Monthly Archives: March 2010

Easter Eggs

I was lamenting this weekend that I no longer see the eggs of my childhood. Forget Easter bonnets. I never saw one and I think that was of an earlier era but chocolate Easter eggs still abound. However, we’ve hit such an era of mass production that there is little originality left in eggs unless you make your own.

I grew up in Calgary but my friend Laura, a native of Vancouver’s lower Mainland, remembers the same eggs. My mother used to order these eggs from a local chocalatier. It wasn’t even Purdy’s or Laura Secord, though I think for a brief spurt those companies had the eggs. Now, I was hard pressed to find even a picture of these beautiful pieces of culinary art.

The eggs were hollow chocolate, usually about six inches long. They were decorated with a hard icing, similar to the type on birthday or wedding cakes but this would be very crunchy. The eggs my mother gave us had a ripple of icing sealing the top to the bottom and then some flowers and leaves cresting the top of the egg. Once you cracked the egg open there were about five handmade chocolates inside resting in some shredded paper nesting.

My mother was never big on packaged or processed foods. She never used cake or pie mixes. And she did have that taste for chocolate that I’ve inherited. So these were gourmet chocolate back before there were fancy chocolate shops where one chocolate can cost you $2. Saving the top of the egg till last was the best where you could either let the hard sugar flowers dissolve in your mouth or eat the sugar icing with some chocolate attached.

These days you can enter any store and find rows on rows of chocolate eggs, ranging from the gooey Cadbury eggs to larger ones fill with Smarties or Reese’s Pieces.  But you won’t find eggs decorated with sugar icing. Once in a while there still might exist a mass produced version but it’s rare. And finding any chocolatiers that will do these eggs, that don’t cost $20 or more, is pretty much impossible. With the equivalent of wages and costs when I was a kid, I can guarantee my mother would not have spent that much money for four kids each with a unique, decorated egg each. So the cost has certainly increased exponentially.

There used to be a chocolatier of the old style in Vancouver, in that V between Main and Kingsway. He could be cantankerous but all his stuff, from nougat to chocolates were made in the back room. My friend Laura remembers eggs from him and she said you knew he decorated them because, as he got older, the decorating got a little more shaky. When he died, his chocolate shop died with him. It’s too bad.

It may be that next year I’ll try to make a few of these eggs for my friends and family because they were the true magic of Easter and the joy that the Easter bunny left.

The above egg picture comes from this lovely confectionery site. http://www.georgenick.co.uk/Foods.htm

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Best Careers For Criminals

Our world has gone topsy turvy, and perhaps it’s always been this way. There certainly have always been people who used corruption, selfishness, exploitation and amoral behavior to further themselves at the expense of others. These people were usually kept in check, or at least the wholesale rampant anarchy was, so that there is a semblance of society, rules and laws by which the majority abides. And it tends to make living a happier and better experience.

Sometimes we get too many laws, and bylaws and requirements and procedures that muddy our lives in bureaucratic paperwork and hoop. But even so,  we usually know who the good guys are. Then again, if you look at the news we’ve been getting of late it might be hard to tell as the lines blur. I’ve already talked about how the good police and RCMP have had their name tarnished by the criminal, unthinking or untrained actions of other members of these forces. Perhaps, because I live in BC I hear more about this province but the police and RCMP here seem to be particularly bad, tasering people to death, shooting them in the back of the head kicking a guy who is complying (the latest from Victoria), or beating and robbing innocent people. We have hit an age of media that lets these events be recorded more frequently, therefore bringing what may once have been hidden to the attention of the common citizen.

So that’s one career for a criminal. If you like pushing people around, abusing power and generally getting away with murder, become a cop and you can avoid the usual criminal prosecution and just get suspension with pay, a desk job, or a worse, dismissed from your job. But you won’t end up in jail. I wonder if these police forces actually understand how much they’re hurting their own image by past denials and cover-ups. Doesn’t say much against corruption, does it?

Then of course there is the Catholic church. If you’re a pedophile, or some other form of sexual abuser, it’s the best place to be. Doesn’t really matter if you believe. After all, the church has gone through a few evolutions, fabrications and resurrections in its 2000 year history. Some of those evolutions involved banning sex in all sorts of forms by the 12th century and making it wrong for a priest to be married to a woman. Of course, we can try to negate the fact that as animals and humans there is a natural drive to procreate, or what the Church really hates, fornicate.

So in the really sensible repression of sexuality, the Church has helped create its own demons. Who needs hell when the Church houses it within its own walls? First Nations children taken from their homes and raised in residential schools often run by a priest and abused different ways. Choir boys and girls sexually abused. Other children and young teens molested in schools or other places. And one sexual pervert after another, still held in the comforting arms of the Catholic church, protected, hidden and defended. Priests moved from one place to another with not word from the Church to warn parents. No, far better to hide it and then pretend it never happened.

