Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

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Milwaukee Bridge Opens Unexpectedly, Kills Tourist

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Folks, last week in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there was a shocking accident.

A man, Richard Dujardin — a retired writer and religious reporter who’d covered the Dalai Lama, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — was visiting Milwaukee along with his wife, Rose-Marie. They were walking over the Kilbourn Avenue bridge over Milwaukee River. Rose-Marie had safely crossed, but her husband was behind her, slowly navigating the bridge, and looking at his iPad. The bridge unexpectedly opened, Mr. Dujardin grabbed for a railing and held on for a few minutes, but then plunged over seventy feet to his death.

This is hard to fathom for many reasons.

First, when bridges open and close in Wisconsin, there are lights, sirens, and alarms. These all functioned properly and should’ve warned Mr. Dujardin. But he was 77, hard of hearing, and focused on his iPad.

In other words, he didn’t hear or see anything until it was too late.

Second, the bridge was operated remotely. More of Milwaukee’s bridges appear to be operated this way, rather than having someone directly on site who would’ve been able to see that Mr. Dujardin was still on the bridge before opening it up. No one has any idea how the poor man was missed, as far as I can tell.

(This is one reason I waited almost a week to discuss this.)

Third, the remote operator apparently didn’t see that Mr. Dujardin was still holding on to the railing for a few minutes before he fell!

This seems to be an egregious lapse, to put it mildly.

Anyway, I have felt terrible ever since I heard about this accidental death. I know how it feels to wake up a wife and suddenly, without warning, end up as a widow.

More importantly to me than that, though, was the detail that his wife had already crossed the bridge. That meant she was in front of him. She could not help him when this happened.

Longtime readers of my blog probably know this, but that’s exactly the situation I was in when Michael collapsed on the lawn at our rented duplex years ago. Normally he’d have been in front of me, or we’d maybe be side-by-side holding hands. But this one day, he was behind me…and then he fell backward.

(Yes, I rushed forward, but I couldn’t do anything to break his fall. That I would’ve dislocated both arms had I somehow been in position to catch him makes no nevermind.)

I’m now nearing the eighteenth year of my widowhood. I still see Michael falling, me unable to catch him, in blinding technicolor.

I would imagine that Mrs. Dujardin may end up having similar flashbacks.

Anyway, I’m well aware that life is short, that we have no idea whether today is our last or if we have eighteen more years of widowhood in our future. (Or whatever.) We can only do the best with every day and honor the memories and the love we shared as we continue to go forward in whatever halting way we can.

I feel bad for Mrs. Dujardin. I wish I could help her.

(I couldn’t help Eric Flint’s widow, Lucille, either, though I hope someone is. And someday, maybe I’ll get to meet her again and attempt to show kindness as well as respect, ’cause she deserves it. But I digress.)

All I can ask you, right now, are two things:

Number one: Be kind.

Why do I say that? Well, many people are on edge due to the ongoing Covid pandemic, politics seems even more brutal than usual, and folks have forgotten they have more in common with each other than not.

Some have decided as the world is bleak, they have permission to be their worst selves. They spread misery.

Don’t do it. Refuse the impulse.

Be kind, instead.

Number two: Help the widows and widowers in your life, no matter how long — or short — it’s been since their spouses died.

See, I can tell you for a fact that I still want to talk about the most important person in my life, who’s ever been in my life. That’s my husband, Michael.

Other widows and widowers have said the same.

Too often, we who are grieving are told to just “move on” and in that spirit, we’re supposed to look toward the future and either forget the past entirely or suppress it.

I’m sorry. I refuse to do either. And most widows and widowers that I’ve spoken to over the years feel the same way.

We want to speak about our favorite people. Our formative influences. Our various experiences.

We need to do that. It’s part of who we are.

Hell, even those who’ve ended up finding a second great spouse to marry have said the same things. They can love their second husband (or wife) even better because of the experiences they had with their first spouse.

Otherwise, I hope that Mrs. Dujardin finds out why the remote bridge operator screwed up. She needs to know why that was the final day of her husband’s life.

But I also hope that the people around her will be kind and support her in her hours of grief. She will need that kindness and support for the rest of her life (whether it be short or long).

Sunday Musings: Why should you help a widow? (Or widower?)

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Folks, my last blog asked you to please help Eric Flint’s wife, Lucille, in her time of need. (I was one of many people asking for people to help.) She received an outpouring of financial support, and the GoFundMe for Eric’s final expenses has been closed.

Thank you all.

That said, there are still other things to be done to help her, or other widows/widowers suffering from the loss of their spouse.

First, though, I wanted to answer this (somewhat obvious) question: Why should you help a widow or widower?

I’ve thought a lot about this question in the intervening years since Michael’s passing. And I’ve come up with a few reasons as to why you should always help a grieving widow or widower — any grieving widow or widower, whether you like them personally or not.

When you’ve been newly widowed, you are exceptionally vulnerable. All of your support, all of the love you had that you had freely shared with your spouse, is suddenly gone. That love has no place to go. And worst of all, you are often misunderstood when you try to express your grief in any way, shape, or form.

