Raunch Reviews: Voltron: Legendary Defender

Raunch Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender

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: Voltron: Legendary Defender
Raunch Review: Voltron: Legendary Defender
The Author: Joaquim Dos Santos & Lauren Montgomery
Work in Question: Voltron: Legendary Defender
The Profanity: “Quiznak”

Overall, the Netflix exclusive Voltron Legendary Defender was well received by fans — and the writers took the time in this reboot to deeply explore various aspects of the lore. And among that lore, its language. Within the show are a number of unique Altean words. For example, I’m a big fan of “tick”—as a unit of measurement. But there’s one word that gets used as an obscenity over and over and the thing is… well, to be honest, I’m not sure it is a profanity. That word: “quiznak.” In fact, it uses are so varied and confusing that it seems to mean nothing at all. Here’s video proof so you can see what I mean.

More than anything “quiznak” wants to be profanity, but it’s not. It’s hard to understand where it falls within the language. It’s used as an interjection. (“Quiznak!”) It’s used as a noun. (“Shut your quiznak!”) It’s used as an intensifier. (“I will not have some quiznak-ing Galra soldier on the bridge of my ship!”) Its use is so broad that “quiznak” has lost any direction on the show. What is a quiznak exactly? What does it mean? How does it translate? Why is it so long—I assume the Altean language has drift. Even our most vile profanities are rooted somewhere—and they all have rules with their use. What we have here is a word without meaning—a formless censor-slip that serves as lazy worldbuilding. It is certainly unique. So, point-and-a-half for trying, I suppose.

Score: Half Swear (1.5)

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.


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

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

“Uniqueness” is the primary quality I look for when searching for source material for brush sets. As a rule, cartographers tend to gravitate toward standardization—and for a good reason, familiar signs and symbols allow for easier comprehension. While the uniformity we see today took centuries to homogenize, along the way we got some incredible deviations.

Today’s set highlights one of those departures, and it makes for a fine brush set that would serve any fantasy map well. Taken from 1686’s Isola di Malta etched by Francesco Donia who detailed the cities, towns, churches, and fortifications of the nation of Malta. I particularly like how Donia rendered the uniqueness inherent to each of the individual settlements. They’re all different! But these aren’t the slight Blaeu-like approach with subtle variations. Donia rendered individual buildings which allowed each city to feel unique and purposeful.

A sample of the Donia set

If you’re looking for flora, you’ll want to go elsewhere. This is a set focused on human constructions—cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, fort, even a fountain! It’s not as extensive as some sets, just a little over a hundred brushes. But, it will play well with any other flora-focused brush set so don’t be afraid to mix and match it’s your fantasy world! Do what feels right.

Within Donia, you’ll discover:

  • 33 Cities
  • 20 Churches
  • 2 Fancy Villas
  • 7 Forts
  • 10 Towers
  • 9 Unique Settlement Brushes
  • 20 Mountains
  • 10 Mountain Ranges
  • 12 Cartouches

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll work in GIMP as well) and a transparent PNG in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. Click here to view the PNG in your browser. Heads up: it’ll come up black and look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


Version 1.1 Update: Minor change in the description to be more accurate—from “Cartography” to “Settlement” want to make sure people realize this set is primarily focused on cities, towns, towers, churches, castles, etc. If you have v1.0 be aware there is no change to the content. (I do concede, the included mountains are pretty cool.)

As with all of my brush sets, Donia 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. While attribution is a part of the license, I personally don’t care. All I did was convert these into modern brushes, Francesco Donia did all the real work—so if you need to give someone credit, give it to him. (That said, it’s absolutely not necessary.)

Enjoy Donia!

Feel free to show me what you created by sending me an email or finding me on Twitter. I love seeing how these brushes get used, and I’d be happy to share your work with my readers.

💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Donia 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 book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook.

You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

And what’s a pulpy urban fantasy novel without a map? When my 2nd book in the series launched I shared a map detailing the expanded world, you can check it out here.

🗺 More Map Brushes

Donia isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. Below are links to other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles all free and all open for personal or commercial use, you should be able to find something that works for your project.

