Braincakes

Find the recipe here.

 

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/19/19: Rare Dog Breeds

In the dog world there are hundreds of different breeds, some ancient and just now gaining recognition, others created recently to fulfill some aesthetic or work demand. These puppies, for example, are Turkish Catalburuns, a rare breed that is born with two noses ** or rather one nose divided into two chambers — split nostrils — that enables them to detect more smells.

Need to come up with a non-existent dog breed in your writing? Here’s a list.

 

Rare Dog Breeds

Lebanese Cattle Cur

Buff Harrier

Blue and White Miniature Spitz

Aboriginal Bassinti

Dachassian Bulldog

Yodeling Terrier

Tiger Toy Dog

Bergfeist

Akapuli

Aussiewank

Bantalet

Nomad Shepherd

Goose Heeler

Chiji

Bearded Temple Mastiff

Dalmfrise

Fishing Bulldog

Ridge-faced Spaniel

Singing Argenfriesian

Valamute

Old German Monastery Hound

Dachsel

Alanies

Belgian Chaser

Great Dingito

Griffonese

Taiga Wolfdog

Northern Alasky

Nullarbor Plain Kangaroo Dog

Poacher Hound

Borzita

Old Airapuli

Sicilian Abruzzo

Griffle

** “My dog’s got two noses.”      “How does he smell?”      “Awful.”

Werewolf Heart

My werewolf heart will tear yours out.
(Art by Richey Beckett)

 

Gender Pronoun Tyranny

Some months ago I decided to write a short story featuring a genderqueer, nonbinary protagonist to see, in part, how it could, and should, be done to make them human and relatable. The SF book above, released in 1992, did it by creating a new pronoun for the titular character: Cry. Cry was the pimp/madam of a futuristic brothel and a hermaphrodite, but not in the way you’d think: Cry was male on one side, and female on the other, requiring lopsided exercise equipment to keep both sides fit and in proportion. The novel’s plot was  pedestrian, but oh that concept, as well as that anime-like face and pink hair/goatee on the cover.

Being neither 100% male nor female physically, though, and identifying as both male and female psychologically, posed some problems for me with normal English pronoun use. “It” is out of the question, “she” is gendered and too specific, and “he,” while it’s been the traditional go-to for beings not specifically gendered, like animals, is gendered as well, and my particular character would not think of themself as a “he.” (See how I have since trained myself to write using the general human pronoun “themself?”)

But they, their, and themselves, while theoretically grammatically correct in the case of my story, is not a perfect fit either. “They” carries the baggage of also being a plural pronoun, and to readers unfamiliar with it in an ungendered sense, can make it sound like the character has a split personality. I’ve gotten used to thinking in it, for this particular protagonist at least. But I do wish there was something better in the English language.

That’s inspired me to draw up this chart listing the alternatives.

Objective

She

He

They

S/He

Ki

Xi

Zi

Hre

Ae

Subjective

Her

Him

Them

Hir

Kir

Xir

Zir

Hrem

Aem

Possessive

Her / Hers

His

Their / Theirs

Hirs

Kir / Kir’s

Xir / Xir’s

Zir / Zir’s

Hrer / Hrers

Aes


She, her, her / hers

Used as pronouns for all human characters in Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I haven’t read it, but I imagine it would be confusing, though the book is highly regarded. In a few SFF books I’ve come across characters that can change their gender to be serially male or female are referred to by those pronouns when in that gender’s form. I could never quite put them together as a whole character however. The “she” somehow overwhelmed the “he” – if I had to pick a gender for them, it would be she. Boobs trump penises, I guess.

He, him, his
Traditionally the preferred pronouns for the ungendered or the oddly gendered, the ubiquitousness of “He” is changing. Used in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left of Hand of Darkness to refer to Gethenians, an offshoot of humanity who are genderless most of the time except when they are sexually receptive.  Admittedly “he” is more neutral than “she” when talking about creatures whose gender doesn’t matter (like a tuna on a fishing line you plan on eating) but it also disguises the true nature of beings with an ambiguous or nonbinary gender by making them into men. I’m sure I’m not the only one who pictured Gethenians as a society of males, despite the references to pregnancy. Storm Constantine’s hermaphroditic Wraeththu, too, are referred to as “he” despite pregnancy and splitting themselves, in some tribes, into traditionally gendered males and females.

