Veterans Day 2020

It was not a given that U.S. soldiers in the field would be able to vote or would be supported in exercising the franchise. Many obstacles were whittled away over the years, including a fear of standing armies being allowed to vote in the first place, logistical difficulties delivering the ballots, poll taxes, a multitude of state regulations, and so forth. Even now in the era of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, much work remains to be done to assure that every U.S. citizen-soldier abroad who wants to can vote.

Many of the obstacles that prevented soldiers from voting were the same obstacles that prevented others from voting. It was never just a matter of getting the ballots out to the field and back.

Voting is and was a right that many soldiers took seriously — including POWs, who in some cases held straw votes even in the face of no expectation that their vote could be counted.

In honor of Veterans Day and the ongoing struggle to truly support U.S. military personnel, here is some reading.

General Grant to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, 27 September 1864:

The exercise of the right of suffrage by the officers and soldiers of armies in the field is a novel thing. It has, I believe, generally been considered dangerous to constitutional liberty and subversive of military discipline. But our circumstances are novel and exceptional. A very large proportion of legal voters of the United States are now either under arms in the field, or in hospitals, or otherwise engaged in the military service of the United States. Most of these men are not regular soldiers in the strict sense of that term; still less are they mercenaries who give their services to the Government simply for its pay, having little understanding of political questions or feeling little or no interest in them. On the contrary, they are American citizens, having still their homes and social and political ties binding them to the States and districts from which they come, and to which they expect to return. They have left their homes temporarily to sustain the cause of their country in the hour of its trial. In performing this sacred duty they should not be deprived of a most precious privilege. They have as much right to demand that their votes shall be counted in the choice of their rulers as those citizens who remain at home. Nay, more, for they have sacrificed more for their country. I state these reasons in full, for the unusual thing of allowing armies in the field to vote, that I may urge on the other hand that nothing more than the fullest exercise of this right should be allowed, for anything not absolutely necessary to this exercise cannot but be dangerous to the liberties of the country. The officers and soldiers have every means of understanding the questions before the country. The newspapers are freely circulated, and so, I believe, are the documents prepared by both parties to set forth the merits and claims of their candidates…

Lt. Harold Norris, stationed in Britain, in a letter to Yank Magazine appearing in its 17 March 1944 issue:

Dear Yank:

Yours is a young, lusty publication that doesn’t pull its punches, and I think the soldier vote is an issue that needs some of your punching. The denial by Congress of the right to vote is an outright contradiction of the Four Freedoms, the Atlantic Charter, our Constitution or any name our war aims go by. Look, Yank, why don’t you say something on this? Secretary Stimson has said that 48 state laws make soldier voting impossible. So if we don’t have the Federal Government or the Army to administrate the voting, we’ll have vote prohibition this war.

You’re pretty sharp, Yank — can’t you see that this representatives of the poll tax and state’s rights are using that prop wash to deny the soldiers the right to vote in the same way they have denied the vote to others? A lot of us look upon this issue as one test of the sincerity of democratic intentions in the war and in the peace. And we would much rather have our right to vote than the mustering-out pay of $300, which we all may pay for through the nose through inflation anyhow. The soldier-voting issue is a morale one. Our morale is high, but there is no limit. Punch a little bit for us on this issue and our moral will hit an even higher ceiling.

Image of the Federal War Ballot used in 1944
Federal War Ballot used by soldiers to vote in 1944.

Further reading and viewing:

Those who seek to restrict the vote are the enemies of democracy.

By the way, are you a servicemember or U.S. citizen abroad who is eligible to vote in Senate runoff in Georgia on 5 January 2020? Check out the FVAP page for Georgia on how to register and request an absentee ballot.

Readings for the Pipeline Protest

DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY
DAPL route map by Carl Sack, CC-BY

Guest post by Galen Charlton

This week of all weeks, we must acknowledge who was here first. Here are some thoughts from those opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective by Kelley Hayes:

In discussing #NoDAPL, too few people have started from a place of naming that we, as Indigenous people, have a right to defend our water and our lives, simply because we have a natural right to defend ourselves and our communities. When “climate justice,” in a very broad sense, becomes the center of conversation, our fronts of struggle are often reduced to a staging ground for the messaging of NGOs.

Yes, everyone should be talking about climate change, but you should also be talking about the fact that Native communities deserve to survive, because our lives are worth defending in their own right — not simply because “this affects us all.”

