Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Grazing horses on better pastures

Annual grasses offer options during summer slump

Sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass showed the greatest yields and regrew the most after grazing. Siberian millet was the lowest yielding grass. Horses most preferred the annual cool-season ryegrass, but among the warm-season grasses, they highly preferred teff and sudangrass. All of the grasses were found to supply adequate nutrition for horses. 

Citrus fruit peel: Potential alternative to mosquito control discovered

The essential oils were extracted in large amounts from the peel of a fruit similar to an orange, which is available throughout many countries in the world. With such ease of access and productions of the oils, it could potentially be used in areas which have little or no access to an alternative.
Believed to be the first ever example of such an experiment, it was found that the essentials oils were highly effective in mosquitocidal activity on the larvae, leading researchers to conclude it could be used as an eco-friendly alternative in mosquitoes control programs.

Bizarre Dwarf Planet Haumea Has Rings

"We started to see something weird in the light curve," Santos Sanz said. The light dimmed just before and after Haumea passed in front of the star, as if something else were obscuring it. "I remember that José Luis, from the first [moments], said, 'OK, this could be a ring,'" Santos Sanz said. Months of scrutiny bore out the scientists' initial suspicions: The results suggest that Haumea's equator is encircled by a 43-mile-wide (70 km) ring of debris located about 620 miles (1,000 km) from the dwarf planet's surface.

Ancient Mars Likely Had Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents

"Ancient, deep-water hydrothermal deposits in Eridania basin represent a new category of astrobiological target on Mars," researchers said in the statement. "Eridania seafloor deposits are not only of interest for Mars exploration, they represent a window into early Earth."

Friday, October 13, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Magical Bed and Breakfast, with Occasional Werewolf

The Innkeeper Chronicles, Volume One, by Ilona Andrews, Subterranean Press, 2017. (Clean Sweep, Sweep in Peace, One Fell Sweep).

This husband and wife writing team, using her name, Ilona Andrews, obviously had a terrifically good time with their free, serialized urban fantasy “Innkeeper” novels. 

A charming young innkeeper, Dina Demille (from the innkeeper family of the same name), is like any other innkeeper bonded to her sentient and extremely powerful and magical inn, Gertrude Hunt. Scattered over Earth, these inns provide neutral havens for interstellar creatures. Dina is dedicated to the safety and comfort of her guests, many of whom would otherwise be at each other’s throats. Predictably, events and blood-thirsty, revenge-driven and otherwise unlaw-abiding forces collude to interrupt that peace. 

Although blessed with supernatural powers within the inn’s grounds, Dina becomes ordinary the farther she gets from home. To meet the various threats, she therefore acquires allies and (sometimes would-be lovers) in the form of sexy werewolves and equally sexy vampires, but the real charm of these stories lies in her courage and resourcefulness, coupled with a not inconsiderable thread of whimsy. 

Humor, romance, and suspense are nicely balanced against each other, and the central characters are so appealing, I was sad when I finished the last page. (Not to be too sad: the Innkeeper website assures me there will be more! Check it out here: http://innkeeper.ilona-andrews.com/)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Martian Sand and Other Wonders

"The mantle of the Earth is made mostly of a mineral called olivine, and the assumption is usually that all planets are like the Earth," said Jay Melosh, Distinguished Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at Purdue University, who led the study. "But when we look at the spectral signature of rocks exposed deep below the moon's surface, we don't see olivine; we see orthopyroxene."
Around 4 billion years ago, an asteroid collided with the moon and created the largest and deepest impact on the moon: the South Pole-Aitken basin. The collision exposed lunar mantle in the basin and splashed up material onto the far side of the moon.

Discovered in images from the Context Camera, this region exhibits dark material that is being eroded from dark layers in the bedrock of a semicircular depression near the boundary of the Southern highlands and the Northern lowlands. Downslope lineations support the notion that these dark sediments are derived locally, and did not accumulate here by coincidence because of the winds.
Sand grains can also roll along the ground as they are blown by the wind, and they are also jostled by other sand gains that are similarly flying across the surface. All of these repeated impacts tend to wear down the sand grains, smoothing them into a more spherical shape and breaking off small fragments that supply the vast dust deposits of Mars. This process (known as comminution) ultimately destroys sand grains and limits the length of time that the particles exist. The fact that we see active sand dunes on Mars today requires that sand particles must be resupplied to replace the grains that are lost over time. Where are the modern day sources of sand on Mars?

Best Way to Recognize Emotions in Others: Listen

Across all five experiments, individuals who only listened without observing were able, on average, to identify more accurately the emotions being experienced by others. The one exception was when subjects listened to the computerized voices, which resulted in the worst accuracy of all.

Jupiter and Two of Its Biggest Moons

Io and Europa are two of Jupiter's four Galilean moons, which are so named because famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei discovered them back in 1610. (The other two Galilean satellites are Callisto and Ganymede.) Io is the most volcanic object in the solar system, and astrobiologists regard the ocean-harboring Europa as one of the best bets to host life beyond Earth. 

Unusual Mountain Ahuna Mons on Asteroid Ceres

Ahuna Mons is the largest mountain on the largest known asteroid in our Solar System, Ceres, which orbits our Sun in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ahuna Mons, though, is like nothing that humanity has ever seen before. For one thing, its slopes are garnished not with old craters but young vertical streaks. One hypothesis holds that Ahuna Mons is an ice volcano that formed shortly after a large impact on the opposite side of the dwarf planet loosened up the terrain through focused seismic waves. The bright streaks may be high in reflective salt, and therefore similar to other recently surfaced material such as visible in Ceres' famous bright spots.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Famous Local Author"

Our county celebrates "Open Studios Tours," which are just that: a time when artists hold open house, displaying their paintings, sculptures, jewelry, and so forth, chatting with the folks who drop by, guided by distinctive fluorescent-green signs. Some days during the season it seems as if everyone is either at an event or on their way to or from one.

