Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

Witches and Werewolves and Vampires, oh my

All right, I’ve been scarily (ah-hah) bad about blogging recently. However, no way was I going to miss out on Hallowe’en, which is a feast that appeals to my sweet tooth and gives me costumes to look at (and photos for future blackmail to take). 

Of witches, werewolves, and vampires, dare I say, I don’t have a firm favourite when it comes to reading (or movies). (Yes, all right, calm down, there’s still plenty of Hallowe’en left to find me and feed me to a wandering hungry spirit…)

Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg are pretty much unequaled for me when it comes to witches. They’re the traditional pointy-hatted type, but like almost anything the late Sir Terry had a quill in, they take the stereotypes and twist them into a pretzel, and provide a lot of awesome one-liners while they do it. 

Werewolves (and most other types of were-creature) are a fantasy and urban fantasy staple, and there are a lot of stories out there to pick from. I do rather regret the over-muscled “Alpha” stereotype, which always feels to me like the human author projecting pretty much the downside of a human mentality onto a character and using the “animal instincts” as the excuse, but I do have about three-quarters of my own were story saved on a thumb drive somewhere. The werewolf Alpha continually gets his come-uppance from a were-cat, in case you were wondering.

As someone’s about to point out, I do actually have a vampire novel out, Death is for the Living. It’s true. It also does bad, bad things to the traditional vampire tropes (vampire hunters on a yacht, in the Caribbean, anyone?), but I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m personally in favour of the slightly nastier vampire type – the type that has all the strength and magical or other abilities and lost any moral compass they started out with in a bar centuries ago.

So, without further ado, which mythical creature are you?

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

Available for pre-order: The Gaia Solution

The Gaia Solution releases 8th November!

I’m always happy to have a friend’s book to boost, and today I’m excited to find out more about the next and final book in Claire Buss’s dystopian trilogy, The Gaia Solution, which is coming out as e-book and paperback on Amazon next month. This series has already proven to be solidly popular with readers, up to and including a Raven Award for the first book, The Gaia Effect, in 2017, and The Gaia Solution looks set to continue the trend.

So, without further ado…

The Blurb

Kira, Jed and their friends have fled New Corporation and joined the Resistance, but their relief is short-lived as they discover how decimated the human race has become and learn of an environmental crisis that threatens to destroy their existence. Kira and Jed must travel up the mountain to the New Corporation stronghold, City 50, to bargain for sanctuary while Martha and Dina risk everything to return to City 42 and save those who are left. With the last of her reserves Gaia, the fading spirit of the Earth, uses her remaining influence to guide Kira and her friends but ultimately, it’s up to humanity to make the right choice.

More about The Gaia Collection series

The Gaia Collection is Claire’s hopeful dystopian trilogy, set 200 years in the future after much of the planet and the human race have been decimated during The Event, when the world went to war with high-energy radiation weapons. In The Gaia Effect, Kira and Jed Jenkins – a young couple who were recently allocated a child – together with their closest friends, discover Corporation have been deliberately lying to them and forcing them to remain sterile. With help from Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, the group of friends begin to fight back against Corporation eventually winning and taking over the governance of City 42.

In The Gaia Project, Corporation fight back under a new, more terrifying organization called New Corp and Kira, Jed and their friends end up fleeing for their lives trying to find a safe place to live. They travel to City 36 and City 9 in vain and must go further afield.

In the final book, The Gaia Solution, the main characters have ended up with the Resistance and not only do they have to deal with surviving against New Corp but an extinction environmental event is looming on the horizon and they’re running out of time to save what’s left of the human race.

About the Author

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

I was also lucky enough to have Claire over for an interview a little while ago, and she confessed to me that she usually has multiple writing projects on the go, so fans shouldn’t be concerned about the series finale: I’m pretty sure there’s lots more coming soon from this author.

You can confirm that with Claire in person wherever you like to hang out online:

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

Etymology Excavation: neither heads nor tails

‘Neither heads nor tails of it’, or, in the UK, ‘neither head nor tail of it’ refers to confusion, a state of puzzlement akin to staring at something so strange that you can’t decipher even which end of the matter you’re looking at. My favourite etymology theory for this phrase involves Cicero and confusion, nothing to do with currency at all.

I decided to look into this phrase after a copy-editor at ROC Fantasy left me staring at ‘heads nor tales’ (a bigger team doesn’t always mean better editing, class), and it turned out to be pretty interesting. 

