Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August 31 - On This Day!

 Every now and then, I post about events and birthdays on a date, and try to include, if possible, writers and books. There aren’t too many that fit that on this date, but I’ve chosen some of interest, for your enjoyment. I hope you like them!  

Things That Happened on August 31

1422 - Henry V, that English warrior king, dies of dysentery, leaving his baby son to succeed him. He became Henry VI, but inherited some craziness through his mother, Catherine of France, and she, in her turn, married Owen Tudor, and we all know what happened as a result. Still, Shakespeare got some inspiration from it! I’m still catching up with his history plays via The Hollow Crown. “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” (Henry VI, Part 2) 

HENRY V. Public domain

1897 - Thomas Edison patents the world’s first film projector, the Kinetoscope. Think of all the creativity that has been possible due to this invention! 

Public domain

And a hundred years later, on this day, Princess Diana, her boyfriend  Dodi Fayed and their driver, Henri Paul, all died in a car crash in Paris. Who can remember where they were when they heard? I do! I was at home, vacuuming. 

2006 - the famous Edvard Munch painting, The Scream, stolen August 24 in 2006, was recovered by Norwegian police. Thank goodness for that! 

Some Birthdays On This Day

12 CE, that dreadful, murdering Roman Emperor Caligula. The role was played by John Hurt in I, Claudius, and wasn’t he evil! 

1741, Jean-Paul-Egide Martini, a French composer who did music for Marie Antoinette and Napoleon! Best known for Plaisir D’Amour, that break-up song. 

1834, Amilcare Ponchielli. Composer. You will certainly know him for one tune, Dance Of The Hours

1894, Albert Facey, an Australian man who wrote his memoir, A Fortunate Life, which became a huge bestseller, a TV mini series and a play. The book was a delight and showed that an ordinary person had something to say that other people would want to hear. Among other things, he fought in the Great War, and received a pair of socks knitted by a young woman he would later meet and marry. If you ever get a chance to read the book, do so! 

I’m going to sneak in one more, born on August 30, as I didn’t post about her yesterday. In 1797, on this day, was born Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, known as the mother of science fiction. Her mother was the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. We all know the story about the house party attended by two poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, and two unknowns, our heroine Mary and a doctor, John Polidori, and the challenge they took, to write a “ghost story”. Ironically, it was the two newbies who created classics while the professional poets didn’t. Polidori wrote The Vampyre, which wasn’t the first vampire novel, but did create the first sexy vampire, Lord Ruthven. You can get both of these books on Project Gutenberg.

Feast day/holiday

August 31 is the feast day of Joseph of Arimathea, who is connected with the Holy Grail, and was supposed to have come to England, where he planted his staff, which blossomed.

He is the patron saint of undertakers and funeral directors, I’m guessing because he was the one who organised the burial of Jesus. 

Tomorrow is the first day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, where I live. I will be playing the first movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, to celebrate. 

Have a great season, whether it’s spring or autumn! 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Just Finished Reading… Scandal In Babylon by Barbara Hambly. Edinburgh, Severn House, 2021

 I have been reading Barbara Hambly’s books for many years, starting with a gorgeous fantasy novel, Dragonsbane. Next I read the Darwath trilogy, which had such a nice twist at the end, then the wonderful portal fantasy series, the Windrose Chronicles, which she is still writing in the form of self published novellas, novelettes and short stories. Her wizard hero, Antryg Windrose, is basically the Doctor, something she cheerfully admits - the Tom Baker Doctor, if you can imagine him wearing cheap jewellery instead of a scarf, and settling down with his computer specialist Companion after the Council of Timelords nearly succeeds in killing him.

But she has done a lot more than fantasy, including horror fiction and historical crime fiction. The James Asher vampire series is still going. 

My favourite of her historical crime fiction so far are the Benjamin January novels, set in New Orleans in the 1839s/40s, seen from the viewpoint of a free African American surgeon and musician who solves crime. These novels have never gone downhill after 18 novels and several short stories. 

So, I know she can write whodunnits set in earlier eras. I snatched this one off Apple Books as soon as I learned it was out. Historical murder mystery? By Barbara Hambly? Yes, please! 

