Thursday, December 17, 2015

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Excuse me reader, but can I be of assistance?  I can't help but notice that you have arrived at my blog once again.  Perhaps you are in the mood for another book review?  Ah, yes, then that it what we shall do.  Oh, you are curious as to what we will be discussing?  Today we will be reviewing The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

It follows a young man named Changez who lives in the city of Lahore, Pakistan.  He recounts his story of going to America to go to college and seek employment.  He falls in love with a beautiful woman named Erica and he lands a great job as an analyst at a major counseling firm.  All goes well, but then 9/11 happens.  From then on Changez constantly reexamines America, it's interactions with the world and even himself. 

You are concerned that this might not sound that interesting?  Forgive me, its one of those books that is tricky to summarize, but I can assure you that it is an excellent book.  Why am I writing the review as I am?  You see, the book is told as a conversation that Changez has with a nervous American in Lahore.  I quite liked this twist on the style of first person narration, and it really does show Mohsin Hamid's command of the English Language.  

I really enjoyed gaining a greater understanding of the peoples and culture of Pakistan, especially that of the city of Lahore.  It was also quite good to find out more about the 2001 standoff between Pakistan and India.  Oh, you have not heard of it?  I would not think so, it is not that well known here in the West.  This is certainly a book of literary fiction, but it does have a few dashes of nerd and geek culture that should help sustain those not normally into literary fiction.  For example, one of Changez's first assignments is to evaluate a fictional company that has created a teleportation device, and his girlfriend Erica is very into European comics.  

A bit of advice, you might not want to read/listen to this book if you're feeling hungry.  Changez and his American guest have quite the meal that is described with many caring details.  This goes especially if you enjoy Indian food, as Pakistan was once part of India.  It was also interesting how this novel depicted 9/11 from an non-American and non-Western perspective.  You are concerned that this novel will make you sympathize with terrorists?  Fear not, Changez is not that sort of man.  That being said, fundamentalism comes in more forms than just religious.  For example, Changez notes that he and his boss are very much economic fundamentalists, and he notes that, following 9/11, America takes on a very fundamentalist tone to its nationalism.

As he says, before 9/11 being in New York was like, well, being in New York; a big cosmopolitan city with many different cultures and people's living side-by-side.  After 9/11, however, living in New York was like living in America, and all that that entails.  Also, for those wondering, the name Changez is a variant on the name Genghis.  It's very much a book about what the immigrant dream means in our modern world, as well as the intersection between American and other nations.    

You are wonder if there is an audiobook version?  Why reader, I thought you'd never ask.  The answer is yes, it is narrated by Satya Bhabha, and it is quite excellent.  Satya really nails it with his performance of Changez's lemony narration style.  There was also a movie adaptation that premiered at the 2012 Vince Film Festival.  I have not seen it, and so I cannot speak of its quality.  The book was a finalist for the 2007 Booker Award, and it won the Anisfield-Wolf Award.  Quite a few universities have begun teaching this book in their courses.  All of this recognition and praise is more than deserved on Mohsin Hamid's part.  

And so we have reached the end of our review.  As you can see I enjoyed this book very much.  Ah, I see you are reaching into your pocket, which I assume is for your wallet so that you can buy a copy of this book?  

Interview: Matt Mitrovich

Today we've got another interview coming your way on Knowledge, Adventure and Wonder. He's the creator of The Alternate History Weekly Update, an alternate history aficionado and a good friend of mine. He's Matt Mitrovich and he is our guest for the day. So without further ado, let's get on with the interview.

1)  In your own words, who is Matt Mitrovich?

What a surprisingly difficult question. There are a lot of words that can be used to describe me: blogger, author, attorney, alternate historian, husband, son, brother, American, etc. I think a simple explanation is that I am just nerd who really enjoys alternate history.

2)  When did you first discover alternate history?

It had to happen early in my high school career. I remember going to the local book store and stumbling upon a paperback copy of Worldwar: In the Balance by Harry Turtledove where Hitler and Churchill are standing next to each other on the cover. Knowing a thing or two about World War II already, such a pairing was definitely a head turner. I bought the book and the rest, as they say, is history.

3)  What inspired you to start The Alternate History Weekly Update?

It's complicated. I started blogging during a time in my life when I was at my lowest. I felt my career was going nowhere and despite the number of times I told people I wanted to be a writer, I never actually wrote anything. Blogging was a way of letting off some steam from work and proving to myself I could write on a regular basis. Choosing what to write was difficult at first. I wanted to write about alternate history, but I needed a certain angle. Anyone could write their own alternate history timelines or scenarios and post them on the web, but I wanted to do something unique.

