Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo

A Request from SAH:

Due to the fact that I spent most of this year being ill, as well as dealing with assorted and rather insane emergencies, and that I MUST finish three overdue NOVELS (yes, one of them Dyce.) And that it is likely I will resume my work at PJM next week… May I request that you send me guest posts, so I can run two a week, and somewhat relieve the weight of this blog?) – With gratitude, SAH.

Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*

FROM MONALISA FOSTER:  Pretending to Sleep: A Communism Survivor’s Short Story.


Based on actual events, this short story provides a quick glimpse into life under Ceaucescu’s brutal communist regime. Like so many Romanians, ten-year-old Renata lives in fear of Securitate (Ceaucescu’s secret police). They don’t always take you in the middle of the night. In a world where the living envy the dead, not all examples are made in the shadows. Some are made in the light of day.

FROM MEL DUNAY:  Seeking a Quantum Tree (Ancestors of Jaiya Book 4).


Journey to the country of Jaiya, in a world not quite like ours. Here the humans wield magical powers and fight against an Empire which seeks to enslave them, but they share their world with insect people and trollfolk, and stranger things lurk in the shadows…

Sena is a Jaiyan secret agent, sent to warn a neighboring country about an upcoming attack on them by an insane general. When the invasion happens sooner than she expected, she must work with the handsome Taavid, a wealthy businessman and Jaiyan exile, to help save the other Jaiyans trapped in the occupied zone. But General Drozniya controls the occupied zone, and he is obsessed with the Quantum Tree, a legendary source of mystical power which could destroy the world!

Note: Quantum Tree is meant as a standalone with a “happily ever after” ending. However, the hero in this book is the son of the hero and heroine of Book 3, and he and the heroine are parents of some of the characters in the original Jaiya series. The romance is on the sweet side, but there are some disturbing supernatural events, along with some violence, not very explicit, and some references to the horrors of war, more implied than shown.

FROM NATHAN BISSONETTE:  A Wizard in the Monastery


A weary wizard. A cloistered cleric. An enchanted manuscript. Will they save the world, or destroy it?

FROM MARY CATELLI:  Witch-Prince Ways


Widowed, caught between two feuds, Katie was desperate enough that the Witch Prince witched her wits away, so that she let him steal her baby.

Then there was no reason for him to not let the bewitchment fail, then. What, after all, could she do against him? Even the witching woman would tell her that defying the Witch Prince was beyond her power.

And tell her again, when she will not listen.



Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is:LICK*

[*The management apologizes for handing such a prompt to the reprobates, dirty minds and general hang gallows who frequent this blog. We tried to warn the team in charge of vignettes of the foolhardy of their challenge, but alas, they’re innocent and doomed and don’t have a lick of the natural suspicion that should attend to hanging out in this den of energumens. Therefore the management is not responsible for– Oh, heck, the management just ain’t responsible. Carry on. -SAH]

On Making Plowshares



I am not for war. In fact I don’t know anyone who is for war. War is a terrible thing.

But it is not the most terrible thing.

I have to confess to extreme nervousness at making peace treaties with the Taliban.  Remember I come from a country with a long history of war with Islamic entities. For a while the river that runs through the city where I went to college was the dividing line between Christian and Moor. (And those who make high faluting stupid statements about the noble Moors haven’t seen the physical remains I’ve seen, or read first hand accounts. The Golden age of Islam was burnished with stuff stolen from the conquered and built by slave labor. Whether it was more open than it is now, I don’t know. But it was not superior to Christian Europe. It just took from many different cultures and as such served as a conduit.)

I’m afraid treaties are just time to recoup and become a REAL threat. At least that’s the lesson of history.

Now I’m not going to say Trump is making a mistake exactly. I know he had access to things we have not, including what other threats we might be facing, the REAL state of whatever the heck is going on with Kung Flu, etc. etc.

And also of course the political, economic and social will to deal with this as we must, which would be something similar to what we did in Japan. It’s the only way to deal with a totally alien and inimical culture.  We particularly lack the cultural will to stay and mold them into our image. Hell, we’re not molding ourselves into our image. The despicable Howard Zinn is used as the basis of school books that convince our own children to hate their culture and their homeland.

There will be posts on this, in future, as well as posts on what real “culture” means because a batsh*t insane left posted on my xenophobia echo on facebook to insist that culture was food and clothes and festivals. (Spits.)

Faced with all that, Trump might very well be doing the right thing, or the only thing he can do. Because, yeah, you know, keeping our people bleeding and dying there for no visible result is stupid. And possibly because we might very well need them at home in the near future. At least if the Xi-disease goes nuts. There are resources and things we shouldn’t be squandering.

Presidents by definition know more than we do. They are briefed. Which is why anonymous bureaucrats shouldn’t make policy decisions (among many other reasons.) Of course our intel services are a hot mess. Heinlein said they always were.  And the last president would skip briefings (he liked sports better. Who wouldn’t) and our current president seems to be actively undermined by a lot of people who are supposed to brief him, so I don’t even know if he believes anything they say. (At this point, I wouldn’t.)
So for all I know, he’s making his decisions on gut feeling and various websites. Who knows?

OTOH even the WHO says Chinese figures are highly unreliable, and as for the rest, who knows? Will Iran go kablooey when the world economy wobbles?

And while on this, if it hits hard here, will we got stupid enough to vote a communist in? (I don’t like to even think about it. I wake up screaming.)

