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Lofgeornost

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Captain Janni Nemo actually has her own spin-off trilogy, consisting of Heart of Ice, Roses of Berlin, and River of Ghosts. I've never actually read Century, but I thought Moore was already loosing the thread, so to speak, by Black Dossier...[/ISPOILER]".

I've read Heart of Ice and Roses of Berlin recently; I'm not sure I'll bother with River of Ghosts. I don't find Janni very interesting. I thought I would enjoy Heart of Ice, with its riffs on "At the Mountains of Madness" and other fictions with Antarctic settings, but it just fell flat. Roses of Berlin had some neat concepts--I liked the Nazi Berlin built from Weimar science fiction and fantasy, including the somnabulist 'sleep troopers' of Dr. Mabuse--but the story did not grab me. Including pages of untranslated German dialogue seemed unnecessary as well.

Personally, I've always thought Newman's best work was done in the short story/novelette sphere. Some of my favorite works of his are actually novel-length collections of linked shorts, such as Back in the U.S.S.A, Professor Moriarty: Hound of the D'Ubervilles, and Angels of Music. Some of the later Anno Dracula books are like that, too.

I've never read any of his short fiction, but now perhaps I will.

The Internet no doubt make both writing and spotting such references easier, but I find it's also pushing authors to be more subtle and creative with their shoutouts than just name- or description-dropping. If anyone is interested in that kind of thing, I recommend the Tales of the Shadowmen series from Black Coat Press, and the Royal Occultist stories by Joshua Reynolds (yes, the Warhammer author).

(Say, wasn't Kim Newman a Warhammer author, too?)

Yes; if memory serves one of the characters in the original Anno Dracula is borrowed from this Warhammer fiction--the vampire Genevieve Dieudonne. I've never read his Warhammer stuff though I've meant to get around to it someday.
 

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Yes; if memory serves one of the characters in the original Anno Dracula is borrowed from this Warhammer fiction--the vampire Genevieve Dieudonne. I've never read his Warhammer stuff though I've meant to get around to it someday.

Yes Genevieve is from the Warhammer novels although the Genevieve in the Anno Dracula novels is not literally the same character, he just reused the character because he liked her so much.

The Newman WH books were fairly recently reissued. Newman did a video interview about the books when they were reissued here.
 

Lofgeornost

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For Christmas I received Raphael Jerusalmy's The Brotherhood of Book Hunters. It aspires, I guess, to be something in the Umberto Eco direction but ended up being more like Dan Brown. The premise is intriguing: Francois Villon is given the pardon we know he received in 1462, but in return for acting as an agent of the French crown. He ends up working with, and against, the titular Brotherhood. Since it's a novel that relies a lot on twists and revelations, I won't say much more about its plot, for fear of spoiling for anyone inclined to read it.

I'd advise you, though, not to bother. Some of the reviews or blurbs I've seen call the book erudite or scholarly, but it has some pretty whopping errors of fact for a historical novel. More damningly, the motivations and outlooks of some of the characters and factions are unbelievable and anachronistic. It's as though one read an old-fashioned and teleological account of the Renaissance and then assumed that people at the time were trying to achieve the shifts in civilization that the account claims happened. Never mind that the shifts are themselves largely illusory--people at the time were unaware of them in any case and definitely not explicitly trying to create them.

It's too bad, because we know enough about Villon, and about Late Medieval Paris, that you could use his life for an interesting historical novel. But this isn't it.
 

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Been re-reading my comfort fantasy books: first Mercedes Lackery Arrow's Trilogy, Deed of Paksenarrion, Villains by Necessity
(which I'm on now), going to hit a few others and then try and dig into a friends Celtic fantasy novels, I met her through a friend via twitter (she's a well known author to me, but I've never read her fantasy stuff, just some more recent things sitting on the urban fantasy line.)
 

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Been re-reading my comfort fantasy books: first Mercedes Lackery Arrow's Trilogy, Deed of Paksenarrion, Villains by Necessity
(which I'm on now), going to hit a few others and then try and dig into a friends Celtic fantasy novels, I met her through a friend via twitter (she's a well known author to me, but I've never read her fantasy stuff, just some more recent things sitting on the urban fantasy line.)

I just finished a re-read of the Paksenarrion books a couple of months ago (both series.) It held up really well.
 

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Yesterday I finished The Measure of a Man by Marco Malvaldi. It's a murder mystery, among other things, set in Milan in 1493, with Leonardo da Vinci as the detective--or as close as the story has to a detective. I enjoyed it quite a bit; the author had done his research, in a way that Jerusalmy had not for The Brotherhood of Book Hunters, and did a good job of making the characters simultaneously relatable to a modern reader and imaginable as people in the past. There's also a fair amount of humor.

