Manuscript TraditionManuscript Tradition by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 3/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne Star

no new tor story this week so i had to go back thru the archives to find the most recent (non-wild cards) story i hadn’t already read and it led me to…harry turtledove. i’m still low-key wary of turtledove after that whole supervolcano thing, but i liked two of his other tor shorts well enough, so let’s try a third!

i’m going to livestream this review because that’s how we do things these days, right? and i am so modern? it’s not a livestream-livestream, more like MANY UNFILTERED SEQUENTIAL IMPRESSIONS but it’s as near as i can get in this modern age where i’m habitually bumbling a step behind the rest of you and doing it slightly wrong.

Dr. Feyrouz Hanafusa glanced at the wall clock above the exit. In big red numerals, it told her the time was 7.08. In smaller numerals below, the clock admitted it was also 1700. Conversion to decimal units had been under way for more than fifty years: since Feyrouz was a girl. It remained incomplete. The curator of the Beinecke expected it would still be incomplete in 2269—fifty years from now. For the really old-fashioned, still smaller characters called it 5:00 PM.

While she watched, it went from 5:00 to 5:01 and from 1700 to 1701. Less than half a thousandth later, 7.08 became 7.09. However you marked it, however you looked at it, it was quitting time.

okay, that opening paragraph is exactly the kind of “why are you dumping all of this on me?” style that riddled supervolcano and the last sentence gave me PTSD. but then, wait—this janitor’s wearing a tricorn? tony loquasto is a dapper fellow! i’m back on board, carry on.

Dr. Hanafusa smiled fondly at him. The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library had preserved such things at Yale since the middle of the twentieth century.

i read that sentence four times trying to figure out what bugged me so much about ‘such things.’

and now i pause for math. first to verify that this takes place in 2219 (i did THAT math in my genius head) and then because i read this:

Loquastos had been sweeping up there from at least the 2070s on. Tony claimed they’d been doing the job even longer, but the Great Data Smash of 2071 made that hard to prove.

and my brain went “typo/nonbinary” instead of “loquasto family” and how old IS this guy? and then started giggling about the Great Data Smash of 2071 before spending 20 minutes GISing hulk memes. and OH if i had just read the next paragraph that talks about various loquastos from olden days, i could have saved myself much time and also math. i am going to try to focus now. distractions, begone!

OH OKAY VINDICATION! (attempt at focus did not last long) i felt stupid for taking that detour because of my typo-assumption, but now BOOM—right on its heels, a typo-spotting!

Thinking of history made her looked back at the building where she lived her professional life.

typos don’t bother me, i accept them and just fix them in my mind, but i felt stupid for being blown off course by an imaginary typo—

connor called when i was typing that and told me about these penguins and then i went down a youtube rabbithole and this review is becoming a pretty clear record of how time gets away from me in quarantine.

BACK TO THE STORY! i hope this is not a novelette or we will be here all day. i scroll down and it looks long but i can’t gauge scroll-time in terms of actual page length because my brain doesn’t work like that. or at all, these days OKAY BACK TO STORY FOR REAL. (pause to google “xenobiology,” spend too long reading results and looking at some weird-ass pictures)

i made it a full paragraph before slipping into another spiral when this pair o’ sentences:

Now it was sending data back to Earth. Or rather, now the data it had sent back to Earth forty years ago were starting to arrive.

made me give t-dove a mental fist bump for acknowledging that “data” is a plural noun but still being on edge about the way “were” feels in that sentence, and having to go see what is correct usage. hahah in a tweet quoted in a guardian article about this CONTROVERSIAL TOPIC, @mkdDCC sez:

No to datum. We need to relax about the data is/are thing. It may not be good Latin, but we’re not speaking Latin.

we need to relax about this, people.

same article cites david marsh

It’s like agenda, a Latin plural that is now almost universally used as a singular. Technically the singular is datum/agendum, but we feel it sounds increasingly hyper-correct, old-fashioned and pompous to say “the data are”.

but they put the period outside the quotation marks so i don’t know what to think about that.

other sources say that linguistically, “data” should be handled like “information” and verbed like a singular noun. they did not use the word “verbed” because that is not a word. (new google search informs me it IS a word!) this methodmadness is how i temporarily learn a very little bit about a number of things that will get shoved out by new and equally shallow knowledge in a day or two and is also why i cannot get anything done lately. now it is noon and i am about ten paragraphs into a story i started over an hour ago. motherfuck.

into the fray once more.

As far back as the late twentieth century, David Gerrold had realized extra gigayears of evolution could mean corresponding extra sophistication.

this sentence is awkwardly constructed but i’m not going to pause to dissect it because i can’t have harry turtledove taking up my whole day.

fuuuuck. the next sentence:

A headline ten meters tall appeared in the air in front of Tereshkova Hall: CRAWLER LANDING ON FARADAY.

and now i’m thinking about bedbugs. which make me think about this mosquito that found its way into my place and has been biting me all week, primarily about the face and neck and i’m A MONSTER.

and now pause to google “libration ribbon,” with results that are unequivocally not for me at this time.

Ten minutes later, she got off. heh.


wait, wtf is this SENTENCE?

And, if one of them clouted you in the pot so you wouldn’t hold on to your goodies, you might be too damaged afterwards to care.

is this the near-future version of 1940s gangster speak? just suddenly appearing in the middle (i hope) of a story with no other instances of this slangy speech? is the om narr having a stroke?




