Monday, April 29, 2019

[personal rant] Why I Am Adamant About Vaccination

I remember a time when there was no question about vaccination. It was a modern miracle, a triumph of science over disease. I grew up reading Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters, thrilling to the discoveries first of microbes, then of the microbial causes of contagious diseases, and most importantly, the development of vaccines that used the body’s natural immune systems to confer resistance. Terrible diseases like smallpox and polio would soon become a thing of the past, museum relics.

In the years of my childhood, everyone expected kids to get round after round of communicable diseases, most of them viral. This happened to me, too. Before I hit adolescence, I’d had measles, mumps, chickenpox, and rubella (German measles – more about that below). I have vivid memories of losing weeks of school but also of my mother nursing me through each round. I never got diphtheria or pertussis (whooping cough), although the kids down the street got it, or polio. I did know kids who got polio, and everyone knew someone who knew someone who’d died of it. So when the Salk (injected/inactivated) vaccine came along, I got it, and then later the Sabin (oral/live). I was in high school when the Sabin vaccine was made widely available, and my service club helped to administer it on sugar cubes.

I’m diligent about tetanus (TDap, with diphtheria) boosters, and received the shingles and pneumonia vaccines on schedule. I also get a yearly flu vaccine, although the one year I didn’t try hard enough in the face of limited supply for my age group, I came down with it: a month-long bout of H1N1 was no fun at all. So in terms of understanding how vaccination contributes to my personal health, I practice what I preach.

But there’s more to the story than just whether I as an individual am protecting myself. Those who scoff at the value of herd immunity receive its benefits while opening the door to exposing not just themselves but those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons (babies too young, people of any age who are immunocompromised, etc.) One of the consequences is that when adults contract “childhood” diseases, they are often much sicker and at much greater risk of complications. I saw this when my first husband came down with measles at age 24. His fever spiked above 105o F, leaving him delirious. I spent a night coaxing him into and out of a lukewarm bath, which effectively brought down his temperature to a safer level, over and over again. He was much, much sicker than I’d been at age 10 with the same illness. It took him weeks to fully recover, and thankfully he did not suffer pneumonia or encephalitis, which are more likely in adults over 20 (and children under 5), according to the CDC.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Rescuing a Vampire on a Transatlantic Voyage

Prisoner of Midnight, by Barbara Hambly (Severn House)

I fell in love with Don Simon Ysidro, Spanish Renaissance vampire, and James and Lydia Asher, sometimes friends and allies, consummate vampire hunters, with their first encounter in Those Who Hunt the Night, one of the best vampire stories ever. Hambly’s vampires are not nice. They are not sparkly. They are very definitely not safe. But they are compelling, and when, in 1917 and the heat of the first World War, Dr. Lydia Asher receives a coded distress call from Don Simon, she does not turn away. Theirs is a long and complicated history, and more is at stake than their friendship. If Don Simon has been taken captive by an agent of one of the Great Powers, his terrible powers could turn the tide of the war.

The story unfolds aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic, complete with revolutionaries riding belowdecks, an insanely ambitious American industrialist, Jewish refugees, and the unexpected inclusion of Lydia’s young daughter, whom she believed safe at home in the custody of one of her aunts. Oh yes, there are German submarines in these waters, and no ship is safe from their torpedoes.

One mysterious death after another stokes superstitious fears of a vampire aboard – and where is Don Simon? What hold does the industrialist, Cochrane, have over him, and how can Lydia break it? And what will Lydia have to do to prevent the introduction of a vampire to the fertile feeding grounds of America?

I finished the story, with its breathless climax, wanting to go back and read all the adventures back-to-back.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book but no one bribed me -- quite unnecessarily -- to praise it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Today's Kittens

For some reason, Today's Moment of Art didn't load properly, so here are three of our four cats, peacefully enjoying their view of the garden.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Barb Caffrey

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Barb Caffrey:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Barb Caffrey: When I was very young, I started writing. I don't remember exactly when, either; I do remember that my first try at a really elaborate story was when I was eleven years old. I wrote about the first ball girl at Milwaukee County Stadium (then the home of the Milwaukee Brewers); at the time, there were no ball girls, just ball boys, and that annoyed me. But because I felt, even at eleven, that the boys wouldn't like it if the girls got to play along with 'em, my female character pretended to be a young boy. And was found out...but another of the boys liked her, and kept her secrets.
I wish I still had that story...ahem.
Anyway, I also wrote poetry, a few SF stories, and some Star Trek pastiches when I was in high school. I enjoyed it, but at the time my focus was on music; I never thought this would end up my career, and the music a sidelight, but life is what it is. (And I'd not have it any other way.)

