Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Featured Filkers #5: Sassafrass

In general, filk is a guitar-centric genre of music. Singer-songwriters who accompany themselves on acoustic guitar have been a staple since filk became a thing. Most of my Featured Filkers so far have included guitar players, although each of them brings other instruments to the stage on a regular basis. But what about a cappella? There are many, myself included, who are still welcomed into the fold even if we don't play an instrument. Most of us vocals-only musicians are solo performers. We sing our songs, and that's that. But filk is sort of like the French language: there are more exceptions to the rules than there are norms.

Photo provided by featured artist.

Enter Sassafrass, an a cappella group that sings about Norse mythology, fantasy, and fandom using polyphonic textures. What the heck does that mean? Well, for Sassafrass, it often means they sing in counterpoint, which is two or more independent melodies, usually with distinct rhythms, that are sung together. I won't go into a historical music composition lesson, but you can check this Wikipedia page and this one to get a better feel for the subject. Suffice to say, all of their songs are beautiful pieces with haunting harmonies that linger far beyond the last note.

The mastermind behind Sassafrass is Ada Palmer, best-selling author and Renaissance history professor at the University of Chicago. Ada composes all of the music and lyrics sung by Sassafrass, which would be an amazing feat even without her other accomplishments. I don't know how she has time for all of this.

Photo of Ada plotting something nefarious provided by featured artist.

Nevertheless, she needs some help to bring her fabulous compositions to life. Ada and academic librarian Lauren Schiller are the core members, though over the years a whole cohort of people have been Sassafrass, as evidenced by songs like "Here's to Valhalla" and "Hearthfire." Ada has written polyphonic music for up to nine voices singing five(!) different melody lines.

Photo provided by featured artist.

As a duet, Ada and Lauren are Sassafrass: Trickster and King. The name references the gods Odin and Loki, who dominate the Norse pantheon. As Ada explains, both are tricksters and both are kings, so which one is referring to which performer? The world may never know. Speaking of Trickster and King, here they are at an Ohio Valley Filk Festival (OVFF) filk circle, performing "My Brother, My Enemy." There happened to be very appropriate pet snakes in the room ... like you do. Anyway, imagine them as shown in the initial image, because those intricate costumes represent Odin and Loki. This song is a fan favorite.


 
Ada and Lauren are always highly anticipated at filk circles, and with good reason. Regarding the Pegasus Awards at OVFF, Sassafrass has been nominated three times for Best Performer, Ada has been nominated three times for Best Writer/Composer, and their song about boundless hope for a spacefaring future entitled "Somebody Will" has been nominated for Best Filk Song four times. So that's six consecutive years of nominations in one or more categories? A win is bound to happen one of these days, folks, especially given their recent appearance at Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, Finland. (Ada's first novel also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at Worldcon 75.) Here they are performing during the Worldcon Masquerade, complete with a shiny new tenor.

Photo by Markku Lappalainen.

Peruse Sassafrass's website and Facebook page at your leisure, where you can find news, media, band history, detailed information about all of their songs and performances, and more. If you just want the goods, you can check out their Bandcamp page. That's where you'll find four albums and an assortment of other goodies for the adventurous, like sheet music and their Teaching Collection recordings. Sassafrass is a breath of fresh air in a world full of guitar, proving that yes, voice is a musical instrument too.

What's your preferred flavor of mythology in music? Let us know in the comments!

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Most Underrated Libraries of Fandom

In the words of Evelyn Carnahan (from The Mummy), “Look, I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell, but I am proud of what I am...I am a librarian.” I can’t help but agree. And as a librarian, it’s a requirement—part of my job in fact—to enjoy reading and find pleasure in the place where I work.


A library has always been a fascinating place for me, even before I could read. Think about it. Essentially, a library is a safe haven for those who seek shelter, community, entertainment, adventure, and an escape. Getting tangled in a story, getting so entrenched in the narrative that you come to find that the characters are friends, that the setting feels like home, that the sentence structure is as much of a thrill to experience as a roller coaster (at least for me), is pure, abundant magic. It’s a snatch of childhood imagination.

Below, I’ve listed a few libraries in fiction that aren't mentioned as often and have captured my heart.

