BayCon: Dispatch 5

Kage Baker really liked moderating panels. It gave her a sense of power, or so she always claimed. I think it actually just gave her a method to insist upon order, clarity, and sticking to the topic – things that, when neglected, always made her insane.

Some folks like to moderate because  it gives them a bully pulpit. Some like it because they feel it means that don’t have to do any work – just let the panelists carry on. Some folks are inveterate lecturers, or friends of the Con Committee, or own the only working microphone …

I, personally, don’t like to do it at all. I am rarely inhibited about speaking, and so don’t usually need help in contributing to the flow of conversation – and I hate being pointed out like a child in school, with someone else deciding it’s my turn. I don’t like running the topic. It’s usually an exercise in cat herding, and I get to do quite enough of that in real life. Authors are hard to control, and so are fans – but actors, freaking actors, are the very most difficult …

Nonetheless, it’s my turn in the barrel. I am off in a few minutes to moderate a panel on “The Last 50 Years of Exploration on Mars”. I have a sinking feeling that I was chosen as moderator because Kage and I made fun of the problems NASA has had with metric measurements – that contributed to the loss of at the Climate Orbiter satellite, and led  directly to Kage writing The Empress of Mars …

Really though, the reasons we chose that incident was because it was so out of character for NASA – which has otherwise had a splendid track record with Mars missions. And so many,many missions to Mars have come to grief, far more than any other catgory of space exploration. It makes the loss of one to mis-measurement and poor translation pretty funny.

Still – something eats Mars missions. It cannot be denied. We’ve sent out a lot of them from Earth in the last 50 years; inordinate numbe rs of them have crashed, missed the entire planet, landed and vanished, landed and gone inexplicably silent … it’s peculiar. Even more of them have never even made it out of Earth orbit. The Russians alone have launched over 2 dozen missions – only 2 even made it to Mars orbit, and they failed in situ. Very strange, tovarisch.

Makes you take H.G. Wells a little more seriously. Maybe. I’ll let you all know later, when the panel is over.

**************

Well. Here I am on my afternoon break, between the Last 50 Years on Mars, and the Next 50 Years. And no, noone at the last panel was worried about H. G Wells. They were a very serious audience, sober and respectable people; my attempts at humour fell pretty flat. My antic moods are not for all markets … also, we were down a panelist, and the 2 of us who made it were both female. I think that offended some of the males in the audience; because, you know, GIRLS.  Nonetheless, it was a pretty good panel, we were thanked by several members of the audience, and I am done moderating.

The next panel will be more fun. “The Next 50 Years Expoloration On Mars” ought to bring the alien conspiracy folks out. I kind of hope so – they can be fun.

*Discontinuity*

Me and the entourage are now safely back in our room, full of a nice dinner and self-satisfaction at a Con well-managed. By us, anyway – due to circumstances beyond all control, the whole circus had to drop the poles and clear out tonight. All the Sunday evening goodies and the Monday panels were re-scheduled or lost … but it was not BayCon’s faujlt, not really, and the Con was a good one.

My last panel was scary, but exciting. “The Next 50 Years of Research  On Mars” was moderated by a gentleman who is both a writer and an astronomer; another panelist was an areospace engineer, and a third was not only an engineer but he works for Elon Musk! I am a mere writer who is interested in Mars, and likes to research her stories as accuratgely as possible. I felt myself definitely out-ranked and out-classed.

However, all 3 of the gentlemen were charming and courteous, and did not scorn me for my lesser database and goals. They outclassed most of the audience, too … and I was able to pull my own weight on the questions and discussions. (I did my research on the topic, too, and was ever so glad I had.) Most of the questions were good, and even when the face on Mars and Richard Hoagland were brought up – as they inevitably were – things were interesting and informative.

Turned out one of my fellow panelists has met the bizarre Mr. Hoagland, and his frank opinion of the man was hilarious. I hope I do not offend any of you, Dear Readers, by expressing my opinion – which is that Richard Hoagland is a raving nutcase – but,  you know, he just is.

