Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Flag of Spanish Australia

I meant to do something special fro Easter, so to make up for it here's a new flag:

This is the flag of Spanish Australia.  It's from a world where Spain launched an attack on the British colonies in Australia in 1790.  This was because the Spanish believed British Australia was a treat to their Pacific colonies.  A few years prior to the invasion the British colonies suffered a number of setbacks that made their future uncertain.  The Spanish filled Australia with colonist not only from Spain, but also from across their colonies in the Americas.  This diverse group of colonists have Spanish Australia a very cosmopolitan feel to it as the years went on.  

Spanish Australia comprises most of the continent plus the north island of New Zealand.  The French establish a colony of their own in Western Australia and the South Island of New Zealand.  The Spanish and French mutually supported their colonial efforts in order to keep the British out of Australia, and the two Australias are allies to this day.  Spanish Australia is also quite loyal to its mother nation and is a happy member of the Spanish Commonwealth.  Spain did a much better job administering and retaining its colonies and in time organized them into a Commonwealth.     

The red and gold stripes are a reference to the nation's Spanish heritage.  The bull is a reference to the important role that ranching has played in the history of Spanish Australia.  The purple stands for wealth gain by the opal and gold rushes as well as the nation's loyalty to the Commonwealth.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Comic Review: Snowpiercer: The Escape

For today's review we're going to do a little something different.  We're going to review a comic book.  Specifically, Snowpiercer: The Escape by Jacques Lob and Jean-MarcRochette.  It all start with a war.  It's unclear who started it or who were, and frankly that's kind of unimportant.  What is important is that somebody launched a weapon that plunged the Earth into a planet-wide ice age.  Billions died, but a few managed to find ways to survive.  Before the war a perpetual-motion train known as Snowpiercer had been constructed.  It is 1001 cars long.  It circles the world on a globe-spanning track.  It is humanity's last refuge.  

The story follows a man named Proloff and a woman named Adeline Belleau. Proloff comes from The Tail, the very back of the train and the lowest of the low in the social pecking order.  Adeline is from third class and is part of a movement to integral the members of The Tail into wider society aboard Snowpiercer.  A series of events causes the unlikely duo to make their way towards the front of the train, and towards answers about the nature of Snowpiercer itself. 

So before we begin I thought we could talk a bit about comics in general.  First of all, are they comic books or graphic novels?  Personally, I use the terms interchangeably.  Some people will use graphic novel more because they claim it sounds more sophisticated.  I really think Robin Williams put it best, the different between the terms comic book and graphic novel is about the same as the difference between the terms porn and adult entertainment.  

Now let's talk about French comics, since Snowpiercer is a French comic after all.  French comics are kind of like how American comics would have turned out if the Comics Code of Authority had never happened.  You don't really see that many superhero titles, but you do see a great diversity of other genres.  Don't get me wrong, I love superhero comics as much as the next guy, but American comics really need more diversity of genre.  So I guess you could see French comics as somewhere between American comics and Japanese manga.  You get the full colors and western writing tropes along with the diversity of genres.  

Anyway, let's talk about Snowpiercer.  I'm willing to bet that if you've heard of Snowpiercer it's probably via its film adaptation staring Chris Evans, John Hurt and various other celebrities.  That's how I found out about it; though I haven't yet see the movie, but I do plan to.  The Snowpiercer comic originally came out in 1982, but it finally got an English translation thanks to the movie adaptation. The movie might not have replicated the plot, besides the general setting.  That having been said, it does capture the spirit of the comic, and the two other installments of the comic followed other trains so it does kind of fit in with the scheme of things. 

Okay, now we will officially begin talking about Snowpiercer: The Escape.  The plot itself is very much an excuse plot so that we can see what life is like aboard the train.  This is certainly not a bad thing, and I rather enjoyed getting to know the people of Snowpiercer.  Excuse plots can be done quite well.  Besides this comic there's also the Dinotopia books by James Gurney.  They're also very much excuse plots, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would fault them for that.  

We get to see where the train gets its food from, we see the forms of entertainment, we see how culture has adapted to the endless journey and so much more.  The middle class dine on vat meat, while the first class keeps rabbits to supplement their diets, and as for The Tail...well, the less said about that the better.  There's also a few greenhouse cars for vegetable and fruits.  A scene in the movie car was a bit funny since it showed one of the movies playing as Star Wars Episode VII, which at the time didn't exist, but now it does.  If you're wondering where they get their water from it's collected from snow and ice as the train drives along.  I guess you could kind of view Snowpiercer as a generation ship of sorts.  People are born, live their lives and die all within the confines of the train; and death is but a broken window away.   