The latest in a string of priestly molesters so long it would probably encircle the globe (if we even knew all the names which you can bet we don’t) is Father Murphy alleged to have sexually abused some 200 boys and the church under Cardinal Ratzinger, the now Pope Benedict, just covered it up. When the religious leader of a very powerful and rich institution helps cover this up you know that the disease that eats at the heart of the Catholic church is deep and possibly irreparable. But then they are only human; conniving, lying, deviant, criminally human.

If I was the antiChrist or Satan, you know where I’d go? Not some dark den of Goths, not even into a lawyers’ enclave. No I would go straight to the church. Who would notice amongst that pack of miscreants. And in fact if I needed an army of darkness, well I could certainly pick the best from the Church’s own clergy.

Sad, isn’t it, that these two institutions (law and faith) don’t try to rid themselves, incarcerate or otherwise punish those who have blatantly disregarded the laws. Instead they hide and protect. So this year’s top two jobs for criminals is to become a police officer or a priest. Best place to learn the ropes, to avoid the rope and to have the time of your life at the expense of others. So much for civilization.

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Modern Bands and Zombies

A new phenomenon has cropped up in the last five years that I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was slowly oozing up through the groundwater of culture before this but I never noticed it. True I don’t see a lot of live bands…well okay that’s not true. I go to one place that often has a live band that plays while people drink and socialize. They often talk through the music. There are no vocals (usually) because the band is meant to give background atmosphere.

Now bands that play in pubs, cabarets and other music venues might have vocals and the people most assuredly are drinking but the crowd could be mixed as to being there more to socialize with others or more to listen to the band. But even if the band is one for dancing to, I’ve noticed this new trend.

Zombies. Yes, zombies watch bands. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a venue with tables and/or with a dance floor, the zombies move to the front of the stage, effectively blocking the view for anyone who is sitting at a table. The zombies, in their mindless absorption and idolization, stare at the band, unmoving, often lacking any facial expression or  emotion, a drink forgotten in their hand. That’s all they do. Stare. You might see a foot tapping like some latent nerve twitch that can animate a body after death, but that’s it.Their slowly rotting brains must think they’re at an outdoor concert or perhaps they’re all on zombie drugs. It doesn’t matter if the band just crawled out of the garage or is a big name. The zombies don’t move.

Where did the zombies come from? Obviously they were animated out of music culture, some assortment of eldritch notes coming together in a way to draw the bodies close, like a Pied Piper’s enchanted flute. But there the animation stops. It’s not enough to spur these bodies (usually young and in their 20s) into actually dancing. Perhaps there was a shyness or ineptitude in movement during the zombie’s half-life that translates into the barely animate.

Perhaps there is some perceived notion still firing sporadically in the zombie brains that says it’s not cool to dance. Perhaps the band emulates some aspect of zombie worship and the sounds that emit and marry in the air are like honey to zombie bees. I really dont’ know and can only speculate. Once in a while, later in the evening, when alcohol seems to have worked some reanimation charm, some of the zombies will start to emulate human beings, leaving only the most inanimate standing vacantly in front of the band.

It used to be that it wasn’t cool to show such mindless adoration but in the absence of modern gods, this is where the zombies go. But don’t worry, they won’t clutch at your head trying to gnaw your brains and they won’t drop gory body parts all over. They lack the life to do that, even in front of a hugely noisy, raucous punk rock band. Yes, I saw zombies in front of the Little Guitar Band, which really only hurt my ears and left me guessing at lyrics that could not be heard by anyone. At one point I think they sang, “I have a hernia and lost my shoe,” which oddly might be appealing to zombies. But the zombies never moved.

The most these zombies will do is annoy you. After all, zombies aren’t really alive and no longer have the common courtesy that might have been exhibited in live humans. They’ll stand in front of you, disregarding that perhaps you arrived early enough to get a seat and a view. They’ll take over the dance floor, not understanding that perhaps you want to dance. Zombies after all, aren’t exactly models of society and they sure don’t exhibit culture.

Will they go away? I doubt it, until the next wave of animated humans realizes zombies aren’t dangerous and sweeps them off the dance floor with…well, dancing. I do wish, however, that zombies would go back to the graveyards and gnaw brains like they’re supposed to. There, the rudeness of zombies doesn’t matter.

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Hive: What’s the Buzz?

