Mar 23, 2017

A Surprising Side of Wäinö Aaltonen



Finland is celebrating its 100th year of independence this year, and the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum in Turku is joining in with an exhibition of Wäinö Aaltonen's work. When I think of Aaltonen, what comes to mind are his sculptures, like these gilded figures that once stood in the Finnish Parliament. Apparently they were deemed too ostentatious and replaced with bronze casts at some point, but the originals are returning to the parliament house this year as part of the celebration. But that's not all there is to Aaltonen, and this exhibition is a great opportunity to see some of his more experimental work. 


This one is titled Beholder from the Depth. Pretty Lovecraftian, no?


Atlantis II. I love that dreamy, fairy-tale blue. 


This piece was hard to photograph, but that dark bit is actually missing. The piece is titled Shadow on the Face.  It's super creepy in person, because if you approach from the left, it looks like a perfectly normal sculpture, and then you suddenly see that gash on her face. Unsettling. 

The exhibition is running until May 7th if you want to check it out. 




Mar 20, 2017

Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens


Monday getting you down? Here are a few things that are making me smile.


Spring sunshine.

Beauty and the Beast 2017 poster.jpg
Original theatrical release poster, image from Wikipedia.org

Seeing the new live action version of Beauty and the Beast. (No, it's not as good as the original, but I liked the modern touches to casting and character development and the new songs weren't half bad. And it looks gorgeous. Mind you, I'm incapable of losing the nostalgia goggles here, because this is a childhood favourite.)



Glad threads for summer.


Spaaaace broccoli!


The way honeydew melon seeds look like slimy monster teeth when you scoop them out just right. (Yes, I'm in my thirties, not tweens. What?)

And, best of all, only a couple of days to Mass Effect Andromeda!


Mar 19, 2017

Two New Writing Courses from The University of Iowa!

A heads-up to any writers out there: the University of Iowa is offering two free MOOCs this summer. Read more on their website: 

Mar 13, 2017

Randomness

Where did the weekend go? And how is it Monday again, faugh. 

I spent most of Saturday watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on Netflix. Totally worth it. If you like Douglas Adams' wacky style and don't mind a few (okay, a lot of) gruesome scenes, this is the show for you. Any writers out there might want to check it out as a masterclass in plotting. I bet you won't see the ending coming, and when everything becomes clear, you can almost hear all the mismatched, jagged pieces clicking into place.  

I didn't slack off all weekend, though. I finished my piece for the Stepanin koodeksi 4 anthology competition (and kind of freaked myself out in the process). Note to self: don't write horror alone and  late at night. Or maybe that's exactly what you should do? Any Finnish writers out there with a love of all things eldritch? Here's the link to the competition; the deadline's not until April 1st. I also rewrote the opening scene of that bothersome sci-fi story that's been giving me so much trouble, and I  have the new ending plotted out, too. Should be almost done, right? Well . . . After some consideration, I decided that the story would sound better in past tense instead of present, which isn't exactly a quick fix with 17k words of goofy action-adventure fun. Sigh. I'm also a bit stumped about where to submit this kind of thing; it's not exactly literary science fiction, and 17k is an awkward length. Maybe Writers of the Future? 

I also hung out with my family, checked out Aboa Vetus, which is a lot more fun with kids, and had an awesome popcorn-and-salted-caramel cupcake at the MBakery café. Not too shabby. 

Ooh, and did you see the teaser trailer for the final season of Game of Thrones? Looks pretty cool, though I'm a bit disappointed it won't be a full ten episodes. 

 

Mar 8, 2017

Science Fiction Classics: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood


TheHandmaidsTale(1stEd).jpg
Image from Wikipedia.org


The Handmaid's Tale, a 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, feels very current right now. It wasn't on my Science Fiction Classics list, but is should be. International Women's Day seems like the perfect time to reflect on the book's message. And yes, this post contains spoilers, beware!

The novel tells the story of Offred, a woman living in a future version of the United States where an extreme Christian movement has staged a military coup, murdered the president, and turned the country into a religious dictatorship. The first thing the new government did was strip women of all rights and made them the property of men. Offered still remembers the good old days, which allows Atwood to reflect on the true horror of what life in Gilead has become.

In the novel, the environment has been poisoned and fertility is declining, which has led into the creation of a class of women called the Handmaids, posted to the families of powerful men to produce children. Abortions and prenatal testing is outlawed, of course, and doctors who have performed abortions in the past end up lynched. The women get a choice that isn't really a choice: become a handmaid of get shipped off to the Colonies to die or be used as slave labor (best case scenario). Other classes of women are the Wives, who are trapped inside their houses and not allowed to do much of anything but tend their gardens and wait around for the handmaid to get pregnant; the Marthas, who do housework; the Unwomen, basically anyone who protests or fails to perform their duties (off to the Colonies with you!); and the Jezebels, prostitutes who don't officially exist.

