May 21

Aliens

Ecstasy of the deepest kind.

May 16

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/16/18: Plague and Pestilence

Plague Doctor, by ChainclawofBloodClan

 

Many fantasies are set in a never-never-land of times gone by. Usually it’s Medieval Europe. But the Roman Empire, Bronze Age Britain, and Dynastic Egypt also get their times in the sun. All have one thing in common: the dearth of plagues. Which, admittedly, are hard to incorporate into uplifting adventure stories. They’re depressing, and tend to kill a lot of people, characters included, and thus derail plots and quests.

Diseases are easier to find as local color or plot devices. John Norman’s Gor series had a leprosy-like disease called Dar-Kosis, and Harry Potter, Dragon Pox. Grayscale features in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

Should you need a quaintly named disease, plague or pestilence for plot purposes, here’s a randomly generated list of them.

Plagues


The Brown Wasting

Putrid Croup

Scratchpphleg

Black Ptomordis

Grim Pox

Agfulo

Red Colic

Heartblind

Brown Scurvinia

Black Choke

Spotted Chrothenia

Sprondophy

Wheat Hives

Blue Bulbs

Screaming Spasms

Softbones

Blue Chromordis

Ditch Grippe

Dancing Parula

Camp Death

Yellow Rot

Sprondopsy

Agenza

Laughing Boils

Black Cerewad

Dog’s Eye Effluvia

Cyanlera

Herpenza

Ureacropsy

Centipede Curse

Rotting Fever

Ceregra

Land Flux

Thin Plague

Dragon Catarrh

Rotting Canker

Catchscrat

Scrotflora

Red Malaise

Blood Fever

Liver Cramps

Scarlet Blindness

Summer Contagion

Scrotthae

Paraenza

White Chill

Brown Cropsy

Gringopsy

Dyspraxis

Sponge Pox

Speckled Plague

Scarlet Twitch

Blue Septis

Crock Hives

Bulbsy

Pule Ague

May 14

Wooden Figures

Daphne’s curse was sometimes extended to both sexes.

May 09

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/9/18: The Wild West

I’m going to guess this cowgirl just busted her bare-chested (but chaps-wearing)
boyfriend out of a Mexican jail.

 

Yippee ki yay! The Western is a uniquely American form of cinema and literature taking its plot, characters, and setting from the American Old West in the years 1850 to 1900. Cowboys (and cowgirls) ride horses, bear rifles and revolvers, and often live a nomadic life drifting through small towns, ranches, saloons, and military forts in the arid, dry landscapes west of the Rio Grande. Common themes are pursuing justice, solving crimes, or searching for treasure or missing loved ones. Westerns were popular up to the 1960s, but fell out of favor as America catapulted itself into the space age. In recent years, there’s been a resurgence as classic plots are refreshed for a more cynical and irreverent age. Steampunk, for example, draws as much from Old West style and technology as from Victorian Age England; the terribly written, but sumptuously art directed, Will Smith movie Wild Wild West, with its giant steam-powered tarantula and floofy dance-hall costumes for the villain’s henchwomen, was a seminal influence.

If you’re writing a Western but are stumped for names, here’s some you can use.

 

Wild West Names


 

COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS

Irma Wells

Pearl King

Frank Hawk

Chicken Dinner Katie

Johnny Ten Feathers

Samuel Savage

Whiskey Emmeline

One-Shot Hezekiah

Henry Carver

Hank Laplante

Two Dollar Kitty

Birdie McClancy

Rusty Savage

Dutch McMurphy

TOWNS AND SETTLEMENTS

Gypsy Well

Cokeville

Antelope Path

Horsehead City

Devil’s Mile

Sunday Skillet Junction

Cowboy Coffee

Pronghorn Nose

Dog Path

Black Hawk Township

Buzzard Foot

White Horse City

Gringo Pueblo

Mule Spirit

PLACES

Happy Papoose Ridge

Chinaman Flats

Red Elk Falls

The Devil’s Frying Pan

Thunderbird Spring

Blackbird Summit

Twenty Mile Canyon

Iron Ore Gully

Fool’s Gold Mesa

The Axe Handle Trail

Rattlesnake Heaven

Mormon Ford

Quagmire Spring

White Antelope Valley

 

 

May 07

Those Greek Kids

My, what a nice cock you have.

May 03

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda [Review]

Simon vs. The Homo Spaiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

by Becky Albertalli
Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

 

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda was one of the happiest books I’ve read this year. Recently released as a movie, it originally came out in 2015, earning a well-deserved place on YA must-read lists for its depiction of a gay protagonist.