This year, my neighbor -- musician and songwriter Karie Hillery -- timed her fall music bash to coincide with the opening weekend. Her place includes a small natural amphitheater, backed by the river and shaded by the redwoods. Besides her own wonderful music and that of her musician friends, she provided space near the entrance for "artists alley." A small collection of us set up shop: a potter advertising her classes (and demonstrating crochet), a mandala artist, a couple displaying lamps made from found objects, a jeweler, a couple of tables with CDs by the performers...and me, the local author.

I re-created the sort of display you might find in "authors alley" at a science fiction convention, a table draped with a beautiful shawl, upon which I arranged as many books as would tastefully fit, everything from the anthology containing my first short story sale (the first volume of Sword and Sorceress) and my first published novel (Jaydium) to Book View Cafe's Nevertheless She Persisted, edited by Mindy Klasky, in which I have a story. I stocked "Autographed Copy" stickers and cards.  Then I set up my laptop and proceeded to demonstrate my work...writing away on the novel-in-progress.

A good time was had by all.

Monday, October 9, 2017

In Troubled Times: Surviving Exhaustion

In previous posts in this series, I’ve written about emotional sobriety, feeling overwhelmed, and finding a personal sanctuary. Now I’d like to talk more about the concrete things we can do to keep our emotional and spiritual balance during the difficult, terrifying, and outrage-evoking recent months.

For me the first step is always admitting that what I have been doing isn’t working. I can get absorbed in one dreadful news story after the other, and with each round I lose more perspective and calm. My adrenaline levels get progressively higher. Sometimes – often! – it seems as if nothing else is happening in my life except reacting to yet another threat to the people, organizations, and principle that are important to me. Old wounds re-open; the ghosts of family tragedies (like the pogroms my father survived as a boy) re-awaken. I fear for my Jewish family and my queer daughters and sister and my trans daughter-in-law, for my black, Muslim, and Hispanic friends. I despair for the future of the entire planet. In other words, I need help.

Sometimes all that’s necessary is for me to admit that matters have gotten out of hand. Then I can scale back on my news consumption enough to think clearly what actions I would like to take. And especially what would be enough for the moment so that I can leave the topic and focus on other aspects of my life – my family, my writing, my local community, the beautiful redwood forest that cloaks the hills outside my windows. Playing classical music on my mother’s piano. Knitting hats for charities in poor areas of the country and world. Cuddling with the cats.

Recently I have noticed how those times of relative sanity come to a screeching halt. There are always new reasons – excuse me, Reasons. Like a hurricane or three. I’ve seen references to “outrage fatigue” but I suspect what is happening is outrage overlap. There isn’t sufficient time in between to return to balance and stay there, catching our breath, before something new and dreadful reels us in.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Delicious Victorian Mashup Mystery

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss, Saga Press is a delightful amalgam and homage to characters dear to lovers of Victorian-era literature, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bram Stoker. 

First of all – Theodora Goss. If you don’t know her breath-takingly wonderful short fiction, drop everything and read some. We’ll wait. Okay, ready to talk about her novel?

We begin with young, well-mannered, brilliant Mary Jekyll – yes, that Jekyll, her father – alone in his old house (except for the ever-faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Poole) and at the end of her financial rope. Chance and the hope of a small bequest brings her into contact with her hellfire and rapscallion adolescent half-sister, Diana Hyde. Before long, the two team up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, hot on the trail of whoever is murdering young women in the alleys of London and surgically removing various body parts. The mystery brings them into contact with Catherine Moreau (that Moreau, a panther turned woman), Renfield, Justine Frankenstein (who is so gentle, she’s a vegetarian pacifist), and “poison lady” Beatrice Rappaccini, among others. 

The true delight of the novel, however, arises from the interruptions by the characters themselves, often arguing over who should tell which part of the story and how it should be told. At first, we do not know who all these women are, but as the tale unfolds, we see their own experiences and personalities reflected in their sometimes witty, sometimes impudent, but always affectionate squabbles.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Steampunk Airship Warfare with a Woman Captain

The Guns Above, by Robin Bennis (Tor)

Just wonderful! This steampunk military drama incorporates brilliantly realized airship technology, with the same level of loving detail and respect for the resourcefulness of the people on those ships as found in Patrick O’Brien’s novels, with international intrigue, military maneuvers and derring-do. 

Josette Dupre, one of the few women aviators in a made-up European country, became captain of her own airship almost by accident by being the highest-ranking surviving officer after a disastrous battle. Her troubles are only beginning, though, for she is sent on patrol with a crew that doubts her abilities, an experimental airship that is likely a death trap, and a dandified observer with a secret mission to prove women have no place in the air corps. 

