Monday, November 19, 2018

So Why Do We Celebrate Anyway?

It's Thanksgiving week!

I think it's always fun to do a little refresher on why a holiday exists and what it's really all about for those of us here in North America. It's true that for many the focus of Thanksgiving is that delicious turkey dinner with all the wonderful trimmings (Yum!) and good times spent with family and friends--and that's certainly a big part of the tradition.

But the first Thanksgiving was a very different experience.

Replica of the Mayflower
A small sailing vessel named the Mayflower left Plymouth, England in September 1620 carrying 102 passengers and a crew of 26. Most were Separatists, who later became known as the Pilgrims (or the Pilgrim Fathers), those seeking a new home to freely practice their faith. But others were drawn to the New World by the prospect of land ownership and prosperity. Miles Standish, who would later become their military leader, was actually a soldier hired for protection against hostile natives.

The voyage was not easy. In cramped, uncomfortable conditions in the crowded vessel, and in often dangerous weather, their trip lasted 66 days--or more than two months.

They finally dropped anchor near Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the area of what is now Provincetown. However, their actual destination had been the mouth of the Hudson River, further to the south, where they hoped to find fertile farmlands just north of what is now New York City. The storms had been so severe on the crossing that they were blown off course and forced to abandoned their plans. A month later, they sailed around the Massachusetts Bay to a site where they started to build a village that would later be named Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Some accounts claim the Pilgrims didn't actually name Plymouth after the town they set sail from. In fact, they didn't name it at all. The area had already been named Plymouth--or Plimouth, spellings varied--by explorers who had drawn maps of the territory that their captain most likely used on the voyage. They simple adopted the name already given to the location.

By the way, the Pilgrims never mentioned Plymouth Rock either, which has for so long been considered a part of their history. The landmark glacial boulder was actually first documented as their landing site by Elder Thomas Faunce in 1741, more than 120 years after the Pilgrims arrived.

The first winter was so harsh that most of the pilgrims remained on the Mayflower for shelter, where the poor conditions led to scurvy and epidemics. Nearly half those onboard perished before spring arrived. Only four adult woman survived to the fall.

Here's a quick-paced video from the History Channel that gives some eye-opening details about this historic voyage. (Psst. Guess who some of their more modern descendants were.)




When the survivors went ashore, they were met with a surprise. They encountered Samoset, an Abenaki Native American--who spoke to them in English! He had learned the language from some English fishermen in Maine.

Days later, Samoset returned with Squanto, another Native America and member of the Pawtuxet tribe. Squanto had been captured by an English sea captain and sold into slavery in Europe. He later escaped from London and returned to his homeland with an expedition to explore New England. His Pawtuxet tribe had been wiped out by smallpox.

This former slave taught the starving Pilgrims how to grow food like corn, how to get sap from maple trees for syrup and how to fish. He was essential in helping the settlers form a relationship with a nearby tribe called the Wampanoag. (They were Algonquian-speaking, as was one of my ancestors if our family history is true.) This alliance would last for more than half a century, and even more notably, it's one of the few known examples of peaceful coexistence between the native peoples and the European colonists.

Thanks to Squanto, by November of 1621, the Pilgrims had reaped a successful harvest. The new governor, William Bradford, called for a celebration in the form of a feast in which they invited their new allies, including members of the Wampanoag tribe and their chief.

No one knows exactly what was eaten at this feast of thanks, but notes in pilgrim Edward Winslow's journal said that four men were sent "a-fowling," possibly for wild turkey and waterfowl. He also noted that the Wampanoag brought five deer to the gathering. It is generally believed that geese, ducks, clams, squash, pumpkin, barley, beans, corn, walnuts, chestnuts, wild cranberries and currants were on hand, and more exotic fare might have included lobster, seal and swan! The Pilgrims had no ovens and a limited sugar supply, so there were most likely no pies, cakes or desserts included. Even so, the three-day gathering to give thanks to God for a successful harvest was so popular that it inspired annual celebrations for more than two centuries in the colonies.

Not until 1863 -- some 242 years later -- did President Abraham Lincoln, in the throes of the Civil War, proclaim Thanksgiving be a national observance to be held each November.

