Magick For Terri Windling

Terri’s dog, Tilly, the “gatekeeper and goal announcer” of Magick 4 Terri

Terri Windling is a truly magical woman. And perhaps even more importantly, she’s a bringer of magic.

I discovered her work through the short stories collections she co-edited with Ellen Datlow, revisiting fairy tales in various dark, deep, deviant, weird, beautiful, mysterious, tremendous ways, such as Snow White, Blood Red or Black Thorn, White Rose. I love retellings of fairy tales. I’ve researched them, taught them, even wrote some of my own (in French, don’t look for them on Amazon!). She’s also a specialist of mythic fiction, which is my other favorite sub-genre.

But you may have also heard of the urban fantasy series Bordertown, about the Endicott Studio and its Journal of Mythic Arts, or visited her delightful blog, full of art and poetry and music and light. All of that is Terri’s.

Every lover of short fiction, fairies, myths, fantasy and horror may be thankful to her. I’m all of that, and all the more thankful.

Now Terri and her family are in need.

And the World Wide Web gave birth to a true, modern fairy tale wonder to help them.

It’s a fundraising auction called Magick 4 Terri.

Beloved editor, artist and writer Terri Windling is in need, and we are asking for your help in a fundraising auction to assist her. This auction will combine donations from professionals and fans in an online sale to help Terri through a serious financial crisis. […]

Terri Windling and her family have been coping with health and legal issues that have drained her financial resources at a critical time. Due to the serious nature of these issues, and privacy concerns for individual family members, we can’t be more specific than that, but Terri is in need of our support. As a friend, a colleague and an inspiration, Terri has touched many, many lives over the years. She has been supremely generous in donating her own work and art to support friends and colleagues in crisis. Now, Terri is in need of some serious help from her community. Who better than her colleagues and fans to rise up to make some magick for her?

Terri herself reacted with her usual grace and humility, counting blessings in the darkest of times :

As I work from the living-room sofa today (with my swollen foot propped up and a little black dog close by, performing her healing magic), I am amazed, moved, honored, and humbled by this, organized by close friends and colleagues who have the biggest hearts in the Whole Wide World. Once again I am reminded of what an extraordinary community we’re all a part of (including you, dear Reader) here in the Mythic Arts/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction field. In the middle of what has been, admittedly, a very rough season for me and my family, I feel incredibly blessed today. A heartfelt thank you to all involved.

The auction ends at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, December 15th, 2011. It includes personal offerings from the likes of Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Wendy & Brian Froud, rare Alan Lee prints, a signed and inscribed book by Lord Dunsany, and many other incredible items. You may also post your own skills, services, arts, crafts, or whatever else you’d like to offer, or simply relay the information on Twitter or Facebook.

As author Katherine Langrish wrote on her blog, I’m amazed to see that Terri has “continued to spread such light and inspiration here on your blog each day even when your own days have been dark ones. That in itself is inspiring.”

Of course, we all know that sometimes, fairy tales are not enough. But we’ll hope. I’ll hope. Christmas is, after all, a time for hope, giving and wonders.

Ray Bradbury: More Afraid of People Than Robots

Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451

For those of you who wouldn’t know, the Guardian Reading Group began with Ray Bradbury’s dystopian classic, Fahrenheit 451, by readers’ choice.

That’s a great, revolutionary choice (so they said), that will especially appeal to us geek people in love with classical sci-fi, and to us parents looking for books to discuss with our children. Utopian and dystopian fiction is a fascinating subject, or so I think. I often study it with my sixteen and seventeen years old students.

If you never read it, “the novel presents a future American society where reading is outlawed and firemen start fires to burn books.” (Wikipedia)

You may, of course, read or reread the book, and discuss it part by part on the Guardian website, or follow the Guardian’s Reading group on Twitter. You may also read some companion posts on Guardian Books. They promised one on the novel’s historical context, Cold War and McCarthyism. They also provide a list of “further readings” to offer some background to Bradbury’s life and books.

Among these suggestions were two really delightful pieces for any geek.

