Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Interesting and exciting news this Tuesday

Okay, I’ve got several startling links this week, as usual from the related worlds of science and medicine.

First up, this article about Weird Stuff With Fibers:

Machining of spider silk fibers using femtosecond lasers

Researchers have proven that they can machine and make strips, microstructures and sensors out of spider silk using femtosecond lasers. Just a few days ago it was announced that spiders exposed to water with graphene and carbon nanotubes can make spidersilk that is 3 times stronger than regular spider silk. The two developments could mean a very strong version of graphene reinforced spidersilk could be emerge for a range of new applications…They managed to weld spider silk to metal, glass, and kevlar. Stress tests showed that the weld was roughly equivalent in strength to the spider silk itself. ….

The things people are up to these days. Lots more at the link, with many technical pictures I didn’t really pay much attention to. If you’re into technology and engineering, you may find the whole post worth reading.

Now, this next one is just weird and delightful:

Scientists Say It’s Raining Diamonds on Neptune and Uranus

“This [the effects of having copious amounts of hydrogen, helium, and methane] will generate diamond precipitation inside such celestial bodies,” Dominik Kraus, a researcher with Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf in Dresden and author on the paper told Gizmodo in an email. “This means that there is not necessarily a pure diamond core but certainly a large diamond envelope around the rocky cores that are supposed to exist inside Neptune and Uranus.”

On Jupiter and Saturn, the current thinking goes like this: when storms roll through clouds of methane molecules, lightning strikes cause carbon atoms to disassociate from their chemical bonds. When they collect in the air, you get clouds of soot which then sink into the lower atmosphere, being put under more and more pressure. That pressure is what squeezes the carbon into graphite and then again into diamond. It’s also under the effect of gravity, so it would truly fall to the middle of the planet as “diamond rain.”

Isn’t that a wonderful image?

Now, here’s something much more desirable on a personal level:

This Insane Nanochip Device Can Heal Tissue Just by Touching The Skin Once

Imagine buzzing the skin over an internal wound with an electrical device and having it heal over just a few days – that’s the promise of new nanochip technology that can reprogram cells to replace tissue or even whole organs….It’s called Tissue Nanotransfection (TNT), and while it’s only been tested on mice and pigs so far, the early signs are encouraging for this new body repair tool – and it sounds like a device straight out of science-fiction.

It doesn’t just sound like a device straight out of science fiction. It IS a device straight out of science fiction. Truly, we live in a wonderful science fiction universe. Or we will, when everyone has one of these devices in their medicine cabinets. Onward with that!

Next, something that should be useful faster:

New treatment approved for deadly blood cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration on Thursday approved the anti-cancer drug Besponsa, or inotuzumab ozogamicin, to treat B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia….B-cell ALL is a rapidly growing cancer that occurs when the bone marrow makes too many B-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Almost 6,000 people in the United States are likely to be diagnosed with the disease this year, and more than 1,400 are projected to die from it … Besponsa was evaluated in clinical studies involving 326 people with relapsed or refractory B-cell ALL who had received one or two prior treatments with other medication. More than 35 percent of people evaluated achieved complete remission for about eight months after taking Besponsa, compared with about 17 percent of those who took a different chemotherapy drug.

Not a magic bullet, but good news nevertheless.

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Game of Kings

Here’s a post from Marie Brennan at tor.com: Writing Epic Fantasy the Historical Fiction Way: Lessons from Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings

Well, I just love Dunnett’s fabulous series, so that certainly caught my eye. Brennan says, quite correctly:

Dorothy Dunnett is one of those authors you hear about through word of mouth. She didn’t write fantasy—unless you count taking sixteenth-century belief in astrology as true from the perspective of her characters—but ask around, and you’ll find that a surprising number of SF/F authors have been influenced by her work. The Lymond Chronicles and the House of Niccolò, her two best-known series, are sweeping masterpieces of historical fiction; one even might call them epic. And indeed, writers of epic fantasy could learn a great many lessons from Lady Dunnett. Here are but five, all illustrated with examples from the first book of the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings.

Then she lays out the five lessons she finds particular takeaways from Dunnett’s series:

Omniscient narration
Dynamic politics
Fight scenes
How to write a good Gary Stu character
How to include women

Discussions of all those at the link. These are all interesting, especially point four, which I didn’t see coming at all. I was all set to jump on the bit about omniscient narration and say, “Yes, but look! She never gives us Lymond’s point of view! Isn’t that great? Look at how well that works!” But now I don’t need to because here in point four is where Brennan focuses on that choice.