S/he, hir, hirs
I’ve seen this used in a quite a few SFF pieces, enough for it to be semi-standard. To my mind the gender leans toward “she,” however, from the placement of the s in “S/he,” and the sound of hir. I would think of such a character as a female.

Ke, kir, kir’s
Used in Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed to refer to immature members of the native species, who have no gender until they reach puberty. It was serviceable, but as a reader made me confused. The narrator of the novel wound up thinking of the youngsters as he or she, putting them into a gender slot to fulfill her own preconceptions. As a gender-neutral pronoun “ke” is serviceable. I could live with it.

Xi, xir, xir’s
Used casually in genderqueer communities to denote nonbinary gender. To me it sounds skewed toward female, because of the soft way it sounds when spoken. Plus it’s a Greek letter which might be confusing.

Zi, zir, zir’s
Used the same way xi is, but not as frequently. Seems more neutral and I like it better. The angles of the Z are easy on the eye when reading and as Z is not a frequently used letter of the alphabet, it stands out and screams “Look at me! I’m a nonbinary pronoun! Better wrap your brain around the fact that the person I refer to is nonbinary!” to egg readers on. Plus, it’s a Z, the end of the alphabet. How cool is that? I’d support this choice if a vote were ever taken on it. Still, for a writer, it’s one choice out of many and would have to be explained in the text, as ki and xi were. S/he, though not standard, is easier on the intake.

Hre, hrem, hrer
Something I came up with as a blend of he and her. I know it sounds like someone clearing (hrer) throat, but for me it works while reading text. In speaking, however, I realize the h sound can dominate or be dropped, leading to confusion with he and her.

Ae , aem, aer
Another one I came up with, using the first letter of the alphabet. Easy while reading and easy to speak if pronounced ay-ee, ay-em, ay-air.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/12/19: Coffee Blends

When visiting Seattle, be sure to bring back some of its endemic coffee roasts.

Coffee in Seattle is big business. Small roasters abound, creating their own special mixes and blends. I give name suggestions for those coffee houses here, and as for the specialties they offer, why not one of these randomly generated ones?

 

Coffee Blends

Sunny Aztec

Down Under Midnight

Mountain Eden

Southeast Cascade

Sunrise Diplomat

Lazy Southern River

Northern Lights Bright

Tanzanian Dinner Blend

Vienna Smooth

Somali Sand Castle

Brazilian Bikini Blend

Portuguese Tapas Iced Coffee

Brazilian Smoke

Lounge Car Extra Dark

Rise n’ Shine Country Morning

Christmas Sweetheart

Typhoon Dark

West Coast Medium

Ngorongoro Community House

Outback Smooth

Misty Morning Mountain Hop

Gobleki Tepi Super Rich

Night Gallery

Freaked me out when I was a kid, but I had a crush on Rod.
Observe how his right eye seems to be coming out of its socket.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/5/19: A Land Fit for Heroes

Map by Ravi Shankar

I did not think too much of Richard K. Morgan’s fantasy novel The Cold Commands, but I do admire the care the author put into his naming systems for the trilogy. Each culture of his universe —  Kiriath, Yhelteth, League, Majak — has its own naming conventions, and all are distinct from each other and in turn from English.

The Naom language is spoken in The League, a loose confederation of city-states of the north who have banded together for trade interests, opposing the decadent, Byzantine Yhelteth Empire in the south. Naom sounds like  a stereotypical barbarian language — lots of ag, ush, ing, and grunting type syllables, like a language Conan and his ilk might speak. In fact,  I believe the author, the sly bugger, intended it that way to evoke a Robert E. Howard mystique, which was both paid homage to and deconstructed. Naom also recalls the Orcish tongue used in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which the author references and criticizes here, but also pays homage to. (The above map also appears played off Middle Earth.)

If you’re looking to RPG in this world or write some fanfic, here’s a juicy list.

