A Free Man of Color by Barbara Hambly
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I always enjoy Barbara Hambly’s work, and I’ll certainly read more of this series. The setting is richly detailed and convincingly rendered, in a way that supports the story rather than distracting from it. It’s also a real mystery, and a fair one — the clues are there if you’re not too carried away by the narrative to stop and look for them.
The time at which it’s set is an interesting one — after the Louisiana purchase, the dreaded Americans and their money and their projects are coming into town and upsetting the social order. Everything’s changing, mostly not in a good way — though they were far from perfect before.
The precarious situation of the “free colored” in this environment is an important part of the tension that carries the story forward. Most people January meets basically have the ability to destroy his life at a whim, and he can’t even count on the slaves to have his back. There’s a nuanced social order, a caste system ranging from black slaves at the low end through free colored, then women, with an ongoing struggle at the top between the Creole and American (men, of course).
For those who enjoy mysteries and speculative fiction: though set in the US, this is largely an alien culture. It’s not like what you know.
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The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reasonably well written, ultimately failing to delight. This is basically a geek secret agent fantasy, the protagonist being computer geek Roen Tan, not the titular alien. Where it disappoints me is in hewing too close to the line that the only way to be cool is to be super-fit and coordinated and good in a fight. He has struggles getting to that point, serious doubts and discouragements, which is why this gets three stars from me instead of two. But ultimately he turns into just another secret agent type, in a situation where the alien culture is ripe for a huge paradigm shift. The aliens think they have all the time in the world, failing to realize that the humans are quickly getting to the point where the aliens will no longer be able to hide; another ten years if they’re lucky. And they just keep squabbling and sticking to their centuries-old strategies as if nothing had changed.
Tao was supposedly the driving force behind Genghis Khan and the foundation of the Ming Dynasty. Why is he these days reduced to just raiding and sabotaging the enemy, instead of being in charge of huge social movements? Has he forgotten everything he once knew about being the pivot point behind world events? No wonder his side is losing; they forgot how to think big.
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Come to the Point
W. Shakespeare, called by his friends Bill,
Is said to have written his plays with a quill.
I mention him here, though, just on the way
To the topic I’d meant to hold forth on today,
The connection to which might not seem too plain,
But which I can maybe attempt to explain.
First, Bill had quills, though they weren’t on his back,
And he used his to scribble, not to attack,
Like these guys who always get up in your face,
Who thought up the notion of personal space.
But those little spikes that are used to protect,
When they roll in a ball and hold them erect,
Are clattering, rattling, “shaky spears” when
They toddle along with their porcupine friends.
– Tyler Tork
Fernella Inskip of Bald Knob, Arkansas asks:
What do stressed-out ostriches do when there’s no sand for them to bury their heads in? There are people around here who raise ostriches (for laughs, I guess?) and they run around on grass or at best, mud. The soil just isn’t very sandy in these parts.
You’re working from old information. Ostriches in a state of nature, in vast sandy places, might not have any other way to get away from life’s little nuisances. But civilized ostriches who live on farms, have other coping mechanisms available.
Of course, compared to their primitive brethren, farm ostriches have what you might call “first world problems.” There are no leopards and hyenas or men with spears around, so they spend their time worrying about what other ostriches think of them, whether their feathers have that youthful sheen, and what happened to Ralphie after the farmer led him away.
Who all is in my household
…excluding anything tablet size and below.
Harry Padington of Newgate writes:
I run an opera company, and attendance has been flat. A rival company in our city’s been packing them in, though. How can I increase our audience share?
Harry, I’ve thought long and hard on your question (sorry it took so long to answer). Opera has a lot to offer. Beautiful singing, dramatic plots… but it needs an update to resonate with modern audiences. Here are a few ideas.
- Advertise the show as being in 3D. I don’t understand why anybody puts on a live show these days without highlighting this big plus.
- Add zombies. Everything sells better with zombies. They may be tapering off, though, so watch for the next big thing.
- Get big stars. Hollywood actors love to take a turn on the stage to prove they got culcha. Who the heck has heard of René Pape, much less anyone your outfit can afford? But get Nicolas Cage or Johnny Depp up there, and you’ll fill those seats. Of course, they can’t necessarily sing, but see my next point but one.
- More sword fights. I know it’s hard to sing well when you’re jumping around with a sword (or even without a sword), which brings me to my next point.
- Lip-sync. Having people stand around singing is static. It’s boring. But if they move much, it interferes with the singing. What you need is someone to jump around, while someone else does the singing offstage. Especially appropriate if performing Cyrano.
