Monday, January 30, 2017

Meet the Carnosaurs, Part I: Basal forms and Sinraptors

Following the 2010 Benson, Brusatte and Carrano cladogram, let's do for the carnosaurs what I did a month or two ago for the tyrannosaurs.  Carnosaurs are an interesting family; for many years, it was a wastebasket, rather useless designation that merely meant "any therapod that was big."  It even had a bunch of critters in it that ended up not being therapods at all (or even dinosaurs at all, in the case of Teratosaurus) but as it was eventually pared down to something that made some sense, a core Carnosauria did in fact emerge; one that is synonymous for all intents and purposes with Allosauroidea.  As one can imagine, this means that the large, meat-slicing therapods related to Allosaurus which are famous for being the apex predators in environments with large sauropods are what we ended up left with.  Allosaurus is, of course, probably the most famous and well-known, but some of the later groups, like Giganotosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus end up within the classification as well.

But before we can get to the famous species, let's have a quick look at some dubious specimens, which we're not quite sure where they fit, and then the earliest appearing group—the sinraptors, or metriacanthosaurs.

Becklespinax altispinax.  This guy was a very early discovered dinosaur; known only from a few vertebrae, but described by Richard Owen himself, in 1856.  Although originally referred to Megalosaurus (but seriously; what wasn't?) this confusion is what led to the hump on the back of the plodding Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins sculpt of the animal that appeared famously in the Crystal Palace.  Becklespinax had relatively tall neural spines on the vertebrae, which mesmerized later describers who have tried to refer it to Acrocanthosaurus as well.  It comes from the Wealdon Group of the early Cretaceous Varanginian (about 130-140 million years ago) in southeastern England.  His contemporaries would be a number of poorly known yet ironically very famous dinosaurs, who include most of the first dinosaurs named or described: Iguanodon, Hylaeosaurus, Cetiosaurus, etc.

It's probably not really very primitive, given the time frame in which it appears, but it's so poorly known that we can't really determine what Becklespinax is.  It might not even be a carnosaur at all; it might be a "megalosaur" or other more primitive tetanuran.

Gasosaurus constructus.  Another poorly known critter, Gasosaurus is known from the lower Shaximiao formation (164 million years ago) in Sichuan, and is poorly enough known that it's placement on the family tree is also uncertain.  It was probably relatively small, and it may have been a basal tetanuran, basal carnosaur—related to the sinraptors (probably the most likely, given its temporal and geographical placement) or even a basal coelurosaur.  In its environment there are a lot of stegosaurs, a number of basal ornithischians (like fabrosaurs) or early ornithopods (primitive hypsilophodonts) as well as sauropods like Shunosaurus and Omeisaurus.

Erectopus superbus.  A young carnosaur, from the La Penthiève beds in France from the lower Cretaceous, the exact time and placement in the family tree of this guy is unknown.  It is very late appearing for a carnosaur, and it does appear to be definitely a carnosaur, but other than that, very little is known of it.  It appears to have been found in a formation that was semi-marine; either an island or because it washed out to sea; other fossils found with it include plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and marine crocodiles.  Like every other meat-eating dinosaur discovered within the 1800s, it was known as Megalosaurus for quite some time.


The first actual family within Carnosauria that we encounter are the sinraptors.  Sinraptoridae has largely been ousted as the name Metriacanthosauridae appears to have precedence, but typing the informal "sinraptors" is a heckuva lot easier. As you can probably guess from the name, they are mostly found in China, and tend to be early to late Jurassic, making them the earliest appearing solid group of carnosaurs.  If one can speak about the group generically, it would be fair to call them allosaur-like therapods, both in shape and in size, but with a tendency towards tall backbone spines.  This tendency was repeated by some of the later appearing carcharodontosaurs, and was of course even more famous in the spinosaurs, which are not carnosaurs at all.  Some of the ornithopods also tended towards this trait, which seems to have been one that appeared repeatedly and independently in various dinosaur families that were not related to each other.

Xuanhanosaurus qilixiaensis.  Quite a mouthful, as are many of the Chinese dinosaurs.  Known from some partial sub-cranial skeletal elements, this was originally believed to be a megalosaur, but more recently it has been recovered as a basal sinraptor; although it is a "wildcard" taxa that tends to make phylogenies unstable and weird.  Found in the same formation as Gasosaurus (although their temporal relationship is not understood) it was a relatively smallish animal; maybe 15 feet long (which is actually slightly larger than the specimen of Gasosaurus known) and seems to have had an unusually large and strong forelimb.  The describer, Dong Zhiming, even proposed that it might have been quadrupedal, although that idea, fanciful and interesting as it seemed, has not been accepted by anyone else.  Although, if you look, you can find illustrations online of what some have thought that would look like—quite an interesting idea.

Yangchuanosaurus shangyouensis. Also, Y. magnus, which was rolled up into the same species.  From 161-154 or so million years ago in the Oxfordian and early Kimmeridgian, Yangchuanosaurus was not only very similar in size and shape to North American Allosaurus, but also appeared very close to it in time, and rambled through a faunal assemblage of similar creatures as the Morrison—the Shangshaximiao Formation has stegosaurs, ornithopods, large sauropods, crocodiles, small therapods, etc.  The largest specimen was estimated to be about 35 feet long; fairly big, although the type specimen was only about 26 feet long.

A number of other dubious specimens, with various names, were determined just in the last few years by Carrano, Benson and Sampson to belong to a different species of the same genus, Y. zigongensis.  This animal appears just a bit earlier than Y. shangyouensis and is likely ancestral to it.  This makes it very close in time to Xuanhanosaurus and Gasosaurus, if not coterminous.  Exactly why there were so many closely related (apparently) creatures in the same time and place is unclear.  Sadly, the most likely interpretation is that the colorful names "Szechuanosaurus" and "Szechuanoraptor" are no good.  Too bad.


All of the Yangchuanosaurus species appear to have had a highly ornamented head, with a bony ridge along the nose and multiple hornlets.  This is often forgotten; most of the therapods have highly decorated heads, really, but the nose ridge was quite tall and almost Ceratosaurus-like; although of course those two are also not closely related.
The rest of this group are all part of a subfamily within the sinraptors (Metriacanthosauridae) called Metriacanthosaurinae, which includes four genera.  Three of them are Chinese.