And at the same time, the student of history in me knows how it went every time Rome pulled into itself.

And I’m afraid my grand-kids, including the not yet born ones, will go bleed and die in that forsaken patch of land, that graveyard of empires.

Unless by then we recover our cultural confidence.

Teach your children well. It might not be too late.



I wished to write a post today, but time has got away from me. So I shall leave you with one greater than I, and he will have to do. (And pray we don’t need to learn the painful lesson again by saddling ourselves with a crazy king indeed because there are things worse than war, and living under socialism is one of them. And a lesson that apparently each country needs to learn in turn.)

The Benefactors

Ah! What avails the classic bent
   And what the cultured word,
Against the undoctored incident
   That actually occurred?
And what is Art whereto we press
   Through paint and prose and rhyme—
When Nature in her nakedness
   Defeats us every time?
It is not learning, grace nor gear,
   Nor easy meat and drink,
But bitter pinch of pain and fear
   That makes creation think.
When in this world’s unpleasing youth
   Our godlike race began,
The longest arm, the sharpest tooth,
   Gave man control of man;
Till, bruised and bitten to the bone
   And taught by pain and fear,
He learned to deal the far-off stone,
   And poke the long, safe spear.
So tooth and nail were obsolete
   As means against a foe,
Till, bored by uniform defeat,
   Some genius built the bow.
Then stone and javelin proved as vain
   As old-time tooth and nail;
Till, spurred anew by fear and pain,
   Man fashioned coats of mail.
Then was there safety for the rich
   And danger for the poor,
Till someone mixed a powder which
   Redressed the scale once more.
Helmet and armour disappeared
   With sword and bow and pike,
And, when the smoke of battle cleared,
   All men were armed alike. . . .
And when ten million such were slain
   To please one crazy king,
Man, schooled in bulk by fear and pain,
   Grew weary of the thing;
And, at the very hour designed
   To enslave him past recall,
His tooth-stone-arrow-gun-shy mind
   Turned and abolished all.
All Power, each Tyrant, every Mob
   Whose head has grown too large,
Ends by destroying its own job
   And works its own discharge;
And Man, whose mere necessities
   Move all things from his path,
Trembles meanwhile at their decrees,
   And deprecates their wrath!  -Rudyard Kipling

A Propos Nothing


I don’t feel like writing a post, so I’m going to drop in a “a propos nothing” reminiscence.

I remembered this in the kitchen, because I was having a very small slice of cheese as a snack, and the cheese was mild and vaguely sweet, so I started noodling making some kind of low-carb desert with it.

Not  that I’m in any shape for noodling. Yesterday I was still very congested. Today was my first day not wanting to fall asleep every five minutes.  But I thought, you now “Hey, wonder if I could make a desert from this?”

And then I remembered the first time I heard the word cheesecake, and what I thought it would be like.

To tell this story, I must explain my 3rd year English (and techniques of translation) teacher.  She was a maiden lady, emphasis on the lady probably in her fifties. (For a long time I thought her being unmarried was due to her looking exactly like Marat in the picture Marat in his bath. I mean enough that it made you think of reincarnation. but it turned out she had a lover (?) or perhaps boyfriend, she had been in love with for 20 years. They couldn’t marry, because his wife was insane and in a madhouse, but he was Catholic and wouldn’t divorce her (which is why I’m not sure if he was a lover or merely a boyfriend. More on this relationship later.)

This woman was …. formidable. And she terrorized most of the class.  Probably the only reason I eventually could become native-fluent in English was that year. She gave us lists of vocabulary until our eyes bled. (I’m still wondering what I was supposed to use all the collective nouns for. I mean, an exultation of larks is cute, but….) And she didn’t tolerate bad grammar.

We had to bring the Oxford English Learners dictionary to school every day and put it on the right side of our desks, precisely located, or we were marked absent.  It didn’t take very long to learn it had to be perfectly placed because if you said anything wrong, she grabbed it and hit you with it. If you said something VERY wrong, like one of my classmates who, I swear, was incapable of learning English despite having chosen it as a specialty in 9th grade, she’d hit you with it over and over. I sometimes wondered if the poor girl had concussion.

For inscrutable reasons, she never hit me.  At one point she made me answer something very difficult, (I can’t remember what.) then reached for my dictionary and my heart about stopped. Then she opened it and said, “Oh, you’re right. But you’re using an archaic form of that word. I wasn’t sure of the meaning.”) Eh.

Once I’d figured out I could do no wrong, I wasn’t afraid in her class (everyone else was) but I still studied really hard because the woman was a damn perfectionist and I didn’t want the look of “more in sorrow than anger” which she sometimes gave people.

As I said, without her, I might not have had the foundation I had, on which to build to writing fiction in English.

As an idea of how the school regarded her: I once passed out in her class.  Yes, I’ve been having these episodes where my potassium gets suddenly extremely low and I pass out since I was 12 or so. This one, I just felt like everything was receding and collapsed in my desk.  Since apparently I go all stiff when I pass out in those circumstances, I later got an earful from the classmates who had to extract me from the desk.

I woke up in the nurse’s office, with three nurses around me, being really nice and saying things like “What did the mean witch say to make you pass out, sweetheart?”

Being me, and still muzzy I said, “Nothing, she’s very nice to me.” At which point they all stepped back and looked at me like I was Satan jr.

