Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Family Costuming

Here's a neat family activity: group costuming! I've long wished my family would do the same thing, but it never worked out.

The picture is from Millenicon 2003, six years ago. I came across it while going through some old photos last week. It's now of personal interest to me, especially the young man on the end in the everyday school uniform. The young man who is not too many years older than my daughter...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Wedding

On October 10th, 2009, Katie Van Atta and Daryl Mercier were formally married in an outdoor ceremony. After expressing their vows to each other and exchanging rings, the couple took turns pouring sand into a large vase that would demonstrate how their lives were now combined. Afterwards, the couple announced their new last name, which is a combination of their pre-marriage names, and will henceforth be known as Mr. and Mrs. Van Mercetta.

To the right is the Mercier Clan, the groom's side of the family. Sister Sarah did not make it, nor our mother, but we had a fairly hefty representation.

When they return from their honeymoon in Ireland, they will find that the rest of the family has decided that this did not go far enough, and are now to be known as Datie and Karyl Van Mercetta.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Daily Prompt #2


Fiction Prompt:
the Intersection of Main and Elm

Here's a simple sentence with a lot of opportunity. See where you can take it!Cyrus Markham stopped abruptly at the intersection of Main and Elm streets, forgetting which way he was supposed to turn.


Cyrus Markham stopped abruptly at the intersection of Main and Elm streets, forgetting which way he was supposed to turn. Did he go in the direction of the dancing pink elephants, with their little bottles of soda pop carried in their trunks, or toward the purple dolphins which arced up from the asphalt, balanced on their tails above a sign for a popular travel agency, then dove down into the sidewalk. Glancing from one to the other, he felt a wave of dizziness followed by nausea and stomach cramps.Stupid, horrible, nasty decongestant, he thought. The drug turned a normally pleasurable stroll through the virtual ads into a painful nightmare.

A woman waltzed up to him, wearing a costume of garish red and orange feathers and carrying a tray of beers. Her painted lips formed a broad smile, then she opened her mouth to began her speil about the wonders of her product. Cyrus swept his hand through her image to shut her off.

Only she wasn't a hologram.

She crashed to the ground, her beers shattering on the pavement, her feathers ripping. She screamed. A police whistle screeched in Cyrus's ear, and a beefy, non-holographic hands grabbed his shoulders.

The woman pointed at him and jabbered in a foreign accent, the few recognizable words accusing him of various abuses and sex crimes.

"Spread 'em, buddy," growled the gorrila-sized cop into his ear.Cyrus sighed. Mondays had never been his favorite day.


I think we can assume I have a migrane today.


Thirty-One Days, Thirty-One prompts

There's a writing school here in town which I'm checking out. One thing they offer for free is a program of prompt's for October.

This is yesterday's prompt, and my response:

Fiction Prompt

Something OldWrite about a character who finds something old that they had forgotten about and have come across in the back of a closet, bottom of a drawer, or under a car seat. Use this item to write a flashback in which the character relives the excitement once associated with the object.


"I believe this is yours." Zaytalle held up a gold Bardlands coin, a pretty smirk on his delicate face.

Treble snatched it out of his hands. "Where did you get this?"

"You dropped it when you were called out of Bartiese by the Wizardling."

"It was in my pants pocket! Where are the rest of my clothes?" Treble hated the robes that the men of the Wizardlands wore, thin little dresses, and the loincloths that they wore beneath were a poor substitute for a proper pair of pants.

"Actually, it was in the hands of one of the guards. He gave it to me, and I'm giving it back to you."He actually looked as if he deserved thanks for doing Treble a favor.

Treble turned away from him.He looked at the coin, marked with the head of the King of the Bardlands, and words written in Bardtongue. master Irvinghad given him this coin, just before he started his journey. It was for spending in Bartiese, for a little enjoyment of his own, the old master had said. Now it was the only thing he had left of his home, a place where the nights were cool and the people were sane. His only link.As Master Irving had given it to him, he had also made Treble swear that he would return.

And I will, Treble vowed, curling his fingers around the cool metal. I will.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cincinnati Drivers

Observed while walking through the University of Cincinnati campus on Sunday. I imagine that they drove onto the loading dock by mistake, then weren't too careful as they backed up to turn around.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Return of Adventure Turtle

Yes, Adventure Turtle sticks to the walls. He wouldn't be fun if he just did normal things!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fancy Dancing

I've been working for a couple of weeks to have a video of a Fancy Dancer on my blog. This has involved putting a new optical drive in a laptop computer. One of those things which starts as a simple project, and turns into something quite complicated.

Most Native American Dances are highly symbolic and meaningful to the dancers. Some are sacred. The dancers do not wear costumes, but Regalia, and each piece of their Regalia has a specific and special meaning. Regalia is often passed down from parents to children.

Fancy Dancing, however, is show dancing. It was invented for The Wild West Show. Wild Bill brought Native Americans into his show, and they did some dances for the audience. But as these dances were considered too dull for the audience, a new form was invented with much more colorful costumes and more active moves.

Nowadays, Fancy Dancing is a competitive activity, with the dancers competing for prizes. There was only one Fancy Dancer at this time at this Pow-wow, and so he was not competing during this dance, but showing off.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adventure Turtle

Adventure Turtle had magnets in his feet, and tends to wander about the house, looking for places he can stick. Every time he moves, the qustions is, "Can you find Adventure Turtle?"
Can you?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Marcon 2009 -- British Invasion

The theme of the convention this year was "The British Invasion." The GOH was Simon Green, but I must admot that I had not read any of his stuff before the convention, and I didn't see enough of him during the convention to convince me to go read his stuff. In truth, I don't think I ever saw him, unless he was one of the non-descript people roaming the hallway. His presence was not major, I fear.

In fact, there appeared to be rather of lack of professional people this year. This did not keep us from having a good time, but it did weaken programming considerably.

<- Tardis.


There were an amazing number of Daleks running around the convention. This one was a remote control robot, as were most of them, but at least one was a costume with a person inside. And yes, it was a Hall Costume.

