Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Entertaining and occasionally disturbing Quora questions

Let me share a few Quora questions I’ve seen during the past few days:

What if the bird cage is outside?

So entirely impossible to answer.

This question illustrates the importance of framing your actual question in some reasonably precise way if you want a helpful response. What this indicates to me is that teachers should be helping students frame their questions better, rather than guessing at what the students mean and not asking them to be more precise and clear. You can look up a lot of stuff online, but not if you can’t sort out what you want to know better than this.

What happens if you don’t do a good job in your human life? Do you reincarnate as a cow?

I was tempted to provide an answer, but I refrained. Besides, maybe you do come back as a cow.

I can tell you for sure that cows who have lived a good life get reincarnated as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. That is the only reasonable explanation for how keen the spaniels are to eat grass.

Squirrels, too, maybe, given Dora’s determination to eat acorns.

Here’s another Quora question from a day or so ago:

What order, family, and genus would dragons be in if they existed? Would they have their own?

I liked that one a lot, and answered it. (I said they should be in their own class if they can breath fire or have six limbs, as I recall) I also recommended Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons to the person who posed the question.

Several questions besides this one looked like worldbuilding for a fantasy or SF world to me. Of course I may be biased to see that kind of intention behind this sort of question. But when someone asks what humans would be like if they had evolved from herbivores, I feel that is a very SF-type of question.

Here’s the one that was most disturbing:

I found a weak-looking eagle on the brink of death while I was on a hike in the woods. Should I help it break its beak, pluck out its feathers, and pull out its talons to extend its life?

I answered that one too. Not very patiently. I should compose a macro that says: TORTURING ANIMALS IS BAD. DO NOT DO THIS. I have used an answer of that kind three or four times at least, so far. Some people seem to have appalling ideas about what is appropriate to do to or with animals.

Had you heard of the myth that the questioner apparently believes? Snopes refers to it here.

Of course I have also seen many perfectly appropriate and useful questions about grammar! Those are quite relaxing after the awful ones about eagles.

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Inkblots

So, I’m reading a nonfiction book by a psychologist, about his work with various patients. It’s an older book, published in 1988, but of course that does not in any way invalidate the observations and comments of the psychologist, so as nonfiction goes, this doesn’t come across as very dated.

The reason I bring this up is that every chapter starts with an inkblot. They’re not discussed or important, they’re just there as artwork. And they aren’t the official inkblots, which are shown here if you are interested. They’re just random inkblot shapes, as far as I know.

What struck me, about three chapters in, is that … I seem to be a more positive person than I thought I was. I mean, there are times I feel pretty cynical. Yet my first impressions kept being things like:

A beaver juggling four balls.

A giant panda.

Two birds flying upward.

A glamorous woman wearing one of those amazing big hats.

… and so on. Mostly animals, and every single one cheerful. I saw stuff like that even if I had to ignore half the ink in order to see those images. If I were talking to a shrink, I’d have to say apologetically, “But I have no idea about these big round lumps down here.”

I don’t generally see things in clouds, but if I did, I expect they’d be cheerful animals as well.

It’s a puma kitten.

Yes, yes, definitely a happy puma kitten.

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If you found that earlier post about the murder trial interesting —

If you found that earlier post about the murder trial interesting, and that post sure got a lot of comments — here is part two.

I left off last time having talked about the procedure of the courtroom and what I’d learned. Now I’ll move on to the evidence.

The first person on the stand that I got to see was the assistant coroner. She got asked a lot of questions about her experience and her qualifications to testify, and then the questions turned to the body. They showed pictures of the body on a monitor, which was facing the jury so I couldn’t see it that well.

It was already established that Jason had emptied the magazine of his automatic pistol into Sparky. I can’t tell you what caliber, but I believe it was probably a .9 mm or a .45. I believe he fired eight shots total.

According to the coroner’s testimony, the first bullet went into her left shoulder at an angle. That’s the shot that killed her, going to her heart. After that, she was shot seven more times in the back.

After discussing the wounds and the likely order of them and which killed Sparky, it was time to move on to the cops who first on the scene. Jason was waiting outside for them. They secured him, and went inside. They found Sparky facedown, sort of slumped up against the back of the couch.

The prosecutor now had one of the detectives lie up against the Judge’s stand (I don’t really know what that’s called) to demonstrate how she was found to the jury. The cop adjusted the detective until the scene imitated how he’d found Sparky….

So they really do that kind of re-creation! Right there in the courtroom. I didn’t know that.

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Amazingly, not a question posed to Randall Monroe

What Would Happen If We Nuked the Bottom of the Ocean?

I really expected to end up here when I clicked on that link. But no. This headline takes you to a Popular Mechanics article, so this is apparently a real question.

… Well, sort of real.

What would happen if you detonated the most powerful nuclear weapon ever used at the deepest point on Earth? Would an enormous fireball consume the trench? Would the world crack open and would earthquakes and volcanoes tear the entire region apart? Would anyone even notice?