There’s also some required disambiguation on ‘heads or tails’, the traditional ask when flipping a coin. A few of the etymology sites hold the opinion that the two phrases have the same origin, which I’m not entirely in agreement with, although I can completely understand why that theory looks tempting. 

Confusion doesn’t equal gambling, although it can lead to it

I’m not in agreement that you can draw an equals sign between ‘neither heads nor tails of it’ and ‘heads or tails’ because it smacks of sloppy thinking to me. ‘Heads or tails’, variously ‘navia aut caput‘, ‘heads or crosses’, etc., depending on your era and location is an ‘or’ phrase, a pretty simple ‘if this, then that’ outcome. Flip a coin to decide, because there are two outcomes are so equal it’s impossible to decide between them; let’s leave it to chance.

‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, indicates confusion at encountering something hitherto unknown or impossible to understand. Although it implies that there are two options to the confusion, you might also be looking at neither head nor tail, but the third generation of conjoined offspring. While you may certainly flip a coin to attempt to decide which end of the issue you’re looking at, or even if it is an end, I put it to you that this phrase is a lot less digital than the ‘heads or tails’, above. 

Neither heads nor tails

So if I’m so smart, what is the true etymology and meaning behind ‘neither heads nor tails’? 

Well, meaning’s easy. The Cambridge Dictionary, with its usual conciseness, boils it down to an inability to understand something.

The etymology seems to have got badly tangled in the ‘heads or tails’ debate. ‘Heads or tails’, after all, has a nice, clear, contemporary explanation, and flipping a coin goes back about as far as there were coins. Simple, and therefore popularly accepted. ‘Neither heads nor tails’, on the other hand, isn’t quite as simple, and, especially in the US, is assumed to relate to gambling, or possibly to a cute UK tradition, probably to do with sheep and isolated rural areas. 

However, if you look at French, for example, there’s an expression ‘sans queue ni tete‘, which translates to ‘without a head or a tail’ and means something confusing, which is anecdotal evidence that the Cicero explanation may have some truth to it. Why? Because French is a Latinate language (mostly); English is a part-Latin, part-Germanic hybrid with a vocabulary on Viagra and a bad habit of mugging other languages for new words. 

Cicero, for those who don’t know, was a Roman orator (calm down, it means a public speaker), and allegedly he used the phrase ‘ne caput nec pedes’ (neither head nor feet) to express a state of confusion. I like this theory because to me, it explains the slight difference in use and grammar between ‘or’ and ‘neither…nor’, and because there is an equivalent phrase in both French and English with the meaning of confusion.

Use in fiction

This phrase could be adapted very nicely to a variety of fictional settings. You’ve already seen three different variants in this one post, so if you toss in fantasy or sci-fi worldbuilding, the possibilities are nearly endless. Take a hydra, for example, or Cerberus, which are two examples I can think of to support the US version of the saying with the plurals.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

Chrysalides, cusps, and changes

Chrysalides, cusps, and changes

And just what the hell do chrysalides, cusps, and changes have to do with one another, or indeed the next book in the Cortii series?

All right, but they’ve got lovely alliteration. Which is author-y stuff in its own fashion. And they’re sorta-kinda relevant. Read on if you want to gather your arguments with that statement.

So, the chrysalis

I’ve been living in a bit of a chrysalis the last few years, and although one of my pet hates is fluttery things dive-bombing my head, which are on the whole what tend to emerge from chrysalides, I have hopes that I’m on the way to breaking out of mine. 

Maybe to dive-bomb someone’s head. Probably not, though, because although lost idiots who can’t work their cell phones seem to find me utterly irresistible, I prefer to avoid my own species for the most part.

I’d been steadily withdrawing into my chrysalis for most of the past decade. I had stuff to deal with at home, and it was eating increasing amounts of my energy. Add to that a demanding job in less-than-optimal conditions, and my energy dropped through the orange right into the red and started drilling through the bottom of the tank. The idea of going out with friends was enough to make me want to pull a cushion over my head, lock the door, and hide. Going for a walk, with the inevitable human contact, and then having to drag myself back again, wasn’t a relaxing prospect. Doing the groceries was a marathon that I gritted my teeth and got through. Writing was about the only thing I really still found fun, and even that was pulling down resources that were basically dry.