Josette has a complex, appealing blend of confidence based on experience, keen common sense, bravery, and self-doubt. The book is nicely paced, full of exciting twists, and intriguing technology. As with the O’Brien books, I was struck by the level of scientific, engineering, and mathematical knowledge of the airmen. I’m not a military buff, but I found the action engrossing and the characters appealing. The sly humor, aimed mostly at the dandified aristocracy, added a wonderful touch. I found the geography and political history of the various fictional countries unnecessary and confusing at first, detracting from the dramatic action, and would have preferred closer parallels with existing European states. Otherwise, this was a fun, lively, and ultimately satisfying read.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Short Book Reviews: On the Devil's Road with Laura Anne Gilman

I loved Gilman’s take on “the Weird Wild West” since I read the first volume of this series Silver on the Road). In this world, the Devil presides over “The Territory” (roughly the southwest of the present US), imposing order and protecting the land and its inhabitants from both chaotic magic and incursions of Americans bent on the kind of exploitation and industrialization that has in our world destroyed so much wilderness. Needless to say, he isn’t what we’d think of as evil, but he is powerful and mysterious.

Young Isobel has grown up in Flood, the Devil’s headquarters, and in the first volume has embarked upon a life on the road as his Left Hand, a sort of one-woman magical police force, along with her trail mentor, Gabriel. They had various exciting adventures, some involving magicians that were once human but through their craving for magical power have become something else.

Now, in The Cold Eye, new challenges greet them, beginning with a series of unexplained earthquakes, the appearance of supernatural animals bearing enigmatic warnings, and a host of fascinating but questionable characters. This second volume is not “more of the same,” however. Gilman takes the story up a notch by delving into the very nature of magic, something Isobel is steeped in but does not yet understand. As Isobel gradually comes to realize that she is more than an ordinary human chosen for an extraordinary mission, we ourselves as readers are brought into a world of experiences beyond our own, deftly portrayed by Gilman’s consummate skill as an author. The journey is fascinating, baffling, exhilarating, and fearsome; more than that, it left me wanting more.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Coming of Age in a Post-Atomic Alternate World

The initial premise of this novel is an appealing one: the woman creator of the raunchy, underground-style superhero comic, Sputnik Girl, may actually be the heroine of her own story, transported from an alternate world. The operant word is “may” because Debbie Reynolds Biondi is so befuddled with tranquilizers, booze, and casual sex, she’s anything but a reliable narrator. 

As the story unfolds, it simultaneously wanders from that premise as the true history of Sputnik Girl is revealed. Cataclysmic events like the testing and deployment of atomic bombs have fractured off alternative, parallel worlds from our own. In Atomic Mean Time, Debbie, her family, and friends, live in a polluted, increasingly totalitarian world that is careening toward thermonuclear catastrophe. As Earth Mean Time Debbie delves ever deeper into Sputnik Girl’s origin story, her own history unfolds. 

Touches of humor abound, as do dark moments. The parallel-but-different details (like Richard Nixon committing suicide in Atomic Mean Time, but the Beatles were just as popular) were well done, but personal events like Debbie being molested as an adolescent didn’t play out emotionally as believably. 

In the end, Sputnik Girl is rendered irrelevant to her own story. It’s not about finding the grit to transcend the horror of a dystopian, heart-breakingly unjust world, the way a superhero origin story works, but about sacrificing your own comfort and happiness for a greater good and then proceeding on to a rootless, emotionally numb life when no one but you remembers. I think the key to my dissatisfaction lies in the absence of grappling with personal trauma in the midst of a global tragedy. For me, the mirroring of internal and external struggle give a story resonance. That objection aside, the book moves along briskly, with nuggets of delight and despair interspersed with plot twists. Others may not feel as I do, and will enjoy without reservation this nicely paced, slyly humorous atomic tale.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Demonic Tattoos Embellish this Urban Fantasy

In the Hellmaw series, a war in the daemon land Araunt has left exiles stranded on Earth, some at perpetual war with one another and other desperate to return to their homeland. This novel, set in contemporary London, features tattoo artist Quills who collects magical "essence" as she inks designs onto humans and fellow daemons alike. That’s all the backstory you need to enjoy this delicately nuanced, suspenseful urban fantasy. Despite being labeled Hellmaw 7, it’s easily a stand-alone. The narrative was strong and clear, the characters memorable, and the mystery and its resolution provided enough twists and turns to keep me turning the pages late at night. 
The leader of one of the daemon factions has been killed, and the crime is going to be pinned on Quills unless she can discover who really did it. I especially loved that although Quills can assume any shape, she prefers the dark skin favored by her grandmother. Added to this are the natural color of her luminous blue eyes and the way her own tattoos can glow. And move. My all-time favorite tattoo is a wing that, when properly positioned on her body, can fan open to reveal a secret carrying place (in which she stores essences taken from other daemons). 
I also loved the historical flashbacks that poignantly illustrated how Quills has been changed by her contact with humans, shaping her contemporary relationship with her human companion, AJ. Besides its aspects as a thriller, it’s a tender romance and story of letting go and truly becoming your own person. Hellmaw: Of the Essence is a satisfying read on many levels and marks Harbowy a talent to watch out for.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Okay, we've all heard the warnings. In summer squash season, do not leave the window of your parked car down or you will find a 20 lb zucchini on the passenger seat. And every year we (as do many others) suffer a memory lapse and plant -- well, too many squash plants. (This applies only to summer squashes like zucchini, pattypan, and crookneck; winter squashes like butternut, buttercup, and acorn aren't a problem because they can be stored and enjoyed over the course of months.) However, we have devised several strategies for dealing the the bounty that do not involve breaking and entering our neighbors' vehicles.

The first strategy is the careful selection of summer squashes. Most varieties, like ordinary zucchini, become woody once they pass a certain size. The seeds get large and tough. You can cut around the seed area and use slabs for zucchini lasagna or brush with olive oil and slap them on the grill. But really, how much zucchini lasagna can you eat? We found a variety, romanesco zucchini, that stays tender (and small-seeded) even when it attains considerable size. It's a delicious squash with a sweet, nutty flavor. Here's what it looks like on the vine. This squash is about 18" long.

