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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Virgil Cole's Contemplation: The Complete Emerson

Just in case you wondered what passage Virgil Cole was reading from, here's the complete paragraph. Try taking a breath after completing each sentence, before rushing on to the next.

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

--from his essay on "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Words to live by, I think you'd agree.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Emerson Central

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lawman Versus Gunman

 While "Appaloosa" shared sets and locales with films like "3:10 To Yuma" and "Cowboys And Aliens," author Robert B Parker and director Ed Harris was more concerned with exploring the type of people who would try to settle an untamed land. Central to the story are the lawmen who keep the peace. Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch don't talk much. To Ed Harris, they're the type of men who could ride side-by-side all day, never say a word to each other, and be perfectly content with the nature of their camaraderie. In fact, Cole seems a stranger to words, a man who uses them when necessary, but sparingly, knowing they can inflict as much harm as the guns he wields. Cole frequently looks to Hitch to help him find the appropriate words in a given situation. But what he lacks in education, he makes up with determination, by reading noteworthy authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, and attempting to embody the ideals he finds in their books.

"Everett, listen to this," Cole says one day, looking up briefly from his leather-bound volume of Emerson. "What I must do is all that concerns me," Cole reads slowly and haltingly, "not what the people think."

Everett Hitch regards his friend somberly, and nods in reply.

Later, when enforcing the law proves tricky in Appaloosa, sidekick Everitt Hitch suggests that they are gunmen first, then lawmen. If they know what's right, maybe it's okay to bend the law in this one instance, for the sake of the greater good. Virgil Cole's answer is straight-forward and immediate. He simply wouldn't know how to look at himself, if he saw himself as anything other than a lawman first.

As SF authors such as Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Allen Steele have suggested, it'll take strong, forceful characters to establish self-sufficient colonies on other worlds. People like Gerald Skibbow, Father Horst Elwes, and Quinn Dexter in Peter F Hamilton's novel The Reality Dysfunction will all attempt this in their own ways. But when the people of such a colony are looking for someone to establish the law and maintain the Peace, they could do much worse than employ someone Virgil Cole, and his loyal friend Everett Hitch.

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ed Harris Makes A Sci-fi Western

Ed Harris may be known to Sci-Fi fans for his roles in "Snowpiercer," "National Treasure:  Book of Secrets," and "Apollo 13."
Tolkien fans will forever remember Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of
Aragorn in Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

In "Appaloosa," the movie version of Robert Parker's novel, Ed Harris plays Virgil Cole, a gunman who earns his living by serving as the city marshall in small, frontier towns. He's ably served by his stalwart sidekick Everett Hitch, played by Viggo Mortensen. When he and his friend Everett Hitch reach Appaloosa, the aldermen explain how Randall Bragg (played by Jeremy Irons), a local rancher, has shown contempt for the laws and people of their small town. 

Sci-fi fans may remember Jeremy Irons from "Eregon",
"Dungeons And Dragons," and "The Time Machine."

Bragg and his hired hands have stolen, raped, and killed. They murdered the town's previous marshall, and will continue their nefarious ways until someone stops them. The aldermen may be scared, but they don't understand the mentality of the man they want to hire. Cole's has one condition for accepting the job: if he serves as marshall, the Law in Appaloosa will be any law he feels is appropriate. 

Timothy Spall, who plays one of the aldermen, is known for
his roles in "Enchanted," 

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events,"
and as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films.

When the aldermen point out that they'd be effectively turning control of their town over to him, Cole's sidekick Everett Hitch points out that they've already ceded control of their town to Bragg. Or, as Cole puts it, in his colorful way, "Everything that eats meat likes a dead buffalo." But they quickly learn that he means business. Within a few minutes of their signing his agreement, two of Bragg's men lay dead at their feet.

"Appaloosa" defies our expectations of a western. There are no big shootouts with gunmen falling off rooftops, no great explosions that destroy half the town, no sweeping tales of revenge, and no maddened horses pulling a carriage packed with travelers toward the edge of a cliff. Nor do aliens swoop in at night, and carry off people and cattle in their spaceships. No one even paints all the buildings in the town red. But for me that's part of its charm, and why I feel the film has a Sci-Fi element. For much of Science Fiction literature involves settling other planets. Consider Ray Bradbury's book The Martian Chronicles, or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, many of Robert Heinlein's novels, or Allan Steele's excellent Coyote series. When people decide to plant themselves on a new planet, they leave civilization behind, and start anew. "Appaloosa" reminds us of that.

