Sunday, May 9, 2021

Wealth is what we say it is.

My father was not a fan of President Franklin Roosevelt. I guess there was a lot he didn't agree with him on, but the thing I remember hearing most often is how FDR should have never taken the United States off the gold standard. That is, between 1879 and 1933, the dollar was backed by gold, the federal supply of which was famously held at Fort Knox in Kentucky. (The country's golden wealth nowadays is held in three locations: Fort Knox, Denver, and West Point, NY.) But in June 1933, Congress abolished the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. Severing the value of the US dollar from the price of gold allowed the Federal Reserve to inflate the money supply more easily, giving it another tool to fight inflation.  

Of course, the price of gold -- like that of any commodity -- is arbitrary. And to take the argument even further, the use of gold as a basis for measuring wealth is also arbitrary. We could have picked some other substance. Silver, maybe. Or something ancient societies used for trade -- like cacao beans.

Several weeks ago, I toured Chaco Culture National Historical Park. To say it's an amazing place is an understatement. The biggest ruin is Pueblo Bonito, which was built of adobe and was four stories high in places. Ancient Chacoans lived there, but most of the rooms were vacant most of the time. Our guide, who is Navajo and Zia Pueblo, suggested it might have been used as an inn, with many of the rooms only used by folks visiting for religious festivals and market days. 

On the cliff wall behind Pueblo Bonito -- just like at many sites around the Southwest -- are ancient pictographs (painted on) and petroglyphs (carved into the rock). Take a look at the petroglyph in the center of this photo -- the one with half-circles on either side of a vertical line: 

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
Looks kind of like a bug, right? That's what archaeologists thought it was. 

Well, in 2003, a researcher named Patricia Crown examined a cache of cylindrical pottery vessels found in the 1890s in one of the rooms in Pueblo Bonito. The Chacoan vessels had been dated to around 1100 CE, and it occurred to Crown that they were similar to vessels found at sites built by the ancient Mayans during their Classic period, around 900 CE. The Mayans used these vessels for drinking chocolate -- not hot chocolate as we know it today, but a fermented drink. Alcoholic, in other words. The source of the beverage was the same as our hot chocolate today, though: the cacao bean. Cacao beans grow on trees in pods. And take a look at how they grow:

Eric Freyssinge | Wikimedia Commons | CC4.0
Looks like that petroglyph, doesn't it? 

Crown had some potsherds of Pueblo Bonito vessels tested, and sure enough, traces of cacao turned up. Some ancient Chacoan had liked his fermented chocolate so much that he carved a cacao branch into the wall behind Pueblo Bonito.

It's about 1,200 miles from Chaco to the Mayans' cacao trees. But these two cultures were trading partners, and this happened hundreds of years before horses were introduced to the New World. Moreover, it's obvious that Mayan xocolatl would not have made the trip in its liquid state, so a Mayan must have taught a Chacoan how to grind the beans and make the drink, and then sent him home with a supply of beans -- for a price.

It turns out cacao was important to the Mayans as far back as 2000 BCE. Mayan kings used to pay their debts to one another in cacao beans.

So what valuable currency would the ancient Chacoans have traded for those yummy beans? Turquoise. There's a room in Pueblo Bonito that's referred to as the treasury, where archaeologists found a cache of turquoise beads. And some of the turquoise had been imported -- the closest turquoise mine to Chaco Canyon was in Cerrillos, NM, more than 150 miles away, but Chacoans also possessed turquoise mined in Colorado, Nevada and California.

But getting back to the chocolate: The ancient Mayans had a goddess named Ixcacao. She figures briefly in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation myth. (The author of the article at the link calls her Ixcocoa and, later, Ixcacau, but it's the same goddess.). 

The other thing about Mayan xocolotl is this: it's not sweet. Not at all. The Mayans would add chile to the drink to hide the bitter taste. That probably sounds kind of gross, but remember, this stuff was alcoholic. Lots of folks hate American beer because it's bitter, but they still drink it.

Anyway. Ancient Mayans used cacao as money; the ancient Celts used cows; we use paper and coins. Truly, wealth is what a society says it is.


How's your summer reading going? Don't forget about the contest. Here's a link to the reading list and the rules. 


These moments of chocolatey blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, social distance, and get your vaccine ASAP!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A summer reading list for you (with prizes).

First: Thanks very much to everyone who picked up a copy of The Payoff! You're all my new best friends. I know I always say that, but it's true for every book I release.

Second: You might have noticed, if you bought your copy within the past few days, that there are three editions of The Payoff available at Amazon: Kindle, paperback, and -- ta daaaa! -- hardcover. Now, this isn't a super-fancy hardcover with a dust jacket and stuff. But if you prefer hardcovers, the option is there for you.