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

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush

Based on Joan Blaeu’s Terræ Sanctæ—a 17th-century tourist map of the Holy Land—this set includes a ton of unique and varied signs as well as a large portion of illustrative cartouches that can add a flair authenticity to any fantasy map. Elegant and nuanced, everything works within a system, but nearly every sign is unique.

Aubers: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Aubers: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

An 18th Century brush set based on a map from 1767 detailing the journey of François Pagès, a French naval officer, who accompanied the Spanish Governor of Texas on a lengthy exploration through Louisiana, Texas, and Mexico. A unique southwestern set with a few interesting deviations—including three volcanos!

L’Isle: A Free 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

L’Isle: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush Set

A departure from the norm, this set is based on the Plan Batalii map which was included in a special edition of The First Atlas of Russia in 1745. A detailed view of a battle during the Russo-Turkish War of 1735–1739. Canon! Units! Battles! Perfect to map out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

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

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

A 17th Century brush set based on the work of Georgio Widman for Giovanni Giacomo de Rossi’s atlas published in 1692. A fantastic example of Cantelli da Vignola’s influence and a solid set for any fantastic map. This is the workhorse of antique map brush sets—perfect for nearly any setting.

Walser: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

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 Free Sketchy Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy Maps

Lumbia: A Sketchy Cartography Brush Set

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: A Hatchure Brush Set

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.

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 →

Eating an Impossible Burger

Eating the Impossible

Yesterday, a few of my coworkers and I made our way down to Vonn’s 1000 Spirits here in Seattle with the intent to subject ourselves to a particular product that has recently been making headlines thanks to Burger King. That product? The Impossible Burger.

My Impossible Burger with mushrooms, caramelized onions, smoked gouda, pickled red onions, mayo—oh, and fries.

My grandfather ran beef cattle and during my formative years, I spent many days helping him on his small farm in rural Idaho. Because of that, I’ve been around high-quality beef for most of my life. I have issues with massive factory-farmed beef but I’ve never embraced vegetarianism. That said, I also don’t have some inherent machismo driving me to impress people with my meat consumption—at my core, I’m an omnivore. I’ll eat anything.

I came away impressed. To me the Impossible Burger tastes exactly like a burger, it’s amazingly juicy, and I didn’t have the gross grease-bomb feeling in my stomach you sometimes get after eating a big beefy burger. If there were any significant difference, I’d say the Impossible feels slightly denser—but not in a bad way, just more consistent with a snappier bite. If no one had told me I was eating faux-meat I wouldn’t have been the wiser.

I’d recommend trying it out for yourself. Impossible Foods has a handy locator to help you find its products in your neck of the woods. Version 2.0 has been so popular there’s been a bit of a shortage so it might be hard to find as they continue to increase production. If you want to know how it’s made (and it’s super cool) I recommend starting with their info on heme and learn how Impossible Foods makes their product tastes like the real thing.


Garden of Horrors: Lithops

Garden of Horrors: Lithops

I started this series to share disgusting plants—and typically we focus on plants that look like Lovecraftian monstrosities or those that ooze blood. Why? Well, because occasionally it’s nice to be reminded that real life is often weirder than fiction and nature can be just as (or more) disgusting than anything I dream up.

Today, however, I’m going to deviate away from the genuinely revolting, and instead focus on the strange. If we’re sticking with the horror theme, this plant would be the Gizmo of the plant world, or perhaps the Exogorth. Weird, maybe unsettling, and possibly bordering on cute… yep, I’m talking about Lithops.

Photographed by Egor V. Pasko – private collection of Ivan I. Boldyrev – CC BY-SA 3.0

Doesn’t it just look so happy? It’s like someone told it a joke. Sometimes these are called pebble plants or living rocks, and the reasoning is clear. These little succulents have fused leaves that allow them to camouflage themselves among stones—and occasionally they also look like goofy little puppets. So, you can see why I compared them to the adorable side of terror. (By the way, did you know Howie Mandel was the voice of Gizmo? No? Well, now you do!) Originally from southern Africa, these little pals have become a popular house plant over the years, and you can often find them at nurseries alongside their fellow succulents all over the world.

