The Hugos, 2015; Chapter One

The Hugo Awards, conferred by the World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon), are even more controversial this year than they were last year, and the odds are that they will be controversial next year too. Basically, a small but motivated group used bloc-voting, which is not forbidden in any way by the Hugo nominating process, to place a bunch of their friends’ work on the shortlist.

You can read about it here, here and here. Enjoy.

Then some people withdrew their works from consideration, which meant the next –in-line books made it into the finalist categories. You can read about some of that here.

This makes the short list just, well, kind of weird. I am mostly interested in the Best Novel category myself, and when everything shook out, here were the finalists:

  • Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie, sequel to last year’s every-award –winner Ancillary Justice
  • The Dark Between the Stars, by Kevin Anderson, which looks like traditional space opera
  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette), the first in a new fantasy series
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher, the latest in the long-running Harry Dresden series
  • The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, translated by Ken Liu, book one of an acclaimed hard science fiction trilogy from China.

*

It will take me a very long time to read The Three Body Problem because it falls into none of the categories I enjoy, but I probably still will, just because it’s so noteworthy. Many of the talking heads see it as an upset winner, (mostly those people who thought Sword would be the shoo-in).

Ancillary Sword was as good as Ancillary Justice, going in a different direction and providing more depth to the Radch Empire. Skin Game, to me, just another Harry Dresden. I love Harry Dresden, but really, it’s another good story and it’s like, what? Book fourteen? I think it suffers the same problem Wheel of Time had last year; how good is it, if you haven’t read all the previous books?

Normally I wouldn’t be in a rush to read The Dark Between the Stars, either, but I said I would for FanLit. It’s not a subgenre I love, and I haven’t been enamored of Anderson’s writing in the past.

While there are some strange omissions on that list (City of Stairs, no nod? The Peripheral?) it’s not a bad Best Novel list.

In future chapters, I’ll discuss what I think the solution is to “hi-jacking;”  and I’ll take a look at some of the other categories — which is where things start to get freaky.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Benicia; the Scavenger Hunt

Last Saturday I went to Benicia, mainly just to window shop and walk around. Before I left I checked my e-mail and discovered that Main Street Benicia was offering an Art Scavenger Hunt. This is, simply, a fun, brilliant idea.

IMG_0943

The hunt took place at six Main Street galleries. There were 20 items to find, ranging from the very specific (“find a representation of the famous tower in France”) to the subjective (“find an artwork that uses your favorite color”). Some required knowledge of Benicia’s history or a willingness to ask questions. The process took me up and down Main Street and meant I discovered a few new places. Dos Gatos Gallery is upstairs at the end of the street away from the water and I would probably never have found it on my own. Downstairs is the Camelia Tea Room and I probably would not have found that either.

The galleries were: Benicia Plein Air Gallery; Dos Gatos Gallery; Gallery 621; Mernie Buchanan Studio and Art Gallery; Once Upon a Canvas; Parsons Gallery.

Those last two are in the Tannery Building, about two blocks from the fishing pier.

Steampunker with seam powered cell phone.

As an added bonus, there was a steampunk group in town that day. Obtainium Works is a Vallejo-based steampunk and art car studio. I picked up one of their cards and boy, do they have some interesting sounding events! How about Feast of the Tentacle? (Sadly, I missed it. It was in March.) Or Haul o’Ween in late October? And since the handcar regatta in Santa Rosa has ended, I have to say the Obtainium Cup,in July, looks pretty tempting.

The scavenger hunt was a fun event, running over the lunch hour, which meant that local restaurants and bars should have been happy. It’s held in conjunction with the Saturday Artwalk.

And, it turns out, not everyone was happy. At one business establishment I overheard this exchange:

Antique coffee grinder.

Man 1: Oh, shit. I better get home. It’s an Artwalk Saturday, I’ll be stuck here all day.

Man 2:  Too late.

You know who were happy? The gallery owners, that’s who.

