29 December 2009

An unpardoned Christmas beetle

Postprandially torpid from feasting on leaves,
too flashy to hide
even under the eaves,
they're a seasonal feast crunched by bat, bird, and beast
and by ants who pick meat out and leave sleeves.

Launched! Sky Whales and Other Wonders

edited by Vera Nazarian
published by Norilana Books

Table of Contents
Introduction — Vera Nazarian
"The Sky Won't Listen" Tanith Lee
"The Tin and the Damask Rose" Anna Tambour
"What a Queen Does with her Hands" Erzebet YellowBoy
"The Gifting of Nyla's Son" Linda J. Dunn
"Stone Song" Sonya Taaffe
"Sky Whales" Lisa Silverthorne
"Death's Appointment Book, or the Dance of Death" JoSelle Vanderhooft
"The Sugar" Mary A. Turzillo
"She Who Runs" Mike Allen
"Breaking Laws" John Grant
"Only One Story But He Told It Well" Robert Brandt

25 December 2009

A fly's bum

I was just puzzling over the identity of the depositor of five fresh scats (size and shape, components, type of smell) when this fly dropped in for a feast.

Speaking of feasts, I highly recommend the repast at Happy Horus Day by "the former fundie". And something that cries out for (hopefully, it will be heard) its own exhibition is the the superb collection of (mostly small household) statues spanning cultures, but all templates for the mother and child, even to the nursing pose —
in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Season's Dragons

Last year at this time, this goanna climbed up and had a taste around our balcony.

And yesterday, this much smaller goanna came up for a while.

20 December 2009

"The Eye of Nostradamus Summit" coming soon, and Jack Lorimer's whinge

Sparked by a minds-spanning, worlds-stretching painting by one of my favourite artists, Marc McBride, this eye-wash of a story by me is coming out in February (issue #44, edited by the Felicity Dowker) and is one of many good reasons to get into —

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

No time like the present, and a hootful present at any time
Buy by the issue or subscription—in paper or pdf.

The current issue #42 is edited by Edwina Harvey (I highly recommend her recently released The Whale's Tale. This would be an especially good present for that time after Christmas when everyone's bored with the presents given to them, and the vampires cease to satisfy.)

But onwards with Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42, in which I have a special interest:

Love Among The Lobelias . . . Rob Shearman
Over The Rim . . . Ripley Patton
Soldiers . . . Dave Lucket
The Name Thieves . . . Laura Goodin
The Hatchling . . . Anna Kashina
Dream (TM) . . . Simon Petrie
Pinked Djinn . . . Dave Freer
Inside Job . . . Jason K Chapman
The Good, The Bad, And The Donkey . . . Alex Kearney
Celebrity Skin . . . Felicity Dowker
The Arms Of Love And Death . . . Anna Tambour
Pageant Girls . . . Caroline M Yoachim

Steak . . . Steven Saus
An Open Letter Circulated Across The Web . . . Marcie Lynn Tentchof

Special Features
Tribute to Douglas Adams . . . Robert Jan
Parasitic Worms Of The Living Dead . . . J W Schnarr

Artwork by Tom Godfrey, Rob Jan, and Lewis P. Morley
Cover by Lewis P. Morley

Book reviews by Simon Petrie
A note about "The Arms of Love and Death"
Jack Lorimer is upset as only an expert can be, that I ended this report about him when I did. He's been such a pest about it that I swear I'll send out an update to any reader on request. Just write to me (at anna _ tambour at yahoo dot comatose) quoting the last three words of "The Arms of Love and Death" and you will be sent the next 400ish words of Lorimer's existence.

19 December 2009

Another work from the salon

At dawn today I woke scraping a bit of gunk off a knee, just knowing that
Yesterday the Art Removalist art movement was born.

18 December 2009

Gorgeous Turner Prize art (for a change) and a private show

The Tate should be congratulated and encouraged, for this year's Turner Prize winner is actually an artist, not just another gimmickist who parties with the right people.

Richard Wright's wall paintings and installations truly are exquisite. They are not just visually resonant, but play off cultural and historical notes instead of cynically take from them like the Chapman brothers, previous Turner winners.

Wright's art is also surprisingly modest. How wonderful to be faced with something small, not another monumental portrait or vandalism on a Christo scale. And it isn't a gimmick that he wants his paintings to be temporary, to be washed off walls, that he sees impermanence as intrinsic to his art.

As Rachel Devine writes in The Times, he wasn't the bookies' fave, but was certainly the public's.
"Traditionally, the Turner Prize is an opportunity for those who question the relevance and merit of contemporary art to indulge their opinion that it’s all rubbish. There’s nothing quite like an unmade bed or a marinated cow to set alarm bells ringing. Expecting to be ridiculed or ignored, Wright considered turning down the nomination altogether." The Art of Shunning Posterity
Now no one who expects the public to fork out $$ for an artist's expressions, and particularly no one who enters a prestigious competition that keeps afloat on a sea of commentary and electronically wafted and permanently catalogued pictures not only of the artist, but the art, can claim to be shunning posterity. But that conceit can't be blamed on the artist, more the spinner of the story.

Not that I agree with all Wright says. "I am interested in placing painting in the situation where it collides with the world; the fragility of that existence. Being here for a short period of time, I feel, heightens the experience of it being here."

His paintings don't collide. They enhance.

And so do these artworks enhance (in the opinion of this impertinent critic who can't go to London to see the current king). Here are only a few pieces from the ongoing impermanent art collection in my gallery at home.

Detail of panoramic diptych

Like Wright's works, these are temporary installations, to be washed off.
And inspired by his example, I call these pieces: Untitled.

