The Origin Key Only $0.99 + Free Excerpt!

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, the first book in my sword-and-science fantasy adventure series, is discounted to only $0.99 through June 1st! It’s for anyone who  enjoys history with a dash of fantasy interwoven with compelling mystery. This sweeping adventure chronicles a warrior’s quest for vengeance in an isolated Himalayan kingdom. Confounded by a sly princess desperate to keep her people’s ancient secrets hidden, he must recover a deadly device called the Origin Key before a murderer can use it to conquer and destroy.

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key


Get your e-book copy of Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key for only $0.99 – but hurry, this price is only good through June 1st!

On a quest for vengeance against a criminal known as the Viper, Prince Rasteem becomes suspicious when his army easily conquers Dodrazeb. Princess Laneffri is desperate to expel the Persian invaders from her kingdom and will stop at nothing to protect its secrets—especially the Origin Key, a powerful, ancient device. When Rasteem learns what the Origin Key can do, he must find a way to make the princess an ally to save both their kingdoms from annihilation.


Like to sample before you purchase?
Try this excerpt! This chapter takes place near the beginning of the book. It tells how Prince Rasteem and Princess Laneffri first meet, neither realizing the other’s true identity.

Mounted troops rode into the valley and squads on foot went door to door inside the massive wall in a meticulous search.

As comfortable in the saddle as he was leading infantry on foot, Rasteem sat astride Kurush, a glossy reddish-brown stallion with black mane and tail. Handlers from the king’s stables had said he was too high-spirited to be a suitable war horse, just like army officers had believed Rasteem was too reckless and temperamental to become a good soldier. Rasteem and Kurush proved them all wrong.

When he was younger, Rasteem’s outbursts often eclipsed his brother Zardegerd’s. Time and tragedy molded Rasteem into a composed and prudent leader who channeled his uncontrollable temper into ferocity in battle. He had turned his impatience into thoughtful awareness.

Most of the time.

Rasteem rode at a slow trot across a somewhat desolate corner of the kingdom. Kamran was on horseback beside him as they approached another dwelling. The other side of the valley was a bright patchwork of trees, verdant fields, and orchards. Farms there were nourished by fresh flowing water from canals and irrigation trenches. This corner of the kingdom was home to scattered goat and sheep herders. Their livestock grazed on the scant vegetation in the rocky hills. Streams and smaller brooks brought water from the valley’s winding river, but shade was scarce.

At the first dwelling they visited, an old man and woman cringed and wailed while two soldiers kept them corralled with drawn swords and menacing expressions. Rasteem and Kamran went inside, watching as soldiers rifled through the two-room, thatch-roofed hut. What they found inside surprised Rasteem. He ordered his men to be quick and thorough, respectful of the peasants’ meager possessions.

He saw flagstone floors instead of hard, packed earth. There were stacks of glazed ceramic dishes and metal serving utensils, not crude wooden bowls and spoons. Cupboards and chests stored clothing and belongings. The outbuildings were also neat and tidy. Stalls and fodder for the animals, feed for chickens pecking at the hard ground, stacks of raw wool, and farm tools didn’t interest the prince.

The soldiers found nothing suspicious in the hut or the outbuilding. They headed for the next dwelling and found the same type of clean, orderly home. The shrill cries of a woman and two young boys accompanied the search there. To Rasteem’s relief, the third house they visited was empty, long abandoned.

He decided to split his squad and send the men in pairs so they could search faster. He and Kamran headed for the next nearest cottage. They were back in their saddles when a loud rumbling came from the boy’s direction. Rasteem looked at him.

“I’m hungry.” Kamran complained. “I should have raided the larder at that first house.”

Rasteem chuckled. “That bottomless pit of a stomach will betray you one day when you need stealth and silence—like it did on our last hunt. Remember?”

“I would have killed that panther! It would have been my second, one more than Tujee.” Kamran and Zardegerd’s second son were friendly rivals, always trying to surpass each other. Tujee had gone into battle once, but Kamran had earned bragging rights by killing an enemy in his first experience with war. If Tujee hadn’t sprained his ankle during Rasteem’s training session, he would have been in Dodrazeb with Zardegerd and Kamran would have stayed in Argakest.

Kamran became thoughtful. “Why is Uncle Zardegerd convinced Chudreev the Viper is from here? Why doesn’t he listen to you?”

“Because the only Chudreev we could discover, the only one anyone had ever heard of is the king of this valley.”

“But… it was you… you’re better…,” Kamran stammered. “You tracked Grandfather’s attackers and found Dodrazeb.”

Rasteem blew out a long, slow breath. “Zardegerd commands the army while Father cannot. We take our orders from him.” His eyes narrowed. “Zardegerd will be the King of Kings one day, sitting on the Throne of Light—I only offer advice. It is our place to be warriors always loyal to the rightful king.”