Anyway, she was one of three teachers who gave me a recommendation for becoming an exchange student. And once I was placed in the US, she started telling stories of the one and only time she’d come to the US.  She stayed in NYC for 2 nights.  The second night she saw a sign that said “Open all nite” and decided she couldn’t endure that sort of barbarism, so she changed her ticked and flew back home.

She told us, though, that while she was there, she had cheese cake for dinner. We asked her all sorts of questions about it, and she said it was like a pie, and she couldn’t figure out if it was made with cheese, or why they called it that.

So, under the principle of “different cultures.”  In Portugal at the time, cream cheese was unheard of.  In fact, it was only introduced about 20 years ago, and it was a “luxury” type thing, so people would put out cream cheese on crackers (with nothing else) to be classy.

In fact, there were two kinds of cheese: a gouda type, and “da serra” which is a runny cheese made with sheep’s milk and very tangy.

Before that class was over we all had come up with ways and reasons that we could make a “gouda type” cheese pie.  I no longer remember if I tried one of the ideas out, or not. If so, it was nothing like cheese cake, but might have been good (or at least I don’t remember any spectacular failure around that time.)

I have to say when I found out how cheese cake was actually made it was a little bit of a let down….

Oh, and my dyslexic friend had the same teacher two years later, and had a wonderful grade.  I was very confused, because my friend was at least as smart as I was, but twice as dyslexic.  The woman who thought “nite” was enough of a violation of the English language to shun an entire country had given her a B?  How in heck.

Later when I was in the school to apply for some papers I needed for college I met the teacher.  She’d gone from all dour and authoritarian to all smiles and really sweet.  As she walked away one of the school employees told me that the teacher’s boyfriend’s wife had died and he’d finally married the teacher about a year ago “And she’s been all flowers and butterflies since.”

So, I guess there is much to say for love at any age.  I’m sure the lady is gone now. Or if not very very old.  But without her none of this — including this blog — would exist. Or not in English.

If I figure out how to make a pie with a Gouda type cheese I’m going to name it after her.



There is a book I can’t remember if I heard about or actually read called “The Gift of Fear” and the idea was that women — in particular? I think? — were supposed to listen to their fear, to their instincts.

For instance, when going into an elevator with a burly man whose eyes look feral (you’ll know it when you see it, trust me) you might feel a pang of fear. But if you’re a well brought up woman and particularly if the man is another race you might not want to show it. After all you’re not a racist, right?

But what you actually should be asking yourself is: Should I die because I don’t want to be impolite?

Sure what you’re picking up on might be prejudiced. Or just paranoid. Sure, maybe you’re reacting to this guy because his clothes are old, and he’s a different race.

But maybe not.

Me? I’ve had some interesting experiences and come pretty close to the edge of the knife a few times, and I’ll tell you I won’t go into an elevator with a male, period. Or with a younger and bigger woman than I.  It’s very easy to pretend you forgot something, and turn back. Or to fake going elsewhere.

I’ll also only go into an elevator with two people if it’s obvious they don’t know each other and/or if it’s a large enough group and so utterly typical for that building that it raises no alarms. (Like, in a con hotel, it’s a group of obvious fans.)

But more importantly, I’m alert, say, when walking in a nice suburban park. I had an experience where if I hadn’t been alert and realized I was heading into an area I couldn’t be seen from the road things would have got very very ugly, probably in terms of robbery, but who knows? I realized, I turned back. Which is when the guys sprang from cover.  Yeah.

Now, I might have been completely wrong, okay. But then what would I lose by turning back?  Uh….nothing? I’d lose not taking that part of the walk, but I could double down on the part by the road, in sight of passing traffic. (As was I was so shaken I gave it up. And have yet to go back. And that was a couple of years ago [not my neighborhood, just a place I visit often.])

This was brought about by thinking of the “xenophobic” insult thrown around.

It literally means “fear of the stranger.”  Or in other words “completely normal human being.”

Let’s be real here for a minute, okay? A lot of us are parents. Which of you teaches your kids to go up to strangers and ask for candy?

If you’re going to say “but my kid is defenseless!”

Well, so are a lot of  us in a lot of situations. Why wouldn’t we be afraid of strangers? What makes a stranger a stranger?

Well, at a deep set instinctual level, a stranger is someone who doesn’t look like your family or the people around you.

Remember that ridiculous article a few years back on how toddlers were racist? Yeah. It was stupid nonsense. The toddlers weren’t afraid of people who didn’t look like them (and certainly didn’t hate people who didn’t look like them) they were afraid of strangers.  If, for instance, you have a little black kid who grows up as the adopted son of an Asian couple, that kid is going to be afraid of black people, should he meet them. Because to them, they’ll be not like the people who have cared for him and taken care of him.

And that’s just all sorts of wrong. Because in the not so distant past — evolutionary, yesterday — a toddler who strayed from his group and into a completely different group of people was more like to end up as lunch than adopted.

But why should this change when you’re an adult?

Well, obviously because you can’t go through life avoiding making new contacts and learning new things.  The normal way of growth is to leave the house for the neighborhood, the neighborhood for the city, and then to chart your own path, possibly to places your parents have never been.

Sure, but when is the last time someone called you xenophobic because you didn’t want to talk to the neighbor?

No, the insult “xenophobic” is hurled around when you don’t like “the other.” And it usually doesn’t refer to a race (there’s a word for that. And honestly in the states a difference race doesn’t ‘feel’ different.) It refers to strange behavior. To speaking a different language, to speaking (eh) with an accent. To people who dress weirdly or eat weird stuff.

