Passing Obsessions 11-23

This timely and thought-provoking deconstruction of the Dragonriders of Pern series by silveradept.

True identity of the stick-carrying man on the Led Zeppelin IV album cover discovered.

Imaginary books about the imaginary Hyperdimensional universe.

The many varieties of domestic peacock.

Political commentary from historian Heather Cox Richardson.

AI Art Adventures: Zeus and Ganymede

One of the more oddball Greek myths I am fascinated with is that of Zeus and Ganymede. It’s NSFW so buckle up, and like most Greek myths, differs according to who tells it. Basically, Ganymede was a comely youth who caught the eye of Zeus so Zeus kidnapped him in the form of an eagle, or sent his pet eagle, and carried him off to Olympus, where he served as Zeus’s cupbearer, ousting the maiden Hebe who had previously held the job. The NSFW aspect is that Zeus may have wanted Ganymede for more than holding his cup, it may have been for some man-boy carnal pleasure. Somewhat out of character for Zeus, who usually pursued women and nymphs. But it made for many fine classic art pictures in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Whether the painters and their patrons were aware of this aspect, who knows?

I decided to put a spin on it by altering another cheesy classic art picture, Walter Crane’s The Roll of Fate, and putting it through the Midjourney grinder. After many unholy mashups of eagle, Zeus, and youth, I came up with the fine one above, and the finer one below.  The top shows Zeus’s pet eagle standing guard and the bottom, Zeus transforming out of his eagle disguise — note the wings. Both show him accepting, rather tenderly, an oversized cup/chalice. Perhaps too oversized, but hey, he’s a god, with hearty appetites.

Ganymede, for his part, looks slightly traumatized in both paintings. In the second one, he’s like, “Whatever you say, Zeus.”

American Born Chinese [Review]

American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang
First Second Books, 2006

American Born Chinese is a graphic novel about the experience of Asian Americans trying to come to terms with their heritage in mainstream American society. It was published in 2006, so it’s a few years short of its much-deserved twentieth anniversary –- it’s still in print. It’s even inspired a series on Disney+ which has many of the same actors from Everything Everywhere All at Once, the much-acclaimed multiverse movie released in 2021.

Despite the simplicity of its artwork, the novel is rich and complex. It intertwines three different stories: the realistic everyday one of Jin Wang, a teenage boy born in the US to Chinese-born parents who moves to a new area – and school — where he finds himself a Asian; the Chinese folk tale of Monkey, whose ambitions, and his achievement of them, don’t negate the fact he remains a monkey in a world of human gods; and Chin-Kee, a sort of cartoon superhero who takes the form of a stereotypical Chinese, buck teeth, yellow skin and everything, whose superhero is disturbing gringos. In a sort of magic realism, Chin-Kee is the cousin of Danny, a typical American white boy, and causes him much embarrassment at school. And yes, the Chin-Kee pun is deliberate by the author.

I’ve pretty much defined the whole tale in the above description. Jin’s attempts to fit in include having a crush on a white girl (who crushes on him back), perming his hair to resemble that of a white classmate, and betraying a loyal friend, a fellow Asian boy, badly. These are all efforts by him to refute his real self. At the same time in the folklore world, Monkey takes on feat after feat, only to be told by the Supreme God himself he can’t become what he isn’t – a flea-bit, hairy monkey – and buried beneath a mountain until he learns humility by helping a holy man on his journey to the west.

Gene Luen Yang, Illustration for American Born Chinese

When Jin is informed by the white jock he admires that he is not to date his white girl crush anymore, his anger is so grow he transforms into… Danny, the white boy so haunted by the antics of Chin-Kee. This leads to a climactic showdown where the loose ends are tied up in mythic fashion.

I loved this story, even though the characters are foreign to me (I’m adult, white, and female.) It was perhaps a bit too obscure in places. The finale left me scratching my head, though that may be because I was so engrossed I rushed through it. But in the end, it is clear Jin has reconciled with who he was and who he is, and receives a hint of who he may be.

A five star read and recommended.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/22/23: Myths of Ancient

Jupiter and Thetis

Jupiter and Thetis, by Dominique Ingres (1811)

Pretty much all fantasy writers are familiar with Greek myths, or they should be: they’re one of the unfailing constants of Western Culture. The Iliad, which told of the fall of Troy (and the Trojan horse.) The Odyssey, about the hero Odysseus’s epic journey to find his way home. Theseus and the Minotaur, Icarus who flew too close to the sun, Pandora’s Box… these are but a few.

What’s little known, however, is that the contents of these myths varied from age to age, teller to teller, sprouting countless variations like the heads on a Greek hydra (another myth.) For example, in one myth the gods Athena and Poseidon were rivals to rename the city of Cecropolis in their own honor, depending on whose gift was more valuable to the citizenry. Of course Athena won, which is why the city is called Athens, but whether she won because Poseidon’s gift of a spring was too salty (in one version) or her gift of an olive tree proved more useful than a horse (another version) depends on the teller.

Modern takes on Greek myth lean on snappy teen comedy (The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan) or ignore the source material entirely (Disney’s 1997 animated movie Hercules, which didn’t even touch on the Twelve Labors, sacrilege!) Of course, there are other writers who get it right, like The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.

