Monthly Archives: May 2018

493. Lost Classics

I have been cleaning out a house where I used to live. It’s a little like archaeology. This was the house where I wrote some of my early novels, and it is the place I have been keeping the older and less often accessed half of my books. Every place I go in the house, a good memory looks back, and every box of books I open brings a forgotten smile.

I found an old A Common Reader catalog. I wish I had kept all the ones I received in those days, but who knew that A Common Reader would go out of business and make them irreplaceable. I’ll tell you about it in a future post.

One of the odd books I ordered from that odd catalog also turned up, Lost Classics by Michael Ondaatje, Michael Redhill, Esta Spalding, and Linda Spalding. You only need the first name to find it on Amazon, but fair is fair. I quote from the introduction:

A book that we love haunts us forever . . . it is in the act of reading, for many of us, that forged out first link to the world. And so, lost books . . . gnaw at us.

I know the feeling. Although, to be honest, I try not to lose my favorites, which is why it takes two houses to hold my library.

Lost Classics comes from Brick: a literary journal. In 1998, the editors ran a Lost Classics issue, and thereafter they were inundated with additional material from their readers. This was collated into the volume on the desk in front of me. You can still get it from Amazon, even though it came out in 2000.

Seventy-four writers provide short essays on somewhat more than that many lost books. They range from slightly forgotten to seriously obscure, but they all fascinate. Searching the index, I find that when I first read Lost Classics nearly two decades ago, I had already read two, The Highwayman by Phillip Noyes (one of only two which really weren’t lost) and N by E by Rockwell Kent. A couple were on my to-read list, and I made a point of finding and purchasing Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright. On full disclosure, it was too dense to penetrate.

That leaves nearly eighty unaccounted for, and that is the point. These are books you will probably never see, but the joy here is reading what they meant to those who did read them.

These are strange people, but I think they will be familiar to you. I will give you just one example:

I cannot find the book and the two or three people to whom I might have lent it have no memory of it, have never heard of it. But I have a clear memory of a Saturday in the summer of 1990, during the year when I tried to live one month in Dublin followed by one month in Barcelona and managed not to live much at all . . . the book hit me hard. I started reading . . . and I am still recovering, in certain ways, from what I learned.

Which reader was that? Which book? I won’t tell you. You will have to find a copy and seek it out for yourself. If you like old things, or odd things, or obscure things, you owe it to yourself.


492. Runeboards

If you are wondering what a runeboard is, look at the top of all the menhir posts. It is a stars-within-stars tool of divination used all over the world of the menhir. Dymal and Taipai were using one in the opening last Wednesday’s Serial and Hea Santala herself has one incised on a truncated stalagmite in her island fortress Whitethorn.

Normal folks, like Taipai, have runeboards incised on wood with counters of brass. There are seventy-one spaces on the runeboard, and seventy-one counters. Each counter bears a rune, but I’m no Tolkien. I didn’t design seventy-one unique runes. That is left for your imagination.

Each rune has several different possible meanings, so simply spilling counters on wood doesn’t mean much. There is a role for intuition in reading which meaning is appropriate to the moment. Also, in a typical spilling of counters about half of the counters just bounce off and lie mute around the board. The ai (personal power) of the caster is involved in a proper scrying.

Really exceptional runecasters, like Lyré, conjure up three dimensional runeboards out of their own personal ai, but normal people, including the rest of the gods, stick to wood and brass.

The inverted star in the center of the board is called the Heartstar. The pentagon that forms its center is called the Heart of the Heartstar. In a true reading, the rune carrying the personal symbol of the caster, or the subject of the casting, falls on the Heart of the Heartstar. If it does not, the scrying is suspect.

By the way, there is no diabolical reason for the inversion. It just lines up better that way with the small stars on either side. Aesthetics rule, in this case.

