Archive for December, 2011

TT: Ringing in the Year

December 29, 2011

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back one to see some of the cutest aliens in the universe.  Best of all, they live on Our Planet.  Then join me and Alan as we ring in the New Year.

JANE: For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about the flurry of

Let’s Celebrate!

Christmas season activities.  I suppose, in light of how much I enjoy some of these, it’s going to sound strange, but I also love the week between Christmas and New Year.

When I was a kid, that week was a time when school (and homework) was comfortably distant.  There were new things to play with and still quite a few interesting things to eat.  Then, at the end of the lull came New Year’s Eve.  My parents often held a semi-formal party.  It was a great Coming of Age ritual when you were considered old enough to  get dressed up (girls in long gowns), and try to stay up until midnight.

ALAN: It’s very exciting the first time you watch the calendar tick over. Let’s pretend it’s midnight (it MUST be midnight somewhere) so that I can be the first to wish you Happy New Year.

JANE: And a happy, healthy, and catastrophe-free 2012 to you.  Happy New Year’s!

ALAN: I’ve often wondered where that extra “s” came from. I hear it a lot in American movies and it always sounds strange. Since there’s an apostrophe lurking in there I presume it’s a possessive – so the obvious question is Happy New Year’s what?

JANE: Happy New Year’s Day…  Or New Year’s Eve.  Americans like to shorten things.  Often the apostrophe gets left out of pre-made decorations and therefore adds to the confusion.

ALAN: How bizarre! Of course I get to say it long before you do because New Zealand is the very first country in the world to get the new year (well, apart from Antarctica of course, but I’m not sure that really counts). When the millennium turned over, Robin took great joy in ringing her parents in Western Australia and accusing them of being behind the times because they were still living in the last century.

JANE: I used to live on the East Coast, so I was on the earliest time zone for the U.S. New Year.  When I moved to New Mexico, I was startled to get “Happy New Year” phone calls when – for me – it was only ten p.m.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt quite the same about “seeing in the New Year” since.  Some years, Jim and I even go to bed before the big moment.  Last year, though, we saw the year in with our next-door neighbor and that was rather nice.

ALAN: There have been times when we have stayed up to see in the New Year with a glass of champagne, but these days mostly we sleep through it because we are old and boring.

JANE: New Year’s Day itself can be a let-down.  I suppose it’s because too many people are recovering from the late night before.

Some years my mom would experiment with a new recipe, but that’s about as far as New Year’s Day rituals went.  Therefore, I was surprised when I went to college to learn that many people had important New Year’s Day customs, often related to inviting in luck and prosperity for the coming year.

ALAN:  The British traditions are based around this idea of inviting luck and prosperity into the house as well. How do you approach it? I’m curious to see if the British customs have survived their journey across the Atlantic, or if you have you developed your own.

JANE: Well, one custom was to put money – loose change would do – on the windowsill, outside the window itself, if possible.  This was to invite more money to come after.  Another was that pork should be served as part of the menu, because it is rich and would make you rich.  I suspect the “richness” was not just cash in pocket, but also in other good things.

ALAN: What interesting ideas! We’ve got first footing which describes the first person to cross the threshold of the house as the New Year dawns. Traditionally, the first footer should be a dark haired man who brings a gift to the house, symbolising all the gifts that, hopefully, will flow through the door as the year advances. Often, for some odd reason,  the gift will be a lump of coal. This can lead to a flurry of door knocking just after midnight as first footers travel the neighbourhood. Coal is hard to obtain in these modern central-heating days, so today’s first footers usually bring food and drink with them.

JANE: Why a dark-haired man?  Do you know?

ALAN: There’s a suggestion that it dates back to the days of the Viking invasions. A blond stranger turning up on your doorstep generally signified all kinds of trouble. Women (and grave-diggers!) are regarded as unlucky first-footers though I’ve been unable to discover why.

Once the New Year has arrived, or sometimes even before, New Zealanders set off on their  annual holiday away from the hustle and bustle of work. Remember, it’s the height of summer here. For all practical purposes, the entire country is closed during late December and January. Don’t try and do any business deals here early in the New Year; your phone calls, faxes, letters and emails will go unanswered until February. I work for New Zealand Telecom which is officially closing down on December 19th and not re-opening until January 16th. However staff will still be trickling back in dribs and drabs until well into February. This is not untypical.

JANE: Wow!  This is hard to imagine.  Apparently, Americans have trouble taking vacations, a problem that electronic communications has only exacerbated.  I remember having Christmas dinner last year with a man who couldn’t stop checking his messages.  He explained with great calm that he had Important Investments he had to track.  Sheesh!

I must admit, I’ll write, but since I enjoy writing, that’s not quite the same.  Jim is very good at taking time off.  This year he plans to attempt three weeks.  He’s doing well so far.  Last year he got called in early to deal with impending field projects, but he’s being quite stubborn.

I hope you enjoy your long time of relaxation.

ALAN: I find I have trouble NOT taking vacations. But of course I regard work as an irritating intrusion into my hobbies.

Meanwhile, let’s end as we began – Happy New Year(‘s)!

