Category Archives: Incidentals

Raunch Review: Babylon 5

Raunch Review: Babylon 5

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: Babylon 5
Raunch Review: Babylon 5
The Author: J. Michael Straczynski
Work in Question: Babylon 5
The Profanity: “Frag”

Look, it gives me no great pleasure in going after an incredible and beloved science fiction show for faux-profanity related gaffs. And it’s no secret that censor-slips aren’t looked at too kindly around here. But they’re familiar, and if I have to deal with them, you do as well. It’s in the rules or something. Babylon 5’s “frag” is yet one more embarrassment in a long-running tradition among television, so we all knew it’d eventually have its day.

We all know what’s implied. It’s not cute, nor is it all that clever. With one notable exception (“Shazbot”), censor-slips tend to be unimaginative and lazy, and we see that here as well. Four letter word, starts with “f,” you get the idea—nudge nudge, wink wink.

But, “Frag” is worse. Since the Vietnam War, it has become common military slang—and because this is a show with a substantial military theme, we see it used as both a censor slip and in its traditional sense. Which only makes it weirder and adds in awkwardness. It’s easy to see the ingredients that lead to it, but in the end, it does little to enhance the universe of Babylon 5—if anything, its mishmash use takes something away, and that’s the worst disservice dialog can perform within a story.

Score: Half Swear (0.5)

🤬 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 it’ll take a little while before it ends up here. I have a lot of books to read.


Braun: A Free 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Braun: A Free 16th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set for Fantasy City Maps

Many fantasy cartographers were excited when I launched Gomboust, my first brush set focused on the urban environment. I immediately starting making plans to release a second set. After all, what’s a fantasy setting without a wondrous city to explore?

Today I’m proud to release Braun, a 16th-century urban cartography brush set based on the incredible work of Georg Braun take from Civitates orbis terrarum—easily one of the most significant volumes of cartographic antiquity featuring bird’s eye maps of over five hundred and forty Renaissance cities. As you can imagine, this was a massive project, and it involved many more artists and cartographers. (A more extensive list is on Braun’s wiki page.) Georg Braun was the principle on the project, so the naming honor goes to him. Most of the signs extracted for this set came from the prints of Lyon, GhentUtrecht, and a bit from Paris. Every map was a little different, and I focused on making sure the size, print quality, and line work all worked seamlessly together. With so much more out there, I could see a Braun supplement coming in the future as well.

A sample of Braun's brushes

I really like the density represented in these symbols. Every little building is rendered no matter how mundane, and the added detail gives an extra layer of texture to a map. It feels vibrant and alive and has a “lived-in” quality that’s perfect for the right fantastical city map.

As I mentioned when I launched Gomboust, wielding these brushes is more advanced than topographical sets. To capture your vision, you’ll want to plan or at least have a decent knowledge of your tools. Spend some time with the brushes, learn what’s available. Be willing to edit and adjust them, it’ll allow you to make critical decisions and help fully realize your vision.

A second sample of the Braun set

Braun isn’t enormous, but it’s effective. Its simple style and strong linework make repetition harder to spot, especially if symbols are merged and edited together. It includes the following:

  • 20 Single Homes
  • 20 Groups of Homes
  • 40 Small Blocks
  • 30 Large Blocks
  • 35 Unique Blocks
  • 20 Churches
  • 10 Small Bridges
  • 5 Large Bridges
  • 20 Dead Trees
  • 30 Leafy Trees
  • 20 Unique Points of Interest
  • 20 Windmills
  • 10 Crosses
  • 10 Walls
  • 10 Wells
  • 10 Fountains
  • 10 Shadoofs
  • 10 Boats

The button below links to a ZIP file that contains a Photoshop brush set (it’ll also work in GIMP) as well as a set of transparent PNGs in case you’re using a program that doesn’t support Adobe brush files. I’ve separated them by type: City Blocks and Points of Interest & Flora. They’re black, and they’ll look broken if viewed in Chrome, but trust me, they’re all there.


DOWNLOAD BRAUN


As with all of my previous brush sets, Braun is free for any use. I distribute my sets with a Creative Common, No Rights Reserved License (CC0), which means you can freely use this and any of my brushes in commercial work and distribute adaptations. (Details on this decision here.) No attribution is required. Easy peasy!

Enjoy Braun? 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. Let me see what you make!


🌏 Braun In Use

Want to see this brush set in use? I put together a sample map using Braun. There are three versions, a black and white version, one colored, and a decorated sample. Click on any of the images below to view them larger. Perhaps this will inspire you in your projects!

Braun - Example    Braun - Colored    Braun - Decorated


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like the Braun brush set (or any of my free brushes, really) and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it. You can find all my books in stores and online. Visit bellforgingcycle.com to learn more about the series. Tell your friends!

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


🗺 More Map Brushes

Braun isn’t the only brush set I’ve released. You can find other free brush sets with a wide variety of styles over on my Free Stuff page. Every set is free, distributed under a CC0 license, and open for personal or commercial use. I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that works for your project.

