Wednesday, September 11, 2019

That Day

I'm not going to tell you where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news. Everybody old enough to remember that day has a story, and there's nothing particularly interesting about mine. It's not important.

What matters is that none of us forget that America was attacked that day, and none of us airbrush the attack into some kind of mistake. I will never forget the people jumping to their deaths, or the firefighters running up the stairs into theirs, or the passengers of Flight 93 who thwarted yet another attack on that day. Those are the things we should be remembering today.

I'm not going to tell you what I was doing on the day JFK was assassinated, either.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

A Modest Proposal

Recently I came across an opinion column in the New York Times whose author, whom I’ll refer to as F.M. because I don’t want to give F.M. extra attention, complained bitterly about the oppression of traditional English-language third-person gendered pronouns. Yes. Referring to someone as “he” or “she” isn’t just a feature of the way our language developed; it would never happen if, in F.M.’s words, “we were not all so irredeemably obsessed by the particulars of the parts dangling between our fellow humans’ legs, nor the ridiculous expectations signified by those parts about how we should act and speak and dress and feel.”


Does F.M. believe that Hungarians, who use “ö” for third person singular without specifying gender, are less obsessed by certain body parts than are Americans? Listen, I’ve known a lot of Hungarians, and most of them took a healthy interest in those body parts and what they could do with them.

What about speakers of Swahili, which typically uses “yeye” for third person singular? I promise you that a culture which encases women in black bags has some seriously ridiculous expectations for gender-appropriate behavior.

Then there’s Hindi (vah), Finnish (hän), Igbo (ya)… Need I continue?

If the grammar of English and related languages is so oppressive, maybe F.M. could learn Hungarian, Swahili, Hindi, Finnish, Igbo, or one of the many other languages that doesn't have the he/she distinction. Sure, there might be a smaller audience in each of these languages for silly opinion pieces, but surely that’s a tiny price to pay for freedom from these horrible gender expectations!

But nooo, F.M. wants us to change standard English usage and make “they” the standard third person singular pronoun. F.M. isn’t going to change a damn thing; rather, the rest of us must all change our language to conform to F.M.’s sensibilities!

Fortunately, English already has a non-gender-specific third person pronoun: “it”. And yes, “it” is used to refer to living beings when we don’t know or care about the gender.

“If your dog keeps barking, would you please take it inside?”

“Watch out for that baby, it’s about to throw itself out of the cradle!”

“Darling, there’s a possum sitting in the trash can and snarling at me; would you please persuade it to go somewhere else?”

I will be happy to refer to F.M. as “it” from now on, and I hope it is properly appreciative of my decision to respect its feelings.

(Image: Whoisjohngalt [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Dragon Scales - live!

The ebook just went live; it's not even on my author page yet, but you can find it here: Dragon Scales. And here's a snippet from the opening chapter to whet your interest:

“Mzzz Brown!” Rozzy Aguire, the ShareASpace manager, who’d been unfindable ever since I forked over the deposit, was suddenly a larger-than-life presence. She filled the hall between us and the door to Sienna Language Services. “I really must insist that you remove that person immediately, before I call the police!”

Oh, hell. Was I late for the first afternoon interview? No, not yet. Had the interviewee shown up early and done something to spook Rozzy? Some of UT’s foreign students did come from extremely strange cultures. Still, calling the cops seemed a bit of an overreaction to culture shock.

“What did he do? Or she,” I tacked on, because I suddenly couldn’t remember whether my next interviewee, Sayana Raj, from Sri Lanka, was male or female.

“It’s not what he did,” Rozzy said ominously, “it’s what he is.”

I blinked. “Isn’t that racist? What do you have against Sri Lankans?”

“Nothing,” she said, “as long as they keep their clothes on! What kind of position are you hiring for, Mzzzz Brown? And that girl with him is obviously the kind of slut you’d expect to find clinging to a naked man. We have a strict policy against allowing ShareASpace offices to be used for that kind of business, Mzzzz Brown, and it won’t take ten minutes to void your contract!”

I wished she wouldn’t keep preceding my name with that “Mzzzz.” The buzzing noise was beginning to vibrate unpleasantly in my head.

“Just a minute there,” Michael spoke up. “Ms. Brown is not liable for your failure to prevent maniacs from invading your offices. But she might very well have a case against ShareASpace for letting this nut case into the space she is renting from you. Does the company have no concern for the safety of its tenants?”

He loomed over Rozzy in an intimidating fashion that was all the more admirable when you considered that he was only the same height as me – three inches shorter than the solidly built, six-foot office manager.

She loomed back.

Words were exchanged.

Menacing growls were exchanged.

“Guys, could you just cool it for long enough to let me find out what happened? Both of you cool it,” I emphasized. Michael seemed to be reverting from his business manager persona to his previous life in Special Forces, and I didn’t think guns and grenades were going to solve this problem. Whatever it was.

I got my first clue after Rozzy grudgingly made room for me to pass down the hall to my own (rented) front door. I opened the door and saw two people: a pretty young girl who was familiar to me from a rather different context, and a very well-built man whose face did not ring any bells. It was, however, possible to fully appreciate how hot he was, because as Rozzy had hinted, he was stark naked.

His eyes gave me a clue: bright as gems, like glowing topazes, they were not quite human. I had seen those eyes before.

The language in which he greeted me was another clue. I’d heard that before, too. It was full of sounds like rocks breaking and tectonic plates grinding against one another. Both the people with me turned white.

In Rozzy’s case I assumed that was because she didn’t know what was making those noises.

In Michael’s case I feared it was because he did know.

I filed for future reference that the being I’d met last fall in Taklanistan could change to a human shape at will. Although why he’d done so, and why that human shape was infesting my new office eight thousand miles from his home, remained to be explained. “Chee khol doried, Adjdaak?” I asked. “How are you?”

I was speaking Taklan, naturally. There was no way I was going to take the risk of brain damage that speaking the dragon’s native language could inflict on a mere human.

Monday, September 2, 2019

No rest for the self-employed - updated

(Labor Day by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 ImageCreator)

Happy Labor Day to those of you who have actual jobs and are enjoying a three-day weekend! I suppose it's wrong of me to complain that being self-employed, I don't get a holiday; after all, I can take the day off any time I like. All the same, there are mornings when I really wouldn't mind having a cast-iron excuse to take off without guilt.

On the bright side, the chap I pay to format my manuscripts is in Australia and doesn't officially have today off. I can prod him today about the fact that the ebook and print versions of Dragon Scales were supposed to have been done on Friday.

He is, of course, in a very different time zone. Without drawing little pictures of a rotating Earth and the sun, I can't figure out whether the note I just sent on this Monday morning arrived at his computer on Sunday night or Monday night. Not that it makes a lot of difference; unless he's a workaholic, I won't get an answer until tonight. Oh, well. Back to the very intense scene in the new Regency fantasy, wherein the wrong person drinks the magic-laced glass of wine... or is he the wrong person? The Witchy Widow is a very twisty person, and I'm not giving the reader access to her thoughts.

Oh, all right, all right. I have no basis for whining about not getting a holiday; what could be more fun than writing?

