Life on other planets follows rules we may not expect, like this filter-feeding leviathan-behemoth from the Cygnus 3 system.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 1/2/19: Savage Queens

Lost kingdoms and hidden cities are a staple of pulp adventure fiction — and SFF! — as are their rulers, which, most of the time, are gorgeous, powerful, scantily clad women. Often they serve as foils for the male adventurers and, occasionally, romantic interests. The magazine cover above illustrates Phorenice, the ruler of Atlantis. With her hypnotic Claudette Colbert stare and Tamara Lempick curls, she’s a worthy opponent for the characters of Cutcliffe Hyne’s “The Lost Continent.”

(Fantasy writer Richard Adams paid homage to this character by naming the evil, sexually deviant Priestess-Queen of the Beklan Empire Fornis after her.)

Other powerful ladies include Ayesha, of H. Rider Haggard’s She, Queen La of Opar from the Tarzan books, and Princess Yazmela and Queen Tamaris, creations of Conan writer Robert Howard.  Even C. S. Lewis played with the trope in The Magician’s Nephew, where Mage-Queen Jadis of the dead world of Charn emerges amusingly into Edwardian London, charming and dominating the old Magician of the title. (Later, she winds up as the White Witch in the original Narnia tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.) Fantasy art abounds with these ladies because of their dramatic and photogenic qualities, for which I’ll do a later post.

For now, I’ll include a list of suitable savage names for these characters, which are at once exotic and a little unpleasant, full of sibilant S’s, soft J’s, hard T’s, K’s, and V’s, and open-mouthed Ays.

Savage Queens



































Mari Lwyd

Mari Lwyd an original painting by Laura Zakroff

Mari Lwyd was a Welsh Christmas and New Year tradition in which a group of male singers carried a hobbyhorse — a horse’s skull mounted on a pole, cloaked and decorated — to houses around the village, with singing and refreshments. Happy New Year!

2018 Reading Challenge Conclusion

My bonnet is this large to accommodate my brain.

This year’s Challenge was full of challenging (read: Difficult) reads for me. Of the twelve here three were substitutions for books I had to drop for various reasons. I think I should have vetted the originals better.

As a reader, most of my choices surprised and delighted me. As a writer, the good ones showed me what was possible and the bad ones, what to avoid. And the worst of the list, Twilight,  was very, very bad, so bad I had to live up to my firepit promise for it:


The book that has stuck with me the most was Where Wizards Stay Up Late, even though I could not rate it highly. It illustrated to me both the optimism of the development of Internet technology and, in hindsight, how that free-wheeling openess has gotten out of control and grown into something sinister since when the book was published (1994) and now (2018.)

2018’s books, with final ratings:

1. Get on with it already: A book that’s been on your TBR (to be read) list for over a year.
Hermetech, by Storm Constantine

2. Freebies: A book you (legally) obtained without paying for.
The One Gold Slave,
by Christian Kennedy (A giveaway from the author)

3. Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water.
City of Fortune, by Roger Crowley (a history of Venice)

4. I remember that!: A book about a historical event that took place in your lifetime.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late, by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon (about the creation of the Internet)

5. My hometown: A book by a local author.
Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

5. My hometown: A book by a local author.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

8. Bits and pieces: An anthology (poetry, short stories, whatever).
Undead Worlds, A Reanimated Writers Anthology (Zombie stories)

24. War is hell: A book about war, on the lines or the homefront, fiction or nonfiction.
A Delicate Truth,
by John le Carre

24. War is hell: A book about war, on the lines or the homefront, fiction or nonfiction.
In Pharoah’s Army,
by Tobias Wolff

34. Who was that, again?: A book about a person you know little about.
The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

29. Keep up with the Joneses: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not.
Twilight, by Stephanie Myers
NO STARS. This book didn’t deserve any.

31. Nonfiction of any kind: Nonfiction of any kind.
Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea, by Katherine Harmon Courage

38. Coming to a theater near you: A book made into a major motion picture.
Albert Nobbs, by George Moore

48. The butler might have done it: A mystery.
Antiques Swap, by Barbara Allen

49. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy.
The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison. That’s as High Fantasy as it gets.

Octopus! [Reading Challenge 2018]

The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea

by Katherine Harmon Courage
Current, Penguin Group, 2013

[Substitution: Challenge # 31: Nonfiction of any kind]

I was having a lot of trouble finishing Undead Worlds, the collection of zombie short stories I intended as Challenge # 8, because it was only on my iPad and my boyfriend kept borrowing it to watch Amazon Prime. So I chose another challenge at random which came up as # 31: Nonfiction of any kind. I decided to sub this book which I had acquired, as I had The Other Boleyn Girl,  from a local Little Free Library.

Not a bad book, I definitely learned a lot about octopuses (not octopi) in it, but ultimately it was a little too colloquial for my taste. I did like that alongside the natural history, there was also a culinary history. I’d say it was a good introduction for the layman but I would have liked something more along the lines of She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, by Carl Zimmer (not part of this challenge) the excellent history of genetics I read a few months ago. I felt a wider scientific  background was missing. Though the latest (2012) research was included for Octopus! I would have liked to see more evolutionary history.  (Incidentally, although I like the taste of octopus, a few years ago I vowed never to eat them again after reading of how sensitive and intelligent they were.)

Thus concludes the 2018 Reading Challenge.


In Pharaoh’s Army
[Reading Challenge 2018]

In Pharaoh’s Army

by Tobias Wolff
Vintage Books, 1995

[Challenge # 24: A book about war, on the lines or the home front, fiction or nonfiction.]

