Apr 29, 2016

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War

 
                   


Just saw Captain America: Civil War yesterday. There were many enjoyable moments, but it was a bit of a bumpy ride, I think. I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but I'm going to mention character names and that kind of thing, so if you haven't seen the movie, read at your own risk.

The basic set-up has to do with the collateral damage the Avengers leave behind when fighting the bad guys. When a brawl in Lagos results in the death of innocent bystanders, political pressure mounts to control the Avengers and hold them accountable for their actions. This takes the form of the Sokovia Accords (remember Sokovia, the small, Eastern European country destroyed in Age of Ultron?),  internationally ratified legal documents that would make the Avengers a task force operating under the jurisdiction of the UN. Stark, overwhelmed with guilt, is ready to sign, but Cap refuses, feeling that it would be giving up his freedom to choose what is right and when to intervene. When Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier, is implicated in a bombing, the two are forced further apart, until the other superheroes are forced to pick sides.

For me, the movie suffered from an over-convoluted plot, too many action sequences, and an overabundance of characters; the emotional moments got lost in all the action. One in particular, a moment that should have had Cap and the audience sniffling, was over in a few minutes and cheapened by just being there to build up Cap's conviction that he's doing the right thing. The Black Panther side plot felt quite generic, and if the screenwriters had cut that, we could have focused more on the character relationships that matter to the story. Yes, I get that they were trying to reinforce the theme of revenge consuming people, but is the side plot necessary to the story? Also, did we really need Hawkeye for his one? He doesn't actually have a whole lot to do. The Scarlet Witch felt a bit redundant, too. Couldn't the mistake she made have been made by Stark, for example? Wouldn't that have reinforced his motivation to sigh the accords? The movie rushes from locale to locale, giving us big and flashy action sequences all over the world, but even action scenes get boring if you repeat them long enough. At almost two and a half hours of movie, I feel we should have gotten more character moments. Sometimes less actually is more.

But there was good stuff, too. I enjoyed the banter between the superheroes, and the fight at the airport was pure fun. Ant-Man and Spidey got the best lines, and the dynamic between Iron Man and Spidey was fantastic; I just wish we had gotten to see more of it. I loved the film's version of Spider-Man. I also liked that the Captain America/Winter Soldier storyline got its conclusion, and I quite liked the ending.

So, not my favourite Marvel movie, but worth seeing, nonetheless.

Meteorite Earrings


                         


                               Who wouldn't want to hang tiny meteorites from their earlobes? 



Here's a close-up. I bought the meteorite charms at a science museum (Stockholm, maybe, or London?) and added hooks.

Maybe I'll wear these while writing my hard science fiction story for the Lumen ja jään antologia? #SeriousScienceFictionWriter

P.S. Is it bad that the aforementioned project keeps trying to turn into a Victorian ghost story? Should I let it?

Apr 28, 2016

Hugo Finalists Announced

The Hugo finalists have been announced. Here are a few of the categories I'm most interested in:

Best Novel (3695 nominating ballots)
  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey)
Best Novella (2416 nominating ballots)
  • Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Tor.com)
  • The Builders by Daniel Polansky (Tor.com)
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold (Spectrum)
  • Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson (Dragonsteel Entertainment)
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds (Tachyon)
Best Novelette (1975 nominating ballots)
  • “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander (Lightspeed, Feb 2015)
  • “Flashpoint: Titan” by CHEAH Kai Wai (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
  • “Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu (Uncanny Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015)
  • “Obits” by Stephen King (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Scribner)
  • “What Price Humanity?” by David VanDyke (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
Best Short Story (2451 nominating ballots)
  • “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
  • The Commuter by Thomas A. Mays (Stealth)
  • “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
  • Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)
Best Graphic Story (1838 nominating ballots)
  • The Divine written by Boaz Lavie, art by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka (First Second)
  • Erin Dies Alone written by Grey Carter, art by Cory Rydell (dyingalone.net)
  • Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams (ffn.nodwick.com)
  • Invisible Republic Vol 1 written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, art by Gabriel Hardman (Image Comics)
  • The Sandman: Overture written by Neil Gaiman, art by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (2904 nominating ballots)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron written and directed by Joss Whedon (Marvel Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
  • Ex Machina written and directed by Alex Garland (Film4; DNA Films; Universal Pictures)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nico Lathouris, directed by George Miller (Village Roadshow Pictures; Kennedy Miller Mitchell; RatPac-Dune Entertainment; Warner Bros. Pictures)
  • The Martian screenplay by Drew Goddard, directed by Ridley Scott (Scott Free Productions; Kinberg Genre; TSG Entertainment; 20th Century Fox)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, directed by J.J. Abrams (Lucasfilm Ltd.; Bad Robot Productions; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (2219 nominating ballots)
  • Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent” written by Steven Moffat, directed by Rachel Talalay (BBC Television)
  • Grimm: “Headache” written by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, directed by Jim Kouf (Universal Television; GK Productions; Hazy Mills Productions; Open 4 Business Productions; NBCUniversal Television Distribution)
  • Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile” written by Scott Reynolds, Melissa Rosenberg, and Jamie King, directed by Michael Rymer (Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions;Netflix)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2 written by Scott Sonneborn, M.A. Larson, and Meghan McCarthy, directed by Jayson Thiessen and Jim Miller (DHX Media/Vancouver; Hasbro Studios)
  • Supernatural: “Just My Imagination” written by Jenny Klein, directed by Richard Speight Jr. (Kripke Enterprises; Wonderland Sound and Vision; Warner Bros. Television)