UPDATE: He just sent the Kindle version. As close as can be to an immediate response! Clearly, another workaholic.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Still only 99 cents

Just a brief reminder that, as I push the second Dragon Speech book, Dragon Scales, through formatting and publication, The Language of the Dragon is still available for just 99 cents - or free, if you've got Kindle Unlimited. I think both books are fun, but you'll have more fun if you read them in sequence. So why not pick up The Language of the Dragon for light reading over the Labor Day weekend, and look forward to reading the sequel next week? Here's one more snippet from the first book to whet your appetite:


This language was definitely not Indo-European.
Nor was it Pashto, Uyghur, Kazakh, or any of the other languages common in Central Asia. I didn’t actually know those languages, but I could recognize them.
And it was barely even pronounceable.
“Q!z – girl,” I muttered. The string of phonetic symbols identified with “!” suggested something like a glottal stop followed by a hacking cough.
“Vlaad – becomes, is becoming.” Okay, at least that sounded like a real word.
“Bakhsh# - contented.” The hash mark meant… huh, he’d written it out, evidently despairing of phonetic symbolism. “Rocks clashing.” How the hell were you supposed to use soft human organs to make a sound like rocks clashing? I
gave it the old college try anyway, and felt idiotically pleased with my results. Heck, there was enough here for a complete sentence! I tried it out: “Q!x vlaad bakhsh#.”
A cloud must have passed over the sun just then; for a moment there seemed to be less light than before, and I felt as though gravity was swooping around wildly and pulling my bones in different directions. But despite that moment of disorientation, my stab at pronouncing the mystery language didn’t sound so bad – and apart from a sudden shooting pain above my right eyebrow, I didn’t feel so bad either. In fact, I felt quite gloriously contented with my lot on this earth, right down to my place on this shady deck overlooking the lake. I looked up into a deep blue cloudless sky, feeling as though I could float right up into it – if the sound of an arriving car hadn’t distracted me. Here, just to make my cup overflow, were the Stevensons at last. I dry-crunched some aspirin and headed down the curving stone steps from the deck to meet them at their car.
I began to feel somewhat less contented as I walked them through the house. Part of the problem was that small but persistent headache, which made it hard to concentrate on exactly where we were. I’m pretty sure we cycled through one suite of rooms and halls and outer decks two and a half times before I caught on and concentrated on going up the spiral staircase to the next level.
A larger problem, though, was that my loyal ex-student was looking less and less happy. Angie squealed (piercingly) with delight at each wacky architectural feature, and exclaimed at intervals that nobody they knew had anything like this house (doubtless true: I don’t think anybody else had given the architect-developer any money to play with after they saw this place). She even, engagingly, found parallels with Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture in the strangest bits of the house.
Trouble was, Bruce was the one with the family money. And the ambition. He’d achieved tenure in record time, and now he wanted a house that would position him as the obvious successor to the current chairman of the mining engineering department. As we made our way from porthole windows to spiral stairs to cantilevered decks I could practically see him thinking that a listed historical building in West Austin would fit his desired image better than this display of modern architecture running amok.
Which it probably would, but I didn’t have a listed historical mansion to show him. What I had was this house, and a growing hunger for the commission on this sale and its effect on my bank account.
I can’t think why I even tried it. I blame the headache, which aspirin had barely blunted, and the extreme effort of concentration required to keep in mind where we were in the sprawling house. I just didn’t have any mental energy left to tamp down my wild fantasies about how to make Bruce happy with the Harris house.
When he pulled Angie out onto a deck with a murmured apology, I didn’t have to eavesdrop to guess at the substance of the conversation. This was the place where Sensible Hubby reads the riot act to Exhilarated Wife, and I could almost hear that nice, fat commission taking wings and fluttering off to land in somebody else’s wallet. I would probably never again have clients who could afford a place like this.
That was when I pulled the notebook out of my tote bag, flipped it open and skimmed down the page I’d been reading.
Bummer – there were no words meaning “disgustingly rich clients” that I could shoehorn into that little sentence.
Oh, well, what difference did it make? I was trying to use magic, and since there’s no such thing as magic, I could make up my own rules. There was a word for “and”.
“Bruce dva Angie vlaad bakhsh#.”
The room darkened as though the lights were failing. I had the momentary illusion of being on a roller coaster or inside a gyroscope, with gravity pulling at me from crazy angles. The little needle of pain over my right eyebrow turned into a huge lance aimed right at the back of my eyeball. I groaned involuntarily and bent over for a moment, cupping a hand over my eye.
“Sienna, are you all right?” They were back inside already.
Eins, zwei, drei…“Never better,” I lied, forcing a smile. The headache had obviously settled in to torture me for the rest of the day, and now I was going to have to act happy with their decision to do something sensible instead of buying Whitney Harris’s white elephant. The girl was definitely no longer contented.
They were smiling too. Both of them.
“Bruce had his doubts, but I’ve convinced him that this is too good an opportunity to miss,” Angie announced buoyantly.
“Yes, well, I certainly understand…” I actually started the little speech I’d been working on, in which I pretended to be a good sport who didn’t want them to buy anything they might be unhappy with, before it dawned on me that Angie wasn’t saying what I’d been braced for. “I’m sorry, what?” Maybe the pain of this sudden migraine attack was making me hallucinate.
“We’d like you to convey our offer to the seller,” Bruce said.
He and Angie looked completely, gloriously contented with their decision.
I wasn’t.
The girl was scared stiff.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Of oysters, pearls, and woke mathematics

(Image from Pixabay)

The humanities departments of most universities appear to be hopelessly dominated by the Wisdom of Woke. Well, at least English and History and the social “sciences” seem to have gone that way. I haven’t yet heard about intersectional German or Russian in a feminist perspective; maybe the objective requirement to understand what your professor says in a foreign language, and to answer him comprehensibly in that language, has somewhat insulated those departments.

I’ve heard about some remarkably creepy stuff coming out of Classics departments, but I think they shot themselves in the foot years ago when, in a desperate effort to get more students, they started piling on more and more courses that didn’t require people to learn or read Latin or Greek; reading the great authors in translation, or worse, reading discussions of those authors, was enough to get course credit. I don’t know if they’ve reached the level of desperation of my high school Latin teacher, who offered extra credit to anybody who went to see Ben Hur, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that you can graduate with a B.A. in Classics even if you’ve never conjugated “Amo, amas, amat” and the works of Aeschylus are, well, Greek to you.

Until recently I thought the STEM subjects were insulated from wokeness and social justice by the expectation that students not only solve difficult problems but also get the answers right. I mean provably right by unchanging, rigorous standards that were stated up front, not “right” because you yammered nonsensical interpretations until the professor went home with a headache. Then I started seeing “silly season” stories coming out of STEM departments. Non-physics courses in Stanford’s physics department, so-called educators developing “mathematics” courses focusing on social justice, other so-called educators complaining that algebra and geometry perpetuate white privilege. (I am not making this up; references linked below.)

Initially I thought this sort of thing was so silly it couldn’t be anything but a passing fad. Then I started to worry that the final downfall of the academic world was upon us; if STEM departments substitute essays on inclusivity and diversity for actual work in the subject, will any department of a university teach anything at all?

Last night, though, for some reason I was thinking about the humble oyster, and a more cheerful interpretation came to mind. We all know what an oyster does when a bit of useless grit gets inside its shell. It wraps the grit in layer after layer of nacreous matter produced from its own body, effectively insulating the oyster from the unwelcome foreign substance.

Well, here are these beleaguered STEM departments, being beaten up daily because their student bodies do not exactly match the ethnic/sexual/racial makeup of the population as a whole, and under intense pressure to Make Diversity Happen regardless of the talents, preparation, and interests of the students they’re supposed to acquire.

I’ve known more than a few department chairs in math and physics departments, and in general they are extremely intelligent and very tough people with a special talent for shielding their departments from whatever nonsense the Dean is promulgating this year. (My father was one of those chairmen, and he told me that he considered his first task was to get the Dean under his thumb; then he could get on with turning an okay math department into a great one.)

