History is Human

Along with half the known universe, we watched the streaming version of Hamilton last weekend. I think either you love it or have no interest in seeing it at all, but I am very firmly in the former camp. We had seen it last fall with the San Francisco cast, and it was wonderful. Seeing the streaming film with the original cast was, in some ways, even better, because we kept the subtitles on, and lyrics that sped past on my first viewing landed this time, and it was, if anything, more emotionally resonant.

We followed up the next evening with 1776, our annual 4th of July tradition. (The first time I saw it–I must have been in college–I developed a serious crush on Thomas Jefferson: tall, red-haired, wordsmith, plays the violin, looks suspiciously like Ken Howard –no, actually, he didn’t, but never mind that. Subsequent learning took a lot of the gloss off Mr. Jefferson.) I love this show because it captures something important about the origins of my country–it glances off the flaws of the men, but doesn’t skip over the compromises: Here’s John Adams protesting against the removal of a clause condemning slavery:

John Adams: Mark me, Franklin… if we give in on this issue, posterity will never forgive us.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin: That’s probably true, but we won’t hear a thing, we’ll be long gone. Besides, what would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.

They’re both right. Posterity–rightly–has not forgiven them. And maybe, likely, without the compromise over the mention of slavery, the south would have walked and the war would have gone the other way.  Continue reading “History is Human”

Friends, brains and other things

Today I have no time but I’m having a long yarn with a friend anyhow. It’s such a bad year and friends matter. This friend sent me an unbirthday present, including a book edited by one friend and with a story by the friend who sent the parcel. Despite the fact that I’m avoiding giving their names to the world (they deserve privacy) the cockles of my heart warmed and I realised we’re all a bit more alone than we intend to be this year.

Oddly, I’m less alone than usual and fitting everything into the week is rather difficult. Part of this is because July is the month no-one goes out in Canberra, which means that single people with chronic illness and a bit of disability can be very isolated indeed. COVID isolation wasn’t as bad as a high pain week for me, for there were friends on Zoom. This doesn’t make my iso full of all the good things – it’s relative. It means that I don’t have to wait two weeks to hear from anyone other than my mother. It means I’m learning how to chat the way other people do, rather than to blurt out everything I’m thinking.

The torrent of words is because I spend so much time alone. What if I don’t see anyone for another two weeks? How will anyone know what’s going on in my life.

This is daft, because I’m active online every single day. My brain doesn’t see that as warm companionship unless someone sends me a parcel. My brain needs educating, obviously. Or more friends need to send me parcels. Maybe both.

I’ve been playing with the thought of what triggers torrents of words in different people and what pushes us into silence. I put it into the novel I just finished (of course I did) and I’m looking today at how culture can silence people. I’ll explore torrents and silence in the same person for a while, because I can and because I am one of those people who moves from extreme to extreme, and I want to know why other people do that when their lives are different to mine.

My days this week are full of administration, writing short pieces (like this and for Patreon) and writing at least 10,000 words of my non-fiction. At 5 pm every night I mysteriously become a Medievalist and attend the big international conference in Leeds. Housework fits in there somewhere and so does cooking and so do a bunch of other things and I’m wondering, “How do other people handle July?”

If you’re in that distant Northern Hemisphere it’s January. I don’t know if January is your bleak and impossible month, though. I know July is the worst month for people in my region. It used to be Canberra, but now it’s the whole region. Getting through July is a feat of my emotional strength. Some years I try to sleep through it.

This year I’m so busy that nearly a week has gone and I didn’t have time to feel threatened by the month.

‘Pfft,’ said my brain’, ‘who needs to fear July when the world is what it is?’

Brain, I love you a great deal, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a good July, for all of us?

Stay safe and well everyone. It’ll annoy my brain if you do, and this is a good thing and devoutly to be wished.

Let’s Make America Smart Again!

That’s my Independence Day wish for 2020. Let’s restore sanity and civility to our great but struggling nation. Let’s wear masks and beat the virus before it beats us. Let’s root out racism. Let’s treat our friends like friends, and the Earth like it’s our home. Let’s stop cozying up to dictators and destroying families at our borders. Let’s end the national nightmare and Stop Being Stupid.

I wish I could distribute a million hats emblazoned with “Make America Smart Again.” And on the back it would say, “Make America Compassionate Again.”

In no particular order, here are just a few smart, compassionate Americans I wish were still with us:

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., activist
Sally Ride
Sally Ride, astronaut
Richard Feynman
Richard Feynman, scientist and thinker

Three Very Different Books

I’m as behind on my reading as I am on everything else, but I have managed to find space for some excellent new fiction. Herewith, my thoughts on three very different books — an anthology of stories based on ancient tales from the Mediterranean, a fantasy that incorporates menopause and life as a college professor, and fast-paced science fiction featuring a very angry and capable construct.

Retellings of the Inland SeasRetellings of the Inland Seas, published by Candlemark and Gleam, achieves something many anthologies aspire to, but few attain: There’s not a bad story in it. That says a lot about the concept — using ancient stories from the Mediterranean as a jumping off point for something new. It says even more about the skill of the editor, Athena Andreadis, who not only came up with the idea, but found the stories.

Fellow Treehouse Writer Judith Tarr’s [ story, “Between the Rivers,” is rooted in the tale of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but it’s set on a far-off habitable planet and all is created by the genship Ninsun. It’s a wonderful story even without the tie to an ancient one, but knowing something about the original gives you some added depth.

Two of the stories, “Hide and Seek” by Shariann Lewitt and “The Sea of Stars” by Genevieve Williams, come out of The Odyssey. Both are science fiction, Lewitt’s story being told from the point of view of a navigator on a ship traversing the Asteroids, while Williams’s is a first contact story set in the distant past.

My favorite story in this wonderful anthology is “Out of Tauris,” by Alexander Jablokov, which is based on the story of Iphigenia. The Iphigenia of this story is the aged priestess of the Temple of Artemis and accepts sacrifices from men whose wives, who were once girls at that temple, have died. At the end, she observes, “This has always been the greatest torture men inflict on women, to take away choice and then make them pretend that the choice was always theirs.”

But your favorite might be very different. Other authors in this book include Melissa Scott, A. M. Tuomala, James L. Cambias, Christine Lucas, F.J. Doucet, Kelly Jennings, Elena Gomel, Dimitra Nikolaidou, and Andreadis. Read them all and figure out which one you like best.

Continue reading “Three Very Different Books”

Disappearing Stars and Other Cool Science Stuff

A ‘monster’ star 2 million times brighter than the sun disappears without a trace

In 2019, scientists witnessed a massive star 2.5 million times brighter than the sun disappear without a trace. Now, in a new paper published today (June 30) in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a team of space detectives (see: astrophysicists) attempt to solve the case of the disappearing star by providing several possible explanations. Of these, one twist ending stands out: Perhaps, the researchers wrote, the massive star died and collapsed into a black hole without undergoing a supernova explosion first — a truly “unprecedented” act of stellar suicide.

Long-term exercise impacts genes involved in metabolic health

This suggests that even short training programs of 6–12 months are enough to positively influence the health of people suffering from metabolic disorders,” says last author Carl Johan Sundberg, professor at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet. “The study identifies important ‘exercise-responsive’ genes that may play a role in metabolic diseases. Continue reading “Disappearing Stars and Other Cool Science Stuff”