We’ve always “Occupied the Prarie” and We’re Not Going Anywhere by the Elders and Leaders of the Sacred Stones Camp, Canonball River.

Sacred Stones Camp was begun by women, as a prayer. It is our prayer that the waters of the homelands of the Standing Rock Tribe and all the peoples of the Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, or “Greater Sioux Nation,” remain pure. That includes the Missouri River and it’s tributaries, flowing into the Mississippi in the greatest river system within the continental boundaries of the United States.

Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre by LaDonna Brave Bull Allard:

We must remember we are part of a larger story. We are still here. We are still fighting for our lives, 153 years after my great-great-grandmother Mary watched as our people were senselessly murdered. We should not have to fight so hard to survive on our own lands.

My father is buried at the top of the hill, overlooking our camp on the riverbank below. My son is buried there, too. Two years ago, when Dakota Access first came, I looked at the pipeline map and knew that my entire world was in danger. If we allow this pipeline, we will lose everything.

We are the river, and the river is us. We have no choice but to stand up.

Today, we honor all those who died or lost loved ones in the massacre on Whitestone Hill. Today, we honor all those who have survived centuries of struggle. Today, we stand together in prayer to demand a future for our people.

And for more:

Resources for #NoDAPL in American Indians in Children’s Literature by Debbie Reese.

Standing Rock Syllabus by NYC Stands with Standing Rock

This syllabus can be a tool to access research usually kept behind paywalls, or a resource package for those unfamiliar with Indigenous histories and politics.

Demons who must not be named

There’s a long-standing trope in fantasy of the evil that must not be named. Think of Voldemort in Harry Potter. Although if my name were Voldemort, I’d probably rather not be named, either. Why did he pick that? Wikipedia says it translates as “flee from death”. More like he was scared of death. I prefer the Discworld version of Death.

But I digress. Mostly because I feel like crap on toast.  Which returns me to my original reference of demons that should not be named.

Last week, I was talking with a friend about various rituals for handling who does what when either my husband or I has a cold. My friend apparently gets relegated to the spare bedroom whether he or his spouse is the sick party. This topic came up because my friend was, of course, currently under the weather. I was not.

I should never have discussed the subject. Now I’m sick. But germs can’t be transferred via email. The demon was invoked, and that’s all it took.

My household operates slightly differently. Whoever really can’t sleep moves elsewhere if necessary. But the excellent thing about iPads is that they generate their own light, so no more keeping the light on (and your partner awake) to read all night.

Having a cold is a great excuse to get lost in a good book (or two, or three). Also a good excuse to play video games. But I read endlessly. It does change my tastes. I want to be lost somewhere far away. I’ve finished the first two of Laura Anne Gilman’s Paranormal Scene Investigations books back to back and I’m ready to start Tricks of the Trade, which was on my list.

I have zero interest in romance books at the moment. But then, I have not very much interest in the real thing at the moment, either. A cold will do that to a person. On the other hand, one time I had a migraine and read the entire collected works of Amanda Quick in about three days. It gave a whole new meaning to that old Victorian instruction to newly married ladies to “lie back and think of England…”

Tomorrow will be better. At least, I sure hope so.


“What was the first book that made me feel like a grown up?” That was the question posted in the comments to my review of The Iron Knight. The same poster also made a comment that I’ll deal with later. But about that question…

The question is posed in an article in the Washington Pastime, and the article asks about the first time the reader felt an adult connection to a book.

People talk about reading big books, or using the adult section of the library for the first time. That wasn’t what came to my mind. I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time at about age 10, as someone else who posted did. I know I did not feel the same connection to the book that I did later–that’s why I kept re-reading it. What point in the 25+ times my perspective switched, I don’t know. Re-reading LOTR is bound up in my memories of growing up. It’s part of me.

The books where I think my perspective shifted are Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. When I first picked them up, only the first four or five had been published. I remember waiting forever for the last book. There are six in the series; The Game of Kings, Queens’ Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle, and finally Checkmate. The chess metaphor in the titles is deliberate, and yes, I kept a print copy when we weeded.

Lymond, whose full name is Francis Crawford, is the second son of the Lady Sybilla Crawford and her late husband, Baron Culter. He also a polyglot scholar, soldier, musician, master of disguises, nobleman—and accused outlaw. The Chronicles are historical fiction at their finest and most densely complex, roaming the mid-1500s from the Scottish Lowlands to the French court to the Ottoman Empire to Russia under Ivan the Terrible.

