I've preset some posts

I've preset some posts to appear while I'm off lounging about a tropical island. Since my last attempt at doing this resulted in the post order getting jumbled, I'll be interested to see if it works this time.

I promise to read any and all comments when I'm back in a week and a bit!

Draco was so draconian

It's not everyone who gets their name turned into a word which survives for more than 2,600 years. It takes a special sort of person.

The first person to codify the laws of Athens was Draco, who in the generation before Solon, some time around 620BC, was asked to bring together all the traditional laws of Athens to a consistent standard.

Judgements up to that time had been relatively arbitrary (which is why Draco was asked to standardise), so Draco had a wide range of precedents from which to prescribe penalties. He consistently chose the most...draconian.

Someone asked Draco why the penalty for even the slightest crime, even stealing a cabbage, was death. "Small crimes deserve death," he replied, "And I have no greater punishment for the larger crimes."

"Those laws were written not with ink, but in blood," the orator Demades said 300 years later. Demades would probably be forgotten today if he hadn't uttered those immortal words. What is less known about Demades is he was speaking in approval.

One of the first things Solon did when he was asked to write his constitution in 590 was to remove all of Draco's laws except for the homicide law. Which did not stop Athenians from quoting Draco in court when it suited them. There was one case in the 4th century BC in which a defendant for murder used Draco's view on adultery as part of his defense.

Draco was however revolutionary in one way: he introduced the concept of intent to commit a crime, in this instance murder. Draco said homicide could be by intent, or by accident or in self-defense, which today we would call manslaughter. The concept of intent lives today in the legal requirement to prove mens rea, the intent to commit the crime with which you are charged.


Neither the Greeks nor, as far as I'm aware, any of the ancient people had anything like racism as we know it today, which didn't stop neighbours killing each other from time to time, but they never did it based on colour of skin. You had to be a Hellene to contest the Olympics, but that's only because you needed to be a member of the club. Romans didn't get to join either (unless you were an Emperor capable of executing the Judges of the Games, in which case they might see things your way). In fact of all the other peoples of the word, the Greeks had an especial respect for the Egyptians, in cause of their ancient culture.

To the Greeks, if you came from Africa, then you were either an Egyptian, or an Aethiopian. Aethiopian was their catch-all term for an African.

You might be surprised to hear there were Africans in the Greek lands. Here's an example:

Ethiopian slave boy in Classical Greece
I'm afraid it's not very clear from my poor photography, but this exhibit from the British Museum shows a boy, almost certainly a slave, holding a boot, and the features are African. (The funny shape at his back is a bird). The odds are very good this boy was passed along in the slave markets until he found himself working in Athens.

For some reason I don't understand, the Aethiopians had been an enemy of Hellas stretching back to the Trojan War. The bards sang in the great epic Aethiopis that Memnon, the hero-king of Aethiopia, brought a contingent to fight for the Trojans. Memnon slew Antilochus and was such a warrior that no one could touch him until he was brought down by Achilles himself. Memnon's skill and courage was so great that Zeus granted him immortality. The Greeks had no problem with someone of dark skin being beloved of the Gods and a hero.

Unfortunately Aethiopis has been lost, but it's part of the Trojan cycle and if we had it, it would almost certainly put some of the Iliad in a different light.

More recently, Herodotus recorded that a band of Aethiopians fought for the Great King of Persia when he invaded Hellas. Here's a good example of that:

Ethiopian warrior in Persian army
This is an Aethiopian warrior in the army of Xerxes. You can tell because he's wearing trousers, very much Persian dress. The vase is dated 460-440BC, twenty or so years after the invasion.

Western Digital MyBook Sucks

I am not normally a negative person, so when I say that the Western Digital MyBook network storage system is a revolting piece of vile, slimy bat poo with no redeeming features, you should take it to mean this is a product you wish to avoid.

The cause of my strong emotion is that I bought one of these things a year ago to use for network backup storage and, while it is certainly true that they lied when they said the box has gigabit network connectivitity -- you could inscribe cuneiform on a clay tablet faster than this thing writes -- it did actually manage to accept backups.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when it stopped working, which I didn't notice until yesterday because I don't check backups every day.

I have just spent the last 24 hours struggling to work out what's wrong. With mere days before I go on hols, and then disappear for three weeks leaving my wife to look after the girls, there are better things I could have spent my time doing, but coming from my background I am most unwilling to leave any computer without a working backup system.

As near as I can tell, either the processor or the network circuitry, which has always been marginal, has degraded to the point it's physically incapable of keeping up with the data flow, at which point the controlling software spuriously reports the disk is full, which causes the backup software to bomb out.

So the odds are pretty good that some time tomorrow I'll be buying a new network storage system, and it won't be Western Digital.

3 sleeps until Gary et familia goes on holiday

We're going to be spending a week in the Whitsunday Islands of the Great Barrier Reef before I head off to the US. There's little or no internet where we'll be, so don't be surprised if I disappear for a while. Still a couple of days to go before I disappear, but I'll probably forget to post anything in the crisis of packing so this is the only notice.

A few days after I'm back, I get on a big plane and fly Sydney to Los Angeles to Chicago to Indianapolis without a break. I can't tell you how much I am not looking forward to spending 26+ hours traveling. The only compensation is that the joy of meeting the people at the other end exceeds the pain of the flights.

The world's longest family tree

I was fascinated to see the world's longest family tree has been updated. The tree is the descendants of Confucius. Since Confucius died about 10 years before Socrates was born, this is an incredibly long time ago, almost 2,500 years. There's nothing in the western world to match it. As far as I'm aware the oldest tree in the west is for the intimately connected European royal families, who can be traced back to the Dark Ages but no further. I'm pretty sure there's no Roman whose descendants can be traced, and certainly no Greek. The reason the Confucius tree is known is his descendants were honoured and ennobled by successive generations of Emperors for so long that there are good records.

