Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Werd from the Nerd: Updates and Changes

Hello, again readers!

Comments and rankings are now available on the new blog, and all I'm waiting for to blog the Doctor Who Christmas special review is for Santa to belatedly bring me my sonic screwdriver from Dragon's Lair. Had to cancel a tattoo appointment, and had hoped to blog that as well.

The Happy Campers performed last week at Jovita's in Austin, Texas. An awesome show from Ken Burchenal.

Things are going well over here, and I hope my readers had an amazing holiday! See you all soon!

The Nerd

Monday, December 19, 2011

A New Home for The Squealing Nerd

I am officially announcing that The Squealing Nerd is ready to be completely migrated to the new blog site at www.squealingnerd.com. From now on, I will be officially blogging from there, and all blog posts and comments will be available at the new URL before Christmas.

Thanks again, to all my readers, for your continued support while we make this transition to The Squealing Nerd's new home.


I Salute the Internet. It Was Fun While it Lasted.

First of all, I'm a proud United States citizen, who is writing this disclaimer in the event that the FBI is flagging my IP for suspicious activity and a lack of patriotism.

The Lone Gunmen are the property of the
Fox Network. 
That having been said, long live The Lone Gunmen, the American Nerd's favorite conspiracy fighting trio of American patriots! They fought for the common man who could not defend himself from government interference and died protecting this country from the threat of alien invasion. I am still Lady Manhammer to Langley's Lord Manhammer in the X:Files afterlife.

...

I have never considered the possibility that The Squealing Nerd might not be here tomorrow.

I have never really had to consider that. Imagine now, though, the fear, the palpable fear, I'm feeling now as I sit here and write to you about that all-too feasible future. Imagine with me, if you will, a world where we could not sit all together on the Internet and look at Doctor Who pictures on our brethren blog sites because those pictures don't belong to us and therefore we have no right to them, even if we cite those sources. Imagine not being able to share our opinions on copy-righted, or written, material because we might be caught in the act of linking a web source that is not sanctioned by the rights holders. Imagine sites like Tor.com, YouTube, Facebook and others being gone forever because occasionally we link a video here, an image there, and share fun facts with each other that do not belong to us. A valuable tool for networking fans is about to be obliterated thanks to the Stop Online Piracy Act, an act that looks every day like it might pass because of the ignorance of those voting on it. The entertainment industry's money lines their pockets, and so many of us are about to be out of a job. Along with it could go webcomics and self-publication, sort of like some of the things I've done here. Webcomics such as The Girls Next Door who feature copy-righted characters and anything having to do with Blizzard Entertainment, who at any moment could decide that fan art is costing them profits, and could ask the government to terminate any websites featuring fan art, comics, reviews and screen-shots taken of people who pay for their games (I very much doubt that will happen, as Blizzard knows that their fans are their biggest source of income and that to alienate those fans would violate the first rule of marketing).

Speaking of which...

The First Rule of Marketing: Never Alienate a Target Audience. Ever.


Anyone who knows anything about marketing and self-promotion knows that the last thing a company should ever want to do is alienate the people who might purchase their products. Tattoo artists do it all time because its a seller's market, and if you ask me, they really shouldn't--I apologize in advance if any tattoo artist has ever lost money from me because they ran me off for something as stupid as being female (and if you think I'm kidding, you've never met a deusch tattoo artist). If the entertainment industry thinks that by shutting down sites like The Squealing Nerd will boost revenue because people will be forced to buy a rights holder's product to experience it will be grossly mistaken. According to other bloggers, namely Paul Tassi over at Unreality--who wrote his opinion in Forbes on Friday--there is no guarantee that rights holders will suddenly and magically be able to recoup supposed losses because we as consumers no longer have access to copy-righted material online. That simply isn't true. In fact, its the exact opposite. The first thing I'm going to do if I feel threatened is quit buying a product.

I'm a slave to market research, but I also tend to be militantly opposed to bad business acts. I don't buy from Amazon directly because they are killing local book stores. I shop at Wal-Mart, but not because I like to, or because I think a company who exploits their consumers and employees should be supported, but because dammit, sometimes I need a pair of jeans, a video game and food all at the same time. Big entertainment companies think that stamping out those of us that share information that can be publicly accessed will protect their profits. They should here and now be properly disillusioned of that notion. I don't own a television. If I cannot stream something on Netflix because its copy-righted material--no matter how much its being paid for--I will simply stop watching whatever it was I was watching. I'm not attached to my shows at the hip. I do steal popular music because I do not buy popular music. Quite frankly, it sucks. I do not steal video games because of the many that I can play online, and there's plenty of games out there that don't require that. If I cannot write what I want to write online, I will stop using that medium. I will publish in print or as a subsidiary of print media. Might cost me a little more, but MLA, Chicago, and APA standards of citation already protect publishers from copy-right infringement (or plagiarism as its known in this setting). Want to keep us from stealing your property? Make it more affordable. Make digital television affordable for everyone. Stop gouging us on the cost of movie tickets at the theater. Force publishers to allow you to keep part of the rights to your intellectual property. Make Charles Band pay his people!

There are any number of things the entertainment industry can do to accomplish their goals without infringing on the constitutional rights of users and consumers to link material that chances are most viewers have already paid for. If Michael Moorcock wants me to remove all the posts about Elric, all he has to do is ask. If John Picacio doesn't like that I've used his images--with citation--all he has to do is give the word and I'll remove it. That does not mean that I won't buy--or haven't already bought--their works. I do not torrent or steal movies and music from artists because I don't think I'd like it very much if someone was stealing from me. How would you like it if you wrote something, published it online, then found someone on another site passing off your work as their own? Not very much, I'm sure, so why would an artist steal from another artist? Fortunately, I would never pass off a character like Elric as my own, or say that a John Picacio image is my own artwork. First of all, I'd be found out as a liar, and second of all, I have too much respect for artists to steal their work, and hopefully others will feel the same way about my stuff one day.

Conclusion: The Inevitable End

I wish all of this would blow over. I wish I could continue to sit in blissful oblivion about this, and never question the government's decision to pass this law, that everyone is overreacting, but that would undermine what I know in the marrow of my bones. The time of the Internet as we know it is at an end. Soon, we'll be using the Internet to shop on and check email, but that's all it will be good for. So much for networking. I guess now is the right time to start up that book club I've been meaning to moderate. I can only hope that those in favor of the bill will be quickly educated on the lack of constitutional propriety and put an end to it, and that those opposed to it will prevail, and if it is passed, perhaps it will be repealed. If this is not the case, another vital part of our economy will be gone.

Also, you can see a copy of the letter I sent to my congressional representatives here

In the event that the entertainment industry can't get the Stop Online Piracy Act passed, they should probably go Occupy the Internet. According to social networking sites, #Occupying is trending right now.

...

Prince Elric has is own Facebook page now. Go like him, because he's really interesting.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I am Disillusioned of the Holidays

My Christmas tree at the apartment
in San Antonio

I hate the Holidays.

I should probably explain. I don't hate the Holidays; rather, I am disillusioned of them. The Holidays usually do not go well for me. I despise outdated, cliched Christmas music, I never have money for gifts (even when I had a job, I never had money for gifts), and I hate Christmas shopping if I do have money. The price of food tends to go up, as well as the price of gas, and I usually have to travel.