On very rare occasions, when the caster is a dziai or dziain (man or woman of power) a full mandala emerges. This means that all the counters fall on the board, one per space, with the kladak (personal symbol) in the Heart of the Heartstar. From such a casting, much can be learned about its subject, so achieving a full mandala gives the possessor power over the subject of the mandala. You will see that occur late in Banner of the Hawk.

Incidentally, if you want to pronounce dziai properly, the d is nearly silent, just a whisper of air over the tip of the tongue, as if you were saying “tisk“. Pronounced properly, dziai sounds almost like tziai. But not exactly. A native speaker would hear the difference.

I suppose there are writers who work all this kind of thing out in advance. I further suppose that those people are good at video games. Not me. I played video games with my nephew one time and found it supremely boring. In my case, I discovered (rather than invented) the rules of the runeboard as I wrote the first draft of the menhir books, and refined them while I refined the rest of the work.

That’s also how the language of the Inner Kingdom crept in, one word at a time. Grammar came later.

Also, Lyré is pronounced lee-ray.

490. Morning of the Gods

Other lands; other skies.
       Not of earth.

Lands of red sky and green sea;
Lands of gray sky and silver forests.
Lands as endless as the sands,
       and nameless as the waves of the sea.

Watch realities shift into one another,
                     Slip by, slip by, slip by,
Like fleeting images seen
       in a nightride through chaos.

Come with me then, to where consciousness ends.
Where experience missed,
       sets an iron boundary on our lives.

Come to a land of red sky and green sea,
And a land where the gray sky
       locks hands with the elfin forest.

Come with me to a land that has no name.

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Today, this is a poem, because I shifted its order, set it into lines, and tweaked where needed. It started as the opening paragraphs of a novel. 

489. The Cost of Empire 4

This is the last of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Jons had locked the lever, so Daniel gripped the rail in front of him and looked for the shark. By the time the Anne of Cleves had turned far enough to see it, the American had almost reached the outer line of ships. It seemed to be headed toward the narrow gap between two freighters. Daniel took bearings continuously, sending them to the Commander as fast as he could refocus. He marveled at the American’s audacity, and wondered how soon he would shear off.

He didn’t.

The American sub plowed along, passing before the Brixham, causing it to waver and turn partially aside, then turned hard to port and took station inside the convoy.

No, he didn’t take station. The shark did not slow down. It forged forward between the Naesby and the Bamburgh Castle, slick as a knife through butter, far faster than the freighters on either side. Then it made another hard turn across the Naesby’s bow and left them all behind, heading due north. Daniel continued taking readings on its retreating fin as it shot away, twice as fast as the ships in the convoy.

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Old Ugly was a small ship with a small crew. Even Commander Dane was only in his mid-thirties, but that made him the oldest officer aboard. Daniel and David, just out of the Air Academy, were the youngest and least experienced. That made them the dogs of all work aboard the dirigible, constantly shifting duties through engines, gas bags, navigation, communications, ranging, and munitions. It was a great way to learn a lot, fast.

That night in the officers’ mess, Daniel and David took places on benches opposite each other at the bottom of the table. Commander Dane was in the single chair, bolted to the floor at the head. He mumbled some pleasantries until they had all begun to eat, then said to the assembled officers, “Today we had another demonstration of what the Americans are capable of, and what they are willing to risk. Mr. James, what was the top speed they demonstrated?”

There was a trace of a smile as he asked, and Daniel sighed softly. He was reminding Daniel of the two slight errors he had made today. It was Dane’s way of keeping all his men on their toes. Daniel answered, “Thirty-one knots, Sir.”

“Do you think that was their actual top speed, or were they holding something back from us?”

“No way to know, Sir.”


By now Daniel knew it was better to be wrong than to be timid. He said with no apparent hesitation, “Probably not their emergency top speed, but their operating top speed, Sir.”

“Why? What is the basis for your estimate?”

“They were showing off, Sir. They always seem to be showing off, but this was more than audacious. This was actually dangerous, yet they did it anyway. Given that it was a show, and that they are showmen, if they could have gone faster, they would have.”