The YouTube channel Kurzgesagt decided to find out.

Oh, YouTube channel! That’s gotta be a great place to go to answer questions of this sort.

Also: the answer to this question — what would happen if you set off the most powerful nuke ever made at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean? — is not exactly surprising.

Click through if you would like to check it out.

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Recent Reading: The Shadow Pavilion by Liz Williams

The Detective Chen novels by Liz Williams definitely improve as you go on with the series. The pacing gets faster — I perceive that as an improvement in this case, though as you may know, I don’t always object to a slow pace. Also, the world(s) improve, and although there are a good many pov characters, by this time you know them all and find it perhaps less jarring to switch from one to the next to the next.

There’s still a lot that goes on in the background, much of it out of sight of the reader, who just learns, for example, that No Ro Shi is one of China’s premier demon hunters and has apparently been around for some time because by the way, here he is.

That was how Inari, Chen’s wife, was introduced, you may recall. Oh, by the way, Chen’s wife is a demon. He rescued her from Hell. No need to explain how that happened. Her familiar is a badger who turns into a teapot. Let’s move on.

But by time you get to the 4th book, The Shadow Pavilion, you are probably going to be familiar enough with the world and the primary characters that this kind of thing is easier to take in stride. At least, that’s my perception.

I don’t have much to say about this particular book, except we see a lot more of Inari, there are a lot of tiger demons, and the badger gets a surprisingly large point-of-view role. I’ll wait for a real review until I read the fifth and final book. But I do want to share one tidbit from The Shadow Pavilion simply because it tickled my fancy:

The sky was lightening a little, but it was still night, and Inari took her tea into the main hall of the temple, sitting on a small bench to drink it. She took one of the limited selections of sacred texts from the wall cabinet and read it, or tried to. Such flowery fulsomeness! Praise to the late Emperor cascaded from the page, in a prose so extreme it formed an almost tangible perfume.

Perhaps it’s because I disliked the late Emperor so much that this struck me as especially entertaining.

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Good advice?

Offhand I would say this may fall into the category of “advice that is 100% unnecessary” —

Maybe You Were Thinking About Eating Raw Centipedes. Don’t.

From the NYT, no less.

[A] study published on Monday in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene describes two hospital patients — a mother and son — who ended up with rat lungworms in their brains after eating wild-caught centipedes the son had purchased at a farmer’s market.

Okay. Well. Remember: if you’re going to eat centipedes, they should be dried, powdered, or steeped in alcohol first.

I will definitely think of this next time anybody I know mentions “traditional medicine” or “ancient medical traditions.”

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Hugh d’Ambray’s theme song

Hugh d’Ambray, Preceptor of the Iron Dogs, is, as you may know, the protagonist of Ilona Andrews’ latest: Iron and Magic.

As you definitely know if you’ve been following the Kate Daniels series, Hugh d’Ambray is very much a bad guy; second in command after Roland himself. He’s Roland’s warlord — or he was, until he failed one big mission. As he notes in Iron and Magic, he hadn’t realized he only got to fail one time. Now, ditched by Roland, he’s in pretty bad shape.

But now the Iron Dogs are being hunted down and killed — his own small army, men who depend on him — so he has no choice but to pull himself together and defend himself and them, whatever it takes.

It’s interesting how the authors rehabilitate Hugh. They do it three steps:

a) They reveal the magic Roland always used to keep Hugh in line;

b) They take one particularly horrible thing Hugh did in an earlier book and reinterpret that scene in order to make Hugh less awful; and

c) They have him reconsider his priorities and reject Roland.

I knew the confrontation with Roland would have to happen at some point in Hugh’s trilogy, but I was a little surprised it happened in the first book. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler, but if I’m going to comment on Hugh’s theme song, I’d give that away anyway. Because there’s no question about it: Cruxshadows’ “Quicksilver” expresses the exact theme of this book.

Here are part of the lyrics (click through and listen to the whole thing if you like. Or click here for the full lyrics). As you see, nothing could more perfectly express Hugh’s character arc in this book.

I should be ashamed for what you’ve done to me
It’s only happened because I let it be
But no more

You are not wrong, you who believe
Your will defines your destiny
But if you act in selfish fear
Then truth means nothing

You are not wrong if you perceive
The message veiled in mystery
But if we bury what we dream
We’re left with what remains…

I’m taking back my love, taking back my pride
Taking back my dreams and my life
This is the ground I will defend
On rage of angels bears the end

I’m taking back my hope, taking back my goals
Taking back my memories and my soul
This brand is forged to my crusade
Quicksilver, the future belongs to the brave

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New homes among the stars

Over at tor.com, this post by Adrian Tchaikovsky: Five Books That Find New Homes Among the Stars

When I was a kid you couldn’t move for stories where the alien-ness of the new world was the point. Certainly the ’70s equivalent of YA fiction was full of bold human explorers meeting weird planets and weirder inhabitants, even if a lot of those denizens turned out to be really very human indeed, except that some other apparent monster was their larval stage, say, or they had a symbiotic relationship with something interesting. And if you looked hard enough you could find, say, Lem’s Solaris, which is probably still the benchmark for the truly alien in fiction.

