Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Eras of sci-fi

Things are developing so rapidly in the pulp revolution paradigm that it's often difficult to keep track of what's going on where and what it all means.  My own perspective is a little bit unusual; I'm maybe just a few years older than Jeffro and Daddy Warpig (or maybe I just had different exposure to different sources) so I didn't really perceive the "Appendix N generation gap" the same way that they did.  When I was in junior high in the mid-80s, my friends and I were all pretty familiar with Appendix N sources, or at least many of them, and we read stuff like Lovecraft, Burroughs, Howard, Moorcock, etc. and assumed that everyone else who played D&D—and for that matter, everyone else who read fantasy—did so too.

But although my experience may have "straddled" the generation gap, so to speak, that doesn't mean that I had a lot of context about what was going on; it just means that I know what was on the shelves of my public library and the bookstores that I went to in junior high and high school.  I remember when guys like Eddings and Brooks kinda took over, but I also know that even as they did so, the shelves had a lot of space dedicated to Burroughs, to Robert Adams, to John Norman, etc.  I remember seeing issues of Heavy Metal swirling around in fandom—although they were notably less mainstream, and often had a touch of verboten soft-core porn vibe about them (they were behind the counters and had covers that prevented "innocent eyes" from knowing what they were really all about), at least as we perceived them.  I remember the Bakshi stuff, like Wizards (although I never watched it all the way through) and I had the old official AD&D coloring book, illustrated by comix-artist and all-around counter-culture van art and tattoo guy Greg Irons.

Of course, although this late 60s and early 70s van art Heavy Metal view of fantasy, which in some ways was a revival of the pulp aesthetic, in other ways was very different than the pulp aesthetic.  So, I think maybe it's time that I try to make sense of the various "phases" or movements of fantasy and science fiction as they evolved over time, and as they've been retroactively labeled by the pulp revolutionists.  Mostly, of course, so I can offer my own commentary on how much I do or don't like those particular movements but also just so I can make an effort to get my arms around all of the stuff that's flying around.  No doubt this will continue to evolve as more analytic and critical discussion from the pulp revolution guys continues to come out.

Proto and Early Fantasy and Science Fiction:  In the mid-19th century, writers like George MacDonald and William Morris wrote what were essentially the first fantasy novels, although they were essentially trying to recreate, in some ways, a former genre, the Medieval romance or chansons de geste.  Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is often called the first science fiction novel (a claim that is pretty absurd) but it was really Jules Verne and H.G. Wells that wrote the first science fiction that resembles what we call the genre now in the latter 19th century.  These and some other works set the stage for what are still very different genre foundations—fantasy is based on mythology and medieval romanticism, science fiction is not at all.

And this is significant.  In the next era, the distinctions between science fiction, fantasy and even horror, for that matter, become significantly blurred, reaching their apotheosis in the "weird tale" which was often specifically and on purpose a melange of all three elements.  You'll hear a lot of folks say something that sounds more or less like, "in the beginning, these were all one genre and the split was a deliberate thing."  While there's some truth to that that they did go through a phase where the genre separation didn't exist, and it was deliberately split during the Blue/Campbellian era, it's not true that it was so in the beginning.  The Pulp era was not the beginning for either of the three genres, and it was a deliberate phase change in literature.  What we've seen since the pulps is largely a return to norms that were more familiar.  Not necessarily better, of course.  But more familiar.

Red Speculative Fiction, i.e., the Pulps, i.e. The Gernsbackian Era.  Called by Daddy Warpig the "true" Golden Age of Science Fiction, as opposed to the next era which claims to be the Golden age but which is not.  As I just said above, this era was characterized by, among other things, a wild appreciation of anything that was cool.  A gratuitous awesomeness as a guiding force in what to write.  Fantasy? Mythology? Horror? Advanced scientific ideas?  Yes, all of the above were welcome.  Most importantly, they were stories of action and heroics, though.  Many of the genres that we now recognize today came from this delightfully novel approach—sword & sorcery was basically created by Robert E. Howard (and later added to by Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber and others) when he got tired of all of the historical research needed to create a "proper" historical swashbuckling romance, plus he wanted wizards and monsters if it was fun to include them.  Space opera is the story of big heroes out in space; battling galactic Empires, alien invasions, super-science and more.  The genre here was amazingly popular, actually—writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs were household names.  Even in other modes of presentation, pulp, heroic, swashbuckling "scientifiction" was a big seller, and Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were as big in the funny papers as Prince Valiant was.  Buster Crabbe made a lucrative film career and became another household name (even now, decades after his death and three quarters of a century after his apogee, most people have heard the name) playing pulp and pulpish swashbuckling characters—Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, cowboy heroes, and characters that sound an awful lot like Indiana Jones.  While mostly filmed in the 30s and early 40s, they were broadcast on TV heavily in the 50s and 60s... keeping a pulp aesthetic alive long after it wasn't really being published as much anymore.

This is some of my favorite writing of all time.  If you aren't already pretty familiar with it, then I suggest you pick up some Edgar Rice Burroughs (A Princess of Mars is probably the best place to start, but you also can't go wrong with Tarzan of the Apes—which, once you get past the initial novel, introduces a ton of surprising science fiction and fantasy elements as commonplace occurrences), some E. E. Smith Lensman stories, and a couple of Abraham Merritt novels.  Almost certainly once you do that, you'll want to read more.

Full disclosure alert: Edgar Rice Burroughs is my second favorite author of all time, and I've read almost everything he's written, most of it multiple times.  I dust off the best works every two or three years and re-read them, and try to find some other work, either a stand-alone, or one very late in one of his series (did you know that there are twenty four Tarzan novels, and most of them are entirely stand-alone?) that I haven't gotten around to yet.

Blue Sci-Fi, i.e. Campbellian Science Fiction, i.e. "Men With Screwdrivers."  This is usually called the "Golden Age of Science Fiction" and is heavily shaped by the editorial hand of John Campbell (hence the label Campbellian.)  In recent debates, it's been suggested that this should instead be called the Silver Age of science fiction, in ways that you'll see below.  It is synonymous with "Hard SF", at least to some degree, and this era—mostly the 40s and 50s—featured the claim that science fiction was only good science fiction if some scientific element was key to the resolution of the plot (according to numerous science fiction authorship books that I've read) and gradually developed a contempt towards the more out there elements of the pulp era.  Perhaps as an unanticipated side-effect, masculine values and heroic, masculine characters started gradually to fade from prominence and nerdy, scientific, nebbish folks prevailed (Mary Sues for the often bitter authors themselves.  Seriously; read Isaac Asimov's comments on knights and heroes in the forward to Cosmic Knights sometime.  I'm shocked that they went to press with that forward, when he was basically slamming the entirety of the content that the book offered.)

Of course, this is a spectrum, and there's still some Blue Sci-Fi that's quite good.  Some have called out the "rivalry" between Star Trek and Star Wars franchises and their fans as indicative of the Red(dish) vs. Blue(ish) brands of science fiction, but I personally think that this is pretty silly.  I mean, have you not seen those original Star Trek episodes?  They're absurd.  Space opera doesn't even begin to describe it. Star Trek was never as "hard" as its fans like to pretend that it is, even relative to Star Wars.

I do admit to being a fan of some of this stuff—quite a lot of it, actually.  Real genuine Hard(ish) SF like The Martian is pretty good stuff, and really intriguing to read.  However, the label might—might, I say; I'm willing to be convinced otherwise—be too tainted by smug, holier-than-thou Poindexters who've promoted the view that it's the only legitimate science fiction for a long time.

Another side effect of the rise of Blue SF is that fantasy was basically excised from the SF oeuvre, and became a parallel, separate genre.  An awful lot of folks are very strongly against the mixing of science fiction and fantasy even today as a result of this split.  More recent critics have pointed out that fantastic elements and magic aren't really any less fantastical and magical just because they have pseudo-scientific jargon attached to them, and propose that all but the hardest of hard SF is pretty much indistinguishable from fantasy except by the superficial trappings, rather than because of any inherent or intrinsic element of its own.  This is OK, though—many fans of fantasy and science fiction come to the genres with different expectations.  As writers like Tolkien (my actual favorite author of all time) came to prominence, he did so without any reference whatsoever to the pulp era.  The most recent work that he could maybe be called comparable to were Wagner's Ring and Morrison's oeuvre.  But even then, his true references were the Eddas, Norse and Anglo-Saxon sagas, Beowulf, etc. He wasn't the only writer dabbling in this format, of course.  Poul Anderson wrote some excellent work that has similar roots, to name at least one other writer of note, but again—he wrote without reference of any kind to the pulp era.

More side effects?  Curiously, pulp-like stories and characters thrived, except now in a new medium—comic books!  Of course, until the 80s at least, this meant that they were relegated to a true ghetto of the literary world from a critical and respect standpoint, especially when the Comics Code was implemented.  But comics thrived telling stories and creating characters that would have been at home in the pulps, and gradually, they had their own maturation (so to speak) into an entertainment form that was meant for adults as well.

Last but hardly least, sales plummeted.  If you look on Infogalactic, which I believe mirrors what Wikipedia says about it, it suggests that possibly this was merely the contraction of a bubble market.  Don't believe it.  As the actual space race was taking shape, we're to believe that science fiction shrank to a fraction of its former size as a genre?  No, it happened because science fiction largely forgot how to be fun and appeal to normal people, is my own pet theory.  This is also backed up by the idea that these same folks who said science fiction was a small niche market scoffed at the notion of Star Wars and were completely unprepared for what happened when space opera was once again put on the table as a viable genre.  Lots of science fiction followed, most of it more Red than not, and there was a flourishing of the genre for years.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

New Wave Science Fiction, i.e. "Purple" Science Fiction.  This was in some ways a reaction against the increasingly rigid, narrowing of the genre that the Blue SF wave created.  Embracing "soft SF" it also became consciously literary, political, counter-culture, etc.  In a way, this mimicked some of the old pulp tradition, but... well, not really.  Or rather, on the fantasy side of the house, this became a second pulpish wave, with works by Michael Moorcock, Jack Vance, Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard, etc. again blurring the lines between science fiction and fantasy, deliberately this time, in an attempt to do something different.  It's curious that this is the milieu in which Gary Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons and as Jeffro has pointed out repeatedly, it was a lot more wild and woolly than those raised on extruded fantasy product are likely to understand without sampling more of it.

Ultimately, although it had an impact on the development of the genre, it was doomed to fail for the same reasons that Blue SF failed—even though superficially they didn't resemble each other very much, both were just absolutely enthralled with a kind of vanity; a stroking of broken, dysfunctional self-esteem by the writers, who were constantly looking for some kind of respectability and ability to set themselves up above the rest of the proles.  New Wave very consciously adopted and propagated cultural Marxism and other nihilistic attitudes that made its implosion inevitable.  Heavily associated with the "van art and psychedelic drugs and free sex" counter culture made it something that was never really going to catch on with the mainstream other than as a novelty.  And the smug, "artistic", literary approach (a subset of cultural Marxist "anti-art" in my opinion) ensured that it could only ever achieve a minor kind of success—because most people just simply aren't into that.