The mystery itself was pretty good, too, which is often not the case with historical mystery novels. I felt the author cheated just a bit, in that da Vinci sees and realizes things that we, the readers, are not told about until the wrap-up of the case. But that was maybe unavoidable because he is not only the investigator but also one of the suspects. so telling us everything he knows and sees would remove him from suspicion.

Both this and Jerusalmy's Brotherhood of Book Hunters are translations (Jerusalmy from French, Malvaldi from Italian) published by Europa editions, which seems to specialize in English versions of European popular fiction. The books are of good physical quality, though I read Malvaldi in electronic format. I'm not usually so attentive to the publisher, but I find that using Hoopla (a library e-book service) makes me more so, because it only carries books by certain publishers, and makes it easy to search by publisher. Oddly, one of them is Cornell University Press.
Malvaldi Cover.jpg
 

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Reading this right now and will be posting about it here.

9780262044646.jpeg

The Star Wars thread also has me reading this. These BFI Film Classics books are addictive, insightful and quick reads. I have a lot on my shelf (The Big Sleep, Bride of Frankenstein, Taxi Driver) and more on my wishlist (The Exorcist, Alien, Near Dark).

9781911239963.jpg
 

Lofgeornost

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For Christmas I received Christopher Priest’s Inverted World. Originally published in 1974, it was reissued about a decade ago by the New York Review of Books. As you might guess from that imprint, it’s a good book and very well-written:

Inverted World Cover.jpg

It’s the first novel of Priest’s that I’ve read; I think my only other encounter with his work is through Christopher Nolan’s film version of The Prestige. Like that movie, Inverted World is a story of misdirection, where the characters think one thing is occurring when in fact something else is going on. I won’t say more about the plot or setup, because this really is a case where spoilers would ruin the effect that the novel is striving for. In fact, I’d advise avoiding even the blurb at the back of the book, which gives too much away. The solution at the novel’s end has some inconsistencies—as one of the characters actually notes—but I assume Priest intended these as well.

Since I can’t talk about the book, I’ll comment a bit on its afterward, specially written for this edition by the science fiction critic John Clute. It claims that Inverted World is a rare example (for its time) of a British Hard Science Fiction novel, a format that Clute associates with American writing. He describes it as follows:

Hard SF can be defined as that kind of science-fiction tale in which a clearly defined protagonist (almost always male) leaves his endangered home on a great adventure, during the course of which he begins to understand the true nature of his world and, through a clearly defined, science-based cognitive breakthrough, comes to grips with the danger that threatens it. A new world is then born, which the hero will monitor for the sake of his folk, in a manner consistent with Joseph Campbell’s description of the culture hero in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). The Hard SF tale carries its hero from cognitive darkness to conceptual light, and no stylistic fog, no problematic of any sort, should compromise that powerful movement.

This is an oddly restrictive view of Hard SF, from my perspective anyway. In my experience, the word ‘hard’ is used to describe science-fiction stories which in which the imagined universe hews fairly close to the real one as described by contemporary science. There can of course be extrapolations in technology, which allow for things currently impractical but theoretically possible, and also a few downright impossibilities for the sake of the story (like FTL travel), but for the most part the story plays within the rules of physical reality as science reveals them. Also, Hard SF often focuses on the process of scientific discovery itself—solving some mystery, learning more about the cosmos—but I wouldn’t say it has to do so.

That’s a lot less restrictive than the definition Clute gives. I wouldn’t say that Hard SF has to include the ‘culture hero’ element that he does, nor do the stakes need to be nearly as high as he posits. Even in stories that involves some sort of science-based reasoning to solve a problem, the issue can be of minor rather than world-shaking significance, as in Niven’s story “Neutron Star.” Figuring out what’s going on in that case saves the protagonist from death and allows him to complete his contract, but that’s about it, IIRC. And you can have the same sort of narrative arc that Clute describes in SF that I at least would not label as remotely hard. Jack Vance’s Durdane trilogy follows essentially this format, but the mysteries have to do with the planet’s own unique social/political structure and interstellar threats to it—though of course Vance brilliantly turns the formula on its head in the final volume.

In all, Clute’s description of Hard SF seems to me to be a case of persuasive definition, created to fit Priest’s novel. I’m not saying that no other Hard SF books follow the pattern Clute traces, but it does not seem integral to the genre in any way.
 

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Inverted World was one of the first books I got from the Science Fiction Book Club back in the '70s. I was about 13 or 14, I think. It was interesting but very confusing at the time. I really need to re-read it....
 

