Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Up To No Good

I figured it I wrote about my adventures smoking, drinking, gambling, listening to loud nihilistic music, meditating on dead bodies and basically having a Very Gothy Midlife Crisis, it would be a pretty good way to torpedo my career as a YA author before even getting it off the ground. Maybe it can serve as a cautionary tale.

With regard to the smoking, I used to be a hardcore smoker, back when it was cheap and most people did it. I really miss the impromptu friendships that sprang up in smoking sections, where I’d have seven-minute conversations with my fellow addicts. Giving it up was difficult, and I spent the last several years of my addiction chomping on extra-strength nicotine gum day and night. I’m fortunate in that alcohol and drugs never really held any attraction for me, aside from caffeine and nicotine. I’m still proudly addicted to caffeine.

So I bought an actual pack of cigarettes during my 48 hours in Las Vegas. Menthol ones, because it’s going to be outlawed soon and I wanted to give it one last try. At first they tasted horrible and nasty, and then, within a few hours, I was craving them. I smoked half of my pack, which was ridiculously expensive, and shared the rest with other smokers. Then I had a headache for the next couple of days while it passed out of my system. Horrible stuff. If I were already dying a rapid death due to something else I’d resume in a heartbeat.

With regard to the drinking, I had a vodka cocktail on night one and it gave me a headache so I switched to plain water for the second night and had a much better time. With regard to the gambling, I set myself a firm budget of forty bucks, and I piddled around playing nickel and quarter video poker while smoking some of my foul cigarettes. The two activities go together like peanut butter and jelly. I’m not much of a gambler, though, so why did I return to Vegas? Lots of reasons, but there’s a story involved.

I haven’t really written much about my friend who recently passed away. I’ve been grieving harder than I’ve ever done it before, but I haven’t been able to really write about it because he was a private person and because there are all kinds of legal and family issues that I don’t understand yet am trying to respect.

He liked to throw parties. I was one of the people helping him do so, because I have event planning skills. I missed his last party because I impulsively decided to fly to Las Vegas to see Nine Inch Nails instead. He understood, and when NIN announced tour dates in San Francisco, I bought him a ticket. Then he went and inconsiderately died way before his time, and I never got to see NIN with him, and I’ll never attend another one of his parties again. Damn.

In my quest to move along with my grief so that I’m less emotionally volatile and nihilistic, I’ve been indulging in lots of live music. Particularly the emotionally volatile and nihilistic kind, and Nine Inch Nails does that better than anyone. I couldn’t really afford to indulge in two more NIN concerts, unless I thought of it as therapy. A targeted, focused Good Weekend to counterbalance any emotional angst I should experience at the concert on Monday. Or the concert on Tuesday – a second date got announced, and I figured I’d make it four shows in a row. Loud emotional music, flashing lights, thousands of people all yelling together. To me that’s better than a couple hundred thousand hours of psychotherapy.

Then there’s the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I fell in love with this wacky place. My thirteen-year-old self would have been in awe. I had a very strong urge to visit it one more time, and to take loads of pictures – which I did. They’re all posted on Facebook. Maybe I’ll eventually put them here, when I’m less lazy. It smells like sandalwood, and cigarettes, and alcohol, and it’s full of weird rock and roll memorabalia. Kind of like the Haight-Ashbury but with less communism. Freddie Mercury’s jacket is enshrined there, and Brian Setzer’s guitar, and Prince’s shirt, and Elton’s sequin jumpsuit, and Bowie’s knitted suit, and the gun that Elvis’ doctor used to carry while guarding Elvis’ pill stash. The walls are decorated with signs that say things like “Gabba Gabba Hey!” and the t-shirts say things like “Rock and Roll is My Religion.”

Having never been to Las Vegas in the winter before, I was pleased to find it was actually a normal, San Francisco-like temperature. So the next day, after way too much breakfast at Caesar’s, I decided to walk all the way to ancient Egypt at the other end of the strip. I passed through Paris and New York along the way. I stopped at the Bellagio to watch an impressive fountain show synchronized to Celine Dion belting out the Titanic song. I watched some cute showgirls with pasties stuck to their boobies pose for photo ops with tourists. I checked out the fashions at Versace (yeah, that’s a Showgirls reference).

