Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Monday, October 29, 2012

An amusement park in Iraq

Yes, I'm still in Iraq and still having a great time! I'll soon be heading home to Spain and my series about this trip will start on Gadling in less than two weeks.

In the meantime, here are some glimpses of Happy Land amusement park in Basra. It's located on the bank of the Shatt-Al-Arab waterway and is a popular spot for families. The whole riverfront is lined with cafes and benches and at night you can see Happy Land's Ferris Wheel for miles. I didn't go inside but I could see they had rides, a restaurant, and of course cotton candy!

This is an Iraq you won't see on the news. A troubled nation like this one only gets airtime when something blows up. That's sad, because most people here just want to live in peace and get some enjoyment out of life. I've seen families going out for dinner, groups of friends lounging in the park, old men chatting over cups of tea in cafes. . .all the usual day-to-day activities we see in every country. Yet the news makes us want to believe that nothing happens here except suicide bombings and sectarian killings.

The more I write about "dangerous" places in the world, the more I get the feeling that my calling is to be the alternative voice to the news, the one that writes about going out to eat in Ethiopia, or Somalis living in peace, or family nights out in Iraq. Virtually no one else is writing these stories, at least in English, and they desperately need to be written.

It's not that I'm ignoring the bad stuff, I just feel that the bad stuff is getting enough airplay already. It's time people got to see more of the good stuff.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

COMMANDO makes for damn good reading

While I'm here in Iraq, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Jack Badelaire of the Post-Modern Pulps blog. I read his novel Commando just before leaving. My head was getting full of all the Iraqi archaeology and politics I'd been reading and I needed to take a break.

Commando is an action novel set in World War Two. I'll write a full review later (I'm a bit busy right now) so let me just say that's it's an action-packed ride that catches the era and the men's action genre very well. Check it out!

Was reading a novel filled with gory fatalities a good idea before coming to a war-torn region with no flak jacket or firearm? Nah, probably not, but I didn't care. I was too entertained! :-)

Friday, October 19, 2012

More pictures from Iraq

Hello! Just a quick note to say I'm doing fine in Iraq. We swung through Kurdistan in the north of the country and are back in central Iraq now.

The image above shows a girl picking up some roast chicken to bring home for lunch. Below is a mural on one of the blast walls in Baghdad. These concrete barriers protect sensitive buildings from car bombs and also divide Sunni and Shia neighborhoods. Some have been painted. This one shows a weird figure with a "Well Coom" head balancing a heart and a gun.

My editor posted a few other shots online. I can't seem to get them to open on this slow connection. Pherhaps you'll have better luck. You can see them here.

I heard my first gunshots last night--at a wedding outside my hotel. A couple of the guys were firing in the air to celebrate. I have to head out now but hopefully I'll have the time to post again soon. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hello from Iraq!

Yes, I'm alive and well here in Baghdad. I've been having a wonderful time seeing museums, bazaars, and historic mosques. The people have been very welcoming and I've experienced no open hostility. Many look a bit surprised to see us, though! Like in other Arab countries, I'm finding it easy to talk with people and I'm learning a lot about life here.

Above is a photo of yours truly with a fellow writer--the Sumerian scribe Dudu, who we know from an inscription on the back of his statue lived in Lagish around 2400 BC. I'd be willing to live with the name Dudu in exchange for my work to still be read four throusand years after my death.

Below is the felafel stand outside the Iraq Museum, where for 1000 dinars (slightly less than a dollar) I got tea and felafel for lunch. While I was eating a gate next door opened up and a whole crowd of schoolgirls came out. Most passed by with a curious look, but a few ordered Pepsis and stayed to stare. I think they were trying to summon up the courage to practice their English but they didn't quite manage.

My series on Gadling in November is going to be full of amazing stories and photos. If you're hankering for adventure travel in the meantime, check out my series about two months living in Harar, Ethiopia.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On assignment in Iraq

Later this week I'm flying to Baghdad. That's right, Iraq. I'll be spending a little less than three weeks traveling around the country writing a series for Gadling. My itinerary will take me to many of the country's famous monuments, like the Swords of Qadisiyah and the Ziggurat of Ur shown here. I'll also be visiting schools, markets, cafes, and meeting lots of regular people to learn about their lives.

Visiting Iraq has always been a dream of mine. Back when I was studying archaeology in university I seriously considered going into Mesopotamian studies. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait and the country was closed off. I went into European archaeology instead before ending up as a writer. I never lost my interest in Mesopotamia, though.