See more at http://www.thehugoawards.org/

The Sad Puppies didn't do a slate this year, just a recommended reading list, but the Rabids apparently had a slate and a lot of their choices ended up on the list. If you're not familiar with the Puppy Wars, here's a few links to get you up to speed:

George R. R. Martin's Not a Blog:
http://grrm.livejournal.com/483848.html

Chuck Wendig at Terribleminds.com
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/04/27/we-have-a-problem/

Scalzi at the Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-john-scalzi-hugo-award-nominations-20160426-story.html

The Guardian
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/26/hugo-awards-shortlist-rightwing-campaign-sad-rabid-puppies

Not getting into the politics of this, I'm happy to see Novik's Uprooted on the list, and Gaiman's Sandman: Overture. I haven't read SevenEves, but it's on my TBR list, and the novelette/short story/novella categories have some interesting stuff, too. A fellow Critter (S. R. Algernon) got a nomination for a short story, so I'm happy for him, even though the story ended up on the Rabid Puppy slate. It's sad to see the community split like this. Worldcon is coming to Finland in 2017, so I hope the whole Puppy thing will be over by then, and we can just focus on having fun and celebrating the work and authors/creators we love.

Apr 27, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Rare Stones

There are many kinds of rare gems in the world. Did you ever wonder how they got their names? Let's find out.

The word diamond comes from Old French diamant, from Vulgar Latin adiamantem, dia-  "through, throughout"+ adamantem"the hardest metal."

Ruby is also from Old French, from the word rubi. It in turn comes from Medieval Latin rubinus lapis, "red stone."

Sapphire, from Old French saphir, is derived from Greek sappheiros, "blue stone." Okay, not that imaginative, but does the job.

Emerald, you'll be shocked and surprised to hear, comes from Old French esmeraude (where else?). That comes from Latin smaragdus, from Greek smaragdos "green gem." That's where we get the Finnish word for emerald, smaragdi, by the way.

Okay kids, what did we learn today? The French have the best (words for) gemstones, and the fancy-sounding names are actually anything but. "Green stone." Point. Grunt. That's all you need for trade, really.

Sources:
http://www.etymonline.com

Apr 26, 2016

Aliens Loot Up For Grabs at Lootcrate!

Lootcrate is doing a special limited edition Aliens 30th anniversary crate, featuring comics, collectibles, and a t-shirt. You can check out the details here. 

I just ordered mine. If you want one, go for it, because these will go fast. *

* No, they're not paying me to say that. I just think this crate will be awesome.

Apr 25, 2016

Reading the Classics: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins


                              


Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was an English novelist who wrote "sensational novels,"  a genre that preceded modern suspense novels. I have a soft spot for his work, because in a way he was a pulp writer before there was such a thing. (The genre developed from the Victorian "penny dreadfuls" in the late 1800s.) He's also remembered for his close friendship with Charles Dickens. It's a bit sad that Collins is often portrayed as only a footnote in Dickens' story, a lesser writer basking in the master's genius, because he was a talented writer, too. I love Dickens, but when it comes to plot and clarity of expression, I find Collins much easier to follow. His prose feels quite modern, actually. 

The Moonstone is considered the first modern English detective story.  It's told in a number of first person accounts by diverse and quirky characters. The plot is exiting, beginning with a corrupt army officer stealing the diamond from a shrine in India. He gives it to his niece, and of course the stone goes missing. There's no shortage of suspects, with many characters behaving suspiciously and irrationally and the three Indian jugglers seen skulking in the vicinity of the house the night before. There's also a romantic subplot, complete with two love triangles, and an implied curse on the diamond.