There are a great many varieties—well over thirty, and if I’m honest, they sprout some delightful blossoms. The “grossest” is probably Lithops verruculosa but even that variant with its little warts isn’t that disgusting. Perhaps “Garden of Horrors” isn’t the right classification for these cute little buggers. They’re weird but not horrible. If they’re anything, they’re very rude. Here’s a time-lapse of a lithops sticking its flower-tongue out at you.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, I’m grasping at straw with this one. These plants are adorable. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled horror-plants on the next installment of Garden of Horrors. Until then, happy gardening.

(Featured Image: “lithops” by Robin Kramer)

☠️ More Garden of Horrors

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 →

Watching History

Watching History

When I was a kid, I adored The History Channel (now rebranded as just History.) I could (and did) spend hours watching various documentaries on a whole smattering of historical times and events. But as time went on, things changed. Reality television rose in prominence and infected every channel. Scripted shows became more commonplace even on specialty stations. And while Vikings is fantastic, many of the time slots once devoted to actual history are now focused on conspiracy theory or propping up stereotypes. The beloved channel from my childhood has lost most of its luster.

Lately, I’ve discovered several sources that have filled the void left behind from The History Channel’s slow demise. In particular, a pair of unrelated YouTube channels that have rekindled some of that excitement I felt when watching history documentaries the mid-90s. I’ve been enjoying them a lot, and I’d love to share them with you as well.

🗝 Townsends

Townsends is a great many things. It’s primarily a cooking channel hosted by Jon Townsend focusing on 18th-century cooking using period appropriate methods, ingredients, and tools. But quite often it goes far beyond food and serves as an exploration into the daily life of the people who lived in early North America.

With over ten years of videos there a lot here and it’s all fantastic. Jon is a wonderful and engaging host who clearly cares about the subject matter. I’ve including a few of my favorite videos below, but I highly recommend subscribing to the channel and joining Jon as he “savors the flavors and aromas of the 18th century.” (Hope you like nutmeg.)

Food. As I said, Townsends is primarily a cooking channel and for a good reason. Eating is a constant in human life and an easy connection for writers to make when it comes to connecting a reader to a world. It’s fascinating to see the small nuances between 18th-century cooking and modern day.

Beyond the food, Townsends explores living in the colonies. There are videos about camping, marching, scurvy, map making, and eyeglasses… and there are series like this one about how canoes were made.

Ship’s biscuit or hard tack crops up all the time in history, but what is it exactly? How was it prepared? And, most importantly, how was it eaten? Thankfully the good folks at Townsends decided to answer those questions for us in this handy video.

Want More Townsends?

If you liked Townsends’ YouTube channel be sure to subscribe they’re always producing new content, and it’s the best way to be alerted anytime they release a new video.  Be sure to check out all the goods they offer on their website, follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

⚔️ Modern History TV

Businessman Jason Kingsley is one of the co-founders of Rebellion Developments, by day he makes videos games by night he is a historical reenactor who focuses on the medieval knight. (It also helps that he was actually knighted and holds an OBE title.) Along the way, he creates some fantastic videos that go into the details of everyday life for a knight with a focus on historical accuracy. He’s a great presenter, and the videos are full of heart and well worth your time. Here are a few of my favorites, starting (unsurprisingly) with food…

So yeah, I am including a lot of food-related videos, and for a good reason. As I mentioned above, food and our connection to it is one of the constant experiences in human lives. I think it’s vital for storytellers and world builders as well, after all… “what did they eat?”

The accurate medieval wardrobe is often ignored by movies and video games, focusing instead on our modern sensibilities and often ignoring reality. Jason’s dedication to exploring the truth is a refreshing change—if you liked this be sure to check out Jason’s video where he debunks the sword on the back.

Like clothing, armor is often overlooked. Many people don’t understand the time and effort it takes to equip a knight, and they rarely portray it accurately. In this episode, Jason walks through the effort required and how varied duties used different armors.

Want More Modern History TV?

As always subscribing to a channel is the best way to stay connected, but be sure to visit Modern History TV’s website where you can find out more about the project. You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook where they share more content about medieval life.

💭 What about you?

Is there a show or channel or blog you like that harkens back to the classic era of The History Channel. The sort of content that you walk away from feeling informed and inspired and itching for more knowledge? Let us know about it by either leaving a comment below or sending me an email. I’d love to find more sources like these.

Watching History

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 →