Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy Hogmanay!

Yes, it's that time of year again, Hogmanay. When we don our mistletoe Speedos and Hogmanay drinking boots in time for the Hogman and his Merry Piglets to deliver drams of restorative single malt to all the good little child-free partygoers who have been extra happy this year.

Did you hold back your bestie's hair when she worshipped the porcelain god?
Did you snake the car keys from your wingman's back pocket when he went three over the limit in Tampa?
Did you update your clubtard Biffle's NYE sunglasses to 2016?

Then you will sip of the Hogman's best whiskey!
May your headache be mild and your hangover light!
Happy Hogmanay!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Force Awakens: Lots of Fan Service = Fewer Fans [SPOILERS]

I liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I didn't luuurrve it. Please, rabid fans, don't egg my car.

I don't think I'm alone. I saw the movie Sunday night in a packed theatre, and there was a relatively subdued audience reaction...some scattered applause for the first appearance of Han Solo and R2-D2. That's about it.

For the record, TFA has a lot of good. John Boyega as Finn makes a good protagonist. He hits the right balance between comedy and drama, and he's one of those lucky actors who's immediately likable. (And, from a story perspective, Finn's origin is compelling.) Oscar Isaac, who plays Poe Dameron, Finn's rescuee, has the same kind of charisma - so much so that the Finn/Poe friendship is more interesting than Finn's possible relationship with Rey (Daisy Ridley), the Force to be reckoned with in this generation of Jedi.

TFA also has a good, sensible answer for what happens when someone who is clearly not a Jedi uses a light saber. Answer: They can use it, but a real Jedi will clean their clock. Speaking of which, there is more than enough X-Wing and light-saber action for even the most die-hard fan.

Finally, it's wonderful to see Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill again, older but still so important and so good that their gravity practically warps the space-time of any scene they're in.

But...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Status Update for "The Expanse" [SPOILERS]

Status Update:
From Cautiously Optimistic
To Hopefully Pessimistic

I've now seen episodes 1-4 of The Expanse on Syfy.
Now, I don't want to be that guy...
You know, the one who's always going on about how the book was better.
Or the original play was better.
Or the original movie was better.
Or can't understand why they changed X, Y, Z.
But...let's just say that the showrunners have been making some choices that I don't understand.

The second episode is mostly the five survivors of the Canterbury trapped on a crippled shuttlecraft, trying to be rescued. Other stuff happens - Miller uncovers water thieves, Avasarala does politico stuff - but the life and death happens onboard the Knight.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Some Paleo-SF References You Might Have Missed in The Expanse

The Expanse books were written by two hard-core SF fans. They not only know their science; they know earlier SF, and they are happy to throw in the occasional homage to Those Who Came Before. If you have absorbed all your sci-fi from ST:TNG and Halo, you might have missed a few of them. Here are some of the ones I've caught so far.

1. Larry Niven: Niven wrote a lot of excellent "hard" science fiction in the '70s and '80s. Some of it has been OTBE'd (Overtaken By Events) but it's still fun.  
A. He invented the term "Belter."
B. He came up with the "Belter crest" - a high Mohawk to which The Expanse pays tribute with the topknot fades of Naomi Nagata and Detective Miller.
C. The "Forgotten Arm" mentioned by Miller when he interviews the prostitute in Episode 1 may be a reference to Niven's book The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton, about a Belter who loses an arm, has it replaced, but retains a body-image memory of the old arm that he can use for telekinesis...invisible, and very dangerous. (On second thought, this one seems a little tenuous for me.)

A Quick Note on My Note on "The Expanse"

By now, Syfy has managed to garner a lot of very positive buzz from reviewers for The Expanse. I don't begrudge them that. I think making the first episode as widely available as they have - not just on their website, but for free on-demand viewing across cable providers, etc. - is both clever marketing and a nice gesture to potential fans.

But to be clear: The pro reviewers have seen (I believe) the entire first season of the show. I'm not one of them. My opinions so far have been based entirely on the only episode I've been able to see - Episode One. As the show progresses the opinion may change, mutate, become more refined, or stay completely the same.

We shall see.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Expanse on Syfy - I Came, I Saw, I Reviewed

A sigh of relief. The Expanse is worth watching, so far.

