Archive for September, 2011


Jarn is a R’il’nian, a human-like alien, stranded on Earth, on the African continent, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has found and rescued a human child. This is the background of the universe I have imagined in my science fiction books Homecoming and Tourist Trap, though they are set much closer to our own time. Jarn’s species has a number of what we would call esper abilities, including something they call conditional precognition.

Day 370

Songbird’s language is beginning to feel much more natural to me. Her views on the world do not.

I cannot help thinking of her as a dependent, as a child who needs shelter and protection.

She rather obviously thinks of me as some sort of godlike being, capable of miracles (such as plumbing and setting her broken leg) and quite incompetent at taking care of myself. She has taken over the cooking, not because she is a better cook than I am (which she is), but because in her mind it is a female’s job to prepare food, as well as to procure most of it.

She also has me thinking twice about the abilities of the shamans.

Songbird’s mother and her mate – Songbird  doesn’t seem to have a word or even a concept for “father” in the biological sense – did not want to leave her, but the shaman assured them not only that leaving was necessary so that the rest of the tribe would not starve, but that leaving Songbird was a necessary sacrifice to the gods. So far as Songbird is concerned, I am the god the shaman predicted. A rather strange and incompetent god, but still a god. Had not the shaman foreseen it?

Is it even remotely possible that the shaman has enough conditional precognition – untrained, of course – to recognize that I would rescue her?

I Have Awards!

My blog’s been awarded! Twice, both on Monday, with my Monday blog already up and Tuesday and Wednesday queued. So I’m posting about the awards today. I’ll get them on the sidebar later in the day.

Both awards require that you thank the donor by putting a link back to their blog, pass the award on to 5 other bloggers (more about that below) and copy the badge from their site to yours. So thank you Marlene Dotterer for the Liebster (given to bloggers with fewer than 200 followers which is a lot more than I have) and Cat von Hassel-Davies for the Versatile Blogger Award.

The versatile blogger award also requires you to state 7 random things about yourself. I actually did 10 a few weeks ago, when I was “tagged” by Samanthia Stacia, but I think I can come up with 7 more.

1. I’m addicted to Shanghai (on my iPad) and Sudoku (on my iPhone.) So far I’m firmly resisting Angry Birds. I like birds, but I prefer them in a good mood.

2. I get along with horses and dogs better than with people. (I like cats, but they make me sneeze.)

3. I have a Harvard degree in physics, from the first year that we Cliffies were awarded Harvard diplomas, well after classes went co-ed,  but before the Harvard-Radcliffe dorms went co-ed. (I believe I was one of four women majoring in physics that year, 1963.)

4. Although I have no professional background in genetics, I’ve followed it as a hobby since high school and have an extensive genetics site on the web that’s been up since the late 20th century. (It actually Googles #1 on “canine coat color genetics. At least it did yesterday.)

5. I went on to get an advanced degree in atmospheric science, taught and researched it for years at the Geophysical Institute, and I follow the political debate on climate change closely. It is a scientific debate only on the details; it’s happening!

6. Although I’ve been writing non-fiction (professional papers and popular science) for years, I started writing science fiction only shortly before I retired. (Prior to that, I wrote fiction only in my head.)

No, they don’t look crowded now, but those are 2″ pots and many will mature 2′ tall.

7. I always have more house plants than I have room for. And yes, the ones I ordered from Logee’s have arrived. I’m going to give them a little time before I repot them.

