Archive for the ‘History’ Category

From as early an age as I can recall, languages fascinated me. I grew up in a culturally-diverse corner of town—Italian, Korean, Spanish speakers all lived on the same block, within a few houses of one another, and my own family comes from a background that would make a mutt feel like a purebred. In high school, I took up Spanish and then later took German. In college, I took Russian courses. I had also spent considerable time in places, while serving in the Navy, where Spanish and Italian were the native tongues. Later, in college, Russian. For fun, I studied French, Gaelic, Tolkien’s Elvish and I even own a Klingon Dictionary.

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Then I began creating languages of my own to use in my stories—Omen-Eyes, Ennid the Havoc, the languages for the upcoming Dross* and alien races of the SHARC series of stories. In each of these, the language provides a “flavor” to differentiate the races/species and in just about every case, creates some type of conflict because of the limits of translation.

Here are a few things I learned about language while studying them:

Languages more often than not don’t feature a one-for-one translation. If it works out that way, you’re lucky. Some drop prepositions while others adopt gendered ones. Some (including English) drop implied verbs.

Example: There is a book on the table.

In Russian, their grammar prefers: On the table, there is a book. (Which, translated with the available words, would read: “On table, book.”)

In German, their sentence structure can be even more rigid. Subject-Verb-Everything Else for a statement, Verb-Subject-Everything Else for a question. Some throw their words all over the place, using inflection more than just structure to differentiate between a statement and a question (yes, that would be English. We English-speakers are language contortionists).

You went there.

Simple statement, although why someone would have to tell someone else where they went is beyond the scope of this blog.

You went there?

Connotes the idea of surprise that the subject “you” overstepped some boundary to get to that location, like the timid librarian stepping into a biker bar, where they clearly wouldn’t be wanted.

You went there?

This one is a little more snotty, and less of a question than pure derision. They don’t want an answer, they want to mock. The subject “you” ventured into some place that the one asking the question wouldn’t have set foot simply because it is beneath them.

(There’s a great episode of Jerry Seinfeld that uses this to great effect. Why would Jerry bring anything?)

Some have few words that can say a lot, and others use a lot of words for very little, and some languages encompass both. Russian is my favorite for this. On one hand, they can say “Tim tahm.” and mean “Tim is over there”, while to say “I like pets” they have to wrap their tongues around “Menay neravidtsa domoshnie zhivotniey.” (Bugs Bunny pokes fun at this concept too, in “Wackiki Wabbit”.)

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This may arise from the need to define the concept within the sentence that you are introducing it. We could say “The clear sky” but if the one listening is not familiar with the concept of “clear”, it may have to be expressed as: “It was a sky through which light may pass so objects on the other side or within the volume of the object may be seen without hindrance.” Now imagine that some of the words in the definition had to be defined, as those concepts were unfamiliar. See where the conflict in trying to explain things can arise? (Oppressive regimes might condone destruction or redefinition of terms and concepts to prevent someone from speaking about things that the government doesn’t want discussed. Sadly, a fairly recent phenomenon in our own history is to cripple free speech, open debate and discussion by hurling the invective “racist!” or “bigot!”–the equivalent of the playground “your mom!”– when no intelligent argument can be formed or respectfully conveyed.)

Then there are the concepts. We speakers of English are all familiar with hyperbole, exaggeration, metaphors. Imagine telling someone that your heart leapt for joy when you saw them coming. If they have no experience outside of the literal realm, they may start looking around their feet for a bloody organ bouncing around in the grass.

English uses very little of the mouth. We blow air out through our lips, puff out our cheeks, touch our tongue to the roof of our mouths but we tend to use so little of it. Other languages, like Russian, use all of those and add different “depths” of the mouth and throat to create their sounds. Some, like the fascinating Khoison family of tongues from Africa even feature pops and clicks. We have a couple of equivalents in English—you’ve probably heard it as “tsk-tsk” or when someone “clucks” their tongue.

And finally, some of the translations can be… funny… when brought over into English and vice versa. A “Nova” was a car model that didn’t do well in Spanish-speaking countries because, while it’s an astrological term in English, in Spanish it translates to “no-go.” And some names are pronounced the same way as some Russian terms. I’m not sure “The Queen of Country” would want to be known as “Fish” McEntire, and that jedi-in-training would be far less heroic if he’d been known as “Onion Skywalker.”

*Title subject to change

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I’ve been far too long away from my entries, but my recent experiences with muzzleloaders merits a mention or two.

