A Wrinkle in Time [Reading Challenge 2017]

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madelene L’Engle
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010
(Originally published in 1962)

[Challenge # 3: A book you loved as a child.]

Like many children of a certain generation, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s classic SF novel A Wrinkle in Time in fifth or sixth grade and fell in love with it. It had been left at my house, I think, by my foster sister who was then attending summer camp. The freaky centaur-being on the cover intrigued me and I started to read. I don’t know if I ever re-read it as a child (she may have taken the book back when she returned) but I do know I had extremely fond memories of it. Since one of these book challenges was to re-read an old childhood favorite, I picked this one over another favorite, The Jungle Books, because I did want to see how well it held it up in comparison to the newer YA books I’ve been reading, which I haven’t found much to sing praise about.

Wrinkle has held up well, even though it was written in the late 1950s and lacks many cultural givens of the 2010s. Eerily so, in fact: the cultural touchstones that could have been in there, like gathering around a B&W TV set to watch variety shows, were not, and this had the effect of setting the book in a kind of timeless limbo. Only the details gave the era away, like the local “tramp” stealing sheets off a clothesline. I was able to skim these over, but acknowledge that a junior high student of 2017 might find less to relate to. But overall, the book stands head shoulders above 95% of current YA and I also gained a new admiration for it. L’Engle was a wonderfully sensorial writer, whether she was describing walking through the woods in Autumn or the feeling of being squished in a two-dimensional world, and Meg remains as “real” and sympathetic as she was back in the 1970s when I first read her.

For those who don’t know the plot, 12-year-old Meg lives with her scientist mother and three brothers in a farmhouse/laboratory on the edge of some small New England town. Their father, also a scientist, has disappeared working on some secret project for the government. The townspeople gossip that he’s run off with another woman, causing Meg distress; also causing her distress is the dull, stifling public school she goes to, and her current unattractiveness (she has frizzy hair, glasses, and braces.) One “dark and stormy night” three odd, elderly women turn up, Mrs. Watsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, who turn out to be angels of a sort who whisk Meg, her younger genius brother Charles Wallace, and friend Calvin to another world where they are tasked to rescue their father from a monstrous evil.

It was actually a quick read, being around 70K words I estimate, but it felt much longer, in an enjoyable way, because there was so much to digest and literally no wasted words. A lot of the plot and characterization was carried through dialogue, something I’d forgotten from the first read, and boy was that masterfully done, feeding you bits and pieces as you progressed rather than in huge info dumps. There was just enough weirdness to intrigue rather than repulse, and though it was a children’s book, the author did not pull punches in her depictions of events. Meg does not become magically beautiful at the end of the story; her reunion with her father is also not a wholly happy one. This wasn’t a moralistic tale, but a theologic one.

And there was theologic weirdness aplenty: the witch’s true angelic forms are those of giant-sized male centaurs with wings instead of arms (who sing hymns) and an evil cloud-thing that enfolds planets like a dark nebula. This is mixed up with a love of and respect for science: the witches “tesser” through space, folding it to travel between two points, and there’s a bureaucratic totalitarian planet ruled by a giant brain. The humanities are also stressed, Mrs. Who quoting notable philosophers and playwrights to get her points across.

What I’d forgotten about the book was how much of a little shit Charles Wallace was, a combination of the Boy Genius, Idiot Savant, and Horror Child tropes. In fact, I am sad to say I relished the later parts of the story where he gets involved in fisticuffs with Meg and Calvin and gets smacked around (I don’t think any modern YA author would write this.) The kid was insufferable and completely unlike any 6-year-old, genius or not, that I’ve ever met.  I want to say the author had never met a real, living, breathing child that age, but apparently she had a son of her own on whom CW was based, and perhaps attributed to him more wisdom than he had. As an adult this makes sense, since Meg’s devotion to him — even as he condescends and speaks down to her — is like that of a mother who sees no faults, rather than an older sister mothering a younger sibling.

I still give it five stars, even though I find it now easier to admire than love.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/29/17: Imaginary Constellations

cat constellation

In a pre-industrial society, stars and constellations had more impact on the viewer because there was less light pollution. Pictures could be traced, paths, and stories, all providing a commonality among members of a tribe or society. One common example is the constellation of the Big Dipper, or Ursa Major, imagined by many ancient cultures to be an animal hunters pursued across the sky. So many, in fact, that the path of those stories has been traced from the Americas back into Asia.

