Monday, December 31, 2012

Good Wine, Bad Taste

So there's a writers forum where I hang out when I'm on the Internet. One day, one of the F/SF regulars  posted a question. He was writing a fantasy that was heavy on diplomacy, and he wanted suggestions for other fantasies with diplomatic and political elements.

In other words, instead of doing his own research with primary sources - actual politicians, actual diplomats, academic experts on diplomacy and politics in history - he was drawing his source material from other fantasy writers. Writers who, one assumes, had never had political or diplomatic careers of their own, but were cribbing and researching themselves. He was researching at one remove.

It made me sad.

There is a weird pool of derivativeness that bubbles up in the heart of certain sections of fandom. Some fantasy fans seem to prefer the

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Support the Pink Gun Law

So, there's this petition on Whitehouse.gov that...ahem...treats firearms with the seriousness they deserve. It's right here.

And here's the text of the petition:

Support a Pink Gun Law

We ask for a law to require all useable firearms (except antiques) to be painted pink.

Like orange safety vests, pink rifles will be visible for many yards, reducing the risk of hunting accidents.

Maniacs with pink guns will be spotted more quickly, so that they can be "easy kills" for any appropriately armed grandmother or Sunday School teacher.

The opposite of a "gun-free zone" sign, a big pink gun will let criminals know they are in the presence of a peaceful, law-abiding American who shoots to kill.

Since the Stonewall Riots, pink has been the color of individual rights and resistance to government oppression.

Like Mary Kay's pink Cadillacs, pink guns will foster a culture of self-esteem.

Pink guns will not infringe on the Second Amendment.

*********

Go sign it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Medieval Recipe Day - Christmas Goose!

Back in the Middle Ages, goose and boar were the meats of choice served at the Christmas feast. (They were all the more delicious since they came at the end of a four-day church "fast," where certain varieties of food were restricted.)

So, courtesy of Celtnet, here's a medieval Christmas goose:

Goose in Sawse Madame
Ingredients:
1 goose (about 1.5kg)
1 quince, pared, quartered, cored and finely chopped

½ pear, pared, quartered, cored and finely chopped
80g black grapes, chopped and de-seeded
220g chopped fresh herbs (sage, hyssop, savory, lovage, marjoram)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

For the Sauce:
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp freshly-grated nutmeg
1 tsp galingale

Mix the herbs and fruit and use to stuff the goose.

Sew the body cavity closed then place the goose in a roasting dish and place in an oven pre-heated to 200°C. Roast for an hour and a half until done (the flesh should be slightly pink in the middle). Cook for longer if you want it well done.

To make the sauce, take the dripping from the goose and add white wine and the spices. Place in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduced until thickened then carve the goose and drizzle the sauce over it.

Unfamiliar ingredients: quince and galingale.

The quince fruit is related to the pear and the apple; its flavor is sweet, somewhat tart, and the flesh is dry, and not grainy. It's usually cooked instead of being eaten raw.

Galingale is related to ginger; like ginger, the root is used in cooking and herbal medicine. Its taste and smell are different from, and stronger than, those of ginger.

And please notice that the recipe is mostly in metric, not imperial, units.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just when we thought the world would end...

...Australia discovered two entirely new species of skink lizards! (Yeah, I spelled it right.)

You go, Oz!

Sucks to be you, 12/21/12.

Medieval Recipe Day!

Just got over the flu. So the recipe's obvious - and it sounds like a not-bad winter dish, too. Notice that medieval recipes didn't separate sweet and savory the way that we do.


Capon White Dish for the Invalid

Cook it in water until it is well cooked. Pound almonds with dark capon meat.
Steep this in your broth.
Strain it all through a cheesecloth, then boil it until it is solid enough to slice.
Pour into a bowl. 
Brown in lard six peeled almonds and put them on end on half the plate. Put pomegranate seeds on the other side. 
Sugar everything.


Friday, December 21, 2012

12/21/12

We all still here?
Bueller?
Bueller?

Just checking.
See ya at the next apocalypse.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Why's That So Good?: Vernor Vinge

In a blog post I wrote for the gracious and prolific Samantha Combs, I pontificated that the essential fact of science fiction wasn't technology or aliens - it was the effect that speculative possibilities had on the story's characters. The situation, in other words, wasn't as important as how the characters felt about the situation.

Vernor Vinge - one of the best hard science fiction writers in the last 40 years, and an unacknowledged father of cyberpunk - pulled off this trick twice, in one of SF's most classic tours de force: Not only did he convey a speculative situation's effect on his characters...he made those characters non-human.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People kill people in Chenpeng Village

I know, this isn't nerdy, or geeky, or speculative. But-

On the same day as the Newtown massacre, another miserable lunatic attacked 24 people (all but one of them children) in Chenpeng Village, China. 

Now here's the big difference:

He had to do it with a knife, because of China's strict gun-control laws.
And all of the victims are still alive.

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Sure.
But guns make it a whole goddamned lot easier.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Eye Candy - The Great Bustard

I love the name.
And I love the fact that the bird looks like a bustard.
Seriously, what else would you call it?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Available at a Library Near You!