I love how the spirit of the first Thanksgiving has now been carried forward for more than three centuries. Three years from now will mark the quadricentennial of that first feast! And it's still all about giving thanks for all that we have, and sharing our bounty with others who are in need.

Wishing you and yours 
the wonderful spirit of sharing and caring
as we enter this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

Friday, November 16, 2018

OVERLORD RISES ABOVE MERE NAZI ZOMBIE TROPES


I have broad tastes in movies. In fact, I’ll watch almost anything when I’m in the mood to go to the cineplex, though I’m not a big fan of rom-coms, teen slasher films or torture porn. (And, yes, I just put rom-coms in the same intolerable category as torture porn.) But every so often I’ll check out a film for the heck of it and discover the work rises above its humble expectations to become truly entertaining. 

Bad Times at the El Royale, which I saw a couple of weeks ago, was such a film. This week’s overachiever was Overlord, a Nazi/super-zombie horror flick directed by Julius Avery (Son of a Gun). I went in thinking I’d have some fun and enjoy my popcorn; I came out being more impressed than I expected with this war story-cum-mad scientist tale. Of course, it was gory and highly unlikely, with a plot reminiscent of those Weird comic books we read as kids, but the characters were interesting enough that you cared about them. And, given a giant suspension of disbelief, the peril they faced seemed authentic.

Overlord: Because Nazis (and Nazi zombies) make the best villains.
The film's premise is that a platoon of U.S. GIs parachutes into Nazi-occupied France just before D-Day with the objective of taking out a radio tower atop an old castle. The first half of the film is standard war-film set-up stuff, introducing the nervous new recruits (including primary hero Jovan Adepo as Boyce), the tough-as-nails veteran (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, as Ford), and so on), following them as they lose guys getting to the ground in the middle of a ferocious air battle and slip into the French village below the castle.

The remaining four Americans hole up in the home of a young French woman, her vulnerable little brother and her mysterious aunt, who was exposed to some horrible disease when in the custody of the evil Nazis at the castle. This is the first hint of something “other” about the story. Supernatural elements accumulate as the GIs get closer to their objective, until a full picture emerges of what is going on in the labs beneath the stone structure: the Nazi scientists are conducting torturous experiments on the villagers in order to create immortal “super-soldiers” for the Reich. Yes, we are talking--gasp!--Nazi zombies!

So, of course, our heroes must not only take out the radio tower, they also must destroy the labs and all evidence of the work that has been done there. (For as Ford points out, the Americans and their allies wouldn’t hesitate to use such heinous technology either, if it fell into their hands.) Heroism ensues, saving the brave French woman and her brother in the process, too, along with the sacrifice and wise-cracking humor we identify with the Greatest Generation.

I read something recently (on Facebook, that source of all such conflict-baiting) which amounted to a generational whine about Baby Boomers from Millennials. One of their Top Ten complaints about us, apparently, is, “Why do they keep talking about the Nazis all the time?”

Um, well, the first and best answer is that no one should ever forget the horror Nazi Germany perpetuated upon the world, especially when their nationalist philosophy is resurgant in so many countries today, including our own. The murder of 13 Jews in their synagogue in Pittsburgh just weeks ago is ample proof of that.

But the writer in me wants to argue that the Nazis also make the best villains in the history of fiction. They are dogmatic and cruel, sadistic and powerful. They are a juggernaut of evil at the same time that they are a caricature of themselves. If you set out to create a larger-than-life Evil Villain, you could not come up with anything “better” than a run-of-the-mill Nazi commandant.

That is certainly the case in Overlord, where Wafner (Pilou Asbaek), the smarmy commander of the Nazi garrison where all the action takes place, is hateful enough in his human form, but gloriously terrifying in his hideous super-soldier form. It takes an act of almost superhuman strength and determination to defeat him, an act of supreme selflessness and courage. That the writer, Billy Ray (Hunger Games, Captain Phillips) uses this moment to such effect elevates the film beyond its mere horror movie tropes.

