There is a conspiracy here, and I will seek it out!

Whenever I tell Ian it's time to fold his laundry or feed the cats or clean up his dishes or whatever, he talks wistfully about how he wishes he were a wizard (like Harry Potter) so that he could use a wand to take care of the task. And many's the time he has expressed the wish that he could fly. Me, too. Flying would be cool. Or being invisible. There are so many desirable gifts in the realm of fantasy. But I have to say that if I were given my choice, I would choose the ability to learn languages easily.

Pazel Pathkendle is my kind of guy. I mean, he speaks about 20 languages. Being multilingual has always been a goal of mine, although it's taking me a long time to achieve it. I finally decided that, even though I may not ever be able to fluently speak 12 languages (my goal ever since I read somewhere that Hugh Nibley spoke that many), I could probably learn at least to read that many.

Of course, Pazel has it easier: his mom cast a spell on him that enables him to automatically know a language as soon as he hears it. On the other hand, there is the one drawback of the 24-hour (or so) babbling madness that comes on afterwards. I don't know if I'd be willing to put up with that.

Pazel's gift with languages, as well as his other intellectual abilities and his skill as a mariner, make him a perfect hero for the adventurous mystery (or mysterious adventure) recounted in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V S Redick.

The story takes place mostly on the great ship Chathrand, where Pazel is a tarboy and which is the scene of a deeply secret conspiracy that threatens to bring on a tumultuous war and the destruction of the known world. Almost by accident (but perhaps not quite, it seems), Pazel, Thasha (a reluctant bride-to-be sailing on the Chathrand toward a politically motivated arranged marriage), and a group of their associates (including a 12-inch tall warrior woman and a talking rat) become involved in the efforts to expose the conspiracy.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy reminds me in a way of the classic adventure stories I used to read by Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, etc, and even the Tintin stories. It is, quite frankly, one of the most interesting and enjoyable books I've read in the last several years. It has almost everything I look for in a book: adventure, mystery, intriguing characters, credible character development, lots of action, a complex conspiracy, philosophical quandaries, sailing, an intelligent heroine who is not merely a token female in a male-dominated story, a wonderfully imagined and detailed world, believable magic that seems a natural part of that world, and talking animals.

But wait, there's more! The book is also very well written, and I give a thousand thanks to Redick for his well-crafted writing. Through the language, Redick is able to recreate the mood of those older adventure stories, and he does so with such realism as to evoke in the reader a sense of really being there. While reading about the Chathrand, for instance, I could sense how the deck planks would feel beneath my feet, and the odor of hot tar, and the roughness of the huge ropes in my hands. The book is a joy to read on every level.

P.S. It's the first in a series, and I am really looking forward to further volumes.


We'll always be safe as long as Wonder Woman is around.

I wonder why the Wonder Woman film that's been "in development" for the last eight years still hasn't made any progress, even though she's a fan favorite for having her own feature film. I wonder why, after eight years, a usable script hasn't even been written. And I wonder why a perfectly cool script about Wonder Woman during World War II (her original milieu, by the way) was bought by one of the producers so that it wouldn't be used.

And I wonder why the powers that be are so reticent to go ahead with a superhero film featuring a female with super powers. And lastly I wonder why DC doesn't try to appeal to a wider readership by giving her the stories she is due (and I say "due" meaning DC itself thinks she's due, because they include her in their "Top Three", along with Batman and Superman), instead of trying to broaden her appeal by objectifying her even more than she already has been (I would post pictures to prove my last point, but I don't want to spread what I consider a negative message). I wonder so much I think I must be Wonder Woman.


I want a little less singing, and a little more sailing

I've always wished I knew how to sail. I think my interest in sailing was ignited when I read The Lion's Paw when I was a kid. I've talked about this book before, but I'll just mention again that it was so exciting to read about three kids on a boat - by themselves, with no adults - having adventures. What a life!

Other books along the way have helped keep the dream alive for me, among them Treasure Island, Swallows and Amazons, The Wind in the Willows (dear Ratty!), The Sea Wolf, Spring Tides, and Admiral of the Ocean Sea. That last title may be a little strange as a choice, but I really wanted to sail around the Caribbean after reading it.

Oh, another of my favorite sailing books (although it's on a river and there is no actual sailing) is Mr Gumpy's Outing. It's a classic.

