From a Tiny Sea Tartal

The baby sea tartal is the ideal Avatar for the discerning ConjurerIn the highest days of Elder Magick, each village or hamlet — even perhaps, a fork in the road — enjoyed the protection of a Conjurer or Mage.  Perhaps the smaller villages might share a Conjurer with their neighbors, though disputes often arose.  Although such spells are possible, it was never wise for a Conjurer to split himself in halves or quarters and divide his attention between villages.  That particular practice was what led to the unfortunate case of the moaning stones of Foutaise.  Few remember these days, but Jean-Luc the Sagacious, Conjurer of Western Arbres, frequently copied himself, in order to meet the demands of three lady friends, five villages, and the port of Foutaise. After a nasty encounter with the local Sphinx, Jean-Luc ended up divided into six confused, and utterly disembodied parts.  The hapless Conjurer’s only alternative was to embody his half-dozen divided selves in a group of barnacle-encrusted rocks at low tide — which to this day, moan and groan at the coldness of the water whenever the tide comes in.  Of course, at high tide, no one can hear a thing the rocks are saying, and should you wish to question Jean-Luc, it is best to go early in the morning on days where the tide is at its absolute ebb.


 A far better choice for the well-prepared Mage is an Avatar.  An Avatar is merely a shadow-copy of the Mage’s observational powers, and it will serve to warn the populace of impending Magickal danger, as well as allow the Mage, properly-prepared, to see just what trouble may be brewing while he or she is away.

And as all good Conjurers know (few enough though they are these days!), the very best sort of Avatar is small, portable, of pleasant demeanor and responsible nature.  For this purpose, I have always found that the small sea Tartal is quite the most reliable vessel. 

One must get them when they are quite small.  Indeed, that is how I learned of the plight of poor Jean-Luc, the no-longer-Sagacious.  Sitting at low tide among the oyster beds of Foutaise, I was observing a clutch of sea Tartal eggs about to hatch, with the intent of selecting four or five of the most vigorous infant Tartals as they emerged from their shells and made their way to the water.  The moaning rocks quite clearly called out my name, and I recognized Jean-Luc’s tone of voice.  As he owed me a fair amount of money as a result of his utter inability to hurl a quoit with any accuracy, I did not answer.  Instead, I scooped up the little Tartals, threw them in my sack and left rather quickly, as some boys were approaching with stones in their hands.

I’m proud to say that at least one of these little fellows survives today, although he has taken a hardened shape, like unto a silver pin or ornament.  In my present position, it provides me with no little pleasure to see his adventures from time to time.  He is currently in the possession of a lovely young woman with long wheaten hair.  I rather think she may learn a few tricks from my Avatar, though of the group, I imbued him with the least of my powers.  But for Lalume, even the lesser powers — are powers indeed.


FABLES: A Very Short Review

I was going to review the latest issue of BRAVE & BOLD today, but it is the first issue of a two-parter, and not very good to boot.  In four weeks I will hit both parts in one lump, probably with prejudice.

In the meantime, let us turn to more pleasant subjects.  Nearly everybody loves FABLES, a long-running and award-winning comic book that has been gathered into perhaps a dozen graphic novels by now.  The basic premise — characters of fairy tale and legend in our world — is fun and teeming with promise.  The creators spin a good plot and develop fascinating characters, not a given, alas! in today’s comic book market.

Why is this so, when cash cows like SUPERMAN and BATMAN are limp as laundry?  Partly Superman and Batman suffer from Hollywooditis, in which a fatal surge of turgid images and wan themes washes east from California to the offices of DC Comics in New York City.  This happens every time there is a major motion picture, or even TV.  How many years we labored in the wilderness while Batman fought off his Adam West incarnation, and it will be a long, long year before the Joker quits looking like Heath Ledger.  Another factor is control.  Is Batman going to die in this current issue?  Of course not, not with a new movie in production.