It’s incredibly difficult to deal with the world when you’re in deep shock, suffering with the worst wound you’ve ever had. That’s just a fact.

Everything seems unreal. Nothing feels the same. It’s very hard to go on, alone except for memories (and, if you’re like me, the knowledge that the spirit is eternal and that you will eventually be reunited in joy somewhere/somewhen again).

We all grieve differently, but what I just said tends to be in common for nearly any grieving widow/widower if they deeply loved their spouse.

Anyway, I wanted to talk more about Eric’s wife and widow, Lucille, at this point. I do not know Lucille except for that one meeting in 2002 I’ve previously discussed (and there, I asked Eric a question; I should’ve asked her one, too, in retrospect, but I didn’t think of it). But I do know that if I were within a hundred miles of where she is (I’m not), I would try to bring her a cooked meal or two. Or volunteer to run errands.

And if I knew her better, I’d offer to listen to her talk at any time of the day or night.

Lucille is a valuable person in her own right. Yet if she’s anything like me, or the other widows and widowers I’ve known, she’s not going to be able to feel that for quite some time.

She deserves to be helped in as many ways as possible in whatever way she’ll allow on any given day. She should be given all available love, stamina, support, and whatever other good things she can possibly be helped with for as long of a time as she needs.

Her loss should be respected.

People should talk with her about Eric, as soon as she’s able to do that (or wishes to do that). He was her favorite person in this world. It’s unlikely she’ll want to stop talking about him, merely because his Earthly presence is gone.

Give her time, space, if she needs that. (I know this seems contradictory, but much about grief seems contradictory, too.) But help her as much as you possibly can, those of you who know her best. (I will help, too, if I ever get a chance to meet her again, and if she allows.)

In other words, while monetary help is great, it’s not the only way to help a grieving widow or widower.

Now to a bit more personal stuff, about my own feelings regarding being a widow.

Those of you who have met me, in person, or even have known me through my blog or my books, should know how much I value — and will always value — my marriage to the most wonderful man in the world, Michael B. Caffrey. I had some monetary support at the time of his passing, enough to help me buy an obituary for him, and help to pay for his funeral expenses. I appreciated that, too, at the time.

But no one knew how to help me with my grief. (My grief was so bad, a grief-support group sent me away.)

My family understood that Michael’s death was a huge loss. They didn’t have any idea how to help me process that.

I suffered, mostly on my own, with how to come to terms with it. How to see myself as valuable in my own right. How to go on alone (except for memories and the belief, as I said before, that the spirit is eternal). How to keep writing on my own, with little to no support or understanding of why I felt I must write (whether it be poetry, SF/F, or nonfiction/essays).

I had to figure it out one step at a time, stumbling and fumbling in the dark.

I don’t want anyone to have as much trouble as I did, not even the person who believed Michael was better off dead than with me. (I will never forgive that person. Never. But I still don’t wish ill on them. No point.) If and when they lose their spouses, I want them to have help and support.

That, most of all, is why I dearly hope that Lucille will be aided in as many ways and for as long of a time as she needs. And I pray very much that this will be so.

A Sunday Roundup: Cain DFA’d, Car Oddities, and Some Writing Achieved

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Folks, I thought long and hard as to whether I wanted to write one bigger blog, or three short blogs. As I’m pressed for time, I decided to go with the longer blog…so, here we go.

The Milwaukee Brewers, my favorite baseball team, designated CF Lorenzo Cain for assignment yesterday (or DFA’d for short). Cain was an outstanding offensive and defensive player before Covid-19 hit; he sat out 2020 (the truncated first Covid year), came back last year and dealt with injuries but still showed flashes of his old form, and then this year he never quite got on track.

Personally, I blame the owners’ lockout for that. Any athlete has his routine to go through, and Spring Training is as much about routine as anything. When Spring Training got disrupted by the owners’ lockout, that meant spring games were not played; at-bats were not taken; players were not able to do anywhere near what they’d usually do for several weeks until the owners and players finally came to an agreement, and the owners’ lockout ended.

Why does that matter? Well, an older athlete — and Cain is now thirty-six, ancient for a baseball player — needs more time to get in the groove. (Maybe some don’t when it comes to defensive play, but most do when it comes to hitting, pitching, and fielding.) It seemed to me that Cain was doing as well as anyone in Spring Training pre-lockout…but after, he wasn’t quite right.

Cain was hitting only .179 when the Brewers designated him for assignment. Considering his lifetime batting average is .283, that’s a significant drop-off.

Cain’s defense was still sharp, for the most part. He was still an exceptionally fast runner, as outfielders tend to be (they need to, in order to cover so much ground). He was taking extra batting practice, and doing everything he could to get his hitting in gear…but it just didn’t work.

Both Cain and the Brewers were classy about this. Cain said it was “a mutual decision” according to what I heard on TV and via radio. The Brewers waited until Cain had ten full years of major-league service time (that day being yesterday) to designate Cain for assignment, making sure that Cain was fully-vested with regards to MLB’s pensions for retired players down the line.

As WTMJ-AM announcer Brian Dee said on the “Brewers Extra Innings” program after the Brewers game yesterday, “The Brewers did Cain a solid.” I agree.

