Feb 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day!

February 29th only comes round every four years, so go do something fun and memorable!

Have cupcakes for breakfast or ice-cream for dinner.

Visit a museum or art gallery even though it's a workday.

Read a book from a genre you normally wouldn't touch, or an indie comic, or some Victorian poetry.

Call an old friend out of the blue.

Try a new sport, or an old one. (I'm thinking medieval sword fighting.)

Write a drabble,

do a cartwheel,

sing karaoke like nobody's listening.

Take a leap!

Feb 28, 2016

Release the Kraken!


Meet the steampunkiest rum out there: The Kraken. It's sweet, spicy, thick, and black. I mixed it with diet coke this time, and because I'm slightly insane delightfully quirky, I carved a kraken out of lime peel for my glass.


                                                    Here's a close-up of the label.
                                                                Cheers, matey!

Science Fiction Classics: Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh

Image from www.amazon.com   

Downbelow Station is a complicated novel. From the prologue we learn that long ago the Earth Company funded space exploration and built a number of space stations as stepping-stones to the stars. Everything went well for a while, and the company prospered and built more and more bases so humans could travel to distant worlds. They collected taxes etc. to pay for this. At some point the farthest stations began to rebel, and the company built a fleet to reinforce its orders. The far-away stations formed a break-away element, the Union, and war broke out between the Company and Union fleets, with the stationers and merchants caught in the middle.

The story takes place at Pell, on the station orbiting it (Upabove) and a base at planet surface (Downbelow).  Captain Signy Mallory of the company fleet dumps a holdfull of refugees onto Pell station, straining its resources to breaking-point. Angelo Konstantin, the Stationmaster, tries to cope. We follow him and his son Damon on the station and Emilio on-planet. Mallory also dumps prisoner of war Josh Talley on the station. He requests a mindwipe in return for his freedom. Then there’s John Lukas, Konstantin’s rival, working with union agent Jessad. We also have Mazian, leader of the company fleet, and his counterpart in the Union, Seb Azov. Confused yet? I know I was.

On-planet, we also have the indigenous hisa, fluffy big-eyed creatures who speak in broken English. They’re working for the humans, and some of them work on the station. They’re very loyal to the Konstantins.

The story follows Pell station, caught in the middle of the war, riots, and political machinations.

I chose to read Downbelow Station because it was on my list of science fiction classics, and the name reminded me of Babylon 5, one of my favorite TV-shows ever. Turns out that the novel was a major inspiration for B5’s creator J. M. Straczynski. The book also won the Hugo award in 1982. Should be good, right?

Not exactly. I really wanted to like this book, but I found it a tough read. From the beginning, I kept getting the characters mixed up. Mostly I had no idea who was on which side of the conflict or even who I was supposed to be rooting for. There were just too many characters with similar names, none of whom were that memorable. The only ones that stuck were Captain Mallory and Josh, the mind-wipe victim (and the hisa). Most of the time I had to read a few paragraphs/pages until I knew who I was reading about. The end result was that I didn’t care about the characters or what happened to them. Also their motivations were a bit fuzzy to me. Some major plot  twists and revelations just happened in passing, like they were no big deal, which messed with my caring about the characters.

The hisa also rubbed me the wrong way, but this is a matter of personal preference. They were just too cutesy (the way they said ‘love you’ constantly), and I found their speech patterns annoying. And the way the human characters treated them: naming them things like ‘satin’ and ‘bluetooth,’ like they were pets, and exploiting them as workers. Were they even getting paid? A bit too much of the noble-savage trope for my liking.

On the plus side, I did notice the similarities to Babylon 5, so it was interesting to see where the series' creator got his inspiration. The mind-wipe thing was interesting, and the base on Pell, the planet. I also thought the prologue about the Company and Union was intriguing.

A second read-through would probably help, but I didn’t like the characters enough to do that.

So, not a favorite. I wonder if I should try another book from Cherryh, just to give her a fair shot. Maybe something a bit more straight-forward and character-oriented? If anyone has a recommendation, comment away.  

Feb 26, 2016

Vader & the Kids

Are you familiar with Jeffrey Brown's hilarious cartoons of sith parenting? Here are a few of my favorites:




                                                Oh yeah, it's not just Luke. Here's the Leia one.



                   You can get the books here. Ooh, and there's a new one, Goodnight Darth Vader!

Feb 24, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Classical Crime and Punishment

I thought we'd explore a few villains from classical mythology this week. You might argue that some of the greatest villains of Greek mythology are the gods, but I decided to explore the ones stuck in Tartarus for their crimes.

King Sisyphus got sent to Tartarus for being a poor host. No really, he killed his guests. He also seduced his niece and gossiped about Zeus' romantic affairs, so down he went. Being a clever sort, Sisyphus tricked Thanatos (death) and escaped, leaving Thanatos in chains. Without death, all sorts of wackiness ensued, but Sisyphus ended up back where he belonged in the end. He did trick Persephone into releasing him again, because his wife hadn't given him a proper burial. Hermes dragged him back, though. Then he had the gall to brag he was cleverer than Zeus. His punishment was to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, with the boulder always rolling away from him. The etymology of his name is unknown, though a replication of syphos "crafty" is one possibility.    

Another king, Tantalus, decided it would be fun to chop up his son and serve him to the gods. He also stole the ambrosia from them. Big mistake. He was condemned to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low-hanging branches. Whenever he reached for the fruit, the branches pulled away, and the water receded before he could drink. His name, literally "the bearer" or "the sufferer," comes from tal*talos, from PIE root *tele "to carry, support."

King Ixion got pissed at his father-in-law and pushed him onto a bed of burning coals, committing the first kin-related murder. Zeus pitied him and invited him up for a meal in Olympus. There the ungrateful wretch tried to seduce the goddess Hera, Zeus' wife. Ixion ended up strapped to a winged, flaming wheel that was always spinning. I couldn't find an etymology for this one.

The Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to men, and was punished by being chained to rock and having vultures peck on his liver for all eternity. His name means "forethought," from Greek pro "before"+ mathein "to learn."

Boy, the Greek gods sure knew how to hold a grudge!


Feb 23, 2016

Going Nova

Attention Finnish writers of weird and wonderful tales: the Nova writing competition is once again live! Here's the info. See you in the slush pile :)

Nova 2016 -novellikilpailu

Vuonna 2016 kilpailu järjestetään jo seitsemännentoista kerran. Kisan järjestävät Turun Science Fiction Seura ry. sekä Suomen Tieteis- ja fantasiakirjoittajat ry.

Novan tuomaristoon kuuluvat tänä vuonna Suomen tieteis- ja fantasiakirjoittajat ry:n puheenjohtaja Mia Myllymäki, kirjabloggaaja Hanna Matilainen, Turun yliopiston tieteiskulttuurikabinetti ry:n puheenjohtaja Taru Hyvönen sekä Kosmoskynä-lehden päätoimittajana työskennellyt Juri Timonen. Kisassa on esiraati, joka karsii jatkoon pääsevät novellit tuomaristolle. Esiraatiin kuuluvat Jenni Hirvonen sekä Taru Hyvönen.

Kilpailun deadline on sunnuntaina 17.4.2016 keskiyöllä. Tulokset julkistetaan loppukesästä.

Novellit tulee kirjoittaa suomeksi. Aihe on vapaa, kunhan se liittyy science fictioniin tai fantasiaan. Kisaan voi osallistua useammalla novellilla. Tekstit, joiden maksimipituus on 45 000 merkkiä välilyönteineen (noin 20 sivua), lähetetään viimeistään 17.4.2016 osoitteeseen novakilpailu (at) gmail (piste) com. Sähköpostin otsikoksi nimimerkki sekä novellin nimi, viestin leipätekstiin osallistujan nimi ja yhteystiedot, ja novelli sähköpostin liitteeksi rtf-tiedostona muodossa novellin nimi_nimimerkki.rtf.

Järjestäjät toivovat runsasta osallistumista niin kokeneilta kuin aloitteleviltakin kirjoittajilta.

Feb 22, 2016

Deconstructing Characters: The Antagonist

Last week we used Deborah Chester's method from The Fantasy Fiction Formula to explore heroes. Up this week: the antagonists. The idea is to give them five bad qualities and two good ones, as opposed to five good and two bad qualities for the heroes. I tried to pick villains that everybody loves to hate, but who have depth and motivation for their actions, too. Okay, let's get to work.

