*Visit All Things Urban Fantasy today for her Deadly Destination tour of Justin Gustainis’ Scranton from Stan Markowski & a chance to win HARD SPELL**
Today’s Deadly Destinations tour takes us to San Francisco, the setting of the Nola O’Grady series. Our tour guide is Nola O’Grady, the heroine from Katharine Kerr’s WATER TO BURN (available from Penguin/DAW on August 2nd). The first book that started Nola’s adventure is LICENSE TO ENSORCELL. Thanks to Penguin/DAW, five of you who comment on this post will win a copy of the second book! See details below.
A Tour of San Francisco
by Nola O’Grady
San Francisco — everybody’s favorite city. That’s what the Tourist Board calls it, anyway, and they may be right. Trouble is, they don’t realize just who — or what — that word “everybody” includes. It’s my job to know. And to do something about it when the tourists turn out to be less than nice.
My name is Nola O’Grady. I work for a government agency so secret that even the CIA doesn’t know we exist. That’s a good thing, too, because they’d probably try to skim off some of our funding. My group originated in the 1960s as part of the Cold War skirmishes. The higher-ups in the USA thought that the Soviets were using psychic powers against us. The Soviets thought the reverse. They were both wrong, of course, but once you set up a government agency, it’s easier to get fleas out of wall-to-wall carpets than to deactivate a bureau.
Still, founding the Agency turned out to be one of Congress’s better moves, even though most Americans would consider us a waste of tax monies. Your average citizen has no idea that the forces of unbridled Chaos threaten civilizations daily throughout the multiverse. The Agency’s mission: stop them from destroying ours.
I’m the head of our San Francisco bureau, or as we’re known in the Agency, The Apocalypse Squad. We all have psychic powers. (Well, except for my bodyguard, who’s a weapons expert. He’s very necessary at times. And kind of sexy.) Unfortunately, the criminals we hunt down have psychic talents, too.
You see, there are two powerful forces in the universe, Chaos and Order. Both are necessary for the survival of any culture or civilization. Too much Order, and the culture stifles no creativity, no change, no progress. Too much Chaos, and the culture flies apart — no certainty, no agreement, no peace. If we can balance them, these two forces produce Harmony, the much desired goal of all rational beings.
The problem: truly rational beings are few and far between in our corner of the multiverse. And a lot of the irrational ones end up in my territory.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a multi-cultural place. We have citizens from all over the world, most of them human in the usual human mix, some bad, some good. We have visitors from all over the world, too, and most of those are just vacationers, hoping for an interesting, relaxing good time. Some of the humans who live here, like our local anarchists, are Chaos devotees who bear watching, but they fall under the jurisdiction of other government agencies. The local police handle the occasional human tourist who comes to commit mayhem of one kind or another. My agency’s responsible for the non-humans. Let me tell you about some of them.
We all know about werewolves. The San Francisco Bay Area is surrounded by wild hill country. The city itself sports several large parks. Yes, we have a werewolf problem, though not all of these furry Chaotics are out to cause trouble. Some fight against their desires to kill and maim. These wolves have formed a pack devoted to the principles of Order. They use their childhood religions as a kind of leash to keep the wolf side of their nature under control.
Others are not so peaceful, and they become my problem. What causes lycanthropy? I don’t know for certain. I do know that the numbers of werewolves locally has rise sharply in the past few years. Some experts think a virus causes the condition, one normally transmitted in the saliva of an existing wolf-person. Apparently the virus can lie dormant for years, only to activate itself when conditions are right.
I personally think diet has something to do with the rise. Our culture eats an awful lot of red meat, usually cooked rare or even served raw. If I were visiting here, I’d skip the steak tartare. And by the way, don’t go walking in the larger parks at night. If you hear “dogs” howling, stick to the well-lighted streets.
Vampires are another common threat, but forget the entire concept of “undead”. It makes great fiction, but the sad truth is that the vampirism I’ve dealt with stems from a recessive gene, a genetic disorder, in other words, that originated in Eastern Europe. These sufferers lack the ability to regenerate their life force — Qi, as the Agency calls it — as quickly as normal people. Exhaustion can kill them. They’ve evolved the ability to snatch Qi from others to compensate, but when they take too much, it’s murder just as much as if they’d used a knife or a gun.
