Dust and Despondence

First, I’m alive.  Sorry about the lateness of this thing, but we were running some unavoidable errands, and sending younger son to visit with adoptive nephew and niece with whom he has a mutual adoration society.

I came home and shortly after this arrived:






Which suddenly explains why Greebo has been getting the covers off me in the middle of the night, then trying to herd me to the writing chair.  Yeah.  I thought he was being silly.  Apparently there’s more going on here than I guessed.

And btw, this is why Baen is different and special.  I could go wholly indie, I could.  I’d probably make more money.  But Baen is family.  Because only family jokes like this.

And  from this: I’ve been mildly ill, as I’ve mentioned with a stomach “thing.”  I thought I was all right yesterday, but apparently not, as I was acting disoriented and it turned out I still had a fever.  I’m better today.  I think it’s the same stomach bug that has recurred over the last two months, getting increasingly weaker, which is why I hate stomach bugs.  They often do that.

Anyway, this part wasn’t fun, and it’s been dark and dreary, and sometimes it’s difficult to write on when you don’t feel well.  (Of COURSE.)

But today is a beautiful day and we were out driving and went to Pete’s for brunch, and son is getting to see the littles (and give their parents a little break, maybe) and I just figured out how to use The Affair of the Poisons in Monster Hunter Guardian.  And I got a new book on the battle of Cannae which I’ve started realizing can apply in a space opera.

And my editor is awesome, even if she bribes my cat.
Which brings me to why I’m going to move away from mystery-reading for a while and probably towards romance until MHI is done, then to science fiction.

I realized this morning I didn’t feel like reading any of the mysteries I’d downloaded, and it hit me why.  It’s all dust and despondency.

Look, sure, mysteries are about death, but does everything else need to be grey.  Does it need to be “no one clean and no one happy, ever?”

Two bits that made me go “Pfui” stand out.  A character talking about his marriage of 20 some years says (in authorial voice that obviously thinks she’s saying universal truths) “I guess marriage is mostly boredom and avoiding each other.”

Uh?  What?  Sure, there are periods of both in a long lasting union, but they’re not even close to the majority of the time, much less ALL the time.

AND talking of WWI: “He’d promised himself if he survived that battle, he’d never enter a church again.  He was done with believing in God”

Sure thing.  Look, I know a lot of people who have made that type of promise but it’s never in that direction.  For heavens sake the saying is not “There’s only atheists in the trenches.”

Also, what does Himself or the church have to do with WWI?  What sense does any of that make, except to signal how “smart” the writer is not to believe?


Nothing is ever total dross, just like nothing is ever total sunshine and rainbows.  There’s both laughter and tears, and sometimes very humanely, there’s both at once.  And there’s always hope and the ability to improve things.

Why would you want to convince people that there isn’t?  Unless you’re aware of the barrenness of your life and spirit and want to drag everyone down with you.

Despondency is neither profound, original nor “clever.”  It’s just despondency.  And there’s a reason despair is a sin.

As for me and mine, I choose hope.



155 thoughts on “Dust and Despondence

  1. Everything I have ever read about war, WWI especially, leads me to believe that “He’d promised himself that if he survived that battle, he’d never trust his ‘betters’ again.” Is one hell of a lot more likely.

    1. Yep. The church as an institution had massive problems after WWI, at least in Europe, because of being so closely yoked to the governments (among other things). Individual faith? Seems to have been different, at least right after the war. What came after soured a lot of things.

      At least, that’s what I’ve picked up from my reading about inter-war Europe and Christianity. YMMV.

      1. One of the big problems the Left has created is, they don’t teach war history in schools anymore. Which makes sense, from their POV, in the short term. All the involved governments covered themselves with shit in WWI. But if you don’t understand how bad WWI was (and reading JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN and ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT just doesn’t do it) then nobody’s attitudes between the wars make any goddamned sense. And if you don’t understand the vicious crudeness of the anti-HUN propaganda of WWI, and how thoroughly it was exposed afterwards, then the reluctance of people to believe how bad the Nazis were is kinda hard to explain. And since a lot of Teh Narrative is based on WWII and the triumph of planning, that puts things on shaky ground, because the moment people begin looking at WWII they start turning up what look like sour notes in the orchestra.

        Of course the Left has by now so thoroughly mcked up its picture of history that they don’t see the problems. But they still need persuade people who haven’t totally internalized Teh Narrative. And they can’t.

        1. Of course, the other problem is that people recoiled from the nasty anti-Hun propaganda into forgetting the nasty things Germany actually did.

          I’m still trying to wrap my head around “Germany systematically dismantled, packed up, and took home most of Belgium’s factories, as well as most people’s private property and food supplies.” I mean, that really happened. Not even the Romans and Mongols pillaged like that.

          1. Still, after the exposure as bushwa of “Huns bayonet babies”, “Huns rape, impregnate nuns”, and “Huns render the dead into chemicals for munitions” you can see where “Nazis round up Jews, Gypsies, Jehovas Witnesses, send them to gas chambers” wouldn’t gain a lot of traction until the camps were relieved.

            1. Exactly … I did a self-directed totally voluntary college project – where I went into the stacks and read every issue of the Chicago Trib between 1935 to 1945. Mostly for curiosity, and because I wanted to read Terry and the Pirates, and I had hours between classes, so what … Yeah – it turned out to be an interesting experience, took me a year or so – maybe more. So I was reading a major newspaper, following stuff as it happened, which was like looking at the Sistine Chapel ceiling through a pin-hole…
              Every time there was a story about some Nazi atrocity – against the Jews or anyone else, a couple of days later there would be some letters to the editor, or even an editorial itself – yes, there were all those horrific atrocity stories in the first war, which turned out to be nothing more than wartime propaganda. Don’t let’s be fooled again. Happened over and over, as I read through the reels. And then – April, 1945, as the camps began to be liberated. There was truly a kind of meltdown – as people were faced with the incontrovertible evidence that that the most dedicated anti-Nazi, accusing the Nazis of the most vile, perverted, horrific deeds imaginable … had not come near to what had actually been done …
              I don’t think people quite got over it.