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Underestimating Aliens

December 28, 2011

Over the years, I’ve noticed that people are completely confused by my

Flossie, Mephitis, and Harlequin

fondness for guinea pigs.  Many years ago – I was still in grad school and had just gotten my first cat – one fellow went so far as to inform me that I now had a “real” pet, that creatures who lived in tanks couldn’t make the same impact on one’s life.  He even went so far as to say – not just imply – that guinea pigs were sort of disposable, that I wouldn’t know real grief for a pet until my cat (then nine months old) died.

Yeah…  Tactless.  However, the fact is that this fellow said what I feel a lot of people think about guinea pigs.  When people learn I keep guinea pigs, there is usually one of two reactions: complete disinterest or gleefully informing me that people in South America eat guinea pigs.  (To which I usually reply that chihuahuas were bred to be eaten, that dogs are commonly eaten in China, and that horses are still eaten in many countries).

So today I’m going to step up in defense of one of my favorite “other bloods” – and maybe pause to offer a question or two about monocultures in SF/F.

First a few basic facts.  A guinea pig is not a hamster or a gerbil.  It is moderately large – nearly the size of a dwarf rabbit.  It is a social creature, delighting both in the companionship of its own kind and of humans.  In fact, guinea pigs are so social that they have been known to die of grief when a treasured companion dies.  No.  I’m not romanticizing.  You can find this supported in various guinea pig books.

Given that a well-cared for guinea pig’s life-span is between five and eight years long, they actually live as long as many of the larger breeds of dogs and longer than many outdoor cats.  Unlike dogs, guinea pigs often stay quite robust right up to the end.  I’ve loved many an oldster into her scrawny years, delighting in how eagerly she’ll still down her treats and invite patting.

This essentially robust constitution is a good thing, because guinea pigs do have one bad point as pets – they cannot take a large number of common drugs (including many antibiotics).  This means that if they do get ill, treatment is difficult.  It also means that the fact that they were used as experimental animals for so long that “guinea pig” has become synonymous with such is something of a tragedy.  Testing treatments for humans on something with a biology so unlike that of a human seems somewhat counterproductive.

Guinea pigs have quite varied personalities as well.  They have favorite foods.  One may love carrot while her roommate says “Oh, too boring!  I want kale.”  They can even get into fads.  Right now, our guinea pigs love carrot in thin strips (like you’d make with a carrot peeler), but wrinkle up their noses at the same carrot cut into sticks.   They’re very smart.  Not only can they be taught tricks, but some of them learn to teach their humans tricks.  I can’t resist a story or two.

Some years ago, I resided with a guinea pig named Harlequin.  Harly figured out that if she banged her water bottle, a human would come over to make sure it wasn’t empty.  It took us a while to figure it out, but we gradually realized that she had designed her own “summon human” spell.  She’d bang the bottle, then come over to the side of her tank and look up with an expectant smile (yes, guinea pigs do smile) for the human to come over.  Then she’d stand up in anticipation of a treat.  In later years, she refined this so that our mornings would begin with the alarm going off, followed seconds later by the sound of Harlequin banging her bottle.  We were awake, now we could come give her a treat.  When she died, our mornings felt really empty.

Haley – not be confused with Harlequin; she was named for the comet because she was black with a flame colored patch on her butt – was a very odd guinea pig.  Unlike most guinea pigs, who learn very quickly that good things come from above and stand up to grab them, she was slow to learn to beg.  She also never whistled for attention.

Then spring came and we started taking the guinea pigs outside for their daily constitutional in a hutch Jim built for them.  Early one morning I came inside and was greeted by a faint, tentative, but definitive whistle.  I was astonished to see the source was Haley.  She was waiting for me whistling softly and I realized that at last she’d found something she loved enough to ask for.  Not food.  Not petting.  A trip outside to run and romp.

Two other guinea pigs, Bianca and Lilybett, decided that they did not like being picked up.  However, that didn’t mean they didn’t want to go places or be held.  They simply wanted control over their transportation.  They taught us to hold our hands flat and then, rather in the fashion of a parakeet getting onto a human’s finger, they would walk onto our hands then (when they got too big to sit just on the hand) continue up the arm.  We insist on providing “seatbelts” in the form of a hand across the back, but their gentle fussing let us know they don’t consider this at all necessary.

Guinea pigs, by the way, have quite wide vocabularies.  In addition to a high whistle, they have a variety of softer whistles and squeaks.  They also make soft chuckling sounds when they’re interested or exploring.  When alarmed or threatened, they chatter their teeth quite fiercely.  Added to body language – again varied and quite eloquent – they are easier to understand than many a cat.

Monoculture is one of my bugbears as a writer of SF/F and I think that my feeling has been shaped by the guinea pigs I have known.  If these interesting aliens – or “other bloods” – can have such a wide variety of interests, then why are so many alien cultures (in which I’ll include the elves and fey folk and monsters of fantasy) identical through a massive world – or even a star-spanning interstellar empire?

What do you think?

TT: Almost Here!

December 22, 2011

If  you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back for a lively discussion of SF/F with a holiday or wintertide theme.  Then join us here for Christmas past and present.

JANE: Well, Alan, I’m starting to feel quite excited and full of Christmas cheer.

Cookies For Santa

My packages are in the mail and just about all the decorating is done. Christmas Eve is just around the corner. And then…

ALAN: And then it’s time for bed because Father Christmas is coming tomorrow!

