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Archive for December, 2011

We’ve all got some gems that we’ve discovered over the years that no one else seems to know about.  Here are some of mine.  Science Fiction and Fantasy (and “other”) which may be more or less obscure, but which are much better than the usual Tolkien/Star Wars emulators out there.  Will hopefully return to some of these in more detail eventually, but for now I hope you can find some of these.

The Winter of the World trilogy, by Michael Scott Rohan.  Anvil of Ice, Forge in the Forest, and The Hammer of the Sun.  Out of print for years in the US, sadly, but some of my favorites since I was a kid.  Very “Tolkien” in so far as it is epic, medieval fantasy which borrows heavily (but intelligently) from Norse and Finnish mythology and folklore.  Otherwise, however, it is very original, from its prehistoric setting to its system of magic, which is closely tied to craftsmanship.  The first book is my favorite–sort of a coming of age story, rags to riches, that sort of thing–but they are all very enjoyable.  Hard to find, but worth it.  Watch out though– I tend to hoard copies when I find them, considering how hard to find they are.

Stone and Flute by Hans Bemman.  Oh gosh, I read this so long ago.  Nearly a decade–but it stands out as a unique and fascinating work.  It’s long, and not exactly a thrilling page turner, but I like that (we have too many cookie cutter “thrillers” out there).  Follows an initially unpromising boy from his youth to old age, as he travels across the entire world of the book and experiences all sorts of transformations, both morally and literally.  If you can handle a long, unusual slog like Mervyn Peake’s Gorhmengast series, than you might enjoy this less creepy/gothic oddity.

Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin.  OK, a bit better known and mainstream than the two above, but certainly still “peripheral” within the science fiction/fantasy ghetto.  I read this the same time I read Stone and Flute, so the two feel linked to me.  So long ago that it is fuzzy in my memory, but this isn’t a review, just a nod.  You might call this “Magical Realism”, but Helprin apparently did not like that style–felt like it was too exhibitionist and forced.  The book explore New York city, or the idea of the City.  Feels a bit akin to the “New Weird” of the 90s and 2000s.  In fact, if I were to teach a course on the City in literature, I would include this book alongside China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, which is also “weird”, though a lot more pessimistic as well.  I’ve heard some people complain that Helprin’s prose is overwrought.  Personally, I enjoyed it.  Yes, prose can be overdone, but I don’t need every novel I read trying to outdo Hemingway for terseness (I get plenty of that in the sagas, in any case).  Will hopefully get a chance to read this again soon.  Hm, maybe I can fit it in to my R&C course next semester…

The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin Jr.  Animal Farm, but with Norse mythology mixed in and a fairly heavy Christian “point”, if not allegory.  This was read to us in class when I was in 4th grade.  Now that I’ve reread it as an adult, I’m a bit surprised they did that in a public school–I think it is nearly as blatantly Christian as Lewis’ Narnia.  I’m a bit suspicious of it ideologically after my last read.  I’m all for intelligent Christian fiction, but I felt like there were some warning signs when I went through this time (re: gender, the idealization of rural, agricultural life as foundational to the world, etc), but I will have to reread it before deciding what I really think about that.  Still, it is one of my favorites and rereading it did not diminish my enjoyment.  As when I first heard it, it feels very different from anything else out there.  Different, but good.

Neveryon, by Samuel DeLany.  This is a series of books which generally seem to be “fantasy” (imaginary civilization, even if not prominently magical), but when deconstruct the genre very well, from the usual “whiteness” of fantasy worlds, to the patriarchal assumptions of those worlds.  I’ve been picking my way through the first book at times, but the last chapter was pretty intense–basically trying to reproduce the deconstruction of language for the reader and in the context of a matriarchal tribal culture.  The introduction to the book is written by a fictional professor who is aware of his own fictionality.  I suppose that’s the best indicator I can give of how different this book is.  I love it.  Just wish I had more time to work through it!

Nova, by Samuel DeLany.  Yes, another one by DeLany.  I mentioned his Babel-17 in my last post, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned Nova, since it is one of the more accessible (but still incredibly interesting) books of this often difficult author.  Space Opera, with a nod to Moby Dick (charismatic captain running after a supernova, in this case), but it is also a precursor to the idea of “plugging in” to a machine that you get in Cyberpunk, and integrates the Tarot into the story line in a very interesting way–and similar to the way Babel-17 and Empire Star can serve as meditations on what it is to be a poet, this book is a meditation on what it is to be a novelist.  This is definitely my favorite by DeLany.  It is short, so it is not too big a commitment to try out, in case you are hesitant.