Steampunk was also popular. I am quite tempted to learn to solder so I can build a deathray for next year's convention. Victorian outfits tend to violate one of my rules for hall costuming, that the costume should be not only tolerable but comfortable, but my daughter wants to dress up as an Victorian Explorer, and that outfit has possibilities.

There were a surprising number of children at the convention, especially compared with just a decade ago. Fans are actively reproducing, an draising their children to follow in their footsteps. I saw some adult child costuming, and these were my favorites.

<- Warlord with Henchminions.

<-Series and Mini-series.

And there was the Costume Contest, which was very good this year. This is only the head portion of a full-body dinosaur costume that the woman wore on stage. Very, very impressive.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Fantasy of Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones is an author of mostly juvenile and young adult fiction. She has published over forty books, six collections of short stories, edited 3 anthologies, and written two non-fiction books: The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and The Skiver's Guide. Her career has spanned nearly forty years, with her first book published in 1970, and her latest book to be published late this year or next year. She has been nominated for several awards, and in 1977 her book Charmed Life won the Guardian Award for Children's Books. In 1999 Dark Lord of Derkholm won the Mythopoeic Award in the USA, and she won the Karl Edward Wagner Award in the UK for her contribution to fantasy. Her book, Howl's Moving Castle, was turned into a major motion picture by the talented Hayao Miyazaki.

She writes fantasy, for the most part – but is not limited to any one sub-genre or specialty. Her stories ramble all over the spectrum, and often appear to start in one sub-genre but reveal themselves to be in another. She has written several series, but the bulk of her work has been standalone stories, each set in a new and different world. Even within a series she rarely continues the story of the characters in the previous book, but instead finds new characters to focus on. As a result, her books can be read in any order.

In writing, she does not adhere to conventions, but seems to go out of her way to turn conventions on their heads. Her storytelling is witty and ironic, full of humor, yet never failing to plumb the depths of human experience. Her plots are quite complicated, filled with unexpected twists and surprises – yet they unfold neatly, and their endings are completely logical – once she moves the reader around to her point of view.

One exception to the unfolding neatly rule is the book Hexwood, which plays with time and space. It's a confusing book, if you try to make sense of it. But if you just experience it, just keep going, you will find that it will all fall into place at the end. Rather neatly, too.

The first time I read one of her books, it is for the surprise. The second time I read a book, it is to catch the dramatic irony, and to see how she builds the plot toward the ending. The third time, it is catch what I missed earlier. And again for the fourth time.

Although her books are written for the juvenile market, they are for adults as well. She does not talk down to her readers, or preach at them, or make adults into the paragons of virtue that we know we are not. When asked what was the difference between juvenile and adult fantasy, she replied, “The difference is not great.” And, “When I write for adults I have to keep reminding them of the essential facts in the story. Young people read much more carefully, so it is only necessary to tell them something once. Perhaps the brief answer is that juvenile fiction can be shorter.”

Her stories are heavily influenced by her own rather interesting childhood. In her autobiographical sketch, she states, “I think I write the way I do because the world suddenly went mad when I was five years old.”

Diana Wynne Jones was born in London in 1934. Before WWII her family lived in Hadley Wood, a nice suburb North of London. In August of 1939, however, WWII started for England. Diana and her three year old sister, Isobel, were packed into a borrowed automobile and taken to stay with her paternal grandfather in Wales. They stayed there for almost five months, while her mother delivered her third child, Ursula, back in London.

Wales was different from London. The landscape was different, the family was different, and the people spoke their own language when they talked among themselves. Diana and her sister were treated nicely, but as outsiders. Her grandfather, a preacher in a Welsh Non-conformist Chapel, was a stern man who ruled his household. He preached in Welsh, in a kind of blank verse called Hwyl.

Diana Wynne Jones says of this: “I still sometimes dream in Welsh, without understanding a word. And at the bottom of my mind there is always a flow of spoken language that is not English, rolling in majestic paragraphs and resounding with splendid polysyllables. I listen to it like music when I write.”

The experience is recounted closely in The Merlin Conspiracy, where Roddy and her friend Grundo are summoned to visit her Grandfather. He is also a stern preacher whose preaching is melodic. He is also, in the way of Diana Wynne Jones' fantasies, something much larger than life.

Later that year, Diana Wynne Jones' mother arrived with the baby. However, things with her husband's family were not to her liking, and after several rows, she took the family back to Hadley Wood by Christmas.

The threat of bombings and invasions grew, so in the summer of 1940 Diana's mother took her three daughters to Westmoreland. There they lived in a large country house called Lane Head, which was on Conistan Water, along with several other families of displaced mothers and children. It was a place of mountains, lake, and brooks running through greeness. Beatrix Potter lived nearby – she didn't much like children, it turned out. Especially children in her garden. This place, with all it's wilderness, also made a lasting impression on Diane Wynne Jones. Mountains and green forests are often the good magical places in her stories.

Along with her grandfather, Diana says that she often dreams of the Old Man of the Mountain.

On the other hand, this wonderful place was infused with the anxiety of war, which was escalating. There was also conflict within the home, as Diana's mother kept getting rows with the other mother, and Diana often found herself blamed for things that other children did.

In Septenber of 1941, her mother moved the family to York, where they stayed with Anglican nuns. There never seemed to be enough food, for the war was on and rationing was strict. These were hungry times. The family went with the nuns to worship at York Minster, the great Cathedral, but religion really didn't take. Diana considers herself an atheist, even though religious themes and mythologies move through her stories.

In 1942 the family returned to Hadley Woods, where the war was in full force. At night they listened to the sounds of sirens, bombing, and gunfire, and waited for a bomb to hit and blow up the house. During the day they dealt with rationing, blackouts, brown paper stuck to windows, and notices such as “Careless Talk Costs Lives.” The war pervaded everything.

In 1943 her parents found a Husband-and-Wife teaching position running Clarance House. This is a small conference center for young adults in Thaxted, a small rural town in Essex. They stayed there until her father died while Diana was in college. The town was filled with the interesting people that one tends to find in small towns.

