Friday, November 28, 2008

Astronomy Alert! Ménage á trois...

Get your mind out of the gutter! We’re talking Astronomy here. We are about to have a super cool celestial event that almost everyone can enjoy. It’s already in progress. On the evening of December 1, 2008, we’re going to have a close encounter, or, in astronomy terms, a “conjunction” of Jupiter, Venus, and the Moon. On the Monday night, these three will be so close together that you’ll be able to see them all together, even in a single binocular field. And they are already BRIGHT! So bright, that even with terrible light pollution you can see them.

If you’re in North or South America, right after sunset, look close to the southwestern horizon, just as it is beginning to get dark. The Moon will be in what is known as a “waxing crescent.” That means that the portion of the Moon, which is reflecting the light from the Sun, is a thin crescent which will be growing over the coming nights. Venus and Jupiter are the two bright objects just below, or the West of the Moon. Venus is the brighter of the two objects.

Regretfully, if you’re in Europe - you have a problem. The Moon will have occulted, or will have moved in front of Venus. So the single bright object which you see next to the Moon is Jupiter. Still pretty cool! Sorry, but for you, Venus doesn’t move from behind the Moon until after they have all set.

If you’re in the Far East, Venus and Jupiter will be just above, or East of, the crescent Moon before it sinks toward the western horizon.

If you’re in Madagascar, or southeastern Africa, you get to see the coolest of all. Depending upon where you are, you get to see the Moon occult both Venus and Jupiter. It is possible that you may even see Venus and Jupiter skim the edges of the Moon as they pass behind it.

Now for an appearing non sequitur: When I was in college, in that tender age when dinosaurs ruled the world, my History Professor’s maiden name was that of one of the great European royal houses. She opened my eyes to aspects of history that had never occurred to this naïve little Southern girl. It had never occurred to me that “that” treaty, which put and end to “that” war, was signed because: Oh My! Great Aunt Sophie went to bed with King Biggy the night before! Goodness only knows who else Great Aunt Sophie went to bed with. But, goodness only knows how many lives Great Aunt Sophie may have saved.

Bringing this bit of nonsense into focus, and just as a bit of fun speculation, let’s consider what the Ancients would have thought of this event. To the Ancients, the Planets (or Wanderers), the Moon, and the Sun were gods, and their godlike movements influenced our humanlike lives on Earth. Jupiter, in the Western Mythological Tradition, was always associated with the king of the gods (King Biggy). Venus (Great Aunt Sophie) was generally associated with erotic love; and the Moon with Diana/Artemis (your guess is as good as mine), and the hunt and childbirth. What would possibly be going on when these three got together? Which room of the house were they in? What were they talking about? How was it going to affect my insignificant, uncertain world? Food for some interesting stories, huh?

Start watching tonight and follow the developments as Venus, Jupiter and the Moon grow closer together each night. May your skies be clear.

Happy Viewing,

Frances Drake

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope that you will all have a very Happy Thanksgiving. I realize that days of thanksgiving are celebrated at various times of the year around the globe, but in the US, tomorrow is our national day for giving thanks for all of our blessings. In keeping with the feasting aspect of this holiday, I thought that I would pass on a family recipe for making cornbread. The ingredients definitely aren't according to strict dietary guidelines, but can easily be changed to meet your health or cultural preferences.

Mama's Southern Cornbread

Combine and mix dry ingredients in large bowl:
1 C yellow cornmeal
1 C flour (I use whole wheat)
1 Tbs sugar (I use honey, some people don't use any)
1 heaping Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Combine and mix together wet ingredients in separate bowl:
1 C milk (or 1/3 C powdered milk with dry, and water here)
[if you use buttermilk, cut the baking powder to 2 tsp, and add 1/2 tsp of soda]
1 egg

Heat oven to 350
Heat generous 1/3 C bacon drippings in iron skillet or pan of choice until hot and melted. (I used a combo of bacon drippings and olive oil, but any oil or butter will do)

Quickly combine wet ingredients with the dry, but don't overmix.

Swirl drippings/oil around the skillet or pan to coat and quickly pour most, but not all directly into the batter. Stir and immediately pour batter back into HOT skillet, and put into the oven. Take it out when the top is golden and the curled edges start to pull away from the sides of the skillet/pan, or center taps solid.

Variations and additions:
cheese, cut corn, peppers, crumbled bacon, sausage, or anything else that tickles your taste buds.

Now, what are you going to do with the leftover cornbread?

