Friday, 11 February 2022

Khand and Rhûn and Harad Too

More information regarding the upcoming The Lord of the Rings series, now subtitled The Rings of Power, has emerged. The response has been predictably polarised between folk excited to see any new Middle-earth content, and unreconstructed individuals who think the people of Middle-earth were ethnically monolithic in their nature. Unfortunately, as is the standard for modern internet discourse, there is little room for nuance. Folk wonder why people are so easily radicalised nowadays, yet the immediate reaction is "SJW/PC/Woke nonsense" on one hand, and "racist/reactionary/privileged bigotry" on the other - leaving folk to either search for a middle ground that serves nothing and only perpetuates the idea of the two poles in the first place, or naturally find themselves caught in one pole's gravity in the end.

The essential issue is one, I think, of intellectual laziness that borders on timidity - of wanting the veneer of diversity, progressiveness, and inclusion, but stopping short of anything beyond the bare minimum. The problem, for me, is not the mere presence of ethnic minorities - far from it. 

The problem is it doesn't go nearly far enough.

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Swording With Shadows: The Long Shadow of Robert E. Howard on his 116th

So the 22nd of January once again comes around. Currently I'm researching for a post on Ossian and the Celtic Revival in Scotland (watch this space), and I'm looking into the mythologisation of Scottish historical figures. Macbeth, the Red King, is perhaps the most myth-shrouded of all, famed as he is from Shakespeare's tragedy. For one of Scotland's greatest and most successful kings to be so traduced in the convening centuries - first by his own people, and then by one of the greatest authors in the history of the planet - is a tragedy a thousandfold that of the thrilling fiction.

Blame cannot truly be placed on Shakespeare: he was faithfully adapting the centuries-past recollection of Holinshed's Chronicles, itself based upon the black propaganda first recorded in Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland. The notion of Macbeth the murderous usurping tyrant did not begin with Shakespeare. What Shakespeare did contribute, however, is a captivating study into power and humanity, ambition and destiny, with some spooky goings-on for good measure.

And yet, even as I'm deep in Scottish history, I think of Howard.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

All The Time in The (Jurassic) World (Dominion)

The concept of Deep Time in terms of Earthly geology has its roots, in large part, to the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton. His study of the great natural wonders of his native Scotland - the Isle of Arran with its fault line dividing the Precambrian and the Carboniferous; the dolerite/basalt Salisbury Crags of Holyrood; the rugged uncomformity of Siccar's Point with its clash of sandstone and greywacke - inspired the theory that geological features were not necessarily static and timeless, but transformed and changed over unfathomably long periods of time. This meant that the Earth could not be as young as previously believed, and must have been changing for billions, not thousands, of years. This soon developed into uniformitarianism, and the modern science of the Earth which we know today.

Understandably, such a monumental paradigm shift in humanity's understanding of the planet on which they live every day of their lives was controversial. Certain religious organisations rejected the idea outright, perceiving it as an attack on their scripture: more traditional scientists were skeptical, viewing it as incomplete or unconvincing. In The Science of Life (1929), H.G. Wells & Julian Huxley noted the psychological barriers in getting human minds around such gigantic eons of history can be surmounted with a little effort:

To think in such magnitudes is not so difficult as many people imagine. The use of different scales is simply a matter of practice. We very soon get used to maps, though they are constructed on scales down to a hundred-millionth of natural size; we are used to switching over from thinking in terms of seconds and minutes to some other problem involving years and centuries; and to grasp geological time all that is needed is to stick tight to some magnitude which shall be the unit on the new and magnified scale -  a million years is probably the most convenient - to grasp its meaning once and for all by an effort of imagination, and then to think of all passage of geological time in terms of this unit.

Alas, despite the centuries since Hutton's discovery (& decades since Wells and others developed the Popular Science genre of non-fiction), it seems Deep Time lies beyond the grasp of even the most intellectual of Holywood movie producers...