Now I should point out that honors of this sort have a way of multiplying that is – well, exponential, in the strictest mathematical sense. I happen to think it’s a good way of publicizing blogs (if I can find five that aren’t displaying the award already) so I’m playing along, but if everyone who got either of these awards passed it to five others, the number awarded would rapidly exceed the population of the Earth. (Shortly after 15 passages, to be exact.) So if I pass either of these awards to anyone who already has received that award, don’t feel you have to add to the chain.  What it actually looks like is this, where “generation” is the number of times the award had been passed on if each recipient actually passed it on to 5 others:

Generation number
1 1
2 5
3 25
4 125
5 625
6 3,125
7 15,625
8 78,125
9 390,625
10 1,953,125
11 9,765,625
12 48,828,125
13 244,140,625
14 1,220,703,125
15 6,103,515,625
16 30,517,578,125
17 152,587,890,625
18 762,939,453,125
19 3,814,697,265,625
20 19,073,486,328,125
21 95,367,431,640,625
22 476,837,158,203,125
23 2,384,185,791,015,620
24 11,920,928,955,078,100
25 59,604,644,775,390,600
26 298,023,223,876,953,000
27 1,490,116,119,384,770,000
28 7,450,580,596,923,830,000
29 37,252,902,984,619,100,000
30 186,264,514,923,096,000,000

That said, here are my picks:

For the Liebster:

1000th Monkey She’s a fantasy writer whose blog proudly proclaims she uses a Mac. (So do I.)

Lauri Owen Lauri’s an Alaskan lawyer and a fantasy writer, with two fantasy books in print about an alternate Alaska, with shapeshifters and magicians.

Laurel Kriegler, a South African living in the UK (and who hosts Science fiction and fantasy Saturday each week. My posts for this are on Fridays because I’m almost halfway around the world from her.)

Pippa Jay, another science fiction writer from the UK. Yes, I’m trying to spread this around.

The Writing Reader, a blog by Liz Shaw that provides writing prompts and has just announced a new contest.

For the Versatile Blogger Award:

Since Cat gave me the Versatile Blogger Award in part for my different-topic-every-day-of-the-week format, my first honoree is the person who taught me that format, the well-known mystery writer Dana Stabenow.

Then there’s Romancing the Thrill Quill. It’s based on writing, but goes into all the things that so often get in the way. Like collapsing chairs.

Traveling Through and Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams already have versatile blogger awards, so I’ll count them for half each.

Mattie’s Pillow is an interesting blend of horses, dancing, gardening, writing and art. Posts aren’t numerous, but worth looking at.

Nexus is another blog worth looking at, with a wonderful array of photographs.

I hope you enjoy all of the blogs above. Now if I can just figure out how to get those graphics…

(Turned out to be my new OS (Snow Leopard) which reset the mouse so it thought it had only one button. It takes the right button to copy.)

Fantasy and Science Fiction Quotes

“I’m sick to death of organizations that think they have the right to determine how others ought to develop!” Alan Dean Foster, Orphan Star. Flinx is upset at the fact that the Commonwealth and Church have chosen to isolate the Ujurrians, a race of highly intelligent telepaths.

“The only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee.” A. E. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh, in the process of reasoning that a buzzing noise means honey. (Pooh’s not in the picture because he resides on my iPad.)

“A paranoid has just as much right to be persecuted as anyone else.” Mark Phillips, Supermind. Burris, the head of the Queen’s Own FBI, trying to explain a new case to agent Malone (who, among other things, teleports. Oh, and the Queen is Queen Elizabeth I, at least in her own mind.)

“Men who have abandoned their old ways can discover astonishingly useful new ones.” Murray Leinster, The Forgotten Planet. This refers to the humans who have found the high plateau that is too cold for the insects that have made their life miserable in the lowlands.

“It’s a poor god that wouldn’t answer the appeal of his last worshiper.” Lester del Rey, “The Pipes of Pan.” I have this short story in The Other Worlds (Out of print.) Pan is speaking, as he gives a drink of water to his last, dying worshiper and becomes mortal.

“We can’t sell iceboxes to nonexistent Eskimos.” Keith Laumer, “The Negotiators” in Retief: Emissary to the Stars. Retief’s attempt to translate Ambassador Fullthrottle’s “Our initial challenge appears to consist in the circumstance that I, we, that is, have been dispatched here, in good faith, to establish diplomatic relations with the local inhabitants – a consummation somewhat impeded by the apparent absence of local inhabitants – a circumstance which, unless nullified, will render impossible the conclusion of advantageous agreements between Terra and Sogood.”

