Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits

Monday, May 31, 2010

I'd never read anything by Peter Dickinson before, but Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. So, when I spotted Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by the two of them at the library, I had to pick it up. Three of the five stories blew me away, enough that even though the other two were less interesting, I want a copy of this book.

Hellhound by McKinley is a prime example of what happens when you flip a preconception. You don't think of hellhounds as being cute, companiable creatures. Certainly not pitiable. But that's what Miri sees when she spots the chestnut-red dog with the sad scarlet eyes huddled in its cage at the pound, many times rejected by prospective owners. He responds well to her overtures. Looking for a dog who would be good at the family stable for protection and could be trusted to behave around the horses, cats, and the students who came came for horse riding lessons, she declares that he is just the dog she wants.
"It's only that he's a hellhound," Miri said. "That's why he has those eyes. I'll take him."

She is closer to the truth than she realizes. Flame settles into his new home as Miri's trusted companion. And on a eerie storm-struck day, the hellhound proves both his heritage and his allegiance to Miri and her family. This story gave me tingles. Its coolness factor helped make up for the less interesting story that opened the book.

Salamander Man was the only one of Dickinson's that really gripped me. Tib is a slave boy with no knowledge of his parents. His primary duty is to help with Aunt Ellida's stall, watching for sneak-thieves and trouble-makers, something he is very good at doing. He can also spot a magician from a long way off, from the way that crowds never quite touched them and always moved aside without even being aware of the effect. But he never expected one to take an interest in him. He certainly never expected what happened after the magician bought him.

Part of what is neat with this story, besides the engaging style, is the surprise at the end. I thought I understood what was going on and found out I was wrong in a very cool way.

First Flight by McKinley is more of a novelette or maybe a novella, taking the latter half of the book by itself. This story is the reason it has taken so long to post this review. I could go read this story again right now.

In just the first couple pages you already get a sense of the culture Ern grew up in. Most important is the fact that no one wants to associate with a known healer. It's a loss of face to be treated by one, that even unavoidable injuries are considered a mark of shame, illnesses as a sign of weakness. If you must have a healer's help, you go in secret. Few people will even risk saying "good day" to a known healer for fear of wrong conclusions being drawn. Because of this attitude, most wizards refuse to have anything to do with healing, despite its necessity.

Ern's greatest desire is to a healer anyway.

Ralas is not like most wizards, in more ways than one. She has no problem with doing the occasional healing and doesn't mind Ern hanging around. He uses the herb lore he has picked up from her to help his neighbors, making use of the fact that he's small and looks younger than his age to convince them to take his offerings. Looking harmless is his motto, something easy to achieve with Sippy, the foogit he saved as a pup, bounding next to him. Foogits are considered to be a bit of a joke, because they look a little like small dragons, only with hair and a buffoonish manner.

Ern's brother is about to take his First Flight, a big milestone in dragonriding training, where for the first time, he will command a dragon to enter the Firespace, a travel shortcut only dragons can use. Dag comes home on break fretting about it. Not the ordinary jitters of a first timer, but true concern. For the dragon he has been assigned is missing one eye, lost in combat when she took a spear meant for her rider. Without that third eye, she cannot enter the Firespace. And it will mean a special kind of humiliation for her. Dag fears what will happen and is angry that she is being forced into that situation. Ralas tells them that Dag should take Ern and Sippy with him when he returns to the Academy. Though they don't understand what good that will do, they trust her and follow the advice.

Sometimes the simple desire to help someone who needs it can change more around you than you know. Even when you don't know what to do or how to do it.

Like The Shifter, the world of First Flight has a unique approach to healing. Maybe not as drastic, but how many places do you know of where healing yields a loss of face? While I was reading this story, I was reminded of a great article Juliette Wade wrote in April on how healing can play a role in world-building. I'd say this would make another great example.

I'm also an admitted dragon fan. Not the dragons-are-evil/vile-beast (unless in the same story there are also good ones, like Dragonlance), but any story where dragons are treated with dignity. Whether they have beast-mentality (Dragon Jousters series) or human-like intelligence (Pern series), I love dragons. This story is every bit as fantastic as I would expect from McKinley. The dragons are wondrous/glorious, the characters are charming, and the world is vivid. (Oh yes, I cried. Sniff.)