One of the places that carries TWS is Overdrive, which makes e-books available to public and school libraries around the world. That means that The Wrong Sword is available as an e-book at a library near you. Check it out!

Monday, December 3, 2012

What We See in the World of Online Dating

I saw this in on a profile recently and thought it was hilarious:

I have a thing for funny guys. If only Louis C.K. was a little sexier, Seth MacFarlane a little more straight, Larry David a little less neurotic, Zach Galifianakis taller.

Yep. "If only Brad Pitt were funny."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Better Son?

I just heard from a creative I knew back in Los Angeles. I congratulated him on the birth of his first kid, and he congratulated me on my own "progeny" - TWS.

He's not the first one to use the progeny metaphor for books and other creative projects, of course. But if you think about it, books and children are really converses of each other. It's fun to make a child (or it should be), but after that first moment, it's work, work, work. On the other hand, it's work, work, work to write a book...but it's darned fun if people buy it, read it and like it.

Still, it would be a pretty small life if you mistook art for children, wouldn't it?

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Am Lucky

The storage warehouse's basement smells of mold and motor oil. Sand lies in uneven ripples across the cement floor. I brought work gloves with me, but Ray at the counter has a box full of latex gloves and I use those instead. I like my work gloves, and considering the crap that came in with the water when the East River storm surge hit, I might ruin them for good.

I've been keeping a bunch of boxes in storage in Long Island City since I moved back East from Los Angeles. When Sandy hit, the basement flooded; I've only now been able to come back.

I come down the industrial elevator, and unlock the unit. I had packed everything in tough blue plastic tubs, about 2 and half feet high, three wide. At first, I think I'm lucky - I crack open a lid and run my penlight on the stuff inside. It's clothing. It's dry. Then I realize that the tubs aren't all safely stacked. Some of them are tilted, askew. I open one. On the top sits a bush hat, a gift from my parents. The hat's snap button has rusted through the fabric. I can smell the mildew. Below that, a Hebrew bible, a prayer book, both mold-eaten mush. I'm not religious anymore, but I was brought up to think of those books as sacred. Now they're rotting. Then paperbacks, favorites, stuff that's hard to find: Harlan Ellison's Watching; Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness, with the original psychedelic 70s cover; John Brunner's The Compleat Traveller in Black; a biography of Sergei Eisenstein that I searched for for years; Eisenstein's Film Form, with the essay that I recommend to every writer; Orwell's Selected Essays.

Then it gets worse. All the notebooks I saved from college. A notebook from grade school, with the Hebrew letters scrawled carefully from right to left. The records I kept of the movie I produced in film school. My clippings from the Columbia Spectator, and the Journal of Commerce and the Business International Money Report; my workbook from the one class at USC that was truly mind-expanding. The tassel from my high school graduation. My past, such as it was.

I'm so much luckier than so many other New Yorkers.

I left it all in a mulched pile next to the door.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Why Is That So Good, Part 4 - "REVENGE!"

I'm kind of on a Roger Zelazny kick right now, so I'll keep going with one of his lesser-known works, Jack of Shadows. I won't go into detail, except to say that the anti-hero, Jack, is a thief who has made a lot of magical enemies, including his mortal foe, the Lord of Bats. Since "darksiders" like Jack and Bats have a knack for returning from the dead, the Lord of Bats has decided to lock up Jack for eternity. After finding a way to escape from the escape-proof prison, Jack pauses in his flight to deliver a little revenge speech. Now, bear in mind that Zelazny held a master's degree in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama - a genre that abounded in bloody tales of revenge. You might say he was a revenge professional.

"You are henceforth and forever an outcast, Jack. Count no darksider as friend."

"I never have."

If you like this blog, tell your friends.

If you don't like this blog, tell me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

That Bastard, Conrad of Montferrat

In my research for TWS Book 2, Hero's Army, I keep coming up against this guy Conrad. The crazy thing is, he's actually dead by the time my protagonist Henry arrives in the Holy Land (or, as the Crusaders call it, l'Outremer - the overseas). But he's a really, really interesting case of tainted history.

See, if you read the old chestnuts of English historical fiction like Walter Scott, Conrad's always the baddie. Conniving, evil, wizened, ugly, sadistic, sexually... ahem... experimental... really, they can't find enough nasty things to say about the guy. But if you actually look at the events of his life, you run into some cognitive dissonance.

First of all, he's a hottie. The Byzantine chronicler Niketas Choniates described him as "of beautiful appearance, comely in life's springtime, exceptional and peerless in manly courage and intelligence, and in the flower of his body's strength." (Heck, I'm a straight male, and even I feel a little tingly.)


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Gimme

As in "just give me this one departure from fact, and I'll spin you a tale that will blow your mind." It's a staple of all fiction, but it crops up the most in F/SF.

There is an economy of the Gimme. Don't use one more than once a story. It should have ramifications. It should generate surprises. It should allow for wonder, shock, recognition, laughter, sorrow.