              1. It didn’t help that Woodrow Wilson’s administration used a lot of executive power he shouldn’t have had to persecute the German-American population. Also, a lot of Wilson’s followers went in for administering ‘Loyalty Oaths” and holding flag-kissing ceremonies, and similar repulsive crap. I think a lot of people in the US looked at FDR (who also liked to use executive power that there was no legal authority for) and saw him as Woodrow Mark II.

          2. No, but both the Nazis and the Soviets did. Which points out something a lot of people forget: Germany may have been a monarchy, but both of the Wilhelms and Bismark were thoroughly Socialist.
            Rudyard Kipling
            An Imperial Rescript
            Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
            To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need,
            He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat,
            That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set.

            The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew —
            Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe.
            And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil,
            And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil.

            And the young King said: — “I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
            The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak:
            With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
            Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood — sign!”

            The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby,
            And a wail went up from the peoples: — “Ay, sign — give rest, for we die!”
            A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl,
            When — the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the Council-hall.

            And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain —
            Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane.
            And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke;
            And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke: —

            “There’s a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
            We’re going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
            With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
            And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop.”

            And an English delegate thundered: — “The weak an’ the lame be blowed!
            I’ve a berth in the Sou’-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
            And till the ‘sociation has footed my buryin’ bill,
            I work for the kids an’ the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!”

            And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran: —
            “Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
            If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
            But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt.”

            They passed one resolution: — “Your sub-committee believe
            You can lighten the curse of Adam when you’ve lifted the curse of Eve.
            But till we are built like angels — with hammer and chisel and pen,
            We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen.”

            Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held —
            The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
            The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
            The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

            1. I’ve been reading biographies of Wilhelm II’s parents, Victoria and Frederick III. It seems the tutor they chose for the future Kaiser was quite concerned about the state of the German working class, and frequently took his pupil to visit factories and workshops.

              Wilhelm’s social policies were probably a combination of genuine concern and of his desire to one-up Bismarck in any way possible.

            2. Statist, interventionist, authoritarian, centralizing, definitely.

              But not in any way for general confiscation and redistribution of private wealth, on the grounds that “wealth is a social creation”.

              That was the core idea of socialism. Any program that lacks it is not socialist.

          1. Military history is looked down on because war is where the rubber meets the road. Energetic true believers can cover up a multitude of failures of The One True Way, but come a war and it all comes out.

          2. And because it is “too easy.” I heard a prof refer to it as “mental masturbation.” She was thinking of pure guns-n-battles tactical history, as done by enthusiastic but not skilled avocational writers. By that time I’d already read Keegan’s _The Face of Battle_ and other modern works, and was biting my tongue rather firmly to keep from correcting her.

            IMHO, military history is a foundation to build on, especially for early-modern and modern history. And the modern discipline has so many variations and possible side branches that it’s hard to call it “too easy.”

            1. I read the encyclopedia of military history in middle school. Though I ended up forgetting most of it.

        2. “But if you don’t understand how bad WWI was (and reading JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN and ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT just doesn’t do it) then nobody’s attitudes between the wars make any goddamned sense.”

          A different novel by Remarque, his neglected ‘The Road Back’, does I think a good job of portraying the social/psychological impact. The novel traces the lives of a group of German veterans *after* the end of the war. In the following passage, the narrator has become a schoolteacher in a small village:
          There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonishment of the childish years. They look up at me so trustingly, so believingly–and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.

          Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength…What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive, and fire?…Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it, and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets in which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?

          …I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself into the chair, and realize that I cannot stay here any longer. I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now.”

          The little ones look at me to make sure I am not joking. I nod once again. “Yes, that is right–go and play today–go and play in the wood–or with your dogs and your cats–you need not come back till tomorrow–”

      2. I think I remember this from The American Heritage Pictorial History of World War II in one of their side bar things after the bombing of Dresden someone a lamented why would God allow this and an old man replied that God had nothing to do with this—this was man.

    2. The accounts I’ve seen suggest that at least among the British, the mud, misery, length, and the pointless death of the war contrasted so greatly with the patriotic exhortations of the church that quite a few former soldiers became jaundiced about organized religion. They never looked at “God, King, and Country” quite the same.
      For a fictional treatment, you might try Anne Perry’s World War I series; “No Graves as Yet”, “Shoulder the Sky”, “Angels in the Gloom”, “At Some Disputed Barricade”, and “We Shall Not Sleep”.

      1. I think it varied a lot. Of course, so did the WWI experience of individual soldiers. Generally, the more control they had over their situation (even if things got bad), the better they did. If they felt helpless, they didn’t do all that well. I’m pretty sure that the number of close friends who survived probably affected attitude, too.

        Canadians invented motorcycle blitzkrieg. Those particular Canadians had an AWESOME war.

        Americans maybe weren’t quite as traumatized, because they had a fair idea from the Civil War that war wasn’t nice. (They also didn’t have to live with the crud for quite as long as everybody else.) Of course, the whole Spanish flu thing tends to have killed off a lot of our survivors, which makes it hard to tell.

