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 YĆ»suf  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?

Thursday, June 8, 2017

James Comey Actually Made a Plantagenet/Becket Reference!


Becket gets a message from Henry
"Will nobody rid me of this troublesome priest!?" screamed Henry II of England within earshot of four of his most eager minions - and that was all she wrote for Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry's hench-knights rode to Canterbury Cathedral and gave the soon-to-be-saint a case of terminal steel poisoning.
And now James Comey brings it up to describe 45's Mafia-style weasel wording.
Color me impressed!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Dog of Woo-Hoo!

I just sold my story, A Dog of Wu, to Fantasy & Science Fiction, the top speculative fiction magazine in the US. Let's all do our happy dance!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Aside from roads, bridges, and navies  (and health care - wouldn't health care be nice?) you get stuff like this.
Enjoy!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Heinlein on Guns

A lot of folks know Robert Heinlein as one of the Big Names of the Golden Age of Science Fiction - from the 1930s to the 1950s. Some folks know his later, creepier stuff. And every Randian Objectivist nerd knows him as the guy who articulated their anarcho-libertarian power fantasies better than they ever could, from TANSTAAFL ("there ain't no such thing as a free lunch") to his famous dictum on guns: An armed society is a polite society. 

That's a quote from one of Heinlein's pulpier works, Beyond This Horizon, in 1942. It's gained enormous currency among gun enthusiasts since then, because it brilliantly encapsulates what might seem to be an obvious train of thought: People won't gratuitously insult, assault, or cheat someone who can kill them.

And that's too bad, for a couple of reasons.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

For International Women's Day: The First Alchemist

For my readers who are aficionados of the history of myth and magic:

Mary the Jewess, aka Mary the Prophetess, is considered the first true alchemist of the Western World. None of her writings survive, but her works, sayings, and inventions have been preserved in works by alchemists from al-Nadim to Zosimos.

Mary - probably Miriam, originally - lived sometime during the First to Third Centuries of the Common Era. Zosimos of Panopolis, a Fourth Century Gnostic Christian, is the first writer to mention her that we know of. 

She was said to be able to make caput mortuum (a purple dye that was a big deal among alchemists) and to have invented several pieces of alchemical equipment, some of which are still in use today - the bain-marie double-boiler, for instance. 

She also left us the following cryptic comments (everything the alchemists said was cryptic - go with it):

Join the male with the female, and you will find what is sought; and
One becomes Two, Two becomes Three, and out of the Third comes the One as the Fourth.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Sic Transit Shepard Mundi

Dave Shephard, one of my instructors at USC, passed away recently. One of the good things about USC's film program was the instructors who were not only professionals, but enthusiasts: Tom Holman, who invented the THX sound system and genuinely loved everything audio. Bruce Block, who broke down visual composition in a way that actually made sense to non-graphics laymen. And Dave Shephard, THE film historian.

To my knowledge, David had no advanced degrees, but he was responsible for saving a significant percentage of all the movies that had ever been shot on nitrate stock, transferring them to safety stock and then to video. I remember delivering a paper to him at his lab and getting a brief tour of the facility, from the safety locker to the liquid gate printer to a Steenbeck that had been used by Fellini. "Enthusiast" is the best word for him - a man who truly loved his work. He will be greatly missed.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Friday, January 6, 2017

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Best Writing Software Ever!

I've been asked a lot...a LOT...which writing software to use. Final Draft? Scrivener? Dramatica?
Obviously, a lot depends on what you're looking for. If you're a screenwriter, film or television, Final Draft is the industry standard. That's mostly because of its automatic formatting and the ease of file sharing: screenplay format is an epic pain in the ass, and it's hard to make it look professional unless you've been doing it for a while...or (of course) you have Final Draft.

Then there's Scrivener, which lets you write your manuscript but

Monday, January 2, 2017

It's Medieval Recipe Day - A Winter Stew

As per usual, we're taking a recipe from that 15th Century cookbook, Le Viandier (the James Prescott translation). It's winter, so let's try a meat pottage.

Meat Rosy (Pottage)

Crush unpeeled almonds and steep them in beef broth, wine, and verjuice (a sour grape vinegar).
Strain it through a cheesecloth.
Cook breasts of veal and chicken together with some good piece of beef and brown it in lard. 
Add fine cinnamon (not a lot), white Mecca ginger, and "Small Spices" like grains of paradise, cloves, and long pepper. 
For color, use turnsole or alkanets. 
Soak in warm water for three or four hours. 
Afterwards put it in your pot, and stir vigorously after the pottage has boiled until it's rose-colored.

Glossary:
Turnsole = a dye from the plant chrozophora tinctoria.
Alkanets = a red dye plant
Long pepper = a pepper that's similar to, but hotter than, our standard black pepper
Verjuice = the juice of unripe grapes or other sour fruit, used as we would use some flavored vinegars today

Since this was a pottage - a thick soup or stew - we can assume the meat was prepared with grains and vegetables.

And as always, if you try this...let me know how it turns out!