Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One Caveat About Plumbers and Leaders

In my last post, I asked folks to think of presidents as not as leaders, but as plumbers.

My point was that we don't owe automatic deference to either presidents or plumbers - that both are just jobs. The presidency is a harder, more dangerous job, with more disastrous consequences, but a president isn't above other citizens or the law. So treat him like a plumber: Expect honesty, expect competence, and toss him if he doesn't display those two qualities.

After the events in Charlottesville, I feel I have to add something:
Your plumber should be honest.
Your plumber should be competent.
And your plumber should not be a fucking Nazi.

I thought that went without saying in the United States of America. I can see that I was wrong.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Your President, the Plumber

Don't think of your president as your leader.
Think of him as your plumber.
You have do what your leader tells you.
Your plumber has to do what you tell him.
A "leader" has to be extraordinary - wise, brave, just, merciful, heroic.
A plumber only has to be honest and know his job.
It's damned near impossible to find a leader outside of a TV drama...or an historical documentary on dictators who claimed to be leaders and weren't.
But you can find a good plumber on Yelp.
And most important:
Your leader can jail you, kill you, confiscate your home. He can order you to die in a war that you despise.
But you can fire your plumber.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Kaleidocast Is Kicking

Kidlings and podlings, just a reminder:
The Kaleidocast Kickstarter is now live, and they are already 35% there.
ICYMI, Kaleidocast is a podcast produced by the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers, featuring audio versions of short stories by luminaries like Jonathan Lethem, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, and - yes! - yours truly.
Their Kickstarter is meant to turn the project into a full-fledged, no-holds-barred SFWA paying market on a par with Analog, Asimov's, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
They have great, great, GREAT prizes (from  signed books to tuckerization to custom-written stories) and, well - if you like where SFF is going, this is how to hop on the train and take the ride.
Go, my pretties!
Support Kaleidocast!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Do You Like Weird Sci-Fi Art? Of Course You Do

Let's deconstruct:
It's a space rabbit.
It's pink.
It's eating a planet...
But none of that is enough. It also has to be shooting laser beams from its nose.

So God bless the '70s Sci-Fi Art Page.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Kaleidocast Kickstarter

For two seasons now, my speculative-fiction friends in Brooklyn have been doing a super-sweet podcast called the Kaleidocast. Its first season features readings of short stories by (among others) Jonathan Lethem, Richard Bowes, and yours truly; the second season will feature Nnedi Okorafor, Shan Chakraborty, Carlos Hernandez, N.K. Jemisin, Phenderson Djèlí Clark, and...yours truly!

To top it all off, they're doing a Kickstarter. Go to it here.
Sign up! Get stuff! Pledge enough and I will sign a book for you! Pledge even more, and it might be one of mine!
What more do you want?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Just Like in L.A.

Yesterday I hiked Inwood Hill Park.
It was just like hiking Fryman Canyon in Los Angeles.
Except for the humidity.
And the trees.
And the mighty river below it, instead of the wee drainage ditch.
And the wet, vivid green of the leaves, instead of dusty beige.
And there were no body-righteous types in Day-Glo exersuits.
And the Spanish I heard had a Dominican accent.
Okay. You know what was the same?
The slope. It was steep as hell.
And I sweated a lot.
That was the same.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Armor Is Not That Heavy!

So, mea culpa. In The Wrong Sword, I made some (frankly almost inevitable) jokes about the weight of medieval armor. This is something of a grand tradition in medieval stories, starting at least as early as Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, where cranes were imagined to hoist knights onto their horses.

Now, I never went that far, but I did describe things like the armor stopping just a moment after the wearer does, and our stalwart (but underweight and undertall) protagonist toppling under the weight of full jousting armor.

Seems I was overstating things a wee bit. Not to say that armor is light as a feather, but this great post on the Medievalist blog shows us what an athletic wearer can do in Late Medieval plate armor. Enjoy!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Before Hogwarts, There Was Greyfriars

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Potterverse. Twenty years. Wow. Cheers!

I was too old to be swept up by Pottermania when it conquered the world, but if I had read the books when I was younger, I can easily believe they would have colonized my mind, laying eggs in my imagination like some conceptual xenomorph. So brava, Rowling! Brava!

And from a fellow writer's perspective, I've always been impressed by Rowling's skills. It's fashionable among uber-nerds to get all critical-theory and talk about cliches and overused tropes and blah-blah-blah. But a trope gets used because it works, and cliches don't start off that way. Katherine Trendacosta over at i09.com has written a handy article that makes those points and a few others.