It’s kind of hard to explain this, but buildings cheer me up. That’s part of why I choose to live in San Francisco. Buildings that are fussy and ornate and full of architectural details can keep me amused for long periods of time, and Las Vegas is mostly made of eye-catching architectural details. So I spent hours walking around, enjoying carpet patterns and window fixtures and pretending I lived in a high tech city in the far, far future. One that was amalgamating the history of architecture’s greatest hits for high volume tourism, because a lot of us humans dig architectural details.

I wound up at the Luxor, where I found the Titanic again. There was an exhibit devoted to it, and since Ms. Dion’s warbling was still ringing in my head (not to worry, Nine Inch Nails would soon take care of that little problem), I bought myself a ticket and gawped at mockups of the promenade deck, and a first class cabin, and a steerage cabin, and the famous staircase, interspersed with actual Titanic relics, most notably a chunk of bulkhead bigger than a garage door. I snagged a Titanic poster to hang in my bathroom – which is small and strangely compact and resembles a boat bathroom, so I have it painted blue and decorated with nautical and tropical type things, and a poster of a looming doomed ocean liner fits beautifully.

I loved the Titanic movie. Not for the dumb love story, for the … cough … architectural details, because James Cameron got all the wallpaper and stuff just right.

Then there’s the shipwreck porn aspect. Not sure if I’ve told this story here before, but repetition hasn’t stopped me from being redundant in the past and it probably won’t in the future, repeatedly. When I was a little kid I had nightmares about shipwrecks. My parents assumed it was due to overexposure to the Arizona Memorial, which was nearby, or possibly from viewing 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. As I got older my terror morphed into weird fascination, some of which makes its way into my stories. I’ll sit through terrible movies  that include shipwreck porn, and as for good movies (like Das Boot) or high budget movies (like Titanic), I sit in rapt attention, fascinated and terrified by the immenseness of the ocean. And yeah, I still do have nightmares about shipwrecks. Fastforward to age thirty-five, when I’m learning about my biological father for the first time … he was an engineer, on board a submarine.

There was another exhibit next to the Titanic thing. It was called Bodies. It consisted of cadavers, coated in plastic. Actual cadavers, plus parts of them – gallbladders and livers and hearts and spleens and anuses and testes and colons and lungs. Some were posed in lifelike positions. One was sliced up like a deli salami.

I have a little bit of anatomical knowledge associated with my job, handling exhibits such as raw medical imaging and summarizing medical experts’ opinions and the like. I’m fascinated by biology. So I bought a twofer ticket, Titanic and Bodies, because why not, and the Bodies actually made a very deep and lasting impression. We’re made of meat. Sometimes the meat malfunctions and sprouts tumors and polyps and grows in odd ways. We age and fall apart. That is the nature of meat. If we can provide a little value to our fellow meat citizens after our shelf life has expired, we are fine meat indeed, but ultimately we’re all just little party snacks in the greater scheme of things. All the elaboration – the art, the love, the appreciation architectural details, the shipwreck fascinations, the nicotine addictions, the volatile emotional music – that’s our real value. Our physical bodies break down fast but the residue we create in the form of memories and fountain shows and window fittings and blog posts and movies and novels last a while, and they are what bring us together.

Death followed me for the rest of the weekend, in a removed and artistic and meditative way. Nine Inch Nails performed an amazing set that included “Dead Souls,” one of my favorites. The show poster was a postapocalyptic Vegas with ravens perched on a slot machine; I’m getting my copy framed. Everywhere I looked there were people decorated with skull t-shirts and patches and tattoos. The casino had a section of Walking Dead slot machines, and the walls of my room were graced with portraits of the late Janis, and the late Bowie.

