Dark Fate 4

*FIRST AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, THIS IS NOT CANON.  THIS IS COMPLETELY UNSANCTIONED (okay, not completely.  Larry said I could do this for you guys without his ripping my head off) MHI FANFIC.
Good, now that we got that out of the way, why am I doing this?  Both Grant and Fado Negro (Portuguese Monster Hunters) have minuscule parts in Guardian, the MHI book I’m collaborating with Larry Correia on.  However, obviously the Portugal of Monster Hunter is not the real Portugal (Really, no arcane creatures come stumbling out of the undergrowth there.  If there were arcane creatures, the country would be chock-a-block in them, when you take in account the continuous human occupation since… well, forever.)  And this story gives me more of an opportunity to firm the worldbuilding.  (Yes, it would be MUCH easier to do this with a notebook and noting things down, but that’s not how my mind works, d*mn it.)
Okay, that’s the rational excuse.  The real reason is that d*mn Grant Jefferson won’t leave me alone.  (Always had a thing for men from Patrician New England families.  Ask my husband.)  So I’m torturing him.  Also Guardian won’t come out until I do this more or less at same time (I’ll be sending first chapter of that to Larry soon.)
Will this ever be a book?  Don’t know.  First Guardian will get delivered.  Then, this being finished, I throw it at Larry.  And then it’s his SOLE DECISION. (Which means, don’t you monkeys hassle him.)  It’s his world and his character.  I’m just grateful he lets me play in it in Guardian and here for your amusement.*

First chapter is here.

Second Chapter is here

Third Chapter is here (edited because I was out of it last Monday.)

IV

So, I was trapped in my room with a Lamia.  I’d just done my best to kill her, and she’d self-regenerated.  And I was out of options.

As she moved, startlingly fast towards me, I jumped on top of the bed and to the other side, trying to slow her down.  I ran in ever broader circles, trying to make it out the door, because I had the vague idea that in the hallway I might find something else to kill her with.  Of course, she also might get to attack other people, and of course I’d try to stop her doing so, but clearly I needed more space and greater ability to act.

Panic and tiredness got hold of my mind, and I must have lost it, because I caught myself babbling the most inane crap ever, “Ah ah, what a Lamia story!  Come on, Madam, are you Lamia?  Now I Lamia down to sleep.”  As I spoke, I detached a fire extinguisher from the wall and flung it at her  head.  She ducked, and it hit the wall hard, making a dent in the plaster.  Man, it’s a good thing I’d made a lot of money in my years with MHI, because this bill was going to hurt.

Let’s assume that Lamias were like every other vampire.  It had to be staked through the heart, but it had to be with wood.  I tried to find wood, but I wasn’t sure that either the desk or the bed was wood. They were that kind of painted and antiqued stuff that might be wood, or it might be papier mache or fancy painted plastic, for that matter.  For all I knew it was plaster.  Didn’t anyone think of the needs of tourists who must kill vampires?

I presumed garlic didn’t work — not that I had any — but if it were an Italian vampire, certainly it would like garlic.

I got to the door, and turned to open it and there she was.  Right on me, coils around my lower body, inhumanely beautiful face, next to mine, mouth opening.  “I have lawyers.” I said.  My father had described his third wife much like this lamia, and this must be some memory of hearing him talk when I was five or so.  Predictably it had no effect.  She smiled.  Or it looked like she was going to smile, but her mouth kept opening and opening, till it was round, and surrounded by needle-like teeth.

I squeezed myself against the door so hard that I might be two-dimensional, while with one hand behind me I tried to open the door, and with my other hand, I reached to my left, blindly looking for something to stop her killing me.

And all through it, the coils kept tightening around me, till it felt like she’d break me in two, with the pressure on my waist.  I felt as though lights were going on and off behind my eyes, and I was sure I was hallucinating, because I kept hearing fireworks.

The only thing my hand found was a serpent tail, waving at my head height.

I seized hold of it and pulled on it, while I rolled my head this way and that against the door, trying not to let her bite me.  I could feel her scrabbling at my mind, too, telling met his was the best way and that really, my entire life I’d wanted to be devoured by a woman-serpent thing.  Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that by the time I was ten my father was on his tenth wife, and that I’d learned to distrust women if not in my cradle shortly after, I would probably have fallen for it.

Instead, I grabbed the serpent tail hard and pulled.  The first pull was easy, and then it seemed to realize it was being pulled and tried to pull the other way.  I pulled with all the strength and despair of someone who is being sliced in half by a supernatural creature.  Sweat fell into my eyes.  It felt like I was going to pass out.  In fact, I probably did, but kept pulling anyway, until I shoved the tail, completely, into the lamia’s own open mouth.

She bit down, perhaps by reflex.  There was a sound like an unending female scream.  As it toppled away from me, I pulled under and away from it, opened the door and got to the hallway.  My legs probably were broken, or at least they felt like I was walking with swords up my thighs, but I didn’t have time for that now.

I had a vague memory of seeing a glass case with “Break only in case of emergency” and a firehose and a fire ax behind it.

The fireax was needed in these old buildings because the partitions between rooms weren’t wallboard, and if the hallway was in flames, you might have to escape by hacking your way into the next room and the one after that.

I was fairly sure this was an emergency.  I shoved my elbow at the glass as hard as I could, and was almost amazed to see it shatter into the particles that safety glass breaks into.  I felt weak as a kitten and half expected it to do nothing.

When I turned, ax in hand, the Lamia had got its tail out of its mouth and got out of my room.  It made for me.  I swung the ax.  It hit her neck and went in like knife through butter, slicing her head off her shoulders.  I half expected it not to work, but her head fell, right enough.  Blood got all over everything.

I grabbed the head off the floor, and flung it to the end of the hallways.  Regenerate that, bitch. Then I thought I should make it harder for her.

I was axing the tenth portion off the tail when I heard someone behind me, “Sir, Sir, what are you doing?”

I turned around, blood spattered and with a maniacal grin on my face.  “I want to lodge a complaint,” I said.  “Your reception committee was too slithery.”

The person who’d talked was Portuguese and young and looked like some sort of valet.  He stared at me and looked down at the ax.  I could hear the ax drip blood on the floor and I was not about to let go of the ax, because you never knew precisely what the nice room service guy might really be.

He looked behind me.  “That…” he said.  “That was a lady.”

“Not hardly pal.  Not unless your ladies are half serpent,” I heard myself snarl, and then, not caring what he thought, not caring if he’d just had his world shattered by seeing a legendary monster, not even caring if he thought I was some kind of mass murderer and called the police, I turned on my heel and went back to my room.

If I was going to be arrested, I was, by damn, going to be arrested clean and shaved and feeling like a human being.

I left the ax propped in a corner of the marble-and-tile bathroom, while I washed.  The water was kind of low on pressure, but it was warm and there was a lot of it, and it kept pouring over me, washing away all the red, all down the drain.

Some of the red was probably mine, judging from the places that hurt, particularly that place behind my ear, but I really didn’t care.  The shampoo smelled of wisteria, and so did the soap, which stung on a lot of my skin, but took even more of the red off.

Towels were abundant, white and thick.  I dried myself thoroughly before risking a look in the mirror.

If someone had drawn my portrait right then it would be called a study in blue and purple.  There were bruises forming across my forehead, across my chin, and around my neck.  The wound beside and behind my ear looked like someone had stabbed me with a circle of sharp needles.  It itched.  I got some disinfectant cream from my luggage — of course I always traveled with a first aid kit — and slathered it there, and also on an open gash down my arm and in a place around my waist where it looked like someone had attached a lot of suction cups with nails in the center.  Rusty nails.

All of it stung, which I didn’t remember the cream doing in the past.  I contemplated using band-aids, but it would take like ten of them for my neck, and if I used gauze I would look like a bad remake of The Mummy Wakes.

Instead, shaved, and  dressed.  Putting on a clean shirt felt good, as did the nicely cut suit.  I looked at myself in the mirror again, and looked almost like myself.

There had been no thumps, no one frantically knocking at the door.  As I put my used clothes into the laundry bag, wondering if this hotel performed miracles or if I’d have to buy an off-the-rack suit while in town, I half expected the words, “The police have this room surrounded.”  Instead there was a sound from the hallway that sounded much like a vacuum.

I put my socks and shoes on, in case someone really wanted to arrest me, because I didn’t want to be arrested barefoot, then opened the door.  Someone had taken out of the pieces of cuisinarted lamia, and there were three women in the hallway running carpet cleaners.

I opened my mouth, closed it, closed the door, too, and realized the phone was jumping around atop the marble-top of the dresser producing a sound not unlike a low-level growl.  I didn’t remember tossing the phone on the dresser top, but obviously I had.  It must have been all bloodied at the time, too, because it had left little dropplets and then a trail of blood as it buzzed along the marble.

I grabbed it, answered,  “Hello,” I said.  And thinking of the female voice on the phone before, I added, “who are you?”

The growl from the other end told me all I needed to know.  Whoever the other voice had been, this was Agent Franks, and he was not happy with me.

 

The Promo, My Friend by Free Range Oyster

The Promo, My Friend by Free Range Oyster

Dwight R. Decker

A Moon of Their Own

Is it a theme park or a model railroad? Or a mad billionaire’s ultimate self-indulgence?

It’s the year 2037. Sixty thousand miles out in space orbits the asteroid called Vesper, Earth’s new second moon and the private property of the richest man in history. No one knows what he has been building there, but suddenly the future of the human race depends on finding out – and fast.

For fifteen-year-old Ronn Evans, what begins as another ordinary day in school winds up very differently when he and his cousins are all but kidnapped by their own government to be sent into space. To their amazement, they learn that they are the only ones who can get inside the mysterious asteroid to see what has gone terribly wrong.

There are other players in the game and time is running out. Will the cousins ever see Earth again?

J.M. Ney-Grimm

Livli’s Gift

Livli heals challenging injuries among the pilgrims to Kaunis-spa. Its magical hot spring gives her an edge, but Livli achieves spectacular cures mainly because she refuses to fail.

A born pioneer, she hopes to match her new ways for banishing hurt with new ways of living. But the sisters of Kaunis-lodge fear rapid change. What precious things might they lose while tossing old inconveniences?

Livli pushes forward the new, and one influential foe pushes back. Kaunis-home will keep its revered traditions, even if Livli loses everything she values.

Everything… and the one thing she absolutely cannot lose.

Livli seeks an answer in the oldest lore of her people, something so ancient, it’s new. But mere resolve against failure meets an immoveable counter force this time. Victory requires more.

Marriage, memory and mishapprehensions

This is late mostly because we ran errands this morning, and it was more convenient to run them before I sat down.

While I was in Portugal my dad was telling me tales of his youth, including that he used to be the letter writer for men who wanted to ask women to go out.

You see, in a highly segregated society, where “going out together” was a formal thing and only done after the man had met the woman’s parents and asked permission, the process as I understand it went something like this: the man saw the woman somewhere, perhaps several times, and thought that she was someone he would like to date, if not to marry.  (A lot of them leaped to thinking she was someone they wanted to marry because people will be people.)  He would then approach her, normally via a common friend.  If they had no friends in common, the man would discern where she lived and send as persuasive a letter as he could, asking her to allow him to come over, meet her parents and take her out on a date.  (First dates tended to be something lame and public, like walking up the street together, in full view of the entire village.  Parties and the like came after you were sure and you were an established couple.)

My dad, a poet with a massive vocabulary, was often co-opted into writing these letters, translating his friends’ simple sentiments into high flung stuff with literary allusions.  This was all the more important since if the parents were impressed it would be easier for them to give consent.

So he told me on Sunday morning he held “letter writing time” in the field next to my grandmother’s.  (This was part of a convoluted story about how he had had to dumb down a letter FOUR TIMES before his friend the construction worker got an answer from this woman he was struck with, who finally agreed to meet him.  The higher-dialect letters actually had scared her.)  And he said “You don’t remember, I’m sure, that there was a stone ledge near the top of that wall.”  And I said, “Of course I remember. My brother took me there, when I was very little, to watch the oxen draw water.”  My dad was both pleased and amazed I remembered since the ox-drawn watering system was replaced by a mechanical one when I was five or six.  But my brother taking me out, with his friends, to watch this was a high mark in my days.

Yes, this will tell you how deprived of excitement our days were, I guess, that watching oxen go round and round while they drew the water had, I guess, been a pastime of village youths for generations.

It occurs to me that as we get older it’s a enormous relief to find someone who shares our memory, particularly of something more out of the usual.  So many of our friends have died or lost their memory or simply gone elsewhere and broken ties, that we’re left sitting there going “What in heck?  Did this ever happen?  Am I misremembering?”  This is particularly true, as I said, of something unusual, like for instance the other day I posted in a private group a picture of my mom’s family and someone said “those are huge soup bowls.”  I had to say “Tea bowls.”  Tea was drunk in bowls we’d think more appropriate for soup.  Not in the higher classes, mind.  My best friend who was impoverished high class loved coming to my house and having tea in a bowl because her family wouldn’t allow it.

It’s one of those things, because until the person asked, I, myself, now after 30 years of using cups and mugs for tea had completely forgotten those huge bowls we used to use.  Even mom now uses a cup.  Fortunately there is photographic evidence of the bowls.

You memory automatically gentrifies your past to match your present, I think.

Beyond that, the idea that people wrote letters to ask someone to date struck me as almost unbearably charming.  And at the same time, under the rubric of the past being another country, I wonder what historians who find those letters in family mementos will think.  Dad had well above average education, definitely above average intelligence and a natural love for words and playing with words.  He wrote letters for his friends who were farmers and farm hands, construction workers, and various other sorts of skilled and unskilled manual trades.  Would an historian, finding these letters exquisitely copied in good hand think that everyone back then had a huge vocabulary and easy classical references?  I mean there were books of “letters” which furnished patterns on “How to ask a young lady out” but my dad’s are obviously not of those, and if they don’t find the original in my dad’s handwriting (which any half smart swain would have eliminated long before it came to marriage) what will historians think?  “There were literary giants among the people in those days, self taught and amazing?”

The other thing that struck me is the thing that I used to envy my parents for and that I suspect my kids would too if they knew it.  It’s an Odd thing, I think.

I would have preferred that form of dating to what prevailed in my day, where you could have gone out with a guy a dozen times, and maybe kissed and all, and you still had no idea if you were his girlfriend or “just friends.”  In fact, most of the time men took advantage of this to lengthen the “just friends” phase as long as possible and play the field.

