Autodidact: self-taught

Apr
17
2015

The Winter Family

by V. L. Craven

The Winter Family

In the final days of the Civil War Quentin Ross (who grew up wetting his bed and pulling the wings off flies) is sent off by General Sherman on a mission. Ross puts together a small band of people who have a, shall we say, tenuous  connection with morality and set off. Some unfortunate decisions are made and soon enough they’re wanted for desertion.

In the wake of the war, the Klan is formed in the South and several members of the gang hire themselves out to combat them. Some unfortunate decisions are made and soon enough they have to split up to save their lives.

Luckily, this was in the early days of the Union. There were huge swathes of uncharted land to get lost in. Violence-loving thugs and those with nothing to lose lead by two sociopaths could easily get lost.

Then came the Chicago election of 1872. The Republicans had held the city forever but the Democrats were beginning to organise. All the working-class people and the various ethnicities–the Irish, German, Polish, etc, were coming together in order to face the rich Republicans. President Grant has promised the gang pardons if they help maintain order on election day.

Except Augustus Winter (sociopath number two of the group) his brand of violence was beyond the pale. He was not up for pardon and he was not invited to Chicago.

So the gang is reunited in Chicago–Winter finds out, of course–and it wouldn’t be a Winter Family reunion without copious amounts of violence. Once again with the unfortunate decisions and having to split up.

Eventually they wind up coming back together in Oklahoma in 1891 for the big showdown with their arch-nemesis, Matt Shakespeare, brother of one of their former members.

The main events of the book take place in Georgia 1864, Chicago 1872, Phoenix 1881 and Oklahoma 1891. Between each section are summations of what was happening in American history and what the characters did while they were apart. This could feel a little disjointed, though the narrative device is understandable because otherwise the book would have been 2,000 pages long.

The Winter Family is about race and violence and what really lives in the hearts of men. It’s well-written and was difficult to put down and it covers a vast area both geographically and historically–Jackman definitely did his research–I learned a lot about parts of American history that wasn’t covered at school.

Overall I’d give The Winter Family 4/5.

[I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Apr
10
2015

Deep Shell

by V. L. Craven

Deep Shell

Harkel is a surgeon. His job is stitching the wounds that appear in the ground they live on. And the ground is alive.

Four decades prior, four ships crashed onto a planet mostly made of water. They landed on a living organism they call the behemoth. The survivors are doing the best they can and have got on with things in the intervening period.

When there are fleshquakes (think earthquake but gory) people like Harkel go in, assess the damage and suture things up.

Lately there have been more, and more violent, fleshquakes. What resources the humans have are running out and will only continue to do so so when Harkel is given the opportunity/order to help save the planet he has to take it.

Deep Shell is available on Kindle for $.99 and it’s definitely worth that. It’s worth more, really. There’s lots of action and blood and gore, and feels like an hour-long sci-fi episode of a well-produced show. I’m not sure which one, but something dark.

Kelly has a gift for creating atmosphere, which in this case can be a little stomach-churning (don’t eat spaghetti whilst reading it). There were some questions about the overall world that were left unanswered, but it left room for other stories set in the same universe called The Conflux, which I would definitely read.

It’s a short read–16,000 words, but great fun. If you’re looking for some sci-fi with plenty of viscera that can be finished off in an afternoon, look no further. 5/5.

Apr
07
2015

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

by V. L. Craven

Young Doctor's Notebook

In 1917 Dr Vladimir Bomgard (Daniel Radcliffe & Jon Hamm) was an utter Hermione at university in Moscow and scored 15 5s. Immediately upon graduation he’s shipped to a village on the outskirts of nowhere in Russia (and Russia does nowhere like no other). He has next to no practical experience and was too short to see some lessons so he’s beyond unprepared for life in a hamlet without so much as a shop and in the middle of a Russian winter (Russia does winter like no other).

The villagers are ignorant, the doctor is unprepared, the staff at the clinic are cynical (or realistic, depending upon your view). It’s an excellent combination for disaster and a few miracles.

The show is darkly comic in a very Russian way (it’s based on stories by Mikhail Bulgakov). And it doesn’t go easy on the gore. This is medicine circa 1917 on the outer edge of the end-of-the-world, after all.

It’s the first time I’ve gagged watching anything fictional. And I’ve seen all of the Saw and Wrong Turn films. To calibrate that–I refuse to watch anything by Miike or the Centipede franchise.

I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the first episode because it took me awhile to realise Jon Hamm was playing an older version of Daniel Radcliffe. What with Daniel Radcliffe being 5’5″ and Jon Hamm being 6’2″, this wasn’t apparent otherwise. There’s also only supposed to be a 16 year age difference, but it’s twenty. I’m going to let that slide and focus on the giant height difference (see exhibit A above).