With thanks to the Tate Turner Prize for providing the commentary that I have adjusted to suit these works:

The Psittacid Arts Collective creates subtle and exquisite floor paintings that respond directly to the architecture in which they are created. Often awkwardly placed in indiscreet locations, they combine graphic imagery and intricate patterning from sources as varied as a gut, a gust, and a bit of human imagination.

by the Psittacid Arts Collective
All mixed media on board—including albumen, Alisterus scapularis feathers and Glochidion ferdinandi

Some reports say that the PAC belongs to the Incontinent art movement, but this is a lie. Not only are they quite deliberative painters (even the especially prolific Trichoglossus haematodus faction), but all Psittacids spend much time cleaning their tails.

Curator as artist
Curators are often as frustrated as pharmacists. The Collective has given this curator the shining opportunity to put my name also, to this collaborative work.
Shown below is:
A Work in Progress - of Removal

17 December 2009

Some of my best friends are k.a.'s

Ho ho hee hee! If only knitting addicts would boycott this blog, I could claim some readership! But before I get to them, I must say that my caution "If you're thinking of presents for any child, the 'gifts' of knitting addicts are SODDING" in Presents that go beyond themselves, sparked the question from Janine B:
"What do you have against knitting addicts???"

Nothing generic. Some of my best friends are knitting addicts, writing addicts, cooking addicts, etc. They don't need to reform because they don't inflict their problem on others. I don't say this as a blameless innocent. The baking addiction can lead to horrors, about which, possibly a confessional post.

But Janine B is no knitting addict. This discriminating and incredibly creative fine artist and designer is an expert in many fields including fibre arts. I've been meaning to list her incredible blog Feral Knitter.

Feral Knitter creations

Inspirational to many, educational on many levels, Feral Knitter is an exceptional publication that happens to be a blog. Janine's sense of colour, texture and form—always a sensual treat, even to this non-knitter. She is a teacher who takes the intimidation out of complexity, and is an observer and commentator about all kinds of interesting odds and sods—from books to the chaos that is life and intentions.

And—in a present of few words—she has given me the opportunity to have a long-repressed slagoff about out-of-control knitters whose droppings spatter innocents around the world, and whose knitted gifts corrupt little children—for this is the season when there kneed to be knitalyzers out in force.

Suffer the little children
In the tragically hilarious new choice being considered in our state of New South Wales' public schools, parents could be asked, Religion or Ethics? As Teresa Russell reports:
"Unless you have sent a child to a public school in New South Wales, you won't have come face-to-face with the madness that is known as 'non-scripture'. For one hour each week, usually first thing in the morning during prime learning time, every public primary school in the state must divide its students into different faiths to receive 'special religious education' (SRE) from a wide assortment of adults, known collectively as 'scripture teachers'. If a parent wants their child to opt out of SRE, that child is not entitled, under existing education policy, to any instruction during this period. The policy specifically states that learning in the areas of 'ethics, values, civics or general religious education' must not occur." — Antique religious education needs reform
Trust me. This is getting somewhere.
Associate Professor Philip Cam from the University of NSW is developing a program for an ethics class proposed as the alternative for students whose parents don't want them fed religious indoctrination. Interviewed by Heath Gilmore in the Sydney Morning Herald, there is only one example of a dilemma quoted from the professor.
''Our kids will talk about granny knitting a sweater you hate, but you tell granny you like it. Now Mill would say that's great, you didn't hurt her feelings, while Kant would rail against the lie."
There is nothing wrong with knitting addicts who restrict their gift-giving to consenting adults. The problem comes when it's done to minors, and all people who are put in the position of having to pretend to be grateful, which includes recipients of those horrible squares-for-love charity blankets cobbled of odds and sods. These wraps should have to be worn by the givers, and cleaned by them in conditions such as that of the recipients. These “wraps of love” as well as used clothes (which btw, have devastated livelihoods around the world. See also "dead white people's clothes") are as helpful as dead bras, which have also amazingly, been turned into a charity cup. It is a common misconception that poverty means a person has no eye for style or sense of self, when the opposite is the case.

A man receiving charity practically always hates his benefactor - it is a fixed characteristic of human nature; and, when he has fifty or a hundred others to back him, he will show it.
— George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

The less one has, the more the small things matter, especially when dignity is one’s only possession. For instance, take any picture of starving people in Darfur and compare it to that of the crowd in a typical Western shopping center, and I rest my case.
Criminal acts of anti-style imposition are rife.
“Here is an account from a knitter whose “knitting life” was changed forever when she knit sweaters for orphans in Afghanistan: Knitting for others, especially those who don’t care about color or fit or a perfect increase or heel turn was liberating. The dozens of ideas that I had been incubating for years burst forth and suddenly I was working on several projects at once, trying many new constructions and techniques…released from my ego and the imagined criticism of finicky recipients among my friends and family…” — Knit Unto Others
When the real reason is to give an outlet to addicts, an outlet that has to consist of people outside of the addicts' communities, it should come as no surprise that people are starting to say NO. One quote from ABC News' Fijian bra program sparks charity debate:
"These kinds of projects really are only, I think, designed to focus on the donor, the person who feels good because they can give something that they would otherwise throw in the rubbish."
or, in the case of many sweaters knitted with undoubted love, hid by a child hopefully forever under a pile of last year's toys.

Further recommended reading:

16 December 2009

A pig illustrates balance of power

Public perception can be so much more level-headed than that of pundits. That's a given, since public perception is so much closer to the ground. But why should the public also be longer-sighted? It often is, inscrutably.

A few months ago, a term paper topic in the thinktank Atlantic Community was Does China Matter?

Today, Shawn Rein in Forbes reports a Pew Survey, the outrage this has sparked, and makes some cogent observations. Yes, China Has Fully Arrived As a Superpower

No more li'l buddy
Certainly, Australia looks to China for our bacon these days, and even non thinktank-belonging Australians know that having our prime minister speak Chinese and be at heart, a mandarin, is more important than us having a prime minister who gets tears in his eyes when some US president throws an arm around his shoulder. No other nation's deals and wants are as important to Australia. We've got to keep exporting coal and gas and other minerals, and taking China's global political aims as seriously as we do our wealth, so that we can maintain ourselves in the manner to which we are bloating.

