Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the most famed and beloved writers of speculative fiction, has passed on. She was 88 years old so she had a good run. Still, it is sad to see another great one pass.
Rest in peace, dear lady.
Several myth cycles have been featured here before, most often the Cthulhu Mythos, of course, but there have also been mentions of Norse Mythology and more recently the Epic of Gilgamesh. Now it is time for some mythology that is often, sadly, ignored by most:
The fact that African mythology is often ignored in cultural studies is tragic, since this continent offers an astoundingly divers and rich treassure of tales that, due to the nature of human origin, go back longer than anywhere else on earth.
Here is one great example of African mythology: The Mwindo Epic, a tale by the Nyanga people of the Congo:
Also of note is the way the epic is traditionally told (this is according to the Wikipedia, so accurracy may be flexible):
The Mwindo Epic varies from typical oral myths in that it is not only spoken, but performed among gatherings of locals. The myth is performed mostly by a single bard wielding a calabash made into a rattle and donning various bells and other forms of noisemakers. To tell the story properly the bard acts out all the parts and does not refrain from being very animated in his dances and acting. It is not unusual for the bard to throw in some narrative not native to the story detailing his own life and his own personal experiences. The narrator is usually accompanied by four younger men who play on a percussion stick.
Audience participation is important. The audience will often sing along with the narrator and the percussionists during the songs, and repeat certain lines of the story while the narrator pauses between sections. The bard is often shown appreciation by the audience with applause, yells, and gifts.
The Cthulhu Mythos, the original tales by H.P. Lovecraft and for a long time the vast majority of the stories written by his friends and successors are lacking one thing (both the stories and the successors):
Both the stories and the the league of authors are almost devoid of women and I was only aware of Sonia Greene, as far as female authors are concerned. So I was delighted when a friend pointed me towards She Walks in Shadows, an anthology written entirely by female devotees of the Mythos and featuring female protagonists.
I was also a little weary since I have had mixed experiences with anthologies in the past andShe Walks in Shadows is all about my favourite fictional universe, I knew I would react a bit touchy if the anthology was a disappointment.
I need not have worried, She Walks in Shadow is a jewel, a jewel more akin to a Shining Trapezohedron, but a jewel none the less.
While I did not enjoy every story, the ones I did enjoy far outweight the ones I did not.
“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” by Inkeri Kontro and “Bring the Moon to Me” by Amelia Gorman share the #1 spot in my personal list, both blending science and the Cthulhu Mythos in delightfully creative ways and being bone-chilling at the same time.
Another great one is “Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961″ by Sharon Mock. The style of the story really drags you into the brutal reality of an insane asylum and then there is some Cthulhu Mythos sprinkled on top.
“The Thing in The Cheerleading Squad” by Molly Tanzer is really delightfully different and not slapsticky at all, although you might think it is, judging from the title.
But the review would not be complete without mentioning the final story of the anthology:
“Queen of a New America” by Wendy N. Wagner, a tale featuring everybody’s favourite evil lady pharao: Nitocris,truly a lady with a plan.
She Walks in Shadows is a great and delightfully different Cthulhu Mythos anthology that opens new perspectives on old tales and spins new ones, adding more facettes to the cosmic horror that is the Cthulhu Mythos.
The Anthology contains 25 original short stories, there is a lot more to discover than the stories I mentioned in this review. Get a copy, you will not regret it…
8 out of 10 screaming Haunting Horrors
It is an honoured tradition on this blog to commemorate the birthday of the Master of the Macabre, H. P. Lovecraft, on this day every year.
Today in 1890, Howard Philips Lovecraft was born in in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life.
To celebrate, I present a reading of one of my favourite tales, The Shadow Over Innsmouth:
Writing a story set in a utopian or close to utopian society is harder than I thought… This maybe because most of the stuff I have thus far written is either dark fantasy or Cthulhu Mythos related or in some Steampunk setting with some type of international conflict or the usual villain-tropes going on.
A few weeks back I thought I could participate in a call for short stories in a utopian setting, either near future or further on in time. Initially, I found it really hard to come up with a scenario that is engaging, offers potential and is not some blatant trope-bashing or something that has been written about dozens of times before. Things like a futuristic crime story where some high-tech criminals just doing it out of boredom for example.
I have found a good scenario for my story now, I think it is internally consistent and it works against a utopian background, but it has been a rather long way to get there. Now I just have to make the deadline.
Note to self: Writing positive stuff is harder than writing negative/dark stuff…
Header Image © Robert McCall, fair use
In the past I have on numerous occasions complained about the way Germany and Germans are portraied in Anglo-centric Steampunk fiction (i.e. the authors had a tendency of making the Germans a) the villains and b) Nazis with Pickelhauben).