“I know—I don’t mean—it’s just that—” Rasteem waited for Kamran’s thoughts to catch up to his mouth. “He usually listens to you.”

“He’s right about one thing. We must find and dispatch the murderers’ leader. We can’t tolerate incursions into the Empire that threaten the king’s life.”

“So the most likely explanation is that this Chudreev is the one.” Kamran was still curious. “Why do you think it might not be him?”

“These Dodrazebbians are not warlike, weren’t prepared for our assault. They don’t dress like the marauders who attacked Father, and they use different weapons. The vandals are shorter and darker, more like the nomads who plague the Empire’s northern provinces.”

Kamran paid sober attention to the lesson. “You didn’t expect to find Chudreev Pranaga here even before our attack?”

“I thought we might find a king named Chudreev—just not one stupid enough to orchestrate an attack on Father,” Rasteem explained. “I’m not convinced the Chudreev of Dodrazeb is the right one. But Zardegerd is. So here we are.”

Brilliant sunshine beat down on them. Rasteem and Kamran slowed their horses to a walk as they neared the next deserted-looking cottage. The back of the dwelling and the dilapidated outbuilding next to it abutted a steep, rocky outcropping dotted with brambles and sparse tufts of vegetation. Its thatched roof needed repair. A crooked door dangled from a loose hinge.

A broad, shallow stream flowed past a cluster of trees near the house and meandered beyond it. The trees beckoned passersby to enjoy a respite from the heat and dust. Sunlight poured through the branches onto the cool water, making the ripples sparkle.

“It looks empty,” Rasteem observed. “We should keep going.”

“Uncle, aren’t you thirsty?” Kamran asked.

“Roasting inside your armor?” A sly grin tipped up one corner of Rasteem’s mouth.

“Well…” Kamran tried to wipe sweat from his brow, hindered by his helmet.

“All right, then. The horses will be grateful for a drink as well.” Rasteem dismounted and led Kurush to the stream. Alert and watchful, Kamran waited as he had been trained before taking a turn at the water’s edge.

Rasteem knelt, dipped his cupped hand into the stream, and drank a handful of water. He plunged his head beneath the ripples, savoring its bracing coolness. He stood up and flicked wet hair away from his face with a satisfied sigh. Surveying the small house again, he shifted his gaze upward to check the sun’s position. “Come on, boy! Be quick.”

Kamran pulled off his helmet to immerse his sweaty head in the water and enjoyed several greedy gulps. When he was done, he threw his head back and shook his dripping curls. “I wish it was deep enough to—”

Rasteem grabbed his arm and turned him to face the small cottage. “Listen to me, say nothing,” he whispered.

Kamran nodded, wondering why his uncle didn’t want to be overheard by the trees.

“Do you see smoke coming from the chimney?” Rasteem asked.

Kamran squinted at the distant thatched roof and shook his head. The horses took a long drink while the soldiers appeared to be engaged in casual conversation.

“Pay attention. I can smell the fire someone has started in there.”

Kamran sniffed the air and detected a faint aroma that might have been a campfire while he studied the sky above the small dwelling. He watched a few faint gray wisps emerge from its chimney and disperse on the breeze. A small, steadier column of smoke soon diminished to intermittent wisps that faded away. “I see it now!”

Rasteem seized the opportunity to emphasize the importance of strategy. “Does that hovel look inhabited?”

“No,” Kamran whispered.

“Then why is someone lighting a fire? Do you still see smoke?”

“No. They must have put the fire out—someone is hiding in there!” Kamran hissed. “And… and they’ve seen us, but they don’t know if we’ve seen them.”

Rasteem smiled. “Here’s our plan. We will ride toward the place as if we intend to search it. When we get closer, I’ll say it appears to be empty and we should move on. Follow me riding past it and stop when I stop. Understand?”

Baffled, Kamran asked, “Why don’t we just drag them out?”

“If they’ve seen us, they’re prepared for an attack.”

“If they think they haven’t been discovered, their guard will be down.” Excited, Kamran almost forgot to lower his voice.

“Exactly.” His uncle’s approval was worth everything to Kamran.

Rasteem didn’t share his conclusion that only one or two men were hiding, a valuable lesson for Kamran with little risk of injury. He didn’t expect the occupants to put up much of a fight.

Kamran jammed his helmet back on and they mounted their horses. Rasteem led them toward the little dwelling at a trot, stopping on the hard-packed earth outside it. Light did not penetrate beyond the broken dangling door into pitch-black darkness.

“It’s another empty one,” Rasteem announced. He gave the place a bored glance. “I’m ready to get back to camp.”

They rode around the steep hill behind the ramshackle old cottage. They dismounted, approached the barren hillock, and peered around it. There was no sign of activity.

Rasteem whispered, “Stay several paces behind me. When I go through the door, wait outside. If anyone gets past me, stop them.” Kamran’s eyes glittered with excitement.