“Guilt’s for something you could have done something about.” Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap. Roi, telling himself he is not guilty of causing the plague on Eversummer.

Singin’ in the Rain DVD review

“The times, they are a-changing,” and as a writer, I am well aware of the confusion in the writing world. E-books and independent authors are turning the world of publishing upside down. Readers are awash in a sea of new authors, some excellent, some really awful, and how do they tell the difference?

The internet and e-readers have made a tremendous difference, but it’s far from the first time a technological advance has turned the way artists get their work to the public upside down. Look at what happened when synchronized sound came to the movies.

One of my favorite DVD’s is another with, and directed by, Gene Kelly – Singin’ in the Rain. It’s a movie about the tumultuous time when sound came to the movies. The film didn’t start that way. It began simply as a showcase for the songs of Arthur Freed.

MGM got into musicals almost as soon as movie studios began jumping on the sound bandwagon, and Arthur Freed began writing music for those musicals almost from the start of musicals. Around the middle of the 20th century he had the idea of a musical that would showcase a number of those songs, none of them new and some used in movies as far back as 1929.

The writers were at first at a loss. How were they to do a modern (at that time) musical, with a plot of sorts, with a group of songs written much earlier in the century? But then they came up with an idea: since the songs were written starting at the time sound movies were replacing silent films, why not design a plot around that time period? Specifically, why not center the film on actors and actress who were able to make the transition (Gene Kelly’s character, Don) and those who were not (Jean Hagan’s character, Lena?)

The result is now generally recognized as one of the best musicals of all time: Singin’ in the Rain. But a large part of the fascination of the film lies in the fact that at the time it was made and the story line was being written, many of the people who had actually lived through that transition were still at MGM. As a result, many of the anecdotes that made up the final film are based on the stories of people who actually observed them.

Many of the songs that were used were moved around in the shooting. “Singin’ in the Rain,” for instance, was originally planned to be a trio with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds in the rain with umbrellas – an idea that was retained in the opening title and the cover of the DVD. But as actually shot for the film, it was the wonderful sequence of Gene Kelly dancing alone in the rain, after the trio has come up with their idea to salvage the first sound film “Don” and “Lena” made.

Salvage it needed! Jean’s character was one of those beautiful women with impossible voices, and between the fact that the sound men were not used to microphones (which could pick up the most inappropriate sounds) and what I think would be described as a rather nasal Brooklyn accent, the movie was a disaster! I’m not at all sure that the idea of re-recording the dialogue was that early, but it certainly saved “The Duelling Cavalier.”

If you like musical comedies, this one is definitely worth watching. I may wear out my DVD!

Fairbanks Weather 9/26/11

It’s fall—and to prove it we’ll have only 11 hours and 52 minutes of daylight today. The sun rose at 7:45 this morning and it will set at 7:37 this evening – no more attending things that start at 7 pm, unless I can be sure of a ride back. At its highest the sun will be not quite 24° above the horizon, and days are now longer than those everywhere to the south of us..

Officially, we started fall last Friday at 1:05 in the morning, but it wasn’t until Sunday that we got down below 12 hours of daylight. Why? Because sunrise and sunset are defined according to when the top of the sun, not the middle, is just visible on the horizon. To be exact, you actually have to take into account also the fact that the atmosphere curves the path of the light rays slightly, so that the actual position of the sun is always a little lower in the sky than what our eyes tell us. This is only important when the sun is very near the horizon, of course, but at high latitudes, where the sun rises and sets at a very shallow angle, it can make several minutes difference in the time of sunrise and sunset. This also changes the apparent direction of sunset and sunrise – on the day of the equinox the sun actually rose 2° N of due east, and set 1° N of due west.

