When Horses Fly

by wjw on January 31, 2023

I suppose because I was the most junior person on board, I was first through the hatch, and then I just gaped.

The smell struck me first, horse dung and horse sweat and horse panic and horse urine, all blended into a primeval acid reek that scalded the back of my throat. And then there was the demented sight of a dozen or more horses thrashing in zero gravity, legs kicking, eyes starting, foam flying from their nostrils, teeth bared, manes flying… They kicked at each other, at the walls, and at the three or four wranglers who were nearly as helpless as the horses. 

Vittuperkele, I thought.

So a while back anthologist David Boop asked me to contribute a story to an anthology of space westerns. My initial response was not exactly positive, because I had the impression that I was staring into a void chock-full of cliches, without an obvious way out. And then I realized that I not only had an idea, it was an idea that would kind of turn the concept inside-out.

So I wrote the story “West. World.” about a group of people living in a space habitat who were trying to make a western film. Complete with horses that had to be shipped up from Earth, and which didn’t react well to being cut adrift in zero gravity.

It’s a largely comic story, filled with satire about the sort of people who make high-concept big-budget movies. And it’s chock-full of authentic details, like why most people in the Wild West wore derby hats, and why roping a horse in zero gee will just put you in orbit around an enraged animal. And you will also discover that a perfectly genuine job title in the movies is “Second Second Assistant Director.”

And if my story doesn’t set your dinner gong a-ringin’, there are ten other imaginative authors working their changes on the idea.

High Noon on Proxima B goes on sale on February 7. Snag it with your lasso and take it home.

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Whole Yellow

by wjw on January 29, 2023

For Cousin Cindy’s visit the other day, I cooked a large ham. It was something like 12 pounds, so it lasted considerably longer than the night Cindy was here. Since then we’ve enjoyed ham sandwiches, ham omelettes, and ham fried rice. Because there was a leftover ham bone, I was inspired to make a memory from my childhood, whole yellow pea soup (with ham), which is very pleasing on a cold winter night.

I think it’s a Scandinavian thing. My mother used to make this all the time when I was in Minnesota, but when the family moved to New Mexico, whole yellow peas could not be found in any of the stores. We could have had split pea soup, but I never really cared for it— the split peas half-dissolve to form a kind of slurry that has an unpleasant mouth feel. I much preferred the feel of whole yellow peas that hadn’t dissolved, and that I could bite into.

It no longer matters what the local stores carry or don’t. Amazon carries about fifteen brands of whole yellow peas, and I ordered a pound sack. Here’s the recipe if you care to try it.

Ingredients:

1 pound whole yellow dried peas.

Ham bone.

8 oz cubed ham

Bay leaf.

1 large chopped onion.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Thyme to taste.

8 cups chicken stock.

Put the peas in a non-reactive bowl and fill with water 2 inches above the level of the peas. Soak overnight.

Drain the water. Put chicken stock in a stock pot, then add all ingredients but the cubed ham. Make sure the liquid covers the peas by at least two inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 90-120 minutes. During the last half hour, add the cubed ham.

The soup is done when the peas have ceased to be crunchy. Remove ham bone and serve. (The soup, not the ham bone.)

If you want to do the Swedish version (Ärtsoppa), add a swirl of whole-grain mustard to the center of the soup bowl. Being New Mexican, I added red pepper flakes.

Since it’s a soup, you are encouraged to add anything you think might enhance its flavor. Some versions call for carrots, celery, and/or ginger. There’s another version that calls for bacon instead of ham.

There’s also a French-Canadian version that I’m not familiar with. I’m sure it will get you through a cold winter night, though.

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How I Are a Williams

by wjw on January 27, 2023

Victor and Alexsandra

A few days ago I had a visit from my cousin Cindy, who was in transit from Minnesota to visit friends in Arizona. Cindy has been assembling a genealogy of our family, and I was able to share a few stories about our history, including the story of how I became a Williams.

I figure I may as well share it with the rest of you.

My paternal grandfather Victor Kuusikoski (born 1876) hailed from the town of Kankaanpää, which was then in the Finnish province of Ostrobothnia, a part of the Russian Empire. Kuusikoski either means “Seven Pines” or “Seven Rapids,” or so I am told— the Finns in that part of the world usually chose a name from their environment, and if they moved they often changed their name to match their new neighborhood. (And frequent name changes also might have kept them safer from the Russian military draft.)

Victor married Alexsandra (born 1882) , whose surname I have as Myllymäki but Cindy has as Myllyharju— I believe they both mean “Mill Hill”— and any confusion is not made any clearer by her brother Anton, who used the name Anttila. They had a daughter named Josephine (Cindy’s grandma) before Victor had pretty much had it with Ostrobothnia, or the Russians, or both. The plan was for him to head into the New World and establish himself, after which he would send for Alexsandra and their child.