There are legitimate mysteries on and about Mars, that need to be looked at. Why is the electromagnetic field patchy? What did blow the atmosphere off? What causes the odd flashes of light seen in the Edom Promontorium? When can we get a good look through the “skylight” of a lava tube? Will the Russians ever get a lander to Mars?

These are weirder than anything on Earth; they are weirder than anything we have invented or speculated about Mars. We don’t need spurious faces or pyramids or jelly doughtnuts (check it out on space.com) and other examples of rampant pariedolia to inspire us with the mystery of Mars. It’s got more than enough on its own.

So I quite enjoyed my panels today, and my stint at BayCon in general. Neassa and Michael have taken excellent care of me – retrieved my cane and my room key, got me to my panels on time, read the maps for me. Tonight we are all having a quiet evening to rfegenerate our everyday brains, and tomorrow we will go on our ways to more mundane locales.

For a while, anyway … next week, Neassa is helping out at a Dulcimer Festival. Michael and I haved yet to make it back to Los Angreles. And In August is the WorldCon in Spokane, whence I am bound to carp from the mezzanine.

Just no end of fun in the life of a writer!

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BayCon: Dispatch 4

Kage Baker loved staying in hotels. I think is was actually why she consented to go to conventions at all – the stress of being on panels and meeting people was assauged by the availability of comfortable bars and restaurants with two forks at a setting. Two forks was one of her criteria for elegence.

I must admit, spending a few days in a nice hotel is a wonderful vacation. Even if one must at intervals venture out and earn one’s keep on a panel – the conference rooms are nice, the company could not be more amiable, and one gets to perform a little. Having a pre-selected and interested audience was something not even Kage could resist.

My first panel today was on “First Contact and Politics”. It was very interesting, and quite surprised me. First: almost universally, examples of First Contact scenariae were taken from genre media – mostly televisiion shows, like Star Trek and Stargate. And most others came from science fiction stories. Personally, though I am well-read in science fiction, I prefer to contemplate First Contact in terms of actual history.

While we have no idea of what the aliens will be like when we finally encounter them, the chance of their being anything humanoid is low; let alone some breed of humanoid with whom we can share proteins and sex … we’ll be lucky if we can identify their sensory organs enough to read an expression.

Second, we won’t know until it is literally too late just what their First Contact habits are – but we have ample proof of what ours have been. And the human record of First Contact, on either side of the equation, is almost universally tragic. My own immediate ancestors include several kinds of Celt, and a soupcon of East Coast Amerindian – a veritable variety pack of subsumed and assimilated natives.

I personally feel that no government is competent to deal with aliens, and that in most cases we here on Earth are screwed. Nonetheless, it makes for an endlessly interesting subject of discussion – from the Keynsian economist to the Native American activist to the earnest Northern European  lady who felt that colonial rule was not all that bad … I think the human race should prepare for guerilla tactics and hard dealings and that most political stgructures will  collapse.

It’ll sure be interesting times.

Next up: “The Biology of Mythical Beasts”.  I can hardly wait – one of the panelists is the veterinarian student from yestreday’s discussion of “Animal Husbandry In Space”.  That young man has a fascinating vision.

Aaaaand … back in the room afte Mythological Beasts. What a riot! A panel of 8, an uninterested moderator, a crammed audience, and much hoisting of skirts to display frilly panties. Metaphorically speaking, anyway. The vet student has an extraordinarily constricted view of the animal kingdom, and I hope (for their sake) that all his future patients are already mythological. They will be soon, if not.

Nonetheless, it was fun, in a sleep-over party sort of way.  I mostly listened and gave focus, and did not try to steal the younger folks’ fun. I can be a nice old lady when I try. However, I was (once more) slightly horrified at how many references were drawn from popular visual media: cartoons. Pokemon. My Little Pony. Whatever happened to Bullfinch’s Mythology, or Ovid’s Metamorphoses?

*Discontinuity*

And the reading is done and behind me. It was my very first reading, Dear Readers – the first time I read out a portion of a story I have written and no one has heard. I think it went well. The audience outnumbered the panel (always to be desired) and I timed it just right. I gave them the opening to Marswife, right after the bomb in the Olympus Mons arethermal power plant goes off and takes out Mars II.

