Sorry about my radio silence, friends. It’s been a busy week.
Please enjoy this article by a friend of mine about songwriting as a liminal process.
Sorry about my radio silence, friends. It’s been a busy week.
Please enjoy this article by a friend of mine about songwriting as a liminal process.
Ray Kentzler turned to look at Spade. He had a square Germanic head and a pleasant broad-mouthed face with pale, smart, watchful eyes under blond brows.Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, by Joe Gores, p. 112
Sounds like my uncle.
I bought this book to use a reference for my character Zillah. She has a built-up knowledge of herbal medicines and of emergency field medical procedures, but I don’t. I used this book to make sure that when she was using a remedy, I had the right plant. (I also had to look up whether the plant in question was native to the region of the world in which she was traveling.)
It turns out that, for almost any over-the-counter medicine and many prescription ones as well, there is a plant that will help with the symptom. God put this stuff in the world for us to find and use. He’s smart that way.
The book is great as a quick look-up reference, but as it turns out, there is also a benefit from reading it front to back. Then you will learn about the methods of collection, storage, and preparation, such as the difference between a tisane (used medicinally) and a tea (just for drinking); an infusion (made by steeping the delicate parts of the plant) and a decoction (made by boiling the hard parts of the plant). There is also basic medical and first-aid information, though obviously, to really know your stuff about that, you will need a much longer volume (such as Where There Is No Doctor), and ideally years of experience and a ton of luck as well.
I am already regretting not reading it front to back before using it as a resource in writing my novels. (It turns out that to make a tincture, you need to steep the herb in alcohol. Where on earth did Zillah get alcohol? She’s full of surprises.)
Speaking of surprises, it might be best not to wait until the apocalypse and then just go out and grab an herb for medicine (although in some cases that might be better than nothing). You’ve got to collect, dry, label, store, and refresh your collection, and also of course you’ve got to know what you’re doing. So, this is a very useful book for understanding the steepness of the learning curve.
(most of the time)
Hi everyone! Welcome back to Out of Babel! My particular off-the-grid August brought a lot of changes: I’m starting a new job.
This new calling is one that should blend well with my other job of being a (still partly home schooling) mom and all-around housekeeper. I’m not sure what impact it’s going to have on blogging, since blogging is down on the priority list, below momming, Christianing, and supposedly below novel writing.
I’m well on my way to having posts scheduled for September and October, so that will be taken care of at least for a few months while I learn the ropes at New Job and how to integrate that with taking care of Old Jobs. There’s just one exception … I don’t have links lined up for Wednesdays.
Heretofore, I have posted a link on Wednesday. Usually they have to do with archaeology, but sometimes it’s psychology, theology, or humor. Well, no more. Something has to give, and this it. I might still throw you guys a bonus Wednesday link if I stumble upon one, but for the most part, all you’re going to get is regional or art pics on Monday, quotes on Thursday, and rants/writing updates/book reviews on Friday.
I’ll still check Out of Babel and respond to comments, and I still demand that you guys go out and buy my books. That’s it for now! Love you all … bye!
“Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.
“I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum. “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder. Fated. Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang. Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, chapter 15
Soon the station came into sight. It had the appearance of an iron cathedral on the shore of the frozen sea. It had spires and arches in its makeup, but none of them were for decoration. The arching structures that clawed into the ground and the sea carried heavy-gauge superconductors and the spires and turrets were microwave receivers that employed field technology rather than the bulky dishes used heretofore.Gridlinked, by Neal Asher, p. 108
I’m sorry. This just did not hold my attention.
More than a year ago, I read Phantom Planet, which is the second book in the Galaxy Mavericks series but came out before the first one. Near the end of that, Grayson, the main character in Honor’s Reserve, shows up to rescue Keltie (he’s in the space equivalent of the Coast Guard). At the time, the vibes I got were definitely eyebrow-raise-what-have-we-here-man-in-uniform-potential-romantic-interest-alert. So it’s disappointing to find that Grayson’s back story is, so far, more boring than Keltie’s.