The framing device of the entire series is that Jon Hamm is looking back on his old diaries after he’s being accused of using dead clients’ names to fill morphine prescriptions for his drug habit. The older version of the character often speaks to the younger version–trying to talk him out of taking morphine for the first time, for example–but the younger version also speaks to the older version, which is just… Russian.

There are two series–both are four episodes long. Unaware of this when I started the first series, it seemed to end abruptly. This review is for the first series, which really is excellent, as long as you have a strong stomach. 5/5

Mar
30
2015

The Jinx

by V. L. Craven

The Jinx

Some people have all the luck. And other people are massively unlucky. Robert Durst is one or the other. He’s either got away with murder three times or has known three different people who have got themselves murdered in such a way as to make him seem to be the killer.

In Andrew Jarecki’s documentary about Durst, The Jinx, he doesn’t exactly come across as a master criminal. But he does possess three qualities that will allow a person to get away with quite a bit: He’s male, white and wealthy. You can call me a social justice warrior all day if you want, but no poor black woman would get away with even one of these crimes.

Hell, in the one murder case they manage to get to court the jurors just couldn’t believe he’d done it because he seemed too nice. In that case he admitted killing and dismembering the person, but the question was whether the killing was justified.

We get to meet the major players in all three cases–Durst’s first wife went missing in 1982 under mysterious circumstances and she’s never been heard from again; in 2000 his long-time friend and confidant was killed in an execution-style murder; in 2001 he killed and dismembered a neighbour he was supposedly friends with.

All of these occurrences happen just about the time these people are about to make Durst’s life very difficult. Huh. What an unlucky person.

One of my favourite people is Jeanine Pirro–she was the District Attorney in New York when they were trying to make a case against Durst regarding the disappearance of his first wife. She has my absolute fav bit in the entire piece, when the filmmakers show her something they discovered. She examines it, then exclaims, ‘Son of a bitch !’

I have a bit of a crush on her.

But I digress.

It’s a six part documentary and I went in knowing the main points, including the ending, but had to see how on Earth all of the insanity Durst’s life sounded like could be and it was still compelling viewing. I watched all six episodes in one go.

The Jinx is a must for true crime fans or people who want to see how the justice system ‘works’. 5/5

Since the show aired, Durst has been all over the news for other crimes and is finally getting his due. Hopefully.

Mar
20
2015

The Devil’s Detective

by V. L. Craven

Devils Detective US

Hell, present day.

Thomas Fool has been sent to escort a delegation from Heaven for the periodic Elevations. Some souls are going to be released up to salvation, which is occasionally visible through the dark clouds always shifting above Hell.

Fool is one of the Eternal Damned City’s three Information Men–a detective. He and his colleagues investigate crimes against humans and demons alike. Or they’re supposed to. But Hell is wide and they’re only three and no one really cares. No one really expects them to solve anything.

Except for the canisters marked with blue ribbons.

You see, their assignments arrive in their rooms in pneumatic tubes like banks (Hell is extremely similar to Earth only much, much filthier and with demons) and the canisters are wrapped in ribbons. Most ribbons are red and the parchments within can safely be stamped DNI (Do Not Investigate) and returned to the tube.

Blue ribbons must be looked into, however.

The day the Heavenly delegation arrives, which consists of Adam, a beatific fellow, Balthasar, of the old school who misses the way Hell used to be run with the lakes of fire–think Dante, and an archive and scribe for assistants, a blue-ribbon-wrapped canister arrives and things get chaotic even for Hell.

A human was killed–this happens all the time, so what–but his soul was removed afterward. Only something ancient, evil and very, very powerful could do such a thing.

We’re talking about the sort of ancient and evil and powerful that frightens the present-day demons of Hell.

The Bureaucracy who runs Hell (ancient demons) want answers enough they’re willing to put their trust and resources in a mere human.

They’re also rather curious about something that used to be a human, but who is now known as The Man of Plants and Flowers. He’s become one with the flora and fauna of the underworld and this is threatening, as he can no longer be quantified as human or demon.

Fool’s assignment is to find out what’s eating souls and what The Man is, exactly. This assignment will take him through the worst and worst-er parts of Hell. (There are no good parts just less-terrible.) He will come face-to-face with an array of types of demons.

On his quest to discover the truth, Fool will also find out just who he really is.

Devils Detective UK

The Devil’s Detective takes place in a fully-realised Hell. Unsworth’s gift of description and atmosphere are vivid and creative. The reader learns about the darkest areas of perdition along with Fool and walks alongside him into some chilling situations.

Things are a-changin’ in Hell and we get to come along for the ride.

