Monday, December 12, 2016

Book Review: Silas of Erithia


The world of Elyonia (at least the portion the reader sees) is divided into two races.  Dartarians who can wield the powers of the four elements. And Alineans who, well, cannot. Though these people have periods of co-existence, xenophobia and fear leads to frequent warfare between them, with both sides rising to power at various times in history. When Silas of Erithia opens, the Dartarian King Eldon has led his people to completely dominate the Alineans, turning them into second-class citizens who can be executed for the merest slight. Silas himself is a young Alinean man just trying to survive along with his family when a minor theft he committed years ago leads to him being drawn into the bigger battle that is quickly tearing his land to pieces.

The chapters are told from multiple perspectives from both Alinean and Dartarian characters. Even the villain, King Eldon, gets a few chapters, and while I can’t say they make him any more sympathetic- he still comes off as an arrogant and cruel genocidal tyrant- it is actually interesting to see that his convictions about his people’s superiority seem to have squeezed out any drop of kindness in him.

The titular Silas is a rather passive protagonist, particularly when contrasted with the merchant Jervis, or Sabina, a “celebrity” of sorts among the people of Elyonia. Things generally happen to Silas rather than him taking any direct action to his fate beyond a self-sacrifice he makes late in the book. However, revelations near the end of the novel indicate that there is much more to Silas than we have realized, and he will become a more active force in the shaping of his world in future books.

The story of Jervis the merchant is gripping, though. He immediately comes off as a pretty decent guy (primarily because his introduction shows him buying slaves from an underground market to rescue them from their fate). You very much want to see him escape the thugs pursuing him through the underground ruins of the old Elyonian capital.

Sabina the young Dartarian champion is also interesting. Like Jervis she has a kind heart, and is horrified when she sees the atrocities being committed against the Alineans. She does come off as a bit naive at times, though this may be due to her sheltered upbringing among the higher classes of Dartarians. After all, how many well-off people in our own modern culture would be shocked and mortified at the severity with which their seemingly benevolent culture mistreats those who are branded Other.

Like many epic fantasies, Silas of Erithia opens with a detailed description of the world and how it differs from our own. While these sorts of deep background exposition- what are sometimes pejoratively call “info dumps”- may be off-putting to some readers, I rather enjoyed it. It helped me get a deeper sense of the world that Silas and his friends inhabit.

The narration has a distinct “high fantasy” flavor to it reminiscent of E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros or the stylized tone used by Fritz Leiber for his tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or even Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. Some might find that this tone makes it tougher to engage with the characters, particularly in action scenes. Nevertheless, once you get used to the style it does add to the feeling that you are reading about another world.

The one major critique I have is that book drops a number of exotic animal names without any description or clue as to what these creatures look like. What is a darilla? Or a krag? Or a menalpo, a tarpuk, a vlarn, a brym and so on? t may be a minor complaint, but I cannot help feeling like I am missing part of the world-building by not being able to picture these strange beasts. Assuming, of course, that these aren’t just the Elyonian names for familiar Earth beasts.

Overall, though, Silas of Erithia is an engaging fantasy read, particularly if you’re a fan of classic adventure fantasy like the Sword of Shannara or Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance Chronicles.


You can get Silas of Erithia here.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Cryptid Culture article


Cryptid Culture is a magazine about, well, cryptids. Unknown animals and beings of all sorts. Their stated goal is to celebrate the world of mysterious and folkloric creatures without bias towards skeptics or believers (though the majority of the articles so far are very much on the believer side).



The latest issue came out last month and features an article by me about the enigmatic deep sea organism Paleodictyon. This critter builds hexagonal structures in the sea floor constructed out of numerous interconnected burrows. While these burrows are well-documented, the animal that actually made them is still unknown. Some researchers think it might be a giant amoeba called a xenophyophore. Others think the builder is some sort of burrowing sponge.

You can get an issue an read the full article here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Post-Halloween Book Review: Bruce Coville's Book of Monsters

So the review-a-week during October thing didn't really work out so well. Life got in the way a lot, and last month was just a huge Sucktober. But I still enjoy reading and reviewing these kid's horror anthologies, so I'm going to post a few more.

Anyway...



BRUCE COVILLE’S BOOK OF MONSTERS

 Bruce Coville was a huge influence on me growing up.  Even today I can still vividly remember his strange worlds and unusual characters. And I’m pleased to find that rereading his stories as an adult does not diminish my love for them, as sometimes happens when I read other writers without the nostalgia glasses on.

I first got into Coville through My Teacher is An Alien, and its three sequels. The series started off as a simple plot about a girl finding out that, as you might possibly have guessed, her jerkass teacher is actually an extraterrestrial leading an invasion of Earth. The sequels revealed a deeper complexity as the scope of the plot expanded into a space opera about the potential danger of humanity to the wider universe, and what the other alien races were going do about it. A fairly common plotline in adult sci-fi, but this was my first introduction to it.


