every girl remembers her first space probe

Forty years ago this month, the first of the two Voyager spacecraft launched. And one of my first memories is a book of the first images sent back.

I was about five, but it wasn’t a kid’s book. No, it was my dad’s beautiful coffee table book high-resolution color photos. I’d look at Rainbow-hued Saturn and Jupiter and its moons, the tiny black and white image of Death Star-inspiration Mimas, and Io’s volcanoes for hours on end. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the book, but I do remember those photos. Over the years I developed an appreciation for the sheer technological achievement of Voyager 1 and 2. I still marvel that I live in a time when such things are possible.

And then there was the Golden Record, which became even more interesting as I became a record-collecting teenager. Though I didn’t like half the music (hell, I doubt I knew the tracklist), it still struck me as The Ultimate Artifact: the first sounds any alien will hear of earth, assuming there are any to hear.

Picture of man and woman and diagram of the solar system as depicted on Voyager 1. Commentary: maybe aliens don't talk to us because we're creepy. i mean we send them weird mix tapes and we keep trying to find out where they live. Additional commentary: And we sent them some unsolicited nudes with directions to our house
Mind, the aliens might find the sleeve art off-putting. Courtesy MeMe

Imagine my thrill to discover the Voyager Golden Record project (full disclosure: I participated in the Kickstarter). Now on the 40th anniversary there’s this beautiful boxed set of the remastered disc (vinyl or CD) with a new book of even more gorgeous photos.

I know what’s on my Christmas list – for myself and as gifts for others.

a fistful of linkage

Because I’m utterly stumped for a topic this week:

England’s new psychedelic renaissance: not a third Summer of Love (yes, there was a second [YouTube]), but less with the (pure) hedonism and more with the science.

Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England is exactly what it sounds like: a painstaking examination of extant coroners’ reports reveal many, many dangers of everyday Elizabethan life. Maybe I’m morbid but I look forward to checking out their podcasts and bibliography.

The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes: the whole “ancient aliens” thing doesn’t sit well for me and this article explains why better than I ever could. Insisting that aliens must have made [insert marvel of the world here] grossly discounts the tenacity and ingenuity of ancient and/or indigenous peoples. The possibility that hoaxers alter real mummies also runs into issues of desecration of indigenous burials and corruption of archaeological finds.

Photo of incredulous Agent Scully. Text: I'm not saying it was aliens...because it wasn't.
Courtesy Imgflip

biweekly links 7-26-2017

Notorious look at 16th century: check this out! An amateur (!) builder spent 10 years (!) researching and building a replica of a Portuguese caravel. This is the kind of insanely dedicated experiential archaeology I lurve. To my eternal regret I can’t find a website or blog chronicling the building process, but the ship’s Wikipedia page has some information. To find out where it docks next check out its Twitter and Facebook page.

Photo of ship Susan Constant at sunset
Reproduction of the “Susan Constant” at the Jamestown Settlement, no less impressive though it wasn’t made by a single man in his backyard. Author’s own.

A $70 ‘Worry Stone’ and Other Bizarre Spiritual Products You Can Buy Online: I used to have a worry stone – can’t imagine where it got off to but it’s nice to know I can replace it from the comfort of my keyboard. For serious high rollers you can get an “orgon [sic] accumulator” starting at $2000.

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in Dunkirk: One of many articles about the movie, but I think covers history vs. fiction the best. As a former stickler for historical accuracy at all costs, writing The Book has humbled me to the real difficulties of hammering historical events into a compelling narrative. Nolan’s aim was to “put you on that beach” and I think he did so admirably, while sticking astonishingly close to the facts. Not included: why Germany stopped their attack or the fate of those left behind.

Will: 5 ways ‘The Two Gentlemen’ twists history: from painstaking historical accuracy we go to flamboyant liberty with the facts, or at least the image. I’ve not seen “Will” (yet?) but I can’t hammer it’s “punk rock Elizabethan” aesthetic too hard – I love artful anachronisms – but opinions differ.

unread

Full disclosure: though I’m writing fiction I’ve been more of a non-fiction reader most of my life. It’s only in the past ten years or so that the balance has shifted. As someone who tends to go narrow and deep, I’m surprised and embarrassed to realize my fiction exposure has been wide and shallow:

Much as I loved “Rebecca” I’ve not made time to read the rest of du Maurier’s work.

I’ve only read one each of the “Outlander” and “Lymond Chronicles” series. I enjoyed them but didn’t LURVE LURVE LURVE them enough to continue.