And the ending was great.

Well-written, dark fantasy, great fun. 5/5

Mar
17
2015

Rampage

by V. L. Craven

Rampage

Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher) is a 23-year-old white guy with no prospects, no ambition and no savings. His parents would like him to do  something with his life and, at the start of the film, they say they’ve discussed it and he should move out. He’s old enough to support himself.

He has a terrible day where the world just generally gets on top of him and well, Anton Chekhov said: ‘Any idiot can face a crisis, it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.’

Bill Williamson just gets worn out. The little things that make up day-to-day living build and build.

He suits up in a truly impressive set of homemade armour and a small arsenal and heads downtown to begin his assault on the general population.

Then we get to the titular rampage which is remarkably dull. Unlike other films where the white guy snaps and starts killing people (Falling Down, He Was a Quiet Man) there’s no catharsis. It just goes on for an exceedingly long time and becomes tedious.

That section wasn’t particularly graphic for what it was, it was just…boring. (Though there was one part that was laugh out loud funny and a welcome break from the oddly tedious horror.)

But Williamson isn’t done. He’s not a punk–he’s not going to get shot by some cop. He’s smarter than the average mass murderer and he has a plan.

It’s actually a pretty good plan, I must admit.

'...and gosh darn it, *I* like me!'

‘…and gosh darn it, *I* like me!’

Generally I enjoy a good, ‘That’s it , that’s the last straw and now the world is going to burn!’ sort of film. Everyone has those days when they want to destroy the neighbourhood (right?, I hope so or I’m in trouble). And overall, I did like this one, but not for the rampage scene. That was the part I actively dis liked, which isn’t what you want in a film called Rampage.

I mean, when you see a film is by Uwe Boll, you know you’re in for a good time. I should have just been happy it didn’t make me throw up in my mouth. But I also expected more from him somehow.

I did like it, but it was pretty nihilistic (this is a plus for me, but will make some people hate it). Pollyannas beware. I’d give it a 4/5.

Mar
10
2015

Transparent

by V. L. Craven

Transparent

Morton Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) is a retired professor of political science, a father of three, and an ex-husband. He’s also actually a woman, Maura.

How Maura’s dysfunctional family (understatement warning) is going to take this news is anyone’s guess, but after knowing for years she’s finally ready to make the announcement and begin being true to herself 24/7.

About this family. Oy. They are so Jewish. In the most realistic way, which isn’t something audiences get to see on television very often so that alone was refreshing. Also, the characters are very real, meaning they’re not all that likable. (This has nothing to do with them being Jewish and everything with them being like actual human beings with actual human feelings and unattractive traits.)

There’s the eldest daughter, Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker). Her marriage is in trouble (understatement) and she gets involved with an ex who happens to be a woman ( Melora Hardin who played Jan Levinson on the US version of The Office and the transformation blows my mind.) [That character is unlikable, as well. Everyone is obnoxious on this show, but I couldn’t stop watching.] Those two getting together wrecks two households but also kicks off Maura’s coming out process albeit unintentionally.

Then there’s the only son, Josh, who has a  lot of sex on this show. I don’t know what he’s looking for–new sex or new love or both or something else, but he’s doing his level best in trying to find it. Or trying to wreck his life. Perhaps that’s what he’s trying to do.

The third child is Ali, Gaby Hoffman, unable to settle on anything in life, perpetually jobless and dependent on Morton/Maura for money, Ali is also trying to work out who and what she is.

The matriarch of this bunch is the ever luminous Judith Light, who can do no wrong. She plays Shelly, Maura’s ex, and she’s remarried to a man named Ed with whom she lives in a retirement community. He’s lost the ability to speak by the time we meet him, he’s still quite the personality.

There are lots of flashbacks to the 90s when Morton was just becoming Maura, so we get to see her first, tentative steps into finding her true self. Her guide is a cross-dresser named Marcy (Bradley Whitford). It’s Whitford like you’ve never seen him before and it’s  amazing .

The show was created by Jill Soloway and was based on her own father’s coming out as transgender. Soloway also directed.

Everything about Transparent is excellent. Every character is fully-realised. The writing is top-notch and the actors are on top of their game. There’s humour and pathos and pain and joy. And every kind of sex you can imagine. No really.

This show is a must watch. 5/5

Mar
09
2015

EmbellishMaille

by V. L. Craven

I was looking around for an everyday choker. Lazy but fashionable, I wanted it to be attractive but didn’t want to have to take it off to shower. After listlessly poking the internet a bit I eventually came upon EmbellishMaille’s Etsy shop .