Around the same time as My Teacher is an Alien, Coville also came out with a series of anthologies themed around various fantasy/horror tropes. The collection started with the Book of Monsters, which featured corporeal, Earth-bound boogeymen. The next two in the series were the Book of Aliens and Book of Ghosts. You can probably guess what their subjects were. The fourth volume was a Book of Magic which featured fantasy-oriented stories.  Book of Nightmares, the fifth in the series, showcased more surreal and, well, nightmarish horrors that didn’t really fit into any of the other books. A sixth collection, the Book of Spine Tinglers, is a bit harder to pin down thematically. The stories are similar to the Creepypasta feel of the Book of Nightmares, but Coville’s Introduction indicates the book is specifically about fear- about that sense of creeping fright that overcomes you as you read a story. He even admits that this sensation is entirely objective; a story can fill one person with crawling dread and have absolutely no effect on another person.

This review focuses on the first work in the series Bruce Coville’s Book of Monsters. I may eventually review the other books too, perhaps as a Halloween theme next year.

Starting off, I have to say I’m impressed that the cover illustrator, Steve Fastener, was able to replicate the cover design, text and all, on the book the kid with the flashlight is reading. I’m guessing Fastener must have left the cover of the little book in the illustration blank and painted it in after he saw a proof of the finished design with the titles laid out. And yes, that tiny cover is painted in, not just a pasted-in photograph.



I also love John Pierard’s interior illustrations done entirely in pencil. It’s not a style you see very often, and gives each drawing a very lively feel.

On to the stories themselves.

My Little Brother is a Monster by Bruce Coville
As I said before, I love Coville’s world-building. Just the very name of the monster world: the Land of Always October. Immediately I get visions of a misty, swampy world lit by hovering will ’o wisps and smelling of autumn leaves.

The story itself is a classic tale of a kid from the mundane world entering the Otherworld that parallels our own, a world created from our dreams and nightmares, populated by monsters who are the inverse of beings in our world. The set-up feels like it could be the start of an entire YA novel, though as far as I know this was Coville’s only foray into the Land of Always October.

Momster in the Closet by Jane Yolen
A short, simple story about a kid afraid of the bogeyman in his closet. Has one of those out-of-nowhere Goosebumps-style twists (and if you’re reading this review, you hopefully remember the Goosebumps series), but the brevity of this story makes it work.

Merlin’s Knight School by Michael Markiewicz
The first in a series of short stories about young King Arthur and his adopted older brother Cai- probably known best by most modern readers from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, where he’s a jerk and a bully. This Cai’s a little nicer, at least.

I like that the monster in this tale was specifically summoned by Merlin (Merlyn in this tale) to serve a beneficial purpose.

Uncle Joshua and the Grooglemen by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald
A strange story with more going on than a young reader may realize. The story’s narrator isn’t so much unreliable as he is unfamiliar with what he is actually seeing.

This is the only story in the anthology that isn’t illustrated, since an actual depiction of the Grooglemen would immediately give away what they are, as well as the truth about what’s really going on in the story.

Friendly Persuasion by Bruce Coville
A short, goofy story about a sprite trying to explain to the horrible Ba-Grumpus all the reasons that it shouldn’t eat her.

Kokolimalayas, the Bone Man by Laura Simms
A retelling of a traditional story of the Madoc people of Oregon and Northern California. It's neat seeing a "classic monster" story from a non-European culture.

The Thing That Goes Burp in the Night by Sharon Webb
This is one of those stories where you could easily say that everything is taking place inside the main character’s head. But I like to think the kid really DID summon a chocolate-eating basement monster by reading random medical words out of the Merck Manual, Thirteenth Edition.

Personality Problem by Joe R. Landsdale
Poor Frankenstein’s monster can’t ever catch a break. Not even from his therapist.

Duffy’s Jacket by Bruce Coville
A story with a kind “campfire tale” vibe. Lots of slow build-up to a surprise ending, though this one is more goofy than “it’s right behind you!” jump-scare. 

The Bogeyman by Jack Prelutsky
I’ll admit I’m not really big on poetry. But I like the “folksong” feel of this one.

Bloody Mary by Patrick Bone
No, no no! Repeating “Bloody Mary” into the mirror makes her ghost jump out at you. It does not turn you into a hairy, clawed monster! Geez!

The Beast With A Thousand Teeth by Terry Jones
Written by THE Terry Jones of Monty Python fame (and writer for one of my favorite books, the Golbin Companion). According to the biography at the end, this story came from a collection of fairy tales Jones wrote for his young daughter and it definitely shows through the young baker protagonist who figures out a clever way to defeat the titular beast with way too many pointy- and cavity-prone- teeth.

Timor and the Furnace Troll by John Barnes
My favorite story in the bunch. I might even like it more than Coville’s own tales. Poor Timor is terrible at being an elf and constantly gets bullied because of it. When he gets a class assignment to do a report on trolls, he goes to meet the one who lives in the (continent-sized) school’s furnace room and finally finds someone who understands him. Someone who is admittedly an elf-eating 12-foot tall troll.

I like the setting of this story. The way elfland seems like a distorted mirror of contemporary (at least early 90s) society. A sort of “suburban fantasy” taking place among the fresh-mown lawns and flat-roofed, sprawling elementary schools of a middle-class fantasy world. It reminds me of a less dark version of Michael Swanwick’s “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter”.


Anthologies are usually very uneven in quality. Some stories shine. Some fall flat. Some can even be painful to read. Coville’s Book of Monsters maintains pretty high quality overall, though. Even the weakest story- which for me was the very “meh” Bloody Mary- isn’t terrible. It’s quite clear Coville put a lot of careful thought into selecting the tales for his book.