Friday, 13 November 2020

170 Years of Robert Louis Stevenson

Well, if you want to get technical, it isn't for a wee while yet. Mr Stevenson legally waived all rights to 13th of November as his birthday to a Ms Annie Ide:

Most of us -  especially when we are young-look forward to our birthday each year. Greeting cards arrive in the mail. There may be some exciting presents and perhaps a party with friends. It's a special day and it's fun to be the center of attention.

But suppose that special day happened to come on December 25, the biggest holiday of the entire year? Noone would even notice an ordinary birthday in the middle of Christmas.

Annie Ide of SI. Johnsbury had just such a birthday. Annie was born in 1876 and when she was fifteen her father went to the island of Samoa in the South Pacific.  There he met Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author of Treasure Island. The two men became good friends.

One day Annie's father told his friend that because his daughter was born on December 25, she had never had a real birthday celebration. Stevenson offered to give his birthday to Annie so she could have a day all her own. He mailed her a document that said,

"I, Robert Louis Stevenson, ... have attained an age when, 0, we never mention it, and... have no further use for a birthday of any description... do hereby transfer to... (Miss) A.H.Ide, all and whole my rights and privileges in the thirteenth day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth the birthday of the said A(nnie) H.Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiments, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors."

Well, while I'm sure Annie enjoyed every 13th of November of her life, it would be a most diminished world if only one person could claim a day for their birthday, wouldn't it? I have a post over at DMR books talking about three of Stevenson's most important works, and how they affected me personally.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Pumzika Kwa Amani, Charles R. Saunders, Griot for Another World


I was just digesting the shocking news of Chadwick Boseman's death when I heard about Charles R. Saunders, Sword and Soul pioneer and lovely man, who has also passed away. Fellow Howard reader Ben Friberg's parting gift to me before my long absence from Cross Plains was a copy of Imaro: The Naama War, which I read as soon as I got home to Scotland. Fellow New-Pulp and black speculative fiction creators Milton Davis, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Gareth Miles, & Derrick Ferguson offered tributes, as well as Locus Magazine, Ron Fortier, Ryan Harvey,

Friday, 7 August 2020

The Phantasmagoria Metallique: 100 Years of A. Merritt's "The Metal Monster"

Sphere and block and pyramid ran together, seemed to seethe. I had again that sense of a quicksilver melting. Up from them thrust a thick rectangular column. Eight feet in width and twenty feet high, it shaped itself. Out from its left side, from right side, sprang arms—fearful arms that grew and grew as globe and cube and angle raced up the column's side and clicked into place each upon, each after, the other. With magical quickness the arms lengthened.

Before us stood a monstrous shape; a geometric prodigy. A shining angled pillar that, though rigid, immobile, seemed to crouch, be instinct with living force striving to be unleashed.

Two great globes surmounted it—like the heads of some two-faced Janus of an alien world.

At the left and right the knobbed arms, now fully fifty feet in length, writhed, twisted, straightened; flexing themselves in grotesque imitation of a boxer. And at the end of each of the six arms the spheres were clustered thick, studded with the pyramids—again in gigantic, awful, parody of the spiked gloves of those ancient gladiators who fought for imperial Nero.

For an instant it stood here, preening, testing itself like an athlete—a chimera, amorphous yet weirdly symmetric—under the darkening sky, in the green of the hollow, the armored hosts frozen before it—

And then—it struck! 

 - "The Metal Monster," A. Merritt 

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of A. Merritt's "The Metal Monster," one of my very favourite weird tales and a truly remarkable work of science fiction.

Pal of the Blog Deuce Richardson very kindly hosts my exploration of just how rich and expansive the story's links to modern science fiction are.

For such a visual feast, there's remarkably little illustration out there for "The Metal Monster." Stephen Fabian's cover art for the 1976 Avon Books publication (pictured at the top of the post) is a bit closer to the modular, weird nature of the Monster, but there are some other interesting ones out there.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Robert E. Howard in Scots: Echoes from an Anvil

Echaes frae a Stiddie

Screivit by Rabert E. Howard 

I leave tae pegral makars

The tabor an the lute;

I sing in drums an tom-toms

The bleck bysmal bruit –

Ma vyse is o’ the people,

Thon etin wild an mout.