My parents would force themselves to stay up until about 3.00 am to make sure that I was really sound asleep and then they’d put a huge pillow case full of excitingly wrapped presents just inside the door of my bedroom before they went off to bed themselves. In retrospect, I can’t help thinking that they brought the full horror of what came next on themselves…

An hour or so after my parents went to bed, I’d wake up, spot the pillow case that Father Christmas had left for me and start investigating all the parcels.  Often there would be drums to bang, racing cars to vroom, vroom around the bedroom, and science kits (batteries included) with which the adventurous boy could make door bells, air raid warning sirens and atomic bombs. One year I got an electric kit which contained an induction coil with two bare metal handles. I connected the batteries, turned the circuit on and grabbed hold of the handles. A massive electric shock threw me out of bed on to the floor, and I screamed with mingled pain and pleasure.

JANE: Oh, no!  How did your parents react to your scream?

ALAN: Much as they did to all the other Christmas noises coming out of my bedroom.  “Go back to sleep,” my father would yell every year. He was a very naive man, with no understanding of the ways of children. My mother would put on her red flannelette dressing gown and come into my bedroom. Between jaw breaking yawns, she would examine my presents with me and agree that, one and all, they were the best presents ever.

I miss that excitement. Presents in our house this year will be rather boring. I’m buying Robin two new front tyres for the car and she is buying me two new tyres for the rear wheels.

JANE: I must admit, Jim and I are suckers for surprises and special gifts.  Sometimes we can’t manage a surprise.  This year, Jim is getting a piece of pottery by Michael Kanteena, a local Indian potter who specializes in recreations of ancient works.  I saw Jim making eyes at this one pot and knew I couldn’t skip it.   However, most years, as the song says, “We try to surprise one another.”

Being American, we had Santa Claus, rather than Father Christmas, but the excitement and anticipation was the same.   My parents did a lot to build it up.  First, we were threatened with unmentioned penalties if we woke them too early (too early was still pretty early).  Even so, we’d wake before.  Then we’d creep into my brother’s room (it was closest to the stairs) and whisper until it was time to wake the folks.  Then we’d march downstairs and head for the stockings and investigate the unwrapped Santa gifts under the tree.  When this was done and we’d eaten something (Santa always included nuts and tangerines in the stockings) and my folks had coffee, we’d open gifts ceremonially, in order of age, with the youngest handing around packages.

Christmas morning was colored with scattered wrapping paper.  I still enjoy that, so, if we’re at home, the paper is all over the floor and the cats are jumping in and out of it, batting bits around and getting into any and all available boxes.  If we’re traveling, we follow the custom of the household.  My father-in-law takes great pleasure in grabbing each piece of paper, practically before it hits the floor, and either folding it up or stuffing it in a trash bag.  I admit, that startled me, some, but now I see it’s a game for him and take pleasure in that.

ALAN: Another very important Christmas Day ritual that dates from my childhood is listening to the Queen’s Speech. We would all make sure to huddle round the television set and turn up the volume. Queenie herself was always nicely dressed, sometimes formally and sometimes in a cozy twinset and pearls. Her hair was freshly permed. There was always a lavishly decorated Christmas tree in the background of the picture and Christmas cards on the mantelpiece. She spoke to us with the precisely enunciated, glass-etching vowel sounds of the English aristocracy.

“My husband and I…”

I feared for the integrity of our cathode ray tube, but it always survived unscathed.

JANE: Does the Queen still make a speech these days?

ALAN: Oh yes! I understand that in England it is still an important ritual, not to be missed. However it’s of much less importance here because the royal family is not an everyday part of our lives. Interestingly though, when I took out New Zealand citizenship, I was required to swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Queen of New Zealand. Presumably she is quite a different person from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Queen of England to whom I owed allegiance as a birthright.

JANE: Lacking a monarch, our televised rituals tend to be movies or themed programs.  When I was a kid, we watched several.  My favorites were “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  When Jim and I got together, I introduced him to both of these.  He introduced me to the movie White Christmas.  Now, every year, we try to find time to watch all three before the holiday, if at all possible, although sometimes White Christmas, which is quite long, has to wait until after.

ALAN: When I was a child, for some strange reason the Christmas TV movie always seemed to be an impossibly young-looking John Wayne in “Stagecoach”. These days it tends to alternate between “Mary Poppins”, “The Sound Of Music” and “The Wizard Of Oz”.

And now it only remains for me to say Nga mihi o te Kirihimete to you and Jim and to all our readers.

JANE: Feliz Navidad to you and Robin and everyone else!  And wherever you are, in summer or winter, at home or on the road, Merry Christmas (or whatever your name for the winterfest may be) to you all…

Fantasy Winterfest

December 21, 2011

When I was at the library the other day, I noticed they had set up a display of

Winter Reading

various books tied to this holiday season.  From what I saw there, if you are a reader of mysteries, you could probably go through the Twelve Days of Christmas and beyond reading a couple of books a day and never duplicate.  However, for the reader of SF/F, the pickings were certainly much thinner.

Terry Pratchett was well-represented with two of his Discworld novels – Hogfather and Wintersmith – on the shelf.  Hogfather could qualify has a Christmas book since, when Pratchett gets beyond the broad humor of a “Hogfather” rather than “Father Christmas” he touches on some of the deeper mythic roots that haunt many extant Christmas traditions. Wintersmith is less closely tied to Christmas as such, but it is definitely not just a book set in winter.

