Progress report


Encyclopaedia Britannica is ceasing publication of its print edition after a 244 year run.  Britannica’s been around longer than the Declaration of Independence, and longer than the Declaration of the Rights of Man.  And now, in its original format, it won’t be.

I’m not going to bemoan that change.  It’s a natural progression.  You don’t last 244 years without making accommodation for a changing world.  Britannica began publication in 1768 in the country from which it takes its name, but now it’s an American concern–more than that, it’s a Chicago concern.  Where was Chicago in 1768?  The encyclopaedia itself is older than the city it calls home.

I hope Britannica lasts another 244 years, if it can maintain the same mission it’s had for the last two and a half centuries, of making available to us a compilation and condensation of human knowledge, accessibly presented.  And if it does, then within a generation, no one will care that it used to be on paper, and now it’s not–anymore than Canadians walk into the Bay or Zellers and think to themselves, “Hmm, and to think, back in the seventeenth century, this is the company that was chartered by the King to administer English colonisation of northern Ontario and Quebec!”

I myself made the digital switch with Britannica about ten years ago, when Lisa bought me the complete Encyclopaedia in CD.  It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever received–but it was one of the best gifts because of the love I’ve always had for the print edition.

When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had a wonderful public library–I never realised how wonderful until we moved to Florida and the ones that replaced it proved to be … lacking.  And one of the best things about this library was its complete set of both the Britannica micropaedia and the macropaedia.

Man, that macropaedia.  So much of who I am, so much of the knowledge I love, I first found in that encyclopaedia.  I vividly remember the Graeco-Roman civilisation article being over a hundred pages long.  How many words are on a printed page of Britannica?  A thousand?  Two thousand?  Three thousand?  That article must have been as long as any novel I’d read at the time I worked my way through it.

So I don’t mourn the death of the printed edition, and I don’t complain that we’re now moving into a world where Britannica can deliver all the knowledge it’s always delivered, but paperlessly.  But I do take this opportunity to express my gratitude that I had the paper edition in my childhood, and for all the paper edition gave me.


Words yesterday: 2459
Words so far: 98,636

Time spent writing: 12.30-3pm
Reason for stopping: End of naptime
Darling: He couldn’t stop himself from crying out at every blow, but he was so spent now that each cry came only as a pathetic, mewling whimper.
Tyop: They went a hundred and eight degrees around the building.g
New words today: oily, paddock, jackboot
Words that boggled Word: heavybrowed, afterwards

The toasted pasta sandwich

So in pursuit of

I am posting


As an Englishman, I’ve got absolutely no problem with the idea that, if you’ve already got one carbohydrate, the only thing with which you need to combine it for a complete meal is an additional carbohydrate. (Beans on toast, anyone?) The fatal flaw with last night’s pasta sandwich was simply that it didn’t contain nearly enough pasta–or, alternately, that it contained far too much meatball. At any rate, it amounted to a meatball sub.

I used toast, pasta, marinara, meatball and mozzarella. It’d have been easier if I used ziti, which, in addition to their regularly making them easier to arrange on the toast, are also more substantial than farfalle. But I’d finished the open box of ziti the day before, when I made chili-covered pasta for lunch, so farfalle were what were open.

Next time, then, I’ll either have a much thicker layer of pasta, or else I’ll slice the meatballs far more thinly than into halves. Probably both.


Words yesterday: 3046
Words total: 65,456

Time spent writing: 12.30-3pm; 9pm-11pm
Reason for stopping: end of naptime; felt snoozy
Darling: “All the trees have gone because the population chopped them down for firewood, but the statues remain. Because the Berliners cannot burn them.”
Tyop: … but the status remain.
Words that boggled Word: submachine
New words today: inarticulate, downhill, searing

The .epub criterion

Six months have now passed since I was able to justify purchasing a Nook with the upcoming publication of my first novel.  Or maybe it’s been longer than that–time flies, after all.  Because the truth is, I love my Nook.

I read an essay sometime back by a guy who was moving across the country, and who, now that he’s switched over to an ereader, was torn between the inconvenience of shipping all his physical books with him or simply donating them.  I can’t remember where I read it, or, obviously, I’d link to it.  My first instinct is Galleycat, except that it’s far too introspective a premise for them.  Maybe Galleycat linked to it.

