The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, by Ramsey Campbell

I haven’t blogged about any of his books recently, but I have said many times before on this blog that Ramsey Campbell is my favorite horror author of all time.  As I noted in a recent post, his novella Needing Ghosts is perhaps the only work of fiction that I’ve ever read that made me doubt my own sanity.

What makes his work so powerful?  Campbell is a master of subtle, creeping horror.  His monsters do not typically jump out at the reader, but rather lurk in the shadows, skittering in one’s peripheral vision.  The cumulative effect is to leave the reader increasingly unsettled, struggling to understand the nature of the threat.  On top of this, Campbell is simply a masterful, beautiful writer.  It was once aptly said of him that in his writing, it is “the words that count.”  (Which he turned into a 1975 story of the same name.)

This past week, I read one of his more recent works the 2013 novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki.


This book is quite different from Campbell’s work of recent years, as it is explicitly Lovecraftian in nature, featuring monstrous, uncaring elder gods and books filled with forbidden knowledge.  Like many horror authors, however, Campbell got his start by writing Lovecraft pastiches; his first collection, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was published by Arkham House in 1964 and featured a variety of Lovecraft-like stories.  In the titular story, Campbell introduced the ancient monstrous god Gla’aki, who dwells in a lake in the bottom of a remote English lake.

The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, then, would appear to be a bit of an homage to the work that got Campbell started in his writing career in the first place!

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Paris: City of lights and cosmic rays

This post of mine originally appeared on the Scientific American guest blog some time ago.  Considering it has been three years, and it’s always been one of my favorite pieces of writing, I thought it was time to “bring it home” to Skulls in the Stars.

Paris has long had the nickname “The City of Light,” due to its role as a center of education during the Age of Enlightenment and, in the 1800s, due to its early implementation of electric lighting. It very nearly had its name associated with another form of radiation in 1910, however, thanks to a truly unique experiment performed in the most iconic spot in the city: the Eiffel Tower!  The experiment, which was the first significant evidence of the existence of cosmic radiation, also highlights the challenges scientists experienced in the early 20th century and the ingenuity they used to overcome them.

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Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke

Though I spent a lot of time thinking about how to properly explain science in a way that is comprehensible to non-scientists, my biggest Achilles heel is my lack of experience in explaining things at a level that kids can understand.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources out there to help people do kid-friendly science!  One that just came out last month is Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, by Liz Heinecke:


Heinecke has been a long-time advocate for kid-friendly science experiments, and runs the  very nice blog The Kitchen Pantry Scientist, where she describes experiments that can be done safely at home with ingredients that can be found, of course, in one’s kitchen pantry!  She has also produced a mobile app, KidScience, which provides convenient multimedia descriptions of a set of home experiments.

Now we have Kitchen Science Lab for Kids, which provides detailed, quantitative, full-color descriptions of 52 experiments.  The “labs” cover chemistry, physics and biology, and are divided into 12 units.  One unit, for example, is Rocket Science, which contains the following experiments:

  • Film canister rockets
  • Easy straw rockets
  • Sky-high bottle rockets
  • Edible electromagnetic wave experiment

In full disclosure, I’m friends with Liz, having first met her at ScienceOnline, the long-running online science communication conference.  I even have a small contribution in the book, having introduced her to the Kaye effect, which I’ve blogged about previously.  As is her specialty, Liz made the experiment even easier to do, though she graciously included a description of my technique, as well.

I can personally attest to how fun the experiments are!  This Spring, based on Liz’s suggestions, I put together a “Kitchen Pantry” demonstration table at the UNC Charlotte Science and Technology Expo.  The table was a hit, and drew consistent crowds for the duration of the event.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Students performing some kitchen science at the Expo.

Kitchen Science Lab for Kids gives a thorough description of each experiment.  It includes a list of materials, a detailed protocol, and an explanation of the science behind the demonstration.  The collections of experiments are well-organized and often connect to each other, giving the inquisitive student a path through the book.

It is worth noting that although the experiments are designed to be safe, some of them still require some adult supervision.  It is hard to do science without occasionally heating things up or potentially making a mess!

In summary: a really great book!  I feel that I’ve gained a lot of insight into making science kid-friendly from reading it, and I imagine a lot of parents will find it a fun and educational resource for their children.

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Nobel Prize roundup: It’s all about the optics!

This week, the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry were announced, and it was a photonics two-fer!  The physics prize went to Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura “for the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.”

