Michael Moorcock

The Best Bookstore

“…the best bookstore would have no genre labels in it at all. That’s absolutely been my aim all along: to get rid of those distinctions.”

Michael Moorcock


As someone who prefers his stories to be a cross-genre, this line really resonated with me. The quote comes from a great little write up from a recent appearance by the man himself where he discussed his work and his time at New Worlds. It’s worth a read.

I’m Going to ECCC (Again)

I’m Going to ECCC (Again!)

In less than a month I’ll be attending Emerald City Comic Con for my second year in a row! (Read my Debrief for 2018 here.) Just like last year ECCC ’19 will be more of a work-focused convention. I won’t be running a table or appearing in any panels—the plan is to spend most of my time networking and catching up with some friends and fellow writers.

That doesn’t mean I’ll be a curmudgeon hermiting away in some dark corner. I’ll be sitting in on panels, wandering the show floor, and generally enjoying myself. If you see me—I look like this—please say “hi!” I love to meet up with readers, and it’d be great to chat with you. Don’t be afraid to stop me. As I said last year, I’m as much a fan as I am a writer and I love talking with readers and fellow fans.

I really enjoyed myself last time, and I’m looking forward to diving into the masses once again. If you’re in town and are interested in attending ECCC runs March 14th–17th at the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle. You can find out waaaay more info over on the official site. As of this post, there are still tickets available for Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. But they’ll go fast, so don’t wait.

Should be a good time. I hope to see you there!

Raunch Review: Friday

Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.


Raunch Review: Friday
The Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Work in Question: Friday
The Profanity: “Slitch”

Heinlein has had his share of fans and detractors, and certainly, Friday isn’t his best-loved book by either group. (A few years ago, Jo Walton wrote a great review for Tor.com, ‘The worst book I love: Robert Heinlein’s Friday,’ which is worth reading.) Within the near-future world of the novel, there a pernicious vulgarity which we’re going to examine today. The word: “slitch.” Regardless of your Heinlein hot-take—something about this vulgarity works too well.

In the novel, the titular Friday —an “Artificial Person” or “AP”— must pass in the near-future world as a human, despite being genetically engineered and possessing mental and physical abilities which far exceed a normal person. There’s a lot of hate and bigotry toward APs. And throughout Friday, we see a world where society is built upon intolerance. In an environment like this, creating a portmanteau like “slitch” fits. (I’ll let you figure out its roots.)

“Slitch” builds off history — twisting and combining a pair of vulgarities we, the reader, recognize while still creating a new word. Its score is slightly held back because understanding its roots require a working knowledge of our modern vulgarities. (We value pure originality here at Raunch Reviews.) But, it feels as icky as its history and its link to the past goes a long way toward creating an effective piece of faux-profanity.

Score:  (4.0)

Previous Raunch Reviews


Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.


 

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Many engraved maps from the 17th century, especially Italian maps, were heavily inspired by Italian cartographer Cantelli da Vignola and his influence extended throughout lifetimes. In doing map research, I thought it’d be great to look into his impact and from that, I decided it was necessary to build out an enormous set of new free brushes for your fantasy maps. (It’s a sickness, okay.)

Today I’m releasing Widman, a brush set of Italian design named after the engraver. The symbols in this set are pulled from the 1680 Alta Lombardia map of Northern Italy, engraved by Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. It’s a solid set with a heeeavy focus on mountains (over one-hundred!) as well as a wide variety of forts, villages, cities, and towns.

Widman: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

I find when creating your own map, it’s helpful to have a variety of brushes with subtle differences for each symbol. It adds a hand-made quality to the work. No engraver is perfect, ink bleeds, and the tooth of the paper can affect printing. The quickest way to making a fantasy map look machine-made is the repetition of the same symbol over and over and over. With that in mind, the Widman set is enormous allowing for the subtle differences to help make your map feel more alive and vibrant—it gives the work a human quality.

