02 July 2022

Good Times with the Idiot Box


My home theater is just the way I want it. A TV on one end and my recliner on the other, the remotes and earpods within arm's reach, free food and drink only one room away, no noisy crowds or dress codes, and the ability to watch what I like anytime I like. I admit my selections are limited, but much less so than they once were. I can't complain.

As for the delivery system for all this, the movies and shows I see these days are acquired in one of three ways: (1) streamed on Netflix, (2) streamed via Amazon Prime, or (3) ordered via Netflix's DVD mailing program. There are plenty of other premium services out there but I'm too cheap to subscribe to them, and besides (at least according to my wife), I have enough to watch as it is.

Now and then, not often, I'll dive into the discount DVD bin at Walmart or Big Lots, and I'll occasionally purchase an otherwise-hard-to-locate movie via Amazon. Even less often, I'll go watch a new movie in a real theater--last week my daughter and I did just that, to see Top Gun: Maverick. But mostly I stick to Prime or one of Netflix's two services. Except for the local and national news, I never, ever, watch network TV anymore, and that goes a long way toward taking the idiot out of the idiot box. I feel certain my brain cells, what few I have left, are better off as a result.

As for what I do watch, it's probably something like 85 percent feature films and 15 percent cable series. Most of these series consist of multiple seasons that eventually end in a series finale; some, like Fargo and True Detective, encompass multiple seasons but each season is a complete and self-contained story with different characters and a definite beginning, middle, and end; and a few, like Godless and The Queen's Gambit, are what's been referred to as "limited series" designed to run for only one season. Watching a limited series is like sitting down to an eight- or ten-hour standalone movie. 

I will probably always prefer actual movies to cable series, but I have to admit that some of those series--mostly those produced by HBO, it seems--have been among the best stories I've ever seen on TV or anywhere else. More on that later.

A quick clarification: The British refer to a "season" as a "series." ("I say, Nigel, have you watched the second series of The Crown?") So far as I know, they don't have a word that describes the entire run of all episodes of a show, which is what we call a series.

Now, having said all that, here are some of the cable series that I've watched all the way to their conclusions, or that I am at least current on and awaiting "upcoming" seasons. I've found all of these to be good, or at least worth watching, and I've found some of them to be outstanding:

  • The Newsroom
  • Longmire
  • The Walking Dead
  • Westworld
  • 24
  • Stranger Things
  • Outer Range
  • Fargo
  • Hap and Leonard
  • Night Skies
  • John Adams
  • Hell on Wheels
  • The Queen's Gambit
  • Black Sails
  • True Detective
  • G.L.O.W.
  • Magic City
  • Lilyhammer
  • The Crown
  • Mildred Pierce
  • Cobra Kai
  • Weeds
  • Californication
  • The 7 Lives of Lea
  • The Outlaws
  • Bloodline
  • Godless
  • The Wilds
  • Norsemen
  • Lemony Snicket
  • Castle Rock

There are some others that I watched for several seasons (and many episodes) and truly enjoyed, but for some reason I never finished--or haven't yet:

  • House of Cards
  • The Borgias
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand
  • Girls
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • Wentworth
  • Squid Games
  • Outlander
  • Sex Education
  • Orange Is the New Black

And a few others that I have always intended to watch, and still intend to, but somehow never got around to starting:

  • Mad Men
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Americans
  • Oz
  • Blacklist
  • Lost in Space
  • Don't Call Saul
  • Sons of Anarchy

What I haven't listed are some really bad series. You can probably already guess the titles of many of those, and the only good thing I can say about them is that I was able to tell by watching their "pilot" episodes that I didn't want to waste my time on the rest. That's happened fairly often.

But … I have also watched all episodes of a few series that (as I mentioned earlier) I think are among the very best stories I've ever seen--or at least the most entertaining. Here are my top twelve:

  • The Sopranos
  • Game of Thrones
  • Deadwood
  • The Wire
  • Ozark
  • Goliath
  • Rome
  • Lost
  • Boardwalk Empire
  • Justified
  • Yellowstone
  • Peaky Blinders

NOTE 1: I think it's interesting that two of these series--Deadwood and Rome--were supposedly both canceled before they reached a "finale"--the producers, actors, and audiences thought there would be another season coming--and the series were still excellent. Deadwood ran for three seasons and Rome for two.