That is when I realized that most alternate historians don’t know a damn thing about the genre. Most knew the major authors and a few of the major sites, but topics like the Sidewise Awards or more obscure creators were mysteries to the fans. I decided then that I would write about the genre itself. I would cover the news and educate people about the history and people behind alternate history.

With Alternate History Weekly Update’s five year anniversary coming up next June, I think I made the right decision.

4)  I've heard that you've published a bit of fiction yourself in the past.  Can you tell us a little about that?

As mentioned above, part of the reason why I started The Update was to practice my writing. Once I became more comfortable with blogging, I decided to take a crack at writing fiction. I chose to write a short story first because I wanted to be pragmatic and didn’t think I could produce a novel just yet. My first short story I ever finished, “Collapse Theory”, has yet to be published. Although I was pretty proud of it, most publishers I submitted it to passed on it. Eventually I became frustrated with it and moved on to something else.

My first short story to be accepted by a publisher was “The Enchanted Bean”, which was a steampunk retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale. You can find a copy of it in Once Upon a Clockwork Tale. I published several other shorts after that: “Road Trip” (Forbidden Future), “A Perfect Hell on Earth” (Jake’s Monthly: Recollection) and “Revenants of Warfare” (The Were-Traveler).

To be honest I haven’t written much fiction since. When I was able to officially say that I was a published author, I lost interest in writing anything else. I really enjoyed blogging so I focused on that instead. Recently I have been feeling the urge to write fiction again and might even try for a novel, but we will see what the future brings.

5)  Now, I'm not personally a fan of the favorites game, but do you have a favorite work of alternate history?

I really have a soft spot in my heart for Worldwar: In the Balance, because it was the first alternate history book I read, but even I think “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” (the short story, not the novel) is my favorite Turtledove work. I enjoy the works of SM Stirling as well. He is probably one of the best world builders in the genre and knows how to write a series. Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula books are great as well if you like dark humor and pop culture references. Even though his writing is a little old fashioned, I always enjoy reading anything by Harry Harrison. Newer authors I have enjoyed include Michael J. Martinez and Tony Schumacher. Stephen Baxter isn’t a new author per se, but I only started diving into his bibliography recently and I am happy to report I have enjoyed every minute of it. So to answer your question: no, I don’t have just one favorite work of alternate history

6)  You used to be an admin for the AltHistory Wikia, before it went down hill, what was that like?

It was fun while it lasted. I got the job because I’m pretty sure I annoyed the other admins with my constant reports of vandals and spammers. They will deny it, but I am pretty sure they made me an admin just so I would take care of those issues myself and not annoy them anymore. To their eternal horror (I’m guessing) I was a very active admin and pushed for reforms and created written guidelines for what were previously unspoken rules. I made a lot of good friends and I think even gained a level of respect.

Then things started to go down hill. People I knew left and a new group of editors joined. Many were good, but a lot had more snark than skill. I soon just became exhausted with the constant arguments and challenges. I also realized I spent more time policing the wiki then actually writing anything. This was around the same time I started The Update, so I “retired” as an admin and threw myself into blogging.

Although I did eventually return to the AltHistory wiki in a limited capacity, I was soon put off by the current user base. Again, there are still a lot of good editors working there, but they are being overshadowed by the people who are dragging the wiki down. I hope one day the AltHistory wiki can improve, but until then I will remain a lurker.

7)  So you're serving as a judge for the Sidewise Awards.  Can you tell us a how you were selected, and for readers who may not have heard of them, tell us a bit about the awards themselves.

The Sidewise Awards for Alternate History is an annual award given out at Worldcon for the best alternate history novel and short story. It was founded in 1995 by Steven H Silver, Robert Schmunk and Evelyn Leeper. Since then many judges have come and gone. Steven is currently the only original judge still serving (although Evelyn helps out behind the scenes and Robert still hosts the awards’ page on his website, Uchronia).

There really isn’t much of a story to how I was selected. Steven emailed me asking if I would serve a judge. After I finished squealing with geeky glee, I emailed him back saying I would. The next awards are going to be presented in 2016 at MidAmeriCon II and I hope to be in attendance. If anyone else is going, let me know and maybe we can meet up to talk alternate history.

8)  You recently started your own YouTube channel.  What inspired you to do so, especially at a time when many users feel that YouTube has thrown them under the bus.

