like person is autistic? What if this person is expelled after all?

I examine some of this in the story of Efronia Lukano, one of the two MCs of my new Birdverse novelette, “The Book of How to Live.” This story is set in Laina, a country in the north-east of Birdverse which has many Russian influences, though Laina is certainly not Russia.

The other protagonist of “Book…” is Zilpit-nai-Rinah (later Atarah), a Khana inventor and artificer without magic. I’ve written about Khana people living in various corners of Birdverse, and there are many more stories to tell; the protagonists of my Nebula-nominated “Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” are Khana people from Niyaz, which is in the southwest. Magic is commonplace among the Khana, and especially among Khana women; in “Cloth…”, the protagonist, Aviya, who is without magic, finds her place in her people’s narrative. Zilpit/Atarah does not really fit in the traditional Khana society, and builds new things. There’s a lot more to say about Atarah and the Khana society in Laina, about academic politics, and who gets admitted and excluded, but I will let the story speak for itself.

“The Book of How to Live” is set in the early days of the Lainish Revolution; this is a formative and hopeful period of the revolution’s history, and we see people of many ethnicities and walks of life come together to work for a better world. I hope you like this story and let me know what you think.

Many thanks to Bogi Tak√°cs, Shweta Narayan, and Corey Alexander for their helpful comments on this story, and to Scott Andrews at Beneath Ceaseless Skies for publishing it.

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R.B. Lemberg is a queer, bigender immigrant from Eastern Europe and Israel. Their work has appeared in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Unlikely Story, Uncanny, and other venues, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, Crawford, and other awards.

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