Lofgeornost

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Inverted World was one of the first books I got from the Science Fiction Book Club back in the '70s. I was about 13 or 14, I think. It was interesting but very confusing at the time. I really need to re-read it....
I'm a big fan of Priest but haven't read Inverted World yet.

It's definitely worth looking at, in my opinion. Unfortunately, it's hard to discuss online unless you want to hide the whole discussion behind spoilers.

In December, I also read through much of Jeff Lemire’s Eisner award-winning Black Hammer series: the main series through the end of the Age of Doom storyline and the first omnibus volume of the spin-off World of Black Hammer. The set-up is intriguing: a group of superheroes, at the moment of their victory over Anti-God, a Galactus/Thanos-style opponent, are suddenly whisked to a mundane rural setting where nothing much ever happens and no-one has ever heard of superheroes. They are trapped there—if they attempt to move far from the confines of the farm they will die, unpleasantly. So they hunker down, concealing their super-identities (just why isn’t clear, which is one of the few flaws of the scenario). Meanwhile, the daughter of one of the vanished heroes, the titular Black Hammer, is back in their old stomping ground of Spiral City trying to find out what happened to them.

The characters themselves are well-conceived. Lemire does a good job of making them believable individuals at the same time that they are obvious pastiches of existing superheroes—for instance, Barbalien, a shapeshifting Martian crimefighter whose real name is Mark Markz. Unfortunately, the ‘secret’ and the resolution of the storyline were both something of a let-down, from my perspective at least, and I felt that the series jumped the shark towards its end:
In ‘Age of Doom’ issues 6 &7, where Colonel Weird ends up in a ‘well of lost characters’ dimension and sees ‘the creators’—i.e. the team that writes, draws, and produces the comic—as giants with their heads in the clouds.

The series is still well worth reading, especially one of the stories in the spin-off title World of Black Hammer. It focuses on Dr. Andromeda, an older hero who did not take part in the fight against Anti-God and thus was not transported to the ‘farm.’ The tale explores one of the main themes of whole series, the tension between being a super-hero and normal life and the cost to both the hero and his/her family, but in a more direct and concentrated way than Black Hammer itself. I found it rather moving, in a way that few comics are, though Max Fiumara’s art no doubt deserves some of the credit for that.
 

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Yesterday I finished The Measure of a Man by Marco Malvaldi. It's a murder mystery, among other things, set in Milan in 1493, with Leonardo da Vinci as the detective--or as close as the story has to a detective. I enjoyed it quite a bit; the author had done his research, in a way that Jerusalmy had not for The Brotherhood of Book Hunters, and did a good job of making the characters simultaneously relatable to a modern reader and imaginable as people in the past. There's also a fair amount of humor.

The mystery itself was pretty good, too, which is often not the case with historical mystery novels. I felt the author cheated just a bit, in that da Vinci sees and realizes things that we, the readers, are not told about until the wrap-up of the case. But that was maybe unavoidable because he is not only the investigator but also one of the suspects. so telling us everything he knows and sees would remove him from suspicion.

Both this and Jerusalmy's Brotherhood of Book Hunters are translations (Jerusalmy from French, Malvaldi from Italian) published by Europa editions, which seems to specialize in English versions of European popular fiction. The books are of good physical quality, though I read Malvaldi in electronic format. I'm not usually so attentive to the publisher, but I find that using Hoopla (a library e-book service) makes me more so, because it only carries books by certain publishers, and makes it easy to search by publisher. Oddly, one of them is Cornell University Press.
View attachment 25279
Does this have a character called Bianca in it?

I remember the teacher reading something that sounds like this to the class when I was in school.
 

Lofgeornost

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Started on Zothique this morning. Read several of the short stories. Had to look up many words. I’m quite happy.

I'd like to have a collection of the Zothique stories, but I've not found one that's at all cheap. I was please to learn that I can read the recent complete collected stories of Clark Ashton Smith via the library app Hoopla for free. But I like his work so well that I imagine I will end up buying all the books in paperback anyway.

Does this have a character called Bianca in it?

I remember the teacher reading something that sounds like this to the class when I was in school.

Ludovico il Moro's daughter Bianca Giovanna Sforza is a minor character in it and her husband, Galeazzo Sansaverino, plays a bigger role as Ludovico's right-hand man. It's a pretty recent novel, though--published in Italian in 2018 and in English in 2019--so I suspect it isn't the one you are thinking of. You can read the first chapter or so online, courtesy of a mystery fiction website: https://crimereads.com/excerpt-the-measure-of-a-man/ .
 

Lofgeornost

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Inverted World was a great read. What were the inconsistencies at the end Lofgeornost Lofgeornost ?

