Up to Snuff*


Snuff, Terry Pratchett**

this, I love. Typical slapstick-to-satire-to-gravely serious Pratchett:

Let it be said here that those who live their lives where life hangs by less than a thread understand the dreadful algebra of necessity….


*ha. ha.

** ok ok. simmer down, you canonical types. I am aware that I skipped over Making Money and Unseen Academicals.

***I didn’t actually skip these. I have a bad habit of leaving appropriate reading material lying about in prime locations. For example, Making Money is upstairs by the rocking chair; Unseen Academicals is stashed in the Contraband Fiction Drawer at the work library. Thus, when I was presented unexpectedly with a pair of hours to read, I had to quickly find another Pratchett from Columbus Metro Library. … Ah, never mind, it’s a bookish life.

My Role Model Committee

For me, no one role model could ever be enough. You need different ones for different undertakings. Hence my committee.

The first is personal, my grandmother,  Mary Catherine Foster Stahls. Born only 15 years after the end of the civil war (she was more the age of a great grandmother for me) she saw nearly ninety years of the most rapid change in history. Though she never held a “job” she could do anything.

Margaret Brent Conjectural drawing  Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Margaret Brent
Edwin Tunis, ca. 1934

Grow anything. Sew, quilt, or reupholster anything. Repair anything. Build — or oversee the building of — almost anything. In my memory’s eye she usually holds a hammer.

For feminism, the lady is Margaret Brent, first feminist and first woman to ask for the right to vote in the western hemisphere. That was in Maryland (where she was the governor’s attorney) in1648, 40 years after the founding of Jamestown. They said no.

For courage, Sojourner Truth. Fearless. Best-known conductor on the underground railroad. A judge, demanding proof that she was a woman, once ordered her to show her breasts in court. She stood tall, and proud, and with great dignity opened her dress and showed him.

Barbara Jordan, for oratory and for legal scholarship. She should have been the first woman on the Supreme Court.

Kate Chopin The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice  must have strong wings.

Kate Chopin
The bird that would soar above the plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings.

Kate Hepburn, for talent, style, and sheer guts. The woman knew who the hell she was.

Sally Ride. First American woman in space.

Kate Chopin, for courage in authorship. It isn’t true, though commonly believed in Louisiana, that all available copies of her novel The Awakening were collected and burned in New Orleans sometime around 1900. However, as “[one of the] first American authors to write truthfully about women’s hidden lives,” her book was widely condemned, called morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable. Willa Cather said it was “trite and sordid.” It has been removed from more than one library’s shelves and

Grandma Moses  (Anna Mary Robertson) on her 88th birthday.

Grandma Moses
(Anna Mary Robertson)
on her 88th birthday.

challenged even in recent years. Yet today the book is available world wide, in translations including Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish, and Galician. And a new one out soon in Turkish.

Ursula LeGuin, for insight, excellence, productivity, and durability.

And finally, as a role model for late-blooming artists of every discipline, my patron saint, Grandma Moses.

So, who’s on your Role Model Committee?


Margaret Brent Image.  Information sources here and here.

Kate Chopin image. Information sources here and here.

Grandma Moses Image

Bubonicon 47, dispatches from Kat!

Bubonicon 47 was a blast! I was fighting a cold from a very recent plane ride but with modern medicine I was able to persevere. I dressed as
Batgirl, my youngest was Batman (imagine a three year old with a cape and angry-face cowl), and my oldest was Iron Man (also Captain BadGuy when he wore the black cape with it). We had so much fun. I bid on about 6 things at the art auction (I still had the lead on 4 last night), bought fun
things at the dealer’s room, and met lots of authors!! Here is my bounty:


Beth has been gently suggesting I read James S. A. Corey for years, so I
bought the first in the series, Leviathan Wakes. I read the frist few pages while in line for autographs and am seriously hooked. This is kind of a
problem since I’m halfway through two big books already. Always room for one more! I ran into Daniel Abraham and mentioned my book. Why? Because the bookseller (Who Else? from Denver) said that James Corey is actually two authors, both of whom were at the con. Yay! Daniel said he is the “James”. part and Ty Frank is the rest. I got both of their autos and Ty drew a rocket ship for me.

I met with Kirt Hickman again, and got the second in his Worlds Asunder
series. I remember reading the first one but I can’t remember the
story….don’t you hate that? I know I liked it, so I’ll get to it again.
Space operas rule. He signed it as usual and was a nice guy to talk to. He
is super excited about books and writing.