It’s also the best use of first person present I’ve read so far.

Simon, a young man starting his junior year of high school, has a trio of close friends, a loving family, and is generally secure about his life save for one thing — he is gay but hasn’t told anyone yet. (Amusingly, he discovered he was gay by crushing on Daniel Radcliff’s portrayal of Harry Potter.) The only one who knows is a mysterious poster, also gay, on his school’s website forum whom he calls Blue; as the two correspond Simon develops a crush on him as well as the desire to meet.

It’s lightweight stuff, but surprisingly deep. There’s musings about growing up in general and having one’s understanding of the world deepen – discovering hidden sides to others as they mature and grow beyond stereotypes, and gradually Simon’s waking up occurs as well. In his world coming out is not the tension-fraught horror it would have been in a 1970s or 80s book, as Simon’s friends and family are liberal and accepting. It’s that he doesn’t want all the fuss, and perhaps, the work of growing up that comes with it. He also develops real feelings for Blue and there’s a lot of comedy as he tries to discover who Blue really is.

There’s also a subplot in that the class clown is blackmailing him because he knows of Blue’s and Simon’s secret exchanges – in return for keeping quiet, he wants Simons help in breaking the ice with his own crush, one of Simon’s female friends. In keeping with the sweet nature of the book, the blackmail is not of the thuggish or leering variety, but of the “Hey, let’s do a guy a favor” sort. Simon resents it, but it’s also made clear to the reader that these are basically nice kids.

It’s an introspective book. Nothing terrible happens around the coming-out theme; the worst is some jeering at a school musical Simon’s performing in that is quickly dealt with by the teacher. But it was very profound, mostly because of the author’s voice. Simon is one of those rare books where a YA first person present POV is done well, in that I believe a real character is talking to me, and not a mouthpiece of the author’s to lend “immediacy” but winds up reading like a screenplay with I’s subbed in for third person pronouns. Simon’s POV is limited and since he doesn’t care about playing to his audience, he leaves us much to infer about his life. For example, he’s is involved in a school production of Oliver! but doesn’t describe the plot to us, just that there’s Fagin and orphans and music. This was very refreshing to me compared to books like Red Queen and Children of Blood and Bone, where it’s clear the narrator is a stand-in for the author who’s pulling the strings to set the scene. Simon is not trying to manipulate us for tension and stakes. These flow out naturally from what he says and how he feels.

Also refreshingly, Simon doesn’t gasp, grunt, guzzle, heave for breath, or describe other physiological responses ad infinitum as first person present writers also tend to do.

If there is a weakness to the book, it’s that Simon’s situation is all rather sanguine. There’s realism there, but nothing nasty. I’d could be I’m just projecting, though. Teens of the 2010s enjoy a different familial situation than the ones of the 1960s and 1970s, where children were often pitted against parents and expected to become independent and get away from them as soon as possible.

A sweet read, and worth doing so just for examining the technique of a YA writer who GOT IT RIGHT.

 

May 02

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/2/18: States of Confusion (New England)

An alternate history version of New England

 

Imaginary U.S. States are not as widely used in fiction as imaginary countries are, even though their pedigree is longer. Anthony Trollope created one of the first, Mickewa, for his satirical novel The American Senator in 1877, and Vladimir Nabokov the fictional state of Udana for Lolita.  Thomas Wolfe contributed Catawba, based on South Carolina, for Look Homeward, Angel. Writers of alternate history have contributed, such as Harry Turtledove’s Deseret (Utah), Houston (a part of Texas), Sequoyah (a part of Florida?), and Franklin (Kentucky.) Spanning alternate history and mainstream blockbuster, James Michener created Fremont, a fictional Midwest state, for his fictional retelling of the American Space program, Space. (It also featured an astronaut dying on the moon.)

Here’s some randomly generated variations on the names of New England states for your own storytelling purposes.