At Thaxton, the parents devoted themselves to their teachings, and neglected their children. The girls lived in a small, damp cottage away from the main house, with only a paraffin lamp for heat. Their parents rigged up a bell that the girls could ring in case of emergency, but they never answered it. Often they came home from from school to find that no one had remembered to leave them anything to eat. Their mother only bought them half the things they needed for school, and tried to make the rest, but she wasn't a very good seamstress. She claimed that she did this because there weren't enough clothes rationing coupons – but always managed to get enough clothes for herself. In The Time of the Ghost, Diana Wynne Jones describes the situation in which they lived – but not the closeness of the three sisters as they relied upon themselves for the support they did not get from her adults. Children coming together for mutual support against an oppressive world is a theme found in nearly all of Diana Wynne Jone's books.

Her mother would tell people, in front of the girls, that Ursula was going to be an actress. Isobel was going to be a balleria, and Diana was ugly, semi-delinquent, but bright.

Her father refused to buy his children books to read. When they had read all the books available at the local library, Diana started writing stories for her sisters.

After being sent to a series of schools, both boarding and day schools, Diana Wynne Jones went to St. Anne's College at Oxford. She attended lectures by both CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein. But Oxford was scornful of fantasy, and about these two writers people would say, “But they're great scholars.”

In 1956, three days before Christmas, Diana married Jon Burrow, who she is still happily married to. They had three children, born in 1958, 1961, and 1963. When Diana began reading stories to her children, she discovered all the great children's stories she had missed as a child. Also, having a husband and a family of her own showed her what normal family life was, and she was able to start assimilating the experiences of her childhood.

She decided to write stories for children, though it took her ten years to learn how to write a marketable book. She said, “Somewhere here it dawned on me that I was going to write fantasy anyway, because I was not able to believe in most people's version of a normal life.

In 1970 she published her first book, Changeover. It's very rare – you can buy a copy, used, for $443. Her first marketable book, Wilkin's Tooth, was published in 1973. In 1976 her husband took a job teaching in Bristol, and that is where they still live.

It's easy to see that a childhood like that, filled with chaos and callous adults, would affect her writing, but instead of being dark and fatalistic, her work is filled with adventure and self-discovery. Her protagonists often are yanked into new worlds, without warning. They are faced with new customs and rules, and sometimes a different, bewildering language. Unfairness abounds, yet while her protagonists chafe at it , they aren't defeated. They head out and find a way to survive it, or escape.

And they do this with humor. She said in an interview for Mslexia, a magazine for female writers, “There are lots of situations that are much better to deal with in fantasy because you can stand back from it, make it fun, and learn from it.”

Another common theme in her stories is characters of different background being thrown together and having to face a severe external threat, such as a war. Her experiences at Lane Head, where a variety of families from different backgrounds came together to shelter against the war, seem to echo again and again. I think this was bolstered by the many places she lived and visited afterwards. In both her books and her autobiography, she shows herself to be a keen observer of others.

In her works, adults are usually neither paragons of virtue or absolute villains. She did have one absolutely perfect adult in The Homeward Bounders, a demon-hunter named Konistan who is the very embodiment of a hero – but she also makes fun of his absolute perfection even as she describes it. Most of her adults are fallible, erratic, and somewhat neglectful, yet they have good intentions. None, after all, are as horrific as her own parents. One person I know was offended that the parents in a Chrestomanci novel were as casual as they were, and not proper parents, and worried that this would bother the readers. My experience is that the young readers appreciate seeing that adults are portrayed in a way closer to their own experiences. After all, learning to deal with the faults of adults is a part of growing up, and growing up is an essential part of the plot resolution in Diana Wynne Jones' books.

That's one thing which makes it hard for her to have sequel after sequel with the same characters. Once they grow up, it's hard to go back – unless one forgets everything one has learned, like the children in the Nanny McPhee books.

This is not to say that there are not absolute villains in these books. Irredeemable evil does exist in Diana Wynne Jones' world. The characters must, after all, have something to fight against, something you cheer about when the villains meet their rather creative but final ends. Still, the feeling is that while the world has been saved and the universe is safe, the greatest victory is within, not without. In order to succeed, the protagonists often have to acknowledge what they have done wrong to get themselves into the situation where they found themselves, and take steps to correct it. For the foils of humanity affect the characters themselves. In The Merlin Conspiracy one of the protagonists, Nick, makes a casual remark to a strange woman – and in so doing sets into action a chain of events which end up throwing him into the action of the story at the beginning of the book, and threatening many worlds by the end of it.

Diana Wynne Jones prefers to write stories with happy, and preferably romantic, endings. And yet her characters get not what they think they want, but what they deserve. In Howl's Moving Castle, the vain Howl and the sharply critical Sophie end up together, happy and yet still themselves, still human, still with faults. They don't need to change to be perfect – they merely need to learn to live with each other.

I'll close with this quote: “Each book is an experiment, an attempt to write the ideal book, the book my children would like, the book I didn't have as a child myself.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There was a post here...

I put up a post briefly, but discovered that it needs more formatting work, so I have taken it back down for maintainance.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Protect Yourself!

How to survive a nuclear blast. It's easy!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The horse is not a motorcycle

Notes from a panel about using horses in fantasy literature:

No big horses before the 1800's

People should not run the horses hot and sweaty, then leave them.

Eight miles and hour is endurance speed

Eight miles the distance a buggy can go in a day

Horses are opinionated

People should not forget to lesson the saddle or take off when the horses stop

You can't Jump on totally unknown horses and then ride off on it

Horses need warm-ups

Horse bites do hurt

Muscling the horse aside is not possible. Horse push back.

Horse smarts depends on the horse

Harnesses are complicated, to put on and to train a horse too.

Harnesses must be sized to the horse. If it doesn't fit well, the horse will act up.

Different saddles will seat you differently.

Horse are not a TARDIS. They have maximum weight, and must be trained to carry stuff. Also, stuff must be carefully balanced on the horse.

