Ramble: The Well-Guard

At the bottom of the back lawn is an area of untended garden (one of many) surrounding the well cap. It’s a shady spot, surrounded by trees and separated from a wonderfully green slope of grass by a small creek. A flat rock provides a rolling spot for the cats, and a suitable place to leap across the creek, into the scrubby patch around the well. My plans for this circle of possibility have included a butterfly garden, herb garden and Japanese style landscape of gravel paths, artfully placed trees and rocks, all accessed by a curved bridge.

Seeing as the path to our front door is still unpaved, projects behind the house are a fair way down the list. There are other considerations, too. Twelve acres of wetlands form the rear border of our property, an acre of which we ‘tend’, meaning ‘leave undisturbed’. The well cap rests just north of the border, a proper part of our yard, but I don’t want to plant anything there that might march into the forest behind, uprooting native species along the way. And, there are the deer.

Deer seem to have indiscriminate appetites. They eat everything, including plants on the list of plants they’re not supposed to eat. Many mornings I have ducked outside only to find a row of stubby stems in place of sunny gerberas, half chewed leaves and headless lilies. The desecration does not end there. To the endless amusement of my daughter, I have often been sighted in the yard with a foul smelling mixture of deer repellant in one hand, waving and yelling at the deer to ‘get off my lawn’. In between such bouts of madness, I do enjoy watching them roam through the wetlands. Sometimes. It depends on how recent the scars of destruction are. There are other creatures roaming through the woods (and my garden) as well. So, my options for the patch out the back are limited.

This morning I came across an idea that appealed, however. A friend posted these pictures on Facebook and I have tried to find out where this garden is, to no avail. I find them entrancing! The eyes, particularly. I can easily imagine looking out across the lawn to meet this stony, but curious gaze. I would call him The Well-Guard, and he would probably scare my daughter spit-less. (I am not exactly cackling here, but…close.) I doubt he will scare the deer away, but I have a fertile imagination, I will make up stories about him, nonetheless.

So far, the deer have shown no interest in plants that grow close to the ground; blue juniper and ivy, for instance. I have rocks galore, piles of them, rows of them. One of my hobbies is moving them around the garden, which is a subject for another ramble, I think. The bridge would still fit this small landscape; any space guarded by such a being must be accessed via a bridge—beneath which will dwell a troll, or another small garden sculpture.

And, there will be cousins; one reclining by the fire pat, offering hip and shoulder as a casual perch to the brave, another peeking out of the soil in the herb patch.

Maybe, one day, I will end up with a sea serpent diving through the front lawn, as well.

Review: Firebird

Firebird, by Jack McDevitt
(Ace, November 2011. Hardcover, 384 pages)

‘Firebird’ by Jack McDevitt starts in much the same way most ‘Alex Benedict’ novels do. Alex and his assistant, Chase Kolpath, come into possession of some artefacts and prepare to sell them. Alex Benedict is no ordinary antiquities dealer, however. He has an insatiable curiosity and he’s a salesman. While investigating the estate of the renowned physicist Chris Robin, Alex stirs up the mystery surrounding the man’s disappearance. This has two predictable effects. One, the price of the modest collection of books and artefacts climbs, which is good for business. Two, Alex gets involved, which is not so good for business. Without Alex Benedict’s propensity for getting involved, however, we’d have nothing to read.

Accompanied by Chase, who again issues warnings regarding his involvement and the danger to himself and his reputation, Alex chases clues in an attempt to unravel the mystery for himself. He and Chase visit Villanueva, a planet occupied only by abandoned and arguably sentient AIs, and rescue one. This act kicks off a chain of events that both demonise and humanise Alex Benedict in the eyes of the public and perhaps the reader. The true sentience of AIs is brought into question and explored from many angles, from cult-like groups bent on proving machine intelligences are real beings and should have all the rights and privileges of humans to the other end of the spectrum, the non-believers. In the midst of this, treasure hunters flock to Villanueva to attempt their own rescues and many of them die at the hands of psychotic AIs.

Separately, the mystery of Chris Robin’s disappearance deepens. The notoriety gained by previous events hinders Alex’s effectiveness, however. Basically, many who previously respected Alex now blame him for the deaths of idiots. They refuse to help him when help is needed and an important mission all but fails. A humanist to the core, Alex is deeply affected by all of this. But he perseveres, because finding Chris Robin might help him find Gabe, his long lost uncle.