NOTE 2: As always, this is my opinion only, and the content of the above lists might change tomorrow. But that's part of the fun. (And yes, I realize I am probably the only person in the free world who hasn't seen Breaking Bad or Mad Men. One of my many shortcomings.)

What do you think? Any agreements or disagreements? What are some of the best cable series you've seen? Do you have any recommendations? Please let me know in the comments.

Next time, back to topics on mysteries and writing. Have a good two weeks!

01 July 2022

A Favorite New Orleans Novel


Some books are so forgettable you make the mistake of trying to read it again until you go – Hey, I read this tripe before. Some books stay with you,

Baronne Street by Kent Westmoreland is one which stayed with me. Published in 2010, this writer's debut novel features New Orleanian Burleigh Drummond, a fixer who conducts investigations while fixing problems for lucrative clients, manipulating the legal predicaments of the rich and politicians of a notoriously corrupt city.

A lingering heartache drives Burleigh to ignore a voice-mail plea from his ex-girlfriend Coco Robicheaux, the woman who broke his heart when she dumped him. The following morning, Burleigh learns the gut-wrenching news that Coco was murdered the previous evening.

"Love sometimes means having to solve your ex-girlfriend's murder."

Police detectives let Burleigh know they have been instructed to do little or nothing about the murder, but should he provide them with evidence ...

Burleigh soon discovers Coco's clandestine existence in the city's netherworld, how she had been drawn into a plot to disrupt the upcoming mayoral election. After a warning and a beating, Burleigh enlists a reputed mercenary, a computer hacker, a rogue reporter in the investigation as he seeks revenge. Negotiating through a maze of deception, he finds himself at odds with his wealthy clients, the police chief, the mayor and a crime syndicate.

I keep saying it – she's not big and there's nothing easy about New Orleans. She is a beautiful tragedy, as is Coco Robicheaux, the alluring victim in Baronne Street. Burleigh Drummond is as unique a hero as any preseted in fiction. He's cool, aloof, intelligent – a good looking guy haunted by his inability to make things right in an imperfect world.

The pacing is high speed in this thriller, rushing along the narrow, twisting streets of a city built for horse and buggy. Kent Westmoreland knows the city and avoids the mistakes of writers whose knowledge of New Orleans comes from guidebooks, an occasional visit and movies filled with clich├ęd descriptions of a city hard to replicate on paper.

Anyone who likes to read about New Orleans should take a ride down Baronne Street.

I like this book.

That's all for now.


30 June 2022

Little Church on the Prairie


First of all, & at last, we knew it was coming:  Jason Ravnsborg has been impeached on both counts in the death of Mr. Boever, after damning testimony on the part of the DCI, etc.  He's also been removed from office, and barred from ever running for public office again in the State of South Dakota.
 
“The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”
                    Sir Walter Scott, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel"
 
And now on to other stories.

Sometimes these blogs just write themselves.  In this case, it was written by Angela Kennecke at KELO-News.  (I clearly note when I'm putting in my two cents' worth.)  Stay with it - this is quite a story.

CONTROVERSY DIVIDES SANGAAS CHURCH

“One of the gentlemen had seen someone we didn’t know, completely unaware who this person was, with what was described as an AR-15 rifle. And they took it out of their vehicle and walked into the church building. At that point, with the amount of back story and personal safety concerns, we were very hesitant to go in the building,” Jay Nelson said.


An armed guard stands on the steps of Singsaas Church near Astoria, South Dakota, looking over a crowd assembed to attend the annual meeting of the church's cemetery association, June 12.
Contributed / Marlene Kjelden


We’ll get to that back story in just a moment.

“I apologize for law enforcement and everything showing up,” Attorney Dennis Evenson said during the meeting. 

KELOLAND Investigates obtained a video from June 12th. An annual meeting was underway for the Singsaas Cemetery Association. The people outside, mostly descendants of those buried on the grounds, wanted a say in what was happening. But they found the armed men at the door intimidating.