And but so.  The main takeaway I got from this essay was that, as he asked his book-loving friends for their advice, he found they fell into two general categories.  There were book people, whose main interest was in the physical book, rather than its contents.  These people were horrified at the idea of ridding oneself of the physical artefacts; the argument the author quoted them as making was, “But … but … but … they’re books.

The second group were the readers, for whom the content was the thing that made books special; once that content was safely transferred onto an ereader, they were rather blasé about the fate of the hardcopy item.

I expect most people who know me would tend to assume I’d fall into the first group, whatever membership I’d also have in the second.  I’m very proud of the books I own.  I’ve got about a thousand books displayed in the room I’m sitting in as I write this (the living room), filling seven bookcases, and I probably have as many again packed up in our storage shed.

And yet, I’ve found that’s not the case.  I don’t know how I’ll deal with the need to transport physical books when we move, but most of the books I own aren’t available as ebooks and aren’t likely to so come available anytime soon.  But as far as the books I read?  I’ve pretty much completely transitioned to ebooks.

All the usual reasons.  I love the lightness and compactness of the Nook–it’s far easier to read in bed.  I love that when I braved earthquakes and tornadoes for an unscheduled trip to England, all I had to do for reading material was slip what’s essentially a second cell phone into my laptop bag.

If I buy a new book, it’s an ebook.  If it’s the next instalment in a series I began while still on physical books, I’ll usually buy the physical book as well–but it’s the e-dition that I’ll read.  And the physical books that I already own, that I finally get around to reading?  I buy the e-ditions and read those instead.

It has got to the point that if a book isn’t available in e-dition, I don’t buy it.  When I’m writing a thriller, I keep myself in the mood by reading thrillers, particularly ones written or set in the time period I’m writing about.  Before the Nook, I’d been rotating between the works of Eric Ambler, John le Carré, Alan Furst and Ian Fleming, though I’d run out of Ambler books that were still in print.  But when I switched to the Nook, I had to drop Fleming, because those aren’t yet available as ebooks.

(Neither was le Carré, though that changed over Christmas, presumably because of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.)

But I did find far more Ambler books once I’d made the switch, because a whole bunch of his books have been republished electronically that aren’t easily available in print.  I also tried to add Patricia Highsmith to my rotation, because of a dear friend who’s been pestering me for some time to read her books, but I’ve unfortunately been unable to–she has only two books in e-ditions right now (neither of which, unfortunately, are Strangers on a Train or The Talented Mr. Ripley.)

The only exceptions I’ve so far made to the no ebook, no purchase rule have been the ones I didn’t really have a choice with–research for the current book.  There were three books I find for most of my research, and none of them were available electronically.  I ordered the print editions, and I slogged through them, probably over a million words in all.  But I was damn glad when I got to go back to the Nook.

Which is what, for me, has been the great irony of this thing, though it’s probably of little interest to everyone else–that it is nonfiction, in particular, that I value reading on the Nook.  When I first considered buying an ereader, I’d thought it would become my preferred method of reading fiction, but that I’d always prefer print nonfiction.  Yet now I so much wish that I had my three research books in electronic format (particularly the six-hundred-page After the Reich by Giles McDonogh, which is packed dense with useful information), because it would make it so much easier to search out the specific passages I want to reread.


Words yesterday: 2573
Words total: 62,410

Time spent writing: 1pm-3pm, 10pm-11.30
Reason for stopping: end of naptime; bedtime
Darling: She swore at him, violently, in Russian–he felt certain that she had directed him to perform an act on himself either sexual or profoundly unhygienic.
Tyop: in Soviet custardy
Words that boggled Word: flatcap, unslung, other’s
New words today: horseback, carbine, vapor


Book coverIf you only read one alternative history novel this year that takes place in a world where Britain and Nazi Germany made peace with each other, you should of course read A Traitor’s Loyalty.  (Or at Barnes and Noble.  Or on Goodreads.)  But if you read two such books?  Well, I’ve recently read one that I’d like to submit for consideration.

Farthing is a 2006 novel by Jo Walton set in a world in which Rudolf Hess made a much more successful flight to Britain in 1941, leading to a peace settlement before either the Soviet Union or USA entered the war.