        But even though the situation stunk, there were actually a fair number of people who got through WWI okayish. They didn’t tend to write war memoirs, or their war memoirs didn’t tend to get reprinted.

        1. I was making a character, maybe yesterday, and got to his family background. I found out that his father was a German infantry officer, who fought and killed Wilson’s Mummy, Gillman, Invisible Man, Vampire, Werewolf, Frankenstein and Phantom of the Opera before they could unleash the death plague, of which the Spanish Flu was only a precursor. Then Pa married an American, settled in upstate New York, and sent a bunch of sons to fight the Axis and the Commies.

          I know a lot about the liberties I am taking with that. Many people are even more ignorant than I, and make worse mistakes by accident.

          That war’s psychic impact was non-trivial. There were a lot of upset people, and that probably fed into some of the era’s literature. (I’m poorly read on twenties and thirties stuff, but can still see that much.)

        2. What Canadians?

          Tuchman talked about the German motorcyclists in “The Guns of August”, and how they rode ahead of the tanks to make sure the way was clear, and how the French learned to associate the presence of motorcycles with the impending arrival of armor. And then the Germans took notice, and began sending out motorcycles by themselves, to hard the French into more convenient positions…

          1. Umm, The Guns of August is about 1914. The Germans did not have tanks or motorcycles in 1914.

  2. I like mysteries, but I prefer either the classic authors (including Charlotte MacLeod) or the ones who infuse the mystery with something else (like romance), because the ones who do “straight” mystery tend to end up on the depressing side. Heck, even Charlaine Harris, the one who wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books, has good or humorous things going on in her mysteries, whereas some other authors seem dependent upon the drumbeat of nihilism.

    1. I’m not a mystery reader, in the sense that I god browsing those shelves looking for new authors, but evey once in a while I find, by chance, an author whose voice I like who writes mysteries. I used to get clued into them by my late mother, but since her passing I’ve still stumbled on a few.

      Peter Bowen’s Montana mysteries are fun, and only fitfully Lefty. His attitude toward the environmental-cases is decidedly non-PC.

      Michael Bowen is also fun. Several series.

      And I like going back, now and again, to Hammett and Chandler. I mean, if you’re going do dust, desolation, and Mean Streets, freaking DO IT RIGHT, neh?

      1. I ought mention that CJ Box’s “Joe Pickett” mysteries have proven highly satisfactory, especially as Box has been running a nice little sideline in Family growth stories, taking the daughters from elementary to college quite realistically.

        Some of the observations on the Fish & Wildlife Service are LOL conservative. Politics occurs in the books but they are mostly local (the kind of people who run for sheriff, e.g.) and do not lean notably liberal or conservative.

      2. Donna Andrews. Her mysteries are just fluff, but they are fun fluff, and focus as much on the main characters crazy family as the mystery.

        1. Hamilton Crane (Sarah J. Mason) Miss Seeton.
          Lilian Braun The Cat Who….
          Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter
          Hugh Pentecost Pierre Chambrun

    2. Many mystery writers (other genres, too) simply ape the attitudes they see in (putatively) successful writers in the genre (in fairness, much credit for this likely ought be accorded their editors and publishers.) Thus reading too much in a single genre can be a trifle deadening; the reader is more aware of general trends and notices individual differences less. Mysteries, by virtue of their subject matter and the major influences of Hammett, Chandler and Noir, is particularly prone to this.

      Thus indiscriminate reading of mysteries is ill-advised and likely to be subject to exactly the problems you’ve noted. Either be more discriminating in your selection (the Phryne Fisher series seems less troubled by this, perhaps because it is determined to realistically depict an “emancipated” woman of the late 1920s, early ’30s and set in Australia) or fold in some comedic exercises, such as the work of Donald Westlake and Elmore Leonard.

      Or, as you’ve reported, read other genres where the problem is less pervasive. As a basic rule of thumb I suggest avoiding “serious” authors as they tend to confuse somberness with seriousness and thus lay on the despondency extra thick.

      For some serious fun (or would that be fun seriousness?) I will note that Amazon is offering a number of the books in Leonard Wibberly’s Grand Fenwick sequence and these ought be particularly delightful for you. Wibberly brings the joint perspective of an Irishman and one who’s seen all about the world and finds the West is Best. He thoroughly endorse capitalism and effectively lampoons it and its enemies (which often include its advocates.)

      1. One – how did I not know that there was more Grand Fenwick? Argh.

        Two – the same author apparently wrote mysteries. I’m going to take a look at them, as they are in KU; they may not be of the despondent dust variety, going by the reviews on detecs.org.

        1. THE MOUSE ON WALL STREET and THE MOUSE ON THE MOON are pretty good, though not as good as the first. BEWARE OF THE MOUSE is a prequel about the founding of the Dutchy. I only read it once, and it made little impression. I remember THE MOUSE THAT SAVED THE WEST being pretty weak.

          1. That said, I like the written version of THE MOUSE THAT ROARED better than the film, if only because of the romance between Duchess Gloriana and Tully Bascom. Also, since Wibberly isn’t writing Tully to be played by Peter Sellers he comes off as a real person instead of a clown.

            1. I also liked the book more for having the Duchess not be clueless. That made it funnier, I thought. The That Roared movie did have that one animated scene that the book couldn’t do, which was (darkly) amusing.

              1. Yes, the Gloriana of the books is much ore interesting than the doddering old fool that was created for the films so Sellers could show off doing multiple roles..

                Can’t say I really understand the esteem in which Sellers is held. I’ve liked himin a role or two, but he tends to overdo a schtick.

