Tuesday, 17 October 2017

History Book Review: African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia by Marilyn Heldman

Pros: deals with an under researched topic, lots of high quality images, excellent supporting information for catalogue items

Cons: parts are very dry and academic, a few catalogue items have no images, out of print

The book consists of the following chapters: 1) Introduction, 2) Dreaming of Jerusalem, 3) Ethiopia Revealed: Merchants, Travellers, and Scholars, 4) Church and State: 16th to 18th Centuries, 5) Ethiopic Literature, 6) Ethiopian Manuscripts and Paleography, 7) Linear Decoration in Ethiopian Manuscripts. 
After dealing with the background information, it continues with the Catalogue, consisting of 8) Maryam Seyon: Mary of Zion, 9) Aksumite Coinage, 10) the Heritage of Late Antiquity, 11) the Zagwe Dynasty: 1137-1270, 12) the Early Solomonic Period: 1270-1527, 13) the Late Solomaic Period: 1540-1769.

I found the introduction to be quite dry and academic. While the information was interesting, the delivery was such that I had trouble paying attention. This is followed by a section on Ethiopian contact with the outside world, that is, writings about Ethiopia by outsiders, which was quite interesting and engaging. Then follows several slightly more in depth chapters dealing with the Christian church in Ethiopia through the centuries. These give a bit more grounding in the monarchy and how it used the church to maintain cohesion and power. There’s a tiny bit of information on conflicts with Muslims and contact with Europe (and Jesuits) in later centuries. The chapters on literature and manuscripts were both very interesting. I was amazed by how many Ethiopian manuscripts have been preserved via microfilm and digitization, mainly by the HMML (Hill Museum and Manuscript Library). [If you’d like to see their collection, viewing manuscripts online requires a free account. Your application is reviewed by one of their librarians before being granted.] The final chapter before looking at the manuscripts themselves gives a cursory examination of harag decoration. Similar to Celtic knotwork in appearance, harag are “a type of illumination made of bands of colored lines interlaced in a geometrical pattern and used to frame the pages of Ethiopian manuscripts” (p.63). The artwork changed over the centuries.

The catalogue begins with a discussion of the importance of Mary, the mother of God, in Ethiopian devotion, and comprises numerous images of her. There are some comparison images that give local context for some of the elements (for example, a photo showing the entrance to a holy sanctuary with a checkered design around it that explains the checkered background for an icon of Mary). 

The second chapter of the catalogue goes over Aksumite coinage. I didn’t expect it to be as interesting as it was. It’s a great example of how historians must glean information from minimal sources. In this case, the Aksumite kingdom has left little trace, so much of what is known about their kings is due to their names on coins. The coins are shown to scale, which makes the images quite small and it’s sometimes hard to see details.

Most of the catalogue images are shown in colour on black backgrounds. The rest are inset with the descriptive text in black and white. In some cases more than one image of an object is used (both sides of a processional cross, several manuscript pages) but not always. With manuscripts, all of the miniatures are mentioned, even if only a few pages are displayed. Similarly, in cases where only one side of a double sided object is shown, the other side is described in the text. I love how some entries have supplementary images to help show how different aspects of art influence each other. Unfortunately, in a few cases images of the catalogue items themselves are omitted.

While there are a few things I disliked about this volume, on the whole it’s an exceptional collection of Ethiopian sacred artworks. It’s a real shame that this book, created for a specific exhibition, is now out of print, because it’s a much needed look at a rarely studied country. Ethiopia doesn’t get much mention in medieval (my focus) or other history textbooks, so this is a brilliant addition for anyone wanting to expand their understanding about the rich history and artistic traditions of this amazing country, if - like me - you can find it used.

Monday, 16 October 2017

2017 Sunburst Award Winners

Congratulations to this year's winners of the Sunburst Awards for excellence in Canadian literature of the fantastic. The winner of each category is in bold, followed by the other nominees. This information comes from their press release.

Adult Fiction Award
Young Adult Fiction Award
Short Story Award
This year's jury consisted of: Nancy Baker, Michel Basilières, Rebecca Bradley, Dominick Grace, and Sean Moreland

Friday, 13 October 2017

Movie Review: Frau im Mond (Woman in the Moon)

Directed by Fritz Lang, 1929

Pros: good science fiction

Cons: slow, overly expressive acting

Professor Manfeldt’s theory that mountains on the moon are made of gold prompts a group of powerful businessmen to hijack the moon mission planned by Wolf Helius.

This is a long (two hours and fifty minutes!) and slow moving film. The first hour deals with the theft of Helius’ plans and the insinuation of a new member on the mission. The flight to the moon is interesting, showing the first countdown to launch and a few scenes in zero gravity (while they show the need to hold on and a few people floating around, they didn’t have small items - like items in the mouse cage, aside from the mouse - float), as well as a two stage rocket. The scenes on the moon were entertaining, if in no way scientifically accurate.

The sets were pretty good. And while the rocket ship doesn’t look much like what actually took people to space (inside or outside), it’s a decent attempt at guessing the future.

As a silent film the actors made up for the lack of explanation through dialogue by using overly expressive hand and facial gestures. At times this worked, while at others the actions seemed to contradict the text cards.

The music on the Kino Classics edition was excellent and really heightened tension in some areas of the film.

I wasn’t really sold on the romance. Wolf Helius obviously likes Friede Velten and his jealousy over her choosing Hans Windegger makes him avoid their engagement party. There are hints that Friede likes Wolf more than Hans, though Hans is - at first - more inclined to let her follow her dreams. When Hans later falls apart, I didn’t like him as much, though I’m not sure Wolf fares much better with his stern demeanor.