 

Random words of Naom (Land Fit for Heroes)

Ikrund

Kwarjell

Sheransha

Yashaud

Kelamgar

Moritnam

Derag

Olar

Yunsrund

Ringish

Sherinnash

Lisghal

Dakelan

Yermen

Ishayne

Fenghal

Yalahn

Gakvar

Ollushed

Anthil

Uralak

Kadrellis

Fenglak

Dwimbarin

Narandrish

Urvashgor

Dakalagris

Lodwash

Fiskandrish

Selnakadel

Grushman

Alkal

Ninnur

Ninrundil

Luchell

Sherlakatra

Vnashar

Shessatl

Angroin

Oshitak

Firon

Antherund

Tlanvash

Jemam

Jamirag

Kenjrund

Ajnash

Linchakis

Gyragren

Kurjgor

Arenund

Gyrellis

Kwarshion

Nulak

Morshed

Apcharin

Narkeeris

Sepkalbaan

Girim

Misham

 

The Cold Commands [Review]

The Cold Commands

by Richard K. Morgan
New York: Del Rey, 2011

 

The Land Fit for Heroes trilogy by Richard K. Morgan is a very odd and divisive fantasy series. Don’t let the title fool you. It is meant sarcastically. There are no real heroes in this book, or anti-heroes, really. The main characters are acted upon by circumstance and the society they live in — milieu-driven, as opposed to a character or plot-based work.  It’s a take on fantasy-based noire by the author of Altered Carbon, a hyperdark cyberpunk SF novel, all grittiness and cynicism. There’s some John le Carré in Morgan’s work and Phillip Marlowe too, as well as a strong influence from Michael Moorcock. However, I don’t think those elements gelled too well together in a fantasy setting. Or, rather they would work, if some basic precepts of the fantasy genre had been honored.

I pulled The Cold Commands from the library shelf because I was curious; I hadn’t read grimdark before, and from what I’d read the trilogy was the grimmest of the grim. The Cold Commands was the middle volume of the series so to bring myself up to speed I read a detailed synopsis of The Steel Remains and referred to the wiki so I wouldn’t be confused. For the most part I wasn’t. Off the bat I could tell the author was hell-bent bent on subverting everything about the fantasy genre that people love… the plots of good vs. evil as exemplified by 1980s and 1990s writers like David Eddings and Mercedes Lackey. The Cold Commands is the polar opposite of their kind of coziness, as well as Tolkien’s. But it’s also like beating a dead horse, burning it, and scattering the ashes, as the genre has moved on.

I do think that the author overlooked one of the most basic appeals of fantasy in the way he set up this series and this book. Which is not so much moral absolutes, such as good vs. evil, or ethics, such as law vs. chaos, individual freedoms vs. community responsibility. It’s the simplicity of its arc. Real life doesn’t progress in a straight line. We get sidetracked and jerked around by things beyond our control. Our goals change; we change. We spend long periods in frustration and inactivity, punctuated by shorter periods of bliss and terror. We feel angst and anomie. In short, most often we don’t have singular goals like destroying the magical McGuffin and banishing the dark lord. Sometimes it’s just getting through the day without having a nervous breakdown. Even Tolkien, whom the author derided, realized that. At the end of The Return of the King the looming menace is destroyed, but the world is changed and things will never again be the same as before the evil.

In noire, which most often has a mystery plot, the protagonist must navigate a corrupt world to realize their goal. Sometimes the goal is enlightenment to a sinister plot, sometimes wealth or vengeance. The reader wants to see the little guy go up against the odds to win, even if it’s for something venal or unpalatable, even if they themselves are unappealing as a character. It’s all about the fight – David and Goliath if you will.

In The Cold Commands the arc is nebulous, but neither are the characters fighting just to survive. Instead they’re muddling through a series of vignettes, some amusing to the reader, others off-putting, and oh, hey, there’s some alien creatures called dwenda who are trying to gain control of this world and take it over. But let’s do some other things which have absolutely nothing to do with this plot.

The plot revolves around three main characters: Ringil Eskiath, a gay swordsman ostracized for a sexuality which is very taboo in this world; Egar, a rough and tumble tribesman of the north; and Archeth, a black-skinned member of another alien race, the Kiriath, who are longtime human allies. The trilogy begins ten years after reptilian invaders to this world have successfully been beaten off, but at a great cost, and to an extent these three characters are presented as world-weary ones living day to day in the salvaged but corrupt new world their war victories have created. When The Cold Commands begins Archeth is an advisor to the Jhiral, the decadent emperor of the southern kingdom, Yhelteth, while Egar is hanging around the big city with her. Ringil is seeking revenge on the slave dealer who abused his cousin. These adventures continue closely with those from the previous book.