“I did talk to some of the congregation that said the reason for the security was that they had a previous meeting and it got out of hand and they felt there were threats made and they needed some type of security,” Sheriff Stanwick said.

“Never, ever could I have imagined it could have escalated to the point where you have an AR-15 in a church building and men with revolvers sitting outside,” Jay Nelson said.

Life-long member Jay Nelson says it all started after Jason Hartung took over as pastor in 2020.

“The church was already in the process of becoming non-Lutheran, but becoming non-denominational” Singsaas Pastor Jason Hartung said.  

MY NOTE:  I don't necessarily believe this.  As we proceed, I hope you will see why.

Singsaas Church Pastor Jason Hartung

You need to know that Hartung’s congregation does not own the church building, the cemetery or the surrounding land. There is a separate fund for donors to the cemetery association, many of whom are buried at Singsaas, to maintain the cemetery and grounds, a fund that has more than $200,000 in it.

From the Mitchell Republic: "The Singsaas Cemetery association lies at the heart of the conflict due to an unusual relationship between the well-funded association and the church itself. Whoever controls the cemetery association controls its finances — and the church's physical future.  At stake is not only what Singsaas Church is now, but what it means as a historical location and pioneer legacy."  (LINK)  

My Note:  This is very common with country churches in South Dakota.  The church may have closed, or dwindled to almost nothing, but the Cemetery Association is well funded, by purchases (of cemetery sites) donations and legacies, and they take care of the maintenance of the cemetery and church grounds. Sometimes of the church.  Nothing unusual in this.  But, they are sitting on a chunk of change, which may have some import to what comes next:

"There were rumblings that the church was going to make changes to Singsaas that would eliminate its spot on the National Register of Historic Places, where the church was placed in 2003. Recently a cemetery association member noticed the plaque indicating the church's status had been removed from the front of the church." (LINK)  


“So this is my mom and dad. And there’s my grandma and grandpa,” McHugh said.  Nadine McHugh’s maiden name is Knutson and you can find that name all over this cemetery.  “We’d ring the bell an hour before church started. And before us, my grandparents also were the caretakers here. It’s just in the Knutsons that we’ve been taking care of this church,” McHugh said.

Despite her history with this place, McHugh stopped attending services here when Hartung took over.

“There are things that are going on that perhaps we don’t really understand and perhaps scripturally it doesn’t really sit well with us. And so we haven’t been going here now since 2020,” McHugh said.

"Hartung is no staid Lutheran preacher, and Singsaas is not a quiet Lutheran church. Congregants recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag and hear a reading of the U.S. Constitution during Sunday services. And the church has become stridently vocal on social issues of the day."  (My emphasis)  (LINK)   

MY NOTE 1 - I have never heard of a church where they say the Pledge of Allegiance and/or read the US Constitution during Sunday services.  Sounds more like the Aryan Nations or militia movement "services" to me... 

MY NOTE 2 -  So much for separation of church and state.  Looks like tax fraud to me.

Jay Nelson says he didn’t leave the church voluntarily:
Nelson: There was a congregational meeting held at which me and four other people–none of us were told about the meeting; none of us were told about what was going to happen at the meeting–it turns out in that meeting they voted all five of us out as members.
Kennecke: You got kicked out of your own church?
Nelson: We got kicked out of our own church.

Hartung: We pleaded with them to reconcile with the church. They knew that I was following and church leadership was following the doctrine of the word of God according to Matthew 18.*
Kennecke: Did they know they were going to be voted out?
Hartung: Did they? Yes, they did. They knew they were going toward that direction.

MY NOTE:  Probably Matthew 18:15-22.  

It was the direction that the church was going that led to the fallout in the first place. Nelson and two others have filed a petition with the court over the church’s constitution being thrown out.

“We want to make sure there is integrity in the process of changing the church constitution so that everyone is on board and everyone is represented,” Nelson said. 

MY NOTE:  A unsurprising reason to change the church constitution and the church membership and the Cemetery Association membership would be that $200,000 in the Cemetery Association Fund...  