One curious aside, though, is that as the New Wave broke down the Blue SF gate-keepers defenses, a lot of older pulp came back into print during this age.  Except now, with much cooler art by guys like Frank Frazetta.  Burroughs was reprinted in the 60s and 70s and on into the 80s.  Conan was "rediscovered" and reprinted. Even "lesser" pulp writers like Otis Adelbert Kline went back into print. The Ballantine Adult Fantasy series deliberately dug out lost classics (more of fantasy than of science fiction, but still—recall that during the pulp age and to a lesser extent in the pulp echo of the New Wave, the two genres were deliberately blended.)

While this was happening in science fiction, Tolkien's work suddenly became hugely mainstream here too.  It had been in print for some time (since the mid-50s, if I recall my original publication dates) but in the late 60s, Tolkien reached some kind of critical mass and went nuclear.  So much so that he almost single-handedly defined fantasy for more than a generation.  Sure, there were folks who fought against the blatant "Tolkienization" of the genre, and some of them I've mentioned here—some New Wave authors, Heavy Metal, Ralph Bakshi, the whole counter-culture van art morons, etc.  But the march of "progress" was inevitable, and demand for "more Tolkien" eventually overcame any other consideration.  By the time Eddings and Brooks were published, if not before, fantasy had evolved into extruded fantasy product—losing all of the genius of Tolkien, but (very superficially) resembling him while inching closer and closer to the pink sludge that we have way too much of now.

And science fiction (explicitly excluding fantasy, at this point) was splintering all kinds of ways.  The massive and unexpected success of the Star Wars franchise (although it shouldn't have been so unexpected, if the field hadn't been taken over by a bunch of idiots with a OneTrueWayism that is still hard to believe—even though I actually witnessed it) sparked an explosion of copycat space opera, but much of it was starting to get out of the written word.  TV shows like Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, the Flash Gordon cartoon show that I referenced last week, and more popped up all over the place.  The new market for video games heavily featured a lot of science fiction-themed works—this is still today perhaps the most fertile ground for truly innovative science fiction concepts to pop up.  In the wake of New Wave, stuff like cyberpunk flourished briefly—and then jumped into movies like Blade Runner or the high concept of Terminator.  Movies like Alien or Predator were huge hits.  Even Total Recall became a cult classic.

It's hard to even label this diversity in science fiction, but curiously—written science fiction was slowly fading during this era, or at least it seems to have to my notice.  It never disappeared, and contains plenty of diversity still, but by and large, the "science fiction" shelves at the library and bookstore seemed to have more older sci-fi and newer fantasy than new science fiction.

I admit that here, I'm speculating based on my own anecdotal experience, and am willing to be corrected by anyone who has any data that suggests otherwise.  I became convinced that fantasy was the genre of the written word, since movies based on it were universally cheesy and stupid, while science fiction became a genre of film—since written sci-fi that I stumbled across was either badly Blue Era dregs or stumbling into the upcoming pink generation.  Is this just my perception based on what I happened to watch and read?  Maybe.  But I happened to watch and read a lot.  Any sci-fi that I read that was good was already old.  And fantasy movies were the Barbarian Brothers, Beastmaster and Willow—poor copies of the Conan movie, which let's face it: was kind of over-rated itself. 

Pink Sci-fi, i.e. Social Justice Sci-Fi, i.e. Romance Novels in Science Fiction Drag.  And this is where we are today.  The gains of the 80s have largely been shunted out of the published world entirely, and if you want to find good science fiction OR fantasy either one, you need to either trawl through massive backlogs of self-published Kindle fiction, or buy a video game like Destiny or Far Cry or whatever, or look to the occasional good film or TV show to get your kicks.  It's hard to find decent published sci-fi (on either side of the divide, or works that don't care about the distinction between science fiction and fantasy and gleefully merge them) because the publishing houses, the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and every other "respectable" avenue for publication was caught in the counter-attack of the cultural Marxists.

As these labels were originally defined, there was a Blue vs. Pink divide; manly science fiction vs. girly romance novels that happen to feature werewolves or vampires or cyborgs instead of just regular people which gave them fantasy or science fiction trappings.  Diversity quotas and anti-white push-back took over the genre.  And, of course, sales continue to plummet—to the point where "big name" publishers like Tor will likely be out of business within a decade.  When you add to this Jeffro's Appendix N journey, the rediscovery of works that people just a couple of years younger than me apparently never read, and the influence of video games and anime and other venues of product that don't care what the publishing houses are doing, we get a strange diversity and conflict in the genre.

The Pulp revolution is another layer on top of this; a rediscovery of some of the old pulp titles, and—kinda like the OSR in the gaming community—a conscious effort to go back to the pulps as perhaps a starting point, but then do something unique from that starting point, pretending like all of the subsequent history of the genre didn't actually happen after all.  What would sci-fi have looked like if the pinks never took over at all?  What if New Wave never happened?  What if bitter, ugly, dysfunctional narcissists, perverts and other assorted weirdos like Asimov, Heinlein or Clarke had never risen to prominence and the genre just kept on trucking from a pulp base?

Luckily, the counter to the pinks is the ease of self-published, the Kindle and other ebook avenues, etc.  Sure, Amazon is pretty much an SJW converged company, so it may not be there forever if the culture war in this particular theater heats up enough that Amazon decides to eliminate the platform for neo-Blue or neo-Red authors.  But until that happens, you can actually ignore the pink slime entirely and have more to read than you could ever have imagined twenty years ago.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Depeche Mode albums ranked

After being a little amused to see Richard Spencer getting flak for flippantly saying that Depeche Mode is the soundtrack of the alt-right, I found a post he made on Facebook way back in 2010 ranking the Depeche Mode albums.  Looking at my own Depeche Mode related posts—I've never actually done that.  So clearly, I'd better!

Before we start, let me chunk stuff a bit.  I clearly think the best DM work is in the mid to late 80s when they're with their classic line-up and really hitting their stride.  The very early stuff is so different from what they evolved to that it almost doesn't count as the same band anymore, but I think it's good in an immature kind of way.  The 90s was a mixed bag; Violator of course has some of the most famous DM songs on it ("Enjoy the Silence","Personal Jesus") but overall was a step down from Music For the Masses.  To be fair, I enjoy Depeche Mode the most when they're an electronic music band.  Starting in the 90s and continuing until now, they've abandoned being an electronic music band altogether and have become a bluesy band that maintains a handful of legacy elements of their electronic past.  I haven't liked much of what they've done since the late 90s, with the exception, mostly, of a few tracks here and there.

DM is like that high school girlfriend that you had at a time in your life when you were on top of the world, so you look back at those times fondly and with a lot of nostalgia.  When you check this chick out on Facebook or Instagram, though, just to see what she's up to because you're curious, you're appalled to find that she's gained 75 lbs, cropped her hair and dyed it blue, and posts nothing but bitter, angry feminist rants and pictures of her mystery meat offspring with who-knows-who absentee fathers.

Ok, maybe that's a little dramatic.  But you don't have anything much in common with her anymore, and it's kind of depressing to think about what could have been and what happened instead.  So, expect to see the later DM offerings falling dramatically in the rankings.

#1: Black Celebration.  This is simply DM at their best.  They'd really hit their stride with sampling, with artistic expression in their song writing, instrumentation and even album composition (curiously, I've always thought that "But Not Tonight" served as a brilliant cathartic epilogue to the album, but I learned years later that only the American release had it as an album track at all, and that DM were a bit miffed about that.)  Lots of tracks, too.  The partnership with Gareth Jones reached its zenith.  I really think Alan Wilder's talent is at its best here, too.

#2: Music For the Masses. There might be an element of this being the first one that I bought when I "discovered" DM as a teenager (I'd been familiar with them earlier from "People Are People" but I'd also forgotten about them by then.)  Still riding high on talent and artistic vision, the use of guitars and a more approachable style made this one slightly more accessible, although I think Black Celebration outranks it slightly on sheer artistry.

#3: Some Great Reward. While heading towards Celebration, they hadn't quite hit their stride yet.  There's still a few unusual tracks that contribute less to the whole than you'd expect—they're a little campy, and there aren't as many tracks as you'd like to hear either. It's curious that "People Are People" is one that the band hates now and doesn't like to play; I think it's still a standout from the era.

#4: Violator.  While disappointed overall, you've got to give it up for the high points on this album.  "Enjoy The Silence" is almost certainly the most iconic Depeche Mode song of all time.  That said; not enough songs, too many of them aren't that great, the hoaky guitar effects were off-putting, and if they'd made a few of the B-sides (at least "Dangerous" and maybe "Sea of Sin") album tracks, they could have at least bumped this up a few points.

#5: Playing the Angel.  This is an odd bird, that doesn't really fit in with its neighbors.  It's deliberately old-school, which makes it one of the fan favorites.  Dave Gahan isn't as good a songwriter as Gore, but I think Gore was tired and phoning it in half the time anyway.  And man, it really misses Wilder's touch.  Still, it's a bright (or should I say dark?) beacon in the otherwise mediocre or even poor offerings that we otherwise have had to deal with from DM lately.  Although "lately" is relative; this album is 12 years old this year now.

#6: Construction Time Again.  This is the somewhat sillier version of Some Great Reward; it would almost sound like a clever parody of it in some senses.  The songs tend to be much campier, and musically the band (and their new Gareth Jones partnership) still had some growing to do.  But it's also got some great tracks that makes it a keeper.

#7: Songs of Faith and Devotion.  This took everything that was disappointing about Violator and amplified them. That said, there are enough good tracks here to keep it from being actively bad... just disappointingly mediocre.

#8: Speak & Spell.  This is so different that it might as well be considered a different band.  It's very difficult to compare it to the rest of their canon.  But just in terms of how much I like them at a raw level, this is about where it'd fit.  There's some stand-out tracks, although of course all of them are cheesy and campy compared to almost everything else that followed.

#9: Ultra. By now, Depeche Mode wasn't the band that they used to be.  They'd long ago stopped being an electronic band in most senses, Wilder was gone and his talent was immediately obvious when it was taken away.  This is mostly forgettable, but a few stand-out tracks like "It's No Good" make it better than much of what followed.

#10: A Broken Frame.  The band really didn't know what they were doing here.  Martin Gore was spending half the time trying to imitate Vince Clark (somewhat credibly, to be fair) and the rest of the time just experimenting with all kinds of weirdness.  The beginning of the "darkening" of Depeche Mode is definitely showing here, though—and it's some of those tracks that stand out the most, like "Leave In Silence" and "The Sun & the Rainfall."

#11: Sounds of the Universe.  A bland album that sounds like a pastiche of Depeche Mode made in a retirement home.  It only barely tops Delta Machine because at least it has "Wrong" which is a pretty good song (and "Oh Well" as a b-side, which I also like a lot.)