Ditto Margaret George and Philippa Gregory, two other histfic heavyweights. I can’t even tell you which ones I’ve read.

My track record in other genres is no better:

I’ve never read “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings”. I tried the former in both high school and college and found the language too dense to get into. As such I figured LOTR was above my pay grade. I enjoyed the movies though (yes, I am a prole). Maybe I should take another run at these.

Many of the classics of science fiction have slipped under my radar: I’ve never read Heinlein or Asimov, save “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” because I wanted to know what inspired “Blade Runner”.

None of McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” series. I couldn’t finish the first because I found it cliché; friends in the know said it’s better if you encounter it at age twelve rather than thirty-two.

No Agatha Christie or Conan Doyle, for no good reason at all.

No Jane Austen. I know, revoke my girl card.

Very little Stephen King because “Pet Sematary” kept me awake for two weeks as a kid. According to one and all he’s a master of suspense, I want thrills, not terror so intense I can’t turn out the lights.

Stack of books; Bagwell's The Darling Strumpet, Sharratt's Daughters of the Witching Hill, Dwyer's Ghost Hunter's Guide to Portland and the Oregon Coast, Smiten's Ghost Stories of Oregon, Hieber's The Eterna Files, Gortner's Marlene, and Higganbotham's Hanging Mary
Top of my fiction “to read” pile (with some non-fic mixed in, natch). Note they are all recent releases: no classics.

I try to catch up with the old but the new is so tempting!

What haven’t you read that you feel like you ought? What classics did you finally get around to only to find they didn’t live up to the hype?

biweekly links 7-12-2017

Hitler Used Werewolves, Vampires, and Astrology to Brainwash Germany: despite the tabloid-esque title, this is a sobering article about a forthcoming Yale U Press book on Nazi exploitation of pre-existing supernatural beliefs to further their ideology. To quote the article, “…in times of crisis, supernatural and faith-based thinking masquerading as “scientific” solutions to real problems helps facilitate the worst kind of political and social outcomes.” Indeed.

The Occult Roots of Modernism: Nineteenth century French artist-author-guru Joséphin Péladan is the subject of a new exhibition on the “mystical symbolism” of the artists of his Salon de Rose + Croix. Péladan was part of a wider occult milieu in Belle Epoque Paris that embraced everything from Theosophy to Rosicrucianism to neo-Catharism. If you’re in New York City between now and October 4, you might want to check it out.

Witchcraft and dueling are now legal in Canada: I’m sure they don’t mean together, because combining these could be dangerous…or awesome:

Dueling scene between Snape and Lockhart from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
CanAms will look very different next year. Courtesy Tumblr

The extended weird section

Sometime back I asked if y’all had any interest in a link dump of esoteric/occult/paranormal-oriented publishers and bookstores. The response was a resounding “yes”, so I’ve scoured my bookmarks for you!

How I look browsing in a used bookstore: photo of average guy looking through mundane stack of books. How I feel: picture of Gandalf perusing ancient manuscripts
Via Tumblr.

Some disclaimers:

I’ve not shopped with all of of these, so I can’t vouch for quality of customer service or wares in all cases. Additionally, given the controversial and strange subject matter I can’t vouch for the credibility of all content either. Use your critical thinking.

And as ever, feel free to include your own favorites in the comments!

Publishers:

Llewellyn Worldwide: Publishes Steven Skinner’s large format of John Dee’s Spiritual Diaries and the Key to the Latin of same. In addition to the usual new age standards (tarot decks, divination, spiritual/relationships) they have a blog with related content, most recently a post about the American Gods tv series.

Salamander and Sons: “esoteric, occult, and arcane book publishers”; their Modern Magistery imprint focuses on modern practices and their Unearthed Arcana revolves around historical practitioners and facsimilies of old manuscripts.

Teitan Press: publisher of scholarly works primarily focused on Aliester Crowley and Frederick Hockley.

Nephilim Press: “a trade publication that specializes in the rare and unique subject areas of the occult and arcane, that many major publishing companies consider too controversial to print”. Apparent focus on grimoires contemporary and historic.

Scarlet Imprint: founded in 2007 to publish a “progressive catalogue of books on the Western magical tradition, witchcraft, the African Diaspora religions, esoteric poetry, drama & occulture”. Their online journal is up to date and includes a post with videos from last year’s Trans-States conference, featuring keynote speaker Alan Moore.