The characters are a joy, from Betteredge, a head servant with a penchant for Robinson Crusoe, to Ms. Clack, a holier-than-thou hypocrite trying to force her faith on people, for their own good, of course. The story also has the archetypal clever detective, Sergeant Cuff. While Poe's Dupin is often cited as the inspiration for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, I did wonder if Sergeant Cuff might have been an influence, too. It's fascinating to speculate about how much Collins learned from Dickens about creating memorable characters. I'm sure the two greatly influenced each other's writing.

The book is also famous for its realistic depiction of opium addiction. Collins suffered from chronic pain, "rheumatic gout" or "neuralgia," he called it. He became addicted to laudanum when he started taking it as a painkiller and sedative. As time passed, he began to have serious side effects, including seeing a doppelgänger he called "Ghost Wilkie." 

I found The Moonstone an enjoyable read, and I actually didn't guess the thief before the big revelation. I'm looking forward to reading The Woman in White, Collins' other famous work. 

Reading as a writer, I feel there's a great deal to be learned here about characterisation, plotting, and utilising the basic tools of mystery writing like red herrings and misdirection. I also found the novel useful as research for writing stories set in Victorian times. Collins' style shows that you don't need to go overly ornate for a story to sound Victorian. 

If you want to learn more about Collins, check out this website. It has links to all of Collins' fiction, including rarities like his plays. If you find the myth more fascinating than the man, maybe check out Dan Simmons' Drood, which is based on the lives of Dickens and Collins.   


Apr 24, 2016

At the Theater: Robin Hoodin Sydän

Image from http://www.logomo.fi/

We saw Robin Hoodin Sydän (The Heart of Robin Hood) at Logomo yesterday. The play had a new take on the legend, with Robin Hood just robbing the rich but not giving to the poor. Enter Maid Marion,  the Duke of York's daughter, who wants to join the outlaws and help the people suffering under heavy taxes levied by Prince John. Marion is pretty kickass, but Robin doesn't let her into his boys' club. Well, Marion dresses up as a man, takes her trusty servant, and starts a competing outlaw business, and so "Martin of Sherwood" is born.  She gives her takings to the poor, though. Prince John arrives with a plan to marry Marion, and high jinks ensue, with a side of personal growth for Robin, of course.

A word of warning: the play's creators were inspired by Game of Thrones, so are some strong scenes in this. The recommended age limit is seven, but I'm not sure every seven-year-old would be okay watching this. One guy gets an arrow in the eye, the characters talk about murdering children, and the kids get kicked and dragged around by the hair. And . . . bits get cut off, not to be too spoilery.

The play had some awesome sword-fighting sequences, and I liked the sets and costumes. The cast gave a good performance, especially the kids, but I still felt that something was off a little. Sometimes you get so caught up in the story that you forget you're watching a play, but that didn't happen this time. I had a hard time putting my finger on what exactly was the problem, because I liked the play overall, but after discussing it with Hubby, I think it comes down to a matter of tone. This was a play aimed at children ( I think?), like the stuff they do at  summer stock theater, and there were physical gags and plays on words and actors hamming it up, all the stuff you'd expect. But then there was also the psycho Prince John (think Joffrey at his worst), and the a-bit-too-realistic violence.  There were a lot of kids in the audience. I think the thought of "should they be seeing this?" jolted me out of the play a few times. Maybe if this had been a production for adults, it might have been different. (Taking off my big, flowered bonnet now. The word for middle-aged ladies saying "but what about the children!?" is kukkahattutäti "flower-bonnet lady" in Finnish.)

Did you see the play? What did you think? Do we have matching bonnets, or were you fine with it?

Loot Crate the Second


                           

My second loot crate arrived, yay! This is the "Quest" themed one, and Labyrinth was one of the featured franchises. 


                  


                                            I do love this t-shirt. Awesome print.

                        

                                  We also got Harry Potter socks with all the horcruxes. 

                      

                                                      And this d20  ice mold.


                     

The biggest item was this Vikings drinking horn. It's plastic-fantastic, but might be fun to drink mead from it, anyway. 

                     

You can see this crate's lootpin there on the bottom, and an Uncharted 4 mini poster. I don't love the text on this one. I haven't played this franchise, so I don't know if this is some kind of a catchphrase? If it is, it's not a particularly good one... What's with the repeat of "fortune"?)


