Ficsean Eolaíochta (Science-Fiction)

Atmo-Craft, Colin Wilson

An Atmo-craft from the Rogue Trooper story Marauders drawn by Colin Wilson

An Atmo-craft from the Rogue Trooper story Marauders drawn by Colin Wilson (Íomhá: © 2002 Rebellion A/S)

During a quick discussion over on CLR in relation to Joss Whedon’s short-lived Sci-Fi series “Firefly” I was reminded of the New Zealand comics’ artist Colin Wilson and the incredibly realistic hardware illustrations he produced in the early 1980s for “Rogue Trooper”, 2000AD’s future war series. Some of the best – and most convincing – designs in futuristic weapons and machines I’ve ever seen came from Wilson’s accomplished hands, hardly surprising given that many were clearly based on contemporary military products. From the Mil Mi-24 Hind, the famous Soviet-era attack helicopter, to the lesser-known Centurion main battle tank Wilson took real world inspirations and extrapolated their future equivalents in technically exquisite detail. One was left thinking that if such machines did not exist in the present they most certainly would do so at some stage in the future. After my first exposure to Wilson’s carefully engineered designs I spent much of my teenage years copying his style and still do so whenever I turn to Science-Fiction themed art. In a long and extremely varied career the New Zealander went on to contribute to the Star Wars franchise beginning in 2007 with artwork for the comic book series “Star Wars: Legacy”. However his influence is in evidence well before that through the likes of the “Low Altitude Assault Transport/infantry (LAAT/i)”, a CGI military aircraft that features in the 2002 movie “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and which bears an uncanny resemblance to the hardware designs produced by Wilson for the Rogue Trooper story “Marauders” way back in 1982.

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars movie franchise

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars movie franchise (Íomhá: © 2002 Lucasfilm Ltd)

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars universe

A Low Altitude Assault Transport or Republic Gunship from the Star Wars universe (Íomhá: © 2002 Lucasfilm Ltd)

 

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The Forge In The Forest, Ian Miller

Wraparound cover illustration for Michael Scott Rohan’s Ice Age-set Fantasy novel “The Forge in the Forest””, drawn by Ian Miller

Wraparound cover illustration for Michael Scott Rohan’s Ice Age-set Fantasy novel “The Forge in the Forest””, drawn by Ian Miller (Íomhá: © 1987 Ian Miller)

Ian Miller is a British artist whose distinctive, sometimes surreal style will be familiar to many readers of Fantasy and fantasy-tinged Science-fiction even if his name is not so much. Since the late 1970s his exquisite illustrations, executed most frequently in pen and ink, have graced the covers of countless publications, notably the Fighting Fantasy and Warhammer range of books and magazines from the Games Workshop. Perhaps my favourite examples of his work come from “The Winter of the World”, a trilogy of quasi-historical Fantasy books by the Scottish author Michael Scott Rohan set – unexpectedly - on the North American continent during the last Ice Age. In general I disdain the endless catalogue of High Fantasy tales published over the last four decades, a conveyor belt of faux Mediaevalism inspired by the commercial successes of the “Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” in the United States. Most are pale imitations of J.R.R. Tolkien or outright rip-offs (did anyone mention the “Sword of Shannara”?). All those Eddings and Jordans are as near to literary dross as it is possible to imagine, though thankfully there has been some light at the end of the tunnel in recent years with the emergence of writers like China Miéville and the popularity of urban-tinged fantasies (I haven’t read George R.R. Martin so I’ll reserve my judgement on his works. I will venture to say that they sound – the much heralded sex and gore to one side - distinctly traditional in both tone and setting).

However I was always impressed by Scott Rohan’s little series, despite its limitations and adherence to overly familiar formulae (the young hero unknowingly destined to greatness). Somehow his deft writing and commitment to an appealingly innovative pseudo-historic setting gave his publications a power that many other would-be fantasists would do well to take note of. I still have the books I first purchased in the late 1980s and In terms of literary merit I would place them well above many of their contemporaries, even those now regarded as “classics” of the genre. Unfortunately Michael Scott Rohan seems to have abandoned writing which is a great shame. By all accounts he was growing as a writer and one of his last works, the personally meaningful “Lord of Middle Air”, is particularly well-regarded.