Because knowing when you’d crossed that or the “fiance” threshold was a thing of penumbras and emanations and of reading someone else’s expressions and intentions, it often ended in tears (not for me.  I found the whole thing annoying and tended to long-distance relationships, where you HAD to know.)

It occurs to me in the old system there were all sorts of protections built in, and not just for us odds.  First of all the process of asking someone out was public and involved the whole family, and the first dates involved the neighborhood watching you.  The knowing what phase you were at also prevented most (not all.  People lie) broken hearts.

I’m not saying “olden days were better” I’m saying they were easier to read and I often wished they’d been like that in my youth, as do my kids, who have a hellish time figuring out when a girl is throwing herself at their (usually just one of them, but…  Although there was this one…) heads.

And now that I’ve rambled all over the page, I’m going to take myself to clean the house, so I can write.🙂  It’s almost unpacked, so I should be able to actually do a weekly cleaning proper.

Have a good weekend.  I’ll try to torture Grant some tomorrow.

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part II – By Stephanie Osborn

Solar, Space, and Geomagnetic Weather, Part II

By Stephanie Osborn

http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

“Interstellar Woman of Mystery”

Rocket Scientist and Novelist

 

Last time, we talked about the corona, the solar wind, the solar magnetic field, coronal holes, and solar cycles. But wait! There’s more!

At Solar Max, there’s a lot of activity. Lots of sunspots, lots of flares and other kinds of eruptions. The coronal holes move away from the Sun’s poles and group in with the sunspots, spewing high-speed solar particles out into the plane of the solar system.

At the end of every 11-year cycle, the magnetic orientation of the spots…flips. Yeah, you heard right — this is one of the few times when the old trope about “reversing the polarity” is actually the correct answer. The end that was North becomes South, and the end that was South becomes North. MORE, the ENTIRE solar magnetic field ALSO flips! (This got very complex this last time; it wasn’t as fast and simple. It took nearly six months, and for a time our Sun had something like FOUR South poles, and NO North poles. Yeah, stellar magnetics gets crazy.) It takes a whole ‘nother cycle to get back to the way it started out. So that’s a second solar cycle, the 22-year cycle.

As the solar cycle winds down from Max to Min, the process starts all over. New magnetic snarls form deep in the Sun near the new poles, and gradually move to the surface and drift toward the equator. But while this is occurring, the photosphere tends to get quiet.

newsolarmax

 

As the sunspots start to reach the photosphere again, the Sun starts ramping back up from Solar Minimum to Solar Maximum, and another active period accompanying a pole flip. Over and over and over, every eleven years on average.

In addition there are longer cycles that we are still working on figuring out, because they’re tens to hundreds of years long, and it’s hard to get data that goes far enough back to chart those. However, a recent development called the double-dynamo model (we’ll talk more about it later) is helping to explain those.

Now, sunspots look dark not because they’re cold, but because they’re just a bit cooler than the surrounding plasma of the photosphere (which is the visible “surface” of the Sun). If the photosphere is about 5,800°K (~10,500°F), then the sunspots are about 3,000-4,500°K (4,900-7,600°F). Still plenty hot enough to fry your bacon, but still several thousand degrees cooler than their surroundings. They can be teeny-tiny (relatively speaking, of course) or they can be huge things (80,000km/50,000mi — not too shabby when you consider the Earth is about 13,000km/8,000mi diameter), big enough to be seen by the naked eye. (But don’t do that — we like having eyesight. If you really want to observe the Sun, the best way is to get a telescope, aim it at the Sun, and hold a sheet of white cardboard behind the eyepiece. Adjust the distance until you get an image of the Sun projected on the cardboard. This is a cool way to watch solar eclipses, too. If you don’t have a telescope, grab a shoebox, punch a small hole in one end, turn it upside down and point the hole at the Sun, then tilt the thing around until you get a small image inside the opposite end of the box.) Sunspots aren’t really dark at all; they just APPEAR dark because of the contrast with the surrounding hotter, brighter photosphere.

So you might reasonably expect that during a solar max the Sun would be cooler, and send less energy out into space, right? Well, at first glance you might think so, but that isn’t really how it works.

Remember, a sunspot is a big magnetic snarl. And the plasma around it follows the lines in that snarl. So we get all those great big loops — prominences and flares and things like that.

greatbigloops

 

Occasionally, like a snarl in your hair, the lines break — but unlike your hair, they reattach, producing really spectacular flares. The bright blue-white spot in this next solar image is a flare.

flare

Up close, it can look something like the next image. (Also let me take this opportunity to point out that the images I’m using are taken in various spectral regions, but almost none of them are taken in visible light, and all of them use “false-color” schemes to enhance detail. Remember what I said about finding the right ways to see the details of what’s happening? Different spectral regions — certain parts of the visible, infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray, and more — are ways to do that, because the particular frequency emitted is determined by the element — or the energy/temperature — of the particle emitting the photon.)

mass ejections

 

And then there are the CMEs. Coronal Mass Ejections. In the image above, the white light is the flare, and the orange and red “flame” coming off it is a prominence becoming a CME. Below is a video of a “filament” aka prominence lifting off to become a CME.

 

https://youtu.be/XFyKnqhSn5s

 

I’m never quite sure how to best anthropomorphize a CME. Are they solar belches, or sneezes? Suffice it to say that all of that magnetic field mess around the sunspot group causes some sort of explosion. (No, we don’t know exactly why. We do know it’s really, really complicated, and involves something called magnetic reattachment — where those mag field lines break and then reattach to another one closer by.) And it is like a giant nuclear bomb, blowing a big bubble of plasma away from the Sun at high speeds. If the flare is the bomb’s explosion, the CME is the mushroom cloud.

See the big blue blob above the Sun in this image? That’s a CME screaming off the Sun.

lightbulb

 

So between the coronal holes increasing both the speed and density of the solar wind, and these CMEs exploding into the solar system, the most active time for the Sun is in fact Solar Max, and that is when it’s pumping more energy into the solar system, not less.

 

~Stephanie Osborn

http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

Comet Tales blog/Osborn Cosmic Weather Report: http://stephanie-osborn.blogspot.com/

 

The Kiss of Death

As someone who is now past fifty, I have like many of you been witness to lingering deaths.  In fact, thanks to modern medicine most deaths are now lingering deaths.  Even when the tumor/disease is found too late and we’re assured the person is not long for this world, the death drags on.  Actually for a while it often seems as though it’s not death at all, as though the person will recover, as though everything is going to be fine.

Death, the final process, the final blow, tends to happen in a devastating, sudden conflagration so that even if the person had been dying for years, you truly don’t expect it. So it’s a shock, even when it isn’t.

Institutions and industries, particularly those that have been helpful and useful for years have the same “death process” at least from everything I can discover in history.

Let’s say something or other rendered an institution or industry irrelevant.  Let’s talk about oh, not the buggy whip about which I know nothing, but candle making.  And more specifically candle making in Portugal.

Once electricity came in, the candle industry was of course doomed.  But it did not vanish over night.  We are living in a time of such rapid change that it’s justifiable to image that change as say the change between VCRs and DVD players.  Over a few years, VCR tapes disappeared, save in dusty stacks in thrift stores.

