Thursday, 18 September 2014

Forgotten Masters of Fantasy and Science Fiction Silent Film

Satan at Play, bu Segundo de Chomón, 1907.

As you may know, I blog every Wednesday over at Black Gate. For the past two weeks I've been delving into my love of silent film. Ever since I was a kid I've been captivated by these early movies and as an adult I've been doing some research into them. Two early directors who have been all but forgotten are the subject of my recent posts.

Segundo de Chomón was a Spanish director who in the first decade of the twentieth century made some two hundred films, mostly fantasy and horror. Walter R. Booth of England was another early pioneer, starting in films in 1899. He created the first science fiction film trilogy with his Airship Destroyer series from 1909-11.

Both directors used techniques such as animation, split screen, jump cuts, superimposition, multiple exposures, and stop motion animation to make their special effects. Even though their films are more than a century old, many of these effects hold up surprisingly well. Check out the links to the articles and you'll find more links to their best films. Most early films were less than six minutes long so they make a perfect break from work. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Book Review: The First Shot (Caleb Thorn Book 1)

The First Shot (Caleb Thorn #1)The First Shot by L J Coburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was originally published in 1973 during the high point of the men's action paperback genre, and is definitely a product of that time. This quick, easy read relies on sex and violence rather than plot and characterization to entertain readers.
The title character Caleb Thorn is an unsympathetic cad, a Southern gentleman who cares about no one except his mother (and cares about her way too much). Early in the book, he kills a man in a duel, and by a series of circumstances ends up in the Union army under the command of the boy's father. The officer sends Thorn off on a suicide mission with a group of condemned men.
This is a well-worn formula but it works here. The action scenes are fast-paced and believable, and the tension is unrelenting.
I could have used some more background on the supporting cast. For example, one man is an expert on explosives (there's always an explosives expert in these things) but it's never explained where he got this uncommon skill. The whole book seems somewhat rushed, and padded out with sex scenes that are often distasteful rather than enticing.
If you're looking for an unchallenging read with lots of Saxon Violins (as they say), this may be for you. It's available as an inexpensive ebook from Piccadilly Publishing.

View all my reviews

Friday, 12 September 2014

Wild West Photo Friday: J.W. Swart's Saloon in Charleston, Arizona in 1885

Working on my next Osprey book about the Apache Wars has got me reading a lot about Arizona. I've touched on Arizona history before with a different Osprey publication on Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Ride.

In relation to that already published book, here's an image of J.W. Swart's Saloon in Charleston, Arizona. They look like a friendly group, don't they? Charleston was a rough town situated nine miles southwest of Tombstone. It was right across the San Pedro river from Millville, so named because it milled the silver ore mined from Tombstone. The milling process required more water than was available in Tombstone, so the ore had to be shipped down to Millville.

Charleston was where the men who worked in the milling plant lived. It was a rough town and a meeting place for the infamous band of rustlers called the Cowboys, who would have a date with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday at the OK Corral. The Clanton family, who were prominent among the Cowboys, had a ranch not far from Charleston. One wonders how many outlaws are in this picture.

Charleston has all but disappeared. The collapse of Tombstone's mining industry in 1886, and an earthquake in 1887, pretty much erased Charleston from the map. All that's left of this wild west town today are a few foundations in a lonely stretch of desert.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Book Review: A Motorcycle Courier in the Great War: The Illustrated Edition

A Motorcycle Courier in the Great War - The Illustrated EditionA Motorcycle Courier in the Great War - The Illustrated Edition by W.H.L. Watson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is gripping account of the dispatch riders who delivered messages just behind the lines during World War One. Lots of good English stiff-upper-lipness and casual drinks under fire. The period covers the earliest battles such as Mons and the Aisne, and ends with first Ypres. This makes it especially valuable to WWI buffs since there aren't as many good books about the opening months of the war as there are for later periods.
This illustrated edition has some fine photographs of the early battlegrounds as well as the couriers and their machines.
I wish there had been some more info about the motorcycles. Like many enthusiasts, the author seems to assume that everyone knows as much as he does! It also assumes knowledge about the war itself, since the book was cobbled together from Watson's diary and letters home.
This book won't be of much value to someone just getting into reading about WWI, but anyone with a firm grasp of the early phase of the war will find this a quick, enjoyable read.

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Monday, 8 September 2014

Writing 2,000 words a day

I'm chugging along with my 2,000 words a day challenge, only taking time off when I'm traveling or hiking. Yesterday was my first day off when I went to climb La Peñota mountain near Madrid.

Other than that break, I've been right on target. Once you have some writing experience under your belt it isn't actually too hard of a challenge, and the pages really start to pile up. I still have time during the day to edit, work on nonfiction projects, and search for freelance jobs on Elance. That last bit hasn't been bearing fruit, I'm afraid. There are a lot of time wasters on there.

One trick I've learned is to stop just after 2,000 words, even if I still have ideas. I let those ideas bubble in my head until the next day, so the writing starts more easily.

Besides my book projects, I've been doing more short stories, and have joined the Write 1 Sub 1 weekly Challenge. It's just what it sounds like--you commit to writing and submitting one story a week. This was my first week. I wrote two flash fiction pieces, one a humorous Western and the other set in my Toxic World post-apocalyptic series. I wanted to submit them to Everyday Fiction, but their submission form was down this weekend. Grrr. I also started a story set in my Trench Raiders WWI series which I'll finish this week. So 2.5 stories written, no submissions.

OK, back to writing!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Military History Photo Friday: Vesta Tilley, Crossdresser for the Empire

As World War One raged in Europe, the home front in England mobilized to support the troops. Women played an especially important role. For the first time, large numbers of women were allowed to work in heavy industry, making ammunition and other tools of war. Others worked as doctors and nurses, and some even went to the front as drivers and mechanics.
One woman became famous helping the war effort in a different way. Vesta Tilley was a stage star, and when the war started she thought up a new act. Conservative England was shocked when she appeared onstage in uniform. Dressing as men was simply not something respectable women did. Not even many disreputable women did it! For such a famous entertainer to cross such a line was unheard of. Princess Mary and her ladies in waiting were said to hide their faces behind their fans in embarrassment when Tilley came on stage.
While her act raised eyebrows, she was still hugely popular as a singer and entertainer. Then as now, people flocked to see something controversial, and found themselves caught up in a recruitment drive. Tilley, dressed in her uniform, would sing a patriotic song about brave men joining up as she walked through the audience. She'd pick men not in uniform, hook them by the arm, and lead them down to a recruitment desk by the stage.
It's unknown how many men Tilley "conscripted" in this fashion, but I saw an interview with one old woman who remembered how Tilley led her husband away. She got really mad, not only for him signing up and leaving her alone with the children, but for being so obviously attracted to Tilley!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Dinosaurs and weird cures at the Oxfordshire Museum

"Physicians agree" this steam bath cabinet is absolutely safe and good for the health!
I may be back in Spain, but I still have plenty of photos from England to share with you! In our last week in England we went to Woodstock, Oxfordshire, to visit the newly opened Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum. I'm pitching that story to a magazine, so I'll keep those photos for a while Instead here are some shots of the Oxfordshire Museum, a local history museum next door.
Jump the cut for more photos!

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

You can also find him on his Twitter feed and Facebook page.