Apr 22, 2016

Through a Warped Lense: Erik Johansson's Photography



I mentioned Erik Johansson in passing in my post about Stockholm, but he deserves a post of his own. He's a Swedish photographer with a decidedly surreal aesthetic. As you can see, he combines photography and digital editing with jaw-dropping results.

"Drifting Away" by Erik Johannsson

I love his work. It's like magical realism in photograph form. You can view a lot of the photographs  on his website, and the art book pictured above, Imagine, is really nice too.  

"Lost in the Rain" by Erik Johansson


Apr 20, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Underwater Words

In honour of The Little Mermaid, let's check out some words that have to do with the ocean this week.

The word sea comes from Old English  "sheet of water, sea, lake, pool,"which is from Proto-Germanic *saiwaz. Ocean, on the other hand, is from Old French occean, originally from Greek okeanos "the great river/sea surrounding the earth." This concept is personified in the god Oceanus, son of Uranus and Gaia.

Wave is from the Old English wagian, "to move to and fro."We get the word "wag" from the same root. Old Swedish and Danish have similar words wagga and vugge, which mean "to rock a cradle."

Too pedestrian for you? Well, you know me: mythology and monsters will sneak in eventually. Here you go:

Mermaid seems simple enough, from Middle English mere "sea, lake"+ maid, a shortening of "maiden" (fun fact: in the 12th century, you could use the word for unmarried men, too, as in "maiden-man."). Did you know that mermaids didn't actually have fishtails to begin with? It's the medieval influence of the Greek sirens that caused them to be depicted that way. Old English had another corresponding word: merewif, "water-witch."

Ooh, let's do a fun one next: the kraken. Turns out the etymology's bit boring, though. The word comes from Norse krake, "pole, stake, post, crooked tree, stunted animal or person." I don't get it.



Sources:
http://www.etymonline.com

Apr 18, 2016

Mermaids and Vampires in Helsinki


Pieni merenneito; Suvi Honkanen, Iga Krata, Eun-Ji Ha, Claire Voss, Stefania Cardaci
Image from http://oopperabaletti.fi//
Whew, what a busy weekend! Hubby and I took the train to Helsinki to see The Little Mermaid at Kansallisooppera on Friday. Another beautiful performance from the Finnish National Ballet.  I was quite exited about it, because this was the first ballet I've seen that utilises 3D-glasses! And it did work, quite well, actually. The 3D added a certain depth to the stage, and I'm sure the little ones loved seeing the turtles and sharks swim into the audience. I'm glad they didn't use it too much, though, as it could easily distract from the the dancing.  Overall, I loved the sets and costuming, but I did have a minor quibble: what was up with the sea witch's costume? A tutu? What were they thinking? She looked like Nosferatu in drag. While I enjoyed The Little Mermaid a lot, this wasn't quite up to The Snow Queen, which will be back this December, yay!

Most of the performances are sold out, but they're showing the ballet live on Friday, April 22nd at 19:00 on their web service. Best of all, it's free! I'm not sure if it'll work for anyone outside Finland, though.  


                        

Before the show, we had dinner at Ravintola Kuu (The name means "moon" in Finnish). The restaurant's been up and running since the sixties. It has a retro, Mad Men vibe; a perfect place to kick back after work and sip a Manhattan cocktail. And the food was amazing. I had their goat cheese salad and the risotto, with a kind of deconstructed carrot cake thing for dessert. Everything was perfectly prepared, and although the menu is quite classic, the dishes had a fresh, modern twist. As a bonus, it's only a block away from the opera house, so it's very convenient for pre-opera/ballet dining.


                            

We also checked out the Japanomania exhibition at the Ateneum. Japanese culture was very much in vogue in the late 1800s, and traditional Japanese art inspired many artists of the age. The exhibition features original Japanese art and works from Nordic artists that incorporate the Japanese aesthetic. Well worth a look, and the gift shop had a bunch of interesting books on Japanese art and culture, as well as bento boxes and other assorted knick-knacks. 

On Saturday, I headed over to Linnanmäki for another performance of Vampyyrien Tanssi (Dance of the Vampires.) I saw it on Valentine's day, and I loved it so much that I immediately booked another ticket. (Hubby went home. He doesn't find singing and dancing vampires in leather pants all that fascinating, apparently.)

                            

The amusement park wasn't open yet, but here's a picture of a creepy woodcarving from the entrance. 

                             

                 The show's at the Peacock Theater, right next to the Sea Life aquarium. 

                            

                                                Don't you love the costumes? 

                            

               It worked out pretty well, as I got to see the alternate cast perform this time. Both casts were     
               amazing. I can't even decide which count I preferred. Jonas Saari was a bit more campy 
               with his gestures and expressions, but in a good way.
                                             (Images from the program booklet.)

