Monday, June 29, 2015

venturing into space

A friend replied to last week’s post, where I was puzzling over whether my book Green Blood Rising belongs in the science fiction category. She reminded me of its similarity to John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, and said that his book has always been classified as sci/fi. So I’m not going to worry about it any more. Not even a little bit!

I started to read science fiction a few years ago and found, as with fantasy, that some of it I love and some of it I hate. So far, I like Jack L. Chalker and some of Robert Heinlein and just bought a series of three by Jack Vance, who is, like the other two, an old hand at science fiction.

As for fantasy, which I’ve loved ever since I read Lord of the Rings, my all-time favorite author (which means I will read everything and anything she writes) is Sheri S. Tepper. Running a very close second is Ursula LeGuin. I like some of David Eddings’ work and I loved The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. Another absolutely top-notch writer is Charles de Lint, a Canadian writer who lives in deepest Ontario. I loved his first two or three books, but he now writes mostly urban fantasy, which I don’t care for. The ‘fantasy’ is fine, but the ‘urban’ I can do without!

So, now that the Green Blood Rising series is done, I’m working on a science fiction story written by a scientist friend. I’m editing and rewriting and loving every minute of it because my friend does know how to tell a story. This project will take some time because the mass of material will probably translate into at least three books. The tentative series title is The Centuries. This is very definitely science fiction. Spaceships! Aliens! Moving planets! Buried cities!

And now I must get back to work. Or is that “spaced out”?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

busy as a beaver

Very industrious or hardworking, good at multitasking.

Several similar expressions exist: ‘busy as a bee,’ ‘busy as a one-armed paperhanger,’ ‘busy as Grand Central Station,’ ‘busy as a cat on a hot tin roof,’ ‘busy as popcorn on a skillet.’

I’d suggest that the phrase developed naturally from observing the beaver in action. It’s seen as extremely industrious, because of the way it constructs its own habitat. In order to build the elaborate dams and lodgings that beavers need to keep safe, they have to fall many trees by gnawing on them until they topple.

The phrase is an example of a type of “personification” or matching of humans to animals and vice versa.

As for me, I'm learning new software so I can put up my own web page, so I'm as busy as a beaver and a cat on a hot tin roof combined!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

and now for something completely different

It’s the summer solstice, an event I always celebrate, sometimes by hugging a Garry oak or an arbutus, two of the loveliest trees on this glorious northwest coast. This year I’m celebrating by riffing off Monty Python and starting something new.

As much as I love our funny, frustrating, and fascinating language and finding out where they came from, I also love the world of books and I have decided to make space for that on Sundays. Not to mention that I sometimes have opinions about a few other things, too!

Here’s a question I’ve been kicking around for some time now. When I published Green Blood Rising, the first book in my Green Blood Rising series, to Amazon and Smashwords, I had to choose a category for it. I chose ‘science fiction’ but I’m not sure that classification is accurate. 

The setting (a semi-rural area on Vancouver Island) and the characters are all realistic. No talking animals, no magic. No vampires, no zombies.

The only exception is the action of the trees. They acquire a much stronger electrical system and also begin to shoot up in all the places they flourished before humans took over so much of the planet. Therefore, they destroy roads, farms, and buildings. This creates utter disaster for my characters, but the action they take is realistic.

So, is it science fiction? Fantasy? Or simply a good story? 

This last question reminds me of a friend who likes to receive books for her birthday. When I ask her what categories she would prefer, she shrugs and says, “I don’t care. I just want a good story.”

I think that means I should read the book before I give it to her, but then, who can know whether ‘a good story’ is a phrase that means the same to both of us?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

between a rock and a hard place

The dilemma of being in a position where one is faced with two equally unwelcome options.

Humans frequently end up in such a dilemma and there are several phrases that express this predicament. These include 'on the horns of a dilemma,' 'the lesser of two evils,’ 'between the devil and the deep blue sea,' 'between Scylla and Charybdis,' and 'an offer you can't refuse.'

