Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Update

Some major discussion of Strange Voyages this week. Editing is in progress and we've started working on custom character sheets and a logo for the book. Watch this space for more news on that front.

Other than that, just plodding on, although I hope to have more announcements soon.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Iceland Day 2: Icelandic Horses

No, these aren't the horses we rode, but part of a breeding herd near Thingvellir. Because foals.

There are about 70,000 horses on Iceland - and they are all of the same breed - the Icelandic Horse. Anecdotally, the importation of horses was banned by the Althingr to prevent a plague in the 11th century. The current ban on imports dates since 1882 - and remains in effect. Any horse that leaves Iceland can never return.

Because of this, the Icelandic breed is very pure...and unaltered. They are little, shaggy, powerful things, quite capable of carrying full grown adults despite an average height of only 13.2 (the very biggest Icelandics are 14.3, but that's unusual). They are also gaited. The Medieval riding horses were gaited - the English word "amble" refers to the gait the Icelandics call the "tolt," similar to the "running walk." Some Icelandics also do a flying pace, similar to what Americans call the "rack."

These horses are the only livestock on Iceland not brought into barns in the winter - they're literally tougher than the sheep. They do get supplemental hay, but most do not get grain and many are never shod.

So, of course, we had to ride them. Our stable of choice was Eldhestar, which has 350 head and is in a valley just outside Reykjavik that is essentially the Icelandic Kentucky - on our ride we saw one of the best stallions in Iceland. Eldhestar has so many horses they have numbers, not names! (I feel like a horse slut). I was given a silver dapple (I think, it's sometimes hard to tell between that and a very dark palomino) mare who was at the smaller end of the size range, only 12.2-ish. My husband got a taller grey - and off we went.

Here's the thing. If you ride these horses correctly, then you will have my experience. I got off after a five hour ride not even feeling like I'd been on a horse - and I'm not that riding fit. My poor western-trained husband had more issues - Icelandics are ridden on a contact and he's not used to that. Not that I didn't screw up - my first attempt at a tolt got me to laugh and say "Ack. SHE was tolting. I was doing a sitting trot!"

Oh, and they are not ridden English-style. Iceland has never adopted the forward seat, which does not work well on gaited horses. Instead, they still ride the way Medieval people rode, on a very similar saddle. It's closer to saddle seat than anything else. Don't be put off by the small size - they're stocky, so they don't feel as small as they are, and because there are no sixteen hand Thoroughbreds around they don't even look that small...the mind kind of scales down.


How about another foal?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Halloween (Anthology)

This anthology has a claim to fame - it contains both Ray Bradbury's "The October Game" and a tribute sequel written by F. Paul Wilson (The November Game). Which only makes Bradbury's story look better and remind us of what a great horror writer he was. Sorry, Mr. Wilson.

The 30 stories and three poems in this anthology lean towards the subtle and chilling - a few, such as Peter Straub's excellent "Pork Pie Hat" barely count as horror. Only one, Al Sarrantonio's "Hornets" relies on gore to disturb the reader. This is as far from splatterpunk as you can get - a great anthology for those who are more nauseated than titillated by blood and guts. Paula Guran has put together a good mixture of classics and new stories that all work as much by what they leave out than what they put in. (All three included poems are classics - written by Lovecraft, Poe, and Sir Walter Scott respectively).

Overall, I didn't like this anthology quite as much as some of the other Prime Books products, but I did like it quite a lot. Standouts, other than the Bradbury story, were the previously-mentioned "Pork Pie Hat," Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's intriguing (and very not horror) "Sugar Skulls" and Nancy Kilpatrick's "Memories of El Dia de Los Muertos." It seems the more subtle the story the better. None of the stories were particularly bad, which is always a good thing in an anthology this size.

Paula Guran did a good job with this one - I recommend this anthology to those who like their horror creepy and understated.

Four stars.

(Book picked up for free at Balticon).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Some cool science news

Sea otters have returned to California - and the entire ecosystem is benefitting. Seagrass "pastures" that were ailing and sickly are now healthy. (Plus, who doesn't want sea otters around?)

When Cassini took its photo from the far side of Saturn, a lot of people went outside to wave. Check out this collage of photos sent in to NASA.

And, okay...this isn't really science news, but more cuteness. Aww for the little apeling. (Yes. Gibbons are apes, not monkeys!).

Monday, August 26, 2013

Elysium (Mild Spoilers)

I was really looking forward to this movie based off of the trailers.

The concept was intriguing - the 1% move to a space habitat and leave the rest of us to struggle on Earth - and it was directed by the same guy who did District 9, which I personally consider to be one of the best true science fiction movies of recent years.

I had every hope, in other words, for thoughtful - if political - science fiction. Unfortunately, the movie was deeply flawed.

First of all, I think the concept would have worked better as a novel or as a mini-series. A feature film did not give enough space to explore it and thus left too many unanswered questions - who actually built Elysium?

Second - if you are going to do a science fiction movie, hire a competent science advisor. Or at least call up NASA. A huge space habitat in Low Earth Orbit is simply not feasible and far too expensive. The best place to put Elysium would have been the Earth-Moon LaGrange point...but it was more important to get the right visuals than the right orbital dynamics. Oh, and a space station doesn't have "airspace" around it.

Third, half of the plot hinged on a computer security system that simply would not be designed to work that way. It kind of reminded me of the old joke about the Independence Day aliens running their ships on Windows.

Fourth, the ending was...abrupt and very much a deus ex machina.