Romanesco zucchini

We usually pick them at this size or smaller, but occasionally, one hides from us...

Sarah displaying the culprit
What to do with such an edifice of squashness? Strategy Two of the squash abatement program is to chop it fairly small and freeze it for winter. No summer squash tolerates freezing well enough to eat plain, but the small cubes go beautifully in pasta sauces and soups. The first step is to wash and slice it. You can see why we call it "steampunk squash." The seed cavity is really just a spongy central area, and the seeds are tender.

Steampunk squash with iced hibiscus tea

Typical instructions for home freezing call for blanching in a hot water bath, then plunging into ice water. Clearly, those folks have never heard of modern appliances. My short-cut is to microwave the cubes until they are just steaming but not cooked, then quickly seal them in freezer bags and pop them in the freezer. Here are pint-sized bags ready to go into the big chest freezer. The monster squash yielded 7 pints.

Frozen diced romanesco zucchini

Friday, September 1, 2017

Hot Jupiters and Other Wonders

Exo-planetary discoveries abound in current popular and technical astronomical literature. Authors throw around terms like "hot Jupiters," "ice giants," and "brown dwarfs," (of course, the fantasy lovers among us imagine something quite different when we read the latter two terms), often assuming their readers (a) have read articles in which those and many other, related terms were defined; and (b) remember those definitions. With the number and types of newly-discovered planets circling stars other than the Sun increasing in leaps and bounds, how is an interested lay person to keep them all straight?

The wonderful astronomy website, Universe Today: Space and Astronomy News. They've put together a primer on "gas giant" planets that's straightforward and easy to follow.

Like all things astronomical in nature, gas giants are diverse, complex, and immensely fascinating. Between missions that seek to examine the gas giants of our Solar System directly to increasingly sophisticated surveys of distant planets, our knowledge of these mysterious objects continues to grow. And with that, so is our understanding of how star systems form and evolve.

Beginning with the difference between rocky (terrestrial) planets and gas giants (a term, by the way, coined by science fiction author) James Blish, the article takes you through the classification of various giant planets as they is currently understood, often giving historical perspective for those of us wrestling with the discrepancies between what we learned a decade (or more -- the term "gas giant" has been around since the early 1950s!) and what we read in the science news today.

Highly recommended as background for the general science reader and a resource for science and science fiction writers!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Summer Bounty

It's late summer and the garden keeps giving. This afternoon I picked a basketful of cucumbers: Russian Brown, English Telegraph, and lemon cukes. The Russian Browns are nice in that, like the lemons, they don't get bitter. When they're ripe, the skin turns rich brown and sometimes gets crackles. We will eat 1 or 2 per bowl of salad. (you can see a little container with purslane from the garden at the upper left.)

Then there are the pear trees. One is a Comice, the other a variety we haven't been able to identify. It's a little like an Asian pear but tastes terrible raw. When cooked, however, it is flavorful and intensely sweet.

I picked a couple of baskets, including bird-pecked ones, chopped and seasoned them with cinnamon, cooked them until just tender, and canned them in quart jars. I brought some extra to a gathering at the home of a friend, where they were much enjoyed. Some years I will slice and dry them, too -- sweet as candy -- but I still have some left from last year.

This process will go on for a while, many quarts' worth, as the "Asian pear" tree bears heavily. I'll refrigerate the Comice pears to eat fresh.

Then there are 2 apple trees...but those are fine when chopped, tossed with a little sugar and ascorbic acid, and popped into ziplock bags and the freezer. They are slightly spongey that way but go wonderfully in oatmeal, where the cooking softens the texture just right.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

[political rant] I cannot keep up with Trump's sh*t

Let me get this straight. It's Friday, August 25 and:

  • Trump pardoned convicted Arpaio
  • Trump signed the transgender military ban
  • Trump's close adviser (and Bannon ally) Seb Gorka is quitting
  • Mueller  issued subpoenas for officials with ties to Manafort 
  • North Korea just fired short-range missiles

Oh, and there's a hurricane bearing down on Texas (although it seems to be losing power and may be downgraded to a tropical storm...too bad the same cannot be said aboutTrump's atrocities)

What's Trump's response? A Tweet that says "Good luck" as he takes off for a vacation at Camp David, leaving the rest of us mortals to deal with the unfolding crises. Plural, many of his own making.

I am so appalled, there are no words.

You can read more details in the Washington Post article.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Jewish Heroine of the Renaissance

Here's the story behind the story: "Unmasking the Ancient Light," in Nevertheless, She Persisted (ed. Mindy Klasky, hot off the press at Book View Cafe and other vendors)

Back in the 1990s, when themed anthologies were all the rage, I heard about one that was right up my alley and open to submission. Ancient Enchantresses, to be edited by Kathleen M. Massie-Ferch and Martin H. Greenberg for DAW. The editors wanted historical fantasy featuring strong women characters and magic, as is clear from the title. As I cast about for a subject, I found myself more and more – excuse the pun – disenchanted with Western European historical characters. It seemed to me that the women of interest had been portrayed more than frequently enough, and I had little interest in Celtic mythology. When I lamented my lack of inspiration to a friend – not a fantasy writer, but the director of a pre-school at a Jewish community center – she suggested I take a look at Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers, by Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz (3rd ed, Biblio Press, 1988). Posthaste, I ordered a copy of the book and then pored through it. The chapters were short, more summations than in-depth histories. Although quite a few of them piqued my interest, only one suggested a story, that of Dona Gracia Nasi. The section began:

Unlike Benvenida Abrabanel, Beatrice de Luna belonged to a family that had chosen to become Marranos [converts to Catholicism – also known as conversos] so that they could remain in their home in Portugal. They had a successful business and a rich life. Beatrice was born in 1510, thirteen years after the expulsion of all practicing Portuguese Jews. Those remaining in Portugal worked hard to hide any Jewish allegiance from the world…

I devoured the section, all four pages of it, from Beatrice inheriting her husband’s share of an immense commodities business to her flight from one country after another, the Inquisition hot on her heels, to her imprisonment in Venice, her transformation into Dona Gracia Nasi (her childhood Jewish name), to her eventually settling in Turkey. But all this was so abbreviated as to be tantalizing without deep substance.