The plan went awry pretty quickly, as Victor ended up in a lumber camp in Canada, where he worked as a lumberjack. This was a “hot bed” outfit, where Victor had use of a bed for a 12 hour shift, and someone else the other 12 hours. On Saturdays the lumberjacks were transported to the nearest town, where they could spend their pay in company-owned stores, saloons, and brothels.

This system was designed to trap the workers, and Victor was stuck in the trap for about eight years. When he emerged, he had a new name.

The boss of the camp was Welsh. (Welsh people were known as “Cousin Jacks,” though the dictionary tells me the term is used for Cornishmen. Some people can’t tell one Celt from another.) When Victor arrived at the camp, the boss asked his name. He then asked how the name was spelled.

“From now on your name is Williams,” said Cousin Jack, making him an honorary Welshman. Victor was therefore able to give his surname as Williams when he eventually moved to the States.

But in the meantime, Alexsandra had got tired of waiting for her husband to send for her, and got on a steamer to New York on her own, where she established herself as a cook for rich people. Once she got herself settled, she sent for daughter Josephine, who came to America on her own.

Josie was 10 years old when she made her journey. Let it not be said that Finns are without resource.

At some point Victor made a not-quite-legal visit to the States, to check out the availability of farmland. Apparently the trip had positive results.

Victor engaged in a correspondence with Alexsandra, trying to convince her to join him at his farm, or at any rate the farm he intended to buy. She had built a life for herself and her daughter, and was reluctant to give all that up, but eventually she joined Victor in Minnesota, in a largely Finnish district. Three sons followed, the last of whom was my father.

The last time I visited Victor and Alexsandra was when I visited their grave in 2018. They are in the cemetery of Markham Township, after which I named the nautical family in my Privateer series. The gravestone proclaims them WILLIAMS, which looks a little odd next to the Wirtanens, Kilpelas, and Kaupinnens buried alongside them.

As a tribute to my far-traveled grandfather, I put a character named Victor Kuusikoski into a couple of the Privateer books, as an immigrant sailor persecuted as a witch. There is in fact witchcraft in my family, but my grandfather wasn’t the magic one. Maybe I’ll tell that story another time.

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1941-2023

by wjw on January 19, 2023

David Crosby is the only major rock star I ever had a conversation with, backstage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. We weren’t exactly a mutual admiration society: I adored his music; and though a science fiction fan who knew my name, he’d never read any of my books. (I sent him some, but I have no idea if he ever read them.)

I’ve read his autobiographies, full of fraught and hazard, and I’m amazed he made it to 81.

Here he is performing “Déjà Vu,” which was for its time a song completely without precedent. He’s accompanied by Chris Thile on mandolin.

It’s about memory and sadness. Enjoy.

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A Little Joiking in the Night

by wjw on January 16, 2023

Friend of the blog Steinar Bang has sent me this clip of Norway-born Sami Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen performing a masterful joik.

It appears to be some kind of competition show. Now why can’t we have shows like this in the States?

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I Am Revu’d

January 13, 2023

Locus Online has published Russell Letson’s lengthy, thoughtful review of Imperium Restored. I quote from a key paragraph: I will repeat (again) the observation I made at the very start, two decades back: that despite marketing language and cover iconography, these are not only space-operatic military adventures but also novels of manners, which makes them […]

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Go Yeoh!

January 11, 2023

Via Variety: Nobody is going to play off Michelle Yeoh. The actor, who won her first Golden Globe on Tuesday, jokingly told the awards show’s producers to “shut up” after trying to cut her speech short.  “I can beat you up,” said Yeoh as music started to play midway through her remarks. “And that’s serious.” Man, […]

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Saladin Swings Spider-Man

January 11, 2023

We continue with our survey of releases in 2022 from veterans of Taos Toolbox, the master class for writers of science fiction and fantasy. Saladin Ahmed was at the very first Toolbox in 2007, where he workshopped his novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, subsequently nominated for every award in the field. Saladin was nominated […]

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Feed the Bear

January 2, 2023

It’s the New Year, so the application season for Taos Toolbox has finally opened! Taos Toolbox, the master class for writers of science fiction and fantasy, has a proven record of helping new writers make sales, win awards, and build careers. If your New Year’s resolution for 2023 is “working toward becoming a professional writer,” […]

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Buffelhunde

December 30, 2022

Lawrence M. Schoen has published widely, has won both the Hugo and Campbell Awards, and speaks fluent Klingon. He’s also a veteran of Taos Toolbox, the master class for writers of fantasy and science fiction. His latest publication in 2022 is based on a singular idea. His popular “Buffalito” series about far-future stage hypnotist the […]

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