However to return to Ian Miller, featured above is his 1987 cover for Scott Rohan’s “The Forge in the Forest”. It is perhaps not the best of his creative output but it is certainly one of my personal favourites. Appropriately a new collection of his artworks is now available, The Art of Ian Miller, and there is a glowing review by the Verge, as well as a typically idiotic LOL-speak overview from io9 (look at us! We’re cool! Really! Honestly we are! We’re happening! We’z bitchin’. We have lots of click-bait photos so please, please don’t stop visiting our website… Please…). Enjoy.

Cultus Obscuram – Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze

Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

The old cliché “…so bad it’s good” springs to mind when one watches the 1975 cinematic release “Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze”. Based upon the eponymous 1930s’ pulp magazine character primarily written by Lester Dent the film was intended to be the first in a series of purposefully old-fashioned adventure movies by legendary Sci-Fi entertainment producer George Pal that would cash in on the then box office popularity of nostalgia-themed dramas like the Sting (1973) or Murder on the Orient Express (1974). Unfortunately Pal’s release was missing the production values or high-profile casts of its rivals and was inevitably destined to be nothing more than an also-ran. It features an impossibly blue-eyed if charisma-free Ron Ely (formerly the star of the US television show “Tarzan”) surrounded by various well-known and not so well-known TV and B-movie actors of the 1970s hamming it up in fine old style. Given a script that unintentionally careers back and forth between the comic and the camp with the odd flair of the not-so-dramatic or not-so-thrilling the resulting hyperactive acting offers no surprises. Perhaps what is surprising though, especially given the cinematic heritage of George Pal (the man behind 1953′s “The War of the Worlds” and the 1960 Oscar-winning “The Time Machine”), is the mediocre special effects, including the use of almost wilfully fake-looking matte paintings and visuals. They really are poor, more at home in a cheap 1970s’ TV series than a mainstream Hollywood production. Shot in the tame and overly familiar landscapes of southern California or in poorly finished sets that look like rejects from an episode of “Columbo” even the appearance of a dangerous-looking fuselage-free helicopter does little to up the on-screen “wow” factor.

From a toe-curlingly awful supervillain who laughs manically at his own deviousness to ethnic stereotypes that span the range of mildly to deeply offensive there is much to be amazed by in Doc Savage. Perhaps the worse offender is a brutal (and I do mean brutal) Scottish accent borne by a stocky would-be assassin. Just about the only thing of real interest is an early appearance of the actress Pamela Hensley who went on to play the sultry alien princess Ardala in the SF television series “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. However with all that said Doc Savage is so gloriously silly that one can’t but help at times enjoying it. The fact that those who produced and starred in it obviously thought they were making what could have been a proto-Indiana Jones makes it all the more fun (in an admittedly cruel way). Bare chests (lots of that), dodgy accents, egregious stereotypes, hokey special effects, ratty-looking studio sets… what’s not to enjoy?

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1975

Pamela Hensley and Ron Ely in Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, 1975

Even A Fanboy Has His Limits

Speak no fanspeak, see no fanspeak, hear no fanspeak

Is it just me or is there now a dearth of thoughtful and well-informed websites and blogs on the genre worlds of Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature? Oh yes, the banner-heavy, paragraph-light sites that focus on the latest Marvel or DC movie franchises are in plentiful supply. However most of these flash-happy affairs have as much substance as a stick of candy floss; and are just as forgettable. When it comes to in-depth reviews, essays and analyses by people who know what they are talking about – and who aren’t afraid to break the taboos of fannish devotion – one is left clicking through page after page in search of something with a bit of intelligence and insight (who knew that Monster & Critics was still in existence? And by god is it awful). One longs for the likes of the Cimmerian, the now defunct US-based website devoted to Robert E. Howard, where people of real talent wrote with eloquence and wit on the works of Howard, J.R.R Tolkien and others. Ironically in some cases where good online venues did exist to examine or debate such matters their supposed “improvements” have actually managed to ruin them. Britain’s SF Crow’s Nest springs to mind (that is if you can actually find the current website via a Google search. Talk about SEO unfriendly. Not to mention the dubious honour of creating an internet site that actually looks worse than its pleasingly old school predecessor). Websites specifically focusing on the old reliables, books, comics and graphic novels, have now succumbed to the cult of infotainment-style soundbite-reporting on the latest rumour about the latest superhero flick. It is all so mind-numbingly inconsequential.