Susan Cooper’s YA novel The Dark is Rising was there.  It’s not precisely a Christmas book, but it is set during the Christmas season and a Christmas ornament plays a very interesting role.  Oh, yes, and the carol “Good King Wenceslas” also has a fine part to play.  I definitely find this one good Christmas reading.

Then there was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which Father Christmas has a wonderful cameo.  Lewis’s description of Father Christmas made a big impact on me as a kid.  I’ll quote just a line or two:

“Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly.  But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that.  He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still.  They felt very glad, but also solemn.”

Now, maybe other books had been taken out, but those were the only ones my library had on display that could qualify as SF/F that used Christmas or some other aspect of wintertide in a significant fashion.  When I came home, I tried to think of others.  L.M. Boston’s The Children of Green Knowe is set during Christmas and certainly uses aspects of it nicely.

Then it hit me – all of the books I’d come up with to that point were by British authors.  I started questing for specifically American examples.

Right off, I remembered that one of my earlier sales was to an anthology titled Christmas Bestiary.  My story was a relatively short piece called “Christmas Seal.”  I pulled my copy off the shelf and saw a fair number of American contributors.  I believe David Hartwell edited an anthology of Christmas SF/F that same year…  Must have been a trend.

What about novels, though?  Not much to go with there.  Even Clifford Simak, whose works often explore the role of traditional Christianity in the future, didn’t have a Christmas book I could think of.  Joan Vinge’s The Snow Queen is splendid, but the setting is another planet and certainly not at all Christmasy.  Marian Zimmer Bradley’s “Darkover” books feature a winter festival, but despite the traces of Christianity that remain in the Darkoveran human culture with the “cristoforos,” the festival certainly isn’t Christmas.

That’s about as far as I could take it…  Anybody have any suggestions as to what  I might add to my wintertide SF/F reading list?

TT: Christmas is Coming!

December 15, 2011

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering,  page back to hear exciting news about my novel Changer.  Then join me and Alan for a cross-cultural examination of Christmas customs.

JANE: Everywhere I go, I hear Christmas carols.  Decorations are appearing

The 12 Guinea Pigs of Christmas

both in neighborhoods and in stores.  Even the weather seems to be trying to get into the holiday spirit.  We’ve had several light dustings of snow.

And for you, Alan,  it’s mid-summer…  Does that have an impact on how you feel about the Christmas season?  I mean, I’ve celebrated Christmas in warm climates.  Both Jim and I have family in Arizona, but even so, it’s still winter there, even if there’s no snow.

ALAN: Sometimes Christmas here is very cooperative and we get cold temperatures, clouds and  drizzle which gives a nice traditional English feel to it. But usually the weather is beautiful –  warm, sunny, and cheerful. For me, the highlight of this time of year is seeing the pohutukawa trees in bloom. New Zealand has very, very few native flowers. The indigenous plants tend more towards fern-like structures. However the pohutukawa tree is one of the rare exceptions. At this time of the year it starts to cover itself with gorgeous bright red flowers and by Christmas Day it is usually at its most magnificent. People who can’t pronounce pohutukawa often refer to it as New Zealand’s Christmas tree, which is  an absolutely perfect name for it.

JANE: The pohutukawa sounds lovely.  I’d like to see one someday.

My personal favorite part of  Christmas is actually Christmas Eve.  I love the tingle of anticipation, but it’s not just that.  When I was a kid, every year my mom would plan a variation on the traditional Italian seafood dinner.  Specific items might vary, but there was a lovely sense of ritual in the simmering of the clam and lobster spaghetti, the sizzling of stuffed squid, and all the rest.

ALAN: I didn’t know about that Italian tradition. Could you elaborate on your squid rituals?

JANE: Seafood for Christmas Eve dates back to when that was “meatless” day for the Catholic Church.  However, the way the Italians approached the challenge, there was no suffering involved.

Not everyone eats squid, of course, but it’s a personal favorite in my family.  One year, when I was in high school and Mom was in law school, Mom decided she couldn’t find the time to clean the squid.  My sister Ann and I couldn’t bear for the squid to be left out, so we begged to learn how to clean it.

I  remember with great fondness standing shoulder to should with Ann over the twin kitchen sinks, twisting squid apart, pulling out the guts, cleaning off the outer membrane until we had a nice heap of white squid bodies ready to be stuffed with seasoned bread crumbs.  The tentacles were simmered with garlic and pimentos, then served as a topping for crackers.

Yum!

ALAN: Christmas food is quite special in our house as well. Since I cook every day during the year, I refuse to do it at Christmas time. I regard Christmas as the chef’s holiday. So our simple Christmas fare consists of easily put together things from the fridge and the fruit bowl. I always make sure to stock up on the staples  (whole grain bread, ham, smoked salmon, fresh strawberries and raspberries, champagne),  and even some luxuries such as cheese. Yes – to me cheese is a luxury. I’m not supposed to eat it (too much fat) but New Zealand makes some of the most beautiful cheeses in the world and I can’t resist a brie and a stilton, a gouda and a cheddar. So at Christmas I indulge myself sinfully. To echo you: Yum!

JANE: My other favorite part of Christmas is the decorations, especially putting up the tree.  It was always such a wonderful ritual.  Carols playing.  Cookies baking.  Dad stretching out the lights and seeing what bulbs were out…  Then putting on the ornaments.  There was that wonderful day when the parents decided you were old enough to handle the fragile ornaments…

That led to a pretty funny tradition of its own.