However, what I took away from Dunnett’s brilliant choice to elide Lymond’s personal point of view — reading the series as a writer — was not so much how to write a Gary Stu character, but how to separate the protagonist who is driving the action from the main character who is providing the point-of-view. I was much struck by this. And when Brennan says:

I wouldn’t recommend trying this nowadays; your editor would probably think you’ve lost your mind.

I hope she is wrong, because I tackled this exact storytelling technique in a long fantasy novel, which is as yet unpublished but is, imo, one of the best things I have ever written, if not the best. And I did it because I was so impressed by the technique when Dunnett used it.

Incidentally, although uncommon, it is precisely this technique which makes The Hunt for Red October such a great movie. (Well, this and casting Sean Connery as Ramius).
By reserving the truth about the Soviet captain’s motivation — by essentially eliding his internal mental thoughts and feelings and intentions and using Jack Ryan as the point-of-view character — the movie does a wonderful job ramping up suspense.

If you have a moment, click through and read Brennan’s whole post. If you’re already a Dunnett fan, you’ll probably enjoy it; and if you haven’t yet discovered Dunnett, then I have to agree with Brennan that you have a treat in store. She closes thus:

I won’t claim it’s easy to get into; she has a tendency to leave things for the reader to infer from surrounding clues (which has famously resulted in many first-time readers of The Game of Kings wailing “BUT WHY IS THE PIG DRUNK???”). She also likes to quote things in foreign languages without translating them. But once you get the hang of her style, there is so much to admire; I envy anyone who is about to discover her work.


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I don’t plan to write nonfiction, but this is funny

From Nathan Bransford’s post on why platform matters:

Let’s say you are thinking about writing a book of nonfiction and want to have it published by a major publisher.

The first thing you need to do is assume that every single person in the entire world wants to write a book (which isn’t really an assumption, it’s basically true).

The second thing you need to do is ask yourself if you are the most qualified person in the entire world to write and promote that book. This applies to virtually all nonfiction….If the answer to that question is no, then sorry, chances are you’re not going to get your book published by a major publisher. If you can imagine someone out there who is more qualified than you to write a book, then that person probably already has their proposal in front of publishers as we speak.

I bet that’s basically true for nonfiction. Nathan does make the point that it’s sort of true for fiction as well, as social media platform becomes a selling point for debut authors. Lively discussion of this trend then ensues in the comments.

My understanding, which could well be wrong, is that in most cases a big social media following does not translate well to book sales. That’s certainly better for those of us who do not, and probably won’t ever, have huge followings on social media.

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Puppies’ first show

Okay, I did take my laptop along with me this past weekend, but I didn’t wind up opening it. I promise I will work hard to make progress on one or another WIP in September. But this weekend was Conner’s and Kimmie’s first all-breed AKC show and I was just pretty involved with that, plus a friend of mine lives reasonable near Owensboro KY, which was the show location, so naturally I spent time with her.


You can sure tell which is which, can’t you? Conner is such a boy, and Kimmie is so feminine, not to mention small even for a girl. Nice bunch of ribbons, huh?

Now, ribbons alone are almost totally meaningless. What matters is championship points.

There are two kinds of dogs that show: the ones who aren’t already champions, called class dogs, and the ones who are already finished champions, who are trying to win Best of Breed and earn a different kind of points.

For each breed, the best class boy gets Winner’s Dog, the best class girl gets Winners Bitch and then the boy and the girl compete for Best of Winners. The only way for animals showing in the classes to win championship points is to get Winners. They earn one, two, three, four, or five points based on how many other class animals they beat. If there is just one class boy, he cannot get a point because he doesn’t have anybody to beat.

Unless there are multiple class girls and then he beats them all to get Best of Winners. If that happens, he gets the girls’ points — called crossover points.

After the class dogs compete, the champions come in and compete for Best of Breed, which is all that matters to them. They earn a different kind of point if they win Best of Breed. The Winners Dog and Winners Bitch compete with the finished champions for Best of Breed.

So one dog gets Best of Breed, the best of the opposite sex gets Best Opposite, and then there are the Winners of the classes, including the Best Winners.

In this particular show, my puppies were the only class entries that showed up, thus presenting me with a dismal show where you just have to chalk the whole thing up to practice because there is no way to win points.