Conventionally in an alternate history novel, the action focuses on the part of the world that is most drastically different from our own.  Harry Turtledove’s The Two Georges is about a world where the Americans lost the American Revolutionary War, so it takes place in North America (a British dominion), rather than in Britain or France or Senegal.  If you’re writing a Nazi-victory alternate history and you want to set it in one of the Allied countries, you have the Nazis conquer that country–like in SS-GB (set in Nazi-occupied Britain), It Happened Here (Nazi-occupied Britain), The Man in the High Castle (German- and Japanese-occupied America) or “The Last Article” (Nazi-occupied India).  If you’ve created a world where Germany has instead made peace with the Allies, who have remained democratic societies, you’re going to set it in Germany or German-occupied Europe, like in Fatherland, “Ready for the Fatherland” or my own A Traitor’s Loyalty.

But Farthing is a book where Britain made peace with the Germans, escaped defeat, preserved democracy.  In the book’s world, Nazi Germany is ruling Continental Europe, implementing the Holocaust, and fighting an endless war with Soviet Russia–but the book takes place in England.  It’s presented as a Christie-esque English country manor murder mystery, set in 1949.

And that means that the changes it presents are far more subtle and gradual than you’ll see in a standard alternate history novel–a society that, confronted with a victorious right-wing dictatorship twenty miles away across the Channel, is quite understandably drifting toward the far right itself.  Moves to turn the British class system into a legally-enshrined caste system.  The reversal of the progress made by socialism, and a regression to where socialism is once again being seen as borderline treasonous.  (In real history, 1945-1950 was the period of Britain’s first true socialist government.)

And most jarring–and most effective–to the modern reader is the anti-Semitism.  It’s a rise in cultural sentiment against Jews, a greater willingness to express anti-Semitic views openly, an amplification of the idea that it didn’t matter if they’d been born and raised in London, Jews were still foreigners.  It’s so terribly English, because (at least until the attempts of the book) it’s been accomplished without violence.  And it’s the cultural movement that has cleared the way for political leaders to begin attempting anti-Semitic political programmes.

The book, as with any book, isn’t perfect.  For a story that spends eighty per cent of its time dealing with members of the aristocracy, it’s a shame that several of the arcane complexities of the aristocratic system get fumbled.  (The author, for instance, has baronets as members of the House of Lords.)  But it’s a very different spin on Nazi victory than I’ve found before.

There are two sequels, Ha’penny and Half a Crown, which I’ll be moving onto.  I’m looking forward to them.


The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 2594
Words total: 42,888

Time spent writing: 1pm-3.30; 9pm-10pm
Reason for stopping: Picking Boy up from the school bus; Lisa got home
Darling: A string of Russian obscenities unraveled off her tongue.
Words that boggled Word: stationmaster’s, submachine, snuck, railyard
New words used today: captor, inscrutable, pothole

Everything but the tacos

Every once in a while we have what we call Taco Night for dinner.  Usually it comes when Boy starts asking for it, because he really loves it.  I’m not entirely sure why he loves it so much, since the only thing he ever wants to put in his fajitas is cheese, but whatever.

In fact, come to think of it, I don’t know why it’s called Taco Night, since it doesn’t involve tacos.  The kids roll their cheese in fajita tortillas, while Lisa and I make ourselves burritos.

What Taco Night basically boils down to is that we cook up a collection of ingredients–we cook them together, as a family–then people get to fill their own tortillas: Mexican cheese, black beans, Spanish rice, beef browned in taco powder, queso, Tostitos and sour cream.  This is all rather pedestrian, of course, and not at all out for the ordinary, but it’s turned into a family ritual, both because we make it together, and because of what comes next.

That’s the next night, when we take the leftovers and cook what we call cheesy taco pasta.  We boil the pasta with some of the queso, then toss that with the beef, black beans and a sauce that’s one part queso and three parts cheddar sauce.  Then we crumble up Tostitos as a topping.

And my God.

I mean, there aren’t many dishes I make.  I’m a pretty straightforward cook.  But the cheesy taco pasta is a frigging masterpiece.