"Appaloosa" may be a small movie, but it deserves to be seen. Hopefully the actors in it, many notable for their other Sci-Fi and Fantasy roles, will help make the movie palatable for them. After all, we're all drawn to actors, and I'd never heard of "Appaloosa" or Robert Parker before I saw the movie in the DVD aisle. I had simply seen Harris and Mortensen in another movie together, and wanted to see them together again, so I bought the DVD. I'm glad I did.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Oh, the People I've Met: Peter F Hamilton

I've never met Robert B. Parker, but I have met Peter F. Hamilton. Hamilton's a hero of mine, as he wrote the mammoth Night's Dawn trilogy. (The first novel in the trilogy is one of my all-time favorite books, The Reality Dysfunction). The trilogy was published in the United States as six hefty paperbacks. 

The pages are filled with well-rounded characters, richly developed societies, spectacular space battles, and all of it backed up by incredibly speculative science. The saga easily holds its own against recent Marvel galactic events such as Infinity and The Black Vortex. It was a pleasure to meet the author of such an accomplished literary masterwork, and I was able to do so in Brighton, at the 2013 World Science Fiction Convention. 

It takes a strong, forceful author to envision, write, complete, and push through publication such a mammoth story. But Peter F Hamilton did it. For me, the Night's Dawn trilogy is right up there with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, or Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, or Frank Herbert's Dune saga. I'm so glad I met him.

Now, for the hard part. To emulate him.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ed Harris & Peter F Hamilton on Strong, Forceful Characters

A farm atop the Great Orme,
in Wales, England.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to colonize another planet? I think it would have been a lot like those who settled the United States. Most likely, those who traveled to a distant planet or solar system would have brought with them everything they needed, but far less than everything they wanted. Tomorrows settlers might bring power tools and equipment to cut down trees for lumber or to make concrete, but if they wished to be self-sufficient, they would still need to start growing their own food before they developed their manufacturing industries.

Life would be simpler than life today for those who wished to start their own farms or settle a small town. In his novel The Reality Dysfunction, Peter F. Hamilton introduces us to settlers who land on the planet Lalonde. One leader is Gerald Skibbow, who wants to instill in his children and community the simple values he believes worth preserving. He's a hard, strong man, much like the Pilgrims and Puritans who settled America, who saw only corruption in the overcrowded arcologies of Earth. He grows disappointed in Father Horst Elwes, when the Christian priest who accompanies them demonstrates a weak-willed personality. Still, with the help of his fellow settlers and the Ivets, Skibbow believes they can create the society he desires. Perhaps like some of the Indentured Servants who traded transportation to North America for a period of slavery, the Ivets were convicted criminals. Rather than languish in prison on Earth, they opted to start over again on Lalonde. Gerald Skibbow expects them to repay their debt to society by plowing fields and helping to build their little town along the river. Unfortunately, he wasn't counting on the defiant Quinn Dexter, a man who belongs to the Light Bringer cult, and whose will is easily a match for Gerald Skibbow.

It was a similar mix of strong, forceful characters that drew American actor Ed Harris to Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker. He took the novel along on a horse-riding vacation in Ireland, and after reading a few chapters decided he wanted to bring Parker's story to the big screen. Such was his love for the project that Harris ended up not just playing Virgil Cole, but also directing and producing the movie. 

If you ask me, it's not just Virgil Cole who's a strong, forceful character, but Ed Harris as well. More on this Friday.

Dragon Dave

P.S. Peter F. Hamilton is a strong, forceful character too. He's soft-spoken and thoughtful, just like Virgil Cole, but he doesn't wear a gun.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Black Vortex Road Trip

My wife and I have been reading a series called "Legendary Star-Lord," but we were a few issues behind. We were really enjoying it until Issue 9, when suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a story we hadn't been reading called "The Black Vortex." This is a thirteen issue series that runs through several Marvel titles, and we wondered if we really wanted to read it. But then we perused the checklist, and found that we had picked up a couple damaged issues from other Marvel series in the discount box that also belonged to The Black Vortex sequence. So we headed off to our normal comics store to find the missing issues. We purchased the two issues we were missing, and a few of the middle chapters that linked the "Legendary Star-Lord" issues we had previously bought, and then got down to some serious reading.

