Friday, September 13, 2019

Scooby Dooby Doo!

It's Friday the 13th.

It's a full moon.

...and...

...it's the 50th anniversary of a certain crime fighting Great Dane and his buddies.

Yup. The air date of the first Scooby Doo was September 13, 1969. The lighthearted adventures of the Scooby gang were in response to concerns that kids' cartoons were too violent and horrific. There was a feeling that kids needed more comedy, less dystopia, less anger.

The original show, Scooby Doo, Where Are You! ran for seventeen episodes including the pilot "What a Night for a Knight." It was formulaic, with the monster-of-the -week always turning out to be a person and always calling them meddling kids! at the time. But kids loved it. Parents loved it. A further 8 episodes were ordered in 1970.

Since then, there have been:
13 further Scooby-Doo series, one of which is currently in production by Boomerang (which also holds the rights to the original).
1 web series
4 made-for-TV animated movies
33 direct-to-video animated movies
1 animated theatrical movie
2 live-action theatrical movies, of which I'm one of the dozen people who liked them.
2 live-action made-for-TV movies
1 live-action direct-to-video movie
5 TV specials
8 direct-to-video specials
8 TV shorts
2 direct-to-video shorts, released with longer works
32 web shorts
13 comic series
13 one-off comic books
7 film strips
20 video games
5 plays
Millions of jokes about what's really in those scooby snacks.

Scooby also appeared in episodes of Dynomutt, Dog Wonder, Johnny Bravo, Harvey Birdman, Batman, Supernatural and OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes.

And, of course, Buffy would not be the same without the obvious influences and homages.

So, Scooby Doo? It's not just a cartoon. It's a freaking cultural phenomenon. We all know who those kids are. Most of us who were born since 1969 have been those kids at some meaningful level.

(And we all know what's really in those scooby snacks).

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Lady of Lady Percival Countdown Post: The Grail

The entire story of the Holy Grail has always kind of amused me, even when it's not being ably parodied by Monty Python (why yes, that is still my favorite Camelot movie).

Because, the thing is, the cup that was used at the Last Supper, assuming it happened, would have been a simple pottery or wood chalice. Nobody there was rich.

But, of course, the Medieval grail stories speak of a silver cup. In the book this is a plot point.

In reality?

Covering relics with silver was a thing which happened throughout the Middle Ages. In the Eastern church there is also a habit of covering icons with silver. Gold was also used when the church could afford it.

So, the writers of the Medieval romances would obviously have assumed that a relic that important would warrant a silver, or even gold covering. This then, as relics became less important, shifted to the cup being made of silver.

Most likely what they were envisioning was that the original simple vessel was encased in a silver reliquary to both elevate and protect it. Which brings up the interesting possibility:

There may at one point have actually been several grails floating around Europe and it wouldn't have been considered odd. Just as there were multiple pieces of the true cross, so there might have been multiple pieces of the holy grail. Most likely none of them were real (it's said that you could build a ship with all the claimed pieces of the true cross).

In the 4th century, though, that habit wouldn't have started yet...

Preorder links for The Lay of Lady Percival:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Helsinki Workers' Housing Museum

This museum is quite simply...adorable. It's contained within a row of 19th century apartments built for municipal workers.

The fact that the one room flats were considered a significant improvement says a lot about how people used to live. (In some cases, seven people were sharing rooms about the size of my bedroom, heated by the cooking stove). They did have one improvement...dry toilets in the basement, not the yard.

Most of this style of housing is gone, but the fact that this row has been preserved, with rooms furnished as examples of specific families (with details of who they were. In two cases, the contents of the room were donated by the previous inhabitants or their estate).

Just a fascinating little museum for the social historians amongst us that I suspect a lot of people miss.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Lay of Lady Percival Countdown Post: Elaine

The tale of Lancelot and Elaine is perhaps one of the most, uh, problematic of the Arthurian "romances."

Elaine, a lovely young woman, falls in love with Lancelot. He, of course, only has eyes for Guinevere. When he turns her down she...

...pines away and dies.

Seriously. Even by Medieval romance standards the story (which is probably French) is really, shall we say, showing a low opinion of women.

Women don't just pine away and die because they can't get the man they want. Now, broken heart syndrome is a real thing, but it's also not the same thing and generally isn't about 'I love you I'm going to waste away.'

It's a story that most Arthurian retellings don't even want to touch. So, one of the challenges I set myself in Lay was to fix it.

It's a tragedy, because Arthuriana is a tragedy, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. It's still a tragedy. But I hope that what I did with it...

Is there an Arthurian story you personally want to fix?

Preorder on Amazon to find out what happens to poor, dear Elaine.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Lay of Lady Percival Pre-Orders!

If you want an ebook of The Lay of Lady Percival now's your chance! The release date has been moved forward to September 20, but in the mean time preorders are available so you can be the first person you know to read it.