Is this the dreaded future of the internet that the critics warned us about? The sinking into the mire of collective mediocrity? How has fandom come to this?

An Irish Equivalent For Geek Or Otaku?

Gaeilge (Atari)

Gaeilge (Atari)

I was recently asked if there is an Irish word that is the equivalent of the Anglo-American term Geek or its Japanese near-equivalent Otaku (おたく/オタクおたく/オタク). I couldn’t think of anything unless one went for something like a crude Gaelicisation of the originals in the form of Geic (?) or Odacú (?). Then I remembered the Irish and Scottish literary genre of aislingí (“dreams, visions”),  stories and narrative poems that began in the Medieval period with mythological or ecclesiastical tales and which later developed a more political edge in the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries. Though principally focused on interactions with or expressions of the Otherworldly it often bore a commentary on current events. In this context the Irish word aislingeach, which means “dreamer, day-dreamer; visionary”, seemed a suitable equivalent for geek. A bit clunky though, given the subject matter.

Could others come up with a better or more organic term?

[Update]: Thanks to Méabh in Nua Eabhrac who claims that Aislingeach is too long and established as a word. It needs to be something (and I quote) “…with vocal punch” and a neologism to boot. I agree.

[Update]: Pól offers up on Facebook the word teicnóg for geek or geek culture. You could gloss that as “young-tech” which I kinda like. A lot! Though should it be teicóg?

[Update]: Well it seems that “officially” the Irish language does have an equivalent for the word Geek. It is Geocach which is “geoc-” (geek) with the “-ach” ending to make it a thing (in this case a person). To my ears it sounds rather unappealing and judging by the reaction it seems I’m not the only one.

So far on Facebook the suggested term Teicóg (loosely “young-tech”) is gathering some favour. So that would give us:

Teicóg = geek culture
Teicógach = a geek
Teicógaigh = geeks

Sladmhargadh, Karl Uhlemann

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

I’ve written before about my love of vintage book covers, especially those to be found in the genre fields of Science-Fiction and Fantasy (see my posts on Bruce Pennington as well as Chris Achilléos). So here is a wonderful in-your-face example from the mid-20th century Irish artist and designer Karl Uhlemann who illustrated some of Ireland’s best-known publications during his long career. The book is “Sladmhargadh” by Donach de Róiste, published in 1968 by the Dublin-based Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta (FNT), and taken from Hitone, a fascinating blog dedicated to Irish book covers and designs.

A Transgender Story Is A Human Story

Transgender rights are human rights. Something so obvious it should hardly need saying!

Transgender rights are human rights. Something so obvious it should hardly need saying!

Until the phenomenon of fandom engulfed popular culture (thanks to Joss Whedon, JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer amongst others) many a hardcore geek like myself found ourselves under much derision for our devotion to all things “genre”. That most of us did not match the thoroughly Americanised stereotypes that were foisted upon us, from Comic Book Guy to Big Bang Theory, mattered not a whit. On several occasions I found girlfriends, actual or potential, perplexed by the contrast between my outward public persona (how I was perceived by others) and what they learned upon getting to know me better. Apparently men who drive fast cars and live fast lives should not read books about alien spaceships and ever-living elves (tell that to the late great Iain M. Banks!). In fairness I always left a clue here or there to the multifaceted nature of who I am. The Converse shoes and Danger Mouse wallet were a dead giveaway, after all (or at least they were until the “mainstream” adopted such visual cues as their own). But then in real life as in drama some people prefer the one-dimensional.