There were 3 of us, each asked to read a Mars-themed passage from a book or story. The other two authors were venerable pros, and quite good: but my story had the hardest science! One of them was writing about white-water rafting on a post-terraformed Mars, and aside from it’s being post-terraforming, it might as well have been set in Colorado. The other was a psychological thriller set on a returning Mars mission during a long slog home to Earth.

I was inordinately pleased with myself. I shall beg forgiveness for my boasting; but it was my first time, and it did go awfully well …

More fascinatingly odd people are everywhere, including lots of nuns and clerics; dog collars abound. So do real ones, but those are on the local space Goths. This year, faerie wings are worn by small girls only, apparently – accessorised with tiny glowing LED beads in the hair; a charming effect. Wonder Women are frequent. So are the Girl Ghost Busters, with their unlicensed particle accelerators on their backs. I have been embraced by affectionate Security guards crying “Mother!” – to the confusion of strangers – because you can’t take me hardly anywhere without encountering someone I have nurtured at Faire.

All is well. I have my Kindle and a bag of Whopper Malt Balls; Michael has Coke, and of course Neassa always has her emergency stash of chocolates in her bag. So we are set for the evening. Tomorrow: a panel on the last 50 years of Mars exploration. Another on the next 50 years. And bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Excelsior!

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BayCon: Dispatch 3

Kage Baker was wont, at moments of extreme good fortune, to throw her head back and yell at the sky” “She’s ugly! Ugly!”

This was a reference both to classic Latin drama, and classic Hollywood comedy: Pseudolus The Slave  (by Plautus), and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Forum (by a bunch of New York Comedy writers. And Plautus). It’s a way to deflect the wrath of the gods by denying that anything good has happened – you get a pretty girl, you yell at all-seeing Jove that the chick is actually ugly. Maybe he doesn’t notice she’s hot, and an eagle doesn’t drop a tortoise on your head.

This is my pedantic way of saying that I should not have boasted about my good hotel fortune last night. As of this morning, the Hyatt has now charged me three times (once via Rewards Points and twice via cash) for a double booking – I’ve so far paid over $300 for a room that doesn’t exist and that I wasn’t in last night. They are ever so sorry, and the refund will be processed in 3 or 4 days … mind you, the charge was applied in less than 12 freaking hours, but hey – that’s finance.

My bank account has been so bollixed up by duplicate charges, partial refunds and hysterical emails to and from me that I now cannnot access it. There’s never that much in it, anyway, but I had it all carefully budgeted for the mad social whirl of the Con. Sigh … Luckily, I have cash in my wallet, so I’ll eat for a while. If I run out of cash, my nephew gets to do the manly thing and pay his poor old Auntie’s way. So much for my showing my entourage a good time …

There’s a panel here on “How To Encourage The Next Generation of Science Fiction Writers”. I wish I was on it. I would suggest they be dropped naked into the wilderness, and have to come out alive and with both a finished manuscript and a contract from a bear to publish it. That would prepare them for the wild, indulgent life of a writer.

On the other hand … I get to discuss “Animal Husbandry In Space” this afternoon – a topic not only of exteme practical use, but fraught with vast comic potential, in my opinion. And my sister Kimberly has sent us up here with beautiful pins for me and my entourage – classic metal clock faces, with elegent numbers and no hands. Company badges! They are super cool.

*DISCONTINUITY*

And now it is evening; replete with a fine dinner, I am ensconced in my room with  my faithful entourage after a lovely afternoon and evening. The crowd was a little thin today, but nicely dressed – we saw many Whovians of various persuasions, including the ever-growing number of fans who choose to dress as a Tardis instead of a Time Lord … various members of military groups I did not recognize (but assume are space navies, due to their naval air but unidentifiable decorations); plus assorted Klingons, Browncoats, unspecified Victorian adventurers, a stuffed dog, a furry teddy bear, and Dr. Horrible. Also three ladies of my acquaintence in gloriously 1950’s-ish garb, who just came to see friends in the lobby and drink lethal-sounding cocktails. And the gentleman running tonight’s Casino, who has a stuffed monkey in his shirt pocket.

Pretty good bag for a quiet Friday at BayCon.