Among my myriad projects is the series I am planning and outlining based on the late American Colonial period, from the French and Indian War all the way up to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. Anyone who knows me knows that I love to write from experience–granted, I am NOT hoping that the world will collapse in an apocalypse so I can work through all of the situations I have and am putting Vera, Shaw and the rest of the Umbra crew through, but I’ve put plenty of r0unds through the firearms or similar arms that I mention in the novel.

So… working on Light of Liberty impressed upon me to fill a void. If I’m going to have Emory, Lucas and Seth setting the British Regulars in their (primitive) sights, I’m going to have to try this myself.

Luckily for me, I live very close to a few black powder enthusiasts, some willing to part with a little time and expertise with an author eager to listen and absorb.

The black powder beauty I got to fire was a 54 caliber double trigger model, similar to the one in the photograph:

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With proper instruction in the safety measures and steps to load and fire, I have to say I’ve got a much deeper appreciation for our Founding Fathers going through the steps to do so. All the accoutrement needed, like a full “possibles bag”, powder horns or flasks, cartridge boxes, the heft of the rifle itself could take a toll on men marching through the woods (not to mention their subsistence gear!). After all that, it was a bear to load up and fire.

Anyone who has fired modern weapons may not understand that loading and firing is a relatively simple set of actions. For flintlock, not so much. Some may say they’re simple, but there are a lot of them, and messing up a step is easy to do! For example, there is a tool for removing the ball just in case you forget to add the powder[1]. Adding too much/too little powder isn’t catastrophic, but wasteful, especially when you consider the value and difficulty in obtaining quantities of black powder.

And… it’s messy and stinky. VERY stinky. Along with any proper firearms instruction, there is a session on cleaning. Black powder firearms seem to get filthy quickly. By my fifth shot, ramming the ball and wadding home took a lot of shoulder-power to get it through the yuck that was filling up the lands and grooves[2]. Lit black powder is also quite corrosive, and a good firearm can be rendered wonky (that’s MY term) by even a short period of neglect. So cleaning is essentially. Those who couldn’t stop and clean their weapons often, such as Continental soldiers, might use smaller balls and slightly thicker wadding to compensate.

As my instructor put it, “One has to wonder how the Indians lost, considering how long it took for the militia and British regulars to reload.”

So again, I reiterate how much more respect I have for those who relied on these weapons, especially those who could load and fire 3-4 times a minute!

(In case you were wondering, I made a few decent shots at 100 yards, including on the line between the 10 and the X. Not bad for someone who never shot a black powder rifle before.)

[1] Shockingly enough, I did NOT do this, although I fully expected to do so after my instructor warned me that this could happen. Because, you know, that’s what happens.

[2] Lands and grooves make up the rifling that gives the rifle their names. If they don’t have rifling, they are smoothbores.

So yesterday was the 239th anniversary of the greatest day in American history (and yes, even over October 19, 1781–we don’t celebrate that date, do we?!). So, being that I live quite close, I decided to spend the day in our nation’s capital. Of course, on that day there wasn’t a Washington, DC at all–only a swampy area (it felt like that yesterday after the furious downpour!) I enjoyed my day anyway, spending time with the Founding Fathers (and Mother, as Abigail Adams was there as well), and especially enjoyed viewing those glorious documents in the Archives Rotunda by which we established this great country of ours. Not all was well, as when I arrived home I found my notes on The Light of Liberty, particularly swathes of the brainstorming I accomplished on the Metro regarding the younger brother in the odd Groff family, have essentially dissolved. But I did have chats with a few knowledgable folks and their conversations stuck with me long enough so I could get my reactions down when I reached dry land (and paper!).
So to all Americans and those who choose to share in our celebrations, I hope that your Independence Day had been quite amazing and eventful in the positive connotation of the word! 

Don’t let these be your notes. Use protection!

DISCLAIMER: Unapologetic Spoilers (If you read on, don’t blame me. You’ve been warned)

My obsession with the post-apocalypse began decades ago with George Miller’s genre-defining films, and the Wasteland and Fallout video games. Enough so, that last year (2014) I published two collections that feature some post-apoc stories (“Treasure” in Morsels and the “Ain’t No Coffee” chapter of Melange[1]) as well as a PA mystery novel, Umbra.

They pale in comparison to the mighty prosthetic strength of George Miller.