One is a letter by Ray Bradbury himself, written in 1974 and transcripted on the lovely Letters of note website. Asked about “the danger of robots taking over our human world”, Bradbury writes a truly wonderful answer:

Can’t resist commenting on your fears of the Disney robots. Why aren’t you afraid of books, then? The fact is, of course, that people have been afraid of books, down through history. They are extensions of people, not people themselves. Any machine, any robot, is the sum total of the ways we use it. Why not knock down all robot camera devices and the means for reproducing the stuff that goes into such devices, things called projectors in theatres? A motion picture projector is a non-humanoid robot which repeats truths which we inject into it. Is it inhuman? Yes. Does it project human truths to humanize us more often than not? Yes.

The excuse could be made that we should burn all books because some books are dreadful.

We should mash all cars because some cars get in accidents because of the people driving them.

We should burn down all the theatres in the world because some films are trash, drivel.

So it is finally with the robots you say you fear. Why fear something? Why not create with it? Why not build robot teachers to help out in schools where teaching certain subjects is a bore for EVERYONE? Why not have Plato sitting in your Greek Class answering jolly questions about his Republic? I would love to experiment with that. I am not afraid of robots. I am afraid of people, people, people. I want them to remain human. I can help keep them human with the wise and lovely use of books, films, robots, and my own mind, hands, and heart.

I am afraid of Catholics killing Protestants and vice versa.

I am afraid of whites killing blacks and vice versa.

I am afraid of English killing Irish and vice versa.

I am afraid of young killing old and vice versa.

I am afraid of Communists killing Capitalists and vice versa.

But…robots? God, I love them. I will use them humanely to teach all of the above. My voice will speak out of them, and it will be a damned nice voice.

The second is a video tribute, written for the author’s 90th birthday by comedian Rachel Bloom. Be careful, it’s definitely not suitable for children under 18, as YouTube confirms! But the video is hilarious, and comforting in a strange way, thinking that old sci-fi writers can be strongly desirable in our time and place.

“Does the idea of book burning still resonate?” wonder The Guardian and its readers. It certainly does, as Banned Books Week will confirm in a few days.

Mansions of Madness Will Drive You Deliciously Insane

mansionsLet’s make it short : GeekDad Michael Harrison didn’t like Mansions of Madness. I did.

If you haven’t heard about it, Mansions of Madness is the newest board game by Fantasy Flight Games. It’s a mix between Arkham Horror (for the Cthulhu-verse and the Investigators characters) and Descent (for the modular tile map-building and the Keeper’s role in putting obstacles on the way of the other players) but adds a lot more.

Mansions of Madness is a semi-cooperative board game meant for two to five players, one of whom being the Keeper. The other players are Investigators exploring an area and trying to stop some evil plot (and to survive). It’s set in the world of The Call of Cthulhu RPG, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft‘s stories.

Here’s a few of the game’s qualities:


1. The art is beautiful and really contributes to the game’s ambiance.
Almost everyone agrees about the beautiful material provided in the box. The map tiles are especially beautiful, deliciously gloomy, perfect to create a Lovecraftian atmosphere. From Nursery to Master’s Bedroom, from the great stairs of the Foyer to the Graveyard’s stones, they offer very diverse settings for the game’s horror stories. And the monster miniatures are a lot of fun, of course.

2. The game offers real scenarios and many storytelling elements.
If you’ve ever played Descent (a good and funny game anyway), you know that the “scenarios” are mainly pretence, only useful for the map and monsters they provide. MoM’s scenarios are closer to actual RPG scenarios. Prologues read aloud to players are well written and successfully create the ambiance to enter a Lovecraftian tale. When reading his/her part, the Keeper is asked to make a few choices that will lead to different stories. That is of course a way to increase re-playability, as the same scenario will then have various settings and various endings, but that’s also a way to create different atmospheres, depending of the type of horror stories you want to tell. Are the evil forces controlled by some Shoggoth inadvertently invoked? Or are they mostly human, revealing the darkest parts of men’s hearts?

The variety in the winning conditions (for both Keeper and Investigators) is also very interesting and very Lovecraftian — which means very different from most games. The fact that Investigators don’t know how to win at the beginning of a game makes sense: you never know the Villain’s plan (or the depth of the Horror) before gathering the clues. Sometimes, the only possible victory for the Investigators will be to escape with the horrible knowledge they uncovered and to testify in front of the world. How many games offer such winning conditions?

