New Words: peripatetically

(Found my dictionary… you’re relieved, I’m sure.)

Forced into a relaxing vacation away from the city, Vimes makes the best of a miserable situation and takes a walk in the countryside, quite out of his element:

After ten minutes of walking, Vimes was lost. Not physically lost but metaphorically, spiritually, and peripatetically lost.

Snuff, Terry Pratchett

per⋅i⋅pa⋅tet⋅ic /,pɛrɪpə’tɛtɪk/
noun: a person who walks from place to place
adjective: of or relating to Aristotle or his philosophy
syn: Aristotelian, Aristotelean, Aristotelic

traveling especially on foot • peripatetic country preachers

syn: wayfaring

ORIGIN: early 15c., from Latin peripateticus “disciple of Aristotle,” from Greek peripatetikos “given to walking about,” from peri- “around” + patein “to walk.” Aristotle’s custom was to teach while strolling through the Lyceum in Athens. In English, the philosophical meaning is older than that of “person who wanders about” (1617).



Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan


     Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

Kelp Forest, Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego

There are plenty of ways to research a novel at arm’s length: Internet, libraries, books, conversations with practicing professionals. But sometimes you have to step in a little closer, get your hands on the real thing.

Great Pacific Octopus, Birch Aquarium

Great Pacific Octopus, photo courtesy of Birch Aquarium

For some time now, that real thing for me has been a living, thinking octopus, the basis for several characters in my present-day alien-contact novel-in-progress.

I had read about these wily animals, seen video evidence of their astonishing feats of camouflage and intelligence, and asked about a zillion questions of patient professionals. Still I needed to know what the critter felt like. How slippery or squishy or cold might those eight arms be? And how tightly might those suckers grip? What would their skin, with its quick-changing colors and textures, actually look like? How might I feel, looking into the eyes of an octopus that was looking back at me?

Click for larger image

Photo by Ken Jordan. Click any photo for a larger image

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it happened. Big “Thank you!” to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

I first saw the large, reddish Great Pacific Octopus clinging suckers-out onto the thick glass of his tank in the aquarium’s Hall of Fishes. Those suckers were impressive, but it was hard to tell from that tangle of arms just what he looked like, and certainly no way I could reach in for a quick handshake.

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus!

Jenn Moffatt introduces Ken and me to the Octopus! Photo by Cindy Watson

Wandering out to the seaside plaza, I found a dozen or more middle-schoolers petting the residents of a tide-pool aquarium. When I asked, one of the staffers on duty there pointed me to a sea cucumber as the next best thing to touching an octopus. So I too, the oldest kid in the bunch, reached into the chilly water and touched carefully, as directed, with no more than two fingers. Cold and soft and squishy the sea cucumber certainly was, and not too slippery for comfort.

But friends, he wasn’t an octopus.

Jenn points out larger suckers. Note triangular extrusions at left center.

Jenn points out larger suckers.  Note the triangular extrusions at left center.  Photo by Ken Jordan

Meanwhile, back in the Hall of Fishes, my husband had arranged a visit with the real thing. Yay!  Jenn Moffitt, a trained marine biologist and the aquarium’s Director of Husbandry, ushered us into the dark space behind the scenes. She emphasized that it is never wise to handle any animal without proper training. Then she removed a panel from the lip of a tank, and there, in a wash of blue light, was the big guy himself.

My long-awaited handshake. Cold but very nice.

My long-awaited handshake.  Cold. Slippery.  But not unpleasant.  Photo by Ken Jordan.

I touched his arm, holding only the lower end of it as Jenn directed, felt it slide between my fingers, felt the surprising strength of even the smaller suckers near the tip. His flesh was a bit firmer to the touch than the sea cucumber’s, colder too. And really slippery. This is good, among other things, for sliding free of an attacker’s grasp while still holding tight with his suckers to whatever he wants. Another theory suggests that it keeps his boneless arms from tangling into knots. Well, maybe.

Some color shift was subtly discernible, even under the blue light, and Jenn pointed out 1-to-2-inch triangular extrusions on his head. These, she said, seem to appear when he is thinking. When she touched one of them I was surprised at how easily it flexed, not at all the rigid structure it appeared. Hmn. Interesting insight into the tricks of this master of disguise.

Sadly, I never quite achieved an eye-to-eye with him, and our visit was done.

Maybe next time.

We left him to his unimaginable thoughts.

Thank you, Jenn.

New Words: epiphytic

Wow! Caitlín R. Kiernan‘s Alabaster: Pale Horse is an excellent “let’s be excited about Halloween read.

Spook-city! ::love!::

The garden is darker than the alley, the low, sprawling limbs of live oaks and magnolias to hide the moon, crooked limbs draped with Spanish moss and epiphytic ferns.

ep⋅i⋅phyte /e’pifaɪt/
plant that derives moisture and nutrients from the air and rain; usually grows on another plant but not parasitic on it 🔗
syn: air plant, aerophyte, epiphytic plant

Alabaster: Pale Horse is published by Dark Horse.

These are a collection of short stories focused on Kiernan’s character Dancy Flammarion, the daemon-hunter ass-kicking gal from Threshold

There are also comics, also from Dark Horse…

What are you lining up for your Spooky Reads? I know there are a lot of read a longs and read challenges and so forth out there.


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 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 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: