From the pen of Sarah Dimento


First, cover art for my next collection of essais, Style is the Rocket:

Featuring the title piece and a Bunch of Other Cool Stuff.

[Read more...]

Smoke signals for experts

Mary Catelli inquires:

So working on the world and how do you send letters magically?

Without involving owls, thank you.  I send the kids to a magical school already.  So no owls.  Or doves or eagles or . . . .

I could have them sent by mailman.  Still, a magical means to send them would add to the world-building.  But eliminate winged messengers, and what other form of magic would be metaphorically suitable to transport them?

Something to brainstorm, I think.

Your Humble Correspondent replies:

The enchantment for this requires matched pairs of amulets: rings for choice, since they are so compact and convenient and easy to carry about. Each pair of rings is imprinted with the essence of both parties to the correspondence. You place your ring in a hearth or brazier, prepared to receive enchantment in the usual way, and the recipient (who is expecting your letter at any moment) does the same with his. You then build the smallest fire that will sustain itself, and burn the letter in it; whereupon the vibrations of essential fire in the matched rings will call each to each, and the other party can read your letter in the flames of his own fire, or in the ashes.

N.B. If, like any civilized person, you are carrying on epistolary friendships with many other people, you will want to get a specially constructed hearth with rows of brass pegs in the firebox, so that you can receive letters from whichever of your acquaintance wishes to write to you. When sending a letter, of course, you must remove all the rings except the one intended. It is considered good manners to kindle a fire in the sunset hour and keep it alight for some two to four hours thereafter, so that all correspondence may be conducted in the evenings.

Muggle magic

Mary Catelli wonders aloud:

Read an article on Harry Potter. In which the author asked why the wizarding world didn’t have TV.

Duh. Because the images would go walking around and vanishing and maybe even talking to you instead of saying their lines.

though, actually, the mobile pictures of the wizarding world might be fun but they aren’t very useful for the basic purposes of pictures. Suppose you actually wanted a photograph of your family to show people. It would be awkward if one child’s image was shy and ran off. And for historical purposes, you want an illustration that doesn’t stop depicting what you want.

Sculpture can be stationary. why not flat images? How much magic does it take to do what Muggles can do with mere chemistry?

I respond, with the lessons I learnt at G.K.C.’s mighty knee:

The sad and solemn secret of Elfland, of which Hogwarts is an outpost, is that the fay-folk lack one great and awful power given to us Muggles by our Creator: the power of ‘Thou Shalt Not’. So it is for us to say, ‘I make a photographic image of thee, and thou shalt not walk out of it.’ When we tell a thing to stay put, it stays, backed by the colossal might of Nature and Nature’s God. It is because the fairies have not this power that all fairy-gold turns back to dust.



In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae was a physician and occasional poet from Guelph, Ontario. Upon the outbreak of the Great War, he was called to the colours under which he had served, and despatched to Belgium with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. As brigade surgeon to the 1st Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, he treated the wounded under fire during the Second Battle of Ypres in April and May, 1915. During the intervals of the battle, he wrote the rondeau above, which was published anonymously in Punch that December and immediately became world-famous.

In every war before the advent of antibiotics, and a good many wars since, disease was a greater killer than enemy fire. Lieutenant Colonel McCrae (he had been promoted from major during the war) died of pneumonia and complications in January, 1918, ten months before the armistice. He was one of 60,000 Canadians killed in the First World War, out of a population of only eight million.

We still remember. God save us all from breaking faith with those who died.

Message fiction, Victorian style


But the three hundred and sixty-five authors who try to write new fairy tales are very tiresome. They always begin with a little boy or girl who goes out and meets the fairies of polyanthuses and gardenias and apple blossoms: ‘Flowers and fruits, and other winged things.’ These fairies try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed.

― Andrew Lang

The apple-blossom fairies are mostly gone, thank God, but the same failing recurs in other guises. The same could be said of most of the critical darlings of any given moment, especially in our genre (which is insufferable when not humble): They try to be funny, and fail; or they try to preach, and succeed.

Hat tip to Mary Catelli.

Mission acc… no, better not say that.

