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A.J. Carlisle Podcast “The Codex Lacrimae, Pt. 1, Ch. 1” (AUDIOBOOK)

A.J. Carlisle’s “The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight” (Copyright 2018 by A.J. Carlisle)

 

An Author’s Journey: A Return to Blogging after a Year and Half of University Teaching!

Happy New Year, Everybody!

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a while, but with good cause: after many years away, I’ve returned to regular teaching duties at a local university!

This job change was a surprise because my wife and my plans for raising our two kids for the last twenty-one years hadn’t included me returning to active duty on a college campus. While parenting, any free time I had was either consumed with writing The Codex Lacrimae (and plotting the next books in my epic fantasy series) and staying active as a medieval historian in a couple of meaningful ways: involvement with a medieval and Renaissance association, and publishing research articles in the field where I earned a Ph.D. (12th Century Latin sermons and the Crusades).

The Return to University Teaching

IMG_6080Thanks to a coincidence of events, my return to teaching on a college campus in 2016 began a journey of self-rediscovery as a professional historian that I’d genuinely believed long lost.  That is, during those years in the academic borderlands, I’d been able to research, translate, and analyze documents on my own terms, preparing journal articles and meeting papers without meeting the new demands that daily life on campus demands.  Suddenly, being employed again, I found myself faced with lecture preparations, drafting quizzes and tests, making essay prompts, grading, and holding office hours with students! While all of this work reinvigorated my historical side, the duties did somewhat distract me from writing epic fantasy, as well as tending to this blog.

Now, that’s not to say that I wasn’t thinking about my favorite literary form — and, more specifically, plotting and writing my next book, The Codex Vindicta: The Book of Vengeance — but I had to redirect much of that creative writing and storytelling energy into updating lectures from circa 1996-2001 into relevant stories for today’s generation of students.

Rebooting Old Western Civ Courses into World History Surveys

IMG_0279.jpgThat process became a full-time job because when I left teaching at schools such as Santa Clara University and CU Boulder back in 2001, Western Civilization surveys were the norm.  These days, the realities of a modern global society that’s bound by economic and cultural exchanges demands that — in addition to mastering the traditional material from Western Civ courses (Old and New Stone Ages, Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Greco-Roman societies, and the Middle Ages) — undergraduates now need to have exposure to (and understanding of) the societies of India, Africa, Asia, Persia, and the Americas.

Happily Discovering a New Generation of Students Eager to Learn

IMG_2298So, whether in “World History to 1500” or, more recently, “World History since 1500” and “The Medieval World, 500-1500 C.E.,” making global history relevant to a few hundred students has dominated most of my time the last couple of years. I’ve found the return to be exhilarating  besides getting the chance to tell stories during lectures that canvas 4.5 billion years ago to the present, I’ve even enjoyed tending to the inevitable duties of grading essays and quizzes and holding office hours.

IMG_2302

My daughter, now a senior in college & part of this new generation, visited my World History to 1500 class one day to check out how the old man was doing … along with her brother, she’ll always remain my best student!

Happily, while verifying some of the recent commentary on the state of undergraduate life (most of my students work at least 20-40 hours a week, enter the university at a variety of ages, arrive on campus from diverse backgrounds and countries, and some even are veterans ), my observations of the students in my classes reveal a (generally felt) genuine interest both in advancing to a bachelor’s degree and a willingness to work hard to achieve success. (For a great article on some sobering realities facing today’s students, see Gail O. Mellow, “The Biggest Misconception about Today’s College Students” (NY Times, 8/28/17))

 

Returning to Sci-Fi & Epic Fantasy Blogging at an Exciting Time!

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blogHowever, now that I’ve rebooted the teaching side of my life, and now have returned to this and resuming my ongoing assessments of Science Fiction and the Epic Fantasy genre, I find that I couldn’t have chosen a better time to make a comeback! Star Wars films are appearing now with a regularity that I couldn’t have dreamed of when I first saw the original as a wide-eyed eleven-year-old (and the recent Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi more than delivered on my hopes for the film), and they definitely don’t disappoint!

variant-cover-of-doomsday-clock-1-with-superman-and-doctor-manhattanMoreover, Marvel and DC have added feature-films and television shows to enhance the comic-book tales that I still read daily from a collection that began when I was nine year’s old; so, in addition to reading Dan Slott’s fantastic run on The Amazing Spider-Man or Scott Snyder’s (and now Tom King’s) Batman, I find that Geoff Johns is creating a very cool addition to the original Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen graphic novel in the recent line-wide DC Rebirth, particularly in the new Doomsday Clock 12-issue mini series that promises to bring the world of the Watchmen and the DC Universe together in an exciting and original way.

wonderwomanposter-860081And now, when I look up from the colored pages of comic books, I see live-action renditions of favorite characters and storylines proliferating everywhere! Last summer’s Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming were excellent films that demonstrated that the big-screen adaptations of the superhero genre still have legs; and then you go to the small screen, and top-quality television shows like The Flash and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are all bringing characters and storylines with which I grew up to a wider audience than ever before. 

3fa9a8b0d90c52e51505d83bd6286f21Add to all of these Sci-Fi & Fantasy that the fact that there are a lot of binge-worthy offerings such as HBO’s Game of Thrones and Netflix’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and The Defenders, and there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to explore and enjoy all of these artistic expressions and meet the demands of academic life and creative writing for my own The Artifacts of Destiny fantasy series.

On that literary front, the year saw a variety of excellent contributions to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy form, some of the best of which from 2017 can be seen here:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/30/the-best-science-fiction-and-fantasy-of-2017

https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/29/16700126/best-sci-fi-fantasy-horror-books-2017-vandermeer-stanley-robinson-alderman

http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-10-best-sci-fi-and-fantasy-books-of-2017

A.J. Carlisle's "The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner's Daughter & Doomed Knight"

Ah, well, not having enough time in the day to enjoy one’s hobbies and passions is the proverbial “problem worth having,” and, for my part, it’ll be fun rebooting this blog and sharing my thoughts about my novels, epic fantasy, and ALL of these subjects and more in the new year!

As we turn the page and leave 2017, I wish all of you and yours a fantastic New Year’s Eve — see you in 2018, when I’ll have new second edition releases of The Codex Lacrimae, Parts 1-3, and I hope you have a Happy New Year!

Best,
A.J.