DJR: What authors inspired you?
BC: There were so many, growing up. Probably the first writer I read a lot from was Poul Anderson; our junior high library had a lot of his books, and I found them amusing. (I did not take Dominic Flandry seriously, but I enjoyed his adventures. Had I been a bit older, I might've been alarmed by Flandry's misogyny, or at least by his cynicism. But I've always had a soft spot for him.) Then I read Andre Norton, and was so pleased to find out Andre was a woman...then, when I was in high school, I remember reading several of Marion Zimmer Bradley's books, mostly the juveniles (we'd definitely now call 'em YA), including the romance between Andrew Carr and his eventual wife, Callista.
I returned to Darkover again and again, because I found it to be such an interesting world. 
Then I found The Shattered Chain, and I was riveted. The structure. The style. The story!
Best of all, I got to meet three strong women in Lady Rohana, Terran Magda Lorne, and Jaelle n'ha Melora. And I loved 'em all, and could see at least a little of myself reflected in matter what choices they made, they knew they had to make them consciously, as best they could. And the idea of conscious choice was new to me, so I wanted to know more.
Anyway, more contemporary writers who've definitely made an impact include Rosemary Edghill, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, and of course my late husband, writer Michael B. Caffrey. Without all three of them, I would not be the writer I am today.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Book Reviews: Of Alchemy, and Ethos, and Siblings

Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor)

I’ve enjoyed Seanan McGuire’s books since I discovered Rosemary and Rue and the “Incryptid” series. Her sense of dramatic flow, finely-handled narrative pacing, and just plain nifty stuff made each successive adventure more enjoyable. I quickly learned that when I picked up one of her books, I was in for a good time. Sometimes I wondered how she was able to maintain the quality of her work, given how productive she was. Not only did she consistently deliver one good story after another, but her recent releases have leapt from “good” to memorable. Her novella, Every Heart a Doorway, was stunning, a journey of the heart as well as a series of dramatic events, richly deserving both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. I loved her “Sparrow Road” ghost stories, too. Now I can add Middlegame, an alchemy/Frankenstein/time-traveling/sibling-story to that list.

The outer frame of the story involves a precocious and wildly talented alchemist who devises a way to remake the world through the human incarnations of the Doctrine of Ethos.
“In the ancient world the Greeks believed music had a magical power to speak directly to human emotion. In what has come to be known as the doctrine of ethos, the Greeks believed that the right kind of music had the power to heal the sick and shape personal character in a positive way. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that when music was designed to imitate a certain emotion, a person listening to the music would have that emotion.” – From Music and the Doctrine of Ethos,
McGuire uses a somewhat different sense of this doctrine, albeit still in the sense of possessing transformative powers. The alchemist, Asphodel Baker, and her disciples set about creating pairs of twins whose natural talents (language and mathematics, for example, or order and chaos) complement and complete one another. Adopted out and separated as infants, when mature they will be drawn together to fully manifest the Doctrine and grant the one who controls them power over the universe. Or so goes the plan.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Passover 5779: My Favorite Charoseth Recipe

Passover is my very favorite holiday, Jewish or secular. I love the warmth, the connection with tribal history, and so many of the phrases that remind me everyone is welcome at this table, and that until all of us are free, none of us can be. Of course, all the stories about Passovers past, like the one in college when, after all 4 obligatory glasses of wine, V called his parents in Chicago to wish them Happy Passover, so I did (mine were in California), and the L called hers -- good Southern Baptists... It was that same seder when, at the moment when we fling open the door to invite Elijah into our homes and our hearts, B stopped by, hoping to scrounge dinner. And so forth.