The weather has, sad to say, caught up with the season. We had a frost Saturday night, and only the hardiest plants are still going strong. I pulled the rest of the beets yesterday, and picked the few beans that were ready, as well as removing the hoses and laying them out to drain. I’m glad I brought in the potted plants last week. Next step? The potato bag.

The native deciduous trees have lost most of their leaves, with the exception of a few golden holdouts, and even exotics like my Amur maple are close to dropping their foliage. The world has changed form green to shades of tan. Even the evergreens are darkening. Good-bye, summer. See you next year.

Six Sentence Sunday

Here’s the start of a scene from the first book of the trilogy I’m working on. Drafts of all three books are finished, but they still need work.

“Am not a baby, ‘n neither is Tammy,” Tod stated truculently, head tipped back to look up at Callan.  His dislike wasn’t just because Tod was eleven and small for his age, while Callan was a well-grown fifteen, a budding sports hero and the son of the wealthiest politician in town.  Callan was just a little too used to getting anything he wanted.  Tammy was almost as afraid of him as she was of their father, and Tod trusted his twin sister’s instincts.

“Shut up, both of you,” Buck said tiredly.  “Tod may be small, but he’s the best scout we’ve got and far and away the best rider.”

This is science fiction, but the scene takes place on a relatively primitive planet. Like the scene with Amber, I’ll do the whole scene in six-sentence bits.

Other Six Sentence Sunday Authors:

I need to replace the bulbs in my outdoor lights—the porch light, the old dog run light, the lights over the garage door, and the light on the Arctic entry off the bedroom. And I find myself in a quandary.

Ordinary incandescent bulbs work at the outdoor temperatures we have up here in Alaska — below -40°F most winters, and not uncommonly below -50 or even -60°F. Their lives are probably shortened when they’re turned on at these temperatures, but they do turn on.

Incandescent bulbs, however, are being phased out. The idea is to replace them with fluorescents, and I’ve done that wherever possible indoors. I even replaced the hanging fixture over the kitchen table with a ceiling-mounted fluorescent.

Outdoors, however, is another story. Fluorescents (or rather their ballasts) simply will not work at the winter temperatures found in interior Alaska – or the northern tier of states, for that matter. Even low temperature ballasts only start working when it warms up to -20°F – and warms up is the way we think of it up here.

LED’s do work, and I’ve had outdoor LED Christmas lights for several years now. Over the last year, I’ve begun to see a few screw-in LED bulbs. But they are either very low light output (useful for replacing the bulbs in night lights) or highly directional – useful in some, but not all, of my outdoor fixtures. Yes, there are self-contained outdoor LED lights. They use batteries. See my earlier post on indoor-outdoor thermometers, and the problem with the outdoor sensor being battery-powered – even lithium batteries are questionable at temperatures below -40°F. And a size “C” lithium battery? Just try to find one! They’re available on line, but they are obviously a very expensive specialty item, and I’m not at all sure they’ll work at temperatures colder than -40°F.

It’s not the first time national policy has failed to take Alaskan temperatures into account.

I am reminded of my first new car – bought the year Congress mandated seat belt interlocks, which required that you have the seat belt buckled before the car would start, and which activated a blaring alarm if the seat belt was not buckled. 1973, I think. Fine, I thought. I put on my seat belt as a reflex. My father drilled holes in the frame of our old Woody so he could install seat belts. I’d never be bothered by failure to do something as automatic as that.

Turned out the car I got had two switches to implement the Federal requirement. One was in the seat, and turned on the seat belt safety mechanism if there was weight in the seat. The other was in the buckle, and told the car whether the seat belt was buckled.

The switch in the buckle did not work if the temperature of the buckle was below about 0°F.

I did not have a heated garage then.

I finally figured out that I could start the car at low temperatures by bracing myself between the back of the seat and the floor, so no weight was on the seat. Once the interior warmed up, the alarm would quit.

