Give me a call.

Alfred Hitchcock in a publicity shot for Dial M for Murder, 1950


Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/6/20: Let’s Talk About Princess
xxxx Irulan and Her Sisters

princess irulan

Princess Irulan, the stereotypical talking head.

I’ve always considered Dune and its many sequels more science fantasy than science fiction. Sure, there’s starships and other planets, not to mention sandworm biology, but there’s also a Catholic-like sisterhood with sinister mind powers, swordfights, a Chosen One trope, and a feudal society with emperors, princesses, and dukes. Herbert cribbed a lot from human history as well (the Hapsburgs, the spice trade, the rise of Islam, the Old Testament) so the books could, in a sense, also be called historical fantasy. Let’s add steampunk to the list too, for all the mentions of clockwork mechanisms and old-timey social mores. (If released today, they’d probably defy categorization.)

One character who has always gotten the short shrift is Princess Irulan, the eldest daughter of the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV, one of the baddies of the original book. Irulan serves as the binding force that holds the novel together, her narrations beginning each chapter. She serves the same purpose in the David Lynch version of the movie, her talking head introduction easing the newbie viewer into Herbert’s convoluted fantasy. Storywise, she serves as the mighty brought low trope, the tall, haughty blonde (can you say WASP?) married off to Paul Atreides so he can claim the Emperor’s throne. But at the end of the story Paul is no prize. He’s tanned to leather as a Fremen and has freaky blue eyes, his mind permanently altered by spice usage. To add insult to injury, he never consummates his marriage with Irulan, keeping true to his Fremen sweetheart Chani, who bears the twins who are his heirs. Irulan is little better than baggage, and unwanted baggage at that.

How this affects Irulan is by turning her into a victim of Stockholm syndrome. From some point in the future she writes the texts that become the chapter headers of the past, and judging by them, she has become slavishly devoted to the very odd family she married into. In the Lynch movie, Virginia Madsen does a swell turn as Irulan, her chiseled yet sensual features matching the character.

In Children of Dune Irulan was replaced by her sister Wensicia as the scheming villainess, but by then I had lost interest in the series. The characters I knew well and had sympathized with were all going off into different directions that put the lie to the conclusion of the first book, and I wish I had ended the series there.

In the Dune universe Irulan had four younger sisters, who, though they were not featured in the first book, were featured in the glossary at the end of the first book… which, for me, was actually more fun to read than the actual book. Herbert had a way with names, perhaps second only to LeGuin. The sisters had names odd enough to stand out, but familiar enough to feel comfortable with: Chalice, Rugi and Josifa are only a few letters off from the old-fashioned Alice, Ruby, and Josephine. Going by the glossary alone I expected to read more about them, but only Irulan figured in the plot. I wish, in some alternate universe, the whole series could have been about the princesses. Ah well, off to AOC to look up some fanfic.


Irulan and her sisters, re-mixed



















































… it must be French.

Cobalt’s axim: If you open up a graphic novel and see psychedelic mountains made of disembodied boobies, it must be French.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/29/20: Military Slang, Part III

For this series so far I’ve been generating American military slang which could be used in the modern era. In previous conflicts, however, such slang existed too. Redcoats, as every school child knows (well, those who were alive during the American Bicentennial) was slang for British soldiers in the Revolutionary War, along with the less well-known Lobster or Lobsterback. The Civil War gave us Webfoot (infantryman) while WWI was the origin of terms like Shellshock, Basket Case, Cooties, and Strafe.

Like all my names these are free to use or inspire.


Military Slang, Part III

Rooster: A watch/watchman to a private’s room
Rotorhead’s Drilling Hat: A hat worn by a military mechanic in the Middle East
Russ: A term of endearment for a male Marine, or anyone having a pasty white body.  Try to run a last mile in any marine’s gear and the room is over half occupied by these sorts.

Set Up: An advanced landing stage on the fly boat
Slinky: A cigarette
Spider: A U.S. Army/Army Reserve Parachute who is training to become a Navy Diver
Spock-Turret: A turret that fires directly downwards
Starmaker: A ship with thatch and up to eighteen sailors
Stinger: A flight helmet in the shape of a snake
Storger: A civilian helicopter crew member
Success Crew: All-male private military company headquartered in Bahrain
Superman: A U.S. Navy Seaman
Swamp Rat: A gunner on an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter. Also “Slooty Roboto”
Tae Kai – A Marine stationed overseas in Japan
Tommy East: Term referring to Blackhole (known as “TJ”) training
Trinity (Flying Half Hearted): When a pilot lets himself get distracted by far more important matters than his plane
Tristar: When a service member falls victim to the maelstrom of insanity
Turkman: A Petty Officer Second Class
Twist and Clutch: A wind-cleared maneuver developed by the Navy where the boat kicks hard in front of the wind to generate a large swell and then swings out to the opposing side.
Tyke: A sailor who repairs electronics.