"The Black Vortex" is a series about an artifact discovered on an alien planet that imbues the volunteer with a huge amount of power. The long-term effects of wielding huge amounts of power bring to mind the old adage "Absolute power corrupts absolutely," but our heroes, including Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy, are faced by super villains who have already been powered-up by the Black Vortex. So it's a real test for them. Do they risk taking on the power, knowing what it can do to them? Can they trust themselves to only use such power for good?

On a subsequent visit, we found our local shop didn't have two of the remaining issues we needed. As we would shortly be heading off to England, we decided to call around and see if any other shops had them, and if so collect them now, rather than wait until after our return, when we might only find the back issue boxes marked up at a much higher cost. So it was time to get on the phone, and then head off on our Black Vortex Road Trip.

Our first stop, at a store about ten miles away, netted us one comic, "Captain Marvel " Issue 14. It's a story written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who cowrote the second Richard Castle/Derek Storm graphic novel with Brian Michael Bendis. I've never read any Captain Marvel comics before, but she's involved in the series, so maybe I'll emerge with a greater knowledge of her. 

A few blocks later, we wondered if we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in England. For there was a British telephone box on the corner. Or at least it looked like a telephone box, only it was a little small. Hm. You don't suppose someone was having a little fun with a utility box, do you?

About twenty miles from home, we found the other issue we needed: "Cyclops" Issue 12. For the longest time, I wondered what the title might refer to. Images from science and Greek mythology sprang to mind, but nothing else. Then my wife reminded me that Cyclops was a member of the X-Men, and he was also part of the group being tested by the Black Vortex.

Oh well, I guess I'm not into Mutants.

As we were in the neighborhood, we stopped into my favorite place for fish and chips. It's not exactly British fish and chips, but it's a special treat, and whetted my appetite until we get to the United Kingdom.

The second comics store also offered us another surprise: a Jo Grant action figure. Plucky, pretty, and loyal, she accompanied the third Doctor across time and space for three years. I wasn't expecting to find her in the second comics shop, but then, you never know what'll happen when you pick up a comic book, and where it may take you. Especially when you're dealing with a source of immense power such as the Black Vortex. 

I'm guessing she found our car a little different from the TARDIS, but hopefully she enjoyed the twenty mile drive home. We'll have to find her a comfortable place to live. Perhaps next to a Dalek? I wonder if she'd like that?

All stories have the power to transport us to faraway realms, don't they? Our love for English stories certainly keeps us returning to England, where we hope to make many fascinating discoveries this year. What will we do with the power we gain from the discoveries we make this year? Time will tell if we can handle the power we glean from them in a responsible manner.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for me to pick up the next issue, and utter these important words. "I submit to the Black Vortex..."

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lin Carter on Robert E Howard & Michael Moorcock: Part 2

Lin Carter's fourth installment in the Flashing Swords! series, Barbarians and Black Magicians, contains five long stories. Usually, when you read an anthology written decades ago, you come across some names you've never heard of. Writers whose ship never sailed the most popular trading routes, or whose careers crashed into the rocks somewhere during their journey. Yet all the writers who contributed to this volume were (or became) big name authors. Jack Vance won acclaim and longevity for his hauntingly beautiful Science Fiction and Fantasy visions. Poul Anderson, in addition to writing innumerable SF and Fantasy stories and novels, also wrote a Conan novel. John Jakes wrote stories about Brak, his own barbarian hero, adapted Conan The Barbarian stories for Marvel Comics, and later made his name with his early American novels. Katherine Kurtz has been entertaining Fantasy readers for decades with her Deryni saga. And then there's Michael Moorcock, or Mike, as Lin Carter calls him, who...well, I'll let Lin Carter tell you in his own words.

"Mike is an immensely prolific and wildly talented Sword & Sorcery writer, with--by my count--at least sixteen novels to his credit in the Sacred Genre. If you compare that to [L. Sprague] de Camp's seven, John Jakes' seven, and my fifteen, it can be demonstrated that Moorcock has published more novels in the heroic fantasy field than any other author in history, alive or dead.

