My dog has a nemesis. I think most dogs have an imposing nemesis, but mine has a squirrel. She’s had a hate-on for squirrels as long as we’ve lived in this new house, but I thought they mostly just ignored her. Yesterday morning though, I caught one of them staring at her from our neighbor’s yard through a hole in the fence.
I never ascribed much will or emotion to squirrels before, but I swear this one was giving my dog a dirty look. I mean a really dirty look, the kind that befits the cliché if looks could kill.
The squirrel watched her for several seconds as she did her business and then scampered off to climb a nearby tree. Once it had climbed above the level of the fence it continued to stare down at her. If it could have thoughts, I imagine it was thinking something along the lines of “Damned dog, why do you always have to interrupt my foraging.”
Yes, I made up an entire fictitious conversation for this dog-hating squirrel for no reason at all. And of course, because I’m a mythology fan, all of this made me start thinking about where the word nemesis comes from. Nemesis was a Greek goddess, the personification of retribution. She was an avenger, said to mete out justice to those guilty of crimes. Hubris was considered the highest of sins in the Roman world, and Nemesis would mercilessly punish those who succumbed to pride. In addition, she was seen as the foil of Tyche, the goddess of fortune, and above all sought balance.
Often portrayed as winged, the words inescapable, remorseless and implacable were used to describe her. She was associated with the apple branch, scales, and the lash. In some versions of the myths, she was the mother of Helen of Troy.
I am constantly fascinated about how much of ancient mythology has made its way to us so many centuries later through language in ways most people don’t register. These days, we usually use the word nemesis to mean a rival. So tell me, what’s your favorite myth or folktale that made its way into modern culture in an interesting way?
Ryan’s Word of the Day is trenchant. This is a great word, it just sounds cool. Try saying it out loud a couple of times. Isn’t it neat? It just has an awesome fricative quality that I love. Anyway, it’s an adjective that means keen or perceptive.
I’m a compulsive researcher. I research random things all the time. Something occurs to me during the day, and ten seconds later I’m on Google digging through links trying to find out what the biggest frog is or something equally as pointless. So, it should come as no surprise that, to me, one of the best things about writing is the research.
My first novel, Broods of Fenrir, is currently with a second set of beta readers and will be sent off to my editor in early August. I did a lot of research for this book, more than Urban Fantasy should reasonably require. The allure of writing fantasy in the modern world is that most of the world building is already done. The world your characters populate is our world, so there isn’t much to read up on. The only parts that require building are the fantasy aspects. That isn’t the case with my book, for a few reasons.
The werewolves in my story descend from slaves of early Vikings. Because they are long-lived and keep to themselves, their morality is still interwoven with that ancient culture. In many ways, though this book takes place in modern Denver, it’s very much a period piece.
Originally I was going to include far more Norse language in the text of the story. I spent weeks learning pronunciation and grammar quirks of a language that hasn’t been spoken in a thousand years. It was super interesting, and I don’t regret the time I spent, though now none of that is going to be seen in this book–though it’s possible I’ll include some in a sequel. After I got about halfway through the story, I realized that the Norse would just confuse and frustrate readers, so I translated everything and just set if off by stating that the character spoke in Norse.
I’ve left the names of characters in their traditional language and I’ve included mythical references to add to the Viking flavor of the story. I hope that’s enough to bring their culture the proper feel that I wanted. We’ll see what the betas have to say in a few weeks.
The reason I’m bringing this up now is that I wanted to see where some of you stand on the issue. Do you like lots of juicy research tidbits in what you read? Or do you not really notice all the sweat that goes on behind the scenes of the writer’s world? I’m just wondering if I erred too far on the side of caution with this one.
Look for another post soon on the Old Norse language where I talk about some of the names that I’ve left and possibly some of the words I took out.
Ryan’s Word of the day will make you laugh. An ecdysiast is one who makes their living by taking off her (or his!) clothing. Now you can talk about strippers without anyone being the wiser.
Time for your weekly romp around the internet for tasty science tidbits!
1) ScienceDaily.com has a fascinating article on a study regarding the possibility that social pressure creates false memories.