3. The game offers many elements of surprise. That’s probably its greatest and rarest quality.
Let’s take an example: the spells. As in Arkham Horror, Investigators may be able to cast spells. But when they receive a Spell card, they aren’t allowed to look at its back side (listing the precise effects of a passed or failed spell) before actually casting it. So what? you say, the surprise will only last until each spell is cast once. That’s where the game is clever: each Spell comes in five variations, and the player draws a new one each time he casts one. So an Investigator never knows exactly what will happen when he chooses to cast a Spell. We’re in the Cthulhu universe: knowledge and magic are dangerous tools to play with.

The same principle is used for monsters: each monster miniature gets a monster token in its base. The Investigator players aren’t allowed to look at the back of the monsters before damaging them. Until then, they don’t know the monster’s special attack, nor the amount of its health points. That makes sense: when you first encounter an antagonist, how would you know such things ? And as for the Spells, each monster type comes with variations: not every Cultist has the same special attack (some are a lot of fun!) and, believe it or not, some Zombies are healthier than others. This way, you can never be sure of a monster’s abilities when you confront it.

But if you read other reviews of Mansions of Madness, you may have heard about some “major flaws” of the game.

Let’s summarize the complaints I read about :

  • Sometimes the Investigators are asked to decrypt puzzles before exploring further. Some reviewers thought the puzzles were too long, breaking the game’s rythm, and some of them were too darkly printed. We actually enjoyed the puzzles. That’s an original idea, and one of its purposes is to make use of the “Intellect” character attribute, often underused in games and RPGs as well. To solve puzzles, you are allowed as many moves per turn as your character’s Intellect. So both your own ability (in choosing the right moves) and your character’s are useful. If you see very clearly how to solve a Wiring Puzzle in four moves but you’re playing an Investigator with Intellect 3… well, he’s quite dumb, too bad for him, so you have to wait for another turn to finish it (or another Investigator). That’s adding suspense and good characterization. Oh, and about the arguably too-hard-to-read color codes of some puzzles? We were playing at night, in a room quite poorly lighted, and one of us color-blind ! We managed it. So please…
  • Many reviewers found the set-up too long. Well, it’s long, about twenty minutes. Mansions of Madness is clearly not a quick game you can improvise. It’s an immersive game, perfect for an evening with friends. Is that a problem? We didn’t think so. All gamers own different types of games for different situations.
  • The errata issue: yes, Mansions of Madness comes with a few errata. Most of them are wording problems which common sense and experience alone could have solved. It’s a complex game, and by complex I mean “involving many elements” rather than “difficult,” so I suppose the errata were unavoidable. Of course, everyone would have preferred a “perfect” game. But that’s no big deal, and never spoiled our gaming experience.
  • The game is “extremely linear” (GeekDad). It’s far less linear than any game except for (good) RPGs. Of course, Investigator players are prompted to go from room A to room G and so on, but most of time, they can’t achieve it linearly since the Keeper puts obstacles in their way. What’s more, the hints about which rooms to explore contribute to replayability, since they change according to the scenario’s options. What’s (even) more, they’re an element of suspense since they’re associated with a countdown. Predetermined Events will bring the story to its (dark) end if the Investigators are too slow. Without the hints contained in the Clues they discover, they would risk wandering randomly and would always lose the game. “We shall reach in the Crypt before the ceremony’s over!” is far better to play than “We shall probably do something somewhere before the ceremony’s over!”

In the end, the only flaws I completely agree with are the ones listed in the wonderfully extensive and precise review on Boardgame Geek, mostly these:

*Minimal supplied scenarios with the foreknowledge that none will be forthcoming for “free” making replayability an issue.

*Certain elements seem limited to be saved for inevitable expansions. Expansions are not bad at all, but when a game is released and feels light in some areas because things are intentionally held back for expansions, then it is a problem.

Plus one detail: the secret explanation of the plot is often known only by the Keeper (from his/her chosen answers to the scenario’s questions). If the Keepers plays his/her game well, the Investigators may guess his/her Objective but not the complete story. The Clue Cards may be more explicit about it. Or one could add Clue Cards to that purpose only.

