Sunday Snippit 5/18

Alas, when one has fur, Spring is not as fun. From “Shedding Staff.”

“Arrrgh! Enough!” the woman the humans called Commander Rachel Na Gael yelled as a stray black hair wafted into the petri dish she had just sterilized. She turned off all the equipment, opened the main lab door, and left a note saying “Gone Shedding — Back by 1700.” She left a similar message on the intercom’s auto-response system, picked up a leather loop with some metal tags on it and stalked out the back door.

After checking to make sure that no one was around, Rachel took off most of her clothing and then changed shape after slipping the collar on. She hated the collar with a passion, but it let her carry security passes and tags in case she needed back inside. Once in full feline shape, the Wanderer-hybrid trotted away from the buildings, leaving a thin fog of shed hair in her wake. Continue reading

Cats: Amorphous Solids or Gasses?

Are domestic felines composed of amorphous solids or gasses? They exhibit properties of both types of matter, although not simultaneously. This short article discusses the question, beginning with the hypothesis that cats are regular solids, then moving through their amorphous capacities and concluding with cats and the Laws of Gasses.

Those not closely acquainted with domestic felines will assume that cats are regular solids. That is, their mass occupies a fixed volume and that they obey the basic laws about compressibility, thermal expansion and other properties of matter. House cats, having a rigid internal support structure (the same as most mammals), are obviously regular solids.

Those who live with cats soon begin to suspect otherwise, based on routine observation. Cats tend to flow, not unlike glass or gelatine, suggesting that their structure is not as rigid as one might assume. They often adopt the same shape as their container (a box, a round basket or “cat bed”, a large vase or cylindrical umbrella stand) while retaining their basic semi-rigid internal structure. This leads to the suspicion that they are amorphous solids. That is to say, cats have no definite form, but tend to heap into quasi-random shapes, within the limits imposed by their surface covering and internal framework.

It is my conclusion, however, that cats are gasses. Like gasses, they expand when heated, elongating and thinning. They also contract when cooled until they reach a state of apparent near molecular stillness. As mentioned above, cats take on the shape of their container. They also can expand to fill all available space, no matter their initial mass or apparent volume. Thus a 4.5 kg cat can take up 1/2 of a twin bed and 1/2 of a double bed (although not at the same time). Like gasses, cats become more energetic (“warm”) when compressed, exhibiting greater molecular action (“fighting back”) until they reach a point of incompressibility. Or the containment vessel breaks and the cat leaks out.

*Note: no cats were harmed in the process of these observations.

11 May Report

2700 words, climax of book finished. Cover art for Elizabeth of Donatello Bend almost ready, manuscript formatted, hope to have up for sale this week. Sky is brown again, no miles walked.

Elizabeth of Vindobona due back from editor late this month.

Work on Fountains of Mercy will go on hiatus until non-fic revisions finished.

Celery Tops: A Rambling Meditation on Produce

I need two cups of celery tops. OK, let me rephrase that. I want two cups of fresh celery leaves so I can make one of my favorite white-meat recipes.  Yes, this is one of those “first world problems,” and what’s wrong with celery stalks? Nothing, but . . .

Ten, twenty years ago you found a lot more whole produce in Ye Grocery Store. Celery came in pre-trimmed lots as well as full bundles with lots of leafy stuff still on them. I recall seeing clusters of fresh carrots, their tops tied together with paper-coated wire, ready for you to pick up, put into a bag, and take home. Depending on the season, I also remember red beets and turnips with tops, for those who wanted to eat the greens. Blueberries came in paper-board pint or quart boxes from Arkansas, Missouri, or Michigan and Minnesota. And strawberries appeared only between late March and July, in containers made of net-like plastic mesh that made great May Day flower baskets or Mother’s Day or Easter baskets and other crafts.

Now, I see more of what I’d call “exotic” produce but fewer whole vegetables. I like having mangoes and four kinds of mushrooms, sweet onions (usually ten-o-six up here), Fuji apples and Kiwi fruit, and fresh asparagus. Big-city produce shopping is an exercise in resisting temptation for me, because, oh, those look good, and I could use these in this recipe, and what’s that I’ve never tried that before and hey, these are on sale, and there goes my entire budget before I get past the potatoes. (Yesterday’s discovery – yellow potatoes. If they weren’t a dollar more per pound than the others, they would have come home with me.) And there are whole fresh herbs (pesto all the time!) and even up here, a small wedge of “organic” produce. Continue reading

5/8 Progress

8124 words, approaching climax battle. No miles. Threads pulling together nicely, at the moment. A pair of passing mallard ducks attacked the community cat, to my great amusement this AM.

4/6 Progress

Yesterday, two and a bit miles, lots of chores, and 1800 words. Today, hour at the gym, more chores, 3200 words. Fountains of Mercy is probably just over half done, or so it feels.

Shrubbery!

A few years ago one autumn day I stopped by Redquarters, my parents’ house, on my way back from a research trip and spent the night. Storms, mostly wind but with some rain, blew through overnight the way they tend to do on the High Plains. Around two or three in the morning I got up to answer nature’s call and thought, “Hmm, kinda windy out,” then went back to sleep.