Tolkien himself included the Big Dipper in his works, referring to it as The Plow.

In the Western world, constellations are a hodgepodge from different eras. The Greek period shaped our skies the most, with some, such as the creatures of the Zodiac, dating from older sources such as Babylon and Sumeria. A fresh round of constellation creation occurred in the late 1600s by Petrius Plancius, who contributed the Southern hemisphere Volans, Musca, Pavo, and others named for various flying and water creatures. In the 17th century Nicolas Louis de Lacaille and Johannes Hevelius made up some more to fill in blank spaces on the star charts. Unfortunately, instead of memorable creations like Pegasus and Sagittarius, most of these were of dull objects like Horologium (the clock) and Sextans (the Sextant.)

Non-Western societies had different views of the skies. Australian aboriginals formed some constellations from star absences, seeing, for example, an emu in the dark sections of the Milky Way.

Chinese cosmology had an ordered view of four divine creatures, temples, palaces, and armies.

(Click to see larger version)

The final authority on modern constellations, however, is the International Astronomical Union, and their list tops out at 88. Those constellations that didn’t make the cut include Felis, the Cat; Bufo, the Toad; Hirudo the Leech and Limax the Slug; Solarium the Sundial; and Cor Caroli Regis Martyris, or Charles’ Heart, an attempt to flatter Charles I of England.

Here’s a list of randomly generated constellations to give inspiration for your own work.


Imaginary Constellations

Karnus, the Dancing Jackel

The Celestial Ash Tree, formed by the stars Ulateuse, Tergraz, Talithtor, and Julsud

Zarra, the Manticore

The Summer Diamond

Shaunus, the Sleeping Shipwright

Phridules the Fish

The Wise Man

The Fawn-headed Acrobat

The Beetle-headed Fool

Belium the Drover

The Silent Scorpion

The Royal Staff

Alraphone, the Skybound Nightingale

The Dauntless Minstrel

Isgnorabus, the Sextant

The Golden Glaive

Charzar, the Heavenly Smelting Iron

Zenium the Crone

The Holy Quince tree

The Devil’s Bridge

Taphnus the Dogfish

Torstrixus, the Poisoned Cup

The Winter Circle

The Autumn Pentacle, consisting of the five stars Forbaran, Kandash, Gorabuel, Karlschaat and Othmal

Udales the Bat

The Weightless Ones

They are coming for you and you can’t hide from them… ever.


(Art by Alexey Andreev)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/22/17: Supernatural Beings


Abaraxas, a Gnostic deity

There are all sorts of fairies, elementals, grues, demons, devils, angels, nature spirits, and the like in fantasy. Often they serve a purpose in the story, and just as often they are there for window dressing, like the offhand mentions of pookas or kelpies causing trouble. In fact, things wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t there. The more bizarre, the better. Take the above character for instance: the Gnostic entity Abraxus, a rooster-headed man with snake’s legs.

Here’s a list to embolden your own work or act as inspiration.


Supernatural Beings

Ganjader: The Messenger of the Gods, a divine hawk with the head of a beautiful silver-eyed maiden.

Valkagers: Winged men who serve the gods. They have twelve eyes and stentorian voices.

Psitemph: A divine horse with silver horns and a plaintive moan when saddened.

Gongstait: A tree spirit in the form of a green ape with six arms and bulbous, bloodshot eyes.

Sorenphid: A muscular demigod with the head of a stag and tanned, brawny arms. He created the first bow, stringing it from his own forehead hair.

Zaftaloon: The demon king of centipedes. He appears in the form of a one-eyed centaur and can knowledgeably discuss alchemy and philosophy. Instead of four hooved legs, he has a hundred.

Mantiunda: Also known as the Swan Queen. In the form of a maiden she can be recognized by her white, feathered ears.

Vroleth: An arcane being that looks like a clam with the head of a camel. Sages say it created the world from a ball of its own dung.

Lion-King Theraclasp: A legendary ruler with the head of a lion and scarlet wings. He has a snowy white pelt and travels in a giant juggernaut pulled by fifty groaning slaves.

Yelwherry: A heavenly messenger with a cheetah’s head and the torso of a comely youth. On his head he bears two golden horns. Sacred writings say he farts loudly when startled.

Vampamon: A mysterious entity with the antlers of a deer, the lower body of a serpent, and hot, steaming breath.