#12. Delta Machine.  Even the stand-out tracks are only average—"Heaven" and "Soothe My Soul" are better as remixes by someone like Rob Dust than as originals.  I've got to be honest, though—part of my disillusionment is not intrinsic to the album itself, but surely rests on years of disappointment and lowered expectations by this time.  There's a new album on the horizon—honestly, based on the lead single and the direction that the band has gone for the last 20 years, I might actually pass.  Which given how big a fan of Depeche Mode I used to be, is really a huge deal.

#13. Exciter.  There hasn't been a more mis-named album in the history of the pop-music industry.  I can ... maybe... summon enough enthusiasm to listen to "The Dead of Night" and "I Feel Loved" and "Goodnight Lovers" if I'm trying to go for a completist run of their catalog, but the rest of the album isn't just mediocre; I actively dislike most of it.

Another odd thing about Depeche Mode albums is that for almost every single one of their albums, there's a least one track that I really don't like and can barely stomach it.  This broke down with Songs of Faith and Devotion where there's three, and after that there were always too many tracks that I didn't really care for to say that this pattern was maintained.  But for many albums it was a thing: absolutely hated "What's Your Name?" because of it's flaming cheesy gayness, "Satellite" for just being ugly and long, "Pipeline" for spoiling its promise by dragging on forever and not really ever doing anything, (Some Great Reward actually manages to avoid this trap, for whatever reason), "Dressed in Black" for being overwrought and just really bizarre (although mercifully short), "I Want You Now" for sounding like they made it up one night at the pub while they were way to drunk to be sitting down with blank sheets of music (and they're sad drunks too—not surprising, I guess,) "Sweetest Perfection" for just being a blight of amusicality, "Condemnation" and "Get Right With Me" for having no place on a DM album and really taking me "out of the mood" and "One Caress" for being the token bizarre, ugly Martin Gore ballad (if you'll notice, many of my least favorite songs on all of the albums are the bizarre Martin Gore ballads.)

For Exciter, Sounds of the Universe and Delta Machine there's too many songs that I don't really like for any of them to stand out to me as absolutely execrable, although if I could stand to listen to them more often, maybe some would pop.  Playing the Angel gave us "Macro" and "Damaged People"—both self-indulgent Martin Gore wankfests again.  Bleagh.

Paleo-Balkan languages

Although it's been a fascinating hobby of mine for many years to follow the story of Indo-Europeans as a linguistic, cultural, and even genetic group, it's been the fairly recent studies of Corded Ware genetics and other archaeogenetic studies have really brought that back into my consciousness, and no doubt you've noticed that I've posted more about it recently than I have in quite a while.  Even as I'm not necessarily posting about stuff that's new even to me, just that it's been rolling around in my head for months (or longer) and coalescing finally into actual posts.  I realize that probably not very many people are really interested in that that come my way—although the spread of Indo-European with the maps post does have a fair number of page-views, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about anyway.

So... the Balkans.  Holy cow, the Paleo-Balkan linguistic situation is difficult.  What in the world was going on?  There are a number of neolithic cultures throughout the Balkans and surrounding area that are not believed by anyone (except proponents of the non-mainstream Anatolian Urheimat theories) to be Proto-Indo-European, although some of them would have been neighbors of early Proto-Indo-European languages spoken by members of the Dnieper-Donets and Samara cultures, which differed in everything from skeletal robustness and almost every aspect of material culture.  In fact, as these Balkan-Danubian Neolithic cultures developed, they became actually the most populous cultures on the planet at the time, and vast (for neolithic standards) cities of up to 50,000 people or even more are posited to have been built there.  They thrived the most during the Atlantic time period, which was a climatic optimum for much of Europe (warmer and wetter than today—tell that to your climate change catastrophe Green Cult friends) which, of course, made it easy for them to thrive.  They are characterized as having had relatively little social stratification or specialization and to have practiced some subsistence farming, supplemented by some hunting and gathering.  The nearly 3,000 year long Cucuteni-Tripolye cultural complex is the apex of this Old European expression.  The best guess for what happened to it is the Blytt-Sernander sub-boreal climate phase, which was like a Neolithic Dust Bowl—colder and drier temperatures for many years devastated the agricultural ability of the territory to support the population that lived there.  On the steppes, the rise of pastoral nomadism increased sharply, also believed to be a response to this climate change, and paved the way for Yamnya expansion at the expense of the Cucuteni-Tripolyans, in turn leading to the spread of Indo-European dialects into the Balkans, and the Old European way of life was gone for good.  I have not yet seen any archaeogenetic studies that suggest for sure that there was significant population replacement but there may have been.

Regardless, there was population mingling going on for some time.  Prior to the collapse of the Balkan-Danubian Old Europe, the Bug-Dniester culture, which would have been early Proto-Indo-European originally, is believed by David Anthony to have been absorbed into the Old European Criş farmer system and been "Old Europeanized."  On the other hand, the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka complex is supposed to have been a number of Sredi Stog early PIE speakers who moved into and dominated the lower Daubian region which had formerly been Old European—this movement is supposed to represent the splitting off of the Anatolian language family.  Later, the Usatovo culture came out of the steppes into the Balkan region, possibly representing "Indo-Europeanization" and installation of elites and client kings from the Yamnaya horizon in the region.  Later genuine folk migration followed into this area, but here we get more into just-so stories that are difficult to determine.  How and even if the Corded Ware horizon came from this interaction or from some other happening independently to the north  is difficult to determine.  It's not necessary to derive all of the Indo-European languages of Europe from movement into the Balkan-Danube region—but Anthony kind of does.

Needless to say, however, clearly the Old European linguistic and cultural horizons disappeared and cultures descended from the Yamnaya common PIE speakers prevailed.  Whether it was population replacement, or population replacement supplemented with absorption and client relationships that transformed formerly Old European peoples into Indo-European peoples culturally and linguistically is unclear, but one or both of them clearly happened.  And the modern languages of Europe came out of the mix.

Probably the languages of Northern Europe came from the Corded Ware horizon rather than the cultures that remained in the Balkan-Danubian region.  The Germanic, Baltic and Slavic languages probably have their genesis here.  The Celtic and Italic may have come out of the Balkans, but moved further west fairly early and missed out on subsequent development within the Balkans and links between the Balkans and the steppes.  There's believed to have been a lingering continuum of some IE dialects into a very late PIE that had already shed the "fringe" languages to the west, the northwest and the far east.

However, discounting these families, there are still a lot of groups of IE that have to come out of the Balkans over the next couple thousand years, and how that happened is often difficult to determine.  Exactly how those languages relate to each other is equally difficult to determine.  They may belong to families, or they may be individualized families that are only known from (poorly attested) single languages.  We just honestly don't know.  There are, however, three languages that appear to have originated in this paleo-Balkan complex that still survive, although with varying degrees of distortion due to political and linguistic pressure from Hellenization, Romanization, Slavicization, Iranianization, Turkification, etc.: Albanian, Greek, and Armenian.  Tying these to para-historical languages, however, is fraught with difficulty.

Let's explore the landscape just a bit and see if we can at least see what the scope of the problem is.  Let's start with languages that are derived from the Balkans, but best attested elsewhere:

  • Anatolian.  Although they are attested in Anatolia (duh) they are presumed to have arrived there from the Balkans, and are part of the first wave of IE languages to leave the steppes and assorted steppe river valleys.  That said, when subsequent waves hit the Balkan-Danubian region, languages related to those that later appeared in the Anatolian area were probably still spoken here, along with some non-Indo-European languages.  There are calls to relate some later-appearing languages (like Mysian) to the Anatolian language family.  Strabo himself calls Mysian a blend of Lydian and Phrygian.  The supremely poorly attested Paeonian language, probably related to Mysian in some way, may be an Anatolian relative that survived in the Balkans to (just barely) be noted in the historical epoch in its original homeland.  Others have suggested that it's probably just related to Phrygian and not a member of the Anatolian family at all.
  • Armenian.  This is supposed to have come from the Balkans largely because of historical testimony rather than archaeological or linguistic testimony.  Given that ancient writers didn't have our same linguistic paradigm, they could be wrong.  However, Armenian is often considered to have originally been quite close to Greek, either as part of a Sprachbund or as a genetic close cousin.  It's obviously also had a lot of late contact influence from Iranian languages, particularly Parthian and Persian, but it's been suggested by some that a very late PIE continuum containing the Indo-Iranian languages, the Graeco-Phrygian languages and Armenian may have persisted and had some unique development.
  • Phrygian.  Attested by the Phrygians, who invaded Anatolia after the fall of the Hittite Empire and the rest of the Bronze Age Collapse, according to Herodotus, who says that they were south Balkan tribe called the Bryges before being known as the Phrygians.  Although a very poorly known language, it has a number of similarities with Greek in particular, and is usually presumed to have been relatively closely related to Greek.  It shares the augment, a supposed late isogloss that affected Greek, Armenian, Phrygian and Indo-Iranian, and has some sound changes that appear to be common with Germanic—although that theory has been in and out of favor and exactly what it means is, needless to say, very unclear.
  • Mysian.  As noted above, Mysian was called, by Strabo, a mix of Lydian (an Anatolian language) and Phrygian, and they are recorded as living just to the east of the Troad along the Dardanelles and Propontis coast.  It may have been an Anatolian language, or some other Paleo-Balkan language; Athenaeus wrote that it was related to the Paeonian language, spoken north of Macedonia.
  • Messapic.  First attested in the boot of Italy, Messapic is clearly an Indo-European language, and not related to the Italic family.  Some believe it shows links to the Illyrian language, but both are too poorly known to say this with much confidence.
  • Greek.  And, let's not forget the most famous, well-known, earliest attested language to have come out of the Balkan complex; Greek itself.  The earliest actual Greek texts, from the Bronze Age Mycenaean palace civilization, are already well established in Greece, but archaeologically it's not hard to trace the arrival of kurgan-like burial rites and material culture from the Balkans.  This, along with apparent connections to other languages like Phrygian and Armenian that were also derived from the Balkans, as well as late shared isoglosses that appear to come from Indo-Iranian means that they Greeks had to most likely have come from the Balkans as well.
And of the languages that are later attested as native to the Balkans when they first show up, we have yet more:
  • Macedonian.  This is a poorly known language that clearly underwent a lot of influence from classic Greek—but some suggest that it is not merely a northern dialect of Greek, but a separate language altogether.  Some suggestions are that it is a close sister language of Greek; part of a Hellenic family, or a Creole of sorts between Illyrian and Greek, or a language that unites Greek with maybe Thracian or Phrygian, or perhaps just a part of a Sprachbund that included very archaic proto-Greek/Phrygian/Thracian/Illyrian.
  • Thracian is well known from the southeastern Balkans, and the Thracians lived there long enough to be well-known to both Greeks and Romans, although neither bothered to record much of their language, much to our disappointment when it comes to trying to classify it.  While it's often been compared to Illyrian, Phrygian or other Balkan languages, for the most part, it's now only considered to have (probably) been closely related to Dacian.  There are some interesting proposals that there may well have been a dialect continuum from Thrace all the way into the steppes between Thracian and Scythian, and some have proposed the even more poorly known language of the historical Cimmerians (who destroyed Phrygian power in Anatolia) as the "missing link" between Thracian and Iranian. 
  • Dacian.  While most presume that the language of the Getae and Dacians (said by various ancient historians to be the same language) is closely related to Thracian (Strabo seems to have believed so) some modern linguists say that this cannot be determined and spot what they believe to be significant differences between the scanty remnants we have of Thracian and Dacian, making their close association impossible.  This is the minority opinion, however—Dacian is usually believed to be the northwestern extension of a Daco-Thracian language family.
  • Illyrian.  The Illyrians were a fairly populous group, known to both the Greeks and the Romans, and often traditional rivals to the northern Greeks; both Alexander and Phillip before him fought Illyrians on numerous occasions.  It's worth noting, however, that the Greek concept of Illyrioi and the Roman concept of Illyricum were quite different, and may not have made up the same bodies of people completely.  Some linguists have suggested that this marks rather notable dialectical differences, but it may have been more a case of familiarity; the Greeks referred to the tribes that bordered them directly only.  Making up a broad band along the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea and inland a fair bit from there, the Illyrian region bordered Greek on the southeast tip, Thracian north of that, Dacian north of that, and various Celtic tribes to the direct north, It's believed to be related to the Venetic language, which appeared in northeastern Italy to the northwest of the Illyrian band, but this is uncertain.  A small portion of the coast surrounded on land by the Illyrian area, and near to the Venetic area in the northwest is where the Liburnian language was spoken, but this is also believed (based on geographical convenience rather than sound linguistic data, of which there is practically none) to have been closely related to Illyrian as well, if not a dialect of it.  Few linguists are comfortable linking it to any other Balkan language except by obvious contact with Celts, Thracians, and Greeks.  Most likely it was a once significant family of its own right, and Venetic and Liburnian are the only two languages that are separate from a vast unknown sea of "Illyrianness"—and again, based on geographic convenience, probably Albanian is descended from it.  But all of that is really quite speculative.
  • Paeonian.  As mentioned above, this was spoken between Macedonian and Illyrian and is referred to by ancient historians as being similar to the Mysian language spoken near Troy.  If that's true, then it could be an Anatolian language, or close relative, that never made it into Anatolia and retained its historical Balkan-Danubian location.  Of course, it's also certainly possible that Mysian was not an Anatolian language at all, but one related to Greek, Macedonian and Phrygian.
All in all, the Paleo-Balkan linguistic situation is quite a mess.  Curiously, the very earliest proto-writing in the world, predating Sumerian cuneiform by a thousand years, is demonstrated in the Balkans—the Old European Vinča script.  But that was Old European, and after what was probably a climate change crisis, followed by a social crisis and invasion of foreign pastoralists representing the influx of Indo-European language, culture, and economy into the region, it went illiterate and did not become literate until it became a series of Roman provinces, really.  When that happened, the native languages were ignored, however, except for a few curiosities noted by some historians, and the writing was all done in Latin or Greek.  Waves of linguistic and political influence from Greek (ancient, classic and later Byzantine), Latin, the expansion of the south Slavic tribes, the migration of the Huns and later the Magyars, and the final domination politically by the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarian empire has obscured whatever there once was there.  It is now impossible to sort out what was going on linguistically for much of this period, and the best we can do is extrapolate with our fingers crossed based on the identification of tribal names and peoples referred to by the Greeks and Romans, Ottomans and Byzantines.  By the early Middle Ages, most of these languages were either already extinct or fast heading that way with the exception of those that are still spoken today—Greek, Armenian and Albanian—to be replaced by south Slavic languages, or descendants of Vulgar Latin like Romanian and Moldavan, or intrusions from further east like Hungarian.

