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December 2013
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The New York Times x The Jewel of Seven Stars

The New York Times on Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars:

It would be impossible to say just what one really does think of Mr. Bram Stoker's "The Jewel of Seven Stars." It is one of those books that challenge the opinion by their very interest. Who dares say that a book has weak points in face of the fact that from the moment he begins to read it he is loath to drop it until the last page? True, there are chapters where a little less minutiae might not have marred the telling of the story and a hypercritical person might find weak places in the plot, but for all that it is a "ripping" good story of mystery and adventure.

To tell the story - aside from the question of injustice to the author - would be an absolute impossibility, so full is it of excitement and action. This much we can say, however. Centuries upon centuries ago an Egyptian Queen well versed in the magic of her day believed that the soul within her which was eternal was also subject to the might of her will. Therefore, she made preparations that when death should come,  by the force of her power of the spirits of good and evil she should rise from the grave, reincarnate, at such time as her will should designate. As an incident of importance to the story, it must be told that the beautiful Queen possessed a remarkable hand of seven fingers. And because the priests of the time feared her, they set upon the gates of her tomb the wrath of the gods.

It was many centuries later that a Dutchman - one Van Huyn - had the temerity to enter the forbidden vault. There lay the mummied [sic] body of the Queen, with all the other pharaphernalia [sic] of her burial, all bearing a vital interest to the story, but too numerous to be inventoried here. Mr. Van Huyn found under the hand of the dead Queen - which was left without the mummy wrappings - the all-important jewel of the seven stars. He quietly departed after meeting with some startling experiences, wrote a book on the subject - and then dropped into oblivion.


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Fiction: 'Nine Points of the Law' by E.W. Hornung

373px-Kenneth_Hutchings_Vanity_Fair_14_August_1907"Well," said Raffles, "what do you make of it?"

I read the advertisement once more before replying. It was in the last column of the Daily Telegraph, and it ran:

TWO THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD – The above sum may be earned by any one qualified to undertake delicate mission and prepared to run certain risk. – Apply by telegram, Security, London.

"I think," said I, "it's the most extraordinary advertisement that ever got into print!"

Raffles smiled.

"Not quite all that, Bunny; still, extraordinary enough, I grant you."

"Look at the figure!"

"It is certainly large."

"And the mission – and the risk!"

"Yes; the combination is frank, to say the least of it. But the really original point is requiring applications by telegram to a telegraphic address! There's something in the fellow who thought of that, and something in his game; with one word he chokes off the million who answer an advertisement every day –when they can raise the stamp. My answer cost me five bob; but then I prepaid another."

"You don't mean to say that you've applied?"

"Rather," said Raffles. "I want two thousand pounds as much as any man."

"Put your own name?"

"Well – no, Bunny, I didn't. In point of fact I smell something interesting and illegal, and you know what a cautious chap I am. I signed myself Glasspool, care of Hickey, 38, Conduit Street; that's my tailor, and after sending the wire I went round and told him what to expect. He promised to send the reply along the moment it came. I shouldn't be surprised if that's it!"

And he was gone before a double-knock on the outer door had done ringing through the rooms, to return next minute with an open telegram and a face full of news.

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Film 101: The Wiz (1978)

The WizFilm 4: The Wiz (1978)

Method of viewing: DVD, beanbag sofa, many blankets (under which I was curled), and two cats.

Have I seen it before? Nope!

I like a slick Hollywood blockbuster. I’m not at all ashamed of this fact. And it’s not a qualified love/hate relationship, either; while there are certainly aspects of slick Hollywood blockbusters that piss me off I still like them. I like them a lot. And yes, I consider it my bounden duty to call them on the stuff they do badly. But that doesn’t change the fact that I just plain like ‘em.

What the hell does any of this have to do with The Wiz, the 1978 urban-set, Motown-produced retelling of The Wizard of Oz? Well, The Wiz is pretty much the exact opposite of a slick Hollywood blockbuster. I mean, really; with The Wiz we have (at times) public-access level production quality and camera work so static it’s laughable. And yet, The Wiz has something most slick Hollywood blockbusters don’t: ambition.

That is not to say that the film isn’t a mess. It is! But it’s an ambitious mess that wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s an ambitious mess that tries to do something really special and, in many ways, succeeds. And it’s an ambitious mess that never got the follow-up it deserves. But more on that anon.

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What editors want (1921 edition)...

From The Stories Editors Buy and Why (published 1921):

AdventureAdventure (editor - Arthur S. Hoffman)

We regard it as vitally important that the illusion should be kept up. We want the reader to leave his own world and to live entirely in the world of the story. For this reason we dislike too pronounced mannerisms of style, too unusual names for characters, misstatements in local color, improbability in plot details. We also wish that the author would avoid the obtrusion of his own personality into the story, too much surface cleverness, the specific call upon the reader to philosophize (thus making him think, rather than keeping him in the receptive mood), a too cynical or sophisticated attitude on the author's part. 

We have in addition certain types of story that we try to avoid: those that involve international or political questions; we dislike stories of opium smuggling; stories in which all of the main characters are "natives"; stories which feature intermarriage. Generally speaking, we do not care much for a villain in the role of central character.

[Pure escapism. Don't make the reader think. Don't challenge. Don't be political. Don't feature anyone that's not white. Ah, the "golden age" of genre literature!]

Below the jump, editorial guidance from The American Boy, Detective Story Magazine, Saucy Stories, The Atlantic Monthly and more!

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Joey Hi-Fi's Weirdness Rodeo

Welcome to the Weirdness Rodeo - wonder and strangeness, courtesy of Joey Hi-Fi. 
You can follow Joey on Twitter at @JoeyHiFi and admire his work here.