Here's a fan favourite: George R. R. Martin's Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire

-  proud
- vain
- cruel
- vindictive
- power-hungry
+ loves her children
+ intelligent

Next we have Baron Harkonnen from Frank Herbert's Dune.

- ruthless
- power-hungry
- proud
- cruel
- prone to excess
+ determined
+ wily

Here's one from the Mass Effect games: Saren

- ruthless
- superior, in an insulting way
- power-hungry
- singleminded
- manipulative
+ powerful
+ principled

I've been re-watching Babylon 5, and I just couldn't leave out Psi Cop Alfred Bester

- ruthless
- cruel
- cold
- superior
- proud
+ patient, thinks things through
+ principled

What about Sauron from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings? He's often cited as the epitome of the dark lord, thoroughly evil and one-dimensional by modern standards. Would he look like this:

- evil
- evil
- evil
- evil
- evil
+ nope
+ nothing

But is that the whole truth? If you look through the appendixes and read The Silmarillion, nuances do start to appear, even a character arc.

On the other had, isn't he an effective villain? I think he is.

And what about monster-type villains like the terminator and the alien hunting Ripley? Not many-faceted, but would anyone argue that they aren't effective as antagonists? Maybe they're in a category of their own?

What do you think?

Feb 19, 2016

Mythological Mayhem


Looking for stuff to do this weekend? What about watching The Clash of the Titans? And I mean the original 1981 Harryhausen picture, not the cringeworthy remake.

Want something a bit more violent? What about another God of War playthrough? Tons of gory fun guaranteed. I actually haven't played the third one, because we didn't have PS3 when it came out, but apparently there's a remastered version for PS4 out now. Hmm... I should probably get it.


                              Or, you could just watch Xena. That's always a good time.

Feb 17, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Classical Heroes

Let's explore some classical heroes this week. Ever wonder where Hercules got his name? You're about to find out.

Okay, Hercules. The name comes from the Greek Herakles, meaning "glory of Hera." (You remember Hera, wife and sister of Zeus? Or if you're a Roman, you know her as Juno.) So Hera + kleos "glory."

Then there's James Joyce's favorite, Ulysses, Latin version of Greek Odysseus. The origin is unknown, perhaps from odyssasthaia "to be grieved/angry at." If you read The Odyssey, the name makes total sense.

Perseus is the one who slew Medusa. (Yeah, you remember, the old shiny shield trick. Have you noticed that the goddess Athena is depicted with Medusa's head on her shield? That's because Perseus gave it to her. The head still retained the power to turn people to stone. Nice of him to give it away, huh? Or was it? I wouldn't want it lying around the house, either.) The origins of the name are uncertain, but one possibility is that it's derived from Greek περθω (pertho), "to destroy."

And here's a personal favourite, Aeneas, the guy who traveled to the underworld and later founded the Roman state.The name comes from Greek Αινειας (Aineias), from Greek αινη (aine), "praise."

Theseus, the slayer of the Minotaur, gets his name from Greek τιθημι (tithemi) meaning "to set, to place." I don't get it. Wikipedia says the name is from the same root as θεσμός ("thesmos"), meaning "the gathering." As Theseus was a great reformer, this kind of fits, right?

The warrior Achilles, of Iliad fame, was invulnerable in battle, because his mother dipped him into the river Styx as a child, trying to make him immortal. The only part not invulnerable? The heel by which she held him. (I don't get why she didn't just dip the foot in afterwards, but, hey, whatever ... ) The name comes from Greek Αχιλλευς (Achilleus), of unknown meaning, perhaps derived from Greek αχος (achos) "pain" or the name of the river Achelous.

That just goes to show you, names matter. Writerly folk, think about the names you're giving to your characters. Do they have layers of meaning? Shouldn't they? Nomen est omen, right?


Feb 15, 2016

Deconstructing Characters: The Hero

In her book The Fantasy Fiction Formula, Chester suggests giving your protagonist five good qualities and two bad ones, and the opposite for the antagonist, so five bad qualities and two good ones. As an exercise, I thought I'd try to dissect a few of my favourite heroes using Chester's technique, just to see what makes them tick.

Let's start with Jim Butcher's wisecracking wizard slash detective Harry Dresden:

+ principled
+ funny
+ loyal
+ chivalrous
+ powerful
- stubborn
- can lose control when angry

I could go on, but let's stick with the seven qualities for now. This character's really well built. If you've read the books, you know that most of Dresden's good qualities become liabilities at one point or another. That's a nice trick; I think I'll try it at some point.