This was not a sure thing. Even though it's based on the bestselling (and damned good) space opera by James S.A. Corey, The Expanse could have easily screwed the pooch. Syfy has a history of bad, bad, terminally dumb shows, and they could have found a way to make this one of them.

Instead the visuals, the sound design, the pacing, and the performances are all impressive at best, and convincing at worst. The title sequence is damned good. A lot of the shots (such as those in space) are obviously CGI, but designed well enough so that it doesn't matter.

For those unfamiliar with the books, The Expanse takes place in a future where an efficient fusion drive has put the solar system - but not the stars - in humanity's reach. We've colonized Mars, Luna, the Asteroid Belt, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Earth is home to the majority of humanity; Mars has the greatest military power; and both siphon resources from the Outer Planets. Tensions are building. And then, something happens...

Monday, November 30, 2015

You Snooze, You Lose

Tomorrow, The Wrong Sword goes back to its new normal price of $1,000,000. So get it while you can at $1.99.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why Time Travel Appeals Most to Under-30 Readers

One of the big classification schemes for books is called BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications Subject Headings). Amazon uses it. It gives us headings like Nonfiction>Law>Agricultural, and Fiction>Christian>Historical.

Did you know that"YA>time-travel" is an actual subject heading on BISAC? BISAC code YAF063000. No kidding. An entire young-adult subgenre devoted to time travel. It's that popular.

So what's the deal, aside from Doctor Who? Why is this as appealing as vampires and zombies?

Because if you're over 30, you've already experienced time travel.
Think about it, my fellow gerontonauts. And welcome to the future.

I Know It's Tedious, But-

- ONLY 24 HOURS LEFT FOR THE WRONG SWORD ON SALE! 

HURRY! HURRY! HURRY!

BUY NOW! BUY NOW! BUY NOW!

Friday, November 27, 2015

This Would Have Surprised Henry Not At All

I'm enjoying this article in the Guardian discussing how the monks of Glastonbury faked - gasp! yes, I said faked! - not just Arthur and Guinevere's resting place, but the Holy Grail and Joseph of Arimathea too. I wouldn't go so far as to draw all the lessons he draws from these episodes, but then, I'm not a writer of op-eds.

If you've read The Wrong Sword (and if you haven't, why not? It's only 99¢ today) you know that my protagonist, Henry the Rat, dabbles in selling the occasional forged relic. What I like about Simon Jenkins' piece is that it illustrates one of the biggest (and not necessarily warranted) assumptions in TWS - that certain aspects of human nature remain unchanged, even after a thousand years.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Today Is the Day!

Today is the start of the 99¢ sale for The Wrong Sword ebook.
Today.
Not tomorrow.
Not Arbor Day.
Not Rosh Hashanah.

Today.

But what if you have already bought the book?
What if you already follow the blog?
What if you have already pre-ordered the sequel and the hit album, Excalibur Drops It Like It's Hot?
Then-
Tell your friends.
Tell your family.
Tell the little girl who lives down the lane.

This cannot be kept a secret!
The world must know!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday! The Big Deal Is Coming! November 24!

Yep, the 99¢ deal on the Kindle edition of The Wrong Sword is coming.
This Tuesday going through next Monday - November 24 through November 30 - the ebook edition of TWS will be available for only 99¢.

Spread the alarm!
Warn the villagers!
The ebook is coming! The ebook is coming!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Free Books, Away!

Yep, the TWS free copies I handed out on Goodreads are now winging their way to their lucky recipients. Oh, you few, you happy few, you band of brothers (and sisters)! What joys await you!

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Ghost That Was a Loud, Deep Hum

I've actually heard this story before, but it never gets old. A beautiful illustration of natural causes for "supernatural" phenomena, and proof of Occam's Razor: "Do not multiply entities needlessly."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Free Stuff on Amazon: The Experiment Begins

As of today, and going through Tuesday, I'm offering two FREE pieces of flash fiction on Amazon: The Commencement Speech and Aunt Helen Explains New York.

They are SHORT.
And they are FREE.

It's a little "Thank You" for that TWS enthusiasm. (Really, you guys make me blush!)

If there's enough interest, I'll make it an ongoing thing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Releasing Free Stuff on Amazon

Hey, Gang-

I'm publishing some short bits and pieces on Amazon; as soon as they go live, I'll make them free-free-free!