My idea of celebrating the Holidays is complicated mostly by having no money, which means I cannot even do what I plan to do, which is give to charities. When I worked at Papouli's Greek Grill, we had an Angel Tree from the Salvation Army. Everyone got to choose a child to give to, and what the child wanted was listed on the angel, as well as their clothing size and shoe size. The employees were encouraged to participate, but didn't have to, as most of the time it was directed at customers. Every year we had the tree I tried to give to a child, which meant going all out. I got the kid a set of clothes, a book, and what they listed for enjoyment (if I could afford it). If they had a few small things listed, I tried to get all of it for them. One year a kid asked for a scooter. I had to put that one back on the tree after I found out I would only be getting my husband one thing, and he got me a lot of stuff (he usually does). You see my idea of giving at Christmas is not giving a useless gift to someone who already has stuff. I give gifts to people who start at having nothing and go from there. My idea is that if you have something already, you should be giving gifts to children who wouldn't be having a Christmas at all if it were not for your generosity. I complain that I have nothing, but I have a roof over my head, nine computer systems, a car to drive, a husband who doesn't beat me, a college degree and parents who love me. There are people out there who don't even have the first one, much less any of the others.

And now there is the special problem of getting gifts for the kids, my adorable nieces and nephew, all of whom have had their Nice Cards from the North Pole threatened due to their greedy present mongering and milk-flinging. I can't stand to watch Christmas get ruined because those kids can't keep their noses out of what my mom liked to call the Christmas Closet. Don't get me wrong, as a child, I was one of the worst gift-guessers, present shakers, and peekers of my time. It forced my mom to threaten our Christmas fun altogether. Now my sister and I are getting a taste of that for ourselves. So, today, I am taking my niece, Audrey, to go pick out a gift to donate to a child in need. I had hoped to get my own children into this some day, and I hope I can help Audrey discover that giving a gift to a child who isn't expecting one is just as fun as getting one.
Audrey and Cole play Christmas music with Uncle Ben. Nerd
hovers in background.
I don't hate Christmas. I just hate the way everyone treats it, and I need not remind you about the music thing. Generally speaking, with all the trouble in Europe, ending the War in Afghanistan, the economy swimming in the toilet, and Occupy Wallstreet, how can anyone get out there and spend their hard earned money--possibly ignoring medical bills--on presents for people who go out and buy their own stuff anyway. Everyone except the kids is getting baked goods from me this year. Hope that's okay, because I have way too many bills to pay for a person without a job.

So...Merry Christmas!

A Werd From the Nerd: New Blog Site and Holiday Calendar

Hello again, Readers.

The New Squealing Nerd Website

I am proud to announce that the rapid progress made by the Drunken Coder is bringing our new website to near completion. We have only a few more details to work out for small matters before we can begin posting in earnest. We are also in the process of populating the archives section. At the insistence of my web designing husband, we will be keeping the JQuery Music player, but we won't be playing all of my favorite music all the time. We are currently constructing a system in which subscribers may make playlist suggestions on a monthly basis. You can go see our progress on the new Squealing Nerd website at my own domain, www.squealingnerd.com.

I say "We" and "Us" as if there were more than one of me now. Well, that's because there are more writers than just me now. The Squealing Nerd is currently in the process of developing a whole staff of writers. The latest staff acquisitions are Zarissa Cline, my webcomic officionado and best friend of 6 years. Zarissa is an amazing writer, and if you think her quiet features are shy and unassuming, you would be very wrong, especially if you cross her at Dungeons and Dragons. She is as quick with a keyboard as she is with a d20. I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us. She is currently getting her Graduate degree, and so will leave us from time to time, but we can always hope for her return. She has been deeply involved in webcomics for years, and will be bringing that knowledge--as well as a great deal more--to The Squealing Nerd.
Hugest Fan Ben Balentine, seen here,
trying to expound his delight at meeting Neil Gaiman.

I cannot wait to see everyone over at the new website. The Blogger site will go down officially once all of the archived posts have been migrated. I will give you plenty of notice here when you should be expecting that, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

What to Expect for the Holiday Season

As the Holiday season continues, we can expect several happy things. The Ninth Day of the Month is tomorrow and it will be Holiday themed. I will be starting a blog event next week in which I will feature a quote from an author about Christmas. It usually lots of Charles Dickens, but I'll try to mix it up a little. Also, I will be following that with an example of why I dislike the Holidays, though my spirits are not as Bah Humbug as you might expect.

And as if we weren't exploding with enough Holiday cheer, The Doctor Who Christmas special is almost upon us. Check back often as I try to keep up with the goods on this one.

Its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas in South Texas, as the weather has been bellow freezing almost every night this week. My Christmas tree is up and decorated, and Starbucks was running their red cup design almost  before Thanksgiving was over. As Bah Humbug as I might feel these days, I cannot help but put on Trans Siberian Orchestra and jam out to the best Christmas music there is.

I'll be back all this week and next with new material. Thanks for reading!

Ashley
The Nerd


Sunday, December 4, 2011

I'm Literate, and I'm From Texas, or a Lesson From Twitter

Ladies and Gentlemen:

When you get on Twitter, and have the gumption to tag famous people in your posts, please know what the hell you're talking about.

I say this to you now, before you make an ass out of yourself in a public forum: fact-check, fact-check, fact-check.

But when you get schooled by Neil Gaiman...man, its kind of like sticking yourself in the eye with your own English degree, which I did just to prove that I have one.

I was sort of trying to partake of @neilhimself's discussion with others that Kurt Vonnegut's persona had perhaps been misinterpreted by a publisher. Then I suggested that "was this the guy that wrote A Clockwork Orange?(italicized, because in English, this is the correct way to present a book title), which is why I deserve to have my English degree taken away. It only took Mr. Gaiman two words to knock me down a peg. A little fact-checking proved to me that Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange. By the way, the movie having been set in England should have been enough to remind me that I am both #americanlitfail and #britishlitfail, since Kurt Vonnegut was an American author and Anthony Burgess was British.

Quite honestly, it was about all I could do to keep myself from groveling at Mr. Gaiman's feet, screaming, "I'm literate! Really I am! I have an English degree! See?!", which would have been humiliating.

My friend and
professor, Dr. Ken Burchenal
teaches American Literature
and the Classics (among other
things) at UT and UTSA.
Seen here, hopefully playing
"Bad Dog" with The Happy Campers
You see, I spent the better part of my college career--when I wasn't fencing or playing D&D--trying to prove that I was literate despite being from Texas. My philosphy was, "You're from Texas. Try not to act like it." Despite the hard work of  myself, Dr. Ken Burchenal, Dr. Mark Allen, and several others, Texans continue to go on being stereotyped as illiterate yokels who ride their horses to school. No matter where we turn, Texans are being portrayed as backward and ultra-conservative (I looked all over for that Family Guy episode "Boys Do Cry" where the Griffins ran to Texas. I can assure you: we don't hand out handguns at the liquor store as mandated by state law--that's just stupid). During orientation at UTSA, a foreign exchange student asked me if I had a horse and if I rode it anywhere. I responded, blushing, that yes I had a horse, but that didn't mean everyone did, and no, I didn't ride it places. I found it difficult to not be offended. I told my father the story, and he related that once he had gotten thrown out of a movie theater in Vietnam where they were screening a John Wayne movie that my dad found particularly amusing.

"Outside of Texas," he said, "The rest of the world takes their cowboys very seriously."

Compounding this unshakable problem is the fact that MySA.com published a laughable review of American Gods soon after its publication. I'm glad I never got to read that review, though I can probably categorize it alongside my treatise on what not to ask Maynard James Keenan. Mr. Gaiman commented on it in his journal (you can see it here, Wednesday, August 8) and its something that, as a Texan, I have been trying to live down ever since. This is by no means a criticism of Mr. Gaiman's response to the San Antonio Express News. If only I could ever be in humor to give consequence to newspapers who employ ignorant journalists (that goes for The Current too!). Nothing brings out the militant literature buff like someone getting something wrong about you or your intellectual property. In my case, I'll probably be seeing a couple of angry deceased authors in my unprotected dreams tonight.