Lymond is a trickster, a wanderer, and a mercenary. There are also forces that are trying to maneuver him and that he spends his life and considerable gifts trying to outwit.

Ultimately, I found Lymond’s story to be about choice. There are two things that he wants. He wants his birthright–and he wants to be loved. He believes that because of all the things he has done, all the crimes he has committed, he is beyond redemption. And he believes that his chance at love, when it finally came, has come too late for him. When both his desires are finally within his reach, he has to make a choice. What does he choose? Why?

All of Lymond’s reasons for the choice he made were adult reasons. Nothing was simple. Nothing in the entire series was simple. The man he was at the beginning of the first book would have made a different choice than the man at the end. And then there’s Philippa. I think the other reason I marked this book specifically is because Philippa’s journey in the book is the one from girl to woman, and I followed her.

I thought The Iron King was also about choice. Ash chooses to become human. Ariella chooses to give her life for Ash. Not just to give him his chance at happiness, but also to give herself her one chance at an afterlife. Ariella lives on within Ash. In return, she gives him a piece of her Winter power, and possibly, a piece of her fey immortality.

Stories about choice always fascinate me. There’s an old episode of Doctor Who that kept running through my head as I read The Iron Knight. I think it’s applicable, but I’m not quite sure exactly how. It’s from the Peter Davison era, the episode was titled Enlightenment. Enlightenment is supposedly a jewel that is the prize for a space ship race. It’s not. Enlightenment is the choice about what to do with the jewel.  Enlightenment is always about the choice.

And speaking about choices. The poster’s other comment was “eventually you make the change to adult fiction”. To which my reply is balderdash! Or stronger words to the same effect. A good story is a good story is a good story. And good stories are always worth reading.

And they say no one reads the classics anymore

They say no one reads the classics anymore. But they’d be wrong. At least as it applies to ebooks. Or so say the checkout statistics for the Project Gutenberg titles available from OverDrive.

In a recent blog post, OverDrive listed their top 25 circulating titles from Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg digitizes books and other media that are out of copyright in the United States and makes them available for free download.

It’s the list of the “biggest hits” that fascinates.

Obviously, sex still sells. Always and forever. Even when no one actually has to buy anything. The number one book on the list is the Kama Sutra. An ereader or a tablet computer is even better than a brown paper wrapper for hiding what a person is reading. The Kama Sutra is referred to so often, in literature and elsewhere, as the original sex manual, that curiousity alone would prompt many people to idly search for it. And if they could borrow it without anyone else being the wiser, many would be tempted to delve into a copy.

Love still makes the world go ’round. Two classic love stories made the list: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. And just to show that all is fair in love and war, The Art of War by Sun Tzu is also part of the top 25.

The titles that make up this list represent every genre of fiction. Inspector Poirot’s first case, otherwise known as The Mysterious Affair at Styles, barely makes the list at number 23. But The Secret Adversary, Dame Agatha Christie’s first work starring Tommy and Tuppence, weighed in at number 10. And, one of my personal favorites, the world’s first consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is the second most popular book on the list. Considering that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes includes the case of A Scandal in Bohemia, where Holmes was bested by “The Woman”, otherwise known as Irene Adler, perhaps we are still on the topics of love and war after all.

For any folks wondering about science fiction, fantasy and/or horror, the answer is yes, they are well represented, not just in numbers, but also by some of the greats. H.G. Wells’ journey in The Time Machine, Bram Stoker’s discovery of the nosferatu in Dracula, and Edgar Rice Burroughs sword and planet fantasy of The Princess of Mars.

Yes, the usual suspects are also on the list. The titles that we all know are assigned for classes like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and the Count of Monte Cristo. But people are also taking advantage of the ability to have the entire works of Shakespeare or the Bible (Old and New Testaments) or War and Peace available on their ereader of choice, without having to lug the totality around.

The point is that these aren’t classics because of some esoteric quality they have. They are classics because they are still read.  There is one book on the list I personally wouldn’t touch with someone else’s barge-pole, because it’s not my taste–someone take James Joyce’s Ulysses, please! But most of the books on the list wear their years well.

I’ve never read any of the Tommy and Tuppence books by Agatha Christie. Maybe it’s time to start.