But when something has existed and been useful for generations, the change is not that fast.  People had no particular emotional attachment to VCR tapes, at least that I know of.  (People have emotional attachments to the weirdest things.)  There was no time for a generation to grow up and become attached to vcr tapes as the way to watch movies.  My own kids remember it only because their best friend Jake put a banana in a VCR which henceforward acted possessed.  (The VCR, not Jake.  Though Jake had his moments.  Weirdly, from being an unpredictable hellion, he grew up into one of the nicest, most self-possessed young men I know.)

Candles were different.  I think electrical light came into Portugal as it did to most of Europe in the 20s or thirties.  (Maybe earlier.  I have no exact date.  My mom, born in 1935 (hopefully I have that right.  I might be doing what my kids do who routinely think I was born in the seventies.  She’s 81 at any rate.) ) still did her work by the light of an oil lamp when she was very young.  A lot of our neighbors in the mid-sixties and later still used candles and oil lamps.  I remember the candles, strung up like pale fish, to the side of the general store when I was very little.  I remember people buying bottles of lamp oil.  I have vivid memories of trimming oil lamps, and cleaning them, with my (older) cousin Natalia who was raised with us, but that could be because we were going through an extended period of blackouts. Or it’s possible that just like initially grandma’s house only had piped in water in the kitchen, it also only had light in the kitchen and that light in the upstairs bedrooms came later. I don’t believe so, though, as one of my earliest memories is of lying in bed in my parents’ shotgun apartment, cut out of the house’s ground floor, and listening to the electrical light “sing” above me.

Speaking of blackouts, they were fairly common in summer, when simply having all the lights on later overwhelmed the net.  We all kept candles and sometimes oil lamps on hand, so we could weather those times.  This lasted well into the seventies.  Because my parents hated the amount of candles my brother and I ran through reading till late, blackouts became our exercise program.  We used to walk up and down the village under the summer moon, until they’d tired us sufficiently we wouldn’t go through more than a candle each before bed.

By the eighties, the blackouts were less frequent and candles and candle sticks were getting difficult to find.

Is it dead yet?

Who knows?  I’d bet the candle industry in Portugal is a shadow of its former self.  I don’t know if it has revived yet into the scented-candles-and-aromatherapy niche it now occupies in the US.

For the purpose of what it was, though, the main purveyor of light to households, it is dead.  Yes, sure, people still have candlelit dinners and still talk of the romantic feel of candle light.  BUT no one seriously builds a house without electrical light and plans on using only candles and oil lamps.

Why I’m talking about this: when I was at Kris and Dean’s self publishing workshop back in 2011 I was shocked to hear them say that they expected the traditional markets to survive “at least in some form.” I heard that they were hiring more employees and were healthier than ever, partly through the ability to bring out their massive backlist in ebook at practically no expense.  You might make a dollar a book per year, but if you have half a million books that you have the rights to, well!

I was shocked, but it made perfect sense.  I had never thought of it that way, is all.

Two or three years later I was hearing from friends that trad publishing, at least in our field, having lost the ability to “push” new books the way they used to was tottering so badly and had so many lawsuits against each of the companies that editors were afraid of coming to work one morning and finding the entrance padlocked by either creditors or the IRS.

I thought that was weird, but as no one mentioned the only publishing house I was interested in, which so far as anyone knows has never played shell games with its accounting, I went back to doing work for that house (Baen for the uninitiated) and indie stuff and ignoring what was going on.

Several things have intruded in my conscience recently.  Over the last month, about half a dozen people have told me they don’t expect that traditional publishing, other than Baen is long for this world, and in the groups where I lurk unnoticed, as I have for years, people talk of how tiny their advances are.  Let’s just say the objection to Baen was always that they didn’t have as big pockets as the other houses, but these days my own decidedly mid-lister advances are looking remarkably plump.  As for the other houses, what I heard a couple of years ago seems to apply “If you were getting advances of more than 100k, up to the millions, you’re now making 50k a book.  If you were making 50k, you’re making 10k.  If you were making 10k you’re unemployed.)

Other things I’ve noticed, STRICTLY as a consumer, is that since they won their victory to be able to price the way they want against Amazon (Phyrrus would be proud) they’ve also been talking about how ebook sales are falling straight down.  This is not the experience of any indie I know.  What I think they’ve done is price themselves out of the market.

Then there is the fact that they no longer own those “millions” of properties that were making a dollar each a year.  Most authors I know with long backlists are, after considerable strife, getting their stuff back.  The series I’m currently reading (historical mystery) suffers a sharp divide around book 11, where it goes from being on KULL and reasonably priced to being $14 per book, the likes of which, no matter how much I enjoy the series, I WILL NOT pay.

At the same time the author has started an indie series, in the same time and place with a different detective.  I’m seeing this an awful lot, particularly for historical mysteries.

Science fiction, weirdly, is being slower about its authors establishing dual careers, and I think I know why.  Most (not nearly all) of the people still working in the field are prestige-and-favor clients, who do it for … well, prestige, while their real work is as university professors or whatever.  The midlisters who write to sell have already fled to either Baen (a lot of them) or to indie.  And us at Baen feel fat and sassy enough not to try to do dual (okay, except me.  I’m crazy.  Also indie pays me 50% again more.  I’m not leaving Baen unless they fire me, but you know, I like money.)

This morning it occurred to me this all fits perfectly well into the picture of “lingering death”, including the reports that “I’m not dead, I think I’ll go for a walk.”

The systemic weaknesses of traditional publishing (except for Baen) including the lack of a strong editorial choice that respects the fan base, bloated workforce and prestigious address expenses are ultimately not survivable, not in the days when anyone can start a publisher in their garage or publish themselves for that matter.

The atmosphere of cap-in-hand that still surrounds editors and publishers for the big houses, driven by supplicants who want to be traditionally published for prestige and credits-as-a-professor prevent their seeing that the iceberg is in fact dead ahead.

So instead of veering off, they’re rearranging the deck chairs and saying they feel quite well and will go for a walk (if you pardon mixing the images.)

What does this mean?  Does this affect me at all, when I’m mostly indie and baen?

Oh, it does affect me.  The toppling of the traditional part of the field will have huge repercussions in cons and workshops and also in what comes after in terms of publicity and what success means for a writer.  Not all of these consequences (perhaps not most of them) are good even for me.  When a huge building topples, it always affects things in ways that are hard to predict, and not all of those are known knowns.  Most of them are unknown unknowns.

It seems at this point, however long traditional publishing as a model we know lingers, it WILL topple.  Probably suddenly and terribly.

Kris and Dean were right, in the same way that the candle industry didn’t disappear.  It subsists in the scented candles, candles for candlelit dinners, etc.  And the publishing industry will probably survive as bespoke goods for the fans extraordinarily successful writers.  But I think its passing from the world as anything else is not far off.

No matter what happens, the process always drags, until everything collapses suddenly.  And it will still hit us as unexpected.

And we still don’t know what will happen.  We don’t even know what questions to ask, to estimate how far the ripples of the collapse will go.

Which is another reason to push out some indie (honestly, life is settling at last, though still a mess.  I’m looking at Christmas for “mostly settled”) and to dip into other genres and to stay flexible.

The way to survive is to move and think in new ways.  It’s hard but it’s doable.