        2. Some quotes from Beware of the Mouse, as transcribed by this hand (and the other) years ago when I was an active participant on Baen’s Bar and routinely varied my signature file:

          “From Oxford Sir Roger had taken away only two pieces of learning, acquired out of his own observations. The first was that while the pen might be mightier than the sword, the sword spoke louder, clearer and more effectively at any given moment. The second was that ‘Aye’ might be turned into ‘Nay’ and vice versa if a sufficient quantity of wordage was applied to the problem.”

          “… the world is not a place for timid men, nor is liberty a birthright of those who fear to fight and speak for it come what may.”

          “It is fear that enslaves men and costs them their liberty. Doubt before battle is more powerful than any cannon, and terror has destroyed more armies than all the weapons in the world.”

          Leonard Wibberly does not sound the sort of writer to dish up grey goo, does he?

      2. …the Phryne Fisher series seems less troubled by this, perhaps because it is determined to realistically depict an “emancipated” woman of the late 1920s, early ’30s and set in Australia

        Phryne (fry-nee) is emancipated in the terms of a woman of the time. The daughter of a scalawag of a second son who had moved to Australia with the families blessing, she grew up impoverished and street wise in Australia. She became an ambulance driver during the Great War, during that time learned to fly a plane and became quite good at it. She became a women of independent means and title due to the disappearance and presumed death of her uncle in the war. She fled back to Australia because she feared being forced into domestication and an appropriate marriage.

        Before she left she was asked to look into the matter of a daughter who had married impulsively and moved to Australia, and so Phryne started her career in detecting.

      3. Oh, I read all of those many years back, because my mother was a wonderful source of recommendations. (While she is still alive and reading, I get more recommendations from elsewhere these days because I read faster and wider than she does.)

  3. I am not sure but that cats ought not be fed with “people tuna.” I do not know why I have this suspicion, as I do not eat tuna of any persuasion.

    1. I think the main problem (or so I was told) is if the tuna is packed in oil.

      Tuna packed in water is alright, though not as an exclusive food. It lacks…something critical for feline health.

      The “tuna for cats” is right out though. Mine didn’t touch the stuff when i tried it out on them.

  4. “sometimes very humanely, there’s both at once.”

    Being able to do both joy and misery at the same time in a story is a mark of an excellent writer.
    Evoking emotion can be difficult, especially if you’re trying for a specific emotion. Going for multiple emotions? Yeah, that’s hard.
    Writing a depressive story, not difficult. I don’t know if that’s what the writer was going for, but I’ve read plenty of things that left me depressed.
    And contrary to popular belief, it’s not cool.

  5. I see Baen’s “corrupt a cat” program is paying dividends.

    Just wait for Phase 2.

          1. Does Baen have a corrupt a Dog program? Nemo would be happy to join. Unfortunately neither of us writes SF. Also I can’t see where he’d fit any more in. He’s a 17(?) lb cat with a hollow leg. He’ll eat anything that doesn’t try to eat him. If Baen will send him a ready to Eat (we’re all about the convenience here at Chez Nelson) squirrel he’ll do anything that’s required of him.

            1. My dogs are incorruptible. One is too 1) filled with love for all mankind and 2) dumb; the other is status-obsessed and refuses to believe that there is any being more lofty than Mom in the universe. Which, admittedly, is pretty nice when you’re having One Of Those Days.

    1. Can’t say what Phase 2 is, but Phase 3 involves trained squirrels. Phase 4 has intelligent ants and a psychedelic mind-screw.

      1. How about a gladiatorial fight between Nemo and the squirrels? One squirrel at a time please. He’s a wonderful alarm clock.

  6. Since I am reading this on my phone I had to zoom in the picture. Worth it totally. It pays to have good friends that work with your particular delusions. 😝

  7. And they sent Greebo the good stuff – solid white packed in water!
    (Nothing beats canned salmon in oil for tempting the appetite of a cat feeling off, though. If they turn up their nose at that, it’s time for a visit to the vet…)

  8. I love this. The whole thing.

    I have said time and again that I write my Ariana mysteries to be fun, frothy escapes that are mind candy and I won’t appologize for that, and this is why. Because you need light. You need fun.
    You need hope.
    There is always hope, and honestly, I think the people who are all dark and despair use that as an excuse to give up because they’re too damn weak to try to make things better.
    If there’s no hope, then you don’t have to do anything because there is nothing to be done.
    And that takes the onus off them.

    And I love the pic.
    Sending the cat food is just adorable. 🙂

    1. Mine and my daughter’s Luna City books are also light, fun, escapy. There are some dark things around the fringes, of course, and hints of tragical happenings … but the main plots are ordinary and mostly nice yet eccentric people doing … amusing things. We want Luna City to be the small town that everyone who wants to live in a small town wish that they could buy a house (or rent a space for an RV at the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm) and settle in to enjoy the Lunacy.

  9. Why dust and despondency? Don’t know. Do know that the story that won’t gel right has the monster winning, and yes, the twist at the end is that this is seemingly poor, pathetic, excuse of a man is one of the nastiest monsters ever to be called human. The only reason he wins is for the twist ending. Yet that makes it pretty dark.

    On marriage: A friend once told a rather coarse two-line joke that’s pretty much in the vein of that book. After a certain age, a nice, boring, routine day actually sounds pretty nice. As to the other, I can’t relate: the closest we’ve come to avoidance is when we’re sick and don’t want the other to catch it.

    On disillusionment in religion: While the norm is there’re no atheists in foxholes, depending on circumstances it could go the other way. The first thing that comes to mind is Lisbon, Portugal, November 1, 1755. Given the circumstances, there was considerable disillusionment. It happens. It’s actually not uncommon in certain circumstances. But here circumstances are the key, and even then it’s not a given.