I will miss Lorenzo Cain. His energy was infectious. He had a huge smile, and obviously loved to play (even in the last few weeks, where it seemed like he couldn’t buy a hit). He was smart, savvy, and did everything right, even when he wasn’t hitting. (He said he wished things were going better, making no excuses for himself.)

I think it’s likely Cain will retire. But if he does continue to play, I hope he’ll find his hitting stroke again and enjoy baseball as much as he ever has.

Anyway, now we’re on to the “car oddities” part of the blog. And it really is an odd story…so, here I go with that.

I was parked in one of the lots at the apartment complex where my Mom lives. That lot is dark after 8:30 p.m. in the summer (and no better in the winter, either; in fact, in the winter it is hard to see probably after 4:30 or 5:00 p.m.), which matters. And when I parked, I was the only person in the lot with a 2010 Hyundai Accent Blue. (Yes, this matters, too.)

When I walked out to leave, there was an identical car parked next to me. I only realized it once I got in the wrong car, realizing that I didn’t have an air freshener (this car did), that the car was far too neat to be mine, and the seat was also in the wrong position.

So, I got out of the car, and automatically locked the driver’s door and the passenger side door behind me (as I always do), after I got my hand-cart out of the back seat.

Anyway, I then realized I did not have my purse. I had left it in the wrong car!

Fortunately, the passenger side doors were open (as the driver’s side ones had been, too). I reached in, got my purse, and got the Hell out of there.

However…I left my cane in that car, and I didn’t realize it until I was all the way home.

My brother is visiting right now and saw my agitation over it all. (I hate being stupid, and I really felt stupid with this.) He drove me back to the lot, exclaimed about how dark that lot is, and said anyone could’ve made that mistake with two cars, identical makes and models, in almost no lighting. And yes, he opened up the passenger side door (which fortunately I hadn’t locked), and indeed, my cane was in that wrong car.

I don’t know what the owner of that car is going to think when they go back out to their car, mind you. (I have no idea who this is. Until now, I had no idea that anyone in the complex or among the people who regularly visit had a car identical to mine.) The seat is in the wrong position for them, as I pushed it all the way back. The driver’s side doors are locked, while the other two are not, and they’d left them all unlocked.

I considered leaving a note, but I had no idea what to say.

My brother said that I should leave well enough alone. If I figure out who that person is, I’ll apologize; otherwise, he said I should leave it be as it was an honest mistake.

He drove me back home, where my father wasn’t too happy over the whole affair. (Dad has never seen that lot at night. Jim tried to tell him, but Dad still didn’t understand how this could happen. At all.)

Now that I know there is another car with the same paint job (light blue), the same make and model, the same wheels, all that, I will look at the license plate before I get into the car. (Other distinguishing features of my car were unable to be seen in that light.)

As it was, my brother had to park the car in such a way — half in and half out of the spot — and shine his headlights on the wrong car (as I had driven my own car back and left it at home) before he could see well enough to figure out if the cane was in the car. (His phone has a flashlight. My phone with a flashlight was back at home, of course. But even his flashlight app couldn’t tell him whether the cane was in there or out, and he didn’t want to open the car door unless he was sure the cane was in there.)

I don’t know if anyone else has ever had this happen before — two cars, both identical in dim light, same make, same model, same paint job, and all — but it is truly strange. (Thus, “car oddities.”)

Finally, after I’d gotten back home again, and talked this out with a few friends who live overseas in different time zones (as my good friends who live here were all asleep, as they should’ve been), I managed to write one thousand words into a new Elfyverse short story. I’d wanted to write all week long, and the time got away from me…but I figured that as I was back, and was too scattered to edit, I should do something creative in the hopes that it would help me calm myself a little.

It worked.

At any rate, I will try to schedule time to write over the next few days and see how it goes.

What’s going on with you? Anything new this Sunday? How is your writing going, for the writers out there? Let me know in the comments…especially about the car oddity.

Where Can We Be Safe? #Updated

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Update #1: There was a mass shooting this afternoon — no deaths yet reported — at Graceland Cemetery in Racine, WI (where I live). No reason given yet, though the man who was being buried (Da’Shontay “Day Day” King) had apparently fled the police and been shot due to the pursuit.

Why anyone would want to shoot these mourners is beyond me.

In addition, as the names of the victims of the Tulsa Shooting have been released, I wanted to give a link about that. Four people died, including a pioneering Black orthopedic surgeon, Preston J. Phillips; Amanda Glenn, a devoted mother, wife, and also a receptionist; Stephanie Husen, another doctor known in the community as kind and caring; and a retired Army First Sergeant, William Love.

I have to mention two things. Dr. Husen had a devoted canine companion that is not going to understand what’s happened to his loving owner. I hope the dog finds a new forever home in honor of his brave owner. The second is this: William Love was 73. He was with his wife of fifty-five years (they married in 1967) when the gunman rushed in. He first held the door closed so his wife could get out safely, then confronted the gunman.

This meant until the end of his life, he remembered what he’d been taught in the Army.

All honor to him. All blessings to his widow.