This seems like a simple idea, although it takes some legwork, and since there was an “I (heart) Benicia” shopping bag for everyone who turned in a completed hunt form, and the possibility of a grand prize of a $100 gift card, it would take some work on the back end, but it’s got to be worth it, if your goal is to bring tourists to your main street.

 

 

 

Posted in View from the Road | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Muir Tea Room; It Feeds the Spirit

IMG_0840

The beautiful yard caught my eye first, and then I looked up at the lovely white Victorian cottage that houses The Muir Tea Room. This building, located at 330 South Main Street, two buildings south of the Post Office, used to be Fork Catering. They have moved farther west now, and the Tea Room opened in December, 2014.

I was delighted by the fragrant wisteria on the porch (mine wasn’t blooming yet). The clean, airy interior with its pale floor and sweet china patterns embraced me. There is something civilizing about afternoon tea – or at least, the “afternoon tea” of my imagination, shaped by scores of British murder mysteries and numerous episodes of Downton Abbey.

IMG_0856

The “plant-based” menu was a surprise, though.

Christine Dzilvelis, who owns the tea room, says she is reluctant to use the term “vegan.” She is being scrupulous. She prefers “plant based” because the work required to verify that not a single vendor to them has any process that uses animal product would be onerous for a business of her size. There are no animal products in the food served at the Muir, though. I told her I was surprised. The clotted cream, or I guess I should write “clotted cream,” that melted into my scrumptious scone sure tasted like cream. And the cream cheese, on the finger sandwiches? That wasn’t cream cheese?

“We did tastings for one year to get the flavors right,” Christine said. She has a “sausage” entrée that uses a meat substitute. She doesn’t particularly like the “mimicking” of meat herself, she said, but wants to offer the best variety to her customers. She is exploring a vegan cheese from a producer in the Bay Area.

Since the Muir is based on Scottish and English high teas, I asked about plant-based teas in general. Christine said they are becoming a “thing.” She suspects there are more offerings around London than Edinburgh, but it is catching on.

Dzilvelis has another business beside the tea room; she manages green car shows in Santa Monica and the East Bay. AltCar is one of the largest alternate fuel vehicle shows around. Her hope is to scale back on the cars and devote more time to the tea room in the future.

Dzivelis moved here six years ago and loved the area, but felt the lack of a plant-based restaurant. “In L.A, I probably had seventy plant-based choices within ten miles,” she said. She wanted a local place that captured “the sweet spirit of Sebastopol.”

John Muir, the Scottish naturalist and writer who fell in love with California, seems like a suitable icon for the place in a couple of ways. The tea room is a risk, in a way, although it’s got a good location with plenty of on-street parking and a public lot two blocks away. Muir was not afraid of risk. Muir’s respect for nature ties in nicely with the food theme, and he was Scottish, so there’s the tea thing again.

IMG_0854

“The response has been so good,” Christine said. “We had the Red Hat society here, a couple of British groups that come in. They love our scones; they say they’re the most like British scones. Families come in. I have someone who brings in his mother every week. They sit by the fireplace and he reads to her.”

I’ve had two meals at the Muir, and I will definitely go back. About those scones; they are less cake-like and more like American biscuits, with bits of lemon zest sprinkled through them, adding a brightness without being overpowering. The clotted cream mix melted right into them. I’ve also had the split pea soup and a tomato-pesto sandwich. The soup was thick, tasty and hearty. The sandwich, served on whole-grain bread, was exactly what I wanted.

IMG_0852

On my second visit I had the Doorway to a New World tea, and I added two finger sandwiches. That meant I had enough to take a sample home to Spouse. By far my favorite finger sandwich is the walnut and pear, served also on a crunchy whole-grain bread, thinly sliced, with slices of ripe pear and walnuts. The whole thing is drizzled with a balsamic vinegar syrup. This combination of sweet, savory and acidic, combined with the soft texture of the pear, the crunchy nuts and the crisp bread, was perfect. I also liked the cucumber sandwiches, mostly for their presentation; they are cut in rounds and the outside rolled in chopped chive.