Next up: Sapkowski's witcher, Geralt of Rivia.

+ skilled at combat (he's a witcher, duh!)
+ loyal
+ follows his code (principled again)
+ brave
+ keeps his head in a crisis
- grumpy
- lone wolf

Okay, I have two action-hero types here. What about a different sort of hero? Or maybe I should stick with the term "protagonist"?

Killashandra Ree, the failed music student who won't settle for second place, ever, from Anne McCaffrey's Crystal Singer books is a different type of character, but just as compelling as the two mentioned above.

+ determined
+ assertive
+ independent
+ resourceful
+ talented
- proud
- impulsive

And now, here's one from the classics: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre:

+ principled
+ smart
+ determined
+ kind
+ resourceful
- proud
- insecure

This one's not from literature, but I love this character. Lorelei Gilmore from The Gilmore Girls:

+ independent
+ funny
+ determined
+ resourceful
+ good friend (loyal)
- proud
- fears commitment

Hmm. A lot of the same qualities seem to be popping up. So a main character should have some principles and stick to them, should be competent in some way, and be determined. We can't have the character just give up after the first setback; that would make a fairly boring story. I guess that leaves two qualities for shaping the character, like being funny or smart etc. For the negatives, pride appears to be a popular flaw.

I think this is a helpful tool. Would it become too complicated if we assumed the main character to be principled, competent, and determined (motivated), and came up with five good qualities on top of those? I don't know.

I also didn't have an anti-hero type here. Maybe that would look different? Should he or she have four good qualities and three bad ones to even the score? Let's try Deadpool, because I just saw the movie (which was awesome, by the way. Go see it, if you don't mind some profanity and low-brow humour; he isn't called "The Merc With the Mouth" for nothing):

+ loyal
+ follows his own moral code
+ determined
+ a survivor
- snarky
- impulsive
- loose cannon

What do you think? Does that work?

An interesting exercise, anyway.

But what about the antagonists? Come back next Monday and see.

Feb 14, 2016

Valentine's Weekend


Hubby and I took a train to Helsinki for the Valentine's day weekend. First up: Russian Masters at the Sinebrychoff  Art Museum. It's an exhibition of 19th century Russian art from romanticism to realism, featuring works by Sylvester Shchedrin, Ivan Aivazovsky, Alexey Bogolyubov, and Karl Bryullov. I especially enjoyed the seascapes and the fairy-tale inspired paintings. Taking photos wasn't allowed, but you can see some of the paintings on the museum's website. The exhibition's open until the eighth of May,  if you want to check it out. 


The rest of the museum's worth seeing, too, and you can explore the permanent collection for free. The building was originally the home of the illustrious Sinebrychoff family, who made their fortune in the brewing business.


                    Keeping with the Russian theme, we headed over to Saslik for dinner.   


The decor is very 19th century Russian glamour, with pictures of Czars on the walls and an abundance of matryoshka dolls on the windowsills. 


The food was good too, especially the blinis. One of the restaurant's specialities is bear meat, if you're feeling adventurous. 


That's their signature cocktail, the Kalinka. It's a lemony drink with vodka, and yes, that's a pickle impaled on a little plastic sword.


             And that's my dessert, a baked Alaska type ice-cream-meringue concoction. It tasted as good
             as it looks.


And now for the main event: Vampyyrien tanssi (Dance of the Vampires), a Finnish version of the musical based on Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers. 

It's playing at the Peacock Theater at Linnanmäki amusement park. I liked the posters, which had bulbs of garlic stuck in the frame.

 The musical was as amazing as it sounds. With gorgeous sets, beautiful costumes spanning vampire chic from the 1800s to silent movies to modern-day gothic, catchy musical numbers, and hot vampires in glittery leather pants, this is unmissable. And ladies, you need to see Count Von Krolock. Seriously. The man's got that sexy smouldering thing down pat. The role is played by Jonas Saari and Mikko Vihma. Because of the heavy makeup, I'm not sure which was on stage last night (Vihma?), but ... wow.    