The curious thought here, though, about the Paleo-Balkan mess, is that we have just enough information to discern what a mess is it and how much fluctuation of peoples and languages was going on, but not enough to decipher it.  Does this mean that our simplistic view of the Corded Ware horizon staidly evolving into Baltic, Slavic and Germanic, etc. without interruption, or the Andronovo evolving into Iranian, etc. are too simplistic, and we just have no idea how to even discern how much churn and fluctuation was going on, which may well have been as bad as it was in the Balkans?  Interesting question.  But we don't know what we don't know, and we don't know how to know any more than we do now, barring the completely unexpected discovery of some new ancient texts buried somewhere.

Based on all of that; do I dare say what I think the linguistic situation may have looked like?  Sure—with the clear caveat that my opinion is fairly speculative, and I'm just a fan of the discipline, not a professional.  I think the Old European languages made up a family that was related in some way or other to the Minoan language, or the Etruscan language (or maybe they were two separate waves of linguistic penetration.)  During the height of their success, they were actually drawing early proto-Indo-Europeans into their orbit rather than the other way around—the Bug-Dniester culture, for example.

Later, an early wave of early proto-Indo-Europeans moved into the area following changes in agriculture and culture, as well as probably prompted by some climate change.  This is the source of the Anatolian language family.  Although it probably did not completely replace the Old European languages. on its way to Anatolia, it did leave population of Anatolian language speakers in the area, which left some of the poorly attested substrates that later waves of Indo-Europeanization dominated.

As subsequent migration moved into the area, population hybridization picks up so much of the Indo-European genetics that, like the Corded Ware situation, although probably not as drastically, we start to get a fairly thorough Indo-Europeanization.  This relatively early post-PIE dialect continuum stretches from the new frontier in the Balkans to equally expanded new frontiers in the east, out beyond the Volga and across the distant steppes of Central Asia, where the Afanasevo culture has recently appeared.  There is continued movement west, and dialects of late PIE that will later emerge as Celtic and Italic (and maybe Nordwestblock, or other today unknown groups), although those that remain in the Balkans and just north of them retain still enough contact with their original homeland in the steppes that linguistic isoglosses can still be shared with later-PIE that will develop into Indo-Iranian.  Even the earliest northern Corded Ware cultures that will develop into Slavic and Baltic have some lingering linguistic contacts.  The languages that remain in the Balkans start to split a bit and undergo further development.  From a continuum that includes pre-Greek, pre-Armenian and pre-Phrygian, first Greek and then Armenian and Phrygian eventually migrate out of the Balkans and establish colonies in Greece, Armenia and Anatolia.  They may have been pushed southward by population pressure (possibly associated with the migrations of the Sea Peoples ultimately), possibly by the arrival of a large Thraco-Dacian language group from further north, which may explain observed similarities between what little we know of Thraco-Dacian and both Baltic and Iranian languages.  The Thraco-Dacians might well have moved into the area due to population pressure from even further away, including the expansion of early Celts as the La Tene culture had a much larger geographic extension than its ancestor the Hallstatt.  Another group, the Illyrian (and Venetic, etc.) languages hug the east coast of the Adriatic Sea, not closely related to the Greek-Armenian-Phrygian group, nor the more recently arrived Thraco-dacian group.

For many generations, echoes of the former languages still linger.  Pelasgian, Minoan, Lemnian, etc. might be remnants of the Old European languages that presided here in the earlier Neolithic.  Anatolian substrates might have lingered in the form of the Paeonian and Mysian languages.  Some forms of the family that broke apart and gave us Greek, Phrygian and Armenian lingered, perhaps, also to be seen in Mysian and Macedonian.  The Illyrians manage to withstand pressure from all comers to some extent, but the rest of the region is eventually swamped by the Thraco-Dacian group.  These are in turn pushed by the Celts and then decimated linguistically by the Romans in historical times—but the Romans are unable to continue to dominate politically.  While some languages descended from Latin still remain (Romanian, Moldavan) and the continued spread of later Byzantine Greek is politically important, linguistically, the spread of south Slavic tribes becomes the most important "recent" development, as it swamps much of the Latin and possibly Greek that had replaced the Thraco-Dacian.  Illyrian survived, much distorted by pressure from various languages, as Albanian—although I do like the idea of Albanian being instead a much distorted Thracian or Dacian language, which originally came from outside the region, replacing and displacing language groups like Greek, Armenian, Phrygian, etc. because it offers a possible explanation for surprising correspondences between Albanian and Germanic and Balto-Slavic.  But, I think the fact that Albania is located smack dab in the same territory as Illyricum makes the former a better null hypothesis.

Finally, squashed between Latin and Byzantine Greek, swamped by Slavic migrants, and later dominated by both the Austrians and the Ottomans (as well as having to suffer further invasions by the Huns, the Avars, the Magyars, etc.) none of the original paleo-Balkan languages survive in the Balkan-Danubian region with the exception of Albanian.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ancestral style?

While tartans are an expression of a specifically Scottish clothing type, and relatively recent at that, tartan-like plaid cloth has a much longer history.  The Romans and the Greeks both made numerous mentions of the Celtae (and Keltoi) penchant for wearing "stripes" and "checkers" and other patterns that we would call plaid today—although the word didn't yet exist at the time.  In salt mines near Salzburg, Austria, we've discovered (in 2004) very tartan-like textiles that date to the Hallstatt material culture from between the 8th and 6th centuries BC; a time where they are presumed to be at a relatively early Bronze Age stage of Celtic.

This, along with numerous other accounts, discoveries and whatnot, suggests that plaid is the ancestral textile pattern of all of the Celtic peoples.

But wait!  There's more.  A great deal of it, in fact.  Similar finds come from Jutland and elsewhere in Scandinavia, which was never proposed to have been a Celtic area, and is seen as part of the core territory in which Germanic developed.  Curiously, the area is more associated with the Anglo-Saxons who took Britain from the Celts than with the Celts themselves.

And even more bizarrely, the Chärchän Man, a naturally occurring mummy found in western Chinese Turkestan who died, it's believed, around 1,000 BC, is wearing what appear to be plaid leggings, not terribly unlike a number of pajama pants that I own.

Now, the Germanic peoples could have borrowed plaids from the Celts, and presumably borrowed other items of material culture and language from them, but the Tarim basin mummies are nowhere near the Celts, and frankly, predate them anyway.  They're believed to be Tocharian speakers, descended from the Afansevo culture, which split off from the Proto-Indo-European the earliest—around 3,300 BC.  Linguists, on discovering the Tocharian languages, were fascinated by some similarities to Celtic (as well as to Germanic, to Baltic, and Anatolian—but not with the nearby East Iranian languages) so much so that they initially proposed that some kind of Baltic or central European late PIE group had migrated across the entire face of Eurasia nearly to get to what is today well within China.  Later, it was shown that Tocharian split off from PIE earlier than any other Indo-European language group except Anatolian, and the similarities are seen as archaisms that persisted among groups that had already spread to the "periphery" of the developing PIE sphere, while Baltic, Slavic, Greek, Armenian, and especially Indo-Iranian maintained a relationship that allowed them to continue to share isoglosses after the other groups had already gone their separate ways.