A word on the painting above. It depicts a scene from The Iliad in which the nymph Thetis begs Zeus, her ex-lover, to protect their half-divine offspring Achilles in the war. It’s right-out wacky, which is why I love it: Ingres’ anatomical liberties taken with both figures, the way Zeus rests his left arm so casually on a cloud, the way Thetis is playing coochy-coochy-coo with his beard and mouth like he’s a big baby she’s trying to make smile. It’s absolutely delightful.

Need to a pull a never-before-documented Greek myth out of your hat? Here’s a few.


Unknown Myths of Ancient Greece

Aristotle and the Tale of the False Yolk

Amphitrite and the Unwanted Brazier

Theseus and the Wise Woman

Ares and the Gift of Cheese

Poseidon’s Olive Press

The Harp of Eris

Orion the Hunter and the Champions of Thebes

The Swineherd of Athens

Ariadne and the Spirited Stitch

Zeus and the Divine Egg

Dionysus and the Wayward Wine

Hades and the She-Goat

The Taming of the Hippalectron *

The Hundred Puzzles of Chiron the Boatman

How Hephaestus Found the Pearls of Charybdis

How Suffering Came to the Aegean Sea

The Judgement of Samothrace

Asclepius and the Surgeon of Knossos

The Boxer of Ithaca

The Ruby Pomegranate

Sisyphus and the Curse-Tablet

Chronos Punishes the Historians

Odysseus and the Poets of Lesbos

The Horns of Byblos

How Hermes Cut Oceanus’s Beard

Circe and the Golden Bow

The Plight of Arachne and the Oarsmen

Heracles and the Oathbreakers

Artemis and the Swineherds

Ares and the Captives of Troy

How Daedulus Multiplied the Olives

King Midas and the Linen Inventory

Hebe and the Loose Helmet

Plutarch and the Perfect Robe

* A hippalectron is a mythical half horse, half rooster creature.

A Tale of Two Castles [Review]

A Tale of Two Castles

by Gail Carson Levine
Harper Collins, 2011

The past year has seen a resurgence in cozy fantasy. In this subgenre the characters are genial, the stakes low. It’s slice-of-life, not slice-of-death, and centers on community and friendship. It’s been led by the runaway success of the self-published Legends & Lattes on Amazon Kindle, about the travails of a female orc who opens up a coffee shop. But it’s also been a longtime staple in the YA community. What was Nancy Drew if not a series of cozy mysteries?

A Tale of Two Castles was a refreshing break from the overblown faerie romances and poorly worldbuilt dystopias I’ve encountered lately. I found it intelligent and engaging, with a slowly growing mystery that builds to a satisfying climax. Though aimed at MG readers, it was written with depth and skill, one of those rare books that felt, in a good way, to have been longer and more intricate than it really was. The author, Gail Carson Levine, specializes in MG/YA cozy fantasies; indeed she’s the author of the popular Ella Enchanted, a revisionist take on the Cinderella fairy tale.

The story is about Elodie, a 14-year-old peasant girl departing from her island home to become an apprentice on another island. Her parents hope her to become a weaver, but she has her heart set on becoming an actor, due to the influence of  her family’s tenant. Being of humble origins Elodie carries only a few coins, and her arrival at her new home is complicated by the theft of those coins, and the fact that fashionable citizens wear caps, a problem because she now can’t afford one. Other notable residents include a king prone to making cruel practical jokes, his dippy daughter, a friendly ogre and his dog, and a dragon, all of whom Elodie becomes acquainted with as she tries to realize her thespian dreams.

Unlike a lot of the current potboiler YA books, the Medievalism felt accurate (save for the dragon, ogre, and magic, of course.) Clothes and luxuries are in short supply, and expensive; the majority of the market stalls are resellers. Yet, it’s cozy and familiar. Peasants eat small bundles of grains boiled with bits of meat and herbs – the author tells us how delicious they taste. There are rushes on the floor of castle halls and servants sleep there when the feasting is done, bundled in blankets. This is not a threatening world, but it’s not one of endless gowns and balls either.

The dragon was not a threat but a normal, law-abiding citizen known for making hot toasted bread sticks covered with cheese. Mysteriously, the reptile will not indicate its gender and is referred throughout the story as IT. Just like that, in caps. The book was published in 2011 so it’s possibly the first instance of a nonbinary character in children’s fantasy, occurring way before the current gender revisionism. Strangely, I got used to the IT after a while, even with the caps. The word indicated the creature’s uniqueness and the fact it was nonbinary more than either they or it would have. They would have been confusing, and it too nonspecific and disrespectful of the creature’s personhood. I know there are plenty of people out there who would rip me for not comfortable with using they as a nonbinary singular pronoun, but frankly, what works for a legal document or a puff-piece in a news article doesn’t work for fiction, where it’s just too damn confusing.