I don't know that I'll be doing hardcover editions for my other titles. But if there's a particular novel of mine that you would like to have in hardcover, let me know and I'll see what I can do.


Third: My novels never take very long to read. And we have a long summer ahead of us, with at least a chunk of it still spent away from other folks. So I offer you a reading list.

This all started when I saw one too many iterations of the BBC's top 100 books on Facebook. These lists are always heavily weighted with hoary old tomes written by dead white guys. Plus the BBC always leans on British authors (as well they should, since they're based in London, but still). And then you have the other issue: not nearly enough speculative fiction entries. I'm defining speculative fiction as science fiction, fantasy, horror, and any combination, including all subgenres, thereof. (See the Venn diagram below.)

Anyway, I saw that list and I snapped. See, I have a lot of well-read friends who read speculative fiction all the time. And I was certain that if I asked around, I could come up with a list of 100 speculative fiction novels -- and not only that, but our list would be a whole lot more interesting and fun than the BBC's list.

So I took nominations and posted the list on Facebook. That drew more nominations, so I added them and posted it again -- which drew more nominations. We ended up with 147 entries for our list of top 100 speculative fiction novels. (Which reminded me of the marketing hook for Douglas Adams's So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: "the fourth book in the trilogy!" That trilogy, of course, was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which of course is on our list.) It's actually way more than 147 books, because I insisted on each series being one listing, or else we'd have gotten to 100 too fast. (I mean, if you count each of the 41 Discworld novels separately, you've got nearly half the list already.) 

Here's our list. And here's the best part: Just like the summer reading programs your library always runs, I'm going to award prizes! 

Rules for the hearth/myth Summer Reading Challenge:

1. The contest starts now and ends Saturday, September 4th, 2021.

2. Count how many books on the list you've read and either leave a comment here on the blog or email me at

3. The top six readers will get a thing from me. The grand prize will be a signed hardcover edition of The Payoff. The next five winners will get a Pipe Woman Chronicles mug from my Zazzle store (my choice of design, sorry).

4. You don't have to read them all this summer; if you've read the book in the past, count it.

5. If you've read a single book in a series, you may count the series. 

6. If you nominated books for the list, you may still participate in the contest.

7. The list is final until the after the contest is over. I'm not taking any more nominations. (You people...)

8. As always, the judge's decisions are arbitrary, capricious, and final.

I'll announce the winners on my blog on Sunday, September 5th. Get ready, get set - read!


Top 147 Speculative Fiction Novels, in no particular order (according to Lynne & Friends)

1. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson

3. Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

4. The Tooth Fairy – Graham Joyce

5. The Foundation series (7 books) – Isaac Asimov

6. The Robot series – Isaac Asimov

7. The Malazan Book of the Fallen – Stephen Erikson

8. Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

9. Dracula – Bram Stoker

10. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

11. The Inheritance Trilogy – N.K. Jemisen

12. The Broken Earth Trilogy – N.K. Jemisen

13. The Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

14. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

15. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury

16. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip José Farmer

17. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

18. Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut

19. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

20. War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

21. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

22. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

23. Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

24. Riftwar Saga – Raymond Feist

25. The Sun Wolf and Starhawk series – Barbara Hambly

26. The Darwath Trilogy – Barbara Hambly

27. Dragonsbane – Barbara Hambly

28. The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain

29. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank

30. Dune – Frank Herbert

31. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman

32. Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

33. Liveship Traders Trilogy – Robin Hobb

34. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin

35. Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. LeGuin

36. The Earthsea Cycle – Ursula K. LeGuin

37. Little, Big – John Crowley

38. Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente

39. Habitation of the Blessed series – Catherynne M. Valente

40. The Second Apocalypse – R. Scott Bakker

41. Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger

42. Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy – Cixin Liu

43. Culture Series – Iain M. Banks

44. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

45. A Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

46. Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya

47. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

48. Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin

49. Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel

50. The Tempest – Shakespeare

51. Lucifer’s Hammer – Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

52. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart

53. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr.

54. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula K. LeGuin

55. The Gate to Women’s Country – Sheri S. Tepper

56. Grass – Sheri S. Tepper

57. Cat’s Cradle – Vonnegut

58. A Wrinkle in Time – Madelaine L’Engle

59. Tales from the Arabian Nights 

60. The City and the City – China Miéville

61. The Wormwood Trilogy (Rosewater is book 1) – Tade Thompson

62. Books of Blood – Clive Barker

63. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

64. American Gods – Neil Gaiman 

65. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman

66. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

67. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

68. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

69. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

70. Neuromancer – William Gibson

71. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

72. New Crobuzon series (includes Perdido Street Station) – China Miéville

73. Black Leopard, Red Wolf – Marlon James

74. The Stand – Stephen King

75. Carrie – Stephen King

76. The Pern series – Anne McCaffrey

77. The Mirror – Marlys Milhiser

78. Among Others – Jo Walton

79. My Real Children – Jo Walton

80. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

81. The Mermaid’s Daughter – Ann Claycomb

82. Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold

83. The Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay

84. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

85. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson 

86. Grendel – John Gardner

87. Feed – Mira Grant (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire)

88. October Daye series – Seanan McGuire

89. Mercy Thompson series – Patricia Briggs

90. The Walker Papers series – C.E. Murphy

91. A Boy and His Dog – Harlan Ellison

92. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

93. Miss Luddington’s Sister – Edward Bellamy

94. Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process – Edward Bellamy

95. Outlander series – Diana Gabaldon

96. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

97. Discworld series – Terry Pratchett

98. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

99. Wanderers – Chuck Wendig

100. The Miriam Black series – Chuck Wendig

101. The Finishing School series – Gail Carriger

102. The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher

103. The Dresden Files series – Jim Butcher

104. The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

105. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

106. A Song of Ice and Fire – G.R.R. Martin

107. Mordant’s Need duology – Stephen R. Donaldson

108. The GAP books – Stephen R. Donaldson

109. Song for the Basilisk – Patricia A. McKillip

110. In the Forests of Serre – Patricia A. McKillip

111. Neverness series – David Zindell

112. The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny

113. Memoirs of an Invisible Man – H.F. Saint

114. The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

115. Hyperion – Dan Simmons

116. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand – Samuel R. Delany

117. Nova – Samuel R. Delany

118. Odd John – Olaf Stapledon

119. Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon

120. The Stars, My Destination – Alfred Bester

121. Magic Kingdom of Landover series – Terry Brooks

122. His Dark Materials series – Philip Pullman

123. The Thursday Next series – Jasper Fforde

124. The Athena Club series – Theodora Doss

125. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke

126. Rama series – Arthur C. Clarke

127. Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

128. The Prince of Nothing series – R. Scott Bakker

129. The Book of the New Sun series – Gene Wolfe

130. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

131. Watership Down – Richard Adams

132. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series – Douglas Adams

133. Radix Tetrad – A.A. Attanasio

134. Imperial Radch trilogy (book 1 is Ancillary Justice) – Ann Leckie

135. The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

136. The Uplift Saga – David Brin

137. The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

138. Gaea Trilogy – John Varley

139. Thunder and Lightning series – John Varley

140. Snowcrash – Neal Stephenson

141. Wool series – Hugh Howey

142. Demon Seed – Dean Koontz

143. Whispers – Dean Koontz

144. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

145. Mistborn series – Brandon Sanderson

146. Rivers of London series – Ben Aaronovitch

147. Kitty Norville series – Carrie Vaughn

These moments of reading-challenge blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who has read 89 entries already). Here's hoping that by the time the contest is over, we'll be back to normal. Get your vaccination ASAP!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Payoff: Patience rewarded.

The preorder is up and the wait is nearly over. The Payoff  goes live this Friday, April 30th. Thanks to all of you who have preordered already! I'm grateful to each and every one of you.

Cheetah 123 | Deposit Photos
Patience is a virtue, or so I've been told. We have all been forced to practice patience during this past year plus, waiting for our vaccinations to take effect and for the world to reopen. Some of us have been more gracious about this down time than others, it's true. But whether we grump or whine or take more drastic measures -- or sit back and resign ourselves to waiting -- it's all really just the way we choose to pass the time until the pandemic is over.

Even before the virus hit, we had a choice about how to react to waiting. There are all sorts of coping strategies available, from meditation to creative crafting to kickboxing. But really, the only thing that will fix the problem is the passage of time.

In The Payoff, Janis and Jan have had a lot of time to practice patience. Forty years, in fact. Raised together at a quasi-research facility called the Institute, they fell in love -- and then to protect themselves and each other from the woman who tormented them there, they split up. Four decades later, they have reunited to finally right the wrongs that were done to them all those years ago.

Seems like a ridiculously long time to wait, right? I received some similar complaints about Naomi Witherspoon's ten-year romance with Brock Holt in Seized. Why did she wait around so long for him to ask her to marry him? Why didn't she dump him when she realized he was a jerk? Well, to be honest, it was partly because that was the timeline that the story demanded. 

But the book's critics also didn't seem to want to give enough credit to inertia. You know, you're in this thing and it's not great, but it's really not that terrible if you squint just right, and you can manage it okay or anyway you tell yourself you can. And life happens and pretty soon you realize you've been with this guy for ten years and nothing's happening, and why is this owl dive-bombing you in downtown Denver?