Given the nature of the novel, I'd better spoiler the whole reply:
So, throughout most of the novel, the main character Helward Mann comes to think he is living in a very strange hyperbolic world. South of the optimum point (which moves north about 1 mile per ten days) distances north-south shrink, while those east-west expand. (As it turns out, what the city thinks is 'north' really isn't, but let's ignore that). Objects--but not Helward himself or other things from the City--become shorter and wider. Also, time runs more slowly--a journey to the south that lasts only a few days for the traveler may end up consuming weeks or months from the city's viewpoint. North of the City, the opposite distortions occur--things become tall and thin, and time runs more quickly, so that someone from the City can spend a day there and return to find only an hour has passed, City time. There are indications that only City-dwellers are aware of the spatial distortions at least; when Helward takes a party of indigenous women south from the City, they do not seem aware that their bodies are changing.

Now, according to the reveal at the end of the book, all these effects are illusory. The City is powered by a handwavium perpetual-energy generator, which distorts people's perceptions when they move away from it. This explains why Helward on his trips perceives things so oddly--for instance, why when he meets Elizabeth Kahn (a nurse from England) on a trip north of the City, his sketch of her is too tall and skinny (from her point of view). But, the novel presents the spatial distortions as having real physical effects. When Helward travels south with the native women, their bodies become so distorted that their clothes rip. Likewise, the time distortions are apparently real. When Helward returns from his trip south, he still has some of his rations remaining--but from the City's perspective, he's been gone a year or two. Likewise, he makes so many trips north for his job that after several years (City time) he become the same physiological age as his father-in-law.

If the distortions are just an illusion caused by the power source, then these physical effects shouldn't happen. Helward himself points this out in his final argument with Elizabeth--he asks her why the women's clothes ripped as their bodies distorted on the southern trip. He doesn't bring up the issue of time dilation, but it seems as important to me. In their trips north and south, the City-dwellers are using the sun to measure the passage of time. If they are really on earth all along, as the book's solution indicates, then a solar day north of the City should last just as long as one there or to the City's south.

I suppose that you could get around some of these problems by invoking an unreliable narrator, but IIRC (I don't have the novel with me) the description of Helward's trip to the south is in a part of the novel written in third person. At that point, I'm not sure how one would tell 'unreliable narrator' from 'outright cheating by the author.'

Given the spatial/time distortions, I thought the solution was going to have something to do with gravity fields--that the City was located somewhere near the event horizon of a black hole, or some such.
 

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Those were my exact issues when I read it as a kid, and why I was tempted to re-read it to see if it made more sense now.
 

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That's very interesting Lofgeornost Lofgeornost . I wonder was he trying to hint it wasn't just perception distortion. Or maybe it's getting at something else. Had he not pointed it out himself I'd have said it was just a mistake. The novel apparently additionally functions as an allegory about English society after WWII. Maybe something to do with that?
 

Nobby-W

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I'd like to have a collection of the Zothique stories, but I've not found one that's at all cheap. I was please to learn that I can read the recent complete collected stories of Clark Ashton Smith via the library app Hoopla for free. But I like his work so well that I imagine I will end up buying all the books in paperback anyway.



Ludovico il Moro's daughter Bianca Giovanna Sforza is a minor character in it and her husband, Galeazzo Sansaverino, plays a bigger role as Ludovico's right-hand man. It's a pretty recent novel, though--published in Italian in 2018 and in English in 2019--so I suspect it isn't the one you are thinking of. You can read the first chapter or so online, courtesy of a mystery fiction website: https://crimereads.com/excerpt-the-measure-of-a-man/ .
Not the same novel, then, although it may share characters based on the same historical personalities. The one I listened to in class was sometime in the first half of the 1980s, so it's at least that old.
 

Lofgeornost

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That's very interesting Lofgeornost Lofgeornost . I wonder was he trying to hint it wasn't just perception distortion. Or maybe it's getting at something else. Had he not pointed it out himself I'd have said it was just a mistake. The novel apparently additionally functions as an allegory about English society after WWII. Maybe something to do with that?
I think the allegorical interpretation fits. At one point, Helward muses about the way that the City resembles the colonial powers of the 19th-20th century. One could view the distorted perspectives of City-dwellers as a metaphor for a Britain-centric mindset (like the famous cartoon of the New Yorker's view of the world) and the City's eventual arrival at the Atlantic ocean as the inevitable end of empire. Or something like that.

Not the same novel, then, although it may share characters based on the same historical personalities. The one I listened to in class was sometime in the first half of the 1980s, so it's at least that old.

