K. M. Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native and novelist living and working in Seattle. His work explores nontraditional settings within speculative fiction, bending and blending genres to create rich worlds and unique approachable characters.
“Martha Overture” by Friedrich von Flotow “Hong Kong Noir 1” by John Bartmann Other audio from Freesounds, special thanks to: alienxxx, craigsmith, johnsonbrandedediting, juandamb, fillmat, lenguaverde, nahlin83, reznik-krkovicka, woldmaxter Broll provided by Videezy
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So, for a while now, along with being painters Kari-Lise and Redd have been running Moth & Myth, becoming purveyors of hyper-realistic paper moths and butterflies for artists to use on… well, whatever.
They’re incredible works of art, and it’s been amazing to see what people do with them over the last few years. All that said, I’m even more excited to share their latest foray—the Wunderkammer relics. They’re incredible paper recreations of delicate skeletons of snakes, frogs, and seahorses and you can buy ’em today. I love how how three-dimensional these look. It’s hard to believe they are paper. You can check out pictures of the specimens below.
I’ve been watching the development of these sets for months, and I’m excited they’re finally seeing the light of day. This has been a labor of love, and the quality and attention to detail really shows through in the final product.
Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
As a universe, Star Wars doesn’t have a lot of fantasy cursing. A few bits of subdued real-world swearing can be found interspersed in dialogue (mostly coming from Obi-Wan or Han Solo), but beyond that, language in Star Wars is relatively mild. Even the insults are goofier than serious, leaning on silly words and phrases like “scruffy-looking nerf herder,” “fuzzball,” “goldenrod,” and “laser brain,” among others.
To find fictional expletives, you need to move away from the core films and into the expanded universe of shows, movies, series, and books. Today’s word comes from there. The Lasat exclamation “karabast” is initially found in the animated series Star Wars Rebels but has spread to other properties. This phrase is typically used as an expletive by the Lasat crewman, Garazeb Orrelios, affectionately known as Zeb. The meaning of it is unknown, which is unfortunate. Language is a fantastic way to explore culture, and keeping the meaning a secret does more of a disservice to the civilization which invented it.
The meaning of the phrase doesn’t matter all that much. But adding definition extends a language. There’s plenty of expletives that don’t translate well. (I talked about this when reviewing Star Trek’s “petaQ.”) Understanding those can expand a culture’s identity in fiction just as it does in the real world. For example, Mandarin Chinese has a few egg-centric profanities that, while I’m sure have an impact in Chinese, do not work as well translated. One of my favorites is 滚蛋 (gǔn dàn), whose literal translation is close to “rolling egg,” but its meaning when in use is more impolite. There’s a cultural context that has turned it into something offensive. This is where “karabast” falls flat. Without the weight of meaning, what we end up with is nonsense. A word used to punctuate and nothing more. It sits in an interim spot and fills a void usually reserved for something more offensive. Even Han and Obi-Wan’s mild go-to expletives have both historical and cultural weight and meaning. That makes “karabast”—a unique sounding word—nothing more than a fancy censor slip.
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.
Today happens to be the birthday of Octavia E. Butler, one of the greatest sci-fi authors of all time (and one who deserves to be named as an SWFA Grand Master). I often share quotes from authors here, but since it’s Butler’s birthday I’m going to go a different direction and share some images of the colorful and inspirational messages Butler left to herself in her private notebooks. They’re a fantastic glimpse into her mind, and perhaps these can serve as an inspiration for our own creative work.
This is just a handful of notes left by Butler. Upon her death, she bequeathed her extensive archives to the Huntington Library, which is where the images above are taken. They have loads more, with Butler’s notes on specific work as well. It’s worth checking out.
If you haven’t read any of her work you should fix that! I’d recommend starting with Kindred which remains a poignant time travel tale, or consider the Xenogenesis trilogy starting with Dawn. It’s unlike any science fiction tale I’ve read before. I’ve also heard great things about The Parable series, the first of which is The Parable of the Sower, and while I own both books, they’re still on my TBR pile. I’m hoping to get to the first a little later this summer.
One of my best friends passed away last Friday. He was fifteen and a half and I had known him his whole life. Tyrant (early on we had considered the name Scurvy) was an apricot-colored toy poodle who I had gifted to Kari-Lise for Christmas in 2005. (Being a whiny baby, he refused to sleep and ruined the surprise, but it was quickly forgiven.) He was a good boy.
He had been known by many names over the course of his life, Bub, Boo, Boo-bear, Shakes, Sweet Boy, the Mad King, My Heart, Monster, Little Man, and so many more. But always Tyrant, a name that he never lived up to. He loved unconditionally. He was kind, gentle, and intelligent. He rarely barked. His only dislike was crows and the outdoors, thinking of the latter only as “the bathroom” and wanting to spend very little time out there and away from the soft cushions of his perfect world.