That worked until the temperatures got below -40°F, and the rather poor heater was unable to bring the interior temperature of the car above 0°F. At those temperatures, the alarm screamed constantly – a serious distraction while trying to drive in ice fog with frosted windows. I would never have heard a siren, for instance.

The dealer said sorry, federal law prohibited them from touching the interlock system, never mind that it wasn’t working properly and was a safety hazard rather than a safety feature.

Cars are not my thing. I lived with that alarm for the next couple of months, until the ban on interfering with the system was removed January 1.

It got disconnected January 2.

Day 360

I am beginning to wonder just who rescued whom.

I am not an explorer. I have never, before this year, had to cook my own food. Oh, I knew that cooking would make the nutrients more available, and that fire could be used to cook food as well as frighten away animals. And it was no problem, once I found stands of trees and dead wood, to teleport wood to the vicinity of the shelter, where I have a fairly substantial pile. I even found a straight stick of the right length to allow Songbird to hobble around while her leg is healing.

But I know just one way of cooking. That is to hang the item to be cooked over the fire. This results in food that is raw inside and charred outside. Songbird put up with this for about three days. The fourth day, she dug a hole in the ground and lined it with large leaves. When I came back with a large fish for our dinner, she grabbed it and demanded the knife I’ve been cleaning my catches with.

She proceeded to clean the fish, a good deal faster than I do. She then stuffed it with a number of plants I didn’t get too close a look at, and told me to transfer about half of the coals from the fire she’d started – I’d shown her how to use my sparker – into the pit. Next thing I knew, she was lowering a muddy package into the pit, scooping the rest of the coals on top of the package, and piling hot rocks over it.

“That was our supper!” I sputtered.

“Good,” she agreed. “Sun touch trees.”

By the time the declining sun had almost reached the trees on the horizon, the odors seeping from the pit had my mouth watering. Nor was it a vain promise. When Songbird uncovered her muddy package, it had hardened into a shell around the best fish I have tasted since I crashed here.

“Good?” she asked.

“Very good,” I replied.

She looked as pleased as Patches with a fresh bone. “I cook. I can’t hunt, but I prepare. You hunt? Bring plants I need?”

“Tell me what you need, and I’ll find it,” I assured her. I wouldn’t know her words, but as long as she visualized what she wanted, I was confident I could find it.

Nor was pit-roasting her only way of preparing food. Today she took a gourd, filled it with leaves, berries, tubers, bones and chopped meat from last night, and then dropped hot stones in to heat the water. Again, I had doubts, which were rapidly assuaged by the odors rising from what she had prepared.

Tomorrow I have to ask her why she was left alone. Surely they could have done something for the leg other than abandon her!

I haven’t had much experience with chimney sweeps.  In fact, until that week, my experiences had been entirely from literature.  Bert in Mary Poppins was probably the most memorable of these, with ”I chooses me bristles with pride, yes I do,” and the sweeps’ rooftop ballet across London.  But there was also the knowledge of Victorian sweeps who sent little boys, often later affected by black lung and scrotal cancer, down chimneys.  On the lighter side, Mr. Puffert and the vicar with his shotgun in Busman’s Honeymoon had me grinning as much as Lord Peter.

So when the furnace repairman pointed out on his annual check that the cap was gone from the furnace stack, and that consequently rain was getting into the firebox, I wasn’t sure what to do.  I am certainly well beyond climbing on a roof, even if I knew what to do once I was up there.

“Get a chimney sweep,” was the furnace repairman’s advice.

A chimney sweep?  Well, I’ve lived in Fairbanks long enough to know that lots of people up here heat with wood, and wood causes creosote buildup which has to be gotten rid of to avoid chimney fires.  So it stood to reason there’d be chimney sweeps, but how did I find one?