Now, what might such a man do when the grit of Diversity and Social Justice infiltrates his department? One possible response might be to start creating layers that would insulate incompetent students and those who aren’t really interested in the subject matter from the real work of the department. Classes like “Diverse Perspectives in Physics” would naturally attract people who want to hang around the department and get course credit without doing any, you know, actual physics.
Please note that I’m not suggesting the departments push students into taking these non-classes based on their ethnic/sexual/racial identity. The last thing they want to do is to discourage any talented and hard-working student of any background. They don’t need to push the Diversity Admission Students into these classes. The good ones won’t be interested; only the stupid and lazy will be attracted. Offer the empty course, and they will come.

I fear the Diversity Police will be with us for a long time, and that in remarkably short order – less than five years, is my guess – it will be possible for students at some previously respected institutions to get degrees in physics or mathematics or electrical engineering without ever having encountered a laboratory or a theorem or an electron. The non-class classes will have insulated them from any real contact with their supposed subject.

Why do I think this is going to happen? Because approximately ten seconds after you give in to one demand from the Diversity Police, they have a new demand. Offer “remedial” and “social” classes until the required number of minority students sign up for classes in your department? The next thing you know, there’ll be loud complaints that the students who try to progress from Social Justice Engineering to actual engineering courses are flunking out in unacceptably large numbers… so you add another imitation engineering class that these folks cannot possibly flunk. And then the scandal will be that you’ve admitted all these minority students but very few of them stick with the subject all the way to graduation, so you must be playing some nasty racist trick to force them out.

And the only way to get the Diversity Police off your back will be to design a complete parallel track within your department, allowing students who are either unable or unwilling to do rigorous work to pass from one non-class to another until they have accumulated enough non-credits to graduate with that coveted STEM degree.

Let’s call those students pearls, shall we?

The promised links:

Physics and Diversity at Stanford
Teaching Social Justice through Secondary Mathematics
The Unbearable Whiteness of Algebra

Sunday, August 25, 2019

If only it were that easy!

DILBERT © Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

I like to say that I gained my first experience writing science fiction by writing bids and final reports for DOD and DOE, and that's not entirely false.

But you know what? Those papers required substantially less research than I did for Salt Magic and Tangled Magic, my Regency fantasy series. Even the Applied Topology series required research into the CIA, Central Asia, Greek folklore, and where to play poker in Barcelona - to name but a few subjects.

Then again, I like research, not to mention it generates plot ideas, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Space Opera in Real Life

( Image credit: PHL@UPR Arecibo (, ESA/Hubble, NASA.)

This morning I came across a science news story suggesting that some extrasolar planets could not only support life, but might do so even better than our own lively, teeming Earth.


Not surprised? After all, distant planets that support not only life, but human life, have been a staple of science fiction ever since astronomers ruined Martian canals and Venusian tropical rain forests for science fiction writers. But the notion has now progressed from wishful thinking to, well, possible-if-not-settled science. In my lifetime.

In 1989 astronomers said the the observed changes in velocity of Gamma Cephei were "consistent" with the existence of an orbiting planet. But "consistent with" is a long way from "definitely exists," and other events of 1989 overshadowed this weak evidence for most of us. (For the infants among us: we were busy watching the Soviet Union crumbling and the Berlin Wall coming down.)

Indirect detection methods strongly suggested (some people say, confirmed) the existence of a handful of other planets, but I think it was ten years before anyone saw one (transiting its parent star) and longer still before one was directly imaged. And that was a gas giant -- not a friendly neighborhood for life, or at least for any kind of life that we would recognize.

Many more extrasolar planets have been discovered since then. We've been able to make spectral analyses of some planets' atmospheres, and at least one was believed to contain an organic molecule. That would have been, oh, ten years ago? Around the same time, optical telescopes were able to image a few planets directly. As I recall, none of them were places you'd want to live, but they fueled speculation that such places might exist outside the solar system.

Many more planets have been discovered since then, some believed to fall within the habitable zone of their stars, some believed to have water.

So this paper isn't exactly a scientific breakthrough; at most, it represents the culmination of a lengthy process of deduction and discovery that has taken place over the last 30 years. But I'm excited. Space Opera lives! The Evil Space Princess and the Genocidal Warlord have somewhere to set their feet!

Now all we have to do is conquer that pesky little problem of traveling faster than the speed of light.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

How to get on my personal blacklist

I spend too much time browsing the Internet.
Oh, wait, maybe it's not 'too much time.' How else would I run across videos of historical costume, or D-day imagined as in the Bayeux Tapestry, or the truly wonderful Regency dance site that I plan to feature in an upcoming post? Anyway, what else was I going to do with that time? Another set of knee exercises, whispers Conscience. Another inept swipe at marketing your books. Half an hour agonizing over a blurb for the next book...

Oh, go away, Conscience.

Anyway, as a consequence of all this browsing, naturally I've bookmarked sites. Lots and lots of sites. Lots and lots and lots of... oh, all right, Conscience. I promise to spend half an hour organizing my Regency research bookmarks. Soon.

A lot of these sites are other people's blogs, bookmarked for reasons like:

"Blogger A usually has some amusing snarky comment on the day's news."
"Blogger B has well-thought-out essays on topics that interest me, and what's more, she keeps her commenters civil."
"I like Blogger C's books so much that I'll read every word she writes, even when she chooses to write about her cats again."
"Blogger D's fiber art is so glorious that it makes me drool over the keyboard."

I don't officially "follow" many blogs because I don't like the notifications cluttering up my email, so mostly I check out Bloggers A, B, C and D by running through my bookmarks on a particular topic. And on periodic sweeps through the tangled mess of bookmarks, I delete or remove to Subfolder Purgatory sites that I realize I no longer visit with anticipation - in fact, I don't need the bookmarks any longer, because the only time I visit these blogs is when somebody else I'm reading posts a link to them. And half the time what has turned me off looking at a blog is not a Great Big Problem, just a minor irritant. These are some of the most frequent ones:

It's too hard to read. And I don't mean that the writing style goes beyond sixth grade English, I mean the format hurts my eyes. The blogger has chosen to put white words on a black background, or to use a pale gray font on a white background, and those words would have to be glorious indeed to persuade me to get a headache by squinting at them.

The unchanging header picture is so big that I have to scroll way down just to find out if the latest topic is something I'm interested in. No matter how beautiful your header picture is, try to bear in mind that I get to see it every time I visit your blog and I'm really more interested in what you've written lately.

Only posts every six months, if that. If the content is interesting enough, I don't need daily postings to make me keep taking a look; I don't check out many sites on a daily basis anyway. But there's a limit.

Those three little things cause more bookmark deletions than any content-based issues. Although I will add these things:

The eternal blog war. "Soandso said I said X, but he's a dirty rotten liar because I really said Y, and here's my clever response pointing out what an idiot he is, and look what a stupid thing he said after that..." Sigh. How about you and soandso go over to the infants' corner and work it out without dragging me in? If I've found your posts on other topics sufficiently interesting, I may check back in a few months to see if you've come back up out of that rabbit hole yet. Or I may not.

Anti-Semitism. One instance - just ONE - of cleverly referring to somebody with {{{ }}} around his name, and the bookmark to your blog is forever expunged from my list. Wiped with a cloth, if necessary. Or with BleachBit. Whatever works.

Shooting mosquitos with cannonballs. It's easy to write snarky reviews of beginning writers' books. Sometimes it's the only way to discharge the irritation built up by trying to read something so laced with technical problems that you were tempted to throw that expensive Kindle at the wall. But it's not nice to indulge in long screeds, however witty, at the expense of a newbie whom you call out by name and book title. Either discuss the general problem without pointing at the particular book, or keep your review to a short comment along the lines of "didn't appeal to me because..."

There are, doubtless, other irritants that drive me away from a blog, but that's probably enough kvetching for one day. All I really started out to say was:

Don't make me read white text on black.
Don't make me read tiny little gray letters on white.
Don't make me scroll past a massive unchanging header image.