Of course, after 83 generations the amount of Confucius DNA in each of those people is a tiny fraction: 1 part in 283 in fact. Since the number of base pairs in human DNA is "only" about 3 billion, which is a mere 232, that means the amount of surviving Confucius DNA is effectively zero for all but those of direct male lineage. They of course will have the same Y chromosome.

The King's Messengers

Here's an excerpt from Herodotus, Book 8, section 98. Xerxes, the Great King of Persia has just been beaten at the Battle of Salamis and wants to call home...

"...Xerxes dispatched a courier to Persia with the news of his defeat. No mortal thing travels faster than these Persian couriers. The whole idea is a Persian invention, and works like this: riders are stationed along the road, equal in number to the number of days the journey takes - a man and a horse for each day. Nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted stage in the quickest possible time - neither snow, rain, heat, nor darkness. The first, at the end of his stage, passes his dispatch to the second, the second to the third, and so on down the line, as in the Greek torch race which is held in honour of Hephaestus. The Persian word for this form of post is aggareion."

Which today we would translate as the King's Messengers. The Great Kings used this system to manage their empire, the largest the world had yet seen. A road system maintained at state expense ensured the couriers could get from one end of the empire to the other very quickly, the most famous route being the Royal Road, which stretched from the capital Susa, in what is now Iran, to Ephesus on the west coast of what is now Turkey. (Actually the Royal Road stopped at Sardis, but Ephesus was only a short extra hop).

If you think of the road system as the backbone, the King's Messengers as the network transport layer, the dispatches as data packets, and the staging posts as routers, then the Persian system is like a very early, very manual version of the internet.

US readers might have noticed something familiar in the quote from Herodotus. The unofficial motto of the US Postal Service is Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. Compare it to: Nothing stops these couriers from covering their allotted stage in the quickest possible time - neither snow, rain, heat, nor darkness.

That's right. The US postal creed comes direct from this verse of Herodotus.

In praise of Editor Kathleen

Things are different when you have a publisher. You're not on your own any more, you're part of a team, and other members of the team have more skills than you do when it comes to certain aspects of producing a book.

In fact, you have only one skill: writing. A most important skill! There are maybe 90,000 words in your book, those words are what got you here in the first place, and if the words don't work then you and your team are doomed. But being able to write does not make you an expert on sales, or marketing or production, or...graphic design.

The basic rule of thumb is, the writer owns the words. The publisher owns everything else, in particular, the cover and the title. I've read of some authors feeling excluded by that, but not me.

Just because we own different bits of the job doesn't mean we shouldn't listen to each other. Editor Kathleen writes me a lovely editorial letter with suggestions for making the book better; always suggestions and always with the rider that what I do is up to me, because I own this bit. I could choose to ignore everything she says, but since I'm not insane I listen to an expert and behold, the book gets better (in particular a character list which I would never have written if Kathleen hadn't encouraged me, but which I slaved over and now am very proud of).

The reverse is happening too. I'm having a magical experience with Kathleen and Minotaur on the cover. They own this bit, but they've been fantastic about asking my opinion. There's a clause in the contract which says they should consult, but Kathleen's gone so far above and beyond consultation that I very much feel it's a joint effort.

Right at the start Kathleen asked if I had a vision in mind for the cover. She sent me some samples (actually entire books!) to prompt ideas. I scanned a cover of a book I had and sent it to her, saying, "Something like this?" Kathleen could very reasonably have said it wouldn't work (in her usual polite way), but she didn't. Instead she ran with my thought and suggested a variation. We talked it back and forth. More variations. She talked it over with others inside Minotaur, particularly her boss, Keith. The vision simplified, but it's still the vision.

So it's our combined concept that she's taking to the intriguingly named Jacket Meeting in the future. (I wonder how many people have used the Straitjacket joke I instantly thought of when I first heard the name of that meeting?) At which point the sales and marketing people could replace our lovingly wrought vision with something completely different, because they have to sell this thing and their opinion matters a lot. But that's not the point; the point is it's a team effort.

Danielle and Gregory, and Monica

My wife and I do ice dancing for enjoyment and exercise. We're hopeless, but we have fun. Our coach is Monica McDonald. Monica competed in the 1988 Olympics and 7 World Championships, and is now a professional coach and international judge, but no doubt the highlight of her career has been teaching me to skate.

Monica also happens to coach the Australian champions: Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman. One of their fans, completely unknown to them, has put together a montage of their performances set to music. Whoever did this has done an amazing job. Here it is.

Danielle by the way is excited at my book series and wants me to write a murder mystery on ice. She's suggested a couple of ways to kill a skater and I've told her if I ever write it, she'll be the victim.

Monica if anything is even more excited about my books than I am. She wants me to do an ice skating murder too but wants the body concealed underneath the rink ice, which would be tricky unless you sliced the body very thin. I like the idea, there's some great imagery, but I've no idea what the motive would be for such a bizarre disposal.

The pankration

It's a little known fact that the Greeks had a martial art: the pankration.

In fact there were three. Boxing and wrestling are well known to this day, but they were child's play compared to the pankration.

I don't suggest you try playing this at home kids, but here are the complete rules for a pankration contest:

1. No biting.
2. No gouging eyes.
3. You can surrender by raising your arm.
4. If you're unconscious or dead, you lose.

Notice there are no rules against breaking bones, grabbing and twisting where it hurts most, or using choke holds. Two referees circled the contestants with sticks or short whips and beat anyone who broke even these simple rules. In the picture you can see the referees to the outside, one wielding a whip; the contestant on the ground has raised his arm in defeat.