What brought this up is two things: 1) I recently finished reading The Red Wolf Conspiracy, a wonderful fantasy/mystery/adventure that takes place on a sailing ship (I'll post my review soon), and 2) I came across a literary sailing quiz at the Bottom Shelf today. I was sorting and pricing books, and inside one of them (a sailing mystery called The Riddle of the Sands) was this quiz.

Give it a try if you like. Match the name of the ship to the correct description. (Incidentally, I only got half of them right.)

The Ships:
a. the Essex
b. the Patna
c. SMS Konigen Luise
d. the Hispaniola
e. HMS Bellipotent
f. HMS Compass Rose
g. the Antelope
h. the Nautilus
i. Captain Nemo (not a ship, but whatever)
j. Orca

The Questions:
1. What is the name of the vessel in Jules Verne's novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea?
2. Who captains the vessel in question 1?
3. In which ship was Gulliver shipwrecked when he discovered Lilliput in Gulliver's Travels?
4. Long John Silver was hired as a cook (although secretly he was a pirate) on what ship in the book Treasure Island?
5. This ship is featured in Herman Melville's novel Billy Budd.
6. What was the name of the real-life ship that was sunk by a sperm whale, inspiring Herman Melville to write Moby Dick?
7. At the end of Jaws by Peter Benchley, a fishing boat is destroyed by the shark. What was the boat's name?
8. In Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim, which ship did Lord Jim abandon in a storm, causing him great guilt and resulting in a court martial? (btw, on the quiz it was spelled "court marshal". Haha)
9.What was the name of the ship in Nicholas Monserrat's novel The Cruel Sea?
10. In The African Queen by C S Forester, what is the name of the German gunboat that Charlie Allnut and Rose Seyer plan to sink?

The Answers:
1. h
2. i
3. g
4. d
5. e
6. a
7. j
8. b
9. f
10. c


I'm programmed for etiquette, not destruction!

What would you do if the core of your civilization - a city containing the repository of human knowledge - were suddenly to be destroyed? I've pondered this question off and on throughout my life, and I think what I'd do is stockpile flour. That way I could always have hot buttered toast no matter what. Oh, and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

So you should probably not ask me that question. Instead, I think you should read Lamentation, a recently published book written by Ken Scholes. It came out a couple of weeks before The Warded Man, and both of them were highly anticipated and touted by critics. Well, somehow, The Warded Man is the one that's getting nominated for awards, but if the universe were a just and fair place in which to reside, it would be the other way around.

Lamentation is a beautifully written book (the first in a series of five called The Psalms of Isaak) that starts off with a bang: the sudden, nuclear-bomb-like destruction of Windwir, the capital city of the medievaloid Named Lands, where advanced technology is a thing of ages past (and where the moon, having been terraformed or something millennia ago, shines down with a blue and green light!), but where the knowledge of that past has been carefully sought after and preserved by a religious order, the Androfrancines. What happens after the devastating loss of the Androfrancine city and its vast library - who perpetrated this act and why, and what it means for the future - is the concern of the characters in the book.

The story is told through the eyes of several "main" characters: Neb, a young Androfrancine acolyte who is probably the only eye-witness to the event; Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses, who does what he can to restore what was lost; Jin Li Tam, at first a sexual/political tool of her father, who later comes to reject him and ally herself with Rudolfo; and Petronus (I think that's his name; I don't have the book anymore), an ex-Androfrancine pope who faked his own death to get away from it all, but who is forced to reconsider his decision in the aftermath of the conflagration. There are a couple of other more minor narrative viewpoints, but we do not hear the inner voice of one of the most intriguing and poignant characters in the book: Isaak - a "mechoservitor" or mechanical man who carried out the destruction of Windwir after having been nefariously reprogrammed to utter the Seven Cacophonic Deaths - is seen only through the eyes of the other characters.

One of the teachings of the Androfrancine Order is the concept of a Whymer Maze, an intricate maze that, I gather, can be symbolic for one's path in life. Reading Lamentation was like making your way through a Whymer Maze: you don't always really see what's coming, and then you turn a corner and something unexpected is revealed, some new pathway, changing your perspective of the entire picture. And the story is one of a maze within a maze, as the characters in the book realize that they have been following certain paths, led as one might be led by a maze, to an inevitable center point.