It wasn't about the free stuff, Mitt (political rant)

It wasn't about the free stuff, Mitt - we just didn't like you.

We didn't like the way you flipflopped like a gaffed salmon. We didn't like the brazen way you did it, or your Etch-a-Sketchin' aides, or the way you ran from your biggest achievement in the primaries (healthcare, by the way, not LBOs), only to circle around and try to take credit for it again in the general election. To us, it looked like more than cynicism - it looked like contempt for your fellow Americans. Did you think we wouldn't notice? Or that we wouldn't care?

We didn't like the stories of you as a high school bully. It would have been one thing if you had owned up to it, demonstrated an understanding of what you had done, and apologized like a man. Instead, you weaseled away from it, like a politician.

We didn't like the outright lies, like that commercial about shipping car production to China. Neither did GM - car company repudiating a Republican candidate? First time ever. (See Paragraph 2, above, "Did you think we wouldn't notice?")

We didn't like your belief that a low capital gains tax is sound economics, but low interest on college loans is a handout.

And finally, all of us moochers didn't like your selective blindness to your own free stuff: an exclusive, expensive education; guaranteed connections to powerful networks of friends and family; access to family loans for, say, a first house. We didn't like your blithe assumption that the poor are poor because they don't share your work ethic, as opposed to not sharing your head start. Yes, you worked hard. So do janitors, administrative assistants, porters, waiters - we ALL work hard. Do you really believe that breaking up companies does more for this country than nursing?

Good-bye.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Is That So Good, pt. 3 - "They Called Him Mahasamatman"

When I first read Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, it messed up my prose style for three years. I was only a teen at the time, so I was fairly impressionable; but still. Three years...

And it wasn't just my mind that got blown. George RR Martin himself, now the most media-successful fantasist since Tolkien, wrote that when he read the first lines of that book, "a chill went through me, and I sensed that SF would never be the same. Nor was it."

Zelazny was a member of SF's New Wave, the late '60s-early '70s crew that emphasized style and literary quality in speculative fiction. JG Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Sam Delaney and others stood up for the idea that SF was as worthy an endeavor as any middle-brow offering by Lessing or Mailer. Zelazny had earned a Master's in Elizabethan Drama from my own alma mater, but he was also a passionate explorer of myth, folklore, martial arts, and Asian religions. He incorporated all of it into his work, making him perhaps the first writer of speculative fiction since Tolkien to ground his most successful stories firmly in myth. He did this years before anyone had heard of Joseph Campbell, before Star Wars reinvigorated the Hero's Journey concept, before Bruce Lee and then anime conquered American culture and made all of us aware of kung-fu. He was the guy at the top of Everest, waiting to hand us sandwiches when we arrived to stick our flag in the peak.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

How much would it take to storm-proof New York?

What we want to avoid...
Interesting article in the Atlantic.

Storm surge barriers, built-up dunes, effective levees, underground power lines. The cost is big, but not insane, considering the damage already done by Sandy.

The storm surge barriers are pretty impressive. What is it about the really big civil engineering projects - they always feel like they're just on the cusp of science fiction.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bloomberg Just Cancelled the NYC Marathon

Someone saw reason at City Hall.

At the best of times, the marathon is a mixed bag for NY residents: great and a fun thing to watch (or even do) once or twice. It boosts tourism. It also snarls traffic hopelessly, packs the sidewalks, and turns otherwise quiet neighborhoods into bedlam. Worse, it demands an increased police presence, increased sanitation, increased engineering and transit presence, and so on. Meanwhile, there are still big chunks of the city without power. My take is that when they decided to go on, the mayor's office hadn't really understood the extent of the damage.

ETA: The marathon boosts the NYC economy by $350 million a year. Understandably, that's a lot of bucks that might be used to help recovery efforts. But that's money that only goes to emergency services partially, indirectly, and over time, in the form of taxes. And what of all the businesses that can't take advantage of the marathon, because they have no power? Closing it - still the best decision.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Trains Are Running Again

A bit.
Above 34th Street.
But that in itself is a big thing. I actually went into the office.

But many lines are still closed, and the real killer are all the lines that link the different boroughs. (For my non-US readers, New York City has five divisions, or boroughs, and only two of them - Brooklyn and Queens - are NOT separated by water from the others.) It really drives home the point that even with the "Outer Borough Renaissance," Manhattan is still the center.

Still long lines outside of Trader Joes. But by Tuesday, people were already eating in restaurants on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

I got lucky. My family and friends got lucky. But everyone who got lucky knows someone who didn't.

I Just Did a Post for Samantha Combs-

- called "Writing Scientific." Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What a mess.

