Mary Austin: Writer, Poet, Naturalist

In Familiar Roads, Rodney and Tay get into a mildly warm discussion about whether North American in general and the Southwest in particular can have geni loci, spirits bound to a place, or at least magical things that act as if they are spirits bound to a place. Part of what inspired that little scene was remembering a fragment of Mary Austin’s poem, “Southwest Magic.”

There are no fairy-folk in our Southwest,

The cactus spines would tear their filmy wings,

There’s no dew anywhere for them to drink

And no green grass to make them fairy rings. Continue reading

Had I but Room Enough, and Time . . .

With apologies to Andrew Marvell.

I grew up reading mythology, folk-lore, and fairy tales, first the kids’ version, then the unexpurgated versions. I still have an interesting selection of mythology, including four volumes of Aboriginal stories about the Dreamtime that are probably irreplaceable, given today’s academic climate.

Several public and school libraries had the Time-Life collection of 21 books about myth, legend, superstitions, and other things. I spent hours reading up on things my imagination probably didn’t need, and a few times gave myself nightmares. Continue reading

Image and Empire: Maximilian von Habsburg

How does an individual convey power and authority in a world without modern media? No TV, no newspapers, no moveable-type printing press to make inexpensive posters or books, the world had none of the things we associate with image making and image cultivation. Well, he uses the latest technology of the time—in this case wood-block and metal plates—to spread his ideas, and jousts.

Maximilian von Habsburg, the member of the family who elevated the clan to their positions of rulers of Spain, Burgundy, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, northern Italy, and the New World, firmly believed in ensuring that his image and his ideas were known around Europe by those who ought to know them. He hired artists like Alberich Dürer and the master armorers of Nuremberg to create paintings, engravings, and armor for him. He also wrote and published books, some that we would call novels, about himself as suitor and warrior. He bridged the gap between the medieval world of the chivalrous warrior king and the Renaissance politics and power-plays of Machiavelli. Continue reading

Over the Hills and Far Away: A musing on duty and characters

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the Sharpe series as I’m preparing to teach the Napoleonic Wars and French Revolution. The songs “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “Love Farewell” have stuck in my mind’s ear. They are both about men who do their duty, knowing that it will take them from those they love and that they may never return. That’s a theme that recurs in my books, only partly because of the genres I write. Continue reading

A Sufficiency of Saints

A rerun appropriate to the day. The Colplatschki Chronicles were one of my first attempts to create a world that took faith very, very seriously. That was partly because of the source material I worked with, and partly because of the trend in older sci-fi to omit religion, or make fun of it. Atheism was the wave of the future, as all enlightened people knew.

Or maybe not…

St. Margaret of Antioch and, um, dragon?

Continue reading

Do all Staré have bad taste?

It seems so to Rigi and her human associates, at least when Staré food is involved. The natives of Shikhari will eat things that make humans think twice, or just back away slowly before fleeing. Rigi does her best to pretend that she does not see tam being served under her roof, or notice when boxes from a tam-patty take-out place appear beside the waste-disposal combustion unit behind the house. If she does not see them, they are not there.

Continue reading

Adventure Tales: Or Why I Like Haggard, Talbot Mundy, and Burroughs

A re-run in honor of the release of Pouchling and Hopling

Short version: because they have fun, or at least you get the sense that they were having fun when they wrote their stories. Tarzan, Athelstane King, Alan Quartermain, none of them spent long hours pondering the meaning of existence and the shallowness of bourgeois society. Nope, they explored, fought, played the Great Game by Asia’s own rules and won, dared to pursue the beautiful woman and won her hand and her respect, stood up for their honor and kept their word. And the books are a romp that leave you feeling better and dreaming of your own adventure when you finish. Continue reading