Those who knew him, knew him as one of the chillest dogs ever to exist. He loved people and was always excited when meeting new laps. A perfect day for him was one spent at anyone’s side—he wasn’t picky. As long as a few simple needs were met, he was content. Being near humans was the height of Tyrant-satisfaction.
He was, throughout his life, a companion in creativity. Tyrant never missed a day to snooze supportively as Kari-Lise painted in her studio. He also spent years cuddled between the back of my office chair and my butt, again snoozing, as I wrote a great many stories, a few of which became novels. A Muse, one’s heart, and always a friend. I’m grateful for the years he gave us. If there was a silver lining to the COVID pandemic it was that we got to spend so much time with him in his final year. Moments and cuddles we will always cherish.
It’s been hard to say goodbye. The last few days have felt surreal. I keep expecting him to waddle around a corner looking for treats, cuddles, pets, or to come into my office and demand chair time or just crash out on the floor. The absence is heartbreaking.
Tyrant, thank you for enriching my life. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Thank you for showing me the deepest kind of love for over fifteen years. I know the last year had been difficult for you, but I selfishly wish it could had been fifteen more. You were the goodest of boys. I’m going to miss you. While it hurts so much now, in the paraphrased words of Wilson Rawls, “You’re worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”
The decision was made immediately after Kari-Lise and I got our first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine back in May. TRAVEL. Travel was calling. Call it a spontaneous trip or revenge travel, we were hungry for the world. Like everyone else, we’d spent last year social distancing and sticking close to home, doing our part to stop the spread. Now, on our way to being fully inoculated and assured we wouldn’t unknowingly spread the virus to others, we craved a change of scenery—something opposite from the verdant mountains of Western Washington. We plotted our vaccine schedule, figured out the timeline, and booked a trip.
It’s been a decade since we visited Santa Fe, and it’s no surprise the city called to us once again. It’s an easy trip in non-pandemic times and was a place we both wanted to revisit. In May we weren’t sure how everything would play out, but we decided to roll the dice and plan for a trip of a few days exploring the town and the surrounding landscape. It was well worth it. Like any instance of travel, I came away feeling invigorated and creatively inspired. After a year at home, it was good to get away, breathe the thin desert air, and visit a place so unlike my daily experience. As the pandemic recedes in here America, everyone is still feeling out public behavior. But even with the mild awkwardness, the results were a trip comprised of fantastic food, incredible art, and surprising exploration.
It’s not going to be possible to share this trip without hitting on the copious amounts of delicious food we devoured. New Mexico is the land of the chile, and red and green varieties show up in every menu across the state, no matter what cuisine. When ordering, one is often asked if you want red or green chile—you can also opt for both by ordering your meal “Christmas.” (Yeah, it sounded corny the first time I said it as well. But the place is called Santa Fe. *rimshot*) Neither are particularly spicy despite the many warnings for tourists, but both are complex and flavorful. Trying different combos is worth the effort there’s no wrong choice here. Choose what works for you and enjoy.
Standout meals include the tacos from El Chile Toreado (arguably some of the best tacos I’ve ever had). The Short Rib Birria from Paloma, probably the fanciest dining we experienced on the trip. Solid enchiladas from The Shed (a return visit). And a strange little chile dog from the Taos Ale House; a mess to eat but incredibly delicious.
The third-largest art market in the United States is an artery running through the heart of Santa Fe along a street known as Canyon Road. (At this point it has spread well beyond Canyon Road, but posterity likes a metaphor.) The narrow lane is lined with over a hundred art galleries and studio spaces full of a variety of art. Everything from contemporary to traditional art, sculpture to jewelry, couture clothing to leather goods is offered somewhere along the route, and it’s easy to lose yourself for half a day or more.
Much had changed in the decade since our last visit, as one would suspect. Couple that with a receding pandemic and Canyon Road felt like a place awakening from a long slumber. In some spots, masks were optional for the fully vaccinated. Others were still being cautious and requiring masks and social distancing for all guests. We were happy to oblige and spent many hours wandering through the galleries discussing art and finding new favorites.
The standout for me was discovering the work of Grant Hayunga at his own recently opened gallery. His work varies but what stood out were his mixed media pieces that sat somewhere between paintings and relief sculpture. Made of various materials, calcium carbonate, crushed marble, beeswax, Hayunga creates fascinating pieces that explore humanity and our relationship with nature. My favorite from this series is fur trapper a recent piece from this year. He also creates these stunning neo-traditional landscapes, one of which—2016’s Asleep—enthralled both Kari-Lise and me. It’s all beautiful work, easily my favorite of the whole Canyon Road experience. You all need to buy more books from me so I can get one of his pieces.
Canyon Road wasn’t the only artistic experience of the trip. When we last visited Santa Fe, the art collective known as Meow Wolf was still in its infancy. In the decade since our visit, they have experienced significant growth. Their permanent home in Santa Fe is a former-bowling alley funded by some local guy named George R. R. Martin. It sits near the southwestern edge of the city as is home to their first large-scale interactive art experience House of Eternal Return. It’s amazing. The whole thing plays out like an interactive X-Files episode.