The villains are not the only characters who stand out in Overlord. Though Boyce and Ford (and New York tough guy Tibbet—John Magaro) are typical war-movie standbys, the actors all play their roles with gusto. The French family, resisting against all odds, is a nice touch. And the special effects of this film—the exploding planes and ripping bullets of the opening air battle, the gruesome make-up—are superior, giving Overlord an authenticity it might not have had otherwise.

All in all, a nice surprise at the cineplex, and a much better than average SF/horror film. A definite GO, if that is your cup of tea.

Cheers, Donna



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Some rites of passage should be remembered


Right now I'm in the middle of NaNoWriMo, writing Morgan's Misfits 3. I don't have much to say about that since I'm making it up as I go along, so here's something I did earlier.

Ink is one of my favorite pieces of writing. It's a short story about a major character in my Morgan Selwood series. Admiral Ashkar Ravindra is commander of the Manesai fleet which 'rescues' Supertech Morgan Selwood and her shipmate, accountant Tony Jones, from a slow death on their freighter Curlew. With a failed shift drive the ship can't go to hyperspace and is stuck with traveling through real spacetime, which means Morgan and Tony will run out of air, food and water long before they're likely to get anywhere. That story is told in Morgan's Choice.

Ravindra comes from a very regimented society, where everyone belongs to one of four classes, which are unable to breed together. The original intention of the people who genetically engineered the Manesai may well have been "a place for everyone and everyone in their place". But  it doesn't always work out that way.

Ravindra is a member of the military class, the Mirka. Naturally, each class had developed its own sub-classes (because people are like that) and Ravindra's family is part of the Darya group – from which most Manesai admirals are recruited. His father was an admiral, his grand-father was an admiral, young Ravindra is going to be an admiral, he will marry the daughter of an admiral. His path is mapped out for him.

And yet, Admiral Ravindra has a tattoo. Not some small, discrete bit of ink that people wouldn't notice. He has a bloody great vulsaur tattooed all over his right shoulder, down his back and over his bicep. That photo at top left doesn't really do it justice, but you get the idea. So why does that matter? Ah, you see, Mirka – and most especially Darya Mirka – don't have tattoos. Troopers have tatts, admirals don't. So what in the wild world would have resulted in eighteen-year-old Ravindra, with school finished and the acceptance to the Fleet Academy in his pocket, having a tattoo?

You'll have to read the story to find out. Here's the blurb.


Life's good for 18-year-old Ashkar Ravindra. School's over, and he's been accepted into the Fleet Academy. There's time for one last trip up into the mountains in the brand new flitter his father gave him as a graduation present, before his real life, the one he's been groomed for from the day he was born, begins in earnest.

Up in the mountains not everyone is pleased to see the privileged admiral's son. Jealousy and ulterior motives turn the pleasant hunting trip into an ordeal. Lives are a stake. If Ashkar makes the wrong decision, he will be the first to die.

Buy the book at Amazon  B&N Kobo iBooks


However, I'm not giving much away to tell you it concerns a vulsaur, which looks a bit like our mythical dragon. In one scene in the story, I wanted to have the vulsaur take off from quite a low start. Large flying creatures (on our planet, anyway) either leap off high places and glide or they need a long takeoff. But I didn't want to do that. So rather than emulate an albatross or a swan, the vulsaur acts like an osprey.

I took this series of pictures down the beach a couple of years ago. The osprey has gone for a bathe in the shallows. Now he's finished and he wants to take off. Basically, with his wings raised vertically, he jumps, then brings those wings down hard. And he's off.






 And now it's back to Misfits 3.


Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Message to our Veterans




With grateful thanks to all who served 
and did their part to keep our nation safe, free and independent.

Great courage is needed to risk your life for your country
and its citizens. It takes commitment,
dedication, and deep personal strength.

It takes the heart of a true hero.

Not all may comprehend how much you had to give
so we can all enjoy the lives we live.

May your sacrifices never be forgotten, trivialized or overlooked. 

Happy Veterans Day


Friday, November 9, 2018

SOMETHIN' FER NOTHIN'--BUT ACT FAST!

Science fiction romance fans truly have an embarrassment of (free) riches this week. First Pets in Space 3: Embrace the Passion moves to Kindle Unlimited. Then my own Not Fade Away, Interstellar Rescue Series Book 4, starts a limited-time FREE offer on Amazon Kindle today!