However! On Friday, the judge — who is obviously a most confident gentleman — put Kimmie up for Best Opposite over two Grand Champion girls. This means that they suddenly count as class girls and Kimmie gets one point because she beat two girls (unfortunately she doesn’t get anything extra for beating finished champions). Then Conner beat Kimmie for Best of Winners and picked up her point as a crossover. So to my complete astonishment, both puppies earned their first championship point even though they were the only class entries.

So it was a very good weekend! Even though that didn’t happen again on Saturday — I would have been very much surprised if it had — I was delighted it happened at all. All the champions were quite nice. Beating those two girls on Friday was a definite feather in Kimmie’s cap and I am so proud of her.

Next: teaching Kimmie not to pull like an absolute demon. I have two weeks before the next show to see if I can get her to show herself off better …

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Worldbuilding: More about names

I thought, given the recent post about names and diacritical marks, I’d just talk a little bit more about developing consistent-sounding names for secondary world fantasy novels. Of course that’s a very different type of thing than coming up with good character names for a contemporary or historical novel, and most science fiction books either use contemporary names, or a mix of contemporary and created names, or sometimes contemporary words in unexpected ways (such as Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere).

But for secondary world fantasy, you need a whole bunch of character and place names that all sound good, and kind of evoke the character or place, and also sound consistent, like they all came from the same language background. I’m sure I don’t need to point this out, but within one geographical region, if one character is named, say, Innisth terè Maèr Eäneté, then maybe another shouldn’t be named Kzoch Techotlin or Qing Pe Swe or anything else so very different. That’s reasonable only if one character has traveled a long way, from a region with a very distinct language background. What are some ways to make up names that all sound like they came from the same linguistic tradition?

For The White Road of the Moon and Winter of Ice and Iron – again, both based on my first attempt to write a fantasy novel – I just made up words that looked nice to me. The trouble with doing that forever is that the same letters and letter combinations always are going to look good or look less good to a specific author, unless their taste changes dramatically for some reason. I like t and r and n more than g or p or z. But if you are writing in lots of completely different secondary worlds, none of the languages should necessarily look too much like English and (even more important) they should not all look like they are derived from the same language, so you can’t keep on emphasizing “t” and deemphasizing “g” forever in everything you write.

One way I’ve used several times to create a coherent-sounding set of names is: open a handy guide to (say) the mammals of Borneo and steal a whole bunch of words, shuffling letters around to avoid using the actual names and also to avoid the rather common “ng” letter combination, which to English-speakers looks unpronounceable if at the beginning of a word (ngombe) or often silly if at the end of a word (pring). This will give you a lot of cool-looking names that are pretty easy to pronounce, seem to have come out of one unified linguistic tradition, but don’t look a bit like English. (The resulting book with the names derived from those names derived from the mammals and places of Borneo is not yet published, so don’t try to think which one it could possibly be.)

Another time I opened a German dictionary and did the same thing, again switching letters around freely. That was for the second Griffin Mage book, when I needed a lot of Casmantian names and places. This did create a different complication: for the German edition, the translator asked if it would be all right to change any names that would look silly to German-speaking readers. Of course I said yes, so the names are a little different in that edition. I don’t know if that suggests this method of creating a coherent-sounding language is inherently unwise, but it does illustrate one peril of doing it that way.

An alternate method, if one is wary of sounding silly to German-speakers or whomever, is to list the letters of the alphabet and more or less arbitrarily remove half a dozen consonants and one vowel. Then pick half a dozen consonants and one vowel to use a lot. Then come up with one or a few letter combinations that are uncommon in English, like aa or tch or tl or ei.

Now create a bunch of words. Want to make all the masculine names end in –a and –i, all the feminine names end in –o and –aa? This is the time to come up with rules of that kind as well. Maybe reach outside modern custom and pick –a for children and –ei for adolescents and –i for adults and –o for the elders; why not?

Just don’t do the same kind of thing with prefixes because if you name all your children something beginning with A, your readers will never be able to tell your characters apart. It’s quite remarkable how names that ought to be obviously different, such as Ketièth and Kehera, confuse the eye even though one terminates with a vertical stroke and the other a rounded letter. (I had a rather important character named Ketièth for a long time in Winter, but at the last moment changed his name to Gereth on the grounds that there were hardly any characters who started with a G and even I was sometimes confusing the two K names.)

Okay, I’m sure we all agree that names are important. If you have by any chance ever invented a world that was not contemporary or historical, but was secondary, with a completely different language, did you use any specific tricks to create names that sounded consistent, unfamiliar, and interesting? Can you think of any authors who have done an especially great job with names in a secondary world setting?