Hold on to the sides of the boat.  The water is about to get rough.  But the storm in this as in everything else is survivable.

Work and think.

How Do You Know?

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s in his kiss.  That is the easy one.

In the last two weeks I’ve got two people saying something like “but she says you shouldn’t believe established historical facts that everybody knows, and she doesn’t present any proof, and I think this means she is–”  One said “an ideologue” and the other implied mad or perhaps Stalin.  It was in the comments here, but I don’t feel like looking at it.

I’m not telling you everything you ever heard is a lie — for one I have no idea what you’ve heard — I’m telling you “How do you know?”

The things that offended people in both posts are things I have reason were not quite as advertised by modern Marxist historians and the romantic socialist novelists they believe piously.  I wasn’t saying it was an outright lie, but I was saying “I have reason to believe this isn’t so.”

In this case it was the whole thing of people getting condemned to death or transportation for stealing a loaf of bread.  It might (maybe) have happened in ancien regime France.  In Victorian England?  Oh, my sore toes.  Yeah, some people — resident Aussie on FB immediately chimed in to tell me people WERE transported for stealing a loaf of bread because they were starving — might have that on their conviction record, but one of my amusements (look, pal, I don’t judge YOU) is reading and watching stuff about the underbelly of Victorian London.  Yeah, people stole bread.  They stole a lot of things.  And those people transported for stealing bread probably had A LOT more serious things in their past, but they couldn’t be nailed for those.  (Kind of like Al Capone was nailed for tax evasion.)  Because — stands to reason — in a society where policing is so tight that stealing bread gets you transported, there wouldn’t be the thriving underworld of whores, pickpockets, con artists and yes outright murderers that existed then.

Of course, the person who answered here thought I was saying Victorian England was some sort of paradise (rolls eyes.)

I remember the first time I realized that the things everyone knew and the things we were taught COULD NOT LOGICALLY BE SO.

Look, I, like you, heard about how terrible the aftermath of WWI was, and how broke people were right after, and how they were moving to cities and living in tenements.  It wasn’t until I was reading a book about the between the war period in England that I realized they were telling me TWO stories which couldn’t both have happened.  In the part about the common folk, they were telling me how much poorer they were than before the war.  In the part about the great families, they were telling me how the huge rise of the middle class and the building of suburbs had hurt them, and how the newly rich common folk no longer wanted to be servants.

That was one of those “wait a minute.”  Sure I was taught both things in school, but you know you write down the bullet point for the test, and that’s it.  Now I was going “Who the heck wrote these narratives and why doesn’t anyone question them?”

The truth, btw, from going to primary sources is closer to the second.  And the people who wrote the narrative were the unseated noblemen, who did not like all these noveau rich but who wanted to justify their disgust by showing how it hurt the poor.  (It did increase the underclass somewhat, not because of economic conditions, but because a lot of men don’t integrate well after war, and well, WWI was something special by way of trauma.)

There are tons of these when you start poking.  For instance the idea that the industrial revolution was unremittingly bad for the poor/people.  Looking at China and India and such places right now, all I can do is roll my eyes.

Yeah, sure, the conditions of the early industrial revolution were appalling.  And yet people crowded to the cities to take these jobs.  What the historians never ask themselves is “How much worse was what they were escaping from?” We know that in India and China and other recently industrialized countries.

Sure the countryside has relatively clean air and more open space, but there are still real famines, and the work was unremitting and brutal and yes, little children worked too (says the daughter of middle class in a rural community whose first “job” was weeding the onion patch at five.  And I was a pampered moppet.  Kids my age from farming families had what we’d call full time jobs.  Factory jobs at least had a stopping time.)

The idea that the industrial revolution was awful comes from upper class historians who could see the little kids twisted by working in the mills but who never consorted closely enough with the rural poor to see the misery behind raising baah lambs and the pretty pretty flowers.

Yeah.  So the past isn’t written in stone.  And it’s not a conspiracy.  Not precisely a conspiracy.  Yeah, sure, the Marxists influenced a lot of modern history with their ideas, but that is not necessarily conspiring.  They view the world a certain way and it influences how they view the past too.

I know it makes people uncomfortable to question the past, particularly when that past is enshrined not just in their history classes but in great emotive fiction (the whole thing with the loaf of bread.)

HOWEVER the past is always changing.  In my own time I’ve heard the invasion of Rome be changed to “well, the immigrants just kept getting in and eventually overwhelmed Rome.”  And I have seen the dark ages change into the vaguely chiaro escuro ages and the latest exploration of the period show that what caused the dark ages was the Muslim expansion cutting off trade routes. And a lot of other revisions, as things are looked at a different way.

One of them, which I know to be true from modern revolutions and studying them (modern meaning from around the eighteenth century) is that the uprisings happen not when things are at their darkest, but when they’re starting to get better; not under the horrible tyrant, but under his more liberal successor.

People REALLY have trouble with this, particularly writers.  Which is why most revolutions in writing and theater are portrayed absolutely wrong.

The same wrongness goes for wars.  I’m fairly convinced nowadays kids are taught wars go on until America decides to stop fighting, and then the other side also stops because they’re nice people, or something.  I don’t even want to imagine what distortions that will cause in future fiction and action.

So — is my questioning of the past proof that I’m an ideologue or maaaaaad, maaaaaaad I tell you?

Are you joking?

I know I am a little… enthusiastic on libertarian ideals and that I can lose sense of proportion.

But I question history because between history and the media all of us have been sold several packs of lies.

Western civilization is dying, partly, of self-loathing.  Understanding the other side of the “atrocious things our ancestors did” and that other people’s ancestors did the same or worse is the only way back to health.

And questioning what you were told — and all you know about the past you were TOLD unless you happen to have a time machine — is healthy and sane.  Why would you think people studying the past have no agenda?  Think of how the Sad Puppy movement is characterized on Wikipedia.  Now imagine it was in the past and you didn’t know anything about it.

Trust but verify.  And always try to find primary sources.  The results might surprise you.

This is important because, to quote RAH “A generation that doesn’t know history has no past.  And no future.”  And a generation that knows wrong, distorted and tendentious history is no better off.

About the past as about the present, think for yourselves and dig.

It’s the only path to truth.

 

 

 

 

The Good, The Bad, The Boring

We were blessed, Larry Correia, Dave Freer, Brad Torgersen and John C. Wright and I to be the object of an attack by Damien Walter, Teh Grauniad’s village idiot.

I’m not going to fisk his idiotic eructation, (mostly because I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of reading it) save for saying that that portion which applied to me was just what left wing blogs report about my writing, to whit that I “mangle” sentences.  Which is by and large true… on this blog.  Because it’s written spur of the moment and I don’t have much time to spend on proofreading it, etc, since this is not my paying work.  (Should I actually fix the patreon account and start doing a serial for it, I will then spellcheck that, because, well… it will be paid.  The thing is I don’t want to commit to that, as awful as I’ve been with my subscription space, until I know my health and living conditions (or at least place) are stable.  So not before a year or so. Because my inability to keep the subscribers’ space going is one part health and two parts “moving four times in a year and a half.”  Mind you, we think we’re fixed for a decade, maybe for the rest of our lives, but the unpacking still goes on.)  It never seems to occur to these geniuses that even if my turned-in manuscripts were as bad as the blog (they’re on.  In fact, except for the one written during/while recovering from surgery, they’re cleaner than other people’s raw manuscripts), the editors would catch it.  So, of course, they assume my books are the same.