" ' We are bigger than the US for the first time. Our newly built homes are 7 per cent bigger than those in the US, double the size of those in Europe, and triple the size of those in the UK. '
Mr James sees the trend as evidence that Australians are, on the whole, happy with where they are living. " - Australians live in world's biggest houses, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 30 Nov, 2009

14 December 2009

Presents that go beyond themselves

Most of this year's media-recommended (or should I say pushed?) gifts are here today, landfill within two years. And when it comes to stuff for kids, the stuff is more than ever, just stuff.

It's nothing less than mass delusion-spreading that, say, standing on a bathroom-scale-size platform and swinging your arms, eyes glued to a screen, is exercise; and that a family that has enough thumb-boys stays together; and that the exorbitant amount spent on this stuff means it has value. The top-selling toys today, minus the hype, are really just great boredom creators.

This is crazy, since toys and presents, especially for kids, should be fun. And the more fun we have, the less we'll grow up. All great discoveries, innovations and inventions, including all creative works that give us joy and enrich our imaginations, have been made by people who never grew up.
"We all have an eye for detail when we are young and a magical sense of wonder that the business of life seems to hammer out of us."
— Paul Harcourt Davies, Nature Photography Close: Macro Techniques in the Field (a classic that has outlived camera models)
Nature beats Mario for happiness
Davies is both a superb photographer and a great teacher. He was given a camera as a child, and it extended his eyes and encouraged him to see a world outside walls. His blog post of two days ago talks about kids and their feelings of well-being: Getting back to nature—Italian style.
Look up the phrase, "gave me a microscope" and you'll find endless wonders, including these stunners by Lennart Nilsson, whose pictures have changed how we see the world.

What reading does for the soul: Books and scopes
Annie Dillard's personal discoveries about libraries, sleuthing, wrigglers and the incurious grown-up world, make one of the greatest essays of all time. Pure joy. I wasn't going to even quote it, because every word in it is as ringing as the next. But —
Not all great presents cost $s
A library card can open up worlds.
"The Field Book of Ponds and Streams was a shocker from beginning to end. The greatest shock came at the end. When you checked out a book from the Homewood Library, the librarian wrote your number on the book's card and stamped the due date on a sheet glued to the book's last page. When I checked out The Field Book of Ponds and Streams for the second time, I noticed the book's card. It was almost full. There were numbers on both sides. My hearty author and I were not alone in the world, after all."

Colour the imagination!
The smell, and feel and look of pencils, paint, crayons, ink, paper. Even clays. What child doesn't love them, given the chance to use them? And they can lead so far. A pencil can tell a story in many ways.
"I taught myself to read at five. Ironically, the Reading is Fundamental commercials scared the hell out of me. Those spots regarding an epidemic of illiteracy among kids much older than myself made enough of an impression that I started decrypting cereal boxes at breakfast, labels on canned goods, you name it. Fear is one of the great motivators. After a bit, I began to scribble rudimentary stories that were more akin to a series of captions adorning vivid crayon drawings of monsters, burning buildings, and corpse-strewn battlefields. My parents were largely disinterested in the whole affair; they seemed to shrug it off as a phase, so I can only surmise my need to write is deep-rooted and independent of learned behavior."
— Laird Barron (quoted by Jeff VanderMeer in his interview of LB in Clarkesworld)
acclaimed author of, amongst other stories, the collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories (which would make a great present for a grown-up)
Fungi and shells and pieces of old watches, and boxes for treasure
All kids are collectors of the strange and precious, if they get the chance. Even things you work with can have untold value. When my father gave me a ship's rope, it wasn't to make every other kid jealous when we played jump rope with that rope (though they were). You might find yourself judged pretty amazing if you begin a collection with an offering that you've found and think intriguing, and a cool way to store it. To a child whose imagination hasn't been smothered, the most scrappy thing can have priceless worth (as parents have always complained). So a simple fishing tackle box or toleration for strange little beasts and curious chemicals (as both My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks illustrate [both stunning presents for parents and other animals, and two of my favourite books]) and a lifting of all that paranoia about kids being out in the unsupervised time and outdoors can make boredom and brattiness a thing that other kids have.

Perhaps that b & b is why Caitlin Moran recently wrote in The Times, These kids have TOO MANY SODDING TOYS. This column by "Alpha Mummy" has spread like spilt milk.

Personally, I think a child needs two dolls - so that they can go on adventures together - a pencil, and a notepad. That's it. Everything else is decadent Western corruption. When I was a child, we made our own amusements: drinking vinegar pretending it was whisky, flooding the garden with a hose, spitting contests. Punching each other really quite hard. Permanently mentally disturbing each other with constant, low-level psychological warfare. We didn't have Hannah Montana wigs, or Pixel Chix, or, or ... Puppies In Our Pockets. We made bows and arrows out of Rosebay Willowherb (that were rubbish), glue out of flour and water (that was wholly ineffective) and papier mache objects that, for some reason, never really dried out, and rotted on the windowsill, emitting horrible, oddly turnip-y odours.

That's why I want to - throw all the kids toys away!
And for adults, a special recommendation
Small Beer Press: 2009 Christmas Franciscan Fundraiser Sale
Fantastic books—and your money not only goes to a great small press (not only in the list they publish but the way this publisher treats their authors and customers), but to a cause and hospital that you've just gotta read about.

So to sum up
I'm not as barebones as Alpha Mummy with my recommendations, but I will say one thing. If you're thinking of presents for any child, the "gifts" of knitting addicts are SODDING.

Bones and glass

The king who thought he was made of glass (the "mad King" of France, Charles VI (1368-1422) and all the others who shared this popular delusion would have considered insane, today's idea of deliberately mending broken bones with glass.

But such is the case. And not only that. Metallic glass. And not only that, but metal that "dissolves in the body". And it's not just an idea.

Read "Mending Broken Bones Using Metallic Glasses" (in the always worthwhile AZo Journal of Materials) about the bone-mending work of Bruno Zberg, Peter Uggo-witzer and Jörg Löffler, researchers at ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, a science and technology university).

