It is with great excitement, deep thanks to my long-suffering agent, and many thanks to the acquiring editor and staff that I announce that Solaris has acquired my latest book, Knave of Secrets! Coming 2022 — official announcement below. (Please forgive the image.)
HOBBITS, SHE WROTE
Sully Mackinjay – middle-age. Cabbage farmer.
Genty Mackinjay- youth. Sully’s daughter.
Jim Balmcorn – middle-age. Cabbage farmer.
Vera Broadfence – middle-age. Museum curator.
Glamm Whitlow – middle-age. Well-to-do friend of Vera’s.
Shirriff Birch – Getting old. Local law enforcement.
A SHIRE FARM
SULLY and GENTY are at work in their cabbage field. SULLY smokes constantly. JIM walks by their fence and stops to say hello, also smoking.
JIM: Sully Mackinjay! Were I a ranger I could track you from a mile away and upwind, what with that pipeweed you smoke.
GENTY: I try to tell him, Mister Balmcorn.
SULLY: Aye, you and everyone else, daughter.
GENTY: It reeks, it does!
SULLY: If a hobbit can’t smoke what he likes in his own fields, well then I can’t rightly say what the Shire has come to. At least the cabbages don’t complain.
JIM: And some fine cabbages they are, Sully. Every person of sense from here to North Farthing says Mackinjay cabbages taste the best, raw or cooked.
SULLY: That they may, that they may. But Jim Balmcorn’s are as large as a rich hobbit’s holiday pudding, everyone knows that.
GENTY: Ours are a bit on the smallish side, eh Father? Mister Balmcorn, how do you grow yours so big, begging your pardon.
SULLY: Genty! And beg his pardon you might, lass! You can’t be asking a farmer his secrets! Forgive me, Jim; her manners are sight worse than even mine.
JIM: [slightly taken aback] Tis a small matter, Sully. Nothing, really. Miss Genty, you recall the river that runs by my farm?
GENTY: Aye, sir. Balm Brook. A bit mucky, it is.
JIM: Even so. There is a tough grass that grows along it, closer to a yellow color than green.
SULLY: Catchtoe? A bit sticky to the touch?
JIM: That’s right. An armful of catchtoe boiled and spread around the field in the evening has always done right by my crops. It’s no secret, in truth. Anyone walking along the riverside path might see me and mine gathering it.
SULLY: Well, it’s fine of you to tell us about it anyways, Jim. You’ll be in the square for the market in a few days, won’t ye? Whike you’re down there, stop in at the Silvery Swan, there’ll be an ale or two waiting for you, courtesy of us Mackinjays.
JIM: I wouldn’t want to drink it alone, Sully! I hope to see you there, and we can toast our fine crops.
SULLY: Aye, Jim. That we will.
JIM: Now, I best be getting along. Wouldn’t want to be late for dinner. We just bought a jar of young Applecheek’s fresh lavender honey!
SULLY: Good day to ye, Jim!
GENTY: Good day, Mr. Balmcorn!
JIM: Good day! At the Swan, Sully!
GENTY: Cabbages as tasty as ours and as big as Balmcorns? I can get us some catchtoe, father. Easy as spitting.
SULLY: That may be a very fine way to spend your afternoon, my dearie. A very fine way indeed!
WHITWELL, A HOBBIT HOLE
VERA and GLAMM are finishing a meal at the very fine dining table of Whitwell, the ancestral home of GLAMM WHITLOW
VERA: These berries! The sweetest I’ve had this season.
GLAMM: One of the benefits of leaving town once in a while, Vera. Here in the country we enjoy the fruits of the land much closer to their original state.
VERA: Mr. Whitlow, Michel Delving is no more than a day’s cart ride. I doubt the berries lose that much flavor due to the travel.
GLAMM: Perhaps not, but do they like it in town? Have you thought of that, Professor? [both laugh]
VERA: Well, I certainly hope these alleged Blue Mountain spoons of yours like town quite a bit.