Fifth, I have no problems with political science fiction at all, but hitting me over the head with Mjolnir every other scene gets old. Yes, I get it, you're talking about Occupy, the 1%, and universal health care. Now shut up and let me enjoy the movie.

Sixth, sorry Matt, that was a subpar performance. You were so wooden the only way you could have had chemistry with the female lead is if she was a termite. (I'd have preferred, I think, Vin Diesel in the role except that he is, for some mysterious reason, busy attempting to resurrect the Riddick franchise - why, people, why?)

And, overall, Elysium is not thoughtful science fiction. It's a pretty decent and fun techno-thriller - but that's not what it felt like during the marketing phase. Marketing fail, people. You'd have sold more tickets if you'd made it obvious it was a techno-thriller.


I was disappointed, but not because Elysium was that bad a movie. It just wasn't what I'd got myself in the mood for or expected.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Updates!

One of my short shorts, "Ben's Moonshine," has been sold to Allegory e-zine. The tentative run date is September 1.

(That's all I have this week).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Iceland Writeup: Day #1: First Impressions of Reykjavik

Our flight was in the middle of the day, so we touched down in the late afternoon. Now, I've been to a number of European capitals - specifically: London, Paris, Prague, and Bratislava.

Of all of them, Reykjavik reminded me the most of Bratislava...except that there's an apartment block in Bratislava that could hold the population of this northern city. The name Reykjavik, incidentally, means "Smoky Bay," a reference to the hot springs that heat the city - it is, to my knowledge, the only city in the world with a municipal HOT water tank.

You arrive at Keflavik airport, which used to be a military base - the runway is designed for huge military transports and dwarfs the relatively small airliners that land there now. Which is a good thing as it's a tough airport to land at - exposed and windy. Then it's a bus ride to Reykjavik through a landscape that looks like something in the early stages of terraforming.

Downtown Reykjavik is attractive, quirky, and modern. Unfortunately for the city, the building boom here was in the 1960s - outside the downtown area there are a lot of buildings architectural taste forgot. Yawn.

Downtown, though, is dominated by one of the most gorgeous buildings I have ever seen - Hallgrimskirkja, which me and my husband were calling the CHURCH! or the "Lutheran Cathedral" for most of the trip.

Yes. That's a Lutheran church built in the tradition of the great Cathedrals of Europe, yet in a thoroughly modern style. Greg, who comes from a Lutheran background, found it a tremendous disconnect. There's a reason, however.

The Icelanders did not choose the Reformation. It was forced on them by the Danes. They clung to as much Catholicism as they could - so the modern Icelandic church is this odd combination of Lutheran low church practicality with candles and sacraments. The combination produced this gorgeous building which looks out across Reykjavik from its hill.

Reykjavik is walkable, bikable, and easy to navigate. It's a small city by anyone's standards and well laid out (especially in comparison to older European capitals). And it's worth the stay for the restaurants, the night life and the quirky street art.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Death & Resurrection by R.A. MacAvoy

The second biggest problem with R.A. MacAvoy's Death and Resurrection is the less-than-original title.

The biggest is that it isn't a novel - it's a very short trilogy. Which is by no means a bad thing, but it's being formatted and marketed as a novel and might give some readers a nasty surprise.

The best thing about this book? Everything else. It's a great urban fantasy romp with a hint of the Asian - kung fu and Buddhism are both important to it (in ways that lead me to suspect MacAvoy is, himself, a Buddhist). So are Native American beliefs - and I can't vouch for his accuracy, but he does make a lot of sense.

It's almost closer to magic realism than mainstream urban fantasy, with elements of the thriller. I enjoyed this book a lot and highly recommend it - with the caveat mentioned above, that its three parts are separate enough to make it a little disjointed. If you like the kind of urban fantasy that brings in elements of mythology and a touch of the exotic - you will love this book.

I did.

Four and a half stars.

(Book picked up free at Balticon).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

More Iceland Thoughts

Here's some random stuff from the trip:

Apparently when Britain gets a nice summer, Iceland gets a lousy one. And vice versa. (Yeah. The weather sucked, although not enough to ruin our trip).

No matter how well you think you've dressed, it's not enough if you're in the middle of the north Atlantic. I don't know how the fishermen do it.

Seals are hams.

Cod is not bland when it was swimming that morning. Or when it's salted (I didn't have the courage to try the fermented shark).

Hot dogs really are improved by the addition of just a little bit of lamb.

Geothermal energy just may be the solution to our problems.

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm Back!

Back from family stuff and vacation. There will be pictures as soon as I find the time to go through them (and work out what can be salvaged from a shoot that didn't go well).

There was awesome. And I came back with potentially mine-able material. Iceland is great - I've never come back from a vacation with more regrets. As in...a week was just not long enough to spend in that wonderful country.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Updates

First the "bad" news - this will be my last post until at the earliest August 19th.

Nah. It's not bad news at all...I'm actually getting a vacation.

Now for the good news.

I have been invited to attend RavenCon 2014 as a guest. The con will take place in Richmond, Virginia, from April 25 through April 27. The author guest of honor is Elizabeth Bear. Artist guest of honor has yet to be announced.

The RPG supplement finally has a title. Unless something comes up that gets us to change it again, it will be "Strange Voyages." This is a Fate CORE supplement.

I'll be back on the 19th. Possibly with pictures.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Busy getting everything squared away before vacation. (Will there be photos? Of course. I even have a better camera, although I'm not perfect at using it yet).

Still had a pretty productive day yesterday. Today is mostly reading through RPG edits. More updates tomorrow, of course, and possibly some other news.

Life's not bad at all.