Night Vale Public Library (Welcome to Night Vale)


I start this list with the most terrifying library of all, Night Vale Public Library, an extremely important and fascinating place in the podcast and now book titled Welcome to Night Vale. If you haven’t listened to or read Welcome to Night Vale, I beg you to check it out now! It’s both unnerving and hilarious, creepy yet creative.

And the public library is one of the best parts about it. Here is just a sample as to why:
“The search for truth takes us to dangerous places,” said Old Woman Josie. “Often it takes us to that most dangerous place: the library. You know who said that? No? George Washington did. Minutes before librarians ate him.”

And it’s absolutely true! I...I mean, no. Librarians are harmless. And I certainly don’t bite (much).

Even if you ignore the man-eating librarians, what’s also fun is how destructive the library is and how some citizens find themselves "hoping that the faceless spectre puts the library to the same mysterious, violent end as its many victims."

Wan Shi Tong's Library (Avatar: The Last Airbender)


Avatar the Last Airbender has a delightful way of world building. Its landscapes, its bending, its culture, all are intriguing and immersive. Of course, even the afterlife is interesting, especially when we take a look at the Spirit World, which is basically an alternate plane of reality that exists on top of the Mortal World.

As the Avatar, Aang is sometimes able to cross into the Spirit World, making it possible for Team Avatar to visit Wan Shi Tong’s Library, a massive underground structure bent on preserving the world’s knowledge. At one point, the library was open to all mortals, but after they foolishly used that knowledge for destructive means, the spirit guarding the library closed it off.


Could you imagine a vast collection of ancient knowledge (advanced knowledge) and being able to explore it? Heck, I would run straight for philosophy, literature, folktales, and the waterbending scrolls (fingers crossed I would be a waterbender).

Mr. Dewey’s Library (The Pagemaster)


In the movie The Pagemaster, a boy named Richard finds adventure in Mr. Dewey’s Library. In such a library, one would find themselves sucked into classic literature and thrown into dangerous situations. However, the fun part about it all is that you would have sentient books (all representing a different genre) as guides!


Any library might take you away from reality, but this one truly immerses you in the fantastical! And what’s more exciting than a place that offers you both knowledge and a place to test your grit?

Matilda’s Public Library (Matilda)


There is nothing extraordinary about this library. It doesn’t result in an endless list of missing persons, it doesn’t hold precious element-shifting training scrolls, and it doesn’t make books literally start speaking to you.

But it is still just as magical, just as important.

Matilda is a genius but also neglected and in her search to occupy herself finds her way to the public library. There she discovers books! She discovers stories, something that, at the heart of them, are the most magical of all. Stories, it’s been proven, help us digest facts much easier. They help keep our society alive, passing down tales about relatives, cultures, and customs. Stories are bits of magic, activating our imagination to the extent that we are able to conjure up whole worlds and civilizations!


A girl who had nothing, now has everything.

I can relate. I remember plopping down into a worn armchair and losing myself in tales of terror, stories of sadness, legends of love. Most of all, I remember that the library, with all its books, taught me how to accept those who were different from myself, taught me how to hope unflinchingly in the face of desolation, taught me to believe in true magic.

What is your favorite fictional library?

Friday, September 15, 2017

When a Song Isn't Just a Song: Fanmixes and Nostalgia

New music isn’t hard to come by these days. With radio stations constantly promoting the newest songs, Spotify and Pandora offering mixes based on music you already like, and SoundCloud and Bandcamp helping independent artists expand their audiences, all one has to do is find a genre of music and start digging. If you don’t know where to start when branching out, there’s something that can help you: fiction. If there's a story you love, there's probably a fanmix or five to go with it, put together with care to evoke the emotions or plot and bring lots of nostalgia. My venture into listening to fanmixes came with an interest in movie and television scores—the sweeping albums that reminded me of my favorite moments or the heartbreaking emotions from the height of the story.

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If you’ve ever heard a song and thought that it fit your favorite character or OTP perfectly, chances are five years later you’ll still associate that nostalgic feeling with the song. Maybe you put it in playlist on your iPod or that song ended up holding a special place in your heart. Musical recommendations based on ships, stories, and individual characters open a wide breadth of songs, artists, and genres that perhaps weren’t even considered or known about. Fanmixes are also a great way for the not-artistically-inclined fans to contribute to their fandom.