Dorian Hawkmoon and his other characters have their own cults of admirers, of course; but for me it is Elric of Melnibone who remains his greatest creation. The doomed albino princeling, delicately perverse and decadent, the hero-villain of his own dark legend, towers above the rest of the Moorcockish oeuvre as a searingly brilliant imaginative conception."

Can you sense Lin Carter's love for his favorite literary genre? Can you feel his passion for Moorcock's writing? I may prefer Conan to Elric. I may favor Howard's writing style over that of Moorcock. I'll proudly stand with the minority any day in stating that I like Dorian Hawkmoon more than Elric. But I'll also second Lin Carter's endorsement of Michael Moorcock's creative vision when it comes to the Elric stories. They are, as he said, brilliantly imaginative. 

Oh, and there's a new adjective for you, courtesy of Lin Carter. Moorcockish. That's one every wordsmith ought to add to his collection, don't you think?

Dragon Dave

P.S. In case you're curious as to what story Michael Moorcock contributed to Flashing Swords! 4, it's called "The Lands Beyond the World." If you can't hunt up a copy of Lin Carter's anthology, the story is included in Moorcock's book The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. It has been retitled "Sailing To The Present," and forms the middle portion of the novel.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lin Carter on Robert E Howard & Michael Moorcock: Part 1

Last week, I reviewed the list I made earlier in the year of author birthdays. One name stood out: Lin Carter. I'm not sure how well he's remembered these days, but he was a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy that made the transition to popular and prolific author. Along with his mentor L. Sprague De Camp, he helped revive interest in Robert E Howard's stories decades after the latter's death. In fact, he and De Camp assembled a twelve volume collection on Conan, filling in Howard's score of stories with some of their own, and in the process giving the barbarian hero an epic life-saga. He also completed Howard's earlier stories on Kull, the literary predecessor and inspiration for Conan.

Lin Carter did more than tread in Howard's footsteps, however. He wrote his own stories, served as a literary critic, and edited anthologies. One of those, Flashing Swords! #4: Barbarians and Black Magicians, contains a story by author Michael Moorcock. But his introduction to the volume is all about Howard. He describes the theme of the series, Sword & Sorcery, as "the modern reincarnation of the oldest form of narrative known to world literature: the heroic fantasy." He traces its lineage from Beowulf, through medieval sagas and epics, and to legends such as St. George and the Dragon, "until a smart aleck called Cervantes lampooned it in a novel called Don Quixote, and made this sort of stuff the laughingstock of Europe."

So, if Miguel de Cervantes' epic story Don Quixote killed Sword and Sorcery, who revived it? That would, of course, be "a burly, brooding, furiously energetic Texas writer named Robert E Howard." He describes Howard's stories as "crisp, vivid, told with verve and gusto, drenched in color and mood, and narrated with enormous drive and urgency." Such a description makes clear that reviving the popularity of Robert E. Howard's stories was more than just a step along the path to publishing his own stories. Perhaps that's why much of his own creations, including those featuring a hero named Thongor, have been often compared to Conan and Kull. In fact, the reason I've been thinking of him, and put him on my author birthday list, is all due to my renewed interest in Robert E. Howard. Comic book readers in the 1970s and '80s may have felt similarly. A few months back, I read one letter in the back of an old Conan The Barbarian comic, in which he asked how Thongor fit into the chronology of Marvel's other Sword & Sorcery series on Conan and Kull.

An illustration accompanies Carter's introduction to
Flashing Swords! #4: Barbarians and Black Magicians.

Sometimes, you realize later on how much someone contributed to your life. They stayed in the background, seemingly just a member of the crowd, their efforts largely unrecognized during their lifetimes. With the recent literary efforts to strip away the extraneous Howard material, and publish the Robert E Howard stories as they first appeared in magazines, or even as unfinished story fragments, perhaps it's time to acknowledge the people who transformed a largely forgotten author into a literary giant, and made his characters (particularly Conan) into household names. I'd like to read more of Lin Carter's stories, and I don't just mean read his Howard pastiches, but those belonging to his own imagined worlds. Somehow, I think I owe it to this other largely forgotten author who has given us so much. How about you?

