Friday, December 27, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Lady Trent's Granddaughter Translates Draconean Tablets

Turning Darkness Into Light, by Marie Brennan (Tor Books)

If you, like me, fell in love with Lady Trent and her dragons (A Natural History of Dragons and its sequels) you will find this latest adventure a delight. Decades later, Lady Trent’s granddaughter, Audrey Camherst, is struggling to further her scholarly career after an unscrupulous suitor stole her original observations and published them himself. Now she and her Draconean colleague, Kudshayn, venture to Lord Gleinheigh’s remote estate to examine newly excavated tablets that promise to shed new light on the history of the Draconean people and their relationship with humans. It’s a tense time politically, for the Draconeans have been restricted to a single regional Sanctuary and a vote is coming up that may allow them freedom to settle where they wish. Audrey discovers an unexpected ally in Lord Gleinheigh’s niece, and perhaps a second chance with her former suitor.

Told as a sequence of letters, news stories, and diary entries, the story swept me up with wonderfully rich, sometimes unpredictable characters, the joys of archaeology (and of linguistics!), and the slow, exorable rise in danger until the thrilling climax.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book View Cafe Sale!

It's a Boxing Week sale at Book View Cafe! Save 25% on everything -- check out our stellar authors, including Judith Tarr, Madeleine E. Robins, Jeffrey Carver, Sherwood Smith, Laura Ann Gilman and many more!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

December Reflections

"Don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter.
It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous..."

As the year draws to a close, I reflect that it's been, as Mark Twain put it, "One damned thing after another." Some good, some not-so-good, some most excellent, some terror-inducing. Whatever is happening, however, I remember the mantra, “This too shall pass!”

Life sometimes sideswipes us with occasions for rejoicing or unspeakable tragedy, but hard times run in cycles. It’s important to find ways of reminding ourselves of this rhythmic nature. Outward-facing periods of great vigor and challenge are followed by periods of apparent stagnation. These fallow times can feel like the pits of despair when nothing seems to be changing (except for the worse) and no matter how hard we engage with the problems in our lives, we seem to make no discernible progress. Winter is never going to end; all our senses convince us of it. We are never going to find “the one,” or sell that first story. And we’ve heard enough tales of folks who actually never do find a partner or make a sale that we are sure we belong in that group. As the days shorten and snow or rain turns into mud, we become even more certain the sun will never return.

That’s when I need black belt survival tools. My mantra (above) is one of them. Here are some others that work for me.

  • Every day, I speak with someone who loves me.
  • I try to do a daily act of kindness in a way that I will not be found out.
  • I try to begin each day with trust and end it with gratitude. These can take whatever form seems good to me on that day.

What helps get you through winter blues?

Painting by David Cox (1783-1859)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Mercenary Spies Track Down a Missing Harp

The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier (Ace)

The Swan Island super-elite mercenaries/spies have figured in previous stories by Juliet Marillier. This tale begins in the training school with three talented students, Liobhan and her adopted brother, Brocc, and the gorgeous but conceited young nobleman, Dau. The three are recruited as part of a party hired to recover the missing Harp of Kings, essential for the coronation of the next king of Breifne. Brocc and Liobhan, talented musicians both, go underground as members of a performing troupe, while Dau masquerades as a mute farrier’s assistant. Despite all their training and motivation, they each find it nigh impossible to maintain their disguises. All is not well in Breifne; the crown prince is arrogant, self-centered, and violently antagonistic to anything eldritch, including the fae Overworld that has traditionally co-existed with the human world to the peace and prosperity of both.

Marillier has grown from a talented new voice to a consummately skillful pro with exquisite control of narrative, character development, and plot. From the first page, I found myself relaxing and immersing myself in the story. Along the way, I noticed that instead of bashing me over the head with exposition, Marillier inserts subtle clues about each character’s inner turmoil, hopes, and relationships, in addition to important details in other characters and settings. This deepening of the story is brilliantly handled, and adds to the emotional satisfaction of every step of the journey. I’ve long been a fan of Marillier’s work, but The Harp of Kings clinches it!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Feline Repose

Look who my daughter found, reclining on her bed...

(This is Sonja, about 16 months old.) Turns out that Shakir is not the only one who loves to sleep on his back.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Monday, December 16, 2019

Winter 2019 Newsletter

My newsletter went out to my subscribers on December 8. Please consider subscribing here to get early news and first chance at giveaways.