Urban Footwear: A term used by sailors to refer to athletic shoes

UDA: Unintentional Disposal Association
UP Horn: The ship’s band made up of the flute and trumpet section

Vidinator: A pilot who oversees a restricted area

Wag-Tag: Another name for an aircraft carrier
Wankee: Delta uniform
Windmill: The Marine Corps run.  Less a fart than a speed humerus.

Yardrunner: Soldiers who have completed a challenging training regimen

Zoo Hundred: Usually shouted by a crew on an errand



Are you wearing yours?

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/22/20: Military Slang, Part II

Among the more well-known of military slang words are snafu and FUBAR. Both originated in WWII. Snafu has since passed into regular language use as a noun meaning a mess, an unexpected monkey wrench thrown into one’s plans. Originally SNAFU, the letters stood for Status Nominal: All Fucked Up,  a sarcastic term referring to the normal chaotic state of military life in the field.

FUBAR, in contrast, still keeps its acronym status, which means Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. Both terms have polite definitions in which “fouled” is substituted for the “fucked.”

Here’s some more randomly created military slang.


Military Slang, Part II

Jebus: Sailor
Jigabo: A sailor’s companion
Jive Batman: Long-suffering husband of a sailor
Jock: Enlisted man
Johnson: A General or USMC Field Marshall
Jumper suit: By definition, anything that can be worn in a parachute. You’ll want the perfect fit, but don’t wear a suit on this one!
Jumped-up Bootleg: Insulting term for newbies (nearly all of us)
Junk: Items that are not normal sized, such as tents or pallets 

Killa: SEAL
Kangaroo contretemps: A full court martial where all of the accused wear no clothes or wrap their genitalia in bandages
Kettling: The practice of purposefully forming a defensive chain while a riot is taking place.  This allows the formation of human shields and helps the rioters flee, leaving their vehicles unoccupied for officers to control.
Knowitall: A type of pilot who’s an uncultured Kool-Aid drinker

Landrezzer: Fully-automatic machine gun that fires a plastic disc
Lark: A military police dog
Linesman: An enlisted man who climbs on top of a tank and checks whether any shell casings have pierced the armor plating
Lint Stuffer: A sailor’s boot
Long Jacob’s Ladder: A method of killing that involves stripping the victim naked and dropping him from a height with a backpack and backpack straps holding the victim’s arms behind his back

Mama: Marine
Max: Marine
Ms. Militia: Navy lieutenant

Navy Ace: President of the United States of America
Naze: A rectangle of land 20 feet long and 5 feet wide
Nefarico: Derogatory name for military personnel from Quebec

Oath Keeper: Navy staff officer

Pappy: Corpsman
Pearl Diver: Submarine pilot
Pet: Sailor
Puff: Enlisted man

Q-Boat: Container ship
Quatter: Artillery captain


Medusa’s Playhouse

“Pay me a visit,” Medusa said. “We’ll get stoned together.”

Worldbuilding Wednesday 4/15/20: Military Slang, Part I

Military slang is obscure and puzzling even at the best of times. It’s easy for civilians to pick up terms readily bandied about by journalists like MREs (military rations) and those from TV shows and movies, like dogtag and grunt.  But there’s a whole slew of others, some dependent on location, like AWACS (Airborne Early Warning and Control System, familiar if you live around Boeing Field in Seattle) and others by war, for example, the Hanoi Hilton.

For this type of rich, varied list I use talktotransformer, feeding it examples from real life military slang.


Military Slang, Part I

Anytyzer: Enemy armored vehicle
Arctic Cat: Transforming tool, used to sculpt scaly plates from sea ice
Awlfish: Amphibious truck
BadShibe: U.S. Army Quartermaster
Barbwire Smiles: U.S. Army Rangers
BB Bumblebee: Surgical projectiles
Bubble Bob: A Naval officer
Bushwacker: Commander of Task Force Able, or 3rd Air Force veteran
Bust-O-Matic: The blast deflector array used on many ex-USMC (Ex-Navy) F/A-18 Hornet fighters
Cohicoon: Heavy round of artillery
Colonel Reptilicus: Ew!
Compy: The x-ray dummy used to transport medicine to locations
Deepwater Sam: A Naval officer

Evergreen: Struck off a ship after being with too many other ships

Flaming Heart: Member who sacrifices for the good of the unit
Fucus: Genital warts
Fun Grab: Use of a pebble where it hits a person in the groin
Funny: To have an adverse reaction to something or someone

GAS: Gunfighters abbreviation for gas assist

Hamburger: An informal term for beer
HASL: Large Assam Rifles
Hedgehog: Parachute type windbreak
Hafiah: A TOW ATGM launcher
Hayride: Elevated or broken ground
Hazel: .50 caliber machine gun
Hell Ball: A derogatory term for an American or an American military man
Hubble: The act of rolling on your rear to be as near the ground as possible

Independent: An officer who has failed at the rank of corporal


Gunnery in a Nunnery

You talkin’ to me?