I knew what chainmaille was, but I’d never looked at it up close and certainly didn’t know it came in different patterns or weaves. After seeing the impressive, intricate styles available, I contacted the owner and requested an interview and she graciously agreed.

Lucid Chainmaille Choker ($35.95)

Lucid Chainmaille Choker ($35.95)

How did you get into making jewellery?

There was a time when I was looking at chokers and as I was doing a Google Image search, I came across a lot of chainmaille. I was intrigued and fascinated by the variety of patterns and even color designs. I took a look at a few instructions for some of the patterns considered “for beginners” and thought, how hard could it be? I invested about $50 into some start up materials and it’s been a growing passion. The only limit is my own imagination. I love that it empowers me to get creative and have an outlet to express myself.

Helm Weave bracelet ($18)

Helm Weave bracelet ($18)

How long have you been making jewelry?

I started around the Spring of 2011.

Do you have a favourite piece to make or a favourite style chainmaille?

My current obsession has been the Jens Pind Linkage or JPL pattern. It reminds me of a classic rope braid weave that is pretty durable and unisex.

Music Lovers Bracelet JPL ($18)

Music Lovers Bracelet JPL ($18)

What’s the most complicated style to make? How long did it take you to master that style?

There’s a pattern called Elfweave that I remember being fascinated with when I was first exploring different weaves that I wanted to try in the beginning. I had tried the weave three or four times over the course of the last three years and it wasn’t until about six months ago that I could finally wrap my head around the instructions. The instructions were very clear and included photos, but for some reason it just baffled me. Once I finally rolled up my sleeves and took some time to understand it, the pattern itself wasn’t as complicated as I was trying to make it. Sometimes there are weaves that don’t have instructions and those can be tricky to visually break the weave apart to try to re-create. The key for me has been to go into a new weave with a clear head.

Elfweave Chainmaille necklace ($45)

Elfweave Chainmaille necklace ($45)

What’s your most popular piece?

The most viewed item is my “Lucid” Choker , which is something of a modified helm pattern. The most popular piece actually purchased is a toss up between the new custom photo pendants and the helm weave choker.

Have you ever tried to invent your own weave?

Not yet, though most people that have created patterns did so by accident. Or they will look at a pattern and say, “I wonder what happens if I do this with the ring instead of that.” There are a ton of variations out there by other folks that have tinkered and invented a new pattern. I think I came to do chainmaille a little late in the game and that most variations I would think of have probably already been done before. One never knows though!

Zig Zag Byzantine Necklace ($49.95)

Zig Zag Byzantine Necklace ($49.95)

What would you say to someone who was interested in trying to make chainmaille jewellery? What resources would you recommend?

For anyone interested in making chainmaille I will offer a few tips to know before getting supplies and such…. 1. is that doing chainmaille, not just jewelry but anything can be tedious. Most of it is taking a small segment and repeating it over and over again. For some that’s too monotonous. If you have any sort of carpel tunnel or arthritis, I don’t recommend it.

I would also suggest getting some good pliers. There are different types of pliers for different metals. Since I use aluminum, a flat thin nose and a flat, slightly fatter nose pliers works for me. If someone plans to use steel, I’ve heard that pliers with teeth will be more suited for the task. As for other metals, I’m honestly not sure. However there is one website that has a ton of patterns, photos, forums, etc on everything chainmaille.  mailleartisans.org The registration is free and they have a gallery and you can search the weave library and so forth.

As for rings, different people use different places. I started out using theringlord.com and then added stores.ebay.com/ americanchainmail as another option. Some people make their own rings and that’s awesome, but not something I have ever wanted to get into. There’s also some great videos on YouTube for learning patterns.

Stepping Stones Weave bracelet ($17.95)

Stepping Stones Weave bracelet ($17.95)

What materials do you use and why do you use them? Can you shower in them?

When I got started, my budget was tight. I wanted a shiny metal and anodized aluminum offers the shine without tarnishing like silver. It’s affordable, comes in a variety of colors and sizes and is really just easy to work with. The anodized aluminum is pretty easy to clean with the BLUE Dawn hand dish soap and warm water. Depending on the weave, it might recommend having a spare toothbrush to get into the crevices. I do have customers that wear their jewelry everyday including in the shower and I haven’t had any complaints yet. For anyone with metal sensitivity, aluminum also seems to be a great alternative.

You can follow the shop on Facebook: EmbellishMaille  and of course the Etsy site is here .

Mar
04
2015

Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill

by V. L. Craven

Bad Behavior

The characters in Mary Gaitskill’s collection of short stories Bad Behavior are unlikeable across the board. The stories themselves are snapshots of humanity–warts and all.

Mostly warts, really.