There was a one-square-inch decorated cake as well, a mini-dessert. My mom would have called it a petit four. It had a tiny pink rose in icing on the top and a layer of fruit preserve in the middle. The cake was vanilla. It was very sweet; I would say “sweet” was the dominant flavor. (I’m not complaining.) Anything larger than one bite might have been cloying, so it was just the right size.

Muir’s offers black tea and green tea as well as several herbal infusions. For the New World tea I chose the raspberry torte, a black tea with a slight chocolate-raspberry flavor. After I ordered it, I worried that it would overpower the pastries. I didn’t need to fear. I let the tea steep for about five minutes and it was slightly sweet but not overpowering, with a pleasant fruity taste.

I asked Christine about her pastry chef. She said Teka (I’m spelling that phonetically) cooked vegan at home for many years. She is, Christine says, a genius at capturing texture and flavor without resorting to animal products. Some Irish musicians who came in in March, for instance, told her she’d nailed the soda bread. Based on what I’ve tried Teka is amazing.

Christine has already made connections to the Main Street community, co-hosting a press conference with the West County Museum half a block north of her, to open their “Sebastopol Vogue” 19th and 20th century fashion exhibit. She is planning several themed events; a John Muir birthday celebration on April 25; a fairy tea in May and an event honoring Jane Austen on June 6.

(By the way, I harrrangued Christine into letting me take her picture when she really didn’t want to. When I got home and looked at it on a larger screen, I decided it didn’t do her justice, so it’s not posted here.)

This is the high tea of my imagination; a light airy place, filled with the scent of flowers, friendly staff who are helpful but mostly unobtrusive, delicious food and the bonus of eating lower on the food chain. I will go back, and I will bring my friends.

IMG_0849

Hours:

Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.Reservations are recommended on weekends,

The shop also has a gift shop and offers a frozen nut-based confection called “Genuto,” and coffee drinks.
(707)634-6143

MuirsTeaRoom.com and find them on Facebook.

Posted in Around Town, View from the Road | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Eyre’s Sisters by Jody Gentian Bower; A New Model for the Woman’s Journey

Jane Eyre’s Sisters, by Jody Gentian Bower, takes a look at the old Hero’s Journey as delineated by William Campbell and analyzes it as a model for literature about women (and women’s own experiences). It’s no surprise to me that she finds the model doesn’t fit. Scholars have spent the last twenty years trying to force it into place, hammering it down over books like Middlemarch, Jane Eyre and The Color Purple. Bower points out that the woman’s journey is different in key ways and addresses those in this book. She reaches back to mythology. She uses contemporary fictional characters from science fiction, fantasy and TV. She leans heavily (a bit too heavily in my opinion) of the works of Carl Gustav Jung and his disciples, but ultimately she creates a working model that addresses women’s issues in a satisfying way.

One of my goals for 2015 was to read more literary criticism. Bower’s theme helps me look at classic works and contemporary works through a slightly different lens, and I always like that. It’s very accessible; so much so that I might recommend it more as a “pop” non-fiction book than an academic text – and I mean that in a positive way.

Right off the bat, Bower says that the word “hero” doesn’t work, and neither does heroine or “shero.” Bower wants a different word entirely for female main characters like Jane Eyre, and she chooses “aletis,” the Greek word for “wanderer.” The book charts the journey of the aletis in real life, myth and fiction.

Bower reviews the hero’s journey. The boy is often an orphan or a foundling. There is a Call to Action; a prophecy, a visitor to town who calls the hero to his quest. He may be a prince who has to save his kingdom, or a little boy living under a staircase.

The boy goes out into the world. He has a powerful male mentor (Galdalf, Merlin, Dumbledore). He learns much from the mentor but soon the mentor falls away, or the hero leaves him. The hero endures hardships and temptations. Temptations are often female, the witch or the temptress. The witch is someone who must be conquered or destroyed. Then the hero faces the Big Evil and beats it. He returns home in triumph where he is lauded.