Metriacanthosaurus parkeri.  Of course, this was originally named Megalosaurus parkeri but was later renamed Altispinax.  Although named for its neural spines, they are not really all that high compared to many other therapods, and are certainly much more modest than that of Acrocanthosaurus.  Known only from a partial hip, leg and some vertebrae, Metriacanthosaurus is about the same size as an average Allosaurus specimen from the Morrison.  It comes from the Oxford Clay Formation from the... wait for it... Oxfordian period, coterminous with the early Morrison.  Although much of the material referred to this formation (dinosaur-wise, at least) is pretty scanty, it looks to be a typical late Jurassic fauna in most respects.  Lots of fish and invertebrates, on the other hand, are known from the Oxford Clay.

Shidaisaurus jinae.  Poorly known, and from a specimen that is probably sub-adult to boot, very little can be said about Shidaisaurus other than its clear familial relationship, modest size and that it comes from the Upper Lufeng in the early Jurassic—although various authors vary in how they characterize exactly when this means that it lived.  Some papers refer to it as a basal tetanuran rather than a sinraptor, but the Carrano, Brusatte and Benson paper recovers it as a metriacanthosaurine.

Sinraptor dongi.  Often given short shrift as a rather "boring" representative of the allosaur clade, Sinraptor appears to have been a medium sized therapod; a bit smaller than Yangchuanosaurus which was in turn a bit smaller than Allosaurus, lacking in head gear of any notable type, there's not a lot that really stands out, I admit.  About 25 feet long (although if we had more samples, we may find that it could grow larger—there is a spectacularly large tooth that may belong to Sinraptor found in this area that would be considerably larger than the specimens we know, if so), and found in the Shishugou Formation (known to us already as the home of Guanlong the early tyrant) the most interesting thing about Sinraptor is really the environment that it is found in.  Slightly earlier than the Morrison, although very broadly similar to it, we have a number of classic dinosaur elements here; Sinraptor as a carnosaur, large sauropods (Mamenchisaurus, a camarasaur), an ornithopod that little is known about, a medium sized stegosaur, early alvarezsaurs, a noasaur, a few other small therapods, etc.  One of the earliest tyrannosaurs and the earliest ceratopsian are located here.  Sinraptor may have replaced Monolophosaurus, a "megalosaur" with a large nose crest that appears in the earliest part of the formation.

There may have been more than one species as well; "Sinraptor" hepingensis is a specimen that's bounced around in various genera over the years, and appears to be closely related to Sinraptor although slightly more basal.

Sinraptor is also famous for some paleopathology, specifically some broken ribs and what appear to be bite marks on the skull.  Some have argued for cannibalism based on these, but more likely it was intraspecific competition.  It's well known that a number of therapods fought via face-biting, and most survived the combat to partially heal their wounds.

Siamotyrannus isanensis.  One of the few dinosaurs known from Thailand (and named for Siam, the older kingdom of the Thai people, it is a modest-sized 20 or so foot carnosaur.  We think.  Some early analysis presumed it was actually a tyrannosauroid, and later a basal carnosaur.  The phylogenies of Brusatte, Carrano and Benson seem confident in its placement as a metriacanthosaurine, however.  Since it's only known from part of a hip and some back and tail vertebrae, in some ways, we don't have a ton to go on.  A tibia and some teeth were also referred to the species, but I'm always skeptical that those are correct, since the only reason to believe so is there general spatial relationship.  It comes from the Sao Khua formation; an early Cretaceous formation about 129 million years old—which would make this by far the latest appearing sinraptor.  It's neighbors would be a spinosaurid (known only from some teeth), a titanosaurian and other incertae sedis sauropod remains, an ornithomimosaur, and other uncertain therapods.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Uncle Sweartling"

The shadowy figure "Uncle Sweartling" is a legend in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Wildergard especially, but he's also known as the "Myrkheiðinn"—the Murk-heathen—to the Norse, and Scáth Taibhs to the Gaels.  He was once a human Shadow Sword of some accomplishment, but he now has abilities—curses, say most—of mysterious provenance.  The most likely and common explanations are that he was cursed by some daemon, or made a pact with one, and is now at least part daemon himself.

He lives alone deep in the wilderness, but the lords of Cantaware still maintain some contact with him, according to rumor.  Scandalous whispers suggest that he was once a close cousin or even brother of the king; one not set to inherit who therefore one who fell to a dark path.

He is usually seen wearing the remnants of ragged breeches and a tunic, but since extremes of hot or cold don't bother him, he sometimes does not bother.  He is usually unshod.  His dark hair swirls around his hair, and energy seems to seep off of him as it does from the weapons of a Shadow Sword—in Uncle Sweartling's case it comes from his very body.

His eyes glow like hot coals.  Although he has the ability to cloak himself in shadow and move stealthily, he is confident enough in his power to deal with any threats that he comes across that he often doesn't bother.

In spite of his dark reputation—which is warranted, by the way—Sweartling does retain a fondness for his people, the Anglo-Saxons, and even the Norse or Gaels or Cumbrians, if the alternative is the Kurushi, Terrasans or the other peoples who do not come from Old Europe, and can sometimes be convinced to be helpful.  Showing tokens of the land of Cantaware and its lords can increase this chance.


NAME: Uncle Sweartling
CLASS/LEVEL: Shadow Sword 9
RACE: Human
SEX: Male
HEIGHT: 5"10"
WEIGHT: 195 lbs.
HAIR COLOR: Black
EYE COLOR: Coals
SKIN COLOR: Brick

STR: +7
DEX: +3
MND: +2

HIT POINTS: 33
ARMOR CLASS: 21
ARMOR TYPE: Shadow

ATHLETICS: +10
COMMUNICATION: +10
KNOWLEDGE: +10
SUBTERFUGE: +10
SURVIVAL: +10

MELEE TO HIT: +19
RANGED TO HIT: +15

WEAPONS: Shadow franciscas (throwing axes) (2) 1d6+10 damage; melee and thrown
Shadow longseax 1d8+10 damage

CLASS ABILITIES: +3 to SUBTERFUGE + DEX checks to hide
+3 to ATTACK and DAMAGE rolls

OTHER ABILITIES:  +10 to any resistance roll against a magical effect or spell
Immunity to disease and poison
Heals +5 hp per round unless killed outright
Takes no harm or ill effect from environmental conditions; i.e., extremes of hot and cold

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

White nationalism in gaming?!