Winter 2019 Newsletter
It's winter in the redwoods. Rain alternates with mist and occasional bursts of sun. Forest and garden rest and renew themselves. It's a time for reflection and the deep, slow workings of the imagination.
Freya, who came to us a year ago as a tiny kitten, is now a magnificent young adult. She's a mackeral-striped, dilute tortoiseshell tabby (what a mouthful), who is athletic even with only one eye. Fearless when with the family, she disappears at the first hint of visitors. Some of our friends believe she is mythical.
Book News

The Laran Gambit (working title):. My editor says it's on her list. Stay tuned!

Arilinn. I'm just about halfway through the first draft, discovering more connections and conflicts and even an unexpected love story as I go.

Collaborators. I will be reissuing my Lambda Literary Award science fiction novel in March 2020, complete with maps and blog posts about the city, gender-fluid characters, and a bunch more goodies. It will come in ebook (mobi, epub) and trade paperback formats. Read an excerpt below...

Friday, December 13, 2019

Short Book Reviews: A Female Sorceress Sherlock Holmes

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall (Ace)

A delicious mash-up of Sherlock Holmes (Shaharazad Hass, with her companion, alchemist and military veteran Captain John Wyndham), Lovecraftian mythos, Dracula, and The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers.  Shaharazad Hass, a consulting detective as well as sorceress, accepts a commission from an old flame, who is threatened with blackmail unless she breaks off her engagement. The list of possible enemies is long, but as Shaharazad and John focus on the most likely suspects, one after the other is eliminated, including the vampire Contessa, another of Shaharazad’s many, many ex-lovers. I found the prose delightful in its replication of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s narrative, transported into a world of magic, demons, mind-altering drugs, and a sideways-in-time journey into the mysterious, menacing world of Chambers’s Carcosa and The King in Yellow. Weird and shiveringly wonderful reading!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Monday, December 9, 2019

Author Interview: R.A. McCandless on The Clockwork Detective, Writing, and Life

Recently I reviewed R.A. McCandless's excellent steampunk novel, The Clockwork Detective, here. I said, 
The last couple of years have brought a slew of wonderful steampunk adventures with resourceful, kick-ass heroines, and this one by McCandless is a worthy addition.
Here I chat with the author about his inspiration, his future projects, and his advice for aspiring writers.

Deborah J. Ross: Tell us a little about yourself.  How did you come to be a writer?
R.A. McCandless: I came out writing, which was a weird delivery for the doctor. But really, I found myself telling stories early in grade school. We'd have assignments to write a complete sentence using a set of vocabulary words, and I'd get bored with that. Instead, I'd use the words to tell a short story. From there, it was only a short jaunt to writing my own stories.

Dragons are one of my chief inspirations. I've only included one once, in a short story. But any world where dragons can conceivably exist—please and thank you! That's almost any fantasy or science fiction story, which creates a broad palette for me to enjoy. From there, it's a hop, skip, and a wardrobe journey into another world that I'm fascinated to start exploring and sharing.

DJR: What inspired The Clockwork Detective?
RAMcC: I’ve always, always, always loved the steampunk/dieselpunk aesthetic. I’d been approached by a publisher to submit a horror story for an anthology they were doing featuring Kevin J. Anderson. I love Anderson, but I’m not a horror writer. I knew this might be my one chance, so I buckled down and started working on a story. At the time, I was watching a lot of “Murdoch Mysteries” and “Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries” and really enjoying that pseudo-steampunk atmosphere. It wasn’t a huge leap for me to incorporate the same setting into my story, and suddenly I had Constable Aubrey Hartmann, solving mysteries, riding airships, and going on adventures.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Two October Daye Adventures (with Selkies)

I've finally caught up on the "October Daye" series by Seanan McGuire. As a special treat, each novel is followed by a novella featuring one of the secondary characters.