Sometimes I live in a cultural wasteland. Not that things don’t happen here in the Shangrila of the West Coast. They do, despite the provincial government thinking that it’s good to support sports but bad to support the arts. But we all know that rant of mine.

One of the events that seems to have happened for the last two years, and this year being it’s third, is Hive 3, a performance extravaganza all under one roof.  Set up at The Centre for Digital Media (and this year part of the cultural Olympiad) it was a bit of an Alice in Wonderland quest, with 14 performances in various little cordoned off spaces and rooms. The rooms might have sliding metal doors, a normal door on hinge, a sheet, or… This event took place from March 11-20.

Each piece was no longer than 15 minutes and ran from 7-10:00 pm each night. It was set up as a bit of a quest. To get into Theatre Conspiracy/Gasheart Theatre’s NAPathy, you just had to line up. To enter “At Home With Dick and Jane” by Electric Company, you put your name in a draw and five people were drawn each hour. For Boca Del Lupo’s “The Interview” you found the man with the clipboard and answered his questions, to be given a piece of a picture as your ticket in. “Skunked” by Felix Culpa had me searching out the woman with a basket of Teddy bears. And “Ana” by November Theatre meant you needed to be holding an LP to get in.

Other venues required a person getting a keychain or a special slip of paper, or a sticker. However finding these people was a bit hard and not having done this before we weren’t sure what the cryptic messages meant for both, such as “Sugar” which said you needed an apron. There wasn’t anyone wandering around with aprons; you just lined up and the first ten received an apron.

Feasibly, if you were organized and moved fast you could do 12 venues in three hours but many of the venues were small and limited and LPs, keychains or other ticket items disappeared very early on. We managed about four in two hours. With tickets at $25, it would mean coming back again to catch everything but you have to pay again. There was a band that started at 11 pm and people could come just to that for $5 but I went on a week night and had to work the next day.

However, I did love the whole quest aspect of it, or as one friend put it, it was like a Fringe Festival under one roof. And even if you didn’t like a piece, it was only fifteen minutes so you could go on to see something else. The shows I mentioned above were the ones I managed to see except for “At Home With Dick and Jane,” which my friend’s name was drawn for but not mine. NAPathy was very intense and well acted, if a bit on the bizarro side, but the more I think about it, the more I liked it. I’m still not sure if I got the nuances of what it was really about but lets say cupcakes feature largely with a strange love and devouring in a Canadian context.

“The Interview” was interesting but I felt it was a little flat and maybe suffered from the shortness of the performance. I couldn’t get into the dram of it but it was competently done and had some interesting out of the room filming techniques. “Skunked” was a kooky little piece that slowly evolved (or devolved) through the psychosis of a 12-year-old into an ad for psychological interventions, I think. It was okay but a bit of a aha joke at the end.

“Ana” involved taking the LP as a ticket and turning it in,then entering a room, with a round carpet and a very old record player in the middle, with one woman standing there. She then talked about records and their making and lifespan and memories tied to her parents and life. She moved around the circle, talking to each of us, having one person hold the album of her parents’ anniversary and then putting the song on, dancing with another participant. Of the four I saw, it had the strongest storyline and was the most moving in its simplicity.

All in all I thought the actors were pretty good to very good. The stories/pastiches to me didn’t seem to quite his their full potential. But I wonder if I’m not used to such a short performance. The show is pricey and next year I’ll get there as soon as it starts and try to organize my venues instead of milling about trying to figure out what to do next. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing though; a quest mixed with acting, and music and audience involvement.

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The Kiss of Death

One might think this is a euphemism for a vampire’s love bite, or perhaps the last sarcastically sensual act of a femme fatale. However I’m talking about the kiss of death as a writer. Now it can be interpreted several different ways but I have managed to be the kiss of death quite a few times.

What I mean is this: you get an acceptance from a publisher/editor for a piece in their magazine and then you either find out that the magazine is folding with the issue before the one that would have your story/poem in it, or they say, “We loved this story and would have published it, but we are closing down the magazine.” And then the story never ever sells to anyone ever.

If I had a credit list of all the publications that have said they would take the story but so long, I would have sold another six pieces of fiction. Perhaps the worst/best example of this was a new SF magazine to which I sent a story for their inaugural issue. I received a letter back saying my story had been “excepted.” As opposed to “accepted” which means to include, except means to exclude. I thought the story had been rejected but as I read through the letter, the opposite was true. I guess that was the first sign of a doomed publication.

I signed a contract, and they sent me a cheque, and…the first issue never came out. But I still had a contract that said it was theirs until printed. After a year I contacted SFWA and asked the contract committee to help. So they told me to send a letter to the publisher indicating that since the magazine seemed to have ceased to exist that I was withdrawing the story. It was worded differently but didn’t leave my story in limb forever.