ALAN: What is that?

JANE: My sister, Susan, is five years younger than the next sibling in line.  So, just as she was toddling about, ready to help, the rest of us were allowed to handle fragile ornaments.  Mom solved the problem by buying a couple boxes of unbreakable  red “velvet” balls for Susan.   Susan would then hang these all with remarkable efficiency on one or two branches and make a beeline for the fragile glass.

We would  quickly hand her other unbreakables, but Susan knew what she wanted – the most fragile pieces available.  It made for a rather fun game – especially since, later, someone would go in and spread the red velvet balls around so we didn’t have one lower limb all red.  Susan always noticed.

I think she has those balls for her own tree these days.

ALAN: Do you have real trees? Or do you  use artificial ones?

When I was a child, our tree was one that my father had made himself out of crepe paper and wire coathangers. He was actually a very talented craftsman and he could make wonderful things from the most unlikely materials. I suppose it came from his experiences during the war when pretty much everything was unobtainable and people learned to make do. Anyway, every year the tree came down from the loft and was carefully draped with baubles and a plastic Santa Claus perched proudly at the top. We would also fasten loops of string across the room and hang our Christmas cards on  it.

JANE: Your father must have been very talented, especially for crepe paper to survive year to year.   When I was a kid, we always had real trees.  Taking care of the tree was my job, so every day I’d squiggle underneath and carefully pour water into the stand.  I never missed, because I knew if the tree started shedding needles, that was it and I wanted the tree to stay up as long as possible.

When the tree was finally taken down, it was tossed into the street for trash collection.  I’d feel horrible, almost as if I’d lost a pet.  Consequently, although I love the smell of “real” trees, my tree now is artificial. Sometimes I’ll buy pine boughs for the scent, but never a tree itself, because I know a tree died to be a disposable ornament.

ALAN: I must confess that these days I’m a bit of a curmudgeon as far as Christmas rituals go. (Bah! Humbug!). Our tree is a small plastic model about two inches tall which sits on top of the television. Also I never send Christmas cards to anybody (and therefore I never receive any either) because I regard the habit as a bit of a commercial ripoff which benefits only the card manufacturers. One year I seriously considered putting an advert in the personal column of “The Times” saying that this year I would not be sending Christmas cards. Then I planned on sending everybody that copy of  the newspaper in lieu of a card. I never got round to it, but I still think it’s a good idea.

JANE: Oh…  I do Christmas cards.  I love getting them, too.  Jim and I have two lengths of brocade chord on which we hang the horizontally-oriented cards.  The vertically-oriented cards fit into a special wreath.  We have a basket for extras and Christmas letters.  We read all of those, delighting in catching up with people.  I used to do handwritten notes in each card, but stopped the year we lost my father, my grandfather, and a couple of beloved pets.  I knew I’d commit suicide if I had to write that news over and over again.  So now I do a general newsletter and still often write something by hand as well.

However, I seriously dislike e-Christmas cards.  In fact, I’ve been known not even to open those when they arrive in my in-box.

I’m behind this year, so I’m going to go and address a few more envelopes.  (Yes.  I do these by hand.)     I’ll take out fresh cookies (yep, I make my own) and a cup of coffee.  Wish you were close enough to join me!

ALAN: Me too!

Changer Available!

December 14, 2011

I’m happy to announce that my novel Changer is now available both as an

Changer: Old and New

e-book and in a new print on demand edition.  You’ll find the novel essentially unchanged, but I’ve included an introduction (adapted from my Wednesday Wandering for 10-20-10) and done a tiny bit of tweaking.

For those of you who want to immediately rush and order, here is some useful information.  For the print on demand “real” book, go to: https://www.createspace.com/3736070.  For the Kindle, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Changer.Athanor-ebook/dp/B0061DUFJY.  For the Nook, go to: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/changer-jane-lindskold/1003085911.

All versions have a snazzy cover designed by Pati Nagle.  The new cover takes advantage of the larger format and – I think – captures the dramatic tension of the book in a completely different way than did the original southwestern style cover.

A few weeks ago (WW 11-23-11) we had a discussion of which of my books readers would use to introduce my work to their friends.  Several readers mentioned Changer and went on to express regrets they couldn’t get copies.  So, here’s your chance. If you’re still at a loss as to what to get as a holiday gift for that special someone, here’s an option.

Since Changer was first published a good many years ago (December 1998), I thought I’d share a few of the reviews it garnered at the time.

But first, a story…  The October after Changer was released I went to the World Fantasy convention.  I was moderating a panel on myth, folklore, and urban fantasy.  I was, frankly, incredibly nervous when I realized that two of my panelists would be Charles DeLint and Terri Windling.  I didn’t know either of them personally at that time, but DeLint was the convention’s Guest of Honor and Windling was renowned both as a novelist and editor.

I’d prepared very carefully, but the panel was a bit slow finding its flow, in part because on the one hand I had the very talkative Josepha Sherman and on the other the much quieter (I might even say shy) DeLint and Windling.  I also made the mistake of always offering DeLint, as Guest of Honor, first shot at any question until he wailed (in good humor): “Why do I always have to go first?!”

