The Devil in a Domino, by Chas L’Epine

Thanks to having lots to do at work, a lot of chaos in my life, and a lot of worry about the world in general, I haven’t been able to concentrate well on reading fiction lately.  What I need at the moment are short, pithy reads, and fortunately my friends at Valancourt Books recently released something that fits the bill, The Devil in a Domino (1897), by Chas L’Epine.

The Devil in a Domino tells the story of a twisted serial killer, and is one of the very first books to be inspired by the infamous Jack the Ripper murders that happened in London in 1888.  Original printings of this novel are exceedingly rare, and the Valancourt edition is the first to be released in over a century!

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Dr. SkySkull in Rome: Via Appia

Final part in a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here,  Part 2 can be read herePart 3 can be read here, and Part 4 can be read here.

Sunday was our final day in Rome, and it would be a short day: our flight out was at around 4:00 pm.  However, we had enough time to see one more major sight, and decided to do something a little further out of the city. In fact, the sight in question is literally a way out of the city: Via Appia, known in English as the Appian Way.

The Appian Way is the remains of one of the original and most important Roman roads.  It is a wonderful excursion into more of the countryside around the city, and is dotted with historical relics of ancient Rome, as well as villas of some of the modern city’s wealthiest citizens.

The Appian Way closer to the city.

See the large, flat stones in the photograph?  Those are parts of the original Roman road, which began construction in 312 B.C.E. as a way to transport military supplies and troops from the city to the various campaigns.  The road was ordered built by the Censor of Rome, Appius Claudius Caecus, who started construction without even waiting for approval from the Senate!

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Dr. SkySkull in Rome: the Vatican Museums

Part 4 of a series of photo essays on my recent trip to Rome. Part 1 can be read here,  Part 2 can be read here, and Part 3 can be read here.

On day 4 of our Rome adventure, we decided to finally venture inside some of Rome’s wonderful buildings!  Most of our time had, up to this point, been spent walking the city and viewing the architecture from the exterior or, in the case of the Colosseum, interior but still outside. Now we were interested in seeing some of the non-architectural artwork of Rome and, to be honest, get out of the heat for a while.

Our major stop would be the immense museum complex of the Vatican, which we will get to in a moment.  The Vatican has a dress code, however, and generally bans shorts on men and short skirts on women.  So we put on our long clothes — in 90-degree heat — and headed out for the day.

If we were going to be uncomfortable, we decided we might as well make the most of it.  Non-casual dress is expected in most of the city’s churches, so as long as we were dressed the part, we made plans to visit a few other such sites of interest.

Our first planned stop was the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Vittoria, which possesses one of Rome’s most beautiful and famous sculptures. But along the way we passed the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice (also called the Fountain of Moses).

The Fontana dell’Acqua Felice.

Built between 1585 and 1588, this fountain marked the end of another Roman aqueduct that was restored long after the empire’s collapse.  The restoration was ordered by Pope Sixtus V, and the new aqueduct was named the Acqua Felice, after the Pope’s birth name of Felice Peretti.  The new source of water helped the rather crude and unpopulated section of Rome grow into a thriving neighborhood.

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Optics in the solar eclipse!

Just a very short note: I’m on the road, aiming to be in the path of totality of the solar eclipse hitting tomorrow.  One of the things I’m going to be looking at, in addition to the ghostly hidden sun, is the sky surrounding it. I recently wrote a blog post for American Scientist about some of the history of sky measurements during the eclipse: what could be measured, and how?

There’s a bit about light, a bit about sky glow, and a bit about polarization. Check it out!

I will hopefully have more to say and show about the eclipse after I’ve seen it…

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Paintings I Love, Painting Is Love: A Storify

Somewhat despairing of all the relentlessly bad news in politics and the world, today I decided to post a series of beautiful paintings on twitter as a bit of an antidote.  I invited anyone else to offer their own favorites, and it turned into a rather large and lovely thread.  I compiled all the tweets into a Storify, and thought that I would share that link here for those not on twitter.  A sample:

Read the whole Storify at the attached link!


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10 years of Skulls in the Stars

I’ve been traveling a bit again lately and been rather busy with work, so I haven’t had much time to blog.  I wanted to acknowledge, however, a rather significant milestone of this site: today officially marks the ten year anniversary of Skulls in the Stars.

Sadly, I got some potentially bad news in my personal life today, as well, so I am still not super-motivated to write, but it seemed wrong to not acknowledge such a big date.  I started Skulls in the Stars on August 14, 2007, with my first post, “Educate or Bust,” whose title was taken from one of Robert E. Howard’s very obscure stories.  The blog title itself comes from Robert E. Howard’s work: Howard is best known for being the creator of Conan, but my favorite stories of his feature a fanatical and justice-driven Puritan named Solomon Kane.  As I describe on my “about” page, “Skulls in the Stars” is a story in which Kane must go against his own black-and-white ethical code to end the threat of a creature of darkness. This idea — that sometimes reality is more complicated than our ideas can accommodate — seemed like a good guiding theme for my musings on life, fiction, and science.  Robert E. Howard himself, by all accounts, seems to have been a kind man with a strong sense of justice, and was significantly ahead of his time on many social issues.

First appearance of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, in Weird Tales, August 1928.

I was inspired to start blogging back in the day by the writings of bloggers and eventual friends Blake Stacey and P.Z. Myers, who showed me how fun and interesting writing about science can be. At the start, I wrote the blog pseudonymously, as I was a relatively new untenured professor and was unsure whether I would continue this work or not.  By the time I was up for tenure, I was happy to add my blog work to my official tenure package, and it was well-received by the administration!  I am no longer really pseudonymous, but I keep the name “Dr. SkySkull” as a pen name anyway.

To commemorate the anniversary, I thought I would briefly share a few of my favorite posts from over the years: a cross-section of my evolution as a blogger, with a few comments about each.

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John Blackburn’s A Book of the Dead

If you’ve read my blog enough, you know that I occasionally write introductions for volumes released by the excellent Valancourt Books, in particular a lot of introductions to the work of the late John Blackburn (1923-1993), master of horror and thrillers.  Well, I’m happy to say that one of Blackburn’s rarest books, A Book of the Dead, was recently released by Valancourt, with an introduction again by me!

A Book of the Dead (1984) is Blackburn’s second-to-last novel, and it is a murder mystery set in the world of used book sellers.  When a longtime book trader turns up dead after paying a ridiculous amount of money for an obscure and unimportant nonfiction adventure book called Men of Courage, his friend Tom Payne suspects foul play.  With the help of the lovely heiress Janet Vale and the obnoxious and egotistical adventurer J. Moldon-Mott, he begins an investigation not only into the circumstances of the death but into history of the seemingly uninteresting book.  The trio quickly finds themselves in a race to unmask the murderer not only before he strikes again, but before he strikes out at them!

A Book of the Dead is a great Blackburn book with some very odd quirks to it.  In my introduction, I talk about why it may be considered Blackburn’s most rare and most famous book, at the same time!  Folks who enjoy clever, fast-paced mystery novels will find it quite enjoyable.

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