So, who will like Mansions of Madness? Many people among you, I think, such as :

  • People who like Arkham Horror and Descent
  • Frustrated RPG players (and parents)
  • People looking for atmosphere and storytelling in a game
  • Lovecraft fans
  • People who’re not afraid to read long rules. (At least one of you needs to do that: the rules take a long time to read but not to understand nor to explain to the other players. If you’re reading this blog, I’m quite confident at least one person in your players’ team is geek enough to read and assimilate long rules. I suggest the one reading the rules be the Keeper for your first game. You’ll be able to switch roles quite easily for the following games. That’s what we did. Oh, and I’m the one reading the rules.)
  • Experienced players : I’m not sure MoM would be appreciated by complete beginners in boardgames/RPGs.
  • People who appreciate some suspense in a game

Mansions of Madness is designed by Corey Konieczka and published by Fantasy Flight Games. You’ll find it on Amazon at less than $60. Recommended age: 13 years and up according to the publisher, and I agree; younger players wouldn’t appreciate the game and may find it too dark.

My rating: 9/10

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Soap Bubbles


Fabrice Jouvenot, scientific explainer at the French science museum La Cité des Sciences, drives his cycle in Paris’ streets and show “the magic of soap bubbles”.

The video, directed by Roland Cros, is provided by, the scientific web-tv of the Cité des Sciences and the Palais de la Découverte in Paris. is charge-free and ad-free… for now, at least.

But let’s talk about bubbles !

Cool things about these videos (not less than 5 Episodes):

  • You don’t need professional material to make these experiments, no complicated installations, everything fits in the bike’s basket.
  • The tone is very educational and casual: after all, he addresses passers-by of all ages and all cultures.

Less cool thing:
I’m afraid that’s in French…

Therefore I need to translate it, especially for you GeekMom readers!

In Episode 1, you’ll learn :

  • What you need to create a big beautiful bubble. Soap? Well, yes, but also two other components. Yes, you got it: water and air.
  • Which soap is the best for bubbles. The purest you can find. As Fabrice says, what you need is soap molecules, not lemon molecules. In France, the purest easily available soap is known as Savon de Marseille. What about American one ? My fellow GeekMoms suggest Green Mountain Soap. What do you think?
  • Why soap washes your laundry. That’s because of the specificities of the Soap Molecule, with its hydrophilic head and hydrophobic tail.

In Episode 2, you’ll learn :

  • Why soap bubbles explode. You have to find the 4 possible reasons. “Because your geekling just punched it” is the easy one. The other ones are more scientific: because of air pressure on the membrane, the larger the bubble, the strongest the pressure; because of gravity that makes the water element slide down the bubble ; and because of evaporation.
  • How you can capture and enclose a bubble, keeping it for days or even weeks! If the box is hermetic enough, you can even freeze the bubble. You’ll only need the neck of a plastic bottle. And be careful, Geekling: punching the hermetic box will ALSO crush the bubble.

In Episode 3, you’ll learn :

  • Why bubbles are so round. That’s because, as everyone on Earth (especially Moms?) they apply the principle of Maupertuis: they always use the least energy and form the smallest possible surface. As Fabrice says : “molecules are less stressed, therefore less tired.”
  • If you or your geeklings are more advanced in physics, you can also speak about the isotropy of space.

In Episode 4, you’ll learn :

  • Where the bubbles’ colours come from. Not from the rainbow, as most people (not only Judy Garland) say.
    Actually, that’s quite difficult to explain in simple words. Let’s say the light bounces twice on the bubble surface (once just outside the surface, once just inside) and the desynchronization between these two moments makes one colour of the spectrum disappear and the opposite be enhanced.
  • So you’ll be able to observe different colours’ stripes if you can keep your bubbles long enough.
munich olympic stadium and its strangely shaped roof
Image: Elcèd77, 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)

In Episode 5, you’ll learn :

  • That Munich Olympic Stadium’s roof looks like the “most economic” form a bubble membrane takes (much more than a picture of Bavarian Alps, as many people say).
  • That we might (or not) create a cubic bubble. Actually, even with the special artifact Fabrice uses, the bubble doesn’t stay cubic. She becomes something like a double pyramid. That’s a Spontaneous Symmetry Breaking, a very useful principle in particle physics, involving the so mysterious Higgs boson. But about that, I’ll speak again later…

If you really need an English-speaking video, you might also watch ‪Time Warp – Discovery Channel – Soap Bubbles Science with Keith Johnson of‬

Far more spectacular. However, a bit less educational, or so I thought. Anyway, Keith Johnson is an amazing Bubble Artist and he offers to come in schools with his show. That is certainly a fantastic experience for our favourite young science students!

But if you wanna teach your kids both Science and French in the same time, you can find on FacebookTwitterYouTube and Dailymotion. They even propose a video on demand collection.