Wi’ bluid o’ aw the ages

His braken nails are bleck,

The hale waurld wechts an burdens

His birsie beastial back;

He shammles doon ivermair

A blin an fankelt track.

I bring nae sneithit diamants,

Nae gems frae Lunnon toun;

Nae culturt wheem or teevock

Ma rochle varses croun;

You find here nocht but pouer

That braks a ceety doun.

I spill nae wirds o’ beauty,

Cuinyies frae a siller purse,

Ma hauns are built o’ airn,

An airn is in ma varse.

I bring nae luve but fury,

Nae blissin but a curse.

Ma law-fung brou is slentit,

Ma een are burnin reid,

Wi’ fairce bleck primal veesions

That thunner in ma heid;

Ahint ma hert the rivers

An aw the jungles spreid.

I sclaved in starn-girt Babel

An lauboured at the wa’;

I watchit the birth o’ pavies

Aneath ma clourin mell –

An in a frenzied dawin

I saw her tours faw.

I toiled in Tuscan vinyairds,

I brak the beaten laim,

I streend agin the haimer

That drave the clourer haim;

I sweitit in the gaileys

That brak the road tae Roum.

Och, Khan an keeng an pharaoh!

In cauld an drouth an heat

I bled tae build yer glore,

An eemock aneath yer feet –

But aye ris a mornin

Whan bluid ran in the street.

The waurld upon ma shouders

Knee deep in muck an silt,

Ma haun aneath ma tatters

Still grips the hidden hilt –

Wha fed the auncient rivers

Wi’ bluid rebellions spilt?

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Jurassic Park and the End of Man's Dominion

In which I ponder the new title for the upcoming third Jurassic World film, and how it relates to Robert Burns.

Because that's the sort of Venn Diagram this blog is all about.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

BeastieScotInktoberFest: #31 - Wild Hairy Haggis

My heart’s in the Highlands,
twa strings on my bow
To hunt the fierce haggis,
man’s awfu’est foe.
And weel may my bairn
ha’ a tear in his ee.
For I shallna come back
if the haggis hunts me.
 - James J. Montague, The New York Tribune, 2nd January 1924

Ah, that most feared & beloved of Scottish beasties, the Wild Haggis. Elusive yet ubiquitous, they're rare enough to be seldom seen in the wild, yet populous enough to feed 5.4 million Scots every Burns' Night. Some say they are small furry mammals, others that they are little birds with vestigial wings; some say their right (or left) legs are longer than the others to facilitate mountain navigation at the cost of reproductive opportunity, while others suppose that they have only three legs, or even no legs at all; there are those who compare their call with the drone of the bagpipes, and others who equate it with a whistly twittering.

There are regional variations, of course. Those Haggis which perambulate around the hills and mountains have two known species based on the direction most amenable to their gait: the Deisul Haggis (Haggis scottii dexterous, also known as the Sunwise Haggis) & the Widdershins Haggis (Haggis scottii dexterous, or the Taibhse Tuathal in the Gaelic heartlands), who are forced to travel clockwise and anti-clockwise respectively by their biology. The Golden Haggis of Lewis (Haggis limnuensis) - an even-legged variety - is prized not just for its meat, but its fur, which was traditionally used to adorn the sporrans of Lewis's menfolk. The near-legendary Great Haggis (Haggis magnificens), now thought to be either extinct or hiding with Nessie, was an enormous breed which could feed an entire village from St. Andrew's Day to Burns' Night, as documented in The Capture of the Great Haggis, 1743. All varieties are believed to be derived from the ancient Hebridean Haggis (Haggis hebudensis), a small and hardy creature especially adapted to the rough lands of the Western Isles in a manner not unlike the famous Shetland Pony.

A pseudoscientific fad in recent years claims that the Wild Haggis are not real, and that it is merely a Scottish culinary staple given some local flavour. Such attacks against science & history are not to be dignified with a response.