As to delusions, the glass delusion is an example of fashions in hysteria. Although it's hard to find a person anywhere in today's world who is unfamiliar with glass, the delusion is so nonexistent as to be a curious note in history. But to those wealthy enough to know glass when it was an indulgence, the hysteria was once as urgent and rampant as their need for jewels and starch and lace.

And the need for those necessities of civilized existence was as normal then and there as these now, in the Christmas buying guide of (Australian) Choice Magazine: "If you want your kids to have the latest and greatest console to make their friends jealous, the Nintendo DSi should do the trick. However, if your kids already have ... Playing Wii games isn't just about twiddling your thumb on a joystick; you can play games by waving your arms about or making a quick flick of the wrist to play tennis and golf. And for $150 you can add the Wii Fit ... It's no substitute for proper fitness equipment or a trained instructor."

Fashions in hysteria deserve greater scrutiny, and perhaps the works of what I'll call this hysterian should be more widely known, though they are the considered judgments of an expert in his field with the credentials to show to the outraged.

It is delightful, however, that the great works and projects that people generally know Dr Colin McEvedy for (and the background that should give added credence to his scholarly though controversial papers noted above), are the works of an amateur historian. As his fascinating obituary says in The Independent, "Why he didn't read History at Oxford, which he never regretted, probably had to do with his suspicion that the work he loved might be constrained by the conformity of the academic world."

From this lack of constraint came great creativity. And the shattering of constraint must have been the music that inspired the thoughts of how to mend broken bones with glass.

12 December 2009

"I say it is the sun."

"Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes,
That have been so bedazzled with the sun

That everything I look on seemeth green"

No wonder beetles have inspired religious awe.

This member of the scarab family is not a dung beetle scarab like Khephri who had so much to do with the sun, but a chafer—a leaf eater and one of the 35 species of mainly Eucalyptus-munching Anoplognathus in Australia commonly called Christmas beetles.

In this household we call them bongers because this is the time of year they zzzzoom at night, banging into everything bongable. They always seem knocked cold, but get up groggily, to zoom again, out into the fragrant night. During the day, if you come across one on the ground, it's probably torpid, and it could be said to be the blessed sun.

This is the first time I've found one frozen in activity. The elytra (those hard, chitinous forewings that protect the membranous hindwings) are raised as though in flight. Usually, beetles die so neatly that one could think they were hyper-considerate to bereaved family members who have to pay by the micron for a coffin.

What is not shown in these pictures are the delicate transparent hindwings. They lie folded on the beetle's back. And excavating the treasures inside: a blur of ants.

Help Peter Watts, and help yourself

As does any fight against absolute power.

Read about him here, in Cory Doctorow's story in Boing Boing. Dr Peter Watts, Canadian science fiction writer, beaten and arrested at US border. His legal expenses will be a punishment in themselves.

The many comments are worth reading. I've had enough experience to believe the account, and to add that it's lucky that Peter has friends.

The experience of being an innocent attacked by government feels just like being raped. And having to pay for the privilege.

06 December 2009

Valerie Littlewood inspires the International Portrait Gallery

If there were an International Portrait Gallery instead of just the parochial National Gall's, then Valerie Littlewood's portraits would be renowned, for they would certainly be loved. They are full of life because of this artist's approach:
"The best possible scenario is to meet the model face to face . . . The more you know about your model the better job you will make of the painting."
I highly recommend her blog Pencil and Leaf, not only for the views of her works in progress, but for the details she gives about the private lives of her subjects. Many of them are bees. And as she has said:

"Once you have looked into the eye of an orchid bee there is no going back."

Littlewood takes particular care to learn about her subjects, and to let us know where she gets her information. Her writing is a pleasure to read whether it is about an individual, a species, thisorthats, or the techniques of making a living being come to life on paper.

We both share a love of Fabre's descriptive observations, and Littlewood says, "I am always struck by the lack of affectionate writing about nature these days."

I agree that when it comes to many published books, the only affection shown is to a person or two, especially when the book is in the first person. However, there are wonders to be found, especially on the web, such as the always thrilling Annotated Budak, another artist whose works I would include in the International Portrait Gallery (just as I would include writings by, amongst others, Asher E. Treat and George D. Shafer). Take, for instance, this sketch in Venus five, a recent post illustrated by Budak's excellent photographs: "The wooden railing that protects the stream from careless children and grown-ups who care less serves as an elevated thoroughfare for ants, termites and other less-organised wayfarers. Though largely unhindered, the route exacts a toll on its users in a scattering of fleet-footed highwaymen. Some, like this boxy little salticid, seek to suck the life out of luckless ants; others merely don myrmician garb to elude the attention of hungry arachnophiles while they pursue their own many-legged meals."

"I feel that "bee watching" time should be part of everyone’s daily routine."
— Valerie Littlewood

Watching—that essential to science, art, reportage. I reckon that the International Portrait Gallery would be a place where science, art, and biography would be as unable to be separated as we should be from the nonhuman nations and their countless personalities worth a gallery's shot towards immortality.

04 December 2009

The nymph and the bud

This shell of a cicada nymph is the only evidence left of what must have been a sense of urgency. Usually nymphs climb from their deep holes, along the ground and then up— some distance up a tree trunk or post before they grip, to shed their shells.

This bud hangs on hibbertia scandens, a vine that is supposed to be a climber, but here it hugs the ground.

Urgency, lowness and holes bring to mind the state of New South Wales' government. NSW voters are scheduled to emerge in 15 months.