In the footnotes, however, I discovered that historian Cecil Roth had written an entire book about Gracia, The House of Nasi: Dona Gracia (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947). Although the book was out of print, I was able to borrow a copy from a local university library. Within those scholarly pages, I discovered a story as dramatic, tragic, and inspiring as anything out of Hollywood or New York.

I could have tried to tell Gracia’s entire story, but that would have meant either another Il Ghetto, the old foundry district. I cut out an image from a tourist brochure of a person in the traditional Mardi Gras costume called bauta (including a white mask, tricorne hat, and a black tabarro, a short cloak) and pinned it on my bulletin board, hoping to find a story that would capture the sense of brooding menace. (As an aside, I’m not comfortable with clowns, either.) Armed with image, memory, and scholarly text, I embarked upon the tale.
abridged version or an extensive tome. I decided, therefore, to focus on a shorter period of her life: the flight from Antwerp (when Queen Marie of Burgundy, Regent of the Low Countries and sister to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, schemed to marry off Gracia’s young daughter to one of her courtiers) to Venice. I’d visited Venice briefly during the time I lived in France (1991) and had vivid memories of the shadows under the bridges over the canals, the ancient plazas and towers, and the omnipresence of the sea. I wandered through the original ghetto,

“Unmasking the Ancient Light” is a tribute to the perseverance of a woman under extraordinary reversals and dangers. Life was perilous for European Jews in the Renaissance, as it had been in centuries earlier. Jews had been expelled from (among others) England (1290), France (1182, 1306, 1321, 1394), Spain (1492), and Portugal (1497). The series of expulsions forced Jewish communities to find safe (or safer) havens, in the Netherlands, Venice, and Islamic countries, such as the Ottoman Empire. They developed international systems of commerce and banking, as well as close familial and communities ties. Gracia’s family was no exception. From Spain (“convert, leave, or die!”) they relocated to Portugal, then to Antwerp, and so forth. While in Italy, Gracia dropped the pretense of a converso and began finding ways to support her fellow exiles, whether lending material aid to individuals to becoming a patron of the arts to creating a printing house to publish Jewish texts in Hebrew and also Spanish (the Ferrera Bible) for those unable to read the ancient languages.

The list of Gracia’s accomplishments could easily fill the word count of a piece of short
fiction, but I wanted her story to be more than a list of the amazing things she had done. I wanted to capture the spirit of the woman – if not historically accurate, as is always the challenge with fantasy – but one that would speak to the hearts of readers as Gracia had spoken across the centuries to me. I focused, then, on her struggle to survive the political intrigues and animosities of her time while preserving and nourishing the spirit of her people. The magic, as it were. Here I found a second inspiration in various treatments of the feminine aspect of the divine and the equivalence of the Shekhinah, sometime called the Indwelling Spirit, with light, without getting too dogmatic or theological.

As a final note, since I dutifully returned Cecil Roth’s book to the university library, my husband presented me with a copy of The Woman Who Defied Kings: The Life and Times of Dona Gracia Nasi, A Jewish Leader During the Renaissance (Andree Aelion Brooks, Paragon House, 2002). If you want to know more about her, I recommend this highly accessible book (which has a ton of footnotes, for the historians among you).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Deborah's Excellent Solar Eclipse Adventure

Tailgate party at Lassen
I've posted earlier about my trek up to Lassen to view the annual solar eclipse in 2012. My same friend organized an expedition up to Oregon for this year's total eclipse, but for various reasons I didn't go. However, my older daughter, Sarah, and I did get a grand view of it from near home (about 72%).

Our first thought was to walk up the street to a place unimpeded by redwood trees, but Sunday morning brought such a heavy marine layer, one that didn't clear until early afternoon, that we looked for an alternate plan. I called various friends farther inland and finally connected with one, about an hour's drive away, who hadn't ordered eclipse shades in time. So Sarah and I, eclipse shades in hand, hit the road very early in case there was significant rush hour traffic. There was.

So the eclipse began with me behind the wheel and Sarah peeking out the window through
Deborah viewing the 2017 eclipse

Sarah viewing the 2017 eclipse
her shades going, "Wow." I tell you, if I had not already seen that first teensy bite out of the Sun, I would have been majorly bummed. Instead my reaction was one of joy -- my kid was thrilling to the very same thing I had loved.

It soon became apparent that we weren't going to arrive until the maximum coverage. I was talking myself into that being okay. Sarah called our friend, who said that the overcast was pretty heavy at their place. So, since we were in sun with only a few clouds, we pulled off the freeway, turned on to a side street and then the first open parking lot. It happened to belong to the Tzu Chi Foundation for Compassionate Buddhist Relief. We scrambled out of the car to see the eclipse at about 25%, with all the ooohs and aaahs and I remember how cool this is! excitement.

