Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas on Mars

An old friend of mine who was part of the forming of the SF convention CoastCon (and even earlier fan activity) sent me his fan-made music video called Christmas on Mars.  I guess you could call it a traditional Christmas filksong.  Given the renewed interest in Mars these days, I thought this post might reflect some of the past interest in Mars, specifically in Science Fiction and Science Fantasy.

Now here’s a good old-fashioned science fiction Christmas carol, performed on Christmas Eve (on Earth) 2013.  Originally performed at a company Christmas party back in 2008, but it was written way before the movie of the same name.

     lyrics to Michael Sanborn's 


The children are sliding down the sand dunes
While the robots trim the tree.
Both moons sparkle up above us
And the eggnog pills are free...

Though our spaceships travel
Out among the stars,
We're snuggled at home:
It's Christmas on Mars.
There's holiday cheer
In the oxygen bars.
It's that time again:
It's Christmas on Mars.

Li li li (etc.)

The energy blobs
Wheel and bob
In the town promenade.
Let's raise a cheer
For the Laser Brigade!
While the fresh-grown Snow Clones
Serve warp-berry pie
And the zeppelins soar
In the pink winter sky...

(Spoken:) "Wait, zeppelins?!" (I hear you thinking.) "Zeppelins could never
float in the thin Martian atmosphere!" Ah, but what you're forgetting is that these a
re future zeppelinspowered by advanced Martian anti-gravity technology!

(Sung:) That's why they can fly!


Beam the festive gamma rays!
Blast the craters all ablaze!
Crash the comets to amaze
The Old Ones!
Sled through the magnetosphere!
Chestnuts and ammonia beer!
Gone, the worries! Disappear,
The doldrums!

(Chorus x 2)

Christmas on Mars!

I hope you enjoy this fun filksong from an old-time fan and CoastCon supporter, Michael Sanborn.  Sorry he didn’t make it back this year for the holidays. 

Sprinkled through this post are just some of the many books inspired by Mars exploration.    Happy reading this holiday.

Update:  I finally got the corrected lyrics for Christmas on Mars.  Sorry for any errors, but I blame solar flares for the garbled transmission!

Links of interest to the reader
Mars has always been of interest to Earth people

Mars has spawned a lot of fiction over the years   and

The Planet Mars by William Sheehan , readable on line

A copy of the script for the Orson Wells radio presentation of War of the Worlds 30 Oct 1938 

Project Gutenberg has a variety of free, out of copyright books you can download in a variety of electronic formats.  With a little bit of searching, you can turn up some interesting books there

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Call of Cthulhu Props – the slightly dark art of prop making

Recently on the blog site Propnomicon, a real historical archeological object was brought forth as a possible prop item for playing the role playing game, Call of Cthulhu and this set me thinking.  See the post

With a little work a historical object can be modified into something of fun and interest for your game.  The point is to make something as a gaming aid, not in making a forgery or hoaxing a gullible public.  I decided to make a bit of a tutorial on how to rework a photo over and place it into a gaming context for players.  For that I primarily used Photoshop and some images gathered from the web.  Note that I didn’t try hard to mimic an authentic old dig book, but left the format rather plain so it will fit into a number of eras.

Now that you have your object's image, you need to set into context like a gem into a ring.  An association to reasonably old and obscure publication helps.  It really doesn’t matter if the publication is made up whole cloth, or your drop your page into an existing book.  The point is to make it reasonably believable to your gamers.  A few additional photos for support to add a garnish to your page and you have a passable (for gaming purposes) page to show your players.

But first a little photomanipulation is in order:

 You can use your picture as is, but dropping it into a book just sharpens up the presentation.  Remember context helps suspend disbelief in players.

You can print on different types of paper and add use marks or damage.  You can also turn it slightly brown for aging.  It's up to you to decide how it will look.  A book cover is pretty easy to turn up on line.

This project was done with bare-bones computing resources just to show that it's within anybodies grasp.  All I used was an old laptop computer and a decade plus old copy of Photoshop Elements 2.  Nothing else. That also includes the modification on the photos to make them look like antique formats.  With more sophisticated software and a fairly modern computer, you can really make some believable documents and photos with a good printer.  Oh yes, all of this is done in low resolution 72 dpi because its only was intended to be demonstrated on the web and not really printed out.  I generally work in 350 dpi for projects that are going to be printed or I need photorealistic products.