Cornbread Dressing:
Basic: Do this to your own preference.
crumbled, plain cornbread
green onion tops
regular sauted onions and celery
sage (go lightly on this one)
itty-bitty bit of garlic
beaten eggs
chicken or turkey stock until very moist
Instead of using salt - if necessary, I give it a few drops of Tobasco to sparke it, and a little dash of bouillion, which is mostly salt, but more flavor.
Cook all of this in a cassarole, not in the bird! 350 is a good temperature.

Variations and additions:
chopped gibblets
boiled eggs
chopped apples
or anything else that tickles your taste buds.

Count all your blessings, and Happy Thanksgiving


Writing Science Fiction Romance
And loving good food :-)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Pleiades Have Risen!

Wow! We have now officially (that is, according to me) entered the best star viewing season of the Astronomy year. Speaking of Astronomy Years, 2009 really has been officially designated as the International Year of Astronomy by the International Astronomical Union. Doesn’t that just get you all excited?

If your skies are clear, and your light pollution isn’t too overwhelming - boy, can you have some fun! Eight of the thirteen most brilliant stars visible from Earth and some of the most easily discernable constellations are now all coming into view. For me, the rise of the Pleiades star cluster is the herald of the viewing season to come, and the first star cluster which I found as an amateur astronomer.

For the last few nights, since a cold front cleared my part of North America, I have had extraordinarily clear viewing during my nightly constitutionals with the Supreme Poodle Pasha Zackery. I continue to try to interest him in the stars on our nightly outings; and although he is extremely intelligent, the glories of the sky pale in comparison to the fun of games of tag with his harem girl, MaxiCat. Children are so shallow. But, I digress, a crime which I am often guilty of.
Rising above the eastern horizon, just at sunset, are the Pleiades, my favorite of all the star clusters. I suppose that is because: 1) I can see it; 2) it was my first; and 3) it is so very beautiful. The glow that you see in the picture is a dust cloud, or reflection nebula, which surrounds the cluster. The cluster is 400 light years distant, about 13 light years across, and contains over 3000 stars. Crowded neighborhood! Astronomers, using infrared detectors have recently found a dusty disk that belongs to one young Pleiades star -- HD 23514. Can we say “planets” anyone? By the time that it is fully dark, the stars of the Pleiades are easily visible with the naked eye, and positively glorious through binoculars or a telescope. You can find them lying at the feet of Perseus. Considering the morals of the Greek gods, it’s a good thing that Perseus was an honorable man and so in love with Andromeda!

According to the Ancient Greeks, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas, who held up the skies. Seven was the number of stars which the ancients could see, hence the name “Seven Sisters.” These girls were, as are all daddies’ daughters, excessively beautiful. And being beautiful, they had a suitor, the lusty hunter Orion. The problem was that the greedy man wanted them all. Daddy Atlas was not amused. My next astronomy post will be about how Daddy Atlas protected his little girls’ virtue from Orion.
Tune in next week for the ongoing, Ancient Greek, soap opera of the stars.

Happy viewing,
Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

Saturday, November 15, 2008


“I am afraid.” These are the first words of Lois McMaster Bujold’s 1992 HUGO Award winning classic, BARRAYAR, the second book of CORDELIA’S HONOR.

Capt. Cordelia Nesbit, former hero of the Betan Expeditionary Forces, and only one step ahead of the Betan psychiatrists, has retired (read as “got the he!! out of Dodge”) to the planet Barrayar and married Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan, also retired. She had expected a life of obscure peace in their retirement. What she gets is anything but!

Cordelia is a fish out of water, trapped along with Aral in a world of Byzantine politics, where failure means death and the descent of a planet into chaos, and even more likely, galactic war. Aral has been coerced into being Regent to Gregor, the five year old heir to the Empire, by the dying Emperor, Ezar Vorbarra. This is a man so ruthless, that in order to preserve a future for his planet, he has engineered the loss of a war to assassinate his own son, a real monster. In doing so, he also eliminates corrupt elements within his government... quite efficiently! Cordelia has a right to be afraid. After the first assassination attempt on Aral, she knows that they really are out to get him, and her. But, who are ‘THEY?’

Lois McMaster Bujold has said that her rule for finding plots for character-centered novels is to ask, “So what’s the worst possible thing that I can do to this guy? And then do it.” Aral is forced into a merciless position which he knows will probably destroy his honor, his marriage, and Cordelia. Cordelia has “had it” with the military. Her greatest desire and her greatest fear is motherhood. In the midst of all of this assassination driven intrigue, she discovers that she is pregnant. Not only do she an Aral have bull’s-eyes painted on their backs, but now their son, Miles, even before his birth, is targeted for death.