I enjoy experimenting with new mediums and YouTube was something I felt was deficient when it came to alternate history. Don’t get me wrong, Cody Franklin’s Alternate History Hub is something even people who are not fans of the genre should check out, but besides him, there really aren’t any other channels I can recommend.

Creating my own channel is my own effort to rectify that situation. I am still set in “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” mode, so I can’t really talk too much about what I am doing. I can say I am approaching alternate history on my channel, The Alternate Historian, the same way I did it for The Update.

9)  Are there any non-alternate history books that you happen to be a big fan of?

1984, Fitzpatrick’s War, The Lost Fleet series, World War Z, Theodore Rex, Vortex, The Dark Tower series, The Zombie Survival Guide, Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Starship Troopers, Mythology, “The Good War”, Lies My Teacher Told Me, Starfighters of Adumar, The Jungle, Revelation Space, Marvel Zombies, The Kingkiller Chronicles...the list goes on.

10)  Besides your own blog you're a frequent contributor at Amazing Stories.  How'd you get started with that, and what's that like?

Again, not a very exciting story. Before Steve Davidson, the editor of Amazing Stories, relaunched the magazine, he was looking for contributors. I filled out his form and he contacted me back and offered me a place on the staff. I tried various different ways to write for the magazine and eventually just said “screw it” and wrote about alternate history.

Steve has been one of the best editors I ever had and he has been very supportive, especially when I asked to go from a weekly to a bi-monthly schedule. He is passionate about Amazing Stories and I look forward to seeing all of his hard work pay off.

11)  What does the future hold for Matt Mitrovich?

Well I want to write more fiction and produce better quality videos for my channel. I also want to encourage more guest posts to The Update to give me time to do both of those. We shall see though. I try not to plan too far in advance.

In truth, 2016 will be the year where my wife and I focus on bringing home Baby Mitro. We are planning to adopt and if you would like to learn more, check out our blog or are GoFundMe page.

12)  Any advice for aspiring bloggers and alternate historians?

For bloggers (and writers in general) my advice is to start writing. There is a 99% chance that you are not a genius, so don’t worry about whether your content is “good”. Just write on a regular basis about something and share it with others. You will get better as time goes on and hearing criticism, even if it is not constructive, will help you improve.

As for alternate historians, always always always do your research. If I ever have to read about another British North America (in a world where the Americans lost the Revolutionary War) having to buy Florida from Spain, I will teleport to where you live and beat you with one of your Turtledove books (don’t lie, we all have at least one).

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Well I'm back again for another book review.  This time we're going to step away from the speculative and the fantastic and focus more on slice of life.  Specifically, we're going to be reviewing Looking for Alaska by John Green.  The book follows Miles Halter, an awkward sixteen from Orlando, Florida about to set out for his first year of boarding schooling in Birmingham, Alabama.  Miles likes to collect the last words of famous people, and he goes to seek the great perhaps.  Along the way he is befriended by a quirky group of nerds, and he soon finds himself infatuated by the lovely Alaska, and yes, that is seriously her name.  Alaska lights up his word (she lights up a couple of his other things too) and soon Miles and the gang are in for an adventure full of drinking, smoking, sex and much more.  Oh, but all is not well, as you may notice by the count down at the start of each chapter.  

At the present moment speculative fiction dominates the YA market, especially dystopia and supernatural romance.  What makes John Green so unique is that he writes very down-to-earth slice of life books, and he is one of the most successful and beloved modern YA authors.  I didn't listen to this book until my freshman year of college, and I think that was to this book's benefit.  Boarding school is some much like college that, having lived the college life, I was able to relate to it pretty well.  Not only that, but Miles' group of friends had striking parallels to the friends that I made during my freshman year of college, though maybe that's because we have similar personalities and thus attract the same sorts of people.  

I loved the descriptions throughout this book, whether it be of the gang's wacky hijinks or just them sitting around, eating fried burritos and discussing philosophy.  If you're looking to get into John Green's books I'd recommend this as a pretty good starting point.  Besides Miles and Alaska I'd have to say that my favorite character would be The Colonel, whose real name is Chip, but he doesn't like to be called that.  He's their short and stocky friend who always comes up with the plans for their adventures, and he's obsessed with geography, you gotta love that.  Then again, I won first place in regional and state Literary Rally in geography, so maybe I'm biased.  The way the narration and dialogue are written are also quite excellent.  

Speaking of narration, the audiobook version, narrated by Jeff Woodman, is perfectly narrated.  There's a bit of guitar music during the beginning and end of the audiobook.  It was really nice and it fit the book quite well.  On a slightly less realities note, I know I mentioned sex and drinking and all that, but this book isn't too explicit with that stuff, all things considered.  