When there was a spate of magazines that said they would have published this or that but they were closing down I began to wonder if I was the kiss of death and by accepting my piece they had doomed themselves. Of course, that is nothing but ego and the belief in a power I don’t have. The truth is that many writers would have found themselves in the same boat and that many magazines come and go like the flow of the tide.

Funding disappears, editors get sick, quit or get different jobs (since often editing a magazine is a part time job or a labor of love), or are disorganized, and reader interest may flag for any number of reasons. These all affect the longevity of a magazine, whether it’s online or in print.

A successful magazine takes constant advertising, through ads in other magazines, books, websites as well as promotions: buy a subscription and get a discount, buy this magazine at this convention or launch and get two for the price of one, etc. Magazines have to become known and that means more than just by word of mouth though reviews and other editors, writers, readers or publishers may help, a magazine can’t become complacent because there is always more competition.

Of course a magazine has to deliver what readers want as well but the ongoing, marketing, advertising, printing and distribution is a constant issue to  deal with. These aspects are truly what can be the kiss of death to a magazine, not the author with eldritch power.

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Writing: Evolve Book Review

Evolve is being launched at World Horror Convention at the end of this month in Brighton. I’ve already written about this collection of modern vampire stories by Canadians, in which I have the story “An Ember Amongst the Fallen.”  Edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and published by Edge publications, it is already available.

The first review has been posted at SciFiGuy Evolve Review and is quite favorable. I’m happy to have a review as my story “The Fathomless World” which was in Cone Zero did not catch reviewers’ eyes favorably or unfavorably.

It seems that the early moniker I was given at Clarion of “SplatterQueen” might live on, but hopefully there is more merit than gore because I try for more depth than that in my stories. The story in Evolve was a long backburnered idea I had, which I was not even sure I could write. It deals with the morals and immorality of vampires in a world where they are the dominant lifeform. No society exists long without rules, without losing its structure. Even in the anarchistic mad Max world, there are rules and a form of honor among brigands and thieves. Those who are complete sociopaths or decide no rules apply to them are soon taken down by society in one form or another.

Although I do not go into that particular story of society I do look at the lives of a vampiristic world and the rules, whether understood or not, that apply and control the vampires with checks and balances. This is, at essence, a morality tale. And here is the review of “An Ember Amongst the Fallen.” It perhaps gives away too much of the plot, so if you wish to read the story without knowing how it turns out, stop now. The review has one thing wrong though; it is the vampires who are the Fallen, not the humans.

An Ember Amongst the Fallen by Colleen Anderson

This is the most horrific of the stories in a very matter of fact way. In this alternate reality, vampires use hominids (humans) as cattle-like food sources. Considered barely inteligent and among the Fallen from a religious point of view. The social mores of this vampiric society are reflected through a dinner party hosted by the stories central character at which a variety of humans including children are served. The hosts intentions to pursue a love interest are crushed and in his disappointment he turns to a taboo source for comfort, one of the hominids. Like temptation from the garden, his fall is understandable and complete. A mesmerizing and squirm-worthy entry.

http://www.horrorbound.com/readarticle.php?article_id=174 (typos are the reviewer’s)

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Writing: Aurora Award Nominees

I’ll mention right off that these are not the film related Aurora Awards but the Prix Aurora Awards voted on by Canadian fans/readers/writers for Canadian speculative fiction, art and fan achievement. They differ from SFWA’s Nebula Awards because only SFWA (Science Fiction [& Fantasy] Writers of America) membership can nominate a writer, and only the membership (made up of professional writers, editors and agents) can vote on the nominations. The Bram Stoker Awards, which I also mentioned yesterday are also nominated by the Horror Writers Association and the HWA membership votes on the finalists and winners.

Like the Hugos (for SF) and the World Fantasy Award, Auroras can be nominated by anyone. You can vote for the Hugos if you’re an attendee of the World Science Fiction convention and it is entirely fan based. World Fantasy Awards are juried for the final decision. For the Auroras, you must be Canadian to vote and pay the fee of $5.50 which is missing from the site until you register and pay to vote. http://www.prix-aurora-awards.ca/ This cost pays for the production of the awards and administration of the site. So the Aurora Awards are also fan based. There is also the Sunburst Award for Canadian speculative fiction, which is juried.

Recent years have seen a bit of changing of the categories for the Aurora, and next year will see a more succinct defining of categories since now we have magazines, poems and anthologies lumped together. Here are the nominees for the Aurora Awards and voting closes May 22. These awards are given for French and English works.