Life is full of ‘if onlys’ and ‘might have beens.’ Because of a foolish prank, Aral is forced, by law, to condemn a young nobleman to death. The young man’s brother, in revenge, strikes back at Aral, and Miles is the one injured. Cordelia, too, almost dies during the transfer of Miles’s fetus to a uterine replicator, which is their only hope for saving his life. Added to that, Aral’s father, Count Piotr, fearing that Miles will be a mutant, tries to kill him, which, understandably, causes a schism with Aral. Cordelia’s worst fears are realized. Barrayar does eat its children. But, for the time being, Miles is safe in his uterine replicator, being treated in the Imperial Military Hospital at the Capital.

Then there is Sgt. Bothari, who saved Cordelia’s life in SHARDS OF HONOR. Where Aral is Cordelia’s heart, in some ways, Bothari is the reflection of her darker side. It is their interaction which provides some of the most poignant, and also humorous, moments of BARRAYAR. I said in my review of SHARDS OF HONOR that he was “one of the most ugly, schizophrenic, psychopaths that I have ever loved.” Where the Betans wanted to rearrange Cordelia’s mind, “for her own good,” the Barrayarians have done just that to Sgt. Bothari. He remembers almost nothing of the war, only that he and Cordelia are somehow connected, and that he is a “monster.” Cordelia has to reassure him, that even though he has done terrible things, he has also made good choices. But, he can’t remember how he made those choices. He asks her to be his conscience, so that he knows that he is doing the right thing. I cried for a man so broken.

When treason does strike, and Emperor Gregor is brought to Aral by the dying Chief of Security, Aral and his father, Piotr, reunite to save everyone. Piotr is a wily old bastard, even if pigheaded. He takes Cordelia, Gregor, and Bothari deep into the mountains as Aral and his men scatter, laying false trails. For the men, it’s all a game of strategy. For Cordelia, it’s agony. Three weeks out of a cesarean section, she has her first horseback ride, lasting days. The torturous ride ends at an old guerilla cave system in the distant mountains. She and Bothari lay a trap for the pursuing traitors, who lose several hundred of them inside the mountain. This provides one of the unforgettable lines of the book, and proves how sick my sense of humor is, when Sgt. Bothari thinks about the cave and sighs, “If only I’d had a grenade to drop down that vent. Their search parties would still be shooting at each other this time next week.”

After Gregor is successfully hidden, Cordelia and Bothari reunite with Aral at Tanery Space Port. However, Miles is still behind enemy lines, and has been taken hostage by the false Emperor. When Aral, out of terror of losing her, refuses permission for a covert raid to rescue Miles, Cordelia takes maters into her own hands. It isn’t the first time that she has done so, and Aral should have remembered. She fears that Aral will never forgive her, but her son is in mortal danger. With the help of Bothari, her body guard, and Aral’s kidnapped chief of staff, Cordelia sets out to rescue her son. In the process, they save Aral’s cousin’s wife and baby, but are not able to save the cousin or Gregor’s mother. When Cordelia returns after a successful, albeit destructive mission, and presents Aral with a “Winterfair gift” in addition to his son, she informs her shocked audience, “I’m tired of your stupid war. End it.” Then she turns to Count Piotr with the punch line to beat all punch lines, “Don’t you ever... cross me again. And stay away from my son.” Cordelia has completed the transition from an essentially nonviolent person to a mother who will do whatever it takes to protect her family.

Stories are about change and how people deal with it. Barrayar is in conflict, the old line warrior class, the Vor, set against the new technoculture. Lois McMaster Bujold has said, “All great human deeds both consume and transform their doers.” That is true of Aral, Cordelia, and also Bothari. Aral dedicates everything that he is, including Cordelia and Miles, to the future wellbeing of his planet; yet, one never doubts his love for his family. The paradoxical thing about Cordelia is that even though she hates Barrayar and its warrior culture, she is Vor to the core when it comes to doing what she knows to be right. Bothari has been, and still is a psychopath; but, he's also a hero. And, even he gets his HEA in his daughter’s safety, and subsequent assignment as Miles’ bodyguard... a misfit guarding a misfit.

In CORDELIA’S HONOR there are moments of supreme poignancy interspersed with side splittingly gallows humor. The sincerest compliment that I can offer to Ms. Bujold is that I wish that I could write as well as she does.