                           


 Even though I didn't have time to check out any bookstores on this visit, I did manage to pick up a          
                                           few books from the museum gift shop.


                         

Melkein Geisha ("Almost a Geisha: Charming and Crazy Japan") by Minna Eväsoja, a docent  of Japanese Aesthetics at Helsinki University, is a collection of stories based on her experiences of living and studying in Japan, and the other one is In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. I also got a new writing notebook in a kimono print and some more blueberry tea. 

And I finished reading Wuthering Heights on the train back to Turku. I really, really hated the book, but more on that later. 

Hope you had a good weekend, too. 










Apr 15, 2016

The Iliad: Not as Stuffy as You'd Expect

I really enjoyed the Lombardo translation of Iliad, so I thought I'd give you a taste. Here's an excerpt, Diomedes vs. Pandarus (and their drivers):


Their two opponents 
Drove their thoroughbreds hard
And quickly closed the gap, and Pandarus,
Lycaon's splendid son, called out:

"You're tough, Diomedes, a real pedigreed hero.
So I only stung you with that arrow?
Well, let's see what I can do with a spear."

The shaft cast a long shadow as it left his hand
And hit Diomedes' shield. The bronze apex
Sheared through and stopped
Just short of his breastplate.
Pandarus, thinking he had hit him, whooped again:

"Got you right through the belly, didn't I?
You're done for, and you've handed me the glory."

Diomedes answered him levelly:

"You didn't even come close, but I swear
One of you two goes down now
And gluts Ares with his blood."

His javelin followed his voice, and Athena
Guided it to where the nose joins the eye-socket.
The bronze crunched through the pearly teeth
And sheared the tongue at its root, exiting
At the base of the chin,

Pandarus fell from the car,
His armour scattering the hard light
As it clattered on his fallen body.
His horse shied--

Quick movement of hooves--
As his soul seeped out into the sand.

--The Iliad by Homer, Lombardo translation, book 5

Apr 14, 2016

Wuthering Heights: A Rude Awakening



Image via Wikimedia commons 

When reading a classic book, you have certain expectations of what it's going to be like. I just started reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Oh, boy, was I wrong about the book.

Expectations:

- A gothic romance in the vein of Jane Eyre (Yeah, I know it's by the other Bronte sister, but somehow I've lumped them together in my mind.)
- A long book
- Beautiful prose
- Engaging characters

The Reality:

- nasty people sniping at each other (Seriously, the first chapter is like a slap in the face with a wet dishrag)
- An average length, only about 300 pages (Thank god, because if it doesn't get any better, I don't even want to read that much)
- Talk about unlikeable characters! These are truly unpleasant, and not in an interesting, I-want-to-see-what-she-does-next way.
- The prose feels affected and a bit on the purple side
- And what's with the confusing names? Two Heathcliffs, Cathy and Catherine, Linton as a first and last name?Arrgh!


Yeah. I guess I'll finish, but I much prefer Charlotte's Jane Eyre.

Apr 13, 2016

Last Day of French Class!


                                                   Printemps



Voici donc les longs jours, lumière, amour, délire !
Voici le printemps ! mars, avril au doux sourire,
Mai fleuri, juin brûlant, tous les beaux mois amis !
Les peupliers, au bord des fleuves endormis,
Se courbent mollement comme de grandes palmes ;
L’oiseau palpite au fond des bois tièdes et calmes ;
Il semble que tout rit, et que les arbres verts
Sont joyeux d’être ensemble et se disent des vers.
Le jour naît couronné d’une aube fraîche et tendre ;
Le soir est plein d’amour ; la nuit, on croit entendre,
A travers l’ombre immense et sous le ciel béni,
Quelque chose d’heureux chanter dans l’infini.

Victor Hugo, Toute la lyre


For more French poetry, check out http://www.poetica.fr

Bonnes vacances, tout le monde!

Apr 11, 2016

Reading The Classics: The Iliad by Homer


                                


The Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War, might feel like heavy reading, but it’s not. It’s actually the Ancient Greek equivalent of an action movie, and a pretty graphic one at that; there’s no shortage of spurting blood, breaking bones, and guts falling out. It explores all aspects of warfare; the glory, but also the cost.

I picked the Lombardo edition to read, because his approach of using colloquial language sounded fun, and it was. How could you not love stuff like Paris being referred to as “pretty boy” and “you sissy, curly-haired pimp of a bowman” and Zeus telling Hera to “sit down and shut up”?