On Sunday we still had time to check out the Rodin exhibit at the Ateneum. I love Rodin's work. The sculptures are so lifelike that it feels like they could step down from their pedestals at any moment. There's a grace and movement to the sculptures, and they don't feel posed. The exhibition's running until May eighth, if you want to go see it.


A trip to Helsinki isn't complete without a visit to Akateeminen bookstore. I only had fifteen minutes, but I managed to make a good-sized dent in my wallet anyway. The two Wilkie Collins books, The Moonstone and The Woman in White, I already have on kindle, but the covers were so nice that I bought them anyway. Then we have a David Bowie biography, Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, Gaiman's How the Marquise Got His Coat Back, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju (an impulse purchase, but who doesn't like Kaiju?), Wells' The Invisible Man, and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. 

             A burnt-caramel latte from Starbuck's was a perfect end to an amazing weekend. 

                                     I hope you had a fun Valentine's day too.


Happy Valentine's Day!

Health potion's red
Mana potion's blue
Dragons are awesome
And so are you!

Feb 12, 2016

Silent Movies for the Weekend


Why not check out some silent movie classics this weekend? These are in the science fiction/horror vein, because, well, that's the stuff I like best. 

First up: Metropolis. Visually intriguing and very, very weird, this science fiction classic is well worth a look. The design of the city has influenced practically every science fiction film that came after it. Dystopia, social commentary, and a love story: what more could you want?


The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari is the story of an insane hypnotist using a sleepwalker to commit murder, but more than the rather simplistic story, here, also, the mood and visual style of the film are my favourite part. The sets are striking and twisted, with sharp corners and exaggerated lines, light and shadow used to perfection. The city feels wrong, like something out of a nightmare, but beautiful, too. There's something similar to Tim Burton's work her, I think.


Can't have a list of silent movies without mentioning Nosferatu. The first vampire film ever still feels chilling, so don't watch it alone in the dark. The images linger and get in your dreams.

Feb 11, 2016

Need Help Understanding James Joyce's Ulysses?

Yeah, me too. I haven't given up, if you were wondering, but even with the annotations, my reaction is mostly WTF?!?!?

I had trouble believing anyone would put herself through this riddle-wrapped-in-a-literary-Easter-egg-hunt monster if she didn't have to. Students, sure. Anyone just reading for pleasure? Nope.

But I guess I was wrong. There's at least one person on the planet who genuinely loves this book: Frank Delaney. He loves it so much that he's doing a podcast on it. He started in 2010, and now the podcast, called Re:Joyce, has 303 five-minute episodes. (It's up to chapter eight so far, and he does one new episode per week.) The amazing thing is that Delaney actually manages to make Ulysses seem fun. His enthusiasm is catching, and the book doesn't seem so intimidating when broken down into bite-sized pieces.

You can check it out here.

I still have one third of the book to go, plus a few hundred pages of annotations. I figure it'll take me at least a month or two, because I need to read some normal stuff on the side to keep my head from imploding.

I appreciate Ulysses as an intellectual exercise, but that's as far as it goes. There's a beautiful bit of description here and there, a few bits that made me laugh, and I do enjoy hunting for obscure references, but I just can't connect to the story on an emotional level. What about you guys? Did you honestly enjoy reading Ulysses? Why? Tell me in the comments.

Feb 10, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Cinematography

Keeping with this week's theme, let's explore some words having to do with the film industry.

Cinematography (from which we get the word "cinema") comes from the French cinématographe, a word invented by the Lumière Brothers. It's a combination of a Latinised form of the Greek kinema "movement" and -graphy  from Greek graphein"to write." Originally graphein meant "to scrape onto clay tablets." So, new word, but it has old roots.

The word film as in "a thin coating of something" has been around since the 1500s, but the meaning of "a motion picture" is only from 1905.  It's from the Old English filmen "membrane, thin skin, foreskin," through West Germanic *filminjan, from Proto-Germanic fello, originally from PIE *pel- "animal skin."

Camera is Latin for "a vaulted room." Through the term camera obscura, "dark chamber," it was adopted as a photography term in the 1840s. Camera obscura as a term is probably familiar to many (it means a black box with a lens that can project images of external objects), but do you know it has a counterpart, camera lucida?  The camera lucida, "light chamber", uses prisms to produce an image on paper beneath the instrument so the image can be traced.

Celluloid is a transparent plastic made from nitro-celluloses and camphor. The word comes from cellulose, "consisting of cells."



