Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Found: Black Angel

If you're at least 38 years old, you may remember a short film that was shown jointly with the theatrical release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. (I'm way past old enough, but have no recollection of that year at all.) The short film was Black Angel, produced with gift money of £25,000 from George Lucas for his appreciation of the art direction provided by Roger Christian in Star Wars.

Mr. Christian used the money to produce a moody, mystical fantasy art film set in the middle ages. The film was lost for many years following an illness suffered by Mr. Christian, but nevertheless was quite influential to filmmakers. Fortunately, a half-inch print of the film has been found. ShadowLocked has an excellent and exclusive interview with Black Shadow director Roger Christian. In the article containing the interview, you'll find stills from the film and conversation about its making and history.

An interesting quote from the interview:

"Cinema has changed so much, and I bless Peter Jackson [director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy], because he gave the world what it didn't know it wanted, and brought this kind of fantasy world into huge mainstream cinema, finally. And did it so beautifully."

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Dan Brown's Next Inspiration?

Perhaps the next Angels and Demons-type movie, based on a Dan Brown novel, or the next National Treasure-type Disney movie, written by too many to mention, will be inspired by this interesting little article in National Geographic: Lost Roman Codex Fragments Found in Book Binding.


According to the article, it was the practice in the sixteenth century to strengthen the binding of new books from scraps of old paper. One collector bought some interesting two-inch square scraps and loaned them to scholars at University College London.

"But a few of the phrases matched passages in the Justinian Code, compiled in the sixth century, leading the team to conclude that the unfamiliar sections were from a source text: the Codex Gregorianus."

Codex Gregorianus (Gregorian Code) is a set of compilations of antique Roman law, including those of Hadrian and earlier law.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this motif show up in a Dan Brown type of book. Perhaps one of Flash Fiction Online's past or future writers (or an inspired reader) will beat the big boys to the punch with a much more economical flash fiction story.

For more interesting details about this find, go to the full National Geographic article on lost Roman law codices.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Victorian Internet

Here's an interesting article from Ars Technica about the Victorian Internet, telegraph network of the 187os. It seems little has changed since then. Though we have broadband (no snickers from you time travelers from the future!) and the Victorians had the narrowest of narrowband, they had control freak/net neutrality issues similar to our own. In this article you'll read about the rigging of elections using the telegraph systems (including copying private telegraphs to the senders' political foes), Enron-like scandals in the railway business (the necessary partner of the telegraph system), the manipulation of stock in Western Union so that a speculator could buy control, and deals to force all newspapers to use the AP network.

Says the author:

In many ways this story is far field from our contemporary debates about network management, file sharing, and the perils of protocol discrimination. But the main questions seem to remain the same—to what degree will we let Western Union then and ISPs now pick winners and losers on our communications backbone? And when do government regulations grow so onerous that they discourage network investment and innovation?

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Monday, November 30, 2009

First International Best Seller: A Fantasy

This book sold only about 20,000 copies in its original language, Spanish, and about 10,000 more in translation. Not exactly spectacular sales? Well, it was published just after the printing press was invented, so in that context, it was spectacular. According to Internet Review of Science Fiction's article by Sue Burke, it is Europe's first best seller, Amadís de Gaula (Amadis of Gaul), a Spanish novel of medieval chivalry, written by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.


'The book is full of sorcery, enchanted weapons, giants, monsters, magical locales, and other "amazing things found outside the natural order," as Rodríguez de Montalvo described it. The story-telling style is medieval, clearly meant to be read aloud.'

One of the more interesting tidbits about the novel is that Cervantes referred to Amadis in Don Quixote de La Mancha, which some claim to be the first and best modern novel. In Don Quixote, travelers at inns listen to readings of Amadis as an evening entertainment.

Go to the IROSF article on Amadis of Gaul for the nine reasons why Amadis was a best seller, and many more interesting tidbits about the novel. Bonus: Sue Burke, a US writer who lives in Madrid, Spain, is doing a serial translation of Amadis on her blog. The link to the serial translation is for the 23rd chapter, the latest chapter at the time of posting. Chapter 0 is here.