There's been a cargo cult religion that's sprung up that worship's the engine.  I also found it interesting that many named characters had French and Russian sounding names.  We never find out where Snowpiercer was before the disaster occurred, but certain hints suggest that it was in Russia.  So the mixed of Russian, French and other European passengers does make sense.  There is some really great worldbuilding within this comic.  Bonus points for taking two things I always viewed as kind of magical, trains and winter, and making them absolutely terrifying.  

Let's talk about the art.  The whole comic is in black and white.  I know that black and white comics were a bit of a trend with American comics during the 1980s, but I'm not sure of that was also a trend with French comics of the time.  Either way, it kind of works out.  The world of Snowpiercer is bleak and desolate with very little hope left in it.  The black and white art does a lot to emphasize all of this.  Plus, in a world covered in snow and ice, you probably wouldn't see a whole lot of color.  I've read enough manga so that the lack of color wasn't that big of an adjustment for me.  The drawings themselves were quite well drawn.

Snowpiercer: The Escape has whetted my appetite for the other entries in the Snowpiercer series, as well as for French science fiction comics in general.  If you're looking for a good post-apocalypse science fiction comic then Snowpiercer can't be beat.  I look forward to reading many more French comics, and maybe I'll even get a few more comic reviews over here.  

Well I think that's enough from me for now.  I will see you guys next time. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Flags of E Pluribus Unum

Well I'm back with another flag haul.  This is another project I did in collaboration with Lynn Davis.  You may have heard that Lynn and I have had a bit of a falling out and...well, it's true.  To be perfectly honest it was only a matter of time before this happened.  Lynn has some strong opinions, and she doesn't take kindly to those who disagree with her.  Well, that's the Tumbler set for ya.  I could have kept quiet, but I figured if Lynn was really my friend she wouldn't break off out friendship over a disagreement of opinion...apparently not.

But you didn't come here to talk about my personal life, you came for the flags.  These flags come from a world where the American Revolution was peacefully avoided, and Britain's former American colonies were organized into a European Union-esque organization.  These flags were a spin-off from Lynn's previous map Excelsior.  Let's meet them, shall we?

Here we have the flag of New York.  It's orange, white and blue to reflect New York's Dutch heritage and the design reference's New York's Iroquois heritage.  It comprises New York and the Ontario Peninsula.  Like most entire's on this list it's a European style liberal democracy with separation of church and state and a healthy advocacy of democracy without being too OTL French style.

Here we have the Confederated State of America, or CSA for short.  It comprises Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Michigan, Delaware, northern Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and some of Minnesota.  I made it look kind of like the Freedom Party flag from Timeline-191 for purposes of allohistorical irony.  

Here we've got the flag of Vermont.  It's basically the same as the northern states, but with more of a libertarian bent to its politics.  It's design is based on the historical flag of Vermont.  

Next up is the flag of Manitoba. Comprising OTL Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Yukon, Northern Territories and Nunavut. It is a very liberal and progressive democracy based on the radical democratic ideals of Thomas Spence, who founded the state. It's not very religious and believes absolutely in the ideals of democracy and the people.  It features Liberty leading the people with a sword at the ready to strike down tyrants, and the motto is emblazoned above her. 

Now on deck we have Louisiana.  It comprises the southern half of the Louisiana Purchase. It's a French Revolution style democracy due to the failure of the French Revolution leading many refugees to flee to Louisiana, which later joined the United States. It's Catholic, French speaking and kind of does its own thing compared to the other states.  Based on the historical flag of Louisiana.

Here we've got New England.  OTL New England minus Vermont. You might be wondering why New England has six stars, well it's beacuse each subdivision gets a star and there's also a star for New England as a whole. Alternatively, the stars are purely decorative (that's my story and I'm sticking to it). Anyway, New England is a social democracy in the style of Europe, but without being too French. It has separation of church and state. It is very religious without being very conservative, and religion rarely factors into its politics.

Next up is Florida.  OTL Florida plus the coastal regions of Mississippi and Alabama. Like most of the southern nations it's a conservative democracy like Poland or Italy, and usually has a lot of crazy politics and backwater bumpkins running things. Not as progressive as the other states and religion factors a lot into day-to-day operations.

Up next is Georgia.  The Xs can be interpreted as Saint Andrew's crosses, but I thought it would be funny if such a conservative nation inadvertently had a reference to hard core porn on it's flag.

Here we have Carolina.  Comprising Tennessee and the Carolinas.  The cotton bush is a reference to the state's primary economic engine.   

Next up is Canada.  Comprising OTL Quebec, Ontario minus the peninsula, Prince Edward Island and Larbador.

