A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stolen Valor, a Footnote

TOF missed a point in his post "Bruce Jenner, Rene Descartes, and Stolen Valor" that examples of stolen valor include not only those who claim medals but never served, but also white women who imagine they are black. This latter is not quite the same as men who imagine they are women or Frenchmen who imagine they are Napoleon because there is a quite evident need/desire to join oneself to a good and triumphant cause/group. It is related to the enormous surge in Irish-Americans round about every 17 March, when famously "everyone becomes Irish." We see it too among those who kvell over standing up to "microaggressions" or "trigger words" as if that were the same thing as marching across the bridge at Selma, or even standing up to the "great wall of hate" on the viaduct in Milwaukee. The ranks of the Old Guard very likely swelled after they were wiped out -- Frenchmen claiming that had served among them. The number of Southerners participating in Pickett's Charge undoubtedly increased as time went on. People often long to have been there "with the heroes," like generals always fighting the previous war.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Promise of God

One of TOF's fantasies, perhaps his only fantasy, was the short story "The Promise of God," which appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in March 1995. It is a bit under 6500 words, and TOF offers it up on the Story and Preview Page for the next week or so. See the links for the other Pages on this site, situated in the left margin; though judging by the lack of comments there, TOF may rethink the strategy. Well sometimes the comments are here on the blog.

This story was inspired by, of all people, Orson Scott Card. He was GoH at Lunacon one year and gave a presentation called IIRC "One hundred ideas per hour." It was a mass brainstorming session by which he sought to elicit story ideas from the attendees to show how simple it was to generate such ideas. It was quite an interactive session. After deciding on fantasy and a female protagonist and a few other things, he proposed that magic, like an action in  physics, elicits a reaction. One such reaction, which he discarded, was that every time a magician casts a spell, he loses part of his soul. (He was getting multiple ideas at each stage of brainstorming.)

TOF was in the back of the room and when this idea was suggested he said, "Oh!" and this story was conceived. It was only an embryo of a story, but as it grew and developed, it was finally born and (being clear fantasy) was sent off to F&SF, K.K.Rusch, ed. She thought the ending needed clarification. (The original ending was the penultimate sentence.) So TOF inserted a few reminders of a specific item and a more explicit final sentence.

Later, Gardner Dozois selected it for The Year's Best SF, 13th ed.

Neither TOF, nor K.K. nor Gardner noticed that a supporting character's name had changed halfway through the narrative. (Agnes became Alice somehow.) This flaw has been corrected in the version here presented.

Recently, TOF discussed the problem of Infodumping and modestly proposes this story as one way to deal with it. A host of data on the mixed ancestry of the culture of the story is displayed in various ways -- Leif ben Eric, the mezuzah to appease the household lares, the sheepskin, the vestal's dagger, the knout, the use of antique English words like rixler, wereman and wifman, beek, and so on, all hopefully growing clear in the context.

See what you think. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Work progresses on Nexus, which now runs just over 15 kilowords of Immortal Prose. A few of those words to sketch the sixth and final character.

Since he has already teased the Reader with sketches of I. Loberta Shinbro and V. Annie Troy, perhaps TOF should backpedal and add at some point the sketches for II. Stacey Papandreou, III. Bruno Zendahl, and IV. Jim-7.

TOF and the military

During TOF's brief tenure in ROTC, he had occasion to attend the annual Caisson Ball. (It was an artillery unit.) His then girl friend, the charming Miss Sharon, gracefully condescended to be his date, resulting in the following picture, which no doubt sent shivers through the Viet Cong ranks at the thought that he might be commissioned a 2nd Lt. of artillery.
TOF's membership in the band entitled him to wear the fourragère. Cadet ranks were on the epaulets.

Alas, or fortunately depending on POV, TOF was classified 4-F, which meant that in case he was drafted he was to be a hostage. Ho ho. TOF jests. The enemy would not have taken him. In any case, he did not complete ROTC and the Army breathed a collective sigh of relief.

There is a story about the Caisson Ball. TOF will not tell the story

Friday, August 21, 2015

TOF Goes to College

Last Sunday, TOF attended a picnic at the home of his former girlfriend from high school. She had invited a bunch of her neighbors, and her mother, brother, and sister whom TOF knew of old. There were also a pod of classmates as well as food.
Sharon, for such is the girlfriend's name brought forth some old snapshots she had taken back in the day. Some were of the school play and suchlike things. She has now emailed several of these to TOFlandia.