My series, Destination: Iraq, will start in early November. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I'll have very spotty access to email. I can't promise any posts here until the first week of November, but check back because I just might surprise you! If you want some adventure travel reading in the meantime, check out my series about traveling to Somaliland.

Photos courtesy Wikipedia. My own coming soon!

Monday, October 8, 2012

My historical fantasy novella has been published online by Black Gate!

Black Gate has just published my historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, about a young wizard in the grip of addiction who discovers his drug of choice is at the center of a sorcerous conspiracy.

It was accepted and paid for five years ago, and now my long wait is over. Sad to say, Black Gate recently stopped doing a print edition. It would have been nice to see it on a dead tree, but I suppose given the website's popularity my story will get more readers this way.

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Book Review: Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet OrderVampires of the Scarlet Order by David Lee Summers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the vampire genre, but I picked this up when I heard the author speak at Tuscon Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention a few years back and I'm glad I did.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order is the best of what the small press has to offer. What major publishing house is going to accept a book by a then-unknown author that has vampires as something other than angsty teens? The vampires in this book are most certainly not. Summers takes the implausible (the existence of vampires) and puts them in a plausible context (being used and discarded by secret government agencies). We're treated to a sweeping ride through history before settling down into modern day Las Cruces, New Mexico.

This is where it got really fun for me. I lived for many years in the desert Southwest and Summers captures the sights and smells of the desert perfectly. There's even a few inside references to one of my favorite local Tucson bands. If Summers writes more horror novels, especially if they're set in the West, I'll definitely pick them up.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 5, 2012

Civil War Photo Friday: Private Hiram M. Kersey, 44th Iowa Infantry

I post a lot of photos of individual soldiers here on Civil War Photo Friday. I never tire of looking at them.

The 44th Iowa was a short-term regiment created on 1 June 1864 for a hundred days service. These "Hundred Days Men" generally served in guard posts in the rear to free up more veteran troops for combat duty. The 44th was mustered into service in Davenport, Iowa and served in the Memphis area. The were mustered out of service on 15 September 1864.

While they didn't share in the glory of the front-line regiments, they made their share of sacrifices. Two died in combat and 15 died of disease.

Often I crop the frames of these images so that you can get a closer look at the person. This time I left it. Ornate frames are quite common in Civil War photos. Their families obviously treasured these images.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My travel writing for Gadling in September

I had a busy month at Gadling in September. For military historians, check out my posts on the thousands of World War Two pillboxes in the UK countryside and an exhibition on Civil War New York.

The biggest archaeology news is that the tomb of Richard III may have been discovered, the National Museum of Afghanistan is rebuilding, and that Egypt is reopening ancient tombs at Saqqara. That comes with a cool video. Another cool video is a nostalgic look at Times Square in the 1980s.

For retro film buffs, see my post on old science fiction films that theorized what transatlantic flights would be like. Horror fans will like my retrospective of the Lake Conway Monster of the 1970s.

Other posts cover Ferris wheels in Iran, Irish castles for sale, bookstores around the world, a giant Roman mosaic discovered in Turkey, and a beautiful gallery on award-winning astronomy photos.

It wouldn't be summer at Gadling without a long-distance hike by Sean, so here's one about hiking a Roman road in England.

Oh, and you really shouldn't miss the story about a man trying to board an airplane with a primate in his pants!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Russian hussar in the Wild West

Wait, what's a picture of a Russian hussar doing on a Civil War/Wild West blog? Well, there is a Wild West connection.

I've been researching a book on Tombstone for Osprey Publishing and have come across lots of little stories that can't make it into the text. One of them is about Russian Bill, who passed through Tombstone claiming to be an aristocratic lieutenant of the Imperial White Hussars of the czar. He had asked for leave in 1880 to go explore the American frontier. Another story has him coming to the Arizona Territory earlier after having been court marshaled for punching a superior officer.

Russian Bill strutted around town dressed in Western gear and claiming to be a hardened outlaw. He certainly kept company with them. In 1881 he and Sandy King, another Tombstone hoodlum, were caught in the little town of Shakespeare, New Mexico, with some stolen cattle. Vigilantes hanged the both of them.

There is no record of this lynching causing an international incident. Was Russian Bill really one of the czar's elite cavalry? It's hard to say. There were lots of Europeans wandering around the Old West claiming to be what they weren't. If all of them had been telling the truth, every castle, manorial estate, and general's headquarters in Europe would have been depopulated!

Without doing some serious research in Moscow, I guess we'll never know.

There's another Old West connection to this painting. It was done by none other than Frederic Remington.