The intriguing part of this is the supposition that some cultural traits besides simply language can be traced all the way back to PIE unity.  Some things, like the use of the word *h4eros or *h4eryos  is the name for the entire group (found in all kinds of names, including Ariomanus, Eire (Ireland) Iran, and the term Aryan, etc.) can be pretty confidently assessed back that far, and a lot of work has been put into a three-way caste system, and various aspects of the shared, ancestral mythology.  But can we say that plaid is the actual ancestral textile of our earliest Proto-Indo-European ancestors, and that it dates all the way back to nearly 3,500 BC in the late Eneolithic age?

I dunno, but I think I'm going to go buy another plaid patterned shirt, just in case.

Cassivellaunus, the chieftain of the British Celts who fought Julius Caesar to a standstill, wearing traditional Indo-European clothes.  Although Caesar put a good face on his account of the invasion of Britain (he did after all write the history himself) it's clear that at best it can be judged a stalemate, and the legions returned to the continent for 97 years after the truce between Caesar and Cassivellaunus was brokered.

Cyberpunk Star Wars

Just discovered another great "remix" concept—Star Wars + Blade Runner.  Given that I'm deliberately moving AD ASTRA a bit away from STAR WARS REMIXED and into a more 80s, synthwave-fueled setting (not that I've posted anything about either in some time), this is right up the same alley.  Beautifully done.

https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Kz1xo


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Middle-earth Remixed... Suicide Squad style

This is two things at once: a condemnation of the movies that we got, and yet at the same time, a blueprint for how something loosely based on the venerable setting could be done.  Haha!


Finished Flash Gordon

Well, I finished watching all 16 episodes of the Flash Gordon cartoon.  As much as the ideas were really cool, the implementation of them really wore me down after a while.  The silliness of the dialogue and plot, the over and over again repetitiveness of the animation sequences, just made it start to get painful after a while.  For its era, it's a pretty good show, but the era in which it thrived was one in which being good wasn't really a requirement.  Based on that, I'm going to ditch (or at least postpone) any attempt to watch the Tarzan or Thundarr shows.  I just can't do it anymore, especially so soon after doing Flash Gordon.  Instead, I'll check out the History Channel's Vikings on DVD.

This is not true for adventure cartoons today.  Although my own kids have pretty much moved out of the window where they're looking for cartoons to watch (my youngest is finishing 8th grade) as I went through that with them, I found at least some shows that had high enough quality that I actually enjoyed them quite a bit, and consider them among the more entertaining shows on TV—in spite of the fact that they were animated.  Now, granted, maybe I just happened to have seen the best ones and avoided the rest (in fact, I'm quite sure that this is so—I've seen other stuff going on in the background that my kids watched that was painful.  Although this is mostly the comedy animation as opposed to the action/adventure animation.)

I wonder what has driven this massive shift in quality of animation, quality of screenplay, maturity of themes and characterizations, etc.?  Is it competition with Japanese animation? (Probably plays at least some role.) Is it the change in the market where they at least to some degree are marketing to older audiences, and hoping to get cross-over appeal with sci-fi adult fans and whatnot? Probably also a role here; similar factors have influenced the market for comic books, for example—competition with manga and a shift to writing for older, even adult oftentimes, audiences.

So, of the cartoon shows of the last decade that I've enjoyed enough to recommend at least part of, I think I can maybe scrape up a half dozen or so recommendations, with some caveats.  They focus heavily on superheroes and space opera, which is not surprising since I've just always been a fan of both of those trope-baskets.  Let's go through them real quick:
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man.  This is actually probably the best representation of the character as he was originally meant to be seen.  He's a bit nerdy, definitely a teenager, out of his depth, but with a kind of under-dog charisma that makes him a likable character.  The screenplays are tense, the characters have chemistry with each other, the voice-acting is top-notch, the animation is simple yet very effective.  Sadly, the show fell victim to corporate politics; it was licensed to Sony Pictures Television, and broadcast initially on the CW.  Even moving to DisneyXD wasn't enough for Disney after they bought Marvel, though—they wanted in-house created shows, and this got the ax after only two seasons.  The third season was in the works and would almost certainly have been even better than the second one.  Highly recommended.  Only caveat is that I think this is the show that first "blackwashed" Liz Allen from a blonde, blue-eyed girl to a black character.
  • Ultimate Spider-man.  The show that Disney came up with to replace Spectacular was this one.  It started off relatively well.  It takes place in a pseudo-Ultimate setting (unsurprisingly) where Spider-man is being mentored by Nick Fury and given some gizmos and gadgets from Shield. It also offers lots of opportunities for crossovers and cameos of various Marvel characters—and Spidey is teamed up officially with Nova, Power-man, White Tiger and Iron Fist, also re-imagined as teenagers here.  I was initially wary, but the first season sold me on it after a while.

    Sadly, it has some serious structural issues.  The character of Spider-man himself was grossly distorted and got more and moreso with time; from a wise-cracking guy with a lot of charisma (in spite of being nerdy) Peter became a bratty, entitled, arrogant jerk that became literally painful to watch at times—and it's clear that the writers didn't actually understand that they were doing this.  They thought that Spidey was still likable, funny, and a good interpretation of the classic tropes of the character.  Something is really wrong with those writers.  I wonder how much success in actual social interactions with actual real people they have sometimes.  Recommended with caveats—watch the first season or two, be very, very wary of the third and fourth seasons.  In spite of the fact that it was covering more interesting storylines in the later seasons, I gave up on it because it was simply not fun at all to watch anymore.  The show has just recently been cancelled and a new Spider-man show is slated to replace it, starting this summer.  I don't know if this is because of falling viewership or reactions to this show, or not, but I'm even more wary of this new show than I was of this one when it launched.
  • The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  This, like Spectacular above, was contracted out (to Film Roman) and like that, it was absolutely great.  Revisiting much of the classic Avengers storylines of the past, including sojourns to Asgard, clashes with Dr. Doom, the Skrull infiltration and invasion, and ending with the attack of Galactus on Earth at the end of Season 2, it had, again, a simple yet evocative animation style, great plots, great screenplays, and lots of callbacks for fans of the comic book runs.  Sadly, it also only lasted two seasons, and was replaced with Avengers Assemble which was specifically designed to be more in harmony with the Marvel Cinematic Universe rather than the original Marvel Universe.  And as with Spider-man, it's better than the show that it's replaced with.  But Avengers Assemble at least doesn't actively turn you off, as later Ultimate Spider-man does.
  • Avengers Assemble.  I've only seen the first two seasons of this, and they're actually pretty good.  They do some interesting things; Red Skull gets a hold of an Iron Man armor suit, and with it, as Iron Skull, is a credible main villain, who organizes a number of other villains to be a recurring thorn in the side of the Avengers.  There's some chemistry with the characters, as there needs to be on a team ensemble show.  Thanos makes an appearance.  Hyperion plays a significant role, which is kinda fun—and he's later joined by the rest of the Squadron Supreme in the third season.  For whatever reason, I've always been fascinated with alt-Justice Leagues.

    Season three just ended, so I'm looking for it to show up on Netflix shortly.  Season four has some worrying signs (anytime Thor-girl makes any appearance for any reason whatsoever, I see that as a major red flag).  I fully expect that this will eventually go the way of Ultimate Spider-man because I think the structural flaws are related to the people in place at Disney.  But as I last saw it, it hadn't done so quite yet.  Recommended.  At least the first two seasons.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Of all of the cartoons I've watched over the last ten years, this is clearly head and shoulders above any other.  Completely CGI, with graphics that improve as the show goes on, it really feels like exactly the kinds of stories that the old Republic serials would have told—except modernized in terms of technology and graphics.  The plots are good, the characters are good, there's a lot of chemistry between them (for the most part) and it is a significant and substantial addition to the Star Wars canon.  This is the benchmark that all action/adventure sci-fi TV shows should aspire to, whether animated or not.  But because it's animated, it's doable—a think as live-action it would have been way too expensive to ever actually have been made.  There's actually relatively little about it that is kid-focused.  That doesn't mean that it isn't kid-friendly, but that it isn't any more kid-focused than the original Star Wars movies were (in spite of the fact that George Lucas has retroactively said that the show was always aimed at kids, that's very obviously not true.  It later became more focused on kids—to its detriment.  And it was popular with kids, without being aimed specifically at them to the exclusion of adults.)

    Still on Netflix, and should be watched by everyone.  Sadly, it also fell victim to corporate politics, although we did end up getting an abbreviated "6th season" with some of what would have come out had the show continued.  Highly, highly recommended.
  • Star Wars Rebels.  Although it's largely the same team as Clone Wars, this show has not grabbed me as much.  The animation is arguably better, but there are other problems.  The structure has become much more episodic, which is much less engaging.  We don't have quite the same degree of character chemistry and charisma.  There aren't really any heroes; there's the liberal-feminist earth-mother figure in Hera the twi-lek ship captain, there's the reluctant Jedi with self-esteem issues, which makes him much less admirable and likable as a hero than even Luke or Anakin were.  There's the smart-aleck, arrogant, bratty apprentice who is a lot like the distorted and unlikable version of Peter Parker noted above from Ultimate Spider-man.  All in all, it feels like it's been partly developed by committee, and the committee has a lot more SJWs on it than the team that made Clone Wars.  (Plus, Kathleen Kennedy is a raging feminist-narcissist—a seriously worrying sign for the future of the franchise overall.)  All in all, the decline from Clone Wars to Rebels as well as the disappointing Force Awakens has made me fearful of the direction the Star Wars franchise is headed.  But luckily, there are enough people on the teams that aren't terrible that the decline will be (hopefully) slow and punctuated by moments of brilliance here and there (like Rogue One). Recommended, but not until you've seen all of Clone Wars first, which is far superior.
  • Young Justice.  This is what superhero TV shows really should be like.  Absolutely brilliant.  Great animation, great characters, lots of chemistry, a mostly serious attitude, and a great deal of respect for both the audience and the source material.  The only thing that's odd is that it comes in two seasons, and the two seasons are separated by about five years, making for a surprisingly incongruous break.  But the show is quite serious and well-done, with tight screenplays, a lot of chemistry, and very mature themes and concepts (and by "mature" I don't mean "adult", of course.)

    This can be seen as a re-imagining of the Teen Titans show, maybe—certainly it's based on the same Wolfman/Perez 80s run of the New Teen Titans comic book where the characters are young (but not high school young) and which competed credibly with the classic X-men run led by John Byrne and Chris Claremont.

    That said, although the older Teen Titans show which ran from 2003 to 2006 or so, although not always serious, was a pretty good run too.  Both are highly recommended.
I haven't watched more than an episode or two of Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. which has Hulk and a bunch of other Hulky characters stranded on a space ship and traveling through the galaxy as a kind of superheroic space opera.  You'd think it'd be right up my alley, but I didn't find the characters or their chemistry very engaging, and like I alluded to earlier, I'm not super sold on the really episodic type shows.  It also has a lot of really kind of dumb stuff; I have to think that some committee decided that it needed to be more overtly targeted towards kids rather than making intelligent shows and trusting that kids can keep up, even as older audiences are also entertained.  You'd also think that the Guardians of the Galaxy show would be right up my alley, but I haven't watched it at all.  If they ever put it on Netflix, I'll probably give it a try.

