So, everyone: welcome to 2010. (A week late, I know, but it’s the thought that counts, right?) I hope you enjoy it, and that it delivers at the very least a respectable portion of all that you hope for.
Starting a new year with a new experience can’t be a bad thing, I reckon, so you won’t hear any complaints from me about the wintry onslaught that has subjugated the British Isles. There’s been no sign of the grass on the lawn outside my window for over three weeks now, buried as it is beneath a gleaming white blanket of snow. Nothing remarkable for many of you, of course, including those living at the same latitude as Edinburgh (approaching 56 deg N, for the record – roughly the same as Moscow and the Aleutian Islands), but it’s exceptionally unusual round here, where the peculiarities of climates both macro- and micro- mean most winters are all but snow-free. In fact, I don’t remember seeing anything quite like it in my life.
I’m a big fan of the big freeze. Everything looks just that little bit unfamiliar and exotic. It feels like we’ve all travelled to some other place – one quieter, more beautiful and imbued with a faint, cold magic – without having to move. The sound of deep snow crunching underfoot seems to me vaguely romantic and wild and fantastical.
A new computer arrived in my house. I didn’t really want one, but the old one was accumulating software glitches and idiosyncracies that nothing seemed to rid it of, and to be fair it was a few years old, so I bit the bullet and went shopping. Turns out PCs have got a whole lot better since I last bought one. Who knew? I mean, have you seen these flat screen things? They’re all … flat and stuff. Amazing.
Anyway, one consequence has been a big clean out and reorganising of my feeds, which gives me an excuse to flag up some new, newish or not new at all podcasts that might be of interest:
1. Tor.com has added a new podcast – the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy – to complement their existing audio fiction one. Both can be found here. The G’s G to the G promises to cover a wide spectrum of geeky interests, so should be worth following. (First episode doesn’t do much for me, since it’s mostly about Left 4 Dead 2, and my gaming days are more or less behind me, sadly, but I’m not letting that put me off).
2. The iFanboy Pick of the Week podcast is my graphic novels and comics-related listening of choice. For any of you out there with a liking for that medium, it gets a great big thumbs up from me. (As does their video podcast, if you’re a visually oriented sort).
3.Naked Archaeologyoffers monthly news and views on archaeological research and discoveries. Quite interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s a spin-off from the very well known and jolly good Naked Scientistspodcast, as is the newer and potentially interesting (but I haven’t actually listened to it yet, so don’t blame me if it’s rubbish) Naked Astronomy.
And lo, the new year brings a new look for Fall of Thanes. This is the cover for the US mass market paperback edition, due out very soon. And it is, IMHO, a thing of beauty. Possibly my favourite ‘look’ for any of the trilogy so far. And that’s saying something, since all the way through, I’ve really been jolly well taken care of by the Orbit folks responsible for prettying up my books.
The new year also brings free pdfs of books. Free pdfs of 11,000 books to be precise, including quite a lot of famous ones (and a great many not very famous at all ones, I suspect). They’re available at The Book Depository. Now, personally I can’t read novel-length stuff in pdf form. Can just about manage a short story, but that’s about my limit in that format (and even then, I’ll be hoping it’s a short short story). But you might be different, so go knock yourself out. It doesn’t look that easy to actually find some of the freebies, admittedly, but even right there on the front page, there’s links to free Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and others.
Enough of this Autumnal blogging inactivity. Got to take baby steps back into the habit for fear of straining my moribund blogging muscles, of course, so just a couple of quick notes to start with:
Czech edition of Winterbirth emerges blinking (and perhaps even bawling?) into the world, under the title ZROZENI ZIMY. It sports a distinctly striking cover – not sure who, if anyone, the specific characters are supposed to be, but they definitely look … alarming. Tempted to think of them as some heavily-armoured version of Wain and Kanin, but who knows? Thanks to reader Martin for sending me a useable jpg of the cover.