Happy reading,

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future
Frances Writes

P.S. Thanks to KimberAn of Enduring Romance for highlighting my reviews on her blog. She has an enormous readership, and I thank her for the exposure.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Attention Aspiring Writers

In keeping with trying to pass along good advice whenever I run across it, this morning I found some. Laura at Science Fiction Romance Fan has some excellent advice on reading contracts. This information is extremely important for the first time selling author to understand.

Good luck aspiring writers, and may your work reward you.

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day and Remembrance Day...

Around the World, today is a day of Remembrance for all of those who have given their lives in the service of their countries. The following countries are the ones that I know are observing this day: Australia, Bermuda, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Republic of Ireland, and United States. There may be others observing this day. If I have neglected your country, please accept my apologies.

When I stopped in at KimberAn's blogs today, she had posts about Veteran's day. At her Enduring Romance blog, she talks about her family and its military history. She also highlights my review of CORDELIA'S HONOR. At her Star Captain's Daughter blog, she spotlights the amazing group of American military women in the Lioness Program. These women are working to help the military be culturally sensitive to Iraqi women. I think that it would be very difficult to say how many lives they have saved.

Another group that I would like to recoginze are The RomVets. They are former members of armed services who now are Romance authors, and who continue to give of themselves to brighten others lives with their writing.

Thank you men and women who guard the peace of the world,


Writing Science Fiction Romance

Real Love in a Real Future

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Recently, I reread Lois McMaster Bujold’s CORDELIA’S HONOR. It’s actually two books in one, SHARDS OF HONOR, and the 1992 HUGO Award Winner, BARRAYAR. It’s been some years since I first read it. I liked it then; and I like it now, more than ever.

Aside to the reader: In addition to the cover illustration of CORDELIA'S HONOR, above, which I do like, but which I don't feel fully reflects the characters, I have included, one of the original cover illustrations of SHARDS OF HONOR. I think that it clearly reflects the characters, and one of the episodes in the book. Neither hero nor heroine are young, gorgeous, or perfect; but they are wonderful.

If there were one word that I would use to describe CORDELIA’S HONOR, it would be complex. Don't mistake that for confusing. It's simply that the more you think about this book, the more you see. Ms. Bujold has created three diverse ecological systems, two distinct socio-political organizations, and a study of evil that is magnificent, and all too real. All of the events in the exceedingly strong plot lines serve to reveal aspects of the characters and their conflicts. Layers upon layers lead to lots of, ‘Oh ho! So that’s what is going on!’ These are subtle moments of discovery that delight the reader.

Commander Cordelia Naismith and Captain Aral Vorkosigan come from planets with antithetical cultures: his, reminiscent of a violent cross between Victorian England and Imperial Russia; and hers, a supposedly peaceful, advanced, constitutional, free, and politically correct society. They are first thrown together in SHARDS OF HONOR, on a hostile alien world, which quickly reveals their true natures. They are complex, flawed, and, above all, honorable. Each brings a starship load of life experiences with them, which, strangely enough, mirror one another. They have both had painful failures in their pasts; and I found their shy efforts at sharing their pasts to be particularly endearing. When Aral asks Cordelia to marry him by listing all of the terrible consequences to doing so, I lost my heart. Quick, woman, marry the man! Ah, but what can they do, when they are on opposite sides of a coming war, and they are both bound by duty and honor?

Nothing is as it first seems. As enemy combatants, Cordelia and Aral are both constrained to keep secrets from the other, in spite of their attraction. Everything rests upon their judgments of the other’s character; and contrary to all appearances, ultimately their survival depends upon character judgments. (As a special note, it is here that Ms Bujold introduces Sgt. Bothari, one of the most ugly, schizophrenic, psychopaths that I have ever loved.) I wanted to cheer for Cordelia as she reasoned out the terrible trap to his honor in which Aral is caught. And I wanted to cry for him. For Aral, there are no good choices. There are only bad and worse choices, each tearing his honor from him, bit by bit.

After the war is over, Cordelia returns home. She finds that her world, which she, has idealized as free and advanced, has its own dark side; and it almost destroys her. She possesses information which could devastate the political fabric of Aral’s planet, Barrayar; and the authorities of her planet, Beta, want to take her brain apart and reassemble it... for her own good, of course. I found this sham altruism to be terrifying! If she is not to suffer the Betan equivalent of a lobotomy, Cordelia must flee to Aral on Barrayar, a world which she fears as ‘eating its own children.’