Now to the original post, already in progress:

#

Folks, once again in the United States, we’ve had another mass shooting. This time, it was in a medical clinic, because (apparently) the shooter was upset that he still had pain from a surgery in mid-May of this year. The doctor (again, apparently) hadn’t been responsive to the shooter’s pain issues, so the solution for the shooter was this: Shoot the doctor. Shoot another doctor. Shoot the receptionist. Wound a whole bunch of other people. And then shoot himself stone cold dead.

So, let me get this straight. We’ve had shootings in the following places in the last decade: Temples of worship, churches, mosques, supermarkets, concerts (the Las Vegas country music festival comes to mind), outside basketball games (the shooting of 21 people in Milwaukee a few weeks ago comes to mind), movie theatres. People have been shot in their cars and in their homes. People have been shot in assisted living situations and in senior housing, too. There have even been shootings on buses and a few on subway platforms in the past few years. And, of course, there have been the senseless deaths at colleges, universities, and other schools, including the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas, at an elementary school.

With all of that, I ask this question: Where can we feel safe?

Recently, I played a concert with the Racine Concert Band in a church. (Beautiful church, too.) It’s our 100th anniversary, and we’ve played free concerts in the Racine Zoo or elsewhere during all of that time. It’s certainly a setting where you’d never expect a gunman with a pistol and some sort of rifle (as this shooter at the medical clinic had today).

But as much as I enjoyed playing my saxophone with the band, I still was wary as I got out of my car and went into the building. I kept scanning the audience to make sure there wasn’t anyone suspicious or out to make trouble. (I’ve never done this before while playing a concert. Occasionally, I’ve done it in other places.) And I was glad to get through the concert, not just because we as a group played well (and I didn’t muff an extended solo as I’d feared), but because we hadn’t had our activity marred by senseless violence.

Why must we feel this way in the United States of America? Why is it that I feel as if we got lucky because there wasn’t any senseless violence where we were?

Are we as a band supposed to have armed guards around us to protect us as we play?

(If so, we won’t be playing any free concerts again anytime soon. Armed guards are expensive.)

Before anyone says this, I will: I realize that all life is risk. Every time you step outside, you are risking something. (Brushing against poison ivy or poison oak, for example. Or getting stung by a bee, which would be very bad in my case as I am deathly allergic.) Every time you get into a vehicle, you are risking your life to a degree because you can’t fully predict what other drivers will do.

Those, however, are manageable risks. They are known risks. You can, to a large degree, compensate for them.

With all of these shootings in all of these various places, they were not manageable risks. The Las Vegas shooter used a sniper rifle to kill people from a hotel room high above the festival. The recent shooting at the Buffalo supermarket was made by someone who was a racist and who wanted to kill Black people, and had scoped the area out with pre-planning. (That guy may have been evil, but he was not stupid. He didn’t even live in Buffalo, so how could anyone have predicted he’d do this?) The shootings in El Paso, Texas, a few years back, were also done by a racist who wanted to kill Latinos, and he, too, like the Buffalo gunman, didn’t live in the area and had driven from hours away to murder people for no good reason.

These gunmen were not on anyone’s radar, either, even though coworkers had mentioned that the killer of children and teachers in Uvalde recently had the nickname of “serial killer” at work. He was said to be a scary person, someone you didn’t want to cross. He also had discussed his plans with several young women online, but they didn’t tell anyone because they thought “this is just how guys are, always bragging themselves up.” (That last is a paraphrase of several comments I’ve read, and is not an exact quote.)

There is an argument in all of these shootings that they come from a culture known as “toxic masculinity.” That is, these are men (or in some cases, teenage men) who firmly believe they are right, everyone else is wrong, and because they are the “man,” they get to make the rules even if they’re against society’s covenant.

(Yes, I know this isn’t the way “toxic masculinity” is usually described, but it’s the way I think of it. I defined it this way because most men do not think this way. Thank goodness. Moving on…)

Personally, I think this is happening for three reasons. The first is because so many other shooters have gotten away with their violence in the moment that it’s emboldened other domestic terrorists to do the same. (This is one reason why I refuse to name any gunman at my blog.) The second is because local, state, and federal governments have refused to do anything — or in some cases have been blocked from doing anything — to protect people from deranged shooters. This includes prevention and identifying suspects and realizing that at least half of the domestic terrorists in the above cases were men below the age of twenty-five. (Somehow, the local, state, and federal officials need to figure out who these bad apples are and stop them before they do anything remotely like the horrid acts I’ve listed above.) The third is because people are apathetic and believe nothing can or will be done, because our politicians have made it so.

As I said, I don’t have the answers. I just have the questions.

Now, folks, you have the floor: What do you think? What can be done other than perhaps beefing up budgets to deal with people who are obviously deranged and having some sort of awareness campaign so young people will understand that a guy with the nickname of “serial killer” is not normal?

P.S. Before I end this blog, I also want to point out that most police officers, sheriff’s deputies, federal and state law enforcement, and other personnel are good people. They do the best they can with the limited resources they have. Usually, these folks are maligned when something awful happens (sometimes rightfully — at least, so it seems — as in Uvalde), but they’re the first line of defense. They should be appreciated as much as possible rather than denigrated or besmirched. They stop many bad things from happening that most of us never hear about. Which means things might be even worse without their help…awful as that seems, considering how bad it is already.