Feb 8, 2016

Méliès Magic

Photo du film "Le Repas fantastique" (1900) de Georges Méliès via Wikimedia Commons

Georges Méliès (1861-1938) was a pioneer of French cinema.  An illusionist, he brought true magic to film by inventing and popularising special effects such as time-lapse photography, hand-painted colour, and multiple exposures. Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) and Voyage à transfers l'impossible (The Impossible Voyage), some of his most famous works, are considered to be the first science fiction films.  

Méliès' path to filmmaking was a rocky one; his family wanted him to continue in the family shoe business, and he did, for a while. His father sent him to London to work as a clerk, and there he started visiting The Egyptian Hall, run by famous illusionist John Nevil Maskelyne. Young Méliès returned to Paris with a passion for stage magic and a desire to study painting at the École des Beux-Arts. His father flatly refused to support that kind of nonsense, so Méliès settled for working at the family factory by day and cultivating his interest in stage magic by night at the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. He also started taking magic lessons and performing. 

In 1888 his father retired, and Méliès sold his share of the shoe business to his brothers. Together with his wife's dowry, he used the money to purchase the Théâtre Robert-Houdin. (I imagine this didn't go down well with Méliès senior...) Living the dream got off to a rocky start when attendance at the theatre was low, but Méliès wasn't easily discouraged: over the next nine years he invented over thirty new illusions and attendance improved. But Méliès didn't only perform on stage; he also worked as an editor, writer, and set and costume designer, gathering crucial experience for the years to come.  

On the evening of 27th December 1895 Méliès' world changed forever when he attended a private demonstration of the Lumière brothers' cinematograph and offered the ten thousand francs for it at the spot, but the brothers refused to sell. Méliès finally obtained a similar device from Robert A. Paul in London, and, after some modifications, he finally had his film camera. He developed his films personally and learned the business of filmmaking by trial and error. Technology finally caught up, and in 1987 Méliès was able to purchase a better camera. Between the years of 1986 and 1913 he made over five hundred films and started his Star Film Company.

Photo du film "Le Dirigeable fantastique" (Méliès, 1906) via Wikimedia Commons

The story has a sad ending, though. In 1903 film critics pronounced Méliès' work declining and repetitive. Also, in 1908, Thomas Edison created the Motion Pictures Patent Company to control the film industry in the US and in Europe, and Méliès was obliged to supply it with one thousand feet of film per week. In 1909 Méliès stopped making film, but he presided over the first International Filmmakers Congress in Paris. Unhappy with Edison's monopoly, the filmmakers tried to fight back. In the end, they came up with the idea to stop selling films, leasing them instead. Méliès resumed filmmaking, but the majority of the company's films were made by his brother Gaston, who had left France to start his own branch of the company in the US. 

In 1910 Méliès toured Europe with the stage magic show Les Fântomes du Nil, and made an agreement with Gaumont Film Company to distribute Star Company's films. Then he made the worst mistake of his career: he accepted a large sum of money from Charles Pathé to produce films, giving the Pathé brothers the right to distribute and edit them. As a part of the deal, Méliès handed over the deeds to his home and his studio. 

After many unsuccessful films, and the final insult of Pathé handing over a film for editing to Méliès' rival Ferdinand Zecca, Méliès broke contract with Pathé in 1913. On top of that, Gaston Méliès had messed up: he squandered fifty thousand dollars on his travels over the globe, producing only unusable or damaged film footage. He couldn't fulfil Star Film's obligation to Edison's company, and had to sell the American branch of Star Films. The brothers never spoke to each other after that. This left Méliès with nothing to pay his debts to Pathé.

Then came the First World War, and Méliès' wife walked out on him, leaving Méliès to raise his thirteen-year-old son alone. The army confiscated over four hundred of Star Company's original films and melted them to reclaim the silver and celluloid, which were used to make heels for shoes. In 1923 Pathé was finally able to take over Méliès' studios. Méliès flew into a rage and burned all the negatives he had stored at the studio, and most of the sets and costumes. Only two hundred films were saved.

photo du film "Le royaume des fées" (1903, Méliès) via Wikimedia Commons
A lot of Méliès' films don't have that much of a plot, but they're beautiful and surreal, and you can sense Méliès' bizarre sense of humour in many of them. Like Les Diableries,  these films appeal to the part of me that likes the weird and wonderful.