Well, I got lucky.
The Upper West Side got off fairly well. We kept power, for instance. I lost internet and phone, but they're back now.
But the power is still out south of 40th Street, I'm told.
The subway system is flooded, and no one knows when the trains will be back.
The buses are running, but on a Sunday schedule.
Cities and neighborhoods directly on the water are flooded, including a lot of Jersey towns that had started to become the new gentrifying areas.
I guess I had assumed this would be like Irene, last year - sloppy, untidy, inconvenient, but with a city that ultimately recovered in a day.
This seems more extensive. And like any New Yorker, I get twitchy when the subways are seriously down for the count.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy, 7:00 PM

We're heading into the peak area now, apparently. Until about ten o'clock, the winds will be the strongest. It's a little nerve-wracking, but I know that I am so much better off than so many other folks. The eye of the storm made landfall in southern New Jersey, and I'm many miles away in Manhattan. Really, all I have to worry about is, at the absolute worst, a power outage...although the wind noise does make me neurotically twitchy about broken glass.

Best wishes to everyone.

Dang, Sandy Is Loud! Monday, 6:15 PM

The wind really is something up here on the 27th floor.
The water in the toilet is sloshing back and forth a little as the high winds shift the air pressure in the apartment, just a little bit.
I guess the thing that really gets you, if you grew up in New York City, is the unnatural feeling of it all. Hurricanes never happened in the city, in all the years I grew up here. Now, two hurricanes in two years - and big ones.

Sandy Is Here - 3:30 PM Monday

While there is some rain, the real power is in the wind. You can hear it whoosh past the windows. It's when that turns into a whistle that it gets a little scary, because the speed has increased, a lot, and the windows begin to rattle.

If you look out and down, you'll see wet, brown flying leaves. Even though you know the wind is shooting downtown, the leaves themselves are flying in all directions.

The cloud cover isn't that thick. If it weren't for the sound of the wind, it might almost be an ordinary rainy day - until you look more closely out the window and what rain there is being blown sideways along Amsterdam Avenue.

Sandy Is Coming, Pt. 2: 9:00 AM Monday

So far, Sandy's a drizzle in NYC.

I've been tracking the storm's path on Wunderground.com.
I've been tracking the storm's media freakout on Google News.

According to the Weather Underground site, the eye of the storm will hit land south of Philadelphia and loop around the metro area as a Category 1 hurricane, declining to a Tropical Storm by Wednesday.

But according to the TV and newspapers, it will destroy all life as we know it on the East Coast.

Hmm. Cognitive dissonance.

(I hope I'm able to maintain this insouciant attitude, by the way.)

Why Is That So Good, pt. 2: "Too Lazy to Be a Farmer"

As I said here, there are some scenes and passages that just hit that perfect note. Maybe it's awe. Maybe it's fear. Maybe it's just pure frikkin' cool. However they succeed, it makes sense for us writers to dissect them and see what makes them tick, no?

So...Robert Heinlein. One of the Greats, with a capital G. In recent years, he's been sorta-kinda associated with militarism, libertarianism, and polyamory. But anyone who's read more than Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress knows that his biggest ideology was anti-ideology. He was always a patriot; he cherished the military values of honor and courage; but he was also a writer who kept asking questions that were political and philosophical as well as scientific. In other words, he had a vision that was far too broad to be hemmed in by musty "isms," and he loved to play with ideas. He certainly believed in self reliance, but he was also a big enough human being to avoid the "I've got mine" selfishness of Objectivism.

Which brings us to my favorite passage. This is from Heinlein's novella Revolt in 2100 (also known as If This Goes On-) another of his spine-chillingly prescient works. Written in 1940, it describes a future in which Nehemiah Scudder, a backwoods preacher,

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hmm. Apocalyptic Storm? End of the World?

Time to get cracking on Chapter Eight!

Yep, this is my writing time.

Sandy Is Coming

2:30 PM. Want to buy batteries at the Duane Reade? In and out in five minutes. Want to buy delicious crostini at the Trader Joes? The line is around the block.

Heh-heh-heh.

Make sure you get your pesto and your olive tapenade, my beautiful, impractical neighbors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Is That So Good?

Every now and then there's a passage that just works. It makes you grin, or raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Some of them are so good that they enter into fan history. (That's not just true of speculative fiction, by the way; ask any English lit enthusiast about the "Disgusting English Candy Drill" in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.)


I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the goodies in science fiction and fantasy, starting with the "White Tiger" scene from Barry Hughart's Eight Skilled Gentlemen. Master Li, an ancient, cunning, and somewhat alcoholic Chinese Sherlock Holmes, is administering a faith healing to the Weasel, a local ne'er-do-well who is dying of the plague. Li knows that the Weasel is going to die, and the ceremony is really for the benefit of the Weasel's wife, but Li's invocation (possibly inspired by a genuine Chinese ceremony - it feels authentic) still sends chills down the spine:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Met Tippi Hedren

For reals.

HBO's doing this docudrama about Hitchcock's abuse of her. Having met Ms. Hedren briefly, I'm on her side.

I was working as an electrician on a low-budget indie film (I never saw the finished product in theaters, but years later, in Vienna, I saw it running on a hotel TV under the title "Der Labyrinthen Der Leydenschaft"). Tippi was one of the supporting players. She still looked great, and she was gracious to everyone.

And that's it. Nothing more to say - although it was admittedly great for a recent film-school grad to be on the same set.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Stanford Ovshinsky, RIP

Stan Ovshinsky passed away today. His bio sounds like that of a late 20th Century Tesla.

