Sunday, June 17, 2012

Inspiring Natural Sculptures: Beautiful, Scary, Sentient?

Dark Beauty

First let us calibrate our expectations when it comes to the face of evil.  We expect scary, bad things to be ugly, right?  Devils are rarely depicted as pleasing to look at.  Conversely, good things, like angels, are beautiful.  Viewer's perception of art is influenced by these expectations.  For instance, many believe that Frazetta's dark fantasy illustrations are full of gore (despite the lack of blood... see Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror). So if your intention is create dark art, then how do you approach the design?  Should your devils appear ugly?  Does the horror have to be embodied in a devil?  What inspires your art (your muse), and how will you choose to represent it?

Weird fiction masters (Poe, Lovecraft, Smith...) documented their intense philosophies about instilling beauty in their weird works (see prior blog post: Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature).  They viewed their horror works as beautiful art. Can horrific things, evil enemies or works of art, really be full of beauty?  Certainly fantasy fiction requires some type of monstrous element, usually the antagonist force is sentient and ugly (mythological beasts, aliens, orcs, devils, etc.).  Consider the horror otherwise. What if a terrible threat emerged from something we thought of as inanimate and beautiful?

The Terrible Beauty of Kudzu, a Dark Muse

I discovered my favorite beautiful horror ~20yrs ago on a road trip to Georgia (on Route 75); conveying my awe at the yet-to-be-identified vine sculptures I saw en route, my cousins corrected my enthusiasm for the beauty I had witnessed and educated me on the horrors of "kudzu." Imported to increase ground cover in the Southeast, this uncontrollable, evil vine now extends into Ohio.  However, to the ignorant, the sculptures appear as beautiful, continuous green blankets. The ability to create art is considered a critical point in the evolution of man's intelligence. Usually artificial things (items made by man) are discernible from natural ones, and we gain some sense of security knowing the difference.  But what horrors await us if brainless things like vines begin making large-scale sculptures?  If art self-assembles from chaos, should we be awed or terrified?
Kudzu-Sculpture-Route-75
Here is recent photo of Kudzu I took while my wife took a turn driving on our trek from Cincinnati, Ohio to Charleston, South Carolina (again on Route 75, image taken in southern KY...okay, a confession is in order, since I took not one...but hundreds of pictures, being so mesmerized, and distracted her driving).  Not shown here, is the imminent devastation of all the growth serving as a template; in other words, all the hidden trees beneath are being smothered. This beauty is terrible!  My fascination remains solid however.  Kudzu has become one of my dark muses.

For more images formed by Kudzu, I recommend touring JJ Anthony’s site:

Natural Beauty

Incidentally, right before vacation, I finally joined the social community for artists, DeviantArt.com (please visit: http://selindberg.deviantart.com/ :) ). The kudzu imagery is reminiscent of ice sculptures captured by Niccolo Bonfadini, a photographer I "watch/subscribe to" (check his work out (link)...actually, I highly recommend browsing DA if you have not already, it is a great wealth of inspiration and talent).  These ice sculptures are another example of natural elements templating trees, however I believe the vegetation in Finland survives the winter.  Regardless, the apparent self assembly of monoliths is ominous.  They evoke Arthur Clarke's strange monoliths: nicely carved, inanimate, intelligent.  


©2012 *niccolobonfadini 
Finnish Landscape by *niccolobonfadini His caption: During winter, with temperatures ranging from -40 to -15, the trees in some areas of the Finnish Lapland get completely covered by snow and ice. This makes for a unique landscape, where everything is white and frozen as far as the eyes can see. That morning I slept in my tent to watch the sun rise from the top of a hill. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Escapist allegory versus implicit preaching: Can you still enjoy a fantasy novel knowing it derived from established religion?

This month’s (June 2012) CNN article “The Gospel of Stephen King” reveals that his horror novels are influenced heavily by Christianity!  Oh the terror!  This equally terrifies readers (often wanting an escape from enjoying established answers to all things spiritual) and religious folk (how can a Satanic horror novel be representative of our good Savior’s message?).  From the article, King explains:
The Bible is filled with terror: demons, ghosts, floods wiping out mankind and the rising of the dead.  “Good horror examines the struggle between good and evil,” he says. “The Bible is the history of that struggle. “The Bible is in many ways the ultimate horror novel.”