Rasteem drew his shamshir and took a deep breath. He sprinted toward the side of the hut, confident he could take the occupants by surprise. He knew Kamran could be adept at stealth, appearing from nowhere to defeat his cousins in mock battles.

He signaled Kamran. With a burst of speed, he hurtled toward the doorway. The boy followed, sword drawn, hanging back as ordered. Rasteem tore the rickety door from its one loose hinge and launched himself through it with a roar.

Rasteem surveyed the dark interior as his cry swelled. Trying to take in every detail at once, he missed one crucial item: a thin rope stretched across the doorway at ankle height.

The trip wire sent Rasteem crashing toward the floor. A shrill scream echoing inside his skull, he twisted and tried to roll onto his back before hitting the dusty flagstones. Something heavy hit him, sending a jolt of pain through his right shoulder blade. The force knocked him forward onto his stomach and sent his sword flying out of his hand.

Angry at failing to anticipate the trap, Rasteem let loose another roar and flipped onto his back. He could just make out a dark, solid shadow framed in the open doorway. Fearing for Kamran’s safety, he kicked out one foot and tripped his adversary. As the shadow started to fall, he sprang up and grabbed for its throat. When sharp teeth clamped onto his outstretched hand he roared again in pain. Something hard struck the back of his head with an explosive crack and enough force to make sparks dance before his eyes.

With deep pain radiating from his thumb and a throbbing lump on his head, Rasteem saw the shadow dissolve into sunlight streaming through the doorway.

He shook his head to clear his vision and heard a gasp. Instinct advising him to duck, he avoided another wallop from a heavy weapon. Rasteem pounced toward the sound and heard Kamran shout outside the hovel. Blaming himself for endangering the boy, unsteady on his feet, the warrior groped in the dark.

Rasteem made contact with a warm body. He closed his fingers around a hank of hair, twisted it, and pulled his assailant toward him. They struggled, high-pitched screams overlapping his grunts. Something heavy clanked against the flagstones. Holding tight to the flailing whirlwind, Rasteem pushed it toward the door. He wanted to continue the fight in sunlight so he could see what had happened to Kamran.

He crossed the threshold onto the hard-baked earth outside. He didn’t see the boy. What he did see made him loosen his grip on his prisoner.

“A woman!

She preyed on his surprise and wrenched free. She swung around to run away, her long, thick braid of black hair whipping. Rasteem seized the braid with one hand and jerked, bringing her to a dead stop. She screamed again. He grabbed her with his other hand and pulled her to his chest, pinning her hands at her sides. He wrapped the braid several times around his hand and forced her to look up at him. As she wrestled to escape, he saw a mark on her skin behind her left ear resembling a coiled snake. Putting the discovery aside for later, he began an interrogation.

“Who are you? Why are you hiding?” He intended to get answers—by force if necessary. He eyed his captive, trying to understand how a mere woman could have come so close to besting him.

Her long, loose plain muslin tunic and ill-fitting trousers were dirty, the embroidered slippers on her feet tattered and muddy. Under streaks of grime and soot, her face twisted into a snarl, exposing pearl-white teeth. Rasteem had no desire to feel how sharp they were.

“Barbarian devil!” she hissed. The metal scales on Rasteem’s armor tore at the thin fabric of her tunic, pressing into her flesh as she writhed.

“Kamran!” He yelled, trying to look in all directions at once. He spotted the boy’s shamshir in the dirt between the hovel and its dilapidated shed. Cold dread returned.

“How many of you are there?” He jerked the braid still wound around his hand. She cried out again and stared at him with raw hatred, her dark eyes glistening. He felt her heart beating against her ribs, sure it was more from struggling against him than from fear. Rasteem had the feeling she was every bit as dangerous as any lion he had ever cornered in a hunt.

“What will you do with Dodrazeb now?” she demanded.

Astonished by her insolence, he scowled. “The same thing I’ll do with you—whatever I please.” Looking for any sign of Kamran, Rasteem spat out, “If he is harmed, I swear I will—”

“You will what?” A sneer twisted her mouth. Before Rasteem could decide her punishment, they both heard a loud groan. It came from somewhere near the small ramshackle outbuilding.

“Kamran!” Rasteem pulled the woman with him toward the sound.

A helmet rose from behind a pile of debris crowned by a broken stool. Vulnerable without his sword—it still rested where he had dropped it in the hovel—Rasteem braced for another attack until Kamran’s face was visible beneath the helmet. Rubbing the back of his neck, the boy came to his feet.

Kamran took a halting step toward Rasteem and his prisoner. “I wasn’t expecting a wo–”

“Behind you!” Rasteem saw movement in the shed.

The second of distraction was all the prisoner needed. She yanked her braid from his hand and pushed against his chest to get away.

