Sunday, December 31, 2006


So here in New Mexico we have our holiday traditions. We eat tamales and posole, and set fire to farolitos and luminarias, and sing "Vamos Todos a Belen," ("Everbody Go to Bethlehem") which is a kind of clanky waltz from "La Pastorela," the classic shepherds' play. Since I live near the town of Belen, the song has local resonance. Kathy has heard Socorro kids, who can only think of one reason to visit Belen, singing "Vamos Todos a Wal-Mart."

One holiday tradition we certainly do not have, at least in this part of the state, is digging out from under tons of snow. This week we had a two-day snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of the white stuff on the ground. For Albuquerque that was a record snowfall, and I doubt that it's any different for us here in the Greater Belen Area.

A foot of snow is trivial if you live in Moose Jaw or Duluth, but it's enough to shut down all of New Mexico. Yesterday the power went out--- no heat! No light! And--- gasp!--- no email!

I built a fire in the fireplace and caught up on my reading. Though the day was cloudy, there was enough bright light off the endless snowfields to provide reading light. When the light began to fail, we went out to dinner and a movie, and when we came back, the lights were on.

But the heat wasn't. We have a modern house with programmable thermostats in every room, and the power cut had knocked them all out despite the batteries that I change every autumn and that are supposed to keep them going. So I reprogrammed them and waited for the boiler to turn on. And nothing happened. So I checked the boiler, and it was fine. The pilot light was burning merrily, but the big burners just wouldn't turn on. I turned the boiler off, waited 30 minutes, then relit it, and reprogrammed the thermostats again, and nothing happened

So I built another fire and we readied ourselves for a cold night. I prepared to call a heating contractor in the morning and pay for a $250 emergency Sunday service call.

At 6:00am the boiler finally recovered from its daze, and pipes began to shriek. They shrieked for hours, but the heat finally did come, and eventually the pipes stopped shrieking. I don't know what went wrong and then right, but at the moment I don't care. We are now warm and cozy in our little house in the middle of the big snow field.

I would post highly artistic pictures of the snow, but I haven't yet replaced the digital camera that was stolen during the break-in. Check out these pictures from our friends Scott Denning and Patricia Rogers if you want to see what the Rio Grande Valley looks like under snow.

We are celebrating our deliverance from Jack Frost by enacting one of those classical holiday traditions. We're making posole. Here's the recipe I use--- it's amazingly easy.



1 pound prepared hominy (I use the frozen bricks available at the supermarket. If you don't have prepared hominy, you'll have to prepare the raw stuff with lye or whatever. Good luck with that, by the way.)
Water as needed.
1 pound meat (I prefer pork, but beef, chicken, or lamb would work as well)
salt as needed
1 medium onion, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground comino (cummin)
1/4 teaspoon oregano, preferably Mexican
4-8 dried Anaheim chile pods, crushed.

Place hominy in a stewpot with an adequate amount of water, and simmer for 5 hours. Add water as it becomes necessary.

About an hour before completion of the simmering time, brown the meat in a large, heavy skillet.

At the meat to the stewpot and cook until tender.

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an addition 1-2 hours, until the hominy is very tender. Adjust seasoning.

I happen to like posole with grated Cheddar cheese on top, but that's just me.

Posole is terrific if you're just sitting around the house waiting for something to happen, or if you have some friends over and you want something simmering on the stove for them to eat when they get hungry.

That's why "siege posole" is featured in Hardwired, in the scene where Cowboy and Jutz and the Dodger are besieged in their house in the Sangre de Cristos, sitting and trying to figure out how to start their revolution. Because posole is the ideal food to prepare when you're not sure who's going to drop in.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Back in Print!

Hardwired is back in print.

Over the years, it's been my most popular novel, both in the US and in places like France and Japan.

It's probably time to replace that beaten-up old copy that you've had on your shelves all this time.

Find it at Amazon or Night Shade Books.

Or you could make your local bookstore order it. (I'm just fantasizing here, don't mind me.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Log of the Eclipse (14)

I’ve had a very busy few months. This month is no less busy. But if recovering from a virus isn’t a sufficient excuse for self-indulgence, then what is? Time for another reverie . . .

Cast your mind back to April last, and Day 14 of our Turkish Expedition . . .

6 April, 2006

The Cow Ford

This morning the wait staff at the Hotel Divan were somewhat better prepared for the huge wave of breakfast customers all arriving at the same time, and I got my pot of tea before I had actually finished my meal. I tipped according to the amount of sweat on the bustling waiter’s forehead, substantial in this case.

This was our last day on the actual Sky and Telescope tour. We had enjoyed it, as frustrating and harassing as it sometimes was, but we were ready to be on our own for a few days.