Given that both come out of the same movement that gave us greatly reduced efforts; mediocre shows that replaced good or even great shows, I'm not really expecting too much, though.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dust

Inspiration can come from many sources.  While I don't really care for the pseudo-animism and pseudo-anime feel to Dust, it did also have some great ideas.  Notably, I really like the concept of the hydras; small, microscopic even, animals that eat poison and can clear the body of "toxins."

I wonder if I don't have a place for a similar concept in DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V.  Small, symbiotic creatures that earth-people needed to take to make them immune to local diseases—and which the natives finally discovered after having their own populations decimated by diseases brought from earth.

Maybe I need to set my "Crusader states" a little further out.  Not two generations, but closer to ten, from their arrival on the New World.  This gives them time to spread and grow, as well as for the natives to have gotten at least a little used to them having been here.  The native societies may well have been decimated by plagues—bubonic plague, typhus, smallpox, yellow fever, etc.—just the same as we believe plagues ran through the historical New World in advance of white settlement, leaving behind devastated, post-apocalyptic remains of the civilizations that once dwelt there.


Dust from Ember Lab on Vimeo.

Another curious detail is religion.  Much of modern fantasy tends to kind of ignore religion; either make it some kind of hippy-dippy version of actual pagan mythology, or just try to pretend like it isn't really part of the social fabric at all.

This clearly wouldn't be the case for Medieval northern Europeans, whether on an alt.Mongo or in alt.Europe or anywhere else.  However, given the fact that we're deliberately cut off from the Vatican, I don't think we'd have anything like what we saw in actual historical Europe either.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the only clergy to have set up shop in the New World were a few equivalents to Friar Tuck, and then cut them off from the world for ten generations—what do you have left?  I think something not too terribly different than the small congregation, decentralized Christianity of the American Old West, actually.  Maybe instead of Protestant reverends, we'd have friars, and there'd be little shrines to the Virgin Mary and various saints, because this is, after all, a Catholic faith that is drifting away from the mainstream due to simply being cut off for so long.  Vetus Latina Bibles and maybe even some folks have copies of Venerable Bede's or Aldhelm's Biblical translations or the Lindisfarne or Wessex Gospels.

There is, however, no strongly centralized or heavily staffed Church on the New World.  There aren't any monastic orders, although maybe a few start-ups that are similar in some respects to the Templars are trying to stay manned by locals.  Lacking structure, or even much in the way of text, the church is (unknowingly) going to mimic some of the aspects of the Reformation in the New World for the simple reason that honest men of good faith but without the support of the Catholic church heirarchy are going to independently come across similar ideas about how the Church should operate, and without anyone to tell them otherwise, that's what they'll end up implementing.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dark•Heritage as... Mongo?!

On a whim, I cast the dice with my nostalgia and got some old cartoons that I used to like as a kid.  Now, sure—I recognize that cartoons are kids' shows, and that was certainly 100% true in the late 70s and early 80s, which means probably trite dialogue, poor plotting, and cardboard characters for the most part.  It also means cheap animation, lots of repeated sequences, etc.  Even before I started this, I didn't have high expectations of the shows that I was planning on revisiting.  What I was hoping to find was that at least the high concept and some of the ideas were worthwhile to mine again... and maybe to find that what I used to like as a little kid wasn't quite as dumb as I was afraid it might turn out to be looking at it now as a grown man of 45 years.  My wife walked up and saw what I was doing, and certainly took a pessimistic approach—that I was certainly wasting my time and setting myself up for disappointment.  However...

I wasn't actually disappointed.  The expectations I had for the animation and plots and whatnot were mostly true.  Repeated sequences got old only five episodes in.  But the story and the setting, and the feel, behind what I was watching was still worth it.

Now granted; it's not like I was watching The Smurfs or something like that.  I'm talking about shows that are topical for this blog.  I identified four that I could potentially try out.  I may not watch all of them, and certainly not every episode for all of them, but I want to at least explore them a bit.

Three of the four shows I identified were by Filmation, and the fourth by Ruby-Spears.  The first one I dived into (five episodes last night) was Flash Gordon, often later retroactively titled The New Adventures of Flash Gordon to distinguish it from other efforts. Originally a season of sixteen episodes broadcast in 1979, this first season was well-received as remarkably faithful to the original Flash Gordon subject matter and the whole planetary romance genre overall, and one of Filmation's best shows.  It was hoped that it could capitalize on post-Star Wars space opera demand, which I think it did quite well.  The second season, on the other hand, was poorly received, as a number of structural and other elements were dictated by committee, who wanted more episodic rather than serial story-telling, and a cute pet side-kick.  I may skip this second season entirely... but I'll probably finish watching the first season before I stop.

Parts of it are really quite remarkable.  Not only is the story and setting very faithful to the whole original Barsoom-rip-off Flash Gordon and Mongo (curiously, when Flash Gordon was created, to compete with the very successful comic strip Buck Rogers, they wanted to buy the rights to John Carter of Mars first, but couldn't get Burroughs to cooperate.  Which explains why they got someone to basically "borrow" the entire concept.)  I've actually had quite a bit of fun just watching the interplay of sword-fighting with robots, dog-fighting in space-ships with giant hawk-riding warriors, slave pits full of degenerate beast-men, Ming's scantily clad harem that makes Leia's slave girl outfit look rather modest, and a band of bald Robin Hood lookalikes who shoot arrows that freeze whatever they hit, flying cities, and for that matter, an entire flying planet that is approaching Earth to screw it over with gravitational weirdness and then conquer it.

The men are quite masculine, and the women are extremely feminine.  In spite of the format and the short time frame, I wasn't rolling my eyes at the idea that Ming's saucy daughter Aura was immediately infatuated with Flash, or that she basically betrayed her father several times to rescue him.  I was amused to see Flash negging Dale Arden by joking that she seemed jealous around Aura, and Dale merely turning up her nose in faux offense, but mostly being mad at Aura, not Flash.


Thun the Lionman king is kind of like Flash's Chewbacca, except with a real Debbie Downer whiny attitude, that Flash counters with a plucky, American can-do saying and a bunch of good luck.  Dr. Hans Zartov is kind of hapless; he is immediately imprisoned and put to work my Ming as a scientist, although he seems to have the run of the palace when he needs to.  Dale is a pretty classic damsel in distress, and it really begs the question why she came along on this trip to begin with (in the classic planetary romance storyline, our hero falls for a local princess usually.)  Ming himself is quite the dastardly fellow, and true to his original incarnation, he has all of the appearances of a Yellow Peril despot, which rings much more true than the politically correct attempts since then to either make him more alien or worse: a white peril.

So... first attempt at exploring this stuff: success.  What's next?  Finish off the first season of Flash, then have a look at Filmation's Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (which aired before Star Wars even came out) and which is also considered one of the most faithful adaptations of its source material, including a lot of the real weirdness of Tarzan: lost cities of jungle Vikings, the Lost Cities of Ivory and Gold respectively, which have a very Opar-like feel, lost cities of knights, a robot duplicate of Tarzan, UFOs, yetis, woolly mammoths, Pellucidar, and more.  Then on to Thundarr the Barbarian, a post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery series that's famous as much as anything for highlighting locations that are obviously famous places that have fallen into disrepair and been occupied by mutants or weird sorcerers or something like that in the meantime.  Meanwhile, a guy who's pretty much Conan the Cimmerian but with a light-saber, a hot sorceress chick sidekick who has the hots for him (but who he friendzones hard) and a fake Chewbacca sidekick ride around on horses across fallen North America saving good old fashioned, melancholy and hapless salt of the earth peasants from the depredations of wizards, pirates, and monsters.  The last show I targeted was Filmation's Blackstar, but I might have a harder time getting my hands on episodes of that show, so it might not end up happening.

(As an aside, you can probably see that since I was eagerly devouring Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and Thundarr the Barbarian at ages 7-9 or so, it's hardly any surprise that I was just as eagerly devouring the actual works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard when I discovered them in the public library at about age 11-12 or so—when I moved pretty much permanently from the upstairs kids section of the library to the downstairs adult science fiction shelves.)

In the meantime, watching Flash Gordon and its intriguing storyline of Mongo approaching Earth (and Flash and Zarkov and Arden all flying in a rocket to somehow stop it from crashing into Earth—not quite sure what they thought they were going to do, but whatever) I think I may well have solved an ongoing problem with my DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V.  I was never completely happy with thinking that my British Dark Ages Crusader states or colonist kingdoms, or whatever you want to call them, transplanted to the New World from the historical Old World—except that the New World was a fantasy analog, not the real thing.  And I wasn't sure exactly how or why there couldn't be continued commerce back and forth from the Old and New Worlds.  But... what if instead of a new continent, they actually literally went to a new planet; one that came flying out of space, threw the moon out of whack and then replaced it and then sat there like a new double planet from then on out?  And what if some kind of bridge, a Bifrost of some kind, were established up in the north near Britain or Scandinavia that connected them?

The chaos, both social and otherwise that this would cause is sufficient reason, I think for the Pope to call a Crusade for any to cross and go deal with the New World and its interruption of their peace—and because of the location and the social events going on in the late 1060s and early 1070s, it explains why I would especially have displaced Anglo-Saxons and Celts and Vikings who made up the majority of this Crusade—and who therefore founded the colonist kingdoms with their own culture and peoples.

And then the Bifrost broke, or otherwise failed.  Two generations after the establishment of Crusader state colonies on the new world, they've emerged as independent (by necessity) since the only contact that they can have with the Old World is to look up at it in the sky and remember that their grandfathers came from there.

I won't get into the super-science of typical planetary romance stories here—if there are any flying ships or rayguns or anything like that, they'll be extremely rare and unique, but it does give me a great excuse for being a little bit more free to be gonzo in what I put out there in DARK•HERITAGE after all, rather than almost alternate history.  That said, my concept of this is that it's a kind of mirror-earth—it has similar geography, for instance, and is otherwise quite similar to the real earth, which explains why they're on the eastern seaboard of a pseudo-North America.



As an aside, my favorite #lolwut moment so far came when Flash Gordon defeated a robot trooper by throwing a big tub of water on it.  Not sure how good these robot troopers will be if a little water causes them to short, spark and basically catch on fire... and I'm also not sure where that tub of water came from—one moment it was nowhere to be seen, the next moment it was in his hands and he was dumping it on the robot to save hawkman king Vultan's life... but it did make me chuckle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Middle-earth Remixed with serial numbers rubbed out

What if I wanted—someday—to do something with MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED other than play around with it here on my blog, or potentially as an RPG campaign for my friends and or family?  Well, I'd be a bit out of luck.  The Hyborian Age is now public domain, but Middle-earth is not, and the Tolkien Estate is relatively diligent in protecting the intellectual legacy of J. R. R.