There were several other egregious errors, like assuming we’re all small press or indie published, which would be trivially easy for him to check on.  In fact, to date, I have ONE book that came out exclusively indie, and one that came out indie after being published by a small press.  All my other work is for major presses and most of it for presses-not-Baen.  (And yeah, I know I need to get pumping on the indie.  Interesting note, btw, all historical mystery writers seem to be doing one or more indie series parallel to their traditional one.  It’s just the same health issues, etc. that stopped traditional writing also stopped indie.)

So, again, not going to fisk him.  Partly because Larry Correia has already said he’s going to do it.  When he does, I’ll link it here.  Also, Dave Freer fisked it at MGC.

Instead I’m going to strike at the heart of his conceit, that what we write is by definition sub-par and not worthy of the august Hugo.  This is also partly in response to a comment on my echoing Brag Torgersen’s post on Dragoncon, in which the commenter said something about how he hadn’t read anything on that list, and to call him back in fifty years and tell him which of those books had survived. His implication, of course, was that the novels winning the Hugos will have longer longevity or speak to readers more, or whatever.  (He also said he hadn’t read any of them and to that I call bullshit, given that I know the gentleman’s reading habits and most of the books are from Baen.)

Sighs.  Does sinal salute.

Yes, indeedy, the mark of “true quality” such as schools used to give it, in writing at least, is to have survived … well, I’d set it at a 100 years, but I come from a place with much deeper history, where an “antique” takes 400 years or so to gel.

Part of the reason colleges and universities used to consider books that had survived that long “true quality” is that they assumed these books had the votes of uncountable readers throughout the centuries, so there must be some quality in them that made them popular.  An enduring quality that defied time and space.

To a large extent that is true.  My own fascination with Shakespeare speaks to that.  Not just his wonderful use of the English Language (which I could appreciate as JUST music, long before I learned what it mean) but the way he captured something essentially human transcends the limits of where and when he wrote and overcome even his egregious errors in geography and — at least initially — how royal courts worked and a million other details.

But this is only “to a large extent.”  There are other works that survive mostly because they are the only surviving works of the era, and because they have been reverently taught from a couple of centuries after their time.  A lot of medieval literature falls under this heading, and I’m not giving anyone my head on a pike by specifying WHICH parts of medieval literature because they’ll regurgitate what they heard in college.  I’ll just say not having learned the same things in college, I could never get into large portions of what are in the English Speaking World considered pre-Shakespearean masterpieces.

And then came the twentieth century.  Ah, the twentieth century.  When western civilization decided it was really important to process most of its youth through colleges in which they were taught what “well bred people should know.” (At least outside STEM disciplines.)

This and a sort of ridiculous civilization-wide adolescent rebellion, in which we decided that because we now have electricity and photographs all past art is irrelevant, led to the anointing of contemporary “literary” masterpieces and the establishment of “literature” as a genre.

Yes, I just said that literature is a genre.  It is in fact, all it is.  Its markers: beautiful language, a tendency to introspective writing, (Unless the goal is minimalist camera-eye and the author sells it as artistic), and a concentration on “plausible, everyday problems” are no more a mark of quality than are “transparent language, fantastic, unbelievable events, active less introspective protagonist.”

That they’ve been sold as “quality” is because these are things “Literature professors like.”

Things literature professors don’t like — I know, my MA is language and literature — include science fiction, fantasy, mystery and in fact all the genres once defined as “pulp”.  My own dad, an avid mystery reader, for a long time classed all sf/f as pulp.  (I’m happy to report he seems to have suffered reverse-infection.)

In fact literature professors dislike it so much that they tend not to read it at all, and to assume that it’s all about bug eyed aliens and half naked women.  For SF/F of course.  Though it would make an interesting mystery.

One of my favorite pasttimes through college was take some professor rebuking me on my reading habits and give him a story or two by Bradbury.  My favorite and — d*mned if I remember the title — for this the one of the people falling to Earth after a space disaster, who review their lives while dying.  Professors were usually blown away and often ended up championing Bradbury to the school library.

BUT those of us in genre know Bradbury is literature.  I think even most of the glitterati admit it.  Harder for them is to admit that people like Heinlein or Terry Pratchett or whoever the latest bestseller in sf/f that they don’t approve of could be considered “literature.”

And to me the most important thing is “who knows?” “Who cares?” “Who actually gives a very tiny rat’s *ss?”

Look, “literature” label and all that crap about “surviving fifty/a hundred/a thousand” years is virtue signaling and bullcrap.

All of it.  My realizing this was the moment at which I started writing and selling a whole lot more novels.

So, literature — let’s leave aside the beautiful language because tastes on what’s beautiful are more fashion than anything else — is supposed to be something that survives the centuries.  And you’re sure you know what that is.  And you want to give awards to that now.

How?  Where do you hide the time machine?  How do you know?

The “literature mavens” in science fiction and elsewhere, have staked their claim on “what survives will be socially relevant.”

This is because they are (it’s an habit) putting the cart before the horse.

To give them the history lesson they never got in school, what used to be considered literature were things anchored in the renaissance which was in turn anchored in the Greek-Roman tradition.  Obligatory references to classical history figures was big (you still find that in some older, revered books.)  And the more obscure the reference, the more “literary” the book.

This was hogwash, of course.  Why?  Because those books were not in fact likely to survive, or even be appreciated but by a tiny minority who was counting coup “Oooh.  A reference to Sisyphus, this is deep.”and by a slightly larger minority who wanted to peacock as though they were exquisitely educated/high class.

Sometime after WWI this had become obvious to everyone, and so they cast about for literature markers that meant this book “spoke” to people.

Now remember, these were by and large intellectuals, whose acquaintance with “people” is either limited to growing up (I hear some of them are born of normal human parents.  Yeah, I know, another d*mn thing for pregnant women to be afraid of) or not intensive.  I.e. they meet with say their cleaning woman or their waiter, but only long enough to take care of business.

This is part of the reason Marxism is so appealing to them.  It gives them all these big categories into which to classify those slippery, unclassifiable people.  They might not know any plumbers, but by d*mn, they know the “Working Class.”

So what they decided would speak to people were books… about those people.  Most literary books are books about college professors pretending to be plumbers or gamblers, or whatever.  They appeal mostly to college professors.  But college professors remain SURE they appeal to everyone, and are therefore “good.”

Yeah, I’m going on the evidence of what I studied in “literature” thirty years ago, but at least judging by a ten year younger friend who keeps getting given these “masterpieces” because he has a degree similar to mine (US variety) it has if anything gotten worse.

Which brings us to the infection of our field by glitteraty larvae too weak and stupid to actually make it in the literary genre, and who therefore have decided to make it in science fiction and call it newly literary or something.

I blame people like Bradbury and Heinlein who made our field more respectable.  But the infection wouldn’t be complete without the editors who went to Very Good Colleges and learned the same clap trap literature I learned, but never saw through it and weren’t there to figure out new ways of bullshitting professors, while reading science fiction under the desk.  They honestly either believe that the mark of quality science fiction is its mock appeal to some “class” or “minority” or they view it as a way to signal how much better than others they are at selecting rarefied “literature”.  Actually the second would explain why the appeal they select for keeps getting more exclusive.  They have long ago accepted this cr*p doesn’t sell, and are now on a mission to “appeal to minorities by having someone like them in the story.”  (As a double — triple? — minority, I object.  I can identify with green tentacled aliens as well as the pale skinned mostly Caucasian guy now working the office beneath mine. I can identify with him too at least enough to empathize.  Otherwise, why marry him?)