My parents were awesome. A completely and unreservedly true statement, of course. In fact, they still are awesome, but that’s not the point. The point is this: the My Parents Were Awesome blog. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it an extraordinarily affecting, interesting, hypnotic, moving, evocative etc etc site, given that it is such a simple idea: reader-submitted photos of their parents, mostly as young(ish) adults, offered without commentary, without location or context or anything but the most simple identification. Page after page of them, and as I work my way through them it feels like I’m looking into lives, into stories, into the past, into other worlds almost; and I invariably find myself thinking ‘Why, yes. What obviously awesome people. Just look at them. They look wise, and fun, and kind, and thoughtful. Awesome.’
It’s a silent, restrained archive of childrens’ love and respect for their parents, an acknowledgement that those parents lived lives as rich and strange and individual as anything their children have managed. Fantastic stuff.
About time we had something a bit different around here, I figure.Couple of weeks ago, someone got in touch with me via Facebook (the Winterbirth fan page, to be precise), and I thought the story they had to tell was so interesting that … well, here it comes. Meet Richard Alvarez, a real live knight in shining armour. Some of you, it turns out, know exactly what he looks like already. He’ll introduce himself, and then I’ll pitch him a few questions. Hope at least some folks find this as interesting as I did!
(Note, the photos appearing are, in order of appearance, by and copyright Cat Connor, Ron Koberer and Linda Alvarez. No use without permission, please).
RA: I’ve always been fascinated by the renaissance and medieval eras. In college I studied fencing, and went on to pursue teaching as a Classical Fencing Master. Simultaneously, I’ve pursued my interests in media production, theatre and film. This parallel track led me to performing at the first Renaissance Festival I ever attended in Houston Texas, back in the early seventies. A friend and I formed a Dueling Team we called “Triomphe”.
We performed as “Triomphe” for eleven years at the Texas Renaissance Festival. In the early eighties, I met four young men who had been hired to perform the joust. A few years later, they invited me to joust with them at a show in Chicago that summer. ‘I can’t ride,’ I told them. ‘That’s okay, we’ll teach you.’ So in the summer of 1984 I started my career as a professional jouster. A few years later, I was asked to take over the managing duties of the company, and I formed “International Action Theatre”. We had three companies of men, with four to six horses each – touring the country all year long. In addition to renaissance festivals, we did Wild West shows and stunt work for films and theme parks.
In 1994, I officially retired from the renaissance festival circuit. I have focused on my filmmaking and screenwriting endeavors for the most part since then, though I did manage to merge my two interests in 2005, when I produced my award winning documentary American Jouster.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting at home when I got a text from a friend. It was a jpg, and I couldn’t quite make out the image. I handed my phone to my son, and he squinted at it saying, ‘It looks like YOU! Yeah, I think it is you, on a poster or maybe a book cover … Fall of Thrones? No, the Fall of THANES?’
I downloaded a larger image from your website, and couldn’t for the life of me remember where the photo came from. I know I didn’t pose specifically FOR the cover, so the photo had to be an old one. I began to scour my hard drives, trying to match the shot on the cover with something I might have on hand.
Bingo! In 2005, I responded to a call from a student filmmaker, John Joynert, who was working on his senior thesis film. It was called Pro Meus Rex – and the story centered on two live chess pieces who meet in a fantasy forest setting to battle it out. I played The Black Knight and another actor played The White Pawn. During that shoot, unit photographer Ron Koeberer took a number of still photos (Ron does amazing work, and you can view some of his shots at www.koberfoto.com). It turns out that Ron had listed a few shots from Pro Meus Rex with stock photo companies online. Apparently whoever did the layout for the cover of Fall of Thanes licensed the image through one of the stock agencies.
And that is how I wound up on the cover of Fall of Thanes.
BR: Given that you started out as a classically trained fencer, to an outsider like me it looks like a pretty radical shift in weaponry and fighting style when you get into the medieval end of things: possibly in my ignorance, I imagine much less finesse and much more brute force being involved. To what extent are skills or instincts or techniques transferable between the fencing and the medieval side of things?