 

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming [Spoiler-Free]

Spider-Man_Homecoming_poster

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Film Review: “Spider-Man: Homecoming” [Spoiler-Free] :

Good Afternoon, Friends!

Story and character. Character and story.

In these blogs I’ve often repeated variations on these two essential elements of long-lasting & entertaining storytelling, demanding that epic fantasy creators craft tales with these principles as a fundamental baseline. And, yea, “Friends, Romans, countrymen,” I’ve even audaciously demanded that readers and fans of epic fantasy ought to demand more from the medium than unoriginal and uninspired rip-offs of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Local Hero: “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Basic demands of storytelling in any entertainment form? Sure, but a story’s integrity to itself and interesting dramatis personae are enduring essentials of the craft whether realized in a comic-book movie, dramatic film, plays, or literature.  Shakespeare certainly knew the importance of words wedded to meaning 400 years ago — recall Claudius’s “Words without thoughts never to heaven go” line in Hamlet? — but too often these simple qualities are forgotten by some novelists scrambling to write the Next Big Thing, or, in movie-making standards, by directors and writers relying overmuch on digital effects to make the next Hollywood Blockbuster. (For a smile, see ‘Cracked’ article)

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”

Spider-Man: Homecoming (7.7.17)

I’m pleased to report that, in an age of ever-escalating CGI-enhanced spectacle at this time of year — and too-often attendant poor workmanship on the story & character side of things (see Curtis’s ‘The New Yorker’ article) — Director Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming delights the viewer in trusting an audience and giving us an entertaining demonstration that a summer blockbuster need not be predictable and mundane.

As this is a spoiler-free review, I won’t give all the shout-outs to fans and Easter Eggs (see list below), but I can heartily recommend the film as an excellent addition (best?) to the Spider-Man film franchise.

While Wonder Woman remains the standard for the direction that DC should take with its heroic characters & franchise, Sony & Marvel Studios’ latest reboot of the Spider-Man series offers the summertime moviegoer exactly what’s sought from a summer hit: a great story, likable and fleshed-out characters, & enough original action sequences for a highly enjoyable couple of hours at the cinema.

Thankfully, story and character appear to be the foremost priorities for both storytellers Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley and actor Tom Holland.

Spidey’s 1st Appearance (“Amazing Fantasy,” Vol. 1, #15, cover, August 1962)

A Heroic Nerd (from “Amazing Fantasy,” Vol. 1, #15, p. 1, August 1962)

I was a fan of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s respective interpretations of Peter Parker, but none of the previous iterations in this franchise has quite captured the essential spirit of the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comic books from the early 1960s as Holland & Company achieve in this film. In that initial three-year plus run of the comic books (Amazing Spider-Man #1-38, Annuals #1-2), Peter Parker was the quintessential “nerd” decades before the term achieved the potential respectability (& big screen profitability) that it enjoys today.  Because of a screenplay that balances intense moments of characterization with well-timed action sequences, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is immediately likable and relatable, and hopefully will be given time to flesh out his own take on the character in future Spider-Man and Avengers films.

“Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Compared to many of the cosmic-scaled summer films, Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds largely because it adheres closely to its Lee/Ditko roots while including a modern Brian Michael Bendis & Dan Slott spin on the character.  That direction was a great call.  As with the first Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy films, superb writing and characterization for a summer blockbuster, the film’s attention to all of Spider-Man’s “friendly neighborhood,” humorous, and dramatic aspects offer a rare opportunity for fan-boys and fan-girls of all ages to share with non-comic book aficionados a sense of what’s kept Spider-Man on the top of many people’s Wednesday “buy piles” of weekly comics for over half a century (in my case, I’ve been a fan of Spidey for over forty of those years)!

Spidey Takes a Sandwich Break

From the introductory shout-out by composer Michael Giacchino to the Spider-Man cartoon series from 1967, to the literal situating of much of the film’s central action scenes in lesser-filmed places such as Queens, suburban back yards, a golf course, warehouses, the Staten Island Ferry, etc, the film-makers succeed in realizing a contemporary version of Peter Parker and Spider-Man that gives us a sense of what a humble teenage kid might be experiencing when set against a world of Avengers powerhouses such as Iron Man and Thor. (See Scherstuhl article, Village Voice Indeed, when the film opens its cinematic scope to include New York City, Washington D.C., and includes its various world-building allusions to the Avengers (Battle of New York, relocation to upstate New York, Captain America PSAs, and a quinjet carrying Chitauri weapons 10,000 feet in the sky), those large-scale moments achieve remarkable impact on the viewer because we’ve become so vested in Peter’s view of the world from the first moment he turned a camera on himself and declared a “film by Peter Parker.”

“Aunt May” (Marisa Tomei) and “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Holland’s interactions with a variety of the characters in the film also lend themselves to creating a truly teenage version of the character that Lee and Ditko were so careful to keep in mind on their initial run.  Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is a refreshing take on the character — bringing her more in line with the 2000s comic book Ultimate Spider-Man version — and her moments with Peter humorously ground both characters in a home environment where most teenagers find the best refuge from the world is the closing of a bedroom door.

Midtown High Cast of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (from left: Angourie Rice, Tony Revolori, Laura Harrier, Jacob Batalon, Zendaya, and Tom Holland)

Peter’s relationships with various other teenagers in the film allow for some fun interactions, too.  Much has been made in the press about the diversity of this film — for a start, after you read this blog because you don’t want any spoilers, see Woodard article, Huffington Post,  Tinubu article, jetmag  and Johnson article, The Root — but in keeping with my theme of “characters and story,” I maintain that the film achieved something of verisimilitude in its high school scenes.

“Michelle” (Zendaya)

Thanks to some enjoyable writing and well-acted moments, the audience member feels as if he or she’s in a Queens high school, and, I disagree with a couple of critiques in Johnson’s review that essentially sees many missed opportunities in this film.  First, I thought that, in a reboot attempt that prioritizes bringing the traditional Peter Parker into the established MCU, this film was not the moment to introduce Miles Morales, an Afro-Hispanic teenager who is also Spider-Man in the current comic continuity (Miles is awesome in his own right, and needs his own movie or a team-up approach with Peter!)