Dane nodded with no further comment and turned his attention to his next victim. Every meal at the officers’ mess was like an oral exam.

This evening Dane worked his way down the table, with a different mental task for each officer present, and ended with David.

“Mr. James — Mr. David James — tomorrow you will take your cousin with you — or he can take you with him, damned if I can tell you apart — and inspect the entire ship from bow to stern.”

“Yessir,” David interrupted, “but its easy to tell us apart. I’m the good looking one.”

“Debatable. As I was saying, you will inspect the entire ship from bow to stern, outside the gas bags.”


“You do know how, don’t you?”

“In theory, Sir.”

“See Lieutenant Ennis about putting that theory into practice. But don’t waste more than ten minutes of his time. You won’t really understand it until you’ve done it.”

That’s all you get for a while. I’ll sound trumpets and send up fireworks when it gets published. SL

Serial Novels

Continued from earlier this week, when I discussed the Serial posts that were also writing how-tos.

I’ve been writing a long time, with some publishing success, and long years of drought. I’m not going to say, “But the things that didn’t get published are still good!” If you have been reading Serial, you already know that.

Here is the full list of my novels, not counting fragments.

Contemporary novels: Spirit Deer, Symphony in a Minor Key, and Raven’s Run.

Science fiction: Jandrax, published 1979,  A Fond Farewell to Dying, published 1981,  (and the novella To Go Not Gently which was extracted from it in 1978) and Cyan which is presently available

Fantasy: Valley of the Menhir, Scourge of Heaven, and Who Once Were Kin.

Steampunk: The Cost of Empire and Like Clockwork.

The Cost of Empire is freshly finished and looking for a publisher. Like Clockwork is in progress as we speak, and a little more than half done. You won’t be seeing either of them in Serial, but I’ll tell you when to start looking at your local book seller.

Valley of the Menhir and Scourge of Heaven are a single story, long enough for two novels, with a natural break in the middle. You won’t be seeing them here. 

Weird Season

I grew up on a farm, spent my adult life in a city, and returned to a few acres in the Sierra foothills when I retired. That means that the passing of the seasons means more to me than it would to someone living in a city.

This year was strange. We had lots of rain early in the rainy season, none for a critical month, and then lots more at the end. It meant that there was close to normal rainfall,  but the timing was all off.

Usually our rainy season gives us a sequence of wildflowers, but this year they all came at once, giving us a brief look at a beautiful world. I thought I would show you a bit of it.

Within a month, the rattlesnakes will be carrying canteens again.

488. The Cost of Empire 3

This is the third of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Another repeater above their heads spun, giving the tillerman a new bearing. He released the stop and heaved the chest high lever to his right. A linked lever in front of Daniel moved with it and he grabbed hold to add his strength. The tillerman could move the great ship’s rudder alone, but in time of need the Eye officer’s added power made things move faster.

Of course, faster is a relative term. Old Ugly never maneuvered with anything like speed. Now her bow swung slowly to starboard. Daniel could feel the increased trembling in the platform underfoot as her engines quickened far below and behind him.

Daniel’s arms felt the jolt as Jons locked the lever. Following the course was Jons’s duty; taking bearings was Daniel’s. Now he said, “Commander, the shark is moving parallel to the convoy, at high speed. Specification follows.”

David’s hands went to the sides of the cage surrounding his helmet, playing the levers there. He focused on the shark’s fin, set a lever, waited a slow five count, focused again and reset. Then he reported, “Twenty-nine knots, Sir.”

He heard the Commander acknowledge, then add, “Farragut class. We are honored by their newest.”

That didn’t require a response, so Daniel kept his mouth shut. They were moving to cut the sub off. Fat chance! The new diesel engines in that sub were much more powerful than the naphtha vapor engines in the Anne of Cleves, but also much too heavy for an airship to use.