You should check out Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits, even if you skip the other two stories. These three make it worthwhile. Fabulous! Now I'm off to read them again before I have to take the book back to the library.

Filk Friday: Silver Bullet Blues

Friday, May 28, 2010

Michael Longcor has a fabulous singing voice, perfect for singing this bluesy werewolf song, "Silver Bullet Blues." If you enjoy it as much as I do, you may want to go to Firebird Arts and check out the Lovers, Heroes, and Rogues CD. They have a few of the other songs available to listen to if you need more incentive, such as "The Smuggler's Song," a wonderful rendition of Rudyard Kipling put to music. For a tidbit about Longcor, check out the wiki entry on him. The man is phenomenal. I'd love to meet him. Hmm, I wonder if he'll be at Pennsic this year and if there is any way I can make it.

Busy and searching for words

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sorry, I still haven't finished writing what I want to say about the latest book I've read. With starting my new job and having family visiting all weekend, plus being out nearly all of Monday, I'm still trying to get the review done. If more of the book had been less than amazing, it would be easier to write about. I don't want to just say, "Here are what the stories were about. You totally need to read them."

One story in particular was extra special, which means I'm struggling with the words to describe it. The stories that mean the most to me are the hardest to talk about. And I don't mean just that I'm sharing something personal to me. It's capturing that upwelling of emotion, the wordless surge that kept me glued to the page. I'll try to have it finished by Monday. And don't forget to check out this week's filk pick on Friday.

Filk Friday: ST Episodes Guide Song

Friday, May 21, 2010

Continuing in the Star Trek theme, I went browsing for videos and discovered this guy doing the Next Gen episode titles in song with screen captures. He has an amazingly glib tongue. I'd never make it through the first verse, and he speeds up until season 7 when he drops back down for dramatic effect. I'm not sure if he borrowed the melody for the verses, but it is reminiscent of Ton Lehrer's "I Got It From Agnes." The chorus melody is from the Next Gen theme music.

I never realized how many of those I'd seen. Fast as they were going past, I think I recognized at least 3 quarters of the episodes. I have to give this guy major kudos for putting this together. It would have taken a long time to gather the appropriate screen caps and to practice the song until he could do it without tripping.

Uhura's Song

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My mom has a huge ST book collection. She used to pester me about reading them once I got interested in the show. I resisted for awhile, until I finally gave in and tried some at random. Most of them to me are rather meh. Not bad stories, but not good enough to read again. Uhura's Song by Janet Kagan is one of the gems.

Even if you are not a big fan of ST in general, if you like science fiction, a deadly epidemic that can cross races easier than rabies, a cure in the missing verses of a tabooed song, and just the right amount of humor to leaven the suspense, you may like this story. Even if the medical crisis might not be your cup of tea, if you enjoy thinking about how an alien culture might work, this still might be your book. The medical disaster is what prompts the cultural discovery, but the new culture is the predominant arena of the story which leads to the cure.

On Uhura's first posting, she befriended a junior diplomat from Eeiauo, Sunfall of Ennien, a graceful cat-like being. The two women became close friends, almost like sisters. One night in exchange for Uhura's bawdy songs, Sunfall shared some of her world's taboo songs, a taboo so strong that it might be considered treason to sing them, even though in a generation or two they might be forgotten altogether.

Because in the old songs, Eeiaou doesn't mean beautiful; it means outcast.

Now a deadly epidemic is sweeping over Sunfall's planet, and Uhura's friend is dying. Humans have also started contracting the disease, including Nurse Chapel and Dr. McCoy, now trapped in quarantine on the planet. The crew's only hope in saving their friends lies in the forbidden songs. Just like Heinrich Schliemann finding Troy, they use clues from the songs and one Eeiaouan doctor's confession to find the real homeworld of the Eeiaouans: "Sivao, where the North Star beats like the heart of a child."

Now they must make contact with the Sivaoans and pray that they have the cure. Assuming they can convince the Sivaoans to even speak of the exiled ones. It may take the youth of Sivao to be adult enough to breech the barrier of taboo in order to discover the answers they need before time runs out for their friends.