My afternooon panel on “Animal Husbandry In Space” was a lot of fun, though perhaps not for the Moderator. She tried heroically to keep us in line, but the panel was so bursting with ideas that we got away from her several times. Some fascinating ideas were aired – for example, does the immorality of eating meat mean  that building new ecosystems in space signals the need for a change to vat meat? To vegan diets? How do we deal with the desperate bacon addicts, the serious lack of fat and protien inherent in eating vegan, the lure of long pig in isolated space habitats bereft of beef and pork?

How do we care for animals in low or zero gravity? I favour the use of pygmy animals, for gravity sparseness as well as ease of stabling – cows, goats and horses all come in Fun Sizes. Conversely, rabbits are azvailable in sizes comparable to a human toddler, so you can aim at having a whole farmyard of edible animals no larger than, say, an average dog. Another panelist suggested magnetizing the hulls of space habitats and strapping magnets to animals’ feet. I think he was serious. But I couldn ‘t help imagining a solar flare producing en EMP that de-gausses your hull, fried your navigation system, and fills the air with floating goats …

know he was serious, though, when he suggested that the genetic alteration of spiders to the size of hassocks would provide both meat and textiles. Never mind that 4/5 of your general population would wash out of the colony program with screaming hysterics at the idea that Bossy, Flossy and Co. now have 6 eyes, mandibles and 8 hairy legs – you’d get meat with no bones, and silk.

Making do with sheep would probably be more practical.

But lots of excellent ideas on aquaculture, hydroponics, and small animal breeding were also advanced, and a good time was had by all.  Eating octopus and rats was generally rejected on the grounds of sentience. Recipes for crickets, silk worms and guinea pigs were sharecd. The necessity of crop rotation was re-discovered from first principles – and while I doubt our space and extra-terrestrial colonies will fall so far behind that they will need to do the same, it’s nice to know that the young of our species can still figure this one out.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to First Contact and Politics” and The Biology of Mythical Creatures”. Plus more people watching. And maybe, in Kage’s honour, I will try the Wonder Woman Shot featured in the bar: Goldschlager, Blue Curacao and Grenadine.

But probably not. Some madness is just too far.

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BayCon 2015: Dispatch 2

Kage Baker liked to get to a Con a day before she was actually due, It minimized the frantic race to get your passes and schedule, find your room, discover what indispensable item you had forgotten 8 hours and 300 miles back. You could eat dinner and usually look forward to breakfast as well.

I think it’s a great system – the more so because I have an utter horror of being late. Kage sailed through appointments with a queenly disregard  for the strictures of mere mortal time; maybe it was the Operative viewpoint. She never deliberately arrived late and she hated inconveniencing people – but she moved in her own time, and whenever she got where she was going was, obviously, the right time to be there …

My job was to warp Time and Space so Kage’s internal schedule meshed with the world’s. She had some unique escapement in her clockwork that could be gently tricked with the proper techniques – like setting clocks ahead. And lying. It all worked somehow.

But getting to Cons a day early was always a good idea. It usually works out that you arrive in early evening anyway, so it’s really just a case of being settled in place before all the running around begins. One hears stories … of people whose reservations were handed off to someone else, people who slept in the Convention Center halls for lack of housing, people who raced off to a first panel without checking in and thus lost their rooms and ended up living in the Green Room for 4 days. Kage and I had our reservation vanish into the aether at a Boston WorldCon, and only got a bed for the first night because Linn-the-agent called the hotel and frightened them into taking us in … somehow, though, they were also convinced that one of us was handicapped, and so we had a room scaled to someone in a wheeklchair – the security peephole was at waist level in the door, the bathroom was a jungle gym of bars, pipes, levers, handles. It was odd, and really raised our awareness of how non-handicapped people do not grasp the simple necessities of life for the handicapped.

But at least we didn’t have to sleep under a hot dog cart in a hallway. We knew someone who did. The steam cart kept them warm.