Yes, you heard me right, dear readers. Starting today, you can catch up with the adventures of Rafe, Charlie and Happy the therapy dog as they overcome their internal demons, fend off her jealous ex, struggle with his dementia-debilitated father, and defeat alien assassins on their way to Happy Ever After. And all for Absolutely NO Cash On The Barrel Head! Just click here to download a free copy to your Kindle now!

But only for FIVE days. Tuesday, November 13, is the last day you can get this somethin' fer nothin' deal. After that, the Kindle version of my latest Interstellar Rescue novel goes back to its regular price of $2.99.

Wanna know more? Here's the blurb:




Earth shielded his secrets--

Until her love unlocked his heart.

Rescue agent Rafe Gordon is human, though Earth has never been his home. But when his legendary father Del becomes the target of alien assassins, Rafe must hide the dementia-debilitated hero in the small mountain town where the old man was born—Masey, North Carolina, USA, Earth.

Home care nurse Charlie McIntyre and her therapy dog, Happy, have never had such challenging clients before. Del’s otherworldly “episodes” are not explained by his diagnosis, making Charlie question everything about her mysterious charge and his dangerously attractive son. Rafe has the answers she needs, but Charlie will have to break through his wall of secrets to get them.

As the heat rises between Charlie and Rafe, the deadly alien hunters circle closer. The light they seek to extinguish flickers in the gloom of Del’s fading mind—the memory of a planet-killer that threatens to enslave the galaxy.


Cheers, Donna

Monday, November 5, 2018

Crossing the Line: Pets in Space 3 Moves to Kindle Unlimited

On November 1st, something happened that I think is newsworthy for both SFR readers and authors. The USA TODAY Bestseller, Pets in Space 3: Embrace the Passion, moved from wide distribution to exclusive availability on Kindle Unlimited for a limited time.

Click here to view on Kindle Unlimited

Since the SFR collection (and I don't call it an anthology because the books range up to novel-length in size) is only offered for a few months each year, this seems like a well thought out plan that will benefit an even wider variety of readers by getting these stories into the hands of a larger audience. 

That's because a lot of KU subscribers won't buy books outside of Kindle Unlimited. After all, they pay a fee to take part in the Amazon program. So this new tack has the potential to reach an even larger pool of readers.

And that makes me happy, because what's good for Pets in Space is generally good for SFR as a whole. :)

Of course, under the Kindle Unlimited program, those who don't subscribe can still purchase the collection for the standard price of $4.99 on Amazon (a HUGE bargain for readers when the sheer size of the book is considered--1,141 pages). 

Haven't heard much about the collection yet? Then I want to highlight a few of entertaining blogs written about the collection. The authors of Pets in Space work very diligently to get the word out about their wonderful stories, so check out this sampling of entertaining (and possibly addicting) posts. 



Anna Hackett talks about her pet, Fiend--"an alien canine of dubious origins" from her story, Desert Hunter, in the Galactic Gladiators Series.



If my memory serves, Pets in Space 3: Embrace the Passion will only be available on Kindle Unlimited until February 1st--and only available anywhere for a short time after that--so tick tick tick tick! 

If you haven't yet, think about grabbing a copy before it's gone forever.

Have a great week!


Friday, November 2, 2018

200 YEARS OF MARY SHELLEY'S CREATURE


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the novel that was the Big Bang for the genre that became Science Fiction. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein debuted in January of 1818, an instant success among both readers and theater producers who scrambled to put the sensational story on the stage. 

Widely acknowledged to be the first true science fiction novel, Frankenstein explored themes of science vs. religion, man vs. God, the overweening ambition of the “mad scientist” and technology out of control long before Phillip K. Dick was a twinkle in his parents’ eyes. In fact, it’s fair to say without this foundational work, none of us would be here—creatively, at least.