This story is fascinating for the interaction between the Enterprise crew and the Sivaoans. Kagan created a fully developed culture and rich landscape to set the majority of the story. Sivaoans have unique societal patterns and their own way of phrasing things. "I'm all loops," meaning they are very happy because their tails curl into a loop at the tip when they are. "When I have my own name" is what teens say when looking forward to adulthood. When they are ready to make the transition, they announce their intentions, form a group of their peers and take The Walk, literally and figuratively, into adulthood. They must travel from one camp to another and if any fail to make it, the whole group fails. Fail twice and you are considered bad luck. Once you make it, you can choose your own name, either keeping the one you'd been given or something new.

The characters are so real that I both laugh and cry, sometimes within just a few pages, every time I read it. Shame, taboo, music, cultural awareness. It's all here. Along with some of the funniest lines I've had the pleasure to read. Dr. Evan Wilson, the guest character who accompanies the crew while McCoy is in quarantine, is the source of many of them. Short and spunky, she is a hoot and a half.

Spock: raises an eyebrow at some thing Dr. Wilson has said
Dr. Wilson: (with a mock scowl) Don't you point that thing at me, Spock--it might be loaded!

Earlier in the book:
Captain Kirk: Would you mind a personal question, Dr. Wilson?
Dr. Wilson: (she stops) Call me Evan if it's a personal question.
Captain Kirk: Why would a doctor take up saber?
Dr. Wilson: (gives wicked grin) I took up saber for the same reason I took up quarterstaff and eating with chopsticks. (runs off before Kirk can ask what she means.)

Kirk is left to wonder for most of the book what saber, quarterstaff, and chopsticks have to do with each other. If you want to learn the answer and how else she teases Kirk and Spock, you'll have to read it for yourself! (wicked grin of my own)

By the Sword (historical reference)

Monday, May 17, 2010

When a fabulous resource takes its place in my hands, I must write about it. Even though it is not directly related to fantasy or science fiction, this book may improve your combat scenes or even inspire a whole story, the way it did for me a month ago. I was reading a passage about Roland and Charlemagne and got an idea for the mythological creature story I wanted to write for a contest. I didn't finish the story in time, but I still like the idea enough that I will finish it anyway.

By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions by Richard Cohen has a wealth of material that is more readable than you might expect from a history book. His prologue invites you to join him in learning more about his passion, beginning with a quote from Dune about the beginning being the time to make sure the balances are correct.

I would say that he does well in balancing the facts with a style that people can relate to. His anecdote about his first and only duel thirty years prior to writing the book drew me in. His facts are clearly written in an entertaining style. Now don't think that sword fighting is all honor and glory or even Hollywood glamor; it's bloody sport, even when blood isn't literally involved. Honor sometimes goes out the window when ambition is involved. Cohen covers the good, the bad, the noble, and the ugly in his historical account. As he says at the end of the prologue, "Above all, I have tried to portray the character of swordplay--at once graceful and brutish, fiercely competitive and technically beautiful, life-threatening and life-enhancing."

Even if you don't need By the Sword for your writing, it is still far more interesting than the typical history book. It will give you a greater understanding of several periods of history and of sword fighting itself.

First Filk Friday: Coming soon!

Friday, May 14, 2010

I love filk music. Those of you who've been reading pretty much since I started this in October have already picked up this tidbit about me. For those who haven't heard me gush yet about filk or know what the heck I'm talking about, essentially, filk is the music version of spec fic, plus a bit. I got sucked into it during college thanks to one of my roomies and her friends.

There are songs from the cultures in spec fic stories (songs that characters would hear and/or sing), such as "Sun and Shadow" from Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series. There are songs about the events of spec fic stories, such as "The Captive" from the Freedom, Flight, and Fantasy CD. There are the stand-alones, not from any particular story, such as a couple alternate versions of "Grandfather's Clock." One is a sort of "what really happened when the old man died," and the other is a Doctor Who spoof. I can't forget the ones on science themes, such as "Cosmos" in an SF version of "There's a hole in the bottom of the sea," and science related current events, such as a tribute to the Challenger disaster entitled "Pillar of Hell."