And yes, it was good fun. It was set in Hollywood in 1924, seen from the viewpoint of Emma Blackstone, a scholarly British woman, widowed when her American husband was killed in the Great War and brought to the US by his glamorous sister Kitty, a silent movie star. There, she works as a scenarist for the movie her sister- in-law is acting in, balances her cheque books, pays the bills and looks after Kitty’s three adorable Pekinese dogs.

Sound familiar? If it does, you have probably read this author’s novel Bride Of  The Rat God, which has pretty much the same characters with different names, except the dogs, which have the same names, quite deliberately. The main difference is that there aren’t any fantasy elements in this one. It is a straight whodunnit, in which Kitty’s unpleasant ex-husband is murdered in her dressing-room while waiting to have a Word with her, possibly involving blackmail. And guess who is the obvious suspect? 

 It seems this will be the first in a series called Silver Screen Historical Mysteries. I have no idea whether the next novel will feature the same characters, but I will be reading.  

Unfortunately, Bride Of The Rat God, a delightful novel, seems to be out of print, though it’s still available in audiobook. There is a sequel, short story “Castle of Horror”, which is available in ebook, one of the self published stories the author has been posting online. But you don’t need to have read Bride Of The Rat God to enjoy this new novel. There is the same flavour of fun and colourful cinema history, with a different focus. 

Very much recommended and available in ebook or print, in all the usual places. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Of Fan Fiction And Villains

Many years ago I had a friend who was into fictional bad guys. She was writing fan fiction with heroes such as Darth Vader and Dracula. She lost interest in Star Wars when she found out that Vader was Luke’s father - no doubt because this put him on a possible redemption arc(it did). But her fanfic Vader was not horrible. The Sith were a people rather than a part of the Dark side of the Force(in all fairness that hadn’t been established yet) and his armour was a cultural thing, not something keeping him alive. He became a matriarchal Queen’s lover, only possible because he could get out of his armour.

Dracula, who couldn’t really get a redemptive arc, nevertheless wasn’t too horrible and got a job as a crewman on the Enterprise. He didn’t murder anyone, which might have caused him problems, just took a sip of blood now and then from female crew, who didn’t know he was a vampire and thought he was just cuddling them. Better still, he got to sleep and work at the same time as everyone else because he was in space. 

You might have noticed that her villains were not really villains any more by the time she finished with them? Nevertheless, her fan fiction was great fun. I still have those fanzines on my shelves and wouldn’t part with them.

I have lost track of this friend, who doesn’t even appear in a Google search any more, but I can’t help suspecting she would not be too keen on the fact that these days everyone seems to be into baddies. It’s more fun when you get to be a fan of Darth Vader while everyone else is into Luke, right? 

Another friend was writing fan fiction about Space Commander Travis, the villain of Blake’s 7, who had done some dreadful things, but was, all the same, a tragic figure.

The thing is, there are baddies and baddies. Travis is all very well as he was, despite all, respected and cared for by his men, even in canon. But I can’t imagine anyone writing fanfic from the viewpoint of Sauron, can you? That would take some doing! And Sauron was, once, more than a red eye in the sky…. 

His predecessor, Morgoth, was not a team player from the start, let’s face it. He was singing his own tune while the rest of the Valar were doing a celestial chorus. (See the opening of The Silmarillion). I suppose this is easier to argue about. “He is an individual! He is different from all those Valar sheep!” But I suspect no one has written any Morgoth fan fiction either. He is just too prone to being disgusting and living in horrible places.

I’d just like to slip in here that I can’t understand why Dark Lords live in such dreadful places. Why would you bother gaining power if you have to live in Mordor?  In fact, British SF writer Peter Hamilton wrote a children’s novel in which the Dark Lord’s brother gets fed up with it all and leaves the dark land to live in a posh London flat, where the children find him watching football on a big screen TV. 

Villains now have a tragic back story or at least have a possibility of redemption. Even the Marvel villain Thanos thinks he is the good guy(and in the animated series What If…? he is a good guy, a likeable member of the reformed Ravagers crew, who still thinks the genocide thing is a good idea, but has been talked out of doing it)

I suppose the question is, can you see it from their viewpoint? In one of my published short stories, “Five Ways To Start A War”(in the anthology Light Touchpaper, Stand Clear, published by Peggy Bright Books)* part of the story is seen from the viewpoint of Eris, the Greek goddess of mischief, sister of the war god Ares. Eris is the only god not invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis(as in the Greek myth) - with good reason, as she starts trouble wherever she goes. She argues that it’s her job to cause trouble. So, she causes trouble anyway, with that golden apple marked “For the most beautiful” which more or less causes the Trojan War. I like to think that, in this story at least, there can be a little bit of sympathy for her. After all, Athena and Hera don’t have to do what they do when Aphrodite wins the apple - and Hera, especially, makes sure the war happens even when Helen refuses to run off with Paris. All Eris does is show she knows the personalities of the three goddesses and use that.