Having said all of these nice things, there were still a few issues, but this was John Green's first book after all.  John has stated that he intended this book to be a deconstruction of the Manic Pinkie Dream Girl trope, but it come across more as a novel about dealing with the death of a friend and loved one.  Okay, little spoilery, but at least I never told you who dies.  Anyway, to his credit John has acknowledged this and that was part of the reason he went on to write Paper Towns.  The other issues is that by the end Miles is practically screaming the book's message at the top of his lungs to the reader; with all the subtly of an eighteen wheeler at top speed.  Imagine if The Stage Manager from Our Town were shouting his final monologue into a megaphone at the top of his voice, and it's kind of like this.  Again, this was John's first book and he got better at subtly delivering his books' morals and messages as time went on.  

Despite a few rough patches towards the end this is still a great book, and one that I happily recommend.  If you're looking to see what all the buzz about John Green is about this is a great starting point.  Now that I've reviewed his first book, I think I might review the other John Green books as well.  I'll probably do that in the order I read them, so Will Grayson, Will Grayson is up next.  

In that case, I will see all of you next time.   

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

It's been a while since I reviewed a book on this blog, so we're going to do something about that.  Today we'll be reviewing The Martian by Andy Weir.  By now you probably know the plot, especially thanks to the recent movie adaptation, but let's recap it anyway.  In the not too distant future the Ares III mission to Mars has had to return Earth prematurely due to surprise dust storm.  Unfortunately, Mark Watney has been left behind because everyone assumed that he died during the storm.  Now it's going to take everything Mark's got and then some to stay alive, reestablish contact with mission control and get back to Earth.

This was one of those books that I heard about it so much that I decided give it a listen to see what all the buzz was about.  I can safely say that the buzz wasn't without a very good reason.  I enjoyed this book very much.  I enjoyed Mark's snarky and sarcastic internal commentary.  It made even the grimmest and most serious of situations feel lighthearted and not quite as serious.  Of course, as Mark himself says, for NASA equipment failure is a serious issue, but for him it was a pretty normal Tuesday.  Mark's dialogue reminded me of what I always imagined would happen if Percy Jackson were to get stranded on Mars.  This book did a really good job of capturing just how risky and potentially dangerous space travel and exploration can be.

I also liked how the narration shifted between Mark, Mission Control and the crew of Ares III.  It was nice to get the perspective of the other characters as they struggle to get Mark home alive.   Venkat Kapoor was probably my favorite among the Mission Control gang.  In many ways this novel can be described as Robinson Crusoe on Mars.  It was fun seeing how Mark would solve the latest puzzle that was thrown at him.  I also liked how the Hermes orbiter was a reusable spacecraft that parks in Earth orbit when not being used for a mission; really felt like something that might, hopefully, happen one day.

The science in this book is extremely solid.  In fact, this is one of the hardest of the hard science fiction books that you're bound to find.  Having said that, there are a few notable exceptions.  The most glaring begin the very thing that sets the plot in motion: the dust storm.  Due to Mars' low atmospheric pressure, even the most raging dust storm or tornado would only be about as powerful as a gentle summer breeze.  To his credit, Andy Weir has stated that he regrets making this and wishes that he could go back and create a more realistic reason for Ares III to abort their mission.  Also, no matter what Mark may tell you, disco does not suck!  To be fair, thought, if I only had it to listen to for several months I'd probably be sick of it too.

For those of you who enjoy audiobooks there is an excellent audiobook version that is narrated by R.C. Bray.  I'm sure you're also more than aware of movie adaptation directed by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.  As of this post I have not seen the movie, but I have heard very good things about it, and I plan to see it at some point or another.  This book has proven to be quite popular not only with everyone at NASA, but also with Neil DeGrasse Tyson himself, which is no small feat of achievement.  

All in all it is an excellent and believable novel.  The hype has been happening for a very well deserved reason.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book, in physical form or in audio, you'll be glad that you did.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flag of the Socialist Republic of Korea

This is the flag of the Socialist Republic of Korea. It comes from a world where North Korea won the Korean War. With all of Korea United under a single socialist government this Korea never experienced the rise of Juche and the overall quality of life is much higher than in our world's North Korea. Having said that, quality of life is also much lower than in our world's South Korea. Over the years the government has begun to loosen its grip and liberalize, and each year sees more foreign in investors and business invest in Korea.

