Summon the Heroes!

Summon the Heroes - Boston Pops at Home

Uplifting music for strange times—that’s what we need! Here’s the Boston Pops Orchestra performing a special edition of “Summon the Heroes,” by the incredible John Williams, in honor of first responders everywhere. Scroll back to see the intro by Keith Lockhart and John Williams himself. Otherwise, put up your feet and watch 78 members of the orchestra, all performing from their own homes. Read the whole story here.



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Sign of the Times in Middle Earth

posted in: Coronavirus, humor 1

Middle Earth Temporarily Bans Fellowships of More Than Five…

MINAS TIRITH — The White Council of the Wise issued a decree today that all fellowships in Middle Earth shall be no larger than five companions for at least the next quarter-age to help slow the spread of the Samund-01 curse that has already killed over 30,000 elves, dwarves, and men.

“The following measures are to be implemented with great haste across Middle Earth,” said Council leader Saruman the White via palantir. “Taverns and mines are to cease operations immediately, and all festivals and Entmoots are to be postponed. When you do venture, maintain a social distance of two longswords. Only essential quests are to be embarked upon.” . . .

Read the whole story here, on The Hard Times. The Lord Denethor sounds like someone we know…

Terrible Foods We’ve Tried During the Coronavirus Lockdown

posted in: Coronavirus, food 3

Cast your mind back to a long, long time ago, when the threat of being stuck in the house for weeks on end was merely a threat. In order to be prepared, I stocked up on less-perishable food items, including snack foods for comfort. Here’s one I found at Costco: Crispy Cauliflower. Hey, I figured, we all like cauliflower! Maybe these will be good!

They’re not. They’re awful. They’re terrible. They’re spit it out and wash your mouth out and dig the bits out of your teeth terrible! Imagine leftover cooked cauliflower five days in the fridge, but crisp. Why would anyone market something like that? Augh. I hope this company makes other, tastier stuff, because relying on this as a marketing plan would be a recipe for disaster.* I wish them well, but not this product.

Oatly Ice Cream

Here’s another one, and I say this sadly as a dedicated lover of Oatly Oat Milk. Truly, we drink Oatly all the time, and I miss it if I can’t mix it with dairy milk in my coffee. Unfortunately, Oatly ice cream (second ingredient: coconut oil) tastes nothing like oat milk. In fact, it tastes like nothing quite so much as hardened lubricating oil, with an aftertaste of generic chemical.* We each ate a few bites—and then, wishing that we hadn’t, threw the rest of it away. Allysen flashed back to many years ago, when we tried Tofutti ice cream, a vegan smart-bomb targeted at unsuspecting tofu lovers.*

I don’t want to end on a downer, so let me just praise to the skies this other Oatly product, Barista Edition Oatmilk! Love the stuff!

Oatly Barista Edition Oatmilk

*Just my personal opinion, of course!

Books in the Year of Covid-19

You probably didn’t think of books as a sector that would be hammered by Covid-19. Writers can write anywhere, right? Maybe, but that’s not the whole story, by far. Traditional publishing and bookselling are in deep trouble due to the shutdown of the economy. Even audiobooks are apparently being hit hard. If you’re at all interested in books, publishing, and reading, please read this summary by Beth Meacham, Executive Editor at Tor Books. She knows what she’s talking about, and it’s sobering.


I want to talk for a minute about why publishing is in so much trouble right now. It's way more complicated than most…

Posted by Beth Meacham on Friday, April 3, 2020

Read the whole piece…

Go ahead, I’ll wait….

Looks like I picked the wrong year to put my money on audiobooks, right? Possibly. But seriously, this is hitting a lot of people in the creative arts hard. I will just add as a ray of hope: Ebooks do not seem to be suffering in the same way as print. Ebooks are all handled online, and you can download them (and publish them) while shut up in your home. So they remain a (generally) inexpensive and readily available way to keep information, stories, and entertainment flowing.

Still, what hurts books in any sector hurts everyone. So please keep supporting audiobooks and print books if you can. (Mail-order from your local bookstore, perhaps?) And keep reading!



What’chu Lookin’ At?

What are you watching while you’re cooped up inside, practicing social distancing? Here at the Star Rigger Ranch, we decided to binge on movies about infectious disease outbreaks. What fun!

We started with Outbreak, which was entertaining if totally unconvincing. With Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, it at least had actors you like to watch. Plus, it had the Star Trek medical-miracle feature: the ability to synthesize a vaccine/cure within about an hour of discovering the secret. You go, Bones! (And I see The Atlantic just published an article about it. Great minds…)

Segue to The Andromeda Strain, which really had that 1960s SF movie vibe going, talky and lecturing. It was mildly entertaining, but reminded me why I’d never bothered to keep a recording of it. In the end, the people do nothing useful; the bug mutates and becomes benign. (Oops—sorry—spoiler alert!)

Next up was The Cassandra Crossing, which had this going for it: It’s a train movie, and I like train movies. Otherwise it’s ludicrous, being based on the idea that if you’ve got a train filled with people infected by a plague, the obvious thing to do is to send it over a failing trestle so that it will plunge with a spectacular crash into an uninhabited ravine. That’ll show those germs! (Dusts off hands.) Next problem?

Finally we come to Contagion, by far the most realistic of the lot. Also educational, terrifying, and depressing. Good if you want to learn how this coronavirus thing could go. Bad if you’re looking for diversion.

For diversionary purposes, Outbreak is the not-very-satisfying winner. But what movies have we forgotten?

What have you been watching?

Authors Give Back – Special at Smashwords!

posted in: Coronavirus, specials 0

In recognition of the hardships imposed upon many by the Covid-19 pandemic, Smashwords put together a big sale to help folks get through this time of social distancing (in some cases, isolation). Ebooks are a great source of entertainment, and one you can enjoy without leaving home—or even getting out of bed! This sale is a chance for authors to make their books available at a discount, from March 20-April 20. And to, well, give back to their readers.

I’ve put several of my books into the sale. Help yourself! And pass the word.

The Chaos Chronicles: Books 1-3 (box set) — 60% off
Dragon Space: A Star Rigger Omnibus (box set) — 60% off
Going Alien (short story collection) — free
Reality and other Fictions (short story collection) — free

Chaos Chronicles Books 1-3 cover  Dragon Space cover Going Alien cover Reality and Other Fictions cover


Ready for Virageddon!

Freezer ready for VirageddonWith the world basically in lock-down against Covid-19, and the possibility looming of a two-week self-quarantine at a moment’s notice, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. We now have a freezer stocked with my signature Fantasy Beef Stew*, Space-Time Chicken Stew**, chicken chili, Grillers Crumblies chili, chicken chili, and rat stew***. Not to mention lots of Trader Joe’s frozen foods. And cans of soup and tuna and makings of more chili, should we need it.

And—for this we are eternally grateful—water heated by the sun!

I hope you are all faring well in this time of trial.


*Inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland
**Inspired by Fantasy stew
***My own version of ratatouille, with chicken or tofu, and no eggplant (p’tui).