The next morning, around 0630, I got up and walked past the front windows. An overcast sky hid the sun, and I glanced out at the driveway. “That’s an odd place for a bush” I thought, then continued on to load the coffee pot and put some tea water on to boil. Whoa, waitaminnit. Last night nothing was growing in the driveway. I backtracked, adjusted my glasses, and discovered that the neighbor’s tree had fallen over, across the flowerbed and onto my parents drive and my pickup. Remember the scene in the movie of “Fellowship of the Ring” where Boromir states, rather calmly, “Oh, a cave troll”? Yeah. “Oh, there’s a tree on my truck.”

As it turned out, the ailing locust tree barely missed the pickup. A little work with saber saws and a hacksaw were enough to get the biggest stuff out of the way and I moved the pickup. What’s funny, since no major damage was done by the suicidal tree, was how fast word spread that the storm had dropped the tree. Apparently it was the only one in town to blow over, and a steady parade of people with cell-phone cameras began driving past, immortalizing the rather pathetic remains of the small-ish tree.

People are odd.

You Are What You Write?

The question has floated up over the past few days vis-a-vis the discussions about the list of candidates for the 2014 Hugo award. One nominee in particular has garnered much opprobrium because of his personal views and his somewhat abrasive style of not suffering fools, the proudly ignorant, or both. The gist of the opposition to this individual is that because his views on certain topics are Beyond a particular Pale, his works are contaminated and should be shunned. The most extreme argue that anyone on the same award ballot is likewise tainted, no matter what their personal beliefs or writing skills and style are.

I picked up a new research book today, and found an unusual, well, disclaimer is not the right word. An odd comment at the end of the acknowledgments caught my eye. The book is about the history of military technology between 1350-1600 more or less, and I got it because I need to know more about early gunpowder and gunpowder weapons. The paragraph is a brief meditation on the influence of warfare on the research historian, and wondering if immersion in the topic can influence a writer’s perspective, pulling the historian into (in this case) the mindset of the men of the time, which was pragmatic to brutal. The author doesn’t believe it can, but he cautions that historians of war should avoid glorifying it, something I suspect anyone with any experience of warfare would most heartily concur with.

Which set me to thinking, because I latched on to military history and military science fiction (mil-sci-fi) in my early teens and have never let go. Has this interest molded me in some way, or did something already innate in my personality respond to the material? ‘Tis a curious question.

I grew up in a family with several members who had served in the US armed forces (Navy/Marines, Army Air Corps, Army). I read military history from the time I was in my early teens, mostly naval history moderated by large doses of the Bantam Press accounts of various individuals, campaigns, and units. Forester’s The Good Shepherd and MacLean’s H.M.S. Ulysses showed me what leadership and duty could lead to. I watched movies such as Twelve O’ Clock High, Away All Boats, Operation:Petticoat, The Enemy Below, Tora Tora Tora, and whatever else was on (Richard Chamberlin is a magnificent Cardinal Richelieu, by the way.) I planned on a military or diplomatic career, despite being short, female, unenthusiastic about exercise, and short-sighted.

Then I stumbled into mil-sci-fi and found “my people.” First came the Dorsai books. Then David Drake and Hammer’s Slammers (giant hovering tanks! Yeah!), and the Falkenberg novels. From there I nibbled my way into Keith Laumer’s Bolo and Retief books, Elizabeth Moon, and others. I started writing vaguely mil-sci-fi stuff, most of which has long since vanished into the burn bin. In grad school, a friend introduced me to David Weber, I found Tom Kratman on my own, and only recently started reading the Freehold books. They all resonate for some reason.

I do not consider myself an especially militaristic individual. I support a few veterans’ organizations, I believe that sometimes a good offense helps greatly reduce, if not prevent, the need for a good defense, and if someone wants to ambush a few of the [redacted] VA employees in Phoenix who buried “bad” scheduling problems and contributed to people dying, I won’t look too closely into the alley. War should be the last resort, always, but if the bad guys want it, I believe we (the good guys, all of us) should be capable of granting that desire. I also believe in personal self-defense, which includes being aware of situations and surroundings so I can get the h-ll out of Dodge before I need to defend myself.

Am I what I write? I’m not Rada Ni Drako, although I share a few traits with her. I’m not Elizabeth von Sarmas, despite agreeing that when someone says, loudly and often, that they want to kill you, you should take them seriously. I’ve never served in the military despite trying repeatedly to enlist. So I’m not what I write, maybe. Then again, neither is the lovely local Baptist preacher’s wife who writes horror that would make Stephen King leave a 100 Watt nightlight on.

My books don’t preach my politics and vice versa. I would not want to live on ColPlat XI in Elizabeth’s time, not even in the Eastern Empire or the Sea Republics. The caste-based meritocratic aristocracy of Drakon IV is great if you are born a male of the upper castes, or your parents scrimp and save to buy you enough extra protein that you grow large enough to rise into the next caste, or they find a way for you to get a superior education. I don’t expect readers to see my politics in my books, although they probably figure out that I’m not a fan of involuntary collectivism. Nationalist oligarchies also turn me (and Rada) off. Neither do I care for totalitarian systems of any flavor. But I may write about them, and I may have characters who love being of the right caste and income bracket to enjoy the fruits of everyone else’s labors.

Please don’t assume my books are my politics, or vice versa. Unless I lard the book with so much message, any message, that the story dies, in which case judge away.