When Cordelia arrives on Barrayar, she finds a world that is both better and worse than what she had expected. Compared to Beta, Barrayar is beautiful beyond belief, with natural resources that boggle her mind. Family, marriage, loyalty, and honor are deadly serious matters on Barrayar. However, because of her honor, Cordelia, now Lady Vorkosigan, cannot avoid becoming enmeshed in the Machiavellian intrigues of Barrayar’s dying Emperor, Ezar Vorbarra. For the future of Barrayar, she and Aral must take their place in Ezar’s plans. Ezar is only seen in the next to the last chapter of SHARDS OF HONOR; however it is his machinations which have set all events in motion... and dominate BARRAYAR. He is brilliant, honorable in his own way, and utterly ruthless, especially with himself. He is one of the most fascinating and terrifying characters of whom I have ever read. I would like to have known more of him.

The last chapter of SHARDS OF HONOR is very disturbing. Ms Bujold leaves Cordelia and Aral to their new life and uses this chapter, a seeming non-sequitur, to show the cost of the war started by Ezar Vorbarra, to the people of Beta, Escobar, and Barrayar. She does this through the device of one mother’s grief and awe-inspiring love. Every time that I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. It was an immense gamble to end SHARDS OF HONOR on this note. It is both brilliant and devastating. I was left with both a question and a conclusion. Question: Is barbarism which is hidden by political correctness any less barbaric than that which is open for all to see? Conclusion: Only love offers any redemption in a broken universe.

Since CORDELIA’S HONOR covers so much, I will review BARRAYAR in a future post. Thanks for your patience.

Happy reading,

Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

Friday, November 7, 2008

Computers are out to get us!

My computer has been giving me fits for the last month. First, my old computer had the effrontery to go die on me. How dare it! Then my laptop decides to give me "Generic Host Process for Win32 Services" error messages, and promptly freeze on me - again and again, ad nauseam . I tried going to Mr. Gates - no luck! I tried Googling - again, no luck. Lots of other people have had similar problems - but I didn't find any answers that I could understand. I went to a tech site - you got it... I went to my security program people - they shuffled me off onto another security program which didn't help. Then I had a bright idea...

I knew that my security program has a method of disabling specific portions of programs either on start up, or permanently. I brought it up - and lo and behold - there were all sorts of programs which were connected to Win32 services! I went down the list and made sure that all which were not absolutely required by Windows were disabled, and that all which were disabled really should be. I will never know how some got switched around, but they had. Now they are history, and, so far, my laptop is running smoother, faster, and I haven't had an error message this afternoon. I hope that I haven't put the kiss of death on my poor laptop by saying this. *G*

On that topic, Heather, over at The Galaxy Express has a great post on VILLAINS. She thinks that we need to do more for our Villains. She lists some great ones too. But, you know, as I was writing this post, I thought of another Villain whom she didn't list. She didn't have anything to say about HAL in 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. I have long felt that there is a conspiracy of inanimate objects against human beings. They're out to get us! Really!

A pair of noids is better than one noid. Groan,


Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future

P.S. This month I will be reviewing CORDELIA'S HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold. If you haven't read this classic in Science Fiction/Science Fiction Romance. I hope that you will want to. There is a lot to think about in in this great adventure saga including great heroes and great villains... and maybe the two sometimes meet. *EG* Happy reading. FD

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voting, the Rule of Law, and Election Post-mortem

The purposes of this blog are primarily entertainment and literary; however, on this occasion I would like to comment. It applies to all political persuasions. I hope that it offends none.

America is a country under law. I'm proud of that. It has just gone through one of the unique processes in the history of world politics. It has decided to have a complete change in its government, without a single shot being fired. We do this every four years. There has been a hard fought election campaign and record voter turnout. People have exercised their right... and their duty to vote. We can all only hope that we've voted wisely, for ultimately we are responsible for the government which we choose.

The American government was designed with multiple layers of checks and balances. The three different branches of the government, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial, are designed to serve as restraints upon each other... in an ideal situation. The two main political parties, along with the minor parties, prevent any one group from gaining total control over the rest of the populace... in an ideal situation.

We are not now going to have an ideal situation. This would be the case no mater the winning party. The caution that we face is that one political party can now control almost all legislation and appointments with little restraint. Regardless of anyone’s political belief, this is not good for the future of our country, or the world. Other countries have had similar situations, and none have been happy for long.

Voters, of America and the entire World, it is imperative that we understand the issues of our governments, and inform our representatives of how we think that they should vote and conduct themselves. Then we must hold them accountable.

Best Wishes,


Writing Science Fiction Romance
Real Love in a Real Future