Archive for October, 2011

Now and then a character simply invents himself, invites himself into a story, and stays. Win, who appears in both Homecoming and Tourist Trap, is such a character. But what is he? Even Marna, to whom he is most real, isn’t sure whether he is a ghost, her guardian angel, or her own slightly schizophrenic subconscious.

Who he was is no problem. Like Marna, he was a Healer, though he specialized in creating consciences for those born without empathy. He and Marna were effectively married and trying for a child at the time she went off to the isolation satellite to research a dangerous pathogen. She was protected from the unrelated epidemic that killed Win and every other inhabitant of her home planet because she was on the satellite. There is no question that he is dead.

But he starts talking to Marna. Granted she is just a little crazy after 200 years without contact with another person, and his voice might be all in her head, but he’s the one who urges her to leave the station when the life-support systems fail. Later on he keeps her company, rescues her from an avalanche, and urges her to accept a new relationship with Lai:

            By sunset Marna had meandered through most of her favorite places on the island, and reached the little meadow that was her goal. She’d come here the first time with Win, two centuries ago. It was here they had pledged to give one another a child, and here, much more recently, that she had come to die. She couldn’t actually see the sun set because of the trees surrounding the meadow, but she could and did look at the sky overhead, watching the red and gold fade from the scattered clouds and the first stars appear.

            She hadn’t really tried to contact Win before, aside from that one unplanned appeal for help after the avalanche. She felt rather silly, sitting on her sleeping bag and calling the name of a dead man into the dusk, but he was with her almost at once, arms around her and breath warm on her hair.

            Win, what shall I do? I can’t stand to be alone again. And I can’t stand to leave you, either.

            His laughter bubbled in the back of her mind. Leave me? You can shut me out, love, but you can’t leave me. Place–I’d almost forgotten that. You’ve done the job Tyr set you, and done it well. It’s time to move on, love. Go with Lai. How else can I give you the child we promised each other?

            But the crossbreeding, Zhaim…

            Part of your new task, love. His voice took on a touch of sadness. Riya’s not ours any more, Marna. Still, she deserves to be loved. That’s your job now, too. But for now you need rest. Sleep, love, and then face your new life with courage.

            And she did sleep then, deep and dreamlessly. When she woke the meadow was still beautiful, but no longer a place it would break her heart to leave. She took a last look around as she gathered up her belongings, saying good-bye, and started down the trail.

So what is Win? A ghost? A guardian angel? Marna’s subconscious?

I don’t know. As I said, he’s one of those characters who invented himelf, and he never told me.

Happy Halloween! Any outdoor real pumpkins here will freeze, though.

Sunrise this morning was at 9:35 am – well after my alarm went off – and the sun will set tonight at 5:33. The day length has already dropped below 8 hours, and the sun at its highest is 11° above the horizon – barely above the treetops. October may be fall in most of the country, and a week ago in Arizona I was sweltering in 80 degree temperatures, but here in Fairbanks winter has started.

I returned to snow, as I predicted. Already it’s over 4” deep, and it will probably remain, as the base of this year’s snowpack, until April. Driving south requires not only sunglasses, but lowered sun visors, and there is enough ice on the roads to produce a noticeable glare. My inability to drive in the dark means that once again I am housebound, except around noon, until next spring.

On the plus side, that means I’ll have more time to write. Maybe I’ll get that trilogy polished up! And my 500th post should be coming up this month. Any suggestions for how to celebrate?

Another snippet from my work in progress, Rescue Operation, continuing from two weeks ago.

At seventeen, he [Buck] was the leader of the group, which included most of the teenaged boys — and a few girls — in the small town.  “That dam goes every six or seven years, and folks around here know it.  Tod, you think it’s ready to go?”

Tod grinned.  “I wouldn’t want to be downstream during a major storm,” he said.  “Without a storm — well, it’d take some hard prying, but I think there’s a couple of big boulders ready to go.”

Check out the other snippets on Six Sentence Sunday.


In the air, vapor’s swirling,
On the pond, folks are curling,
The vapor makes drops, the drops freeze and pop,
And six-sided snowflakes fall down.

On the lake, skates are gliding,
Overhead, clouds are hiding,
Ice in the sky is growing, oh, my,
And six-sided snowflakes fall down

Snowflakes could be square or five pointed,
Or octagons, or spherical, you know,
But water with water is jointed
So that only six arms can grow.

On the slopes, skiers swish on,
Snowflakes hide stars to wish on,
They fall through the air, and catch in your hair,
The six-sided snowflakes fall down.

The rhyme above can be sung, to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” But it’s also a fairly good outline of why snowflakes look the way they do.

A water molecule is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms are not in a straight line with the oxygen atom, but are angled, like a bent line with the oxygen at the bend.