Right now, we're looking at the world's worst Commencement speech, and an old lady who explains the secret history of New York; I'll be adding more over the coming months as time and fortune permit.

Enjoy, enjoy.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Do-Over: Another Goodreads Giveaway!

So, the Goodreads Giveaway for The Wrong Sword ended last week. (Congratulations, you lucky winners! Keep your eyes on the mailbox!)

BUT-

It was pointed out to me on the 28th that the cover art hadn't been visible on the Giveaway!

SO-

We're running this sucker again.
This time, with the cover art.
And MORE BOOKS AVAILABLE.
And FOR A LONGER TIME.
And it starts OCTOBER 14, AND RUNS UNTIL NOVEMBER 2.


Stay tuned.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Florida Friday

Facebook has Throwback Thursdays. Now TWS offers you Florida Fridays - where we post something that could only have happened in Florida. Let's start off with lizard men:


http://cryptozoologynews.com/florida-man-claims-spotting-reptilian-humanoid-inside-vehicle-takes-pictures/

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen - Two Announcements:

1. "The Wrong Sword" is now available on Amazon as a lovely 5"x8" paperback. It has a glossy, coffee-resistant cover and an impressive heft - perfect for killing spiders and acting as a coaster substitute. Buy it for someone you love: Me.

2. In a month's time, I'll be having an enormous super-giant (that's the technical term) ebook promotion in which the TWS ebook will be roughly half off. I will, of course, let you know when.

3. Finally, if you know of anyone who might enjoy TWS and hasn't heard about it, please pass the word along. God will surely smile upon you and grant you the winning lotto numbers.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Rummy Centenary of Old Bertie

Today is the centennial anniversary of Bertie Wooster and his effortlessly superior manservant, Jeeves. For those of you clued in to PG Wodehouse and his comic masterpieces, here's a link to a few real-life Drones' Clubs around and about...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Star Trek, Kirk and Shatner

So here's the thing: Over the past few decades, it's become traditional to deride Kirk and William Shatner, if we discuss the original Star Trek at all. The Christopher Walken pauses, the hordes of alien women, the swagger.

Partially that's because fandom tends to be a young person's world, and if you're under the age of 40, the first "new" Star Trek you saw was Next Generation [shudder]. The original series, if you've seen it at all, looks cheesy, campy, very '60s, and most importantly - completely, exuberantly over the top. (Or at least, that's what fans of ST:TNG have told me.) And the first things that come to mind for younger fans are what Shatner, the working actor, has done since Star Trek - the Priceline commercials, the spoken word albums, the "evil" convention appearances, the toupee.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Chimps With Sticks

Now, I already tweeted about this, and put a quick post on G+, but...damn it! This is great.

Apparently, a troop of chimpanzees in the Netherlands didn't want strangers invading their air-space with drones. So when a TV crew buzzed the chimps with a drone for the second or third time, the apes were ready.

They literally, genuinely planned things out ahead of time. (Their handlers testified to this.) They marked the drone's track. They predicted where it was going to appear next. And then they used items in their enclosure as tools to bring down that pesky drone and study it as it lay on the ground.

I had to post about this. After all, how many science fiction tropes does this one episode embody?

1. Low technology vs. high technology/"primitive" vs. "advanced"
2. Confronting the unknown.
3. Intelligence across species.

and, of course-

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Am I missing any tropes?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Apparently-

-The Wrong Sword is #15 in Canada - that is, on Amazon-Canada's Bestseller list of Books > Literature & Fiction > Women's Fiction > Single Women.

Yes. Women's fiction for single women.

I'm baffled. No, even better, I'm NONPLUSSED.

Don't get me wrong - I'll take it. I'll TOTALLY take it. But still...nonplussed.

Anyone out there care to explain it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A New Greenhouse Catalyst - No, That's a GOOD Thing!

Scientists at the Argonne National Laboratory have designed a new material that speeds up the conversion of greenhouse gas CO2 into methanol fuel. Best of all, the catalyst's primary ingredient isn't something rare and expensive (e.g. platinum). It's copper.