21 November 2009

A great book: We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich

One of the joys of examining another person's library is finding treasures. We Took To the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, published by J. B. Lippincott, Philadelphia and New York, was, from the inscription, a gift from mother to daughter when it was first out, in 1942. Now in the daughter's daughter's library, its quiet oatmeal-and-brown-sugar cover had a plain appeal, but the memoir is nothing short of exotic.
In the woods the first question you ask anybody, no matter what time of day he arrives, is "Have you eaten?" . . . In the country, and even more in the woods, a kitchen is much more than a place to cook. It's the place where people sit, for warmth or sociability, or to do odd jobs . . . Often my pots and pans have to find what space they can around a soldiering iron thrust into the firebox and my pot roast is shoved back in the oven to accommodate a pair of newly oiled boots that must be dried.
There are many recipes and truisms, such as "People are so easy to fool. The real test comes when you try the fly out on a fish" and "Blueberries are apt to be flat."

There are many recipes, including this one for Mock Tripe:
It is an old home recipe of that almost legendary Norwegian guide, Travis Hoke, and is very useful in disposing of otherwise unusable odds and ends. If you have a fresh salmon you can put its skin in a light brine until you are ready to use it, or the skin of a baked fish, carefully removed, will serve as well. Save the daily leavings of the oatmeal pot and spread them out about a half inch thick to dry. When you have amassed a sufficient quantity and it is covered with a heavy brown crust, season well and wrap in the fish skin. Dredge this with flour and pit it in your roasting pan with a small amount of water or milk, cover, and bake at least an hour in a medium oven. The result is truly amazing.
Not everything in this great, wise book is so foreign.
I don't want my child ever to feel as lost in the world as I do right now; nor do I want to inculcate in him the doctrine of force and aggression at no matter what sacrifice of the rights of others . . . I don't want to raise my son to be a soldier—but if he has to be one, I want him to be a good and capable one. I want him to know what he's fighting for—and Freedom and Democracy won't mean a thing to him, unless they are all tied up with memories of things he has loved ever since he can remember—things like the sound of the river, and the way Kyak [the dog Rich calls her other son] lies and dreams in front of the open fire on a crisp autumn evening, and the picnics we've held at Smooth Ledge.
In the magic world of here and now, within half an hour of opening this book I had to have it so I bought it used on the internet, shopping for the cheapest postage, as there were several places that listed the 1942 edition for $2. I've got it now, and the only difference between it and the copy my friend has, is that the fly leaf has been torn off on mine, which is often the case when personally inscribed books lose their library.

19 November 2009

The Extraordinarily fine Arts Auction, and Interfictions 2

The Auction is on now, and a marvelous assortment of handmade books, wearables, and other inspired pieces can be yours—or ultimately possessed by the recipients of these one-of-a-kinds that would make great gifts.

See, for instance, this gorgeous being below, by the artist C. Jane Washburn. (This is only one view. The site shows many other views.)

Auction #12: The Ordinary Made Alien

The Child Empress of Mars by C. Jane Washburn
Based On:
“The Child Empress of Mars” by Theodora Goss

in Interfictions 2 edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak, published by Small Beer Press, and reviewed by amongst others,
Bibliophile Stalker Charles Tan. Although all of the reviews have been laudatory, and I enjoyed every story in the book, I am mentioning Tan's review because of what he says about my personal favourite—Elizabeth Ziemska's "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken".

Although the stories in this anthology are said to be "Delving deeper into the genre-spanning territory explored in Interfictions", I must disagree in the case of this story.

Only recently, when prospecting in two rich fields, that of food-in-literature and animals-in-literature, I found a seam that contains both. Since I found it, I claim the right to name it: Chooklit

But even though "Count Poniatowski and the Beautiful Chicken" deserves a place in some forthcoming genre anthology "The Best Chicken Tales of All Time", I'll ignore that fault as I should for several other stories in Interfictions 2, and (1)—stories that could themselves, be the basis of new genres, the borders of which could be the "hot-button issue" basis of delightfully obscure future wars.

A Pocket Book

This pocket-size book is doing very well on Asteroid *, though the astroidians have no clothes nor the teachings of sin.

They do now understand, however, the purpose of clothes: Clothing with no pockets is like a home with no books.

Hunger, Fear, and The Novel Surplus

The advice was free, so I'm sure he hasn't taken it and I don't have to feel guilty for possibly killing a Great Someone-to-be in his own womb. I didn't know him. He just came up and started talking to me. He looked so unhappy, he said he was ("always") "so depressed". He told me that in a few days he was going to have his second nano something after his first, only a year ago.

Anything nano sounds suspicious at the least. His eyes squinted in at the nose with what looked like dread, or was it raw fear—of what? I imagined some cutting-edge foray into the guts of him in which nanowarriors slash at hordes of cells that must have repopulated him after the first war last year, and was anyway, going to kill him soon—or would it be the nanoslashers he feared more than the disease? Whatever, the prognosis didn't look good, and I really didn't want to get to know him well enough to ask his name, as I'm overbooked in sympathies—but curiosity made me want to know more about the warriors inside his body—or his brain.


"You don't know?"

Someone touched my arm. "They have to write 50,000 words in 30 days."

He nodded. "For National Novel Writing Month."

"I feel so depressed all the time," he said. "Every day I sit there . . . "

Eventually I asked, "Do you have anything you want to say?"

"No." He not only didn't elaborate, but seemed to have run out of words.

"Do you get out and observe?"

"How can I? I've got to write." He told me that everyone in his writing group agreed. That he felt such a failure. All the time. That he wakes up every day feeling like a failure.

I told him to quit trying to write the novel. To live, get out and listen, observe, feel, think, engage himself in the world and stop thinking of himself as a writer in any form, to stop thinking of himself any more than a real journalist should—at least for a while. I told him to, when he feels refreshed by the act of being in the world, learn to write haiku. That then he could learn the power of a few words, and the lack of being able to write a good haiku if there is nothing to say, but only words to state. I told him (me being in full unproductive rage, and unable to control myself then. If only I could have kept myself to say, 25 words or less—not that free advice is taken no matter how many words misspent) that while writing haiku, he could next begin to learn how to write something else harder to write than a novel: a short story.