I remember reading a list of "worst games ever published" a few years ago.  It had World of Synnibar of course, as any list of "worst games ever published" should have, but it also had a bizarre shibboleth of a game: Rahowa.  In fact, it had this as the worst game ever written.  I had actually downloaded and read a copy of this (very brief) game once upon a time hoping to be entertained in the same way that you are when you watch Sharknado or some other deliberately bad and cheesy movie, and while it was certainly not a good game, it hardly rose to the level of worst game ever written. But I can see why it was selected, knowing what I do now about SJWs and their infiltration of everything good.  My thought when reading it, though, was why wasn't the game just ignored as weird, incomplete, and not appealing to anyone rather than being so comically bad that it merited a place on the list?

See, Rahowa was short for Racial Holy War and it was a skinhead slash white supremacist game.

Sigh.  White supremacism is for stupid people.  To quote portions of the 16 Points; an Alt-Right manifesto that I largely agree with (although some of the 16 points I care about considerably less than others):
  • The Alt Right is openly and avowedly nationalist. It supports all nationalisms and the right of all nations to exist, homogeneous and unadulterated by foreign invasion and immigration.
  • The Alt Right is anti-globalist. It opposes all groups who work for globalist ideals or globalist objectives.
  • The Alt Right is anti-equalitarian. It rejects the idea of equality for the same reason it rejects the ideas of unicorns and leprechauns, noting that human equality does not exist in any observable scientific, legal, material, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual form.
  • The Alt Right believes identity > culture > politics.
  • The Alt Right is opposed to the rule or domination of any native ethnic group by another, particularly in the sovereign homelands of the dominated peoples. The Alt Right is opposed to any non-native ethnic group obtaining excessive influence in any society through nepotism, tribalism, or any other means.
  • The Alt Right understands that diversity + proximity = war.
  • The Alt Right rejects international free trade and the free movement of peoples that free trade requires. The benefits of intranational free trade is not evidence for the benefits of international free trade.
  • The Alt Right believes we must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.
  • The Alt Right does not believe in the general supremacy of any race, nation, people, or sub-species. Every race, nation, people, and human sub-species has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and possesses the sovereign right to dwell unmolested in the native culture it prefers.
  • The Alt Right is a philosophy that values peace among the various nations of the world and opposes wars to impose the values of one nation upon another as well as efforts to exterminate individual nations through war, genocide, immigration, or genetic assimilation.
That isn't all of the 16 points, of course, but those are the ones that debunk the effort to (deliberately) confuse white nationalism with white supremacism.  Although the use of sub-species is kind of over-the-top, since as biologically defined, there are no extant human sub-species save Homo sapiens sapiens.  That is a reference to the degree to which Neanderthal, Denisovan or other DNA makes up components of the genetic legacy of various populations of the world; ironically because most people would believe the opposite based on racial posturing of the past, the least "pure" humans are white Europeans and even moreso, north Asians; the percentage of Neanderthal admixture is highest there.  It also seems to lean towards the multiregional origin of modern humans, or at least implicitly allow for the possibility—which may be justified as continued paleogenetic data becomes available.

Anyway, here's another, more succinct explanation of the alt-right, including it's tenets of race and culture:

Now; it should be obvious from both of these that white supremacy and white nationalism are not the same thing at all.  Rahowa was a white supremacist game, and although I've never been a white supremacist, I find that my tastes are migrating more and more to a white nationalist approach.  What does white nationalism mean?

Quite simply that white people should be able to be proud of their heritage and recognize that their culture and society is best suited to them, as they are best suited to it (as Steve Sailer says; culture is little more than the aggregate of the personalities and behavior of the people who live within it).  And that white nations have a right to order their societies as they please and dwell therein unmolested by those who seek to impose a different culture on them, or those who seek to loot their society, either one.  And that white nationalists do not begrudge African nationalists, Hispanic-Indio nationalists, Japanese nationalists, Arabic nationalists, or Jewish nationalists (etc. ad nauseum) the same privilege.  Merely that your privilege needs to be exercised in your own lands as we will exercise our privilege in ours.

From a perspective of gaming and science fiction and fantasy, that means that I reject the notion that these genres are "too white" completely.  If Charles Saunders wants to write Imaro as an expression of black nationalism (which he did want to do, and which he did do) then he's perfectly within his rights to do so.  However, there should be no expectation that white people should read the story, accept it as part of their canon, or even have any interest in it whatsoever except perhaps as a novelty (which, based on sales, appears largely to be the case with the exception of some virtue-signalers or completists who would read anything with the sword & sorcery label on it, regardless of any other qualities.)  And if African or even African-American readers don't show any interest in sword & sorcery, which is primarily a white genre, well, that's fine too.  After all, if sword & sorcery isn't "African" enough of a story mode for them, that's fine.  Why should they appropriate story modes from me and my heritage, rather than using something more in keeping with their own culture?  Nobody should feel like there's any need to subsidize or "force" the success of "diverse" fiction or gaming—or ram diversity down the throats of readers and gamers who want to be entertained, not preached to about how terrible they are.  In this vein, I've embraced gaming and fiction (again) that is largely based on my heritage, as I should.  That heritage is, after all, mine.  Why wouldn't I embrace it, and if I don't, who from any other heritage would?

This is one of the primary details that has evolved with my conception of DARK•HERITAGE over time; I had initially rejected a white nationalist approach as "too familiar" and made the main "protagonist" culture a kind of Aragonese Medieval Mediterranean one—more for the novelty value than for anything more substantive.  I'm actually surprised that the notion survived as long as it did, given the fleeting foundation on which it was built.  That fictional polity still exists, but I've decided that I don't want to focus on it, because my connection to that culture is relatively tenuous, and after all, why should I appropriate too much from a culture foreign to me when I can continue to explore cultures that are my own?  Hence the change from a focus on the Terrasan Empire around a fantasy Mediterranean analog to one that is more about British Dark Ages cultures along a fantasy analog of the Atlantic Seaboard and their first advancements westward.  Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Viking, with lingering traces of Graeco-Roman antecedents is familiar, but that's exactly the reason to recommend it, actually, rather than the reason to reject it.  And that is, of course, my own heritage.

Anyway, I've made a list of real-life kingdoms from the Dark Ages and I'll probably translate them into petty kingdoms, city-states or other small polities on my Atlantic Seaboard.  Heck; I'll even posit that they may well have come from actual Europe into a fantasy New World (instead of the real New World) because... well, because why not?  The notion that the real world and the secondary world have to be kept completely separate has a long tradition in fantasy, but it is not monolithic.  To be fair, both Middle-earth and the Hyborian Age are technically supposed to represent the real world from some mythic period of time, although in both cases that's more of a framing device rather than something that's meant to be taken seriously.  Most post-Tolkien fantasy has rejected it completely and simply made the secondary world be a secondary world with no connections to the real world at all.  But not all fantasy, back in the day, was done so.