Will this “literature” survive fifty years?  Oh, for crying in bed.  How can it?  It’s not even particularly popular now.  Hell, unless a nuking leaves some of these books as the only testimony of what our time and place was like, I doubt anyone even will remember their names any more than we remember the names of “praised” literature from the Victorian period.

Meanwhile Agatha Christie, a favorite “intellectual” punching bag is doing QUITE well fifty years on, despite lacking all those markers college professors think so important.

People like the village idiot of the Guardian are emotionally stunted morons who think “good” must be what his professors held up as such.

The rest of humanity finds it predictable and too boring for words.  Except for those who are counting coup “Ah, one eyed, one legged Hatian Lesbian.  This book is quality!” and those who want to be seen as reading “intellectual” stuff.  Both of which are an ever-decreasing minority in an era of overworked, overstressed people with a lot of other books to read and a lot of other forms of entertainment at their fingertips.

Me? (And probably most of my colleagues mentioned and a few not mentioned.)  We read and write what appeals to us.  I have my own definition of good, which is something that either rivets me and won’t let go (I tend to re-read Jim Butcher by reading all books from first to latest over the course of a couple of days, because I miss them, like one misses friends) or does something emotional to me I wasn’t expecting (The Black Tide books kept me sane and reasonably emotionally together through the death-march of fixing the other house for sale, through MAJOR autoimmune attacks and fears of going bankrupt before the house sold.  How?  D*mned if I know.  Perhaps the sheer uplifting of hope, of doing something, of rebuilding before an all-encompassing tragedy put my own issues in perspective and set an example.  Or perhaps it just reached into my feelings and changed them.  How am I to know?) or provides me with unexpected insights into things people do (Terry Pratchett, particularly Guards Guards for why people feel they need kings, and Tiffany Aching to understand why older son feels driven to become a doctor.)

The rest?  I don’t care.  If reading about the oppressed class makes you feel excited, all  power to you.  Just remember it’s not a popular taste, or a particularly “refined” one.  It doesn’t make the books you like “good” and everyone else’s “bad.”

When I was three or so, my dad taught me de gustibus non est disputandum and most of us “get” it for matters of palate.  For instance, my son adores biscuits and gravy.  The fact gravy makes me shudder doesn’t make his preference “bad” or “wrong.”  It just means we have different tastes.  Why can people not accept that in books (except of course, for having learned in school there was a “good” book.)

If you can read a book and “enter” into it, and it holds your interest to the end, it is a good book for SOMEONE.  Maybe not for you, but for someone.  Live and let live.  And stop acting like an idiot.  Liking something or disliking something won’t make anyone believe you’re better than other people.  Unless your peacocking is directed at the immature, the insecure and (but I repeat myself) most college literature professors.

Yeah, some of what we read now might make it to college classes in fifty years.  Will it be good? will it suck?

Who knows?  It depends on the state of civilization then, and what they pick as markers.

So I ask again, do you have a time machine, tovarish?  No?  Then shut up about surviving fifty years, and just read what you like.  In the end that’s all that counts.

Which is why popular choice awards like the dragons make perfect sense.  The “this is good literature” awards (which used to be the Nebulas) not so much.

Popular choice tells you “you might like this. A lot of people do.”  All “good literature” awards say is “Some intellectuals will think you’re very smart for being seen with this book.”

As an author I’d prefer to get the first.  As a reader I say “read whatever the heck you like.  Your former literature professor will NEVER know.”

 

 

A Short Explanation of Why Yesterday’s Post Was So Late

I know, you guys tell me it’s free ice-cream and I shouldn’t care if it’s late, but I try to post every morning.

As I’ve said here before, I’m a low-carb eater.  In fact, more low-carb than Atkins although I can stray to Atkins levels without huge issues, unless I make it a pattern.

I have continued on atkins despite not losing an ounce over several years, because if I od on carbs it serves as a trigger for my autoimmune.  (In fact, I went low carb because the skin manifestation of my auto-immune was all over my body and I couldn’t sleep or do anything else either)

The skin part of it is “eczema” at least in presentation, but to quote my eye doctor when I went to him with some very specific and weird eye issues, my auto immune manifests as “dryness.”  Dryness on the skin, dryness on the joints… and dryness in the eyes.

Like an idiot I strayed what I thought was a safe (wasn’t) amount the day before yesterday.  Yesterday my eyes were so dry that even the eye drops only provided temporary relief.  This means that my eyes are “on the edge of focusing” at any given time, but never fully focus.  This is fine for answering comments on facebook (or here) but it’s incredibly difficult to write even something the length of a blog post.  It comes with other symptoms, like joint pain and itching, but yesterday I also felt as though I was drunk (and I’m not sure why.) The “drunk” feeling might be because my asthma also makes an appearance and I’m on low oxygen.

It was never enough to say “OMG, let’s go to the hospital” — it was just unpleasant and annoying and work-stopping.  I didn’t want to sleep which is the only safe activity, reading was not very easy because of not being able to focus, and there wasn’t much else I could do.

So, when you offer me cake at birthday parties or biscuits at a con suite, this is what I’m fighting.  I can have the occasional serving of French fries, or even bread, provided I’m not already going through an auto-immune flare up.  If I am already there, though, I end up, like yesterday, having one of the most unpleasant days of my life.

Okay — I don’t want to become like those elderly ladies who talk about their health non-stop.  I just thought this needed an explanation so next time I say “ODed on Carbs” or “Autoimmune flare up” you get the full picture.

I’m feeling much better today, though my eyes still feel dry.  They’re past the point where I can’t focus, though, and I can focus.

When I’m done with this, I’ll put eyedrops in and do a real post😉

Dark Fate 3

*I SPENT THE LAST HOUR TRYING TO POST THIS.  I’M LATE BUT NOT THAT LATE.  D*MNED WORDPRESS WAS NOT WORKING IN CHROME AT ALL.  FINALLY BROUGHT UP ANOTHER BROWSER. GRRR. SAH*

*FIRST AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, THIS IS NOT CANON.  THIS IS COMPLETELY UNSANCTIONED (okay, not completely.  Larry said I could do this for you guys without his ripping my head off) MHI FANFIC.
Good, now that we got that out of the way, why am I doing this?  Both Grant and Fado Negro (Portuguese Monster Hunters) have minuscule parts in Guardian, the MHI book I’m collaborating with Larry Correia on.  However, obviously the Portugal of Monster Hunter is not the real Portugal (Really, no arcane creatures come stumbling out of the undergrowth there.  If there were arcane creatures, the country would be chock-a-block in them, when you take in account the continuous human occupation since… well, forever.)  And this story gives me more of an opportunity to firm the worldbuilding.  (Yes, it would be MUCH easier to do this with a notebook and noting things down, but that’s not how my mind works, d*mn it.)
Okay, that’s the rational excuse.  The real reason is that d*mn Grant Jefferson won’t leave me alone.  (Always had a thing for men from Patrician New England families.  Ask my husband.)  So I’m torturing him.  Also Guardian won’t come out until I do this more or less at same time (I’ll be sending first chapter of that to Larry soon.)
Will this ever be a book?  Don’t know.  First Guardian will get delivered.  Then, this being finished, I throw it at Larry.  And then it’s his SOLE DECISION. (Which means, don’t you monkeys hassle him.)  It’s his world and his character.  I’m just grateful he lets me play in it in Guardian and here for your amusement.*

First chapter is here.