I don’t have a problem with the fact that this space opera takes liberties with science. In fact, the author includes a hilarious disclaimer at the beginning announcing that he is planning to do just that. Some other Goodreads reviewers actually DNF’d this book because of perceived inaccuracies with hyperspace travel and the like. I would just like to remind my fellow science-fiction readers that hyperspace travel, no matter how convincingly it is “explained,” is FICTION. Travel that even approaches the speed of light probably physically destroys the object traveling. All hyperspace travel is fiction. So is evolution. And boy, is there some fictional evolution in Honor’s Reserve!
Scientists think that the nanocraft [carrying a selection of DNA from humans and various animals] collided with an asteroid that had some kind of molecular life on it, and that that asteroid crashed onto an Earthlike planet that supported carbon life. The two life forms mixed, rapidly evolved, and Arguses were born.Honor’s Reserve, p. 36
Arguses are aliens that basically have human bodies and the heads of pigs. And this entire, intelligent species evolved in … how long? “Nine hundred and fifty years.” Actually less, if you count the transit time for the nanocraft. Wow, that really gives a new meaning to “rapidly evolved.” But frankly, if you look into molecular biology, an intelligent species evolving from bacteria at all is just as unlikely as it evolving in 950 years. So, why not? Remember, this is science FICTION.
I also don’t mind the things in this series that might be considered anachronisms. The year might be in the 3000s, but human nature remains the same. So, Grayson and his fellow crewmembers getting onto a private spacecraft and giving it a bureaucratic-style safety inspection seems refreshingly realistic. I’m sure bureaucracy is not going to decrease with the advance of technology. And, perhaps my favorite moment in the book is when the heroes are trying to jump into hyperspace to escape the villains, and the computer keeps asking them, “Are you sure you want to jump into hyperspace?” and making them click a bunch of permissions, causing them to get caught by the people chasing them.
So then, why did this book keep losing my interest and why did I nearly DNF it at about 40%? Maybe it’s something about the writing. Although I am willing to put up with unrealistically easy jumping into and out of hyperspace, I do like the logistics of my action scenes to be nice and clear, and in Honor’s Reserve, they often weren’t. For example, it was sometimes not clear to me that a character had put their helmet back on (or never taken it off) before, say, the airlock was depressurized. That seems kind of important. There’s a scene near the beginning where Grayson is holding on to the outside of a space ship (or the edge of the airlock door, which is open? Not sure?) where the logistics were just not clear. The scene moved too fast. Show, don’t tell is great, but sometimes with sci-fi we need a little telling, or the scene actually loses drama.
Speaking of losing drama, there was definitely some untapped potential for character development here. I am speaking of Rina, the female villain of the story. [spoilers ahead] She is found to be human trafficking: helping the odious Arguses to kidnap people so they can enslave them. Then we find out that she is doing this in exchange for a promise from the Arguses to protect her and her family. She was at first enslaved, and she has the burn marks to prove it. Well, even if it’s not ultimately excusable, this seems like a pretty understandable motivation. It might bear looking into a little further. Rina has evidently been through some pretty heavy trauma recently and is in a desperate situation. We might want to examine that, no?
No. Rina is consistently portrayed as a sociopath. “You can’t trust anything she says.” She even comes right out and says, “It didn’t really bother me to enslave a bunch of other people, as long as it wasn’t me.” So Rina is thoroughly bad and we can safely hate her and turn her over to the Arguses.
Even this character arc might have been OK if it had been written with a little more complexity: if, say, Grayson had been tempted to feel sorry for Rina when he heard her tragic back story, had tried to turn her, and had then been double-crossed and we find her doubling down on her evil. But that’s not how it goes down. It’s as if Rina is barely a character at all.
To sum up: a bland, one-dimensional villain (and consequently, hero); aliens that don’t seem spooky, just like grosser, evil-er people; and action scenes that sometimes felt rushed and inadequately explained are all the reasons that I found the author’s notes at the end, about his philosophy of space operas, much more interesting than the book itself, and the reasons I am sadly giving this book two stars.
I will say that Phantom Planet, while it had some of these same problems on a smaller scale, was better than Honor’s Reserve. It had some spooky, unexplained things that promised more terror later in the series. I might give this series one more book before I give up on it.