So, yeah—the development of DARK•HERITAGE Mk. IV into Mk. V continues apace.  It's probably also time that I started adding some more detail to my sketchy map.  Coming soon.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Gaelic vs Gaulish vs Gallic

As an aside.  All three are very similar words being applied to a very similar people; a branch of the big Celtic ethnoi.  But all three have a completely different origin, which is a testament to the fact that just because words sound alike doesn't mean that they are.

The Gaels are the Irish and Scottish, who speak very closely related languages that (along with Manx) make up the Gaelic subfamily within Celtic.  The word appears to have originally come from a very primitive proto-Welsh, though (part of a different subfamily of Celtic)—in Old Irish, Gael was Gaoidheal, from Primitive Welsh Guoidel which meant something akin to "wild men" or "forest people."  Or maybe warrior/raider.  Probably describes the relationship that they had with the Dalriadans.

Gallic and Gaulish, although sounding very similar and referring to the exact same group (the tribal confederation that occupied what is today France, and which fought a series of famous wars against Julius Caesar, during which Caesar came, saw and conquered, after all was said and done) are completely unrelated words.

Gallic comes to us from Latin Galli and Gal(at)ai (which as you can guess, also gives us the name for the Galatians, which were still a Celtic speaking population and ethnostate in Anatolia 350 years after its founding by wandering Celtic warriors.  It probably is ultimately descended from a tribal name in use among the Celtic groups in question themselves, and Celtic etymologies have been determined and proposed for the name.  Of course, the Celts were named Keltoi by the Greeks, and Julius Caesar said that the Gauls called themselves Celtae in their own tongue.  Linguist Stefan Schumacher, on the other hand, suggests that Galli might be an exonym applied by the Romans that originally meant something along the lines of "raider, marauder, robber"—a landlocked equivalent to Viking, in other words.  Given the Roman history with the Cisalpine Gauls long before the conquest of Gallia by Caesar, this might well have been accurate (c.f. Brennus of "Vae victis!" fame.  No relation to the other Brennus who defeated a Greek force at Thermopylae, reputedly sacked Delphi, and when finally driven off, went into Anatolia to found the state of Galatia—or rather, the remnants of his army did.  Brennus himself doesn't appear to have survived the attack on Greece.  According to the Greeks, anyway.)

Gaulish, on the other hand, has a Germanic origin, and comes from a Frankish word walha which meant merely "foreigner."  (In French, Frankish initial sound w is very regularly rendered with a g: Guillame = William, guerre = war, garder = ward, etc.)  In Anglo-Saxon, walha was more like wælisċ which is where the word Welsh comes from.  It also gives us the -wall in Cornwall—Cornovii (tribal name) + wall.  The Cornovii-foreigners.  It also gives us the names Wallace and Walsh, the ethnonym of the Vlachs and Walloons, Welschschweiz (the word in Swiss German for the French part of Switzerland) and even the word walnut (foreign nut; because it was grown by the Romans, not the Germanic peoples.)

Curiously, there is a theory that the origin of the word in Germanic itself comes from an early Celtic tribe, the Volcae (a branch of which the Greek raider Brennus represented).  If so, it would have  happened very early in the development of Germanic—before even the First Germanic Sound Shift, or Grimm's Law, took effect, because the effects of Grimm's law can be seen on the change from Volcae to *wolk- to *walh-.

As an aside, it is presumed that the Gallaeci who gave their name to the region of Gallicia in northern Spain and Portugal were a Hispano-Celtic speaking population, it is completely unknown what relation their name has to the the Galli or Galatai or anyone else.

The Celts really were quite integral to the formation of Europe as we know it in many ways, and yet in many ways, they are one of the great lost peoples of Europe; never literate and culturally subsumed by either (or both) Romans or Germanic peoples without ever having had the opportunity to give us their own account of themselves, except for the rump populations of Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany.  It's curious, and I wonder how much the character of guys like the English or the Swiss are informed as much by the Germanic folk who gave them their language and name, and how much was informed by the Celtic substratum which gave them a fair bit of their genetics.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

A story idea: The Taking Boy

I'm not yet sure what to do with this, but since I'm about to shut down and get in the car in a few minutes, I thought I'd just throw it out real quick.  This is from one of those collections of "funny" pictures that kids drew.  Most of them really were funny.

But these weren't.  And the fact that there were two of them so similar could be seen by someone with the right frame of mind as downright eerie.



Dark•Heritage map names

As my DARK•HERITAGE campaign setting is evolving into it's Mk. V as a geographic "calque" of the Atlantic Seaboard and Louisiana Purchase except with British Dark Ages populations (sorta) taking the place of Anglo-American settlers, I had come up with some Saxon sounding, and Celtic sounding and Old Norse sounding names for some kingdoms; but the more I think about it, why reinvent the wheel?  What would it do if I used actual historical placenames from the Dark Ages?  Why not?  It's not like that would suddenly turn this into some kind of historical fiction if I had Dál Riata (for example) as a place in DARK•HERITAGE, because my Dál Riata would only superficially resemble the historical one, and it certainly wouldn't be on the coastline of western Scotland; it'd be somewhere on or near the east coast of the DARK•HERITAGE pseudo-North American continent.  It would have, however, a Dark Ages Gaelic character of sorts to it.

Now, historically it was often considered likely that Dál Riata was founded in the immediate post-British period by an invasion of Irish Scoti, but it's actually been suggested recently that there is no archaeological evidence for either an invasion or even the installation of a foreign Gaelic aristocracy over a Brythonic or Pictish population either one; rather, they suggest that the Druim Alban, or "Spine of Scotland" was always a natural barrier that separated two distinct populations (archaeologically speaking) that emerged in historical times as Pictish on the east and Gaelic on the west without interruption, until they united into the Picto-Gaelic kingdom of Alba.  This suggests that the western fringe of Scotland, what was known in parahistorical and early historical times as Dál Riata was actually Gaelic and united along with Ulaid (later Ulster) culturally and politically since some prehistoric time.  However, this is a historical curiosity.  Nobody ever doubted that the Scots and the Irish weren't once closely related culturally since they remained related linguistically (and culturally still too, for that matter) well into the historical period.  In other words, early Dark Age Scots doesn't translate into early Dark Ages Irish in DARK•HERITAGE, although maybe the distinction is a bit esoteric and academic.