But from a writer point of view the other fatal handicap is the serial nature of comics.  Once a character is successful, he really can’t change very much.   He can’t even die — consider Sherlock Holmes, shoved off of Reichenbach Falls by Arthur Conan Doyle and then resurrected due to popular demand.  It was a major deal when Superman finally married Lois Lane some years ago; the marriage between Peter (SpiderMan) Parker and Mary Jane was retconned (retroactive continuity) right out of existence over at Marvel recently.

And here we come to why Fables is so successful from an artistic point of view. Change and development is wide open.  The title has not yet come to the point (although I can see it coming) when it is no longer possible for beloved characters to die.  It is still possible to marshal plot and character towards coolness, rather than towards luring in movie fans.   You want an example?  Coolness is when the wooden warriors of the Fables’ enemies invade the Upper West Side of New York City; the Fables erect barricades in the street and fob off the police with a story about how it’s a quaint ethnic festival from the old country.

In other words, Fables is not yet straitjacketed by its own success.  That means now is a good time to jump on.  (Well, a couple issues ago if you want to start at the beginning of an arc. )  Don’t wait until they cut a movie deal.


Things I did Today

While Sarah is writing, I’m moving. My office to be exact. I’m three weeks into this move. I’m moving the office from downstairs to upstairs. Why is it taking me so long? I’ll tell you. This move is going to be different. I am not throwing the rules of Feng Shui to the wind. I am going to be ergonomically correct mentally stable. I will live out the rest of my days with peace of mind and body. What that means is that the 20 pounds of shit that used to fit in the ten pound bag of an old office now needs a 40 pound bag. There ain’t enough room. So I’m sticking to my guns and throwing out what I no longer need or use.

Enter the rolodex. The old one. The one from the band. From when I was a band. Thinking I’d keep all the unused cards from the old rolodex to put in my new, currently fabulous rolodex which is running out of cards, I actually went through the thing. Let me tell you something, old rolodexes should not be sifted through; they should be burned. The painful memories, the awkward moments, the embarrassments, the fights, the angers, the tears were all dredged up in that willful move to clean out the rolodex. You can’t believe the volume of contacts I had in that rolodex all there to support the dying effort that was my band: rehearsal studios, recording studios, sound people, amp stores, music stores, drug stores, tuners, luthiers, the flute doctor, vintage and hip clothiers, photographers, Apple downtown (the elevator bongs like the startup charm when you get to their floor), and the hundreds of bass players and drummers that were known as the “thundering herd of the CeLange rhythm section,” not because we were ever reminiscent of the great old Woody Herman, but because we couldn’t keep a single one on board for more than a season. Most of the people in the rolodex are no longer speaking to me. If they are, chances are I don’t want to speak to them. Going through that rolodex unleashed ten years of heartbreak that I had carefully beaten down into a small enough size to fit in a dark corner of my subconscious, never to surface until the after life when surely I would be carried to heaven on the back of St. Peter just for putting up with so much crap, exploitation, and disrespect.

There were some good memories, sure. When Genya Ravan’s card came up, I smiled. The first time I heard Genya sing on a Ten Wheel Drive LP, I was blown away and scared to death. Genya out-Januses Janus. I had no business even being on the same planet with her, let alone in the same business, doing the same thing. A few years later after we had asked her to produce our first CD, she came to see us at one of those horrible clubs on Bleecker Street that have sound restrictions. Putting sound restrictions on a Bleecker Street club is like gentrifying Beale Street in Memphis or closing down Maxwell Street in Chicago. Oh yeah, they did that too.

But you get the picture, I had totally missed the NYC scene. Nevertheless Genya Ravan was in the house and wouldn’t you know it my head was too out of the game to enjoy the mini triumph. I’d had to run down to CB’s to drag the bass player to our gig. He’d been sitting in in a pickup band for no money. In a shithole like CB’s no less. CB’s was even more gone from the scene than the dump I was playing in that night. If that wasn’t a dis I don’t know what is. So my idol is in the audience and I was too steamed to feel a thing. Anyway, I got to work with Genya Ravan and yes, when it was all over, I did fall on the floor to worship and thank her, a memory I dredge up on my own on cold and distemperate days.