There is a modern martial art movement which calls itself pankration, but needless to say they don't fight according to the ancient rules. It would be grossly illegal!

Choke holds seem to have been a popular way of winning, hence the rule that if someone loses consciousness or dies then it's game over. I'm not kidding about the death part. People regularly died at Olympic level. So regularly that contestants were issued a blanket pardon for murder before the Games began.

One man called Arrhachion won the pankration at three Olympiads in succession! This means Arrhachion was not someone you would wish to annoy. Arrhachion in an important way embodied a Greek ideal which is largely lost to modern society, though some people still naturally retain it, and this is the importance above all else of achieving excellence. Not the pursuit of excellence, but excellence. There are athletes and academics today who, if they come second in a contest, turn around and say, "I lost." Any Classical Greek would have understood that and agreed wholeheartedly. At the ancient Olympics the only prize was for coming first; none of this bronze and silver rubbish. Likewise there was a first prize in choral and dramatic contests and that was it.

Here is how Arrhachion won his third Olympic crown. Keep in mind as you read this, Arrhachion knew what he was doing, and could have raised his arm at any time. We take up the fight with our hero in big trouble:
Arrhachion’s opponent, having already a grip around his waist, thought to kill him and put an arm around his neck to choke off his breath. At the same time he slipped his legs through Arrhachion’s groin and wound his feet inside Arrhachion’s knees, pulling back until the sleep of death began to creep over Arrhachion’s senses.

But Arrhachion was not done yet, for as his opponent began to relax the pressure of his legs, Arrhachion kicked away his own right foot and fell heavily to the left, holding his opponent at the groin with his left knee still holding his opponent’s foot firmly. So violent was the fall that the opponent’s left ankle was wrenched from his socket. The man strangling Arrhachion … signaled with his hand that he gave up.

Thus Arrhachion became a three-time Olympic victor at the moment of his death. His corpse … received the victory crown.

The Artemision of Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, also called the Artemision, was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  This is a model from the Miniature Park in Istanbul.  It's probably fairly accurate, except the real thing would have been painted in bright colors.  It was built entirely in marble, except for the roof.  Back in Athens every temple was still wooden, including the columns, so the Artemision was an engineering marvel for its day.

The cult statue of the Goddess was particularly interesting.  I could describe her, but why bother when Nicolaos can do it for me.  Nico passes through Ephesus in my second book, and he could hardly miss a tour of the famous temple.  Here are Nico and Diotima inside:
We stopped at an immense red curtain, hung from the ceiling.  It was drawn up, great folds of material spilling over the ends.  The drawn curtain revealed the statue of the Goddess.  Artemis stood high and proud, her arms outstretched like a supplicant, or a mother welcoming her children.  Her chest was covered with breasts, not merely the standard two, but more than I could count at a glance, all hard and full of milk.

I admired the Goddess for some time while Diotima waited patiently beside me.  I cleared my throat.  “I take it we are not viewing Artemis here in her guise as the Huntress?”

“Hardly,” Diotima murmured. 

In Athens, Diotima was a priestess at the temple of Artemis Agrotera, which is to say, Artemis of the Hunt.  There the Goddess is depicted as a fit young maiden armed with bow, accompanied by a deer as she hunts through the forest.  The temple of Artemis Agrotera lies at the spot where Artemis first hunted when she came to Athens from the island of Delos.

“The Artemis of Ephesus is a Mother Goddess, and a Goddess of Fertility,” Diotima lectured.

“You don’t say,” I muttered, counting the breasts.  “Twenty-one, twenty-two...”

Diotima glared.  “Keep it pious, Nicolaos.  Just because the Goddess appears to these people as the Mother is no reason she can’t transform for your benefit to something more likely to put an arrow through you.  She’s still the same person, you know.  The Gods appear to us in many forms but they’re each a single deity within.”

I commented, “The cult statue looks a little old.”  The stone and wood was stained and cracked and aged, despite their efforts to keep it pristine.  The style was stiff and, well, wooden; noticeably of a period long, long ago.

“This statue of the Goddess was dedicated by the Amazons.”

“What, as in Troy?”

“Oh yes.  The Amazons worshiped Artemis.  They came here to the Artemision several times, the first during their war against King Theseus of Athens, and that was a generation before the war against the Trojans.”

I studied the Goddess in new appreciation.  “This place is that old?”

“Older.  The Artemision was built by the demigod Ephesos, who founded the city under the protection of the Goddess.  Since that day, it's been the greatest ill-deed to lay a hand against anyone who claims protection of the temple.  The whole civilized world knows of the sanctuary of the Artemision.”

“I didn’t.”

“I said ‘civilized’.” 

Here is Artemis of Ephesus:

Diotima has her facts right (as usual), but for some slight mangles caused by the Greeks not knowing their past as well as we know it today.  There was a temple on the site of the Artemision dating back at least to the bronze age, no doubt rebuilt many times.  The Amazons were indeed believed to have worshipped there before the fall of Troy.

The curtain placement before the cult statue is correct, btw.  Pausanias, who saw it, says: At the temple of Zeus in Olympia...the curtain is not drawn upwards to the roof as is that in the temple of Artemis at Ephesos...  Alright, I'm showing off by mentioning it, but I was rather pleased with myself for spotting the detail.

The Artemision was indeed a declared sanctuary, of such importance that even the Great King of the Persians respected it.  Xerxes burnt a number of Greek temples in Asia, but he not only spared the Artemision, he ordered the sanctuary observed by his own men.  The belief in the sanctuary was so strong that at one point duing a siege the Ephesians tried to extend it by chaining the city to the temple.  Herodotus says:

The first Greeks that King Croesus of Lydia attacked were the Ephesians. These, besieged by him, dedicated their city to Artemis; they did this by attaching a rope to the city wall from the temple of the goddess, which stood seven stades away from the ancient city which was then besieged.