The Dragons of Babel, by Michael Swanwick.  Like Delany, not sure I can really call this too obscure, but hey, you’re less likely to have read this than, say some Shannara thingy by Brooks.  I would call this Mythpunk–grabbing bits of mythology and folklore from all over the world and playing with it openly–think a darker version of Narnia’s hodge-podge of mythologies, rather than a coherent “new” world like Middle Earth.  Similar to Stone and Flute,  this book follows the protagonist through all sorts of transformations, again, both literal and moral.  You can find everything in here from Norse to Babylonian myth– but the story nevertheless stays very focused on the main character and his travels through this world.  The plot has more to do with the character development of this young fey (with half human blood) than with accomplishing a specific goal, so it can feel a little aimless at times–but you know, that’s the case with a few of these favorites of mine.  Great book in any case.  Swanwick is one of my new favorites.

The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren.  Well, I have to put something Swedish on here.  We all know Lindgren’s character Pippi Longstocking, but she has quite a few other books out there too.  Brothers Lionheart is a very touching fantasy for children which deals with death.  Some might find the way she does this troubling–but you will have to read all the way to the end to see what I mean.  No spoilers from me.  The fantasy world is fairly standard, and maybe even a bit simplistic, which could support the idea that the whole fantasy of most of the book is a dying dream–but I think you can take it either way.

Shivering World, by Kathy Tyers.  I’ll finish with this for now, a book which I’ve mentioned several times in my posts.  It is easier to find the more recent rewrite for the Christian market, but the original was nominated for the Nebula award.  Space Opera, but with a good hard-science fiction edge.  A relatively early work dealing with gene engineering and imagining the wake that could leave in society if it were practiced on humans.  A fascinating meditation on the Otherness of parents and their offspring.  And that’s all I have time for.

Merry Christmas!

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I’ve been running a science fiction reading group for a year and a half now.  Not sure whether it will continue much longer, as participation has fallen off a lot and I’ve been pretty busy myself, but we’ve had some great reads and discussions over the last 18 months or so.  I started the group because I have been thinking of teaching a course in science fiction (should the opportunity arise), and I wanted to read and reread some major and/or representative books in the genre–so in case you are interested in doing the same, here are some of the books we felt were worth covering.  I hope to review some of these books in more detail, but as I seem to be on a “review lots of books all at once before the New Year” kick, I thought I would run through them all with brief comments, and save the fancy stuff for some other time. I am probably not going to get these in the right order– but oh well.  This is just a quick list with a comment or two per entry.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.  This is the science fiction book that all my friends who don’t read science fiction say they have enjoyed.  It’s pretty classic, and pretty engaging.  Another “messiah” story, sure, but it is well done for all that, and it is especially interesting read against our contemporary “gamer society” (just made up that term).  If you don’t read sci-fi and just want a fun book, read this.  If you are trying to cover the basic canon of science fiction… read this.  Pretty much everyone should read this.  Not that I think it is perfect, but I find it accessible at the same time that it rewards contemplation.

Dune, by Frank Herbert.  Well duh, of course we read this.  A bit harder to get through, if you do not LOVE world building and exotic stuff.  New Wave era “post-human” messiah story (yes, two already!).  Similar to Asimov’s Foundation in the grand scope (“galaxy” building, really), but also a bit of an anti-Foundation in the more cognitive and mystical elements.  I like the first book.  I tried reading the sequel and hated it.  I hear they get worse.  Still, you should probably read the first book, at least if you are interested in the history of sci fi.  This is as canonical as it gets, and the book leaves its genetic trace in Star Wars, Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and many other places.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, by Philip K. Dick.  I first read this and saw the movie based off of it (Bladerunner) when I took a course in science fiction as an undergrad, and enjoyed revisiting both this time around.  Dark (even noir in the movie), dystopian, post-apocalyptic look at the idea of artificial intelligence and the semantics of life.  Or something like that.  Anyway, also very canonical, and short too– so even if you don’t like it, you haven’t wasted much time!

Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem.  This is one of the books which I loved, but which was harder to get through for the non-humanities PhD students in our group.  Not so accessible… but VERY interesting.  Apparently the science isn’t so good (“they’re made of neutrinos???  psh”), but the book is a very well done meditation on the project of science and various levels of Otherness and our attempts to bridge that Otherness.  I hope I will find time to reread it and write a full review– this is a fascinating book.  Actually, i think I will be teaching this next semester (not totally sure yet).  Fairly canonical, but be prepared to work at it if you read it.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell.  MDR is a PhD in biological anthropology, and you know, being an academic myself, I REALLY like it when people bring their specialties to speculative fiction.  This book is a fascinating story of Jesuits in space.  Yes, Jesuits in space.  Well, more specifically, it is a first contact story gone wrong, with the story of the mission itself framed by the rehabilitation of the only surviving member of the mission back on earth, while the Vatican tried to find out exactly what happened.  Although she is not a Christian herself, MDR gives a very nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of the spiritual life of the main character, and her expertise in biological anthropology shines in the revelation of the evolutionary “novum” at the end of the book.  There is a sequel, which I have yet to read.  I can’t really say this book is canonical, but it is high quality and fairly accessible.  It was particularly popular with the non-sci-fi crowd when it first came out.

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin.  LeGuin is a great example of accessible New Wave science fiction, and also brings a bit of anthropological familiarity to her books (her father was Alfred Kroeber).  This book is one of her most famous, and understandably so.  While it pushes the boundaries of traditional sci fi with its problematizing of gender (a great example of a well done anthropological novum), it is very readable and enjoyable.  Yes, I know, that can’t be said about all New Wave science fiction…  In any case, this is fairly canonical (maybe more so than Ender’s Game) and I recommend it to those interested in the history of sci-fi, those who want a more accessible example of New Wave sci-fi, or those who are just interested in examining the treatment of gender in fiction.

Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville.  I loved it–fascinating take on the idea of the “City”, as well as a critique of the excesses of capitalism (CM is a communist).  Bits of science fiction and fantasy throughout.  We might call it steampunk, but “New Weird” is probably better.  The book inspired comparisons to Dickens, but also frustrated some in the group with the lack of closure (it isn’t a “happy” book–sorry to spoil that part…) and the abrupt change from a story about a complex metropolis to a supernatural thriller.  Well, I was OK with it, but while I think this is a fascinating bit of the expanding canon, I will admit that it is not especially accessible.  Enjoyable for me, but not so much for more casual/escapist readers.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1.  Great selection of the best of the late Golden Age.  Well, OK, I found some of these awkward, or even ideologically noxious, at times, but it was a great piece of history, and all of the stories were engaging at some level.  Some even edge towards New Wave.  For post-Golden age short stories, check out the Norton Anthology of Science Fiction.  I would say both volumes are must-reads for those interested in the history of sci-fi.  If you’re more of a casual reader, well, both are still fun.  You can always skip a story if you don’t like it.

The Warrior’s Apprentice, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Everyone loved this book.  Look, just go buy the omnibus that it is reprinted in.  Or check it out free online here.  Great space opera, escapist but thoughtful.  Not canonical maybe, but really, no one’s life will be complete without reading this.

Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.  Cyberpunk, or post-Cyberpunk, depending on who you ask.  Originally meant to be a graphic novel, which explains the feel/pacing of the book, and the weird/abrupt ending.  Great book in any case.  Tries to tie in computers, neurolinguistics, ancient Assyria, Giglamesh, televangelists , samurai swords, motorcycles, the mafia, and many other things into one dystopian thriller.  OK, I don’t think the neurolinguistic novum really works, but hey, you could say the same about most science fiction.  Very accessible, and relatively canonical, esp. in the emerging canon.

Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.  Well duh, of course we read this.  As canonical as canonical can be.  Mostly we enjoyed it, but some wanted a more developed story, rather than bits of stories spread out along a larger history.  Oh well.  Lots I could say about this, but no time.  Golden Age classic.  THE Golden Age classic.  Read it.

