Worldbuilding Wednesday 2/5/20: Transformers

Starscream of the Decepticons. He transformed into a jet.

Do you know American President Ronald Reagan is to thank for the success of the Transformers franchise?

In the early 1980s Hasbro executives noticed a line of Japanese toys called the Diaclones, which were robots that transformed into vehicles. They thought the concept had merit, so the company licensed them to be sold in the States with a new name and new backstory. The cool but faceless robots became two warring factions from Planet Cybertron, the good-aligned Autobots and the Evil Decepticons, both marooned on Earth after a battle and awakened from stasis by an erupting volcano. They were given names like Megatron, Optimus Prime, Ratchet and Buzzsaw by a team from Marvel comics, who also developed their backstory.

Where does Ronald Reagan come in, do you ask? Before 1980, there were restrictions on children’s TV advertising for the protection of young minds (and parent’s wallets) that studies said were unable to tell the difference between a character in a cartoon and that same character in a commercial. This made sense when animated favorites like the Flintstones regularly shilled cigarettes and other vices, but Reagan no longer saw the need for such restrictions. He lifted the ban, opening the toy market up to half-hour commercials disguised as TV series. The rest, as children of the 1980s know, is history.

(Not only the Transformers benefited from such a cross promotion. GI Joe, My Little Pony, the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake and He-Man all developed series or specials of their own. )

Transformer proper names were unrelentingly macho, cobbled together from the names of tools, car and computer parts, and rocket and jet terminology. This February I will be running wild with them. For today, here’s a list of Transformer names that don’t sound too far out of the ordinary. If you’re writing fanfic, one of these would do for an original character. Or perhaps you need a name for a Transformers-like clone for your own work.

 

Transformers

Autobots

Omnitron

Megaminder

Hot Loader

Cyclosting

Hypergy

Astrohawk

Magnofoil

Lunalator

Gammafire

Scramblesynch

Polarflip

Thermothunder

Plasmatank

Quasister

Isonotron

Decepticons

Scarshatter

Stargoblin

Unijacker

Megastomp

Tyrannihopper

Starscreech

Catapincer

Gigasnitch

Moonwrack

Nitrofist

Hot Fusion

Punchbar

Vertiblast

Unihurl

Technomuter

 

Airbender

Most people know the term Airbender from the anime, but it’s also English slang meaning one who has just laid a big fart.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/29/20: Minor Magic Spells

The Laughing Fool, by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen

Oddball spells to use and abuse.

 

Minor and Mundane Magic Spells

Lungs of the Jester: Allows the caster to tell jokes in a loud voice that carries over the noise of a crowd, and the jokes will always come out amusing.

Olnatra’s Cold-blooded Pancake: Turns any normal-sized cold-blooded animal (reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects) into a pancake for the duration of the spell, squishing them into a flat, round, harmless form.

Jopal’s Irritating Rune: This rune creates such agitation in whoever sees it that their reaction checks are compromised.

Wall of Ash: Creates a wall from the ashes of a campfire approximately 8’ x 20’. It has no substance to it but can obscure vision for a few seconds. Creatures passing through it will cough and choke.

Fairy Flask: Shrinks a normal potion down to micro size, altering the dosage so a fairy can take it safely.

Tenacious Scrimshaw: Protects any carving done on a sea mammal’s tooth for up to 100 years.

Parsimonious Enchantment: When cast in conjunction with a spell that requires physical components, this spell reduces the amount used by 10%.

Phoryind’s Hail-the-Castle: Projects the caster’s friendly greeting from the front gate of a castle up to the top.

Avian Blindness: The target of this spell will not see any birds for the duration of the spell. However, they can still sense them in other ways.

Bed of Shadow: Creates a resting place from intangible shadows. Anyone sleeping there will appear as a shadow as well.