Bower points out that the hero’s journey is a circle or a loop. Somewhat surprisingly for a male character, the Hero always returns home, raising up his community by bringing the crown, freeing the sword, winning the battle or whatever.

Women characters in the hero’s journey are few and far between. Mothers are usually dead or missing. Women who appear along the road are sometimes “helpmeets,” more often the beautiful temptress or the wicked witch. The “princess” is not a character; she is an object, a prize for good behavior – for winning.

Like the male hero, the aletis is often an orphan or a foundling. Like the hero, she has no mother. Unlike the hero, she hears no Call to Action. The aletis leaves her home or is driven out because she does not fit. Her beliefs, her passions, her selfhood are somehow not a fit, and often reflect a critique on society. Jane Eyre’s mother committed the social sin of marrying, for love, a man who was below her in social class. When Jane’s loving uncle, who took her in, dies, her cold and socially ambitious aunt shows Jane no love or affection and actively mistreats her. Jane get sent to a “Christian” school where the treatment is even worse. At a young age, she is making her own way in the world.

For the aletis, the home she is pushed out of often is a marital one. Part of the aletis story is the “wrong marriage.” Bower uses The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as an example with a protagonist (Helen) who runs away from her increasingly abusive husband, while Dorothea from George Eliott’s Middlemarch basically waits hers out. Jane Eyre escapes from a “wrong marriage” twice, in a matter of speaking; she refuses the illegitimate relationship Rochester offers her (and actually he offers it twice, in a way) and the offer of a cold, loveless marriage St John Rivers tries to force on her. Jane’s strength of will is such that even the intellectually impressive and super-controlling Rivers cannot order her about.

Like the hero, the aletis spends time in the wilderness or “the wild wood” too. Her reasons for going there are different, and the wild wood isn’t a place to be conquered, it’s a place to learn. When she encounters the Witch in the Wood, this person is not an adversary but a teacher – even if the approach is adversarial. Bower uses the Russian folktale of the Vasilisa the Beautiful, who travels into the wood and meets Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga has a habit of eating her guests, but most of them are male. Vasilisa is respectful to the witch and does not get eaten. When Baba Yaga gives her impossible housekeeping tasks to perform, the handless maiden does not complain but, with the aid of a magical helper, accomplishes them. When she has met the witch’s tests, she is given a magical gift.

Jane Eyre goes out into the world and meets Rochester in a magical, fairy-like way. His house is haunted; not by a spirit of the dead, but by a living being. Bertha, the madwoman in the attic, escapes from her room several times, and threatens damage to Rochester and her own brother. She approaches Jane twice and never injures her. She does tears in half Jane’s wedding veil; this seems more like a helpful hint about Rochester than a threat. It is Bertha that brings Jane to the truth of Rochester’s plans and allows her an escape that protects her own integrity and reputation.

The journey of the aletis is not a loop, because the wanderer does not end up back where she started. She always ends up in a new place. She is not cheered for saving society. Often, by being true to herself, she changes those around her for the better. Jane Eyre, by clinging to her morals, forces Rochester to become the hero he is meant to be. Dorothea marries a man who was squandering his intellect and together, they begin helping the poor. In The Color Purple, Celie reunites with the violent, controlled Mister at the end of the book. Because of her independence he becomes a helper instead of a batterer.

Bower ranges as far forward as Paladin of Souls, by Lois McMaster Bujold, which follows the journey of Ista, a grieving woman with a great magical power. She touches lightly on pop-culture female heroes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and uses a lot of late-twentieth century fiction to make her points.

The book made me think and gives me a new template to use as I read current books with women main characters. It’s published by Quest Books. Recommended.

Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment

The Lady Trent Memoirs by Marie Brennan

While I had read reviews of The Natural History of Dragons and The Tropic of Serpents, they hadn’t really registered on my radar until I heard the author, Marie Brennan, speak on a couple of panels at FOGCon. She piqued my interest and I picked up both books. Because of circumstances, I read them out of order, which isn’t ideal, but didn’t damage things too badly (it did ruin one plot twist in The Natural History of Dragons).