Although Bruce Coville's Book of Monsters is long out of print, you can find lots of decent copies on Amazon.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Halloween Book Reviews: Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs

I didn’t realize until recently, but a lot of my childhood was defined by scary stories. Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark, Tales From the Crypt (the edited version that aired on basic cable, anyway), TNT’s Monstervision (I can’t be the only one who remembers that, right?), Puppet Master and other Full Moon movies.  And of course that classic of “illustrations that scare-the-absolute-crap-out-of-kids”: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

My own son is already starting to follow in my footsteps. He’s only four, but he loves graveyards, skeletons and ghosts (though I’m not entirely sure he knows that they’re the souls of the deceased trapped in the mortal plane, doomed to a purgatory of undeath until they can gain restitution for the wrongs done to them. I, er, probably should wait a while before I tell him about that part...)  He’s already watched Nightmare Before Christmas at least a dozen times. It’s only a matter of time until he starts getting into the spooky stories. And luckily I happen to have plenty on hand.

So with that spirit (heh), I’m going to do a series of reviews throughout the Halloween season on some of the scary story anthologies that were such a big part of my life growing up. I’d been hoping to start at the beginning of October, but things got busy for a while. Let’s see how many reviews I can get through before Halloween. Maybe I’ll even go over into November a little. It would be a nice way to fill up that autumn limbo until Thanksgiving


.
Anyway, today’s entry is Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs, written by R.C. Welch .

The first cool thing I’d like to point out is that the interior illustrations were done by Ricardo Delgado, writer and illustrator of the amazing Age of Reptiles comic books- a series of wordless tales about the (admittedly somewhat anthropomorphasized) drama and adventures of a group of dinosaurs. Delgado’s drawings in Scary Stories are more subdued and less detailed than his AoR work. But they still have a creepy atmosphere that carries the book well.

The thing that really struck me about these stories as a kid- and even now as an adult- is how nightmarish they are. These are no light, spooky haunted house scares where everyone just runs home and hides under the covers until morning. There’s real dread and danger in these tales. And children are explicitly NOT safe. Most stories end with a nasty fate for the kid protagonists.

Here’s a run-down of the stories

The Hermit of Collins’ Peak
A strange old man who lives in a shack on the edge of town has become the “boogeyman” for the local kids. Every time anyone gets near his home, he runs out screaming and chases them away. But one day the hermit gets sick and has to be rushed to the hospital, leaving his shack unguarded. So of course a group of kids decide to see what’s inside. The story itself is fairly typical fair, but the twist ending is ambiguous and creepy enough to make it memorable.

Dead Giveaway
One of the less memorable tales, I find. A kid discovers that every time he wishes something nasty on people, they end up getting killed in gruesome ways. The school bully even gets dismembered by lions when he falls into their pit at the zoo after something frightens him. The ultimate cause of their deaths is at least a satisfying twist.

The Gift
This one is a dark take on the “boy learns a lesson about being cruel to animals” tale. The animals, in this case, being the ants in a little farm that he got as an unwanted birthday present.  By far one of the best scenes in the whole book is when the insects, fed up with this kid’s shit, build their tunnels to spell out HATE. Pretty goofy reading it as an adult, but a seriously disturbing image when you’re a kid.

A Camping Trip
This one’s the weakest story in the anthology. Sort of a Kid’s Lite version of an 80s slasher film. A bunch of boys go camping. They meet a friendly, forgettable park ranger who disappears right away (foreshadowing!). Their counselor tells them a story about some kids getting killed by a Native American mummy. Someone goes missing in the night and they start a search and, er, that’s basically it.

Oh, also, it’s implied that someone killed the kid. I’ll let you guess who.

Anyway.

Mummy’s Little Helper
Anne keeps hearing a little girl crying for help in the middle of the night. No one else hears it, so she has her friend Robin stay over to help her solve the mystery. Like The Hermit of Collins’ Peak, this one is a classic story with an ending that seriously creeped out second-grade me.

Shadow Play
This story is by far the most frightening one for me, and the main reason this anthology got etched so deeply into my memories.

Like many of the stories, it’s a familiar premise: a young boy is being haunted by living (or maybe not-so-living) shadows that appear in his room every night when the lights go out. Just the mere idea is frightening enough. But the slow, mounting dread really gets to you. That feeling of helplessness against the dark and the things hiding there as they come closer and closer each night. Even as an adult, reading this at 3am in a darkened house (yes, I totally did that to set the mood), it got me spooked.

The Dollhouse
Karen likes to collect miniatures- tiny animals, doll furniture, figurines, etc. While trying to make friends with the shy new girl, Jenny, Karen discovers that she likes miniature things too. Jenny even has a dollhouse at her home with tons of furniture rendered in perfect tiny details, which she offers to show Karen. The ending to this story always reminded me of the “It’s A Good Life” segment from the Twilight Zone movie. The one about the boy with god-like powers. Kids with powers are always freaky in my mind.  Because kids can be mean little assholes without even trying, so the last thing you want them to have is control over the fundamental laws of the universe.

Frankenkid
Another mostly forgettable story. A kid builds a robot and (SPOILER) it kills him in the last sentence.

 This story is actually memorable for the huge amount of detail the writer puts into describing just how the kid goes about builds his mini-Terminator. Most of the story is about him building the limbs out of an Erector set, making the body out of a breadbox, splicing some wires together, then using a dead lizard as the “battery” or “brain” or something.