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Link Between Michael Moorcock & Ashley Jackson

Science Fiction and Fantasy author Michael Moorcock may not view himself as a world-builder, at least not in the same category as the Bronte sisters, but their fiction clearly influenced him. After all, when most of us hear the term world-building, we tend to think in Hard Science Fiction terms, like knowing the gravity of a planet, its orbit around its sun, its age and the atmospheric makeup, those sorts of things. The type of writing that authors like Peter F Hamilton, Gregory Benford, and Dan Simmons do so well. Or we think of it in terms of Fantasy novelists, who construct elaborate histories for their invented lands, families whose heritage goes back thousands of years, and structure them with class systems and people filling the necessary tasks to enable such a world to function. This brings authors like J. R. R. Tolkien and Steven Brust to mind. But clearly, the stories of the Bronte sisters evoked characters, a society, an era, and landscapes that were so important to Michael Moorcock that, when asked a question about world-building, the first writers that leapt to his mind were Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Bronte.

Another person touched deeply by the sisters' work is artist Ashley Jackson. While enjoying the comfort of a warm bus during our "Last of the Summer Wine" tour in Holmfirth, England, the guide pointed out the artist's studio, and suggested that it was worth visiting. Later that day, we did just that, and saw canvases covering the walls, and set upon easels, all evoking the grey, stormy weather we had enjoyed that day.

Enjoying a rainy day outside Holmfirth inside a warm bus
on our "Last of the Summer Wine" tour.

During our visit, a sales associate handed us a brochure, in which Ashley Jackson described some of his favorite views in and around Holmfirth. So the next day we set out on the route Ashley had outlined for us, and drank in the lush, green surroundings.

Taking the Ashley Jackson walk outside Holmfirth.

If you're a fan of the British sitcom (or Britcom) "Last of the Summer Wine," or for any other reason ever decide to visit Holmfirth, you can download this map at Ashley Jackson's website.

Ashley Jackson has often said that what the Bronte sisters did with their pens, he attempts to do with his brushes. Throughout his life, he has aided several Bronte causes, such as saving landmarks that inspired their stories. Also notable is that he usually only paints during the winter when the sky is cloudy, and a storm is imminent. He even paints during the rain! Imagine painting watercolors onto a canvas, while standing in a wet field, the wind blowing the rain horizontally into your face. This is Ashley Jackson's world. While he depicts the world of today, his paintings transport you back in time, so you can see the world through the Bronte sisters' eyes. 

Pausing for a steak pie and a Diet-Coke in Haworth,
before seeing more of the Bronte sister's hometown.

Even if I never associated world-building with the Bronte sisters, or for that matter with Michael Moorcock, there's no doubt that the best authors fill readers with visions of their fictional landscapes, and imbue them with a reality that makes us desire to visit them. (Or inspire us to write similar stories, or evoke such landscapes and realities in some other artistic form, such as Ashley Jackson does). How else can one explain the tremendous popularity of such small, out-of-the-way towns like Holmfirth and Haworth, isolated locales in which TV writer Roy Clarke and literary icons Emily, Anne, and Charlotte Bronte set their stories? 

Taking in the views a short walk from Haworth.

Now, if only one could visit Elric's home of Melnibone, and enjoy a tour inside a comfortable, warm bus. Provided I was assured that Elric's sword Stormbringer wouldn't drink my soul, I'd sign up for that. Well, maybe...

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 12, 2015

On Stealing Hercule Poirot's Tree

Recently, my wife gave me a new set of colored pencils, and a new sketch book in which to use them.

These pencils offered softer lead than my old set, and more color choices. I took them with me to my wife's doctor's office last week, and while she went inside, I sat in the car. I was fascinated by a tree directly in front of me, one with no green leaves on it, and the bark cracking and falling off. I sketched the outline of it with my mechanical pencil, in as much detail as I could, then started a color chart with my new pencils.

This week, as I drove my wife to the doctor's, I hoped I could get the same parking spot. As I pulled in the driveway, I saw the space was free, and happily pulled into it. Then my wife said "They took your tree," and I looked up.

They had! They had cut down my tree!

The thing is, they actually stole Hercule Poirot's tree, as I had planned on inserting him into the picture this time. I also discovered something else. All the bark of my tree had been shades of gray (just like Poirot's little grey cells), and I didn't have a single gray in my new set. Not a one! So, by using my mechanical pencil, as well as black, white, and brown, I colored in the tree as best I could. Then I set to work on drawing Hercule Poirot.


