No fiction today in honour of the anniversary of the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


Music to Write By

In an email exchange Dad recently had with a fellow writer, the use of "background noise" came up. This friend said he always writes with either a movie or music playing in the background. Others have said they would find it too distracting.

Dad/Godfrey certainly falls into the group of writers who almost "need" some background music while writing. Mood-appropriate music can really help get into the right frame of mind. As such, he listened to a LOT of Star Wars soundtrack while working on his space fantasy novel (which is in final re-writes so consider this your first "teaser").

Lacking time for any more substantive posts, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite writing music -- maybe if you're a writer you can make use of it too:


General - Snow White and the HunstmanGladiatorGame of Thrones, Lord of the Rings soundtracks, Saints and Sinners: the Ultimate Medieval Music Collection
More upbeat/heroic - Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez; Fantasía para un Gentilhombre
Epic - anything Wagner, but especially the selections found in Excalibur's soundtrack

Science Fiction

General - Inception, Interstellar, Star Trek Soundtracks,
Space Opera - Star Wars soundtracks, Holst's Planets
Darker/"Cyberpunk" - Blade Runner, Alien Trilogy soundtracks

Dad listens to music more since he owns his own devices, but Anna listens a lot while writing. Her favourites are "Saints and Sinners" and the "Snow White and the Huntsman".



By Anna Blackwell (December 2018 to February 2019, age 11)

It had been a year since my first adventure with the Season Folk. I seemed to forget slowly about it, 'til one day our neighbours' pesky cat Garfield killed Shoot, a mouse, that I had made friends with. I felt so upset that when everyone went to bed I had planned to trap Garfield. I was so upset I couldn't sleep.

I suddenly heard something. I got up and looked out the window which overlooked the backyard and I saw something very strange indeed. Just near our ditch was Garfield; he seemed to be attacking something as he growled and batted at the ground. I opened the window to hear soft shouts and crashing. Then something began to pull me by the neck: it was my medallion*. I tried to take it off, but as soon as I grabbed it, a great light blasted in my face. I didn't know what happened next, for I was knocked right out.

I woke up to find myself lying on a pile of weeds. As I looked around I was shocked at what I saw; I was outside but it wasn't the same. The trees were gigantic and the grass was taller than me!

"Not again!" I said to myself.

I was shrunk down to the size of a mouse. I wondered how it came to happen. Suddenly I remembered about the night before and everything pieced together. The medallion was probably trying to tell me that the Season Folk village was ...

I took off at lightening speed toward the village. Thankfully my trip was not as unfortunate as last time, but as I drew near I met with an unpleasant surprise. Instead of seeing a lively town I was met with burning wreckage. I got into an empty rowboat.

"Hello? Hello!"

Hello! Hello! Hello!

I moved planks and shouted if anyone was there. Soon I realized I had been there for four hours. I felt awfully hungry so I helped myself to whatever I found.

When I finished I began to think it was over and I was too late. But as I walked to the ditch I thought I heard something crack. I turned around; something was moving in the weeds. I stepped forward to get a closer look. Then a squirrel jumped out, knocking me off balance. It began to snap and squeak at me. I had learned some animal language on my last adventure so I carefully translated.

"Back, back, intruder!" the squirrel yelled at me.

"I am Rose, and I mean you no harm," I said.

Before he could say anything else I showed him my medallion, thinking that if anything would get me out of this it was the medallion. The squirrel leapt back.

"Forgive me for not knowing I --"

"Don't let it worry you, friend," I said, "but tell me why were you trying to repel me?"

"I shall speak later, first we must go to Pine Haven."

I leapt onto the squirrel's back. We soon came to a tall tree with branches spreading out like massive arms. We entered through a hole in the centre of the tree; it led into a large, hollowed-out room. As I dismounted I couldn't help but stare at the beautiful architecture and paintings in the room. As I looked around I noticed a large group of rodents surrounding a large throne with engravings of battle scenes and victories on it. Seated on it was a large, red-furred squirrel. He had a large scar over his left eye and part of his ear was bitten off. On his head was a wreath of clover with a large gold jewel that twinkled in the fire.

His gaze turned to us. "Dark Shadow, who is this? Do you have the right to invite trespassers?"

The squirrel who had brought remained calm, answering, "Your Honour, I believe I have done nothing wrong for this is Rose of the Season Folk."

Strangely, the large red-furred squirrel did not seem to react. Instead his stare grew colder and he said in a dark tone, "Dark Shadow, you had no right to let in trespassers. But I see this may be something consequential. Take her to the guest chambres."

"But --"

"DO IT!"

