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So, apparently, some people actually believe that the world is going to end today. These people are mostly Americans. ...Look, I'm sorry, OK? If I'd stayed and devoted my life to attempting to enlighten idiots, the world would already have ended by now because I'd have blown the motherfucker up. And I like the world: it's got blue skies and green trees and cavorting animals and Shakespeare and Doctor Who and pizza and little fluffy clouds. So I left and settled in the UK, where most people are too self-defeatingly morose to blow anything up, but at least vaguely less idiotic than in the country I left.
How shall we fuck off, O Lord? )
So what will you be doing today? For ideas, I recommend to your attention [ profile] badmagic's Rapture poll-- in fact, I recommend his journal in general for funny polls, interesting observations, occasional games and cogently worded nerdery. I also draw to your attention that the Facebook Post-Rapture Looting event currently has an attendance figure of 629,916.

More to the point, what will *they* all be doing tomorrow? I think it's a fair bet that Fuckwit-in-Chief will be repeatedly sued, this being America; I hope we don't see any suicides. Should the Rapture actually occur, one geek has already analysed the potential consequences. The only certainty is that one group will turn around and say to the other, "I told you so."

Meanwhile, here's some music to watch the fun by.
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- Watching my friend Pete strut his stuff as an operatic dog in The Doctor's Tale at the Linbury,

- A spectacularly marvellous weekend with [ profile] woodlandwildman, who has a way of enlivening my home whenever he's about.

- Time spent with [ profile] lostinavebury and other fine people;

- Saturday night's White Mischief extravaganza, at which the Wildman was doing Victorian photography, Professor Maelstromme was selling shiny objects and the worthless love-slaves of Fetishman Comics mounted a fine display;

- The Dead Victorians, back from hiatus and sounding mighty fine. Likewise Professor Elemental, tip-top emcee and genuinely good soul.

- Iolanthe at Wilton's Music Hall with a splendidly talented all-male cast! I did enough G&S at university to become thorougly bored with it, and this is one of those rare productions that actually make it fun again. Do see it while it's on.
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Rehearsals for the Emperor of Atlantis have begun, using my new place as a rehearsal space. About half my stuff is there now too; I'm still packing up the last things to get myself moved out of the old place.

Shoutouts to Rocket Van, the nicest moving team you could ever hope to meet, and the Make-A-Wish Shop, who eerily have everything I need for my house.

Spent last weekend singing in not-entirely-rewarding circumstances (but I got dinner made for me by a French person, so I'm counting that as a win). Tonight's concert will, I hope, go better.

My sister has had a baby, so I'm an aunt for the first time, which is strange.

The sun's out! It is officially PARTY TIME.
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The first ten days of this year have been so harrowing that I thought I should post about things that generate happiness. For me, webcomics are a major source of joy. Here are a few of my favourites:

(Some of these will seem obvious to people who know webcomics, but I'm addressing this to an audience of varying levels of geekery.)

Long-form stories

Rice Boy by Evan Dahm. Dahm has a lot of comics up on his site, and they're all very good, but I keep coming back to Rice Boy. It's an intensely colourful tale of a young creature who is called upon to fulfill a prophecy and is, frankly, not too sure about this. Part of the joy of reading this comic is discovering its world, Overside; it's also got a rich cast of supporting characters whose destinies are interwoven with Rice Boy's. If it's wrong to be slightly in love with someone who's got a cathode-ray screen for a face, I don't want to be right.

I'm also eagerly following Dahm's current comic, Vattu.

I've raved about Family Man by Dylan Meconis before, but I will not be silent on this topic. It's just so beautifully done. If comics about the life of an eighteenth-century scholar pique your interest at all, you can't go wrong by reading this. Ongoing.

SPQR Blues by Klio: another historical comic, set mostly in Herculaneum around AD 79. Chapter II, which I particularly like, is an extended flashback to the protagonist's days in the Legion. Ongoing.

Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell: As with a lot of webcomics, there's a period at the beginning where the art is sort of ropey, but it improves by leaps and bounds and is now excellent. I was iffy about it at first, but I'm now hooked on this story of two girls studying at a mysterious academy full of magic, demigods and robots. Ongoing.

Dicebox by Jenn Manley Lee. Beautiful art, and an intriguing story of two sporadically-employed women kicking around the spaceways. Keeps you guessing, but also keeps you engaged. Also, check out its alter-ego comic, Don't Look Back by Patrick Farley, in which our heroines board a guitarship for some cosmic rock and roll. Both contain nudity, so NSFW.

