Return of Bird of the Week: Downy Woodpecker


Common, very widely distributed and tolerant of humankind, the Downy Woodpecker is easily attracted to a suet feeder. Its range extends across North America, from the Seward Peninsula in Alaska to southern Florida, and from southern California to Labrador. A smaller version of the Hairy Woodpecker, it’s interesting because the male and female generally forage…

Not a Creature Was Stirring…


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the houseNot a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there… Many of Americans’ ideas about Santa Claus and Christmas Eve trace to “A Visit from Santa Claus,” also known as “The…

Welcome to Mordor!


Since Mordor was opened to tourism in February 2020 – the arrival of COVID-19 was likely but not certainly a coincidence – it’s become a popular destination for those folks wanting to escape from the pandemic and yet be reasonably safe from infection by the virus. Mordor, of course, is all about social distancing. WC…

Paths of the Dead, Book Three in the Paarfi Romances

This Guy Named Paarfi


Steven Brust is one of WC’s very favorite authors. He might be the best fantasy writer in the genre today; certainly among the most durable. His first novel, Jhereg, came out in 1983. About a third of Brust’s work is written in the style of Alexander Dumas. And the plots of those novels loosely follow some…

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

Dealing with Quarantine: Brewer’s Dictionary


The late Terry Pratchett wrote the Foreword to the 16th Edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. He said, It was my introduction to mythology and ancient history and a lot more, too, because Brewer’s is a serendipitous (see page 1063) book. In other words, you might not find what you are looking for, but…

Yes, you are right -- I am a moralist in disguise; it gets me into heaps of trouble when I go thrashing around in political questions.

The 110th Anniversary of Mark Twain’s Death


Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a/k/a Mark Twain, had a huge influence on WC as a young man. In particular his later works, stuff like The Mysterious Stranger, “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg,” Letters from Earth and A Pen Warmed Up in Hell have an obvious impact on WC’s writing even today. Twain’s critical essay on James Fenimore Cooper, “Cooper’s Literary…

John McPhee, 2018 (Uncredited photo from Columbia Journal)

Notes on John McPhee


John McPhee is, by a wide margin, WC’s favorite non-fiction writer. McPhee’s last book, The Patch, and his recent essay in the New Yorker are both collections of fragments, work he started and never finished, ideas he played with and could never turn into a compete work, ideas that he never got around to. The fragments are fascinating…

John McPhee, The Patch (2019)

Book Review: The Patch, John McPhee


John MacPhee is WC’s favorite non-fiction writer, as WC has likely said too often in this blog. He’s 88 years old now, with some 36 books published (all of them still in print). WC owns all of them. They overfill a shelf. The Patch, his latest, is something of an experiment. The first third, titled…

A Marilyn Fitschen illustration of Prospero from the Ace paperback edition

Book Review: The Face in the Frost (Updated)


The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs ISBN 158754105X (2000) Magic Mirrors, John Bellairs (Edited by Ann Broomhead and Timothy Szczesuil) NESFA Press, iSBN 978-1-886778-67-2 (12009) This is fantasy reduced to its purest form. From a laugh out loud first few pages you are plunged into nightmare and horror through to a purely satisfying ending. In…

Sea Otter, Valdez Arm, Alaska

Theodore Sturgeon (1918-1985) and “Like Young”


Theodore Sturgeon is nearly forgotten. A part of science fiction’s Golden Age, he was a prolific, very highly regarded author. He wrote a dozen or so novels, but mostly he wrote short stories, more than 200 of them. Today is the 60th anniversary of WC’s favorite Sturgeon short story, “Like Young.” It’s an unmatched parable…

Bill Fulton, Telling a Story

Book Review: Blood of Patriots


In a better world, Schaeffer Cox’s mental illness would have been diagnosed sooner and the events of Blood of Patriots wouldn’t have happened. His paranoia and delusions magnified his narcissism and shaky grasp on reality. The explosive combination of a pathological liar and remarkably high charisma were exactly the wrong traits for his personality. It still…

Terry Pratchett Appearance at Science Fiction/Fantasy Convention

WC’s Annual Tribute to His Favorite Author


Terry Pratchett died back in 2015, but that hasn’t stopped WC from posting his annual tribute to his favorite author. Pratchett’s brilliant body of work, fifty or so novels and dozens of short stories, are a legacy that will outlast us all. Among Pratchett’s many wonderful attributes was his modesty. For a man who sold more…

Book Review: The Broken Earth Trilogy


“Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.” N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy is simply the best fantasy series WC has read in the last 25 years. It’s better than the…

Doonesbury, April 21, 1973

Guilt! Gulty! Guilty! Post-Post-Irony


Back in 1973, as Watergate was just starting to break, Garry Trudeau, in his three-year old comic strip Doonesbury, weighed in: In those early times, the strip was pretty controversial, and a number of newspapers, including the Washington Post, refused to run the comic.1 Never mind that Trudeau was mocking the left for pre-judging Mitchell.2 Mitchell was…

Red Fox, McCall, Idaho

Reynard


Reynard is to Northern European folktales as Raven is to Alaska. Trickster, joker and deceiver. The stories reached English in watered-down form, like the Grimm Brothers Fox stories. Here’s a Reyanrd the Fox1 story from WC’s ancestral stomping grounds, Holland, that gives you a flavor of Reynard as the stories were told about him in…

A Librarian’s Yard Decoration


One of WC’s neighbors has this signpost in his front yard. Yes, he is a librarian. What a terrific summer reading list. Identification of the various destinations is left as an exercise to the reader. All of the books referenced – well, maybe not the Rick Riordan novels – are worth your time.

What WC Is Reading


The weather sucks, WC is struggling with a head cold and it’s the same old same old among the yard birds. So WC has been doing a lot of reading. Much of it has turned out to be pretty good. Here’s a quick overview of recent, decent stuff. Michael Lewis famously write Moneyball, which somehow got…

Ursula K. Le Guin

“Alternative Facts” – A Clarification


One of WC’s favorite authors, Ursula K. Le Guin, recently wrote a letter to the Oregonian objecting to the characterization of President Trumpster’s “alternatie facts” as science fiction. In her own inimitable style, she describes the difference. WC sets out her letter in full. A recent letter in The Oregonian compares a politician’s claim to tell “alternative facts”…

A Modest Digression


Before we all take ourselves too seriously, let’s make a brief digression into Jasper Fforde’s Well of Lost Plots, where we find this gem. “Good. Item seven. The had had and that that problem. Lady Cavendish, weren’t you working on this?’ Lady Cavendish stood up and gathered her thoughts. ‘Indeed. The uses of had had and that that have to be strictly controlled; they…