And here's the flag of Maryland.  I thought he knight was a night touch. 

Say hello to Oregon. Comprising OTL Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia and Idaho.  The killer whales reflect the region's native heritage and the wave symbolize the importance of the sea to the people of Oregon.

Here we have the flag of Alabama (Alabama and Mississippi minus their coastal regions). It's the only majority black state of the United States and as such is a Switzerland style direct democracy with emphasis on everyone being represented. It's very religious, but religion doesn't really factor into politics. There's also strong feelings of Pan-Africanism throughout the state, and that's reflected in the flag.

 This is the flag of Acadia, comprising OTL Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.  Yeah, it's basically the flag of Acadia Parish, this one beat me up.  

This is the flag of Lakota.  Comprises the northern half of the Louisiana Purchase.  It’s red and has tepees to reflect the high native population.  It’s a pennant flag to mix things up. 

This one's the flag of Virginia.  Comprising Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Finally, we have the flag of the United States as a whole.  I used purple because it's such an under-utilized color.  I went with a Romanesque/Futuristic design because it pleased me and I liked that it seemed slightly sinister, even though this isn't a dystopia.  Well, that and I'd been watching The Hunger Games movie.  

Well we've reached the end of our list.  my teamwork with Lynn is over, but at least I got some good flags to show off.  Also, if you'd like me to make some flags for you let me know and I'll see what I can do.  I can't guarantee it'll be a showstopper, but I'll certainly try my best.  No charge of course.  

Well that about does this for this flag haul.  I'll see you guys next time

Friday, March 4, 2016

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Unless you've been living under a rock you've no doubt heard about Amazon's adaption of Philip K. Dick's seminal alternate history novel The Man in the High Castle.  It is a widely considered a classic in the alternate history community, and with good reason.  I quite enjoyed the first season of The Man in the High Castle, and I intended to review it at some point.  Before I can do that, however, I thought it would be best to review the book that the series is based upon.  That is precisely what we're going to do in today's post. 

The Man in the High Castle takes place in the year 1962 in a world in which the Axis Powers won World War II.  The United States has been devised between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  This is due to FDR getting assassinated in the 1930s and America going isolationist.  Everything east of the Rockies is under German control, everything west of the Rockies is under Japanese control and the Rockies themselves are a neutral zone between the two territories.  The book is told from the points of view of a wide variety of characters who are all average citizens going about their lives in an alternate America. 

What can you say that hasn't been said about a classic?  Well I'm going to give it my best shot anyway.  I'll start by saying that I'm going to avoid comparing the book to its adaptation; I'll save that for my review of the series. Anyway, let's get on with the review.

The writing style in this book had an almost meditative quality to it.  I suppose it's rather fitting, give that Dick intended it to be a meditation on the nature of reality.  Fun fact, Phillip K. Dick actually consulted the I Ching while writing this book, much like the character who wrote The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.  What is The Grasshopper Lies Heavy?  It's a book within a book that depicts a world in which the Axis Powers lost World War II.  However, it depicts the Cold War as being fought between the United States and British Empire, with the British coming out on top due to their ethnic purity.  Dick almost seems to be commenting on the process of creating alternate histories, and the personal biases that are often included there in, with his use of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.  

This commentary is especially interesting when you consider that the alternate history genre was in its infancy at the time.  There had been previous examples, such as Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee, but The Man in the High Castle was the first alternate history novel not to use time travel or supernatural means as its point of divergence.  Well, if you want to get technical that sort of alternate history has been around since Livy in the Roman Empire, but typically alternate history as a genre is agreed to have begun in the mid-20th century.  It also notable that he portrays his characters with all of the biases and social mores that you'd expect from such a world rather than having them be defiant and adhere to modern standards of morality.   

I liked the fact that the book was told from the perspectives of average people.  They're quite a diverse group, you get everyone from an antiques dealer in San Francisco, to a member of the Japanese occupation government, to a woman on a quest for the truth and plenty more such characters.  Some of my favorite scenes to read about in alternate history, and speculative fiction in general, are those that involve average people going about their lives.  You really get a sense of the worlds these stories are set in that way.  It what I loved so much about Paulo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.  Both books involve characters from across the social spectrum of their worlds going about their lives, and whose individual stories eventually combine to form an overarching plot. 

