Things Seen and Unseen

Dr. Doyle's Blog

Let’s talk for a minute about point of view. In fact, we could talk about point of view for considerably more than a minute, because it’s a complex and many-layered thing – not to mention being, for some writers, the key to making everything else click into place. (For other writers, the key might be something else. Nothing about this job is universal, except maybe that if you don’t write you won’t ever have written.)

I’m assuming right now that if you’re reading this you’ve already absorbed Point of View 101: Third Person, First Person, and the Weird Stuff. (I’ve blogged about those already, here and here, if you want a quick refresher.)

What I’m thinking about now is a bit more subtle – it’s one of the failure modes of point of view.  Point of view is implicit in a narrative, even if it isn’t directly specified, and…

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Fifty Shades of Grape

I see from the posters outside my local cinema (local = forty-five minute drive in good weather, assuming no logging trucks) that the sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey is about to hit the screen.

As it happens, a while back I watched the first Fifty Shades movie on DVD, because, among other things, the book had sold a million-bajillion copies and I too want to sell a million-bajillion copies of my books.  I’m told that the movie was a reasonably-faithful line-by-line/scene-by-scene transfer of the book to screen.

The movie contained a number of protracted and deadly-dull sex scenes, which were scored with insipid and deadly-dull background music.  I discovered a way to improve them.  First, turn off the sound on the video.  Substitute either “The Song of the Volga Boatmen” or “The Song of the Horse-Drawn Machine Gun Cart.”  (This also helps with the movie’s various protracted and deadly-dull walking-around-Seattle scenes, driving-around-Seattle scenes, and jogging-around-Seattle scenes.  Not to mention the prolonged and deadly-dull flying-in-various-aircraft scenes.)

I also found a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book by someone who’s knowledgeable about both BDSM and literature, and who has actually lived in Seattle.  It’s very funny.

The first chapter is here:  Let’s Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 1! 


“You sound like a control freak.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile. I look at him, and he holds my gaze steadily, impassive. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes again.

I’m supposed to be making more helpful comments than just “oh God I’m laughing too hard,” here. I’m supposed to be witty and penetrating and stuff.  But oh God, I’m just laughing too hard.  This is the kind of innuendo that would embarrass James Bond. It would embarrass Roger Moore James Bond.

“Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things,” he continues, his voice soft.


Here’s an index to the chapter-by-chapter take-downs.

Chapters 24 (“Eat,” he says, his tongue caressing the front of his palate as he enunciates the ‘t’. Go ahead and try this.  Try and say “eat” that way without spitting”eaTUH” or “eathhh” all over your keyboard.  You might want to be alone in the room for this) and 25 (“Oh, Mom.” Hot, unwelcome tears prick my eyes as I cling to her. “Darling, you know what they say. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.” I give her a lopsided, bittersweet smile. “I think I’ve kissed a prince, Mom. I hope he doesn’t turn into a frog.” This is backwards.  She kissed a frog, and the frog gave her a big song and dance about how maybe if she’s very good he’ll consider being a prince.  One day a week.  Maybe.  And his princehood is going to involve a lot of being green and hopping) aren’t linked from the index, but exist.  Spoiler alert: Chapter 26, the final chapter, doesn’t appear to have been done and it’s been over two years so I’m not holding my breath for it to appear any time soon. Still, this is funny and brilliant and worth reading.

So, at the end of the day, I don’t think I’m going to be selling a million-bajillion copies of any of my books, because if this is what it takes, well, I don’t think I can do it.

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SFF Net Going Dark

Read about it here:

The full text (since this blog will outlive that link):

Article:  935 
Subject:  End of an Era 
From:  Jeffry Dwight 
Date:  Wed 18 Jan 2017 12:36:07p 

Dear SFF Netters,

We are sad to announce that, after 20 years, SFF Net is going offline. Although the reasons are prosaic (increasing costs, diminishing revenue), our deep regret is that we will be unable to continue serving our loyal friends. SFF Net has, at the core, been about online friendships, shared interests, and shared lives.

We deeply appreciate each of you who’ve joined us (and stuck with us) over the years.

We will be taking services offline on March 31, 2017.

Don’t panic.


We will not be doing any further billing. This transition period is without charge. If you have paid in advance, we will issue a pro-rated refund before we turn out the lights. If you have a payment coming up, please don’t send it. Please cancel any automated payments. If you have recently mailed a check, we will shred it instead of depositing it.