Inside Widman you’ll find, over 500 brushes, including:

  • 25 Villages
  • 40 Towns
  • 45 Cities
  • 25 Forts
  • 14 Fortified Cities
  • 16 River Crossings
  • 50 Individual Trees
  • 50 Forests
  • 100 Mountains (Hope you like mountains.)
  • 50 Mountain Ranges (As I said.)
  • 42 Hills topped by Settlements
  • 7 Unique Settlements
  • 36 Administration Symbols
  • Plus More

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. You can see the transparent PNG here (it’ll come up black if viewed in Chrome, but it’s all there.)


DOWNLOAD WIDMAN


As with all of my brush sets, Widman is free for any use and is distributed with a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License that means you can freely use it in commercial work and distribute adaptations. All I did was convert it to brushes, Georgio Widman did all the heavy lifting—so giving him credit would be fantastic, but it’s absolutely not necessary.

If you like the Widman brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and would like to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my weird speculative fiction novels. (The first books is only $2.99 on eBook.) You can find them in stores and online, learn more about the series at bellforgingcycle.com.

I hope you enjoy using Widman, it was a labor of love and I think it’s robust enough to handle all manner of projects and help give your fantasy maps a refreshing and unique edge. Plus that extra connection to history can make a project feel alive. Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email! I love seeing how this stuff is used and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.


Want to see the other cartography brush sets I’ve created?

  • Walser

    An 18th Century brush set based on the work of Gabriel Walser with a focus on small farms and ruins and a solid set of mountain and hills. This is a great brush set to see how Vignola’s influence persisted across generations. It was etched over 80 years after the Widman set but you’ll find a few familiar symbols within.

  • Lumbia

    A sketchy style brush set I drew myself that focuses on unique hills and mountains and personal customizability. My attempt at trying to channel the sort of map a barkeep would draw for a band of hearty adventurers. It includes extra-large brushes for extremely high-resolution maps.

  • Lehmann

    Named after Austrian topographer Johann Georg Lehmann creator of the Lehmann hatching system in 1799, this is a path-focused brush set designed for Adobe Illustrator that attempts to captures the hand-drawn style unique 19th Century hachure-style mountains.


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Trip Report: Amsterdam

Trip Report – Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a great many things. It is a city with vice, but it is not a city of vice. There’s a difference there. Cities of vice like to plaster their wares everywhere. They write it in neon on the skyline, they shout it from the street corners. Amsterdam, in its old European way, is a bit more subdued about it. But that doesn’t stop people from talking.


“When you mention you’ll be making a stopover in Amsterdam, you get a reaction I can only describe as semi-collegiate. A knowing look… as if there can really only be two reasons you’d go to this lovely little city of canals.”

Anthony Bourdain


I feel like I need to get this out of the way immediately. Bourdain was right, mentioning Amsterdam draws all manner of looks and questions. That means diving into Kari-Lise and my trip without discussing Amsterdam’s reputation is difficult. The most significant difference between the Dutch capital and your hometown, is the Dutch are pure capitalists. They organize their vice neatly so it can be taxed and generate money for the state. That’s preferable to the American practice of outlawing it, sweeping it under the rug, and pretending it doesn’t exist until it becomes a problem. The truth is that Amsterdam, for all the illicit happenings, happens to be a diverse, lively, and beautiful little city with a fantastic food scene, tons of culture, and incredible architecture.

On this trip, we were once again joined by our expat compatriots Kelcey Rushing and Jim Rushing. It was Kari-Lise and Kelcey’s birthdays, so we were able to celebrate as we went on a whirlwind exploration of the city. Since this vacation was very city-focused, I’ll share some of the more memorable experiences and hit on the different places we visited throughout our eight-day trip.