The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 4015
Words total: 36,078

Time spent writing: 10a.m.-11a.m.; 1p.m.-4p.m.; 9p.m.-10p.m.
Reason for stopping: Football match; family time; felt like I’d put in a full day of work
Darling: From the train platform they could see the city center, across the tracks: a blasted ruin, a forest of rubble coated in a thin sheen of frost.
Tyop: I did find it pretty funny when I typed families as failies
Words that boggled Word: matter-of-factly, tsar, tsaritsa
New words used today: stationmaster, blanched, valise

Hopefully she won’t end up murdering my father-in-law, then being possessed by his ghost

After posting

to Twitter last week, it suddenly occurred to me–hey, it would be awesome to dress Girl as St Alia of the Knife for Dragon*Con this year.

Not sure how we’d do the Fremen eyes. The rest of it should be pretty straightforward, and she loves dressing up


The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 4792
Words total: 19,250

Time spent writing: 2pm-4pm; 6pm-8.30
Reason for stopping: tapped out
Darling: She gave him a smile–a sad one–to acknowledge that he had at least attempted subtlety in asking about her husband.
Words that boggled Word: catalogue, doorframe
New words today: spats, dwelling, fingerless

It’s so quiet in here

I’m alone at home this weekend.  L took the kids last night and headed out to take them to a weekend in Myrtle Beach with some of the many dozens of Carolinians related to her.

So when I make beefy rice for lunch and dinner today, I’ll be mixing in both corn and peas, because there won’t be anyone around here with a weird hangup about how corn and peas should never be mixed (and I don’t mean either of the kids).

And I can be naked whenever I want for the next three days, which is never, because while it’s unseasonably warm for the first week of February, “unseasonably warm” is about fifty Fahrenheit, which is still too cold for short sleeves, let alone boxer shorts.  But it is warm enough to go and sit out on the balcony while I work, and I’ll get to do that undisturbed all day long.

And I can move all the chairs away from the dining room table, roll my Thomas-Jefferson-invented swivel chair up to it and take over the whole table as my desk.  Man, it’s glorious.

And most of all, of course, it means I get to spend three days pretending I’m a fulltime writer without any other responsibilities.  It’s come just at the right time, too, just when the new manuscript is picking up steam.

I’ll be over in the corner, typing.


The book whose current working title is The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 1265
Words total: 11,155

Time spent writing: 1pm-3pm, 11.30-12.30
Reason for stopping: Girl’s nap ended; tired
Darling: He thought he saw a curl of contempt briefly twist her lips, but he might have imagined it.
Tyop: hotels, departments stores and corporate officers
Words that boggled Word: doughboys, Russkies, Führer
New words today: hatband, roundel, septic

Hmm. Forget I said that.

Last night a friend of Lisa’s came over for the evening, which led, in the course of events, to a conversation about how it’s a fairly unusual thing nowadays for me to get to interact with another adult besides my wife.  “It’s almost like I never have any grownup contact whatsoever,” I quipped, eliciting giggles from the ladies.  “It’s almost like I only became an author so I could pretend the grownups I write about are my friends.”

And then I stopped, because suddenly, that felt a bit too honest.

“You know,” Lisa said, “if your characters are meant to be friends … you write a disturbing number of books about Nazis.”


The book whose current working title is The Zero Hour
Words yesterday: 2656
Words total: 5945

Time spent writing: 11a.m.-2p.m.; 4.30-5.30
Reason for stopping: family woke up/family got home
Darling: He tried to stammer out a defense–he’d been caught redhanded at something he didn’t know was a crime.
Tyop: She took one of his hands in both of his
Words that boggled Word: redhanded, fräulein, de facto, Zippo
New words today beginning with C: coroner, crevice, commissar

Plagues plague the Boy

Thursday afternoon, the Boy got up from his nap, laid his head down on the couch and declared he had a headache.

It’s pretty standard fare for him to be cranky and still half-asleep when he gets up from his nap, so I didn’t think anything of it at first. After a few minutes he asked for lunch, like always, and at his request I made him a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich.

He took two bites of the sandwich, then declared he wanted to “rest” before eating any more and returned to his prone position on the couch. A little while later I encouraged him to return to his lunch, and he told me, “Not right now, Dad; I’m still resting before I eat lunch.”

