Sep 23

Yellowtail, Crown Medicine Man and Sun Dance Chief [Reading Challenge 2017]

Yellowtail, Crown Medicine Man and Sun Dance Chief

As told to Michael Oren Fitzgerald
University of Oklahoma Press, 1991

 

[Challenge # 8: A book with a color in the title.]

This book wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought it would be a straightforward bio, like Lame Deer Speaks. Instead it was more of an ethnological examination of the Sun Dance religion of the Crow. Maybe it should have been my God’s Mansion selection for a different religion, rather than Harm. Certainly, it was more philosophical and dealt more with spirituality than the Aldiss book. It made me think, but it was also long-winded, which is more the fault of the editor than the writer. It’s also a book chosen for classwork in Sociology 101, or Comparative Religion, which may account for its dryness.

What did I get from it? The refreshingly casual nature of the Yellowtail’s religion.

 

Sep 21

Harm [Reading Challenge 2017]

Harm

by Brian W. Aldiss
Ballantine Books, New York, 2007

 

[Challenge # 10: A book based in a religion not your own.]

British SF author Brian W. Aldiss, who died recently at the age of 92, was one prolific writer. He started his SF writing career in 1954 and by the end of it, had over a hundred books and innumerable short stories, poems, articles, and essays to his credit. His last book, Comfort Zone, was published in 2013, which means he remained writing well into his eighties. Now THAT’s the kind of career I wish to emulate!

My first exposure to this author came in the form of a book of short stories, The Book of Brain W. Aldiss. I found them literate, mystifying at times, gently satirical, grandiose, and tongue-in-cheek funny. I’m sorry to say I lost that book over the years, but I still remember some stories vividly, such as “In the Arena,” the tale of a human gladiator slave on an alien-captured world, who is partnered with a young woman to kill a creature in the aliens’ arena. His Helliconia series I never got into, because it seemed too much like the 1980s commercial, crowd-pleasing SF that was then being written by old names in the field, like Harry Harrison’s West of Eden and Phillip Jose Farmer’s Dayworld series, to name two. Likewise, I had never been interested in Aldiss’s Hothouse World, either (though I am now.)

Harm, as the author explains, was written 2007 in response to the heightened terrorism threats after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks in New York. It is the story of a young half-Muslim, half-English writer who is imprisoned and tortured in a near-future London because of a throwaway line in his debut novel… a line about killing the prime minister of England. For that he is kidnapped, interrogated, and tortured. The torture is not explicitly shown, but the effects on the main character are, and the dialogue of the torturers is horrifyingly real. To escape, the writer he creates another world in his mind, the story of a man on a recently colonized planet where society is slowly collapsing and fascist politics are coming to the fore. I had originally chosen the book because of its ties to Islam, but it not so much about religion as about politics. Christianity actually figured in the story more, used as a plot element but neither derided nor espoused.

It was a fascinating, engaging read. I blazed through it on my lunch hours which was not the case with Cinder, my previous read, which had been a damn chore. I wonder why I could read something difficult and thought-provoking so readily, and something simple and spoon-fed, so slowly?

One of the things I liked about the book, and a thing I have never before seen done properly before, was how the protagonist creates the dream world he goes to. It was written in a way similar to the progression of real (sleeping) dreams, where there’s a bare skeleton of a place and situation at first that is later sketched out as the sleeping mind chugs along, incorporated pieces of real-world recent events and past memories. Aldiss explains this away as the hero’s multiple personality disorder, which leads him to disassociate. Which is too bad, because the creation aspect, to me, was clearly about the creative process of being a writer, coming up with a character and a situation, then musing on it, replaying it, and gradually adding more elements. This was the only displeasing note in the whole book, though.

Harm worked as allegory, cautionary tale, and magic realism, but there are just enough quirky details that make it more like a real-life memoir, or extended dream, some of which are thrown in but not followed up on. Again, very much like real life, which can be random in what it gives us.

 

Sep 20

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/20/17: Useful Magic Items

Oh, lookies! I found another book of forgotten magic in the vast dungeon library I call my home! Wonder if it has anything this fellow is looking for? Perhaps something to animate that pink lightbulb heart?