Here's the article.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Old Benedict Cumberbatch News

In case you hadn't already seen it, this is the video of Benedict Cumberbatch performing Smaug in the motion capture studio. I love these 4+ minutes far more than the movie itself. And to me, it encapsulates some of the things I like about Cumberbatch as an actor, and about many British actors in general (at least, the ones who make it over the pond in a significant way):

1. He doesn't hold back. It doesn't matter that he's playing a dragon, in a  fantasy, in a motion capture leotard - he gives it the same energy and

Monday, August 17, 2015

Do You Love Cats? I Don't.

I don't love them. I like them. They're cute, and easier to keep around than dogs. And of course, because I like them, but don't luurrvv them, they absolutely adore me.

But that's neither here nor there. There are a bunch of cat-haterific tales of cats out there: Cats as evil manipulators, environmental disasters, etc. And now there's an article about whether all that noise is true.

Turns out - much not, some yes.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Number 18 In the Top 20!

Amazon.com has bestseller categories for every type of book. The categories follow the BISAC system (Book Industry Subject and Category, if you were wondering). Anyway, in the Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Humorous Bestseller list, guess who is #18?

That's right! It's The Wrong Sword.
Granted, it's a smallish category. But that still means I am on the SAME AMAZON FRONT PAGE as books by Ben Aaronovitch, Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, and - yes! - Terry Pratchett. (When you're up there with the Brits in Humorous Fantasy, you're automatically in the Big Leagues.)

And since most browsing shoppers only check out the first page of these lists, being #18 out of #20 is a Big Deal.

Friday, August 14, 2015

And Carrying on the Asimov Theme...

In Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, most of the nutritional needs of the vast population of Earth is met with specially-engineered fungi and yeast. It's a not-uncommon trope elsewhere in SF, too - Vernor Vinge uses it in A Deepness in the Sky, for instance, when he mentions the "bactries" the starfarers use to concoct organic materials.

So, we took a step down that road today.


Why's That So Good? Isaac Asimov - Foundation

The info dump is the classic danger for any writer of speculative fiction. You've put so much thought and effort into creating a world unlike our own...how are you going to convey that world to your readers, so that they can understand your story? If you tell too little, maybe they'll be lost, and give up. But tell too much, and their eyes glaze over. All too often, the new writer dumps dozens of pages of exposition onto the reader before ever getting to the story itself, and is subsequently savaged by his or her writers group.

That's the classic mistake. The info dump.

Needless to say, many of the Grand Masters of science fiction were also Grand Masters of exposition. They found dozens of sneaky, clever ways of getting the information into the story, and a few kludges too.

The Paper Proof Is on Its Way

The book proof of The Wrong Sword is on its way; it will be here by Monday. I may make one or two changes. Then it will be available in all its dead-tree glory alongside the electronic version on Amazon and elsewhere.

There's a lot to be said for physicality. There were certain cover-art questions that I couldn't answer based on files on a screen.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

An Interesting - and Creepy - Brain Question

SQUICK WARNING - I don't usually cover gross stuff here. But this question managed to send little spider feet across my forehead, so if "brain abnormalities" squick you out, move along.

There's a condition called hydrocephalus - water on the brain - in which the sufferer's brain development leads to much of the brain's cells being replaced with fluid. And yet, some patients still displayed normal intelligence, leading one researcher to wonder if we really need our brains to think!

This neuroscience entry suggests that, yes, Amelia, we DO need our brains to think, and here's why. And there are pictures. So, squick. But really, really interesting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Which Book Jacket?

So what do you think, folks: Book jacket with solid spine title?


Or book jacket with a photo oval on the spine as well?


Monday, August 10, 2015

Orion and Al Pacino

Dog Day Afternoon - the archetypal movie of the 1970s.  What does it have to do with Orion, the archetypal hunter of 1070 BC?
Dog days, that's what.
Those crazy, stinking, sultry, too-hot-to-move, too-humid-to-breathe days in July and August when you just want to throw yourself at an iceberg and marry it; when living in New York or Chicago or Rome is its own special kind of Heck on Earth, and the entire world seems to smell of garbage bags that haven't been picked up yet.
They're called dog days for a reason - they coincide with the rising of Sirius, the "dog star," the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major ("Big Dog," for you il-Latinates). Canis Major is the dog that accompanies the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.
People have been making the connection between Sirius and nasty weather at least since Homer and The Iliad:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.
[The Iliad, 22:33-37, Lombardo translation]

Heat, pestilence, and madness. The old newspaper reporters'  "silly season," indeed. So let's be careful out there!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Foundation and Radio!