The most outstanding feature of the false memories was a strong co-activation and connectivity between two brain areas: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is known to play a role in long-term memory formation, while the amygdala, sometimes known as the emotion center of the brain, plays a role in social interaction. The scientists think that the amygdala may act as a gateway connecting the social and memory processing parts of our brain; its “stamp” may be needed for some types of memories, giving them approval to be uploaded to the memory banks. Thus social reinforcement could act on the amygdala to persuade our brains to replace a strong memory with a false one.
2) First it was Pluto. Then the Triceratops. Now they want to get rid of pi. Livescience.com has a post about why mathematicians might want to change the well-loved constant.
3) This photo posted on i09.com looks like some sort of cartoon alien, but it’s really a one-eyed fetal shark. Creeeepy!
4) Could antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in humans be caused by the use of antibiotics in agriculture? There’s one study discussed in this article on arstechnica.com that seems to support that.
5) Some intrepid bacteriologists engineered E.Coli that uses 5-chlorouracil–a synthetic and toxic substance–in place of thymine in its DNA. They started out with a strain of bacteria that could not synthesize its own thymine, built up generations that had a tolerance for the 5-chlorouracil and then removed thymine from the substrate. Interesting and scary all at the same time.
6) Extra, bonus entry this week, because I thought this was a neat story. Ed Yong explains why pruney fingers evolved.
Ryan’s Word of the Day is malefic, an adjective meaning evil.
I’m running all sorts of behind this week and I apologize. Without further delay, here is this week’s selection of science links:
1) A thought-provoking post at io9.com about why you shouldn’t lie to kids. I tried to convince a friend at work a few weeks ago that lying to your children about Santa is shoddy parenting, but she just couldn’t understand my point. Seriously folks, the myth of Santa is quite damaging if you deconstruct it. You’re teaching kids that presents that you bought were actually delivered by some mythical figure who keeps tally of what you did right and wrong on a list. The canny child will quickly ponder out that all you have to do is do more nice things than naughty things and you’re still in present land. And really, no matter how bad the kid is, doesn’t he still get presents? You’re not fooling anyone. Anyway, I ranted about that more than I intended to, sorry. The thrust of the article is that by convincing children that mythical figures exist, you’re harming their ability to separate truth from fiction.
2) Very cool news about the next step in defeating diabetes in an article from ScienceDaily.com. An artificial pancreas, set to start clinical trials in November, looks like a promising alternative to constant blood sugar testing and insulin shots.
3) An article (and a pretty picture) at arstechnica.com about salt water geysers on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Enceladus is currently thought the most likely place to find signs of life in the solar system.
4) A tongue-in-cheek post at science20.com about why females shouldn’t have sex with males from the future. The idea is that subsequent generations develop ways to promote an individual’s genetic lines, often to the detriment of the other gender. Keep antagonistic coevolution in mind for your next time-traveling hookup!
5) This one really surprised me. Here’s an article at nature.com regarding how city living might have a detrimental effect on mental health. According to the study, city life causes social stress which activates parts of the brain that process emotions, increasing the risk of schizophrenia.
This week’s Flash Fiction is a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. I’ve wanted to write the story of how Erik and Bera met for some time. They are two secondary characters from Broods of Fenrir who have a long history that you never do find out about in the course of that story. It was nice to have the chance to share a brief glimpse of how they met. I may write a few more stories in that world as flash. It gives me a chance to write some words and also do develop some side characters a bit more.
I hope you enjoy Feral Attraction. As always, please leave a comment if you feel inclined. I do love to hear what you think.
Ryan’s Word of the Day is saturnine, having a gloomy demeanor.
This week’s flash fiction is a bit of a bastard child. The idea started out as one of those late morning, half awake dreams. I got about halfway through the story and realized I had run out of steam. Then I thought, well, what if this man doing the carjacking is actually a character from Broods of Fenrir. Who would it be? Why is he carjacking her? So, that’s where the second half comes from. I don’t think it’s my strongest bit of short fiction, but I am a bit fond of it because I finished it through determination and didn’t just give up on it when I wanted to.
Here’s the link for Jack of All Trades. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave comments if you like.
Ryan’s Word of the Day is cynosure, an object that serves as a focal point.