I often get a book based on cover art. That’s not all of course, but if the art attracts me immediately, there’s a good chance it will go home with me. I’ve often found that writers who really care about the cover art portraying the essence of their art tend to be good ones. I haven’t read anything else by Jeff Vandermeer. After the cover art, I was intrigued by the premise. I haven’t gotten to this one yet, still on The Emperor of All Maladies.

“Once upon a time there was a piece of biotech that grew and grew until it had its own apartment”: an odd, atmospheric, and decidedly dark fable for our time.


Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.

You can read the full Kirkus Review here.

Colour In The Middle Ages.

The month of May from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – three young women are dressed in green.

The month of May from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry – three young women are dressed in green.

Medievalists has a fun article up about colour. Me, I’m all about the red first. Black second. I was rather delighted to find out I’d be an evil knight. :D Some interestin’ bits:

Medieval scholars inherited the idea from ancient times that there were seven colors: white, yellow, red, green, blue, purple and black. Green was the middle color, which meant that it sat balanced between the extremes of white and black. It was also considered a soothing color, so much so that scribes often kept emeralds and other green objects beside them to look at when they needed to rest their eyes, while the poet Baudri de Bourgueil suggested writing on green tablets instead of white or black ones.

I wouldn’t mind keeping a few emeralds around…

Arthurian romances, one of the most popular forms of literature in the High Middle Ages, often made symbolic use of color, especially in the depiction of knights. Pastoureau writes:

The color code was recurrent and meaningful. A black knight was almost a character of primary importance (Tristan, Lancelot, Gawain) who wanted to hide his identity; he was generally motivated by good intentions and prepared to demonstrate his valor, especially by jousting or tournament. A red knight, on the other hand, was often hostile to the hero; this was a perfidious or evil knight, sometimes the devil’s envoy or a mysterious being from the Other World. Less prominent, a white knight was generally viewed as good; this was an older figure, a friend of protector or the hero, to who he gave wise council. Conversely, a green knight was a young knight, recently dubbed, whose audacious or insolent behavior was going to cause great disorder; he could be good or bad. Finally, yellow or gold knights were rare and blue knights nonexistent.

There’s also the mystery of why the colour blue took so very long to show up, and much more.

Michel Pastoureau has written extensively about symbolism and colors in the Middle Ages. His series A History of a Color, has four books that have been translated into English – Black, Blue, Green and Red.

I’ve already tracked these down at B&N and put my order in! :D Not only a lovely little history, but a nice read, and fun resource for artists. You can read everything at


Marcus was thoughtful enough to send me The Emperor of All Maladies, which I had meant to get months ago, but with everything going on, it slipped the brain. I was barely into the book, tears in my eyes, thinking “yep, yep, yep” and identifying with so much. It’s a truly riveting narrative, and it’s what the very best books always are – an opportunity to learn.

One thing which really struck deeply home was when the author talked about how it’s difficult to think of cancer as a thing, it’s more on the person side, and that’s so true. I don’t think of my cancer as random cells happily cloning and evolving at the expense of the rest of me; I don’t think of it as a nebulous disease; I don’t think of it as a thing. It’s more like you separate, and there’s a shadowy self staring you down, a dark charcoal swipe of a doppelgänger, challenging you to wage war for your life, and cancer cells are much better at the whole evolution business than we are, which is why you get poisoned and radiated to what feels like an inch from death. All that said, and given the recent nightmare of treatment, I found myself profoundly grateful for the current stage of medical and technological advance when I read this:

The sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré described charring tumors with a soldering iron heated on coals, or chemically searing them with a paste of sulfuric acid. Even a small nick in the skin, treated thus, could quickly suppurate into a lethal infection. The tumors would often profusely bleed at the slightest provocation.

Lorenz Heister, and eighteenth-century German physician, once described a mastectomy in his clinic as if it were a sacrificial ritual: “Many females can stand the operation with the greatest courage and without hardly moaning at all. Others, however, make such a clamor that they may dishearten even the most undaunted surgeon and hinder the operation. To perform the operation, the surgeon should be steadfast and not allow himself to become discomforted by the cries of the patient.”

I’d dearly like to be able to go back in time and smack the fuck out of Heister, and a host of others. Misogyny seriously sucks, and boy, is it ever present in cancer treatment. It’s certainly lessened a great deal, but it’s still more than present. Sigh.

Anyroad, highly recommended, for everyone.

ETA: Feeling better, got my anger and FUCK ITs back. Yeah.

Word Wednesday.



1: overtaken by darkness or night.

2: existing in a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness: unenlightened.

-benightedly, adverb.

-benightedness, noun.

(15th Century).

“Yes, she did sing,” he said, “but only as a stand-in, an understudy, a second-best, and she couldn’t bear it, she needed her big break. She was mortally jealous of Sophia. So she pushed her luck, she got her poor benighted brother to attack Sophia, so that she would be able to take her place on stage, a simple idea.” – The Three Evangelists, Fred Vargas.

Word Wednesday.