I returned home to the ill-fated concert, and found people to correspond to my spare tickets. The next night was cold and rainy, and I found a nice seat in a little group of fans quietly filming songs on our phones. I made a couple of my own souvenir videos. And I bought the night’s event poster – a skull.

I guess some people might find grief relief in nature, while others might turn to church. I found it in a crowd of goths with black eyeliner, and also in a bunch of people who courageously donated their meat to an anatomical exhibit to help others contemplate their own meatlike nature.

And in Trent Reznor, mastermind behind Nine Inch Nails. He said he wouldn’t let me fall apart, years ago in a song lyric, and he kept his promise.

I suppose a lot of people would end an essay like this with some kind of vow to be a better person, to eat more vegetables and be nicer to people and be all spiritual, but this is a story about me being an anti-role model, so I’ll just leave that part out. I survived my 48-hours of decadent badness with associated alcohol and tobacco and gambling and scary music, and came out a much better person for it, although I wouldn’t recommend the alcohol and tobacco and gambling parts as they weren’t nearly as much fun as the music.

I do recommend good clean dark nihilistic gloomy scary art, if you're the sort of person who is fascinated by it. It's excellent emotional rehearsal for dealing with the real thing. It is cathartic. It can bond you to other people who have been there and know what it's like. It can heal your soul. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Fun With Public Transit

I take the bus. I have an unlimited bus pass that automatically recharges every month, so I can just walk onto any old San Francisco public transportation device and let it haul me somewhere.

There are lots of us bus riders here in San Francisco. All ages, all races. Rich ones that are concerned about the environment and don’t want to burn fossil fuels on a twelve-block trip. Poor ones who couldn’t afford the $200+ fine for parking in a bus zone, let alone a car. Stoners and drunks, considerate enough to avoid getting behind the wheel. People with hidden and obvious handicaps – I might fall into that category, since driving gives me more cluster headaches than not driving, which is the main reason I cut way down on driving. Kids. Crazy people. Sane people. Smelly people. Cute people. You will meet all kinds of people on the San Francisco Muni system.

Foreigners and people from old-school cities understand, but sometimes people from other regions are aghast at all this public transportation. I should know, I came from that world. My parents lived in Southern California for many years, and I was in the DMV on my 16th birthday, when it opened. My first car was a turquiose 1968 Mustang with a 289 engine. My last car was a bottle green Cadillac El Dorado – a late ‘70s model, can’t recall the year.

(In fact, my secondary reason for decreasing driving is purely aesthetically-oriented, and cars began looking too similar and dreary and visually boring. You’ll probably just dismiss me as a beatnik writer type if I start going on about aesthetics, however. Other than to say that taking the 22 Fillmore past friendly old Victorian houses while reading a great novel on my phone is something I really enjoy, and being stuck in traffic sucking up exhaust fumes while feeling a headache start up behind my right eye while staring at a flock of lookalike SUVs and big box stores while listening to the timeless classics like “Life is a Highway” that are always playing on corporate FM radio is something I do not really enjoy.)

A lot of Americans really do not like public transportation. They associate it with filth, and criminal behavior, and poverty, and close proximity to whatever kind of people they personally dislike. While I understand this attitude and shared it during my suburban youth, the Bay Area actually seduced me into liking public transportation because there is so much of it, and you can get nearly anywhere, and I spent my teen years doing a lot of exploring the Bay Area.

I’m going to elaborate on that. I spent a lot of my teen years exploring other people. My dad worked in retail management (at a store kind of like Woolworth’s) and was in constant contact with the public by day. By night, he was misanthropic and didn’t want to see anyone but family. This is a man who had a total of five people at his funeral, all of them relatives and none of them tearful. Later on, I realized he was using isolation as a control tactic against my gregarious and airheaded mom, who was always big on socializing with neighbors and whomever else was around. My birthplace, Maui, was even part of that, as he dragged her to one of the most remote places in the US, far from her support system of family and friends. The more I learn about my adoptive people, the happier I am that I’m not actually related to them.