He never went to college. He worked as a machinist, and got his first patent at the age of 24.

His company was called Energy Conversion Devices, and he achieved breakthroughs in the technologies we'll need to break free of fossil fuels: Solar cells. Hydrogen fuel cells. Semiconductors. He invented the amorphous semiconductor technology that allowed the creation of rewritable CDs and DVDs. He invented the rechargeable nickel-hydride battery technology in cordless drills and the Toyota Prius.

He also burned through millions of dollars of his own and investors' money. American industrialists didn't take him seriously until the Japanese took an interest in the '80s.

“I don’t relish the role of being a prophet in the wilderness," he said. "But I recognize that we’re agents of change and change is difficult.”

The Wrong Sword is a Featured Book!

...on SpecFicPick. Yee-hah!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Alpha Centauri Has Planets!

One, anyway. How cool is that?

Between our nearest stellar neighbor having planets, and the possibility that an Alcubierre FTL drive wouldn't require the dismantling of an Jupiter-sized planet for each trip, these are banner days for interstellar travel.

Now all I have to do is stay alive for the next 100 years to see the end of the 100YSS initiative, and I'll be good to go.

Oh...and get over my fear of falling, roller coasters, and high-g acceleration. But for a trip like that, it would be worth it. Worse comes to worst, I'd just take some Space Age, ultra-modern super-Valium.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bosses Day. Yeah.

Apparently, today actually IS Bosses Day.

The list of bosses who have done their best work negotiating their own compensation and severance packages is long and ever-growing: Carly Fiorina, LIBOR-fixer Bob Diamond, Richard "I took my private jet to beg for congressional money" Wagoner, BP's Tony Hayward, etc. etc. It seems that no matter how badly they mess up, they still keep getting mo' money. Based on that, I have to say that unless you're Tony Frikkin' Stark (who at least gives us ARC reactors and exoskeletons for our taxpayer dollars), it's pretty clear that Every Day Is Bosses Day.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Tuesday.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Particle AND Wave

A little complementarity on Niels Bohr's birthday...


The walls between science fiction and fantasy are breaking down. Back in the day, it was either Tolkien or Heinlein. Not only was fantasy non-technological, it was almost always pre-technological. Horses, not cars; swords, not guns. Even fantasy ostensibly set in the modern world would often wend its way to a secondary world - through a wardrobe, for instance - where technology simply wasn't.

Then came wainscoting (which I've mentioned before) where magic does exist in the here and now, but is carefully hidden away from ordinary muggles...er, mortals. Obviously, the magic's hidden away in Harry Potter, but Rowling was far from the first to use the wainscot. Any pre-True Blood vampire story, for instance, has the undead hidden away. The Borrowers is classic wainscot. Percy Jackson, Neverwhere, Highlander. Tim Powers turned history into wainscot fantasy with masterpieces like The Stress of Her Regard and On Stranger Tides. Fantasy and science fiction edged closer and closer. And then came the '60s.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," said Arthur C. Clarke. And in the 60s, writers like Michael Moorcock and Jack Chalker took him at his word, creating futures whose inhabitants no longer understood the forces that gave them their magical powers. But there was one writer who followed that avenue while delineating the philosophical difference: Roger Zelazny.

He created worlds full of characters who were literally deii ex machina - people with godlike powers granted by technology; so godlike, in fact, that they assumed the identities of the Hindu, Egyptian (and even alien) pantheons. But even while he was doing this, Roger never lost site of the border:

"It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy – it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some do bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool."  (Lord of Light)

Science and magic, SF and fantasy, reason and the unknowable, particle and wave - complementarity. The next big step in fantasy is bridging the gap, writing science and magic in the same story at the same time.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Today's word is STYLITES

Can you say "stylites"?
Or, to be more explicit, saint-on-a-pole.
Very popular in the Byzantine Empire around the EMA (early Middle Ages).
Apparently, Indian fakirs aren't the only holy folk who feel the need to mortify the flesh, but it's an impulse that is utterly alien to me. Why would God desire self-inflicted pain from his creatures? How do you get so deep into your own belief system that this sounds like a good idea?

I don't mean to offend any rockin' stylites out there. I'm just asking.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scored the Annotated Alice

Long ago, my brother and I had a copy of The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner's astounding edition of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass which explained all the mathematico-logical in-jokes and history that Carroll had scattered through the books.

Well, I just found a copy in the "put-a-penny tak-a-penny" bookshelves of my building's laundry room. I will bring down all my thrillers and the Millennium Trilogy in return.

Yes, I'm a massive nerd. We've met, no?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where Have I Been?

The Rocket Museum
They Also Do Math
I know, wonder, wonder, wonder. Well, as you may remember, I was spending a bunch of weeks looking at hotels in my fair city and writing them up for NewYork.com. In the process, I relearned about a super cool museum out in Queens, the New York Hall Hall of Science. Not only does the NYHS have gen-yoo-wine, honest-to-goshness ROCKETS (Mercury and Gemini and a chunk of an Apollo) but it also has interactive science exhibits. In fact, they're so cool that one of the earliest, Mathematica, was designed by Charles and Ray Eames, of beautiful chair fame.