Short stories:
Giant Days by John Allison. I was a huge fan of his Scary Go Round. One of its protagonists, Dark Esther, heads to university in this short story and dishes out class warfare to the deserving.

City Face by Tom Siddell. Pigeons do extreme things for love.

A Wolverine short story by Faith Erin Hicks. Drawn as a pitch to Marvel, which they didn't pick up, so we get it for free! If you've ever wondered what Wolverine's favourite breakfast is, wonder no longer.

Nothing Is Forgotten by ryan a. A wordless comic, beautifully done.

The Cat on the Dovrefjell by Kaja Foglio. A beautifully drawn Christmas folktale. Contains trolls.

Ongoing silliness:

Two splendidly geeky pleasures: Order of the Stick and Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic. YAFGC has occasional nudity, so merits the NSFW mark. Since it's a daily comic, the archives are HUGE, but well worth coming back to for fun and enjoyment.

A Softer World by Emily Horne and Joey Comeau. I don't know if this counts as a comic, since it's essentially just typewritten captions over background photos, but it's lots of fun to read.

Double Fine Action Comics: I can't really explain my fondness for this exceedingly strange strip. All I know is that I love it, especially the mini-jokes in the top margin.

Too obvious to mention:
Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio and Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. If you're on the internet and have a pulse, you've already made up your mind about these. Kate Beaton never ceases to be awesome; Girl Genius is going through an annoying patch right now, but is still generally a good story.

Have I killed your productivity yet? If so, my work here is done. Unil next time, true believers!


Dec. 24th, 2010 01:20 pm
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Today is INTERNATIONAL LIZA DAY, so here is a gift for everyone, not from me but from the amazingly talented comics artist P. Craig Russell. He's a frequent collaborator of Neil Gaiman and is also famous for his opera adaptations, and he's put his version of the O. Henry story The Gifts of the Magi up on his website for free. 12 pages of beauty start here; click on the picture to go forward.

It's quite a sentimental story, but Russell really makes it sing, right up to the jaw-dropping last page. Enjoy, and do have a happy INTERNATIONAL LIZA DAY.


Nov. 12th, 2010 06:40 pm
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In my mind, Christmas most emphatically doesn't start until it's actually fucking December, so I can't quite bring myself to admit that I'm Christmas shopping rather than hunting down shiny objects for friends as usual.

Still, I thought I would share with you some of the sources of things that amused me, which might perhaps further your own shopping agenda.

Firstly, webcomic people generally have class-A swag available for purchase, and John Allison is no exception. I tend to assume everyone knows and loves his T-shirts as much as [ profile] speedlime and I do, but he also has some remarkable canvas bags, one for knitting and one for shopping. He also has several lovely posters, including one that's a particular work of genius: Aubrey Beardsley's Lady Gaga.

I also can't say enough good things about the work of Etsy seller SoCharmed. She has all sorts of loveliness in her shop, from Rococo to Baroque to Romantic to rock 'n' roll. She makes weird-ass little cameos out of things like x-rays and secret documents. Oh, and she does "libertine" necklaces paying tribute to Aphra Behn, Oscar Wilde and John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

While on Etsy, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my good friend Professor Maelstromme, your source for all things gothic, steampunk and arcane. She specialises in making one-of-a-kind jewellery out of found objects, and also does a fine line in hats and fascinators. Recently she has also begun selling a few outfits made by the fantastically talented [ profile] wyte_phantom (here and here, so far.) I must say, $255 US for a corset and bustle skirt is a total steal, so get in there while you can, ladies.

Right, I'm off to acquire one of these terribly educational sewing machine diagrams from the Regretsy shop. Otherwise I might forget which part is which, you know, and that would never do. See you later, shoppinators.
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I probably won't be able to post tomorrow, so here are my advance Halloween links for your viewing ?pleasure?.

When I was a schoolkid, I (like all my friends) had the shit scared out of me by a book called Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Thanks to a post on MetaFilter today (whose every comment is along the lines of "I remember that, oh god") , I learned that the illustrations that horrified me so are online for all to see. Galleries One, Two, Three.

I reread some of the Alan Moore Swamp Things recently and yes, they are still as fucking disturbing now as they were during my teenage years. I mean, it's Moore, so there are the philosophical ones and the psychedelic ones and the ones with John Constantine... but the straight-up horror ones still fragment your rational mind and leave what's left screaming, knowing the vultures will come eat it and there's nothing it can do.