- Boost the cute factor. Puppies and little kids increase the aw-w-w-w of any show. Do you think anyone would’ve watched Frasier without that little dog?
- Do operas for kids. Think about it. If adults come to a show they often have to find a babysitter. If the kids come, they need an adult to accompany them. So, more seats filled, and you’re training the next generation of opera goers. Bright colors, simple lyrics, clowning, killer robots, and none of that damn foreign language stuff.
- Actually, nobody likes shows where they can’t understand the words. If you can’t do it in English, don’t bother. This also frees up the translation display for more important uses.
- What uses, you ask? Audience participation is key. Picture this: “SHOULD MIMI SLEEP WITH MARCELLO? TEXT TO 65001.” Or, “tiro4005: OMG this family needs help #elektraatthemet”.
- Join forces with a modern acrobatic circus, like Cirque du Soleil. More eye candy to keep things hopping.
- Do sequels. This is really a no-brainer, and I don’t know why we don’t already have Carmen II and Madame Butterfly Does Vegas. If something was popular, people always want more of the same. Yes, I know some operas leave the stage littered with the corpses of major characters, but these things can be worked around. Comic books manage it just fine. You might also consider combined sequels, like Faust Meets The Merry Widow.
- Popup opera. Like the music video show that flashed up fascinating facts about the band members during a performance, you can have assistants hold up placards with trivia about the performers and the shows (or use that translation board). Audiences eat this stuff up — “Joyce Didonato has 30 monkeys” or “This show was first performed in a barn, by horses.” It doesn’t have to be true, just entertaining. (Note: I have no idea whether Ms. Didonato actually has any pets. It was just an example.)
If you do even a few of these things, I’m sure you’ll sell out every night. Good luck! And if you want to thank me, a small commission on your increased sales would not be unwelcome.
I get mail… in this case from a reader who spotted a news story that reminded her of my recent proposal to eliminate Thanksgiving in favor of a holiday where people get to complain to their nearest and dearest, since that’s what it usually comes down to anyway.
Pointing the way to Gripesgiving
I hadn’t really thought in terms of a light display for the new holiday, but a woman in Denham Springs, Louisiana, has come up with something that’s in the spirit of the occasion. This was originally intended as a message to a neighbor who, says amateur lighting engineer Sarah Childs, may have stolen her dog. However, the city has given her so much grief about it that she has now added a second decoration, similar to the first, to express her opinion of local government.
So, is Ms. Childs (some say Henderson) a low-class nutjob and horrible neighbor? There’s a case to be made for that. Is she within her rights? The ACLU feels there’s a case to be made for that. In any case, she is a decorating innovator.
The new flash fiction publisher Mustang’s Monster Corral just published a very short story by me! Which shows that the plans of evil geniuses are deep and scary.
Camper sign language for “There is some cheese.”
Maybe when you went to summer camp as a child, you felt that there was more going on than you knew about. If you don’t know the secret camper sign language, you were right! In a series of posts, I’ll show how campers communicate without speaking. If you or someone you know will go to summer camp, it’s crucial to understand these signals, or you miss out on a lot.
We’ll start out easy, with just one sign. The diagram shows how to point out the location of cheese to another camper. With one hand, use your index finger to point to the cheese. The other hand makes a squarish curved shape with the thumb and first two fingers. You can think of this either as a letter C for cheese, or a grip appropriate to holding the curvy edge of a wedge of cheese. Either way, now you will recognize this symbol of cheesy deliciousness!
If you use this sign yourself, take care not to confuse cheese with soap. Before you direct your fellow campers to a tasty snack, do the test to make sure that’s what it really is. It takes only a few seconds and heightens your peace of mind.
If the cheese is soft, for instance if it’s cream cheese or marscapone, wiggle the fingers of the non-pointing hand, as if you were mushing the cheese a little. For practice, you might get a package of cream cheese, let it warm up, and massage it a little — still in the wrapper, unless you just like to make a mess. Pay attention to how your fingers move. This will help you give the motion a natural look.
This article, with its picture of an old Viking pendant in the shape of a dinosaur, has got me thinking. Could there be more surprises like this lurking in museums and attics? What else might our remote ancestors have known about that we never expected?
For instance, this little statue was made 7,000 years ago in Thessaly. And yet it bears a striking resemblance to something many people probably thought was modern. Could this be the Lost Tubby?
Coincidence? You decide.
This is the sort of thing that makes Science fascinating.
Thanks to Gordon Bonnet for the link to this article.