    BTW, the late Dr. Pournelle used to say that despair is a sin, yet I think that sort of despair is the belief one is beyond G_d’s redemption. IIRC, New Advent has that it’s an act of will, and thus a sin. I guess it’s possible to apply this to other things. While I’ve been on the cusp of the former darkness before, I’m more likely to have a despair of “if this goes on.”

    1. More than anything, despair is a waste of good time and effort that could be used doing something of value.

    2. Somebody doing a review fo FIREFLY explained Mal with an expanded version of that saying: “There ars no atheists in foxholes, but quite a few in abbatoirs.”

  10. Hmm, I foresee a problem here. Now, instead of herding you to the writing chair in the middle of the night, Greebo’s going to herd you to the kitchen because he wants tuna.

    1. Cats do a good imitation of ‘ruled by impulse’, but they can be pretty long headed when it’s called for, too. Herding her to the writing chair may be what’s going on.

  11. I like to read mysteries occasionally, but I love the original Sherlock Holmes stories and never get tired of re-reading them. I think a big part of that is because they are not *all* murder mysteries (one or two don’t even have an actual crime).

    1. More like ten:

      A Case of Identity
      The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place
      The Adventure of the Yellow Face
      The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
      The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
      The Adventure of the Crooked Man
      The Adventure of the Creeping Man
      The Adventure of the Three Students
      The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor

      Some of these feature reprehensible behavior, but nothing actually criminal.

  12. “AND talking of WWI: “He’d promised himself if he survived that battle, he’d never enter a church again. He was done with believing in God””

    Nobody was doing that in WWI, just like there were pretty near zero black people on the front in Belgium. That is a fashionable conceit from between the wars, after the people at home found out just how bad it had really been.

    My grandfather was there. He never sat anywhere other than a corner. Because corners were the part of the house that didn’t collapse when a shell hit. He jumped violently at loud noises his entire life. He did not give a single shit about anything, ever. Bad stuff would happen, and he’d say “oh well.” He limped from shrapnel in his leg that never came out. When he died at 96 it was still in there. He was huge and strong, and it still nearly killed him.

    1. My mother’s father never had those behaviors. But I was told that during the 1930s, he would just about collapse when he saw the walls of dust moving in.

      (Neither my paternal grandfather or stepgrandfather served – they were already in their late 30s when we entered the War – with farming injuries that made them unwanted. One missing part of his left hand, the other with a limp from a broken leg that never quite healed right.)

    2. Maybe not in Belgium, but France had black troops from French North Africa and Asian troops from Southeast Asia fighting in Europe.

      It was a *world* war, after all…

    3. People who know nothing of war, and who try to write about it very rarely get anything about it right. They wind up resorting to second- and third-hand tropes they think they understand, and don’t even begin to. What they write turns into trite platitudes and BS.

      You have a lot of “broken warriors” come out of war, but you also have just as many guys who found it to be the most intense and positive experience of their lives. Nowhere outside of war do these individuals find the mix of camaraderie, shared purpose, and intensity of experience.

      Granted, a lot depends on what sort of “war” these men experience–You spend time running a supply depot somewhere along the chain from home to the front lines, and you’re going to have a vastly different view of things than the men who wind up in direct combat. However, some of those who wind up in direct combat thrive in that environment, love it, and are unable to find anything in civilian life that quite matches up. It ain’t all universal horror. Some of us, God help us, enjoy it. Likewise, there are some who find their horror in the things that you’d think relatively benign, like work in the supply depots and transportation chain.

      You generally have two extremes when it comes to war–Either the authors emphasize the horror, or they emphasize the banality of it all. To my mind, both extremes are fundamentally in error, because they’re extremes. The real truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle–Yes, there’s horror, but there’s also a tremendous amount of non-horror right along with it. And, anyone who tells you that the experience isn’t capable of being horrid and terrible…? They’re as much mistaken as the fools who laud everything about war.

      In my experience, you take away what you take in. Your reaction to the environment and the mission depends as much on how you respond to what you go through as the raw facts of what you experience or witness.

      Case in point–Last tour in Iraq, I got assigned to what was essentially a job that could have been called in from home station in the US–Working as a liaison between my unit and the division we supported. As such, it was 12 hours on, at night, 12 hours off, for most of a year. Probably one of the most boring and ennervating experiences you could possibly imagine, as well as being a hell of a lot less risky than going out on the roads every day looking for IEDs.

      Of course, the fact was that we were working in a big, conspicuous building that the insurgents knew all about, and which they occasionally targeted with indirect fire. Which was even more occasionally accurate–One day, several people were standing out front, waiting for a ride up to the dining facility, and the enemy got lucky, dropping a rocket right on them, standing there at the entrance to the headquarters building. Three deaths, probably about 300 meters away from where I was sleeping, being off shift.

      Now, me being me, and a fairly callous person, I got up that afternoon, went to eat, walked into the HQ building past the blast traces and blood stains, and went “Huh… The bastards got lucky, today…”, and that was the end of it for me as far as personal response to the whole thing. Same-same with most of us–It was just another day on the job, and if we weren’t personally acquainted with the folks who died, or present for the event and the aftermath, it wasn’t that big a deal. Other people? Hooh-boy… I think there were a couple of nervous breakdowns over the sudden exposure to the reality that we were in a combat zone, and people were probably subject to dying. Somehow, the fact that it had happened and happened out where everybody walked in and out of their workspace? Really did some damage to some psyches, I’ll tell you. The rest of us were mostly indifferent to the whole thing, reflecting on the fact that a like number of people assigned to a “safe billet” stateside would probably have experienced more fatalities from automobile accidents and off-duty shenanigans, statistically speaking.