Relations between the United States and Korea were initially rather frosty, but in recent years things have begun to warm up once again. In the absence of a capitalist Korea, the United Sates has increased its military bases in Japan. In general, this Korea is comparable to our world's Vietnam.

Speaking of Vietnam, in this world Vietnam is still divided between a capitalist south and a socialist north. North Vietnam has proven to be a tiger economy and is quickly earning its place in global pop culture thanks to V-Pop music. South Vietnam, by contrast, has grown increasingly authoritarian and increasingly paranoid. The two Vietnams have technically been a war for many years, but no shots have been fired…for now anyway. 

Napoleon in Afghanistan: A Twilight Histories Map

My latest map based on the Twilight Histories episode Napoleon in Afghanistan.  It's set in the mid-19th century where among other things...

Napoleon was far more successful than he was in our world.  One of his biggest successes was his victory against the Russians.  Napoleon chased Czar Alexander and his forces across Central Asia for quite some time.  Eventually, the French army faced off against the forces of Britain and Russia in the Khyber Pass of Afghanistan.  It was a tough and gurgling battle, but ultimately the French prevails and dealt a crippling blow to the British by capturing India.  Unfortunately, Napoleon didn't get to enjoy his success for long as he contracted cancer and was dead by his mid-sixties.  Still, despite his early death, Napoleon managed to create a French Empire stretching from Portugal to Indochina.

While Napoleon was busy building his empire the United States was going through considerable turmoil.  The Embargo Act was never repealed and New England seceded from the Union.  Soon the United States found itself in a war against New England and Britain.  All went well at first, but then Thomas Jefferson was assassinated.  James Madison severely mishandled the war and caused New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to join New England.  By the end of the war New England was recognized as a sovereign nation and the area that would have been the states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin Indiana and Ohio had become part of British North America.

Napoleon never wasted troops in Haiti and was able to retain Louisiana.  In recent times Louisiana has been granted a higher degree of personal autonomy, akin to the British Dominion system, as a bit of a trial run of giving other regions of the French Empire more autonomy.  Louisiana has a highly cosmopolitan culture with its citizens comes from across the French Empire.  New Orleans is very much the finical and cultural heart of Louisiana, and occupies a position not too dissimilar to New York during our world's 19th century.  There is a movement within western Louisiana to breakaway and become its own separate dominion.  Time will tell what becomes of this.

Following Russia's defeat by Napoleon many Russians, including the royal family, fled to Russia's possessions in North America.  Novorossiya has expanded to include much of the Pacific Northwest, and has opened its doors to many immigrants.  One of the most notable group of immigrants has been Mormons.  The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints originated in New England, but its members soon moved to Louisiana under the guidance of church founder Joseph Smith.  The Mormons sought to establish a nation of their own in sparsely populated upper Louisiana.  Unfortunately, it wasn't long before they found themselves in conflict with the French military in what would become known as the Deseret War.  Brigham Young, following Smith's death in the war, led the remaining Mormon's to southern Novorossiya.  The Russians allowed the Mormons to settle, but made it very clear they were not attempt anything like in Louisiana.  Novorossiya is culturally divided between a Russian Orthodox north and an Anglo Mormon south.

Latin America experienced several revolutions thanks to Napoleon.  Simon Bolivar received support from Napoleon and achieved his dream of a unified Republic of Gran Columbia.  Mexico is an empire that is ruled by a relative of Napoleon; on paper it's independent, but in practice it's very much a French puppet state.  The Portuguese royal family, as in our world, relocated to Brazil; Rio de Janeiro is the heart of the Brazilian Empire.  Argentina and Uruguay have fallen the British, eager for new lands following their losses to the French.  Chile has managed to maintain its independence thanks to its mountainous terrain.

Much of the Middle East is either under French control or French influence.  Oman has managed to maintain its independence by doing everything it can to suck up to the French.  Thanks to this tactic Oman has been able to begin establishing colonies in East Africa and is becoming something of a regional power.  There was a rebellion and uprising by Wahhabi Muslims against French influence in the region, but it we quickly suppressed.  Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire an Islamic Holy State was established around the region containing Mecca and Medina.  The French leave the Holy State mostly to its own devices, figuring that it's more trouble than it's worth.

The rapid expat ions of the French Empire gave China the motion it needed to being a modernization campaign.  The empire's cultural regulations were relaxed and non-Manchurians were allowed to practice their cultures more freely, which has led to an increase in the number of hanfu being made and purchased.  Industrialization programs are underway and China has even been able to negotiate for the purchase of several Philippine islands from France.  Meanwhile, Japan has opened itself up to the outside world and is also in the middle of its own industrialization.  The Japanese government has been reformed under a Meiji style restoration.  Korea is doing its best to prosper in the shade of its neighbors and is looking to start its own industrialization program.  Hawaii has managed to maintain its independence and is in the process of reforming its society along French lines.