Kallocain, by Karin Boye.  Swedish dystopian fiction.  I plan on teaching this book next semester, along side other books about “Other worlds”, dystopian, fantastic, romanticized, etc.  She wrote this after her disillusionment with Stalinism, after a visit to the Soviet Union in the 40s, I believe.  Yes, it’s pretty much a downer of a read.  It’s Swedish after all.  Still fascinating, I think, and a big part of the extremely tiny canon of Swedish science fiction.

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut.  OK, this one is also a downer, but also fascinating.  I think most of the group didn’t enjoy it as much as I did.  The chapters are really short, the voice of the narrator feels pretty weird, and the overall tone is quite pessimistic.  Challenging to read, sure– but rewarding.  At least, if you like things that are different.  I do.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow.  Post-scarcity as a novum.  I found it a pretty disturbing world in any case, but a great book.  The melding of brain and computer, and the immortality that comes with it, feels very fresh and edgy here–but I will note that Iain M Banks, at least, has had this in his Space Opera books since the 80s (and I believe it’s shown up in other science fiction even before that).  This book is very much NOT focused on space.   Actually, it’s focused on the Haunted Mansion in Disneyworld.  Unusual science fiction, pretty readable, and free online.  SO READ IT!!!!  Not my favorite, but I would call it an “important book”.

Babel 17 and Empire Star, by Samuel DeLany.  Now this is more what I think of when I think of “New Wave”.  Still, even though I was worried it would be very inaccessible, most of the people in the group enjoyed it.  Everyone was happy.  Delany is one of my favorites, so I was glad we got to cover something by him.  B-17 and ES are both space opera.  Originally the novella ES was supposed to be packaged with B-17, but it is only in the last 10 years that that has been done.  B-17 was included in the reading list b/c it had a linguist-novum like Snow Crash did.  Both B-17 and ES involve a degree of meditation on the nature of the poet as well.  Ah, I’m running out of time, and these deserve a lot more–so I will talk about them (and the rest of Delany’s work) another day.

Bone Dance, by Emma Bull.  I assigned this thinking it was cyberpunk.  Whoops.  It is a genre bending (as well as gender bending, in the same way as Left Hand of Darkness) combination of fantasy/magic realism, science fiction (psychic powers), and a nuclear post-apocalypse.  This book is little known, but I loved it and strongly recommend it.  Pretty accessible at the same time that it plays with some Big Ideas.  Very well developed characters and a strong plot.  READ IT!!!!

And then we are also reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (a fascinating futuristic, third world, postcolonial bio-thriller which has gotten a lot of attention lately) and A Fire on the Deep by Vernor Vinge (New Space Opera, early exploration of the idea of the Singularity, a term which Vinge coined).  I haven’t read these yet, so I will not say anything for now.

OK, I hope this will be a useful overview of some of the “big books” in Science Fiction.  Not all are central to the canon, but I do recommend them all.  Here’s hoping I will find time to discuss some of them more thoroughly.

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Now that I finally have grades in, I can start reviewing books again.  Whoops, too late for delivery by Christmas, isn’t it?  Well, I think I’ll churn out a few brief recommendations anyway, on the off-hand chance you might need something to read for the new year.

This post I will be covering stuff by my friends.  As I noted in my review of Kathy Tyers’ Firebird series, I have a number of friends involved in the Evangelical fiction market, so if you have no interest in Christian science fiction and fantasy, I won’t be offended if you skip this post.  I do have my more critical perspectives on the Christian-fiction niche that I’d like to explore more one day, but not today.

While I only met her briefly a couple of times, I will mention Kathy Tyers again here.  Her Firebird series is enjoyable young adult sci-fi–not as intriguing as her Nebula-nominated Shivering World, but a good romp through the stars following some sympathetic characters.  The influence from Star Wars is palpable (she has been hired to write for the Expanded Universe a few times), but to my mind the series is also reminiscent of Lois MacMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series.  Lots of “military sci-fi” stuff going on, but the series is not really “about” that as much as it is about the characters.  The series has been rewritten twice now, with the latest incarnation of the trilogy available as one volume with annotations by the author (with lots of interesting comments from Kathy for both fans as well as aspiring writers).  Kathy has started adding novels about the children of the original protagonists, another similarity to Star Wars (with the more recent novels about the children of Luke and Leia), as well as to Lois Macmaster Bujold’s series (which shifts to the son of the original two protagonists after two books).  Personally, I think LMB’s series improved dramatically after she shifted to the second generation (Miles), so maybe the best is yet to come with Kathy’s series.  The first installment of the new books is Wind and Shadow, from Marcher Lord Press (the new press which is responsible for the rereleases of John Olson’s Oxygen and Sharon Hinck’s Restorer books, now that I think about it).  I’ve been meaning to read this book and review it for months now (even got an advance electronic copy)–alas, the semester has been too busy, and I’ve had a few other “reading responsibilities” as well.  Hopefully I will get to it over winter break.