I also liked the way the similes were in cursive so they stood out of the text. The introduction says that Homer used the similes as a way to make the events more relatable to a Greek living in peacetime by comparing them to something familiar, but I also found them calm interludes amidst all the killing.

                              


The story begins when the Trojan War has raged for ten years, and it doesn’t end with the end of the war. Even the backstory of Paris stealing Helen from her husband, Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, and the unfortunate Judgment of Paris thing (he picked Aphrodite over Athena and Hera in a beauty contest, which explains why some gods are playing favorites) are hardly mentioned. And the Trojan horse thing? Doesn’t even make an appearance.

At the heart of the story is the feud between Achilles and Agamemnon. Agamemnon, after first refusing a rich ransom, is forced to give his war prize, Chryseis, the daughter of a priest of Apollo, back to her father when he sends a plague on the Greeks. As the commander of the army, he’s pissed and humiliated, and takes Achilles’ woman, Briseis, instead. The relationship between the two warriors is already strained, because Achilles is the better fighter. Achilles takes the loss of Briseis as great insult, and sulks in his tent for most of the book, even when reparations are offered.

Why is one man so important? He’s a hero, of course, and it’s implied that he could turn the tide of the battle, maybe end it. Then the Greeks could finally go home. I found Achilles’ attitude petty at first, but the introduction cleared this up. In Ancient Greece, the war prizes were also a measure of a hero’s worth, his honor, so taking away Achilles’ prize was an insult, resulting in loss of honor. Heroes were respected and accustomed to certain privileges. Every time they went into battle, they risked loss of life and limb, so that’s how the system worked: you went into battle, you got loot according to your station. But are station and riches the only reasons to fight? Of course not, as Achilles’ beloved friend Patroclus reminds him. In the end, when Achilles refuses to budge, Patroclus puts on his armor and joins the fight. His death at the hands of Hector, the Trojan hero, finally shakes Achilles out of his funk. The battle between Achilles and Hector feels like the climax of the story.

The Iliad ends when Priam successfully ransoms Hector’s body from Achilles. It felt a bit anticlimactic to me; almost five hundred pages, and the war doesn’t even end? Everything goes on as before? Achilles’ prophesied death doesn’t occur. WTF? Okay, so everything isn’t as before, not really. Homer implies that the loss of Hector means that the Trojans lose the war. It’s inevitable now. And the story does return to the beginning, in a way: compare the botched-up ransom attempt of Chryseis to Achilles accepting Priam’s ransom. Agamemnon doesn’t think a ransom is enough compensation for Chryseis, Achilles feels Agamamnon’s offered gifts aren’t worth his only life (which he risks in battle). In the end, Achilles accepts Priam’s ransom as the only compensation there is and gives him back the body of his son. It doesn’t bring back Patroclus, but it’s all there is. Somehow, Achilles and Priam feast together and can ever respect each other. It’s a beautiful moment.

The Iliad is a fascinating read, and I heartily recommend this translation. It makes the story come to life. You can almost hear the spears and swords clash, the groans and screams. Well worth reading.

Apr 10, 2016

A Busy Weekend and a Book Recommendation

The deadline for the Nova writing competition is fast approaching, and I've been busy getting my short stories up to spec. Quite a lot of work, with four stories to edit. Yeah, I know four stories is a lot, but there aren't too many places to send my stuff in Finland. It's pretty much this and the Portti competition for speculative fiction. There is the odd anthology, but none of these fit the ones that are open right now.

I just sent the last one in. All finished with a week to spare. Yay, good for me!

I think I'll celebrate by doing my workout and watching  a few more episodes of Agent Carter. I've been neglecting my exercise routine to get all this done. And I did order the Fitzgerald version of The Odyssey, since I've only read the prose translation. Party on!

Oh, and the book recommendation. I really enjoyed Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It's kind of like Howl's Moving Castle meets Beauty and the Beast with a heavy dollop of Tolkien's Mirkwood and Eastern European fairy tales mixed in. Very entertaining with an easy-to-read style, the book really pulls you in. I also loved the ending. I'm kind of hoping this will turn into a series. I haven't read Novik's Temeraire books, because I'm just not that into the Napoleonic era (even with dragons), but maybe I'll give them a go.







Apr 8, 2016

The Goblins of Labyrinth

                     
                                

The Goblins of Labyrinth is an awesome art book by Brian Froud. If you like the film, I highly recommend this. 

                                  

                          The illustrations are gorgeous, and you get a little story for every goblin. 

                                    

                                                 Yup, the stories are pretty much hilarious. 