As these new colored pencils had softer lead, they laid down color more quickly. But they also seemed to have more trouble doing so uniformly. Obviously, I've got a lot of learning to do with my new pencil set. Still, I feel pretty good about Hercule Poirot. I suppose my tree will have to do, as it was the best I could make it with the colors on hand. In any case, the famous detective seems to have discovered the scene of a violent crime. I wonder if he'll discover any valuable clues to help him solve his case.

Or maybe the police requisitioned the tree as evidence. That's possible, right?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Michael Moorcock on the Bronte Sisters

In the December 2014 issue of Locus magazine, longtime Science Fiction and Fantasy author Michael Moorcock combatted the notion that he was a world-builder. "I think the notion of world-building is a failure of literary sophistication," he responded. "Take the Romantic writers of the 19th century, particularly the Brontes. The Brontes loved the idea of of depicting weather to suit moods--it's called the pathetic fallacy, where you give inanimate things animate qualities. The point of that style of writing is that it used landscape and weather, all exteriors, to symbolize internal conflict within the individual or within a small group of individuals."

Having been born and raised in England, it's understandable that Michael Moorcock should have a greater knowledge of the history of English literature, and know many of the themes and philosophies of that country's great writers. Having read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall recently, I confess that such a notion completely passed over me when I read these novels. I simply bonded with the characters, and followed them through their adventures. A simple Google search demonstrates that many feel similar to Moorcock, and upon reflection, it's easy to see that most of the titles denote weather and landscape. Wuthering refers to a strong, roaring wind, and Wildfell suggests a wild fell, or a rugged hill. Grey could certainly refer to the weather, as the sky in England on my vacations there has often been that color. And Eyre, while it offers no direct connection to the weather, refers to the circuit made by an itinerant judge, which is an apt description of the protagonist's rigorous life journey in that novel. 

Actually, now that I think of it, Agnes Grey is an interesting title. Agnes, her given name, denotes holiness or purity, and she certainly was that. But Grey, her family name, indicates the situation into which she was born, one which offered her a murky future, a life that offered few options, and no clear (or sure) means of advancement. Wow, I guess I'm going to have to give a little more thought to the names of my characters, as well as the titles of my novels.

Weather certainly plays a strong part in Wuthering Heights, with Lockwood falling ill during a storm at the beginning of the novel. This forces him into bed for the majority of the narrative, during which his servant tells him the story of his neighbor's lives. And in Jane Eyre, young Jane faces the cruelty of weather during her upbringing at an orphanage. What at first seems like a pleasant, even idyllic locale proves anything but that in the winter, when the cold and the damp make all the residents terribly sick, and takes the life of her best friend, a young girl who Jane feels is the best human being who ever lived.

I understand where Michael Moorcock is coming from in his rejection of the term world-building. As he points out, he has no interest in knowing the social security system or gross national product of his character Elric's kingdom of Melnibone. But in creating Elric, he defined not only his protagonist's inner qualities, but demonstrated how Elric interacted with his surroundings. In that way, he created a world every bit as real as that of the Brontes, one Elric inhabited and cared about, one drawn as colorfully as that of his protagonist. And so, in that way, Michael Moorcock is a world-builder, whether or not he likes to define himself as one.

Someday, when I'm a published author, if he's still alive and we happen to meet, I'd love to talk with Michael Moorcock about some of the novels he's written. While complimenting an author often helps break the ice, I guess in this case I shouldn't attempt to kickstart the discussion by complimenting him for his abilities as a world-builder. Another usually-safe topic--discussing the weather--could also prove a fallacy in his case. But the idea of being granted an audience with one of one's writing hero's, and using it to discuss the weather, seems a rather pathetic move in any case. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 8, 2015

Robert E Howard vs Michael Moorcock

During my freshman year of High School, a group of us played Dungeons and Dragons. One of these friends and I fell into discussion over our reading, and in time a dialogue emerged wherein we debated who was the greater hero: Conan or Elric. Looking back, it's obvious that we were discussing the fictional creations of two literary giants. But back then, it was all about which characters we most admired. The stories of both were contained in slim paperback editions we found on the spinner racks in grocery stores. How were we to know that the authors of both our heroes, Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, would be even more celebrated in our "old age" than they were in our teens?

For those of you who don't know, Conan the Barbarian is the fictional creation of Robert E. Howard. From twenty stories and a novel written in the early twentieth century, Conan has ventured into comics, the movies and TV, and had numerous other novels written about him. 