Not that I was raging against him. He was as hard not to adopt as a sweet dog from a bad home, at the pound. I just hate the way the prevailing culture smothers what is natural in all of us—curiosity, the ability to be quiet so we can listen, watch, and learn; to reflect and deliberate instead of communicating either in reactions (often group-determined) as if the brain were a leg meant to kick when the knee is hit with a hammer, or "writing" with the purpose of putting as many words as possible out and writing fiction just to do it (plot? no matter. a reason for a story? to write—a circular reason if there ever was one), because the technology to do it, exists.

We all, humans that we are, have such a wonderful gift, and all the great stories that move us stem from the storyteller using this: the ability to climb out of the first person (and the present tense), to think and feel, What would it be like to be this other person (or life-form) living this other life?

We didn't get into the advice he's probably also following or feeling a failure about because he isn't tw'ing. Even though we humans haven't translated what birds say, their twitters are far from mere comforting noises, and come in endless variations, even from birds with brains smaller than the thought that goes before the average sms.

All this reminds me of the time that I advised a smoker who'd stopped five weeks before, to smoke and live.

Overheard dialogue, October 2009:
Prospective novelist: "We try to top each other. I won with 10,000 words one day."
Novelist: (after about ten seconds silence) "I don't believe you."

27 October 2009

The delighted osteologist

Life for the people in the fields of forensic bones and osteology might seem as if it's grim.

"Another face!" declared the osteologist."This one is definitely bemused."

21 October 2009


Two boys cycled past me on a dirt road today, and one said to the other:

" I sorta !jumped!
on it.

and All the gherkins.
and that?
!jumped! out the side.
and I was left!
with two slices
of buns ? "

The art of negative spaces

Many of the most delicate and beautiful works art are pierced work—not only small items such as Malaysian and Indonesian shadow puppets, but architecture that plays with light and hidden worlds.

My upcoming appearances related to the World Fantasy Convention

Readings and signings
Saturday, October 31, 8:45 PM – 10 PM. Crystal Room, Fairmont Hotel, San Jose, California.
To celebrate the publication of LOVECRAFT UNBOUND edited by Ellen Datlow. (M Press, Trade Paperback, $19.95), an appropriately un- "unofficial" sampling.
Ellen Datlow, and reading a snippet each: Laird Barron, Amanda Downum, Brian Evenson, Nick Mamatas, Michael Shea, Marc Laidlaw, Anna Tambour.

Sunday, November 1st, 4:00, Barnes & Noble, 3600 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose.
Rapid-fire readings from Interfictions 1 & 2, to celebrate the launch of INTERFICTIONS 2.
Ellen Kushner, K. Tempest Bradford, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Liz Zimenski, Amelia Beamer, Ray Vukcevich, Anna Tambour, and Delia Sherman.

Monday, November 2nd from 6:30 – 8:00 pm – World Fantasy Convention Group Signing at (the magnificent independent) Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia Street, San Francisco.
Their events calendar says: "With over a dozen distinguished authors and editors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Ellen Datlow, Nina Kriki Hoffman, Cecelia Holland and Mary Robinette Kowal, Monday, Laird Barron, Marie Brennan, Lynn Ceasar, Nancy Etchemendy, Cody Goodfellow, Elaine Isaak, Nick Mamatas, Diana Paxson, Mark Teppo, Tony Richards, Michael Shea, John Skipp and probably more!"

Tuesday, November 3rd at 7:00 pm, also at Borderlands Books – Celebration (with readings) of the launch of INTERFICTIONS 2 edited by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak. (Small Beer Press, Trade Paperback / ebook, $16.00)
Amelia Beamer, Delia Sherman, Ray Vukcevich, Anna Tambour.
Borderlands Books says:
"INTERFICTIONS 1 was the brilliant first anthology from The Interstitial Arts Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the study, support, and promotion of interstitial art: literature, music, visual and performance art found in between categories and genres. INTERFICTIONS 2 meets the same standard of excellence, and we're delighted to host a reading with three of the contributors and one of the editors of this new volume! What could be a better match for Borderlands than a collection celebrating art that crosses borders?"

This year's World Fantasy Convention celebrates Edgar Allan Poe (and inevitably that celebrity raven). Somehow, this unsung (though gorgeous voiced) Lord Howe Island currawong slipped quothlessly into this post.

11 October 2009

If haiku came from Australia . . .

'seasons' would mean something entirely different from the staid four, each with its list of characters, colours, actions.

The fall of leaves, bark, and tree limbs happens in the season of the drought. This season has lasted years in some parts of our island.

- forest floor -
spring in southeast Australia, 2009

Jellyfish refraction and magnification

unsung hero
no neck from which to hang an award

Not only are some types of jellyfish 'eyes' teaching us about advanced optics, but the bodies of many types of jellyfish must have played an important role that has not been acknowledged.

This is one 'glass' that our ancestors could have used to help find a splinter, and then disposed of as dinner.

Paper Cities now also e-book

Thanks to Matthew Kressel, publisher of Senses Five Press,
the Paper Cities e-book, Kindle edition is now available from Amazon.

Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy
edited by Ekaterina Sedia

Twenty-one original stories from Forrest Aguirre, Barth Anderson, Steve Berman, Darin Bradley, Stephanie Campisi, Hal Duncan, Mike Jasper, Vylar Kaftan, Jay Lake, Paul Meloy, Richard Parks, Ben Peek, Cat Rambo, Jenn Reese, David Schwartz, Cat Sparks, Anna Tambour, Mark Teppo, Catherynne M. Valente, Greg van Eekhout, and Kaaron Warren.

2009 World Fantasy Award Nominee

See the Table of Contents and read some stories at the Senses Five Press site here.

25 September 2009

The Annex is open—and Interfictions 2 is almost out

Appropriately, even the characters on the cover* of
Interfictions 2 refuse to stay in place.