All of the stories are of deeply flawed humans, many using their fellow humans for their own needs, whether those needs be sexual (more than one story featured BDSM practices and prostitution) or emotional. Gaitskill has an impressive eye for detail.

As mentioned yesterday, one of the stories in this collection, ‘Secretary’, is the source material for the film Secretary. It’s one of the few times a film vastly improved upon the original piece, as the story version of the secretary (Debbie in the story/Lee in the film) was mostly unsympathetic. And the lawyer (unnamed in the story, E. Edward Grey in the film) wasn’t as fleshed out in the story.

Something about it reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates’ outstanding Them, though I can’t quite put my finger on what it was. Perhaps the level of detail and the dirty reality of the characters’ lives.

The stories all seems to link into one another to the degree I kept expecting characters to cross paths with characters from other stories.

This is not a collection of happy stories about happy people or happy endings, or even endings that wrap up things neatly, but if that’s your cup of tea (as it is mine) then I can recommend this one. 4/5.

Mar
03
2015

Secretary

by V. L. Craven

Secretary

 

Shortly after Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental hospital following a self harm incident that accidentally went too far she attends a typing school.

With her certificate and very high marks she applies to be the secretary of an attorney, a Mr E. Edward Grey (James Spader, again playing a weirdo because the man can not play a well-adjusted human being).

After warning her the work will be boring and receiving the reply, ‘I want to be bored,’ Mr Grey offers her the job. This follows the most illegal set of interview questions imaginable.

Mr Grey notices his new secretary’s cuts. He catches her with her self harm travel kit one day and works out that she needs physical pain to help deal with emotional pain.

He recognises a submissive in this socially awkward individual who has been doing her best to please him. And he cares enough to not want her to hurt herself badly enough she may wind up in the mental ward again or worse.

Then one day she commits one typo too far.

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

And we’re off to the races. If races were kinky.

Their relationship changes then; while she’s still his secretary she also gets spanked on a regular basis (she’s clearly completely into this).

And he has informed her that she will no longer be injuring herself. She agrees to this because he is Dominant and she is submissive. He makes decisions about what she eats and where she walks, therefore it’s as though he’s with her all the time, which she’s fine with because she’s crazy about him. And she likes pain.

Then, like all romantic comedies (I promise that’s what this is), something goes wrong and they break up. Will they get back together? Well, it’s a romantic comedy so you guess.

But how it happens and what they go through to get there will surprise most people. Their relationship certainly isn’t what Hollywood generally serves up.

Secretary gif 1

Secretary gif 2

Secretary came out in 2002. And I loved it straightaway. It’s a damn sight better than that other BDSM film featuring a Mr Grey even though neither of them are entirely accurate in their portrayal of the lifestyle (there’s no pre-negotiation or aftercare in Secretary and …everything is terrible in the other film/books). A complete breakdown of the two films is here .

Back to the review at hand, though. It’s stylish and stylized. The soundtrack is by Angelo Badalamenti, who also did the music for Twin Peaks. E. Edward Grey’s office is gorgeous and bizarre in its own right, but so is everything in this film.

The writing is funny and real and unreal at the same time.

I recently re-watched it in order to write this review, showing it to a friend of mine who describes herself as a ‘vanilla weenie’. Around three quarters of the way through she asked, ‘What even is this film?’ Which I think is a good way of putting it. It’s not like anything most people have seen before.

It’s based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill included in the collection Bad Behavior, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. I give the film 5/5 and I’ll see you tomorrow for the book review.

Bonus: On the official Secretary website there’s a little typing game, as well as Lee’s CV that’s pretty funny.

Feb
24
2015

The Well (1997)

by V. L. Craven

The Well

Hester Harper (Pamela Rabe), a spinster living with her father on a farm in rural Australia, takes on Katherine (Miranda Otto) as a helper, letting go of the long-term help in order to do so.

The new girl finds the work too hard and decides to leave. But Hester has already become taken with the girl so she proffers a deal–she’ll bring back on the previous maid for the heavy work in order to keep on the younger woman. Her proposal is refused.

Katherine soon returns, though, much to Hester’s surprise. Long accustomed to being shut up on the farm she’s drawn to the young woman’s uninhibited energy.

The younger woman sees her opportunity and begins asking for gifts, which the enamoured Hester happily bestows.

One such manipulation involves the sale of the farm, the place where Hester was born, in order to afford a month-long trip to Europe and New York.

They wind up living in a lonely cottage which is the location of the titular well. Hester spent time there as a child and says the well has always been dry.

This is either a blessing or a curse, depending upon how you look at it, when Katherine accidentally runs over someone on the way back from a dance and they need somewhere to put said corpse.

And then things get…weird.