Note: the author of the article cited here, Sue Burke, is also the author of a flash fiction story in Flash Fiction Online, Normalized Death.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary/Funny History of Horror

IO9 has a brief overview of horror that tickles the funny bone, whatever the intent might have been. The article writer warns that the article wasn't intended as a comprehensive retrospective; rather, it addresses the categories: 1920s stage plays, comedy teams and camp of the 30s and 40s (Abbott and Costello, for example), 60s anarchy, self-aware campiness, Ghostbusters/Gremlins and more, Troma comedies of the 80s (Surf Nazis Must Die), werewolf/vampire humor, body horror/comedy, the rise of Sam Raimi, Christopher Moore, creature features, Buffy etc., Chucky/Leprechaun films, horror spoofs, and zombie romance/comedies.

IO9 posted some nice graphics with this short look at horror-comedy film history.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Status of Science Fiction: 1951, Life Magazine

Various SF fandom bloggers, including Mike Glyer at File 770 have raved about an article, published in 1951 by Life Magazine, about the status of science fiction. The bloggers were especially impressed by the author's understanding of SF fandom.

The reason this article surfaced was Google's publishing of 1800 digital copies of Life Magazine, from 1936-1972. The photography is great. The advertisements are fun. (Tip: you wives or hopeful girls filling your hope chests will find the kitchen gadget ads quite helpful. And men: where else can you shop for a Desoto?)

(Cough.) Here is the article on science fiction publishing and fandom in 1951 from the May 21, 1951 issue of Life Magazine. Zoom in and be prepared for lots of article continuations. Added bonus: this is a summer beach fashion issue (whoo hoo), and includes photos of a B-36 crash.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse in Same Sentence?

T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse in the same sentence? Yes, if you order the new, 1100 page New Literary History of America, from Harvard University Press. The reviewer at Boston.com (associated with The Boston Globe) had difficulty finding a one-sentence description for the work. It's not his fault; it apparently defies such a description. It has over 200 essays, and includes many mash-ups. Says the reviewer, Alex Beam:

So what’s here? It’s all about counterintuitive pairings: T.S. Eliot and Mickey Mouse; Harry Truman and Vladimir Nabokov; “Henry James finds himself in bed with Edgar Rice Burroughs,’’ Marcus and Sollors promise, to which one can only say: Wow, I’d like to see that.

Despite its girth, the book is about $50, so you should be able to tolerate some eclecticism and still have good bang for your buck. Here is Harvard University's web page on New Literary History of America.


Bonus! At the time of publication of this post, there was a sidebar link in the article to some amazing Hubble Telescope photos (requires Adobe Flash).

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection

This is still the bicentennial year of Edgar Allan Poe. If you're a Poe fan, you'll be interested in a Resource Shelf article about a digital collection of and about Poe's body of work. The collection includes, for example, letters about Poe and his writings by Arthur Conan Doyle and other notables.

The Edgar Allan Poe Digital Collection is hosted by the University of Texas, and includes these categories of documents:

  • Poe manuscript works
  • Poe letters and documents
  • Letters to Poe
  • Related letters and manuscripts
  • Books belonging to Poe
  • Poe editions
  • Sheet music for songs based on Poe's poetry
  • Poe portraiture and photographs
  • Poe miscellany
  • Poe newspapers

Resource Shelf is itself interesting. It is "a daily newsletter with resources of interest to information professionals, educators and journalists." I'll toss writers and readers into that list.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ray Bradbury: We are the Martians

This article in The Smart Set, a Drexel University online magazine, paints a political picture of the U.S. space program beginning with President Kennedy's Rice Stadium speech to when we landed colonists on Mars, according to Ray Bradbury's vision from The Martian Chronicles. Ray Bradbury's vision of space travel is the lens of the article. Bradbury feels that the romance of space travel is the ideal motivator, but which is quickly dashed by the realities. Will we find life on Mars? Bradbury was asked:

“We just don’t know. It doesn’t matter, because we’re going to become the Martians when we land there. When we explore and build communities, we become the Martians. That’s a wonderful destiny for all of us.”