Our last official visit was to be a Bosporus boating trip. I was a little leery of it, because the day was cool and blustery and because I was still suffering from my cold. I dressed up as warmly as possible, wrapped one of Kathy’s scarves around my neck, and provided myself with a wool hat. I figured that at last resort I could take refuge in the cabin. In the event the day was warm and sunny enough so that I hardly suffered at all.

The buses wound down from Beyoglu past the Inonu Stadium complex, then stopped in the busy suburb of Ortakoy. Ferryboats were packed three-deep at the quay, cars and buses and pedestrians were all thick on the ground, and swarms of hawkers offered us tours, guide books, and genuine $30 Rolex watches. We were in the shadow of the very large and magnificent Mecidiye Mosque, and in the shadow of the enormous Bosporus Bridge, which amazingly enough seems not to be named after Ataturk.

The Mecidiye Mosque, by the way, is not on any of the standard tours because its architecture is a 19th Century mishmash of Oriental and European motifs. The guides wish to show us only pure Turkish designs. The bridge was, I guess, the first over the Bosporus, and therefore the most famous. Its span is over 200 feet above the water, and the bridge is the 9th largest in the world. It’s no longer alone: there are several other bridges now.

We got on the ferryboat and chugged off onto what the Greeks for some reason called the “Cow Ford” (try to ford any cow across, and you’d end up with a drowned cow). After leaving the mosque and the bridge behind, we found on the European side a great many 19th Century Ottoman mansions, some sagging in disrepair, others beautifully restored. So valuable is the real estate on the Bosporus that even the broken-down mansions are worth $3-4 million. One of the mansions boasted a wonderfully restored 19th Century steam yacht parked on its private quay.

Then we encountered the huge Dolmabahçe Palace, built in the European style in the 19th Century to replace the Topkapi, which by that point was seeming terribly rustic and old-fashioned. “The sultan,” the guide said, “had the choice of fixing the economy or building a new palace, so he built the palace.” The palace cost the equivalent of 25 tons of gold, 14 tons of which were used for ornamentation. It occupies half a kilometer of the waterfront.

We visited the Dolmabahçe later, so I’ll reserve detailed descriptions for a later post.

Just north of Dolmabahçe was another palace, the name of which escapes me. Our guide explained that the place was used as storage for unwanted or redundant members of the royal family. (The buildings were unheated in winter, and it could always be hoped that the excess princes would succumb to a consumption. Doubtless Elizabeth II wishes she had such an institution.)

Farther up the shore was the Fortress of Europe, built by Mehmet the Conqueror prior to his conquest of Constantinople. This enormous castle was built in only 4 months, and is a testament to the efficiency of Ottoman military organization. In combination with the older Fortress of Asia across the straits, the castle succeeded in cutting off Constantinople from any aid from Venetian and Genoese colonies in the Black Sea. It also isolated these colonies from their homeland, and allowed the Ottomans to gobble them up at a later date.

We turned around before we actually caught a glimpse of the Black Sea, and headed south down the Asian side.

There are more palaces on the Asian shore, among them the Beylerbeyi Palace, built just after Dolmabahçe by the same family of builders, and for the same sultan. It was built on the site of an earlier, ruined palace, and was intended as a summer residence. Its design is modest only in comparison with Dolmabahçe. The deposed sultan Abdul Hamit II, after being overthrown by the Young Turks in 1909, was kept here in an anteroom until he died after six long winters.

Also on the Asian shore is the stately hospital in Uskudar where Florence Nightingale labored on behalf of British soldiers during the Crimean War. Poor Florence believed that the soldiers’ mortality rate from cholera and typhoid was based on poor nutrition rather than bad sanitation, and the Uskudar hospital had by far the highest death rate of all British war hospitals until a sanitary commission took charge and flushed the sewers clean. (Not exactly a feather in Miss Nightingale’s cap, what?) Near the hospital is the equally stately Turkish naval college— or perhaps they were the same building, my memory is vague.

Motoring south, we encountered a pod of dolphins heading north. Dolphins always raise my spirits, and I began quoting Yeats’ lines about the “dolphin-torn, gong-tormented sea,” which had my neighbors convinced of my pomposity whether they recognized the quote or not.

Ahead of us was the romantic skyline of Istanbul, unfortunately obscured by mist.

We came ashore at Ortakoy once again, and were taken to the Spice Market, called the Egyptian Market by the Turks. There was the usual din of hucksters, but the displays of spices were colorful and fragrant, and the snacks and sweets— Turkish delight and others— were tempting for hungry tourists. We wanted to buy saffron, available at a fraction of the price in the States. (The stigma of the crocus flower is the world’s most expensive spice, and has been for a long time.) You could either get the raw saffron stigma or the ground type, and I insisted on the former, as the ground saffron could have been adulterated with anything and we’d never have known until we tried to cook with it. So we ended up with 18 ounces of finest-quality Persian saffron, some of which we will present as gifts, and the rest of which we will consume in elegant dishes. For once I didn’t mind a trip to the bazaar.