Three modest requests, folks.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Regency version, from the skin out

I must have been half asleep or had my brain turned off for the last post, because when I did wake up it took approximately 30 seconds to find a Regency-era equivalent of that last video I posted, the one about getting dressed in the 1830's:

You'll notice there are fewer layers here. This walking dress with a redingote buttoned over it still seems like a lot to wear from my perspective (i.e., gently baking in a Texas August) but if I cast my mind back to chilly spring days in England without central heating, I don't think it would be too much. As for the diaphanous ball gowns like the one pictured at the top of this post, I sometimes wonder why Regency beauties didn't all die of pneumonia! Consider that drawers had yet to be introduced; ladies tended to reduce the petticoats under the ball dress to a minimum; and that some very "fast" ladies were reputed to dampen those petticoats the better to show off their figures... Yeah. Pneumonia. I'd never have made it in that society.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Getting dressed in the 1830's

I just happened across this wonderful video:

Getting Dressed in the 1830's

It's a bit later than the period I'm writing just now -- Regency ladies didn't wear so many underclothes, in fact their lack of petticoats was sometimes quite shocking -- but still interesting, particularly for the demonstration of the part played by the lady's maid.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tiny snippets

Once again, I've selected bits of text and dialogue to highlight on Pinterest. Here are a few of them:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Distinctly Familiar!

Didn't it used to be conventional wisdom that you don't release books in July or August, because everybody's going on vacation and not reading? Doesn't seem to be the case with indie publications, for which I am everlastingly grateful. First Pam Uphoff and now Alma Boykin have substantially improved these long hot summer afternoons with the kind of light reading I like best.
Distinctly Familiar is Boykin's sixth entry in the Familiar series - and by the way, a tip of my hat to her in the stroke of genius that has supplied her with so many excellent titles since the first in the series, Familiar Tales. She hooked me with one line in that first collection: "After the third water-shifting class got nearly eaten by Monsters from the Unseen Depths, the publisher finally issued corrections." And the winning blend of folklore, intriguing characters, and a slightly but beautifully skewed version on the modern world has continued unbroken through the present volume - at least as far as I've gotten with it! This collection starts with an eerie view of magic on the North Sea that's reminiscent of Theodor Storm, continues with a solidly built antique sewing machine (no plastic here!) that may or may not be haunted, and... well, read it for yourself. Enjoy! Meanwhile, having frivoled away the morning, I shall get back to introducing the blend of mismatched lovers and misunderstood magic in the sequel to Salt Magic. I'm saving the last "Familiar" story to read as a reward for pushing my own story another couple of thousand words down the road.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why we can't discuss politics like sensible people

This is an excerpt from recent correspondence with a friend whom I had previously thought of as a reasonable liberal -- someone with whom I could disagree and discuss our differences reasonably. I now believe I was dead wrong about that. I'm not about to violate her privacy or bore you with the entire text of our rather lengthy email interchange, so you're free to decide that this excerpt is "deceptively edited" to make her look bad because, you know, I'm a racist just like Trump.

She: "There is plenty of evidence that Trump is a racist!"
Me: "Oh? What's the evidence?"
She: “This "prove it!" thing seems to come from a place of confrontation rather than one of trying to understand the other.”

Game, set, match. I do not enter into debate with people who hold themselves free from citing evidence they've just claimed exists, nor with people who respond to a civil question by impugning my motives. "I don't have to answer that because you're just being nasty," sounds to me like the ultimate Get out of Debate Free card. I won't play that game.

You know, I don't mind if somebody says, "The totality of Trump's actions and statements leave me with the impression that he's a racist, but I'm not going to try to make a case to prove that."

That leaves an opening for a reasonable response like, "OK, that's not the impression I have, but you're entitled to your own opinions."

This "evidence" thing goes beyond that, though. It jumps from a legitimate "this is my impression" into the territory of "This is objectively true and provable so you have to accept it!"

Isn't there a phrase for that? Something like, oh, help me out here... Jumping the shark?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Crazy lady with a cannon

Okay, enough about other people and events, it's time for me me me! Or in less egotistical words, here's another snippet from The Language of the Dragon. Do I have to remind you to get it now, while it's only 99 cents?


I dried off, slipped into a long cool nightgown of super-thin white lawn and wrapped a towel around my hair. Sat down on the bed to give some serious attention to my fingernails…
… And heard a clunking sound from the bathroom I’d just vacated.
Oh, well. It was probably Cath Palug, expressing his dissatisfaction at having been left with only Laura to take care of him for a week. He’d knock a certain number of things off flat surfaces before condescending to knead my chest and purr.
A louder clunk was followed by a string of curses.
I froze, and all the little hairs on my arms stood up. The week before leaving for the beach, I’d chased a daytime burglar out of the house. Had he come back to try his luck at night? It certainly wasn’t possible to write the voice off as the doings of a disgruntled cat-monster. Nor was it my absconding tenant come back without warning. His voice had been higher, and his English not so smooth. Whoever was cursing was clearly fluent in English. Certain kinds of English, anyway.
I reached into my bag and retrieved my cell phone, held it up in front of my face and waited for my new app to unlock the phone.
No dice. It didn’t recognize me with a towel wrapped around my wet hair. I knew I shouldn’t have let Blossom talk me into installing that oh-so-convenient facial recognition app. She’d pointed out how it would save me the trouble of typing a passcode every time I used the phone. And I’m such a sucker for saving trouble, I actually took the advice of a girl called Blossom with a twin sister named Floss.
Setting the phone down, I reached down between the mattress and the box spring where I’d just stashed my other favored accessory. The one I started keeping handy after I decided that no one was ever going to invade my space again. I tiptoed to the bathroom door, threw it open and took a two-handed shooting stance. “Hands up and behind your head!” I shouted.
A white-faced stranger straightened up from the sink, banged his head on the open door of the medicine cabinet, raised his hands and slowly backed away from me.
Well, so much for the faint hope that it had only been Craig, seriously overstepping his bounds and earning a well-deserved shock. I’d never seen this man before.
He was young, well, about my age anyway. Average height, dark hair, blue eyes, jaw nearly blue with what looked like permanent five o’clock shadow. Might have been good-looking if he hadn’t been white and shaking. Not that I minded. Terrified was, in my view, a very good look on men who sneaked into my house in the middle of the night.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” I demanded.
“Lady, I don’t know what you think you’re—”
“I’m asking the questions here!” I interrupted with a little twitch of my Smith and Wesson .38 Special to emphasize the situation.
“Look, lady, I paid for my room, and if there’s some kind of house rule about not using the bathroom that opens right out of my bedroom, somebody should have mentioned it, okay? And do you have to keep pointing that thing at my face?”
I lowered the gun until it was pointing at his legs. “You paid?”
“First and last month’s rent and deposit. And who the fuck are you, anyway, crazy lady? Does the landlady know you run around threatening the other tenants with that baby cannon?”
“You know the landlady?”
“Nice lady. Georgia Brown. She—”
I lowered the gun even more, to point at the floor. My breathing was just beginning to get back to normal. “No, she was just the rental agent. I’m your landlady – Sienna Brown, her niece. This is my house.”
“Yeah? I bet you get a rapid turnover in lodgers if you greet them all by shoving a gun in their faces. Crazy lady.”
“You startled me. I’ve been out of town. I didn’t know the room had been rented.”
“Well, I’ll be very careful not to startle you again,” he said.