Preorder links:

As Look Inside is not activated on preorders, here's a brief excerpt from the opening:

The ancient hill fort loomed, torn by the wind that came off the sea. From its ramparts one could almost see Gaul, the narrowest part of the sea splashing, beneath it, against cliffs as white as snow. Tucked below, not far from the port, the villa seemed cozy in comparison, hints of flickering light coming from the windows.
The young woman had walked some distance from the villa. The ships she watched were all leaving the harbor. Galleys, and even from where she was, she heard the drums. Beat, stroke. Beat, stroke. She imagined the slaves, large men, bare torsos sweating in the summer heat as they bent to the oars.
On the decks, the soldiers milled a little, finding places offering a modicum of comfort. Was her soldier amongst them, the last of the Legionnaires to depart Britain's shores? Rome could simply no longer afford to garrison these far reaches.
The Empire had not fallen with a resounding thud, but slowly, withering away like an unpicked grape. Persy watched. Was he with them?
He had been an officer, a leader of men, but would he stay for her? She felt her heart lift towards her throat. If he stayed, they would wed. Even in these uncertain times, with the Saxons on every shore and the Norsemen a-viking in the north, marriage meant something.
The fact that her soldier was of those northern bloodlines meant nothing. If he stayed, then she would know he had chosen...
"Are you Briton, Norseman, or Roman?" Her own words from the last time they had spoken echoed in her head.
"Did I not agree to a handfasting in the old style?" Even the recollection of his voice was enough to cause a stirring within her.
It had been properly done, quietly, by a woman who still remembered such things, who had not fallen entirely into the Roman style of worship. Dangerous, these days, with the Christ-cult now the only religion it was legal to practice.
Persephone lowered her hands to her belly. It was still flat. She had not told him, wanting him to stay for her, not out of obligation to a child. True, by the old ways, he should wed her, fertility having been proven.
She simply did not want to hold him, to trap him.
So young, he was, for the position he had held. Too young to retire, but under normal circumstances, he would have wed her and stayed. Many did, legionnaires and auxiliaries sent to serve in other parts of the Empire, where it was felt they would be less likely to desert.
Persephone had a childhood friend who's skin was as dark as wood, her father having come from some place far to the south. From Nubia, south of Egypt.
With what seemed like the strokes of a thousand oars, the ships streamed south. A tear rolled down her cheek. He must have gone with them. He knew where she waited. He would have come by now.
Slowly, she turned, and walked away, but not to the villa. There had been a grove, once, past the fort. That was where her steps led her. The Christers had not yet claimed the site, as they had so many others, for their temples.
They were almost like a plague, she thought. Some were good men and women, but some...
Some did nothing but try to convert everyone in sight. They had, no doubt, rejoiced in Constantine's conversion. And it seemed that they were always miserable.
Persy would not follow their path, which would condemn her child as a bastard.
#
"Gwydion, Gwydion, slow down!"
The toddler stopped, but punctuated it with, "No."
She had chosen a British name for her son. Perhaps it was because they had to be British now, not Roman. Perhaps because she did not want to remember the other half of his heritage.
There was much of Arthur about his features, although he had his mother's dark hair, sure to be black before he matured. She quickened her pace, caught him up in her arms. "Do you want to see the warlord or not?"
He squirmed, but briefly. The warlord. The man the tribes had chosen to lead their united warband. Dux Bellum, the Romans would have said.
His name flowed through her mind and almost reached her lips. Arthur. It could not be her Arthur, yet...the name was the same. How rare a name was it? Rare in Britain, yes, but not in the lands of the Norse and the Dane and the Saxon. Thor was one of their gods.
He had been named after a god, just as she was. Yet, had he stayed, he would have come to her on that clifftop. Had he stayed, she would be at his side now, and Gwydion riding on his shoulders.
For a moment that vision was clearer than the reality. The one servant she had brought helped her clear a way through the crowds.
He would be acknowledged outside the Cathedral, a nod to the Christians. That was not how it should be. They should be in the great royal circle of Avesbury, not that teeming city, diminished yet still vibrant.
Gods. Persy hated Londinium.
Yes, there they were on the steps, the most important of the royals of Britain, gathered. She should be with them, her blood was as good. Something about her urgency was picked up by the crowd, who parted, leaving a clear route to the center of it all.
Gorlois of Lyonesse, his wife Ygraine and daughter Morgan. Lot of Orkney, with his wife, Gorlois' sister Morgawse...once considered the most beautiful woman in the land. Their two sons...Gawain and Galahad, the latter barely fourteen. And Leodegranz of Wales with his daughter, the fair Guinevere.
She knew she should not, but nonetheless she let her track drift to the edge of the group.
A white horse came through the crowds. It bore a figure in armor akin to that a Roman general might have worn, but a longsword rested at his side.
The warlord dismounted and removed his helm, and her heart skipped a beat. "Arthur."
His eyes turned to her, lingered, and then glided away. It was almost as if he did not recognize her.
No, his eye had gone elsewhere once it had rested not on Persephone, but on Gwydion. It was the child he denied, and the mother with him.
Then he turned to face the Kings. The Bishop of London stepped out onto the steps, where the highest of the druids, Merlin, should have stood.
"Arthur," he greeted. "Do you truly take the charge of leading our defense?"
"I do." His eyes were entirely on the bishop now.
Persy's were entirely on him. As were Gwydion's, the boy too young to understand but fascinated by the ceremony.
"Then..."
It was Morgawse who interrupted. "The Christian kings will accept him. But for those of us who follow the old ways, we want more."
Arthur turned towards her.
"If this man is to lead above even the Kings, he must be bound to the land."
"Meaning?" That word came from the bishop, and in it sounded a volume of disaste, every aspect of his tone and the shift in his stance revealing that he wished nothing of such pagan rites.
"He must wed a woman of our royal line." Morgawse's eyes fell first on Morgan, then on Guinevere, then, after a long moment, on Persephone.
She bit back 'He already has'. Why was he betraying her? For his eyes did not move towards her.
Instead, he regarded the two other women, one dark, one fair who faced him. And she knew the truth of his choice. Morgan was as pagan as they came, rumored to be both a powerful witch and priestess of the terrible Morrigan. Leodegranz was Christian, as, one could presume, was his daughter.
"Then, I will wed Guinevere of Wales."
Hatred and confusion boiled up within Persephone's heart. She would see him brought down. She would...
...she could not. Without one unified leader, they would fall. So, instead, she stood there, watching.
Watching as he vanished into the church. Then, she understood. Arthur had converted to Christianity. A wife named after a Greek god could be nothing but an embarrassment to him and a bastard child could only be worse.
Yet, he owed her. Could he not see that?
She vowed to speak with him, before he could wed fair Guinevere. She had one thing that delicate, blonde woman with the slender hips did not.
She had his son.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Suomenlinna