Elodie, who has second thoughts being apprenticed to the acting troupe, falls into the dragon’s employ where she acts as both housecleaner and spy, for a mystery is afoot at the ogre’s castle. The ogre, despite merely being a well-mannered, giant-size human, is not beloved by the people of the city, and it turns out… surprise! He’s to marry the dippy daughter of the king. But his beloved dog has been kidnapped and without the dog, he has no means to keep the cats of the city at bay, who have the power to force him to transform into a mouse. This rather clunky plot point was the only tweeness in the book, but I could forgive it for what happens after. A cat invades the ogre’s banquet, he becomes a mouse, and the castle is turned upside down as his servants try to find him. Elodie comes under suspicion and is locked in a tower under threat of being poisoned, with her dragon patron nowhere in sight.

I did wind up liking this book much more than I thought I would; for what it was, it was damn well perfect. I’m going to pass it on to younger relatives now.

AI Art Adventures: The Bookstore

I dream about a certain bookstore/library sometimes.

It’s not one I’ve seen in real life, but a combination of all the ones I’ve ever known. It always has the kind of books I am interested in: fantasy and science fiction, art and design, sociology and science and history and all the weird ways these intersect.  Every book is fascinating, weighty, and colorful. I am always browsing and always delighted, making note of them for future checkout or purchase.

The books are arranged in a logical way on multiple levels and several floors, with narrow stairways running up and down. It’s dim and narrow in this place, but a comforting dim, not a threatening one. It’s equal parts childhood public library, The Strand bookstore in NYC, and cramped academic archive. It’s never crowded.

Unlike real life, I can read the spines without my reading glasses and browse inside the covers. That’s the best thing.

Also unlike real life, I have all the time in the world.

These Midjourney pictures are the closest I can some to recreating it.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/14/23: Venus and Mars

The phrase “Venus and Mars” is a potent one. Not only does it bring to mind Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, and Mars, the god of war and brutality, in all their opposition, but also nights of stargazing, self-help books on relations between the sexes, astrology columns, and (as above) anthemical rock albums. This one, released in 1975 by Paul McCartney and Wings, came with a set of stickers as well.

In some other universe, what substitutes for Venus and Mars might there be?


Venus and Mars

















AI Art Adventures: Poltergeists

Users of Midjourney know every day brings a new theme word to play around with decided by the site’s creators. (I suspect it’s a way for the owners to iron out problems with the AI’s interpretation of that word.)  One recent word, for example, was generuk, which is a species of long-necked antelope renowned for standing on its hind legs to get at tree leaves. I doubt most users knew what a generuk was, but the AI did  and did a passable job with their prompts.

A few days before Halloween the word of the day of the day was poltergeist, which is German for “noisy ghost.” This word posed a problem as poltergeists are invisible.

So I decided to explore the theme by using the prompt “B&W vintage photo, poltergeist activity in a suburban home kitchen, 1950s, telephone flying, child screaming, housewife watching in fascination.” I should have published this before Halloween but, well, life.

1950s suburban poltergeist activity b&w vintage photo mom and child

From the first set. No poltergeist and no flying telephone (none of these pics had telephones) but a woman aghast with horror who has jumped up on the kitchen counter for safety, and a female child who is reacting in alarm to her but can’t see the horrible thing the woman can, which is off-camera.

The set was not bad in general but there’s a number of goofy things which point to the non-reality of it: The child’s shoes, the woman’s hands (as usual), that object on the counter that looks like a stereo receiver with stuff piled on top of it. Perhaps there were some 1950s homes which boasted stereo receivers in their kitchens, but not likely.

The kicker though is what’s in the cabinets in the back!

Continue reading

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/01/23: Ultraman Kaiju I

Ultraman Leo does some kaiju wrasslin’

The many, many incarnations of Ultraman over the decades gave fans a decorative Rogue’s Gallery of foes, most of whom were out to destroy Earth or conquer it. The show’s writers were careful to give them all distinctive names, which, oddly, the attack teams somehow always knew despite never seeing that monster before. Most sounded Japanese, such as Gomora, Dorako or Saigo. Others got names in English like Dinosaur Tank, Sea Killersaurus, or King Joe, which must have sounded exotically threatening to the Japanese audience but made the American one snigger. In spite of this, most ill-named kaiju overcame the handicap to give the Ultra hero a run for his money in the martial arts showdown.

The names below were inspired by the kaiju of the Ultraman Leo series.


Ultraman Monsters Names I



Black Gass














AI Art Adventures: Blending a crown

If you’ve read my posts on AI versions of Narnia’s White Witch, Green Witch, and Queen Jadis of Charn, you’ll know I have a fascination with exotic costumes. I blame this on watching the Sonny and Cher Show  in the early 1970s. (Some of my grade school designs for Cher would have put present day drag queens to shame. ) Happily, hours hunched over a sketchbook, pencil in hand, is no longer necessary to come up with some daring designs. Just a good eye and good command of the English language.

Several months back I was teaching myself the Midjourney Blend command, trying to come up with a novel crown for a fantasy character.

These were the pics I chose as bases. Very disparate. You can blend up to seven pics in MJ, loading each one as you would a pic on a blog.

These were ones generated. The woman seems to be the same, with variations in her metallic costume, and the crowns are all variations too in beaten silver metal and golden spikes. Not bad at all for one go-round.

If I was a costume designer I’d ditch drawing thumbnails for good.