Amsterdam

Our canal-side apartment was in Jordaan on the northwest side of the city. It was a twenty-minute walk from nearly everything, and we discovered that it was easy to put six or seven miles behind us throughout the day. Amsterdam—to put it mildly—is beautiful, even in winter. Canals are everywhere. They crisscross the city, cutting beneath roads and emerging between buildings. Amsterdam is extremely walkable, but if you want to get out of the rain, you’ll usually find a tram that passes by your destination. I could spend days walking in the city — each corner offers a new vista, and discovering the nooks and crannies was enticing.

One of the nearby canals in Jordaan.
One of the nearby canals in Jordaan.

Amsterdamers are diverse, friendly, and welcoming. The food culture is fantastic, with a ton of street food, from the traditional cone-of-frites with hefty helpings of mayonnaise to automats tucked away on the street level of four-hundred-year-old buildings. If you want something fancier, you can find plenty of that as well: I’d recommend checking out Lion Noir on the south side of the canal belt or Springaren toward the north.

Make sure you swing through an Indonesian restaurant or two — due to the Dutch East India Company’s colonization in the 1800s, there’s a significant presence of Indonesian and Surinamese people within the city. This influx brought Southeast Asian cuisine to the Dutch, which led to the creation of Rijsttafel—a large family-style meal consisting of small spicy dishes served with rice. It’s a delicious experience and well worth trying.

Our adorable apartment in Jordaan

Over the next several days, we hit up a few of the more traditional museums to fill our quota of Dutch art. (Those Rembrandts aren’t going to view themselves!) But, since we’re Atlas Obscura disciples, we also tend to seek out the strange. Before our trip, I quickly assessed the weirder side of Amsterdam. You tend to find a lot of odd little bits in a city this old, and Amsterdam is packed full of curiosities. We explored a museum of cat art, had high tea in the smallest house in Amsterdam, visited a collection of odd and esoteric books, found a Catholic “house church” hiding in the upper levels of a 17th century canal home, and we took a morning to spend some time looking through a collection of anatomical anatomy and congenital defects on the outskirts of the city. Even with all of that, I felt like we had only scratched the surface.

It’s easy to see how there are whole swaths of the city we missed. Which means there are so many more places to explore. Amsterdam will be a perfect pit stop for a few days whenever we return to the Continent.


Bruges & Haarlem

The last three days of our trip was spent outside of Amsterdam. On the Rushing’s suggestion, we rented a car and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive down to Belgium, with Bruges as our destination. The Netherland and Belgian landscapes are vast and flat; huge windmills turn in the distance and hydroponic farms line the ancient canals, open fields, and miles upon miles of greenhouses. The Netherlands have become agricultural giants, and you can see it in the countryside.

Kari-Lise, myself, and Jim walking down a quiet street in Bruges - Photo by Kelcey Rushing
Kari-Lise, myself, and Jim walking down a quiet street in Bruges – Photo by Kelcey Rushing

We arrived in Bruges by mid-afternoon. The city, with its narrow streets and canals, is an Amsterdam in miniature. But where Amsterdam didn’t see life until the 13th Century, Bruges has been settled since the 9th Century. So its buildings tend to be older than those you’d find in Amsterdam, with a few dating from medieval periods.

Being a Belgian town, chocolates glisten from shop windows, waffles are available on street corners, and pommes frites served in paper cones are as ordinary here as they are in the Netherlands. Also with it being Belgian, it’s no surprise that Bruges has a great beer scene! Many beer cellars peddle Belgian ales beneath the ancient buildings. Kelcey and Jim had a few picks from their previous visits. My favorite was ‘t Poatersgat (The Monk’s Hole) who specialized in only independent Belgian brews—with a focus on Trappist beers—many of which are unavailable outside of the country. It’s located in the vast cellar of an old building and accessible by a tiny door that leads down into the hall. The place has a feeling of a cistern or catacomb. A great vibe with reasonable prices, and a friendly and helpful staff.