As the woman made her move, a screaming girl in threadbare, dirty clothes burst out of the shed, hands clamped around a rusty pitchfork raised over her head. Rasteem grabbed his prisoner’s arm before she could escape and Kamran avoided the pitchfork’s sharp tines at the last moment. He sprang aside, tripped over an old bucket, and fell face-first on the ground.

Rasteem’s prisoner pulled her right leg back and kicked hard, smashing her knee into his crotch. His face contorted, he let her go and grabbed his groin, reeling, unable to make a coherent sound. Eyes rolling up into his head, he dropped to his knees and fell over sideways.

The woman bolted toward the girl, shouting in a language the soldiers didn’t understand. She dragged her accomplice into the shed without looking back. Kamran scrambled to his feet and recovered his shamshir, intending to give chase. Then he saw his uncle writhing in the dirt.

Rasteem screwed his eyes shut and managed a ragged breath. Incapacitated by the unbearable, radiating pain from the woman’s blow, he tried not to whimper.

Kamran ran to his side. “Uncle! Where are you injured? What did she do to you?” The boy’s alarm escalated when Rasteem moaned instead of answering.

“Was it a dagger?” Panicked, Kamran searched for an unseen wound. “Rasteem! What can I do? How can I help you?”

Rasteem managed a tortured whisper. “… let them get away…”

Did In Search Of… Beget Expedition Unknown?

My tastes in entertainment have matured as TV’s efforts to sensationalize myths and tell titillating tales have evolved. Still, nothing prompts my imagination quite like ancient unsolved riddles, a big factor in my decision to write historical fantasy novels.

GPRWaWGHjRSMMbwIt’s fun to speculate that there are bizarre truths behind mysterious stories. From Sasquatch to ESP to UFOs, I’ve always been a fan of weird stuff. Give it a paranormal twist—throw in some vampires or poltergeists—and I’m riveted. Package it all as a quasi-documentary/semi-reality TV show with Leonard Nimoy as host, and you have one of my favorites from the 1970s. The incredibly popular In Search Of… presented speculation and conjecture as possible explanations for enduring mysteries such as the identify of Jack the Ripper or the truth about the lost continent of Atlantis.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


8066bf599bbddaa4481542b5d4effb8cIn Search Of… was informative, fun, and nerdy, providing some ambiguous answers and leaving the door open for other (more plausible) explanations. It was lightweight entertainment, but it turned me on to some real enduring mysteries: Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids, the Nazca Plains, the mystery of Roanoke Colony, the genius of Nikola Tesla, and so much more.

expedition-unknown-josh-gates-nazca-peru-005.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Today I am an avid fan of Josh Gates and his series Expedition Unknown. Gates, a scholar with an appetite for exotic food and amazing adventures, is a man-mountain of globe-trotting curiosity. He’s an archaeologist with an infectious enthusiasm for the bizarre who seeks the truth about ancient and historical mysteries. To get at the real story behind whatever myth or legend he’s investigating, Gates employs scientific research methods presented as heart-pounding adventures filmed around the world.

josh-gates-on-location-21.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Expedition Unknown has taken Gates to some of the most remote and dangerous locations on the planet. Indiana Jones would be impressed by his ability to access and explain never-before-seen artifacts while getting into some precarious circumstances. On each mission, Gates interacts with the people and shares impressions of the culture he’s visiting. He also indulges in the local cuisine, a segment that should come with a warning for the squeamish.

TEXU302H_Attila-the-hun_251287_912112.1457498.jpg.rend.hgtvcom.966.725Combining elements of travelogue with lessons in history and sociology, Gates takes the viewer on a journey of discovery filled with humor. Turn him loose in a tourist souvenir shop and he becomes a stand-up comedian. Put an obstacle in his path and he entertains viewers (and his camera crew) with groan-worthy one-liners.

Gates peels away the thin veneer of supposition, superstition, and sensationalism to reveal the solid truth at the core of legends and mysteries. Mostly, though, he makes history fun and accessible through investigating both familiar and little-known unsolved puzzles. What a marvelous way to exploit television’s ability to entertain and teach at the same time.

Sources

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/expedition-unknown/articles/meet-josh-gates

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josh_Gates

https://www.facebook.com/joshgatesofficial/

http://www.therobotsvoice.com/2009/01/the_10_most_awesome_in_search_of_episodes.php

https://willmckinley.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/in-search-of-leonard-nimoys-1970s-reality-show/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Search_of…_(TV_series)

 

Colossal Statue Buried Under Modern City Streets

03_ramses_discovery_egypt.ngsversion.1489150803646.adapt.1190.1Ever think about the people who lived in your neighborhood thousands of years ago? Their culture was vastly different from ours, yet humans through the ages have been remarkably the same in many ways. They worked hard to feed and clothe their families. They looked to their leaders for protection from potentially hostile forces. They prayed for peace and prosperity. They engaged with their neighbors in communal events and sometimes in heated disputes. They toiled under the same sun and slept under the same moon as we do. They did all of this without the technological innovations we take for granted, with different belief systems, and with no idea how our world would evolve into what is has become today.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