So I guess it was the zombie-lizard that killed him? Why you have to be such a jerk, zombie-lizard? The kid made you a freaking mech-suit to tool around in! What are you even going to do with it now? Probably just lie around on a warm rock looking bored until another lizard gets too close, at which point you’ll try to do one of those little push-up things to intimidate them. Except you’re in an awkward robot body, so you’ll probably just tip over and flail around on your metal back like a dumbass.

The Girl of Their Dreams
Two kids keep dreaming about a mysterious girl. Then one day a dad and his daughter move into the house in the old field at the end of the block that’s been abandoned for years. And yeah, the daughter is totally the girl they keep seeing in their dreams. And she invites them to come in, which they accept because they do not know they are in a horror anthology and clearly nothing bad could happen here.

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Somebody is killing people in town. Jack says it’s a monster, but Craig thinks that’s stupid, so they end up getting into a fight and being mad at each other because kids will fight over dumb shit. Hence why they should not have god-like powers (see The Dollhouse above).

Craig actually gets an interesting bit of characterization in that he’s unhappy because his parents are always too busy to pay much attention to him. So busy that they can’t even be arsed to pick him up from school when there’s- holy shit! there's a goddamn serial killer on the loose! Assbutts.

Oh, also, Craig’s the stupid one. It’s totally a monster.

The Thrill-Seekers’ Club
A kid needs to go to a cemetery in the middle of the night to steal a flowerpot from a grave so he can get into the titular club. Another spin on a classic ghost story. Especially in the way the undead WAY overreact to someone trespassing in their graveyard at night. Lighten up, guys.

As much as I joke, I really do love this anthology. Like I said- it left quite the impression on young me. Even though the stories are pretty predictable, I realize now that they introduced me to a number of classic horror tropes like the Hermit with a Dark Secret; the Karmic Death from Mistreating Animals; Creepy Supernatural Children, etc.

And those living shadows. Brr.....   

Although Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs is long out of print, you can still find plenty of copies on Amazon.


Monday, September 19, 2016

My Favorite Book

Every author gets asked at some point “what’s your favorite book?” And I feel like there’s a lot of pressure behind that. I feel like I need to point to something epic and deep. A tale that resonated with me at the core and changed me on a fundamental level. A classic. Something from Robert Heinlein or John Steinbeck. Edgar Allen Poe or John Irving.  Andre Norton or Octavia Butler. Maybe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Frank Herbert’s Dune.  At the very least, maybe it’s one of Lovecraft’s Weird Tales. Or China Mieville’s.

But it’s not. My favorite book is nothing so grandiose. It didn’t change my life. It’s not a milestone in any genre. It’s just a little book that gives me the good feelings when I read it.


It’s The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins. Illustrated by the immortal Brian Froud, with Englishly-silly text by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame.

This book is actually a collection of sketches and character designs Froud created for the movie Labyrinth-every fantasy-loving 80s kid’s major nostalgia button. The drawings feel a bit messy at times. There are little sketches and doodles everywhere. It literally looks like Froud took pages from his sketchbook and published them. But that actually adds to the charm of the book. It’s clear he was having fun while he was doing all those illustraions.

The binding of the book is "puffy" like one of those plastic books kids bring into the bath, and thus wouldn't open flat all the way so I could get some proper pictures with my scanner.




So why is this my absolute favorite book? A couple reasons.

First, a little background about how I came across it. It was the first week at my new middle school- about twenty years ago now- right after moving to Ann Arbor, Michigan from my old town. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to being the new kid at school. Feeling out of place and uncomfortable. Having left your old friends and familiar things behind. Plus new, insecure kids are the natural prey of assbutt bullies. So, naturally, I wasn’t feeling so great by the end of the week. To cheer myself up, I took a walk down to the local Barnes and Nobles and browsed that Sale section they’ve always got at the front. That’s where I found The Goblin Companion. The fun drawings and humorous writing- not to mention the nostalgia for Labyrinth- really helped me through the adjustment period.

Beyond that, The Goblin Companion was also one of the books that inspired my interest in field guides as literature- I subject I’ll discuss in more depth in a future post. The biologist in me adores field guides. I love the way they bring order to nature, and in so doing actually enhance one’s understanding and appreciation of the world. Not to mention the way they integrate art and writing. As my own writing continues to evolve, I’m finding more and more that my interests lie in that synthesis of drawing and text. In the details of ecology and natural history. The Goblin Companion, of course, isn’t an in-depth, Petersen-esque handbook to Labyrinth ecology. It’s just a series of silly anecdotes about the weird critters that inhabit the place. But the categorizing (and Jones’ frequent footnotes) give the goblin world a sense of place, rather than just being a series of flat sketches.


So there you have it. My favorite book. Nothing grand, but it works for me.

Although The Goblin Companion is out of print, you can still find plenty of good copies on Amazon.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Astarapomp Dossier: An epistolary Weird Fiction story



So, I've been slowly creating a serial story as a gift for my father. It's told in an epistolary style, using letters, drawings and even a couple photographs I made in Photoshop. The plot is Weird fiction very much inspired by Lovecraft, Poe,William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, Bram Stoker and others- with a little bit of John Keel (he of the Mothman Prophecies) thrown in. I was also very much inspired by the awesome "feelies" (I'm not the only one who has heard that word, right?) that the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society includes with their Dark Adventure CDs.