Imaginary US States, New England Region


 

MAINE

Saine

Myne

Faime

Miese

Mirin

Marwen

Quaine

Blaine

NEW HAMPSHIRE

New Harpshire

New Hamgrave

New Hampfast

Newhammock

New Hempcup

New Humpblister

New Champenny

New Thampbury

VERMONT

Vermecht

Unquont

Lanemont

Verdont

Gavelmort

Vermody

Milkmont

Vartront

 

MASSACHUSETTS

Massafarret

Mastachustuk

Mabranasett

Missichewitts

Massarusetts

Mastthrucker

Malschusepps

Mashachusëte

RHODE ISLAND

Rhuvar Island

Rhodaea

Rhodu Isle

Rodeforest

Rhordele Island

Drode Fort

Rhiketto Isle

Rhody Island

CONNECTICUT

Connarctica

Contelludon

Orcetigut

Conneactacad

Conocticut

Coppercut

Connactacart

Narcticut

 

Apr 30

Skeleton Dance

Tibetan Skeleton Dance costume late 19th or early 20th century.

Apr 25

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/26/18: Pern

BRREEeeeeeee! I’m never wearing clothes — or seatbelts — again!

 

Anne McCaffrey wrote a long-running series of books about the backward planet of Pern and its giant, telepathic dragons used to combat “thread” – an invasive space spore that filtered down from an adjacent orbiting body — by burning from the air with their fiery breath. Pern had a pseudo-Medieval culture and the dragons a hive one in which one golden Queen dragon lays all the eggs, which the young men of the weyrs – cavelike mountain holdings where the dragons and caretakers are quartered – vie to impress (or “Impress”) so they can be their riders.

Though the first book, Dragonflight, was exciting enough, there was enough that bugged me about the series that I stopped reading at The White Dragon, the last book in the original trilogy. Mainly that, only men got to ride the dragons. If you were a female and wanted some glory, you had to impress the single Queen dragon, and if you failed you were fated to be a  drudge, slut, or “woman of the lower caverns” whatever the hell that was. (Yes, I know in later books girls were allowed in to impress baby Greens; but the fighting wings were still overwhelmingly male. I also never read the Harper books which probably went into more depth on the culture.) Pretty much the only way a woman could have any power, respect, or agency in the books was to impress a Queen dragon… not very fair, and not very likely, considering how rare Queen eggs were and how much politicking went into who was chosen to be present at the hatching. And even then, once a woman became a Queen rider and Weyrwoman, her power remained tied up with her sexuality. Eventually the books devolved into one big soap opera, rather dragon opera, with a lot of talk, talk, talk, talkity talk talk about weyr politics and who was mating with who and who should be mating with who, with romance novel tropes that were truly atrocious.

On the positive side, the books gave us a distinct naming system for the dragons, their riders, and their women. Dragon’s names always end in th, and can be one or two, or three syllables. Men shorten their names when they become riders, dropping the first vowel and adding an apostrophe. And women’s names were simple, feminine, and easy to pronounce in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon way.

Names of Pern


 

DRAGONS

Zorth

Pilth

Maath

Trilth

Yevairth

Dvoruth

Aneith

Anianth

Hareith

Ignanth

Vermath

Yevaath

Ureuth

Semaeth

Zizorth

Eliarth

Urolth

Surth

Shraath

Valth

Zazth

Sreth

Omiath

Augith

Gonioth

Nureith

Saziath

Torauth

Nouth

Balth

Zirth

Torth

Sharth

Dauth

Corzath

Zitreith

Komarth

Tazonth

RIDERS

B’vyr

N’misch

Sh’od

T’bet

K’tas

V’pir

Sh’kar

R’zint

M’kal

N’rol

Z’mer

B’chan

U’har

Y’glen

A’gris

Y’sil

A’karl

A’kiv

E’zen

L’wen

M’ver

M’eard

T’oth

Sh’san

B’rius

G’rian

Th’arch

D’vril

R’san

R’vril

P’zer

V’chel

D’ath

D’art

N’ston

R’yet

T’ker

Z’mek

WEYRWOMEN

Chansa

Toria

Kata

Mella

Bredda

Sella

Britha

Tria

Rwyn

Rudra

Sora

Sanje

Lupella

Wista

Zella

Rinda

Khaela

Talisa

Lina

Lilla

Censa

Ruitha

Salina

Shensa

Willata

Retta

Rhoirsa

Yilva

Luta

Felga

Jitha

Leuda

Shaline

Selan

Sydris

Sambra

Dastra

Nikka

 

 

Apr 24

Albert Nobbs [Reading Challenge 2018]

Cover of Albert Nobbs by George MooreAlbert Nobbs

by George Moore
Waitingstar Publishing, New York, 2011

 

[Challenge # 38: A book made into a major motion picture]

Finished Albert Nobbs, a book that kept me guessing until the end.