For myself, I’m also kind of introverted but not nearly as extreme as my family was. They changed my school once or twice a year, and discouraged me from bringing visitors home, and made a big point of being too holier-than-thou to do trashy things like consume alcohol and go to parties and consort with people who do not use proper grammar. In fact, there was a lot of subtle “we don’t socialize because we’re better than everyone else,” which is laughable since we were actually sort of poor and undistinguished, and is an attitude I personally loathe and actively resist every day.

So yeah, rather than being one of the people sealed off in their little highway bubble looking down on all the people who need to stay in their own bubbles, I opted to share a great big bubble with random strangers. Because it helps me be a humble, grounded, functional member of society despite my weird upbringing.

Also, there’s reason three: because I felt strongly about not contributing to detrimental climate change. I still do, but I have nearly reached the “told you so” stage. We all had access to the same information, but some of us chose to become green-living urbanites while others didn’t. Maybe my fiction will help kids brainstorm some ways to keep our species from extincting itself out of sheer stupidity. And yes, you’ve got me, I didn’t defeat all of that elitism – but I constantly work on it.

Which brings us to reason four: I'm a conditional cheapskate. Owning a car would make sense if I needed it to make money, but instead it would just sit around draining money in an unproductive way. Not owning a car, conversely, allows me to occasionally stay in fancy hotels where I can unleash my elitist side in harmless fashion for a handful of days. If I'm prudent most of the time (e.g. pubtrans), it's okay if I have an occasional splurge. 

When I was a teenager, in addition to exploring other places, I became fascinated with exploring other people. Clearly, not everyone lived the same way I did. Perhaps if I learned more about this I’d discover a way I preferred to live, and people I preferred to live with. So I went around forcing myself to learn how to strike up conversations with strangers. I observed other people in public. I even hitchhiked a lot, which you could do back in the ‘70s because there were a lot fewer serial killers, or maybe they were just better at not getting caught.

Public transit, especially in the green and quasi-European Bay Area, became one of my favorite ways to randomly encounter other people. I can eavesdrop on teenagers to help capture the rhythm of their speech in my stories. I can coo over other peoples’ cute dogs and babies. I can dispense sage advice to people from interesting countries.

Sometimes I get involved in strange group interactions. There was one time I was taking a bus line that contained a lot of (a) medical professionals; and (b) drunk crazy poor people. One of (b) was on the bus acting all belligerent and trying to get people to fight, at which point several (a) kicked in – along with a substantial number of regular civilians who apparently have had some method of training in conflict de-escalation. Before very long at all the crazy agro guy was calm – and had revealed it was his birthday, so all of us were wishing him happy returns. From potential crime scene to birthday party in twenty-one blocks. It still amazes me when I think about it.

This morning we had a young lady who is too good to ride the bus with us peasants. First she made a short film with her phone, referring to her audience affectionately as “bishes,” and then she began taking calls, loudly explaining to each of her friends that she was forced to take pubtrans only because her car was in the shop as she dominated the airspace with her slangy young girl voice.

I ran into her male counterpart a couple years back, explaining (loudly) to his city friends that he could never, ever sit down on pubtrans because his mouth would then be at the same level as other mens’ genitalia, which would make him some kind of symbolic homosexual. Which would not be a valued trait in the agricultural region he called home.

It’s true that I love to bury my nose in a book while riding pubtrans, enjoying the ability to read my way through my commute rather than having to pay attention to the same visually uninteresting stretch of road over and over.

But I try to look up from my book every now and then, just to see who’s around me, and include them in my visual category of “other people who belong here,” and silently wish them well.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Happy International Men’s Day

According to my Facebook feed, November 19th is International Men’s Day. And I’ve been thinking about men lately. They’ve been popping up in my Facebook feed – a father’s distraught post about his incel son who terrorizes his young daughter’s friends with gross sexual references, a woman’s confident post that masculinity is not toxic, my brother’s references to manly cars. Last week I went to a conference where I got interrupted a bunch of times by men while trying to check in and register. Then I went to a memorial service for an admirable man tearfully remembered by a slew of people vowing to live their lives more like his.