Night and Silence, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

I’ve loved the October Daye series since the beginning, so I’m always up for another adventure. While I highly recommend reading the books from the beginning, McGuire gives you everything you need to enjoy jumping in – or in case it’s been awhile and you’d like a memory refresher. A long time ago, Toby had a daughter with her human boyfriend. That daughter, Gillian, has been raised by her father and stepmother (whose encounters with fae are another story entirely, and not a happy one), is now a college student, and believes Toby abandoned her. Now Gillian’s life is in danger and Toby must not only rescue her but solve a succession of mysteries while convincing her daughter to let her back into her life. It’s just as entertaining and heart-touching as the previous volumes, perhaps more so because of Toby’s intensely personal emotions when it comes to her daughter.

The Unkindest Tide, by Seanan McGuire (DAW)

At the end of Night and Silence, October Daye has managed to save her daughter’s life by convincing the sea witch to give Gillian one of the few precious Selkie skins, thus giving human Gillian immunity to elfshot, a poison fatal to humans but not fae. But the terrible story behind the Selkie skins and the massacre of their original owners, the Roane, is rapidly drawing to a climax. The sea witch, mother to the Roane, has vowed to re-create that race by transforming the Selkies so that they can no longer remove or pass on their enchanted skins to their children. In effect, they will become permanently fae. For this, the sea witch needs Toby’s special blood magic. Gillian’s life depends on the fae protection of her Selkie skin, so she too will lose her humanity in the process, and the mother-daughter relationship between Gillian and Toby is rocky at best. The action moves briskly along as the son of Toby’s friends, heir to another aquatic kingdom, is kidnapped and one of the Selkies turns up dead, her skin missing. More exotic locations and fascinating characters mark this latest chapter. The story, like those before it, is brimming with the warmth and humor of Toby’s personality. Despite the complexity of all that has come before (many volumes of it!) I found no difficulty in immersing myself in this tale, so skillfully does the author handle all the backstory, relationships, and personalities.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Winding Road, by Elsie Palmer Payne (1884 – 1971)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Europa's Water, and Other Wonders of Science

Water Vapor Was Just Found on Europa

Scientists have found evidence of plate tectonics on Jupiter’s moon Europa. This conceptual illustration of the subduction process (where one plate is forced under another) shows how a cold, brittle, outer portion of Europa’s 20-30 kilometer-thick (roughly 10-20 mile) ice shell moved into the warmer shell interior and was ultimately subsumed. A low-relief subsumption band was created at the surface in the overriding plate, alongside which cryolavas may have erupted. Image credit: Noah Kroese, I.NK

More evidence came from studying the brown splotches on Europa’s surface. Scientists hypothesized that those are chemicals from the subsurface ocean which have made their way to the surface. This shows that the sea floor might be interacting with the surface, an important consideration when thinking about habitability.

The discovery of liquid plumes raised the excitement level about Europa’s potential habitability.

For the little brown bat -- a small mouse-eared bat with glossy brown fur -- a warm, dry place to roost is essential to the species' survival. Reproductive females huddle their small furry bodies together to save thermal energy during maternity season (summer), forming "maternity colonies." In the face of severe population losses across North America, summer access to an attic or other permanent sheltered structure, as opposed to just trees or rock crevices, is a huge benefit to these bats.
[Bat image: By SMBishop - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,]

Arp 273: Battling Galaxies from Hubble

The upper galaxy is labelled UGC 1810 by itself, but together with its collisional partners is known as Arp 273. The overall shape of the UGC 1810 -- in particular its blue outer ring -- is likely a result of wild and violent gravitational interactions. The blue color of the outer ring at the top is caused by massive stars that are blue hot and have formed only in the past few million years. The inner part of the upper galaxy -- itself an older spiral galaxy -- appears redder and threaded with cool filamentary dust. A few bright stars appear well in the foreground, unrelated to colliding galaxies, while several far-distant galaxies are visible in the background. Arp 273 lies about 300 million light years away toward the constellation of Andromeda. Quite likely, UGC 1810 will devour its galactic sidekicks over the next billion years and settle into a classic spiral form.

Scientists Construct a Global Map of Titan’s Geology

Titan’s methane-based hydrologic cycle makes it one of the Solar System’s most geologically diverse bodies. There are lakes of methane, methane rainfall, and even “snow” made of complex organic molecules. But all of that detail is hidden under the moon’s dense, hazy atmosphere.

The map is based on radar, visible, and infrared images from the Cassini mission. The Cassini mission ended in September 2017 when it was directed to crash into Saturn. But even after two years, scientists are still going through Cassini’s data and producing studies like this one.