I’ve got one: Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette) in The Goblin Emperor. Let me add, in case you do not know, there is a glossary in the back of the book. This is not obvious in the ebook edition, but it would be handy to know about while reading because the names are quite something: long and complicated and often difficult to pronounce (Csethiro, for example). You will note, however, that Addison gave the actual protagonist an easy-to-pronounce name. I definitely think this is a good idea. No matter what you are going to do with names in general, for heaven’s sake, make sure the main character’s name is not going to cause difficulty. It’s got to be difficult to connect emotionally with the character if you can’t pronounce the name. The farthest I’ve ever departed from that rule is with Timou in The City in the Lake. At least it’s short and easily recognized. Any reader should be able to decide how they want to pronounce it, so hopefully it wasn’t a problem for anyone.

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Worldbuilding in The Lord of the Rings

Robin Kirk points out a detail I never noticed in The Lord of the Rings: Epic Fantasy and Breaking the Rules of Infrastructure in the Interest of Speed

Why is there no road to the mighty fortress-city of Minas Tirith in either the books or the movie? Gandalf’s initial approach reveals a broad plain and the menacing flames of Mordor in the distance. Faramir returns—then is dragged back—over browned grass…but not on a road. The same is true of Edoras, seat of the Horse Lords. No road. Some maps show roads but they are mostly absent from the actual text or the films.

Think quickly: what roads do you remember from Lord of the Rings (books or movie)? I came up with those located in The Shire, exiting Rivendell, through the depths of Moria, and the fell ways of Mordor. The Shire is positively thick with roads, a veritable Middle-earthian suburb: the Bywater Road and its inn, the Ivy Bush, Bagshot Row, the road Gandalf travels to reach Hobbiton for Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. Under Aragon’s leadership, the hobbits purposefully stay off the roads, to avoid Black Riders.

Then—very few roads. At first glance, this makes no sense in terms of worldbuilding. …

Interesting observation, isn’t it? Kirk then goes on to contrast the landscape-heavy infrastructure-light LotR with the important infrastructure in The Game of Thrones, making several points on the way about speed of action and deus ex machina and emotional connections to the characters. It’s worth clicking through to read the whole thing if you have a few minutes.

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Geometrical shapes are cool

Here is a post at tor.com that struck me as funny: A Guide to Cubes

Cubes! Because of course there are so many in SFF!

But of course there are indeed quite a few in science fiction and a some in fantasy. I would never have thought of writing a post on the subject, but it’s interesting to see what Emily Asher-Perrin and Leah Schnelbach came up with on the topic:

The Borg. Well, of course. I hadn’t thought of them, but sure, that is one scary cube, and it was a clever idea for a ship, too. So utterly nonhuman, or at least utterly outside the normal space opera vision of ship design.

Then there are a bunch I haven’t encountered or don’t remember, mostly but not entirely from movies and TV shows, and then — the Key to Time, from Doctor Who. That was a great story arc! You know, someday I should get at least the Tom Baker episodes on DVD.

Okay, what are some cubes that have turned up in books? I can think of one example: the little black and white cubes used to cast spells in Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels.

Also, if you think of tesseracts as hypercubes, then of course A Wrinkle in Time qualifies. So does Heinlein’s “And He Built a Crooked House,” a story I’d forgotten about until now, when I was trying to think of other examples. Looks like it’s available online in pdf form now if you’d like to read it.

What else in the beautiful world of geometry?

Well, there’s Flatland, of course! But another I just thought of in this context is the wonderful historical by Gillian Bradshaw, The Sand-Reckoner, where Archimedes is the main character. There’s a book that features the poetic, emotional dimension of geometry from the viewpoint of a mathematical genius. It’s a wonderful book. Who knows, it might even contain a cube somewhere.

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Blog / The Craft of Writing

Worldbuilding: Names and naming conventions

So, as you might already know, The White Road of the Moon (now available for the bargain price of $10.22 in Hardcover, a tiny bit cheaper than Kindle) and Winter of Ice and Iron (which you can preorder this very moment for the low, low price of $7.99) both had their origin in the first unpublishable fantasy story I ever wrote: a sprawling 1500-page trilogy that taught me a whole lot about writing, especially when I took it apart and put it back together in these two standalones. This post describes that process in more detail.

The two stories are now set in quite distinctive worlds, with very different metaphysics and magic and all that, but their common origin remains evident in two ways (I think just two, but you can all judge for yourselves when Winter comes out).