GLAMM: Ah, down to business. I would be lying if I were to tell you I’m not quite curious to know what you think of them. [GLAMM goes to a shelf and brings a small box to the table] I can’t thank you enough for coming down to see them. It might be unblushingly bold of me to say I’ve often thought they would look quite good in the museum’s section on…
VERA: Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves, Mr. Whitlow. While the Mathom-house is always happy to house and display donated items of items of historic, artistic, or cultural significance, the curation of its collections is best left… [examining the contents of the box] Glamm, how long have these been in your family?
GLAMM: I’ve never been able to tell, honestly. My thrice-great-grandmother owned them, that I know for sure. Before that, well the truth is lost to the winds of time and famly folklore. Are they valuable?
VERA: If these spoons are what I think they may be — may be, mind you — then I wouldn’t insult them by putting a monetary value on them.
GLAMM: [struggling to keep composure] I see. Well, do take your time in your assessment. Whitwell’s rooms are open to you as long as you require. I’ll have them set you up in the library.
VERA: Very kind, Glamm. Very kind.
GLAMM: You’ll stay through market day at least, I hope? It’s hardly a visit if it’s only two days.
VERA: I brought some texts related to… did I remember the Pili-Yarrow transcript? I did. Yes! Yes, a few days would be sufficient. Lovely, I mean. Quite lovely. Thank you, Mr. Whitlow.
GLAMM: Anything for an old friend, Professor Broadfence. Anything at all. Now, I’ve a few lovely carrots to tide us over ’til tea. Such good vegetables we’ve had this year. If you stay past market day, you can settle a bet for me.
VERA: I do not gamble, Mr. Whitlow.
GLAMM: It’s a just a question, Vera. There’s a local debate as to which of two farmers has the better cabbages. Your city palate may not be as sophisticated as that of we rustics, but adding your opinion to the fracas would only add to the fun.
VERA: [distracted] Inlaid with… what? So little of it left….
THE FARM, EVENING
GENTY and SULLY are at work fertilizing their fields with the catchtoe. SULLY smoking throughout.
SULLY: Not the best smell, but easy enough to work with.
GENTY: Better than that pipe….
SULLY: Southlinch pipeweed calms the nerves.
GENTY: Your nerves? What’s wrong?
SULLY: This whole business seemed like a fine idea, but a mood’s on me now.
GENTY: It’s still a fine idea. You’ll see. We’ll try some catchtoe on these two rows and compare with the regular. See if your friend’s secret method is anything more than country gossip, eh?
SULLY: You’re right girl, you’re right. Can’t always stick to the old ways, can ye? Got to try new things. Can’t become all complacent and lazy. An active mind, girl. That’s what being a good cabbage farmer takes. An active mind and a sharp eye. Perhaps a bit of jamcake after we’re done here?
The sun sets, and a crunching sound comes from the field….
THE FARM, MORNING
VERA and GLAMM are walking along the road by the Mackinjay farm. They come upon an argument between SULLY, GENTY and JIM. SHIRRIFF BIRCH is there. SULLY is smoking fiercely.
GLAMM: You see? There’s the crossroads up ahead. Not much of a walk at all, really.
VERA: A walk rarely hurt anyone, Mr. Whitlow. And it’s not as if we don’t have a destination.Indeed, walking to one’s cousin’s is one of the few situations in which a walk is entirely appropriate.
GLAMM: Quite right, quite right.
VERA: Unlike whatever we’re walking up on here.
BIRCH: Let’s put this aside for bit, boys. Sully, why don’t you have us in for a muffin and milk and we can talk it through?
SULLY: I’ll hang up my workgloves before I let a Balmcorn into my home after this.
JIM: No kin of mine will grace this farm again, that I tell you for certain.
BIRCH: There’s no need for making oaths right this moment, lads, nor speaking for all generations to come. Jim, I’ll be seeing your aunt day after tomorrow down at the town hole for the market-day meeting. What would she say if she heard you making claims for all Balmcorns for all eternity?
JIM: If my dear aunt were to hear a Mackinjay besmirching our good name, the name we have built century upon century, she’d have words more harsh than those.
GENTY: You killed our cabbages, Balmcorn! Jealous of the Mackinjay arts, you are!
GLAMM: Shirriff Birch, a fine day to be out on the road, do you not say so?
BIRCH: Mr. Whitlow, always my sincere pleasure.
GLAMM: This is Professor Broadfence, curator of the Mathom-house.