I've recently decided to share this ongoing story with a larger audience. You can read it here:

The Astarapomp Dossier

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

An Early Halloween Treat

I know it's only early September, but I'm already starting to get into the Halloween spirit. I'll be posting tons of Halloween-related stuff once it gets closer to October, but for now I thought I'd share a short story I wrote a few years ago.

This tale was part of a "Creepypasta Cook-off" at Bogleech.com. For those who don't know, Creepypasta are short bits of media that are meant to be brief but eerie. Rather like flash horror fiction. Though creepypastas usually take the form of short stories, there are also videos, pictures and even mini-games that fall into this umbrella of fiction.

Bogleech's Cook-Off is an annual open-call for fans of the site to submit their own tales for inclusion into a huge anthology. I definitely recommend checking them out at the archive.

I submitted this story to the very first Cook-off back in 2012. I've been meaning to do one every year since, but life always just seemed to get in the way.  This year, though, I'm going to try to submit something new.

This story was inspired by my years of experience as a SCUBA diver.


DIVE LOG
by John Meszaros

Jordan’s Dream Journal Date: 5-15-09

   1.) So many beetles!—red ones, blues, greens, rhinoceros, june bugs, goliath beetles.  All over the yard.  In my closet, all my coats and jackets are beetles too.   (Story idea maybe?  Comic?  Should reread Rick Veitch’s comics) 

    2.) I am the Pharaoh of Lincoln Logs.

   3.) The window opens.  The child needs to learn before it closes again.

   4.) Tree frogs building nests under the eaves. (this one would make a great painting)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Dive Log
Diver: Jordan Symanski
Dive No: 78
Date: 5-18-09                         
Location: Fort Moscher, RI     
Time In: 10: 43
Time Out: 11:50
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

Saw a couple anemones along the rocks, under the Fucus and Chondrus.  Seagrass is doing pretty good.  Lots of little snails and Botrylloides tunicates growing on it—good to see they’ve come back after that storm.  Couple of Tautogs and some little coppery fish.  Out deeper I saw a bunch of tube anemones in the Latimeria kelp.  Found a piece of Shotgun Kelp!  Not too many jellies this time of year.

Gene and I got lost and ended up wandering around the sand flats.  Saw some more Tautogs and a big spotted skate—think it might’ve been a baby Dipturus laevis!  Have to tell Ann and Biyu about that!
Saw a weird sculpture out there.  Must’ve fallen off a boat because I’ve never seen it before.  Weird how it landed perfectly upright.   Looked like a tall cylinder made of black plastic or rubber or something.  I tried to touch it, but couldn’t get close.  There was a round part on top, with two holes poked in it.   Asked Gene what he thought about it, but he says he missed it.  I’ll bring the camera next time to take pics.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Jordan’s Dream Journal 5-18-09

1.)    The vermillion sky is full of spotted skates big as B-52s.  (Painting)

2.)    Deep, bioluminescent blue pits lined with coral and colonial angler-fish—that’s where the starfish breed.  (Painting)

3.)    The child doesn’t know how to learn yet.  Mother lost its eyes.

4.)    Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and Jon Adams having a lobster picnic at Sleeping Giant State Park (Short story, maybe?)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Dive Log
Diver: Ann Gallitto
Dive No: 75                
Date: 5/23/09                          
Location: Fort Moscher, RI     
Time In: 10:55
Time Out: 12:03
Dive Buddy: Biyu Liu

Tons of yellow Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), Wrack Weed (Ascophyllum nodosum), Kelp (Laminaria saccharina).  Lots of tufts of Scarlet Cotton Balls (Bonnemaisonia hamifera).  Tautogs (Tautoga onitis).  Lined Seahorses (Hippocampus erectus) in the Eelgrass (Zostera marina)-- Must’ve come back now that Jamestown has started cleaning up the coast. 

Also Orange Tunicates (Botrylloides?) and Eel-Grass Snails (need to look up scientific name).

Out on the sand flats sahomew a bunch of baby skates—definitely D. laevis!  Also tube anemones (look up scientific names).

Went looking for those statues Jordan mentioned, but couldn’t find them-- just these ten empty pits of sand on the bottom like a couple of bilearng fish had been digging.  A lot of little wiggly black worms floating in the water column out there.  Chaetognaths, maybe?

Saw a couple of Spotfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus)!  Didn’t think the Gulf Stream would have carried them up here so soon.  Biyu caught a couple with the slurp-gun for her aquarium.

Got a real bad headache down themotherre, and stomach cramps—hope it wasn’t an air embolism.
    
_________________________________________________________________________________

Jordan’s Dream Journal 5-23-09

1.)    Mother sent the other children to school.  But they want to go back home where it’s warm and dark.

2.)    So many frogs—greens, oranges, red, blues.  Living in my glass sofa. (Painting)

3.)    Isaac Newton, Mary Curie, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Edward Drinker Cope having dinner inside the Crystal Palace Iguanodon. (Short story?  Maybe combine with the Genghis Khan/Tameranniswarmlane dream and the De Soannishometo/Nobunaga dream.)