Friday, July 19, 2019

That small step... half a century later

It happened in July.
I didn't see it at the time; I was living in Mombasa. We did not get American television. (Yes, Virginia, there was life before Youtube.)
But eventually the video made its way to a Mombasa movie theatre, and I grabbed one of my Swahili friends and headed to the theatre to watch what would prove to be the greatest show of my life. I don't remember, half a century on, whether we got to see a full-length video or (what was more likely) selected clips crammed into a newsreel-length feature. I just remember two moments clearly: the thrill of seeing a man step onto the surface of the moon... and my friend's reaction.
She was snoring gently.
For Amina, real people on the moon were no match for her preferred fare of Bollywood actors cavorting against a painted backdrop of Alpine scenery. And why should they be? She didn't believe the moon landing was any more real than Shashi Kapoor almost kissing his latest costar, and it wasn't anywhere near as colorful.
And even for me, it's receding into the past. There are now very few people I know who for whom that day is anything more than a childhood memory, if even that.
Sometimes the future seems like a very lonely country.

Tales from the Multiverse!

It's always a good morning when I wake to the knowledge of having downloaded a new book I want to read. Well, new-ish. I'm not sure how I missed the March release of Pam Uphoff's Tales from the Multiverse, but I'll catch up today. It's billed as a collection of short stories, and I'm not normally a fan of short stories, but I'll make an exception for a Wine of the Gods collection... especially as I've already peeked. Can't resist a setup that has Xen Wolfson under cover as an aging wino!

Cover artist Cedar Sanderson and I are still doing the Elephant Waltz with KDP over the paperback edition of The Language of the Dragon, and I'll be back with a snippet or two later. But for today, I have something new to read!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Language of the Dragon - introductory offer

Can a book be on sale if this is the first publication, so that there's no previous price for comparison? Semantics! I'm releasing The Language of the Dragon today and it's going to be 99 cents for a while -- at least until the second Dragon Speech book is available - after which I'll bump it back up to my usual price for light fantasy novels. I'm calling that a sale.
(At the same time I've raised the price of A Pocketful of Stars back to $3.99. I'll put it on sale again for brief periods connected with promotions. The main reason I'm raising the price is that it's not eligible for a lot of promotions unless I temporarily drop the price again.)
Marketing makes my head hurt.
Writing is much more fun, and the prospect of people reading what I've written is even better. (And do NOT point out that there's a connection between marketing and readers. Anyway, the inept way I do it, I'm not sure there is any connection.)
I'm excited about releasing this book, the first of the Dragon Speech series, in which I hope to do to linguistics what I did to pure mathematics in the Applied Topology books. Hmm. I shall probably never dare step on a university campus again... Anyway, here's an excerpt from Language of the Dragon:

At night, after the communal meal, Teller would sit at his flimsy desk and replay his day’s collection of language notes, scribbling as he did so in the narrow ledger with the stained green cover. Koshan contrived to get a glimpse of the writing but was left no wiser than before: it was some kind of spiky script that he couldn’t begin to read.
A spiky script for a stony language?
One day a villager interrupted their preparation of dinner to say that the professor wanted an interpreter. Koshan followed the man and found Teller pestering Rukshana. That was odd; Rukshana was one of the few people in the village who’d been sent to Tireza every summer to attend the seasonal school there. The school didn’t teach German, but if anybody knew enough English to communicate with Professor Teller, she should.
He had the feeling she didn’t want to communicate with Teller. He told Koshan that he needed to know exactly what she had said just before something or other had happened.
“Nothing happened! The wool is clean now, that is all,” she snapped. She put aside the sieve on which she’d rested a bundle of wool while tweaking the horsehair string tied across the sieve to beat dust out of the bundle.
“But she barely touched it,” Teller complained.
Koshan took a pinch of the wool between finger and thumb, raised it and blew on the fibers. “If you can get all the dust and dirt out so quickly, Rukshana, you should clean the wool for the whole village!”
“The old man is mistaken,” she told him, flushing. “I had to work a long time to clean this much!”
“Nein! She did not,” said Teller.
“And now,” Rukshana said, “I must begin cleaning another batch.” She put the clean wool in a large bowl, pulled dirty wool out of the sack beside her and arranged it on the sieve, under the taut horsehair string.
“And then she said, ‘Djnd vlaad dzlaamk!’” It was Teller who voiced the grating words.
Dust and loose dirt cascaded from the sieve, and Rukhshana’s fingers were only just raised to pluck the string. White-faced, she turned to the professor, and then to Koshan. “I did not say it,” she cried out. “I never said it, I do not know where he learned it! I never used it to clean the wool – well, only a little, little bit, and my fingers are so sore!” Tearful, she exhibited pink fingertips to Koshan. “Please do not tell anyone!”
“Do not tell them what?”
“That I used the language of the dragon to clean my wool.”

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Across the rooftops of Blois

Back in the ancient times when recorded books were a novelty and a luxury, I used to be a volunteer reader for Recordings for the Blind. They had planned to use me on math textbooks but when they discovered that I could actually pronounce French and German titles in footnotes and bibliographies, and could even sound confident about it, I got pulled around all over the office to pinch-hit for the monolingual readers who had been suffering and spelling out all those funny foreign words in the fine print. They actually gave me way too much credit. I could make a stab at Italian or Dutch names, but when someone shoved a reference to a Polish book at me, I balked. "I don't have the faintest idea how to read Polish. You'll just have to spell it."
"We will," the reader said, "but please... if you could just say it too... You sound so nice and confident when you speak foreign languages!"
Ah, yes. Nothing like a smattering of half a dozen languages and an apprenticeship at my grandfather's poker games to develop that bluffing ability.
It was with echoes of those days of linguistic scrambling that I put aside Dr. Thorne and turned to the second of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series, Queens' Play, wondering with some sympathy how the reader was going to deal with the plethora of French names and phrases in that book. (Yes, I'm still feeling sufficiently under the weather to spend a lot of time lying down and listening to audiobooks. And from motives of economy, I'm drawn to books that are either free or very long.)
Now, partway through -- I just finished the chase across the rooftops of Blois last night -- I'm wondering more about some surprising pronunciations. About, oh, eighty percent of the French sounds just fine to me, but the other twenty percent grates on my ear and interferes with the project of listening until I fall asleep.
It could be that English conventions for pronouncing sixteenth-century French names are different from American ones (I've certainly been tempted to accuse the reader of speaking the French of Stratford atte Bowe), or it could be that everybody knows these names were pronounced differently in the sixteenth century and the reader is just being nit-pickingly precise. But I doubt both these explanations.
The spelling of Aubigny and Enghien support a palatalized pronunciation that must surely have occurred earlier rather than only coming into use later -- I mean, one could argue that in modern French one says AU-BI-NEE and that the pronunciation AU-BI-NYEE is old-fashioned. But I just checked online pronunciation guides for these names and the palatalization is clearly still there.
As for the French version of hide-and-seek, I utterly abominate and repudiate the suggestion that cache-cache should be pronounced CASH-AY CASH-AY.
My best guess is that there are simply too damned many French names and phrases in the book, that whatever the reader was paid wasn't enough to make it worth while looking up every single one, that he counted on a general understanding of French pronunciation and it occasionally failed him. Heaven knows, after the way I blithely sailed through Russian and Swedish footnotes back in the day, I don't have much room to be critical. I do wonder, though. Is the occasional stumble par for the course with audiobooks? Or is it just that this particular book is so demanding of the reader?
And if the same guy records the subsequent books in the Lymond series, how is he going to manage when our hero goes to Malta? Istanbul? Moscow?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Happy Saba Saba Day!

Two years living in Mombasa. Kenya's Independence Day is December 12, Tanzania's is December 9, and both those anniversaries have faded from my memory. But the day I always remember is this one -- July 7 -- 7/7 -- or Saba/Saba in Swahili. When I looked it up just now, all it really commemorates is the founding of the country's main political party, TANU. Strange -- in my cynical old age, I don't think of the founding of political parties as anything to celebrate! But I still remember Saba Saba Day celebrations in both Kenya and Tanzania. Did they make more a fuss about 7/7 than about 12/9 or 12/12? Or... is it simply the euphonious date I recall?