I wonder if your teacher was reading the short story "Leonardo Da Vinci, Detective" by Theodore Mathiesen? There's a description of it on this blog.
 

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I almost bought that, but ended up getting the ones for the Defenders and Champions instead. I tend to like the lesser (and less successful) teams in Marvel more than the mainstream ones
 

Lofgeornost

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Reading this trippy 70s science fantasy comic that I picked up during the recent Marvel Masterworks sale on Comixology.

View attachment 25433

I'll have to see if I can get that via Hoopla. By chance, over the weekend, I saw some of George Pal’s version of The Time Machine, with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. This inspired me to reread the original story, which is of novella length. I found I’d forgotten a good deal of it.

In a way, it’s an odd tale to film, because much of the explanation for the future world the time traveler enters is, in the novel, purely his ratiocination. Just showing what he encounters and does would not lead the audience to his conclusions, so the filmmaker either has to include a lot of narration or supply some other source of exposition. The movie’s approach to this—the ‘speaking rings’ that are recordings made long ago—is a reasonable solution to the problem.

I found it interesting, though not surprising, that the Pal film gives a different answer to the origins of the Eloi and Morlocks than Wells did. In the movie, the split between surface-dwellers and subterranean humans resulted from the aftermath of a centuries-long destructive war: some people decided to take their chances on the ravaged surface, while others developed a civilization in the underground redoubts. In Wells, of course, the Eloi are the descendants of the upper classes and the Morlocks of the workers, forced into a subterranean existence by their masters. It’s not surprising that a film made in 1960 would want to avoid the socialist underpinnings of Wells’ solution. I suppose that in some ways, the Trek Original Series episode “The Cloud Minders” is the real filmed heir of Wells.

In both the story and the film, the Morlocks are the villains. If anything, this comes through more strongly in the movie, since its Eloi are, inescapably, just human beings, while those in the story are not, really. That makes the Morlocks’ consumption of the Eloi even more repellent in the film—they’re going to eat Yvette Mimieux! I wonder, though, if it would be interesting to revisit the setting with more sympathy for the Morlocks. They were the original victims in the scenario and they continue to support the Eloi, providing them with food and clothing, after all. Our sympathy for the Eloi largely stems from their appearance (like beautiful elfin children) and their harmlessness.

You could make a neat adventure or campaign for a Victorian-era game with time travel along these lines. One route would be to deliver the PCs to an era somewhat before the 802,701 that Wells’ protagonist reached. In this earlier period, the Eloi would not yet be ineffectual do-nothings, but decadent aristocrats still invested in exploiting Morlock labor. You could draw on Jack Vance or the Melniboneans for some elements of them. And the Morlocks would be closer to current humanity, with a real grievance against their Eloi overlords and no penchant for eating them (yet). But maybe this is just “The Cloud Minders” in other dress.

A harder route would be to accept the situation as Wells describes it but to explore the Morlocks in more depth. They are closer to current humanity than the Eloi, in some ways: they apparently have an organized society, an advanced technology, etc. They may see the Eloi as no more than cattle, so their consumption of them need not indicate that they are otherwise given to cruelty. It would be an interesting challenge to come up with a Morlock culture that would fit the rather slight information that Wells gives about them. Does their provision of clothing for the Eloi stem from some sort of organized religion, for example? Do they understand the vast machinery that makes their underground civilization work, or do they serve it by rote, rather like the tech-priests in Warhammer 40,000?
 

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Reread, Villains by Neccessity by Eve Forward, now re-reading War God series (Oath of Swords+) by David Weber.
 

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I'll have to see if I can get that via Hoopla. By chance, over the weekend, I saw some of George Pal’s version of The Time Machine, with Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimieux. This inspired me to reread the original story, which is of novella length. I found I’d forgotten a good deal of it.

In a way, it’s an odd tale to film, because much of the explanation for the future world the time traveler enters is, in the novel, purely his ratiocination. Just showing what he encounters and does would not lead the audience to his conclusions, so the filmmaker either has to include a lot of narration or supply some other source of exposition. The movie’s approach to this—the ‘speaking rings’ that are recordings made long ago—is a reasonable solution to the problem.

I found it interesting, though not surprising, that the Pal film gives a different answer to the origins of the Eloi and Morlocks than Wells did. In the movie, the split between surface-dwellers and subterranean humans resulted from the aftermath of a centuries-long destructive war: some people decided to take their chances on the ravaged surface, while others developed a civilization in the underground redoubts. In Wells, of course, the Eloi are the descendants of the upper classes and the Morlocks of the workers, forced into a subterranean existence by their masters. It’s not surprising that a film made in 1960 would want to avoid the socialist underpinnings of Wells’ solution. I suppose that in some ways, the Trek Original Series episode “The Cloud Minders” is the real filmed heir of Wells.