Anyway, Michael and I drove up I-5 this afternoon after his classes ended – college not taking a back seat to Cons in my book – and had a wonderful drive. The clouds were amazing, drifting and re-arranging themselves constantly; we even got rained on here and there. The west was filled with whipped cream. Hawks and ravens sported everywhere, hovering on thermals and pretending their grandfathers were hummingbirds. Cows had calves at their sides, sheep had lambs. We saw classic cars – Memorial Day Weekend is when the Fae start driving up and down the Californnia highways, you know. We saw a fire truck being carried home dead on an enormous flatbed. We saw a van emblazoned with a very unusual company name: Quake Finders. It had a huge ladder on its roof; made us wonder if they maybe went down into faults in their searches? Are sand worms the answer?

All in all, it was a vastly entertaining drive. The cross-over on Highway 152, through the Pacheco Pass, was especially beautiful – golden hills, oak savannah and waves of oats glittering in the wind.

And now we’re ensconsed in a comfy hotel room with a view of those same golden hills, east of Santa Clara. We also have a nice view of the Convention Center and the Great America theme park there. If there is a roller coaster disaster, we’ll have a front row seat.

Things should get more exciting tomorrow. Alien anatomy! First Contact! The 501st Legiion vs. Space Amazons!

Who knows? It could happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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BayCon 2015: Dispatch 1

Kage Baker loved going to science fiction conventions.

She’d never been to one before her first stories were published. Her tastes ran more to Beatlefests, and even there she wore earplugs (to keep out the screaming) and spent most of her time in the dealer room. She only went to her first genre convention out of a sense of duty – but she came home a confirmed enthusiast.

She still liked the dealer rooms best: not only signing her own books, but looking for goodies like ancient games, old peculiar films, local band CDs, cool accessories. However, as much as Kage hated speaking in front of crowds, she also quite enjoyed being on panels. That surprised her – it surprised me, too, because it was a matter of family canon that I would pontificate at the drop of a topic, while Kage was much more lady-like and reserved.  But it turned out that, given the safety of a table, a podium and a microphone, Kage loved to talk.

The odd cocktail in the hotel bar didn’t hurt, either. And there was people-watching to amuse her. And there were still the dealer rooms … especially after steam punk began to heat up; she loved brass and glass and finely articulated clockwork, and there was always a lot on offer.

I loved being Kage’s entourage. I loved the activity, I loved seeing her spread her wings and enchant the audience as only she could. I mean, I knew what an eloquent raconteusse she was – but it was only me and a few people who spent evenings in the darkened Inn Yard who had known what she was like when she got going. It was marvellous, watching Kage relax and perform, because she was a born storyteller.

And there were still the people-watching, the bars, the dealer rooms and so on to amuse me, too. Those were all better in her company as well, as she spun stories and speculations about the passing crowd … and the crowd at BayCon is especially rich and entertaining. Usually, besides the genre crowd, there are a cheer leading  contest and a missionaries’ symposium at the Santa Clara Convention Center – the mix of cheerleaders, clergy and the Con people was the best illustration ever of Zaphod’s line from The Restaurant At The End of The Universe: “The things are also people … “

One of my panels this weekend is about devising anatomy for extra-terrestrials (I think. This is why I bring notepads and an entourage.). One of the first such projects Kage and I ever tried was figuring out the anatomy of Zaphod Beeblebrox. Her sketches were amazing. And very much NSFW … but working out creative physiology is no end of fun.

Anyway, I have numerous things to keep me happy and busy. It turns out, to absolutely no one’s surprise, that I thrive in a panel atmosphere. Lights! Microphones! A topic! An audience! Engage mouth and set the repeat lever to infinity, man. I am in my element. And while I can be verbose on any subject going, there is little I like lecturing on as much as Kage Baker’s stories. Among those few things are biology, Mars and colonial ecosystems, in all of which BayCon has chosen to indulge me this year.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am going to have a great time.

I’m bringing an entourage – Kage taught me that was vital. The saintly and inhumanely patient Neassa will be meeting us there, as my keeper. And this year, I am also bringing along my nephew Michael – who is now impressively large and bearded and can mutter into his lapel like a proper bodyguard: when I can pry him out of the game and dealer rooms. Neassa is a past mistress at making sure I get where I am going and don’t lose my keys, my notes or my knitting. Like a noblewoman of the fae, all she ever asks is to subsequently dance all night when the panels shut down; so I hope there are some dance parties this year!