“There is no such thing as having a church constitution that is unchangeable in any way shape or form,” Hartung said.

Meanwhile, the Singsaas Lutheran Church Cemetery filed a suit against Nelson and two other men, demanding they turn over any cemetery records they may possess. 

MY NOTE:  $200,000, sitting there...  

It’s a battle that has divided this community.  “It’s pitting lifelong friends against lifelong friends; people I’ve been friends with my entire life that won’t make eye contact with me,” Nelson said.

KELOLAND Investigates obtained a letter from Hartung where he asks his flock to pray for God to deal properly with the enemies of Singsaas. 

Kennecke: Are you an enemy of the church?
Nelson: I do not consider myself an enemy of the church at all. But we’ve been made aware that the pastor is communicating within his congregation, citing enemies of the church, which we would take to mean ourselves.

Kennecke: So who are the enemies of the church?
Hartung: Satan.
Kennecke: Not the people that…
Hartung: The people may allow the enemy, be used by the enemy to go against a church that preaches and teaches the word of God. I love these people and I’ve given my life for them.

MY NOTE:  Given his life???  He's only been there a couple of years.

Kennecke: Have you divided this community?
Hartung: It has revealed this community.
Kennecke: Tell me what you mean?
Hartung: It has revealed where people stand on the word of God.

Remember that Sunday meeting where all the guns and “security” showed up at church?

Kennecke: Was it an appropriate response, do you think?
Hartung: Is it an inappropriate response? Not according to the Constitution of the United States, the Second Amendment.
Kennecke: You’re allowed to have guns.
Hartung: Absolutely.
Kennecke: You didn’t break the law.
Hartung: Absolutely
Kennecke: But was it appropriate?
Hartung: Yes.
Kennecke: The sheriff said there was a rifle in the church. Was it an AR-15?
Hartung: Absolutely not.

But that’s not what a Brooking’s County Sherriff’s Deputy saw. According to his report, there was an AR-15 rifle with an inserted magazine leaning in an AV closet to the rear of the church’s sanctuary, and it was in a secure location. The owner of the rifle told the deputy he brought it to church at the request of the pastor to be armed security for the vote.  (My emphasis)  

“It’s not against the law to carry. It’s not against the law to carry into a church. No reason to secure any guns or anything. It’s just something you don’t come across, especially in this part of South Dakota,” Sheriff Stanwick said. 

At the end of the meeting that day the congregation’s attorney, Dennis Evenson acknowledged there wasn’t any real threat posed by the crowd of mostly older people who had gathered.

“Just let them clear out first. We can sit here all day. They’re good people, they’re good people. It’s not a problem there,” Evanson said in the video of the meeting in the church.

Hartung: There was a desire for order and management of the crowds, the potential crowds and there was a request by Dennis Evenson for security due to previous threats.
Kennecke: Have you been threatened personally?
Hartung: Yes I have.
Kennecke: What kind of threats?
Hartung: Death threats.
Kennecke: Have you reported those to police?
Hartung: I have talked to the sheriff’s department yes.

However, the Brookings County Sheriff tells KELOLAND investigates his office has not received any reports of death threats against Hartung. (My emphasis)  Nelson says there is an easy solution to end the conflict.

Nelson: If they wanted to go off and start their own non-denominational congregation with their own constitution, they were always free to do so. They could leave. 

Kennecke: Wouldn’t it just be easier, with this controversy you’re dealing with, to pick up your congregation and move them to a different building, a different site?
Hartung: That’s what some of the controversy; that’s what they want us to do, but the point is why?
Kennecke: And why not?
Hartung: I ask them why? What do they want the building for?

MY NOTE:  Because their ancestors built it?  That it's their building?  Not yours?  But, let's face facts - there's $200,000 just sitting there...

“We’re all a big family here and we’ve never had any issues with this until just the last few years. I just don’t want anything to hurt the cause of Christ in this situation. It’s a church and we’re here to worship God almighty. It’s just really a sad day for there to be so much confusion,” former Singsaas caretaker Nadine Knutson McHugh said.