Mix in that I’d been sleeping on a sofabed for the last four – five years, and I wasn’t even doing much for the purely physical side of my exhaustion.

The cusp

Side order of glitterIt became increasingly clear over a period of years that, like so many things in life, no one was going to swan in and wave a wand and make everything better (with a possible side-order of gratuitous glitter, for reasons). If I wanted to not spend the rest of my existence trying to parse out dribbles of energy to deal with the absolute bare minimum of shit that had to get dealt with while being permanently stressed and irritated, I was going to have to bloody well find  some energy, get off my ass, and change something myself.

As most people don’t get a Classical education, some of you may not be familiar with the Greek myth of the fate of Sisyphus. Basically, he was a bastard in life who spent his afterlife doomed to push a big bloody rock up a steep hill – except when he almost had it to the top, it would roll all the way back down again. The Wikipedia version’s a bit less abbreviated.

I had a very visceral understanding of how Sisyphus felt.  Day to day shit was bottoming me out until all I wanted was to find a nice deep pit and pull the top in after me, and I had to come up with enough energy and motivation to make major life changes?

I’ve never had a lot of patience for weeping or screaming as a response to situations. Like thoughts and prayers, it may make you feel briefly better, but it’ll do absolutely bugger-all in any practical terms.

The changes

I therefore got off my ass, put my game face on, or what passes for it, and found a new job. With a boss I like, in a nice office, doing something I actually quite enjoy. That was April. I’d been planning to up sticks and leave town altogether, but was foiled by the fact that unless I wanted to move to Toronto or Montreal, there was basically very little going in terms of jobs I could do that I wanted to do outside Vancouver.

However, that still left my home situation. I was less stressed at work (and given the stress levels in the first three months of any new job, feel free to draw conclusions), but I pretty clearly wasn’t done. I was still hemorrhaging energy, because coming home was not, as it is for most people, relaxing. I was going from my employment, to more stress and no small amount of frustration, to sleep on a sofa, and then going back around again the next day.

In May, I started looking for a pet-friendly rental, in Vancouver, that I could afford. Anyone who’s spent time in Vancouver will be laughing hysterically at this one.

However, at this point I got lucky. There was in fact somewhere available, that had no issue with a pair of cats, it was in an area I wanted to live in, it was possible to get to work from there without spending three hours stuck in traffic each way, and I could even afford it, if I sucked in my spending a bit. It wasn’t available until July, but given Vancouver, hell, I jumped all over it.

What I hadn’t factored in was my complete lack of ability to hurry up and wait. I’d’ve made a very poor soldier. I wanted a change; in fact, given an increasing number of stress-related side-effects that, among other things, put me on steroid inhalers, I needed a change – but it was a tough change to make. I was going to leave a situation that was familiar and take a leap into the unknown. But I couldn’t even take that leap for another two months.

I spent a lot of time the past few months staring that that old line about those who give up freedom for safety deserve neither. I spent even more time staring at the fact that much as I couldn’t go on the way I was, getting somewhere I could cope with was going to involve a lot of upheaval, and not just for me. 

The kicker was that I was also leaving my 18-year relationship, which as anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to have to will tell you, is tough on everyone involved.

I sucked it up, carefully didn’t hit the liquor cabinet, compartmentalised busily, and finally made my move. I’m now, for the first time since I was nineteen, in my own place, on my own (well, with a pair of Siamese cats, who actually own the place and let me pay for it), only cleaning up after and shopping for myself, only organising my own life, and my Fitbit tells me that month over month, my resting heart rate has dropped ten bpm.

It’s going to take a while to build my energy back up, and probably just as long to figure out what I want to do with the freedom I scraped rock bottom and fought to find. The point to the mammoth post is, I guess, that I’m damned lucky. I have that freedom. I have choices. I’ll fight to keep them, and now I know that what looked impossible in the beginning is perfectly doable if I really have to.

The real species behind the Matrix

The real species behind the Matrix

The concept behind the Matrix

If you’ve watched any films in the past 20 years, you’ve probably seen at least one of the Matrix trilogy. Essentially, to mis-appropriate a Jurassic Park quote, ‘God created man, man created A.I., A.I. enslaved man’.