 Given how little time is spent on the moon compared to the rest of the film, I’m surprised by the title. “Mission Moon” or some such (recognizing it would be in German) would have been more accurate. 

It’s a great film if you’re interested in the history of science fiction or silent films. It’s more involved than I’d expected, and kept my attention despite its length.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Shout-Out: The Last Amazon Kickstarter

I got an email about this kickstarter project for a near future post-apocalyptic photo realistic graphic novel. It's written by Jamison Stone and illustrated by David Granjo.

In a near future, World War 3 lasted only three minutes. The world was ravaged by the fallout with two major opposing factions rising from the chaos: The Denver Denizens and The Azureus Islands.
Danni Winters was chosen to live on The Azureus Islands, a place advertised as the last oasis on our war torn planet. At first Danni was ecstatic about moving away from the troubles of the world, but she wasn’t selected by chance. Danni soon discovers she has mysterious powers and abilities which can tip the balance of power in this precarious post-apocalyptic world.
After a terrible event, Danni’s new life is destroyed, pushing her to use her newfound strength to face a brutal encounter with the “Amazons,” an army of killer robots created to not only protect Azureus Islands, but become the next generation of military force upon planet Earth. Only through determination, power, and trust in her new abilities will Danni have what it takes to uncover the truth of her past and defeat The Last Amazon.

You don't get the book until the $30 hardcover pledge (and oddly enough there's no PDF only tier).

There's more artwork and a video on the website if you're interested in learning more.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Video: Historical Body Mechanics: Walk Medieval

Roland Warzecha from the History Park Bärnau in Bavaria, Germany, talks about differences between how we walk now (with thick heeled shoes on paved roads) vs how people walked in the past (ball to heel in thin leather shoes). He also mentions what that means for posture.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review: The Core by Peter Brett

Pros: lots of action, character development, satisfying series ending

Cons: at a disadvantage if haven’t read the novellas

This is the fifth and final volume of the Demon Cycle. A lot has happened as Arlen and Jardir finally take their party down to the core. Their captured mind demon alerts them that the hive is close to swarm, but it’s too late for them to help their friends and loved ones who are about to be overrun at the new moon. All they can do as they journey below is hope they’ve prepared those they leave behind well enough to survive on their own.

There are a lot of point of view characters, some for the first time. This allows the reader to see events all over Thesa as the demons attack. And they attack hard. The book does a fantastic job of consolidating all of the people and places that have been visited in the series. 

Having said that, I was surprised that the people and events of some of the novellas were referenced without preamble. Derek from Brayan’s Gold shows up with no introduction and I’m assuming the novella Messenger’s Legacy (which I haven’t read) explains why Ragen and Elissa aren’t in Miln when The Core begins. While I felt Briar was properly introduced in The Skull Throne, when Regan and Elissa showed up it felt like I’d missed a chapter, as there’s no explanation of what they’ve been doing though there are a few cryptic hints that they were in Laktown looking for Briar. Once they were back in Miln I found their political situation quite interesting.

There is a lot of action both with the defenders up top and those penetrating the deeps. The battles are varied, as the mind demons fight dirty. Once or twice we’re shown the after effects of a scene rather than a scene itself, which lessened the impact of some tragedies. But on the whole it’s a whirlwind of battles intercut with preparations for surviving the next battle. 

I liked that Arlen and Jardir continue to develop as people. Seeing Jardir start to question his beliefs as he learns more about Kaji’s own descent while Arlen starts to realize there may in fact be a Creator after all, was kind of neat. I thought that the birth of Leesha’s child and the politics surrounding its identity were handled well.

There are a number of touching, heartfelt moments in the book. I particularly liked when Jardir says his goodbyes.

The final battle was hard fought and gave a very satisfying ending for the series.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Nuit Blanche 2017

In addition to the Netflix Red Forest installation, here are some other things my husband and I saw at this year's Nuit Blanche in Toronto. This year's theme was "Many Possible Futures" so there was a definite SF twist to some of the exhibits.

The first one we went to was the Nature Deficit Disorder Clinic. After meeting with reception we got to look at the various posters explaining the dangers of this future where interacting with nature is at a destructive minimum. Brought into the first treatment room, we watched a short video that led to us deciding if we were best served by interacting with a tree, water, or rock. We could see other treatment rooms where some people were given a second 'treatment' with those items, but were told we didn't require immediate treatment and were sent on our way.

On the left is  Manitowapow,
speaking to the moon, an exhibit with dome tents lit up with nature scenes instide.

On the right is Laxa’ine’ gigukwdzikasi’ gigukwas Hayałiligase’, The Many Large Houses of the Ghosts, a light display on Old City Hall's clock tower.
At City Hall we found the Hendrick's Gin hot air balloon, giving rides to people who won golden tickets. This is where we lined up for 2+ hours for the Red Forest, after which we didn't feel much like waiting in another line. Which is why I only have an outside photo of the Monument to the Century of Revolution - an installation made up of several shipping crates that discussed specific revolutions as well as aspects of revolution (printing flyers, feminism, prisons, etc). 

The final installation we saw was Photon Gallery 3.0. 

There were several cool things to see here, like an audio modulated gas fire display (more base = higher fire).

Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 fire from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

They also had a strobe powered falling water display.

Nuit Blanche: Photon Gallery 3.0 water from Jessica Strider on Vimeo.

And this really cool artwork by Alex Poutiainen.