Spider-Men II (Marvel Comics, 2017)

Marvel’s already doing this kind of treatment with last week’s release of “Spider-Men II,” a five-issue mini-series that seriously treats Parker and Morales as heroes in their own right, rather than trying to “choose” one over the other for the sake of making a diversity statement — that’s my idea of storytelling, a one that focuses on the human beings at the center of a tale, rather than using stories to make mission statements.

“Liz” (Laura Ruth Harrier) & “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Secondly, the lead females Liz (Laura Harrier) and Michelle (Zendaya) did actually have significant roles to play in the story, and that their relationships with Peter stand on their own respective merits without serving merely as a plot point to include peoples of color and genders different from the white protagonist. (See  Yamato article, LA Times )

“Mr. Harrington” (Martin Starr)

On another front, besides appreciating the real-life vibe that the rest of the high school scenes brought to this version of Spider-Man.  Given Peter’s traditional status as a science geek, I loved that Peter’s also a member of the Midtown School of Science and Technology’s “Academic Decathlon Team,” headed by teacher Mr. Harrington (Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr, “Gilfoyle”).

“Ned Leeds” (Jacob Batalon) and “Peter Parker” (Tom Holland)

However, it’s in the character of Ned (Jacob Batalon) that Peter finds a best friend who can provide the Everyman moments with which we identify when observing Peter’s/Spidey’s exploits. Again, the writing was so good and the acting interplay between Batalon and Hammond so well-realized that the fact that there was criticism of having a Filipino-American “sidekick” didn’t occur to me until I started reading online reviews critical of the filmmakers’ use of the character Ganke (from cast of the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man) without going wholesale with Morales as the lead Spidey. In the context of this film, the dynamic worked, and, again, thanks to the care given by the writers and actors, the friendship between Ned and Peter rang true.

“Tony Stark” (Robert Downey Jr.) & “Happy Hogan” (Jon Favreau) in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Sony/Marvel Studios, 2017)

Ultimately, though, the mentor-apprentice relationship that Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) collectively share with Peter is the main foil for expressing the various joys and frustrations a teenaged superhero might experience in this comic-book world.

Mentor & Apprentice: Tony Stark and Peter Parker in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

“The Vulture” (Michael Keaton)

In an appreciated and needful “liaison” role as this franchised Spider-Man makes his jump from Sony into the larger and more successful MCU, Tony Stark is the fulcrum for both the hero and villain in this film. For Peter, most of Spider-Man’s actions in the film can be directly related to interactions (or lack of interactions) with Stark, while for the Vulture, (“Adrian Toomes,” played with a nuanced evil by Michael Keaton), the billionaire industrialist’s intervention in the clean-up of alien Chitauri weaponry after Marvel’s The Avengers “Battle of New York” is seen by the character as responsible for Toomes turning to crime.

Thanks to five previous Spider-Man films that introduced many villains from Spidey’s rogues gallery — including 3 variations on the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Sandman, Lizard, Rhino, and Electro — Spider-Man: Homecoming includes one of the quickest origin stories for the Vulture, and gives him a much more compelling backstory than Lee & Ditko’s back in the early 1960s.

“The Vulture” (first appearance in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Vol. 1, #2, May 1963)

Spidey vs The Vulture (Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

As the earliest super villain in the Spider-Man mythos — appearing in comic books in The Amazing Spider-Man #2 — the Vulture is a perfect antagonist for this reboot, because the parallel journeys of Peter Parker and Adrian Toomes depend on how each man reacts to Tony Stark.  That is, early in the film, Stark’s actions deprive both Parker and Toomes of their essential hopes.

Michael Keaton as “The Vulture” In Sony & Marvel Studios’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Subsequently, each character’s reaction to that deprivation drives the plot of the entire film: Peter practices tirelessly at being a hero — no matter the personal cost to his relationship with his mentor — and Adrian spends his time becoming a super villain and ruthlessly mastering a weapons ring (which includes two other classic Spider-Man villains, the Shocker and a proto-Scorpion, as well as a potential buyer who’s code-name is another villain shout-out to the Prowler).The plot-lines from this premise are clean from beginning to end, and, again, offer some surprising complexities by the film’s final forty-five minutes, especially because of Keaton’s and Hammond’s layered performances.

Get out there and enjoy it!

Thanks for visiting,

A.J

for Easter Eggs and various comic-book related reviews, see:

CBR’s “The 15 Best Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter Eggs”

Newsrama’s “10 Surprises, Easter Eggs, Homages, & Theories from SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – SPOILERS”

The Hollywood Reporter’s “The Definitive List of ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Easter Eggs”

TIME’s “20 Easter Eggs You Probably Didn’t Notice in ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ “

IGN’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming Easter Eggs and References”

Vox’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming: 5 of the movie’s best Easter eggs”

for spoiler-filled and regular reviews, jump to the following sites:

Empire

Forbes

Metacritic

New York Times

Rotten Tomatoes

Screen Rant

Variety

An Author’s Journey: Worlds of Medieval Literature (4) King Arthur, Pt 4: Supernatural Wonder

The Attainment: "The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval" ;  No. 6 of Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall; Wool and silk on cotton warp; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

The Attainment: “The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval” ; No. 6 of Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall; Wool and silk on cotton warp; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

An Author’s Journey: Worlds of Medieval Literature (4) King Arthur, Pt 4: Supernatural Wonder

Good Morning, Everyone!

Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur) in "Merlin" (BBC tv series, 2008-2012)

Colin Morgan (Merlin) and Bradley James (Arthur), and Knights of Round Table  in “Merlin” (BBC tv series, 2008-2012)

King Arthur still looms large in the popular imagination, his name usually evoking equally legendary and supernatural images.  Most familiar, perhaps, are the images of the ‘Wart’ pulling from a stone the enchanted sword Excalibur in Disney’s animated classic, The Sword in the Stone (itself an adaptation of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King); then there’s Colin Morgan’s wonderful portrayal of a teenaged Merlin for five seasons on the eponymous BBC tv series, magically protecting Camelot while the future (also-teenaged) ruler trains by his side, and featuring a reimagined Guinevere, Lancelot, Perceval, and Knights of the Round Table who all desultorily join Arthur before his final battle.

"Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975)

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)

Most famously, there’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘s 1975 take on the legend that skillfully critiqued medieval religion and popular culture as Graham Chapman’s Arthur, John Cleese’s Lancelot, Michael Palin’s Sir Galahad, & Terry Jones’s Sir Bedevere et al rode broomsticks-cum-horses through a parody-filled medieval landscape. (“It’s just a flesh wound!”/ “How could a 5-ounce bird possibly carry a 1-pound coconut?” / “Please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion. Let’s not bicker and argue over who killed who.”)

Rochefoucauld Grail (3-vol. compendium of English & French Arthur legends, 14th c).

Rochefoucauld Grail (3-vol. compendium of English & French Arthur legends, 14th c).

For all of the cinematic examples above, the wellsprings for these renderings of Arthur’s legend actually lie deep in the medieval literary tradition, the canon flowing from the imaginations and quills of a select number of 12th-15th Century writers.  I last discussed the “martial” and historical aspects of Arthur, and today want to touch on the theme of “supernatural wonder” that one associates with Arthurian lore. This theme is a unique blend of pagan and Christian elements, as Corinne Saunders elaborates in the introductory paragraphs of her essay, “Religion and Magic”:

"The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon" (Edward Coley Burne-Jones, oil on canvas, 1898)

“The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon” (Edward Coley Burne-Jones, oil on canvas, 1898)

Archibald & Putter's "The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend" (2003)

Archibald & Putter’s “The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend” (2003)

[Excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: The themes of religion and magic, interwoven in the supernatural, are crucial to the Arthurian legend. Many of its most resonant motifs, both secular and sacred, are linked to the supernatural (quest and adventure, magic and enchantment, prophecy and destiny, miracle and marvel, the search for the Holy Grail), as are some of its most powerful figures (Merlin, Morgan le Fey, the Fisher King).  The leitmotif [recurrent theme] of the supernatural echoes through Arthurian romance from its origins in the twelfth century to its modern manifestations.

Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

Carbonek, Castle of the Fisher King & the Holy Grail (Alan Lee)

Writers such as Chrétien de Troyes, the Gawain-poet, Malory, Tennyson, T.H. White, and Marion Zimmer Bradley engage in vastly different ways with the supernatural, but it remains a constant, fundamental to their narratives.  While in some contemporary works the supernatural is reduced or floats free of Christianity, the intimate connection between magic, religion and romance, established over something approaching a millennium, is not readily lost.  Magic and the supernatural more generally provide romance with its quality of the marvelous, but may also be treated with profundity and realism.  Medieval Arthurian legend, the focus of this essay, reflects a Christian world view in which the supernatural is assumed to play a part, and in which religion does not negate the possibility of magic.  Some of the central tensions in Arthurian romance, however, arise from the clash between different sorts of supernatural, in particular between the secular (with its origins in the pagan) and the sacred, and the ways that chivalric ideals engage with these.

"The Quest for the Holy Grail" (oil painting, Arthur Hughes, d. 1915)

“The Quest for the Holy Grail” (oil painting, Arthur Hughes, d. 1915)

Morgan Le Fey (Frederick Sandys, 1864)

Morgan Le Fey (Frederick Sandys, 1864)

[continued excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: The thought-world of the later Middle Ages included a complex mix of ideas of magic and the supernatural, which stretched back through classical and Judaeo-Christian as well as Germanic and Celtic belief and ritual.  Classical thought was infused with a strong sense of the supernatural: this was a world of gods and daemons, spirits who could act for good or ill. Classical literature told of celebrated practitioners of magic such as Medea and Circe, and of the flesh-devouring, child-killing strix or witch. There was also a strong tradition of what would come to be termed natural magic: Pliny’s Natural History ferociously condemns magic as dependent on the powers of demons, but also repeatedly refers to the extraordinary attributes of plants, stones and animal substances.  The oppositions between secular and spiritual, natural and demonic, licit and illicit magic established within the classical world remains crucial.

Carlisle's World: Illustrated Folio of Parzifal (13th c.)

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parzifal” (c. 1200) “…imagined the Grail as a stone, its power instilled by a Eucharistic wafer brought by a dove every Good Friday, [regenerates] the phoenix, prevents illness, age and death, and provides food and drink of all kinds.”

Arthurian Knights: "Bedivere Casting Excalibur into Water" (Aubrey Beardsley, 1894)

Arthurian Knights: “Bedivere Casting Excalibur into Water” (Aubrey Beardsley, 1894)

[continued excerpt from Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic”]: In the early Christian world magic was associated with the pagan. Augustine states categorically in The City of God that magic is demonic, whereas miracles occur through faith.  Yet, like Pliny, Augustine readily accepts as part of God’s universe the marvelous in nature, such as the properties of plants and stones.  Theologians of the early Middle Ages followed Augustine, identifying pagan superstition as demonic and heretical, although its endurance is clearly indicated by the many references to practices such as the rise of amulets, love-magic, medical magic and divination in secular and canon laws, penitentials and sermons, as well as the existence of collections of charms and remedies … . [END Excerpt:  Corinne Saunders, “Religion and Magic,” in Elizabeth Archibald and Ad Putter, eds., The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009; at 201-202.]

The Grail Found: "Galahad & the Dying Amfortas" (Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895)

The Grail Found: “Galahad & the Dying Amfortas” (Edwin Austin Abbey, 1895)

Le Morte d'Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Le Morte d’Arthur — The Battle of Cad Camlan, Arthur vs. Mordred (art by Arthur Rackham)

Whenever adopting any of the Arthurian supernatural wonders, some of today’s fantasists would do well to study such influences as classical times (Greco-Roman Antiquity), Judeo-Christian beliefs, and pagan (Celtic & Welsh) practices.  You can still write a story in the Arthurian vein without knowing about these origins, of course, but I think that a reader is better entertained when an adventure is wrought with some of these elements in mind.  Respectively, Arthur’s  ‘defense of Britain’ is a concept that needs some grounding in Roman frontier-life or knowledge of late-antique modes of kingship for verisimilitude; we may enjoy an idealized Camelot of the High Middle Ages, but the myth of Arthur is compelling because of the conflation of its (possible) 6th Century roots in provincial British vs. Saxons conflicts and a hyper-idealized late-medieval English/French court life.

