content by

Teresa Nielsen Hayden

The Late Mike Fellinger’s Turkey Algorithm: An Exercise in Geek Cooking

I still think of this as Jon Singer’s Turkey Algorithm, because that’s the title under which I knew it for decades; but Singer says it was devised by the late Mike Fellinger, and must be credited to him. It goes:

“For a turkey of greater than ten pounds, the roasting time should be equal to 1.65 times the natural log of the weight of the bird in pounds, cooked at 325 F.”

If you’re not a person who normally calculates natural logs, go to Google. Say you have a 20-pound turkey. Type in natural log 20 and hit the search button. Google will tell you that the natural log of 20 is 2.99573227. Multiply this by 1.65. The result will be 4.9429582455, or five hours.

[Math will cook this turkey]

Re-reading Sandman: Issue #1, “The Sleep of the Just”

I said I wasn’t going to talk about editions. I was wrong. If you want an excuse to buy the huge expensive hardcover Absolute Sandman collections, I can give you one: they’ve been digitally recolored throughout. The difference is transformational. The underlying inked art is still the same, but it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on in it.

Some examples: Old and new versions of a two-page splash panel. The penultimate and antepenultimate pages of “Men of Good Fortune.” Another comparison of old and new splash panels. (You’ll have to scroll down a few clicks.)

Odd thing: I remembered the colorwork in the original Sandman comics being much richer and subtler than it is. That’s normal; readers who’ve gotten hooked by a story always fill in details without realizing they’re doing it. But until I compared the two versions, I didn’t realize quite how much I’d been filling in the first time around. Frequently, colors functioned more like traffic signals than anything else. They were laid down in big monochrome patches in order to group objects, separate foregrounds from backgrounds, and clarify panel boundaries. A lot of detail disappeared into the murk.

I don’t mean to bash Robbie Busch, or any of the other colorists who worked on the original comic. Their job wasn’t easy. If you’re curious, read Todd Klein on old-school coloring. Besides, coloring came in at the end of the artistic process, so any delays in the earlier stages could mean the colorists got stuck with insanely short deadlines. At any rate, that’s how things worked at Valiant/Acclaim; and I don’t recall the colorists there complaining that This Never Happens at DC or Marvel.

On with the story: Sandman #1, “The Sleep of the Just.” Page numbers refer to the Absolute Sandman edition.

11-12: June 6, 1916. Wych Cross, England. Professor John Hathaway arrives at Fawney Rig, the home of Roderick Burgess, a notorious libertine and ceremonial magician. Hathaway is clutching the Magdalene Grimoire, which he’s stolen from his employers at the Royal Museum, and he’s got “supplicant” written all over him. He’s just received word that his son Edmund is dead, killed when his destroyer went down off Jutland, and he wants to talk to Burgess about a piece of ceremonial magic.

[Ever so much more.]

Re-reading Sandman: An introduction

The Sandman was a monthly comic book written by Neil Gaiman, published in 75 issues of 32 pages apiece, from 1989 to 1996. It’s now in print as a series of graphic albums. Wikipedia and other easily found sources can tell you about all the awards and notice and praise it’s gotten, the collected editions in which it’s been republished, the artists who’ve given it visual form, et cetera and so forth; so I’m going to skip those bits.

Sandman is one of those landmark works of imagination that reshape our genre. It’s a story about stories and how they work, but it never feels tiresomely metafictional, or like reading it might be good for you. Its complex structure owes a good bit to works like The One Thousand and One Nights and Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, where one story is a frame for another story, which itself is a frame for a third, which may or may not loop around and reconnect with the main storyline anytime soon. It is nevertheless fitted neatly and painlessly into the very complicated DC Comics continuity, where it does no harm and ties up a lot of loose ends. And you don’t need to know one bit of that in order to enjoy reading it.

The book follows the adventures of Dream of the Endless, also called Morpheus or the Sandman. The other Endless, his siblings, are Destiny, Death, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium, the offspring of Erebus and Nyx.* Morpheus is the ruler of the Dreaming, and all who are passing through it. If your pantheon has a god of sleep or dreams, he’s that guy. He’s also called the Prince of Stories, and “he to whom Allah has given dominion over that which is not and was not and shall never be.” This fits. Like dreams, stories are mutable but not arbitrary, and though unreal may nevertheless be true.


On July 20th, 1969…by Teresa Nielsen Hayden

I knew the moon landing was going to happen, and then it happened, pretty much as planned. To me, it seemed as stately as a coronation. I was happy about the event, and you couldn’t have dragged me away from the television while it was going on, but it wasn’t an illumination. It was more a vote of confidence: science works like this. People worked like that: Neil Armstrong fluffed his big quote. Poor Mike Collins had to stay in the orbiting Command Module and keep an eye on things. And poor us: there were only a few tv channels back then, so we had to listen to play-by-play commentary aimed at people who didn’t know anything about space flight, or lunar gravity, or what a big deal this was.

Apollo 13 (“Houston, we’ve had a problem”) was the mission that caught my heart. Onboard explosion, loss of electrical power, failure of both oxygen tanks? The network talking heads made soothing noises for the benefit of people who didn’t know anything, but I wasn’t fooled. I knew there was no guarantee that Lovell, Swigert, and Haise would get home alive. (Years later, the Challenger exploded during takeoff. I heard the news from a fellow editor at Chelsea House shortly after it happened. “They don’t know yet whether there are any survivors,” she said. I remember staring at her a few seconds, feeling hollow-eyed and solemn and sad, then saying “There aren’t any.”)

If Apollo 13 scared the bejezus out of me, it also gave me a moment of pure joy, when I heard that the bodged apparatus that let the crew in the Lunar Module use the Command Module’s incompatible lithium hydroxide canisters to scrub CO2 out of the air supply was built using, among other things, the laminated cover of the mission handbook. The principle hit twelve-year-old me like a blinding flash of light: Always look around and see what components are really available.

When the Apollo 13 movie came out a quarter-century later, the scene where they dump out a duplicate collection of everything the astronauts have to work with, and say “Figure out how to mate these components,” brought its own flash of light. It was the first time I’d ever seen a movie depict a mindset I knew so intimately well. Finally! Mission commentary that wasn’t geared for ignoramuses!

Boom-di-yada. The world is awesome, and getting more so all the time.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a fan writer, essayist, blogger, teacher, and moderator.

Series: Moon Landing Day