Anyway, Dear Readers – tomorrow I am off, driving out on the Road of the Weird in an effort to get my life back on track. There will be dispatches from the front, and reports on what is haunting I-5 this season; analyses of fashion among the Con folk, anecdotes of alien lifeforms, and critiques of snacks and cocktails. Hopefully, I won’t get my foot too far into my mouth anywhere.

The road beckons …

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Horribilis

Kage Baker had an enormous sympathy for Queen Elizabeth II, and her 40th anniversary speech of 1992,  in which the royal lady lamented her just-past Annus Horribilis: The Horrible Year.

In 1992, there was a dreadful fire at Windsor Castle, caused by a light in the Queen’s Chapel igniting a curtain. The Royal family was featured in some memorable scandals – Prince Charles was taped talking smut to Camilla Parker-Bowles while still married to the doomed Princess Diana; the Queen’s sister Anne was both divorced and re-married, becoming the first Royal to do so since Henry VIII. Elizabeth’s son Andrew, the Duke of York, had to fight an accusation of sleeping with an underage girl. His estranged and soon-to-be-ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, was caught in some poolside foot fetishism with an American businessman. And Elizabeth’s husband, Prince  Consort Philip, declined to pet a koala on a state visit to Australia, in case it should give him “some ghastly disease”. He also commented, when asked what he thought looking back over his life, that he wished he’d stayed in the Navy …

Queen Elizabeth must have wished, in 1992, that she could still import French swordsmen for some relative pruning.

Oh, and Pakistan beat the UK in the World Soccer Championship, too.

For Kage, too, 1992 was the Annus Horribilis. It was the year of the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles, which were rotten for everyone. The riots destroyed several landmarks of Kage’s life, and so terrified the insurance company we both worked for that they left California for South Carolina.

That was also the year Momma died. We both lost our jobs, we lost our house, and we ended up fleeing Los Angeles with everything we could fit in my van. And Kage never, ever came back.

I didn’t much cherish 1992 myself. However, it lost out for the No. 1 spot on my fecal roster in 2010, when Kage died. However, for sheer continuous low scale pain and frustration, 2015 is doing its very best to qualify for the top 10.

I caught shingles.  I think; whatever it was, it was ugly and it hurt. My flu shot was reported to be only 25% effective, and I caught 3 of the 4 flu strains it was meant to prevent; I had the flu for most of January and February, and it felt like I hacked out a lobe of each lung. My agents had various breakdowns and had to be talked down out of the trees. My travelling computer croaked it, my Kindle croaked it also, and I had to spend money I didn’t have to restore at least part of my electronic safety net. Two of my 1099’s never arrived, making tax season even more exciting for a self-and-barely employed writer.

These are all small things. Their main poison is that they have never stopped – the year so far keeps tripping and falling into yet another pool of crap. This week, my poor sister Kimberly has developed appalling pain and inflammation in her hip – and since she pretty much runs this household, and can barely walk, sleep or drive … well, it’s been a frantic time. Michael and I are filling in as much as we can, but Kimberly hates to relinquish some of the reins she so expertly manages – and some things, like finding a comfortable way to sleep on a bum hip, are not things some one else can do for you.

And to top it all off, last night at the grocery store, I backed into a little old man in a wheelchair. He was leaning over behind my car (according to a witness) and was essentially invisible. And I barely nudged him. He wasn’t knocked over or anything. Still: I backed into a little old man in a wheelchair.

No, he was not hurt. No, I did not run away. No, the police did not blame me. I called 911 and waited for the police and the paramedics; the paramedics pronounced him just fine, and I was courteously told I was free to go. We exchanged what information we could – he spoke only Armenian, and didn’t want to talk to me at all – and I reported it all to my insurance company.

Now I just wait to see what happens. Best scenario is that his family lawyer calls me up and yells at me. Worst scenario, I get sued. Ha ha ha, in that event – I am a dry well.