Arthurian Knights: "Parsifal vor der Gralsburg" (Hans Werner Schmidt, 1928)

Arthurian Knights: “Parsifal vor der Gralsburg” (Hans Werner Schmidt, 1928)

"Lancelot & Guinevere" (illus. by N.C. Wyeth, from Malory's "The Boy's King Arthur," 1917)

“Lancelot & Guinevere” (illus. by N.C. Wyeth, from Malory’s “The Boy’s King Arthur,” 1917)

Then, there’s the infusion of Judeo-Christian religious ideals into the Arthurian stories.  To me, this inheritance is on of the least tended to in modern fantasy because of the emotional charge that electrifies any expression of Hebrew, Christian, or Muslim faith within the fantasy genre; and, “literally,” God help any author tries to seriously engage any or all of these religions in a fantasy story! Religiosity, however, can’t be ignored in the Arthurian tradition.  Indeed, can we really imagine any Arthurian tale without a chivalric ideal informed by the Christological allusions to sacrifice, obeisance, etc? Without the knight kneeling in vassalage to a feudal lord-cum-spiritual guide? Both of these relationships mirror aspects of the monotheistic belief that lies at the heart of a Biblical tradition that transformed Western Europe and the British Isles in the Middle Ages. Without such a religious presence, there’d be no Joseph of Arimethea or Holy Grail, no piously questing Knights of the Round Table, nor even Guinevere retiring to a convent, to name just a few examples.

Celtic Origins of the Arthurian Legend: "Garden of the Hesperides," in Rolleston et al's "The High Deeds of Finn & Other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland" (illus. by Stephen Reid)

Celtic Origins of the Arthurian Legend: “Garden of the Hesperides,” in Rolleston et al’s “The High Deeds of Finn & Other Bardic Romances of Ancient Ireland” (illus. by Stephen Reid)

Romance Tropes in "The Mabinogion" (Alan Lee)

Romance Tropes in “The Mabinogion” (Alan Lee)

Lastly, without the Celtic and Welsh traditions that predated the advent of Christianity in Britain, whence warlocks such as Merlin, or witches/fairies like Morgan le Fey? One could probably study many of the Arthurian works in isolation — e.g., finding all of the Christian and 15th century references in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur — but, to me, the admixture of explicitly rendered Christian themes and fabled phenomena such as Stonehenge and the druids, the Gaste Forest (Wasteland), white stags and wild hunts, the Lady of the Lake, the Questing Beast, Nimue, and the Otherworld of Annen Verden is where Arthur’s tales truly come to life.  Appreciate the Classical & Judeo-Christian elements, but never forget the Welsh and Celtic ‘pagan’ traditions that infuse all of the writers’ works!

Inspiration of Medieval Language & Literature: "The Beguiling of Merlin" (Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-1877)

Inspiration of Medieval Language & Literature: “The Beguiling of Merlin” (Edward Burne-Jones, 1872-1877)

Cei and Bedwyr with the Salmon of Llyn Llyw come to Caer Loyw to rescue Mabon

Cei and Bedwyr with the Salmon of Llyn Llyw come to Caer Loyw to rescue Mabon

If you take into account folk tales such as the Mabinogion or Culhwch and Olwen, you start drawing from some of the same traditions that the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth did when he wrote the Vita Merlini (“Life of Merlin”) and related the young wizard’s prophecy about why a castle couldn’t be built on an outcropping of apparently solid rock (Merlin said that two dragons fought in a pool below, a red beast, emblematic of the Britons, and a white one, which represented the Saxons).

Drawing upon such a diversity of historical, religious, and mythological traditions is the fun part of writing fantasy, and also one of the reasons why the Arthurian legend has endured for almost a thousand years.

Thanks for visiting!

A.J.

 

An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 2

An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 2

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction

Good Afternoon, Everyone!

I’m in the midst of starting the summer season by re-reading both Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Terry Pratchet’s Discworld books, literary journeys that should keep me entertained well into fall.  Revisiting Arrakis and the sustained, millennia-long tale of the Atreides family also goaded me into picking up a copy of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, a wide-ranging collection of essays on various aspects of sf (edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Andrew M. Butler's essay—Chapter 9's

Andrew M. Butler’s essay—Chapter 9’s “Postmodernism and science fiction”—groups Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 book, “Slaughterhouse-5,” as among ‘postmodern’ sf works. (Here: Tralfamadore)

Kazuo Ishiguro & Neil Gaiman (

Kazuo Ishiguro & Neil Gaiman (“Let’s talk about genre,” BBC Radio 4, 5/28/15)

Although published 12 years ago, the book’s comprehensive view of Science Fiction remains relevant in an entertainment industry that teems both with various expressions of the sf genre & little agreement on what’s meant by the term. (For a recent discussion of the blurred lines of “genre fiction” in today’s marketplace — and whether science fiction and fantasy are pejorative labels — jump to this 9-minute BBC radio interview with Neil Gaiman & Kazuo Ishiguro http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02sc1rf)

Robert A. Heinlein,

Robert A. Heinlein, “Starship Troopers” [1959 introduction of idea of powered armor exoskeletons]

Ursula K. Le Guin,

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Left Hand of Darkness” (Alex Ebal)

Back?  Great.  Let’s return to James & Mendlesohn’s text.  Last time I reviewed the ‘history’ section of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, and today we’ll conclude with some highlights from the its last two parts, ” Critical Approaches” and “Sub-Genres and Themes.”  While one might argue that the diversity of works in the “The History” section are themselves exercises in critically surveying sf, four essays give readers a sense of some possible academic “Critical Approaches”:  Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.’s “Marxist theory and science fiction,” Veronica Hollinger’s “Feminist theory and science fiction,” Andrew M. Butler’s “Postmodernism and science fiction,” and, finally, Wendy Pearson’s “Science fiction and queer theory.”

The conflict between Morlocks and Eloi in H.G. Wells's

The conflict between Morlocks and Eloi in H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” as an example of “science-fictional estrangement” for social models in Csicsery-Ronay’s essay, “Marxist theory and science fiction” (Here, Morlocks from the 1960 film, “The Time Machine”)

Csicsery-Ronay’s essay on Marxist theory is a superb example of the possible rewards awaiting sf readers who want to critically reflect on the field:

…Marxist theory has played an important role in sf criticism, especially in the last third of the past century.  Since the 1960s, many of the most sophisticated studies of sf have been either explicitly Marxist in orientation or influenced by Marxist concepts adopted by feminism, race-criticism, queer theory and cultural studies. Although relatively few critics and writers in the genre have been avowed adherents of Marxism, sf and the closely related genre of utopian fiction have deep affinities with Marxist thought in particular, and socialist thought in general.