Ogilby - DecoratedOgilby: A Free 17th Century Road Atlas Brush Set

Taken from John Ogilby’s 1675 book Britannia, Volume the First, this set allows the creator to recreate road atlas from the 17th century in stunning detail, placing the traveler’s experience front and center. With over 800 brushes, this is my most extensive set to date and useful for a variety of projects. Several bonus downloads are also available, as well.

Van der Aa Sample Map - DecoratedVan der Aa: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This regional map set is based on a map by Dutch cartographer and publisher, Pieter Van der Aa. It’s a beautifully rendered version of the Mingrelia region of northwest Georgia. While not as extensive as other sets, the size of the map allowed for larger brushes that helps highlight the uniqueness of each symbol. It also features a failed wall!

Gomboust: A 17th Century Urban Cartography Brush Set

My first brush set to focus on creating realistic maps for fantastical urban environments! Gomboust is a huge set, and its symbols are extracted from Jacques Gomboust’s beautiful 1652 map of Paris, France. His style is detailed yet quirky, isometric yet off-kilter, packed with intricacies, and it brings a lot of personality to a project.

Harrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetHarrewyn: An 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

Based on Eugene Henry Fricx’s “Cartes des Paysbas et des Frontieres de France,” this set leans into its 1727 gothic styling and its focus on the developed rather than the natural. It’s hauntingly familiar yet strikingly different. If you’re looking for more natural elements, Harrewyn works well alongside other sets as well.

Popple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush SetPopple: A Free 18th Century Cartography Brush Set

This set has quickly become a favorite, and it’s perfect for a wide variety of projects. The brushes are taken from 1746’s A Map of the British Empire in America by Henry Popple, and it has a fresh style that does a fantastic job capturing the wildness of a frontier. Plus, it has swamps! And we know swamps have become a necessity in fantasy cartography.

Donia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush SetDonia: A Free 17th Century Settlement Brush Set

While not my most extensive set (a little over one hundred brushes), Donia boasts one of the more unique takes on settlements from the 17th century. If you’re looking for flora, I suggest checking out other sets, but if you want to pay attention to your map’s cities, towns, castles, churches, towers, forts, even fountains, then this is the right set for you.

Blaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush SetBlaeu: A Free 17th Century Cartography Brush Set

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: An 18th Century Cartography Brush SetAubers: 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: An 18th Century Battlefield Brush SetL’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 for mapping out the combat scenarios in your fantasy stories.

Widman: A 17th Century Cartography Brush SetWidman: 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 SetWalser: 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 robust set of mountains 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 Cartography Brush SetLumbia: 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 SetLehmann: 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. This set works perfectly in conjunction with my other sets from the late 18th century.


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 →

Raunch Review: Firefly

Raunch Review: Firefly

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: Firefly
Raunch Review: Firefly
The Author: Joss Whedon
Work in Question: Firefly
The Profanity: “Gorram”

Joss Whedon’s much-beloved Firefly did a lot of fascinating things with language. The mixing of refined Mandarin Chinese with backcountry dialects helped layer a world with a myriad of linguistic possibilities. Throughout the series, we see this intermingling of language with many characters shifting between English and Mandarin as they talk. While many bits of “profanity” are uttered in Mandarin, the word we’re looking at today isn’t one of them.

The minced oath “gorram” crops up a lot. Unlike the interplay of language, this term happens to be more of an exploration of linguistic drift borrowing from a more blasphemous origin and becoming a bit of a minced oath. (Not unlike “by golly,” “gadzooks,” “holy moley,” and “jeepers,” before it.) From a language standpoint, drift is essential. The English we speak today would sound like a foreign language to English speakers from five hundred years ago. So it’s easy to see how five hundred years in the future common parlance has shifted and corrupted further. Language tends to drift towards ease—words are simplified and shortened; binary becoming singular is a common occurrence. We see that with “gorram”—a drifting portmanteau of “god” and “damnation.”

As it stands as both a minced oath, a curse, and an example of linguistic drift “gorram” is a fantastic example of faux profanity. While you couldn’t do it for the entire show—it’d be impossible to understand—it’s nice to see little touches like this sprinkled throughout. They help a world feel as though it’s evolved; it gives it a sense of history.

So “gorram” does Firefly justice. But, you might be interested to know while generally attributed to Firefly, that short-run series wasn’t the first use of “gorram” in the English lexicon. Its origins are actually much older.

Score: Half Swear (5.0)

🤬 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.


William Gibson

A Shopping List

“I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list – the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it.”

William Gibson


From Conversations with William Gibson edited by Patrick A. Smith. While I love this quote, this particular interview conducted in 2011 by David Wallace-Wells is excellent as a whole. An extended version of the exchange is below but you can read the whole thing over on The Paris Review, “William Gibson, The Art of Fiction No. 211.” (Paywall.)


David Wallace-Wells: How do you begin a novel?

Gibson: I have to write an opening sentence. I think with one exception I’ve never changed an opening sentence after a book was completed.

David Wallace-Wells: You won’t have planned beyond that one sentence?

Gibson: No. I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes, shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.