G.E. Smith was in my rolodex, an artifact of the transitional period between being a musician and being a writer. Right after everybody got hooked into the Internet, somebody contacted me to do an interview with Little Mike (of Tornado fame) for the Delta Blues web site. The webmaster had asked me to send in reports form the NY scene and so I got on the masthead. Little Mike’s manager contacted me thinking I was an actual writer. I did the interview (I’m sure the manager realized his mistake and my lack of experience when he saw my piece) and decided that I liked writing. I did a bunch more: Popa Chubby, Adam of Satan and Adam. I tried for Susan Tedeschi, but she had the same manager as Little Mike and he hadn’t forgotten me. But I did get G.E. Smith who I have always been fascinated with since way back when I used to watch Satuday Night. G.E. hasn’t been on in about 15 years so you can see how I got the interview. I think I’ll keep that card along with Genya’s.

My rolodex had a card for Miramax Productions. What the h…?

A bunch of people from the new me were in there too: Timmi Duchamp, Ellen Datlow, Wendy Delmater, Matthew Kressel. Guess I was using that old rolodex for a while in my new life, before I got smart and populated the address book that came with the computer. That smattering of current and important people will get moved to the new digs. Count on it. I’m still in the game here. Not disillusioned. Not yet.

Sue Lange
The Textile Planet


Things I wrote Today

Sometimes I think I’m the only girl in tenth grade who doesn’t have a vampire.
I mean, okay, Marcia Prescott doesn’t, but she’s soooo busy with her AP physics that she probably wouldn’t know a vampire if one, you know, bit her.  And Stephanie Gibbs doesn’t, but she’s president of the Vampstinance society and spends all her time trying to get girls to give up their vamps.  As if.


Toward a Grand Unified Theory of Food Bugs

by Vonda N. McIntyre

Here’s a question I’ve been asking for a while:

In the pre-Columbian Eastern hemisphere, what we used to call in geography class “The Old World,” most of the staple foods are based on the action of microbes: Bread, beer, wine, yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kefir, injira, miso. Fish sauce.

In the pre-Columbian Western hemisphere, this is not true.


Continue reading


Intelligent Fish, or Why I’m a Science Fiction Writer, Not a Scientist


I recently went to a lecture on Jupiter’s Moon Europa by Dr. Don Blankenship of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. He is part of a team designing a radar system to explore beneath the ice that covers Europa to see what lies below. (The lecture is available as a webcast).

It was fascinating stuff. He explained how use of radar to study beneath the surface in Antarctica and other frozen places on Earth have helped scientists develop the tools so that they know how to use it for Europa. He commented on the competing theories over how thick the ice cover is on Europa. And he told us how much Europa has in common with Earth: seas (albeit frozen ones), a rocky interior, a magnetic core. Because of these similarities, some scientists are speculating that life might have developed in all the ferment under Europa’s ice.

But then he said any results from the radar expedition — the one that will tell us enough about Europa so that we can decide whether to send landers or even a cryobot to burrow beneath the surface — are 20 years off, assuming we get started very soon. It will take 12 years to build the orbiting device that will operate the radar, at least five years for a ship to get it to Europa, and some time to get it up and running, plus some fudge factor.

20 years just to get the basic facts. 40 or 50 years to actually go beneath the surface and see what’s there. By the time anyone figures out if there’s life on Europa, I won’t be around to see it and neither will Blankenship.

I had a sudden epiphany at that point: That’s why I’m not a scientist. Continue reading


A Long Way Up or Sarah Visits Tintagel

From Sarah’s Travel Journal:

Want to get down my impressions of Tintagel before going through what all I went through to get here.

Tintagel Island and the headland are awe-inspiring. The cliffs nearest the sea are black where the sea pounds them and tan above, and the sea does shake the ground. In at least one place, a waterfall makes a whitel tail for the stream that runs down beside the path.