BEST NOVEL (English)
THE AMULET OF AMON-RA, by Leslie Carmichael, CBAY Books
DRUIDS, by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh Langston, Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy
WAKE, Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
STEEL WHISPERS, Hayden Trenholm, Bundoran Press
TERRA INSEGURA, Edward Willett, DAW Books

MEILLEUR ROMAN EN FRANÇAIS ( Best Novel In French )
Le protocole Reston. Mathieu Fortin, (Coups de tête)
L’axe de Koudriss. Michèle Laframboise, Médiaspaul
Suprématie. Laurent McAllister, (Bragelonne)
Un tour en Arkadie. Francine Pelletier, Alire [DETAILS]
Filles de lune 3. Le talisman de Maxandre. Élisabeth Tremblay, (De Mortagne)

BEST SHORT-FORM WORK IN ENGLISH:
“PAWNS DREAMING OF ROSES”, Eileen Bell, Women of the Apocalypse. Absolute Xpress
“HERE THERE BE MONSTERS” Brad Carson, Ages of Wonder, (DAW)
“LITTLE DEATHS” Ivan Dorin, Tesseracts Thirteen
“RADIO NOWHERE” Douglas Smith, Campus Chills
“THE WORLD MORE FULL OF WEEPING” Robert J. Wiersema, ChiZine Publications

MEILLEURE NOUVELLE EN FRANÇAIS ( Best Short-Form in French )
« Ors blancs » Alain Bergeron, (Solaris 171)
« De l’amour dans l’air » Claude Bolduc, (Solaris 172)
« La vie des douze Jésus » Luc Dagenais, (Solaris 172)
« Billet de faveur » Michèle   Laframboise, (Galaxies 41)
« Grains de silice » Mario Tessier, (Solaris 170)
« La mort aux dés » Élisabeth Vonarburg, (Solaris 171)

BEST WORK IN ENGLISH (OTHER) :
WOMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE   (the Apocalyptic Four) Editor, Absolute Xpress
AGES OF WONDER Julie E. Czerneda, & Robert St. Martin, Editors, DAW Books
NEO-OPSIS MAGAZINE, Karl Johanson, Editor
ON SPEC MAGAZINE, Diane Walton, Managing Editor, The Copper Pig Writers’ Society
DISTANT EARLY WARNINGS: CANADA’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION Robert J. Sawyer, Editor, Robert J. Sawyer books

MEILLEUR OUVRAGE EN FRANÇAIS (AUTRE) / (Best Work in French (Other)
Critiques. Jérôme-Olivier Allard, (Solaris 169-172)
Revue. Joel Champetier, éditeur, Solaris
Le jardin du general, Manga. Michele Laframboise, ,Fichtre, Montréal
Rien à voir avec la fantasy. Thibaud Sallé, (Solaris 169)
Chronique «Les Carnets du Futurible». Mario Tessier, (Solaris 169-171)

ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT :
Kari-Ann Anderson, for cover of “Nina Kimberly the Merciless”,Dragon Moon Press
Jim Beveridge, “Xenobiology 101: Field Trip'” Neo-opsis #16
Lar de Souza, “Looking for Group” online Comic
Tarol Hunt, “Goblins”. Webcomic
Dan O’Driscoll, Cover of Steel Whispers , Bundoran Press

FAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (Fanzine):
Jeff Boman, The Original Universe
Richard Graeme Cameron,.WCFSAZine
Dale Speirs, Opuntia
Guillaume Voisine, éd. Brins d’Éternité
Felicity Walker, BCSFAzine

FAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (Organization) :

Renée Benett, for “In Spaces Between” at Con-Version 25
Robbie Bourget, and René Walling, Chairs of “Anticipation”, the 67 th WorldCon
David Hayman, organization Filk Hall of Fame
Roy Miles, work on USS Hudson Bay Executive
Kirstin Morrell, Programming for Con-Version 25

FAN ACCOMPLISHMENT (Other) :

Roy Badgerow, Astronomy Lecture at USS Hudson Bay
Ivan Dorin, “Gods Anonymous” (Con-Version 25 radio play)
Judith Hayman and Peggi Warner-Lalonde organization, Filk track @Anticipation
Tom Jeffers and Sue Posteraro, Filk Concert, Anticipation
Lloyd Penney, Fanwriting

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Writing: Award Nominees

The recent couple of months have seen various nominations for writing awards. Taking place in Brighton, UK on March 27  at the World Horror Convention will be the Bram Stoker Awards for horror or dark fantasy. The nominee’s are:

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A NOVEL

Audrey’s Door by Sarah Langan (Harper)
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Quarantined by Joe McKinney (Lachesis Publishing)
Cursed by Jeremy Shipp (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN A FIRST NOVEL