Sunday Musings: The Empathy Gap

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Recently, I’ve thought a great deal about one thing. Empathy.

Why? Well, the United States, as a country, don’t seem to be showing a lot of it lately.

Whether it’s because of how individuals have handled Covid-19, or because of the ascension of politicians with more mouth than brain (including current US Reps Marjorie Taylor Greene and Nicole Boebert), it seems trendy now to behave badly and blame it on someone else.

I read a lengthy article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently about this very thing. (I am not linking to it because it was for “subscribers only,” meaning unless you have a subscription, they won’t let you see it.) It talked about the differences between what good, empathetic behavior is and bad behavior, and discussed how two decades — the 1970s, or “Me Decade,” and the 1980s, or the “Greed is Good” Decade — have changed public discourse for the worse.

I’m not sure it was just because of those two decades, mind you. But it is possible that folks who were born in those decades changed their parenting style, and their kids grew up with fewer “guard rails” against bad behavior along with perhaps lesser consequences for said bad behavior.

I think most of us have seen someone treated badly because of Covid-19. Whether it’s a customer cussing out a store employee for wearing a mask (as they mostly have had to do due to local or state regulations), someone being happy that another person who’s died because they didn’t get the vaccine and felt they wouldn’t get sick (schadenfreude, in other words), or a store employee (in a state/county that does not require masks) ask someone to remove their mask because said store employee didn’t like it, there seems to be very little tolerance for any behavior besides one’s own.

I have a very good friend who went to the post office recently where she lives. The clerk there is an anti-masker and possibly also an anti-vaxxer and complained when my friend (who is immunocompromised) did not remove her mask after she was asked. She explained this, but the clerk did not care. It was all she could do to stay in the post office until her business was done due to being so upset.

I have another friend who lives in Florida. He is also immunocompromised, but his doctors believe he should not be vaccinated. (I’m not sure why.) He has kept himself from just about everyone now for almost three years. It’s been a tough life, as he is gregarious and loves to talk with people about just about anything. But he’s risking his life with or without a mask, and as he lives in Florida — where people have disdained wearing masks even at the worst of the Covid-19 breakout stages — he sees no other way but to stay home, live quietly, and hope Covid goes away.

Other than the nurse who comes in to give him treatments, he sees no one. He hears many, mind, as there are people roundly cursing each other out at his apartment complex at all hours. (That we’re all under much more stress due to Covid is a given, granted.) But he sees no one.

There hasn’t been anyone to bring him food, or talk to him outside (making sure there’s no one around at the time so it’ll be safe for him, with a mask if he wants one, to do that), or do any of the small, kind human gestures that show empathy for someone who’s suffering, much less through no fault of his own.

(He lives too far away for me to help, or I’d have already visited. But I digress.)

I could give more examples, but I’ll stop there because I think my point’s been made.

You, as an individual person, should be free to lead your life any way you see fit. But you also should not be rude to someone who needs a mask even if mask mandates have been relaxed; you should not be rude to someone because her autistic son cannot wear a mask; you should not be rude to someone, like me, who has asthma and has great difficulty and distress wearing a mask but tries anyway because of two parents “of a certain age.” You also should not be so rude as to say, “I’m glad he’s dead” when you hear of a prominent anti-vaxxer dying due to Covid.

Why has it become so controversial to say these things, anyway? (To say what I just said, mind. Not to be outright rude, which seems perfectly fine to many for reasons I just don’t understand.) Why must empathy now be politicized, as if it’s something bad to actually care about others?

What I want this Sunday — not to mention every single day of my life — is for everyone to take a moment and step back. Realize that we are all human. We are all deserving of care, empathy, trust, and love. And we should start to show the best of ourselves to others, quietly, not as an Instragrammable moment but because our shared humanity deserves that.

If we can do that, the world will become a much better place.

More Authors and Books for My “Best of Fantasy” List

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Folks, I wrote a blog two days ago about the very odd and unrepresentative “50 Best Fantasy Books” list from Esquire magazine. Those fifty books were closer to “50 Best Right Now” than anything else, but even there, I didn’t find most of them to be of lasting interest.

While there’s one or two I would still like to read, I can tell you for a fact that I’ve tried at least six of the novels I didn’t think were among the “50 Best Fantasy Books” of all time. (No, I won’t tell you which ones.)

Also, every list is subjective, and every list is going to leave someone out who deserves to be there.

That said, I had some more thoughts, and wanted to put them down. (If you haven’t yet read my earlier blog, here’s the link to it.)

The first author that came to mind when I woke up yesterday that I’d forgotten to add was Elizabeth Moon. Her writing is stellar, and her first three books about Paksenarrion, had she written nothing else, would’ve been more than enough to put her on this list.

The next one I forgot to add was Jack L. Chalker, who wrote Midnight at the Well of Souls and The Return of Nathan Brazil, among others. He also wrote a stellar short story called “Dance Band on the Titanic” that I urge you to read, if you haven’t already. (I didn’t find a link to it on Amazon, but it is available in public libraries as “Dance Band on the Titanic and Other Stories.”)