Thanks to his surpassing popularity, Conan has helped revive and sustain interest in Howard's other characters and stories, and some, particular Red Sonja in comics, have emerged to become his extremely popular literary grandchildren. Unlike Howard, modern readers are still blessed with Michael Moorcock's continuing presence in our lives. Thus, over the years, he's written other stories about Elric, his famous Albino prince, who for strength and sustenance must rely on a sword he hates--a sword that drinks souls--to sustain his life.

As you can imagine, I backed Conan as the great Fantasy hero, while my friend sang the praises of Elric. I don't know if it was a result of that competition, an inevitably backing of my hero versus another's, but I've never really liked Elric. Thanks to those discussions with my friend, I read most of Moorcock's early Elric novels, but they never resonated with me the way Conan did in the writings, comics, and movies. But those books and discussions made me aware of Moorcock's storytelling ability, and because of them, I went on to read other stories about heroes I liked a lot, including Dorian Hawkmoon, a man with a jewel in his forehead, and Corum, the last of a gracious elf-like race now hunted by mankind.

Have you ever found yourself pitted against another reader, and forced to make a claim over which was the greatest character? Have you found you came to appreciate your peer's favorite characters more as a result? And how has your love for the character whose talents you once trumpeted changed as you have matured?

Dragon Dave

Friday, June 5, 2015

An Altar, A Dragon-Ship, and Leaves

This week, my mother and friend stayed with us while they attended their denomination's district assembly. I attended the afternoon session, where I finished this sketch. I began this back during the Christmas season, which lasts for a few weeks into the New Year in the Anglican calendar. I started with the altar, the plant stands, and the flowers, but it took me awhile to get most of those details right, and I worked on other drawings too. 

A confession: As I didn't attend church each Sunday, the process stretched out, and the will to finish waned.

On Easter Sunday, I started putting in the background, and working on the candle stands, as well as adding some more details. Then I went back to pursuing other projects.

I nearly finished the drawing during this week's afternoon assembly session, while various speakers shared their views on worship (appropriately enough), discipleship, and district budgets. Later, at home, I finished with metallic pencils, and a few last details with the new artist-quality pencils my wife gave me.

"You're doing artist quality artwork," she told me. "You're ready for artist-quality pencils."

The next day, I attended the missionary convention with my mother and friend. One of the most interesting presentations was on one congregation's work-and-witness trip to Cuba. What a change! A decade ago, you couldn't visit the country legally, and if you did finagle a way there, for any reason, the Internal Revenue Service would send you a bill to penalize you. I really enjoyed seeing the group help build church buildings, worship with locals, and all the 1950s cars driving along in the streets. Anyway, thoughts of travel must have inspired me. I kind of like the ship, although my zeppelin definitely needs work. I have trouble seeing it as artist-quality, but I did enjoy drawing it. 

Maybe I'll have to give it another shot sometime.

After I finished it, I excused myself from the meeting, took a walk, and then found a tree in the courtyard that inspired me. So in 20-30 minutes, I started another drawing.

Remember how I spent about two hours trying to draw a tree in Hawaii a couple years ago, but couldn't figure out how to do the leaves? While I appreciate my wife's encouragement, I recognize that I've got a long way to go as an artist. Still, it's nice to recognize progress and growth. I should read more about sketching. Heck, I should read any book on sketching. Still, maybe I've stumbled upon a better way of depicting flowers and leaves. I have high hopes for this one, that the final result may somehow transcend my previous sketches, and put my work on a new plateau. I'm under no illusions that I have any great talent in this area. But my limited practice has proven artist Mike Bocianowski's words true: as with any endeavor in life, if you want to do something, practice will help you get better at it, and spur on your creativity. 

Sometimes it's even fun.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Oh, The Places We've Seen: Part 4

Sadly, this year's trip to England will skirt the wonderful, bustling city of London, one of the great metropolises of the world. (In case you're interested, on the day we arrive in Heathrow, instead of taking the underground to London, we'll be driving our rental car in the opposite direction, toward the historic rock formation of Stonehenge). So I thought I'd reminisce with this series of posts about some of the great places we've visited on our previous trips to England, and in this post I continue from Part 3, still concentrating on the city of London.