This was the end of our official 12-day tour. Our guides announced they were willing to continue with an afternoon’s unofficial tour, of the Chora Church and the Mosque of Suleiman, for a mere $49 per head. This struck me as a bit pricey, but we went ahead anyway. Once we got on the tour, we realized that nearly half the money was just our admission costs to the sites, so the price ended up being quite reasonable.

“Chora” means “Country,” and the church (with attached monastery) was originally in a rural district outside the city walls of Constantine the Great, though it was later enclosed by the Walls of Theodosius. The building is accordingly some distance from the more historically significant parts of town, and took us through less fashionable, less wealthy districts of the city. Afternoon prayers were about to start, which might account for all the women in the streets with headscarves. In the middle of this unexceptional urban setting is the domed church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. It looks much like a rather ordinary mosque, complete with minarets.

The official name of the church was the Church of the Holy Savior in the Country. The building dates from the 5th century, but has been much reconstructed in the years since, and its present form dates from the early 14th Century, when the building was reconstructed by Theodore Metochites, who served Andronicus II Paleologus in the office of Grand Logothete (“Grand Guardian of the Word”), the head of the Byzantine bureaucracy and effectively the prime minister.

Theodore Metochites was also a poet, writer, and intellectual, and kept a circle of hard-partying literary types around him who he intended to keep near in the afterlife. Accordingly he added a long gallery (“esonarthex”) to the outside of the church, which included sarcophagi intended for himself and his buddies. Above his own sarcophagus he optimistically placed a mosaic of the Resurrection. Through most of the rest of the gallery are scenes from the Life of Mary, as revealed in the Gospel According to St. James, the influence of which I kept encountering all throughout old Turkish monuments.

Parallel to the esonarthex is the exonarthex, with pictures from the life of Christ, concentrating on his infancy. The church proper features a dome with an image of Christ Pantokrator.

The colors are still brilliant after all the centuries, though some mosaics are heavily damaged by earthquake. A very fine photo gallery of the art can be found here.

Our next stop was at the Mosque of Suleiman, who is known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent and in the Islamic world as the Lawgiver. The mosque is in a fairly built-up area, and our bus got stuck trying to negotiate the narrow streets. We ended up having to walk several blocks, not that this was a hardship.

The mosque was built over seven years beginning in 1550, and was designed by Suleiman’s most famous architect Sinan. Sinan was born a Christian, but conscripted as a youth by the Janissaries, where he was converted to Islam and rose as a military engineer. During his 80 years, stretching over the height of the Ottoman empire, he is said to have built 94 great mosques (cami), 57 universities, 52 smaller mosques (mescit), 41 bath_houses (hamam), 35 palaces (saray), 22 mausoleums (türbe), 20 caravanserai, 17 public kitchens (imaret), 8 bridges, 8 store houses, 7 religious schools (medrese), 6 aqueducts, and 3 hospitals. A crater on Mercury is named after him.

More than a few of these are to be found in the complex of buildings in the Mosque of Suleiman, which includes five religious schools, a caravanserai, a kitchen that served food to the poor, a bath house, a hospital, a medical school, a School of Tradition (??), various cells and shops, and two tombs. (Sinan’s own tomb is just across the street.) In the main building were the quarters of the court astronomer, who determined prayer times. Sinan also did a bit of recycling: the marble columns supporting the arches of the courtyard were said to have come from the Emperor’s box at the Hippodrome.

Suleiman’s mosque is considered one of the city’s masterpieces. Clearly inspired by Hagia Sofia, the dome is supported by two half-domes and two tympani, and the result is a magnificent clear space beneath the dome for the main prayer hall. (Contrast the Blue Mosque’s dome, supported by four massive pillars.) Despite the many years in which Sinan tried to outdo the Hagia Sofia, most notably in the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Sinan never succeeded in quite equaling the height and breadth of Justinian’s dome.

The prayer hall had the vast space and silence reserved for places of worship. It was wonderfully ornamented with Ottoman tile work in geometrical patterns, and it was a pity that the inside was so dim, because it made the ornament difficult to appreciate. Enormous iron wheel-shaped chandeliers hung from the dome, each providing dozens of lanterns whose yellow light supplemented the sunlight coming in the stained glass windows. Marble and gold had been laid on with a lavish hand.