      War, and how you react to it? It’s pretty much what you take to it, and how you cope with the experience. Some thrive, some break, and a vast middle just deals with it as it comes. It’s not all horror, and it’s not all patriotic songs about self-sacrifice and the joys of living in groups, either.

      To be quite honest, I don’t think I’ve ever read a written work, seen a movie, or heard a song that really does a good job of getting to the meat of the experience. It is what it is, and like any other “see the elephant” experience you go through in life, trying to describe it to someone else who hasn’t been there…? It ain’t at all easy.

      And, the other thing is, everyone has a different war. The old joke about the five blind men tasked with describing an elephant for their king? That’s quite apropos to the whole issue. What I saw and went through was different entirely than what even the guy I sat next to every night experienced, and we each processed the whole thing differently.

      1. “War, and how you react to it? It’s pretty much what you take to it, and how you cope with the experience.”

        I had a Vietnam vet say kinda the same thing to me back in ’87 to refute the everybody came back crazy stereotype.

        1. I was privileged to speak to a Canadian Korean War vet, who finally filled me in. He said: “When you kill a guy in a fight, you don’t think about that. You think, where’s the next son of a bitch I’m gonna kill? Later, after its all over, then you think about it.”

          Making me SO glad I managed to dodge that whole thing. Because that would have finished me the hell off, for sure.

      2. Grandpa Carl had two really good bits in WWII – D-Day and Market Garden, according to him. Bastogne? Really, really bad. Great-Uncle Ken likewise – fighting under Patton’s command with the armor’s units was good. Liberating the camps? So bad he never, ever talked about it. Said he did it, it was horrific, and he wouldn’t discuss it. Period. Same war, different moments in two men’s experiences.

  13. “I realized this morning I didn’t feel like reading any of the mysteries I’d downloaded, and it hit me why. It’s all dust and despondency.

    Look, sure, mysteries are about death, but does everything else need to be grey. Does it need to be “no one clean and no one happy, ever?””

    I will say that’s one thing I haven’t found about the Wentworths I’ve been reading recently. If anything, in a few of them, she seems too inclined to the opposite direction: some books end with such a perfect “happily ever after” that you almost think the characters should be pinching themselves.

    On the other hand, there is something to that for a lot of mysteries. Could explain why none of the series that I tried in the last year before I found Wentworth caught me enough to borrow a second book.

    1. The classical mystery format involves not just solving a mystery, but figuratively cleaning out evil and misunderstandings, and restoring order to the universe (or at least to a disrupted household, town, etc.).

      Which was why it has often been such a popular genre during times of disorder and trouble.

    2. Hmmm. . . there’s a subject for deep philosophical thinks. Mysteries don’t have to be about death. They don’t even have to be about indictable crimes. But overwhelmingly they’re murder cases — and the exceptions tend to be short stories.

        1. Whoopsie! I forgot to throw in adult mysteries. Yes, kids’ books can also forgo the murder — both with short stories, and with longer works.

          1. Now my brain is trying to come up with Scooby Doo for adults.

            ….Actually, that could be pretty cool. Could go meta and make it urban fantasy – in which case Scooby as a stoner stuck in dog/wolf form might be hilarious, as well as the spooky things that things that really go bump in the night are trying to imitate… and they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids…

            Or play it straight, as a historical mystery set in the 1970’s, with a bunch of teenagers…

            1. *not enough sleep makes Bob’s creativity much stupider than usual*

              Anti-communists fighting the, I want to say Huk in the Philippines, apparently would grab the guy off the back of the file, hang him upside down, drain him of blood, and leave the body to be found so that people would think one of the local vampires had got him.

            2. Somebody did a module once to fit Scooby Doo into the original World of Darkness games, and it was surprisingly seamless.

            3. The masquerade is broken, the magic is loose in the world, and some public spirited investigators are demonstrating to the mundanes that no, magic is not unlimited. Debunk all the ghost/vampire stories, perhaps; everyone, magic or mundane, heads off for the undiscovered country whose bourne no travelers return.

      1. Mostly because the stakes need to be high. A novel about trying to find the guy who stole the tires off your car doesn’t have the same suspense.

        The Aunt Dimity series seems to get some mileage out of heartbreak, on the other hand. As long as it’s *real* heartbreak…

        1. A novel about trying to find the guy who stole the tires off your car doesn’t have the same suspense.

          …and yet that sounds like something of a Dirk Gently story or at least the initiation of one.

            1. On the other hand, my lingering mental image of “What Dirk Gently investigates” is a severed head turning on a record player….

    1. That’s the thing about atheists these days. They don’t disbelieve in God. They -hate- God. A lot. And anyone who professes a belief, they hate that guy too.

      1. Some of them just want to be the greatest guy on the block and hate the idea anything could be greater.

        I once glanced over an atheist’s guide on how to be a polite believer, and it could be summed up, “I’m God; please me first and bother about your religion later.”

      1. Yep. The number of anti-theists who go after Hinduism and Buddhism, let alone Islam, are vanishingly small, and one of those died a few years ago. I suspect if Christians killed people who disagreed with us, the anti-theists would pick on someone else.

        1. Eh, that or other religions were more prevalent in their life. I come back to a lot of these actions being either formations against growing up where the dominant religion would be the target, indoctrination by folks affected by the former and topped with a status of useful idiots by people with different issues with the target religion. Plus society seems to get blinders for external cultures.