8tracks still exists as a popular place to find mixes. Although they have a limit of an hour of music per week without a subscription, it’s a good place to start. Simply searching what you’re looking for brings up popular mixes and related searches, as well as a place for you to narrow down genres if you want.

The songs of each playlist are revealed as you listen to them. I recommend giving each song a listen before you decide to skip it unless it’s a song you’ve heard before. You can bookmark and favorite the mixes you like best, and if a song or artists particularly piques your interest, do write it down! There’s always a chance to look into that artist individually later. Lots of mixes contain a good variety of pop, alternative, and instrumental songs to convey the theme the subject exudes.


Playmoss is a newer site that uses YouTube hosting for playlists. One of the benefits this lends to music discovery is that you can immediately get to an external tab for each song, some of which connect directly to the “official” song. Usually recommended videos on the side will offer other tracks by the artist. Again, I recommend listening to each song on a character mix at least once before determining your favorites. If there’s a particular playlist you enjoy in its entirety, you can bookmark it for later and see the other playlists the user created. Often people create multiple fanmixes or playlists for a particular piece of media that demonstrates their taste in music and gives more options for listeners.


Spotify pulls double duty when it comes to fanmixes and music discovery. Usually, I’ll take my lists from 8tracks and Playmoss and search artists there. That way, I can build my own music library with the songs I liked best. Then Spotify’s algorithm for music suggestions kicks in. But fans are building mixes here as well. These can be saved to your profile as whole playlists or you can cherry-pick and add individual songs. Spotify gives options to listen on your computer or on the go so you can always access your favorites.

Sometimes you find only one song you like by an artist and it’s the one that reminds you of an incredible story. Sometimes you find a completely new artist to listen to. Sometimes your fandom is so obscure that there’s only a handful of mixes, or sometimes it’s popular enough to warrant days of music. More often than not, I’ve noticed trends in both the mixes and my music preferences based on what fandoms I’m currently a part of. Songs begin to show up frequently for certain characters or ships and become wildly accepted with a good portion of the fandom as the songs that define each character.

On top of curating fanmixes, some fans go one step further and compose music for their favorites. This often happens with books and podcasts, although it does spread into movies and television despite their preexisting scores. Discovering these pieces, often posted on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, or YouTube, can give support to fledgling musicians who were just happy to share their art in the first place.

Once I borrowed CDs from my best friends to hear new music. Now my musical horizons are broader than before, and every day I’m discovering new songs to enjoy.

Don’t stop looking! There’s always room for more, so share your music with other fans!

What are some of your favorite fanmixes?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with 'Kingdom Hearts'

Confession: I am terrible at playing video games. There are only a handful of games I’ve actually completed, and most of them are from the Lego franchise. I get frustrated when games are complicated or the boss levels are almost impossible to beat. I’ll be the first to admit I like easy games--games like Animal Crossing where I can’t lose or Roller Coaster Tycoon where I can just have fun. (Though, I still stress myself playing Roller Coaster Tycoon because I’m worried I won’t reach the objective by the end of the time limit due to tiny, whiny avatars that complain about everything.)

But that doesn’t mean I won’t try to play harder games. I do, and I usually end up screaming and hitting random buttons. Take for instance, the Attack on Titan game. I cannot for the life of me play that game without screaming because I'm afraid a Titan will grab me and eat me. Or Sly Cooper. Those games have some of the worst mini-game type levels, and I have yet to complete one of the games because I cannot survive. (And plenty of frustrated groaning follows.)

Then there’s Kingdom Hearts.


I first played Kingdom Hearts about ten years ago when I received a used copy of the first game for Christmas. I fell in love immediately. I mean, it was a game all about Disney worlds where you team up with Disney characters. How could I not love it? Plus, the story lines and the new characters are all amazing too. Then I received Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, played it for a short time, and gave up because I didn’t understand how the game worked. I borrowed Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth by Sleep from a friend and mostly beat those.

Recently, I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, which consists mainly of Dream Drop Distance. It’s been so fun. I’ve loved the worlds and the story line. I like the Dream Eater buddies and that I can play as Sora and Riku. But I still find issues with the game, as I do with every Kingdom Hearts game thus far.