 

Rubber

The industrialized world depended on rubber once. There was rubber everywhere. But then, one day, it came to life.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/22/20: Malls

Oxford Valley Mall, PA, in the mid-1970s

In the recent hit Netflix Stranger Things the high school students hang out at Starcourt Mall to alleviate the boredom of their small-town lives. Though treated as an exotic element in the show, hanging out at the mall was, once, very common in the 1970s and 1980s. There was an element of snobbishness in it because, number one, you actually had to have money to buy something, and number two, because most were in suburbia, you had to have a car to get there, or know someone with a car. Or you could take the bus, like me and my friend did when my mother refused to drive us.  It was a whole afternoon’s excursion and we had to transfer in a bad part of the city. To naive 15-year-olds, it was like flying to Paris for the weekend in terms of time, money, and energy expended.

The mall pictured above is Oxford Valley, not the one we went to, but one we visited every once in a while. It opened in the year 1974 and as a child I remember running full speed down that winding spiral ramp pictured in the lower photo, clutching a double-dipped ice cream cone from Baskin Robbins — peanut butter and banana. My first credit card was from the Bamberger’s store.

Malls had many different naming conventions, depending on where they were and if they were upscale, outlet, suburban, or specialized. In my part of the east coast they tended to be named after historical places or landscape features, but in the big city, the names were more snobbish and creative. Here’s a list free for use. One of them is meant in fun — can you find it?

 

Malls

Shoppers World at Linden Park

Hardbattle Grand Junction

Cuban Square Mall

The Brick Market

The Lemon Yard

Gazena County Market

Midlands Mall

The Galleria at Cherryview

Angelfort Woods Market

Winter Gateway Center

Dillun Market

The Skymall at Sunset Field

Swan Place

Shieldburn Farmers Market

Aqueduct Town Center

The Terminal at Seafeld

King’s Olde Plum Orchard Mall

Shield Bridge Riverwalk

Stonefort Shopping Mall

Metro Fashion Outlets of Loganham

Oldbridge Shopping Mall

Eldertower Family Center

Limeiurs Riverview

Uptown City Center

Queen’s Trinity Yard

Hillfeld at the Hub

Moorcult Mall

Crossroads at Redvale

Metro Mills

The Promenade at Capitol Court

Bear Meadows Shopping  Mall

Frustration at the Hub

West Outlet Shops at Pennyhem

Playgrove Mall

Tri-Cities Luxury Court

The Mall at Summer Spirit

Pennythorough Shoppes

The Crossings at Rockfield

Cloughrin Shopping Mall

Gilaray Grand Junction

Heathland Bridge

Thorogood Pike Luxury Mall

Bayrion Shopping Center

Alamo Market Square

The Mall at Pointbattle

Trentham Place

Postover Crossing Mall

Outlet Shops at Anderweldt

Waltine Mall

Town Center at Alder Chapel

Belfred Mall

The Queen’s Quad at Shelderlay

 

Persepolis [Reading Challenge 2020]

Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Books, 2003

[Challenge # 29 : A graphic novel or comic book.]

I finally got around to reading Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis which served as the graphic novel for this year’s reading challenge. It retread a lot of the ground I had just visited when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, but I loved it nonetheless. There’s a sequel that I will definitely be reading at some point.

The book is autobiographical, being about the author’s life in Iran as a young girl from the time of the Iranian revolution up to the age of 14. It differs from Lolita in that is told from the viewpoint of a child with no agency and no context for the tumultuous events she lives through. In a way, it book can be described as a female version of Art Speigelman’s Maus – simple childlike illustrations used to tell a more serious political story. Like Maus, it caused a lot of buzz when it came out and was even made into an animated film.

Sample page from the book

I don’t have much more to say except that I loved it and it made me consider doing my own graphic novel at some point.