The version of the temple Nico and Diotima see is about 90 years old and in fact the rich Ephesians are still working on finishing touches.  A new cult statue might have been made at that date, which would have been based on the one before it.  Diotima and Nico appear to be looking at the original. 
The Artemision is one of the temples associated with sacred prostitution by both Pausanias and the Bible.  The claim is highly contentious to this day, and for my money, it's wrong.  Sacred prostitution is a subject on which I plan to write in the future because, although I think the claim is false for Ephesus, there are other places around the ancient world where it's probably true.

A more probable claim, IMHO, is that the Artemision was served by eunuch-priests or eunuch servants of some form.  Why is it more probable?  Because although the Greeks were not keen on eunuchy, the Asian side of the Aegean Sea was, and the province of Ionia, in which Ephesus lies, is in Asia Minor with a large non-Hellene population.  The Artemision was there well before the Greeks were, so a hang over from the past is viable.  Eunuch priests are also better documented than temple prostitutes.  Strabo says point blank the eunuchs were there and they were called the megabyzoi.

The Artemision had a hard time staying upright.  The temple Nico and Diotima see was burnt down 100 years later by a man who did it on purpose so he'd be remembered forever.  The Ephesians tortured him to death and didn't write down his name.  Unfortunately some fool recorded it later, but I'm not going to pass it on.

The arson is said to have happened the same night Alexander the Great was born, but this is doubtful considering how vague the calendars were.  The temple was rebuilt and then destroyed again by Goth raiders.  The next version survived until it was torn apart for the last time by a Christian mob and the stones used for other buildings, including apparently the church of Saint Sophia in Istanbul. Someone has piled some of the remaining rubble one bit on top of another to create a single, makeshift, forlorn column where one of the wonders of the ancient world once stood.

I'll leave the last word for Antipater, who created the list of the Seven Wonders:
I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.

Meanwhile, over in the Tulgey Wood

Mimzy has written a very good post about Norse Mythology.

I am, by the way, descended from Odin, King of the Norse Gods, but I'll save my proof of that for another day.

The joy of editing + manuscript version numbers

I am relieved, exhausted and mildly terrified to announce the editorial letter edits have been sent to Editor Kathleen.  Which is what I've been doing for the last days instead of blogging.

Here's the process:
  1. Read the author note aloud, five times in a row.  
  2. On the fifth read, stop halfway through and change a sentence.  Start reading again from the top.
  3. Realize the change isn't right.  Change it again.
  4. Read again from the top.  
  5. Read five more times and then change another sentence.
  6. etc etc etc
  7. Next day, while reading the author note aloud for the 5,667,897th time, realize the section I spent most of the time on yesterday isn't necessary and delete it.
The major version number on the ms I sent is 17.  Version 1 was the first completed draft which, in my delusion, I considered plot-complete if not polished.  I still have that version1; its last modified date is 18 July 2006.

This doesn't mean the ms has been edited 17 times; as near as I can calculate, the file has been opened for editing in excess of 600 times over 3 years.  It means this is the 17th time there has been a release to someone else, containing a change significant enough to warrant a checkpoint.

I'm not finished yet.  Kathleen might come back and say something needs fixing, and it's certain the copyeditor will find problems.  Version 18 is guaranteed, maybe even 19, possibly 20.  But I know what I've sent in is very strong.  Everything from this point is minor fixes.  This time I really am plot-complete.

I've achieved a new mental state

I've discovered a new state of mind called Fear-Of-Returning-Edits-To-Editor. So instead I am obsessively looking for minute errors and second guessing myself. Fortunately I have sufficient self-control not to rewrite too many scenes.

Just kidding! Relax Janet & Kathleen. No scenes rewritten.

Actually I finished the edits 3 days ago and the changes to the ms are very minor. Then there are the bits around the edges: a character list and author note. They're done too. Since then I've been reading the changes and new writing over and over, tweaking a word or a phrase here and there.

So I have one final thing to write, and then I ship it: my acknowledgements.

Assuming Editor Kathleen approves my minor changes as the proper work of an insane person writer, next step (I think) is the ms goes to a copyeditor. The copyeditor will pore over the ms in minute detail, finding all the errors I missed when I pored over it in minute detail.

Gary's in the US in October

I'll be attending Bouchercon this year for the first time. Bouchercon is a huge convention of mystery writers held every year.

This is going to be a weird experience for me because, as far as I can recall, I have only ever been in the same room as a real writer five times. Last year I had lunch with Anneke Klein and Bill Kirton while in London. On the same trip I had dinner with agent-sibling Andrew Grant. The only other two writers I recall meeting in real life, decades ago, are Fred Hoyle(!) and Larry Niven.

Bouchercon is going to increase my same-room-as-a-writer count by approximately 8,000%.

I'll be in Indianapolis for the conference 15-18 October. The week after I'm visiting NY, where for the first time I'll meet the wonderful people at FinePrint Literary Agency and Editor Kathleen from St Martin's! On the way home I'll stop in LA for a couple of days, where I'm planning to visit the Getty Villa of Roman and Greek antiquities, if I can ever get their broken online ticketing system to work.

If you're going to be in Indy, NY or LA at the same time and would care for a coffee/beer, do please let me know. I'd love to meet.

Next year there's going to be an extensive book tour going for weeks around the US to lots of places.

RFC1149: AVIANnet lives!

You probably need to be a techo type to appreciate it, but I can't resist passing on this story.

