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The Lampworks Lamplighter SF & Fantasy News & Reviews
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The Lampworks Lamplighter
SF & Fantasy News & Reviews
Like a Stream Returning Not Again…
Time is something that humanity has always known and measured. Early humans marked the days of the year to know when the solstices were, when to plant crops, when to expect the monsoons. But we tend to think of timekeeping as a more modern device. Clocks to tell workers their shift at the factory, or when to expect the next train. (Time zones were the creation of the railroads to allow them to synchronize their schedules.)
I did some reading for a time-travel story. Would people a thousand years ago have said, “I’ll meet you in an hour,” or “it took fifteen minutes to get to the market?” I found that as early as 1500 B.C., sundials were in use that divided the day into twelve parts, the basis for our modern clock faces. The division of circles into sixty parts dates back to the early Babylonians. The astronomer Ptolemy divided them again into sixty. The first divisions were minutae (minutes), and the second divisions were minutae secundae (seconds). But while the hours were divided into minutes and seconds over two thousand years ago, they weren’t used until the first mechanical clocks in the early fourteenth century, the time of Chaucer. (But a ‘moment’ was about 1/40 of an hour. Go figure.)
But the idea of time as something precious that can be wasted, which seems so modern, makes an appearance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:
Let’s lose as little time now as we may.
My lords, it’s time that wastes both night and day,
That robs us while we sleep without defense,
And while awake, through our own negligence.
It’s like a stream returning not again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
Well Seneca, like others of his measure,
Bewails the loss of time more than of treasure:
‘Of chattels there may be recovery,
But we are ruined by loss of time,’ said he.
Now that I’ve wasted this time in researching minutia that might be at best background for a story someday, I’ll leave you with this question. How can you count to twelve on the four fingers of one hand, as the ancient Babylonians might have? Or for a bonus question: A clerk in a hardware store once counted out 31 items for me using one hand. How did he do it? The first five people to send me a correct answer at email@example.com will win a free certificate for a kindle copy of one of our books, Sellenria or Knots. The answers will appear in next month’s newsletter.
Monsieur Resche is an art thief. He has crossed a bridge into a quaint town, a town that disappeared from Switzerland four centuries ago. Magic is possible there; in fact, all the magic that our world once had has ended up there. A precisely tied knot, an exactly folded paper, or a cunningly drawn figure can unlock wonders and horrors.
Resche has a mind that lets him excel at this new craft, but that brings him to the notice of powerful mages who play a great game of geomancy with tiles the size of countries. And when he looks for the bridge back to Geneva, it is nowhere to be found.
The Fractalist priest offers aid that may not be what it appears, the Jeweler has intricate schemes, the newspaper editor has taken an interest, the Astromancer had good advice before she was murdered, and Resche’s cat just makes wisecracks.
Knots is a compelling story filled with unexpected characters, plot twists, literal location twists, mystery, and redemption.
What We’re Reading
Visit our archive of reviews and recommendations on the Books We Like page of our website. You’ll find over one hundred recommendations in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Non Fiction.
Any book that has an occupation of ‘coincidence engineer’ has something going for it. Undertow has some interesting propositions to set up its world: instantaneous interstellar travel but only for non-sentient matter; people have to take the slow boat. Quantum uncertainty that can be manipulated on the macro level to create ‘luck’.
Those things got me hooked and kept me interested, but there were also a few things that left me unsatisfied. People’s reactions to events were sometimes puzzling. Even though you eventually learn why, the lack of any other characters questioning the dissonance was rather odd. The resolution also struck me as a bit magical, and not as satisfying as it could be. I’ve enjoyed Bear’s later works greatly. Despite a few flaws this is certainly worth reading.
House of Rain
House of Rain is one of those rare books that may change you forever. It’s not destined to have that affect on everyone, but for those with even a passing interest in the ancient Anasazi culture of the American Southwest (think Mesa Verde or Chaco Canyon), this book is a page-turner. While archaeology can seem like a dry subject, Craig Childs is a different kind of archaeologist. Part scientist, part adventurer, and occasional mystic, he seems driven by a passion not just to discover and understand, but to FEEL.
He uses the power of archaeological research and analysis mixed with his remarkable knowledge of the desert itself to build up an understanding of ancient people like layers on a painting, giving them the details that are often missing from a purely scientific approach. He seeks out their motivations, joys, sorrows, aspirations, and tragic ends. Is he absolutely right in all his inferences? Sometimes yes, other times perhaps not, but that may not be the point. There are many sources of information about the Ancient Puebloan cultures that stick strictly to known, established data and analysis. The true value of this book is in the intelligent, informed questions it asks and the unique literal and figurative paths it explores through Childs’ almost lyrical writing. His theories aren’t completely out there, but he isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers with unorthodox thinking and his style of writing is engaging and thought-provoking, liberally sprinkled with vivid descriptions and entertaining tales of his adventures in the desert backcountry.
House of Rain has a structure that is almost a story within a story, which ties the various anecdotes and vignettes together as he slowly builds his case for the explanation of the mysterious vanishing of the Anasazi around the 13th century AD. As a long-time archaeology fanatic (who actually minored in archaeology as an accompaniment to my anthropology major) and with a longtime interest in the Ancient Puebloan peoples of the Southwest, I found the final chapters of this book almost breathtaking. Childs looks deeper at the holes in the ground and the scant remains of a past civilization, as well as the environment in which they lived to discern amongst the detrius, fleeting glimpses what their lives were truly about.
In a world enlarged by augmented reality, where smart clothes and smart lenses add layers of context and metadata to your experience, those who came to this experience late in life are at a disadvantage compared to the younger generation. Our foil in this story is Robert Gu, recently cured of Alzheimer’s, who is struggling to re-integrate with this society. His children and their friends introduce him to this world, with mixed results. One symbol of this change is the effort to digitize all the works in the University Library – an effort that will free the world’s knowledge to be used by all, at the cost of destroying the books themselves.
A shapeshifter breaks the first rule of her kind and allows a human to learn what she is. It’s fortunate that she did, because she’ll need that friendship to sustain her when a predator threatens to make her the last of her kind. Julie Czerneda’s universe is full of a wonderful biological diversity and she connects her characters’ motives to their biological imperatives in a way that few other authors do.
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