RA: “Mixed Martial Arts” is a very popular form of sport entertainment right now. You see fighters combining different skill sets from different martial arts training against competitors with other skill sets. This is possible, primarily because the main component is the same for all martial arts – The Human Body.
In terms of using a blade – the target is the same regardless of era – the weapon has a point and/or edge. The human body moves the same regardless of era. What changes are the tactical applications of point and edge – especially in response to terrain and armor. So it really was just a matter of understanding what the weapon was designed for, and what the target area was supposed to be. Probably the most difficult of the medieval weapons to master (for me personally) was the flail – damned unpredictable rebound. And of course, getting used to wearing armor and the limited visibility of a helm.
BR:I’m fascinated by the practicalities of this whole business. The horses in the jousts, for instance. How much specialised training is needed to get a horse to do what you need it to do? Can any horse be suitable, or only those with particular physical or mental attributes?
RA: We have always selected horses primarily for their temperment. They have to be sound of course, and capable of supporting the armored rider. (Rule of thumb – a sound working horse can carry/work with one third of it’s own body weight … this is a ‘rule of thumb’ – not a hard and fast law). Breed was not as important as temperment. We ‘auditioned’ horses by asking them to do a specific set of drills. Such things as passing another horse, riding with flags, riding close to/at a man on the ground. The horse didn’t have to perform well, it just had to show an aptitiude to be trainable. We didn’t always have the luxury of time in training horses.
BR: There must be risks involved, no matter how skilled and practised someone is. Have you ever been injured yourself or – and I suspect this might be even more alarming – inadvertently injured someone else?
RA: Bumps and bruises happen every time you fall off a horse, and we did scheduled falls in every show – so sure, people got bumps, bruises, scrapes and the occasional dislocation or break. In stage combat – you can generally expect to get the odd scraped knuckle and bruise from your partner – but you really do train hard for safety’s sake.
I’ve probably given my share of knicked fingers, and clipped hands – but I don’t keep track of those any more than I keep track of the ones I’ve recieved. It’s part of the game. My own worst personal injury came fom a ‘knee to knee’ collision in a cantering pass with another rider. We were NOT armored – this is the same sort of injury one typically gets in playing polo.
BR: I know you played a specific character during your jousting career – Sir Richard, Early of Greyhame. Is this name just an identifying badge, or did you have personalities (good guys and bad guys!), plots and backstories developed for the characters you all played? I guess I’m interested in how much of this is theatre – complete with fictional narrative – and how much is demonstration, stunt show, sport etc.
RA: The character I portrayed “Sir Richard – The Earl of Greyhame” was usually a bad guy. Tall dark and bearded – yeah, I looked the part. And lets face it, it’s more fun to be the bad guy! Our shows were carefully choreographed, and scripted. There was always room to ad-lib lines with the court and each other, but we all knew where we were going, and what was supposed to happen on the field.
In the jousting business you will sometimes hear the distinction made that a particular company does ‘Theatrical Jousting’ while another company does ‘Sport Jousting’. What this usually comes down to is whether or not the hits delivered during the joust passes are choreographed or spontaneous.
In a theatrical joust the hits are planned, usually a specific number of hits, with a ‘dismount’ at the end. This is a running, full speed fall. The fall is followed with horse to ground combat – and another dismount – followed by ground combat and possibly a bloody ‘kill’. (Depending on the philosophy of the company and/or the faire regarding kills and blood).
In a ‘full contact’ or ‘sport joust’ show the jousters are trying to unhorse each other. Again, there is usually a prescribed number of passes. They may or may not succeed in unhorsing their opponent. They may hit, or miss. There may or may not be a fall. After which, they will usually give a demonstration of combat that may or may not be choreographed.
Understand, the EXACT SAME SKILLS are needed in either version of the show. You MUST be able to controll your lance to hit a target, and control your horse. You must have an excellent seat to maintain or deliver a hit. THE HORSES DON’T KNOW if the combat is real, or ‘choreographed’. They are being asked to perform the same tasks either way.