I guess these days a lot of people are interested in how a writer does male characters, and how they fall on the political spectrum, and whether they are likeable. I’m somewhere in the middle of the scale as far as my feelings about men. There are a lot of men I love and admire, and yet I do think there’s such a thing as a lethal dose of masculinity.

My character Rufus Marshall is a stand-in for Ares, god of War, symbolically speaking. I tried to make him closely resemble my vision of positive masculinity.

Victorious: When Rufe first appears he is playing a competitive sport, and winning. Not long after he is fighting for his life while protecting people, and winning. Rufe does not fail. If there are victory conditions, he will strive to meet them. Note that he was not born a winner and his first major victory fell on him by accident. He doesn’t always win, but he always tries his best. 

Protective: Rufe shields women and children. If you’re drowning, he’ll toss you a rope. If someone’s trying to kill you, he’ll make them stop. If you need somebody to do something strenuous, or dangerous, or heavy, Rufe is your man.

Fighting Skills: If you need a lot of people to fall down in a hurry, call Rufe. He’s well-versed in weaponry, plus he can improvise, like that time he took down a pedo by flinging a sports trophy. He’s buff and he enjoys working out, just in case he needs to rip open a six-pack of action/adventure.

Romantic Discretion: Rufe can handle romantic complications without getting angry, or possessive, or jealous. He accepts “no” for an answer.

Inspiring: Rufe is good at leadership – another skill he’s had to practice and study. He sews up the messy and complex war with Dysz, and with the Qoros, single-handedly. He takes charge and sets things right.

Self-assured: Although Rufe most definitely has an ego, he believes in himself and has no need to control or bully others. He’s a gracious winner who can flaunt his prizes without rubbing them in peoples’ faces. He is confident in the knowledge that many, many lovely women would think he is prime husband/lover material, and there is no reason to approach them with neediness or desperation.

Team player: Rufe is also good at being part of an ensemble. He has been pals with Blocker (a woman of color) and Quicksilver (a gay dude) for years. While he is onboard a ship he cedes authority to the captain. His clashball team made it all the way to the championship, and might have won if not for those meddling kids.

In summary, Rufe would be a perfect boyfriend if you’re into rich, muscular celebrities who can pummel all your enemies and be a charming host at all your parties. He’s definitely a guy you would want on your team. He’d be a swell co-worker, a terrific boss and a marvelous neighbor. He’s full of energy, and everyone that he’s not currently beating up seems to like him.

There are, however, negative (some people say (shudder) “toxic”) manifestations of masculinity which are not part of Rufus Marshall’s character at all. Some people think these behaviors are macho. Some people also think that cheese is a vegetable, or that Long Island is near the Big Island. All of these people are deluded and incorrect, especially the ones that go around expressing their sacred manlihood in foul, degenerate ways.

Domineeringness: If people respect your leadship skills, they’ll jump to follow your suggestions. If you have to be threatening and scary to get people to follow your orders, you’re not very good at dispensing them. Not being very good at things, yet continuing to do them badly, is not masculine.

Cruelty: You went out with some high tech weapons and killed an unarmed animal? Your wife/kids don’t dare disobey or contradict you? Slurs and insults spew from your mouth like droplets of drool and you’re not going to tone it down because that’s just the way you are? That’s not machismo, that’s called “being an asshole.”

Ignorance: Real men read books, and they enjoy learning new skills. Intelligence is manly. Dumbness is invertebrately.

Narcissism: Expecting everyone to constantly pay attention to you, defer to you, work around you, predict what you’re thinking and otherwise make you the center of everything is not manly, it’s bratty-little-kidly. 

I will note that most men are unobjectionable. Some men are awesome. A few men oughta be locked up somewhere far away from the rest of us. Men vary that way. They are not a monolithic species, all thinking the same thoughts and acting in the same patterns, otherwise fiction would be even more boring than it is. However, it is true that overexposure to horrible men can lead to the perception they’re all that way.