E. M. Forster’s idea has always stuck with me—that a writer who’s fully in control of the characters hasn’t even started to do the work. I’ve never had any direct fictional input, that I know of, from dreams, but when I’m working optimally I’m the equivalent of an ongoing lucid dream. That gives me my story, but it also leaves me devoid of much theoretical or philosophical rationale for why Me story winds up as it does on the page. The sort of narratives I don’t trust, as a reader, smell of homework.


FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images


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 →

Crafting Cuttac, Part One

Crafting Cuttac, Part 1

My free map brushes for fantasy maps are designed to replicate specific eras of cartographic development—usually aping styles from the 16th or 17th centuries. As a result, they tend to be focused on line art, which works quite well with early printmaking. While I love those old styles of maps dearly, I’ve wanted to try something a little different. Stretch my creative muscle as it were. I’ve recently hit a few knots in my revisions of Gleam Upon the Waves, and I find that I brainstorm better when I can channel some of my energy into something creative, and it’s not uncommon for me to make random maps.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for a new writing project. So I decided to work on a map for that setting. For now, I’ve given it the working title, Cuttac—mainly because it sounded cool in my head. I thought it’d be fun to do all this worldbuilding publically, so welcome to Crafting Cuttac, a new series where I reveal the process of how I develop a fictional world.


✏️ Stage One – Continents & Islands

Using my tablet, I sketched out the continents and islands of the world of Cuttac. I focused on vast oceans and fewer chunky continents in favor of something a little more dynamic and fluid. I kept the brush small (2px, Soft Round) to highlight the details within the world. (You can click on any of these images to view them larger.)

Crafting Cuttac, Stage One - The World Outlined
The basic outline of the landmasses on Cuttac.

🏗 Stage Two – Structural Work

I decided on foresty green as the base color for the ocean—mainly to be different, but I have some ideas that it’s referencing as well. (More on that in the future.) After that, I filled the outlined continents and islands with a base of white. As of now, I have three layers: the outline, the white landmasses, and the green ocean background. This is all structure, as I can down hide objects and patterns behind the white shapes and use each as a base for image masks. It’ll make trying different effects really easy and non-destructive—helpful in experimentation.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Two - Structural Work
The islands and continents pop a lot more when placed against a darker background. After seeing the continents rendered like this, I’m really like these landforms. Feels very natural.

🌊 Stage Three – Ocean Depth

With the structure work done, it was time to move onto the topography. Mountains influence rivers, rivers influence settlements, and settlements create civilization and so on—so it’s fairly essential! Since it’s big and bold, I figured I’d start by doing some testing on the ocean floor. Primarily working in transparent layers to simulate depth. For this, I started using the cloud brushes from Kyle’s Concept Brushes (now apparently included with Adobe Creative Cloud) and just swirled ’em around using my cheap tablet.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Three - Ocean Depth, Test One
This was my first test with the ocean depth, and I was pleased with the result but felt it lacked definition.

Each color was on a separate layer then blended together using Blend Modes and Opacity adjustments until I achieved the effect I wanted. There was no system to this, I just did it by feel. I felt it was working, and I got some positive feedback, but I didn’t feel my first approach was detailed enough. So I started smaller and worked with more layers and a broader color ramp to simulate depth. The smaller brushes helped a lot and let me get more elaborate with undersea ridges while still achieving the painterly effect, I liked.

When finished, I was worried its boldness would overpower the landforms. So, when complete, I dropped the ocean down to an opacity of 65% —it softened everything significantly. You can see a comparison below.

Crafting Cuttac, Stage Three - Ocean Depth, Final Result
Original bold coloring on the left with the softened final version on the right.

🗺 More to Come in Part Two

That’s where I am for the end of Part One! I think the softer ocean colors will help the terrain pop when I get started on that. I’m going to try to use a similar style for the elevations but stick with even smaller brush sizes and utilize a standard topography color ramp. I think nine “stages” will work well.

Crafting Cuttac - Elevation Color Ramp
A simple color ramp showing shifts in elevation, left is sea level, right is the highest peaks in the continents

Hopefully, you enjoyed this series! There will be much more to come in Part Two. I’m going to be delving into the above-water topography and figure out the placement of the rivers. It should be fun!

Any questions, ideas, or advice? Feel free to leave a comment below or contact me. Want to make your own maps but don’t know where to start? I can help! Be sure to check out Free Stuff to download any of my free brush sets or to check out one of my Tutorials with practical step-by-step guides at getting started.


💸 Supporting This Work

If you like my brush set, tutorials, or map experiments like this one, and want to support my work, instead of a donation, consider buying one of my speculative fiction novels. The first book—The Stars Were Right—is only $2.99 on eBook. I think you’ll dig it.

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

The Bell Forging CycleNot interested in my books but still want a way to support me? Buy me a coffee.


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 →

Color Out of Space

It’s Just a Color…

The Colour Out of Space is arguably one of the best—if not the best—H. P. Lovecraft stories. Plus, this is directed by cult-filmmaker Richard Stanley. (I highly recommend his film Hardware and the documentary Lost Soul, which tells the story of Stanley’s attempt to create a film based on H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.) And to top it all off, this is being produced by the folks who made Mandy—one of my favorite campy horror flicks!

I’m sold. Sign. Me. Up.