Then came the best part. The foundation offices looked closed, but a volunteer drove in and came over to see what we were doing. In huge excitement, I offered her my shades. "Oh, can you see it from here?" she asked. And then looked. Amazement and delight lit up her face. We talked about what was happening in the sky, she looked again and again...and then she ran inside to bring out all the workers she could find. All of them reacted in the same way. Including the special needs children who were doing a cleaning project. Later we toured the facility and talked about giving kindness and love. We didn't specifically talk about sharing wonder, but that was the high point of the eclipse for me. Not seeing it myself, but seeing the delight in someone else's experience of the heavenly wonders.

By the time we got to my friend's house, the skies and cleared. She'd tried to watch it through a colander, but the holes were the wrong shape, leaf-shaped instead of round, and it didn't work. But there was still about 25% left of the eclipse, so she and her family got to see it after all.

It's wonderful to view such a rare and glorious phenomenon. It's even more wonderful to make it possible for another person to have that same experience.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Breakfast, With Blackberries and Grapefruit

In the midst of all the political upheaval, trolls going sideways, and general upsetness, it's a good thing to take a deep breath and savor a meal. 

The grapefruit (about the size of an orange) is from our tree, which for some reason has decided to ripen the fruit several months early this year. The blackberries are from our neighborhood. Under the steel-cut oats are chopped pears from our trees, and this is the right season for them. 

The tea is Trader Joe's Mango Black tea.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tuesday Cat Blog: On the Scratching of Yoga Mats

Gayatri, the One-Eyed Pirate Wonder Queen here:

I wish to lodge a formal complaint about my owners on the subject of suitable scratching materials. Yes, I know this environment has been amply supplied with scratching posts. As a thoroughly civilized feline, I am acquainted with their appearance and use. I do use them, and my svelte figure at the august age of a decade is ample proof of my dedication to such exercise. However, they lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Such quoi was sadly lacking in my life until...

...the yoga mats appeared. O heavenly plushy stickiness, of the perfection for the sinking-in of claws and the ripping-forth with great satisfaction.

Needless to say, my monkeyswere Not Amused by the exercise of my natural rights. They rolled the mats up. I found them. They put the rolled up mats into the compartment of a cabinet. I found it, crawled in, and indulged myself.

I must admit that never once did my monkeys shriek, roll up newspaper, or throw their feces in my general direction. They are civilized monkeys.

And inventive. Recently when I searched out the cubby containing my now-favorite scratching material I found it was covered -- draped -- with a fleece blanket.

I present, therefore, my protest portrait.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Cover Reveal: Lace and Blade 4

Here's the cover for my latest anthology editing project, the fourth volume of Lace and Blade, a series of elegant, witty, romantic fantasy short fiction, with occasional swashbuckling, derring-do, and duels with words and swords.

It won't be released until next Valentine's Day. Dave Smeds did the cover design. The table of contents is here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

An Anthology of Persistent Women

My story, "Unmasking the Ancient Light," about Jewish Renaissance pioneer and visionary Dona Gracia Nasi, appears in the newly-released anthology, Nevertheless, She Persisted, from Book View Cafe, edited by Mindy Klasky. You can also find the ebooks and print edition at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Those were the words of Mitch McConnell after he banned Senator Elizabeth Warren from speaking on the floor of the United States Senate.
In reaction to the bitter partisanship in Trump’s United States of America, nineteen Book View Café authors celebrate women who persist through tales of triumph–in the past, present, future, and other worlds.
From the halls of Ancient Greece to the vast space between stars, each story illustrates tenacity as women overcome challenges–from society, from beloved family and friends, and even from their own fears. These strong heroines explore the humor and tragedy of persistence in stories that range from romance to historical fiction, from fantasy to science fiction.
From tale to tale, every woman stands firm: a light against the darkness.
Table of Contents:
“Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
“Sisters” by Leah Cutter
“Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross
“Alea Iacta Est” by Marissa Doyle
“How Best to Serve” from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle
“After Eden” by Gillian Polack
“Reset” by Sara Stamey
“A Very, Wary Christmas” by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
“Making Love” by Brenda Clough
“Den of Iniquity” by Irene Radford
“Digger Lady” by Amy Sterling Casil
“Tumbling Blocks” by Mindy Klasky
“The Purge” by Jennifer Stevenson
“If It Ain’t Broke” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“Chatauqua” by Nancy Jane Moore
“Bearing Shadows” by Dave Smeds
“In Search of Laria” by Doranna Durgin
“Tax Season” by Judith Tarr
“Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Lift Your Eyes to the Clouds

While we on Earth have been agonizing over politics (from both sides), spacecraft Juno has been sending back amazing, awe-inspiring images from Jupiter. I think it's a good reminder of what human beings are capable of: our gift for technology, our ability to work together, and our insatiable curiosity about the universe. The space race of the 1960s, was spurred by anti-Communist fears of the Soviet Union launching missiles from orbit, but it had the consequence of boosting our engineering, mathematical, and scientific prowess that could then be focused on peacetime exploration.

After seeing (and loving) the movie Hidden Figures, I picked up the book on which it was based, by Margot Lee Shetterly. As usual, the book is deeper and more detailed -- and wider-ranging -- than the film, but both remind me of the fervor of the time. (I remember when the Soviets launched Sputnik -- my homemade Halloween costume that year was the satellite.) While I don't hold out much hope that the current strain of antipathy towards science will inspire everyone to cheer on the exploration of our solar system and beyond, I firmly believe that the upcoming generation will find the prospect thrilling. (And will want to grab on to all the math, science, and engineering courses they can!)  The awe and wonder of images like that transcends gender, race, national origin, and political affiliation. At lease I hope it does.

