A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Clearing the Tabs

An informative potpourri today, O Faithful Reader.

1. Darwin Catholic reports on Slate's denigration of women and its desire that they be more like men, which is the only truly worthy aspiration. Motherhood, it seems, detracts from productivity in business, a cog in which machine is or should be the goal of all. The delight, as Brandon points out in the comments, is to see Slate acting as a shill for corporate interests.

2. Meanwhile, Wired lets us know that those people should not be allowed to "breed." One supposes that "everything old is new again" and the search for the superman continues. Why are they called "progressives" if they simply repeat century-old tropes? What judgment Darwin would make of this!!

3. An intriguing new blog in which issues of climate science are debated among professionals. Each "issue" starts with a statement of the problem followed by three to five "guest blogs" by scientists on one side or another. Best of all, the comments are in two buckets: one for scientists and the other for everyone else. That way the loonies can more easily be ignored. The linked issue regards the possible imminent occurrence of a new Maunder minimum.

4. James Bowman comments on the continuing vandalism of works of art by the barbarians of the New Age. Artists of the past must and will be brought into line with current goodthink.

5. The estimable John C. Wright points us to a video in which a woman walks along the streets of NYC and is accosted by all the usual suspects.This is a parody of another video by feminists which triggered an internecine battle between those wishing to expose the harassment of women and those concerned that all of the harassers shown were POCs.

6. Atheist John Gray on "The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins." Gray's point is that Dawkins is not a very scientifical fellow and approaches atheism with the unfortunate pulpit-pounding of a religious zealot. Of course, that Dawkins is a Calvinist preacher has long been obvious. What is genetic determinism but predestination in a lab coat.

7. Our old buddy Aristotle comes in for some kudos from unlikely sources. Despite getting many facts wrong -- supposing our translations are accurate as to the meanings of the terms then in use -- his methodology was sound, and is used to this day. So, he should get a retro-Nobel Prize; or at least a reappraisal of his physics. Aristotelian physics, the author contends "is a correct and non-intuitive approximation of Newtonian physics in the suitable domain (motion in fluids), in the same technical sense in which Newton theory is an approximation of Einstein's theory."

8. Speaking of which, Hassing once gave a lecture examining the revolutionary nature of classical physics versus both the Aristotelian physics that preceded it and the quantum physics that supplanted it. He discusses the various shaky foundations that underlie the Newtonian world-view.

9. In line with which is a paper by Nancy Cartwright on How the Laws of Physics Lie.


A new and curious magazine/journal has come to TOF's attention; viz., Sci Phi Journal, Issue #1 of which can be found here. It is a curious mixture of science fiction and philosophy. I mean, whoever heard of that escapist stuff taking on issues of high philosophy.

Issue #1 features four short stories and a novelette, plus five articles on philosophy. Each of the stories is followed by a short supplement on the philosophical issues it tackles. The philosophy articles are not supplemented by short stories tackling the issues raised, however.

The Table of Contents for Issue #1

By Jason Rennie
By Joshua M. Young
By David Hallquist
By Frederick Best
By Jane Lebak
By David Kyle Johnson
By James Druley
By Stephen S. Hanson
By Daniel Vecchio
By Ruth Tallman
By John C. Wright
Reviewed by Peter Sean Bradley

All of the entries are quite good, but special mention must be made of the estimable Mr. Wright's "The Ideal Machine," which is delightfully Laffertyesque in its account of a First Contact in rural Virginia involving two military helicopter pilots, a priest, and the aforesaid machine.


German, the Legoblock language, can construct new words from old. For example:
is a fine example, should you ever need a single word to designate the captain of a Danube steamship for a travel company. He (or she, we hasten to add) would be a Danubicsteamshiptravelcompanycaptain. Think how this would reduce the word count in your latest manuscript!

Of particular interest are the names of beasts:

There is the appropriatelynamed skunk (Stinktier – stink-beast) and sloth (Faultier – lazy-beast) and the humourslynamed platypus (Schnabeltier – beak-beast).But what are we to make of the racoon (Waschbär – wash-bear) and the slug (Nacktschnecke – naked-snail). At least these keep genus or order straight. However, the porpoise is Schweinswal (pig-whale) and it is hard to see how pigs come into it, Linnaeus-wise.

Most puzzling of all is the squirrel: Eichhörnchen, which breaks down either as:
Eiche (oak tree) + Horn (horn) + -chen (little) or "little oak horn"
or more mysteriously as:
Eiche (oak tree) + Hörnchen (croissant) or "oak croissant"
Croissant? The Austrians, though Darwinianly challened, at least seem reaonable in calling the squirrel:
Eichkätzchen or Eichkatzerl, meaning "oak kitten"

Fun and Games on the Old South Side

Haven't seen this sort of action in the neighborhood since they tore down the Delaware Terrace projects. The cops raided a house about a block away from TOF, looking for a fellow who had been dealing heroin on a nearby playground. There is an alley running behind the duplexes shown in the picture, and the playground is across that alley. In TOF's youth, that playground was actually a cornfield, improbably surrounded by houses and (on one side) by a carpet factory. Every spring the farmer would drive his tractor down from the hill and plow it up and plant corn. Eventually, a new generation of kids arose who regarded the corn as free for the taking, so he gave up and sold out and the city built a park where people could pedal heroin. The carpet factory is also gone. There is a drug store on the site.