Okay. Fine. So you should maybe be open to new experiences — look, you’re talking to a woman who packed everything and became an exchange student at 17. But then I always ran towards what scared me — and there’s things to discover out there.


But remember the gift of fear.  It’s perfectly okay to be afraid of the stranger. Because by definition, you don’t know what the stranger will do. It’s not only okay but sane to be reserved, proceed with care, make sure you can, metaphorically speaking, back out of the elevator.

Being open to new experiences is a thing, but them furriners, you know can have weird ways. And it’s best to be safe. I mean, what’s the worst that will happen if you get a bad vibe and back off? You’ll miss out on a nice experience? You’ll offend them?

What if you get a bad vibe and you don’t? What is the worst that can happen?

And mostly, actually, this insult gets hauled out not because you disapprove of someone’s recipe for peach pie, or someone’s colorful attire, but of something someone is doing that you — in your culture — consider deeply offensive.  Like, say killing their daughter for kissing her boyfriend.  Or marrying off their thirteen year old to a fifty year old she never met, or…

And why would it be an insult to disapprove of this?

Let’s suppose, in fact, that the custom you disapprove of isn’t even that radical.

Until about six years ago (I don’t know why it changed) I couldn’t stand cumin.  There is in fact, in Portugal a cumin line halfway down the country. And I was from the no-cumin portion. Which meant I avoided Mexican food.

Was it xenophobic?  Why? I mean it limited my ability to go out to eat in groups, that’s about it. So?

Humans are social apes. That means having a sense of who we are and who our people are is very important.

Sure civilization starts with the dissolution of tribalism. But the dissolution of tribalism doesn’t mean immediately considering everything you are and everything you do wrong, and willy nilly embracing everyone else’s culture, just because it’s not yours.

There’s nothing wrong with loving your own people, and your own country. It doesn’t prevent you from becoming acquainted with other people and other countries, and even coming to love them too. It just means you know who you are. Yeah, some freaks of nature like me find their people and their country elsewhere. But they darn tooting better think those people and that country are better… otherwise what’s the point of the whole exercise?

It’s easier to evaluate and maybe even come to know and love the “other” when you know and love your own people first.

And trust me, even if neither culture is precisely objectionable, getting along with someone from a very different culture is difficult, and there will be dangerous pitfalls on both sides. (Otherwise known as the first five years of my marriage.)

No one ever — no one sane at least — taught their kid to hate their own family and love any stranger, indiscriminately.

That’s a good way to end up dead.

For a child, an adult or even a culture.

The fact the left thinks xenophobic is an insult tells you they want you to deny your sense of fear.  Perhaps because their weird little system is instinctively frightening to any rational being.

Remember the gift of fear. It’s better not to get in the elevator with the suspicious stranger, than to die in order to avoid being called xenophobic.



Things I Learned About Life From Watching Brazilian and Portuguese Soap Operas- a blast from the past from August 2nd 2016


Things I Learned About Life From Watching Brazilian and Portuguese Soap Operas- a blast from the past from August 2nd 2016

1- The most effective way to kill a baby is to leave the window near his crib open at night. He’ll be stiff and dead by morning. (Sorry kids. I keel you a lot.)

2- If you work too hard you’ll get a “drained brain.”

This will cause you to sing New York New York at your important meeting, then pass out.

3- You can kill any number of people on your way to success, and no one will notice, not even enough to have rumors about you.

4- Memory loss is WAY common. I mean, you walk out your door and forget your name every other morning.

5- While suffering from memory loss you’ll fall in love with someone you hate. EVERY TIME. Preferably someone you hate who is married to one of your best friends.

6- The best way to avenge yourself on someone for anything ranging from trivial to heinous, is to create a really complicated plan that will eventually bring about their downfall. Or yours. Or… nothing, really. But you have to try it. Holy Plot Dictates so.

7- If a priest shows up in any role but villain, you’re watching a Portuguese soap opera.

8- Priests, Doctors, lawyers, anyone in an advisory capacity will come to your house to discuss your current problem, even if objectively he/she can do nothing about it.

9- Your priest will come to your house and tell you to be strong when you’re attracted to someone-not-your-husband. It’s amazing they have time to do anything else, including breathing.

10- the most menial occupations pay enough for palatial digs. This is shared with American sitcoms, I guess.

Totalitarianism and Ignorance


When I was little, we lived in an apartment cut out of grandma’s house. I understand before my time, it had been storage rooms of various kinds, but was converted to a shotgun apartment for my parents when they got married. Because my parents are crazy people, they then lived there for 14 or 15 years, until they could buy a home outright.

The house was already over a hundred years old when I was born, and electricity had been a late addition, though my parents had their own electrical board and meter.

Not that we used a ton of electricity. There was a light in the middle of the ceiling in the kitchen, one in the living room, and bedside lamps in the bedroom and in the hallway where my brother (or I. The other would sleep at Grandma’s that night) slept. And there was the radio mom listened to while working.  But the board was such that plugging anything at all in made it go down. And when it went down, the normal procedure was to slip the coin that was the equivalent of a quarter into the place where the last one had melted.