Utopia becomes dystopia: Arthur C. Clarke's

Utopia becomes dystopia: Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” [concept art by Neal Adams]

In its simplest terms, sf and utopian fiction have been concerned with imagining progressive alternatives to the status quo, often implying critiques of contemporary conditions or possible future outcomes of current social trends.  Science fiction, in particular, imagines change in terms of the whole human species, and these changes are often the results of scientific discoveries and inventions that are applied by human beings to their own social evolution. These are also the concerns of the Marxist utopian and social imagination.

Feminism & revival of sf utopianism in the 1970s: Joanna Russ,

Feminism & revival of sf utopianism in the 1970s: Joanna Russ, “The Female Man” (art by Peter Andrew Jones)

Marx’s system combined a sophisticated critique of the capitalist economic system, a conception of history as the dialectical process of human self-construction, and a vision of a universally just and democratic way of life in the future as the goal of human history.  Although Marxism’s role as political practice and prophetic mode has weakened with the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the ascendancy of multinational capitalism, many of its key concepts have been adopted by other critical social movements and branches of scholarship. Race-critical and feminist thought has borrowed the Marxist historical model, substituting people of colour and women for the working class as emphasized historical agents. It frequently models racism and sexism on bourgeois ideology, as racial hegemony and patriarchy are modeled on the capitalist mode of production.  Thus marginalized humanity acts like the proletariat in a model of progressive coming-to-consciousness and revelation of the contradictions between ideology and its practice…From its earliest forms, utopian fiction has depicted imaginary just and rational societies established in opposition to exploitative worldly ones...

Planetary ecology & world-building in Frank Herbert's

Planetary ecology & world-building in Frank Herbert’s “Dune”

Again, while the book was written in 2003, Part 3’s “Sub-genres and themes” offers a host of essays that essentially characterize the state of the sf through the present-day, a testimony to the comprehensive editorial approach taken by editors James and Mendlesohn.  A short list here of the authors and essay titles should give a sense of the thoroughness and expansive coverage of the work:

'Hard sf' & Allen Steele's

‘Hard sf’ & Allen Steele’s “Chronospace” (2001)

Gwyneth Jones, “The icons of science fiction”
Joan Slonczewski & Michael Levy, “Science fiction and the life sciences”
Kathryn Cramer, “Hard science fiction”
Gary Westfahl, “Space opera”
Andy Duncan, “Alternate history”
Edward James, “Utopias and anti-utopias”
Ken Macleod, “Politics and science fiction”
Helen Merrick, “Gender in science fiction”
Elisabeth Anne Leonard, “Race and ethnicity in science fiction”
Farah Mendlesohn, “Religion and science fiction”

Alexei Panshin,

Alexei Panshin, “Rite of Passage” (1968) — What Gwyneth Jones calls the “complete starship” novel where social engineering, town planning, & education share the adventure story.

Gwyneth Jones essay, “The icons of science fiction,” is an essay that accomplishes much ground in ten pages; from a clearly stated premise ― “the icons of sf are the signs which announce the genre, which warn the reader that this is a different world; and at the same time constitute that difference” — Jones defines sf “icons” as representing “something both supernatural (or at least other-worldly), artistically conventional (in that certain features are mandatory) and yet clearly belonging to the public domain.” She proceeds to divide the article according to the most commonly found sf topoi: (1) Rockets, spaceships, space habitats, virtual environments; (2) Robots, androids (and gynoids); cyborgs and aliens; (3) Animals, vegetables, and minerals; (4) Mad scientists and damsels in distress; and, finally, a conclusion that points to (5) “Traditions and challenges” with which the new generation of sf writers will have to contend as the modern world’s technological advances (quantum research) and entertainment expectations (CGI) intrude into the borderlands of the future once reserved solely by sf writers and futurist visionaries.

The text is a superb contribution to the academic side of sf studies, and even the casual reader will appreciate the well-exemplified arguments made throughout the book; indeed, each chapter/essay offers a chance to revisit the sf genre from its origins to the state of the field in the early 21st Century, and I well understand how the book earned the 2005  Hugo Award for “Best Related Non-Fiction Book.” Check it out!

Have a great week, and thanks for visiting!

A.J.

An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction: Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 1

Henri Hillinick's matte painting for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film,

Henri Hillinick’s matte painting for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, “Forbidden Planet” (1956)

An Author’s Journey: “Amazing Stories” of Science Fiction:  Book Review of James & Mendlesohn’s “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” 1

Good Morning, Everybody!

Frank R . Paul:

Frank R . Paul: “Future Atomic City” (1942)

It’s an exciting time to be a Science Fiction fan because the wide-ranging and diverse potential of the genre is enjoying an unprecedented popularity; that is, while there was certainly a steady increase in SF offerings when I started reading “the classics” in the 1980s (Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, LeGuin, Moorcock, et al), today’s proliferation of the genre in literature, comic books, tv shows, films, & gaming reveals  demand on a scale perhaps only dreamed of by original SF creators of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

3788-1Those creators and their stories are the subject of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).  James & Mendlesohn’s introduction situates the text as a part of an “ongoing discussion” within the Science Fiction (sf) community, organizing their topic by dividing this book of essays into three parts:  “The History,” “Critical Approaches,” and “Sub-Genres and Themes.”

James Gunn

James Gunn

A foreward by sf legend James Gunn—24th Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and author of innumerable sf books—sets the tone for this fascinating book, with Gunn giving his own synoptic history of the sf genre, beginning with an anecdote from 1971’s inaugural meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association and focusing on the pulp magazines, rise of fandom, academic assessments, and sf’s rise in mainstream publishing.

Alfred Bester's

Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man” (1953) was part of the “New Wave” science fiction…

The following essays elaborate on these phenomena, with appreciated attention in the first section to the origins and history of sf.  Space permits only a brief look below at a couple of essays, but the entirety of the 19th and 20th Centuries are canvassed in articles by established academic and popular authorities in the field:  Damien Broderick’s “New Wave and backwash: 1960-1980,” John Clute’s “Science Fiction from 1980 to the Present,” Mark Bould’s “Film and Television,” and Gary K. Wolfe’s “Science fiction and its editors.”