The bigger the horse the less stamina it has

Mules are stronger then a horse and smarter, more endurance, and less delicate. They don't need protein, and survive on less. They are stubborn and have long memories.

Horses can be very stubborn

Older/more experienced horses that have been the rider will be more likely to do new things with these riders. Young horses are less likely.

Pay attention to the gender of the horse

Mares go into heat during the summer. Mare behaviors can change drastically. Stallions are easily distracted by mares. Stallions will compete for the mares with each other.

Stallions and geldings will get along.

Breed mares will not go into heat, but may act like their in heat.

Wild horses will act differently from domesticated horses

There is only a window of time for a domesticated horse to adopt a foal, but in a wild herd, parentage is less of an issue.

Body Language – face horse to aggression, turn shoulder to stop

Stallions want to herd others

Do not chase the horse, bribe the horse, and be friendly to the other horses to catch a horse.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Note to self

Do not opy directly from a word document and paste into blogger...

I apologize for the formatting issues in the following post.


Millennicon 23

So, what was Millennicon 23 like? Well, if you didn't go this year, you were in good company. It was quiet, in the way that is not particularly good for a con. The GOH, John Scalzi, was a fun guy, the programming was good – but the economy...

I opted to sleep at home this year, for a number of reasons. Money is part of it, but the biggest thing is that I thought I would sleep much better in my own bed and get more rest driving back and forth than battling the environment of the hotel. And indeed, I enjoyed this con much more than I have enjoyed a con in years. On the minus side, I did not have a hidey-hole to run off to when the crowds and the crush got to be too much, but I had much less need of that.

Cons are hard on introverts. Yes, I know that there are people here who would not consider me much of an introvert, because I tend to be very sociable in crowds. But I wear out from having people around me. Extroverts tend to feed on all the people and increase their energy.


I was later starting off for the con than I wanted to on Friday, and traffic on I-75 was horrible. I was glad when GLaDOS, my GPS, instructed us to get off and take surface roads to the hotel. The last thing I wanted to do was attempt the I75/I275 interchange at rush hour. off the interstate, we made good time – when one accounts for the stoplights, crossroads, and 86-car train. Fortunately, I like trains. We were able to grab supper at McDonald's, get to the hotel, register, and take a couple of deep breaths before my 7:00 panel started. The only odd thing about registering was that they seemed to have a pre-registration for Elizabeth, which was odd, since I knew that I had not pre-registered her. On the off chance that this was a different person, we left the pre-reg there.

My panel was on the possibility of immortality. No one seemed to want such a thing for themselves, and we talked instead about the pros and cons of having a long life. For my part I wondered what immortality would do to our psychology. We are a race of procrastinators. If we have all the time in the world, will we wait forever to do things? Others wondered what we would have to do to our birthrate if we became immortal or long-lived. What jobs would there be the younger people? How will we support ourselves if our retirement is longer than our working lives? I suspect that while none of us is too anxious to embrace immortality, that when it comes to the wire that we'll all want just a little more time.

The panel wasn't all that well attended, as we were up against the opening ceremonies.

Afterwards, I went to a panel on “Is the Short Story Dead?” The consensus of the panel was that it is not dead, but it's not a way to get fame or money. There are a lot of internet markets and some anthologies. I picked up a couple of authors to look at in terms of short stories, and news of a site,, where one can build a POD anthology from the available short stories on the site. The authors get a royalty for every short story included in an anthology, and the customers get an anthology of just the stories they want.

Then I talked to people in the huckster room, partied in the consuite, and headed home about 9:30.


Driving down Saturday morning was an improvement over Friday afternoon. This time I had both Janette and Elizabeth with me. I found that the pre-reg was indeed for my Elizabeth – she had won a free membership last year, apparently for turning in a survey on the con. I remembered that she had complained about the programming last year, so I told her to fill out a survey form and let her opinion be known. Apparently, hers was the survey drawn. Someone was supposed to tell me that she had won... Fortunately, I was able to transfer the membership to Janette.

At ten o'clock I had a an autograph session alongside Kaza Kingsley. Unfortunately, no one knew we where there, as the autograph sessions were not advertised. She sold one book – to me. I gave one away. At least Kaza is pleasant company to talk to. the third book of her Erec Rex series will be out in June.

At twelve I collected up the troops and we hit Kentucky Fried for lunch. I had a reading session at 1:00, and paniced when I looked at my watch and saw that it was 12:55. I yanked everyone back to the hotel, and discovered that my watch was almost half and hour fast. This did allow me to collect myself before the reading, and to run into the huckster room to pick by a book by Paul Melko. Ten Sigmas and Other Unlikelihoods is an anthology of short stories. I later got it autographed, and Paul kindly pointed out which stories were his favorites. I should have asked him to mark them for me.

Thanks to Elizabeth's free membership, I could splurge on books.

My reading went well. There were three of us, with about fifteen minutes each. Fortunately, I won at rock-paper-scissors and could go first – since the other two people were Nebula nominees. I read A Flower-Eat-World, and was rewarded with the reaction of one particular person who got the point of the story at the appropriate time. It was a good warm-up for the other two authors. Alas, again, the names of the readers were not advertised, and so the crowd was smaller than it should have been.

The rest of the afternoon I spent with panels and a couple of trips to the Huckster room, with a few discussions sprinkled in. i made it, for the first time, to an entire panel on The Real Horse. I started taking notes on my toy computer – then Elizabeth took it over and collected the rest of the notes. (To be published separately.) She's good.

In the late afternoon, I caught Kaza Kingsley as she was going off for a cup of tea, and went along for a coffee. We talked about things, nothing really important, but it was a nice way to spend a hour. She's mainly a children's author, and not a big-time fan – I just kept remembering how C.J. Cherryh told us that she didn't discover fandom until after her third Sf book was published.

Right after that, I gathered my troops and we had dinner at Max and Erma's, which is the hotel restaurant. The service was a little slow, and we had to be moved once – but at least it was because the place was busy. There was a party of eleven, a party of fifteen, and a party of fifty. To make up for moving us, the manager gave us free cookies.

