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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Alan Baxter - A Guest Post!

 Today’s guest post is by award-winning Aussie horror writer Alan Baxter. Alan is one of a lot of Australian spec fic authors who  find their inspiration in our sunburnt country and don’t need to set their stories in the US or Europe. 

Anyway, I’ll let Alan tell you all about it himself - welcome to The Great Raven, Alan! Take it away! 

Isn’t There Enough Weirdness?

Okay, let’s get this out of the way immediately. The title of this piece is clickbait and the answer is obviously no. There can never be enough weirdness. And frankly, in this current world, more weirdness can only be a good thing.

But I get questions like this a lot. Along with “Why do you write such horrible stuff?” which I’ve answered elsewhere. (And for the record, it’s not horrible – it’s honest.) But the weird? Ah, now that’s something different. I’ve always been absolutely fascinated with just how weird and bizarre real life can be. The number of times I’ve seen a news item or an article and said, “If I wrote that into a story, every editor in the land would tell me it’s too on the nose and I’d have to change it.” I think it was Neil Gaiman who said (and I paraphrase), “The trouble with fiction as opposed to real life is that people want their fiction to make sense.” But make it weird and you have a lot of leeway.

Weird in this sense harks back to the kind of strange fantasy of H P Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, and even before. It’s that sense of non-human, of irrational, of cosmic bigger-than-us human insignificance. There’s a lot of horror that deals with stuff built from an Abrahamic mould. And other cultures draw on their own religious myths. There’s also old folk-horror and nature-horror, which are some of the earliest myths in most cultures. These bleed into each other and have enormous scope, and people still write wonderful stories using those themes to this day. I do as well sometimes. But there’s something less restrained in the horror that assumes all of that has limitations, and looks beyond it.

Every brand of horror and fantasy has its place and they’re all fabulous. But I’ve been drifting further away over recent years and looking to horrors beyond our mortal and even galactic boundaries. We are but dust in the greater cosmos, and isn’t that the greatest horror of all?

But that in itself is a horror story told and finished. We are nothing and everything is pointless. It’s far too nihilistic, and on a human level, despite our insignificance in the greater universe, we are far from insignificant to each other. We are as important to each other as it’s possible to be. Kindness is the greatest human attribute, in my opinion. We need to look after ourselves and each other and the world around us. It’s the confluence of those two things that makes cosmic horror and the weird so appealing to me.

In the face absolute nihilism, some people will prey on others with no guilt. Other people, the vast majority thankfully, will try to look out for each other. I explore those themes a lot in my stories. Recently I wanted to create a place I could return to again and again that would give me somewhere to play. A place so soaked in cosmic indifference, yet so intensely personal, that all kinds of weirdness could play out. So I created the isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper, called by locals The Gulp, as it has a habit of swallowing people. When reviewers for the first volume of Tales From The Gulp said things like “Baxter has found his Castle Rock”, I was happy. Because that’s what this is supposed to be for me. This region, with The Gulp nestled away in the bush by the ocean, and the towns of Monkton and Enden about half an hour’s drive away north and south, is a wonderful sandbox for me to make castles and knock them down. It’s somewhere for me to explore the Weird on a deeply human level, with people just like you and me. Well, some of them are really quite different, but most are just like you and me.

The first volume of Tales From The Gulp is out and I’m working on the second set of stories. I’ve also recently finished the first draft of a novel set nearby. There is so much scope to the weird. There’s never enough. I hope you’ll come along with me for the ride.

Thanks, Alan, for sharing your thoughts on weird fiction, and your new book!

If you want to buy it either in ebook or print, it’s readily available on Amazon. I have just downloaded my own copy from Apple Books, and am looking forward to reading it! 

Here is a link to the Gulp page on Alan’s website.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Just Finished Reading..Beowulf, Translated by Maria Dahvana Headley


I first read this poem when I was studying English at university. The one I read was a Penguin prose translation. It was old even then. I also have a copy of Tolkien’s translation. 

Beowulf was written in Old English,  some time in the eighth century.  Old English is like German - I did a semester of it, and my knowledge of Yiddish helped! 

This latest translation, published recently, is in verse. It has been the subject of a lot of enthusiastic discussion on line, for its modern language, so I bought it earlier this year, but hadn’t got around to finishing it when it appeared on this year’s Hugo Award shortlist. I decided I’d better finish reading it, for that reason. 

I have now read it and have to say I’m impressed. 

You may know the story. King Hrothgar builds a mead hall for himself and his warriors. Night after night they party until a creature called Grendel comes calling from the fens where he lives, and helps himself to Hrothgar’s men, including a dear friend of the king’s. 

A party of Geatish warriors, led by the hero, Beowulf, arrives to help. That night, Beowulf stays awake and fights the invader, ripping off his arm and sending him running, dying, back to his home in the fens. 

Grendel has a mother, just as scary as her son, even more so. She comes to avenge her son and Beowulf chases her back to her underwater hall where she too dies at his hands. 

But there is a second part to the story. Years later, when Beowulf is old and a king himself, a dragon comes ravaging the land after a cup is stolen from its hoard. Beowulf fights it, knowing that he can’t win, even if he kills it. 