Like science fiction? Like Isaac Asimov? Like podcasts?
Turns out that the BBC produced a radio drama of Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy - and now it's available on the Internet Archive!

Listen to it here.

First New Review

What's even better than writing "The End"?
Another satisfied customer, that's what.

The Wrong Sword just got its first review of the new, indie-pub edition, and it's pretty darned positive. International, too - all the way from Canada.

So thank you, PLB from Ottawa! I'm glad you liked it, and more are coming your way.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Another Interstellar Travel Poster!

Maybe you remember the travel posters that NASA developed for some of its more interesting exoplanet finds? (I mentioned 'em here.) Well, they've done another one. I really like it - Dance, Dance, Revolution!




You can get a hi-res version from the NASA Travel Bureau.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Merry Lughnasadh, Everyone!

Today (I've discovered) is the Gaelic holiday of Lughnasadh, originally celebrated in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, and marking the start of the harvest season or "first fruits." (In case you were wondering, the other three seasonal holidays are Samhain, Beltane, and Imbolc.) And judging by my Meetup.com list of things in New York today, there are at least 12 witches, Wiccans, or Neo-pagans in Manhattan who are celebrating. To them I say enjoy the bilberries, and have a bracing climb up the mountain.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

First Sale!

Yep, TWS has had its first sale in the new format - less than 24 hours since it went live on Amazon. Next step, creating a genuine paperback book in addition to these electro-particle compositions...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

As Promised, We're Back!

As of this morning, the new edition of The Wrong Sword is up and active on Amazon, and for only $2.99! Some of you know I was a little concerned that all the positive responses from the prior incarnation of TWS wouldn't translate...but after some earnest conversation with Amazon, those lovely reader reviews have started popping up already.

"Are there any changes?" you ask, half in fear, half in dread. "Have you become drunk with power, and tampered with the awesomeness that is TWS?" Fear not, Dear Reader - the only changes have been for the better. Like the new cover. Check that out, to the left. Snazzy, amirate?

Also, for the very first time, there will be a print version of TWS, through CreateSpace, Amazon's print-on-demand arm. And in the weeks to come, TWS will make its way to Barnes & Noble, Apple, and the other major eBook outlets. There will also be some promotions and such on their way as I start to play with the indie-pub possibilities.

If you're super-alert, you might have noticed that I've moved back to my real name, too. Not as euphonious, perhaps - but so much easier come tax day.

And now the $64,000 Question:

WILL THERE BE MORE HENRY & EXCALIBUR?

Answer: Yes. Yes, there will.
But...

 I've got the sequel, Hero's Army, basting in my mental oven. How long it takes for that bird to cook all the way through, get all juicy and succulent, depends to a certain degree on how much people like the first one. The more folks buy TWS, the more incentive I have to focus on Hero's Army and not on some of my other projects, like Conjure Man, New York Soliloquies, and, oh, I don't know...actually doing the stuff that buys groceries.

Hint, hint.
Wink, wink.
Nudge, nudge.

I KNOW! Subtle, right?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Wrong Sword News #1

Yay! It turns out that when TWS was first published, the publisher purchased an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for it. This is good news. It means the number is still there (978-1-61937-195-8, in case you were wondering) and favorable comments online in places like Amazon and BN.com are still tied to it. It also means that when I republish it, I can do so using my real name instead of my pen name...which I've decided is kind of pointless.

Hooray!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Wanker's Guide to Confederate Symbols

So...for people who can't seem to understand the boundaries between public and private:

1. Yes, remove Confederate symbols from official government institutions. Because they represent *all* the people, you wankers.
2. No, don't force people not to display Confederate symbols, because the First Amendment, you wankers.
3. You have a right to be a wanker.
4. You have no right to force me to participate in your wankery via taxes and government institutions.
5. I have no right to force you NOT to be a wanker in your own home, on your own time, in your own person. Because then, I would be the wanker.

We clear?
Wank off.

Friday, June 19, 2015

For My Cat-Fancying Friends...

...this translation of an anonymous Ninth Century poem, in Old Irish, from a monk to his pet cat.