Feral House: “innovative and celebrated non-fiction books since 1989”. A very mixed bag; the front page alone features a Muhammed Ali coloring book, a canning and fermenting guide, and a history of the Process Church of the Final Judgment. These plus their categories of “realpolitik”, “kulture”, “crime”, “sex”, and “death” suggests an eye-opening browsing experience if nothing else.

Steamshovel Press: zine founded by veteran conspiracy theorist Kenn Thomas in 1992, they boast “All conspiracy. No theory”. Go here for a plate of UFOs and JFK with sides of lesser-known rabbit holes.

Darklore: “journal of exceptional observations, hidden history, the paranormal and esoteric science”. Based on the URL I think they’re associated with the Daily Grail website. Hat tip GeeCee.

Paraview Press “publishes unique and original books by well-known authors and researchers in the paranormal, spiritual, UFO, and conspiracy-theory field”. I’m mostly familiar with them for publishing much of Nick Redfern’s prodigious output.

Rubedo Press “publishes works of scholarship, philosophy, æsthetics, and esotericism, as well as critical translations of source texts previously unavailable in English”. For what it’s worth, “For explicitly scholarly projects, Rubedo Press offers a strict double-blind peer-review process, drawing on an international panel of interdisciplinary authorities.”

Correspondences: “online journal for the academic study of Western esotericism”; comes out once a year.

Richard Dolan Press (formerly Keyhole Publishing): originally founded to publish Dolan’s “UFOs and the National Security State” duology (Vol 1 1941-1973; Vol 2 1973-1991) its catalog is growing.

Vendors/Stores:

InnerTraditions: online only shop with the usual new age fare.

Discount New Age Books: similar, at lower prices.

Atlantis Bookshop: self-proclaimed “London’s oldest independent occult bookshop”, they have a limited online presence but have long been London’s esoteric hub, hosting Gerald Gardner‘s coven among others.

Seven Stars: Cambridge MA; limited web presence but highly recommended on Yelp. Also carries crystals and other new age paraphernalia. Hat tip Michael Grasso.

Crystal Blue: this shop has been in Atlanta since I was a little quasi-goth wandering around Little Five Points. Crystals, books, and more.

Hledající knihy: online esoteric bookseller out of Prague. Most offerings in Czech; I include for completion’s sake.

Book Reviews:

Magonia Review of Books: formerly a magazine and now an extensive book review site, I’ve found it a valuable resource to find the wheat in this chaff-heavy field. Based out of England, they host regular Magonians In the Pub meetups so check them out if you’re in the neighborhood.

And bonus:

Esoteric Book Conference: Seattle-based conference, the latest information is from last year. No word yet on 2017 though given that it goes back to 2009, I’m hopeful.

historical fiction: where the boys aren’t(?)

Evidently I’m writing a fantasy novel.

This is news to me.

via GIPHY

So how did this happen?

Of all the sessions I attended at the HNS conference last week, the one about male protagonists was the most surprising. As far back as 2015 I’d heard murmurings that my choice of a male protagonist was unusual but I didn’t realize just how unusual.

Industry logic goes like this: historical fiction is written primarily by and for women. Women prefer to read from the points of view of other women. Hence, a female protagonist is all but required in order to market a book as “historical fiction”*. Hence, having Edward Kelley as my protagonist creates a hurdle to publication, at least in this genre.

Of course, historical fictions with male protagonists do exist, though they’re often marketed as something else. This results in oddities like “Wolf Hall” being shelved in literary (even though Hilary Mantel clearly thinks of herself as a historical fiction writer) and books from the POV of a male spy having women on the covers to meet reader expectations.

Which makes little sense because readers don’t actually expect this. Anecdotes aren’t data but the panel attendees–men and women alike–enjoyed reading male protagonists and want to see more of them. Authors enjoy writing them, even though some editors warn them off (!).

The trope persists due to a risk-averse publishing industry based on what I suspect are very old stats. This does a disservice to readers and authors alike in terms of publishability and findability.

Interestingly, fantasy/sci-fi has the opposite problem. Which led to my asking whether I should pitch the Work in Progress as fantasy, given my male protagonist and fantastical elements. The panelists replied with a resounding “yes”.

So, shall I pitch as fantasy and betray the sisterhood/fall under histfic readers’ radar, or pitch as historical fiction and possibly never publish at all? It’s a conundrum. Fortunately, I find this funny as well as frustrating.

I invite readers to share their favorite genre-bending media (not just books! Movie, tv, comic, game, etc. recs are all welcome!), particularly historical fiction not marketed as such. How did you find it? Did you have trouble finding it?