GettyImages-650389812-EA team of Egyptian and German archaeologists recently uncovered a 26-foot-tall statue of an ancient Egyptian ruler beneath the streets of Cairo. The find was made in a congested working-class area that was built over the ancient city of Heliopolis, the center of worship for the ancient Egyptian sun god Ra. Heliopolis is currently located about 49–66 feet below the streets of Cairo suburbs. During the Middle Ages, the ruins of Heliopolis were massively scavenged for building materials, and the city was eventually buried under sprawling new developments.

untitledThey first thought it was Pharaoh Ramses II, also known in Greek as Ozymandias or Ramses the Great, who ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1213 B.C.E. He is believed by many to be the pharaoh who had that little run-in with Moses involving some plagues and a mass exodus from Egypt. In 2006, archaeologists digging under a Cairo marketplace discovered one of the largest sun temples ever found that contained statues of Ramses II weighing as much as five tons. One of them showed the pharaoh seated and wearing a leopard’s skin, leading researchers to believe that he might have been a high priest of Ra.

RamsesStatueLuxorAs more pieces of the colossal statue were recovered, closer examination revealed more clues. Egyptian antiquities officials believe it may be Psamtik I, who ruled Egypt from 664 to 610 BC. Psamtik is notable for uniting all of Egypt and freeing it from Assyrian control within the first ten years of his reign. An inscription and other characteristics indicate that the artifact comes from Egypt’s Late Period and may be the largest statue from that era ever discovered.

The quartzite statue was submerged in groundwater in a dig that had begun in 2012 and was about to be concluded. The area had been almost completely investigated and archaeologists were quite surprised when it was found. Pulling the pieces of the statue from the pit where it was mired in mud wasn’t easy. The Egyptian Antiquities Ministry asked for assistance from the army and used a forklift truck to extract it. The significant discovery is being hailed as one of the most important ever. The statue’s pieces were moved to the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir for restoration and exhibition.

So think about the monuments we are building. In a few thousand years, after civilizations more advanced than ours have come and gone, someone might dig up remnants of what we leave behind. I wonder how perplexed they’ll be, trying to figure us out.

Sources:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ancient/massive-incredibly-detailed-statue-of-ramses-ii-found-beneath-cairo-neighborhood/

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/egypt-pharaoh-ramses-statue-discovered-cairo/

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/ramses-ii-statue-found-cairo

http://www.archaeology.org/news/5384-170317-cairo-psammetich-colossus

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/world/middleeast/egypt-pharaoh-statue-ramses.html?_r=0

http://observer.com/2017/03/archaeologists-discover-3000-year-old-statue-pharaoh-ramses-ii-egypt/

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/10/africa/ramses-ii-ozymandias-statue-cairo/

http://www.history.com/news/stunning-statue-discovered-in-egyptian-mud-pit-may-depict-ramses-ii

Trovants: Living Rocks

trovants-living-stonesRomania has more than its share of creepy things that seem to be alive but aren’t. Take, for instance, the “living” rocks that grow and move. These Romanian curiosities are called trovants and can sometimes resemble gigantic fossilized dinosaur turds. They’ve been around far longer than old Vlad Dracula, but they don’t bite and you can visit them in daylight. Less creepy than mythical vampires, sure, but these things actually exist.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


StarTrekHorta1Being who I am (and being as old as I am), when I first read about trovants my thoughts zoomed straight to some classic sci-fi creatures. Who remembers the Horta from the Star Trek TOS episode “Devil in the Dark,” that poor misunderstood mother who was only trying to protect her perfectly round egg nodules? Thank goodness Spock realized he needed to mind-meld with her.

StarTrekRockMonsterIn another Star Trek TOS episode entitled “The Savage Curtain,” Earth’s Abraham Lincoln and Vulcan’s Surak are conjured up by a gravelly-voiced pile of boulders trying to understand the concepts of good and evil. The rocky alien also produced some bad guys, including Genghis Khan, and initiated a fight to the death between factions. This episode is right up there with “Spock’s Brain” in many ways.

GalaxyQuestRockMonsterBut the best one is, hands-down, the rock monster from Galaxy Quest. It consisted of scattered rocks and boulders that it could pull together at will. Captain Peter Quincy Taggert (Tim Allen) loses his shirt while dodging and diving to get away from it in one of the best sci-fi comedies spoofs of all time.

Trovant1Trovants aren’t that mobile and are (most likely? as far as we know?) not sentient. They are rocks, geologic formations. How does a rock grow much less move? Some theories advanced over the years have speculated that trovants are alien artifacts, or that they are responding to and interacting with weird magnetism, or that there are unexplained energy vortexes in the local area.

