So I was sitting on a muddy path in a wooded area because of reasons (ok, exhausted after climbing) when I saw movement and a tiny thing scurrying past me. I figured that glimpse was all I'd see, but I turned round to see where it'd gone and it was on the path on the other side of me, and with great caution so as not to startle it I managed to dig my phone out of my coat pocket:
(There's nothing to give a sense of scale, but the shrew is a few centimetres long. It makes mice look big.)
( Cut for blurry close-ups and blurry worm death )
[Grainy photo of a
I know this isn't the greatest photo of all time. In my defense, I did take it from behind a dusty windowpane in an upstairs bedroom where I was crouched breathlessly lest I frighten it off.
There've long been barn owls living at my partner's parents' home in rural Norfolk, but I'd never seen any other type of owl there. I was surprised, therefore, to see this tawny owl (h/t to shapinglight for corrected identification) sitting on their lawn at dusk a couple of weeks ago. I worked out that it was watching a group of four partridges who were pecking through the pebbles in the drive, closer to the house. They seemed a rather optimistic target, given that the owl wasn't much bigger than they were.
The owl flew off and returned to the lawn several times whilst I watched, but never made a move on the partridges, who eventually moved onto the roof of the house and over to the other side.
However, it was definitely "unsupervised", as it was hanging out at a gritstone crag eating bilberries and watching the climbers.
It wouldn't quite let people touch it, but was otherwise very comfortable with humans and happy to let you get very close.
I took a lot of photos of it trying to get a shot of the tags on its legs, as I was worried it was someone's beloved pet and lost. But when I got home, I found out that the "report a found pigeon" websites (they exist, naturally) say in rather weary tones not to even bother unless the pigeon's been around for at least 48 hours; apparently they like to take pit stops.
( Cut for more pigeon )
[Macro image of a great crested grebe sitting on its nest.]
I spotted this great crested grebe brooding on its nest in the canal at Westerdok in Amsterdam. I thought its nest was a remarkable construction: the usual twigs, but also bits of plastic rubbish, and finishing touches of hollyhock. I was also impressed by the two female mallard duck bodyguards who immediately rushed over when I started taking photos. They didn't quack, but eyed me up silently as they circled the nest at a careful distance.
We were staying on a barge nearby for three nights and I checked on the grebe morning and evening. I don't believe it stirred from the nest in that time, so hopefully soon there will be some freshly hatched urban grebes learning to navigate the Dutch canal system!
Readercon starts tomorrow, and Catherynne M. Valente will be in attendance! Use our handy cheat sheet below to find her on panels and at one game session that promises to be hilarious:
FRIDAY, JULY 14
2:00 PM / BH / In the Heartland.
Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen, Natalie Luhrs, Peter Straub, Catherynne M. Valente.
What about the middle of the U.S. makes heartland stories such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven so powerful? Recognizing that the U.S. is far from perfect, does the baked-in concept of American exceptionalism negatively affect these stories? What do they teach readers who aren’t American about Americans and their values?
5:00 PM / 5 / The Truth of Fiction, the Fiction of Truth.
John Clute, John Crowley, Heath Miller (leader), Miriam Newman, Catherynne M. Valente.
This panel will explore works of fiction in which the author claims not to be the author. In Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, the conceit is that King was given the diaries of Mary Russell; more tongue-in-cheek is The Princess Bride, which William Goldman claims is “the good parts version” of a much longer and more boring 4 pm 5 pm Friday 53 work by the fictional S. Morgenstern. How do we construct these agreements between audience and author about what is real, and what reality means in the context of a fictional work? How does an author get the reader to buy in to the idea that the story they are about to read is truth?
7:00 PM / 6 / Race and Historical Accuracy in Cod-Medieval Fantasy Fiction. Shannon Chakraborty, Phenderson Clark, N.S. Dolkart, Tom Greene, Catherynne M. Valente.
Too often, we’ve heard the excuse of “historical accuracy” used to explain the lack of PoC in historical fiction. Yet their presence is profoundly felt throughout European history, including in the medieval era so often used or modified as a fantasy setting: Arabic numbers have been used in Western societies for centuries, philosopher Ibn Rushd preserved and notated the works of Aristotle, the Silk Road brought traders and diplomats from all over Asia, and Moors in Spain were credited with promoting astronomy, medicine, and literacy. This panel will discuss how to populate cod-medieval fantasy novels with characters of color who have dimension, depth, and humanity, while avoiding stereotypes of swarthy villains and uncouth sidekicks.
SATURDAY, JULY 15
2:00 PM / BH / Sidereal Symphonies: Writing Extraterrestrial Art and Performance.
John Clute, Max Gladstone, Alex Shvartsman, Catherynne M. Valente, Caroline M. Yoachim.
Descriptions of art, music, and other creative work are a wonderful way to flesh out an invented world, but when worldbuilding encompasses cultures from places other than Earth, things get can get tricky. This panel of writers, performers, and creative artists will discuss how culture and technology give rise to art, with an eye toward developing alien art from alien worldbuilding, and will also explore ways of creating convincing descriptions of alien art forms that don’t and maybe even can’t exist.
8:00 PM / 5 / A Most Readerconnish Miscellany Presents: Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue.
Chairperson Heath Miller presents an evening of SFnal hilarity featuring contestants Max Gladstone, Mark Oshiro, Sam Schreiber, and Catherynne M. Valente. Come for the funsies, donate your money for the great causes! We promise to leave you laughing. Promise void where prohibited.
Here’s the full Readercon schedule in PDF format if you needed that. Cat will see you there!