I would like to give a bow to Mr. Gaiman--again--and a bow in general to those of whom it has been my pleasure to get face-pwned in a literary debate, especially Dr. Allen.
Dr. Mark Allen teaches medieval literature and culture, Chaucer, Arthurian legend and Tolkein
at UTSA. It was always an honor to get face-pwned by a pro.  I made the mistake once of challenging him on a point
while we discussed the invasion of the Turks and conquest of Constantinople. Honestly, did I really expect
to know more about that than him? Face-pwned! 
If I take anything else away from today, it is that I am far to quick to feel belittled or cornered by criticism. As a writer, this is a bad thing. The urge to crawl into a hole and die is a testament to how badly I take constructive criticism, and how easily I can be intimidated--probably a side-effect of working in food service. In addition to brushing up on my Vonnegut, I'll try to accept a bit of constructive criticism in the form of what will more than likely be the rejection of my submission to the Blizzard Global Writing Contest. I found four technical errors in my story.

That said, I am going to be a fan girl now:

Did Neil Gaiman respond to a comment I made on Twitter?

Why yes, and in about three seconds. Man, he's fast.

Ah dude, Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange? Mah bad...

I think I'd rather be schooled by Neil Gaiman than Dr. Allen or Dr. Ken. I've been wrong plenty of times in their classes, and I probably got schooled.

And in all three cases, I'm a better person for it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Brian Lumley!

Courtesy of www.brianlumley.com
Brian Lumley was born December 2, 1937. Today he is 74 years old, and still reigns supreme as one of the world's top horror writers. There are very few writers out there that can master Lumley for style, character and originality. Though I have been influenced subconsciously over the years by R.A. Salvatore and Raymond E. Feist, there is a special place in the scope of those who have shaped the way I feel about writing and genre fiction for Brian Lumley.

Brian Lumley was born to a simple family in County Durham. He had tried his hand several times at writing as a young man, but received very pragmatic advice about writing professionally when his father told him, "You can't eat words," (The Taint, introduction, Subterranean Press). Lumley went into the Royal Military Police, writing stories in his spare time. He retired in 1980 from a successful military career and began writing professionally.

Brian Lumley first began publishing stories under August Derleth at Arkham House, adding to Derleth's Cthulhu Mythos. Lumley's hero Titus Crow appeared in many of those stories and would go on to have several anthologies based on his exploits. Titus Crow, and the other heroes of the Cthulhu Mythos, including Tarra Khash of Themedra fame, were singularly different from H.P. Lovecraft's characters in that they had a profound attachment to life and sanity, a tenacity that even the Elder Gods themselves could not best, and a lust for life (some of them, a very lusty lust). Titus Crow is among my favorite characters in Brian Lumley's mythos. I remarked a few days ago that Titus Crow and the Eternal Champions needed to hook up and battle chaos, since Crow has many of the personality facets essential to the Eternal Champions, and has been all the way to the End of Time itself.

Stock photo
Though I have read most of Lumley's Mythos stories, Necroscope remains the series of choice when I talk about Brian Lumley. My first introduction to Brian Lumley was one of his genius stories involving the infamous necroscope and his battle against the evil, horrifying Wamphyri lords and ladies. It was, unfortunately, one of the last Necroscope novels, an E-Branch novel called Defilers. I was only a kid in high school when I read that book, and admittedly, had to put it down and come back to it some years later. I never had any censorship or restrictions on my reading, but I knew when I was not ready for some material. I came back a few years later and finished it. Though I put the book down, Nephran Malinari was added, and remains, a member of my vampire pantheon as one of the best, worst monsters ever to grace me with his awesome presence. I even devised offspring for him in some of my racier short stories. Of course, this was also when I was writing X:Files short fiction, and Malinari's son was adopted and raised by Dana Scully. She named him Fox. If Fox were a real boy, he would be about eleven years old now.

The Necroscope novels changed the way I thought about vampires. Lumley subscribes to the school of thought that vampires are monsters, perhaps not unholy creatures of the night, but forces of nature that feed off of subordinate races in order to survive. Instead of vampires who gained their powers by selling their souls, Lumley's vampires are spawned as leeches, parasites that imbue their hosts with certain powers while taking every shred of their humanity away from them in order to perpetuate the species. Lumley's works are very much a cross of science fiction and horror, mixing the natural order with futuristic science, paranormal talents with computer programs. The Necroscope series was, in many ways, ahead of its time, and yet always grounded in myth and mysticism. I have read all but four of the Necroscope novels (some of them are kinda big, and Lumley wrote so much more) and own all of them, including several recent releases under the Lost Years classification, Harry and the Pirates and Necroscope: Plague-Bearers. Short of the re-releases, I own all of Brian Lumley's collected works, including a gorgeous hardback of Kai of Khem, and two signed Necroscopes, Defilers and Avengers. Though the Necroscope took on as many forms as he needed, Harry Keogh will always be the original, and the days when I could sit down to Harry's exploits are now done, as he was succeeded in death by his grandson Nathan Kiklu and later by Jake Cutter.


Brian Lumley was president of the Horror Writers Association from 1996 to 1997, and In March of 2010, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in Brighton, England, where he was also a special guest at the World Horror Convention. He also received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. I consider it one of the highest honors and greatest fortunes of my young life to have met him at Horror Con. in 2010. I wish that, as I stood there in awe of my hero and inspiration, that I could have told him the story of how I discovered his works, and how I had been so strongly influenced by his work, and to ask him if it was difficult to write all those sex scenes. I barely had the courage to ask him to sign my book. Later, I was introduced to Lumley's wife, Silkey, by Stephen Jones, who I was also honored to meet. I was convinced--and still am--that I had made a complete ass of myself in front of my hero. If I could do it over again, I would have approached him with a beer instead of a book to sign. I hope I might have that chance again.

This is a video excerpt of Lumley reading "The Thief Immortal" at Horror Con. 2010. This video is a rare treat, and is not on YouTube or anywhere else. Trust me, if I find it anywhere else, it goes bye-bye.


Lumley is retired, officially. He told Paul McClain in an interview on YoggRadio that the last thing he wanted to do was die chained to a desk, his last words on paper, "Aaaaaaaaaah." He lives with his wife in Dover. According to brianlumley.com, you can order a copy of a recent release called The Fly-By-Nights. If anyone wants to know what they can get me for Christmas, there you have it.

Happy Birthday, Brian, and many happy returns!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Werd From the Nerd: Change of Local

For those few of us who remain frustrated that--among the many things they have learned to do in their short 26 years--HTML remains largely out of reach, I say build a new website for yourself.

And so I am. 

I have long wondered at my inability to properly customize Blogger's UI. Despite the fact that there are many features of Blogger that I like--checking stats, keeping a reading list, Google AdSense--there are somethings I'm unhappy with. I also noticed that several of the well-known authors I follow have their own domains. With that in mind, my glorious drunken coder husband set out to purchase www.squealingnerd.com. If you click on the link right now you will find some very crude lay-out and a play button you can push to play a piece written by my father-in-law, James Balentine. Its not ready. Its far from ready. But its coming, and when it does, it will be convenient and fun, with many more pages and lots more nerdiness, on top of the fact that I have been practicing css to make it all so very "Me." 

I will re-announce the coming of the new blog home when I deem it fit for visionary perusal. 