Trovanti-ReserveTrovanti Museum Natural Reserve is located in southern Romania among the sand quarries of the Vâlcea district near the village of Costeşti. The trovants there range from a few grams to several tons, with the largest reaching a height of 10 meters.

Trovanti-Museum-Natural-ReserveConsisting of cemented sand and mineral salts, when a trovant is cut in half you can see “age rings” like you find when you cut down a tree. These rocks started out as a hard stone core with a shell formed around it made of sand. Trovants can only form in areas with highly porous sand accumulations and sandstone deposits that are cemented by waters rich in calcium carbonate. Locals have always known, and geologists have confirmed, that trovants grow after heavy rains when they absorb the rain’s minerals. The minerals combine with chemicals already present in the stone that later creates a reaction and pressure inside. The pressure makes the rock grow from the center outward and sometimes produces lumps and bumps. This process takes a very long time, and it only occurs in areas with a type of porous sand consisting of a certain chemical composition that receives the right amount of rainfall carrying the right mineral mix. It’s quite a complex recipe.

trovants-costestiThe chemical processes at work on the stones cause them to bulge and form lumpy protrusions. When a bulge grows large enough, the force of gravity may cause it to drop off the parent stone. The baby trovant continues to grow, absorbing minerals through rain water, potentially producing its own lumps that will one day separate from it—and the cycle continues.

These things grow, and move, and reproduce like eerie rock monsters that should only exist in science fiction. What else do geologists know that they aren’t telling us?

Book Curses

image2If you love reading as much as I do, you might be like me—reluctant to let anyone borrow a book that you’ve bought. It’s always a risk because you can never be absolutely sure that the borrower—even a close friend—will take proper care of it. Many years ago when I was in fourth grade, I let a classmate borrow my favorite hardback book of scary stories. Naively, I thought everyone respected books as much I did. After weeks of repeatedly asking for it back, I escalated to a threat to have my mother call her mother. The next day my book was returned. The cover was torn off, some pages had been ripped out, and the remaining pages had been scribbled on. It had suffered a horrible, demeaning death at the hands of a book murderer! A difficult lesson to learn at such a tender young age, that day I discovered I shouldn’t trust just anyone with my most valuable possessions.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


book-thiefYears later I loaned a book to a friend of mine. I had known her for a long time, we had socialized at each other’s homes, I thought she was a fine, upstanding person. A few weeks passed and I asked if she had finished the book. She cheerfully gushed that it had been a great read and then she told me she had donated it to charity along with a few dozen other books she had read. I was dumbstruck. In my assessment of her worthiness to borrow my book, it never occurred to me to question her understanding of the word “borrow.” How did she come to the conclusion that I had given her my book to do with as she pleased after she read it? Let’s just say that, due to a plethora of reasons that include her insensitivity to property rights, she is now an ex-friend.

doctor-strange-benedict-cumberbatch-benedict-wongWhen I saw Marvel Comic’s Dr. Strange movie last year, I was ready to enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. It was a great movie, filled with mysticism, excellent imagery, and just the right amount of humor. But the part I liked best was the library. The ancient tomes were so valuable and their contents so dangerous they were kept chained to the shelves so no one could steal them. This makes a great plot point in a movie, but the fact is, chaining books to shelves was a fairly common practice in medieval libraries.

imageBefore Gutenberg started a printing revolution, books were laboriously hand-copied by scribes, back-breaking, tedious work that made every bound text precious and expensive. Chaining books to shelves and keeping them locked up helped deter thievery. But long before books were made of sheets of parchment or paper either hand copied or mass produced, there was a technique used to add a layer of special protection to the readable work: book curses.

clay_tabletPop culture has made us all familiar with curses written on mummy’s tombs and bewitched books of spells. Did you know that the oldest known library routinely inscribed its books with elaborate curses to prevent theft? Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria from 668 to 627 BCE, assembled his library at Ninevah. He had scribes include various curses on the tablets invoking the wrath of ancient deities for anyone who would steal or damage them:

I have arranged them in classes, I have revised them and I have placed them in my palace, that I, even I, the ruler who knoweth the light of Ashur, the king of the gods, may read them. Whosoever shall carry off this tablet, or shall inscribe his name on it, side by side with mine own, may Ashur and Belit overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land.

bookplatecWhoever removes [the tablet], writes his name in the place of my name, may Ashur and Ninlil, angered and grim, cast him down, erase his name, his seed, in the land.

Ashurbanipal made allowances for those who wanted to borrow, not steal. He who fears Anu, Enlil, and Ea will return it to the owner’s house the same day, and He who fears Anu and Antu will take care of it and respect it.

As books evolved from clay tablets to something a little more portable, the tradition continued. In medieval times monks and scribes often appended their own colorful curses to the works they produced. Like Ashurbanipal, they called upon a wrathful God to strike down the book thief and frequently recommended excommunication from the church.