Kennecke: What is it going to take to resolve all this?
Hartung: The truth.
Kennecke: And the truth is what?
Hartung: The truth is that, instead of having control, manipulation, and lies, we need to go, first of all, How do we honor God in this.

A lot of people on both sides of this issue have mentioned to me that none of it seems very Christian-like.  I spoke to pastors at a couple of previous churches where Hartung served in South Dakota. Both told me he brought more division than unity to their churches. In fact, one church ousted its long-time pastor shortly after he arrived.  (MY NOTE:  That would probably be Spearfish. LINK) Hartung told me that had nothing to do with him. 

Thanks, Angela!

MY NOTE:  $200,000, just sitting there, waiting...  Just one more thing that seems a little rotten in South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, and act like Goodfellas...





29 June 2022

The Powers That Be



At the risk of sounding unAmerican, I have never been a big fan of comic books or graphic novels (with one notable exception). 

Superhero movies don't do much for me either.  In spite of that I think I have seen a dozen of them, and half of those were about Batman.  (Yes, I know he isn't a superhero.  But he is, of course, the World's Greatest Detective.)

I believe I have only seen one superhero movie in a theatre, and that was by accident.  The film I came to see broke so I agreed to see Superman II instead.  Didn't much care for it.

But a few years ago I was thinking about the public's love for such characters and an odd thought popped into my head: What if someone thought they had a super power?  Well, that might be interesting.

Of course, it would have to a pretty minor super power.  If you thought you could fly or become invisible you would soon be disillusioned.  After some thought I wrote this opening:

When Randolph was six years old, he discovered he could control gravity.   

Not completely, of course.  He couldn’t make things fall up, or even hover in the air.  But once something started to drop, he could influence its direction.

He figured this out one rainy day when his mother told him that, no, he couldn’t go outside, so he should find something to do and stop complaining or she’d give him something to complain about.

Randolph had sat by the window, looking into the street, and noticed a drop of rain poised on the glass.  It began to slip and he thought: Go to the left.

And it did, shimmying down to the far end of the pane.  So he could do that.

The rest of the story follows our hero (?) through his life.

Is Randolph delusional or does he really have a form of psychokinesis?  That is one question that lies at the heart of "The Lord of Falling Objects" in the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, on sale now.

The other question is of course: Why does this story belong in a magazine for crime fiction?  Read it and the pieces will, ahem, fall into place.


28 June 2022

Law Class


I’ve been thinking lately about lawyer archetypes. (I don’t often sit around musing about Jungian psychology, but I needed to give a short talk on the legal profession, and one thing sort of led to another.) The topic comes up occasionally. An internet search leads you to a good CrimeReads article by Christopher Brown. The American Bar Association devoted an issue of their magazine to the topic in August 2016.

    Every occupation has its types: doctors, priests, teachers, and even assassins have predictable buckets for fiction and movies. I’m sure accountants and farmers have them, too. I just haven’t read enough books or seen those films. 

    For today’s conversation, I will identify five different types of lawyers. I focus primarily on criminal practitioners because that’s where I live, but I think the types are equally applicable to civil law.

            #1. The Crusader:

    When asked about a lawyer archetype, this is the one most commonly named.


Think Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. The truth-seeking champion of the downtrodden speaking truth to power. She can be found seated at either counsel table in the courtroom. The Crusader may be the prosecutor seeking justice for a traumatized victim or a defense attorney fighting a lonely battle on behalf of a wrongfully accused social outcast. She might be a plaintiff’s attorney giving voice to a powerless litigant suing a giant corporation with a team of deep-rug lawyers.

    The Crusader doesn’t have to be good at the job. This type is based on passion, not talent. Although she will have to find a legal nugget somewhere. Nobody wants to watch/read the story where the true believer gets steamrolled by the mighty empire unless there is a twist.

            #2 The Shark:  

    Maybe getting runover enough times has led to cynicism. The Shark sacrificed early zeal for the pursuit of wealth. Perhaps the idealism never existed to begin with. The Shark has learned the courthouse’s back passages and traverses them for his own enrichment. A reasonable doubt for a reasonable fee.

