Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Book log 34: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs


GREEK FIRE, POISON ARROWS, AND SCORPION BOMBS
by Adrienne Mayor

I found this book as I was checking up on another of Adrienne Mayor’s works about Amazons. I put myself on a waiting list for that book, but then I found this, and after running into so many references to Greek fire in pop culture, the simple title of this book intrigued me. If nothing else, I’d never heard of a “scorpion bomb.” Was it as simple as a thrown insect? Really? I had to find out!

Warfare is nothing new, obviously. As long as mankind has been around, man has been trying to kill man. In primitive times, fists and rocks and sticks were employed to try to do the job, but later on, when mankind got a little more sophisticated, so did the weaponry. Not hidden in the recent scare about ebola was a nasty little whisper about “someone” sending infected people to infect others, but neither the vicious suggestion nor the technique is new; according to this book by historian Adrienne Mayor, the strategy was employed more than 3,000 years ago, and “poison maidens” were used to try to assassinate Alexander the Great and other key soldiers. (And of course, the use of poisonous gossip is nothing new.)

Types of weapons don’t change, but how the weapon is expressed of course has over the millennia. For instance, I didn’t know until I read this book that napalm, that thing of the modern era and the scourge of the Vietnam War, has properties similar to Greek fire. This in itself was an amazing fact, but then my attention went immediately to the passage about using flaming pigs to wage war, training sea lions to be sentinels and assassins, and using bees to find enemies and chemical agents. (Yes, I almost wrote “beeline,” but I caught myself. You’re welcome.) Flaming pigs nearly wiped everything else from my mind for a few seconds. Almost.

And yes, there’s more! Wasps’ nests thrown over walls, pleasing neither the recipient nor the wasps, I’m sure, poisonous snakes catapulted onto opposing ships, and scorpion bombs (yes, my attention finally went back to that) thrown at the enemy. Author Mayor uses a familiar phrase, “weaponizing nature,” and this book gives you a good idea of how that worked, thousands of years ago.

COMING UP: Christmas Delights by Heather Hiestand

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Turkey Day Song, Again


My annual off-tune warbling of a song that should be sung through the land on this day, if only to salute a dumb descendant of the dinosaurs that's pretty good eats:

Turkey Day Song
by Elizabeth MS Flynn

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY YAMS, MARSHMALLOWS TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY MASHED POTATO TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY GREEN BEAN CASSEROO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE THOSE TASTY BISCUITS TOO

Or

LOVE MY PARKER ROLLS I DO
SOFT AND FLUFFY, CHEWY TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
LOVE MY DRESSING CHESTNUTS TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY PUMPKIN PIE I DO
LOVE MY APPLE CHERRY TOO

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

LOVE MY TURKEY YES I DO
BUT MOSTLY THANKFUL FOR YOU AND YOU

TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY
TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY DAY

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hot Premise Workshop!

I'm teaching a workshop for the Futuristic Fantasy Paranormal group, starting December 1! Interested in coming up with your own hot premise? Let me help! You can sign up at: http://www.romance-ffp.com/finding-your-hot-premise/

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book log 33: Heart Fire


HEART FIRE
by Robin D. Owens
I remember when Owens introduced her Heart series, way at the beginning of the current paranormal romance subgenre. I loved Heart Mate. It was unique, it was cute (of course, if I weren’t a cat person, I’m sure I would have been less enraptured—but even if you were a dog person, you would have found it charming), and best of all, I COULDN’T PREDICT WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT. (This is a rare and wonderful trait. That’s the problem with too much fiction: too easy to figure out. And the unpredictability of the best fiction or any writing in general is a precious thing indeed.)

And that was a long, long time ago (okay, a couple of decades, but for a lot of people that would be a long, long time ago)(yes, yes, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth and all that). Since then, Owens has written 13 or 14 books in the series, one an anthology of Celtan stories, including how the travelers made their way to the planet they settled on. Owens has managed to expand and deepen the history, culture, and society of the Celtans, before they arrived on the planet (they started on Earth, you see)(but that would have been a long time after the dinosaurs ruled the…sorry, I’m getting off the topic).

In the past few stories, Owens has been delving into the topic of lesser-known religions and lower-stratum society sorts, even a cult and killers. In Heart Fire, we have an architect entrusted to the construction of a temple for a religion not of Druidic origins (calling themselves “Cross Folk” or “Intersection of Hope,” so it was interesting to see how the author described this religion), a Druidic priestess who suffered from a mob protesting alternate religions, including being hunted and burned out of her home, bigotry, ambition, and family. That last is a prevalent theme in Owens’ books, but the others are relatively new, and while she’s struggling to work them into the parlance of this paranormal romance, she is comfortable in the world and culture she’s created in Celta, and is doing an excellent job of expanding on them.