In both the story and the film, the Morlocks are the villains. If anything, this comes through more strongly in the movie, since its Eloi are, inescapably, just human beings, while those in the story are not, really. That makes the Morlocks’ consumption of the Eloi even more repellent in the film—they’re going to eat Yvette Mimieux! I wonder, though, if it would be interesting to revisit the setting with more sympathy for the Morlocks. They were the original victims in the scenario and they continue to support the Eloi, providing them with food and clothing, after all. Our sympathy for the Eloi largely stems from their appearance (like beautiful elfin children) and their harmlessness.

You could make a neat adventure or campaign for a Victorian-era game with time travel along these lines. One route would be to deliver the PCs to an era somewhat before the 802,701 that Wells’ protagonist reached. In this earlier period, the Eloi would not yet be ineffectual do-nothings, but decadent aristocrats still invested in exploiting Morlock labor. You could draw on Jack Vance or the Melniboneans for some elements of them. And the Morlocks would be closer to current humanity, with a real grievance against their Eloi overlords and no penchant for eating them (yet). But maybe this is just “The Cloud Minders” in other dress.

A harder route would be to accept the situation as Wells describes it but to explore the Morlocks in more depth. They are closer to current humanity than the Eloi, in some ways: they apparently have an organized society, an advanced technology, etc. They may see the Eloi as no more than cattle, so their consumption of them need not indicate that they are otherwise given to cruelty. It would be an interesting challenge to come up with a Morlock culture that would fit the rather slight information that Wells gives about them. Does their provision of clothing for the Eloi stem from some sort of organized religion, for example? Do they understand the vast machinery that makes their underground civilization work, or do they serve it by rote, rather like the tech-priests in Warhammer 40,000?

Those early sf novellas by Wells are great. My favourite is still The Island of Dr. Moreau which is some kind of premonition of the horrors of the 20th century.
 

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I’d guess that there aren’t that many American comic series set in Ancient Rome. They seem to be more popular in France, and thanks to the Europe Comics line (‘all digital-all European’) carried by Hoopla I’ve been reading a few recently, starting with Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby. It seems to have started c. 1997 and now to be essentially complete, though I’ve only read the first compilation, which contains the first 4 issues:

murena-compilation-volume-1.jpg

The title character is Lucius Murena, not the famous one defended by Cicero, but the son of Lollia Paulina, onetime wife of Caligula and (in the comic) mistress of Claudius. The series does not focus exclusively on Murena; it is more an account of Nero’s rise and reign. You might reasonably expect that Nero would be the villain, but in the first compilation that role is mainly played by Nero’s mother, the Empress Agrippina. She is dead by the end of issue 4, but it looks like her position as femme fatale will be taken over by Nero’s soon-to-be wife, Poppaea Sabina.

The comic is basically a straight historical treatment; about the only supernatural thing that happens are appearances of Apollo to Nero, and these might simply be his imagination or insanity. Murena takes some liberties with events, but no more than you would expect a historical novel to do. The writing and art are both good, on the whole, as is the translation—there were only a couple of instances of obvious errors. It gets an M (mature) rating, but largely I suspect for nudity, especially male full frontal; there is some sex, but nothing very explicit.
 

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Another translated French comic I’ve been reading recently is Maxentius, by Romain Sardou and Carlos Rafael Duarte. So far only three ‘books,’ that is issues, have been published by Europe Comics; there are probably more in the French original series.

It is set during the reign of Justinian, which is one of things that initially attracted me to it—that’s a fascinating era. The title character is actually the illegitimate son of the Persian emperor Kavadh I and a Roman noblewoman—that’s not a spoiler since we learn it at the very beginning of book 1—who was raised in the same household as Theodora, bear-keeper’s daughter and future empress. He grows up to be a beast-trainer for the arena and a secret agent for the empire. The three issues take as their foci different key events of Justinian’s reign: the first deals with the Nika riots, the second with the invasion of Vandal Carthage, and the third with the beginning of Justinian’s reconquest of Italy.

If Murena is a historical novel in graphic format, Maxentius is more like a pulp version. It does include real people and events, like the botched hangings that led to the Nika riots, but adds other extravagant elements. For instance, in the second book Theodora seeks out a hundred-year-old Goth held in a revolving prison that seems to have been lifted from Burroughs’ Barsoom. Other events are altered to make them more cinematic, like Belisaurius’ conquest of Carthage, and an arch-enemy for Maxentius is supplied, the evil Bishop Frollo.

