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08 Jun 2015
The Years of Rice and Salt

The Years of Rice and Salt


Kim Stanley Robinson has a bigger vocabulary than you. When I write try to use big words I end up sounding like an overachieving high school sophomore. KSR, on the other hand, writes like he was born with a 8000 word vocabulary. As I read through The Years of Rice and Salt I kept track of all the words I didn’t know.

  1. Copse: A small group of trees
  2. Ambergris: A fat secreted by sperm whales found floating in the sea and used in perfume.
  3. Crenellated: Provided with battlements.
  4. Abattoir: A slaughterhouse.
  5. Artemisia: An aromatic or bitter-tasting plant of a genus that includes wormwood, mugwort and sagebrush.
  6. Capstans: A revolving cylinder used for winding a rope, pushed around by cables.
  7. Bardo: (In Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth.
  8. Assiduously: With great care and perseverance.
  9. Neophyte: A person who is new to a subject, skill or belief.
  10. Zoroastrian: A pre-Islamic religion of ancient Persia.
  11. Cloying: Sickly, syrupy or oversweet.
  12. Arabesqued: Finely ornamented by intertwined flowing lines.
  13. Despotism: The excercise of absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.
  14. Apostasy: The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.
  15. Inveterate: Having a particular habit, activity, or interest that is long-established and unlikely to change.
  16. Filigree: Ornamental work of fine wire formed into delicate tracery.
  17. Athanor: A type of furnace used by alchemists, able to maintain a steady heat for long periods.
  18. Alembic: An obsolete distilling apparatus consisting of a rounded, necked flask and a cap with a long beak.
  19. Stertorous: (Of breathing) noisy and labored.
  20. Truculent: Eager or quick to argue or fight; aggressively defiant.
  21. Cinnabar: A bright read mineral consisting of mercury sulfide.
  22. Plenum: An assembly of all the members of a group or committee.
  23. Prevaricate: Speak or act in an evasive way.
  24. Nargileh: A hookah.
  25. Obsequiousness: Obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree.
  26. Somnolent: Sleepy; drowsy.
  27. Irascible: Having or showing a tendency to be easily angered.
  28. Warren: A network of interconnecting rabbit burrows.
  29. Punctilious: Showing great attention to detail or correct behavior.
  30. Demur: The action or process of objecting to or hesitating over something.
  31. Sericulture: The production of silk and the rearing of silkworms for this purpose.
  32. Filature: The process of obtaining silk thread from silkworm cocoons.


Katima and Ibn Ezra looked at each other. Ibn Ezra said, “My impression is that any improvement in the tenor of existence will have to be anthropogenic.”

Mohammed himself said, Pursue learning even if it take you to China!

“Feed him your discoveries in little pieces,” Iwang suggested. “It will seem as if there are more of them.”

Religion could not be faked or used for worldly purposes.

“We may be in a hallucination here, but that’s no excuse for being delusional!”

Heavily Khalid pulled himself up, and limped over to Sayyid Abdul Aziz, and without any warning kicked him sprawling across the stage. “And you!” he roared. “What is your EXCUSE! Why are you always so bad? Consistency is no excuse, your CHARACTER is NO EXCUSE!”

Sayyid glared up at him from the floor, sucking on a torn knuckle. Daggers in his stare: “Leave me alone.”

Khalid made as if to kick him again, then gave up on it. “You’ll get yours,” he promised. “One of these days, you’ll get yours.”

“Forget about him,” Iwang advised. “He’s not the real problem, and he’ll always be part of us. Forget about him, forget about the gods. Let’s concentrate on doing it ourselves. We can make our own world.”

He turned the skull to him and looked inside it. “He did this and no one knew,” he said. “No one knew who he was, no one remembers this act of mine, no record of it exists, except in my mind, intermittently, and in the existence of all the people here who would have died if I had not done it. This is what the human story is, not the emperors and the generals and their wars, but the nameless actions of people who are never written down, the good they do for others passed on like a blessing, just doing for strangers what your mother did for you, or not doing what she always spoke against. And all that carries forward and makes us what we are.”

This did not surprise Shih. His mother was always adopting stray cats and castaway concubines; she helped to maintain the town orphanage, and stretched their finances by supporting the Buddhist nuns. She often spoke of becoming one herself. She wrote poetry: “These flowers I walk on hurt my heart,” she would recite from one of her day poems. “When my days of rice and salt are over,” she would say, “I’ll copy out the sutras and pray all day. But until then we had all better get to the day’s work!”

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