First, Dream Drop Distance functions with two storylines that crisscross throughout each level. You start as Sora and you have a “drop gauge” that is basically a timer. So for a certain amount of time you go through the levels as Sora until the meter runs out. Then it “drops” you, and you switch to Riku, play through the levels until that meter runs out, and switch. On and on. Which is cool because, as I said before, I can play as both. But it’s also irritating because just when I get going in the level, get used to the commands on Sora’s list and the Dream Eaters I’ve paired with Sora, I drop and have to rethink my entire fighting style. In addition, without fail, I always drop while I’m in the middle of a battle, which means when I drop the next time and pick back up I’m immediately thrown into a frenzy. It’s been stressful. (I also hate that if you leave a “room” or location in a world, usually by accident, and return all the bad guys return and you have to fight them three, four, ten times as you try to figure out where you’re going and/or collect all those dumb treasure chests!)


In addition, some of the controls of Dream Drop Distance annoy me as well. While the reality shifts are cool, they are hard for me to do because no matter how I hit the circle and triangle button, it always does a command instead of reality shift at least twice before I can hit them correctly. I don’t know if it’s my fingers, the controller, or how the game works, but I get easily frustrated trying to do that function. Also, I always forget I can link-up with my Dream Eaters, so I never use those power-ups, which is a shame because they’re really cool. #wastedpotential (I also like to not pay attention when I’m learning a new skill, so I’m poking around the level going “What do I do!??!” for way too long. That one, however, is on me.)

But the aspect of every Kingdom Hearts game that annoys me the most are the boss levels. Normally the boss levels in the earlier worlds aren’t so bad. As long as my skill level is higher than the level, which it usually is because I like to waste time finding collectibles instead of following the main story line, I’m good. But when I get to the final level with the big boss (usually Xenahort or Ansem or whoever), I get mad. Mainly because I can’t win easily. I have to actually think about the buttons I’m pressing and pay attention to the pattern of the boss’ fighting style. I hate when I get hit a single time and my health drops significantly or when I hit the command for “cure” and Sora or Riku just stand there like an idiot and do nothing (or get hit again by the boss and I die).

Then, after I finally beat the boss after several attempts (and I’ve probably thought about chucking the controller across the room or I’ve laid on the floor and muttered angry curses at the TV), guess what happens next? You have to fight another boss, or the same boss again only this time he’s stronger. And that’s when I get enraged. You’re telling me I just defeated this dude with several health gauges and gave my all and I have to do it again for a bigger boss? Nah, man. Nah. I don’t want that. I want to defeat a boss and move on.


This has been the case for every Kingdom Hearts game I’ve played so far. While I haven’t played them all, I can’t imagine this pattern would change too much. This is the main reason I never finished Birth By Sleep. I finished the story line for Ventus, but I got to the final boss with Terra and Aqua and could not for the life of me defeat the bad guy. (And since I was borrowing the PSP and game from someone, I had to give it back at some point.)

In addition, after I finished the baddies of Dream Drop Distance, becoming so angry that I was pumping with an adrenaline rush, the game didn’t end. It didn’t end. I still had to play more. And I wanted to scream. Because I already spent way too long wandering the final world with Sora trying to figure out where to go when I just had to jump off the other side of a building rooftop to continue and then fight an annoying bad guy. And then I had to continue?! Nah, man. Nah.

So while I love Kingdom Hearts with my whole heart because the worlds are fantastic and the interactions with Disney characters are exciting, I do get frustrated with the games. Does that mean I’ll stop playing them? Does that mean I’ll give up and never finish? No. I will play. I will finish. I’ll just get super mad about it and scream while I smack the bad guy in the face with my Keyblade.


What video games frustrate you? 

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Calamity" Read-Along: Chapters 40-44


Chapter 40
"We're not his team," Cody said. "Not anymore. We're here to change the world; we ain't going to do that without a fight."
Hearing one of my favorite side characters say something so heroic makes me feel like a cheesy, proud parent. You go, buddy! Yeah!