It took me years to find out this was an extremely unsafe practice and why.  I.e. since the coins don’t blow as fast as the fuses do, they could start a house fire. But frankly, if anyone in the family knew that, they didn’t care. Because having the coin in there meant if you accidentally turned on two lightbulbs and the radio, the whole thing wouldn’t go down.

Right now it’s entirely possible that we’re looking at just that situation globally, and that at the moment China is the coin in the electrical board, disguising the fact that things are very bad indeed.

Because I belong to a group of writers and futurists, we are, of course, all discussing what precisely the kung-flu — xi disease — means, and how bad the outbreak actually is.

The funny thing is that everyone agrees that the official numbers are nonsense, but what the real numbers are, nobody knows.  And the difference is ludicrous, ranging from something like 1k to 13k.

As for percentage of infected, that’s even more nebulous, because no one is testing everyone.

So far it seems to be a wet petard outside China — which is good — as SARS was, as were other illnesses of the third world, such as Ebola.  OTOH one of the things we don’t really know is how long ago the outbreak started.  We also are a bit shaky on latency, as it seems possible that people are infected and infectious a long time without symptoms, (we know it’s some time, but not how much time.)

In fact, the truth is we know about as much about real facts on the ground as we know who really won the Democratic party Iowa caucus.  Which is to say very close to nothing.

Even witness reports contradict each other, ranging from bodies piled int he street, to everything completely normal, except for an overabundance of facial masks.  And of course, there are reasons to lie in both directions. Opponents of the regime might want to report more trouble than really exists, while those who are defending the regime might want to white wash the whole sorry mess.

Which brings us back to jamming coins in electrical boards, or removing batteries from fire alarms that are beeping because the battery is old — and yes, I know you’ve done that. I have too, when it’s the middle of the night and you don’t have another battery — and then leaving it like that: it reduces the number of alarms. It also, in the end, could cost you your life.

Totalitarian regimes, by definition, falsify information. Or silence it.

They present the outside a smooth, polished, best-case-scenario image. That’s the good side. The bad side is that what is actually going on inside is not known, either to the outside world, or to the inside.

Everyone who agitates for reductions or elimination of the First Amendment should ponder that.  Sure, words can be hurty and cause much anguish. As someone who is actually quite confrontation averse, I know that. Also, frankly, like the beeping alarm in the middle of the night, which denotes not fire but a low battery, they can mean pretty much nothing. A lot of speech that goes to rumors and innuendo with absolutely no substance — but enough about CNN — is like that alarm, annoying you and keeping you out of bed for no good reason.

So, why not curb the ability to call people bad things? Or to tell lies? Why not pass a law against fake news? Why not simply say that news can only be reported by licensed journalists held to strict standards?

Because no one ever needed a First Amendment in order to tell you the baby is pretty and that the clothes the king is wearing are wonderful.

If you put any curtailments on the First, you’re giving tyrants and people who would like to be tyrants the ability to stop information they don’t like.

And trust me on this, having worked in industries dominated by the left, it’s like a mini totalitarian regime. You constantly watch what you say and even your facial expressions, because any sign of dissent will be punished.  This means when people get up there and make blatantly political speeches you disagree with at a political banquet, you try to keep your face absolutely impassive.

Of course that means the idiot who got up there some years ago, and talked about how Howard Dean was our future president had no clue how many people he was offending.  Now in science fiction and at the time, it didn’t mean much. It’s not like any of us were going to say anything. We couldn’t get around the gatekeepers and continue making a living.

OTOH when that regime is country-wide (and it is, in a lot of countries. Even Canada has restrictions on speech) there can be real world consequences.  Say a law says your words can’t “cause panic” or “incite to harm.”

Like facebook’s famous “coordinating harm” interdiction which was used to prevent from typing the name Eric C*aramella, because apparently naming a fake whistleblower means we’re all going to show up at his house with clubs and broken bottles, (Ah, left, you project like an IMAX) that incitement to harm or causing panic can be used to, oh, say, prevent a doctor from revealing that there’s a pandemic running rampant. Or preventing people from knowing the magnitude of the disaster.

So…. what does it matter?

Ah, I’m glad you asked.  You see, in the past we could tolerate totalitarian regimes where truth was unknown and unknowable.

Mostly because, frankly, though there was global commerce, it was erratic and performed on horse/camel/elephant back or by ship.

Nowadays you could go around the world in 3 or 4 days (depending on your flights and resources.  But more importantly, merchandise and money does that.

The epidemic in China can affect our economy. It can also affect our medical resources, available to fight the epidemic (of all things, apparently most surgical masks are made in China. Which is a problem.) So even if it’s just confined to China for cultural or economic reasons?  We’re still going to feel the impact, and in an election year that could be very no bueno.

But what if the “epidemic” started much earlier, or we’re being lied to about…. well…. most of it?

What if it comes here?

Well? What if it does? We have no way of knowing or judging how bad it could be or how bad it could become.  (And you guys are prepared for a one-month quarantine at home, right? If not, why not? I mean, even if this is nothing, there’s always the possibility of future trouble.)

This is the problem of enmeshed world economies, the problem of globalism and open borders.  It is not only that when trouble hits we have no real way to seal the border. It’s the problem that even a disease like SARS or EBOLA which will not propagate in the West, if it crosses a certain threshold, will have economic consequences for the west.

I’ve said before that if we want open borders, we can’t have a welfare state. And as long as we have a welfare state, we need tight control on who might come in to — potentially — be a charge on citizens.