Naomi was not so much practicing patience as she was practicing inattentiveness. She woke up pretty fast when Joseph showed up, though.

In The Payoff, Janis Fowler and Jan Marek are in a completely different situation. As children, they mentally granted outsized power to Dr. Tandy, who had total control over their lives. They weren't much more than children when they left the Institute -- they were certainly naive about how the world worked -- so they never had the chance that you and I have had, as adults, to recast our mental picture of the adults in our young lives as fallible people who don't control us any longer. And Jan had Seen that he and Janis would be reunited someday, and that would be the time they could finally give Tandy what she deserved. 

So they've waited. For forty years.

There are lots of true-life stories about couples who split up when they're young due to circumstances beyond their control and reunite decades later. Usually, in the meantime, they've gotten on with their lives: they've married somebody else, raised a family, worked, or gone to war. In these tales, when the couple gets back together again, they often find that while they're different people now than before they split, their reunion was worth the wait.

Janis and Jan seem to think their reunion was worth the wait. I'm hoping you, dear readers, will agree.

I don't have a link for the paperback edition yet. I'll share that next week. And not to be too much of a tease, but I might even have news about a special edition of The Payoff then, too. 

Sounds like it's a good week to practice patience. See you next Sunday.

These moments of impatient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! And get vaccinated when you can!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Payoff: Justice.

So here we are at week two of the big lead-up to the publication of The Payoff. Our target release date is Friday, April 30 -- less than two weeks from now. I do intend to put the book up for pre-order. I'll send out a newsletter as soon as it's available. (You say you're not on the list? I can fix that! Click here to sign up!) 

So what's this book about? Here you go:
Janis Fowler and Jan Marek grew up together, the only two students at the Institute, a research facility and school for children with paranormal abilities. Or so their parents were told. In reality, the Institute’s director, Dr. Denise Tandy, had her own plans for their talents – Janis can read a person’s past and Jan can see a person’s future – and when the kids resisted her, she was ruthless at getting them to comply.

At last, Janis and Jan escaped – and split up, knowing it was the only way to protect both themselves and each other. But they knew they would reunite someday, when they time was right. 

Forty years later, the time has come. Their old tormentor has turned up again. Her game is the same, but her newest ruse is more dangerous than ever. And she’s recruiting more victims.

Jan and Janis must use their powers to put an end to Dr. Tandy’s vile scheming – without risking each other. It’s a tall order for two people who have been hiding in plain sight for four decades. But with age comes wisdom. And they have waited long enough to see justice served.

As I said last week, justice is one of the three big themes of this book. The obvious association here is with punishment for criminal -- or at least unethical -- behavior. I don't want to venture into spoiler territory here, but Dr. Tandy deserves whatever Janis and Jan can dish up for her.

But it's not just punishment they're after. Janis's creed is that choices have consequences. She can read an individual's past. She knows the situations they have been in, and the choices they have made in those situations. For her and Jan, the future isn't predestined; rather, it's predictable, given the human propensity to do the same thing we did in a previous, similar situation, even if we didn't particularly like the result last time. Dr. Tandy has so far escaped any consequences for the way she treated Jan and Janis when they were children, and our heroes think it's high time she pay.

The usual symbol for justice is a set of scales, often held by a woman who also carries a sword. She is the Roman goddess Justitia, and her Greek antecedent is the goddess Themis. These days, Lady Justice also wears a blindfold, but that's a modern addition.

S. Hermann & F. Richter | Pixabay | CC0

In A Billion Gods and Goddesses, I talked about the pleasant fiction that the statue atop the U.S. Capitol represents freedom, when anyone with half a brain can see that she is Columbia, the goddess of the United States. It turns out Columbia isn't the only goddess in D.C.; Lady Justice is at home in the Supreme Court Building, and unlike Congress, the high court freely admits it. No fewer than three images of Lady Justice grace the place: as part of a statue at the entrance, on the base of a lamp post, and in a frieze in the courtroom itself.

Her scales represent balance, which was our theme last week; her sword shows she is ready to mete out punishment; and the blindfold indicates her intention to be fair. Rich or poor, weak or powerful, all are supposed to be equal before the law. The key there is "supposed to be"; fairness, like justice, is an ideal we strive for, and often we don't hit the mark. And sometimes justice is slow in coming. That's where our final theme -- patience -- comes in. I'll tackle that next week.


In the meantime, I'm set to receive my vaccine booster on Tuesday (go Team Moderna!). I got a sore arm from the first shot. From everything I've heard, the second dose packs more of a wallop -- but better that than a ventilator. Or a permanent dirt nap.


These moments of judicious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who will be masking up and maintaining social distancing, even after she's fully vaccinated. You too, okay?