And then I was doing some contract work for my alma mater - roar, Lion, roar! - and the day rate was sufficiently high for me to focus on that work to the exclusion of this beloved (but unpaid) blog. But I'm back. And I'm working on Book Two of the Wrong Sword trilogy, Hero's Army.

And I learned enough about Dreamweaver for Windows to know that it is the Devil's work. EVIL!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mister Saturday Danced

Title of the Voudoun-based short story I just finished. Now which market gets first crack at it?

Never let your TOP post be a TOPICAL post.

I know that now. Thanks, Clint. We now return to your regularly scheduled blog...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Eastwooding

Why did the RNC allow this?
So they could auction off the chair on eBay.
I'd bid on that.

ETA: Oh, wait. Someone's already bought it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Medieval Recipe Day!

Guillaume Tirol's recipe for Cassia Soup (c. 1395):

Cook chicken, beef, or other meat in wine or water. Quarter it and brown it.
Take dry, cooked, unpeeled almonds and plenty of cassia. Crush it, sieve it, and steep it in beef broth. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Next Big Thing

First there was the website - big and formal.
Then there was the blog post - shorter, informal.
Then there was the tweet - really short, really casual.
Next up: The Blip
You only get one character, but you have your choice of all 26 letters plus the digits 0-9 and a bunch of symbols like "&" and "@."

Write, write, write...

"He knew that the sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked ..."

Gore Vidal had it sussed. Writing is actually not that tough, if you're freed from the fear that it will be bad. It's the desire to write well that makes writing so hard.

Who knows about the past?



When we think of Medieval Art, we think of stuff like this:

Well, I do, anyway. Or I used to.


But if you go to the Cloisters, you'll see that maybe the real geniuses were the sculptors. Check it out after the jump.







Thursday, August 23, 2012

K.W. Jeter Is Following Me on Twitter.

Shouldn't you?
@excalibur61



Seriously - I'm in a fanboy daze. If it weren't for KWJ, we wouldn't have the Court of the Air, Perdido Street Station, Girl Genius, Lovelace and Babbage...

He is one of the progenitors of steampunk. Hell, he COINED THE TERM "STEAMPUNK." How many writers can honestly say they midwifed a whole new genre?

The man wrote two of the earliest steampunk fantasias: Morlock Nights and Infernal Devices (the latter of which was the earliest example of "clockpunk.")

Shout out to you, KWJ.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Classic F/SF Ideas: Franchise Government

A social system in which governmental functions like security, defense, and conflict resolution are maintained by private organizations, not public bodies; or a society in which the government no longer has a "monopoly of legitimate violence" - especially if some or all of those functions have been assumed by corporations. Derived from anarchist political theory, it is also a defining concept of cyberpunk and other forms of dystopian science fiction.

"The Ungoverned," Vernor Vinge
Snowcrash, Neal Stephenson

Sorry-

Sorry I left that last post up so long.
Now for something completely different.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rich Kids of Instagram

The good news is that money doesn't make you beautiful.

Boy Reporter pt. III: The city is an ocean with its life underground.

This is New York - Underground
Until this hotel gig, I had forgotten just how much of what we do in NYC is underground. We are mole people.

Not just the subways, although that's a gimme. But how many buildings connect to the subways, how many barber shops, pizza joints, newsstands, shoe shines, gourmet delis and fitness spas are under people's feet. And not just dirty Penn Station shops either. Most of the hotels in the Shmancy class (and all of the hotels in the next bracket, the Fancy-Shmancy) have their spas, orchid shops, and bespoke hair stylists down there.

Would it be possible to walk underground from Washington Heights to Wall Street without using the subway?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Boy Reporter, pt. II

So, after tramping around for more than a week so far to different hotels, seeing the amenities, etc. etc. here's an observation:

Visitors who come to New York for the first time will judge it on three things: the streets, the subway, and the hotel they stay at. I used to have serious cognitive dissonance when I heard people talk about New York as this inherently fashionable and stylish place, because I saw Times Square, and guys hacking through the garment district, secretaries in pants suits on their lunch break in Bryant Park, and none of it seemed that stylish to me. Fashion and style were restricted to very wealthy, somewhat inbred  folks who descended on my neighborhood during Fashion Week and then disappeared again.

But now, having seen some of these hotels - I get it. There's one down by Gramercy Park where each room is different, the air has a trademarked smell - excuse me, scent - and original Warhols and Hirsts dangle from the walls. There's another that's an entire city block wide and has ballrooms that would have fit in perfectly on the Titanic. There's another boutique hotel with a lobby that's the kind of casual it takes millions to perfect, with soundproofed windows and door so as soon as you enter, the East Side just vanishes. People judge New York by the lobbies of the hotels they stay at.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ted Mendelssohn, Boy Reporter

That's me, checking out a room
I just got an interesting assignment for a NYC tourism website. I'm visiting hotels, checking out the rooms and amenities, and writing them up...and I've already come to some conclusions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Doomsday!