Ice, being crystallized water, is made up of water molecules in three-dimensional order. The water molecules in an ice crystal are held together by what are called hydrogen bonds — each hydrogen atom links not only with the oxygen in the water molecule, but with the hydrogen atom of a neighboring molecule. Given the shape of the water molecule, the easiest way the molecules can form an ordered structure is a hexagonal lattice. I’m not going to try to draw it, but there is a good drawing in this reference.

Most snowflakes actually start out as water droplets in clouds. A few droplets encounter ice nuclei as the temperature drops below freezing, and freeze into ice droplets. Sometimes the droplets explode to make many ice particles as they freeze, and each bit of ice can nucleate another droplet.

If ice and water are side by side at subfreezing temperatures, the ice will suck up water vapor from the water. The growth on the ice will be strongest at the sites where the crystal lattice juts out farthest, so the frozen droplet rapidly grows into something like a very short bit of a hexagonal pencil. The edges and corners of this hexagonal prism grow fastest, and sometimes even sprout arms.

Why are snowflakes often symmetrical, but different from each other? The type of growth is determined by the temperature and moisture of the air at the moment of growth. As each snowflake follows a slightly different path through the cloud, it will encounter a different sequence of growth than any other snowflake. At the same time, all of its six arms see the same sequence. The result is a snowflake that is fairly symmetrical but different from any other snowflake.

Very simple snowflakes – usually simple hexagonal plates or needles – may look very similar to each other. But the more complex dendritic snowflakes are generally one of a kind, because each has had a unique path through the cloud that spawned them.

We have snow of the ground now, here in Fairbanks, and many other areas farther south will soon. If you live in snow country, invest in a small hand lens and enjoy the myriad shapes of the snowflakes.

(Photos are from Bentley’s collection of snowflake images.)

This is an excerpt from the (fictional) Journal of Jarn. In my science fiction world, Jarn was an alien who was stranded on earth in Africa during the penultimate interglacial, roughly 125,000 years ago. He has rescued a prehuman child, Songbird.

Day 490

My calendar is coming along – slowly, but I am now fairly certain that this planet has nearly the same rotation rate and year length as Kentra. The year length is no surprise, as both the sun and the climate are very similar to what I am used to. The rotation rate, and thus the day length, are a pleasant surprise, but not really unexpected – the climate would not be nearly as much like Kentra’s if the coriolis force differed much.

It is now about 90 days past the northern solstice, and it should be near the equinox. It is not as easy to determine the equinox as the solstice, but the day is as nearly as I can measure it the same length as the night, and the sun appears to be rising directly to the east, counting east as being at right angles to the pole around which the stars seem to revolve.

This should mean the sun is directly over the equator, and the rains should be at a maximum there. They will move southward now, and should be here in around thirty to sixty more days—sixty, if I go by last year. So far, the sky is cloudless, and the grass is very dry. Songbird keeps insisting that I watch for fire, and she is so concerned that I have burned off the ground near out shelter.

She has reason, I have found. Several years ago – her counting skills are not quite good enough to tell how many years ago – her people attempted to stay in the area later than usual. The herds had started their migration, but many animals remained to eat the tall, dry grass. Songbird told me what she remembered, but she could not have been more than seven at the time. Nevertheless, she gave me a very clear image of a wall of smoke and flame that very nearly wiped out her group, and in fact killed several who panicked and tried to outrun the fire. Only the shaman saved them, insisting that they lie down in the waters of a narrow creek, covered with wet hides, and let the fire burn over them.

“It was very hard to breathe,” she said, “but most of those who obeyed the shaman lived.”

I am getting more and more intrigued by this shaman.

Rain Clouds

One of our assignments at Summer Arts Festival this year was to look at several paintings from one of the water color classes and use them as inspiration for something to write. One that appealed to me had heavy clouds over a mountain valley, and inspired this.

Beyond the clouds heavy with rain,
Beyond the blue we call the sky,
What galaxies! What nebulae!
What other worlds
Where clouds may float
Heavy with rain.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Quotes

“Identifiable geniuses carved niches for themselves in history.” Poul Anderson, Time Patrolman. Everard reflecting on why the Time Patrol had problems recruiting natives.

“What was legal did not necessarily align with what was actual.” Piers Anthony, Wielding a Red Sword. A reflection on caste, which has been legally abolished in an India with working magic.

“No one is exempt from grief.” Gregory McGuire, Wicked. The Scarecrow agreeing with Dorothy that the Wicket Witch of the East is probably grieving the death of her sister.

“Women drew on the life force; it was they who produced new life.” Jean Auel, Clan of the Cave Bear. Part of the belief system of the Neanderthals, according to this interpretation.