The scholar and his cat, Pangur Bán

(from the Irish by Robin Flower)














I and Pangur Ban my cat,
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
'Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.

https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/pangur-ban.html

Monday, June 15, 2015

SIGN UP FOR MENDELSSOHN'S FIRST...NEWSLETTER, THAT IS


GOOOOOOOOD MORNING, VIETNAM INTERNET FRIENDS!

As I mentioned a few months ago, my publisher went belly up, leaving The Wrong Sword a little stranded. But never fear! I'll be publishing TWS in about a month, and following up with other offerings - promotions, flash fiction, genre fiction, even...a sequel! If you want to be part of the fun and frolic, sign up for the newsletter - Mendelssohn's First...

Just follow the link below and sign up.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dear Barnes & Noble: If You're Not Gonna Try, I'm Not Gonna Buy

There's a big Barnes & Noble store near me - one of the few booksellers that has withstood the onslaught of Amazon. There was a time when I hated B&N for gobbling up independent bookstores like Mysterious Ink and Coliseum. These days, I buy from B&N because they're all that's left, and they're in trouble.

Except today, I've begun to realize that some of their wounds are self-inflicted. Sure, the business model of retail book sales is under enormous stress. But even within the constraints of that model, Barnes & Noble is FUCKING UP.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

All Hail Grandaddy Bird!

Seems they've found the earliest member of the family of modern birds, Ornithuromorpha. This ur-bird, Archaeornithura Meemannae, pushes back the origin of modern bird species by six million years, to 130.7 million years ago. And scientists say that it has some bird features that are actually *more* modern than those of species we used to think were the earliest...which means that there's probably an even earlier common ancestor to all of them.


Friday, May 8, 2015

It's Medieval Recipe Day!

Spring has finally sprung here in the Big Apple, and in Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of...sauces.

Yes, sauces. A lot of medieval recipes - at least in that famous french cookbook, Le Viandier - are little more than "Take fish/meat X and cook in sauce Y." So make your sauce...or at least reconstruct it. Here's a list of "unboiled sauces" from Le Viandier [Prescott translation]:

To make Cameline Sauce:
Take ginger, plenty of cassia, cloves, grains of paradise, mastic thyme and long pepper (if you wish). Sieve bread soaked in vinegar, strain [through cheesecloth], and salt to taste.

Garlic Cameline Sauce:
Crush garlic, cassia and bread, and steep in vinegar.
White Garlic Sauce:
Crush garlic and bread, and steep in verjuice.
Green Garlic Sauce:
Crush garlic, bread and greens, and steep together.
Garlic Sauce for Fresh Herring:
Steep garlic in must or verjuice.

Cassia is related to the "true cinnamon" of Sri Lanka - in fact, it's what you probably had the last time you had "cinnamon" if you live in the US. 
Grains of paradise is related to ginger; the ground seeds give a peppery taste that also has hints of citrus. Fancy-ass brewers put it in beer sometimes. 
Mastic thyme is a variety of Iberian thyme, T. mastichina.
Long pepper is similar to, but hotter than, ordinary black pepper.
Verjuice is a "highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes, crab-apples or other sour fruit," says Wikipedia. Think of it as the sour medieval cousin of vinegar.
Must is...well...think of it as grape juice with all the bits of the fruit still in it.

So, so much for the idea of medieval cooking as bland, simple, and nothing but roast meat. (At least, not when nobility is involved.) Cameline sauce sounds like a spicy, exotic, peppery/fruity kind of thing. Interesting...




Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Coffee Verdict #1

Some months back I embarked on the Coffee Quest to find which brew methods would give me that perfect cuppa. Obviously, the Great Work is nowhere near completion, but I can give you the following preliminary finding:




1. Percolator = French Press.

Yep, in terms of flavor, the famed French Press is good, but it delivers about the same richness and complexity as an old-school Mad-Men style percolator. Coffee ritualists might find the process of using the French Press more gratifying than the percolator - boil, wait, pour, wait, stir, wait five minutes, slooooowly press down - but the flavor is similar enough for Yours Truly to score them equally.

2. Dark roasts and African beans over Latin American and Indonesian/Malaysian beans.

Obviously, this one is mere personal preference. But to me, the Colombian and Indonesian beans have a sourness or fruitiness to them (which I'm told indicates acidity). I don't care for that. I like the more bitter (but not burnt-Starbucks-bitter) taste I've found in dark roasts - especially Trader Joe's Bay Blend, which is now my go-to.