Completely skeptical in many arenas, I had been hearing about Fury Road for years, when it was an on-again, off-again project for the Happy Feet / Witches of Eastwick / Babe, Pig in the City director. He explored anime as a possible avenue, and there were brief rumors about Shia LeBouf taking the role of Max’s kid (I’m glad he failed that experiment with Indiana Jones instead). I also wasn’t sure what to make of a Mad Max who wasn’t going to be played by Mel Gibson. Remake after remake shows they don’t often get better, and most of the time are worse for all of the gimmicks and none of the story-meat.

So, I watched the trailers, and wasn’t completely turned off. Good sign.

First, the movie NEVER LETS UP. There are scarce moments to breathe, and the “slow” points in the movie don’t really drop its pace. Like downshifting, but the car is still rolling a pace that could snap your neck if you braked too hard. Except for an extremely short introduction in the very beginning (rather like The Road Warrior, but without the montage) you are dumped into the chase. Period. Miller is a master of showing, not telling, with only one very tiny, practically gasped “info-dump”. Otherwise, you glean the narrative organically as the story unfolds through action. This IS a car/rig movie, however, so those of you who just wanted to see souped-up, weaponized and apocalyptisized (yes, I just made that up) versions of vintage cars, look no further.

It also gives no quarter—just when you thought you came up for air, you find yourself smothered in dust cloud. Not everyone gets the happy ending, and one of the most heart-breaking moments in the movie comes in one of these gasps.

Anyway…

Storytellers and directors, take note: THIS is the way to do strong women in movies. Don’t insert them where they don’t belong just to 1) appeal to a young female audience and 2) bring sex incidentally into a film. Not that there’s any sex involved, at least not overtly, and not in the act of pleasure kind of way. Mostly, it’s for procreation. Or lack of. (the chastity belts worn by the brides are positively feral looking, although I think I would have kept it on until I reached my destination. Talk about your rape deterrant!). Believe it or not, there is a tiny romance subplot between a bride and one of the half-life War boys, and it’s handled a little too roughly to start, but it “moves” into its own. But the women here are strong, supportive and determined to escape and survive without having to be glammed up to do it. I could easily see myself as one of the Vuvalini (assuming I would want to survive in a post-apocalypse).

A few gimmicky moments exist to play up on the 3D version of the film (most notably the shot near the end with the guitar and the flying steering wheel), but these can be forgiven. George Miller always did have a little fun in his films, with the odd juxtaposition of the ultra-violent and quirky humor (see the exchange between Papagallo and the Mechanic).

Was there a soundtrack? Yes, there was, but the frenetic energy is so pervasive that the “music” is lost. Except for one well-placed, drop-of-the-bass dub invasion. Thanks, Junkie XL.

There are plenty of moments that call back the older movies, such as when Max, wielding a short-barreled side-by-side shotgun goes to blow some guy’s hand off and the round fizzles.[2] There is a moment when one of the brides is playing with the innards of a music box.[3] Hugh Keays-Byrne, as everyone who knows Mad Max knows, played the Toecutter in that film.[4]

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There’s even a momentary, overt nod to another director’s film, The Dark Crystal, by having people on long stilts very much reminiscent of the landstriders ridden by Jen and Kira (don’t have a still from MM:FR, so if you want to see it, BUY A TICKET!!!!).

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Count on George Miller to introduce characters with medical issues and/or prosthetics. We know the post-apoc “look” which he created in The Road Warrior went on to infect 80’s hair bands with the feathers and football gear as armor, but his inclusions called on his former career as an emergency room physician. In Mad Max it was the young cop forced to use the electrolarynx after his chase of the Nightrider leaves him with a shard of windshield glass in his throat. In the second, the most notable is the Mechanic, not confined to a wheelchair but held aloft by a cherry-picker like device cobbled together to get him around the equipment. In the third, there is Master-Blaster, a duo whose brain makes up for his lack of stature, and the brawn of which he rides to make up for his weakness for which he serves (and loves) paternally. Then, there is this movie, when it becomes a staple. Imperator Furiosa is the first notable, with her prosthetic arm, and Immortan Joe of course, but then there are the myriads of those with tumors and missing limbs, etc.

Tom Hardy’s Max is an extremely worthy successor to Mel Gibson’s Officer Rockatansky.[5] There’s more than a little nod to Bane there, George, in his and Immortan Joe’s get-ups.[6] Enough said.

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So, this one is already going to be on my shelf the moment it is released on Blu-Ray.

AND… I have heard there is already a second/fifth one planned, called Mad Max: The Wasteland. I, for one, am looking forward to it

 

 

[1] Which are available for free on Smashwords, and possibly Amazon if they caught up. Read them and let me know what you think!

