11.17.2020

#Steampunk Worth Reading: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street #BookReview

 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

by Natasha Pulley 

 The world created in this story was addictive and immersive. Every night I looked forward to losing myself in this novel. 

Set in 1880s London, Thaniel Steeplton works at the Home Office telegraph. There have been bombs going off in London and his office has received another bomb threat.

Thaniel receives an anonymous gift of a watch that later saves his life. The watch starts a chain of events that lead Thaniel to a Japanese baron named Mori, who makes incredible things using clockworks and gears.

This story is about friendship and how it enriches the lives of both men. Humor, wit, mystery and danger are woven into the tale. There's magic, fantasy, science, fate vs. free will, and a clockwork octopus that seems alive. 

 This story is pure magic. I will definitely read another of Natasha Pulley's books. Highly recommended. 

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard.

At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something.

When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.


11.03.2020

What is a Blue Moon? #Astronomy #Science

 





A blue moon is an additional full moon. Basically, a second full moon in a month. It can also be an extra full moon in a season.

How often does a blue moon occur? Every 2-3 years. The moon isn't actually blue. It can have a blue tint when certain particles from volcanic eruptions or fires are in the air. This is very rare.

There are many superstitions about a full moon:
  • It evokes madness
  • women are more likely to go into labor
  • women are more fertile
  • werewolves come out, etc...
Have you noticed the moon isn't always out at night?

At any rate, the moon evokes mystery, magic, and the fantastic. A moonrise is certainly magical. Instead of gold, it chases away the shadows with silver. In reality, the moon is always full. It's a matter of its orbit that lights up more or less of it.

So why does it affect tides? That has to do with its placement in orbit, which corresponds with how much of it is lit up. 

 I love taking photos of the moon, and I love including it in stories. One of the most memorable stories I've read about the moon was by Arthur C. Clarke: A Fall of Moon Dust.  Do you have a favorite myth or story about the moon?



10.20.2020

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

Blurb: A charmingly gothic, fiendishly funny Faustian tale about a brilliant scientist who makes a deal with the Devil, twice.

Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn.

Christine's review: This is the perfect Halloween read. It's darkly evocative and twisty with some clever gothic wit. Johannes isn't the sort of character you want to be friends with, but as an anti-hero, his story is enthralling. A man who sold his soul for knowledge and then realizes later he wants it back, so he makes a wager with Satan. Johannes needs to sign 100 souls to damnation in one year, and Satan gives him a demonic carnival to help with it. The cast of characters are delightfully dead and amusing. I especially like Horst, Johannes' vampiric brother. The story picks up steam as the carnival moves along. I love the dry humor and quirky dread blanketing it all.

10.06.2020

Science vs. Fiction


When it comes to writing science fiction, which is more important: the science or the fiction?

There’s often an uneasy relationship between sci/fi and science fact, and it can be a tricky asteroid field for the writer to navigate. Asteroid fields are a good example of this, actually: in books, films and games, spaceships are forever weaving through treacherous three-dimensional mazes of spinning rocks, typically to evade capture. Science, however, tells us that such fields are actually much more tenuous, with vast distances between each object. Zipping through a real asteroid field would be easy and probably quite dull, but where’s the fun in that? It’s much more exciting to have a ship dodging vast shards of deadly debris while the pursuing bad guys unleash beam-weapon death. Because, of course, one of the hunters will get it wrong and will crash into one of the asteroids. That’s just a law.

Science fiction, by its very nature, often simplifies and (over) dramatizes the physical reality of our universe. For many casual readers, this doesn’t matter a jot: what matters is the story. It isn’t a concern if the science is impossible, just as long as it’s consistent and used to convey an engrossing tale. So far as we know, it’s impossible for a ship to travel faster than the speed of light and remain intact, but limiting velocities to the light-barrier makes almost all of sci/fi unworkable. Does it matter? I’d say not: in science fiction, a sense of wonder and thrill is more important than being faithful to the truth (as we currently understand it).

At the same time, some writers put a lot of work into producing fiction that works firmly within the realms of scientific possibility. The genre has many devoted readers who have a very good understanding of real science, and who will very happily point out the flaws in a story if they’re there. I think that’s fair enough – if you know how astrophysics or biochemistry or computer science works, a story that breaks the rules of what’s possible is going to be annoying. Some writers work hard to produce books that an expert could happily read and enjoy, others aren’t so bothered. There’s surely room for both. Space, as Douglas Adams once pointed out, is big: “You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.” There’s room enough for all possible futures.