Now I have the great pleasure of presenting a genuine German Steampunk novel to you and an awesome one on top of that. Ætherhertz gives you a first-hand look into what Steampunk Germany could really have looked like, with an accurate depiction of what society in the time of the Kaiser really was like and with amazing attention to detail.
Ætherhertz has of course been translated into English for your reading pleasure, I am not forcing you to read a book in German, do not worry.
Ætherhertz is a splendid read, the German original (by the same name) is still the Steampunk novel I meassure all other German Steampunk novels against. The world feels real, has beautifu Steampunk and Steamfantasy elements in it and presents a Steampunk world from a very different perspective to the one you may be used to.
No colonies, no big cities (Baden-Baden is a rather small town, even today) and no threats to the British Empire. This novel is about the people, and it spans the whole spectrum, high-society, the poor, the military, the criminals and all of the people feel real.
But before I sing more praise for Æthehertz, here is a short synopsis from the author herself:
Since the turn of the century, a substance called Æther is rising from the waters, and it is changing the world. A blessing for the industry, a curse for the people, for some of them are being transformed into creatures from fairy-tales and legends. The so-called »Corrupted« are haunting the green mists, and themselves hunted and locked up in jails or asylums.
It is in these strange times, the story begins:
In the famous spa town of Baden-Baden, young women are being poisoned by a mysterious substance. While investigating the case, Fräulein Annabelle Rosenherz uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the whole Grand Duchy of Baden.
But Annabelle is in grave danger herself, she has secrets of her own, and while she tries to solve the murders, she finds rejection and people obsessed by power, but also love.
A steampunk novel set in the beautiful town of Baden-Baden: Stroll with us under the brightly lit gas lanterns, wander along the Lichtenthaler Allee, past the stately casinos towards the first class hotels and fashionable gathering places of the high society, but also towards the perilous secrets thriving in the dark and the misty heights of the Black Forest.
Look here if you want to know more, or contact the author about a free copy for a review: Ætherbooks on Facebook
Now available in ebook format: Aetherworld
So please, if you are interested in Steampunk from a different perspective than the regular British Empire or US-centric ones, give this one a read, you will not regret it!
It seems ages ago when my friend Josue Ramos and others came up with the idea of assembling a group of Steampunk writers from all around the globe to work together on a truely international and culturally diverse Steampunk anthology.
The project survived through the financial crisis, although it lost its original would-be publisher but was then adopted by Lunar Press.
So finally, after more years than any of us would have thought, I am honored to reveal the Steampunk Writers Around the World Volume I anthology. Hot off the presses, a July release by Lunar Press, of Edinburgh, Scotland.
FOREWORD By Kevin Steil
THE STORY OF YOUR HEART By Josué Ramos – Spain
EL ALFÉREZ DE HIERRO By Fábio Fernandes – Brazil
HEIRS By Marcus R. Gilman – Germany
PÓLVORA Y VAPOR By Aníbal J. Rosario Planas – Puerto Rico
PROVIDENCE IN THE PACIFIC By Ray Dean – Hawaii
LAS CADENAS INFINITAS By César Santivañez – Peru
THE SWARM By Milton Davis – Africa
LA HISTORIA DE TU CORAZÓN By Josué Ramos – Spain
UNMADE By Suna Dasi – Scotland/India
LA MALDICIÓN DE LA ESPINA By Elaine Vilar Madruga – Cuba
THE GOLDEN APPLE By Petra Slováková – Czech Republic
CUAUHTLIPOCA, EL ÁGUILA HUMEANTE By Paulo César Ramírez Villaseñor – Mexico
The stories are truely divers and off the beaten track of „Steampowered Anglophones save the World“. My personal favourite is Suna Dasi’s UNMADE, which is the best Steampunk short story I ever had the pleasure to read.
I only regret there are no Francophone authors in the anthology. Still, it is a fine selection of tales from all over the world and you can get it now right here!
Oh yes, and my story of course features a propper Zeppelin and its crew, not just a blimp or dirigible, but a proper Zeppelin.
So, grab yourself a copy, celebrate the diversity of Steampunk and an indipendent publisher!
A long time ago, a cabal of writers from all around the world hatched a plan to write an anthology of Steampunk short stories. Each author would write a story focused on their country of origin and the result would be a truly multi-facetted anthology going beyond the limits of usually rather Anglo-centry Steampunk fiction.
I am a member of that cabal, and here is a teaser regarding the interior art of the anthology.
More info soon!
Some more flash-fiction courtesy of Elegy for a Dead World. Later on tonight, there will also be a podcast:
To my loyal subjects: After much reflection on the way the war is going for us and our enemies, I have decided to resort to the unthinkable:
At 2500h today, I have ordered our military forces to stand down and begin an orderly withdrawal behind our pre-war bordes, and for my government to convey to our enemies that from this point forward, we will not fight anymore.