In the same way, if you want a global economy, with complete free trade, you cannot have totalitarian states. Because if you do, you’re putting the entire world at risk. It is not a coincidence either that epidemics and any kind of illness tend to kill a lot more people in states where information doesn’t flow freely. A great part of curbing illness in any herd, including the human herd is forewarning and preparing. If you can’t trust anything our of a country you do business with, what confidence and you deposit in their performance?

In an ideal world — and trust me, I’d love this — we could have a free flow of people and business everywhere.

But I have some time ago realized that wishing every country were open to scrutiny and allowed speech of all sorts, it’s sort of like wishing every man were a gentlemen and none of them committed rape, or that every woman be honest and truthful.  It’s a lovely idea, but one that will never happen, for is it not written, the bad apples shall always be with us?

In a world with bad apples, individuals and groups of individuals — all the way to nations — must protect themselves.

Which means, unfortunately, that not everyone can move around with perfect liberty, and that one cannot have commerce with countries that engage in totalitarian practices.

Because totalitarianism kills, sooner or later.

And we don’t want to go down with it.



Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike and Book Promo


Book Promo

*Note these are books sent to us by readers/frequenters of this blog.  Our bringing them to your attention does not imply that we’ve read them and/or endorse them, unless we specifically say so.  As with all such purchases, we recommend you download a sample and make sure it’s to your taste.  If you wish to send us books for next week’s promo, please email to bookpimping at outlook dot com. If you feel a need to re-promo the same book do so no more than once every six months (unless you’re me or my relative. Deal.) One book per author per week. Amazon links only. Oh, yeah, by clicking through and buying (anything, actually) through one of the links below, you will at no cost to you be giving a portion of your purchase to support ATH through our associates number. That helps defray my time cost of about 2 hours a day on the blog, time probably better spent on fiction. ;)*




Everywhere Evangeline looks, a thin coating of ice makes objects gleam in the sunlight. However, the beauty proves deceptive, for it hides a deadly secret, one only she can recognize.

In her youth, Evangeline had aspired ot master the powerful magics of her world. Those dreams died the day her Gift awakened uncontrolled and plunged her into a vision of a full fleet battle. The Admiral’s Gift will not be denied, and for Evangeline there was no choice but to trade her mage’s robes for Navy blue.

Now she is faced with an enemy she cannot fight save by magic. Except those who bear the Admiral’s gift are forever barred from working magic.


FROM ALMA T. C. BOYKIN:  Called to the Council: Shikari Book 6.



Wife, Mother—Councilor, Spy?

Auriga “Rigi” Bernardi-Prananda wants only to do her duty as wife and mother. The Staré natives of Shikhari call her guardian, Healer, and one of the Wise. With the leaders of the people divided, more and more lower Stamm Staré look to her for guidance.

A hunting trip turned war forces her hand. Trapped by Shikhari’s ancient enemy, Rigi must lead her people to safety. But who are her people? And how can she protect her children, both Human and Staré, from an enemy that hunts from shadow?

Rigi must call on all her resources as secrets in high places combine with low treachery to endanger the world she calls home. Artist, mother, huntress, Wise, Rigi navigates interstellar intrigue (and sibling spats, and wildlife with a dreadful sense of timing.)




It’s their world. He’s going to take it away from them.

The Apkallu are masters of magic. Theirs is a secret tradition stretching back to the dawn of civilization. They rule the world from the shadows, using mind control and deadly monsters to eliminate any threat to their power. If they know your name, or have a trace of your blood, you can never defy them.

Sam Arquero lost his family to a demon, and knew that nobody would believe the truth. An old man named Lucas offers him the chance to find out who is responsible, and bring down the Apkallu forever. All he has to do is join them . . .

Under a new identity Sam learns the secrets of magic, infiltrates the Apkallu, and walks a razor’s edge as he picks off their leaders while avoiding supernatural detectives on his trail.

But Sam faces a greater threat: As he fights monsters, what is he becoming?

At the publisher’s request, this title is sold without DRM (Digital Rights Management).


FROM MIKE WATSON:  The Beacon at Barrington Light: A Novella of the Tri-Cluster Confederation.


Marilee Harris is a Lighthouse Keeper for a subspace beacon at the edge of the Caledonian system, a lonely post some think is the worst possible assignment; she will be alone for a year. Marilee, however, doesn’t mind. She has another purpose, and the beacon provides a perfect laboratory for her research—until she suddenly disappears. Or, has she?

FROM T. L. KNIGHTON:  With Triumph And Disaster (Tommy Reilly Chronicles Book 3)


Alien life is theoretically possible, but what few signs of life are scattered through the universe are of primitive cultures that barely made it out of their own stone age, if that.

So when a big discovery threatens to shake the very foundations of xenoarcheology, it’s big news. The problem? Someone doesn’t want it discovered and they’re willing to kill to keep that from happening.

When an old friend asks Tommy Reilly and the crew of Sabercat to give them a hand, he can’t say no.

That’s when things get interesting.

Vignettes by Luke, Mary Catelli and ‘Nother Mike.

So what’s a vignette? You might know them as flash fiction, or even just sketches. We will provide a prompt each Sunday that you can use directly (including it in your work) or just as an inspiration. You, in turn, will write about 50 words (yes, we are going for short shorts! Not even a Drabble 100 words, just half that!). Then post it! For an additional challenge, you can aim to make it exactly 50 words, if you like.