Also, the really gory deer-butchering verses of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight have come up just in time for Halloween over at [ profile] gawain_project.

On a less frightful note, there's a good article on the BBC's website about people who decorate their houses extravagantly for Halloween. This is mostly a US phenomenon: I remember a couple of houses like this in the neighbourhood where I grew up, and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever. The article makes the excellent point that Halloween in the US is basically about personal expression, which people are a lot less shy about there than here.

A UK friend with whom I was talking recently expressed satisfaction that Bonfire Night is still holding out against the inroads Halloween is making into Britain. It is easy to see the two holidays as competing-- but I do rather love the osmosis that seems to be occurring between them. The political backdrop of Bonfire Night highlights the anarchic side of Halloween: the misrule that comes with the masquerade. And Halloween's shadow casts Guy Fawkes in a supernatural bogeyman role, one of the malign spirits to be feared and gleefully propitiated.

Which is as much as to say: Trick or treat?

Onion soup

Sep. 8th, 2010 11:22 pm
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This week's Onion is like unto the fiery finger of God him/herself descending to inscribe journalistic satire upon the earth.

84 Million New Yorkers Suddenly Realize New York City A Horrible Place To Live
"NEW YORK—At 4:32 p.m. Tuesday, every single resident of New York City decided to evacuate the famed metropolis, having realized it was nothing more than a massive, trash-ridden hellhole that slowly sucks the life out of every one of its inhabitants.

"With audible murmurs of "This is no way to live," "What the hell am I doing here—I hate it here," and "Fuck this place. Fuck this horrible place," all 8.4 million citizens in each of the five boroughs packed up their belongings and told reporters they would rather blow their brains out with a shotgun than spend another waking moment in this festering cesspool of filth and scum and sadness."

Biden To Cool His Heels In Mexico For A While
"Sources in the Obama administration confirmed that the vice president advised staffers to play it cool if a couple of rugged-looking sonsofbitches come looking for Dynamite Joe, and urged officials to throw them off his trail by saying he was attending a conference on nonproliferation in Munich."

Smart, Qualified People Behind the Scenes Keeping America Safe: 'We Don't Exist'
"According to the utterly nonexistent super-geniuses who we've been telling ourselves are keeping our nation safe with their superior technology and lightning-fast decision-making abilities, there are currently no living people who resemble them at the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, DHS, TSA, or any other federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, and there never really have been at any point in American history."
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The masterclass in Scotland went decently well. I got to work with some good people on some good music. I also learned some useful non-musical skills, including how to ask a Scotsman to dance.

You see, this masterclass traditionally includes a ceilidh after the midweek concert. (Americans: a ceilidh is kind of like a square dance, only in Scotland it's a blood sport. Traditionally, you spend the next day comparing bruises.) I definitely think strip-the-willow should be an Olympic event, because (a) it would look great on TV and (b) the Scots would win, probably by ripping everyone else's arms off. Then they'd superglue them back on and keep dancing. It would be awesome.

I'm now back in London until the end of the month, preparing for an audition or two. In this task, I have found the Keep Calm and Carry On design variations pool on Flickr to be most inspiring.
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I'm typing this from a hotel room in The Hague. Rather surprisingly, I'm not currently on trial for war crimes.

I'd never been to the Netherlands before. I like it here, and wish I had more than two days (Amsterdam yesterday; the Hague today.) I've walked along canals, experienced a rijstaffel and seen more paintings than you could shake a stick at.

What's strange about being here, though, is that I speak not a syllable of Dutch. I can just about read it, given its close relationship to both English and German, but I have no idea how to speak it, or understand it when spoken.

It is so weird being in a European country where I don't speak the language. So weird.

Tomorrow: back to London; singing; then off to Berkeley Castle for the Berkeley Skirmish (featuring, should the reenactors not behave themselves, MORE SINGING).

Today I also learnt that the brilliant tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson has died at the age of only 69. It is a sad loss, but the real tragedy is that he had been retired for some years due to early-onset Alzheimer's. I will always remember his beautiful voice.