Janette was starting to feel poorly, so we skipped the masquerade and went home for the night.

Sunday we got down there in time for me to check out the huckster room, where I talked to Joshua Done, a self-published author who was hawking his book, The Exile Empire. I bought one. He used X-libris, and now believes that it is not one of the better deals out there. It's a nice product, but the books themselves are way overpriced, and apparently the add-on services were expensive, too. He claimed that he was not given galleys to proof, even though he bought one of the higher-priced services. I recommended iUniverse for a better deal -- and for complete control.

My last panel was at eleven, and I went into the room early, thus catching the last few minutes of a panel about the Blogoverse. In the closing comments, it was said that authors are now being requested to keep up active blogs and Twitters. Wow. I mean, if I have something to say, I'll say it, but just how exciting is a blog that starts, “Dear Diary. Today I woke up.”

My third panel was on world building, and we had the GOH, John Scalzi on it. Sadly, it was not so much on how to build a world as on the experience of writing in a shared, or pre-built world.

Then we had lunch at McDonald's, and returned in time for me to catch Kaza Kingsley's reading. After that was the closing ceremonies, where we learned that the Klingon jail took in $400 this year. The con chair's seven-year-old son accounted for over $100 of the funds.

All in all,it was a good con, and the mood was hopeful.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Anteater of Death, by Betty Webb.

Poisoned Pen Press, 2008.

When Grayson Harril’s clawed corpse is found in Lucy the Anteater’s zoo enclosure, it is assumed that she killed him – but soon several questions arise. What was doing in the zoo exhibits in the middle of the night? Why did such a timid man enter the enclosure of a dangerous animal? And how could Lucy have fired the bullet found in his abdomen? Lucy is soon off the hook, but one of the zookeepers is on it – and it is up to Teddy Bently, another keeper at the zoo, to find the real murderer.

As a murder mystery, this book is not strong. As a story about Teddy, living in the dual world of zookeeping and the socialites of coastal California, it’s priceless. There is Teddy’s socialite mother, nice enough to visit but who could stay sane living with her? Teddy’s father is running from the federal authorities, mobsters, and the local sheriff, Teddy’s new boyfriend. Teddy’s neighbors all live on boats in the marina, and are distressed by new ordinances that the boats must prove that they are capable of sailing. And at the zoo, mothers become indignant that the animals there act like, well, animals!

This is a way fun read, filled with delightful characters, but the best is far and away the one in the title, Lucy herself.

Emissaries From The Dead, by Adam-Troy Castro.

Eos Books, 2008.

Andrea Cort, a cyncial, anti-social woman with a traumatic background, is sent to the human outpost in the Habitat world of One-One-One to investigate the apparent murder of Christina Santiago, a cynical, anti-social woman with a traumatic background. Her investigation leads her into contact with a number of people with traumatic backgrounds, most of whom are anti-social to one degree or another. Just before she arrives, there is a another murder, this time of a woman who emphatic, open, and eager to share with everyone else – and therefore a definite irritant to all the cynical, anti-social people with traumatic backgrounds.

Andrea also meets Gibbs, the mediocre bureaucrat who runs the human outpost with a middle-managing fist, the enigmatic Peyrin Lastogne with no background, Skye and Oscin Porrinyard, a physically and mentally perfect duo despite their traumatic childhoods, and the great AISource, a nation of artificial intelligences who created the world of One-One-One and the multitude of lifeforms within.

The book has received many positive reviews and is a nominee for the Phillip K. Dick award, but it didn’t work for me. I found it superficially complex but shallow beneath the surface, much like the stage set for a theatrical play. The habitat for One-One-One has several biosystems within it, layered like an onion, but the story is confined to the only one suitable for human life, the uppermost layer. There is one kind of plant, one kind of sentient animal, and one kind of pollinating fly – and none of the intertwined complexities which make up ecologies on earth. A large team of human scientists study this biosphere – but what do they study? This question is never answered by the researchers who, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in the world, seem rather reluctant to chatter on about their work.

Nor do they chatter on about the lives of each other. No rumors, no gossip, so speculation, no fantasies. The man who seems to have no background brings out no curiosity in the others. This is not a normal research team.

But as I said, many people have found this book to be wonderful. I didn’t, but that’s just me. If you like heavily cynical people and aren’t into Ecology, you may find this the best book you’ve ever read. It’s definitely a YMMV book.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Another bit from the WIP

This is Dutch's betrothal scene. It goes before the scene I posted previously, the one where he is seven years old.

In the Free Spacer nation, betrothal is a pretty serious step. Fiances with benefits. So why are young people signed up for it, pretty much without their consent? Because compatibility is much less important than genetics. I tossed the data dump which explained all this in detail, though I hope there are enough hints left for people to understand.


"Dutch!" Mary Estalina was at his side, and then she was on him with a full-body embrace – her hips, breast, and lips pushed hard against his body. They stayed that way until the crowd began to cheer. Then she turned and held his hand high. "Dutch Parseman."

There were comments, mutters, and the sound of spoons hitting glasses. Mary Estalina turned and stunned Dutch with another full kiss.

"Hey, hey, let’s have the ceremony first," Scalia stepped forward and pulled them apart, then pushed them toward a raised platform in the center of the room. A priest stood there, dressed not only in dark blue robes, but also a short white tunic and colorful stole. A matronly woman stood there as well, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Mary Estalina hopped up and accepted the bouquet. Scalia followed her, then reached back to help Dutch up. He was aware that Lucan came up behind him. Another thing Dutch did not wish for – but no one was giving him a choice today.

The priest smiled and held out the book in his hands. "We are gathered today to witness the promises given, between this man and this woman, to join each to the other in the sight of God and man. From this day forth, each is to forsake all others and hold himself or herself chaste for the other. On this day we shall witness a commitment to the union of flesh and souls of these two children of God. Do you, Dutch Parseman, vow before God and witnesses that you will take this woman to be your wife, in the fullness of time, to give her children and comfort to the end of your days?"

"Er," said Dutch.