                                   

I got mine from the Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Stockholm, but you can get one from Amazon, too. 



Apr 6, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Forgotten Words


Do you ever wonder why some words endure and others fall into oblivion? Maybe what they refer to ceases to matter, or a better synonym displaces them, or maybe they just fall out of favour, or sound old-fashioned.

I like forgotten words, and I found this awesome site: Luciferous Logolepsy. It's a collection of obscure and fascinating words.

Let's explore a few.


Jagannath is the name of a Karin Tidbek story collection. It means juggernaut.The word comes from Hindi Jagannath, "lord of the world."


Obambulate means to walk about, to wander. I'm guessing this is from Latin ambulare, "to walk."


Schizothemia is a digression by a long reminiscence. Wow, there's actually a word for that? Schizo- means to divide, split, from Greek skhizo. I'm not sure about themia. Maybe from the Latin thema, "subject, thesis"?


Sciamachy means fighting a shadow, an invisible enemy, shadow-boxing. From Greek skia "shadow"+makhe "battle."


Wergeld is the value of a man's life, the money you pay if you kill him. From Old English wer "man" + geld "payment."


Malneirophrenia: depression after a nightmare.  Mal "bad"+oneiro "dream"+phren- "mind."


Okay, I'm off to use these in a sentence now.

See you next week!


Sources:

http://www.etymonline.com
Luciferous Logolepsy




Apr 4, 2016

Plotting and Story Structure: Babylon 5

I've been watching Babylon 5 again, and I'm in awe of J. M. Straczynski's plot arcs and character arcs. I've been trying to learn about story structure, so I thought I'd try to study it in a bit more detail.

!Probably needless to say, but major spoilers ahead!

My first attempt looked like this:



So way too complicated. There are many overlapping story arcs here, so I decided to focus on the Shadow War one. Here's what I think the structure looks like:


The Shadow War: 

Morden appears: What do you want?-> Londo takes the bait-> The attack on the Narn outpost-> The Narn/Centauri war-> The Shadows have Anna Sheridan-> Bomb goes off and John Sheridan almost dies, is rescued by Kosh. Revelation: Vorlons look like angels -> Death of Kosh # 1 at the hands of the Shadows-> forging of the alliance-> Shadows attack openly-> Sheridan goes to Z'Ha'dum, blows up the Shadow city,  and dies-> Sheridan's resurrection-> Revelation: Lords of Order vs. Lords of Chaos-> The Vorlons start destroying Shadow influenced worlds, not caring for civilian casualties -> Final Battle, Sheridan refuses to choose between Shadows/Vorlons "Get the hell out of our galaxy!"-> the First Ones leave


That doesn't look too complicated, but you have to remember, there are lots of other story arcs running parallel to that one. We have:

The War against Earth:

Murder of President Santiago by VP Clark -> Nightwatch, the Political Office-> propaganda and terror->  B5 breaks away ->  Sheridan frees the colonies-> goes to free Earth-> betrayal by Garibaldi-> tortured-> Freed by Garibaldi, Lyta, and Franklin ->Sheridan's forces takes back Earth-> Clark kills himself-> Sheridan is forced to resign from Earthforce-> becomes Alliance president

Londo's Fall into Darkness and his Redemption:

Agrees to work with Morden to bring back the glory days of the Centauri Republic-> the war against the Narns, the death of the old emperor raises madman Cartagia to the Centauri throne-> distances himself from the Shadows-> the death of Adira -> Kills Refa -> makes deal with G'Kar to kill the mad emperor-> kicks the Shadows off Centauri Prime -> becomes Emperor-> ruled over by the Shadows' allies -> Let's Sheridan and Delenn go -> asks G'Kar to kill him and dies for his people

G'Kar's quest to free Narn

Narns lose the war-> tries to gather military support/diplomatic support -> anger at Mollari , but controls himself-> ready to sacrifice himself for his people-> convinced to stay on B5-> religious epiphany "Some must be sacrificed if all are to be saved" -> admitted to the war council -> helps with war effort/sacrifices Narn forces for the common good -> becomes religious leader-> makes deal with Mollari to kill the emperor in exchange for Mollari freeing Narn, loses his eye in the process and suffers greatly -> frees his people

Sinclair and the First Shadow War

Revelation that Minbari souls are being born into humans makes the Minbari surrender after taking Sinclair onboard-> Delenn's transformation to human-> Babylon 4 is lost in time-> becomes First Ranger, lives on Minbar ->  gets letter from himself from the past-> second visit to Babylon 4 ->  goes back in time with the station, changes into a Minbari and becomes Valen -> helps win the first Shadow War