But most bloggers usually overlook the real wellspring of Hogwarts: the school story. The school story isn't just a story set in a school. Clueless isn't a school story; neither is The Perks of Being a Wallflower nor The Betsy-Tacy High School Stories nor anything by Judy Blume. In fact, the school story as a genre had been dead for thirty years when, in 1997, JK Rowling brought it back to life...with magic.

To really understand the school story, you need to read some Orwell (sorry) - an essay called Boys' Weeklies. (And you could also read the book that started it all, Tom Brown's School Days, or the one that kind of stood it on its head, Stalky & Co.Basically, school stories are set at British boarding schools in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. They're told from the point of view of the students; there are student intrigues, student types, sports madness, hallowed halls, prefects and houses, nasty teachers, sympathetic headmasters, and a variety of other tropes that get heavy use...any of this ringing a bell?
Stalky & Co

The school story was ultimately brought low by changes in British society - especially the collapse of the elite class assumptions that made the school story so appealing to so many readers who would never meet a baronet, let alone study at Eton. But for almost a century the genre was popular enough to support more than a dozen weekly magazines, not to mention novel series and movie and radio adaptations. In fact, Greyfriars, the setting of the school stories available in The Magnet, (which ran weekly from 1908 to 1940) had the same allure to readers that Hogwarts has today. There were maps of the school, detailed bios of the characters, notes on school history, a veritable Potterverse of subsidiary information.

The dissolution of the British Empire seemed to be the death blow to school stories. But then, when it looked like the genre was condemned to a ghostly afterlife attended only by literary scholars, Rowling substituted magic for the British class system, and brought it back to life. One genre writer to another, she is my hero.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Rockets and Space Suits and Blasters, Oh My!

Guess what the Internet Archive has?
Pdfs of great F/SF magazines of yesteryear. Dick, Knight, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, Matheson, Bradbury, Clarke, Bester...
Check it, droogs!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Dead Speak From the Mists of History - Primary Sources!

A self-trimming lamp!
I'm getting tucked into Hero's Army, the sequel to The Wrong Sword. Among other things, HA deals with the Third Crusade. Here are some of the things I've researched:
  • The Banu Masu brothers and their Book of Tricks (a.k.a. Kitab al-Hiyal, a.k.a. The Book of Ingenious Devices)
  • The Greek mathematician, engineer, and polymath Heron of Alexandria
  • Komnenid Byzantium
  • Conrad of Montferrat, a.k.a. Conrad of Tyre, a.k.a. Conrad, King of Jerusalem
  • The Hashashin sect of the Nizari Ismaili Shi'i
  • Mamluks
  • The khanjar blade vs. the sica
  • Richard I of England, a.k.a. Richard the Lionhearted, a.k.a. Prince Yes or No
  • An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, a.k.a. Saladin
  • The Ayyubid purge of the Fatimid book collections of Al-Azhar
  • Moshe ben-Maimon, a.k.a. Maimonides

That's a sica

That's a khanjar

I will probably do none of them justice, because you know...I'm a sloppy wiseass. That being said, I did uncover some interesting primary sources. What is a "primary source," you ask, as opposed to say, a secondary or even tertiary source?

A primary source is a document (or other informational artifact) from the time period you're studying - like, for instance, a letter from Queen Eleanor of England to Pope Alexander III. A secondary source is an analysis or distillation or retelling of primary sources, like a history textbook. As an author, I love primary sources. You are guaranteed to pick up details about how people thought, lived, and spoke that most historians neglect. Weird turns of phrase, odd biases, the tiny details that convey, if not fact, then verisimilitude.

A page of the Domesday Book: Hic Annotantur Tenentes Terras in Devenescire...
Turns out there are some neat primary sources on the Interwebz. Here are some of my current faves:
  1. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Letters and documents from dozens of different places and time periods. Translated, but otherwise unfiltered. My personal favorite? Liutprand of Cremona's Report of His Mission to Constantinople
  2. The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela
  3. The Book of Games of Alphonso X: Exactly what it sounds like. Descriptions of games they played in Alphonso's time
  4. Le Viandier by Taillevent: A cookbook from 15th Century France.
  5. What Befell Sultan Yûsuf  by Baha ad-Din ibn Shaddad: A chronicle of Saladin written by one of his close companions, and based on personal experience
  6. Maimonides' Letter to Yemen
  7. The Domesday Book - If for nothing else, a terrific source of Anglo-Saxon names. Guthwalda, anyone?