Lucan leaned forward and whispered in his ear. "Say, I do."

Was a vow made under duress binding? Dutch swallowed hard. "I do."

"And do you, Mary Estalina, vow before God and witnesses that you will take this man to be your husband, in the fullness of time, to be the father of your children and comfort to the end of your days?"

"I do!"

"Then, as a sign of this commitment, each of you is to add your family’s pin to the other tag."

Dutch felt Lucan press a green pin into his hand. Mary Estalina took a brown pin from the woman. She thrust her chest forward, inviting Dutch to attach his pin to her tag first. He did so, his fingers brushing her breast. Her smile made him blush.

Then she reached over and fastened her pin to his tag, and her fingers deliberately stroked his chest.

The priest cleared his throat and turned the page. "Kneel before God, and prepare to receive his blessings. The parents may now lay their hands upon their children."

As Dutch felt Lucan’s head on his crown, he wondered about this man who had vowed himself to one woman, given himself to another, then left them both to join the church. Not an example of fidelity, was he? So why was she the harlot?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Definate Sign of Spring

I have a solar globe on my front porch. The concept is simple -- during the day it absorbs enough energy to recharge the batteries, and at night it uses the battery power to glow. It stopped glowing in early November, however. The afternoon late fall and winter sun in the far north is not strong enough to charge the batteries.

Last night I went outside, and saw that the globe was a glowing. Not brightly, but still, there had been enough solar power to get the job done.

The sun is returning.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More From A Shoggoth on the Roof

To Life! Usually a good thing, except...

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Shoggoth on the Roof

A Fiddler on the Roof tells a dark story in a lighthearted way. At a time of oppression for Russian Jews, a poor man is faced with the problem of finding husbands for his daughters. Dire events are alluded to, but overwhelmed by the catchy songs. At the end, when the village is broken up and the people driven away, the various characters tell hopefully of their next destination -- but if you think about what happened to the Jewish people in each of those destinations, the happy ending takes on a dire future.

In light of the inner darkness of this happy musical, A Shoggoth on the Roof is strangely appropriate. In this musical, the songs of A Fiddler on the Roof are parodied as the setting is switched from a little town in Russia to Arkham, MA. I will admit that I have not seen the musical, and have listened to only the opening song of the musical, but the quality of the recording and preformance is excellant.

You can order the CD of all the songs at:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Review: Nation (by Terry Pratchett)

Published by HarperCollins 2008

Terry Pratchett is well-known for a series of books which take place on Discworld, which is a flat disc supported by four elephants which stand on the back of a giant turtle, which swims slowly through the cosmos. Magic is more reliable than science in this world where anything can, and usually does, happen. There are gods everywhere, most of which are flawed, but well-meaning in their flawed ways, just a bit more immortal and powerful than the rest of us.

This book is not set on Discworld.

It is, in fact, set on a world just a little different from our own, with magic and beliefs and physics very much like our own. In this world, in a place very much like our South Pacific, in a time very much like our Victorian age (but not quite) a volcano explodes and the resulting tidal wave devastates the surrounding islands. Afterwards, the survivors must survive further, tackling the issues of food, shelter, and rebuilding, as well as the bigger issues of why did this disaster happen in the first place, and how does one go on when has lost everything? The first order of business is finding the other survivors. The last order of business is taking the lessons they have learned forward into new lives.

This is not a whimsical or comical book, as so may of Terry Pratchett’s books are, but one that explores faith and belief, and how they shape a person’s world. Don’t get me wrong – Terry Pratchett is no fan of religion. But in this book he shows the difference between faith and religion, and why he considers the former to be the stronger of the two.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

WIP excerpt

Today's offering is another bit which I'm adding to my SF novel. Dutch is facing his own betrothment, and flashes back to a couple of other incidents, including this one:


Seven-year-old Dutch, his face still puffy from the attack in the alley, clutched his mother’s hand as she marched down the strip. She was wearing her dancing clothes, and had covered her hair and skin with glitterdust. Odd, because she hadn’t been working yet, and odder still because she had insisted that Dutch wear his best clothes.

They came to a crowd clustered tight around a screaming street preacher. Normally his mother would have crossed the street, but this time she pushed into the crowd and forced her way to the front.

The preacher, a tall man with an earnest look on his dark face, noticed her. "Daughter of Satan! Child of temptation! Turn back, before you bring destruction on all around you!"

"I didn’t come to repent," his mother said.

"Then why are you here?" His voice roared.

"I am a wanton woman, Hosea. I dance for men and incite lust in their hearts." She tossed her hair proudly.

"And who is this child?"

"Proof of my unfaithfulness."

He paused and cocked his head. "What is your name, Daughter of Satan? What shall I call you?"

"Call me Gomer, if you will."

Dutch frowned. His mother was called Cece by her friends, and Cecelia by her family, not Gomer. It wasn’t a pretty name.

But Hosea seemed impressed. "Will you always be an unfaithful woman?"

"As unfaithful as I am now."

"Then you will be Gomer. Come, stand in my shadow, woman, and when the children have been fed, we will talk."

His mother didn’t move. "My son, too."

"No just man would take the ass and leave the foal," Hosea replied. "My cloak will cover you both."

Dutch’s mother pulled him to the steps behind Hosea and sat him down. And there Dutch heard the first of many sermons on the sanctity of the wedding bed, and the faithful of a wife to a husband. And he puzzled – if faithfulness was good, why had the preacher like his mother’s promise of unfaithfulness?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wind Storm Feb 2009

If this keeps up, we'll have to designate the windstorms by month and year. We had another windstorm last night, an event rather identical to the one last September. This time, however, the winds howled all evening and night, finally stopping in the wee hours just before dawn.

I did not sleep well.

I can only imagine what it was like in the Dust Bowl, when the wind would howl like that for days. It's a steady roar, like the sound of a jet engine from the airplane terminal, but it never stops. It never pauses. One can only wonder where so much wind can come from.

