The Auctioneer, by Joan Samson

I recently started thinking about the structure of horror stories in a new way: relating them to the behavior of natural disasters.  Some stories are unpredictable, with sudden bursts of terror, like lightning strikes or tornadoes.  Others build up a sense of dread gradually, like a coming thunderstorm, or a hurricane.  Much more rare are stories that grind away at the reader bit by bit, like the inexorable erosion of a coastline.

I was inspired of this natural disaster framing of horror when I read a recent reprint by Valancourt Books, Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer (1975).

This brilliantly tense novel is of the third type I mentioned: it applies unending, and increasing, pressure from very much the first page until the last.  I don’t know that I’ve been as uncomfortable reading a novel in a long time, and I mean that in a good way.

Continue reading

Posted in Horror | Leave a comment

Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite (1992)

I’ve been quite interested in reading more science fiction in recent months, to make up for my lack of knowledge about the field.  It so turns out that The Orion Publishing Group has released an extensive series called “SF Masterworks” which includes not only famous classics but many more obscure books that I had never heard of.  I first came across the series when I was looking to read Brian Aldiss’ Non-Stop, and since then I’ve grabbed up a number of other intriguing volumes, including Nicola Griffith’s 1992 novel Ammonite.

Ammonite is a fascinating novel about an encounter with a culture which is ostensibly human but also very alien.  It is also a novel that explores gender roles and the meaning of gender, and can be considered a strong feminist science fiction novel.

Continue reading

Posted in Science fiction | Leave a comment

Taylor sees the (feeble) light (1909)

Most people, even non-scientists, are aware these days of the notion that light acts sometimes like a wave, sometimes like a particle, depending on the circumstances. This wave-particle duality is a fundamental aspect of nature, applying to all elementary particles, from light particles (photons) to electrons, protons, neutrons, and the constituent quarks of the latter.

It is a difficult concept to fully grasp, and even today a complete explanation of what this means for physics, philosophically, continues to elude physicists.  But the phenomenon can be demonstrated with light and with matter in experiments that are reasonably well-understood, and in particular Young’s double slit experiment has been used to highlight how the wave properties and the particle properties complement each other.

But when the particle properties of light were first postulated by Albert Einstein in 1905, nobody really had any idea how those particles could be reconciled with the wave properties that had been definitively demonstrated over 100 years earlier.  Naturally, it fell to experiments to help clarify what the heck was going on, and the earliest experiment of this nature was done by G.I. Taylor in 1909, and the results appeared in a paper titled, “Interference fringes with feeble light.”

Taylor’s paper, though it is short (only two pages), is a fascinating look at both the theoretical and experimental challenges in that early quantum era, and in this post we’ll take a look at it and the work that led up to it.

Continue reading

Posted in History of science, Optics, Physics | Leave a comment

The Hole of the Pit, by Adrian Ross

Been working ridiculously hard lately, which is the explanation for my long absence from posting. Sorry about that! Hope to get back into the swing of things with this horror novel post.

The most fun books to read are often those hidden gems that you serendipitously come across.  A good example of this is Adrian Ross’ The Hole of the Pit (1914), which I finished reading on my recent work trip.

2010 reprint of Ross’ work.

I learned of this rather obscure novel while doing some research for my post on Ramsey Campbell’s in progress cosmic horror trilogy.  In a 2015 interview, Campbell recommends Ross’ The Hole of the Pit, “dedicated to M.R. James and somewhat reminiscent of Hope Hodgson.”  High praise, as James is one of the best authors of ghost stories of all time and Hodgson is one of the best authors of cosmic horror of all time.  And, indeed, Ross’ The Hole of the Pit is a fun, unconventional, and eerie tale that will remind readers of both authors.

Continue reading

Posted in Horror | Leave a comment

Dr. SkySkull in Greece: The National Archaeological Museum

The last in my series of blog posts about my recent trips to Finland and Greece. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 can be read at the links.

My flight out of Athens on my day of departure was not until 7 pm, thanks to my budget-conscious travel planning.  This meant that I had pretty much a whole morning and afternoon to further explore the city, and there was one obvious place to go: the National Archaeological Museum, which contains some of the most famous and magnificent artifacts of Greek history.

Panorama of the National Archaeological Museum.

The museum itself has a pretty significant history.  The first national archaeological museum was opened in 1829, though apparently the collection traveled between exhibition locations until the current building was planned in 1858 and constructed in 1889.  During World War II, the museum was closed and the collection was boxed and buried to prevent it from being looted; it reopened in 1945.  The museum was closed for a complete refurbishment around 2002 and remained so for 1.5 years; it opened in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

I took soooooooo many photos while at the museum.  For all of our sakes, I’ll try and restrict this post to some of the coolest and most interesting things that I saw, though that will be hard!

Continue reading

Posted in Personal, Travel | 2 Comments

Dr. SkySkull in Greece: Walking around Athens

In my last travel post, I talked about my first evening in Athens, in which I walked around with a new friend and explored the Acropolis and a number of other ancient sites.  The next day I had all to myself, and I vowed to see as much of the city’s history as I could.

My first stop in the morning was the magnificent Acropolis Museum, holding archaeological artifacts from the famed site.

The Acropolis Museum.

This is actually the second Acropolis Museum; the original one was built on the Acropolis itself in 1874 and was renovated in the 1950s. However, the size of the collection increased as the Acropolis area was further excavated, and it was decided in the 1970s that a new museum was needed.  The decision was also motivated by the fact that many of the friezes of the Parthenon were acquired by the British Museum under shady circumstances, and British Museum officials argued that they couldn’t return them because Athens did not have a suitable location to house them.

In the image above, you can see a glass walkway.  When the new museum started construction in the 1990s, based on the winning design of the third competition to design the museum, it was discovered that the site held ancient ruins of archaeological significance. A fourth competition to design a museum that could protect the ruins, and the final museum design — opened in 2009 — is built raised above the site!  Both outside and inside the museum, one can look down to see the excavations, which are still in progress.

Excavations beneath the entrance to the museum.

Continue reading

Posted in Personal, Travel | 1 Comment

Dr. SkySkull in Greece: The Acropolis

In my last travel post, I described a little bit of the island of Spetses in Greece, where my second optics workshop took place. As the workshop schedule didn’t include any crucial talks on the last day I was originally planning to be there, I opted to head back a day early to Athens.  I was also, admittedly, a little anxious about the logistics of getting back, since it required another lengthy boat trip.

I need not have worried, though. The boat back was a high-speed catamaran with a blessed name, and the trip passed quickly and in comfort.


A final view of Spetses from the kitty-maran.

I arrived at my Athens hotel in the early afternoon but had to wait until around 3:00 to check in. Once I did, and took a bit of a rest, I took the complimentary hotel shuttle to Athens’ most famous and historical landmark: the Acropolis.

First view of the Acropolis.

Continue reading

Posted in Personal, Travel | 1 Comment