If you have an SFF Net People page:

We will be unable to continue providing People Pages as of March 31, 2017. However, we can redirect your People Page link to another website. See for details. Note that the final destination for your People Page link may be your own domain, your blog page, your Facebook page, etc., or a copy of your People Page hosted elsewhere.

If you have an email account:

You will be unable to send email from your address as of March 31, 2017. However, if you have an email address elsewhere, we will be able to forward mail sent to your address. See for details.

If you have a domain hosted with us:

Your site can be moved. You’ll need to transfer to a new provider before March 31, 2017. See for details, instructions, and hosting recommendations.

The SFF Net newsgroups/WebNews will be discontinued.

Sorry. There is no feasible way to forward or reproduce this functionality elsewhere. The newsgroups will go offline.  Although not a substitute, we have created an SFF Net Facebook page where you may still interact with others from our  community. Follow us at

If you want to keep an archival copy of your newsgroup, be sure to access to download your files before March 31, 2017.

We will be posting updates/changes in the Announcements Newsgroup:

We will also post notices to our Twitter feed:

You may ask questions in the Helpdesk newsgroup:

If you have questions, you may email

Please be aware this will be an extraordinarily busy period for us, so it may take some time for us to respond. Don’t panic, we’ll get all of your questions sorted. We won’t leave you stranded.

This notice is available as a web page at

Jeffry Dwight
Steve Ratzlaff

[ Follow-up set to ]

For me, the pages that are affected are (and all its sub-pages) and (and all its sub pages).


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For Reasons That Seem Good to Me

I recommend this story to all.

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The Coldest Equations Yet

The Coldest Equations Yet
James D. Macdonald

Astounding Science Fiction August 1954Stardate 31-20.6.

Half-way through the first dog watch on the cruiser Stardust, bound for Mimir, the light on the communications panel that showed an open sub-space carrier wave blossomed. Communications Tech First Class Sylvia Harlin flipped the ‘respond’ switch and leaned closer to the mike: “Stardust. Identify yourself and proceed.”

The IFF on the annunciator below the mike read EDS 3. Harlin looked at the clipboard with Emergency Dispatch Ship pilot assignments. The name penciled in beside EDS3 was Barton, Samuel J. She knew him, a stuck-up prick who slept in pilots’ berthing, ate in the pilots’ mess, and thought he was better than anyone because he was detachment while they were crew.

Barton had left on EDS3 just about an hour before, carrying a load of kala fever serum for Woden. A moment later, voice-comms confirmed the ID. “Barton, EDS 34GII. Emergency. Give me Commander Delhart.”

CT1 Harlin pressed the button to summon the CO into the comm spaces. Whatever Barton had, she thought, it had better be good. Commander Winston Delhart was at supper and he did not take kindly to interruptions.  She straightened the collar of her uniform jacket. No sense giving the commander something to yell at her about; he was certain to yell at someone.

A moment later the man himself strode in, glaring at the watch officer, the flight controller, and, most of all, her at the comm desk with the open circuit light and the live mike. She pointed to the mike and said, “Commander, the EDS requests—”

“Barton?” the commander interrupted her. “What’s this about an emergency?” His voice was half-way between a growl and shout.

The subspace wave hummed; the answer only slightly distorted. “A stowaway.”

“A stowaway?” Harlin could see the color rising in Commander Delhart’s face. Some junior officer, somewhere on board, didn’t know it yet but was going to have a bad night. Delhart had a way of working off his temper on his subordinates. “That’s rather unusual—but why the ‘emergency’ call? You discovered him in time, so there should be no appreciable danger, and I presume you’ve informed Ship’s Records so his nearest relatives can be notified.”

Barton had a stick up his ass, everyone on board knew it, and no imagination.  But Harlin could tell that the EDS pilot was stressed. “That’s why I had to call you, first. The stowaway is still aboard and the circumstances are so different—”

“Different?” the commander all but roared. “How can they be different? You know you have a limited supply of fuel; you also know the law as well as I do: ‘Any stowaway discovered in an EDS shall be jettisoned immediately following discovery.’”

“The stowaway is a girl,” came the crackly voice over the speaker.

“What?” Delhart glared at Harlin as if the concept of ‘female’ was her idea.

“She wanted to see her brother. She’s only a kid and she didn’t know what she was really doing.”

The comm watch officer leaned closer to the commander and whispered, “I’m logging this.”

“I see,” Delhart replied, suddenly deflated.

He turned back to the mike connecting control to the EDS. “So you called me in the hope I could do something?” He looked directly at the comm officer with an expression that said he knew he was speaking not to Barton on the little EDS, but to his own eventual Board of Inquiry. “I’m sorry—I can do nothing. This cruiser must maintain its schedule; the life of not one person but the lives of many depend on it. I know how you feel but I’m powerless to help you. You’ll have to go through with it. I’ll have you connected with Ship’s Records.”

Harlin turned the switch patching the EDS to Records, and closed out the comm log on the transmission: time, date, duration, frequency, and signal strength. Delhart looked pointedly at the chronometer on the bulkhead, then took a seat in the command chair. The messenger of the watch brought a cup of coffee. Delhart drank it as if it were a personal enemy. Minutes passed. A half hour. Another look at the chronometer. The commander picked up the internal comm link and turned the dial to Records.

“What’s the status on Barton’s report?” he snapped at the answering voice. A moment of indistinct mumbling from the handset, then, “What do you mean ‘it’s not ready’?”

Delhart pointed at CT1 Harlin and said, “Patch me through to EDS 3.” Harlin set the switches, the light flashed to Carrier Open, and she nodded to the commander.

“Barton.” Commander Delhart’s voice was forceful. Any louder and he wouldn’t need a radio, Harlin thought. “A check with Records shows me you haven’t completed your report.” A pause while the commander looked at the remote readouts showing the EDS’s course and speed, then, “Did you reduce the deceleration?”

Poor son of a bitch isn’t going to have an ass after Delhart gets done chewing it, Harlin thought, feeling sympathy for Barton for the first time on this transit.

“I’m decelerating at point ten,” Barton answered, sounding defensive. “I cut the deceleration at seventeen fifty and the weight is a hundred and ten. I would like to stay at point ten as long as the computers say I can. Will you give them the question?”

Commander Delhart looked like he was being asked to swallow a live toad, but he answered simply enough, “I’ll have that given to the computers.” He pointed to the duty astrogator.  “I’ll have the course correction given to you. Ordinarily I would never permit anything like this, but I understand your position. There is nothing I can do, other than what I’ve just done, and you will not deviate from these new instructions. You will complete your report at nineteen ten. Now—here are the course corrections.”

The commander stopped talking while the duty astrogator read the new courses, speeds, burn times and durations. “That’s a five-gee segment there,” the astrogator said after giving the last of the numbers. “Hope you’re up to it.”

“Guess I’ll have to be,” Barton said. “Thanks, good copy.”

Delhart had the last word: “You will resume deceleration at nineteen ten,” and cut the connection.  Harlin looked at the bulkhead chrono; it read eighteen ten. This watch had gone straight to crap, she thought. Delhart didn’t look like he was planning to move from the command chair. That meant that the easy give-and-take of conversation on a routine watch in deep space, the reminiscences of leave on the last planet, the endless stream of parrot jokes, didn’t have a chance. The watch section stood, or sat, at attention at their stations, feeling the commander’s eyes on their backs. No one dared to scratch.

Exactly at nineteen ten Delhart pointed to the comm tech. Harlin opened the carrier to EDS3 and switched it to speaker.

“Barton,” Commander Delhart said. “Why haven’t you finished your report to Ship’s Records? I’m tired of your excuses.”

The voice that came across the subspace radio didn’t sound much like the EDS pilot. “Barton? Oh, I’m sorry. He can’t come to the phone right now.” It was a light, musical voice. A female voice.

“Who is this?” Delhart asked. “It’s a serious offense to use official channels for non-essential transmissions.”

“I’m Marilyn Lee Cross,” the voice answered. “You know, the stowaway. Remember me?”

“Where’s Barton?”

“He decided to walk. I’m sorry, but I didn’t get his identification disk before he left. Ship’s Records will just have to make do.”

“You….” Commander Delhart’s voice sputtered to a stop.

“That’s right. Me. He’s out the airlock. I’m sure his friends will miss him, but, like he told me, the frontier is a dangerous place. He knew the risks.”

Harlin looked around; everyone in the comm space seemed to be frozen in place. Commander Delhart’s face was purple.  “You don’t know what you’ve done,” the commander said.

“Actually, I have a pretty fair idea,” the young woman’s voice replied, suddenly businesslike. “I mass fifty kilos. Barton massed at least a hundred. So we have a fifty-kilo margin of safety. Now this is what’s going to happen:  You’re going to talk me through landing this thing on Woden. Because if you don’t this nice expensive EDS ship, and all that kala fever serum, is going to be spattered over a thousand square kilometers of dirt. You d0n’t want those six men down there, men who never did anything wrong, to die, do you?”

Harlin hadn’t seen the comm officer leave, but she saw him come back.  Lieutenant Commander  Charyl Mullin,  the executive officer, walked one pace ahead of him. The XO strode to Commander Delhart’s side, saluted, and said, “I relieve you, sir.”

Delhart turned to the XO. “What?”

“I said, ‘I relieve you, sir’.”


“That’s right. It’s mutiny. Now will you go to your quarters on your own, sir, or must I have you escorted?” Harlin noted that the XO had the chief master at arms and two large machinist mates alongside.

Harlin turned back to the comm board. “Wait one.”

“Commander,” the master at arms said, “Come along now, sir. It’s over.”

“We have the security camera record of you putting that young lady on the EDS,” the XO said. “Local records only go back three trips, but on each one you picked up some waif just before liftoff, used and abused her in your cabin ’til about half-way, then let EDS dispose of your indiscretion. When we get to Mimir I’m going to request records going back to the day you took command. After my report goes in maybe someone with more horsepower than me will decide to check your entire active duty career. For…anomalies.”

Commander Delhart opened his mouth as if to speak. The master at arms held up his hand. “No, sir, not a word. Anything that you say may be used against you at your court-martial.”

The XO took the seat beside Harlin and swiveled the mike closer. “Miss Cross? This is Lieutenant Commander Mullin. I’m going to talk you down. First, sit in the command seat.”

“I’m there.”

“Great. Now you see the large dial on the control panel, top left,  numbered from minus fifty to plus fifty, with a knob  labeled RSE-TACH below it? Turn that knob until the needle is centered on zero.”

A moment, then, over the subspace, “Got it.”

The XO turned to the duty astrogator. “Keep full real-time eyes on that craft’s trajectory. Any course changes, any burns, I want them in my hand at least eight seconds before I need them.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the astrogator replied.

The XO turned back to the subspace mike. “Great. Now fasten your seat belt. This ride may be a little rough.”


I’ve just re-read “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin and found it as annoying as ever.

First, if their safety margin on fuel load is that narrow, they’re all dead anyway.

Next, I find it very difficult to believe that our hard-as-nails pilot can’t find fifty kilos of material to jettison. How about that closet door? Why’s he need that? Everything in the closet. And that blaster. Doesn’t it have mass? Does he carry potable water? He can live three days without it. Inspection covers. Seats. Whatever piece of gear is supposed to detect stowaways. It’s clearly broken—why not unbolt it and toss it out the airlock?

Assume the ship is pressurized to one atmosphere.  Blow half the air out the airlock and gain 16 kilos.  Blow two-thirds of it out the airlock and gain 24 kilos.  That’s nearly half of what they need. Yeah, that’ll take them to top-of-Everest pressures and everyone will feel lousy, but the cure is returning to full pressure and that’ll happen when they arrive planetside.

The only reason this story works out the way it does is the author’s thumb on the scales. It’s a one-joke story, much like “The Lady Or the Tiger” (another story I find highly annoying, not least because it keeps showing up in school anthologies).

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It’s January, Which Means Arisia Is on the Horizon

Dr. Doyle's Blog

Doyle’s Arisia Sked

Macdonald’s Arisia Sked:

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Where O Where Has My Middle-Earth Gone?

Where is The Lord of the Rings set?  I say it’s the Americas.  Here’s why:

  1.  Pipeweed.  That’s tobacco, sure enough, and that’s a native American species.

    Quit smoking


  2.  Potatoes.  Same deal: the Americas.



  3. The Great River.  Nothing in Europe, and especially nothing in England, can compare with either the Mighty Mississippi or the Amazon.
Mississippi Watershed

The Mississippi River


Conclusion:  The Lord of the Rings, totally in the Americas.

Legolas at Sequoia National Forest

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Cheating at Cards

The Expert at the Card TableHarry HoudiniFrom our very good friends at the Library of Congress, a .pdf facsimile of Harry Houdini’s personal copy of The Expert at the Card Table by S. W. Erdnase. [Erdnase, SW. Artifice Ruse and Subterfuge at the Card Table: A Treatise on the Science and Art of Manipulating Cards. Frederick J. Drake & Co., 1905]  The work is currently in the public domain.