JIM: [to GENTY] That’s the museum in Michel Delving, Genty.
GENTY: I know what it is!
GLAMM: You’ve caught us on a walk to Cran Hill to see my cousin’s library.
BIRCH: A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Professor. Mathom-house is a pillar of the farthing’s community.
VERA: You are very generous, Shirriff. I serve the common good as I can, though maybe not as directly as you do. I apologize for interrupting you in the provision of your duty.
BIRCH: Nonsense, if you’ll forgive me saying so, Professor. No duty being provided. These here are old friends, Jim Balmcorn and Sully and Genty Mackinjay.
SULLY: How do ye do?
GENTY: It is a distinct pleasure to make your acquaintance, Professor.
VERA: Ah, the cabbage farmers.
GENTY: Yes, ma’am.
VERA: Tell me, why do these two rows look different from the rest?
SULLY: You can ask Mr. Balmcorn. It was his doing.
SULLY: It was then, wasn’t it? He comes up yesterday, who knows where he was coming from, and recommends we take some river rushes, boil ’em like potatoes and throw ’em on our crop. Now look!
BIRCH: You can’t blame him for trying to help, Sully.
JIM: And yet that is precisely what he has done. Accused me of poisoning his crops. As if I had any reason.
GENTY: You said yourself ours were better!
[All silent. After an uncomfortable moment, SULLY relights his pipe.]
GENTY: He did.
BIRCH: Nothing here to bother you folks. I hope to see you again, Professor. Mr Whitlow, please tell young Cranny I’m still expecting him to paint the town hole door after that little prank of his last month.
GLAMM: I’ll do better than that, Shirriff: I’ll tell his father.
GLAMM and VERA continue on.
GLAMM: Don’t see much of that in the Delving, I’d wager.
VERA: What, cabbage blight?
GLAMM: Arguments over fertilizer.
VERA: Not fertilizer necessarily, but folk find all manner of things to fight over. It would be shame if two old families started a grudge over something like this. Hobbits have long memories.
GLAMM: And they know how to tend to their own crops. Taking advice from another farmer? Who knew old Sully’s pride would allow it.
VERA: This from the hobbit who has to borrow his cousin’s books? [both chuckle]
GLAMM: Never mind the library, wait until you see the larder!
VERA: Oh, no more tea for me. You are too kind, but I’ll never sleep and it’s so late.
GLAMM: Tea makes one’s labors go quickly. And the more quickly you’re done, the sooner we get to simply enjoy our visit.
VERA: And the sooner we know if a Whitlow family heirloom makes into the Mathom-house. I must say, Glamm, I honestly hope it does. The Whitlows have always been supportive of cultural matters here in South Farthing.
GLAMM: Supportive enough to pick where you display my magnificent old spoons? Right across from that narrow window in the wing on….
VERA: Leave an old friend her pleasures. Selecting locations is my favorite part of the job.
GLAMM: Like decorating, I imagine. Some things blend well and some don’t.
VERA: A little like that, I suppose.
GLAMM: Is it really your favorite? Not the research, the… what do you do, polish things?
VERA: I love the research, certainly. The bookwork, that is. I have heard it said that there is much one can learn by going out in the field and seeing with one’s own eyes, but this is foolishness. A good and proper book on the subject, well-researched and well-illustrated, does quite well, thank you. Take for example this book from Cran Hill. Lovely library, by the way. I don’t need to go to the Blue Mountains to learn about the alloy used for these spoons. The book is quite clear on the chemistry of it — some things blend well and some don’t…. Glamm, what pipeweed do you smoke?
GLAMM:: I don’t take pipeweed half as much I should, but I’ve always favored the local: Old Toby.
VERA: Can you have them bring me some?
GLAMM: Of course.
VERA: And put on your coat. We need a walk.
GLAMM: A walk! At this hour? I’ll bring the wine, at least. Shall I bring some cakes for us to nibble on the way?
VERA: Mr. Whitlow, it may be best for you to bring hard-boiled eggs and cold rasher of bacon for breakfast. We’ll be at the market before the farmers arrive.
SULLY and GENTY are setting up their tent.
GENTY: That old fox better not try to set up near us.
SULLY: He won’t. He wouldn’t dare. He and his flavorless cabbages. No one would look at them twice if they got a whiff of ours.