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It's all over the internet today (and by "the internet", I of course mean MetaFilter): the unveiling of a new structural theory on the works of Plato. It's being described in grand terms (not least by the author, who modestly claims his theories will "revolutionise the history of the birth of Western thought". ) What it really does at the moment is open the possibility of interpreting Plato's work, and possibly his creative process, in a new way.
On rhetoric )
The hypothesised relationship between Plato's rhetoric and the diatonic scale sounds a bit far-fetched, but it's certainly an interesting theory, and I'll be watching to see if it holds up to analysis. If it does, it would be interesting to see if, in any of his works, he employs a symbolic modality.
In which I attempt to explain what modality is )
So what I'm wondering is: Since so much of Plato's writing is in the form of dialogues between various characters, who tend each to represent a certain idea, viewpoint or philosophy-- might he have assigned to each prominent character a symbolic musical mode? Or each stage of the argument?

Obviously this depends on whether Barker's musical scale theory turns out to have any foundation. (Some preliminary responses can be found in the comments here at Leiter Reports.) But I can see how appealing it would be for a Platonist to associate the ascending scale with the reader's ascension toward wisdom, and the argument's ascension toward resolution.

I do think that the stuff about a "code" is overly sensationalistic; this is more likely to be about structure and interpretation than about arcane hidden messages. Still, it will be interesting to see how it pans out.

Disclaimer:My knowledge of Plato is a lay person's at best; my degree is in English, not Classics. Still, I've read most of his work in translation, and love it. (If you're new to Plato, start with the Symposium. It's basically a dinner party where everyone gets drunk and talks about love.)
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The Truth Is A Cave in the Black Mountains, by Neil Gaiman, at, itself a repository of most excellent narratives.

And for afters: I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9' S, Longitude 126° 43' W)? Also by Gaiman. More stories here at

Writer and artist Faith Erin Hicks sketched out this Wolverine story as a pitch to Marvel; when they passed on it (for being too much fun, clearly), she put it up on her site for all to see.

Other things of beauty:
Long-exposure photos of fireflies in the woods on DeviantArt. I miss the fireflies of Washington DC.

Monsterdrawings on Post-It notes by John Kenn: "A little window into a different world, made on office supplies."
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John Adams's opera Nixon in China is up on YouTube in its entirety. This is the 1987 world-premiere production by Houston Grand Opera, including an introduction by American news anchor Walter Cronkite (who covered Nixon's visit to China himself) and interval interviews with the composer. Due to YouTube's 10-minute limit, it's in 17 parts, so I've made a playlist -- or you can just go to Part 1 and brew your own.

Did you know that John Adams has a blog? It's well-written and funny as all hell. Go read!
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Singers, rejoice! If you're sick of untalented nonentities having recording careers due to the horrors of autotuning, the answer has arrived: Auto de-tune! I for one will definitely be shelling out $799 for this fine piece of equipment, which I (of course) heard about on MetaFilter.

Speaking of advances in science, if the recently-fired-up Large Hadron Collider has you confused at all, here is a handy diagram explaining it from those fine minds at The Onion. In reporting the recent LHC activity, the Daily Telegraph made the beautifully obvious typographical error, joining an illustrious list of publications that includes the New York Times.

Speaking of large hardons, you guys saw the eighteenth-century rosewood dildos that were recently sold at auction, right? In their own travelling case, no less. (Insert obligatory Rochester poem here.) As the brochure put it, in possibly the best sentence ever: "The case, although having a re-lined interior, appears to have aged commensurate with the phallus." I am going to try to use that last phrase in conversation whenever possible. "Your pants, sir, appear to have aged commensurate with the phallus." "Your mom appears [etc etc]."

Of course, those Age of Enlightenment types never dreamed that one day technology would advance to the point where a steam-powered sex machine would be possible. Sadly, the small minds at the US Patent Office did not share the inventor's vision, and the 1891 patent application was rejected. However, the prototype was preserved for posterity.

Speaking of disturbing phallic objects: anyone fancy some chocolate chip pancakes and sausage on a stick? Mmmm, tasty. But how do you get the maple syrup to stay on...?

Happy Easter, everyone!

Geeks ahoy

Mar. 24th, 2010 10:19 pm
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Many of you will have been following the massive geekout that is the Fantasy Cage Match at Suvudu. This started as just a bunch of geeks going "who would win in a fight?" But then various authors noticed and got involved, and the whole thing became considerably more delicious. For example, when George RR Martin found out that his charismatic regicide Jaime Lannister was up against motherfucking Cthulhu, he wrote a short vignette detailing how Lannister would win. It worked-- but in the next round he faces Naomi Novik's enormous and superintelligent black dragon Temeraire, and Novik has already written her own story to get the fans on board for this round.