Now the shark’s fin turned toward the convoy. Daniel had been waiting for any change in velocity. He took a bearing as it turned, counted a slow five, took another, and said through the speaking tube, “Changing course toward the convoy. New bearing coming on repeater. New speed — twenty-seven knots, but accelerating.” Daniel was taking readings continuously now. “New speed — twenty-nine knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. New speed — thirty-one knots. He seems to have maxed out.”

Daniel gritted his teeth at having added that unnecessary interpretation. The Commander didn’t need him to state the obvious.

“Thank you, Mr. James.” There was a judiciously measured touch of ice in Commander Dane’s voice and Daniel felt a flush in his cheeks.

He swallowed his embarrassment and continued taking bearings. The dirigible had made two more course changes; he had not aided Jons because all his attention was on the oncoming shark’s fin. The Anne of Cleves was small and slow, but she had an advantageous position.

Far below, Lieutenant Ennis and a crew of men had dragged up a spherical object, and now crouched around an open hatch. Commander Dane was calculating and estimating, based on Daniel’s continuous barrage of information. He ordered the drop.

Daniel saw a small black object fall into his field of vision, locked his monocular on it, and followed it down. It hit the water a dozen feet behind and to the left of the fin. He reported, then grabbed the linked lever. The sub has passed out of sight and the new bearings meant turning Old Ugly almost completely around. He and Jons fought the massive force of the rudder, and the dirigible slowed perceptibly as it swung onto its new course.

Through the strain on his body and the pounding of his heart, Daniel heard the Commander’s voice:

“A good try boys. When we bombed the Germans we usually hit our targets, but a stationary target is different from a moving one. It would have felt good to see a bladder of seawater burst on that American’s control deck. Still, we can console ourselves with the idea that they’ll wonder what we actually dropped.”

Jons snorted, and said, “Seawater, my ass, Sir. Brinley has been collecting urine all week. Now I know why.” more tomorrow Click here to jump directly to the final post.

Serial Education

Continued from last week, when I started to talk about what has already appeared in Serial.

Starting January 20, 2016, I presented a long fragment of the unfinished novel Voices in the Walls. I won’t give details, since you can read for yourself, but it was a teaching event. I interlaced the novel fragment with a chance to look over my shoulder as I worked. That turned it into a how-to for new writers.

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Here is a bit of unavoidable nerdishness. I should have transferred Voices to Backfile. I didn’t. Time is short and work is long, and I never found the time to get it done.

You can still read old multiple posts, but it can be a major PITA (pain in  . . . ) because they are presented in archives last-first, and you want to read them first-first. Worse still, archives does not distinguish between AWL posts and Serial posts, so you have to read every alternate one.

It isn’t really hard if you know the secret. Here’s how it is done. At the bottom of each post are right and left arrows to the next/previous post. If you start with the first post of VITW, read it, then click the right arrow, it will take you to the next post. Unfortunately, in my world that will be the same-day post over in AWL. Slide down through that post and click the right arrow to go to the next day’s post of Serial. And so forth.

It goes quickly after a few clicks to get into rhythm. Try it. VITW is worth your time.

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The entire novel Jandrax followed. It was and is available in used bookstores both locally and on Amazon, so it was not a lost work, but I included it with annotations. If you just want to read Jandrax, buy a used copy. Clicking through 92 posts isn’t worth 95 cents. But if you want to read the annotations in which I discuss why I did what I did, and confess to my screw-ups, it’s all there for you to enjoy.

more tomorrow

487. The Cost of Empire 2

This is the second of four posts from The Cost of Empire. Click here for post 1.

Submarine wasn’t entirely a proper term for the American craft. It had started as an improvement on their Hunley types, using the new engine devised by Rudolph Diesel, but because the engine had a hunger for air, they rarely submerged. The British called them sharks, because the only part anyone ever saw was the narrow fin that stuck above the water. The whole British Navy knew from direct experience was that they were fast while on the surface — faster than any ship in the British fleet.

Her Majesty’s Navy hated that.