    Sharks represent the profession devoid of any nobility. Maybe they are skeptical about whether anything like justice exists, or perhaps the Shark has just become detached, substituting the luxuries purchased through success for any moral examination.

    Perhaps you’ve seen the Shark’s billboard on your morning commute. They can usually be found near the emergency room entrance to the hospital.

            #3 The Sleazy Drunkard:

    Abandon hope all ye who enter here. The Sharks or The Crusaders might journey down a path leading to Sleazy Drunkard. Drugs or alcohol might serve as the balm for a Crusader who must confront frequent disillusionment as the system disappoints and ultimately crushes him (and his clients). Alternatively, the absence of a moral compass might lead to unrestrained hedonism. The lawyer’s downward spiral leads to professional lapses—the decline may be marked by the diminished quality of the Drunkard’s scotch.

    To be fair, perhaps the archetype should have a slash, Sleazy/Drunkard. This attorney might still dream of nobility through an alcohol fog or, alternatively, have substance abuse as but one of a collection of issues, the others more sinister.

    Sleazy/Drunkard stories might be about redemption. Think Paul Newman’s Frank Galvin in The Verdict. (There are more recent examples, but that’s where my mind went.) The Crusader who tumbled is resurrected. Alternatively, the story might make the Sleazy/Drunkard the villain. Clients come to an attorney’s office needing help. That need makes them vulnerable and subject to exploitation. Every courthouse I’ve ever worked in has rumors about lawyers who took in-kind payments for their services. Characters who prey upon the weak in their hour of distress make first-rate villains. 

            #4 The Buffoon:

    My final categories get a bit muddled. The Buffoon could easily be subdivided into several distinct buckets. I think that they arise from our shared understanding of courts. We know the tropes of a courtroom. The lawyer who runs afoul of those established practices can generate either
laughter or cringes.

    J. Cheever Loophole, played by Groucho Marx, might mock the theater of the
courtroom with an over-the-top portrayal. John Gibbons, the public defender in My Cousin Vinny, might set up Joe Pesci through his ineptitude. We know what they’re doing or failing to do because we have learned through books and movies what to expect from a courtroom.

    The Buffoon might also just be very bad at his job. There is an element of talent, experience, and instinct in a successful attorney, just as in any other profession. A case in the hands of a Buffoon might produce an unjust outcome. The story might, therefore, set the stage for vigilante action to balance the scales. Every revenge story is about righting an unpunished wrong.

            #5 The Pettifogger

    This type takes the conversation in a different direction. To this point, the types have been more about degrees of cynicism toward the criminal justice system. The Pettifogger may fall anywhere along the scale. This is a classification based on tactics.

    By etymology, the Pettifogger may seem synonymous with the Shark, the Drunkard, or the Buffoon, depending on where the emphasis lies. A combination of “petty” (small) and “fogger,” an obsolete Dutch expression for a cheater. (You might think of an English profanity that sounds something like it.)  A pettifogger became a “small cheat,” a substandard practitioner of law. One who handles only small cases or employs questionable methods, according to the website Lexico.

    Instead, I’ve seen the name employed and use it here to describe the attorney who makes every question a struggle, every point a battleground. To illustrate, consider the following exchange.

            Lawyer #1: “Tell the Court your name.”

            Pettifogger: “May I take the witness on voir dire?”

            Judge: “Briefly.”

            Pettifogger: “How do you know your name?”

            Witness: “My parents called me that.”

            Pettifogger: “Objection, hearsay. No personal knowledge of the fact.”

            And with that, the bloodletting begins.

    I’ll hasten to add that there is a place for focusing on the details in court. Witnesses may want to describe with broad strokes and attention to the specifics is how inconsistencies may be reconciled and conflicts resolved. Reasonable doubt is created in the details. Excessive focus on every detail, perhaps using the pain of court to deter seeking an appropriate legal remedy, creates the world where “lawyer” becomes a pejorative.    

    We’ve split the lawyering world into five classes. You might find other categories as you look across the expanse of fiction. We might also think about how these categories affect fiction. That will have to be a topic for another day.  