Finished Phase 1 of the Great Flat Cleaning. Phase 2, which involves going through the spare room and throwing away masses of rubbish that I’ve stored in there for years, will wait until I get caught up with other work. Meanwhile, the rest of the place is more or less presentable and certainly clean enough to work in.

Quasi-regular posting will therefore resume this week. In the queue: another M*A*S*H post, another bit of Theyocracy from the McStudge, and (once I work out the details) a follow-up to ‘Ozamataz’ and ‘Legosity’. I also plan to get some solid work done on Where Angels Die this month, and maybe even get the Style is the Rocket collection on the market. Busy times ahead.

Respect clichés

Respect clichés. Clichés are old and wise and powerful. Nothing gets to be a cliché without being used and used and used — and nothing gets used that much without having a lot going for it.

Mary Catelli

Life, Carbon, and the Tao

My essai for the first anniversary of L. Jagi Lamplighter’s Superversive blog is now up in full:

Part One: What’s so special about carbon?

Part Two: What’s so special about the Tao?

Reposted on SuperversiveSF in one piece.

Go, read, and I hope you enjoy.

In other news, I shall not be writing this week, as I have finally enlisted some help to do a top-to-bottom cleaning of my flat, which is many months overdue. The accumulation of books and papers was making it impossible for me to hoover up the dust, and the dust was making it difficult to do anything else. I have been living largely on a diet of antihistamines and facial tissue. Enough of that!

ERB to 4E


I have nothing to say about this that John C. Wright has not already said better.

Aeons ago, Forrest J. Ackerman, the science fiction fan to end all fans, wrote a fan letter to Edgar Rice Burroughs. Mr. Burroughs replied exactly as follows:


Amen, ERB, and thank you, 4E.


So far, I have described my thoughts about ozamataz up to the point where I asked whether one could attract that kind of self-sustaining fan participation, and if so, how. This is also the point at which the Muse, or the Guardian Angel, or the Collective Subconscious, or Something, stepped in. Perhaps it was the Great Oz himself.

Having worked out something of the nature of ozamataz, I asked my brain: ‘OK, brain, what is it that makes some things have ozamataz when others don’t?’

And my brain, without missing a beat, obligingly answered: ‘Legosity.’

I was duly annoyed, for I then had to figure out what legosity was. My brain is cryptic and has no manners, and seldom troubles to explain itself.

The one thing my brain did deign to tell me is that legosity has something to do with Lego. This made sense on the face of it. Lego toys have an ozamataz of their own. They have inspired movies, games, theme parks, and of course, the imaginations of millions of children the world over. The manufacturer’s recent habit of producing specific single-purpose Lego sets like model kits, which hardly fit together with other Lego and are hardly intended to, is most regrettable. These kits tend to take up shelf space at the toy shops and displace the kind of Lego that you can really play with. But the original bricks and doors and windows, Lego people and Lego cars and Lego trees, and so on – those are still available, and you can do anything with them. Nowadays, you can even buy Lego with moving parts and electric motors, and build Lego machines that can be controlled via computer. There are Lego robots in the world, and serious men with doctorates in the hard sciences have been known to play with them.

As the unfortunate history of the kit-model kind of Lego shows, it is not so much the brand name, or even the mechanical ingenuity of Lego that gives the toys their unique quality. It is the concept. At bottom, Lego consists of a whole range of bits and pieces, all designed to fit together easily and without fuss, so that they can be used to build anything the imagination can conceive. You do not have to be a skilled carpenter, or a watchmaker, or know how to build ships in bottles, to build houses and cities and fairy castles out of Lego. The skill in your fingers (especially a child’s fingers) ceases to be a limit on what you can achieve, and the mind is set free to soar.

Even the name Lego is well chosen, and means, I think, more than its inventor intended. We are assured that it comes from the Danish phrase leg godt, ‘Play well’. But it is also Latin and Greek, and in those languages the word has a wide and subtle range of meanings that reach right down into the guts of the human psyche. [Read more...]

Life, Carbon, and the Tao (part 1 now up)

The estimable L. Jagi Lamplighter is featuring my new essai ‘Life, Carbon, and the Tao’ on her Superversive blog. Part 1 is now up; part 2 to follow next week.