What are the various groups of British Dark Ages that I want to bring to my fictional NA continent and place on the eastern—oh, about half?
  • The Britons: Specifically, this is the Brythonic Celtic population.  Somewhat Romanized culturally, and their aristocracy speaks a vulgar Latin, but otherwise they are more comparable to the early Welsh or Cornish than anything else.

    Kingdoms: Ystrad Clut, Elmet, Gododdin, Rheged, Aeron, Calchfynydd, Eidyn, Dun Manaan, Dewr, Bryneich, Gynedd, Powys, Pengwern, Gwent, Damnonia, Dumnonia, Kernow, Defnaint, Ceredigion, Dyfed, Ebrauc, Glywysing, Deheubarth, Morgannwg, Rhos.
  • The Anglo-Saxons: Germanic peoples who are in conflict with Britons in particular.  My DARK•HERITAGE Anglo-Saxons will be more specifically Northumbrian in character.  If that matters.  Given the geographic placement, my own actual Anglo-Saxon ancestors were most likely mostly Angles from Bernicia.

    Kingdoms: Beornice, Derenrice, Dere, Engla, Cantaware, Hwicce, Wychwood, Suthseaxna, Eastseaxna, Middelseaxna, Westseaxna, Myrce, Norþhymbra, Ictin, Wihtwara, Lindesege, Magonsets, Meonwara, Pencersets, Pecsets (Peakrills), Tomsets, Wreocensets (Wrekinsets), Gyrwas, Suðenhymbra, Cilternsets, Duddensets, Bilsets, etc.)
  • The Picts: Nobody knows for sure who the Picts were, although the prevailing notion is that they were a Celtic people speaking a language related to that of the Britons; possibly even a dialect of Brythonic, who gradually became more and more Gaelicized until the Pictish identity was forgotten and everyone in Alba became the Gaelic Scots.  Former notions of the Picts retaining an old Ice Age pre-Celtic and non-Indo-European language are out of favor, but clearly the Picts seem to have maintained a separate identity and culture from their more southerly neighbors; even before the Romanization of the southern Britons.

    Kingdoms: Ce, Cait, Mar, Buchan, Circinn, Fib, Fidach, Fotla, Atholl, Fortriu
  • The Gaels: I already mentioned Dál Riata, so I won't belabor it more; but the Scottish people are what I'm going for.  My own ancestry into this branch is with the Lowland Scots, who would have been part of the frontier region with Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons.  People from both extractions were relocated during the partial Tudor conquest of Ireland to settle in what become Northern Ireland, and are often called (locally) the Ulster Scots and in America, the Scots Irish.  Despite the name, the Scots Irish are not Irish at all, of course, they are settlers of Lowland Scottish and northern English descent living on the Irish island, mostly in the politically segregated province of Northern Ireland.  Most of these today still identify as British, not Irish.  Anyway, in addition to frontier northern English and Lowland Scottish ancestry, I have a fair amount of Scots Irish ancestry too—but realistically, all three of those terms are largely overlapping.

    Kingdoms: Dál Riata, Demet, Brycheiniog, Morvern, Lochabar, Dunadd, Dún Sebuirge, Dun Ollaigh, Dun Albanach, Dál Fiatach, Strathcarann, Alclud, Dun Nechtain, Innse Gall, Magh Rath, Lough Neagh.
  • The Vikings: Usually called in historical sources "the Danes"; Viking was a term that meant something similar to "pirates" or "raiders."  Although, to be fair, the origin of the word Gael from a Briton source is identical—an odd coincidence.  Vikings didn't merely raid the British Isles, however; they settled in relatively large numbers and founded relatively long-lasting kingdoms in Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick), in Scotland (in the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetlands, especially) and they conquered large sections of England in what became known as the Danelaw; an independent Viking kingdom that took up a good half of the territory known today as England.  The Danes never came in enough numbers to displace the Anglo-Saxons, and they appear to have gradually been culturally and politically subsumed, but not for quite a while.  Until the expulsion of Eric Bloodaxe in 954, Danelaw existed as a separate political entity from Anglo-Saxon England, and then Cnut and his son Harthacnut ruled England from Denmark from 1012 until 1042 in what has been named the "North Sea Empire." It appears that the court of Cnut gradually became more English and less Danish over time, as he trusted his Anglo-Saxon vassals more than his native ones.  While native Anglo-Saxon kings ruled between 1042 and 1066, they maintained close ties with their colleagues in Scandinavia.  In 1066 following the death of Edward the Confessor without a clear line of succession, Harold Godwinson became the Anglo-Saxon proclaimed king.  He was himself the son of a Danish mother who was closely related to Cnut.  Harold's brother Tostig attempted to claim the crown himself (sorta) by inviting Harald Hardrada, king of Norway and "the last Viking" to claim the throne, although both Tostig and Harald were defeated and killed after initial success up near York at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  Of course, Harold didn't hold the crown for very long; after defeating Harald and Tostig, he rushed off to defeat another claimant to the throne, perhaps Edward's own favorite and his first cousin, William the Conqueror.  William, of course, won the Battle of Hastings, Harold was killed, and the Norman conquest of England proceeded apace.  William was, of course a direct descendant through about five generations of Rollo; himself a Viking settler who carved out the Duchy of Normandy from northern France the same way his Viking colleagues did with Danelaw in England, so although he now spoke a dialect of French, William was yet a Viking after all, really.

    Kingdoms: Agder, Grenland, Hadeland, Hardanger, Hedmark, Hålogaland, Namdalen, Nordmøre, Oppland, Orkdal, Rogaland, Romsdal, Sogn, Solør, Sunnmøre, Telemark, Toten, Trøndelag, Vestfold, Vingulmark, Voss
The list of kingdoms is deliberate; to give me a big pool of names of actual petty kingdoms to choose from, all historical, to make my own petty kingdoms.


Here's my sketchy map; I'll probably redraw this with more detail and maybe zoomed in on the "European" nations, which are of course, the "protagonist" nations of DARK•HERITAGE.  The other nations presented are less clearly derived from real life; they include: Kurushat (a kind of Red Men of Mars analog—sorta, although more foreign and less noble), Baal Hamazi (an analog to D&D's Bael Turath; the tiefling empire), the Untash, Haltash and Tazitta tribes (a combination of Plains Injuns, Huns, Mongols, etc.  Note: I tend to type Injuns because I prefer and am used to the designation Indians for the "native Americans" to any other label, but it does occasionally merit confusion with the people of India.  Injuns, however, is clearly an American dialectical variant of that word that only has the one meaning.)  Lomar is drawn from Lovecraft's sword & sorcery (although rather heavily modified, I'm sure).