BR:Given your professional involvement in film and media, have you got any particular favourite movies set in the medieval or renaissance eras, either in terms of entertainment value or the vividness or accuracy with which they capture those eras? How about books, fiction or non-fiction?
RA: My favorite fight choreographer has got to be William Hobbs. (A Brit as it happens). His best films in no particular order – Robin and Marion – the end fight between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw as the aging Robin and Sherriff is a classic (One of my all time favorite films too). The Three and Four Musketeers – Dick Lester’s version – shot as one film but released as two, starring Michael York as D’Artagnan and Oliver Reed as Athos. Still some of the best rapier work on film. The Duellists – Ridley Scott’s first feature film – and the film that turned me into a Napoleonic Era buff. Excellent smaill sword and sabre work – and the best film ever for capturing the gut-wrenching terror of personal conflict. All these films are William Hobbs work. (He also did Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet and the latest Count of Monte Christo and Man in the Iron Mask – so yeah, if his name’s on it, I’ll watch it).
Best written description of the mindset and action of a duel … for my money, is the final duel between Oscar and The Eater of Souls in R. A. Heinlein’s Glory Road. Of course, Heinlein was a sabre fencer – and it shows.
For just plain fun, and insider’s reference – The Princess Bride – the book and the film, with their reference to actual period fencing masters and books. The fight in the film is also extremely well done – in the classic Old School Hollywood tradition.
As for recommended reading – one should read the actual period fencing manuals. Many are now available on-line. (Back in my day, you had to got to a real library, and check out the books IF you could find them).
BR: Thanks, Richard. I’m very grateful to you for taking the time to satisfy my curiosity! And to round things off, a nice clip of Richard talking about his film American Jouster, and the life of a touring knight:
The mass market paperback editions of Bloodheir are released in the UK and US around the end of this month. The US version has just fallen into my grubby little hands, and I can’t resist doing a little public admiration of it. Behold how (a) red and (b) cool it is:
Looks particularly fine alongside the equivalent edition of Winterbirth, I think. Also raises the obvious question of what variation can we expect when the time comes to give Fall of Thanes its paperback clothes? Blue? Grey? Pink? No idea, in fact, but I’m looking forward to finding out (so long as it’s not pink). Setting aside the question of whether the text inside the covers is any good or not, there can’t be much doubt that the covers themselves for this series have been great eye candy. Score one (or three, I suppose, since it’s a trilogy) for Orbit.
For those who have not seen it yet, here is the cover for Fall of Thanes, in all its beardy and mail-clad glory:
Nice, no? And to answer the single commonest question I get asked these days: the planned publication date for Fall of Thanes is May 2009. It may vary slightly depending on exactly which bit of the planet you call home, but as things currently stand we seem to be on schedule, so it should be in that ballpark for everyone.
And while we’re on the subject of books, the hardback of Bloodheir more or less sold out in the UK in a gratifyingly short period (for which many thanks to all those who bought a copy!). That’s good, obviously, but it has meant that for a while now the book’s not been universally available in these here parts, and those who didn’t snap up the hardback early on might have been feeling a bit left out. Change is afoot, however, as trade paperbacks have now been released in the UK, so Bloodheir is once more available from Amazon UK, and should filter into bookshops nicely in time for Chrsitmas. Should you happen to know anyone who’s been hankering after a copy, do let them know – the mass market paperback’s still 4 or 5 months away, after all.
There has been some minor tweaking and polishing of the website, these last few days – so minor, in the main, that no one but me and the webguy is ever likely to notice the differences. One thing I’d quite like people to notice, though, is the addition of a couple of new links on the relevant page. I’ve mentioned both the websites concerned in this blog before, but will take any opportunity to try and drive a few more eyes their way, so:
Strange Maps is a long-running demonstration of the wisdom of picking a single, original theme for a blog and sticking with it. You never know quite what’s going to show up, but it’ll often be surprising, interesting and/or pretty to look at it. Especially if you like maps, naturally.