And, of course, the whole point of science is that it knows it doesn’t know all the answers. Its whole point is to come up with better models of reality by finding the flaws in the current ones. One day, FTL travel might be possible, and there are plenty of examples of scientists being inspired by science fiction. A book like Physics of the Impossible by the physicist Michio Kaku describes in detail how many of the tropes common in sci/fi are or might be possible one day. There’s a familiar quote, versions of which are ascribed to people as diverse as the geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg and the sci/fi writer Arthur C. Clarke: the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine. Whatever the source of the line (it’s probably Haldane), the point is that the little word “can” gives sci/fi writers enormous scope to try and do exactly that: imagine something new, intriguing, wonderful, perhaps impossible. Worth doing for its own sake, but also because today’s impossible has a habit of becoming tomorrow’s possible.

And actually, I think it’s wrong to emphasise the tension between science fiction and fact as I’ve done above. The discoveries thrown up by science are very often the starting point for story ideas. The two feed off each other, but they are symbionts rather than parasites. To pick a trivial example, while researching some background information for my own Triple Stars trilogy, I came across a description of a blue dwarf star – something I’d never heard of. Blue dwarf stars are theoretical objects, and it is not possible for one to currently exist given the age of our universe. Reading that, I immediately knew I wanted to have one in my books – because, how did it come to exist? How is it possible? Those questions became fundamental to my story. A scientific discussion of the physics of blue dwarfs is not going to be much fun for the sci/fi reader, but a space opera set in a galaxy where such things exist because they’ve been engineered – that is (hopefully) fun.

For me, the whole point of sci/fi is that it has the capacity to put the readers into situations that are not possible in any other literary form. The sense of wonder that imbues books like Larry Niven’s Ringworld or Philip José Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go or Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels is unique to the genre. To take another example: minds that are far beyond the limits of small biological entities such as ourselves – be it intelligent starships or planets – are wonderful to read about, to become for a time. That is, literally, mind-expanding. Fantasy can do something similar (in different ways), but only in sci/fi is it possible to see the real universe through such marvellous eyes.

Always assuming, of course, that the entities in question even have eyes…

9.22.2020

Book Review: Tainted Waters by Lucretia Stanhope #darkfantasy #paranormal


Tainted Waters
takes place in a world where witches, light elves, and dark elves are in perpetual conflict. A cold war between the group simmers and it won't take much to spark a hot war. Despite the inherent animosity, strange allegiances form between witches and elves. But can anyone really trust anyone else? Trusting your natural enemy for benefit and survival is the theme at the heart of Stanhope's novel.

A coven of witches and a clan of dark elves share a forest, both want access to its resources. Their forays into the woods bring them in deadly contact and conflict with one another. Alice--half light elf and half witch--is a new member of the coven. As many of the characters point out, Alice shouldn't exist. A union between a light elf and witch shouldn't happen, but she does exist and her mixed blood gives her unique abilities which makes her dangerous to everyone. Alice is young and still in training, hardly aware of her strengths.

Someone in the coven sends her to a cave to search for nettles. The cave is the home of the dark elves that share the forest. Alice is captured and questioned. She would have been killed straight away and cut up for her bloody bits but the dark elves are intrigued by her lineage. They also have a problem. They believe a witch has poisoned their water supply and the leader of the clan decides to use Alice to remove the hex. Alice realizes she was sent to the cave to die. Someone in her coven wants to be rid of her and maybe start a war. Alice decides to help the dark elves with their water. She doesn't have a lot of choices. Complications abound as Alice discovers her worst enemies might be her best friends.

If you enjoy stories about magic and twisted allegiances where it's not clear anyone can be trusted, you'll love Tainted Waters.

9.07.2020

Let's Share Our Favorite Fall/Harvest Legends

 


It's the time of the year for the harvest.
It's when Hades takes Persephone to the Underworld.
The days when the veil between realms is at its thinnest.

What are your favorite autumn/harvest legends?