 In the first picture, he stands in gawky youthfulness with his parental units, who seem unnaturally young themselves. This was, TOF was assured, the day he went off to college down in Philly town; viz., LaSalle College. This pix was snapped by Sharon.

The second picture was taken in TOF's dorm room by someone in an artistic mood. You can tell because it is black and white and is candle-lit. The TOFling is staring as if hypnotized into the flame. Or perhaps he has fallen asleep.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On the telos of eating

Over on another forum, jmhenry has deftly explained the nature of a central Post Modern concern.

A dialogue...

A: Last night, I got together with some friends, had good conversations, laughed together, enjoyed one another's company, and then we ate sawdust. It was a pleasant evening. We had a great meal.

B: Well, no, you didn't. You ate sawdust. The nutritive end of the activity you were engaged in was completely missing. Therefore, properly speaking, you did not have a meal.

A: Nonsense. A meal is about more than just eating food. It's about good conversation, laughing together, enjoying each other's company. We had all of that. So why would you say we didn't have a meal?

B: All of the things you mention are indeed good, and they certainly enrich and fulfill what a good meal should be. But the nutritive end of eating is what unifies and makes them intelligible under the description of having a meal. You can't sever the nutritive end from the activity without fundamentally changing the nature of that activity.

A: So only nutrition counts as a meal, nothing more, nothing less?

B: No. I suppose science might someday invent a pill which you could take that would conceivably give you all the daily nutrients you require. But no one would seriously suggest that taking the pill constituted having a meal; or, to put it another way, engaging in that distinctive kind of activity which we call "having a meal." A true meal would necessarily include all the other essential goods you mentioned -- good conversation, enjoying one another's company, etc.

A: Okay, but what if we didn't eat just sawdust? What if, instead, we had barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes, a casserole, the whole nine yards? But then, later, we all got indigestion! Maybe we even got so sick that we had to, ahem, spend some time in the bathroom regurgitating our "meal" into the toilet. Then we wouldn't have had a meal, right? We ate real food, but the nutritive end was never served, since we just threw up the food.

B: Even if the nutritive end was never completed, you still had a meal, since "having a meal" as a distinctive kind of activity is always ordered towards the nutritive end, whether that end is fulfilled or not. It's still a meal, in that it still belongs to the species "meal," even if only deficient specimen of the species. However, activities that are not ordered towards the nutritive end at all never even rise to the level of being a deficient specimen of a meal. They are no specimen of a meal period.

A: I still think you're too obsessed with nutrition. Focusing on that seems to impoverish what a true meal is. We need to articulate a rich picture of the nature of a meal, instead of just pointing to eating food.

B: I agree. But, again, the nutritive end of eating is what unifies and makes intelligible all the other goods that define having a meal as a distinctive form of activity. So we must at least begin there... 

Faithful Reader may imagine another situation to which a parallel analysis might be applied. Perhaps regarding the other interactive power of the vegetative nature.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fun With Statistics

The Wall Street Journal tells us
The fleet of battery-powered cars is rising, and their owners are more than twice as wealthy as most Americans. An Experian Automotive study found that more than 20% of them are middle-aged professionals who make more than $175,000 a year. 
TOF can already envision the headlines. Buying an electric car will make you rich!! After all, it's statisticalistic. You can't argue with stats!
(If you think that's risible, you haven't been paying attention to the way such statistics are interpreted by the axe-grinders. Married people are happier; so we should force people into marriage to make them happy! Perhaps more infamously, home-owners are more prosperous, so we should loosen the rules for mortgage qualification so the poor people can also prosper!)

Actually, the item tells us that the cost of building charging stations for the wealthy electrocar owners will be added to the rates for the utility, so that poor people will have the pleasure of subsidizing the luxuries of the rich.


Another example of Statistics in Action, due to the gimlet eye of Wm. M. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars:
When I first ascend to Emperor, after throwing into the dungeon any within earshot who cannot speak a full sentence without using ‘like’, my first act will be to create a year-long moratorium on all science publishing.
I’ll do this out of kindness. The system is rigged to tempt people beyond endurance to write papers that are either (A) nonsense or (B) what everybody already knows re-packaged as “research.” This must be stopped because it is having a terrible effect on the sanity of the nation.
As proof, I offer the peer-reviewedParental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression” by Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä in the journal Demography, a paper which was announced by the Washington Post with the headline, “Parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner“.
The Post’s headline is possibly the result of insanity; it is certainly nonsense.
Read the rest at the link.