The Abominable Charles Christopheris by some distance my favourite webcomic at the moment – has been for a long time, in fact. Not surely precisely why, but I think it’s some combination of: beautifully precise and expressive art, joke strips that I find gently amusing, an over-arching story arc that’s dark and mysterious (possibly a bit too mysterious to be honest, since I’m not sure anyone’s really figured out exactly what’s going on), and Karl Kerschl’s obvious affection for the characters he’s created.
Is Spring Clean one word, two words, or hyphenated? Unsure, and can’t be bothered to check, so apologies to any grammar/spelling police if I’m doing it all wrong.
Anyway, however the phrase (word?) is properly formulated, the website’s had a bit of a one. Most of the changes are so minor as to be of no interest to any but the most dedicated of website-watchers, but I’ll point to one or two that might be of interest:
Bloodheir now has its own pagein the Books section, so publication must be drawing near. Well, three months isn’t exactly near, but neither is it far. As can be seen there (and all around the site, including in the banner up at the top), the final cover image has been settled upon, and I’m pleased with it. I think it’s the best variant of the (extremely good) illustration that’s previously been on show here and elsewhere, and complements Winterbirth‘s cover beautifully.
For Winterbirth cover completists, incidentally – and I know I’m probably the only one on the entire planet who actually falls into that category (but I’m allowed, right?) – the latest version of the cover for the US mass market paperback, due out in a couple of months, can be seen here, in the right side bar. Big black band. Striking, no?
There’s a sneak preview to be had on Winterbirth’s Facebook page: the new map that will be appearing in Bloodheir is posted in one of the photos albums there. I think the photos are one one of the things you can access there even if you’re not signed up on Facebook, so anyone who reckons they know what new territories the action will be moving into in book two can go have a look and confirm their suspicions.
If you are a Facebooker, you might want to consider adding yourself as a ‘Fan’ of Winterbirth. There’re likely to be one or two more bonuses showing up there for fans over the next few months, possibly even including the chance to get your hands on a free advance copy of Bloodheir. And in other news, looks like the Polish version of Winterbirth has emerged into the light of day, published by Kurpisz. ‘Zimowe Gody’ defeats the Polish translation engines I’ve been able to find in a quick online trawl, but there seems to be a ‘winter’ in there somewhere, so maybe it’s a more or less direct translation of Winterbirth. Should anyone fluent in Polish happen to be passing by, feel free to enlighten me.
Chances are, things will be quiet around here for the next week or more (not that they’re exactly a hive of frenzied activity the rest of the time), while I concentrate on eating, drinking, caressing the many books I’ll no doubt be given on the 25th (people know how to please me), wishing it would snow, and – because you can’t let a little thing like a festive season get in the way – writing.
In the meantime, a little selection of treats and trifles:
For Movie Fans, the newly-arrived Hellboy II trailer:
I was a big fan of the first movie – plain old fun almost from beginning to end, I thought, and that’s something not many movies can claim – and this one looks like it might be a worthy successor. For Zombie Comic Fans (that’s fans of zombie comics, rather than comic fans who are zombies), a tip: I’m way behind on this, since it’s been going for ages, but this year I discovered The Walking Dead. I’ve only read the first collected volume so far, but it was up there amongst my favourite reading experiences of 2007.
It’s the homely tale of a small group of ordinary people trying to survive in a world over-run by flesh-eating zombies. Good writing, good characters and the occasional gory zombie attack: what more could you ask? Recommended for those with post-Christmas book tokens to spend and an affection for quality comics. Or for zombies.
For Aspiring Writers, this is pretty old stuff, but it’s well worth a read if you haven’t seen it before: from the Australian fantasy author Ian Irvine, who’s sold enough books to know what he’s talking about, Writing Tips, Guide to Success, and easily the best of the lot, The Truth About Publishing. Not everything in there accords perfectly with my own experience, but that’s no surprise as (a) Ian’s writing from an Australian perspective, and (b) these things are bound to vary on a case-by-case basis. The important thing is that in broad terms there’s a huge amount of good advice, truth and common sense in there.