Dark Shadow turned gloomily away and signalled for me to follow. I thought the red fur was rather rude, which was surprising to me. I expected a warmer welcome. All the same, I followed Dark Shadow until we came to a room. I thanked him and closed the door behind me. By the time I had dressed into new clothes and eaten some roasted nuts and salad, I felt rather tired and drifted into a long sleep.

I woke up to the sound of tapping at the window.

I hope they don't have giant moths in this place, I thought. Ugh!

When I looked, it was Dark Shadow. I opened the window.

"What are you doing? It's past midnight!"

"Come quickly," he said softly.

I quickly grabbed a cloak and crawled out the window. Soon the exciting idea of a midnight escapade made my sleepiness vanish.

"You'd better lead the way," I said. "I don't know these passages."

"We're not going through the tree, you shall ride me. Let's scurry."

Before I knew it, he had jumped from the window ledge. It was a rather bumpy ride. The night air, rather cool and damp, flew around my face. Soon we were no longer hopping from branch to branch, but were galloping along the ground. After running through tall grasses, passing empty fox dens, and onto frost-touched fields we came to a tall, old willow tree.

Dark Shadow, who was going much slower now, climbed up the tree. We squeezed through an ivy and cobweb covered opening. Inside was much bigger than I expected. There was a thin opening which led to a large room. There were about twelve squirrels in the room. Two were red-furred, the rest were either grey or black. I had no idea of what was going on; all the chattering and squeaking made my head spin.

"Excuse me, squirrels!" I said. "But I don't have the faintest idea of all of this. Why did you bring me here in the middle of the night?"

One of the red-furred squirrels who I had heard everyone calling Fire Tail broke up the chattering place and headed towards us. He was much older than I thought when I first saw him. His narrow face had an elderly look and his walking was rather unsteady. His tone of voice was much lighter than the other squirrels when he spoke.

"So this is Rose, isn't it?" he said to Dark Shadow, how only nodded. Then he turned his face to me. "I see you don't understand the purpose of this meeting."

"Well I jolly well don't," I said grumpily. "And at this time!"

"You see," Firetail explained, "if we met in the bright of the sun many will see and know what we are about. But at night everyone is asleep."

"But why?" I asked.

Fire Tail began his story: "on one splendid brisk evening, when all of the squirrels went to the Season Folk town to deliver food, is what it all happened. When they had finished their task, they saw the cat -- known as Garfield -- coming towards the town. But there was something strange about him; he was slowly crawling as if ready to pounce. The squirrels stood still. Suddenly, without warning, he let out a loud meow which shook the earth and attacked. Two Season Folk men fell dead at his paws. Soon blood and sword flew in the air. Only a few squirrels escaped. No one in the town survived."

I knew it, I thought. I always despised that cat since he killed my mouse friend.

"Why didn't your leader explain this?" I asked.

"Because when Clovis came from another town to fight Garfield, the battle seemed long and pointless. Our leader, Crimson Feather, gave up too quickly and left the war all to the Season Folk. If he knew we were meeting he accuse us of treason."

I felt frozen in my seat. What a great time to come, I thought. Right in the middle of a war!

Then one of the black squirrels spoke up: "You must go and help Clovis win."

"What? But I just got here, and I don't even know how to fight. I'm a girl."

The squirrels seemed to be frustrated at my response. Fire Tail hastily replied: "I have a mind to think that there shall be no fighting for you, but Garfield's weakness must be found."

"Well, okay," I said. "But you don't think that I can just walk there?"

Fire Tail seemed to look more grumpy. "I'm afraid you shall have to go by foot. If you ride on one us there is sure to be an ambush. If you go alone that will more stealthy and unexpected."

I wanted to protest but knew nothing was to be done. I was taken back to Pine Haven to collect things for my journey. It must have been around sunrise, so I was very tired, but I knew it was more important to reach Clovis than sleep. Once I had finished packing, Dark Shadow took me to the edge of the line of pine trees.

"I'm afraid you must do the rest of the journey yourself," he said, letting me down.

"Yes, well, thanks for the ride," I said. "Take care of Fire Tail."

Dark Shadow made a small smile, then disappeared into the trees. I walked for the rest of the morning and half of the afternoon. By about four o'clock I had arrived, but at a really bad time. I saw before me a huge battle! Sparrow Riders were filling the sky, while below, Battle-Minks, chipmunks, and squirrels fought against evil-looking rats, ferrets, and beetles. In the midst of the chaos I saw Clovis himself. I had met him in my first adventure -- a kind village leader. Now he was a fierce warrior, in fact we was really good at fighting. As I watched my eye caught someone else I knew very well indeed: Garfield.