And speaking of plot, let's talk about that.  There really isn't a plot per se.  Like I said, it starts off as a series of individual vignettes that eventually come together to form something of an overarching plot.  It moves at an easy pace and really gives you time to get to know these characters and the world that they live in.  Though there are some plots threads early on, such as the growing potential for a war between Germany and Japan, as well as Julianna Frink's journey to find Hawthorne Anderson, the titular Man in the High Castle.  As stated above, the novel really questions the nature of reality.  Throughout the book many characters get hints that their world might not be all that really, and one character even travels to our world briefly dude to intense mediation. There's even hints that our own world might not be the true reality.  

So yeah, you come for the fascist dystopia but you stay for the Taoism.  So how does the alternate history itself rate in terms of plausibility?  By modern standards it's pretty shaky and implausible, but you have to understand where Dick was coming from.  In 1962 a lot of the information about World War II that we take for granted was still heavily classified, so there was only so much that Dick could work with.  I think of it kind of like those old science fiction novels that depict Mars and Venus as habitable worlds, because at the time they were written that was the prevailing scientific thought.  Also, The Man in the High Castle is one of those novel, but again it was 1962.  That's also the reason the book is set in 1962, because that was the present day when Dick wrote the book.  

It is somewhat odd that Dick included elements from Chinese culture, such as the I Ching and Taoism, given his loves of Japanese culture.  Admittedly, sometimes conquering cultures adapt elements from the nation's they conquer, such as how Britain gained a few Hindi words and a love affair with curry after they conquered India.  Plus we do see that, slowly but surely, Japan's American possessions are starting to develop a Japanese-American hybrid culture.  The scene that feature Japanese character fawning over artifacts from America's past are especially humorous if you happen to be an anime fan.  Japanese-Occupied-America is depicted as better than Nazi-occupied-America, but that really isn't saying much because...well, Nazis.  It's kind of like asking if you would rather be executed by firing squad or lethal injection.  Consider also that American culture began to loosen up and liberalize during the 1960s, so perhaps this alternate Japanese youth culture has followed suit. Mind you, Dick has always had a strong anti-fascism theme to his novels, so I don't think he was trying to whitewash Japan's war crimes. 

I don't want to give too much away about the ending, but I will say that it certainly gives you something to think about.  The characters don't get any solid answers, but that kind of works given the nature of the book.  Dick deliberately left things open-ended because he was planning to write a sequel set in the Nazi occupied half of America, but he found the research into Nazi Germany to be too draining and soul crushing for that.  Among other things, the sequel would have featured the Nazis discovering a portal into our world and it would have delved deeper into the Japanese-American hybrid culture emerging on the West Coast.  A couple of Dick's other novels started out as sequels to The Man in the High Castle, but they later became their own thing. 

I don't usually talk about covers, but I think it's relevant here.  I had a hard time picking the cover image for this post simply because most cover for The Man in the High Castle typically don't accurately portray North America as described in the book.  They'll either leave out the Neutral Zone or else overinflate the Japanese territory.  The other problem is that they'll typically only feature Nazi imagery even though the over welcoming majority of the book takes place Japan's American territory.  Germany's American territory, and the Reich as a whole, is only mentioned in passing, though what is mentioned is certainly chilling.  So I went with a simple flags and black background cover, but why don't I show you those other covers?

Don't get me wrong, they're all swell covers, but I feel the accurately portray the book.  For comparison's sake here's a map form the Amazon adaption. 

As you can see it fits the description the book provides much better.  Speaking of adaptations, let's talk about the audiobook.  There's actually been three versions over the years.  I listened to the second version, narrated by Tom Weiner.  The previous version was narrated by George Guidall, and the new version is narrated by Jeff Cummings.  Of all three versions I liked Tom's narration the best.  I'm usually opposed to tie-in covers, but in the case of the Jeff Cummings edition it actually kind of works.  It does a much better job of showing what the book is about than the previous audiobook covers.  Plus, even though based on the adaptation, they actually put effort into the cover instead of slapping on a poster for the Amazon adaptation and calling it a day.  And here is that cover.  

The Man in the High Castle was the first Philip K. Dick novel I ever read, and I can see why he's so highly thought of as a writer.  It's also one of my favorite alternate history novels.  I don't like playing the favorites game, but it's definitely at the top of the list.  It's considered classic for a reason.  Typically speaking, if you ask an average to name an alternate history novel, assuming they know what you're talking about, The Man in the High Castle will be the only one they will know.  This novel was also the first alternate history novel to win the Hugo Award.  It's a classic for a reason, and I can certainly see why.

Well hopefully this review has wetted your appetite, and now that I've reviewed the book I can review the Amazon adaptation.  Though I've got some other things planned, so that might not be for a bit.  If you guys want I can review some more classic speculative fiction in the future.  In fact, I think I will.  I think that's enough from me for now.  I will see you guys next time.