However one thing most Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans could say in the defence of their interests, and rarely with challenge, was the openness of their minds. Not just on fiction or art, or even technology, but on society and humanity itself. Thing is, I’ve never met a racist Sci-Fi fan. No, truly. Nor have I met any homophobic ones. Oh, I’m not saying that such don’t exist. I’m sure they do. We’ve had the debates about Frank Miller and the excoriating of Orson Scott Card (on the latter I’ve always enjoyed the self-delusional rhetoric of “I hate homosexuality but I don’t hate homosexuals”. Which is like saying “I hate the Irish language but I don’t hate those who speak the Irish language”. And we all know what cerebral excrement that is…). However I personally have never encountered discriminatory views on… well, pretty much anything. The laissez faire live-and-let-live attitude of geekdom was one of its greatest merits. No doubt the new-found popularity of all things cult will make it in times to come a more accurate reflection of wider society (as just another consumerist product) but for now I believe tolerant liberalism remains at its core. In Ireland at least. So when it comes to sex and sexuality for instance, well if you’ve read and understood John Varley’s Steel Beach or any of Banks’ Culture series it is a bit hard to become worked up about people’s biological preferences. Honestly, who cares? Or to put it another way, why not?

As always I ramble on but this discursive introduction brings me to a genuinely touching and very personal post by the blogger Aoife Hart which I thought I’d highlight. It’s in the form of an open letter from Aoife to a niece she has never met nor it seems likely will ever do so. The reason for their enforced separation? Aoife is a transsexual woman, a corrective of one of the quirks of nature that her family seem unwilling to accept. To be perfectly honest I find people’s hesitancy with or the inability to accept transgender men and women beyond my comprehension. I wear reading glasses. Should I not do so because my “natural state” is to be myopic? My youngest sister had her tonsils removed because they left her frequently unwell and susceptible to illnesses. Should she have not done so because tonsils are a “natural part” of who she was? Human physicality and physiognomy is constantly subject to artificial change, change to what we want it to be or to what it should be. The female religious fundamentalist who claims that improvements to the human condition are “against nature” is the very one who will dye her hair with caustic chemicals and daub her lips with colours containing fats from a pig’s arse.

I will say no more on the posting for it is a personal matter and it is not my place to do so except to direct you to the letter itself.

That Alan Moore Interview

Alan Moore

Alan Moore (Íomhá: © Comic Vine)

The Ard Rí of Irish Sci-Fi and Fantasy fandom, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, has managed to secure a lengthy Q&A with the elusive and frankly legendary British comics writer Alan Moore over on his Slovobooks blog. Even more impressively it has been highlighted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and others which has probably sent his stats meter into meltdown. I highly recommend a read of something which has stirred up much controversy in the world of genre fiction.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach for the link]

From The New Sun To Dune, Bruce Pennington

The Claw of the Conciliator by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Claw of the Conciliator”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1981 Bruce Pennington)

The Citadel of the Autarch by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Citadel of the Autarch”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1983 Bruce Pennington)

Following the positive reaction to my brief post highlighting the career of the British illustrator Bruce Pennington (notably his artwork for the 1980 book cover of Gene Wolfe’s classic science-fantasy publication “The Shadow of the Torturer”) I thought I’d feature a few more of his best regarded images. These include two more wraparound illustrations for the baroque stories relating to the character of Severian the Torturer (above) as well as his seminal works for the dust jackets of Frank Herbert’s “Dune Messiah” and “Children of Dune” (below). Unfortunately I can only find the former in its published form, complete with title and blurb, but it still displays the exquisite nature of Pennington’s art, the use of one dominant colour in variable shades of pastel highlighted by flashes of brighter colour. For many in European fandom Bruce Pennington along with a handful of other artists very much encapsulated the “look” of Sci-Fi and Fantasy book covers throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s. By the last decade of the 20th century the brasher and more workmanlike art styles of the major US publishers gradually came to dominate, particularly with the use of generic “stock images” that frequently bore little relation to the stories they purported to portray, and the era of the “painterly” technique was over.