Then there are the foods, glorious foods! Most Ashkenazi Jews make charoseth (which represents the mortar the Hebrew slaves used to build the pyramids) from finely chopped apples, walnuts, sweet Passover wine, and a little matzoh meal (from the special kind of matzoh kosher for Passover, that has been carefully monitored to make sure there is no leavening). This concoction always set my teeth on edge. I dreaded it...until I discovered this recipe for Yemenite charoseth. It's so sweet, I can eat only a little at a time, but bursting with flavor.

Yemenite Charoseth -- about 12 servings

1 cup pitted, chopped dates (I use Medjool when I can find them)
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine (or fruit juice)
3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tsp - 1 T ginger, either powdered dry or fresh, according to your taste
Dash - 1/2 tsp ground coriander
Dash cayenne -- optional
2 Tablespoons matzoh meal (I use brown rice or sorghum flour as it needs to be GF)

Combine the fruit and wine. Add sesame, spices, and matzoh meal until thoroughly mixed. Roll into 1" balls or serve in a mound.


The image is the first Nuremberg Haggadah, circa 1449 C.E.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interviews: Lillian Csernica

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Here I chat with contributor Lillian Csernica:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Lillian Csernica: As far back as I can remember, I've always loved stories. I still have the copy of the Little Golden Book of Fairy Tales my mother gave me when I was in kindergarten. In elementary school we made our own books. Like many writers, I spent a lot of my childhood at the library. Stories have always been important to me, both for the reading and the writing.

DJR: What authors inspired you?
LC: Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, Harlan Ellison, and Agatha Christie, among others.

DJR: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
LC: My first short story sale, Fallen Idol, made it into DAW's The Year's Best Horror Stories XX. The sale of my pirate romance, Ship of Dreams, was a major career milestone. The Treehouse Writers Group, the folks behind the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention, invited me to contribute to their convention anthologies. We're currently in production on the fourth anthology in the series. Writing steampunk has opened my eyes to the wonders of combining science and fantasy.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Fighting Amorphous Monsters Without Using Magic

City of Broken Magic, by Mirah Bolender (Tor)

In this fairly recognizable post-Industrial Revolution world, magic is both friend and foe. Enchanted amulets are useful in all sorts of ways, but let one become empty or damaged, and an infestation of vicious magic, taking the form of a jellyfish-like “monster” will erupt, consuming everything in its path. In the city of Amicae, as elsewhere, Sweepers clear out such infestations, but they are few in number. Two, to be precise, the notorious, irascible, scoundrel-with-a-heart-of-gold, Clae Sinclair, and his apprentice, Laura. Soon they acquire a third, one of the very few humans to possess innate magic. But the situation in Amicae is unstable, with government propaganda proclaiming that there is no infestation problem and Sinclair’s team fighting an increasingly desperate battle with the odds stacked against them.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, the system of magic and its evil manifestations is reasonably fresh, and I liked the characters a great deal, especially how their relationships evolved over time. On the other hand, I found much of the magical terminology vague and confusing. “Monster” could mean anything from a tyrannosaur to Cookie Monster to a serial killer to a thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night. I never got a clear visual of these, and I really wish they had a better, more descriptive name. Amorphic, toxic ink-squid would do, amorphs or ATIS for short. Likewise, “Gin” and “kin” (don’t ask me why one is capitalized and not the other; I haven’t a clue) and a host of other terms for magical energy.

My biggest disappointment, though, was that I thought the story was setting up for a romance between Laura and Clae. She’s beset by other people in her life who want her to be less than her potential because of her sex, except for Clae, who consistently demands her best and refuses to coddle her. A dozen subtle moments make clear her growing tenderness for him, her compassion for his tortured past, and her maturity within their relationship. Perhaps the author saw that as an easy, predictable outcome, but I relish stories where characters force one another to grow, and then to grow in love.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular, either way, about it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

[link] Ursula K. Le Guin Reviews Dreamsnake by Vonda N. McIntyre

If you, too, are feeling nostalgic about the passing of two iconic women writers, you'll find the following review heart-warming, like sitting in on two old friends chatting about a favorite book.