_________________________________________________________________________________

Dive Log
Diver: Ann Gallitto
Dive No: 103              
Date: 6/11/09
Location: Fort Moscher, RI
Time in: 1:17
Time out: 2:01
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

Jelly swarms out in full force today!  Lots of Lion’s-Manes (Cyanea capillata) and Moon Jellies (Aurelia aurita) and salps (Salpa?).  They feel like rubber bands drifting across my lips as I swim through them.  Even an eel leptocephalus!  Not malearnny fish.  Moved over the Sea-Grass (Zostera) beds to the Kelp (Laminaria) forest.  

Found Jordan’s statues on the sandy botlearntom—about five, maybe six.  Look like rolling pins with egg-heads and little holes for eyes.  Must be new silearnnce they weren’t overgrown with kelp or algae or tunicates yet.  Couldn’t touch them for some reason.  More of those worms.  Caught a couple in a sample bottle.  Look like nematodes, or even nemerteans.  Going to try to key thlearnem out in the lab.

 Got a bad headache down there again.  Maybe a sinus infection?

(Note added later in a different pen:  Couldn’t find them in the key.  Can’t even trace them to phylum.  Maybe Biyu or Dr. Petersen can figure them out.)

_________________________________________________________________________________ 

Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Eugene Wu:  “Alright, dive number one-hundred and five.  June twenty-first, two-thousand and nine. Location: Fort Moscher, Rhode Island.  Time in: ten thirty-two. Time ou—

(Banging on glass)

Jordan Symanski: “Whatcha’ doin’ in there? Dogs’re getting cold!”

Wu: “Fillin’ out my log.”

Symanski: (Unintelligible) --a book?

Wu: “Naw, man.  It’s easier for me.  Makes my thoughts flow better.

Symanski: Hurry —(unintelligible)

Wu:  (laughs) “Shut up, asshole.  Save me a dog and a soda, would ya’?
“Time in: ten thirty-two.  Time out: eleven thirty-three.  Ann was my dive buddy today.
 “Still some jellies and salps out there.  Saw a couple ctenophores with pink tube anemone larvae living inside ‘em.
“Ann showed me the statues.  About twenty of them out there in the sand.  Making this huge, black forest.  Looked like a bunch of petrified tree stumps.  Or like those giant heads on Easter Island.  Nothing growing between them. Also nothing growing nearby.  I swear I took a couple pictures, but looking back through the camera’s files, I can’t find them now.  She showed me those little wiggling worms.  They swim like mosquito larvae—jerking their tails and heads back and forth.  Some kind of pelagic nematodes?  Maybe chaetognaths like Ann said.
“I asked Paul, Jenny and a couple of the other guys about them, but nobody seems to know what I’m talking about.  Jenny and Lindsey went out to the spot where the statues were, but said they didn’t see anything ‘cept these pits in the sand like fish had been digging nests.  Weird.  Must’ve gotten lost.
“Ann threw up pretty bad after we got out.  Awful stuff.  Those little black worms got into her regulator.  Said she had a bad headache, too.  She was worried it was the bends, but I reassured her we hadn’t gone deep enough.   Even so, Biyu took her to the hospital.

(Banging on window.  Woman’s unintelligible voice)

Wu: “All right, I’m coming, dammit!”

(Sound of car door opening)

_________________________________________________________________________________ 


Jordan’s Dream Journal 6-21-09

1.)    An entire house made of big, green beetles (Painting)

2.)    Ann was not their home, though she was warm. 

3.)    Mother’s bllearnack fingers through the window.  She sees.

4.)    Dinosaur fish and shark-octopi (Painting)

_________________________________________________________________________________ 

Dive Log

Dive No: 86                                        
Date: 7-09-09
Diver: Jordan Symanski                                  
Time In: 10:30
Time Out: 11:46
Location: Fort Moscher, RI                 
Dive Buddy: Eugene Wu

So many seahorses in the eel grass.  Lots of Botrylloides tunicates, and even a few Ciona intestinalis.  We even saw a couple juvenile pennantfish— vagrants brought up in the Guld Stream.  Ann would have loved this.  Have to briIamtheirhomeng her back when she gets better.

There’s a forest of statues now.  I counted at least thirty-eight.  I think they might be some kind of animal.  Maybe glass sponges?  Or bryozoan colonies? They remilearnnd me of those stromatolites we saw in Shark Bay, but cyanobacteria can’t grow this fast.  Eugene took some sample to analyze; he’s going to have Biyu compare them to the preserved critters in Doc Petersen’s Collection.

_________________________________________________________________________________ 

Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Wu: “Dive number one-hundred and six.  July twenty-second, two-thousand and nine.  Fort Moscher.  Dive Budd—
“Jesus, forget this.  I gotta say what I saw before I forget.
“It’s like Jordan said—they’re alive.  I tried to touch ‘em, but they felt like nothing.  I don’t mean like I never felt anything like them before.  I mean they actually felt like nothing.  Like when your hand falls asleep and you press against a wooden table—you can feel the pressure of the table but you can’t actually feel the table itself.  It’s just a force stopping your hand.  I could see my hand touching the statue, could feel the resistance.  But it didn’t feel like anything. 
“Something’s growing in those sockets. 

(Tape is silent then recording starts again)

Wu: “I found the pics.”  (Silence)  They don’t look like statues.  They look like that thing Jordan painted.  He called it a “she”, but I don’t……  I had to delete them.  Just having them on my desktop was giving me a headache.  (Silence)  She’s there even when I close my eyes.” 

(Silence.  Faint sobbing can be heard.)

Wu: “I’m sorry Ann.”