Friday, July 5, 2019

Ten Science Fiction Stories

I know, I know. The listicle format requires something more dramatic, like “Ten Science Fiction Stories Everybody Should Read.” Well, I do think anybody who’s interested in science fiction should be familiar with these ten stories, but this is hardly an exhaustive list. A more accurate title might be, “Ten Science Fiction Stories that Made an Indelible Impression on Me When I Discovered the Genre.” Because when I sorted these stories by publication date, I discovered that they’re all old. Really, really old.

Like me.

You’ve probably heard that the golden age of science fiction is thirteen. Some truth in that, certainly for me.
In 1959, when I was eleven, we moved to Georgia and spent some time living with colleagues of my father’s until my parents could rent a house of their own. These sweet people had a summerhouse in the back yard which their son had filled with pulp science fiction magazines before he left home; I discovered that hoard, spent most of our visit to the Huffs trying to read my way through the entire collection, and continued for a number of years doing my best to read all the science fiction and fantasy that was published each year – not an insanely impossible project at that time, but subject to some natural limitations based on my allowance and the public library’s very small budget for weird stuff.
This isn’t an exhaustive list even of the stories I remember even from that period of my life, not to speak of all the excellent work that was yet to come; something at the back of my head is grumbling, “You left out Shambleau! And you didn’t include even one of Bob Shaw’s ‘Slow Glass’ stories! And what about Connie Willis, and ‘James Tiptree,’ and Ursula LeGuin, and…”
Yeah, yeah. Given another month of browsing my memories, and this would probably be a list of a hundred science fiction stories. Aren’t you glad I decided to quit before then? So here’s a list of ten stories I think of as saying something intrinsic to the field, and in most cases, saying it so well that it’s hardly possible to improve upon them.
One good thing about these old and much-anthologized stories; I was able to find all of them online. So if any of these are unfamiliar to you, and you find them a little bit interesting, you can read them with one click!

Who Goes There? John W. Campbell, 1938. (Written under the pseudonym Don Stuart.) I’m not sure about this one; I did read it during that golden summer, but the 1982 movie made more of an impression on me than the actual story. But I’m including it because I don’t think the dilemma of identifying a shape-shifting alien has ever been better dramatized.­ It's got to imitate us - it's got to be one of us - that's the only way it can fly an airplane - fly a plane for two hours, and rule ­- be ­ - all Earth's inhabitants. A world for the taking - if it imitates us.

The Green Hills of Earth Robert A. Heinlein, 1947. You could probably stage a marathon food fight among Heinlein fans arguing about which was his best short story. This is my favorite, possibly for Rhys' songs rather than for the plot. We pray for one last landing/On the globe that gave us birth./Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies/And the cool, green hills of Earth.

To Serve Man Damon Knight, 1950. Like a number of stories in my list, it was the basis for a Twilight Zone episode. It’s a cookbook!

The Nine Billion Names of God Arthur C. Clarke, 1953. Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

It's a Good Life Jerome Bixby, 1953. Probably better known from the Twilight Zone episode. Cornfields will never look the same to you again. Everything had to be good. Had to be fine just as it was, even if it wasn't. Always. Because any changes might be worse. So terribly much worse.

The Cold EquationsTom Godwin, 1954. Sometimes criticized because “it’s lousy engineering” to build systems with so little margin for error that the tragic ending is necessary. I've even read that the editor kept sending the story back as the author kept finding ways to save the girl, because the tragedy was what made the story. But since 1954 we've seen a lot of disasters and near-disasters in our actual space program, from Apollo 13 to Challenger. And so I find the story even more credible now than when I first read it. You know you have a limited supply of fuel; you also know the law as well as I do.

All Summer in a Day Ray Bradbury, 1954. Picking just one gem from Bradbury’s oeuvre is all but impossible. But this story is the one that’s engraved on my heart. Margot stood apart from them, from these children who could never remember a time when there wasn't rain and rain and rain.

Or All the Seas with Oysters Avram Davidson, 1958. Why are there never any safety pins? Or, the life cycle of the coat hanger.

Harrison Bergeron Kurt Vonnegut, 1961. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren't really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. The quest for equality leads to the bed of Procrustes.

The Ballad of Lost C'Mell Cordwainer Smith (aka Paul Linebarger), 1962. There’s no way I’m going to do a “Best 10” collection without one of Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality stories. I was torn between this one and “When the People Fell.”
She got the which of the what-she-did,
Hid the bell with a blot, she did,
But she fell in love with a hominid.
Where is the which of the what-she-did?

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Stories We Shouldn't be Telling

I don’t really know how much of a “trend” this is, but in my casual, work-avoiding browsing of current events I sure have seen a lot of stories about “trans” women, i.e. men who have decided to call themselves women, running away with the prizes in women's sporting competitions. Apparently the Doctrine of Infinite Sexual Mutability trumps minor considerations of reality, such as the fact that individuals who were “men” up to and throughout adolescence before “transitioning” are going to be bigger, faster, stronger than actual women in later life, regardless of how they manipulate their testosterone levels.

So? What did we expect?

The First Reader likes to watch cop shows and spy shows, and he likes me to watch with him. I’m not sure whether that’s just because he enjoys seeing me scream at the TV or whether that’s a minor fringe benefit. In any case, over the last few years I have seen way too many episodes dependent on “90 lb. young woman wipes the floor with 250 lb. man because…” uh, because she is an expert in some obscure martial art that we never ever see her practicing? Because he wasn’t expecting her to be able to fight? Because she’s the good guy and the plot demands it? I’m pretty sure ALL the episodes boil down to that last reason, and I’m not totally unsympathetic to it. It certainly increases the range of stories we can tell if we get to assume that an attractive, slender young woman can work on an absolutely equal basis with her colleagues in some violent profession. If we never have to think, “Well, the bad guy wants to get away, so obviously he’s going to charge at the girl and knock her down… oops, why was she there in the first place?”

And the (Unrealistically) Strong Woman trope isn’t limited to TV shows, or I wouldn’t be griping about it here. I have read - well, I’ve started to read - too damned many military sf novels that portray women in combat as the absolute equals of men. I don’t mind if the writer wants to posit a high-tech future world in which battles are fought only via computer, and she with the fastest fingers wins… though you’d better make it convincing, and don’t get Captain Mary Sue involved in ground combat halfway through! I can sort of put up with a story that has Sergeant Mary Sue benefiting from mysterious physical augmentation – though the amounts of handwavium and unobtanium necessary to make Sergeant Mary Sue a combat infantry leader leave me dizzy.
But way too often I pick up a book that promises a strong female lead… and offers me a fairy tale world in which the only thing “different” is that we’re all going to pretend that women, not significantly physiologically different from today’s women, can fight on an equal basis beside men, also not significantly physiologically different from the men of today. Private Mary Sue can carry as much ammo and supplies as Private Marty Stu and can endure the same debilitating combat conditions. None of the men in her unit are the least bit dismayed by the prospect of seeing a woman wounded or mutilated. And, one assumes, they’re perfectly willing to visit death and mutilation on a woman who happens to be fighting on the opposing side.

Two questions.

Is this a world we really want to live in?

And if we pretend so very very hard that women are absolutely physically equal to men in armed combat, can we be surprised that the society we live in expects us to extend that pretense to athletic contests?

(Crossposted at Mad Genius Club

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A Needle in the Right Hand of God

That's the title of a book I've been reading about the Bayeux Tapestry, but my reason for posting about it today is, of course, to commemorate a different invasion, the one that went the other way - from England to France - roughly nine hundred years after the one that inspired the original tapestry. One of the interesting tidbits in the book was this New Yorker cover, illustrating D-Day in the style of the tapestry.