As a reminder, The Nerd is on Twitter at @SquealingNerd and Facebook at The Squealing Nerd page.

I hope everyone's holidays are going well. Keep checking back as my holiday calendar includes a "Ninth Day of the Month" and the gift of Christmas quotes from Charles Dickens and many more. 

The Nerd

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Doctor!

"Bow ties are cool"
"Have been."
"And Always will be."
The Doctor and the Doctor
Doctor Who Season 6 Episode 6, "The Almost People"




Happy 48th Anniversary!

The Doctor has been around for almost 50 years, making it the longest running television show in history. Some of our contemporary artists believe they owe an amazing amount of their creativity to his influence during their formative years. Unfortunately, I cannot say this, as I seemed to have always known who the Doctor was, but had never actually seen him in action. That was rectified the time I sat down with my husband and watched The Four Doctors. I have not been the same since, and when I finally began creating this blog back in April, I knew I owed it to myself and other Doctor Who fans to create something meaningful and worthy of discussion, perhaps even worthy of the Doctor himself. 


Doctor Who's official Facebook has found some amazing things in honor of the the Doctor. Like this video. Say hello to other Doctor Who fans from around the world. Don't forget to check out the other videos featured on this channel. 

Also, Doctor Who Season 7 has been pushed back for a good while, until the autumn of 2012. Their reasons are many. Read about it here

Happy Doctor Who Day, Readers!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hey Nerds, The Werd is on Twitter!

The Squealing Nerd is now on Twitter!

Because I feel like Twitter screws us out of customization, here is a copy of the background image you can't see.

For those of you that are interested, the middle image--known in the Phontoshops as 'layer 4'--is part of my Final Fantasy VII tattoo that has been stretched to incorporate some color into what is supposed to be a header.

The Twitter account is for all the nerdy things that happen on a regular basis that are not long enough for a post.  Follow @SquealingNerd to get nerd updates too short for the blog. Also, The Squealing Nerd is on Facebook. Join up to get regular blog alerts and meet other nerds like ourselves.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Texas Renaissance Festival!

Blacksmithing at
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
 My Lords, Ladies and Readers, I only put on a dress twice a year (three times if you count 2010, when I wore my wedding dress). Those two days in which my regalia involves something other than jeans and a tank top or t-shirt are crammed into the one weekend a year that I spend at the famous Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville, Texas, just a few minutes north of Houston (give or take two and half hours of traffic during festival time), and according to certain female comedians, past the Magic the Gathering, Quidich teams and the LARPers, but not before the war re-enactment clubs.


The Texas Renaissance Festival: Its attraction to Fencers

Saber fencer Rachel, 2009
Though I do not like to lump the two together, fencers are often nerds. Many of the same people I clashed steel with at fencing club were also people I played D&D with, watched Star Trek with, saw Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, and many of the opening nights of Harry Potter with. The draw of real swords, chain mail, plate mail, leather armor and fancy dresses need not be the only alluring part of the Ren. Fair that draws nerds to it like flies to electric lanterns during a burn ban, but its a big part of it. The other part is getting together as friends to enjoy being what we are: nerds, somewhere between LARPers and Civil War Re-Enactment clubs. We donned our Lords and Ladies costumes and made our way through a mile of mud, pavement and more mud up to the front gates of the Ren. Fair in style.


Humble Beginnings

Epee fencer Jeremy 2009. 
Lidia (foil) and John (epee),
Ren. Fair 2009
I began attending the Texas Renaissance Festival in 2007 with our friends, The UTSA Fencing club. We didn't camp, and we soon found out all the reasons why we should. In 2008 we camped for the first time with my then fiance and his friends from work. In 2009 my fiance and I were roughing it alone until we stepped through the gates on Saturday and saw a line of fencers, all of our usual friends, standing inside the front gate waiting for Zarissa and Lidia to come out of the bathroom. There they all were, as if in a dream, and that night we re-pitched our tent next to theirs. In 2010 we were forced to skip Ren. Fair as my wedding, honeymoon, and trip to South Carolina put a damper on funds. This year we were glad to return with our couple's couple, Jeremy and Lidia.



Texas Renaissance Festival 2011, November 18-20, Barbarian Weekend
Jeremy and Lidia, 2011

This year, like so many years that have come before, involved camping in the great out doors for two whole days and two whole nights. By Sunday afternoon, we had achieved a stink that was too historically accurate for comfort. However, this does not deter us from getting back out there the next year and doing it again

There was a certain something lacking this year. Its absence was noted mainly in that the bugs were a bit of a problem and it was dark. What was it?...Oh yea, we were not allowed to have a campfire...or smoke cigarettes (or a lovely pipe, as the case may be)...or hang our real kerosene lamps. Despite several days of moderate rain as a respite to almost a year of drought, the burn ban was still in effect. We were lucky they let us turn on propane cook stoves to warm our hot dogs in the pitch darkness that was camp without a fire pit. Magnolia, and most of Harris and Waller Counties, was still intact after the fires that spread to the railroad tracks just outside the fair grounds, part of the same fires that laid Bastrop to waste in August, prompting the Fire Marshall to keep us all on a tight leash. Even the stars were afraid the surrounding forest would spontaneously burst into flames if they let too much of their luster through. The skies remained mostly overcast, shrouding the pine forests of East Texas in even more shadow.

Despite the ban on fire pits, the lack of a traditional camp ground bon fire, the unseasonable warmth, the humidity and the looming threat of inclement weather, the camping experience remained largely the same. Rain pattered our tents at night, which sometimes we heard over the blare of heavy metal, techno and bagpipes. The loud music often stretches into the early hours of the morning. I usually wake up when the music stops, as the silence is usually more pointed at about 5 a.m. Saturday night I drifted off to sleep after congratulating the camp next to ours for allowing me all-night access to Blind Guardian's second album. For some reason, that was very relaxing for me. Our neighbor's cries of, "Hip, hip, Huzzah!" were as fervent as ever, and as usual, the wine did flow. At least in our camp it did. I have no doubt about the other types of alcohol that were being consumed all over the camp grounds, but our camp--that of myself, my husband Ben, and our friends Jeremy and and Lidia--reserves the right every year to maintain our dignity. We poured mead, bourbon, brandy, port and amaretto into our highly fashionable styrofoam cups rather than the other, more traditional, mixed and or shooting alcohols. By Saturday night we had quickly run through our supplies, forcing us to turn in early, before we had finished our discussion about the manifold qualities that made the French Revolution unique to revolutions, a subject we warmed to with a passion not seen among sober people outside of academia. Now, inebriate those academics, and you will have Lidia and Ben close to tears over the mind-boggling speed at which the French Revolution occurred.

Sights, Sounds, Food! 