I will probably add comments to the Fantasy Literature reviews, but I’m going to discuss the books generally here. I enjoyed them. They are not twisty, fast-moving action adventures. Brennan is playing with the narrative structure of Victorian travel writing, so the pace is a bit slow, and detailed. The narrative voice of Isabella Camherst is distinctive and inviting.

Brennan did a smart thing; she gave herself lots of room to maneuver by writing these as memoirs set down by Isabella much later in her life. Isabella wrote popular travel books in her youth about her various adventures seeking dragons; these are not those books. Now that she is old and socially secure, she is much more blunt about things; about travel, about society and about herself.

A Natural History Of Dragons gives us a bit about her childhood and her marriage to Jacob Camherst, and along the way tells us about Isabella’s world. She lives in a country that is much like Britain, certainly socially, even to having debutante seasons and high tea. It also has dragons and an intimation that there was, in pre-history, a race of draconic hominids. Brennan throws in some nice touches. The society has made progress with steam as motive power, but the expected technological boom is stymied by a dearth of iron. This explains certain aspects of the world and also sets the stage for the expansionism we see in the second book, The Tropic of Serpents.

Isabella is a smart, curious, capable woman of the upper classes, with little tact and no social graces. She chafes under the restrictions set for “proper” women in her society. When her husband takes her on a expedition to study dragons in a land similar to Romania, she is a useful member of the team, but creates some problems with the impulsiveness to which her curiosity leads her.

The “plot” in A Natural History of Dragons is a bit thin, but the writing and the characters are so engaging that I didn’t care. And I loved the dragons. In The Tropic of Serpents, the nature of the dragons in the equatorial area she is visiting took center stage for me. There are important political machinations of which Isabella is mostly unaware until the end of the book, that that worked well.  By the way, bonus points to Brennan for using menstruation as a plot point. A plot point!

Very enjoyable books, and I look forward to the Voyage of the Basilisk, due out in August.

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment

Quote of the Week; From Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I just started reading this over lunch. On page 14, I came across this passage and laughed so loud over my Asian chicken salad that other cafe customers stared:

“A precious performance, Blaine had called it, in that gently forebearing tone he used when they talked about novels, as though he was sure that she, with a little more time and a little more wisdom, would come to accept that the novels he liked were superior, novels written by young and youngish men and packed with things, a fascinating, confounding accumulation of brands and music and comic books and icons, with emotions skimmed over, and each sentence stylishly aware of its own stylishness. She had read many of them, because he recommended them, but they were like cotton candy that so easily evaporated from her tongue’s memory.”

 

Posted in Book Reviews | 2 Comments

@Large; Back to Alcatraz

IMG_0565

I visited Ai WeiWei @Large, the installation on the island of Alcatraz again on Sunday March 15, with two friends, Kathleen and Lillian. This exhibition runs through April 26, 2015. If you can get to it, I highly recommend it.

IMG_0609

To get tickets, go to the Alcatraz Island site. The cost of the ticket includes the short ferry ride from Pier 33 to the island, and back.

From the North bay, the Larkspur ferry landing to the San Francisco ferry building is the easiest way to get there. They run fewer ferries on weekends, but if you go during the week, do not expect to park in the landing’s lot, and allow an additional 20 minutes from your parking site to the landing.

From the San Francisco ferry building, as you go out the mail door turn right (north-ish) and it’s a pleasant one-mile walk/cab/pedicab trip to Pier 33.

IMG_0581

IMG_0614

During the weekend it looks like they run a small tram on the island. Otherwise, wear comfortable walking shoes. Dress in layers. The Cellhouse has an elevator available for people with limited mobility.

IMG_0628

That’s not the elevator

If there’s any way you can fit this installation into your schedule, do it.

