Review: A Life with Footnotes, by Rob Wilkins


For more than 15 years, Rob Wilkins worked as the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s personal assistant. Outside of Pratchett’s immediate family, no one knew Sir Terry better. More than seven years after Pratchett’s death in 2015, Wilkins has finished the autobiography that Pratchett started and didn’t or couldn’t complete. The last hundred pages are wrenching,…

Two Approaches to Teaching Geology


WC has read two lay geology books recently, and the contrast in their approaches to the rocky science is itself instructive. Both are fine examples of cogent, readable explanation of geology, in this case the geology of the Great Basin. The first is Frank DeCourten’s The Great Basin Seafloor, which is a geologic history of…

Remembering Molly Ivins (1944-2007)


(This is a part of an eclectic, sometime series on writers and artists WC has known and doesn’t want forgotten. The first post in this series was on Steve Goodman. The second was on Sir Terry Pratchett. WC has also written about Laura Nyro, Bill Berry, Jo Ann Wold and Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Here’s…

Revisiting Earthsea


Earthsea is the world invented by the late Ursula K. LeGuin. Across five decades, five novels and a volume of short stories and essays, she created one of the most memorable, self-consistent and vivid imaginary universes in literature. LeGuin, in her lifetime, earned eight Hugos, six Nebulas, and twenty-two Locus Awards, and in 2003 became the second woman…

WC’s Summer Reading List


For WC and, WC suspects, most of his readers, these are not happy times. Between the lunatics running the asylum, the baking hot consequences of climate change, Putin’s vanity war in Ukraine and the latest surge of the pandemic, it might just be time to escape into a good book. WC has some recommendations, none…

Remembering SFBC


Technically, the Science Fiction Book Club is still around, even if it’s a pitiful, feeble shell of what it was. But WC is getting ahead of his story. In 1976, in response to a mail solicitation (“Get Three Books for Free!”), WC joined the Science Fiction Book Club. It was owned by Doubleday then, but…

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…

Nome Sunset; Open Water in Norton Sound in Mid-March; photo © Laurent Dick 2019

Climate Change Gets Real


Laurent Dick, one of Alaska’s best nature photographers, is in Nome, Alaska for the end of the 2019 Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He captured this lovely sunset photo from the beach, not far from the arch marking the end of the Iditarod. What’s astonishing about the photo is that Norton Sound is open. Open water.…

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…