The Nerd's new costume
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
Beef stew bread bowl.
Safe at last.
The fair itself is always exciting. Once you've been to one Ren. Fair, it does not mean that you have been to them all. There is always something to do, see, buy or eat at the Ren. Fair. As fond as I am of eating, drinking and spending money, one doesn't have to do any of those things to enjoy Ren. Fair. Sure its nice to have money to visit the vendors, but nine times out of ten you  never walk in anywhere to buy something. Even when I have money, the most I can afford is one really good piece of an outfit (like this red leather jerkin I saw with the black dragon embroidery), or several pieces of a cheap outfit. I mostly enjoy the eating and drinking aspects of the Ren. Fair--minus the Greek Agora. Trust me. There is no reason to eat there. Go to the King's Bounty or the Captain's Quarters for bread bowls of beef stew, or King Henry's table for scotch eggs, fish and chips or The Earl of Sandwich's once-a-year treat of a meatloaf sandwich. Mead is easy to come by at the Texas Renaissance Festival, as many of the beer and wine vendors sell the local brand found and Chaucer's Mead, which you can get at your local H-E-B (Texas, of course). However, if you are camping, one never has to eat or drink a thing in the park to enjoy themselves. You are allowed to come and go as you please with a hand stamp before six o'clock.You can go back to camp, eat and return to the park without much hassle.
Tartanic, the Gods of Bagpipe Rock n'
Roll! Texas Ren. Fair 2011.
Entertainment at the park is no big deal either. All of the shows are free, though the entertainers are often traveling folk groups and professionals whose sole occupation is performing at venues like the Texas Ren. Fair. It is important to tip them, even a dollar, and I try to give money every year to Tartanic, the Scottish gods of rock and roll bagpipes and drums, Sound and Fury and Cast in Bronze by Frank de la Pena (the big bells). If you have never seen Cast in Bronze, you are missing a vital part of existence. Rectify that with this video. Though this is not my video, this was taken the weekend we attended in 2009. I probably sat in the same area for one of these shows with the guy who shot it.


This year we saw a show that I had never seen before: that of Adam Crack and his famous fire whip routine. Sexy Adam Crack had just won the international award for whip cracking in Las Vegas and was eager to impress the crowd with the routine that had won him that award. He broke pretzel sticks out of his mouth with his whip; he snapped pretzels off the top of his head with his whip, and he spun fire around his head. He also impressed the crowd with a breath-taking harmonica solo.
Adam Crack and his fire whip.
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Latson
With so many amazing things to do at the Texas Renaissance Festival, it is no wonder that me and my friends return again and again. Its a nerdy tradition that goes back hundreds of years. This year was perhaps the most special, for Jeremy proposed to his long time live-in girlfriend, finally setting his feathered leather cap where it belonged--on a permanent peg in the hall closet of Lidia's heart.

Lidia's ring at the English Chapel
Texas Ren. Fair 2011
Though the Texas Renaissance Festival is mostly historically accurate, it is significant to a particular band of literary nerds who quote Shakespeare on a regular basis and are never too busy to load up our camping supplies, tighten our bodices, listen to bagpipes, eat shepherds pie and trudge around dirty, sweaty camp grounds in full regalia for two whole days.

I will be replacing many of the pictures of the performers on this post as my own become available to me.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Ninth Day of the Month...


Happy Ninth Day of the Month, Readers! I am having a week of mixed reviews in grand, historical Charleston, South Carolina. I will go into more detail about some of the amazing sights to be seen.

This Ninth Day, the Ninth Day of November I am proud to bring you another mixed review: that of Maeve Gilmore's new novel, Titus Awakes: The Lost Book  of Gormenghast. I will be outlining how I felt about the novel in general, plus a look at how this lost book of Gormenghast is definitely Titus Groan's awakening. I wish I had the book to hand for this review, but unfortunately I had to leave it behind to make way for the novels I would need for my trip. I will do what I can without quotes and add them when I get back to Austin. For those who don't know, Maeve Gilmore is Mervyn Peake's widow, and her novel is an attempt to bring closure to the Gormenghast novels.

As I stated, I am of two differing minds about Titus Awakes. On the one hand I am immensely disappointed. On the other hand I was glorying in the little ways this novel reminded me of Peake's works. Not that I felt like I was reading a Peake novel, but that it was a pleasant reminder of how Peake's novels were, and the fact that my friend was reading Titus Groan in the backseat as we were headed towards New Orleans was, in a way, part of the disappointment.Several times I borrowed my friend's books and flipped through to my favorite parts of Titus Groan and Gormenghast. I then went back to reading Titus Awakes, and my few pleasant reminders, and the subtle tinge of disappointment.

The novel starts out with a small fragment from Mervyn Peake--how I wish I had the novel in front of me--that was meant to be part of something after the events of Titus Alone. I was happy to have read that, as it described Countess Gertrude and Doctor Prunesquallor. The next chapter never returned to them. Occasionally Titus would recall names, like Steerpike, Muzzlehatch and Prunesquallor, and many times Fuschia. My disappointment may stem from the fact that I really do not consider this novel to be a Gormenghast novel. As I understand it, a Gormenghast novel has to take place in a Gormenghast setting, which is either within the decadent confines of the citadel or the surrounding areas within the setting of the original novels. I don't really consider this book to be an actual Gormenghast novel, aside from the fact that the fictional timeline is the same and it follows the adventures of Titus Groan. I had thought that a "lost book of Gormenghast" would follow events that took place within the original fictional reality. I had been looking forward to the original cast of characters, or even a snippet of Titus' childhood. Apparently this was not the intention of this novel, and that was a hard pill for me to swallow. Had the tagline not followed the title of the novel, I think I could have looked on this book as a separate work designed to illustrate Titus' awakening into a functioning reality as if he had been sleeping his way through his life, his random encounters seeming almost like dreams. This, I feel, is what Maeve Gilmore was trying to accomplish. I would hate to think that "The Lost Book of Gormenghast" was tacked onto the novel to get it to sell, though my good friend seems to think that might have been the case.

As I said, this novel seems to take place at a time when Titus is between realities: the one he has left behind and the one that is before him. He takes several mental hiatus' while he is traveling in the wilderness. He is perpetually between meals, he nearly freezes several times and is kidnapped more than once. The arrival and departure of a golden retriever companion does nothing to  influence his feelings on his self-inflicted exile, nor do the many people who enter Titus' life that he leaves with hardly more than a backward glance. There are several moments of the novel in which it seems that Titus wakes up more fully, even when he is actually awake. I believe the first time Titus wakes up is when he meets the man in the mental hospital, the artist who wanders with a restlessness that can never be fully satisfied, and who's desire to rove is mistaken for a type of madness, in which his personality is drugged into submission. He is taken from the mental hospital and released. Titus attempts to find him, though it is a futile effort that eventually leads to his wandering again. I believe that Titus begins to rise up from his self-inflicted stupor when he meets the restless spirit again at what appears to be a church where men go to find themselves. When the restless spirit is asked to  leave, Titus decides to follow him, and makes the first real step towards deciding his own future, instead of allowing others to decide it for him. Titus' sea adventure opens his eyes to what coming home looks like, as he discovers the restless spirit has finally found his. Though speculation could be made about what may lay in Titus Groan's future, it is safe to say that whatever came before, Titus is finally fully awake and in control in a way that he has never experienced before. Titus has always been asleep, in a way. He was led by the hand through his childhood, always staring and dreaming, and in his adulthood, when he had lost all that he held dear, he moved through life as if he were in a dream, letting encounters come, leaving whenever he chose to and knowing that he would be causing pain if stayed or went, knowing that he was powerless to prevent that. 

Titus' true awakening made me forget my disappointment with the novel's description, and put me at ease with the premise. I finally realized that I was looking for the wrong thing with this novel, and though I am not afraid to say that I was disappointed, I feel that it is unfair for me to remain so. Maeve Gilmore's novel  is a Gormenghast novel of a different sort, and I was happy to have read it. I encourage everyone familiar with Peake's Gormenghast novels to pick up Maeve Gilmore's Titus Awakes. 

As usual, I encourage us all to keep the Ninth Day in our own way. I am happy that I was able to review Titus Awakes this time. Have a Happy Ninth Day of the Month, and I will return in one month's time.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Werd from the Nerd: On the Road Again...