I caught the eye of a lady in the autograph room and she said, “Wanna free book?” I said “YES PLEASE!” and ran over there. She gave me her latest, The Wish List, and signed it for me. I read the back and determined it was
exactly my kind of in-between-big-books-read and made a point to find her and thank her again. It has magic and silliness and defending the world
problems. Yes please!

Oh, but the main reason I went while fighting a cold was to meet Ernest
Cline, who wrote Ready Player One. If you have not read this, go read it
right now, I really think it is one of the best books in the last 5 years,
and made my top three of all time personal favorites along with Hobbit and Cabinet of Curiosities. That’s saying a lot for me. Anyway, read it and/or find the audio version because Wil Wheaton narrates it beautifully. I know, I know, I’ll have to write a review for it!

And this totally happened:


More Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Here, as promised last week, are comments on two more authors whose work I have only recently discovered: D.B. Jackson and Gail Z. Martin.

As historical urban fantasy, D.B. Jackson’s The Thieftaker Chronicles series, represents a definition-expanding departure for that popular sub-genre. But somehow I can’t see many readers of either historical or urban fantasy complaining. I, for one, read Thieftaker, the first of the series, almost without taking a breath, and picked up the second, Thieves’ Quarry,  immediately after. The third book, A Plunder of  Souls, is the newest resident of my kindle.

Thieftaker Chronocles

I loved seeing Jackson’s well thought-out magic system at work in pre-Revolutionary War Boston, complete with occasional sightings of  Samuel Adams, James Otis, and other anti-stamp-act agitators of the time.

The title character, the thieftaker and conjurer Ethan Kaille, is a former British Naval officer whose youthful involvement with a shipboard mutiny earned him long years of backbreaking servitude on a Caribbean sugar plantation. Now, a toughened and scarred but not a hardened man, with his sentence completed but his position in society much reduced, Kaille depends for his livelihood on the one talent most likely to get him killed in Boston. A hundred years after the Salem witch trials, witches (more properly,”conjurers’ according to Kaille) can still be hanged or burned at the stake.

The other main characters are also drawn in good detail: Kaille’s feisty lady friend, Kannice Lester,  is the bright, successful manager of her late husband’s tavern. The young Reverend Trevor Pell, also born with the hereditary gift of conjuring, becomes a friend. The goodhearted but reckless Diver Jervis is a sometime assistant sleuth as well as a friend. But perhaps the most colorful character of them all is Kaille’s archenemy, the daring and unscrupulous female thieftaker, Sephira Price.

A thieftaker was an early version of a private detective, most often tasked with recovering stolen property and paid for this service with the reward money offered for its return. In Thieftaker, Kaille has been hired to solve the mysterious death of a wealthy merchant’s daughter as well as the theft of the heirloom broach she was wearing. In Thieves’ Quarry it’s multiple unexplainable deaths among the thousands of Redcoats who occupy Boston in the wake of violent protests over the stamp act.  Needless to say, magic is involved at many levels, and Kaille is threatened by more than one kind of killer. The tension is high, the action frequent and deadly, and the lively characters fully believable. Both books provide engrossing reading, as well as historian D.B. Jackson’s authentic images of the Boston of those chaotic times. I expect the third book, A Plunder of  Souls, to offer the same.

Gail Z. Martin‘s series Deadly Curiosities also takes place, in part, BR-Deadly-Curiosities in historic times. But in this case the format is a series of short stories stretching from 15th century Europe, to the small early-17th century town of Charleston in what would one day be South Carolina, and finishing with a full length novel, also entitled Deadly Curiosities,  set in present-day Charleston.

Here the magic takes the form of potentially deadly forces, born of powerful human emotions from the past that have settled into material objects such as tools, jewelry, artwork, or other artifacts and so continue into the present day. Such forces can be either good or evil, but the most powerful of them arise from human conflict, death, and despair. Certain humans, born with the magical ability to detect such forces in whatever objects they may inhabit, make it their mission to acquire and defuse or destroy such haunted objects before they can be used for more evil.

The links connecting all these stories consist of family lineages from one gifted generation to the next, a network of antique and curiosity shops around the world, and one 500-year-old Vampire named Sorren whose mission it is to coordinate the whole operation, protect the humans who run the shops, and see to the neutralization of the deadliest of the haunted objects.