The images above are from Méliès' films, but stills aren't enough to convey how amazing they are; you need to see them in motion. You can view them at archive.org, but here's a taste:

Alchimiste Parafaragamus ou La cornue infernale By Georges Mélies (Internet Archive) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia Commons

Feb 5, 2016

Cthulhu Cuteness


Want to show everyone's favourite eldritch horror some love? Now you can. First up, the cuddliest knitted baby Cthulhu ever. Made by my super-talented crafty friend from this book


                                        Here he is from the back. All together now: Aww!


                         Okay, this bit's kind of girly... Brace yourselves. Lovecraftian nail wraps! 


              Mine are from thinkgeek.com. Sadly, they're out of stock, but if you dare venture into the 
              murky waters of internet shopping, you might find something similar.


Speaking of murky waters, check out these tentacle earrings I got at Finncon a few years ago. I can't 
                        remember the seller's name, but if you want a pair, Etsy is your friend. 


        Is your iPad not Lovecraftian enough? Creep it up with these iPad covers from geekifyinc.com.


       Got the iPad Necronomiconed? Good. Now go read "The Call of Cthulhu"on it. I dare you. 

Feb 3, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Mythological Creatures

The theme this week: things a witcher would kill. Enjoy!

Let's start with the griffin. What? You don't remember what it looks like? Okay, this is the one that has the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. The word comes from Late Latin grypus, variant of gryps, meaning "curved, hook-nosed," so a hooked beak. Gryphon is an archaic alternative spelling.

The basilisk gets its name from Greek basiliskos, "little king." It was supposed to have a crest or spot that resembled a crown on its forehead. The creature became hopelessly mixed up with the legend of the cockatrice (from Latin calcare "to tread"). A serpent hatched from a cock's egg, the traditional way to slay a basilisk is to trick it into seeing its own reflection, because its glance is fatal.

I haven't come across a manticore in the game yet, but here goes... The manticore has the body of a lion, the head of a man, porcupine quills, and the tail of a scorpion. The word comes from Greek mantikhoras, probably from Iranian mar-tiya-khvara "man-eater."

The chimera comes from Greek khimaira "year-old she-goat." It had a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. Yeah, that name's kind of deceptive.

You can find the etymology of vampires, werewolves, and ghouls in previous posts, so I won't repeat them here.

Gotta go sharpen my silver sword. I can probably get in a few hours of monster slaying before dinner.


Feb 1, 2016

Writing Book: The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester


The Fantasy Fiction Formula is a great writing book by Jim Butcher's mentor. I love Butcher's Dresden Files series, and when I saw the book mentioned on his site, I had to get it, and I wasn't disappointed.

This book is geared towards genre writers, and you get what is says on the cover: well-written, practical advice. The examples have to do with wizards and werewolves, and Chester's style is fun and entertaining. If you've read a lot of writing books, most of the information is familiar, but Chester's approach is very useful, with examples that help illustrate the point she's trying to make. The great thing is, you get examples of both the wrong way and the right way, which makes it easier to spot your own mistakes.

I found the book useful and learned a few new tricks, but the best thing for me was that it describes the process of writing a story or novel from start to finish, and it helped me fuse all the information floating around my brain into one concise whole. If you've already written a book or two, you probably don't need this, but for beginners trying to write speculative fiction this is worth every penny.

The first thing I'm going to try is the SPOOC method for testing story premises. The acronym comes from Situation, Protagonist, Objective, Opponent, Climax. When you combine them, you'll get a two-sentence plot summary. So Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone might look  something like this:

Situation: When he finds out that someone is after the Philosopher's stone hidden in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Protagonist: Harry Potter
Objective: vows to keep it safe.
But can he stop
Opponent: the evil Lord Voldemort
Climax: from stealing it and coming back?

The character-building and revision questions are also useful, and the story structure sections are easy to understand.

In conclusion: one of the best writing books I've read. Go ahead and get this if you're a genre writer. Into science fiction or horror? Don't let the fantasy bit scare you off; you'll still get plenty of use from this. Highly recommended.

(If you're a literary writer, you will probably hate this and feel like the book is trying to box you in. If the concept of plot makes you dry-heave, move along. This is not the writing book you're looking for.)