Personally, I like writing male characters. I feel like my male characters are more convincing than my female ones, probably because I’ve read so many books written by and about men. All kinds of men, including horrible ones, like V.S. Naipaul and Charles Manson. My heart lies in action-adventure, a genre mainly populated by men and tomboys. My female characters are far more willing to get on a creaky ship or emotionally unstable horse than most actual women.

There is a war right now in my facebook feed, with one side proclaiming there are only two (2) genders, and the other discussing biological issues such as intersex and chromosomes and the fact trans peoples’ brainscans reflect their reported gender. I’m going to have to side with the science (I’m very predictable) and add that I believe masculinity (and femininity) are more like dimmer switches than toggles, and everybody has different proportions of both. Because I’m also very essentialist, albeit the kind who thinks men and women are equally male and female, except for those who aren’t.

I’ve written in the past that I think “gender is silly,” and to some extent I still feel that way. I suspect that I’m one of those genders that is totally blind to peoples’ reasons for wanting to live a life that celebrates their gender. Until I come to terms with it I’ll continue being a female heterosexual (ret.) who is happily single. Not because I don’t like men – more like because I like solitude even better.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

San Diego Comic Con, Here I Come!

Every year for the past few years I have tried to get into the San Diego Comic Con, which is ridiculously tough, even compared to getting into Blizzcon, or getting Nine Inch Nails tickets.

This year I got in, mostly by serendipity. I got an email a couple weeks earlier reminding me I was still registered from last year and inviting me to make sure all was current, so I did. I set an alarm, thinking "yeah, I'll totally be getting up before noon on a Saturday to get disappointed by SDCC again."

And yet due to a particularly brutal week at work, a nice rich bowl of chicken korma curry (I've been celebrating Divali by pigging out on Indian food), and the annual ridiculous ritual known as Daylight Savings Time, I fell asleep very early on Friday night, waking up in plenty of time to hear my alarm and think, "oh yeah, I should try to get a SDCC ticket."

Dear Reader, I did get that ticket! For Thursday through Sunday, right after my fifty-sixth birthday.

I feel like Charlie Bucket! I've got a golden ticket! I've got a golden twinkle in my eye!

Yeah, you're right, I'm still not a big Marvel Superhero fan ... but Comic Con includes everyone else. OMG! This is going to be awesome!

So there are my two science fiction conventions for 2019: BayCon at Memorial Day and SDCC in midsummer. Sorry, Hawaiicon and all the rest. My dance card is full.

I suppose that means I'll need to finish writing this book so I can launch it.

The Skeptical Astrologer and the Dialectics of Darkness

Here is a nice deep article which has been reverberating in my brain since I first read it, a couple weeks ago. It’s a review of a book which focuses on the idea of “disenchantment” as well as an idea that is the focus of one of my artistic obsessions: Who gets to decide what is magic and what is science?

Meyer-Briggs, for example. It was designed based on Jungian concepts, which were based on astrology. Somehow it crept into the scientific lexicon sideways, although it usually folds right up when subjected to scrutiny.

Another idea that bounces before my eyes like a carrot on a string is the one about the evils of modernity. I rather like modernity. I’m glad I didn’t have to live through pre-modernity. I’m not sad when I think about alienation from our pure ancient organic roots, I cheer. Because those roots aren’t so pure, and pre-modern humans were brutal and ignorant as often as they were noble (just like current humans) (and just like future humans will be, according to my science fiction anyway). And people who try to get you riled up about how much better life was during times you can’t remember tend to be manipulative con artists.

And people who use the word “nowadays” in casual conversation tend to be people I avoid. Particularly if they’re under thirty.

There’s a certain tendency among liberal progressive types to embrace things that appear to be ancient and pre-Christian (but frequently aren’t). Yoga, for instance, has only existed as a formal exercise-class type practice since the 1900s. The “shamanic” embrace of the four elements is actually derived from astrology – shamanic cultures might have zero elements, or more than four elements.