He is right. 

The poem has a famous beginning, “Hwaet! We Gardena in geardagum…” Well, after that you need an Old English keyboard. But that first word has been the subject of much discussion over the years, usually translated as “Listen!” Tolkien translated it as “Lo!” 

However it is translated, Hwaet! definitely sounds intended to shut up party goers in a noisy hall. 

Maria Headley begins with “Bro!” a word she uses quite often in the rest of the text, but it absolutely works as a beginning. 

She uses many contemporary words, quite deliberately, including  a cheeky line including “piles of preciouses”. 

All the same, the verse is alliterative like the original. Despite the modern words, I felt as if I was reading the real thing; it can be read aloud to a noisy room full of warriors. 

The translator admires Grendel’s mother, a warrior woman rather than just a monstrous creature like her son, and it shows. Headley didn’t just translate the poem, she made it a work of art in its own right, so I understand why it is up for an award for writing. 

If you haven’t read this version, I do recommend it. It’s easily available in ebook if you want to buy and download it right away - or get your library to buy a copy. I bought mine in Apple Books, but you can get a print copy in all the usual places.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Just Finished Reading… The Gospel Of Loki and The Testament Of Loki by Joanne Harris

 I was looking on Apple Books for Honeycomb, the latest book by Joanne Harris, best known as the author of that gentle novel Chocolat, when I discovered she has also written some quirky fantasy novels in a series called Runes. The premise is that, after  Ragnarok, among other things, the runes that were so important for magic, or glam as it’s called in this series, are scattered through the alternative Worlds. Some of the Norse gods managed to survive it and escape from their prisons in the Netherworld, although there are problems for them. Children in one world are born with rune marks. 

After establishing that Honeycomb was too big a download for now, I couldn’t resist reading the two prequels to the main series, The Gospel of Loki and The Testament Of Loki, both about the Norse myths as seen from the viewpoint of our favourite trickster god. 

Or, rather, not really a god, as such. This Loki is originally a fire demon, coming from Chaos into a world based on Order. He is brought by Odin(known as the General or the Old Man), who needs his particular skills, and puts a rune on to Loki’s arm, so he can’t return to Chaos without its ruler, Surt, knowing where he has been and punishing him horribly. 

He enjoys all the pleasures of his new home, though he never does get his own hall, just a small back room in Asgard, but no matter how many times he saves the day through his intelligence and quick wits, he is never considered “one of us”. 

Eventually there is a “last straw” moment, when he realises finally that he will never be accepted, that even the one he believed would protect him has betrayed him, and decides to get his revenge.

Really, you can see why he has done all those dreadful things, including the killing of Baldur. 

 If you like Crowley from Good Omens, you should like this version of Loki.

In the sequel, Loki, who has been chained up in the Netherworld next to his son, the Midgard Serpent, works out how to escape, with the giant snake’s help, and finds himself popping out of a computer game into the body of Jumps, a teenage girl in our world. 

Jumps is not impressed to find herself sharing a mind and body with a Norse god, although she might not have minded so much if it was Thor. (She has been watching too many movies).

However, she hasn’t much choice and Loki really can’t leave just yet. He is unbodied, for one thing. And some scary things will happen if he and his host don’t stop them. 

There is an actual character arc in this book. Although Loki does understandably want to save his own skin, once he has one, he finds himself, much to his horror, “corrupted” with caring for his host. Jumps has some big problems in her life. She is bullied. She has an eating disorder. She has been terrified at coming out as gay.

Loki, while in her body, does what he can to fix these issues. How embarrassing! But he does it all in a trickster way, so not sentimentally.

And they have an adventure saving the world(or Worlds) from some of Loki’s old antagonists…

I read these two novels in about three days and am looking forward to reading the main sequence of this series, after the sequel to Chocolat. I got them in Apple Books, though you should be able to find them in print or Kindle.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Norse Myths And Marvel

 I've been re-reading Neil Gaiman's delightfully chatty book Norse Mythology on a whim. I'd forgotten how good it is. It's interesting to read in his introduction that we don't have many Norse myths left. Most of them disappeared with the arrival of Christianity. We have the names of many gods, but not their stories. This is very sad, and I have the sinking feeling. I know all the available ones. There are far more Greek myths, but even those have many missing plays, since the fire at the Great Library of Alexandria. 

About all I can do now, for the Norse myths, is plunge myself into the Eddas instead of the modern re-tellings. 

Norse Goddess Idun, artist James Doyle Penrose

Meanwhile, there are the definitely not mythical Norse gods of the Marvel universe. I missed those comics as a child, because my mother thought comics were unworthy reading and wouldn't let me have any. I did get to read the Superman comics, as a friend of mine had those and we read them together. Amazing what I learned from them, by the way. A Superboy comic referred to the Herodotus “Egyptian Cinderella” story(young Clark Kent cheats on his history exam by time traveling…). Another told me the real full name of Nero. 

But I missed most of them. And I'm just catching up with the Marvel films, which assume you are a fan of the comics. You can enjoy them without having read the originals, but they do make references to things that happened in the comics, or characters who appeared there. 