And not every tale editors Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak wanted, would fit between the covers of this anthology that contains 21 delightfully unruly stories by authors from around the globe, so the Interstitial Arts Foundation has now opened:
"The IAF Annex, an online showcase of exclusive interstitial works. One part anthology, one part gallery, one part performance space, and one part everything else, the Annex is the IAF's grand exhibition hall."
Waiting for you already are:
"To Set Before the King" by Genevieve Valentine
"Nylon Seam" by F. Brett Cox, a story/song/ interfiction
Romp in.
Interfictions 2, the Interstitial Arts Foundation's second anthology
"Delving deeper into the genre-spanning territory explored in Interfictions"
is published by Small Beer Press.
Order (Nov 3 release) from Small Beer Press,
Powell's and Amazon, and via IndieBound.

*Cover art (and that's another story) by Alex Myers

24 September 2009

Resistance was futile

"I want my whole name as the brand name," said the founder of the company.

"We really think, sir, that your middle name should be deleted as it is too long," said a member of the consulting team. "And since your first name is the same as your last name," said another member, "don't you think one name is enough?"

"If that were true, then all people would only have one name," said the client. "And that would make us hard to distinguish, no?"

"You could not have put it better," said the owner of the marketing consultants, eyeing his employees with disgust. "We recommend you use your first and last name and just your middle initial."

"I hate middle initials," said the client.

"Splendid. So do I," said the marketing experts.

And that settled, the brand was launched.

23 September 2009

Coralline Seaweed and Yen

Coralline seaweed Corallina officinalis (fresh and dried)
and leather kelp Eklonia radiata

Like many other algae and seaweeds, Corallina officinalis has a history of uses, including (dried and ground) as a remedy for indigestion. In 1780, it was part of the Compendium Pharmaceuticum of Jean François Coste when he was director of the French medical corps in General Rochambeau's mission to support General Washington and the Continental Army. Coste was such a stickler for the health and welfare of the common servicemen that he requested as part of their victuals against scurvy: salads and cherries.

Today we have other, less beautiful remedies for indigestion, so the seaweed has been recruited for a far more important use: the cosmetics industry, this being a typical claim —
"Corallina Officinalis (Red Seaweed) Extract helps firm skin, reducing the appearance of fine lines."
Beauty naturally, a matter of bringing out your inner stone
"The coralline group . . . is noteworthy because all its members extract lime from the sea-water and build it up in their tissues, which become hard and, in fact, stony. . . The most common corallines of plant-like form . . . are small and very neatly branched algae, each little branch looking as it made up of a series of joints, with jointed sub-branches and so on. The fronds really are jointed — no other description will fit the structure. Often when they are dead (from exposure to hot sun during low tides in midsummer) these seaweeds stand out conspicuously, lime white in appearance, because practically nothing but limy substance is left."
— from pg 142 of my favourite book about seashores, W.J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores, fully revised and illustrated by Isobel Bennett, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1987

I don't know about you, but the sight of both the fresh and dried coralline gives me a powerful yen for beets.

Morta Di Fame's Beet Ginger Cake with Citrus Cream Cheese Frosting
gives instant relief to the eyes (those pictures of the raw beets and batter!) but the cooked cake doesn't retain that gorgeous colour and texture, though it would be scrumptious. This blog and recipe are great examples of how good cooks are great compounders. MDF is not afraid to adjust to taste, and not intimidated by what anyone else calls "good taste".
(In that spirit, here are my changes: substitute cardamom for the cinnamon, add a half teaspoon cloves, and substitute a whole lime smooshed in a blender for some of the milk and all of the citrus zest [but I'm an acidhead], and use a lighter oil— grapeseed—that I often use in cakes, instead of olive oil. And I would take off those orange sections there, as central decorations in cakes don't work for me unless they're big enough for everyone and outrageously gorgeous or funny, but then that's my taste.)

Of ‘Maa ka Pyar’ and Gaajar ka Halwa ( And Beetroot, too) is like having a live-in chemist/cook who compounds just for me — or a mythic mother? This is an utterly delightful post in an always enjoyable, heartwarming, and often funny blog, an outtake from this post being: Every Hindi film protaganist talks about the love for his mother and her “gajjar ka halwa”.

As to the recipe and picture, feast. The colours! The textures! Even the harmony of those grated slivers of coconut! It's the picture of above, turned into food. The only thing I would add is a thin ribbon of pure tamarind paste or for those who find that too tart, tamarind chutney.

22 September 2009

Sky Whales and Other Wonders

Thanks to Vera Nazarian, publisher of Norilana Books and editor of (December release)
Sky Whales and Other Wonders,
this is the almost-final cover--------------->

"The Sky Won't Listen" by Tanith Lee
"The Tin and the Damask Rose" by Anna Tambour
"What a Queen Does with her Hands" by Erzebet YellowBoy
"The Gifting of Nyla's Son" by Linda J. Dunn
"Stone Song" by Sonya Taaffe
"Sky Whales" by Lisa Silverthorne
"Death's Appointment Book, or the Dance of Death" by JoSelle Vanderhooft
"The Sugar" by Mary A. Turzillo
"She Who Runs" by Mike Allen
"Breaking Laws" by John Grant
"Only One Story But He Told It Well" by Robert Brandt

Cover Artwork: "Sky Whales," © 2009 by Ahyicodae.

20 September 2009

The spider behind the counter

Going to a spider-silk shop can be a daunting experience if you don't know precisely what you want, for spiders are very precise in the silk they make, the same spider spinning and weaving different skeins, nets and fabrics, depending upon the purpose.

Although you might be prepared to specify line weight, pull strength, crimp or stickiness, dullness or shine; thick felt, papery or mylar-smooth tough bagging, you should also be ready to smile knowingly when the salesnid asks, "And now, which colours?"

See these fascinating pages from two informative and extensive sites:
Common Net-casting Spider- Deinopis ravidus in the Chew family's Insects and Spiders in Brisbane.
Desis - Long-jawed intertidal spiders or lace web spiders in Ed Nieuwenhuys' Spiders of Australia.

19 September 2009

First reviews of Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow

Nathan Ballingrud's "North American Lake Monsters" and Lair Barron's "The Lagerstätte" were two of the most intriguing and widely praised stories in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow (2008). And there's more to come.