I mentioned Jack Vance in my comments underneath my previous blog, but I wanted to talk a bit more about him here. Vance was a prolific storyteller in the “Grand Old Man” mode. His first novel, The Dying Earth, was considered ground-breaking in its time. But the easiest way to get to know Jack Vance’s work is with The Jack Vance Treasury, which collects a number of his stories and is a good representation of what he was about as a writer.

The one thing I’d like modern readers to keep aware of is this: Vance was a product of his time. This means he didn’t have as many women in these stories, and most of the women who you will meet there are not protagonists or antagonists, but rather meant as set pieces to better limn the background for the purposes of authenticity.

Anyway, I had mentioned Clifford Simak at some point when I was discussing this with my friends (I still can’t get over how deeply unrepresentative that Esquire list was for the history of SF&F; it’s almost as if they wanted to say that SF&F started last year, and here are the books that appealed to them). Simak was an enormously talented writer, and he wrote several books and oodles of short stories that still speak to me today. The book I liked the most when I was younger was City, about a race of canines telling stories about their forefathers, known as “men.” I also like his short stories, and have been intrigued by another of his novels, Time is the Simplest Thing, about a telepath on the run from corruption and greed (among other things).

Then there is C.M. Kornbluth, who also was not mentioned by Esquire. Kornbluth is one of the most iconic and quirky writers SF&F has ever had, and if you ever read any stories by him, even if co-authored with someone else like Judith Merril or Frederik Pohl, you’ll most likely remember them. They are full of imagery that sticks with you long after the reading is done.

My recommendation is to take a look at this short story collection, edited by Pohl, as it should give you a good idea what Kornbluth was all about.

I’d mentioned David Weber and David Drake yesterday in my comments, and wanted to add them to the list.

Weber hasn’t written a ton of fantasy, but what he has written is excellent. (My late husband loved Weber’s writing, including the long-running Honor Harrington series, which is space opera at its best.) Weber’s War Gods series starts with Oath of Swords (which is absolutely free; you can’t do better than that), and will introduce you to Bahzell, a most unusual warrior who keeps getting into scrapes and is a gruff man with a good heart who’s been badly misunderstood by most (including himself) for years.

As for Drake, he has a wonderful book called Old Nathan (which again is absolutely free) which is about a man who’s both woodsman and wizard, defending humanity as best he might during a series of travails that both horrify and delight. Drake is better known for “Hammer’s Slammers” and the space opera series about Lt. Leary (who, of course, grows in rank and abilities, as good officers do in real life). Drake is every bit as good of a writer of fantasy as he is of space opera and science fiction, and I think you’ll enjoy his writing.

At any rate, these are the authors that came to mind that needed to be added. There are more that I want to talk about, including Sharon Shinn, Leigh Brackett (a pioneer of SF&F, and one of the first women writers of same), additional books by Rosemary Edghill and Katharine Eliska Kimbriel I want you to take a gander at…so, I’m going to list some of the books of these folks below, in the hopes that you’ll find yourself a new favorite author or three.

Sharon Shinn’s books include Archangel, The Shape-Changer’s Wife, and Jenna Starborn. Everything I’ve read by her — and I’ve tried to read it all — is worthy, interesting, and moving.

Rosemary Edghill’s classic Hellflower (first book in the Hellflower trilogy) has recently been reissued as an ebook. While it’s not fantasy — it is SF — it deserves to be on this list as it’s something I picked up as soon as it was back out and available. (Now I’m savoring it, like fine wine.) Everything about this book screams of authenticity, and if you don’t take to the heroine Butterfly (short for Butterflies-Are-Free-Peace-Sincere), I’ll be astonished.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has six novels out. Three are in the Night Calls series (I mentioned Night Calls yesterday), while three are in the Chronicles of Nuala space opera/SF/spiritual series. The first book of the latter is Fires of Nuala, and I urge you to read it.

Kimbriel’s work in the Nuala series reminded me of Dune by Frank Herbert. (Yes, that’s another novel that should be on that Esquire list but wasn’t.) It is complex, multi-layered, and very well thought-out.

Leigh Brackett was one of SF&F’s pioneers, as I said before, and was so prescient she wrote a book about a post-nuclear holocaust America in 1955. This book is called The Long Tomorrow.

And I just thought of another fine writer not mentioned by Esquire, that being C.J. Cherryh. I read Downbelow Station when I was a teenager and enjoyed it so much I looked up everything else Ms. Cherryh had available at the time. Over the years, whenever I’ve seen her books (in the library, or when I’ve had enough money to buy one), I’ve done my best to pick them up, read, and recommend to others.

That brings me to another writer I absolutely adore, Janet Kagan. Ms. Kagan put out two original novels, Hellspark and Mirabile, and one Star Trek novel (Uhura’s Song) along with a number of short stories. Hellspark is notable because it discusses kinesiology as well as verbal tics/styles (to speak another language well, you must know how people who speak that language move). Uhura’s Song is just plain fun (and is only ninety-nine cents right now).