Or rather, Domesday.

Credit: Prof. J.J.N. Palmer & George Slater.
A couple of readers have asked me how I got the medieval stuff so convincing in TWS. First of all, thank you.

Second of all, believe me, a lot of it is WILDLY inaccurate, and the sad part is, I'm not even sure which bits. But if I get it right, if I hit a good detail, it's because of this - PRIMARY TEXTS.

Here. I'll say it again, with the echo chamber sound effect:

PRIMARRRYYYY TE-EH-EH-EH-EXTS.....

Primary texts: those documents produced by people during the period in question. The Declaration of Independence is a primary text. So is the Stamp Act. So, for that matter, are the epitaphs on the tombstones in the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston.

Why am I giving you all this blah-di-blah? Because the Domesday Book, one of the great primary texts of all-frikkin'-time, is available free online in a fully hyperlinked format.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Value-Added, Meet Value-Subtracted

So instead of just showing coverage of the Olympics - period. Full stop. - NBC airs documentary retrospectives of Kerri Strug. Interviews with Ryan Seacrest.

Are you kidding me?


Congratulations, NBC: You have officially invented value-SUBTRACTED entertainment.
Shut the F up and show more of the actual 2012 Olympics.
Morons.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Joss Whedon Is Awesome and I Liebehassen Him

Hate/love - when someone is so damned good that you hate him for being better than you even while you love what he does. It's an emotion common among creative types and athletes. I felt it for Neil Gaiman when he was writing The Sandman. And of course, I feel it for Joss Whedon.

Okay, so we all know Joss is awesome. But let's dissect this for a moment. Forget about him inventing two whole new kinds of dialogue (Buffyspeak and Firefly), or reintroducing gunpowder and horses to space opera. Let's go almost all the way back, to when Buffy was a mid-season replacement that was supposed to flicker and vanish; instead it grabbed hold of people's eyeballs and wouldn't let go. Why? Metaphor, metaphor, metaphor.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Classic Ideas in Fantasy and Science Fiction: First Contact

The biggie. The most important trope in science fiction...after guys in red shirts getting killed, of course. E.T., War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Contact, Star Trek XXXIV, and on and on.

The Mote in God’s Eye, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
"A Martian Odyssey," Stanley G. Weinbaum
“First Contact,” Murray Leinster
"The Helping Hand," Poul Anderson
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
2001, A Space Odyssey, film, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke
Close Encounters of the Third Kind, film, Steven Spielberg
The Day the Earth Stood Still, film, 1951, Robert Wise, Harry Bates, Edmund North
ET, film, Steven Spielberg
The Man Who Fell to Earth, film, Walter Tevis, Nicolas Roeg
Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
Contact, Carl Sagan
Similarly:
A Signal From Space, Will Eisner (graphic novel)
His Master's Voice, Stanislaw Lem
The Hercules Text, Jack McDevitt



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Industrial Revolution Mark Two


So I was watching the Olympic opening ceremonies. I was a little puzzled. These are the first opening ceremonies I've seen, so I don't have a yardstick. But...flying Mary Poppinses? A nod to the NHS?

I did like the ending, though. Forging the rings...hmm. Tolkien reference.

Still, I can see it appealing to the Steampunks among us. IKB rules!

Cause and Effect

Waiting on the Hyperspace Pizza Nexus
Science fiction isn't about causes. Cause is a "how," and ultimately, "how" is not as important as you might think. Do we need to know exactly how the warp drive works? No. We just need to know what happens when it does. We need to know the effect: How will we react when the universe is open to us? Will we be humbled by the majesty of creation and become more enlightened beings? Will we push our edge in interstellar travel to build the Terran Empire? Will we use it to make faster pizza deliveries to Glornak 7?

Or telepathy. Does it really matter just how humanity develops this mental power? What's interesting is how the "normals" react to the espers...or whether the entire race becomes telepathic. Then what happens? Well, for one thing, speech pathology is no longer the go-to career for former actresses.

The importance of effects over causes is one of the big reasons to be wary of the "info dump" - the deep-seated urge to explain your entire world to the reader in one or two bloated, digressive paragraphs. Pay more attention to what happens next than what happened before.

Of course, even though causes aren't sufficient, they are necessary. They determine the limits of the effects we describe. If our spaceships can reach other star systems, but only have Bussard ramjets, and not hyperdrives, the empire we create would be much, much different from one based on faster-than-light travel. If our telepathy comes in over-the-counter pill form, the effects will be radically different from a future of rare genetic telepaths.

Causes define our stories; effects are the reasons we write them.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Original Wild and Crazy Guys

So yesterday, I threw up a little Minka Kelly on the blog in a fan service-y, not-much-content kind of way. Not the worst sin in the world, but I think maybe it's time we go back to future. Well, the future if you're a citizen of Imperial Rome. If you're not, it's more like the past. I'm going to get all medieval on your asses with a new bit o' history that some of you may not know:

Goliard.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Yet More Wheatons! And Fillion, Too!

It's right here.