In the novel, a 20-something young woman named Cassidy Kincaide, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history, is the current owner of the centuries-old Charleston shop known as Trifles and Folly. She is assisted and frequently protected by Teag Logan, an all-but-dissertation doctoral student in history and an expert practitioner of various obscure schools of martial arts. All seems well, until a tall, wizened figure in black begins to follow Cassidy around. Then dozens of small, harmless objects in the shop and around the city abruptly become suffused with deadly power, and the mangled bodies of vagrants begin to appear on the historic blood-soaked grounds of the old Navy yard. Suddenly Sorren is in town, a powerful Voudon practitioner named Lucinda lends her powers, the magical weaponry and defenses come out, and all hell is on the loose.

D. B. Jackson’s  Thieftaker Chronicles books are available in paperback, hardcover, audiobook, and all e-book formats. Associated short stories can be found on Amazon.com and the author’s web site.

Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities novel and nine of the ten short stories in the series are available on Amazon.com and on the author’s website. The Final Death, a novella, is available free for a short time on Wattpad.

Recent Reads

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

One of the things I love most about science fiction conventions is the discovery of new-to-me tasty reads. Thanks to several cons this spring, I have recently been spending time with the works of four good writers whom I had somehow previously missed.

I’ll take them in order of my reading, two now and the other two next week.

At RavenCon (Richmond, VA ) the new discovery was Author Guest of Honor Elizabeth Bear, a gifted writer both of fantasy and of what might be described as hard urban science fiction.

Jenny Casey

In the latter category I devoured all three books in her Jenny Casey Series (Scardown, Hammered, and Worldwired) in a couple of weeks. That’s lightning fast for me, but I just couldn’t put them down. Think near-future sf, set first (volume 1) in a battle-weary Canada and north-eastern US, then (volume 2) on an essentially untried space station, and finally (Volume 3) in near-Earth space in the company of two very different but equally-inscrutable alien spacecraft. The cast of tough, bold, capable, highly individual characters includes folks from three major nationalities, every gender, and every level of society and government bureaucracy, with significant issues of trans- post- and cybernetic-humanism. Wow. Just wow.

iron bone

Bear’s fantasy duology (Book of Iron and Bone and Jewel Creatures) centers on Bijou, a gifted wizard-artificer and trusted associate of the crown prince of Messaline, an Arabic-flavored medieval environment. The first book entails adventure and intrigue in Bijou’s wildly creative young womanhood; the second, the climax of a life-long battle and the still-powerful, mature artistry of her late old age. Beautiful, imaginative, and deeply moving.

blessed world

I have not met Catherynne M. Valente, but it was sometime during RavenCon, Balticon, or ConCarolinas that she was recommended to me for her vast descriptive powers and the beauty of her prose. The first book of her Dirge for Prester John series, The Habitation of the Blessed, did not disappoint. (The second book, The Folded World, is on my to-be-read-next list; the third, The Spindle of Necessity, is due out soon.)

The myth of Prester John, a Christian Priest and King of a mysterious oriental or African land, arose in the 12th century and influenced a number of European adventurers to seek him in various little-known corners of their world. This continued until 17th century orientalists finally disproved any connection between John or his realm with observable reality.


Valente has set her vibrant, intensely human retelling of his story in a lush realm of great riches, peopled with such oddities of medieval travel tales as monopods, dog-faced people, and people with their faces on their chests. She has further embellished the myth with a historically feasible origin for John, horrific and (as far as I can tell) completely original challenges met in his journey to that realm from Constantinople, and a detailed account of his slow and painful acceptance of the strangeness of life and kingship there.

Note that Valente’s printed books themselves give evidence of the beauty of her language and mythical world.

Next time, D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker Chronicles and Gail Z. Martin’s Deadly Curiosities.


Sources for Prester John:





“Very few people know how to listen. Their haste pulls them out of the conversation, or they try internally to improve the situation, or they’re preparing what their entrance will be when you shut up and it’s their turn to step on stage.”
-from Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg

Con-Gregate: A Brand New Science Fiction Convention

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Meet Greg-8, avatar of Con-Gregate, a new start-up Con in the North Carolina Triad: Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
Kinda cute isn’t he?

Why that name? Think Con-Greg-8.

The first annual Con-Gregate was held in Winston-Salem this past weekend. I’m hoping for more photos for next week’s post.

Con-Gregate comes with a distinguished pedigree, organized as it is by a committee with extensive experience running such conventions as RavenCon, ConCarolinas, StellarCon, Trinoc-coN and DragonCon

That experience showed. Con-Gregate 1 was an enthusiastic, smoothly-run gathering with what seemed to me surprisingly good attendance for a first-run Con.