This phrase originated in the USA in the early part of the 20th century, though it’s a variation on a phrase that exists in several forms in other cultures.

In 1917 the lack of funding precipitated by the earlier banking crisis led to a dispute between copper mining companies and mineworkers in Bisbee, Arizona. The workers, some of whom had organized in labor unions, approached the company management with demands for better pay and conditions. These were refused and subsequently many workers at the Bisbee mines were forcibly deported to New Mexico.

It may be possible, given that the mineworkers were faced with a choice between harsh and underpaid work at the rock-face on the one hand and unemployment and poverty on the other, that this event was the source of the phrase. It certainly began to be used frequently in US newspapers in the late 1930s.

An apt recent example of the use of the expression, is Aron Ralston's book 127 Hours: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. The memoir recounts the 127 hours that Ralston spent alone and trapped by a boulder in a remote and narrow Utah canyon after a climbing accident, eventually opting for the hard choice of freeing himself by cutting off part of his right arm with a pocket knife.

I’m glad that most of us don’t ever have to face anything that dire.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

military salute

There have been several soldiers and sailors in my family and doing a ‘proper’ salute was always regarded as important. The best explanation of the origin of the military salute is as follows, written by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps Historian, Fort Lee, Virginia.

No one knows the precise origin of today’s hand salute. From earliest times and in many distant armies throughout history, the right hand (or ‘weapon hand’) has been raised as a greeting of friendship. The primitive idea may have been to show that you weren't ready to use a rock or other weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first. Certainly there is some connection between this old gesture and our present salute.

One romantic legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another even more fantastic version is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament.

The military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time it was rendered with both hands. In old prints one may see left-handed salutes. In some instances the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the cap visor with the other.

The following explanation of the origin of the hand salute is perhaps closest to the truth: It was a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army as late as the American Revolution a soldier saluted bv removing his hat. But with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute.

As early as 1745 (more than two-and-a-half centuries ago) a British order book states that: "The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass."

Whatever the actual origin of today’s hand salute, clearly in the tradition of the US Army it has always been used to indicate a sign of RESPECT – further recognition that in the profession of arms military courtesy is both a right and a responsibility of every soldier.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Short takes

Tetrabiblios: This means  'four books’ and is a text on the philosophy and practice of astrology, written in the 2nd century AD by the Alexandrian scholar, Claudius Ptolemy.

Defenestrate: to throw a person or thing out the window.

Collywobbles: fear, apprehension, intestinal disturbances. (The coinage may have been based on ‘colic’ and ‘wobble.’)

Spondulicks: money, cash

Quidnunc: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip, a gossip or busybody

Mortgage: from the French words “mort” (death), and “gage” (pledge), meaning you pledge to pay it until you’re dead.

Sniper: the verb "to snipe" originated in the 1770s among soldiers in British India where a hunter skilled enough to kill the elusive snipe was dubbed a ‘sniper’. The term sniper was first attested in 1824 in the sense of the word ‘sharpshooter.’

Cobweb: The Middle English word for ‘spider’ was ‘coppe,’ thus ‘cob.’ 

And my brain has been full of cobwebs today. No spiders, though!

Sunday, June 7, 2015


The original meaning: a legendary creature or hobgoblin comparable to the bogeyman or other creatures of folklore, all of which were historically used in some cultures to frighten disobedient children. The modern meaning is more along the lines of:
-any source, real or imaginary, of needless fright or fear
-a persistent problem or source of annoyance

The name is derived from a Middle English word ‘bugge’ (a frightening thing), or perhaps the old Welsh word ‘bwg’ (evil spirit or goblin),  or old Scots ‘bogill’ (goblin). In medieval England, the Bugbear was depicted as a creepy bear that lurked in the woods to scare children. It was described in this manner in an English translation of a 1565 Italian play The Buggbear.

In a modern context, the term bugbear serves as a metaphor for something which is annoying or irritating, as does hobgoblin, often with a connotation that the fear or loathing it inspires is disproportionate to its small importance. It may also mean pet peeve.

Mosquitoes are my pet bugbear.