HOWEVER - In my occasional obsessing about coffee, I stumbled across this column on Gizmodo, which suggests that sourness is the result of under-extracting coffee, and bitterness comes from over-extracting. Could it be that these beans are simply not quite right for the one-size-fits-all instructions you find on the side of the box that the coffeemakers come in?

Time will tell!

PS - Needless to say, I grind my own. With a burr grinder. Coarse grind for both. So let's eliminate that variable here and now.

Friday, April 10, 2015

And Continuing the Snowden Theme-



John Oliver's "Surveillance" episode of Last Week Tonight includes an interview with Edward Snowden himself, and it does a great job of being both clear and terrifying.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why We All Need a Good Agent

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my novel, The Wrong Sword, was stranded when Musa Publishing went out of business. My agent, Michael Carr of Veritas Literary, has lost no time in getting TWS back out there. And we shall see...

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett Has Passed Away

So far, 2015 has been an awful year for those who love science fiction and fantasy. First, Leonard Nimoy died; now Terry Pratchett (or Sir Terry, OBE) has passed on. Pratchett, for those few who don't know, is an author of fantasy and science fiction, and the creator of the Discworld novels.

A series of dementedly sardonic books spanning more than three decades, Discworld is to fantasy what The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is to science fiction: They both display a loopy, intellectual, madly philosophical love of the genre and its conventions, and a gift for following bizarre assumptions to logical and insane conclusions. Pratchett could take a gag and make it run over a dozen pages before letting it collapse in exhaustion; he never found a cliché he didn't like...to turn on its head; and he was merciless to the archetypes of sword and sorcery. He was probably the first author, for instance, to consider what would happen after Conan aged out of his "musclebound swordsman" status; and he recast Gandalf and his colleagues as squabbling Oxbridge dons. He was also, by all accounts, a gentle and gracious man.

Pratchett was 66 when he died, and he knew it was coming: He had been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease. He considered himself fortunate that the disease affected his physical condition, while leaving his cognitive faculties relatively unscathed. This allowed him to keep working almost until the end. When he was granted a coat of arms in 2010, it contained a nod to his condition, to one of his most beloved characters, and to Blue Oyster Cult: The motto was Noli Timere Messorem.

Don't Fear the Reaper.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The New MacBook

If you use a Mac - as I do -  this will probably interest you.
It seems that the new MacBook is less of a powerhouse laptop, and more of a tablet with a keyboard.
Here are two posts, one putting a positive spin on it, and one putting a negative spin.


http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2015/03/09/apple_releases_2_lb_12_retina_macbook.html

http://gizmodo.com/the-new-macbook-isnt-what-you-think-1690390617

One hopes that the MacBook Pro will still be around.

Friday, February 27, 2015

R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy

So, you've probably heard by now that Leonard Nimoy has passed away. Charlie Jane Anders wrote a fine obituary at io9.com.

I don't know much about his personal life - although it seemed to be fairly happy and healthy - and I can't add anything to what the Internet will surely say about him. I'm one of those who genuinely preferred the original Star Trek series to its sequels, and Mr. Nimoy certainly portrayed one of my favorite characters. All I can really say is this: Hearing that he passed away has made my day a little darker...the first time the death of any well-known person has ever done that.

His performance added nuance and irony to genre television - a first. And he seemed to genuinely appreciate the fan culture that grew up around the series, even when he was uncertain about participating in a particular project.

In short, he had class.

ETA: On Talkingpointsmemo.com, Josh Marshall said it best:

"As a fan from early boyhood, if you were a Trek fan and a Spock fan, if you got to know more about who Nimoy was, he was exactly who you would have wanted him to be. That is a very, very special thing."

Exactly.

LLAP.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

THE FOUR-DAY COUNTDOWN!

Hey, gang-

In case you haven't heard (OMG, how could you not know? EVERYBODY'S HEARD!) my publisher, Musa, will be closing its doors forever at the end of the month. At that time, The Wrong Sword will disappear from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Smashwords.