It’s up to you to decide to how to incorporate this item into your scenario:  they could be questing to find the fragment, which had been stolen; they could be looking for the rest of the fragments to assemble a terrifying realization.  You can print this out, age the paper if you wish and let your players find this clue.  I just quickly knocked this out with no real attempt to make it pass muster as original, but you can take your time using the same techniques and produce a highly believable prop.  Halftoning it would make it look like an autogravure, typical in old dig books.  I didn’t add any incriminating dates so the page can be used for the 20s & 30s or be a much older book that is referenced the players.

Note that I added the insinuation into the text that one figure was using a control panel, with a joystick no less.  Maybe it’s a late Dynastic version of an Atari game.  Erich von Däniken
would have loved it. You can also add other pages with modified or even original photos to add depth to your presentation.

Yep, it's an original unaltered photo, but it works well for the story.
A fairly modern photo made to look older.  Do you know the source?
Another real photo, unmanipulated -- hard to tell, isn't it?
So now you have a little inspiration to go forth and spice up your CoC campaigns.  Photos are much easier than other physical props and if you take a photo of your prop, drop it into prop book or make manipulated pictures, you can really add a dynamic to your game with a multi-level prop.  Because you can add your own text to the book like I did above, you can tell the story your way.  It's all pretty basic really. 

No Egyptologists were injured in the making of this paper prop.


Background and links
Here is the original location of the fragment on the web, torn from reality and set down in H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos setting of the 1920s-1930s.

Another blog entry of mine about using original items as props, in this case Jomon Culture items embedded into the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos 
I was tempted to use the location of Tanis in this prop project but considering my previous post on the subject, decided to go for a more obscure site

Does this fine antique image of a dig from the 1880's look familiar? It should, its source if from Raiders of the Lost Ark, modified into an ambrotype photo, damage and all.  But you can use such items as support for your prop, be it paper or some other material.  BTW the other antique dig photo above this one is also another Raiders image, but made to look 1920s.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Fee Gee Fiji Mermaid Prop, a Classic Gaff of the Victorian Era

The other day I was doing a little reading online about classic sideshow exhibits and gaffs, the most celebrated of the genre is the Fee Gee Mermaid of P. T. Barnum+ fame from the 1840s.  Over the years the Fiji Mermaid idea resurfaced in traveling museums, curio shops, carnival sideshows, roadside attractions, and at auctions.   Most of the gaffs were composed of fish parts and other taxidermy items cobbled together to make a mermaid for the rubes to gawk for a dime a shot.  I won’t go into the history of the Fee Gee Mermaid as the links in this post pretty much walk you through the background of these interesting biological fantasies.


So anyway, I stumbled upon a really interesting site called the Taxidermy Emporium, which is based in the UK.  It has some of the most interesting dead things I have seen for sale outside of a Victorian curiosity shop.  The photos of the objects in question, in this case was a Fiji Mermaid gaff, which was worthy of a blog post.
A Fiji Mermaid gaff at Taxidermy Emporium   Ref PI 1040  Sold

Another Fiji mermaid from the same source     Ref PI 902  Sold

Sea Pixie from Taxidermy Emporium     Ref PI 912

Before you get too excited about purchasing items from the Taxidermy Emporium my American readers, many of the offerings at this site are absolutely illegal to import into the USA as most of them are of endangered species.  Well possibly excluding the Fee Gee Mermaid gaffs, but there is no telling of what material those items are made.  There are stringent import laws about the importation of objects made from endangered species, far more than the expected aquatic mammal and elephant ivory items, we generally hear about in news articles.
This classic gaff and variations has been posted a number of times by well-known prop expert on his site Propnomicon, see below.  Propnomicon has covered the prop scene for a number of years now and features a number of tutorials on how to make props.  The fan community owes a big debt of gratitude to Propnomicon for his daily posts about props and prop making over the years.
The only other gaff that tickles me more than the Fee Gee Mermaid is the classic roadside attraction, The Thing, but that’s another story*.  I hope this post has been of interest and will stimulate the reader into looking more deeply into historical gaffs and props of the 19th century. 


Not all of the items at the Taxidermy Emporium are for everybody as seen below.
These are called, “Well preserved British Bulldog puppies – Natural death”     Ref – PI 984   sold

    *Well also jackalopes too.  The history of the true origin of the jackalope.

    +P. T. Barnum actually didn’t say, ‘There’s a sucker bornevery minute” it has been attributed to David Hanum a competitor in the trade, who was commenting on Barnum making his own copy of the Cardiff Giant – a fake of a fake.  The real joke is that Barnum’s fake made more money than the original fake.  Now that’s ballyhoo.  

Links of Interest
A number of Propnomicon Fee Gee Mermaid posts:

A large collection of Fiji Mermaid images and memorabilia, well worth the view

More background on Mermaid

Monkey headed Fiji Mermaid gaff