kathmandu: Photo of markers that write glittery ink in rainbow colors. (Glitter pens)
Today, in honor of Ada Lovelace, world's first computer programmer, I have a book to recommend. It is Druid's Blood, by Esther Friesner, and it may be hard to find; I've only ever seen one copy of it.

It's a mystery novel, but set in an alternate universe where magic works. Queen Victoria rules England by right of her druidic heritage, and Sherlock Holmes applies logical analysis to magical crimes. I highly recommend it.

When I read the Sherlock Holmes canon as a child, Holmes struck me as a man for whom sexuality was almost never an active element of his life: he lived a life of the mind, and practically never met anyone who could meet him on that level. Even his best friend trailed loyally after him going, "Wait, what?" There was a serious lack of anyone he could really fully engage with.

So I was charmed by a minor plot element of Druid's Blood, in which Sherlock Holmes meets Ada Lovelace and is mildly smitten with her. Of course she was the perfect candidate: a woman of his time who was as logically analytical as he was.
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If you thought Avatar had some good material but didn't do much with it, you might like these stories better.

1) Code of the Lifemaker, by James P. Hogan: a quite different take on encountering another civilization with Stuff We Want, and choosing sides. Includes a proposal to use the aliens as avatars with which to explore the new world, but rejects it.

2) A much more thoroughly grounded take on nature rising up to repel invasion: Pennterra, by Judith Moffat. I think of this as Quakers in Space. It's very neat, quite reflective, has no violence, but cut for sexual squickiness ).

3) Islandia, by Austin Tappan Wright. Our hero journeys to a little-known civilization, decideds to stay and assimilate, but without falling for the Exotic Foreign Women plot-device. If you like long narrative description and world-building, this is for you.

4) Fire in a Faraway Place, by Robert Frezza. Mercenaries sent by a corporation to put down a freedom movement on a corporation-owned planet. The mercenaries took a good look at the situation and switched sides. This is a very grim story about fighting a war of resistance against an opponent who comes from far away but has a lot more total resources.
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I didn't see any of Leverage last year, not even any commercials for it; but the fan reviews I read motivated me to try this season's episodes. I started with S2 E1, the Beantown Bailout Job. You know the scene in the bar after the play, when they're all saying What I Did on My Summer Vacation? ("...we are doing some very hinky things in Pakistan." "And what did you do, Elliot?" "I was in Pakistan." ) And they're all saying how bored they are, committing regular old crime, how it was so much more fun being good guys and having daring adventures? That's when I realized: These are the heirs of the Saint.

You may have seen the movie starring Val Kilmer. Ignore that. It didn't convey the mood of the Saint canon at all. The movie was violent and grim and desperate. The book Saint tended to smile, even in straits that seemed grim to the lay eye, because he saw it all as a game; he was having fun.

The Saint was a con man's con man. He would fall into conversation with a clever man who had this nifty device to extract gold from the air, or some such, and who just needed a little capital for the patent fees...and the encounter would end with the clever man completely cleaned out of money and the Saint strolling away whistling.

He didn't identify exactly as a con man. He described himself as a buccaneer: pirate, or maybe closer to privateer. He was comfortable and competent at fighting, picking locks, shadowing people... oh, just read the author's own description (from Catch the Saint)

In the course of his good works, of which he himself was not the smallest beneficiary, the man so paradoxically called the Saint had assumed many roles and placed himself in such a fantastic variety of settings that the adventures of a Sinbad or a Ulysses had by comparison all the excitement of a housewife's trip to the market. His range was the world. His identities had encompassed cowboy and playboy, poet and revolutionary, hobo and millionaire. The booty he had gathered in his years of buccaneering had certainly made the last category genuine: The assets he had salted away would have made headlines if they had been exposed to counting. He could have comfortably retired at an age when most men are still angling for their second promotion. But strong as the profit motive was as a factor in his exploits, there were other drives which would never allow him to put the gears of his mind permanently in neutral and hang up his heels on the stern rail of a yacht. He had an insatiable lust for action, in a world that squandered its energies on speeches and account books. He craved the individual expression of his own personal ideals, and his rules were not those of parliaments and judges but those of a man impatient to accomplish his purposes, according to his own lights, by the most effective means available at the moment.