Chapter 41
"Not with the explosives Mizzy left behind. Look, we could use your help. Join us. Change the world."
He sniffed and turned away.
I felt it like a punch to the gut.
A part of me is like, "Yes, Larcener. Go. Shoo. The Reckoners don't need you."
Another part of me kind of hopes he has a sudden change of heart and comes running in to save the day. But that's a very small part of me. Because I just don't like him.

I didn't seen a monster. In my mind's eye, I remembered a man who had come down through another roof amid falling dust. A man who had run for all he had--breaking through to face an Enforcement team, risking his life and his own sanity--to save me. 
Have I mentioned before that the biggest reason I love David is how he remains so hopeful and loyal to his friends? Even though he's witnessed Prof do terrible things over the last few months, he's still willing to fight to the death to save him.

Chapter 42
"Think you can hide from my all-seeing eyes, little Epic? You don't know who you're dealing with."
All I can say here is that I'm glad Knighthawk is one of the good guys.

Chapter 43
"I didn't want to push myself, or my teams, too hard. This is your fault, David. Everything that happens here is because of you."
My knee-jerk reaction is that yes, Prof is right when he blames David for upsetting the delicate balance he had with life as an undercover Epic. David himself seems to take it this way. But I think it brings up an important question--aren't we responsible for all of our own actions? Prof could've chosen a different path. But then would David even be alive? Would they still have ended up here, battling it out underground, regardless?
These are the questions that simultaneously fascinate me and hurt my brain at 3 A.M.

I panted. "I...suppose this...would be an awkward time to ask for an autograph."
The first time I read this I burst into hysterical giggles. Because that's what I do after I've been stressed.
Also, as a side note, Loophole's death is probably one of the most gruesome things I've ever read. Eugh.

Chapter 44
They'd both been forced, it seemed, to grasp for dangerous resources. Prof using his hidden teleportation device; Megan reaching further and further into other realities.
source
The lights on the gloves lit up a deep green. I felt their hum course through me, a distant melody that had once been precious to me, yet one I'd somehow forgotten. I released it, reducing the stone wall nearby to a wave of dust.
"Feel like coming home," I said.
source
Aaaaand if that wasn't stressful enough, we still have to see David, Megan, and Prof actually fight it out. So, anything you guys hope to see out of the big showdown?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Anime You May Not Have Tried #1: 'Steins;Gate'

Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama    Episodes: 24    Rating: PG-13    Original Release: 2009

(Source)
Time travel has been a staple of science fiction ever since H. G. Wells wrote The Time Machine back in 1895, though even the most experienced writers struggle to use the plot device properly. This mechanism is often poorly used, as it remains a purely theoretical idea, leaving it up to the writer to define its limitations. Unfortunately, since most writers are writers first, this usually results in ill-defined rules that sacrifice coherence for drama and rarely remain logically consistent. Time travel is also a Pandora’s Box for fan theories: once introduced, it gets attached to every plot and character so that everyone is actually from the year 20XX trying to rescue their lover/assassinate the pope/stave off nuclear disaster/kill Hitler/save Harambe/whatever.

Given this, an anime adaptation of a Japanese visual novel should have the lowest probability of doing justice to something like time travel. Japan already has a proud history of sacrificing coherence for drama including, but not limited to, gender-flipping King Arthur and Nero as women for the purpose of romantic subplots (Fate Series), employing Lucifer as a part-time employee at McDonald's (The Devil Is a Part Timer), and anthropomorphizing the entire Japanese subway system (Miracle Train). Also, given visual novels’ penchant for harems and high levels of fan service, one could be forgiven for not expecting much from Steins;Gate. Thankfully, the show (for the most part) avoids these pitfalls to create an excellent narrative that easily stands as one of the best examples of the genre.

Steins;Gate is the tale of the members of Future Gadget Laboratory (actually just a small apartment) led by Okabe Rintaro, a self-declared mad scientist. He and his close friend Mayuri decide to attend a lecture on time travel where he discovers the dead body of scientific prodigy Makise Kurisu in a storage room in the building. Confused and alarmed, he returns to the building a few days later only to find Makise very much alive and well, with Okabe's friends having no memory of the prior events. Makise, being understandably bewildered by Okabe’s behavior, follows him and Mayuri back to the lab where, several days and much bickering, they discover that the old microwave in the apartment functions as a time machine, after they accidentally send a banana back in time. Naturally, they, along with resident hacker Daru, begin to work on improving the machine.