Edgar Allan Poe,

Edgar Allan Poe, “Sonnet—To Science” (1829)

Part 1.  The history
Because of their foundational aspects in the books, the initial two essays in the history section deserve closer attention.  The first essay, Brian Stableford’s “Science fiction before the genre,” covers a considerable amount of ground in 16 pages; beginning in the 17th Century with the popular interest that began in the scientific discoveries of the time, Stableford gives examples of utopian fantasy, imaginary voyages, and dream stories that never quite rose above the level of unique literature until the experimental works of Edgar Allan Poe (“Sonnet—To Science”).  He sees aspects of what became sf in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s  Frankenstein, but finds that the work’s Romantic trappings actually made it ‘anti-sf’ because of its fatalism about progress.

Walt Disney's 1954 film

Walt Disney’s 1954 film “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”

Jules Verne,

Jules Verne, “From Earth to the Moon” (1867; here, one of first English translations of “De la terre à la lune”)

Stableford cites Jules Verne as the writer who first took seriously scientific inquiry in stories that used imaginatively rendered technological devices for travel extraterrestrial (From the Earth to the Moon), subterranean (Journey to the Centre of the Earth), and marine (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea).

H.G. Wells,

H.G. Wells, “The War of the Worlds” (1898; reprinted here in 1927 Frank R. Paul cover of “Amazing Stories”)

The essay here has the admirable quality of tracing simultaneous sf developments in Great Britain, the U.S., and France as newspapers and magazines of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries provided forums for fledgling sf writers to experiment with new milieus and expressions.  After Verne, Stableford sees H.G. Wells expanding upon Verne’s fascination with matters technological by introducing visions and dreamscapes into futuristic speculation (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds) and moral fables that included elements of romance (The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man).

Edgar Rice Burroughs,

Edgar Rice Burroughs, “A Princess of Mars” (1917)

Magazines and pulp novels were part of the flurry of periodicals that attended the rise of sf in the early 1900s, a time when Edgar Rice Burroughs’s short story, “Under the Moons of Mars” became the first novel in the Barroom series, A Princess of Mars, and inviting a host of imitative tales that started introducing concepts of magic portals and parallel worlds (Abraham Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” [1918] and Francis Stevens’s “The Heads of Cerebus” [1919]).

The second essay in this historical section, Brian Attebery’s “The magazine era: 1926-1960,” assesses the pivotal role that magazines played in promoting sf as what Attebery usefully defines as a “… mode of storytelling, but also a niche for writers, a marketing category for publishers, a collection of visual images and styles and a community of like-minded individuals.”

“The War of the Worlds” (Paramount Pictures, 1953)

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), portrait by Fabian Bachrach

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967), portrait by Fabian Bachrach

Brian Attebery’s story begins with the namesake of the World Science Fiction Society’s “Hugo Awards,” Hugo Gernsback, whose Amazing Stories magazine (f. 1926) seriously attempted to define the sf genre—initially the  style of writing was called ‘scientification’— and in the first issue Gernsback called for more creative works to follow the examples of Verne, Wells, and Poe, with a magazine format and perspective that intended to “… supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain-and…supply it in a very palatable form.’ In other words (Atterby writes), sf, as Gernsback envisioned it, ‘was primarily a teaching tool, but one that did not make its teaching obvious.’

Ways that sf writers accomplished this teaching were by following these what John Cawelti grouped as “adventure, mystery, and romance,” with mystery the most prominent form of the early pulps.  Attebery next outlines the fictional formulas that characterized the magazine stories of this period:

E.E. 'Doc' Smith's

E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s “Skylark” Series (here with cover art by Frank R Paul)

space opera: E. E. ‘Doc Smith’s’ “Skylark” and “Lensmen” series, where any  “…one of his interchangeable heroes coming across a spaceship in distress, single-handedly defeating a band of space pirates, making friends with a bizarre but good-natured alien and rescuing a beautiful woman.”

Poesque horror: most notably this branch of sf could be seen in Weird Tales magazine (1923-1954), with H.P. Lovecraft blurring the boundaries between fantastic landscapes and supernatural horror

Frank R. Paul sf art; cover,

Frank R. Paul sf art; cover, “Amazing Stories” (1941)

sympathetic aliens & sf technology:  for a couple of decades, the stories that appeared in magazines featured what Attebery calls ‘blandly indistinguishable’ human beings who confronted alien beings and space ships that started to be popularized with the artwork of Frank R. Paul, who “…translated words into images—space ships, domed cities, goggle-eyed creatures—that are still being used to represent the future in advertisements, movies and television shows.”

young scientist saving the world, usually with help of mentor’s daughter:  Attebery writes, “…using this basic plot structure, the [sf] writer could introduce variations regarding the nature of of the threat (aliens, rival scientists, natural disasters) and the invention (a time machine, a device to accelerate evolution, a death ray).  The tone could be sombre, rapturous or comic. The ending, though, was nearly always happy, a vindication of the young hero’s character and the reader’s belief…”

“Amazing Stories,” Vol. 1, no. 1 (April, 1926)

These formulas were successful, with circulation to Amazing Stories reaching over 100,000 subscribers in just a few months; unfortunately, Gernsback overextended himself and went bankrupt in the early 1930s, but a spate of magazines successfully imitated his format and tried to meet demand for ‘thought-variant stories’—Science Wonder Quarterly (1929), Astounding Stories (1930), and Marvel Science Stories (1937), with expansion of formats in editor John W. Campbell’s Astounding Stories-era that are still familiar today:  “… chatty editorials, the advertising (for radio kits, scientific publications, correspondence course, razors and body-building regimens) and, perhaps most significantly, the letters from the fans.”