And that doesn't cover everything.

I suggest you head over to for more about this fabulous subset of music. From there you can listen to filk on Live365, read about filksings, and browse the database of submitted lyrics. (Check out the ones on "Schroedinger the Cat" and "The Chivalry Went For Pizza" I just found.) Even though you'll find some that are not prime examples of good song-writing, you're sure to find something to amuse.

Borrowing an idea from fellow bloggers Lydia and Joe Sharp and their Tuesday Tunes, I'm going to pick a day to share more about this musical category: Filk Fridays--starting next week. There won't always be music, but I will try to have something neat to share about filk. Come hang out and bring your friends. The dragons will roast hotdogs and marshmallows for everyone. All you need to bring is your beverage of choice.

Happy time

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Jai Joshi has given me another award: Happy 101. You can read her list of happy things here. I'd have to say she is one of the people who make me happy. A bright cheerful person in person and online, but then that's why I gave her the Sunshine Award a couple days ago.

Isn't that butterfly so pretty?

The rules are that I have to list ten things that make me happy and pass the award to five other bloggers.

1. My family--my hubby helps keep me motivated, and my son is adorable and is pretty good about letting me write.

2. Good music--among my current favorites: Trace Adkins, Corvus Corax, Tartan Terrors, Tom Smith, Arrogant Worms, and the soundtrack for Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog.

3. Musicals--a sampling of favorites: 1776, Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog (yes, I mentioned it again, tough), Mamma Mia (it's great for doing housework to, even got the kid singing the songs, which makes it even funnier), Quest for Camelot, The Aristocats, Mulan, and Avenue Q.

4. Comedies-- (a tiny listing) Lion King 1 1/2, Down Periscope, McHale's Navy (with Tom Arnold), Hoodwinked, Bill Cosby Himself, Kung Phooey, Evolution, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Spaceballs, and Men In Tights (well, just about every Mel Brooks movie for that matter). Not sure Princess Bride is technically a comedy, but it also makes me very happy.

5. Science Fiction and Fantasy! (which is why I created this blog)

6. Funny blogs like The Rejectionist and Hyperbole and a Half.

7. Good artwork--Larry Elmore, J "NeonDragon" Peffer, and Jessica Galbreth. Yes, they're all fantasy artists. What about it? My dragons like them.

8. Snagging a new reader/listener/viewer for one of my favorites. Seriously. You should go check out some of the movies/groups/artists I mentioned above. Not to mention the books and movies I've already reviewed on here.

9. My writing and gaming friends. You all are wonderful!

10. Sunshine and a productive day. Especially when they occur together.

Okay, for my five awardees. I'm sure the first one is no surprise. I'd give Allie the Happy Award, too, but I just gave her the Sunshine Award on Monday. Nothing wrong with spreading out the happy.

Le R at The Rejectionist (gives my abs a workout with every new post)
Ashley at The Ashley Atkins (mom and writer, with lots of humor)
Kaycee at The Musings of a Looneywriter (with sites of the week and links to series lists)
Wendy at Writes in the City (cracked me up last week with sharing the "Telephone" remake)
Moonrat at Editorial Ass (my favorite industry blog-humor and good advice, plus random randomness)

Update: Emily at Stepping Into Fantasy just gave me yet another award: Blogger Buddy Award. I don't know yet who I'm going to give it to. More of you need to start commenting, so I'm not always giving stuff to the same people. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean.

More Awards

Monday, May 10, 2010


Emily White over at Stepping Into Fantasy gave me the Love Award a few months ago. She had some sweet things to say about my blog, though her mention of my new post every week makes me feel guilty for not keeping up. After all, that is my goal. I'll try to do better.

I've been taking the time to think of who I want to honor with this award. In many ways, awards tend to become popularity contests or just passed to the same people each time by default. I don't want anyone to get one from me and wonder if I meant it. And awards are to honor someone or highlight someone that the other readers may not know yet. Most of you are pretty well cross-linked to each other, so that aspect makes it more difficult to choose.

Why not go discover a new favorite for one of my awardees?