COMING UP: If I can figure out how to access it, I have a book on Greek fire waiting for me!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book log 32: Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice


BELLE: THE SLAVE DAUGHTER AND THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE
by Paula Byrne
The painting at the center of the story I remember having seen many years ago. It always struck me as looking oddly anachronistic, with the traditional portrait of the placid white young woman but with the mischievous, exotic one smiling at the artist, almost winking in a pact between her and the viewer. It didn’t hurt that she looked a lot like Nichelle Nichols, and as a Star Trek fan since the original series debuted, that always stayed with me. Was it something that someone had mocked up, taking something from that time and adding the Nichelle-alike? And can you see Lt. Uhura in that outfit?

Now, many years later, when the movie came out and the flurry about the portrait got attention, I knew I had to do some reading. I have yet to see the movie (because somehow it’s less convenient to see a movie, taking two hours, than to read a book, taking a bit longer), but I read the book that came out with the movie. It didn’t surprise me, sadly, that beyond the sketchy basics of who the Nichelle-alike was—her name was Dido Elizabeth Belle—and some of her origins, there was little information about her, but the world in which she was born and lived and died was an interesting time filled with turmoil, leading to the abolition of slavery in Britain, many decades before the Civil War in the United States forced Britain’s off-shoot to do the same. (And of course, there are those who say it never happened, but I won’t get into that.)

But who the young woman’s guardian was—and he was her guardian, entrusted to him by her father, John Lindsay, later admiral of the British navy—is beyond question: William Murray, Earl of Mansfield, lord chief justice, high muckety muck of the British judicial system, world-renowned expert on maritime law and all-around smart and thoughtful guy. With his wife, Mansfield raised Dido and her cousin Elizabeth (a family name—did you guess?) together, and later in his life, Dido acted as his secretary. Her later years—such as they were, since she married after the death of her guardian, had a few children, and died in her early 40s. Her resting place is uncertain, and since the cemetery she is thought to have been buried was moved, her remains are really lost to the ages. But Mansfield made sure she had money of her own, both during her life and after his, and so, after her death, her husband became a man of means and leisure—from her money. The injustice of that is twofold, but nothing new in any society.

Dido was a source of great curiosity in London society, not only because of her family background (in a time when the children of captured slaves would have been sluffed off or even killed, if not outright but of neglect, her father chose to recognize her, going so far as to entrust her care to a man of great note in society and politics) but her personality. With the exception of the questionable comments of an American, a Loyalist, living in exile in London at the time, she was known for her intelligence, beauty, and personality. This book gives us an idea of who she may have been. We’ll never know for sure, but we do get an idea of the times and the people in it.

COMING UP: I have something waiting for me at the library!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book log 31: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century


by Barbara W. Tuchman

Years ago (when the Earth was young and so forth), I wandered into a store across the street from the World Trade Centers (so you know this was a long time ago) that was closing down. It wasn't a bookstore, but one of those mixed-offering stores that also had books. It was part of a chain that no longer exists, if that makes a difference to you. Anyway, many things were getting sold off, obviously, but I was most drawn to the book section. I spent most of my lunch hour there seeing what they had, and ended up with half a dozen volumes. One of these was another Tuchman book, The Guns of August.

Which I never got around to reading, of course, and it's still in waiting somewhere in my bookshelves to be unearthed and actually cracked open. But a historian like Tuchman always comes up when you're looking for something historical, and sooner or later, gasp! You actually hunt down a book and--you know--OPEN it. It happened to be A Distant Mirror, because inspiration I was seeking needed to be in a form of history from long ago, when the English we speak wasn't quite the same and in fact probably wouldn't have been intelligible, certainly not to most Americans.

Anyway, it was like opening Pandora's box, I tell you. There was a rush of detail and description and a flood of personalities and WOW. I knew nothing about France of that particular time, except for the occasional references I found in other things. I had read previously that France was the center of the universe in many ways at the time, but it wasn't until I started to read this work by Tuchman that I understood exactly what that meant. This work reminded me that it was one thing to know and another to REALLY comprehend. 

After viewing life through A Distant Mirror (yes, I think it's a requirement to use a pun this way with a title like this), I have a need to see the lands of Coucy. And if you ever block out a chunk of time to read this book, you will too.

COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book log 30: His Road Home


I don't know why this is coming up as unreadable, but I persevere...

BOOK LOG 30: HIS ROAD HOME
by Anna Richland
I vaguely remembered Anna Richland talking about the setup of this story on a panel or something ages ago, but I had forgotten about it until I received an advanced reading copy of this short story (or is it a novella?). And it was wonderful. First of all, I thought Richland was writing about immortal Vikings, so when this story turned out to be about a coworker of one of those Vikings and what happens after he suffers a grievous injury after he steps on a land mine, it was a surprise. His path crosses with a marine biologist who grew up in the same small town, and the story is about the way they grow to learn about each other during a cross-country journey back home. Holiday stories can be annoying and cloying, but this was just right. Thank you, Anna!



COMING UP: Oh, so many choices, so little time, and more!