Blomquist went on and on about his pet interests. Vitamins. Diets. Exercise regimes. Origami. His mind could be relied upon to dart off into the most curious byways–and dwell there for hours, exhausting the possibilities of whatever subject it had alighted upon.Alexander McCall Smith, The Man with the Silver Saab, p. 37
This is a brief review of the book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, by Thomas Sowell. Full disclosure: I am writing the review before I’m finished with the book. But given that it’s a series of historical essays rather than a novel, I doubt there’s going to be a twist at the end.
Contrary to what you might expect, not the entire book is about Black Rednecks and White Liberals. The book consists of five essays:
As you can see from the titles, Sowell pokes directly at the eyes of all the sacred cows he can find. Like every Sowell book I’ve read so far, the essays in this book destroy popular misconceptions with facts and logic. But by “facts and logic” I don’t just mean bon mots and statistics from the last ten years. These essays offer detailed history lessons that cover social phenomena from around the world. As someone with an interest in anthropology, I am finding them fascinating. Sowell has drawn from the literature (he has 63 pages of endnotes), but he had also done some research in person. At one point, he mentions in passing something someone said to him “When I was traveling to research the economic conditions of different ethnic groups around the world.”
I’m not going to get in to the political and economic implications of these essays. Instead, I’m going to come at this like a fiction author.
I really recommend that anyone who wants to do worldbuilding for a fictional society read some or all of the essays in this book.
For example, the essay “Are Jews Generic?”. Kind of a weird title, but it turns out that what the piece is about, is economic middlemen. Sowell starts out talking about how, in WWII P.O.W. camps, a black market would immediately spring up around goods that people had saved from their Red Cross packages, such as cigarettes, jam, etc. Some people consumed these right away; others didn’t. Some people were nonsmokers. They needed to be able to barter things. And, just as quickly, up sprang economic middlemen. They knew who had what, and they could help the parties communicate and broker trades. And, they took their cut, which led the other prisoners to look on them as parasites who weren’t producing anything of value, even though they were clearly providing a service that was needed.
It turns out that there have been people, and groups, that fill this economic role in many places in the world throughout history. The Milesians in the ancient Levant, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, the Lebanese in Sierra Leone, the Igbo in Nigeria, the Chinese in Southeast Asia, Koreans in inner-city America … and the Jews in Eastern Europe.
Middleman groups have a lot in common. They tend to be more enterprising than the population around them; they start small, in businesses that don’t require a lot of initial capital, and work their way up; they make great sacrifices to get their children educated; they tend to be clannish, as they must be in order to maintain the distinctive cultural characteristics that make them so well suited for the middleman role. They also tend to be hated: accused of corruption (often true, especially in countries where one must be corrupt to survive in business) and of extortion and hogging resources (often not true, as usually they started out very poor and rose to middle class). Interestingly, middlemen tend to be most hated in economic situations where their role is most vital. Sometimes they are driven out or genocided, which then causes the local economy to suffer because that vital middleman role is not being filled, or is being filled poorly.
Hence, the title “Are Jews Generic?” asks the question whether Jews are hated because they are Jews, or because they are, in a way, the ultimate example of an economic middleman ethnic group, whose intelligence, diligence, and drive tend to arouse the envy of others.
If all this isn’t useful for worldbuilding, I don’t know what is.
Readers will also benefit from this historical perspective. If a fantasy writer includes an economic middleman character who is clannish, a sharp bargainer, and very frugal, for example, it does not follow that the writer is employing a transparent stereotype of a Jew and that the book or movie is therefore anti-Semitic. There have been characters like this all over the world and all throughout history. It is good for readers and viewers to be aware of this.
As always, Thomas Sowell comes highly recommended.
Teal Veyre is really interesting thinker whose blog I’ve been following for a few years now. (She’s the angry bespectacled cartoon gal on the left.) In this episode of her Viridescent Storms book podcast, she and I talk about dinosaurs, giants, utilitarianism, worldbuilding, and of course, The Lord of the Rings. Many of the topics are ones that faithful Out of Babel-ites will recognize, but with Teal’s unique perspective, it’s all fresh! Plus, you get to hear our voices. The interview with me takes up about the first 30 minutes, and then the Storms offer a tutorial on a program called Notion and how it can be used by indie authors.
I notice that so far, the video has only one like, which is of course disgraceful. Get over there and like it and club some sense into those YouTube algorithms!