That brings to mind another writer that I very much appreciate, that being John M. Ford. The Dragon Waiting was perhaps his best-known book, but I learned about him mostly because I read The Final Reflection (along with Uhura’s Song and Diane Duane’s My Enemy, My Ally and The Wounded Sky, those being excellent representations of SF in their own right).

And speaking of Ms. Duane, what on Earth was Esquire about to leave her out of the mix for classic fantasy? Her Door into Fire and Door into Shadow featured LGBTQ protagonists at a time most people didn’t want to talk about it, with well-defined characters, deadly and difficult situations, and much derring-do done quite well. But most people know her more for the Young Wizards series, which starts with So You Want to Be a Wizard.

My favorite book of hers is called Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses. It’s a great book about various Earths, justice, humanity in all its forms, and peace.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll think of some more writers after I finish this blog, but these additions should keep you interested. (I hope?)

Let me know who else I forgot, and I’ll do my best to add to the list in another blog.

My Thoughts Regarding Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

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Folks, I am not an international relations expert. But I have thoughts regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and wanted to share them.

First, the fact that Russia’s invaded Ukraine at all (beyond the war they’ve had with the eastern provinces for the past eight years) is so awful, I have no words for it. Even the word “reprehensible” isn’t strong enough.

I’ve heard some people say that since Russia had been fighting with Ukraine over those eastern provinces for eight years that this shouldn’t be a surprise. Perhaps not. But it still was, and I still don’t understand it.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, said something about the need to get rid of Nazis in the Ukraine. That was his reason for going in there, officially, as best I can tell.

My second point is this: as far as I know, there are no Nazis in Ukraine. Period.

Now, are there fascists there? Possibly, because fascism is on the rise worldwide. But are fascists in control of Ukraine? No.

My third point is, I have both read about and seen the stiff resistance the Ukrainians are giving Russian troops. I’m very glad they’re fighting for their country. And I’m also glad they’re so far keeping Russia from taking Ukraine as easily as they’d wanted to (and probably hoped).

But it is all so very sad. People are dying who didn’t need to. People are having to take on roles they’d never thought about. Dancers are now shooting guns. Musicians are now laying mines. Bridges are getting blown up. And every available person from teenage years to sixty are now doing everything they can to stay alive and push Russia back out of their country.

My fourth point is this: Russia is a huge country. Ukraine, geographically, is not. But so far, little-by-comparison Ukraine has given Russia a big black eye.

I keep trying to parse the conflict, and these are the only things that come to mind to say at this time.

Oh, yes…except for this: We in the United States once fought for our country against oppressors. I hope we can send Ukraine some sort of help, even if it’s just additional weapons and/or ammo, as I can’t see Putin or the Russians stopping with just Ukraine. (Can you?)

What are your thoughts on Ukraine? Let me know, if you would…I’m tired of the talking heads on TV being the only ones discussing this, and would like some other thoughts beyond “this is terrible” and “if it bleeds, it leads.”

Figure Skating’s Black Eye, 2022 Edition

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Folks, I’ve written about figure skating before. I love the sport. At it’s best, it can be both artistic and athletic; it also can transport in the same way as music, dance, or literature.

So I don’t enjoy writing posts like this. But it must be said.

Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, who’s all of fifteen, failed a recent drug test before the Olympics started. However, this only came out in the past week.

After several days of dithering, the various places that debate such things — as a fifteen-year-old has less responsibility by rule, apparently, than an older person — have decided that she should still be allowed to continue to skate at the Olympics despite her failed drug test.

Now, Ms. Valieva is the best female skater in the world at the present time. She has a few quadruple jumps — four revolutions in the air after takeoff — and is also excellent artistically. She’s someone who doesn’t need to cheat, in other words, and when the word came out about her positive drug test, most people were shocked.

The drug she tested positive for is a heart medication. She’s fifteen and does not need this medication. Supposedly, taking it will give her greater endurance than someone who isn’t.

Have I mentioned yet that she doesn’t need to cheat?

Anyway, her coach, who I will not name as I am disgusted with her, is known for pushing her young athletes too hard. The young Russian skaters basically are used up in four or five years. They have multiple injuries and skate anyway. Some, including Julia Lipnitskaya, end up retiring in their teens with numerous bone breaks. Lipnitskaya herself, along with the bone breaks, also has apparently had depression and a serious eating disorder. (The heavier you are, the more difficult it is to jump. That’s the excuse given to force these young skaters to eat almost nothing; that it is true at base, but wrong as we all need to eat, just makes me even angrier.)

Quite a number of athletes, including former US figure skaters (and Olympians) Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski (herself a former Olympic gold medalist), have come out and said this decision is flat-out wrong.

See, Russia, in general, has had doping scandals before. That’s why Russia, the country, is not allowed to compete. Instead, it’s the “Russian Olympic Committee” that’s competing.

Same coaches. Same skaters. Different name.

And, unfortunately, the same old outcome, which is this: Ms. Valieva gets to skate, will almost certainly win the gold medal, and her other Russian compatriots — also very young, with quadruple jumps in their skating “arsenal” — will probably be second and third.

That is not right. That is not just. And it should not be allowed to stand.