This evokes the common rite of passage that fiction readers experience:

  1. Young adults read an introductory horror-fantasy novel from a famous author (J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Stephen King, Anne Rice,…)
  2. They enjoy the first novel, so they consume more from the same author.  
  3. They discover that their favorite books are religious allegories (eh gods!)
  4. They cope with being disillusioned/betrayed

Niel Gaimen summarized this phenomenon well with his twelve year old boy character, Richard Grey, in his short story One Life Furnished with Early Moorcock within the anthology Michael Moorcock's Elric: Tales of the White Wolf:
Richard had, however, finally given up (with, it must be admitted, a little regret) his belief in Narnia.  From the age of six -- for half his life-- he had believed devoutly in all things Narnian; until last year, rereading The Voyage of The Dawn Treader for perhaps the hundredth time, it had occurred to him that the transformation of the unpleasant Eustace Scrub into a dragon, and his subsequent conversion to belief in Aslan the lion, was terribly similar to the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus; if his blindness were a dragon...
This having occurred to him, Richard found correspondences everywhere, too many to be simple coincidence.
Richard put away the Narnia nooks, convinced, sadly, that they were allegory; that an author (whom he trusted) had been attempting to slip something past him.  He had had the same disgust with the Professor Challenger stories when the bull-necked old professor became a convert to Spiritualism; it was not that Richard had any problems believing in ghosts -- Richard beleved, with no problems or contradictions, in everything -- but Conan Doyle was preaching, and it showed through the words.  Richard was young, and innocent in his fashion, and believed that authors should be trusted, that there should be nothing hidden beneath the surface of a story.

Like it or not, speculative fiction is influenced by religion

One the one hand, all fantasy plots have been explored ad nauseum (read Fraser’s The Golden Bough).  After all, a great deal of literature has accumulated since man began recording stories (history).  Every combination of soap opera between man, beast, self, god, etc. has been covered, so much so, that any myth/story can be considered derivative of a prior (i.e. replaced) myth or religious allegory.  Myths even maintain a consistent story structure across beliefs, time, geographies (Campbell’s Monomyth).  In fact, most religions have cannibalized each other's stories (yes, most of the stories in the Bible are derived from pre-existing myths…oh the terror!).

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
(Sir James George Frazer,1854–1941)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces ( by mono-myth espouser Joseph Campbell )

So whether writers/readers/religious-folk want to acknowledge it or not, fantasy, myths, and religious tales are derivative.

The funny mystery is why that revelation should horrify readers and religious folk alike.  If you enjoyed fiction derived from stories that humanity continues to enjoy retelling, who cares to whom credit is assigned for its creation?  Will the act of reading religious-based fiction automatically indoctrinate atheists into some  institution they have an aversion to?  If you enjoy the Bible, does the fact that many of the stories in the Old and New Testaments evolved from "myths" bother you?  This philosophical mess is what drives readers away from trying to figure "it" all out.  Can we not enjoy stories, escape from assigning credit or truth to any of it?  Going back to Niel Gaimen's thoughts expressed through his character Richard Grey, we are reminded why many of us desire innocent escapism:
At least the Elric stories were honest.  There was nothing going on beneath the surface there: Elric was the etiolated prince of a dead race, burning with self-pity, clutching Stormbringer, his dark-bladed broadsword – a blade which sang for lives, which ate human souls and which gave their strength to the doomed and weakened albino.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Nifft the Lean - Review of Michael Shea's Book

Nifft the LeanNifft the Lean by Michael Shea
S.E.Lindberg's rating: 4 of 5 stars

More appropriately named “Nifft the Tour Guide” since the four short stories comprising this do not develop Nifft’s character or his motivations. His presence is a mere instrument for the author (or the author’s fictional historian, Shag Marigold) to describe entertaining adventures worthy of recording.

Shae offers a strange, effective mix: non-scary, detailed, weird narratives (this is weird fantasy to be sure, but a “fun” version). Readers should expect engaging, detail-packed guided tours through hell and otherworlds. There are battles and adventures, but one should NOT expect being terrified (it is not weird horror like Lovecraft) and do NOT expect heroic battles (Nifft is not Howard’s Conan).