Dune Messiah by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover for Frank Herbert’s science-fiction sequel “Dune Messiah”, illustration drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1981 Bruce Pennington)

Children of Dune cover by Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Frank Herbert’s third novel in the Dune series, “Children of Dune”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1982 Bruce Pennington)

Thankfully the growth of digital artwork and design has somewhat reversed the restrictions on artistic expression and vision placed by budgetary concerns in the world of publishing and a new body of artists have emerged albeit frequently working in a much more photorealistic style. I shall examine some of the better examples of that later. Meanwhile below is a crop image from another work by Bruce Pennington, the British frontispiece for the cover of the now rarely encountered “Dune Encyclopaedia” edited by Willis E. McNelly with the co-operation of Frank Herbert and published in 1984. Based upon the latter’s Dune series of novels it has long been out of print due to the notoriously litigious nature of the Herbert estate under his son Brian Herbert, who has penned a series of novels with hireling writer Kevin J. Anderson based upon his father’s works that bear little relation to the “in-universe” materials found in the encyclopaedia. While many regard the information created or compiled by McNelly as “canon” (including in part Frank Herbert who wrote an introduction for the publication) others follow Brian Herbert in discounting its importance. Personally I found the 2000s’ Dune sequels and “prequels” by Herbert junior unreadable and prefer the original works, though admittedly by the time of 1981’s “God Emperor of Dune” Herbert senior had certainly lost his artistic way.

The Dune Encyclopedia by Bruce Pennington

A crop image from the frontispiece illustration of the wraparound cover by Bruce Pennington for the “Dune Encyclopaedia”, the history of the Dune universe written by Willis E. McNelly with the approval of author Frank Herbert (Íomhá: © 1984 Bruce Pennington)

Publishing News From Scotland And Ireland

Tim Armstrong, author of the award-winning Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach

Tim Armstrong, author of the award-winning Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach (Íomhá: Scotsman)

Congratulations to the author Tim Armstrong on his award from the Saltire Society, one of Scotland’s premier cultural organisations, for his Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach. From the Scotsman newspaper:

“AN AMERICAN writer has landed one of Scotland’s flagship literary prizes – with the first ever Gaelic science fiction novel.

Tim Armstrong, a former singer in a Gaelic punk rock band, has scooped the Saltire Society’s prestigious “first book” prize with his book “Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach” (On a Glittering Black Sea).

The debut from 46-year-old Armstrong, a trained biologist who is now an academic at the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, features two musicians at the centre of the book’s plot.

Unveiled at the Aye Write festival in Glasgow earlier this year, it is billed as a mix of “space-opera adventure, dark cyberpunk, romance and rock-band road-trip drama.”

Armstrong, who was born in New York but brought up in Seattle, moved to Scotland 13 years ago and quickly immersed himself in the music scene in Edinburgh, where he formed a Gaelic punk band “Mill a h-Uile Rud”, which translates as Destroy Everything, while he was studying the language. 

Armstrong cites the late Iain M Banks and Frank Herbert as major influences on his writing, which has been championed by the independent Gaelic publishing firm Clar, based in Inverness. 

The judging panel for the first new book honour – which was first awarded by the Saltire Society in 1988, said of “Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach”: “Tim Armstrong has brought the counter-culture of his native Seattle to shape the first genuine sci-fi novel in Gaelic. 

Armstrong’s novel was one of two Gaelic books on the Saltire Society’s main shortlists for literary honours this year. 

One of the contenders for its overall Scottish Book of the Year was Màiri Dhall (Blind Mairi) by Duncan Gillies, who hails from Ness, on the Isle of Lewis.”

President Michael D Higgins with Micheál Ó Conghaile, one of the editors of Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, and Colm Ó Raghallaigh, who published the graphic novel version of Gráinne Mhaol

President Michael D Higgins with Micheál Ó Conghaile, one of the editors of Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, and Colm Ó Raghallaigh, who published the graphic novel version of Gráinne Mhaol (Íomhá: Irish Times/Johnny Bambury)

Some good news for Irish writers and publishers too in the Irish Times with the announcement of this year’s winners of the Leabhar na Bliana:

“President Michael D Higgins was in attendance to give the top awards to two books from publishers in the west: Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, which won Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin best book in Irish for adults; and Gráinne Mhaol, which was awarded Gradam Réics Carló for the best publication for young readers.