Anyhow, things were finally moving along nicely when, to my astonishment, DeLint and Windling cut in to ask me why I hadn’t mentioned Changer as a perfect representation of exactly the sort of book we were discussing.  I stammered that, as moderator, I tried to keep my own works somewhat in the background.  At that point, my two “shy” panelists hijacked the panel to praise Changer – my book – to the stars.

My friend Yvonne Coats was in the audience.  Afterwards, she gleefully reported that I had blushed bright red.

I still blush when sharing reviews, because it seems like bad form to brag, but I’m proud that not only was Changer well-received when it came out (it made the Locus bestseller list), but that all these years later, people still ask me where they can get a copy.

So, here are excerpts from a few reviews:

Carolyn Cushman in Locus called it: “… a delightful, multi-cultural mix, divertingly updated, complete with Internet access.”  (Please note that in 1999, the Internet was far from a given.)

Craig Chrissenger in The Albuquerque Journal said: “Changer is an exciting adventure into a world that exists side-by-side with our own.  Even better, Lindskold has infused her characters with motivations, traits, allegiances, and memories that bring this other world to life.”

In  Fantasy and Science Fiction Charles DeLint wrote: “A smart, funny, well-detailed romp of an adventure story that still finds room to address some serious concerns – a fabulous Romance in the best, and old, sense of the word…  Simply put, I loved this book.”

Neil Walsh on SF Site commented: “Changer made onto my personal top 10 best SF and fantasy books of 1998. …Changer is a thought-provoking, entertaining, imaginative story which includes some ideas and images I expect will stay with me for a long time.”

Terri Windling said: “Jane Lindskold is one of the best new writers to emerge in the fantasy field in the ‘90s.  In Changer, she imbues the modern world with rich, mythic resonance. …here’s an unusual, magical, and thoroughly entertaining new book to add to your shelves.”

So, there…  Enough!  The book is back and I hope you’ll give it a try.  And, yes, I plan to bring out the stand-alone sequel, Legends Walking, but that will be a few months down the road.  If you can’t wait, copies of the original printing are available on my website!

TT: Sex and Violence

December 8, 2011

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just spin the gears back for the question of clockwork, then come on back and join me and Alan on a controversial topic.

JANE: Alan, in the comments to my wandering of 11-23-11, you brought up

Sex and Violence

something really interesting about American versus  British attitudes towards sex versus violence.  Because it’s more fun, let’s start with sex.   Are you serious that a flash of a bare breast really doesn’t cause panic and public outrage on British TV?

ALAN: Of course it doesn’t. What’s scary about breasts? Generally speaking they are very beautiful. I remember being amazed the first time I saw some imported bit of American TV and all the ladies had square lumps on their chests because their breasts had been pixellated. It must be very hard to buy bras when your breasts are square…

JANE: When was this?  Wouldn’t the pixelation have been on the side of your broadcasters?

ALAN: I don’t remember when it was, but it would certainly have been in the original. Generally speaking, we don’t pixellate.

My first televised breast was probably some time in the mid 1960s. My father had just bought a colour TV because the BBC was about to start broadcasting a docudrama about the life and times of Casanova. The programme did cause something of a stir as I recall, mainly because everyone was very jealous of the actor who played Casanova. What a wonderful job he had!

JANE: I note that no one envied the women.  This does cast a doubt as to how wonderful this Casanova was…

ALAN: Good point!  Obviously the actor didn’t have a good point.   Now a question for you – are American bed sheets really L-shaped? If American TV is to be believed, after sex all men lie back and relax with their hairy chests in full view and all women lie back with the sheet pulled demurely up to their chin. Robin and I tried it once, just to see if we could make it work. We couldn’t. Our sheets are rectangular, they cover each of us equally.

JANE: No, they’re not L-shaped!  The men push the sheet down and the women get the slack.  This has nothing to do with prudery.  It has to do with staying warm.  As you noted, men have hairy chests.  Most women are not gifted with fur, so they need sheets. <grin>

ALAN: Hmmm. Perhaps I’d better buy Robin a shaving set for Christmas. Oh, sorry! That’s one of the cats. How did he get there…

When you go below the waist, things get even more peculiar. There’s a hugely popular stage show in Australia called “Puppetry Of The Penis” which demonstrates the ancient oriental martial art of genital origami to great effect. I’ve never seen the stage show, but I have seen excerpts from it on television (no pixellation) and the DVD is freely available in the shops. Anyone can buy it, there aren’t any age restrictions on it.

JANE: I’ve heard of this.  It sounds very silly to me – and a bit painful.  Since I’m not much of a television watcher, someone else will need to fill us in on whether this show is widely available in the U.S.

Since origami involves twisting and folding, one could argue that this puppetry combines sex and violence.   You were very eloquent on the subject of American televised violence.  Would you mind re-stating for those people who don’t read the Comments?

ALAN:  Certainly.  I’ve observed with some disquiet that over the last few years American prime time television (and, I suppose, by implication American culture in general) has tended more and more towards an everyday acceptance of the appallingly graphical depiction of ever more grotesque violence. Blood, guts, and dismembered body parts fill our screens night after night and they are presented to us in lovingly detailed and lingering close-ups.