The Wendak are actually based on a historical population: The Five Civilized Tribes, and Terassa is going to be loosely based on Nueva España in most respects, including a syncretized Spanish/Aztec population on the mainland, and more "pure" Spanish population in the tropical islands off the coast—comparable to Mexico vs. the Spanish Caribbean.

And I still want to figure out where I can fit Tarush Noptii back in too.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

WAR gets political. A little.


Posted on Wayne Reynolds' Facebook page.  He confirmed that the political vibe that you think you see in there is deliberate.  The US is a demented leprechaun committing suicide by cutting off the branch that it's sitting on.

Lots of things to say about this, if one had a mind to.

A few thoughts that crossed my mind, in no particular order:

  • Since when is US so Irish in character?  The roll call of citizens at the time of the Revolutionary War was 85% British (mostly English, but also some Scottish), 9% Low German, and about 3-4% Dutch.  The Irish didn't come until much later, and still aren't that common (10-11% of Americans today claim partial or primary Irish ancestry—and only NYC and Boston have really high concentrations even then.)  That's what it means to be American; ancestry from within the Hajnal Line, especially Anglo-Saxon and Scottish.
  • Hey, Brit-boy!  Mind your own business!  Especially if you think Americans are nasty little goblin-like people, we really don't care what you care to say about us.
  • You're not even as much of a celebrity as the C-listers who made that stupid PSA a few months ago to try and convince Congress to block Trump's inauguration.  Nobody cares what you say.  Take Mark Wahlberg's advice and shut up about political and social issues.
  • As a guy who's illustrated a fair number of Osprey Press military history books, you should know better than most what uncontrolled immigration does to the host culture.  You did the book on the Celts: tell me again how well Celtic culture is doing in England.  Where, y'know, everyone speaks a descendant of the Cumbric language, worships a Celtic pantheon, practices Celtic social and legal traditions, and considers themselves Celtic.  You bag of crap traitor.  Now, having a leader who "threatens" to halt the invasion of the West by Aztec and Muslim barbarians is... instead of actually being a last ditch effort to save our nations without (much) bloodshed, is the guy who's bringing ruination on us by cutting off the branch that we're standing on?  You're too stupid to say anything about political issues.

14ers

The highest peak in the Lower 48 is Mount Whitney in California, and it gets a lot of attention because of that (also because it's right off of the Pacific Crest Trail and serves as a terminus for the John Muir Trail.)  It clocks in at 14,505 ft. above sea level at the summit.  However, California isn't really the home of very  many 14ers.  Even Alaska, which has the highest point in the nation and on the continent (Mt. McKinley 20,310) only has 22.  California only has 12 (although you can add 4 more if you throw out the 300 feet of prominence rule).  Washington has a couple.  Oregon, doesn't have any, and the rest of the Rocky Mountain states don't either except for... Colorado, the real home of the American 14er.  With a wicked list of 53 14ers (which can be expanded to 60 by getting rid of the prominence rule) Colorado is truly the state with the the most noteworthy destinations for peak-baggers.

Now, I don't really consider myself a peakbagger really.  I've actually not had a lot of interest in peak-bagging.  I did bag a Colorado 14er in my teenage years in the late 80s: Sunlight Peak, deep in the wilderness near the Chicago Basin.  Perhaps because I did a relatively difficult (albeit non-technical) deep wilderness 14er already, I've not really felt the need to prove anything to myself by doing more just to do it, and I actually usually rather like ridge-lines and passes more than I like peaks.

But I'm considering a 14er this year.

About three years ago, I decided after much leading up to it, that I really wanted to make backpacking into one of my main hobbies again, although mountain backpacking (the kind I most like) is remote enough for me living in the upper Midwest that I can't really do more than one trip a year currently.  Maybe when the kids finish moving out, I can bump that up to two or three without jeopardizing other vacations (say, to visit the kids, or go to Hawaii or the Caribbean with my wife, see Europe while there's still a non-Ummah conquered Europe to see, etc.)  I went hiking by myself in the High Uintas Wilderness in 2014, I went with my son to another part of the High Uintas Wilderness in 2015, and in 2016 I didn't get to take a backpacking trip, but I did spend a fair amount of time in the Wasatch doing day hiking and enjoying the mountains (I'd like to have done more, but it was a family reunion, and other pursuits had claim on my attention, sadly.)

For 2017, I had been targeting getting out of the Uintas (not that I've seen everything that I want to in that range, but there's so much to see!) and do a hike in the southern end of the Wind River Mountain Range in northwest-central Wyoming.  A friend of mine here locally was looking to come with, which I actually kind of liked, because the Wind Rivers is in grizzly country.  Not that you're likely to see many of the big guys—or for that matter, even any of them, but they are there, and one of the best ways to minimize the risk of unpleasant confrontations is to get a small group together.  Three or four would be even better than two.

Sadly, July looks very bad for both of us, and August isn't going to work for him.  I could, of course, have told him, "well, maybe next time" and gone forward with my own plans, since August is what I had targeted.  But I admit that it made me think of another route that I had on my radar which, by fortuitous coincidence, was one that I wanted to do in mid to late September to see all of the fall aspens while I'm at it.  This is the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of Colorado, near Aspen.  I need to figure out the timing, but because it's a relatively short hike (probably four days; three nights) I had thought about also doing just a fairly quick overnighter at the Blue Lakes area on the flanks of Mount Sneffels.  The itinerary would have me leave home after leaving work a few hours early on Friday afternoon of September 15th probably (although I could also do the next week after that—maybe that's even a good idea.  We'll see.)  I'd drive that evening and all day Saturday to get to somewhere near Aspen on Saturday night.  After going to church locally on Sunday morning, we'd change, check out of our hotel, and go camp somewhere near the start of the Maroon Bells trail.  Sunday afternoon will probably be pretty busy because day hikers taking pictures of the reflection of the bells and the fall colors will be thick on Sunday afternoon unless it's a bit rainy or something, but we can easily get to somewhere between Crater Lake and West Maroon Pass that evening, and we'll be in pretty good shape for time.


Monday morning, we break camp and hit West Maroon pass early.  A short jaunt along the flank of the ridge that extends northwest from Belleville Mountain along a well-maintained trail above treeline gets us to Frigid Air Pass after a couple of hours—I presume we'd have lunch somewhere along that ridge and cross the second pass either early or mid afternoon—and we're in Fravert Basin for Monday night.