Connemara-based Cló Iar-Chonnacht have produced a bible of a book in Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, the big book of songs, with 400 sean-nós songs from the four corners of Ireland brought together under one cover. Collected and edited by Micheál Ó Conghaile, Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg and Peadar Ó Ceannabháin, the book contains the complete text of each song with notes on who composed them and where they originated.

Meanwhile, Mayo’s Cló Mhaigh Eo travelled the high seas themselves in search of Gráinne Mhaol, a full-colour graphic novel which tells the story of the famous pirate queen Granuaile.

The text, written by Brazil-based Gisela Pizzatto and illustrated by Bruno Bull, has been translated into Irish by Donegal native Iarla Mac Aodha Bhuí.”

Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos, Chris Achilléos

Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos by Chris Achilléos 1978

Cover illustration “Raven, Swordmistress Of Chaos” by Chris Achilléos (Íomhá: © 1978 Chris Achilléos)

Chris Achilléos is a Cypriot-born British artist who came to prominence in the 1970s and ‘80s with illustrations for a large number of books and magazines in the Fantasy and Sword ‘n’ Sorcery genres. Instantly recognisable for his exquisitely rendered female figures, invariably beautiful, frequently belligerent, he became widely known amongst fans through several best-selling art-collections that remain popular to the present day. His obvious delight in painting muscular, female warriors who stared defiantly from the covers of countless publications contrasted at the time with the willowy, weak-limbed princesses favoured by many of his contemporaries. Aside from the stunning and much-loved “Elven Warrior”, a 1983 wrap-around jacket for Michael Moorcock’s seminal high fantasy work “Elric at the End of Time”, his most famous artistic production is “Raven, Swordmistress of Chaos” drawn for the cover of a 1978 book of the same name by Richard Kirk (the shared nom de plume of the authors Robert Holdstock and Angus Wells). However in this particular case the fame came incidentally through the Irish-British musician Kate Bush who along with the designer Pamela Keat chose the illustration as a source of inspiration for the costume she wore in the music video of her 1980 hit “Babooshka”.

For a gallery of more magnificent artworks by Chris Achilléos please visit here.

Kate Bush from the music video Babooshka in full Chris Achilléos inspired style

Kate Bush from the music video Babooshka in full Chris Achilléos inspired style (Íomhá: © Kate Bush/Parlophone UK)

Death Dealer, Frank Frazetta

Death Dealer by Frank Frazetta 1973

Standalone painting “Death Dealer” by Frank Frazetta (Íomhá: © 1973 Frank Frazetta)

The name of Frank Frazetta will conjure up for many some of the most luscious and artistically accomplished Fantasy art to have been produced over the last 60 years. From the 1950s to the early ‘90s the American artist established his fame with a host of covers for books, magazines and comics not to mention music albums and movie posters. Working first in pen and ink and then blossoming through the traditional medium of oil paints he defined the look and feel of High Fantasy or fantasy-tinged Sci-Fi art for an entire generation of fans and fellow artists, spawning numerous imitators. His exquisitely rendered images for such classic series as Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom sequence remain seminal examples of the genre. However for many his most iconic work is the 1973 painting “Death Dealer”, a mysterious warrior figure which took on a life of its own.

For more on the works of Frazetta the website “frankfrazetta.org” provides a categorised list of well-stocked galleries while “americanartarchives.com” provides a rather shorter number of images (including this favourite of mine – for obvious reasons).

The Shadow Of The Torturer, Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe's science-fantasy classic The Shadow of the Torturer, drawn by Bruce Pennington, 1980

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Shadow of the Torturer”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1980 Bruce Pennington)

For lovers of science-fiction and fantasy book art from the 1970s and ’80s the name of Bruce Pennington looms large. He is indelibly associated with some of the greatest writers of the era, his baroque images gracing the covers of such diverse publications as Frank Herbert’s “Dune” or Harry Harrison’s ” Stainless Steel Rat”. However for many his most accomplished professional creation is the atmospheric jacket illustration he produced for the first hardback edition of Gene Wolfe’s 1980 novel “The Shadow of the Torturer”. Frequently copied, rarely matched, it remains a textbook example of book art, technically perfect in almost every respect. Though collections of his work are now long out of print they are certainly deserving of a new compendium. There are more Pennington book covers here.