The 19th century is without doubt a very French Century.  The French Empire reigns supreme and without challenge.  The British Empire has been thoroughly humbled and never quite became the great power that it did in our world.  For the most part the world has been relatively peaceful following Napoleon's wars of conquest.  Slavery has been phased out of most nation with the exception of the rump United States and Brazil, though the Brazilians are creating plans to do so.  Because of the size of the French Empire it is possible that Africa won't be colonized quite to the same extent as in our world.  Still, despite its success the French Empire is beginning to show strains and groan under its own weight.  It's possible that more regions will be granted greater autonomy like Louisiana.  Time will tell what will become of the world that Napoleon made. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Titanic Colony: Flags of Avalon

I always love it when I get to work with my fellow alternate historians, especially when there are flags involved in it.  So, when Zach Anderson needed a flag for the Republic of Avalon for his story Titanic Colony, I didn't just give one flag.  Instead, I made flags for Avalon as well as all of its provinces.  I've decided that I'll share them over here on my blog, but first we need a bit of background and context.

You can find Titanic Colony over on Zach's blog The Weekly Chrononaut.  Titanic Colony follows the passengers and crew of Titanic as they are transported to a world without humans by humans from the far future, and are supplied with a vault of resources.  It alternates between the first year and 300 years after the Titanic gets transported to the new world.  So, now that we've cover that, let's get on to the flags.  You'll notice that they've all got red cantons with white stars, as a reference to the White Star Line.

Here we have the flag of The Republic of Avalon.  The three strips represent the three decks of Titanic while the red canton and white star represent the White Star Line, the captain and the crew.  The stripes are blue and white to represent the waves which carried Titanic to its new world.

Here we have the flag of Titanic City. It is the capital of the Republic of Avalon, and is the first area of Avalon to have been colonized. Located where New York City is in our world. I got the inspiration for the flag based on the flag of the Star Tugs from the TV series TUGS. It looked so similar to the White Star Line Flag I figured it would be a nice little shout out, and I'd been watching TUGS when I made this. For those who don't know, TUGS was made by the people who made Thomas the Tank Engine, but is a bit more mature and slightly darker series, and obviously the main characters are all talking tugboats and other watercraft.

This one is the flag of New Eire, which as the name suggests, was settled primarily by Irish passengers and crew.  As such, I made it green and gave it a Celtic harp. 

Here we have the flag of Avalonia.  It has King Arthur on it because, hey, it is the republic of Avalon after all.  I figured Arthurian imagery would feature prominently on the flags.

This is the flag of New Cork.  The phoenix represents Avalon rising from the ashes of the old world, I figured that burgundy was a nice color to use for this one.

Here we have the flag of New Virginia. The infinity symbols represent The Eternity Project, those humans from the far future who transported Titanic to the virgin Earth and provided them with all of the supplies they'd need to survive. 

This is the flag of South Avalonia.  It has Excalibur, the sword given to King Arthur by the Lady of the Lake.  The sword he pulled out of a stone was a separate sword.  Like I said, plenty of Arthurian symbolism. 


This one is the flag of Columbia.  It was founded by defendants of the American passengers.  Just as people several generations take pride in their ancestors, I figured it would be the same here, and the flag reflects this pride.

The flag of Edwardia.  I went with a red, white and black scheme because I thought it looked really nice all mixed together like that.  It's named after Captain Edward J. Smith, the first High Captain of Avalon.  The crest represents industry and science, since I figured those would be emphasized.

Here we have the flag of Florida.  I figured red, yellow and blue were a good tricolor and the trident seemed like a good nautical symbol to have. 

This is the flag of Finium named for...well, we're still working on that part.  I went with a simple blue cross against a white background, because that seemed like a good simple design.

Here is the flag of Mississippia, it's a bit further from the rest of Avalon so I gave it a dragon as in "here there be dragons" plus I like dragons, so I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. I made it purple, because purple is an underutilized color for flags.

Finally, we have the flag of Astoria. It's named after John Jacob Astor.  I figured at least one of them would feature an anchor, and Hope seemed fitting given Avalon's optimistic nature. 