Dreamsnake was an especially memorable book for me. I loved it for its wonderful bond between healer and snakes (I'm not at all phobic about snakes, so their inclusion was a plus), the heroine's courageous sexuality, the compassion and danger and just plain strangeness of the world. I read my first, paperback copy into tatters and then got a hardcover one.

Here's the beginning of Ursula's review. You can read the whole thing here.

The Wild Winds of Possibility
Vonda N. McIntyre’s Dreamsnake
Reviewed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Dreamsnake is in some ways a strange book, unlike any other in science fiction, which may explain the even stranger fact that it’s not currently in print (except on line at
When people ask me what sf books influenced me or what are my favorites, I always mention Dreamsnake. Invariably I get a warm response — “Oh yes!” And people still tell me how much the book meant to them when they first read it and ever since. But these days, many younger readers don’t know it exists.

The short story the book was based on won the 1973 Nebula; the book was an immediate success; it became and still is beloved. Its moral urgency and rousing adventure story are not at all dated. It should have gone from one paperback reprint to another.
Why didn’t it?
I have some theories.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

The Eruption of Vesuvius, Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729–c.1790–180o)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Robin Rowland

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Robin Rowland:

Deborah J. Ross: How did you become a writer?
Robin Rowland: When I was in Grade 2, our teacher told us one day to write a two foolscap page short story.  I wrote a sequel to a Tarzan comic I had been reading.  After class the teacher told me it was one of the best in the class and that I should be a writer. I took her advice.

DJR: What authors inspired you?
RR: Fiction authors who have inspired me are Rosemary Sutcliff, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley and Robert A. Heinlein.   In narrative non-fiction the authors who inspired me are Barbara Tuchman, Mark Bowden and Catherine Drinker Bowen.

DJR: What about the world drew you in?
RR:  I grew up  in the mountainous coast of British Columbia in a small town called Kitimat.  In a local First Nations (Native Canadian) language Kitimat means “people of the snow.” The valley is at the end of an 80 kilometer fjord  from the Pacific Ocean that has a unique micro climate. Four times we’ve had a record one day snowfall for all of Canada. The weather can change to warm to wet in a half hour.  Winters can see snow up to the roof of a two story ranch style house or  sometimes so little snow I only use a half jug of snow melter. Summers can either be dreary, overcast and wet or warm to sunny and very hot with the occasional drought.   So for me, that unique micro climate of  the Kitimat valley is perhaps the closest thing on Terra to Darkover. 

DJR: Tell us about your introduction to Darkover.
RR: My family moved to Toronto when I was fifteen.  As my only income at the time was an allowance, I haunted a huge used book store in downtown Toronto called “Old Favourites”  which had a large science fiction section.  I bought Star of Danger, the boys were my own age and the description of Darkover made the planet sound like the home town I had just left.  I kept buying Darkover books, first used and then when I got after school jobs, new releases from a variety store near my home which always stocked with a lot of science fiction in the late 1960s.  What convinced me that I loved the planet was Darkover Landfall, which again, reminded me of Kitimat.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Rogue Robots and Sentient Spacecraft

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries), by Martha Wells (Tor)

I’m not sure what I can add to the comments of others about Martha Wells’s marvelous series of novellas about Murderbot, the security unit on a journey to humanity. This latest installment shows Murderbot posing as a human security consultant, coming into contact (and sometimes conflict) with military units and other automata, with humans both vile and admirable. I am reminded of a story I recently heard on NPR about how we humans tend to treat mechanical devices (even Roombas) as sentient. I suspect this benefits us more, through the practice of compassion, than it does our household appliances and automobiles. Slowly, Murderbot is learning to do the same.

I can’t wait for the next adventure!

The Spaceship Next Door, by Gene Doucette (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Three years ago, a spaceship landed in a sleepy Connecticut town called Sorrow Falls.
Despite being cordoned off by the US military and despite the concerted efforts of scientists and analysts, absolutely nothing has been learned about the ship, who made it, or why it is here. Well, not quite nothing: anyone attempting to approach the ship becomes obsessed with the pressing need to be somewhere else.