The A.I. in the film created a convincingly imperfect human society in virtual reality, which humans are plugged into at birth and thereafter are kept as biological batteries, producing heat (power) for the A.I., and most are blissfully ignorant of it all due to being immersed in the Matrix. 

The first Matrix is a very good film, and at the time it was pretty ground-breaking. Unfortunately the second and third in the series are an exercise in ‘wow, the first one made us way more money than we thought, let’s cash in… plot? Who needs a plot?’, but the first one explores A.I., offers some excellent and disturbing metaphors for society, prods you to think about fate versus free will, etc., etc.

It’s not necessarily as original as it looks

My brain is fond of waking me up at oh-my-god in the morning and presenting me with things to think about rather than letting me go back to sleep, and one of the things it presented me with early one morning, as I lay immobilised under two cats, was that someone who participated in the writing of the Matrix was a genius, but not an original one. 

Humanity has yet to achieve A.I., being more than slightly hindered by its own lack of I.

However, lacking A.I., which always makes a convenient villain for anything sci-fi, there is nonetheless a species on the planet that’s been successfully cultivating humans for food and heat for millennia – felis silvestris catus, or the domesticating cat. Pardon me, my mistake – domestic cat.

Most of the population has either lived with a cat at some point in their lives, or knows someone who does. There’s a hairy old joke about dogs being pets for people who need to be worshipped as gods, whereas cats are more for those who can deal with their gods turning up on their chests at 0500 and demanding a sacrifice.

It is however interesting to note that where humanity domesticated wolves way back in the days when they were still hunting wild animals for food and sport and engaging in bloody conflicts (oh, hey, hang on…) as companions and burglar alarms, and dogs today have been bred into so many different directions that in some cases the common ancestor is hard to believe, cats moved in with humans pretty much as soon as human habitations were much better than caves. Domestic cats today, although a little gentler than their fully wild cousins, and in slightly more varied colours and coats, are completely recognisable at a glance as close relatives of the smaller wildcats. 

Essentially, cats moved in, and in exchange for warmth and a little care, handled the small and mid-size pest problems that plagued humanity’s moderately filthy communities. When the Catholic church declared them witches’ familiars, and thousands of cats were killed across Europe, the Black Plague followed.

The deal is still pretty much on today, except with better sanitation the workload is less, and cats can spend more of their time training their human heat sources. In fact, one of mine has just turned up on my desk to explain that this habit of staring at lit screens, when one could be making a fuss of a cat, is something that should be addressed.

Ancestry again

Ancestry again

Ancestry – again

About a year ago, I wrote a post about finally taking the plunge on an Ancestry DNA test, and my intermittent interest in unearthing my likely unholy family history.

Sadly, the family myth about Peruvian ancestry was emphatically debunked – I appear to be a Northern European achievement, largely Anglo-Scots with some Irish and Germanic-Central European mixed in. Oh, and 2% Norwegian, which I can only assume equates to ‘Viking plus slowest woman in her village’.

This past few weeks, owing to a dry spell in my ability to convince myself to get stuck into the editing for Book 5 in the Cortii series, I’ve found myself back in Ancestry, knocking around and tidying up loose ends. Among other things, my direct paternal line appears to have sprung, fully-formed, from the nearest public house sometime in the mid-1700s somewhere along the much-disputed line marking the England-Scotland border. (Still haven’t cracked that one.)

What I did turn up, much to my entertainment, was a bunch of job ads from the New Scientist magazine archives, from when my father founded Servomex Controls Limited in 1952. As I didn’t meet my father until several years after his retirement, the only thing I really knew about his company was that a. it existed, and b. his secretary was so bad at typing that Dad, at the time the Managing Director, used to type up all his own letters. I have that typewriter in my cupboard – it still works.

By the time I met my father, he’d sold his stake in Servomex and retired onto a one-off Mudie-built wooden ketch named Gub-Gub. Since I think I’m the first to dig into the family history, he may or may not have known that the family, in the 1800s, had a branch in merchant shipping out of Liverpool, but judging by the generous splash of Irish / Northern European in my genetic heritage from his side of the family, I strongly suspect that if I ever manage to put together the lineage past the 1700s, I’m going to find a few more merchants / soldiers / other stripe of travellers.

Probably this goes some way to explaining why I’m currently based out of Western Canada and my nearest relations are my half-brother, in the Caribbean, and a branch of the family descended from one of my great-uncles who never came back from South America, in Santiago.

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