Swordsman missing his sword hand vs. huge military-trained dragon: I think we know how this one's going to go. However, Lannister's a crafty one, and probably has a plan involving enthusiastic incest and saying "fuck" a lot.

For extra geek points: the canonical list of comic book characters we do and don't want to party with. Mostly mainstream Marvel and DC types, for what that's worth; I for one think the indie/alternative comic book character party would be equally fantastic, if not more so. But who do we invite...?


Mar. 14th, 2010 01:27 am
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Happy Pi Day! (also Albert Einstein's birthday!)

To celebrate:
14 perfect pi pies (via [ profile] vvalkyri
The Pi Song by Hard 'n' Phirm. Contains wizards and a robot.

People who insist upon European date notation can wait until 22 July and celebrate Pi Approximation Day.

"Love is like pi: natural, irrational and very important." --Lisa Hoffman
"Yeah, except pi never ends." --Me
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Cheerful things on the internet:

via [ profile] morbidfrog: Drawing on a cast that almost makes up for the broken arm!

A lovely Toile de Jouy-style T-shirt on Threadless (via [ profile] kajafoglio. Scroll down to see the print at full size and laugh a lot.

A Metafilter post with extensive YouTube links to old televised episodes of The Goon Show (televised recording sessions as well as Telegoons). oooOooo.

This led inevitably to my seeking out the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain's rendition of the Ying Tong Song.
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I have a friend who has an Alexander McQueen coat. Because she is a woman of glory and valour, she let me borrow it once; I wore it to the opera and revelled in style-by-association. Since I heard the news of McQueen's untimely death, my thoughts have been lingering particularly on that coat and that friend.

Moth trails: long-exposure photos of moths and lights, inspired by this picture of a bat chasing a moth.

Drunkenness in bats does not impair their flight, scientists find. It does, however, make them wear little tiny fruit baskets on their heads.

Kitty Carlisle was a classically trained soprano who sang at the Met, among other places. In later years, she became politically involved with the arts, arguing strongly against censorship of such artists as Robert Mapplethorpe. (She was also a friend of my grandmother's, which I think is kind of cool.) However, she's best remembered as the attractive, dark-eyed girl from the Marx Brothers' film A Night At The Opera. The hit song from that movie was called "Alone," and here she is, singing it with sweet-voiced tenor Allan Jones on YouTube.

A few years ago, I found the sheet music to "Alone" in my local charity shop. I was overjoyed, since it's been out of print for many decades. I brought it home, but have never had a chance to sing it in public... until now. Tomorrow night, ladies and gents, White Mischief at Proud Cabaret! Be there! I'm singing 8.30 - 9pm, and afterwards we can all get drunk as a fruit bat.
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Science fiction author Kage Baker has died, too young, of cancer.

I've been reading her books for so many years that it feels oddly like losing a friend. I loved the world she built; I loved the stories she told, especially the first two, In the Garden of Iden and Sky Coyote. Joseph, Lewis, Mendoza and the rest were astonishing creations, for whom my affection never faltered.

The great thing about the Company novels was that the premise Baker created allowed her and her immortal cyborgs to access any and every point of human history, from the Paleolithic up through 2355. So in Iden, Baker gave us a protagonist who was:

- rescued as a child from the dungeons of the Inquisition
- cybernetically enhanced
- immortal
- educated to 23rd century standards, specialising in botany
- contemptuous and fearful of "mortal monkeys"
- nineteen years old, and utterly without experience

...and turned her loose on sixteenth-century rural England during the reign of Bloody Mary.

Enough from me. Here's Baker's world explained by one of her characters, from the beginning of her first novel; here are some of her stories, viewable or listenable for free; here's a lengthy appreciation by Marty Halpern, who published some of her work.

Farewell, Ms Baker. Ad astra.
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2010 is already historic: this was the year the Poe Toaster didn't show. He may now be enjoying a sherry with Poe himself in the shadowy realms of Hades.

In other literary news, a new Gormenghast novel has been found in an attic. (Of course in an attic. Where else would you find a Gormenghast novel?) This one was written by Peake's wife Maeve Gilmore from her husband's leftover notes.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "Christopher Tolkien", right? And rolling your eyes? Well, it may be merited. But if you've read Titus Alone, you know that Peake in his later years would have benefited from a ghostwriter in any case. The new book won't be Peake-- lugubrious, lunatic, stormlit Peake-- but it may still be interesting.


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