Incidentally, the name "Bayeux Tapestry" has always seemed a bit strange to me, because I think of a tapestry as a piece of fabric whose pattern and images are intrinsic to the structure -- usually created by changing colors of the weft threads against a fully covered warp -- and the Bayeux Tapestry is actually a monumental undertaking of embroidery in colored wool on an already-woven linen background. However, I suppose the meaning of "tapestry" changes over time, and in any case, "The Bayeux Really Long Collection of Embroidered Panels," doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Little Ships: The Other Memorial

In this country it's overshadowed, and rightly so, by our memorials to American heroes. But it's an inspiring story in its own right. I discovered this poem by Robert Nathan in, of all places, my ninth-grade English textbook, and I still remember thinking, "Okay, this year won't have been a total waste.") It may not be accurate in all historical details - for instance, we now know that the main use the British made of the little ships was to ferry soldiers from the coast to the much larger Navy ships that made the crossing (arguably more dangerous than repeated Channel crossings) but even the First Reader, the consummate nit-picker on World War II, was so moved by it that he forgot to complain about this.

And even after all these years, reading it makes me tear up.

Dunkirk by Robert Nathan

Will came back from school that day,
And he had little to say.
But he stood a long time looking down
To where the gray-green Channel water
Slapped at the foot of the little town,
And to where his boat, the Sarah P,
Bobbed at the tide on an even keel,
With her one old sail, patched at the leech,
Furled like a slattern down at heel.

He stood for a while above the beach,
He saw how the wind and current caught her;
He looked a long time out to sea.
There was steady wind, and the sky was pale,
And a haze in the east that looked like smoke.

Will went back to the house to dress.
He was half way through, when his sister Bess
Who was near fourteen, and younger than he
By just two years, came home from play.
She asked him, "Where are you going, Will?"
He said, "For a good long sail."
"Can I come along?"
"No, Bess," he spoke.
"I may be gone for a night and a day."
Bess looked at him. She kept very still.
She had heard the news of the Flanders rout,
How the English were trapped above Dunkirk,
And the fleet had gone to get them out
But everyone thought that it wouldn't work.
There was too much fear, there was too much doubt.

She looked at him, and he looked at her.
They were English children, born and bred.
He frowned her down, but she wouldn't stir.
She shook her proud young head.
“You'll need a crew” ,she said.
They raised the sail on the Sarah P,
Like a penoncel on a young knight's lance,
And headed the Sarah out to sea,
To bring their soldiers home from France.

There was no command, there was no set plan,
But six hundred boats went out with them
On the gray-green waters, sailing fast,
River excursion and fisherman,
Tug and schooner and racing M,
And the little boats came following last.
From every harbor and town they went
Who had sailed their craft in the sun and rain,
From the South Downs, from the cliffs of Kent,
From the village street, from the country lane.

There are twenty miles of rolling sea
From coast to coast, by the seagull's flight,
But the tides were fair and the wind was free,
And they raised Dunkirk by fall of night.

They raised Dunkirk with its harbor torn
By the blasted stern and the sunken prow;
They had reached for fun on an English tide,
They were English children bred and born,
And whether they lived, or whether they died,
They raced for England now.

Bess was as white as the Sarah's sail,
She set her teeth and smiled at Will.
He held his course for the smoky veil
Where the harbor narrowed thin and long.
The British ships were firing strong.

He took the Sarah into his hands,
He drove her in through fire and death
To the wet men waiting on the sands.
He got his load and he got his breath,
And she came about, and the wind fought her.

He shut his eyes and he tried to pray.
He saw his England were she lay,
The wind's green home, the sea's proud daughter,
Still in the moonlight, dreaming deep,
The English cliffs and the English loam
He had fourteen men to get away,
And the moon was clear, and the night like day
For planes to see where the white sails creep
Over the black water.

He closed his eyes and prayed for her;
He prayed to the men who had made her great,
Who had built her land of forest and park,
Who had made the seas an English lake;
He prayed for a fog to bring the dark;
He prayed to get home for England's sake.
And the fog came down on the rolling sea,
And covered the ships with English mist.
The diving planes were baffled and blind.

For Nelson was there in the Victory,
With his one good eye, and his sullen twist,
And guns were out on The Golden Hind,
Their shot flashed over the Sarah P.
He could hear them cheer as he came about.

By burning wharves, by battered slips,
Galleon, frigate, and brigantine,
The old dead Captains fought their ships,
And the great dead Admirals led the line.
it was England's night, it was England's sea.

The fog rolled over the harbor key.
Bess held to the stays, and conned him out.

And all through the dark, while the Sarah's wake
Hissed behind him, and vanished in foam,
There at his side sat Francis Drake,
And held him true, and steered him home.

Incidentally, the first time I crossed the Channel it was on a boat that the owner swore had been one of the little ships at Dunkirk. It may even have been true; at that time it had only been 19 years since Operation Dynamo. I will say that the boat was remarkably well preserved. But at eleven I totally believed him.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Everything's a learning experience

One thing the First Reader and I have in common is that, as introverted readers from childhood, each of us has a large vocabulary of words that we know from reading but have never heard or used in conversation. This leads to frequent exchanges like:
"Have you ever heard of X-x-x?"
"Oh, is that how you pronounce it? I always thought it was x-X-x."
"Well... it's how I pronounce it; I haven't a clue what is correct."
Of recent years, it's likely that at least one of us will have a smartphone within reach and we'll figure out the approved pronunciation on the spot. But there's no telling how many Debatable Words remain.
I hadn't expected that knee-surgery-complicated-by-pneumonia would affect this phenomenon, but it's become one of the less boring side effects of the whole thing. For about ten days I felt like a limp dishrag, too tired even to hold a book or a Kindle, and for the first time in my life I've been listening to audiobooks. When in normal health I find them too slow, but for the last week and a half "slow" has matched my comprehension perfectly.
Naturally, I haven't been taking notes and can't tell you which words I've heard out loud for the first time ever. The only ones I remember are the mysteries.
When I read Jane Austen, I see "shew" and hear "show," assuming that spelling but not pronunciation has changed. But whoever read my audiobook of Persuasion consistently read it as "sh-you". Which jarred, but may be correct; I'm too tired to do the research now.
The other surprise came while I was listening to Connie Willis' Blackout. Her characters, stumbling around in the Blitz, frequently encountered "arp wardens" and every time that jarred too. Without thinking about it, I'd always mentally heard "ARP" in this context as "Ay-ar-pee," spelling out the letters instead of pronouncing them as an acronym. Now I wonder which pronunciation the contemps used. That should be discoverable if I dig out enough contemporary radio broadcasts, but I'm not going to do it today. A native speaker of English-English rather than America-English might know; Ashley, if you read this, what's your pronunciation of ARP?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Promises, promises

Knee surgery is so much easier now than it was 20 years ago, they said.
Think how much you'll enjoy being able to take a walk in the park, they said.
You'll be so much happier and healthier afterward, they said.

Yeah, well, maybe. Eventually. I wanted to believe all that, and I don't think I did enough research before plunging into this project. I certainly hadn't counted on living at my daughter's house for two and a half weeks after surgery! As for pain... I really don't like pain.

Let's just say it hasn't exactly been a walk in the park.

However. As of today I'm back in my own house, with a laptop and Internet access, and maybe in a couple of days I'll get back to regular posting. (Along with paying for the final cover of Salt Magic, entering all the edits on Language of the Dragon so that I'll be ready to shove that book through formatting and KDP when Cedar finalizes that cover, doing a sort-of-last edit on A Child of Magic so that I can inflict it on beta readers... things pile up when you lose a couple of weeks, don't they?)