Well, that's all of the flags I've got for this time.  I hope you had fun.  I collaborated with Lynn Davis in two occasions, so maybe I'll post the flags from those endeavors at some point.  And hey, who knows who else I might collaborate with in the future.  Until next time gang.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Interview: Alan Garcia

I've decided that it's high time I started kicking this blog into gear and seriously committing to it. As the first step towards this I've decided to take inspiration from Matt Mitrovitch and Dave Rubin by interview several people whom I happen to admire greatly, or just anyone I think will be worth interviewing. To kick things off we're going to start with one of my favorite artists from DeviantArt, and one who's art has been featured here quite a few times: Alan Garcia aka Shinoharaa.

Also, side note, if you haven't seen The Rubin Report and all the amazing stuff Dave Rubin is doing then do yourself a favor and check it out. Anyway, let's all give a big Knowledge, Adventure and Wonder welcome to Alan Garcia.

Welcome to Knowledge, Adventure and Wonder. To start, tell us who Alan Garcia is, in your own words.

 Hello! My name is Alan Garcia, also known as Shinohara. I'm a 21 years old Brazilian artist (mostly digital) from Sao Paulo, and I work with anime webgames.  

A lot of what you do is vector work. For our readers who may not have heard of it, can you briefly describe what that is?

Vector artist is something like getting a low quality image and remaking it in a bigger resolution. I use my own style in a 8000x8000 resolution, using what I learned from another artists' styles, mainly from meshugene89 (, that is my first inspiration.

Your user name is Shinoharaa. Is there any story behind that name?

Actually it should be Shinohara, but that was taken I create an account, so I put another 'A' hahahah. When I was a child, I need a nickname for my in-game character. For some magical reason I chose Shinohara and uses it until today. Currently, I only play with female characters with nickname Ayumi and Usuki, but between you and me, I think that wouldn’t be very much like an artist name for me.

What inspired you to be an artist?

My entire family is made of artists. My mother painted pictures, my brother drew on paper and my father worked with TV commercials. I remember watching my brother drawing Dragon Ball characters and I started too. But I was always bad at drawing something from my mind, so since I was a kid I put the original picture beside the paper and I copied onto the paper.

When I started play Naruto games, I was the one player who was boring with new ideas and layouts, but there were characters in the game that did not have good renders over the Internet, such as drunk Rock Lee, and then I learned in one day using the Paint Tool SAI and started making characters that had no pictures on the internet to use in the game.

With time I started to get better and people started asking me to do a specific character. With more and more requests, I began to see the future in the business and began to charge pretty cheap for the arts. When I received more than 20 requests and took months to finish all, I decided to raise the price, and fortunately the people have recognized my work enough to continue the requests.

I can say that I am very lucky to work on two things I like and still be able to connect both.

You're obviously a pretty big anime fan. Do you have any favorites?

ANGEL BEATS! Oh, sorry. Yeah, I love the animation and the music from Fairy Tail, the characters from Sword Art Online, the history from many. I really like Naruto, maybe because I know every name on the anime. It’s like how some people know the name of every Pok√©mon for me hahah, but I admit I never watched entire classic saga. I saw only until the fight between Lee and Gaara. Yeah, I never watched Orochimaru invasion, or the famous Naruto and Sasuke epic clash on the Valley of the End, but I watched Shippuuden since the very first episode, every week, including the infinite fillers

But definitely I have two favorite animes: Angel Beats and Steins;Gate. Angel Beats is really fun, beautiful, exciting, sad but perfect! Steins;Gate, with issues about time travel and John Titor, holy shit, my mind blows up!

What can you tell us about the Brazilian anime fandom?

Well, I can talk about the players from the games that I work. They like everything, but they are crazy about the famous ones like Sword Art Online, Shingeki no Kyojin, One Punch Man, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach. You know, the main ones. Hehe!

What's a typical day like for you?

Well, I wake up 8am, go to work and back home by almost 8pm. I have from 8pm until 2am to do what I can. Play. Draw. Parachute jump. Anything. When I have a really big commission list, I try to focus on it, but without inspiration is really boring and it never ends, so I play something (STAR WAAAAARS NOOWWW).

When I’m inspired, sometimes I start and finish on the same day. But sometimes, if it’s a hard one, I can take 1 or 2 weeks, and that kills me.

What's it like making one of your crossover commissions?

I love it. I love the challenge of drawing it, and when someone comments that both characters have something in common, like the seiyuu. Btw, right now I’m drawing 5 crossovers that I always want to do, just keep watching.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m doing some characters that I always wanted to draw (secret), some Hot Spring ones (oh, I miss drawing those) and maybe some Disney ones (I love Disney hahah). Oh, and my brother told me to trying draw League of Legends Splash Arts in anime style. Well, we will see, hahah.