The story behind Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein is almost as fascinating as the book itself. A daughter of famous parents (Charles Godwin, a radical political theorist, and Mary Woolstonecraft, a poet and feminist author, who died less than a month after giving birth to her daughter), Mary had an unusually liberal upbringing and a broad education. Her father’s home was often full of intriguing guests, one of whom was the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary began an infamous affair with the married Shelley at the age of 16, marrying him two years later upon the suicide of his first wife.

But it’s the unusual summer of 1816 that Mary and her husband spent at Lord Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva that is of the greatest interest to Frankenstein fans. A cloud of ash hovered over Europe that summer, hiding the sun, dropping temperatures and withering crops. Few Europeans knew it, but the horrific eruption of the Mount Tambora volcano in Indonesia on the other side of the globe was the cause of that “year without a summer.” What normally would have been a pleasant vacation in the mountains of Switzerland became a monotonous run of dark, dreary days and stormy nights at Byron’s villa.

Eventually, out of sheer boredom, someone proposed a writing contest. Specifically, Byron’s houseguests were to write the scariest stories their imaginations could produce. At first, Mary was so intimidated by her competition that her mind was blank for days; the 19-year-old couldn’t think of anything that would stand up to the work of two famous poets. But at last she fell into what she calls a “reverie,” a lucid dream, and the idea of the mad scientist and his creature came to her nearly whole. And once she wrote it down, even Frankenstein’s author was amazed at what she had done.

The public immediately responded with acclaim when Frankenstein was published a year and a half later. Perhaps it was her name, which already had some currency with her audience, but more likely the author had touched on themes that were swirling in the common consciousness of the time. Great Britain and the other nations of Europe and America were rapidly moving from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, with benefits certainly, but with many dangers as well. Science had plenty of answers but uncovered even more disturbing questions. Frankenstein captures this zeitgeist perfectly.

Even better, the book was visual in a way few novels of the time were. Within a few months of its debut, dozens of stage productions of the book were underway in London, each with its own interpretation of Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s “monster.”

It’s no surprise, then, that as soon as movies were invented Frankenstein would become a subject for film. The first film version of the book was Edison Film’s Frankenstein in 1910, starring Charles Ogle as the monster. Since then, there have been hundreds of interpretations in dozens of languages. But since this is one of my favorite written stories, this is also one of my favorite film subjects. 

I have three all-time favorite film versions.

The Universal Classic. 

 I still believe Universal Studio’s 1931 version of Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, to be the best. Yes, key scenes of the film have been parodied to the point of meaninglessness (Colin Clive shouting, “It’s alive, alive!” for example). 

But though his version of the monster has become a cliche, no one has ever captured the mute despair and confusion of the creature like Karloff, though better actors have tackled the job. And if you can look beyond the stilted Thirties dialogue to see the stark beauty of the black-and-white cinematography and art direction, this film is truly exceptional.




TheTruest Adaptation.  

Director Kenneth Brannagh’s 1994 film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, starring Robert de Niro as the monster, is as faithful an adaptation of the novel as you’re ever likely to get. Brannagh even used the “bracketed” framework of the Arctic ship captain’s narration that Shelley employed to great effect in her work. And, of course, de Niro gives you the full range of emotion (and dialogue!) in his tormented creature. But the best part of this film is the clarity with which Brannagh lays open Victor Frankenstein’s motivation—his passion, really—in wrestling Death to create Life. The set design here, too, is marvelous, showing us the Rise of Industrialism as a character in itself. Awe-inspiring.


The Fun Stuff. 

Because I love the Universal Frankenstein (and all the Universal horror films), I cannot help but love Mel Brooks’ 1974 comedy spoof Young Frankenstein. My husband and I saw this film as a first-run in the theater, and almost died laughing. I must have seen it a hundred times since then—enough times that I could quote whole scenes for you. Brooks is a comic genius (and his ensemble cast of Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman and Peter Boyle as the monster are superb), but what makes this film funny is that it so perfectly follows the plot lines, characters and dialogue of the Universal Frankenstein films. In particular, Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Son of Frankenstein (1939), serve as comedic clay in Brooks’ capable hands. Hilarious!

The 200th anniversary of our spiritual mother is a fitting time to watch another film version of your favorite mad scientist and his pitiful creature. Which is your favorite Frankenstein?

Cheers, Donna

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.