Erdnase himself was a man (or perhaps woman) of mystery.  Exactly who he was has never been proven, despite long research and some very clever hypotheses.   However, he revolutionized card magic.  The modern masters, from Dai Vernon on, based their work on Erdnase.  Anyone who is interested at all in card magic is familiar with Erdnase.  May I recommend Blind shuffles retaining the entire order, fourth method, page 164 (page 168 of the .pdf) for a sample of the wonders within?

While we’re on the subject of card tricks, here is a small collection of easy yet entertaining card tricks which, once well learned, will make you an object of admiration among your friends, and astonishment to total strangers.

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Royal Road

Buy this book new or used from your favorite independent bookstore.

The Royal Road to Card Magic by Jean Hugard and Frederick Braue

So there you are, with that new copy of The Royal Road to Card Magic that you found under the Christmas tree (or that old copy that you found in your stuff and dusted off because you’re finally ready to get serious about learning magic).  Lots of tricks in this book.  Lots of good stuff.  It’s all neatly arranged to teach card magic from first principles, for the absolute beginner.  Everyone recommends this book because … it’s really good.

But what are the best tricks in this book?  What to learn cold, to put into your act?  For that matter, what is an act?

Each trick has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Tricks are the building blocks of routines.

One way to think of  routines is as little stories.  Each with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  So: a routine is three tricks that lead naturally one into the next.   The breaks between tricks in the routine give you time to collect your breath, get back on track if you’ve gotten off, and a place for applause.  You like applause.  I like applause.  Applause is good!

And an act is a set of three routines, each routine forming the beginning, the middle, and the end of the act.  (This should run about thirty minutes.  Which means, naturally,  that if you put together three acts, you have a full evening show.)

An act, thus, is an anthology.  (An anthology, btw, is literally “a bouquet of flowers.” In which, if you get a nice bouquet,  the blooms will be balanced for size, for color, for texture, for scent, and all those flower-shop virtues.)

These are, in my opinion, the best tricks in Hugard & Braue’s Royal Road to Card Magic.  In no particular order:

  • A Poker Puzzle
  • Acrobatic Aces
  • Conus Ace Trick
  • The Changing Card
  • The Good Luck Card
  • The Three Piles
  • Double Reverse
  • Mirror of the Mind
  • Three Cards Across
  • Cards to the Pocket
  • Fours of a Kind
  • Everybody’s Card
  • A Tipsy Trick
  • Righting a Wrong
  • Card in the Pocket
  • Obliging Aces
  • Piano Trick
  • The Sevens
  • The Poker Player’s Picnic
  • Gathering of the Clan
  • Telepathy Plus
  • Ladies’ Looking Glass
  • Now You See It!
  • Topsy-Turvy Cards
  • The 26th Card
  • Thought Stealer
  • Everywhere and Nowhere
  • Ambitious Card
  • Do as I Do
  • Design for Laughter

That’s thirty tricks.  Thirty tricks, learned perfectly, and presented well (in accordance with your style and character), are enough to make a career.  (Some well-known magicians from the Golden Age of Vaudeville performed far fewer.)

Presentation trumps everything. There is no trick so weak that a sufficiently talented performer can’t turn it into a miracle. And there is no trick so strong that a sufficiently poor performer can’t leave an audience glancing at their watches and eyeing the exits.  Don’t use the presentations in the book; they’re too general and, for current tastes, too old-fashioned.  Make up your own presentations based on your own character and style.

For far more on style, and characterization, and entertainment in general, get a copy of Henning Nelms’ Magic and Showmanship, new or used, again from your favorite independent bookstore.

Mandatory writing-related comment:  A novel has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Novels (usually) consist of chapters, each of which has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Each chapter is built up of scenes, again with beginnings, middles, and ends.  And each scene is built from paragraphs, with beginnings, middles, and ends.  (Some say, and I can argue that, the paragraph is the smallest unit of meaning in English.)

So: Tricks  = paragraphs.  Routines = scenes.  Acts = chapters.  Show = novel.  Your typical thirty-minute magic act is the equivalent of a short story.

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Seven More Days

Dr. Doyle's Blog

In the meantime, have some links to pictures of gingerbread houses and a guide to finding local Christmas light displays and last year’s Festival of Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, to amuse you during the season.

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