Publishers Weekly gave Lovecraft Unbound (pre-order now for Oct release) this starred review:
Lovecraft Unbound Edited by Ellen Datlow. Dark Horse, $19.95 paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-59582-146-1

The 16 new and four reprint stories Datlow (Poe) assembles for this outstanding tribute anthology all capture what Dale Bailey praises as horror master H.P. Lovecraft’s gift for depicting the universe as “inconceivably more vast, strange, and terrifying than mere human beings can possibly imagine.” Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud, in “The Crevasse,” evoke this alien sensibility through an Antarctic expedition’s glimpses of an astonishingly ancient prehuman civilization preserved in the polar ice. Laird Barron’s “Catch Hell” depicts a Lovecraft-type backwoods community in the grip of a profoundly creepy occult mythology. Selections range in tone from the darkly humorous to the sublimely horrific, and all show the contributors to be perceptive interpreters of Lovecraft’s work. Readers who know Lovecraft’s legacy mostly through turgid and tentacled Cthulhu Mythos pastiches will find this book a treasure trove of literary terrors. (Oct.)

Dark Scribe Magazine's review is by Blu Gilliand, and it's too long for me to pinch so read it here:

Both PW and DS reviewers pick up on the fact that Datlow doesn't do fanologies or collections of pastiches. It's lucky for her that flaming is more electronic these days, as she's a prime candidate for burning at the stake in just-so societies that like their definitions of what fits and what is, as familiar and limited as the range of movement for a healthy human tooth.

(Disclaimer: I have stories in both Datlow anthologies, and am quite attracted to the surprises that result from her taste. She could have been a wonderful museum curator, filling cases with unexpecteds, instigators of questions. I'm also prejudiced about her as an editor in a personal sense. She is a joy to work with, and a great help when I've bumphed along falling over feet I didn't even know I have.)

I found Gilliand's piece of great interest, as he started out with a flick of his devil's tail.

"Let me go ahead and get this out of the way. I’m no fan of H.P. Lovecraft. There. I said it . . . I think my inability to 'get' Lovecraft makes me the perfect person to review Ellen Datlow’s new anthology Lovecraft Unbound. This may be my ticket in. Because what Datlow wanted out of her contributors was not for them to do their best Lovecraft imitation – instead, she sought stories that were expressions of the authors’ love for Lovecraft. She wanted them to take the things that spoke to them in his writing and express them in their own style."

I also think that Gilliand's stance on approaching the anthology is perfect. No need to wet a towel to rub off sticky goosh. But I wonder if I'm alone in the reaction to his words, as Motown rings in that murky space between my ears: it's Marvin Gaye singing What's Love Got To Do With It?

After reading Lovecraft Unbound, Gilliand not only finds a common idea in the stories (a quest that reviewers set out on with what must be a sense of manifest destiny, and fulfil faster than flashfic heroes) but ends with "thanks to Datlow and all the able contributors for opening this reviewer’s eyes to the attraction of Lovecraft . . ."

Speak of the devil! I'm thrilled that he was not prejudiced against reading an anthology sparked by (but not imitative of) a writer that he couldn't stand. But I don't think he needs to go overboard. One doesn't have to be attracted to (let alone love) murder to be inspired by it to commit a story.

Table of Contents
Introduction by Ellen Datlow
"The Crevasse" by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud
"The Office of Doom" by Richard Bowes
"Sincerely, Petrified" by Anna Tambour
"The Din of Celestial Birds" by Brian Evenson
"The Tenderness of Jackals" by Amanda Downum
"Sight Unseen" by Joel Lane
"Cold Water Survival" by Holly Phillips
"Come Lurk with Me and Be My Love" by William Browning Spencer
"Houses Under the Sea" by Caitlín R. Kiernan
"Machines of Concrete Light and Dark" by Michael Cisco
"Leng" by Marc Laidlaw
"In the Black Mill" by Michael Chabon
"One Day, Soon" by Lavie Tidhar
"Commencement" by Joyce Carol Oates
"Vernon, Driving" by Simon Kurt Unsworth
"The Recruiter" by Michael Shea
"Marya Nox" by Gemma Files
"Mongoose" by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear
"Catch Hell" by Laird Barron
"That of Which We Speak When We Speak of the Unspeakable" by Nick Mamatas

14 September 2009

Another optical illusion: the skull

This is the ilium of the great albatross (Diomedea) I told you about three years ago when it was washed up on a nearby beach. Although it was dead, its chest ravaged, it smelled of the sea —fresher than any supermarket chicken.

Mistakes are frequently made in albatross identification, but I'll stick my neck out and say that this is a wandering albatross, although since that time, I've come across two more washed-up albatrosses with no damage evident, including, like this one, no damage from long-line or ingestion that I could see. One was a Buller's that was banded, so I could communicate to the New Zealand scientists who told me that it bred on an island colony near Auckland, and that it was about, they thought, 4 years old. The third albatross was too mangled in the head to make any guess as to species. The cause of death is unknown for each of these three, as it often is — for a dead albatross or a sick, dying, or ex-member of any other species (as doctors and coroners know more than they are free to tell).

The ilium is a fancy name for the pelvic bone of a bird, though the ilium also refers to the upper pelvic bone in other species such as our own. If you have ever experienced sacroiliac joint pain you'll be able to locate your ilium. Those "eye sockets" on this albatross ilium are actually for the leg bones.

The albatross was brought home to decompose at its own rate, and has only reached this state. The picture below is the inside of this structure built for lightness.

This is the skull and top mandible:

Here is a whole skeleton put together at the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, and here is a generic diagram of a bird skeleton.

I highly recommend Albatrosses by Terence Lindsey, Principle Photographer Rod Morris, Australian Natural History Series, CSIRO Publishing, Australia, 2008.

That refers to this previous post on Medlar Comfits:
Optical Illusions, Spiders and Waspishness