Breathers by S. G. Browne (Broadway Books)
Solomon’s Grave by Daniel G. Keohane (Dragon Moon Press)
Damnable by Hank Schwaeble (Jove)
The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay (Henry Holt)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN LONG FICTION

Dreaming Robot Monster by Mort Castle (Mighty Unclean)
The Hunger of Empty Vessels by Scott Edelman (Bad Moon Books)
The Lucid Dreaming by Lisa Morton (Bad Moon Books)
Doc Good’s Traveling Show by Gene O’Neill (Bad Moon Books)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN SHORT FICTION

“Keeping Watch” by Nate Kenyon (Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror)
“The Crossing of Aldo Ray” by Weston Ochse (The Dead That Walk)
“In the Porches of My Ears” by Norman Prentiss (Postscripts #18)
“The Night Nurse” by Harry Shannon (Horror Drive-in)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN FICTION COLLECTION

Martyrs and Monsters by Robert Dunbar (Dark Hart Press)
Got to Kill Them All and Other Stories by Dennis Etchison (Cemetery Dance)
A Taste of Tenderloin by Gene O’Neill (Apex Book Company)
In the Closet, Under the Bed by Lee Thomas (Dark Scribe Press)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN ANTHOLOGY (EDITING)

He is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson edited by Christopher Conlon (Gauntlet Press)
Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow (Dark Horse Books)
Poe edited by Ellen Datlow (Solaris)
Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton (Darkhouse Publishing)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION

Writers Workshop of Horror by Michael Knost (Woodland Press)
Cinema Knife Fight by L. L. Soares and Michael Arruda (Fearzone)
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion by Bev Vincent (Fall River Press)
Stephen King: The Non-fiction by Rocky Wood and Justin Brook (Cemetery Dance)

SUPERIOR ACHIEVEMENT IN POETRY COLLECTION

Double Visions by Bruce Boston (Dark Regions)
North Left of Earth by Bruce Boston (Sam’s Dot)
Barfodder by Rain Graves (Cemetery Dance)
Chimeric Machines by Lucy A. Snyder (Creative Guy Publishing)

It’s nice to see that there is something for poetry in the Stokers when SFWA removed poetry completely a long while back as even a legitimate form of writing in the speculative field. http://www.whc2010.org/banquet-nominees01.html

And speaking of SFWA the 2009 Nebula award nominees have been announced. The awards will be given on May 15 in Florida. As well, the Andre Norton award for young adult fiction and the Bradbury award for screenwriting will be given. Here are the nominees:

Short Story

* “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela,” Saladin Ahmed (Clockwork Phoenix 2, Norilana Press, Jul09)
* “I Remember the Future,” Michael A. Burstein (I Remember the Future, Apex Press, Nov08)
* “Non-Zero Probabilities,” N. K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld, Nov09)
* “Spar,” Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct09)
* “Going Deep,” James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jun09)
* “Bridesicle,” Will McIntosh (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan09)

Novelette

* “The Gambler,” Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2, Pyr Books, Oct08)
* “Vinegar Peace, or the Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage,” Michael Bishop (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jul08)
* “I Needs Must Part, The Policeman Said,” Richard Bowes (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Dec09)
* “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast,” Eugie Foster (Interzone, Feb09)
* “Divining Light,” Ted Kosmatka (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Aug08)
* “A Memory of Wind,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com, Nov09)

Novella

* “The Women of Nell Gwynne’s,” Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun09)
* “Arkfall,” Carolyn Ives Gilman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Sep09)
* “Act One,” Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Mar09)
* “Shambling Towards Hiroshima,” James Morrow (Tachyon, Feb09)
* “Sublimation Angels,” Jason Sanford (Interzone, Oct09)
* “The God Engines,” John Scalzi ( Subterranean Press, Dec09)

Novel

* The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Nightshade, Sep09)
* The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam, Nov08)
* Flesh and Fire, Laura Anne Gilman (Pocket, Oct09)
* The City & The City, China Miéville (Del Rey, May09)
* Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor, Sep09)
* Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press, Oct09)

Bradbury Award

* Star Trek, JJ Abrams (Paramount, May09)
* District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug09)
* Avatar, James Cameron (Fox, Dec 09)
* Moon, Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker (Sony, Jun09)
* Up, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar, May09)
* Coraline, Henry Selick (Laika/Focus Feb09)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

* Hotel Under the Sand, Kage Baker (Tachyon, Jul09)
* Ice, Sarah Beth Durst (Simon and Schuster, Oct09)
* Ash, Malinda Lo (Little, Brown and Company, Sep09)
* Eyes Like Stars, Lisa Mantchev (Feiwel and Friends, Jul09)
* Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi (Tor Aug08)
* When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, 2009)
* The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun09)
* Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Simon, Oct09)