Tuesday we cross Fravert Basin and Trail Rider Pass to make camp at Snowmass Lake.  If we decide that we want to summit Snowmass Peak, or it's taller brother Snowmass Mountain, the next morning would be the time to do it.  If we do the mountain, then we probably don't move quite far enough on Wednesday to cross the last of the four passes, Buckskin Pass, although maybe we do.  Either way, we spend Wednesday night either in Minnehanna Gorge on the other side of the pass, or just on the near side of the pass, and Thursday by mid-day we're back at the car, and driving to the Trail Head for Blue Lakes, not far from Ouray, and hike a few miles that afternoon, probably to one of the lower lakes.  Friday, we can explore the Blue Lakes area, getting all of the way up to Blue Lakes Pass before turning back and being done with the mountains for another season.  From this area, if we really felt ambitious, we'd be within relatively easy striking distance of the summit of Sneffels itself.  Sigh.



Saturday and Sunday we drive home.  We might even make it home in time to catch some of church on Sunday afternoon.

If we skip the Sneffels day, we can head home even earlier and be home Saturday night, which might be desirable, but I'll talk to my hiking partner and see what we come up with.  For me personally, I'd love to see Sneffels while I'm not far away and already in the area, and the season is perfect.  But I also know myself well enough to know that I might be tired of camping and ready to call it quits after the Four Pass Loop.  I might also want to slow down and enjoy the loop a little more.  I might also want to not do two passes in one day on the second day.  We could always spend a night in the East Fork Basin before crossing into Fravert Basin, and just take our time in the Elks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke

I'd heard good things about David VanDyke, an independent writer who's sold millions of copies, mostly of military sci-fi.  But as a free sampler, he offers on Amazon Loose Ends, an apparently atypical work; a modern(ish) day hard-boiled detective novel featuring California "Cal" Corwin, a part-Asian gal who's supposedly a Chandler or Hammet like tough PI.

While certainly competently written in most respects, this is an odd choice of a free sampler.  I find the entire premise of the main character a little odd and even off-putting.  On top of that, the novel lives up to its title with a strange, anti-climatic conclusion that does, indeed, leave a number of loose ends unresolved.

Of course, maybe there's a reason for this.  It's the first in a series, after all.  I also got—either very cheap, or they were free when I got them as a promotion—a megapack of the first three Plague Wars novels, which are probably more up my alley, which seem to have been better received, and which probably is a better introduction to VanDyke.  All in all, I found Loose Ends to be a good sampler in the sense that it highlighted his skill at writing-craft, certainly, but an odd choice because it's an odd novel with a dubious protagonist main character and a dubious structure and resolution of the plot.

One cute angle, though, was the fact that it takes place a few years ago, and computer geek Mickey, who works for Cal, gets to talk about all kinds of upcoming trends like Facebook, smart-phone navigation, etc. that Cal gets to think skeptically about because it seems to unlikely to her.

Last year, I had a goal of reading more of my collection.  50 books was my goal, but I didn't quite get to 30 when all was said and done.  And I added so many free ebooks to my Kindle that I'm fairly certain that at best I broke even, more likely I ended up with a longer to-read list than I started the year with.  This year I'm hoping to improve that performance.  I've already wrapped up a number of books, especially utilizing my phone (either to listen to a book as an audiobook, or to read it on my Kindle app.)  This is convenient, of course, because I almost always have my phone with me, but it's not the same.  Sigh.  I want to make some more progress in my "actual book" to-read list as well as my digital to-read list.  But I'm also enjoying so far discovering a lot of the independent authors on Kindle.  Most of what I've read isn't necessarily great—although it isn't necessarily any worse than what's been published by actual publishers, and much of it is among the best stuff I've read in several years.  The takeaway, if you need it, is that the publishers as quality gate-keepers is a myth.  They don't do anything that I can perceive to filter books for quality.  In fact, it's frequently the opposite, as they filter books for ideology which quite often severely impacts the books quality for the worse.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Some early reading thoughts

I've already finished a fair number of books this year; The Fellowship of the Ring (on audio), The Wardog's Coin by Vox Day, and I'm about to finish Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln and Loose Ends by D. D. VanDyke, and the sample Kindle (only the first seven chapters, I think) of The Emperor's Blades.  If I like the latter enough, it looks like it's available at my public library for me to complete.  I've of course said this many times before in the past, but re-reading Tolkien again after having not done so for a few years has reiterated to me how much I really, really like him.  He really was truly a genius.  I'm also struck by how much more the linguistic background sticks out at me this time.  By this I mean his deliberate use of really older, Germanic words from Anglo-Saxon while deliberately eschewing as much as he could words of Latin or Norman origin.  Or even Celtic origin for most.

In this I'm not entirely with Tolkien; I think the Latin and Norman French influences have enriched our language tremendously, and I consider a fair amount of my own personal ancestry to be as Celtic as it is Anglo-Saxon, so I have a fondness for it (particularly the Scottish portion) as well.  But, I also really see his point, because there is a certain richness to his language, and an echo of mightier, more heroic times that rings throughout.  Although I love The Lord of the Rings for what it is, I also believe that one should be very wary of hewing too closely to its precedents, lest one invite comparison to Tolkien that is not likely to be flattering.  This in part has led to my campaign seed MIDDLE-EARTH REVISITED which seeks to take the setting (more or less) and cast it out of mythic high fantasy and more in the vein of sword and sorcery.  I think, though, that not only must one make fairly significant changes to the setting, but maybe the development of events.  Struck by this paragraph in the Foreword yet again, I wonder if this setting might not be more to my liking.
The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. 
In my efforts to make Middle-earth more S&S and less HF, I've already talked about greatly minimizing the role of elves except as fae adversaries.  Rivendell is therefore a haven not to the elves, but to the Dunedain of the North. Lothlorian is actually much as Boromir fears it to be from the corrupted stories and tales that he's heard. Elrond is, in some fashion, the Mimir that advises Aragorn, not the ruler of it.  There's no kindly Gandalf, for Gandalf seized the One Ring from Bilbo years ago and set himself up in the Dark Tower, with Sauron as his enslaved and unruly adviser.  Saruman, probably thanks to treachery from Sauron against Gandalf, finished his own ring-lore and made his own Great Ring.  For now, there is a multi-point cold war between Barad-dur and Orthanc; what Orthanc lacked in power in the actual books is somewhat mitigated by Gandalf's inability to marshal Sauron's full power as effectively as Sauron himself did.  None of the three are inhuman Maiar; all three are post-human sorcerers or some other terrible creature, corrupted by their magic.