Enter JIM and BIRCH
JIM: Did I not say so, Shirriff? Did I not say they would try to sneak in early?
BIRCH: You did, Jim. You did.
GENTY: Set up early? There must be a dozen people setting up!
JIM: The rule is an hour before breakfast and no sooner.
GENTY: That’s no rule I’ve ever heard.
SULLY: Oh, it’s the rule, make no mistake. One that no one cares about and no one has ever enforced, not since old Batchcook moved out and stopped complaining about being woken up. And that’s old old Batchcook. A century past! And now along comes Mr. Balmcorn trying to use the Shirriff to do what his lies couldn’t.
BIRCH: There’s no need for that. There’s no need for any of this.
Enter VERA and GLAMM
VERA: I couldn’t agree more, Shirriff Birch.
BIRCH: Good morning, Professor. Welcome to Marketday. I would recommend some of the sausage pies.
VERA: Mr. Mackinjay. Miss Mackinjay. Mr. Balmcorn. I have something I would like to show you.
GLAMM: Aye, and I ruined my favorite field trousers getting it, so listen sharp.
VERA: Mr. Mackinjay, may I see your pipe?
SULLY: Another complaint? Lots of folk like Southlinch.
VERA: I’m sure. But in the heart of Old Toby country? You must be something of a rarity to have developed a taste for it. It’s grown in Breeland, is it not?
VERA: [pulling a handful of grass from her pocket] And these reeds. Catchtoe, yes Mr. Balmcorn?
JIM: Even so.
VERA: Now watch what happens when I take a bit of catchtoe, put it in a puddle, and toss in a bit of Southlinch ash.
GENTY: I don’t see any… wait, what are those?
SULLY: Worms! Wortworms. Nasty beggars.
VERA: And, forgive my lack of knowledge, but a row of cabbages inflicted with wortworms would soon be destroyed, would it not?
JIM: It certainly would. I was taught that the catchtoe keeps them away.
VERA: I’m sure it does, in most cases. But when mixed with a foreign element, with the odoriferous ash of a pipeweed from Bree, a chemical reaction takes place. And this one, it seems, attracts the wortworms instead of keeping them away.
GENTY: Like how some people like a smelly cheese and some don’t.
VERA: A little like that, I suppose. Mr. Mackinjay, your friend did not try to poison your crops. Indeed, if you were not so dedicated to the Southlinch, it would have worked just as well as it does for Mr. Balmcorn.
SULLY: My twice-great-grandfather smoked it, you know, Jim. Picked up the habit when he did a stint as a Bounder down Bucklebury way. Remember him?
JIM: I surely do, Sully. You old goat.
GENTY: Well, I feel a fool. We thank you, Professor Broadfence. You’ve done us a great service.
GLAMM: We’re all quite glad. Now, when precisely do the sausage pies arrive?
VERA enters in traveling clothes and grabs a bite of something from a small cabinet. As she eats, she takes the two dwarven spoons and brings them into a room filled with household items, mainly from the lands of Men. She places them in a display case across from the narrow oval window, but decides against it and puts them in a room of dwarven pieces.
A bit later, she is sitting by a fire reading a book and dozing off.
To say that Katharine Duckett’s debut novel picks up where Shakespeare left off in The Tempest is more than a little inaccurate, Old Will wrote a weird play about a cruel wizard bent on enslaving every creature he meets and abusing his enemies as much as his borrowed powers allow — but, you know, there’s like love and drunks and stuff so it’s a comedy? Duckett proposes some very good answers to questions left open by the play, but more importantly examines this 400-year-old fever-dream with the lens of a careful reader and reveals some of the worms in its core.
Please allow me skip the part where I provide some examples of the excellent prose and plotting and jump right into the stuff I want to nerd out about. [Some spoilers, I suppose.]
So, the big question, of course, is “who was Miranda’s mother”? Prospero doesn’t have much to say about her in his extensive As-you-know-Bob-ish exposition speech. Duckett places her very firmly in an unusual place — the underworld. The palace in which Miranda lives/is confined has many tunnels beneath it, and it was there that the mad Duke studied his magics. The entrance most commonly used during Miranda’s Milanese mischiefs is right behind a statue of Virgil. And her mom’s name? Beatrice, called “Bice”. [Cue lit-nerd excited squees at Dante’s Inferno reference.]