But just before the wind hit, as the front was moving over us, I caught this picture. I am facing South in the photo, and the sun is setting. To the east, on the left, is the dark cloud cover brought by the approach of the front. To the west, on the right, is the clear sky and patches of cumulus clouds which follow the front. The gold is from the setting sun.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Cat in a Couch

We have a recliner couch -- the seats on the end open up and recline.

This cat has an obsession.

The other day, I was searching for some lost item, and so opened up the recliners, looked beneath them, and closed the couch back up. An hour later one of my daughters sat down, and was started to have a paw poking her from underneath the couch.

Solo Meow was not hurt, nor discouraged from going back into the couch.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

What's Snow With You?

An update on the snowfall. These were taken about noon. The total for today seems to be about five inches, on top of the ice.

A Day Full Of Snow

This is what is going on outside my house today. It's fairly obvious that the city is shut down. We have about and a half inches of ice, with snow beneath and atop that. For those of you are really snow-deprived, here's a short movie:

If you've not much else to do today than watch the snow fall, why not come to Songless Bard and start reading my serial novel?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Enter The Cuttlefish

I thnk that the aquarium is a good place to get ideas for aliens. This is a cuttlefish. Watch how it moves, and then think of this on an alien planet.

In filming this, I was a good girl, and made sure that I did not have the flash on. I checked by turning the camera down and filming a bit of the floor, first. So far, so good. Then I tried to take a picture of the creature -- after all, my flash was off, right? Right?

Apparently the flash can be set to on for photos, but not movies. Always check when you change modes.

Fortunately the cuttlefish was in a good mood, and no one needed to clean out the aqaurium that day. But I did feel like a total idiot.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bastard in The Promised Land, opening

No, I'm not going to post the entire novel here -- not this one, anyway. I'm just posting an early version of the new opening scene. Comments are welcome.

If anyone sees this who does not know the story, most of it takes place when Dutch is almost 18 years old, and somewhere else. But his upbringing in this place is an important element of the story, so I think this actually belongs at the beginning.


Eleven year-old Dutch ran down The Strip, close on the heels of Jan and Mark, clutching a hot, stuffed pancake he had grabbed off a vendor’s cart. The owner shouted curses st them, but they were safe – their thievery was minor compared to what would happen if he left his wares behind to chase them. A block away they paused and shoved the evidence into their mouths.

"Teach him to sell us warmed-up leftovers," Mark said as he licked his fingers.

Dutch, his mouth still full of spicy stuffing, only nodded. The older boys were letting him run with them, despite his small size. When the school year had started, a month before, the two had ganged up on him – but after giving Mark a black eye and Jan a bloody nose, they had invited him along. And kept him when he had shown that he knew The Strip better than any other boy at school.

He stamped his feet against the chill of the night and wished he had a warm suit, even a stained, second-hand one like Jan’s.

Around them, the street hummed. Music belted from the bars where veil-draped women danced on small stages; others stood in the shadows, waiting to sell a different kind of dance. A crowd of dirt-covered minors strolled by, shoving aside the Free Spacers in their almost pressed uniforms. A trio in jeans and leather jackets, most likely Tramp Traders, glared at the Free Spacers but moved out of their way.

High above Funnel City, stars shone faintly through the muddy, poisonous atmosphere of Exxon’s planet. They twinkled as the blades of giant fans, spinning on the girders just beneath the transparent dome, eclipsed them.

"Hey, guys, I’ve got something to show you," Jan said.

"Is it good?" Mark asked as he wiped his hands on his fleece pants.

"It’s not for chickens," Jan said. "We’ll have to run through the Slags."

"I’m in," Mark said.

Dutch shrugged. He wasn’t about to show fear in front of these two.

"Then follow me."

They ran down the street, passing a grocery where aromatic spices where women in saris and burqas scooped spices from open boxes. A beggar sat by the door, his footless stumps thrust forward for all to see, lifting his cup with a skeletal hand. In the next doorway, a pair of women stood together, surveying the crowd with cold eyes. A man came up, spoke to one, and exchanged a folded set of bills for a waxy packet.

The boys ran past a noodle cart, where Saki flowed as easily as broth, and a cart where the owner sold pale lumps fried in batter. They passed a street preacher, Bible in hand, arguing hotly with a crucifix-wielding priest while a Reformed Presbyterian Missionary passed out pamphlets to the gathering crowd. Dutch grabbed one to leave lying about the common room of the compound.

Jan turned sideways and dove down an alley, where the boys jumped over the prone bodies of drunkards and drug addicts. A pair of gaunt-faced men lowered the plastic cups they held to their faces, revealing black marks where the Fumerol reacted with the plastic and stained their skin. A woman screamed, thrashing at air, terrorized by her own chemical demons.
The boys kept running.

A few streets over they were still in the Strip, but the bars were smaller, the women were older, and drug addicts sat openly on doorsteps. Most of the Spacers here were Tramps, scrounging for irregular business. Some of it was legitimate, as when a parcel needed to be delivered quickly or someone needed passage to the outlying stars, but this deep into Free Spacer territory, most Tramps carried drugs or stolen goods.

"Is this prime?" asked a Predator in a flashy warm suit as he accepted a package from a man wearing an ankle-length leather coat.

"Grade-A sirloin," replied the Tramp. "Flash-frozen at the source."

As Dutch ran on, he wondered what type of drugs needed to be flash frozen.

Beyond that street lay housing blocks, towers which curled around central courtyards. Obscene graffiti decorated the windowless walls. Dogs growled behind iron gates; silent eyes watched from the narrow alleys. Filth and compost scented the air. Dutch’s uncles lived here, in a single tower with their families and all the people they owned. He glanced over his shoulder, hoping that no one would recognize him.

For a mile or more the boys ran, then stopped in the shadows next to a corner. They were at the edge of the residences, and faced a wider street lined by flickering street lights. On the other side lay the The Slags, tenement housing and convenience shops for those who could not afford protection.

In the yellowish light spilling from the open door of an all-night drug shop, six young men strutted and swaggered. Embedded jewels flashed along their fingers, wrists, and jaws, one gem for each kill or conquest. Their flat black warm suits with silver stripes announced that they were Rats, and the blasters at their hips showed they were hunting.