From the story:
Easton police served a narcotics search warrant and made one arrest Wednesday morning on the city's South Side.
Elijah Thompson, 23, was taken into custody as part of a Vice Unit investigation into heroin dealing at Milton Street Playground, police Lt. Matthew Gerould said at the scene.
Police obtained a search warrant for a car behind the home, Gerould said, and found $1,500 worth of heroin in the vehicle, Gerould said. Drugs were not found in the house but packaging materials were, Gerould said.
If you take a gander at the picture, you will see a big stone house in the background. This was the first house in the area and was built and inhabited by Francis Schwar (pron. Schwär), from an extensive family of stone masons. The area was once known as "Schwartown" for the large number of relatives scattered about. Their daughter was TOF's grandmother, who lived two houses to the left, off frame. Two houses farther down is the TOFian fortress of solitude.

Special Response Team action is actually rare these days on this side of town. But some years ago, before the projects were torn down, a dead body turned up at the intersection in the background. In another incident around the same time, a car full of urban youth pulled up to the red brick house across the street to the left from the Schwär house in the background, and took refuge inside. (That house, too, had once been a Schwar house.) Shortly after, another car pulled up and a hand emerged from the window with a gun, but found no target but a tree. This was captured on a nearby security camera. The first car, the one from which the youths had emerged, was being sought by cops for a drive-by shooting in the West Ward. Apparently, the cops were not the only seekers. The gun-brandishers were organizationally related to the targets in the original fusilade.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Flynncestry: To the Shores of Amerikay

John Thomas Flynn (c.1841-1880)
Only known likeness; water-damaged

4. John Thomas Flynn

The search for the Flynns began many years ago when TOF was yet young and not yet as close as now to being an ancestor himself. TOF was the eldest of some twenty-odd cousins, some of them very odd indeed, and had lately come into the intelligence that not only did his father, Pere, also have cousins, but so did his grandfather, Pop-pop. The Flynns and allied families, while not so numerous as the descendants promised to Abram and Sarah, would have made a respectable turnout at any rowdy party, nor made it any less so.

And so, TOF, with a cassette tape recorder in hand -- you may recollect such devices from the Paleophonic Era -- went over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house, and there in the Sacred Kitchen, where Irish families always seem to congregate, he mercilessly interrogated his aged grandsire. Well, perhaps he was not so aged as he seemed at the time. In fact, he may have been about the age TOF is today. Any cousin happening to read this will recall the deep timbre of his voice, the precision of his speech, and the hatchet motions of his hand as he made his point. 

Family history is lived forward, but often discovered backward. So one starts with the living and peels back the onion generation by generation, overcoming curiosities and contradictions and resolving oral traditions along the way. Bits and pieces accumulate, not always in logical order. In the course of the interview, several things ancestral emerged.

  • Pop-pop had never known his paternal grandfather, who had died when his father was only ten.
  • He was no longer certain of that grandfather's name, but thought it might have been James or John.
  • His grandfather had been killed on the railroad when he was caught between two coal cars and crushed to death, sometime he thought in the 1880s.
  • He had married Anne Lynch, who had worked for "a miller and his wife."
  • They had all lived in Washington, NJ, where the railroad yards were.
  • He had come from Ireland, and there were two sisters and a brother who "went to California to look for gold."

Armed with this somewhat fluffy information, TOF wrote to the NJ Vital Statistics, and asked vaguely about Flynns killed on the railroad in Washington NJ in the 1880s. Bureaucrats were more nimble in those days and, after all, how many Flynns could have been killed in railroad accidents in Washington NJ in the 1880s? 

Ans.: Two.
But it may be best to let the story tell itself in the proper direction. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day (née Armistice Day)

Today is Veteran's Day (née Armistice Day) 

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war. In three-and-a-half years, the Allies in WW1 suffered deaths amounting to 103 Vietnam walls. That's just over 2.5 Vietnam walls every month.

Technically, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again; this time with massive civilian casualties.

Since then, Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and the Incomparable Marge's families. 

TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC (so he can call down shells on your location.  You have been warned.) but he was classified 4F by a wise military. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, to which TOF expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's insistence on micromanaging the war that irritated him the most, as well as Sec. McNamara's weird focus on corporate-like numbers crunching.

Note: TOF does not know why there are whimsical font and font size changes scattered throughout this post. He has tried several times to correct them but has been defeated by the daemons of the internet each time.


In the late 1980s I set out to write hard science fiction fantasy stories. These included pixies ("From the Corner of the Eye"), dragons ("Dragons"), ghosts ("Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum"), mummies ("Flame of Iron"), demons ("The Feeders"). "Werehouse" is the  werewolf story.

It is very likely the most awful, hopeless, cynical, and depraved story I've ever written. In a strangely literal sense, it stinks. There is a rape and several murders. It uses some bad words and the future in which it takes place is one where things have gone not just wrong, but very, very wrong in multiple ways. It was inspired by the then-popular slogan "Sh*t H*ppens" and the mindset which that implies about agency and responsibility. What happens if indulging the appetites is given free rein. I thought for a time that I would not post it, and perhaps I shall only leave it up for a short time. Let's call it a cautionary tale. It's told in the first-person illiterate

At 11,000 words, it is novelette length. I sent it to Analog, which turned it down as too disgusting, then to Asimov's, which didn't buy the science. Omni also turned it down and Amazing responded that it was not accepting unsolicited mss. Finally, Toni Weisskopf told me about New Destinies, a Baen paperback "magazine" and it appeared in their Fall 1990 issue. It was included in my collection The Nanotech Chronicles and again in a Baen anthology titled Tomorrow Bites.

The carters in the story take the name from Henry Carter in "Remember'd Kisses" and the old newspaper headline Kops Katch Killer Klone refers to "The Laughing Clone," both also included in The Nanotech Chronicles. A close reading of the later Nanotech stories and the "Neighborhood" stories in Captive Dreams indicate an alternate history within the cycles. "Werehouse" is a darker future than the others.

To read the story, if you've the stomach for it, go over to the the story preview page.