“If it were up to men, there wouldn’t even be weddings.” Katherine Kurtz, St Patrick’s Gargoyle. Comment by the gargoyle Paddy, the gargoyle of St Patrick’s, when Templeton is unhappy about the idea of ordaining female priests. The whole quote is: “Believe me, if it were up to men, there wouldn’t even be weddings. They’d be out gathering the nuts and berries, or whatever it is they do these days, while the woman kept things ticking over at home. But the women want celebrations. They want the big dress, and the flowers, and the music, and the bells and smells, and everybody dressed up in their Sunday-best, including the priest. So all in all, women priests ought to have a better handle on stuff like that, right?”

“Felicity slips quickly by, but affliction walks side by side along our path.” Ernest Bramah, Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat. The mandarin Wong Tsoi has just been fished out of the river by Wen Chung, who was planning to drown himself. Wong Troi uses the proverb above as part of his urging Wong Tsoi to come to his hourse for a meal and dry clothes, after which he can drown himself in comfort if he wishes.

“There was nothing like a good religious conflict to advance the technology of torture.” Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap. Zhaim, gloating over his museum of torture implements.

Tombstone and Bisbee, Arizona

Last Friday we drove up to Tombstone, AZ and Saturday we visited Bisbee. Both are “tourist attractions,” but with somewhat different angles on attracting tourists.

Tombstone is the site of the famed shootout at the O. K. Corral. It started out as a silver mining town, and even today the ground beneath the town is riddled with old mines. But like the dwarves in Moria, the miners delved too deep, encountering the water table at 520 feet. The mines flooded, and it became too expensive to keep them pumped out. The “town too tough to die” survived as the county seat until that was moved to Bisbee, almost became a ghost town and reinvented itself as a tourist destination.

We happened to hit the first day of “Helldorado days,” which emphasizes the wild west side of the town’s history. Not only were gunfights staged in the streets, they could be watched in air-conditioned comfort indoors! Even the street fights were enlivened by details of how the fights would be staged for the camera today, with frequent cries of “Cut! Action double!”

In addition to the wild west theme, there is a good assortment of shops, some featuring local artisans. I spent most of my time in Arlene’s, jumping at the occasional gunshots. My painted ponies have all come from there, and I bought a new one as well as a set of much-needed place mats.

Bisbee, the current county seat, was also a former mining town, though the ore here was rich in copper, gold, silver and zinc. An entire mountain was removed for its mineral wealth, but the city is still surrounded by mountains, the buildings trickling down valleys. Although the mining history is still a part of Bisbee, with tours through the old mines, my vision is such that only my cousins took the tour, while I shopped.

The city today is primarily occupied by retirees and artists. Stores tend toward art galleries, jewelers, antique stores, and other specialty stores. I couldn’t resist a copper butterfly for my wall from the Coppershop, or a variety of honeys and a honey Dijon mustard from Killer Bee Honey. One of my favorites, alas, was no longer present – I used to visit Kate Drew-Wilkinson at Uptown Tribal, where she had a workshop for making her glass beads as well as a store, but she seems now to be only on the web. Her activities as a traveling teacher of lampwork took her away from the shop too often.

Both towns are higher and cooler than Sierra Vista, but still warm to a visitor from Alaska. I have been in Bisbee when there was melting snow on the ground, but this week I was seeking shade.

In Fairbanks, the sunrise this morning will be at 9:12 and the sunset at 5:57 this afternoon for 8 hours 45 minutes of daylight. The sun at its highest will be only about 13 ½° above the horizon – hardly enough to heat things up. There’s been snow, but there’s nothing officially on the ground yet. Daytime high temperatures are around freezing, though, and most days have “a chance of snow” in the forecast, so I fully expect to find at least a few patches of snow on the north slopes and hilltops by the time I get back Wednesday.

Here in Sierra Vista Arizona, it’s in the 80’s midday, though nights are decently cool. No snow, of course, and the days are still over 11 hours long and the sun gets more than 45° above the horizon. We’ve been to Tombstone and Bisbee, and I’ll have more to say about them tomorrow.

Yesterday I got to see the aftermath of the summer’s fires, and the fence along the Mexican border. The photo shows part of the road we drove up today to the Montezuma Pass. That faint diagonal line in the grasslands is the border fence. Swathes of burnt trees were still visible, and it was obvious that the road had been repaired after floodwaters cut new gullies in the hillside. We stopped also at the Coronado National Memorial, and one of my cousins tried on a Spanish mail shirt. That thing was heavy! Between the heat and the weight of their armor, those Spaniards certainly didn’t have an easy time of it.

Six Sentence Sunday is taking a break, so here’s a paragraph from my published book, Homecoming.

Derik had tried for his first couple of centuries to deny the part of him that wanted a lasting relationship — and he was still trying to live down the reputation that had earned him. Later he had tried gentler relationships with Human slaves — but Humans gew old and died. His life cycled among looking for someone he could relate to, decades of happiness with his beloved, and bleak depression as he tried to adjust to the inevitable death of his lover. Male of female mattered far less than the person within, and he had begun to think that he had found his next partner in Roi.

Then had come the discovery that Roi was not Human, but as R’il’noid as he was himself.