So is this Beatrice Portinari? Did Milan join Naples during her lifetime? Or is it just the name? Further research will be reported upon here. Either way, the blending of two Italian fantasy stories in this book is delicious.
And here’s another question, one I wasn’t clever enough to realize even should have been a question: where is Antonio’s son? Ferdinand blathers about “the Duke of Milan and his brave son being twain,” a line I completely missed. So one of the “others” always entering and exiting with the Milanese is the son of the usurping Duke? Doesn’t that bear a little more screen-time? Duckett comes through again with this little tidbit.
Caliban is the son of an exiled Algerian woman — why does Prospero treat him as a monster? (The accusation of attempted rape in the play is managed in this book by presenting it as a possessive Prospero’s misunderstanding, which works well with the “Prospero is an evil prick” interpretation (to which I subscribe)). Are we just supposed to think it’s ok that the wizard keeps putting Miranda to sleep with magic? Was Antonio wrong to wrest power from his brother, considering that Prospero by his own admission ignored his civic duties? What was the old bastard studying so intently anyway? And does everyone really just welcome him back? Plenty to explore here, and the author satisfies every curiosity.
The power of words makes an appearance several times (including some very much appreciated mocking of Prospero for his histrionics), my favorite of which is the question of Caliban’s language. Prospero taught him Italian (enough to curse in it), but what did the poor guy speak before then? Are we truly to believe he had no language at all? Language in this book holds the key to power, yes, but also to respect and understanding between people of different cultures. (Not Prospero’s forte).
The only thing missing, and this is only because I’m a huge game nerd, is a chess scene. Ferdinand and Miranda spend a quiet moment playing chess in the play, and a moonlit match in the gilded rooms of the palace would have been the last drop of icing on this very good cake for me — but near the end, Miranda is chided for speaking not of her heart, but of politics, “the chessboard of kings and queens, where all of us are only pieces.” I think we can safely say the author covered all the bases.
Also, the cover is awesome. Go read it!
“I watched Crazy Rich Asians. There was a scene with this game with tiles. It was beautiful — the colors and the clacking….”
These are the words of a woman who clearly wants me to go out and buy a mahjongg set and a book and go crazy over the whole thing.
Games as story-telling tools are My Thing Lately, so I had to find the scene and obsess over it. Not really knowing the game, we get the point — older woman beats younger woman, but younger woman reveals she could have won and chose not to. But HOW? I MUST KNOW.
Mahjongg is sort of like rummy, if rummy scoring was more complicated and had awesome names for hands like “Catching the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea”. Match sets, knock before your opponents can get a good hand, score what you’ve got. I’ve got a book, so it should be pretty straight-forward, right?
The hands are presented for us to see clearly, which is nice. The elder’s:
And the younger’s:
And right from the get-go, I’ve got trouble. No idea what that bendy cucumber tile is in the elder’s hand (next to the three Nine Circles). But, the game has random unmatched tiles that give you points if you draw them, so maybe it’s just a different printing of one of those. (Cue frantic, useless googling of mahjongg tilesets.) I’ll just see what the book says.
Well, the book has seven different games in it.
If I take the Cantonese game, it looks to me like the elder wins. But that can’t be right. None of the other variations seem to work either.
Well, why not download an app that scores mahjongg hands? Couldn’t be simpler! Except for when the app is for Japanese-style scoring. The elder definitely wins that one.
Fortunately for me, someone who actually knows what they’re talking about posted about this. It doesn’t go into full detail on the scoring, but it does clarify that this is the Singaporean game.
It even explains the cucumber.
The author goes through the trouble of scoring the younger woman’s hand:
SCORING RACHEL’S HAND
If you’re really curious, here’s how Singaporean rules would have scored Rachel’s hand:
Half Flush (hand composed of all one suit plus honors): 2 points
Fully Concealed Hand (no pong or chow sets revealed in front of her): 1 point
Animal tile: 1 point
She scores no points under Singapore rules for the flower, since it’s associated with the 4th seat, which is neither her seat nor the “prevailing” seat (East is dealer in this hand).