Pictured: Gold-digging, possible lunatic

Pictured: Gold-digger, possible lunatic

The Well is about obsession and greed. And jealousy and…insanity? It’s difficult to say at a certain point. I’ve watched it three times now and I’m still uncertain about the ending, but I have a high tolerance for ambiguous endings.

Folie a deux relationships are a personal interest so I found it enjoyable. It puts me in mind of Sister, My Sister in that it’s about an intense relationship between two women that leads to tragedy.

I’d give this one a 4/5. It’s a slow boil, but I really enjoyed it.

Personal thoughts for those who’ve seen it and want to know what I think:  I really have no clue. We see that Katherine has some of the money, but it doesn’t appear that she has all of it–there was far too much and her suitcase didn’t seem large enough to hold all of it. Also, we saw her in her bedroom alone and she seemed to really believe the guy in the well loved her, even though the fall alone would have killed him. So… yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to read the script and see if it’s clearer and if they edited it to make it more ambiguous.

Feb
23
2015

Mythic Articulations

by V. L. Craven

Mythic Articulations , 3D printed skeletons of creatures from mythology as well as cryptids, was brought to my attention by a friend who saw Cerberus in a can (he’s poseable and you build him yourself!) and immediately thought of me. My friends know me well.

Meet Snuffles, Ruffles and Bob.

Meet Snuffles, Ruffles and Bob.

After admiring the work on the etsy shop I contacted the owner/artist, Brian Richardson, who answered some questions via the electronic mail.

How long have you been interested in mythology and mythological creatures; how did you become interested?

I’ve been interested in mythology for as long as I can remember. I can’t recall what started the interest, it’s sort of just always been there.

What is your design background & how did that lead to 3D printing?

I’ve been drawing since I was about 5. I first learned of 3D printing about two years ago, and took up 3D modeling over the next few months. I didn’t really do a whole lot of sculpture prior to learning 3D modeling, due to material costs and the inherent mess of working with clay or wood or metal. Being able to make basically anything virtually, with no mess, and then have it printed into a 3D object really brought about an interest in sculpture.

Everyone has that neighbour who simply refuses to mind their own business, don't they?

Everyone has that neighbour who simply refuses to mind their own business, don’t they? (Rokurokubi skeleton)

Do you have your own printer or do you outsource your creations?

I outsource to a local 3D printing bureau. I have considered getting a desktop printer, but the quality of the prints from most printers just isn’t good enough yet. Maybe in a few years.

In terms of anatomy design–do you have formal training in medical anatomy or are you self-taught?

I took biology classes all through High-school, but that’s the extent of my training. Most of my knowledge of the skeletal system comes from looking at lots of pictures. I probably couldn’t name all the bones, but I know what they look like and how they fit together.

For the Harry Potter fans--it's a Hippogriff. There's also a centaur available.

For the Harry Potter fans–it’s a Hippogriff. There’s also a centaur available.

Walk me through the process of creating a new piece, from deciding what it will be to finished product with certificates and paperwork.

I usually just pick which ever creature I think would make a good skeleton or be popular. There’s lots of scouring Google images and Wikipedia to get good interpretations and descriptions of the various beasts. I’ve also got a few books I look through on occasion. I use the program ZBrush to sculpt each one. I start from a virtual ball of clay, and push, pull, cut, and move it around until it looks like whatever part I’m making. I use lots of reference photos of actual animal skeletons.

I’m to the point where a lot of the parts for new creatures are already made (skulls, wings, spines, etc.) and I can just mix and match them with some adjustments to have a new skeleton. After that, it’s off to the printers and a week later I’ve got the skeleton. The paperwork is as simple as swapping out text and photos.

If you're more interested in modern myths there's the Flatwoods Monster and other cryptids.

If you’re more interested in modern myths there’s the Flatwoods Monster and other cryptids.

Customers can request custom orders–what are some of the more interesting requests you’ve had?

The most interesting custom order I’ve done so far was a poseable model of a customers original creature design. It looked a bit like a “big-boned” Godzilla.

MA Cockatrice

Cockatrice. That tail looks a bit dangerous.

Would you be open to the idea of sending a piece through some place like Shapeways to have it printed in metal or glass for a customer–do you plan to offer skeletons in other materials in future?

I have actually had a skeleton printed in bronze by them. The only problem is the relativity small size that they can print in metal. I may be offering select models at a reduced size in metal at some point.

Do you have a personal favourite?
It’s a three way tie between Cthulhu , the Wolpertinger and the Cockatrice .

Elder gods never looked so cute

Elder gods never looked so cute

What pieces do you have in the works?

