The Power of Primary Sources


There's a neat guest post at Sarah Hoyt's blog about the importance to budding writers of reading primary sources in other eras and places: it expands your horizons. She says, An aspiring writer ought to read history. Lots of it. Even if — perhaps especially if — he intends to write SF or fantasy and build societies of his own. And the most important thing he should read is primary source, which is to say, stuff that was actually written at the time. Jane’s letter to her Aunt … [Read more...]

Words I Wish I’d Written: Chess

Monkey Typing

Vimes had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him. It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could’ve been a republic in a dozen moves. — Terry Pratchett, Thud! Sam Vimes is the commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch; he comes from a long line of … [Read more...]

Levon Helm and the Dixie Hummingbirds: When I Go Away

A few years before his death, Levon Helm of The Band recorded an album called Electric Dirt; and on that album he sang a surprisingly upbeat song about dying called "When I Go Away". I fell in love with it the first time I heard it: For his sake, I hope he was indeed "bound for glory" when he went away. More recently, I've been hearing another version of the song by an all-male gospel group called the Dixie Hummingbirds. There's no very good video of it on YouTube; the only one I … [Read more...]

Interview: Steven Pressfield


In conjunction with my review of Steven Pressfield's The Lion's Gate, I had the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Pressfield himself. Woof: You're clearly a lover of history. How did history as a subject first grab you? In my case, I'd always been a science fiction reader, and one day it occurred to me that historical novels were (in a way) just low-tech science fiction: history had strange and exotic locales, people with unusual ways, and so on. Reading novels led me to reading … [Read more...]

Review: The Lion’s Gate, by Steven Pressfield


Steven Pressfield's latest, The Lion's Gate, is something of a departure from his previous books. Of the three I'd read previously, Gates of Fire and The Virtues of War take place in the ancient world, and Killing Rommel takes place in North Africa during World War II. (Good grief! I've just discovered I've not reviewed that one! I'll have to fix that.) And The Lion's Gate isn't even a novel. But like the previous three, it is carefully researched and a delight (at least for this history … [Read more...]

CT 3.3: Bound in Causal Chains


In which we learn about chains of causes and when and why they cannot go on to infinity. Continuing my look at Chapter 3 of the Compendium Theologiae. The complete series is here. In the previous posts, St. Thomas Aquinas had pointed that when something changes, it's because some else is changing it. (Yes, that's an oversimplification. We'll talk about some of the nuances down below.) He continues, This process cannot be traced back into infinity. O, the confusion surrounding … [Read more...]

Lumen Fidei: Is Truth Totalitarian?


In paragraph 34 of Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis writes, Truth nowadays is often reduced to the subjective authenticity of the individual, valid only for the life of the individual. A common truth intimidates us, for we identify it with the intransigent demands of totalitarian systems. (My emphasis.) In other words, my truth is what I choose to live by; your truth is at best an impertinent demand, at worst an unjust interference with my autonomy. (The Pope is describing this point of view, … [Read more...]

Good Advice: Just Say Yes

Icon Studio

The original of this post first appeared in February, 2005. As the title says, "Just say yes!" My friend Ian says that this is good advice for screenwriters; I’d say it’s good advice for software developers as well, and probably for anybody involved in doing creative work for a customer. In short, when asked to do something you think is a mistake, say “Yes.” Then find out what they are hoping to get from it; they have a reason for asking. Then think about it, and see if you can … [Read more...]

Ringo meets Irving at High Noon

I discovered the Dr. Demento show when I was in Junior High School in the 1970's, and one of the novelty songs that was soon indelibly written on my brain was Frank Gallop's "The Ballad of Irving", a little tragicomic ditty about a Jewish cowboy who happens to be the 142nd fastest gun in the west. (Even on the range, we are assured, Irving used two sets of dishes.) It's a fun tune: If you look on the album cover in the video, you'll also see Valerie Harper's name. Fast forward a … [Read more...]