For more information, visit http://www.nebulaawards.com or http://www.sfwa.org

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Fashion: How Movies Corrupt History

I’m not talking the thousand dollar (plus) frocks that actors wear during the Oscar ceremonies. I’m talking about historical (or pseudo-historical period pieces). There are a full range of historical movies from the earliest eras of humankind up to World War or gangster films. All of these take a fair amount of research and knowledge on the costume designer’s part to recreate the era and the feel of the time. Sometimes the director and cinematographer may want a particular atmosphere, so costumes might be brighter or subdued in color range. They might be conservative or very outre in appearance depending on that movie’s theme. A costume designer might take some leeway depending on the depth of their research, what is know about a particular period, and what the director wants (which of course can hugely frustrate the sensibilities of the costume designer).

Now I’m not a costume historian, as in I don’t have a degree of any sort in this. However I have a keen interest in historical costume with some 50 books at home. I also love period piece films and will go partly for the historicity of the movie and of course for the costumes. I can usually pinpoint a century, or a decade if in the 20th century, by the clothing alone, if not the story. It gets sketchier the earlier we go but I can still pretty much tell a Roman and Greek era film and know what should be right.

One of my big pet peeves is that should a movie make an attempt at being historically accurate in clothing, that they tend to veer wildly the more important the character, especially if the character is a woman. The earlier the film, the more likely this will be. Here are a few examples of really sad costuming in movies and TV series. Gladiator. You would think with their big movie budget and names they could have tried a bit harder and really how many women were in that film? But in fact both the crazy emperor Commodus played by Joaquin Phoenix and the love interest and only woman in the film with any major part, Lucilla tend to have some iffy contrivances. Plunging necklines and tightly wrapped robes appeared. Some of the helmets for the men became pretty fantastical and veer from what would have been worn for actual combat as opposed to ceremonial helms.

More recently I watched the HBO series Rome. The lot of the average Roman is a gritty existence. It’s mostly about common men but there are the “nobler” groups and their political machinations as well. Though I’m somewhat dubious of the manly armbraces that Vorenus and Pullo wear all the time (as they’re not going to stop more than a light nick with a knife) the men’s clothing seems okay. I’m not very interested in military outfits but given that armies like the Roman legions would have supplied some uniform, they might have asked for the weapons back but let the men keep the basic tunic. People wouldn’t have had many changes of clothing and would have worn their tunics to shreds so it’s likely that the guys left the army with the basic tunic. The show seems to have got right the robes, as well as those of citizens and senate, and who would wear the large red or white togas.

There are many major female characters in this show and the one that probably wears the most historically accurate garments is Lucius Vorenus’s wife Niobe, who must hide her earlier adultery. Her garments are the basic chiton, peplos or stola. All clothing of these early eras still followed rectangular construction. Why? Because everything was woven on looms by hand and was expensive and time-consuming to make. A person would construct their garment, never wasting even an inch. Every scrap was used and before sewing techniques and inventions developed, rectangles were easiest.

I’m more up on women’s clothing and though it’s fuzzier when it comes to Roman I can tell you that almost everything the conniving, amoral Atia wears is pseudo Roman to downright fantasy. Plunging necklines and clinging items bound and wrapped in all sorts of ways defies anything but modern convention. Let’s not even go into the fabric, which would be most commonly woven wool and linen. Cotton and silk would have been rare, imported and expensive in that era so it’s possible the richest people and the emperor would have some pieces of this. I’m more willing to allow leeway in textiles as long as they look right.

Rome tried with the men’s clothing, mostly. It tried with the background and peasant/lower classes but once it go to opulence the centuries flew by. When we followed Mark Antony in Egypt, oh my god. I could not believe the stupidly bizarre take on Egyptian clothing and wigs. What were they thinking? The stuff was ludicrous. Interestingly enough, we’re more likely to see authenticity in later period pieces because when you get to Baroque and Roccoco, the women’s clothing couldn’t have been more extravagant. Still, there are good and bad shows.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, which came out in 2001 took place in the 18th century and had very good costuming. The storyline was equally well done and it’s worth watching. There are a few costume weirdnesses here with the unkempt village folk/cult followers that kind of resemble crazed, Mad Max biker guys and I question that but am willing to accept some of it. But most of the main costuming, including the women’s, was appropriate to the period and well done.

