So there I was, buying a plecostomus. Now, I know what you're thinking: isn't it more accurate to speak of genera Hypostomus, Pterygolichthys, and Panaqolus? You have a point, but they're all crusty fish that suck on the insides of aquariums. You know what I mean.
For five years I kept an aquarium here in the Balkan Tower of Matriarchy, but it never thrived. In the US, I could go to an aquarium store and say "do you have anything that eats algae? You know what I mean." In Bulgaria, I didn't ask questions like that, and after the last fish died, I never replaced it. I just let the tank sit there, filter off and the heater on, getting browner and browner.
Finally, in the run-up to my 40th birthday, I realized that this was depressing. I resolved to fix the problem.
I started by googling aquarium stores and drew up plans to incorporate shopping expeditions into my schedule. The pet store at the mall? No, they stopped carrying aquarium stuff. The one on Doctor's Garden? If I picked Maggie up from school on Tuesday afternoon after swimming and walked her home...let me check my calendar.
Then Maggie said, "What about the aquarium store across the big street on the other side of Billa? They have budgie food and little turtles." I dropped my complicated plans and just took a walk with her. The store to which she guided me wasn't on google and had a small shopfront, and yet there were fish inside.
The owner had a plecostomus and an air-stone and gravel, if only I could ask for them. "Do you have small catfish that cleans the walls?" "Do you have small rocks for the floor?" I sounded more than a little like John Cleese commenting on his hovercraft, but I did manage to nail the plural of "guppy."*
"Will baby guppies enter the filter?" I asked. The owner assured me they would not. "But I worry myself that they will...uh." Death, I thought, but that's a noun, not a verb.
But she knew what I meant. When I told the owner that all my previous fish had "killed themselves," she responded readily enough. If they died over a long period of time, you probably fed them too much and poisoned the water. This 12-gram packet of flakes should last until the end of the year.
When I called my old, dead tank depressing, I should also have said it was depressed. The tank made me sad, which made me not take care of it, which made me sadder. The same could be said for my Bulgarian skills and my relationship with my neighborhood. Not to mention my daughters. They all need help to get to the point where they can thrive.
Pavlina named the plecostomus Stegosaurus.
The World's Other Side has now won over a single follower on Royal Road and none at all on Substack. Well, this was supposed to be an experiment to see how a serial would do if I just let it run without spending too much time on advertising. Let's see what October brings.
What I really care about now, though, is Third Realm. I have a growing number of shiny new scenes about these frustrated architects caught between magical revolutionaries and scornful demigods, and I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I have been somewhat obsessed with the language of this project, as you can see.
And I got some lovely fanart.
This is Ravestar's Ringbearer from Fellow Tetrapod.
I've been getting lots of helpful questions and advice about Fellow Tetrapod, which I will put to use when I begin its final revision this winter. If you'd like to read it and tell me what you think, you still have time.
And I read some things
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds/Confusión de Confusiones by Charles Mackay and Joseph de La Vega.
Apparently this book is something of a classic among investors. I don't know about any of that, but MacKay's stories (published in 1841) and de La Vega's (1688) were a lot of fun. Aristocratic gambling addicts, bears, bulls, and butterflies, carriage accidents arranged by desperate ladies. A hunchback who rents himself out as a writing desk to frenzied speculators. Great research.
Sovereign Mage by Inadvisably Compelled
It's better than the previous book, and it did wrap up the series, but it still didn't rise to the level of book one. There were interesting questions there about when caution becomes paranoia and why you can't just turtle up in a bubble of safety. Those questions were answered to some degree, but I wish we'd gone deeper. I'm still looking forward to the author's new series.
Europe: A History by Norman Davies
I listened to Europe as an audiobook and it took the whole summer. The book is a more-or-less chronological list of snippets from the Ice Age to the mid-90s, giving an episodic, rather blog-like reading experience. But, unlike a 2020s history blog, this one was refreshingly centrist. I owe Davies a lot for his illuminating metaphor about people who see government as a balance, versus those who see it as a tug-of-war. I was wondering about the central role Davies gives to Poland in his story of Europe, but when I got to the end, I understood. I know what happens when you marry an Eastern European, as sure as I know Bulgaria is the continent's best country.
Caldé of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe
A profound and splendid book, like sitting on a dusty veranda at sunset, drinking musky white wine. A friend and I disagree on whether this book (and the Long Sun series of which it is a part) is a work of inspired genius, or just very good. I'll help you come to the right opinion with a quote:
"Without leaving his chair, he extracted the puff from a drawer on the other side of the room and applied flesh-toned powder delicately to the small, sharp chin he had shaped with such care upon arising."
Read it again and ask yourself, "How long was that man's arm?"
There's a point where an old man separates his hands from each other, twisting one. I burst out laughing when I read that, and my kids asked me to tell them what was so funny. I realized the explanation would require them to read this book plus the two previous books in the Long Sun series. So, go do that.
Daniel M. Bensen