Either the alien planet trend went out of fashion, or those books just didn’t get written as much for adults, or else I just missed out a lot, but until relatively recently I just didn’t run into books about people encountering the alien on the alien’s home turf. In the last few years, though, there has been a distinct flowering (a particularly apt phrase in one case) of books about colonising the alien world, and the compromises we might have to make to do so….

Yes, I like this subgenre too. Let’s see what Tchaikovsky picks out:

1. Planetfall by Emma Newman

2. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

3. Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn

4. Semiosis by Sue Burke

5. Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Yep, haven’t heard of any of them except Planetfall. No surprise: the number of recent-ish titles that I haven’t heard of is nigh unto infinite.

I rather like the sound of Hidden Sun:

Fenn’s upcoming release tells the story of a world some ways on from the starter colony of Planetfall. Here, humans have diverged into two definite populations: the more familiar Shadowkin are much like us, but cannot tolerate the direct sunlight of the world they’ve made their home. Out in the open live the Skykin, though, who have formed a symbiotic relationship with a native life form that alters them to better fit their harsh home. Hidden Sun is a cracking read, the first of an anticipated new series which obviously has a lot of secrets still to reveal.

Sounds pretty neat.

Now, there are endless older examples of this subgenre. Here are the five I thought of first:

1. Survivor by Octavia Butler. Certain problematic themes, but I like the book quite a bit and I’m glad I have a copy. Butler never approved a re-issue and physical copies are now very, very hard to come by. If you’ve never read it and you’d like to, you can find pdf copies online.

2. The Integral Trees by Larry Nivan

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

4. 40,000 in Gehenna by CJC.

5. Foreigner by CJC. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that first. Maybe because the struggle to colonize the world is long over by the time the story opens. But this may be the only colonization story where humans don’t wind up the dominant species on the planet. Any other examples? Actually, Gehenna, above, might arguably be a second example of humans not being dominant, but it’s totally different.

I feel like there are lots more. Oh, here’s another humans-colonize-a-new-world story:

6. Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury. I liked it a lot, but I’ve only read it once.

And another:

7. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuin

Now that I’ve hit seven, I feel I should try to get to ten. So … let me see … okay:

8. Mother of Demons by Eric Flint. I liked this one a lot.

9. Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars by KSR. Conquering a new world through technology, no need to deal with aliens.

10. Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffery. Never actually read this one, but I know it starts with humans being picked up by aliens and dumped on a new world. Anybody read this? What did you think?

Any examples of this subgenre you’d like to contribute to the list? Drop ’em in the comments!

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Remember that giant black sarcophagus?

You probably recall the recent discovery of the giant sarcophagus in Alexandria.

Had you read about the red liquid found in there, along with the three skeletons? — Incidentally, I haven’t read anything discussing why three people would be put in a single sarcophagus; I wonder whether that was common and if not, why was it done in this case?

Anyway:

The unsettling red liquid pooled around three decomposed mummies found inside a 2000-year-old burial chamber in the historic port city of Alexandria in Egypt has taken on a life of its own.

Horrifying images of a trio of skeletons floating in the murky soup led to rumours the “mummy juice” contained medicinal or supernatural properties, with locals anxious to bottle the stuff…

Of course it did. They could super-dilute it 100,000,000 to 1, as with homeopathic “medicines,” and make a fortune. Probably at that kind of dilution it would even be harmless. Not that I would want it anywhere near me. Especially since it is evidently sewage water that leaked into the sarcophagus.

Nevertheless: “We need to drink the red liquid from the cursed dark sarcophagus in the form of some sort of carbonated energy drink so we can assume its powers and finally die,” petition founder Innes McKendrick wrote by way of explanation.

I particularly like the “and finally die” thing. I wonder if McKendrick and those who are signing his petition are all immortal and bored with life, or if he just is not quite able to write sentences that mean what he actually wants them to mean, whatever that is.

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Not sure these strike me as hyper-realistic but they are hyper-neat

The images may look like the real deal, but these are in fact the work of the very talented painter Kevin Peterson. He has blended together the images of young children together with very realistic animals throughout various urban locations.

These are wonderful fantasy paintings. The animals are indeed very true-to-life, and I’m so pleased Peterson featured a spotted hyena in one because hyenas are fascinating and wonderful and don’t get nearly the appreciation they deserve.

Here is Peterson’s website.

All the paintings feature a child in a post-apocalyptic landscape; not all of them feature animal companions. Naturally I am all about the animal companions, but click through and admire the whole range. I really like the one of the little girl in the blue dress standing on top of the abandoned car, even though no animals are in sight.

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