Mages, Sorcerers, and Witches

Magic workers in the Familiar stories come in several flavors. Those with Familiars are all lumped as mages, even if what they do is closer to witchcraft or sorcery. But when it comes to cases, although most magic workers are aware of the basics of other traditions and working styles, they tend to fall into three groups, of which mages are the least common. Continue reading



All fashions come back eventually, and it seems that unicorns are now very, very popular with the young and female set. Since I once was one of those squealing with delight over unicorn stuffed toys, spun-glass unicorns, china unicorns, unicorn music boxes, unicorn note-books, unicorn books, unicorns on tee-shirts, and so on, I’m not going to cast aspersions. Glass houses and all that, or in my case, spun glass on a mirrored music box that plays “The Impossible Dream.” Instead I’m going to look at unicorns as a symbol and in popular culture. They have a rather interesting story, and I suspect the parents of today’s age 4-12 set would be horrified at some of the older legends about unicorns.

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Too Little, Too Late, or Geology 1: Moche 0?

Coastal Peru is not the easiest place to make a living. Imagine what the residents of the coastal cities must have thought as rumors of the rise of a new conquering people filtered down from the Andes highlands, just as the irrigation system the city of Chan Chan depended on began to fail. The gods must have been very angry. Something had to be done.

20/20 hindsight reveals that the sacrifices were in vain. The cities were abandoned and the Inca conquered the region. The people of the coastal cities disappeared without a trace, at least as far as the Spanish chroniclers were concerned, although the Spanish and later treasure-hunters dug in Chan Chan and carried off lots and lots of gold and silver ornaments and artifacts. The Chimu reappeared in the published accounts after WWII when archaeologists started looking away from the Inca. They had succeeded for several hundred years, had very sophisticated cities and societies, and then collapsed before 1500. What happened? Continue reading

The Value of “Bad” Books

Some time ago I wrote a blog post for Sarah Hoyt on history and “bad books.” Now, these were not titles like the (in)famous E—— Th—– or Sean Penn’s alliterative-alternative to acceptable writing, but books that caused historians to recoil in horror and say “Aieeeeeee! That can’t be true,” and to produce a number of really valuable titles in response. Alas, the examples I used were a bit touchy, so Sarah opted not to run the piece, lest she have a battle erupt in the comments section.

I was reminded of that when I read Kris Rusch’s essay:

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Freezing in a Storm?

On Tuesday night I attended a talk by the author and rancher John Erickson. He’s best known by most people as the creator of Hank the Cowdog, a growing and very popular series of children’s books about, well, Hank, a cowdog, and his associates and human family. However, Erickson’s first books were non-fiction histories and discussions of ranching and the Texas Panhandle. His book, Through Time and the Valley is one of the things that re-kindled my interest in regional history. He was reading from and talking about his latest non-fiction, Prairie Gothic, based on his family’s history.

During the Q and A after his main talk, someone asked him how he could keep going after the horrible fire last year that burned up his home and all the fences and grazing on the ranch. “If I were in that kind of [life]storm, I’d freeze,” the questioner explained. Continue reading

Filk and Folk-Tales

So, I broke down and bought a used CD of Songsmith, filk-music from Andre Norton’s Witchworld universe. Some of the songs are very, very specific to the Witchworld, and in some cases to the novel of Songsmith. But a few others could be our-world folk songs without half trying, in part because Norton drew on a very rich language of legend and mythology to build her world. Continue reading

Hamburg: A seaport without a sea

Hamburg, Germany is a major seaport… except it is 60 river miles inland from where the Elbe and the Atlantic meet. Cuxhaven is the seaport-on-the-sea. As strange as this sounds, a quick check of the map shows that most major ports on the North Sea and Baltic are well inland, up rivers that feed into their respective seas. My readers who sail are nodding and saying things like, “That’s because the Saxons and Slavs weren’t stupid,” and “If you’ve ever been there in winter, you’d stay away from the water, too.” Continue reading