 

 

 

Children of Virtue and Vengeance [Review]

Children of Virtue and Vengeance

by Tomi Adeyemi
Henry Holt and Co., 2019

I was impressed by Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone when it came out in 2018. It was something different, an African-based culture handled in a Western fantasy way. There’s a monarchy, magic-users who are persecuted, swords and armor, and exotic mounts based on predatory cats. The gods of the world are based on Voudoun deities, each granting their maji followers a different kind of magic. That, and the Yoruba-based language snippets scattered about, brought something special to the table.  Though the book suffered from many of the problems current YA has been criticized for I was intrigued enough to see how the plot worked out and what happened to all the characters. The previous book ended with the maji’s magic returned to Orïsha and the villain of the book, King Saran, defeated. But victory came at a cost for the characters: there was betrayal, torture, family members murdered. The ending was ambiguous as to whether or not the magic’s return was a good thing, which I liked.

As it turns out, no and yes. In Children of Virtue and Vengeance the maji, the persecuted class of the previous book, now have full access to their powers, but some of their oppressors have developed magic powers as well.  Called tîtáns, these nobles have powers like the maji’s but they don’t rely on clerical powers to call them forth; the powers are stronger, but also less controlled and more apt to kill their wielders. There’s also another class called cênters who are not only titans themselves but can the draw the magic and life force out of other tîtáns, to become super saiyan of a sort. Confused yet?

When they arrive back on Orïsha Zélie the maji, Tzain, her loyal brother, Amari the rebel princess and a new character, Roën the mercenary, must find and join with the other maji to school their awakened powers for a war, while Prince Inan – who wasn’t killed after all in the battle on the Holy Temple island – tries to steer the monarchy towards reconciliation and peace. But his mother, Queen Nehanda, is set against it, and she has become the most powerful tîtán and cênter of them all, a formidable, genocidal force.

War, hate, and genocide do play a big role in this book. Both sides are equally ruthless in their pursuit of victory. There are sweeping battles, betrayals, misunderstandings, misinterpretations, magical powers that mutate into even more magical powers, and torture both mental and physical. For the reader, it’s like being hit in the face with the shattered glass of a kaleidoscope for the length of the book. I hesitate to call it a book, even. It’s more like a thrill ride where you can’t process what you’ve experienced until you get off.

Which is not in its favor, for an adult at least. The structure is even more choppy than Children of Blood and Bone was and honestly, I can’t call it good, only addictive. Each short chapter rotates through the POV of either Amari, Zélie or Inan, and each is readable within five minutes in brief paragraphs seemingly constructed for the screen of a cellphone. Maybe it would have been better read this way, in short snatches. Strung together as a book, the constant drama and repetitiveness made it hard to read, much less process, for more than fifteen minutes straight. But I did very much want to see how the story played out.

Also tedious were the abundant scenes of magic use where the character’s skin glows, their hair floats, and they rise into the air with beams of light springing from their chests. I felt like I was bingeing on an anime series where the same transformation sequence is spliced in again and again. It’s not something that has the same effect in words as on a video screen.

Many of the plot elements felt tedious and contrived as well. Each short chapter ended on a startling cliffhanger, and most of them were deus ex machinas or conflict arising from easily resolved misunderstandings. Prince Inan is on the same page as the maji rebels, but somehow every time they try to broker peace, something happens that is mistaken as a threat by the other party, like Inan’s men disobeying his orders and following him, or someone overhears and misinterprets a snatch of conversation. This happened literally five or six times spaced evenly throughout the book, and each time it led to the exact same thing: dramacakes, which worked at odds to the resonant themes of the book (the hatred of the oppressed for the oppressors and vice versa, genocide) which should have been explored with more nuance and care. Everything was done for the sake of explosions exploding and displays of magic each more awesome than the last. In this book, even the dead are raised and the questions raised from their murder erased.

The idea of the series is sound. I only wish the author had handled it differently, less flashily. But, a lot of YA seems to be written this way, and a lot of young writers themselves write this way, from what I see available on Wattpad and similar sites. Maybe it’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing. I don’t know, and can’t judge it as the decline of traditional literature when it seems to serve a purpose in their development as writers.