Larry Correia Larry Correia

The Guest list was good too, with Writer Guest of Honor Larry Correia, author of the Monster Hunter International series and the Grimnoir Chronicles, and Artist Guest of Honor, Mark Poole, with such gaming art credits as Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons. Special guests included Special Literary Guest Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, and Special Media Arts Guest Jennifer McCollom, professional make-up artist for such films as The Hunger Games and Talladega Nights.

Most all the guests, in fact, were entertaining and informative, and frequently more than usually conversant with their audiences.

Mark Poole Mark Poole

In answer to fans’ requests, the programming included specially planned interactive features, including audience participation discussions and roundtable workshops in addition to the more traditional discussions among the expert panelists with questions from the audience in the final minutes.

Con-Gregate 2 will meet July 10-12, 2015, at the High Point Plaza Hotel in High Point, North Carolina. Writer Guests of Honor will be Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole, with Fan Guest of Honor Albin Johnson and Special Artist Guest Scott Rorie.

Looks like another good one!

Juliet McKenna’s Rogues and Mages

Gambler's FortuneWhile not too unlike the usual motley of medieval fantasy folk, Juliet E. McKenna’s characters come equipped–or lumbered–with finely-drawn gifts and quirks that set them apart both in her world and in the usual run of characters in the genre.

Their distinctiveness arises in part from several interesting ethnicities. The hunter-gatherer forest folk, for instance, have fiery hair, exceptional night vision and gifts for music and survival. The yellow-haired mountain dwellers are given to monolithic clan fortresses, mining, shepherding, and feuding, within a matriarchal society. But most important in all these peoples are their individual qualities of head, heart and/or temperament, either natural or the result of chancy nurturing in their chaotic world.

Previous reviews of McKenna’s Tales of Einarinn series have examined her extraordinary female hero Livak (The Thief’s Gamble) and Livak’s partner in adventure Ryshad, “a man both bold and honest,” (The Swordsman’s Oath.) In The Gambler’s Fortune, three of her well crafted supporting characters move into finer focus: a mage, Usara of Hadrumal, and the brothers Sorgrad and Sorgren, two thoroughly disreputable old friends from earlier adventures.

Livak leading, they constitute a company of four chartered by Archmage of Hadrumal and the powerful Tormalin house of D’Olbriot. Their charge? A quest for traces of an ancient magic now being wielded against them by shadowy enemies from beyond the sea. Livak’s leverage in winning the commission–and her hope for a fortune suitable to a quiet early retirement with Ryshad–is a book, a collection of ancient songs which may hold clues to the lost magic.

With Ryshad left to his own responsibilities and hopes of fortune back in Tormalin, Livak takes full stage with her personal brand of leadership: brainy, confident, and resourceful; courageous almost to the point of recklessness when the odds are with her or when lives are in danger.

The mage Usara is touchingly drawn as the closeted scholar eager to pit his considerable powers against the challenges of the greater world. Never mind his less-than-subtle air of superiority and sporadic power struggles with Livak, he works hard as a mage, ever willing to tire himself to exhaustion for the protection of others.Further Tales

Sorgrad and Sorgren, pureblood natives of the northern mountains, are the darkest of Livak’s allies but far from the darkest of her world. As young men, expelled from their clans for impudence and disruptive behavior, they blazed a trail of mayhem and larceny across the lowlands, chiefly as soldiers of fortune in the annual summer wars. Sorgrad, the elder, is good-looking, intelligent, self-taught in many skills and social graces, ingenious in devising enterprises and strategizing battles large and small. Sorgren, the smaller and more violent of the two, has rarely, if ever, lost a fight.

So why are they, and particularly Sorgren, in Livak’s company? Because their greatest positive talent is unfailing loyalty, priceless beyond gold in her dangerous world. And because, on this venture, their less attractive talents may mean the difference between life and death.

That enemy, a wizard as brutal and implacable as the vicious father and frozen land that produced him, will draw Sorgren into the battle of his life, revealing the blackest secrets of both their souls.

As has been said of other anti-heroes, the brothers will do the bad, even the evil thing to stop the horrible thing.

Still, interleaved with the challenges of this engrossing adventure are good times among friends, interludes with the intriguing people of the forest, and the wisdom and poetry of Livak’s book of ancient songs.

imagesIncidentally, the account of her discovering that book can be found in A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, a collection of illuminating shorter works set between Swordsman’s Oath and Gambler’s Fortune. The story, “Absent Friends,” also provides a closer look at Livak’s and Ryshad’s relationship in quieter times.

The Gambler’s Fortune, A Few Further Tales of Einarinn, and many other works by Juliet E. McKenna are published by Wizard’s Tower Press and can be found on Amazon.com.