    Until next time. 

27 June 2022

Lois McMaster Bujold, Queen of Genre-Bending Fiction


My apologies to readers for getting this post up late. I could blame either my granddaughter's high school graduation this weekend or the fact that the keyboard on my big computer died and the replacement we rushed in wouldn't "recognize" my iMac (hmmph!), but instead I'll hope none of you got up too early this morning.

Some of my favorite authors don't live on the crime fiction shelves in bookstores and libraries. This doesn't mean they don't write crime fiction. Lois McMaster Bujold, a brilliant writer however you categorize her, writes novels and novellas in which the structures of mystery, thriller, and suspense are embedded in science fiction or fantasy. While she's at it, she creates characters that not only leap off the page but burrow into our hearts and builds worlds rich in history, politics, sociology, and theology as well as physical environment. She's funny, clever, and compassionate, and oy, can she create a crisis.

She's the author of several series, but her masterwork is the Vorkosigan Saga, which has won three of her four Hugo and two Locus awards for best novel, a Hugo for best series, and both the Hugo and Nebula for best novella plus a ton of nominations, not to mention winning all three awards for best novel in an unrelated fantasy series and a Hugo for best fantasy series.

The Vorkosigans are one of those families that you fall in love with and wish would adopt you and take you home with them. Home is the planet Barrayar, a lost colony of Earth that endured a prolonged Time of Isolation from the rest of the galaxy, during which it developed an aristocratic warrior caste called the Vor, who have rigid notions of honor and a backward attitude toward the role of women. This ends when their wormhole is rediscovered by way of invasion from the planet Cetaganda. The Cetagandans were definitely human until they did some very sophisticated tinkering with their genetic material. The citizens of Komarr unwisely let them through and got conquered by Barrayar in revenge after they repelled the Cetagandans. Komarr is rich in wormholes and thus a gateway to the rest of the galaxy, which has space travel and a lot of up-to-date technology, including uterine replicators, which will radically change the lot of women on Barrayar by freeing them from "body births." Komarr is a planet that thrives on commerce, opening the way to stories about financial intrigue on a grand scale as well as political and sociological intrigue. Another prominent planet is Beta Colony, egalitarian, advanced in science and not at all military-minded, and offering to its citizens and visitors all sorts of freedoms, including sexual exploration. Old Earth plays a role, and there's also a planet devoted to corruption, chicanery, and the art of the deal. In other words, it's a huge canvas, and Bujold and her readers have a wonderful time with it.

But the real draw is the Vorkosigan family. They're brilliant, funny, and superb at inspiring loyalty, making friends, and doing the unexpected. The first two books feature Cordelia Naismith from Beta Colony, captain of a scientific team hoping to claim an uninhabited planet, and Aral Vorkosigan, commanding a Barrayaran military team bent on the same mission. He takes her prisoner, but she quickly figures out that the reason he's alone is that his crew has mutinied. Thrown into survival mode together, they make a good team. Not surprising they start to like each other...

The protagonist of most of the series is the couple's son, Miles Vorkosigan. Born stunted and with brittle bones thanks to an assassination attempt involving poison gas during Cordelia's pregnancy, he has a hard time not only being fragile in a military culture but looking like a mutant on a planet that has a horror of mutants in the aftermath of the nuclear attacks by the Cetagandans a generation earlier. But Miles is not only the smartest person in the room, the space ship, or the planet at any time, he's also the most determined, and he proves it in an infinite variety of ingenious ways. He has the brain of a genius, the soul of a hero, and the heart of a romantic. His friends refer to him as a "hyperactive little git." A Civil Campaign, my favorite book, is space opera + comedy of manners. There's a moment I love after he's made an egregious, public, and deeply embarrassing faux pas in his courtship of the woman he wants to marry. To no one’s surprise, she never wants to speak to him again. My favorite bit is when his mother suggests a remedy.

"The—the kindest word I can come up with for it is blunder—was yours. You owe the apology. Make it. I realize you don't do abject very well, but I suggest you exert yourself."
Abject.
He went back inside Vorkosigan House to his study, where he sat himself down to attempt, through a dozen drafts, the best damned abject anybody'd ever seen.