_________________________________________________________________________________


 Eugene Wu’s Dive Log (recorded on an Olympus DP-201 Digital Voice Recorder)

Wu:      “The eyes.
“Jesus. 
“They aren’t like fish eyes or squid eyes.  They’re people eyes. 
“Ann’s eyes. 
“Iron-gray irises and pupils and sclera and everything.    When they look around it’s like a newborn’s eyes.  Like Petey’s when he was born.  Looking all around.  Seeing, but not comprehending anything.
 “Even when a fish looks at you, you can tell what its thinking.   It’s wary.  Doesn’t know if you’re going to eat it or feed it. But a newborn doesn’t know to be wary, or scared, or happy. It doesn’t have enough experience to know emotions.  It just looks.  Absorbing everything.  Processing.  They’ve got eyes like that.       
“Is that where Ann went?  What’d she do to her?
“Jordan’s an idiot.  Keeps getting more and more reckless with each dive.  Today he wouldn’t stay away from those damn things.  Almost ran out of air.
“Why can’t anyone else see those statues?  I keep telling people where they are, but they can’t find them.  I know Jordan and I aren’t hallucinating.  I’ve shown Jenny and Paul the one picture I saved.  I see the looks they get in their eyes.  Why the hell don’t they remember when I ask them again?
“Biyu isn’t getting back to me about the worms.”

_________________________________________________________________________________

Jordan’s Dream Journal           8-12-2009

1.)    Tamerlane and Albert Einstein flying kites at Giant’s Causeway. (painting)

2.)    Mothateher learns.

3.)    A malachite green bush.  Orange flowers ophateen like the mouths of baiamthehomenotannby birds.  They turn into butterleawombrnflies.

4.)    Being chased down Penrose Stairs bhatey clown-jaguars.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Eugene Wu’s Dive Log

Wu:  “Goddamit, I’m sick of waiting for Biyu to get back to me.  It’s been three weeks since I gave her those samples.  She ain’t even returning my calls anymore.  Her boyfriend says she left for a conference in Quebec City—but for three weeks?

(Pause.  An infant can be heard crying faintly in the background.)

“That guy’s eyes weren’t right….
 “Anyway, I grabbed some samples of those things myself.  Caught some of the worms, too.” 

(sounds of shifting equipment and clinking glass slides.)

Wu: “Putting a piece of the black statue under the scope now. (pause)  Not finding any spicules—so not a sponge.  

(Infant crying grows louder suddenly, drowning out the majority of the tape.  Only a few fragments of Wu’s voice can be heard.)

Wu: “--Little corkscrews all lumped together.” 

(Crying)

Wu: “—shimmering like…like stars--”

(Crying)

Wu: “—in the doorway--”

(Crying rises to a deafening pitch, warping into a pinging drone)

Wu: “—stomachs?  No.  Embryos--”

(Crying)

Wu: “—saw them in the cave when the lights went out.  They came--”

 (Infant crying cuts off abruptly. Sound of a door slamming open.  Breaking glass.)

Wu: “Shit!”

(Chair scrapping against ground.)

Wu: “Biyu?

(Footsteps)

Wu: Biyu?  Is tha—Jesus Christ! What happened to your head!”

 ( Infant crying resumes, becomes deafening.  Crying continues for eleven minutes, followed by silence for one hour and seventeen minutes)

Unknown: “Learn.”

(Wet squelching, slicing, scraping sounds.  A faint male voice can be heard moaning periodically.)   

_________________________________________________________________________________

JorHoWombmedan’s Dremotlearnhomeheram Journal 19920///09
Draglearnhatelearnonflies in so many c1.)olors: (Painting)
Anglwombhateerfish Boats coming into har.)2bor (Short story perhaps?)
.)3 MomotmothomothamAnnistheirsotralemothatehatehatehatehatehanolovenohate
tahehthatehatheahtahehtahwohomot motmotlonohmotenslmothmothererave learn herateveherherhermembherarngehertemhatehatehateotmomothertherherhermeherherther (Short story?)
.4) HoIamme 
 5.)MotComesher



Friday, September 2, 2016

New Used Books!

Literary starfish wants a look.
I visited my folks this past weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having grown up there, I’ve developed a couple of rituals I like to do whenever I return for nostalgia’s sake.  Visiting the Matthei Botanical Gardens. Stopping by the Natural History Museum where I used to work, and spending some quality time enjoying the Life Through the Ages room . Collecting a couple scientific articles from the University Science Library. 

And of course, I have to stop by the Dawn Treader Book Shop on Liberty Street. Dawn Treader is what you think of when you picture a classic used book store. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of sturdy wooden boards stacked close together so you almost have to squeeze through sideways, and overflowing with paperbacks, textbooks, big art books, old magazines. Books even run along the floor at the base of the shelves like speleotherms coagulated from letters dripping off the stacks.
And of course the place is full of artifacts. Masks. Paintings. Glass cases holding delicate leather-bound first editions over a hundred years old.  There’s even a full-size plaster Egyptian sarcophagus (I really should ask what the story is behind that). The front desk has a little jar labeled “take a marble, leave a marble”. You can probably guess what it’s filled with.

I’ve been getting books from Dawn Treader ever since middle school. And will keep going back as long as they’re in existence.  

So here’s what I picked up this time.