Shae’s strength is his meticulous detail of strange worlds which can only be conveyed by using examples:
“Those waters teemed, Banar. They glowed, patchily, with a rotten orange light, and in those swirls of light you could see them by the score: little bug-faced ectoplasms that lifted wet, blind eyes against the gloom, and twiddled their feelers imploringly; and others like tattered snakes of leper’s-flash with single human eyes and lamprey mouths. And there were bigger things too, much bigger, which swam oily curves through the light-blotched soup. One of these lifted a complete human head from the waters on a neck like a polyp’s stalk. It drooled and worked its mouth furiously, but could only babble at us. All these things feared the raft, but you could feel the boil and squirm of their thousands, right through your feet. The heavy logs of the raft seemed as taut and ticklish as a drumskin to the movement of the dead below.” --- From the first story: Come Then Mortal--We Will Seek Her Soul
“Some grottoes, for example, were densely carpeted with victims whose faces alone retained their human form. The rest of their bodies—everted and structurally transformed—now radiated from each face’s perimeter in wormy coronas. They resembled giant sea-anemones. The souls within those faces still—all too eloquently—lived …
And there were others of our species who lay in nude clusters resembling the snarls of kelp which a northern sea will disgorge on the sand in storm season. Their legs and hips merged with central, fleshy stalks, while their arms and upper-bodies endlessly and intricately writhed and interlaced. These were the very image of promiscuous lust, but the multiple voice they raised made a hospital groan, a sick-house dirge of bitter weariness. Crablike giants, hugely genitaled like human hermaphrodites, scuttled over them with proprietary briskness—pausing, probing, nibbling everywhere.” --- From the third story: Fishing of the Demon Sea


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Thursday, May 17, 2012

ImagineFX - Frazetta Tutorials and Workshops

As discussed previously (Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta was a master at creating vivid, emotive works noted for beautiful depictions of human anatomy, typically with limited subjects centered in the image (for more on composition, I recommend reading Scott McDaniel's dissection of Frazetta's "Tanar of Pellucidar"). This post consolidates some of ImagineFX 's tutorials/movies honoring his style. 

ImagineFX is the premiere digital magazine for today's artists.  It takes a holistic approach toward creating art.  I was particularly attracted to its emphasis on combining traditional drawing/inking approaches with digital rendering (coloring).  ImagineFX is available by PDF and hardcopy magazine; they are known for providing digital content (images, textures, Photoshop brushes) on a DVD including videos of the artists creating their work (now being posted on their YouTube Channel).  The videos are not replacements for the magazine write-ups, and often do not have audio.  However, watching the enhanced time-lapse process in "real-time" is insightful for those learning how to compose a classic fantasy scene.  

Jean-S├ębastien RossbachFrank Frazetta style







Sunday, May 6, 2012

Horseclans 1-4 by Robert Adams - Book Reviews

The Coming of the HorseclansThe Coming of the Horseclans by Franklin Robert Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 starsView all his reviews

Fans of military fantasy with Sword & Sorcery traits will enjoy this (David Gemmell and Karl Wagner were better writers, but fans of theirs would enjoy this opener of the Horseclans series). The premise is ostensibly apocalyptic sci-fi, but really it appears as a gritty epic fantasy (i.e. no bullets or lasers or machines, just barbarian hordes, swords and some mutant-telepathy and immortality mixed in).

Cover artist Ken Kelly did a superb job, and arguably was more successful than the author in presenting/creating the world. Truthfully, it is worth tracking these out of print books down just for the cover art.  It is an interesting opening book, and since I am compelled to read the next book (Swords of the Horesclans) I rate it 4/5.

Swords of the HorseclansSwords of the Horseclans by Franklin Robert Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 3 of 5 stars ; View all his reviews

Epic in scope. A little less gritty than the the first in the series (Coming of the Horseclans), which featured gore, rape, and torture. Instead, the comical plight of Demetrios offers some levity. The logistics of battle are articulated nicely. The dialogue style is unnatural, however; essentially the dialogue is just more narrative from the author rather than genuine conversation. The primary battle is largely anticlimactic since we are constantly made aware that the antagonist army is uninspired and ill-prepared.

I admit to being enthralled by Ken Kelly's cover art. Compared to the text, the cover art disproportionally brings to life the post-apocalyptic North America "Horseclan" world. I am compelled to read the next in the series, though I am expecting less than after reading the first book.