Continue reading “Review: Firebird”

Review: Armored

Armored, Edited by John Joseph Adams
(Baen, March 2012. Paperback, 608 pages)

Sadly, for those who write introductions and forewords for anthologies, I often only glance at them in passing, then move on to the good stuff – the stories. In this instance, the first sentence of the foreword by Orson Scott Card leapt out and grabbed me, just as the first line of a good story should. I read the entire thing and enjoyed it. Card had many thought-provoking things to say about why someone wears armour and who that person is, essentially, a theme explored by many of the stories in the anthology.

I went on to read the introduction by John Joseph Adams, the editor of the anthology and also enjoyed his thoughts on the subject matter. John Adams is an accomplished anthology editor and he has pulled together a compelling selection of stories in ‘Armored’. Apparently, it’s the first anthology of its type about mechs, power armour and bio-suits. My only question was, why did they wait so long?

As always, when you read an anthology, some names will stand out and others will be unfamiliar. As always, I leapt in without prejudice and read every single story. Based on the author list alone, I had an idea which stories I would find entertaining. I did stumble across a few surprises, however, and I made a couple of new discoveries which means my pile of books to be read has grown by another approximate dozen.

Continue reading “Review: Armored”

Ramble: The Weed

I try to spend at least an hour a day in the garden. It’s good for my daughter and it’s good for me.  I’m sure it’s good for the garden too.  As soon as the spring sun peeps from behind the last winter cloud, I don my sturdy boots and stiff new gloves and set to work pulling out all those weeds I was able to ignore when snow or leaves covered the ground.

When I lived in Texas, I battled with more than weeds. The previous year’s vegetable patch often continued to enjoy success in the form of tomato and cucumber seedlings popping up in the most unexpected places—usually the middle of the lawn. Often, I mused that if we went away for a month, we would return to find a tangle of cucumber vines covering the lawn, robust tomato plants poking up between. Sometimes, instead of plucking them out, I just mowed them down, curious to see if they would shoot back up by the end of the week.  They did.

One year, I transplanted the tomatoes to the new vegetable bed and put a line of cucumbers along the back fence.  Later that year I wondered why on earth I thought we needed four cucumber plants. Two would have sufficed. It was always hard to kill the baby cucumber plants, though. They represented possibilities (and I have always hated to waste food).

Instead of growing up the fence, the cucumbers grew along it, giving the plant (and the fence) a rather messy look. One sturdy tendril took off along the grass, perhaps to establish a new colony (one I could tame!) then inexplicably curled around behind the rest of the vines.  The cucumber grew itself into a corner.  I could have gone in there and cut it back. I didn’t; the tangle appealed, in a way.

Continue reading “Ramble: The Weed”

Review: Free Food for Millionnaires

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee
(Warner, July 2007. Hardcover, 576 pages)

I found this book hard to put aside, despite several quibbles with the way it was plotted and written. Free Food for Millionaires is the story of Casey Han, an American born Korean woman who finds herself caught between worlds – those of her parents and her peers. The disparity between cultures is not the only thing Casey struggles with. As the child of apparently poor immigrants, she also feels apart from the entitled men and women who make up the majority of her friends.

From her first love to what might be her true love, we follow Casey on a journey of discovery that includes startling insights into the lives of her friends and family. She’s not the only lost soul in the book. Far from it. In fact, I think the only people in the book who truly know who they are Joseph and Joseph, Casey’s father and the old bookseller she befriends later on. Probably no coincidence they share the same first name.

The ending is ambiguous, but I think I expected that. As to my quibbles, the plot did wander now and again. I understood why some threads were included but didn’t necessarily feel all were important. Some simply drove home the same point, over and again. The most distracting aspect of the novel, however, was the constantly revolving point of view. More than once I had to reread a paragraph or a page to clarify just whose thoughts I was hearing. It could be annoying in particularly emotional scenes as well, to skip from one head to the other, almost mid thought.

Still, it’s a good book; a thought provoking look at New York, being twenty-something, being in love and being different.

(Read in March 2012. Review originally posted on Goodreads)