One is the basic shape of the land in which the story is set: each has four or five smallish kingdoms distributed across a kind of peninsula, a landmass that is longer north-south than it is wide, separated from the rest of the world by some sort of barrier in the south. This is largely because I originally started drawing the map in the lower left corner and drew one continuous coastline up and around until I wound up in the lower right corner, and then threw up a mountain range in the south because that was the bottom of the page. I always have a mild tendency to draw landmasses that basically look like this, though if you flip through my books – I think they mostly do have maps in them – you’ll see I have sometimes fairly successfully resisted that tendency.

In The White Road, as you may know, the southern barrier is the Southern Wall, a barrier of impassible mountains raised up by magic long ago in order to protect the peninsula from the threat of conquest. In Winter, it’s the Wall of Winds, also called the Wall of Storms and so on. This was also magically created to protect the northern peninsula, though this time from a really dire threat of total destruction. For all anyone knows, nothing now lies to the south but maelstroms of chaos and dragons (these are thoroughly chaotic dragons, totally different from the dragons of The Floating Islands or the one in House of Shadows. Coming up with extremely different conceptions of dragons for each book is a delightful part of worldbuilding … well, leave that for later. Back to names!

Which are the other main way in which these two worlds still resemble each other. Lots of the characters and lots of the place-names from that original trilogy got assigned to one or the other of the new books, so there are common elements in the names of people and places; far more so than, say, the names from Feierabiand and Casmantium in the Griffin Mage trilogy. For example, there is the common diphthong “iy”, which I basically threw into a bunch of names to say This Is Not English to the reader, lending a foreign flavor without making pronunciation especially difficult. (Just pronounce Tikiy like Tick-EE and Deconnniy as Deck-CON-ee.). There are also lots of vowels and various letters are more common than English; others less common.

In the same way that I changed the nature of the southern barrier and just how it got there and exactly what threat it protects the northern lands from, I stripped nearly all of the original diacritical marks from the names in one of the books and exaggerated them a trifle in the other, basically as a cosmetic change to indicate a little more firmly that This World Over Here Is Not The Same As That Other World Over There. There were plenty of diacritical marks in the original fantasy because they’re just kinda pretty, but the way they are now used in Winter of Ice and Iron is more carefully standardized because (as the Griffin Mage trilogy made clear to me) some readers really care A LOT about pronunciation.

Here are some typical names from each book:

From The White Road

Jaift Gehliy…..which was originally Jaïft, but that accent mark didn’t do anything to the pronunciation, which for me was simply Jayft, so there was no reason not to take out the mark.
Niniol…..which was originally Niniöl; again, I think it looks like Ninn-ee-ol with or without the mark.
Diöllin…..which retained the diaeresis, also called in French the accent tréma, because I just think the name looks so much better with the accent mark than without. This led me to declare that in this world, older, archaic names might still have diacritical marks, lost in the modern era during which the events of the story occur. Thus we have:
Tiamanaith……the name of a modern woman, versus
Aseraiëth…..the name of a woman who lived a long time ago.
And we also have Carad Mereth as the modern name of a man who once was known as Laìdomìdan – a name that picked up accent marks specifically to signal that it’s an archaic name.

Modern place names in The White Road are also simple: Riam, Surem. This is mainly to give readers a break from more complicated names, but the reader is supposed to understand, without having to figure it out, that some sort of unexplained historical convention underlies variants of names for associated places: Cora Tal, Cora Talen, Cora Diorr; also, if you look at the map, Elan Tal and Elan Diorr and so on. The author doesn’t have to explain this kind of thing for it to add a sense of history and depth to the world; the reader is just safe in assuming there is some kind of historical, philological reason for these kinds of names. (No, I don’t know the history of naming in this world; I just know there is such a history.)

The double “rr” at the end of the word “Diorr” isn’t something I pronounce, incidentally; though if a reader felt like rolling it, that would be fine. It’s just there to say again This Is Not English, since the double “rr” in English never occurs at the end of words.

But let’s move on and contrast the above names with some from Winter.

Winter of Ice and Iron, US Hardback

Eäneté, both the name of a province and the name of the principal town in the province.
Innisth terè Maèr Eänetai, the ruler of that province.
Eänetaìsarè, the name of the Immanent Power of that province.

Careful reading will make it clear that “Innisth” is the personal name, “Maèr” the family name, and “Eänetai” the name that indicates Innisth Maèr rules the province of Eäneté. (I never established rules for the lower-case middle names because it never became important.)