The Squealing Nerd is going on the road again this week, this time to lovely, historic Charleston, South Carolina. Its tame by the standards of last weekend, when we went to stupid-haunted, historic New Orleans, Louisiana. I'll be visiting and blogging some very interesting, nerdy sights and possibly some original fiction in the process. I have decided to reboot--again--a long piece of fiction I'm working on called The Lord of the Plague. It is pretty original if I do say so myself.

Bet you didn't know I could ride a horse.
Well, I can!
But back to the traveling. This week's stay is prompted by more than just an acute case of Wanderlust. While it is impossible for me to stay in one place very long (i.e. home), I despise extensive traveling. If I do not have to leave my home city, I don't, except for the occasional vacation. I love going places and seeing things, but hate riding in the car, planes scare me and the train is expensive. That in mind, I'll be hitching a ride on a death-machine in San Antonio tomorrow and returning on a death-machine Saturday the 12th of November. The purpose of this year's long weekend is to visit my mother-in-law's family in the south east for a little get-together called Cuzzins Week. The Eargles, Hamiltons, Putnams and many other branches of the family tree get together and celebrate their family history, home cooking, knitting and whatever else they do. This is my second trip to see the Cuzzins, and I hope this year will be as enjoyable as last year was. And don't get me wrong, last year there was some discomfort. Ice was being broken. Assumptions were made. But overall, I think we were vastly contented to be among each other, and I love spending time with my mother-in-law, the indefatigable Cindy Balentine. Last year's adventures included horseback riding on the beach, fresh ice cream from Cuzzin Cheri, and my husband's Aunt Vivian's reunion with her estranged son and her grandchild. This year there are sights to be seen, people to meet and a whole lot of reading to get done. 

What to expect from the Nerd

Basically it will be business as usual. The Ninth Day of the Month fast approaches, and I have a book review of Titus Awakes that I will be glad to share with you. I was finally able to finish Maeve Gilmore's "lost book of Gormenghast" yesterday, and can't wait to give you the spill. For what its worth, it was good fiction, and I'll explain my general confusion towards the novel on The Ninth. Patrick Rothfuss and Gene Wolfe will be on the reading block this week as I barrel through my much increased reading list. 

 I would like to introduce two pieces of fiction I am working on for the reading pleasure of anyone wishing to comment. I am working on the script for a series of comics that is so far without title, but has been growing in my head for some time. Also, I have been reconsidering vast portions of the story The Lord of the Plague, which I hope to send for publication sometime in the next year. 

News and Views

I will try to post pictures and brief blogs about where I go and who I'm with. Also, Cuzzin Elizabeth will be joining us this week, and hopefully she will sit down with me to go over the family tree as it leads up to Vlad Tsepes on the Hungarian female line. I've never looked forward to anything so fascinating...and fan-girly.

Speaking of news and Cuzzins, a relation of mine, not quite a cousin, but still a relation, published a novel. Its called Merciful, and you can go to her website and blog at http://caseyadolfsson.com/Merciful.html

That's all I have for now. See you all as I continue my weird and selective tour of the Deep South.

The Nerd

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halloween in New Orleans

In front of the Basilica de St. Louis
There is a few square blocks in the heart of the Deep South that attracts both awe and splendor. Day or night these streets are teaming with life. By day, street performers entertain the thronging multitudes carrying cups of Royal Blend coffee and the bags they have accrued at shops selling pralines, Saints swag, and Mardi Gras masks. By night, the side streets are blocked off to make way for the biggest block party known to man. I speak of course of the French Quarter in downtown New Orleans, and the nights in question are those of the Halloween weekend.

When the sun goes down, the freaks come out.

The Freak: Steampunk
Mad Scientist
Or a singular Freak, as the case may be.

The Nerd took to the streets of New Orleans on Friday the 28th, admiring the gas lamp-lit streets and gazing longingly at the running lights of Harrah's casino. Entranced by having returned once again to dear New Orleans, my friends and I immediately set out for good food, and of course found the alcohol first. We took shots of Rebel Yell at a bar to the north of the French Quarter. Our desire to explore the city at night was inevitably put on hold, though.

This was also the weekend of the Cresent City Open, the Louisiana division annual fencing tournament. For two days some very legendary fencers came head-to-head to decide who the best in the south would be. Adam Brewer, Justin Mehan and Thomas Stusinsky are a mere handful of names that made fencing the Cresent City Open a worthy challenge. Though B-rated saber fencer and personal friend Adam Brewer did not win--as many of us hoped he would--nothing stops Adam for long, and you can guarantee that he will recoup his losses at his next event. He took 5th this weekend. The Polish saber fencer and World Cup winner of 2010 Thomas Stusinsky went on to win this year's Cresent City Open. Stusinsky is a studied fencer, whose tactics easily make any lesser fencer easy prey. Though I no longer fence, it was clear from the number of bouts I watched that there is no one as adept at the feint and disengage as Thomas Stusinsky. Many a fencer fell into his traps this weekend.

Jeremy Shoemaker
and a very real pipe.
After the tournament we were left to explore the French Quarter, mostly in search of a pipe and tobacco for my long-time friend Jeremy Shoemaker, and alcohol for the rest of us. By Saturday night, it was time to take to the streets once more, this time in costume. The mad scientist in me laid her now entirely blue hair over the floor and proceeded to allow my  husband to spray it into whorls of insanity. I donned my steampunk skirt, blouse, goggles and lab coat. My friend Lidia Plaza creeped us all out with her white-out contact lenses and black domino. My husband, Ben, and our friend Jeremy, did not dress up, though they looked smashing in their new clothes from the historically accurate Gap from the historical Riverside Mall, which overlooks the Big River herself, the mighty Mississippi. We took ourselves down to Bourbon Street, where already the mounted patrol were sectioning off the blocks of bars and cabarets on the second biggest night of the year. The packed street was crowded with costumed freaks, no less among them was myself in my lab coat and with my frizzy hair. However, we were never more than a block away from some very out-of-place protesters.

"Since Katrina," friend Adam Brewer said, "New Orleans is a very different town."

Notice the banners
in the background.
Different indeed. From over the heads of the thousands of people walking the street, two very large, white wooden crosses could be seen, surrounded by five or six people holding signs and banners proclaiming that all who did not at once repent would be condemned to Hell. At one intersection, just such a group carried a banner damning drunken rioters, homosexuals, heretics and adulterers (among other things) while one of the protesters shouted into a megaphone. Off to the right, a crowd of a different sort was gathered around a man on stilts, dressed as a brightly lit, intimidating Devil. People offered him tips and took pictures with him. One woman got a picture of her kissing his obscene lips. Fortunately, he was the only one who seemed to be responding to the protesters, and this he did without a single word. No one who passed them seemed to pay them much heed, or address them at all. They were part of the road block as far as the revelers were concerned. Other than to comment in passing that perhaps they were going about their tactics the wrong way, no one interacted with them, which was probably due to the fact that several mounted patrol officers were stationed near-by and that everyone was already too drunk to be offended that strangers were passing judgement on them on a party weekend. I was as non-plussed as the others, though in a state of utter rebelliousness, and simply because I could, I took a picture with the Devil. My lack of reverence you can attribute to the fact that I don't believe the presence of a man in a costume has any bearing over my morals. I do, however, enjoy a flare for the ironic on occasion.
Me and Techno Satan
Come to find out, you cannot smoke weed on the balconies of pubs. We stopped in order for Jeremy to get better acquainted with his pipe, allow those who had not eaten to eat, and of course, order more drinks. We were not the ones smoking weed, though. The faint smell of dog poop and grass came to  us from one of the tables further down, which kept our waitress from taking our order for a few minutes. However, we were all pleasantly buzzed and had no intention of getting up. We drank, talked and inhaled second-hand pipe smoke. Some of us clung to life with digging fingers, as we were all exhausted from a late night, early morning, long walk and then alcohol. However, we couldn't leave the relative disorder of Bourbon Street without partaking of a cabaret, in the best sense...sort of. We sought a place with no cover, thinking that perhaps we would get a cheap show. Definitely cheap, to the point that perhaps we may have been bait-and-switched. Lets just say the signs told us one thing, and then four very intoxicated people got a dose of reality. Apparently, there are some things you just can't get without the Internet. We left in bitterness and disappointment, until Lidia found a sticker that was blinking on the sidewalk. Order had been restored.