I’ve wanted to read it for a while, since I’ve always liked books with gender bending, or obscurely gendered, protagonists. I did not come blind to the book; I chose it I knew it was about a woman who disguises herself as a male butler. But how, and why, and what happens after that, was what kept me turning the pages. Though a novelette, I read it slowly, and may read it yet again, just to digest the richness of the language and the archaic style of writing.

(This review contains spoilers, so if you hadn’t read it, and are wanting to be surprised, like me, don’t go any further.)

This book carries a reputation as being sympathetic towards characters who are breaking away from the gender norm. In reading about the author, George Moore, after I finished, he was indeed sympathetic towards gay and lesbian characters and endowed them with sympathy and humanity, something that was not common in the age in which he wrote. The mentions are low key, as in Albert Nobbs, but clearly there; however, they are just as clearly overlooked by readers wishing to see a more mainstream narrative.

Writer George Moore, by Edward Manet

Sketch of George Moore, by painter Edouard Manet

 

Albert Nobbs begins by not being about Albert Nobbs at all. Instead, it starts with two blokes having a chat in Dublin about how the city has changed, and one of them casually mentions the strange butler who used to terrorize him as a child by his (her) unworldly appearance:

 

… his squeaky voice remains in my ears. He seemed to be always laughing at me, showing long, yellow teeth, and used to be afraid to open the sitting-room door, for I’d be sure to find him waiting on the landing, his napkin thrown over his right shoulder. I think I was afraid he’d pick me up and kiss me. As the whole of my story is about him, perhaps I’d better describe him more fully, and to do that I will tell you that he was a tall, scraggy fellow. With big hips sticking out, and a long, thin, throat. It was his throat that frightened me as much as anything about him, unless it was his nose, which was a great high one, or his melancholy eyes, which were pale blue and very small, deep in the head.

The narrator then tells the story of the butler’s life, acting as a stand-in for the author who might have told the story to the reader directly, but by using that framing device removes himself from the more controversial twists and turns therein. So the narrative is twice removed, but, somehow it works, and the framing device that seemed clunky also allowed the writer to express his own ideas about class and gender.

Albert’s adventure starts when, having been established as an exemplary employee who lives in her employer’s hotel to save money, she is requested to share her bedroom and bed with a contractor doing some painting for the hotel’s owner who can’t find any other accommodation for the night. (I’m sure this was a common occurrence in the Victorian age the story takes place in, and perhaps something of a plot cliché of that time too.) Albert fears being exposed as a woman, yet tries to make the best of it as she shares her bed. And of course she is exposed as a female… and, as it turns out, the painter she thought was a man is, in fact, a female in disguise just as she is!

This chance meeting and the painter’s story (which is a story in a story in a story) of leaving an unhappy marriage and disguising herself as a man to earn a trade, even marrying an accepting woman to join economic forces and gain a middle class life, gives Albert ideas. She discovers she need not labor alone and incognito, always fearful of being found out, but can find a trusted confidante, gain respectability, and live a normal life… all hinging on finding another woman who agrees with her plan, as her true gender cannot be kept a secret even in a marriage of convenience.

The story turns humorous as Albert mulls over possible candidates, before deciding on a maid who works in the hotel who she thinks has the proper temperament. She begins her courtship, but can never quite be fully trustful of Helen, the young woman who believes Albert a man, yet not enough not like a man.  Helen has a casual boyfriend in Joe, a waiter who also works at the hotel, and the difference between him and Albert makes her suspicious. She knows Albert has more money and respectability and offers advancement for her life – Albert carefully save and buys her courtship gifts to prove just that – yet the dissonance is there. Thus the two never quite connect, and things go haywire, and the disillusionment and heartbreak begin.

It’s all psychologically on the nose, and in spite of the framing of the story, and the Edwardian language, and the odd way it is written (long, long, paragraphs, no quotation marks) I was drawn into it completely. The language was oddball in parts, yet lyrical. It would have been perfect read out loud.

When the tragedy plays itself out, the framing device muffles rather than amplifies it, driving the lessons home without additional emotional wear and tear on the reader.

The story can be read as a cry for gay acceptance, and also a manifesto for a dreamer. But my take on it is that it’s more a mild parody of the Protestant middle class than an allegory of queerness. Hard work and having savings, Albert believes, are necessary for a middle class Victorian Dublin, which includes a townhouse, piano, nice carpets and lace curtains. It’s also necessary for men and women to marry and join forces in this endeavor, so therefore, it makes sense for one partner or the other to switch genders to gain it.

Touching, sly, and heartbreaking. I give it five stars.

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