A new group of randomly generated, mostly useful, magic items that may find a home in your story or campaign.

Useful Magic Items


Ranthvand’s Tasting Filament:  Creates a thin, string-like tentacle that snakes out from the caster’s palm to touch any food or drink item. If the food is poisoned, the tentacle shrivels and dies with no harm to the caster.

Jerath’s Tome of Catastrophe:  Never open this book.

Notebook of Fulsome Terror:  Don’t open this one either.

Mornesza’s Reptilian Plate:  Clothes the caster’s body in invisible armor made of lizard-like scales.

Heldelm’s Throat of Brick:  Strengthens the caster’s throat so they can swallow acid, high proof liquor, or other noxious substances with no ill effect. Note: does not prevent drunkenness.

The Silver Notebook of Imprisonment:  Any creature that has a name can be trapped inside when their name is written in it.

Helm of Precise Candor:  Causes the wearer to speak the truth and nothing but the truth.

Elixer of Wondrous Burrowing:  When drunk, this potion enables the drinker to dig like a mole.

Cowl of The Healer:  This hood endows the caster with first aid knowledge and skills.

Clarity of the Sculptor:  Enables a caster with artistic skills to create a highly realistic model of anything they see.

Gloves of Serpent Mimicry:  Creates the illusion of the caster’s arms turning into two snakes.

Cap of The Peacekeeper:  Allows the wearer to mediate between two arguing beings or parties.

Oljerine’s Fighting Feet:  Enables the caster to use his/her feet as well as their hands when fighting. The caster must be barefoot for it to work. Useful if the arms are bound or otherwise restricted.

Phorgamel’s Muddled Manticore:   Confuses any manticore it is cast upon.

Scroll of Frozen Fungus:  Not a spell, but the favored medium to write cold-related spells on.

Ludawana’s Voice of the Serpent:   Turns the caster’s voice into a violent hiss.

Ankhus’s Leather Centipede:  A cat-sized automaton created by the late mage to be his servant. The centipede can scuttle across walls, floors, and ceilings, burrow, and swim underwater. It can be used to spy, fetch things, and deliver stinging attacks. Being made of leather, it is not indestructible.

Seashell of Oration:  This magical object looks like a giant conch shell. When the mage holds it to his mouth and speaks through it, whatever he says will have the weight of a speech from a skilled orater.

Traadia’s Arousing Ungeant:  Useful in a bedroom situation. Often paired with Chrysian’s Blue Manual of Seduction.

Iriselga’s Purple Libram of Transformations:  Contains an untold number of spells to transmute one substance to another, or one creature to another.

Ulbhren’s Imaginary Imprisonment:  Makes the subject believe he or she is locked in an invisible cage and can’t get out.

Ordelag’s Filthy Hands: Causes clean hands to look dirty.

Heart of the Turtle:  When drunk, this potion enables the drinker to endure any hardship.

Brooch of Phoenix Combustion: Enables the wearer to “die” in an explosion of flame and then miraculously come back to life, healed of all wounds and imperfections.

Tweezers of Death:  When used on hair, these tweezers eradicate the hair and follicle permanently. But if they touch skin, the being dies instantly.

Lute of the Necromancer:  Controls all sorts of undead, depending on the song that is played. “Stayin’ Alive” remains a favorite.

Sep 18

Heartlight

Turn on your heartlight
Let it shine wherever you go
Let it make a happy glow
For all the world to see…

Venus, by ceramic artist Kate MacDowell

Sep 13

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/13/17: Houses of Ill Repute

happy times in a bordello

How do (mostly male) adventurers spend their hard-won leisure time? They might visit a brothel.

Game of Thrones has shown fantasy fans what such a brothel might look like, but whorehouses, or rollicking inns  filled with willing (or working) women have long been a staple of the genre, especially in sword and sorcery. Straight female characters have so far been shut out of the fun, but here’s hoping some creative authors come up with alternatives.

Here’s some randomly generated names to use in your own worldbuilding work.