While still in his teens, Miles accidentally finds himself in command of a mercenary space fleet and invents a persona to fit. At one point, he plays the role of the fictitious Admiral Naismith and not one but two imaginary clones. Eventually, he finds a job for which he's even better suited: Imperial Auditor for the Emperor of Barrayar, ie an investigator with unlimited powers who's been picked precisely because he's a loose cannon, but one Emperor Gregor has known his whole life and trusts completely.

I started with Shards of Honor and Barrayar, the two Cordelia books, and they pulled me in just fine. For thriller and mystery lovers who want to meet Miles right away, I'd recommend starting with Komarr, which is space opera + political thriller and Bujold writing at the height of her powers. It starts with what appears to be a routine crash that damages the solar mirror essential to the domed cities of the planet with its unbreathable air. The plot thickens into one in which bumbling terrorist conspirators and kidnappers whose plans have gone awry may unleash enormous powers of destruction. It's a perfect job for Imperial Auditor Vorkosigan. An abusive marriage and a moving love story of great complexity are seamlessly tailored into the interstices of the political plot. Its sequel is A Civil Campaign, which has more politics and sociology, including some issues that have come more into the open in our own world since Bujold wrote it, more brilliant characterization, and a feast of laugh out loud moments.

26 June 2022

The Aftermath


This will be my last post on the Edgar and/or my Edgar story. I promise.

Okay, so I've been wondering why "The Road to Hana"? I've read the other nominated stories and they were all great, so why mine? I can't say that my style of writing was literary or exemplary, because in my mind, the way I write is like me telling stories in a bar to friends over drinks. Or maybe like swapping stories with fellow cops (in a bar over drinks) after a raid or large operation. Seeing who can tell the best ones based on what happened during that raid or operation.

I've thought about it a lot because I would like to duplicate whatever it was that I did. The problem is that I can only come up with the possibility that the story resonated for some reason with the reader. I can't tell you how many people came up to me before and after the Edgars to say they have been on that road and the story made them feel it all over again, plus the few who said they could feel the road in the story even though they had not driven that road themselves. If that's the case, then I'm screwed for coming up with another story which resonates with the reader to that same degree. How to come up with a story situation which has the same impact, or resonates with the reader? I am working on it though, cuz Michael Bracken has already challenged me to meet him as a Nominee at the Edgar Awards Banquet next year. Talk about pressure.

Now, on to other items in the aftermath.

About two days after we flew home, I received an e-mail from Hiroyuki of the Hayakawa Publishing Corporation, Tokyo.  They were interested in publishing my Edgar story in their Mystery Magazine, June 25th issue. I have no idea if this is a new thing, or if they have been doing this for some time with the Edgar Best Short Story. Their contracts for reprint rights are very, very simple and they pay more than U.S. editors tend to pay. I don't read Japanese, but do plan on getting a copy or two of that issue for my personal library.

You see, I once thought I was published internationally when I sold a story to Swimming Kangaroo where the editor was named Dindy. But then the check came from Texas and that took care of that. I think we got to keep an eye on that Texas contingency.

Just to keep me humble, the woman sitting across the aisle from me on the 4-hour airplane ride from LaGuardia to Denver coughed on me all the way back. She wore no mask. Yes, I know the airline companies claim that their air circulation systems screen out all the germs and viruses, but those little fellas didn't make it direct to the filtration units. First off, they crossed the aisle to me.

A few days later, the severe head cold hit with a vengeance. Kiti finally dragged me to one of those little mobile huts in the shopping mall parking lot and we both got the lower side of our brain swabbed for Covid. Four days later, the results were negative, but I was still coughing and blowing. Almost healed now. I think I'll live.

I still have to write a story good enough to get nominated in 2023. May have to ask that Naked Singing Cowboy, whose photo I showed you in last month's post, how he keeps from catching cold in that cold, damp weather they have in Times Square and Central Park. Especially if I'm planning to go back there again. What a way to make a living.