To ensure the safety of our people, of our country and to stabilize the region, we declared war on our neighbours and their ideologies. It was furthest from our minds that we should become the very thing we hate most: Tyrants, dictators and murderers.
But what was intended to be a short, victorious war has become a quagmire of blood. Despite our honorable forces‘ best efforts, our country’s faith in the cause, and our enemies supposed inferiority.
Ten million people have died on our world alone. Despite this sacrifice, nothing has changed and this universe has become a darker place for it.
Here, the enemy has has stood strong but suffered greatly. There, a thousand of our finest children lie dead, with them, the children of our enemies.
Additionally, our enemies have created better weapons and defences than we have thought possible, which has taken even more of our children from us.
In honor of those who have fallen protecting our world, we will erect a monument containing the essences of ther souls. This will serve as a reminder of their sacrifices, channel our resolve into brighter channels and will allow us to achieve a greater good.
All eyes are now on us. When you, my loyal subjects, take the steps towards peace, others will follow your lead and mindless war will be followed by golden peace. The peace this world and its neighbours deserve.
We are the ones paving the way for peace, for a brighter future for the entire sector of the galaxy. In a thousand years, our blood and sweat will be forgotten, but the peace we started shall remain and shine like a beacon in the cold void of space.
Let our entire world continue with one voice, ever certain that, though we have suffered greatly and have brought great suffering, our people are still united as one and still have hope and dreams for a better future for us. But this future can only be created if we not only think of our planet and our civilization, but realize that this peace must include our neighbours. It must include them in a way they choose, not one we force upon them.
Today, we are eclipsed by other worlds, but one day soon, our star will shine brighter than ever. It’s light being strengthened by the peace, that emaneted from one of the worlds which are its children.
This is my final decree. I have started this war and tonight, my soul essences will join with the ones already infused in the foundation of the monument. I shall face their judgement. The government has been instructed to choose a new Emperor, may his reign be one of greater wisdom and peace than mine was.
Already a while ago, I got myself a copy of Elegy for a Dead World, a game which is aimed towards animating the player to write a story about worlds they explore. All the worlds have one thing in common: They are home to ruins of dead or abandoned civilization.
Yesterday, I played the game and immediately found that my love for the Cthulhu Mythos crept into the story. I took the role of an interplanetary investigator and this is the story, my log, so to speak, that I cam eup with. If you play Elegy for a Dead World, you will be able to guess, which world I visited:
A palpable sense of burned decay. Everything here is tainted red. Hard, geometric forms seem to want to stab the viewer, the earth, the sky.
Curious symbols, like the once found in the dreaded Necronomicon mark bookshelves. I start to wonder if the colonists made contact with the forces of the mythos, before everybody vanished.
There is another symbol, a central, big circle, drawn with a thick stroke, and another, smaller and thinner one in the lower left corner of the plaque they share. Maybe it signifies a gate. This is the only symbol with no shelf underneath.
I look for a key or a portal in this gap between the shelves, but nothing moves. It is only a gap. Nothing hints of the dark powers, eldritch might or alien tech.
Another example of weird geometry. A tower with a floating ball, or sun, suspended over its apex. The distant mountains and clouds form an eery backdrop. The sun is glaring down despite the thick cloud-cover. DId the sun burn the colonists? It is so bright here.
I have entered a tower. There is a sound of someone breathing but noone is here. The light is ofter and candles are burning. It appears to be a place of worship. The room is dominated by a glowing orb of the sun with broken stone sculptures of the same sun on either side. This is not a triple system, why the broken suns or why three times the sun, then? Are the spheres in their combination symbolize Yog-Sothoth? Is this the answer? Did the colonists all vanish through a gate?There is another stairwell. leading up. I continue my search. The breathing noise has ceased, replaced by a dull hum, like heavy machinery or turbines are running somewhere in this tower.
I found a room one floor up, containing cryo-chambers. One seems to be occupied, but I cannot open it. The other is powered down and I cannot look inside.
The other room on this floor leads to an inner room reaching far down. The sculpture of a giant head of vaguely human outline is here. Of the face, there is only a nose and maybe a symbolic eye on the forehead? Nyarlathotep?
Someone (a child?) has created a snowman-astronaut here. It is almost madeningly mundaine and quaint in this hellish frozen wasteland under the eclipsed sun.What? I exited the top of the tower. The landscape is completely changed and the top is actually sticking out of the ground of some other place. It is an icy waste. Broken machinery and the carcasses of space ships are strewn about. A giant black moon permanently eclipses the sun. The rotation of this planet has ceased or never was. I am returning to the point where I started.
I can only recommend Elegy for a Dead World. If you like writing and are rather casual about it, as I am, you will love this game!