For my War is Hell selection I originally chose A Delicate Truth by John le Carré, and was stoked to read it because I had recently enjoyed the 2016 BBC adaptation of The Night Manager starring Tom Hiddleston. In my perpetual juvenilia I always considered le Carré one of those grown-up writers that all intelligent grown-ups should read, eventually, to be a well-rounded grown-up who understood the cold-blooded machinations of the Cold War and the deceitfulness of human nature. The truth is though, I couldn’t get into it. I filed it under “an acquired taste. “ And that’s OK. I love fantasy writer Tanith Lee, and for many people, she’s an acquired taste. Oddly, the two authors are thematically and stylistically very similar – tart verging on sour, cynical, floribund in prose – that I wonder why one and not the other.

The replacement book, In Pharaoh’s Army, by Tobias Wolff, was a collection of personal memoir stories, almost essays in human psychology, about the author’s experiences during the Vietnam War. They weren’t vivid and full of action as I expected from the cover blurb but dry, ironic, sometimes bitter, and often humorous. Esquire or Playboy magazine material. They was some great writing in them, and by that I mean the author could describe an event or personality precisely and concisely… prose that was liquefied almost, rendered into basic nutrients. One particular essay I’d give four stars to. It would have been great in a college-level textbook anthology. Here’s an excerpt from it where he describes a well-off friend of his who is visiting a Vietnamese elder in his home:

More than ever I was struck by his fluency, not just in the flow of his words but in the motion of his hands and the set of his mouth; the way he ate and took his tea; his elaborate courtesies. He did it all with such a flourish, such evident pleasure – how happy and assured he was in his possession of these peoples’ admiration, how stylishly at home in this alien place, on this hard floor, surrounded by wonder-struck villagers, Yet I could see that his greatest pleasure came not from mastery of this situation but from out observation of his mastery.

However, I didn’t get the war flavor that I wanted. The stories could have been happening in the present day.  They didn’t convey the writer as a callow young man born in a certain time and place. They weren’t too self-reflective and didn’t come to any conclusions. The writer seemed to acknowledge that his younger self was something of a jerk, yet he came across as a far bigger jerk than what he said he was. I can guess it’s because the book was published in 1994. If he’d written it today, there’d be more about race and class and how females were treated. For example, in one essay, the author was harassing a Vietnamese woman who clearly didn’t want to talk to him, and that made me uncomfortable. There was also a part where he adopts a dog the Vietnamese soldiers he is working with want to eat, and at the end of his service there, they do cook the poor dog in a stir fry and serve it to him at his going-away dinner. That was something I did not want to read about, at all, dog lover that I am.

So, an ambiguous read for me. I did not care for the events overmuch but enjoyed the writing style.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/26/18: Santa’s Bad Elves


“Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, we are Santa’s elves.
We are Santa’s elves, dragging you to Hell,
You’ll meet Lucifer and Beelzebub
And Mephistopheles, if you’re bad enough.
Ha ha ha, ho ho ho, we are Santa’s elves.”

There are the cheery, upbeat elves who help Santa in his workshop, then there are those other kind.

The ones no one talks about.

Both came from the same roots, yet one creature was sanitized, the other morphed into Krampus and the servants of Krampus. Here are some names for them.

Santa’s Bad Elves

























Santa Horror

Since the 18th century, when images of Santa Claus began to be disseminated through newspapers, books, and periodicals, his appearance has changed quite a bit. Often those earlier depictions are a tad grotesque, as much for what was considered appealing at the time as the skill of the artist and the means of reproduction. When we think of Santa today we most often we see the merry, rotund red-suited Coca Cola version, but earlier Santas were more often than not dour, sour-looking Father Christmases or squinty-eyed laughing demons.  Often, too, the ravages of time or neglect change a once-jolly Santa into something pathetic and sinister.

Scary Santa Doll. Photo by Bob Baltz.

Someone give this pathetic, threadbare Santa a hearty meal.

Coin-eating iron bank Santa.

Santa mannequin with 1970s old-man glasses, the worse for wear after many Christmases past.

Slant-eyed demonic Santas are not to be trusted.

Not my idea of Christmas fun.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 12/19/18: Santa’s Elves

Elf dolls from the 1950s

Hard as it is to believe, Santa Claus did not always have elves for sidekicks. That tradition came from 19th century Scandinavia and drew on the deeper pagan roots of Northern Europe. Elves, pooka, fairies, and the like were all part of a greater folklore of diminuitive, humanlike creatures that lived alongside humans, often in their own houses, and performed deeds both beneficial (bringing good luck, tidying up) and detrimental (tangling hair as people slept, performing curses.) Often a moral element was involved. Those humans who were good at heart and provided for the elves by leaving out porridge or milk received the perks of the relationship. Those who were bad, or abused the elves, became the target of nasty tricks.

Scandinavian folklore posits there are six Christmas elves at Santa’s hideout, but depictions in modern media often have many more.  The TV stop-action special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted in 1964, introduced young viewers to the concept of a whole village of elves caring for Santa’s needs. As in the toys in the photo above, they were childlike creatures who wore red and green, often in striped fabrics, and sported stocking caps with jingle bells on the end. Often they wore shoes with pointy toes that curled up. This depiction carried through to the modern day. When those in the US think “Santa’s elf” this is what they see.

But as with Santa himself, the image of the modern Christmas elf was heavily influenced by American advertisers, specifically Coca-Cola.

These elderly, dour elves gradually became more cute and youthful over the decades, gradually losing their scowls and beards to become the carefree Santa’s helpers of today.

Writing a Christmas story and need the name of a helpful elf? Here are a few.

Santa’s Elves





























Foot Fetish

’nuff said.