Christine Rains

I do love all the spooky ghost tales and the origins of Hallowe'en, but the simple delights and the folklore that goes along with them is just as wonderful. Like the catching of falling leaves. Some believe if you catch a red falling leaf, you will have a happy new year. Others make it more challenging by saying for every leaf you catch, you will have a happy day, or that you will be free from colds for a month. A happy day and no colds? That is no simple magic to me!

Meradeth Snow

I'm not certain that I have any favorite legends (I'll admit, I've always been kind of a wuss and don't really go in much for ghost stories--probably because I grew up in a very old, very creaky farm house and valued being able to sleep!), but I do love fall. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors and I love some good pie. Also, I finally live in a place where the fall colors are spectacular, and that's always so lovely. Now, if only fall didn't mean winter was coming...now that would make me happier as a die-hard summer person :)

Catherine Stine
I admit, I don't really know any Halloween-ish myths. But I do LOVE the holiday. Having visited the Newgrange prehistoric burial grounds in Ireland last year, I do find it intriguing that Nick Rogers, a history professor at York University in the UK said, "According to the ancient sagas, Samhain was the time when tribal peoples paid tribute to their conquerors and when the sidh [ancient mounds] might reveal the magnificent palaces of the gods of the underworld." He also said that, "Samhain might be less about death or evil than about the changing of seasons and preparing for the dormancy (and rebirth) of nature as summer turned to winter." Below, are two photos I took at Newgrange. One is of the entrance with prehistoric inscriptions on it. The other is a side view showing the trench around the burial mound. It's incredible to imagine living back in those days.



Gwen Gardner

My favorite legend is Sleepy Hollow, where the headless horseman comes galloping through the woods on his horse *shivers*. I adore everything autumn/fall/and Halloweeny, from the burnt orange and rust hues of the changing leaves to the hot cocoa with whipped cream and of course, the candy, candy, candy! I’m a big kid when it comes to Halloween, from our annual pumpkin carving party (lots of kids, lots of pumpkins) with signature drinks (for the adults!), pizza, and candy of course. A Halloween music track is a must during the festivities (Monster Mash, I Put a Spell on You, This is Halloween, etc.). Then at the end of the evening, when it’s dark, we light the candles inside the pumpkins and ooh and ahh about how good everyone’s pumpkin looks. And of course there are the Halloween movies all month long. It never gets old!









8.18.2020

Book Review: The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, godmother of fairytale twists


    Everything old is new again, so goes the phrase. And Angela Carter's radically strong women, who relish sex, adventure, and find crafty ways to thumb their noses at all manner of annoying traditions and bores fit in this category. 
    Carter was born in England in 1940, and wrote some of her best stories back in the '70s. She died in 1992, way too soon. Yet her stories not only live on, but are still cutting edge and eye-opening, even to my young feminist and activist students.
    As Kelly Link said in the intro to this new edition: 
“Since I first came across The Bloody Chamber, I have kept a copy with me wherever I have been living. . . . The things that I needed, when I was beginning to think about writing short stories, were the things that I found in The Bloody Chamber. . . . Reading Carter, each time, [is] electrifying. It [lights] up the readerly brain and all the writerly nerves. . . . What we don’t have, of course, is any more Angela Carter stories. And how I yearn for exactly this.” —Kelly Link, author of Stranger Things Happen and Pretty Monsters
    My favorite in this collection (which includes twists on "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss in Boots" and more) is the title story, "The Bloody Chamber", a twist on "Bluebeard". It is creepy to the max, yet fantastic in its lyrical beauty, with passages so stunningly gorgeous they take my breath away, yet other passages that make my stomach churn. She does not shy away from awkward emotions: the conflicting emotions of the young bride who is at once disgusted by, and hungering for more physical attention from her predatory husband. In this, Carter is not afraid to be "politically incorrect" to drive home how many levels we exist on. But to be sure, this vile man gets his comeuppance. And in this, too, Carter goes way beyond the "modern" trend of the heroine saving the day, to end on a twist verboten in the acceptable basket of trope twists, yet completely satisfying, and one my female creative writing students cheer on in a sort of shock and awe daze. I won't provide spoilers here. You just have to read it!


I'll end with these two quotes from Carter. You can see her as a young woman, and then older, yet always an original.