Messages on missiles: Here is a Sugar Plum for You!

Sling bulletsAncient Greek sling bullets with engravings. One side depicts a winged thunderbolt, and the other, the Greek inscription “take that” in high relief.

Ancient Origins has a great introductory article on slings.

I’ve long been fascinated by primitive weapons, and I think every fantasy author should know the basics of the ones he writes about. Not only does such knowledge add authenticity to the story, but helps the author get a feel for the artistry and discipline involved in mastering such a weapon. You don’t just pick up a sling and start hitting your target. The video below of a slinging competition will give you an idea of the deadliness of this elegant and simple weapon:

In my novella Aztec Midnight, the protagonist, Jon Barrett, learned how to use the sling from an elderly Mescalero Apache in Texas. Alone and defenseless in Cuernavaca, he must track down the drug cartel members who have kidnapped his wife. Barrett constructs a sling on the run, and approaches the cartel’s hideout. It’s night, and he can hear a guard treading back and forth on the dark front porch. How can Barrett take the guard down without alerting the others inside?

Precious minutes slipped by. Nothing stirred. In the distance, another train approached Cuernavaca station. Its whistle barely rose above the subdued rumble.

A ghostly silhouette appeared at the end of the porch. I realized the guard had moved in front of a shaded window. Its glow barely formed an outline. I had to take my chance. After placing the roundest rock in the pouch, I stepped forward and swung the sling. The release felt perfect.

The outlined figure did not react. Then the speeding rock tore into bushes and trees on the other side of the yard, and the guard jerked his head toward the sound.

This was my last chance. I took another step forward, slipped a rock into the pouch, swung as smoothly as I could, and released the string.

That passage still makes my blood pump.

Okay, I’ve worked at the computer long enough. Time to change, grab my sling kit, and jog down to the park for some target practice.

H.P. Lovecraft, please call your office

Moa Claw

From Ancient Origins: The Frightening Discovery of the Mount Owen Claw

Nearly three decades ago, a team of archaeologists were carrying out an expedition inside a large cave system on Mount Owen in New Zealand when they stumbled across a frightening and unusual object. With little visibility in the dark cave, they wondered whether their eyes were deceiving them, as they could not fathom what lay before them—an enormous, dinosaur-like claw still intact with flesh and scaly skin. The claw was so well-preserved that it appeared to have come from something that had only died very recently.

Read the rest at Ancient Origins – if you dare.

If I’d discovered that claw, I would have set new land speed records skedaddling out of the cave.

Best Fiction and Writing Blogs


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A. J. Humpage10 Reasons Why Stories Fail
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‘Red Sonja’: ancient female warrior found in Kazakhstan


Robert E. Howard, please call your office:

Dubbed by some as ‘Red Sonja,’ the remains of a woman were found in Kazakhstan have drawn comparisons to a character played by actress Birgitte Nielsen, who starred in self-named 1984 movie along with the equally outsized Arnold Schwarzneggar. In the burial found in the Central Asian republic, archeologists also found a huge sword and dagger, still clasped by the bony hands of the warrior woman. That the two weapons were found in the skeletal hands has lead researchers to theorize that the woman was buried with military honors.

Can Literature Heal?

Fairie Queen

“If a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays.”
Ezra Pound

Signs of atrophy and decay are inescapable these days. The coarseness of mass entertainment, the malignancy of political discourse, the creeping alienation affecting young and old alike which swells up and all too often releases itself in violence — all point to the realization that we have lost our way.

Before we can propose a way back, we have to figure out how we got lost.

I’m reminded of a flash of insight from one of my favorite nature writers, Charlene Spretnak. In The Resurgence of the Real, she noted that in our frenzy to reconstruct the world to cater to endless consumption and personal gratification, we have become our own Frankenstein monsters:

Ten years ago, I attended an all-day presentation by two of our finest writers on the natural world, Barry Lopez and Richard Nelson. A love of language and nature–and a humility before both–permeated their comments, but one observation in particular lodged vividly in my memory. After speaking about the ways in which wild animals are so acutely aware of minute events in their considerable range of attention that their consciousness extends far beyond their fur into the sensate forest, Lopez observed that a bear taken out of its habitat and put into a zoo is still a form of mammalian life, but it’s not a bear.

It’s not a bear.

It’s not a human if its felt connections with the unfolding story of the bioregion, the Earth community, and the cosmos are atrophied, denied, and replaced. It’s not a human if it can no longer experience awe and wonder at the beauty and mystery of life, seeing nothing but resources and restraints. It’s not a human if it is socialized to be oblivious to the unity of life, so lonely that it is vulnerable to all compensatory snares.

The destruction of community connections is not an accident. So-called “liberals” want to free the individual from social constraints, while so-called “libertarians” seek to free the individual from government constraints. But rather than feeling free, the individual is left psychologically isolated, aware of no obligations or duties, but insistent on his growing list of rights.

No wonder so many are resentful and distrustful of others. Meanwhile, the cultural ideal is individual differentiation as an end in itself. One who isn’t sufficiently differentiated is not authentic. Authenticity, however, is available on the retail level. We are what we buy.

So what can be done to break the barriers we’ve erected around ourselves? Literary critic Gary Saul Morson proposes a process that can be described as literary therapy:

It is really quite remarkable what happens when reading a great novel: By identifying with a character, you learn from within what it feels like to be someone else. The great realist novelists, from Jane Austen on, developed a technique for letting readers eavesdrop on the very process of a character’s thoughts and feelings as they are experienced. Readers watch heroes and heroines in the never-ending process of justifying themselves, deceiving themselves, arguing with themselves. That is something you cannot watch in real life, where we see others only from the outside and have to infer inner states from their behavior.

In other words, sharing a character’s joys, fears, and triumphs nurtures our natural impulse to empathize with others, thus breaking down the solipsistic illusion that none but the One True Self thinks, feels, and exists.

Is it possible to rediscover our humanity by freeing ourselves from our addiction to iPods, iPads, and shoot-’em-up video games, and instead spend our precious free time with good books? I think it’s worth a try.

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re: the comic books article, I must admit I never recognized the archetypes represented by the Fantastic Four. Cool.