He pulled some capers for himself, some to help out other individuals, and a few against major villains who were a threat to the general welfare. He was mainly UK-based, although when the author, Leslie Charteris, started traveling to the U.S. and dealing with Hollywood, the Saint did too.

The canon runs from 1928 through most of the rest of the 20th century, the exact end date depending on whether you count collaborations or licensed works. I can particularly recommend the short stories collected in The Saint Intervenes (1934) as giving a good view of his cheerful style and varied activities.

(Crossposted to [community profile] what_ho_chaps.)
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
...we sat down to watch the news. A bad mistake. Internationally, things were terrible. Assassinations, wars, and did I really need to see (1) the bodies from an Indian flood and (2) the remains from a huge chemical explosion and (3) a sniper on a Palestinian roof? Why show me these terrible images? In the interests of more nightmares? Our domestic news included murders, rapes, suspicious deaths and a few merry car crashes. Who defines disasters as news? Who, indeed, actually wants to see these things? Did anyone ask us? I don't remember anyone asking me.

Sickened, we slotted in a Buffy DVD. These are contained disasters and known horrors. And good, mostly, wins in the end.

(Devil's Food, by Kerry Greenwood, p.115-116. Poisoned Pen Press, 2009.)

This is why I like fantasy: we can have happy endings. Actually, that's what I look for in fiction in general. Real life is full of horrors and distress that can't be fixed because they're in the past, or because no one of good will has the power to influence the situation. But fiction offers a happy resolution.

The quotation above is from a modern mystery series set in Australia. Our heroine is a baker and doesn't have a lot of free time, and I was tickled to discover she was a Buffy fan.

The author gets extra brownie points from me because our heroine is fat, absolutely fine with it, and has a boyfriend who thinks she's hot.
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
There were movies about Pippi, based on books by Astrid Lindgren, and I loved them all when I was little. Pippi was The Girl Who Never Heard That She Couldn't Do Something, the strongest girl in the world, and that included being stronger than grownups. She lived in her own house, with her monkey and her horse, and she made friends with a couple of normal children named Tommy and Annika, and completely rocked their world. She was one of my heroes.

Astrid Lindgren also wrote some other things. I can recommend Ronia, the Robber's Daughter. Ronia was the daughter of a mountain bandit, and when she grew old enough to be allowed out of the house, into the wild and dangerous woods, her father warned her to "watch out" for the forest's dangers, and her mother told her that the local predators got more aggressive if they could smell your fear, so the best thing was not to be frightened.

And in the days that followed, Ronia watched out for what was dangerous and practiced not being frightened. She was to be careful not to fall into the river, Matt had said, so she hopped, skipped, and jumped warily over the slippery stones along the riverbank, where the river rushed most fiercely. She was to stay by the waterfalls. To reach them, she had to climb down Matt's Mountain, which fell in a sheer drop to the river. That way she could also practice not being frightened. The first time it was difficult; she was so frightened that she had to shut her eyes. But bit by bit she became more daring, and soon she knew where the crevices were, where she could place her feet, and where she had to cling with her toes in order to hang on and not pitch backward into the rushing water.

What luck, she thought, to find a place where she could both watch out that she didn't fall in and practice not being frightened!

So her days passed. Ronia watched out and practiced more than Matt and Lovis knew, and in the end she was like a healthy little animal, strong and agile and afraid of nothing. Not of gray dwarfs, not of wild harpies, not of getting lost in the forest, and not of falling into the river. So far she had not begun to watch out for Hell's Gap, but she planned to start soon.

Ronia is for more advanced readers than the Pippi books. It's a bit darker and includes slightly more mature subjects, like romance and feuds.

Now [personal profile] noracharles has started a community for Astrid Lindgren fanfic. It's called [community profile] bullerbyn, and so far has posts in English, Swedish, and German. If you're a Lindgren fan, I encourage you to check it out.


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