Bruges canals
Kari-Lise and the canals of Bruges

Sadly, we didn’t get to spend much time in Bruges. But I was glad I went: I could see the appeal, and I’d certainly make a return visit. We drove north to Haarlem on the final full day of our trip skirting the coast and seeing the vast Oosterscheldekering waterworks. It’s an impressive feat of engineering.

Haarlem is a small city to the northwest of Amsterdam, with a relaxed vibe. It’s a bit slower paced than the frenetic energy of the capital and quieter than the destination town of Bruges. It was a relaxing way to end a fast-paced trip such as this; and with easy access to Amsterdam, it’s not a bad place to stay if you want quiet nights away from the hustle and bustle. The following morning, after breakfast and a wander through a farmer’s market, we headed to Schipol and then made our way home.


Advice & Tips

If Amsterdam sounds like your sort of place, I do have a few bits of advice:

  • Scope out the weirdness on Atlas Obscura. (Heck, do this for every trip you take.) It’s a great resource and is usually full of non-touristy stuff that is worth checking out.
  • Get thyself an Amsterdam City Card. We didn’t do this, and it would have saved us some money on trams and museums. It also makes it even easier to get around.
  • Hit up Eater’s recommendations for Amsterdam food. We found a lot of great restaurants this way, and mapped them out ahead of time. This made it simple to pull up ideas when we needed them.
  • If you’re a hearty traveler who doesn’t mind chilly weather, you can score super cheap tickets to Europe in the offseason. It’s worth exploring prices in October/November to see what you can find in January/February. By all accounts, summer in Amsterdam is quite crowded. Our off-season travel meant finding tables and seats were easy. Something to consider.

Amsterdam was a wonderful experience, and I will certainly be going back. It should be a destination city for everyone. There is a massive amount of things to do, see, and eat. We could have easily spent another week among the canals and even with extra time, I doubt we’d have exhausted the city.

Thanks again to Kelcey and Jim for joining us on the trip, and being willing to bum around the town. Amsterdam is one of their favorites — they had been many times before, and are gracious enough to indulge our bright-eyed wonder. It was a lot of fun. (I told you after Scotland they’d show up on future trips!)


“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

— G. K. Chesterton


Travel is important. It’s important for understanding other cultures. It’s important for fully grasping the weight of history. It’s important for understanding others. We’re lucky to live in an era when traveling around the world is easy and reasonably accessible. It lets us experience how others live in a physical way. Losing oneself within another culture helps build empathy and open up new perspectives extending beyond our own narrow silos.

As a writer, it’s important to acknowledge that we live in a world of stories. Exploring the narrow alleyways or deep canals of a city can reveal ideas. We can find new characters lingering beneath street lamps on remote corners and hiding in doorways down tight alleys. It’s common to stumble across plots etched in architecture, history, or the twisting street plans of an ancient city. Ideas, concepts, and characters we might not have discovered sitting at home. So, get out there. Travel. Meet people. Listen to them. Be humble and get uncomfortable.

As I write this, it’s been over a week since our trip, and we’re getting back into our routine. I’ve settled back into work, and I’ve dived back into writing. The pages of Gleam Upon the Waves won’t write themselves, and there’s a specific caravan master who’s in a bit of a jam. Time to travel back to the Territories and see where his story leads.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

A Video Tour Inside Roald Dahl's Writing "Hut"

A Video Tour Inside Roald Dahl’s Writing “Hut”

Today Boing Boing shared this great interview/documentary with Roald Dahl from 1982—one where he gives a little tour of his writing “hut,” shares insight into his interests, and talks about his daily routine. After watching, I knew I had to share it here as well. I’ve always been fascinated by other writer’s spaces and routines I think where and how we work—be it a shed, a hut, a home office, a coffee shop, or a nook—says a lot about us as creators.

If you want to know more about Dahl’s hut, there’s a great article from the BBC that details it even further. Apparently, it was inspired by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ own space which is also detailed in the piece. It’s worth checking out.

Dahl’s hut is now apart of the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, England.