It cheapens the sport of figure skating. It cheapens the entire Olympics.

And it does look, as track athlete Sha’Carri Richardson said today on CBS TV, as if there is a different standard for Caucasian athletes than Black ones. (She was held out of the Olympics for testing positive for marijuana. That’s not a performance enhancer in any way. She had extenuating circumstances in that her mother died, and she was grieving, and she smoked around that time. It didn’t matter; she was out of the Olympics.)

So, where is the justice here? I, for one, don’t see it.

I have sympathy for Ms. Valieva. She is young. And I’m sure that she didn’t cheat on purpose.

That said, she still cheated, and she should still be out of the Olympics.

Anything else is flat-out wrong.

Had a Covid-19 Scare, but I’m Fine

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Folks, last week I was preparing to play a concert with the Racine Concert Band. I was looking forward to the concert (which was held this past Saturday evening) as it was going to be the first time I’d played in a concert since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, my health did something weird. I ended up going in to urgent care, and they thought it was Covid-19. They tested me…

And I’m fine. I do not have Covid. (Whew!)

However, I still did not play the concert as I missed the two rehearsals beforehand due to the medical scare. I felt awful, missing out on the concert as I did.

That said, I did the best I could with the information I had. (Sometimes, adulting is hard.)

Right now, if you get a fever, or chills, or in my case, both, any reasonable person has to assume they have Covid until it’s proven otherwise. (Unless your state or country doesn’t have that much of a problem with Covid, of course. Right now, all of Wisconsin’s counties have a big problem with it.)

And yes, I’ve done everything right. I’ve gotten the two vaccinations. I’ve had the vaccination booster shot. I wear masks when I go anywhere outside of my car or my parents’ homes. (I have to take my rescue inhaler far more often with a mask on than without it, as I am asthmatic, but I still wear the masks as long as I can.)

Still. The point remains, I will not give someone else Covid if I can help it.

There are folks out there who do not believe Covid is that big of a deal. I have to say I don’t understand that. Even if you just — just! — see this as akin to a bad case of the seasonal flu, the seasonal flu can kill you. (It most often kills those with depressed immune systems — immunocompromised — or the very young or the very old, granted.)

As I’ve said all along, I hate wearing masks. I don’t know how much good a normal mask does. (A N-95 or a Korean N-94 is different, but I can wear them for even less time than a more normal medical-type mask.) But I do know that at the beginning of the re-opening after the first pandemic shutdown, two hairstylists (I think in the South somewhere) went to work not knowing they had Covid. They cut several people’s hair that day, and neither of them gave Covid to anyone else.

(That’s the main reason I keep trying to wear my mask. But I digress.)

Anyway, the point of this blog is that I do not have Covid. I am very, very glad not to have Covid. I hope I never do get Covid, because I’ve worried all along about my parents and friends, and I do not want to spread Covid to them or anyone else.

Have any of you had any issues with regards to Covid? Are you as worried about it as I am? If not, why not? (Aside from politics, that is. I still don’t know how politics got messed up in medical care.) Please tell me how you feel in the comments.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 31, 2022 at 6:50 am

Time to Heal…

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Folks, I’m glad to finally be able to tell you that I think I’m on the mend.

Note that I said “I think,” because I’ve had health reversals before. Still, I am hopeful that I’m not speaking too soon, as I now have antibiotics and steroids and feel much clearer of mind. (Thus, the hope is that I’ll be sounder of body soon as well.)

How did this happen? Well, yesterday I marched into urgent care, and told ’em that I felt like I was getting weaker and weaker, and sicker and sicker. I also had a temperature, which is very rare for me; it was 99.8 F when I went in there and it was 99.4 on the way out. As my normal temp is lower than most people’s, this was almost shocking. (To them as well, as they’ve seen me a lot in the last two years.)

I have another sinus infection.

It’s frustrating that this one got so bad, especially since I’ve been trying to take care of my health. I did call my doctors, but every single one said I needed someone else to make the call. Only the ENT doctor was willing to try to get me an appointment, and he didn’t have one until after the first of the year. (I took it.)

That said, I now have medication that has helped — after only one day — to clear my mind significantly, as I said before.

The other problem I had yesterday was that my phone’s battery was low even though I’d charged it before leaving the house. I was supposed to take my mother to a dental appointment. She needed this. Unfortunately, I had zero bars, and the phone was just barely working. Text takes less energy than a phone call, so I sent her several texts.

And, of course, she did not get them in a timely manner.

I feel very bad about this. But I don’t think I could have done anything else.

She did call me, but I was waiting for medication at that time and the phone was still low battery anyway. I didn’t see that she’d actually called until I got back home and was charging the phone. At that point I called and left her a voicemail.

That I was not able to help my mother saddens me greatly. That I couldn’t reach her due to technical problems to do with my very old phone (at least eight years old, and a flip-phone; the cellular carrier has said it must be upgraded next year) is extremely frustrating.

I don’t blame her for being furious.

Anyway, that is all I know. (Time to heal, I guess.)

Have you ever been failed by technology? Or had to work through months of illness? Tell me about it in the comments! (I hope you’re reading out there…)

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 16, 2021 at 11:50 am