Tag Archives: history

Sorcerers, Magicians, and Warlocks – What’s the Difference?

We are a bit spoiled for choice, in the English language. When we need a word, and another language has one that’ll do the job, we’re quite happy to appropriate it – words like schadenfreude, or (my personal favourite) l’espirit de escalier (“the spirit of the staircase”, which is the French term for that moment that you come up with a cunning riposte, moments (or hours) after it’s too late.

But, crucially for the discussion I’m about to have with myself, and that you can see right here, right now, on the screen of the device of your choice, is about synonyms. And then we’ll get into the cool stuff people should put into their fantasy novels bit. That’s coming, I promise. And this little bit about synonyms leads directly into it.

It’s not much of a tangent.

Now, the synonym group that I want to talk about in particular are words that are related to practitioners of magic.  Continue reading

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Spring-heeled Jack

This is the second post in a (currently) short-running series on weird things from history that I want to see in Fantasy/New Weird/Steam Punk stories. Get on that, ok?

Here’s the first: SPANKO!

And here’s the second: Spring-heeled Jack.

We are continuing the theme of weird assailants from London – Spring-heeled Jack sprung up during the Victorian era, rather than the Restoration, but he was much more elusive than the Whipping Toms. He was probably much more invented than those three men though…

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So, I’ve had an idea – been nursing it for a little while.

The idea is to try and put together a list, of things that I find interesting from history, things that I’d like to see in a New Weird or Steampunk or Fantasy setting. History is an interesting place, one that you can drop in and visit, but one that (fortunately) you cannot live in. For all those people out there who just started thinking about how swell it would be to live in a Steampunk setting, in Victorian London, I’ll just point you in the general direction of some history books, and this article I wrote a little while back about what I like to call Slumpunk. Some of them I’ve already seen in those settings, so, when we come to those, I’ll point you in that direction.


To give you an idea of what, exactly, it is I’m talking about, here’s the first in this little series of demi-articles:

Gustav Dore – “Over London”


The Whipping Toms

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My latest piece on Atlas Obscura explores 10,000 years of Artificial Cranial Deformation, an ancient practice that still goes on today – a link to humanity’s past.

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What’s the Oldest Still-Operating Company in the World?

What’s the oldest, still-operating company in the world? The answer might surprise you…just how long it’s been operating definitely will. My latest piece for the Atlas Obscura has the answer.

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Stop Freaking Out About Ebola

My latest article is up on Gate 37:

Stop Freaking Out About Ebola!

At least you haven’t contracted St Vitus’s Dance…

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Slumpunk: Coal-dust and Consumption

I don’t know about you, but when I think of steampunk I think of corsets, coat-tails and gadgetry. That’s the first thing off the cuff. I think of upper-class Victorian dandies. Toffs. And the image of Her Imperial Majesty, Vicky herself, springs to mind. The Victorian era seems to dwell in that part of history that is romanticised in our minds, an age of glorious empires and of scientific discovery, a “Golden Age,” like Rome, or Athens. Al Andalus.
“…broken windows seem to scowl dimly, like eyes that have been hurt in drunken forays. Many of these pigs live here. Do they ever wonder why their masters walk upright instead of going on all fours, and why they talk instead of grunting?” 
Charles Dickens, writing of slums in New York.
An age of tinkers and discoverers, of exploration.

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Time Travel (History is Awesome)

I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me, you probably spend too much of your too-valuable time imagining improbable hypothetical situations. One of my favourites is “If you could travel back in time, when would you go?” Although as an Australian, the question also implies that you can travel in space (or through Time and Relative Dimension in Space) at the same time, because after you visit a few key moments in Australian history you’d be hopping back into sparsely inhabited bushland. Which I guess is rather – well, it’s not Eurocentric, ‘because there are definitely events in China and the Americas that I would want to witness too. Globocentric? Anyway.


The big problem with travelling back in time (and through space at the same time, obvs) is the problem of blending in. Not only would my visit to the ascension of the Meiji emperor be noticed (only white face in the room), but even travelling back into European history beyond the last hundred to two hundred years would present a whole host of problems.


“Who’s that then?”
 “I dunno. Must be a king.”
He hasn’t got shit all over him.”
Monty Python (from Monty Python and the Holy Grail)

I don’t speak much in the way of Middle English, for instance. I’d need a magnificent props department just to pull off the right clothing, let alone to get the smell right. You’d be killed as a witch as soon as they heard you babbling on about the importance of bathing and good hygiene in general, send you to the madhouse once you mention the invisible little creatures that live on your skin and on everything else – the disgusting little creatures that MAKE YOU SICK. Sure.


Patient with tertiary (gummatous) syphilis. Bust in Musée de l’Homme, Paris.

Not only that, but you’ve got to think of all the diseases that they (the peasants of the time) are carrying that you have no immunity to. What the hell was Saint John’s Dance, anyway? And the diseases that you’re carrying back with you won’t be good for the natives. Remember when syphilis became the next big thing in Europe? It wasn’t pretty (ask the  guy to the left.) So, avoid everyone for a while. In the forest somewhere, for preference (I hear being a madman/monk living in the forest was pretty much a growth industry for most of the Middle Ages.)


Anyway, putting aside boring questions, we need to turn back to the exciting one. Now, understandably, I have a huge range of answers to the question of when and where. And I’m going to tell you about them (in more than one article, to be honest I’m surprised you stuck around this long…)


First up, (although it’s in no particular order) if I could go anywhere and anywhen:

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Charybdis – A to Z Blogging Challenge

Image taken by Roberto Vongher. Used under a Creative Commons License.

“Ran aground?”


“Ran aground!”


Ran aground.


A better fate than what else was at hand – I chose Scylla over Charybdis. Caught between a rock and a hard place. Which do you choose? The path of least suffering.

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On the Word “Jovial”

By Jove, that’s an impressive eagle!

So today I saw the word ‘jovial’ in print and wondered why it means “cheerful and friendly” (definition via my fave dictionary, the OED.) Apparently they used to believe that the planet Jupiter had a positive influence on people born under it…but really, ol’ Jove was a happy chappy? I don’t believe it – so I wrote a few pieces of Twitter-length fiction about it…

They called him “jovial,” said he was a “jolly sort of chap.” He fumed as he prepared, readying to cast lightning bolts upon them.

They called him “jovial,” and a “jolly sort of chap.” He fumed, unzipping his fly, preparing to send down a golden shower.

They called him “jovial,” and a “funny sort of chap.” Across his face a great storm brewed.

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