America was not an enemy nation — technically. They had taken neither side in the German War. British-Americans and German-Americans had each lobbied Washington, but America had opted for neutrality. Actually, they acted more than a little holy about that.

That didn’t stop American sharks from harrying British convoys. There was no reason for it. It was just another game in which America flaunted her independence and self-righteousness. And any game that the British enter, they have to win. For Queen and Country. And just to prove that they are the best — especially Sub-Lieutenants.

Daniel tossed his canary to David and went down the starboard ladder in the unapproved manner, hands and feet outside the rungs, using friction to keep his descent just short of free fall. He hit the lower catwalk at a run and sprinted forward, past the last gas bag and up a sharply slanting ladder to the Eye of the ship. That was his battle station in this week’s rotation.

The tillerman was already there, of course. When not at battle stations, he stood his watch alone, translating the Commander’s orders into vertical and horizontal movements of the control surfaces. It was no easy task, and the ratings who qualified for the duty were uniformly big men, with bulging thighs and massive deltoids. Daniel slapped the tillerman on the shoulder to squeeze past him. He was a rating whom Daniel knew only as Jons, since his Welsh first name was unpronounceable. Jons nodded and eased aside. There was barely room for the two of them.

The Eye was in the foremost part of the ship, a tiny platform studded with ratcheted levers designed to allow one man’s unassisted strength to move the great rudders and elevators back at the rear of the craft.

Daniel struggled into the half-helmet and fastened the strap beneath his chin. Now his left eye was covered by a powerful monocular and his right eye was free. He could shift from detail to panorama by changing eyes. It took some getting used to, since opening both eyes at once caused a visual blackout. An hour in the half-helmet meant a headache that would last the rest of the day.

“Sub-Lieutenant James reporting, Sir,” he said into the speaking tube at his chin.

Commander Dane’s voice echoed in his ears, calm as always, “Daniel or David?”

“Daniel, Sir. Sorry.”

Jons pointed off the starboard bow, keeping him from a second embarrassment. Daniel managed to focus on the shark by the time the Commander asked, and was able to answer instantly, “I have it in sight, Sir. Bearings follow.”

He reached overhead and pulled down a head cage of silver, brass and mirrors. He slipped his half-helmet into the cavity and magnets snapped it into place. David looked at the ten foot red band on the flagmast of the nearest cargo vessel, set his verniers, chose another ship further back and to his left and repeated, then focused on the moving fin and pressed a button to finalize. The cage had monitored his head movements with great accuracy. Now the hundreds of gears in the babbage spun and sent the result down to the repeater in the control car. more next Tuesday. To jump straight there click here.

Serial History

Over the years, those who have been with me from the start have seen a lot of fiction appear in Serial. Newcomers may be surprised at the list which follows, here and over the next two days. The level in the well of unpublished work is dropping, and I have been agonizing for about six months on what to do next. I’ll tell you what I’ve decided as soon as I decide.

Cyan doesn’t belong here. You can buy it at Amazon, — and why haven’t you? — so there is no point in serializing it. A Fond Farewell to Dying won’t work either since the novella version, mentioned below, was already presented. Besides, it is still available used, although somewhat hard to find.

Since I began Serial, I have published my few short stories, and my poetry has been scattered about A Writing Life. I have one additional short story which is under construction and another which was written for an upcoming anthology, but nothing is available to publish here now.

I have non-fiction on science fiction relating to my appearance at Westercon 34 in Backfile, and relating to Westercon 70 scattered throughout May and June of 2017, in both AWL and Serial. Go to Westercon in the top menu for links.

Five pieces of long fiction, from 30 to 130 posts each, have been serialized here, starting with the novella To Go Not Gently, from Galaxy. TGNG consisted of the first third, slightly modified, of my then novel-in-progress A Fond Farewell to Dying. John J. Pierce of Galaxy magazine bought the novella version, but he didn’t like the name and suggested To Go Not Gently. I presented it in Serial, then transferred a more readable form to Backfile where you can still find it.

more tomorrow