Spoiled but not rotten

When I think of “spoilers” I hear the word spoken in River Song’s particular sing-song, usually accompanied by the endearment, “Sweetie”, and inevitably followed by the opening of her Tardis-blue diary.

The Doctor and River Song are living their relationship out of sync with time relative to each other. The first time the Doctor meets River, she has known him all of her life but he’s never met her before. Every time they meet after that, each of them remembers different pieces of their relationship, but on the whole, at least so far, what she remember is his future, and what he remembers is her future — and he knows that her future is going to end badly. His is going to contain an unbearable amount of pain. But then, so does his past. However, there’s the inevitable time paradox involved. His future is her past, so what has happened must happen. Even though River knows it will bring him agony, she must let it happen–she can’t spoil it. The actual fate of the universe is at stake. “No spoilers,” are allowed.

But we regular humans seem to like spoilers. Or we do according to an article that appeared earlier this month in Wired that immediately went viral. The research indicates that spoiling the ending of the book or the big surprise finale of a TV show helps most people enjoy the story.

This makes sense, doesn’t it? How many readers thumb to the end to find out what happens? Honestly? I know I do. Not at first, because the ending wouldn’t make sense. But after a third or maybe halfway, then I’m interested in seeing if I’ve figured things out. I’m curious if I’ve guessed “whodunnit”. Or if the evil villain I thought it was really is the actual “big bad”, because sometimes the “man behind the curtain” conceals yet another “man behind another curtain”. Of course, sometimes that “man” is a “woman” or a vampire, or a dragon. To each genre their own.

Even when I find out the ending, I still don’t know how the author gets there. The journey is always entertaining, even when I am certain of the destination. And when I have guessed wrong, then I really, really want to know how the author fooled me.

If we humans didn’t enjoy predictability in our fiction, we wouldn’t re-read the same books over and over, which we do. We also wouldn’t re-make the same story in different settings. West Side Story is still Romeo and Juliet. It was a good story both times, but it was the same story, dressed up in different clothes. Everyone knew how it ended.

The thing about thumbing to the end is something that is different with ebooks and digital media. I wonder what effect it will have?

Listening to an audiobook, it’s just difficult to zip to the end and then zip back to where you were. This is particularly true since people often listen to audio because their hands are otherwise occupied with something important, like driving. The medium just doesn’t lend itself to the idea of the casual flip to the back of the book and then flop back to where you were before.  Mysteries are particularly popular in audiobooks, and this maybe the reason. It’s just plain hard to find out if “the butler did it” until the end, even if you really, really want to.

With ebooks its a lot easier. I can bookmark the page I’m on, go to the end, and then go back to my bookmark. It’s possible. It’s even easy. I’m realizing that I just don’t do it, and I don’t know why. New medium, new method.

NPR wants your vote

NPR is back with their continuing search for the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy books of all time. Or, at least the list as NPR listeners see it from the vantage point of the summer of 2011.

NPR provided listeners the opportunity to nominate titles and complete series for the top 100 earlier this summer. Yours truly provided the results of her agonized selection in this post.

After what appears to have been much deliberation, and the considered input of the expert panel of John Clute (coauthor of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy), Farah Mendlesohn (coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction) and Gary K. Wolfe (science fiction critic and longtime reviewer for the science fiction and fantasy magazine Locus), NPR collated several thousand inputs into a list of approximately 200 titles.

Now, NPR wants your vote. Really, they want 10 of your votes. Each time you input, you can vote for your 10 favorites that have made the list. (I almost said it was a Chicago election, but you can’t vote for the same book 10 times on the same pass. You’d have to come back 10 times for that. But you could…)

The list is eclectic. And it shows that we science fiction and fantasy readers are a diverse bunch of folks. But one thing it does not show is that we have forgotten that the current writers stand on the shoulders of giants. The classics are there, and in amazing variety and number. Conan the Barbarian and Frankenstein coexist with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. There is a certain irony to seeing Lev Grossman’s The Magicians on the list, when the work it is derived from, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, was ruled ineligible as children’s literature.

I recognize everything, and I’ve read almost half. I’m not sure whether to be proud or appalled. Whether I agree with things being on the list is an entirely different question. And some, well, I think they’re marvelous books, I’m just not sure they fit the definition of either science fiction or fantasy. What is Outlander doing on this list? I loved it, but there was way more romance than there was time-travel.