Houses of Ill Repute


 

Brothels

The Mistress’s Last Moan

The Scarlet Lips

The Dungeon of Endless Spanking

The Siren’s Orgasm

The Honeycomb of Exquisite Whispers

Taunea’s Blushing Palace

The Virgin’s Secret

The Lusty Tower

The Black Velvet Inn

The Four Strokes

Palace of the Punishments

The Queen’s Hundredth Release

The House of Blissful Whispers

Grotto of the Forbidden Cry

The Maze of Irresistible Pleasures

The Emerald Pillow

The Wench’s Happy Groans

Cave of the Nymph

The Trollop’s Four Punishments

The Whore’s Singular Delight

The Lusty Maiden

The Ruby Garden

Prostitutes (Female only)

Velvet Plum

Deep Tongue

Honeycream

Bellona

Talsa the Skilled

Turmeena

Joreva

Mistress Janilla

Shekira

Lady Janda

Zarduna of the Whip

Fara Breedlove

Taleva the Dark Lotus

Cinnamon Moon

Nomeena the Huntress

Misty Blossom

Saroka the Morning Pearl

Karuna the White Opal

Dalzha

Hot Legs

Feather Rose

Fresh Velvet

 

 

Sep 11

Eye Irritation

I thought I felt something in my eye!

Sep 06

Worldbuilding Wednesday 9/6/17: Barbarians

A Barbarian ponders some imminent worldbuilding. (conan_the_barbarian_by_uncannyknack-d5y8z00.jpg)

A barbarian ready for action on the battlefield. Note the cleanly picked skeletons.
(Conan the Barbarian, by Uncanny Knack)

 

Without dispute, pulp author Robert E. Howard invented the fantasy character trope of The Barbarian Hero, specifically with his creation Conan. But the roots were laid before that in the Tarzan tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli. Both pitted a stoic, nature-wise man (or boy) of the wilds against corrupt human civilization. Conan went further, though, in his manly-man appetites for pleasure and acclaim.

During the fifty year span of the 1930s to the 1980s the Barbarian remained a popular character among readers, building to a peak in the mid 80s when the trope entered movie blockbuster territory, and popular culture, with Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s depiction in Conan the Barbarian (1982.) In turn that begat Clo-nans like Krull, Beastmaster, Deathstalker, The Sword and the Sorceror, and Ator the Invinceable, all beloved by schlock cinema aficionados, not to mention me. Since it was the 1980s, many of these had a post-apocalyptic theme as well, taking place after some nuclear holocaust as well as in the distant past.

Sadly, The Barbarian Hero declined in popularity after that. His rise and eventual fall is charted excellently here in this post by Castalia House.

But Clo-nans existed way before that, in the heyday of the pulp age. Tarzan beget Jo-Jo of the Jungle, Ki-gor, Ka-Zar, Korak Son of Tarzan, and Turok Man of Stone: meanwhile Kull the Conqueror, Kane, Brak, Wulf, Thongor, Kothar the Barbarian Swordsman, Kane, Vandal, and Dagar gave Howard’s creation a run for his money. The Barbarian was dressed up, as in Michael Moorcock’s angsty Elric of Melnibone series, and dressed down, as in the Saturday morning cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian and before that, The Herculoids. He appeared as an object of fun, as in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd stories and the humorous character Conan the Librarian.

Following the very simple rules of Barbarian name generation (lots of Ks and Zs) here are some to use in your own work.

Barbarians


 