Delenn and the Minbari Civil War

The Religious Caste orders the surrender to the humans because Minbari souls are being born into human bodies, don't tell the Warrior Caste why-> transformation into human-> dismissed from the Grey Council->  The Shadow War/breaking of the Grey Council -> The Religious Caste fights, trouble with the leadership of the Rangers-> Civil War -> goes to Minbar, is ready to die for her people, but Neroon sacrifices himself for her->ends the war

Bester and the Telepaths

Hunts for rogue telepaths-> the underground railroad-> "weapons parts," the Shadows are vulnerable to telepaths, Bester's lover is among the modified telepaths-> brainwashes Garibaldi into betraying Sheridan so he can seize the virus that be used to turn telepaths into a slave race-> frees Garibaldi-> the Telepath War

There's also the Nightwatch storyline, Franklin's drug problem, Garibaldi's betrayal of Sheridan and his redemption, the Sheridan/Delenn love affair, Ivanova's struggle to cope with her mother's death and her relationship with Talia, Vir running an underground railroad to save Narns, and so much more.

The series has amazing depth, and weaves the side plots effortlessly into the main plot.  In addition to this masterful plot, the characters are fascinating and likeable, and the world-building is intricate and detailed.

To write a novel, one should probably be able to handle a similar construction. There's a lot to learn here. Luckily, it's a fun lesson.






Apr 2, 2016

My First Loot Crate!


                                  

Have you heard about Lootcrate yet? It's an awesome monthly mystery box of geek gear and all kinds of fun stuff from collectibles to comics. I've thought about subscribing for about a year, and finally took the plunge last month. Every crate has a theme, and this month's was Versus. They also do special crates once in a while in addition to the monthly one, too. (I'm totally bummed I missed the Mass Effect one. Afterlife shot glasses, anyone?) Oh, and you can "level up" your crate for a wearable, socks, accessories, or even stuff for your pets.

                                     So, what was in this month's crate? Let's find out:


                 

First of all, this cool Star Trek tee with a retro vibe. I love this one, but I might dye it black, because the material is a bit see-through. (This is the ladies tee, and they seem to run small, so think about going up a size. The men's sizes are probably true to size, as always... Sigh.) 


             

Then there was this reversible Daredevil/Punisher beanie. I'm not particularly a fan of either (I'm a Jessica Jones/Agent Carter gal), but the beanie is made of a nice material and fits well, so I'll probably get some use out of it, anyway. . 

                  

There's also a looter pin in every box. I like this Alien/Predator one a lot. The code that came with it unlocked a free Alien vs. Predator comic from Comixolology. I had problems opening it, but their support said it's probably an iPad issue, so I'll try it on my computer later. 

                              

       We also got this Harley Quinn comic, which was a fun read. I liked the artwork on this, too.

        Now we get to my favourite part: an exclusive Alien vs. Predator vinyl figure from Titan. 


                                 

I got the alien, yay! (I do love both franchises, so the predator would have been fine too.) He is so cute, and the criss-cross pattern on top of his head glows in the dark. I think I'll call him Crinkles.


                            


 There's also a magazine with all kinds of fun stuff, like this "Spot the Spock" thing, and a paper 
                     Batman vs. Superman wallet that I'm probably going to give my nephew.




A subscription in the States costs you about twenty bucks with shipping and handling, and the international version is a bit more. It's cheaper the longer the subscription. (I got three months to start with, but ended up getting the Invasion and Time crates from previous months in the sale they were having, because those were so cool.) If you want a subscription, you can use this link to get five bucks off. (They give each subscriber a referral link, so in the name of full disclosure, I get a little something towards my next box for every person that subscribes through this link.) Fashionably Geek also had a code for 10% off your first crate, if you want to use that one. 

All in all, I'm very happy with this. Next month's theme is Quest, and one of the franchises featured is Labyrinth, one of my favourite movies ever! I can't wait. 




Apr 1, 2016

Did You Get April Fooled?

Yup, it's that time of year again. I didn't put up an April fool, because I think they're kind of mean, but I thought I'd share the little rhyme people in Finland use to mock those that get fooled.


                                          "Aprillia, syö silliä, juo kuravettä päälle!"


                  (Translation: April fools', eat herring, wash it down with muddy water.)

     
                                             Aaand, once more in Swedish:


                      "April, april, din dumma sill, jag kan lura dig vart jag vill!"


     (Translation: April Fools', April Fools', you stupid herring, I can lure you where I will.)


                                                Isn't tradition great?