A sad, scared, depressed dry well. Having a low-level shit storm breaking on my unhappy head yet again. I have taken desperate refuge in my new Kindle, and am spending an inordinate amount of time reading. So sorry, Dear Readers, but it’s my tried-and-true safety zone in times like these.

Next week, though, I am going to BayCon: Women of Wonder! in Santa Clara – May 21st through 25th, I shall be swanning around the Hyatt at the Convention Center, in the hands of my entourage – Neassa and Michael, who are excellent me-wranglers. I shall write from there, and people-watch (“The things are also people …” ) and have a wonderful time pontificating from the several soap-boxes the nice Con staff has assigned to me.

In the meantime, I shall try to rise – again – above this unending tide of crummitude and woe. And if there isn’t a word like crummitude, there bloody well ought to be.

Annus horribilis, indeed. You know, a 9.8 earthquake is predicted for the 29th of May – something to do with planetary alignments (the perennial excuse) and that dear old mountebank, Nostradamus.

It’d almost be a relief …

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In The Luminous North

Kage Baker was an avid proponent of simply running away. Lighting out for the Territories. Hitting the road. She should have had a gypsy wagon or a boat at her disposal, for those moments when she looked down the long bright road at morning and just wanted to run.

Of course, gypsy wagons are hard to navigate on freeways. Also, horses scared her. And boats cost a lot of money, and do not automatically come with a rogeish, obediant crew. Me and Harry and a car was what Kage had to hand, and it all worked out pretty well.

She was wont to disguise these sudden flights into strange lands as writing sabbaticals – she was so good at it, in fact, that she did get a lot of writing done on them. But that was never their only purpose. Sometimes, she just yearned to be moving; ours was the sort of household where you’d wake up some morning, and simply get in the car and wander off. Day trips were always popular, but sometimes we left on a Friday and didn’t get back until Monday … it depended on whether or not we took Harry along. With Harry at home, we were always back by nightfall – one has obligations to companion animals. But if we took him with us … well, a lot of motels that won’t take dogs will accept a demure little bird in a cage.

So, when a friend asks me to house-sit, I am always delighted. I love the journey, the isolate freedom, the simple movement. Though the I-5 was more than a little scary this trip – so many fields fallow, or scorched and brown with a new crop dead in them. There are dust devils everywhere – I drove right through one, feeling the car jerk to one side and then the other as I punched through the circling walls of air. Very unnerving. I could see it as I came up on it, outlined in straw and dust and the spare bits of an ex-coyote; and I could see that my 70 mph vehicle did niot affect its walls at all in my rear view mirror.

Though for all the dessicated fields, the heart of the Long Valley was not as hot as Los Angeles …

The Altamont hills were not only not green at all, they were on fire. The smoke was peeling off in all directions in vast ribbons, spun out by the wind turbines blaze as the thing dun grass burned. In fact, I didn’t see a green hillside until I got to Berkeley – there, and further North, the hills were still a littke verdant. It wasn’t the rampaging green of the usuak spring growth – more like the dusty olive green of Mendoza’s childhoods in Spain and Australia – but at least it was green.

And here in the enchanted Berkeley cottage where I azm happily ensconced, I am under the blessed cloak hem of the fog. It comes and goes zall day, and the sunlkight strobes slowly on the garden through curtains of pearl and ivory. It’s wonderful.

The writing has not kicked in with its usual vigour, but part of that is my delight in just sitting here being cool again. Also, I am breaking in a new Buke – a mini tablet for journies, as Kage’s dear old original Buke has grown eccentric and tricksy. I had the minimal good sense to get a decently sized peripheral keyboard, but my typing is still bad as I get used to the new touch.

This new Buke would have been impossible for Kage – it’s an Amazon Fire, working off a proprietory browser called Silk and God only knows what OS. Here’s where decades of making my living as a temp office worker stand me in good stead: I have no problem figuring out how it works. I’ve dealt with much more opaque systems, usually designed by the CEO’s wife or kid … I’ve often earned my bread by haviung a sort of charisma over Windows clones. But Kage would have lost her mind in short order.

However, I am fine. It’s beautiful up here, and if I am not writing as much as I wanted to, I am at least writing.

The journey is often so much more important than ever arriving …

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