Street vendors selling art and jazz performers to name but a few of the sights
in front of the Louisiana State Museum, next door to the Basilica de St. Louis
The next day we walked the French Quarter, taking in the sights, spending money, and eating. I eat a lot in New Orleans. We were forced to pass up the Cafe du Monde, as there was a waiting list to the next block--literally. We ate a long, leisurely meal, and continued on to the shops.

It is hard for me to describe the feeling I get walking through the French Quarter. I am often struck with how young I feel. I am surrounded by architecture and style from a part of a city that is hundreds of years old. There are times when I step out of my year and am transported in time. We were interested in sitting most of time, so Jeremy could study his pipe and waiting for Adam to join us. A coffee shop caught our eye, though the door to the shop was not immediately visible. Lidia led us out of the warm street and under an alcove, following the signs to the coffee shop. We stepped out of New Orleans in 2011 and into a French courtyard in the mid-eighteenth century. I remembered stepping through the door of a pub, The Druid's Head, in Brighton, England, and it was the same feeling. The courtyard was cool and shady, trees not native to the area and creepers covered the peeling white-washed walls, and taller buildings helped to block out the sun light from the street. The Royal Blend coffee shop occupied the bottom floor of a building cadi-corner to the courtyard. The french doors to the sitting area and food counter opened on the courtyard. An orange and white striped tom cat came out immediately to greet us. I never could get his tag around to see his name, but he sat with us for a few minutes and followed me up to the register. Dusty tables and chairs lined the walls in a way that was neither orderly nor trendy. One girl stood along a chipped and warped counter using the all-too modern free wi-fi offered by the shop. We ordered our coffee and spent a half an hour under the vines and leaves in the cool arbor. Lidia and I contemplated the upstairs area over the coffee shop, wondering if it was inhabitable and planning our futures as a starving artist and an anthropologist perpetually in school. Our respective husband and live-in boyfriends speculated where they fit in to our plans. We confessed that we did not know.

Our stay was cut short by a phone call that was to herald our departure. We left with about as much ceremony as we when we arrived--arguing in a PC fashion over who should drive and why a Dodge Caravan is not a go-cart. We had a few set-backs this weekend, but nothing that could truly take the fun and grandeur out of visiting one of the most romantic cities in the United States. Au revoir, New Orleans. See you next year.

Enjoy this video, dear readers, of the biggest block party I've ever seen, next to Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. Not bad for a video shot on my HTC Inspire, on the Fastest 4G Network. In case you can't tell, that's sarcasm.








Tuesday, October 25, 2011

All Hallow's Read #3: Vampires on the Fence

"Perfect! That's just perfect! Burn the place! Burn everything we own! Have us living in a field like cattle!
"You thought you could have it all."
"Oh, shut-up, Louis!"


Lestat and Louis
The film: Interview with the Vampire

I feel a few lines from our friends in New Orleans only fitting in light of the approaching weekend.

Lestat de Lioncourt
These lines were not in the novel. This scene was rather condensed for the film. In the novel, the plantation house, Pointe du Lac burned after it was sacked by slaves. Louis had just finished forcing Lestat to make peace with his father (which speaks well enough to Lestat's character in and of itself) before Louis mercifully--if a bit against Louis' will--ended the old man's suffering. These lines, however, are the sum of Louis and Lestat's relationship. Louis lived always existentially, even before he was turned. Lestat had been trying to live a normal life ever since he was turned by Magnus (The Vampire Lestat) and his abandonment by Marius. Everything Lestat ever strove for was to be as extravagantly fabulous as possible. His attachment to Louis was fortuitous, in that he managed to attach himself to a wealthy land owner. The argument that Louis and Lestat must constantly play out revolves around their differing opinions of their existances: Lestat maintains throughout his relationship with Louis that Louis cannot hope to continue to deny his true nature as "a killer"; Louis cannot live on rats alone. However, the flip-side is that Lestat's constant need for material wealth to create his smoke screen  (when it would be much more discrete to hide among the thronging poor) illustrates Lestat's own continued denial.  

Louis de Pointe du Lac
Anne Rice's vampires play many roles, not the least of which is trying to appear human. As I mentioned, Lestat, when he could, often lived behind a smoke screen of opulence. His attachment to a plantation owner, for instance, which you would think would be a completely opaque title ended up being as transparent as plate glass. In our modern society, this would be accomplished much easier; you could stick yourself in a huge mansion, never come out and people would call you a recluse, but not think much of it. In the late 18th century in New Orleans, a plantation owner had slaves, duties and obligations which the inability to appear in day-light alone would have aroused suspicion. And it did. Louis' existentialism probably would have served him better. Louis was trapped in his caste. Short of suicide, he did everything in his power to escape it, even gambling it away. He did not have to wait long before his own slaves revolted, seeing through the smoke screen created by Lestat, which he also thwarted, as his lack of restraint led to questions, and eventually dark suspicions. Lestat and Louis are not the only vampires in the novel that must act the part. Claudia, after her initial change wore off, eventually grew into a woman in a girl's body. In the movie she was about ten or eleven--in the book she was only just five years old. She often had to act the part of a child in public to withdraw attention from her high manners and uncharacteristically high vocabulary and diction. Well educated and rich, she did not take long to mature in everything but form. Louis described Armand's cast of vampire actors as "vampires pretending to be humans, pretending to be vampires." However, Armand succeeded with his coven where few others had, in that the truth was also their lie. By shrouding his brood in  mystery, he actually drew attention away from himself. He had been successfully doing whatever he pleased without censure for hundreds of years. 

The basis behind the role-playing is laid out in Claudia: vampires do not change--she can never grow older, and even her appearance cannot be altered for long. The fact that vampires are always aspiring to be human is evident in Lestat's talents: he can play the violin and piano, sing and dance, but only through imitation (The Vampire Lestat). Louis, though deeply troubled, is the only stable vampire in the entire novel, simply because he is more down to earth. He was always unwilling to be what he was, but when he accepted his fate, he was never willing to play the part. He would do so to survive, but he never fooled himself into thinking that he would ever pass as anything more than a monster in men's clothing. By the time he encounters the interviewer, he is fully reconciled, while Lestat has trouble adapting. 

The entire novel calls the morality of the vampire into question: are vampires evil and unholy? Where do vampires come from anyway? Has our world finally become so amoral that vampirism is "the only real evil left?" Can a vampire be a good person in spite of what must be done to survive, or are vampires truly evil, playing the role of genteel citizen in order to eek out a baseless existence? 

I am not a fan of Anne Rice--despite whatever idea I might have given you to the contrary. I do not have much of an appreciation for her novels in general, but I do appreciate what Anne Rice has done to contribute to our current vampire lore, especially with regards to existentialism and morality, and I haven't even touched the homosexual tendencies of her characters. I will say this: when all the boundaries of existence have been broken down, can we honestly expect to be shocked by anything? Anne Rice's vampires are moody, in denial, existential, even a little "emo", but they are the original emo vampires, and that I can almost put up with. What a vampire does through imitation in fiction is merely another way in which fiction imitates human nature. Anne Rice's vampires are real people disguised as fictional characters pretending to be real people. This is a level of realism that Stephanie Meyer only wishes she could posses. 