I find programmes such as “CSI” and “Bones” and “NCIS” and all the rest of them almost impossible to watch. I’m not squeamish; I have a first aid certificate and I’ve seen real blood and I’ve treated real injuries. Nevertheless the glorification of violence on these programmes, the voyeuristically gleeful concentration on the details of hideous injuries, the lingering close ups of decomposing bodies (thank goodness we don’t have smell-o-vision yet), the casual acceptance of violent death, the assumption that might is right and all you need is a bigger gun or a bigger knife to win the day against any opposition, and the fact that this state of affairs is considered to be normal (even desirable) – all these things combine to sicken me and they send my fingers racing for the channel changer or the off switch.

Frankly, I’d much rather watch a naked couple making love. There’s more truth and beauty and magic and poetry in that than there is in any amount of blood, guts, and maggots.

JANE: I’ve wondered about the same thing.  The most common justification I’ve heard goes as follows:  If we don’t show violence in a graphic fashion, then viewers will think people die neatly and easily and don’t rot,  like in the old movies where someone would stagger a few steps and collapse dramatically, with minimal blood and guts.

Certainly, there’s some justification to that approach, but then, by the same logic, sex scenes should be as graphic as possible to encourage everyone to see how much fun sex can be.

ALAN: I completely agree.

JANE: The reality is, however, that Americans aren’t as desensitized to graphic violence as it might seem – or at least this one isn’t.  I do worry about the impact on younger people.  Jim and I saw the first Spiderman movie in the theater.  Sitting behind us was a father and his young sons.  I can’t say precisely how old they were, but certainly no older than ten or eleven.

During the big fight between Spiderman and the Green Goblin, Spidey is trying not to hurt the man he knows is his best friend’s father (and someone who has been sympathetic to his own scientific dreams).  Consequently, Spidey is getting badly hurt.  Behind me, I heard one kid say in an agonized tone of voice, “Dad, why doesn’t Spiderman just hit him!”   Rather than seeing the conflicted emotional text, all this boy was learning was the need to hit harder.  That troubled me.

Another example: I know a young man who, from childhood, has been prone to nightmares.  His parents continue to let him watch whatever he wants, then wonder about their son’s suffering nightmares and sleepwalking.  If we’re going to have all this graphic violence, I wish there was some sense of what is and isn’t appropriate for young imaginations – and more willingness to moderate.

I could keep going, but I’ll stop here since otherwise I’m going to start seeming closed-minded.

ALAN:  It’s a question of degree. Perhaps TV violence has grown too extreme and TV sex is not extreme enough.

JANE: That’s  a thoughtful way to look at the question.   Perhaps we can discuss where to find the balance in the comments.

Clockwork, Why?

December 7, 2011

Why is there this fascination with clockwork?

My Grandfather Clock

I just finished reading a novel called The Clockwork Three.  In several stores this weekend I saw promotions for a book titled Clockwork Prince, which is apparently a sequel to something called Clockwork Angel.

Now, I haven’t read the latter works, but in The Clockwork Three “clockwork” provided only one third of the plot and not the most important part by far.  The book could have been titled The Green Violin or Hidden Holly Leaves with equal justification.  Obviously, someone figured that “clockwork” would sell the book best.

This year at Bubonicon (our local SF convention), clockwork was much in evidence.  What fascinated me was that most of the clockwork on display was completely non-functional.  Instead of being incorporated into working mechanisms, gears and cogwheels were scattered on the bodices of gowns, around the bands of hats, and glittered like metal snowflakes from a wide variety of jewelry.  I realize these fashion statements are part of the steampunk craze, but that doesn’t solve the larger question for me.

Why is something that used to symbolize functioning with perfect mechanical precision – as in the once common phrase “working like clockwork” – being proudly displayed as non-functional?  I’ve seen pictures of computer terminals and cell phones decorated with gears.  That seems crazy.

I have a grandfather clock of which I am very fond.  I don’t mind that it needs to be wound on a regular basis, nor that this winding involves my kneeling like a supplicant before a strange altar and gently moving heavy brass weights from the bottom to the top of the clock case.

However, when it comes to relying on something to get me up in the morning, I’m very happy we have a battery-powered atomic alarm clock.  It will do its job without my needing to remember to wind it.  A power outage won’t take it out (as in the electric alarm clocks popular in my younger days).  Heck, it even sets itself, which is a good thing, since I can never remember if we’re springing forward or falling back.

I am fascinated with the entire question of how time is measured.  I have an armillary sundial in my garden that can be set for daylight savings time or standard time.  I have a sundial ring I can wear on a necklace.  In addition to the aforementioned grandfather clock, I’ve owned my share of watches that needed to be wound.  I remember with great fondness an alarm clock I was given when I was in high school that had a loud tick that varied in pulse depending on whether or not I remembered to wind it.

For those of you who share my fascination with timekeeping and what it has meant to human society, I strongly recommend the book Time’s Pendulum by Jo Ellen Barnett.  It not only traces the development of various time keeping measurements but speculates as to when those developments made time subject to human whim, rather than human whim subject to time.

I’ve even written a novel – yet unsold – called Sundial Ring which deals with a place where time works very strangely indeed.

But I don’t get the clockwork craze…  Is it about predictability (like clockwork) or about something else entirely?  Why do the people who seem most fascinated by this trend want to carry it over to electronic devices that work better than clockwork ever did?

Can you figure this one out for me?

TT: Happy! Happy! Clap! Clap!

December 1, 2011

If you’re looking for the Wednesday Wandering, just page back to find out why I like spice a lot more than sugar – and for a few thoughts on pink.  Then join me and Alan as we take a look at birthday customs.  We invite you to share a few, too!