The best book is probably the first, because Maxentius is more central to the main historical events it depicts. In the later two, Maxentius is not actually involved directly in the military campaigns, but participates in other tasks: an imperial progress of Theodora and intelligence work in Gothic Italy. The last volume really strained my credulity, with Justinian’s enemies trying to bring him down through forged laws, produced in a workshop that specializes in ‘forged’ bibles (which seems to mean different version for Monophysites, Orthodox, etc.), and featuring a Gothic secret society called the Black Swan. The first book also has the best pacing. Overall, I felt that the creators were trying to cram too much in—for instance, Maxentius’ relationship with his wife, Thedora’s younger sister Anastasia, either needed more development or to be cut entirely.

If the plots of Maxentius get less historical as time goes on, the art does something of the opposite. In the first volume, Constantinople in the 530s looks too much like Rome in the first century: clothing is rather short and soldiers wear the lorica segmentata familiar from many Roman films and TV shows. In the later volume, this improves somewhat. Theodora, though, always looks like a Vargas pin-up, most notably in a splash page in issue 2 where Maxentius has a prophetic dream about her, induced by drugs or magic. That’s understandable in a comic, I guess, but it would have been neat if the creators had based their art on the famous mosaics of Justinian and Theodora from Ravenna. I’d love to see a comic done in that style.

Justinian Ravenna Mosaic smaller.jpg
 

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I’ve been reading a few recently, starting with Murena by Jean Dufaux and Philippe Delaby
The most recent one, issue 11, came out in French last November after a long gap in the series, but hasn't been translated to English yet. It's maybe slightly more pulp-ish than the others. The artist changes in issue 10 and isn't quite as good I felt but it's pretty minor.

The early Christians have a surprisingly accurate depiction when they feature later in the series. One of the few series that doesn't either vilify or glorify them, but portrays accurately why they began to catch people's attention. I think overall the comic conveys the Roman mindset quite well. Especially in relation to familial morality and sexual mores. Sometimes in the later volumes the plot can meander a bit though.
 

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I think I need to check out Hoopla's comics. I've used them for only the occasional movie so far.

I've had good luck with it; I'd never heard of the Europe Comics line before Hoopla. And they have a lot of other publishers as well. The main downside is that the search function and the bibliographic work that goes behind it are not very good. I've done a search, say, for a particular title and got no result, but when I put in the author's name it comes up--and vice-versa.

I've also found that Hoopla comics work better on mobile devices than my desktop; the interface is superior and of course you can rotate the screen itself.

The most recent one, issue 11, came out in French last November after a long gap in the series, but hasn't been translated to English yet. It's maybe slightly more pulp-ish than the others. The artist changes in issue 10 and isn't quite as good I felt but it's pretty minor.

The early Christians have a surprisingly accurate depiction when they feature later in the series. One of the few series that doesn't either vilify or glorify them, but portrays accurately why they began to catch people's attention. I think overall the comic conveys the Roman mindset quite well. Especially in relation to familial morality and sexual mores. Sometimes in the later volumes the plot can meander a bit though.

That's good to know. I plan to read the rest of Murena eventually, but unfortunately Hoopla only has the collected version of the first 4 issues. I think they have the others as individual items, through issue 10, but I prefer compilations when I can get them, since I only get so many checkouts a month.
 

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Another French comic I’ve been reading thanks to Hoopla is Cassio, by Stephen Desberg and Henri Reculé. Its narrative frame is somewhat more complex than Murena or Maxentius: the comic alternates between the story of the title character, Lucius Aurelius Cassio, and the activities of a modern-day archaeologist who finds his (empty) tomb at the series’ beginning. Cassio is a lawyer and eventually healer from Ephesus who rose to high position under Antoninus Pius, only to be assassinated (or not, maybe) in A.D. 145.The series begins with the attack, which is carried out by four different assassins, all people from Cassio’s past. Each of the first four issues (which is as far as I’ve got), reveals the identity and motives of one of the would-be killers. Meanwhile, there is a struggle going on in the present day for control of items and texts relating to Cassio; it’s not yet really clear who the players in that are.

Cassio is more fantastic than Murena and Maxentius, including either magic or psychic powers and possibly supernatural creatures as well. Although I find the mysteries in it intriguing, the writing is not as strong as Murena in particular; sometimes the narrative becomes somewhat muddy. Also, too many of the female characters look very much the same. In one case they are supposed to, but not always—and it’s a bit confusing that the Italian archaeologist looks so much like Cassio’s Egyptian mother.
 

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Another French comic I’ve been reading thanks to Hoopla is Cassio
You've probably already noticed this but Cassio is much more unmoored in time and place than Murena or Maxentius. It's largely just ancient Mediterranean pulp rather than being deeply rooted in actual Roman culture.