That was when I first started to get concerned.

He never did eat any more of his lunch. At one point he said his tummy hurt, but mostly he just spent the rest of the afternoon and evening lying on the couch with a headache. I let him watch cartoons the whole time. This is not a child inclined to quiet time, TV-aided or not–normally it’s impossible to keep his attention on the same thing for more than three minutes at a time. And he was warm.

Girl was also tired and cranky. She spent most of the afternoon walking in increasingly fussy circles around the living room, and her head felt warm. Normally she goes to bed at 8.30, but at 6.50 I was able to give her Tylenol and put her down, and she slept until after dawn the following morning.

The Boy’s temperature was over a hundred that evening, so he also got Tylenol before bed. It’s the first time I can ever remember him not protesting at receiving medicine.

Friday morning he seemed fine. His temperature was down to 99.1. I remarked that he looked much better, so he could probably go to school today–that excited him a great deal. But after about two bites of breakfast, he came over and said, “Maybe I should stay home today, Dad. My tummy hurts!”

At that point I determined that we’d stay home. Five minutes later he was fine–I suspect his stomach ache was just a momentary reaction to having his first proper food in 24 hours. But I didn’t want to chance some sort of relapse. Even after the kids get all better, I’m always worried about a return of symptoms: the only time the Boy has ever really been sick, when he was about eighteen months old, it lasted a week–he was fine for about 23 and a half hours a day, then he would start frowning and clutching his stomach, then throw up copious amounts of vomit. And then be totally fine again.

So in hindsight, there’d have been no problem with school on Friday; I didn’t see a flicker of sickness after 10AM. (School starts at 12.30.) Girl was fine too. But we stayed home anyway, which broke the Boy’s heart. He did get it made up for, though, when we had a playdate Saturday night with one of his friends from school, roasting marshmallows in her back garden–he had a total blast.

This morning, we got dressed and packed up for school and set out for the bus stop. As we were turning out the front entrance of our apartment complex, though, I head the Boy let out a hacking cough, and then he said rather feebly, “Dad, my chest hurts.”

Are you sick? Do you need to stay home from school?

He shook his head emphatically at the suggestion. I felt his forehead; it felt fine.

He might have been coughing during the morning before we left; if he was, I didn’t notice it. But I did notice that he kept coughing as we walked along the street, and was still doing it when we reached the bus stop.

Personally, I suspect he’s totally non-contagious. I think the cough might just be a last gasp of whatever he had on Thursday. But you can’t very well send a child with a hacking, consumptive cough into the middle of a preschool class.

This makes two consecutive school days we’ve had to keep him home, then, and on both days I’ve been strongly ambivalent about it. On the one hand, I think the Boy was well enough to go on both days, and I don’t think he’d have passed anything on to his classmates. Now he’s missed all class activities about Thanksgiving, and essentially won’t have had any school for two weeks. But on the other hand, I totally understand the need for playing it safe–would you want any of the other parents sending their kid to school when he might be sick?

Luckily, we’ve got the impending visit of a grandmother and two aunts for Thanksgiving to distract him. Even though he keeps saying “Valentine’s Day” when he means “Thanksgiving”.


The Scholar and the Concubine
Words yesterday: 2384
Words total: 43,984

Time spent writing: 10am-2.30
Reason for stopping: End of chapter
Darling: He lifted his foot and pressed it down on the boy’s neck, eliciting a flurry of chokes and gasping splutters.
Words that boggled Word: inkpot
New words today: plentifully, trapdoor, marshland, mire, prefect

Just keep watching

Via Tad Williams’s Facebook page. If you’re reading somewhere that doesn’t show the embedded video, you can find it at the original blog post.


The Scholar and the Concubine
Words yesterday: 2092
Words total: 22,191

Time spent writing: 1.30-2.45; 8.30-11.30
Reason for stopping: End of chapter
Darling: That made me look at her closely, and I saw for the first time–perhaps it had only just become apparent; perhaps I had not noticed it until then–the sadness lurking in her eyes, the dullness of the light there.
Words that boggled Word: grey, pendulously, tailfin
New words today: slate, bulkhead, plume

A Traitor's Loyalty Cover

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