But not the same Garfield as I remembered; something seemed to give him an ugly expression, and his golden fur was scarred with scratches and blood. By now I had grabbed my bow and arrows and began to shoot at the evil cat. As I did so I did a foolish thing I will never forget. Seeing that my shot was pretty good, I got closer -- BIG MISTAKE. As I did so, Garfield saw where I was shooting from. He got closer. Knowing that his henchmen would start firing at me, I hid behind a rock and resumed shooting.

I'm getting pretty good at this, I thought.

I spoke too soon! A paw rose over my head and I was out like a light.


* The medallion that Clovis gave me on my first adventure -- See "Small of All", my first adventure with the Season Folk.


Book Review: The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe

Title: The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe
Authors: George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier
Publisher: Spectra Books
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Summary in a Sentence: A Fantastic Resource for Science Fiction Writers, providing excellent tools for realistic world-building

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing in the genre because of how it has helped me with my world-building and is a reference I return to time and again. It is not a "how to write science fiction", but rather a handy reference book for the various areas of science that a science fiction writer might find useful, with chapters devoted, inter alia, to: space and spaceships, planets and planet design, aliens, designing a future setting, nanotechnology, intelligent machines, bioengineering, and alternate universes.

I found the book to be well-organised and easy to read. All sections are written in a clear, easy to understand manner, assisting the non-scientist layman (like me!) in writing convincing science fiction. One of the best features, in my view, was that the authors point out all the "wrong science" blunders common to science fiction, thereby helping you to avoid them. They also point out examples of excellent science fiction and how those authors used known science in a convincing manner.

The only significant shortcomings of this book relate to its age: it was printed in 1993 so the science risks becoming dated as we move further from its publication. Additionally, this means that it has gone out of print and one can only obtain used copies. However, there is nothing newer out there that covers all the areas that The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe does, so it is still well worth the effort of obtaining it.

I have also read the Science Fiction Writing Series (edited by Ben Bova - to be reviewed eventually) World Building and Space Travel and I preferred The Writer's Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe. There is nothing wrong with the Bova books, they were excellent as well, but I found Messrs. Ochoa and Osier's book easier to read and more insightful. Plus, it is very convenient having everything in one place. On the other hand, the Science Fiction Writing Series books are more comprehensive and still in print.


The U.S.S. Cygnus and "The Black Hole"

I mentioned the U.S.S. Cygnus in my post "5 Most Ridiculous Spacecraft in Film" and feel it deserves a special post of its own, along with some ruminations about the film Black Hole, in which it appears. Having acknowledged that it is, from a hard science fiction point of view, an absurd vessel, I reiterate my comment that the Cygnus is a darkly gorgeous, truly awesome spectacle of a star ship and one of my favourite space vessels ever in film.

It has a certain gothic feel to it, almost like a cathedral flying in space, yet with a touch of Victorian/Steampunk with all the glass and lights (in my view) . What makes it silly from a hard sci-fi point of view is what makes it so magnificent: it is not merely functional, but a work of art. Here area  few more pictures:

Considerations of taste aside, it's an impressive example of how much more real a model ship can look than the CGI contraptions modern audiences must endure. Although, it must be admitted, that reading about all the work involved in building/filming/maintaining the thing helps one understand why the CGI "easy way out" is invariably taken these days. From the Starship Modeler site:
Volume 9 No.3 of "Cinefantastique" magazine published when "The Black Hole" was released contains the best sources of information and pictures I have yet seen on the original models. There were two full models of the Cygnus built at a little over twelve feet long, with other sectional models built to a much larger scale for certain close up shots. The twelve foot miniatures weighed 170 pounds each and were constructed primarily of brass and completely made from scratch, with EMA tubes and domes used for detailing. Under this brass exoskeleton were sections of translucent plastic built in sections which housed about a hundred and fifty automotive light bulbs. The two models cost $100,000 and took a crew of 12 to 15 people approximately a year to build. One of the two models were completely destroyed filming the story's ending sequences. The other model went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a time after filming. It's fate since then remains a mystery.

"According to an ex-Disney employee, the model was stored in a crate in the 'Boneyard', where old props and such are stored on the Disney lot. It was rained on a great deal, and, one day, smashed to pieces by a poorly-driven forklift which accidentally backed into the crate. Pieces of the model were taken by various folks as souveniers."
Here's a shot of what the model looked like next to film crew:

 Without writing a full review of The Black Hole, it's worth mentioning that the film has generally been much maligned by critics and viewers over the years. I personally really enjoy it as a sort of sci-fi "spooky castle" film heavy with atmosphere. The big problem with it is that it attempts to be, at the same time, a kid's film with some comic elements which clash with the sense of foreboding that is steadily built up during the film and the darker aspects of the film (such as the horrible revelation that the entire crew was lobotomized and made into zombie slaves to Dr. Reinhardt). Still and all, a worthy film -- and certainly a very unique one.
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