(the kid across the street has just begun his daily “stand at the window and scream rhythmically through the screen for hours” routine. quarantine is hard.)

turtledove got me googling fish breeds and TIL that some tropical fish are freshwater, which makes perfect sense but i’m not really a fish-as-pets guy, so i always thought tropical = saltwater which is probably racist to fish and then DAMN! right after his character feeds her pet fish (which the recovering om nar calls “critters”), she eats her own dinner of TILAPIA. circle of life.

focus focus focus
(googles “hashi,” with no relevant matches)
note to self: stop googling shit.

it is 12:41

i like the word “spokesfolk”

heh. a “basket of deplorables.” heard, turtledove.

okay, no. this is what irks me about his writing. the havana baseball team being the cigarmakers is whatever, but this whole paragraph. i obviously haven’t finished the story yet, but i guarantee that it will contribute nothing to the overall story so why is this roadblocking me?

If she wanted to, she could watch the Red Sox and the Cigarmakers bang heads. But she didn’t feel like it. New Haven lay almost on the border between Red Sox Nation and the dark kingdom of the Yankees farther west. She wasn’t tempted into rooting for the false gods in pinstripes, but her faith in Holy Fenway had weakened in recent years. A string of sorry Bosox finishes didn’t help, either.

*POSTREAD EDIT—i was correct about this not being relevant, along with MANY other details clogging the story’s pipes. is the one sentence about her son having a husband for diversity cred? because unimpressed.

i like the idea of “immersives” but not slowing down to daydream about ’em.


t-dove sent me on a googling run, the end result of which is that i now know that a scallion is slightly different from a japanese bunching onion and invite me to your cocktail party, please!

“News,” she said as she cleaned up and made herself a second cup of coffee so she’d be sure her heart would keep beating all morning.

yikes. that is some fragile health.
oh no i am getting snarky and panicking that this short story is going to be my whole day. perhaps my whole life.

She could have gotten the answer from the AI now that she had a clue, but she didn’t. She could do it at work. Oh, could she ever!

i had a good run until that golly-gee nonsense annoyed me.

ACK! no, karen, power through!! must…not…picture “a bunny-eared rat.”
do not.

Though she did her best not to be rude, some of her urgency must have got through to him. “Don’t want to keep you or nothin’,” he said, and went off with his broom and his rolling trash can. He didn’t move very fast; Feyrouz couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a janitor in a hurry. As long as he was chinning with her, he didn’t have to do any actual work.

that’s some shade from someone who “smiled fondly at him” in paragraph four of this endless goddamn story.

ugh. this paragraph:

At the elevators, she poked the UP panel with an impatient forefinger. She didn’t have to wait any more—a door slid open. She went inside. The door closed behind her. This was the fourth generation of elevators in the building. They were far safer than the originals, and used less than half as much energy. Similar improvements had gone into the AC and the lighting and the fire-suppression systems.

i can’t. i CAN’T.

oh don’t try to placate me with another dna sniffer! i’m onto you!


She knew just where in the room the manuscript she wanted lived. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t have been likely to name her cat Wilfrid.

bad bad sentence. first objection is with “lived.” second, yes, this is in reference to the (wilfred) voynich manuscript, so there’s a connection, but she didn’t choose her cat’s name because she knew the precise location of the manuscript in the room, she chose it because of her interest in the manuscript (presumably. i haven’t gotten past this sentence yet). and yes, she knew where it was BECAUSE of her interest, but she’d have been interested in it (and named her cat for it) no matter where it was, physically, and you’re still squinting at a tiny kevin bacon in the distance with this sentence.

and now it’s 1:24. FML.

And there certainty ended, sloppy dead on the floor.

what is t-dove’s deal with these periodic spasms of figurative language?


AAAAAAAAAAAAGGGG and the VERY NEXT SENTENCE…the manuscript’s pages pictured plants—plants portrayed nowhere else TOO MANY PEES!


The door to the special room clicked open. The small rumble of plastic wheels on carpet told Feyrouz it was a janitor making rounds. Probably Tony Loquasto; no one else from the custodial staff would be authorized to come in here. She hadn’t known he was, but it made sense. Even with no academic rank, he was as trusted, as reliable, an employee as the Beinecke boasted.

this sounds exactly like this “review.” it’s messy and cluttered the way thoughts are messy and cluttered and could do the same work with half the words.


“I don’t think I better talk about it no more,” he said. “You’ll send for the boys in the white coats with the straitjacket and the butterfly nets.”

Not many people would have had the slightest notion of what he was talking about. Feyrouz had never heard anybody use the idiom he came out with, but she’d run across it in print once or twice—she enjoyed old books.

sure, turtledove, that would be confusing and quaint to a futureperson—but a phrase hillary clinton used in a speech one time would stick around.

oh, shit—and it’s apparently NOT because futurepeople are more thoughtful about how they approach mental health issues:

“You’re the best janitor the Beinecke could have, and you don’t have to be sane to do the job. Maybe being crazy even helps.”

*POSTREAD EDIT—the rest of the story is LOADED with similar words and assessments, so NO. the future is still full of casually-deployed “crazy” and “nuts” and “insane” and fingers swirling clockwise by the ear, &etc.

oh, good. i’d hoped there would be a naked blonde before the end of this story.

and hhmph:

Fame and notoriety were the last things she wanted. She never would have gone into library science had she wanted them.

this is pure turtledove:

“Said he had a family emergency. I bet he did, too—he looked big-time green around the gills, if you know what I mean.”

unnecessary clauses! why? “if you know what i mean” is used as a suggestive allusion to something unsavory, so NO, HT, i DON’T know what you mean.

greg just emailed me this adorable dino-cat.

and i CAN’T EVEN.

the name of the west haven police lieutenant is “Mandela Jeter” and that is all i have to say about that.


and that’s how long it takes to read a short story in quarantine.
and this is why we don’t livestream reviews.
and this is why i will never get my shit together.
and that kid is still yelling.

the end.

oh, wait. the story? it was okay.

read it for yourself here:…

read my book reviews on goodreads

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