The internet protocols, which are the technical rules by which the internet runs, are all desribed in a series of documents called Request For Comments, or RFC for short. The reason for the odd name is at the very beginning of the internet one of the guys working on it put together a set of notes on how the protocols they were designing worked, and issued the notes as a request for comment. No one ever got around to issuing a final version. To this day that very first document is marked as RFC 1, and every documented that followed has been labeled RFC followed by a serial number.

For example, the HTTP protocol you are using to read this is defined in RFC 2068. It's all very technical and ultra boring language.

It wasn't long before people starting issuing joke RFCs, almost all of them issued on 1st April. The first was RFC 527 ARPAwocky. The internet was originally known as ARPAnet and ARPAwocky was a parody of Jabberwocky.

Another good one was RFC 968 Twas The Night Before Startup, written by Vincent Cerf himself.

But my all time favourite is RFC 1149 A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers. Let me quote the opening sections of RFC 1149:
Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low
altitude service. The connection topology is limited to a single
point-to-point path for each carrier, used with standard carriers,
but many carriers can be used without significant interference with
each other, outside of early spring. This is because of the 3D ether
space available to the carriers, in contrast to the 1D ether used by
IEEE802.3. The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance
system, which increases availability. Unlike some network
technologies, such as packet radio, communication is not limited to
line-of-sight distance. Connection oriented service is available in
some cities, usually based upon a central hub topology.

The IP datagram is printed, on a small scroll of paper, in
hexadecimal, with each octet separated by whitestuff and blackstuff.
The scroll of paper is wrapped around one leg of the avian carrier.
A band of duct tape is used to secure the datagram's edges. The
bandwidth is limited to the leg length. The MTU is variable, and
paradoxically, generally increases with increased carrier age. A
typical MTU is 256 milligrams. Some datagram padding may be needed.

Upon receipt, the duct tape is removed and the paper copy of the
datagram is optically scanned into a electronically transmittable
That's right, RFC 1149 specifies how to run the internet over carrier pigeons.

Very funny, you might think, and go back to your normal lives. But not the Linux User's Group in Bergen in Norway. In 2001, these people, with seriously too much time on their hands, implemented RFC 1149, pigeons and all. It worked.

End of story, right?

Not quite. Recently people in South Africa have been complaining their broadband infrastructure is too slow. One company decided to prove the point. They raced the country's broadband network against a carrier pigeon with a 4GB memory stick taped to its leg.

The pigeon won.

Matt's getting married!

Matt's getting married on Sunday the 13th September.

Best wishes to you both! Does this mean you've finally freed your Princess?

How to put links in your comments

Did you know you can put links in your comments? If you want to provide a link to something when you write a comment, you need to put the link inside an anchor tag. What works on a web page will also work in the comment box. Like this:

<a href="http://mylink">my interesting link</a>

Blogger will recognise the anchor tag and turn it into a proper looking link when it posts the comment. So for example you might write:

Stephanie blogs on writing a novel about the amazing Hatshepsut at <a href="http://hatshepsutnovel.blogspot.com/">her interesting blog</a>.

(I picked Stephanie's blog at random from my followers. I hope you don't mind Stephanie.)

Which, when it appears after you post the comment will look like this:

Stephanie blogs on writing a novel about the amazing Hatshepsut at her interesting blog.

John Crowley's version of the joys of historical book research

I've written a few times about the fun of doing research for my stories. Here's someone else's take on book research, but in his case for World War 2. John Crowley needed the price of condoms in 1944. And I thought I was looking for some weird stuff. Thanks so much to Robert Greaves for pointing this out to me.

Editorial Letter

For those following my intrepid journey to the bookshelves...

I have an editorial letter! I've never had an editorial letter before. It was quite a buzz getting one. Actually I've had the letter for two weeks, but I didn't think to mention it outright until now.

The editorial letter is a standard step of the publishing process, written by your wise editor, and is a list of her (in my case) thoughts on how your book could be improved. I've read of authors who were nonplussed when they saw their letter, but clearly those authors didn't have Kathleen for an editor, because mine was a delight, full of good advice and reassurance.

When a publisher acquires your book, an editor is assigned, as per this happy statement:

Gary Corby's THE EPHIALTES AFFAIR, set in Periclean Athens, to Keith Kahla at Minotaur, with Kathleen Conn editing, in a nice deal, for publication in Fall 2010, by Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management (world).

So Kathleen got landed with my ms right at the start and subsequently read the book half a dozen times, thinking about what could be better. She then wrote the letter and I am now acting on it.

You don't have to follow your editor's advice - the contents of the book is ultimately up to the author - but personally, I see that in the same sense as you don't have to have surgery when the doctor says you need a triple bypass.

I'm writing some new bits in addition to cleaning up the ms. One new bit you already know: the historical note I've posted. The other bits are an author note and a character list. They're all things you don't need to worry about writing until your book is sold.

One thing in the sale note that is definitely changing is the title. The Ephialtes Affair was my working title, which I first typed over four years ago, and working titles are usually replaced. What appears on the cover will be something more likely to attract readers. The other thing we don't have yet is a cover. It'll all happen down the road, and as soon as I have a title and cover you'll see it here first.

Sacrificing animals

I suppose most of you have attended a church service and then gone to a community barbeque. Keep that in mind as you read this.

The Greeks, and virtually all the ancient peoples, had a few habits with a high yuck factor for moderns. One of the more yucky bits was sacrificing animals in religious rites, which they did frequently.

I suspect some people have an image of a crazed Greek plunging his knife into a squealing, struggling animal as the blood spurts everywhere and the crowd chants chthonic prayers.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The whole thing was very orderly.