We recommend that if you have an original vignette, you post that as a new reply. If you are commenting on someone’s vignette, then post that as a reply to the vignette. Comments — this is writing practice, so comments should be aimed at helping someone be a better writer, not at crushing them. And since these are likely to be drafts, don’t jump up and down too hard on typos and grammar.

If you have questions, feel free to ask.

Your writing prompt this week is: Song.

We Have Come To the End of Dreaming

The Fallen Caryatid Carrying her Stone c.1880-1, cast 1950 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

Recently, in a group I belong to, a lot of younger friends were talking about how adult life is drudgery and work and a lot of being kicked in the teeth again and again, before arriving to the end, broken and with nothing to show for it.

I won’t say they are wrong. I will just say they’re not right.

Dr. Peterson says that human life is tragic, and he’s right too. But he also gives instruction on how to live a life that lets you die in peace, with the certainty you have accomplished something.

A lot of human philosophies are about that. And you, know I have a friend who is an hospice care nurse, and she will absolutely tell you that there are hard deaths and “good deaths” for people of all religious persuasions and none. There is a way to live your life, not with no regrets, but knowing that you did the best you could, you tried the best you could, and you can now face eternity or nothing with a clear conscience.

What I do know is that it’s not “Those who die with the most toys win.” I know this because some of the most quickly-forgotten, reviled people I know were very wealthy. They were also impossible to live with.  Note the two are not necessarily the same. The rich man who can’t pass through the eye of the needle is his own breed, not just correlated to wealth as such.

Those who live only to accumulate power? That also doesn’t seem, in the end, to bring the kind of serene certainty you did what you could that you might describe as a good death.
I’ve always thought of those who scramble for power as scared people. They want power to control others, because they’re terrified of others, and therefore must be able to tell others how to live.  Dictator or family terror, these people usually die just as scared as they lived.

For years now, this has been the pattern I try to fit myself to, particularly because I’m TRULY unsuited to it. The neurotic personally of the writer doesn’t want to do anything QUIETLY. I want to rage, scream, and kick things like a Shakespearean villain (and some heroes.)


“For three thousand years architects designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures. At last Rodin pointed out that this was work too heavy for a girl. He didn’t say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must do this, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it. This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load. She’s a good girl-look at her face. Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods…and still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.

“But she’s more than good art denouncing bad art; she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, […] and victory.”


“Victory in defeat; there is none higher. She didn’t give up[…]; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. She’s a father working while cancer eats away his insides, to bring home one more pay check. She’s a twelve-year old trying to mother her brothers and sisters because Mama had to go to Heaven. She’s a switchboard operator sticking to her post while smoke chokes her and fire cuts off her escape. She’s all the unsung heroes who couldn’t make it but never quit.

—Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein (1961)

There is a danger in it too, mind you.  It is possible to become enamored of the thought of self-sacrifice and distort oneself while enabling others to be useless and never grow up.  This is a particular risk for us mothers, particularly those of us who literally love our kids more than ourselves. (Look, not all do, but some of us are broken that way.)

When I was in high school the first sentence I wrote in every notebook was “The important thing is not to be happy. It’s to be good for something.”  While there could be worse mottoes, my psychologist friends cringe when they hear that, and they’re not wrong.

So, what’s a good life?  I don’t know.  It’s probably different for everyone around, and each of us has different temptations to stray from it.  Look at what Heinlein said: those are good lives, well lived, even if you never heard those people’s name, and they’re buried in a pauper’s grave. OTOH there are probably people who think they’re doing that, while infantilizing their families and taking the brunt off life for people who can and should face it alone.

We all start out with dreams.  Big dreams, if we’re worth anything.  And it’s easy to dream really big when you know nothing about the world.  Particularly if you know you’re brighter than the average bear, and stronger too, and are willing to undergo work to get where you want to be.

Me? My first book was going to astound the world. I was that good.

Was I that good? Who the heck knows.  You can’t judge your own writing, anymore than you can judge your own beauty.  But I’ve read a lot of bestsellers (not all. Some do things I can’t figure out how to do. I’m working on it, damn it) who don’t write as well as I do. So, my assessment wasn’t all wrong. BUT — but — things only work out perfectly, ever, in dreams.  In reality I had to sell what the editors were willing to buy (and my first trilogy, while competent and — I THINK — decent of its kind, wasn’t even in the genre I like to write. (I can write just about anything, though.)) and it came out with the cover they chose, and the push they chose and the time couldn’t be more disastrous unless it had come out the day all books in the world caught fire simultaneously (which hasn’t happened, obviously.)

As a result my career has been — yes — a bunch of kicks in the teeth. But between them, there have been moments of shining pleasure and beauty. Usually not when the awards come or the book “sells better than expected” (Pfui) but when I create it and see that it’s good (of its kind and for what I wanted to do.)

My writing will be forgotten ten minutes after I’m dead, probably, but I’m doing it as well as I can, and I’m NOT QUITTING.  It will never be a shining thing of immortal beauty, because that only happens in dreams.

In reality the actions and decisions of others get a say.  And yes, life is often unfair and horrible. So far I’ve been blessed with a much beloved husband who loves me too. (No, he’s not the redheaded astronaut I fantasized about as a young teen. You know what? NOT sorry at all for that.)  I’ve been blessed with two sons who are good people, and probably both more grown up and sane than I am by now.  And I haven’t lost any of the three of them, and I’ve never gone naked or so hungry I couldn’t bear it. AND because my husband loves me, I get to work at what I want to, to which success is secondary.