Now, don't worry - TWS *will* return, along with sequels, via another publisher. My agent, the redoubtable Michael Carr, is working on that as we speak. However, there will be a slight hiatus between the time Musa closes and the time the TWS series reappears.

So...
If you've been on the fence...
If you've said "I WANT this wonderful ebook, but I'm just not sure..."

Well, NOW IS THE TIME!
BUY THIS BOOK!
ON AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, OR SMASHWORDS!

YOUR MOM WILL BE GLAD YOU DID!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Civil Forfeiture Takes One in the Teeth

Civil forfeiture - if you're not familiar with it - is a US procedure that allows particularly rapacious police departments to confiscate your property even when you have not been convicted of any crime. And it's up to you to prove your innocence to get it back. If you do get it back, years later, it's often worth less than the money you've expended. It has ruined people's business and their lives, and it is used (surprise!) disproportionately against non-whites.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Travel (Poster) to Another Planet

JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has commissioned some artwork - travel posters to some recently discovered exoplanets that might support life.

Kepler 186f orbits a red sun...



HD 40307g is eight times Earth's mass...




And Kepler 16b orbits a binary star.




You can download the full posters here.

Friday, January 9, 2015

"I Do Not Agree With What You Say-"

"-But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It."

This week, this line seems particularly apt. It's frequently attributed to François-Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire, one of the founders of the French Enlightenment. As it happens, Voltaire never said it himself; his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, wrote it as a summation of Voltaire's beliefs.

Either way, I agree with that sentiment; and I loathe those who claim the right to shut people up with violence and threats.

Perhaps it's time we staged a Voltaire-a-thon.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bone Marrow Donation: Scary No More!

If you've heard about BMD, it's likely included stories about giant needles, general anesthesia, and pain that lingers for weeks.

Apparently, that's not true anymore.

So don't be afraid to be a donor!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Disco Clam

Disco Clam - aka Ctenoides ales, aka the Electric Flame Scallop - has tiny, shiny bits of silica in its mantle that shine and flash brightly in sunlight or the artificial lights of divers. Boogie down, baby! Boogie down!

Burn, baby, burn - disco inferno...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Can It Be True? Shall "Babylon 5" Return to Us?

Well, that's the word from Blastr.com, anyway. Seems that J. Michael is working on a movie screenplay; it will be a "reboot," not a continuation of the series. He hopes to use some of the same cast members.

Medieval Recipe Day - Merry Twelfth Night

January 5 is Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany. It commemorates the Adoration of the Magi (or kings). It marks the end of the Christmas season and was a big deal in Medieval Europe. One of the traditions was (and still is) baking a "king's cake" or galette du roi. The cake is ring-shaped, to represent a crown; and small items are baked inside it, like coins, rings, and a bean. If someone finds a coin, it signifies wealth; a ring, marriage; and whoever finds the bean becomes the king of the feast, the Bean King. Tolkien wrote a novella around the king's cake called Smith of Wootton Major. And here's a recipe for it (the cake, not the story), from Elizabeth Bissette at BellaOnline:


Kings Cake


2 envelopes active dry yeast
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 pd (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 c warm milk
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
4 1/2 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 tsp. vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
4 c confectioner's sugar
1 bean, 1 ring, 1 coin
5 tbsp. milk, room temperature
3 tbsp. lemon juice
Purple, green andd gold or yellow srinkles

Combine yeast and granulated sugar in bowl of mixer. Add melted butter and warm milk. Beat at low speed 1 min. With the mixer running, add egg yolks, then beat for 1 minute at medium-low. Add flour, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel, beat until well mixed. Increase speed to high and beat until the dough pulls away from sides of the bowl & forms a ball. Remove dough, form into smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough in the bowl and turn to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, (about 2 hours).

Make filling: combine the cream cheese and 1 c confectioner's sugar. Blend. Set aside.Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board, pat into rectangle about 30 in. long and 6 in. wide.

Spread filling over the bottom half of the dough, flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching together. Shape into a cylinder and place on prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape into a ring and pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert objects into the ring from the bottom so they're completely hidden.

Cover and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Brush top with 2 tablespoons of milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.

Make icing by combining remaining 3 tablespoons milk, lemon juice, and 3 c confectioner's sugar. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread evenly over the top of the cake. Add sprinkles, alternating colors around the cake.

Traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all guests present.