The novel is written in first person, which lends it an intimacy that helps the reader get close to Offred and sympathise with her. Offered has lost everything in an ill-fated escape attempt: her husband, her daughter, and even her name. As a handmaid, she is called by the name of the man she belongs to, Offred = Of Fred. Due to Atwood's subtle narration, this realisation is truly chilling for the reader, as are other atrocities presented matter of factly through Offred's eyes. The plot gets going when the Commander Offred belongs to starts an affair with her. When Offred isn't getting pregnant, the Commander's wife arranges for her to have sex with the chauffeur Nick in the hopes that she might conceive, and Offred falls in love with him. The story end with Offred in trouble and getting into a van, not certain if it will take her to her death in the hands of the government or to the underground who will try to smuggle her out. There is a bit more, though, a report talking about the found tapes which contain the Handmaid's Tale and reflection on Gilead as if from the future, so I interpreted that to state that she got out in the end, a little ray of hope in the otherwise grim narrative.

What about writer tricks? I thought Atwood used mirror characters very well in the novel. At one point the Commander takes Offred to a secret club where the Jezebels entertain the men, where she meets an old friend, Moira, a powerful lesbian woman who escaped the Handmaid institution only to end up a prostitute, showing us what could have happened if Offred had been stronger and tried to escape. If even Moira couldn't get out, how could she? There is also another handmaid who succeeds in getting pregnant and giving birth. Her story doesn't have a happy ending either.

One thing that struck me was that no one is actually happy in this scenario, not even the men. The Commander sneaks around with Offred, Nick and others like him aren't allowed wives until they've attained sufficient power in the community, and everybody's paranoid with the spies called Eyes of God watching their every step.

I liked Atwood's writing style and enjoyed the book, in spite of the grim subject matter. It's not an easy book to read, but every woman should read this, I think, especially the Americans. If I had read the book a few years ago, it wouldn't have affected me so deeply. That could never really happen, I would have thought. But now, seeing Trump and his followers promoting extreme religious values and stomping on women's rights in the U. S., I wonder. In the book the military coup was justified by the fear of radical Islam. Sound familiar? There's nothing I can do to fight Trump, but maybe I can help those that can. Planned Parenthood accepts international donations. Seems like a good time to contribute.


Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

Mar 6, 2017

Heikki Willamo's Mythical Voyage


In the caves of the mind
Salo Art Museum is holding an exhibition of Heikki Willamo's nature photography from Feb 4th to May 5th this year. The exhibition is titled "A Mythical Voyage," and in addition to the photographs includes a soundscape made especially for the exhibition by musician Kie Von Herzen and the short nature film Eläimen kuva (The Animal Image) by Perttu Saksa. 

Willamo is a well-known Finnish nature photographer, and the exhibition celebrates his long career and his deep relationship with nature. We were lucky enough to visit the museum when the artist himself was present and doing a special introduction tour of the exhibit. He told us he was inspired by the ancient cave paintings of South-Western Europe, Finland, and Norway, which made him think about the way our ancestors related to nature and how we relate to it today. He wanted to do pieces that continued the tradition of imaging nature, that would place him as one link in the chain beginning from Ancient Man and continuing into the future.

 In the photographs the Icelandic horse stands in for the wild horse, for example, but the mythical quality comes right through. All the photographs are in black and white, which adds to the effect, especially with the blurry photographs alluding to the ancient Finnish belief of metsänpeitto, a way of getting lost into the magical woods so that only a shaman can save you. Ordinary mortals could pass right by and only see a rock or a tree stump, leaving you wandering the woods for all time.

As a writer, I found the images intriguing. They aren't just nature photographs: they tell a story. I also liked the strange and enthralling mood of the exhibition, especially the smoky, slightly distorted images in the metsänpeitto room. If you're writing about Finnish mythology, this exhibition will inspire you for sure. You can almost hear the ancient shamanic rhyming spells in the background. 

Dare you step into metsänpeitto, lose yourself in the woods?

Regrettably it looks like the museum website is only available in Finnish, but if you're in the neighbourhood, do check the exhibition out; the powerful images speak for themselves. Not in Finland? You can see some of the pieces on Willamo's website.


Mar 2, 2017

MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA!!!





Mass Effect Andromeda is coming, who's excited? The release date is March 21st and I've got the game on preorder, so that's my plans for the weekend covered.  Can't wait!

Just in case there are other Mass Effect fans out there, Loot Crate is doing a special limited edition ME:Andromeda crate. Click on the link to check it out if you're interested. The crate isn't on sale yet, but you can sign up to be notified when it is. (And yes, of course I'm ordering one. I'm still bummed I missed the previous Mass Effect crate they did.)