Clifton's Cafeteria, Los Angeles (original site of LA Science Fiction League)

Clifton’s Cafeteria, Los Angeles (original site of LA Science Fiction League)

Attebery traces the interaction between fans and editors during this period (1930s-1950s), where correspondence both within the pages of the magazines were paralleled by the rise of fan clubs and sf associations, the most important of which was 1934’s Science Fiction League, whose offshoots  “… carried on the fan tradition of meeting, arguing, publishing non-professional magazines for one another and generally behaving more like active partners than passive consumers.  One group, the Futurians, included many of the most important writers in the next generation: Frederick Pohl, Damon Knight, Judith Merril, Cyril Kornbluth, Isaac Asimov and James Blish…”

Isaac Asimov's

Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series

Robert A. Heinlein,

Robert A. Heinlein, “The Roads Must Roll” in “Astounding Science Fiction” (June, 1940)

Within this milieu, thanks to the influence and editorial decisions of Campbell in Astounding Stories, important sf writers began to reshape the genre into a form that still retains the contributions of each:

Robert A Heinleinin “The Roads Must Roll” (1940) established the prototype of the Astounding Stories engineer/technocrat as action hero

Isaac Asimovin the Foundation stories, invented a scholarly society & ‘psychohistory’ that predicts fall of a galactic empire

A.E. Van Vogt:  “created dream-like narratives about psychic supermen in hiding” and shifted part of the sf form into realms of fantasy

Klaatu & Gort arrive in

Klaatu & Gort arrive in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951)

Arthur C. Clarke,

Arthur C. Clarke, “Childhood’s End” (1953)

By the 1950s, when feature films began attempting to meet the growing demand for the expanding genre and fan-base, Attebery notes that ‘Science fiction for grown-ups’ began to appear in new magazines such as New Worlds (U.K.) and Galaxy Science Fiction (U.S.), when writers such as Arthur C. Clarke (Childhood’s End), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man), Theodore Sturgeon (More than Human), and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) led a creative sf explosion of works that eventually transcended the magazine format and yielded a new kind of sf novel that would become popular in the 1960s.

“Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine,” Vol. 1, n. 1 (Spring, 1977)

That transition in itself created new kinds of issues with the dissemination of sf stories—the shift from a newsstand distribution model to a book format that needed publisher promotion being the most notable—but Attebery’s essay more than satisfies in its conclusion that, fittingly, the major sf magazine that survived into the 1980s and 1990s was Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, a periodical that still made room for out-of-the-box ideas in an increasingly competitive and book-dominated marketplace.

Next Time:  Book Review, Part 2:  “Critical Approaches & Sub-Genres and Themes” 

Carlisle Kickstarter Update: “The Codex Lacrimae” at Friday’s DCPA Off-Center’s “Kick-Off Cabaret!”

AJ promotes Kickstarter project "The Codex Lacrimae" (Off-Center at the Jones Theatre, DCPA; Friday, March 13, 2015)

AJ promotes Kickstarter project “The Codex Lacrimae” (Off-Center at the Jones Theatre, DCPA; Friday, March 13, 2015)

Carlisle Kickstarter Update: “The Codex Lacrimae” at Friday’s DCPA Off-Center’s “Kick-Off Cabaret!”

Good Morning, Everyone!

I just wanted to give you an update on how things went at this past Friday’s “Kick-Off Cabaret,” where I promoted my Kickstarter project http://kck.st/1KRP10j at the Denver Center for Performing Arts in front of a packed, 200-hundred seat Jones Theatre.

To channel the favorite word of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, the event was “FANTASTIC!”

Off-Center actors Justin & Regina were the emcees for the "Cabaret"-themed evening & brought "tomes" of laughter to introduce me...

Off-Center actors Justin & Regina were the emcees for the “Cabaret”-themed evening & brought “tomes” of laughter to introduce me…

My five-minute presentation had the good fortune of being introduced by the hilarious emcees for the evening, Justin & Regina. I’m so grateful to them for bringing an infectiously good vibe to my act—from their blocking and scene-work to enthusiastic performances, these two actors really brought their A-Game to my project!
Sharing some personal background & describing "The Codex Lacrimae" project

Sharing some personal background & describing “The Codex Lacrimae” project

The theater atmosphere & large screens allowed me to quickly share my “1980s Teeange Geek Equation,” or how early influences of obsessive reading, comic books, SciFi & Fantasy, and Dungeons & Dragons shaped my desire to write epic fantasy novels.
The moment of creation: learning about the Krak des Chevaliers and Saladin!

The moment of creation: learning about the Krak des Chevaliers and Saladin!

I then let the audience know about the influence that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had on my decision to become a medieval historian, & revealed the “moment” when the story that became “The Codex Lacrimae” popped into my mind: learning that the 12th Century Hospitaller castle of the Krak des Chevalier hadn’t ever been taken by Saladin.
I closed the “pitch” part of the presentation by telling how the $6,500 goal would be used to line-edit and publish a new trilogy of books, and then narrated a scene from the novel, “Chapter 11: Trouble in the Library.”
Regina & Justin acted out the scene as "Sister Nikola" and "Andreas the Chaplain," recreating the moment in the Krak's scriptorium where the villainess tempts the teenaged apprentice!

Regina & Justin acted out the scene as “Sister Nikola” and “Andreas the Chaplain,” recreating the moment in the Krak’s scriptorium where the villainess tempts the teenaged apprentice!

I got some great feedback after the show, and over this past weekend already jumped to 20% funding of the project thanks to some recent sizable pledges!
DSC_3063

The Pledge Wall: Audience members “voted” with stickers for $5 pledges!

Now, $110 of that recent pledge activity came from the Off-Center itself!  Here’s how it worked: besides wanting to blend the “turbo-charged” artistic patronage system of Kickstarter with the vibrancy of live-theater, curator Charlie Miller thought it important that the audience have a say in which acts should get a portion of the ticket sales for the night!

That meant that for every $15 ticket sold, $5 would go to an audience member’s preferred act.

Q & A session after show, where I replied to question about Codex Lacrimae's plot!

Q & A session after show, where I replied to question about Codex Lacrimae’s plot!

DSC_3065We’ll see in coming days Friday night’s experience translates into getting “The Codex Lacrimae” closer to (or over!) its $6,500 goal, but I want to THANK Charlie, Emily Tarquin, Hope Grandon& the entire Off-Center entire cast & crew for all of their help and support in promoting my work.

I think that Charlie’s entire idea was brilliant, and as the Off-Center is a “testing” venue for the Denver Center for Performing Arts, I wish Off-Center many more future Kickstarter/Theater events as successful as Friday night’s was!

jones-theatre

Now, that being said, I’m still only 20% funded on my Kickstarter campaign, with 27 days left until it ends on April 13th, so please keep watching this space for more updates!

Also, I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to visit the website (and share the link with friends and followers) and make a pledge: help bring a new epic fantasy into the world! http://kck.st/1KRP10j

All my best (and keep spreading the word!),
A.J.

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