In the Greek mind, it was important the animal "agree" to be a sacrifice. An unwilling sacrifice, one which struggled, was considered an ill omen. If any Greek priest had conducted a sacrifice like I just described, it would have been like the vicar turning up drunk for the sermon.

For days before, the selected sacrifice was treated kindly. It was given good food and made as comfortable as possible. Most sacrifices were sheep and pigs. Goats were a common standby. Oxen were luxury items for big events.

The sacrifice would be led from its farm to the temple. The sacrificial altar was put outside for obvious reasons, probably by the front steps. During whatever was the ritual for the particular God or Goddess, there came a point where the priest would take out a knife and quickly slit the animal's throat. This is a perfectly standard way to kill any farm animal for butchering, and in an agrarian society, virtually everyone would have the skill.

The blood was caught in a bowl and I presume was given to the God or Goddess.

A priest would then open the body and check the liver and entrails to see if the God or Goddess was pleased with the sacrifice. I expect the answer was always yes, unless there was something pathologically wrong.

If a Classical Greek saw one of our modern abattoirs, he would be shocked at the impiety and disgusted at the process. Not because of how many animals are killed there, but for the lack of respect shown the animals. The average animal sacrificed in ancient Greece probably died happier and in greater comfort than the steak you eat tonight.

Speaking of steak...

After the sacrifice the victim was butchered by someone who knew what he was doing. The long bones and probably some offal were burned in a brazier for the God or Goddess to consume. The rest of the meat was barbequed on the spot and everyone stayed for a community picnic!

If you were the child of a poor laborer, quite possibly the only meat you would see in your life was that given to you at the public sacrifices. The sacrifices were donated by rich men, and therefore were a roundabout way of donating quality meals to poor families. Animal sacrifice at the temples was, weird as it may sound, a community service.

This might seem a roundabout way of delivering the picnic food, but ancient Greece had a distinct lack of refrigerators. Without them, meat could not keep for long, even if it was preserved in sea salt. The only way to ensure the meat at a BBQ was fresh and healthy to eat was for it to arrive still breathing.

So the whole thing was nowhere near as yucky as you might think. Something to ponder the next time you go to church and then a barbeque.

My first blog interview!

Over on Julia Buckley's blog Mysterious Musings I've done my first ever blog interview(!), and a fun but very weird experience it was. I'm not used to talking about myself.

Julia asked some great questions, such as why didn't I make Socrates my detective, and if living in an otherwise all-female household affected how I wrote women characters. If you want to know the answers, go have a look.

The 8 page version of the path to democracy

This is the longest post I'll ever write (I hope). In the path to democracy I posted a 2 page summary of how Athens went from being a normal city to the world's first democracy. Here I post the 8 page version I began with, so you can see some of the fun stories I had to cut to squeeze it down.

I'd be interested to know, is there anything in this version you think should have made it into the final instead of what I chose?

Warning: if you already know all this, or you have no interest in Greek history, then this article is going to bore you witless. Eject now. If you want a quick summary, go to the 2 page version. For the rest of you, here's the story.

Democracy came to Athens in three giant leaps and two major interruptions. The leaps were the constitution of Solon the Wise, the reforms of Cleisthenes, and the reforms of Ephialtes. The interruptions were the Tyranny of Peisistratus and the Persian Wars. Here's a timeline of how it happened:

circa 590BC

A few wealthy families own all the land while the common people struggle to survive. Many poor men have to borrow just to feed their families. Debt default is rampant, and a bankrupt can legally be sold into slavery to recoup his debts. The city is an oligarchy in which only wealthy aristocrats have power.

The injustice is so great civil war could break out at any moment, but rather than fight the Athenians hit on a novel solution: they turn to a man called Solon, who everyone agrees is both wise and fair. Solon is commissioned to write a constitution for Athens. The common people expect Solon to cancel all debts and redistribute the land. The farmers expect him to affirm that they should be in charge, that wealth and property cannot be forcibly taken from the people who own it, and that everyone should be expected to pay their just debts.

Solon duly delivers. He cancels all existing debts (the wealthy are furious). He affirms the rule of the wealthy landholders (the poor are furious). He organizes executives called archons to run the city, who are elected only from amongst the wealthy landholders (commoners are furious). Retired archons join an oligarchy called the Council of the Areopagus, whose members are the rulers of Athens. He creates a law making it illegal to sell a citizen into slavery for debt (the wealthy are furious). He creates a body called the Ecclesia, meaning Assembly, of all the citizens of Athens. The Ecclesia can let the Areopagus know, by vote, the opinion of the common people (the oligarchs are furious). At this stage the Ecclesia is an advisory body at best, but it is destined, about 130 years later, to become the world's first democratic parliament.

No one is happy. Solon hops on his boat and sails off into the sunset. He goes on a world tour and will not return home for many years. As he tours Egypt, by the way, Solon runs into a couple of priests who tell him of an ancient city which sank beneath the sea. That's right, Solon is the source of the story of Atlantis, which comes to us via his distant descendant, Plato. For years after, the priests probably cacked themselves with laughter every time they recalled that naïve tourist and the silly story they made up.

Meanwhile, back in Athens, everyone can agree on only one thing: they all loathe the new constitution equally. Obviously therefore it must be fair. Solon becomes known as Solon the Wise, and is enrolled as one of the Seven Sages of the ancient world.

Solon was no democrat. He left Athens as an oligarchy of the wealthy, with checks and balances in place to ensure the common people got a fair deal. Solon's constitution ruled Athens until…

circa 546BC

Pisistratus effects a series of armed coup attempts. He's successful on the third try. Pisistratus sets himself up as Tyrant of Athens. Tyrant in those days did not have the negative connotations it has today. It merely meant Pisistratus ruled with the backing of armed force. He generally runs the city according to the constitution, though he manipulates it to favor the people over the aristocrats, and stacks the archonship positions with his own family. He was generally respected and liked.