The boys waited, barely breathing.

"Come on," Jan grumbled. "Get in a fight or something."

But the gang only laughed and talked loudly, all the while watching in every direction at once.

There would be a fight here, they were expecting one, but when?

Mark shuffled his feet in frustration. "Let’s run for it," he hissed.

"You wanna die?" Jan whispered back.

"I’m gonna freeze if we stand here much longer."

"Look." Dutch pointed to a young woman who was about to walk past the gang. She wore a low-cut shirt and a high, tight skirt, but the iridescent shimmers dancing up her arms and legs indicated a sheer warm-suit – something only the richer crust of Funnel City could afford. From her solitude and the steely look on her face, Dutch guessed that she was making a clandestine run to the drug shop.

She couldn’t have been more stupid.

The gang members circled about her, predators coming for the kill. She stopped, eyes wide and white. One man, apparently the leader, stepped up and ran his hand from her chin to her chest. "Time to pay the toll," he laughed.

She spat in his face.

"Now!" Jan whispered loudly, and the three boys sprinted across the street, aiming for the alley. Marc reached it first, and then Dutch dove into the sheltering shadows. Behind them, Jan tangled his feet in a plastic sheet and knocked over a trash can.

The Rats looked over and pulled their blasters.

"Here," Marc whispered to Dutch as he tossed a smoke grenade.

Dutch yanked the pin and tossed it in the center of the gang. Green smoke billowed up, distracting the rats long enough for Dutch to grab Jan’s hand and pull him into the alley. Marc grabbed Jan’s other hand, and together they pulled him deep into the alley and behind an overfilled dumpster.

A barrage of bolts streamed down the alley, punching holes in the brick walls and sending down streams of chips on the boys. The dumpster groaned and danced with direct hits. Dutch held his hands over his ears, but they still rang when the firing stopped.

"Think we got ‘em?" a coarse voice asked.

"I don’t hear anything," said a second.

The boys held their breaths.

"Want to go in and see?"

Dutch’s fingers closed around a broken brick.

"What happened to the girl? Damn it!" The footsteps ran off.

"But those brats..."

"We’ll get ‘em if they crawl out!" The voice faded off.

Silently Dutch stood and brushed off the worst of the debris. They were trapped, he realized, for the alley ended in one of the wide support pillars that held up the dome. "Now what?" he whispered to Jan.

"Up," Jan whispered back. He led them to the support pillar, and pointed out the handholds forming a ladder on the side. Silently he slid his foot onto one, then hefted himself up.

An unguarded ladder to the skies. Yes, that was worth all the danger they had faced. Dutch grinned as he followed, not even sobered by the inch-deep slash of still cooling metal beside the ladder.

The climbed upward into the icy skies, the metal cold against their bare fingers. A hundred feet up they reached the girders, which were wide enough that the boys could lie down flat. The metal above the giant fans was strangely warm, giving them comfort as they stared across the darkness of Funnel City and into the glittering brightness of the Free Spacer Complex.

It had its own dome, and was connected to Funnel City by a series of commerce tubes. The Spaceport was the largest building, but there was also a hospital, a hotel, a shopping mall – and a school. The Freespacer Vocational school, which turned planet-born grounders into spacers who would go out and work on Free Spacer ships. Dutch knew dozens of young men who had failed to stay in the school, but had learned enough to be valuable players on The Strip.

"Looks warm," Mark muttered.

"It _is_ warm," Dutch replied.

"Like you’ve been there?" Jan taunted.

Just in time Dutch remembered that his mother had warned him to tell no one of his trips to the hospital there. "I’ve heard stories."

"Wonderful stories," Mark muttered. "It’s warm, it’s bright, and there’s enough food for everyone."

_True stories,_ Dutch thought.

"And, look." Jan pointed to the open plain beyond the domes. "We can see the ships from here."
They ranged in size from tiny skipships, each only large enough to carry a single person, to a landing traders as large as a warehouse. Even larger ships stayed in orbit, sending down shuttles. There were Free Spacer ships, uniform white and red Cyclone Pharmaceutical ships, and beaten up Tramps. To the side, in a junky heap, lay the graveyard of those which had become too old to fly or who had failed to land properly.

The Free Spacer Complex was just a taste of the world beyond Funnel City. Those ships were a portal to that world, a place where milk and honey flowed from fountains, where warmth and happiness were the right of all. The Promised Land.

"Someday," he decided aloud, "I’m gonna live on those."



Friday, January 23, 2009

This just looks sad.

Coming all in the hallway and being greeted by this sight is always heartbreaking to me. Especially when they cross their little paws. I just want to put lillies on them.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Playing with Kitty

One more kittycat vid. Unfortunately, Solo Meow never did this after this night, so we couldn't get good footage for the animal shows.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cat in a Box, 2

Ah -- here's the vid I really wanted to post yesterday. Watch the hole in the box.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Solo Meow in a Box

I'm often told that a cat will not willing go into a box or a cat carrier on his own. The only explanation I have for this cat is that he has dim memories of being brought to the house in a cardboard box, and he thinks than if he keeps getting back into boxes that he find the one which transport him back. Or at least to another, much more exciting place.

Please let me know what you think of the quality of this video, and if it would be worth attempting to post future videos on this blog.

Writing Desk

This is my writing desk, which I've had for 24 years. I bought it from a thrift shop for ten dollars. A previous owner had broken off the legs, which are still stored in one of the drawers, and built a separate stand for it. In our last house, where the poor desk never made it out of the garage, the stand was stored in an outside and shed and ruined. Thus I am using it without the stand, and it is too low to be usable, except for clutter storage.

Putting the legs back on might be a simple matter of drilling out the broken dowels and replacing them, but the bear is in lifting the desk up to do that. I'm thinking now that I should get my hands on some bricks, and just tuck those under the desk. Then it could return to being a writing desk -- maybe still the wrong height for computer work, but a place where I could handwrite, or work on bills, or organize my notes.