Up to a point I was enthusiastic about the book. The author can write, and write well; the action moves, and little ironic flourishes abound. I wanted to like it.  I felt I had to like it, to game up to its hipness. The subversions amused even as they were violent, misogynistic, and graphically sexual (but not erotically sexual.)  The very crassness of it was hilarious, like that over-the-top scene in Kill Bill, Vol. II where Beatrix Kiddo squishes her rival’s last eyeball with her dirty toes. The author even dared to subvert the subversion in a scene where Ringil has his revenge on the female slave dealer who’d taken his cousin. After letting his gang repeatedly gang-rape her, complete with screams, leering men, and dropped trousers, he goes to kill her himself with his dragon-tooth knife. But instead of being all sobbing and cowering she stands up to him, insults him to his face, and states the gang rape has been nothing to what she’s endured in the past, and furthermore, she’s twenty times the woman his cousin was! She refuses to give him the satisfaction of being broken, prepared to go to her death defiant to the last. A bold move by the writer, and I upped the book a star because of it.

But…it goes nowhere. The reader has been prepared for some grimdark denouement from all this buildup, and there is none. Ringil, impassive, lets her rave, and the scene cuts away before she is presumably killed.

The reader, at this point, does expect some resolution for all this buildup. A psychological one for Ringil, if not an advancement for the plot. There was none.

By cheating the reader of a conclusion, the whole scene felt arbitrary and too much like the writer was heaping contempt on his own character, and by extension the reader, for downbeat dramacakes. Ringil could have lost his temper and offed her in a rage, or given her an argument, or realize that that he’s wasted all his time. Psychologically, it could have been a comment on the futility of revenge, or the realization of a task completed. But all it does is showcase the slave dealer’s ugliness to the reader, and after this scene, Ringil doesn’t think of her or the incident again. We never find out if he’s been cut down to size by her, or grimly amused. Nothing. Nada. The author may, indeed, have been making a meta comment on the futility of real life and its pointlessness, but that’s not why we read a fantasy novel. We get pointlessness in real life. In fantasy we want clarity and conclusions: good, bad, or ambiguous.

All the main characters in The Cold Commands seem to lack this kind of conclusion-drawing skill and the ability to adjust their inner selves to what occurs in their  environment, which led, ultimately, to my becoming dissatisfied with the book. They lacked introspection. They were very much creatures of the present, which was at odds with how often they referenced the past: the war they fought, their childhoods, old friends and lovers. They never came into focus for me, never engaged, even as they were observant of others and sensitive to their motives. They just drifted from incident to incident, rudderless.

Here’s an excerpt the last fifth of book where nomad tribesman Egar bursts in unexpectedly on his lover, a married noblewoman, and she’s put out by it and calls him a Majak (a term used derisively by the people of the city for his culture).

[ … ]  Imrana stared at him. In the breathing space that followed, he discovered that what really stung was her apparent opinion, laid abruptly bare with this unscripted meeting. It lurched through the arrangement of his memories like a drunken thug in a spice market, scattering and trampling the little rows of jars and pots, the artfully opened, fine-odored sacks. Belch and curse and stagger, smash and spill. Everything he’d valued, turned over in this head—he watched it happen like a sack of some pretty hillside town. Thick-skulled big-cock barbarian bit of rough—was that all he’d ever been? Or was it the march of years, clawing them apart? Had passing time and age done this to them both, made them colder and more distant, wound up in their own affair and grasping scared at what was left? He cast his mind back, tried to remember. Found he couldn’t. Found he didn’t want to.

It’s a very nice piece of writing that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern literary novel. But, it has absolutely nothing to do with this story. Egar’s character does not change and Imrana herself bows out a few pages later. The slave girl Egar had rescued, who was the reason for the unscripted meeting, is also not mentioned again in the book. All that happens is Imrana’s philandering husband returns, gets mad, and Egar kills him, providing a plot device for Egar to get thrown in prison, forcing Ringil to take on the job of assassinating the emperor’s religious rival as payment for Egar’s pardon. That’s it… a whole lot of nothing.

Much of the book was like this, random incidents strung together, lurching and uncouth, the characters observing them dispassionately. At the end of the book, after Ringil assassinates the troublemaking cleric and his dwenda partners, (after a journey through dwendaland, I think) he kills everyone, destroys the temple, and declares himself the city’s protector. I was like wha…? The dude didn’t even like the city or its people that much. He was out for himself, now he’s a hero? I could imagine he may have been overcome by adrenaline and masculine bravado and wanted to shout his mastery, but it went totally against his character, and the book, to declare himself a savior.