Now, this isn't exactly true for some characters of Middle-earth, since some of them were literally based on ancient names; the name Gandalf comes from the Dvergatal of the Völuspá, a portion of the Prose Edda.  Eärendil comes from Anglo-Saxon mythology, etc.  But most of them are.  I'd have to distort the map so that it's not so obviously a blatant copy.  I'd have to change a bunch of names.  I'd probably do away with hobbits altogether (gasp!) and just replace them with some rural yeomen and rustic landed gentry that have the same personality as a culture.  Just to make the lines a bit harder to draw in case it ever were to be done by a legal team.  I'd want to make sure that MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED in this scenario would pass muster as legal scènes à faire that are common to the genre.

Of course... if I do this, at some point, it becomes self-defeating.  If the attraction is that it's Middle-earth with a twist, the more it becomes just a pastiche fantasy setting clone instead of actually being Middle-earth with a twist, the more one is forced to ask: why bother?

But, nonetheless, I think I'm going to draw up a quick n dirty alternate "Middangeard" map and create some alternate names.  Just because, it gives me something else to do with this tag for a little while longer,

And just for fun, here's some more Angus McBride Celts that can be rather ostentatious Eriadorian mayors.  Heck; maybe even some landed gentry from Bree-country.  Below that is some more humble Eriadoran scouts wondering who's occupying lonely hill forts in Rhudaur, and if they represent the men allied with Angmar.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Indo-European spread

Found this Creative Commons gif by Joshua Jonathan which I've unpacked into individual images so I can discuss each in kind.  This seems to be the latest and best understanding of the Kurgan Hypothesis for Indo-European, which has now pretty much eliminated any credible vestiges of dissent.  Not that the Anatolian Hypothesis doesn't still have its adherents, and other (less serious) theories don't still surface from time to time, but they aren't really credible anymore.  Mallory in 1989, Anthony in 2007 and subsequent archaeogenetic research have pretty much wrapped the theory up nicely.  So here, I present, the prehistoric spread of the Indo-European languages, as best as we understand them.  I deleted a few of the images because they were either unnecessary or redundant.


The first image in the gif is actually a bit misnamed.  It says Yamna (or Yamnaya) culture, but this predates the Yamna culture, and would refer to the Sredni Stog and other neighboring cultures instead like Dnieper-Donets II, Khvalynsk, Samara, etc.  and not extend as far to the east as it does.  The time depth here is roughly 4,500-4,000 BC.  This is the earliest period of common Proto-Indo-European.


At the end of the fifth millennium, there was a minor climate change; becoming a bit cooler and drier.  The farming communities of the early Balkans, which bordered on the steppes and which are not considered to have been Indo-European, were significantly depleted in the Danube valley, and some archaic Proto-Indo-Europeans moved into the area, spreading a more mobile economy with the domesticated horse, and (presumably) early Indo-European culture, including language.  This would have happened roughly 4,000 BC, but probably took a few hundred years to come to full fruition.  Anthony and Gimbutas have interpreted this as both the presence of a fair number of steppe intruders to the region, but also their establishment as an economic (and probably political) elite among the remainder of the "Old European" inhabitants in the region, who became "Kurganized"—i.e., they adopted much if not most of the steppe culture, including the language—but it was a far cry from complete population (i.e. genetic) replacement.  Anthony calls this new culture the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka complex, and it persists in the Danube for some time.

Although the timing is not clear, it's believed that this group (or at least some of them) eventually made their way southward into Anatolia and are the source of the archaic Anatolian language family; the most "primitive" or "archaic" of the Indo-European families, and thus the one that had to have left the common Proto-Indo-European sphere the earliest.  The Anatolian-speaking Hittite Empire was established in 1,600 BC, but clearly the Anatolian speakers had been in Anatolia for quite some time by then, and diversified into a variety of related languages (Luwian, Palaic, Lycian, Hittite, Mycian, etc.)  This move is believed to have happened by at least 3,000 BC.  Of course, if the proto-Anatolian branch of archaic I-E separated itself from the main body of the steppes and came into the Danube around 4,000 BC and didn't end up in Anatolia until 3,000 BC, obviously they spent some time in the Balkans and eastern Anatolia before ending up where they ended up.  Plenty of time for them to have swallowed up substrates, both genetic and linguistic, and been influenced by new linguistic and cultural neighbors in various ways.


The Yamna cultural horizon, from 3,300 to 2,500 BC, is usually considered the "classic" period of Indo-European unity (although the Anatolians had already split off by then.)  On the eve of the Yamna horizon, a wide variety of clearly closely related cultures spread throughout the region, and the farthest eastward of these, the Repin culture, is believed to have been both the source of the classic Yamna cultural tropes, and the source for the far-flung Afanasevo culture, which appears at the same dates as the Yamna horizon.  Despite the vast distance, archaeologists have long been fascinated with the almost identical material culture between Afanasevo and Yamna, and more recent research suggests that the burials include individuals who are indistinguishable genetically between the two cultures as well—they were clearly a completely transplanted eastern wing of the Yamna horizon.  This also partly explains the relative archaism of the Tocharian languages, in spite of their late attestation, although it needs to be pointed out that the Tocharian languages do not actually appear in the same place as the Afanesevo culture—although it's widely believed that they must have been derived from it, because there aren't any other candidates that can be taken seriously.

Further cooling and drying of the steppes may have been partly responsible, but the development of full blown nomadic pastoralism, including mobile homes (on wagons) and the invention of the chariot seems to have been what set the Yamna apart from the less committed type of pastoral nomadism that preceded it.  It allowed for more freedom, economic opportunity (greater ability to take advantage of ecologically marginal terrain) and as a result, probably resulted in a prestige social system as well, which swept up all of the steppe cultures into a remarkably unified horizon.  It may well have displayed the advance of a prestige dialect too—nobody ever believed that the entire unified Indo-European language was the same through this phase, and marked dialectical differences may well have existed, but the Yamna horizon might have sanded many of those differences down; up until the languages started spreading geographically shortly afterward.

Long-term settlements of mixed agriculture and hunter-gatherers that had existed on the steppes in river basins for centuries, if not millennia, finally are left behind as the culture becomes firmly "committed" to pastoral nomadism; although there is an east-west cline to many of these developments, with the east being the most nomadic and mobile, least agricultural, and most patriarchal (based on burials, at least).

Between 3,300 and 3,100 BC, the Usatovo culture developed further to the west; Anthony interprets this as local Balkan and Old European peoples developing a client-hybrid relationship with "overlords" from the steppes, who were themselves moving more and more into their territory, and therefore importing more and more of their culture.  Kurgans spread westward into Hungary and elsewhere.  To my knowledge, at least, there isn't really any good archaeogenetic research on the Balkans and the potential spread of Yamna genes into the area like there are for some other regions, but because the Balkans were relatively heavily populated (compared to areas north and east, for example) it seems unlikely that total population replacement was going on.


On the other hand, the Corded Ware horizon, which spreads like wildfire across northern Europe (2,900-2,400 BC), has been shown to have been at least 75% genetically Yamna, so it does represent a very definite migration of steppe populations into another area, where they largely replace or swamp the genetics of whomever was there before.  Exactly how the Corded Ware developed from the Yamna horizon is still somewhat unknown, although it's clear based on genetics (as well as numerous cultural traits) that it did.  Likely the new pastoral economy was so productive and efficient that it led to significant population growth in the steppes and new territory (lebensraum) was needed.  Because northern Europe was relatively lightly populated, it was easy territory for the new Indo-European dialects, including the Indo-European peoples and cultures to take over.  There is some evidence that there is a Uralic substrate in at least some of this territory, which makes sense as Estonian, Finnish, Lapplander and other Uralic languages appear historically on the northern fringe of Indo-European.  And there may well have been any number of anonymous substrates—we know of at least some non-Indo-European languages that appear to be vestiges from pre-Indo-European days (Etruscan, Basque, Tyrsenian, etc.) and there's long been suggestions that you can see evidence of substrate influence in the languages themselves; some of the dramatic sound changes that led to the development of Germanic, for example, have been proposed as what you'd get if non-native speakers attempted to speak "broken" Indo-European.

In addition to the Corded Ware, the Balkan Area seems to have thrown off its first branches; proto-Greeks are estimated to have arrived in Greece by late in the 3rd millennium BC.  By 1600 BC, they have evolved into the Mycenaean palace civilization that lasts until the Bronze Age collapse.  The Armenians also traditionally have been historically believed to have crossed Anatolia at some point in here to arrive in their historical seats fairly early.  The connections of Armenian are confused—it was initially believed to be a very eccentric form of Iranian, but was later shown to be an independent language stock that was heavily influenced by prolonged contact with Persians and Parthians and other Iranian languages and peoples.  It's now captivated linguists with possible early unity with Greek, suggesting that the two languages developed together apart from the rest of the I-E family for at least some time.  Although Armenian and Greek are both presumed to have relatively early migrated out of the Balkan area, to be honest, the paleo-Balkan linguistic situation is very poorly known, and while all kinds of Indo-European languages clearly resided there (Thracian, Dacian, Illyrian, proto-Greek, proto-Phrygian, proto-Armenian, etc.) the relationships (if any) between these is poorly understood.  Just about the only thing that is known is that the Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians were known peoples from the historical period who fought against both Greeks and Romans before being linguistically subsumed, and somehow out of that mess the Albanian language appeared.

In the east, on the other hand, and this diagram simplifies a bit, the Andronovo horizon is in some ways equivalent to the Corded Ware—a broad horizon that encompasses a number of regional variations—although it's a bit more recent than the Corded Ware, flourishing from about 2,000 BC to 900 BC, and supposed to have been a development of the Sintashta culture which preceded it (2,100-1,800 BC) which was a development of the Poltavka culture (2,700-2,100 BC) which is so similar to the Yamna horizon which preceded it that it's clearly just a temporal extension of it.

Andronovo does account for the spread of the Indo-Iranian branch, although exactly how Indo-Iranian split into Indic and Iranian is still anyone's guess.  It also suggests why Indo-Iranian is one of the "youngest" Indo-European language; it was among the last to develop from PIE, in the same environment both culturally and literally as PIE itself developed. Some of these late isoglosses suggest that a late PIE community that had shed Anatolian, Tocharian, and much of the European languages still influenced, to some degree, Indo-Iranian, Graeco-Armenian, possibly Thraco-Daco-Phrygian and even the Baltic and Slavic languages before they all finished going their own ways.

By the end of the period covered on this map, the break-up of Proto-Indo-European is complete—although we're still a pretty far cry from developing into the recognizable pattern of Indo-European families that we know.


