Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Travel Tuesday: Disturbing Artifacts in the Royal College of Physicians, London

Good for what ails you. Also a tasty snack!
I just got back from a research trip to England and managed to get a day in London to see friends and pop into a couple of museums. I made a point of going to the Royal College of Physicians, which has an excellent exhibition on the famous scientist and occultist John Dee. I'll be writing that up for Black Gate tomorrow for my usual Wednesday post. Today, though, I'd like to share some of the medical artifacts they have in their regular collection. If you like to complain about the level of your health care, just be glad you weren't born a couple of hundred years ago!
A surgeon's kit from 1653. Many of the original instruments are still in it.
"Hold still, this won't hurt a bit." Contrary to popular belief, surgeon's sometimes did use painkillers before the invention of general anesthesia. Opium was common, as was alcohol.

A preserved baby's caul from the 19th century.
Gold "touch piece" coins c. 1660-1685. These were used in public healing ceremonies by British monarchs from the 15th century onwards, although the belief that a monarch could heal by touch dates to far earlier. It was believed that God granted the monarch the ability to cure scrofula ("the King's illness") a form of tuberculosis. Charles I cured some 100,000 of his subjects by placing one of these around their neck. They were worn at the end of a ribbon like a pendant and were called "angels" after the image of the Archangel Michael that decorates them. George I ended this practice in the 18th century, thinking it was all silly superstition. With the modern rise of new strains of TB, perhaps Queen Elizabeth will renew the practice?

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Insecure Writer's Support Group: What, it's February Already!!!???

Welcome to another post from the Insecure Writer's Support Group, where once a month we poor suffering writers air our insecurities to the world. This is the second post for this year, and that brings me to this month's insecurity.

Yep, all those New Year's resolutions have been delayed a month. January was filled with freelance work. I needed the money, folks, and my own projects had to go on the back burner. Besides a bunch of stuff for Upwork clients, I was also doing the edits for my next book from Osprey Publishing, an illustrated history of the Apache Wars, due out in the summer. Those edits took so much of my time that I didn't even get to blog last week.

I did get to do some work on The Last Hotel Room, a novel set in contemporary Tangier. I didn't finish it like I had planned, but it's almost there. Now that February is upon us and I have a lot of big freelance projects behind me, I'll be able to finish that and start, Emergency Transmission, the fourth in my Toxic World series of post-apocalyptic novels.

Now hopefully I can catch up and finish all my plans for 2016 by December 31. . .

So how did your January go?

Monday, 1 February 2016

Book Review: Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars

Monsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars: An Unnatural History of the AmericasMonsters, Giants and Little Men from Mars: An Unnatural History of the Americas by Daniel Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun little book on cryptozoology, the study of animals that aren't supposed to exist. You get all the usual ones here like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, as well as stranger ones like the Bunnyman of Washington DC and my personal favorite, the globster. Cohen also goes beyond traditional cryptozoology to cover obviously folkloric creatures that no one ever thought existed, known fakes such as the Cardiff Giant, and UFOs. You also get the original Men in Black, not the movie.
It's all done in a breezy, fun style that doesn't take itself too seriously. The book is a bit short, so "serious" students of cryptozoology will want to consult works by more encyclopedic researchers such as Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark. This would be good for a young adult reader, though, and is wonderful grist for a writer's mill.

View all my reviews

Friday, 22 January 2016

Military History Photo Friday: Colonial Forts in Morocco

This shot shows the Casbah de la Cigogne, a 17th century Spanish fort protecting the harbor of Larache in Morocco. The coastline of Africa is studded with old colonial forts, many of which are falling into decay. This one is now a hangout for the local drug addicts. You can read more about the fort and the city it protected in a post about Larache I did for the Black Gate blog.

A view of the Casbah de la Cigogne from the seaside. Photo courtesy user Dans via Wikimedia Commons. When we were there the sun was right behind the fort so all I got was a silhouette. Timing is everything in photography!

Below is part of the 15th century Portuguese fortifications in Asilah, a notorious pirate haven on the Atlantic coast. For more on this cool spot, check out my Black Gate post on Asilah. I blog every Wednesday on Black Gate, usually on travel mixed in with the occasional book review or con report.

For more on colonial forts in Morocco and elsewhere, check out the excellent website Colonial Voyage. They have a good article on Portuguese forts in Morocco.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Book Review: The Job, Interviews with William S. Burroughs

The Job: Interviews with William S. BurroughsThe Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs by William S. Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a Burroughs fan, I was looking forward to reading a book about his writing techniques. Unfortunately that isn't what this book is. While you do get some information about his cutup method and other ideas on writing, most of the book is about the man's philosophy. Special focus is given to the idea of words as a virus, along with some rather overly enthusiastic ideas of using the cutup method in tape recordings for mind control. There are also passages on addiction, government control, anarchism, sex, and much more.
My main problem with this book is that it is, itself, sort of a cutup. The vast majority of the material is from his other works, so if you've read a lot of Burroughs like I have you end up discovering that much of the book isn't new to you. Someone just getting into Burroughs would probably get more out of this book than someone more familiar with his work. Even so, it's more fun to read the original works in all their craziness. This book is for completists only.

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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Travel Tuesday: Mohammed's Birthday Parade in Tangier

When I was in Tangier last month, the Muslim world was celebrating the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. While it's an important holiday, in Tangier it doesn't come with as many celebrations as New Years or Ramadan. A few shops were closed and there were groups of young men going around my neighborhood pounding on drums and singing religious songs like they do for every holiday. The main public celebration that I saw was this parade, which went down one of the main streets in the new city.

These are students from a local madrasa, a religious school. The plaques are a traditional way to practice writing out the Koran. When you graduate you get your diploma on one.

I stumbled upon the parade by accident so I only had my phone with me, not my main camera. It was hard to get good shots because Moroccans, just like Europeans, always crowd around anything interesting and start snapping pictures with their phones. Some even took selfies! Yeah, the selfie is an international phenomenon. Oh well. So I missed getting some shots of some of the marchers in the parade and the bull being led to the slaughter, later be eaten at a feast in the prophet's honor. Here are the shots I did get, in the order the parade passed me.

"Where are the women?" my wife asked. Well, there were these little girls all dolled up in the back of a pickup. They were the only ones.
These musicians were pretty cool. I'm not sure what region they were from, probably in the Atlas Mountains. I've never seen costumes like this before. There are still large sections of Morocco I need to see!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

My Writing Year: A Look Back And A Look Forward

The year 2015 was a pretty productive one for me. Two of my series got to book three. My post-apocalyptic science fiction series saw the publication of We Had Flags, and No Man's Land became the third in my Trench Raiders WWI action series. My House Divided series of Civil War horror got its second installment with The River of Desperation. I also came out with a collection of speculative short stories called The Rat Killer and Other Weird War Tales.

This year is going to be a busy one too. In 2016, I plan to come out with several books. Right now I'm finishing up The Last Hotel Room, a novel set in contemporary Tangier that deals with the refugee crisis. There's a reason I've been doing all those writing retreats in Morocco!

I'll also be coming out with the fourth installment of my Toxic World series, Emergency Transmission. The residents of New City have to deal with an environmental disaster that could wipe out their settlement, and discover that the Righteous Horde might be coming back. Fans of my Trench Raiders series will get Under the Front. The men of Company E join the tunnelers in an attempt to dig under the German lines. As usual, the mission does not go as planned! In addition, there will be a horror novella set in Viking Greenland, another about the Apaches raiding Mexico to get revenge on some scalp hunters, and a couple of other projects still bubbling away in my brain pan. Stay tuned!
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.