Second Chapter is here

III

The hotel I’d booked, down near the river, in what used to be the medieval part of the city, came highly recommended, and was supposed to be actually a set of mini-apartments, kind of like a more ritzy embassy suites.

The area itself was beautiful.  Narrow streets flanked by housefronts that ended about one inch from the street and that linked to their neighbors on either side.  Only the different colors, and the entire area was painted in bright, primary colors, told you where a house ended and the next one began.  Some of the windows were surrounded by carved stone work that in the States would be locked up in some museum.

But it wasn’t all sculpture and high class.

Part of what I was getting used in the country is that they did just about everything in less space.  It reminded me of when my parents took me to Japan on vacation when I was ten.  The lobby of the hotel was appropriately grandiose, furnished with bits and pieces of antique or antique-looking furniture and ornamented with bits and pieces of masonry probably salvaged from the neighborhood during renovations.  From what I’d gathered online this area, though now one of the primary attractions of the region, had once been decayed and scabrous, the haunt of prostitutes, pimps, pickpockets and any other unsavory type of person, whether their occupation started with p or not. There were interesting scraps that looked like parts hacked off Roman columns, and other interesting shards that looked like they might have been medieval and roughly carved.

I noticed particularly part of a woman’s face hanging on the wall.  It was the face of a statue that must be at least as old as Rome, and had once been creamy marble, but which was now stained and blotched with age, with something green growing on the corner of the mouth, giving her smile a wicked twist.  It seemed to me that the carved eye — only one remained, since the salvaged portion was little more than a quarter of the face — followed me up to the registration, as the line wound its slow way forward.

All through this, my phone — a blackberry because Monster Control Bureau was not the most up to date thing in nature — kept trembling with arriving texts.  I ignored them, having decided that I’d save all the unpleasantness Franks could rain on me all at once instead of piecemeal.

I had no idea at all what was going on in Portugal that Franks wished he could evacuate all American citizens from the country.  And all I could think is that it was a hell of a time for Julie to be here.  And she certainly shouldn’t be here on her own.  I intended to make sure she got through this in one piece, if it was the last thing I did.  It very well might be.

Check in was handed by a sharp-faced young man who looked at me critically from behind his glasses, visibly wondering if I belonged in this high class hotel.  I could only imagine what I looked like, not only having been batted around by the troll things, but having lain who knew how long on the — probably mossy – floor of a medieval cell, and then to boot having had water thrown over my head.  I felt my cheeks color under the man’s dubious appraisal, but fortunately Amex platinum covers a multitude of sins.  Once that came out it was all smiles, and eagerness to accommodate me. American Express, no explanation necessary.

I asked for two keys, mostly because I’d been in Europe before and was on to their little trick of not letting you run the air conditioning or heating unless the key was inserted into the unit.  I had no intention of freezing or baking — I wasn’t sure which one was more likely in June in Portugal, and it could be either, depending on the time of the day — because the room’s systems couldn’t function unless I was in them.

After another short wait for the elevator, and a creaky trip up — the place was modernized but the structure itself was probably eighteenth century — I found myself in a long hallway with marble floors and tasteful imitation-roman frescoes on the wall.  I had to admit that the Europeans did opulence better.  When Americans try it there’s always a chintzy look to it and the sort of Caesar’s palace in Las Vegas feel of “come on, rube.”

I slipped my key into the door.  It opened.  And I started to apologize, feeling vaguely embarrassed but also irritated.  It wasn’t the first time this happened to me, but it only happened to me in Europe.  I had been given an already-occupied room.

She was beautiful and half naked. Olive skinned, almost as tall as myself, with long black hair, and luscious skin.  She seemed to be wrapped in a towel, and as I opened the door she turned to look at me over her shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I–”

That’s all I had time for.  I had an impression of almond-shaped, mysterious-looking eyes, and a red mouth.

And then she was on me.  At first, as she put her arms around me, I thought it was just that the hotel had prostitutes, and she’d got into the room and was waiting for me, after perhaps a discrete call mentioning a platinum amex.

But as she wrapped herself around me, right there at the door, and I tried to step back, it felt not like I was being held by a luscious half naked female, but more by a–

Cobra.

I flung myself sideways.  I couldn’t fully escape her coils, but it was enough that her attempt to tear my throat open was thwarted.  I felt a sharp pain behind my left ear but I didn’t have time to deal with that right then.  I had an up-close-and-personal view of a beautiful girl’s face, her mouth impossibly open, revealing needle-sharp fangs. She looked like the marble piece in the hall.

I lifted my hand, that held my suitcase, and slammed her face with it.

Through my head, like a narration, went the lecture on lamias I’d got while training as a federal agent.  MHI hadn’t bothered with them overly much because Lamias aren’t an American problem.

I remember being bored out of my head while the instructor droned, “Lamias are the Roman version of vampires.  Beautiful women from the waist up, they’re snakes from the waist down.  They hang out in cemeteries, though they’ve also been reported in any place where a lot of Romans died violently.  They often attack tourists visiting Rome.”

Well I wasn’t in Rome, but I didn’t particularly care.  She was still a woman from the waist up and a cobra from the way down, and if she was only a lamia’s second cousin, I couldn’t care less.

I banged my suitcase over her head hard enough to get her to let go of me, stumbled back and looked around wildly for anything I could use as a stake.  I hadn’t heard any of the lecture see?  Mostly because I was bored and thought that I’d never run into a lamia.  Which just showed you what an idiot I was.

I assumed stakes would work. But there were no stakes in the room.  None.

It slithered towards me, somehow remaining upright, but undulating with the kind of movement that no bipedal ever had.  I tried to get back to the door, but she was in my way. I had a glock and silver ammunition in my checked luggage.  But there was no way, no way in hell I could get to it.

One thing they teach you in monster hunting, both MHI and federal is that there are no such things as dangerous weapons.  There are only dangerous people.  And they’d taught us to be dangerous.

I grabbed the floor lamp, wielded it like a lance.

It hesitated.  I speared it through the chest.  Or more like I lightbulbed-and-poled it through the chest.

Blood poured out of her, soaking the carpet. Damn it, that was going to put a dent on the Amex.  She fell down writhing.  And my phone was ringing continuously.

I got it out of my pocket.  I could barely speak through panting as I said, “Yes, Agent Franks, sir, if you’ll excuse me, I was just killing a Lamia.”

“What?” A feminine voice said from the other side of the connection.

I didn’t say anything.  I flung the phone down. Out the corner of my eye, I’d seen the lamia regenerate, and come towards me.

I jumped behind a huge armchair.  I despise the self-healing ones.

*Sorry this was so late.  The best I can describe today is like this:

1e0a2d08ca72844e899546140b8aeb50*

I’m a terrible person

I got taken to dinner.  Dark Fate 3 tomorrow morning.