So what can I say. Children of Virtue and Vengeance was tedious, it was interesting, and I will read the next one.

 

A Heart-shaped Face

Mural in Lima, Peru.

 

Reading Challenge 2020

My Authors Water Cooler reading challenge list for 2020. Out of a list of 50 categories, the participant chooses 12, the idea being you read one a month.

 

Cobalt Jade’s 2020 Reading Challenge List

2.    Armchair voyages: A book taking place somewhere you have always wanted to go, but have never been.
Henry Lawson’s Best Stories, Henry Lawson (Australia)
The National Poet of Australia.

12.  Take note: A book where music features prominently, or about musicians.
Buried Alive, Myra Friedman
Bio of 1960s rock star Janice Joplin, acclaimed in its time.

14.   No Cliff Notes this time: A book that’s required reading in most high schools or universities. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
OK, it’s time to tackle this.

18.   Out of Africa: A book taking place in Africa (including North Africa).
The Fate of Africa, Martin Meredith
History of Africa after colonization up to the 1990s.

22.   Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water.
Blackfish City, Sam J. Miller
SF novel taking place in a floating city in the North Sea.

25.   Support the home team: A book by a fellow AWer.
TBA

26.   Face your fears: A book that intimidates you, for any reason
The Tale of Puddin’head Wilson, Mark Twain
Been wanting to read this for a while but haven’t read Twain since Huckleberry Finn.

29.   Three-color mythology: A graphic novel or comic book.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
Life in Iran from the perspective of a child who lived it.

34.   Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet.
Brightness Falls from the Air, Joan D. Vinge
The adventures of Cat the telepath continue.

37.   Literary literal alliteration: A book whose title or author’s name is an alliteration.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
On my bucket list.

41.   Succinct: A book with a one-word title.
Lolita, Vladimer Nabokov
My cousin read this and I feel I should too.

47.   Just the facts, Ma’am: Non-fiction on any subject.
To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire, David Cowan
Account of the terrible fire in a Chicago Catholic school.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/15/20: Martial Arts Movies

Martial arts movies (kung fu in Hong Kong, wu xia pian in Mandarin) burst onto the international scene in the 1960s and early 1970s with the rise of charismatic actor Bruce Lee (he’s at the center of the pic above wielding nunchucks.) If you were not alive at the time, it’s hard to understand the impact he had. Kung fu schools sprang up in the most unlikely of places, and stores, too, selling exotic equipment such as ninja throwing stars. In metropolitan areas, there was always a UHF Fists of Fury Theater or the like broadcasting old movies on Saturday afternoons. A hit song, Kung Fu Fighting, was composed about the craze. Above it all, Bruce Lee reigned as the undisputed king, even after his death in 1973. **

The names of those movies shared common elements. Animals, types of fighters, locations were mixed and matched, often having the slimmest of relations to the movie’s content. Here’s some I generated myself.

 

Martial Arts movies that were never made

Inn of the Curious Dragon

Steel Monkey

Dirty Tiger

Black Iron Venom Boxer

House of Silent Blades

Two-Phoenix Fist

Tiger Town Beggar

Clan of the Red Dagger

Fox Flower Protectress

The Volcano Gang

Rogue Monkey Temple

One-Eyed Snow Hero

The Blind Leopard

Undisputed Street Fighter

The Red Kickboxer

Cousin of the Jade Panther

Blood of the Young Knight

Hyena Mountain Fighter

Invincible Cabal from Shantung

Number Five Octagon

Bodyguard of the Little Buddha

Kwangtung Blades

Drunken Force

Lotus Mask

Sisters of the Jade Wolf

Iron Under Fire

Cousin to the Bear

Sister Chrysanthemum

Clan of the Hand

Bangkok Buddha

The Big Boss of Little Tokyo

Ox Statue Butcher

** Another King, Elvis Presley, earned an eight-degree black belt in karate.