The plot had other moments of confusion that made no sense. Some of it may be because I did not read the first book, only a detailed synopsis; some of it may be that I don’t enjoy psychedelic trip out scenes, where a character has delusions, fever dreams, or interdimensional wanderings through some trippy dreamscape and other characters, gods, demons, utter Important Things to him and of him. The dreamscape in question is the dwenda one, an alternate dimension like a giant, dreary swamp. Ringil goes there twice, and I just zoned out, in part because the swampland was dull to read about, and nothing in it made sense. Both times acted as a deus ex machina for Ringil when he was in a tight spot. I don’t mind a few small occurrences trip-out here and there, but in this book they go for pages.

Both times, he didn’t plan to go there, revealing a lack of character agency; he was just snatched. Other beings were working on him and the other characters behind the scenes, old gods, dwenda, intelligent machines that were servants on the Kiriath. All acted to confuse and obfuscate the characters, and the author made no bones about it. The speech of the Kiriath machines was especially annoying, treating the protagonists with  contempt as if they were sticking out their tongues and saying : “Nyah nyah nyah! I know Important Stuff and I’m not going to tell you!” As with the trip-out scenes, a little would have been fine, but the smug pontification of the machines just went on and on, to no purpose other than keeping things mysterious. And the contempt just went on and on too, heaped onto the characters by the author and I think onto the reader as well. Even one of the so-called Gods of the story heaped on the contempt, speaking in a distinctly unlikely way for a deity removed from worldly life. (I guess one of the unspoken conclusions of the story is that absolute power breeds not evil but contempt?)

Also tiring was the author’s focus on details instead of on advancing the plot. For example, there were two extended scenes of wall and rock climbing, one into a rather mundane abandoned temple, the other up a citadel wall, that went on freaking forever. In a book that should be jampacked with excitement and depravity, why waste words on climbing walls? The characters are supposed to be badasses; they can handle a wall. There’s nothing wrong with a jump cut to get to the action if they’re not in a life or death state.

There’s other filler too, of characters just walking through the city, interacting with its denizens, etc. Some of it is amusing, like Egar talking casually to a child outside an inn — in a typical fantasy reader might expect it to go in a heartwarming slice-of-life direction, but it’s subverted by the appearance of a gross, abusive innkeeper father who comes out slaps the kid, and says he was begotten on a whore, whom he also slaps. But sometimes it goes on just too much and too far, and in the end I have to honestly say most of the book was this kind of filler.

Not an enjoyable read for me.

Heavy on the Symbolism

Dare to touch her, and Death smiles.

(Illustration by SF artist Virgil Finlay)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/29/19: 1960s Exploitation Films

Drugs, man

Uhhh… Casey Kasem was in this? Well, he was the voice of Shaggy in Scooby-Doo…

B-movies have long been with us, but after the deregulation of the Hollywood production code in the 1960s, the gateway was open for all sorts of lurid, sensational content. Happily it also coincided with the counterculture, and the two produced plenty of classics. The subject matter (and titles) even inspired more mainstream filmmakers, like Peter Sellers’ The Party and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (Sellers was also a notorious experimenter of LSD.)

Itching for a title for a 1960s exploitation film that never was? Look no more.

 

1960s Exploitation Films

Cheerleader Gangbang

The Strawberry Rebels

The Jolly Good Guru

Plasticine Tigress

Shhh, it’s Only Us Kids

Vixen in a Rug

Shaggy in the Streets

Spy in a Bedsheet

Chelsea Hoodlum

The Tangerine Trip

The Wild Heiress

What’s Up, Freaks?

Peppermint Tiger

Velvet Caravan

The Aquarian Teens

Easy Switchblade

Teacher in a Miniskirt

Barefoot in the Underground

Yesterday’s Revolutionary

Operation Dallas-a-go-go

The Reefer Murders

Ski Bum in a Spacesuit

Swedish Wives

The Motorcycle Game

 

Love Robot Bug-Out!
Deadly Hot Rods from Venus!
See it now… and prepared to be turned on, at the…

LAST PARTY IN THE WORLD!
(cue wild pseudo-acid rock music)