A woman who is a sutler.*

[Origin: French, feminine of vivandier sutler, from Old French, hospitable man, alteration of viandier, from viande, viaunde item of food.]


*Sutler, noun: a civilian provisioner to an army post often with a shop on the post.

[Origin: obsolete Dutch soeteler, from Low German suteler sloppy worker, camp cook.]


“Agnes turned to the gray-haired woman who was limping toward her. Despite her fifty years, and her slightly stooped gait, Mother Barbara still cut an impressive figure. Her eyes were bright as those of a girl of twenty, and she combed her ample, should-length hair every morning. She had once been the most beautiful whore in the baggage train, but then an intoxicated landsknecht had broken both her legs in a fight, and now she earned her living as a vivandière.” The Castle of Kings, Oliver Pötzsch.

¹ You can read more about vivandières and Cantinières here, and it’s fascinating reading.

Word Wednesday.

Vixen / Gambol / Blithe

Vixen, noun.

1: a shrewish ill-tempered woman.

2: a female fox.

3: a sexually attractive woman.

-vixenish, adjective.

[Origin: Middle English (Southern dialect) *vixen, alteration of Middle English fixen, from Old English fyxe, feminine of fox.]


“The Fox was just that, a monstrous fox: five hundredweight or more of tense power, quick as an arrow, straight as a javelin, bright as a new-polished sword-blade, and female as Eve; Hob could see immediately that it was a vixen. Tall and deadly and graceful: the Goddess of the Foxes.”

Gambol, intransitive verb -boled or -bolled; -boling or -bolling. To skip about in play, to frisk, frolic.

Gambol, noun: a skipping or leaping about in play.

[Origin: modification of Middle French gambade spring of a horse, gambol, probably from Old Occitan camba leg, from Late Latin.]


“Through Hob’s frozen terror a thought came faintly to him: it was gamboling, it was playing at slaughter.”

Blithe, adjective.

1: of a happy lighthearted character or disposition.

2: lacking due thought or consideration: casual, heedless: blithe unconcern.

-blithely, adverb.

[Origin: Middle English, from Old English blīthe; akin to Old High German Blīdi joyous.]

(Before 12th Century)

“The Fox sprang from place to place, blithe as a new lamb, and each leap left a mortally wounded man behind. Now and again it would pause to survey its accomplishments, and then the crimson tongue would loll out over serried teeth, and Hob felt that it was laughing.”

All from Something Red, by Douglas Nicholas.

Word Wednesday.

Scapegrace / Lucubrations / Odium

Scapegrace, noun: an incorrigible rascal; a habitually unscrupulous person; a complete rogue.


“In 1890 and 1891, the scapegrace Walter James Chadwick lived in Hulme, Manchester.”

Lucubration, noun: laborious or intensive study; also: the product of such study, usually used in the plural.

[Origin: Latin lucubration-, lucubratio study by night, work produced at night, from lucubrare to work by lamplight; akin to Latin luc-, lux.]

“There were some initial police lucubrations that it might not be a case of murder at all, since the drunk Annie Yates might have slipped and struck her head against the furniture; when she wanted to bandage her wound with the towel, she had passed out, and been suffocated by the towel slipping over her nose and mouth.”


Odium, noun.

1: the state or fact of being subjected to hatred and contempt as a result of a despicable act or blameworthy circumstance.

2: hatred and condemnation accompanied by loathing or contempt: detestation.

3: disrepute or infamy attached to something: opprobrium.

[Origin: Latin, hatred, from odisse to hate; akin to Old English atol terrible, Greek odyssasthai to be angry.]


“Two professional translators were employed to prepare French and German versions of the police placard, for insertion in the main newspapers of those countries; there was odium when the German version was found to contain a long list of linguistic lapses, and Dr. Althschul, the professional translator, had to submit a ten-page memorandum in his defence, saying that it was all just jealousy from colleagues who envied his position.”

All from Rivals of the Ripper: Unsolved Murders of Women in Late Victorian London, Jan Bondeson.

Poe: Colour Plate 8.

The Illustrations to Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edgar Allen Poe, by Harry Clarke, 1919.  Click for full size. There will be a break from here to the next set of Horton; I apologize, but my schedule is bordering crazy right now, and it’s going to get much worse over the next couple of weeks. I simply have had not had enough time to get the Andersen fairy tales set up, because like the Poe, I had to buy the books so I could relate the images to the proper story, and I need time to do all that. I’ll do my best to pull myself together over the weekend.


The latest book in Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series is out, as is the second book in Neal Shusterman’s Scythe series. I had only mentioned Cogman’s book in a thread it seems. If you haven’t picked up the series, I recommend it. Cogman has the gift of good storytelling, and there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with good storytelling. The books are fast paced with intriguing characters, the principals being Irene, a librarian, her assistant Kai, a dragon, and Vale, a version of Sherlock Holmes on one of the alternate worlds. There is a nebulous, overarching villain of course, and plenty of minor villains to keep everyone busy trying to stay out of trouble. The Lost Plot is the fourth book, the first one is called The Invisible Library.