I’m currently testing a Bakeneko (a large, intelligent cat that walks on two legs), a Nekomata (a Bakeneko, but evil and with two tails), and a Wanyudo (a giant flaming head in an ox cart wheel). These are Japanese monsters called Yokai , and there are hundreds of them, many of which I’d like to model at some point.

Feb
18
2015

The Match Girl and the Heiress

by V. L. Craven

Match Girl and the Heiress

The premise of Seth Koven’s The Match Girl and the Heiress sounds like the worst sort of contrived Victorian social commentary. Well-to-do young woman (soft white hands and all) gives it all up to venture into the slums of London and befriends a factory working match girl who, in her turn, idolizes her. Together, they try to change the world.

It’s non-fiction, however, so I was very excited. It sounded like romantic friendship , which is one of my favourite topics. As is the Victorian era. So I thought, ‘real life romantic friendship in my favourite time period?’ Result!

Alas, it was not to be. While the book was very well researched. It was, at times, dry even for an academic work. I learned a great deal about the way World War I shaped Britain’s view of pacifism and other social causes. And the rise and clash of different sorts of feminism was quite interesting. But other parts were something of a slog.

The best sections (though few and far between) were analyzing the unequal relationship of the women–Muriel Lester (the heiress) and Nellie Dowell (the match girl), which were nearly perfect mirrors of the way well-meaning middle class whites in the U.S. try to help poor people, especially blacks in the present day. There’s a genuine desire to provide assistance but due to a lifetime of wearing the blinders of privilege they make mistake after mistake.

Unfortunately, I can only recommend this for those specifically interested in class and social issues of the time. 3/5

[I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Feb
17
2015

Hysteria

by V. L. Craven

Hysteria_Movie_Poster

It’s the 1880s in England and all of women’s emotional problems stem from their uteri. They must be brought back into alignment and this was done by inducing hysteria… which involved, um… manipulating the lady bits. You know .

[The filmmakers weren’t making any of this up–this was actual medical science of the day.]

After being fired from his job for believing in the clearly made-up germ theory–whoever heard of doctors changing bandages or washing hands, I mean, really–Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) has a difficult time finding new employment.

That is, until he’s taken on by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is pioneering the new technique of digitally manipulation (see the first paragraph) in order to restore women’s uteri to their proper position. (People used to believe they moved around and cause all sorts of trouble. I swear to you.)

He calls this work ‘tedious’.

Granville would call it debilitating–he winds up with something akin to carpal tunnel, poor, giving soul.

Luckily, he happens upon an invention his great friend Edmund St-John-Smyth (Rupert Everett) is working on to make housework easier for women. Granville quickly realised that, with a few adjustments, it will make something else far easier for women, as well.

And it ain’t dusting, ifyougetmydrift.

In the midst of all this is Dr. Dalrymple’s two daughters. The eldest, Charlotte, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a feminist trying to assist the down trodden in nineteenth-century England–so there’s no worry of her running out of people to help; the younger is obedient Emily (Felicity Jones) who will marry whomever her father says, including Mortimer, if he so wishes.

A contrived thing happens because it has to and we have a subplot.

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

The film starts off with Anna Chancellor’s voice. So I had high hopes. Then she has one other, very short scene. This did not bode well.

For something that was about female ‘paroxysm’ it certainly wasn’t sexy. The two scenes that showed women having their uteri replaced to their proper locations were played for laughs (because female pleasure is funny). Though I swear I want women to say that now. ‘Honey…I think my uterus is out of joint. Help me out?’

It also showed how things haven’t changed. Women are stilled called hysterical when expressing an opinion–something men are never called–and if a woman is being a bit too forthright, well. She needs a good seeing to.

Oh, and you’ll love this. The reason what the doctors were doing wasn’t considered sexual was because women couldn’t receive sexual pleasure without insertion of the penis. Le sigh. So the bit on the front of the ladies–That’s just there as a sort of mechanical part to bring inner bits back in line. It’s nothing to do with anything else. I knew this was the received wisdom of the time going into it, but still.

But I digress.

The costumes were great. The acting was fine. Everything was somewhat interesting and pretty to look at. I’ll just sit here and damn with faint phrase, shall I?

It was typical Hollywood fare with the ending obvious a mile off. Still fun enough. 3/5. 4/5 if you’re interested in the period.

I was a bigger fan of The Road to Wellville , even though that one was more about the early twentieth-century push to keep people from touching their naughty bits.  They prescribed cornflakes and vegetarianism. (Again, no joke.)

Feb
16
2015

An Interview with E.O. Higgins

by V. L. Craven
Author E.O. Higgins (image from courier.co.uk)

Author E.O. Higgins (image from courier.co.uk)

Last week I reviewed the enormously entertaining Conversations with Spirits wherein Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hires a not-very-personable, but highly intelligent logician to help him prove an up-and-coming medium is the real deal.