Vazkas of Koboria

Strong-Skulled Thygor

Tiger Son Shovung

Zotran the Shaman Prince

Saygor The Viking

Saak the Marauder

Tradak the Demon Prince

Aalach the Ghost Raider

Kysur The Ranger

Naman the White Champion

Mighty-Thewed Thangobo

Cassark the Savage

Panthez of the Jungle

Abraak, the Black Marauder

Tarsur the Defender

Kamuz the Storm Hunter

Samark the Chieftain

Turgor the Challenger

Jondogorn of the Savage Land

Jor-Jor of the Ape Clan

Kindradi of the Lost World

Avung of the Emerald Forest

An-Chan of the Leopard People

Zhalak of the Forgotten Kingdom

Zolaan of the Secret Valley

Tark-Ark of the Wolf Clan

Fire Bringer Shaylak

Mamban of the Cobra

Kazan of the Canyon

Nammak the Nomad

Zardan the Conqueror

Thuvar the Challenger

Tujor, the Blue Demon

Rashtor the River Prince

Janjor the Moon Lord

Panthas the Jungle King

Reek the Raider

Kronsul the Destroyer

Hawk-Eyed Tolak

King Kindrados

Kazan of Tabornia

Fire Speaker Sagan

Tarbo, the Forest Warrior

Jophran the Sun Bringer

Jorjak the Forest Prince

Tigrath the Stone Chief

Kamjor the Forest Warrior

Simbu the Moon Lord

Kronas of the Rainforest

Aragor the Dark Moon Warrior

Thurak the Spirit Warrior

Star Sentry Farder

 

Sep 04

Dracolich

Undead dragon, or dracolich

The Dracolich, or undead dragon, is the most terrifying and powerful of all dragonkin.
Fortunately they are few and far between.

Aug 30

Worldbuilding Wednesday 8/30/17: Mundane Fare

Let’s face it. Most of the food in a typical Medieval European kingdom wasn’t very exciting.
This is what gruel looks like.

This is better than most, folks.

Historically, the peasant staple in Europe and the Near East was porridge, which is, basically, a form of oatmeal —  whole grains boiled in water or milk, decanted into a bowl and eaten with a spoon. Its thinner cousin was gruel, which was slurped rather than eaten. Wheat, rye, rice, millet, barley, oats, and hemp served as the base. If you were lucky, you had salt or butter to flavor it, and depending on season, fruit and meat. Porridges and gruels were also made with legumes such as peas and lentils. Modern Indian dhaals and rajmahs, as well as Middle Eastern  hummus, can be considered a form of porridge, albeit with more varied ingredients.

That said, I admit porridge or gruel isn’t very picturesque to write about.

So, here’s a (randomly created) list of realistic but not very exciting food a typical fantasy character might eat, perhaps at home or in some poor inn. The second column is what a character might eat while traveling on a quest. Note that they rely on ingredients that are cheap and easily obtainable.

Mundane Fare


 

Home Meals

Poached venison and creamed peas

Baked carrots and leeks, served with barley

Cornmeal crackers and a thick, buttery, lentil stew

A generous serving of rabbit with a side of mashed turnip

Goat and lentil soup

Mutton chowder spiced with thyme

Fried buckwheat and parsnip cakes

Whole grain bread and spicy cheese, served with raspberry preserves

Mushrooms simmered in pork stock

Day-old bread topped with creamed herring

Poached fish heads served with pickled turnip

 Road Food

Fermented goat’s milk

Stringy sausage made from a suckling pig

A tough, tasteless pie made with fish and onions

Wizard’s blueberry, a pale blue berry with starchy flesh

Trail crackers of wheatberry and dried quince

Cold slices of headcheese and pork

Travel biscuits of wheat and dried fig

Thin slices of sheep’s lungs dried in the sun until hard

Dwarve’s Loaf *

Gulllunga, a hard, crunchy cheese

Dehydrated pear strips

 

 

* I will leave it up to you to decide what Dwarve’s Loaf is.

 

Fantasy world utensils and bowls

Authentic tableware for your fantasy world.

 

Geek X Girls has an amusing version of RPG “Rations” (Food) for various AD&D races, complete with pictures. Gives you an idea of what adventurers might really eat on the road.

If you want to prepare your own gruel, here’s a recipe.

Basic Gruel

Ingredients
3 tbs. of groats (any combo of finely crushed grains) or, my favorite, grits!
3/4 cup water (more if you like it wetter)
Dash of salt
Little bit of butter, if your character isn’t too poor

Cooking Instructions

  1. Boil the water and salt in a saucepan on the stove. Slowly stir in groats or grits.
  2. Add butter. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low.
  3. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you like your gruel thicker, continue cooking until you have the consistency you like.

I eat this dish Mexican-style, topped with hot sauce and grated cheese.

 

Aug 28

Gummy Bear

This is one treat you don’t want to eat.

Gummy Anatomy Toy, by Jason Freeny

Older posts «