Still, I've been watching, bingeing on the Marvel movies and recently watched the six part TV series Loki . 

As someone who has read the myths, I'm intrigued at the comics versions of the characters. Mythical Odin is rather scary, the god of the gallows, who rides an eight legged horse, Sleipnir, whose eight legs suggest the legs of four people carrying a bier. There were human sacrifices made to him, by hanging. Not a nice god.

Mr Wednesday in Gaiman's American Gods is not nice either. He manipulates everyone, including the hero, Shadow Moon, whose loyalty he definitely doesn't deserve. But he is pretty similar to his mythological original.

Marvel Universe Odin is dignified and wise; the worst you could say of him, really, is that he is guilty of bad parenting. There are no slain warriors feasting in his hall as Asgard has ordinary citizens as well as gods. They do have Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge, and the god Heimdall does keep a watch over it. 

Mythological Thor is kind, but not too bright, and drives around in a cart pulled by goats which he can slaughter for dinner every night, then restore next day. I assume that the rumble of the wheels sounds like thunder.

If something goes wrong, he either decides it's the fault of trickster god Loki, or he asks Loki for help. Actually, he is usually right when he figures it's Loki's fault. 

You do have to wonder how Thor sleeps so soundly when his wife Sif's hair is plucked out during the night, leaving her bald(you have to wonder, even more, how she sleeps through it!). That time it is Loki, who just thought it was funny. But Thor also sleeps through having his hammer, Mjolnir, stolen by a giant(this despite those high walls and Heimdall) and asks Loki for help, which he gives. That is the hilarious story of Thor's “wedding” where the thunder god disguises himself as the beautiful goddess Freya to get back his hammer, and lets Loki do all the talking while he consumes all the food at the wedding feast.

Marvel Thor is a lot smarter than his Norse original, and loves his trickster foster brother no matter what dreadful things he does. He does get to do some humorous scenes, but he is not dumb.

And then there is Loki, the trickster. He is not one of the Aesir, but a giant. He's the father, by a giantess, of three scary children, Hel the goddess of the underworld, the Fenris Wolf which will one day play a part in Ragnarok, and the Midgard Serpent, which coils around the world and is nearly caught by Thor when he goes fishing one day. He is the mother(yes, mother!) of Odin's horse Sleipnir    , due to one of his tricks that got the gods a huge protective wall.   He also has two normal sons by his wife, Sigyn. 

The other gods don't seem to like him much, but he fixes things for them, as much as he causes trouble, because he is the brains of the family. Unfortunately for him, he goes one step too far by playing one prank too many, causing the death of Baldur, a son of Frigg and Odin, and ends up in a sort of Prometheus snake situation, with dripping venom instead of that eagle. His loyal wife stays with him to keep the venom off his face. Nice to know someone loves him.

The Marvel Loki is recognisable but different. You can certainly him imagine doing some of his original's pranks, and there is a reference to Sif's hair(“I thought it was funny!” he protests), but not the same person. This Loki is a frost giant adopted by Odin and Frigga as a baby, but they don't tell him till he is well into adulthood. He starts off as a villain who has a big narcissism problem and wants to rule the world, then moves to anti hero and finally hero, willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. 

But even as villain, he still has the same cheeky trickster charm as his original, which has gained him a lot of fans. Wherever he arrives, he introduces himself: “I am Loki, the bad guy.” 

And the last few weeks I have followed the streaming series Loki, in which we see things from his viewpoint, he finally makes a friend who believes he can improve instead of just being the character that allows the heroes to be their best, and has an impressive character arc that makes viewers cheer for him and weep when he hurts. Oh, and he falls in love, but she is another version of himself from a different timeline… talk about narcissism! She is, however, a badly hurt woman who has spent most of her life, from childhood, on the run from an organization that wants to kill her.

It was very well written. One of the script writers was on Twitter, explaining the thinking behind what the team wrote. Unfortunately   there were some entitled fans who need to get a life abusing him for the ending. I've been in SF fandom long enough to know that people like this are always around. 

There is a solution to not liking what you get, and it isn't being abusive to the authors. Fan fiction makes you feel much better and you can share it with others who think the same way. Goodness knows, there are plenty of fan fiction sites. 

It's wonderful to see what storytelling can emerge from mythology.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

A Brief Info Post - Moving On From Feedburner

 Just a brief information post, for my followers. As you know, if you have a Blogger blog, Google is switching off Feedburner, which I didn’t even know I was using. When I went to the Feedburner site, I discovered that I have far more followers than appear here; most are following by email. 

Anyway, I had no idea how to fix it. The instructions from Google were unhelpful. 

When I got an email from offering to help set up an account with them to keep my list going, I was suspicious, but then saw a site I subscribe to, the Archaeology Network, was now using it without problem. I checked it out and found I already had an account. Not sure how, I must have registered when someone else’s site I wanted to follow had it. But it did simplify things, so I did the fiddly stuff with the nice lady from, and when you get my emails for new posts the emails will have that on them. It’s free, though has a premium version I don’t need. What the heck, why not? 

And now I know I have over 1300 followers! Yay! See you next post.