*Not that historical fiction can’t be about men: it often is, just through the eyes of the women around them. The notion is that women don’t mind reading about men, they just don’t want to walk in their shoes.

biweekly links 6-21-2017

Crazy busy this week preparing for the Historical Novel Society conference in Portland OR (I am in transit as you read). Here’s a link dump of various curiosities from AwesomeCon this past weekend:

Legendary Comics Announces New Series “Cursed” from John Barrowman, Carole Barrowman, and Erika Lewis: yes, that John Barrowman, of Torchwood and Dr. Who fame. Didn’t know he wrote, or that he had a sister to write with, but this Celtic mythology-infused comic about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cursed descendant sounds very promising.

ReDistricted: Atypical Stories about Washington D.C.: It’s a webcomic about off-the-beaten-path DC history. It’s free, and every story has footnotes! What’s not to love? I’m shamefully unaware of the huge scope and quality of non-fiction history comics out there; it’s time that changed.

Connections Wargaming Conference: Advancing and Preserving the Art, Science, and Application of Wargaming: lest you get a mental image of weekend D&D campaigns or MMPORGs, wargaming is a serious simulation tool for scenarios military, economic, and academic. Much of the panel on this went over my head, but then I’m not even a recreational gamer. I’m pleased someone does this kind of work.

Book to screen: could you? Should you?

Haven’t we all said “that book should TOTALLY be made into a movie” at one point or another?

Black and white ca. 1940-1950 image of a young black woman threading film into an old-fashioned projector.
Susan Baptist, a projectionist, shows training films for the troops as well as more popular motion pictures. From the Library of Congress.

Yep, me too. What’s strange is that I seldom say it about a historical fiction novel. Stranger still(?), I don’t actually watch that much historical fiction.

Of these three historical fiction novels that need to be adapted for TV I’ve not read a one of them. A damn pity because they sound great: Sparta vs. Rome, WWII crime, Tudor conspiracy. When I do watch histfic it’s usually either written for the screen (The VVitch, Bomb Girls, The Americans) or adapted from a book I’ve not read (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the White Princess, Outlander [well, I read part of this but never finished]).

And I’m admittedly terrible about keeping up with TV series. I start many but seldom finish due to time and attention constraints.

That, and I have a kind of reservation about converting books to movies. Two different mediums require two very different approaches to the same story, which is where the desire to be accurate to the original collides with the need to make a textual story visually compelling. Sometimes it’s just best to leave it alone. So when pressed to come up with books that I think would make great viewing I have to strain.

Successful page to screen adaptations exist. I own all of the Sarah Waters tv miniseries: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity.  Does the The Handmaiden [trailer, YouTube] count? It’s an adaptation of Fingersmith set in 1930s Korea.

Wolf Hall, because I enjoyed the court intrigue and Cromwell’s subtle machinations. And the costumes were pretty accurate too!

I wouldn’t mind seeing Waters’ The Little Stranger (post-WWII gothic horror) put on screen. Possibly Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network (women spies in both world wars).

Don’t even ask me who I’d cast for any of these. I can barely envision my own characters!

What historical fiction would you LOVE to see on screen?

biweekly links 6-7-2017

Witchcraft with a dash of art, and some things which may or may not be:

The hocus pocus of witchcraft: this post from the UK National Archives blog covers the basics but links over to their publication Accused: British Witches Throughout History, a nonfiction book about exactly what it says. Do check out their “We think you may also like” section if you’re into this sort of thing.

A radical new look at the greatest of Elizabethan artists: Two paintings have been newly confirmed as Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard‘s, based on the wood on which they were painted. They’re part of the Power and Portraiture: painting at the court of Elizabeth I exhibit that just opened at Waddesdon Manor. Looks like a good one to check out should you be in Buckinghamshire between now and October 29.

Portrait of Elizabethan man with beard and mustache, wearing a cap and ruff
Hilliard’s portrait of Elizabeth I’s alleged squeeze Robert Dudley, 1576. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The spy who hoodwinked the Nazis with sorcery: file under “interesting if true”. As opposed to “Operation” Cone of Power in which British witches actually tried to repel the Nazis, Operation Mistletoe was just propaganda. Allegedly orchestrated by spy and occultist Cecil Williams, this article suggests it’s uncertain whether this fake ritual happened at all. (Tangentially, a whip ’round Google for “Napoleonic magical ritual” nets nothing about the alleged witchcraft used to repel Napoleon mentioned in the article. Still, possible inspiration for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)