Outside, in a pleasant garden, are the tombs of Suleiman and his Russian-born wife, Roxalana (known to the Turks as “Khourrem,” the Cheerful One). Suleiman broke with hundreds of years of tradition to marry Roxalana in a formal ceremony, in which she became a wife, not a concubine. He lived with her in a palace across the Bosporus from Topkapi, where his hundreds of concubines idled away their time waiting for his call. Roxalana repaid this favor by engaging in a successful conspiracy to kill Suleiman’s son and heir (by another woman), and later securing the succession for her own drunken son Selim, known as Selim the Sot, whose chief success was a campaign to capture the island of Cyprus in order to possess its wine grapes. He shared his father’s weakness for Christian women, marrying Nur-Banu (née Cecilia Venier-Baffo), who successfully conspired on behalf of her own son, Murad III, whose lust for beautiful women equaled his father’s lust for wine, and who had 103 children by 1200 slave girls. His favorite was an Albanian named Safiya, whose son Mehmet III gained the throne through having his sixteen brothers strangled. Mehmet was an idle ruler who let his mother run the empire. (She ran it very well, though.)

All this harem intrigue produced several generations of inept, dissolute, or incapable sultans who were tools of their mothers, wives, or ministers. The empire had peaked with Suleiman, and began its decline with Roxalana’s son.

I visited Suleiman’s tomb, outside the mosque walls in a pleasant park, where he lies with a couple of his successors and his mother, sister, and daughter. The sultan’s huge turban sits on a post at the head of his peak-roofed coffin. The walls are covered with ceramics and gilt.

I didn’t actually go into Roxalana’s tomb— you had to pay extra— but I peered in and it seemed as magnificent as Suleiman’s. It was interesting, I thought, that she insisted on being buried separately after they had spent their lives together.

Afterwards, strolling back to the bus, I stopped by one of the shops in the arcade and restocked slide film. I was very pleased to find that slide film was available in Turkey, if not exactly common. It’s becoming very rare in the States.

Our driver had managed to unstick his bus, so we piled in and returned to the Hotel Divan. As this was the last time we’d see our driver, I gave him a hefty tip on leaving.

That night the group had our farewell dinner, which was first-rate. As a battle-scarred veteran of many banquets at science fiction conventions---- a man who tends to cringe at the very term “banquet”— I would like to compliment the Divan on its banquet food. Mehmet received a generous gratuity, and huge were exchanged.

Afterward I went into the hotel lobby with various of our guides and ordered the margarita off the bar menu. I wondered what a Turkish idea of a margarita would be like, especially one that costs $16.

It was tequila mixed with unsweetened lemon juice.

After that there was no point in staying up, so I went to bed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Things To Do When You've Got A Virus

So the Luck Storm has rained down a virus. I'm sitting back and taking it easy and drinking hot fluids, and I made myself some Thai beef-and-ginger soup, which opens up the sinuses pretty good.

But now that I'm more or less housebound, how to entertain myself as the Solstice approaches?

I could go online and listen to some cheerful holiday songs.

Or check out the latest animated video.

Or maybe I'll just curl up with a good book.

The Solstice provides such a myriad of possibilities that I don't know which way to turn.

Which is the way They like it, of course . . .

Friday, December 08, 2006

Where Did the Year Go?

I seem to be in the middle of another Luck Storm. Unfortunately--- so far--- the luck is not good.

My office computer died rather suddenly. Though I thought I had been diligent in backing up everything, I find I've lost all my email from 1 January to 6 December, 2006.

I wonder what I said?

I wonder what you said?

If it was anything important, feel free to remind me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gifts That Keep On Giving

Frustrated with looking for a Christmas gift for your special lady? Check out this Bluetooth-enabled sex toy! It will give new meaning to the phrase, "I think I'll just give her a buzz."

The toy features wireless Bluetooth connection, sms-text command system, and "turbo-boost circuitry." It comes in six smashing colors, and is carried in a nifty executive-style case, at least when it's not being worn internally.

You can activate the toy at any time, simply by sending a text message. Each letter of the alphabet, or combination thereof, has a different setting, for a total of 7200 possible variations! Imagine the fun you'll have remotely programming your Special Someone!

You can light up your girlfriend from halfway around the world, and no matter what she's doing--- watching TV, reading a book, taking a meeting, or driving a bus filled with schoolchildren.

The toy is 90mm x 30mm, not counting the "tensile-coated cable antenna/retractor," which apparently remains outside the body.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this go through airport security. Aren't you?

And if internal application really is your thing, don't forget to order your Polonium-210, available by mail from Bob Lazar, whose previous employment was reverse-engineering extraterrestrial spacecraft at Area 51.

With gifts like these, the forthcoming holiday season will surely be one to remember!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Master Class

Attention, anyone who's trying to write this stuff!

Connie Willis and I, with the assistance of George R.R. Martin, will be teaching a master class in writing science fiction and fantasy next year in Taos. The workshop will run July 8-21, 2007. Cost including lodging and almost all meals, $2400.00. The class is called Taos Toolbox.

It should be sublime.

For all other details, check out


Okay, so the last twelve people to post comments in this blog were spammers. Probably the same spammer, the fellow who thinks that people read my blog looking for auto insurance.

Comment moderation has now been activated. If the children won't play responsibly, then Robot Nanny will Smash.