About 8,000 kilometers in diameter, the anticyclonic storm system was spotted in Jupiter's North North Temperate Zone in the 1990s. That makes it about half the size of an older and better known Jovian anticyclone, the Great Red Spot, but only a little smaller than planet Earth. At times taking on reddish hues, the enormous storm system is fondly known as a North North Temperate Zone Little Red Spot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

[political rant] Trump Adviser Spews Stalinist Antisemitic Insults

A few days ago, the news featured an exchange between Trump adviser Stephen Miller* and CNN White House reporter James Acosta, in which Miller dismissed Acosta's questions as evidence of "cosmopolitan bias." (Cosmopolitan, by the way, means "familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures," as opposed to provincial or nationalist.) For much of America, the story came and went. Neo-Nazis and the alt-right erupted with glee. Those of us with somewhat longer memories, especially those whose families perished or narrowly escaped either the Holocaust or the pogroms of the early 20th Century, or Stalin's persecution of Jews (among others), we were horrified.

"Cosmopolitan" is a coded insult, aimed at Jews (and others), in much the same way veiled references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a document now proven to be forged, used to drum up animosity against Jews in pre-Revolutionary Russia and then Nazi Germany and still circulated in alt-right circles today) or white hoods and burning crosses are.

Jeff Greenfield of Politico provides some historical background:
One reason why “cosmopolitan” is an unnerving term is that it was the key to an attempt by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to purge the culture of dissident voices. In a 1946 speech, he deplored works in which “the positive Soviet hero is derided and inferior before all things foreign and cosmopolitanism that we all fought against from the time of Lenin, characteristic of the political leftovers, is many times applauded.” It was part of a yearslong campaigned aimed at writers, theater critics, scientists and others who were connected with “bourgeois Western influences.” Not so incidentally, many of these “cosmopolitans” were Jewish, and official Soviet propaganda for a time devoted significant energy into “unmasking” the Jewish identities of writers who published under pseudonyms.

Greenfield focuses on the way the term has been used to target anyone suspected of not putting nationalistic loyalty above all. The word "cosmopolitan" implies citizenship and loyalty not to any one nation but to a global community. In Trump's highly divisive world-view, anything that detracts from lock-step patriotism (and personal loyalty to him, has he has demanded of his nominees) amounts to treason. But let us not forget that this was yet another tactic in the underlying persecution of Jews. The "canary in the mine" warning of impending crackdown on anyone who dares to think, speak, or belief in ways that threaten the tyranny of the administration may be Jews this time. Or blacks or transgender people. Or immigrants or Muslims. Make no mistake, an attack against one is an attack against us all.

Terms like "cosmopolitan" serve as a surrogate identity test, separating "us" from "them," the "us-we-can-count-on" who are "just-like-us" versus the "them-who-don't-conform." In the way Miller used the term, it was also an ad hominem argument. That's the "you're only saying this because you are/believe x" method of invalidating another's opinion. It doesn't address the issue itself, it discredits the speaker instead. Even without the history of the term "cosmopolitan," such a response from a government official would be outrageous. It is a mark of the breakdown of civil discourse that a reporter's question be negated by such tactics.

This administration has become notorious for its scorn and animosity for the press. It is by far not the first to be the object of scathing editorials and even more devastating investigative journalism. But always before there has been a recognition of the essential role of journalism in a thriving democracy. In 1954, President  Dwight D. Eisenhower declared that "no institution is more necessary to our way of life than a free press." Trump, through his surrogate, has placed his own vanity above the health of the nation's political life. Now journalists' questions are not only an affront to his self-image, they are at risk of becoming the brands of treason. Not to the United States or its people, but to a petty child aspiring to be Stalin's pale echo.

In summation -- Do we really want the representative of the President of the United States using the same hate speech that Stalin did?

*Stephen Miller is now also under consideration for White House communications director.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Life in Four Parts

The Argus Deceit, by Chuck Grossart (47 North) reads like a long, repetitive episode of The Twilight Zone. In four different time periods, four differently-aged versions of the same character, Brody Quail. In one version, he is an embittered and suicidal middle-aged widower; in another, a teenager in the throes of his first serious crush; in yet another, a disabled and possibly alcoholic veteran; and finally a happy 10-year old with friends and an adoring younger brother. Each of these vignettes leads to tragedy that Brody attempts to avoid as the scene re-plays itself, and as these replays lead to even more complications, the time lines merge. It’s a nifty Twilight Zone-ish conceit that is unfortunately marred by excessive repetition (I skimmed long passages that remained the same from one go-round to the next) and an overly late rabbit-out-of-the-hat denouement. Too slight for its current length, the story would have made a more successful novella.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Short Book Reviews: If You Could Live Forever

One Day in the Life of Alexa, by Lisa Mason (Bast Books, 2017) incorporates lively prose,
past/present time jumps, and the consequences of longevity technology. Kosovo refugee Alexa enrolls in a secret pilot program designed to extend her life span. Her best friend, Marya, is not accepted, but Marya’s infant aka “Little Monster” is. As the decades roll by, Alexa adapts to a life of constant measurement and surveillance. And youth, for she ages only very slowly (and Little Monster takes years to achieve what normal babies do in months) and in her mid-fifties still appears as a very young adult. Every so often, disaster strikes, whether the Moon fracturing into “lunettes” or a supervolcano eruption or a terrorist bombing, but Alexa always manages to survive. Although the Testers are carefully separated from one another, she manages to connect with one, the only man who can understand what her life is like; after a period of pastel, childless marital bliss, he falls over dead due to a “lethal gene.”