Buried Alive [Reading Challenge 2020]

Buried Alive

by Myra Friedman
William Morrow & Company, 1973

[Challenge # 12 : A book where music features prominently, or about musicians.]

As a singer Janis Joplin is, unfortunately, something of a museum piece now. Her icon status has faded with the decades, unlike her contemporaries Aretha Franklin and Dolly Parton, both of whom shared, to an extent, Joplin’s cartoonishness but not her vices. Both went on to have long and respected careers. Joplin, well, she imploded at the apex of her meteoric rise to fame.

It’s hard to understand how unique that trajectory was these days, when female pop stars with outlandish alter egos unfold their lives in real time in front of millions. But in the late 1960s Joplin was something new and special — a rock n’ roll wild hippie chick — and being hyped everywhere, especially in Rolling Stone magazine. She hyped herself as well, bending the truth to create her own legend. Other rock musicians have done this of course, like Jim Morrison (who famously said, on air in a TV interview, “My parents are dead” rather than outing his father as a Navy admiral then deployed in Vietnam) and more passively by Mick Jagger and Jimmy Hendrix, who were aware of but did not contest the image built for them by the press and their own publicists and managers. Unfairly, because of this self-hype as her alter ego “Pearl” Joplin is more often seen a symbol of the 1960s, rather than an artist in her own right.

Buried Alive was in fact written by a music publicist, Joplin’s own: Myra Friedman. Friedman worked for Joplin’s manager, the legendary Albert Grossman, who also managed Bob Dylan. Friedman had a background in music writing and so much of the bio read like liner notes for an album rather than a birth-to-death account of a musician’s life. This made it both perplexing and enjoyable to read. I kept looking for the  journalistic markers that are standard for today’s biographers even as I enjoyed its style and freshness (it was published less than five years after Joplin’s death from a heroin overdose.) Since it was a new beast, one of the first bios of a 1960s rock star, it grasps at air a bit and carries too much of the writer’s own slant, but it was entertaining and illuminated the era in a way that later, more scholarly  works could never do.

For example, in writing about hippie culture Friedman captures with honestly their ridiculousness and stunted speech, something which later writers, being actually of that generation, tend to overlook or glamorize (such as the Jim Morrison biographies No One Here Gets Out Alive and Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend – the latter of which had the writer trying too hard to convince us of Morrison’s talent as a poet, while he actually came off as having Tourette’s Syndrome.)

But however fresh it was, the book lacked the insights of today, particularly about Joplin’s drinking and alcohol addiction. And boy did she drink. One period toward the end of her life she started drinking pina coladas in the morning, screwdrivers for lunch, vodka and orange juice in various bars throughout the day, then a nap to recover from the binge so she could drink some more before going on stage, and then there was yet more drinking after the show. Joplin died at age 27 with her liver already damaged in spite of her legendary constitution. If she had not taken that fatal overdose, in a few more years she might have been forced to get help as her physical body deteriorated.

The author does make the point that no one thought much about addiction in the wild days of Haight Asbury. The “do your own thing” laissez-faire attitude of the counterculture was one of its crueler, more feral sides which is not much discussed today, and a major contributor to Joplin’s death. Interventions were unknown and seen as square. Real hippies shouldered on with their chemical enlightenments and expected others to do so, too.

Buried Alive was also one of the rare bios that had an actual style to the writing, one that was not cynical or kid glove. Here’s how the author punctures the Woodstock myth and cuts to its heart:

Woodstock, everyone knew, was less a festival that a religious convocation. Its ceremonies were the assertions of lifestyle, and the lifestyle included a celebration of the mystical relationship between drugs and rock, with grass as the Holy Wafer. It was as if the dope that everyone was free to use in the absence of the law had been commandeered to take that very law’s place. No fences were there, no guards, no shower stalls. What ruled was the rock world’s Realpolitik: you are only as good as the number of joints you smoke, only as blessed as you are high. It was as if Woodstock was the ultimate declaration of dope, not as an incidental euphoriant, but as some kind of necessary virtue.

The 1979 Bette Midler movie vehicle The Rose, which grew out of a failed attempt at a Joplin biopic, cribbed a lot from Friedman’s bio and its novelization copied its style. I’m ashamed to admit I read that supremely trashy book multiple times, and for a while it influenced my teenage writing. Never did I think that one day I’d get to read the original.

Overall Buried Alive is an entertaining period piece for anyone interested in a contemporary account of the 1960s as they were lived, but it’s not the definitive biography, rather a resource for later biographers. As a plus: look in the book for one of the first mentions of a young Patti Smith, described by the author as a poet, in a scene in the Chelsea Hotel.