I want to reiterate how beautifully the book is written. The story starts off with the catastrophic explosion, but then goes on to unfold at a contrastingly slower pace than one might expect. And although the action picks up quickly enough, there is a kind of thoughtful stillness and sadness that permeates the tone of the whole book. It is, after all, titled Lamentation, and it is written as one.

I do have one quibble. And it is connected to one of my favorite complaints about literature in general, i.e., the depiction of women. So if you don't want to hear about that (again), skip the rant.

Why are so many fantasy novels written by men so cruel-to/dismissive-of/stereotyped-in-their-depiction-of-women? Would it kill ya to not have the single main female character be a concubine/prostitute/sexual-tool of her father/brother/warlord/king? I'm not saying women have never been concubines and never been used as tools. In some societies, that was often the only way women could wield power and influence, and so they did it, and sometimes they even did it willingly. But for crying out loud, is that the only kind of woman character fantasy writers know how to write?

As one of only two named female characters among a host of male characters (and I'm trying to remember if there were even any unnamed female characters of note - I don't think so), Jin Li Tam was at first a disappointment to me. "Not another tool," I thought, shaking my head. But she improved upon acquaintance, and by the end of the book she - along with Rudolfo and Isaak - was one of my favorite characters.

I don't add many books to my personal library nowadays. I have my favorites from days of yore, but I'm generally not overly impressed with modern stuff. Lamentation surprised me a little by making me wonder if I shouldn't get a copy for my shelves.

Which brings me back to my original question. If I was truly worried about the imminent destruction of society, I'd stockpile books. And lots and lots of chocolate.


You can't cast aspersions on someone just because they're wearing a cape

I met Steven in the first grade. I had just transferred to a new school half way through the year after my family moved, so I didn't know anyone. Steven says that, at our first encounter, I took his jacket and threw it on top of the softball backstop. I don't remember that, but somehow (in spite of any such imagined cruelty on my part) we became friends. We frequently ended up in the same classes at school, and shared other interests (like marbles, and music, and memorizing all the US presidents by quizzing each other from his collection of milk bottle caps that were imprinted with their portraits), and we maintained our friendship off and on until high school, when we drifted apart. We still saw each other on occasion, but we had different interests. After high school, we did a few things together, and then he moved to Los Angeles or Mars or somewhere. Except for a bit of catching up at our 10-year high school reunion, I knew not whither he had gone or what he was up to.

Then, decades later, through the miracle of Facebook, Steve contacted me. Isn't it amazing to meet up (virtually or in reality) with old friends? I think it is. I think old friends are wonderful because you can get together and talk like nothing has happened in the intervening years. There's a kind of loyalty in friends like that that I really admire. And that's partly why I got so angry when I was looking recently at a graphic novel called "The Dark Knight Returns". I thumbed through it and I may be wrong but I got the very strong impression that Batman was trying to kill Superman, in a very cruel way. What is up with that?

I don't read comic books or graphic novels much anymore. But I used to. Once when I went to Steve's house, I noticed that he had stacks and stacks of comic books. He loaned some of them to me, and I got hooked on a few series. I had already read plenty of comics as a youth (and the Batman and Superman tv series were viewing staples for me - in fact, I went through a phase where I wanted to be Robin), but Steve's example inspired me to begin collecting on my own. My specialty was Wonder Woman, although I liked a few other things, like the Fantastic Four, Hawkman, Huntress, and Batman and Superman, of course.

It all came to a crashing halt back in the 80s when DC did that crazy series where they destroyed the superhero universe and killed off (among others) Wonder Woman. I was so angry I just walked away from it all. I gave my Wonder Woman collection to my younger sister (actually, all my sisters are younger sisters) and never looked back. I bet I haven't read more than 3 or 4 comics since then.

Thumbing through "The Dark Knight Returns" made me glad I had made that decision. Seeing Batman and Superman at odds like that is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It would be like if Steve and I met up again after so many years and I took his head and threw it on top of some softball backstop.

I am definitely a Golden/Silver Age type comic book fan. I still go to the superhero film adaptations (except I haven't seen the film called "Dark Knight". I think there's some crossover contamination from that horrid graphic novel in my reluctance to see the film), but I don't have much to do with the comics anymore.

Batman: War on Crime

Superman: Peace on Earth

So who's your favorite superhero or heroine?