Working on the Next Book

No one ever told me that in order to write science fiction I would have to study: Ottoman logistics, mules, sanitation and water supply of the Roman Empire, the Thirty Years War and the development of military technology from 1200-1800, the internal political and economic situation of the Habsburg Empire between 1914-1919, the city of Vienna’s food supply between 1914-1919 (in a word, it sucked), Hungarian history, Renaissance battles, Russian Imperial military tactics and internal politics before 1914 (also sucked, at least the politics did), and assorted other oddities. Now it is naval engineering of the late 1600s and Russian orthodox theological controversies related to the Old believer or “spiritual wrestlers” problem. Continue reading

Alt-History – the Musical?

A few weeks ago, at the start of the semester, I was filling in for the drama teacher. No, JY, I was not demonstrating how to have drama. These are teenagers – they’ve mastered that skill. The drama teacher also teaches a communications class. She was starting with movies as communications – what messages are conveyed, how do actors modify or enhance the script, that kind of thing. So the students were watching the original Sound of Music. I’d seen it before, and was playing “where’s that” as I matched locations to my memories of Salzburg and the surrounding area. Which led to musings about the film as a form of alt-hist. Continue reading

Cold+Classes=Strange Ideas

So, I and at least 2/3 of the school have come down with a malady of some form. There is a rather lengthy menu to choose from, as you would expect in a school in the downward slope of winter. Tummy crud? Yup. Head colds? Check. Coughs? Got that first. Something with spots? Probably, although spotted students are strongly encouraged to stay at home. As a result of illness and outside activities, we’re a touch short-handed this time of year, every year. You know, fatigue plus cold medicine, plus watching other people’s students work leads to some interesting musings . . . Continue reading

The Housecat Returns

I washed the toilet mat. Distress and complaints ensued, especially since it had to stay outside two days to dry. And that was just me whining about cold feet and the draft!

Well, not really. I wear slippers. Athena T. Cat on the other hand, or paw, was not amused in the slightest. Her mat was gone. Where would she sit? Where would she get underfoot and force the humans to pay attention to her every whim? All the familiar scents would be gone! It would no longer be soft! Woe, oh woe!

I'm stressed out, miserable, and starving to death. Can't you tell?!?

I’m sleepless and starving to death. Can’t you tell?!?

Continue reading

Reading Atwood and Learning the Wrong Lesson or: What Theocracy?

The last “heavy” post for a while, promise.

Back when I was in my early teens, I read Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale. It was on the shelf with all the other 1980s postapocalyptic fiction, and I didn’t think too much about it. It looked mildly interesting, had a Bosch-like cover, and the librarian didn’t bat an eye. I read it, and picked up the wrong lesson. I was probably supposed to swear off “fundamentalist” or “evangelical” Christianity, and be terrified of “freedom from.” 20+ years later I am greatly concerned about “freedom from,” but not in the way the book would seem to recommend. I worry about people who want to be free from anything that might cause them distress, offense, or a brief moment of concern. Continue reading

Primary Sources

“Go back to the sources.”

‘What does the original say?”

“You need more primary sources.”

All those words that make historians mumble in our beer and other drinks, or commiserate over bad-for-us meals. “I’ve looked at everything that’s available.” “The archive closed and no one is allowed to look at those papers.” “Yes, it’s been digitized, but they chopped off the margin notes and those are just as important.” Continue reading

Men of Harlech: A Wandering Essay of Sorts

What is heroism and manhood? Why do we fight? I’ve been thinking about that question for a couple of reasons. In part because I was watching the last battle scene from the movie Zulu and thinking back to a conversation-over-beer one night in grad school. Somehow the topic had drifted to guys, and how can you encapsulate the best and worst of guy behavior to show to women? The movie Animal House (and Dumb and Dumber) came up as the worst, and the professor said that small unit battles revealed the best. I suggested the movie Zulu, and he jumped on it. “Yes! Yes, that is the perfect combination – Animal House and Zulu.” (He taught British history and specialized in the 19th century.) I needed the clip to demonstrate firing by ranks, but started at the part where the men are singing. Continue reading

Star Wars Kinda Review

Was too loud. OK, now for the movie. 🙂

I’ll try to keep this spoiler free, since there are a few people who have not had a chance to see the film. If you are waiting for the third installment so you can binge, I admire your patience but question your sanity a little.

I really, really liked the movie. Really liked it. Not love it (yet), but really liked it. It was like stepping back into a favorite hang-out after many years and finding the same good friends, a little greyer, a little wiser, but still the buddies you remembered, with a few new faces who fit right in. I can hear grumbling that there were a few too many parallels, but come on, we’re dealing with Han Solo here, the guy who can single-handedly lower the class of the lowest dive in Mos Eisley just by walking in the door. Of course he’s going to find a bar. And the Millennium Falcon is going to have a systems burp. If she doesn’t, it ain’t a Star Wars movie. Continue reading


Ah, Shi-Dan, the king-emperor to whom Rada Ni Drako swore blood and talon oaths, the only King-Emperor referred to as “The Great,” and now a deity, one of the guardians of the Gates of Hell. When he marched into my view, I had loosely based him on a friend (with permission). As so often happens, he took on a life of his own, and a back-story that caught me by surprise. You see, Shi-Dan was what all the genetic tinkering described in Hubris was focused on creating. He is the über-Azdhag, the super-dragon, the ideal of the Azdhag species. And he and Rada never knew. Continue reading