PrintThis book is one, And God’s curse is another; They that take the one, God give them the other.

To steal this book, if you should try, It’s by the throat that you’ll hang high. And ravens then will gather ’bout To find your eyes and pull them out.

From a Bible in 1172: If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever seize him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.

PrintFrom a 13th Century Vatican document: The finished book before you lies; This humble scribe don’t criticize. Whoever takes away this book, May he never on Christ look. Whoever to steal this volume durst, May he be killed as one accursed. Whoever to steal this volume tries, Out with his eyes, out with his eyes!

Some medieval book curses got right to the point, like this one from 1461: Hanging will do for him who steals you.

PrintThese days, a lot of serious bibliophiles like bookplates. Fancy or plain, exotic or traditional, they offer a personalized way to identify the book’s owner that goes beyond merely writing a name inside the cover. If you want to remind a borrower how serious you are about books, you might even want to incorporate a whimsical book curse in your bookplate. It’s too late to recover the  book my ex-friend gave away, but now when I loan one out, I make a point of showing the borrower I’m serious about getting it back.

Click here to download my printable bookplates. Some of the designs are featured above.

Sources:

http://bookbindersmuseum.org/you-have-been-warned-book-curses-and-cursed-books/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_curse

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/protect-your-library-the-medieval-way-with-horrifying-book-curses

http://www.medievalists.net/2015/09/top-10-medieval-book-curses/

https://medievalbooks.nl/2015/07/10/chain-chest-curse-combating-book-theft-in-medieval-times/

Writings from Ancient Egypt

translated-ancient-egyptian_2Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are as easy to recognize as the Great Pyramids or King Tut’s infamous Death Mask. They became recognizable to most of us because popular culture was fascinated by wild stories of ancient curses. Those spine-chilling tales found a perfect medium in motion pictures, spawning a long list of terrifying (and sometimes amusing) films featuring a reanimated corpse wrapped in dusty bandages. But without the wise old Egyptologist scholar character to translate the strange hieroglyphics and tell the story of how the Mummy came to be cursed, the story wouldn’t be half as interesting.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


illustration-of-hieroglyphicsSerious Egyptologists are too busy with the real-life challenges of studying an ancient, difficult-to-decipher language to lament the popularity of iconic movie monsters presenting a distorted image of a complex and fascinating advanced culture. The key to cracking the code of hieroglyphic script was the Rosetta Stone. Discovered by French soldiers in 1799, the Rosetta Stone contains text written in Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphics by Egyptian priests in 196 B.C.E. to honor the pharaoh. But it wasn’t until 1822 that Jean-François Champollion made the first significant breakthrough, setting the stage for later scholars and linguists to gradually unravel the mysteries of the pictorial written language.

egyptianhieroglyphicsThe last two centuries have seen steady progress in scholarly understanding of the texts that cover the walls and monuments of ancient Egypt. And yet, the general public is still much more familiar with ancient Greek and Roman culture through the study of their mythologies and the writings of their scholars. Who doesn’t know at least a little about Hercules, Socrates, Plato, Aesop’s fables, Julius Caesar, Emperor Nero, the destruction of Pompeii, and countless other peoples and events of antiquity? These have also found their way into our popular culture, but we have a general understanding of the daily lives of those people that we don’t have of the ancient Egyptians.

51hlbldoidlEgyptologist Toby Wilkinson, a fellow of Clare College at Cambridge University, has published Writings from Ancient Egypt, the first literary English translation of some of the texts that cover thousands of square feet of monuments and tomb walls. Wilkinson’s book explains that hieroglyphs are a complex collection of symbols that represent a mixture of objects, ideas and sounds, telling stories just as compelling and layered as any written by the Romans, not merely decorations to be used as wallpaper.

Wilkinson hopes his collection of stories will make the Egyptians accessible to modern readers. Some of the texts he included are familiar to a few specialists, but the original translations from more than a century ago make them stilted and difficult for today’s readers. He hopes his new translations can convey the complexity, subtlety and poetry found in hieroglyphics. “What will surprise people are the insights behind the well-known facade of ancient Egypt, behind the image that everyone has of the pharaohs, Tutankhamun’s mask and the pyramids.”

Tales of shipwreck and wonder, first-hand descriptions of battles and natural disasters, songs and satires are included in the anthology. Filled with metaphor and symbolism, they reveal life through the eyes of the ancient Egyptians. Writings from Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson is available on Amazon.com.