Now that pain pills are no longer fogging my brain, I hope that I'll be able to get back to plotting Tangled Magic, which is languishing as a collection of disconnected notes made just before surgery. I miss writing. I want to get back to work.

For today, though, I think I'm going to be a wimp, lie down and listen to an audiobook. The new knee is complaining loudly about what I've put it through already, and I don't seem to be very good at concentrating through pain. Yeah. Total wimp. Definitely flunking Stoicism 101. And I don't even want to think about the prospect of going through this all over again with the other knee!

Monday, April 8, 2019


The first knee surgery is scheduled for tomorrow morning, after which I'll be at the hospital for a couple of days. Once I get sprung, I expect to be stuck in the one part of our house which has a bedroom and a bathroom at the same level, at least until I can manage stairs again -- no idea how long that's going to take, but I hope it won't be more than another couple of days. The thing is that this part of the house is the part where Internet access is patchy at best and mostly nonexistent.

Given my relaxed "schedule" of blog postings, this gap should hardly be noticeable. But if anybody wonders why I'm not responding to comments or emails this week, now you know.

Sunday, April 7, 2019


Not that it's of great importance or immediate relevance, but the First Reader is out and the kids could care less, and I have to gloat to somebody. I've just typed the last words of the seventh book in the Applied Topology series - the one I thought I wasn't going to write, but Thalia ambushed me. And as usual, I'm inordinately pleased. Not to mention being grateful to Real Life, for letting me finish it thirty-six hours before I have to present myself to the hospital for the first knee surgery. I figure I can lounge in bed or on a couch and edit the thing, even in the hospital and then at home, but I'm not so sure about placing a laptop on my knees or concentrating well enough to write new words in that first week.

For chronological reasons this book will have to be published after the first two books in the upcoming Dragon Speech series, because the first one has to take place less than a year after A Revolution of Rubies. Furthermore, Thalia makes cameo appearances in both Dragon Speech books; in the first one she's pregnant, in the second she's nursing a newborn, and in this book the baby is 10 months and she is just, with some reluctance, agreeing to go back to work part-time. I could edit the cameo appearances, but I don't see any way around the Revolution of Rubies connection. Ah, the joys of writing two series in the same universe! And when I think that I did this to myself... oh, well. It does not materially diminish the joy of completing this one.

The working title, which I rather like, is A Child of Magic. As always, reactions and suggestions are always welcome, but bear in mind that I'd like to keep to the format of the first six Applied Topology books: A [NOUN] of [NOUN].

Thursday, April 4, 2019

It's not #MeToo, it's just plain creepy.

I’ve been watching in stunned disbelief as a parade of women accuse Joe Biden of embarrassing them with inappropriate touching… and a parade of opinion writers, many of them conservative, rush to assure us that there is nothing to see here, nothing at all.

A popular line of argument is, “We didn’t believe Kavanaugh’s accuser because she had no evidence, therefore we should not believe Lucy Flores (or the other six-and-still-counting women who have complained.)” Huh? If there’d been a string of publicly available videos showing Kavanaugh throwing girls onto beds and jumping on them, you bet your sweet patootie we’d have believed his accuser. In Biden’s case there is just such a string of videos showing him behaving precisely as Lucy Flores describes, except in most cases his victims are not grown women but young girls. (More on that later.) Why wouldn’t I believe that at an event which wasn’t videotaped he behaved exactly as badly as he did when the cameras were on him?

Cue the defenders.

He didn’t actually rape anyone, so what’s the big deal?
Tucker Carlson: “Hugging is not sexual assault. Eskimo kisses are not rape. That used to be obvious. It's not obvious anymore. And so we are sorry for helping to blur the distinction between human affection and coercive immoral behavior.”
Excuse me? Nobody has accused Biden of rape. They’ve accused him of behaving inappropriately, in a way that caused them discomfort, and – this is important, y’all – in a public setting where they were part of the display. Where they felt inhibited against pulling away, telling him to back off, slapping his face, or whatever else women are supposed to do when a man puts his hands where they are not wanted. Being grabby isn’t rape. But it’s also not okay. And when you choose to do it where the woman concerned feels that to object might be a breech of decorum that would harm the political party you both belong to, it actually is “coercive immoral behavior,” Tucker.

He's just a victim of changing standards.
Andrea Peyser: “Weird Joe, who’s been showing keen affection to members of the fairer sex since before he became a big Democratic macher, has done the unforgivable in this humorless age. He’s shown genuine human warmth of the male variety to females in the scary era of #MeToo…. Once, a man who gave a lady a friendly pat, a shoulder rub or an encouraging peck on the noggin was either thanked profusely, ignored or simply asked to stop.
Women, it was presumed, weren’t so powerless as to be unable to avoid unasked-for contact.”
What world did you grow up in, Andrea? Yes, women are usually able to avoid unasked-for contact, though it helps if they are (a) grown women and not young girls, and (b) not standing in front of cameras at a public event meant to honor their fathers. But why should they have to fight off such contact from men who ought to know better?
When I was growing up, in the fifties and sixties, I attended plenty of adult gatherings, most of them male-dominated; that was the reality of academic life in mathematics at that time, and having a father who was chairman of the department meant I had less freedom than my peers to duck out of such gatherings. Some of them were arranged to honor distinguished visitors to whom I was supposed to be very, very polite.
Not one of those men ever put his hands on me, sniffed my hair, or whispered sweet nothings into my ear. They knew better. It had nothing to do with “the scary era of #MeToo” and everything to do with the standards governing male behavior. Is Joe Biden a victim of changing standards? Hell, no. He’s somebody who never learned the rules in the first place, or more likely, somebody who decided the standards for common decency didn’t apply to him.
The people who are coming forward to complain about Biden’s behavior are mostly adult women, and I might be inclined to say, “You made your choice to let a senior member of your party grope you rather than make a scene that would be politically embarrassing.” But what do we say to the young girls who’ve suffered from Biden’s handsiness? Take a look at the video compilations – there’s a short one here, if Youtube hasn’t taken it down yet – and tell me those little girls should have been able to evade Biden’s hands, or that they deserve this treatment for trying to stand still and not embarrass their parents by making a scene. But don’t worry, Biden’s apologists have that covered too.

He didn’t drag them backstage and rape them, did he?
Heather MacDonald on the widely publicized pictures of Biden with young girls: “In almost every one, the girls’ parents are standing next to them in an even larger crowd. There is no possibility that Biden is going to abduct the children for sexual favors.”
Oh well, that’s all right, then. I totally don’t mind you rubbing your hands all over my daughter and snuffling her hair, Uncle Joe, even if it makes her miserable, because it’s not rape-rape.

Should this behavior disqualify Biden for the presidency? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s creepy and that he should have been called out on it years ago.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Salt Magic is live on Kindle!

Well, that didn't take long! I think it's magic; a little public grumbling works wonders. I got the .mobi
version of Salt Magic

last night, promptly uploaded it to Kindle, and it was live this morning. (As usual, the paperback version will take longer; I still have to go through the minuet of providing KDP with a version of the cover that it likes. No matter how carefully Cedar Sanderson and I follow their published rules, we have never yet achieved that with at least one "correction."


Sunday, March 31, 2019

More Salt Magic snippets

Getting the typos in the e-book fixed is taking way longer than it should. Yeah, yeah, I know, formatting books for Kindle is so easy now and there's no excuse for hiring somebody instead of learning how to do it myself and I should try [THE LATEST TOOL]. Yeah. On those mornings when I wake up and say to myself, "I really feel like getting frustrated out of my mind trying to use a software tool that doesn't work as advertised," I try one of those tools. Meanwhile, I'm still using a formatting service.

And so, while I wait:

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