  14. We need more human wave in mysteries. I agree. I quit reading mysteries because they were so dark and there were no redeeming qualities to it. If I wanted to read that stuff, then I would read True Crime.

    1. A couple of my fav British Mystery writers gave into the “must kill someone at the end, so it’s a downer” syndrome. Broke my trust. Haven’t bought anything from one them since. Even thought twice about Dick Francis after the Glass blower thing.

      1. The thing about Francis that makes him what he is, is his deep understanding of physical pain (from having been a jockey) . It doesn’t figure in every one of his books, but any of his you pick up, you need to be aware that you may be committing to reading a very realistic account of a beating.

        OTOH, his heroes tend to take that beating, and keep on going. They don’t give up much.

      2. Dick Francis’ health went bad, and increasing amounts of his later books were written by other people, uncredited. I’m pretty sure he did no writing at all on the last few.

        Some of the later ones were okay, but they were “more or less in the style of” Dick Francis, not the real thing.

  15. I tend to go for those packages where you get both the mystery and the romance in the same book. The mystery is usually pretty fluffy and has holes if you look closer, but I won’t. I do, however, usually only look for mysteries which have romance, not romances which have a mystery because with the latter the mystery tends to be almost totally filler and has even worse holes while the whole attention and most of the plot concentrates on the romance. Which is a bit too much romance for me, especially when we are talking about modern romances which tend to go way too much into the will they won’t they hot sex hot sex hot sex breakup hot sex hot sex breakup more hot sex to get back together (worst case: I really hate love triangles, especially ones where the hot sex goes on equally with both men before she chooses). You skip the hot sex – which I usually do as those scenes mostly just make me bored (I don’t really know why, but written just doesn’t work for me, no matter how well written it supposedly is, filmed occasionally does but that is pretty much also hit or miss with more misses) – and the book turns into a short story.

    But fortunately it’s still possible to find mystery/romance books where the mystery gets enough attention and the love story does not consist of mostly sex scenes and is not a love triangle. Or possible again, from the indie selection.

    Best part, those books tend to go for the romance HEA endings, and are usually fairly optimistic about their world view. If they have been turned into a series that can suffer, with the perceived need to higher stakes the longer the story goes on, but at least stand alones still exist too. Or I just read the first book when it’s something which was not planned as a series from the start but went there when the first book – which was originally written as a stand alone – did well enough.

    1. It’s been my experience that while mystery and SF writers can often do romance, romance authors tend to suck at mystery or any flavor of SF.

      Bujold’s A CIVIL CAMPAGN is as good a regency romance as you find outside Heyer

      There are exceptions, but they aren’t common.

      On another tack, very few people in ANY genera do Hard Boiled at all well. And the bad attempts are often really atrocious.

      Still, Hamett and Candler set that bar goddamned high.

      1. A well-done movie version of A Civil Campaign would be on the list of chick flicks I would willingly watch.

        Of course, I refer to The Princess Bride as a chick flick so maybe my viewpoint is warped. 😀

        1. My husband says he knew I was the one for him when our first two date movies were Aliens and The Crow.

      2. I’d have to say there’s a lot of support for this point.
        Bujold”s “A Civil Campaign” is the only one of her books I know that’s *more* romance than everything else together; but there’s a considerable romance component (one way or another) in just about all her Lord Miles / Barrayar books (especially the earliest ones) and likely the rest too.
        Otherwise hard-SF writer Catherine Asaro (a scientist in her other life) has romance-y elements in most (or even all) of her books, and many actually contain romances.
        Not even going to get started on that indie+, award-winning, uh, what’s her name, Sarah A. Hoyt. (Though “Draw One in the Dark” turns out to be the first e-book I ever downloaded.)

        Former ESA astrophysicist Alastair Reynolds wrote (I’d have to say) something decently close to technological horror in his novella “Diamond Dogs” (alas not one of my favorites), and typically has definite horror elements in many of his works, especially “The Prefect” and large parts of the “Revelation Space” trilogy (to the point it’s sometimes called “SF noir”). And while it’s not truly a “hard boiled” detective book *at all*, “Century Rain” does have a major hard-ish-boiled detective subplot (set in a slightly alternate post-WW-II Paris).

        It’s an early (maybe even a first) novel, but I’ve long remembered “Birth of Fire” for having one of the most seamlessly-integrated romances (as a plot, but probably without any genre markers) in all of adventure/hard SF — “realistic” is the best word that comes to mind — and its author is one well familiar to many here, Jerry Pournelle. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s a lot to be learned on how to do romantic SF storytelling in there.

        And crossing over in the other direction? I can think of only two true mainstream authors doing SF right at the moment, Rudyard Kipling and Jack London — and obviously they’re from a ways back.
        But again maybe this is just me.
        Romancer Jacqueline Susann did write “science fiction” at least once, and get it published in a women’s magazine. I saw it. Of this I will say only, starts with a Y, ends with an “oh, no!”

        1. If THE BIRTH OF FIRE is a coming of age novel, then it needs some romance.

          And thanks, I was trying to tell my kids that one the other day and couldn’t come up with it.

    2. Have you tried the Dyce Dare Refinishing Mysteries by Elise Hyatt? Briskly entertaining with a light touch of romance. As described at Cozy Mysteries Unlimited

      Daring Finds Mystery Series
      Category: Antiques & Furniture
      This series started in 2009. It features Candyce “Dyce” Dare who is divorced with a son and is the owner of the furniture refinishing store Daring Finds.