I was going to get into the new series Spartacus: Blood and Sand but I’ll just do that as a review of the first couple of episodes. As for costuming in period movies, it would be nice if directors (and costume departments) could decide to do a piece without dressing every woman like a modern vixen. And in fact, with Roman and Greek clothing, the natural drape of a peplos could have a very low neckline and an open side right up to the waist to boot. There are few movies that would get an A+ in costuming. I’d give Gladiator a B+, Rome a B- and Brotherhood of the Wolf an A.

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Pilgrimage Tourism

In my research for a story during biblical times I have come across the bizarre business of what I call pilgrimage tourism. By the Middle Ages, parts or bodies of saints had begun to surface, literally. They were found in sepulchers, under churches, in the naves, perhaps a grave yard, and various other places. Some of these saints may have done a lot more traveling after their deaths than they did before they died.

Monasterboice, Ireland

Some traveled far and wide and one was likely to find  the remains of every saint at some point or another. The only person whose remains were never found were those of Jesus because he was supposed to have ascended bodily to heaven and to find his body would have whacked a giant hole in the tenets of early Christianity. So only his image on shrouds and capes, and parts of the true cross came into bearing.

After the first few saintly parts appeared and were ensconced in a church, or in the foundations or a reliquary box, the faithful visited these churches to venerate the saintly body, even though supposedly Christians believe in the transmigration of the soul, which means there is no spirit in the remains. And then, of course, cures or other miracles began to happen in the presence of a dead saint’s remains. In a way you could say that early Christians venerated a certain zombie aura to the dead, considering saints’ flesh or bones reanimated enough vitality to touch the living.

When the faithful flocked to these churches they needed places to sleep and food to eat, which not only buoyed and increased the wealth of the town but also filled out the coffers of the church. A richer church meant a bigger church and more items of gold and jewels, illuminated manuscripts, attention from Rome, larger flocks, etc. Soon, saintly remains were showing up everywhere.

A great many saints seemed to have left the environs of the Holy Land after Christ’s resurrection and traveled to Gaul or southern France. Why, I’m not sure since Italy was closer but it may have been to escape the Romans. And as the business of spiritually imbued remains grew more popular, grave robbing became a pretty regular business. If you were a saint you could bet that there would be no mortal rest for your body, nor for your soul as you would be dug up, dismembered, sold to various churches and pilgrims and then called upon for daily miracles. Busy life, busier afterlife. But of course, Christianity has only maintained that it is monotheistic, worshiping one god. Oops, but then there are saints galore.

Suddenly, or perhaps not that sudden, the early Middle Ages saw grave robbing as almost respectable. The fine line between good and bad was stretched a bit thin. On top of the grave robbing, churches started stealing the venerated saints from neighboring parishes and monks/priests were praised for such actions as obviously the saints had let them know they wanted to be moved.

But a problem started to arise, which neither Christ nor God could control, and it exposed a shady side to religion that was the ultimate downfall of a few churches’ prosperity. The dead saints seemed to multiply. Mary Magdalene had five bodies and numerous legs and arms. There was more than one head for other saints, or enough finger bones to populate a centipede’s legs. In truth the saints became legion and pretty much any suitable grave would be pillaged for body parts for nearby churches. There was no DNA testing then and the distance between towns and cities was much greater, with the only common modes of transportation being by foot or horse/mule. Often it was easy to have the same saint in a few places, until the mother church started to hear about it.

At first complicit in venerating saintly bits, the church had to curb the ghoulish trend. Just imagine a zombie army of saintly limbs and torsos and heads able to not necessarily animate, but to cure a host of ills. And all of this for the longest time brought hordes of faithful to various towns and cities. Popularity of saints waxed and waned but Saints Peter, Paul, John, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary were popular at different times.

However, the multiple parts that each saint owned, and the full bodies or extra heads started to mar the validity of not only the Catholic church but also the belief that these were the holy remains, which could cure the ill and perform miracles. There was probably a couple of centuries worth of great tourism for pilgrims and Santiago de Compostela in Spain (a pilgrimage route to St. James) is popular to this day by tourists, hikers and the faithful.

It’s obvious that in two millennia of Christianity its role and rules changed and evolved, and perhaps the original teachings of Jesus got skewed quite a few times. What this says about humanity is fascinating: that for the sake of religion (and fame and fortune within that) even if you’ve taken a vow of poverty but you live in a monastery, you’ll do anything, even the illegal things, to bring glory to God, Jesus or the saints. You’ll cheat, swindle and create fake holy items. And if you’re just a worshiper, you’ll forget that it’s the soul that’s supposed to matter, and venerate desiccated body parts, that if ever tested might show the wrong gender or someone of origins other than Jewish for those first Jewish-Christian saints. Makes for an interesting evolution of a man-made religion with creative intervention.

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