Sources:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/ancient-egyptian-stories-will-be-published-english-first-time-180960244/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/ancient/for-the-first-time-youll-be-able-to-read-ancient-egyptian-literature-in-english/

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/23/ancient-egypt-written-works-published-book-english-first-time

http://www.rawstory.com/2016/08/finally-you-can-the-stories-of-egypts-ancient-hieroglyphics-in-english/

http://mentalfloss.com/article/85401/first-time-ancient-egyptian-texts-available-rare-english-translations

Adventures at the Concession Stand

I originally posted this back in January of 2012 after attending a matinee with a friend. I still go to the movies an awful lot, and sometimes I am reminded of this incident. It makes me giggle every time.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


The friend who accompanied me had a coupon for a five-dollar discount at the concession stand. I insisted on paying for the snacks as it was her gift card that had bought our tickets.

snack-standWe scanned the menu board, deliberated momentarily, and then decided that a medium bag of popcorn to share and a couple of small sodas would prevent us from starvation until we could exit the theater in search of some dinner. The total charge for this three cents’ worth of popcorn and twenty cents’ worth of soda came to an even 14 dollars. I didn’t feel any less ripped off knowing that the coupon reduced that total to a mere nine dollars. It still felt like $8.77 too much. Alas, I am accustomed to that feeling when I go to the movies. I do manage to hold my tongue in check, usually, except for the odd occasion when I feel compelled to tell the clerk behind the counter that “those prices are so ridiculous that someone will surely be hell-bound for it. Not you, young clerk, but someone.” I smile when I say it, so hopefully they take it as a joke. I’m just not entirely sure I mean it as a joke.

The young gentleman who was clerking at the concession stand that afternoon was tall, good-looking, friendly, polite, and had certainly not set the exorbitant prices for the snacks, so it did not occur to me to let loose with my standard movie concession-counter quip. I handed him the five-dollar-off coupon and a ten-dollar bill. To those who understand basic math, simple addition, that is equivalent to fifteen dollars.

This polite, good-looking, tall young man accepted both the coupon and the bill and looked at us with a faintly worried expression as he said, “I’m sorry, but you know I can’t give back any change when you use a coupon.”

popcorn-600x484I looked at him. I looked at my friend. I looked back at him. “Why is that?” I asked calmly. The bag of popcorn and two sodas had already been served up and were sitting on the counter right in front of us. As far as I was concerned, they were already ours. When I had said “Why is that?” what I actually meant was “OH NO YOU DIDN’T!” Prices being what they are in a theater, the inability to produce a single dollar in change just because we had used a coupon seemed incredibly stupid to me. I wanted the popcorn and sodas but I also wanted the dollar in change that I was due.

The young man said, very politely, “It’s theater policy. I’m sorry, but I can’t give back any change when a coupon is used.” He was entirely sincere, both in his sympathy for our difficulty and in his determination to uphold “company policy.” This fellow did not present any outward physical sign of mental defect. He was not being rude, impatient, or cocky about anything. He looked like a college student, someone old enough to have learned how to add and subtract round numbers. As I started calculating how much time we had left to get settled in our seats before the movie and estimating how long it would take to get a manager to the concession stand, something clicked in place. I had an “ah-ha!” moment.

I reached for the money and the coupon, taking them both out of his hand. At that point, I suppose both he and my dear friend were assuming that I would refuse to close the transaction, causing the senseless waste of all three cents’ worth of popcorn and twenty cents’ worth of soda. However, that was not my intention.

I looked the clerk squarely in the eye and said, “Our total is fourteen dollars, right?” He nodded in agreement. I handed him the coupon and said, “This five-dollars-off coupon brings the total down to 9 dollars, right?” He nodded again, looking slightly puzzled. I then held the ten-dollar bill out to him and said, “Then when I give you this ten-dollar bill, you owe us one dollar in change. Right?”

For just a heartbeat, the three of stood there like cowpokes in an old western who are waiting to see which one would try a quick-draw of his pistol and start shooting first.

“Oh! Of course – I’m sorry.” He shook his head in embarrassment. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. Here’s your change.” He politely handed me the dollar that had become the single most critical issue in the universe to me over the course of the previous ninety seconds.

movie-theaterWhat’s wrong with him, indeed, I thought. He could have been dropped on his head as a child, accidentally ingested lead-based paint, stayed up too late and gotten too drunk the night before, had one too many doobies before his shift started, was preoccupied with the crushing debt he was accumulating in student loans, was worried that his bloodwork for the AIDS test might come back positive – any number of things that were none of my business in the first place.

I should have replied simply, “Oh, that’s okay. We all have off days.” I couldn’t help myself, though, the words just burst out of me without any hope of being swallowed before they left my tongue: “You aren’t a rocket scientist, are you.” This came out in the form of a statement, not a question. I was immediately almost sorry for having uttered the sarcasm, but since I was smiling I thought it might be okay.

“No,” he said. “But you know, my brother is an engineer and sometimes he has trouble with the simplest things, too.”

We closed the transaction with smiles all around, no animosity, just a brief, friendly encounter. But I’ve been wondering ever since if his brother the engineer had been dropped on his head as a child, accidentally ingested lead-based paint, was prone to binge drinking… or if it is something that just runs in the family.