I can write a thousand words on what is inside, but it’ll never do it justice. Even photos don’t really capture the magic. You begin outside a modest home oddly enclosed in a warehouse (the reason why is eventually explained). After you pass through the front door (it’s open), you’ll soon discover a rich story told through journals, newspaper articles, videos, and photo albums, pictures on the wall, toys in the bedroom, and much much more. It all ties the family that resided there and their experiences to the surreal worlds you’ll interact with as you move beyond the House itself. I don’t want to go into too much detail on the experience since the House gives back what you bring, and spoilers remove that sense of wonder. (I even consider not sharing pics.)
I came away feeling inspired by the whole thing and thought it’d be great to someday recreate a corner of Lovat for readers to explore in person. Will it ever happen? I don’t know. My “Old Haunts” project is a small attempt at capturing some of that, and while I love them, being able to do it in person would be so rich and satisfying. Imagine standing outside Russel & Sons with rain dropping down around you, muffled jazz blaring from somewhere above, and the smell of spicy noodles cooking from a push cart down the street. Rad idea, right?
House of Eternal Return isn’t Meow Wolf’s only project. They have another installation that went live this year, and more experiences are planned for the future (Denver and eventually Washington D.C.). We’re already looking at a trip to Las Vegas for one reason: visit Omega Mart. Think cosmic horror as a grocery store chain, and you’d be on track. (Check out someoftheirads.) It all sounds as creepy and weird and wonderful as I’d hope. I am excited to explore its aisles in the future.
New Mexico Highlands
On a whim, we decided to leave Santa Fe behind and head out into the country. We did this a decade ago, heading northwest toward Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch. This time we headed northeast toward Taos. Early-summer storms were sweeping across the land, and you could watch enormous dark clouds trailing tails of rain and shadow for miles. For some reason, I expected more of the high desert environment like what I saw ten years previous. But the land toward the northeast was very different to that of the west, it rose suddenly. As we left the desert behind, we found ourselves in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Southern Rocky Mountains. I’ve grown up among the Rocky’s most of my life. But driving north along highway 68 and looking across the vast Taos plateau and seeing the gorge carved by the Rio Grande was utterly breathtaking. I’ve seen deep valleys before, but never one carved in such flat and open land and from such a height. I still find myself reflecting on that view. Seeing the ground opened up that way was like staring into the vastness of time.
Instead of continuing East across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, we decided to loop up into the mountains. We found ourselves in Carson National Forest, taking the High Road to Taos scenic byway back to Santa Fe. This is proper mountain country, think tall trees, deep valleys, tiny communities tucked away into hollows, and vast untouched stretches of forest for miles and miles. It all felt closer to home. Beautiful, but not at all what I anticipated.
So Much More
Santa Fe and the surrounding land can be a bit surreal at times. Modern art and interactive art experiences exist alongside deep history. The Palace of the Governors, erected in 1610, is the oldest public building in continuous use in America. Just down the street is the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States. Outside of Taos is the Taos Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, originating sometime between 1000–1450 A.D. and not discovered by Europeans until the sixteenth century. And that only scratches the surface of what you can find in this small section of the state. This doesn’t even begin to cover other places in New Mexico we were unable to visit, locations like White Sands, Roswell, Carlsbad Caverns, Shiprock, Trinity, the burning of Zozobra, Los Alamos, and so much more. There is a density of wonder here and New Mexico doesn’t hold back and is very much worth your attention.
Advice & Tips
You’re going to want to rent a car, this is big country. That said when in town, be willing to walk. There’s so much to see in Santa Fe, and unexpected places are often found on foot.
Eat everything. Try new dishes. Explore New Mexican cuisine. Fear no chile. Don’t be put off by location. Sometimes the smallest trucks tucked into the quietest corners can have the best tacos.
Scenic byways are your friend in Western States and New Mexico is full of them (High Road to Taos, Turquoise Trail, Santa Fe Trail, among many many others). While slower than major freeways, these routes will give travelers glimpses into a New Mexico easily missed by tourists. The extra time is worth it.
This was my fourth trip into New Mexico, my second to Santa Fe, and easily my favorite of the bunch. Each time I visit, the trips get a little longer, and each time I return I wish I had stayed a few more days. The name “Land of Enchantment” is a fitting one. The terrain there is haunting, rich in history and legend, and it calls to the traveler to take time and explore its wonders.
I’m not going to lie, it’s weird to travel right now, even fully vaccinated. People are rightly nervous, business hours are funky, and what we thought of as “normal” has changed significantly. Traveling at the end of a pandemic requires a lot of patience and copious amounts of kindness and empathy. We’re in a transitional period, and those can be both interesting and weird to navigate. However, it’s still worth it to get away for a time, and allow oneself to experience the world again. It was good to return to New Mexico, and a shame to have waited so long to return. Here’s hoping our next visit comes sooner rather than later.