Revenge of the Horseclans (Horseclans, #3)Revenge of the Horseclans by Robert Martin Adams
S.E.Lindberg rating: 4 of 5 starsView all his reviews

Inappropriately named “Revenge” (this nice read had little to do with Horseclans seeking revenge) this introduces the Kindred leader Bili as he assumes power of his clan after his ruling father’s death (the “Bili the Ax” title was reserved for installment#10 but would have made more sense here); again Ken Kelly’s covers seem to represent the book disproportionally… since at least it focuses on Bili and his Axe. This epic fantasy is plagued with some cheesy dialogue, but it is forgivable since the story develops nicely.

This installment continues to develop the Horseclan world at a nice pace while reinforcing the role of telepathy, Kindred Law, and the conflict between: (a) barbarian hordes, vs. (b) sensationalized-greek-religiosity vs. (c) lurking science-derived-warlocks. Bili is set up to have key roles under the Undying god Milo’s leadership.

A Cat of Silvery Hue (Horseclans, #4)A Cat of Silvery Hue by Robert Adams
S.E. Lindberg rating: 3 of 5 stars

This fourth installment continues Robert Adams' dense narrative. The antagonists are portrayed as "Christians turned crazed homosexuals bent on human sacrifice." Bili and Milo continue the quenching of the rebellion (which is still left unresolved...in mid-battle no less).

Disappointingly, the main characters consume the spotlight but do not perform much with their powers other than mindspeak (telepathy). A Cat of Silvery Hue really is about the average Geros, who rises to the occasion to perform heroic deeds that hundreds of nearby veteran warriors fail to address. Geros exhibits more "character" than any of the main characters, and the title is named in honor of his exploits. However, he is a marginal character whose presence is sparse.

I am left with the same feeling I get when I order a greasy hamburger to-go from a fast food joint, leave the drive though, and discover that I was given a chicken sandwich by mistake. I'll curse the restaurant, claim I will never come back, but will anyway after some time.

+ Geros is developed nicely
+ The fight scenes deliver as expected.
+ The Horseclans is very much like fast food.

- The main characters did not develop or perform exciting roles
- All the bad guys are blundering idiots with the exception of Drehkos
- Occasional erotica scenes are out-of-place and laughable
- The Horseclans is very much like fast food.


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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bloody Sorrel and Flowering Woad

Growing and Harvesting
I have entered Phase 3 of my series on making natural paints (Prior posts: Dyers Garden and Motivation to Make Paint and Making Natural Dye Workshop): growing and harvesting my own materials.  The unnatural warm weather in Ohio has been beneficial for this.  These images were taken ~April 2nd!  We'll see if they survive a possible hot summer.

Bloody Sorrel: 
My daughter demonstrates the red inking of her hand by plucking a leaf and scrawling with the stem:

Woad:  
My second year's growth of woad is doing well.  I had no idea how nice they smelled (being olfactory challenged, I was glad to register the scents of these blooms).  Despite Woad's reputation for being evil and invasive, I was still surprised it grew okay in our hostile clay soil.  My aim for these are to make both pigments and dyes; for the dye process, I'll need to either gather some urine (medieval processing required this)... or collect and use madder to change the pH of the dye precursors (I'll be trying the madder route/root :) ).  

Madder:
The madder patch is growing; note the black arrows that indicate new plants a foot away from the main plant that were the results from last year's rooting.  Given that the roots (not leaves) provide the nice red-pink color, harvesting requires decimating a portion of the patch.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review of C.S. Friedman's Dominion eBook


Dominion: A Coldfire Saga by C.S. Friedman
S.E. Lindberg Rates: 3 of 5 stars

C. S. Friedman fans will delightfully devour this Coldfire prequel. It takes place after the vivid prologue to the first Coldfire book but prior its first chapter. So it explains a bit of how Tarrant assumes control over the Canopy's Fae. It is engaging. And short. The length did not bother me since the eBook was well advertised as being a novelette (in fact, it is only available as an eBook).

However, from listening in on C S Friedman's Facebook page, I had assumed the prequel would occur even earlier in Tarrant's life and explain the events leading to the prologue. So, after reading Dominion, I was left hungry for more. In this light, this prequel did its job: I had a great time reading it and remembering the Coldfire series; I am even inspired to reread the trilogy now.

For newcomers to the series, start with Vol. One,  Black Sun Rising. Consider Dominion after that.