For Anyone who ever wondered what a nuclear detonation at sunset looks like (likely a small subset of the global population, I realise):
Okay, so it’s actually just the Sun going down behind a power station just outside Edinburgh, but it looked a bit like the Apocalypse to me.
For Those Who Care About Such Things, the latest version of the Bloodheir cover. It makes me feel cold just looking at it, which in this case is a good thing.
Last I heard, UK, US and Australian publication remains on schedule for June 2008, by the way.
And since it’s the season for Giving Gifts, go test your vocabulary – and marvel at the plethora of obscurities lurking like unexploded bombs in the dark recesses of the English language – while simultaneously donating (at no cost to you!) rice to those who need it: FreeRice, which I found via Patrick Rothfuss’ blog.
Finally, For Music Fans, especially those who like a bit of acoustic guitar action, what I think is one of the nicest sounds to be found on YouTube:
There’re plenty of other clips of him on YouTube, all equally pleasing, and his website’s here: Andy McKee. Sadly, no signs of any plans to play in Scotland as far as I can see, otherwise I’d probably be busy buying tickets instead of writing this post …
And that’s it. Whatever festivities you’re engaged in over the next week or two, I hope you have an outrageously happy time of it.
Every so often I get an e-mail asking about the publication date for Bloodheir, book two in the Godless World trilogy. We’re always eager to please around these parts, so here’s the official update, freshly extracted from the horse’s (i.e. publisher’s) mouth.
The plan is to more or less synchronise Bloodheir publication around the English-speaking world. Winterbirth‘s appearance in the UK, Aus/NZ and USA has been staggered over about 12 months, but if all goes according to plan (which is never a 100% certainty, of course) Bloodheir will show up just about simultaneously in all those places around June 2008. It may appear a month sooner or later in one place than another, but any differences should be minor.
Barring unforeseen developments, by the way, Book 3 will follow approximately one year later. I guess it will also be coming out everywhere at basically the same time.
And that picture is a detail from the prototype of the Bloodheir cover, just as a bit of a teaser. Cool-looking dude, if you ask me. With a big spear.
Incidentally, although the official publication date of Winterbirth in the US is still a week away, it’s in stock at Amazon.com. Buy! Buy! If you feel like it, obviously. No pressure.
Item the First. Although I’ve not had official confirmation, I think this is the cover to the Russian edition of Winterbirth. Now Russian sf/f book covers are famously … what’s the word … different, and this one is no exception (I have no clue who those figures are), but I consider it a badge of honour and a pleasure to get one of these to my name. I get a little, always vaguely disbelieving, thrill from each of the translation deals done for the book, and there’s something faintly exotic and surreal about the idea of it being on sale in places like Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Item the Second. Here’s two Winterbirth reviews for the price of one (well, maybe one and a half for the price of one): the proprietor of Gav’s Studio did a review and then went back a couple of days later to add to it. Interesting to see someone reflecting on a review and revisiting it – not something you see very often in the blogosphere.
Item the Third. Edinburgh has now entered the month or so of collective weirdness that is Festival season. I’ll write about this more here soon, since it’d probably be some kind of dereliction of duty for an Edinburgh inhabitant with a blog not to at least note that their city has gone thoroughly mad around them, but for now just thought I’d note that Transreal Fiction, Edinburgh’s sf/f bookshop, is hosting a Bestiary of Authors: an exhibition of informal photos of genre authors. For those who can’t go along and see the real thing, a selection of the images can be viewed online here.
Item the Fourth. Decades of commercial, industrialised whaling failed to achieve it, but we got there in the end: the probable extinction of a cetacean. That’s one less species of dolphin to worry about, which I’m sure is a great relief to all of us.