From left to right: Daru, Makise, Ruka, Faris, Suzuha, Moeka, Mayuri, Okabe
The plot is essentially divided into two parts, with the first twelve episodes introducing the main characters and developing them through what could probably be described as a slice-of-life comedy with some light sci-fi elements. The cast of characters and the overall story is fairly minimalist, focusing on the relationships between characters rather than on an epic plot. Admittedly, this leads to some slow pacing in the early going, as things take quite some time to set up. While this slow build up could be viewed as a negative, it is needed for the events of the second half to have impact. Thankfully, the characters feel human in their interactions, and even if the overall plot builds slow, individual scenes tend to be fast-paced with quick-witted humor.

It is this central dynamic between Okabe and his fellow lab members that comes to define their interactions in these scenes. Each character reacts differently to the protagonist, such as lifelong friend Mayuri, who plays along with the more outrageous aspects of Okabe’s character, versus the colder Makise's frustrations and tsundere personality. Others like Faris embrace the ridiculousness of his character and add their own personalities to each encounter with him. The show is legitimately funny, as the writers clearly let the individual personalities bounce off each other rather than force events or scenes for the sake of moving the plot along.

Over time, the characters grow together and work to better understand the power of time travel that has been granted to them. As they do, the shadowy internet presence of John Titor (surprisingly based on a real world conspiracy theory) acts as a guide to explain the mechanics and implications of what they are doing. The butterfly effect is in full force here as the messages the characters send to their past selves end up having unintended consequences (and we'll just leave it at that). With the help of John Titor, the group begins to discover that they are not the only ones working on time travel, and others do not have as pure of intentions as they do. These actions build up to a climactic confrontation between the two groups that leads into the second half of the show (and is best left unspoiled).

The Tip of the Iceberg
If the first half of the show is a slice-of-life comedy, then the latter half is a series of emotional gut punches and twists wherein Okabe works to undo the damage done by the group’s actions. The show veers into much darker territory as Okabe single-handedly attempts to protect his fellow lab members from horrible fates. The true colors of the characters are revealed, as those who were given the opportunity to change part of the past must be willing to make sacrifices in order to protect those they care about. Issues such as depression, abuse, and death are touched upon and many of the scenes in the tail end of the series are simply heartbreaking. The show works by making you care about the people in the story and them putting them through hell in order to see what they are made of. By doing so, it creates characters that feel real and go past their initial, often stereotypical, portrayals.

"Relativity Theory... it's so romantic. But it's just so tragic too."
Of course, this could all be undone if the viewer’s suspension of disbelief were to waver. Thankfully, the show plays it smarter than most time travel stories and sets hard rules on what can and cannot be done. Rather than give the characters a full-fledged time machine, early efforts are constrained by hard limitations that slowly open up. The theories the show subscribes to limit physical transportation and, rather than create stable time loops, the world shifts to and from a "base" reality, which simplifies what the viewer is expected to keep track of. Furthermore, due to the minimalist nature of the show, the future that is trying to be avoided is only described in vague terms, which builds suspense while preventing the writers from having to predict the future. Steins;Gate plays by the rules it sets up and doesn’t break them for the sake of earning the characters an easy happy ending (though many times you wish it would).

This is all helped by the fact that the show has fairly high production values. Odd camera angles are used to create feelings of uncanniness when the plot demands it and both the animation and writing are well done. References to Martin Heidegger, Don Quixote, and Casablanca reside alongside more modern jokes about the internet and nerd culture. Both the sub and dub versions are of high quality with J. Michael Tatum’s performance as Okabe in the dub deserving a special mention, as he appears to channel his inner William Shatner into some fantastic lines. Alternatively, the moments of gratuitous English Okabe in the sub are worthy of all the YouTube remixes they’ve spawned. Either way, you can’t go wrong, and will probably never view Dr. Pepper the same way again.