IMG_0662

Posted in View from the Road | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

FOGCon; The Walnut Creek Conference

Thanks to Terry Weyna for introducing me to this small, literary speculative fiction convention, held at the Walnut Creek Marriott in the East San Francisco Bay. This year, the conference took place from Mar 6 — 8. The guests of honor were Kim Stanley Robinson and Catherynne Valente. The convention also had a Ghost of Honor; Joanna Russ. If there is a Ghost of Honor, I know I’m going to have a good experience.

I’ll do some later postings about individual panels, and there will probably be a post on Fantasy Literature that I will link to, but I wanted to take a few minutes here to create a summary of the event.

Size/Accessibility:

This is a small convention, no more than 150 people, so it all fits neatly in one hotel. The focus is on literary aspects of speculative fiction, so there are fewer cosplayers and few movie tie-ins. There was a game room. Don’t get me wrong; I love cosplay (I mean, hello, photographer) but this convention works fine without it.

Access for all is very important to the FOGCon founders, and this was demonstrated in their access policy and in every panel room, where blue masking tape marked out space for mobility carts or wheelchairs, and seats near the front were designated for speech readers. This worked very well everywhere, I think, but the Dealers Room, which was crowded. The aisles were wide enough, there was just a lot of traffic.

Their anti-harassment policy was well posted and included, along with the access policy, in the program.

Programming:

This year’s theme was “The Traveler.” I loved how they tackled the different aspects of the traveler! My friend Michelle, a biologist, was on the panel for “From Ice Planet Hoth to Mars,” about realistic world building. (Michelle was on four panels and moderated one. “How are you?” I’d ask when I’d see her. “Tired,” she’d say.) They had a panel on the use of language in SF and fantasy, whether it enhances the illusion of being in another place, or distracts and distances. The panel titled “When Your Traveler is My Colonizer” discussed  post-colonialism in speculative fiction. My personal favorite, because I’m not a very good traveler, I guess, was “SFF In Suburbia.”

There were panels on writing “the other,” and one that I’m sorry I’m missed, “Stories Within Stories Within Stories.” I have to say, even with a decent set of thematic tracks, and good spacing between panels, I was still stymied by the amount of counter-programming I faced. What this means, of course, is that every panel looked fascinating and I wanted to attend them all.

Kim Stanley Robinson gave a slide show talk about John Muir the writer, and there was more than a share of silliness; “Catherynne Valente Writes on Your Skin” (one of my favorite events, frankly. She wrote on my arm; she signed my books and she told me she will be starting on the third book in The Dirge for Prester John series). I couldn’t stay up long enough for the “Authentic Fake Folklore” event.

FOGCon offers a writing workshop for $20 extra. I had a short story workshopped by two other aspiring writers with Madeleine E. Robins facilitating. Madeleine is from New York but lives in San Francisco now. She’s published 11 books.

A service the convention offers that I didn’t use, but I think is cool, is the Kid’s Track. It’s not just child care. There were panels and events for kids, including “Let’s build a space ship” and events for parents and kids. This is wonderful and I hope more/most conventions do this.

The Dealers Room was very crowded, but it and the loaded-t0-groaning Free Stuff table meant I came home with plenty of books.

Venue:

Walnut Creek is in the east bay, and easy to reach from the North Bay; about a ninety minute drive for me; with a toll road heading northbound. The Walnut Creek Marriott is right on two busy corners; easy to miss and challenging to get into. Once you are in, all the parking is valet parking. The cost of the conference included the valet parking, but tipping is customary. I found the two valets who helped me to be good, friendly, and cheerful, and I would describe every single person I encountered who worked at the Marriott the same way. Even when we waited far too long for lunch one day, our server kept us entertained. That is probably my only real complaint; somehow they hadn’t correctly staffed (or otherwise adjusted) for the demands on the restaurant.

The convention was in Basement 1 and Basement 2, where are where all the meeting rooms and ballrooms are. The place looked as if it had been recarpeted recently, and the lighting was good. It didn’t feel “basement-like.”