Any advice for aspiring artists?

DO IT! JUST DO IT! Don't let your dreams, be dreams! Yesterday, you said tomorrow, so JUST DO I---wait, that's not mine, LOL. Well, you draw bad? No problem. You need keep going, improve, learn. You just became better if you never stop! As the famous quote says, an artist never ends an art, it just abandons. Never is good enough, so you need to know when stop and start another, better than the first one. Try new styles, improve the same. Find your motivation!

Well it was really great having you over. Before you go, where can the readers find you if they want to commission you or drop a donation your way?

Thanks for inviting me! Just access my DeviantArt account Shinoharaa ( and keep watching my journal. I open the commissions for 1-2 weeks every time I finish the commission list


Thursday, November 19, 2015

My First Publication with The Moonlit Road

Hello everybody.  I'm happy to report that I have recently published my first story on one of my favorite websites and podcasts, The Moonlit Road.  The story is called Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk and you can read it now.  I think you're really gonna like this one...okay, maybe I'm kind of biased since I wrote it, but you should still check it out, along with all the other great stories from The Moonlit Road.

Now that I'm starting to get seriously published I think I'll follow in the tradition of Aliette de Bodard and Ken Liu and start posting story notes.  These will be short little blog post that hopefully will give you some insights into my thoughts and creative process for when I came up with my stories.  So lets get on with it then.

For Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk it's basically a retelling of the Japanese legend of Urashima Taro set, mostly, in 19th century Shreveport.  I noticed how similar Urashima's story was to that of stories involving the Fair Folk, those from the land of Faerie, and it seems like a pretty natural fit.  That and I'd also wanted to write story about faeries that were more like they are in old myths and legends.  I guess I really killed two birds with one stone here.  As for why I set the story in Shreveport, hey, it seems as good a place as any.  Plus, The Moonlit Road specializes in stories from the American South, and Shreveport, Louisiana is a thoroughly Southern city.        

So there you have it.  I'm very excited to get published by The Moonlit Road, and I feel this is just the start of many more great stories to come.  I'll keep you guys posted on any future developments, and I will see you all next time.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fan Art and Commissions #2

I think it's time for another showcase of fan art and commissions so let's get right on it.  Our first commission is brought to us courtesy of Swedish artist LadyLoriel.  Its another one based on The Adventures of the Silver Bullets fanfic, in fact, that's its title.  Let's take a look at it shall we?

I know that many of the characters look a tad off, but that's real a result of the artist's particular style more than anything else.  On the whole I'm very happy with the way this one turned out.  Great to see my vision come to life. I especially love the order everyone is in and how, even though the artist didn't intend it, Al and Mizore look like they're holding hands.  Anyway, who's up for some maps?

This map is based on Easternized World from The AltHistory Wikia.  It was created by Bruce Munro, a very famous map maker in the online alternate history community.  Easternized World is an alternate history where East Asia, rather than the West, became the dominate colonial and cultural power of the world.  It remains one of my favorite alternate history scenarios and I love the ways Bruce put his person style on it.  You really do want to check out the Deviantart page for the full description Bruce provides.  

And here's another scenario from the AltHistory Wikia that I had Bruce cover for me.  This one is called Aztec Empire and it features a world where the Aztec Empire never falls.  Its a really interesting scenario, thought you can tell at times that the author was young and inexperienced, and I like how Bruce was able to iron out the creases with his take on the scenario.  Again, check out the Deviantart link for the full description for the best experience. 

Here's one from our pal Shinoharaa.  It's Kurumu Korono as Sailor Neptune.  I case you're wondering the answer is yes, I do intend to commission a full set of sailor senshi and then some.  Well I can't think of anything else to add about this one, so let's move on.

And here we see Kurumu's loving, I mean "cousin" Milly Ashford as Sailor Uranus.  I really think I did a good job with my selections of these two.  In Code Geass it's pretty much stated that Milly, and most Britannians for that matter, is bisexual.  Meanwhile, Kurumu certainly had her moments with Mizore.  Speaking of Mizore...

I'll conclude this post with an honorable mention.  Mizore Shirayuki as Sailor Mercury.  I didn't actually commission this one, but I certainly looks like something I would have commissioned.  This is the one that lead me to Shinoharaa, never in my wildest imagination did I expect to find such art for so cheap a price.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, that's enough art for one blog post.  I hope you had a great time as usual, and maybe we'll get to do this again soon.  I'll see you next time.