Friday, 27 February 2015

Old West Photo Friday: Home Life on the Frontier

Life for American settlers on the frontier was tough. They arrived with a few precious possessions they had managed to haul from their homes back east or in Europe and had to make the rest themselves.
Homes would often be makeshift affairs. The main priority was getting a crop in so they wouldn't go hungry the next year. The top photo shows a home in what's probably Oklahoma. It appears to be made out of turf blocks as was common for homes in the territory. Turf was free and easy to build with and had the advantages of being fireproof and a good insulator. This family has built their home against a hill to shelter it from Oklahoma's fierce winds.
The bottom photo shows the home of the Winslow family in the 1870s at Mount Ayr Township, Osborne County, Kansas. It's built of logs with mud daubed between them to keep out drafts. It appears to have a turf roof as you can see some grass growing on it. At least there's no cow!
The cabin is small for so many people, but life was lived mostly outdoors. It must have gotten claustrophobic during winter storms, however, and would give rise to "cabin fever". In Alaska and other northern areas, people could be trapped in these tiny cabins for weeks and sometimes went insane.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Book Review: The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years

The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred YearsThe Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a wonderful book. You won't find many novels like this one--a science fiction tale from Soviet Kirghistan that's critical of the Stalin era.
The story follows Burranyi Yedigei as he sets out to bury his friend Kazangap in the traditional cemetery of his people. As they ride across the steppe, Yedigei thinks about their life at an isolated railway junction. Stories of World War Two, romance, family, grumpy camels, traditional legends, and victims are Stalin's purges are all artfully woven together.
It's interesting that Stalin comes under criticism in this book. It was written in 1980 and apparently Stalin had fallen from grace at that point. Writers could now say things that would have gotten them killed when the dictator was alive. Aitmatov was still living in the Soviet Union, however, so he steers clear of any criticism of the overall system other than some poking fun and senseless bureaucracy.
Not far away from the railway junction, a Soviet cosmodrome is on high alert after members of an orbiting space station have reported getting into contact with aliens. This subplot doesn't add much to the book, I'm afraid, and while it does act as a way for the author to say something about human nature, it's already been said far more eloquently in the rest of the book. The book would have been just as good without the science fiction element.
The novel is too strong for this to detract from the whole. It's beautifully told and pulls you into a setting most of us have never seen. Highly recommended. It was the best book I read in 2014.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A new Toxic World short story available free online!

I've had another of my short stories published. This one is in the Toxic World setting I use for my post-apocalyptic novels, the first of which is Radio Hope. The short story is called The Garbage Miners and is available on the webzine Perihelion Science Fiction.

And if you missed my previous announcement, there's another Toxic World story called The Fish Eaters that's been published at Daily Science Fiction.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Travel Tuesday: Mysterious Stone Book in Vienna

Here's an odd little sign I spotted in Vienna last year. You'd think it would be hanging above a bookshop or library, but it isn't. Perhaps the building changed hands? Judging from the style, it looks like it was made in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Not that I'm an expert.
Austria's capital is a wonderful destination for art and culture. The museums are in old Hapsburg palaces and the cafes serve up cakes that will kill you with kindness. I got to thinking about Vienna yesterday because former Gadling colleague Pam Mandel wrote about a fun blog post about the Vienna flea market. Check it out. She's a great travel writer!

Friday, 20 February 2015

Old West Photo Friday: Cowboys shoot down a Thunderbird

My regular readers know that weird legends from the Old West are one of my favorite topics, and that includes the fabulous Thunderbird. This giant critter supposedly flew the skies of the frontier, scaring Native Americans and cowboys alike until one was supposedly shot down near Tombstone, Arizona. There was an article in the 26 April 1890 edition of the Tombstone Epitaph about two cowboys shooting a creature with leathery wings like a bat and a head like an alligator. They dragged it back to town and nailed it up to a barn, its wingspan covering the barn's entire length.

I've written about the Thunderbird before, and how photos of the beast have become an obsession with cryptozoologists. Several photos claiming to be of the Tombstone creature circulate around the Internet, along with several more showing Civil War soldiers bagging flying monsters, as well as this more modern shot that looks like it's from the mid-twentieth century. Sadly, while there are so many Thunderbird photos, no one seems to have an actual Thunderbird stuck up on their wall.

For more on this crazy story, see my posts on pterodactyl sightings in America and another photo of cowboys with a pterodactyl. I also wrote about it in my new booklet, The Weird Wild West: Tall Tales and Legends about the Frontier.

While I'm careful to use only public domain photos in this blog, I'm not sure this one is. If it's really as old as it appears, then it's public domain. It could simply be an old fake. If it's modern, then I'm in breach of copyright, but the only way the creator could sue me is if they admitted faking the photo! I'll take that chance. :-)

Friday, 13 February 2015

Old West Photo Friday: Cowboy Riding Jackalope

Here's an old postcard showing a cowboy riding the fabled Jackalope. While most Jackalopes are rabbit sized, sometimes they get big enough for cowboys to saddle them up and hop around the plains. A Jackalope, of course, is a cross between a jackrabbit and an antelope.

You can read about Jackalopes and a lot of other weird stuff in my new booklet out by Charles River Editors, The Weird Wild West: Tall Tales and Legends about the Frontier. There was a free giveaway on Amazon for the past couple of days, but since I was traveling up to Oxford I didn't get a chance to tell all of you. Sorry about that! I think a lot of people will be reaidng about Jackalopes this week because it made it to #271 on Amazon!

Charles River has come out with a second booklet of mine on The Trench Warfare of World War I. It got up to #338 on Amazon during the free giveaway. Sadly, that's also over. I should really get a Smartphone and start obsessively checking the Internet like everyone else. On second thought, I think I'll stay in the real world. That's where the Jackalopes live!

Photo courtesy Jackalope postcards, which has an amazing collection online. Seeing is believing!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Travel Tuesday: Lake Bled, Slovenia

Here's a shot from a hill overlooking Lake Bled, one of Slovenia's most popular attractions. Even on an overcast day it's beautiful. That's Bled Island and the Church of the Assumption, which has some fine 14th century frescoes and a church bell that gives good luck if you ring it. You get to it by hiring a boatman to row you out across the tranquil waters. On the cliffs above is an imposing 11th century castle. The small town on the lake shore is a bit touristy, so stay in one of the more isolated guesthouses further out.
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.