(Air: Gemini-Libra-Aquarius; Water: Cancer-Scorpio-Pisces; Earth: Taurus-Virgo-Capricorn; Fire: Aries-Leo-Sagittarius.)

In the early 1900s there was a bit of an effort to claim all cultures really worshipped the same things by correlating various cultures’ pantheons of deities to the Greek/Roman gods, often via astrology. One of the main cheerleaders of this kind of universalism was Aleister Crowley, who felt everyday people would be better served by revamped paganism than Christianity. His opinions were merely part of a wave among people then considered forward-thinking, about how the evils of modern civilization could be erased by taking a willful and calculated step “back” – or to the back as some people imagined it might have been. And back-to-nature became baked into progressivism, so that we have more allegedly forward-thinking types that resist vaccinations than futurists who embrace solar power.

Lab-grown meat is about to become a thing, and it will eliminate incredible amounts of animal suffering … and there will be quite a few progressives decrying it as unnatural in comparison to factory farming, and claiming they refuse to let their children eat it.

Anyway. I enjoy a good baked potato, but my life would be very bleak without a can of ranch-flavored Pringles every now and then.

EDIT: I was incorrect when I said progressives include more anti-vaxxers than solar energy proponents; I do believe the latter are actually more numerous in progressive circles, although there are quite a few progressives who resist screens and GMOs and techies and the inorganic and so on. I was correct when I said Pringles were good, and I just bought two cans of pizza-flavored ones.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review: Arabella the Traitor of Mars by David D. Levine

I let the third volume of the Arabella Ashby trilogy sit untouched in my Kindle for a couple of months before cracking it open. I didn't want it to end, for one thing.

For another, I've been mourning my friend. I turned to the complete Elfquest for comfort, and it worked ... until near the end, when my favorite character died. I was mourning a fictional character and a real person at the same time, which was painful.

Finally I lightened up enough to crack the third Arabella book, and once I did, I fell right into its loony world, a steampunk brew inspired by Jane Austen, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Patrick O'Brien. One where sailing ships rise vertically from planets and cruise along weightlessly towards Mars, and Venus, both of which are covered with alien life forms and ancient civilizations.

When we last left Arabella she was responsible for the downfall of the villainous Napoleon, having lost a leg in the process. Equipped with a shiny clockwork foot, she visits Earth, complete with a brief reunion with her mother and sisters. While hobnobbing with the gouty old prince and his social set she learns of a royal plot to colonize the crap out of Mars, with a little Opium War homage sprinkled on top.

While Arabella's husband, the dashing Captain Singh, contemplates the prince's offer of a title, our stalwart heroine escapes with a privateer and soon finds herself happily surrounded by navigational calculations and spare robot parts. Hastening off to warn the Martians of the fiendish plot. Which leads to the biggest steampunk interplanetary sailing ship battle of all time (as luridly depicted on the cover).

Installment three is every bit as engaging as parts one and two, but there is also a grim aura around it as Arabella fights for the Martian rebellion, and nearly dies for it, on multiple occasions. When I got to the end and read the afterward I learned the author's partner had died while it was being written, and that's probably the reason behind this new solemnity behind the froth. And that I'm not the only one to have their authorly stride disrupted by a personal tragedy halfway through the end of the trilogy. I'm probably not the only one to notice the solemn pensiveness swirling around part three.

I'll be nominating this and the entire series for as many Hugo awards as I can this year. There should be lots more books like this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

I Come From The Land of the Ice and Snow

Ancestry revised their estimate, and today I am British, Scottish, Irish, German and Norwegian.

I note that (leaving adultery off the table) I have direct German ancestors but Norway's kind of a new unsubstantiated revelation, unless my Sherwood ancestors from Canada originated there. 

And since I'm offering myself up as a guinea pig for the proposition that DNA studies suck at discerning your ethnic makeup, here's another chapter in the saga.