It gets more fantastical as it continues and gains a sort of "Assassin's Creed" feel. Cassio has scores of women fall deeply in love with him, it's very much a hero story. Personally I found it silly by the end.
 

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You've probably already noticed this but Cassio is much more unmoored in time and place than Murena or Maxentius. It's largely just ancient Mediterranean pulp rather than being deeply rooted in actual Roman culture.

I had noticed that. In the first four issues, the only actual historical person used as a character is the early Christian writer Marcion. Antoninus Pius has been mentioned repeatedly, but he's very much off-stage. And the usage of Marcion has been unconvincing, to say the least.
 

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Well as part of a project that has taken me about five weeks I had to read >50 pop science books on quantum mechanics to determine which to recommend and proscribe in a course and I thought people here on the pub might find it useful. The criterion were minimal made up nonsense that seems to be just invented for these books (particles popping in and out of nowhere, particles being in multiple places at the same time) and also doesn't include the authors sneaking in their own pet theories as if they were established ideas (that either have no evidence or explicit counter-evidence).

This eliminated >95% of the books. Of the remainder I looked for those that gave the facts in as succinct and well written a way as possible.

That left at joint first place Terry Rudolph's book for high schoolers "Q is for Quantum" and Jeffrey and Tanya Bub's Graphic novel "Totally Random". Only these books stick to language as everyday as possible (important when the subject is so remote from normal experience), don't include made up nonsense and most importantly actually discuss the major strange parts of the theory.

Rudolph's book presents things from a sort of computational point of view which some people may not like.

In second place is Hans von Baeyer's book "QBism". Although ostensibly the book is about a more modern look at quantum theory, the differences between this view and the older common view are in minutiae that the book doesn't really enter into. I only put it second since it wastes some time on polemics, but the science is solid. I will say the top review of the book on Amazon is from a moron who clearly didn't read the book as he essentially makes up what von Baeyer says in the book.
For anybody who likes Pop Science I've had to update this six months on and I'd add in Philip Ball's "Beyond Weird". It possibly gets a bit too technical at points toward the end, but it's very up to date unlike most books which don't mention anything learned after about 1965 and Ball is an incredibly good writer.

Jim Baggott's "Quantum Reality" is pretty good, but I think could have been about half as long. In his favour he does explain many of the philosophical issues in a clear way using nice analogies and has some very clear explanations of the major experiments and theorems that proved various odd features of the quantum world.

One book I'd strongly not recommend is Sean Carroll's "Something Deeply Hidden". It seems to be getting rave reviews, but I found major errors every few pages. These are not minor academic technical issues, but large conceptual errors. Not the best book I thought.
 
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So, thanks to Hoopla, I've read two compilations by the British comic writer Dave Elliott: A1 Odyssey, vol. 1: History Lesson and A1: The Weirding Willows, vol. 1: What the Wild Things Are. If I understand things correctly, the A1 means that the stories were originally published in an anthology comic series of that name.

Odyssey is a riff on Captain America, except that the program to create super-soldiers worked by killing them and having them possessed by angels, or maybe demons. That's really not a spoiler, since the introduction tells the reader most of it. The six issues follow the career of General Glory (Captain America) from Hitler's bunker to the Occupy Wall Street movement. I did not find the story or the characters that compelling; the progress on the main mystery of the series is pretty slow and the comic's focus on what were recent events when it was written (the Iraq War and the Occupy movement) now make it seem oddly dated. As far as I can tell, there have not been any further issues of the series since 2014, when the compilation came out.

I enjoyed The Weirding Willows a lot more. It is a mashup of a lot of Victorian (and slightly later) fictional characters and worlds: Alice in Wonderland, Oz, Peter Rabbit, Dr. Doolittle, Dr. Moreau, The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows, Mars, Pellucidar, Frankenstein, etc. The main conceit is that Alice (of Wonderland fame) and her father (Dr. Moreau) live near a region where (1) animals can become anthropomorphic (hence Peter Rabbit, etc.) and (2) there are many portals to alternate dimensions and realities. The portrayal of Alice in particular is completely anachronistic--she seems far more like a character from Buffy than somebody alive in the late 1800s--but in a way that makes the whole thing work better; you know you're getting a not-too-serious romp.

Like Odyssey, The Weirding Willows ended its run after the seven issues collected in this volume. Not a great deal more happens than having the characters and the world introduced. I found it more satisfying than Odyssey, though, because the world is complex and interesting enough, and it's fun to see how Elliott is slotting familiar characters into his narrative. It's too bad that we'll apparently see no more of the series.
 
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