In Sum:

This is an excellent event, easy to get to, and pretty much stress-free. I’m counting down the days until next year’s.

 

 

Posted in View from the Road | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give me Steam; The CalPine Visitor Center

IMG_0300

California has access to an old source of “alternative” energy; geothermal. Lake and Sonoma Counties each have a cluster of geysers and a double-handful of geothermal energy plants. The Calpine Visitor Center in Middletown provides a good overview of geothermal and some history of the evolution of this energy source.

Historically, Lake County’s geysers and hot springs were better known as tourist draws. From the 1850s into the 1970s, there were several hot springs resorts. There are still a couple that provide mud baths, soaking tubs and massages. People have always believed that the water, which reeks of sulfur, had medicinal properties, and almost everyone agrees on the restorative properties of a hot bath, so there you are. Folks came up from San Francisco, a long trip that involved a ferry ride, a train and a long coach ride. In the 70s, of course, they just drove their cars.

IMG_0307

By the 1930s the resorts were starting to fade. An entrepreneur named John D. Grant pioneered geothermal power in the 1920s, but the power had to be local at that time (no grid) and back then, fossil fuels were much cheaper.

In the 1950s, a company named Magma Thermal bought into the geysers, and CalPine bought them out in the 1990s.

IMG_0302

There are 8 power plants in Lake County. The water necessary to create the steam is augmented by waste water from Santa Rosa, which arrives via a pipeline. The plants recycle by condensing the vapor in “cooling towers” and pump that back into the vents, but in the 1970s and 80s, this process did not replace enough water. The pipeline, a good solution, still damaged some ecosystems in its construction. No energy system, and no energy company, is perfect.

Steam provides 24% of California’s renewable energy.

IMG_0311

The CalPine Center has several nice interactive displays, although I have to say I couldn’t get either lightbulb to shine. I recommend this day trip for anyone with kids or anyone who is interested in alternative energy sources. CalPine also offers tours of the actual plants, and you can find those on their website, http://www.geysers.com/default.aspx The Visitor’s Center provides solid basic information. Science fiction writers, again, take note – useful resource here.

From Santa Rosa or points south or west, Highway 29 is the easiest way to get to Middletown. Follow Calistoga Road out past the Petrified Forest, take the Calistoga grade, and turn left on highway 128, then right on Tubbs Road. At the T, turn left again. This means driving over Mt. St. Helena. Some people are afraid of driving in mountains. The road is winding, but it is better maintained than most roads in Sonoma County, for instance. Robert Louis Stevenson State Park occupies part of the mountain and there are several turnouts for trailheads. Many of the people who drive this road are Lake County locals heading into Santa Rosa for business or errands. They know the road extremely well and may want to drive faster than you do. There are several passing lanes on 29, please be considerate and use them if you are a slower vehicle. It’s not a competition.

Posted in View from the Road | Leave a comment

Stop the Presses! The Third Prester John Book, by Catherynne Valente

I spoke to Catherynne Valente while she signed some books for me at FOGCon, in Walnut Creek, CA, last weekend. With a bit of trepidation, I asked her about the third book in the Prester John series. I say “with a bit of trepidation” because I’m sure writers don’t like to be nagged about their work.

Valente was charming. She said it was “heartening” to hear the outpouring of support for those books. (Maybe she was just reacting to my plea to her not to hit me*.) She said she will be starting a Kickstarter Campaign in April to help fund the third book. She promised she would not leave her readers hanging.

Regardless of how I feel about a dynamic, changing publishing industry that has shifted more and more of the risk on a book to its creator, I was thrilled by this news. I will pledge as soon as the campaign opens. Valente is an amazing writer with an almost magical control over prose, and a sense of story that I can only envy. I love all of her work but the Prester John series has me enthralled, especially the second book, The Folded World. I eagerly await the final book in the trilogy.

*Please note for the record that to my knowledge, Cat Valente has never threatened to hit anyone.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments