The Simiae

bull, crab, sea goat, ram depicted as art nouveau line drawings

Modern western culture recognizes 88 constellations. I don’t have that list memorized.

But when I reached a particular point in writing Devouring Light, I grew certain that among those 88 patterns must be a great ape. How could there not be?

I could see Mercurio (my protagonist) conversing with a wise and ancient primate while perched on the massive bough of a rainforest tree in a starry jungle of the eighth sphere. I could hear them speaking.

And there’re tons of animals included in the constellations. The familiar ram, bull, and great bear (Aries, Taurus, and Ursa Major). Plus a boatload of more obscure ones, such as the hunting dogs, the goldfish, and the peacock.A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sun

There must be an ape. Or, better yet, apes in the plural.

So I went looking. Eagle, swan, and wolf. No ape.

Centaur, pegasus, and unicorn. No ape.

Even microscope, table, and furnace! But no ape.

What about other cultures?

Traditional Chinese star groupings have the three enclosures – Purple Forbidden, Supreme Palace, and Heavenly Market – and the 28 mansions within them. Among those, the winnowing basket, the turtle beak, the ghost, and the chariot sound pretty cool. But no ape!

black and white photo of 2 Japanese women using winnowing baskets

Dash it! I’d been sure I’d find a reference to a wise great ape somewhere in oriental star lore. But I hadn’t. And I knew Mercurio met with the chieftain of “elder cousins” manifesting the form of apes.

Luckily…I’m a fiction writer! If I couldn’t find an existing mythology involving apes, I’d create one!

I felt drawn toward language for inspiration, so that’s where I looked next.

The Latin for monkey is simius (male), simia (female), and simiae (plural). My constellation would be the Simiae – the Apes.

What about the English word? What are the origins for the word monkey?

Obscure! It might derive from a character named Moneke in a German version of a fable entitled Reynard and the Fox, published around 1580. Hmm. No juice there. At least, not for me.

black brush strokes on white backgroundI eventually wound up on a Wikipedia page about the Chinese pictograph for monkey.

I went looking for that page as I wrote this blog post. And could not find it. I almost wonder if I imagined it – except I didn’t.

This time (while attempting to retrace my steps) I arrived at an article with the title “Monkeys in Chinese Culture,” which informs me that, “Monkeys, particularly macaques and gibbons, have played significant roles in Chinese culture for over two thousand years.”

And, further, that Chinese deities were said to appear at times in the guise of monkeys, while many Chinese mythological creatures resembled monkeys or apes.

Now that would have been very useful when I approached writing the monkey scene in Devouring Light.

However, the notes on the pictograph proved fertile ground. I read of the various pronunciations for the word in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and so on.

From them, I derived the names of my Simiae.

Old Jyutping, the chieftain, wise and earthy (despite his celestial nature) and indigo-furred.

Saru, who is nimble, beautiful, and clever – with fuschia fur.

Pinyin Hou enjoys riddles and sports a pelt of lime green.

Ko indulges in practical jokes, as well as the polar opposite: meditation. His fur is bright cyan.

All four are superb gymnasts and acrobats.

I wrote my scene. It remains one of my favorites! 😀

The Simiae

For more about Devouring Light:
Draco the Dragon
Mercury the Planet
Roman Dining

 

Why Did the Three Goats Cross the River?

When I started writing Crossing the Naiad, I knew that Kimmer’s goats weren’t as healthy as they ought to be. The rural people of Silmaren wouldn’t have access to the vitamin and mineral supplements that modern day herders do or even that wealthier farmers in my North-lands possess.

Curious GoatsI also knew that sometimes the plants growing in pasture aren’t the right ones to ensure the animals grazing there receive all the nutrients they need.

Thus Kimmer would need to take the family goats to better pasturage to improve their health.

Once away from the familiar environs of home, she encounters a perilous remnant from the ancient past and the story unfolds.

So far, so good.

But, while some writers could take the narrative from there, I’m not one of them! I needed to know what the missing nutrient was, what symptoms it might cause, and what plant could remedy the problem.

So I started digging.

And came up with a promising candidate right away: copper.

Craigieburn Valley, Canterbury, New ZealandAnemia, weak bones (particularly in the young), poor wound healing, and frequent infections are all symptoms of copper deficiency. That sounded plenty “dowly” enough – as Kimmer calls it – to me.

There are several circumstances that can cause lack of copper in pasturage.

Peaty and acid soils are deficient in copper, especially moorland soils. If you’ve got heather, wild bilberries, birch, rowan and pine growing on your land, then it is moorland and the soil simply hasn’t got much copper in it. Thus the plants lack it as well.

Silmaren doesn’t have much heather, but all the other plants on that list are common. Bingo!

Interestingly, lime soils also cause copper deficiency, but not because the soil lacks the mineral. Lime soils increase the bio-availabilty of molybdenum several fold. And high levels of molybdenum interfere with the utilization of copper in the body. I doubt this is the issue in Silmaren, however.

Acid rainfall could be the culprit. Silmaren has newly entered the age of steam, and produces steam largely by the burning of coal. The city of Andamn is a major mining center, and Kimmer’s hamlet – while rural – lies close enough to feel the effects of pollution. Acid rain possesses a heavy sulphur content. High sulphur levels in herbage suppress the uptake of copper from the soil. Voila! Copper-poor plants.

Finally, the mix of plants in the pasture may simply be one that doesn’t feature copper. Most wild grasses are poor in copper. And that is what Kimmer and, indeed all of her neighbors, must contend with. They depend largely on the bounty of nature. What grows is what they have.

Cocksfoot, a wild grassRed clover and yarrow are rich in copper, but the meadows of their hamlet lack these plants. Wild grasses and more wild grasses were nature’s gift.

Luckily the wild grass named cocksfoot does have copper. It’s been overgrazed in the pastures close to home, but thrives in more distant grasslands. That is what Kimmer seeks.

Once I’d researched that much I felt confidant enough to proceed with my story.

As is usual for many writers, most of my research never appears directly on the page.

In Crossing the Naiad, all of the above generated:

Mama said the goats were dowly because they needed copper salts. A spell of cropping the cocksfoot in the foothills beyond the river would put them right.

And it seemed she was correct.

web imageIf every three sentences in my stories demanded this kind of research, I’d not be happy. But that’s not the case. The preparations for Naiad required that I know a little bit about goat nutrition and that I devise the the history of the naiad whose will Kimmer crosses. That sufficed for generating the confidence I need for storytelling.

I always do some research. And I always do some pre-planning. After that, the story takes over.

Draco the Dragon

Several constellations receive mention in my novella, Devouring Light. Cygnus the Swan soars across the eighth sphere. The Great Bear lumbers along its vast curve. And, embracing the freedom of fiction, I created a few constellations unknown to Earth’s history: the Simiae and the Winged Bulls.

But one constellation alone features prominently in my story: Draco.

Blue Dragon Tattoo

Older by far than the planetary spirits, Draco is a wily, jaded creature who’s forgotten the pleasures of living in his neck of the universe. His capricious response to his boredom pushes first Mercurio, and then Haden, toward action that summons catastrophe.

Of course, many an ancient legend about the dragon preceded my own Devouring Light.

According to the ancient Greeks, a dragon named Ladon guarded the garden of Hera, queen of the gods. Within Hera’s garden grew a grove of trees with golden apples that bestowed immortality upon their eater. Nymphs – the Hesperides – tended the garden and occasionally stole the apples. Ladon was given the task of preventing such theft, whether by the nymphs or by other intruders.

The Garden of the Hesperides by Frederic LeightonDespite Ladon’s watchful ferocity, two renowned trespassers managed to steal apples. Eris, the goddess of discord, inscribed her stolen fruit with the phrase “to the most beautiful.” When she rolled the apple into a wedding (from which she had been excluded), she started the Trojan Wars.

Hercules was the other interloper. Of the twelve labors given him, the eleventh was the theft from Hera’s grove. He didn’t attempt the feat himself. Instead he offered Atlas a break from holding up the world, if Atlas were do the deed. Atlas possessed the advantage of being the father of the Hesperides, and he liked the idea of a rest for his shoulders. In fact, he liked it so much that he refused to exchange the stolen apples for the world. He didn’t want it back.

Hercules agreed to take Atlas’ place permanently, so long as he could first rearrange his cloak. Naturally, once Atlas again bore the world on his own shoulders, Hercules did not keep his promise. Not much honor amongst those Greek gods and heroes!

In one version of the myth, Ladon is rewarded for his long vigil by being enthroned in the sky as a constellation. Certainly, the two constellations – Draco and Hercules – are near one another in the heavens.

The ancient Romans told a different tale about the dragon. Draco was one of the Titans, monsters who fought the Olympian gods for dominion over the earth. The war was grievous and long. In the final battle, when the Olympians prevailed, the goddess Minerva confronted Draco. She won and tossed the defeated dragon into the sky. Frozen by the cold northern Celestial Pole, he stayed there for eternity.

In addition to its mythological importance, Draco also possesses elements of interest to astronomy.

The star Thuban – head of the serpent – shines within Draco. It’s a blue-white giant and occupied the position of pole star from 3942 BC to 1793 BC. The ancient Egyptians noted this and built their pyramids with one side facing north and an entrance there that permitted Thuban to be seen within. Because the Earth wobbles on its axis – a cycle that takes 26,000 years – Thuban will become the pole star again in 21,000 AD.

Cat's Eye NebulaThe Cat’s Eye Nebula is located in Draco. It possesses one of the most complex shapes ever seen through the Hubble Space Telescope. Created 1,000 years ago by an exploding star, the nebula features knots, jets, bubbles, and arc-like structures.

The quasar Q1634+706 also inhabits Draco. 12.9 billion light years away, it’s so bright that it’s the most distant object that can yet be seen through an amateur telescope.

And, finally, Draco hosts the meteor shower known as the February Eta Draconids.

On the cultural side of things, I am not the only artist inspired by Draco.

The film Dragonheart presents the constellation as a heaven to which the spirit of any dragon ascends after death, if it has upheld an ancient dragonish oath to guard mankind. The Russian chess master master Fyodo Dus-Chotimirsky named the chess opening of the Sicilian Defense the Dragon Variation, after the constellation. And J.K. Rowling named her antagonist, Draco Malfoy, in the Harry Potter series after the starry Draco.

For more fun trivia behind Devouring Light, see:
What Do Celestials Wear?
The Oort Cloud
The Graces

 

Mercury the Planet

Mercurio, the protagonist of Devouring Light, tends the planet closest to our sun.

I envisioned Mercury as a heat-scorched ball of rock, but I hoped to report on some of its interesting quirks as I told my story. “Does it possess any?” I wondered. Somewhat dubiously, I must admit.

MercuryI needn’t have worried. The universe is a quirky place, and Mercury is no exception. It abounds with quirks.

One of the coolest things is its huge, liquid iron core. For a long time astronmers assumed Mercury was a solid ball of rock, like our moon. Nope. Mercury’s core is not only molten, but large compared to the size of the planet.

Why is it so large?

While the sun was forming out of a giant whirling cloud of dust and gas, the planets were forming, too. But the dust cloud traveled around the sun a little more slowly than the coalescing planets. The cloud, particularly dense near the proto-sun, dragged away many of the lighter elements in Mercury’s orbit, leaving it with lots of heavy iron.

Why is it still liquid?

Tides caused by the sun!

Just as Earth’s moon causes a bulge of water to travel around the globe, the sun causes a bulge of magma to travel around Mercury’s core. But the sun’s tides on Mercury are 17 times stronger than the moon’s on Earth. Not only do they pull the molten core, they also flex the crust, causing it to bulge.

Four terrestrial planets

Additionally, Mercury’s eccentric orbit is very eccentric. At perihelion, the planet’s closest approach, the sun is 29,000,000 miles away. At aphelion, the sun’s 43,000,000 miles away. The eccentric orbit makes the tides particularly vigorous. It’s almost like Mercury’s core is being stirred by a giant egg beater!

Its core has cooled a little bit over the billions of years that have passed since the planet’s birth, however. How do we know? Mercury’s surface is striped by numerous narrow ridges called rupes. They were created when the core cooled just enough to shrink a little. The crust – already solid – wrinkled.

Okay, three more cool things about Mercury.

Mercury has magnetic tornadoes!

It’s that molten core combined with the close proximity to the sun that again creates an unusual phenomenon.

Tornado

(Yes, the photo above shows a tornado of wind, not magnetism, but you get the idea!)

The large, liquid iron at the core – spinning as it does – means that Mercury possesses a strong magnetic field. Strong enough to protect the surface from the solar wind, just as Earth’s magnetosphere protects us.

But! Mercury’s magnetic field is so strong that it actually captures pieces of the low-temperature plasma that is the solar wind. And those plasma tendrils possess their own magnetic field. The plasma’s magnetic field clashes with Mercury’s magnetic field to produce magnetic vortexes – “tornadoes” – up to 500 miles wide!

At the center of the tornado is a window open to the full force of the sun’s blast.

Apparently Earth has these magnetic tornadoes as well, but those on Mercury are bigger and happen ten times more often.

Okay, second cool fact.

Mercury has ice at its poles!

With surface temperatures between 530º F and 800º F, how is this possible? And, if it has polar caps, why don’t we see them?

Ice at Mercury's poles

Well, first of all, not all of Mercury is hot.