But in a chaotic system there’s no such thing as “fair.”

I was lucky in another way, now I think about it. At 33 I spent 11 days in ICU with pneumonia. All the doctors told me I was going to die.

It clarifies the mind enormously.

I wasn’t sorry I’d die poor-ish or that I’d never won awards, or that I’d never got the accolades of the writing world (I wasn’t even published, though I’d sold a short story, and the magazine went under.)

Two things bothered me: I’d be leaving my husband in a difficult position, with two very young children to raise (4 and 1.)  And I’d never written even one book in the multi-connected world I’d dreamed about since I was a little kid. I had several novels written in my head, that I’d never share with anyone.

Those two things were what ate at me.  And it will tell you something about traditional publishing and compromises that I’m only now starting to write in that universe, now that I’m indie:  Schrodinger worlds. I will probably have to have a diagram on my writer page, because even “date” unless it’s “Earth date” is a matter of opinion in that one.  The one thing I know is that I might die with only some books out, but I can’t face dying with none of them out.

What else is important to me? Making sure my kids are “flying free.”  I.e. that they have the tools needed, and are working at something they love and preferably married to someone who is right for them. (One down, one to go. Yes, real marriage is also difficult and often you struggle with it, but the good ones make you better than you’d be on your own. They will literally make you a better person, and more capable of achieving whatever it is you need to achieve. I think older son has that. I know I do.)

That was actually what clarified it for me. Because I love my sons very much, what I wish for them is the best and that is: Satisfying work one feels is important; a life-partner whom one loves and who strives with us and themselves to make both better; children if possible, because love grows and because humanity must go on; the courage to accept one’s own limitations and live past the times when death kicks you in the teeth again and again.

In Heyer’s book A Civil Contract, she has the main character, after breaking (of necessity) with his fiance and agreeing to marry a rich woman (actually long after that, when the first fiance marries someone else) thinking “He had come to the end of dreaming.”

But by then it is clear to the reader that the lost fiance was the worst possible match for him, and that this dream in his head is a fantasy. He’d have been miserable with her.  While the wife he’s forced to marry makes him happy (and BETTER) in ways he could not have dreamed of.

Yes, it’s a romance, and Heyer is not “realistic about the relationships between men and women” say the intellectual midgets. But she IS realistic about life.

Sometimes the most worthy things are done only when you come to the end of dreaming.  It feels like your guts are ripped out whole, but it is what’s known as “adulthood.”

And at that point, knowing you’re too weak for that damn stone the builders expect you to lift, and that it will inevitably crush you, if you try to lift it ANYWAY, you will win, even as it crushes you.

she’s a symbol for every woman who ever shouldered a load too heavy. But not alone women—this symbol means every man and woman who ever sweated out life in uncomplaining fortitude, until they crumpled under their loads. It’s courage, […] and victory.”


“Victory in defeat; there is none higher. She didn’t give up[…]; she’s still trying to lift that stone after it has crushed her. – Robert A. Heinlein.

Go and lift. Go do the most worthy thing you can conceive of, no matter how hard.

And you’ll win. Even if you lose.



Still Here

Battling the forces of evil. Some poetry for a Friday morning. Pardon the religious overtones, it’s still a beautiful poem. If it helps, it is about a saint, so those are inevitable.
A warrior saint.




Deu-me Deus o seu gladio, por que eu faça

A sua santa guerra.

Sagrou-me seu em honra e em desgraça,

As horas em que um frio vento passa

Por sobre a fria terra.

Pôs-me as mãos sobre os ombros e doirou-me

A fronte com o olhar;

E a esta febre de Além, que me consome,

E este querer grandeza são seu nome

Dentro em mim a vibrar.

E eu vou, e a luz do gladio erguido dá

Em minha face calma.

Cheio de Deus, não temo o que virá,

Pois, venha o que vier, nunca será

Maior do que a minha alma – Fernando Pessoa.

D. Fernando, Infant of Portugal

G-d gave me his gladius, that I make
His Holy War
He anointed me His in honor and disgrace
At the hours in which a cold wind blows
Across the cold Earth
He put His hands on my shoulders And gilded
My brow with His glance;
And this fever for Beyond that consumes me
This striving for greatness
Are His name
Vibrating within me
I go, and the light of the lifted gladius falls
Upon my calm face
Full of G-d I fear not what shall come
For come what might
It will never be
Larger than my soul. – Fernando Pessoa

And since I’m in a poem mood, I tried and failed to find my copy of my one book of Reiner Kunze’s poem, so this is just a vague allusion to his poem for which he should not be blamed. Though it was a favorite and I memorized it at one point, it is a 30-year old poem in German.  Take it as such. The clumsiness is mine.
I couldn’t find a copy on line. Somehow it has gotten confused with another poem and that’s what Good Reads lists the title as for a poem that’s actually Abundance From An Empty Creel.


For any brilliance in this, credit Kunze. For any clumsiness, blame me and my memory which I’m sure misremembers and mistranslates things. But what I remember is this:

Things of Clay

We wanted to be like things of clay
Going to the tables of humble people
Working for those who
At five in the morning
Drink coffee in the kitchen.

We shall be as the shards
Of things of clay
Never again whole
But perhaps
A glimmer in the wind.angel-3051233_1280