Gondor and Rohan are indeed besieged, but still free.  Or, free-ish, I should say.  Eriador and the north of Wilderland have their own problems, as Angmar has been re-founded (although still weak) and neither is as depopulate as the books have them—although no central government or kingship bigger than local warlords, mayors and whatnot rules any large area.  The Shire and Bree are therefore a little bit less singular; many such rustic communities exist throughout the north, and Gondor, it's own leadership in Minas Tirith occupied with trying to balance its precarious position in the Cold War between Barad-dur and Orthanc is slipping into the same state across much of its territory.  From Carn Dum, forces are gathering that threaten Rivendell, Evendim and Fornost as much as they threaten Dale, or the Beornings, or especially Framsburg, which remains a stronghold of valiant Northmen in this version of the setting.

Into this world come human heroes—not magical, mythical Dunedain, although the Dunedain can and should certainly be heroic, of the north—from the Balkanized lands of Eriador where once Arnor stood, from the north, from Gondor, from Rohan, etc. to pit their might against the challenges that rise all around them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Post Christmas

Christmas has come and gone.  As did the older of my two kids; home for the holidays, then back off to college already.  Sigh.  And now I'm back at work, while the younger two kids still have the better part of a week off themselves (time that they no doubt will mostly spend on the PS4.)

What have I got to report following the holiday?  Not too much.

We saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert.  That was pretty fun.  I got a new pair of boots from Cabela's (although I don't technically have them right now; Cabela's uses at least two lasts for their boots, and they are sized very differently.  Although I could probably have correctly predicted which size I needed to order, my poor wife didn't and got them too small.  I'm waiting on the replacements pair to arrive.)

I got two new pairs of hiking pants; one the Cabela's XPG Trekkers (in "foliage"; the best color that they offer, IMO) and the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Guide Pro in tan (I actually think that they're a discontinued color.  They don't look like either the "saddle" or the "aged brass" that are for sale online.)  Because I still have two pairs of Lookout Peak trail pants that aren't yet beat up to death, I'll be wearing those while hiking, but honestly, if I could, I'd evolve my entire wardrobe into hiking-compatible clothing, and I'd wear them everyday everywhere.  I need to get a few Cresta Hiking shirts from L. L. Bean and I'll be all set, I think.  Well, for at least a while.  And I could still use more pants; I'd like the L. L. Bean Cresta pants in at least two colors, and maybe another color or two of the First Ascent pants.  And I'm probably due to start replacing a few of my midweight merino wool hiking socks; those have been my go-to socks for everyday use for a couple of years now and I love them.

I also got, from the library, not to keep, Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XIV.  I meant to play the story mode from SFV, but I'll probably take it back not having done so.  KOFXIV was interesting; it fixed some of the problems I had with XIII, and it certainly looks fairly pretty.  It's interesting that the designers made a conscious decision to make XIV feel like KOF to fans of either KOF98, KOF2002 and KOFXIII; all of them supposed high points in the series.  I found KOFXIV good looking and competent, but somehow it didn't really grab me.  I don't know if that's because I've just moved on a bit, or if it's because I need more time to get used to it.  It's curious that they've added Alice, a character that I had some interest in exploring, although they've done some odd things with her.  She's no longer Alice Bogard, a young cousin of Terry's; she's Alice Nakata a half-Japanese (although you can't tell to look at her; she's as classically Nordic in appearance as anyone) girl who's a fan of Terry's.  In a way, she fills the same role to Terry as Sakura does to Ryu, a "cute" little girl who copies his moves imperfectly, making her a combination of cute little sister archetype and comic relief.

In any case, I'll probably eventually buy both games, but SFV is too incomplete still and I'm sure that if I wait, a more complete version at a good price will be out (I did the same for Street Fighter IV; not buying it until the Ultra version was out.)  KOFXIV is merely too expensive still; I'll wait until it's retailing at $20-30 before I consider it.

As I finished my series of "converting FANTASY HACK into a series of blog posts, I created a permanent "page" to house links to them, and this meant that I took down my 2016 Reading page.  Which is fine; that was never intended to be permanent anyway.  The bigger problem I have is that my Reading List page is very out of date and I haven't been doing much with it to maintain it all year.  Also; my goal of reading 50 books in 2016 was beset by woeful underperformance; I slipped in 30 at literally the last minute when I finished Vox Days A Magic Broken in the last day or two of the year.  And it's barely a novella.  But I'm off to a relatively good start for the new year; I'm more than halfway through listening to the Rob Inglis read audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring, and it's been way too long since I've re-read Tolkien.  I'm rediscovering once again why I've always loved him so much. I'm also reading another Vox Day Kindle book, and looking to read The Throne of Bones this year sometime.  I've got a lot of Kindle titles to tackle, and I've been rather poor at knocking them back in 2016—I hope to do better this year.  I've also, of course, got plenty of "real" books that I've picked up at various points over the years and not read. And I'm continuing my reeducation with non-fiction that challenges the conventional narratives, especially when the conventional narratives don't seem to make much sense.  My first foray (for this year, at least) in this direction is Thomas DiLorenzo's The Real Lincoln.  But as my wife pointed out recently, I need to temper that kind of stuff with other things lest I find myself turning to resentment and anger towards things that are long gone and about which if anything is to be done, sitting and stewing in anger isn't one of them.

And a final note.  I've been tinkering around with some Middle-earth geography lately, partly because my interest was sparked by the MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED project, and partly because I've been re-"reading" the Lord of the Rings and partly just because Tolkien was so good at names.  I had been thinking of some names for some dark hills for my own setting, and using the old Scandinavian origin word Fells to describe them.  Tolkien did as much himself by referring to the Trollfells and the Coldfells, both of which actually seem to be cognates with the Ettenmoors (which means the same thing using other old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon words.)  I thought the Shadowfells sounded good, but oddly familiar; of course I later remembered that the 4th edition of D&D introduced the Shadowfell which was a new fancy-yet-ignorant term to apply to the Plane of Shadow, as it used to be called.

Well, I suppose I can't use it, even though I actually understand what the word Shadowfells would mean while (apparently) the D&D designers do not; they just grabbed a word that sounded "fantasy-like" at attached it kenning-like to something else.  I have, of course, plenty more words I can add to -moors or -fells to make what I want, but my first pass won't work.