The Yellow Pages, of course.  Chimney sweeps weren’t listed as such, but chimney cleaning was, with three entries.  The Woodway was the one I was familiar with (and the only one with a live human being on the other end of the phone) but they no longer swept chimneys even though they are one of the largest suppliers of wood stoves.  I left messages at the other two, and eventually got an appointment for sometime after 2 pm Monday to get the cap replaced on the stack of my oil burner and the stack itself swept—it turns out that oil burners need that service occasionally.  It meant missing an afternoon of Festival, but I wanted to get that cap replaced before I went Outside for a week.

The young man who knocked at the door that afternoon was almost as lean as Bert, but a good deal cleaner.  I showed him the furnace, explained the problem, mentioned that my own previous knowledge of chimney seeps was gleaned from Mary Poppins, and did he mind if I took a few pictures?  He countered that sweeps went back to Roman times, and proceeded to clean up the outside of the chimney in the garage, and set his shop-vac to suck in any loosened soot.  Then he leaned his ladder against the door side of the garage, on the other side of the garage from the stack.  “Why carry stuff any further than I have to?” he asked.

Finally he was on the roof, studying the beheaded chimney pipe.  “It’s sound,” he called, a dark silhouette against the pale, drizzling sky, “though it could use some calking.   I’ll do that when I’ve swept and capped it.”

 He picked up the rods at his feet—that was what had made me think there was something wrong with the dark gray shingles—and screwed the first into his brush.  Then another and another, now with the brush in my chimney, until he became the iconic shape of a chimney sweep, working his brush up and down in the innards of the wide pipe.  When I moved so his background was trees, rather than sky, he became a surprisingly neat figure in a blue coverall.  Almost before I realized it he was pulling his brush up and strapping the rods back together.  “Now the cap,” he said.

 The old cap had resembled a hub cap—in fact when it showed up in the dog run, that’s what I’d thought it was.  The new one was double flanged: a shallow-crowned bowler on top, then a gap, then another rim below it.  He attached the new cap swiftly, and then ran a bead of calking around the base of the chimney.

“All done,” he called down, and vanished to the far side of the roof and his ladder.

“My kids love Mary Poppins,” he said as he left.  “They call me Bert sometimes.”  And he stuck out his clean hand to me, grinning.  “Lucky, you know.”

This was actually written during Summer Arts Festival in 2008.  I hope you’ll enjoy it — and get a feel for Alaska.

“I’m a little worried that she listened to me.” Doranna Durgin, Dun Lady’s Jess. Carey, not sure he’s given Jess the right advice. The advice?, Well, Jess was born a horse, ridden by Carey, was transformed into a woman on Earth, fell in love with Carey, became a horse again, then a woman, was advised by Carey to be herself — no wonder she’s confused! He’s in love with her in both shapes – but really prefers the woman.

“Sometimes the very young and the very old exhibit true wisdom.” Gayle  Greeno, Mindspeakers’ Call. Khar, a catlike alien with telepathic powers, when a very old man uses his gruel to force Khar’s partner to be heard.

“The marvels of faery cannot be approached without danger.” J. R.Tolkien,  Smith of Wootton Major. Smith has swallowed the star which gives him entrance to Faery, but he is still aware that it is a dangerous place.

“Expect the truth. And the truth is not often palatable.” Dave Duncan,  A Rose-Red City. Jerry and Ariadne are facing the Oracle, and Ariadne has asked what to expect.

“The wolf will win the most meat which warily gangs after prey.” Poul Anderson, The Demon of Scattery. Halldor chiding his  son Ranulf, who is a bit impetuous – even for a Viking.

“You doubt the power of Nature at your peril.” Piers Anthony, With a Tangled Skein. Gaea, the Incarnation of Nature, speaking to Mira just before giving a demonstration of her power. The quote seems appropriate this year.

“If it didn’t work right away, a Challenge journey had all kinds of possibilities for accidents.” Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap. Zhaim, thinking of ways of getting rid of his half-brother.

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