Well, that’s my story, anyway. But I don’t think anyone would write Eris fan fiction, not even me! 

In Star Trek fandom, the Klingons were favourites and got their fanfic, even when they were supposed to be the baddies, well before we got to meet Worf and realise they were just people, good and bad. I treasure a badge I bought years ago, at a convention, which read “Kill A Klingon For Christ”, which I wore to annoy my friends who were so terribly serious about it all. (Good grief, I just Googled that in case there was a photo, and found a web site “Klingons for Jesus”! Talk about serious!)

So why do people write villain fan fiction at all? 

I suspect it’s female fans who just want to hug (male) villains with tragic pasts and help them be better, and if they suffer, great! It always has been. Hurt/comfort fiction has been a thing ever since I can remember, and I have been reading fan fiction since the 1970s, and wrote it for a long time(never hurt/comfort, which made me cringe). Hurt/comfort is where two characters are put into a horrible situation and one of them looks after the other, who is suffering from bad wounds from which he - usually a he - may or may not recover. I’ve heard one writer at the Melbourne Writers Festival talk about her hurt/comfort fantasy novel, so it’s not only fan fiction. 

I have recently visited out of curiosity and found 161 stories based on the Loki series, only a couple of months since its release, and guess what? At least half,  judging by the blurbs, were hurt/comfort, the rest were romances. 

Bless the fans! 

*If you are interested in this anthology the web site is selling the print edition discounted as a lockdown special. or you can buy it in Kindle.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Just Finished Reading… From Krakow To Krypton: Jews And Comic Books by Arie Kaplan.Jewish Publication Society, 2008


This book is the main reason I’m into Marvel these days, trying to catch up with the films since it’s a bit late to catch up with the comic books it mentions. As a child, about the only comics I got to read were DC’s Superman - with a friend, because my mother wouldn’t let me read comics at home.

I had to order it on line from overseas, but don’t regret the effort. It’s a detailed history of US comics and the role Jewish artists and writers played in it. I did know about some Jewish comic book creators - for example, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the two Jewish boys who created Superman, and Rene Goscinny, the French writer of the Asterix comics. 

What I didn’t know was that American Jewish artists pretty much founded the US comics industry, when antisemitism prevented them getting jobs in commercial art. Oh, there were comic books around, but they were mostly compilations of newspaper comic strips, nothing newly published and certainly not new characters and stories. 

The story starts early in the 20th century and goes right through to the present day, including Neil Gaiman and Sandman(okay, he is British, not American, but he is Jewish). 

The Jewish illustrators and writers often changed their names. You probably know about Stan Lee(changed from Lieber), but there were quite a few others, such as Jack Kirby(changed from Kurtzberg). I’ll leave you here with the Wikipedia entry for those characters created by Kirby, with others such as Stan Lee and Joe Simon(another Jew, born as Hymie Simon).

If you are a comics fan or watch the movies,you will recognise quite a few of the character names. 

Did you know the satirical Mad Magazine was created by Jewish cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman? I didn’t till I read this book. 

It’s pretty thorough, including underground comic books, and graphic novels such as the classic Maus - which was once on the Year 12 curriculum at my school, by the way.  

It also discusses Marvel and DC characters whom the authors considered Jewish, though they only occasionally had a story where the character said they were. 

The most obvious one is Magneto(X Men) who was a Jewish character, no question about it, but there are others who are mentioned in the book, which also includes snippets of the comics. 

The book is colourful and entertaining, full of fascinating information I really didn’t know before. 

Well worth ordering! It’s easier to buy in ebook than print at the moment, both on Kindle and Apple Books, but there are some print copies available from Book Depository. 

There are other books on this subject, and I have a few I’m still reading, so I will get back to you with more reviews when I finish them. 

So, what do you think, readers? Any comic book fans out there?