In reflection, the book is as much about the enduring trauma of war as it is about longevity technology, and in this it feels more like mainstream than science fiction. . Mason’s skill as a writer sustains what might be better executed as a novella into a short novel. Still, it’s a quick, absorbing read with an appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms (like the repeated refrain, “No matter how long I live, I will always remember this”). 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Short Book Reviews: A Postapocalyptic Genderqueer Story

The Book of Etta, by Meg Elison (47 North, 2017). This novel is the sequel to the Philip K. Dick Award-winning The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, but can be easily read on its own. Generations ago, a plague swept the world, killing most of the women and leaving the survivors at grave risk in childbirth. The expected chaos resulted, social disintegration, and enslavement of the few remaining fertile women. 

Now various communities have evolved their own cultures with varying roles for the women, often in isolation and ignorance of one another. Etta lives in Nowhere, a fortified community in which women hold power as Mothers and Midwives. She frets against her mother’s expectations, keeps her lesbian love affair secret, and flees to the outside world under the guise of a scavenger of old technology and rescuer of enslaved women. In this role, she becomes Eddy, but the switch is not mere disguise for safety. The prose shifts to the male pronoun to emphasize the transformation in identity. As the story unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that Etta/Eddy flips back and forth from one persona to the other, and clues emerge as to the origin of the personality split. In his adventures, Eddy encounters underground havens, trading centers where transgender “horsewomen” live openly as women, and a vicious tyrant bent on conquest. 

Elison weaves together elements of dystopia and hope, tense action and inner anguish, into a compelling tale of survival and self-revelation. Highly recommended, although with a caution for younger readers.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Short Book Reviews: The Nigerian Space Program Saves the Day

After the Flare, by Deji Bryce Olukotun (Unnamed Press, 2017).  Non-Western-centered science fiction has found an eager audience in recent years, and this novel is a worthy addition. In the not-too-distant future, a gigantic solar flare paralyzes the electrical grid across the world. Among the many unfolding catastrophes are the marooning of a single astronaut on the International Space Station.  Because nations near the Equator are relatively spared, it’s up to the Nigerian space program to rescue her. From this remarkable premise, Olukotun spins a tale that is part thriller (will the astronaut be rescued in time? Will the terrorists drawing ever closer to the base take over before the rescue rocket can be launched? What ancient, possibly magical artifact have the desert women discovered?), part science fictional examination of the endless ingenuity of human beings, and part cultural drama. The richness of the African backdrop, from local customs to corrupt politics to wildlife to a vanished civilization, colors every aspect of Nigeria’s fast-paced space race. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Seichi Journals - Epilog

A short while ago, we adopted a shelter dog, a young female German Shepherd Dog, named Sage (Seichi). Although she was a wonderful dog in many respects, her intensity and high prey drive didn't work out for us. We believed our cats to be at risk, and my own mental health, in a fragile state because of the recent parole hearing of the man who'd raped and murdered my mother, showed worrisome signs. So we returned her to the (no-kill) shelter, along with a detailed report of our experience and progress with her.

Seichi is a lovely, affectionate, highly intelligent dog. She has a very high prey drive and is eager to please, but needs a home without cats or small children, and an owner who is experienced in training GSDs with positive, non-force methods.

Even so, I experienced second thoughts. Had I given up on her too soon? What if no one else adopts her -- or the wrong person does, and attempts to overpower her with force? Should we give her another try? And each time, I had to talk myself down from those doubts, reminding myself of my own limitations. My husband kept reminding me, too.

Yesterday, we got an email from Seichi's special volunteer handler at the shelter. Not only had she been adopted but she will be trained in search and rescue work, focusing on finding victims in collapsed buildings! I am relieved beyond words. Not only will she have the kind of work that will give her focus and joy (since German Shepherd Dogs are working dogs and need a job!) but she will have a better life than we could give her. And she'll be saving human lives.

Sometimes what looks like a bad situation turns out to be a blessing.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Hidden Island of Beauty in the Heavens

This image, from Astronomy Picture of the Day, reminds me of the beauty all around us, throughout the cosmos, if only we can see it. The gorgeous spiral galaxy, IC 342, is usually not visible because it lies on the plane of the Milky Way, and all those stars and dust obscure the view. The pink areas mark regions of star formation, perhaps a fairly recent burst in activity. It's thought that IC 342, which really deserves a name fitting to its glory, may have gravitationally influenced the evolution of the local group of galaxies and the Milky Way.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Short Book Reviews: Having Babies New Ways

Dreams Before the Start of Time, by Anne Charnock (47 North, 2017) examines the effect of evolving reproductive technology upon individual choice, relationship, and the meaning of family. It’s told as a series of vignettes beginning in 2034 and extending those same characters, both primary and secondary, as their lives unfold into 2084-85 and 2120. Charnock begins with current medical methods: in-vitro fertilization, donor sperm, and so forth, then spins the technology forward. 

What will it mean for family bonds if an adult of either sex can become a solo biological parent? How will marriages, families, parent-child relationships change – or will they? 

The consistent focus upon the daily lives of the characters and their emotions gives the book the feel of a mainstream or literary piece. Devoted science fiction fans may become impatient with the relative lack of emphasis on the technology, but at the same time, the thoughtful exploration of how we become parents interacts with who we are may well make this novel accessible to the general reader. Either way, the prose is strong, the scenes evocative, the questions worth asking.