527 or 528BC

Pisistratus dies. His elder son Hippias inherits the Tyranny.

The younger son Hipparchus proves to be a pain in the ass, in more ways than one. Hipparchus, who is gay, develops a crush on a beautiful young man called Harmodius. Harmodius however is already a serious item with an older man called Aristogeiton and spurns the brother of the Tyrant.

Hipparchus gets spiteful revenge by insulting the young sister of Harmodius. He ejects her from a public festival, implying she is not a virgin, and in doing so ruins any chance of her making a good marriage.

The insult to the family is mortal. Harmodius and Aristogeiton hatch a plot to kill Hipparchus. Of necessity, if they wish to survive, they must also kill Hippias and so end the Tyranny. The plot goes horribly wrong when the assassins incorrectly think they have been betrayed. They fall upon Hipparchus at once and stab him to death, but Hippias survives unharmed. Harmodius and Aristogeiton are killed.

After this, Hippias becomes paranoid and cruel. Something has to be done.

The powerful Alcmaeonid family comes up with a brilliant idea. They bribe the Oracle of Delphi. From that point on whenever a Spartan travels to Delphi to consult the Oracle, he is told, "First, liberate Athens."


The Spartans eventually get the message. They decide maybe they should liberate Athens. A Spartan army arrives. Hippias flees to the Persians and the Tyranny is ended. Statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton are raised in the Agora and the dead lovers are known forever after as the Tyrannicides. A gay love triangle has changed the destiny of Athens, and the world.


With the fall of the Tyranny, a senior member of the Alcmaeonid family named Cleisthenes rose to prominence. Cleisthenes at once began tweaking the constitution to drive Athens towards democracy. Candidates for the archonship are selected by lot from amongst all those who pass a minimum wealth test. The people then vote from amongst the candidates. This prevents anyone from stacking the official jobs.

Cleisthenes introduces ostracism: once a year, the people can vote for whomever they think should be forced to leave town. The "winner" is exiled for a period of ten years, after which he may return. Nobody gets ostracized until 487BC, and then there's a flurry of victims. In short, anyone who becomes too much of an irritant to the people is going to be sent on a long holiday.

Cleisthenes is often called the Father of Democracy, because he created all the necessary institutions. The Council of the Areopagus still has the power to nullify laws, and decides all foreign policy, so Athens remains an oligarchy. The power of the people is strong, and they are demanding ever more control over the city. Democracy is getting close, but then the second interruption arrives.


Hippias, the exiled former Tyrant, persuades the Persians to back him for an armed takeover. In return, Hippias will make Athens a client state of the Persian Empire. It's more complex than this, because the Athenians have been encouraging Greek cities in Ionia, what is now Western Turkey, to revolt against their Persian masters. The Great King has decided it's time to silence those pesky Athenians.

A Persian expeditionary force lands down the road from Athens, at an obscure beach called MARATHON. The Athenians assemble every man they've got. Under the leadership of their best General, Miltiades, the men of Athens attack the Persians and drive them into the sea.

It was a stunning victory. After Marathon, the Athenians were convinced they could do anything. The importance of Marathon to western civilization cannot be overemphasized. John Stuart Mill considered it the most important battle in British history, even more so than Hastings. Aeschylus, who founded western drama with his tragedies, considered fighting in the line at Marathon his greatest achievement.


Squabbling between the oligarchs and the common people continues. Five members of the Areopagus are ostracized in this time, including Xanthippus, the father of Pericles, who went in 484BC and then was recalled to fight in the next war…


The Second Persian invasion of Greece.

The Persians vastly outnumbered the Greeks but, thanks largely to the clever planning of the Athenian General Themistocles, the Persians were driven out a second time. You could write a whole book about this. In fact, someone did: Herodotus, the Father of History. I'm going to skip the whole thing to focus on Athenian politics.


Themistocles is the man of the hour. He receives a standing ovation at the next Olympics. He becomes the first non-citizen ever to receive an honor guard of Spartans.

The Council of the Areopagus performed very well during the Persian Wars. Its members were the men who led Athens to victory. When the war was over, the reputation of the Areopagus was enhanced, and the campaign of the democrats to introduce full democracy had actually gone backwards.

Cimon, the son of Miltiades who led the Athenians at Marathon, has risen to become an outstanding General and the foremost conservative of his day. He is a staunch defender of the privileges of the Areopagus. He is also exceedingly popular with the people. Cimon donated the entire grounds and the gymnasium of the Academy, which decades later would become the hangout of Plato.

Athens is now split three ways. The democrats think the people should be in charge, the wealthy aristocrats with Cimon's backing think they should be in charge, and most scary of all, Themistocles probably thinks he should be in charge.

People begin to fear Themistocles is setting himself up to be the next Tyrant of Athens when he builds a temple to Artemis of Wise Counsel. This is his subtle way of saying that he's smarter than everyone else.

Themistocles is ostracized. Shortly after he is charged with treason and ordered to return to Athens to stand trial. This is the Athenians' subtle way of saying they want him dead.

Knowing full well he will be executed if he returns, Themistocles runs for safety to his former enemy: Persia. The Great King is only too happy to have the world's best strategist on his team. He installs Themistocles as Governor of Magnesia.

Ephialtes, "a man uncorrupt and upright in political matters", is doing his best to complete the reforms begun by Cleisthenes almost 50 years before. Ephialtes prosecutes various members of the Areopagus for corruption, hoping to weaken them.