The Simpsons fantastic' tribute to Hayao Miyazaki. Howl's Moving Castle Kwik-E-Mart!

Sea-serpent skeleton installed in French river.

Game of Thrones - Season Four Trailer!

An elusive 4 metre long “daio ika” giant squid has been caught by Japanese Fisherman.

Grant Morrison is on the pointy end of a verbal smackdown by the extraordinary gentleman himself, Alan Moore.

Xenomorph nesting-doll.

"Which Oscar-Season Sad White Guy Is Saddest and Whitest?" Each character is given a 'Morrissey' score. Fantastic!

Librarians and their tattoos.

"Creepy House is Watching You."

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Friday Five: 5 Classic Space-faring YA Science Fiction Stories

This week's Friday Five comes courtesy of the award-nominated poet and author, Dennis M. Lane.

His work includes a compilation of poetry 8 Million Stories (2010), the collection The Poring Dark (2012) and two YA SF novels - Talatu (2013) and The King's Jewel (August 2013). (You can find them all here.)

You can also hear Dennis - he narrates stories and poems and presents a regular Film Review on the StarShipSofa podcast. (He also plays the harmonica.) 

Dennis is taking us on a blast to the past with a new look at some older YA novels...

heinlein rocketship galileoScouting gets a pretty bad rap nowadays; but it taught me to parachute, skin a rabbit, build a bivouac, and take anything that the world could throw at me. The books that inspired the same feeling in me when I was a teenager were, for example, the Heinlein Juveniles that I discovered in my local library in the early 1970's. Readers of contemporary YA science fiction may be surprised that SF has been doing strong teen (and pre-teen) protagonists for decades.

So here are five of the novels that I read as a 1970s schoolboy, ones that inspired me to pack my bags and follow my dreams...

There's Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), the first of what became known as the Heinlein Juveniles. I recently re-read this and, while it is quite heavily laden with forties slang and quite a lot of the "science" has been proved wrong, it still stands up as a short, easily read adventure. With a plot that follows three teenage boys as they build a rocket, travel to the moon, and defeat Nazis who have set up base there; what’s not to like?

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Review Round-up: The Rig, Stadium Beyond the Stars, Resort Girl

Three quick reviews of books with pretty much nothing in common.

The RigThe Rig (Joe Ducie, 2013) - Will Drake is a 15 year old prisoner, a victim of the corporate dystopian evil future state. The Rig is his third prison - a converted oil rig in the middle of the North Sea, where all the naughtiest teenage culprits spend their days. The setting of the Rig - a sort of anti-Hogwarts - is the best part: a methodically mercenary system wherein the kids are charged for ‘room and board’ and have to earn it back through demeaning labor (mostly crawling around in icky pipes). There’s even a sport called “Rigball” that’s the anti-Quidditch, with decidedly not-flying children whacking one another with magnetised lacrosse sticks.

Drake finds, as one might expect, some friends (a geeky sidekick and a spunky girl), and some dark secrets. The Rig isn’t just a prison, it is also home to sinister experiments! Perhaps our evil corporate dystopian overlords are... up to something? The best parts of The Rig are the trails and tribulations of Will Drake’s daily existence in a hellish prison, and when things escalate to an over-the-top comic book battle, the book loses its way somewhat. Still, a fun read, and I suspect that some will enjoy the unexpectedly epic conclusion more than I did.

After the jump - vintage SF YA from Milton Lesser and some properly pulpy sleaze with Resort Girl!

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Film 101: The Princess and the Frog (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2009)

Princess and the FrogFilm 3: The Princess and the Frog

Method of viewing: I watched this on my laptop, having rented it online. 

(Spoilers for the film appear throughout the entire essay below. Sorry!)

Have I seen it before: Nope! The obvious reaction is disbelief: I have a well-documented affection for animation and for Disney films, and yet had never seen this one. Well, now I have. And you know what? It was pretty good.

Tiana is the (black) daughter of a working-class dressmaker, who makes a reasonable living making princess gowns for the spoiled (white) daughter (Lottie) of a sugar magnate (Big Daddy) in Jazz-Age New Orleans. Tiana and her family live in a comfortable but poor working-class neighborhood, where we learn that she has a flair for cooking and that her father dreams of opening a swanky restaurant. Fast forward some years; Tiana is now an adult and working long hours to save up for the building her (now deceased) father planned to turn into his restaurant, an abandoned sugar factory. No one except her mother believes she'll get the money in time, or that her ambitions matter much anyway. Adult Tiana is so hard-working that she never takes time off to have fun.

Her spoiled childhood playmate Lottie is now a spoiled adult puffball and still entirely obsessed with all things princess. When she learns that an eligible young bachelor prince is about to hit New Orleans while touring the US, she hires Tiana to cook for her royal masquerade ball - which she and her father have set up to capture the heart of the young prince.

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"My Passion for Popular Fiction" by Terri Hurley

Gods-WarI am one lucky mother. My daughter is an author.

Growing up, she showed many signs of her impending career. Very often she spent time alone in her room reading and writing. She would often present me with wall-sized posters of the worlds she had created and manuscripts of her writing that were very lengthy.     

I certainly didn’t want to discourage her, but let’s be realistic: how many published authors do you know? So I often counseled her that in order to be a successful writer she would need to learn to waitress to survive and pay the bills.

Then she called me one day to let me know she had sold her first book and the book would be in stores and online within a year.  I have never felt so much pride.  I truly had never been so proud and amazed. Her dream, her life’s work, and her efforts had paid off. 

One small point of contrition:

It’s true that my progeny writes science fiction and fantasy. And I read popular fiction. 

Three years after she published her first novel, I have not read even one of her books.

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