In Which I Admit To Being Like Every Other Blogger


IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a blogger seeking to improve visitor statistics must be in want of a hot topic on the Web. However tedious Google Analytics may seem to such a person, he is widely and cynically believed to be mining search engines in search of crowd-pleasing nuggets of infotainment.

Alas. It is totally frikkin' true.

So: 
Minka Kelly. 
Minka Kelly! 
MINKA KELLY! 
Come to me, oh webcrawlers and searchbots! Heed my summoning words! MIIIINNNKAAAA....KKEELLLLLYYYY....

Oh, all right. There's got to be some way I can connect Minka to some nerdliness to make this legit. 

Well, there is a longstanding tradition of nerds panting after gorgeous women in the media. Absolutely. Fan service! 

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

TV Boston

This isn't really nerdy, but...

What the hell is it with Boston and TV music? Apparently TV composers believe that every last resident of Boston is Irish. Case in point, Rizzoli & Isles. (It was three in the morning. I couldn't sleep.) Rizzoli? Italian. Isles? Boston aristocracy. There's one Irish character on the show, I think.

So what's the music they use?
Irish.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Evil Wesley!


Good
Can I say how much I like Wil Wheaton these days? I mean yes, ur-blogger, gamer, teen nerd celeb, etc. But he's revived his TV career as a go-to actor for smarmy jerk roles - Evil Wesley lives! Check him out in Leverage and The Big Bang Theory.

Go, Wil Wheaton, Go!
Better

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Granddaddy Nerd

Ah, the Emmy nominations for 2012. Notice what's on there? Game of Thrones. The young folks may now shrug their shoulders. "So what?" they say. "It's a good show." Yeah, it is. But I'm not young folk. I'm a Granddaddy Nerd.

And that means I remember a time when a series like GoT could have been the love child of I Love Lucy, All in the Family, and Roots, and it STILL wouldn't have gotten an Emmy. Hell, it wouldn't even have been financed. And a bunch of Entourage types in Italian suits would have rolled their eyes if you'd dared to suggest it.

In the last thirty years, an amazing thing has happened - science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels have been mainstreamed. When I was in college, I would have bet heavy money that this was as likely as, well, as likely as a Columbia grad being elected president. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Barry.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Provigil, the new "Limitless"?

I love science fiction. And I love it when science fiction becomes science fact - the Roomba (Heinlein), communications satellites (Clarke), Dick Tracy radio watches. But Provigil...it sounds way creepy. We need to keep an eye out for people with exploding heads, I think.

What do you think? Speed, by prescription? Or a bold new frontier in five-hour energy?

Lastday, Capricorn 29s!

Yes, today is the last day to pick up some funny fantasy for less than a buck!

The Wrong Sword is available on Amazon.com for only $0.99. Buy it now, or kick yourself tomorrow morning, when the price goes back up to $4.99.



Buy it now!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mermaid Body Found, Part Two

Can't find a mermaid? Make your own.

3-fins.com

It's the Mermaid Body Swimsuit, y'all. Only $245.

Marissa Mayer, Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher

So Marissa Mayer is now the CEO of Yahoo - excuse me, Yahoo! - and is out to make her mark. Only problem is, I think the job is cursed. That's right. I said it. CURSED. Just like the Defense Against the Dark Arts Chair at Hogwarts.

Yahoo has had six CEOs in five years: Marissa, Ross Levinsohn, Scott Thompson, Tim Morse, Carol Bartz, and Jerry Yang. Obviously, somebody wants the CEO job for themselves, and has made sure that No One Else Can Have It Until They Return.

But who could it be? Who could be so powerful, and so evil? Well, it's California, and Yahoo is pretty much an entertainment company now, so my bet would be a Hollywood producer of some kind- wait a minute.

Who was the chief before that crazy run of revolving CEOs? Terry Semel. Who spent 24 years at Warner Bros, backed the first Batman flick and The Matrix trilogy, and was chairman and co-CEO before he left for...yeah...Yahoo. He spent six years at Yahoo, and then they booted him. Seems like there's a media wizard out there who wants a comeback.

So what's an incoming CEO to do? Marissa, I'm sorry - but I think you're going to have to find Terry Semel's horcruxes and destroy them. Start with Matrix: Reloaded.

Monday, July 16, 2012

TWS 99¢ Two Days Only on Kindle!

Yep, my publisher is doing a 99¢ sale on July 17 and July 18. That's tomorrow, you yahoos!

So if you've been hesitating about buying The Wrong Sword...on the fence about it...my goodness, you can't get more low-commitment than this.


BUY.
IT.
NOW.

Mermaid Body Found. Again. And Again. And...

The Discovery Channel traveled a little farther down PT Barnum's "egress" by airing a fake mermaid documentary. Personally, I don't get the appeal of mermaids - for anything romantic beside posing on a rock, mermaids seem spectacularly ill-suited. Ahem.

And yet "mermaids" have been a flourishing industry for centuries:

1. The manatee. You'd have to be at sea a long time to confuse this



with this










but apparently sailors used to do it. Imaginative peg-legged bastards.