John Olson has been sort of a big brother to me for a long time now.  I’ve been in a writers group with him for… over a decade, I think.  Well, our group hasn’t met for a couple years now, but hey, good memories (and I still get to see him every now and then).  John’s first published novel Oxygen was co-written with his friend Randy Ingermanson and came out a decade ago.  Marcher Lord Press, that champion of Christian speculative fiction, has rereleased Oxygen as an e-book, and I’m told it sold quite well in the first few days of its rerelease.  The basic idea is near-future sci-fi: Mission to Mars, disaster strikes, can the crew survive, etc.  Unapologetically inspired by Apollo 13 (which was still a relatively recent movie at the time).  Despite the sci-fi premise, it is written as a thriller, which would account for the discrepancy in reviews from sci-fi fans versus non-sci-fi fans, as well as the success in the Christian market (didn’t sell millions, but did win an award), where thrillers and prairie romances are the primary genres.  I’m not a fan of thrillers, I confess.  I like weird, meditative, rambling, world-building stories that play with language and ideas (stuff that there just isn’t much room for in the market–but some of my favorite books have been in this category), while John has developed a niche for himself in the Christian market with science thrillers (and more recently supernatural thrillers).  Still, when I first got this book (in the middle of finals as an undergrad, unfortunately), I could do nothing else for two days until I finished it.  Gripping, to say the least.  Also, both John and Randy have PhDs in the relevant fields (biochem for John, computational physics for Randy), which gave Oxygen and its sequel The Fifth Man a much greater degree of scientific credibility than most sci-fi you get out there.  Yes they have PhDs, and don’t worry, they aren’t foaming-at-the-mouth creationists.  John and I share a frustration with the Luddites of the evangelical community, and John’s been able to (tactfully) step out on to the public stage and point out to the ev. community “Hey folks, you know, those people with PhDs, they don’t get to just makes stuff up.  They spend years and years trying to figure out the truth of something, and then they have to let other people pick at their results and find holes in their interpretations.  If they say there are pretty certain about something, we should probably give some weight to their claims.”  OK, that’s my wording, and yes, it sounds pretty obvious and OH how COULD “those people” NOT understand this already, but hey, baby steps.  Let’s be happy when things move in the right direction.  In any case, John writes exciting books.  You ought to try one.

I got to read a draft of Sharon Hinck’s The Restorer way back, maybe 7 years ago, while brushing up on my Swedish at the Uppsala International Summer Session (great program, by the way).  When I finally got my hands on a copy of the book, maybe 2 years ago, I was surprised (and delighted) to see that my name was included in the acknowledgements section.  Yes, I am TOTALLY famous.  ;P  Anyway, Sharon’s book is now available again in an expanded edition.  I presume the other books in the series will be coming out again as well, but we’ll see.  The book is a “through the looking-glass/wardrobe” fantasy, with a suburban mom getting dragged into another world where she has increased strength, healing, and senses, and must take up her sword as a “Restorer”, a figure pretty directly based on the judges from… well, from the book of Judges in the… um, “Old Testament” to Christians, but let me also say “Hebrew Scriptures” out of respect for my Jewish friends.  The appropriation of the material of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament in Evangelical Fantasy and Science Fiction is fascinating and problematic.  I address it a little in my early post on Kathy’s Firebird, but we won’t worry about it for now.  Sharon’s book is enjoyable in any case, and the world is fairly “thick”.  It reminds me of another “through the X” Christian fantasy, Song of Fire by Joseph Bentz (whom I have also met, though his book has been out of print for around a decade, I think).  These sorts of stories seem to be the norm in Christian fantasy, for some reason.  Probably largely due to the influence of Narnia, but I think there is something else going on… but more on that another day.  Another commonality across the books reviewed here, as well as others in the Christian/Evangelical market–lots of female protagonists who are thrown into a situation where they feel vulnerable, but must get it together and… well, learn to live and trust (for Firebird, who is expected to commit ritual suicide), save her crewmates while she is the only one conscious (Valkrye Jansson in Oxygen), or lead people in their fight against their oppressors/seducers (Restorer).  Well, the primary buyers of Christian fiction are housewives, so I think it makes sense that we see this sort of “empowered yet vulnerable Cinderella” plot coming up again and again, especially in relatively escapist literature like this.