Blue LEDs might sound like a trivial topic for a Nobel Prize, but most reports on the award rightly point out that the physics behind these LEDs is non-trivial and their positive impact on society is inarguable.  A few of the articles that came out on this are below:

The chemistry prize went to Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell, and William Moerner “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy”.

In short: were are typically limited in optical imaging by the wavelength of light.  Attempts to resolve objects that are smaller than or closer together than the wavelength are unsuccessful, as the images tend to blur into each other.  However, by making the target objects “glow,” or fluoresce, it is possible to beat this resolution limit and even spot individual molecules.  A few articles on this:

This dual win for optical devices and techniques shows how important the study of light remains even today!


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“Count Like an Egyptian” over at The Finch & Pea!

For those who just can’t get enough of my writing (anyone?), I wrote a guest post over at The Finch & Pea about the book Count Like an Egyptian by David Reimer.

countlikeanegyptianCheck it out! Not only do I discuss the book, which is an in-depth textbook teaching one how to do ancient Egyptian mathematics, but I demonstrate how subtraction was done.

The post can be read at The Finch & Pea!


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Coming soon: The Complete Guide to Science Blogging!

It’s finally been officially announced, and I’m delighted to share the news here: in early 2015, The Complete Guide to Science Blogging will be published!  Edited by amazing science communicators Christie Wilcox, Jason G. Goldman and Bethany Brookshire, this book will be a resource for science types to learn how to effectively use a variety of social meda.  It will contain 25 essays by a variety of “expert science communicators” on a variety of topics, ranging from coping with internet trolls to impacting science classrooms.


I don’t know the entire list of authors yet, which is being released gradually on the official Facebook page, but I know one pretty well: me!  I’ve contributed a chapter about “blogging on the tenure track,” a topic I’m rather familiar with since I started blogging pre-tenure and included my online activities in my tenure package.

The book is tentatively scheduled for release in Spring of 2015, and I’m looking forward to it!  Please help us give it a little momentum and give the Facebook page a like!


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Our Lady of Pain, by John Blackburn

(Over the next couple of days, I’m going to catch up on a few book posts.  More detailed science posts in the works!)

I’m happy to report that one of John Blackburn’s best books, Our Lady of Pain (1974), is now available from Valancourt Books, and it contains an introduction by me!



When reporter Harry Clay really screws up a major assignment, his editor sticks him with the most boring stories imaginable — and Harry is willing to do anything to get back on top.  When a number of career criminals begin dying horribly after performing a mysterious job, Clay sees a major scoop in the making — and he pursues the case without hesitation or moral scruples.  The trail leads to actress Dame Susan Vallance, who is scheduled to premiere in a new play, “Our Lady of Pain,” only days away.  The play is about the Countess Elizabeth Báthory, an infamous Hungarian serial killer who is said to have tortured and killed hundreds of women.  But what is the connection between the actress, the criminals, and the deaths?  Has an ancient disease been released from its slumber, or is something even more sinister going on?  In uncovering the answers, Clay will find his sanity and even his life at risk.

Our Lady of Pain is one of Blackburn’s most powerful novels, and most unique.  It features none of the familiar stock characters such as General Charles Kirk, and instead gives us a protagonist who is both flawed and vulnerable.  Blackburn also departs from his usual plot device of a killer plague and gives us a unique and bizarre threat.  The climax of the book is a scene that I find pretty much unforgettable, and the novel as a whole is well-worth reading for not only Blackburn fans but fans of horror in general.

I was excited to write an introduction for this book because it gave me the opportunity to delve into the real-life story of Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), who is generally considered the most prolific female serial killer in history.  Estimates of the number of slain range from 30 to several hundred, mostly young women who were lured to her castle with the promise of employment.  Her actions passed quickly into legend, and grew more bizarre and fantastic as time passed.  Most people are familiar with the myth that Báthory bathed in the blood of young women to maintain her vitality, earning her the nickname “The Blood Countess.” There is no evidence that this ever happened, and the truth is perhaps much more horrifying: Báthory just liked to torture and kill.

Blackburn was no doubt aware of the difference between myth and reality, as he was well-read and all his novels show evidence that he thoroughly researched his subjects.  He nevertheless found the mythological aspects worth adding to Pain, and he added a number of his own flourishes to the legend, creating a novel monster the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in fiction.

Our Lady of Pain marks the seventh and last novel of John Blackburn’s for which I have written an introduction, and it is a great one to end on.  With that in mind, I would like to thank Valancourt Books for introducing me to the writing of John Blackburn and giving me the opportunity to discuss his work!

P.S. I also love the cover for this edition, which was done by M.S. Corley.

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