Suomenlinna isn't the reason to go to Helsinki. But the fortress island is certainly a reason to go.


Yeah, check that out. Suomenlinna was originally called Sveaborg, when it was built by the Swedes to defend the entrance to Helsinki's harbor. (Suomenlinna means "The Castle of Finland" in Finnish). It covers six separate islands and 210 hectares, with 6 km of walls. It's a city district with a year round population of about 800, although that includes 100 prisoners in a minimum security prison (they do a lot of the grunt maintenance work while serving their sentence).

The island is a short (15 to 20 minute) ferry ride from Helsinki's old harbor. If you are entering or leaving Helsinki by sea and choose the Viking line or Silja line ferries that leave from the old harbor, you'll get the best views of Suomenlinna.


This is as our ferry squeezes through a channel barely wider than it is!

With several museums, a couple of restaurants (I recommend the old brewery located lit. in the building with the visitors' center, which should be an overpriced mediocre tourist stop but isn't), and lots of walking, the island is at least a days' time for most people. I could have spent two, easily.

Oh, and keep your phone charged. Some of the nooks and crannies require a flashlight. It's like a dungeon crawl...

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Helsinki!

I didn't make it to WorldCon, but I did eventually make it to Helsinki. So, I figured I'd offer some thoughts on the place.


(In Helsinki, Peace is a woman).

Helsinki is a relatively new city. Much of the architecture is from the 1930s. Turrets everywhere. The city is on a peninsular that was very nearly an island. It's a walkable city - we only needed public transport to get to and from the airport and when we had luggage.

However, it's a very...decentralized...city. And I'd note I have a European concept of walkable. Many Americans (and anyone with mobility issues) are going to want to take advantage of the good deals on transit cards. There's no tourist area, the National Museum is a long way from, for example, Suomenlinna. Good restaurants are tucked away into random neighborhoods (look for Restaurant Kannas, which is lit. in a random neighborhood, is excellent, and has the feel of a good English pub).

It's also very much what I call an extrovert city. Public space is spread through the city, hostile architecture is rare. Public restrooms are common (and free!), especially in the waterfront parks and city beaches. Having a short summer seems to make the people of Helsinki appreciate it more and spend it all outside.

Be aware that Helsinki is a slightly formal city - unlike England or America, you can't get away with going out to dinner in a t-shirt. But it's also cosmopolitan enough that if Finnish food isn't to your taste you can get just about anything else. Albeit for city prices. The restaurants on the islands are very expensive and we didn't try them on the grounds that they were probably not that great. We also avoided the American paddle steamer with "American BBQ" that, per the menu, involves such gems as "Texas Chili & Toast" (Am I wrong in thinking Texans don't eat chili with toast?). We ate Finnish food because we can get the rest anywhere... Get the sauteed reindeer, which is a very old recipe and delicious with lingonberries. Well, everything is delicious with lingonberries.

And as you can see from the photo, the weather was beautiful.