On the day we cruised the River Thames, we boarded the river taxi from a dock located directly across from Millbank Tower. Tony Blair rented this building, for two years, to house the Labour Party, and it was from here that he launched the victorious 1997 campaign that swept the Labour Party into power. 

As the former Prime Minister said in his memoir, A Journey, the party had been out of power so long that it had to learn how to rule again, instead of just criticizing everything the majority party (the Conservatives) did. Had Jean Price, the protagonist in the TV series "No Job for a Lady," been an MP during that time, she would have found her day-to-day mode of operating changed considerably. 

It's a real shame they didn't film a sequel series, like they did with "Yes, Prime Minister." While Tony Blair accomplished much during his ten years in Number 10 Downing Street, his failure to orchestrate the return of such an educational and entertaining sitcom (or Britcom) remains a regrettable blot upon an otherwise enviable record. 

Millbank Tower also holds an important place in Doctor Who. While it features in no Dalek stories (at least none of which I am aware), it served as the headquarters of Tobias Vaughn, who uses the might of his company International Electromatics to help the Cybermen take over the world in "The Invasion." Later, it housed the World Energy Conference, which a strange alien race hopes to disrupt in "Terror of the Zygons." In order to achieve this, they send a dreaded Scarasen, better known as the Loch Ness monster, to attack the building.

Thankfully, the Doctor manages to outwit the Zygons, thereby saving Millbank Tower, and allowing this important conference to continue. But then, what else would you expect from such a wise and able Timelord?

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
The Dreaded Scarasen of the River Thames

Related Internet Links
Watch the trailer for "No Job for a Lady"
Watch "Terror of the Zygons: Part 1"
Watch "The Invasion: Part 1" (Note: this is a reconstruction of a missing episode using still photos and short film sequences. If you buy the DVD, you can see an animated version of this episode). 

Monday, June 1, 2015

No Job For A Lady: Who Goes Home? Part 3

In "Who Goes Home?" the first episode of the British sitcom No Job For A Lady, new Member of Parliament (MP) Jean Price find herself unable to return home on her husband's birthday to eat dinner with him. Despite securing a pairing arrangement with Sir Godfrey Eagan, a popular and influential Conservative MP, he approaches her in the House of Commons tea room later, where he apologizes for his misunderstanding, but he must vote tonight on a farming bill that's important to his constituents. 

After the session, she returns to her cramped and darkened office across the street from the Houses of Parliament, where she upbraids fellow MP Ken for not warning her that her Early Day Motion could be amended. Beneath her argument that the House of Commons should operate between 9 am and 6 pm Monday through Friday, other MPs wrote that the government of Britain is too important to be relegated to her desired time intervals, and that "if any member can't stand the heat, she should get out of the kitchen." Furthermore, new female MPs should honor male members by being appropriately attired. "Trousers on a woman are an abomination," it reads. 

I wonder who might have written that?

Ken suggests that, as much as she wants to change the system, she should be aware that many MPs like it just the way it is, and that they will occasionally knife other members in the back to protect what they value.

When she complains about missing dinner with Geoff, he reminds her that his constituents don't live within cycling distance, but in faraway Scotland, and he only gets to see them for a few hours each week. This helps her reflect on the importance of being an MP, and the sacrifices that accompany such a lofty position. Then she walks out to her bicycle, where a police officer, or English bobby, instructs her not to chain it to the fencing around the Palace of Westminster in future. She corrects his assumption that she's a secretary, and assures him that a woman (no, excuse me, a Lady) can be a British MP. He remains skeptical, and when she introduces herself as Jean Price, Member of Parliament, he tells her that he's Norman Tebbit (who, like Sir Godfrey Eagan, served as an influential Conservative backbencher in 1990, when this episode was broadcast). 

Jean Price isn't in British politics for money or fame. All her life she's fought for the causes she believed in, and worked hard to strengthen the power of labor unions. She's always on the lookout to improve the lives of her constituents. As Tony Blair would later say of the members of his party in his memoir A Journey, she knows how to identify what's wrong with the system, but she doesn't yet know how to govern. But that's the role that a MP plays in British politics unless his or her party holds a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. For three seasons and eighteen episodes, Jean Price will fight for many more causes and people. She's a good character, in an educational and entertaining series. If my posts on this episode have interested you, you may wish to pick up the series on DVD, and view it in its entirety. 

Dragon Dave