The planet doesn’t have the axial tilt that Earth does. It spins nearly straight up and down. (At a tilt of .027 degrees, it has the least tilt of every planet in the solar system. Uranus, with a tilt of 98 degrees, has the most.) The angle of the sun is steep at the poles. And there is no atmosphere to spread the heat around.

So the poles are cold at -135º F. It’s even colder at the bottom of the craters at the poles: -276º F. And that’s where the ice is. Not a lot of ice. About enough to cover a square that’s 8 miles per side with 2 or 3 miles of ice. But ice nonetheless! And it’s shiny. Reflecting light that’s visible from space, when you use a big enough telescope.

Mercury's north pole

Now for that third cool fact.

Mercury has hot spots!

But they’re not volcanic. In fact, Mercury’s volcanic days are long gone, a billion years in the past. So how does it have hot spots?

Mercury’s slow rotation on its axis combines with its quick journey around the sun to produce them. Here’s how.

Mercury spins 3 times on its axis for every 2 times that it travels around the sun. It’s got one heck of a long day! And at perihelion – when it’s closest to the sun – high noon lasts 16 Earth days.

At perihelion, Mercury is traveling so fast around the sun (faster than at the most distant point in its orbit, aphelion) that its own spin can’t keep up. The sun burns down on one spot – high noon – for more than 2 Earth weeks! That makes a hot spot. And one Mercury year later, the opposite side of the planet receives that 16-day high noon. Another hot spot!

The solar system

I still have trouble wrapping my brain around that one, but wow!

Merucury features yet more cool quirks. Its exosphere. The Assyrian and Babylonian astronomers who first observed it. Why modern astronomers before 1965 thought Mercury spun once on its axis for every one circuit around the sun.

I wish I could have crammed them all into Devouring Light! But story comes first when I’m writing fiction. The hot spots made it in. The magnetic tornadoes and the polar ice did not. Nor any of the other fun facts. But I’m sure glad the story prompted me to learn more about our inmost planet. I’d no idea it was such a fascinating place.

For more about Mercury, see these articles at Wikipedia:
Mercury
Mercury’s Exosphere
Exploration of Mercury

For more about the lore behind Devouring Light, see these posts on my blog:
The Heliosphere
Roman Dining
The Celestial Spheres of Sol

 

Origin of Canning – Not What You’d Think!

Pioneer boy looks out the back of a covered wagonCalico. Little House on the Prairie. Pioneer women.

These were the things that came to mind when I considered the domestic accomplishment of home canning.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

(It still amazes me how easy it is to be wrong about things. Does that happen to you? Thinking you know, and then finding you don’t?)

So if canning is not a creation of the American West, where did it come from?

Napoleon.

Portrait by Jaques-Louis DavidYes, Napoleon Bonaparte of the Napoleonic Wars. And, indeed, war was the inciting factor. The Napoleonic Wars saw the advent of mass conscription. With 800,000 soldiers in the field for 12 years, the French needed a way to feed their armies.

The government offered a hefty prize to the inventor who could devise a way to preserve large amounts of food. Nicolas Appert – a confectioner and chef – rose to the challenge and won the prize.

His method?

Place the food in wide-mouthed glass jar. Force a cork tightly into the jar mouth using a vice. Seal it with sealing wax. Wrap the jar in canvas to protect it. Then dunk it in boiling water and boil it long enough to thoroughly cook the contents.

early tin canThis was long before Pasteur and an understanding of microbes. But it worked.

Appert’s method was adopted by the British armies, but transposed to wrought-iron canisters, which were cheaper to make and less fragile. Unfortunately, the can opener was not invented for another 30 years. The soldiers opened the cans with their bayonets!

Although canned foods spread into civilian households across Europe, they remained more a novelty item than a staple. The process was too industrial and expensive for home use.

That changed in the 1860’s when a tinsmith named John Landis Mason invented the Mason jar. It was a threaded glass jar with a matching threaded ring or band, a flat lid (held in place by the band), and a rubber ring that went under the lid for an air-tight seal.

People all over America and Europe started canning fruit, pickles, relishes, and sauces such as ketchup. These high-sugar or high-acid foods could be safely canned without the pressure canning that we know today.

(Vegetables and meats must be pressure canned to kill the deadly botulinum bacteria which thrives in low-acid, anaerobic conditions.)

Cast-iron stoveWhen the 1880’s ushered in the widespread use of the cast iron stove, home canning reached new heights of popularity. The denizens of small towns were especially well-placed to take advantage of the new technology. They were close to the farms that produced the food, as well as possessing space for home gardens. And they had the cash to afford the jars.

Strawberry preserves, dill pickles, and apple butter abounded.

Home canning was a widespread practice by 1900 and rose to great prominence in America during both World Wars. By planting Victory Gardens and canning the harvest, citizens allowed the industrial machine to be aimed more efficiently at the war effort.

But, as you can see from this short history, canning is a relatively modern development.

So how did people preserve food before before the advent of canning?

And why did I delve into the history of food preservation in the first place?

a book of foods from traditional peoples from around the worldWell, I’ve been interested in one method of food preservation ever since I read the book Nourishing Traditions. The author, Sally Fallon, introduced me to the concept of lacto-fermentation. And it fascinated me.

(You can read about my discovery in the blog post here.)

Even though I’ve eaten yogurt for decades, I’d had no idea that yogurt is technically lacto-fermented milk.

And I certainly didn’t know that you could lacto-ferment other foods besides milk.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen me write about this before. 😀

But if you’re new here, you might be asking, “What is lacto-fermentation?”

Lacto-fermentation happens when certain benign micro-organisms convert the glucose, fructose, and sucrose in food into lactic acid.

The micro-organisms are named – fittingly enough – after the substance they produce: they are lactobacilli. And they are present on the surface of most living organisms.

All they need to produce lactic acid is an anaerobic environment (a finger-tight jar) and a moderate “climate” (temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit).

And the process itself is really pretty nifty.

As the lactobacilli produce lactic acid, the acidity of the food rises. As the acidity rises, most other bacteria, including those that cause spoilage or disease, are killed.

The lactic acid curdles milk, to make that nice custardy texture of yogurt.

home-made sauerkrautThe lactic acid combines with the molecules of cabbage (and other vegetables) to form esters, which gives sauerkraut its unique flavor.

The lacto-fermentation process increases the bioavailability of vitamins and other nutrients, making lacto-fermented foods more nutritious than the original raw vegetable.

Plus the live cultures present in lacto-fermented foods help keep the human gut well-populated with beneficial micro-flora.

Bottom line?

Lacto-fermented foods are safe. They store unspoiled for a long time.

Lacto-fermented foods are delicious. Lacto-fermented cabbage is so much tastier than cabbage pickled in vinegar!

And lacto-fermented foods are good for you.

Kay Nielsen art depicting a lassie aback a north-bearWhy did we ever forget about them? I don’t know. But I do know that my new knowledge came in handy while writing stories set in my North-lands!

I wrote Troll-magic before I learned about lacto-fermentation. Since the technology level in Troll-magic is roughly equivalent to our own Steam Age, I assumed home canning was the norm in most households. I didn’t delve into the details of Lorelin’s kitchen, but she did pack up dried meat and dried pears, when she left home. (Drying is a very, very old method of food preservation.)

The technology of her culture undoubtedly could have supported home canning. And she lives in a time of peace following an extended time of warfare and mass conscription. (The wars in which the Giralliyan Empire gobbled many of it’s smaller neighbors.)

But, now that I do know about lacto-fermentation, I like to think that the people of the North-lands never abandoned it. I feel sure that Lorelin’s mother had shelves of lacto-fermented cabbage and turnips and greens and onions in her pantry. Yum!

Mixed garden greensLuckily, I had discovered lacto-fermentation before I wrote Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Because I was very clear that the Hammarleeding culture did not have the technological sophistication to support home canning. They would have had to get by with drying food, freezing it (during the winter months), salting it, curing it with smoke, and eating cooked dishes quickly, before they could spoil.

I was very happy to know they had another option! And we see that option pretty promptly when Sarvet teases her friend Amara with a platter of gundru – lacto-fermented greens.

So why did I read up on the history of canning?

I was mulling over my writing good luck a few weeks ago, and I got curious. Given that lacto-fermentation is so handy and yummy, how did the canning process get started?

I did some investigating. And you know the rest: I had to share! I hope you found the journey interesting. 😀

For more about lacto-fermentation, see:
Amazing Lactobacilli
Lacto-fermented Corn

For more about Lorelin, see:
Character Interview: Lorelin

For more about Lorelin’s world, see:
North-land Magic
A Great Birthing

And for more about the history of canning, see these external links:
A Brief History of Home Canning
Commercial Canning
Nicolas Appert
John Landis Mason

 

The Oort Cloud

Draco is the personification of the dragon constellation in my story Devouring Light.

He’s old – ancient, really – jaded, and cynical. Inspired by a visit from Mercurio, the guardian of Sol’s first planet, Draco decides to make trouble merely to entertain himself.

In the course of his adventure, he leaves the solar system, flying through the Oort Cloud toward the closest star, Proxima Centauri.

Dragon

As I wrote of his flight, I had some ballpark time intervals in mind, based on his speed.

Draco is a “celestial,” and I’d posited two modes of travel for my celestials in Devouring Light.

The planetaries (such as Mercurio) and other beings associated with celestial bodies “translate” from sphere to sphere, a slow sort of teleport in which they evaporate while departing one location and congeal as they arrive at their destination.

The constellations and more metaphysical beings must “fly,” physically traversing space rather than wormholing through it.

However, both travel at roughly the same speed: one astronomical unit per hour.

A quick refresher note for anyone who’s forgotten what an astronomical unit is. It’s the distance from the sun to our Earth – 1 AU for short.

Thus when Mercurio visits Haden on Pluto, it takes him about 48 hours to get home to Mercury. (And he’s tired!)

Now the solar system’s a big place, and the Oort Cloud beyond it, even bigger.

I figured that since my celestials took many hours in their travels between planets, traversing the Oort would surely take weeks.

Boy, was I wrong!

Luckily, I decided to do a little research before I continued writing my story. I discovered my mistake before I tangled up my plot line!

Naturally, I want to share some of what I discovered. 😀

NASA's Oort Diagram

So, what is the Oort Cloud?

It’s a vast collection of ice chunks forming a sphere around our solar system.

I say chunks, but they’re big compared to an ice cube. And small compared to a planet. What size? Between 1 kilometer (.62 miles) and 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter.

And, I say ice, which does include water. But methane, ethane, carbon monoxide and other frozen substances also compose these icy clumps.

It is thought that the Oort Cloud was formed in the early days of our sun’s birth, when a bunch of young stars were popping into being in this neck of the galactic neighborhood. The tides between the stars played tug-of-war with the interstellar gases, creating ice balls, some of which stayed with our sun after things settled down.

Comet McNaughtThe stellar neighborhood is quieter now, but the outer Oort remains a fluid place. The sun’s gravity is weak that far away, and passing stars still nudge ice balls out of their orbits. Some get kicked away from the sun altogether. Others come streaming in as comets.

The inner Oort, named the Hill Cloud, is more dense than the outer and shaped like a massive donut. Most of our comets come from the Hill.

So what about Draco and his flight? If not weeks, how long did it take him?

Here are the numbers! And they amazed me. I knew the universe was big, but these boggled my mind.

The Hill Cloud’s inner edge is 2,000 AU from our sun. Which meant it took Draco 83 days to get there. Okay, 83 days equals roughly 12 weeks. So I guess you could say his flight was a matter of weeks.

But that’s just the beginning.

The outer edge of the Hill Cloud is 20,000 AU. By the time Draco exited the Hill, he’d been flying for two years and 3 months. Yikes!

And the outer edge of the outer Oort? At 50,000 AU, Draco passed through it after 5 years and 9 months. Quite a flight!

Good thing Draco is an immortal with vast reserves of strength. He needed it all!

But my story worked fine with these time frames, and I enjoyed exploring our solar neighborhood along with Draco. It’s a fascinating place!

For more of the science behind Devouring Light, see:
The Heliosphere

For some of the mythology behind Devouring Light, see:
The Graces

And for the book itself, see:
Devouring Light

 

Roman Dining

When Mercurio throws a banquet in my upcoming novella, Devouring Light, his guests dine Roman style.

I’d always envisioned the ancient Romans as reclining while dining, propped up on couches with low tripod tables at their elbows. But when it was time for me to write the feast scene, I needed details. So I dove into research!

And discovered that my vision was somewhat mistaken!

The video below is what I’d imagined.

Certainly there are museums with replicas that look somewhat like that. One even features the individual tables I’d envisioned. While that may be accurate for meals with three people only, the scene looked rather different when more people were gathered.

Before we go further, let’s note two terms.

A klinē is a sort of slanting couch, with the foot ten degrees lower than its head.

A triclinium, the ancient Roman dining room, meant “three klinai” or “three couches.”

The houses of the ancient Romans usually had at least two triclinia. Elite households might feature four in a triclinium maius .

Triclinium, Museo de Zaragoza

But, here’s the thing that confused me.

The ancient Romans commonly invited between nine and twenty guests to their feasts.

How on earth would they squish three reclining diners on each of those narrow couches? They would have to sit, not recline. And I knew they didn’t. Or I thought they didn’t.

Once I’d located some more scholarly works, I discovered there was more variation among Roman dining styles than I’d supposed. Specifically, the ancient Romans were people with individual habits, just as you and I have our own idiosyncrasies.

Sure, the reclining habit was a mark of status. Undoubtedly, most eaters started off that way, just to show they could.

“Yes, I’m rich and privileged. See!”

But what about the child who couldn’t lie still? Or the lady with a bad back? Or the senator with a dyspeptic stomach?

Well, the likelihood that people shifted their position a fair bit while eating was only common sense.

But it still didn’t explain how they fit three reclining diners on those couches.

Finally I found another visual, and it all made sense.

Aha! The head of the couch pointed toward the table, and the foot of the couch pointed away. Those klinai for three people were much bigger than those for a solo diner.

I couldn’t find an image in the pubic domain that I am free to post here. But check this link, if you want to see the visual for yourself.

Mercurio gives each of his guests a unique klinē garnished with flowers, rather than grouping them on shared couches. The major “celestials” in Devouring Light happen to number eighteen, perfect to exactly fill two triclinia. How convenient!

This was Mercurio’s seating plan for them until . . . he realized he needed to accommodate an unexpected guest!

Mercurio's seating plan

For more about the background of Devouring Light see:
Celestial Spheres
What Do Celestials Wear?
Three Graces

 

The Graces

The Three GracesMy newest work, Devouring Light, will release soon. I’m excited! Eager to make the story available for readers!

To tide myself over until the release – and because I can’t resist – I’m sharing some of the tidbits I’ve learned while doing research for the book.

This week, I’m talking about the Graces of ancient Greece.

And why am I presenting the Graces? Because they were the archetypes I drew on when dreaming up Lixy’s handmaidens.

“Who is Lixy?” you ask.

The beautiful celestial wanderer who fetches up at the domicile of Mercurio, my protagonist. Lixy is lovely, mysterious, and utterly lost – both in memory and in space. She doesn’t know who she is or where she came from. Quite the intriguing puzzle for Mercurio, who gives her shelter.

Lixy does remember her handmaidens, especially Eupheme, her nurse when Lixy was young.

So what about the Graces?

They were female spirits personifying the feminine attributes of grace. The most famous, the “Three Graces,” were Splendor (Aglaea), Mirth (Euphrosyne), and Good Cheer (Thalia).

But there were also “lesser” Graces. These were the ones who caught my attention. So who were they?

Philophrosyne personified welcome, friendliness, and kindness. Her name means “friendly-minded,” and I envision her as a spirit of hospitality. She became a cupbearer in Lixy’s home star system. Cupbearers in ancient times were particularly honored, since they ensured that the food and drink of a ruler was pure and unpoisoned. Hebe and Ganymede, cupbearers in Greek mythology, took that role in the solar system (ours) where Devouring Light takes place.

Eupheme personified words of good omen, praise, acclaim, shouts of triumph, and applause. Wow! She sure appealed to me! And I could see why Lixy remembered her. Who wouldn’t remember the person who steadfastly offered genuine and enthusiastic praise? Her name means “well-spoken,” and she was nursemaid to the Muses of Greek Mythology. It seemed appropriate that my Eupheme served as Lixy’s childhood nurse.

Euthenia personified prosperity, abundance, and plenty. Her name means “well-being.” Like her sisters, she was believed to be the daughter of Hephaestus and Aglaea. I envision the Euthenia of Devouring Light as possessing healing skills.

Eucleia personified glory and good repute. In Greek mythology, she served as Aphrodite’s handmaiden and was also associated with Artemis. She represented the loveliness of the bride approaching her wedding. I imagine the Eucleia of my story as modeling and encouraging integrity in Lixy. Her name means “renowned” or “celebrated.”

I’m almost tempted to write a story in which these four Graces get some “stage time,” rather than serving as a part of Lixy’s background!

If you’d like to read more about the inspiration behind Devouring Light, try What Do Celestials Wear? and Celestial Spheres.

 

What Do Celestials Wear?

Planet EarthThe characters in my soon-to-release Devouring Light are celestial beings charged with the guardianship of heavenly bodies.

Some of them share a name with a Greek or a Roman god. Thus Ares protects the planet Mars. Artemis Diana cares for Earth’s moon. While Gaia watches over Earth itself.

Other celestials bear unique names. My protagonist, Mercurio Veloxus Ludificor, tends the planet Mercury.

All of the celestials wear the garb of the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks.

Everyone knows what a toga is. (Or thinks he does! 😉 ) But what about the peplos? Or the strophium? I had to research the topic in order to describe Mercurio’s garments accurately. As well as those of Lixy, his unexpected visitor.

Of course, I’m going to share what I learned! Let’s take it garment by garment.

The Princess AlexandraThe Tunica

The tunica is your basic undergarment, often worn under another tunic or peplos. It usually hangs to the knees, but sometimes falls to mid-calf, or even the ankles. Children typically wear only a tunica at home, but don an outer garment in which to go out. Adults prefer more layers.

The tunica is a rectangular garment sewn into a tube. Pins (fibulae) or buttons secure the shoulders when it is worn solo. A sewn seam is more usual when it is worn beneath other clothing.

The Strophium

Another undergarment: the breast band. It’s a long, narrow strip of cloth bound tightly around the chest to support a woman’s bosom.

Obviously, Mercurio does not wear one of these. But Lixy does, as do Juno and Star and other female celestials.

Spoiler: As it turned out, I never did mention the strophium in Devouring Light. So often we writers do the research and only a tiny bit makes it onto the page. But we need to know.

The Subligaculum

This word was too long, with too many syllables, for me to use it in Devouring Light. Yes, I did need to refer to it in the course of my story! But I called it a “loin brief,” because that’s what it covers: the loins.

The subligacula of the ancient Romans took the form of either shorts or a cloth wrapped around the loins. It was a standard part of the dress for active folk like soldiers, gladiators, and athletes. Sometimes it was made of leather.

ArtemisThe Peplos

Reading about the peplos was an aha! moment for me. So that’s why those ancient Greek statues look the way they do! Ha!

So what’s the trick?

The peplos is essentially a long tunic, worn by women, that stretches from shoulder to ankle. Like a tunica, it’s sewn along the sides to make a tube. But it’s so long that the top third is folded over and drapes to the waist. That’s what makes that blousey over garment on all the statuary.

A sash or belt gathers the peplos at the waist.

Pins or buttons secure the fold at the top over the shoulders. And there you have it: the peplos.

The Tunica

This is where the garb of the ancients gets confusing. Because while the tunica is the basic undergarment, it can also serve as outer wear for children and for men.

Thus Mercurio might wear a short tunica next to his skin, with a longer tunica over it. Especially when he wants to be most formally dressed!

So is the tunica underwear? Or is it a formal robe? Only context makes this clear!

Statue of LibertyThe Stola

The stola is a woman’s version of the men’s toga, but it’s a lot more convenient!

It’s a long, pleated linen dress – generally sleeveless; sometimes sleeved – worn as an outer garment.

Clasps secure the shoulders. Two belts confine the garment to the torso: one immediately below the breasts, the other at the waist. The belts create many folds and layers. The more layers, the higher the woman’s status.

The Toga

The toga is the outer garment for males, worn both for warmth (in cool weather) and for propriety when leaving the home. Going without, in ancient Rome, would have been shocking. Not quite so shocking for my celestials.

Being a casual guy, Mercurio doffs his when he can get away with it, because the thing is so unweildy!

Togas are huge! And heavy! Made of a rectangular piece of wool, they measure 20 feet in length, and were wrapped around the body, under the right arm, and over the left shoulder.

Pure white togas dignify ceremonial occasions, but my celestials wear them in all hues.

For another post about Devouring Light, see The Celestial Spheres of Sol’s Demesne or The Graces.

 

North-lands Timeline

Timeline Intermediae

So far, many of my published stories take place in my North-lands. But some clearly transpire in the earliest history of the world, while others are more “modern.”

Several weeks ago, a reader asked me in what order the events narrated took place.

Great question! Here is my answer.😀

ANCIENT TIMES

Skies of Navarys – 3000 years before Troll-magic

THE BRONZE AGE

Tally the Betrayals – 1 year before Resonant Bronze

Resonant Bronze – 2000 years before Troll-magic

THE MIDDLE AGES

Hunting Wild – 800 years before Troll-magic

BEFORE THE STEAM AGE

Rainbow’s Lodestone – about 100 years before Troll-magic

Star-drake – immediately after Rainbow’s Lodestone

THE STEAM AGE

Sarvet’s Wanderyar – 52 years before Troll-magic

Crossing the Naiad – concurrent with Sarvet’s Wanderyar

Livli’s Gift – 38 years after Sarvet’s Wanderyar
(14 years before Troll-magic)

Troll-magic – the now of this timeline

The Troll’s Belt – contemporaneous with Troll-magic

Perilous Chance – contemporaneous with Troll-magic

Winter Glory – 3 years after Troll-magic

For more about the North-lands, see:
North-land Magic
A Great Birthing
Character Interview: Lorelin