[2] From The Road Warrior, during the rig battle, when Max discovers the shell he picked up in the beginning of the movie from the dead man on the “Meek Shall Inherit” truck is a dud.

[3] Also from The Road Warrior, and also during the beginning after the battle with Wez, when he finds the music movement and later gives to the Feral Kid.

[4] Calling up of course that George Miller borrows actors from his own movies as well. I address this in another post, here.

[5] That name shows up, by the way, in House of God, Samuel Shem’s novel about a teaching hospital. George Miller finished medical school before he became a director, so might have some interest in reading that novel. Coincidence? I leave you to decide.

[6] Then again, isn’t Bane a little more “Road Warrior” than “Batman” anyway?

When the term “post-apocalypse” arises, most people’s minds conjure the degraded, barren landscapes, ravaged by wars, zombies, plagues, etc. We tend to think in terms of a future yet-to-come, or the present or future of an alternate reality. Few stop to wonder about present-day apocalypse settings in our own world, but they exist.

Most everyone even moderately interested in the PA genre has heard of the Chernobyl and it’s effect on the nearby Pripyat, a once-thriving town rendered completely inhospitable by the disaster that saturated the area with radiation.

Few people think of the towns in America. For one, there was Centralia, smack in the (rough) center of my home state of Pennsylvania, which is coal-mining central (see the theme there?). When ordered to “keep the home fires burning” someone took that quite literal. Coal beneath the town caught fire due to some trash burning that got out of control (still under debate as to whether firefighters lit it up in what was supposed to be a controlled burn, or hot ash being –oops– accidentally dumped into a place that had direct access to the underground veins) and the place has been burning. Since 1962. Yes. 52 years with little sign of letting up. A few resilient residents remain after many legal battles, but officials closed the state highway that ran through it due to heat damage, and the town has ceased to exist according to the Almighty US Postal Service since 2002. Like I said, resilient people. The homes are pretty much gone, either deconstructed or reclaimed by the surrounding flora (take that, civilization!) and the remainder of the occupied homes will remain so until the death of their residents.

When it comes to Mother Nature protesting an unwitting exfoliation, no town is a better example of her wrath than Pilcher, Oklahoma. That town got smacked down with not one not two, but a triple play of toxic and dangerous situations that forced the town to strike out and go home (somewhere else). The town’s initial boom (and downfall, ironically enough) came from mining operations (see the theme here?) to remove zinc and lead from the earth, in the meantime leaving these massive poisonous mountains of “chat” which the plains winds would whip up and over the town and scatter the particles of lead all over the place. There was even a picnic area and ball field situated in the shadow of one of these toxic constructs. (“How about a little lead and mayo on your sandwich, Jimmy?”) You would have thought that back when they declared lead-based paint to be too dangerous to use in homes because of the possibility of ingestion (1978, by the way) that someone would have pointed out “Hey, we live right at the foot of Lead Peak… Say… Think it’s dangerous too?” They didn’t schedule the town for “closure” until 2006. Meaning after the sinkholes started to open up and swallow the world around them. And those same metals they scooped out as treasure poisoned the water supplies. Three strikes, people, and you’re out.

Outside of the US, two other places that come to mind are Hashima in Japan, and Wittenoom in Australia. Both were the sites of major mining operations (I REALLY hope you’re seeing the theme here).

Hashima is an island just off of Nagasaki, built up to accommodate the miners who worked beneath the islands. A whole community in its own right, it relied on its coal production but when petroleum took over and the country shut down coal-mining facilities, the miners moved out and the place has been uninhabited since 1974. It’s also known as Ghost Island.

Wittenoom produced asbestos by mining (need I say anything more?) and would have continued to do so except for the growing health concerns surrounding the use of the mineral. The town enjoyed its name officially for only 56 years and change (even less if you consider that the word “Gorge” had been affixed for 31 of those) and has since been struck from maps, road signs and official registers, if not from the hearts and minds of the three remaining residents.

I’m certain there are many, many more of towns hit with their own apocalypses, laying not simply in ruins but with daily reminders of what life used to be like, left in their places like a crumbling pastiche to the era from which it came.

Melange and Morsels have both made their way to virtual print on Amazon!

Melange is here

…and…

Morsels is here!

Enjoy!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Very soon (NOW!) the two anthologies you’ve been anxiously awaiting will be available via Amazon.

Melange: A Microfiction Anthology

Morsels: A Flash Fiction Anthology

In addition, February should see “The Falconer and The Wolf” on the virtual bookshelves, and an update on Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery will be forthcoming. Check back for more details!