Similarly, we have Raëh, a province and city; Kehera irinè Elin Raëhema; and Raëhemaiëth. The name of the Immanent is always longer, the ruler’s name medium, the province name mostly shorter. I don’t swear that I stuck to that every single time, but I kind of had that pattern in mind.

You’ll see other names of that sort all through the book, and you have my agent, Caitlin, to thank for the similarity of town-title-Immanent names, because they didn’t start off that way but she just insisted that the names were too confusing and kept prodding me to provide more cues about what person and Power belonged to what place until I eventually did it her way. I’m sure she was right and anyway it wasn’t that much trouble to adjust the names.

As you can see, though not all the names have accent marks, lots do, and plenty have more than one. As it happens, all the accent marks work pretty much the same way in the world of Winter as they do in French. Thus:

Reiöft: The “ei” vowels are pronounced together, but the accent tréma, also called a diaeresis, indicates that the “o” is sounded separately. This is the same use of the mark as in the word “naïve.” You can think of it exactly that way every time it’s used. I also consider that it adds emphasis, so this name would be pronounced Ree-OFT.

Verè: The accent grave deemphasizes the vowel. You will see it mainly on an “e” at the end of the word, and it almost renders the terminal “e” silent. If that “e” is sounded at all, it’s as in “eh,” a breathy, half-swallowed vowel. When you see an accent grave in the middle of a word, as in Quòn or Caèr, it still deemphasizes that vowel. The former name is pronounced with a single shortish vowel sound, a lot like Kwon; the latter becomes more breathy, like Kehr.

The accent aigu, or acute, is used to accent a syllable – but in French it also indicates that the é should be sounded as “ay.” I intended the latter. You nearly always see the acute on a terminal “e” and it sounds that “e” as an “ay.”

Thus, clearly, Eöté is Ee-OH-tay.

Also, Eäneté is Ee-AN-eh-tay, and Eänetaìsarè is something like Ee-AN-neh-tie-sah-reh

So you see, even though to begin with I fundamentally threw in the accent marks to look pretty, I did make a reasonable attempt to standardize pronunciation before I finalized the spelling of the character and place names. I’m pretty sure the above rules are more or less what I was using when I subvocalized the names. But again, hey, if you like other pronunciations for any of the names, that won’t bother me one bit.

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How was your eclipse?

Oh, btw, yes, we had a great time during the eclipse, and I hope you all got to see it as well. My parents and I hosted seven guests (some just briefly). Luckily we had wonderful luck during the actual eclipse, with clouds around us but nothing threatening . . . until two minutes before totality, when a small cloud crossed the sun. It got out of the way with thirty seconds to spare, a real nail-biter for timing, but delightful in retrospect because it worked out just fine.

I didn’t take many pictures, not having special equipment or anything, but here is a picture created at Mineral Area College, by layering 80 frames from a camera connected to a telescope, if I understand correctly:

And here are before and after pictures of shadows on our deck, showing how the crescents reverse direction:

The whole thing would definitely have been worth driving for, but I must say, it was even better if you could just watch it perfectly from your own home. One of the neatest things I didn’t expect was how the light just . . . turned . . . up after totality, exactly as though God were turning a dimmer switch. We were all watching the eclipse too closely to see how that worked as the sun went out, but it was so interesting as it came back out. I did hear one lone nearby cricket chirp during the darkest period, and a neighbor’s rooster started crowing when the sky lightened afterward.

Our friends from Chicago drove home that afternoon; the drive took them nine hours (instead of the normal six). But at that they were lucky; check out this article from the Chicago Tribune!

Here’s hoping for similar luck in eight years, when once again my house and my parents’ home will be in just the right spot!

Postscript: if you’ve never happened to read Annie Dillard’s essay about the experience of a total eclipse, here it is online.

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Cursing your enemies: horse’s heads on poles and other methods

Here’s another of Marie Brennan’s posts at Book View Cafe: New Worlds: Curse You!

I don’t mean profanity (though there’s a degree of overlap there). I mean actual malevolent attempts to cause someone harm by supernatural means. Sometimes people do this deliberately, out of a desire for power or revenge; other times it’s a subconscious process, the metaphysical consequence of negative emotions like anger, jealousy, or fear. … Many curses amount to codified ill-wishing, with a profoundly fuzzy boundary between religion and magic.

Interesting post, lots of great ideas for worldbuilding, and if in the future I have someone put up a horse’s head on a pole, facing their enemy, you can definitely blame Brennan.

This would totally creep out your enemies

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