Since most of the blogs I follow are writing-related, I decided to go hunting for some blogs on a different theme: crafting, one of my many hobbies. Craft Test Dummies is now on my list to follow. This blog reviews craft products, offers crafting ideas, and was named one of the top ten crafting blogs to follow by Barb Webb from From what I've seen so far, it certainly is worth checking out. From tricking out boring bike helmets to a review of Eco Green Crafts acrylic paint (something I may have to see if I can get) to a myriad of ways to craft greener, this blog deserves a bit of Love from my writing and parenting friends. You never know where your next idea may come from.

Another new favorite is a blog I discovered thanks to a couple other bloggers: Hyperbole and a Half. This blog always makes me laugh--out loud and often. So much that my son comes over and asks why I'm laughing so hard. Allie's stories are accompanied by the most hilarious stick drawings I've seen since The Order of the Stick. If you aren't already following this blog, you should. It'll brighten your day.

Another blog award Emily has given me is You Are My Sunshine award for supportive commenters. This one is a little harder to figure out who to pass it on to. I'm building up a readership, but few are commenting yet. *sad face* But in looking over the last half dozen posts, one name does crop up. Well two actually, but since Emily is the one who handed me this award, I'm not doing a tag-back. The other person who has most often commented is Jai Joshi at Jai Joshi's Tulsi Tree. She is a sunshiney person with a lovely blog. Thanks so much for reading.

Even though comments have been sparse at times, I am picking up some new readers. It makes me feel like I'm doing something right. I'm thinking of doing something fun when I reach 50 followers. Most people wait for 100, but since I'm an unsteady poster and still manage to pick up some new folks, I'm too excited to wait that long. Stay tuned to find out what I'm going to do.

I Am Spock

Monday, May 3, 2010

Many times actors are distant from the majority of their fans. You might read about them in the tabloids. Hear about their golden moments and disgraceful fumbles on the gossip shows. Catch sniping from disgruntled fans about perceived rudeness on some forum. But for the most part, you don't hear about them hobnobbing with the general public.

Leonard Nimoy is not one of those actors.

Along with most of his former cast members, Nimoy is one of those people I would simply like to know, all fame aside. To have as one of my friends. He has done the convention circuit for years, putting him in reach of thousands of fans, maybe more. And not only is he approachable, he is a fascinating person. I've had his book I Am Spock for almost as long as it's been out. A recommended read for any of his fans.

This personal view behind the scenes begins with a foreward from Spock, his alter ego, which alludes to Nimoy's previous book entitled I Am Not Spock, a book title that led to ire from his fans, since his fame was in large part due to playing the role of a certain pointy eared alien. Spock is a fictional character, not real in the literal sense. But in the minds and hearts of fans everywhere, Spock is a very real and special person, fully developed over time into his own entity. Nimoy simply intended to show the duality that while he was not Spock, at the same time he was, because that was how people knew him.

This memoir touches on unintentional parallels between himself and Spock such as the reaction they faced when informing their parents of their career plans. Spock is as much his creation as it was Gene Roddenberry. He offered input to whether an action or reaction would be something Spock would do. It is only natural that his character is a sort of mirror to a deeper side of the actor.

Regaling us with anecdotes, including those regarding his fellow ST cast members, he lets us see what it was like to play that role, to help shape it, and to try to move beyond it once the show was canceled. Somehow, each time he thought he was done with playing Spock, another opportunity would beckon. First movies I-VI, then returning as a guest character on ST:NG. Through it all, he sustained his character's integrity.

He wraps up the book with his choice to decline a cameo role on the movie Generations and his current view that Spock was indeed a part of him, a part that had come to mean more than he had ever expected.

Throughout the book, there are mini conversations between himself and Spock regarding various memories and interpretations of those events, plus looking ahead. I think it makes an interesting illustration to how a character can become so dynamic that it doesn't matter that the character is a work of fiction. Spock is a part of him, deeply enough that he can draw on that perspective in spontaneous ways.

Even if you are not a dedicated fan of Star Trek, I think you would enjoy reading this view from the other side of the camera, including both fun times and rough patches. Check out this personal account from one amazing actor.