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Storytelling Via Sandpainting

Here is an extraordinary talent at work telling a vivid story via sandpainting to a live audience. She is Kseniya Simonova, a contestant in a Ukrainian version of a "Got Talent" reality TV show. The link provides the background information and a link to a YouTube video of her performance. The sandpainting tells the story of Germany's defeat of the Ukraine in WWII. Turn on the sound because it is an important element of the story.

This video has had a lot of traction on the Internet, but if you haven't seen it, it's worth a look (several minutes).

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Bumbling Future Archeologists

Here is an interesting article by Hugo-nominated Frank Westfahl at the Locus Online site about bumbling archeologists of the future in science fiction. Most of the stories about future archeologists, according to Westfahl, are humor pieces in which the archeologists misinterpret what they find. Interestingly, one of the first such stories is by Edgar Allan Poe. Westfahl reckoned Poe ended that short story abruptly because, as a master storyteller, he knew it was going nowhere. There were only about four long works about future archeology, all of them about gross misinterpretation of the past, and none of them very good. Westfahl examines each of them. Here is a quote from one of the reviews:

As one example of their faulty conclusions, the archaeologists assert that "The Weans were probably not at all a friendly or hospitable people" based solely on two pieces of evidence. First is New York City's Statue of Liberty, whose "one arm upraised" is interpreted as a sign of "a threatening attitude." Second is the discovery of an "inscription" reading "the dodgers were shut out."

For the rest of the article, go here.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coded Message to T. Jefferson Finally Decrypted

Thomas Jefferson received a coded message from a friend claiming the code would: "defy the united ingenuity of the whole human race."

Arranging the "united ingenuity of the whole human race" might be trickier than the code, but it was a decent code, considering it took a modern computer 100,000 calculations using equally modern techniques, such as frequency analysis of 2-letter combinations gathered from documents of the time.

The Newsvine article gives the details of the encryption method, which was used later for diplomatic communication. The method is quite accessible, involving reordering the characters and inserting random numbers of extra characters.

Perhaps you can use it to encrypt your parental control passwords.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Online Access to Artifacts of World Culture

A U.S. Library of Congress-initiated and UN-sponsored project, the World Digital Library, seeks to provide access to artifacts of human culture from throughout the world. The LOC netted the first commercial supporter, Google, with its $3M donation.

...the World Digital Library would bring together online "rare and unique cultural materials held in U.S. and Western repositories with those of other great cultures such as those that lie beyond Europe and involve more than 1 billion people: Chinese East Asia, Indian South Asia and the worlds of Islam stretching from Indonesia through Central and West Asia to Africa."

At the World Digital Library site, you can click on a region and get a list of documents and view them. This seems a Good Thing in general. Many writers may find information and inspiration for stories there. In another article, it was pointed out that some of the items are copyrighted, according to the laws from where the item came...even if thousands of years old.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Cookbook Writing--Mirror of Nations?

Here is an amusing, short summary of the history of cookbooks from Economist.com, and what they mean about the nation in which they were fried up or grilled. Here are two quotes:

"Britain and America are the two great cookbook-writing nations, which is not the same as being nations of great cooks. It is precisely because neither country can boast a coherent, admirable, traditional cuisine that cooks have such need of guidance and distraction."
This is a quote from a British cookbook which paints a picture of post-war practicality:

“Melt 1oz of margarine in ½ teacup milk, and when the mixture is warm put through a cream machine—the five shilling kind which many of us bought before the war and still, I expect, possess."

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Revisiting Lincoln

This seems a good time to consider Abraham Lincoln, again. Perhaps the alternate history writers among will be interested in some what-if scenarios regarding this iconic U.S. president. This National Endowment for the Arts article briefly describes the changing view that the citizenry has had for the man over the decades.

The article, from the NEA's Humanities magazine, also has links to three related articles: Looking for Lincoln: Journalist Andrew Ferguson and NEH Chairman Bruce Cole discuss America’s love-hate relationship with our sixteenth president. Douglas Wilson's article on Lincoln’s legal papers reveals a "surprising cache of sundry clients and dramatic litigation." Lewis Lehrman talks to NEH Chairman Bruce Cole about Abraham Lincoln’s pivotal speech in 1854 (Kansas-Nebraska Act).

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