Well, that’s it–no detailed analyses today, sorry.  More book recommendations to come soon–science fiction, fantasy and Vikings.  Maybe other stuff too.  We’ll see.

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Looks like Santa needed a little help this year.  That’s Thor with his hammer Mjöllnir, his belt of strength, his iron gloves, and his… goat cart.  Well, we can’t all have a sleigh.  This cart is normally drawn through the heavens by two goats–but there is something special about these goats.  At night Thor cooks them for dinner, then the next morning he waves his hammer over the bones (unbroken), and the goats spring back to life! Pretty nifty.  Only this time Loki split one of the bones to get the marrow out (a role played by Thjalfi in the story of Thor’s trip to Útgarða-Loki), and one of the goats ended up lame.  Dammit Loki!  Well, now Loki is transforming into a reindeer (with a familiar headlight) to help pull the sleigh.  I mean cart.  This is typical of Loki’s role in what we call the “Mythological Present” (after the creation of the world is over and done, but before Ragnarok).  1) He gets the gods into trouble (brings one of the giants a goddess, separates Thor from Mjöllnir, makes a deal with a giant, kills an otter, etc), 2) He is forced to fix the problem, which usually involves a) traveling between the world of the gods and other worlds (usually that of the giants), and/or b) changing his shape, whether into an animal or a woman.  Often he turns into a bird, the better to travel between worlds, but in one story he turns himself into a mare in order to lure away a stallion which was helping a giant (didn’t lure fast enough apparently–he ended up pregnant).  His function as mediator between spaces is tied to his in-between nature– his father is a giant (this is a whole topic in itself…), and his shapechanging and gender shifting mark him as a boundary-crossing, tabu-breaking trickster.

I’d been working on this picture for a bit as a parting gift to my Reading and Composition course.  Normally I like to sing a version of Thor’s Fishing trip to my classes at the end of the semester (to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down”), but I had to take a trip to Estonia at the end of this semester, and didn’t get to do a final “goodbye”.

But aside from the “end of semester” occasion, I’d been wanting to make a picture that would fit well on a mug–so now I have one!  Available for purchase from callego.deviantart.com.  Which leads me to my sales pitch:

Still looking for that little something for Grandma?  Why not buy her a mug with a Viking on it?  Or better yet, a mug with my comic about the Vikings, the Native Americans, and lactose intolerance on it?  Great for drinking milk from.

OK, I realize an obscure blog with book reviews and pictures of Vikings is probably not your “go-to” for Christmas presents (or whatever other presents you may be buying this time of year), but hey, my computer broke and I had to buy a new one, plus my water pump in my car is leaking and it’s going to cost a lot to get it fixed, so why not help support a starving lecturer/artist in Norse mythology by buying a puzzle or a mug or a poster?  There is a Christmas sale on at DeviantArt right now, so this is the time to get something!  Well, photo prints are on sale at least– 15% off.  I believe mugs, puzzles, magnets, etc, are all the same price.  I ordered a few things to see how they would turn out (pictured at left).  The delivery time took a bit longer than I wanted, so try to leave some wiggle room if you are ordering things for Christmas.  Also, most of my pictures don’t work as well on mugs as I’d like– most of the mug is blank.  That said, I’ve got a few things (the lactose-intolerance comic, and my Thor-Santa pic above) which should wrap around a bit more, so you might want to give them a try.  My favorites so far are the magnets and the puzzles–the latter are only around 250 pieces (if you get one of the photos as a puzzle), but it’s still pretty fun for a quiet night at home.  And if you still aren’t sold, well, don’t worry, you are welcome to keep visiting this blog, even if you don’t buy any of my amazing merchandise.  This is just for fun, after all.  Fun, and cold hard CASH!!!

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