To get to the island, you walk down a steep ravine, which is a lovely, green walk with that water-fall stream running beside the path, but this seems counter-intutive, because when you get down to the bottom and the beach (and the tea shop), to get to the castle/ruins, you have to climb all the way back up, and then some. Quite a bit of then some.

The climb up is scary. The only thing thing that makes the climb down less scary is knowing you got up there. It’s winding and it’s steep and some of the stairs have been there for a _really_ long time. I’ve seen grooves worn in stone steps before, but never whole basins.

The sea…

BTW, I’m writing this over dinner, and I’d like to state for the record, the butter is better out here. The lovely, thick, vegetable soup is really good too.

Anyway, I was suposed to be rhapsodizing about the sea. The sea is a brighter blue-green here than I expected and it wasn’t even a really sunny day. It pounds the cliffs so you can feel the vibrations through the stone. There are caves and fissures filled with spray and on the way down I heard a boom like a cannon shot that was the echo of a wave hitting one cave.

I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make the climb. I was pretty shaken by my unscheduled roaming around the Cornish countryside and frankly, it was so narrow and so steep and so high, it scared me, more than a little.

But up I went anyway, and I’m glad I did. I’ve never been in such a place and the pictures can’t capture the feel of the wind and the water and the gulls and birds below you, the jumbles of stone at the foot of the cliffs and the constant rush of the water. You get above the smell of the sea at the caste and fortress, but not above the sound of it.

It is really easy to see why someone would build a fortress there.  Like the Edinburgh Rock, there is only one way in, and that way is daunting. Not only that, but you could see anybody coming a mile away. Literally. When you stand on the headland above the castle, you have a perfect view of the sea, and the rolling green downs that rise above the village, over which any army would have to come.

To sit there, with the wind battering so hard at your back that you didn’t want to get too close to the cliff’s-edge, with the sea battering below and streatcing around, watching the scudding clouds making shadows on the grass and stone below the nearest drop-off, seeing a seagull held absolutely motioonless by the wind, and thinking of the things of legend, is wondrous.

The ruins have their own facination. It’s not just on complex. Buildings accreated in the nooks and crannies of that island like barnacles from the sixth century on up through the nineteenth.

The ragged remains of arches, walls, towers, and cellars are to be found on every outcropping flat enough and big enough to hold a human building. But it was the land itself, the stone and sea and sky that caught me the most. It was them that made me understand how this became a land of legend. There is nowhere else on this island of legends like this place.

The cliffs, BTW, do not drop off smoothly.

They drop in a series of steps and overhands and with the noise of the wind and the water someone could be six feet below you, and you’d never know it. I was startled a couple of times on the way down by the sudden appearance of people when I thought I was alone.


Is John Howe Psychic?

In 1997, when I received my contributor’s copy of Elf Magic, an anthology that included my short story “Kind Hunter,” I was delighted with the cover illustration by John Howe. It matched my main character perfectly, and I came to think of it as having been drawn from my story. (Note, I don’t know if Mr. Howe even read the anthology, so this is merely my assumption.)

Recently I was looking through some photographs of a vacation we took near Ruidoso, New Mexico, some years ago. My husband pointed out the similarity between this photo of me sitting on an interesting tree and the Elf Magic cover.

Wow! Could Mr. Howe have somehow received a psychic impression of this image, and used it in his design? Granted, I don’t have a bow, and the tree doesn’t have a face (unless you count Ginger, hanging out under the curved trunk, as a woodland spirit). Even so, the two images are intriguingly similar.

I love this sort of thing!

“Kind Hunter” was my first take on the idea that eventually inspired my new fantasy series about the Ælven and their estranged and tormented kindred, the alben. (The story has a contemporary setting; the novels are its ancient history.) The series will debut in March 2009 with The Betrayal, but you can read “Kind Hunter” now at BookViewCafe.

–Pati Nagle