But Cimon is determined to retain the oligarchy and not let the rabble take control. While Cimon is there, Ephialtes can make only minor headway.


A revolt erupts in Sparta. The helots, who are serf-like slaves, make a concerted effort to throw off Spartan domination. Cimon, a deep admirer of Sparta, raises a troop of volunteers and goes to the aid of the Spartans. The Spartans take one look at the freedom-loving Athenians and worry they might take the side of the helots. The Spartans send the Athenians home as "not required", but welcome the assistance of troops from other cities. The insult to the Athenians is extreme. The Athenians blame Cimon for putting them in a position where Sparta can insult them.


Ephialtes and his bright young lieutenant Pericles see their chance and grab it. Pericles prosecutes Cimon. It is the first time Pericles is prominent in public affairs.

Cimon is ostracized.

The moment Cimon is gone, Ephialtes pushes through his reforms. The Areopagus has all its political powers removed, reduced to a court for murder and heresy. Without Cimon, the Areopagus hasn't the force to withstand the change. Athens becomes the world's first total democracy, with the Ecclesia as its parliament.

Days later, Ephialtes is assassinated, and the book begins.

The path to democracy: 130 years of Athenian politics in 500 words

The first book, whose final title by the way is still undecided, begins a few days after Athens became the world's first democracy. It was, quite obviously, a major event in world history. The democracy didn't happen by accident, and my victim Ephialtes was by no means the only man instrumental in its creation. Ephialtes' reforms were merely the last in a series spanning generations.

I foolishly suggested to Editor Kathleen, over at St Martin's, that in addition to the usual author note at the end, it might be nice to explain in an historical note how Athens went from being like any other ancient city to the founder of western civilization.

Great idea, she said. You have two pages.

In the usual manuscript format, that comes to 500 words. Terrific. I started by writing 11 pages, then cut it to 6, then squeezed it down, agonisingly, to 2. Actually I cheated slightly; I have 566 words.

It is now open season on Gary's 2 page exposition of 130 years of intense politics. I'm going to post one of my longer versions too, so you can see what you're missing.

Feel free to correct my errors or tell me I should have included events other than those I selected. The only rule is, if you want me to add something, you have to tell me what to take out in return.

Any and all comments will be received with great interest.

The final version of this is going to see print. Here 'tis...

Circa 590BC. Solon the Wise writes a constitution for Athens. The city is run by nine archons, who are elected from amongst the wealthy landholder class. When an archon completes his term, he joins the Council of the Areopagus. The Council makes all the decisions and sets laws. Athens is an oligarchy of the wealthy.

Solon also creates a body called the Ecclesia (Assembly) of all the citizens of Athens. The Ecclesia has no power except to make non-binding votes, but it is destined, about 130 years later, to become the world's first democratic parliament.

Circa 546BC. Pisistratus makes himself Tyrant of Athens. He generally rules according to the constitution, though he manipulates it to favor the people over the aristocrats, and stacks the archonship positions with his own family. Pisistratus rules well for 20 years and is succeeded by his elder son Hippias. Hippias is not the man his father was. In 510BC, Hippias is driven from Athens.

508-506BC. Cleisthenes tweaks the constitution to give the people more power. Candidates for the archonship are selected by lot from amongst all those who pass a minimum wealth test. The people then vote from amongst the candidates. This prevents anyone from stacking the official jobs.

Cleisthenes introduces ostracism: once a year, the people can vote for whomever they think should be forced to leave town. The "winner" is exiled for a period of ten years, after which he may return. Nobody gets ostracized until 487BC, and then there's a flurry of victims.

The Ecclesia can now vote for domestic laws and expect their vote to be implemented. The Council of the Areopagus still has the power to nullify laws, and decides all foreign policy, so Athens remains an oligarchy. The power of the people is strong, and they are demanding ever more control. Full democracy is getting close, but then a major interruption arrives.

490BC. The Battle of Marathon. A Persian expeditionary force lands down the road from Athens, at an obscure beach called MARATHON. Their aim is to restore Hippias as Tyrant and make Athens a client state. The Athenians assemble every man they've got and drive the Persians into the sea.

480BC. The Persians return, this time with a massive army. The Greeks unite for the first time ever. You could write a whole book about this war. In fact, someone did: Herodotus, the Father of History. Incredibly, the Persians lose again.

487-462BC. Squabbling between the oligarchs and the common people carries on before and after the Persian Wars. Six members of the Areopagus are ostracized in this time, including Xanthippus, the father of Pericles, who went in 484BC and then was recalled to fight the Persians.

Ephialtes, "a man uncorrupt and upright in political matters", is doing his best to complete the reforms begun by Cleisthenes 50 years before. Ephialtes prosecutes various members of the Areopagus for corruption, hoping to weaken the Council.

The man protecting the powers of the Areopagus throughout this time is Cimon, the son of Miltiades who led the Athenians at Marathon. Cimon himself is an outstanding General, a hero to the people, and an arch-conservative. He's determined to retain the oligarchy and not let the rabble take control. While Cimon is there, Ephialtes can make no headway.

461BC. Cimon leads an unpopular expedition to aid Sparta during a slave revolt. Pericles prosecutes Cimon when the expedition ends badly. It is the first time Pericles is prominent in public affairs.

Cimon is ostracized.

The moment Cimon is gone, Ephialtes pushes through his reforms. The weakened Areopagus can't resist and has all its political powers removed. Athens becomes the world's first total democracy, with the Ecclesia as its parliament.

Days later, Ephialtes is murdered, and the book begins.

Win a book by a New Zealand mystery writer

Over in Kiwi Crime, Craig Sisterson is running a competition in which you can win the book of your choice by a New Zealand mystery author. All you have to do is drop in and leave a comment.