JANE: So, Alan, you promised to tell me about particularly British birthday

Birthday Cards

customs.

ALAN: I presume that you sing “Happy birthday to you…”? Well, in 1960s England there was a record request programme on the radio which was specifically for children and whenever a birthday request was received the DJ would play a jingle of a rather adenoidal child singing a subtly changed lyric:

Happy birthday to you
Squashed tomatoes and stew
Bread and butter in the gutter
Happy birthday to you

This was enormously popular and I will swear that a whole generation of children grew up quite ignorant of the proper words.

JANE: Here the traditional “Happy Birthday” song took a blow some years ago.  This is the story as I heard it.

A number of chain restaurants were making quite a big thing out of birthday celebrations which would often include a free slice of cake for the lucky guest.  In order to get this, however, the guest had to submit to the indignity of a large chuck of the wait-staff gathering to sing “Happy Birthday to You,” loudly and, in the best Harry Potter tradition, off-key.

This was ruled as “for profit” and a lawsuit was brought by the owners of the song, insisting they were entitled to compensation.  So the restaurants wrote their own, usually horrible, songs.  The one I really hated began with “Happy!  Happy!”  followed by loud, synchronized clapping.  Probably the only good thing about this was that since it was chanted, rather than sung, it wasn’t as likely to be off key.

Even this seems to have died out, so those of us who aren’t celebrating birthdays don’t need to suffer.

ALAN: I once came across a birthday card much decorated with birds, pairs of sheep and ethereal looking hippopotami. The lyric inside read:

Hippo birdy two ewe…

JANE: Yes.  That originated (I believe) with the artist Sandra Boynton.  I like her more whimsical work quite a lot.  I had a tee-shirt that depicted a very serious rodent wearing a curled wig playing a piano.  The slogan read “Gopher Baroque.”

I still have a coffee mug my sister Susan gave me back when I was teaching that shows why “The Little Joys of Teaching are Without Number.”  It reminds me why I’m happy to be struggling to make a living as a writer.

But I have taken us off topic.  Tell me about British Birthday Cake.

ALAN: No birthday would be complete without cake. But this caused my mother enormous problems because, as a child, I had a great intolerance for eggs. The slightest trace of egg in anything I ate would make me ill for hours.  These days I can eat them if they are well-diluted with other things so cake is back on the menu. However I don’t regard it as much of a treat.

My mother solved the egg problem by digging out her wartime recipes. Many basic foodstuffs were unobtainable or severely rationed during the war and much ingenuity went into  devising substitutes. Apparently you *can* make cake without eggs (I have no idea how), though it sits rather heavily in the tummy.

But tradition and my parents insisted that there must be cake, with a candle for every year on it. I was utterly hopeless at blowing the candles out so I never got any wishes granted. What a shame.

JANE: Well, at least you never had to try and blow out an entire doll!  One year my mom carefully made me a cake that looked like a princess in a big skirt.  There was a doll in the center and her hair caught fire…  I can still remember the weird smell of synthetic hair and burning sugar.

ALAN: That sounds like fun!

JANE: I guess every family has personal twists to the celebration.  My brother and I have the same birthday.  No.  We’re not twins.  We just have the same birthday.  My parents did somersaults to make sure neither of us felt cheated.  On alternating years, one of us would have a “kids” party, while the other got to invite the grown-up friends.

My sisters’ birthdays were exactly a month apart, so they got the same arrangement.  It worked.

ALAN: Birthdays that are so close together can cause problems. My mother’s and father’s birthdays were 11th and 13th November respectively, closely followed by Christmas. Therefore, I used to have a huge financial crisis at the end of every year. After my parents died I got quite nostalgic over my missing annual financial crisis so when I learned that Robin’s birthday was 17th November I absolutely *had* to marry her.

JANE: July was Parents’ Month in our house.  Both birthdays and their anniversary.  I was horrible about getting the dates right.  My dad’s birthday was my particular short-coming.  I’d send a card, but then call on what I thought was the date.  Usually, I was wrong, but Dad seemed amused.

ALAN: Sometimes birthdays clash with other celebrations. My mother’s birthday (11th November) is also Armistice Day. Robin’s father’s birthday is Christmas and when he was small he bitterly resented the fact that he only got one set of presents. So now he celebrates a half-birthday in June so that he gets two sets of presents, just like everybody else.

JANE: I like how Robin’s father handles that.  A couple of my nieces and nephews suffer from a similar conflict.  I wonder if they’d like the change?

Birthday meals in my food-oriented family were always a big thing.  The birthday child chose the menu.  One year, when my brother was about six, he decided he wanted hotdogs and snails.  (My mother never called things by fancy foreign terms.  We ate snails and squid – not escargots and calamari .)  My mother bravely built a menu around this request.

ALAN: The best birthday party I’ve ever been to was for Robin’s niece. She was 5 years old and her mother had hired the school hall and a children’s entertainer. So the hall was full of sticky, shrieking children having enormous, but well supervised, fun while the adults congregated in a side room and sipped champagne. That’s the way to do it!

JANE:  Sounds a bit overwhelming, but then I wouldn’t be drinking  champagne.

ALAN: To each their own.   Perhaps our readers could tell us how they celebrate birthdays in their families…