If you visit the city, be careful in crowds. Try not to let strangers bump into you, no matter how sweetly they apologize. If someone knocks against you, and you feel oddly tired afterward, go back to your hotel room and rest. You need to regenerate Qi.
About a third of the population of San Francisco is ethnically Asian, mostly Japanese and Chinese, and you couldn’t want a more law-abiding, Orderly culture than those. Unfortunately, back around the turn of the century some Chaotic immigrants arrived with them, turning invisible to slip past the Customs officers. Fox spirits fall into the same class as minor demons: irritating little buggers most of the time, very dangerous when they get big ideas. Fleecing tourists in one of their specialties.
Men, if you’re travelling without your wives or girlfriends, be careful of pretty young women who approach you with downcast eyes and a simper. Make sure you get a good look at those eyes. Eyes without pupils — that is, the eyes appear solid white or solid green — mean a fox spirit’s after your wallet.
Finally, I need to warn surfers and beach lovers in general. Normally it’s too cold in San Francisco to hang out on the beach, but if you’re a confirmed surfer, you probably have a wetsuit and an attitude. Some very strange visitors have taken to lurking in the water just off our coasts. There’s not a lot of them, thank heavens, but they’re all part of a criminal gang from far, far away. They look like a cross between cuttle-fish and squid: cephalopods, in other words, about four feet long on the average, with tentacles at the business end.
They may not be huge, but they’re dangerous because they’re natural psychics with well-developed powers. No one knows why they’ve come here, but I bet it’s not for the shrimp salad. It’s my job to discover their motives. Until I do, be warned: the ocean beaches of the San Francisco Bay Area have a new danger to go with the killer rip tides and the cold, cold temperatures.
If you surf, stay alert! Criminal squid have already murdered a couple of locals. Don’t be their next victim!
Katharine Kerr was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1944 to a family which considered itself British-in-exile far more than American. Since she was taught to read on British books alone, these sentiments resulted in her inability to spell properly in either system, British or American, though fortunately there were no other lasting effects.
Just to compound the culture shock, the family moved to Santa Barbara, California, when Katharine was a schoolgirl. Already an avid baseball fan, her first reaction to the move was horror at discovering that the state had no major league teams, as the Giants and the Dodgers had yet to arrive. Her second reaction was an even greater horror upon realizing that in Southern California beaches are far more important than books. She vowed to leave as soon as possible, carrying out the threat in 1962, when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since then, she has left it only to visit relatives in the British Isles and currently lives in San Francisco itself.
After dropping out of Stanford University in the mid-Sixties to join several of the revolutions then in progress, Katharine worked at a number of low-paying jobs, including a stint in the Post Office, while she read extensively in the fields of classical archaeology and literature, Medieval and Dark Ages history, and modern fiction. (She can muddle along in Latin and several modern languages, including the speech of rock-and-roll musicians.) She lived with a number of cats and of course, attended baseball games. Eventually she had the good fortune to meet up with an old friend from secondary school, Howard Kerr, who loves cats, books, and baseball as much as she does. They were married in 1973.
In 1979 a friend gave Katharine what became known as “the fatal gift,” her first fantasy role-playing game. She became so intrigued with both gaming and the fantasy field as a whole that she began writing articles for gaming magazines, and for some time was a contributing editor to DRAGON magazine as well as contributing to gaming modules for both TSR, Inc, and Chaosium, Inc. Now, however, she is devoting herself exclusively to fiction, for the simple reasons that there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and she does require the normal amount of sleep.
Want to read more from Katharine Kerr?
This giveaway is provided by Penguin/DAW
Five winners will each receive a copy of Water to Burn by Katharine Kerr
Available on August 2, 2011 from Penguin/DAW
About the Book:
Secret agent Nola O’Grady is back and ready to save San Francisco from all evildoers, alien and otherwise. With the aid of her bodyguard and lover Ari Nathan, Nola’s new mission is to track down and apprehend the mysterious “Brother Belial,” head of the now-dispersed Chaos cult-and a possible invader from another dimension.
1. Leave a comment for Katharine.
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4. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada/No P.O. Boxes.
5. Please include your email address in your comment.
6. All Deadly Destinations winners will be announced on August 7th.
7. The winner will be picked with the help of Random.org.
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