Gentlemen Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation
by Harlan Ellison

Despite being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I haven’t read most of the authors I’m “supposed” to read. Never read any Heinlein. Nor Asimov or Card. Never even touched A Song of Ice and Fire or its sequels. Never cracked open Dune. Only read a bit of Arthur C. Clarke and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Heck, I don’t even think I’ve read all of the Lord of the Rings.

 At least I’ve read Lovecraft, LeGuin and some Poul Anderson. And one or two Larry Niven novels. Plus a bunch of Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. But honestly, it’s exhausting trying to keep up on the speculative fiction culture.

So, anyway, I feel I should try to familiarize myself with at least a few of the famous authors. I’ve read a little Harlan Ellison before, and I like his style. Plus, I gotta be honest, I was amused by the fact that Ellison appeared as himself in this new Scooby Doo series my son has been watching lately (Mysteries Incorporated, in case you were curious).

The inside blurb says, rather breathlessly, “This is it! This is the book that established Harlan Ellison once and for all as a master of short fiction; this is the book that took Ellison to Hollywood; and this is the only paperback book, ever, reviewed by the legendary Dorothy Parker in Esquire magazine.” 

Sp apparently I picked out a good book to start with.


Un Lun Dun 
by China MiĆ©ville. 

I became a fan of Mieville after reading the first two books of his Bas-Lag series, Perdido Street Station and The Scar.  His stuff is frequently fantasy, but veering more towards the capital W Weird of 1930s pulp like Lovecraft, William Hope Hodgson and Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve read that he’s trying to write a book in every genre, and it seems like Un Lun Dun is his Neil Gaiman/Phillip Pullman-style Young Adult Adventure fantasy.


Star Rider 
by Doris Piserchia

Outside of the Dawn Treader are a couple of racks of “last chance” books for 50 cents. I’ve been trying to get back into the lifestyle of a reader/writer, voyaging through as many imagined worlds as I can. So I figured I’d pick up a couple “wild card” books out there. Maybe I’ll find a gem in one of these.

The back of Star Rider reads: “They called her Galactic Jade, a footloose, star-flung loner who roved space on her telepathic mount Hinx, ever searching for the fabled city of Doubleluck with its waterfalls of diamonds, lakes of sweet perfume and streets of flowing gold. But she held a secret the whole universe wanted, a secret that sent her on a galactic odyssey of self discovery to escape the prisons of her own mind.

Groovy.


The Shadow of the Ship
by Robert Wilfred Franson

 Sounds like it’s about a man, Eiverdein, looking for a lost ship to help him return to known space. I mostly picked it up because the cover looks like a mid-80s Tangerine Dream LP record. I can practically hear this thing pumping out “Love On A Real Train”.

 I’ll give you more details once I have a chance to read it. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Netsuke

In At Yomi’s Gate, both Takashi and Sakura carry small carvings called netsuke to remind them of their loved ones. Takashi carries the image of Kannon- the Buddhisatva of compassion and mercy- that Yoko’s father was carving just before he was murdered by her uncle, while Sakura possesses an image of Ikuko fighting the Fire God that has been tormenting them both.

Today I thought I’d give a little more explanation as to just what netsuke are. Traditional Japanese kimono did not have pockets, so money, medicine, ink stones and other personal items were carried in small wooden or metal containers, collectively called sagemono (hanging object) or sometimes inro, that were hung from a cord tucked under the obi sash.



To keep these cords from simply sliding out of the obi, a toggle called a netsuke (pronounced net-skay since the “u” sound is often dropped in spoken Japanese) was attached to the other end. Early netsuke were simple objects like seashells or lengths of wood, but over time carvers turned these items into beautiful works of art.

According to netsuke collector Joseph Kurstin, sumptuary laws in medieval Japan prevented people from displaying overt expressions of wealth on their bodies. However, since netsuke were technically considered utilitarian, they allowed individuals a loophole to show off their wealth,.


Netsuke carvers, called netsuke-shi, would often infuse their works with humor and liveliness. many netsuke referenced well-known legends and folk tales, often depicting an iconic scene from the story.\

To see a good sample of the variety and intricacy of netsuke, check out this short gallery from the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge in England.

REFERENCES

Netsuke: Story Carvings of Old Japan by Joseph Kurstin

The Anime Companion Gilles Poitras

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

At Yomi's Gate

For those who are just hearing of me for the first time, here's the first book I've written.


SUMMARY:
Storyteller and scroll-painter Fumito has been forced by his paranoid and homicidal uncle, daimyo Kotoheisei, to track down a young woman named Sakura who bears the destructive god of fire imprisoned in a tattoo on her back. At stake is Fumito's family, who will be tortured and executed if he cannot capture her.

Yet when he finally finds Sakura and her rescuer- the imposing but shy priestess Ikuko- he helps them escape rather than turn them over to his uncle, who will use the fire god's power for terror and slaughter. The fate of Fumito's family is sealed, but that is a price he desperately hopes he can live with.

When an ancient artifact merges Sakura with the god, granting her control over fire and magma, she resolves to save Fumito's family and slay his uncle. But Sakura does not realize the extent of her power, and her rescue mission will end up harming more people than it saves. And in time her actions will bring her and her companions into a confrontation with the creatures of the underworld whose dark magic is responsible for her transformation.


Features a cover by professional artist Matthew Meyer.

Get a print copy here

Also available for Kindle here.

And for Nook here.