So I had to vote on which 10 were my absolute favorites. That was a lot harder than one might think. For one thing, the creators of the list did not include Terry Pratchett’s Discworld as a single entity. Whose idea was that, anyway? The series as a whole is fantastic, but trying to decide which one of the few nominated is one of the 10 best, I couldn’t do it. AAARRRGGGHHH!

All my other favorites made the list, so that was easy. And voting for The Lord of the Rings was probably a no-brainer for a lot of people. Me, I lost count of how many times I re-read it after the first 25.

The list is in alphabetical order, so American Gods was in the first screen. So was its sequel, Anansi Boys, but I didn’t take the two-fer. Anansi Boys was fun, but didn’t tie me up in knots the way Gods did.

I am proud to say that I now have a friend hooked on the Old Man’s War series, proving to me that this one is as good as I remember. Meeting John Scalzi at the American Library Conference in June and getting a signed copy of Zoe’s War was just a bonus.

Recently, I thumbed my copy of Tigana again. The ending still wrings me out. But I love Kay’s writing so much that I not only voted for Tigana, when I saw the Fionavar Tapestry on the list, I voted for it, too. That was when I first discovered his writing, and that I have re-read, at least three times. There are parts that are almost as gut-wrenching, but not quite.

Seeing the entire list of titles makes things both easier, and more difficult. On the one hand, it’s a tremendous nostalgia trip. I wanted to read, or re-read, every single book I saw. Let’s just say there were a lot of old friends on that list. Of all the ones I knew, it was incredibly difficult to pick just 10.

NPR needs your vote, too.  So now it’s your turn. Try it and see how hard it is to pick just 10. I dare you.

Reading vacation now please

I keep daydreaming about this article in Salon titled “Reading Retreats“. What biblioholic wouldn’t love this idea? A week, or two, or four (four?) in some beautiful, secluded spot, cozied up with a mountain of books.  Along with room service, some place to take long walks for thinking, a nice town to visit occasionally for a change of scenery, and of course, my husband.

Every one of the options profiled in the article is different. A small castle in Italy with shared cooking and shared bathrooms. A solo retreat to a monastery near Birmingham in the UK. Going to rural Bulgaria to stay at a guest house and being part of a week-long book group, reading the same books as well as staying in the same house with the group. The one I liked best with the London School of Life, where the vacation includes a customized list of books based on a pre-vacation interview and a stay at a contemporary house somewhere in the English countryside.

But the real point of it all is the time. We actually did this in early December 2010 by taking a Caribbean cruise with WindStar. We didn’t think we’d be cruise people, but the concept was that it would be too expensive to be online either aboard ship or outside the U.S. territories. It wasn’t necessarily intended as a reading vacation, but it turned out that way. And we didn’t bring print books, just the Nook and Galen’s Sony. The point was to disconnect and relax. So no computer, no iPhone, no video games, no internet. A real, honest-to-goodness chance to disconnect and relax.

One of the really interesting social experiments was to see the percentage of people who were using an eReader of some type. This was pre-Xmas and there were clearly more than a third, maybe as many as half of the passengers using eReaders, mostly Kindles. And this was in a demographic that clearly skewed Baby Boomer and upwards. Other passengers did approach us to ask about our “Kindles”, which was always fun, especially as neither of our “Kindles” was actually a “Kindle”. But it gave us a chance to talk about books and the ebook reading experience with interesting people.

I succumbed to the impulse to bring more books than I needed. But since there is no extra weight to ebooks, for the first time this was not a problem. I still have books from that trip I haven’t read, but they transferred to my iPad just fine. I read Jeri Westerson’s entire medieval noir series. And both of Ilona Andrews’ Edge series. I was able to finish Celine Kiernan’s Moorehawke Trilogy with Rebel Prince, and indulge my romantic tastes with Bound by Honor, by Collette Gale. This is in no way a definitive list. Galen and I traded eReaders in the middle of the trip, and some of the books I read are on his Sony. I had a much easier time trying to find stuff on his reader than he did on mine!

But I definitely understand the appeal of a long reading vacation. By the end of the week-long cruise, we were talking about booking the two-week trans-Atlantic crossing, just for the reading break. But for a trip that long, we would bring computers, mostly for writing. And our Xbox. And the Nook, and the Sony. And both iPads.