Sulsodyne: The God of Divine Inquisition and Torture. He sends out plagues of locusts to punish infidels.

Jamposs: The Golden Hare of the Sun. He craves the taste of honey and is said to defecate when alarmed.

Sphagniron: An immortal giant with the head of an elephant. He is fond of eating spiders and has beautiful feathered wings.

The Lyphrae: A tribe of fierce warriors that wear loincloths made of catskin and cut off their own ears.

The Cult

The Cult regularly punished those who failed to recruit new members.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/15/17: Venice or Venus

Masquerade time in Venus (Venice)


Fantasy writing published in English-speaking worlds relies heavily on Medieval England as a setting. I suppose it’s because most early fantasy writers were, in fact, English, and then there’s the influence of the Inklings that included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. It’s a heavy base that has only gotten heavier over the years. Even much of anime takes place in an English never-never land of castles, lords, and country villages. I hear enough grousing about it on social media to suggest that readers, writers, agents, and publishers are tired of it by now.

In contrast, Italian-based settings are not used as much. Historical fantasies using Renaissance Italy can be found without too much trouble, such as R. A. McAvoy’s Damiano trilogy,  but I know of only a few alternate-world Italies. There’s the city of Citttgazza in Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the Peninsula of The Hand in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, and the city of Venus in Tanith Lee’s The Secret Books of Venus quartet, based on an alternate world Venice tilted slightly askew, which is the richest of the three works. I am sure I am missing more.

Writers wanting to create a world with an Italian feel, without it actually being Italy, can use these randomly generated character names.

Alternate World Italian Names


Gialladella Elanco

Lanrica Bartenzano

Belitalia Bernessa

Morlina Sante Valsaria

Violina Spinzola

Ensatra Bronerio

Candrelle Castrota

Chanitta Polifazzo

Vitterica Anneta Cerricchi

Sindelise Viparini

Elsatra Ezlisco

Stelladise Romesa

Melandrisa Barzagna

Sabrana Ilazzi

Fioria Scarese

Marghelisa Firoghi

Vittalia Montecricero

Silvria Tazasca

Denaura Rissa Fafitti

Issia d’Pomegiore


Iolamo della Qualmonti

Fortipal d’Pozzio

Antonesco Ercozio

Lucisto Zapala

Terumbro Strazonti

Netasio Paprina

Darchetto Grazzietto

Fiertisto Stratziella

Fornnato Rivghetti

Olmero Firalbio

Palanzo Barbasco

Eurnetto Castroria

Bentavio Torssito

Orestopal Villaligneo

Givtonio Tellgliata

Ranchetto Sforiano

Luvino DeBonatti

Lucigi Bugcina

Givido Canobano

Lesmero Mezzadini

Black Queen VI

Black magic was one of her passions. Over time, she found the blackest.


(Artwork by menton3)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/8/17: Fairground Rides

So many of them sound like video games, don’t they? Probably because both are designed to take their users to a strange, disoriented world full of action and violent motion. With a dozen lists and a randomizer, here’s what I came up with, to create your own travelling carnival or Midway.


Nausea-inducing fairground rides


Rocket Loop


Techno Drive

Sky Demon

Air Chief

Devil Twirl

Sky Panic

Planet Force


Nitro Twirl

Devil Chief

Lunar Jam


Sky Attack





Predator Holocaust




Voodoo Run

California Revolution

UFO Strike

Ultra Thrust

Techno Spin

Fly Master



Sky Destroyer


Jet Jammer

Hyper Dragon

Crazy Twirl

Jet Spin




Rebel Force


Kinetic Drop


Polar Shot

Star Abyss


Voodoo Riptide

Ninja Twist

Double Slalom

Polar Expedition

Devil’s Empire





A little known creature from Chinese mythology, the Tigerpillar combined the ravenous appetite of both creatures.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/1/17: Quaint English Towns

Are those Hobbits in the foreground?


You’re driving along in the English countryside on your way to the next bed-and-breakfast. Villages and towns appear as you turn a bend or crest the hill, then disappear as the road steers you away. Or you’re reading some cozy mystery book set in the British Isles, or a tale of Eldritch horror where innocent characters gather at the pub or on the green. Or you’re a country lad or lass on a fantasy quest, or a Medieval village witch.

Here’s a list of names for those very towns and sleepy villages, whose modern names are distortions of Celtic, Roman, Gaelic, or Saxon forebearers. All randomly generated, but you knew that…


Quaint English Towns