Just outside the boundaries of set up by the military, and encampment of RVs is populated by conspiracy theorists who use various kinds of equipment to observe the spaceship, and it is clear that everything they report is a product of their own imagination.

Annie Collins is about as normal a 16 year old girl as possible, considering that her mother is dying of cancer and her father is nowhere in sight. Annie has a gift for making friends, understanding people's motivations, accepting the weirdos conspiracy theorists in the RV camp, and pretty much knowing everything that's going on. So when a military analyst ineptly disguised as a reporter, arrives for yet another investigation of the spaceship, he hires Annie as his native guide. The adventure begins slowly but soon picks up steam when the spaceship starts turning locals and troops alike into zombies who go around asking “Are you her?”

The smoothly flowing prose style captures much of the charm of a small town filled with eccentric characters and a colorful if fictitious history. Annie herself is lovable in her complexity, her vulnerability, and her endless resourcefulness. A highly recommended read, full of inventiveness, humor, and surprising twists, and truly alien aliens.

The usual disclaimer: I received review copies of these books, but no one bribed me to say anything about them.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Vonda N. McIntyre

My heart is full of tears.

New Story on Curious Fictions

"Bread and Arrows" from Sword and Sorceress XX is now up on Curious Fictions to read free!

Here's the opening...

Celine knelt in front of the brick-lined bread oven, her head and shoulders halfway inside the fire pit. Her probing fingertips scraped against a cracked, unevenly heating floor tile. She took out her stone-wand, hoping she wouldn't have to dismantle the entire oven to make repairs. Nestled in a bucket of warm ashes, her salamander kept up an incessant grumble. 
“Fire-go-out! World end!” 
The string of bells on the front door of the bakery shop chimed gently, accompanied by the creaking hinge. Celine crawled backwards out of the oven and clambered to her feet. Basalt stood just inside the opened half-door, feet spread apart as if braced against a storm, an expression of disapproval twisting his thin lips. 
As if I didn't have enough troubles! First, my moon cycles, then this accursed oven, and now him! 
Celine tucked a stray curl back under her widow's coif and tried to pretend Basalt was really here to buy bread. There were a few long-loaves left, arranged on their wooden racks like giant's matchsticks, plus the raspberry tarte her friend Annelys had asked her to make for Herve's name-day and then not picked up. If Basalt would take the tarte and leave, he could have it. 
“Cold-cold-cold!” Fireling insisted. “Waiting here for-ever!”

Monday, April 1, 2019

Citadels of Darkover Author Interview: Marella Sands

Coming in May 2019
Strongholds of rock . . . fortresses of the spirit . . . a planet set apart . . .

Citadels can be psychic, emotional, and cultural as well as military, and the wonderfully imaginative contributors to this volume have taken the basic idea and spun out stories in different and often unexpected directions.

Pre-order it at:

Here I chat with contributor Marella Sands:

Deborah J. Ross: Were there any pivotal moments in your literary journey?
Marella Sands: I think finding my writers group was the biggest single thing that happened that changed everything. I had no idea how to edit myself or how to write decent description before I found other writers willing to train me up. My first three novels got the same reaction from the group: the first one hundred pages are boring! Oops! I rewrote a lot of beginnings back then. I took the critiques, rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, and made myself better. My first sale happened within eight months of joining the group. That was in 1991. Yes, we still are together and I'm still a member.

DJR: What inspired your story in Citadels of Darkover?
MS: This story grew out of a desire to feature banshees, horses, and arranged marriages in the same tale, partly because I have always been intrigued by the banshees of Darkover. 
I think the idea of arranged marriages intrigues a lot of people since they're not normally a part of our everyday lives. Also, I've always been interested in the banshees. They're blind, have glow-in-the-dark beaks...and are apparently really, really scary. I wanted to see them up close.
 The first book I read was Hawkmistress, and I was blown away by the world and, of course, Romilly. Subsequently, it has seemed like I can't get over/around a love for the Ages of Chaos/Hundred Kingdoms eras, so my stories tend to be set then. For my Citadels story, I wanted to set a story at Falconsward in a time just maybe a hundred years or so earlier than Hawkmistress. Maybe that's close as I (and my characters) will come to meeting my Darkover hero.