  16. Whoaaah!!! Who saw this coming??!

    Has Michelle Obama Ever Met A Human Woman?
    By Sarah Hoyt
    There are times when political figures or political adjacent figures make statements and you wonder where they got the idea. And there are times when you listen to a political figure, and you wonder if they’ve been smoking the good stuff and not sharing. For some reason, this often happens with Nancy Pelosi.

    But there’s other times when a political figure – well, she was America’s lunch lady and some Democrats hold her up as (pardon and sorry) the great white hope of the Dems in 2020 – says something so utterly bizarre that you have to physically prevent yourself from going to youtube and start looking at all the videos who claim that everyone in public life is a disguised lizard being. Michelle Obama just unlocked that achievement.

    I was alerted to this by the National Review online and then followed it to its source.

    I thought “surely, even though National Review is a trustworthy source for these things, she can’t have said that stuff. Surely not.”

    “Quite frankly, we saw this in this election. As far as I’m concerned, any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice,” Obama said.

    Okay, I thought, lady, if you’d ever heard my voice you’d vote against it too. I can clear entire rooms by singing. I do not HOWEVER sound like Hillary Clinton.

    So Michelle Obama elaborated on this:

    “What does it mean for us, as women, that we look at those two candidates… and many of us said, ‘That guy? He’s better for me. His voice is more true to me.’ Well, to me that just says, you don’t like your voice. You like the thing you’re told to like,” she added, referring to President Donald Trump.

    This is when I started suspecting she was from Alpha Centauri.

    Seriously. What kind of process does this creature follow in deciding whom to vote? Is it some weird kind of singing competition? If not, why is she deciding whose voice is “more true to her.”


    1. Michelle Obama is working for Trump? Seriously, isn’t this big part of the reason why he got elected, Democrats kept insulting everybody who wasn’t already their supporter as stupid? And now – hey, let’s keep this up, it’s working!

      1. My criteria was, “Which one of these two democrats is going to drive us into the ditch more slowly?” And held my nose and voted for Trump.

        Which has turned out much better than I expected. Thanks, I think, mainly to the media, who instead of giving him reasonable opposition, jumped straight to the “literally Hitler” band wagon, and keep shoving him further right.

        I tried to like Johnson, really I did, but the more I learned of him, the worse he got.

    2. This is to be expected from Michelle. She is, after all, a Klingon shield maiden. Those shoulders can only come from much batleth practice. I understand she butts out cigars on her palm callouses as part of the entertainment at White House tea parties.

      The thing everyone wants to know is, how does she hide her ridges like that?

    3. Somebody told me, the other day, that they had seen incontrovertible proof that Michelle was a tranny, Barry was a bathhouse gay, and that the two kids were kidnap victims taken from homeless black women off of the street. And, that the whole Obama presidency was a put-up job by a cabal of gay whites headed by William Ayres, intended to prevent any real American blacks from ever gaining the presidency, by means of discrediting them forever with the Obama’s behavior and conduct. We are supposed to be seeing a bunch of revelations on this topic in the near future….

      Said conspiracy theorist? Black, a Democrat, and someone who neither looked or acted crazy. Claimed to have worked in the child protective services in Chicago, and had seen the relevant paperwork for most of their claims.

      Now, I frankly didn’t take the lady at all seriously, thinking to myself that I’d encountered a new and interesting form of mental illness.

      Then I read the article/interview Sarah referenced, and I’m suddenly wondering how crazy that lady was, and what might be showing up in the news, shortly…

      1. Whether or not the transsexual/homosexual/kidnapping stuff is true in whole or in part, I think the rest is nutbaggery.

        What is the motivation for these white homosexuals? I have no reason to think that homosexuals are much more white supremacist than ordinary liberals, and the Obama administration took a whole lot of effort. Mismatches between necessary effort and probable motivation are something to look at when evaluating whether something is plausible or a delusion.

        I think the latter portion likely a delusion to cope with buyer’s remorse over Obama.

        Back in 2008 it was predicted that promoting a black man as highly intelligent and well educated was likely to increase negative valuations of black men if the promoted man were in fact only moderately intelligent and poorly educated. An effeminate incompetent who always blames others for his own failings? Who unnecessarily foments racial violence? I’m not sure what exactly he is supposed to have done for the black population to offset these things. If Trump all people manages to do more good for the black population than Obama did, than what was purchased with that support was probably not worth the cost.

        Faced with the prospect that one’s own unacknowledged racism has in fact harmed one’s interests, a lot of people would be tempted to retreat into blaming it on some other race.

    4. Flipping it around, some of the old ‘Clinton had to win because of my vagina’ types do not seem all that different from how Trump seems to be. Petty disproportionate reactions to minor offenses,

  17. Wait, so if Harold Coyle transformed into science-fiction is (for these purposes) David Weber, then x transformed into science-fiction equals ??

    Huh, I need to read more mysteries or get some more sleep.

    Hmmm. “Murders in the Rue Morge” would be a scifi if?

  18. Does it need to be “no one clean and no one happy, ever?

    No, but there’s only so many times you can re-read the good stuff (you, Chesterton, Christie) before it gets dull.

  19. Nothing is ever total dross, just like nothing is ever total sunshine and rainbows. There’s both laughter and tears, and sometimes very humanely, there’s both at once.

    They’ve all lost their Day eye, though not, I expect from looking too deeply into wisdom’s well as Wise Wit did.

    If you’ve never read Maria Gripe’s The Glassblower’s Children, take a look. A truly strange and marvellous tale. And the night eye, day eye conceit is useful one.

  20. Well, at least in TV land, with the gawdawful dust and despondency of GoT and Breaking Bad and Law and Order, there are rays of sunshine like Psych. Perhaps, somewhere, out there similar written works exist?

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