This week the author, E.O. Higgins, has agreed to answer some questions about Conan Doyle, spirits and his protagonist.

You’re clearly very well versed in the world of Sherlock Holmes–how many times have you read the stories and novels?

Oh, I don’t know – lots.

I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with the Victorian period – and when I was about seven this developed into a fascination with Jack the Ripper. This isn’t making me sound good, I know…

One Friday night, I stayed up late to watch the film A Study in Terror – in which John Neville’s Sherlock is pitted against the serial killer. From that point in, I guess I must have switched sides. (Which is for the best, when you think about it.)

I still dip into the books from time to time. Last weekend, for example, I was staying at a hotel on the Kent coast – and naturally it rained constantly – so I decided the best thing to do was to draw a chair to fireside in the hotel bar and read a few Holmes adventures.

I’m also blessed with an awful memory – so no matter how many times I read them, I can never remember the endings.

There is nothing wrong with a healthy interest in serial killers. Plenty of perfectly decent, mostly well-adjusted people are interested in Jack the Ripper. :ahem:

Anyway, do you have a favourite Holmes story?

I’m very keen on ‘The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.’

It’s spookier than the other Sherlock Holmes stories – containing, as it does, burnt human remains and nefarious late-night goings-on in a crypt…

Always my idea of a good time out, yes.

What sort of research did you do in order to write about Conan Doyle’s personality?

I read Conan Doyle’s novels and autobiographies. I also pored over his collected letters – which were extremely helpful in getting a better idea of where his mind was on certain topics – spiritualism and the ‘Cottingley fairies’ being the obvious examples.

Also, a few film and audio interviews with Conan Doyle survive – and these were really useful in getting to understand his general demeanour and in recreating the rhythm of his conversation.

When it comes to adaptations of his work do you have a favourite or are you a purist and stick to the written versions?

I’m really not a purist.

I love the Basil Rathbone version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I grew up watching – and loving – the Jeremy Brett Granada series. The new BBC series is obviously excellent too.

I recently caught an episode of the (not brilliant) American series Elementary – and was a bit confused by the addition of a glamorous female Watson. I’m not entirely sure what was wrong with the format this prompted this change – but, in fairness, she was still less annoying than Nigel Bruce.

Conversations with Spirits

Where do you stand on the ghoulies and ghosties and three-leggedy beasties front? Yay or nay?

Well, I haven’t seen any yet – and I’ve been looking.

I recently did a talk in front of members of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Centre – a spiritualist organisation based in Edinburgh – and spoke, in rather blunt terms, about the ‘psychics’ I had encountered whilst researching the novel, which provoked some fairly angry responses from the crowd.

So I have now learnt to temper my remarks about such things – and never refer to mediums as ‘shysters’ again.

Is Conversations with Spirits the beginning of a series?

It wasn’t supposed to be.

When I finished writing it, I started writing something entirely different – just because I felt I needed the change.

However, speaking to my editor at Unbound last year, she made it clear that they would be keen on another book with the same characters.

So, yes, it seems Trelawney will return.

Which, considering his physical condition in the first one, is a bit of a miracle really…

Perhaps Trelawney has a guardian angel. (Kidding.)

Conversations with Spirits was nominated for The Guardian/Edinburgh Book Festival ‘First Book Award’. That’s a pretty big deal. How did you receive that news and what was that like?

In around June last year, my publishers told me that I had been asked to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival to do a talk with Canadian author Steven Galloway on the theme of ‘fiction that blurs reality with illusion’.

About a month before this, I was called up by a journalist for an interview and, as a kind of casual aside at the end of the call, she added: “Oh. I see you’re a contender for the Edinburgh First Book Award this year. How do you feel about that?”

Having heard nothing of this, I cleverly covered by hyperventilating down the phone.

It’s a great honour to be nominated for anything, really – and when you’ve endured decades of misery – and penury – trying desperately to ‘learn your craft’ (sorry) and get people to read your work, it’s actually quite a relief to know that you’re not completely terrible.

What’s next for you–are you working on anything right now?

I got married at the end of last year and my wife is expecting our first child in June, so besides buying baby things and being regularly crippled by panic, I am slowly piecing together the next Trelawney Hart book.

Since the protagonist doesn’t readily lend himself to taking on ‘cases’* it’s involved a bit of thinking about. Oh, and in the next novel the focus has shifted away from spiritualism and onto black magic.

*Unless I set him up as the world’s first ‘consulting arsehole’?

I’d love to see those business cards. And black magic is always a welcome topic around these parts.

I look forward to reading the next book. And congratulations on the impending bundle of human!

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