BMAC, or the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex, sometimes called the Oxus civilization, is an urban settled farming community of the neolithic (2,300-1,700 BC) that has its roots to the southwest in the Near East.  It had contacts with the Harappan civilization, and the historical Elamites, and the BMAC people are presumed to have been the inhabitants of a cosmopolitan trade nexus of sorts.  Described by Soviet archaeologists and not really well-known in the west until the collapse of the Soviet Empire, BMAC has a complicated history with regards to Indo-European studies.  Although the base population is not to be derived from the neighboring Andronovo culture, and the original inhabitants are not believed to be Indo-European, contacts with the steppe are well known and appear to intensify around 2,000 BC.  In fact, the related Tazabagyab culture appear to be steppe Andronovans who settled down and adopted some BMAC cultural traits, including irrigation agriculture.  By 1,800 BC the BMAC cities shrink in size, steppe pottery appears more frequently, and kurgan burials appear in the highlands outside of the urban centers in larger numbers.  It appears as if the Andronovo presence becomes more concentrated, and they gradually kind of overwhelm the BMAC centers, although not without picking up a fair bit of BMAC culture (and presumably genetics) along the way.  Mallory states the implied mainstream position, that the BMAC was a Central Asian urban membrane through which Indo-Iranian, or at least Indic pass before appearing on the other side as some of the proto-Indic cultures such as Swat, Cemetery H and Painted Grey Ware.  Iranian is more complicated.  Iranian plateau cultures speaking Iranian languages certainly appear on the southern side of BMAC in later years such as the Medes, Parthians and Persians, but the steppe Iranians such as the Saka, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, etc. certainly remained on the steppes longer and couldn't possibly be part of the same wave that later emerged as Indic.

Parpola interprets these various archaeological complexes and cultures with linguistics as follows, although this is only one interpretation and does include (by necessity) some just-so stories:
  • Catacomb and Poltavka cultures (2,800-2,000 BC) (followed Yamnaya culture)—late PIE on their way to becoming Proto-Indo-Iranian.
  • Srubna and Abashevo cultures (2,000-1,800 BC) (followed Catacomb and Poltavka)—proto-Iranian—the historically attested Cimmerians are suggested to derive from this horizon.  Given that the Thracians are often associated with the Cimmerians, and Herodotus himself seems to suggest that the Thracians originally came from the northern Black Sea region, this would lend credence to some theories that Thracian was more closely related to Iranian than to other Balkan languages that originated in the Balkans as the result of earlier waves of "kurganization"—but given that Thracian is so poorly known, this remains a tantalizingly speculative discussion.  However, it's worth pointing out that many of the Balkan languages, including languages that are believed to have originated in the Balkans like Greek and Phrygian, are often considered to be late separators from PIE, and therefore have more in common with Indo-Iranian than other western European languages would.
  • Petrovka and Sintashta cultures (2,000-1,800 BC) (sub-units of Andronovo)—proto-Indic
    • This is a bit at odds with the mainstream, who does not see Andronovo as differentiated Indic yet, but most likely still both Indic and Iranian before they split from each other.  It also gives the Iranians a somewhat more vague and anonymous position from which to later emerge, but there are some precedents for accepting it.  Zoroastrianism is often interpreted as a new cult, interpreted as a wave of Iranian Avestan speaking peoples swarming over a territory previously occupied by early Indic speaking peoples with whom they then recognized a cultural distinction.
  • BMAC and Cemetery H (1,900-1,400 BC)—Dasas, i.e., non-Indo-Europeans who were swarmed and defeated militarily or culturally by the early Rigvedic civilization.  
  • Alakul-Federovo (Andronovo variants), early Swat, and late BMAC cultures (1,800-c. 1,400 or so BC)—hybrid "proto-Sauma-Aryan", i.e., practitioners of the soma cult, which was common to both Indic and Iranian peoples, but which was almost certainly picked up from the non-IE BMAC peoples, at least partly.    Interpreted as largely culturally Indo-Iranian or Indic, yet with some genetics and traditions picked up locally.
  • Early West Iranian Grey Ware (1,500-1,000 BC) the source of the Indic element among the Mitanni—a non-Indo-European Hurrian kingdom that was a neighbor and rival to the Hittites during much of the Bronze Age, but which has recognizable Indic linguistic influences.  Identified as an advanced wave of Indic speaking chariot warrior aristocracy that established themselves as a superstrate over an indigenous Near Eastern population.
  • Late Swat, Punjab and Painted Grey Ware cultures (1,400-800 BC)—Classical Rigvedic Indian culture, and the eventual "conquerors" of the subcontinent who brought Sanskrit to India, where it displaced languages of presumably Dravidian and possibly even Munda affinity which were previously spoken there.
  • Yaz, Seistan (1,400-1,100 BC)—proto-Avestan, i.e. early Eastern Iranian; so similar to Sanskrit that it might still have been mutually intelligible.
  • Gurgan Buff Ware and West Iranian Buff Ware (1,100-1,000 BC)—proto-Persian and proto-Median.
Regardless of whether this identification is correct, in some way or other, Andronovan filtered through BMAC to emerge on the other side as the languages of the Iranian and Indic families—even the Iranian languages that remained on the steppes (Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, etc.) were influenced by it.  One notable item of interest is the possibility that the Andronovo hybridized or creolized to some degree with Uralic peoples who lived to the north of them.  There is both linguistic and maybe even some genetic and archaeological evidence brought to bear to support this story, but it remains unproven, yet interesting.

The last region covered here is the Tarim basin.  Archaeologically represented by a striking set of burials occupied by corpses that naturally mummified in the dry, salty environment, the oldest of which date to about 1,800 BC (but which stretch for the better part of 2,000 years) it's unclear exactly what all of them were, but they clearly represent peoples from a variety of extractions.  The most interesting, of course, are those who have a very pronounced European physical type, including red, brown and blond hair, tallness, blue and green eyes, woven tartans that look like they could have come straight off of proto-Celtic looms in prehistoric Austria, and presumably their languages—many centuries later two groups of Indo-European languages emerge in the area, Tocharian, an independent family with a number of very archaic features that cannot be derived from the Andronovo/Indo-Iranian group in any fashion, and eastern Iranian languages, particularly Khotanese Saka and some Indic religious texts.

Physically, the Tarim mummies (those that aren't clearly Asian in physical features, that is) come in what appear to be two clusters, a "primitive" and robust proto-Europoid physical type, especially to the farthest east and the oldest mummies, and a more gracile "Mediterranean" physical type, interpreted as the bearers of the Saka language.  The Chinese also referred to a number of barbarian tribes that lived here as well as to the area north of them that appear to have European physical features, including the Wu-sun and the Yuezhi.  Lacking any other candidates, the Afanasevo and Pazyryk cultures are presumed to have been the vector by which the Tocharian languages entered the Tarim Basin, and the late Andronovo cultures are presumed to be the bearers of Saka and other Iranian languages.  As with how the Andronovo turned into the historically attested Indic and Iranian groups, though, or what languages the barbarian tribes referred to by the Chinese spoke—we don't really know.


Of course, if by spending all of that time talking about the development of the East I've implied by omission that we understand how the Corded Ware and other Balkan cultures turned into recognizable European Indo-European groups, I have to make sure and disabuse you of that notion.  Very little is known about the dispersal of any of these cultures either, and their ties to various linguistic groups that later appear.  We don't even know (again, to the best of my knowledge) of any studies of archaeogenetics of the Balkan groups.  Somehow, though, the Balkan groups turn into Dacians, Thracians, Illyrians, and almost certainly the linguistic forebears of the Greeks, Armenians and Phrygians.  And somehow the Corded Ware culture turned into the Baltic, Slavic and Germanic groups (at least we presume so, since they covered the same physical area.)  And somehow, the Italic and Celtic speaking peoples, and maybe some other languages who's affinities are unclear, appear out of that mess too.

The Single-Grave culture, a variant of the Corded Ware found in Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Low Countries is proposed to be ancestral to the Bell Beaker culture (2,800-1,800 BC), a culture that spread to various places over much of western Europe, including the British Isles, has been proposed as both proto-Celtic as well as proto-Celtic/Italic/Germanic/Balto-Slavic.  Its connections to cultures that later are recognizably Celtic or Germanic (such as Hallstatt and Jastorf) is unclear, though.

Most likely the Bell Beaker culture represents European language groups that were on their way to differentiating.  This process is very poorly understood, as the various Bronze Age cultures of Europe are not easily derived from each other, and linguistically lots of connections between the European languages are presumed to still have existed.  The Italic languages (best known by Latin and the subsequent Romance languages, but which earlier were more diverse) are often believed to have maintained a period of unity specifically with the Celtic languages, as the Indic and Iranian languages did, perhaps.  The Baltic and Slavic languages are presumed to have done so too.  Germanic is harder to place, with some commonalities with the Balto-Slavic group, but some with Italo-Celtic too.  There's even a serious proposal that a completely anonymous Indo-European family existed which has since disappeared without a trace other than its influence on the sounds and grammar of Germanic and Celtic, called Nordwestblock in the Belgian region which separated Germanic and Celtic development zones.  And languages that are attested but very poorly known, like Venetic, Rhaetic, Ligurian, Lepontic, North Picene, Messapic, Illyrian, Thracian, and Dacian are anyone's guess as to their closest relatives.  Some may pass muster as Illyrian, Italic or Celtic languages—some may not even be Indo-European at all.

The problem in Europe is a little different than that in Asia—there are plenty of cultures and plenty of languages, but making a sensible matching of one to the other eludes us.  Big horizons like the Nordic Bronze Age, the Urnfield horizon, or the Atlantic Bronze Age defy geographical matching to later linguistic groups; where we have sharply defined lines linguistically when they first emerge in the historical record, we do not see anything like them in the archaeological horizons, which means that all kinds of linguistic groups are thrust uncomfortably into the same archaeological horizons and cultures.  On top of this, there remain a dizzying array of European language groups that are difficult to classify, and may belong to many or even none of the well-known Indo-European groups.  And contacts between Baltic, Slavic, and probably Thracian, Greek and Armenian with the developing Indo-Iranian languages appear to have happened too.

This dispersal of the Corded Ware and Indo-Europeanized Balkans into something recognizable from historical seats of known language families remains one of the bigger unresolved and possibly unsolvable problems of Indo-European research.  And most likely it can't be accurately resolved, really—although we can certainly hope to understand it better than we do now.  Today we have no choice but to try and locate the differentiated late Western PIE languages—proto-proto-Celtic or Italic or Germanic, etc. more or less where they emerge when we first have historical data to place them.  But most likely these proto-proto-languages; differentiating PIE stocks, jostled each other around and ended up covering different areas when they appear than they did when the start.  We see plenty of this in the historical record: Celtic has swept across most of Western and Central Europe and into the Balkans and even Anatolia when they first appear in the historical record, and can be pretty reliably tied to the Iron Age La Téne culture.  But the Romans conquer their provinces of Hispania and Gaul and even Brittania, replacing the Celtic languages there with vulgar Latin.  Later, Germanic invaders cover much of the same territory; Brittania (minus Wales) speaks Germanic English now, and Austria, the proposed homeland of the Celts, speaks Austrian German.

And that's just one example.  The spread of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages across much of Europe that formerly spoke some other Indo-European language in the historical period should give us pause and make us suspect that the same probably happened in prehistoric times as well, and because its prehistoric, it's probably unrecoverable, at least with any real confidence.