Countdown to Halloween

Louisiana is breeding ground for dark urban legends about vampires. Its superstitious legends are kept alive even today by the Creole population, who even still speaks a dialect of French patois. There are any number of vampire stories and novels set in New Orleans, where we will eventually wrap up this year's Halloween activities. Unfortunately, I had to change gears for  my costume this year--literally. I'm now going as a steam-punk mad-scientist, if for no better reason then that I already had most of the costume put together without spending more money or time than necessary. I hope everyone continues to have an amazing All Hallow's Read, the new and inspiring tradition made-up by Neil Gaiman only this year. I have the honor of continuing that tradition here. 

Until next time, readers.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

All Hallow's Eve Read #2: The Second Bad Vampire

"Well, and here we are."


Nephran Malinari
Brian Lumley, Necroscope E-Branch: Invaders

He doesn't say much. He doesn't have to. That's how much of a bad vampire Nephran Malinari is.

Brian Lumley has written more novels than anyone can comfortably hold on one shelf, and even more short fiction. Though the original Necroscope defies traditional vampire tropes, and employs far more science fiction than previous horror novels in its massive scope, it is not my favorite. The fact that I started the Necroscope series out of order might explain my close affinity to the E-Branch novels, the books devoted to searching for, and destroying, the three biggest vampire threats to come out of Starside since Faethor Ferenczy: Lord Nephran Malinari, Lady Vavara, and Lord Szwart. 

The Necroscope series originally involved the Necroscope, Harry Keogh, a man who could speak telepathically to the dead with something called "deadspeak", and could traverse our dimension in time and space using the Mobius Continuum. I had never encountered anything so ambitious in my young life, but by the time I got to Harry Keogh and his original adventures, I had already read through the entire end of the series: the Necroscope novels involving the new Necroscope, Jake Cutter, and the newest generation of vampire hunters. E-Branch has been, and always will be, the world's first line of defense against extraterrestrial invaders, be they vampires from another dimension (Necroscope through Necroscope E-Branch: Avengers) or aliens bent on consuming all of our precious resources (Necroscope: The Touch). What makes E-Branch so special? It takes a particularly talented group of people to discover these invaders and deal with them in the quiet, unorthodox manner that is necessary to keep the general public from the knowledge that the world almost always teeters on the brink of destruction. The operatives at E-Branch are professional telepaths, pre-cogs (pre-cognition), "lie-detectors", the environmentally sensitive and computer hackers. E-Branch is a section of the British government that no one is supposed to know about. Even MI-6 follows their orders. E-Branch is not unlike Kota Hirano's Hellsing Organization, the only difference being that Hellsing finds the employment of vampires useful, whereas its customary in E-Branch to put someone down like a lame horse if they have come into too  much contact with a vampire, even if it was only mental contact.

Lumley's vampires rank as some of the worst vampire villains in the lore. They are ugly, beautiful, intelligent, deadly, and completely unpredictable. A Wamphyri has all the natural feelings and emotions as a human's, only magnified by their parasitic leeches: lust, greed, hatred, anger, even love. The stronger the leech, the better the vampire, and everything about a Wamphyri Lord or Lady should be considered highly suspect. The uglier the vampire is, the chance is very high that the vampire is not very strong or even very confident. A very dangerous vampire may not grow third eyes on their shoulders keep lesser vampires from sneaking up on them. A very dangerous vampire does not need to project, yet there are even serious exceptions to this rule. A very weak vampire might have every reason to appear beautiful. A vampire who appears to have everything under control is less likely to lose it all in a clan war, like Lady Vavara, or Devataki Skullguise. A very hideous vampire could be just as dangerous as a very confident vampire, such as Vasagai the Suck, Lord Szwart or the original Lord Shaitan (not to be confused with his great-great-great-grandson, Shaithis). A vampire can either be born a Wamphyri Lord (Yulian Bodescu, Nephran Malinari), given an egg in order to ascend (Lord Nestor, Thibor Ferenczy), or ascend through natural selection (Korath Mindsthrall). The most frightening aspect of the character of the Wamphyri Lord or Lady is that whole novels have been given over to the detailed treatment of their lifestyles, down to the mundane every-day tasks their servants and monsters perform for them. Aside from the fact that they could own our world with very little effort, after reading about them long enough, they almost become domesticated. In one novel, Yulian Bodescu hosted his aunt, uncle and cousin for a week, doing chores and helping out, until he slowly ate everybody.

Nephran Malinari is one of the best, most developed vampire characters (and almost all of Lumley's vampires are "fleshed out", as it were). His first name means "A wrong that can never be righted". His mother named him that because of the irreversible nature of the leech and what her capabilities were as a Lady. His last name is literally the Son of Malin. His vices are sex, blood, vengeance, more sex, more blood, and nice music. In terms of appearance, he couldn't complain. He's tall, "but not too tall", alienly handsome with long black hair that curls to his waist "like a bird of prey", with bangs that stick out behind pointed ears. Malinari has a lineage very few vampires can boast: he was the love child of a human healer woman who was turned Wamphyri, and the Wamphyri lord Malin. Old Malin died accidentally at the hands of his wife while Malinari was a child. His mother, despondent and very old, left her son the entirety of their fortune in Malstack and road a flying monster into the sun, burning as she went. As traumatic as that might have been for young Nephran Malinari (then about two hundred years old), he went on to be a very successful Lord. There is just one problem with Nephran Malinari: thanks to his mother's talents and his father's mentalism, he has a strong, irresistible, terrifying, and uncontrollable telepathy. He has a very strong natural ability to shield himself from prying minds, but has zero natural ability for blocking out the thoughts of others, which come piling in on him day and night, asleep and awake, whether he wants them to or not. It causes him to have severe migraines, which he believes he also inherited from Old Malin. Nothing can soothe those migraines quite like the gentle playing of the violin or the low tunes of a Starside minstrel. Malinari tends to take his rage and pain out on those around him.

Malinari's one failing, aside from his natural one, is his sharp tongue is paired with a penchant for terrible escape plans. Before Malinari even gets to our world, he gets Vavara and Szwart chased into the ice chambers of the frozen mountains of Starside. Once he gets to our world, he is repeatedly chased down by E-Branch, though they are aided by the unstoppable Necroscope. Malinari was almost always responsible for his own failures, and the failures of his two refugee partners, Lady Vavara and Lord Szwart.

You know, I always say the only good vampire is a bad vampire. Brian Lumley's vampires are anything but good. They don't sparkle in the sunlight. If Nephran Malinari ever met Edward Cullen, he would slap his face off with his bare hand, stick his elongated, fleshy fingers inside his ears and wiggle them around until Edward's brain was goo, which Malinari could then suck out through his eyeballs like caviar. Then Malinari would use Edward's corpse to feed his mushroom garden, imprinting his vampire DNA on every single spore, and I would laughThat is what a real vampire does to his enemies, and that's what makes Brian Lumley's character so bloody awesome!  Though Mr. Lumley is retired, he has left me with enough of his work to last me a very long time, and enough bad vampires to destroy this world's bad rash of trendy blood-suckers.

Brian Lumley reading his short story "The Thief Immortal"
at Horror Con. 2010 at the Royal Albion Hotel.




The Halloween tradition started this year by Neil Gaiman called All Hallow's Read continues here, at The Squealing Nerd.