That’s 4 points, out of a typical maximum per round of 5. Every player would pay her $16, for a total of $48 for the hand. Singaporeans play a low-stakes version of mahjong!
But what about the elder’s. Well, let’s try it: She has:
3 9 bamboo
3 8 bamboo
3 white dragon
2 red dragon
3 9 circles
And I think that’s everything. So… equal hands. But the wikipedia article doesn’t take into account “fans” (doubling opportunities), as noted in the site listed as a reference. So maybe the elder won twice as much?
It’s worth noting that the they both have two red dragons hidden. Thus either could only get what they wanted (a valuable triple) if the other gave up and broke her pair.
Thus ends my adventure in trying to score mahjongg hands from a movie without knowing what I’m doing. I hope in Crazier Richer Asians they play again, but there’s a misunderstanding as to if they’re playing Old Rules or American, and they both have ridiculously good hands for their respective systems. If not I plan on stealing the idea. From myself.
I don’t know if you had a chance out the Netflix Castlevania series, but I started watching it right around the same time I started playing a tabletop RPG using the Genesys system. Enjoying both thoroughly, I naturally decided to build a Castlevania mod. You can find it in the Games menu above.
I fear the Genesys make-your-own-setting system is going to prove extremely addictive. Just check out this forum for all the IPs and original concepts people have built already. You want Mass Effect? Dinosaurs and cowboys? The Prisoner? There’s… a lot.
Another post on tor.com, this time about Tak.
A friend got my playing Tak before I had read the books. I… still haven’t finished them. I thought I’d go with an audiobook for the second one. I’ve been listening for a loooong time.
Also, I’ll be doing Nanowrimo again this year. Any year anyone says “hey, you doin’ nano?”, I immediately say yes. Just having conversations about our novels is worth the price of admission. Which is nothing!
The latest news is a post of mine on Tor.com: https://www.tor.com/2018/09/13/asimovs-guide-to-shakespeare-exists-and-you-need-it/
It was a blast to write, and I am looking forward to having the chance to work more with them.
The last few seasons have been all about the job, which has meant precious little writing. I did pull myself together well enough to write a story recently, and am finishing up the latest draft of the novel I’ve been working on.
I’ve read some great stuff, and am currently relishing Hard in Hightown, an in-world noir novel from Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s the first time I’ve seen this particular brand of meta, and I recommend it.
Stay strong, friends!
Adventure: Uncharted Waters
Irina Raveneye, whose darkness rivals the deepest mines of Khaazimn –
I gave you little reason to love me when we met. I sent your pack of croaking undead to the void, may their souls slumber in eternity. But you had something I needed. You may not forgive me for slaying your minions and taking what you thought was yours, but I know you respect my motive. After all: for those as long-lived as you and I, possession is a mere matter of patience.
The runestone I claimed from you leads me toward its kin, toward my father’s unclaimed treasure. It has led me to a dark tower. I took my prize from a cruel one there, just as I took mine for you. Now it guides me to mysterious emerald waters. And this insistent woman.
Greystroke says she knows how to find Bloodfyre Isle. Unlikely. This spit of earth is ever shrouded by an unnatural fog. And yet I must find my way there. The fool thinks an old captain made it to those shores, and could be asked how he did it. His death was hardly more than a span ago; his tongue should still be mostly whole. And I would be iron beholden if you would get him talking again, to hear the truth of it from his own dead lips.
A promise of booty is enough to get most pirates up from their barstools. A promise of a dead captain’s hidden prize galleon would get them to sell their own eyes. But Greystoke has no ken of the true treasure to be found on that island.
The expedition part of this business you can leave to me. I have plied the underground seas enough to handle a trip on the sun-burned ones. But I must beseech you to come to my aid. Leave your catacombs and see how the tale of the dwarf and the necromancer’s stone has progressed. I ever be,
Postscrivening – They say the old captain killed the crew of his galleon and left them on Bloodfyre. Betrayed pirated would make fair revenants, I dare say.
Result: Irina puts the past aside and aids Karlsek in bringing the captain back to life. Armed with the location of Bloodfyre Isle, the dwarf hires a pirate band. He lets them keep the galleon’s riches, but finds something different for himself.