You tell 'em, Okabe.
The story is also more willing to stray from some of the painful “WTF, Japan” aspects that plague visual novels. The fan service is almost nonexistent and even parodied for good effect. While the visual novel had multiple romances available to the player, the show smartly plays up one relationship, while keeping the other female characters as friends (and well-developed ones at that). The show also benefits from condensing roughly thirty-some hours of content in the game into twenty-five half-hour episodes. The show covers a lot of content per episode, and even if things are moving fairly slow from a macro perspective, there are a lot of scenes and dialogue going on in the micro side of things. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some “Dang it, Japan” moments, such as the maid caf├ęs, periphery card game tournaments, and an annoyingly androgynous character, but compared to some shows, this is a great starting point for someone who hasn’t watched an anime before and is concerned that the weirdness might turn them off.

Steins;Gate is a show that is essentially built for its second half, and anyone who begins watching the show should at least get to the initial twist before deciding it's not their thing. While initially appearing to be a standard anime with a colorful cast of characters and snappy dialogue, it moves far past its original premise to deliver emotional moments that are difficult to find in other shows. Every aspect of the show, from its characters to its writing have depth to them, and like many time travel shows, rewatching it yields a number of Easter eggs that explain the characters' motivations and thoughts in the early goings. While maybe not the most innovative show in terms of plot, by the end, the show is far greater than the sum of its parts and is worth watching for anyone with even a passing interest in science fiction.

Have a show you want to suggest to me? Mention it in the comments below!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Featured Filkers #4: Heather Dale

What comes to mind when you hear the word "Celtic"? Hopefully not a mispronounced sports team, given this crowd. Maybe Irish crosses? Medieval metalwork? Some darn good fiddle-playing? All of those are valid. But being the filk geek that I am, I tend to think of Heather Dale.


A powerhouse in the filk community, the Society for Creative Anachronism, and far beyond, Heather Dale epitomizes the Celtic folk spirit. She bills her music as "Modern Celtic," and you do hear some electric guitar, synthesized instruments, and jazz influence in her recordings. But to me, she is easily the most true-to-form, lively, and heartfelt Celtic filker out there, bodhran at the ready. (A bodhran is an Irish hand drum.) Here she is at the Ohio Valley Filk Festival (OVFF) with her frequent performance partner, Ben Deschamps.


Heather infuses every song she writes with a sense of majestic days gone by, whether the subject is ancient, medieval, or timeless. She has won several Pegasus Awards in different years, including Best Romantic Song, Best Performer, Best Writer/Composer, and Best Filk Song for "Joan." Her eminently singable tunes are a joy to listen to, like this mesmerizing performance of "The Maiden and the Selkie" with members of her group, the Heather Dale Band.

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Perhaps she is best known for her song cycle about Arthurian legends, specifically the haunting song "Mordred's Lullaby." It has over 12 million views on YouTube, which is a very big number. While I love this song to pieces for its unusual insight into the tragic character of Mordred, I am also a huge fan of less-discussed songs like "Kingsword" and "The Prydwen Sails Again." In these two songs, she seamlessly blends traditional and modern sounds to create something all her own, and it is fantastic.

Not limiting herself to Celtic folklore, Heather dips her toes in all sorts of mythical waters. You can find Norse and Greek mythology, medieval history, and even a song about Baba Yaga in the mix.  Below is the Heather Dale Band performing "Sedna," a tale of the Inuit ocean goddess.


In terms of technical know-how, Heather is a Renaissance woman. In addition to singing and playing the bodhran, she puts her skills with several other instruments to good use. Those instruments include the harp, alto recorder, two kinds of dulcimer, Irish flute, bowed psaltery, and of course, the piano. While I'm bombarding you with gorgeous YouTube videos, here's the official music video for "Fortune," a carpe diem song for voice and piano in classic Heather style.

Let's not forget that Heather also produced her own musical, Queens of Avalon. (Yes, you read that correctly.) She describes it on her website as "the famous story of Camelot, but surprisingly reinterpreted from a woman’s perspective." She's also a plain old fun and friendly person, and I'm glad I've had a few chances to talk to her. I hope for many more.

Check out her website if you're looking for music to purchase, more videos, more information about Heather and her band, and just about anything else you want to know. She has a whopping twelve albums currently available there and on Bandcamp, in addition to the free one entitled Perpetual Gift. Free high-quality recordings? Yes, please. I told you she's a nice person. Now go listen to her stuff. And listen. And listen ....

Who is your favorite Celtic-inspired singer? Let us know in the comments!