Cultus Obscuram – Knightriders

Knightriders, the 1981 film by George A. Romero. Never heard of it? The very definition of a cult movie!

Knightriders, the 1981 film by George A. Romero. Never heard of it? The very definition of a cult movie!

In the oft-played Geek game of “Cultus Obscuram” I’ve yet to be beaten, whether it is in the arena of movies, TV programmes, books or comics. Undoubtedly my winning hand when it comes to contesting a knowledge of cult films is the truly obscure 1981 George A. Romero effort “Knightriders” (note the plural) notable for its leading and only star, a young and frequently stripped-to-the-waste Ed Harris, and the acting appearances of Horror author Stephen King and his wife Tabitha (the former sporting some rather odd-looking facial hair). Hailing from the era when Home VHS was starting to drive the growth of the newish phenomenon of Fandom, the story itself is an overly self-referential Arthurian tale in modern dress, with motorbikes for horses and misfits for knights. This is delivered via the medium of the most inanimate acting and bum-squeezingly awful dialogue you are likely to see outside of a fan-made Star Wars movie.

However its very awfulness does lend it a quaint charm of its own, the portentous mystical musings are fun (and quotable), you can play spot the 1980s’ B-movie actor or actress, and some fans actually see it as a sort of template for life. Which is the very definition of a cult film.

Find your inner adolescent Geek and enjoy.

Steampunk In Ireland

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona (Íomhá: Joanne Pasternak)

Because there is far too little Steampunk in Ireland, here are some links:

Steampunk Collective Ireland

Steampunk Ireland

The Josie Baggley Company

Talking to a friend a few days ago who is a sean scoil Steampunker I found him frustrated by the way the movement in Ireland is subsumed into the cod-Victoriana of the Pax Britannica, even by Irish adherences, with no distinctive identity of its own. The conversation actually came about as part of a discussion relating to the Fenian fáinne Chladaigh and other 19th century Irish Republican memorabilia. Recently he has moved towards the more welcoming environs of the Belle Époque and his Continental peers and it easy to see why. I’ve written a few unpublished stories in the Steampunk genre myself, using the struggle of the Fenian movement against the British colonial powers in the mid to late 1800s as the background with one Séamas Ó Muircheartaigh as the hero (better known to some as Professor James Moriarty).

So is there a distinctly Irish Steampunk aesthetic? I believe there is – or at least there could be. And what of a name as Gaeilge? The term Gaelpunc is probably another example of Béarlachas (not to mention that some might understandably take it as a reference to Gaelic/Celtic Punk). It would probably be right up there with other poor Gaelicisations like “Fantaisíocht. Ugh!

So, any suggestions?

UPDATE: So this post is my second mention in a year on the satirical hipster webzine Broadsheet.ie. They will probably hate me for describing them as hipsters, but honestly is there anything more hipsterish than sarcasm? I of course strongly deny being a hipster myself. I’m not sure about the “Gaelster” accusations though (apparently speaking Irish is now considered the very definition of “hipster” in Ireland!). It went under the headline “Fenian Steampunk” which to be honest I sorta like (though that might not have been the intention). There was actually a large market in “Fenian literature” in the late 1800s and early 1900s that has been all but forgotten now. Several authors made a living from it, as did a number of illustrators. There was even some Fenian “scientific romanticism” or Science-Fiction added to the mix (e.g. “A Modern Daedalus” by Tom Greer, 1885). So we certainly have some precedents on our side ;-)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

UPDATE TWO: It seems I have upset Portadown Belfast journo Newt Emerson. Oh dear. And when I regularly post articles surely more offensive to Status Quo and Unionist sensibilities than this entirely innocuous one? Its a funny old world. But at least he was kind enough to link to this piece and so help to surge today’s number of visitors. Which was nice… :-D